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.

A Change in the Wind …

Literally (it has suddenly remembered it’s winter here in New England, and along with the delightful snow we are enduring some not-as-delightful bitter cold. Not to worry, though, it’s supposed to pop back up to the mid-40s on Tuesday), and metaphorically as well.

I hesitate to talk too much about changes to my writing plans, simply because if I talk about them and then change my mind again, people will get confused. These changes, however, I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, so I think it is safe to reveal at least one of them to you all.

Here it is: I’ve been referring to the magical detective stories – Magic Most Deadly, the upcoming Magic in Disguise [working title], and any future books to come – as the “Intelligent Magic” series. It seemed a clever name when I thought of it, tying in Len’s Intelligence work to the magical aspect.

Except … I think now it was a little too clever. So I thought, well, I’ll have Maia say something specifically about it, or Aunt Amelia make a nasty crack about the need for intelligent magic instead of magical intelligence … but it didn’t work. It just never fit.

So, I have scrapped the “Intelligent Magic,” and have gone to what I should have done in the first place: Whitney & Davies. After all, Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novels are simply known as the Lord Peter Wimsey series; Agatha Christie’s works are divided into the Poirot novels, the Miss Marple books, and the Tommy & Tuppence series; we have the Cadfael series, the Inspector Alleyn series, the Mrs. Pollifax series … etc. Naming a cozy mystery (with magic) series after your main protagonists is not only common sense, it is continuing the tradition established by the greats.

So, Magic Most Deadly is now Book 1 in the Whitney & Davies series … and if I ever get through these revisions, we should get Book 2 before too much longer!

And on that note, I should really get back to revising … making some significant changes there, too, but I’m not ready to talk about them until I know for certain they will stick. Au revoir, friends!

Joyful Work

Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.

I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!

It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.

More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.

I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.

And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …

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!

Magic Most Deadly Sequel! (Soon)

Well!

Thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo, I managed to get the entire first draft of Magic Most Deadly’s sequel written in a month. One month! I started at the end of June, and finished right before the end of July. That’s … mind-boggling, really.

Now granted, it’s just the bare bones of the story. It needs about 20,000 more words, not to mention more clues, more suspects, more red herrings, more everything that makes it a mystery. But the skeleton is there, and fleshing it out will be the fun part (is that a gross metaphor? Sorry).

This sequel … I’ve been working on it ever since I published MMD, so … since fall 2013. That’s almost two full years, and it’s taken me this long to get the first draft written. So you can see why I’m pleased.

I like the direction it’s taking Len and Maia – some of the plot twists surprised even me, leaving me scrambling to catch up. I like the character developments, getting to know these people a little more, digging a little deeper into who they are than I did in the first book. And I like the plot, messy as it is right now! I think it’ll be a lot of fun once it gets cleaned up, and I hope will leave readers guessing until the final reveal.

One of the fun things about this book is that I was inspired to break out of my preconceived notions of 1920s England. I did some research, and as a result I get to introduce some new and diverse characters in it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Julia and Dan and Sgt. Andrews and all the rest from MMD, but it was really exciting for me to broaden my scope and take the notion that magic breaks down class and gender roles, and realize that means that it would also break down racial walls, and then explore what that looks like.

I’ll be doing more posts about the world of MMD and the characters in the upcoming months, as I work on the next draft, so let me know if there are any questions you have or topics you’d like to see me tackle!

For now, I’m taking a little break to let the story settle, and working more on From the Shadows, which I hope to be able to publish late fall or early winter. And I haven’t forgotten about Rivers Wide, either! That’s due to begin serialization also this winter. It’s going to be a busy season, but a fun one!

Summer Doings

From the Shadows is on its last round of betas before being sent to my editor.

Rivers Wide is a complete first draft, and is simmering before I tackle the second.

I am 5 1/2 chapters in to Magic Most Deadly’s sequel, and the plot just clicked into place while I was preparing supper tonight, leading to a frantic scramble to jot down the outline and how everything connects together while simultaneously not letting the food burn. (The glamorous life of a writer!)

I also discovered Azalea’s Dolls the other day, and have been happily procrastinating whenever I hit a stone wall in my writing by creating dolls of my characters. The options are limited for creating outfits that look even remotely 1920s-ish, but …

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians' Ball

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians’ Ball

Maia's magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians' Ball

Maia’s magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians’ Ball

 

As you can see, I’m making do.

In other news, we recently spent two weeks visiting family, and one week recovering (i.e, sleeping), are doing our best to keep from melting in the heat, and are planning a fun getaway for next weekend, when Carl and I celebrate our 11th—11th!—anniversary. The kids will go to Grandma’s and pick raspberries and swim in her pool, and he and I shall go to a B&B in the White Mountains, and everybody will be happy, including Grandma. This will be Carl’s and my first time getting away without the kids since having kids. I think it’s time!

I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo again this July, and while I really sputtered with getting started, I’m picking up steam now. I would love so much to get the first draft to MMD’s sequel completed this summer! But we’ll see. Of slightly more importance is making sure this summer is a time of rest for all of us, so that we can face the fall routine gladly when it comes.

Or if not gladly, at least without being so exhausted it makes us want to cry. (Which is what happened to me last year, and which I would really like to not repeat …)

How is your summer going, friends?

Paper Edits and Tomato Soup

The nice thing about having printed out your MS to edit, is that it’s much easier to haul a stack of paper around everywhere you go than it is your laptop. For me, anyway. For instance, at Joy’s violin lesson. Or in the car while I’m soaking in the (rare) sunshine during Grace’s ballet class. Both places where balancing a laptop on my knees would be awkward and uncomfortable.

As a result of this papery delight, I’ve been moving along at a surprisingly (for me) rapid pace on the edits to From the Shadows, and this afternoon, I finished them.

Now, this round of editing mostly consisted of notes saying “fix this!” or “this scene will need to be moved” or “hey, you have world-building now that changes this.” All of which needs to be actually implemented. But the hard work, the thinking part of it, is done. All that remains is to write out the changes I told myself to make. (And yes, for me, the writing is generally the easy part. Figuring out how to make the writing work is the hard stuff.)

This is exciting on multiple levels. For one: yay, another step forward! For another: after I finish implementing the changes, I can send it off to my actual editor. For another: once I reach the sending-it-to-editor stage, I consider the book officially done (everything else is polishing), and THAT means I can purchase The High King.

See, way, way back when I finished my first novel, I was so shocked and pleased that I felt I had to do something to celebrate. It wasn’t a publishable novel, so nothing that anyone else would consider party-worthy, but it was mine and I had finished it. So I celebrated by buying The Book of Three in hardcover, a splurge since I always buy paperback.

Collecting the Chronicles of Prydain one by one, each book marking the completion of one novel, because a milestone for me. Despite the fact that I’ve only published one book (and some short stories, but those didn’t count as novels – though I’m pretty sure I bought The Prydain Companion to celebrate those), I have written four (not counting novel-length fanfics, of which there are Many), and so I own all but the final Prydain book.

Finishing – not publishing, but finishing – FTS will be the fifth. After that, there’s The Foundling and other tales, and then … well, and then I will either no longer need to have that private celebratory milestone, or else I’ll have to start collecting a new series.

~

After I finished the paper edits, I was fizzing with creative energy. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches were on the menu for tonight’s dinner, so I turned all the creativity toward that. The tomato soup recipes I had were all great for crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, even diced tomatoes … but I’ve had a terrible time finding good recipes for soup from tomato sauce, and that’s all I usually have on hand. So, I made up my own.

And I have to tell you, it turned out to be the best tomato soup not from fresh tomatoes I’ve ever had. To my taste, of course, which might be quite different from yours. But just in case it isn’t, I’ll include the recipe here. Because – yes! I actually remembered to write it down, so I won’t have to rack my brain to remember it next time.

2 TBS Butter

2 TBS Flour

Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Basil, Salt (to taste)

3 Cans Tomato Sauce

2 Cups Chicken Broth

1 tsp Baking Soda

Pinch of Brown Sugar

2 Cups of Cream/Milk

Salt, to taste

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add flour, stir and let cook 1-2 minutes. Add spices and tomato sauce, stir until well mixed. Add chicken broth, stir well. Sprinkle in baking soda and brown sugar, stir until foam has settled. Bring to a simmer. Add cream or milk (I used 1/2 c. cream and 1 1/2 c. milk), stir until evenly combined, let heat through. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Not too bad for a Tuesday afternoon’s work!

(I am sorry there are no pictures of the soup: we ate it all.)