Painting Angels: Cover and Co-Author!

Painting Angels, Book 3 in the #SamandSaucer trilogy, just went to press! It’s due to release on July 21, and I want to share the cover, catalog copy, and adorable new co-author for this book as we wait to see the book “in person.”

The Cover

The Catalog Copy

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

The Co-Author

I am thrilled to announce that I have a co-author for Painting Angels! Thirteen-year-old Veronica Naasko kindly contributed an account of life as a “farm kid” that is going into the print, ebook, and audiobook editions of Painting Angels! The animal farm at the book’s imaginary monastery is central to the story in Book 3, and when we found there was space available at the end of the book, we asked Veronica to write for us. I recorded my part of the Audible edition this weekend, and Veronica is submitting hers this afternoon. Her part of this book is awesome. It has turkeys. It has wolves. It even has an unusual bishop. Just wait till you read it!! Here is a picture of Veronica recording for Audible.

Quick Fixes: Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing

Two days into running a private Facebook group for Orthodox Christian Children’s Writers and Illustrators, I’m thinking about writing technique, publishing tips, illustrators I like, group activities, and other delights in every available moment. This evening, while washing the dishes, I decided to jot down my list of hard-earned “simple fix” wisdom for writers. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself as you read over your work. Ask yourself before an editor asks you! And no, number 1 is not a question. It is a command.

  1. Spelling. Seriously.
  2. Are you relying on “to be” verbs too much? What stronger, more specific verb could you use instead of “is/was/are”?
  3. Are you over-explaining? Are you saying “As she stepped out of the car, she opened her umbrella because it was raining and she was getting wet” instead of saying, “She opened her umbrella as she stepped out of the car”?
  4. Are you writing in the active voice or the passive voice? There is only one right answer to this question. ACTIVE.
  5. Are you speaking for your characters, or are you letting your characters speak for themselves? When you write a piece of dialog, are they saying what YOU would say or what THEY would say?
  6. Are you using the same word twice in one sentence, or in adjoining sentences? Do not do this. Find another word or another way to make the statement.
  7. Words are music. Listen to the beat or rhythm of your sentence. Is it musical or awkward?
  8. Are your details consistent? Is that sofa the same color in every chapter?
  9. Is your point of view consistent? Do you keep switching from one perspective to another mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, mid-chapter? Did you forget what your characters would and wouldn’t know because you’re the author and you know everything?
  10. Is your agenda bleeding through your narrative? Are you noticeably judging your characters? Is your plot buckling under the weight of the point you are hammering home?

Those are my 10 simple fixes for writers. What are yours?

Painting Angels: Coming this summer!

Today, I enjoyed being a writer for a few minutes during a day of otherwise un-writerly work. The publisher sent back the copyedited version of Painting Angels (Book 3 in the Sam and Saucer series). The book is going to press in just a few weeks. I’ve seen some illustrations and sent back feedback, and I’ve worked on all the text edits sent to me. Now I just need to read this copy-edited manuscript, and it will be off to the proofreader – almost finished!

Today I also received the “promo copy” for the book. This is the description that shows up in the publisher’s catalog, on their website, on Amazon, and everywhere the book is sold (in English). When the original manuscript was submitted, I completed an author questionnaire as I do each time one of my books is published. The questionnaire asked me to provide text that could be used to create this promo copy. The editor worked with it, and I’m happy with the final result. Here it is!

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

Reading this, I realized how well this book fits the time in which it will be released. God willing, we’ll be out and about before the summer, but who knows? Even if we are, our memories of being cooped up, struggling together, will be fresh! COVID-19 never entered my head during the writing process (in fact, the last major revision was completed before quarantine), but today I see major parallels!

Writing and imagination, minds and thoughts, and the whole spiritual atmosphere swirling around us fascinate me. There is no knowing the complex of our connections with each other, or with the unseen influences around us and within us. Perhaps the only key to the mystery is this:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

God help us all, according to His purpose.

Writing in Faith, not about Faith

I think I just found THE words for an idea I’ve been striving to express for decades. The idea sprouted before I was Orthodox, but here it is in my present context.

Good Orthodox fiction is written IN Orthodoxy, not ABOUT Orthodoxy.

Fiction written ABOUT Orthodoxy (or Christianity in general) will crumple under the weight. Fiction does not do the work of nonfiction; it does a wholly different work, though it can bear similar fruit.

Fiction written IN Orthodoxy is fiction. Fiction may be full of light or full of darkness. The light’s the thing.

Narrative can only act for apologetics, in my view, the way a tune can remind you of a lyric. Faith-informed fiction is the melody only. If it’s rendered accurately, you will know the words.

It’s the difference between an oil painting of a flower and the shredded description of the flower pasted to the canvas in a floral shape. Let the explanation be the explanation. Let the portrait be the portrait.

Vase of Flowers. Creator: Jan Davidsz de Heem. Date: 1670. Institution: Mauritshuis. Provider: Digitale Collectie. Providing Country: Netherlands. PD for Public Domain Mark

#Blogtown: Letters from the Homefront

Dear Friends,

Why does this blog post begin like a letter? I’ll tell you.

My friend Anna at The Brown Dress Project is drawing on a lifetime of history-reading for strength and motivation in the present time. I love her assessment of what qualities are needed.

 Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

Anna the Librarian/Historian

In today’s open letter on her blog, Anna’s suggesting that our #blogtown community stick together through this hard time by writing letters to each other. Noting that the front lines for this “world war” run squarely through the home of each person, Anna hearkens back to the days when the efforts of those at home provided the strength and resources for those far away on the more obvious battlefields. That’s why she’s calling for Letters from the Homefront.

If you have a blog, welcome! You’re automatically a neighbor in the #blogtown community. Your well-being matters. The funny moments, frantic boredom, quiet inspiration, fabulous nap, or dogged determination that got you through the day are worth sharing with all of us, your virtual neighbors.

It’s a quiet day at my house. I’m pondering the mix of worry and relief this situation has brought to us. I meant to bake bread today, but instead I played games with my kiddo and took a gray-day walk, looking for leaf buds and early flowers. I even curled up on the couch with the dog and stared out the window at the intricacy of tree branches.

This week has been fiercely busy. I work for an internet company, so working at home isn’t a change. But the sudden influx of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET onto the internet, all hoping to help, all live-streaming, all sharing tips, all asking if this or that is going to happen and when, seemed to make all my days twice as crowded.

I love the surge of helpfulness, but I also believe that we humans aren’t capable of sustaining this level of intensity. Once the novelty of this situation wears off, we will either turn on each other or relax into this new way of being and go back to binge-watching Netflix or reading real, tangible, papery-scented printed books. We’ll walk around the block, and around again. We’ll bake things. Our supply chain will recover from our panic, and there won’t be as much to say about toilet paper any more. But I don’t think normal life will come back for a few months.

I’m at peace for now. Mostly. And exchanging letters with all of you here in this cozy internet community will be something I continue to enjoy.

God bless and keep you,

Melinda

#LettersfromtheHomefront

#BlogtownTuesday: Interview with Cynthia June Long

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest is one of the original members of this virtual neighborhood. Cynthia participated in #bloginstead, and we’ve known each other online for years now. I’ve always been fascinated by her “Faerie Librarian” designator, so this interview ought to be interesting! As always, I’m asking 5 questions. Here are Cynthia’s answers.

How did Your blog gets its name?

There’s already a different “Cynthia Long” who writes for the National Education Association; and at least one other creative writing/poet/songwriting Cynthia Long and/or Cynthia J. Long. So I use my middle name to distinguish myself from those others.

My tagline is more descriptive: Faith, Myth, Folklore, Literature | Faerie Librarian. By profession, in my “day job,” I’m a librarian. For fun I read widely in folklore, the fantasy genre, and contemporary literature about faeries. That makes me the Faerie Librarian.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

The intersections between faith, myth & folklore. Christian references in folklore. My two favorite examples are “Priest Communes Good Werewolves” from the 12th Century and “The Priest’s Supper,” a~18th or 19th Century Irish tale in which a parishioner relates to his priest a question from the fairies: Will the faeries receive eternal salvation? I shared “The Priest’s Supper” in my presentation at Doxacon 2017; you can listen to it here, starting around minute 11-12:12.

Faerie folklore is my specialty, but I’ve branched out on my blog to occasionally include book reviews of non-faerie books and I sometimes also discuss other literary or personal topics. As a former children’s librarian, I also review select children’s books.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least Favorite?

Favorite: Faith-and-Folklore is a niche topic, but it’s my niche. I love it. I could talk (or write) about it all day.

Least favorite: the time required to produce high-quality blog content, and continuing to do so, preferably on a regular schedule, which I haven’t quite been able to manage. Yes, I’m a perfectionist, but let’s face it: good writing requires re-writing. Editing. Formatting. I’ve been disappointed in the posts I’ve thrown up in a rush. Even when offering an opinion, I want to present my best work. And then I’ll go find engaging photos to accompany it. My quest for “the best” accompanying image can sometimes get carried away.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

We know the old koan: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Is a writer a writer without a reader?

In college, my best friends were the folks who stayed up late debating philosophy and discussing the meaning of the universe. A blog re-creates in written format all those late-night obscure, esoteric conversations. (The best kind of conversations, I might add!) The increased deliberate interactivity of #Blogtown turns a blog post from a soliloquy into a conversation.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

  • I have two older sisters; I’m the youngest of three girls. We grew up in “The Brady Bunch” era. Our hair color was lighter as children; I was a blonde or ‘dirty-blonde’ for my first four or five years. (Please don’t call me “Cindy.”)
  • I was a Girl Scout. I loved Girl Scouting. I loved camping. The smell of crisp autumn leaves gets me nostalgic every fall.
  • As the youngest child, I suffered from not-old-enough-yet syndrome.  The proudest moment of my first 4 years was when I was the Star of Bethlehem in the church Christmas pageant.  I wasn’t old enough to join the heavenly choir of angels like my sisters and the other cool big kids, but for once, I got the better deal. I was the Star of Bethlehem.

Thank you, Cynthia!

You can connect with Cynthia at Cynthia June Long. See you in #Blogtown!

Corgi Seven Leaf: Book Projects Update

This is a happy year in my writing life. I have three books coming out in three genres, from two publishers. I love that!

Corgi

The first book out is actually a third book – it’s the third book in the #SamandSaucer trilogy. The first two, Shepherding Sam and The Barn and the Book, introduced us to Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, and his friends and adventures at the Monastery of St. Gerasim. Sam struggles hard. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s happy, sometimes he wants to be left. alone. please. Saucer, corgi that he is, loves Sam and follows Sam around and barks at him and pats his foot and even, when occasion demands, takes a good mouthful of Sam’s pant leg and hauls him along where he needs to go.

Corgi standing under a blooming cherry tree
Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

I just handed in my second round of revisions for this third book, and most of what’s left now will be copy-edits and minor adjustments. This book happened in layers, more than the last one did. I originally thought there wasn’t a third book, but with some prodding from my editor, I discovered there was indeed a third book. Like all my books, it fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. This is perhaps not the most dignified writing process, but it works for me! I wrote the story all in one gasp, so to speak, and then set it aside because there was time before the release date. The editor read through her pile and got to my story, and we started in on her first round of big-picture suggestions. The book gained several chapters, the characters gained depth, and it went back to her again for another round. She pointed out a few other adjustments, and that’s what I sent back to her last Sunday night.

I liked working on the characters this time around. They’re two years older than they were in the first book, and I did a little research to help me build out Sam. At no point in the books do we have a name for Sam’s particular kind of struggle. Many people have suggested that he’s on the autism spectrum, and my researched honored that suggestion. However, life has taught me that people with labels and people without labels have more in common than they think. This third book puts Sam together with Macrina, his arch-nemesis. Macrina would be the first to tell you that there is NOTHING the matter with her. But as the story developed, I realized, along with one of their mutual friends, that Macrina and Sam have more in common than either of them would like to admit. Perhaps we all do. For that reason, Sam still does not have a label. Macrina doesn’t either. There’s something in each of their struggles that most of us can relate to.

This book, like the first two in the series, will have a cover and three interior illustrations by the friendly and talented Clare Freeman! And that means I’ve also sent in a detailed list of information for the illustrations – listing scenes I hope will be chosen for pictures, and details of setting, clothing, facial expression, etc, Clare will need to create those pictures.

Seven

Seven Holy Women is a story-telling devotional I’m writing with a group of friends. All told, there are eight of us involved, but our math still works because the book focuses on seven women saints. It’s unique in my experience, for two reasons. First, I’ve never written a book with a group of friends before! Second, I’ve never run across a book like this one. Perhaps one exists somewhere, but it hasn’t popped up yet. Our book is unique because it uses short stories written in the second person to help our readers grapple with their own connections to these saints. “You are Morwenna,” the book begins. YOU. Your brain is wired to read those words and drop your imagination into the story, gazing out at the events as if they were your experiences, in your life. You aren’t Morwenna, of course. You are several centuries too late for that, but when I started writing the four short stories that were the root of this book, I loved the mental and spiritual exercise of trying to stand in these holy shoes, for a few moments only.

I needed help to make this book all that it should be, and that’s where my friends come in. Each of them took one of the seven saints, befriended her, and wrote about her. Each section includes personal surveys and a journaling opportunity, and as of this month, all seven sections are in the manuscript. The only remaining task is for me to write the final chapter, and that’s what I’m pondering now. I’ll wander back through the sections written by my friends and then I’ll have to make up my mind just what that final chapter needs to contribute to finish the book neatly and completely.

Leaf

St. Ia Rides a Leaf, the board book just contracted with SVS Press, is now in the storyboard stage! Kristina Tartara, the illustrator, has sent me the first illustration of Ia, and we’re talking over the color of her dress. This is a story set by the Irish Sea, so nearly every illustration will include shades of blue and green. Ia is a red-head, good Irish girl that she is, and we’ve tried four dress colors, drawn from our research on the dyes available to her in her place and time, and social class. Ia was a princess, so her clothes would be more colorful than those of neighboring peasants.

Meanwhile, Kristina has the final text, and this week she’s breaking it into pages and sketching the rough outlines of the scenes that will appear on each one.

I truly love watching the illustration process. I’d enjoy it for anyone’s book, and to watch my own story appear in pictures is one of my favorite parts of the writing life. It will never grow old! It’s especially delightful when I get to work so closely with the illustrator. Kristina communicates with me often and kindly sends me sketches and snatches at every stage. It makes me happy.

BLOG

And of course, my other writing project is this blog! I am so glad I came back to blogging. I’m finding all kinds of interesting people here in the blogosphere. I enjoy your words and pictures, and the ways they stretch my mind. Thank you for being here!

#Blogtown Tuesday: Interview with The Live Script

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest was a toss up – she’s a maker and a blogger, so should she be on #MakersMonday or #BlogtownTuesday?? I asked her. She thought about it, and she picked #BlogtownTuesday. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out her handmade soap. It smells so good I’m always tempted to take a bite. However, rather than eating soap, I’m asking Sarah at The Live Script my 5 questions, and these are her beautiful answers.

How did your blog get its name?

The Live Script name comes from my sense of being every moment within a narrative taller and wider and deeper than what meets the eye.  Script means not only handwriting, but also a crafted story, and adding “live” speaks to the experience, the immediacy of being present within the story and observing it closely.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

This question is quite hard for me to answer.  I know that when I write I am sort of “waving over” the one that comes to read, saying, by my words, “Here, look at this with me.  Experience this scene, this thought; do you see what I see?”  Topically I range from poetry to theology to parenting to cooking, and many stops in between.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

I greatly appreciate having a place to spill some of the thoughts that otherwise bang around my head and heart until they’re assembled and given a home.  Writing is crucial for my own understanding and processing and the blog format allows feedback that writing in my journal does not.  Thus far I haven’t experienced any negative aspects of blogging; I’m not well known so I’m not a target for trolls.  My obscurity has been a gift.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a Social Blogging Collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Though it can never replace the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation, there is value in the regular reading  of each other’s work.  Even if it is only our thoughts that reach across the miles, there is still connection and community.

Tell us 3 things we would know about you if we’d grown up with you.

  1. I am happiest in or near water, be it the ocean, a creek, or the river in Montana that runs through my parents’ land.  The sound, the smell, and the refreshing buoyant coolness of it never fails to delight me, and I am always the last one out of the water.  
  2. I would rather be up in a tree, or on a bicycle, or sitting in the woods, than playing organized sports or pursuing success or seeking entertainment (movies, concerts, plays).  My parents didn’t know what to make of me; I was not motivated by money nor achievement, but just wanted to be up in my tree, writing and thinking.  
  3. There was never an art form that I wasn’t interested in trying.  Growing up I loved drawing, painting, sculpting, doing collages, sewing, and photography.  As an adult that has expanded to soap making, candle making, miniature pottery, quilting, watercoloring, jewelry making, weaving, and soon, carving wooden spoons.

Thank you, Sarah!

You can connect with Sarah at The Live Script. See you in #Blogtown!

#bloginstead

Still True: Lent for Creatives

Two years ago, a half-decade of observation boiled over the rim of my mind into a list of 5 hard lessons I’ve learned about creativity, publishing, and success in the Orthodox media field. I wrote out my list for the company blog in Lent 2018, and because all 5 are still very true, I’d like to share them with you here also.

Lent for Creatives: 5 hard lessons

At Ancient Faith, we believe that the spiritual life and the creative life are woven together. The fact that we are an Orthodox Christian media company is proof of this conviction. We exist to promulgate the Gospel through the work of people who use their creative gifts to affirm and explore the life of faith, in the persistent hope of edifying and encouraging our fellow human beings on their journeys.

During this Lenten season, we are all engaged in spiritual struggle of one kind or another, and it seems a good moment to share what I’ve learned in the last five years about the intersection of creativity, struggle, and media publishing. With this goal, I’ve created a list of five hard lessons we all seem to encounter on our way to producing high-quality books and podcasts. If you have already been published, this list will be familiar. If you are still trying to be published, it may be even more familiar! I pray it will be helpful, no matter which side of that fence you occupy.

don’t be an “idea person.”

Almost nothing will shut you out faster than those fatal words – “I’m an idea person.” Many people describe themselves this way, and in our experience, an “idea person” is one who can come up with an endless list of inspiring suggestions but is not able to follow through on them. An idea is like a flame without a lamp. It burns brightly and then vanishes, unless you provide a wick, some oil, and a vessel to hold the oil. Your idea needs a plan. It needs background research. It needs the ability to make and meet deadlines, foresee and overcome obstacles. You and your idea both need a significant amount of staying power, so that your publisher knows you will put in the effort to bring your idea to life – real life, enduring life, the kind of life that will justify the expenditure of staff time, resources, and just plain stamina required to publish a book or produce a podcast. If you were telling yourself that you could hand your idea to a publisher and staff members would provide the wick, the oil, and the lamp, please stop. No publisher can or will be a replacement for the diligent effort you should have dedicated to your idea before we ever heard of it.

KEEP READING HERE FOR LESSONS 2-5.