A Look Back at 2011

It’s once again time to take a look back at what the year has held.  (Where did the year go?)

This past year has been much better than the last one.   Let’s start with writing first.  In 2011 I wrote a blog every day but two (and I shake my fist at you, March 12 and December 9).  I finished a short story (With Honor) and two novels (Dragon Pendant and Life in Dreams), one of which was the result of my first successful NaNoWriMo!  I also e-published The Queen’s Butterflies, which has now sold at least 28 copies.  Not a bad year, as far as writing goes!

In my personal life, 2011 turned out to be a fun year.  I traveled to New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Arkansas, Minnesota, Illinois and East Texas, all in one year!  I learned to knit well enough to make Christmas gifts for my dad and sister (with one on the way for mom).  I read 35 books and National Geographics, which is lower than my average but understandable with all of the writing going on.  My social life expanded, too, as my circle of friends got a little more active, and I even started dating someone.  I also lost 20 pounds and won a weight-loss challenge at work, although a few of them have snuck back on in the last couple of months.

Work can also get a nod in my review of the year.  I attended three workshops for my favorite professional organization and presented at two of them.  I successfully nurtured two more major projects to fruition, and my department has stayed mostly intact and very stable.  I love my job, and it’s been a good year there.

There aren’t a lot of negatives to review, and they are small in their impact.  My divorce was finalized, which seems bad but was really a relief to have finished.  I’ve been really tired, probably because I’ve been so very busy, and I’ve had some small struggles with my finances.  (I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to find a second job – apparently I’m overqualified and underqualified at the same time.)

All of these are minor compared to the positives in my life this year, and I am looking forward to another great year in 2012!

Turning a Moment into a Spectacle

I’ve written several relationships in my stories, including three proposals of marriage, one each in Burden, Bonded, and With Honor.  (There is a fourth in Butterflies, but it is “off stage” if you will – we know it happens but don’t witness it directly.)  These have all been heartfelt, personal moments, usually with only the involved parties present.  One included a third person, but that’s the extent of it.   I liked writing these moments; I feel what my characters feel, and a powerful, emotional scene is one of the driving forces of my writing.

Recently it seems to have become a trend to make proposals into big spectacles.  It’s not enough for it to be an emotional moment between the couple, oh, no.  Now not only do friends and family need to bear witness, the rest of the world needs to see it, too.  I had to help arrange a big spectacle proposal at work, my sister’s roommate’s fiance flew all the way to Mexico to propose at a family reunion, and there are scores of elaborate proposals on the internet.  The Downtown Disney flash mob is one of my favorites, and this guy seemed to take the performance concept a bit too far.

Where did this trend come from?  It’s definitely been building for years – guys have hired sky writers, proposed at sporting events, and done any number of huge, embarrassing gestures for a while now.  Perhaps the advent of YouTube and other web video outlets has simply upped the ante.  Who knows.  Either way, it seems a bit much to me.  Isn’t love and joy the emotion you should go for with a proposal, rather than surprise and embarrassment?  And of course there is the ever-present question: what if she says no?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the big performance proposal spectacles just as much as the next girl.  In fact, my friends sharing them on Facebook inspired this post!  But as for my writing, the heartfelt personal moment still seems the best choice.

A Plan (For Now)

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I’m not feeling too creative lately.  This means I haven’t been writing much beyond my blog entries.

I have a new plan.

Writing Chasing requires creativity.  Compiling short stories for a collection for Smashwords does not.

Bringing together Burden, Bonded, and With Honor will give me a writing-related task that I can do, and it will keep me in the world of Butterflies.  I’m not going to hold out hope that it sparks some new inspiration.  For now just having something to work on will make me happy.

Story Math… Again

It’s time for me to do some more story math.

You may recall that when I wrote With Honor, I had to do math to figure out the correct king for the story.  Since it was a prequel, I had to make the timeline match with Butterflies.

This time I need to decide how much time occurs between Butterflies and the sequel, Chasing.  I am a firm believer that if your characters have made it through the war, machinations, and other adventures of a novel, they deserve to have a few years of peace before it is time for some more harrowing adventures.  In fact, some of the sub-plots require at least some time to elapse between the books.  You can’t be worried that all of your babies are girls if you haven’t had any babies yet, now can you?

I need to look at the plot outline and where we left off so I can calculate the best number of years to leave between stories.  Yay for more story math!  At least this time it’s relatively simple.

Deciding What’s Next

The first draft of Dragon is done.  I have to let it sit without touching it or really thinking about it for a while, so I can do a major revision with fresh eyes in a couple of months.

The Queen’s Butterflies is now officially available for download from Smashwords.com.  Getting it ready is the other project that has been keeping me busy.

The new girl, while intriguing enough to keep my brain working while hiking, has proven to be part of the sequel to Butterflies.  This means that I can write parts of her story, but it won’t stand on its own.

The characters from Dragon have settled down, the characters from Butterfly are still a bit quiet.  This leaves me in a good place to officially choose what to work on next.  As is typical for me, I can’t do just one thing.

I’ve decided that I want to take the three short stories that are Butterfly related (Burden of Knowledge, Bonded, and With Honor) from Serial Central and turn them into a collection to sell on Smashwords.  Just like with Butterflies, this is a formatting and revising task that won’t tax the creative side of my brain.

On top of that, I think I’ve committed to working on a first draft of Chasing Butterflies.  Several of the interwoven stories of the sequel are intriguing to me, and I’m guessing that the number of people requesting the sequel is only going to grow as more people read Butterflies.  A friend at work told me to be careful and take my time; lots of authors rush the sequel and it ends up feeling forced.  I know that the overarching plot for Chasing is strong, and it has more than one tale to weave in.  I’m looking forward to playing in the world of Butterflies again, with old friends and new characters alike.

Don’t Force It

The only thing left to do for Dragon, besides revising the last few chapters, is one big fight scene.  As much as I love this book and have enjoyed writing it, I am ready to be done.

Unfortunately, while I know what happens in the plot and how the fight ends, I don’t have a clear picture of the battle.  No matter what I try, I can’t envision it.  This makes it very challenging to write.

As I learned writing With Honor, forcing the writing to come is never a good idea.  No matter how much I want to be done with this novel (and no matter how much my First Readers want to finish reading it) I need to let my mind stew on this fight scene before I try to write it. 

Writing With Honor, it was working on the preliminary stuff for Dragon that got the juices flowing.  Maybe  a little foray back into the world of Butterflies or investigating the new girl who randomly appeared will help the Dragon fight flow!

Steps to a Story: In Conclusion

This series of posts started in October, when I started writing With Honor to post on Serial Central.  With the epilogue posted yesterday, the story is complete and so this series is as well.  Theoretically, you could now read the entire story and the entire Steps to a Story series and you could experience the short story and the process of creating it as well.

The series was a fun one for me.  It was often interesting to think about my process; how I created the story and characters, the struggles that I went through, and blogging about it kept me involved in that self-discovery.  I hope you enjoyed it as well.

For those of you who are dying to know what happens to Matthew and Charlotte after the story ends, I’ll share with you this.  It is the second paragraph of the prologue of The Queen’s Butterflies.

Matthew Lewis paced the front porch of his family’s farmhouse.  As his daughter’s first cries pierced the quiet of the country, he looked up at the sky.  The smile that had begun to spread across his face quickly turned to a look of concern as he realized that the moon was the color of blood.  Shaking off a quick shiver of fear, he raced into the house to ensure that this omen was not for him.  He opened the door with a sense of dread, but issued a sigh of relief instead as he saw his smiling, exhausted wife and new baby girl on the bed.  Matthew sat gingerly on the edge of the bed as Charlotte handed him the carefully wrapped child.  “Let’s call her Gretchen.”

A lot more happens to Gretchen (one of the main characters) and her family, but I’ll leave that for when you get to read The Queen’s Butterflies.  🙂

With Honor, epilogue

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Epilogue

Matthew Lewis sat atop his chocolate gelding, looking down on the capital city and reflecting on the past several months.  As anticipated, his field promotion had been confirmed shortly after their arrival, making him officially a lieutenant.  As word of his deeds during the ambush spread, the King’s Commander had come to speak with the young officer.  He had insisted, as had the King, that Matthew’s courageous actions be given the recognition they deserved.

He knew in his heart that anyone else would have done exactly the same as he; the label of “hero” sat uncomfortably at best.  His protestations fell uselessly aside.  There was nothing for it but to smile and accept the accolades.

In recognition of his heroic acts, Matthew Lewis was promoted once again, this time to Captain.  He was also given the “hero’s sword,” an amazing weapon issued only to those fighters the King declared heroes of the realm.  A large banquet was held in his honor, although his required attendance was blessedly brief.

Captain Harlan had seen to the necessary paperwork for Matthew to retire from the army.  Apparently his situation was not uncommon; soldiers stationed afield occasionally fell in love with young women of the country.  As a hero of the realm, Matthew’s discharge also included two horses from the cavalry stables, his yearly pay, and an additional small amount of money.  He had chosen to keep his gelding but had somehow been able to talk the stable master into allowing him to take a promising young mare as well.  This beautiful girl would make his goal that much easier to accomplish.

With the mare’s lead tied to his saddle, his fancy new sword at his waist, and his plan in mind, Captain Matthew Lewis turned from the capital and began riding, once again, toward Klais and Charlotte.

Steps to a Story: wrapping things up

If you’ve read the most recent section of With Honor, you know that we’ve gotten to the end of the story, at least for now.  This is a prequel, after all, so the people who’ve had a chance to read The Queen’s Butterflies can probably guess what happens.  But I know (more than most) that The Queen’s Butterflies is not yet published, so most of you won’t have that knowledge base.

To that end, I decided that an epilogue was in order.  I don’t want to cover everything that happens to Matthew following his return.  Honestly, like most lives of most people, the day-to-day stuff is fairly boring.  There are a few important events that happen to him, however, and I wanted to share them with readers.  I’m sure a lot of people are also wondering if he makes it back to Charlotte.  If you want to know, you’ll have to read the epilogue when it posts on Sunday.  🙂

With Honor, part 12

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Part 12

Matthew fingered the little stone in his pocket for the untold time as he approached the cottage.  As nervous as he had been for the conversation he just completed, the next one made him nearly shake with anxiety.  Taking a breath, Lieutenant Lewis knocked on the door of the cottage.

“Matthew,” Charlotte said, seeming surprised to see him.  He hadn’t seen her in weeks, yet her eyes were as green as he remembered.  His heart pounded in his chest.  Nervously he touched the stone in his pocket again.

“Come in,” she said with a small smile, opening the door wider.

He followed her cautiously, noticing that she was fidgeting with things, moving about more than usual.  She wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.  “Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the table in the kitchen.  “I’ll make you some tea.”

Charlotte busied herself near the hearth, but continued to speak.  “What’s going to happen to all those bandits you caught?” she asked him.
Matthew thought about the best way to answer as he watched her bustle unnecessarily about the kitchen.  “Some of them were local boys who’d been swayed by the Wolf.  They are staying here, to serve out their punishment near their families.  We’re hoping that they can return to their old lives with a little help.”

“And the others?  The men who came from other places, and the Golden Wolf himself?”  She continued asking questions; it was as if she was trying to avoid something she was afraid Matthew would say.

“They are being escorted back to the capital, to be turned over to the custody of the crown.  Most of them will be put to work for the realm, but Golden Wolf and his top men will likely remain prisoners.”  He didn’t mention that they might also be executed, depending on the will of the king.

Pulling out two cups, Charlotte continued her questions.  “Will any of the army be staying in the area?”

Matthew could hear the slight hope in her voice, and spoke carefully.  “Captain Harlan sent a courier back to headquarters, at the capital.  A fresh troop will be sent, but until then Lieutenant Fisher’s troop will remain in the camp.”

She had back to him, and Matthew watched as Charlotte sagged.  She set the teapot down on the shelf next to the cups.  “So you’re leaving,” she said, her voice small.

“Yes,” he replied quietly.  In one movement he got up and rushed to her side.  A gentle hand on her shoulder was all he needed to get her to turn towards him, although she kept her eyes down.  A tear slid down her cheek.

“Charlotte, I have come to care for you deeply in the time that I’ve been here.  I want nothing more than to stay in Klais and take you as my wife.”

That made her meet his eyes, her face a mix of despair, confusion, and hope.

“I have made a promise to the army.  I cannot yet commit to you, not and have your respect.”  He rushed to get to the next part, to keep her face from falling again.  “But I spoke with your father.  I’ve asked him to give me a year to fulfill my commitment to the army; if you will have me, we can be married when I return.  He’s agreed, so long as you are also willing to wait.”

The next few moments of silence were the longest of Matthew’s life.  He held his breath as the young woman in front of him considered her answer.  He knew all the possibilities she was thinking of; he had contemplated them himself when Captain Harlan had suggested this compromise.  As a smile came to her face, he knew what her choice would be.

“Yes, Matthew, I will wait for you.  I, too, want nothing more than for you to stay in Klais and be my husband.”

Both overcome with emotions, they embraced for the first time.  Knowing that he must leave soon, it was difficult for Matthew to pull away.  As he finally did, he reached for the little stone in his pocket.

“I have this for you, as a promise,” he said as held his hand towards her.  In it sat a little stone horse pendant, suspended from a leather string.  “A year is a long time to wait, and I may not be able to send you word.  When it is hard to remember, when it is difficult to be alone, this little horse can remind you of your cavalry soldier and my promise to return.”

Charlotte’s eyes filled with tears once again as she lifted the necklace from his hand and placed it over her head.  Looking down at it, she fingered the little horse.  Her eyes met his, both knowing that it was time for him to go. “Come back to me safely,” she said softly.

He hugged her to his chest one more time.  “I will,” he replied.  “I will come back.  For you.”

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