For the first time ever, StarDance Press has a proper logo! This is still the prototype, so I am more than willing to hear your impressions of it. Do you like it? Hate it? Think it’s a good start but could still use some tweaking? I’ve been working on it for so long I have lost all sense of perspective (as tends to happen with the writing, come to think of it), so I would appreciate any and all feedback (as also happens with the writing).
I hope you are all having a wonderful summer! Carl and I started a quick (ha ha) painting project to improve the master bedroom and my study over the July 4th long weekend, and we are still working on it with no immediate end in sight. Isn’t that how it always goes? Still, it should be beautiful when it is finished, and in the meantime, I’m off to go scrape some more old paint off the wooden boards in my study so we can sand and refinish them. Cheers!
In my most recent blog post, I spoke about the defaults I revert to when writing characters. Today I’ve been thinking about one of my other storytelling defaults, which is the importance of community.
I was going to say that this theme shows itself most strongly in From the Shadows, but then I thought, No, actually it comes out most strongly in the Pauline Gray series, and then I dithered about it for a while before realizing hey, it doesn’t have to be a competition. So let’s simply look at the three different worlds I’ve built and see the way community plays out in each, without holding one against another, shall we?
First up, From the Shadows. On the surface, it looks like the main problem of the book for our protagonist, Riss, is that she’s stuck on a spaceship in the future with no way to get home. But actually, as the story develops, we see–and Riss learns along with us–that her real problem is her deep, unsatisfied need to be part of a community where she is valued both for her own self and for her gifts. The community aboard the Caledonia is a close, tight-knit, self-contained group, and Riss’s struggle to figure out if she could belong there is really what makes up the heart of the story.
Then there’s Pauline Gray. The need to find and/or build community doesn’t play as active a role in Pauline’s stories, but the community of a small, rural town in the midst of the Depression is the firm backbone of the series. This is a place where the people look out for each other, and even if they don’t like each other very much, they come together in difficult times to do what needs to be done. That’s why murder is such a shattering thing each time it happens in Pauline’s world–because it tears apart the fabric of the community, and it breaks the unspoken trust that people have in their neighbors. Pauline is less aware than Riss of her need for community, but she feels the tearing of it even if she is not aware that’s what the problem is.
Well, what about Whitney and Davies? I will admit the theme of community isn’t quite so strong in these books as it is in the others I’ve already mentioned–but it is there. In Magic Most Deadly, Maia’s discovery of magic allows her to enter into the community of magicians, and in Glamours & Gunshots she starts to figure out what she wants her role in that community to be. Len, meanwhile, is moving out of the community he’s always been part of and searching for a new one, one where he doesn’t always have to hide who he is and what he does. Together, they are forming their own microcosm of a community and seeking ways to serve the larger community at the same time.
When I was younger, I was pretty oblivious to the human need to exist within a community, but the older I get, the more I value it. I’ve lived in places without any sort of community–was a young mother in some of them, which I 100% do not recommend–lived in others where there ought to have been community and wasn’t, and hardest of all to endure, lived in some places where they was a community and I was on the outside of it. Those experiences have all shaped my own deep desire to be an active and valued member of a community. Not a selfish wish to be part of some hidden “inner circle”–like Mark in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength–that’s when community turns into a clique, and is one of the ugliest things in the world. But a genuine community, where people look out for each other and take care of each other and help each other out when needed, and everyone has something to give and everyone’s lives are woven together.
I don’t talk about politics on this blog, but it isn’t political to say this country is experiencing a deep division right now, a tearing apart of what we value and how we view the world and our place in it. There is a limit on how much each ordinary person can do to change that on a grand scale. But here’s what we can do: we can look out for our neighbors. We can take care of the vulnerable in our towns, villages, and counties. We can cut down that limb from the tree in our yard that is threatening to fall on the next-door neighbor’s house. We can thank our town officials for their hard work during this election season. We can buy a coffee for the guy (6 feet) behind us in line at the local bakery, just because. We can make a meal for the new parents down the street. We can encourage our kids to talk to the outsider at school, the one shy kid who always stands in the corner and can’t seem to believe that anyone would want to be their friend.
Community doesn’t exist simply by a group of people living in close proximity to each other or being part of the same activities. It comes about when people commit to caring for one another, to seeing each other, to not living as though others don’t matter.
That’s a message I keep needing to tell my heart, which is probably why it keeps cropping up in my stories. Maybe you need the encouragement as well? Covid-19 has created a lot of loneliness for a lot of us, and made community something out of reach in many cases. I hear you–moving to a new place in the midst of a pandemic means it’s been awfully hard for our family to do anything toward finding a community. But it’s worth it to keep trying.
And if you can’t find it in real life right now, I hope you can find enough of a community in books to tide you over until you can.
The air was fresh and sweet as we started down the dirt path, our steps oddly out of synch without the kids there to balance us. We realized after only a few paces that this was our first time hiking without them since the eldest was born. Family hikes have become part of our regular rhythm, one of the things we do to define us as a family, and we love them. I hadn’t realized how much I was missing Carl-and-Louise hikes, though, until we started this one.
After we crossed the narrow bridge and started on the trail proper, winding beside the river and through the woods, our feet found their pace and we were able to keep step with each other. Carl was mostly in front, yet somehow managed to miss all the cobwebs that continually wrapped themselves around my face. Why do they always end up in one’s mouth?
The sounds of the river accompanied our hike, rushing, chuckling, gurgling, occasionally roaring where the rocks lay such as to produce a small waterfall. It’s a sound so familiar to me I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I heard it again. I will never complain about living near the ocean, but rivers and lakes are part of what formed me in my younger days, and I feel a peace by freshwater that doesn’t come anywhere else. The River Cam was a bit too placid to fill that need, even when it wasn’t choked with students and tourists, lining the banks as well as on the water itself. It was better than nothing, but this river, hurling itself over rocks and bordered by trees, felt like home.
Carl and I talked about everything from politics (ugh) to the next things we need to do to continue making our new house feel like a home. The nice thing about a week away is that it gives you perspective, as well as a break from the regular routine that can feel so wearying after a while. I even felt more ready to paint the mudroom and the china closet, and I have been hating the very word “paint” since about our first month.
We found a likely-looking island in the middle of the river about the time we were getting hungry, and I took off my shoes and socks to wade across while Carl stretched his longer legs to go dry-shod from rock to rock. I had planned ahead and was wearing my bathing suit under my hiking clothes, and before eating I slipped into the river and let the water lap over me. It was too shallow to swim, but that was enough. The water was cool but not cold, refreshing and gentle, chuckling to itself as it diverted its way around and over me.
I could have sat there all afternoon, but my awareness of Carl’s work needs pressed in on me, so I hauled myself back onto the rocks of our little island and we ate our lunch side-by-side in companionable silence, our arms just brushing the other’s as we reached for the occasional grape or chip from the backpack. After we finished, I rested my head on his shoulder for a few minutes, and then we sighed and made our way back to the trail.
We didn’t have time to do the entire 7.5 mile loop, though we would have liked to, so we turned and retraced our steps to head back to the car. We ventured out across the rocks sticking out of the water only once more, trying to reach the island we thought we remembered hanging out on when we would hike this trail in college. The bugs as well as the height of the water defeated us, though–clearly the water had been lower the last time (seventeen years ago!) we had come through, and the bugs had been fewer, or else we’d been young and adaptable enough to ignore them.
Still, it was fun peering back at our younger selves for a short time, and Carl joked as we dashed back to the trail away from the bugs that we ought to see if Josie’s was open so we could get pizza bites and Lambrusco for supper–a combination we found thoroughly sophisticated when we were 21, 22 years old. (We returned to the house and enjoyed roast beef, potatoes, and asparagus with my parents and our kids instead, and I suspect our digestions were happier for it.)
Right before reaching the car, we found the red raspberry bushes that we had forgotten were always there, and plucked a few to sustain us the last few yards to the vehicle. Summer sweetness, bursting in one’s mouth! Black raspberries are my favorite, but wild red raspberries have a magic of their own. Far sweeter and juicier than any cultivated strain, they taste of woods and sunshine and dreams of youth.
Back home in time to greet the intrepid fisherladies from their first-ever fishing trip with Grandpa, to hear all about how they didn’t catch anything but they did accidentally-on-purpose slip in the river with their clothes on and then decided to swim a bit while they were there, and how much fun they had, and how they would all three like to do it again sometime. They had just as good of a time in their own way as Carl and I had had in ours. Mother, meanwhile, had enjoyed her time alone in her own way by pulling the weeds that were encroaching on the driveway. To each their own.
A splendid outing, a chance for peace to seep into my soul in a way I haven’t experienced in years, and a reminder that as fun as coffee shop dates are, maybe Carl and I should take more hiking dates in the future as well. Come to think of it, the occasional solo hike might not be a bad idea for me, either. Especially if I can make my way along a river or brook–or sometimes in it.
It is splendid to live so close to the ocean again, and to have our state opened up enough that we are able to cautiously enjoy it, so long as we follow the common sense guidelines. We escaped painting, cleaning, and all other house-related duties on Sunday and fled to the ocean, where we walked along the shore, clambered over rocks, hunted for sea glass, only saw a few other people and kept our distance from them all, and came home smelling of salt and sun. It was so very much needed.
Updates since my last post: we have a couch! And flatware. Still short one dresser. Many books are still in boxes, but the girls’ rooms both have bookcases now so their shelves are slowly filling up as their boxes empty. We are done with Round 1 of painting (finished that AFTER our shore excursion on Sunday): girls’ bedrooms, living room, dining room/kitchen, entryway/stairs/upstairs hall. Round 2 will be the mudroom and the downstairs bathroom, neither of which are crucial for comfortable living right now. Round 3 will only happen after we’ve done some other big projects, like turn the wall of closets in the library into built-in bookcases, and strip and refinish the floors in my study.
We are hoping to update our drivers licenses to reflect our new address this week, likewise change our license plates on the car so people stop glaring at us when we drive through town or park at the beach. It’s okay, we quarantined, we live here now, we’re not just out-of-staters coming in to spread disease! I can understand people’s suspicion of us, but it will be nice to no longer have it be an issue. The Town Hall and BMV have both just barely re-opened, so fingers crossed we can get an appointment SOON.
We’ve discovered lots more flowers on the property, including a honeysuckle bush tucked away in a back corner by an old apple tree. Hurrah for both! We’ve also made plans to have all the pines on the property removed (hopefully next year, maybe two years from now), and replace the ones that line the watery ditch with a couple spruce trees and a row of elderberry and highbush cranberry bushes. We have lots of landscaping plans, none of which we have time or energy to tackle this year. That’s ok, as we keep reminding ourselves–for once we’re not on a time limit in a place. We don’t have to do things within one, two, or even three years, because we are staying put for the indefinite future. That idea still takes some getting used to.
Writing-wise, what are my updates? Well, I will very soon have a cover reveal for you for Diamonds to Dust, the next Pauline Gray novella, to be soon followed by the novella itself. I’ve taken a bit of a break from that these last few weeks to work on the first draft of the (unexpected) sequel to From the Shadows, but I’m starting to get back into proofreading mode instead of drafting mode, so D2D will benefit from that switch. I am also tentatively attempting some sort of writing schedule, so I am either writing, researching, or doing important writing-related things like updating this blog, every day Mon-Fri. We’ll see how it goes.
Speaking of the cover to the new novella … how does everyone feel about cover reveals? Love them, hate them, find them a waste of time? Would you prefer the cover just show up on my blog, or do you like a countdown and a big splash made of revealing it? I never know how I feel about them, so I thought I’d leave it up to my readers.
In fact, here, let me see if I can set up a poll about it:
I hope June turns out to be more peaceful and joyful than the rest of this year so far–in all our lives and around the world. Keep carrying the light, friends! That’s all any of us can do, each in our own way.
There’s a lot of heaviness in the world right now. The holiday season can be rough–while there is a great deal of joy that comes with Christmas, it can also be a time of sorrow and/or weariness to many. Even in my own family, we’re struggling to maintain a Christmas spirit against 3+ weeks of illness and some unexpected travelling for Carl to be with his family in their time of need, as his aunt is in the hospital with pancreatic cancer.
Here in the UK, there’s been a lot of stress and tension over the recent general election, and a great deal of fear on all sides about what comes next. The US political scene isn’t much better, frankly.
Sometimes it can feel like the darkness presses in too closely, and looking around, there’s very little hope to be seen.
So on an impulse this weekend, I chose my most hope-filled book (aka the only one without any murders) and made it free until 1 January. No gimmicks, no strings, just my way of lighting a candle against the dark.
Kind of appropriate, when you think about it, that this book should be titled From the Shadows. Here’s to stepping out of the shadows and into the light.
Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and Amazon (Amazon will only let me drop the price to $0.99, but if enough people report it as free elsewhere they just might lower it all the way there as well–it’s worth a shot).
May this be a season of hope for you, friends, whatever your circumstances. That is my earnest prayer for all of us.
Those of you who receive our family newsletter in addition to subscribing to this blog will already have an inkling what this post is about. For those of you who don’t, here goes.
As of February 2, our family will moving back to the U.S. from England for the foreseeable future.
There are a number of factors behind this decision. Health needs in our extended family have been drawing us back to be near to our loved ones and help them in whatever way possible–Carl is in Houston, TX right now, in fact, visiting his aunt in the hospital with pancreatic cancer. At the same time, Carl has felt a growing uncertainty as to whether an academic career in Biblical Studies is really what God is calling him toward, or if, rather, it is time for him to put what he has already learned into action in a local church and community. We have already learned before this that sometimes it looks as though God is calling us to a specific end, when in reality it is the journey that is important.
Whether that be the case here or not, what is certain is that we need to return to the States to support and care for our family. This is not, right now, an official goodbye to the PhD: Carl will be intermitting for the next six months and then will make a final decision–to withdraw or return to Cambridge–this summer.
Carl’s engineering firm has offered him a full-time position in one of their New England offices, which means Maine is our ultimate destination once we’re back. We are looking forward to living near the ocean again, as well as being close enough to mountains to go hiking (or hill walking, if we want to continue to use British terminology once we’re back) on weekends.
To close, I will quite directly from the newsletter:
As you might imagine, this change has left us more than a little breathless. Our hearts are at peace knowing we are walking in God’s will, though, and we trust that He will continue to make our path clear, as He has ever done. We know with absolute certainty that our time in Cambridge has not been wasted, even though this is not the outcome we’d anticipated. Truly, God’s ways are not ours, and we thank Him that His plans are perfect. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for your love, prayers, and support during our time here.
For a few years now, I’ve been stifled creatively. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to overcome it–perseverance with writing in hopes of pushing through the creative block; pursuing other creative outlets like knitting; getting more exercise; writing just for fun instead of publication; writing longhand with a fountain pen and a nice notebook instead of typing on the computer, etc.
Nothing has really helped.
Even the two books I published during this time–Glamours and Gunshots in the Whitney & Davies series, and Candles in the Dark as the start of a mystery novella series–felt forced, causing more stress than joy in the process of creating them (I had more fun researching Candles than writing it, which really isn’t how it’s supposed to go).
Moving to England was supposed to be a creative re-awakening for me. When we visited two years ago in March, I felt more alive than I had in ages. I was sure coming here to live would have the same effect, only more so. I was sure I would find my creative flow again.
Since arriving, I have toyed with the idea of taking a month-long break from writing. Maybe longer, maybe six months. Maybe a year? But then I would have the idea for another story, and I would think that maybe I just had been tired. I would start to write the story … and everything would collapse on itself again, like an overdone soufflé. The story that had seemed so vibrant in my head would get stuck somewhere between my imagination and my fingers, and only something lifeless would appear on paper (or computer screen).
So last week, I made up my mind, and realized that I need to state it publicly or else I’ll be tempted to go back on it at some point. Accountability is important!
2019 is my sabbatical year for writing. I’ll still be doing my weekly journal posts and monthly flash fictions for Patreon–and at some point I will write a short story for the higher-level patrons–but aside from that, I am Not Writing. Maia and Len, Pauline, all the other stories I’ve been working on behind the scenes … they will wait until 2020.
It’s a little scary to think about. It’s also exciting. Taking a break from writing gives me a chance to pursue other interests for a change. I can study some of the subjects that fascinate me but I never have time for. I can finally finish all the knitting projects I have in the works! I can devote a proper amount of time to learning French (and Italian, in preparation for when we get around to visiting Rome). I can work on figuring out whether I’m a soprano still or if my voice really has changed to alto, and if the latter, how to sing harmony.
More importantly, I can stop feeling so torn between responsibilities and calling, and can try living a more whole life.
I will post occasional updates here throughout the year to keep you all informed as to how it’s going. Wish me–not luck, but a good journey!