Writer’s Sludge

I haven’t written one word – save for blog posts, FB and Twitter updates, and the occasional short email – in three weeks.

Writer’s block, you ask?

Not exactly.

More like Writer’s Sludge.

I’m editing. I’m actually in the easy stage of editing, where all the major changes have been made and the end is in sight. I should be able to tackle this no problem, right?

Unfortunately, editing is also the tricky stage, when I need to focus all my attention on the task before me. Which means I can’t do it during the day, when the kids need me. Even putting on a movie doesn’t help (yes, I do resort to that sometimes – I never claimed to be Supermom), because I’m still in “mom” mode, not “writer” mode.

Up until the plague sweeping our house, I had been getting to the library for an hour on Fridays after Carl got home, and even that one hour of writing a week was fantastic. But with at least one of us being sick for almost the entire month of February, that just stopped happening.

Editing in the evenings, after the kids are in bed, you suggest? Yes. I should do that. I often have grand plans throughout the day of doing that. But usually by the time 8:00 rolls around and the kids are asleep, all I can do is curl up in the recliner and read fluffy books. My plans of a winter spent delving into different mythologies has fallen through, too! I’ve fallen back on comfort reads, Agatha Christie and Patricia C Wrede and Miss Read. All good books, but none of which require me to stretch my brain.

Which means, of course, that even now that we’re all (rap wood) healthy again, and I could be working on the MS again, my creative muscles have fallen out of use, and my natural laziness is creeping back to the forefront of my personality, instead of locked tightly in the back, where I usually try to keep it contained.

So I write this blog post in hopes that by being honest and open about this, it will trigger something in me, maybe even that famous stubbornness and contrariness that I’m known for throughout my family and friends, and I’ll start writing again immediately after posting this.

Even though I haven’t been writing/editing, I have started exercising some of my creative muscles again recently. See?

Now I just need to translate that into writing! Hmm … maybe if Maia had to deal with pirates …


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The Importance of Story

Heroes, heroism, and what all that entails, is a fairly common theme on this blog. It wasn’t until I read through Diana Wynne Jones’ essay collection, followed by The Wand in the Word, that I started to understand some of my impulses that drive me to contemplate such ideas, and to search for ways to bring them into my stories without even realizing it.
We as a society, especially here in America, are in desperate need of heroes. Not even real-life heroes, though those are (obviously) important, but heroes of mythical stature, for us to look up to and emulate without even knowing it. America is a funny land: we have absorbed so many cultures to make up this beautiful, multi-facted nation, and yet we haven’t embraced any of their myths – nor do most of us embrace the mythos of the Native Americans, which is beautiful and rich and deep.
Instead of myths and legends reaching back into a shadowy past, showing us heroes and heroines and quests and striving for a goal more noble, we have generations of Americans raised on Disney princesses and Power Rangers as children, vampires and dystopias as teenagers, gossip magazines and reality television as young adults. Not all of those things are bad – but they aren’t anything close to enough.
We have no King Arthur, no rich carpet of legend rolling out beneath our feet, for us to tread upon and absorb without even knowing it. The closest thing we have in this country to a cultural mythos are comic book heroes, and while those have their own value, they don’t have the weight of age behind them.
That’s not something I can change. I don’t have a TARDIS, I can’t pop back in time to create another Beowulf.
But I, personally, have a strong sense of the importance of heroes. As a kid, I fought imaginary dragons in my back yard. I believed in standing up for the underdog, even in my kindergarten class, wearing a pretty dress with my hair in two long braids, not letting anyone bully Thomas because he didn’t fit in. How did that happen (aside from my parents’ teaching)?
The books I read, the Stories I learned. What books did I grow up reading? Books by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Brian Jacques, Edward Eager, E Nesbit, L Frank Baum …
People say fantasy doesn’t matter? That fantasy books aren’t Real Books?
It is fantasy, myth, legend, the hero seeking to save others, the beauty of the quest through danger to achieve salvation, that will rescue this world from falling into utter darkness.
In the end, fantasy books are the most Real Books out there. They just might be the most important books you will ever read.
They are certainly the most important books I will ever write.

Reading Corner

In my quest to encourage the girls to read, read often, read for the sheer love of it, I set up one corner of our living room with a pile of blankets, two king-size pillows, and a stack of books, and told them this corner was ONLY for reading. No playing with toys, no pretending to take naps, we only curl up here when we want to read.

They loved it at first. Then they whined because I wouldn’t let them turn it into a tent. Part of me felt ridiculous for sticking to my guns about it, but I needed it to be special, in order for reading to be special. So I didn’t make a big deal, just reminded them that they had an entire house they could play in, they could keep one corner for reading.

Slowly, over the course of a week or so, they got used to the idea. I would come into the room to see Joy sitting there with a book. Grace would come down after her nap and cuddle up with a blanket and a picture book until she woke up fully.

And every once in a while, delight of delights, they would sit down together, and Joy would read aloud to Grace.

Now they are doing that all over the house. Joy curls up in the recliner with Frog and Toad are Friends. Grace plops down in the middle of the floor a collection of fairy tales. They sit on top of their Lego crates, prop The Little Red Hen on the coffee table, and Joy reads while Grace provides sound effects.

I know I talk fairly frequently on here about my kids and their reading habits. That’s because it is so vitally important to me right now! They don’t have to love the same sort of books that I do. They don’t have to be the type of person to get lost in another world, like I do. Carl takes great joy in sitting down with a commentary on the minor prophets, but can barely get through most fiction. And that’s fine, too.

The important thing is that the kids are learning the true magic of the written word, in whatever form takes their fancy.

And if putting an old comforter down in one corner of the house helps with that? Well, you can be sure that comforter is going to come with us no matter where we move.

An Elvish Valentine

One of my oldest friends shared this on my FB wall last week. Carl and I both died of laughter, watched all the other videos in this series, and promptly died laughing again.
We aren’t exactly romantics.
But we do know how to appreciate a good orc-bashing.
What more does one need in a soul mate?
Happy Valentine’s Day from me and mine, to you and yours.

Titles

As many of you know, the working title for my current MS is Magic & Mayhem. I love the alliteration, the way it gives a sense of being a historical novel (tying in with books such as Sense & Sensibility or Pride & Prejudice, for example), and that it conveys the idea of what’s happening in the book without giving anything away. Perfect title, right?

Except. All of the sudden lately, I’ve been seeing a flood of blank & blank titles all over the place. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s looking like I’m following a trend (see my other post where I mention my annoyance with many of the similarities between the Crawley sisters and my protagonist’s family – I swear, I wrote mine before I ever even heard of Downton Abbey!). Not just because of hipster tendencies, but because I don’t want to give a false impression of my book. As a story, it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre or follow any current trends. So I would hate to lure somebody in by the title, only to have them irritated when the story reads so differently from other similarly-titled works.

So the question becomes, do I hope that by the time I have this edited, edited again, proofread, formatted, and finally published, that the blank & blank titles are less popular? Except I’m shooting for a late spring, early summer publication, even with all the work that needs to be done, so that really isn’t a lot of time. Do I hope that people will be amused by the subtle Jane Austen/Elizabeth Gaskell reference and miss out on the other, more popular new titles that follow that path?

Or do I go for a different title altogether? I had been playing around with a few ideas before settling on Magic & Mayhem:

Murder of a Manservant (excuse me while I fall asleep)

Of Magic and Men (except that it’s equally about men and women, and “Magic and Humankind” really sounds dull)

A Magical Mystery (booooring!)

Magical Mayhem (not bad. But not tremendously riveting)

In thinking about it just recently, as well as perusing old Victorian and Regency novel titles, I’ve come up with a few more:

Murder at Little Oaks (sounds like Nancy Drew – now, Nancy meets magic WOULD be a fun idea to explore sometime, but that’s not this story)

The Portland Papers (since much of the story’s plot revolves around needing to recover stolen papers, this one isn’t too bad. I don’t like that it doesn’t give any hint of the magic, though.)

The Apprentice (possible, since my protagonist is a magic apprentice. Still kind of dullsville, though.)

Such Stuff as Dreams (not bad – it is Shakespeare, after all, who also provided the title for one of my short stories, so there’s some continuity there. It is a little vague, though.)

Sigh. Maybe I should just hire someone to title my books for me …

Quick! Grace! Write out a title for Mummy’s book!

Overcoming Adversity Bloghop

Today is the start of Nick Wilford’s “Overcoming Adversity” bloghop. I haven’t done a bloghop in ages, but I knew, as soon as I saw Nick’s first post talking about it, that I wanted to do this one. Nick asked bloggers to write a short story on overcoming adversity that he would later compile into an anthology to help raise funds to send his stepson Andrew, who has cerebral palsy, to college. What an amazing privilege to be able to participate in a project like this!
I wasn’t able to come up with a respectable story (embarrassing for a fiction writer to admit, but true), so I turned to poetry. This piece is in honor of my grandparents. Some of my most precious and painful memories are seeing my grandfather sit beside Grandma’s bedside holding her hand, long after her memories of him had faded. The very last memory I have of them together, in fact, is of them in that position when she was in the hospital with the pneumonia that eventually ended her life. If anyone in my life has ever been an example of overcoming adversity, it is them.
Nick, thank you for giving me this chance to join in something like this – it truly is a gift from you to us!
Memory
Farm boy
Solider
Mechanic

Farm girl
Student
Teacher

Husband and wife
Parents
Grandparents and more

Her memories are gone
His legs no longer bear his weight
To the world, they are broken

Side by side
Her in a hospital bed
He in his wheelchair

Hands clasped
Love forever
Together, they are always whole.
~