What to do when you lose the magic

Warning: No easy solutions appended.

I’ve been feeling the loss of magic in several areas where I usually excel at conjuring: walking, cooking, writing. I usually love getting lost in a character’s journey. I feel satisfied with myself when I walk a few miles instead of using my car. I pat myself on the back when I put together an entree involving pantry staples, leftovers, and just that dash of magic that makes a dish delicious.

magic cooking illustration penelope dullaghan

But recently, these pleasures have lost their sheen.

The editing work gets done because I’m on a schedule and people are waiting for me. Or it doesn’t.

The cooking gets done if I manage to curb spending and snacking cravings, but it doesn’t give me that I-care-about-myself-therefore-I-cook feeling.

The walking gets to be more tiresome, as in lugging bags back up the hill from the farmers’ market and feeling drained, not charged with the healthy produce possibilities.

There seems to be in each of these examples a magic that is lost. A sort of pride-in-accomplishment result that has suddenly disapparated and left me with no motivation to take these higher roads.

undine arthur rackham illustration lost magic

This is called depression.

For walking, I’m not worrying about it for the moment. I’m driving more for work anyway. It’s a higher bill for gas each month which hurts my tree-hugging soul as well as my checkbook, but I can’t focus on this.

For cooking, I started replacing one meal a day with a protein shake–Soylent–in the hope that this would free up brainpower and motivation for making at least two healthy meals for myself per day. It’s helped considerably in the past six weeks.

But for writing…it’s different. Because it comes from such a personal place, it’s hard to dropkick something into starting after it’s become stuck. I’ve even lapsed on Morning Pages. Where I used to be able to summon the concentration for editing merely with setting (table, blanket on chair, pages, laptop) or sufficient anxiety-quieting props (tea mug, pretzels, music)…

It just doesn’t work.

I watch YouTube videos. I sort out finances. I clean the sink. I lay on the floor on a pillow and fall asleep. I deal with my health insurance, for god’s sake.

What am I avoiding? Is it that day, the facing of a work not yet worthy to see the light of day? Is it the editor’s comments, which seem less and less to understand my characters’ background?

Or is it the long term goal, launching the new book, and having nothing left to hide behind?

Whatever it is, it’s taken the magic out of the process.

I need something else to temporarily replace my own motivation.

Ice cream?

A meal out?

The trouble is, enough layers of these temporary substitutes and you get cumulative effects that you can’t easily wash away: debt and weight. They become, in the present, yet another threat of unworthiness.

What I want is for someone to tell me what a good job I’m doing, and that I don’t have to keep up the brave face. But that’s external. What can I do for myself?

What to do?

Move. If running in the morning isn’t happening, I roll around on my bed, stretching the spine and the big muscles. I do my chiropractor’s prescribed exercises (oh yes: side effect of depression is bodily pain, easily manifested by Psychosomatic Me). I take 5-minute dance breaks from work. I watch Yoga with Adriene’s videos, particularly for Upper Back Painfor the Service Industry, and the Rinse.

Be still. Say no to the endless demands on your time, including but not limited to: taking out your minuscule recycling container, cleaning your bathtub, going out for a carton of milk, scanning social media, answering emails, popping joints, reading books you don’t enjoy, shaving, constantly reaching for your phone.

Instead, say yes to things that make room in your heart: good movies, good books, good times with friends.

friends april nesa

Spend time with good people. Not energy vampires. Not superficial acquaintances. Not people who may be good for your career. Ask for help from those people whom you trust, whom you’ve had deep conversations with, who know what an emotional toll feels like.

I went to a kickoff potluck for the Wayfinders Academy this weekend with a friend. It gave me all sorts of deja vu for when I was in Public Allies: the inside jokes, the feeling of being in a crucible, the special cheerleading provided by loved ones for your journey, and the feeling of having an openness, a kindness, a trusting nature.

Thirteen years after my PA experience, I feel the loss of that hope. I realize that it is another type of magic lost, to no longer have that feeling of possibility, of loving kindness. Now it is responsibility, obligation, and the shoulds which crowd in on me just as heavily as when I left Washington DC.

Where is the path out of this lost place? I remind myself of a few things.

Writing is what I want to do.

Success doesn’t come quickly.

This, too, shall pass.

I described the feeling to a friend recently as being suddenly outside the house of your life. You can look in the window and see the life you used to lead: commitments, joys, habits, goals. But you are outside amid a howling gale, where none of those things inside matter anymore. How do you apparate back inside, where you have control, and your effort matters once again?

Step by step.

Bite by bite.

Word by word.


Do you have comments or suggestions? Chip in below. Regular book launch programming will resume in the next post, we hope!


Images via pinterest, terriwindling

The Eclipse, The Tower, and Ploughing On

solar eclipse portland

Today is the day of the Solar Eclipse, the only total eclipse I know of until my generation is expected to die.

The week preceding the eclipse has been a challenging one personally, with health issues in my family and the end of a potential relationship before it got off the ground.

All that retrograde sh^%.

Professionally, it’s been booming: a book fair event in West Linn, a tarot card event at the day job in Lake Oswego, and an author panel at my favorite bookstore, discussing YA markets and HistFic trends.

instagram costume west linn book fair ren fair costume gypsy tarot tea

Tarot is an interesting practice. Or art, I should say.

I am a dabbler in many things, and this year, tarot is one of them.

I don’t believe a certain card can predict your future but I do believe we often hold the key to fixing our own issues, it just lies buried deep beneath a whole lot of emotional gunk. Tarot cards are simply one way to reflect on what we need, what we want, and how we are going to go about getting it.

The Tower is the card that sums up this week for me.

tower tarot card

“The Tower shows a tall tower pitched atop a craggy mountain. Lightning strikes and flames burst from the building’s windows. People are seen to be leaping from the tower in desperation, wanting to flee such destruction and turmoil. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning. Notice the lightning bolt is oriented left to right (from the perspective of the card), from heaven to earth, and from Spirit to material. The falling figures correspond to the chained prisoners in the Devil card. They fall headfirst, because the sudden influx of spiritual consciousness represented by the lightning flash completely upsets all our old notions about the relations between subconsciousness and self-consciousness.”

(from Biddy Tarot, a great site for beginners)

As you’ve read in my previous two posts, I am ratcheting up the Launch Trebuchet at the same time I’m madly scurrying to finish edits for The Grasping Root. I am delayed in getting out copies to my Early Reviewers, and alternately cavalier and crazy about the amount of time left before my Launch Party at Another Read Through on October 12th.

Does this sound at all like ‘ambition built on false premises’ to you, dear readers?

And yet. The silver lining to the Tower is that this shake-up of all my boundaries and certainties makes me more resilient. The proof lies in the list of hours logged in the chair, at the computer, rehashing those developmental edits.

Forty-four hours and counting.

john guthrie plough sunset song

My series Remnants involves people scratching a living from the soil, much like Chris Guthrie in Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ Sunset Song. I watched the first half of this beautiful movie last week before needing to return the DVD.

I read the books when I was first falling in love with Scotland, and had to go into a sort of trance to understand the meaning behind the dense Aberdonian lilt.

But the image of the plough, returning to the earth, carving it up–I think that fits pretty well with this week.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.
Images via Author, Biddy Tarot, and BBC

I Will Never Go on a Freefall Rollercoaster, Plus: EVENTS!

First, the TL;DR details:



Sunday, August 13th, 10 AM – 3 PM

Come one, come all to Veronica’s West Linn, OR Book Festival!

She started the NW Book Festival, which got a little complicated, so now she’s back in West Linn where it all started.

I’ll be selling books under a tent, maybe in costume, ya never know!

Find me at 21860 Willamette Drive, West Linn OR 97068


I will be joined by two other brilliant local authors to talk about writing YA-Histfic Mashup fiction on Saturday, August 19, 130-3 PM at Another Read Through Bookstore:

Kate Ristau (aka blue-haired pixie), Author of Shadow Girl and Clockbreakers

Maud Powell, Author of City of Grit and Gold

We will be talking shop, so both writers and curious readers very welcome! RSVP on Facebook.

Now, for the rest of the story…

top rollercoaster flag

This shot of a roller coaster inches us a little closer to the top. Rides like this I can handle. But you know those new death-defying rides, where you are actually in free-fall, and feel like you’re going to die?

Yeah. Some people enjoy that.

Some people also enjoy the editing process, but you will NOT find me getting a Fast Pass for that ride unless I absolutely must.

All the moving deadlines! All the self-flagellation to get every thing done as soon as possible! And the inevitable heartbreaking decisions about what gets first priority.

As per my usual, I try to do everything.

And as usual, something will get missed. But eventually the story will get out there, and start to put down roots

grasping root peek

See what I did there? Here’s a peek of the cover! (so excited)

I’ve got a handful of Early Reviewers–Thank you, Valerie, George & Gayle, Kim, Kindra, and Deb!! And because I am still editing, the door is still open…check my last post for details.

I am still editing…yes, up to page 92, and there is a LOT of new written material, which makes me a little nervous… but I’ve saved the old version and can always compare the two, scrap the new one…

This is where the Terror of Indecision/ Uncertainty tends to set in…

But that is where your attendance at events helps!

I’m excited to have a few events leading up to my Book Launch (Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 PM).

Someone asked me if they had to reread The Keening to get ready for The Grasping Root...what a grand idea! Come find me in West Linn this Sunday or at Another Read Through next Saturday, and let’s get the party started!

The cover will be revealed next…

glove hand red curtain reveal

In the meantime, I’ll be singing, dancing, making tea, selling books, and–of course–EDITING.

Thanks for all the good thoughts and wishes, everyone–it helps!


Images via Dreamstime and SmarterServices

The Beginning of the Launch Rollercoaster

We are starting our ascent, ladies and gents.

I can feel the tick-tick-tick-tick of the chain pulling the car up its first incline.beginning roller coaster

Soft Launch

That incline is heading to the soft launch for The Grasping Root.

This is a new step in my process. I will also be doing a Cover Reveal, Preorders, and a Giveaway!

I haven’t decided on a Treasure Hunt plan yet…but I am thinking about using geocaching, local businesses, and a white elephant exchange to make it EXTRA exciting.

PSSST! More information will come out about participating in these events via the Taste Life Twice newsletter. Sign up here!

map magnifying glass astrolabe compass

The Book!

The Grasping Root is the sequel to The Keening. We rejoin the MacLean family after they have survived a hard Nova Scotia winter. Their decision to live in an abandoned settlement exerts its own pressures, just as their efforts to join the community set off sparks! Religion, politics, and simmering jealousies have followed them across the sea to Canada, and both Neil and Muirne must make intense personal decisions that will affect the MacLeans’ future.

Secret Desire to Be a Critic? Free book!

In the last newsletter I put out the call for Early Reviewers. These are readers who get a free early digital copy of the book in exchange for leaving an honest review in the first month of the book’s release (September).

You can post on Amazon (easiest), Goodreads, a personal blog, Facebook, wherever. Anything helps get the word out. (Amazon reviews help the book look legit.)

If you send me an email this week,  I will put you on my Nice list! The manuscript will be sent out the second half of August, and reviews should be posted during the month of September.

Launch Party

At the top of the incline, when the chain releases, will be the Launch Party. In line with tradition, it will be held at Another Read Through Bookstore at 3932 N. Mississippi Ave in Portland.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2017, 7-830 PM

More details to come soon, but…..

I welcome costumes of many sorts! Just check out my Instagram.

I also make historical sweet treats at my launches. Don’t miss out! 🙂IMG_8621IMG_7455


Images via LinkedInDepositPhotos, & margaretpinard.com

Personal & Professional, A Writer’s POV

***Pssst! The sequel to The Keening is coming out soon! Sign up for the newsletter to hear about giveaways and events related to the release in the next few months!***

It has been a whirlwind month, ladies and gentlemen.


Between June 17 and July 17, there was 90s Night in the Ballroom, friend visit from Japan, attending the HNS Conference, Karaoke Night, Mom visit, trip TO Japan, brother’s wedding, friend visit from NYC, friend visit from Alabama…

…plus, weekly critique group meetings, three jobs, final edits before handing over my manuscript, weekly writer dates with this talented lady, and the weekly cleaning I do for a yoga studio in return for the one class I can attend per week.

It’s time for some trimming, yes.

But all this whirligig got me thinking…which parts of my life are personal, and which professional?

singing karaoke dancing jane austen style

The singing and dancing bits I can call personal, as well as the friend visits. And the jobs I can label professional, while the critique group and writer dates are plainly both.

But the conference for the Historical Novel Society wound the two strands together like a Susanna Kearsley story. I prepared to network, I kept my energy up to make an impression on others and engage with them on their own projects, and I took copious notes during the sessions I attended.

Some of the connections were cursory, but I thanked them for the chance to talk. Others were longer conversations or better chemistry: “OMG, you write about THAT?! That’s So AHMAZING!!” And these people I am excited to cultivate an acquaintance with.

For a writer, I think the professional can become very personal, and the personal inevitably becomes part of the professional. Wouldn’t you agree?

When I spend time to research authors, read their work, note what they do well, give them honest praise, and warmly greet them, that is an immense expense of energy. If I don’t get the courtesy back, if the person is terrible with fans, then I can analyze my actions and determine to find a better object next time. But I also feel a little bit of failure personally, to be so rebuffed.

The professional can also become personal when one simply becomes friends with professional contacts, see Exhibit C: the visitor from Alabama. He was an engineer on a project I worked on five years ago. We reminisced about a colleague’s ability to mask a hangover so well it was undetectable. I no longer have anything to say about the energy planning needs of the eastern U.S., but that experience forged a link, one that still holds us together in friendship and support. Maybe I’ll get a few new readers in Alabama! 🙂

And what about the other way around? Well, this one is more familiar for writers. Everything you go through as a writer ends up influencing what and how you write. Beyond childhood trauma and MFA program grooming, there is the Why. And there is the taste you have cultivated, influenced by all the media you’ve consumed since birth, and what people of influence told you about it.

The personal engine of personality spins all that around and expresses ideas creatively that contain opinions and prejudices, quests and rejections. I had a funny moment when I looked back at Dulci’s Legacy and realized, “Oh.”

It’s a story about a girl lost in the past who needs to free herself and others from injustice to get back to her life.


And just like that, you realize how your personal life spills over into your professional body of work.

Have you had similar experiences? Do share in the comments!