Monday, February 6, 2017

My Season of Silence

Melanie, in a previous season, sitting at C.S. Lewis's desk at the Kilns

I have been off- line, off the grid, off the radar, and off my game for well over a year now. Here’s why.

     I’m a perfectionist and can edit myself to death, but this time I will try writing in a stream of consciousness style.  In any case, the point is to be writing, which I haven’t done in a very long time. In fact, except for my annual Christmas letter, I have not “put pen to paper” or more aptly “fingers to keyboard” in more than a year.  Hence my blog title. My goal this month is to begin working again on my long-neglected novel about Tolkien, but this blog will have to be my kick-starter. Frankly, my season of silence has done a psychological number on my head and my confidence: I sometimes wonder if I still can write at all. I need actually to write something—anything—so that I feel I can. I expect this post will be longer than usual—just because I have so much explaining to do to myself and my readers. So if you care, please read on…

     The season of silence began well before I wrote my last official blog post in the fall of 2015. In fact, my Tolkien novel has been neglected since August 2015 when I went back to teaching my fall college classes. The reasons are many but mainly the absolute lack of time. My life has been taken over by duty and necessity. I remember a friend saying to me at the funeral of her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, that she felt like she had fallen into a black hole for the previous several years.  I too feel like I have fallen into a black hole over the past five years as we began the process of moving from our beloved Oakton home where we raised our nine children, to our “interim” home in Manassas where we could care for my parents, to finally our new down-sized home along the Occoquan River where we hope to age in place ourselves.   The black hole feeling can mainly be attributed to caring for my parents (my mom has Alzheimer’s). They are now in assisted living and my mom in the memory care unit, but we are still dealing with sorting through and passing along all their stuff—68 years-worth—as well as our own. If we include their moves with ours, we’ve sold four houses and moved four times in four years.  We are just beginning to emerge from the black hole.

     My parents lived with my husband and me and our two then college-aged sons for two and a half years in our “interim” Manassas home. I believe firmly that God called us to care for them, and I do not regret our decision, but none of it has been easy. Their demands were constant and draining and I had little time to call my own. When my mom’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where I could no longer care for her, we made the difficult decision to move them to a lovely assisted-living home close to our church. Those of you who have elderly parents know that even if they are in a good assisted-living facility, your care-taking is hardly over, and you can still be called nearly daily for various demands: doctors' visits, medical needs and decisions, running errands, etc. But at least I no longer had the constant minute by minute demands of daily care to meet. I naively thought that I would perhaps have more time to visit with friends again (my socializing had all but disappeared) and maybe even finally get back to writing. However, God had another plan in mind.

     In the fall of 2015, I had a fairly strenuous class schedule at NOVA community college with three composition classes on my plate.  I then received a “Macedonian call” to take on the 11th grade American Literature classes for Trinity Christian School in Fairfax because the young man who had been the teacher shocked them by quitting after the first quarter. I really, really didn’t want to return to high school teaching and I really, really didn’t want to give up my flexible schedule for a full-time job on top of my college teaching. Such a job had not been on my radar at all and yet it’s timing was very interesting. Since I no longer had the daily care of my parents to contend with, I technically could accept. Plus with my parents no longer contributing to the mortgage of a home we had bought large enough to accommodate them and all their belongings, my husband was earnestly seeking the Lord for how we were going to financially make it. He prayed for provision and this job looked like the answer to that prayer. The school needed a teacher who could step in mid-semester and we needed the money. After arguing with the Lord for a while, I prayerfully, albeit reluctantly, accepted the job. The plan was for me to finish out the fall semester at NOVA and come in two to three days a week to Trinity to teach their American Lit classes. Second semester, I taught a weekly literature class for NOVA and came on full time for Trinity. This was one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters of my life. I can completely sympathize with all my friends who have long commutes into work in the D.C. area.  I rose at 5:15 every morning and did not get back home until 5:15 or 5:30 every night. Anyone, who is a high school, and especially English, teacher knows how a teacher cannot leave their work at school. Each night I still had to plan lessons, grade papers, and often try to cook dinner and do household chores for my family, then fall into bed, and start the whole routine over the next day. Literally the rat-race. The Trinity students and staff are wonderful, but the demands of the job were overwhelming to me. For the first time, I felt my age—definitely too old to be standing out in all kinds of bad weather for 45 minutes every day directing traffic for carpool duty! I had no time for myself and fell deeper into the black hole. In fact, I fell completely off the social media/ writing grid.

     The blessing of the job—besides increasing my empathy for all my friends and acquaintances who are caught up in the rat-race—was that the added income enabled us to not only pay our mortgage, but also pay off many debts and put aside enough to begin needed updates so that we could sell our Manassas house. We had earnestly sought the Lord at the turn of the New Year 2016 and believed He had called us to sell the house and move by the summer or “as soon as we could.” We really enjoyed our Manassas home and neighborhood (and the bonus of a hot tub:) but knew we didn’t need all that space for ourselves. Our sons had graduated college by then and were soon to be married and on their own. After going through all we had with my parents, we were determined to down-size and get rid of most of our “stuff” while we still could. We did not want to subject our children to having to do it for us. As soon as I stopped teaching in May, we began the “Great Purge.” We had the house on the market by mid-August and had a contract on it within the first week. We had spent the spring and summer looking for just the right place for us and, by God’s grace, found a lovely condo in a waterfront community, not far from our church. Originally, I had not even considered a condo, but over time this proved to be the best option for us. With more and more purging and exhaustion, we moved by mid-October. Not much fits in a two- bedroom condo with little storage (and our youngest son is still with us until his wedding), so the purging and unpacking continues. We recently moved all the random boxes—of files and photos and memorabilia from years and years of my parents and us—out of storage, and now our condo looks like we just moved in again. So all that sorting still faces us, but bit by bit we will get there!

     Meanwhile, the literature class I was supposed to teach this semester at the college was given to a full-time faculty member who didn’t have enough students enrolled in their class. I was disappointed at first but acknowledge the Lord directing my paths. I have been praying about having the time to return to my writing, and this unexpected change seems to be the answer to the prayer.

     In the time I was off the grid, I discovered to my consternation that my e-book publisher had taken the four books of The Oxford Chronicles down off Amazon without any communication that I can find.  It’s a long story, but it turns out I was not the only author involved. After several years of disputing about unpaid royalties and breach of contract with this publisher, my agent wrote a letter declaring the return of the publishing rights of all her authors. The sad thing to me is that I worked very hard revising and editing the books for the Kindle version and, of course, those files were not returned. Now I have to start all over again: recovering the revised manuscripts and either finding a new e-publisher or trying “Indie” publishing on my own—all rather daunting.

     I also discovered that while I was off the grid, my web-site had been taken down. The renewal notice had been sent to a defunct email address and I wasn’t aware of any issues.  Thankfully, I was easily able to recover and rectify that and it’s now back up and running. Finally, many of my blog posts, which had only been partially posted and then linked to the e-publisher’s blog post had been taken down by the said publisher. These I still have to restore and this offering is the beginning of that process.

     To kick-start myself, I recently attended a conference sponsored by my local Christian writers’ group. Frankly, I came away more discouraged than inspired. The publishing industry continues to rapidly change, and keeping up with all these changes—marketing, on-line publishing, social media, etc. — is overwhelming enough, and we’re not even talking about the craft of writing. Being so long from actual writing has left me full of self-doubt as I said at the beginning of this post. However, when I came home from the conference, I received a serendipitous boost. A long-time reader, or fan if you will, had posted on my Facebook page a picture of my novel Expectations and wrote: “One of my favorite things - re-reading parts of your favorite books and crying in all the same places (for several chapters)... LOVE Melanie Morey Jeschke and her Oxford Chronicles (EXPECTATIONS) and the wonderful world she created!” Needless to say, this reader’s message encouraged me greatly just when I needed it most. Writers need readers, and if you have taken the time to read all of this “lament,” I am grateful. Thank you, dear readers, for all your encouragement, support, and prayers over the years.

     So that is the sorry saga of my season of silence. I hope and pray the silence will now be broken, and I can be disciplined to write faithfully. With God’s help and grace, I hope this new season will be my season of stories.

Christmas Greetings 2016


                                                                                                                              December 2016

Dear Friends and Family:                                                           

     Greetings from the Jeschke clan! We send our warmest wishes for a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year! 2016 brought its share of blessings and challenges. Our greatest blessings this year were celebrating 40 (!) years of marriage and welcoming three new grandchildren: giving us 9 adult children, and 9 granddaughters & 9 grandsons. The tie will break in June when we expect the arrival of grandson #10.  Another great blessing this year was the graduation of “our baby” from Christopher Newport University. We can now proudly claim that all nine Jeschke children have graduated from college!  We are thrilled to announce his recent engagement to his college sweetheart. Our clan continues to grow, but we have taken the bold step of drastically down-sizing.  After six exhausting months of purging all the “stuff” of two households (ours and my parents’), selling our Manassas house, and moving, we are slowly unpacking and settling into a condo in a waterfront community along the Occoquan River. Our drive to our church The King’s Chapel is actually a bit shorter (and much more scenic), and the view of the river from our large windows and balcony is serenely beautiful. We live next to a defunct golf course with access to numerous trails along the river and bay and can take a short walk down to a lovely marina and a national wildlife preserve.  After the holidays, we look forward to getting beyond the business of moving and begin actually living here in this spectacular setting.  

       May the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord, be born anew in our hearts today!

     Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!

              Many blessings, 

                                        Melanie Jeschke

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!

       Greetings from the Jeschke clan! We send our warmest wishes for a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year. This past year, we celebrated two big anniversaries: our graduation from UVA at our 40th reunion in June where we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” friends and Melanie’s Christian housemates from “Shamrock Rd,” and the 20th anniversary of the founding of The King’s Chapel (TKC) in September. We are so blessed to serve such a wonderful church family and to have all our children involved in ministry. On August 8th, we welcomed a precious new granddaughter into the family: Molly Elizabeth to Mark & Beth.  After living with us for nearly 2 ½ years, my parents Earl & Betty Morey have moved to a lovely assisted- living facility close to the church. My mom’s Alzheimer’s has sadly progressed while my dad, who has congestive heart failure, has finally been approved for an artificial heart-valve replacement the end of January, before his 91st birthday. Despite his health struggles, he still manages to give excellent Bible teachings most Sundays at TKC. In November, shortly after my parents’ move, I received an unexpected call to teach 11th grade English fulltime at Trinity Christian School. Going “back to school,” while continuing to teach my classes at Northern VA Community College, has been quite a challenge! Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say that all of The Oxford Chronicles (Inklings, Intentions, Expectations, & Evasions) have now been released in a revised e-book format, thanks to Helping Hand Press.We are grateful for our times together with family and friends. May the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord, be born anew in our hearts today. Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!
                Many blessings, 
                              Melanie M. Jeschke    twitter: @jeschke_m   

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Getting Old Isn't for Sissies"

             My mother often repeated with wry resignation Bette Davis’s famous quip as my parents faced the challenges of aging. The saying became my mom’s mantra in the early days of my parents’ move to our home over two years ago. We felt led to take them in—although at the time we had no inkling how much my mom’s Alzheimer’s had progressed, how much my dad’s heart and physical pain had worsened, or how much their living conditions on their own had deteriorated. My husband and I worked hard to give them a happy home and to improve their standard of living. With numerous errands and doctors’ visits, we enabled my father to get help with his heart, hearing, and eyesight. As my mother increasingly faltered with completing daily living tasks, we hired caregivers, who assisted several times a day. Last winter crawled by with the challenges of harsh weather and harsher sickness. Over the spring, I began visiting assisted living facilities—nine in all—just in case we were no longer able to give my parents the care they needed. Despite all the emotional and physical stresses of sharing our home with them, I was determined to make it at least two years.

            We passed the two-year benchmark the end of May, but my mom’s “descent into the darkness” of Alzheimer’s has relentlessly progressed. Meeting her basic daily needs requires more help than we can provide, and so we painfully and prayerfully made the decision that the time had come for my parents’ move to an assisted living facility. Of the nine I had visited, the one I thought best for them actually had an opening. I am so thankful that some terrible crisis did not precipitate the decision to move them.  However, once we made the decision, we had to move rapidly, and the past few weeks have been physically and emotionally exhausting.

            I have mixed emotions: sadness that we couldn’t take them to the end, but immense relief from the day to day pressure of ensuring their safety and comfort. I know many of my generation are facing these same difficulties and decisions with their aging parents; and even though my parents are currently being well cared for, we will continue to face even more difficulties and decisions in the days to come. I am also considering what lies ahead for my husband and me, aware that we are almost senior citizens ourselves. Before too long, our own children will have to meet these same challenges in dealing with us.  I must choose not to worry about the future, but rather trust that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 My mom no longer quotes Bette Davis. I don’t think she can even remember the saying now, but I still can. It resonates with me more than ever: truly, “getting old isn’t for sissies.”   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digging for Details: Researching Historical Fiction

“The German planes drone with a menacin’ sound while ours hum with their lovely Merlin engines. But the Spitfire—ah, the Spitfire—she sings.”

          Historical fiction has to be my favorite genre. I plead mea culpa to having learned much of my history through novels. Experiencing historical events along with actual or created characters makes history real to me. However, since many people besides me learn history through films and novels, authors should be faithful to ensure their stories remain as historically accurate as possible. It’s no good thinking, “Well, it’s fiction, so I can make it up. No one will notice.”  Oh, yes, they will! Astute readers are happy to point out mistakes. I once had an on-line reviewer castigate my book Inklings for being historically inaccurate because I described my 1960’s character wearing a mini-skirt when the fashion hadn’t been introduced yet.  I was only off by a few months! My goal was to evoke the era for my readers by using a well-known visual image; nevertheless, to cover my bases for future potential nit-pickers, I dutifully added the discrepancy to my list of carefully documented historical departures in my author’s notes for a revised edition. 

            Getting the facts right takes time, but research often yields not only details that enrich the setting of one’s story, but often the story itself. Besides reading a copious pile of history books and biographies when I was working on Evasions, a novel set in WWII Britain, I watched documentaries, visited several war museums, attended a WWII event in Pennsylvania (complete with re-enactors, a big band concert, and vintage planes), read numerous interviews and memoirs, and conducted my own interviews with four people who had lived in England during the Battle of Britain. The museums and documentaries supplied the rich sensory details of the daily living of the period, especially clothing, music, and rationed food.

However, the first-hand interviews and memoirs proved to be the most productive mine for details, leading to plot development, emotional responses to events, and even character dialogue.  In Evasions, my depictions of the sinking of the Athenia, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the bombing raid on the RAF base at Kenley are based on recorded memoirs as well as historical documents. After interviewing Pamela Allen, who had worked at St. Bart’s Hospital in London, I decided my fictional nurse Annie Little must work there too. One of my interviewees described her feelings about being cooped up in a London bomb shelter during the nightly air-raids, attributing her struggle with claustrophobia to those frightening times. Her husband clarified how he learned, as a boy during the London bombing Blitz, to tell whether approaching aircraft were enemy or friend by the sound of their engines. I quoted his delightful analysis in Evasions when my character Pilot Officer Eric MacKenzie explains to Annie how he discerns the difference: “The German planes drone with a menacin’ sound while ours hum with their lovely Merlin engines. But the Spitfire—ah, the Spitfire—she sings.”

  I still smile when I read that line. Forgive the cliché, but sometimes digging for details yields pure gold.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Home Sweet Home?

           This past winter, cooped up by unrelenting snow and cold, I found myself constantly searching for a beach house where we could vacation and lie in the sun. In fact, I obsessed on this search until I found and booked “the one.”  I literally counted the weeks and days until we were able to make our escape to the beach this summer. At the same time, I knew our time away would seem all too short; and even before we got there, I was dreading how quickly it would go by. I’m very grateful for our wonderful family vacation, but I’m already longing to return to another “dream house” by the ocean.

            I should be content where I am. We live in a lovely home in a friendly neighborhood.  We moved out here nearly three years ago so that we could accommodate my aging parents. We left behind our beloved family “homestead” where we raised our nine children and lived for twenty-three years. To say the move was difficult would be an understatement, but we felt clearly that God would have us take this step. Despite all that we have grown to love and enjoy about our new house, it somehow still doesn’t feel quite like “home.” My husband and I often find ourselves talking about the next house, a special house just for us, our “dream house.”

             Meanwhile, I post interior decorating ideas that catch my eye on a Pinterest board. I likely won’t ever be able to afford them, but it’s fun to dream about possibilities. Similarly, my mother-in-law kept a manila folder labeled “dream house,” filled with pictures of designs and features she liked. Sadly, at just fifty-four, she died of cancer before having the opportunity of living in her “dream house.” As sad as this is, I am confident that she is with the Lord, and that she is now in a far more beautiful heavenly home than we can ever dream or imagine.

            My faith in that heavenly home causes me to wonder if my constant longing and desire for my “dream house” is really my longing and desire for heaven. As fabulous as some places and houses in this world may be, they will ultimately leave us dissatisfied and yearning for something more. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis so eloquently phrased this idea:  “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Home sweet home? Sounds like heaven to me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Place: The Importance of Setting (Part II)

Time and place are the two aspects of setting in a work of fiction. In this post, I will discuss the importance of “place” in my Oxford Chronicles series. The place of a story can serve as a plot catalyst, but it can also serve as creative inspiration. In fact, the idea for the series came from my first publisher after he looked at photos I had taken of Oxford and the Eagle and Child pub. “What do you think about setting a novel around that pub and the writers (the Inklings) who met there?” he asked, and from that seed of inspiration grew my first book Inklings

As I’ve traveled to different locales, various impressions and observations find their way into my storylines. Cambo House outside St. Andrew’s, Scotland, led to the pre-WWII love story in Evasions of Eric and Laurene. Having spent the night myself in the “dowager” wing of the mansion, sleeping uneasily in a Victorian tester bed in a capacious room with heavy curtains and mahogany wardrobes, I could easily describe
those details when Laurene is quarantined with the flu to her grandmother’s room. Walking St. Andrew’s
 famous golf course with my friends enabled me to understand Eric’s love for
 the game and the fun he has finding lost golf balls in the gorse. And our adventurous
 drive up into the highlands to stay in a lighthouse near Gairloch led me to incorporate
 that starkly beautiful landscape into the frame story of the MacKenzie clan. 
Thanks to the generosity of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, I was able to spend a 
night in Lewis’s home the Kilns; in fact, I slept in his bedroom. Well to be honest,
 I was so excited I could barely sleep! However, that night allowed me to “experience” 
a little of what living at the Kilns could have felt like for Annie Little when she finds
 refuge there as a wartime evacuee.

Expectations opens in Oxford, but quickly moves to Paris. Since I had lived there for a semester,
I could easily place David and Kate in my Passy apartment with a skyline view of the Eiffel Tower.
I had attended a bilingual school with some illustrious classmates, including the granddaughter of
Winston Churchill and daughter of the British ambassador, who kindly invited all the girls in our class
to her birthday dinner party at the British embassy. I was dazzled by the embassy with its ornate ballroom
and Queen Victoria’s throne, which the queen never sat on but we schoolgirls did. My memories, as well as
my diary entries from that important time in my life, gave me rich sensory details for the story I was to
write decades later.

These kinds of details belonging to “place” can bring verisimilitude to one’s writings as well as trigger
numerous plot points. Discovering the right setting, both in time and place, could be the key
to unlocking a successful story.