Take a Hike!

We went on a family hike this past weekend – one of our favorite activities, but one that, between swelteringly hot weather and long hours at Carl’s job, we haven’t been able to indulge in at all this summer. It was the perfect day for it – sunny and warm, but the air was crisp enough that we wanted sweatshirts at first. 
Carl showing the girls how to read the map and follow the trail markers

Can you spot the toad?

Two happy hikers!

I saw this stump and thought: “It looks like the gaping jaws of some giant mythological beast!” Then I thought: “I’m not even going to mention that to my family; they’ll think I’m crazy.” THEN I thought: “Well, I’ll at least take a picture of it for my blog; my readers get my kind of craziness.”

Sisters!

Feeling like a big shot because she hiked the entire thing (this was her first major hike having outgrown her backpack carrier)

I LOVE that Joy is photo-bombing this shot of Grace and Carl

Tired little chickie, snuggling with Dad

“Hey, maybe we’ll end up in Narnia if we walk through this arch!” (We didn’t)

Not only was it an awesome day just as a family, I felt creativity bubbling up in me like crazy. Nothing specific, no great story plots or characters, just general creativeness. It was so, so needed. Even though we all came home exhausted and sore (my legs are still aching today – scrambling up and down steep, rocky mountains while helping a small child requires some serious muscle work), we were laughing and chattering and just absolutely refreshed.
Where do you go to get revitalized?

Holly Grayson, Alleluia …

One of Joy’s favorite songs is “All Creatures of our God and King.” She will go around the house humming it for hours, breaking into words only at the “alleluia, alleluia” part.

Grace, being three, likes to imitate her sister in all things, so when Joy starts caroling “Alleluia, alleluia,” Grace immediately joins in.

Only her alleluias don’t always sound the way they’re supposed to. From Grace, it sounds more like she’s singing, “Holly Grayson, Holly Grayson …” (Or, technically, “howwy gwayson,” because she’s still working on her “l”s and “r”s.)

After I checked all their books and TV shows to see if she was singing about some character (she wasn’t), I decided it was just a trick of her hearing alleluia slightly differently, pronouncing it more differently yet, and my ear trying to arrange her nonsense syllables into something that makes sense.

Then I started thinking about what a good name Holly Grayson was for a book character, decided I’d use it sometime.

A couple days later, I decided Holly had long, dark brown hair, and either blue or hazel eyes.

Few days after that, I knew she was strong-willed and sharp-witted, often speaking without thinking, but with a warm heart underneath.

An investigator, I realized shortly thereafter. Not an ordinary investigator, either, but either a paranormal or supernatural one.

Nope, I decided a short time later. Time-traveling investigator, working for the InterGalactic Time Police (what, you didn’t know about them? Oh, they exist, my friends.), except they only let her stay on because of her ability to always get results. They don’t like the way she flouts their rules and doesn’t always respect authority. You can’t fire your top investigator for being a smart-mouth, though, so she stays on, even though they’re always looking for reasons to get rid of her.

Then I decided that her time-traveling machine broke down on her last trip, trapping her in the Victorian Era until she is able to fix it, and that she uses her skills and abilities to help those who can’t help themselves – in fact, that becomes her agency’s motto. Holly Grayson Investigations: We help those who can’t help themselves.

Saturday afternoon, I caved and started writing the story that landed her in the Victorian Era. It’s going to be novelette or novella length, I’m not sure yet. I’m having so much fun with it.

Hey Grace, got any more songs you want to mangle? Just imagine the stories you could inspire!

This is somewhat how I imagine Holly. No talking lions, though. At least not yet.

Scrambled Egg Writing

There are about as many ways to prepare scrambled eggs as there are cooks. Last week with my mother visiting, we had scrambled eggs every morning for breakfast. Some mornings I made them, some mornings Mom did, and one morning Carl did.

Carl barely mixes the eggs at all, cooks them in butter, adds no salt or pepper. Mom mixes them thoroughly, adds milk, salt, and pepper, and cooks them in bacon grease. I mix slightly, add salt, pepper, and marjoram, and cook them in either butter or grease.
They’re all eggs, they all taste different, they all reflect the cook, and they’re all delicious.
You see where I’m going with this, right?

There are so many different styles of writing. Even within the same genre, everyone writes a little differently, puts a little unique twist on the way to tell the story. You can try to imitate someone else exactly, and maybe the story will read okay, but it won’t be you.

There are a lot of “rules” for cooking. One thing I learned from the truly marvelous cooks in my life is that rules are meant to be learned and then ignored at your discretion. Hold too tightly to them, and you’ll never be more than a mediocre cook. To really make food that tastes grand, do it the way that suits you best. Scramble those darn eggs the way you like them, even if nobody else does it like that, and even if it’s against the rules. Some people may not like them, but that’s okay, too.

Learn the “rules” of writing. Then break ’em where you need to in order to write the story your way. Some people may read it and complain about you not doing things the “right” way, but that’s okay. There isn’t one right way. Just ask Shakespeare. He certainly wasn’t following rules.

Sometimes the eggs will stick and burn, or your hand will slip and you’ll dump too much salt in, and sometimes maybe you’ll try cooking them a different way and find that it’s better, or at least fun for a change.

Sometimes the story will flop spectacularly, or you just won’t be able to make all the various elements come together in a cohesive whole, and sometimes you’ll try a different style and have a lot of fun with it, maybe even figure out a way to incorporate the new with the old.

If you fail, you scrape the frying pan into the trash, you hit “delete” on the document, you push up your sleeves and you start again, learning from your mistakes and sometimes, the best of times, even laughing at them.

And you get better. Always. Just so long as you keep trying.

Some days the bread loaves turn out perfectly …

And sometimes they meld into each other to become one big lump. Yep. It happens. Still bread. Still tasty.

Farewell, Olympics

The Olympics are over (until 2014 – SOCHI!!! Winter Olympics and Russia – two of my great loves), and I’m torn between sadness and mild relief that life can return to normal and I don’t have to watch beach volleyball again AT ALL until Rio.

The littles are asking for rhythmic gymnastics lessons; Joy has discovered that she loves tennis; Grace keeps practicing diving off the couch (I would feel so much better about this if she would just put a pillow down first); I want to start practicing for single sculls.

Carl is almost done with Aramaic and ready to start Syriac, then Latin.

I leave it to you to determine which of us has proper priorities.

I learned a few things during the Olympics.

Number One: I am not, nor will I ever be, an athlete. Much as I respect and admire them, my dedication and passion is for writing, not sport. Also, I am incurably clumsy, which is not good in an athlete (well, not for anyone, really, but especially an athlete).

Number Two: For me, beach volleyball gets tremendously boring after half of a game. Water polo is ok for one full game. Court volleyball means I turn the television off immediately. Guess what sports NBC inevitably showed during the day, while I was freest to watch?

Number Three: I really don’t get much pop music (this was cemented during the closing ceremony, where my favorite performers were STOMP).

Number Four: I am always going to get annoyed when people are disdainful about the Olympics. THEY ARE MORE THAN SPORT END OF STORY.

Number Five: I will cry over amazing against-the-odds stories. Also whenever the camera shows Michael Phelps and his family.

Number Six: Mr Bean is funny, but Kenneth Branagh is MAGIC.

Number Seven: I must go to England sometime. I get homesick whenever I see pictures of it – truly homesick – and I’ve never been there. It is, quite simply, in my blood.

Any tidbits of wonder for you during this Olympics?

The Blue Vampire Castle

LM Montgomery’s The Blue Castle has always suffered from bad covers. But this latest one, while perhaps not as gag-worthy as the cover of my edition (which looks like a watered-down Harlequin novel, and is solely responsible for me refusing to read the book in public), really left me scratching my head. If you’ve read even five pages of the book, you know this makes no sense:

It did, however, prompt me to come up with a new story synopsis for Valancy’s adventures. I give you The Blue Castle, Vampire Edition:

When Valancy Stirling discovers she has a disease which will kill her within one year unless she takes drastic measures, she immediately leaves her stuffy, proper family behind in search of the one possible cure – immortality through a vampire’s bite.

Sweet, frail Cissy Gay has always been a source of fear and wonder to the community of Deerwood; she should have died years ago, yet somehow she still lives. Valancy confronts her, and Cissy gives up her secret: long-time friend of her father, Barney Snaith, is really a vampire, and it is through his bite that she still hangs on to life. She grows weaker, though, and soon refuses to let Barney keep biting her – death has become preferable to this shadow of an existence. Before long, Cissy passes away, leaving a void in Barney’s life.

Armed with her knowledge (and a stake, in case Barney is more interested in lunch than a new female companion), Valancy sets out to find Barney and offer herself as a replacement for Cissy. Secluded in his Blue Castle on a remote Muskoka island, Barney broods over an eternity of loneliness. When wild, fey Valancy appears, he is torn – accept her sacrifice, or send her back to live the rest of her short mortal life with her own kind? What happens if he lets her into his life, only to have her tire of immortality the same way Cissy did, leaving him alone again?

Barney is determined to keep her at arm’s length, but Valancy is equally determined to become a vampire herself – and she is on a deadline. Will she succeed in convincing Barney before death takes her, or is she doomed to a short life with no love?
The Blue Castle is a tale of tragic love and mythic creatures, available everywhere this fall!

In a shameless plug for myself, I created a Blue Castle blend on Adagio Teas recently – I’ve tried it and it’s actually become a favorite for me. If you’re a tea drinker, check it out and see if it’s something that appeals to you!

Everyday Writing

Yesterday morning after church, Carl stayed inside chatting with friends while I kept an eye on the kids in the little playground in the courtyard. After a few moments of watching and thinking, I reached into my purse, pulled out my pen and the sheaf of papers I’d shoved in earlier … and started scratching out the basic outline for my next novelette.

And then I had to laugh at myself. Yes, I’m a writer all right. Even with having to take a break when Grace and another girl had an disagreement on the slide (the other girl lost, but Grace was the one who came away in tears), even when I texted Carl to say Where are you, the girls are getting restless and I’m melting in the sun, even though there were people all around that I could have been talking to … I was thinking about characters and setting and plot, and getting down as much of it as I could.

My kids already know what editing is, as well as outlining, plotting, and all the rest. They hear me talk about it, they even ask me about it now. Joy draws pictures and makes up stories about them as she draws. Grace plays with her toys by acting out stories with them. When we stopped at the drugstore to get a birthday card for their friend today, I walked out with a card, fresh pencils and colored pencils for the girls, and new post-it notes for me, since I can never find Carl’s when I need to use them for story notes.

Somewhere along the line this summer, I’ve started treating my writing more seriously. It’s always been my passion; now it’s my business as well. It’s becoming an essential part of our family life, just as Carl’s studies did back when seminary became more than just a “someday dream” and moved into a serious “in the next few years plan.” It’s not taking over anything, it’s just entwining into our everyday lives and activities.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.