A Snow Day at Starved Rock

I haven’t been to Starved Rock for the holidays for two years. I’m there now, sitting by the fireplace in the Great Hall, writing. There are children running around, and there’s enough snow outside that we’re in a winter storm warning. A promising start to Christmas.

Starved Rock is a state park in LaSalle County, IL, near where I grew up. Full of sandstone bluffs and trees, it is one of the best places to see fall color in the US and is picturesque in the winter. It can get horrendously busy at Memorial Day and Fourth of July, so I would not recommend going at those times. Come in the fall or winter, although if you want to stay at the lodge, reserve early.

Nearby Utica is a cute, tiny tourist town worth visiting and Ottawa is a college town without a college. We’re close enough to Chicago to get their tourists, which builds the local economy, but far enough away that the area is still uncrowded.

Today I don’t think we’ll go out in the snow. I may write here; I will sit by the Great Hall fireplace and possibly build a fire at our cabin. There’s a hot tub I might go in later, and maybe I’ll take a nap. I may be in the best place in the world for a snow day.

Dear Santa (from a writer)

Dear Santa,

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I’m too old to believe in you, yet I persist because of Pascal’s wager (“But what if Santa really exists? I have nothing to lose”.)

I’ve been good — within reason. I admit overindulging in coffee and sweets, often at the same time, and sometimes I get cranky. But my cats think I’m a good person, and I think my husband does. I hope that counts for something.

I have a list. It will make sense to you if I first explain: I am a writer, and to say I’m unknown is perhaps an understatement of exponential proportions. My Christmas list will reflect this. So there will be no choo-choo trains or dollies on this list.

Enough. Here is my Christmas list:

  • The secret to getting followers on social media (for someone who wants to do it themselves)
  • A readership for my novels, particularly Gaia’s Hands (which is nearer to my heart than the Kringle books, to be honest.)
  • Inspiration to write on the three partially-written books I have on this computer
  • The courage to publish another book (the one that Gaia’s Hands is the prequel for)
  • Lots of good coffee

It might be a lot to ask, but I figure I have to be honest about my situation to someone.

Love, Lauren

Too tired for Christmas

The semester is almost over, and I am tired.

Last week, I graded three major assignments and a handful of smaller ones. I fielded last minute requests, including two students who are just getting their spring semester internships put together. The Curriculum and Degree Requirements committee meeting went on forever.

I have written nothing this week — actually, the last couple of weeks — because I have been so tired. When I’m not working, I’m listening to Christmas music and surfing r/niceguys and reminiscing about my dating years. (I’m mostly joking.)

Next week, all I have to grade are the essay questions in the exams, and that shouldn’t take too long because they’re very short essays. Then I submit the grades. I should be done grading by Friday. Friday seems so. far. away.

All of this exposition about my time is for one purpose — to make the case that I am too tired for Christmas spirit. I’m sitting at Starbucks right now listening to Christmas music and wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. I just lost Whamageddon without realizing it. There is a Christmas romance I need to write and I’m not inspired. I’m not quite Bah Humbug here, but I’m about ready for a long winter nap.

And then, after a couple days of vegging out while listening to the Grinch soundtrack, I should be ready for the season.

Progress on the Work in Progress

I have been working on preparing the Christmas romance novel Kringle on Fire with Richard, and we are way ahead of our goals. We are adopting a variation of the method I use to plot a book:

  1. Use a Scrivener template (Romancing the Beat or other variants on the Save the Cat method). I do this because I want to make sure the story develops as expected by the reader.
  2. Write character sheets for each character with appreciable dialogue (Scrivener has these).
  3. Use the writing template in 1) to lay out descriptions of action at each plot point.
  4. Write the book using these plot points as guideposts.

This is the writing method known as plantsing — neither as structured as planning, nor as free-form as pantsing (aka flying by the seat of your pants). We’re planning a bit more than usual because I want to make sure that Richard has enough input into the book to justify co-authorship. (In other words, I want to work his butt off.)

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The goal: a decent plan by November 1st so that I have a foundation to write this book. And an enjoyable November listening to Christmas music and writing.

Writing with my Husband

My husband wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to co-author my latest romance novel with me. Honestly, I thought he’d beg off on strategizing sessions, but he’s been meeting and working on a brief chapter outline with me. We’ve been through the outline for the first time and are going to add more detail. I rarely make my outlines in this much detail, but with the two of us working on this, I feel we need more guidance.

The way Richard and I work together is that I, with more knowledge of romance writing (and possession of the computer, scrivener, and template), lead and type our responses. Richard largely functions by suggesting ideas, which I reject or accept.

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The writing part is going to be mostly me, with Richard critiquing and suggesting as we go along. We’re going to argue because we’re both headstrong. But he has fresh ideas and I have the knowledge and the worldview, so we think we can get the novel done together.

The novel’s plot: two twenty-somethings, one with a toddler, wonder if they can manage adulthood. Their uncertainty is what’s keeping them from falling in love. The theme of the book: You are enough. We are enough. The background: Christmas in a small, quirky college town.

I’m looking forward to writing this.

My New Book Drops Saturday!

Time has flown by so quickly! It seems like just yesterday that I was writing It Takes Two to Kringle! Truthfully, it was last November, but I haven’t kept track of the time.

It’s time, however, for me to release the book into the wild. So, on Saturday, the third book in the Kringle Chronicles, a series of holiday romance novels, will be available for sale on Kindle. This book features enemies to lovers, faculty romance, a quirky small town, a challenge, and Santa Claus. And Krampus. (Let’s not forget Krampus!)

Check out this book and treat yourself to an early Christmas!

The Next Book (for NaNo)

I am laying out the next book, which will give me the opportunity to avoid set aside Avatar of the Maker for a little while. I hope those ideas ripen in the meantime and give me insight on how to edit the document to wonderful effect.

The reason I am starting on another novel is that NaNoWriMo is coming up in November, and I have an annual ritual attached to that. Every November I write the next Kringle romance so that I’m inspired by the holiday season. It’s now part of how I celebrate.

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This year’s, which I don’t know if I have a title yet, involves a single mom/student/barista and a firefighter. These are common tropes of romance, but I’m hoping to make them uncommon. I’m trying to figure out what quirky elements to include in the story. In the past, I have included medieval reenactment and Krampus. I know that the Human Society is involved and the male protagonist is going to be a cat person (somewhat unusual, and something that gets voted down on dating sites, if you can believe that.) Maybe that’s enough, but I like to write for nerds, so maybe I get inspired.

There also needs to be a dance involved, in homage to regency novels. Where would a firefighter and a single mother dance? They don’t have money to go to the hospital Christmas gala. Is there a dance in the fire station? A Christmas party?

If you’re reading and have any ideas on these, let me know!

Making Up Holiday Traditions

Holidays in the age of COVID

This will be the second year that my husband and I will not be going to see my father and sister for Christmas. Even though we’re vaccinated and boosted and wear our masks, we’re cautious, because you can’t unmake COVID happen once it’s been caught. We decided that the threat of the Omicron variant plus the nearness of our destination to Chicago (and with hordes of Chicagoans coming there) make it too risky. Plus my dad is in his 80s, and I don’t want to gift him with any pathogens.

Feeling a loss

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Richard and I feel a loss when we look at past Christmases — staying in a cabin at Starved Rock Lodge, sitting in the Great Hall opening up presents, watching families pose for pictures by the massive fireplace. Wandering around the nearby cities of Ottawa and Utica, splitting a huge pork tenderloin sandwich at Canalport (my hometown area is known for these). Visiting my family and swapping stories. All the rituals around Christmas, lost. We don’t even have snow!

The loss of rituals left Richard grouchy last night when his work dinner was canceled due to COVID. He got to the bottom of his symptoms of stomping and sighing pretty quickly when he realized the cause (it’s always good to know yourself).

The need for new traditions

With 10 days until Christmas, we will devise a set of Christmas activities to make up for what we have lost. We already have traditions of watching Christmas movies and episodes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We have stockings, and the cats have a stocking too which we will fill with catnip cat toys. We will cook an Italian meal for Christmas dinner (but not the seven fishes of the traditional Italian meal, thank goodness). We will watch A Christmas Story and check to see if there are any good Christmas Day movies at the local theater.

We may play with words, play games, play with our new toys (I know I’m getting a fountain pen for my collection) and eat a feast with leftovers. We’ll cuddle in front of our fake fireplace, look at the Christmas tree, and eat turron (a candy I’ve always wanted to share with Richard; it’s from Spain, and there are several varieties of it. We have four).

We will find new traditions.

The First Day After Christmas

As much as I love Christmas, I’m glad it’s over.  Jolly is a temporary feeling, for which we should be grateful.

It’s nice to get back to the calm of a Saturday in normal time, past the frenzy, not absorbed with Christmas preparations. I’m playing Philip Glass instead of Christmas music, and today I may just tackle my work writing (or making a couple grading matrixes if I want to put off writing again.)

I’m feeling mellow and introspective. It could be the Philip Glass, or it could be the very good coffee (My husband’s my roaster). Or it could be that it’s finally time to relax before the new semester’s taken hold. 

I want to mention, though, that I’m thankful for all my readers. I know some of you are bots, particularly the Russian entity that hit my blog 20 times without reading anything. I think most of you are real, although I don’t know most of you. Thank you for reading. 

P.S.: The title of the post is from the song “The Twelve Days After Christmas, which is a fine palate cleanser for Christmas. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

 I am having a rather introspective Christmas this year, thinking of getting older yet still having a sense of wonder at the joyousness of the year. Thinking of all my friends who are suffering — two with COVID, one with pancreatic cancer. Thinking of my father, who still mourns at Christmas for my mom who died thirteen years ago. Thinking of people I’ve never met who don’t have the families they need.

How suffering can co-exist with joy is a mystery. My mother’s last words to me, thirteen years ago on the 23rd were “You look bored — go out and have some fun.” This captures this season more than anything, I think.

So this is Christmas. I’m going to spend my day with Richard, watching the rest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I started last night (remastered set) and drinking yaupon tea and playing with my Kaweco brass pencil.