Sabbatical

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.

I haven’t.

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!

Ring out the old, Ring in the new

I was planning to write a years-end wrap-up post for 2018, but realized that almost all I could remember about the year was the move at the end of September, and everything past that. A three-month wrap-up isn’t what anyone asked for!

It was a much fuller year than that, though, at least according to my photo album.

Between January and September, we: met one of my internet friends in real life, after trying to make it happen for years; went skating on Frog Pond (and our local rink) as a family; went to a book signing by Susan Cooper; visited the beach a final time (or two); went to the aquarium where Joy and Grace got kissed by a fur seal; had my parents out for a visit; celebrated Joy finishing up all the Basic levels for figure skating; visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; moved away from Hamilton after 5 years; celebrated 14 years of marriage with Carl and I having a weekend getaway to VT; planted a tree for Carl’s mom; spent a week in Acadia National Park.

Not included in the photo collage would be the numerous family reunions, the many trips to the bird sanctuary, the bike rides, the power outages, the swimming, the schooling …

I guess, thinking it over, it was a pretty full year after all, even before the move.

We are now in the second day of 2019. What this year holds, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind if it were a little less eventful than 2018! But whatever comes, I know we’ll meet it as a family, with determination and with laughter, and we’ll move forward together.

(Oh yeah, I also published a volume of short stories and a novel in 2018. I guess you might consider that kind of a big deal!)

I am not making specific goals, or even choosing a specific word for this year: rather, I am open to whatever comes. Let’s see what 2019 has to offer!

Happy Advent

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We were given a small Christmas tree by former Tyndale residents who are moving to Ethiopia; the first day we explored our new flat I found a box full of Christmas decorations and fairy lights tucked away in the living room closet, left by former tenants.

We put on Christmas music, ate cheese and crackers from Sainsbury’s and homemade gingerbread cake (topped with brandy cream for the adults) and turned our home into a wonderland.

Waiting is hard–but it can be beautiful as well. December is the month of hope, my friends. Let’s light the dark together.

Miscellany

Summer is winding down, despite the still-soaring temperatures. School is back in session, for those following a traditional schedule. Trees are starting to show glimpses of color. One or two nights lately have been startlingly cold. Pumpkin spice is back on the shelves of stores and coffee shops. Apples have replaced berries as the most common fruit seen at the farmers market. Glamours and Gunshots has been published.

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And, one of the most personally significant signs of autumn for our family this year, our visas have been approved for the next three years in the UK.

First we were counting down months until the move. Now it is weeks. Before too long it will be days. “Just think,” I told Carl this morning as we poured our tea, “less than four weeks before we will be drinking tea in our flat in Cambridge.”

It’s becoming an ever-more vivid reality, but honestly, it’s still hard to fully believe. I suspect it will remain so even for a little bit after we arrive, until our new routine has fallen into place and we’ve started to make friends.

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Publication weekend has come and gone for Glamours and Gunshots, and I want to thank all of you who purchased the book, shared posts about it on social media, and otherwise joined in my joy over it. This is my third novel, my fifth book, and it can be easy to get blasé about the process, or to feel that people must be sick of me always talking about my books. Other people’s delight in the story is helpful to remind me that yes, this is a fantastic accomplishment and it’s ok to get excited and be proud of it! I always feel such joy in the writing of the story, and a sense of wonder whenever I complete a book, and I don’t want to lose that joy and wonder in the work of publishing it. So thank you, my friends, for helping to keep me excited and joyful.

(And also, as always, reviews are a lovely way to keep the momentum going on a book and bring other readers into our family of fans–it is sad but true that books with few reviews don’t show up as much in searches, and many readers won’t touch a book with little or no reviews. So if we want others to become part of the fun of the world of Whitney & Davies, reviews are needed!)

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As I have wrapped up Glamours and Gunshots, I have been turning my writing attention back to the world of Pauline Gray, the heroine of my historical mystery novella series set in my hometown of Canton, NY. Her second adventure takes place in Clayton, NY as well as Canton, and it’s been great fun researching life in the Thousand Islands during the 1930s for this story. I don’t have a publication date for this one yet, but it is coming along well and I am looking forward to sharing it with all of you. I also have basic plots for four more novellas after this one sketched out, so if you are a fan of Pauline, have no fear! There will be plenty more stories featuring her coming out in the next few years.

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The clock is telling me it is time to wrap up this jumble of a post and get to school with the kids. We aren’t in full-blown school mode yet, and won’t be until the move is complete and we are settled in our new home, but we do like to do a little bit each day to keep our brains fresh.

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Have a wonderful Wednesday, friends!

Tabula Rasa

I have to admit, I kind of love the start of the new year. All those resolutions and goals and fresh starts that everybody makes jokes about because they never last beyond March? Yeah, I used to mock them too, but somewhere in the last few years I repented, and now I love them.

I don’t really make resolutions, though. Mostly because I’m easily discouraged. Goals, though, goals I love to set at the start of the new year. New schedules that won’t last a week, plans to find and stay in a routine that never come to fruition, dreams and goals and words to live by that are generally forgotten by September … no matter, come January 1st we can lay all that aside and try again.

Last year my “word for the year” was mindful. My goals were to practice mindfulness in writing, in reading, in everyday life. Of course I didn’t succeed as well as I would have liked, but I did make a change in how I approach life. I made a start in mindfulness. That’s enough of a success for me.

This year my word is “quiet.” To be quiet within my soul, to not spend so much time listening to the noise of the world (yes, this means social media, not exclusively but largely), to listen to other people instead of talking (I used to be so much better about this), to have quietness and steadiness within and without me.

“In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” says Isaiah 30:15, and I mean to live this year believing that verse.

I have other goals as well–refill my creative well enough to be able to write well this year. My bucket has been scraping the bottom for several months, and while I’ve been writing steadily, very little of it is anything I can feel satisfied with.  (I’m hoping the quiet thing helps with this as well–listen to the voice of creativity inside me rather than being distracted by all the other noises of the world). Get fit before our big move–I am far too sedentary for good health, and while I’ve no desire to be an athlete, I do want to be able to move well and comfortably. Stick with my reading log for an entire year; I started this last year as part of my attempt to read mindfully, but I gave up around the time we moved and even before then I was not consistent. Find a good daily routine and, as best I can, stick with it. Even though I know sickness and company and insomnia and other curveballs will come, I want a routine I–we–can return to rather than letting such things throw us off our game entirely.

And that’s pretty much it! Nothing too grand, just simple little things to help me be a more whole person.

How do you feel about New Year’s? Are you a resolution/goal maker, or do you prefer not to be bound by arbitrary dates for such things? Do you pick a word to focus on for a year, and if so, do you mind sharing it?

Happy January, and happy 2018 to you all!

Falling Into October

Some days it’s hard to believe we’ve been in our new house, new life for a month already–but most days it feels like we’ve been here forever. Which can make it tricky when we are trying to figure out why we’re so tired, or suddenly so cranky with each other. “Oh, right,” we remind ourselves. “We moved a month ago.”

People ask us if we miss the seminary life. No, not really. We miss our friends there, obviously–but we’re so close we can have them over for meals (in a proper dining room, huzzah!) or get together for tea or meet up at a park if we want to. Admittedly, we haven’t done much of that yet, but that’s more due to the fact that we’ve had house guests off and on for the last three weeks than anything else.

The girls and I have started our Thursday classes–they take Latin and Science in the mornings while I get writing done, and then I teach American Lit, then we have lunch and come home. It’s been marvelous. Not only are they getting a fun class experience and I am getting two straight hours of writing time out of it, I’ve discovered that I’m actually pretty good at teaching! Or, as Grace put it: “Your first class was really boring, Mom, but all of them after that have been a lot of fun.” What can I say, it took me that first class to figure out what I was doing.

We finished reading Johnny Tremain this past week and will be starting The Sign of the Beaver after break. The kids are all in agreement that parts of JT were interesting, but it started out too slow and none of them feel like reading it again for fun–“Not like the Harry Potter books,” one student said. (“Actually, I think Harry Potter is kind of boring,” said Joy. “But I might like them when I’m a little bit older,” she generously admitted.) I loved having conversations with them about the book and their impressions of it, and especially loved their responses to some of the assignments (the letters they wrote from book characters to someone outside the city about the events of the Boston Tea Party were hysterical).

As for the writing, that’s proceeding at a snail’s pace (when does it ever not?), but it does progress. I finished the major rewrite of Candles in the Dark (remember that? Remember the novella I was supposed to publish in June? Hahahahasob it’s coming, I promise) this past Thursday, sent it to my betas, and am now trying to figure out if I should start editing the short story collection I was supposed to publish in July (guys, I am SO BAD at deadlines) or get back to the next Whitney & Davies novel, which I had optimistically hoped to publish in September.

I think I need to stop planning on getting projects finished in the summer.

And mostly, we’ve been enjoying living life, instead of surviving it. We climbed Mt Monadnock recently, tomorrow we go apple picking, we’ve been able to have various family members out without them having to stay in a hotel, we’re working on the gardens out front, we’ve walked to the library once a week …

Our year of rest is still off to a good start.

September Brings New Beginnings

We are moved! Still surrounded by boxes in various stages of unpacking, but the kitchen is organized (it will have to be re-organized at some point; Carl put all the tea on a top shelf where I need a step-stool to reach it. That will never do!), the bedrooms are all in good shape, we are eating meals on our dining room table, and we are starting to move onto the best stage of unpacking: putting up the bookcases and replacing our books on them.

The move happened on Saturday. It went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the crew of friends who showed up to help starting at 8:00 in the morning and sticking it out until close to 3:00 that afternoon. A far cry from when we arrived at seminary, when one or two people helped out for an hour or so after we arrived and then we had to do the rest ourselves! We were setting up the kids’ bunkbeds at midnight while they fell asleep curled up on top of their toychests with blankets and pillows. This time, a friend gave us dinner once everything was moved and the apartment cleaned, and then we drove to our new house, put together the kids’ new beds (in their OWN BEDROOMS), put together our bed, and were still able to call it a night by 10:00. Thank you, God, for good friends.

We are still in the fall-into-bed exhausted each night stage, of course. Moving is never easy, regardless of how many friends you have helping. But any exhaustion-induced irritability is easily assuaged when we look around at our kitchen, where an easy meal is, in fact, easy; when the kids can go into their own rooms when they get annoyed at each other; when we have the option of using our second bathroom if the first is occupied; when we can do laundry in our own machine without having to first collect quarters; when we are able to wander around our own yard with tea in hand, discussing improvements we want to make in the gardens; when we think how God gifted us this house beyond our expectations or even hopes. Our seminary years (hashtag: #seminarylife) were wonderful, a time of growth and fruitfulness. But they were also hard, and we have been in survival mode for a long, long time.

Even in the midst of our physical exhaustion from this move, we are more at peace than we’ve been in ages. Carl is at work today; gymnastics and skating lessons and homeschool classes all start this week (I’m teaching American Lit–pray for me!) (and my students); by God’s grace I will be able to start focusing on my writing more this week as well.

Our Year of Rest is off to a good start.

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The clouds roll away and light breaks through