Saturday, March 28, 2020

Plague Break

This is how my daughter has been referring to this unexpected and peculiar time off: Plague Break. It's like Spring Break (which according to our calendar is still approaching) combined with a pandemic. Strange times.

Our family is beyond lucky. As of this moment, the corona virus has not seemed to have touched us, or anyone we know personally. I expect that to change as the year drags forward, but today? Today we are healthy. Today we are fine.

Our state went on official lock down on Wednesday morning, March 25th. There was a flurry of activity in my store right before then, since many people don't view violins and instrument repairs as non-essential. One person even drove up from Chicago to have me set up her soundpost, since Illinois was on lock down already and no shop down there could help her.

Before this week, we'd been by appointment only at the violin store as soon as the public school closures were issued. The protocols we instituted involved lots of hand washing (for both us and our customers), social distancing, and anything people handled and didn't take with them got put into quarantine for several days. It was an odd way to work.

Since the lock down, no one is allowed inside my store. They can leave things on the doorstep that I can bring in after they've backed away. I have been able to deliver certain items. I recently left a violin bow on a porch and found the payment for it in the mailbox. I appreciate more than I can say that I have customers that think to call me first, rather than spend their money online.

Interestingly, we had more rental instruments go out in the past week than come back. People have time to play. I've been carefully asking each person who does return an instrument why they are doing it, because I don't want anyone to feel they can't play violin simply because we're in a peculiar time of financial strain. I would find a way for them to hang onto it for a while, rather than take a violin away from a child at this moment. But so far everyone has assured me their child lost interest, nothing more.

I've been at my store each day, primarily to wait for packages that were already in transit before the lock down order. I've been sharpening tools for work that isn't there. It's very odd to be caught up on repairs.

Very soon I will shift to being completely at home, the way my husband and children have been. I'll join the full-time quarantine, where at least we have each other and there are hugs and a well-enough stocked pantry. (On my last visit to the grocery store at the beginning of the week, I discovered the losing pasta type is Mafalda. Apparently people will take everything else before they will take Mafalda. Who knew?)

What I find really striking so far about this momentous shift we've all been asked to make in our lives, is how quickly so much of it has sunk in. It's only been about two weeks since school was canceled and social distancing rules were explained to all of us. Now when I see images in movies or online of crowds of people smashed shoulder to shoulder anywhere I feel something akin to panic. I'm conscious about how I wash my hands in a way I didn't used to be. Every time someone touches their own face I feel a small alarm go off in my brain.

I'm surprised by how exhausting all of this has turned out to be. And how hard it is to be motivated to do the kinds of projects I usually want to do. Seems like a perfect opportunity to write, or organize things, or get some real work done in my home shop. But I haven't really done any of that yet.

Part of it is that in some way, too much time can be a burden. I've often found that when trying to get somewhere on time, that too much time makes me as late as too little. And in terms of projects, I'm reminded of the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." People often ask how I have time for all the things I do, and the truth is you grab moments when you can get them and use them to the fullest. But if tomorrow is just as empty as today, there's no hurry. So I keep putting things off because I can.

Another part of it is stress and grief. Those things make you tired. I tried to explain that to my oldest the other night when she was getting depressed and wasn't sure why. I told her it's because this looks like a vacation of sorts, but it isn't. It's a crisis. And even though in our own home things are about the same, having choices taken away never feels right. And she has legitimate things to grieve over. She left school believing she'd go back the following Monday. Instead, without any goodbyes, she's simply done. Not exactly the way we imagine finishing our senior year. She's trying to make decisions about college under unusual circumstances. She misses her friends.

The stories about people this pandemic has impacted directly are scary. There's no getting around that no matter how many cookies we bake. The fact that there is no end date is stressful. All of it makes us want to sleep in and tune it out a little longer.

As much as we've had to give up at this time, I am impressed by how many good things we had, if that makes sense. Most of us tend to focus on the negative side of being too busy. When all of it grinds to a halt, we can appreciate anew what we liked about all of those activities.

Because talk about cancel culture! Watching one thing after another go down like dominoes was rather shocking. Two concerts I was supposed to play were called off. My book signing is indefinitely postponed. I doubt my daughter will have a public graduation. My husband, after 21 years of service, was supposed to have his Army retirement ceremony next weekend, but instead, he just stops going to drill with no real recognition. Almost without exception, everything getting canceled was something we were looking forward to. It's sort of astonishing to be forced to step away from it all and realize how good we had it.

Currently the only thing keeping us tethered to the day of the week is the fact that my son has remote piano lessons on Mondays. That's it. Bedtimes don't matter, mealtimes don't matter.... All my kids are teenagers so the schedule has gotten very loose. The funniest part of Quinn's piano lessons is that he broke his wrist in two places on a ski trip right before the school closures. His left arm is in a cast, which means to play his assignments, I am now his left hand. I'm a viola player, so I don't read bass clef, and looking at chords is confusing. I gave his teacher a good laugh at least, last lesson. I will do better next time! And since I'm not taking Quinn anywhere near a hospital until the pandemic is under control, who knows how long he'll be stuck in that cast? I could become better at bass clef than I ever planned to.

I am enjoying reading more. I normally don't have a schedule that allows me to finish a book in a single day, and now I do. I'm reading to the kids as they gather to do projects some evenings at the dining room table. Mona has been sewing some beautiful things. Aden is drawing more. I've made a new friend on social media whom I think of as my "plague buddy," and we can tell each other stories that people in our own homes have already heard too many times. It will be nice to meet him in real life when the world goes back to normal.

I do wonder what normal will look like, though. I imagine a year from now it will look more like what we remember from just a few weeks ago. But the rest of this year I think will be strange and complicated. This is not something that will simply end in a couple of weeks and everything springs back to life as if we flipped a switch. There will be ripple effects, and I expect to feel them for a while.

Yesterday would have been my dad's 91st birthday. I took a walk by the lake for an hour and called one of my brothers, and then my mom. We agreed that Dad would have weathered quarantine just fine. He would have happily clipped articles at his desk and looked forward to whatever Mom made for dinner. We wonder if he would have noticed the plague break much at all, aside from the newspaper articles suddenly being entirely about covid-19. I feel bad my mom doesn't have his company right now as she's stuck by herself at home.

I loved my walk by the lake. I'm going to take advantage of so much time laid suddenly at my feet and try to do that every day that I can. This afternoon my family came out to walk a little with me. Even the dog who (because he is the world's weirdest dog and doesn't want to go for walks) enjoyed it for a little bit. The lake provides perspective you don't get anywhere else. It's always beautiful, always different. It makes our own concerns seem smaller and fleeting.

If we do this together we can be proud of how we looked out for one another at an uncertain time. Take care of each other and try to see the good. There's always good if you look.

I hope you all stay healthy.

Monday, March 2, 2020

What is it about?

The most natural question to ask an author about their new book is: "What is it about?"

That question makes total sense. Of course someone wants to know what something's about in order to decide if it would interest them. It's a great question.

And I am hopelessly bad at answering it.

The pain starts with having to write a synopsis when you try to submit your book anywhere. My knee jerk reaction is always, "If I could tell this story in a page, I wouldn't have bothered to write a whole novel!" And reducing a story down to its simple plot line doesn't capture anything relevant. If you handed the same synopsis to Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Ann Patchett, and asked each of them to expand it into a book, you'd get three completely different novels. So what does summing it up even tell us?

And yet, there are genres that don't hold my attention, or subjects I don't really want to spend time with, so I get why it's necessary. I need to be able to talk to people about my writing in a way that lets them know if my book is something they would enjoy.

Here is my attempt to do that with Just Friends, Just War. And instead of pitching the story particularly, I want to share some thoughts about what was knocking around my head when I wrote and revised it, and explain the kinds of questions I was hoping it could address.

My second novel is called Seducing Cat, which many people were reluctant to pick up because when they asked, "What is it about?" I usually answered, "A woman who has an affair."

It's about much more than that. It's about temptation and how we define ourselves and where the line is between living your life to the fullest and behaving selfishly. But I can never think to say that when someone asks me in person what that book is about, usually because I'm like a deer caught in headlights where the whole book and all of its nuances flash before my eyes and it's too much for me to reduce to a single sentence. (It's a little like when someone asks, "How are you?" and your choices are to lay out all of the joys and traumas and your existential crisis of the moment, or just say, "Fine." Most of us only have time for "Fine.")

In any case, Seducing Cat was about two people who were together who probably shouldn't have been. I decided as a launching point for my next book, I wanted to spend time with two people who were not a couple, but that others would think should be. That's where Just Friends, Just War began.

When I write, I start with the characters, and make sure I understand them well before I begin putting them into different situations. I came up with Alex and Claire.

I wanted them to be different, but compatible. I thought about political discussions I'd had with various people back in college--people I liked, but disagreed with. I thought about the kinds of lines we draw when we disagree with people, particularly about politics. Some opinions you can let slide because they are simply different. Others make you question someone's morals or character. I find those lines interesting.

I wanted Claire to be strong, and Alex to be stubborn. I wanted their attachment to each other to be obvious, but not something that needed to be said in words to one another. If I wrote them right, I wanted readers to go back and forth between liking Alex a lot, and not liking him much, and to sometimes be uncomfortable about what to do with that. I wanted people to go back and forth between admiring Claire, and not always understanding her.

Once I had the personalities of my main characters fleshed out, I needed a setting. I decided to draw on my experiences in a dojo where I'd spent a few years.

My husband and I got our black belts together at the Futen Dojo in Milwaukee, and our sensei there literally turned my notes on doing techniques into a book for students to use. I was not particularly good at jujutsu, but I loved it, and was sad when I started having children that there was no more time for it. I stopped going when I was about four months pregnant with my first baby and couldn't tie my gi closed anymore. By having a dojo be central to the characters and their story, it was a way of reflecting on all the hours I'd spent in that space, and getting to relive some of it again. My characters meet in a dojo and it becomes an important element of their relationship.

Back when I wrote the draft for this book, I was also bracing for my husband to be deployed at any minute. He was in the Army Reserve, and that's a perspective on war that doesn't get portrayed often. By having Alex involved in the same kind of units my husband worked with, I was able to learn a little more about his military experiences while adding details to my character's story. Just Friends, Just War was also a way for me to grapple with my own fears about what deployment would mean to my family when it happened to us.

The power and nature of different friendships interest me. It wasn't until I started writing this book that I realized I was unusual at the time for having so many friends of the opposite sex. I talked to several women in particular who had never had a male friend, aside from someone they interacted with as part of a couple. It would never occur to them to get together with just the guy, and for me it's not an issue at all. I think that dynamic has changed somewhat in recent years, and my children don't think it's strange for people of the opposite sex (or different gender identity, or sexual orientation--not visible options when I was growing up) to be friends.

Likewise, I'm also interested in how your sex matters in different situations. People's expectations of themselves and others can be deeply rooted in their sex, and that topic never bores me. Alex and Claire were good vehicles for comparing and contrasting in what ways being male or female mattered to who they were, how they were treated in the world, and who they could be to each other.

This book spans over a decade of Claire and Alex's relationship, so it begins back in 1995. I had fun researching any time markers in the book in terms of technology, what songs were playing in a particular year, when certain episodes of TV shows were on, and what commercials would have been common. My favorite inclusion was an ad for 1-800-COLLECT, not just because I remember that commercial playing incessantly, but it really dates the time period back when "long distance" was a concern when making a phone call. (I tried to explain to my kids about how when I was young, we had to wait until after "business hours" for the long distance rates to drop low enough we could call someone out of state. They didn't seem to understand how that was a thing.)

And finally, I wanted by the end of this book for the reader to feel the weight of time and experience in terms of how relationships are built. When you've simply known someone long enough, mundane things become meaningful, and shared memories become like legend and lore. By the last few pages, every line should have meaning that it couldn't in the beginning. Because you've walked through so much with them, the weight of each object and gesture should be almost palpable. Alex and Claire should feel like your friends, too.

My new novel is Just Friends, Just War.

What is it about? Friendship, relationships, love, war, sacrifice, and martial arts.

I worked hard on it. It's good. You'll like it, and I believe the characters will stay with you for some time. Find your copy here, or better yet, come get one at Boswell Book Company on April 1st at 7:00pm when I do my reading and book signing--support a great independent bookstore and snack on homemade cream puffs. (Hope to see you there!)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Recognized and Unnamed

I've been swimming at the local county pool since before my children were born. It's good exercise, but for lap swimmers it's rather solitary, which suits me fine. I want to go, get in my mile, and head to work. I use the time to let my mind wander as I go back and forth across the pool; I sort out problems or come up with new ideas to make the time seem more productive.

The other half of the pool not sectioned off into lanes by ropes is the social side. It's where the aqua-aerobics people meet in the mornings, and kids play in the afternoons. The people over there chat as they are led through different routines.

There is a core group of regulars at the pool in the morning. The aqua-aerobics classes are mostly women, and lap swimmers tend to be men, although there are obviously exceptions. Few people cross from one side to the other. Everyone recognizes who goes where.

Here is the thing I've been thinking about lately as I cross the pool 64 times in a row: When we think of people in our lives, we think of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. We don't think as often of the vast number of people who populate our days whom we recognize but can't even name.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

There's Always One More Thing

Thinking way, way back to when I had my first baby, one of the more vivid adjustments was to how relentless much of the responsibilities feel.

There were plenty of lovely, quiet moments. Moments when I would hold my sweet baby and watch her laugh, and feel her touch my face, and I would try to sear all of it into my brain so I could remember it for both of us. For the most part, she was an easy baby who grew into an adorable toddler and then a charming little girl, and eventually a very sweet teenager.

But at every stage there was always something to monitor, or get past, or solve. There was colic, or eczema, or weird rashes, or hives. Was she getting enough tummy time? There were vaccinations, and ear infections, and wondering if I was exposing her to enough new experiences. Figuring out school for our first child was an ordeal. At some point there were allergies and ear tubes and questions about socialization. There were concerns about how she was handling her dad's deployment. There were concerns about adjusting to his return. There were struggles with certain subjects, and drama with friends, and learning to drive, and cook, and how to frame her passions into something that looks like a future.

Today my daughter is in her last year of high school, preparing to graduate and applying to colleges. She's legally an adult now, but always my baby. There are new things to worry about, and to try and help her solve.

There is always one more thing.

I don't remember when tummy time officially ended. It was a regular real concern until it no longer was. Because whatever the new thing was, it took over, and we monitored and worked on that. And the cycle continues with each new thing, until you look up one day and realize your baby is eighteen and in some arbitrary official sense your job is "done."

But it's never really done. Because there is always one more thing. That's what life is.

And it goes by frighteningly fast.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Cakes and Cards! (2019)

We don't start doing holiday-specific things until all the kids' birthdays are over. From mid-November through mid-December, life is a lot of cakes. Then we immediately switch to cards. I ask my kids every year if they really want to crank out a hundred homemade cards again, or if we can just take a picture or skip it. They always want to make cards.

Lots of creativity and construction in our house! Here's the recap of how all of it went. (And no, we haven't dug out of all the mess yet, but at least our tree is up before Christmas.)

First cake of the season was for Quinn just before Thanksgiving. He didn't want a party with friends, but liked the idea of doing something new with the family, so we took him axe throwing. That was a blast. There is a great place a few blocks from our house where they have bouncy houses for all ages, air hockey, pinball, laser tag, and axe throwing. Made for a great day! But there wasn't much of a theme to build a cake around, and Quinn didn't want an axe cake. He just wanted to be surprised, and insisted he'd like whatever I made.

What does the kid like? Cereal. So I went the easy route and simply decorated his cake with cereal.

Ian was nice enough to separate out all the generic brand Fruit Loops by color for me, and we stayed up late and watched TV while I put cereal all over the cake. (My impulse was to mix up all the colors because that would look pretty to me, but Quinn likes order and patterns, so I decided concentric rings in rainbow order was the way to go. Random fact: blue was the rarest of the colors to sort out, and orange is in abundance. Additional random fact: all fruit loops taste the same, regardless of color, and despite what your mind wants you to believe.)

Quinn was surprised and super happy with his cake. (Which was chocolate inside, by the way. He always wants chocolate inside.)

Next up! Mona's cake. She turned 16 this year, and didn't want a friend party either, but did decide it would be fun to go glow bowling out in The Dells with family, so we made a day of it at the end of Thanksgiving weekend along with her uncle and cousin.

Mona did know what she wanted her cake to look like, but told me if it was too hard I didn't have to do it. I like a challenge, however, so it took three tries, but I did it!

Behold the Piñata cake!

We watch a lot of "Nailed It" on Netflix, and on the Mexican version they made little piñata cakes, so I thought I knew what to do. But no. I tried valiantly to make it all out of cake, but no matter how short I made the legs or how many skewers I used to try and support them, those cakes simply collapsed.

I wound up making the legs out of the cake box cut in half, and sculpting the head and ears out of rice crispy treats. Even then, frosting the cake took so much time that I had to take a break and put the cake in the freezer for a while so the ears would stay up.


Piping all that frosting on took forever and really wore out my hands, but it was worth it. Because look how cute it came out!

Mona whooped when she saw it, and she laughed, and then she cried, and then she took a million pictures. Totally worth all the work. Plus, when we cut into it, it was full of candy. I hope I never have to make a piñata cake again, but if I do, I will know how to make it work.


Here is my one genius tip I can share that I figured out while doing the piñata cake: If you need to switch colors of frosting in the piping bags, but still need the same tip over and over? Put the tip in its own bag and switch out the bags full of colored frosting into that one. Professionals probably have multiples of the same tips, but I don't, so when I realized I could just put a bag inside another bag and go from color to color easily, I was rather proud of myself.

The last cake was Aden's, which she made again herself for the annual "Food for Thought" fundraiser for the Hunger Task Force at her school. She won first place the last three years (her freshman year for her dragon/geode cake, next for her candy sushi plate, and last year for her working chess set). And while looking for links I realized I never posted about her chess board cake, so here's a peek at last year's cake, with pieces all made from modeling chocolate:

We joked this year she should simply make a cake in the shape of a first place trophy. As funny an idea as that was, Aden is too modest for that, so she went with a sandcastle.


Aden's sandcastle cake utilized most of my failed piñata cake attempts. (Lest anyone think we were being wasteful!) She kneaded together the crumbled cake with icing the way you do when making cake pops, and sculpted the outer structure of her sandcastle. There were failed attempts to build tall towers using the rice crispy treats that weren't sound enough to survive being transported to her school before she settled on the lower design. The center of the cake was regular cake. The turrets were made of ice cream cones. Everything was covered with icing, then coated with graham cracker crumbs. Aden made her own modeling chocolate to create all the shells and pearls. (She wanted company when she stayed up late the last night to finish it all, so she let me paint all her little shells with food coloring.)

The sandcastle cake was heavy, as well as spectacular. And yes, she won first place again. She even got an extra award for having participated in the fundraiser all four years of her time in high school. (Personally, I think having four amazingly decorated cakes are a cool addition to her portfolio for college.)



With cakes finally finished, we set in on holiday cards.

I had a thought to make some simple trees out of pretty paper and leave it at that. We make so many, I find it easier if they are basic and identical. But my kids made all of them this year, and the three of them kept switching places in the assembly line (mostly because when Mona gets slap-happy the cards get weird and the other two object, although personally I like the weird). So all the cards are really different from each other this year. And several ended up being assembled upside-down, so if you're someone on our list who gets one of those, it's not some kind of "holiday in crisis" message like an upside-down flag. It's They may be 18, 16, and 13 now, but definitely still kids.

Here is a sampling of how some of these cards came out:

It's been a busy birthday/holiday season. Lots of concerts and recitals, lots of people coming and going. One of the best parts of performing at this time of year, is we usually get to do it in some pretty beautiful venues. I never take that for granted.

We even got a new mirror ball for the living room as our family present this year. (Yes, we have a mirror ball year round in our living room.) The old mirror ball's motor died, so we upgraded to a bigger ball. Too big a one, actually, since my brain didn't fully comprehend what going from an 8-inch diameter ball to a 16-inch ball really meant. We also ordered a separate motor with a super handy remote control, but it was REALLY fast (30-something revolutions a minute), so we returned both the giant ball and the fast motor for a more reasonable sized ball (12 inches), and a nice slow motor (about 4 rmp).

So it's been a season full of lights and music and laughter and family, and I don't know what more anyone could want. Well, better health for a few of us. We are hoping for everyone feeling fine in the new year. Beyond that? We're great. Hope you are, too.

Happy Everything, and we'll catch up again in 2020.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Voices Past and Present

I'm at that odd moment on Thanksgiving Day where things are cooking, but it's too early to cook the final things, and we're still waiting for guests to arrive. There's a short lull before the next flurry of events, and no one needs me right this second. In this bit of quiet I thought I should write.

We've been working on doing a real cleaning of the house this week in anticipation of hosting the big meal today. We have most of the downstairs looking presentable. We organized the game cabinet and moved furniture and dusted all the Mold-a-Ramas. Part of all that cleaning involved pulling all of my old collection of cassette tapes out of a few drawers. It was at the end of the night, and Aden and Quinn were the only ones still up with me. They helped me sort what was there.

I explained the fun of mix tapes. There was real effort to making a good one, often having to tape things off the radio, or a record. I have several old mix tapes--a few from an old boyfriend, a bunch from my brother when he lived in California, one I even made labeled "Baby Tape" that I used to play in our old kitchen as I danced baby Aden around in my arms to calm her when she was fussy. Do kids still compile songs they like to share in a digital format? Or is that completely passe?

I found some embarrassing recordings of my friend Gabby and I making "radio shows" in my basement. Oh we were annoying children--I don't know how our parents could stand listening to us laugh at nonsense all the time. I found bootleg tapes Gabby made for me in the parking lot of Pine Knob where I went to hear concerts by Sting and Nik Kershaw and Depeche Mode. Gabby was more interested in the pre-concert fun we had at those events than the music, so she'd wait out the show with a boom box and make recordings I could enjoy later. (She was and is a good friend, and we are still probably annoying to listen to when we get together and laugh at nothing, but thankfully there is no recorded evidence of that.)

Among the old tapes, I found a few I made of conversations with my grandma. One in particular stands out where all seven of her grandchildren were gathered in her kitchen in Ohio and she was making us breakfast as she told stories. I'd forgotten just what a good storyteller she was. I think of my grandma as more of a listener, but I loved hearing her talk.

I played that tape for my kids in the only working tape player I currently own--a small voice-activated thing I used for recording my lessons before they were born. I only intended to play a few minutes of that tape, but we all got caught up in the story of my grandma getting her first dog, and then about how she met grandpa, and what it was like when he was preparing to leave for the war. We listened to the whole first side of the tape before I decided they really should go to bed.

The tape I keep thinking about most was one from when I was about two and a half, maybe three. My brothers were babies who would occasionally squawk, but for the most part it's my grandpa asking me to recite nursery rhymes. My grandfather had a deep, friendly voice. Aden looked up in wonder when he spoke through my cassette recorder and asked, "Is that my great-grandpa?" She'd never heard him before. He died when I was fifteen. She teared up and listened intently.

In the background on that tape, somewhere behind me and my grandpa, are my dad and grandmother, who sound like they are at the kitchen table. They are chatting and laughing.

It's wonderful to hear, but at the same time overwhelming to realize how many people in that recording are gone. Even little toddler me doing a dramatic rendition of Little Miss Muffet doesn't really exist anymore. I miss my grandpa, and grandma, and dad. I miss the world where that littler me used to live.

I'm looking forward to dessert tonight, when we can break out the tapes for everyone at the table. We can listen to my cousins messily reciting the alphabet and adorably singing for my grandpa. We can hear Arno plunk out simple songs on the guitar, and me and my brothers doing a screamy version of Frere Jacques because we thought it was hilarious once upon a time. And we can listen to my grandma tell stories again. The way she used to at Thanksgiving dinner.

Time to take the turkey out, and start working on potatoes and beans and rolls.

Have a wonderful day, however you celebrate. And remember to be thankful for the people you share your life with. They aren't around as long as we'd like.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Writing Retreat: Chapter Two

November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo if you want to get weirdly abbreviated about it). It's a nonprofit group that gets people to commit to trying to complete a novel in a month, and provides structure and support for those who need help. I've never participated, but it sounds fun. I just don't have the kind of schedule that lends itself to other people's timelines. I have to carve out my own moments to write, and that doesn't overlap with the beginning of birthday season and Thanksgiving.

But I did arrange to do a second writing retreat up at the cottage with a friend at the beginning of October. I got a lot done.

This year was chilly and it rained most of the time, which was perfect for keeping us indoors and writing. The last few days we even kept a fire going in the fireplace and it was really lovely.

Took a few walks, ate soup, and I even treated myself to my first pedicure in the little shopping square when I needed a break (and decided writing would go faster with pretty toes).

I had three projects to ponder this year.

The first was the last of the copy edits on my novel Just Friends, Just War. (That book is in the proofreading stage right now. I decided to order proofs of it with a placeholder cover, simply because I never spot certain typos until they are actually in print in the book. So I'm proofreading the actual book and can make changes before it goes live.) Just Friends, Just War is the last of the three novels I wrote over a decade ago when I first decided to try my hand at fiction. That book (along with Almost There and Seducing Cat) took a lot of reworking and rewriting to finish. I didn't know what I was doing, and it showed. But failure is how you learn, and figuring out how to edit those books so they functioned was useful. Just Friend, Just War should be ready to publish in early 2020. Here's the current blurb for that:

Alex and Claire are just friends. They are fine with that. Nobody else seems to be. But as they move from high school to college to adult life, there are many ways—both big and small—to test a friendship. Just Friends, Just War follows a friendship from the day it begins through all of its joys and challenges. Sometimes being just friends is more than enough.

My main project was the novel I'm writing now, called 1001 Weddings. This is a novel I had an idea for a long time ago and am finally getting around to it. The big difference is that now I know how to go at a writing project of that size right from the start. I know how I want to handle the point of view, I know how to pace things, I know how to use my voice better. I think it's a good book. I have to flesh parts of it out a bit more, but it's essentially there. When I get to editing, that won't require major overhauls and scrapping whole chapters to repair the basic structure. I'm excited about that. It means I may finally know what I am doing.

My major question with 1001 Weddings is whether or not to try and find a traditional publisher, or do it myself. I've only had two test readers on it, but they both enjoyed it, and it's a super-pitchable book. Here's the first stab at a blurb for it:

Jemma Best is a musician who plays weddings. When she becomes engaged herself, she decides to drum up a little extra business to pay for her own wedding by contacting brides from the past to see if they would like their original quartet to play for an anniversary. Because wouldn’t that be romantic? Seems like a great idea. Until Jemma discovers how all those stories turned out.

I've included lots of wedding stories (most of which are true), and I went out on a limb and made the main character's fiancee a luthier. There's a little danger in that, but I have to admit, I had a lot of fun inventing a fictional shop and getting to complain about luthier things through my character. The book is fun, and structured more like a romance than anything else. My writing retreat friend (who is a professional book reviewer and understands what's out there) thinks it wouldn't be hard to find an agent for, and she could easily imagine it as a movie. That all sounds good, but I have control issues, I guess. I don't like the idea of someone else having the rights to my work. I don't want to be forced to make changes I don't believe in. But I also want to be read, and marketing is not my strong suit. (I suppose I'll worry about that later when the book is finally done.)

The third project is odd. I wrote a whole novel sort of by accident. I was supposed to be working on 1001 Weddings, but then I had an idea about something else and couldn't get it out of my head, so I simply wrote it to be done with it. But then there were more ideas. So I wrote those. And then I was at 106,000 words that I didn't really mean to write. I let two friends read it who were the only people who knew where the original ideas came from, and they both read through it fast and I think liked it. Or parts of it. But at my writing retreat, my friend with no preconceived ideas about what it should be, ripped it to shreds. As she should have. It was not developed right. Because it was an accident.

But! Here's the thing: She still read it in one night. She didn't intend to. She planned to read maybe a chapter and go to sleep. So even though she found it implausible and the characters all too similar (because again, not developed, so they all had my draft voice instead of their own), she still kept reading. She liked the writing. She was almost dismissive about that part, as in, "Of course it's all written well, but...."

That's big. It means I know how to write, right from the first draft. Even if it's not good yet, it still keeps people turning pages. Plot points and characters I can fix. I'm actually really looking forward to tearing that novel down to the studs and rebuilding it after I've given it real thought. But to be able to pace things and lay them out in a manner that people want to keep reading? I feel like that's something different and more fundamental. Sort of like back in music school, if you were a person who brought real expression to your playing that made people want to listen, rather than someone who did things technically well but came across as cold. That's hard to teach. In my experience, either players have that ability to be musical, or they don't. I've always been told I'm a musical player. I now feel as if maybe I have musicality in my writing, too.

Unfortunately, when I take time off work, the work doesn't stop appearing on my bench. So I haven't had any time to write anything since I returned from the cottage. I've merely been trying to dig out of the hole of rehairs and instrument repairs, but after many late nights in the shop I'm almost caught up. (There are many people who wander into my violin store and marvel at my "dying art" which always makes me laugh. As long as people keep dropping things, my art is alive and well. And people never stop dropping things.)

I hope I find some time soon. Because in addition to ideas for my novel, I'm also working on a repair diagnostics guide for violin teachers that I think will be really good, and fills a need.

Why are there so few hours in the day to get everything done? There is so much I want to do that I never get to! (And on that note, I need to get off my laptop and start cleaning the house. Because for those who ask, "Where do you find the time?" the answer is: my house is a mess. But I think at this stage, I'd rather be remembered for things I've created than for a nicely made bed.)