Finding a Rhythm

Happy Fourth!

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been pretty remiss in my blog duties lately. I think I’ve reached a turning point, though, and I’m working my way back to a place where I can fit all the old things I know I enjoy into my new routine.

Speaking of routine, and my new job, I was on the news! I don’t say anything in the video, but there’s a bunch of shots of me driving my bus. I happened to be pulling into the garage at just the moment Channel 8 was looking for a bus in which to ride around the block and shoot video.

http://www.wmtw.com/news/maine/shuttle-between-lakes-region-portland-coming-this-summer/-/8792012/20804372/-/p8i4pf/-/index.html

I drew this sketch of Vanya yesterday (featured at end of post). A few days ago, I began playing the harp again after a truly intolerable break (I think it was a whole month). Soon, I’ll start re-working Wanderlust again. Lady Higg gave me a lot of things to think about in her Wanderlust review, and right now I’m not quite sure in which direction to take things, and how far to go. These are problems I’m going to have to attack pretty soon. Maybe this weekend. I’ll tell you more when I can. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves this independence day; I’m certainly looking forward to the fireworks tonight.

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 3.00.40 PM

A Forgetful Man (and other things)

Hey readers! Here’s a cool thing on the internet you may find interesting, or reassuring, or simply true:

A Forgetful Man by Tom Rich

That link will take you to a blog post by a dear friend of mine, whom I have erstwhile referred to on this blog as Leftenant Weatherby. I also post this by way of apology because, in the fashion elucidated by Rich, I seem to have forgotten how to make regular posts about interesting topics on this blog. I’ll get back to it soon, promise. The good news is that I am writing—if you can call it that. I am limping forward on my manuscript, a few paragraphs at a time. The way it’s going right now, a single sentence is a mighty victory. I’m nervous about the whole project as I near the end of the manuscript; the ending is the part I am most unsure about, the part most susceptible to criticism. I can easily imagine a scenario where I end up completely re-doing the last few chapters on the advice of my first readers. In order to get advice from first readers, though, I have to do the best I can with my manuscript and get it ready to be read.

I’m still playing the harp. My teacher says I’m doing very well, and I should be proud of myself. I can play quite a few little songs now, and they’re real songs, not “baby-music”, as my teacher puts it. Maybe in the near future I can make a video of me playing, and share it with you. Would that be of interest?

harp

My biggest scheme right now is to save enough money to purchase the harp I am renting. My teacher is selling it for a discounted price, and all the money I am putting in for rent will go towards that purchase. At first I wanted to save up for an entirely different harp (were all things equal, I would prefer one that was not blue) but that will take too long. I am too anxious to begin modifying this one; I want to install more levers, and a pick-up, and purchase a more padded case (because apparently I will never ever master the skill of walking through a door without banging my harp against it). And I want to do all that while paying my student loans, and saving up for more travel at some point soon. The obvious, most economical option is to purchase the harp I have, and with a little work I can slowly turn it into exactly the harp I want.

My last post was about making changes. It is a period of change in the Makley household—my father has entered a weight-loss competition at work. Since of course we have to support him(!!) I have seized upon this as an opportunity to change my own habits for the healthier. I’m trying to cut sugar and bread out of my diet as much as possible, and hoping to re-integrate exercise into my routine within the next week.

There are other things I am working on, other things I have forgotten, other things I am thinking about, but they will have to wait. I hope you’re having a good day. Let’s all keep keeping on.

-Grace out

Hobbit, Book Two, and Harp

I found out last week that it’s really hard to do multiple blog posts in a week, especially if that week is one of the few leading up to Christmas.

I owe you a review of The Hobbit movie. Perhaps later? Or maybe I will just say this: the things in this movie that were good were really good. In several ways it exceeded my expectations. The things that were not good about this movie, though, were really not good, and for me these things rendered the movie less than a success overall. If you were not bothered by the things that bothered me or were able to set them aside more readily, I am happy for you, and since I’d really hate to ruin the experience for someone else I’m not going to get into any specifics here.

I’ve been stressed out about getting everything ready for the holidays and saving up for my first student loan payment (due three days after Christmas). It’s getting in the way of the writing; I haven’t moved forward on Wanderlust in a number of days. I did write 700 words of the first chapter of Wanderlust Book Two last night, though, so I’ve been thinking about the characters. I haven’t told anyone about that Book Two opening scene yet. I’m worried it’s too dark, but I’ve been playing with it for months and it feels really true to the characters and true to the tone I’m trying to set for a second book. Not that I’m even working on Book Two yet—just letting it bump around in my subconscience and dashing down ideas as they come. Eventually we’ll see how it all plays out.

Harp lessons are still going really well; I’ve had three now. I’m working on a lot of stuff and getting better every day. I’ve even played at a few open mics, which was fun and nerve-wracking. How do all these guys with guitars regularly play stuff and sing at the same time? Oh, I bet they’ve been playing their instrument for more than a month. That must have something to do with it. I’m impatient to learn more things and get my own harp and play better and faster, but at the same time I love every minute of playing exercises and chords and even just holding the thing as I tune it (and it’s even holding a tune better than it did when I first got it). About a week ago practicing the harp did begin to feel like work, because I was frustrated on a couple of my pieces and also my hand hurt from doing something else and I was worried that harping would make it worse. This thing, where little things get in the way and make it hard to keep going, is something I recognize from every other instrument I’ve ever tried to play. And yes, I didn’t practice for two days in a row this weekend. But then I did practice and I worked through it and I still love the harp and the sound of it and everything about it. I really think I’ve finally found my instrument, and that I won’t be putting it aside anytime soon.

Hopefully I’ll update again before the 25th, but in case I don’t, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you and your family have a delightful holiday season.

-Grace

Updates and Oddments

I’m preparing an actual blog post about an actual topic, but it will have to wait a few more days. We’re in an uproar here, by which I mean we are all sitting around in our bathrobes with cups of coffee, but we do have to leave in a few hours. We’re going to Boston tonight, to see our excellent and admirable cousin play The Pirate King in an MIT production of Pirates of Penzance. Since it is (it is) a glorious thing to be a Pirate King, this is something we really could not miss.

I’ll give you some updates—it’s all I have time for.

Harp: Still GOING WELL, although since our car was in the shop I had to cancel Wednesday’s lesson. I have the two songs my teacher gave me memorized, and I can play them at a fair speed. I can also play nearly all the songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I also know the chords to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa and can even play them nearly up to tempo, and I almost have all the verses memorized. My harp teacher is sending me new music, and with any luck I shall see her next Friday so she can tell me all of the things I am Doing Wrong. I am hungry for that new music. I am still playing every day, but for the last week it hasn’t really felt like a challenge.

Wanderlust: I am cruising through chapter 8, and I really feel that the end (of this revision) is in sight. The writing may be questionable in the later chapters, but at least the plot was mostly hammered out by the time I wrote them. I have a theory this will make revision easier. Thanks to a comment by Lady Higg on my last post, I may have come up with an entirely different format for the stories-within-stories. This is both exciting and scary, because it will require working back into chapter one AGAIN.

Also, a big thank you to The Literary Man for being my 70th follower mere minutes after Tuesday’s post begging for one more follower to round out the number. As you will notice, the counter now reads 75, so thank you to ALL my new followers. Your presence here is very much appreciated.

And now, I will give you one more thing. A few weeks ago, when I was mired in chapter 4 of Wanderlust and didn’t think I would ever get out, I began a crusade of finishing things. Knocked out that cross stitch I abandoned four years ago in a single afternoon. Finally made some progress on that doll kit I got for christmas about ten years ago. It was very satisfying to work on these small projects because my big project was so overwhelming. I also finished an old drawing on the back of my bedroom door, the side that faces into the hallway. A long time ago, I began to draw a picture of Vanya on it in white chalk or oil pastel. When I tried to wash it off I discovered it was almost definitely oil pastel, which makes sense as the drawing dates from the era when I tried to use oil pastels for everything. Since the drawing wouldn’t wash off, I decided to finish it. It looks a little silly, because I was working from a very old drawing, but I’m attracted to the way the pastels (I used chalk pastels to finish it) fade into the wood. Since I didn’t feel like finishing up the lower anatomy, I hung the large version of the Wanderlust cover (printed out for my senior show) on top of the pastel image. I like the finished result; the pastel drawing functions like an echo of the actual book cover, and its close interaction with the wood grain of the door gives it a magical, dreamy feel.

Pastel Vanya on wood door

Stories Within Stories

This is my 40th post on this blog, and today is also the day we will reach 2,000 total hits. Thank you all for stopping by! With one more follower we will also reach the impressive number of 70 followers, if anyone wants to help out with that.

All these big numbers make today a good day for reflection. I originally hoped to finish Wanderlust by the end of the summer. Ha! Summer is definitely gone, and my book is not completed. I need to update both the “Grace” and the “Wanderlust” page with some more realistic goals. I would love to give you a solid status update on Wanderlust right now, but it’s just not that easy. I’m sort of on Chapter 7 of my 12 chapter book in the last round of editing—you know, except for all those things I skipped in chapters 4, 5, and 6, and all those pieces of information that need to be inserted back into chapter 1. It’s coming along, guys, and I’d  love to spend all day working on it, but I have to spend most of the day house-painting for money so I can afford tomorrow’s harp lesson (these are very reasonably-priced lessons but that’s just how broke I am) and pay some bills and start saving for christmas presents and, after that, for my very own harp. I do feel like I’m in some sort of final push on Wanderlust, though. I believe the last half of the book will fall into line more quickly that the first half because most of the last half is relatively new material, and therefore more malleable and not so set in its ways. Still, I can’t see clearly enough right now to give you a definitive when. I am, however, still gonna do this. I’m telling you because I must tell myself, each and every time I balk at how much work is still before me. I’m going to do this. I will.

One of the things that’s been getting me down lately is how to handle stories-within-stories. When I started this this thing I was all “Won’t it be cool if I base it on Irish Mythology?” That was me in high school. I then had to go find the Irish mythology, which I proceeded to skim over and take from what I needed. Five (or so) years later I’ve actually read all the source material, and I know too much! The issue now is paring down the full stories, and conveying them in such a way that they support and enhance my narrative. I’m very concerned that every time I switch over to Irish-story-time, my readers will get bored. It’s not that the stories themselves are boring, but when you’ve been doping along reading about Vanya and Taniel and suddenly they’re gone from center-stage and you have to concentrate on new characters from an Irish-myth story that you haven’t met in the novel yet, well, won’t you get frustrated? My impulse is to skim over the story and get back to Vanya and Taniel as soon as possible, but if I do that I think it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the myth-stories really will be boring because I’ll expect them to be.

And sometimes I Illustrate the stories in the story!
Illustration © me

I probably need to give my readers more credit. Story breaks are fairly common in fantasy literature, after all. I didn’t stop reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree, for instance, when the narrative took a break to convey the tragic story of Lisen. The story itself was beautiful, and it explained the hostility of Pendaren Wood, which threatened characters in the novel’s present tense. Far from skipping over the poems about Tinuviel and Nimrodel and Gil-Galad and Earendil in The Lord of the Rings, I’ve spent countless hours committing them to memory. (“Gil-Galad was an elven king/Of him the harpers sadly sing/The last whose realm was fair and free/Between the mountains and the sea.” (Aaaand I just noticed that the first poem I ever memorized from LOTR mentions HARPERS. A sign?)) So the story thing can be done. I think part of the issue is that I’m too perilously close to the manuscript just now to know whether I’m doing it right—although I have some hope. I believe that, in this draft, I’ve made it more apparent to the reader through foreshadowing and other means that these myth-stories are important to the actual narrative of my book. I hope I am tying them in better, and I hope my readers will both be able to see how the stories connect to the current plot, and find them interesting enough in themselves to keep reading. That’s the goal, anyhow. I will continue to muddle through, and then, when I am finally comfortable enough with a draft to show it to other people, perhaps my first readers will let me know whether I am successful or not.

Have you read any books that feature a story within the story? Can you think of any authors that do it particularly well? Has a story within a novel ever made you so bored that you skipped past it, or put the book down?

It Went Well

And this is what I’ve spent all my free time doing for the past few days. I can already play my first song! I play it very slowly, but still. That harp is a Harpsicle, a quality instrument designed to be lightweight and inexpensive. They also come in pretty colors! See their website for more details: http://harpsicleharps.com/. On Wednesday I paid to rent the harp for two months, and I have another lesson in two weeks. The Harp Lady gave me two songs to work on, in addition to working on form and hand placement and all that. It’s fun and challenging  and… it’s a harp. Even when I’m just playing chords, it sounds so nice. So far, I am loving every minute.

 

Harp Lessons (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Big day tomorrow. A big, fat, exciting, living-the-dream sort of day. Tomorrow, I begin harp lessons.

I’ve been wanting to learn the harp for years, pretty much ever since Vanya happened. It’s been an off and on sort of thing—a dream that flares up with a roar, and then retreats, tail between its legs, because I do not have the time, money, or space to feed it. I also have a poor track record with learning instruments (viola, bagpipes, and piano are all on the list of instruments I’ve abandoned) and so I couldn’t justify purchasing a harp (they’re really expensive) until I have some idea of whether I’ll stick with it. The obvious answer is to rent a harp, but finding a place to rent a harp from is a whole different set of logistics, and for the past five years I’ve been moving back between Maine and Michigan anyway, and I just hadn’t been able to make it happen yet.

Friday. As I left the Town Office, a familiar shape caught my eye. I’ve developed a sort of ingrained reaction to harp-shaped things, thanks to the amount of time I’ve spent drawing/researching/writing about/thinking about harps. An automatic, head-turn, what’s-that-now? sort of thing. There was a cork board covered in business cards, and the one my eye flew to featured a photograph of a pedal harp, and the words, “The Harp Lady.” The card mentioned weddings, dinners, concerts, parties, events, aaaand…. LESSONS. Harp Lady, I said as I unpinned the card, you are JUST who I’ve been looking for.

When I got home I sent her an email right away, wondering about her lesson prices and if she was currently taking students and whether she was aware of any options for renting a harp in the area. Not having access to a harp is a pretty major stumbling block to learning to play one, and judging by some of the rental prices I found online it would take me a few weeks to raise the money. So I was really, really excited and hopeful, but I figured it would still be a little while before the whole thing came together.

The Harp Lady called me one hour after I emailed her(!). Not only was she willing to set up a lesson with me, she has a Harpsicle harp available to rent(!!!), and both of these for such reasonable prices that I could come up with the necessary cash in a few days. EEP! So we scheduled a lesson for Wednesday. Tomorrow. I am SO EXCITED.

I’m also a little scared, because I know I have romantic notions about harping but any instrument is hard work when you get down to it and what if it’s just the same as every other instrument I’ve tried to learn and I give up before I really get anywhere? At the same time, I really want this. The one time I sat with a harp last year (trembling, hardly daring to touch it) I loved the feel of it on my shoulder, and the way my hands shaped a chord (thumbs up, first and middle fingers down, one two three). I’m genuinely excited for the actual act of playing and learning, not just for the after part when I’ve already learned to play brilliantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about any of the instruments I’ve tried before, and I am so hoping that this time, I’ll get it right. At any rate, it’s too late to turn back. Tomorrow, the journey begins.

I will let you know how it goes.