The Reluctant Owlet is about to take flight!

I’ve finally got the date set for the release of The Reluctant Owlet.

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January 3, 2019!

Wahoo! Celebrate! I’m so excited about this.

Why is this book so special to me?

1. I have wanted to write a children's book since I was a teenager. It only took 25ish years, but my dream finally came true!

2. This book is my way of sharing my passion for owls with the world.

3. The story is a fictionalized account of the owl family I observed during the summer of 2017. I created the artwork from actual photographs I took of those owls.

4. My little brother, Chance Martin, contributed the best photos in the whole book, making this a family project.

If you want a sneak peek, check out this video. You won’t believe who made a guest appearance at the end, by the way…


The Second Briarlore Book

When I started the Briarlore series, I intended to begin with a different story than The Fox at the Door. However, writing - or any creative expression, for that matter - never goes as planned. So my intended debut story (also about a fox) was set aside.

  Photo by    Tim ten Cate    on    Unsplash

It has sat heavily on my mind for the past 7 months. I have literally carried around the half-finished, hand-written manuscript with me for 3 months. I was intimidated by the story, and afraid I couldn't do it justice.

I got quite frustrated with myself on Sunday night and decided it was time to type up the manuscript. As I typed, I had a flash of what the next scene would be. And then the next. And then... My hands were flying across the keyboard for HOURS. I was even switching between that story and my manuscript for the second Raedwolfe novel. It was like goddess Tori Amos pounding away at two pianos at the same time.

I finally had to turn in at midnight, knowing I'd forfeit any Monday productivity if I didn't get some sleep. The next morning, I expected to finish the first draft in an hour. And again, I found my plans and expectations thwarted with interruptions, distractions, and insecurities. I finally wrapped up the story just before 10PM.

It was nothing like I expected. It's long, for one thing - probably twice as long as The Fox at the Door. A major plotline that I'd been envisioning left the story ENTIRELY, leaving room to dive quite deeply into the heartbreak of the story's heroine. I cried at the end, as I was typing it. And I don't do that. If I ever feel too weepy over something in my writing, I usually cut it, worried that I've strayed into false sentimentality and/or manipulative cliches. I might find that to be true here, as well...it's too early to tell. But for now, in an unprecedented move, I'm going to leave the ending as is and trust what came to me.

And strangest of all…right now in this moment…I love it. I love the way it turned out, despite the surprises.

These past few weeks of choosing my writing, first, of pushing myself directly into my creative insecurities has been an amazing experience. Finishing the second Briarlore tale has been particularly helpful in reminding me to trust the creative process. Which is something I need to remember as I dive into creating the illustrations.

Trust the work. And your capability to bring it through.

Meet Ruth, of the childless ones

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This is Ruth.

Unlike my grand-aunt Aida, Ruth and I crossed paths in this life. Despite the fact that she was one generation higher than Aida, she lived a very long life. I met her a few years before her death, in the late seventies. Sadly, I was so young, I do not remember her. But I share her name (Ruth is one of my middle names) and have always felt a deep connection to her.

Ruth was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who settled in Minnesota in the late 1800's. She was the middle of three children, with a brother above her and a sister below. Like me, she was the quiet, introverted sister, and like me, she worshipped her gregarious, outgoing, vivacious little sister.

My great-grandmother Ruth's little sister married and gave birth to my grandfather by the time she was 20 years old. Ruth was still single at this point, watching both her siblings build families, waiting, no doubt, to build her own. For me, in the 21st century, watching my younger siblings reach major life goals ahead of me wasn't so bad - it's not something that's considered unusual anymore. But back then, in the early 20th century, I can only imagine how much she must have stood out, single and childless, long after her siblings had created their own families.

Ruth fell deeply in love in her late twenties and "finally" married at the age of 27 - spinsterhood in 1919. From the stories I heard, she adored her husband - and he adored her right back. All the family spoke of their relationship and what a deep companionship the two forged.

  Ruth & her husband

Ruth & her husband

Unfortunately, Ruth still found herself childless well into her marriage. Motherhood did not seem to be within her reach…until one day, she found out she was pregnant, and as the story goes, she was overjoyed to finally have the chance to become a mother.

What came next is heartbreaking: Ruth's baby was born still. It was a little girl who never took a breath outside the womb.  

While I remember hearing many stories about Ruth, I heard very little about this horrifying experience - how it happened, why it happened, what happened after. I don't know anything about it except the baby's name: Dorothy. I can only imagine that Ruth and her husband were devastated by the experience.

She never had another child. Were they plagued with infertility? Did they stop trying?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I have been told that their marriage was strengthened by this tragedy, which isn't always the case. Ruth and her husband stuck together through thick and thin.

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My grandfather loved his aunt dearly. His father was not much a part of his life, and as such, Ruth became like a second parent to him, taking care of him when her sister was busy. She might not have had her own children, but she loved the children in her life as much as any mother would.

  Ruth & her nephew (my grandfather)

Ruth & her nephew (my grandfather)

Ruth's husband died after a good, long life, leaving her on her own. One of the things I admire so much about my great-grand-aunt is that she persevered for many, many years, all by herself, after his death. She lived alone in Minneapolis and took care of herself, keeping in touch with all her nieces and nephews and their offspring, like a loving mother hen. She outlived both her brother and her sister, and became a surrogate mother, of sorts, to all their descendants.

She was an amazing, brave woman with a heart of gold, and I'm so proud to be her great-grand-niece. As with Aida, it's so important to me to keep her memory alive. As a descendant three generations below her, and as the only one in my family to have met her, I realize I might be the last one to tell her story.

Her bravery inspires me every time I think of her. She was so willing to surrender to the life that was given to her, even though it bucked tradition and didn't give her what she had hoped for. She still put one foot in front of the other each and every day and freely gifted others with her motherly love.

If I find that I share her destiny - to be childless - I hope that I can be as generous and brave as she was.

Meet Aida, of the childless ones

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This is Aida.

I discovered her in my 20’s when I was working on my family tree. She was my grandfather’s sister. I had heard a little about her during my childhood. She had died young, in her early twenties, and by the time I was that age, and found myself looking at a photograph of her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her legacy.

She had never married or had children. Who, I wondered, would remember her? Who would keep her memory alive?

Even at that young age, I remember fearing such a fate. If you are a woman who doesn’t have children, who will remember you? Who are you and what does your life mean if you leave no descendants, or if your descendants leave this earth before you do?

And twenty years later, I find myself facing those very same questions all over again, as a woman who did not have children (by circumstance, not by choice).

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Even in my youth, I recognized how important it is to remember the women who came before us. But now I realize why. Our ancestors, mothers or not, leave an impact on their family members – cousins, sisters, nieces. Aida might not have had her own children, and might have died long before I ever had the chance to know her, but as my grand-aunt, she is still part of my DNA. And it’s important to me to remember her and share her story.

Like me, she was the eldest of four children (though unlike her, I have two older half-siblings, as well). Also similar to my family, the older two children were girls, the younger two, boys. Aida, my grandfather, and their siblings were born in Copenhagen, Denmark. They spoke Danish and English, and a smattering of French and Latin. All four of the siblings were fierce kayakers. They loved to be in the water. They came from a long line of Scandinavian intellects, philosophers, and craftsmen.

  Aida at St. Joseph's Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark: 1920

Aida at St. Joseph's Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark: 1920

That is, I’m sorry to say, most of what I know of Aida. My grandfather didn’t share much about his family when I was little – and I was probably too young to have appreciated (or retained) what he did tell me. Any other information I have beyond this is based only on my intuition. I have a feeling Aida was a bit of a loner – perhaps her health problems set her apart from others. I believe she loved her siblings, and most especially, her sister, but that she never felt like she truly belonged. And most of all, I believe she loved life, and didn’t want to leave it so soon. I suspect it pained her, in the end, to face leaving her family, knowing they would go on to live full lives while she would never realize her dreams.

Aida was the only one in the family who never left Denmark. She was buried there. Soon after her death, the entire family – Grandpa, his remaining siblings, and his parents – gave up their lives in Denmark and immigrated to New York. None of them, to my knowledge, ever returned to their homeland.

  Aida's grave: 1922

Aida's grave: 1922

What happened to Aida seems so brutally unfair - to die so young, without the chance to experience love, motherhood, life. I have an especially deep compassion for women who have lost the chance at motherhood – in any way that might have happened. For some, it might be the death of their child. For others, infertility or other circumstances. And for some, like Aida, it might be their own early death.

It’s so important to tell the stories of the unheard women. We don’t have the voices of our daughters to echo our story to the world. But these stories need to be told. We need to be remembered, too.

To that end, I dedicated The Fox at the Door to two of my "great-aunts": Grand-aunt Aida, and Great-grand-aunt, Ruth. I will be the daughter they did not have, making sure their legacy lives on. I will share their story, and even join hands with them, as a fellow childless woman.

Now it’s your turn. Please leave a comment sharing the story of a childless relative (or friend) that you want the world to remember.

Scratch, scratch, scratch

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There are times in all our lives when things go dreadfully bad…and then a little worse…and sometimes, every now and then, even worse. After a certain age, even in the midst of the loss, we know our grieving will come to an end at some point and that we'll experience joy again. Love. Hope.

Sometimes, though, those rough patches are followed directly by a dry spell. Sometimes a really, really long one. It's as if the universe has hit the pause button on our lives. We're starting to feel ourselves emerge from the shroud of grief, but nothing is happening. We interview for new jobs, flirt with new people, move to a new home, double our efforts to make our dreams come true… And still, nothing happens. We look ahead and see a desert staring back at us. Barren. Endless.

We might start to lose hope.

I struggle with this from time to time. I feel like I've been on a hamster wheel for 2 years now, running faster and faster, trying to get somewhere yet remaining in the same place. I even have nightmares about this sometimes, that I'm trying desperately to run, but my legs somehow just won't fall into rhythm and I can' t move forward.

I suspect many of us feel this way - often, perhaps. There is a dream on the periphery of our current circumstances, one that seems so close, we could literally reach out and pluck it, as if it were an apple in the Garden of Eden. Yet, somehow, we can't quite reach it.

I wanted to write a story that would be a balm for this feeling of frustration, for this "just out of reach-ness." I wanted to write a story that would help us remember hope again, especially when we are in the depths of our grief.

The Fox at the Door will be available for pre-order this Friday, Februrary 2nd, a very special day that was once celebrated by my ancestors as the day the earth began to wake up from its long winter nap. The day crocuses begin to push up through the snow. The time of year when the sheep begin to give birth. It's a time of inspiration and…hope.

Yes, hope.

The book won't be available in its current form on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It'll only be available on my website. I'll be signing every copy of this limited first print run, packaging each one with my own two hands, and sending them out to you. I want this to be an intimate experience between writer and reader. I want you to feel like I'm personally handing this story to you, gifting you with beauty and hope.

It's a bit of a risk to do this. There's little profit in it. (Not that I have ever written with profit as my goal - though I have hope that one day, my writing will, indeed, bring in an energetic exchange that will allow me to continue my work.) The books are expensive to print in full color, and becoming the "distribution center," so to speak, adds a lot of time and labor to the process.

But I feel that we're at a time when this needs to happen. There's always a place in the world for e-books and mass market paperbacks, always a place for Amazons and B&Ns. BUT…I think we need to keep a balance and remember to support our small bookstores and our indie authors. I think we need to remember to support the "little guys" who cultivate community, who respect the art of storytelling, and who make space for the bards of our modern world.

I believe that relationship goes both ways - we authors need to cultivate it, too, by offering special projects (Wild Talewort comes to mind) to our readers and being willing to shorten the distance between us.

That's one of my intentions for the year - to reach out to all of you readers and see what happens when we step into the same circle. Hopefully, this will also allow for some events, as well, where we can meet in person. (Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, be sure to check out the website on Friday and order your copy! 

A change in communication

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know that these past few years, I tend to get really quiet in November and December. I long for silence. I quite suddenly have no desire to produce on the level that I’ve been producing throughout the year. I’m a little bit tired and a little bit overwhelmed, but really, I just want to listen, rather than talking, rather than even writing.

 

This seems perfectly normal to me. Winter is a time to settle down, listen, rest. You wouldn’t know it, though, by the way our culture is designed. Our work schedules do not change – we still work (and are expected to work) the same hours at the same pace winter, spring, summer, or fall. We do not change our sleep schedules with the seasons, even when the nights get longer. And with our consumer-driven holiday season, we are bombarded with stimulus non-stop from November through early January.

 

The older I get, the more I pull back from this. I want to enjoy the holiday season quietly without a lot of fuss. I want to sleep more and try to alter my schedule to make that happen. And I want to pull back from my work – even the work I enjoy very much – to make room for inspiration and rejuvenation.

 

In this time of quiet, I’ve found myself on a search for authentic connection within my online community. I have my blog, which I worked really hard to update weekly this year (until recently). I send email newsletters to my readers, but not regularly. And I try to post a lot on social media (mostly Facebook and Instagram) and interact with people I enjoy and admire on those platforms.

 

When I first started blogging in 2009, people visited one another. Communication happened in newsletters, emails, and blog comments. We weren’t yet at the point of convening on social media platforms. Once that shift occurred, I initially enjoyed it. But as social media has rapidly evolved, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with it.

  Photo by  Joanna Kosinska  on  Unsplash

 

Trying to get your message to people, on Facebook in particular, is very challenging due to all the new algorithms that dictate who can see your posts and when. I’ve found it difficult to start or keep communication going on social media (though that’s certainly not the case for many people). I find myself suspicious of the data collection these platforms do – it feels as though they have shifted from places of connection to advertising factories. Even trying to use that advertising to our benefit is, at least from what I’ve seen, a waste. I’ve tried two Facebook ads – one in 2016 and one this year – and both times, every single engagement my ad attracted (and I paid for) was from a spam account.

 

And that’s not even to mention that what was once a place to visit to see pictures and fun stories from friends and family members has now become an endless stream of ads, memes, and political rants.

 

This isn’t how I want to communicate or share with others. There’s nothing intimate about it. I’m not even sure there’s any pleasantry to it. It’s an overwhelming waterfall of words, pictures, stuff…and what I want is focused, tangible interaction.

 

I’ve come to this place before, but I’m even more committed now to focusing more on targeted communication, the way we used to do back in the old days (2009). It’s true, it’s harder to get people to come visit your blog when it’s so much easier to just visit a social media platform and see everyone you follow at one time. But I believe it’s worth it, and I believe that ultimately, those of us with like minds will be moving back in this direction as social media continues to grow and become more and more consumer, rather than community, driven.

 

I also believe in returning to the practice of writing consistent newsletters and reaching people in their inboxes. Again, this is a challenge – so many people will click delete before even opening an email, and let’s face it, with all the spammy “buy my stuff” emails that became so popular, that’s not surprising. (Not that there’s anything wrong with advertising via email – but there’s an art to that, and I think we’ve largely lost that.)

 

Personally, I love a newsletter-type email from writers, shop owners, etc. I try not to subscribe to many, but the lists I remain keep my attention with their creativity, interesting information, and beautiful photos. As I said, there is an art to this. Check out One Willow Apothecaries to see what I mean. Asia Suler has the best emails I’ve ever seen. Stories about the earth, herbalism, and alternative healing, beautiful photos and videos, and subtle reminders about her courses and services (which I’ve purchased and which are amazing). No, I’m not getting a kickback by talking about her. I just believe in her business and that's because she knows how to communicate beautifully and intimately – both on social media and off.

 

People like Asia are my inspiration when it comes to shaping my communication intentions. I realize that my audience might always be small if this is the path I take, but to me, it’s worth it. It shouldn’t be about numbers, anyway. It should be about connection.

 

I’m still debating how I want to use my blog (and am even debating splitting some of my creative work off of the Yancy Lael brand/website), but you’ll definitely find more of me here than on social media in 2018, with the possible exception of You Tube. And you’ll see me in your Inbox slightly more often. And I would love to hear more from you, as well – either here, in email, or yes, even on social media.

 

But that’s enough chatting for now. Remember, it’s the time of year to listen more, say less. I’m ready to descend back into silence… at least for now.

The Terror and the Beauty

There is a place about 20 miles north of here that I have always loved to visit. A 300-foot gorge cuts through the earth from west to east with the beautiful Crooked River twisting through its base. For 25 years, I have passed over the Crooked River Bridge that spans this gorge on road trips and visits to Jefferson County. This place inspired me so much that when the vision of Salome (the setting of The Poison Box) came to me, one of the first things I saw was a 300-foot gorge cutting through town with the Two Thieves River running at its base and a beautiful, tall bridge spanning its width.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

There is a raw beauty to this landscape, both the real one and the fictional one. Steep sides covered with brush and boulders, rushing water at the bottom, running on for miles and miles…

And each place has a dark history - from the young man who threw himself over the edge of the gorge in Salome to the dozens of men who fell to their deaths while constructing the Crooked River Bridge. There are even signs all over the area overlooking the Crooked River Gorge, stating that hundreds of dogs have leapt to their deaths, not realizing there was a 300-foot drop on the other side of the short wall, and reminding visitors to please keep their dogs on a leash to prevent such a tragedy.

Even in its beauty, the landscape is full of peril. Even in its grandeur, there lurks danger and even death.

Just as in life.

Over the past few months, several friends of mine - people in their 20's and 30's - have fallen gravely ill. Just like that. Out of the blue. Beautiful, healthy, young people stricken with health crises that are mostly attributed to people much more advanced in age.

A young man in our community was recently killed in a freak automobile accident. He was 18. We had just attended his graduation ceremony two months before. He was just beginning his life.

And then there are my own freak accidents - injuries and issues that popped up out of nowhere that violently shook my life or brought it to a near complete standstill.

But somehow, there is still beauty in it all. The danger, the threat, the risk cannot displace or diminish the beauty of the human spirit. The friends who weather their hospital stays with grace, who courageously cut off all their hair and keep their hearts open and soft even in the face of terrifying uncertainty. The community members who come together to honor a lost member. The family who stands together, hand-in-hand, to weather one of the greatest losses they will ever endure.

Each person, each soul, cuts their way through this world. We all leave our mark, somehow, just like the Crooked or Two Thieves rivers cut through the earth. In that beautiful way we make our mark, we also somehow find that we cannot escape the vulnerability of being human.

And the realization that that vulnerability is also beautiful in its own way.

Terrifying, but beautiful as hell.

Writing Taught Me

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I grew up in the dawning days of technology. I was blessed not to have a computer in the house. There were no cell phones, and certainly no DVD players.

I, like all children at that time, had to find my entertainment in books and my imagination.

As much as I loved school, I would rush home every single day, impatient to stuff a handful of crackers into my pockets, grab my newest book, and run out to the backyard to sit on the swing and read for hours. Saturdays were even better - a full day of reading. I'd set up two patio chairs facing each other, and lay a beach towel over them, creating a little bed. There I would sit for 8 hours, oblivious to my little siblings playing around me, the dogs running by, my father mowing the lawn.

I was lost in the world of E.L. Konigsberg and John Bellairs. Witches, magic, history, mystery - I loved it all.

I was lucky to retain my love of reading even as technology began to creep into the house. As a teenager, I often chose a Nancy Drew novel over the latest Blockbuster rental or computer game. I could read through an entire book in 3 hours and I'd greedily dig through the family bookshelf, looking for more.

These books influenced me so deeply. By the time I was 10, I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. The first book I wrote, at that tender age, addressed what it meant to be a warrior for goodness, purity, and innocence. Reading and writing guided the development of my morality, my compassion, and my soul.

  Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Looking back, I can see that the practice of writing helped me develop into the person I am today. I learned discipline and tenacity through my determination to complete the writing projects that I started. The characters that entered my dreams demanded to be fully realized, and for them, I wrote tirelessly, feverishly. I completed five full-length novels by the time I was 25 years old, honing that discipline, learning what it took to give my all to a project, developing a strong work ethic.

And though it took much longer to cultivate, books, reading, and writing also taught me courage. It took many years before I was brave enough to share my work with others and even more years before I dipped my toes into the process of submitting queries for publication. But just as before, my characters and my ideas were so insistent on being heard, I felt compelled to obey that call, even if only one baby step at a time.

I've remained faithful to my craft all these years later, taking what I've learned from writing to every job I've had. The lessons of determination, creativity, discipline, and courage have served me well across industries - from teaching to program coordination. And in the meantime, while pursuing publication, my writing practice has given me yet another gift: ingenuity. I've learned the very complicated ins and outs of self-publishing for the projects that don't want to wait for traditional contracts. I've learned how to format books, create book covers, and even how to create audiobooks, independently.

I've learned that having a passionate calling is a blessing. Our dreams and talents and the books we read not only make us who we are, but teach us all the lessons that we need to learn in order to become the best versions of ourselves.

And I have lived happily ever after (with many books and my laptop at hand).

The Poison Box has arrived!

I wrote the first version of this book when I was 20. In the middle of the book, the protagonist's sister, Mary, died. After I completed the book, I realized that the whole story SHOULD have been about Mary in the first place.

I rewrote the entire book when I was about 23, setting it in the 1960's. Three years of writing and research only to realize: The characters did not belong in the 60's.

After returning home from a year-long artistic binge in Santa Fe, NM, I rewrote the entire book AGAIN. I finished this version of the book in June 2002. I tried to publish it, but soon became frustrated with the plot and characters. Into hibernation it went.

In the years that followed, I attempted to rewrite the entire book again and again. But I kept coming back to the third version - there was some good stuff in there that I didn't want to lose. Frustration. More hibernation.

 This is me in the midst of 24/7 editing. Yes, in my pajamas. February 2014

This is me in the midst of 24/7 editing. Yes, in my pajamas. February 2014

I heard about the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest in January of this year and suddenly I had no more excuses: Sit on the novel forever, or let Mary tell her story. I spent almost a month editing the manuscript, sometimes for 10+ hours a day. And...I didn't even make it past the first round of cuts!

So I decided to just put it out there, contest or not. Seventeen years later, the proof arrived in the mail and though I'm still annoyed with the book's imperfections (a.k.a. my shortcomings as a writer), seeing this story in book form is the achievement of one of my greatest dreams in life.

This is for Mary, who has been my imaginary companion for almost two decades and who will probably always be somewhere, in the corners of my mind!