The Lingering—CoronaLife Day 446

In any protracted illness that leads to death, there is a period I call The Lingering. It is that time between the moment all hope is lost and the actual time of death. The person is often non-responsive—alive, but with no life.

It is a peculiar time, The Lingering. A state of limbo that is excruciating. There is no turning back to a better time, yet there can be no moving on to true mourning, because the person is still with us.

A great struggle arises in you during The Lingering, as if two people have grabbed your arms and are pulling in opposite directions. Because you do not want your loved one to leave you—how desperately you want them to stay!—yet you want release from the pain of watching them waste away, of waiting for the end to their suffering. So you exist in this time between hope and grief.

The Lingering is timeless: minutes, hours, days all running together into one long moment of suspended life. There is only the room your loved one is in, a room full of expectant quiet, of emotion frozen in time, of people bound together in a web of waiting.

And then the change comes.

In one indefinable instant, The Lingering ends. The soul departs silently, but every person there knows immediately, without a word spoken. The spell breaks, time rushes in like a tidal wave, and your grief finds space, finds outlet. Your guilty relief at reaching the end sharpens the loss and heightens the love.

The Lingering is over. The Healing can begin.

Just Keep Swimming—CoronaLife Day 439

I am now fully vaccinated, so I have ventured to places I have not been for a while. I spent 3 hours clothes shopping for my daughter last week (we won’t discuss how much I hate clothes shopping), and I also went inside the library for the first time in over a year!

My child, however, is not old enough to be vaccinated, so we still have to be careful where she is concerned. After much consideration of transmission rates in our state and area, and seeing the case rates falling, we have decided to let her go back to swimming classes at her pool. A tiny step toward normalcy.

This week was her first week back, and seeing her in the water (and rocking the breast stroke) was heart-warming. She was nervous about going back, being around so many people. But it was good for her, physically and mentally. It will help ease her into next school year, when she will be back in the classroom.

These small moves to normality are encouraging, and welcome, but we are not quite at the end of the tunnel yet. Caution and respect are still needed. We are almost there—just keep swimming.

The Non-Writing Part of Writing—CoronaLife Day 432

This was one of those weeks where my other responsibilities fell on me hard, and I got very little done on any writing front. Although I hate weeks like that, they happen and I have to learn to roll with it.

People who are not writers think that if we are not getting words on the page, we are not writing. And while that may technically be true, that doesn’t mean we are not making some sort of writing progress.

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I have been struggling with rewrites of my science fiction YA novel, Veritas. I’ve been chipping away at it, and feeling fairly happy with the new direction, but I have put it aside for now while I work on the non-fiction genealogy book. I am not in the right headspace to dive into fiction at the moment, so it is a good detour for me to take.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. I sometimes get ideas that I hurry to jot down in the notes for when I return. And I recently have been enjoying K.M. Weiland’s blog series on archetypes, which is making me think differently about not just Veritas, but the structure of possible follow-on books in a series.

So, my subconscious has been chewing on Veritas while I’ve been away. And I am also re-thinking the first chapter of another project, this one middle grade, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. I really love this book, but it has not found a traditional home. My co-author and I are contemplating self-publishing it, but I feel that the first chapter is our issue. We get conflicting feedback about it—some feel it is confusing, others are just fine with it. I think if we can get that right, we might yet find it a traditional home.

I also have another project that is not even on a back burner, more like on the warming pan. It is the sequel to my published book, The Witch of Zal. The first draft is written, but it needs a good deal of editing. And I am in the process of getting a new cover and illustrations for Book 1, before I move on with publishing Book 2.

As you can see, I have been doing a lot of non-writing writing. Sometimes you can move forward even when you aren’t putting words on the page.

How are you advancing your writing these days?

Creating a Continuity Checklist—CoronaLife Day 425

I am working on my maternal line genealogy book, as most of you know. I had hoped to be a bit further on in this project by now, but other things came up this week that got in the way. Such is the life of a writer!

I didn’t get into the actual revisions as I had hoped, but I did get the checklist made up. When I write fiction, I am not a super-plotter, I lean more towards the pantser, but not totally. Nonfiction is a bit different, however. I used a Table of Contents to guide my initial writing, and at this point in the process I need to check for continuity. It would be foolish to try to do it all from memory. So I created a checklist in Excel. The first column lists all the chapters, and then the other columns are the things I need to check/fix/revise.

I have 14 chapters in the book, and 6 categories I need to check: Tense, Children, Cross-Lnking, Chapter Headings (& Subheadings), Chapter Title Pages, and Trees. Six categories doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? (*laughs hysterically*)

  • Tense means checking that I have used past tense throughout the chapter. In most cases, I have not, so this is the category that will take the most time.
  • Children is making sure I structured the children’s list for each chapter the same—did I use the same bullet points, did I include birth and death dates, did I highlight the direct ancestor child’s name only or name and dates?
  • Cross-linking is where I mention someone from another lineage within the current lineage, so I then put in parentheses (see [Surname] Lineage). Usually this is at the end of the chapter, when a woman leaves her surname for her husband, or in a subheading under the female’s name. Sometimes, however, neighboring families appear in the same historical events, so I need to mention that someone from another family was also involved, and which chapter they can be found in.
  • Chapter headings is pretty obvious. Did I use the same font, the same font size? Are the subheadings all the same? I also put the chapter name up in the header portion of the page. Did I actually do that? Are they all the same size, font, weight?
  • Chapter title pages precede the actual chapter. I still am trying to design those. Something simple but readable. I’d like to use some sort of graphic or photo, but that’s what I am still stumped on.
  • Family trees that also precede each chapter. I have most of them created, but I need to double-check them as for some families I now have more information on them than I had when I made the trees. And there are several chapters that I don’t have them done yet at all.

Once I get that done, I will compile all the chapters and work on the Indexes. I usually have three: Name, Place, and Cemetery. I know Word has a way to create indexes, because I used it for my father’s book, but I have long since forgotten how to do it and will need to re-teach myself.

That will all keep me busy for a while! I will keep you apprised of my progress.

How are your projects coming along?

It’s All in the Details—CoronaLife Day 418

I’m doing my family research, and I’m waiting on 2 more books before it is complete. One I have asked the library to get, but they have not had luck finding it. Which is strange because they are who I got it from the first time! The other book I will likely have to buy.

While I am waiting for those books, I can get started on the work of putting my family book together. It is pretty much written, but it’s a far cry from done. I need to go through and do a lot of cleaning up—making sure the chapter headings  and subheadings are all the same font and size, that the children lists are all the same format, re-learn how to do the indexes, and make sure the family trees are complete and up to date with the latest research.

The biggest issue will be reading through and correcting the verb tense. It seems natural sometimes to write about these ancestors in present tense, but really the book should be in past tense. This all happened long ago, after all. Right now the book’s tense is all over the place, and it will take a good deal of concentration to make sure I catch all the tense changes needed.

Once I get all of that done, it will be time to lay out the book design and do the cover. So many details to deal with when you self-publish a book! I have done it once before, though, so I know what is coming. A lot of meticulous work—but it will be worth it in the end.

So that’s what’s on my plate for the next few months, writing-wise.

On a side note, my hands are feeling much better, about 95%. And I get my second COVID shot today. Here’s hoping the side effects don’t knock me out too badly.

What’s on your schedule these days?

My Hands—CoronaLife Day 411

I think I’m getting old. I hit 50 last year (thanks, 2020!) and I am now disintegrating. I was doing a plank challenge with a group online, and when I got to 2 minutes my knees started hurting, forcing me to switch to a modified plank.

But worse is my hands. Last week, I totally overdid it. A ton of computer work, and mostly repetitive motion. Unfortunately, I did not listen to my hands and stop when they started complaining, but pushed on. Finally, I had to stop—my hands were stiff, sore, and had pinpricks.

Since then, I have tried not to use the computer much. I have been taking my research notes with pen and paper. I also switched to a mouse instead of the touchpad, to change up the motions needed. My hands have calmed down somewhat. They still ache a bit, and the pinpricks come and go depending on the activity. I fear I have done permanent damage. Is this the first flare-up of arthritis? Some kind of carpel tunnel?

Whatever it is, I don’t care for it. It is almost impossible not to use your hands, especially for the computer or smart phone. I have no idea what I will do if I have to severely curtail my computer use. Everything I do is on the computer!

Anyway, I am keeping this short to spare my hands, which are already starting to complain again. Hopefully by next week I will have better news!

A Year in Flux—CoronaLife Day 404

Last year was the year things stood still. The pandemic brought life as we know it to a screeching halt. Even though essential life functions went on, everything felt like it just…stopped.

This year is a different year. It is a year of flux. Life is changing, the world is changing. As we move back toward a more normal life, everything feels in motion.

We need to take time to look at what we want to go back to, though. The pandemic, the year of slowing down, has changed the way many see the world. Some people really like working from home, wasting less time commuting, spending more time with family. Some businesses are seeing the value of people working from home, and thinking about changing their business models. Many of us realized the value of the family and friends we were cut off from for so long. Many people’s priorities shifted, because it is true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The pandemic gave us a chance to really look at the world we live in. It highlighted so many things that need to be addressed. Workers deemed “essential” who don’t make enough to pay their bills. Decades of medical inequity that left minority populations exponentially more vulnerable to the virus. Income inequity that allowed the better off to stay safely home while the poor exposed themselves to the virus every day. A rise in violence against Jewish people, and Asian-Americans, and Blacks—some done by the very people supposed to protect our communities. The mental health crisis that is deep in our culture and that is exploding with the pandemic stress.

Some things that used to be “normal” should never be normal again.

Normal didn’t work for so many people in our society. We have a chance now to do better, be better. To build a society that truly reaches for the ideals America was built on. As we rebuild from the pandemic, we need to figure out what parts of the old society are worth saving—and what parts we want to build from scratch.

This pandemic showed in glaring spotlight that a large portion of our nation does not understand social responsibility. They do not understand that with freedom comes responsibility, that individualism does not mean ignoring the needs of others as long as you’ve got yours. Like it or not, we are all connected—what we do impacts others. The pandemic showed us that, too.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let us strive, in this year of flux, to make sure that as we rise from this pandemic, we leave no one behind.

Power Mad—CoronaLife Day 397

I am researching the Kings of England, after having researched the Kings of Scotland, and I have read about war upon war for power, power, and more power. This seemed especially true of English monarchs. It wasn’t enough to be King of England, you had to also be King of Ireland, and King of Scotland, and, what the heck, King of France. War after war, so much death and destruction because whatever they had, it was never enough.

I admit that I do not understand this mindset. Maybe it’s because I am an introvert and I would never in a million years want to rule all those people, have all those administrative nightmares. Or because I am highly empathetic, and the responsibility for the well-being of all those people would weigh terribly heavy on me.

These people were mad. In two separate cases, a nobleman murdered children to get what he wanted. In 1440, the Regent of Scotland, Crichton, invited the 16-year-old (some sources say he was only 14) Earl of Douglas, William, and his younger brother David, to dinner at his castle—a meal that has come to be known as the Black Dinner. Crichton trumped up charges against them and had them beheaded, in the presence of the distraught 9-year-old King James II of Scotland. This was done as part of a larger power struggle, and many historians believe it was with the full consent of Crichton’s ally, the powerful head of the Douglas family, James the Gross. As James was next in line, he became the 7th Earl of Douglas, and so had much to gain by their deaths.

The better known instance is Richard III of England. When his brother, King Edward IV, died in 1483, Edward’s 12-year-old son Edward became King Edward V. Richard had other ideas, and locked Edward and his 9-year-old brother Richard up in the Tower of London. They were never seen again, and two skeletons found in the Tower in 1674 may have been theirs. Whether they were murdered or simply allowed to die of starvation is not known, but the heinous crime was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

I cannot imagine wanted power so much as to murder children. Then again, I cannot see wanting power so much I would start a war, either. So I guess it’s just as well that none of my villains are power-mad. Or maybe my inherent lack of understanding of their nature is why they aren’t. It’s hard to write believable characters if you cannot grasp what makes them tick.

Speaking of writing, both the above stories had satisfying, if not happy, endings. In 1452, King James II of Scotland, now 22 years old, invited James the Gross, Earl of Douglas to dinner. They argued and, in a scene that eerily echoes that of the Black Dinner, King James stabs the Earl to death. King Richard III also did not profit from the deaths of the Princes. Disgust for the murder was a main driver for the nobles to back Henry Tudor, who claimed the crown for himself. Richard III’s reign lasted only 2 years, and the usurper was himself usurped by the incoming Henry VII.

Do you think it’s possible to write believable villains if you yourself don’t understand their emotional and psychological underpinnings?

Point of View—CoronaLife Day 390

As many of you know, I am very into genealogy, which sometimes means learning about the history of the place your ancestors came from. Thankfully, I like history, so this is not burdensome. I have been researching the Kings of Scotland and England lately. And I have been treated up close to the concept of point of view—and that the villain is always the hero of their own story.

Reading the histories, some written by Scottish researchers, some by English researchers, you can see the different points of view. Scotland and England were enemies from ancient times. Even when they weren’t technically at war there were raids across the border, and schemes and plots to take Scotland and make it part of England.

I happened to research the Scotland history first, and the theme was the constant struggle to remain an independent country while England kept trying to make her a feudal state, bowing to English sovereignty. They mostly raided into England either in self-defense, or to uphold the mutual-defense pact they had with France.

Then I switched to the same history but from the English side, and sure enough, it was mostly them trying to take over Scotland. Sometimes it was to try and make them submit, sometimes it was pre-emptive strikes because they were afraid Scotland was going to attack, and sometimes it was because England was at war with France and Scotland was her ally.

The one main point where they differed was this: England claimed that Scotland had, in fact, submitted to them as a vassal state and they were the rightful sovereigns, while Scotland said that was false. Yet this claim of submission was the basis for many of the attacks of England into Scotland.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is true that in 1174, King William the Lion of Scotland, captured by the English, swore fealty to King Henry II and made Scotland a vassal state under English sovereignty. But it is equally true that the next English king, Richard the Lionheart, released Scotland from vassal status in 1189 in exchange for money to go on Crusade—a transaction Richard’s successors conveniently overlooked.

It is also true that during the Great Cause of 1292, when Scotland literally had no clear heir to the throne, English King Edward I was asked to help determine which contender to the Scottish throne had the best case. King Edward chose a man called John Balliol—largely because he was pliant and agreed to make Scotland a vassal state to England. Although King John Balliol was crowned, the nation of Scotland rose in rebellion, and the Scottish Wars of Independence (led by William Wallace and the future King Robert the Bruce) made it clear that the people would not accept this. At the conclusion of these wars, in 1328, England formally acknowledged Scotland’s independence with the Treaty of Northampton.

It was interesting to see how the point of view made all the difference as to who were the aggressors, the aggrieved, and the heroes. The facts remained the same, but the undercurrent, the slant was always different. Each side was very sure their kings were acting for the good of their country. Each side was the hero of their own story.

So it was a real-world lesson as to how point of view can work in our stories. Opponents looking the same set of events will see and interpret them differently depending on the lens they see them through. It can be subtle, or it can be stark. Even people on the same side might interpret events differently, which can lend extra conflict and tension to scenes.

Oh, and for the record, all of England’s insistence that Scotland was a vassal state came to naught, for in 1603 the King of Scotland, James VI, succeeded to the throne of England as well, becoming King James the VI and I of Great Britain.

A Bit of Normalcy–CoronaLife Day 383

The coronavirus pandemic turned a lot of things upside down, and made everyday activities fraught with danger. Now that the vaccines are here, we can look ahead to a time where normalcy inches its way back into our lives. Today, I went to visit my parents for the first time since October.

I have not driven for so long, nor on a high speed road, since then, and it was strangely exhausting. It didn’t help that it was raining and the traffic was heavy with tractor-trailers.

Because of the rain, we met inside the house—the first time I have been inside their house since the pandemic started last March. All previous visits were outside.

Because we were inside, we all remained masked, except when eating, and that we did 6 feet apart with the porch door open for ventilation.

What will it feel like to be normal again?

To hop in the car and drive wherever, whenever?

To enter other people’s houses without precautions?

To see each other’s faces?

We have forgotten so much. It will be an adjustment to find our way back.

We still have a long way to go, before normalcy becomes, well…normal again. My parents both had their second shot, but are not yet two weeks past to full immunity (my daughter and I got tested before going over). I am not yet eligible in my state, but hopefully by May. My daughter will likely not be eligible until the end of the year. So it will be a long time yet before I can breathe easier about my family. Before we can all be immunized and gather without precautions.

Meanwhile, case numbers are rising again, this time among the younger people who are now starting to fill our hospital beds. I know they, and the rest of us, are tired of the precautions, but now is not the time to let down our guard. We are in the final minutes of the game, and the score is tied. We must keep up our defense until we regain possession of the ball. Then we can slam it home for the final victory.

We must continue to hold the line.

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