January 21, 2015, 9.16 pm
Thanks so much to everyone who shared their organizational systems here last week! I'm still loving (and relying heavily upon!) my new planner, and it's really helping me feel like I CAN get through everything this month, no matter how stressed I might get along the way. Right now I'm juggling an important freelance project (with a tight deadline) alongside my own new MG novel, where I'm heading straight for the climax of the book and really can't abandon it for long at a time...at least not if I want to keep all the plot strands and emotional arcs clear in my head. So far, thank goodness, it's all working out - I've been averaging 6,000 words a week on my freelance project and 2,500 words a week on my novel - but honestly, I often feel like I'm walking on a tightrope over a long, dark drop, just waiting for something to tip me over.
The truth is, though, that feeling is only really so strong because it's a dark, cold month here, there's ongoing house-stress making me extra-tense, and Toddler X is still not sleeping...so in other words, I've needed some serious mood-lifting help from time to time, to counteract the black cloud of stress and exhaustion that wants to descend on me and take over.
Over the years of being an adult, I've figured out a lot of little things that help in times like these. Hot chocolates always help, of course, especially when I make my favorite recipe and serve it to myself in my favorite cup. Setting aside five minutes to paint my toenails a deep, vibrant red makes me feel irrationally pleased with myself and terribly (wonderfully) self-indulgent. Talking to my brothers whenever possible feels really, really good and centering, even though it doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like. (That's the problem with the three of us living in three different countries with radically different timezones!)
Spending money is always really seductive in times like this, when I start thinking: Ooh, just forget your budget and buy that, it'll make everything so much better!
It almost never does, even with the shiniest, sparkliest piece of jewelry possible, or the coolest outfit. And that sickening dip of regret afterward is familiar enough, after years of practice, that nowadays, I mostly stand firm against temptation.
There is one purchase I made last week, though, that was SO worthwhile.
Until last week, I hadn't knitted in over 18 months, since before Toddler X was born. I kept knitting all throughout my pregnancy, knitting him a big, lush, cozy baby blanket and knitting MrD a cool snake-shaped scarf. My hands swelled up at the end of pregnancy, though, and that was that...especially since then-Baby X turned out to be a baby who could never, ever, EVER be set down. Oh well. I missed knitting for a while, but then I pretty much forgot about it.
Last week, though, when I was feeling particularly knotted up and stressed, Patrick asked me what I thought would actually make me feel better. And I was surprised to hear myself say: "Knitting." I was genuinely yearning for it.
So Toddler X and I went together to the lovely local wool shop, where the owner is smart, kind, about the same age as me, and has a baby just a bit younger than Toddler X, so stepping inside is also a great excuse to socialize. I chatted with her and browsed all the different wools, thinking, Well...I don't know, but maybe...
And then she pointed out a box that had just arrived and hadn't even been unpacked yet. It was full of gorgeous, soft alpaca wool in intensely rich colors that made my eyes widen.
Ohhh, yeah. That's what I've been waiting for!
I bought a 100-gram skein of deep, purplish blue yarn, and I bought a £2 pair of needles, too, because all of my old needles are buried somewhere in one of our boxes in the garage. (There are so many issues with our new rental house, there's no point unpacking everything. We WILL be moving, as soon as possible.) The yarn wasn't cheap, of course (although it wasn't horribly expensive either), and I had mixed feelings as I took it home. Had it really been worth the money that I'd spent? It was still cheaper than buying a scarf at one of the shops in town, but...
Worse yet, I had forgotten how to wind skeins of wool into balls. Four hours of cursing and untangling later, I was REALLY wondering what on earth I had been thinking.
Finally, though, I was ready. I cast on thirty deep-blue stitches, started to knit...and, wow. Ohhhhh, wow.
I had honestly forgotten just how good this feels.
By the time I finished the fourth row, I was in a happy kind of trance. My shoulders had relaxed more than they had in weeks.
I've knitted every day since then. It feels more than good. It feels like medicine, dissipating the tendrils of that black cloud every time they start wrapping themselves around me.
Just touching the soft, thick scarf that I'm in the middle of knitting fills me with so much tactile pleasure. But really, the scarf itself is not the point. It's the meditative aspect of the knitting, and the emotional therapy that it gives me.
It's snowing outside most days now, although the snow rarely sticks, and it'll be good to feel new warmth around my neck when the scarf is finished.
...But then I'll need another project, as soon as possible. Because I'm not giving this up again!
What about you guys? What do you use as mood medicine when you need it?
January 14, 2015, 2.42 pm
This week started with severe house stress (wahhh!), but the week has gotten a lot better since then, largely because I did something small that made a really big difference in the way I felt about everything: I bought myself a planner, for the first time in years.
OK, that may sound totally trivial to you. But I've been feeling fairly overwhelmed lately, with lots of different things looming over me, and my ongoing exhaustion making them all feel a lot more intense than they really were. I haven't bought a planner since...oh, 2010, maybe? Or maybe even 2009. I have a calendar on my laptop, after all, where I can input all of my appointments, so it seemed silly to buy a paper one to carry around in my purse. Why bother?
Well, I read this blog entry by Sarah Painter about the way she's using her own planner, and something inside me went: Bing! I want that!
I didn't get the same kind of planner, actually, but I went out the next day and found a planner at WH Smith that opens up every week to seven days' worth of appointment spaces on the lefthand page and a whole page of ruled paper for notes on the righthand page. On the lefthand page, I'm writing down every appointment I have (which mostly means remembering where and when to take 6-year-old MrD and/or Toddler X for their activities). On the righthand page, I'm writing out my goals for the week - which means deciding exactly what my top priorities for the week really are, and which ones NEED to get done by the time that the week ends.
I sat down and did that yesterday morning, for this week. Then I went through and scheduled out some of my most nerve-wracking goals for the whole month, figuring out how they could get done in time, spread across the weeks. And then - HUGELY motivated by the desire to start ticking off some of the items on that list! - I made several phone calls that I've been dreading and putting off for weeks. And things actually got sorted out! Things that had been weighing me down for ages!
It felt so good to tick those calls off the list! I LOVE hitting targets and actually getting to see, right there on paper, that I've done it. I like it so much better than trying to carry all these big, vague, unspecified goals inside my head and never feeling sure that I'm really, truly doing enough toward any of them.
In other words, I am a big fan of my new planner. And if it keeps on working this well all year long, then I won't go without them ever again!
What about you guys? Do you use paper planners, or just hold your goals in your head? I love hearing about what works for other people.
January 7, 2015, 8.19 pm
Yesterday at Girls Heart Books, I posted about how I learned to love book club, and in lovely serendipity, Kat, Incorrigible has just been chosen by the fabulous Gail Carriger for her own book club this month! You can read her interview with me (I really enjoyed the questions!) or, if you'd like to join in the fun of the book club conversation, head over to the club page on Goodreads to talk about the book with Gail and everyone else.
Over here, it's been the first week back in school for MrD and the first week back at work for me and Patrick, at least when we're not looking after Baby X...and okay, I have to be strong and stop calling him that. He's definitely Toddler X now! As I type this blog entry, he's sitting next to me on the couch, reading his big brother's National Geographic Kids magazine to himself and chortling and chirping commentary on every animal picture he sees. He's getting particularly good at making wolf howls! And earlier today he went on a long walk outside with us without even holding anyone's hand. So...Toddler X it is. (And maybe when he hits nursery age - in just a year!!! - I'll start referring to him as "Professor X" to reflect that extra grownup status.)
But - right! I was supposed to be talking about work. Ah, work! I'd almost forgotten what that was like over the last two weeks of winter vacation. What a rude awakening! But I'm happy that, as of this afternoon, I'm past 30,000 words on my MG dragons-and-chocolate novel (so, over halfway done, I hope!), and I'm also progressing well on my new freelance project. (I'm also trundling along with some historical research for a possible next adult novel, but that's veeeery much in the background right now, and I'm not even certain that that will be the novel I choose to write next - I'm wavering between a few different ideas when it comes to the next adult historical. However, if anyone has any suggestions for really great historical resources on Paris in the early 1780s, I would absolutely love to hear them!)
(Also, looking back on my last paragraph, my phrasing seems clunky. You guys all know that I'm not talking adult as in X-rated, right? Just...shelved in the adult section of the store, not in MG/YA. Right.)
Anyway! As you can probably tell, I'm fairly tired right now. But it's been a good week overall. MrD is writing exciting adventure stories of his own on my computer. Toddler X howls enthusiastically every time he sees a picture of a wolf. Patrick is writing awesome stuff that I get to read first. (The great benefit of being married to a writer!) And over on my Facebook page, I'm running a month-long productivity party, "Jumpstart January," where people commit to small, do-able goals every day and get accountability for them in a supportive setting. If you'd like to join, I'd love to have you, and all you have to do is friend me on Facebook to become part of the group.
Back to work!
December 31, 2014, 12.42 pm
I hope that everyone who was celebrating holidays this December had a wonderful, warm season! Our Christmas was really lovely. Celebrating with two little kids may leave me close to toppling with exhaustion, but it is just so much fun. And oh, oh, oh, check out this picture of my Christmas book-hoard, from Patrick and my American family members!
(And to my great and gloating delight, that hoard got even bigger after more British family members arrived for the celebration!)
I have been very, very dragon-ish in my delight over my hoard, carrying it around with me as much as possible and soooo enjoying reading my way through it! I've liked all of the books that I've read so far, but my absolute favorite, hands-down, was The Goblin Emperor, which I ADORED. You can read my full (and gushing, head-over-heels-in-love) review over on Goodreads, but in short: SO GOOD!!!!! Buy it!!! (Or borrow it from a library. Either way: read it! You won't regret it!)
And in some other very cool Goodreads-related news, when I went over there the other day to write my review, I saw that someone's already created a Goodreads page for Masks and Shadows, my upcoming adult historical fantasy novel! It was SO amazing to see it there and to see people already adding it to their to-read lists. Eeeee! Selling that book was the very best possible way to end 2014.
And speaking of ending the year...
Every New Year's Eve, for my own satisfaction and accountability, I like to look back at what I've written over the year. This year - with no childcare, and with Baby X growing from a 5-month-old who needed to be held All The Time into a giggling, rampaging 17-month-old and still not sleeping - I was probably the most tired I've ever been, and I did the least writing I've done for a long time, too (not helped by the fact that I wasted an awful lot of this year trying to figure out how to fix a book that was, essentially, broken).
So I was really tempted to break my personal tradition by NOT posting my writing stats here for the first time in several years...but no. I'm proud of what I wrote, even if it wasn't as much as on a normal year, and I'm not going to hide about it on my blog. So...
This year I wrote:
three new short stories (one of which has already sold and will be published next year in Daily Science Fiction), adding up to about 9,700 words
one 34,000-word novella, Courting Magic
the first 26,395 words of my dragons-and-chocolate MG fantasy novel (working title The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart), which is making me SO happy
the first 6,600 words of a deeply personal adult historical novel that I'm going to finish after I have a full draft of my dragons-and-chocolate MG novel
And, well, yes, I also wrote 10,000 words on the novel that I finally had to abandon as being broken. Sigh. Oh, well! At least it was a learning experience. Next time I feel a bone-deep reluctance to re-write a book in a certain way, because it feels wrong, I don't like the main character, and every word I write on the book grates with even more wrong-ness...I won't do it. Sounds simple, huh? But the whole experience really did teach me to trust my instincts a lot more instead of ignoring them in an attempt to set aside my personal tastes and write a book that sounded like it had been written by a different, more impressive kind of writer. It was incredibly painful to abandon Family Magic after putting so much grinding effort into it, but almost the moment that I finally did, I felt so much better about everything. Better yet, I am loving the two novels that I'm writing next, both of which really do feel like *me*, for better or worse!
Also...selling Masks and Shadows, a book I love so much, was a fabulous reminder that every single book or short story that I have ever successfully sold has been a story that genuinely felt like me and came from my heart and my personal, subjective tastes, not a story I was writing to try to sound like someone else. So...
Here's my New Year's writing resolution for this coming year: to listen to my instincts when it comes to writing. To write what I really love instead of what I think I should, so that whether or not my stories sell, they make me happy to have written them.
(Last year's writing resolution was to let myself experiment in my writing by writing a new kind of thing at some point whether it was commercial or not. The result was "Courting Magic," which made me incredibly happy. So, yay!)
What about you guys? How were your holidays? And do you have any New Year's resolutions? I'd love to hear about them.
December 24, 2014, 7.29 am
So, my Christmas Eve started this morning when I woke up to see an email from my agent saying: "It's up!"
And he'd included this screenshot from Publisher's Marketplace:
It's my book Masks and Shadows - my first historical fantasy for adults! - and ohhhh, am I just ridiculously happy and excited about this news! Masks and Shadows is such a book of my heart. I'm not sure how many of you guys know this about me, but I am a huge, huge opera fan. I played in lots of opera pits back when I was training to be a classical musician in undergrad, and I always thought an opera orchestra would be the most fun kind of orchestra to work in fulltime. Then, when I switched to music history, I focused on late-eighteenth-century opera history, writing my Master's Thesis on an opera by Haydn that was written for performance at Eszterháza palace (the setting of Masks and Shadows). I even spent three years working on a PhD all about opera and politics in eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza.
I didn't finish the PhD, in the end. When my funding ran out, I took a fulltime job at my local opera company instead, and spent two years there getting practical experience of how an opera company really works.
And it all came together in this deeply - wildly - romantic and operatic book, with a castrato opera singer as the male lead, with the composer Joseph Haydn as a character, and with the opera house playing a central role.
I wrote the original version of this book 10 years ago, researching it right along with my half-written PhD thesis, getting more ideas with every new opera or book that I studied. (Whoa, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had a mistress living in the palace at the same time as his wife? What must that have been like? And what if she had a sister who walked into the situation completely unprepared?) (Ooh, isn't this interesting: there kept on being controversial and fiercely contested legal cases about whether or not men who were castrati should be allowed to get married. Mostly, it was ruled illegal, although there were differences between Catholic and Protestant views on the question. Fascinating!) (And ooh, all those alchemists and political schemers working in Vienna, ooh...)
This is the full pitch that I sent my agent when I emailed him out of the blue earlier this year to let him know that - surprise! - I had written an adult novel, and I hoped he would like it and want to market it:
The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.
If you want to get more of a visual impression of the setting and mood of the book, you can check out its Pinterest board, which I've been working on this week and which will definitely be growing over the next year or so until the book's publication!
It's always been my biggest career fantasy to be able to publish books for kids AND books for adults in parallel streams. I can't tell you how happy it makes me that this is finally happening, and starting with a book that means so much to me. I really, really love these characters, and I hope that you guys will, too.
I hope you guys have a really wonderful holiday season. I absolutely am. :)