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This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished.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.

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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!

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.)

Slow But Steady

Writing productivity has slowed to a trickle these days. We started school back up on Monday (the girls and I – Carl’s semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month), and between that and rearranging the bedrooms and organizing the arts and crafts supplies and being neighborly and recovering from holidays and travel, and just being so tired (I actually dozed off yesterday afternoon for a little while, which never ever happens), it’s awfully hard to get anything done.

The nice thing about where I’m at right now is that I don’t feel guilty about it. Sure, I’d like to be writing every single day. I’d also like to be awake enough to take care of my clothes each night instead of letting them accumulate beside my bed, but so far that isn’t happening either.

I’ve learned – am still learning – to go with the rhythms of life. Some times I am going to be able to focus on one thing, sometimes on another. Right now, my main focus is on school and keeping the apartment basically livable. Since I have company coming over for tea next week, I imagine pretty soon I’ll have to spend some time focusing on cleaning. Eventually, school will find its own groove again, and I won’t be as tired from all our travels, and I’ll be able to think about writing again.

My stories aren’t going to perish if I don’t tend them every day. My writing abilities aren’t going to vanish if I take a week or so where I only write a few words here and there. I know this is contrary to what most professional writers say – that you must write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I’m sure there will come a time in my life where that kind of self-discipline is absolutely applicable. Right now, it’s more important to me as a person, not necessarily as a writer, to show myself grace.

It’s also more important for me to be a good teacher to my kids, since I have taken up that responsibility. It’s more important for me to be a present and engaged mom and wife. It’s important to be a good neighbor and friend. Writing is important, and it is vital to who I am, and I would not dream of just “not writing” for an entire season, but it doesn’t need to be first and foremost on my list of priorities right now. There will come a day when my children are grown and my life is more settled, and I will be able to bump the writing up on my list.

For now, I’m okay with simply making sure I don’t go too long without doing writing of some sort.

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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Secret Project, Secret No More

You remember that post I wrote back in February, about the need to finish the first draft I was working on so I could get started on the first draft of the book I was supposed to be writing?

Well, I finished it. The first draft of a story that jumped into my mind sometime in … either November or December, I really don’t remember now … and I knew that I had to start writing it then and there. If all I did was outline it, I knew I wouldn’t come back to it later. The outline would just sit, and languish, and collect metaphoric dust in my documents.

It wasn’t supposed to be very long, only around 30,000 words, a short, fun, MG. Of course, me being me, that turned into 51,000 words, closer to YA than MG, and with some surprisingly deep themes woven in amidst the lighter-hearted bits. In fact, I need to make sure the light-hearted bits are as prominent as I want them to be when I go back for the second draft.

I couldn’t talk about it at all, to anyone, for fear of losing the momentum. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was halfway through, and then I finally broke down and told Carl what I was writing – but I wouldn’t tell him what it was about. Only that it wasn’t what I “should” be writing. A few weeks ago a friend asked me on Twitter what I was writing currently, and all I could say was “A secret project.” It didn’t need to be secret for any outside reasons – but I was afraid talking about it would have the same effect as outlining it. Death to the story itself.

So. It’s the messiest first draft I’ve ever had the privilege of finishing, because most of my first drafts are more like third drafts by the time I’m done with them. I break The Rule, you see, of first drafts. I am a compulsive go-back-er. I can be three chapter ahead, realize a way to make that past chapter better, and if I don’t go back and fix it right then and there, it eats away at me until I get it right. If I introduce a character that later on doesn’t fit, I have to go back and take that character out immediately, instead of just dropping the character from then on and removing it entirely later. I write a few chapters, go back and fix a few chapters, write a few, go back and fix a few … which is why I always cringe when I hear someone declare that all first drafts, every time, are junk. Because mine aren’t. Usually.

This one is, though. I just needed to get it written. So I skipped the edit-as-I-go this time (and yes, it drove me nuts, but I did it, and I’m kind of proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone. And I don’t plan to ever do that again) and just got it all done. I’m not going back and immediately fixing anything now that it’s written, either.

I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while. Go back to working on Wings of Song and Magic in Disguise, the second Maia and Len book (it’s been six months since Magic Most Deadly published, and I think I’m finally ready to get back to their world). And then, once I’ve finished the initial drafts of both of those, I can drag this one back to life, tear it apart, and put it back together again better.

It’s been a fun interlude. And it was what I needed when the stories I was supposed to be writing (see previous paragraph) were not working, and I was feeling a considerable amount on ennui about my writing in general. Sure, it took me almost four months to write a draft I thought I would have done in six weeks, but hey. It’s there. It’s done. And it put the zest back in writing for me.

And now, it’s back to work.

In My Little Corner of the World

What? Yes, of course I am working!


My new favorite spot to write is here: in the grey recliner in the corner of the living room, half-hidden by the Christmas tree but with a good view out the enormous picture window.

Although since downloading the Kindle app for Macs the other day, I’ve been doing less writing and more reading on my laptop. Not sure this was the best idea after all! I’m also having a terrible time not just buying any e-book that catches my fancy. Something about this instant gratification thing that is tremendously addictive, and dangerous. I have to keep reminding myself that this is real money I am spending, even if they aren’t “real” (ie, paper) books.

Sigh.

But back to the writing. I really have been working, even if much of that work does look like I am just sitting and staring into space. After filling out a basic outline for the Celtic YA fantasy (and was I ever surprised to find myself working on that one again – I figured it was going to take much longer before I was ready to even look at that again, given my Frustrations with it on the last round), I’ve been doing much pondering about how things should go, and careful consideration of my writing style for this one (the source of much of my frustration before – no matter how much I wanted to keep a wryly humorous tone, it would insist on taking itself too seriously, and getting Grim and Depressing). I even have part of the first chapter written – and this is actually more progress than one might think, since (for me) as the first chapter goes, so goes the rest of the book. Plus I can reuse a decent amount of material from the last draft, so once I get past these new beginning bits, a lot of what is going on will be cutting-and-pasting with new (hopefully amusing) filler in between the old stuff.

I had planned to work more on my MG fantasy since finishing the first draft of the 1920s ms, but the muse stirred for this one, so I am bowing to her whims. As long as I am working on one of my plethora of unfinished projects, I’m not particularly fussy as to which one.

Especially since recently I found my research notes and partial outline for the story I had planned on writing this year, the one that got shuffled aside in favor of the 1920s story and the Celtic rewrite. Starsong, the one set in a Renaissance world with a heroine inspired by the Maya culture.

And I really, really want to start working on that one again, but with a second draft needed for the 1920s ms, a picture book to indie publish by this summer (that’s the goal, anyway), a Celtic rewrite needing to be finished, and an MG fantasy impatiently reminding me that it’s been the one sitting around waiting to be finished the longest …

I am Not! Starting! Anything! New! Some people (those with sanity) would tell me this is too much as it is. And they would probably be right.

But it’s fun.