Thursday, January 18, 2018

Chipping Away at the Proverbial Writer's Block


     Evidently, I have not written a real blog post since last year about this time—despite my optimistic declaration then that I was ending my “season of silence” and beginning a season of stories. I began last year in high hopes and actually did work on my novel on and off again. But I was once again plagued with unexpected interruptions: an emergency appendectomy, total knee replacement surgery, and the passing of my dear mother. I got back on track last fall, only to be handed my ideal course, British Lit, in mid-October. After an intense academic quarter, I had the busyness of the holidays. Subsequently, my story has lain dormant for over three months. I am currently not teaching, and despite caring for my aged father and all kinds of projects crying out for attention, I really have run out of valid excuses now not to write.

     So here I am ready to write—but frankly stuck. I made the mistake of abandoning my story, not only in the middle of a chapter, but in the middle of a paragraph. I honestly don’t remember where I was planning to go with that particular scene and, consequently, I’ve been avoiding it. I recalled C.S. Lewis wrote that one could walk away from writing nonfiction and easily pick it back up from where one had left off, but if one walked away from writing fiction, the ideas would scurry off the page and be hard to recover. My recollection is not quite precise in the words Lewis used, but the idea is there. Here’s what Lewis actually wrote in Book III of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century:            
"Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Facts, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an extinguished fire, or recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit."

     I find some consolation that the late great wordsmith, C.S. Lewis, also had difficulty returning to a story left alone too long. I wish I knew what his remedy had been. The usual prescription to overcoming writer’s block is simply to sit down and start writing—anythingto get the creative juices flowing: hence this blog post. Here’s hoping I will also be able to “coax back to life the extinguished fire” of inspiration and my abandoned story will soon spark back to life.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Greetings 2017




    


     
                                                                                                                                                                  December 2017
                                                           

     Greetings from the Jeschke clan! We send our warmest wishes for a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year! We had hoped for a calmer year, but 2017 brought its share of challenges & blessings. Some of our biggest challenges/sorrows: both my son Mark & I (Melanie) had to undergo appendectomies (with the same surgeon but in different months); I also endured artificial knee replacement the end of May; and during my hospitalization, my dear mother Betty, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s, entered hospice care. She peacefully went to Glory on June 1, with her devoted husband of 68 years Earl by her side, holding her hand.  Among her last words were a recitation of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus!” Her older sister Margie followed her 6 weeks later. Earl has moved to an assisted living facility nearby us; at nearly 93, he is sadly declining and in need of frequent care. We were also sorry to have Scott & Eliza move away to LA in May, but are excited to see how God will use Scott’s talents in the film industry there. Our biggest blessings: welcoming grandson Mark Devereux, Jr. (Mark & Beth’s 2nd), on June 11; and the weddings of our two youngest: Brendan to Annie Luther on August 12 and Kevin to Kirsten Mendelsohn on Dec. 2. Right before Brendan’s wedding, he was able to join me in Oxford for the triennial C.S. Lewis Oxbridge conference, where I conducted “Inklings” walking tours on my new knee. Brendan is now serving the youth at The King’s Chapel (TKC) fulltime. Kevin graduated this month from the Prince William Police Academy, and we are so proud to have a police officer in the family. We are now (at last:) officially empty-nesters!!! Raising these nine wonderful children has been our greatest joy, and we are so blessed that they are all following the Lord and are involved in ministry. Bill is especially glad to have Brendan and Mark serving alongside him at TKC, sharing the burdens and blessings of our wonderful church family.

     We are grateful for our times together with family and friends, and look forward to hearing from you, dear ones, over the holidays. 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, Bill, & the Jeschke clan                              


Short summary of 2017:  Bill: stays endlessly busy working for the church, caring for the family-- especially for his father-in-law-- coaching soccer (Chantilly H.S) & singing. Melanie: on hiatus from teaching last spring, worked sporadically in between surgeries on a novel; enjoyed teaching a Brit Lit course at Northern VA Community College, NOVA-Manassas this fall. Ministry: Bill, Senior Pastor of The King’s Chapel (TKC); Melanie, mentor mom for MOMS (Moms on a Mission, formerly MOPS). Highlights: long walks to the harbor & on the golf course here at beautiful Belmont Bay; going together to an Inklings Fellowship conference in Asheville, NC in April; Melanie attending Oxbridge w/ Brendan in July; vacationing with the fam on Topsail Island in Aug; marrying off our two youngest to wonderful, godly women; enjoying our ever-growing family

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     

http://www.pinterest.com/inklingsauthor/boards/    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.