A Time to Weed

One of my favorite things to do is garden.  I have several small gardens around my yard and each Spring I cannot wait to get outside and nurture the plants.  I start with cleaning off the dead at the end of April and plant annuals and new perennials at the beginning of May. Then, I try to keep the weeds at bay.  Unfortunately, I was not able to work in my gardens until today.  As I pulled the weeds in an effort to find my lovely perennials I realized how much they represented my life. 

Have you ever piled your plate so high that only a little bit of everything gets done and some things go to the wayside? With three children and their activities, a wonderful husband, full-time job outside the home, church committees, writing, extended family and friends, social events and the musicals, I’ve allowed myself to become so busy that I didn’t know if I am coming or going.   In all of this, I’ve gotten away from reading: novels, devotionals and the Bible, with the exception of planning my Sunday School lesson and worshiping in church. 

My life needs to be weeded as much as my garden.  I need to limit the amount of time I spend on the unimportant and more on the important – prayer and family.  Once the weeds are gone, my focus will return, as it did today when I realized what I had been missing.  It may sound crazy, but this is often a time when I renew my spirit.  This is when my mind doesn’t have to focus on what I am doing, but opens and I ask God the important question – what do you want me to do for You?  Perhaps this is why everything has seemed overwhelming of late.  I’ve been so busy doing that I forgot to be led.

Does this just happen to me, or have you had occasions where your life is so full of weeds you lose focus of what is most important?

Worthless

              Lately I have spent more time at the theater than I have spent writing.  It happens this way sometimes.  I love both the solitary life of writing, and the energy of creativity and talent in a theater.  My last post referenced Little Women, Jo’s manuscript and travel.  I had just finished costuming Little Women when I wrote that blog. 

                I recently finished costuming Man of La Mancha.  I believe most people are familiar with the story of Don Quixote and if you are not, read the book or see the play/musical. It is a wonderful story.  But, as I was sat and watched the beginning, which I watched each night, certain points of the dialogue really struck me.  It happens right after Cervantes is thrown into the dungeon to await the inquisition and the Governor finds a manuscript in his trunk of costumes and props.  This is Cervantes’ work, his writing, and he does not want it lost or destroyed.  The “Governor” asks him if it is valuable.  Cervantes’ response is “only to me”.  The Governor offers to ransom it but Cervantes has no money. Further, the Governor states that it is paper. Cervantes replies “manuscript”.  The governor counters, “Still worthless.”

                Worthless?  No manuscript is ever worthless.  Anyone who has written a novel, short story, poem, song, etc knows that their work is not worthless.  At least not to them.  The same goes for any artist.  Perhaps that is why rejection is so hard.  I know of no author who was not rejected before an agent or editor saw it as valuable and arranged for publication.  But, the road to publication can be a long one and I think at one point or another a writer simply feels worthless.  For some, it is the first rejection and others, the twenty-fifth.  We also mustn’t forget contests.  Often, despite the helpful comments, the low score is what stays with you.  With so much of what a writer could persceive as negative, thoughts begin to creep into your mind that you had been wasting your time when others see the work you slaved over, lost sleep over and polished to almost perfection as not worthy of publication, a decent score, or in other words, worthless

                If or whenever you get that feeling, kick yourself in the behind.  Any creative activity for which you have a passion for is NEVER worthless. It does not matter if you are the only one who is going to read the story, see the painting or hear the music.  If it came from you, from your heart, mind and soul, it will never be worthless.

Backups and Travel

My daughter recently played Marmee in Little Women in her high school musical. I am sure you all know the story, Jo is the writer, Meg the romantic, Amy wants the better things in life and Beth is simply content and dies far too young.  All of the characters are wonderful in this well-known story, but being an author myself, I always understood where Jo was coming from.  I even felt her pain when Amy burned her manuscript.  There were no backup or flash drives, let alone computers, during the Civil War and once the copy is gone, it is gone forever.  Even though it was a fictional story, my stomach still clenched each time I witnessed the younger sister toss the papers into the imaginary flames.  Perhaps it brings back bad memories of when my hard-drive failed.  I swore I had each chapter and sections copied to a floppy disc (did I just date how long I’ve been writing?).  After I restored my hard drive, I went to load the book back onto the computer.  Five chapters, from the middle of the book, were gone. I still remember they were chapters 19 – 24.  I was sick, sick, sick. I remembered what happened in these chapters, but the words I had written were gone forever.

At one point in the story, Aunt March mentions to Jo that she considered taking her to Europe.  Jo believes this is something she needs to do and will do anything, even if it means becoming a poised lady, to go to Europe.  Her theory is that a writer needs to travel to become better.  Rarely do we get to travel to the places we write about, unless you write contemporary stories that take place in your home town.  My novels are historical with settings mainly in England.  Pure is the Heart touches on Paris because it occurs during the French Revolution. However, my heroine, Elise, has escaped France in order to keep her head attached to her neck.  A lot of the inspiration for this novel, and the places I mention, came from my first visit to France four years ago.  Though we are over a century removed from the French Revolution, many of the most amazing places can still be visited and that is exactly what I plan to do again. 

Over spring break I had the great opportunity to once again go to France.  This time, I thought I knew the story I wanted to write.  It was to be a sequel to Pure is the Heart and take place during one of their most turbulent times in history.  I had the advantage of knowing what I needed to find out and which pictures I need to take and what books I may need to purchase.  I could hardly wait to start this adventure and once again absorb the history of Paris, Versailles, Chartres, the cathedrals and the many chateaus in the region.  Once I was there it all changed. Oh, I still plan on writing the sequel, but an entire new set of stories began to form in my mind with each visit to a historical place.  The what ifs did not stop.  It just goes to show that a story in my head doesn’t always turn out the same way on paper, and sometimes our writing takes an entirely new direction due to our life experiences.

With Jo, she wrote “blood and guts” stories.  After Beth died, she could not write a thing.  Her inspiration and desire died along with her sister.  Not until listening to the wise words of her mother, and her own inner reflection, did she pick up her quill and paper once again. This time, however, she wrote a story of four young women, Meg the romantic, Amy with the pout, and sweet, sweet Beth. . .

What about you? Have you ever lost part of all of a manuscript for good? Do you desire to travel anywhere to research your stories and absorb the locations and history?  Or, have you already had the opportunity to travel to some interesting place to enhance your story?  And, have you ever started writing one thing and later switch genre’s because of alterations in your life?

Excerpt – Pure is the Heart

            Elise sighed heavily. Hunter stood too close.  “I am not the same girl who wrote you all those years. Then, I accepted the eventual match, chosen by my father. I knew my duty. That has all changed.  I have changed.  I can’t foresee marrying. . .”

            “Without love?”  Hunter asked, looking into her eyes.

            Elise had not intended to add those last words, but he was correct.

            “As I have chosen,” Hunter continued and took another step in her direction.  Their eyes locked, his burninged into hers.

            Elise feared he read her feelings too clearly.  “It is not what I meant.”

            “I know,” he offered.  Sadness lingered in his tone.  “We both know that I have settled.”

            Elise broke eye contact first, turning with haste. 

            Hunter gently grabbed her arm and turned her toward him.

            Stunned, Elise looked up.  Her heart began to pound.  She should pull away, but she was locked in place by some invisible tie.  His green eyes darkened with emotion, longing.  She should pull away.  Though the thought repeated itself in her mind, Elise made no move to remove her arm from his hand. 

            “Do you know what I wish?  I wish that you find love.”

            “There will be no love in my life,” she insisted.

            “Do you know what else I wish?”

            She didn’t want to know. His voice was thick with emotion, low and smooth.  She was afraid of what he might say. That he might voice what she has been fighting herself.    

            “I wish I had canceled that ball as I had wanted to.  I would be free now.  Free to-”

            “Hush,” Elise put her fingers to his lips. “This cannot be right.”

            Hunter stepped forward and brought her close, his hand on her waist.  “To love you, Elise.  I do, you know, and probably did before meeting you face to face.”  He studied her eyes. “Tell me Elise, if I were a free man, could you return that love?”

            Elise struggled with her answer.  If she answered him falsely she would free him to try and make a good marriage with Delia. Try as she might, she couldn’t lie.  “Yes,” she choked out.  Yes, she loved him, but even if he were free, she could never marry him.

Hijacked

                I fall between a plotter and a panster. A plotter outlines the entire novel.  They rarely stray from the plan.  A panster has an idea, maybe some characters, and they start writing, by the seat of their pants so to speak, without really knowing how it is all going to turn out. They only know that they have this idea, or the beginnings of an idea, and must write it NOW.

                I’ve tried plotting and have been told this is the way it should be done.  But, after I have written a detailed outline, the story no longer holds appeal.  At least not the appeal it once had because I now know exactly how it is going to play out.   To me it is like picking up a murder mystery and reading the last chapter to find out who did it, and why, before ever starting the book.  The journey into the mystery is no longer exciting and what is the point of trying to guess as you read.  You already know.          

                I am far closer to a panster.  However, I usually have an idea of the beginning, middle and the end.  I usually summarize the story in a page and a half, just to get my ideas down, and start writing.  Even if I’m writing chapter three, my mind is already busy on what is going to happen in chapters five, six and seven.  Often the novel is played out in my mind, to the end, while I drive or work in the garden.  I am convinced I know exactly what is going to take place and when.  Even though it isn’t in an official written outline, it is detailed in my mind.

                However, nine times out of ten, those ideas are hijacked.  Here is how it usually happens.  I hit say chapter five and one of my characters does something I didn’t anticipate.  Wait, this is my story, how did that happen?  But, there it is, on the computer screen.  My hero has taken over.  And, of course my heroine must react to this.  He took an unmarked path and she follows.  “Come back here,” I scream at them. Okay, not literally, but if I don’t get a handle on the situation, who knows where they will take the story.

                Neither of them responds and I soon type helplessly as my secondary characters turn down the same path.  Not one of them has remained loyal to the author – me!  So, what is to be done? I could stand in the middle of the paved and prepared road, with my plan, and wait.  But experience has taught me that this does not work (my characters never return) and the only companion I am likely to meet on this now deserted road is my enemy, Writer’s Block.   As I don’t wish to face the enemy alone, I have no choice but to follow my characters unchartered winding path and my story turns out nothing like it was ever intended. 

                Such is my life as a writer, always being hijacked.

Loving Lydia Reviews

“This was a wonderful read. I had tears at the end.  Alex is a true hero and Lydia is a perfect heroine with strength and convictions that stay true to character. Each of the characters is unique and well thought out and Amy’s portrayal of the time period is dead on. The characters and storyline are wrought with just enough suspense and drama to pull the reader along. Thanks for the enjoying read.” Claire Collins author of Fate & Destiny and Images of Betrayal

 

“Surrounded by characters that are as real as your best friends, Amy transports her reader into the intrigue of Regency England.  She leads you through London streets and backrooms that are filled with enough schemes and trickery to leave you gawking.  Her storyline is sweet and tender but with enough mayhem to keep you thinking of her work long after turning the last page.”  Carol A. Spradling, author of Cost of Freedom

Pure is the Heart

pure-is-the-heartOn the brink of a revolution, fourteen-year-old Elise LeNoir, instructed by her grandmother, writes a letter to a distant relative. The letter finds its way into the hands of Hunter Radley, Earl of Weatherly, and the two begin a correspondence that carries them through the French Revolution, Hunter becoming Lord Westwood, and until the time Elise must flee France after her parents are arrested and guillotined. Upon reaching the shores of England, Elise makes her way to Westwood’s estate, only to arrive on the night of his betrothal ball to Lady Delia.

            Raised to love and honor God above all, with roots in Catholicism, Elise struggles with her sins and must come to terms with her faith as she seeks redemption in a country where her religion is basically illegal. She knows her sins keep her from God and will not allow her transgressions to darken Hunter’s soul. To do so, she must distance herself and fight her growing love for him. 

            Hunter put in much time and effort when he chose Lady Delia to be his wife. It was not a love match, but one of two families uniting. Out of dozens of young women in society, not one made his breath catch or his heart beat fast. Not until Elise LeNoir arrived at his home. Bound by a betrothal and plagued by the guilt of his betrayal and disloyalty toward Delia, Hunter seeks answers from his minister, the Word and in prayer. 

Pure is the Heart available soon from Second Wind Publishing