1920s, Books, critiquing, fantasy, publishing, writing

Title Reveal!

I teased on my FB page last week that I had finally settled on a title for my novel … and then said you would all have to wait until Monday, on the blog, to find out what it is. Wonder no more!

I’ve been calling this book Magic & Mayhem almost since the conception, but I never intended for it to be the official title – it was just holding it together in my mind, better than just calling it “Maia’s story” or “The Book.” When the time came to settle on a real title, though, I had the worst time. Nothing I thought of seemed quite right. I would bounce ideas off my husband with even more intensity than we used to discuss baby names (seriously, those were easy compared to this), and then email a list to my critique partner to get her opinion. I scoured the manuscript itself for clues, hunted through my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, searched poems and verses and the Bible, stared at my row of Agatha Christie’s in vain hope of inspiration, and racked my own brain for ideas.

Finally, finally I found one that not only I liked, my two long-suffering partners in crime agreed sounded good, as well. Success at last!

(Seriously, who would have thought picking a title would be almost harder than writing the book itself?)

So, without further ado, I introduce …

Magic Most Deadly 

Ever since the War, Maia Whitney’s life has been one long straight path of drudgery and boredom, with no room for the adventures she secretly craves. If only there was a chance to do some work that really mattered, but what would that be?

Lennox Davies, minor magician and master Intelligence agent, has no time for independent and opinionated women. Lives depend on his ability to remain undistracted and keep his own counsel.

But when the two of them witness a murder, and Maia discovers her own blossoming magical talent, they must put aside their differences in order to work together. If they don’t, England itself could fall.

And even if they do, it still might not be enough.

stories, writing



I picked up a small notebook the last time I was out shopping. I was getting lined paper for Joy (who for some reason much prefers her drawings to be on lined paper instead of blank, and had run out), saw the notebooks, and on impulse picked one up for myself.

I have drifted, in the last few years, to being almost entirely a computer-writer. I have my journal, and journals of letters I write to my girls, but for anything else – stories, plots, poems, menus, shopping lists, study notes etc – I do it on my computer.

I got burnt out by social media last week. I had already been slowly coming to realize that once again, I was getting sucked into spending way too much time on the internet, and then with all the crazy happenings of last week, that time doubled.

When I found myself foaming at the mouth and wanting to unfriend and unfollow EVERYBODY IN THE WHOLE WORLD I knew it was time to take a step back.

I also knew my weaknesses. Unless I am in the throes of a story, if I’m just on the computer to jot something down – a story element, my menu plan for the week, my to-do list for the day – I find myself checking out social media without even thinking about it.

So I pulled out the new notebook, thinking it was a stroke of genius on my part to buy it, even before everything happened.

The first thing to go in it was a to-do list, none of which got done. But it made me feel better to have it written down by my own hand.

Then it was some notes for the study on Philippians I’m doing with some friends. Then it was the above picture, various story elements from my novel, trying to put them together to send some coherent ideas to my cover designer (also trying to figure out a title, which is still giving me fits, because every one I think up comes oh so close but there’s just something not quite perfect about it, and now my brain is so fried it can’t think of anything new. I loathe titles. Why can’t I just label my books Book 1, Book 2, Short Story 5, Different Genre Book 8, etc? It would be so much easier.). Then I started jotting down the outline for my next Sophie short story, which is starting to get completely away from me and needs reining in.

Oh yes, and a list of sewing projects I need to complete for the girls’ spring/summer wardrobes.

All this, and I didn’t need to open my computer, and expose myself to the temptation of The Internet once.

I see some more notebooks in my near future. This one is already filling up rapidly.

God, heroes, Life Talk


I am thinking, along with much of the rest of the world, about Boston tonight.

We still don’t know many details of what’s happened. I can’t bring myself to look at photos (not only because of the stark horror of them, but because the thought of someone deliberately choosing to take a picture of people suffering and in pain rather than helping those people fills me with rage – and yes, I understand that for some people it is their job, but it still enrages me, reasonably or not) or watch any video.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law ran the Boston Marathon, with my sister there to cheer him on. I keep thinking about them, about all the what-might-have-beens. She’s expecting their first child now. I just … the possibilities shake me to my core, and the fact that the “might-have-beens” for my family are realities for others has brought me to tears more than once this afternoon.

For several years, my dad and I volunteered at the Ironman in Lake Placid. I loved being stationed on the runners’ path best of all, for the energy and joy and determination. We would come away completely drenched in Gatorade (you try handing out drinks to runners without getting soaked in the process), exhausted, with lungs hoarse from screaming encouragement to them, and so, so filled with satisfaction and delight.

This … this hits me close to the heart.

Earlier today, before I found out about Boston, I finally finished a “hero adventure dress” for my five-year-old, her reward for diligently practicing walking with straight feet until it became natural (her pigeon-toed stance was becoming a serious problem – she couldn’t walk without tripping). She put it on, and her silver sparkly shoes and said “Where’s my sword? I’m ready to go fight the monsters, and be a hero!”

I went to share that tidbit on Twitter … and promptly saw the news about Boston.

I went back and read my reaction post to Newton later this afternoon: Light and Love. It helped, to remind myself of my mantra, my firm belief that only by being light can we conquer the darkness in this world. That is my “sword.” That is how I fight the monsters.

Out of the ashes of this tragedy, I am already seeing evidence of others practicing this. Acts of kindness, of courage, of faithfulness, of hope. Of love. Petty differences swept aside, suddenly we are all humans together.

My heart aches tonight. But I will hold to my faith, and I will be a light, and I will practice love, and above all, I will pray for healing and mercy and justice.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

This is the only way we can stop the encroaching dark.

Books, characters, favorites, God, heroines

My Name, My Friend … Emily

Here’s a tidbit about me many of you might not know – my first name is Emily.

I quite like my first name. I disliked it for a time when I was young, when it seemed like every second person I met was named Emily and I desperately wanted to be unique – but I like it well enough now. I don’t use it, of course. I mean, many of the members of my family still call me Emily (except my grandfather – when I was twelve years old and starting asking to be called Louise, he promptly switched and has only ever called me Louise or Emmy Lou (old family pet name which nobody outside said family is allowed to use, so nobody get any cute ideas) since), and I have some stubborn friends who still can’t make the switch, but I only ever refer to myself as Louise.

And it’s not because I don’t like the name Emily, but because I am a Louise. I can’t even think of myself as Emily – and the fact that my name never really sat quite comfortable on my shoulders, while Louise was just right was the main reason why I switched as an almost-teenager, not just because I was a snob who wanted a name that wasn’t shared with dozens of other girls.

(The other reason was to honor my great-grandmother, who was Pauline Louise, and who was one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know.)

But (and now I’m finally getting to the main point of this post), I still like the name Emily. It’s not as common now as it was when I was young. It’s old-fashioned but not completely dated. It’s sweet and yet still simple and strong. It goes well with most middle names and last names. Even when it was popular it was never trendy. And, most importantly, it’s the name of one of my favorite book characters of all time.

No, not Emily Starr. Not Emma Woodhouse. Not even Emily Pollifax.



It’s none other than Emily Webster, star of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Emily of Deep Valley.

Unlike Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, alongside whom I grew up, reading about their escapades usually around the same time I was their age for each book (nice planning there, Mom), I didn’t meet Emily until I was an adult. A very young, very lonely newlywed, as a matter of fact, living in a strange city in a strange state, knowing nobody there outside my husband (who was working long hours and only wanted to crash at home when he was done), not working myself at the time, without a car, feeling very adrift as I was away from my family for the first time in my life (the one danger in going to a local university, I suppose).

There was a bookstore within walking distance of my apartment, however. True, I had to clamber through a hole in a fence, pick my way down a steep hill, sprint across a restaurant’s parking lot, cross a very busy road, and then dart through another parking lot to get there, but I could do it.

And it was there, one day as I had fled from the incessant noise of the neighbor below us, that I met Emily. If I did not believe in God, I would call it a fluke. Why would a large, mainstream bookstore that barely carried any of the Betsy-Tacy books have this, the least well-known out of all Lovelace’s books? Since I do believe in God, I prefer to think of it as him sending me just what I needed at just the right time.

I sat down in an armchair right there in the store and starting reading it. After a couple of chapters, I felt my throat close up. Rather than burst into tears in public, I got up, paid for the book, made my perilous way back to my apartment, curled up in bed, and kept reading.

And for a few hours, the noise from the downstairs neighbor that filled the entire block of apartments ceased to bother me. My loneliness went away for a time, for I had found a new friend.

Emily, you see, found herself all alone at the start of the book. All her friends went off to college, and while she desperately wanted to go as well, she couldn’t leave her elderly grandfather, who had raised her and who didn’t understand the concept of higher education for women. Despite her best efforts, depression settles in.

But she doesn’t let it stay! Inspired by Shakespeare to “muster her wits,” Emily sets out to live a full, worthwhile life no matter where she is. She lets go of her nostalgic longing for the life she had in high school (the chapter where she changes hairstyles is sheer genius) and looks for ways to learn and grow and help others right where she is. Before long, her life is so full and rich that she’s almost forgotten her longings for college!

There’s romance in the book as well, but even that is shown as part of Emily’s self-growth. It’s never the main focus.

It’s no coincidence that after meeting Emily, I started a blog of my own, and tentatively joined the fanfiction community, starting to find a circle of friends online that are still with me today. She gave me the courage to push through the terrible ennui that threatened me in those early years and find ways to fill my life with purpose and joy. She helped me behave like an adult even when I felt like a little kid at the first church we attended and wanted to hide from all the perfectly-polished other young married women there, all of whom seemed so much more sophisticated and comfortable in their own skin than I was. She helped me understand that it doesn’t matter so much where you are as who you are, and that using your wits is something that will never go out of style.

So yes, Emily became and is still one of my dearest friends. And even though I don’t think of us as having the same name exactly, is it any wonder the name Emily holds such a special place in my heart?

characters, writing

The Rules

I was reading The Secret Adversary for about the millionth time this weekend, and when I got to the part where Tommy acted completely out of character, I had to stop and ponder it for a few moments.

James Warwick as Tommy Beresford

I love that part. It’s one of my favorites. Sober, steady, practical Tommy acts completely impulsively, and it’s way better than if the same action was taken by Tuppence, who is KNOWN for her impulsiveness.

Now, most of the time, when a character does something completely foreign to their personality, it drives me nuts. So why does it work so well for Tommy?

I think it’s because Christie, as the narrator (she’s not quite an omniscient narrator in this one, but it’s definitely not a tight third-person POV) acknowledges that he’s acting OOC, and so does Tommy himself. I also think it’s because it really does happen, in real life, that the predictable steady people DO occasionally get wild impulses, and give into them without understanding the why or the how of it. So even though it’s OOC, it’s still believable, and it makes for a great scene, and builds up to some that are even better.

I like reading authors like Christie, who wrote before the era of “Rules for Writing,” and wouldn’t have cared a fig for them if she did (she scatters adverbs wildly) (haha – get it? Wildly? OK, I’m done). She wrote according to her own internal rules, and she never broke them, and it shows.

I break a lot of the so-called Rules in my own writing. But I have a set of my own rules, and the few times I’ve tried (guiltily) to break them, it makes a mess. And sometimes when I start to fret about The Rules, I remind myself of Christie, and then I feel better. Not that I’m the genius she was! But like her, my rules are more important to follow than The Rules.

As long as you understand what you’re doing and why, and you are doing it deliberately, I think The Rules should go out the window.

Where do you stand on the matter?

Life Talk, seasons, writing

April, May, Tulips, and Writing

I hope you all has a wonderful Easter! We did; my husband’s family came out for the weekend, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time together, filling and hiding plastic eggs for the kids to hunt on Sunday after church, and eating all the food I could keep coming out of my kitchen. We were a surprisingly hungry bunch this weekend!

As much as I loved having family out, and visiting them in our turn, I must confess to a sneaking sense of relief and freedom as we enter the month of April. Why? Because we have NOTHING planned. No trips, no people coming out to see us, nothing. Just living.

Now, I have learned in the last almost-decade of my married life that this is usually when life decides to laugh heartily at our expense and whack us on the nose with a broomstick. So I’m fully expecting Things to Happen. Even so, I’m reveling in the illusion of freedom right now.

We can finally start following our schedule! I can finish sewing the kids’ spring clothes! I can get more writing done! We’ll be able to do more than two days of school in a week! I can keep practicing driving so as to be more comfortable behind the wheel by the time we move! Carl and I can work together on the weekends to sort, organize, and pack boxes so that I don’t get completely overwhelmed by it all the week before we move!

(I am so laughing at myself even as I type this. This is NOT going to happen.)

Also of excitement to me are two things happening in May (in the merry, merry month of May …). One: my mother is getting her Master’s! We’re going up north for her graduation ceremony, and THEN we’re going just a little further north to go to the Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada.

This was an excursion we made most years when I was a kid, and Carl and I have wanted to go up every year since we were dating, and never made it. This year I said since we were already going to be so close (my parents live just south of the US-Canada border) at the right time of year, we WERE going to go. And so we are making sure our passports are up to date and GOING. I can’t wait. The girls are going to be blown away by so many tulips in one place, and downtown Ottawa is always worth a visit even without the flowers. Hurrah!

The second thing will actually happen before the first (confused yet?). For Mother’s Day weekend, happening before my mom’s graduation, Carl is going to take the kids to visit his mom. Where will I be during this? I’m SO glad you asked. I will be having a couple days entirely to myself. Not Here. Not at home, surrounded by all the Things I need to do every day, mocking me whenever I take the time to write. Not at his mother’s, where I still have to be mommy and wife (and daughter-in-law) even though we aren’t home. They are going to drop me off somewhere between our house and his mother’s, and I will have a real-live solo writing retreat. It’s my (belated)birthday present/(current)Mother’s Day present/(future)keeping everything functioning while Carl’s in seminary present.

So, any recommendations for a good place to stay in the Berkshires or southern Vermont for a solo writing retreat with no car?

And how is April looking for you?

Ever been to the Tulip Festival in Ottawa?

Did you have a nice Easter?

(A picture from last spring, taken at a park here in our city. Now imagine that, plus thousands more. THAT’S what it will be like in Ottawa.)