February Into March

For such a short month, February sure packed a lot in this year.

February 9th, I received my first short story acceptance! My science fiction story “The Last Defense” will be appearing in the April edition of Empyreome Magazine

I started working on writing and submitting short stories this September, as the school year tends to make the long, sustained effort required for novels tricky. Along with being easier to produce in the midst of homeschooling a fourth-grader and second-grader, short stories have also been a good way to work on improving my writing, most especially to get away from my tendencies toward, uh, wordiness. Also my tendency to give too much explanation and bog the story down.

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.” -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So I am so pleased to have a story accepted, and hope that it leads to even more improved writing and more acceptances!

That same day, February 9th, Carl received an acceptance letter of his own: Cambridge University accepted his application for their PhD program. Whether we go or not is still dependent on funding, but it’s still pretty thrilling.

Related to that, on the very last day of February, Tuesday the 28th, we bought two plane tickets for Carl and me to go to Cambridge this month to visit, meet people, and get a feel for what life might be like over there. We woke up in the morning with no thought of visiting, and went to bed with the tickets ordered, the girls set to go to Grandma’s while we’re gone, and our heads whirling with adventure. Neither of us have ever been to Britain–I’ve been dreaming of visiting or living there ever since I was a little kid reading the Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit and The Secret Garden and all the rest of those traditional English children’s books. I am thrilled.

I decided the day after ordering the plane tickets that the next Whitney & Davies book will have to be set in Cambridge! I have no plot yet, but at least the setting will be researched in person for a change.

In between all these happenings, we had snow, and we had seventy degree days, we suffered the usual February doldrums, the kids and I went to the MFA with some of our homeschool group, we rested during February break, the kids started taking piano lessons, and we looked forward to spring.

And now it is March! Hello spring, last-of-winter storms, visit to England, and who knows what else!

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.

img_1988

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.

img_2008

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.

And Poof

… just like that, the summer is gone.

I’m not breaking my heart over its departure. I hate the heat with a burning passion. When it gets 90°F or higher, when you can’t even open the windows at night for a fresh breeze, when the humidity is so high you feel like you are drinking the air instead of breathing it, that’s when I start thinking longingly of February. I don’t function well in heat. At least if I’m cold I can always throw on another layer (it is not unusual for me to be wandering around in a sweater, wool socks, fingerless mitts, a scarf, slippers, and sometimes even a hat, inside. And thinking longingly of knitting myself a shawl. Our apartment is VERY poorly insulated) and drink another cup of tea. When it’s hot I simply flop down and whimper pathetically. My southern-born husband cannot understand this.

So this evening, as I listen to rain (at last! On top of everything else, we had the worst drought I’ve ever seen in this part of the world this summer–the poor farmers) patter outside my window, wearing my cozy sweatshirt with a blanket over my legs, I am practically purring with contentment.

This halcyon state of being won’t last long, I know. The kids and I are already three weeks into school. Our homeschool co-op starts a week from tomorrow, and it is going to be INTENSE this year. This is our second year doing Classical Conversations, Joy is starting the Essentials class this year, and oh boy is it going to be wild. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll balance my Teaching from Rest philosophy with CC’s high intensity program, but we’ll see how it goes. Carl’s off-campus class started last week; the Greek class he’s TA-ing and his thesis start next week. Grace’s ballet begins on Wednesday, Joy’s a week from today. As soon as my darned ankle is fully healed I’ll be trying to get back on the ice once a week. Then of course there is all of the “eek this is our last year here” activities, between hiking and apple picking and spending time with friends and church family, and applications for PhD programs and visas and figuring out how to transfer ourselves to another country next year … Our life is suddenly PACKED.

And somehow or other I have to fit writing in there. One of the ladies who came to my library appearance last spring pulled me aside after church yesterday to ask when the next Whitney & Davies book was coming out. “I don’t want to be a nag,” she said, “I just really can’t wait.” Words to inspire any author to feats of greatness! Thankfully she’s also a homeschooling mom, though her kids are older, so she understood my nervous laughter and confession that I have NO idea when anything is going to happen. She also encouraged me AS a homeschooling mom to let not my own passions take too much of a backseat–it has to happen somewhat when one is in this season, but it does not do to neglect them (or your own needs) entirely. That’s the sort of thing I know in my head, but sometimes have a hard time remembering when I’m in the thick of things.

It was also a lovely reminder that my words and my stories are not simply dropping into the void, that there are people out there who care about my characters and my worlds and want to know what’s going to happen next, and that I do have a responsibility to them, as well, to not neglect those stories for too long. So I will squeeze in the writing when I can, waiting during ballet classes, occasionally letting the dirty dishes sit on the counter, sometimes giving the kids independent math work to do, five minutes here and ten minutes there, little by little, letting it add up.

So if you don’t see much of me here on this blog, or on Twitter or FB this fall, it’s not a bad thing–it means I’m spending my time wisely! (Conversely, if you DO see a lot of me on social media … well, that probably means I’m procrastinating with the things I ought to be doing.)

Happy autumn, friends. May your September be filled with blue skies, crisp days, rosy-cheeked apples fresh-picked off a tree, simmering soups, and plenty of hot tea, good friends, and good stories.

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!

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.

DSC_0053 DSC_0054 DSC_0102 DSC_0067DSC_0060

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.)

Taking the Time

I’ve been reading through Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing, and while some of it strikes me as more than a little pretentious (what can I say, I come from good, practical, farmer stock), I do very much appreciate the reminder to be mindful, to be aware, to not be so overly focused on the result that one misses the beauty of the here and now.

With all that in mind, when we went out for a family walk yesterday afternoon, enjoying the late February sunshine even amid the biting wind, I took my big camera instead of just my phone, and enjoyed taking pictures for the sake of the photography, rather than in order to post them on Instagram (don’t get me wrong, I snapped one or two with my phone camera as well, and posted THOSE on Instagram, because Instagram is my happy place). And while they might not be the finest photos in all of creation, they made me satisfied. I’m glad I took the time to see things from a different angle, and take the photos even if it meant I didn’t get the instant rush of posting them online at once.

It’s the same feeling I get when I write anything by hand, especially something in my journal, using cursive. It takes more time, it won’t be seen by anyone else, there’s no practical value in it – and yet there is something about it that satisfies.

I have tendencies toward dawdling (those did not come from my practical farming forebears), so it is important for me to not get lost in my daydreams and never accomplish anything. On the other hand, it is also tremendously important to not be so wrapped up in the end goal and “getting things done” that I forget to savor the slower things in life, the things that aren’t necessarily tangible or goal-oriented. A tricky balancing act, and one I know I’ve blogged about before, but one of which I always need reminding, and at which I will always need to keep practicing.

Switching Mental Gears

I have been working exclusively on Rivers Wide (my 1930s Thousand Islands novel) for quite a while now, trying to get it to the point where I can start serializing it (I have to at least have it in a coherent draft form, and then I can edit/polish each installment as I go). So it took a wrench today to set it aside and immerse myself back in From the Shadows just for a day. My editor’s schedule has cleared, and she is ready for me to send it to her for line edits, and I had just a few issues I wanted to fix before mailing it off to her.

A wrench, yes, but exciting. Because – line edits! That’s a big step closer to publication. And as much as my head is full of Julie (of Rivers Wide) and her cousins and siblings, and their world of dairy farms along the St. Lawrence River in 1935, it was fun to revisit Riss and the crew of Caledonia and polish them up to meet my editor.

September was an exhausting month, with school starting back up (for Carl, for the kids, and our brand-new Classical Conversations homeschool group), the kids’ extra-curricular activities starting, Carl and I going through church membership classes, weekly Bible Studies, and a lovely whirlwind visit from family in the midst of it all. Not much time for writing at all, frankly.

But I knew that was going to happen, which is why I pushed so hard to get so many first drafts done this summer. Because, for me, second drafts/editing/polishing/et cetera, require much less intensive effort than the initial story creation. So I can pick a story up and do a little at a time without it taking me an hour just to get back into my characters’ heads and figure out where the plot is going. It’s still slow going, but it is progress.

And seeing that progress advance another entire step for From the Shadows is tremendously exciting, and I really can’t wait to hear what my editor has to say about it! Only another couple months before publication, guys!