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December 4, 2021

Leave My Book Alone!

As we head into winter, I've been thinking about the light and dark in all of us. I used to react to the behavior of others as if it was black and white. If they were nice to me, they were nice people. If they did something unkind, I'd freeze them out. They're a bad person, I'd tell myself.

Thanks to age (and a good therapist), these days I'm mostly able to recognize that black and white thinking as a childhood holdover. Grown-up me knows that people who are largely selfish and cruel can still do kind things and that even the kindest people are sometimes thoughtless. That's pretty elementary stuff, but realizing it was revolutionary to me. I still say it in my head when I'm confused by someone's behavior. It grounds me.

Thinking about that light and dark in all of us also has me thinking about what I've been reading and writing. Much of it has been necessarily dark (healing can't happen if we look away). Plus, let's face it: life has been challenging the last two years. Like seeks out like.

But there's got to be balance. Contrast. Light to the dark. In honor of that, I'm publishing my first children's book! I'm crazy proud of it. Here's the backstory:

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One night nearly twenty years ago, bone-tired from a full day of teaching, I discovered that both my kids had the crabbies. Like, next-level demon energy. They didn't want to play, didn't want to color, wouldn't sit still for any of their favorite books. I was on the edge of tears when I was struck by inspiration: I'm gonna make up a story guaranteed to get their attention because it will be about them. I threw in a dragon named Claudette, who, like me, had some serious control issues. She meant well, though, and she loved Princess Zoe and Prince Xander more than anything in the world.

Today, I'm putting her out there so she can love and protect all of your babies, too. The book is designed to fully engage children. If you own the paperback or hardcover, kids are encouraged draw inside (hey, if I had to learn to give up control, so do you). If you have the digital version, the story encourages kids to instead draw on paper as they read along. In either case, it's centered in compassion, creativity, and gentle play.

Please check it out. It makes a great gift, especially for kids who might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the world.

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October 18, 2021

Tell Me Who I Am

I recently watched a powerful, disturbing, healing Netflix documentary called Tell Me Who I Am. (trigger warning: sexual abuse). It's about a pair of identical twins, one of whom had a motorcycle accident at age 18, wiping out his memory of anything but his twin brother. He didn't remember his parents, how to ride a bike, his own name. His twin had to teach him everything, including what their childhood was like.

He left out the terrible sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their mother and her friends.

He finally reveals it on camera in the documentary, decades after the motorcycle accident, at the insistence of the amnesiac twin who sensed something was off. The twin with the memories didn't want to tell his brother—who'd been made innocent anew by the accident—about their traumatic childhood, and who would? Who would insert such terrible memories into someone they love if they didn't have to?

Watching it, I was struck by how the twins were so like a single person who's experienced trauma, subsequently split into two halves: the half who goes through their day believing—desperately believing—they are free of these horrific memories and can simply live on the surface, and the other half who can't forget and therefore pays the price every second, in addiction, overeating, anxiety, mysterious illnesses, depression, shallow relationships.

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I know people who compartmentalize their trauma, and I understand, I think, the very human reasons they do. Why would you choose to think about those awful things, or acknowledge they continue to affect you, if you didn't have to? I also know firsthand the cost of denial. I write true crime-inspired novels about very dark events because it helps me to reconnect those two sides of myself, the side that wants to live innocent with the side that knows monsters walk among us.

That's why I wrote Litani.

At the end of Tell Me Who I Am, after the awful secret is finally spoken aloud, the brothers are sitting across the table from one another, both of them visibly in crushing pain. The twin who's just shared the truth of their abuse says, with a mix of resentment and tenderness, "There it is. All of it. Now what do you have?"

The face of the other twin, the twin who's memory had been wiped clean by the motorcycle accident, lights up through his tears even though he now knows the horrible truth.

"Why, I have you back," he says. "I finally have you."

There's freedom in pulling darkness into the light and naming it. There's grace in living whole. Fiction is the kindest way I know to get there.

Litani is available October 19 wherever books are sold.

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October 2, 2021

Don't Do This

As a Midwestern gal, I'm allergic to bragging. It's so bad that I even get contact hives if I hear someone else talking positively about themselves (I'm working on this). That's why it pains me to tell you that today, I woke up content. I looked around in terror, trying to figure out what was wrong, and realized I was feeling good about myself because I love my safe, funky new home AND I get to be a full-time writer.

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I tried to talk myself down by listing all the areas in life where I fall short (they train us young in Minnesota), but it was no good. I live in a house that I love (that's an image of my treehouse office above), one that I was able to buy because of my writing. Going to work for me now means daydreaming, creating worlds, talking to people who are passionate about books. There's downsides, sure, but my first real job was working at the Spicer DQ in 1985; I know when I've got it good.

That got me to thinking about that voice—it starts out external, but we learn to carry it inside—that tells us what we can't do in this life. We can't be full-time writers/actors/ballerinas/wood carvers/musicians/photographers/travel bloggers/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-dream-jobbers. Only a handful of people get those special careers, and they're not you, we're told.

Well, I'm here to tell you that voice is full of shit. I'm a small-town girl who didn't know anyone lucky enough to write books for a living, and now I'm her. She. Her? (I'm weak without an editor.) My parents gave me a great gift by repeatedly telling me I could be anything in this world (first time I heard this, I told my dad that in that case, I'd like to be a cat). I'm sure it helps to have that fragile, powerful truth repeated to you, so here you go:

You can be anything in this world. (Except a cat. I researched it.)

Some of us have more barriers than others—sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, and lack of access to resources are real—but my wish for you is that, of all the people telling you what you can't do, that you're not one of them.

So what is it that you ache to do?

p.s. If it’s to write that book, there’s still room in my Costa Rica women’s writing retreat and my women’s writing retreat in Italy.

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Jess Lourey is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of over 20 novels, articles, and short stories.

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The Amazon Charts bestselling author of Unspeakable Things and Bloodline explores the darkness at the heart of the rural Midwest in a novel inspired by a chilling true crime.

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