Wherever You Go, Go With All Your Heart

I’ve been following Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog Catherine, Caffeinated for a few years now, and I love her insights into indie publishing, her sarcastic sense of humor, and I freely admit that I share her love for all things caffeine. Recently, Catherine posted an article about how the hardest thing about a decision is making it. In her post, Catherine talks about her long-time desire to attend Trinity College in Dublin, and how, finally, at the last minute she applied, and how, finally, she’s attending the university she dreamed about. I nodded as I read Catherine’s post because I had the same realization—that the hardest part about a decision is making it.

_Oh_the_places_you_ll_go_There_is_fun_to_be_done_There_are_points_to_be_scored._There_are_games_to_be_won._And_the_magical_things_you_can_do_with_that_ball_will_make_you_the_winning_est_winner_of_all._Like Catherine, I had university dreams for years. I knew from the time I was working on my BA in English that I wanted to pursue my PhD so I could teach at the university level, but you know that great saying about how life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. As soon as I finished my BA, I dutifully went into an MA program, also in English, with the intention of following up with a doctoral program. I finished my Master’s degree, but I was sidetracked when I worked in “The Industry” (television and film) in Hollywood for a couple of years as a script analyst. The Hollywood work was exciting at first, though it lost its luster soon enough for me. On a whim I took a job teaching kindergarten at a small private school in Southern California, and I felt like I had come home. I loved teaching. I loved the children. I loved that the world is new for five year-olds and everything is fascinating to them. I decided to go back to school to get my teaching license, and since then I’ve spent 20 years teaching everything from Pre-K to elementary school to middle school to high school to writing workshops for adults. At the same time I was running The Copperfield Review and writing short stories, articles, and novels, and in 2011 I began Copperfield Press and joined the indie author revolution.

About two years ago I started getting antsy. I had been in education 18 years by then, I had Copperfield Press up and running, and I had found a flow for indie publishing that works for me. I realized I needed something new, some new challenge. I think that’s what happens to some people when they’ve been doing the same thing for a while. It could just be me since I know teachers who have taught at the same school for years and love it. At my first job in Las Vegas, as a learning strategist at a middle school, I met a teacher who taught the same subject in the same school in the same classroom for over 30 years. She taught there so long that she was teaching the children of her original students. She would have stayed even longer than she did but her mother’s health began to fail so she retired to stay home to take care of her mother. I’ve always envied people like that, people who know where they belong, but I have too much of a restless spirit to keep still in that way. The way I kept teaching interesting for me was to keep moving—from grade level to grade level, from school to school, sometimes even from state to state, moving first from California to Idaho and then from Idaho to Nevada. Once I started teaching high school, I realized there was nowhere else to teach except university, which is where I wanted to go in the first place.

The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your callingExcuses are funny things, aren’t they? They love to multiply and make you question yourself, leaving you nervous about decisions that should be easy peasy. Over the years my desire to get my PhD would rise to the surface, but the excuses would come, like ants marching one by one: What if I don’t get accepted anywhere? What if I do get accepted somewhere? I can’t decide what to study—English or Education? What if I choose the wrong one? And whatever I choose I’ll have to go back to school for four years. I’ve been out of school too long to be able to go back for four years. I’ll have to leave my job but my job is comfortable and safe. What will I do without my salary? And what about my writing? I’m a writer. I need to write. When will I find time to write my fiction if I’m back in school? I’m too old. I’m too set in my ways. And so on. You know the drill. We all have a list of excuses that scream into our brains whenever we want to do something different.

For me, I make changes when the pain from not making them is stronger than my fear of the change. I had been feeling like I needed a career change for a while, but at first it was just a mild hum in the background that I could ignore or explain away.Then the mild hum became a pointed stick that wouldn’t stop poking me. I understood on a visceral level that I needed to move on since being comfortable wasn’t enough anymore. I finally made the decision to apply to PhD programs. I took the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) because that’s a requirement for graduate school here in the U.S. and I hadn’t taken it since I applied for my Master’s program 24 years ago. I researched different programs at universities in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington State. After some soul searching and several discussions with a friend and co-worker who has been my cheerleader (thanks Judy!) I realized that I had something to offer when it comes to the teaching of writing so I decided to pursue a PhD in Education. It was a happy accident when I discovered that one of the best programs in the U.S. for teacher education is right in my own backyard at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I applied to one school—UNLV—and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s funny how things happen sometimes. I remember when I had taken a class at UNLV when I first moved to Vegas 10 or 11 years ago, and I remember standing on the grassy lawn near the Carlson Education Building, and I remember feeling like I belonged on that campus. Well, it only took me a decade, but now I do belong there. The funny thing is that now, taking my classes and planning out my program for the long haul, I don’t know what took me so long. Yes, the classes are challenging, but it’s a PhD and you have to work for it. The truth is, I love it. Even when it’s hard and I’m exhausted and I’m ready to pull my hair out I love it. That’s what happens when you end up where you’re supposed to be—something clicks and it just feels right. In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, there’s this great saying about how when you follow your dreams the universe conspires to help you. That’s how I feel now. Once I made the decision that this is what I wanted to do, everything else was easy. And you know what? The other stuff gets done. My own writing, as in for my new novel, is getting done, maybe not as quickly as before, but I can see I’m making progress and that’s enough right now.

_Wherever_you_go_go_with_all_your_heart._Once, when Oprah Winfrey still had her talk show, she had a guest who talked about how it’s not the things people do that cause them pain but the things they don’t do. I’ve always held that idea close. Whenever I have a decision to make—yes or no?—I always ask myself if I would regret it if I didn’t try. I hope that whatever decisions you have to make—yes or no?—you’re able to follow your dreams, and, as Confucius said, wherever you go, go with all your heart.

God Bless Us, Every One

The Christmas display at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Christmas display at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Just a quick note to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a very, very happy 2015. I’ve noticed a lot of new followers to this blog recently, and for some reason the Loving Husband Trilogy has been selling well even though I am currently doing exactly zero things to promote it. Thank you to the Loving Husband Trilogy fans who make my day every day with your e-mails, messages, tweets, and comments on this site. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to check out this blog, comment, and even follow along on this crazy ride. You’re all much appreciated.

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for any amount of time you know that Dickens is my favorite author, and Christmas is always a good time to share some of his work. Below, for your reading pleasure, is my favorite part of A Christmas Carol, Stave 5, The End of It. I love it when someone, even someone like crotchedy old Scrooge, learns the lessons they need to learn in order to live their best lives. That’s what we’re here for, after all. Enjoy.

Happy holidays!

Stave 5 – The End of it

Snow Globe at the Bellagio

Snow Globe at the Bellagio

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends in!

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.

“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here: I am here: the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”

His hands were busy with his garments all this time: turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was now standing there: perfectly winded.

“There’s the saucepan that the gruel was in!” cried Scrooge, starting off again, and going round the fire-place. “There’s the door, by which the Ghost of Jacob Marley entered! There’s the corner where the Ghost of Christmas Present, sat! There’s the window where I saw the wandering Spirits! It’s all right, it’s all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!”

Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of briliant laughs!

“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his stirring, cold cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!

“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh? ” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven ‘t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey; the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ‘em to bring it here, that I may give them the irection where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes, and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”

“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He sha’n’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be!”

The hand in which he wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it he did, somehow, and went down stairs to open the street door, ready for the coming of the poulterer’s man. As he stood there, waiting his arrival, the knocker caught his eye.

“I shall love it, as long as I live!” cried Scrooge, patting it with his hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face! It’s a wonderful knocker! — Here’s the Turkey. Hallo! Whoop! How are you! Merry Christmas!”

It was a Turkey! He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped ‘em short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.

“Why, it’s impossible to carry that to Camden Town,” said Scrooge. “You must have a cab.”

The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.

Shaving was not an easy task, for his hand continued to shake very much; and shaving requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it. But if he had cut the end of his nose off, he would have put a piece of sticking-plaister over it, and been quite satisfied.

He dressed himself all in his best, and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said, “Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!” And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.

He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the day before, and said, “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?” It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.

“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. “How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”

“Mr Scrooge?”

“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness –” here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman, as if his breath were gone. “My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious?”

“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?”

“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to such munifi‐”

“don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”

“I will!” cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.

“Thank ‘ee,” said Scrooge. “I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!”

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows: and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.

He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:

“Is your master at home, my dear?” said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl! Very.

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is he, my love?” said Scrooge.

“He’s in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress. I’ll show you up-stairs, if you please.”

“Thank ‘ee. He knows me,” said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. “I’ll go in here, my dear.”

He turned it gently, and sidled his face in, round the door. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.

“Fred!” said Scrooge.

Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started! Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with the footstool, or he wouldn’t have done it, on any account.

“Why bless my soul!” cried Fred, “who’s that?”

“It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?”

Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did Topper when hecame. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!

But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.

And he did it; yes he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half, behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.

His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o’clock.

“Hallo!” growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day.”

“I am very sorry, sir,” said Bob. “I am behind my time.”

“You are?” repeated Scrooge. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”

“It’s only once a year, sir,” pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it; holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit.”

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Do You Have Any Tips for Writing the Second Novel in a Series?

As of yesterday, I officially survived my first term as a doctoral student. One term down, only seven to go! I have a few weeks to replenish my brain cells with some much needed rest, and then in the middle of January it’s back to it. For now, here are some thoughts I had while writing the second book in the Loving Husband Trilogy, Her Loving Husband’s Curse.

* * * * *

Whenever I have a new writing task ahead of me, something I haven’t done before, the first thing I do is seek information from writers who have traveled that road before. There’s a benefit to searching out tips and hints since others have already been there, done that, whatever that is you’re doing at the moment. It’s important to learn from others, sit at their feet and listen to what they have to say about their experiences, their mistakes, and their successes, like Luke Skywalker learning from the wisdom of  Yoda (I’m not implying that writers are small, green, and heavily wrinkled—though I can think of a few that fit that description). I learned how to open myself up and not become stifled when writing a first draft by reading Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott. There is a ton of information—countless articles and books—about how to write a novel. But what do these experts have to say about writing the second novel in a series?

There’s a fair amount of information about how to write a second novel that is just a second novel—in other words, unrelated in any way to the first novel. An unrelated second novel can and should be written in a different style, with different characters, different situations. For myself, I found an unrelated next novel easier to write than the second novel in a series. Her Dear & Loving Husband wasn’t my first novel, you see. Victory Garden, Woman of Stones, and My Brother’s Battle were all written before Her Dear & Loving Husband was published. Since each novel was completely different (different historical periods, different situations, different voices), I could approach it in a fresh way and not feel tied down by expectations created by the previous story.

A second novel in a series, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It should have the same style, the same theme, and a related plot. Often, though not always, it has the same characters. How do you give readers what they loved about the first book while keeping them guessing so they’re surprised by characters they’ve already come to know and hopefully love? That’s the million dollar question when it comes to writing the second book in a series.

Part of the reason I struggled when I began writing Her Loving Husband’s Curse was because I couldn’t find much information about the problems specific to writing a second novel in a series. With a lack of any hard evidence about what works and what doesn’t, I felt like I was largely on my own. Still, I pressed on and struggled through, missing the sage advice I’ve relied on whenever I encountered a new writing challenge. From the few sources I found, one common theme that echoed throughout was how the second novel needs to be “the same but different.” I agree. But how do I accomplish that?

A while back Joanna Penn’s excellent website The Creative Penn featured an interview with Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, authors of the London steampunk novel Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. I’m paraphrasing here, but one of the aspects of writing a series they talked about was that each book should have its own story yet there should be an over-arching theme that ties the pieces together. They also mention having a dangling plot thread which shows readers that there’s a larger plot throughout the books. As I wrote Her Loving Husband’s Curse, I found this to be true. It helped me to think of the books in my trilogy as being part of one larger story. This way the theme is evident throughout, and the plot feels connected because it follows through each subsequent book. If you’d like to read or listen to the interview, click here.

I also looked to see what other writers have done with their second books. This tip is obvious, though it didn’t occur to me right away. I’m a little slow sometimes. Try reading the second book in several series from different authors to see how the authors handled the transition from book to book. I chose to read the first and second books if I hadn’t read the series before since I wanted to see how the author moved from book one to book two. How much information from the first book does the author use? How does the plot flow from book one to book two, or were they seemingly unrelated or only loosely related? How do the characters change and grow? What is the common thread that binds the stories together? For myself, I only looked at novels that featured the same characters in each book since in my series you’ll see the same cast throughout the trilogy. If the plot in book two seemed unrelated to the plot in book one, I tended not to like book two as much, but that’s simply my personal taste.

Okay, so in this case—writing the second novel in a series—there might not be a ton of information, but we can always look to see how other authors have handled the problem with their own series. If you find a great resource on writing the second novel in a series, or if you have some tips for other writers because you’ve written a series yourself, then share by all means. One of the things I love about being a writer is how we all learn from each other.