27 February 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

From tonight's Skype meeting. I've never written from Conan's point of view before.

The snow, falling in thick wet masses, insulated the sound so Conan couldn't hear the far-off rattle of wagon wheels. He rubbed his temples as he threaded through the crowd of peasants. Evacuations were so inconvenient. And this time, Lord Rackleburth wasn't even around to help. The wind picked up and he turned up his coat collar. His destination was only a few hundred feet away, but the throng of people slowed his path.

As he passed them, some old men tipped their hats, a few women curtseyed, but most ignored him, absorbed in packing and keeping the children in sight. A weight threw itself against Conan, and he turned around just in time to catch a young woman before she fell. She composed herself, murmuring apologies. "I'm so sorry, your highness, I slipped on the ice. I would never mean to..." She was clutching a bundle close to her ragged body. She glanced down at it with a look of tenderness. To Conan's surprise, she began whispering to her bundle. Unable to resist his own curiosity, he craned his neck to see what she was holding. It was an infant, not older than four months. It was swathed in cheap fabric tied around it with a string, and was sleeping fitfully.

The girl saw Conan's glance. "My son," she said. Her face clouded with somberness and something like shame, and her eyes searched the snowy ground.

"Keep him warm," said Conan, and took off his coat to hand to her. She took it with an utterance of incredulous gratitude and he continued on his way to the castle.

He glanced back as he walked. With one arm, the girl was deftly wrapping the coat around both herself and her baby. Conan wondered why he had given it to her. He wondered if the she would ever see her baby's father again.

21 February 2016

Regional Honor Choir

North Central ACDA regional honor choir was at least ten times more amazing than I expected. It was truly the experience of a lifetime.
It's hard to articulate what exactly made it so special, but I know most of it was due to our fabulous director, Dr. Paul Head. He had this way of keeping us interested, entertained, focused, and relaxed all at once. He emphasized the importance of the fact that music is not just notes on a page; it's an emotional, psychological, and spiritual experience. He said often, "You never know when someone next to you is having a musical experience."
Another thing that made honor choir great was getting to sing with some of the best singers from South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Making music with 170 other incredibly talented musicians, sharing the moments of joy, the hours and hours of practice (seven hours and forty-five minutes on Friday alone), the times of profound connection. As one of my fellow choir members wrote, "In a place like this, you can make friends without even talking." Music is a universal language. It connects people, gives us something to bond over, from the most extroverted musician to the shyest of us. This past weekend taught me, among other things, the sheer power of making music together.
It also helped that our repertoire was awesome. We sang absurd pieces, spunky pieces, cathartic pieces, one filled with exuberance, one with reverence, one with ridiculousness, one with overwhelming grief. I'll see if I can post the audio of our concert once I receive it.
I was never particularly thrilled about singing soprano 2 for honor choir, since I prefer to sing alto, but it turned out fine. It was a good thing to get out of my comfort zone. I actually think doing so much singing in my higher register expanded my range, so that's a plus! In addition, the sopranos got to stand next to the basses for the concert, which is always enjoyable.

The BHS constituent with Dr. Head and Mrs. Perry (from Facebook).

During the weekend, I got to know a lot of people, but I also got to know more about myself. I learned about the effect music has on me and I learned ways I can share that with others. We had to fill out a few questions for our director, and one of them was to tell why we would recommend for someone to audition for honor choir. My response was, "Because music fills the heart in a way nothing else can, and when you're singing with incredibly talented musicians, your heart remains full and overflowing."
It's funny, because I never even considered myself a musical person until sometime last year. If you had asked my 14-year-old self, I would have said that I took piano and voice lessons, but I would not have said I'm a musician. Now I know, I am a musician.

With the friendies after the concert!

20 February 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

When I woke up, the airport gate was still deserted, with the exception of an old man sitting across from me. I yawned and sat up, checking the time on my phone.
"Where are you headed, son?" said the old man, regarding me with benevolence.
I scratched my head. "Same place as you, I guess. New York. And then from there to Austria."
"Austria?" The man crossed one leg over his knee. "Why are you going to Austria?"
My first impulse was to shrug. "Well, my girlfriend is there, studying abroad," I explained, "and I—I want to ask her to marry me." My hand felt for the little box in my pocket.
My companion was wiping his glasses on his button-down. "She must be very special, for you to travel all the way to Austria to propose."
I smiled to myself. "She's not perfect, but I love her."
My phone lit up. It was a text from her: Hey babe, miss you. You'd love it here. <3
I'm sure I will, I texted back. Then I settled down for another few hours of waiting.

16 February 2016

Lent, and other things of interest

Lent is upon us! It started off with Mom's birthday. We had cake the night before.

On Ash Wednesday we went to 7am Mass, so Tessie was sporting an ashen forehead at school all day.

Did I mention it's been snowing almost every day since February began?
Later that day we went to an interesting lecture about J.R.R. Tokien and the middle ages "theory of courage" and comitates oath. I don't have any pictures, but the room was packed.

Patrick came for a visit on the long weekend, and he met up with us at a choir concert of Thomas's.

We had fun with Patrick (when we weren't at birthday parties!), and after Mass on Sunday we went to the coffee shop. There we found dad in the college newspaper.

Also, mom and I made Valentine cookies for Thomas's geography club fundraiser.

It's been a fun Lent so far! 

[All photos stolen from Mom's Facebook]

15 February 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

Two days late, but here it is.

Brian shrugged on a lab-coat and grabbed a pair of latex gloves. "Alright, let's see what we've got." He swept over to the microscope, which was focused on a piece of cloth. After a few minutes of humming and muttering to himself, he straightened and took up a clipboard and pen.
"Was I right, Dr. Caldwell?" said the other person in the lab. "I don't know how we're going to break it to Mrs. Pearson that her son was poisoned."
"Please, Charlie," said Brian, putting up a hand. "You have twice my charisma, but none of my skill. The arsenic on the cloth does not imply that he was poisoned. But it does imply that the nurse was using poison in his vicinity."
"...Which would lead to the conclusion that the nurse poisoned him."
Brian stared into the microscope haughtily for a while before answering. "Yes. He was probably poisoned. Now go tell Mrs. Pearson."
Charlie paused in taking off his lab-coat to protest. "How come that's always my job?"
"As I said, you have twice my charisma," said Brian, putting down the clipboard. "She might faint again if I so much as walk into the room."

08 February 2016

Various Life-y Stuff

Wow, all my recent posts have been about writing or books. What else is happening in my life?
Thinking about it, I almost said "not much." But then I remembered...
-I'm working on several essays for contests, in addition to editing my book and freewriting.
-I received the "official" (mail) report of my PSAT scores today, and overall I'm in the 94th percentile, so that's cool.
-Thomas Aquinas College notified me that they are reviewing my application for the Summer Program so I should receive something about that soon.
-In piano, I'm working on memorizing pieces for Festival in early March.
-In voice, I'm working on my solo for contest, which will double as my solo for the Senior Honor Choir audition. Plus learning music for Regional Honor choir, which is next week!
-Preparing for Lent, which is weirdly early this year! I like it early, though, because that means my birthday isn't in Lent.
-Still slowly teaching myself German for fun, and trying to catch up in American history. In Church History I began the chapter on the Protestant Reformation today.
-Online classes (algebra 2 and chemistry) are plugging along at a good pace. We get a nice break for Presidents' Day, during which I'll probably work ahead in chemistry.
-I've been baking a lot recently, but expecting that to slow down with the beginning of Lent. Every year Mom and I do no desserts. Plus, I'm excited for lots of vegetarian dishes! For some reason I really like vegetarian food.
-Patrick is coming for a visit the day after Mom's birthday!
-I did a cool braid thing in Tessie's hair today.
Well, I think that about catches you up for the non-book-related things I've been doing. But really, it's mostly writing. And missing summer.

07 February 2016

Sorcerer to the Crown

I just finished reading a new book--and it may be a record for me, because it was published within the last six months. (What?? Maria is reading a new book??) Before you get all excited, I've got to say that this book, despite being new, is set in the 1700s.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The name of this book is Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It's the first book of a trilogy. And yes, as the title would lead one to expect, it is a fantasy novel. Now, I don't normally enjoy reading fantasy, simply because my preference lies in historical/realistic fiction. But this book was recommended on my writing podcast (yes, I listen to writing podcasts), and was noted for being a fantasy novel set in Regency England. Well, I thought, I'm willing to give that a try. And I'm very glad I did.

A short summary: Magic is the norm in this world, and being a sorcerer or "thaumaturge" is a valid career choice for British subjects. But England's magic supply has been waning, and the newly-invested Sorcerer Royal decides to find out why. Along the way he meets an unusually magically-talented girl, who soon changes the future of English sorcery—and his own life.
The main thing I would say about this book is that it's funny. I found the humor similar to P.G. Wodehouse at times, sometimes leaning more toward that of Jane Austen. The author has a lovely witty style, simultaneously blunt and playful.
The plot was intriguing, especially due to the detailed and careful worldbuilding, but for me (as always) the characters made the story. I loved the relationships between the protagonists, the humorous antics of the supporting characters, and the surprising twists some of their arcs take.
I was definitely wary when I began Sorcerer to the Crown, but I'm glad I decided to check it out from the library because it proved a fast and entertaining read. I can't wait for the next Sorcerer Royal book!

06 February 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

From our Skype meeting today.

It was a dark and stormy night...

On second thought, I don't want to begin like that. Let's try this again.

It was near midnight. I flung open the window of my room, and the evening air, scented with rain, leaves, and dirt, enveloped me. I shivered when a gust of wind blew in, right through me, to the back wall. I pulled a blanket off the bed, wrapped it around me, and leant on the windowsill. I stared at the other parts of the building surrounding the courtyard.

One door showed a light. That was unusual. I didn't think anyone lived there. I watched the vague play of shadows in the light, straining my ears for a sound.

And then it came. A scream so gut-wrenching I almost screamed back. Instead, I dropped to my knees and covered my head with the blanket, just in case it happened again.

After a few minutes during which it got quite stuffy under my blanket, it occurred to me to wonder who had screamed, and why. It had sounded close. I pulled myself back to my feet and looked out the window again.

The light in the door was gone. All was still. Had I dreamed it--?

But then I caught sight of a shrouded figure hurrying out of the courtyard. Before I could stop to consider the prudence of such an action, I heard myself shouting to the figure. "Hey!"

The figure stopped in its track, looked dramatically back and forth, and resumed its lurking.

I shouted again. "Hey!"

This time it pointed toward my window, then darted across the courtyard in my direction. I lost track of it for a time, but I could still hear a faint rustling. I nearly lost it when a face appeared at my window and shoved me further into the room. I fell backwards onto the floor and watched in sheer astonishment as a child of about ten scrambled inside.

"Hide me," the child said. It was the trembling voice of a terrified little girl.

I crossed my arms. "Why should I? I don't know who you are."

Instead of replying, her hand disappeared into her cloak and emerged laden with gold.

04 February 2016

Mara, Daughter of the Nile

I've just finished reading one of my favorite books for the fifth time. (If you haven't figured it out already, I'm a firm believer in re-reading.) And it is still one of my favorite books. Perhaps no longer the very top of my list (it was for quite a while), but still up there. Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.

This is a historical novel set in ancient Egypt. I've read it's historically inaccurate, but it was written in 1953 so we mustn't be too shocked about that. And, frankly, does it matter? The worldbuilding is excellent. Even if the author maybe didn't know all there is to know about ancient Egypt, she creates the atmosphere with authority.
I am still not certain why I like this book so much. Certainly it has a compelling plot and interesting characters, but so do lots of other books. This time around, I paid special attention to the descriptions, and I realized McGraw is a master at description. Take this passage, which occurs toward the end of the book:
 Nekonkh bellowed an order, waved his hairy arms. As the crew swarmed down the ladder, chattering like monkeys over their unexpected liberty, Sheftu walked to the far side of the deck and stood there, feeling the warm sunshine beat down over his head and shoulders and the backs of his hands where they lay clasped on the rail. The very air smelled of heat and sun and water this morning. A fleet of fishing boats traced in gilt skimmed across Sheftu's line of vision, their sails pure light and their shadows ink puddles. Two barges moved ponderously upstream. Far across the river a hawk flapped up suddenly, curved and soared and dwindled to a speck in the cobalt sky. (Mara, Daughter of the Nile, 218)
Don't you just live in the scene? Four of the five senses appear in this short paragraph, making for a full experience of the scene described. I was very tempted to give another example, but I don't know how much of this book I'm legally supposed to quote, so I'll leave it at that. But guess what. This caliber of description happens throughout the whole book. It's like reading-candy, it's so beautiful. I am especially in admiration, as description is something I constantly struggle with.
Now, couple this amazing description ability with an action-packed and fast-paced plot, intriguing characters with unique arcs, and the historical setting of Ancient Egypt, and there you have a fantastic book.
But don't take my word for it. Read it yourself.
P.S. I didn't bother summarizing the plot because it's easy enough to look it up on Amazon and get a summary there. ...Plus I don't like summarizing things I feel strongly about!

02 February 2016

Writing Update

I realized I haven't posted one of these in a while.
Editing is going swimmingly. It's much less excruciating than I expected. My NaNo novel is on hold for now while I finish up editing the first one, which brings me to another piece of information: I REALLY NEED A TITLE FOR MY BOOK! I have come up with so many ideas over the past two years, but none of them seems right! It's stressing me out! *sigh* So if you have any ideas, please tell me.
Let me guess what you're thinking. "But Maria, how can I help you title your book without reading it?" I don't have an answer to that, but no one's allowed to read it until I finish editing. I haven't even read the whole thing straight through yet. I think I'd cringe too much if I read it before the plot made sense.

I do sort of have a deadline for editing, though. I'm planning to send my manuscript to Tuscany Press in June, so I'd better be done editing it before then. *gulp* They're pretty brave for accepting whole manuscripts.
I also plan to write a short story one of these days...there are a lot of short story contests out there. The trouble is, I have absolutely zero ideas for a short story (I do have a third novel idea, though), so I've just been freewriting until something hits me. Hence the Weekly Prompt Writing.
To conclude, I will post a link to a post that was very accurate for me: "10 things about rough drafts I learned from my first novel."