- So, yes, as several of you already know and a lot of you probably guessed, my family just moved from upstate New York State back down to northern Virginia. We came down for about a week last month to househunt and, after much deliberation on houses that we liked but weren't totally happy with, settled on one that we found almost at the last minute. It's thirty years old and doesn't have decent internet and everything needs repainted eventually, but it's just the right size, not just for what we absolutely need but for some stuff we want as well, and it's on a large lot that's almost all trees (so it feels like we're in the middle of the forest), and we'll resolve the internet situation eventually. That was back in mid-June; then at the end of the month we came back to Virginia for the house inspection, aka the Top Secret Mission that I mentioned last month. (Of course, for my sister and I, it wasn't much of a mission, since we basically just hung out at our friends' house while our parents went to the inspection.) That trip also meant that I spent the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo on the road . . . which wouldn't have been a huge problem, except that I left all my planning for the last minute. That was a stupid idea, but this isn't the writing section, so we'll talk about me and my bad writing-life choices later.
- Anyway. After returning to New York, we celebrated Independence Day by going to Hamilton- the city, not the show. I still listened to the soundtrack for the who-knows-how-many-th time, and various songs from Hamilton (but mostly "My Shot") were stuck in my head the whole time we were there, but yeah. They had a parade, which was ok (we didn't watch much of it) and a farmer's market (which was what we really came for). Although, for a farmer's market, they didn't really have much in the way of fruits and veggies; there were more handcrafts and jewelry and baked goods (and fried food . . . and snow cones . . . there were a lot of fried food and snow cones). And then we played Scrabble at home while we waited for fireworks to start going off at various locations around us, and I possibly won, depending on whether or not you consider IV (as in the device used in hospitals) a word. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app and I say it is; my family and the Scrabble dictionary say it's an abbreviation and therefore doesn't count. So.
- And then we went to Niagara Falls. Again. It's ridiculous (and kind of awesome): I spent a lot of my childhood and younger teen years wishing I could visit Niagara, and now, years after I'd more or less forgotten about that desire (figuring that I'd probably never actually make it), I've gone twice in as many months. What even. We didn't go to Canada this time, since we met my aunt and her family there and they didn't have passports. We did, however, get massive cones of Hershey's ice cream at nine o'clock at night, because we were all hot and tired and we'd had it on our minds since we didn't get it at dinner and it just seemed like a good idea. For the record, it definitely was.
- We actually stayed overnight at the falls this time, mostly because of the aunt and cousins. However, we had to rush off the next morning to get home before my grandpa, who was visiting us in New York one last time before we moved, arrived. While he was here, we drove up to Massachusetts to visit the Springfield Armory . . . and to go to Chick-Fil-A for Cow Appreciation Day. Yes, we drove three hours each way and wore cow-spotted shirts just so we could get free chicken. In our defense, it is really good chicken, and there's none of it in New York, unless you go to NYC (which my sister is adamantly opposed to). The Armory was interesting as well; I enjoyed hearing about the history of the place and how the gun-producing methods changed over the years, plus the old models of weaponry were rather interesting to see. That said, a lot of the technicalities and fine details of the process and the guns themselves went straight over my head.
- Then, two days later, we set off down to Virginia for closing, this time pulling after us a U-Haul trailer full of boxes of anything we didn't want the movers to pack and move: computers, my dad's camera gear and shooting stuff, my and my sister's most prized books, and so on. In hindsight, I'm not sure if I should've trusted the Virginia heat and humidity with my books more than I trusted even the most careful movers (the lady who packed my room was very good about packing books with care rather than tossing them in any which way), but we shall see. I haven't unpacked any of the boxes yet, for reasons which shall be explained in a moment, so I don't actually know how any of them fared.
- Also, for anyone curious: the Oreo Dream Extreme cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory is delicious and amazing and I actually like it better than the Caramel Pecan Turtle cheesecake, which is saying something. I definitely recommend. (In case you can't guess, we went to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate after closing on the house and unloading the trailer, because my mom and sister had never actually been there and they wanted to try it.)
- And then we headed back to New York one last time and arrived with just one day to spare before the movers came to pack up the rest of our belongings and load them on the truck! So that made for another long week, longer still because once we reached the house in Virginia, we jumped right into doing whatever work- mostly painting- we could before our stuff arrived. As a result of that and further work since, I now know how to remove wallpaper (actually not as horrible a job as I've been led to believe; it's oddly satisfying and I would definitely take it over washing windows, with or without music), apply spackling, paint a room, and change a lock. I almost learned how to pick a lock as well, after one of our new ones malfunctioned, but unfortunately, the internet guides didn't apply to the type of lock we had. So much for that.
- As for the painting, though- well, I think I did more of that in this past week than I'd previously done in my entire life. We wanted to paint the living room and the office/homeschool room before the furniture arrived, since the office really needed it and the living room has a lot of furniture that would be hard to move later. Naturally, those were the only two rooms on that floor without any lights in them, so we had to rush to finish them before we lost the sunshine! As for the third room we painted . . . Well. There's a little background to that. See, my sister got first pick of bedrooms, because she's actually here all year instead of just a third of the year. Naturally, she picked the largest non-master bedroom (which also had pink and white wallpaper, two closets, and a narrow bookshelf built into one corner). That still left me with a choice of two bedrooms, and I naturally chose the one with more space and a larger closet- and, honestly, I'm quite happy with it. I have two windows, while the other small non-master bedrooms only have one each, and the closet is still larger than either of my previous ones, and since a lot of my furniture is tall, it wouldn't fit as well in the pink bedroom (which has a partially sloped ceiling and the aforementioned two closets, leaving only one and a half walls on which tall bookshelves and desks and dressers can fit). There's only one problem. Observe:
- Yup. Not very me at all, as you can see. The color isn't at all appealing; while it's better than the beige-grey I had in New York, it's still a rather dull brownish-tan color. And the wallpaper, well . . . if you can't tell, it's fishing themed, and it's not scenic fishing, which might've been tolerable. No, this wallpaper has a pattern of fishing lures, because clearly that's what everyone wants on their walls.
(Also, as you might notice, there's one particular lure that looks rather like a platypus, particularly after you end up staring at it for a while, and it's very distracting when you're trying to steal half an hour of writing time before everyone else gets up.)
- However, even this worked in my favor, because it meant that I was guaranteed to get my room repainted at some point- and, after some discussion (and an unplanned, probably overdramatic, but very much true outburst on my part about how tired I am of dull, dark, light-sucking bedrooms after two years of grey walls), my parents agreed to move some point up to now, if I was willing to do the painting. So, my furniture and belongings are in the spare bedroom for the moment (thus why my books have yet to be unpacked), I'm borrowing my sister's bedroom (because she's not here to object, and she has a ceiling fan while the spare bedroom does not), and, after a little over a weekend's worth of painting and wallpaper-scraping, my room looks like this:
- I am, if you can't tell, much pleased. I loved my purple room back in Virginia, and I almost went for the same color, but in the end I decided that I wanted something different (and brighter), so I went with blue instead (to be specific, Olympic brand's Songbird blue), and I definitely do not regret my choice. (Well, I regret that I had to paint the ceiling, because that was horrible and I'm amazed I didn't have to do it over, but other than that, no regrets.) I toyed with the idea of trying to do some kind of fancy flower painting around the door, or some kind of textured thing on the walls, but decided that the former was too risky and the latter too much effort. And obviously I still need to put my shelves back in my closet and clean up my dropcloths and such, but I won't do that until tomorrow, since I just finished painting the closet today.
- As you can probably guess, Camp NaNoWriMo took up most of my writing time this month- and even then, I barely finished on time! I definitely do not recommend doing Camp NaNo while moving; while all the hours on the road give you plenty of writing time those particular days, you need that time just to catch up on all the days that you didn't get your wordcount in because you were packing or painting or whatnot. I definitely did not keep my preferred slow-but-steady routine, as you can see:
- I did, however, finish just in time, on the 29th, and I've managed to keep writing in the day or so since, which is a good thing. Since my novella, an Asian-inspired Snow White retelling, is for the Five Poisoned Apples contest, I need to have the whole thing done pretty soon so I have plenty of time for edits before I send it in. And even though it's not quite finished (I'm almost to the climax), I already know it'll need a lot of edits. For one thing, I need to cut a few thousand words to put it within the wordcount limit for the contest! I also want to adjust the pacing, smooth out some of the character and relationship development, and make sure that the romance actually, you know, exists. Even after edits, the story won't really be focused on the romance; I'm much more interested in the friendships and enmities between various characters. But I do want some romance, and I want Baili and her prince to have some cute moments together, and at the moment, those cute moments don't really work.
- I do actually have a very rough synopsis by now, for those who are curious:
The fairest in the land will unite two kingdoms once one- or so the prophecy says. And so Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers is betrothed to the prince of the Kingdom of Three Peaks and must leave her home and all she's ever known. But when her companions turn on her and her stepmother plots against her life, she finds herself stranded, lost, and alone in an unfamiliar land. With the aid of seven unlikely companions, she must find a way to reclaim her place and expose her companions before two divided countries fall together.
- Also, snippets, for anyone who wants them! To start out, the first few lines:
The cherry blossoms fell the morning Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers left her home forever.
Baili tucked her hands deeper into the wide sleeves of her red silk robe and watched the petals sprinkle the surface of the Taiyang River and swirl around the royal barge. She did not look at the crowds of people gathered on either side of the path between her and the barge. She did not look at the peaks to the north where she would travel. She especially did not look at her stepmother, the Empress Regent Zhu Yawen, who stood beside her, addressing the crowd.
- And another snippet, which takes place just after my seven animal herders (who take the place of the seven dwarves) discover Baili's true identity:
Gan laughed- actually laughed! "And Chouko claimed I carried in a maikhny dayaldaych. Be doubly welcome in my tents, günja. What is mine, so may it be yours."
The others murmured polite words of welcome as well, all save Chouko, who stood and stared Baili in the face as defiantly as Lanfen had. "You remain welcome here, princess-" yet her tone sounded anything but welcoming- "but what now? I suppose you wish us to bow and serve you as if you sat with the emperor after all? No doubt you desire us to find you a feast as well, now we know your title?"
- After Baili herself and the villains, Gan (short for Ganbaatar) and Chouko are the two most significant characters and I love them both. They have vastly different personalities, as you can tell, and they tend to clash, but somehow they're still friends and they're both absolutely loyal to the people who they care about and for whom they feel responsible. Also, Gan is fun because he just sometimes does things and doesn't really explain why or how until later, if at all. He doesn't come off as your typical schemer, but he's so totally a schemer. His friends don't even know half of what he gets up to, and they even admit it:
Jialing shrugged. "I do not know, your highness. Gan is Gan. He does things. We do not ask. We think, though, that he must have either many friends or many enemies."
- Chouko, on the other hand, is not at all a schemer. She's very blunt, a bit pessimistic, surprisingly independent given her culture, and, in general, perpetually grumpy about everything. She carries plenty of grudges, especially against the nobility, and she glares more than she smiles, and she's the only one of the characters who'll tell Gan off to his face, but she has a good heart, and she'll tell you the hard truths when you need to hear them, and she's not afraid of anything, and if you earn her loyalty, she'll stand by you in the tightest of pinches. She might insult you even as she defends you- but she'll still be there.
Baili soon came to a very firm conclusion: the reason Chouko was the one to tend the emperor's geese was that her temperament matched theirs exactly. Tigers in stories might lay their heads in the lap of a princess and never raise a claw near her save in her defense; bears would bring her honey and fruit rather than ravage her; snakes would never dare to strike but would instead guide her to safety. But geese, it seemed, bowed the neck to no one, princesses least of all.
- So, yes. This book hasn't been the easiest thing to write so far, but I've mostly enjoyed it. And I just figured out exactly how I'm going to work out the ending a few days ago, so I'm excited to write that. (I just have to get there . . .)
- Unsurprisingly, between moving and Camp NaNo, I haven't had a whole lot of time to read. I did manage to fit in a few books, though, including- finally- Thick as Thieves! I've been waiting months to read it, and eventually got tired of the library refusing to give it to me, so I just took the plunge and bought it, and I'm so glad I did. I was worried that I wouldn't like it as much as some of the books, since the synopsis made pretty clear that Gen wouldn't be present as much as in the other books. But Kamet was a surprisingly engaging narrator, and we got to see quite a lot of one of my other favorite characters (who'd been unfortunately and unusually absent in book four- perhaps because he was busy with his adventures here? I'm not sure of the time frame), and I loved the Persian-ish setting and all the lore. And Gen, once he finally showed up, is as awesome as ever. All in all, an excellent addition to the series.
- Other than Thick as Thieves, I only read two new books: The Ship Beyond Time and Shadow Run. Both were unfortunately disappointing. The Ship Beyond Time wasn't bad, and I really enjoyed the plot, but it suffered from the variety of Second Book Syndrome in which normally smart characters act like impulsive eejits. As for Shadow Run, well . . . I only picked it up because the blurb said it was like Firefly and it was so incredibly not. And while it had potential on its own too, it definitely did not live up to that potential. But it did trigger my first-ever GIF review (featuring almost all Firefly GIFs!), so I guess some good came out of it.
- Obviously, the first thing I'm going to do in August is put my room back in order now that it's painted, plus there's still more unpacking to do in other parts of the house. I need to find the rest of our movie collection so I can finish organizing that, and there's two massive bookshelves' worth of boxes that I'll probably help unpack (unless someone else gets to it first).
- Also, I really need to finish writing my Camp NaNo novel. My current goal is to finish it by the seventh, so I can take a week or so off before I start editing it again. We'll see how that works out, since I have next to no idea of how many more words I'll need or how much writing I'll actually do. I also need to get back to work on Fight Song and edit a few more chapters, or else y'all will have to wait rather longer than I intended for the chapter after next.
- That said, we'll be traveling to see family and friends (some of whom I haven't seen in years) quite a bit this month as well, so that'll give me plenty of opportunity to both write and edit. I won't lie; I'm not entirely thrilled about spending even more time on the road, and there's a large part of me that would rather just stay home. But we have to do it or not at all until maybe next summer, because midway through August, I head back to college. (What even. Where'd my summer go?)
- I'm actually quite excited for this coming semester. I'll start taking classes for my major, plus I have an Honors seminar on the life, theology, and writings of C.S. Lewis (which required me to rearrange my schedule but is going to be so worth it), and I somehow ended up taking Theology 1 with my philosophy professor from Honors last year? And I didn't even know he taught that class? And I originally intended to take the class with a different professor, so I don't quite know how or why the professors got switched around, but he's basically my favorite professor I've had so far and now I'm about 5X more excited for the class and it's going to be awesome. Also terrifying, because he's ridiculously smart (even for a professor) and I don't really know what to expect from the class even though I've had him before? But still awesome.
- Also, going back to college means I get to see my awesome roommate again, and my other friends, all of whom I've missed quite a bit. And the roomie and I are going to watch Serenity because I finally found it online (though I might've mentioned that last month?), and- well, we're not sure what else, but we've tossed some ideas around and it's going to be super fun. And we basically have three or four days in which we don't actually have to do much of anything, since we have to get to campus a few days before classes actually start (because there's a Bible conference, that's why), and I don't know exactly what we're doing on those days but I'm hoping that it'll involve going into town to hang out at the coffeeshop or the bakery and all that sort of thing on at least one of the days.
- And, of course, I'll have plenty of reading to try to catch up on. Now that we're down in northern VA, I have access to two different library systems (on a side note: I liked the fact that in New York, the librarians all knew who I was and thus it didn't matter if I forgot my library card, but it is so nice to be back at big libraries with tons of books), plus the eBook library in New York, so with all those options, I should be able to get most of the books I want to read, right? I've also heard that there's a used bookstore in a nearby city that has really good prices, so hopefully I'll make it there before I head back to college. I'm particularly hoping to snag the rest of the Wheel of Time series, since I now own about a third of it and maybe I'll read it more quickly if I don't have to wait for the books to come in at the library. Or maybe I'll just procrastinate on it more since I won't have a due date to keep me reading. We'll see.
- In other book-related news, both the Exiles and the Three Sleeping Beauties blog tours will start in about a week! I'll be participating in both tours, and I'm super excited for all the new books. And maybe this will be the year that I actually read the new Ilyon Chronicles when it comes out instead of waiting until months later! We can hope . . .
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)