Entries in A Metaphor is like a simile (83)

Friday
Mar312017

Prayers in Bath

 

I'm happy to announce the publication of my newest book, Prayers in Bath. This is a project that was over three years in the making, and I couldn't be more pleased with how it's turned out. 

Here's the description:

After several attempts at in vitro fertilization, Ted and Julia Taylor are out of money and out of hope. In an attempt to shake herself out of her depression, Julia accepts an internship on an archaeological dig in Bath, England. When she finds an ancient scroll while working in the sewer connected to the Roman baths, she sneaks it back to her flat, translates it, and discovers a secret previously lost in the shadows of legend. But her new knowledge poses significant risks, and the repercussions leave her career, her faith, and her marriage hanging in the balance.

When Mormon Artists Group founder Glen Nelson approached me about writing a piece of fiction, I was over the moon. MAG's projects are always gorgeous and unique. I knew I wanted the book to be about a Mormon woman, but that was all I knew.

Going through my idea journal, I remembered that long ago, my Welsh friend Tan Morgan told me about the curse tablets that had been found in the hot springs at Bath in England. I loved the idea of people writing out their prayers on little pieces of metal, and then throwing them in the water in the hopes that Sulis Minerva, the local goddess, would answer them. What else might be waiting to be dug up in that ancient holy place, I wondered? And that's when I knew I had my story.

The amazing Jacqui Larsen created four paintings inspired by the story (one of which is in the opening spread, above). Here's what she had to say about the process: 

When I read the novella Prayers in Bath, I was intrigued by how contemporary life intersected with historical artifacts and legends. Wanting to echo those intersections in this series of paintings, I began by looking through my collage materials. As one who collects European ephemera until my pockets bulge, I had plenty to look through. In a serendipitous moment, I came across some fragments of hand-marbled paper and 19th-century landscape engravings that would dovetail nicely with Prayers in Bath. I then layered color, lyrics from a William Blake poem referenced in the novella, and a network of circles.  Circles as halos, circles as fields of vision, even circles as worlds or realms—the ones we live in and others yet to be explored.

Graphic designer Cameron King created the lovely layout, which mirrors a lot of the details found in Jacqui's paintings. For the limited edition, Glen chose a blue-green Asahi silk with which to hand bind the covers. The end result is exquisite: 

It's also available as a paperback on Amazon. It doesn't have the paintings or the design elements printed in color, but on the other hand, it's a bit more in the realm of affordability for most of us. 

In the happiest of coincidences, I just found out I was accepted to VCFA's summer residency at Bath Spa University this July. David Almond and Lucy Christopher are on faculty there, and our VCFA professors accompanying our group are the fabulous Tom Birdseye and Sharon Darrow. And I'll get to walk around all the places my characters walk (I've only been to Bath once briefly, long ago.) Much will be learned and enjoyed, all of which will be recorded right here in the months to come. 

If you read Prayers in Bath, drop me a line and let me know what you thought. I'd love to hear from you. 

Thursday
Apr092015

Stunts and House Finches

Nellie Bly, one of my heroes. Image from Wikipedia

I have a great weakness for stunt journalism. From Nellie Bly to Bill Buford to Gretchen Rubin--I'll read it all. I'm entranced by the stories of people choosing to go without seemingly essential things for a year or more, or attempting to read all of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the complete works of James Joyce, or electing to abandon their workaday lives to buy a failing/abandoned/ancient chateau/hostelry/dairy farm in Maine/Tuscany/Provence. 

The fun of it is the vicarious experience, the insider's view. Every time I finish something from the genre, I wish I could think up my own stunt, write about it, and get it published. But I haven't come up with anything original yet--at least not anything my family would put up with. (The closest I've come to stunt journalism is The Great Cinnamon Roll Project.)

Now, I'm sure there are some who would consider my daily life to be as foreign and as challenging as some of these stunts. After all, it's not every day you meet an actively publishing writer who also teaches five days a week and is the primary caregiver to five children--with two more in college. Of course, none of that seems remarkable to me, because I live it--and I didn't take any of it on for the sole purpose of spinning a good yarn about it later. It's just my life (and, unlike the above stunts, there's no end in sight).  

I've recently jumped into something rather stunt-like, however. I'm about two thirds of the way through a Sixty-Day Challenge at Bikram Yoga Pasadena. (If you like, you can read my daily diary of the experience.) To the outsider, even one session of Bikram yoga might seem like a stunt; each class entails ninety minutes working through twenty-six yoga asanas and two breathing exercises (all done twice) in a room that is heated to 105 degrees F with 40% humidity.

But Bikram aficionados try to make it to class three to five times per week, and will on occasion take on a thirty- or sixty-day challenge: doing a session every. Single. Day. For a month or two. It's that simple.

Except it's not, not if you have a life as busy as mine. Not even, apparently, if you're single and have a flexible work schedule, as Paige Williams and Aimee Macovic both were/had when they did their own Sixty-Day Challenges. Exercise this intense is demanding for the beginner, and its effects are cumulative. Ninety minutes really means more like two and a half hours when you count the prep, travel, and recovery time. Eating needs to be built around the classes, too; you don't want to eat for a couple of hours beforehand, and you don't feel like it for a long while afterward. And then there's the hydrating (bathroom), hydrating (bathroom), hydrating (bathroom). 

Given all my responsibilities, the stars really need to align for me to get to the yoga studio consistently. Sick kids, booked-solid days, and family trips to Disneyland--in other words, reality--all need to be taken into account.

Fortunately, there's a provision for days missed: you simply make up the class by doing two in one day. Which I've done twice now. Which is brutal. And which I'll have to do three times more by April 29th in order to complete my own personal Challenge.

(I have to finish! I already ordered the T-shirt.)

So, why take on something so difficult, if my life is already so complicated? I won't go into the details of some nagging health challenges, but that was definitely a factor. The bigger issue, though, is that I hope that a regular Bikram practice will be a catalyst for me in my writing life--which is really just an outgrowth of my mental/emotional/spiritual life.

Catalysts fascinate me; it's one of the reasons I love stunt journalism. What's the touchstone that allows people to make wholesale changes in their lives; whence cometh the paradigm shift? Can it be pinpointed? Can it be engineered, or does it need to drop from the sky? Can people really redefine who they are through a series of choices? Can they make the changes stick? I hope so; I choose to believe so. I've read about many others for whom Bikram has been a catalyst--for healing, for renewed energy and perspective, for professional pursuits. I figured I'd give it a try. (It is, after all, more reasonable than sailing around the world or buying a B&B in Fiji.) 

Forty days into the Challenge, I'm still floundering writing-wise, but clarity is slowly coming. Change is coming, too: new attitudes, recommitment. I have renewed faith that I need to keep working at it: keep writing, keep submitting, keep writing some more. 

As I write this post, house finches are building a nest under the eaves of my balcony, a mere six feet away from where I sit. The French doors are open, and the cool April air wafts around me. The finches--one ruby-headed, one brown, both lovely--show up with a piece of dried grass or hair or dryer lint and disappear behind the beam where their project nestles. They reappear and search for something else--just the right piece of material. I've seen them pick up and drop the same thing several times, fluttering around to consider it in between. They warble to each other as they go. Will it work? Can we make it fit? Is there something better?

The finches remind me of myself as I draft and edit. Cutting, pasting, reworking, starting from scratch when the whole thing falls apart. Or in yoga, struggling to find my balance, my edge, a new level of strength and grace. Piece by piece, moment by moment, breath by breath, choice by choice, building a new reality.

Because as energizing as the vicarious thrill of reading is, real life is ideally at least as satisfying--and if it's not, perhaps the reading inspires us to make changes necessary to bring our real lives into line with our hopes and dreams. Or to change our hopes and dreams to fit the awesome life we're already living--if we choose to see it that way. When it comes right down to it, the finches and I don't do what we're doing as a stunt; our work and our choices are who we're becoming. 

Tuesday
Apr222014

The Weekend Getaway

This is our darling house. The guest house is around back.

As part of the Altered Perceptions IndieGoGo campaign, I've come up with a perk for a couple of big donors. It's outlined on the website, but I thought I'd give some more details here. 

Weekend Writing Retreat

A private, spacious, light-filled, air-conditioned guest house in sunny Pasadena will be all yours for a full three days and two nights. It includes a kitchenette with refrigerator (stocked with snacks and drinks of your choice), queen-sized bed, desk, full bath, Wi-Fi, cable/Blu-Ray, and a huge library of books and movies. The pool and hot tub are also available for your use.
Three gourmet meals* per day will be delivered to your door at times you schedule, selected from a menu similar to this: 
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls, yogurt parfaits, or French toast for breakfast
  • Panini, chicken salad, or charcuterie plate for lunch
  • Poached salmon, homemade ravioli, or homemade fried chicken for dinner
You are responsible for your own transportation (we'll work out the dates). Bring your laptop and your imagination.** We'll provide the rest!
 
* Here's the thing about the food. I've published a cookbook and taken a class at the Culinary Institute of America. I promise: the meals I provide will knock your socks off. But say you wanted to go out to lunch instead (on your own dime). Really good restaurants are within a few minutes of our house, like Din Tai Fung, named one of the World's Best Restaurants. 
** You don't have to be a writer to claim this perk. Instead, you could bring your significant other for a relaxing break. If you're a hiker, you should know that there are amazing hiking trails literally around the corner from us (and I can pack you a box lunch in that case). Take our boogie boards to the beach, 45 minutes away. Or go to Disneyland. Pasadena boasts great museums and amazing gardens. And, you know, there's L.A. Seriously: so much to do and see. You'll love it here.
Thursday
Apr172014

Altered Perceptions


Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

I've mentioned before that I have an anxiety/depressive disorder. I cope. A lot of the time, I'm fine. Most of the time, I can get through my days regardless. I'm very lucky.

But it's always there, like a scar that never really fades, and that once in a while swells up, gets ugly, and causes problems.

And maybe like attracts like, because I know a lot of people who struggle with mental illness in one form or another. Since you're reading this, you probably know someone who struggles, too. 

Which is why I'm thrilled to tell you about a new project I'm involved in. I was recently invited to contribute to Altered Perceptions, an anthology that SF giants Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson are organizing to benefit writers with mental illness in general and the über-awesome Robison Wells in particular. 

The anthology will consist of:

Ally Condie, Foreword

Dan Wells, Introduction

Annette Lyon, An unpublished chapter from her retelling of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala

Brandon Mull, Deleted scenes from Beyonders 2
Brandon Sanderson, Five completely rewritten chapters from The Way of Kings, in which Kaladin makes the opposite choice of what he makes in the published novel
Bree Despain, An alternate ending to The Lost Saint and an alternate beginning to the Shadow Prince
Brodi Ashton, The first chapter from her YA novel about an alien who has to rescue the boy she loves
Claudia Gray, A deleted scene from A Thousand Pieces of You
Dan Wells, The original John Cleaver free write
Erin Bowman, A deleted scene from Taken
Howard Tayler, A creative non-fiction story about life with mental illness
J Scott Savage, Three original chapters that led to writing Farworld
Jennifer Moore, A deleted scene from Becoming Lady Lockwood
Jessica Day George, A deleted scene from Princess of Glass, in which the main character plays poker with a witch
Josi Kilpack, The original opening scene to Tres Leches Cupcake
Kiersten White, An original short story set in a dystopian world
Larry Correia, A deleted fight scene from Swords of Exodus
Lauren Oliver, Two deleted scenes from Pandemonium, plus a hilarious scene about the plotting process
Luisa Perkins (ME!) A short story called  “Seeing Red," a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"
Mary Robinette Kowal, A deleted scene from Valor and Vanity 
Nancy Allen, Bonus scene from Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
Robison Wells, An epilogue to the Feedback and Variant duology
Sandra Tayler, Creative non-fiction, “Married To Depression”
Sara Zarr, A story featuring characters from one of Sara’s previously published novels
Sarah Eden, “Farewells” for Longing For Hope and Hope Springs
Seanan McGuire, The original opening for Discount Armageddon
Shannon Hale, "Ravenous," a previously unpublished scifi short story
SJ Kincaid, The original first chapter of Vortex, before it was entirely rewritten

 

Do you notice any familiar names? Like, at least NINE New York Times bestsellers? And a bunch of Hugo winners, yeah? These are amazing, generous, talented people, and I'm over the moon at the opportunity to have my work included with theirs--especially in support of such an excellent cause. 

This anthology will be seriously GOOD. I can't wait to get my copy! The IndieGoGo fundraiser will go live next Monday, so look for more information coming soon!

Sunday
Feb022014

Give a Little Bit

I've blogged before about my awesome friend Rob Wells. He's a very talented and hard-working writer who has done a tremendous amount of service in the writing community. He's a devoted husband and father. He's an all-around great guy--and at the moment, he's going through trials that make the Perkins Family Janupocalypse look like a day in the park.

He's struggling with a whole host of mental illnesses. He's got little kids to feed. And he's looking down the black maw of a cancer diagnosis. 

EDITED on 4 February to add: Rob found out this morning that he is cancer free! He's got this other weird thing, but it's NOT cancer. (But he still needs your help.)

You, the readers of this blog, have amazed me before with the depth of your compassion, and I'm asking for your help again on behalf of my friend. Here are ways you can help:

1) Read this post and click on the Donate button.

2) Buy one of Rob's books. (If you participated in my Variant book bomb, check out its sequel, or his awesome new book, Blackout.)

3) Spread the word via Twitter or Facebook or a blog post of your own.

I want to reward you for your generosity. If you either donate directly OR buy a book AND Tweet or post to Facebook or your own blog about it, come back to this post and leave me a comment. On Wednesday, February 5th, I'll put all the comments in the hopper at RANDOM.org and draw a couple of numbers. 

  • The first commenter I draw will win a $50 Amazon gift certificate.
  • The second name I draw will win a goodie box from me that will include signed copies of my books Dispirited, Premonition, and Comfortably Yum; chocolate; and other fabulousness. (This prize is actually worth more than the first prize.)
  • EDITED TO ADD: The wonderful Sarah M. Eden has donated a prize! The third person whose name I draw will win a signed two-book set of her excellent Longing for Home series--the second of which isn't even out yet. SO awesome.
  • C. Michelle Jeffries will donate either a hand-covered journal or a query critique to our fourth winner!
  • Annette Lyon has donated signed copies of her amazing cookbook, Chocolate Never Faileth, and her compelling historical romance, Spires of Stone! Thanks, Annette!
  • YOU GUYS: Holy cow. Literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary has generously donated a query and first chapter critique as a prize. 
  • Fantasy writer C. J. Hill has donated signed copies of her hugely popular books Slayers and Erasing Time to one lucky winner!
  • Accomplished writer Shallee McArthur has donated one critique of a book submission package--query + first five pages + synopsis--to another lucky winner! Better than gold!
  • The highly decorated Dan Wells has donated a signed copy of one of his award-winning books! Awesome! 
  • Heather Moore has donated a signed copy of her new and suspenseful Whitney Finalist, Finding Sheba!
  • Christy Dorrity has added a signed copy of Awakening to the prize pile!
  • Multiple Whitney Award winner Stephanie Black has donated signed copies of her thrillers The Believer and The Witnesses!
  • The lovely LuAnn Staheli has donated a copy of When Hearts Conjoin and a 10-page critique/edit! 
  • Angel cellist Michelle Beauchesne has donated two of her fantastic CDs!
  • Renaissance man Braden Bell has donated a copy of his awesome middle grade fantasy trilogy The Kindling/Penumbras/Luminescence
  • The über-popular J. Scott Savage has donated a unique and VERY cool prize: he will name a character after one lucky winner (or a loved one of their choosing) and then (most likely) kill that character off! LOVE IT.
  • Professional editor Chris Todd Miller has offered TWO prizes: a ten-page critique and a copy of his most excellent Gold Quill-winning fantasy novel By Blood Bequeathed!
  • Danyelle Ferguson has donated a $10 Redbox gift card and a copy of her upcoming novel, Sweet Confections!
  • Julie Daines has donated a copy of her latest YA fantasy novel, Unraveled!
  • WOW! The world famous Brandon Sanderson has donated a signed copy of the #1 New York Times bestseller Steelheart

(If anyone else wants to jump on board and donate something else for the drawing, please let me know!)

Such a deal, right? Let's summarize:

1) Either donate (give whatever you can, even if it's just $1) or purchase; then

2) Spread the word linking back either to this post or to Rob's blog via Facebook, Twitter, or blog; and

3) Leave me a comment reporting your actions. Don't mention the dollar amount you donated. In fact, if you'd like to be relatively anonymous, feel free to email me privately. Then check back here Wednesday evening for the results.

Make me proud, people. I know you will.