And Then It Snowed

It’s funny. A few days ago, I referred to the coming weekend snowstorm with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude when I called it the “Storm of Doom.” And here we are, those few days later, with over 30″ of white stuff on the ground and the schools are closed and bridges are closed and… oh, we weren’t really expecting more than the forecast 8-12″ we’d been told all week.

And I’m sure there are so many blog posts going up all over the Northeast filled with tales of the storm, to which I probably don’t have much to add. It snowed. We played in it. My husband shoveled it. We drank hot chocolate. We played in it again. We took hot baths to relax the aching muscles obtained from trudging through thigh-high snow.

Today, things are starting to get back to normal. The kids are doing school work. The girls have dance classes tonight (though story time at the library is cancelled this afternoon). The dish washer is running. More baths will be had. It’s just another Monday, but with mountains of snow covering our patio and… well, everything.

And I mean “everything.”

 

 

 

Advertisements

Things I Did This Week (So You Don’t Have To)

I want to say it was a busy week. That’s always the default response when someone asks about my day/week/month/life/etc., but it really wasn’t. The kids missed dance lessons on Monday because of the Nagging Cold From Hell, but they were still well enough to do school work and just… be kids.

Because of the impending snow storm barreling down on us, and all of the panic-inducing news reports to flash across the television screen (DID YOU BUY YOUR MILK AND BREAD AND EGGS YET???? DON’T YOU KNOW A BLIZZARD WILL KILL YOU UNLESS YOU CAN DEFEAT IT WITH FRENCH TOAST?????) they created their own newscast.

DSCN1119DSCN1120

Probably more accurate than the paid weather forecasters.

I was also interviewed on Carolyn Astfalk’s blog. She asked some great questions, and I was reminded (by myself) that I probably need a new author photo.

I wrote, some, but not a lot. A couple handwritten pages here and there, and not much more than that. I hope to finish the first draft of this chapter over the weekend, while my husband fixes the dryer and my kids recover from playing outside with some cups of Swiss Miss and those tiny little marshmallows.

Dinners were nothing amazing. Lots of potatoes and carrots were involved, so it was potato pancakes, potato waffles, steamed carrots, mashed carrots, and so on. Which is what happens when I go to the store and all the huge bags of root vegetables are buy one get one free.

I did make a new brownie recipe, these “Sweet Heat” Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies from The Cozy Apron. With cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and instant coffee, they are absolutely delicious, and I love their texture.

And then, because of the snow and the inability or desire to go anywhere (beyond the confines of our patio and yard), there will be reading this weekend. Oh, so much reading.

DSCN1125

“The Firstborn” – Yet Another Excerpt

To those who have been reading my blog lately, you’ll know I’m fighting with the last chapter or so of my next book, The Firstborn. It’s a charming (hopefully?) Regency romance about two “firstborn” people from separate families (Lord Finnian Haughton and Mrs. Sophia Brixton) who spend all of their free time cleaning up after their younger, more scandal-prone siblings.

Today, I’m sharing a large chunk of the first chapter with you, in which we’re introduced to Finnian and – through conversation – Sophia.

And here’s hoping that my next post is a huge, celebratory affair about how I finally finished this bugger of a book!

(Oh, and if you’re interested? My inspiration for Finnian, just wandering around, contemplating life before he crushes said existence out of a lovely flower.)

ns4-272

There were too many letters. An inordinate amount of them, spilling out of crevices and sliding out of their well-organized stacks. Most were invitations, a fact that irritated Lord Finnian Haughton to no end. Invitations to balls, to routs, to garden parties and afternoon teas, where he would be expected to deal with the attentions of no small number of simpering females. And all of them with their eyelashes fluttering while a mere turn and snap of their fans spoke a language he would never be able to decipher.

This morning’s stack of cards sat on his desk, the light spilling in through the window, sending a solitary beam across the topmost letter. A glance at the direction told him more than he needed to know. The lettering was too fine and flowery, a woman’s hand, and a noticeable aroma emanated from the paper, as if it had been glazed with rose water before being sent round to his townhouse.

He understood their interest in him, and his position in polite society. He was a man. A gentleman. A titled gentleman with a rather large fortune. And, most bothersome of all, a titled gentleman, possessed of a large fortune, who—according to that polite society which insisted on tossing flowery cards and invitations at him as if they were tossing bread crumbs to a duck in a pond—had decided to remain stubbornly ensconced in his current life as a bachelor.

He gave the corner of his newspaper a shake and reached out for his cup of tea. From another part of the house, he heard a knock on the front door, followed by the measured step of Gleeson showing no haste in his effort to answer it. Haughton waited, his eyes gazing at a vague point beyond the edge of the newspaper as the butler’s steps made their way towards his study. Another knock, this one on his own door, and a grey, tonsured head bowed itself into the room.

“It’s Mr. Winston, my lord. Shall I…?”

Haughton nodded in reply to the unfinished query. Gleeson disappeared, the steps receded, and he folded his newspaper into a stiff rectangle that landed with an audible smack on top of the pile of invitations.

“Finn?”

Haughton glanced up at the door as another man, this one dressed in a coat and trousers of a dull, forgettable color, entered the sunlit room.

“Winston.” Haughton sat up in his own chair and indicated the one opposite him with a wave of his hand. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

Winston strolled forward, his hands clasped around both hat and gloves, neither of which had managed to be relinquished to the butler upon his arrival. He let out a sigh as he lowered himself into his seat, scratched his chin, and ran a bare hand over his neatly trimmed brown hair.

“Have you breakfasted?” Haughton asked, his eyes taking in the obvious wear on the man’s suit and the scuffs on his boots.

“Yes, early.” Those two words revealed an accent that held no connection to any town or borough within fifty miles of London. Haughton had never inquired after Winston’s origins, and Winston had never made any move to volunteer the information.

“So.” Haughton cleared his throat. “Since you’re not here to dine with me, I take it you’ve…”

“I’ve found her.”

Haughton looked up from his cup. The dregs of his tea slid down his throat, leaving a bitter aftertaste that threatened to linger on his tongue for some time. “And the child?”

Winston nodded, his chin dipping down to touch the simple folds of his neckcloth. “A bouncing, blustering specimen of childhood. Quite a healthy thing, he looks to be.”

A breath slid out of Haughton’s lungs as he allowed his own head to tip back. He found himself staring up at a ceiling painted with all manner of cherubs and pudgy, angelic creatures, their grotesque smiles having beamed down on his own head, and his father’s before him, since his mother had commissioned the ghastly artwork some three decades before.

“The woman.” Haughton shut his eyes. He would have to paint over that damned ceiling one of these days, perhaps once this latest mess was cleared away. “What was her name? Susan?”

“Sophia,” Winston provided. “Sophia Brixton.”

“Sophia…” An image of a young woman appeared in his mind: short and curved, with dark hair and fair skin beneath rouged cheeks and rouged nipples and anything else that it was fashion to have rouged. It was a type, he realized. His brother’s type, and never had David dared to deviate from the original template. “What have you learned about her?”

“Currently lives in Stantreath,” Winston said, as he sat up in the chair and reached inside his coat for a small pad of paper. A brush of his thumb across his tongue and he began to flick through the pages. “Up in Northumberland, right near to the coast. She’s got herself a tidy little cottage that she shares with one sister.” He licked his thumb again and turned another page. “Parents are gone. Father was a tradesman, ran a rag and bottle shop of some sort. The younger sister, that would be one Lucy Penrose, has no fortune of her own. Mrs. Brixton possesses an annuity of a mere fifty pounds per annum.”

“Wait.” Haughton held up one hand as one of the details finally wriggled its way to the forefront of his thoughts. “Mrs. Brixton? She is married?”

“A widow, as far as the gossip travels. But I was unable to discover any proof a previous marriage or of the prior existence of a Mr. Brixton.”

Haughton raised one eyebrow. “You believe she’s lying?”

Winston tilted his head to one side. “You know I’m not one for guesses and conjecture. But I would not rule out a false marriage in order to pass off the child as legitimate.”

“Of course.” Haughton grumbled under his breath and pushed himself out of his chair. He shook his head, pushed his fingers through his own dark hair, and moved to stand in front of the window. “Go on,” he prompted after a moment. “I want to know everything.”

“Well…” Another lick of the thumb, another turn of the page. “There’s Stantreath… cottage… Ah, yes, here we are. There’s no maid in the household, but there is a hired girl who helps out several times a week. Ah… She attends services regularly, rarely leaves the child at home, um… dresses modestly, above average height, red hair…”

“What was that?” Haughton spun on his heel as he turned away from the window. “That last bit? What did you say?”

“Erm… red hair?”

“No.” Haughton shook his head. “That cannot be right. My brother abhors red hair, especially when it comes to the fairer sex.”

Winston raised one shoulder as he tipped his head to one side. “Perhaps the boy has had a change of heart.”

“Or perhaps he succumbed to a moment of uncharacteristic desperation.”

Winston’s eyebrows pushed upwards into his forehead. “Or… perhaps this Mrs. Brixton possesses some other charm, something beyond a mere head of hair.”

Haughton sniffed. “You know as well as I, my brother is incapable of looking beyond anything but the most superficial of charms.”

“Which means…?”

“Which means that he was probably so inebriated at the time that he wouldn’t have known whether he was making love to a real, warm-blooded woman or a freshly plumped cushion.”

***


Hitting the Wall

DSCN1103

 

The kids are still sick. Kind of sick. Like a middling sick that has been with us since New Year’s, with lots of scratchy throats and irritating coughs and runny noses. But the kids are still carrying on like monkeys, so there’s that. And my two-year-old son is suffering under the belief that he will find relief by pulling his nose off his face. Sorry, kid. Not going to help.

Writing slowed down a bit over the last few days because I hit that point in the story when I realized I was going about it all wrong. Not the entire story, but simply that chapter. And yet I couldn’t stop pushing forward, because it’s what you’re always told. “Keep moving forward.” “Keep creating words.” “You can fix it later.”

Except that it sucks now, and it’s killing my interest in finishing this stinkin’ book.

So I had to make a decision. I have to kill this chapter, and make some heavy changes to the chapter before it. And I can’t just keep writing my way out of it or put a note in the margins to come back and tinker with it once this draft is finished. No, I have to backtrack and I have to eliminate over 6000 words of Stuff That Is Not Working.

Which, you know, is not fun. Of course it isn’t fun. Admitting that you’ve screwed up somewhere along the way is not exactly a barrel of gumdrops and unicorn toots. And not only does it mean I have to scratch out what I spent a couple of weeks agonizing over (which should have been a clue right there, since if I have to agonize over a scene, it usually means something is wrong with it), it means that I have to figure out not only how I screwed up but also how to fix it. While still trying to break the attachment I have to those 6000+ words.

And I knew – I KNEW – there was something wrong nearly from the get-go. But the words were flowing, kind of. So it had to be okay, right? I was writing! I was creating! Art was pouring out of my fingertips! And I couldn’t stop, because stopping meant I wasn’t going and I wasn’t following all of the “just write” and “writers write” and “if you’re not writing you’re a failure to all mankind, fool” inspirational memes floating in front of my face.

So I kept going. I kept adding on to this scene, making my characters say things that they wouldn’t say, in a situation they wouldn’t be in, all because WORDS and WRITING and COFFEE OH MY GOODNESS SO MUCH COFFEE.

But finally, I had to step back and say “no.” I had to stop writing. In fact, I had to delete that which I had written (well, not “delete” since I usually just copy and paste what I’m cutting into a separate folder in case there’s anything to salvage later) and go back to where I’d been several weeks before.

Which was still stuck, and twiddling my thumbs while trying to figure out how to move forward. Again.

It’s been several days now. I haven’t written anything. I gave myself a deadline for finishing this story and I will probably miss it in horrendous fashion. But I couldn’t simply keep moving forward or write my way out of the jam. But now what really needs to happen to these characters is beginning to trickle into my head, by look, by word, by gesture. One piece at a time. So even though there is that part of me that wants to WRITE and MAKE WORDS, FOOL all day long… I can’t. I have to stop. I have to tackle my stack of books from the library. I have to go for walks in the snow and let the characters work out their problems in my head. I can’t do it for them.

And at some point, I’ll sit down and start again on Chapter 24. A completely fresh start. And maybe it will work, and maybe it won’t. But I can’t just keep throwing words down onto the page (or screen) thinking that pounding at the keys is going to untangle the mess in front of me. Sometimes I need to cut out the knot entirely and weave in a new piece of thread.

And through all of that, keep my son from trying to yank his nose off his face.

 

Another Week Slips Away

 

DSCN1115

My kids are upstairs, running around between batches of schoolwork. My son is sitting on the potty, playing Angry Birds on my banged up, scratched up tablet, because it’s one of the few things that will get him to sit long enough on the potty for anything to “happen.”

It’s been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible occurring, but just a week that seemed to only move forward because something was nipping at my heels. Exhaustion, stress, that lingering bit of a cold and sinus headache that has not broken since New Years. The kids wake up every morning with a cough and runny nose, though by the time breakfast has been cleared away and the cartoons turned off so schoolwork-type things can commence, they’re fine and back to their crazy, rambunctious selves. Just with a few extra coughs thrown in.

But the house is a mess. I’m slowly catching up on a few things, but… no, it’s a mess. And three kids later I think I’m only just now beginning to understand that this is how it’s going to be. I homeschool. The kids don’t go to daycare. They’re always here with me. We will soon be a family of six in a house that measures round and about 900 square feet. There will always be a mess. So I can’t look at pictures of other people’s houses on Facebook, with their toys all picked up and in bins, and their windows free of fingerprints, and everything so neat and tidy when I know their life is not my life.

I mean, I could spend all day chasing my kids around with a vacuum cleaner. I could be in the kitchen right now, washing dishes or scrubbing the stove top or scraping Tinkerbell stickers off the linoleum floor. Or I could write this and empty my brain, or do some puzzles with the kids, or bake something and add more mess to the grime already accumulating on my kitchen counters.

Because I’ve learned that I can’t do both. I can’t have the immaculate house that I want with everything scrubbed and de-cluttered and folded AND sit and watch a movie with my kids or let them help me make pancakes or spend hours cutting out paper snowflakes to tape all over the walls. And I’m sure there are magical women out there who can do all of these things and also not walk around their house wondering what that smell is. But I’m not that woman. I don’t have the multi-tasking skills to pull it off. And when faced with the choice between going outside to play or attacking my bathroom sink with a toothbrush, I will choose going outside Every. Single. Time.

In other news (that is not the unplanned, several-hundred-word posting from above), other things are moving forward. I’m 24 weeks pregnant, and Torsten is constantly moving around in there, but it’s still at the pleasant baby kick stage, not the oh-I-think-you-took-out-a-rib baby kick stage. I’m writing, steadily, and should have another excerpt to share in the next few days. And good reviews for The Half Killed and Knotted are continuing to trickle in, which is always wonderful.

And now I think I’ll head into the kitchen (my messy, cluttered, grimy, Tinkerbell-stickered kitchen) and make some hot chocolate. And then maybe I’ll watch a movie with the kids once Freja has finished her handwriting practice for the day. We’ll see.

The Firstborn – An Excerpt

Okay, so I promised to blog more. And to fill everyone in on what I’m working on at the moment. Which is about six different projects. But let’s get started with the one that is the most complete (I’m up to Chapter Twenty-Four with maybe a chapter and a half to go).

This one is called The Firstborn. It’s set in 1814, in England, and takes place in several locations, including London (of course), Northumberland, and Derbyshire. One of the main locations is in a little village called Stantreath, which I’ve based – loosely – on the real village of Bamburgh on the coast of Northumberland. Which looks a little bit like this:

Bamburgh Castle, England

Yes, I know. I KNOW.

Also, Stantreath, the name I created, breaks down to Stan=stone, stony and treath=beach. So “Stony Beach”. There you go.

Now, the story in The Firstborn is fairly basic, I think. Our male main character, Finnian Haughton, is the oldest child and son in his family, and has been left with the task of cleaning up all the messes made by his younger brother, David. Our female main character, Sophia Brixton, is the oldest of two daughters, and has been left to manage the messes made by her flighty and immature younger sister, including a child her younger sister bore out of wedlock. To Finnian’s younger brother, David.

*ahem*

Hence the title “The Firstborn”, since our story centers around three characters (Finn, Sophia, and the baby George) who are all the firstborn of their families.

Our two main characters meet when Finnian travels up to Northumberland in order to take care of business, i.e. throw some money at Sophia (who he initially and mistakenly supposes to be George’s mother) so that she’ll never turn up on his doorstep or reveal that his younger brother has been cavorting around town, so to speak, producing illegitimate children all over the place.

Sophia, as you might imagine, does not take kindly to Finnian’s intentions.

So today I bring you an excerpt from the third chapter, which is also when Finn and Sophia first sit down and make one another’s acquaintance. So to speak.

***

“I see you’ve decided to be tenacious,” Sophia said without pausing in her work. She leaned across the table, wiping from corner to corner before returning to the wash basin to wring out her dripping cloth. “All right, then.” She slapped the cloth over the edge of the basin and spun around, her arms crossed over her chest, her mouth set. “What brings you here? And no attempts to baffle me or to evade the truth, if you please. Just tell me… what do you want?”

Haughton felt uneasy. Up to this point, nothing had transpired in the way he’d imagined it would. And as for Sophia, she was too blunt, and too intelligent. And that was what worried him most.

He gestured towards the recently vacated table. “Will you be seated?”

The slightest stiffening of her spine. “I’ll stand, thank you.”

He cleared his throat. She was not going to make this easy for him. A point for her, since he doubted she had any idea what had brought him all this way. “The child—”

“George,” she said, interrupting him. “His name is George, after our father.”

“Of course.”

“No,” she spoke again, while his next words still danced on the tip of his tongue. “Not ‘of course’. Such a phrase denotes your being aware that our father’s name was George, or knowing what type of a man he was and why we would choose to honor him in such a way. But here you are, darkening my doorstep seven months after his birth. A fact which proves to me that either you didn’t know about him before now, or you simply didn’t care.”

He inclined his head, yet dared not take his eyes off of her, not for a second. “My apologies. I assure you it was the former, and as soon as I discovered that my brother had a son—”

“And where is your brother? And why are you here in his stead?”

Haughton could feel his temper beginning to rise. Never before had he ever allowed himself to show anger in front of a woman, and yet she seemed to be the most infuriating creature he’d ever encountered, almost as if she’d been designed to say precisely the right things that would most irritate him. “He is… in London. I assume.”

“You assume?” To his surprise, her mouth broke into a smile and a soft laugh emanated from the back of her throat. “In other words, you have about as much sway over the life of your brother as I have over my sister.”

“I’m not here to discuss my family,” he said, his voice taking on a note of warning he hadn’t even intended to be there.

“Oh, but I’m sure you’re here with the sole purpose of discussing mine. Or am I wrong?” A flash in her eyes countered the steel in his voice. “The mere fact that you’ve arrived today with a prior knowledge of not only both our names, our location, George’s existence, and no doubt a myriad other trivial items concerning our past and present life tells me that you’ve gone to great lengths to find out everything you could before traveling all the way here from…” She waved her right hand in a vague circle. “… wherever you call home. Which means, no doubt, that you wanted the upper hand in this discussion. Which also means that I will most likely not care for whatever it is you’ve come to tell me.”

Haughton fumed in silence. If the baby’s mother was even half as maddening as the woman standing before him, he wondered how David had survived with his manhood and his sanity intact. “I had come here with the intention of speaking to the mother of my brother’s child,” he ground out between clenched teeth.

“But she is not here,” she said, delivering the confession as if it were a weapon. “And she is not like to be anytime soon. And since your appearance here is most likely connected with George, then you will have to make do with speaking to me.”

“Very well,” he sighed. But he felt as if all of his confidence had been drained away from him, and the surety he’d felt upon arriving here that the matter of the child’s welfare would be swiftly dealt with—and in his favor—had been skillfully chipped away by every word to come out of Sophia’s mouth. “Shall we?” He inclined his head towards the chairs that flanked the table.

“Of course,” she said, and slipped gracefully into the seat that he pulled out for her.

***

 

 

A New Year, New Chances, New Goals, No Naps

DSCN1095

Here I go again, always saying I’ll get back to blogging and to keeping up with things, and then life gets in the way and I feel like the only things I’ll have to talk about are my kids and what my kids are doing and getting my kids to eat new foods and my kids kids kids kids kids kids…

There. Now it doesn’t even look like a real word anymore.

But kids. We took a break from homeschooling (following fast on the heels of the break we took while I was in Morning Sickness Hell) and we’re starting up again tomorrow. Freja is doing a mix of first and second grade work, Ola is doing a mix of pre-k and kindergarten, and Will is trying to get in everyone’s way and hit his sisters over the head with Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kids.

But it’s going to be tough to get back into the swing of things, I know. I’ve had twelve days at home, eleven of those days with my husband also at home. So it’s been this magic time around here, when I could take a shower in peace, or use the bathroom in peace, or go upstairs to put laundry away and not worry about someone finding a pair of scissors and deciding that their clothes needed to be more aerated. And we cooked wonderful meals everyday, and baked wonderful desserts, and went for walks (whence the above picture came from), and slept in, and watched movies, and read books, and it was all MAGIC.

And now tomorrow is back to work and back to school and back to taking the kids to their extra-curricular activities.

But I can’t stop writing. Oh, no. I think I have about six or seven projects that I’d like to see completed before the baby arrives (May 7th is the day highlighted on the calendar. That is, if he decides to be punctual) and so I cannot be resting on my proverbial laurels for the remainder of this winter and into spring.

The projects I want to finish?

The Bride Price (Regency-era romance)

The Ivory Fan (working title, also Regency-era romance)

The Firstborn (possible working title, also also Regency – HEY! I think I’m sensing a theme here!)

Early Victorian-era romance. (Seriously. I don’t even have a working title for this thing. But, OOH! Look at me, mixing it up with my nineteenth century romance novels!)

The Scarlet Feather (Working title. Blah blah blah.)

And… I think that’s it? Then post-baby should bring a lot of napping and drooling (baby and Mommy included) and looking at locking in outlines and rough first drafts of sequels to The Half Killed, Knotted, and possibly First Position.

I plan on posting excerpts of the above works-in-progress as the next weeks come along. The Firstborn is the furthest one along (I am working on the penultimate chapter as I type! Well, sort of. It’s open in another window and I keep bopping over to it.) so I should have some character descriptions, blurbs, and other goodies to post about in the days and months ahead.

And now I’m off to eat dinner (the husband is making homemade potato soup, the kind with hard-boiled eggs on top) and start on the final season of Downton Abbey.

And, no. I haven’t watched the Sherlock special, The Abominable Bride, yet either.

Because kids, believe it or not.