Talking about FOREVER FINLEY with Author Holly Schindler (Part 2)

forever finley

True love never dies – or so Amos Hargrove, a brave Civil War soldier who lost his beloved before they could marry, still believes.  His spirit, some say, pervades the town he founded and named for his sweet fair-haired young beauty.  In Finley, dreams come true, love blossoms, and second chances are unearthed.  Is Amos’s spirit truly at work, granting wishes as he continues to search for his own love?  Does his unfulfilled desire continue to have influence on those who call Finley home?  What will it take to finally unite two souls meant to be together?

Forever Finley is a collection of stand-alone yet interconnected short stories; when read cover to cover, the stories build like chapters in a novel.  As a whole, Forever Finley explores the many facets of love – whether that love takes the form of friendship, romance, or passion for one’s life calling.  These warm, uplifting, often magical tales detail loss and perseverance, the strength of the human spirit, and the ability of love to endure…forever.

Today, I’m back with Holly Schindler to talk about her short story cycle, FOREVER FINLEY. Yesterday we talked about the process of writing and indie publishing a new short story each month, and today we’re digging into the stories Holly tells.

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 COURTNEY: I read the stories as you released them each month, and I have to say that they were perfect for 2016 because they felt so gentle in what was not, in many ways, a gentle time. Finley didn’t feel like it was really part of this world—in a good way. Is Finley based on any real place? (True Confessions: Our family photographer has her studio on the town square in a little town called Metamora, Illinois, and the first time I saw the town square, I said, “That’s Finley!” So Metamora plays Finley in my head.)

I love that description of the series feeling gentle. I really hope that readers continue to have that feeling in 2017.

As far as the setting goes, I live in Springfield, MO—third largest city in the state, home of Springfield Style Cashew Chicken and Brad Pitt. But it’s also got a real small town feel—and it’s surrounded by little towns (Ozark, Fair Grove) with old-fashioned small town squares. I did have Ozark, MO in my head quite a bit when I depicted the Finley town square. There’s even a river that runs through Ozark called Finley. I take my dog to walk at the Finley River Park quite a bit—and had that area in my head when I wrote about Founders Park in Finley.

Springfield also has a National Cemetery that I had in my mind’s eye from the very beginning, when I wrote “Come December.” It’s right across the street from an apartment building—just as Finley’s National Cemetery is located near Natalie’s apartment complex. You can see more in my short video:  https://vimeo.com/165715421

COURTNEY: So now we know where Finley’s name comes from! FOREVER FINLEY touches a lot of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, ghost stories, magical realism, new adult, boomer lit. And you’ve written in a lot of those genres, so FOREVER FINLEY brings all that together. How would you classify it? Are there any books or other stories that particularly influenced the book?

I really love stories with a strong sense of local color—any story in which the setting feels like a character (I even love the way the café in Flagg’s FRIED GREEN TOMATOES feels like a character). That was a big part of putting this book together. I’m also an old lit major, and was surely influenced by those Victorian classics that were initially serialized.

I think one of my favorite parts of FOREVER FINLEY is that there’s no one right way to read it. As I was writing it in 2016, I felt that each story, while connected to the others, had to truly stand on its own. (That way, readers who discovered the July story on Amazon wouldn’t feel lost when they purchased it.) Now that the stories are all collected into one volume, you certainly can read cover to cover. But you can also read the stories out of order—the same way you skip around an album, listening to random songs, even returning to the same song several times before moving on. For those who’d like to bounce around rather than reading straight through, I’ve included a detailed table of contents at the beginning of the book, which allows you to get a glimpse of what each story is about.

Courtney: I love making connections between art forms, so comparing the cycle to an album is right up my alley. What else would you like readers to know about FOREVER FINLEY?

I’ve just revamped the cover of the series. I liked the first cover—I think it spoke to the historical element of the book—but it wasn’t as mysterious, romantic, or intriguing as it could have been. To celebrate the book’s new “skin,” I’m giving away a review copy of the series to one lucky reader—either e-book (it’s listed in KU, so it’s only available in Kindle form) or paperback. To enter, shoot me an email at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.

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You can also check out FINLEY and all my other works at my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Holly-Schindler/e/B003E3TJ7U

Or visit my author site: HollySchindler.com

Courtney: Thanks for being here, Holly! If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll either enter            Holly’s contest or check out FOREVER FINLEY on her Amazon page.

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Talking About FOREVER FINLEY with Author Holly Schindler (Part 1)

Today, I’m excited to have my friend Holly Schindler here to talk about her short story cycle, Forever Finley.

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Here’s the description from Holly’s website:

True love never dies – or so Amos Hargrove, a brave Civil War soldier who lost his beloved before they could marry, still believes.  His spirit, some say, pervades the town he founded and named for his sweet fair-haired young beauty.  In Finley, dreams come true, love blossoms, and second chances are unearthed.  Is Amos’s spirit truly at work, granting wishes as he continues to search for his own love?  Does his unfulfilled desire continue to have influence on those who call Finley home?  What will it take to finally unite two souls meant to be together?

Forever Finley is a collection of stand-alone yet interconnected short stories; when read cover to cover, the stories build like chapters in a novel.  As a whole, Forever Finley explores the many facets of love – whether that love takes the form of friendship, romance, or passion for one’s life calling.  These warm, uplifting, often magical tales detail loss and perseverance, the strength of the human spirit, and the ability of love to endure…forever.

COURTNEY: Today, we’re talking about the writing and publishing of FOREVER FINLEY. Can you tell us about the writing process? What were some pros and cons of writing and publishing a new short story each month?

HOLLY: I honestly didn’t plan on writing one a month when I wrote the first installment. In late 2015, I indie published “Come December,” thinking it would simply be a stand-alone holiday short story. But the story really took off in a surprising way. I moved a ton of copies—readers were coming to my work for the first time, dropping me messages about having enjoyed the piece. It made its way into the hands (and tablets and Kindles) of so many new readers that I thought, “It’d be a real shame to leave it at that. I’d like to continue the story.”

But how?

The obvious answer probably would have been to catch up with Natalie again (the protag of “Come December”). I was actually more interested in the setting, though. What kind of place would allow Natalie to meet George (another character from “Come December”)? It seemed a magical place. A sweet place. A place I really would like to return to time and again. As I brainstormed, it suddenly became clear that I had enough ideas to return to Finley once a month throughout 2016…

 

come decemberCOURTNEY: Like many readers, I came to FOREVER FINLEY through “Come December.” I’m a sucker for a good holiday story—it’s all I read in December—and good new reads can be hard to find. But you took it past the holidays. What were some pros and cons of writing and publishing a new short story each month?

The pros of a publishing a new story each month? Learning to go with my gut. I’ve been writing full-time since 2001 (my first book was accepted in 2009). As we all know, the process of first draft to publication is fraught with rejection. And after you sell a book, you’re then inundated with editorial letters and reviews. Everyone has their own opinions, identifying various strengths and weaknesses. You could almost get whiplash from it all! Most dangerously, though, you can begin to doubt yourself.

COURTNEY: Yes! One of the toughest things about drafting and revision is knowing which feedback to take seriously and which to let go. Which is helpful and necessary, and which is a very subjective matter of opinion or personal preference? I bet it was a relief to bypass all that in this project, but I’m sure it was also nerve-wracking to put work into the world without it.

HOLLY: Once I decided to turn “Come December” into the FOREVER FINLEY series, I was shocked at how quickly a month could go by! (Which was really the only downside.) I was never without new ideas. But I was also working on full-length projects as well. In 2016, I indie published an adult novel (MILES LEFT YET) and my first illustrated children’s book (WORDQUAKE). My fourth YA (SPARK) also released with HarperCollins. And in the midst of all that, I was always working on a new FINLEY story—which required its own cover and synopsis in order to list them on KDP, Nook Press, iBooks, etc. Going at that pace, I couldn’t second-guess myself. I wrote; I gave each story my all; I revised and polished; I published. I learned a ton about cover creation and writing eye-catching copy. And my readers taught me that while revision is always required, often your first instincts regarding a piece are the best.

COURTNEY: I’ve always been in awe of how prolific you are, and now you’re doing traditional and indie publishing. Can you tell us about the experience of being a hybrid author? Why was indie publishing the right path for FOREVER FINLEY?

One of the best things I think I’ve done for myself is go hybrid. Obviously, FOREVER FINLEY never would have been released in regular, short installments with a traditional publisher. (The best I could have hoped for going traditional would be to sell a few stories to periodicals, then collect them into a single volume.) That’s the great thing about indie—independently published works are no longer books that aren’t “good” enough to be published. They’re just not a good fit for the traditional publishing platform.

Obviously, genre lit (romance, mystery, etc.) were the first works to really take off in the indie world, but I’m anxious to see more experimental, literary authors come to indie pubbing as well. The door is wide-open in terms of what’s possible. One of the best parts of having your foot in both worlds is that you can really start to see how traditional publishing and indie publishing influence and affect each other.

COURTNEY: I’m excited about the possibilities for indie publishing, both as a reader and as a writer. It’s giving us so many opportunities to do high quality work that for whatever reason, just doesn’t fit with a traditional publisher. Short stories are a great example of that.

 I’d like to thank Holly for being here today, and to invite you to join us tomorrow, when we’ll talk about the stories Holly tells in FOREVER FINLEY.

 In the meantime, check out Holly’s work at her Amazon author page

or at HollySchindler.com.

 

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Good Reading for Bad News

Perhaps it is not so much that the news is bad as that it is relentless.

I am a member of the Generation That Has No Name, too old to be a Millennial, too young to be Gen X. For most of my childhood, the most advanced piece of technology in our house was the television, big, bulky, and immobile. That and the daily newspaper we shared with my grandparents, who lived next door, was where we got our news. We had a whole day to digest the newspaper, and the nastier bits were sweetened with recipes, comics, and the ridiculous plights of the people who wrote to Dear Abby. We didn’t get a computer until I was in high school, and I don’t remember having the internet anytime before my senior year. And anyway, you couldn’t be online if someone was using the (landline) phone.

We usually had the 5:00 p.m. news on in the background of the evening rush, and sometimes, if something big was happening, the 6:00 p.m. news as well. But that was all, except in summer when my mom sometimes turned on the noon news for something to do. I was in bed by 11:00 p.m., not yet up at 6:00 a.m. So the news came to me in a manageable way, and we were spared the Comments Section. The worst you could do was call in to the station or write a letter to the editor, and both were beyond the abilities of most trolls.

But now the stream is constant and almost unavoidable and we hear not only the news, which seems BAD BAD BAD, but we hear what everyone, from our nearest and dearest to total strangers, thinks about the news, which is perhaps worse.

I’m not suggesting a return to an imaginary and idealized past, nor am I suggesting that we don’t have a responsibility to engage with our own moment.

What I am suggesting is that the brain, my brain at least, which tends toward anxiety and panic and the slippery slope fallacy anyway, must find a way to cope if it is to survive.

Books are the answer to most things. Some people speak of comfort food. I have comfort books.

Years ago, a colleague in New Jersey told me that after 9/11, she couldn’t read for a long time. Her brain wouldn’t focus, and the emotions reading stirred in her were too much for a mind worn out by tragedy. When she could read again, she turned to the old yellow-jacketed Nancy Drews of her childhood. Around the same time, living far away from home for the first time, I came home from work every day to reread the Anne of Green Gables series, eight books’ worth of places and people who were old friends, any emotional response tempered by long familiarity.

I have always been a cozy mystery fan, and I find myself turning more and more to them lately. Agatha Christie got me early. And I got to wondering, why on earth do I find murder mysteries (of all things) so comforting?

The answer, of course, lies in another book. Fascinated by my own fascination with the cozy mystery, I turned to Lucy Worsley’s literary history The Art of the English Murder. And what do you know? Those cozy mysteries by the Four Queens of Crime (Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh), written in the years between the World Wars that constitute the Golden Age of this kind of book, are designed to comfort. Perhaps they weren’t purposely written that way, at least not at first, but that’s what a traumatized society produced.

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Worsley sets the scene:

Their world was rural and well-ordered, with country houses and cottages alike inhabited by readers of the Daily Mail. Into its confines, the writers of the detective novel’s golden age sowed the seeds of passion and violence. But in their tens of thousands of light novels, a detective character entered the scene, cleared away the body, solved the crime, punished the wicked, and neatly tidied up all the loose ends. In the years following the First World War, people wanted leisure reading to numb, not to stimulate, their capacity for experiencing horror. (Introduction)

She quotes Edmund Wilson writing in the New Yorker in 1944:

The world during those years was ridden by an all-pervasive feeling of guilt and by a fear of impending disaster which it seemed hopeless to try to avert. (Chapter 19: The Women Between the Wars)

Yikes. That sounds too close for comfort.

Christie herself explained it this way:

A detective story is complete relaxation, an escape from the realism of everyday life. It has, too, the tonic value of a puzzle—it sharpens your wits. (Chapter 19: The Women Between the Wars)

It puts my brain busy at something else, figuring out the puzzle, so that it can’t run in endless loops, like the 24-hour news cycle.

I do some of my comfort reading on paper, but increasingly I do my recreational reading on my Kindle, on my phone, and on my iPad. (I read Worsley’s book on my Kindle, which is why, sorry, no page numbers on the quotes. I have an old Kindle.) The same technology that inundates me with more information than can reasonably be processed also provides me with quiet moments to allow my brain to rest and recover, to store up strength, to pull itself together. It’s all in how it’s used.

What is your comfort reading like?

 

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“Mr. Rogers Talks About Discipline” and I Talk About Mr. Rogers

One of the great things about having a  child is that I have an excuse to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood from the beginning. While my daughter loves the show, especially snapping her fingers to make a “snappy new day,” I often find that Mr. Rogers says exactly the thing I need to hear in my own life and work, and he doesn’t shy away from the hard truths.

We’ve made it to 1982, to the week titled “Mr. Rogers Talks About Discipline.” I confess that my inner child groaned and rolled her eyes when she saw that title, thinking that it was about obeying your parents, blah, blah…but I should have known Mr. Rogers better than that.

It’s about the other kind of discipline. Self discipline, where you make yourself do hard things. Here’s a link to the full lyrics of “You’ve Got To Do It.”

I’d like to quote just a couple of the stanzas here. These are the ones that had me nodding along and (nearly) crying.

You can make-believe it happens, or pretend that something’s true.
You can wish or hope or contemplate a thing you’d like to do,
But until you start to do it, you will never see it through
‘Cause the make-believe pretending just won’t do it for you.

You’ve got to do it.
Every little bit, you’ve got to do it, do it, do it, do it
And when you’re through, you can know who did it
For you did it, you did it, you did it

If you want to ride a bicycle and ride it straight and tall,
You can’t simply sit and look at it ’cause it won’t move at all.
But it’s you who have to try it, and it’s you who have to fall (sometimes)
If you want to ride a bicycle and ride it straight and tall.

[…]

It’s not easy to keep trying, but it’s one good way to grow.
It’s not easy to keep learning, but I know that this is so:
When you’ve tried and learned you’re bigger than you were a day ago.
It’s not easy to keep trying, but it’s one way to grow.

Oh, my goodness, Mr. Rogers.

It’s you who have to fall.

It’s not easy to keep trying , but it’s one good way to grow.

I think these are things we tell children, but there’s this persistent idea that as adults, we should never fail and we should be grown.

How silly is that?

As a writer, I fail all the time. I fall all the time. And I try all the time, and I grow all the time. But often I forget that all of that is okay, that it’s expected, that it’s even a desirable state of affairs.

In 1987, I wrote Mr. Rogers a letter, and he wrote back.  My mother found his letter in our attic, and now I have it on my desk in a folder I call “Inspiration.”

He wrote:

 You asked me where the ideas for our puppets come from and why Daniel Tiger is scared and shy. Courtney, ideas for Make-Believe come from many places, just like ideas for your own pretending do.

[…]

I wonder if you ever do some play with puppets? You might like to try with sock puppets or puppets made from paper bags. I wonder what your puppets would be like? What you would think of would be unique because it came from you.

Sometimes, on bad writing days, I imagine how interested Mr. Rogers would be to hear about my work, how he would search for the roots of it in my childhood, ask me if I had always been interested in making up stories about history. (Yes. Ask the kids in my neighborhood about “Medieval Times,” everyone’s favorite game.) He would ask if my own little girl influences my work. (Yes. I want to tell stories that say something I would like her to know, but not in a didactic way, just in the way that all good writing says important things. I try to write books I would like her to have.) He would ask if I ever think about the people who will read my work. (Sometimes. I try to think about the pleasure readers, not the reviewers. But sometimes I can’t help thinking about the reviewers.)

I know all this because I’ve seen my share of Mr. Rogers’ interviews recently.

I got a lot out of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child, but I think I might need Mr. Rogers even more as an adult. Children know to keep growing. Adults sometimes need a reminder.

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Why I Write and Read Short Stories (Plus Some Ancient Gossip About My Love Life)

When I began writing seriously in high school, the first pieces I wrote were short stories. I had a few reasons for this:

  • My English teachers made us write one every year.
  • I had no idea where to even begin writing a novel.
  • I am impatient and like to finish things quickly.
  • Anthologies often include short stories. Textbooks are often anthologies.

I had no intention of publishing any of the short stories I wrote. Mainly I wrote them for the smiley faces from my teachers.

I also wrote them to work out my very complicated feelings about the long string of boys I went on one or two dates with, who, to a man, either liked me way too much and wanted to put a ring on it right then (No, thank you, but I will enjoy these delicious homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries. Oh, you picked the movie? Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes? You too have seen Titanic four times in theaters?) or stared silently across the table at Applebee’s (the Greenville one, not the Simpsonville one, EITHER because we were fancy OR because he didn’t want to be seen with me OR, more probably, because he asked where I wanted to eat and I said not the Simpsonville Applebee’s because it will be too crowded and we’ll have to wait forever so we went to the Greenville Applebee’s instead) like a deer in the world’s largest headlights while the waiter (whom I knew from another school) lectured him about how lucky he was to be on a date with me. Yes, this actually happened. Why did said waiter never ask me out? Why did I never ask him out as, ever a glutton for punishment, I was prone to do? These are mysteries for the ages.

Somehow I very rarely went on dates with boys I might have had a good time with, but I frequently went on dates with boys I know for a fact I did not have a good time with. My first real boyfriend identifiable as such broke up with me on my birthday. Fortunately I was a Jane Austen fan and could see the humor and the narrative possibilities in this even then. For about a year, my favorite song was “Think of Meryl Streep” from Fame. Also, I cried a lot. Sorry, Mom. Also, I printed a ton of emails and AIM conversations for later perusal and analysis with friends. No doubt this is what made me such a great literary critic. (But what is the subtext? What does the writer mean?)

So now I am way off topic and have forced you to read far too many parentheticals, but this has given me an idea for a hilarious novel and reminded me that one of those short stories I wrote was kind of good, and maybe I should revisit it. The lesson here is that no writing is wasted, not even wandering blog posts.

ANYWAY, I was talking about short stories, which I have been reading a lot of lately. The reason I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately is because I am in heavy research mode. This means that most of my reading needs to be research-related. If I get into novels at this point, I will never do the research reading because I will be too into the novels, and I will spend my research time pretending to work but secretly reading novels instead. I am so sneaky, but I have an unfortunate tendency to tell on myself. (See above.)

I recently dipped back into writing short stories to revisit two characters from The Last Sister, in “The Quickening,” a free holiday read you can access by clicking here.

Ahem, and now for the original purpose of this post:

I want to share with you two sets of short stories I’ve been reading.

The first is the Forever Finley short story cycle by my fellow blogger at YA Outside the Lines, Holly Schindler. Forever Finley is a series of interconnected short stories set in the fictional small town of Finley, Missouri. Stories release once each month throughout 2016. I have read the first four: “Come December,” “January Thaw,” “Forget February,” and “Dearest March…” I love these because I love seasons and calendars and holidays and other passage-of-time things. All of the stories work as standalones, so you don’t have to read January to understand March, for example. As a reader, I look forward to the release each month. As a writer, I’m excited about the possibilities Holly is exploring for hybrid publishing and non-traditional formats.

The second is a posthumously published collection of Irish writer Maeve Binchy’s many short stories, A Few of the Girls (2015). My great-aunt, who was from Ireland, got me hooked on both Binchy and British television at a young age, and I was greatly saddened to hear of Binchy’s death in 2012. But I was delighted when A Few of the Girls popped up in iBooks. It was like a present I didn’t expect. Binchy is best known to American audiences for Circle of Friends (1990), thanks to the movie and to Oprah’s Book Club. I also recommend The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (2008), a collection of her lectures, to writers. Though she breaks almost every formal fiction rule there is, reading Binchy, both her fiction and her lectures, feels like sitting at the table with a cup of tea listening to a friend tell you all the latest gossip.

I hope you will check out these and other short stories. If you have any great recommendations for short story collections, please leave a comment and let me know. I’ll be in research mode a good while yet.

 

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The Joy of Caring Less

I always thought I was a one-project-at-a-time kind of girl.

I have discovered I was wrong.

In my January post at YA Outside the Lines, I discussed the frustrations I’ve been feeling about writing in the last year.

It was bad. As in can’t eat, can’t sleep, drive my family crazy bad.

I’m happy to report that it’s now much better, partly because I decided if writing was making me this miserable I shouldn’t do it because it’s not like it’s paying very many bills, either. But I can’t not write.

I used to write for myself, because I couldn’t not do it, and because I enjoyed making my mother and my English teachers cry—it is something, isn’t it, to make people feel? It’s a kind of power. I wrote with no thought of publication or awards. Those things were too far off.

Then I was published, and there was critical approval, if not money in it, and I have always loved approval better than money, anyway.

I wanted them again, those tiny hits of approval that really do hit my brain like a drug.

HOW COULD I GET MORE?

That became my goal, not writing what made me glad to write, not the projects that pulled at my heart and made me happy, but this.

WHAT CAN I GET PUBLISHED?

WHAT WILL MORE PEOPLE READ?

HOW CAN I MAKE PEOPLE LIKE ME AND GIVE ME MORE OF THOSE LOVELY APPROVAL HIGHS?

I discovered, in my desire for publication and approval, that I could not write. I was holding everything too tightly, afraid of failing, afraid of wasting my time.

Something made me let go. I don’t know what. Maybe my arms finally got too tired. I let myself drift.

I drafted (in longhand, which I haven’t done for over a decade) an historical fiction picture book. A book featuring real people (always very scary to write about) who spent a remarkable evening together and left behind a record of it so sparse it could not become narrative nonfiction because I had to fill in the gaps. It’s something I never would have let myself write while I was holding on so tightly to what would sell.

I began it two Friday nights ago while my husband bathed our daughter. I never write at those times, when it is loud and I can hear her laughing and splashing and him singing some song he loves from his own childhood about elephants playing on spider webs. I began it because the first lines came into my head and I needed to get them down before I forgot. I realized I had been an elephant on a spider web, and no elephant can play on a spider web if she thinks too hard about it. I felt joy in writing for the first time in a long time, and I woke up the next morning and finished the draft. Whether it ever sees the light of day or not is immaterial. Those six hundred words brought me back.

Last Thursday, I forgot to put my daughter’s school bag in the car, and I ended up driving to and from her school three times during what is meant to be my work time. It was okay because in that drive I realized which novel project I should be working on. The one I know is not “commercial” enough. The one I know can come from no one but me. (There are, however, pretty dresses in it, and the calculating part of my brain that knows I can sell historical fiction as long as there are pretty dresses—come on, you know it’s true—rejoices.)

In my research for various incarnations of the above novel over the past year, I stumbled upon a nonfiction story I wanted to tell. My husband has been after me for years to do nonfiction, because I do love it and I am good at it and I was trained as a historian first. I registered for a class on writing narrative nonfiction, because I also find great joy in learning and reading and homework assignments.

These projects are very different from each other, but they all have connections. All are set in my beloved eighteenth century because I think I am right, after all, after much wandering, to focus my work there. There is great joy in knowing a world well, and it’s interesting to see the same world from so many different angles as I work on different projects.

Working on three projects at a time enables me to hold them all with a looser rein. If one fails, perhaps another will succeed. I don’t feel so uptight about things. If I get stuck on one, I can switch to another. Nothing is life or death. Some people need to pour everything they have into one thing at a time, but I can’t. Because what if I give everything I have and still come up short? I can’t do it. I freeze in terror.

Working on a variety of projects keeps me from getting bored, from holding any one project so tight it can’t breathe, so tight I can’t breathe. It keeps me from caring too much. Caring too little is bad. Caring too much is bad. I need to care just enough to do the work well and then to let it be.

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Greetings from the Playroom (And the Office and the Nursery and Sometimes the Kitchen)

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend more time on my blog and social media sites. When my daughter was born (16 months ago!), I panicked and cut everything down to the barest of bones re: writing. That meant spending my precious, precious time actually writing books, so I quit on my personal blog. However, I kept blogging with my blog group at YA Outside the Lines, and sometime last fall I came to the conclusion that if I could write one blog a month there, I could do it here.

I thought I’d bring you up to speed by writing first about where I’m writing. This lovely room with dark paneling and a pretty fireplace (cold and covered in sharp places, don’t worry, the baby is safe) and wooden beams on the ceiling used to be my library. The walls used to be lined with bookshelves. It was my favorite room in the whole house.

I never spent any time in it. It was a storage room for books. Now it is my daughter’s playroom, and I spend lots of time in it. It’s still my favorite room because see: lovely.

About a year ago, we moved the bookshelves downstairs to the basement (finished and dehumidified, don’t worry, the books are safe), where they still provide relatively easy access to the books despite the fact that we have to maneuver around all the other stuff we don’t have room for upstairs. (In other news, I am Marie Kondo-ing my house. I know that book made a lot of people angry, but I have so far done my dresser and looking at my sock drawer is the definition of bliss. So, angry people who are perhaps a little bit sensitive about someone suggesting you own too much stuff, I suggest you do what you would do with any other self-help book and take the parts that work for you and toss the rest. I…really…the anger about that book just baffles me, but I like organizing and tidying, so maybe that is personal bias.)

I’ve just started writing from the playroom. I used to spend all the working hours in my office (like most people), except (unlike most people, I guess) my office is in our smallest bedroom.

Three summers ago, while visiting my parents, I worked in the dining room off the kitchen, discovering by accident that I work better with more going on around me. I can cook chicken while also writing! Who knew? Oh, the possibilities! My childhood home, which you can buy and I will hate you only a little bit, has an amazing kitchen desk, which I think is the greatest thing in the world. I would love a kitchen desk, and I don’t even do much of our cooking.

I’ve made a similar discovery in the playroom. While certain types of writing call for more focused attention, there are loads of things I can do while also taking bites of imaginary food.

And here’s where history comes in handy. It’s a very practical course of study because you realize that things have not always been the way they are right now. As with Marie Kondo, you can take and toss from various eras. Look at me being so postmodern.

I am embracing the meshing of work and life that used to be common when almost everybody worked at home and rejecting the compartmentalization common to the mid-twentieth century, when my house was built. I’m learning rooms can have more than one purpose. (This is probably obvious to other people.) I’m writing with distractions and without them. (To be honest, when I don’t have distractions, I create them. I’m the kind of writer who needs to look up between sentences. Hello, Facebook, what great/horrible thing do you have for me today?) My daughter gets loads of focused one-on-one attention from a variety of adults, including me, but it’s also a good thing for her to see me work, and we are lucky that I can do certain kinds of work and play at the same time.

I started writing this in the playroom, while watching my daughter transport pretend food from one side of the room to another. I’m finishing it in the quiet of my office. My favorite place to write is in the glider in the nursery. That thing is comfy, and when it outgrows its usefulness there, into my office it goes.

How do you use your space to best advantage? Where do you like to work and play?

 

 

 

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The Quickening

Slide5“The Quickening: A Last Sister Short Story” is a holiday gift for my readers and is available as a free digital download for your computer, tablet, or phone.

The Anglo-Cherokee War has just ended and survivors Owen Ramsay and Amelia Williamson have made their way to Owen’s childhood home in the South Carolina backcountry. Join them there for Christmas 1761.

Download “The Quickening” below.

TheQuickening

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COVER REVEAL: The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

I’m very excited to be participating in the cover reveal for The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, a blogging buddy of mine at YA Outside the Lines.

Here’s the scoop:

Sunbathing, surfing, eating funnel cake on the boardwalk—Lucy loves living on the Jersey Shore. For her, it’s not just the perfect summer escape, it is home. And as a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in over Memorial Day weekend, crowding the shore and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Lucy wants more from love than a fleeting romance, even if that means keeping her distance from her summertime neighbor and crush, Connor.

Then Superstorm Sandy tears apart her barrier island, briefly bringing together a local girl like herself and a vacationer like Connor. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm. And day after day, week after week, Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and broken home. Now with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

And here’s the beautiful cover! Congratulations, Jen! I can’t wait to read it.

TH SUMMER AFTER_CVR_Highres

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Spelling “Tuesday”

Just in case it makes any difference, Stephen and I have been reading aloud to our daughter while she’s in the womb. Our most recent selections are the Winnie-the-Pooh books, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne, which I have read many times but not since I wrote a paper on them in my undergraduate children’s literature class ten years ago and which Stephen has never read at all.

Owl Winnie-the-Pooh(Side Note: Judging by the “Lists of Inspiring Quotes from Pooh” and the abundance of Pooh-themed greeting cards, lots of people have never read these books because those “inspiring quotes” are either taken out of context or I have no recollection of Pooh ever saying them. Stephen learned the hard way never to buy me a Pooh greeting card because I will say something like, “When did Pooh say any of these insipid things? Never! Look, it’s not even punctuated correctly!” He has taken to calling this body of work “Apocryphal Pooh” to assuage my offended literary feelings.)

But back to my story. In The House at Pooh Corner, Rabbit observes that Owl must be respected because “You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right.”

Owl gives it a go. He does something, even if it’s not perfect. As a writer, I often feel like I’m spelling “Tuesday” wrong. Like I’m failing even when I’m succeeding, because maybe I could have done better. Have I, in fact, always done my best? Will even my very best ever be good enough?

I was devastated for a minute when Stephen told me he thought my current manuscript was better than The Last Sister, because The Last Sister has a publisher and (some) people will read it and maybe find out that I am a total fraud at this writing thing, while my work-in-progress does not yet have a publisher and maybe no one will ever read it, which seems somehow worse. In both cases, perhaps, I have spelled “Tuesday” wrong. But at least I have spelled “Tuesday.” At least I have not spent my life not spelling “Tuesday” for fear of getting it wrong. Which, I suppose, is a fancy way of saying I have not allowed perfectionism to stand in the way of action. Which is kind of a big deal for me, because I am nothing if not a perfectionist. I have dared to do it wrong, but at least I have done it. I have to respect myself for that. I should respect myself for that, and my work should keep getting better. By the time a book comes out, I should be a stronger writer than I was when I wrote it.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms and devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

To me, that’s all another way of saying that we should try to spell “Tuesday,” even if we fail. What’s your “Tuesday”? How can you dare to spell it wrong today?

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