It’s only 10 days old, and already 2019 has proven to be a year of change for my family. So much so, I don’t even know where to begin. (Which says something, considering the number of changes we’ve undergone since that fateful day in March 2011.)
I spent most of 2018 burning up the pavement between Columbia and Buffalo since my beloved lives in Columbia. It was a fluke we even met—we both happened to be in the same area for Thanksgiving in 2017. But once we did meet, neither of us wanted to let the distance keep us from something we could tell was worth the effort.
It was a tough way to start a relationship, but it was also good—we learned what we were made of early on.
The discussion of which city we would consolidate to was a long one with many twists and turns. We involved the boys in the process; their lives would be impacted by the decision we landed on. In the end, it was apparent that no matter how much we loved the beautiful farm we were leasing, Columbia held our future.
So I stuck my toe in the water, just to see if I’d even be able to find a job. It feels like I blinked and had my pick of positions to choose from—good jobs that would further my career.
There was a time I couldn’t fathom leaving Buffalo. It was a safe place for my children and I to find our feet again after our world was shattered. Last year, I wrote that I felt like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, ready to spread my wings and fly. Now I realize that spreading my wings means leaving the chrysalis, leaving Buffalo.
It’s been a terrifying and thrilling couple of months. It felt so unreal, like we were going through the motions but nothing would really change. The rhythm that had become our world would go on.
But now we’re at the doorway. Today is my last day with the sleep company. Tomorrow, I make the journey to my new home. Monday, our new lives begin. We are leaving behind the quiet cocoon of small town life and trading it for an adventure in the city. It’s not exactly Manhattan, but it’s a big change for us.
Dylan, my oldest son, will be spreading his own wings as he stays behind to finish out the lease on the farm before setting off to find his path. He’s a smart and resourceful man. I know great things are in store for him. But lately, I look at him and I picture the chubby toddler in jeans and a flannel and a grin that could light up a city block. And I get a little teary because I know that once he steps out on his own, it’ll never quite be the same again. These are my last precious few moments to have all of my chickens under the same roof in this way. From now on, it will be different.
There are still a lot of unknowns with this next chapter. Horses need to be sold or boarded. Dogs will be divvied up among family. I think I knew—we all knew—that our time on the farm had come to an end. I just wasn’t quite ready to face it. Still, what lies ahead is where we’re supposed to be, and I have to keep trusting that, even through the unknown.
Thankfully, my guy is there for me through this emotional roller coaster I’m on, solid and steady and reassuring me that we’re going to be okay. That I’m not alone anymore; whatever comes up over these next few weeks, he has my back. I suspect he’s going to have to work especially hard to keep me sane the first week or so I’m away from Dylan, but we will get through that, too.
The other exciting thing that happened was that I cracked open a manuscript for the first time in nearly a year. I can’t say the words tumbled out, but progress was made. I think, maybe, I’m ready to write again. I’m hoping that all of the changes I’m making in my world will trim away the distractions and leave me with more head space to create new worlds.
It’s also been bothering me that I’d moved away from helping the fight against human trafficking. My world has become about me, about survival. There is so much darkness out there, I don’t think any of us has the luxury to stop fighting for light. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what that means for me, how I can best keep fighting to make the world a better place.
Happily, I think that piece of the puzzle is taking shape in the form of a new venture with some of my favorite people. I’m not quite ready to share the details yet, but I will say to keep an eye out for some unabashed Sass coming from me this spring…
And until then, wish me luck.
There are times when I’m a strong woman, independent and fierce and in control of my world.
And then there are times when I’m a scared little girl, vulnerable and unsure and silenced by my sense of self-doubt.
It’s part of the paradox that is inherently me. Kind of like the way I adore super cute shoes but hate wearing gloves when I garden because it deprives me the feeling of dirt on my hands. (Which I’ve recently discovered is actually really good for your sleep. The dirt on your hands, not the super cute shoes.)
As transparent as I am in this blog and as many books as I have published, I’m sure it surprises some to know there are times when I stand tongue-tied, completely unable to verbalize the thoughts bouncing around my brain or the feelings swirling through me like a torrent.
My boyfriend once told me that it’s incredibly frustrating that someone as articulate as me is, at times, unable to coherently express what I’m feeling, what I need, or what I want.
Here's the thing, I'm a passionate woman. While that's fun to watch from afar via a Facebook feed or something, it's not everyone's cup of tea up close. I’ve found that what’s inside of me is something best doled out in doses, usually through a dozen books or so, lest it be too much.
And that is the fear that stays my tongue: I am too much. I smile too big, talk too much, feel too deeply, think too hard, am bruised too easily… and don’t even get me started on the days when I fear that I am not enough.
There’s so much going on in my world right now. Some terrifying, some heartbreaking, some thrilling. But it’s all roiling inside of me, like a flood waters threatening to breach a levy. This week, I found myself standing frozen in the face of it, afraid that I am yet again too much and not enough at the same time.
My middle sister, Karen, and I have been known to butt heads from time to time. I suppose that's what happens when two people have personalities as strong as ours. But she’s also the person who gets it when others don’t. Maybe that’s the thing about sisters; you share the same brand of crazy.
A few months ago, my boyfriend and I were going through a rough patch. He said those words to me because I was utterly unable to verbalize what was going on in my head. Or rather, I did speak for myself but the instant he challenged it or ignored it, I let him. I froze in my uncertainty. Was I being too much again?
(In the spirit of full disclosure, there are times it’s less uncertainty and more weariness. One of my favorite lines comes from Carsie Blanton’s song Backbone: Honey, I’ve already conquered all I can. I just wanna be a woman. All you gotta be is a man.)
I’m a woman who prides herself in being independent and strong and still sometimes I am so small and broken. When we were having this fight, Karen shared the song Brave by Sara Bareilles with me. It’s since become my anthem whenever I find myself allowing people to treat me in a way that isn’t okay, whether it’s a boyfriend, my own kid, a colleague, or even a parent.
Something else I’ve learned—sometimes we can love a person fiercely and accept them as they are but also know that the way they treat us isn’t okay. If they can’t or won’t change that, it’s okay to walk away from them before they destroy you. It doesn’t make either of you bad people. Sometimes, that’s the bravest thing you can do.
Once again, it’s been too long since I’ve posted on my blog. I don’t mean to silent for such long stretches—the days just kind of slip one into the other until months have gone by. But that’s something I think most of us are dealing with right now, whether or not we’re trying to keep up with a blog.
In the blur since I last posted, I’ve taken a new job. It should come as no surprise to those who know me that it wasn’t at all the path I was expecting. An old boss reached out to offer me a marketing position. I turned him down at first, didn’t even hear what he had to say because I was so focused on getting that teaching certificate. But as the weeks ticked by, I kept thinking about what he’d said and how much I’d enjoyed working with him before. So I reached out, figuring I’d just hear him out. Two weeks later, I was sitting at my new desk, the brand manager for an exciting new startup in Springfield.
In retrospect, I’m abundantly happy I didn’t let me tunnel vision make my decision for me. It’s been a little over a month since I started the job, amd I love it, I love the company, and I love what we’re building. Although me and teaching is starting to feel like Ben and the accounting firm on Parks & Rec.
Part of that job is a weekly blog. I hope you’ll check it out if you have the time. Especially if you have trouble sleeping—our products can legit help. I’ve had more sleep in the past month than ever in my life. I’m still not caught up, but I’m getting there. I’m almost human again. And I’ve turned into a bit of a sleep dork, so don’t be surprised if that spills over onto this blog.
My year of learning and growing continues. I’m not quite ready to publicly process it all—certainly not as transparently as I did in the My Own After Series, but I’m sure my experiences will find their way into books. They always do. A friend commented this morning that she came across a picture of me from last summer and was struck by how much I’ve changed, how much healthier I am, physically and emotionally. Some days I feel it more than others, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by people who remind me of it when I can’t see it for myself.
Speaking of books, I’d planned to run a post about the novels on tap for this year. But the thing is, I’m struggling to write romance novels. For years, I’ve written the world not as I’ve seen it, but how I wished it to be. I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I have several almost-finished novels on my hard drive that I just can’t seem to force myself to wrap up. Because they don’t feel genuine.
The love stories that tumbled from my fingers once upon a time were a fun ideal, but one I’m not sure exists. Real love is so much messier. Real love—romantic or otherwise—hurts like hell. I feel like I need to capture that, but it scares me. Writing, under the best of circumstances, is how I grapple with the emotions and events in my world. If I tangle with my emotions head-on right now, it could be some of my most powerful writing yet. But it could also break me.
I suspect the books that do finally surface will either be career suicide or my breakout hits. Because so much of my brand is Happy Heather. That’s something that even bleeds into my everyday life. It’s who people expect me to be. But lately, I’m kinda feeling a bit more like Sassy Heather. We’ll see how she goes over.
I do know that I’m trying very hard to find my way back to a house on some land. I’ve hardly seen my horses since they’ve been staying with friends. Once a month isn’t nearly enough. I miss my girls, deeply. Yesterday I stood in the muddy pasture, hugging my Daisy’s neck while Pip tried to steal my sunglasses. I breathed in the scent of them and all the bad things in my world seemed to fade away, if only for that moment. And I knew in that moment that I’m not me without my girls. They keep me centered and they keep me from being pulled under when the storms of life threaten to drown me.
So, I don’t know exactly what 2018 holds for me, but I’m curious to see how it all shakes out, curious to see what books finally make their way to the page once the log jam in my brain unsnarls.
Thanks for bearing with me as I figure it out.
It's football season, which for us - like so many families - means our schedule is packed now through October, and the vast majority of the dates blocked out have something to do with the gridiron. No need to guess where we'll be on Friday nights, either. We'll don our black and red to sit on metal seats where we'll stomp and clap and cheer ourselves hoarse. Well, I will. My sons will spend quit a bit of that time walking around with their respective herd of teenagers.
I've watched many of these boys play since their 7th grade year. I've watched them mature, as young men and as players. We've been the underdogs in these parts for a long time. The glory days are something I hear whisperings of but, having only lived here for 5 years, I wasn't around to witness. And while I acknowledge that the surrounding towns might not think much of us, our football team has heart. They have a spunk, a grit, that I admire.
If you talk to any of the players or go to many games, you'll hear the rumblings that the refs don't like us much. Calls seldom seem fair and the opposing teams often blatantly cheat and aren't called on it. (For reals - my son was bitten once on the field. I've seen kids kicked while down, after the play had stopped. It's not cool.)
But, from the relative comfort of the stands, I can also see that point when our boys give up. They come so close to victory and then you can see them decide the odds are stacked too much against them, and they stop giving it their all. Sure, some of them hang on until the bitter end, but enough of them check out that the crowd starts to check out, and the inevitable end comes.
And, in all of my bleacher wisdom, I know that until they decide they have a chance to win, they have no chance to win.
My oldest son only played football with this team for two years. A broken arm ended his second season and he opted to homeschool after that because he was eager to finish early and find his great adventure. Blake, number two son, couldn't play football because of his head injury. And, in truth, I think he doesn't mind so much. He only would have played because it was the thing to do, not because he loved the sport.
My number three son, though. That boy lives and breathes football and now that he's in 7th grade, his time has come. He graduates from Mighty Mites to being part of the football team. I watch him on the field with the other boys and I know they're beginning a journey together, just as his brother began a journey before him.
Last night, after the game was done, I listened as Number Three told me every bad or unfair call he'd seen. As I replied, I realized that I needed to heed my own words.
You see, the last time I was a football mom, I didn't feel as keenly how alone I was because my other two children were still young enough to always sit with me. Now they're off and gone with their friends and I can't hide from my solitude. For me, only part of my mind was on the game last night.
I have to admit that I spent most of it feeling very much isolated - from the moms whose sons stayed on the team to play all six years together; from the moms who are married; from the younger, single crowd; from the people who've lived here all their lives... you get the picture. I sat there, painfully aware of how alone I was and the weight of every terrible thing from the past week just kept getting heavier and heavier until I slunk home, drank two glasses of wine, and watched an episode of Outlander while wishing I'd get sucked back in time. Only--let's be real--I wouldn't end up in Sam Heughan's lap, no matter how much I wish I would.
But anyway, back to my reply. I told him, "Life never fights fair and there will be many times when it seems like the ref isn't calling the game like He should. But you keep fighting until it's over. As long as you're fighting, there's a chance you'll win. Stop fighting and your chances go to zero. If you want to be a football player, then wrap your head around it now - the refs will not call fair games, the other teams won't like you, and it will be hard. But you still gotta fight."
So enough moping. I am alone and it is not the end of the world. There is a lot of scary/awful stuff happening in my world right now, but it won't last forever. Because I choose to fight.
There is vagabond in my blood. I only have to look to my grandparents’ generation to find migrant farm workers on my daddy’s side. Even before that, they moved around the country quite a bit after arriving from Europe. Tracking down my family tree before the days of Ancestry.com meant lots of road trips north. I had an uncle who died train hopping out west; he was a vagabond. My own daddy has the itchiest feet on the planet. Even after retiring from the military, he can never sit still for long. If work isn’t giving him an excuse to travel, he finds one. He once accused me of moving more than anyone he’s ever met. I respectfully ask if he’s met my sister, or if he’s looked in the mirror to see who we inherited our gypsy feet from.
Warring with that migrant nature is the deep desire for roots, for a place to belong. On my mama’s side, we had the family farm in the Ozarks that grounded my family for generations. Even for those who didn’t live there, it was the place everyone returned to. It’s been more than 20 years since the farm was sold, and I still feel its absence in my soul as I watch the world spin from the outside looking in and wonder what it would be like to have a place you’re from.
When we moved to this area in 2012, all I knew of it was that Buffalo, Missouri was the only place I could get cell phone coverage in between Lebanon and Stockton Lake. I’d never even heard of the town that’s registered as our official address. When my mother found out I was moving here, she told me my great-grandmother was actually from Buffalo. The romantic in me wonders if I was returning to roots I didn’t even know existed.
It’s been a hard-fought five years, finding our place in this tiny town. Sometimes it seems as if the land itself has tried to buck us loose. We’ve fought record-breaking droughts, floods, and everything in between. The people here are so used to everyone operating under a set of common knowledge, sometimes it’s hard to keep up when you don’t have that piece of the puzzle.
I have considered moving. It’s what I do when life gets too much, I think. Perhaps it stems from a promise I made myself as a teen—if things ever seemed too hopeless, I’d go somewhere new and start fresh rather than cause myself harm. More than once in the past five years, I’ve looked longingly at the map and considered my options. I should go somewhere warmer, closer to the ocean, closer to my friends. This place doesn’t want me; I don’t fit here.
But here’s the thing: I’m an odd little duck. I don’t fit anywhere, not really and not for long. That’s part of being a writer, an observer—someone who throws herself headfirst into a thousand different things just long enough to master them and move on. I think it’s all tied up in the one thing I never stray from: writing stories. I’m always learning so I can document. I’m always observing so I can capture details. The same sensory disorder that makes me a freak in so many ways makes it possible for me to describe a touch in such detail.
It’s taken me nearly forty years (I still have six months until that mile marker), but I’ve come to terms with being weird. I make it my goal as a mother to three weird children to help them embrace and harness their quirks early on, to save themselves some pain.
And sometime in the past year, I have realized something else about myself: If I’m going to not fit in anywhere, I’d like to not fit in here, in this place. I want to connect to the roots of my past in this small town and flourish as the oddest little flower this place has ever seen.
This might not be the deep, wild and woolly Ozark Mountains of my childhood, the ones I’ve dreamed of and written about so often. The hills are more rolling here. The people are different somehow. But it has become just as much a part of me and my story.
For some time now, I’ve felt compelled to tell not just the story of Blake’s accident, but of the journey that it set us on. One night, one moment, changed each of us, and it changed our family. I realize now that story is part of this one, my journey home. My figuring out what happily-ever-after looks like to me.
I started writing that book last fall, and I’m still only four chapters in. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to force myself to sit and write. When I do sit down, the words flow. But they also leave me tired. It’s been a long, hard six years. Perhaps I’m afraid of what I’ll find if I look at them too closely. Already the process has begun to change me—for the better, but it’s been an uncomfortable journey nonetheless.
All of this is to say that I’ve decided to give something new a try. I plan to release one chapter each Monday on my blog. Perhaps that will force me to keep pace. When the story is finished, I’ll pull it together into a book and send it to the editor. But I have lots of books out there; this less about adding to that list and more about sharing my story in hopes that it will inspire someone else to rewrite their destiny if need be.
Maybe it will give someone else hope that if their world is shaken, good things can come of it.
Read Chapter One of My Own Ever After
Some of you may remember the story of how my novel Throwaway began, with a dream about a couple - a prostitute and a police officer, sitting in a dinner talking. I knew they were in love but couldn't be together. It was just a conversation, but it stayed with me after I woke up. I spent weeks obsessing about this pair, wondering who they were and how they had ended up in that diner.
Despite all of the pondering, I felt stuck. The words just wouldn't come. It wasn't until I went home to the Ozarks for a family reunion that I'd find the inspiration I would need for their story to unfold. As part of the reunion, we visited Honeybranch Cave and the Garden of Dreams. Someone in our family knew the owners, and we'd been granted a rare tour of the cave and grounds.
I was absolutely captivated by the place, its history, and the possibilities it held. So much so that I went home and the entire book just tumbled out, taking only six weeks to complete the first draft. The cave and the lore surrounding it became a central part of that couple's story. Sure, I sprinkled in a few details of my own, but beneath the fiction was a living part of history. Beneath the fiction was a real place that inspired my soul.
I haven't thought much about Honeybranch Cave or the surrounding Garden of Dream for a while. Sitting there, dormant while my life bustled on. That is, until a reader emailed me to ask if it was a real place. I told her the story and we talked a while longer. Afterwards, on a lark, I looked it up on Zillow. I wanted to see if I could find pictures of it. The conversation had left me longing to see this place again.
As it turns out, the property is for sale. The cave, the surrounding 193 acres, the homes, the gardens... Oh, to have a cool million in my bank account right now. I can't help it, but a part of me has become obsessed. What would it be like to own the place that inspired the book that changed my world? What would it be like to, on some level, create for myself the world Jessie did for herself?
As I scroll through the images on the listing, there are details I find I got wrong. (I didn't tour the house on my visit!) But there are also pictures that are exactly as I remembered or envisioned them. There are pictures that I could almost see Jessie or Gabe in. Suddenly, their world is real to me again.
It's funny to think that whoever owns this place has no idea how dear it is to me. I'm not even a blip on their radar. Someday, someone new will buy it and they may never know about the fictional lives that sprang from their new home. Whoever it is, I hope they love it. I hope it inspires them to do whatever it is they were made to do.
Because it inspired me.
PS... Whenever I'm daydreaming about a bigger house (which is often these days), Zillow is the first place I go to check out what's available. If you're house hunting, or just house dreaming, they're a good first stop! :0)
In February, I did something I’d promised myself I’d never do again… I rejoined Corporate America. I left that world after Blake’s accident so I could walk with him down his road to recovery. It was an unexpected dream come true when I got a book deal shortly after. It didn’t take long for Booktrope to become a significant portion of my world—in addition to my books, my husband got a job with them, I worked as a freelance marketer for them, and I even accepted a position leading several of their imprints. For five years, my world has consisted of my children, my farm, my charities, my books, and helping others bring their books to the world. During this time, I’ve experienced some of my highest highs and my lowest lows, but in all, if I could have hand-carved my world, it would have looked a lot like those past five years.
So it surprised even me when I came to the conclusion that it was time to close that chapter of my life. For lots of reasons, and after a lot of prayer and thought, I came to realize that it was time to shift gears. So when I saw a job posting for a position at a good company that looked right up my alley, I applied. The interviews and subsequent job offer all happened so quickly that my head is still spinning. Just like that, I was back in a world I thought I’d never see again.
It was culture shock—I’d been working well over full-time from home, but it was still a major adjustment to switch to a full-time schedule and commute. The entire family is struggling to find our footing as roles shift and schedules change. In so many ways, my new gig is a dream job. It’s cool beyond belief. But it’s still away from my kiddos and animals, and it’s a whole new, and sometimes unsettling, world.
At first, I cried every day as I drove into work. Again—and I can’t stress this enough—it wasn’t because my job was bad, I was just mourning the loss of what I’d had. But with time, I’ve gotten my bearings at the new place and responsibilities with Vox Dei have ebbed and I find that in many ways, I have more time for my children now. Or rather, they have my undivided attention when it’s on them. It’s not entirely “work is work and home is home” because of the nature of the job, but the new job isn’t quite as all-consuming as Vox Dei had become. And the increase in pay means I have more expendable income to do things with and for my kiddos that I just wasn’t able to do before. It’s taken a month, but I’ve reduced my poor-me sessions down to Monday mornings and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.
The question I’ve gotten most as I’ve told people about the job is whether I’ll keep writing. The answer is a definite yes. In fact, I hope to write more. Once I made the decision to no longer rely on books for an income, I wrote the entire rest of Finding Broken Arrow in one week. That’s right, a flippin’ week! It was like an enormous weight had been lifted and the words just poured out of my fingers. Even better—I enjoyed the process. I loved it. In keeping with my new “I’m just going to do this because I love it” philosophy, I am publishing this one indie. I hired an editor and proofreader, but I did design my own cover, which have to admit, I'm pretty proud of!
And just as I stressed earlier that my daily sob-sessions of the past month are no reflection on my current employer, my decision to leave Booktrope is no reflection on them. I’ve met some of the most amazing people during my time there, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for the past five years. We simply came to a fork in the road and chose different paths. I wish them all the best. (And yes, my existing books are still proudly under the Booktrope banner!)
There is so much I’m excited about right now, so many grand adventures I’m on the cusp of. Thank you for being part of the past five years with me. I look forward to seeing what the next five years hold!
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.