When Prayers Are Answered, Sort Of

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I have to admit, whenever people say they’re “blessed and highly favored,” I’m a bit jealous. I don’t say that to detract from all the blessings I’ve received or to sound ungrateful. But sometimes I feel like I’m carrying my proverbial cross more than I’m standing at the mountain top. Recently, my experience with a Book Bub ad for my second novel, Everything She Lost, caused me to reflect on my personal experience with prayer and blessings and led me to a new understanding of both.

To give some context, I first learned about the almighty Book Bub ad in 2015. For those unfamiliar with it, Book Bub is a free newsletter service that gives daily emails highlighting free and bargain books that boasts millions of subscribers. When authors are lucky enough to be approved for an ad, one reduces their book to $0.99 or more for the week then waits for the magic to happen. Shortly after I signed a contract for my debut novel, Blaming the Wind, with Red Adept Publishing, one of my fellow authors had an amazing Book Bub run that resulted in her hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestseller list. After seeing that happen, I started believing and praying that I too could have that success in the future.

After Blaming the Wind was published, I prayed and prayed that I would be accepted for a Book Bub ad. But it didn’t happen. Although Book Bub’s criteria for acceptance is somewhat mysterious, it’s believed that having a lot of great reviews definitely increases your chances, and I had struggled to garner reviews early on. So when my second book came out in January two years later, I worked really hard to get a ton of reviews, and lo and behold, I received an email from my publisher in March that I had a Book Bub ad scheduled for the 28th.

To say I was elated is an understatement. I had literally been praying for this ad and the bestseller list for three years, especially asking for the intercession of St. Jude – known as the patron saint of hopeless causes – because I knew my chances were slim. Lots of people have Book Bub ads, but few become bestsellers. Now that I had an ad scheduled, I kicked my prayers into overdrive. I just felt that this was it – my ad would run and I would become a USA Today Bestseller. (After culling their list, New York Times had become almost impossible to hit, so that was off my wish list).

Over the previous years, I had paid attention to my fellow authors’ experiences with what did and did not work when they had Book Bub runs – how to stack ads, which ads worked, using social media – so when the week of my ad arrived, I knew I had it in the bag. It started out well, and as my Amazon rank climbed every day, my expectations grew too. The morning of the big day, my rank was already high and where I thought it needed to be.

My enthusiasm, however, started to wane. Sales seemed to slow, and the later the day grew, the more I started to worry. I’d wanted to have a bestselling week for so long, I didn’t want to give up hope. So I kicked my prayers into overtime, praying the rosary, the emergency novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for St. Jude’s intercession, the Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony, and “reminded” God that Jesus had said, “ask and you shall receive.” (When it’s convenient I leave out the part that says “according to His will.”) I was definitely asking, and I threw in some bargaining, too. If I could just sell enough books to make the USA Today bestsellers list, I’d let everyone know about how God had answered my prayers.

Now, I wouldn’t be the first or last person to try and bargain with God. Decades ago, Danny Thomas was struggling to make a name for himself in show business. After being told a personal account of St. Jude’s miraculous intercession, Danny began praying for the saint’s intercession, promising that he would do something big if he could be successful professionally. Over the years, his star rose, and he landed the role of a lifetime in 1953, starring in the long-running television comedy series “Make Room for Daddy.” Not forgetting his promise, Danny opened the world-famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee on February 4, 1962, with the unveiling of the statue of St. Jude Thaddeus. Talk about a bargain that paid off.

As night fell on the day of my Book Bub ad, I peaked at 42 on Amazon’s bestsellers rank, and realized in spite of all my planning, praying, and bargaining, I hadn’t sold enough books to hit USA Today’s list. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I had wanted it so bad for so long, yet it had slipped out of my grasp.

After days of feeling let down, I watched a YouTube video of a sermon by Charles Metcalf of Transformation Church, called “Fixed Faith.” I love watching Transformation Church’s Lead Pastor, Michael Todd’s, messages. And though I hadn’t watched Pastor Metcalf before, I needed a good word, and I received one. In Metcalf’s sermon, he references the book of Daniel, when King Nebduchanezzer commanded everyone to bow down and worship his golden statue. If anyone refused, King Nebduchanezzer threatened they would be thrown into the burning furnace. Three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, only worshiped God and refused the king’s command. When they were brought to account for their disobedience, King Nebduchanezzer demanded the men comply or face death in the furnace. The three men answered,If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 NIV). After their refusal, the three men were thrown into the fiery furnace, yet an angel descended into the furnace and protected them so they were not harmed. Astonished by this, King Nebduchanezzer praises God.

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In the video, Metcalf uses this bible story as an example that when people fix their faith on God, they don’t doubt God’s power and know He has a plan for their lives regardless of current circumstances. It reminded me that although I’ll meet challenges, I need to stand firm in my faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God could save them, and even if He didn’t, they still believed.

So, even though I didn’t hit a bestsellers list, I decided I’d still write a post about my Book Bub experience, St. Jude, and God’s benevolence, because I’m thankful for them. My prayers were answered because, a) I got approved for a Book Bub ad, and b) my Book Bub run was successful. I sold over 3000 books, and people have been recommending Everything She Lost ever since. That’s why I became a writer in the first place – to have people read my stories.

More importantly, even though some prayers don’t seem to be answered, I have to remember that God’s ways are higher than my own. Most certainly I remember the times I’ve been thrown in the fire and rescued. Like when my life fell apart, yet God miraculously put it back together; and when my son was in the hospital recently facing worse case scenarios, yet it ended up being something very treatable. I’m happy for my experience, because it reminded me that ultimately, even though I don’t always feel blessed, my faith tells me I am.

Cover Reveal: Everything She Lost

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I absolutely adore the cover for my second book, Everything She Lost!

Here’s the description:

After suffering a mental breakdown that nearly destroyed her marriage, Nina Taylor works hard to maintain her tenuous hold on sanity and be a good mother to her two young daughters. Despite her best efforts, she questions the possibility of a full recovery.

Single mom Deja Johnson struggles to overcome her troubled past and raise her young son. But her friendship with Nina brings more complications. What Deja is hiding could not only destroy relationships, but endanger lives.

One traumatic night threatens to shatter Nina’s mind. With Deja’s help, she strives to maintain her mental balance. But as events spiral out of control, the women must find out if Nina is losing her sanity or if someone is plotting against her.

Coming soon!

I Survived the Summer and Other News

With the release of my debut novel, Blaming the Wind, a new day-job (that didn’t last), and my eldest starting high school in the fall, 2016 was a blur. So far, 2017 has been just as busy. As a mom of four, I’ve accepted that I’m perpetually busy. But this summer was a doozy. Between summer camp, summer school, vacation bible school, and my oldest son’s first summer job, I was running around like a madman.

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So while I’ve barely had time to enjoy summer – my favorite season – I did accomplish one huge thing that I’m very proud of: I completed four grueling months of editing my second novel! I worked with the same Red Adept Publishing editor, Alyssa Hall. I’m so excited about all the ways we made the story even better, and I can’t wait to share it with readers.

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With the kids back in school and life resuming a normal pace, I’ve dusted the cobwebs off my computer and am back to work on my next novel. The great thing about writing is that it’s like that best friend who will always take your call and pick up where you left off regardless of how long it’s been since you talked. 

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Before I get too far ahead of myself, back to the novel I just completed. The “official” book description and cover reveal are forthcoming, so make sure you are signed up for my email newsletter to receive all the excitement to come.

Best,

Alessandra Harris

Reviews! Reviews! Reviews!

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I had a very proud mom moment the other day when my fourteen-year-old left a positive review for a book he had read and enjoyed.  If you aren’t a writer, you probably don’t think much about leaving a review after you’ve read a book.  However, reviews are so important for authors.  Leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads (or even better, both!) can help an author in a few ways:

  • Reviews encourage others to want to buy and read the book
  • Reviews help authors get into promotional offers like BookBub
  • Reviews make authors happy (especially the good ones)

So next time you complete a book, please think about leaving a review.  The author will appreciate it.

Nurturing Your Passion While Working Full Time

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Many people ask me where I find time to write with a full time job, four kids, and a husband.  The truth is I don’t find extra time; I carefully carve it out of my busy day to spend on my passion.  For those of us who aren’t making a living doing what we love (yet), it’s even more important to recharge our batteries by participating in activities that fulfill us on a deeper level.  But how do we do that?  Below are strategies to get started.

Start Small
I’d love a two to four hour block of uninterrupted writing. I can imagine it now: soothing classical music in the background, a steaming cup of tea next to the laptop, and my fingers furiously pounding the keyboard. But, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been lucky enough to actually have that much uninterrupted time. What I know instead is that small increments of time can add up over the long run. Aim for thirty minutes every weekday and allow wiggle room over the weekend. It’s surprising how setting a minimum of thirty minutes can turn into an hour or longer.

Schedule It In

But where do you come up with thirty minutes? Sure, we’re all busy. But when we closely examine our daily schedule, we might realize that often we’re wasting time. Ask yourself, how much time do you spend:

  • watching television or Netflix
  • surfing the web
  • or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook

While there’s nothing “wrong” with the above activities, they do have a way of sucking time out of our day. And if we’re trying to find thirty minutes to spend on our projects, then we have to be cognizant of every minute that is spent. So think of a thirty-minute block of time when you’re not doing terribly important things, then schedule your activity, and stick to it.

Make It A Habit 

Though most research today says it’s a myth that it only takes 21 days to form a habit, its widely accepted that regularly repeating behavior makes that behavior easier, more natural, and more enjoyable. For me, when it comes to writing and exercising, sticking to a schedule is so important. I believe we have a creativity muscle that needs to be strengthened and conditioned just like our physical muscles. So if you’ve scheduled the time into your day and show up regularly, it will become second nature.

The Right Place

A last bit of information pertains to workspace. Depending on what you are doing, whether it’s writing, or painting, or working out, there might be an ideal location. For me, writing at a library is ideal. However, like I said earlier, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had free time to venture to the library and write uninterrupted. Instead of throwing my hands in the air and giving up, I make do with what I have. That means I’m often writing on my laptop while sitting on the couch, with the kids in the background.   Perfect? No. But I’ve written three books like that and am in the process of writing my fourth. Same applies to exercise. When I can’t make it to the gym, I throw in an exercise DVD and sweat it out at home. The point is that in order to be consistent, you must adapt to what works best for your particular situation.

My goal for 2016 is to incorporate daily meditation into my routine. What are you trying to accomplish?

Trouvaille

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I recently discovered the word trouvaille, which means, “something lovely discovered by chance; a windfall.”  There’s something beautiful about the word, and I love its meaning.  So often, every detail of our lives is planned.  What time we get up, when we go to work, what we’ll have for dinner, and so on.  But sometimes, somehow, something lovely happens in the midst of routine, and it reminds us that there is so much more to life than what we could have planned.

One such lovely, chance discovery happened over a decade ago.  On a random Wednesday night I ventured for a drink with a friend to a place I’d never been before and wound up meeting the person who would become my husband.  We were old school back then. No online profiles.  No swiping to the right.  Just two people’s paths crossing by chance.

On a similar note, in my other blog post, “How Taco Bell Got Me A Book Deal,” I wrote about how a chance encounter with a Taco Bell mild sauce packet (of all things) encouraged me to persevere in seeking publication for my first novel, which follows two married couples and explores how the choices they make forever change their lives.  And while I was happy to sign with Red Adept Publishing back in April, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Now, after completing the first round of edits, I know that signing with them was the absolute best decision for my writing career.  Guided by the editor’s great suggestions, the novel has already improved in ways I couldn’t have even imagined.  
I’m excited to continue the process and can’t wait to share the finished product with everyone when that times come.  Who knows, maybe someone will discover the novel by chance and believe they are luckier for having found it.

Real-ish

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I recently watched a rerun of the sitcom Black-ish’s February 11, 2015 episode, “Big Night, Big Fight.”  In the episode, the  married couple, Dre and Rainbow, go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day and bring all their baggage with them.  For almost the entire time, the couple rehashes each other’s past wrongdoings, and at the end, I couldn’t help but feel relieved it was over.  It was too real.

After, I reflected on the episode and why it hit a nerve.  Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows what it’s like to be hurt or offended by a partner’s actions.  But the question becomes, how long do we hold on to that?

At one point in the TV episode, something that occurred six years ago is brought up.  And I’m thinking, six years!  But then I had to be honest to myself and admit that I too have been guilty of bringing up events that have occurred over a decade ago.

Research shows that letting go of grudges and moving forward serves a biological function.  Christopher Bergland’s April 11, 2015 post, “Holding a Grudge Produces Cortisol and Diminishes Oxytocin,” explains how being angry produces the stress hormone, cortisol, while letting go of anger and making amends produces the “love” hormone, oxytocin.  So, not only does forgiving make you healthier, but it can increase the bond between two people.

And while these findings easily make sense, the hard part is often forgiving. Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. When deciding whether to forgive it helps to ponder:

  • How will I benefit if I forgive?
  • How will the relationship benefit if I forgive?
  • When have I needed to be forgiven?
  • How did I feel when I was forgiven?

So, while we decide to forgive, it’s often a start and stop process accompanied by feelings of hurt and anger.  Allowing oneself to feel whatever feelings that arise, while still deciding to move forward can be tough, but in the end, I believe it’s preferable to ruining a future Valentine’s Day over something that happened years ago.

Married People Issues

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In case you missed it, #marriedpeopleissues was trending on twitter.  As someone who has been married for over ten years, I had to warn: “Married People, It’s a trap. Don’t chime in.”  And while I was joking, the truth is that Married People Issues are still, in some respect, a taboo topic. There seems to be two kinds of marriages:

  • Perfect Marriages (no problems here)
  • Troubled Marriages (what are they fighting about now?)

And since most couples want to fall into the Perfect Marriage category, they are hesitant to admit if there are “Issues” that need attention.  Whether it’s finances, or physical needs, or communication, married people often won’t acknowledge that there is an area in their marriage that needs work.  Marriage counseling or guidance is often viewed as a resource for Troubled Marriages, so frequently, small issues that could be resolved easily fester until they become huge issues.

But why?

I think it’s because we all believe that marriage should be a fairy-tale ending. Once two people fall in love, then everything falls in place. There’s the wedding, the honeymoon, and then forever.  If it’s not effortless, fun, and easy, than we’re doing it wrong, right?  I disagree.  Many people in happy marriages admit that marriage is “work.”  It doesn’t have to be hard work, but having a successful marriage requires that you show up to your commitment and actively choose marriage every…single…day. It means learning, growing, and building together.
So, maybe talking about Married People Issues is exactly what we need to do.  Maybe we need to admit the fact that issues can and do exist in all marriages, and it’s not a bad thing.  Maybe we need a third category of Marriages: Human Marriages, where two imperfect people actively work to address real issues, without any stigma attached, and still choose to stay together.

Remember Me

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Today was Eve Fishman’s funeral.  She was my husband’s aunt and passed away at the age of 48.  On days like today, the things I usually obsess about – the number on the scale, my credit card debt, or the word count target I haven’t reached – take a back seat to the “bigger picture.”  I think about things like: why am I here? or, what happens after I die? or, how will I be remembered?

Today, I thought about “stuff.”  You know, the things we accumulate during our lifetime.  At some point or another after someone dies, we have to rummage through our loved ones belongings to find pictures for a memorial slide show, or important papers, and eventually pack and remove their personal items.  And as we go through this stuff, it’s a reminder that in the end, we can’t take anything with us when we pass. So if we can’t take anything with us, then what’s really important is what we leave behind.

Sure, it’s nice to leave behind money or a house.  But what I’m really talking about is the impact that our existence leaves in the world.  When it’s all said and done, how is the world different because of us?

Though Eve is no longer on this earth, she left her mark on my life.  At a difficult time for me, she became like a second mom to my children and showed me immense compassion and love.  To me, memories like that are priceless.  Those memories are a gift that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

So though I don’t have all the answers to the big questions, one thing I know is that I want to live in such a way that I will leave a permanent mark on the lives of those who I love and who read my words.

How Taco Bell Got Me A Book Deal

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I love serendipitous events, and the real-life story of how I ended up signing with a publisher falls into that category for me.  I started writing my first novel f̶o̶r̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶a̶g̶o̶ back in 2011.  At the time, with almost three years of article-writing under my belt, I thought writing a novel would be easy.  *Cue maniacal laughing now*  It wasn’t.  But after several online writing courses, in person classes, and critique groups, I had a finished novel I was proud of.

So, logically, I wanted to share the novel with the world, and based on my research figured finding a literary agent was the way to do that.  And while I’m sure that path works for many writers, after many heartbreaking rejections, I did not sign with an agent.

I know you’ve been waiting for it, so now is where Taco Bell comes in.  After a good year of querying, I was tired of rejections, and I decided to give up on the book.  I even wrote an entire different novel during NanoWriMo, and I figured, hey, maybe it’s just not going to happen.  But then I went to Taco Bell, picked up a mild sauce packet, and read the words: “Why not?”  Now, for anyone else, they would have squeezed the sauce on the burrito, tossed the wrapper, then went on with his or her life.  But see, what I haven’t mentioned is that my novel was tentatively titled “Why Knot?”

At first, I felt that the universe was taunting me.  The sauce packet was a cruel reminder of what I’d given up on.  But then, I decided I’d use it as motivation.  Give it a last shot.  Afterall, I loved this story.  The characters were like my friends that were so cool I wanted to introduce them to everyone.  I’d toiled for years and invested money to make this novel a reality.  No, I wasn’t going to give up.  I was going to try something new!

So, I decided to research small presses.  Shortly after, I submitted to Red Adept Publishing.  It was three long months of endless email checking, but when I got “The Call” offering representation, I was elated.  It’s been a great journey so far, and I’m looking forward to the road ahead.  But more importantly, I’m happy I made that trip to Taco Bell.

Writers often talk numbers at the end of these type of posts.  So here are mine.

Bottles of Wine Consumed: So many AA might give me a call if I answer truthfully

Knee Pads Bought: Too many as I prayed for this story to come to light

Times I would do this process again: Infinity and beyond if I end up where I am now