Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two Beautiful Rugs

My birthday falls in autumn, and this year I decided to treat myself to a gift that means a great deal to me, and, I hope, to at least one other person I've never met. I chose to buy a hand-woven rug from an elderly Navajo weaver via the Adopt a Native Elder Program.

As their website (linked above) explains: The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program exists to create a Bridge of Hope between Native Americans and other cultures.... The Program provides food, simple medicines, clothing, fabric, and yarns to help these (Navajo) Elders live on the Land in their traditional lifestyle.

Please visit their website for more details about their program, but for this post I want to talk about their wonderful Rug Catalog, accessible at their website, or click directly to it here:

Rug Catalog
"The sale of rugs through the catalog is one of the most important ways we have to provide financial support to our Elders. All proceeds from the sale of these rugs are returned to the weavers."

Oh boy. The day I found this website, and the Rug Catalog, I thought I'd stumbled upon a treasure in the desert. These beautiful handcrafted rugs come in all sizes, from the small wall rugs I've purchased, to saddle blankets, to full sized room rugs. The colors range from earth tones, to traditional colors, to some pretty wild and more modern designs. I've chosen the earth and traditional colors, since understated is more my style. But what really blesses me more than anything about this program is that when your rug arrives included with it is a photo of the weaver holding her creation. I cherish these photos, and I pray for these women.

Alice T. wove the rug I bought in 2009:

Mary B. wove the rug that arrived in yesterday's mail:


If you're so inclined, please take a few minutes to explore the Adopt-A-Native-Elder website, and take a look at these beautiful, unique weavings. I think you'll be glad you did.

In writing news... I'm working on edits for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, paying particular attention this time through to the goals, motivations, and conflicts of my characters, refining them, strengthening them, striving for clarity every step of the way and making each scene as compelling as possible (Inkspirational Messages has a good post on this topic today).

I do love a challenge. I want to run each day's race of working so that I'm spent by its end. Then I can collapse on my couch for a bit and admire Mary's beautiful rug now adorning my wall, or Alice's, which hangs above my desk.

Thank you, Mary and Alice. Beautiful, beautiful work, ladies!

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates. 
Proverbs 31:31

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chemo brain: 12 years later

In the mail this week was a letter reminding me it's time for a yearly check up that most women began having after they turn 40, but one I've had to have yearly since I was 30. The mammogram.

I'm considered high risk for breast cancer, because of the radiation treatment I received twelve years ago to cure me of the cancer I had then, lymphoma. Twelve years. That feels pretty exhilarating to type as well as to say in conversation, on the rare occassions the subject arises.

I've talked else where (such as in this interview) of my battle with cancer, and the number it did on my brain for several years afterward, when I was otherwise in remission, my hair had grown back, and I appeared a healthy 30-something woman walking around. What I was, really, was a slightly bewildered ex-fiction writer with her brain in a fog who'd pretty much given up on ever writing again.

God brought me through that dark valley, and five years post chemo I did begin writing again the types of novels that never stopped being my passion to write. The only difference was I settled on the historical genre (instead of fantasy, and contemporary).

Writing historicals takes a tremendous amount of research, especially when one picks an era she previously knew little about. Added to working hard to get back in the discipline of daily writing again without letting it overwhelm me, I had to give myself a crash course in Colonial, Revolutionary, and early Federal American history.

Noooo problem. Except that here's where a long term affect of chemo fog comes into play in my story. I don't have much of a long term memory anymore. Things I researched five years ago (okay, honestly? Things I researched a few months ago) are no longer where I put them in my head, and if I find I need them again for the current novel in progress, guess what? I get to research them all over again. So really my researching never ends, because I'm constantly reading up on subjects I've already researched. I do this now as a matter of course, because I know it's not going to stick for long.

In the beginning, it wasn't this way. 

It's not that I wouldn't have noticed this memory issue if I wasn't writing. There are huge gaps in my childhood, teenage years, and even early married years that I no longer recall. Frequently my husband will mention something that happened or someone we knew or somewhere we went decades ago and I draw a total blank. Sometimes I'll hazily recall it and realize I would never have thought of it again, ever, had he not brought it up.

Now, I'm also twelve years older than I was before I had cancer and chemo, so maybe some of this is simply age, but I tend to doubt that. Mainly due to the conspicuous timing of the onset of this memory issue with chemotherapy.

So what this all boils down to is that I simply have to work harder at the research aspect of historical fiction writing than I probably would if I'd never had chemotherapy. In some ways I'm glad about this. When I become frustrated, knowing I once knew some fact (or many of them) that I need for a current scene, and have to go back to my books to scour them for knowledge I should still have filed away, I think about the fact that I'm writing at all and know that it's not by my strength that these stories are getting written now. I have to lean on Him, every day. And I'm thankful, every day, for the strength, time, and mental acuity He's lent me to get these stories out of my head and onto the screen.

And I wonder what Jacob thought about when his hip pained him in the night. You know, the one God slipped out of socket when they wrestled, and gave Jacob his new name, Israel? Did that bum hip remind Jacob that getting by on his own strength, by his own wiles, led to grief? Did that stick he leaned on remind him of the God who invited him to lean on Him in order to walk upright? Did he see it as a blessing of insight, rather than a handicap?

I hope so. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Trumpet with a certain sound

And even things without life which give sound, whether flute or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is played? For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?  1 Corinthians 14:7-8

Today ends my two week post first draft break (okay, I cheated a little here and there, polishing the later chapters of my work in progress for my critique partner), and the start of the next phase of writing a novel. Editing. And the main question on my mind is this: have I made a certain sound, or just a jumble of discordant notes?

Will a reader tap her foot to the tune I tried to play, or cover her ears?

First step toward finding that out is to figure out what is on all those pages I spent the last seven months writing. The best way is to read the manuscript as fast as possible, straight through, preferably without making any edits. I've never been able to do this with my own work in the past, and so I'm  not going to try it now. I will, however, read through the manuscript before making any major changes, but I'll make small edits if they are obvious and certain, and I'll pepper the pages with footnotes of editing ideas. And I'll fill the few holes I left, those scenes from a third point of view character I decided midway through the first draft were needful (and still feel are so), but had a little trouble visualizing during the first draft. I'm excited now to write them, so I'm glad I waited.

Questions I'll be asking myself:

Are my main characters, Jesse and Tamsen's, motivations clear and strong? Do they provide conflict to carry their arc through the entire story?

Have I utilized my settings to their best advantage, and do they affect the mood of each scene, or else reflect or contrast the mood? Author Susan Meissner had a good post on this topic recently, at Novel Rocket. Making Your Setting a Character.

Are motivations for secondary characters believable? Have I fleshed out each character to a fully three-dimensional person, or have I settled for cliche?

How's the pacing in each scene? Fast enough? Slow enough? Does it fit with its placement in the novel?

Did I give my antagonists (this book has quite a few) short shrift? I do have a tendency to do that in the first draft.

The list goes on, but these are the sorts of things I'm bearing in mind as I begin today my edits on The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn.

~trumpet photo by Ms. Phoenix, via Flickr

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Posting at Colonial Quills Today

I'm posting at Colonial Quills today. Come on over and share a memory from my childhood that dates back in our family to the eighteenth century. It's got to do with smoking.

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Interview with Liz Curtis Higgs

Be sure to stop in at Carrie Pagels's blog, Overcoming Through Time, today for an interview with one of my favorite authors, Liz Curtis Higgs.

Among other novels and non-fiction books (Bad Girls of the Bible, Embrace Grace) Liz writes Scottish historicals based Old testament stories like that of Jacob, Leah & Rachel, and of Ruth, Naomi & Boaz. These are my favorites of her books, as I have a soft spot for all things Scottish, and those Scots tend to find their way into my own stories.

Come on over to Overcoming Through Time.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Reading Snapshot

I finished the first draft of my WIP The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn minutes before the ACFW awards dinner began live streaming on Saturday, Sept 24, which I watched while I unwound. I've set the story aside for two weeks with the hope that time away from it will lend some objectivity for when I dive in again for edits (barring interruptions like one of my other stories selling) on October 17.

It's a bit strange not writing every day. It wasn't so hard the first part of this week when family visited and we went to the coast for a couple of nights. No computer. No hard copy of chapters. No research. But being back home... it's hard to keep my brain from picking apart the story and getting a jump on the editing.

Instead, I'm painting a room in my house and catching up on some reading. If anyone noticed, the books I'm currently reading over in the sidebar haven't changed in weeks. That's because I've had so little time to devote to reading other than research and critique. But here's a reading snapshot anyway. Hope you'll share yours in the comments.

The last book I finished reading:
Wayah of the Real People, by William O. Steele

The book(s) I'm reading now:
The Colonel’s Lady, by Laura Frantz
Long Knife, by James Alexander Thom
Ransome's Quest by Kaye Dacus
Cherokee Dragon by Robert Conley
Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle

(as you can see, I have trouble not starting new books before I've finished the current ones)

The book I'm reading next:

Torrent, by Lisa Tawn Bergren
(I love this time travel series and can't wait to devour this third book)

What book is up to bat for you now? What book is on deck? Any books get benched recently?