Tying Up Loose Ends

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I am leaving tomorrow on a super special, very exciting trip.

One last hurrah, you might say, before my job begins and I have to settle into a desk and learn a new routine.

Since I love routines, I am very excited.

But the fact remains that tomorrow morning, somewhere between Very Dark and Sleep O’Clock, I will be crawling out of bed like a creature of the night and setting off on a road trip with three of my family members.

We are going many places. I will tell you about them next week when we have actually been to these many places.

Since I haven’t left yet, and my job hasn’t started yet, this last week has been all about tying up loose ends and preparing for a whole new season. I’ve gotten new glasses, a haircut, overhauled my wardrobe, cleaned my house . . . 

A lot of stuff, in other words. All the things I need to do before I show up for that first day.

One of the things that I have accomplished is to finish the first draft of my book, Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons.

*Trumpets blare, people—mostly me—celebrate, a duck quacks*

Wait . . . what? I have a job where I’m getting paid to write and yet I’m still writing my own books?

Yes. In case you were wondering, my life plans are still the same. This job hasn’t changed them. I am still an author, I still have many books to write and many I want to publish, and I will still have a blog to keep up with.

And I’m going to manage all those things if it kills me.

No, I’m kidding.

Actually, I’m going to take it slow, learn my new routine, and adapt my life accordingly. Things will slow down a little, but I will still post on my blog, I will still write, I will still be me.

And, since I am not quite twenty five yet, I have plenty of time. My goal has always been a lifelong career, not instant fame or ten books on the market as fast as I can produce them. So, if you ever wonder what Abigail is doing with her life, just know that I am still here. Building away. Creating my empire.

And right now, that means tying up all my loose ends. Which probably means I should buy some groceries and do some meal planning.

Eh. I’ll do it when I get home.

In two weeks.

Any advice for someone starting their first ever office job? I’d love some wisdom from people are more experienced than I am!

A Gathering Of Souls

I went to a writing conference this weekend.

The Young Women’s Writing Workshop, if we’re going to be technical about it. I’m just going to call it a gathering of souls.

It was the best thing I’ve done for my writing and my soul all year.

I think. I’ve done a lot of things for my soul this year. But this one was particularly relaxing and inspiring, so we’re going to say it was the best thing.

Or one of the best.

I’m going to shut up now.

Seriously, though, this conference was the most invigorating, inspiring thing I’ve done for a long time. When writers gather together, especially in small, tightly knit groups, things happen, man. Things. Happen. Ideas flow, people cry, books are built, fears are overcome, and dreams are realized.

I am not exaggerating.

The conference is held every year in Glen Eyrie, Colorado. And every year, I tell myself that I can’t afford it this time. Then I book a last minute room because I can’t bear to be left out when all my friends are gathering together. Oh, and the venue is a castle.

Like, a real castle.

I think it’s the only castle in Colorado. Certainly, it’s the most beautiful castle in Colorado.

So who can resist that?

The conference lasted for three days, Friday to Sunday, and the weekend was a kaleidoscope of classes, conversations with some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, and ideas. Our mentor, Nancy Rue, is one of the most brilliant and beautiful women you’ll find out there, and her love for her craft and zest for life is catching. When she gets excited about something, it’s impossible not to get excited about it too. More than that, she is committed to speaking God’s heart and bringing his spirit into the room while she teaches. Which accounts for how powerful this weekend was for all of us.

So, Nancy, I thank you for being your own wonderful self. We all needed it this weekend.

If I had to detail out everything that happened this weekend, I could probably ramble on for a few hours and never get to the point of it all. Instead, let’s just say it was a weekend of good food, beautiful scenery, tears, ideas, play-dough, dreams, books, tea, and good people. So, the best kind of weekend.

I can’t wait to go back next year.

(And, yes, I did say play-dough. I’d explain, but . . . I think I’ll just let you wonder.)

Have you ever been to a writing conference? Would you like to? We’d love to see you next year and include you in our gathering!

 

 

Herb-Woman

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Rose hips grow by the wooden gate, red fruit already wrinkling in the late-summer sun. I pause with my hand on the latch, gathering a few and storing them away in my apron pockets before I go inside. They smell of hot wind and dust, but brewed into a syrup, they’ll cure cough and treat strep throat.

Inside the sandstone walls, the air is scorched and still. The grass beside the path has withered and turned gold, and the gravel paths are hot beneath my bare feet. The sisters sent for me two days since. They said the dry weather brought a plague with it, driven in the wind with the dust and the pollen of the ash trees.

Plague or not, the disease must be severe. They wouldn’t dare allow me to tread within their sacred walls otherwise.

Abbess Duval comes to meet me across the grounds. Two of the sisters are with her, their gray robes and white headdresses too heavy for such unbearable heat. Her voice is harsher than I remember, more grating, as if age is catching up with her. Or perhaps I’ve been away too long, and I’ve forgotten more than I thought. “Myla. You look well.”

The greeting is formal, painfully so, and I don’t respond to it. My eyes drift around the grounds of the convent, lingering among the trees of the orchard, the well-tended gardens, the bleached linen flapping on the lines. Beneath the rigid discipline of the convent is an air of unkempt neglect that would never have been allowed under normal circumstances.

“How many?”

The abbess’s lips pinch. She’s always hated my impudence. “What?”

I look at her, hearing the steel in my own voice as I say hoarsely, “How many did you bury before they convinced you to send for me?”

Her face whitens, her thin, bony frame taut with rage. She stares at me for a long moment, her nostrils flared and her black eyes scorching me, but it has been a long time since I feared her wrath. At last, she hisses quietly, “Sixteen.”

Her voice is terrible, the number worse. I bite my tongue, resisting the urge to hit her in the face, to slap her as hard as she does the novices that sweep the floors outside her chambers. Instead, I step past her, gathering my ragged skirts in one hand as I cross the lawns to the infirmary doors. “It’s a wonder the lot of you aren’t dead by now,” I say over my shoulder, and the words feel like a curse in my mouth. One of the sisters makes a quick sign to ward off evil, and I laugh.

That’s all I am to them. The witch. The healer they threw out of their home for daring to understand herb and root, seed and bark better than they did themselves. Among the villages to the south I am the herb-woman, in the valleys I am the bone-knitter, loved and sought after and respected.

Only here do I get no respect. Only here do they call me a witch and wipe my dust from the stone floors.

The air is cool inside, protected from the hot sun by the stone tiles on the roof. I lived in this house once. Even loved it. Now the floor is littered with pallets, the sick twisted in their damp sheets as they toss and turn, their faces shiny with sweat. Novices pad quietly from bed to bed, sponging brows, spooning broth into mouths, coaxing a disturbed patient to lie back again. Easing death. Their faces are pale. They are too young for this, and the knot in my breast loosens.

I will not punish children for one woman’s sins.

They draw away from me as I cross the room to the empty fireplace. I can see the fear in their eyes—the hope too—and it makes me smile. “I need fresh water,” I tell them. “Elmwood and as much birch bark as you can gather. Lavender, willow wythes, sweet bindweed, and whiteleaf oil. Mother Abbess will show you where it is.”

Three of the girls scurry off. They are like mice, like shy, timid little mice, and they watch as I build a fire in the hearth and hang an iron kettle over the new flames. The smell of death seeps from the rafters, from the cool floors, but the lavender will sweep it away, and no more will die now.

The witch has come, and hated or not, I bring healing.

On The Edge Of Living

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All men die, I tell them when they ask me why the world ends the way it does. And when they die, they come here.

We’re not dead. Not yet. They ask me why that is, but I don’t tell them the reason. I don’t tell them that we’re the forgotten people, the ones sent ahead to meet Death before she was sent for them. Some know already.

The ones that don’t are happier not knowing.

We live in the cliffs. Beneath Death’s falls, on the edge of the world. The seventh sea flows above us, spilling over the black rocks, tumbling into the abyss below us. The dead follow the current, and they fall. Straight to heaven’s doors, the tales say, or maybe straight through hell’s gates. I’ve stopped trying to guess which. Maybe it’s both at once. Maybe neither.

Either way, I don’t intend to find out. We live on the edge of the world, in the span of breath between living and dying, and I have no intention of joining either side.

Instead, I watch the sunrise from the black rocks, the cliffs and ledges. The light passes through the falling water, glinting like jewels, gleaming like veils of gossamer and pearls. Rainbows dance across the damp stones, and mist hangs in the air, smelling of wet earth and sea air. The dead pass us by, hardly more than a flicker of pale light, a solitary spirit caught up by the falling water and the ocean currents.

I’ve been watching them this morning, mostly before the sun came up. They’re easiest to see by moonlight, and I find that I think clearer when I’m behind the falls. I’ve lost count of how many souls have gone by, some of them so thin that they’re nearly transparent, but I have to go back now. The others will be waiting, and if I don’t come they’ll worry.

I rise, climbing down from the ledge I’ve been sitting on. The rocks are slick with mist and moss, but I’ve been climbing these cliffs for a millennia, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve slipped. I know these rocks too well.

The ledges below are flushed with green, with tangled vines and waving leaves. The gardens are being tended already, and more people are awake than I expected. Fires are being lit, coals fanned to life and kindled again with driftwood and dried grass. I kneel beside one, helping the woman to blow the embers to life again. She glances at me, at my soaked shirt and wet hair, and smiles. “Been at the falls?”

I shrug. “Keeping watch, that’s all.”

She nods. Someone is always watching the falls, not for the dead, but for the living. Those who were sent ahead, meant to meet Death on her way rather than waiting for her. People like Mazia, whose uncles put her on a boat in the seventh sea and towed her into the current. She spoke with the wind, they said, and her smile belonged to the devil.

Personally, I’ve always liked her smile.

Ewan, too, came to us from his own family. His legs are crippled, and they were finished with him. Most of the others have the same story. A child that no one wanted, a baby that was an inconvenience, a grandmother who was a burden. They come to use one by one, and we take them in. The lip of the falls catches them, the rocks that allow the dead through but hold back the living. I hear them, or someone does, and we bring them here. Here, where the sun shines like liquid gold through the curtain of falling water, where the moon rests on her flight across the sky, and the stars seek shelter from the burning rays of the sun. Death doesn’t come looking for us here, and the nights are cool and still, broken only by the rushing of the falls. They are broken when they come, but they heal. There is peace in growing things, in gathering a harvest, in building a colony. We live on the edge of the world, in the span of breath between living and dying, and we are content.

Go To Sleep

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I come when the library closes.

The lights are out, except for the lamp Mrs. Wilfe leaves on just for me. The doors are locked, and the windows have been shuttered. Even most of the reading desks are cleared. No one is left.

Only me. Because I have to put the stories to sleep.

I start in the children’s section. I like it back there best, because I can still hear the murmur of little voices reading aloud, and the rustle of turning pages. It’s not so silent, not so lonely.

I switch on a desk lamp as I step inside, and pick up a book lying on the floor. The Biggest Bear. An old, old favorite. The pages are stained with fingerprints, and the cover is a little torn, but it’s happy. Its story has been told today, many times, actually. It’s a little out of breath, a little tired, and I set it back on the shelf where it belongs.

The books in this section are the rowdiest, but they go to sleep fairly easily. Their stories were told, and they’re worn out from being dragged from shelf to table, table to floor, and back again. I stroke their spines, set them back in order on the shelves, and they fall asleep when I turn the lights out and leave them. They don’t have trouble sleeping, not like some do. I’m never sorry to see them awake when I come.

The adult books are harder. I can hear them murmuring when I flick on the light, their voices rustling like burning paper. They sound angry tonight, and I wonder who has been woken this time. It’s hard to tell. The stories are being whispered from shelf to shelf, passed on, overlapping each other, desperate to be heard. Old forgotten voices, caught in the dust between the pages. I can’t tell one from the other, not when they’re all talking at once. Grief and love, war and hate, treachery, betrayal, reunions, mystery, and horror. They all have a story to tell, but for some of them, it’s been a long time since anyone bothered to listen.

I walk through the shelves, running my fingers along the weighty spines. Quite a few are awake today. Awake, stifled, and frustrated. Who woke them up, I wonder? Who yanked them off their shelves, pulling them so unceremoniously from whatever dreams they were having, to page through their chapters and silence them again?

I pick up a heavy volume from a reading desk. Nearly a thousand pages, and whoever woke it up read less than three of them. I pass my hand over the cover, blow some of the dust from the pages, and set it back on the shelf. Another day, I tell it, although I’m not sure if I’m lying. Some of them have only been woken like this, for a page or two and nothing else, for a long time.

Some of them have been silent for so long that I’ve forgotten what they sound like.

I switch the reading lamps off as I go, stroking spine after spine. Go to sleep, I tell them. Forget the stories you tried to tell, the people who woke you up. Rest.

For some of them, it isn’t so easy. They’re angry, and angry books are hard to settle. I spend a long time among these shelves, soothing them, quieting the arguments. I can’t listen to them all at once, and I certainly can’t be the one to read every book, although I try to give the loneliest a chance. They know when I’m humoring them, of course, but most are grateful anyway.

But I can’t read all night. They have to sleep, and so do I. They listen to me at last, and their whispers fade into silence. I flick off the last light and listen to them breathing. Someone will come to read them eventually. Every book has a story that someone needs to hear. Every book has a heart it needs to heal, a mind it needs to open. Someone will come.

Until then, I’ll do my best to coax them back to sleep.

Living Like A Writer

We are two weeks into January.

Almost two weeks.

What day is it again?

Basically, 2019 has been a whirlwind of activity, even in its first two weeks. I started coaching sessions, started the first draft of my sixth book, embraced this blog, sent out several resumes for freelance writing positions, and oddly enough, repainted and rearranged my mother’s pantry.

I also took a morning to chop wood.

Because I live in a tiny house. And the only way to heat this tiny house is with a wood stove.

And it is cold in Colorado.

The lovely part of gathering wood for my house has been the long walks through the woods, finding dead wood and fallen branches to chop up. I live on thirty-five acres of pastureland and pine woods, and out here, we don’t go to Walmart and buy wood.

Although Walmart does sell firewood. Which seems weird to me.

However, we also don’t chop down trees willy-nilly. Because trees take seven thousand years to grow in Colorado due to the lack of water. So instead, I’ve been collecting logs from neighbors who are clearing their land, dead branches and trees from our own property, and old lumber from a porch that we tore down a year or so ago.

My woodpile is a study in oddities.

The long walks to find all of this wood have given me, as a writer, so much time and space to think. They’re moments outside in the trees, with the blue sky and the deer tracks in the snow and the long, winding paths up through our property. I have loved every minute of it and found that, more than just giving me wood to heat my house, they have given me rest for my soul, inspiration for my writing time, and above all, a chance to pause and enjoy the beautiful place that I live in. I am a country girl heart and soul, and nothing feeds my spirit more than time in the trees.

And, if I can ensure that I don’t freeze in the middle of the night at the same time, it’s definitely a double bonus.

For The Writer Who Has Quit One Too Many Times

For The Writer Who Has Quit One Too Many TimesAs a writer, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a new idea.

A new character waltzes in, capturing our attention, and whispering about a story flooded with new possibilities, new dangers, and a love so deep it borders on intoxication. Suddenly, we’re taking the long way home from work, getting lost in the grocery store, and filling notebooks with jotted conversations that just have to be written down, because what if we lose them??

Unfortunately, as odd as it may seem, new ideas can be one of the biggest obstacles to a finished book.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? New ideas should be every writer’s dream! They should propel your career forward, not pull it back.

Shouldn’t they?

Well, actually—they do. If they’re managed right. But new ideas, when they’re given free rein and allowed to trample everything in their path, can effectively kill any half-finished draft, partially edited manuscript, or fully outlined book. Especially when said half-finished draft or partially edited manuscript has a plot hole that you just—can’t—fix.

Sometimes it really is time to cut the cord and let an old idea die in favor of a new one. But, if we fill our drawers with half-finished ideas, scribbled notes, and books that we’ll finish someday, that goal of eventually writing—and publishing—a book . . . may not happen.

But how do we resist the pull of a new idea when it’s just so enticing?

I have a few suggestions.

1) Jot it down.

This is the obvious one. Have a notebook of future books that you’d like to write. Or a file on your computer. If necessary, write it as a short story and save it for another day. Believe me, it will keep. And it will be all the richer for the time it had to simmer.

2) Admit that you probably cannot write both at once.

Don’t take them both on.

Just don’t.

Especially if your half-finished draft is having trouble. Whether you intend it or not, one of them will be set aside, and I can guarantee that it won’t be the shiny new idea.

As a writer, you can decide to write any way you like. There is no set formula for how to write, and no ‘ten steps for success’. But in the end, a book that isn’t finished is a book that isn’t published.

So take it one step at a time. Finish one before you start the next, especially if they are the same genre and type of story. The next ten years of my life are planned out in books that I’m going to write, and I haven’t misplaced a single one of them because I decided to wait.

In the end, it will be worth it.

3) Keep it in the back of your mind.

Sometimes, it really is nice to have another idea to plan and daydream about. An idea doesn’t have to be written for you to enjoy. Spend some time with it. Let it stew in the back of your mind. Explore the possibilities, but keep it in your head for now. Keep your writing time—and a little brain space too—for the book that really needs your attention.

Remember, you will get to write this new idea. And it will be all the better for having finished another book before you started this one.

4) Fall in love with the idea you had.

Remember that the book you’re writing now was once an idea that captured you. That set fire to your thoughts. If you hadn’t loved it, you wouldn’t have started it.

Daydream. Journal with your characters. Explore the settings that once enraptured you. There is no plot hole that can’t be conquered, and no story that can’t be written. Allow room for growth, for change, for a story that you love and are passionate about. 

5) Be excited for the work you’ve already done.

New ideas are lovely. They’re exciting and engaging and they bring a spark of creativity back into writing, especially when we’ve been toiling through plot holes and frustration.

And yet, new ideas come and go. They have no roots, no weight to them.

Remind yourself that the work you’ve done already is worth continuing. Your story has a depth and richness to it that only comes with a fight. All that trouble you’ve had fixing plot holes, all the frustration of edits, all the deleted pages that you’ve tossed into the trash combine together to give you a solid foundation to work with. All that work is worth far too much to be abandoned or cast aside.

Respect the story you have.

Respect the time you’ve already put in.

Rekindle the love you have for the story you’re working on, and push through the difficulty. You’re a writer, and you have a thousand stories ahead of you. You have time to write them all, and there is no hurry. Take them one at a time, and one day you’ll have a shelf of books that you can be proud of.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.