Blogging Contest · Harp · NaNoWriMo

#19 Your Greatest Fan

Ick, sometimes I feel as if I’m my own greatest fan. Which is about as sad and silly as I’m My Own Grandpa.

I’d love it if my hubby were my greatest fan, but when he reads, it’s always non-fiction. I don’t think that harps and romance or faeries and druids will appeal to him. 😉 So, unless I sell a million copies of my books, my writing will look like just a hobby to him.

Having a hobby doesn’t really draw fans.

I suppose my greatest fan depends on which book you’re talking about. So far. For either one, my fans are my mom and step-mom (whom I also call Mom, just to add lovely confusion 😉 ).

My birth-mom has the same taste in reading as I do. She and I enjoy discussing the finer points of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series. She liked Harp Lessons, but has been really enjoying being my beta reader for The Stone of Kings. When I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go with TSOK, we had wonderful brainstorming sessions. That always got the story moving again.

My step-mom is more of a visual artist, but has provided most of the inspiration for both my finished books. She has encouraged my writing throughout my childhood, got me started playing harp, and took me on my first trip to New York City, where she grew up. She and her mom, my Grandma Caroline, told me endless stories of Ireland and what it was like to live there. If you’ve read Harp Lessons, do these things sound familiar? Naturally, Mom has been tickled pink that I’m now a published author.

I know there are those outside of my family who have loved Harp Lessons. But I can’t imagine having many “fans” since I’ve only got one book out there so far. I’m quite happy to have my mothers as my greatest fans. But it’ll be nice to start getting multiple five-star reviews that my fellow author friends (who have great backlists) have.

[This post was written as a part of the NaNoWriMo Pre-game Kick Off over at Jessica Schmeidler’s blog.]

NaNo word count: 17,462

Harp · Writing

For the Love of Ireland

May I just stop in for a cup o’ tea and a chat? Image attributed to Joseph Mischyshyn via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m about 2 chapters and an epilogue away from finishing my WIP (which I’m pretty sure will be titled The Stone of Kings). I gotta tell you, I’m excited and nervous about finishing it up and sending it out. It’s completely set in Ireland, a country I’ve only spent one week touring.

I’m not Irish by blood (that I know of). My dad remarried when I was nine and it was my new mother’s family who are Irish. I still love to chat with Grandma Caroline about what it was like for her to grow up there.

I fell in love with the magic of the country and by the time I learned to play harp I felt that the Irish tunes were written for me. I relished the romance of a country that created music which could move me so much.

Most of this is what inspired me to write Harp Lessons. But I’ve still had an outsider’s view of Ireland. I didn’t even “get it” when I spent a week there. Granted, a mere week in any country is not near enough time to truly understand anything.

I think I’m “getting it” now.

Parts of my current work take place in the spring of 1715. Obviously, I’ve had to do a lot of research, because I really want to get this right. I only hope I’ve done enough.

Now, I’ve always known about the famines and the English oppression. But still, it’s always been easier and prettier to view Ireland through the lens of movies like The Quiet Man or The Secret of Roan Inish. But I’m writing about 1715 Ireland. One of my principle characters is Turlough O’Carolan, who really lived. And lived he did.

I don’t know why I thought the British control of Ireland would have been any better for them than it was for us. (Though I’m glad we’re friends with the Brits now; they have just as rich and fascinating a history.) But I’ve been studying about a man who still managed to rise above it.

Making Turlough O’Carolan an actual character was tough. I’ve been afraid of putting words into his mouth that shouldn’t be there. But I hope I’ve captured his character into which I believe to be at the heart of Ireland and why I love it so much.

Carolan didn’t care if you were wealthy or poor, Catholic or Protestant. He was all about making friends and unifying Ireland against oppression. He loved a ‘ludicrous tale’ and had a temper. He didn’t use his fame wholly for personal gain (if that’s what he was after, he would have converted from Catholicism), though he did have a bit of an ego and craved the attention. He did, however, use his fame to help neutralize as much as possible the oppression that the Irish Catholics were subject to at the time.

I’m no historian, but these are the facts that I got from studying Carolan’s biography. I find him to have been a fascinating man and a wonderful example of the spirit of Ireland. I do hope that I’ve translated this accurately in my new book.

What are your feelings about the spirit of Ireland? Is there a country, whether or not your own, that you have similar feelings for? Is there a perfect representative of it?

Harp · Writing

Inspired Again

EUREKA!! Image attributed to Mark Dumont via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s fun to experience the moment when inspiration strikes. Especially when you’ve been stuck.

When I regularly hired out to play harp, I remember one event where, for some reason or other, I had a lot of wait time. I used the time to work on writing Harp Lessons. I was writing the scene where Sarah plays her harp in Central Park for the first time. After I wrote about how she felt while playing Danny Boy, I was compelled to play it again myself.

My next book doesn’t have quite as much harp playing, but there is a bit. After all, Turlough O’Carolan is one of the characters. But by the time I started writing it, I hadn’t practiced harp for over a year because I was too busy with the boys.

Being asked to play for my cousin’s wedding was a wonderful excuse to practice again, but it also helped to get me back in touch with how it feels to actually play. I don’t think one ever really forgets the feelings of effectively striking the strings into a pleasing tune. But the sensation had dulled somewhat until I brought it out again while practicing for the wedding.

Plus, I was stuck in research again.

I’d let my writing fall away for a couple of weeks. Although I knew what I wanted to do with my characters, I wanted a ‘mythological’ way to do it. When I finally found some cool stuff that would work, I sounded like an excited ape.

“Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!”

I’m getting so close to the end! My guess is maybe 2 or 3 more months, then some serious editing. And definitely off to have one of my Irish cousins proof-read it. 😀

What are some fun ways you react to inspriation?


Running In Heels

Somehow, I don’t think these would have helped either. Image attributed to Oxfordian Kissuth via Wikimedia Commons

I’m back to what happened last week, with writing my post on Monday morning. As full as my past week was, I think I can be excused. But still, I apologize for the late post.

My cousin’s wedding was Saturday, and it was beautiful (as expected :D). I made mistakes playing my harp for the ceremony, but I know they were the kind of mistakes that only I and maybe some other musicians noticed.

I felt that old irrational feeling of my heart racing as I played. I say ‘irrational’ because no one is really totally focused on me, though they will come over and listen to a few of the songs that I play before the ceremony. They are there for the event and I’m the pretty background music. Besides, this was family!

Nevertheless, my fingers get as cold as if I’m walking through a blizzard with no gloves. I have to focus harder to make the songs sound smooth. Inevitably, about ten minutes after I’m done, my fingers finally ‘thaw.’

*contented sigh*

It may have been better if my morning had gone smoother, but here’s a little story to give an idea of how I was feeling:

After I bought my dress and got my hair done, I went to JC Penny’s to find matching suits for our boys. The store had signs for all the children’s sizes except for what my boys currently fit into. Go figure. After asking a clerk, I was led to some adorable suit sets, so I got matching ones. I will dress my boys alike as much as I can while I can get away with it. It’s as cute as I can get without having a little girl to put in a sweet frilly dress.

I don’t think my boys or my husband would appreciate it if I got them dresses…

Thirty minutes before we were ready to leave, disaster complication struck. William’s suit was missing its tie! My boys would not be perfectly matched and it would irk me for the rest of the day. *grumble*

Fortunately, Penny’s is only five miles away, so we swung by on our way out and I ran in. Unfortunately, they were also remodeling so the closest door that I could use was on the opposite side of the store from where I bought the suits. Hubby offered to run in for me, but seeing as it took me forever to find the suits in the first place, I figured I should do it.

So I’m running through a busy Penny’s on a Saturday afternoon, all dolled up, and trying very hard to ignore the pain in my feet. I’d worn those shoes before and even added cushioned inserts to them, but I usually wear them to church where I sit most of the time. I grabbed the tie (I’d called ahead), and ran back to the car.

For the rest of the day and ever since, I’ve felt like I’ve been walking on marbles. My hubby was super duper sweet last night and prepared a foot bath with salts, and then massaged my feet with mineral oil. Love! ❤

It’s been totally worth it. I had the honor of playing for my cousin’s ceremony and relished spending time with family, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

What are some ways you’ve made yourself completely uncomfortable but would do it all over again for the sake of loved ones?


Who Knew My Fingers Have Their Own Brains?

Image attributed to Rama

I’ve been asked to play my harp for my cousin’s upcoming wedding. I greatly admire this cousin who has been highly dedicated in serving in our military. I love my country and so I’d considered joining after I graduated high school, but my parents talked me out of it. It was the only advice of theirs that I regret taking. So agreeing to play for this particular cousin’s wedding was a no-brainer.


The last time I played for any kind of real audience was when I played a wedding while I was pregnant with Charlie. I had horrible morning sickness at the time and I prayed I wouldn’t vomit during the ceremony. Ever since, I’ve been too distracted by family to even do any serious practice, not to mention the fact that a bit of sneaky gluten can now make me feel worse than I did at that last wedding.

But I’ve been feeling great and hopefully no tricky gluten will surprise me between now and then. So I’ve pulled out my harp from the closet, all my old books, and the replacement strings. I fixed the broken string, struggled to tune the harp (because we gave my sister back her piano), and tried to play what I thought I might remember.

In. Credible.

After 3 years, I could still play, from memory, most of my music. For some songs, I only needed to look at the first few notes on the page, but then I was off. It wasn’t perfect, rather like a rusty music box, but I still played!

It was like my fingers have little brains of their own. While I was busy running after the boys, my fingers were still holding on to their dances, remembering their choreography with the strings. I love muscle memory! I know I can easily have my music polished by the Big Day. 😀

Have you ever thought you’d forgotten a skill and realized you never forgot at all? Have you tried again?

Harp · Writing

How O’Carolan Influenced St. Patrick’s Day

Image of O’Carolan’s memorial attributed to James Yardley.

As sick as I’ve been for the last month, I couldn’t let St. Paddy’s day go by without talking about it just a little bit. Having played a non-pedal harp for half my life, I’ve plucked out my share of great Irish tunes. Several of these are attributed to Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). He was Ireland’s most celebrated harper for his day.

I’ve always known the basics about O’Carolan. He was blind and wrote many his songs for the nobles of the country. I even knew some fun tidbits, like how he would finger his coat buttons while traveling as a way to practice the fingering of his music.

Since he’s a character in my Work In Progress, I’ve learned some more great stuff about him that makes me wonder for the first time this year, how influential he was in the way we currently celebrate St. Patrick’s day.

During my research for my new book, I came across an excerpt from an article by Very Rev. M. J. Canon Masterson (honestly, I’d like to know why there was a need to put in “Very”)’Carolan.htm. A line that stood out was, “[O’Carolan] served as a heaven-sent envoy to unite all creeds in a common love of country and hatred of oppression and, I repeat, he needed the help of the Protestant gentry, and secured it in generous measure.”

It sounded to me like O’Carolan (who was Catholic) didn’t care who you were, where you came from, or what your faith was. As long as you weren’t cruel to anyone, he was good with you. Being an American, I’ve always come to know St. Patrick’s day as a day where anyone can be Irish. It doesn’t seem to matter our background or creed, it’s a day where we all have a common love of Ireland 😀

With all the traveling O’Carolan did and his intense fame in his time, I can’t help but think that he was a key player in this spirit of the holiday and in the friendly openness of the Irish people in general.

I’ve still got a lot to learn about the bard and am impatiently waiting for my copy of his biography by Donal O’Sullivan, which I unfortunately can’t seem to find at any nearby library. *humph* But I’m enjoying learning about a man whose music I’ve been playing for quite some time. 🙂

What do you think? Are my conclusions about O’Carolan and St. Patrick’s Day feasible? Have you come across other things that may have influenced the “everyone’s Irish for a day” feeling we get?

Glutened Goals Update: Nothing. I think that my glutening may finally be over, but, like my boys who have green goo dripping from their noses, I’ve caught a bug that makes it difficult to tell. lol To quote Gilda Radner, it’s always something.

Books I Love · Harp

My thoughts on The Hobbit vs Beowulf

Reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo Lyre

If you haven’t guessed already, I love the poem Beowulf. During that England/Ireland trip, I was very excited to see Sutton Hoo. Even several of you folks from England are asking, “What on earth is Sutton Hoo?” In short, it is a viking burial ship which dates back to the culture that brought us Beowulf.

On the ship, they found an instrument believed to be a lyre that the scop might have played while singing such epic poems. Fortunately, I happened to see the Sutton Hoo exhibit at the British Museum in London first because that was where the remnants of the instrument were displayed at the time.

Sutton Hoo Lyre fragments

So what does all that have to do with The Hobbit?

Well, since you’ve already dipped your toe into Lake Nerd by reading thus far, perhaps you like to wade out a bit farther with me? I promise it will be fun! 😀

Tolkien also enjoyed Beowulf and would begin his lectures on the poem with a dramatic recitation of the opening lines in Old English. (Oh! to have been in that room at that time!) For anyone who has read both The Hobbit and Beowulf, you can see how Bilbo Baggins is Beowulf.

To compare (spoiler alert for both Beowulf and The Hobbit):

We’ll start with Beowulf. In the poem, King Hrothgar’s men are being attacked by Grendel, who essentially is a violent, cantankerous neighbor who doesn’t like Hrothgar’s parties. He chases them all out of the mead-hall and for 12 years terrorizes the people.

“As [Hrothgar’s] woes became known widely and well,

Sad songs were sung by the sons of men” (Beowulf, lines 129 &130)

Songs! Hmm… I wonder who heard them? You guessed it! Beowulf, an outsider, comes to defeat this Grendel guy who couldn’t be pierced by any of the blades of Hrothgar’s men.

But Beowulf is different. He is a wrestler!

After watching Grendel eat one of his own soldiers, Beowulf gives Grendel… a handshake? Well, his grip breaks Grendel’s fingers and rips off his arm. So much for attempting friendship.

Anyway, Grendel slinks off to his lair and dies of his wounds. Yay Beowulf!

Now for The Hobbit. We’ve got Thorin (Hrothgar) whose people were driven out of their mountain (mead-hall) by the dragon Smaug (Grendel). I know, I know. Beowulf has a treasure hoarding dragon/worm creature too. There are a lot of blending of symbols in The Hobbit. I’m simply going over my favorites. Then, there is Bilbo (Beowulf). He too is an outsider who does not use weapons.

But Bilbo is different. He is a burglar!

Much like Beowulf has a natural strength to defeat Grendel when no one else could, Bilbo has the natural ability of stealth. This not only helps them to defeat Smaug, but many other foes along their journey.

But what inspires Bilbo to help the dwarves? Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1:

“They came back…with Thorin’s harp wrapped in a green cloth. It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill.”

What was that? Was that music? A harp even? Whether Bilbo likes it or not, he has already started his journey with the dwarves when he first heard the song describing their sad history.

*deep breath* Okay I should probably stop now because I’m entering the realm of what really inspires me, but may bore you guys. 😉 Maybe soon I’ll post my thoughts on the new Hobbit movie 😀

Have you read either of these works? Have they inspired you in any way? Have you ever seen Sutton Hoo?

Glutened Goals update: (a letter)

Dear Rocks In My Belly,

I get it. I’m not supposed to injest gluten of any size. It was a complete accident and happened a month ago. Please stop punishing me! It makes it very difficult to get anything done.

Thank you,

Hasn’t Written Much Of Anything

Books I Love · Harp

Beowulf Blues

Image attributed to Ganainm

At the risk of sounding like I didn’t enjoy myself when I went to England and Ireland in 2005 (which is far from the truth) I’m going to post another regret from that trip. This one was my own fault.

When I was in Dublin, I went on a pub crawl – one of those touristy things (I’d gone on another fantastic one in Scotland which covered Burns and Stevenson). It was guided by 2 musicians who explained all about Irish music and the history of it.

During the tour, they talked about how you may find yourself at an impromptu session of music making at any pub and it’s possible you may be asked to contribute. The lead fellow on the tour explained (tongue in cheek) that it would be highly offensive to refuse. If you aren’t any good, the musicians would be happy to give you tips to get better, and if you are very good, they still will give you tips to get better.

Since I still had the rest of the week to go on my stay in Ireland, I was already dreaming of how nice it would be to find myself one of these musical sessions, but it would be a shame that there probably wouldn’t be a harp around for me to play. As it was there was no harp at this tour, and when it came to the end of it, the guides requested us to contribute something.

Only 2 other guests got up and during their performances, my heart started hammering because the thought crossed my mind that I could contribute after all. Neither one played an instrument; a lady recited a poem about fairies and a fellow sang a song about Boston a capella.

“Beowulf! You can sing Beowulf!” A voice in my head was screaming at me. Another voice was saying, “Eh, don’t bother, you don’t have your harp with you anyway.”

It would have fit in nicely. Beowulf originally passed along by oral tradition before it was written down, much like the traditional Irish tunes. It was originally sung by a person called a scop (I believe it’s pronounced “shope”), who would play the tune on a lyre. I had learned the first 11 lines in Old English and set them to the tune of “The Grenadier and the Lady” because I’m not that good at making up my own tunes. I did it for a project in one of my classes at USF and enjoyed the creative and historical aspect of it. I’ve never forgotten how to sing Beowulf, though now I’d have to practice again to play it on the harp.

In the end, I chickened out. At the time, I made the excuse to the first voice in my head that I didn’t have my harp, so there. But as we were all walking out of the door of the last pub, part of me wanted to gather everyone back in there so I could sing it a capella like the guy from Boston.

I know it wasn’t that big a deal, but I was really kicking myself that I was going home with a regret instead of what could have been a fun story. If I ever get the chance to do something like that again, I hope that I can push myself out of my comfort zone. Doing this blog thing helps, I think. 😉

Have you ever had an opportunity like that pass by? Do you regret it, or are you happy you didn’t jump on it?

Glutened Goal update: I haven’t been able to get any writing done the past 2 days because of illness and gluten. But on the plus side, I came up with another creative analogy to what gluten sometimes feels like: Don Quixote is riding around on Rosinante in my belly and for reasons only known to him, he’ll suddenly wield his sword and swipe my innards. These are the times when I have to just stop what I’m doing and let the jabbing pain pass. lol My writing today was finishing this blog post.