The Little Things

"Enjoy little things in life... For one day you'll look back and realizeI’ve been reveling in a quiet day at home today. Unplugged. Out of touch. They’re rarer than they should be and remind me why I have the goal of a stay-at-home date night on my list of Things To Do. There’s something uncommonly nourishing about not facing crowds of people, endless errands, and a to-do list or social obligations a mile long.

Of course, part of the reason for the quietude is that our trip to the eastern shore last weekend landed an unexpected, unwanted visitor. First hubs, then I succumbed to a nasty flu that has meant extra sleep was no longer a nice-to-have option–but was also that much harder to come by with the massive headache/body ache that came with the virus. We’re lucky it seems to have been of the 24-hour variety that is making me overly grateful for being mostly healthy again today.

I’m also down to my final few critiques for my writer’s workshop. By some miracle, I am still on target for finishing everything on time. And I’m really grateful for the insights my peers have shared with me. (I’ll be weeding out all the distancing “I feel”, “I think”, etc. from my first-person narratives in the very near future.) But this also means I need to be pulling up my big-girl panties and facing the remainder of my story in the very near future. I’m not sure why, but it certainly seems that finishing up all the story arcs I’ve built out over the course of the trilogy feels more overwhelming than when I was just enjoying the story for its own sake.

So it was with high interest that I read a future-is-past piece of a story from one of the other authors in the group, and started re-exploring the Berlin Wall again. It’s odd to think that monument to the Cold War was built–at least symbolically–in one night in 1961. That’s how little time it took to lay 30 miles of barbed wire to enforce the boundary between east and west–and entrap a population to ensure a self-declared country’s economic survival. This past November saw the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall already. (Another sign of how quickly time flies!) Ironically, a Russian-based news and opinion site has one of the best collections of 25 things people most likely don’t know about the Wall that I’ve seen. It’s a good reminder that history has some valuable lessons we would do best to pay attention to–by way of avoiding a repeat. It certainly contributes to the plotbunny possibilities of the future in ways I hadn’t anticipated for myself.

This week hubs also forwarded another useful article listing 18 spiritual teachings to remind me to focus on the Now. As the author says: “The past brought me here, but it is over. The future is totally uncertain.” All I can do is enjoy the moment I have, revel in my furbabies’ flourishing, and love my family and friends.

So I’m okay with another week short on walking (by way of social duties, rain, and flu derailment–for a total of 3 of just over 2 miles), and short on PMP studying (though the class Monday night gave another few key tips that make that mountain seem not so daunting). At least I met two other big goals. And I can build on them. So go, see how the other ROW80ers are doing this week, and know that I’ll be back again next week, crossing my fingers for not quite so many social obligations or health issues that I can make more progress on the other goals.

Having Fun

"When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead." -Earnest HemingwayIt’s hard to believe how often weeks fly by in a blur; we’re almost halfway through the fourth month of the year already, and it feels subjectively like the year just started. Certainly, I’m finally settling into the sense of being at home with the house a little more reliably settled. Between that and the sudden blooming of the trees in the neighborhood, it feels right and appropriate to be having some fun.

We had friends visiting from Wisconsin, prompting some additional home clean-up efforts this week, and then last night we got to see some other friends in concert. The venue was an intimate theater on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so we decided to make it a real date night and check the furbabies into an overnight stay at Affectionate Pet so we wouldn’t have to worry about their well-being for an unknown stretch of hours. Turns out our worries were well-founded. Though we left with plenty of time, we experienced our first run of parking-lot-style traffic on the Capital Beltway, and kept finding our way onto smaller and smaller byways to try to keep moving. So our leisurely evening turned into quite an adventure–that barely left us time to grab a bite to eat. We did stumble onto a gem of a locale, though: The BBQ Joint is worth visiting if you’re in the region. Date night was thus a success and we thoroughly enjoyed The Slambovians for their latest. (If you’re into eclectic folk rock with punk and bluesy elements, look them up to see whether they’re visiting near you–they are MASTERS of enforcing a GOOD time!)

The Grand Slambovians, Easton, Maryland, April 11

As for meeting any of the actual goals I set last week… I’m still on top of the critiquing deadlines. However, I appear to have forgotten my phone for the majority of the half-milers I took KouKi and Santino on over the course of the week. My phone says I only walked three times for 2.8 miles, but I’m pretty sure that’s a huge underestimation of my actual steps. ohwell. I obviously also managed a date night, but the remainder of my goals … they’re still in development. I’m okay with that for the moment, since my study class for the PMP kicks off officially tomorrow and catching up on the backlog of reviews I have to write isn’t something that will stress me out. And the other goals are upcoming, anyway.

Hubs’ emailed reminder of 11 life lessons to keep us on track also reaffirmed the importance of remaining focused on appreciating the life we’re living.

So I’m in a pretty good place, feeling myself blossoming with the allergies of spring, but enjoying the extra sunshine and the peace that comes with slightly more routine–and a good dose of fun. I’ll be back again next week, but in the meantime check out how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.

Love All Around

Happy Easter! May the Angels Protect you, may sadness forget you, may joy surround you, with love all around you.I’m not a big fan of holidays, as they’re generally manufactured by people with social control agendas… On the other hand, I love holidays for the excuse they give us to hang out with the people who are special to us, spreading a little happiness and love in a world that keeps insisting on giving reminders of how twisted humanity can be. So: Happy Easter to those who celebrate–sharing blessings is always worthwhile, and Zen to Zany came up with a good one for today, that’s appropriate across denominational divides.

:)

In keeping with the inspirational nature of sharing blessings, hubs also shared a good post that collects as diverse a group of thinkers as I’ve ever seen to list 20 transformational quotes. The theme of contrasting fear and love is consistent, as is the necessity of finding the inner path to openness. Which makes the article I found about why playing it safe is a bad idea all the more pertinent. (Not that I will be changing my mind about a motorcycle–I like my two Priuses too much.)

With those injunctions in mind, and recognizing that my ideas about planning seem to inspire the gods to grand hilarity, I’m still going to go out on a limb and set myself some goals. As this round takes us to the end of June, there will be two distinct phases of my goals, since I have the firm commitment to the writers’ workshop through the end of this month.

  1. Complete critiquing requirements for writers’ workshop (final = 4/25);
  2. Complete re-write of Red Slaves book 1 for re-release 5/15;
  3. Complete Red Slaves book 3 for release by the end of June;
  4. Continue walking at least 5 times per week for a minimum 10 miles;
  5. Study for and pass the PMP exam;
  6. Carve out at least one stay-at-home date night with hubs per week; and
  7. Post 3 more book reviews.

As I look at that list… It seems audacious in the extreme. Yet I have to say the critiques from my fellow workshop participants that I’ve been able to follow so far on what I’ve done in the Red Slaves series have been meaty, useful, and inspiring. I suspect they may be the prod necessary to push me across the finish line. At the same time, I see big changes on the horizon at the day job, and Gayla has also committed to releasing Discord Jones book 5 in less than two weeks, so I’m up to my eyeballs with those editing duties as well. Hubs has also submitted the last of his paperwork to open up his acupuncture practice in Virginia, so we’ve been feverishly developing all the necessary marketing collateral, too.

So I’ll keep reminding myself to count all my blessings and enjoy each of the moments I’m given, understanding that I have made these choices based on that classic Constitutional right (injunction!) for The Pursuit of Happiness. (Remind me of that, when life overwhelms me again…)

May we all come out on the other end transformed by our experience, and deeper in love with the lives we’ve chosen for ourselves. In the meantime, check out the other ROW80er’s goals, and I’ll be back again next week recounting what successes and failures I’ve faced.

Time to Breathe

"We think we need so many useless things when all we really need is time to breathe."This is the middle of my “break” week for my writer’s workshop–and between Round of Words in 80 days rounds, strangely enough. It really couldn’t have come at a better time–though I wish I’d been able to get more done this weekend. Again. Seems like mostly my weekends these days are all about getting caught up on sleep. Then Sunday night is the night to cram in all those last-minute things I’d thought I’d do earlier.

Vicious cycle, there, much?

The surprise of the week was that hubs took a major load off my shoulders by unpacking, organizing, and re-arranging all the remaining boxes cluttering the downstairs. Technically that crosses off one of my goals for this round, even though I wasn’t the one who ended up doing it. Hubs is DEFINITELY a keeper!

:)

(The downside: He tweaked his back enough to keep him up two nights running, so he may need some of my lessons learned about when to say enough is enough…) It really is amazing how a little organization helps energize a whole house. And reveal all the useless things you can declutter. Which, coincidentally, is one of the 50 habits for a happy life hubs forwarded to me this week, too. Along with mental health days.

πŸ˜‰

Another one on that list is walking or daily exercise. It was a cold, wet week here, so we didn’t do as well on that, though we still managed four days for a total of at least 5 miles–though I kept forgetting my phone for the shorter ones, so I know it was more than that.

Technically, it’s the end of Round 1 on ROW80 for this year, so next week will be another reassessment of goals for Round 2. In the meantime, we’ll see how well I do with incorporating the critiques from my workshop into what I’ve already written–and whether that spurs me on to additional new words. One of the kewlest spurs to my imagination recently, though, was an article speculating on what future morality might look like–in other words, what our grandchildren might condemn us for. I’m still chasing plotbunnies on that one, even as I try to stay focused on what I need to finish first. I’ll be back next week, letting you know how it goes.

Escaping Reality

"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." -Lloyd AlexanderIt’s been a fiction-filled week for me–though I haven’t gotten to write anything of my own in that time. I’m very much enjoying the stories I’m getting to read via my workshop, and Gayla is churning hard on a brand new story, loosely related to her Deadlands Hunt book–and I have the honor of getting each new handwritten page as a text as she ratchets her word count higher.

πŸ˜€

I’ve also been sucked into the Ghosts of Tsavo, which the author sent to me via my blog for review. I’ll give you a preview of my review by saying that if you enjoy Gail Carriger’s work the way I do, you should ABSOLUTELY run to buy this book, too–and it’s currently only $.99.

All of these things have made me consider one more time why I dedicate so much time and energy to fictional words. When I ran across Lloyd Alexander’s quote, then, it struck me as pertinent. Even more so when hubs forwarded an article detailing 10 choices we’d regret in 10 years from the Buddhist perspective. In particular, endlessly waiting for another day to do the things you want to do is deadly. And gives me a handy excuse to recuse myself from the social whirl to further enjoy the variations in understanding all the fiction I enjoy brings to my life.

πŸ˜‰

That list also validates the ROW80 project for its ongoing focus on helping authors develop a backbone (accountability) and document results (not giving up after repeated failures). So I walked five days this week for a total of 5.7 miles. I caught up with my crit group requirements. Hubs and I enjoyed another installment of Agent Carter for a stay-home date night.

I’m still a laggard on the house-settling and PMP studying. But that latter is shoving to June now anyway, since I’ve been approved for a more formal study group through work. I still have work to do to prepare marketing materials for hubs’ Virginia-based practice, and any other freelance work that comes my way, so I’m not ready to say I have a handle on my own expectations of myself yet, but the longer days and some of the lifestyle changes we’ve made in the past week have energized me. The workshop-generated critiques have, too. I think I might have the drive to push through to the end of the novel that’s been eluding me for over a year.

:)

I’m marking up my regained focus as another win for fiction.

πŸ˜€

Meantime, I suggest you check out how the other ROW80ers are wrapping up this round. I’ll be back next week, documenting my own progress and considering, again, how my furbabies really are my kids

Failing Enthusiastically

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -Winston ChurchillI got the sick that’s been circling the office this weekend, but also got to see an Aunt I hadn’t seen in 5 years… It’s hard to live up to your commitments when life keeps getting in the way. It’s useful to remind myself that even the greats had to contend with this, so I’m sharing Winston Churchill’s wisdom today.

To enumerate: I’m WAY behind on the critiques that are all due… TUESDAY. As anticipated, I haven’t written any new words for my own work, either.

On the other hand, the weather has warmed up enough to tease us with thoughts of spring. Naturally, there were icy patches too, so on both Monday and Tuesday when we took the three punkaninies on their morning walkies, I managed to find them. And slip. And fall. I have some interesting scrapes and bruises now. Which also make for a disinclination to sit for long at the keyboard. Still, we walked 6 of the 7 days of the week, for a total of 7.1 miles. Not bad for a slow ramp-up.

Part of my exhaustion for the week was also related to the day job, where we’re starting a new project that has me driving an unaccustomed amount. In DC-area traffic. I racked up 140 miles over the course of four very long days. In the process, though, a colleague told me about Categories, (also available on iTunes) which promptly led to two nights of giggles and fun with hubs as we passed the game baton back and forth. So yay on twice the date night.

πŸ˜€

It’s possible some of my exhaustion and lateness-with-assignments is self-induced. whistles innocently

Hubs also shared a useful list of questions to help sharpen my inner focus/priorities. In particular, I think some phases of experience really are about giving yourself a mental break and reconnecting with people/beings who are important in your life. Or helping them through surgical recovery. It’s funny how those times creep up on you unexpectedly though–difficult to make plans when they’re so regularly upended. And it’s one of the most regular frustrations in my life: Plan one thing and a series of events puts the kibosh on achieving the plan. There aren’t many times I would consider Woody Allen a source of wisdom, but his quote “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” has played out with dismaying frequency in my life.

Nonetheless, I keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep embracing the detours, and am still enjoying the ride–stuffy head and sore throat notwithstanding. Here’s crossing my fingers that I catch up this week, to set myself up for a small writing success at the end of the month. Meantime, check out the other ROW80ers and their progress.

I Am Woman

"I am a woman. I can be as contrary as I choose." -Lady Violet Crowley, Downton AbbeyIt’s International Women’s Day and the beginning of Daylight Savings here in the U.S. And we’re finally starting to see the end of winter. Maybe that’s why I feel a little more energized, and like I’m accomplishing things. Though I’m really not. Other than maybe catching up on sleep and keeping up with the pace of critiquing for the writer’s workshop I’m now involved in. I’m working as hard on that as I did for any MBA class… but feel like I’m getting so much more out of it.

So I can be contrary about not having wanted to go for any more schooling. Except this kind. Or professional development for work. Or any other kind of exception that may come up down the road.

I’m just coming to understand that being explicit about What’s In It For Me isn’t just a marketing or sales principle, it’s a key connector in story-telling. Unless your reader understands why they should invest their time and attention in the things you’re saying, it’s unlikely you will keep them as a reader–regardless of whether they’re reading a business proposal, a description of some technical option, or a low fantasy novel.

All of this to say… My words are all going into what I hope are worthwhile, insightful critiques at the moment, so I’m taking a break on new words for my fiction until 3/26, when I have a 1-week break and have plans to churn out responses to the feedback I’ve been getting on what I’ve written so far. It’s actually quite exciting. And energizing.

:)

The nicer weather also means we got out for three walks this week. They only totaled 2.2 miles, but at least we’re moving again. All the time I’m dedicating to the workshop means no date night this week, either. Nor any further home-settling. But the doggies are getting old enough to finally allow us good sleep at night and a great reduction in the number of indoor accidents to clean up, so we’re piecing together our new family rhythm as we drag ourselves out of the winter doldrums.

Once again, I’ll be back again next week, reporting on such progress as I’ve made. In the meantime, check out the other ROW80ers.

Book Review: Leaving Berlin

Leaving BerlinI got a chance at the pre-release ARC of Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon as part of my membership at NetGalley. It intrigued me as a throwback to my time living in Berlin–and under Communist “secret informer” eyes even before that–, as well as a complete change of pace from my usual fare of scifi, fantasy, and romance novels. It was everything a political thriller should be: gripping, with small details that made the final reveal make sense.

The writing itself evoked Kafka and that hunted, haunted perspective of someone who has made a choice not to trust anyone. The politics of the U.S. Commie Scare drive the inciting incident, but the story has all the feeling of the titular location. The streets mentioned, the Brandenburger Tor, these were all places I’ve been, and the story felt every bit as surreal as a fantasy, being thrown back to when the walls still showed strafing–even as late as my last visit in the late 90s. But this story was also set in a time when the initial post-war fervor for ideology was at its height:

Alex looked at their bright, attentive faces, Brecht’s cynicism as out of place here as it had been in California, and for the first time felt the hope that warmed the room. Shabby suits and no stockings, but they had survived, waited in hiding or miraculously escaped, for this new chance, the idea the Nazis hadn’t managed to kill.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and this story, even with its early, disjointed jumps, captures the underlying reality that pushes questionable decisions. I know there’s a file somewhere in Berlin that documents the years I lived there with my family; my father has seen and read the redacted version. Knowing who the confidential informants were–who were also our friends–makes for another surreal echo for me in this story. As well as the classic German class distinctions and need for philosophical underpinnings and rationalizations. I don’t know how much of that will convey to someone who doesn’t have the personal experiences I do, but I suspect those echos will be as gripping and uncomfortable even for those without my perspective.

For that reason, I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a “quiet” historical thriller, driven, in the end, just by the love of a father for his son–an echo across generations. It takes some getting used to the literary devices in the early chapters, but the action doesn’t let you go, either, so it’s likely a book for those who read a mystery once for the reveal, and then ten more times for the nuances that got you there. Even more, I strongly recommend this to anyone who thinks they know Communist history in its monolithic path. The details matter, as well as the personal lives and motivations that push forward such a stark ideology, and this story plays that out as clearly as any I’ve read on the subject.

Normalcy Paved with Good Intentions

"Normality is a paved road: It's comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it." -Vincent Van GoghI’m beginning to suspect that my quest for some kind of normalcy or balance is my form of tilting at windmills. Then I run across today’s quote from Vincent Van Gogh and am reminded that when we’re comfortable and follow the expected path, it’s entirely too easy to take the subtle and the creative for granted.

So this weekend I affirmed my participation in the Virtual Writers’ Workshop and started collecting the words I will have my fellow participants critique. It’s a little nerve-wracking to try to explain where I am in the Red Slaves series, and how I got there … and that I really should be adding another 2K words to what I have currently written to take full advantage of a captive beta reading audience.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA

I did actually add a few words to my MS this week (137, to be exact) on the one night I wasn’t so wiped out or otherwise occupied as to be unable to put coherent words on a page. That pace does not bode well for a speedy completion of the next 25,000 or so words needed to finish the trilogy. But then hubs forwarded a link that reminds me of why I’m fascinated by cryptohistory, and makes me wonder whether dragons and other mystical beasties might one day be proven true–supporting what seems to be my leitmotif across stories: That magic is real, if we but have the eyes to see it.

The goal for this round that I’ve now officially beaten: Posting book reviews. Three are already live, and the fourth one is written and waiting for the official release date of Leaving Berlin later this week. I have a few more books I’d like to review, too, so the Wednesday review schedule might become an actual thing.

Mostly, though, we’ve both been under the weather. Again. Which led to the decision to take the furbabies to playtime for the day yesterday in order to be able to catch up on sleep. (I’m actually going to count toward that date night goal, because… CUDDLES!) It seems to have helped at least some, but tonight’s ice storm, following the sub-zero temps and snow of the past week have meant none of us has had the exercise that keeps us healthiest. And means walking happened once, last Sunday, for less than a mile.

I’m feeling like this round may just be my catching-up-with-myself time–keeping some of those big goals in sight, but mostly nibbling around the edges of them while I acclimate to and fully settle into what our new life in this new place looks and feels like.

So I encourage you to visit the other ROW80ers to see how they’re doing, and think about how you measure your own progress–whether it comes in regular chunks, or more intermittently.

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & ConspiraciesI’m finally catching up to my NetGalley obligations, posting reviews of books I’ve gained access to through my membership. In this case, it’s the second in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series, Curtsies & Conspiracies. As I mentioned last week, I inhaled both the first and this second book in the series in a sitting, enjoying the near-contiguous hand-off between the two.

In book two, Sophronia has started to settle in to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality when the group is warned that its members will face the first of the tests to determine whether the girls are, indeed, worthy to continue.

As usual, Sophronia sees conspiracies behind conspiracies, but has to suffer ostracism from her peers for her unusually high marks. Thus, she begins a closer association with non-student Vieve, Mme Lefoux’s niece, as well as the sootie, Soap, who’s been helping her keep Bumbersnoot well-fed. Together, the unlikely trio explore some of the details of the technology at the core of the series.

“The first aether-borne dirigible flight, and we get to witness it! Do you realize, if Giffard’s calculations are correct, this could halve float times? Can you believe it? We could get all the way to Scotland in four days! I wonder how he is handling aether-current monitoring. Can you imagine being that high up?”

Sophronia was not as impressed as Vieve thought she should be. “It is still faster by sleeper train.”

“Yes, but this is floating. Floating! Using aether currents. The possibilities are endless. It’s so exciting!” Vieve bounced up and down on Sophronia’s bed.

The young inventor had stopped by for a visit after breakfast. Sophronia had no idea where the scamp ate, but clearly it was within hearing distance of the assembly.

The expanding circle of incongruous names (Lord Dingleproops?! Felix Golborne, Viscount Mersey?? Professor Shrimpdittle! Picklemen, for crying out loud!) accounts for a reliable thread of laughter on its own, without considering the string of ridiculous circumstances Sophronia injects herself into. So while the author defined the Parasol Protectorate series as a comedy of manners, this series is shaping up to take the ridiculous deeper into the sublime.

I very much appreciate the association of the very fine points of etiquette with profound silliness, since it serves to underline the constraints under which people have chosen to operate while also illustrating that from another perspective, even constraints can serve a purpose and bring greater meaning to any given set of interactions.

So once again I will highly recommend a Carriger book for those looking for immersive, addictive escapism to a world that, while in some ways is staid and antiquated, also has interesting parallels to ours. The steampunk crossover with paranormal should appeal to a wide audience, even with such a young protagonist.