“Qua!” said Peter Aurelius.

In the category of random Anglo-Saxon-era tidbits, there was in the seventh century a woman named AEthelthryth, who did all kinds of things which may be marshalled as evidence against the myth that the Church or the Middle Ages oppressed women, and furthermore, a male clerkly chronicler wrote of her with admiration (Bede, Liber Eliensis). So there. For good brief secondary sources on her, see here (have I recommended her blog before? No? I do, anyway) and here. The Normans took one look at all those consonants and didn’t even try; thanks to them, she survives as St Audrey, and her feast day is still celebrated — this very day. I thought that was kind of neat.

Writing continues better. Umm. . . not much to say there. Maybe for next week I’ll get some snippets. I’m changing the order of some scenes in the second half, and considering advice given me to make what takes place in the second part be, proportionally, closer to the last third or quarter, because as far as usual plot structure goes, it fits the generally recommended percentages. On the other hand, the story really wants to be longer in that part, and I don’t know. People have broken genre rules before with success, it just has to be something that works apart from the rules, and isn’t just lazy.

Someone else I was going to recommend, because I’m short on words of my own for you at the moment, except the AEthelthryth thing, is the Penslayer. I know I’ve shared posts of hers with at least two of you, but I can’t remember having mentioned her here before. She’s a writer (I must admit I haven’t read her published books yet) with a lot of good and thought-provoking things to say, and the parts of her writing she’s shared on the blog are excellently done. She hasn’t been very active lately, but you have got a few years’ worth of archives to read through, which is well worth doing.

Oh, and I’ve got a new story idea forming, and I really don’t know what to do with it.

Posted in History, Of the North, Reading, Writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

You might call it lawful necromancy

People have been asking me things like what my favourite historical novel is (I never can remember at the time) or how much I own (can’t remember that either), so a few weeks ago I pulled all the ones in that genre off my shelves and stacked them up by era, and was surprised to find how much I had. Probably about a fifth of my books are historical, though not always fictional, if you count biographies of dead people and books of letters and things like Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. (The rest is largely fantasy, fairy-tales, things like that, and a few odds and ends.)


Bottom to top, in roughly chronological order (the dates of a few overlap), are my medieval stories, “medieval” being very broadly defined in this case. Most of my favourite historical novels are in this section, not that that comes as any surprise.

Sea Wolves from the North, which you can barely see gamely holding up the bottom, is about monks protecting a book from Vikings. It was written for small children, but the quality has held up as I get older.

The book with the white spine and no title showing is a reprint of Harold, Last of the Saxon Kings, by Bulwer-Lytton. The edition is not a very good quality — there’s a fair bit of poetry in it, according to the version on Project Gutenberg, which simply does not appear in it. And the formatting is far from professional. It makes the book a bit painful to read. I did like it so much I figured it would be good to have a physical copy, and so asked for it for Christmas, I think. (It is far from being perfect. It’s a Victorian novel about the distant past, which means lots of inaccuracies and melodramatic prose, but it does have one of the better characterizations of Harold, William, et alia, of the novels I’ve read about those people, and occasionally beautiful passages where you almost forget about the tear-jerking tendencies of the authour’s school.)

On the other end of the chronology is The Prince and the Pauper, which I include because it is historical fiction, not because I particularly like it. I don’t know why I keep it around. Maybe I’ll give it to Olivia, since she enjoyed it.


The 17th century section.


These are all either set in or at least start in the 18th century. Benjamin West is from Half Price and a lot of his pages are falling out. We’ve had Amos as long as I can remember. The Marguerite Henry books (we have still more by her, except set too late to count as historical) all belonged to my mother before they descended to me.


The “modern” section. American Civil War (Across Five Aprils) to the Great War (the great tome War of Loyalties). I still regret not finishing reading it in time for an advance review. Someday I will review it. I can at least recommend it.

If you’ve got any questions about any of these, or just want to hear me spout my thoughts on them, feel free to ask. I don’t mind handing out recommendations and cautions, as you probably already know.

Don’t make me pick just one favourite. I think growing up on Marguerite D’Angeli and Adam of the Road may have helped me fall in love with people who are dead but still very much alive in their books. I can’t say they have a direct connexion to my starting to write historical fiction, though. I don’t know enough about that.

I would also like to point out I took all those pictures, since Olivia roundly declined to help.

Posted in Books, Historical fiction | Tagged | 12 Comments

“You can’t talk, and you can’t tell the truth,” Eileen said. “What can you do?”

 “You said hello to me in the hallway today,” I told David, “and that’s the first time in my year of working here that you’ve greeted me of your own volition.”

  “You never say hi to me,” David said.

  “I’d rather wait and see if people want to — make sure they want my company and they’re not just being polite. I don’t ignore them,” I said.

“But if we always waited for the other person to speak first,” JP said, “no one would ever say anything.”

“But we have people like Cole and Olivia,” I said, “who will do that for us.”

Last night as I left work, eating a cookie, I met a bunch of kids who talked to me, and we had a conversation which was surprisingly fun. So I think I might be fully recovered from May. I’m also beginning to add words to Of the North again. Probably bad words, but for the present I’ve got past the block and they are words.

Unless you’re a writer, gentle reader, you’ll have no idea how crippling it is to not be able to put things in words. When that internal observer who’s always stringing together sentences about what’s happening at the present moment, or that book you just read (or both at once), suddenly dries up and goes silent, it’s depressing. You get used to being able to put things together like that, having done it in all your waking hours (and some sleeping ones) for most of your life, and when it’s not there you’re powerless. So now, though I know I’ll have to rewrite Of the North if for nothing other than to make the words beautiful as well as useful, I’m glad for what I can get. Which is useful words, for now, mostly in the second half of the story.

I hope I’m not boring you all with ramblings about my own problems. On a blog it’s hard to tell if silence is from lack of interest or merely so as not to interrupt me. A lot of times I want to tell people about interesting things I think they might be busy and not want to give me the time, or are only listening out of politeness, or something else. Here I have no captive audience, and no one has to read out of politeness, so there’s nothing really to keep me from being as weird as I like. (I did actually make the effort to open up to three separate people this week, and it went well in every case. . . also I’m rereading the University Library, and Volume III has some Francis Bacon essays on Friendship which were well-timed.)

Lots of times before now, I’ve come up against a problem in my writing only to find it corresponded to some problem or other in my life, called myself silly not to have seen it, and started over. This time I thought the problem with more recent writing in OtN was that it was dry. I asked people whether it was interesting enough for them to do more than put up with the style for a whole book. One of them, at dinner last Sunday, had a good long conversation with me, which we continued by e-mail the next day, and it became clear that humanity was missing. I was writing about details of place and culture without the people who lived there being much more than secondary elements. And I think the reason for that wasn’t only that my enthusiasm for the culture and the little things about that period’s way of living ran away with me.

I was tired of people. From the second half of January to the very end of April I was in school: school four days a week, with all the crowds of people walking and eating and talking (that’s often the worst part) and being constantly there. It’s very hard to find a place away from other human presence at school. And then there’s Sundays, six hours of constant contact with up to fifty other human beings, and someone always talking, and no escape. So usually, once finals are done, I don’t go anywhere for at least a week, and hide in the basement or the grove sometimes (depending on the season) until my batteries are recharged (that’s one useful analogy) and I can handle outside people again. Because remember, even when you don’t see any other bodies near mine — which sounds awful, put that way — there’s at least one voice in my head. I’m sorry. I’m a harmless lunatic most of the time.

Well, this year, May was insane, what with concerts, Crown, recitals, and a wedding, the last involving airports and planes and large social gatherings with strangers who heard I was a writer and said things like, “Oh, I’ve got a friend who writes short stories on her blog in a devotional context” (and that wasn’t the only annoying response to hearing my major), and yes, I survived, but it was pretty hard to come up with any fondness for human beings (I include myself in that category, remember — don’t come commenting “But you’re a human too, don’t forget,” please). I have a sneaking suspicion that people began to play less than their rightful part in my writing because I was always trying to get away from them. When your great desire is a little time away from all voices, first, you forget most people aren’t looking to hide in a story where humans aren’t the main actors, and secondly, don’t be surprised if the ones in your head take you literally. They love having their revenge like that. I should have learned that earlier, too.

Another thing, which I should like to stress has no relation to introversion (introvert being defined as someone whose batteries drain as a result of human contact, and who therefore recharges alone, not as someone who’s shy or socially awkward or hates people), which may have contributed, was that AEschild is rather a Tigger. She has no problem with bouncing up to people and engaging them in a conversation on something she’s excited or curious about. I would rather let the other person make the first move, as that way I can be sure they actually want to get involved, and aren’t merely putting up with me while thinking of all the other things they could be using this time for. I know I’m weird, and in a way some people can only handle in small doses (I live with myself, after all), so I’ll be all right by myself. (No, really. You should have seen me — some of you have — when I was little and had to be dragged to someone else’s house. I raided the bookshelves and probably had as much fun on my own as the grown-ups or other kids did with each other.) That tendency makes it slightly harder to write as from inside the head of a Tigger when that Tigger is not talking to me. I end up writing a lot more scenes where she’s doing things by herself, which is out of character for her (at least when everything’s going well. . . ).

Fortunately, the three people I talked to about Of the North this week have been good examples of what friends are there for, and not made me wonder if I was imposing on them, and also not edged away because my weirdness came on too strong for them. (I admit to being careful which parts I show to whom, because if I give someone a glimpse of my heart and they react as the general public does to a spider, I do feel bad for them.)

Sometimes I don’t know whether running around doing physical work all afternoon is harder, or trying to pin my heart down just right on a page.

And my sister just got back from work with leftover doughnut-things, and when left to myself I’ve been listening to a lot of SCA music, especially Aneleda Falconbridge, and I kind of rewrote the first chapter of OtN a while ago and only just posted it — I think you know how to find it? And I’ve been messing with the timeline in the second half of OtN.


Posted in Of the North, Revision, work in progress, Writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

“Bobbie had to try laughing out the other side of his mouth then, and had to be sat on before he would stop playing the clown.”

With lots of help from a friend, I’ve finally figured out the problem staring me in the face with Of the North. In scientific terms it’s “lack of the human element” which meant the story was more about the accidents of life, specifics of food and clothing and scenery and whatnot, rather than the substance — human relationships (whatever those are) and hearts. Of course, I’m supremely unqualified to write about those, so I don’t expect the writing is going to get any easier.

So, after just having got the story up to 59,000 words, I’m cutting. And cutting some more. Things are a bit glum just now and I have no confidence that I’ll do a better job this time. I mean, not all of it is lacking the human element, and I know the Motley Crew and Rose-Tinted Arrows stories have it in spades, but I’ve worked on Of the North longer and harder than any of them, and it’s disappointing not to be able to get it right.

I haven’t got anything else for you just now, I’m afraid, unless you’d like a book recommendation. The Mystery of the Scarlet Daffodil, by Dorothy Clewes (published 1953) is fun and more of a story about a family than it is a mystery.

Posted in Of the North, Revision, work in progress, Writing | Tagged | 1 Comment

Tradesmen’s entrance is round the back.

We’re four days into our new jobs. Olivia had Wednesday off and complained about missing work — she gets to make some of the stuff in the morning, and gets off at about two, with a short lunch break somewhere in there.  On my days (four this week, but usually, I’m told, it will be three) I get all morning to work on writing stuff at home, and then leave a bit before two, spend five minutes trying to find a parking spot, and punch in, if I do at all (forgot yesterday and the day before). Then I put together cardboard boxes and try to avoid lemon juice, and stack the wobbling boxes on a high shelf out front, where I never fail to entertain the customers who get to see me stand on tiptoe and try not to drop them all. So far, at least once a day one of them says something about it being a job for tall people.

That’s probably the most interesting thing I do: the rest is restocking pop, and cleaning glass, and taking out empty boxes, and sweeping, and mopping, and taking out empty boxes, and shaking out rugs, and mopping, and putting up the furniture. After closing time I lock the drive-through window (they have four swallows’ nests under the roof by it, three of which are inhabited) and bring in the patio furniture and things. Then once we’re sure there’s nothing else to do, I get a cookie, because we’re allowed to if we get someone to note it on our timecards, and head home, and eat supper late, and bathe so I can finally get the bleach smell off me, and go to bed.

Well, on our first day, Olivia was going to see a piano recital in town after I got back, and I hadn’t seen her all day, so I gulped supper down and ran off again with her. (The recital was okay — one kid played Canon in D, much to our amusement, and I’m sure David’s chagrin, once we tell him. Speaking of which, did I tell you there was a chance of me working at the strings camp this year? It’s official now. You’ll hear a lot about that later.)

So far I haven’t sat down once while there, but it’s been fun. It’s busy enough, and certainly noisy enough, that I don’t really get to think about much while I’m doing whatever the job is at the moment; otherwise I might have half a dozen stories going already. I don’t think I mind, for the moment, splitting my days about equally between the active and the contemplative lives.

Wednesday I was shaking out the rugs outside in front of the door, and a little old couple came up the sidewalk and said, “Is this the bakery?” I could have pointed to the giant lettering above my head, but didn’t — it’s like being at SMSU, sitting outside the library and having to answer people who ask me where it is.

Today was busy, and I got behind on my work, but when I was restocking the cooler in the front one of the old guys saw me and said, “Still here, eh?” and I said, “I think I might stay.” And Olivia reports that when she was frosting doughnuts this morning, the woman working in the front was heard to greet a customer with the words, “Back from Mongolia?” and she knew only one person anywhere near the area could be greeted thus. So she went out and saw Dr Pichaske, who saw her but certainly did not recognize her.

Speaking of having mornings to write: Of the North is still progressing extremely slowly, thanks for asking; that’s another set of problems for which only a pair of fresh eyes could help. Right now i’m just being stubborn and ploughing on, figuring it will be as awful as I think it is, but it’s only a second first draft, so as much as I want to do it right this time around, it’s a little bit okay if I don’t. 

Posted in Ordinary life | Leave a comment

A bit of late Spring-cleaning

Olivia started work this morning, and I start this afternoon, and yesterday by the garage door we saw a jumpy spider who’d caught a tent caterpillar a couple of times longer than himself and was pleased as punch about it. The ants wanted some of it too, but the spider said no and dragged it off to be eaten in private. So it must be really summer now.

I have been going through and clearing out a lot of my old notebooks and folders, and getting rid of a lot of old work. I keep some, still, the first story (merely for humility, because it hasn’t any virtues of its own), and the first one I ever tried to revise, and a few which show certain important points in my growth as a writer. The vast bulk of it will nevermore be seen by any eyes, I hope. Some is shredded and the rest merely tossed into the trash. A couple of intermittent diaries turned up, and other things I’d forgotten. Ten-year-old me was very detail-oriented — it’s like reading the notes of a completely different person. If I tried to keep a diary now it would be much more random.

I found writing from when we lived in the Cities, and when we’d newly moved out here, and several (abandoned) attempts to write dictionaries of the words Olivia and I used as code. It was very interesting to compare the way I wrote about the friends I had then (interpreting the medievalized accounts of things which actually happened) to the way I think about my friends now (being a bit older and having branched out into several wildly different groups).

And there’s a lot of stuff I’d written about and forgot happened at all until I re-read those things, and a heap of papers I really really really don’t want anyone to see, ever, and reminders of things I’ve lost.    

And eventually I got so I could pick up a random paper and guess which year it’s from, either by the handwriting or something else. Also, I read a lot of George MacDonald, and I can still pick out influences from Howard Pyle and others of my favourite authours at the time. And I was horrible at plotting or judging when a scene or character was important to the story. I’ll have someone come in and say something at the beginning, exit, and never appear or be alluded to again, with no kind of closure.

2009-2014: the earliest stages. Medievalized versions of what happened in real life, non-fiction about funny things happening at church after we moved out here, attempts at building a fantasy world and a language (á la Tolkien), and some very bad poetry — though I will say about nine tenths of it was in some form or other. Also, earlier on, a couple of short plays, and stories about what we did with our “people”, and a few things in the vein of “I wish this would happen to me but realistically it won’t, but who says I can’t play in my head?” “Lily and the boys” stories have already appeared. Also a lot of drawings, some coloured and some not. I did think for a bit, starting out, that I’d be an artist of the conventional kind, who made pictures, maybe book illustrations.

2014-roughly 16: I start college, and classmates begin to appear (unnamed) in my work; also a lot of jotted-down dreams, with descriptions done decently well but not a lot of substance by way of plot (I don’t have terribly weird dreams, compared to my sister, so there’s nothing too strange). Fantasy of more normal kinds as well. Hardly any nonfiction by comparison. Also at this time I was writing occasional things for challenges on Ravelry. “Lily and the boys” stories continue. You can tell by the end of it that I’m more serious about writing now, and the pastiches and obvious imitations have mostly died out. As I began to figure out writing was my “thing” and not pictures, the drawings begin to die out too. For a little while I have stories both on the computer and in notebooks, progressing side-by-side. And in the last couple of years of this time I begin to produce lines I now think of as worth keeping — although precious few of them.

It’s interesting to see things which have come up again later, and seeing how the seeds of more mature work were already present: how in a way writing about the “young fry” prepared me for observing and noting interactions with the Motley Crew, or how a fragment about a kidnapped lady turned into part of the beginning of Rose-Tinted Arrows, though with many changes, of course. Some continuity is there, I guess, which would have convinced the outside reader or researcher that it was really the same person who wrote all this. Or perhaps, convinced them that because the stories were similar they could not possibly have had the same authour. People are funny like that.

Some of these things the younger me wrote and prized, thinking good enough that I even wrote on them “please publish this” or “it’s okay to publish this one” in case I died before publication and anyone was going through my papers; and Friday the older me looked at them with a few years’ more wisdom and said “this isn’t good at all,” and threw most of it away (keeping the very first story, to keep me humble, and a few of the important ones).

It’s a bit sad that the younger me watched and set down in writing a lot of the funny or characteristic moments at church, with the intent to preserve them, and that Friday the younger me, by tossing them and not Adventures of the Motley Crew, tacitly acknowledged my changed order of priority. It is still neat that even then I was watching people and keeping an eye out for body language conveying something of their personalities and such, and how building the habit then, and setting down the stories week after week, prepared me for the rather larger and more colourful and (if possible) even livelier story of what happens when three Catholics, two Baptists, and a Deist and Communist Lutheran go anywhere together. And, frankly, AMC is a lot better written than any of the former set. In a way, putting away the stories of my childhood (both those about it, and those written during it) is a little sad, but I’m not sad to be leaving behind some of the more unpleasant things I wrote about.

I think I might print out the on-the-computer stories I’m keeping, and that way maybe I won’t need the files, but that seems rather foolhardy a risk even for work of fairly low quality.

I estimate my total output, from 2009 to 2016’s summer, at close to 100,000 words, because I had two Word documents of about 40k each, a lot of things which got lost or deleted in changing computers, and of course all the shorter handwritten things from the first couple of years. My first long completed story, Travellers From Afar, was 20,000 words, and took me over a year to write. Admittedly I wrote the first draft, set it aside, and then came back and added to it, but still. These days I could write that much in a month, and it would be better quality.

And then, because I had to empty my knitting bag in preparation for flying, this morning I went to put it back together and cleared out a lot of the random things which have accumulated in it over the years. I haven’t turned it out and gone through everything in a while, as class schedules and receipts from Fall 2016 bore witness.

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

May wrap-up


Wingfeather Tales: a collection of short stories by several authours, set in the world of the Wingfeather Saga. The novella at the end would have been really good if it weren’t for 95% of the sentences being so easily split into two sentences, but the authour wouldn’t do that, and a hundred pages of sentences like this, with strange metaphors packed in, even if technically the use of the punctuation is perfectly correct, eventually distracts you from the story it’s communicating. . .

Till We Have Faces: a re-read; very good, as usual.

Pendragon’s Heir: ditto (naturally)

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: lent Olivia for the trip, but I commandeered it. Fun and rather silly, but in a good way. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and most of the time it doesn’t talk down to its audience.

Rome’s Vestal Virgins, Robin Wildfang: research. Very good. The only trouble is it stops before the period that story is in, so it tells me nothing about the closing of Vesta’s temple. It does provide a lot of good detail about what the Vestals did, though.

The Rakshasa’s Bride: Also by Suzannah Rowntree. Friends of ours have it in paperback and lent it to me.

The Dragon of Lonely Island and The Return of the Dragon, by Rebecca Rupp: re-reads. We’ve had them for ages (the first was published the year I was born) but I hadn’t read them in a long time. I remembered them being good, but wanted to see if they stayed that way under the scruntiny of much older and more practiced eyes. The first one remains more to my liking than the second.

One very neat thing I found has of course been there the whole time, but the me who first read it wouldn’t have noticed. (I like books which yield something more when you come back to them after a while.) Chesterton was once asked what he’d bring with him to a desert island, and he said, “Thomas’ Practical Guide to Shipbuilding”. Within the frame narrative of The Dragon of Lonely Island is a story of two kids lost on a desert island. They find a dragon’s house, which includes a bookshelf with (among other titles), Chesterton’s Practical Shipbuilding.

Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth: I have to think about this more before I can put my often contradictory thoughts into words that would make any kind of sense. Parts of it I liked and parts I didn’t, but for which ones and why you’ll have to wait.

The Singing Sword, Mark Powell Hyde, published in 1930: we picked this up at a library sale about eight years ago (I’d read it before now), where it was cheap because some pages had been torn out. Unfortunately, the last half-dozen are among the ones missing, but I have a guess as to how it turned out. It’s about Ogier the Dane, mostly, but Charlemagne and Roland and Oliver and Turpin and a lot of Saracens (noble and otherwise) and Charlemagne’s villainous sons, show up in it too. There’s Saxons causing trouble in Denmark and elsewhere, and Norse pirates (who are on their way to attack an abbey when Ogier, Roland, and Oliver beat their leaders in single combat and then enlist their help against a party of bandits), and Saracens (lots of chivalrous interactions with them), and a couple of girls just to complicate things, and mysteries about missing sons. And the few illustrations which weren’t torn out look rather like 12-century art by way of the early 20th. It’s a lot of fun.

Surprised by Joy, a re-read: yep, still good.


I kind of wrote about Crown, and that was mostly it. Oh, and the May 1st concert. And I kind of started looking at Of the North again, but once more I’m having lots of doubts about how well I can do this. I may just have to close my eyes and put the things in there, telling myself it’s another first draft all over again and first drafts can be flawed. But really, I think the main problem is the plot is very leisurely. Several chapters in the beginning can be summed up as “she’s trying to make a home here and people keep asking awkward questions” in terms of plot, but so much else goes on when you look at the characters she’s meeting and the skills she’s learning. But those don’t really come into it if you look at plot as character’s goal plus an obstacle. I guess I’ll write all of it and beta-readers someday can tell me if it needs to be pulled out. That thought hurts rather, but who knows? Maybe there’s a market for slow-moving historical fiction with a little magic and next to no romance.

(Of course there’s a time and a place to adjust your writing based on what qualified readers think who understand what you’re trying to say and have good ideas about how better to say it. But there’s also a time to tell public opinion and the majority and the people with charts on what sells — as if that’s the main consideration — they can all boil their heads and you’re going to write the book the way the book wants to be written.)


Crown! Olivia and I made the trip to and from an event without getting lost! And it was a local event!


May 1st concert, wedding in New Hampshire. We were gone six exhausting days — left our property in spring and came back to everything in full leaf and the swallows back already. I did bring my spinning and several books, but having to be out and about in large crowds of strangers every single day didn’t leave me with a lot of energy for much when we did get back to the house. I got a lot of knitting done, though.

And please, there’s more in Minnesota than the Cities. “Are you from New Hampshire/Pennsylvania/Boston/Pittsfield?” they ask all weekend long. “No,” you say, “Minnesota.” “Oh, the Cities?” they invariably reply. The entire population of Minnesota is not concentrated in the Cities, despite what many people even in this state seem to think.

Joel and JP had their senior recital, and JP’s graduation party was after it — all that on the day after Crown, which was also a Sunday, of course. David was comic relief, as usual.

Olivia and I got hired at the local bakery — she’s got a full-time job starting at six in the morning decorating doughnuts and things, and I come in in the afternoon (I’m part-time) when she’s done and clean up after her. It has become necessary to get a third car.

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