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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.

englishmurder

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 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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Writing Process Blog Tour

The Writing Process Blog Tour has been making the rounds of the writing blogosphere, and I was tagged last week by the fabulous Maryanne Fantalis of A Writer’s Notepad. Maryanne and I met through our shared love for historical fiction over at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks. Though we’ve never met in person, I know through her blog posts, emails, and Twitter feed that she’s a writer to watch! Maryanne’s current project is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t wait to read it!

Without further ado (but not about nothing), here’s my contribution to the Writing Process Blog Tour.

What am I working on right now?

My debut novel, The Last Sister, releases in October, which is very exciting! It’s a young adult historical fiction adventure/romance set in backcountry South Carolina in 1759-60 during the Anglo-Cherokee War—a war within a war within a war. Right now, I’m working with the publisher on marketing and promotion plans for that, and you’ll see more all over my website very soon. If I can get it all over other people’s websites, that will be even better.

I’m also getting ready to query a very different young adult novel. This one started out as an alternate history of the event we now call the Black Death but turned into a literary fairy tale along the way. It’s the story of a young woman’s fight to save her family’s manor after a watershed event and how we survive when the world we expected to live in disappears. Because the world changes so rapidly today, I think many young people can relate to the sense of not knowing how to prepare for the world they’ll have to live in as adults—though maybe not on the same scale as my protagonist.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Last Sister had a long and winding path to becoming a novel. It started out as a completely different dystopian novel, which I ended up revising from scratch. (You can read more about that process here.) I know that definitely affected the final product. I wouldn’t have written this novel without the other. It’s solidly historical fiction now, but if you scratch the surface I think you can see the dystopia underneath. Two of my favorite scenes—the cougar attack and the first kiss—survive mostly intact.

My work-in-progress (WIP) reads like a fairy tale, which is why I call it one, but there’s no actual magic. It’s a different world from our own, but instead of magic they have a complex religious system. Like any religious system, it’s held in a balance between faith and doubt, and greatly affects the people who live under it, whatever they actually believe. I based my world on medieval Europe because I’ve always been fascinated by religion and violence as the two major elements that influenced the medieval mind and character, and I wanted to explore that.

Why do I write what I do?

I used to be afraid I would never have any good story ideas, and now I have the opposite problem: I have too many. I keep a notebook and choose new projects based on which stories won’t leave me alone. My WIP is very different from The Last Sister in terms of genre and point of view and voice and everything else, but it got stuck in my head. Iwait until the ideas for the book build up and I can see characters playing out scenes and have an idea of what their voices sound like. (Which is NOT to say I hear voices. Not exactly, anyway.) They usually don’t turn out much like the people in my head, and the story itself is almost always different, but I wait to start a first draft until the story demands to be told. There’s a tipping point where I feel I really need to write this book now.

As Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

With both of these books, almost as soon as the idea came, I knew I wanted to read them and, sadly, no one had yet written them for me. It would have made my life a lot easier if someone had.

How does my writing process work?

On a strict outline and schedule. My start in academia made me a very organized, detail-oriented writer. Also, I just love organizing projects. While the process for each project never goes exactly the same, I’ve found a system that works for me. Here are my steps:

1. Write a really fast first draft. NaNoWriMo was made for people like me. 2,000 words a day lets me build the kind of momentum I need and keeps me from making excuses. I end up with about 40,000 words of crap, but that’s better than a blank page.

2. Write a second draft, also at a rate of about 2,000 words a day. End up with about 65,000 slightly less crappy words.

3. Let a very trusted beta reader see it. Usually, this is just my husband, who is an amazing plotter (uh, for books and for real life) and who will mercilessly point out all the problems. I do the same for him in his work projects. We are tough on each other, but it works for us.

4. Draft again and again and again. And again. And sometimes again.

5. At this point, I usually let my mom read it because I am in the dark night of the soul and need someone to tell me how brilliant it is so I can stand to keep working. (I know she’s my mom and would proudly put anything I do on the refrigerator, if only 200+ pages would stick. I don’t trust that it’s as good as she says, but I love a gold star like nobody’s business and getting one gives me the stamina to continue.)

6. Send the current draft to trusted beta readers, some of whom are also writers and some of whom are not. Get feedback. Revise again.

7. Eventually, the work is as good as I can make it, and I am tired. Uh…prepare for rejection at this point? Thicken skin.

This is what works for me. Feel free to steal any part of it if you think it might work for you.

I’ve tagged two more fabulous writers to participate next week, and I can’t wait to read what they have to say.

Mary Claire Marck and I go way back. We met when she brought her first chapters of a WIP to the college literacy center where I worked as a faculty writing consultant for several years. I was blown away, and I really wanted to read the rest of it. So I was like, “You should work here,” so she did. Mary Claire is now a great friend and my official house/dog/cat sitter. She has turned my dog into a Wonder Woman fan. She’s a talented artist, as well as a writer, and is working on several comic book projects. Check her out next week at her blog, Shaded Corners.

I met Bev Patt in February 2013 at the SCBWI-Illinois Downstate Craft Retreat, where we were placed in a critique group for writers with YA historical fiction projects. I was intrigued by her WIP, and hope to hear more about it in her post next week.

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Some Reflections on Pregnancy, Touch, and Consent

Inspired by #YesAllWomen, the recent killings in California, the idea that even small children can understand the concept of consent, and my own recent experience as a woman who is pregnant (note the person-first language there), I feel compelled to write about the issues I have with the treatment of the bodies of women who are pregnant. I don’t have a large audience here, but if I make even one person think a bit harder about the language and assumptions surrounding women’s bodies, I will be happy.

I’m talking specifically about unwanted touch.

I spent much of my time in academia studying feminist theory. I know why this is happening. I know why I’m getting the side-eye inspection every time I go to church. (People are not as subtle as they think.) I know why I have to cross my hands over my abdomen, desperately trying to protect that vulnerable area from allegedly well-meaning whacks. (People are not as gentle as they think.) I know why I’ve had to press my husband into service as my bodyguard. I know why he has to whisper, “Sit down next to the wall, and I’ll stand on your other side.” I know why I’m receiving the message that I am my body and nothing more. And it ain’t because everyone is so dang happy for me, whatever the excuse of the moment may be.

It’s because the bodies of women who are pregnant, and of women who are brides, become objects in more than the usual way. Marriage—alliances formed between families—and childbearing—contributions for good or ill to the population—are of concern to the community. The community has a stake. The body of the woman becomes community property.

I didn’t much like being a bride, either. I invited only people I knew very well to my wedding, only those I knew were not there to gawk, were not there simply because they “like weddings” or “like to look at brides” or for the free cake. I invited only people I could bear to have with me at such an important moment. Only the people I knew were there to be with me, not simply to look at me.

Pregnancy is tougher to compartmentalize.

People look because they like to look. They touch because they like to touch, and because they can do it faster than I can say, “No.” And because they feel, on some fundamental level, that it is their right, as members of the community, to touch the body of a woman who is pregnant.

Our culture encourages this. Our culture tells us again and again that women do not have the right of consent.

“That’s just something you’ll have to deal with.”

“You just have to put up with it.”

“People are just happy for you.”

“That’s the way it is. There’s nothing you can do to change it.”

These are all things I’ve been told since I’ve started verbalizing how physically and mentally uncomfortable unwanted touching makes me.

But the thing is…it’s not the first time I’ve heard those words. I don’t doubt that every woman who has ever expressed dissatisfaction, annoyance, or outrage at the treatment of her body as an object has heard them at one time or another. Probably on a frequent basis. The message is clear: Your rights over your own body end where the desires of others begin. There is nothing you can do about this but accept it.

Speech like the examples above does something very scary: it removes the notion of consent from the conversation.

I’ve never met a woman who is or has ever been pregnant who liked the sneak attacks on her abdomen. I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t told she had to take it, who wasn’t told, even, that her refusal, her bristling, was rude. Because isn’t that one of the worst charges we can lay at a woman’s feet? That she isn’t nice. It’s not nice to refuse. It’s not nice to make someone else feel uncomfortable about touching you when you didn’t want to be touched.

I don’t really like to be randomly touched even when not pregnant. Neither does my husband. But I’ve long noticed something very interesting: he is allowed to say it. He can say, “I’m not a hugger,” and people laugh and sometimes they give him a hard time about it, but they respect it. They don’t take offense. They don’t try to force a hug anyway. They don’t tell him he isn’t nice.

I’d like to think for a moment about the abdomen. The abdomen is what dolphins go for to kill a shark. Along with the neck, the abdomen is what animals protect. The abdomen is a vulnerable spot for human animals, as well. Soft, unprotected, packed with vital organs. Animals expose their abdomens as an act of trust or submission. Usually, these concepts are combined. How much more complex that vulnerability becomes when the abdomen is also the temporary home of the animal’s young. An attack on something vulnerable. An expectation of submission.

The primary symptom of my own pregnancy has been pain. Often, my abdomen hurts: the sudden knifing pain of ligaments stretching, the dull ache of muscles tearing, the sharp pain of another human pressing on my bladder, the sickening pain that comes with eating.

I do not mind this. Everything good exacts a price.

I do mind being forced to allow acquaintances and strangers to make it worse with their thoughtless belly pats. Who was the person who first thought a sturdy thump was a good thing to give a vulnerable area, an area that is, in fact, in the process of being wounded?

“We can tell people you’re in pain,” says my husband, aware of how the world is, and concerned mostly, bless him, with keeping people from hurting me. “People will understand that.”

“Are you saying they won’t understand that I have the right say I don’t want to be touched? Just because I don’t want to be touched.”

“You know a lot of them won’t understand that. You could explain your reasons all day, and they still wouldn’t understand. They’d think you were just being weird and unreasonable.”

Well, yes. I’ve heard both of those before. I’ll likely hear them again, many times. I can hear some readers now, thinking, “She’s taking this too seriously.”

I will never take my right of consent anything but seriously.

Women have been imprisoned, force fed, starved to death, and much worse for demanding their rights. Perhaps one of the fights of my generation is the right—the true right—of consent. I do not expect we will finish it. But I can handle being called weird and unreasonable and too serious in its service.

Because I do not want my daughter to ever feel she has to give her body up to satisfy the desires of an individual or a community. If she chooses to marry or to bear children, I want her to be able to do so without subjecting herself to the rights other people feel they should have over her body. I want her to know that her body is and always has been her own.

Even while it was inside mine.

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Triplets!!!

Ha, made you look. I am such a stinker like that.

Still just one human baby arriving in September.

Anyway. Back to my triplets. (And as O. Henry says in “The Gift of the Magi,” “Forget the hashed metaphor.”)

I’ve had three book projects going into new stages of production at the end of May/beginning of June, and since I’ve established in my own mind that taking a book from that first little spark of an idea to a fully published/publishable work is basically the same as pregnancy, I have been calling them triplets.

They are the reason why I’ve been neglecting both the blog and my new website in general. Triplets keep you busy.

First, I had to review the page proofs for The Last Sister, my YA historical novel that’s coming out in October. Page proofs are what you get when the typesetting is done and you see how the words will actually look on the real page of the real book (eek!). The page proofs for The Last Sister are gorgeous, but the scary thing about page proofs is that you get to see the words on the page, and aside from typos or factual errors you find, you don’t get to change anything (eek!). That is how the book is going out into the world, and I don’t think I’m alone in the fact that seeing that makes me second guess everything I’ve ever written and whether I should, in fact, ever put fingers to keyboard again. When you get used to revision, revision, revision, this is a tough switch. Ask my husband, who had to live with me while I was doing this.

Second, I needed to finish up the final line edits for a book project I’ve been the editor for since last July. This was not so bad because approving of someone else’s work is way easier than approving of my own. I think this is probably also true for most people. The book, Uncovering Lives, is a memoir about genealogical research. It will be out later this summer, and don’t worry, I’ll bug you all to buy it then.

I got really involved with these two and ignored my third baby for about a week. (Note: I know not to do this with real babies. Don’t worry.) There were three (imagine!) reasons for this.

One was that at the end of a project, much like at the end of a pregnancy, I go into what Louisa May Alcott and I call “the vortex,” where you just want it to be over and will do anything to make that happen, including working all night or weekend or whenever. I don’t care at this point, I just want it done. With both human and print/e-babies, I think this is partly because I am tired of carrying it and partly because the project is finally ready to be born. Also, I am not the only one who unironically refers to her human baby’s due date as a “deadline,” right? I think it’s because “deadline” is the “d” word I’m used to saying to refer to something that must be accomplished by a certain date.

Two was that line edits and reading work you can’t change can be kind of boring but is easier than any other part of the process. It seemed like I was accomplishing a lot, but it was relatively easy work.

Three (which is ongoing) is that my third book baby, my work in progress, which moved into a new drafting stage this month, is being fussy. Revising is hard work. Revision is the stage at which I like to procrastinate. It’s also the stage where the project needs me the most.

So I put two babies to bed so I can give the third the attention it needs. Someday I will be in the vortex with this one. I won’t be able to put it down until it’s done.

Like real babies, all the stages have their issues and their joys, and every book project has different needs.

I’m feeling renewed and so excited to pay attention to the fussy third project in the coming week.

 

 

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In Which I am a Guest of Some Awesome Authors

Hey, everyone! Today, check out my guest post over at Corsets, Cutlasses, and CandlesticksThe post is all about the inspiration for my novel, The Last Sister, forthcoming in October.

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CALL THE MIDWIFE On the Baby and the Bathwater

I love Call the Midwife. I confess to being a somewhat recent convert. The bits and pieces I caught of the first season and a half were somehow all birth scenes, and listening to laboring women scream for an hour did not really sound like my cup of tea. My mom says when I was about two, there was a birth scene in some moving she was watching, and I turned to her and said, “I am never having a baby.”

Yeah. Well.

I’m eternally grateful that I live in an era with a wide variety of anesthetics.

I didn’t start watching until Series 2 reruns were the only thing on last summer, so now I’m catching up and watching new episodes at the same time and trying to handle all that narrative awesomeness and historical accuracy at one time. If you’re not watching, you should be. Other virtues aside, it’s rare to see a show that deals with pregnancy and birth in a way that never demeans or mocks women but turns a lens on the experience that is both empowering and meaningful. More on that later, because I have a lot rolling around in my head about the type of mockery that is regularly leveled at pregnant women under the guise of “good fun,” or “just a joke,” or God help us, “support.”

But I’m getting off track.

I’ve been thinking about the March 30th episode, in which a young family deals with cystic fibrosis in infant and toddler sons. Check out this excellent article, in which a geneticist discusses the way the diagnosis is made, for a summary and discussion of the process.

What interests me most is where the diagnosis comes from: Sister Monica Joan, an elderly nun with dementia, remembers a line in a book from the time of Queen Anne:

Woe to that child which when kissed on the forehead tastes salty. He is bewitched and soon must die.

The diagnosis comes from two sources easy to discount or ignore completely: a woman whose mind wanders in some circuitous paths, and the incomplete knowledge of a time when witches were believed to cause illness.

Here’s what I get from this: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t assume that because knowledge is incomplete, it is worthless, that because it comes from people who held some pretty crazy beliefs, it can be ignored.

All knowledge, even that of a time with excellent anesthetic options for laboring women, is incomplete. Four centuries from now, a lot of our assumptions will look loony.

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