Thursday, July 30, 2015

Devastated but not destroyed

My 8 year old daughter, one of my twin girls, was killed in a freak accident on June 4 this year, exactly a month after I lost my father.

I was at work when my husband took our four girls riding (I would have loved to join them. Horses are our family thing. All six of us ride and love horses, love them deeply). The horse my daughter was riding started acting up on her. This was a horse owned by another family that are close friends of ours; my husband had trained the horse, we had both ridden him and felt he was safe for our daughter to ride, with help, as she's still inexperienced. Her dad was helping her teach the horse to "yield" when he started tossing his head and hopping. My husband let go of the horse's head and backed off, taking the pressure off the horse. Instead of calming, as he normally did, the horse reared, slipped, and went over backwards, crushing my daughter instantly. My husband and two of my daughters witnessed the accident up close. She was at a hospital within six minutes, but they were unable to save her.

Our family has been surrounded by a tremendous outpouring of love, care, and financial, physical, mental and spiritual support. Many a night when it's time to tuck my three girls into bed and the tears threaten to turn into sobs of agony because of the fourth girl who should be there and isn't, one friend or family member or another has texted me encouragement and scripture right when I needed it most.

I've been living on prayers.

I haven't been able to imagine writing again, especially since the story that I've poured my heart into the past few years was a story about twin girls, one of whom was supposedly killed in a freak accident. In my story, her sister finds her twin and rescues her.

If only that could be true in real life.

To our amazement, my husband's and mine, our girls wanted to keep their horses and continue to ride them, and even show them in fair. (The horse my daughter was riding has since been sold to professionals who are watching him closely to see if there is any more dangerous behavior).

Friends lent us their very well trained Shetland pony for my other 8 year old daughter to ride, and she also fell in love with a miniature horse, Buttercup, that has been a great source of both smiles and comfort to us.

My 11 year old rode her horse Tuffy in the trail course at fair, and my 13 year old rode her horse Spring in all her usual events. She not only won first place in the barrel race and pole bending race, but had the fastest overall time, even faster than high school senior riders... and she's going on to compete in state fair.

The three girls also put together their own "Ride to Music" program for fair, which is where you pick a song and theme and design your own riding patterns and costumes. They rode in memory of their sister and their costumes were designed after their sister's favorite things:  horses, dogs, unicorns, Pegasus, Pokemon, Minecraft, and butterflies.

The girls didn't do as well as they had hoped in many of the events in fair. They hadn't had time to practice much this summer, for a very painful reason. But they stuck with it, and learned good sportsmanship, and in the process I found I could start to breathe again, I could start to live again.

I haven't been keeping a journal, just short notes, incomplete sentences, bursts of bitterness, anger, agony. But also memories of my little girl that I don't want to forget. Moments when my girls made me smile. Drops here and there of hope, fragments of the painful but powerful talks my husband and I have had, my mother and I, my friends and I.

Slowly these tiny notes have been expanding. Full sentences. Paragraphs. I am writing again.

My life was changed in an instant. My heart was crushed along with my daughter's, except I was forced to keep living. For weeks it was hard to even breath. I cried out to God, Why? He gave no answer. I begged him. I doubted him. One moment I believe with all my heart that she's safe in heaven, and I'll see her again someday, and the next I'm tempted to believe it's just random madness in a random, hateful world where terrible things happen everyday.

Finally a few days ago, God answered me. Romans 8:32 says "He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all."  My daughter was not spared. God did not spare his own son. But the hope of Jesus is that he went through death, and rose again, to give us hope of resurrection, of eternal life.

I am going through the worst possible trial a parent can have, but I find strength and comfort along the way, and courage to share my faith. Thank you for letting me share.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Insecure writer: changing point of view

Right now with my writing I'm debating which point of view to use in my next project, after I've heard rumbling from several different places (such as Authoress at the Miss Snark's First Victim blog) that the publishing industry is getting tired of first person present tense. A famous example from a book that probably influenced a lot of writers in recent years to choose this tense (including myself):

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas over the mattress.

Authoress says she might rewrite her entire work-in-progress from first person present into third person past tense. Wow! Re-writing an entire book to change tense?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Ironically, at the same time I'm hearing this talk about how first present tense (made famous in Young Adult by The Hunger Games) is no longer in vogue, I started reading Dodie Smith's coming of age book, I Capture the Castle, written in 1948.

And written in first person present tense! (In the form of journal entries). And here I thought this point of view was a fairly recent innovation.  But it shows that no matter the time period or current trends in publishing, a really good story will trump anything.
I Capture the Castle
I think it's a good exercise to play with different points of view when you are getting started with a new story, finding which one is the perfect "fit" for your characters and the style of the book. I've never really given much thought to which tense I use: for my last story, I just jumped right into first person present tense instead of picking what was the most natural fit for my story, I was reading a lot of present tense in other books at that time. To be honest, all my most favorite books are written in third person past. (Though now that I've fallen in love with I Capture the Castle in present tense, I wonder....)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My favorite summer vacation spot

This post is making me misty eyed, because I haven't been to my favorite summer vacation spot for over 30 years, but my memories are as vivid of Chippawa Lodge as much more recent vacation spots. I think there's just something about your childhood favorites that stick with you. One of my greatest wishes is to go back and stay in one of the cabins along Lake Kamaninskeg in northern Ontario, and swim along the beautiful white beach.
We spent a week every summer along this lake from when I was 4 to 12 years old (we stopped coming when the management no longer allowed guests to bring their pets: that was one of the special things about this resort is that you could bring your dogs; we even brought our cat along!). I swam for hours a day, or kayaked, or went sailing on our little sailboat that we hauled up every year. One of my favorite memories is fishing with my dad, except one time I didn't catch a fish, I managed to hook a giant snapping turtle that terrified me when my dad helped me pull it up on shore!

Another favorite memory was swinging on the "Tarzan rope" off a tree into the river. It would take me a long time to work up the nerve to jump!
Here's a picture of little me with my kayak. 
I could go on and on about this place (the pony, the sunken steamship, picking berries, picking wildflowers, the scent of sun-warmed pines...) but I think the best way for me to revel in great memories is to somehow work them into one of my stories one day. 

Many thanks to Lexa Cain and her co-hosts for dreaming up this blog hop and now I'm off to visit more wonderful summer vacation spots!

"My Favorite Summer Vacation Spot" Blog Hop is sponsored by Summer Reads that Thrill & Chill!
For the Linky List and Book Giveaways visit the 6 Co-Hosts:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: coming home

I love to travel and visit new places. Not all the time, but at least three or four times a year if I can, and it doesn't have to be far away or require a plane ticket, though that's certainly a bonus.

One of the things I love about travel is coming home. After a few days seeing new places, sleeping in different beds, living out of a suitcase, filling my senses with new sights and sounds, it's wonderful to cuddle back into the familiar. Being away for a little while makes you see the familiar in a new light. I remember how my first semester away at college was sensory overload, but when I came home it was sensory overload all over again: processing all the familiar things in light of the different perspective I'd had to adjust to.
December 23, 1988
After my last exam, Mom & Melissa came to pick me up from Oswego. Before I knew it we were back in Buffalo, in my old familiar territory and I was craning my head out the windows to look at everything – all the ordinary streets, stores and houses I’ve taken for granted for most of my life. As we drove up to the corner of Morris and Parker on the way to Melissa’s house, I was too excited to wait and I jumped out at the corner and ran the rest of the way home while Mom dropped Melissa off. Leia was right there and so was Dad and I hugged her, then Dad, then her, then him, I was so happy. 

Something I'm facing right now is the familiar, the coming home, has forever changed.  My dad died a couple weeks ago. Now I am processing the familiar in a different way. Coming home is now bittersweet. Walking into my parents' home and seeing his chair empty. Hearing something that I know he would've have quipped about - except he's not there anymore with his ever-ready quips and puns.

I've been going through old photos and journals and crying over memories. Even though the memories are precious, they've become much more fragile without being able to share them with him anymore.

In a sense, I'm not really able to "come home" right now. I'm on this new strange journey where I circle endlessly around the familiar without being able to cuddle into it anymore.

Writing about it helps.

Also, the cards and memories friends and family shared have helped. My mom and I received a letter from one of Dad's friends for over 50 years. He  listed memory after memory, and I was so grateful. Some of his memories overlapped my own (making them less fragile!) and some were entirely new to me, new insights into my father. It's amazing how you can know someone your whole life, and never completely know him. There's always more to discover - and does death end this? Absolutely not, I am convinced. Our bodies wear out, but our souls are eternal.
But when this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (I Corinthians 15:54-57).
 One of my favorite photos of me and my dad from 1992:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Five ecstatic stars to Uprooted by Naomi Novik

As a huge, huge fan of the Temeraire series, I am so excited to share my review for Naomi Novik's new book, Uprooted (releases today).  5 ecstatic stars!  


Temeraire is a re-imagining of the Napoleonaic wars if dragons were used in combat. Like a mix of Master and Commander and How to Train Your Dragon. Now, there's only an occasional reference to dragons in Uprooted, and it was a lot scarier than anything I've read in the Temeraire series, but oh my goodness I loved this book! It had the classic feel of my favorites: it had a feel of Lord of the Rings in it, especially the forest parts (Old Man Willow!);  it had the awkward, strong girl hero like in The Blue Sword; it had the darkness and danger and complicated magic of Sabriel in it; and it's got an interesting romance and a wonderful story of the friendship of two girls, Neishka and Kasia. And that ending, oh, it had a surprising, beautiful, soul-wrenching quality to it that reminded me of the climax of A Wrinkle in Time. 

The main character Neishka is so unique I can't think of another heroine to compare her too. I loved that she was at one point mistaken for a young (and more trustworthy) Baba Yaga; she had that orneriness about her. (Speaking of Baba Yaga, this book had the wonderful feel of Eastern Europe and Russia about its edges and in its names). Neishka also reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, or Anne of Green Gables always getting into one of her scrapes, if these girls had been a little older and allowed to run more frequently barefooted through the woods and track mud back into the house. 

Which brings me to the Wood, and what an enigma it was. It was evil, oh so very evil, and I really struggled with that because, you know, Ents!! And even Huorns (scary things, but they used their dreadful power to destroy evil). This Wood was like that scene of Snow White running through the forest with the trees snagging her dress and trying to grab her that terrified me endlessly when I was 5 years old. This Wood made you feel five years old again, surrounded by trees with horrible eyes staring out of them. This was much worse than the Old Willow trying to swallow up Merry and Pippin. This was so WRONG. But there's a reason for the wrongness that finally makes sense in the end. 

Then there is this interesting tangle of a - romance? - not quite the right word! about it too. I expect a lot of people to go up in arms about 17 year old Neishka taking advantage of 150 year old Sarkan; I expect even more outrage over the horrible way he mocked and name-called our heroine, but I've thought about it carefully and I think the author took care to explain the complicated creature that was the Dragon (Sarkan). He was like an army drill sergeant in charge of shaping a spindly raw recruit into a fighting machine, only to discover she was his equal, but in an entirely unexpected way. It was when they discovered that their magic was so different but complimentary that I truly fell in love with this story. And Sarkan's crankiness is so very adorable (in a sort of Gandalf way), because along with it we'd get these tantalizing hints that under all the crusty salt he was golden:

I darted a quick glance at him. He was staring down at the dough trying to keep his scowl, and flushed at the same time with the high transcendent light that he brought to his elaborate workings: delighted and also annoyed, trying not to be.

Oh another thing I loved about Sarkan are all the spells he planted in his tower. Neishka is creeping down one of this hallways when this really cool, scary thing happens (see my longer Goodreads review if you want hint of it). 

And oh gosh there is so much more that I love about this story. There is a wizard's library, the Charovnikov, and Sarkan has a library too in his tower. Neishka isn't like Belle in the Beast's library, though. She's too unique. She goes after a book about Summoning the Truth, and how she and the Dragon summoned Truth in this story gave me happy chills. 

I had the feeling the Summoning wasn't really meant to be cast alone: as if truth didn't mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn't come and listen.

This was just one of the themes running through this book like the river Spindle running through the valley and the Wood. Of all magic spells, Truth is the strongest but how many people actually want truth? How many of us seek illusion instead? And how hard it is to face Truth in another person, how they REALLY see you? What Neishka and Kasia had to face in each other? 

Note: this is not a young adult book, even though Neishka is 17 years old. There are two extremely violent battle scenes and two sex scenes.

I received a digital copy of Uprooted for my honest review. I was not paid or in any way compensated for raving about it. I truly, honestly, deeply enjoyed this book. I plan to buy myself a copy to always keep, but thank you to Del Rey and Net Galley for giving me a sneak peek.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Insecure Writer: supercharged descriptions

When I'm insecure or discouraged with my writing, I tend to go on a reading binge. (Truthfully, I can use any excuse to go on a reading binge!) I've read a bunch of great books lately, and they've inpsired me with my own writing, and taught me a few new things too.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
The young blind protagonist of  All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, caught my attention, especially since one of my stories is about a girl who has lost her sight temporarily. It's a tremendous World War II book about two children: a girl in France and a boy in Germany and how at their lives intersected even though separated by enemy lines. I'll be posting more about the book soon, but right now here's three things I learned about writing descriptions:

1)  Even if your protagonist isn't blind, it's a powerful exercise to pretend she/he is just as an exercise. When you are forced to describe everything by sound, scent, touch and taste and can't use sight at all, it actually deepens your descriptions and makes them much stronger. The descriptions in this book were vivid and transporting, like I could almost put my hand through the page and touch the things Marie-Laure touched.

2) A description "flipped" can have a powerful impact. Here's an example of Marie-Laure's father observing German and Allied planes fighting in the sky: a moment of disorientation, he feel's that he's looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloodshot water, and the sky has become the sea, and the airplanes are hungry fish, harrying their prey in the dark.

3) Take a natural phenomena and transpose it upon a traumatic event for another powerful description:

The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city... and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots...the ramparts crumbling, streets leaking away, block-long mansions falling like toys.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Girl At Midnight

A book that promises mythical creatures always makes me prick my ears, and The Girl at Midnight   (debut young adult fantasy), by Melissa Gray, had a really unique take on the firebird legend. 

The firebird doesn't actually show up, or any other true mythical creatures, but instead you get two magical sort of half-human races, one descended from dragons and one half-human, half-bird, each person with some similarities to different kinds of bird (owls, peacocks, ravens, etc). The two races, the Drakarn and the Avicen, live on the edges of contemporary society, hidden by their magic. And they are at war with each other. In the middle between them is Echo, a potential bridge to peace, a young human girl. The girl at midnight. 
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)

It's wonderful when you have so many things you love in a book that you start numbering them because you're so excited to see how high your numbers will go: 

1) A secret room in the New York City Public library where Echo lives and hoards books. 

2) Echo's whip-smart but vulnerable character: "she had the unflappable compsure of those who have lived too long in too short a span of time"

3) the interesting use of travel via the "in-between"

4) The collection of foreign words that don't have equivalent meanings in English (but should). "Kalverliefde. The euphoria you experience when you fall in love for the first time. For a word that contained only four letters, love felt like a monumental leap"

5) Wonderful characterization! "Echo did not giggle. She chuckled. She cackled. Occasionally, she even chortled. But giggling? Heavens, no." 

6) Laugh out loud moments! "If her hormones had a face, she would slap it"

7) A Lord of the Rings reference! "Greatness is not always good." "Yeah, yeah, one ring to trule them all, I get it"

8) Real life truth for teens. Actually, great advice for any age. "The young always think they are invincible. Right up to the moment they learn otherwise. Usually, the hard way" "To know the truth, you must first want the truth"

9) a delicious new mythology developed out of the real Serbian mythology of the Ala, a female spirit associated with bad weather, sometimes seen as a raven, whose traditional enemy is the dragon. 

10) The clever reimagining of the firebird as the only possible bridge for peace between two warring mythical races: the bird-like Avicen and the fire-breathing dragon-descended Drakhar. 

11) the symbolism of the magpie and the mirror!

"They make excellent thieves, you know."
There was something unbearably sad about him. For a brief moment she saw the person he might have been long ago, before the war had taken its toll. "They're smart, too... they are the only birds that pass the mirror test... The humble magpie is the only bird that can recognize it's own reflection."

12) the hints about Echo's name. "The firebird?" Yes. The word held an echo, as though it were spoken by many voices at once.

13) masks and the past: "just because it's in the past doesn't mean its over"

14) an epic betrayal

15) An interesting collection of settings, from delicious but too-short moments in Scotland and Kyoto, to Strasbourg (needed more of that, too), followed by the Black Forest in Germany. I've decided I love fantasy settings even more when they are intermixed with with real settings that I might have the opportunity to visit someday.

Though the book is a respectable 360 pages, I wish it could have been longer. I dearly wanted to see more of the marvelous settings and characters (definitely want more of the Ala!) Perrin was developed so well I thought he would be critical to the story, but he had only one early-on scene! 

I thought all the characters were memorable (even Ruby), and I wanted to see more of them; I wanted this to be an EPIC fantasy cast. I wanted more back story! More history! More world-building! I got fantastic HINTS of all this, but I wanted MOOOORRREEE; and not as a sequel. Sequels give you more, yes, but what I mean is I wanted THIS book to give me more. I still felt an itch when it finished. 

Many reviewers have compared it to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I definitely see the same appeal. The parallels between the stories didn't bother me; I don't think The Midnight Girl was a copy cat, but it didn't quite have the same depth as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. However I think it will appeal to readers who want more action and less description and introspection. I've only read one of Cassandra Clare's books but my gut feeling is it will appeal more to her fans than to Laini Taylor's. 

Disclosure: there is some kissing in this book and sexual innuendo but no sex. There are two male side characters that become romantically involved. 

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the free advance copy. It did not influence my review in anyway.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A moment that will someday appear in a story

Writers have these moments (not often enough) in life where something happens that we're like, Oh oh oh I am sooooo going to use this in a story someday!

This little moment is not clever or exciting, it's just a tiny slice of life with no rising action or dark moment of the soul, but it was rare and strange and beautiful, so I just have to share it.

Last Wednesday I was sitting in my office at work, the third floor of a University of Wyoming building, trying to puzzle out some web mapping code and trying to not be distracted by the Army ROTC unit doing drills outside my window, when a hauntingly lovely sound came floating up from some part of the building.

I work in the Agriculture building. I used to believe it was inhabitated by gnomes (there's another story about that), but I think they have departed due to some unspecified University policy, so there is nothing haunting about my building, unless you count the insect lab in the basement and the collection of butterflies pinned in a case.

Nothing ever exciting has even happened in my building, either, unless you count when students pull fire alarms to get out of taking exams.

So I was quite startled by the etheral sound suddenly wafting through the halls.  A violin playing.

Possibly just a recording someone was playing in a classroom? We are long way away from the Fine Arts building where an actual violin player might be found.  But I couldn't resist. I headed out of my office to track down the lovely sound.

Down the second floor; nothing there. Down to the first floor. Oh yes, getting closer.

If this was a recording, it was very impressive. I have NEVER HEARD SUCH A LOVELY SOUND. I had no idea the acoustics in this building were so amazing. (Actually, I did know it had impressive acoustics. You don't dare have a conversation on your cell phone in any of the halls; every word can be heard from adjoining classrooms and offices. Eerie acoustics. Might be the gnomes again).

I poked my head around a corner and discovered a girl reading flyers on a bulletin board. She has long hair, 5 inch heels, and a short skirt. While reading, she played this haunting melody on a violin.

Not just any violin. I have never heard such beautiful sound. I have been to violin concerts in fine auditoriums. I have endured two years of my daughter practicing the violin (wait. that is not a good example). We have had several impressive violinists who have done solos at our church.

One of the church soloists sometimes sits for me during summer when the girls are home a lot more. She is 15 years old, and has a rare form of macular degeneration which means she can only read if she holds a paper within an inch of her face. She will never be able to drive a car. (Side note: she is the most amazing teenager I have ever met: creative, smart, loves history, scorns other sitters who just play on their smart phones when they are supposed to be sitting kids. She doesn't just play with my kids, she INVENTS games for my kids).

She is saving up money to buy a really good violin; one that will cost her over $10,000.  I totally applaud her goal and wish I could give her a raise so she can buy this violin sooner, though I'm already impressed with the $2000 one she plays now (I fully admit I don't have a discerning ear for fine instruments).

Back to this random violin-playing girl in the Agriculture building, reading flyers on the wall while producing this heavenly sound.

She was an amazing violinist, and her violin must have been of the $10k or better variety, because I have never heard such beautiful sounds. It is was if a violin was a living creature singing. A fairy dancing inside the wood, weaving strands of musical gold from straw (or rather, from agricultural building molecules) like the miller's daughter in the Rumpelstilskin fairytale.

I stood in the stair well (out of sight) just listening, drinking it in, this unexpected, out of place moment. This is something you'd expect to happen in Paris, maybe. Or at least in the Fine Arts building.

Not in the building where I work.

So while I'm standing in the stair well with a goofy grin on my face, an agitated lady stomps down the hall and I had this terrible premonition that she was going to accost the violin girl and ask her to stop because she's disrupting a class or, heaven forbid, distracting an accountant trying to balance a grant budget. I almost tried to stop her before she stopped the violinist, but I head back up to my own floor (because I'm hopelessly non-confrontational).

A few moments later the loveliness ends.

But for the next few days, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Even if I never find a story to write this semi-magical moment into someday as scene, at least I have captured it here. And at last I have heard a violin worth paying $10k, maybe even $100k for. I have heard somthing in an entirely new way, in an unexpected place. A gift.

Did you catch that viral video of a meterologist who caught thundersnow on video? Apparently thundersnow is a very rare (and complicated) weather phenomeon and this guy had waited his whole life to see it (or he was just super excited to have finally caught it on video).  I think it is absolutely wonderful how our world is peppered with events like these, discovering the purest violin music in the most ordinary place, or catching thundersnow on video and then dancing around cheering like mad.

I love capturing these moments in my writing. It reminds of the truth of one of my favorite writing quotes: "We write to taste life twice."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten favorite quotes (at least for the moment)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is about your favorite quotes from books.  Also, for the writers, Adam Gaylord is doing a Writer's Tip Tuesday and this Tuesday I have a guest post!

My quotes are about happiness, seeing in new ways, love of books (of course!), questions for which there are no answer, faith, and creativity.

And then there's a few quotes on falling in love, the deeper love that comes much longer after the falling in love stage, and a love that you grow into instead of falling into. 

1. What does happiness feel like?

“Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star.” from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

2. Seeing in a new way

“These human eyes seemed weak to me at first," said Eskar, still staring away from me, scratching her short black hair. "They detect fewer colors and have terrible resolution, but they see things dragon eyes cannot. They can see beyond surfaces. I don't understand how that's possible, but it happened incrementally as I traveled with Orma: I began to see the inside of him. His questioning and gentle nature. His conviction. I'd glimpse it in something as incongruous as his hand holding a teacup, or his eyes when he spoke of you.” from Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

3, Love of books (and libraries!)

“Libraries really are wonderful. They're better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”  from Among Others, by Jo Walton

4. Unanswerable questions in life

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”   from The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin

5. Faith, and doubt

“He said that doubt provided contour to faith, like shading in a drawing, that it allowed you to see what was really there.” from The Opposite of Hallelujah, by Anna Jarzab

6. Faith, and God's calling

“The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” from Kisses From Katie, by Katie J. Davis

7. Creativity

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  from Ray Bradbury's book on writing

8. Falling in love

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”  from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9.  Growing into love

“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”  from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

10. The deeper love that comes from time

“They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things-if love can ever be called that.”  from Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Bonus quote - this one is a bit long, but I love this one because it captures the frustration of the artist (or the writer, in my case): our desire to create something perfect and beautiful and how we always fall short, but the falling short is itself a beautiful thing for how to draws us onward, ever onward, to keep creating.

“This was not the perfect work that had existed in her mind. It was only the imperfect rendering that was the best her skill could manage. Yet Giulia was not dismayed. For she knew that she would try again – and again, and again, for as long as it took to gain the experience, the judgment, the understanding to get it right. And perhaps she never would get it right. Perhaps she would never attain that flawless blue, never create that perfect image, never find the ultimate point of balance between what she could accomplish an what she could dream. Yet wasn’t that the point? To be drawn onward, ever onward, in pursuit of your deepest passion? To look back at the end fo the race and knew that you had never done less than the most you could do?”  from Color Song, by Victoria Strauss

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent writing tidbits

Here's a few things that I've been collecting on the writing front, while revising my novel yet again based on feedback from agents, and working up the courage to send out queries again.

Every writer needs someone like this to cheer their book on: 

Tadashi, from Big Hero Six

This was posted by Leatrice McKinney. I'm reposting it so I can re-read it again and again when I'm feeling doubtful about another rejection:
I am grateful for my rejections.
I'm sure that's a strange thing to read, it certainly is a strange thing to say, but it's true. And I didn't really realize it until today.
I'm looking over the current version of my manuscript, comparing it to the version I queried in the beginning. My story is so much better, richer, fuller, enticing. It's been through I don't know how many bits of agent feedback, from rejection letters. It's now been through some editor feedback as I get those rejections. Without all of the no's and the reasons why, my story wouldn't be half what it is right now.
With each rejection Alice's tale gets better and better. When she finally hits the shelves, she'll be so much more than what she was. I want to put the best book possible out there, and it's taken me all this time to realize that without those rejections my story wouldn't be near half what it is now.

This was just posted by Martina Boone (author of Compulsion), on the connection between setting and memory (I think this will be my writing exercise this week):
Based on who they are and their individual experiences, each character is going to see the setting in different ways, and the objects and aspects within the setting will raise memories from their lives. Giving thought to those connections and varying perspectives within a setting will, in turn, help you create the fine details that bring the setting to life. 
  • Sounds, smells, objects within the setting that trigger particular memories
  • Attitudes toward the setting and objects within It that tell us about that character
  • Ways of describing the setting and the objects in it that reveal how the character’s are changing as the story develops

This is what I'm reading right now, The Girl At Midnight, and it's doing that wonderful magic of whisking me away to another imaginative world, and firing up my own imagination at the same time, making my fingers itch to keep writing and to keep making my writing better.
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)

Here's the premise: Echo lives in a secret room inside of the New York City Public Library...  until she's sent on a quest to find the Firebird, the only hope of bringing peace between two warring magical races, the bird-like Avicen and the dragon-like Drakharin. A new twist on the Firebird mythology, bird and dragon. 

I've already highlighted a tons of wonderful quotes from this book, mostly delicious characterizations and great snippets of dialogue, and some scary-good world-building. Echo is an interesting mix of youthful bravado, well-read brilliance, and orphaned/not-fitting-in-anywhere sadness.

"she had the unflappable compsure of those who have lived too long in too short a span of time" 
"Kalverliefde, Echo thought [she collects odd words that describe powerful moments] The euphoria you experience when you fall in love for the first time. For a word that contained only four letters, love felt like a monumental leap" 
"Echo did not giggle. She chuckled. She cackled. Occasionally, she even chortled. But giggling? Heavens, no." 
"If her hormones had a face, she would slap it" 
"Greatness is not always good." "Yeah, yeah, one ring to trule them all, I get it" 
"The young always think they are invincible. Right up to the moment they learn otherwise. Usually, the hard way" 

Sorry for the fangirling episode!

May this day be a day of great writing and outrageous dreaming up of ideas, and happy reading for all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure writer: challenged by the unexpected

Something I've been noticing lately with examples of writing that catch my attention are the scenarios where a character does something unexpected, or something happens unexpectedly.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
For instance, I read a great first chapter from a friend in our writer's group where her character felt compelled to buy a desert jackal for sale at market. He thinks he feels some sort of bond with the critter, but after the purchase the jackal bites him and runs away.

What? I did not expect that. But I sympathized with the character more after that event.

Perhaps in subconcious response to reading that, or in subconscious reaction to the new Cinderella movie, I was daydreaming the other day and a story idea popped into my head where a girl and a prince meet, and it's not love at first sight. It's hate at first sight. I wanted to find out why they hated each other, and I wanted to see how that hate could be overcome. So much more intriguing.

I also just finished reading a book where the main character always said something in conversations that I didn't expect.  It made her fascinating.

It's hard to write this way. Of course it's natural to write what first comes to mind, but it's a good exercise to force myself to delete the first thing that comes out, and come up with an unexpected thing.

It takes a lot longer. It means long pauses in my writing, while I'm casting about for ideas. And the first few attempts at "unexpected" are lame, but then the next day at some random moment I'll think of something unexpected that makes me smile, something that fits in a perfectly unsettling sort of way.

We writers are twisted sorts of creatures, aren't we?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday - can I be a kid again?

Sometimes I look at all the time my young girls have to be creative - whether it's drawing or knitting or imaginary play or even a little writing, and I want to be a kid again with all that time to dabble in different things. Right now any free moment I can wrangle out of my schedule is devoted either to writing or reading in order to learn and make myself a better writer (yes, also for entertainment and relaxation). When I was a kid and teeanger, I used to draw like crazy, but I haven't attempted anything other than hearts and stars as little added flourishes in cards since about 12 years when I hand illustrated a little book for my toddler.
me at about age 3 being creative
The sitter for my girls for the past 8 years (!!!) had her last day with the girls yesterday, before moving to California. I wanted to give her a special going away present. For some reason, my fingers itched to draw again, so I sketched her sitting with my four girls based on a photograph. It was far from perfect but it felt so good to create something in a different media I usually create in.

Which led me to the ongoing frustration I deal with: not having enough time for creative outlets like this. I firmly believe that "I don't have enough time" is a poor excuse; if something is important to you, you make time. I have certain times blocked out where nothing less than an emergency (like a life threatening emergency) will take precedent over the sacred writing time, but I wish I could block out more hours a week for other creative outlets. But there's the job, and home schooling the girls, getting the four of them to their various after school activities, spending time with my husband so our marriage doesn't go sour, and as my parents are aging I'm having to help them more and more.

Right now I'm facing a huge choice: whether or not to go back to work full time and putting the girls back into public school. I love home schooling them but financially we could use the boost.

This decision is tearing me apart. Besides the advantages of getting to spend so much quality time with my kids and give them an individualized and more one-on-one education, another side benefit of the home school paradigm is that they have so much more creative time than they would in a more structured public school setting (and they love their freedom in that respect). Knowing how precious my creative time is to me, I want to give them that benefit, too. I know they'll adjust and manage just fine in a new school setting... just as I know I'll adjust to full time work again. Life requires us to adjustable.

The decision isn't made yet... sometimes it helps to journal out my conflicting feelings about things here on ye old blog.

And it always helps to be thankful, when you're facing something tough. I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity to spend so much time with my girls; I'm thankful for the full time job opportunity (I really love my job! Yay for getting paid to make maps!); most of all I'm thankful I have creative time even if it's not as much I'd like. Because I know many people don't get as much time as I get, or have more financial burdens to bear, or even face day-to-day survival concerns.

I love that life lets me be creative, and also forces me also to be adjustable... in some roundabout way that also helps the creativity, right? What we create is probably even more influenced by what life throws at us than the actual time we have for creation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dragons and half-dragons, be still my beating heart

Oh, long at last! The sequel to Seraphina has arrived! And it was so worth the wait. Never rush a good author to get a quick sequel.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Seraphina was about a girl who hides the fact she's half-dragon, in a world where an uneasy alliance between humans and dragons can be destroyed by the mere fact of her existence.

Seraphina is in my favorites list and I asked for the hardback for Christmas, with the beautiful new cover, so I could re-read it before the sequel came out.

Shadow Scale, the sequel, is about Seraphina's search for other half-dragons like herself to prevent the coming dragon war, and to find her missing dragon uncle, Orma. (I have no words to express how much I fell in love with Orma in the first book. I was desperate, DESPERATE I TELL YOU, to find out what happened to him in the sequel. And oh my did Rachel Hartman take me on a twisty, heart-rending journey.

The first half of this book was a journey through incredible world-building and a host of impressively unique half-dragons. I commend Hartman for developing each half dragon so well, so different from each other: a celebration of oddness. The second half, where the dragons return to the story, was where my heart engaged: truly I longed for the real dragons (and their cousins, the lizard-like quigutls), though I appreciated learning about the subtleties of half dragons.

I know I will re-read my favorite parts in the Tanamoot again and again, from the marvelous journey up the Omiga valley and the waterfalls, but especially with the tunnels and the quigs and Brisi (Brisi is an adolescent dragon! We get to meet dragonlings in this book! What fun!) 

And who knew that the snoring of dragons could create such harmony? Or this, that I loved so much I had to take a snapshot of while reading: 

I also enjoyed Porphyry and the feeling of really walking into a vision of Ancient Greece, except that it was different, of course, but still: the Vaskilion? The Bibliagathon? The Agogoi? It felt so Greek to me (grin). 

Eskar and Comonot were magnificent (Side note: after reading Shadow Scale, I geeked out on Rachel Hartman's blog for a while and discovered that if Rachel were to pick an actor to play any of her dragons, she'd pick William Shatner to play Comonot. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)  He's definitely that James T. Kirk  brand of bravado and boldness, moments that make you smirk, and moments when he surprises you with unexpected wisdom: 
Comonot considered. "Logic can lead to many ends, citizen. No one likes to admit that - not even your philosophers. Dragons rever its incorruptible purity, but logic will coldly lead you over a cliff. It all depends on where you begin, on first principles.

Speaking of logic, this book is chock full of philosophy, which I loved. 
“The thing about reason is that there's a geometry to it. It travels in a straight line, so that slightly different beginnings can lead you to wildly divergent endpoints.”  
“Was it probably true that reasoning beings were equal? It seemed more like a belief than a fact, even if I agreed with it. If you followed logic all the way back to its origin, did you inevitably end up at point of illogic, an article of faith?”

And not just deep philosophy, but amusing touches, as well:
The mural on the ceiling depicted Justice, Commerce, and Philosophy having an allegorical picnic of metamorphical sardines. 

The reverse love triangle between Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina and Glisselda was resolved in a bit of an unexpected way. Meanwhile, there were some Kiggs and Seraphina scenes that made a book about eccentric dragons and philosophy also heart-wrenching: 

He smiled sadly, then placed his hand around mine so we were holding the book together. "I believe that - with everything I have," he said, holding my gaze. He kissed the edge of the book because he could not kiss me. 

I loved the bits of paradox, the inside-out house, the exploration of rigid orthodoxy versus flexibile interpretation, the attempt to describe heaven along with admission that it can't possibly be describable.

There are so many more wonderful quotes from this book but I'll limit myself to one last one, an Orma quote because I love him so much. Also, Orma has romantic developments in this book! (Sort of. Dragon romance perhaps more mathematical than romantic... but still)

"Are you finding monastic history a very compelling reason to live?" 
"I'm not human," he said. "I don't require a reason to live. Living is my default condition."  
I couldn't help it; I laughed, and tears welled in my eyes. That answer was quintessentially Orma, distilled to his elemental Orma-ness

Thank you, Ms. Hartman, for persevering with this sequel; it was well worth the wait. And thank you, Random House Books, for giving me early access to it. My review was not influenced by receiving this copy

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure writer: despair and donuts

In pursuit of short term, fun writing goals this year, I've tried two different things so far, and I'm trying to come up with something different each month.  These different exercises/motivators are to A) keep me writing, of course and also B) help me fight the insecurity, the despair, the temptation to give up because the stories still need so much work. 

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 

About my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, a couple agents have said "wonderful premise! But not connecting with the characters." (One of them even pointed out why, which I really appreciated). So I made some changes and presented it to my writer's group. Again, similar feedback along the lines of "hmmmn, this has potential, but we're not connecting." Played some more with the first chapter, sent it to a critique partner. She pointed out some of the characterization that didn't work (note to self:  avoid a lot of negativity in first chapters. Negativity is a turn-off)  (Negativity is a way to produce conflict, but maybe not the best way). 

So I've been sitting at my computer for the past few days, scratching my head, poking my character, annoyed at her. "Give us something we can connect to you with!" I get an idea; I toss it around; it doesn't click. I chew my fingernails until another idea comes. Another dud. Really, does this girl have any personality? Do I have any personality? (Yikes! This is where insecurity will lead you).

So then I pick up a really good book and read the first chapter. How did they do it? How did they get me to connect with this character? How did I get hooked? I marvel at the author's brilliance! And then I crawl into a mental corner and sulk because the brilliance does not conduct itself into my writing fingers via those lovely papery published pages. The ideas I have come up with so far are decidedly non-brilliant. 

After a while, I come out of the corner and stop sulking (because it's cramped, in corners; not much of view) and try some different things. Last month I tried writing in a notebook right by my bed the moment I woke up, when my head was still all foggy from sleep. It's surprisingly easy to do this, even for a very decidedly NOT morning person like myself, because it doesn't require any thinking. Really, no thinking. Just spewing. (Maybe our dreams, our subconscious, does all the work?)

I plan to keep doing the morning writing, but I also wanted to try something new for March, too. March is a long way from November and NaNoWriMo, but I think this month I'm going to start my writing days reading a NaNoWriMo pep talk (there are probably at least 50 pep talks archived now) and maybe try something that day's peptalker suggests.  For instance, Chuck Wendig suggests "write donuts in an empty field" You know, as in when you go out to an empty parking lot and drive donuts? (if you don't know, here's a wikipedia entry on it. Wait, Wikipedia doesn't really do it justice; just read Wendig's pep talk and you'll get the idea: it's basically just - go hog wild). 

So anyway, that's my plan for fighting my insecurities this month, and to keep writing. 
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