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.

;)

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.

:D

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.

;)

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.

:D

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.

:D

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.

Feeling the Waves

"There's no secret to balance, you just have to feel the waves." -Frank HerbertI’m starting to feel like a broken record: Too much, too much, it’s all too much. And yet, this week, I feel like I’ve come closest to surfing the waves of emotions, work, and escapism so that I’m feeling slightly more balanced and healthy than I had been.

Even with the short notice about our cousin, the notification that he had, indeed, passed on Thursday was more of a blessing than a horror. Hubs had gotten to say his goodbye last week. With one lung already gel-ified then, we hoped the cancer would take him quickly as there was no quality of life even then. Rest in peace, brother of hubs’ youth.

On the same day, I got some fantastic (to me!) news: I was accepted into the Spring 2015 session (March & April) of the virtual writer workshop. I’m still waiting to hear what, specifically, will be required, but I know I will be submitting pieces weekly for critique, and critiquing seven from my cohort in turn, also weekly. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m hopeful this takes my writing to the next level, and gives me a longer-term connection with other authors serious about their writing careers.

Friday, then, we saw the first payment to begin work on a big new contract at work. This means the next few weeks are going to be crazy at the office, so I knew I needed to focus on NOT-work for a few days.

Friday night we shared a lovely cuddle and catch-up on Agents of Shield. Yesterday the weather was snow, sleet, and freezing nastiness, so we didn’t leave the house, and I got to read the ARC for Leaving Berlin. (You’ll see the review 3/3, the day it’s released to the public. As a preview: Pre-order the book now!) I was even inspired to write… all of 312 words. But hubs had a link for that too: 25 things creative people do differently. If I’ve started finding a rhythm at home, maybe that will give me the energy I need to fuel that creative engine.

So: Goals – some writing (partial check); stay-at-home date night (check); book review posting (check); more home settling (partial check). Walking? That would be a week of NOPE. Between sub-zero and ice, honey don’t play that… As I said at the top, finding some balance, but it seems always at the cost of something falling off the plate. Of course, shoveling and walking today means I’m exhausted now and morning comes quickly these days.

Once again, then, I’ll encourage you to check out how my fellow ROW80ers are doing on their goals, and promise to report back next week with my progress–hoping the waves don’t catch me in the undertow in the meantime.

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School Series Book 1This is another book I picked up through my NetGalley membership. I’d thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (and reviewed Soulless, Timeless, Heartless, Changeless, and Blameless on my blog), so even though this new series falls into the YA genre, it carries over enough of the steampunk world-building and even a few of the characters from that first series that I was tipped into wanting to read it. After all, a series intro like the one that comes with this book promises great things:

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

The writing style shows Carriger has continued to strengthen her trademark voice. The humor is deeply embedded in the story–but in a British, stiff-upper-lip tone that reflects what I enjoy most about Monty Python:

“How do you do? Isn’t this a spiffing day? Really, quite spiffing. I’m Dimity. Who are you?”

“Sophronia.”

“Is that all?”

“What, isn’t it enough?”

“Oh, well, I mean to say, I’m Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, actually, in full.”

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick.”

“Gosh, that’s a mouthful.”

“It is? I suppose so.” As though Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott were a nice easy sort of name.

The nicest part of the story is Sophronia’s evolution from family misfit to something even more interesting–and the subversive commentary on women’s roles even in very early 20th-century England. Above all, this finishing school is a way for young women of quality to become aware of the wider application of feminine wiles and tricks of accoutrement. It’s easy to imagine a school like this turning out the Mata Hari–in fact, the timeline of that woman’s life falls neatly into the framework established for this story, and I’m having a head-slapping moment for not having tumbled to that fact earlier.

:D

For the first in a series, this book does not suffer from over-explanation–though I suspect my deep familiarity with the Parasol Protectorate series may also mean I would have been irritated had the author gone into additional detail about the politics and world in which Sophronia is making her way. In fact, the inclusion of Mme Lefoux and her niece operated as something of Easter Eggs for me, and served as tidy reminders of the wider world Sophronia faces. Because, certainly, she is young and naive when she starts at the boarding school, and needs the perspective their experiences can bring to bear.

In view of the fact that I swallowed the book (and its sequel) in a sitting last year while I was supposed to be focused on finishing homework myself, I can highly recommend this book for its ability to draw the reader into an escapist fantasy operating on a consistent set of internal rules. For anyone who wants a more scientific take on young people away at school for the first time (as opposed to the magic in Harry Potter‘s universe), this should fit the bill nicely.

Enough Already

I know when I have had enough, I just don't always act on it...I’m sure my friends in Boston have said this already (and earned it!) but all the overload of the past few months finally tipped me over into … doing nothing.

The quote from Zen to Zany seems appropriate, because this week my brain shut down. It forced me to act on having had enough already.

We celebrated our anniversary as well as Santino’s second birthday this past week, and we did both quietly at home. The frigid temps have kept us inside for the past four days, so I only walked three days last week, for 5.6 miles. I’ve taken care of mindless, administrivial, and frustrating things. My brain just hasn’t been there for anything more taxing or interesting, and at this point I’m having a hard time reconstructing anything actually productive I accomplished this week.

Except that I cleared our junk room and have now set it up as hubs’ treatment space. Which is great, but premature, considering he’s not quite licensed in Virginia yet. Even though he is, in Wisconsin. Like I said… administrivial hoops to jump through. The nice thing about having done that work is that the whole house feels more energized for not having things stuffed in that room willy-nilly for us to face “later”. It’s been on my long-term to-do list for about six months, so I’m completing at least part of my goal of finalizing our “move-in”.

I suspect part of the nudge to Just Doing It was getting the notification of the impending end of our USPS forwarding order. (We’ve really been here that long?!) And/or having received my MBA diploma in yesterday’s mail. (FINALLY!)

Whatever the case may be, it was good to check the task off my list. It was another¬† reflection of how internally focused the week was. Since KouKi seems to have grown up just enough to hold it through the night and let us know when she needs to go out–and the cold snap has frozen the yard sufficient that the dogs don’t come in looking like they’ve been mud wrestling–we’re starting to get more rest. It will be a while before that means I’m not a zombie–especially since it looks like we really are on a deathwatch for hubs’ cousin. There will be more emotional wounds to recover from in the near future.

At least settling more fully into our house gives me the roots and calm space that I have some hope of getting into a real routine. Soon. We’ll see whether that is this week or this month, but in the meantime, some of my ROW80 cohorts are still managing to accomplish what they’ve set out to do. Check back next week to see whether I’m back in the saddle again.