Sunday, December 28, 2014

Twenty-Fourteen: A Behemoth Year

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year's resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective."
-G.K. Chesterton 


It's been a monumental year for me as a writer. So huge I wonder if I'll ever have another quite as big. See, this time last year, I was still entirely unpublished with a cover design in hand and an email into Createspace. By Valentine's Day, I had released my first novel, Fly Away Home. In January, I received word that I was a finalist in the Five Glass Slippers contest and saw my first novella published in June. The rest of the summer was spent finalizing cover design for my first mystery and second full-length novel, Anon, Sir, Anon. Throughout the early fall I put that novel through my trusty editor, Rachelle Rea, and the first Vivi & Farnham mystery debuted to quiet applause on the Fifth of November. In early December I finished the first draft of my children's novel, Cottleston Pie, and sent the first three chapters to beta-readers before polishing them up. By the time you read this, I will (hopefully) have sent Cottleston Pie to its first publisher to be looked upon with a savage eye. And we mustn't forget the twelve-day wonder, John Out-the-Window, which astounded me by coming out to nearly 18,000 words  (each letter being written the day it was posted) and being acclaimed by some people as one of their favorite things I had ever written. In all seriousness, you are the best group of readers I know. The fact that you spent time every day in the hugely busy holiday season to drop by The Inkpen Authoress (some of you several times a day) and read something that was unpolished and unedited surprises and delights me. Thus, the year in writing. As for the year in reading? Well, I keep a list taped to my Wall of Inspiration. The wall currently looks like this:

Please forgive the overflowing trash can and busy-looking desk. We can't all be tidy.

It was not an exceptional reading year as far as numbers go. I was far too busy juggling the strange new world of Nanny vs. Novelist and trying to keep up with my family in the spare times. But if I did not read many books, the quality was high and delightful. From Plenilune to The Grand Sophy; from Eric Metaxas' giant and heart-wrenching biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon; from The Man Who Was Thursday to Stephen Lawhead's Hood trilogy, it was a year of growth for me as a reader. The complete list is as follows, and my favorite titles are emboldened:

Outcasts by Jill Williamson
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
Hood by Stephen Lawhead
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Forget-Me-Nots by Amber Stokes
Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin
Once on a Time by A.A. Milne
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Duty by Rachel Rossano
Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
Violets Are Blue by Elizabeth Rose
Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Only a Novel by Amy Dashwood
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe
The Mrs. Meade Mysteries Vol. I by Elisabeth G. Foley
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
Corral Nocturne by Elisabeth G. Foley
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shafer
The Book Thief by Markus Zusack
Murder Must Advertise by Dororthy Sayers

As you can see, I was able to fit in quite a few indie novels, which was a lovely switch-up. The reason I do not have Five Glass Slippers on the list is because I still have not read one of the five stories and didn't feel I justified in listing it until I had. Before 2015 begins, I hope to be able to add The Hobbit into the list. It was one of my Christmas Break goals. Phew. Twenty-Fourteen sits heavy on the shoulders. Let's see what lies ahead in the twelve-month to come!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

John Out-the-Window: Letter the Twelfth {Merry Christmas}

To read part one, click here

To read part two, click here

To read part three, click here 

  To read part four, click here
To read part five, click here 
To read part six, click here
To read part seven, click here
To read part eight, click here 
To read part nine, click here
To read part ten, click here
To read part eleven, click here

Letter the Twelfth

From Mavis Brinkley to Antoinette Charleton
Dec. 25, ‘48
Dear Toni:
     Merry Christmas, you darling thing.
I cannot help but think of you all alone in your little apartment and feel a twinge of remorse. Are you cold? Lonely? Hungry? Depressed? Are you still curled up facing the window with your guttering candle watching John’s office? Then the twinge passes and I realize you are, in all probability, not alone as you feared. Mark my words: your new pals will make it a jolly Christmas for their Toni.
I won’t venture to guess the number of wrapped gifts you will receive this year. One? Three? But I think you’ve lucked out. After all, haven’t I given you two friends for Christmas? For if I hadn’t been the meddlesome, chuckle-headed ditz I am, you would never have met Diane Luray or John Garribault. Don’t thank me. It is in my nature to be giving. I am only glad you seem amenable to the gift.
Although I must let you know that I will not be giving Corky permission to marry me. Oh yes, he’s handsome and charming and somewhat clever but he bores me. And he is not kind. Not kind in the way of your John. I never once remember him apologizing for leaving me standing in the rain and Daddy pays him to ferry me hither and yon. A man who won’t hold the umbrella for money certainly won’t hold it for love. I’m not just speaking the speech of a bitter woman, Toni. I am perfectly serious and sensible. Corky has been awfully lax in his duties and I turned my head because he amused me. But when I look at your John or even old Ferdinand Pierce, I can see that Corcoran Macmillan isn’t half as good a man as they are, even if he holds all the handsome genes this side of the Mason-Dixon.
So for Christmas, Corky is getting the pink slip.
C’est la vie. He’ll learn. (And why will people never say that about good things? It’s always the disagreeable business that gets assigned as an essential component of Life.)
Forgive me for grinning like a Cheshire up here in Frederick. Daddy gave me emeralds and a new stole. Such tributes always put me in a good mood so now I’m blocked into my den with my robes about me thinking of you. If I am a bit of a meteorologist when it comes to the Winds of Change, at least I always predict fair weather for you, Toni. My bones (which are never wrong) tell me that this day will end in good tidings and great joy which, if they be not for all people, will be unto you and your very dear…but let it never be said that I condoned spoiling the ending.
I await tomorrow’s post with a high heart and glowing face. Please give John my love and allow me to visit you before the New Year?

Yours Very Warm in Mink,

From Antoinette Charleton to Mavis Brinkley

Christmas Day, December 25, 1948
Oh Mavis!

     In a world where so many things are so very wrong, is it any wonder Christmas comes as a somehow-familiar stranger? There is, for me, quiet confusion when the world turns soft and tender and many-colored in the glow of the December’s bustle. Does the earth masquerade the whole year to reveal her face only at Christmas? Or is Christmas the festive mask for a world gone desperately awry? I believe the latter to be true, for so few people remember the Christ-child outside of December. They forget He grew up and moved on and saved us all. How many people realize that the baby’s birth was the upswing of a conductor’s baton with the entire symphony yet to come? Too few, I think. It makes me wonder.
I am sitting quite alone at the moment, feeling reflective. We still have no snow. I gave up expecting that, for then I would have been sure you had something to do with it despite your protestations. Snow at Christmas is too perfect. I am not, however, upset or lonely. I have a stocking full of memories to run my fingers through. Every day since our misshapen twelve began, I am looking back on now. Not even a fortnight and it seems a year. I will be sad when it is over, you know. How angry I was with you, and how ecstatic and frightened and jealous when once I had met John. I am a very silly goose who somehow ended on the precious end of things with more friends in her pocket than she’s ever had before.
Diane was down by eight o’clock with that old robe wrapped twice around her waist, the sash tied in a fierce knot off the side.
“Merriest of all merry Christmases!” she said, flying at me with a gigantic kiss.
I asked her to come in and gave her my gift. She tore the paper like a three year-old and squealed.
“You wouldn’t.”
She turned the volume called Notes on People-Watching in her hands. “It’s awful of you to pretend I’m that bad.”
“Aren’t you?”
“I cannot lie: I am. Now open yours.”
Diane sprawled across the back of the sofa, crossed her arms, and rested her chin on my shoulder while I removed the paper with care. Inside was a Wedding Embassy Yearbook.
“Diane Luray. You are terrible!”
“I figure you’ll be needing advice on planning the wedding and the honeymoon. I can coordinate. I am very coordinated, though you wouldn’t think it to look at me.”
I put the book aside and tried to eye her severely. “No one said I’ll need this.”
“No one said you won’t.”
What could I say? We repaired to the kitchen to drink hot cocoa. Diane went out with friends at 10:30 and left me again to my own devices. I am sleepy now, and think I will turn in for a long winter’s nap. Wake me if John comes. Scowl down the wind from Frederick and I’ll notice. I always do.

4:45 PM

Be rational, Toni, be rational. Tell the story in full and don’t skip details, or Mavis will skin you.
Properly lecturing myself, I sit down to take my pen in hand and finish this letter. Is this how Diane feels when she’s approaching the ending of a book? All the happiness in the world has bloomed in my rib-cage and hugs the part that achingly whispers, ‘but now it will be over.
I fell asleep under a snowfall of warm blankets, to be awakened by a pinch on the end of my nose. I mewed and burrowed deeper in my blankets, which is my M.O. when it comes waking up. A hand pulled down the blanket and try as I would to retain my cocoon, daylight smacked me in the face. I squinted my bleary eyes and was able to make out John Garribault’s face quite near mine.
I swam up, then, wishing to heaven I could pretend I had not been deeply asleep. I blinked at him owl-wise and wrapped the blankets around myself in high dudgeon.
“Merry Christmas, kiddo.”
“Merry…” (a yawn tore the sentence asunder) “…Christmas yourself.”
“You look cozy.”
“I was. Was being the word here.”
“Someone grouchy?”
“Just terribly…” (another yawn) “…sleepy.”
He perched on the sofa arm and patted my head. “Well I won’t stay long if you want to continue the nap. Just wanted to pop over and wish you a merry Christmas in person.”
I didn’t want him to know how glad I was to see him. “You could have called.”
John grinned. “Funny thing. I don’t think I know your phone number.”
“Oh.” I shifted so I could see the phone, which I hadn’t used since the phone company returned service. “Guess not.”
“Did Santa Claus bring the little girl any presents?”
Blood shot to my face. “Ummm. No.”
The wedding book. I could swear he knew about the wedding book. Slowly, so as to prevent him from seeing the motion, I scooted the book under the couch with my slippered foot.
“Santa Claus doesn’t go in much for penniless tailors’ assistants,” I laughed.
John shrugged. “I didn’t get anything either.”
“Oh!” I ran over to the kitchen and grabbed his present from the counter. “I almost forgot.”
John remained seated on the sofa arm and I towered over him. His face turned up to mine looked so boyish and expectant that what little resolve I had gathered evaporated. I came to him and ruffled my fingers in his hair. In that moment, I didn’t care if he knew how I loved him.
“Merry Christmas, darling,” I said softly and handed him the gift.
John removed my hand and I suddenly felt very, very foolish and very, very young. Why had I done that? Now he knew I loved him. What if he was not ready for the knowledge? What if it repulsed him?
“Open yours first,” he murmured.
I buried my hand in my skirt and tried to forget everything. “Well?”
“It’s the twelfth day of Christmas.” His tone was regulated now, cheerful.
“I know.”
“And I finally have a good gift to represent the required ‘twelve drummers drumming.’” His smile quirked.
I looked about for a present and saw none. “Where is this drum corps of which you speak?”
He leaned in and whispered to me: “Afraid it’s a little too full to wrap.”
“Oh really?” I was hopelessly confused and hopelessly in love. “Mind if you show me, then?”
John pulled away and took my hand. His fingers spread mine as he turned my palm outward. As a shockingly clear detail, I realized my fingers were icy cold and that he warmed me, and that I always wanted to be this warm, always wanted to be in his presence.
“John?” I half-sobbed.
“Shhhh.” He shook his head with the smile he saves for me alone. “You must be very still.”
Then my beloved John Out-the-Window tucked my hand inside his jacket, pressed my palm to his chest.
Under my quivering fingers I felt it, his heart, beating with the energy of a dozen drummers. Thud, thud, thud, thud, It beat its ‘Merry Christmas’ in double-time and my own pulse raced to meet it. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Together they measured a Christmas carol older than old and joy broke over my soul.
“Well?” John whispered, and ran his free hand into my wild hair. “Will you take it, sweet girl?”
I leaned into his bulk and rested fully against the twelve drummers drumming. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Peace, grace, hope, joy.
“I’ll only take it,” I said, “if you’ll take mine.”
"It's a dear little heart." He kissed my forehead. "I think it'll fit."
"And yours suits me just fine."

John held me tight as I sniffled into his sweater-vest. When I was finished, we had cocoa and sang our favorite Christmas hymns and he kissed me goodnight at the door.
Now, Mavis, I have told you everything. I hope I’ve told you enough. I hope that one day you will have a Christmas half as wonderful as that you’ve given me. It’s been a hairy dozen, Mavis Brinkley, and I thank you a million times over for it. Without you, there would have been no Diane. And without Diane, there would have been no window-people, and without window-people, there would have been no John Garribault. Thank you, dear malaprop. You are truly the best.

I Remain Your Unfathomably Grateful Friend,

P.S. John says to come for New Year’s. He’s making paper hats.

All My Love,
                    Rachel Heffington

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

John Out-the-Window: Letter the Eleventh

To read part one, click here

To read part two, click here

To read part three, click here

  To read part four, click here
To read part five, click here 
To read part six, click here
To read part seven, click here
To read part eight, click here 
To read part nine, click here
To read part ten, click here

Letter the Eleventh

December 24, 1948
Dearest Mavis on Earth:
    I am sorry to have left you curious last night. The truth is, the races are not a comfortable place to curl up while crying. The size of one’s hat omits the possibility of such pleasures.
Why was I crying?
Well I wasn’t. But I could have with you pestering me for information I did not have but very much wanted. The main question on your lips (or telegrams, as the case may be) is ‘What did John want to ask?’ and you are very right in wondering. We all thought, of course, that he meant to propose marriage. One feels a little qualm of decency in anticipating such a question, but then what is one to think when someone takes down his binoculars and mentions a question to be asked?
After this, my attention span for the races was briefer than it should have been. Not even Gilly Sly Guy winning his third heat in a row was able to hold me for long. I had no room in the telegrams to mention that Diane was with us, and she was nearly as bad as you, if not worse. I had to put up with her touching my elbow sympathetically and raising her eyebrows up and down as if to let me know she knew exactly what was going on.
What none of us could anticipate was what John actually meant by asking me a question. It just so happened that it began to rain heavily just as the races finished. An awful, ugly rain that should have been a snow if the temperature had obliged us and dropped fifteen degrees. I do hate green Christmases. They look like the leftovers of a pessimist’s annual Anti-Cheer Banquet billed for sale in a pawnbroker's shop.
I digress.
It had begun to rain and so our plans to walk the paddocks and see the thoroughbreds were postponed. I don’t think John wanted to see them so terribly, Diane had taken herself away to collect her winnings, and I was in a mood to justle a constable.
We were finally alone, and John drew me to the fence. “Remember what I said?”
“Wanting to ask you something?”
Good gracious, here it is, I thought. My heart went dry and my mouth thundered. Or perhaps it was reversed.
“The Inquiries office is open and receiving,” I said, trying to be coy.
“Well, what I wondered is this...” John shuffled his foot in the mud and the mist came down fine and cold between our faces. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
Oh. Christmas. Not, “Toni, my darling, will you be mine?” or even: “Will you consider being my wife?” Just, “What are you doing for Christmas?” said in the same tone as, “What are you eating for supper?” or “What are you paying for milk at the corner-store?”
“Well, I had planned to hole up in my apartment and eat the fudge I bought myself and read The Christmas Carol and listen to the King’s address.”
“Patriotic of you.”
“Yes, I think so. They were good friends in the War, anyway. Brotherly love and so forth?”
“Your plans?” I rested the toes of my shoes against the fencepost and felt damper and damper.
“Catch up on an assignment. Sleep in indecently late.”
“You don’t have any family?” As much time as we’d spent together in the last week, I had not asked this question.
“Family’s all in Ticonderoga and I didn’t get much time off this year.” He shrugged. “I’ll miss ‘em. Still, it’s not the first time I’ve gone M.I.A. over Christmas.”
“Sorry you can’t make it.”
“You have any family?”
“Just a dad. He’s unpredictable.” I pulled my coat closer and shivered. “Can we go now? It’s rather wet out here.”
“Sorry, Toni.”
I couldn’t tell if he meant about my father or the rain. Still, his sympathy warmed me. John tucked his arm around my back and guided me through the muddy array of spectators.  Diane waited for us under a blue awning.
The eyebrows went up. I shook my head. She made a face and John called for the car.
On the ride back into D.C., we chatted as normal and I tried not to be disappointed about his question and my own Christmas Day arrangements. How was this Christmas to be any different than any other? I have always spent Christmas alone, Mavis. It is my reality.
John dropped Diane and I off. Diane vanished through the front doors but I lingered on the steps. The rain still sifted on our heads and John’s had glistened as he put it out to take mine.
“Have fun, Toni?”
“I did. Thanks.” Could he see the tears? I bent my head so he would not. “Have a great night, John.”
“Will you do something for me?”
“Keep a candle in your window. I’m working late. I’ll feel like you’re awake to cheer me up.”
I laughed. “If you want me to.”
“I do. Goodnight, darling girl.”
He tipped his hat then, shoved his hands deep into his pocket, and trotted across the street to his building.
Darling girl.
It wasn’t quite the same thing as a straight-up “darling,” but it meant quite a lot when said in his dear old voice. I slept on the sofa that night and turned it toward the window so I might keep an eye on the candle that watched my John out the window.
Today has been lazy and cold with few customers. Who does one expect on Christmas Eve but harried husbands out to finish their shopping? Mr. Pierce seemed to sense I was in one of my reflective humors and when we closed, put an envelope into my hand.
“What’s this?”
He turned four shades of beet. “Your Christmas gift.”
I opened it as I walked home and found a fat little check with this note clipped to the side:
I don’t often tell people what to do with their lives. Furthermore, I don’t often go in for romantic notions brought to life by the holiday season. But I want you to know that I realize you’re in love with your man out the window. I am inclined to look on this favorably. Everything you have told me about him seems perfect genteel. But would you mind letting me meet him? A man’s a man for a’ that.
I Remain Your Friend (Truly),
    Ferdinand Pierce

Dear old Pierce. Say what you will, he’s more reliable than my own father and I am grateful, at moments, for his meddling.
John’s eleventh gift came today. A record of highland bagpipe-tunes with the humorous caption of:
My Dear Toni:
I had insomnia last night. Listen to this before bed and you can share the treat.
John Out-the-Window

I love the man, Mavis. I love John Out-the-Window with all the love that is in my little fretful heart.
That’s all the update I have for now. I do hope you are spending a quiet Christmas Eve at home with Corky and your father. Have you accepted him? Does your father know? It is your turn to “spill the beans” and tell me all the delicious and/or scandalous details.Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, remember.
Happy Christmas Eve.

I Am Always Your Own Little,