Amiel’s Journal

Photo by M.A.D.

Here’s a little jewel from the past, Amiel’s Journal. I picked up this book years ago at a flea market, and now I am making the time to finally read it. It was among a large quantity of books spread on the ground, of many topics, many of them old, and this one caught my eye. It was originally written in the mid 1800s although this particular edition is from 1863 and is in very lovely, almost pristine condition. It amazes me how a little book like this one can survive more than a century, 159 years to be exact. This is volume two. I wished I had located volume one as well.

It was written by Henri Frederick Amiel, a Swiss moral philosopher, poet, critic, and a traveler. However, it was translated by Mrs. Humphry Ward (Mary Augusta Ward), a British novelist who wrote under her married name. She was a prolific writer but also a critic, journalist, memoirist, very active in society, and believe it or not, was actively against women’s right to vote. That truly surprised me coming from a very accomplished woman at that time. Puzzling.

As I read it, there are so many juicy bits found in its pages. If I were to be harsh, I would say that the book is Amiel’s mid-life crisis bordering in depression and disgust; however, as I read, I understand it is so much more than that. I have laughed, but also found myself saying out loud, “Oh no, he didn’t.” Of course, one has to understand the cultural and societal views of the times and read it under that context. For example, on page 13, he logs on his journal a few lines about what he is reading at the moment. Then, he expresses what I thought was a brutal book review, ouch! On page 16, on another entry, the reader can appreciate his understanding of the many characteristics a woman possesses, and he calls her “monstre incomprehensible, delight and terror of men.” More than once, he talks about Christianity at that time, and his view of Christianity (as a religion) permeates throughout. He writes, “The religion to which Jesus professed must be disentangled from the religion which has taken Jesus for its object.” I understand his sentiment, what he is trying to say, although I not necessarily agree. In my opinion, Jesus is Christianity, but Christianity does not necessarily reflect Jesus, on this day and throughout history. Maybe that was his point after all. There is so much more inside this journal. The fact that it is the year 2022 and I am writing a blog post about what this gentleman wrote on his diary over a century ago blows my mind.

I am enjoying this little book immensely. Eventually, I will be offering this jewel in my shop. Very old books deserve a longer journey.

Blog Etiquette

Photo by MAD

There is common sense and there is Come on, have some sense! There are certain boundaries that we respect as bloggers and as writers. We love to read what other fellow writers have to say about many topics, but we cannot subscribe to every blog because most of us do not have enough time to enjoy the many posts that interest us and would love to read, so we compromise and subscribe to a few that mostly match our interests. We also do not take fellow bloggers business contacts and bombard them with 7 or more posts a day, especially, if that fellow blogger has not subscribed to our blogs. It is in very bad taste. It is absolutely and without doubt very bad blog manners to subscribe quickly to someone’s blog and use their business email as a dump for all our many blog posts from our many different blogs, especially if that person has not subscribed to our blogs. Never force your blogposts on someone, and never assume that someone’s business email is a free venue for your seven plus posts a day. It does not look good for you as a blogger, as a writer, or as an entrepreneur. There is a fine line between sharing your writing and transmutation of it onto a Mega Beg-a-ton. What we think as good business practice to reach as many people as possible in less time to increase profits might not be the best idea, especially, when forced and not requested. Aggressive marketing sometimes backfires.

So, in the spirit of friendship, from one blogger to another, never cross that line, and if you have, please back up a few steps. Don’t become another feather in the wind.

The Simple Life – Balance

Sometimes, living simply requires certain balance, and the simple acknowledgement that too much of something wrecks equilibrium. Dealing with the sense that what’s on the right does not equal what’s on the left, in whatever circumstance or area in our life, puts us off, and it reflects in everything we do. The past two years left me off balance, and I have been trying to find that golden nugget that will get the scale back in equilibrium, and it hasn’t been easy. It has reflected in my writing, especially on the current novel that I am still trying to write but have put aside. Faith has been my comfort blanket, and counting blessings always seem to put things into perspective. Simple living has been a source of joy and contentment. Gardening an escape that offers many delights, especially when everything around seems to be screaming silently – new beginnings. I have found refuge in such things, meaningless to many, therapeutic for others. Sometimes, balance can be pursued in the simplest of things, and found in the least expected places. For me, I have found it in God’s word, in the garden, and even in the mundane chores of daily living. Where there’s a constant, there’s peace of mind, and peace of mind is the closest thing to that golden nugget.

I have been working in the garden and setting up new areas, planning other areas, and just enjoying the good weather, but in the back of my mind there is always that untouched novel, like a ghostly thought that lingers in the crevices of the brain and the depths of the soul. When? Who knows? One day I will wake up with a little golden nugget on my hand.

Here’s a new area I started in the fairy garden.

This is a shade area, and it has been hard to plant anything, even hostas. It is part of the faerie garden and is covered in moss. Right now, moss is starting to change color to green; I love when it turns thick and green, like nature’s carpet. We have been invaded by moth caterpillars; they are everywhere. Can you spot three of them in the tree trunk at the left?

Home Sweet Home?

When we started to fix this old farmhouse, we decided to frame part of an original wall as a picture, a reminder of where we had been. I placed a flower box under it, and I was very happy with it until a few weeks ago. Every time I passed by it, I felt a bit annoyed and definitely not at ease but had no idea why. Suddenly, I disliked the flower box. It puzzled me. It wasn’t until I looked at it and asked myself what about it bothered me that I made the connection. The flowers that I added to the box reminded me of an image I had seen over and over everywhere I looked during the past two years – the coronavirus spiked ball shape. I knew I had to replace them right away, so I discarded the ill-looking flowers and placed a different greenery with a happier vibe.

Before
Now.

This was a good example of how media can influence one’s perception and emotional response to people, concepts, things; even the same things one liked before. As writers, we are in the quest of using words and imagery to create a story that translate into emotions and perception for the reader. The words we select, not only tell the story, but live beyond it.

Future Projects

I should call them intentional endeavors because I would like to work on these as soon as possible, however, experience has taught me different. There is a small backlog of stories that are begging to be written and I am planning on tackling those, one by one (I am no James Patterson, and my mind can only handle one story at a time) and maybe some will end up as part of a compilation of short stories I am planning to publish. A book of poems (poetry book sounds pretentious) is another project I would like to handle in the near future. Although I have made a considerable dent on my reading backlog, I have yet to clear my shelves. A few book reviews  will be included as posts. I find that I have neglected that side. This takes me to my art, which I have neglected as well, but intend to resume, and share a bit of it on this blog. I find it so difficult to separate my interests because I see them as a whole, each fueling one another. I had purposely made this blog a writing blog, and eliminated many posts about the farmhouse restoration and other interests, and I am not sure if that was the best thing to do. I miss that part of it. If you have been with me for a while, you probably saw these disappear, and I regret not saving or printing them before deleting them for good. Oh well, those are gone.

On the home front, there are countless projects, many of which need to be finished and date back to when  I moved to Virginia. We still have work to do on this old farmhouse and its surroundings. The small potager is almost completed, but needs some more planning. The hard part is done. The garden is in what I consider the early stages, according to what I imagine it will become. Knowing the morass and wilderness it was, I should pat myself in the back (and my husband too) because we really have worked hard on it. This is obviously a long term and ongoing project. I think a place grows with you through the years, and one grows with it as well, complementing each other. A house whispers what it wants. We intend to live here for a long time so there is no rush.

I have many personal goals I would like to see to fruition, and these are just that, personal. They range from personal development, education, wants, and other. My point is that all these things take a considerable amount of time, money, and effort. Some are implemented right away while others take years to materialize, and I must learn to recognize the difference. I used to make life maps from time to time. Months ago, I found an old map I had created many years ago (more than a decade). When I looked at it I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the things on that map had become reality, and according to it I was where I was supposed to be. I had forgotten about it. On this map things where scheduled to happen faster, but in reality they took much longer. However, the outcome was the same. This made me reflect on something very important. It is all about vision and faith, speed and time are relative, and these adjust accordingly. So many times we chastise ourselves (I am guilty of it) when life doesn’t go at the speed of our dreams and planning, and we end up feeling sad, frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned, and even as failures. Society tells us to achieve, multitask, perform like an octopus in fast wheels, and shapes our minds from an early age. When we fall short according to this timing and expectation, we blame ourselves, sometimes by being to harsh and even unkind. Many people keep going at that speed until the end, others crash along the way, while other souls learn to apply the brakes from time to time, and even take the scenic/panoramic way along with rest stops.

A day has 24 hours, one’s life has none defined. Longevity is a mystery and no one is guaranteed another day. If we happen to live it, it is a wonder in itself.

 

Medieval Social Times

Times have changed in the last few decades, or have they? With the advantages and perils that the internet brought to our society, what looks to me like an extreme righteous mentality seems to dominate social media. This strict social conscience – a righteous mob – seems eager to point a finger and to burn the victim/person right away. It seems to feed itself, and the power of the mob creates martyrs of social media when guilt is assumed without giving the person the benefit of the doubt, a chance to present truth or facts that will point to redemption/innocence. Sometimes it seems as it is not even about the cause, but of how I ( the me, me, me) fit into it and can also participate in the latest crucifixion.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, as writers we develop characters and we try to portray them as credible and real as the pen allows. This only means that we make use of language, imagery, certain types of words – historical and period appropriate, popular and unpopular views, and even cliches, which might be necessary to create the story’s “environment” in order to tell it as best we can. How does this forced mentality, this “medieval” social mob hysteria affects writers today? Are we faithful to our story without letting the pressure of the times bind the pen, or do we quietly censor it? Do we exercise its free will or are we cautious about being perceived as the personification of our words? How do we separate character from writer without giving in to the righteous mob inquisition? It seems to me that sometimes, people cannot separate one from theother, and this might present a challenge for writers.

Will these medieval social times have an influence on future writers, their minds, and by default the pen? Will stories become diluted? Diluted enough to be politically correct? Historical fiction writers are presented with a challenge. It has been said that books, whether fiction or not, speak of the times when these were written, of the social conditions and atmosphere of the time. It permeates throughout the pages of a book, and many times, it remains alive between the lines.

Unsolicited Advice

The other day, I thought about how blessed we are now, at this time. Writers are able to realize their writing dreams thanks to the amazing technology available, much of it at low cost. These are blessed times for writers, whether you write via an independent publishing venue, a blog, social media, or other method. I am very grateful for this. When I was younger I wanted to publish my work independently, but it would have cost so much money, hence why many of us set the dream aside until adulthood. No other generation had the opportunity we have today. However, for me, this also presented the challenge of sorting through all the information/methods available, and keeping up with it all (an impossible task). Everyday, there is more information, technology, venues available so trying to understand it all is plain silly.

Much time went into sorting things out, especially, when the gates of publishing were opened. Reviewing my experience made me think about what advice would I offer myself back then. I thought about it and if I was to put it in once sentence it would be – Find your way. Realizing that “just because everyone is doing something one way, doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to” was not easy, especially in those early days. People tend to follow patterns/trends in new territory; it is human nature, and hence why things go viral. We are social mamals whether we realize it or not. When a new venture/technology or other, is in the early stages we tend to follow and take notes in order to learn. That is a good thing but it could also be confusing, even frustrating, more so when something that “has been proven” to work for other people does not work for you. In hindsight, my advice to myself at that time would have been to slow down and treat information as just that, not as a bible for writers or written in stone. Information serves the only purpose of presenting alternatives, being an aid in learning.

If you are just at the beginning of your writing journey, you will need to learn, and tons of information is available. It is a blessing, however, during your learning/study process you will doubt yourself when that information might not match your reality or expectations. That is all fine. Sort through it, pick up what applies to you as a writer, and keep on moving. Find and do what feels right for you. Find your way.

My Favorite Character

I have been working on finishing my next book, and have taken a break, which for some reason, I need to do after finishing a story. I am waiting for the proof, and if everything seems right, The Five-dollar Miracle will see the light soon.

While I was on this break, I began to ponder about this new story, and how different it is from my previous novels. I thought about my previous works, and I wondered if my writing is evolving on to another level and even a different style. Of course, I don’t have the answer to that question. I write the book that wants to be written, the one that screams at me the loudest, and that only means that I have to set aside my plans to write the story I thought I would write next. While thinking about my previous books, I realized that my favorite character wasn’t necessary the main character.

As writers, we craft characters, and I believe that characters craft us as well. When writing a novel, we create these imaginary beings to tell a story, but many times those characters reveal themselves to us; they show up. Sometimes, they even write themselves by refusing our pen, our ideas of who they are to become. One of the main characters in Moonlit Valley refused to be written the way I first envisioned him. Jeremy Sandbeck fought my pen from the start. Eventually, I let him be. Initially, I had envisioned him as a methodical, reserved, soft spoken intellectual young man who wore glasses, but he fought me to become quite the opposite. As I wrote him on the first novel and later series, he developed much more, and grew into what he needed to be. Although character development and evolution is expected in a series, this taught me to listen to my characters. In this case, he knew what was best for the story. My original view of him would not have worked as well.

By now, you might be thinking that Jeremy Sandbeck is my favorite character; he is not. My favorite character was introduced in Moonlit Valley, and was intended as a necessary secondary, even tertiary character. Originally, he was not intended by me to make it through the entire story, maybe a couple of chapters. Instead, he stayed through Moonlit Valley, and made it into The Dinorah Chronicles series. It surprised me. His name is Cole Angelou. Although he did not fight my pen as Jeremy Sandbeck did, he grew on me and slowly evolved into a much needed and important figure in the main character’s life. He became a life line.

Cole Angelou is an Anarth. Anarths are highly evolved celestial beings who take human form to fulfill a duty on Earth. Anarths do not age. They posses strength and speed abilities, psychic powers, as well as being capable of traveling between realms in milliseconds. Their senses are heightened and human emotions overwhelm them. Their duty is to live on Earth as sentinels. They monitor and protect key humans who are important in human evolution, and ensure that blue prints are being executed according to the divine plan. They are not angels, and are a few ranks below.

Cole Angelou is the voice of reason, cool, collected, and reserved. He doesn’t interfere in your business unless asked or when necessary, that is without infringing on free will. He is cautious, does not trust easily, and respects hierarchy. One thing I enjoyed when writing this character was to see him get out of his comfort zone and even break a few rules (all for a good reason/purpose).

If I had to question how he ended up staying throughout the series, and beyond my original plan for him, I would say that he did not fight my pen, and he let me write him. However, he creeped in slowly, evolving as the story developed, to the point of becoming crucial, needed, important to it. Did Cole Angelou trick me? I don’t know but he became my favorite character.

Slowing Down to the Speed of My Pen

Throughout the years, I have discovered what works for me as far as my writing routine and process, as well as likes and dislikes. I think that it is important for a writer to feel comfortable in the process, at home and at peace with your pen. I would like to share some of the things that have become my constants when writing. As time goes by, you will attune to your pen speed.

I have a better disposition for writing in the morning.

I cannot write in my pajamas. I must be dressed and ready, and only after breakfast will I write.

I write a first draft by hand, old school, with paper and pencil. Later on, I will type it, either by chapters as I finish them, or I will wait until the entire manuscript is done and type it. I prefer to write in pencil. I have a collection of vintage pencils for that purpose.

I must print the manuscript for revisions; I don’t like to read and revise from the computer screen.

Many times, the title comes up first before the story is written. Sometimes, the end presents itself first, whether as an image, and idea, or a single line.

I don’t outline. Side notes develop as I write. I consider that my raw outline.

I cannot force the story. It flows freely, and sometimes it surprises me. By that I mean that something unplanned reveals itself, something I had not thought about the story.

I prefer traditional methods of organizing my notes/work than electronic methods – rolodex (some of you might be too young to know what that is), metal box for index cards, and many other things. I tried electronic devices and methods but lost interest. The magic was simply not there for me. I still use a planner or an old ledger to organize my work for the day.

I go through three revisions before a final edit. I must take at least a day or two off (not looking at the manuscript) between revisions.

I can only focus on writing one story at a time; I give it my all. I admire people who can write more than one story at a time.

After I finish a story, I must take time off before starting another. Emotionally, I feel drained a bit. I need time to recharge.

I have learned to listen to my characters and not impose the pen on them.

I have learned to slow down to the speed of my pen and the flow of the story. I will not rush it. Also, I have eliminated the word prolific from my writing process. I dedicate as much time as the story needs; however, I have deadlines in place for my own benefit.

Sometimes, I place an inspirational prop (related to the story) nearby. For Moonlit Valley it was a vintage Shirley Temple doll. For the story I am writing now (The Five-dollar Miracle) it is a sky blue envelope.

My favorite character is not necessarily the main character.

When revising, I need to read aloud, sentence by sentence. It helps me determine how reader friendly the pace is. Sometimes, I may need to rehearse a line.

I don’t find weird anymore if I cry when writing a scene or if I talk with a character; it is all for the story.

Before starting a chapter, I like to say a short prayer. It helps me center.

I learned to accept that sometimes, I must put aside the story I want to write next and write the one that speaks louder (the nagger).

I write better in an organized/neat environment. Out in nature works well too.

I must have a thesaurus and a dictionary next to me when I revise. Sometimes the first or second word I chose is not the best one to use.

I feel my best when I write or when I create something.

These are just a few of the constants that have developed over time. I have tried other methods but this seems to work well for me. What seems to work for you? What are the things you would not change in your writing process.

I wish to share a few pictures of my beloved writing tools. I understand that these might not work for many people, but I love these and they make me happy, and these enhance my writing environment as well. As you write, over time, you will develop your writing nest, an environment in which you feel at peace and at home – your writing sanctuary.

This old ledger serves as my planner at the moment.

Rolodex and metal green box where I keep ideas for future novels. The old golden box serves as storage for clips, tacks…

Vintage pencils

Because one cannot have too many vintage pens and pencils. They make me happy. The metal object next to the pencils is a stapler, and it still works.

Old sharpener, a necessity.
Inspirational prop
A little bit of my writing space.
My mantra.

Boxed In?

For many years I’ve tried to define my writing niche – my little genre box. The truth is that I don’t have one. For some reason, I cannot box myself in a particular genre. I cannot define myself as a (fill the blank) writer. When asked the question, I cannot say that I am a romance writer, a mystery writer … so I usually answer with “I am a fiction writer” or “I write fiction.” It is not that I won’t commit to a genre or that there is a lack of clarity. It is not that I cannot decide on one particular genre and stick with it, as many experts suggest. I have pondered my reasons for not going inside the box many times. The only answer I can come up with is that I want to be open to write the book that wants to be written.

I labeled my first published novel a paranormal romance for lack of a better genre definition, but truthfully, I don’t feel that I am a paranormal romance writer. The novels are more inspirational in nature than romantic, and they have a supernatural vibe. The current story I am working on – The Five-dollar Miracle – is an inspirational story and very different from my other books. One theme that seems to filter into my writing is that of the divine and the supernatural working together. It is the only thread that seems to give my writing a cohesive element. Other than that, I am open to any story that wants to be written.

So what am I? I guess that when forced to stick on a label, I will call myself an inspirational fiction writer but that feels a bit too boxy for me. Instead, I will let inspiration mold my pen and trace a path. Of course, this is irreverent to traditional publishing/writing and to the mighty pen gods, the omniscient powers that be. I am at peace with that.