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I’m done! At 112,405 words, my first draft is a completed success. (Please note, I was aiming for 85,000-90,000 words.) I stayed at Starbucks for over five hours, indulging in the caffeine buzz from two grande iced coffees. The Gold Card with its unlimited refills combined with the quiet late-night atmosphere to make Starbucks the perfect place to write away the hours. But, eventually, my sense of overstaying one’s welcome drove me to Tim Hortons where I drank hot coco to keep warm and enjoyed the idea of an all-night cafe were I could keep working until the project was finished.

There are three narratives in my story. Marcus and Cressa’s were intertwined so they were easy to finish up at the same time. Otis’, however, proved a touch more difficult. There was a fierce temptation, as the night waned on, to call it quits when the major story arc–Marcus and Cressa’s–was completed. Especially when Otis and his fellow characters seemed to stubbornly resist giving me any clue as to their climax. But, in the end, victory was that much sweeter for keeping on.

It was a little after 10 PM when I finished, but it was after 1 AM when I finally fell into bed. The energy of the writing has my mind buzzing. I see a truck and find its fictional back-story rolling through my mind. I find myself looking for my next scene in the kitchen. And my creativity is already plummeting deep into the fairy tale I have had on the back burner since late February.

What’s next for me? Editing will come, but I think I will first roll around in the freedom to write whatever I want. For a little while at least.

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Well, folks, it happened. The well of creativity overflowed. I’ve spent sleepless nights and groggy days in a state of writing bliss. I admit that while I was blogging about the certainty of eventual inspiration for my climax, I felt anything but certain. But it worked. My crazy, weird routine worked.

Talking with a fellow creative after church this morning, I found support for the need to throw out the rule book. But I liked his point. That we have to understand the rules’ purpose and give them a fair shot before we put them in the trash bin. If I needed confirmation that the Jessie Mae Writing Guidebook (I like that name better. I’m renaming it.) should find its way to the blogosphere, I have it.

But let’s backtrack a little. To Topsfield Maine, where I spent Thursday evening through Saturday. It houses the family farm, an hour north of Lincoln–a town whose recent addition of a Dunkin’ Donuts closes at the same time as its Walmart: 9:00 PM. Sharp.

Bye, bye civilization. But the stillness; the lack of wifi; and the nearness of the coffee pot… it was all what I needed to make my final push. My parents, my wonderful parents, asked me to do absolutely nothing the whole time. They brought me coffee and listened to my weird music and didn’t try suggesting I should sleep. My brother–who came up with his kids on Saturday–encouraged me just as fiercely. Each felt the surge of writing in me and respected it. I adore them all.

And so, a dozen cups of coffee and twenty thousand words later (I’m already fifteen thousand words over my hopeful end point), I find myself a mere few chapters from finishing. Will it happen today? I left my sister/her baby and even forewent my nephew’s second seventh birthday party (the second round of celebrating year 7) in the hopes that I will, indeed, finish. I claimed a table at Starbucks, bought some iced coffee, and plugged in The Piano Guys. Because this is routine and, if the last twenty thousand words have showed me anything, it is that the method in my madness works.

So let’s hope I finish soon, because you–and all my friends and family–probably won’t hear from me again until I do.

Blog Bonus Feature: My virtual notebook is chocked full of character facts and plot problems. It keeps me organized. Good solutions will earn a happy face. Bad solutions are getting a frowny face today.

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It’s been a long time since I took up my figurative blogging pen, but, in my defense, it has been just as long since I have reserved a corner table at the local Starbucks. The two are directly tied together. Thanks to some generous birthday gifts and, with any luck, a more peaceable schedule, I hope to get back to both.

So grab your favorite hot drink and join me for a little catch up…
Where to start? Coffee. I still love coffee. And my niece. She’s full of smiles that warm my heart. Oh yeah. I had a birthday. The best birthday so far.

IMG_0310I went into work one average Monday morning to find a scavenger hunt had been laid out for me. I admit to being a bit thick at the time of day and slightly stuck in a mire that had quenched both creativity and intellect, so it took me far longer than it should have to understand what was coming. As it turned out, my parents had booked a midweek get-a-way to NYC for hot-tubbing, shopping, eating really good food, and–most importantly–The Piano Guys first concert at Carnegie Hall (which also turned out to be a live recording… so cool!). I had dreamed about going to the concert in that savory ‘I’ll-never-do-this-but-it-would-be-once-in-a-lifetime’ way, especially because TPG was flying in artists from all over the world in a special celebration. But that my parents pulled the trip off in the middle of our busy lives and a WORK WEEK… epic.

So the very next day we headed down to New York, where I promptly found that Marvel’s Avenger S.T.A.T.I.O.N. was stillIMG_0362
very much alive in the Discovery Museum just outside Time’s Square. Who could turn down becoming agents or trying on Iron Man’s armor in a virtual sim that allowed for flight and weapon’s testing? And, yes, we had Starbucks in the city on a less-crowded walk before proceeding to Carnegie Hall for what will become one of my favorite memories. Showing my dad–who is definitely not a city guy–the M&M’s store and petting a life-sized Sven at the Disney Store was the whipped cream on my hot chocolate.

The Piano Guys exceeded my expectations and the whole trip had the effect of restoring good spirits and creativity to my seriously depleted stores. The proof is in the pudding: the very next day I had a writing marathon of 13,000 words (to give you some context, the aggressive NaNoWriMo program gets people to write 50,000 in a month).

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Flash forward to my actual birthday–one of cake and goofy faces and family–and I had all I could wish for. I could continue to go into great detail about the fun we had and the jokes we shared and the friend that took me to the movies that coming Friday, but I think I have probably used up enough words for the time being. 483 to be exact.

Thanks for joining me in a cup of joe and a good conversation. May your day be full of funny faces and joy. Your friendly neighborhood writer,

Jessie Mae

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Deep breath in. Smell the coffee. Relax those tense muscles. Transform from the businesswoman you’ve been all day to an author. Preferably in the next fifteen seconds. Right. (Sarcasm intended.)

Perhaps the greatest struggle of authoring is that simple switch: from the ordinary and not so ordinary of real life to the fabulous fiction of your other self. And it isn’t always so easy to open up the laptop, turn on the music, and hit the writing-ground running. This blog very often serves as the transition, this corner at Starbucks as the muse I never had, and the well-worn iTunes albums as the horn that pulled the Pevensies into Narnia.

Tomorrow marks the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long to jump into their luscious descriptions of mountains and lakes. I like the camps in April and July far more than their better-known father: National Novel Writing Month. At camp, there is grace and friendship and inspiration aplenty. 50,000 words, phsaw. 10,000 becomes the very doable minimum. And writers are thrown into cabins to bond across the country. Not to mention the writing prompts already filling up my Facebook wall. The very idea of the camp sends my writing self scrambling to pack a virtual bag and head for the hallowed hills of authordom. The camp’s tagline:

“An idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.”

Oh, me and my crazy life long to join the retreat! But free-writing just isn’t in the time frame. Editing The Lure of Lemons consumes me. Day and night, my mind is pulled deeper and deeper into the world and the stories. For now, that is exactly where my focus needs to be.

Yet real life still tugs at me–making me feel like I’m stumbling around my day on sleeping pills. The morning was spent getting some kind of test (there have been so many lately, I’ve quite honestly lost track of what one I had today) at the hospital, followed by breakfast with my mom, accounting and meetings, and more business. But now I’m here. At my beloved Starbucks, warmed by sales in the state of Washington, by bright and encouraging family, and a cherished letter from an even more cherished friend reflecting on the awesomeness of our friendship. Life may be trying to use me like the rope in tug-of-war, but I’m loving the journey.

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Sometimes, you just need a change of perspective…

The Eiffel Tower has long been known as grand and romantic, a symbol of France. Back in college, I was astounded to learn that, having been commissioned for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower had never been intended to remain. As seeing this legendary icon had become the top of my bucket list, I feared it could only disappoint. And then there it was. Big and majestic and beautiful and certainly no more than a twenty-minute walk from our current location. Little did we realize just how big the tower truly was. What looked so close was actually a good hour’s walk away.

By the time we reached it, my feet were literally bleeding. One popped blister, two average-joe blisters, and one blood blister completely obliterated my ability to stand up long enough to take the iconic, long-distance photo of my dearly sought-after tower. So instead, as we half-teetered in line for the elevator, I snapped a photo upwards–catching the iron latticework in all of its true glory. And I realized that this was the photo I wanted. Not the photo the rest of the world would care about, perhaps, but the photo that would remind me of the hard, detailed, inspired work and the massive scale of my beloved tower. Then, together with my sister, I piled into two over-crowded elevators to get to the top of one of the world’s greatest structures. The view was breathtaking–whatever the guidebooks say.

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Before leaving for France people said all kinds of things. That the locals were rude, the sights overcrowded, the streets dirty, and the gelato good. I could have expected that France. Instead, I found my own France. Sidewalks with street-musicians. A collection of food trucks where we were the only foreigners. Locals down by the water playing hopscotch and strumming guitars. Streets far cleaner than New York City. Gorgeous architecture. Friendly people. A collection of shops and Starbucks and affordable eateries in my favorite neighborhood. And, yes, the gelato was good, but it was nothing compared to the fresh strawberries we bought on the Rue Cler. Paris became my own.

I could have felt disappointment in missing my long-distance shot of Gustave Eiffel’s greatest feat. I could have felt disappointment in getting only one scoop of gelato. I could have fought for the Paris I had heard about. Instead, I found the Paris that mattered to me.

The understandable tendency, when we miss out, is to feel disappointment, but the last few weeks have given me a different perspective. Of course, there is the part of me that wants to fight for the me that could have been without Lyme’s Disease: a fiddler, a missionary, a gymnast, a businesswoman… Instead, I have decided to revel in the me that is. Just as I chose to celebrate the close-up shot of the Eiffel Tower, I choose to celebrate the path I walk. It may not be the iconic life of our favorite characters on television, but it’s mine and it’s profoundly beautiful. Now, having set aside any kind of modern standard, I am thankful for the strange, yet powerful role I play in this world. As I continue to learn about myself, I have a new appreciation for the way God directed me. The passion developing for writing students, the creativity seeping out in play-dates with my nephews and in my novels, the true friendships now returning from across the globe… It’s all because my life didn’t go the way I wanted it to. Praise God for that.

Sometimes you just need a change of perspective.

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Dear Friends,

Life continues to astound me. Despite my perpetual and utter uselessness when it comes to my novel, I’m in a downright peppy mood as I jam out to Francesca Battistelli’s new album: If We’re Honest (Deluxe). “Sometimes it feels like Starbucks is my permanent address,” she sings in I am Home, a song that describes home as so much more than an building and contentment as so much more than reaching goals. With lyrics of longing while fulfilling her dreams loaded into her last work, I am encouraged and thrilled to hear her choice to be happy right where she is. And that happiness doesn’t come from dreams. It is Paul’s ‘secret of contentment’ found in Philippians 4:12b, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” and in 1st Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Oh, what gain!

10245289_10203033352971455_4028926361156906554_nI am still amazed that I chose not to attend grad school and remain in complete loss as to what the future holds. Yet, as I slug my way through the mire of same-old-same-old and the maze that is The Lure of Lemons, my life is getting downright exciting. It is more than my favorite coffee filling up the kitchen or the flowers I was given yesterday for Administrative Assistants’ Week. It is more, even, than the gratitude I feel for being asked to teach a mini-writing camp this summer as well as to take on a writing student for the fall semester. Truth is, whatever is coming, its certain to be good. Because God is the Author of my story.

Sure, there will be crashes when everything will fall apart. Honestly, they happen more than I want to admit. Yet, I am learning, that good is not the absence of tragedy. My future is bright because it is controlled by Someone a whole lot more intelligent and creative than I am. He is not fumbling around wondering what’s going to happen, like I am in The Lure of Lemons. He is beauty and mercy and power and crazy in love with me and in absolute control. In that knowledge, there is contentment. Poor or rich, successful or failure, author or not. Contentment.

To close, some lyrics from Battistelli’s He knows my name:

“I don’t need my name in lights. I’m famous in my Father’s eyes. Make no mistake. He knows my name.”

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Starbucks got pretty fun yesterday. A few of us pulled out the ear-buds and acted like real people, trading jokes, stories, and turns watching laptops. It was pretty awesome. It filled a need in my heart for community–something I feared I was sacrificing when I decided not to attend grad school in Virginia.

And after I had returned home, Sister Kate showed up. We went for an unexpected walk, catching up in about twenty minutes. All of it strengthens me. And I needed some strengthening.

Last night I also attended a Good Friday service. Contrary to the somber affairs I had been accustomed to, this one was lively. It was full of upbeat music and positive thoughts–focusing on the glorious words, “It is finished.” Rescued. Christ’s death rescued me. Living a story full of heartbreak, thrill, adventure, danger, and success that would make a novel jealous, I am fully grateful for that rescue. Christ is my knight in shining armor. The One Who says I never have to be alone. Hallelujah.

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