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I thought music mattered. But not bollocks it doesn’t. Not compared to what people matter.

St. Patrick’s Day yesterday. I made the cabbage but Mom made the corned beef and we were all glad she did. Dad was cranky, kept giving me and Gabe and Bob the evil eye, like “what the hell are you doing here?” Reminded me in an unsettling way of Nagini inhabiting Bathilda Bagshot in Deathly Hallows 1, the movie. Fortunately he never bit. But this was one time I had to concede to Mom that he seemed pretty cranky to have us “strangers” in the house. Sometimes she thinks he looks angry and I think he just looks like he’s old and senile and has Parkinson’s, but last night I agreed with her.

Opa didn’t want us around.

We stayed anyway. Solidarity with a caregiver sometimes means being determined to have a good time, and we all did. Except maybe Dad, and even he enjoyed the corned beef.

Now it’s the day after Spring Break and we’ve gotten an overnight sprinkling of snow. A few degrees lower and I might be hoping for a delayed opening at school, but that’s not going to happen. The apples are already chopped up and heating for the hot porridge that will be our only consolation when we set out on this raw, wet morning. In Richmond you get used to feeling like anytime you see white on the ground you’re going to get a snow day. Not today.

But it’s okay. Break was wonderful. I was absolutely ragged between teaching and parenting and writing and revising and being a helpful critiquer to my fellow writers and searching for an agent and trying to figure out why I’ve been such a slug this winter. (At this time last year I was running a marathon.) But we went to Belle Isle and watched the eagles and the swans and listened to silence and played board games and I am restored. I even ran yesterday.

Now off to school, so the kids can grumble that school has started up again while being secretly delighted that they can be with their friends. Which, they all know, is the real reason they put up with us teachers.

Endless revisions coming to an end

Weird, weird day. Bare branches clawing the sky while goblin-leaves skitter across the asphalt. And the sky, the whole clouded, mottled sky, moving so fast like it’s got somewhere to go.

A good day, actually, to write, but I’m doing a chapter-by-chapter outline of my current novel, Deathsign, so if an agent wants to see it I’ve got it ready. Not fun. Thank God the synopsis is already done.

It’s been a long slog, but I’ve finished my revisions for now, having gutted a wonderful but ultimately unproductive centerpiece. In the excised section my characters went to an awesome temple in the mountains, which I’ve named Thornamdia and which looks vaguely like the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley. I loved that section, and the second novel in this series has a battle in Thornamdia, but in this novel I finally accepted that our heroine’s time there felt like a travelogue. So, after a long and painful narrative liposuction, good-bye Thornamdia. The result is a leaner, meaner and I hope better manuscript.

My critique group gets a final stab at it, but I’m starting to query agents. I will not (NOT) start another huge set of revisions unless I get 50 rejections. Or more. Remember A Wrinkle in Time, that perfect little gem of a novel? Dozens of editorial rejections, and then a Newbery. Not that the Newbery matters.

Okay, I lied. A Newbery does matter. A lot. But what matters to me, personally, is that when I was 12 I read it a gazillion times and I still remember it. And if you ask other adults of a certain age if they remember anything they read when they were kids, you’d be amazed how many say, “well, there was this book about a girl who had to go rescue her father . . . ”




On the James River for an artist walk

my world is birdsong and cricket and rushing water, russet and green and blue blue blue! Big Jim, my favorite river, is at his most stunning today, friendly and rock-studded and framed in autumn. I’m here for the beauty, for the inrush of sounds and images, for a way to clear my head of fear. The fear that is every writer’s most dangerous enemy. The fear that, I’m learning, is as bad on a second novel as it is on a first. The fear that shrieks: Will I ever get it right?????

Revising a manuscript is usually my favorite part of writing, but sometimes revising turns into, in Mary Amato’s words, “putting makeup on a corpse.”  That’s what I’ve been doing for a year now. I’ve been pimping Deathsign’s prose till it shines, but the structure of this, my second novel, still isn’t right.

Problem is, how do I right it? Two trusted readers have told me my fantasy world of Avani is too complex. Should I simplify it? Cut away some of the wonder and weirdness? Why not have regular ponies instead of ponies with antlers? Why not have fewer kingdoms and sheikdoms and homelands? I believe these two readers when they tell me it confuses them. However, I don’t believe them when they say the world is too complex. J.K. Rowling has hundreds of named characters in her stories, and plot twists to make Hitchcock drool. Middle Earth and Narnia and Panem are complicated worlds where, somehow, you never feel lost.

And so I conclude that Deathsign’s problem isn’t its world. Lina’s world, Avani, with its seven homelands, its wizards and kings and thanes, is NOT too complex. Worlds are supposed to be complex! Deathsign’s problem isn’t the world it creates, Deathsign‘s problem is its author. Me.  I still haven’t told the story well enough, and the question today is not whether to change the storyline but how.

So today I’m walking beside the James River, searching in the falling leaves and the hammering of a woodpecker and the blue flash of a kingfisher’s flight for the courage to keep revising until I get it right. The courage to believe that, if I work hard and trust in what Julia Cameron calls “Good Orderly Direction” I will, in fact, get it right.