I even finished uploading the paperback covers this morning. I had a serious mental debate about those — did it actually make sense to spend money to make the back covers of those books pretty? Since it’s only really sold online, no one sees the back cover before buying the book and I could have made my own back cover using Amazon’s cover creator. Spending money for a pretty back cover is just… well, it’s just what I did. Quixotic? Is that the word I was looking for?
Today is the 8th anniversary of the release day of A Gift of Ghosts, which inspired me to go back and read my blog from December of 2011. I have my memories of where I was at and how I was feeling, of course, but I wanted to know how they matched up with what I wrote back then.
It was unexpectedly grueling, although it shouldn’t have been. Unexpected, that is, not grueling. The grueling part should have been obvious: it was a hard time in my life, and re-reading my words brought those emotions right back to me. It was my first Christmas without my mom — she died of pancreatic cancer in five brutal weeks that summer — and my best friend was dying. I lost her in February 2012. I’d quit my job to go to grad school, so had also lost the structure, community and connection of 9-5 work, and was within five months of dropping out of school. My anxiety was sky-high — I can see it in the energy of every word I wrote.
But this is my single favorite part of my words from December 2011:
I’d love to make lots of money from my writing and be really successful, but that’s not why I started writing and that’s not why I want to continue writing. A Gift of Ghosts is out in the universe now and I need to let it go and let it find its own way and let the process work. Because I didn’t publish it to reach it a goal. I published it because I thought it was fun, and I wanted other people to have fun with me.
And that’s why I’m writing: for fun, and so that other people will have fun with me.
Over the past eight years, my life has changed dramatically, and the publishing world has changed pretty dramatically, too. But that goal was always the right goal for me — to have fun, and to hope that other people would have fun with me.
I hope you find Fen’s continuing adventures as fun as I did!
For millennia, the Sia Mara hid from humanity in magical underwater refuges. They used to have seven: now they have six.
What happened to Wai Pa?
For Fen, an orphan from the surface world and the only known survivor of the fallen refuge, the answer could mean life or death. After an unprecedented series of events, she now represents her city on the Sia Maran Great Council. But she also knows a secret — that when her mother was dying, she claimed the Val Kyr were responsible for the disaster that struck Wai Pa.
When Gaelith — gifted healer, powerful mage, anticipated future queen of Syl Var, and Fen’s friend — disappears, Fen is quick to suspect the Val Kyr. Have they kidnapped Gaelith? Do they still want to murder Fen herself? Are they planning to destroy this city, too?
And what can she do to stop them?
Does it make sense? The city names feel confusing to me, but it’s book 2, I doubt anyone’s going to be reading it who hasn’t read the first one.
And does it sound fun? The book itself is 95% fun, IMO. Although I’m not sure I’m a good judge, really. But I think it’s fun. I was tempted to add more details — about Elfie and Firefly, especially, since they are basically what she’s got to answer that final question. But I’m not sure answering the question inspires as much curiosity as ending with the question does. Decisions, decisions!
Today is either “Write a Book Description Day” or it’s “Stay Under the Covers and Feel Miserable Day.” One or the other, I haven’t decided which. Maybe it will wind up being both, but I sorta suspect that they are mutually exclusive. If I succeed in writing a book description, I won’t be miserable, and if I’m overly miserable, I probably won’t succeed in writing a book description. Chicken and egg, I think.
Anyway, my allergies have gone insane, which is making me pretty sad. I strongly suspect I need to completely eliminate dairy from my diet, which is not at all fun. I would like to somehow blame my state of being on gluten, but I can’t come up with any risk factors at all, so… well, it is what it is. Maybe I’m just sick.
Yesterday, Zelda hurt her paw. She is a stoic dog — a vet once said, “Even for her breed, this is a tough little dog,” as she patiently let herself be tortured — but she was in serious distress yesterday. Not whimpering, but holding her paw up as high as possible, not letting it touch the ground. She let me examine it pretty closely, pulling away a little but not resisting too much, and eventually I concluded that it was a fire ant bite right under her pad. I would so much rather it had been a burr. I gave her some benadryl, put some baking soda paste on it, and eventually, she mostly fell asleep but even in her sleep she was lifting her paw, trying to find a position where it wouldn’t hurt. It was not fun. I would rather be bitten by a fire ant myself than watch my dog suffer. Today should really be “Find the Fire Ant Mound and Kill Them All Dead Day” but the mere thought of that quest pushes “Stay Under the Covers” back up to the top of the list.
Last night, I was writing the book description as I fell asleep. I promised myself I would remember all the brilliant words I was writing. I don’t, of course. But I do know that I’m confronting the question of how much to explain about the Sia Mara in the description. Usually, I like very people-focused book descriptions. It’s Fen’s story, so what matters is who she is, what she’s faced with. But without the context of the Sia Mara, I’m not sure how to explain that. I’m also reminding myself that the purpose of the book description is to sell the book, not tell the story. But so far my two options for the opening lines are:
Missing, presumed… just fine?
Followed by something about Fen struggling to manage life in a magical underwater city until Gaelith disappears and Fen decides to run away to rescue her. (Basically, this is what happens in the first three chapters of the book.)
For millennia, the Sia Mara hid from humanity in magic underwater refuges. They used to have seven of them. Now they have six.
Followed by, um… something that probably gives away the plot twists of A Lonely Magic. A dilemma. But the central concern of A Precarious Magic actually is both what happened to Wai Pa (the city that fell) and whether Val Kyr (another city) will fall. Mostly it’s just fun, though. I think, anyway.
Hmm, and I guess I’m working on my book description. Go, me! But if you have thoughts on those options, or opinions about what you like and dislike in a book description, particularly what motivates you to read on, please share!
11:28 PM. First draft, done. The words “The End” written.
Not quite a sigh of satisfaction, because, you know, first draft. My ending still needs work, I’ve already got plans for some major word-chopping in the first third. But… well, pretty close to a sigh of satisfaction. And just in time to start a NaNo project tomorrow!
I was having one of those delightful, half-asleep, creative bursts of inspiration — where all the story pieces are just flowing from one interesting moment to another and it all feels fantastically fun — and then I fully woke up, and thought, “What???” I think there was a banana peel involved. I’d love to know how banana peels became so emblematic of slapstick humor. I bet it was an old movie. Because, really, how often does one slip on a banana peel? How often is there a banana peel lying in the street? Anyway, my half-asleep self was having fun, but not making a lot of sense.
Also, my half-asleep self was working on the wrong book. Bad, half-asleep self, bad. Last week, my gluten-reaction kept me from finishing APM. I wasn’t so sick that I ever fully regretted my choices — and now that it’s over, I definitely think the corned beef was worth it — but I was sick enough that writing was not happening. So it goes.
Last night, I was explaining my plans for this week — they included a lot of, “I will stare at my file, I will get discouraged, I will go do something different,” — when Greg, C’s bf, started asking me questions. It was awesome. He asked exactly the right questions to precipitate ideas. I’m not 100% of the way there, but I’m close enough that I’m hoping for great things for today and tomorrow.
While I was sick, I read the whole file again, a little bit in “first revisions” mode, ie searching for places with problems, slow parts, things that would need to be cut or have major revisions made. I wound up not marking it for any revisions at all, because I was too engrossed in the story. The beginning felt slow, but that might just be because it’s too familiar to me now, since I’ve edited it numerous times. But it made me laugh. It’s not the story I set out to write at all, but it’s definitely fun. And now I’m going to get back into it. Happy Monday!
When I set off from Allentown on Monday, my plan was to take a slow drive south, seeing the scenery along the way. I had my sights on a small National Forest campground for my first night, to be followed by a drive through Shenandoah, then more driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. With overnight stops along the way, of course. By the weekend, I’d be in North Carolina. I’d explore Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains, maybe check out the ruby mine in Cherokee, just because I liked the sapphire mine in Montana so much.
In other words, I’d be a tourist.
The only problem with this plan is that the book isn’t finished, and I really truly want to get it done.
I made it to my first destination: Little Fort Campground in the George Washington National Forest. It’s a tiny campground, only nine sites, and it has no amenities. No water, no hook-ups, no showers, no dump station, no garbage service. Also no internet access and no cell service. It’s also free, so you know, you get what you pay for.
Except not really, because it is beautiful and treed and peaceful. Not a view, exactly — it’s just a spot in the middle of a forest — but out of every window I see trees, just starting to pick up their autumn color. The campground seems to be a base point for people with ATVs, so occasionally the noise of humankind is pretty loud. But mostly it’s crickets. Literal crickets, lots and lots of them. At night, the only lights I can see are the ones created by the van and by nature. Well, and once a campfire from people across the way.
When I got here on Monday, I had my choice of three sites: one right next to the check-in board that was so tiny the van would barely squeeze in; one relatively sloped site; and one that was the nicest spot in the campground — a pull-through spot, with steps up to a level square with a picnic table, fire ring, and paved tent spot.
I feel like it would be good to explore my reservations about taking the nicest spot with a therapist sometime — really, why did I hesitate? Why did I feel like I should leave that spot to some person with a bigger camper who would need a pull-through? Why did I feel guilty, in a first-come, first-served campground, about choosing the best option of the available options? I don’t know, but I did. However, I overcame the guilt and took the good spot.
And then I stayed. Because honestly, I feel like I should see the National Parks, since I’m so close. And I feel like I should take the long scenic drives, and admire the beauty of our autumn countryside. And I feel like I should explore Asheville, a town that I’ve been told I’d love so many times.
But what I want to do is finish writing APM. So for the past two days, I’ve played with words and stared into space and eaten nice food and taken occasional brief walks with Z and enjoyed my life. Ever so much, enjoyed my life.
I’m writing this on Thursday, but you’re not going to read it on Thursday, because I have no internet access. When I went to sleep last night, I was thinking today was the day I’d drive on. Shenandoah, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc. Also internet access for checking email and messages, posting blog posts. But I’m not going to. Maybe tomorrow if I run out of water or propane or finish writing the book. (The first is possible but unlikely; the second is possible and somewhat likely; the third is highly unlikely.) Instead, I’m going to keep playing with words and appreciate the sounds of crickets.
Updated to add: propane was the deciding factor. But before I left, I had such a nice experience. I realized I was going to have to go late Thursday afternoon, while heating up some soup for dinner. I was a little bummed, but accepting. Obviously, it was still a choice: I could have stayed without propane. But I would have had to run the generator to make coffee in the morning and I am not capable of being that rude to my neighbors. No one likes being woken up by a growling gas generator when camping.
So I packed up the van so I could be ready to go first thing in the morning. Everything was stowed, I was mostly all set to go… and a late arrival drove into the campground. A truck, pulling a trailer. Not huge, but the only site in the campground that he might possibly fit into was mine. He drove in, took the loop, was making his way out, and I hopped out of the van and flagged him down. Ten minutes later, I was moved into the tiny site across the way, the one next to the check-in board, and a very happy camper — who’d been on the road for eleven hours — was settling into my site. He was grateful and the serendipity felt like the universe telling me it was time to move on. It was such nice timing.
And no, the book isn’t done. It took another unexpected turn, which… well, it’s an unexpected book, I guess. But I spent quite a bit of time wavering about this unexpected turn. A paragraph that sums up the dilemma:
“Fen fumbled for the crystal in her pocket, unable to tear her eyes away from Ghost. Clearly, she had fallen asleep and woken up in some bad B movie from the 1950s. This couldn’t possibly be real.”
Fortunately, I eventually decided that bad B movies can be highly entertaining and I might as well stick with enjoying the ride. “Still giggling” remains among my favorite reader feedback ever, after all!
The light at sunrise here is so beautiful. The moment when the sun crests the hill of trees, directly across the river from the van window, and the true light reaches the water is a moment. Not the slow change from night to day, not the slow lightening of the sky, but a specific two minute period where suddenly the van is golden and the leaves of the trees are outlined in color, a translucent bright green instead of the usual mass. The color of the light is different than at any other time. It’s not that it’s brighter, I don’t think — and actually the shadows are very long, so no, it’s not brighter, it’s a contrast between darkness and brightness, but it’s a glow. And the fog usually has its ghost tendrils dancing on the water, but they are still in shadow, so the trees and lawn are bright and green and golden, but just beyond them is misty shadowed gloom. Yeah, it’s cool as anything, and truly beautiful.
And for 30 days in a row, I’ve gotten to see it. Well, more or less, some mornings were overcast. But how do I pick the best out of all those days when they were really all very much alike? Much time spent sitting at the computer, but not at all in a bad way. I spent much of July sitting at the computer, pretty much annoyed and hating everything I was doing. This was all sitting at the computer mostly loving what I was doing. (Until the last two days which have been really terrible, frustrating, annoying writing days. More about that in a minute or two.) Some walks with the dog, although not usually very long walks. A little bit of kayaking. The occasional trip into town for groceries, propane, tank dumping, and once, a delightful meal with a friend of a friend. Some good food, although living without a kitchen sink became annoying enough that I basically moved back to van-life cooking. Quinoa bowls and sous vide protein for the win. But always a beautiful view, almost always lovely weather. Even the rainy days were nice because they were cozy in the van.
There were some days that stick out. I had my worst ever dump station experience, a true disaster, sewage everywhere. Ugh. That was not the best day. I binged on reading for a few days, accompanied by warm baths, and those were nice. That baked cod with goat cheese I made was delicious, and I had gluten-free chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream as dessert with it and that was all very satisfying, even though the cake was so-so.
But honestly, I think the best day(s) were the ones when the writing was going well. There was a day when I — realized something? Made a discovery? Had an inspiration? Well, lightning struck. I had an idea. A good idea, that once I had it seemed so damn obvious that I couldn’t believe I wasn’t heading toward that idea all along. And I’m sorry to be so convoluted in my talking about it, but I don’t want to get too spoiler-y. It’s not a twist, exactly, but it’ll be more fun if you’re as surprised by it as I was. Anyway, conveniently enough — or in one of life’s lovely coincidences — that was also the weekend when I saw the shooting star. So I’m picking the weekend of September 21-22 as my best days of the month of September 2019.
And moving on — I only have a few more days here and I really, really want to finish writing this book before my life becomes disrupting. But the last couple of days were major writing struggle. I wound up cutting out a section/plan because it was just too ambitious. Yesterday I wrote in circles for hours — literally, hundreds of words going nowhere — and finally gave up and went and took a bath. Having a bathtub available is so lovely. I’m going to miss it. But the time spent staring into space while immersed in warm water made me realize that I needed to let go of one of the ending scenes that I’d been planning all along. I was trying to get the characters there during my writing in circles, and it just wasn’t happening. So I’m hoping for better things for today’s words — at least I can see where I shouldn’t be going now — but I’m feeling anxious and stressed about whether I can actually finish this. I have to remind myself that endings are always a challenge, always hard for me, but I so, so, so don’t want this to turn into another Grace. Word by word, right? One at a time, that’s all it takes. In terms of actual word count goals, I’ve hit them — if it was just a numbers game, I could call the story done. Alas, readers rather like conclusions (as do I), so somehow I have to get there. Time to get started on that!
I bought cheap coffee at the grocery store last week.
This is not an effective cost-cutting measure.
I should do the math — I saved probably a total of $6, which earned me deep crankiness three mornings in a row and, if I keep drinking it, will earn me deep crankiness probably another 40 or 50 mornings in a row. Mornings shouldn’t begin with the thought, “This is bad coffee,” followed by, “This really tastes terrible,” followed by, “What is wrong with this, was there soap in my water?” Followed by a slew of other thoughts, all of them same ilk, all leading to a general sense of deep dissatisfaction as I head into my day.
So my $6 saved is a very, very expensive $6 earned. Coffee = small pleasure = worth investing a few extra pennies in. Although the coffee shop $5 latte has definitely became a rare treat in my life, because that’s too expensive. An extra fifteen cents a cup, definitely worth it. An extra $4 a cup, definitely not. Except during gingerbread latte season, which is coming up soon, yay!
In actual news, I’m still house-sitting in Maine, still loving it, still doing absolutely nothing except writing and reading and taking Z for the occasional walk. I think, “Freeport, fish store, lobsters, botanical gardens, hiking trails, kayaking…” on a regular basis and then I think “maybe tomorrow,” and turn my attention back to my computer. “Maybe when Fen is done,” is probably the real answer. I do have to try to get to the grocery store today, though, because my food supply is down to rice, quinoa, salad greens and sauerkraut. Oh, and some leftover lemon-garlic mussels over rice noodles, which I will probably have for lunch. And an apple. I always have an emergency apple available.
I did go kayaking one morning this week. It was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. This is how beautiful it is: that’s the view from the end of the driveway. The entry point to the water is right by that white chair.
I’m surprised I’m not in that kayak every single day, but I try to hit my word count first and then it’s low tide and muddy and then it’s going on toward evening. So it goes — three kayak outings in three weeks is still a lot more than my usual average.
Speaking of word count, though, I should get back to those words. But here’s a snippet, spoiler-free…
What could she do with a little, a very little, pure magic?
She opened her fingers again and gazed at it. A key to a door? A tiny bird, like the invitation she’d received in Syl Var, that they could use to send a message to Kaio and Gaelith? Healing energy to repair the damage if Luke burned himself?
No, none of those.
“Be a knife,” she said to the magic, picturing a blade of energy, like a miniature light saber. The blue rose from her palm, uncoiling, and shaped itself into a thin straight line, much more stiletto than saber, perfectly balanced on her palm. It quivered and she held very still.
The blade she’d imagined was a lethal wire of light. She would much prefer not to lose any fingers to it.
But I spent far too long working on a sensible way to share a preview of A Precarious Magic, the long-awaited sequel to A Lonely Magic this afternoon. It was probably not a good use of my time.
That said, I’d already hit my word count for the day, so I could have been playing some silly iPad game. (My latest is Homescapes.) What I truly should have been doing was kayaking, but the tide was very low so I would have needed to wade out through quite a bit of mud to get the kayak into the water and that did not seem very appealing.
I hope you enjoy it and it makes you want to read more! It hasn’t actually been edited yet — well, except by me — so if you spot any mistakes, feel free to let me know. Don’t feel obligated, though. I will probably catch them in one of my innumerable editing passes, starting in October. Or maybe November.
You will note that there is absolutely no description on the link. I’m going to guess that writing the book blurb on this one will take me days of hair-pulling misery. Book descriptions are hard to write and this one — well, I’ll figure it out when I get there. Fortunately, I’m not there yet so that’s a problem for another day.
In the meantime, I’m having a delightful time with the actual writing. I said to a neighbor here back at the beginning of September that the end game is always like finishing a jigsaw puzzle when you have room for twenty pieces but there are fifty pieces left. Well, my fifty pieces are all slotting themselves into place quite nicely. I would honestly think I’d planned it instead of just discovering it as I wrote.
I am also loving Maine. It is crazily beautiful where I am. The night sky is so gorgeous — lots of stars to see, not hidden behind light pollution. I even saw a shooting star Saturday night, which always feels magical. The leaves are all falling now and when the wind blows, they skitter across the pavement like some musical instrument you’ve never heard of. The trees across the river that were a block of green three weeks ago are now scattered with color — still mostly green but with bursts of deep red and yellow, and on my walks, I spot other leaves in scarlet and bright orange. The air feels clean, the water tastes clean… it’s lovely here. And this weekend was toasty warm, which was nice for me — I was starting to get a little worried last week that it would get cold before I finished writing. I don’t think that’s going to happen now, but I’m definitely starting to plan my trip south.
I keep trying to take a good picture, but none of them reflect what I’m seeing. Maybe it’s just impossible to capture the light, the air, the sound of the leaves, the colors. But here’s a panorama from the door of the van.
This morning, Barbara and I were on our way to the Y (for my first yoga class in months & her regular morning routine) when we passed her seafood store. Earlier I had suggested sous vide chicken breast for dinner later this week, but when we drove by the seafood market, I told her I’d realized that was a stupid idea. If I’m in a place where I can have good fish, I’d much rather have good fish. And Rockport has really good fish. Also, Barbara is a really, really good cook, which is an excellent combination.
But we then talked briefly about what we’d eaten and it made me want to remember all of the meals she’s made, so this is going to be a food post. Consider yourself warned.
On Tuesday we had grilled swordfish, quinoa salad, and a leafy green salad. On Wednesday, she had friends and family over and we ate grilled lamb, corn on the cob, and a fantastic rice salad made with jasmine and wild rice and lots of lemon. On Thursday, we had halibut steamed over fennel fronds, served on rice noodles with a watermelon, fennel and arugula salad. Friday was chicken apple sausage over greens and cucumbers, with a mango medley (somewhere between a salad and a salsa) of mango, avocado, red onion, jalapeño, corn, tomatoes, and lime juice, plus the leftover rice salad. On Saturday, we ate striped bass, seared then baked with lemon zest, salt and pepper, plus a summer salad with all the veggies, sliced tomatoes with cilantro, and more corn on the cob. Sunday was leftovers for me, dinner out for Barbara, but today will be quinoa bowls with sous vide steak, red onion, heirloom tomatoes, roasted beets, and more corn on the cob. And I have now officially made myself hungry. I hope I’ve done the same to you! (I might have mixed up a couple of my days, but that seems irrelevant to the memories.)
Apart from food, most of my Rockport adventures have revolved around my computer, although we’ve gone on some nice walks. In other words, not particularly adventurous. But my keyboard had been dying for a long time and when I was in Maine, it hit the point where it simply wasn’t realistic for work anymore. Still fine for browsing the web and playing solitaire, but it’s really tough to write without an E key. I bit the bullet and ordered a new one, and I’ve spent the past couple days moving files around, searching for passwords, organizing bookmarks and so on. Many hours of the “so on” yesterday was going through old photos, trying to limit the number moving to the new computer, so I didn’t immediately fill the drive. My big revelation from that is that I’ve seen an extraordinary number of gorgeous sunrises in the past couple of years.
But much to my puzzled dismay, many of my pictures say that they were created on September 19, 2017. I know for a fact that I did not spend that day taking 3000+ photos of different sunrises, but whatever I did do that day overwrote the original information on the photos. That means I look at those sunrises and think… um, North Carolina? Nova Scotia? Florida? Texas? Maybe?? I could figure it out easily enough by going back to the original photo library but since it would be far better for my life to get on with writing a book instead, I’m not going to. I’m just going to enjoy all those pretty mornings and be glad I took photos of them so I could be reminded of them, even if I don’t quite remember the details.
And now it’s time to get on with writing a book. I started working on Friday and wound up back in the revising stage — redoing the first chapter of Fen’s Book Two yet again — but yesterday I was feeling reasonably pleased with that chapter. A little work on chapter two, and I hope I will finally be able to get back to the end game. I’m getting close, really!