Not So Original

Last night, I half woke up from a dream, thinking it would be the perfect idea for a story someday … it featured a married couple in a medieval-fantasy world, where the woman was the warrior and the man was not, and he was always cracking jokes, and they were quite happy together …

I was horribly, terribly sad this morning when I woke up fully and realized that it was not, in fact, a brilliantly original idea which I could use for a fabulous story.

I had just taken Zoe and Wash from Firefly and inserted them into the Middle Ages.

Darn you, subconscious!

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Moving Back to Move Forward

This weekend, we made a flying trip back to PA, where we lived for the first four years of our marriage. When we left, there were two weeks between finding out we had to leave, and pulling away from the house with our moving truck. It’s been almost five years, and we’d never made it back for any kind of closure. With Carl starting grad school this fall, and another huge move coming up in a month (EEK!), now seemed like a good time to finally go back, see our friends there again, show Joy the house where we lived when she was a baby, revisit some old haunts.

And go grocery shopping at Wegmans. Because we have MISSED it.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital almost six years ago.

It was so, so good.

We had dinner Friday evening with some of our dearest friends. It was sheer chaos in parts, with ten kids running around and six adults trying desperately to cram five years of conversation into a few hours, but it was so good. It felt like we’d never left.

Friends and soul-sisters

Friends and soul-sisters

Saturday was a more leisurely lunch with more friends, these with two daughters close in age to our own girls. The four of them played so nicely together all afternoon, and Joy cried when we left – she felt like she’d finally found the Betsy to her Tacy, and then had to leave after just a few hours. We told her we would start praying, and KEEP praying, that God would send her a best friend at Gordon-Conwell, now that she has a taste of what it’s like.

Then we went back to where we used to live. NOTHING has changed. I don’t think anybody’s even painted their house a different color or bought a new vehicle. It was so weird, like stepping into a time warp. Milkshake (Carl and me) and chocolate milk (the girls) at the dairy bar down the street (and wasn’t THAT place dangerous to have within walking distance when I was in my third trimester during one of the hottest summers EVER), and then on to the cemetery where all the locals go to walk. It’s the closest thing to a neighborhood park around.

Joy, six months

Joy, six months

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

And THEN we did our grocery shopping. Then came home. Then crashed the next day (literally, for me – we got out our bikes on Sunday and mine decided it had had enough of my stumbling attempts to master it, and showed me who was boss. Hint: it wasn’t me).

The entire trip felt both like closure of the past AND reopening of old friendships. We were able to lay to rest some of the miseries that had chased us from PA, remember the good parts of living there, and reaffirm the friendships we made while there.

I also was able to remember that old tombstones are one of my best sources for finding awesome character names, and that ancient cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful, other-worldly places to stroll.

Despite our exhaustion, we came home energized, ready to tackle packing up this house, thankful for all God has done in our lives, and in my case, ready to dive back into writing now that I’ve gotten some more real-life filling.

How was your weekend?

"Rest in peace" feels a bit more tangible, here.

“Rest in peace” feels a bit more tangible, here.

My Strong Heritage

I have a love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the like. I don’t like how exclusive they are. For Mother’s Day especially, I don’t like how a culture that usually treats women, mothers in particular, as “less than,” takes one day to say “Oh yeah, moms are great,” and then goes back to sneering at them.

On the other hand, I also like any opportunity I get to show the people I love how thankful I am for them. So I’m usually torn, these sorts of holidays.

But today, I’m not torn at all. I want to sing praise not just to my mother, but to all the women in my family who have contributed to make me the person I am today. It’s the day after Mother’s Day, and the day I choose to celebrate these amazing women.

My mom. She’s getting her Master’s degree on Saturday. Her granddaughters get to watch their Oma get a degree, how amazing is that? She taught me everything I know about sewing, cooking, teaching, and more importantly, how to use my brain (OK, Dad contributed to that part as well. Don’t worry, Dad, your post will come after Father’s Day!). She taught me about sacrifice and hard work, and the importance of having dreams while keeping your practicality. She’s the best mom I could imagine.

Gram, Mom’s mother. Just as my girls get to watch their grandmother earn her degree, I can still remember going to Grammie’s college graduation. She’s tackled every challenge that comes her way with zest and determination, and her energy puts me to shame. She’d do anything for her family, except let them get away with doing less than they are capable of.

Grandma, Dad’s mom. Raised eight children and had a hand in the raising of many of her grandchildren. Kept a sense of humor up to the very end. Faced a hard life with laughter and courage. Also went to college, to become a teacher. Instilled a love for reading and love for music in all her family.

My great-grandmothers. Some of them I only really know through stories. Some of them I knew well. One of them got to meet my Joy right after she was born. One of them had a name I am proud to now carry as my own. All of them strong, independent, courageous women.

My sister. My best friend, one of the smartest people I know, with the kindest heart to match her keen wits. She’s going to get to hold her first baby this fall, and I am so excited to see her become a mom. She’s going to be as spectacular at that as she is at everything else, I know.

My aunts, great-aunts, cousins … really, the list is too long to go on. And if I get started on the women who aren’t in my family who have influenced me and contributed to the person I am today, we’d be here all day. I am so thankful for all of them. I rejoice that my daughters have such a strong heritage – and one of equally brave, smart, loving women from their dad’s side – behind them.

Not just Mother’s Day, but every day I thank God for them!

Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.

Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.

Collaboration and Community

I’ve been spending most of my time this weekend (and Monday) getting my short stories ready to send to the lovely, lovely people who volunteered to critique them for me (and attempting to clean my house, burning out the belt on my vacuum, deciding to forget housecleaning and making baked doughnuts with the kids instead), but I did scratch out enough time to read through The Floating Admiral.

Have you heard of it? It’s a joint effort by the Detection Club (some notable members: Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft … etc) to see if they could detect a mystery without knowing the end. Each person wrote one chapter, and then handed it off to the next without any hints. Anthony Berkeley had the unenviable task as the end of trying to make sense of the preceding tangle of clues and evidence, and wrapping it up in a tidy solution (which he did BRILLIANTLY), and then in an appendix at the back, each author revealed his or her own solution.

It was fascinating. I loved it. Both as a mystery fan and a writer. As a mystery fan, it was delightful to see each writer try to guess where the previous writer had been pointing, and to contrast the different styles of writing and detection. As a writer, I loved seeing the way they played off each other and used each other to make their own writing stronger. My favorite part, honestly, was the appendix where they all revealed their solutions, because it showed so plainly the way each of them crafted their stories (Agatha Christie’s solution, by the way, was the most preposterous, and yet you KNOW that if she had written the entire thing, we would have swallowed it without hesitation). From Sayers’ complex and tidy backstory and timetable to Clemence Dane’s frank admittance that it was all a muddle to him and he just tried to leave it open so that Berkeley could finish it off in any way he pleased, it was great.

Trying to read it as one cohesive detective story would be fairly exhausting, and judging by some of the negative reviews I’ve read of this, that’s where many people go wrong. Reading it for the enjoyment of seeing all these authors work together and blend their many different styles (the main detective in the story, Inspector Rudge, ends up being a character of so many layers and great depth, simply because he is written by so many different people – just watching his character develop was half the fun for me) is the way to go with this story.

I’ve been plotting a joint fanfiction story with two of my good friends (Adrienne and Cathy, we really need to get moving on this!), consisting of letters and journal entries between three cousins. It’s not the same premise as The Floating Admiral, but much of the idea is the same – we each have our own idea of our character’s story, and the fun and challenge will be weaving them together into something cohesive.

This is one of those aspects of writing that thrills me. As much as I love crafting stories and bringing characters to life on my own, I also love the thought of being part of a community of writers. The very idea of the Detection Club makes me happy, much like the Inklings (if given the option of going back in time and sitting in on only one meeting of those two groups, I’d be hard-pressed to pick between them). Can you imagine if the Inklings had written a joint-effort fantasy like the Detection Club did with The Floating Admiral? It would have been amazing and hysterical, all at once.

Twitter and blogs are a wonderful way to build writers’ communities; one of the reasons I’m thrilled to have critique partners for my short stories is because it is yet another way to build that same sense of community. Ultimately, though, nothing quite beats in-person meetings of a regular sort, to discuss and laugh and help each other become better writers.

Maybe someday – for now, I’m thankful, so very thankful, for these internet communities I can call my own.

Music

Thank you to those who commented on the last post! I was asking the question because I was stuck on figuring out a particular magical adventure in my MG fantasy, and I wanted to see what, if any, were some common threads that wove throughout most people’s childhood dreams. There was one, too! It was … flying, whether on winged horses, flying carpets, or just on one’s own. Pretty neat, to see how much so many very different people have in common from childhood.

And now on to today’s topic, which is, as the title suggests, music.

My sister and I were very fortunate, growing up. We had parents who refused to listen to, or allow us to listen to, bad music. So my childhood music memories include listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; making up dances to Bach; humming John Denver along with Dad; and taking naps accompanied by songs about phonics (“Apple, apple, a,a,a”) and Spanish-to-English translations of simple phrases, also set to music.

Awesome stuff.

Thanks to such a diverse and rich background musically (I don’t really remember listening to much kid’s music at all, except for Raffi, naturally, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the aforementioned tape with the learning songs on it – which I now have in CD form for my littles), I find that I still appreciate a wide variety of music. Different sorts for different moods or needs! I like:

Beethoven or Hayden for cleaning

Mozart-Handel-Brahms-etc. for relaxing

Bach for inspiration

And for just general listening, or if I need a specific kind of music for a specific kind of story: Owl City; Regina Spektor; Marina and the Diamonds (some); Lenka; Ingrid Michaelson; Kate Nash or Lily Allen (some); and, of course, Michael Buble.

And then there’s the Celtic music I like, whether instrumental or with vocals. And thanks to growing up with a string-pickin’ father, I’m a sucker for American folk music.

I’m trying to imitate that same sort of diverse background for my littles; we do have a bunch of children’s music, but it is all either Raffi (EVERY kid needs to grow up listening to Baby Beluga, which my Joy freely adapts into “Heaven above and the sea below, and a little white hi-ip-po – whee, whee, whee!”), or more folk music, adapted for kids. We are big fans of Elizabeth Mitchell and Lisa Loeb! More often, they listen to whatever Carl and I are listening to – which can be anything from instrumental hymns to Brahms to Michael Buble!

Do you have music that you listen to for specific tasks? When you write, do you have music playing in the background, or do you need silence, or does it depend on the story (it does for me – some stories I need to write in silence, while some require music to put me in the proper mindset)? What sort of music did you listen to as a kid, and do you still find yourself drawn to that sort of music now?


Disclaimer: I am not associated or affiliated with any of the artists mentioned in this post; the opinions therein are my own.