January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

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I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

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Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

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I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

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I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

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I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

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Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Slow But Steady

Writing productivity has slowed to a trickle these days. We started school back up on Monday (the girls and I – Carl’s semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month), and between that and rearranging the bedrooms and organizing the arts and crafts supplies and being neighborly and recovering from holidays and travel, and just being so tired (I actually dozed off yesterday afternoon for a little while, which never ever happens), it’s awfully hard to get anything done.

The nice thing about where I’m at right now is that I don’t feel guilty about it. Sure, I’d like to be writing every single day. I’d also like to be awake enough to take care of my clothes each night instead of letting them accumulate beside my bed, but so far that isn’t happening either.

I’ve learned – am still learning – to go with the rhythms of life. Some times I am going to be able to focus on one thing, sometimes on another. Right now, my main focus is on school and keeping the apartment basically livable. Since I have company coming over for tea next week, I imagine pretty soon I’ll have to spend some time focusing on cleaning. Eventually, school will find its own groove again, and I won’t be as tired from all our travels, and I’ll be able to think about writing again.

My stories aren’t going to perish if I don’t tend them every day. My writing abilities aren’t going to vanish if I take a week or so where I only write a few words here and there. I know this is contrary to what most professional writers say – that you must write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I’m sure there will come a time in my life where that kind of self-discipline is absolutely applicable. Right now, it’s more important to me as a person, not necessarily as a writer, to show myself grace.

It’s also more important for me to be a good teacher to my kids, since I have taken up that responsibility. It’s more important for me to be a present and engaged mom and wife. It’s important to be a good neighbor and friend. Writing is important, and it is vital to who I am, and I would not dream of just “not writing” for an entire season, but it doesn’t need to be first and foremost on my list of priorities right now. There will come a day when my children are grown and my life is more settled, and I will be able to bump the writing up on my list.

For now, I’m okay with simply making sure I don’t go too long without doing writing of some sort.

Narnia, Redux

We took a little break after finishing Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to read some picture books, some Christmas books, and Children of the Noisy Village, but now the holidays are over and we have finished traveling, and we have picked the Chronicles of Narnia back up with The Silver Chair.

Even as I type, sitting in my comfy grey recliner (“This is my silver chair,” I said smugly), Carl and the girls are curled up on the couch across from me, the girls utterly engrossed as Carl reads aloud. They are on the chapter where Caspian sails away and Eustace and Jill miss their chance to greet him. This is one of my favorite chapters, what with Glimfeather and Trumpkin and “If he’s useless, we don’t want him here!” (paraphrase) which is a favorite line in my family, and used often.

Joy especially is enthralled with Narnia. She wants to read other books like them (alas, there are few of those indeed, darling daughter!); she informed her grandmother that if she had a magic wand her first wish would be that Narnia was real; and when Carl read the description of Aslan’s Country in the first chapter of this book she had the most incredibly dreamy expression on her face, picturing it in her head. It’s the most delightful thing in the world, seeing her imagination so completely captured.

Gracie incorporates Narnia into all her play. Her stuffed moose become a reindeer, her rag doll made of white cloth becomes the White Witch, a doll stroller turned on its back becomes a sledge, and voila, all she needs is a dwarf driver (usually portrayed by one of her baby dolls). This is also a delight to observe. I have to be careful not to chortle too loudly, or she gets self-conscious and quits playing.

They loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it to Joy for school, and that was wonderful. Seeing them love Narnia so much, though … that goes beyond joy. Narnia was – is – such an integral part of my life, of my very identity. The Narnia books were some of Carl’s sole interest in reading as a child. For both of us, they helped to shape how we view the world, our ideas of heroes and sacrifice and love and friendship and adventure. It is wondrous to see our own children take fire with these very same stories.

I wonder if CS Lewis had any idea, when he wrote these books, of how deeply they would affect children of every generation ever since. I am so, so thankful for them, and for him.

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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Most Memorable Reads of the Past Three Years

… Which would be the past five years except I didn’t start keeping track of my reading list until 2012. Oh well! I saw this idea on someone else’s blog, and really liked it, the idea of going beyond just the year about to end, and seeing what books have stuck with you for the long haul.

2012:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. And the sequel is coming out in 2015! I can’t wait.

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett. Meeting Tiffany Aching for the first time was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Paladin of Souls (and Curse of Chalion, but especially Paladin), by Lois McMaster Bujold. The joy of reading an intelligent, engaging fantasy with a middle-aged woman as a heroine. We need more of those!

2013:

The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Oh, what a beautiful tale this was.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read this one, but it was so, so powerful and moving.

The Grass-Widow’s Tale, by Ellis Peters. Proving that sometimes a book doesn’t have to be deep to stir one.

2013 was also my year to read heaps of writing memoirs/collections of essays. All of them were wonderful, but the highlight of them all was The Wand in the Word.

2014:

Ultraviolet (and Quicksilver, but mostly Ultraviolet), by RJ Anderson. Gahhhh, this book.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Oh, how I adore this one! I keep looking for a used copy to buy for my very own – somehow a new one just wouldn’t feel right.

Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist. Not necessarily the best spiritual memoir book I’ve ever read, but definitely one that made me ponder, and gave me great encouragement in my constant struggle between being hospitable and being a deeply private introvert.

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamond Hodge. The closest any other book has ever come to conjuring up the sense of awe and beauty I got from CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.

I read plenty more books, in the last few years, that I enjoyed and even loved, but these are the ones that went beyond that in one way or another, to really stick with me. I read so much, so quickly, that for a book experience to stand out in my memory, it has to have something about it that separates it from “ordinary” great books.

My reading goals for 2015 are to read fewer books (my desire as always, to soak in good literature instead of tearing through it at my usual blink-and-you-miss-it pace), to read some good long ones (Bleak House is sitting suggestively on my nightstand), and to read at least 12 non-fiction books. Non-fiction is so rewarding for me, and yet such a struggle for me to get through. I really want to improve in that regard.

I hope your past few years have been excellent reading ones, and that 2015 proves even better!

 

 

The Non-Problem of Susan

I always wondered what it would take for me to finally break down and write that “There is no problem of Susan” post. Today, I found out.

There’s a meme going around Tumblr about “Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and …” finish as your preference lies, either she is treated horribly by the baristas because she is feminine or she won’t order coffee because she doesn’t like it any more. Here’s the thing: I think both are missing the point. I respect other people’s opinions on the matter, even the ones with which I disagree, but I have my own opinion on this as well, and so I offer it here.

To run with the coffee shop analogy:

Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and wants imitation coffee. When told that they only offer real coffee at this shop, but here, have a comfortable chair and a pastry while you wait for us to lovingly prepare it for you, and oh by the way, there’s no charge for any of this, she walks out without anything, and from then on mocks the rest of her family for still going to that coffee shop.

CS Lewis was very, very big on Truth over Falsehood, Depth over Shallows, Beauty over Ashes. That theme is woven throughout the Chronicles of Narnia – sometimes obviously, as in The Silver Chair, when the children, the prince, and Puddleglum must fight to believe in a true sky, a true sun, a true Lion, over the Witch’s imitations of such things in the Underworld. Or the difference between the true Aslan and the Ass clothed in a lionskin in The Last Battle. Oftentimes it’s more subtle: Lucy’s genuine beauty springing from her love for Aslan as opposed to the false beauty the spell would have given her in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example.

Susan has not been banned from Narnia because she has become a true woman. In fact, none of them were banned from Narnia. When people graduate from school, do we consider them unjustly treated? Are they often sad to leave school, especially if it was a wonderful experience? Yes, Narnia was a wonderful place for the children to learn about Truth, about Beauty, and about Aslan. But eventually, they grew to the point where Narnia had given them all it could offer, and they needed to go forward and apply that knowledge to their everyday lives. Just as, with school, eventually you have to leave and take what you learned there and use it in your adult life.

But there are some people who, upon leaving school, never really want to move forward. They are glad to be leaving school behind, and to think of themselves as grown-up, but they aren’t actually ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. They prefer to remain in perpetual adolescence, a life of frivolity, never going beyond the shallows of life to taste the true joy and awe of the deeps.

That’s Susan’s issue. As Polly says, “Grown-up indeed! I wish she would grow up.” The problem isn’t that she is an adult woman instead of a child. The problem isn’t that she’s embraced femininity. It’s good to grow up, and to wholly embrace who you are. It’s not “lipstick, nylons, and invitations” that’s the problem. It’s considering those things the most important – artificial prettiness and popularity over true Beauty, Friendship, and Love. Or to use Lewis’ own words:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)

It’s not that any of those things are bad. But for Lewis, they were not enough. They could not be the end goal of life. To continue to borrow his metaphor, Susan was one who had seen glimpses of the sea, and deliberately forgotten it so as to better enjoy her mud pies. That is her tragedy. And that is her relatability, for who among us has not done the same?

But there is hope for Susan – “Once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia,” you know.  And we miss that hope when we miss the point of her journey.

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors in 2014

0e479-toptentuesday2Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more great lists

I was surprised, when I looked at my list of 2014 books, how many of these authors were new to me this year – I feel in many cases as though I’ve been reading them for years! Always a good sign, when an author feels like an old friend upon the first read.

Sage Blackwood I read Jinx on January 2 this year, I believe. Just barely squeaked in for being new in 2014! I adore Jinx and the gang, and am eagerly looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, coming in 2015. As a bonus: I’ve gotten to know Sage through Twitter, and she’s an awesome person as well as awesome writer.

Rosamond Hodge I’m not always on board with fairy tale retellings, but hearing that Cruel Beauty was based more off the Cupid and Psyche myth than Beauty and the Beast, and that Hodge was inspired greatly by CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, I knew I had to read it. And I was not disappointed. Can’t wait for Crimson Bound, her next novel.

Helene Hanff I can’t believe I made it to the ripe old age of 30ish before discovering 84, Charing Cross Road. On the other hand, I might not have appreciated it fully had I read it when I was younger, so there is that.

RJ Anderson So I pretty much can’t go for too many blog posts before singing the praises of Anderson’s books. I like the Faery Rebels series, but my real love is for Ultraviolet and Quicksilver. I also kind of love the fact that RJ was a fanfic writer before her own work started taking up all her time, and that she still is a huge supporter of it. Woo-hoo! She’s also on Twitter, and also great to chat with there.

Jaclyn Moriarty I haven’t loved all Moriarty’s books equally, but the ones I loved, I really loved, and even the ones I didn’t like as much I still enjoyed. The only one of hers I didn’t care for was The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie, and that was mostly because I disagreed with some of her basic assumptions about teenagers in that book. All the rest of them, though, especially The Year of Secret Assignments and A Corner of White, I found great.

Martha Wells Another author for the “how on earth did it take me this long to discover her?” list. Wells writes fantasy, and I’ve yet to find a book by her – and I’ve read many this year – that I dislike. All of them thoughtful, nuanced, original, and grand.

Anna Dean A writer of Regency mysteries who doesn’t butcher the era! It’s a miracle! When looking for something fun, light, and not-irritating, these books are a great choice. Just try to ignore the blatant Emma references which give away half the plot in A Gentleman of Fortune.

Merrie Haskell Another writer of fairy tale remakes, but with such a thoughtful (and thought-provoking), lyrical, and lovely way of doing so that I don’t even mind. Castle Behind Thorns is my favorite of hers so far.

Andrea K Host Indie writer from Australia – do you really need me to say more? Yes? Well then, how about that I tore through her Touchstone trilogy, leaving most of my household chores undone to do so, in record time. Incredible world-building and convincing characters, with none of the pitfalls to which we indie authors are prone (in other words, well-edited, formatted, cover-ed, and just plain well written). I’ve also read her Medair duology, and am looking forward to delving into more of her works in 2015.

Sharon Shinn My most recent discovery. I’ve read Troubled Waters and its sequel, and loved them both. Shinn’s writing is quiet and strong, carrying you along with her characters and weaving you into her world almost without you even realizing it until you come up for air and wonder where you are.

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There you have it! 2014 proved to be a very good year for me, new author-wise. Hard to believe 2015 could match it, but then, I think I said the same thing in 2013. We shall see what the new year brings!