Edits and Quilts

My week off is done! I started editing yesterday, in between watching the Olympics and grumbling over NBC’s terrible coverage. I keep telling myself to be thankful we can watch any of the events at all, but somehow I keep finding myself on Twitter, complaining again. Then I virtuously tell myself that if enough of us complain publicly, NBC will have to take note and make changes before Sochi, and therefore I am doing America in general a service.

As Jane Austen says, “how quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

I’m actually quite pleased with the way the edits are coming along. One story in particular needs a lot of work, but the other two are fairly smooth sailing. Which is good, because as soon as these three are ready to send to my copy-editor, I’ll have two more ready for critiquing and then editing.

I’m still trying to figure out the cover design. Do I hire someone to do that for me, or do I handle it myself? I’m not too shabby of a photographer, and I actually have a very clear idea of what I want for the cover, but the problem is in finding a model, and then handling all the editing aspect of it. I don’t have Photoshop, and iPhoto (and even PicMonkey) is very limited! Any advice, already-published writers out there?

Even with the shoddy coverage from NBC, the Olympics are definitely inspiring me. If these athletes can do everything that they can, do that huge push to fulfill a lifelong dream … then I can figure out all these nit-picky details to take that first step on the road of my lifelong dream.

And, as is usual with me, my brain is already teeming with ideas for new projects. Three connected novellas! Two similar-themed but not-really-connected novelettes! A collection of fantasy stories and artwork from other unpublished/new writers/artists organized by me! And, oh yeah, my novels. Can’t forget those.

I don’t really mind having so many creative plots at my fingertips. Even if I only accomplish half of them, that’s still pretty major.

In the meantime, I am holding myself sternly on the task at hand before I let myself get carried away with new projects.

(Grace’s sunshine quilt is coming along nicely, by the way. I sit down to watch the Olympics and just start tying, and before I know it, I’ve got several blocks done. I might actually have it finished by the end of the Olympics at this rate! Here’s a picture of it in its pinned state – the lighting doesn’t do it justice at all, but you still can get an idea of how cute it is.)

You can see why we call it the sunshine quilt!

Going Back

With finishing my short stories (all spy- or detective-related), I decided to take a break from all the mysteries I’ve been reading lately and go back to my roots. This was partially inspired by the fact that I’m getting to loathe all fictional private detectives (except Sherlock Holmes, DUH), and partially because, to my surprise, some of my critique partners rattled off a few different writers whose style they could see had influenced me –

And not one of them was Lloyd Alexander.

Which quite frankly flabbergasted me, because for many years my writing style read like a composite of Lloyd Alexander and Brian Jacques, and Jacques only because he was so prolific that he infused my writing without me ever realizing it.

If there is one author I would aspire to write like, it’s Lloyd. So I’m picking up some of his books again and reminding myself of just what it is in his writing that I love so well, and make sure that I haven’t lost that in my own writing – not that I want to write in his voice entirely, of course, but that the same spirit breathes in my writing that lives in his.

I’m reading Westmark right now, which is the start of one of his less-popular series, but one that I love dearly. Then I’ll probably go on to the Vesper Holly books, for their sheer outrageous fun (oh how I love Brinnie; as a kid I wanted to identify most with Vesper, as an adult I have utter sympathy for Brinnie), and then we’ll see from there.

He breaks so many of the “rules” of writing, and yet his genius is such that it works. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go about breaking rules willy-nilly, but it does help me remember to hold them loosely, and if I have to choose between the story and the rules, GO WITH THE STORY.

It feels like visiting old friends, going back to Westmark and thinking about Vesper &co. I’m actually glad for an excuse to go back there, preferably with a cup of tea by my side.

Mmm … anyone else remember when the weather was cool enough to want wrist warmers? Yeah, me neither.

(Mind, I’m not complaining about any of the writers that were mentioned as being obvious influences on my writing; they are all brilliant writers and have influences me in one way or another, but since Lloyd is the BIGGEST influence on me, I was just surprised that he didn’t make the list.)

Finished! (Well, Sorta)

Monday evening right before dinner, I typed the last words to my final short story planned for this summer. I still have plenty (PLENTY) of editing to do on all five stories and the novella, but the actual creating part is done.

So weird this morning not to open up a document on my computer as soon as I got up.

I’m not going to write anything (except blog posts and Twitter/FB updates, naturally) for the rest of this week. Give it all a chance to simmer. Clean my poor neglected house. Make bread. Finish organizing the school supplies for this fall.

I’m making a good start on cleaning up other projects already – I have the main body of Grace’s sunshine quilt all sewn and almost all the borders on. After that, it’s a simple matter of assembling, tying, and binding (which will still take a long time, but not as long as the putting together of the quilt top itself).

I was nervous about setting myself such a definite goal and project for this summer – a collection of short stories and/or a novella to indie publish this fall. And it’s definitely stretched me, and I definitely will never again set myself such a tight time frame for a relatively major project while my kids are still little, but it’s also been great. I’ve proven to myself that I CAN do this, I can accomplish something when I set my mind to it, I don’t always have to be the person who loses heart partway through.

Granted, there’s still a great deal to do. I have a copy-editor, but I still need to figure out cover design and formatting, along with the aforementioned edits.

But the end is in sight. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have confidence that I’m going to get there, and confidence is half the battle, right?

The other tremendously important thing I’ve learned this summer is that, while making writing my career is so vital to me, it’s not worth family. Honestly, that’s said so often that it’s completely cliche, but I’ve never been entirely certain of its veracity before. Not until I actually had to make the choice every day: kids/husband or writing? The times I chose the family I do not regret at all, and the times I chose writing … well, sometimes taking a break from my family WAS needful for my sanity (hey, just trying to be completely transparent here), but mostly, I have learned that spending time with my family over my writing will always be the choice that leaves me the most satisfied. And it was good to have the opportunity to learn that for myself, instead of wistfully looking at my piles of unfinished writing projects and suspecting that all those writers that talk about family over writing are just blowing hot air.

My next writing project, after I’ve published these stories, will be to polish up Magic & Mayhem (I have GOT to think of a better title) over the fall and winter, with the loosely-held goal of indie publishing that in Spring 2013. And maybe a few other sneaky side projects along the way – I’ve discovered that short stories can be rather fun.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty other thoughts throughout the rest of the summer on what I’ve learned from this particular writing project, so stay tuned.

If I’m very diligent, I’ll even be able to post pictures of the sunshine quilt before fall, too.

We’ll see!

Joy’s quilt – we’re using the same nine-patch pattern for Grace’s, but with yellows instead of pinks. They are going to look SO ADORABLE side-by-side in the littles’ room once it’s all finished!

I Am a Writer

I got brave yesterday.

We were at a cookout after church, chatting with friends we’ve only known for a short while. I was asking the wife what she did, and then she asked me if I stayed home with the girls or if I worked outside the home. I gathered up all my courage and said,

“Yeah, I’m a writer, so I can stay home with the girls and work my schedule around them.”

I always feel like such a fraud saying that. I’m not published! I’m not earning any money off my writing! How can I claim that for myself?

But it’s the truth. I am a writer, no matter what, and it’s about time I stopped selling myself short.

And the really neat thing? She got all excited and told me that her husband is a writer, too, only he hardly ever has time to write anything anymore, and he hasn’t had anyone really to talk to about writing since leaving college, and it was so great to actually meet another writer.

So then I laughed and confessed how hard it was for me to say that about myself, and her husband (who had joined us by this point) laughed too and said he totally understood.

Turns out it didn’t really require that much courage after all.

How about that?

Stories are everywhere, if you just know where to look …

Speaking of being a writer, I did recently start a Facebook page for my writing. If following through FB is up your alley, check it out and let me know what you think! https://www.facebook.com/elbateswriter

(Interestingly enough, I also told someone else about the writing yesterday afternoon. She asked how my week had been, I said full, she wanted to know with what, so I told her that I’ve been working every spare moment on putting together a collection of short stories to independently publish this fall. She wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the other, but she didn’t stand up and scream “FAKE” or anything, and even seemed fairly interested, so all in all, points for bravery and honesty.)

The Why Behind the Word

Life has been weighing heavily on my shoulders this week. You know how it is sometimes? It seems like everywhere you turn there’s more tragedy, more brokenness, more need, more heartache, and it’s all so much you don’t even know where to begin.

And it’s not just the sad stuff. You read stories of people triumphing against the odds to rescue a street boy from an impossible life in Africa. Firefighters doing ridiculous things to save people’s homes in Colorado. People advocating for those who have no voice. All over, people doing their part to bring healing to this broken world.

And this is what always gets me – the need is so big, and so widespread, and others seem to know what to do to meet at least some of the need, but I get so overwhelmed and feel so feeble. What can I offer? Where do I begin? How do I take care of what’s already been entrusted to me and still have something left to give to the world?

Tuesday night, I heard that my hometown was shredded by a micro burst. Literally. Several downtown building were horrifically damaged, including the local hardware store where I worked from when I was a young teenager right up to a week before I got married. The store my dad has worked at for over 30 years. The roof was lifted completely off and flung into the river, and the sub roof couldn’t hold out the rain, and the water just flooded in. At one point they weren’t even sure they could salvage the building.

I was sick. Just sick, thinking about it. And Wednesday morning, when I heard about the community coming in and pulling together to help bring the store back from the brink, to the point where it could re-open for business this afternoon and start giving back to the rest of the community, it killed me that I couldn’t rush right home and join in.

But Grace woke up puking that morning, and I had to take care of her. No home-rushing heroics for me. At one point during the morning I looked at the short spy story document open on my computer and put my head right down on the table and said “WHY? Why do I write? What good does this possibly do in the long run? Why am I spending my time on this earth writing instead of doing … something?”

(And then I had to go hold the puke bucket for Grace again. Truth.)

The more I thought (and prayed) about it, though, the more certain things started to come clear. Would I even be the type of person who wants to do something if it weren’t for the books I grew up reading? Would I be the Louise I am today if I hadn’t grown up with Lucy and Edmund, Anne and Diana, Randy and Rush, Taran and Eilonwy, Will and Bran, and all the rest? In my “Influences” posts, the common thread is that not only did these books shape me as a writer, they shaped me as a person.

It’s an odd circle – if it weren’t for people doing great things, writers wouldn’t be able to imagine such deeds to write about. If it weren’t for writers creating great heroes and deeply compassionate characters, real people might never be inspired to do great things themselves. We need books to show us the people we want to be.

That’s why I write. I write to bring hope, to inspire courage, to give comfort and encouragement. Even in real life, my role has always, since childhood, been that of an encourager. Writing is my way of spreading that beyond my circle of immediate family and friends. It doesn’t excuse me from acting in real life, too (and I pray that I will always be ready, in season and out, to act where I am needed and able), but it helps to give me a purpose, to remind me that my writing is not just for escapism or amusement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either (and certainly my spy stories are mostly sheer indulgent fun), but that can’t be all. Not for me.

This all sounds kind of pompous, looking it over now. “See me, how noble my goals are for my writing!” I don’t mean it that way. Rather, it makes me humble, seeing how very far I have to go before I can live up to my own hopes. And it helps to keep me grounded – when I have a day that I can’t write because my poor baby is retching on the couch, I can let that go more easily, because this is the real life that the writing is supposed to help inspire me toward.

My very favorite sort of stories are those of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And I hope that’s the life I can live, and the stories I can write to encourage others along the same path.

Unconventional Wisdom

This is one of those Monday morning where I hunch glassy-eyed over my computer, hands wrapped around my favorite Stars on Ice coffee mug, blearily wishing I had written a post last night like I had originally planned instead of blithely assuming my brain would be working better in the morning.

HA HA. Merriment! (as Eeyore would say.)

For the last few weeks, I started getting up half an hour earlier than my usual time. Yesterday and today, I managed to bump that back by another half hour. This has been fantastic, because I used to get up about five minutes before my kids (who are ridiculously early risers, and will probably be the teens who bounce out of bed smiling at six in the morning – wait, do those sorts of teenagers even exist? If they do, my girls will definitely be among their ranks), and the day started with “Mommy I need this” and just kept going from there.

Now I get time in the morning to start my day with a large glass of water I can drink straight down without interruption. I open my Bible and get a chapter or two read. I brew my coffee, talk quietly (so as not to wake the littles up early) with my husband before he heads off to work, make my breakfast, check my blogs, and if I am very good (or there are very few blogs that morning), even get in a few moments of writing time before thump, thump, thump “MOMMY!” is heard and my daily duties begin.

I know conventional wisdom says I should use all that time to write. Honestly, though, I’ve never been much for conventional wisdom. I am a better person, and therefore a better writer, by spending my morning routine this way. I am hoping at some point to push this getting-up business back by another half hour, which ought to give me all the time I need to do all this AND write in the morning.

I’ll be going to bed every night at 9:00 by that point in time, but who cares? I’m thirty years old, married eight years (tomorrow), with kids out of the toddler stage and into the kid stage – I’M OLD. I can go to bed at 8:30 if I want!

My writing has not been suffering for my new morning routine. It has improved, as fact. Nor are my kids suffering from neglect – I’ve been spending more time throughout the day interacting with them, too. My house is generally a wreck, but out of all the things I can let go, that’s top of the list. I do still manage to get meals on the table, even though they might not be as fancy as sometimes since I’m not wanting to spend as much time in the kitchen.

I have three short stories and one novella in the editing stages. One short story ready for the second draft. One partway through the outlining process, two partway through the first draft. And all this since June. That is shockingly prolific for me.

So I guess what I’m getting to here is, sometimes conventional wisdom has to be thrown out the window. Preferably a second- or third-story window for a more satisfying crash at the landing. Find what works best for you, what helps you become the best person you can be, and the writing will follow. Conventional wisdom doesn’t know you; only you know that, and so only you can decide what your best life and writing path will look like.

And above all, find joy in it!

Collaboration and Community

I’ve been spending most of my time this weekend (and Monday) getting my short stories ready to send to the lovely, lovely people who volunteered to critique them for me (and attempting to clean my house, burning out the belt on my vacuum, deciding to forget housecleaning and making baked doughnuts with the kids instead), but I did scratch out enough time to read through The Floating Admiral.

Have you heard of it? It’s a joint effort by the Detection Club (some notable members: Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft … etc) to see if they could detect a mystery without knowing the end. Each person wrote one chapter, and then handed it off to the next without any hints. Anthony Berkeley had the unenviable task as the end of trying to make sense of the preceding tangle of clues and evidence, and wrapping it up in a tidy solution (which he did BRILLIANTLY), and then in an appendix at the back, each author revealed his or her own solution.

It was fascinating. I loved it. Both as a mystery fan and a writer. As a mystery fan, it was delightful to see each writer try to guess where the previous writer had been pointing, and to contrast the different styles of writing and detection. As a writer, I loved seeing the way they played off each other and used each other to make their own writing stronger. My favorite part, honestly, was the appendix where they all revealed their solutions, because it showed so plainly the way each of them crafted their stories (Agatha Christie’s solution, by the way, was the most preposterous, and yet you KNOW that if she had written the entire thing, we would have swallowed it without hesitation). From Sayers’ complex and tidy backstory and timetable to Clemence Dane’s frank admittance that it was all a muddle to him and he just tried to leave it open so that Berkeley could finish it off in any way he pleased, it was great.

Trying to read it as one cohesive detective story would be fairly exhausting, and judging by some of the negative reviews I’ve read of this, that’s where many people go wrong. Reading it for the enjoyment of seeing all these authors work together and blend their many different styles (the main detective in the story, Inspector Rudge, ends up being a character of so many layers and great depth, simply because he is written by so many different people – just watching his character develop was half the fun for me) is the way to go with this story.

I’ve been plotting a joint fanfiction story with two of my good friends (Adrienne and Cathy, we really need to get moving on this!), consisting of letters and journal entries between three cousins. It’s not the same premise as The Floating Admiral, but much of the idea is the same – we each have our own idea of our character’s story, and the fun and challenge will be weaving them together into something cohesive.

This is one of those aspects of writing that thrills me. As much as I love crafting stories and bringing characters to life on my own, I also love the thought of being part of a community of writers. The very idea of the Detection Club makes me happy, much like the Inklings (if given the option of going back in time and sitting in on only one meeting of those two groups, I’d be hard-pressed to pick between them). Can you imagine if the Inklings had written a joint-effort fantasy like the Detection Club did with The Floating Admiral? It would have been amazing and hysterical, all at once.

Twitter and blogs are a wonderful way to build writers’ communities; one of the reasons I’m thrilled to have critique partners for my short stories is because it is yet another way to build that same sense of community. Ultimately, though, nothing quite beats in-person meetings of a regular sort, to discuss and laugh and help each other become better writers.

Maybe someday – for now, I’m thankful, so very thankful, for these internet communities I can call my own.