World Whisperer Launch Day!

Today is the day!!! 

I've been having some technical trouble with the paperback edition, which should be solved in a day or two, but the Kindle version of World Whisperer is live in the Amazon store and because of my desire to start this series strong, it is 99 cents for a limited time. 

Seven years ago, Isika’s mother walked out of the desert with three children in tow, leading the priest of the Worker village to marry her and take in her children. In all those years, fourteen-year-old Isika has never been able to fit in as a Worker or live up to her role as the priest's daughter, and worse, she has been helpless against the tragedies that have fallen on her family. 

But now the four goddesses they serve want another sacrifice, and Isika's stepfather has chosen the next child to be sent out to sea: the little brother who Isika loves more than anything. 

This time Isika will not be powerless. 

  Together, she and her two remaining siblings leave the walls of the Worker village to save their brother, traveling into unknown lands and magic they never could have imagined.

Feedback on World Whisperer has been amazing, with readers describing it as "all-consuming," "a fantastic read," "with a spectacular setting reminiscent of Oz or Narnia." 

If you need a little adventure in your life, World Whisperer is the book for you.

Here's the excerpt and here's the link where you can buy it for your Kindle.

I do this on my own, and so appreciate the tweets, shares, or any way you use to pass knowledge along. Word of mouth is the strongest advertisement. Thanks so much for your support. I'll be hanging out on facebook at about 7:00 PST this evening to hang out and answer questions, so maybe I'll see you then!

Behind the scenes at the crazy house.

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We're two days away from book launch! This is a dream come true and because I want to send the first book of this series into the stratosphere, I am listing it at $0.99 for a limited time. What! That's right, you heard me. More on that in two days. 

Meanwhile, we are celebrating Song Kran, the New Year water festival in Thailand. We went out to play as a posse yesterday, Chinua and I and our kids, as well as our friend Taran and another friend and her son and a few other kids. We soaked many people, we got soaked, we shrieked when people dunked buckets of ice water on us (you try not to scream if you're hit by a bucket of ice water!) and we eventually came home to make a mud puddle on the kitchen floor.

I have to surrender to the chaos. 

I may be the tiniest bit anxious right now. Or the biggest bit anxious, and had a fairly major panic attack/meltdown on the weekend. Just another present from my brain to myself. With anxiety, I never know if it actually comes from anything or if it is just chemicals that are wonky in my brain. All I can do is ride the wave until it passes. My brain doesn't absorb happy things when I'm anxious, so I have to tell them to myself.

Look how much fun we're having, I say. We're playing in the streets with water!  

We wrote a book.

We planted some spinach and the roses are blooming. We harvested seeds. Isaac is adorable. The teenagers are adorable. 

The upper floor house smells like clean laundry and warm wood during the hot season. It gets so warm upstairs that we vibrate with it. And then we go outside and splash water on people driving by in trucks. And old ladies splash us. And the children are growing up and despite myself, despite everything, I am loved by God, who is infinitely wise and restful, fun and kind, giving and deep. 

Two more days, beloved readers! Two more days!

Emerging from an edit muddled cloud to say..

I may have underestimated the effect that having Chinua away for six weeks would have on my upcoming book, and the state of that sentence should tell you a bit about my poor overworked brain at the moment. I was very, very behind, but now I have the ship back on course. 

And you guys, I am so excited about World Whisperer. I think you'll love it, I think your kids will love it, and I think your grandkids will love it. The characters are like family, and the great thing is that I get to live with them for five more books! 

I need advance reviewers for World Whisperer, dear ones! If you think you can read World Whisperer and offer a review on Amazon or Goodreads, I have about ten ebooks to give away. Email me at journeymama[at]gmail[dot]com and I'll send one your way. 

8 Books (And One Talk) That Gave Me A Writing Life

Recently a friend from high school sent me a message asking about my writing process and if I had any advice for him about writing. (And oh, if he has a book in him I really want to read it. He’s one of the most effortlessly creative people I’ve ever met.) 

I thought I would make the answer into a blog post, just in case some of you have the same question.

I have never attended college or university, not quite on purpose. Life decisions are funny that way. I began traveling at eighteen, met my Superstar Husband, got married and had three kids by the time I was twenty-five. My education on writing has come from reading hundreds of novels of all genres, and many books on writing, and I am endlessly thankful to the authors responsible for these books.

I started my whole fiction writing journey with this book, surely familiar to some of you. 

 

I read Bird By Bird when I was twenty-one and pregnant with Kai, my first born. Chinua was in Israel at the time, and the Passover Massacre had happened the day he arrived, leading to a suicide bombing in a public place nearly every day that he was in Israel. It was a terrifying time, I was staying in Marin County with a friend, and reading this funny, hopeful, down-to-earth book by a Marin writer carried me through. When I think of it I still remember the smell of eucalyptus and lavender, the rain, the hard-boiled eggs I popped like shots to feed my growing baby. 

Anne Lamott is a force that calms the soul by writing about taking the smallest chunks, soothing the writer’s anxiety, sitting down to work, turning off the horrid voices that threaten the writer. Reading her book, I thought that perhaps I could write fiction. 

From there I moved to On Writing by Stephen King. It is part Cinderella story about his own career, part hard-nosed advice, and very inspiring. 

Then there was Escaping into the Open, The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg, a book that focuses on full, ripe, delicious, sensory writing. 

When I read The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, I felt I had met a kindred spirit. She’s just so delightfully deep and tortured, with humor to save the day. (That could be my bio line.) She insists that it takes forever to write a book, which I don’t think is true, but it is such a pleasure to read her advice on writing and life. 

 

The War of Art taught me about breaking through the initial resistance to get to my writing, or art, or meditation. It’s such a good book and I highly recommend it. 

And there was Walking on Water, which taught me about the sacred in art, confirming many things I already knew at the core of me. (If you want more delightful autobiography type writing, read Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks series, especially A Circle of Quiet.)

These were my first books on writing. They taught me to focus on details, to sit down and try to get words out (Anne Lamott said 300 to 500 was okay, but Stephen King insisted on 2000), to immerse myself in sensory details, to dig into my characters. So that was the way I wrote. I started with an idea and explored through writing chapters. And then I tried to come up with a plot and rewrote 14 times. It took ages, as you know. 

Enter my next phase of writing.

I had always dreamed of writing fantasy. But it was elusive and far off. It seemed nearly impossible to simply, what—create a world out of my head? It was on my list of most-desired-things though, along with beginning to paint again (happening), sailing the world with Chinua once we’re empty nesters (to be determined), having lots of kids (done),  learning to cook (done), and having an outdoor kitchen. (Also done.) But I was frustrated by how hard writing was.

In dreaming about fantasy and writing more quickly, I knew that I needed to think about plotting my books. But how? I write in a dream-like state that falls on me, making me feel that the words are not even coming from me—I’m catching them and pulling them onto the page. I’m almost not there. I listened to a TED talk recently that confirmed this, recently, saying that in flowing creativity, the self correcting part of the brain turns off. This would explain the dream state. It’s an amazing place to be, more fun than anything I know. 

And then I listened to a talk by John Cleese that changed everything about the way I think about writing.

After watching this talk, I realized that I could bring the dreaming state into a different part of the process. I dream, I write down ideas and follow threads of thought. I play like crazy before I sit down to write.

He suggests taking 90 minute chunks where you do nothing but dream and play, and that you don’t allow criticism to interfere with any part of that time. So for six months, every time I got on the three hour bus ride to Chiang Mai, I listened to music, stared out the window, and dreamed a whole world. I used Evernote on my phone to write down every thought I had, and after those six months were over, I had come up with the premise and a large part of the plot of a fantasy series. When I was ready, I put my ideas into plot format, writing down scenes in order. I fixed plot holes and added characters when they popped into existence. I wrote down who they were and what they looked like, what bothered them about the world, what they were going to do about it. I did it all on the bus. (I was still working on A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, but bus time was up for grabs.)

When I finally had everything together, I wrote the first draft in a month, forcing myself to complete it rather than start over halfway through like I had done with my other books.

Each day I looked at what scene I needed to write, then began writing, falling quickly into the dream state that I love, riding along the wave of words that came out of my keyboard. It was the most fun I had ever had writing a book, topped only by the fun I’m having while I write the second World Whisperer book. It's hard to imagine that at one point it was all a fuzzy idea. They're all so real to me now; Isika, Benayeem, Jabari. I practically live with them. I also find that it is not stilted in any way. I know what will happen, but I am always surprised by the way it does. I don't plan dialogue or exact moments, all of that happens as I write. 

There are some excellent plot books that have helped me in my new way of writing. The best book on writing quickly is Rachel Aaron’s 2000 to 10000. (Reading this book led me to her own fantasy, and Kai, Kenya and I are now big fans of hers.) She also has excellent advice on plotting in the second half of the book. 

And the spicily named Take off your Pants! (Referencing the two worlds of plotting and pantsing, as they are known) is another excellent book on plot. I have adopted Libbie Hawker's character charts and they are very helpful. 

We're on countdown! I'm hidden away editing like crazy in my own town and cannot WAIT to share World Whisperer with you. 

I hope this little post helped with any questions about resources for writing well. If you have more questions for me, don't hesitate to ask!

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The clearest things.

We’re well into fire season in Northern Thailand. The smoke is thick, now, like a filter over the whole world. My throat hurts in the morning. Everything is muted into grays, browns, and washed out greens and yellows. I feel filtered too, missing my husband and waiting for someone to come and invite me into a world of plenty. But there are so many beautiful things, even in this smoky season. The doves in the mornings and all the birds that call while we meditate at the garden. My jasmine tree is blooming. When I sit on the stairs in the evening I can breathe jasmine, think jasmine. I go to bed dreaming of it. It makes me think of my friend Leaf, the way she bought us jasmine on our retreat. It reminds me of my first, difficult moments in Goa, when I was pregnant with Solo, the longing I had for home, and the jasmine my husband bought me, wrapped in a banana leaf. It made me feel like perhaps I could stay.

Yesterday I drove to the pool with the kids. We still fit in the chariot, but just barely, and sometimes I can’t believe we are still driving everywhere in it. We passed dried, burned forests, the earth black at the feet of teak trees that have lost all their leaves. The hills were hidden behind the smoke. Tiny lizards sat in the road with heads and tails up and I prayed they would scurry away every time. They did. Our little motorbike with its sidecar bravely navigated the hills in first gear, rattling all the way. 

The morning had gone well, with school and books and tea all around. I have successfully stopped adding sugar to my coffee and I don’t know if you can ever know just how huge an accomplishment it is for me, but I feel amazing. The heat grew and grew until it was nearly 40 degrees and time to drive to the pool.

We met for homeschool co-op and talked about the eclipse, which we missed by seven minutes, because the moon was still hiding behind the hills. Isaac taught himself to swim, wriggling back and forth between Kenya and I. When he swims he holds his hands to his sides and bobs up and down like a dolphin. He is slippery and cool in the water, a delight on a hot day. In the hotspring pool, I talked with an older French woman. “Your husband?” she asked, after we talked about all my children. “He’s away right now, in Hungary?” Her face changed. “He’s hangry with you?” She asked, horrified. “No, no!” I said. “The opposite. He’s very, very pleased with us. He’s in Hun-gah-ry.” 

Sometimes people here ask me if I’m not afraid to have my husband far from me, that he will have another girlfriend. (Yes, people ask this and yes people talk about absolutely everything in Thailand. No subject is too difficult, except, perhaps, the royals.) And then I think of our trust, and the fact that marriage and the promises we have made make us more free than anything could. We can fly around the world, apart for a short while, knowing that we will always come back together, a true home to one another. Trust is the water, the life, the clearing away of smoke until everything shines like diamonds; the love Chinua holds for me, no matter where he is, the truth of it, the stark, effervescent joy. He is not angry. He is very pleased to think of us, his wife and children. We are his home. He comes back to us singing. 

We drove home in the dark, rattling along in the thick air. The full moon shone red through the smoke and everyone watched it except for me, because I was watching the road, slowing down for the broken places, making sure the lizards got out of the way, admiring the way that life conquers even the driest places.