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.

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Spring Sprain

Thursday was a lovely spring day here (at last!) I got in my walk up the hill with Carl, part of my new exercise regimen as I try to take back my energy and overall health. On the way back down we stopped at the small playground for campus kids and hung out for a bit with our neighbor and her too-cute-for-words baby boy. Eventually Carl went back inside to get some work done, neighbor took the baby in for his nap, and the girls and I decided to go across the field to see the leaves on their favorite climbing tree.

When we got there, all the branches were too high for the kids to see well, so first I tried taking photos, and then when that proved ineffective, jumped up to snag a branch to tug down for the kids to see.

The first branch I couldn’t quite reach, even when jumping up. The second one I grabbed, but when I came down I must have landed on an uneven patch. My ankle rolled, I heard an ominous “crack,” and I rolled my body with my ankle in an instinctive attempt to protect it (former figure skater: we learn very early on how to fall).

The ankle immediately swelled up to twice its size, and the pain was indescribable. With the kids there (and the campus preschoolers blithely playing behind us) I had to keep calm so I didn’t scare them. Luckily my phone was near at hand, I grabbed it and tried to call Carl.

He didn’t answer. Three times. (We found out afterward that his phone didn’t even ring. Technology, you suck.) So I gave my keys to Joy and told her to run across the field, carefully cross the parking lot, and tell Daddy that Mom had fallen and her ankle might be broken. She took off, and I collapsed on the grass and focused on not passing out or throwing up from the pain, hoping that it looked to the preschoolers like I was merely resting on the grass. Gracie kept me company and blessedly didn’t ask any questions.

Carl and Joy finally made it back, we dropped the kids off with a neighbor who said she’d keep them as long as necessary and not to worry, and then we took off for the emergency room.

Once there, I got an X-Ray and the doctors determined it was a severe sprain, not a break, and I nearly cried from relief. An hour after we arrived, we were leaving the hospital, me with an Ace bandage and air cast and crutches and strict instructions to stay off my foot completely for one week and then to ease back into using it over the next 5-7 weeks after that. We went and got pizza for lunch, since we were both starving by then, got back home and maneuvered my crutches and me up to our second-story apartment and onto the couch, and Carl went and fetched the kids, who were vastly relieved to see me with my foot still attached.

And so here I am on Day 3 of my Week of Rest, as I’m hashtagging it on Instagram (elouise_bates). I have finished Chapter 10 of Magic in Disguise (only six chapters left), read three library books, watched a number of episodes of Death in Paradise whilst knitting a sweater for Joy, and directed kitchen operations from the easy chair. I’m so thankful I only have a week of this.

Thankful for a lot of things, really. Neighbors who looked out for our kids so I didn’t have to worry about them as well as my ankle, as well as offering to take them this week for an hour or so at a time, since I can’t. Thankful that Carl is done with classes so he can do the meals and run the kids to their various activities (did I mention it’s my right ankle? No driving for me for a bit) as well as get to the library to keep replenishing my supply of books. Thankful for a cheerful and efficient hospital staff: this was my first hospital visit since Joy’s birth, and despite the agony in my ankle, this time around was much, much more pleasant. Thankful for kids who, despite their own fear, kept calm and did what I asked without arguing or panicking (two years ago they would both have been wailing and flailing through it all). And deeply, deeply thankful that I am not going to have to miss out on a summer’s worth of activities–our last full summer here on the North Shore–because of a broken ankle. One week of inactivity is so much more endurable than twelve!

So that’s the news from Casa E.L. Bates.

Magic in Disguise: Progress

I have passed the halfway point on Magic in Disguise!

This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished. I started it immediately after publishing Magic Most Deadly, which was released September 2013. Since then, the plot has changed about five times, and I took a long break to work on From the Shadows instead, as well as starting Rivers Wide (which is currently in the beta-reading stage), and have discarded many, many drafts.

This one, though … this is the one that’s going to stick. The last draft was close, gave the skeleton of the story, and this one is making sense of it and filling it in. I think I had a couple femurs in place of humeri before and was missing a patella or two, but I’m getting them all sorted now.

How’s THAT for a metaphor of story-writing?

This book takes place in London 1925, when Maia has been apprenticed to Aunt Amelia for a little over three years. The London setting means we won’t see the return of certain characters such as Merry and Ellie or Julia and Dan (though we might get a cameo for one of them …), but never fear, Maia and Len and Becket are all present, as is the indomitable Aunt Amelia (for at least part of it). There will also be some new characters introduced, such as Helen Radcliffe, a young lady magician who has become good friends with Maia and gets caught up with great enthusiasm in their current investigation. The threat this time is more personal, with danger entering Aunt Amelia’s house and attacking Len, but the stakes are no less high for that. This book also delves a little bit deeper into the magic system itself, giving more spells, potions, and other ways of practicing magic while Maia learns how to control her ability and attempts to not blow too many things up in the process. And, of course, we get to see the relationship between Len and Maia grow and develop, but whether or not that includes romance I’m not telling!

It’s fun to write, even while it is exhausting, and I am getting to that point where I am eager to finish it so as to find if others will find it as enjoyable to read as it has been to create. We’ve got a long way to go still, but little by little, slowly but surely, it is coming.

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.

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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.)

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 …

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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