Oh, Utah, You Trickster.

A year ago this past weekend, I was in Utah for two events to try and get people to buy my book. I wrote this when I got home, but never published it. Enjoy. 

Two weeks ago, I flew to Salt Lake City for a couple of book-related events. Given that my book is a memoir about a single Mormon woman, it made sense to return to the Motherland and share my stories.

My plane landed at 1:10. By 1:25, I was at the rental car counter. By 1:30, I had the following conversation:

Attendant: Email, please, to send a receipt to?
Me: Ms…
Attendant: Ms? What about your husband?
Me: I’m not married.
Attendant: What about when you DO get married? What then?
Me: Well, I waited 25 years. I don’t think marriage is happening. And I’m fine with that.
Attendant: Oh, that just means God knows you haven’t NEEDED a husband yet. When you do, you’re gonna have to change your email address.

Here’s the thing: I was not at all surprised by that conversation, which proves two things to me. First, marriage still reigns supreme in Utah. Second, I totes made the right choice to move away.

My reading was attended by a handful of people, but I expected that because my competition in Provo was a BYU football game. But I loved the people who showed up–they asked great questions and the Provo Library is a thing of beauty.

After my reading, we walked out of the room…and right into a bride’s photo shoot. My friend Peggy thought it was the funniest thing, to walk out of a reading of my book, in which I make peace with not being married, and into a bridal photo shoot.

I loved being in Utah with the mountains and the final breath of summerish air, and time with Peggy never disappoints. I’m glad I took the time to go, and though every time I visit I entertain the thought of moving back, I appreciated God’s gentle–and humorous–reminders that I belong on the prairie.

A Bit of Writing Advice.

Many people have asked what my next book will be. The assumption that I’m worthy of writing a second book took me a few months to accept as a compliment, but I wasn’t all too serious about writing a second book. The first book, I figured, was like the 5K I ran in 2011–good to know I could do it, good to know I finished not last, never gonna do it again.

(Except for that one time some former students convinced me to do the Color Run with them. That 5K doesn’t count, right?)

Anyway. I started thinking about writing a second book and how ridiculous it sounded, because I had nothing else to write about. I tried for six months to write about this project I’m doing with my parents, to collect their life stories. My parents are pretty great, and in the beginning months of interviewing them, I started to realize we have more in common than I thought. It could be a bit of a riff on “Tuesdays with Morrie,” I thought.

So I set about to write a draft. And after six months of half-hearted writing, I stalled out at 3,300 words.

Two things to note here: first, six months is a long time. Second, 3,300 words is not a lot of words. I wrote the first draft of “Lies Jane Austen Told Me” in 30 days. It was 50,000 words. So the writer’s block I’ve been feeling this summer reached acute status last week.

On Sunday, I sat at church, half-listening to talks about family councils, when I thought a better use of my time would be to write anything. I took out my journal and started scribbling my frustration with not being able to write, and in the middle of that rant, a sentence of a daydream I had months ago came back to me.

In the dream, I am telling a story at a Moth StorySlam. I love the variety of stories I hear at The Moth, and I’ve even heard single Mormon women tell stories on this show. But all the stories I’ve heard on The Moth are about how these women left the faith. Never stories of how they stay. And in the daydream, I take the microphone and I say, “I was 19 the first time I tried to leave the Mormon church.”

That’s as far as I got in the dream. But Sunday, that sentence struck me again, only this time an outline came flooding after it. I scribbled and scribbled in my messiest handwriting, trying to keep up with my brain, and by the time I had to play the closing song on the organ, I shook with adrenaline and excitement.

“I think I have my next book,” I said to myself as I played.

Since Sunday, I’ve written 3,500 words–200 more than six months working on a story that wasn’t going anywhere.

So here’s my writing advice for today: sometimes, a story isn’t quite ready to be told. And you can power through and try to find a way to tell it, and maybe feel like a complete failure with the accompanying writer’s block, or you can try to figure out if there’s a different story that needs to be told first.

I think I found my story.

I think I’ll be able to hit 30,000 words before school starts, if I focus and work hard.

I think I might be a writer.

Know-It-All.

Prompt: If you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover.

Not long after a boy broke my heart, I was talking to the boy’s sister (who, to this day, remains a dear friend). I was 27, living in Utah, and convinced the boy was my last chance at love and marriage, and now all hope was lost.

My friend was not as convinced as I was, and as we talked, she admitted, “It would be so much easier for you if you just knew. Either way–if you knew you would never get married, you could just live your life. If you knew you weren’t going to get married until you were 50, at least you would have that to look forward to. It’s the not knowing that sucks.”

So yes, I would read a book of all that has happened (I wrote a good chunk of it already) and all that would happen to me, because I would like to know–do I really retire from my current high school? Am I 62 and still teaching rap and hip hop in my Pop Culture class? Do I ever go on another date (as of right now, I am dead-set against dating ever again)? Do I eventually get a new couch? Move out of my apartment? Go hiking in Glacier National Park again? When do my parents die? My siblings? Me?

I would like to know all of it. Would you?

My Quote.

Prompt: Do you have a favorite quote you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

Here’s a small behind-the-scenes tale of what it’s like to write a book.

When I wrote my book, I frequently returned to one quote when I started to panic. (And I panicked often.) One quote that reminded me I wasn’t crazy for writing a memoir. It’s from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird–not incidentally, the book that first made me think I could actually write. Lamott writes: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Writing a memoir about five men breaking my heart, and about my own struggle to make peace with the tenuous balance of my faith and marital status, wasn’t something I took lightly, and I often struggled with how much of those stories I should tell. But revisiting that Lamott quote reminded me that these things happened, they happened to me, and maybe–just maybe–those stories were actually quite universal.

If I’d known more about the publishing world and the business of copyright, I would’ve sought Lamott’s permission for that quote to serve as the epigraph for my book. That’s how vital her words are to me.

It’s still a quote I return to many days when I’m struggling to write, because of its simple admonition: tell your stories.

Readers.

My book has been out for just over a month, and what a month it has been. When EAB agreed to publish it, I thought maybe 15 or 20 people–mostly my close friends and family–would buy and read it, and I could check “publish book” off my bucket list and move on with my life.

In my wildest dreams, I did not expect the feedback I’ve received.

Every week since its publication, I’ve received texts or Facebook messages explaining how people have connected to my story. I’ve had conversations with people about how the book is, what Stueve called, “universal in its specificity.” From a 70 year-old widow at church to a 20 year-old former student, I am genuinely amazed that something I wrote could resonate with such a cross-section of people–men, women, Mormon, ex-Mormon, Christian, agnostic, atheist, gay, straight, old and young.

I am continually surprised and humbled at the reactions and gestures I’ve received–a good crowd at a local reading, flowers from friends, Amazon or Goodreads reviews, and even today, a month after the book’s release, colleagues presented me with a plant and a congratulations at the beginning of a district training.

I hope I do not sound boastful, as that is not my intent. I find the attention at times uncomfortable, the accolades undeserved, and I’ve spent the past month learning how to be truly gracious and grateful when receiving compliments on my work. It’s a new frontier for me that I hope I’m navigating successfully.

So today, I am grateful for readers. Thank you so much for reading my book, and thank you even more for sharing with me your stories, and the common threads that run through all our lives. We are all more connected than we realize, of this I am even more sure now than I was a month ago.