Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tired of Everything Sensible

Chapter twelve of The Mercy Hour is proving to be a challenge. I feel beastly putting my lead character through such lows. I'm writing her into restoration but it's a long road when she starts from such a broken state. My determination remains as high as the challenge though. The experience of writing this book is remarkably different from the first time around. Full of Days was so experimental, riding on the question, "Could I actually do this?" From the most well-intentioned folks, I heard again and again that "just that you're trying" is impressive enough. I was encouraged to be proud of the attempt no matter the result. I waffled on how I felt about such comments. Sometimes the trying really was enough, or nearly. This time? This time I want to laugh at anyone who resorts to those handouts of edification. The question of whether I can has been answered. It is only about whether I will and how well.

My imagination is spilling over. I'd like to tuck myself away in an upstairs room with a window seat and a good lamp. As Anne Shirley so aptly put it, "I just feel tired of everything sensible and I'm going to let my imagination run riot for the summer." But I think I'll start with spring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Yesterday - oh what a day it became by its end. I typed up the new pages of The Mercy Hour I'd written while on vacation. Each line delighted me. Sometimes I don't remember exactly what I wrote for a particular conversation or scenario and when I reread it there comes a wondrous sense of self-discovery. One of my favorite things about writing the book on paper first is the chance to improve upon it right away as I type it. I come across a sentence in which I know what I mean to say but there is no way the reader will likewise know. It must be reworded, rephrased, rethought! Those sentences stare me down with a challenge in their gaze. Do better! I love that challenge every single time it arises.

In the process of typing those pages (I'm in the middle of chapter eleven now!) I had an epiphanic flash regarding Full of Days, the finished, unpublished manuscript. The start of Full of Days has never sat well with me. There are few things I know about writing well but one is that the beginning of the story must grab the reader, drawing them into its tale with only a few paragraphs. The beginning of my manuscript is weak. If I'm honest with myself, I don't think the first paragraphs would cause me to read the rest of the book. As the first three chapters often make up the sample I'm able to send to publishers, I've wondered if this uncompelling beginning has been a principal factor in the manuscript rejections. But to return to yesterday! Seemingly out of nowhere, for my imagination was consumed by the characters of The Mercy Hour, it dawned on me how to rework the start of Full of Days without eliminating anything essential. Why couldn't I have thought of it sooner? Like, before I ever sent it to publishers! Ah well, I mustn't complain about the timing of the insight. Who knows how it might help me in future submissions.

After work last night I was desperate to make the changes which were already written out in my imagination. Three hours at my favorite coffeehouse and I not only had all the new material typed up but also the first few pages of Full of Days rewritten to my great satisfaction. I don't know if there are any necessary words besides "giddy" to describe my general spirit last night. The energy provided by some good hours of writing are comparable to all those wonderful endorphins produced during a great workout. There was no going to sleep at my usual time. My mind could not consent to rest. Instead I finished reading an L. M. Montgomery novel. This brought me no closer to sleep as the beauty of her writing and the magnificence of the story stirred up a veritable stew of emotions.

There are particular books that tear at my writer's soul. Excellence, beauty, effectiveness - a work like this assaults me. In reading it, I am thrilled to be a "writer," for whatever that's worth, and at the same moment pulled down into doubt of whether I can ever write anything meaningful and worthwhile. The events of last night - the new pages, rewriting the start of the manuscript, reading a gorgeous novel - somehow overwhelmed me. Last night was one of those "fully alive" nights. You know, those moments when you are engaged with life to the fullest, far beyond the engagement in the usual minutes and hours compiling your days. You are fully yourself alive. They are glorious times, are they not? This particular one has left me with the feeling of an old wine skin that cannot possibly contain itself much longer. The emotion... the thrill and urgency that are simultaneously elating and burdening me will not recede. I could scream, or sing, or sprint. I could burst into a thousand twinkling pieces to settle in the sky with no hope of return. I could write. I will write.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Only 10 days ago?

Was it really only 10 days ago that I left these sights behind? Perusal of the pictures brings about a lot of sighs. Beyond the views, I desperately miss the calm. They weren't lazy days. They were calm. My mind was at ease... happy. I was a writer and I didn't have to fight against a half dozen other titles in order to be a writer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Face to Face

Oh, Lent, you are much like that dear old friend or family member who it is most difficult to like but impossible not to love for their great worth. That one who is brutally honest (always with the best of intentions), not softening any blows or dressing up the truth. This is what this season of penance, prayer and self-examination does to me: it looks me in the eye and speaks the truth.

I happened upon this statement by St. Therese of Liseux: "Look Jesus in the face. There you will see how He loves us." She was speaking of Jesus found on the Cross, in particular. I'd add, "there you will see how you are to love." During Lent, if we have courage enough to take it, we have the chance to look into the face of our Savior and see not only His love but ours as well - or lack thereof. Love... it's a fluffy, comfy word in mainstream culture but this love that St. Therese discerns in the face of our Lord is neither fluffy nor comfy. It is every virtue practiced, every commandment obeyed, every sacrifice willingly offered, every selfish desire overturned for selflessness. That is love.

When I explain purgatory to the RCIA classes one thing I focus on is the nature of the suffering that occurs during that period of purification. Among the causes for pain in purgatory is the total self-awareness the soul gains of all the ways he or she might have been more ready for Heaven - all the opportunities of love that were negligently overlooked or willfully refused. How painful to realize not only the sheer number of missed chances to love (that is, to be like Christ) but also the consequences rippling out from them.

Lent can be a little slice of purgatory, I suppose. Face to face with my Savior, I can also stand face to face with myself and see just how much I am "found in Christ" and how much I remove myself from Him by my actions and inactions.

Lord, save us from ourselves.

Monday, February 15, 2010


As a typical single, romantically minded, literature loving girl, I am well aware of the standards among my kind. I find, however, I'm not the most apt to adhere to standards.

My all time favorite Austen is Persuasion, not Pride & Prejudice. I'd much prefer Mr. Knightley to be my hero over Mr. Darcy. Emily of New Moon is a more kindred spirit to me than Anne with an "e." (Though I'd fall head over heels for a real life Gilbert Blythe any day of the week.) I think guys named Rick have a built in tendency toward skeeziness so I've never trusted Humphrey Bogart's character in "Casablanca." Canadians have a better chance of falling into my own personal "intriguing" or "sexy" categories than any man from continental Europe. I appreciate boldness, not flirtation. And long walks on the beach are always better solo than with another person.

I was thinking over the weekend about how set I am in my preferences. My "types," if you will, whether it be in regard to books, movies, travels, hobbies or men, are well defined. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That is, does it make me capable of focusing on what is most likely a well-suited fit for me without wasting my time? Or does it increase the chances that I will overlook unexpected possibilities for joy/fun/satisfaction?

Of course the thought that my preferences could be potentially damaging to my life brought me around to the additonal thought that I may very well be outside of other people's set preferences, too. Ouch.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And Now We Wait... and Wait

Well, Full of Days is officially submitted to Sophia Institute Press, the one and only Catholic publisher I have found who actually prints a few fiction titles once in a while. Sending a manuscript submission always takes a lot out of me. I hit send on that email or attach the postage to that envelope with shaking hands. The panicked sort of thrill leaves me scattered and on edge for at least the rest of the day. There is this immense sense of helplessness after sending it out. The ball is in the publisher's court, and will likely lie still on the floor for a couple of months at least before they make any sort of move. Heck, Moody Publishing has held onto the ball for the better part of a year now. If I knew any way to get that ball rolling, you can bet I'd be doing it.

Enough with the ball metaphor. I said about four different prayers before sending that email minutes ago. When I'd repeated "Jesus, I trust in You" enough times to grasp a brief flash of calm, the submission was sent on its way. What kind of reception it will be given is next to impossible to know.

I think a glass of wine is in order. Or two. Starting now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And another thing...

To elaborate on that comment in the last post, that I feel like myself again now that I'm writing: I'd love to say that's an exaggeration. Perhaps the proper thing to say is that writing just makes me happier but even without it I am happy. I mean, I have a whole heck of a lot of good things in this little life of mine. Between the family, the friends, the stable job, the work in the Church... am I being ungrateful to set such stock in writing? Maybe. I don't know what kind of analysis should made. All I know is that I feel most alive, most engaged with life, when I am writing. Do I need more of a reason for this desire to write or for my efforts to get published or for my restlessness when I have to set aside the writing for other responsibilities?

The other night someone asked me what is most important to me about writing. It took me a few tries to really hit on what he wanted to know and it came down to this: God made me a writer. He knew all along I'd be a writer. When I began to write it was not a planned change for my entire life. It happened during a period when my plans were falling apart and I had no idea what I ought to be doing or could expect to be doing in the future. I was unhappy, to put it nicely, and in need of something to satiate the frustration. I can't even identify the starting point for what became Full of Days, my first novel. I don't remember exactly how the idea formed or how seriously I took it at first. By God's grace and encouragement, I did not ignore the notion of writing that book. As I proceeded with the attempt (honestly, until it was more than halfway finished I only considered it an attempt to write a book without any particular expectations for it), my whole self became engrossed in the work. There was joy in the hours I dedicated to writing, while there continued to be disappointment in most of the other hours. In hindsight, I think it was by God's great wisdom that the beginnings of my writing endeavors were in the context of all that frustration and disappointment. The roots were able to take hold and grow strong so that even when other things changed for the better and life brought new and good opportunities, the writing wasn't forsaken. I had too thoroughly tasted and loved the experience of writing to deem it a temporary occupation now that I had other things to do. It stuck. The desire is not lessened; the satisfaction continues to sustain me; the determination and hope remain.

When I began writing, I couldn't have known what would come of it or what else my life would include. Heck, I still don't know what will come of any of it. As I write at present, I still wonder what else will enter my life - what jobs, what relationships, what experiences - but I don't wonder if I will continue to write. I am me and I will be me, no matter the setting or circumstances. I am a writer.

Living It Up

Oh, where to begin. This whole vacation thing is really treating me well. Better than I even could have expected. At the moment, I am sitting in the morning sunshine in the kitchen of a chalet in Breckenridge, CO. The boys have just left for a day of skiing, the mom is still sleeping and I have been proofing the rough draft of my chapter-by-chapter summary for a publisher submission. Yesterday I finished that rough draft. The summary is something I've picked away at for the last five months or more. It's been pathetically slow-going. But yesterday, I put in at least four hours, maybe more, and finished the rough draft. Now that is what I'm talking about! That is why I was so eager to take this vacation! I feel like myself again. A writer.

I did take a break in the middle of the afternoon yesterday and wandered around downtown Breckenridge. My first experience of the Rocky Mountains took my breath away. I felt like a child, so excited by everything I saw. Each corner I turned meant another picture to take because it was a fresh angle on the views. The peaks surrounding us are topped with pristine snow, glinting in the sunshine and shrinking the sky. The sky is always the biggest part of the landscape where I come from, but not here. It is the diminutive background to the mountains here.

Being the only "morning person" in the house, it's easy to include silence and prayer first thing upon getting out of bed. Today I cooked breakfast for the rest of them and it was plenty rewarding to see the happiness of three men stumbling down the stairs to follow the smell of food before they're even fully awake. I keep thinking of how God didn't have to do this. He didn't have to make it possible for me to go on this vacation. He didn't have to give us a week of sunshine. He didn't even have to design the landscape to fill us with awe. But He did because He loves so well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Come True

A few posts ago, I was tossing hypothetical coins into a hypothetical well, making what I acknowledged to be largely self-serving wishes. Among them was the desire for a whole month of Saturdays in which I could write my new book. Maybe I should voice my wishes more often!

Rather unexpectedly, a friend invited me to join a small group on a trip to Breckenridge, CO. As it was a somewhat last minute invitation, my first instinct was to not give it any serious regard. But my friend's generous offer occupied every other thought in my head for the remainder of that day, so the serious regard couldn't be avoided for too long. As the group is traveling there for skiing, of course, and I haven't skied in over 10 years, I thought it'd be silly to tag along but not participate in the fun. And then I thought, "What a great idea to tag along but not participate in the fun!" Translation: for at least part of each of the five days in CO, I could have the chalet to myself while they are skiing. I could write! It might not be a month, but suddenly I was faced with the offer of five "Saturdays" for writing. Once this dawned on me, I could not put aside the idea of accepting my friend's invitation. I told myself not to get my hopes up since there were several obstacles that would need to be overcome if I were to go. One by one, each obstacle worked out smoothly. I was left without any valid reason not to go.

So here I am, six days away from my first visit to the Rocky Mountains; plane ticket purchased; arrangements made; anticipation building. The others in the group are likely wondering if they should feel sorry for me when they're heading out for some adventure on the ski slopes and I'm left to amuse myself at the house. I don't know if I'll be able to convince them not too offer their pity. I only know I won't be in need of it.

Another friend, when I told him about the trip and my excitement about having the time to write, asked why I needed to go away to write. Couldn't I just stay at home and do the same thing? Maybe I should be able to do that, but I just can't. When I am at home, I have other responsibilities, other priorities with rightful claims on my time. It's not as if the only incentive for going to Colorado is the writing hours. There is also the chance to see a breathtakingly beautiful area of the country which I have yet to visit. There's the time that will be spent with several wonderful people (when they aren't on the slopes). There's the fact that the chalet we have for five nights is free of any expense to ourselves. But the writing hours do count as one of the incentives, without a doubt. After months of setting my book aside, of taking it off the priorities list (sometimes with and sometimes without complaint), I feel as if the Lord is saying, "Here you go. Here's a little time for you and your pen and your paper. Take it. Enjoy it. Use it well. And while you're at it, soak in some of the beauty I created in this world and have a grand time with some of the people I've placed in your life."

Maybe my hypothetical wishing well wasn't so hypothetical after all.