Swedish grandmother

2016 State of Kate

This post is 100% self-indulgent. If you’re coming to the table hoping to learn anything linguistic, move along, little bronco.

If, on the other hand, you’d like a little insight into the resident author’s neurosis, pull up a chair.

(Sadly, I’m not being cute with that comment.)

The Year in Review

I have semi-jokingly referred to 2016 as my “sabbatical year.” My original goal when I started indie publishing was to put out a book a year, and from 2010 to 2015 I did exactly that. At the end of last year, I looked at my work, saw that it was good, and thought it might be nice to take a rest.

Clouds, because I can. (Also, light and shadow in beautiful interplay.)

Clouds, because I can. (Also, light and shadow in beautiful interplay.)

Not that I actually rested, mind you.

The real issue going into 2016 was that, although I had several completed manuscript drafts, I didn’t have any I was aching to publish without first performing major surgery on their plots and/or structure. And I couldn’t make up my mind, and I was busy with a million other things, and I’d already absolved myself of my usual June deadline.

So.

First Quarter

I was blogging three times a week—which I knew was unsustainable, but when you have a demon to exorcise, you get that sucker out rather than scheduling its extraction forward into measured deadlines—and I was participating in two weekly critique groups, in addition to twice-weekly volunteering and two separate duty-heavy leadership positions. Plus, you know, the occasional freelance job and four active book projects.

The nervous breakdown hit me sometime in March, as best I can recall. It disrupted my sleep, affected my health, and rendered me constantly on the verge of an anxiety attack. I was Lucy trying to keep up with the accelerating assembly line of chocolates, and falling short in my efforts.

So, I “cut back.” I withdrew from one of my critique groups and saw my doctor to confirm that there wasn’t anything chemical going on.

(There wasn’t. My body just reeeeally doesn’t respond well to stress.)

Second Quarter

On my mother’s advice, I put all of my book monsters back in their cages, with the rule that I would only take one out at a time. I semi-broke the rule by keeping a second and sometimes third project window open in Scrivener, but I didn’t look at them… often. I continued forward with my single project and single critique group and scheduled a break in my thrice-weekly blogging near the end of the quarter, so that I could do a formal project inventory and maybe get my bearings.

The project inventory came back with this result: “Kate, you have way too many active projects to be blogging three times a week.”

Unfortunately, it seems that if I don’t keep to a rigorously insane schedule, I don’t keep to any schedule at all. Hence the sporadic posts since that inventory. (Sorry, but not really, haha. Sanity first, guys.)

In June, as my two-week hiatus was coming to a close, my grandmother died. This event was 100% expected, as she had entered the end-of-life care phase at the start of the year. She has lived down the street from me since I was a teenager, and was mentally sound until the end. My sainted mother basically moved in with her and acted as a primary caregiver to allow her to pass within the comfort of her own home.

My inheritance, purchased at the family estate sale. Because what better memento than an adorable blue hat?

My inheritance, purchased at the family estate sale. Because what better memento than an adorable blue hat?

If you are familiar with end-of-life care, you know it is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. My secondhand experience—trying to support my mother as she supported hers—revealed a whole slew of weaknesses and frailties within me. I wish I had been better than I was, but under the weight of all my other responsibilities, I did what I could.

My grandmother passed peacefully in her sleep, a blessing for her and for all of us. She wanted a concert instead of a funeral, so we gave it to her. She is now hard at work on the other side, reunited with her sweetheart and countless other souls.

Death, however peacefully it may come, brings with it a somber weight of perspective for those left behind. I will shamelessly admit that I said, “Aw, screw it,” to all non-essential activities for the next six weeks.

Third Quarter

For the last two weeks of July, I holed up in my house and wrote 20K words. It was the most I had written in a long spell, and I thought I was wrapping up that project until I took it to my critique group and informed them that I only had five chapters left in the draft.

They informed me that I was wrong, and that I needed to go back to my plotting board.

I spent August dragging my feet on their well-reasoned advice.

Cosplaying as Penelope for the ANWA Writers Conference Character Gala. Costume courtesy of my amazing and talented mother.

Cosplaying as Penelope for the ANWA Writers Conference Character Gala. Costume courtesy of my amazing and talented mother.

In September I attended the ANWA Writers Conference for a third year running. The conference was phenomenal. I hit an energetic high of associating with like-minded authors and friends, I learned some lovely tips on harnessing better productivity, and I broadened my sense of the writing craft. I was extremely choosy in which classes I attended, and that worked to my benefit, anxious introvert that I am.

My one regret is that I didn’t spring for a headshot, because the photographer they had was outstanding. I am totes jelly of the beautiful profile pics some of my author friends now sport.

Fourth Quarter

October is upon us. I am still slogging away at the same project I selected back in April. My critique group is still pressuring me to refine it. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish the draft by Christmas.

(It was supposed to be done by now, if only people would let me have my crappy way with it.)

I’m on the fence about NaNoWriMo. It’ll be the first year since 2008 that I haven’t participated if I decide to forego the experience, but I’m past the point of doing things for the sake of tradition. I reached my 50K words last year, but I have yet to finish that draft (another monster waiting in its cage) and the last thing I need right now is to add to my list of unfinished projects.

They scream at me from the corners of my mind: “Work on me! You can’t leave me in this state forever!”

Mentally, I feel like I’m emerging from a fog, where I can maybe sort of manage having goals again. I still have a billion things on my plate, but by the Grace of God alone I can handle them now. Throughout this year, He has been ever patient with and watchful over me. Where He wants me to go from here is a great mystery, but it’s always fun to see His work unfold.

I can say this, though: 2017 looks to be a beautiful year. Here’s hoping I can contribute to the beauty of it.

My Swedish Grandmother Made Me Do It

“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”

(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)

It's all fun and games until someone's hair catches fire.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.

My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)

We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.

When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.

Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.

Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)

So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”

And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.

She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!

IngeTitlePlate

Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.

Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.

Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.

Happy April Fools’ Day!