How a Story Saved Me

# 2 Venus TINYHi you guys. It’s been a long time since I posted here, and I know you understand why (if you don’t, see my last two posts). But this time, I’m writing to tell you something happy! My first novel, My Name Is Venus Black, is coming out February 27th from Random House.

You may wonder how that happened, given what I’ve been through these last two-plus years. I have wondered the same myself. The shortest and best explanation goes something like this: Before Noah died, he helped rescue my novel. After he died, the novel helped rescue me.

So let me explain. I first started writing Venus’s story back in 2005. It began when I heard a girl’s voice in my head. She sounded really scared. And really angry. She had places to go, people to see—and I soon realized, a crime to commit. Clearly, she expected me to follow her around, listen to her talk, get it all down, and most importantly, get it right.

New to fiction, I failed at that a lot. But I finished a decent first draft and even found an agent. When she couldn’t sell the novel, I felt embarrassed and banished Venus to a dark corner of my computer.

Fast forward to Spring of 2015. My husband Dave and I had recently moved from Colorado to New York City. It was an exciting time, but I found myself without a writing project, restless and at loose ends. When I mentioned this to my son Noah over the phone, he suggested I dig back out that draft of my first novel. He reminded me how much he loved it, and the fact that he could still recall the characters by name, touched me.

I hadn’t thought about Venus in years, but what did I have to lose? So I printed it out and sat down to read, fully expecting to cringe with dismay. And I did. But something else happened, too. My inner editor perked right up: Aha! Of course she doesn’t have a sister. Of course part two is a goose chase. Venus was helpful, too, if a bit bossy: Do this, she said. No, don’t do that! Seriously, is that how you think I sound when I talk?!

I figured three months tops to fix this. But of course, the more I dug in, the clearer it became that my early draft had only skimmed the surface of the moral and emotional dilemmas central to the story. A total rewrite was in order, which seemed a daunting task. And yet, like many writers, I’m never happier than when I’m totally absorbed in a project. As I worked on Venus that spring, summer, and into fall, I often forgot to eat, to pee, or even to turn on the lights when the apartment grew dark.

Then came Halloween. A blur of shock and unspeakable horror. Then came Noah’s funeral in Oregon. And then back to New York and a terrible new reality: Suddenly I was a grief-crazed person holed up in a tiny apartment, afraid to be awake, conscious, and thinking. It seemed nothing (no book, no movie, no conversation) could engage me deeply enough to escape my tormented thoughts.

You know where this is going. One day I sat at my computer and pulled up Venus again. To my astonishment, she’d missed the news. Her world was still intact, untouched by the tragedy that had engulfed my own. But what kind of person returns to a novel so soon after…? And even if I tried, could I actually write a paragraph or edit a simple sentence?

In what I now see as an inexplicable mercy, I could. So I read what I had, touched the keys, and got lost in another world—Venus’s world. In more ways than one, that world was my salvation. It occupied my brain with a blessedly difficult task. And as Venus journeyed toward a life she could want, I borrowed hope from her story.

As you can see by the cover, I wrote Venus under my maiden name. Not to hide from Heather Kopp, or even Noah’s story. But because fiction is a new venture for me, and it has nothing to do with my previous nonfiction writing. My publisher and I agreed—let’s not make people trying to buy online have to sort through a maze of old titles.

Naturally, I dedicated the novel to Noah. And yes, I’m sure he’d want you to meet Venus. But here’s the cool, hopeful thing. As I await the book’s debut, I don’t sit around and wish Noah could be here for this. In whatever mysterious way Love allows, I believe he already is.

But He is Yours

My sweet Noah

Today I wanted to share a reflection/poem with you I received this morning. It made me cry, because it captures the heartache and shame a mother (or father) feels when her child—no matter his age—commits a serious or violent crime. Suddenly he or she is seen by the outside world in the worst light possible–a bad person at best, an evil monster at worst.

The piece I’m going to share was so timely for me because just yesterday, I had a meeting with my publisher, in small part to discuss how I want to handle this matter of Noah. I tried—and failed—to suppress my usual urge to defend or explain who Noah really was and wasn’t. How he was deeply empathetic and tenderhearted (at times painfully so). How in his sane state of mind, he could never have imagined hurting, much less murdering someone. How after his death, his computer revealed no sign of a plot or plan—mostly just a lot of stuff about fantasy sports. How he wasn’t an angry loner, but had friends he did stuff with, like poker and fishing. At the time of his death, he had a well-stocked fridge, stacks of palettes of sparkling water, and touchingly, a brand new spatula. Nothing to indicate he was planning suicide by cop anytime soon.

When you get right down to it, Noah’s story is about addiction, stupid choices, mental illness—in his case, Bipolar 1—and the importance of staying on medication. It’s about something I’ve since learned is called manic psychosis, wherein a person loses all connection with reality. It’s also about the dangerous combination of untreated mental illness and access to guns—a huge problem in our society.


I recently read an article celebrating a young soldier who had saved a dozen of his fellows on the battlefield before being killed himself. My heart went out to the mother. To lose such a brave, heroic son must have felt like such a waste, devastating in its own unique way. Toward the end of the article, she said, “My son’s legacy will forever be determined by how he spent the last hour of his life.”

Then it hit me that the exact same could be said of Noah. STAB TO THE HEART.

But back to the inspiring excerpt which was so thoughtfully passed on to me this morning by author Philip Yancey. After I cried healing, grateful tears, I couldn’t not share it here in case it might help another mother or father whose child has committed crimes which threaten to obscure—at least from much of the world—the true nature of their souls.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that I still get to celebrate the child I nurtured, knew and loved.

The following was written by John O’Donohue, and it comes from his book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us

No one else can see beauty
In his darkened life now.
His image has closed
Like a shadow.

When people look at him,
He has become the mirror
Of the damage he has done.

But he is yours;
And you have different eyes
That hold his yesterdays
In pictures no one else remembers:

Waiting for him to be born,
Not knowing who he would be,
The moments of his childhood,
First steps, first words,
Smiles and cries,
And all the big thresholds
Of his journey since…

He is yours in a way
No words could ever tell;
And you can see through
The stranger this deed has made him
And still find the countenance of your son.

Despite all the disappointment and shame,
May you find in your belonging with him
A kind place, where your spirit will find rest.
May new words come alive between you
To build small bridges of understanding.

May that serenity lead you beyond guilt and blame
To find that bright field of the heart
Where he can come to feel your love

Until it heals whatever darkness drove him
And he can see what it is he has done
And seek forgiveness and bring healing;
May this dark door open a path
That brightens constantly with new promise


Thanks for all your kind words and the many of you who often, even daily, pray for us and for the families of the victims.

Miracles and Tragedies

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Friends, I’m writing to tell you about a new  project with a sad backstory.

When I first got sober in 2007, by far the best part was the opportunity it gave me to share the good news of recovery with others—which led to my blog, Sober Boots. For more than three years, I wrote about topics I hoped would help addicts and those who love them on the spiritual path of recovery. I also wrote a memoir, Sober Mercies (Hachette 2012).

As many of you know, my oldest son Noah was, like me, an alcoholic. When at 26 he moved to Colorado Springs to get sober like Mom, it seemed nothing short of a miracle. For the next five years, we enjoyed being in recovery together and living in the same town. Noah was brilliant, funny, a gifted musician, and dearly loved by many.  Always a big fan of my writing, he generously gave me permission to write about him where our stories overlapped.

On October 31st, 2015, we lost Noah in a terrible tragedy. Through a combination of terrible choices—including going off his bipolar medshe suffered a manic episode so severe that he had a complete psychotic break. He walked out his door one morning and shot the first three people he saw. He died in the ensuing shootout with police.

I’m not ready to talk more about that heart-shattering story yet, but I wrote a single post a few months after happened, letting readers know. I was so grateful for the loving response; but I also realized I had made myself vulnerable to feedback that was hurtful. At that point, I turned the blog off or “private.”

Since then, I’ve received a constant flow of requests for permission to view the blog. Some were previous followers who wanted to reread a particular post. Others had read my memoir, Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk—and they wanted more. The question became: How do I free up the blog for new directions while still retaining the best of the recovery posts as a resource? That’s where the idea for a compilation was born. My talented friend Skylar Call painted the cover art. My sister Katherine spearheaded the project, working endless hours compiling and editing it (she knew I couldn’t bear to do it myself), and I’m so thankful to her for her hard work!

The book is a selection of the best posts from the Sober Boots blog over the course of three years, from 2012 to 2015. Some of them include Noah. Since his death I have struggled with my own sobriety. I am no one’s hero. But I hope the words I wrote during those years of happiness and hope can continue to help those on the difficult path of recovery.

Thank you for all the prayers and kind thoughts so many have sent my way during this dark time. Every word has mattered, and all that love is helping me to heal, I hope. Grief is long and at times seems unending. But God is greater than my grief. This I believe, and it has to be enough.

Best wishes,