Writing talk December 12!

I’m very excited to share a wonderful upcoming event. In a couple of weeks, on Monday December 12, at 5 pm EST, I’ll be giving a Zoom talk with my friend and colleague Dr. Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. Julia and I have both recently had books published: her hybrid collection The Mortality Shot is her first, and Fourteen Stones is my second.

Our books are very different, but Julia and I have a lot in common. Both of us came to writing “sideways,” as we call it, from other fields. We’ve gone at it in non-traditional ways; neither of us has an MFA, and we both work with indie presses and have found unique paths to publication. We’ve engaged a lot with questions and challenges relating to mental health. As middle-aged women, we’ve found ourselves navigating that tricky period in midlife where the sense of self can shift, and we run up against a real sense of our own mortality (Covid of course contributed to that a lot).

In our talk, we’ll share readings from our books, and talk about our experiences of the writing life and how our work as writers has been shaped by the other circumstances we have in common. As the publishing world continues to change, growing in some ways and contracting in others (especially with respect to traditional “big press” publishing), we think it’s important to highlight the many ways one can build a writing life, and emphasize the idea that there’s no single “right way.”

Because of that, we’re calling our talk “How Not to Get There Directly.” We think there’s a lot to be said for the roundabout, adventurous kind of path that lets you see a lot of the world. We hope you’ll join us on Zoom on Monday 12/12 at 5 pm EST!

Registration is free but required. To sign up, please click here. When you come, please also bring any questions you have; we’ll have an open-ended Q & A period at the end of the session. See you then!

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Update! Bookish Stuff

The blog has been quiet for the past couple of weeks…life… 😉 But I’m excited to share two upcoming Fourteen Stones events with you.

The paperbacks are printed! My publisher will be sending out the preordered copies and other crowdfunder rewards soon. (I can’t wait to get my hands on my box of books. There will be cheering and dancing around.)

Printer’s proof. My publisher sent me this pic. I want to hug it.

Meanwhile, for my local Baltimore folks: tomorrow, Wednesday 11/9, I’ll be giving a mini-writing workshop and a reading from Fourteen Stones at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. Join us at 7 pm EST for a great evening! Each attendee will also receive a free excerpt from Fourteen Stones, and there’ll be information on how to order copies for folks who are interested.

Boxes of books ready to head into the world…

My joint Zoom event with writing colleague and friend Julia Lee Barclay-Morton has been postponed due to general busyness, but we’re very excited to talk books, publishing, and the writing life in general on Monday, December 12, at 5 pm EST. Please join us for readings from her brilliant hybrid collection The Mortality Shot and from Fourteen Stones, and for conversation about our unorthodox paths as writers, how we’ve navigated midlife career shifts, and how we’ve found our indie-publishing homes. Q&A will follow the discussion. Please register at this link.

Coming soon!!

As my book heads into the world, I am so excited for the story that was such a huge part of my life and imagination to take wing and take on a life of its own. Please stay tuned for more Fourteen Stones updates and events, and consider subscribing to the blog if you haven’t yet. As always, thank you for visiting!

Upcoming Events!

This week I interrupt our Tuesday Creativity series to mention a couple of upcoming events…but the first one is also a creative boost, so that counts. 😉

  1. Free workshop!

Next Monday, October 24, at 6 pm EST, I’m giving a FREE workshop on Zoom: “Writing with Musical Inspiration.” This fun, no-stress workshop uses musical prompts as a springboard for writerly creativity. It also offers a taste of the multi-week workshop I offer in partnership with Tiferet Journal. If you could use a dash of inspiration, this free session is for you! Writers of all experience levels and styles welcome. To sign up and reserve your spot, click here.

2. Book event!

Monday November 14, at 6 pm EST, my friend and colleague Julia Lee Barclay-Morton and I will offer a talk on Zoom: “How Not to Get There Directly,” about our newly-published books and our unusual paths in writing and publication. Join us for readings from Julia’s fascinating collection The Mortality Shot and my brand-new Fourteen Stones, discussion about our unique paths as writers, and a Q & A session. I’ll be posting more about this event and our books as it gets closer. To sign up, click here.

Hope to see you at one or both events! Stop back next Tuesday for another installment of Tuesday Creativity. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!

We Made It!!

The Fourteen Stones crowdfunder hit its target this morning. Thank you so much to everyone who helped us across the line! My book goes to print very soon: it’s going to be a real book, out in the world. I might be crying a bit right now. 🙂

It’s going to be a real book! Very soon!

I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t help saying it again: this novel means the world to me. I feel very lucky to have found a publisher who loves it as I do. You can listen here to an interview I did last week with Jax Goss, the “dog’s body,” as she says, of The Patchwork Raven. We talked about the inside scoop on my book’s creation, our favorite things about it, and what makes it a mold-breaker in fantasy writing. When Jax asked me what I’d most like folks to know about it – a tough question, when there’s so much! – what stood out most for me was the joy I felt crafting the fictional world, getting to know its people, and stepping into that space every time I sat down to work. I would love for people to share that with me, to visit my beloved Namora and Lassar, maybe to fall in love with the characters the way I did.

Mountains in Asturias, northwestern Spain; this area inspired my country Namora.

Thank you again to everyone who pledged and preordered and supported me and The Patchwork Raven in making this dream a reality. There’s still time to preorder a copy or e-copy, if you’d like: the crowdfunder runs through tomorrow, Wednesday August 31, at 8 pm EST. You definitely don’t want to miss out on this book. 🙂

An excerpt from Chapter 2, introducing my favorite character.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Bonus post: Book Talk and Mood Music

We’re in the homestretch of the crowdfunder for the launch of my novel Fourteen Stones: only five more days! My publisher has put some cool new rewards up in the PledgeMe campaign, and I’d like to offer a little “bonus” too.

Last night, my publisher and I did a live interview, which was so much fun. We talked about the story, and what makes it a different kind of fantasy; and the characters, and worldbuilding, and favorite scenes and most difficult scenes to write. We also got some wonderful questions from the audience. Check out our talk here!

One of the questions we got was about whether/how I used music in the story. While music isn’t mentioned a lot in Fourteen Stones, it definitely supported and inspired the writing process. Yesterday it struck me that some of my favorite piano pieces also work really well as “snapshots” of my four main characters, so I thought I’d share them, for fun. I won’t say too much about the characters (for that, you’ll need to check out the book! 😉 ), but the moods of these pieces fit them well.

My youngest character, a sixteen-year-old girl named Khari, whose unusual skill in reading dreams is both a gift and a great burden.

Valdena Filtraikas, a woman who finds herself in a position of power that she didn’t choose or want, and must choose how she will meet the challenge.

Bereg Orlon, a career soldier on the point of retirement, who is issued orders he knows are wrong; but disobeying them would make him a traitor and would cost him everything he cares about.

My favorite character, Ribas Silvaikas: a priest with an extraordinary skill, great strength and compassion, a chronic illness that presents a constant threat, and a core stubbornness that shapes everything he does.

If you’ve enjoyed these pieces and would like to know more about the story, please do check out the Fourteen Stones crowdfunder. We’ll need all pledges and preorders by Wednesday August 31 at 8 pm EST, so if you’d like to get your book, e-book, or other rewards, please place your order today!

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Launching and Looking Back

Today is the beginning of Fourteen Stones‘s Special Launch Week. My publisher is having a week-long online launch party, and we’re also going into the last week of our crowdfunder – which means if you’d like to get your own copy, now is the perfect time. 🙂

That was my little commercial. The rest of this post wants to go in a different direction.

Launching a book is a weird experience. It’s what we hope for and dream about through the long process of writing, and especially submitting the manuscript – but when you get there, you realize it’s also an ending. That part is hard.

Very soon, my project, and the people who inhabit it and whom I’ve come to know and love, won’t be just mine anymore. They will go out into the world and meet other people who will have their own responses to them, put their own spin on this work of my imagination. I don’t know what Fourteen Stones‘s readers will think of the story. I hope they’ll find something to love in it, because I can’t begin to say what it’s meant to me.

At endings, we often look back and think about what we’d like to remember. Here’s what I’ll remember about this particular journey, which started seven years ago.

1 – Visiting Spain in the summer of 2015: crossing the Atlantic for the first time, and once on the other side, feeling as if the ground I stood on wanted to drop out from under my feet. It was so very strange to be on the far side – the “wrong” side – of that ocean. During those first couple of disoriented and yes, panicky days, I didn’t know I’d come home with a story that would reshape things for me.

At Las Fragas de Eume, in Galicia, Spain’s northwest corner

2 – That scenery. Northwestern Spain, its coasts and villages and mountains, provided the foundation for the world of Fourteen Stones. I would never have imagined Namora, my favorite fictional country, without the inspiration of those hikes in Asturias. (“This is the trail? But it goes straight up! And look at all these rocks!!” It was gorgeous, but I will vouch, it put my hiking skills to the test. ;)) I wouldn’t have met my favorite character, a Namoran priest named Ribas Silvaikas, if I hadn’t had the chance to visit churches that dated back a thousand years, where the walls were infused with history and devotion and centuries of prayer. I wouldn’t have imagined a girl whose humanity challenged her world, and laid the foundations of a religious faith, if I hadn’t seen the remnants of Iron Age villages, and felt the most profound sense of home I’ve ever experienced.

Rugged scenery at Covadonga Lakes, Asturias.

3 – (continuing from the above) The northwestern Spanish coast. I will remember the turquoise water, the pebbly sand, the scatterings of sea glass: blue and green and white. I’ll remember the clear tidal pools with their rainbows of crawling and swimming inhabitants. I’ll remember the fishing boats at Noia and the harbor at Cudillero, a town of brilliantly-colored, clay-roofed houses clustering on the hillsides. Cudillero was the model for Namora’s capital city, Sostavi, and I hope to get back to it someday.

On the hills above San Andres de Teixido, Galicia. That ocean!

4 – The writing. I’ll remember that first (awful) draft, written in a whirlwind of excitement after my husband and I came home from our trip. I thought I knew what I was doing and what the story was meant to be. I was completely wrong, but those few months were full of joy.

5 – The rewriting. After a couple of years, in which I learned a lot more about writing and saw the publication of my first book, I came back to the draft I’d called From the Circle House and gave it another look. This time, I could see the holes and messes, but there was a seed there, too. Another year of brainstorming gave me enough of a foundation to try again. The second time was much harder, but worth every moment. That was when Fourteen Stones took shape.

For the past four years, I’ve kept the maps of my fictional countries Namora and Lassar up over my desk, along with my floor plan for a Circle House, one of the most important places in the story. Now I have artist’s renderings of both the maps and the Circle House, turning those figments of my imagination into real places. It’s astonishing.

My Namora, as a real place…

I can’t wait until I’ll get to hold a copy of the actual book. That’s always the best part, and the scariest too. Now it’s real. Now it’s done. My novel takes flight very soon. I hope it’ll have a beautiful journey, and that its readers will too. Most of all, I hope that some of what I put into it, the love and dreaming, the real-world beauty that inspired the book and the fantasy-world beauty I tried to put into it, will come through on the page for the people who will share the story with me.

As always, thanks so much for visiting the blog. If you’d like to find out more about Fourteen Stones, don’t forget to check out the launch party events and the crowdfunder. Also, if you’d like a midweek creative pick-me-up, stop back tomorrow for a Maker’s Day prompt. See you next time!

My rather imperfect rendering of Isaac Albeniz’s piece “Asturias,” inspired by that region of Spain.

It’s a Real Book!

It’s getting real! Preorders are available now for my new novel Fourteen Stones, and I’m thrilled to share the cover. Will Thompson, the artist with my publisher The Patchwork Raven, did an incredible job turning a product of my imagination into a beautiful design.

Cover reveal!

The building in this picture is a Circle House. Circle Houses have tremendous significance in Namora, one of the two countries featured in the novel. They’re places of worship, and equally importantly, places for communities to gather and for people to find rest, strength, and hope. My favorite character, Ribas Silvaikas, is a priest who serves in the Circle House of his home village, Lida. From Fourteen Stones:

Back in the square [of Lida village], one building made of gray stone stood out in the cluster of white-painted shops and houses. Its shape made it unusual too: it was perfectly round, with a conical wooden roof whose point reached higher into the sky than any of the peaked tiled roofs around it.

This was Lida’s Circle House. Here, on Pirdina, the First Day of every week, all the villagers came together to worship the goddess Kenavi. No one able to leave their house would miss that tribute. Throughout the week, the House’s doors stood open from morning to night. Anyone in need of the Goddess’s guidance, or quiet time alone in the cool circle of the stone walls, might go in and set down, for a while, whatever burdens they had brought with them.

When my publisher asked if I had thoughts for the cover design, my first thought was I’m no visual artist. 😉 Then I thought it would be awesome if we could feature a Circle House, but I knew I’d never manage to draw one myself. Will Thompson was brilliant at turning the image I’ve carried in my head for years into a real depiction of the place.

This is a sketch that Will worked from: my rough drawing of Lida’s Circle House complex. The blue box shows the relevant part. Like I said, I’m no visual artist.

The Patchwork Raven is a small indie press that handles all its own production and distribution. When I first spoke with Jax Goss, who runs the press, she said she would completely understand if signing my book over to her felt “too rebellious” to me, too far away from the traditional publishing model that a lot of us writers think we have to pursue. I’ll admit, it did feel a bit like going out on a limb. But what mattered most to me was Jax’s complete support for and delight in Fourteen Stones. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this venture.

Which brings me to the “getting real” part of this post: as mentioned, preorders are now available! The Patchwork Raven is having a PledgeMe crowdfunder to support the first print run. When you pledge to the campaign, you can choose your rewards: an e-book, a print book, a package that includes artwork, and other rewards which we’ll be adding as we go. When you pledge the cost of a print or e-book, you’re preordering your copy of the book, and you’ll receive it in October.

By pledging, you’re supporting me, Fourteen Stones, and The Patchwork Raven. Indie presses are wonderful about championing their writers, giving us fair contracts, and respecting our work. They’re also an essential voice in the publishing world, where traditional presses so often go with “safe” commercial options. Indies give more voices and stories a place at the table.

Interested? Please check out the link below to visit the crowdfunder and make a pledge if you’d like. If you need a little more convincing, I’ve also included a vid of my top five reasons (only a little tongue-in-cheek 😉 ) to read this particular book. Please note: we’ll need all pledges by August 31, to hit our crowdfunder target!

Fourteen Stones crowdfunder link!

As always, thanks so much for visiting the blog. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, as well as Maker’s Day prompts every Wednesday, please consider subscribing. See you next time!

The Writing Cave

Our crowdfunder for Fourteen Stones’s launch is coming very soon! I’m so excited to share this book with you. Today, as we gear up for the start of the crowdfunder, I thought I’d share a little “virtual tour” of the place where my novel took shape.

I’m not the greatest housekeeper (in fact, if there’s a list of good housekeepers, my name is nowhere in its remotest vicinity). To put it mildly, my space is cluttered, usually chaotic, but I love it anyway.

The writing space

My writing desk, which is pretty much invisible under all the stuff, was an antique-store find ten years ago, when my husband and I moved into our house and I set up my own office for the first time. The desk is a narrow secretary with pigeonholes and a front you can close, which I never do. Here you can see the playlist up on my trusty laptop, and the pile of notes I always keep around, and in honor of Fourteen Stones, the sketches I drew four years ago when I was fleshing out my fictional world. I’ve kept those drawings up ever since, as a promise to myself that the book would be out in the world one day. (And now that day is almost here! 🙂 )

Keepsakes

I’m a huge fan of knickknacks and keepsakes. The top of my desk, and the wall above it, are repositories for some of those. The feather is a hawk feather, found on a hike my husband and I took. The top photo is one of my husband’s pictures. The gray cat in the other photo is Robin, whom we adopted as an elderly former-feral and who was my beloved companion through her last years. The lovely colorful painting was done by a friend.

View of greenery

This is the view from my office window, out at our backyard. We get lots of birds: cardinals, chickadees, wrens (we had a wren nest this year), nuthatches, titmice, finches, bluebirds, and we’ve even seen a pileated woodpecker at our suet feeder. We also often see groundhogs, and many springs have had families of baby groundhogs living under our shed. (We’ve named all groundhogs Henry, just because.)

Books and stuff

And of course, no writing room would be complete without lots of books. I do have a keyboard in my office too, which mainly came in handy for my job as a church musician, when Covid closed the church I worked at and all of our services were streamed online. I played many Zoom services on this keyboard.

More books

The smaller bookshelf on the left is devoted almost exclusively to the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. He’s one of my great heroes; I’ve read all of the Discworld novels many times. If I had to pick one favorite, it would be Night Watch, although Unseen Academicals and Going Postal are also right up there.

Hardworking assistant

And, last but very much not least, this is my co-editor Fergus. He’s the youngest of our three cats, and hangs out with me the most when I’m working. Sometimes he gets a little distracting:

Apparently it’s his chair…
…and also his keyboard.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of the “cave”! If you’d like to stay updates on all things Fourteen Stones, plus get Maker’s Day prompts each Wednesday, please consider subscribing to the blog. As always, thank you for visiting!

Song and Story

Welcome! 🙂 I hope the daily music posts here on the blog are giving you a boost, in these strange and unsettling times. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first one here.

Today’s post features (yet more?) music by Felix Mendelssohn. The first of these two Songs without Words is a new find for me, and a new favorite. It’s solemn and majestic, exploring the rich sound especially in the piano’s bass register. The second of the two Songs has actually been on the blog before (I’m stealing from myself 😉 ). This one, in E Major, is a very old favorite. I’m not positive, but I think it might be the first of the Songs without Words that I ever learned. I first played it when I was ten, the same summer that I first read Richard Adams’s Watership Down. 

Segue into personal sidebar (there is a connection, don’t worry!)… Watership Down was a life-changer for me. I remember reading it over three days, at my grandparents’ house in northeastern Pennsylvania. Total immersive magic. What Adams did with words shaped my own style immeasurably as a writer: I still owe him my love for vivid description, quiet but inexorable pacing, and an overall quality that I can best describe as gentleness: writing that is never aggressive or flashy but finds exactly the turn of words that resonates with the reader. That’s the kind of writer I try to be. Watership Down defined that summer (thirty years ago already?) and has always been linked in my mind to the E Major Song without Words. Back then, when I played that music, it wove together in my imagination with the story I had fallen in love with. It had the same deep expression, the same gentleness, and the same shifting mood between dark and light.

All of that was a very long introduction. Hope you enjoy today’s recordings. 🙂 As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

P.S. for those on Facebook: tomorrow, Saturday, 4/4, I’ll be giving a short concert via Facebook Live. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, I’d love to have you tune in on my FB page on Saturday at 7 pm, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin. (Today’s two Songs without Words will make an appearance.)

Buried Meteor

Apologies for the lack of post last week. After Tuesday went by, I thought maybe Wednesday or Thursday I would put up a late one, but then it was the end of the week and I still hadn’t gotten my act together. 😉

But I’m glad I waited, because this week’s post probably needed the extra “mental digestion” time. This week I’m thinking about my creative work: ways I’ve avoided it, and why I’ve had such a hard time getting back to it after a rough summer.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know the summer was very challenging for me, involving lots of anxiety and panic. Naturally, doing creative work under those circumstances gets to be difficult (“I can’t sit down long enough! I can’t concentrate! I can’t…”). With the start of fall, I’d hoped and planned that things would get better. Time had passed since a couple of the events that kicked off the panic. I was on a new med. Surely, I thought, come September I’d be able to turn things around and get back to my “normal” self.

The process of re-normalizing has been a lot slower than I’d hoped. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time avoiding any thoughts of my writing or what I want to do with it. More recently, I’ve been thinking about it again, and sometimes actually getting some words on the page…but it always seems like the anxiety is hovering in the background, ready to knock me down again. You’re trying that? You must be crazy. And then I’ll find something else to do instead: laundry, random errands, unnecessary baking (which has its benefits, I admit), or any other kind of busy work to get away from what scares me.

river 1

Avoidance is normal and part of the artistic life. We all know what it’s like to feel intimidated by that project we want to work on, but aren’t sure we can really do “well enough.” For me, though, it’s gone a little deeper than the usual resistance I know. It’s like when you’re clearing a piece of ground in your yard to put in a garden. You dig down and your shovel hits a stone that doesn’t look like much at first, so you try to find the edge of it so you can flip it out of the hole…but you keep digging, and digging, and your shovel keeps hitting it, and it turns out this thing is huge. It’s as if there’s a buried meteor down there, and you can’t put your garden in on top of it, and you don’t know how you’re going to get it out.

In my case,  the buried meteor – the biggest source of my resistance to digging into my creative work, getting back to that so-important piece of life – is my own view of myself. I’ve always known I had some, let’s call them self-esteem challenges. The past few months have shown me exactly how big they are.

waterfall pic

If you were reading the blog during the summer, you know that in June, I had a string of tough writing-related news that culminated in a rejection of my novel Fourteen Stones by an agent we’ll call Agent X. I’d liked Agent X a lot; they’d spent quite a bit of time with the book, I knew that folks on their team really liked it, and they’d been respectful and communicative throughout the submission and review process. Unfortunately, as can easily happen in this process, the book turned out to be not quite the right fit for them. Instead of saying to myself, “Hey, you got really close with Agent X, they were really nice and they did like the book a lot, so you just need to keep trying and you’ll find the right agent for you,” I let my disappointment turn into crashing shame. All the time I’d spent working on Fourteen Stones suddenly seemed like a total waste. It was no good. I was no good.

This might seem unreasonable if you’re not familiar with the process, and especially if you don’t happen to look at the world through the truth-distorting lens of anxiety and depression. Even I knew it was over the top, but I couldn’t seem to control it. I spent the rest of the summer and well into the fall wondering what was wrong with me, why my head felt so messed up, not knowing how I could ever get myself back to a productive place. Sometimes I got more angry than scared, and sometimes – despite how nice they’d been – I got really pissed at Agent X. More than once I wanted to sit down and write them a furious email about how my whole summer had been ruined, four months of my life I’d never see again, because they just couldn’t give me the answer I wanted and it wasn’t fair!

Of course this isn’t an ideal career move. 😉 More importantly, though, very lately I’ve come to understand something else: really understand it, rather than just being aware of it. Of course it isn’t Agent X’s fault that my book wasn’t the right match for them. And it wasn’t their fault that I had so much trouble with that rejection: that I let it take me into such a bad place, and that I then stayed there. The problem, which I knew in my head but had never internalized, was that I was giving away my power.

Let’s say Agent X had wanted the book. I’d have been thrilled, of course. It would have felt like a huge validation…and that’s exactly the problem. I would have decided that Fourteen Stones had been worth every hour I’d spent on it. Not because I’d created something that never existed before; not because that creation was exciting and beautiful and I was proud of it; not because all those hours of work on it had been filled with delight and joy. Fourteen Stones would have had worth, in my eyes, not because of what knew about it, but only because someone else found it acceptable. 

Dangerous, right? And that’s my buried meteor: the belief, lodged somewhere deep in my hindbrain, that I have no worth until someone else gives it to me. The more I dig at it, the more I understand how that belief has affected everything I do.

Having that deeply-internalized self-image has meant that I’m reluctant to take risks. I’m scared to put my work out there, so even though I do it, I do it in a small and limited way. I’m always waiting for rejection, not because it’s statistically likely in this business – which it is – but because I believe that’s what I deserve. When it comes, I take that as a confirmation of my belief that I’m “not good enough.” I’m scared to start new projects because I’m firmly convinced I can’t succeed. And then I avoid work entirely because I’m scared of being scared.

Agent X’s rejection – though I don’t like to admit it 😉 – was actually a gift. I just turned forty years old a few weeks ago, and I’m finally starting to get a good look at the buried meteor that’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I want to build a garden in that spot. I know it can be beautiful, but that rock has to come out first.

It’ll take a lot of work. It’s hard for me to imagine really dragging it out into the light and getting rid of it. I can see it, though, and I know what needs to happen next. That’s a start.

waterfall