Happy Thanksgiving

Last year, I shared my favorite Thanksgiving book with you. This year, I have my favorite poem of the season. It’s not really about the holiday, but it kindles in me a visceral reminder of the Thanksgivings of my childhood.

I would leave the house after dinner to walk the dog, to get away from the heat and the noise and the people. The houses I passed would be lit up, but on mute – all festivities contained, windows tightly shut. This was long before cell phones, of course, and I cherished the emptiness of the town, my only company a snuffling fifty-pound mutt terrier. With her, I felt safe enough to stay out until my fingers froze, shoulders hunched against the bitter New England night.

It was rare to meet another person, or even to see a car pass. I never brought my Walkman with me then either; I wanted, for once, to listen to the wind exhaling through the trees. It felt good to let the weight of the day lift off of me, to transform into a shadow for an hour before returning to the family and food I was lucky enough to have.
Turkeys, Galway Kinnell

Sometimes we saw shadows of gods
in the trees; silenced, we went on.
Sometimes the dog would bound off
over the snow, into the forest.
Sometimes a tree had twenty
or more black turkeys in it, each
seeming the size of a small black bear.
We remember them for their care
for their kind ever since we watched the big hen
in the very top of the tree shaking
load after load of apples down to the flock.
Sometimes I felt I would never
come out of the woods, I thought
its deeper darkness might absorb me
or feed me to the black turkeys
and I would cry out for the dog
and the dog would not answer.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire

This month, I have been drowning in text. Every day, even on the weekends, I’m writing. It gets easier for a while, this habit, and then it becomes harder, because other people still need things from me, and my brain is always on the page and never on them. It’s the curse of November.

It’s gotten too difficult to read novels at this point, so I picked up this slim volume of poetry by Warsan Shire instead. I’d seen her work floating around before, but this was the first time I’d sat and read with full attention. Her poetry is gut-wrenching and raw, but when I was finished with her book, my soul felt fuller for having read it.

The poem below was my favorite from the book, and every time I read it, I’m brought to this difficult and amazing place of thinking about how hard a place the world can be.

Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.


They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love, but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you’re young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on the face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck; I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.


I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.


I hear them say go home, I hear them say fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side. )loc 327)


For more on Warsan Shire, head here.

Enchanted; Hero (Books 1 and 2 of The Woodcutter Sisters), Alethea Kontis

November has officially swallowed me up. Between NaNoWriMo, Ten to One, publicizing the new book and helping my sister-in-law with her wedding, my free time has seriously dwindled. Somehow, however, I found time to read not one but two of Kontis’ Woodcutter Sister books. And I really wish I had a third…

Not that I have time to read another one – certainly not when I have so many other more pressing projects I absolutely have to be working on – but if Kontis magically put out a new book tomorrow, I would find a way to squeeze it in.

Shoulders squared, feet apart, and tailbone centered, Saturday lifted the wooden practice sword before her. “Again.”

Velius laughed at her. Saturday scowled. There wasn’t a speck of dirt on her instructor; no dirt would be brave enough to mar his perfect fey beauty. Nor did he seem fatigued. She hated him a little more for that.

“Let’s take a break,” he said.

“I don’t need a break.”

“I do.”

Lies. He was calling her weak. The insult only made her angrier. “No, you don’t.”

Velius lifted his head to the sky and prayed to yet another god. Temperance, maybe, or Patience. Was there a God of Arguments You’ve Lost Twenty Times Before and Were About to Have Again? If so, Saturday bet on that one. (pg 2, Hero)

Kontis writes the kind of books I would have adored at twelve. Apparently not much has changed. Just as I needed a break from algebra and French grammar lessons back then, I still crave that peaceful feeling that comes from reading novels like these when I’m drowning in deadlines.

The love stories here are simple and predictable, yes, but that’s okay because the books aren’t about romance. They’re about Kontis’ young heroines figuring out how they fit into their family, and into the world. Along the way, they do happen to meet some sweet young men who are fall head over heels in love with them and are perfectly happy to be supportive of being, well, support. These guys enjoy the pleasures that comes from being partners (and occasionally sidekicks); since I know plenty of men just like this, I was tickled to see them appear on the page in more than one guise.

What I especially loved about these books (besides the author’s spot-on sense of humor) was that the women – not only the protagonists, but every woman encountered – had power. These women altered destinies; the men were mostly around to be loving and helpful (or pawns…sometimes they made excellent pawns). A few of her women were selfless, and some were wicked, but Kontis also wrote characters who fell along the spectrum in between.

Given that these books are aimed at a younger audience, I especially appreciated that fact. I read all sorts of trash when I was a kid, but I gravitated toward stories about competent, tough, questing women who also fell in love. I was a romantic, always, but I often wanted more from the female characters written for me. I read stories about two-dimensional women because my choices were limited. All I had access to was a single, small library, so it felt special to find something that fit my favorite niche. It turns out, it still does.

Of course, these days, I not only want stories about kick-ass ladies, I also long for fun books like these with a little more diversity. Where are the adventure romances about non straight/white/young characters? When I find books like Kontis’, that hit so many of my happiness buttons, it really does make me crave more. But why can’t I have the treat I love in other flavors?! It’s National Novel Writing Month, so I can only hope some of you are busy crafting what I seek – not books about issues, but stories that capture powerful, relatable, exciting protagonists who are more like us and less like the fairy tale characters Hollywood has cursed us with.

In case you aren’t writing your own but want to point me in the right direction, I’m looking for books to read in December with interesting, underrepresented narrators. Bonus points for humor, fantasy and/or YA.


For more about Alethea Kontis, head over here.


From the Psalms to the Cloud, Maria Mankin and Maren Tirabassi

Hey, guess what? It’s November, and that means my latest book is finally here! I’m sure you’re all dying to get your hands on a copy of this magnificent treatise on faith’s place in a fast-paced digital culture. It’s basically like Me Talk Pretty One Day and Eat, Pray, Love got together and had a baby, and that baby was this book.

Just kidding. It’s absolutely nothing like that. Seriously, don’t buy this book based on that idea. If anything, buy this book because you feel bad for me. Being a full-time writer is awesome and I love it, but it’s not a big moneymaker. (Unless you’re Neil Gaiman. I like to imagine him swimming in a room full of gold coins; in fact, I assume his publisher is contractually obligated to pay him in gold coins for just such a purpose.) I write some fiction, and I still dabble in poetry (even though trying to sell poetry is like choosing to stand in the stocks and have rotten fruit chucked at you), but my bread and butter is worship resource books.

It’s pretty sexy work, I know. I don’t talk about it much here because religion is a touchy subject, and the moment people even start breathing in that direction, it gets heated. I do my best to steer clear of the topic since I never want anyone to feel pressured to agree with my perspective on the matter.

For the record, my opinion is that faith is a mountain with an infinite number of paths; the top of the mountain is not God, but a place where respect, tolerance, and justice coexist. For me, God is everywhere and accessible to any and all interested parties. My faith in God doesn’t conflict with my belief in scientific fact or my desperate hope that I will someday get to meet an alien. I have friends of many different faiths, and I have friends who are atheist and agnostic; I love them not because of what religion they may or may not practice, but because, like me, they believe all people deserve equal rights and a healthy dose of compassion.

That being said, I often struggle to live up to that in my day-to-day life; it’s gotten to the point where I notice the opportunity to be a more generous person but walk straight past it because, for whatever reason, the opportunity makes me feel uncomfortable. As it turns out, my faith is all about radical discomfort. There is very little room in it for lip service; the path is all about action, and the seed for this book came from a desire to explore what that really means.

It turns out, that’s a huge question, and not one we could tackle in a single book. As we talked about it together, and turned to others to hear what they had to say on the matter, we began to focus on an idea that I love: How do we climb out of the out-dated confines of a faith we grew up with, as individuals and in community? And as we do it, how can we translate that faith into something less focused on tradition and more connected to real-world need?

When we started this project, I was overwhelmed by a desire to connect to a more radical, messy, challenging faith than the one I experienced on Sunday mornings. I love my church and my denomination, and I know that many people involved in it are doing great work living out the verse my husband and I requested for the benediction at our wedding:

What does God require of you
But to act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

But I didn’t feel like I was doing enough of that. I was practicing a safe, comfortable, childish version of my faith, and I didn’t know how to change. When we wrote this book, we called on people of all ages from around the world to help us dig into something real. When I read over the page proofs at the beginning of October, I was reminded that the best part of this experience has been reading what they wrote. We asked for prayer and practice, and our contributors came back to us with a raw faith that inspired me. The end result wasn’t a complete answer to the puzzle, but it gave me hope.

This book isn’t a step-by-step guide to faith. It’s more like a party where it’s completely acceptable to discuss the stumbling blocks on the way to the mountain top. It’s a place where, by silent agreement, we looked around and said, here, it’s okay to fall apart, or to be on the way to dying, or to simply be trying to live a life that’s a little more thoughtful. It’s alright to be clinging to constant, avoidable failure even while others dance chaotic, arms-outspread rejoicing for tiny, nearly forgettable blessings. Once I arrived, I realized I’d found my tribe – people as troubled and lost as I was who hadn’t given up hope.

Now, I know this isn’t a book for everyone, and we wrote it knowing our audience might be small. I’m okay with that. I’ve published six books in this vein, and this is by far the one I’m most proud of. Given that fact, if any of you are interested in buying a copy (or four – to subsidize the poetry, you know?), hit me up in the comments and I’ll point you in the right direction. For those of you who aren’t, we’re still good, right? The world is full of books on lighter subjects, and I promise we’ll be back at them next week…