Friday, February 17, 2017

Last night I attended a 12 Step meeting at which my son, Matt, received his one year sober coin. I'm not going to lie . . . I cried :) This time last year I could not have imagined who he would be today--and imagination is my job.

Part of the meeting last night was a speaker with three years sobriety sharing his story. Something he said has really stayed with me. He shared about the day he called his dad and told him, "I need to go to rehab." And to this day, he says his dad talks about how that was the proudest moment of his life. The young man told us last night, "I know what he's trying to say there, but it always makes me a little sad that me becoming a slightly less shitty person is his proudest moment."

Yes, it was funny and meant to be. I laughed with everyone else. But as a mom, there were a couple things I've wanted to say to him since. Things I suppose I want to say to my own son.

I have been proud of lots of things in your life. How could I not be? You're the oldest :) I've been proud of your intelligence and your curiosity. Of your gentleness and your sensitivity. I was proud when your Knowledge Bowl team was getting crushed when you were in 5th or 6th grade and you cried in the bathroom after a round in which your team did not answer a single question . . . and then you dried your tears and came out and competed in the next round anyway. I was proud that you were in the Gifted and Talented science/math program in middle school. I was proud of you going onstage for the talent show and doing "White and Nerdy." I was proud of your acceptance to the University of Washington and the good grades you got in the physics program.

Nothing has made me prouder than watching you this last year. Not because you were "becoming a slightly less shitty person." But because you are doing work that most people in our society avoid--honestly and unflinchingly looking at yourself and your life. Admitting your mistakes. Making amends. Doing things every day that you don't want to do. Like talk to new people and reach out to strangers and make phones calls (yes, you are my son!) And every day you are doing these hard things without the coping mechanism that still has the ability to sing the siren song of relief.

How hard is that? Well, I've never been able to stick to a diet for longer than three weeks. Or a serious exercise plan for more than six months. And I still look for ways to avoid honestly evaluating my mistakes and weaknesses. Or, if I do evaluate them, I rarely go to great lengths to change them unless forced into it, usually by trauma. And I certainly don't do it publicly.

So this year, what you have accomplished? It's required more than the intellectual gifts you were born with. It's required more than our family had the ability to give. It's required that you wake up, every single day, and do the work. You. Not me. Not anyone else. You have chosen to do this work and, with the grace of God and those He sent into your life, you continue to choose.

And that is why I have never been more proud.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

Hello, gentle readers! I have learned far too much in the last ten years to tempt fate, but I find myself cautiously optimistic about living in the world. Witness a third blog post in less than six weeks :)

With the happy news this week of my first royalty check from Random House--and with my mind and heart thoroughly involved in revisions for my 2018 release--I thought I'd share a bit from that upcoming book. It's not Tudor. But I do love it. Enjoy!!!

     Laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, love, hatred, birth, and death—every beat of every Gallagher heart resounded in the stone and wood and plaster of the castle, so that those sensitive to such things could feel the thrum of centuries through their bodies. Any animals brought into the house as pets must needs learn to live with the echoes, or be driven out. The castle knew her own, and jealously kept their secrets.
     Secrets in the Tudor hall that housed spinet and lute and harp. Secrets in the Norman keep, its spiral stones steps worn by thousands of feet over the centuries. Secrets in the Regency study, soaked in its aura of patriarchal privilege.
    And, above all, secrets in the library, with its soaring walls and stained glass windows, the Gothic fan vaulting poised loftily above the thousands of books in their bays. Books in glass cases, books on open shelves, books and manuscripts and journals and maps stored in great Renaissance coffers.
     The library had secrets aplenty to reveal . . . to those who knew how to look.
     

Monday, January 30, 2017

Favorite Books of 2016

I was aiming to write four blog posts this January--I'll gladly settle for two :) And, hey! I thought I'd return to my blogging roots and take a look at some of my favorite books of the last couple years.

CUCKOO'S CALLING/Robert Galbraith
Also the subsequent two books in the Cormoran Strike series, written by JK Rowling under her chosen pseudonym. Mysteries are my genre of choice and I fell hard for the former military officer turned London private detective. I believe my initial response was: "Holy crap, this woman can write!" The only downside is once more being at the mercy of how fast Rowling can write . . . but hallelujah! It's being adapted for TV in Britain, and Cormoran Strike is being played by Tom Burke, my favorite ever Musketeer :)

I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN/Jandy Nelson
Brilliant YA novel about once inseparable twins torn apart by their mother's death. The story goes back and forth chronologically, slowly revealing the individual miseries and gradual attempts at moving forward of the brother and sister. Contemporary YA is a hard sell for me, but this one really worked on all levels.

THE CALLING/Inger Ash Wolfe
First in another new mystery series (of which, yes, I have compulsively read the following four), starring police officer Hazel Micallef in a small Canadian town with crimes darker than the surface might indicate. Hazel is late fifties, divorced, living with her eighty-something-year-old mother and often at odds with authority. I love her :)

LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED and FURIOUSLY HAPPY/Jenny Lawson
Known as The Bloggess online, Jenny Lawson writes intimately and hilariously about mental illness, anxiety, unusual families, and her love of ethically-taxidermied animals in costume. (Seriously, her first book has a mouse dressed as Hamlet on the cover; the second has a rather terrifyingly happy raccoon.) A friend sent me the first one in the aftermath of our son's admittance to rehab and never has laughter been more welcome. I recommend her blog as well as her books--look for the post about the dead duckling that showed up on her bedside table without warning, and Lawson's subsequent attempts to dress it as Marie Antoinette.

LADY MIDNIGHT/Cassandra Clare
The first in The Dark Artifices series, part of Clare's Shadowhunter world. Considering that my favorites in that world are The Infernal Devices, set in Victorian London, I didn't expect to love this contemporary, LA-set addition. But Emma Carstairs is an amazing heroine and I heart Julian Blackthorne.

WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT/Sharon Kay Penman
It's no secret that Penman is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction writers and she does not disappoint in this novel of England's first civil war, fought in the mid-12th century between cousins King Stephen and Empress Maud. The title comes from a chronicle of the time, noting how England fell prey to destruction and death during those nineteen years. This novel ends with Maud's son being named Henry III as Stephen's successor--and then Penman launches into more books covering the tumultuous marriage and family of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

DIFFERENT CLASS/Joanne Harris
Harris's novel GENTLEMAN AND PLAYERS is one of my favorite boarding-school set mysteries of all time, and Latin master Roy Straitley is a brilliant character. After surviving the attacks against the school in the fall semester (from GandP), Straitley is not convinced the new Headmaster--a former student--has the school's best interests at heart. As the two of them clash, Straitley must return to a tragic event in the school's past and consider it from a new angle.

ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING/Bill Bryson
I would--and, I think, have--read anything Bryson writes, but I have a soft spot for NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND. In LITTLE DRIBBLING, Bryson once more travels his sometimes-home country of England to examine how both it and he have changed over the years. From the very first paragraphs, in which Bryson is hit on the head by a descending parking barrier, I laughed and loved the whole way through.

IN THE DEEP, DEEP WOOD and WOMAN IN CABIN 10/Ruth Ware
These books by new novelist, Ware, are brilliant additions to the field of stand-alone psychological thrillers. Atmospheric, claustrophobic settings (an isolated cabin in winter and a luxury yacht, respectively) add to the unsettling sense of peril that stalk the main character. From the time I was little and started reading Agatha Christie, I have loved closed-setting mysteries and I will read everything Ware releases from now on.

TRAITOR'S BLADE/Sebastien de Castel
First in the Greatcoats fantasy series, de Castel takes the Musketeer tradition, with all its adventure and swashbuckling, and sets it firmly in a kingdom falling apart. Here's the review I wrote on Goodreads after the first book:
"Yeah, it's pretty good. I mean you can't go far wrong with swords and disgraced scoundrels and a quest to honor a dead king's final wishes. I see the point, but it's nothing to shout about--WAIT? WHAT?! WHAT EVEN IS LIFE AND THIS STORY AND FALCIO VAL MOND AND I AM ACTUALLY CRYING AND CHEERING . . ."

KING HEREAFTER/Dorothy Dunnett
This was a re-read, as I tend to re-read all of Dunnett's books at various times. I picked it up again after my trip to England with my daughter last summer. We saw Macbeth at the Globe Theater, so it seemed a good time to go back to Dunnett's story of Thorfin, Earl of Orkney, and his doomed attempt to unite the various battling kingdoms of Alba (now Scotland.) She makes a convincing historical argument for Thorfin as the real-world basis for Macbeth, then takes such elements as the woods of Dunsinane and turns them into ingenious and realistic plot points in the 11th-century world. If you're not ready to launch into her 6 book Lymond series or her 8 book Nicolo series, then give this standalone a try.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

For Heaven's Sake . . .

Nine months? Nine months since I posted?! What kind of writer am I?

Today is my birthday. Yay, not dead, another year survived, blah, blah, blah . . .

Except life is mostly lived in those blah, blah, blahs. So here are a few of mine:

1. Know what I was doing one year ago today? Returning at dawn from an overnight flight out of Seattle. Where parents, grandparents, girlfriend, and two professionals staged an intervention for a twenty-two year old. It was not pretty. It was, basically, hell. And it was not immediately successful. This time last year I'd left my son on the Seattle streets. I spent my 47th birthday afraid he would die before he accepted treatment.
Spoiler alert: he accepted treatment. He is eleven months clean and living just two hours from us in a wonderful program. He is working and volunteering and applying to transfer to a college on this coast to finish his degree. After that . . . well, we live one day at a time in gratitude. Today is a good day :)

2. Finished a book. (Writing one, that is. I finished reading 120 of them in the last year.) A book I was terrified to write, certain that I could not switch gears and do something a little different from my lovely Tudor characters. But I wrote it. And now I'm revising it. And my editor loved the bones of it, so already I'm less afraid than I was last year.

3. Worked on a second book, a spec manuscript probably for the YA market. About a hundred pages in and getting close(er) to submitting. I love this project with unshakeable passion--so much so, that I told my agent I would write it whether it sold or not.

4. Went to Dublin, London, and Edinburgh with my daughter. Best part was very possibly the night train from Euston Station to Waverly. Why is there romance in sleeping in a steel bunk bed bolted to the wall in a space smaller than a walk-in closet? I don't know. There just is :)

5. Went to Iceland for Thanksgiving week with my husband and two high-schoolers. Who knew spending days muffled up in coats and hats and gloves could be so fun? Sunrise at 10:00 am, sunset at 4:00, three days exploring glaciers and ice caves and two extraordinary nights of the Northern Lights . . . I count myself so lucky to have been there.

6. And what did I do the rest of those 366 days? Sleep. The bare minimum in housekeeping and food procuring required to keep my family alive. Netflix. Working with doctors and therapists for myself and others. Cuddling the stuffed black sheep I brought back from Ireland. Slowly emerging from darkness into light. Which brings me to my favorite image of 2016:



I took this photo at Pingvellir National Park in Iceland. I call it "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." 

Here's to dawning joy for all of you!



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hello from Sodden New England


Which is slightly better than Snowy New England, which we were just three days ago. Five inches of snow on April 4?! Seriously, we've had more snow since the official first day of spring than in the whole of winter. Today, at least, is rain. And rain melts snow. So sodden it is.

Besides, good practice for my upcoming trip to Ireland :)

I keep drafting elegant, witty posts in my head and never manage to get them out my fingers. Random it is.

What Irritates Me These Days

1. Memes that say things like "The best way to stay happy is to let go of what makes you sad." What if what's making you sad is that your oldest child, your firstborn little blonde boy who loved cookies and Star Wars and aliens has been doing hard drugs for several years? What if you're traumatized from an intervention day on which you could see your child's death as clearly as if he were lying in his coffin? What if he screams at you and walks out and lives on the streets for a week rather than go to treatment? What if he believes that drugs are not the problem--the problem is you and dad? How do I let go of my child?

(Edited: no need to give me advice. Really. I know that the answer is to let go of my fears and hopes and blah, blah, blah . . . and believe me, I have done that as much as any human mother is capable of. I let my son stay on the streets even while he texted that the needed me, that he had nothing to eat, that he was scared . . . I didn't break because he had an option, the option of treatment, and because I knew without a doubt that if we gave in short of treatment, he would die. Sooner rather than later. And I absolutely refused to let him die while using my money to kill himself.)

(Also, he is safe now. In a year-long residential program just two hours from us designed for young men his age. He is safe, he is clean, and he is in the best possible place and with the best possible people to get healthy. He might still be mad at us, but I can live with that. But if I see one more image of letting go of a balloon or curlicued script urging me to be happy by walking away from whatever is bad . . . I might punch something.)

2. Snow in spring. See first paragraph.

3. Meds that make me gain weight, and make it incredibly hard to lose it again.

4. College prep for my daughter. I REFUSE TO BELIEVE SHE WILL BE EIGHTEEN THIS FALL AND LEAVING HOME NEXT YEAR.

5. Car accidents. In the midst of the parental trauma of the winter, I managed to total my car. My pretty little Kia Soul that was the first personal thing I bought with book money. Hit a car in front of me when it stopped suddenly and next thing you know I'm on a stretcher going to the ER (I'm fine) and my car is being towed off never to be driven again. It was really just an awful winter. I think I aged ten years in two months.

What Makes Me Happy These Days

1. A new car. Another pretty little Kia Soul, this one in Alien Green that my kids hate. But they're not invited to drive it, so there.

2. Being able to sleep at night without fear a ringing phone will tell me my son is dead.

3. Spring. Even sodden. Crocuses, daffodils, and tulips are the best flowers in the world. I get giddy when I see them coming up through the winter dirt.

4. Travel. After seeing our son safely into treatment, my husband and I took a week-long trip to Orlando. Stayed on property at Universal, went to the parks, ate really good food, spent several days in a rented pool cabana doing nothing but eating and sleeping . . . it was perfect. And for spring break, my daughter and I are going to Ireland for a week. Mostly Dublin, though we'll take a couple trips outside the city. The primary reason is for her to visit Trinity College and take a tour--it's among her top choices for university.

And . . . let's just say my husband is planning to write off the expenses of this trip as research. Which is all I can say at the moment. But perhaps by the time I return I can elaborate :)

5. BOOKS MAKE ME HAPPY! AND BOOK PEOPLE! AND THE KINDNESS OF READERS EMAILING ME!!!! I have so much to make up for these last months of absence. I can only say that my neglect of my readers is no more than my neglect of every person in my daily life. I have been an awful daughter, an awful friend--we won't even get started on how long and deeply I've dwelt in guilt about my mothering--and an awful author. Writing has been . . . tolerable. Which is to say some of it happened. But the other parts of authoring? Not so much.

I can't promise to be who I'm not. But I can promise that I'm tired of living in the exhaustion of hour to hour fear. I'm tired of thinking about nothing but keeping myself and my family alive. It's time to love things again. To participate in the world again. To remind myself that isolation can become permanent and crippling if allowed.

I like the world. Thanks for still being here :)


Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Top Book Boyfriend

Look, this game could go on for quite some time. I am 47, and I have been reading since I was 4. I have been falling in love with boys in books as far back as Frank and Joe Hardy solving crimes and Almanzo Wilder wooing Laura Ingalls with his gorgeous horses. If I had unlimited time and energy, here are some of the men I could write about at length if pressed. (If we ever meet in person, feel free to ask me to expand.) 

Ramses Emerson: The Peabody Egyptology series by Elizabeth Peters
Hugh of Harrowfield: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Will Herondale: The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare
Locke Lamora: Gentleman Bastard books by Scott Lynch
Thomas Lynley: Elizabeth George's Lynley mysteries
Levi: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

And that's leaving out fictionalized accounts of historical figures, like Sharon Kay Penman's Llewellyn the Great in Here be Dragons or Richard of Gloucester in The Sunne in Splendour.

But back to the manner at hand, that of naming my number one, best of the best, favorite book boyfriend of all time: 

Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter, Comte de Sevigny, and Marshal of France

In Dorothy Dunnett's six book series The Lymond Chronicles, she wanted to create a genius fit for the turbulent world of the mid-16th century. In an overall story covering the years 1547-1558, enter the slender, blue-eyed, golden-haired Scotsman known most familiarly as Lymond. 

I think I might love him for his titles alone--there aren't a lot of great titles in today's world. The first time I read The Lymond Chronicles, it took me to the end of the third book to fall for Francis Crawford. He's the epitome of a riddle wrapped in an enigma, something the author perpetuates by only very rarely using his point of view. He's a Renaissance man in the Tudor era, who can fight and love and deceive in multiple languages and across continents. He's charming, clever, athletic, cruel, loyal, dangerous, and vulnerable. And he recognizes a good woman when he meets one--even though it takes years for him to understand. 

On this Valentine Day, allow me to quote what I think is one of the most romantic declarations in literature--from Checkmate, the sixth and final book. When the woman he loves dares him to make her believe that he is "more amorous of her body than curious of her soul," Francis answers: 

"Gold bydeth ever bright. That is one blasphemy I cannot bring myself to commit. I love you . . . in every way known to man."

May your life--and books--be full of people to love this day and always :)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Fictional Crush Number Whatever . . .

How far back in time can I find honorable, damaged, too moody for their own good men?



How about Athos, Comte de la Fer, in 1620s France? I've long known the story of the Musketeers--it's one of those woven into our culture, especially if one is a lover of stories. And I've seen various filmed versions, but I had (shamefully) never read Dumas's book. Not until I stumbled across the BBC's current version of The Musketeers just over a year ago. Once I'd devoured the first season, off to Dumas it was for a binge reading of Porthos, Aramis, d'Artagnan, and . . . be still my heart . . . Athos.



Honorable? Check. Damaged? Check. Moody? Ha, ha, ha, ha, triple check. And a brilliant swordsman? What's not to adore?



Okay, I'm cheating a little bit with this one, because it's as much Tom Burke's interpretation that I'm in love with as the written version. But it's my blog, so I'll pick the fictional men I want to crush on according to my own terms, thank you very much. I mean, just watch him. It's like the character was created exactly for me:









Also, lest you think my husband likely to resent these posts, I have only to mention that, for my birthday, Chris gave me a photo of Athos signed by Tom Burke. My husband is the best, your argument is invalid.



Happy Friday!