April Showers Bring …

… May showers, apparently. I keep reminding myself of the awful drought last year and how much we needed rain (especially since we didn’t get much snow this winter), but oh, my spirit is longing for sunshine and warm temperatures! Not HOT, mind you, but mid-60s to 70s would be lovely.

April was notable mostly because I did Camp NaNoWriMo again, and accomplished my 30,000 words with a few days to spare! (actually it was 35,000, but I only officially signed up for 30,000) That’s about half of a draft. Not to give too much away, but this is the first draft of the next Whitney & Davies book, and it’s set in Cambridge. I’m hoping to finish the first draft in May and June, in time to finish the edits on the current W&D book and publish that this summer. Whew!

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I even cleaned off my writing desk and organized my miscellaneous bits of inspiration!

The kids finished Classical Conversations in April, which resulted in mixed feelings. They miss their classes and their friends, but it IS nice to have our Tuesdays back and to be able to focus on our own schoolwork that got pushed aside as the CC work got more demanding. Joy presented a research paper on Empress Wu during the closing ceremony, and both girls got up with their classes to demonstrate something they’d learned throughout the year. They had a great two years in CC, and now that chapter of our lives is closed. We’ve been told there’s a fantastic homeschool community in Cambridge, but no CC. Which is ok, because new experiences are good, too. I don’t like to cling too closely to the past.

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Empress Wu, ready to read her paper!

Carl moves ever closer to graduation; he finished his final translations for his Biblical Languages degree a day or so before I finished my 35,000 words for Camp NaNo (we were having a wee bit of a competition), and all he has left for his New Testament degree is his thesis, which he will be completing through the rest of the spring and early summer. Graduation is a week from Saturday!IMG_2197

Our community ladies Bible Study wrapped up in April as well. This was my first and only year as one of the leaders. This semester we looked at the book of Philippians, and it was such a good study, prompting all kinds of discussion and thought. I’ve been part of the study on and off for the last four years; it’s going to seem odd this fall to not have it as part of my life! (But I’m looking forward to getting involved with other studies–see above about not clinging too closely to the past)

We have gotten some sunny days, and have been able to spend some time outside enjoying spring. Each day is one day closer to the end of our time here. It’s exciting and at the same time a little panic-inducing (mostly for me, as I think of all that has to be accomplished in order for us to move to England). With graduation next week, I think we’ll really be able to call this chapter of our lives closed.

In the meantime, I’m off on a date with my husband while the kids bake an apple pie with one of our neighbors! This, I’m most definitely going to miss.

Cambridge

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We went to Cambridge! And made it back again, though if it weren’t for the fact that our girls were still stateside we might not have ever left.

England was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be. I couldn’t believe how much it was like how I’d always imagined it, in fact. I kept bracing myself for it to be different, to not live up to my imaginings, but no. It was exactly as I’d dreamed.

Now, I’m guessing that if I had gone to Yorkshire I wouldn’t have found a secret garden and children playing with wild animals on the moor. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane would not be punting in Oxford. Miss Read would not be bicycling to school in the Cotswolds. I didn’t see any hobbits, nor did any cupboard doors lead me to Narnia. I did pass Platform 9 3/4 at Kings’ Cross, but it was not in between platforms 9 and 10, and was clearly a tourist trap.

I do know the difference between fiction and reality. I just like to ignore it whenever possible.

The essence of England, though, the very Englishness of it … that was there. That was real. And I loved it.

We were only in London long enough to get from plane to train to tube to train (and then the reverse coming back), and the rest of the time we spent in Cambridge. Oh, for more time, to get to Oxford, and see the sights in London, to travel the rest of the island! We made the most of our four and a half days, though. We tramped 40 miles all over Cambridge and got to know that city far better than most tourists can.

It is beautiful.

I could write pages and pages of our adventures there, but as I doubt they’d be as fascinating to others as they were to us (met with university housing! Had a cream tea! Were served tea and toast every morning by our hosts! Explored possible places to live! Walked through an ancient cemetery and saw my first European robin! Were nearly mobbed by swans looking for food! Went to Waterstones and the Cambridge University Press bookshop and couldn’t buy anything either place because I had no room in my bag!), I’ll hold back.

We can’t wait to go back. I can’t believe we’ll actually be living there for three (or maybe more, depending on how long Carl’s PhD takes) years.

It’s going to be a most fantastic adventure.

With lots of tea. And scones.

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Two Weeks In

We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?

Here, we’ve had:

Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.

Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.

We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.

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but the sledding was fun while it lasted. as was throwing snowballs at daddy.

Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).

I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).

We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.

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working on their nature journals. sunny but windy today!

I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.

I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.

Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!

The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!

Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!

And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.

Looking Ahead

When your year starts in September and ends in August … or starts in June and ends in May, depending on how you feel about things … it can feel a bit disconcerting to hit December 31. This is my fourth year as a “seminary wife,” and our lives follow the school calendar more than anything. This year has definitely felt like it began in June and will end in May, which makes it hard for me to sum up 2016. Not to mention that we’ve been so busy with everything I never had time to record much of our doings, and so it’s all bit of a blur.

I remember the winter being very un-winter-ish … friends graduating … spraining my ankle … lots of trips to the beach (including sun poisoning on one occasion, ugh, you’d think we’d lived here long enough to not make that mistake) … going to Maine … visiting family … saying goodbye to dear friends … bits and pieces of writing squeezed in when possible … new approach to homeschooling … but really, overshadowing everything has been CARL’S LAST YEAR AT SEMINARY. And its follow-up thought, which is WHERE WILL WE BE NEXT YEAR? Next year being next school year, naturally.

I haven’t made resolutions in ages. I used to do the “one word” idea for a year, but that also sort of petered out. However, this year, I do actually have a few resolutions in mind to make.

For one, I don’t like how all my memories are blurred together (see above). This is a chaotic time in our lives, but it’s also precious, and I don’t want it to be vague in future years when I look back. Plus, I think it’s important to live life aware, not drifting through. So, one of my resolutions is to do better at recording this. Either with an end-of-the-month blog post, where I sum up a few things I learned, accomplished, or experienced that month, or with the same sort of idea in a private journal, or with a weekly gratitude journal (say, three things each week you can look back on and be specifically thankful for), or something like that.

And speaking of journaling AND keeping better track of my life, I also want to get better at recording what I read. So many times I read a book and promptly forget it within a week of finishing it. Or I re-read a book and then can’t remember why I wanted to re-read it or how it struck me differently this time around. I used to keep up with Goodreads, but they don’t have a good system for marking re-reads (at least not one that worked for me), plus I realized I was self-censoring the reviews I wrote based on how other people feel writers should review (always positive! Authors should never leave negative reviews even if they hated a book!), or how other people even felt one should respond to a book (if you liked a book that other people found “problematic” then you’re a big jerk!). So Goodreads became more stress than anything. This year, I’m going to try keeping a personal, private reading journal, both for fresh reads and re-reads, where I can either simply mark something as “read” or can leave a brief line or ramble as much as I want. I even have my eye on a fancy fountain pen to help inspire me.

As usual, I need to figure out a healthy way to manage stress. Last year I did start to learn how to minimize outside stressors (that was tied in to our new approach to homeschooling, actually); this year I need to find better ways of handling the stressors I can’t remove. Like, simply living and being a responsible adult. Daily exercise was working for me for the first half of last year, but spraining my ankle put a crimp in that, and I never really got back to it. Also a time of quietness to start my day, but my ability to get up early enough to have that depends on how I’ve slept the previous night, and that varies so much from night to night … I know there’s solutions out there, I just have to work my way to them. So that’s a plan for this year, to be mindful of ways to live wholly and healthily and not constantly fretting.

As for writing, no specific resolutions there. I’ve learned better than to resolve to “Publish X book” or “Submit so many MSS” or even “Finish writing XYZ.” As soon as I set those sort of solid plans in place, they get derailed faster than I can blink. So, again, my goal for this upcoming year is to write mindfully and well, to focus more on crafting the story well than finishing within a certain timeframe, and when I do sit down to write to actually WRITE instead of frittering time away on social media (oh yeah, less social media in general is a goal, and probably always will be). To be a good steward of this gift, basically.

Hmm. I hadn’t realized it until I sat down and typed these out, but there seems to be a common theme winding through all my resolutions: mindful. I guess I have a word for 2017 after all!img_1903

I shall give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return. When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes–what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows–what new landscapes–what new beauties–what curves and hills and valleys further on.” -Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

 

On Not Writing

I’m in a peculiar place right now, and I honestly can’t think of the last time I was here.

I have nothing to write.

Both Magic in Disguise and Rivers Wide are at their respective beta readers, waiting to be polished. I have no other projects on hand right now. For the first time in years, I am at a loss.

Oh, there are plenty of ideas. My lovely sci-fi story that’s been simmering in the back of my mind for several months now—except I’m not sure but that it needs more simmering before I start actually writing it. The next Whitney & Davies story—except I don’t have a plot for that yet. The sequel to Rivers Wide—except that is going to require a lot of research before I can actually write it. A possible sequel to From the Shadows—except I don’t know if I’m ready to return to that universe at this time. Something entirely new and different? Am I ready for that kind of commitment? Maybe some short stories? Except I’m kind of terrible at short stories?

I haven’t minded having a nice break, but my fingers are starting to itch. I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July in hopes that having those requirements will force me to get started. (Also because July is pretty much the only Camp NaNo month that works with my schedule) In the meantime I’ll keep resting my sprained ankle (which had been healing nicely, thank you, even ahead of schedule, until I did a two-mile beach walk and got a truly dreadful sunburn all in one day this past weekend, leading it to swell up like a balloon on me again. Sigh), slathering aloe on my sunburn, enjoying time with my visiting family, getting ready for Joy’s ballet recital, and going to Maine for a few days, as well as finishing up the year’s schoolwork with the kids so we can start fresh in September.

It’s not like I don’t have plenty to do … but none of it is writing and boy do I get antsy when I go too long without that!

Magic in Disguise: Progress

I have passed the halfway point on Magic in Disguise!

This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished. I started it immediately after publishing Magic Most Deadly, which was released September 2013. Since then, the plot has changed about five times, and I took a long break to work on From the Shadows instead, as well as starting Rivers Wide (which is currently in the beta-reading stage), and have discarded many, many drafts.

This one, though … this is the one that’s going to stick. The last draft was close, gave the skeleton of the story, and this one is making sense of it and filling it in. I think I had a couple femurs in place of humeri before and was missing a patella or two, but I’m getting them all sorted now.

How’s THAT for a metaphor of story-writing?

This book takes place in London 1925, when Maia has been apprenticed to Aunt Amelia for a little over three years. The London setting means we won’t see the return of certain characters such as Merry and Ellie or Julia and Dan (though we might get a cameo for one of them …), but never fear, Maia and Len and Becket are all present, as is the indomitable Aunt Amelia (for at least part of it). There will also be some new characters introduced, such as Helen Radcliffe, a young lady magician who has become good friends with Maia and gets caught up with great enthusiasm in their current investigation. The threat this time is more personal, with danger entering Aunt Amelia’s house and attacking Len, but the stakes are no less high for that. This book also delves a little bit deeper into the magic system itself, giving more spells, potions, and other ways of practicing magic while Maia learns how to control her ability and attempts to not blow too many things up in the process. And, of course, we get to see the relationship between Len and Maia grow and develop, but whether or not that includes romance I’m not telling!

It’s fun to write, even while it is exhausting, and I am getting to that point where I am eager to finish it so as to find if others will find it as enjoyable to read as it has been to create. We’ve got a long way to go still, but little by little, slowly but surely, it is coming.

The Best-Laid Plans …

The kids are on spring break this week. I was going to let them play outside every day while I wrote, and wrote, and WROTE, and finally made more than crawling progress on Magic in Disguise. I was going to serve the easiest possible meals, and forget about housework, and be antisocial. Carl is working on his final papers for the semester, so we could have been hermit writers together.

It’s Thursday. I have not written ONE WORD in the MS all week.

Sigh. And Alas.

But on Monday we did get to do this, so it’s not all bad.

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Just, you know, not productive.

And now I’d better get back to all the chores that are calling my name and, inexplicably, must be taken care of instead of writing. Why DO dishes need to get washed and laundry done so frequently, anyway?

(Carl, needless to say, is almost finished with HIS paper.)