Thankful

We had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. Quiet and peaceful, just the four of us here at home. We had invited some friends to share the meal with us, but all plans fell through, and in the end, that was okay.

I roasted a turkey for the first time ever, and it was delicious. The gravy also turned out perfectly, which pretty much never happens for me. Every component of the meal fell into place, and my only bit of stress came about Wednesday afternoon as I was working on the second pie (which stress resulted in me forgetting to put foil around the edges, and the crust getting burnt a little).

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

Next year, I’m only making one pie.

At dinner, the girls started sharing, unprompted, everything they are thankful for. Top of Gracie’s list were the homemade doughnuts we’d had for breakfast. The goof.

It was awfully precious to sit there and listen to them rattle off thanks … thankful for their new cousin, thankful for our new home, thankful for our old home, thankful for grandparents, thankful for each other, thankful for the ocean (“and tides!” Gracie clarified. “And REALLY BIG WAVES.”), finally winding up with Joy declaring she’s thankful for the whole world.

Well, really, how can you top that?

As I sat and listened, my chief thanks was that I was able to be thankful at all. I spent so many years numb, not able to be unhappy or happy, thankful or miserable, or anything at all except exhausted and overwhelmed, that to be able to sit with my family and really delight in them, and be utterly thankful for them, was so beautiful.

One question Christians are asked frequently – and it’s a valid question, a really good one – is that if God is so good, and so powerful, why did he allow evil to come into the world at all? There isn’t one simple answer for that. One facet of one possible answer, however, is that in a world where all is light, the light isn’t known; it’s taken for granted. But against the dark, we see the light, and we love it. The contrast makes it stand out so much brighter.

I had a really happy childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. And I’m just now starting to grasp why, possibly, God took me through so many years of darkness after I hit adulthood. Because the joy I have now at actually having joy again is so much richer, so much better, than the simple unthinking happiness I had back when I had known nothing else.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for thankfulness.

And I suppose, like Gracie, I’m also thankful for homemade doughnuts. They were really good.

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Determination

Last week, Grace fell down partway through her skating lesson (first of the season), and immediately wanted off the ice, out of the rink, home again, no more skating lessons ever. I knelt down beside her, hugged her and comforted her, and looked her right in the eye and said,

“You are not allowed to quit right now.”

*

A few days before Joy’s first ballet lesson, she started panicking, and told me she’d changed her mind, she didn’t want to take dance lessons after all. I told her she had to at least try.

*

On Saturday morning, I drove the girls to Joy’s ballet lesson. It was my first time driving without another licensed adult in the car since my sister’s wedding day, 8 1/2 years ago (on that occasion, I was racing between my sister’s apartment and my parents’ house for her wedding dress, accidentally sent home in Mom’s car the night before instead of my sister’s). I’ve never liked driving, and close to 10 years of living in cities with INSANE drivers didn’t help. I got out of the habit of driving altogether, and have only been slowly working my way back up toward getting behind the wheel again. With Carl out of town over the weekend, I had no choice but to take responsibility and get the driving done. And I did.

*

I know the trend in parenting is veering away from forcing kids to stay the course and stick with something even if they hate it. In some ways, that’s a good thing. And goodness knows I’m no “tiger mom.” But I remember my parents insisting that I keep taking piano lessons until I was at least respectable, if not proficient, even when I begged them to let me quit. I remember them instilling in me a sense of pride in a job well completed, even if not well loved.

Staying the course is an important lesson. If I hadn’t had those traits driven into me as a kid, would I be able to push myself to accomplish something I loathe now?

*

It took persuasion from Daddy as well as Mommy’s insistence to get Grace back on the ice that day. But she finally did, and when the lesson was over, she came off beaming and proud (and, needless to say, to lavish praise for overcoming her fear). Joy was nearly sick with nerves before her first ballet lesson, but was begging to stay and keep dancing by the end of it, and now after two lessons she loves it more than anything she’s ever done before.

Joy's first ballet lesson

Joy’s first ballet lesson

Grace on ice

Grace on ice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I won’t say that “no quitting” will be our hard and fast rule for everything in life. But no way am I ever going to let my kids get away with wimping out of something just because they’re afraid it’s going to be too hard or too scary. Life’s about doing those hard and scary things, and working at them until they aren’t hard or scary anymore.

I doubt I’ll ever really enjoy driving. But I’ll keep doing it, and one day, I hope, I’ll suddenly realize “Hey. This is no big deal.”

And then, I suppose, it will be time to tackle my next fear.

Introducing …

It has exactly one sentence so far, but I couldn’t resist taking a screen shot to show you:

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 12.47.24 PM

Yes, in the midst of writing Wings of Song, I have started work on Magic Most Deadly’s sequel. Working title Magic in Disguise.

I have a broad plot outline and, as I said, exactly one sentence of story written.

I’ve also come up with a name for the series overall. Intelligent Magic, bringing together the Intelligence work that Len does and the magic that Maia is learning to master. Intelligent Magic was one of my discarded title ideas for Magic Most Deadly, so I’m pleased to be able to recycle it and use it now for the series.

Squee!

Welcome to Stanbury

Hello! Welcome to Stanbury, ancestral home of the Whitney family. Come right in! Let’s use the side entrance; it seems more friendly, doesn’t it?

Maia used to swing on the gate when she was a child. It drove her mother mad, of course, but she loved the freedom of swinging combined with the ability to see the world passing by on the road. Even if “the world” were usually only a few stray escaped sheep.

Mind your step here. You wouldn’t want to trip on these stairs. Ouch!

Shall we pop into the kitchen a moment? Mrs Humphrey won’t mind. If we’re lucky, she’ll even give us a cup of tea (and possibly a slice of fresh-baked bread).

The sitting room gets marvelous light, wouldn’t you agree?

Mrs Whitney says it’s terribly draughty, though.

Yes, the bathroom is rather small. But so elegantly decorated! Ellie insisted on that.

The Whitneys are so very proud of this room, an addition the current Mr Whitney had built after he was married (but before the War, naturally. One doesn’t indulge in unnecessary expenditures in this day and age. Have you heard that they had to sell the London house? Terrible shame, but one can one do? Mr Whitney was only thankful to be able to hold onto Stanbury).

And here we are back onto the grounds! Sorry we couldn’t take more of a detailed tour, but really, it is terribly gauche to peek into people’s lives too much, don’t you agree? Besides, you wouldn’t have wanted to see Ellie or Merry’s bedrooms, believe me. They are a terrible mess, especially since Merry keeps chasing away all the maids with her Socialistic notions.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Stanbury might not be the grandest showplace of the county, but the local folk are proud of it all the same. After all, as Maia says, it has character, and that’s even better than impressiveness.

All pictures are, in reality, of the Old Vicarage in Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire. I love real estate websites for finding house inspirations.

Magical World-building, Louise Style

I distinctly remember the first time I discovered the world of Cecy and Kate.

I was in the Scranton library, one of my first visits there after we moved from our apartment to the duplex and our former library was too much of a drive for every week (it was here, by the way, a great little jewel of a library that I truly loved). I was exploring the YA section, and wanted to see how many of the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede they had. Instead, they had this collaborative effort by Wrede and someone I’d never heard of before, that read, upon skimming it over, like a blend of Jane Austen and … well, Patricia C Wrede.

image courtesy of Goodreads

I have always been skeptical of collaborative books, but this looked way too intriguing to pass up. I borrowed it, and promptly fell in love. Not only with Kate, Cecy, Thomas, and James, but with the idea of insinuating magic into the real world, into real history.

When the first glimmers of plot for Magic Most Deadly were swirling about my brain, my first thought was to make the world very similar to the Kate & Cecy world – where magic was an open, accepted part of everyday life, only in the 1920s instead of 1820s.

In the end, I just couldn’t make that work, though, and had to rely on magic existing, but being hidden. Which had its own set of challenges, but fit the story and characters’ needs much better.

It made the world-building and research process so much fun. How does one fit the War in with the concept of magic? Would magicians have been involved? (Hey, my brain said, there’s a good backstory plot point.) How does magic work? How do they keep it secret? How do they keep track of all the magicians? Is it a world-wide thing, or does each nation have its own set of laws regarding magic, or what? (Ooh, said brain. FUTURE plot points.)

What I did not do is what almost every writer of fantasy insists you must: I did not write out a detailed, complete outline of how magic worked, a complete alternate history, maps, et cetera.

Part of that was because I was coming off an exhaustively researched, meticulously detailed, carefully plotted project that had sucked the life and joy right out of writing for me. Magic Most Deadly was never intended to be publishable. It was just a fun project to help me recover my zest for story. So more meticulous detailing and back-plotting was the exact opposite of what I needed then.

The other part is that it’s really hard for me to think of all the necessary details to build up an alternate history completely, right out of hand. Rather, I do much better with a vague, broad outline, filling in the details as I go. I also happen to have a rather good memory for what I’ve already said and detailed, so it is very rare that I end up tripping myself later on with details or writing myself into a corner (with magic or history details, that is. Len’s eyes went from brown to blue probably half a dozen times in the course of the story in the first two drafts, and I still have to think twice if you ask me what color they are. And don’t even bother asking which leg Dan lost in the War. Are Maia’s friends the police officers Ray Maddox and Alan Andrews, or Ray Andrews and Alan Maddox? I’d have to check the book to tell you for certain. But  the magic details, those all stayed perfectly plainly, and very neatly labeled and organized in my head.)

Magic! Yes. Part of nature! Yes. Can only work with natural items! Well, that certainly makes sense, and provides a good limitation. Wait, then can magicians be mechanics? Don’t know, don’t need to know now, file that question away for later when it’s relevant.

Can people do magic on other people? Sure, but with limits. What limits? Hmm, I probably do need to work this one out. … Able to, but banned because it’s wicked. (Which ended up being the main plot point for my short story If This Be Magic.)

But wait! Banned by who? OK, need some sort of magical government. Hmm … we’ll call it a council, work out more details as needed.

(Later on, it turned out I did need those more details, and then I sat down and wrestled into submission the idea of Master Magicians, Journeymen, Apprentices, and Ordinary Magicians. That each nation had its own system of governance seemed obvious, so I didn’t bother messing with any other countries’ methods – I still don’t know how they all work, though I will have to figure out some for the sequel, featuring as it does magicians from the US and Russia.)

I don’t necessarily recommend this method for everyone. It can get sloppy, and if your memory doesn’t have the knack of holding onto the important details, it can get you in trouble. But it worked for me, for this book, and it saved me at a time when I have squeezed all inspiration out of my writing process by trying to be too businesslike about it. As I was working on the very final draft, I finally narrowed down various other details: where in England the story took place, what Stanbury and Little Oaks looked like, that sort of thing.

Sheepy Lodge, the inspiration for Little Oaks. Isn’t it gorgeous?

By then, the polishing stage, I needed all those little bits and pieces. Back at the beginning, the first few drafts?

They would have gotten in the way and bogged me down.

So this is what worked for me, for this book. It’s unconventional, sure, but it was also a whole lot of fun.

(I just realized, when I close my eyes and picture Dan, he is definitely missing his right leg. So there you go.)

Truth

I recently read Emma Thompson’s charge against the current generation of film stars, how they don’t seem to believe enough in their work to promote it, and that if one loves what one does enough, one should be willing to shout it from the rooftops.

It hit home. Because I have been doing a terrible job of promoting Magic Most Deadly. Granted, it’s not because I don’t believe in it, but it’s fear of being found annoying or arrogant or pompous. Or who knows? Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence – not it the book, but in me. I’m not going to try to psycho-analyze myself too deeply here. I just know that, to do justice to my book, I need to be bold about it.

So, truth:

Magic Most Deadly is the best damn thing I’ve ever written. It’s not highbrow literature. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But it is a fun story, with characters who became very real and individual people to me throughout the writing, and with a twisty and entertaining plot. It’s my tribute to Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Lloyd Alexander and Brian Jacques and all those writers I’ve mentioned in every one of my “Influences” posts.

I loved writing it. I even enjoyed editing and polishing it. I researched the heck out of that thing, and even enjoyed that part. I grew as a writer (and a person, really) throughout its creation process.

It’s a great little book. And I hope everyone who likes mystery and fantasy and humor and English country houses and strong-minded heroines and a hero who respects that and a fussy, stubborn mentor in the background will pick up a copy and give it a read.

Not because I want to be rich and famous and everybody loves meeeeee and thinks I’m wonderful! But because I really, I honestly do, think you’ll enjoy it.

Magic Most Deadly. Get your tickets today.

(Did I do okay, Ms Thompson?)

Madam Efficiency

I’ve always thought the coolest superpower to have would be flight. Invisibility was second on my list. These days, however, I want a different sort of power. I want to be known as …

Efficiency Girl!

Although I might be past the “girl” mark at this point in my life. Efficiency Woman? Definitely no. Wait, I know!

Madam Efficiency!

I would love to have the ability to get everything done in a day. Write, sew clothes for the kids, cook meals, clean the house, wash laundry AND put it away, teach school, and then have a little time left over for reading at the end of the day.

Ha. Ha, ha, ha.

You know that feeling when there’s so much on your plate you get paralyzed with pressure and end up doing none of it and just wasting time on Twitter and Pinterest instead? (Please tell me that’s not just me.) That’s almost every day around here. And we haven’t even started outside lessons yet. Gracie’s skating lessons start in just a couple of weeks, Joy’s ballet a few weeks after that, and we’re hoping to do piano lessons for Joy after the New Year, too.

Meanwhile, the dry laundry has been hanging on a rack in my living room for almost a week. My niece’s quilt stares at me constantly from across the room whenever I sit down, asking WHY it isn’t finished and in the mail to that sweet baby girl yet. And I haven’t been out of the apartment or talked to another human being besides my family (and the internet) since Sunday.

People sometimes ask me how I do it all, and I never know how to answer, because I am the farthest person in the world from doing it all. I don’t even do half. Maybe a quarter, on a good day.

Carl tells me that it is possible to be organized and keep to a schedule to get done what needs doing, and certainly that works for him, Mr I’m Going To Seminary Full Time And Working 20 Hours A Week  And Still Have Time For Occasionally Talking To Other People. But somehow, even when I make a schedule and try to follow it, life turns it upside down and I end up getting more frustrated and stressed because I can’t get it all done.

So yeah. any radioactive spiders out there or fancy gamma rays that want to turn me into Madam Efficiency, who manages to make the best use of all her time, every day?

Bring it on.