J. Grace Pennington

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When You’re Feeling Dauncy

Lucy and Ethel

“I’ve been feeling real dauncy.”

“Dauncy?”

“Yeah, that’s a word my grandmother made up for when you aren’t really sick but you just feel lousy.”

~ Lucy and Ethel, I Love Lucy

I’ve had a chest cough for about a week now. I’d like to blame it on staying out all night in the cold last Tuesday to be an extra in a Doritos commercial, but there are honestly any number of places I could have picked up germs. Bible study, visiting a new church, going out to lunch with my brother, Wal-Mart, meeting up with a friend from out of state, or the line at ChickFilA that was so long it went all the way out the door.

In other words, I’ve been busy. Between that and the cough and the resulting headache, the past few days I’ve just been feeling — well, dauncy.

And daunciness is a bit hard on a writer’s brain.

There’s the advice I always give to aspiring writers — I put it on all my interviews, and tell it to anyone who asks how I manage to write so much.

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist. Just keep getting words out and don’t stop until you’re finished.”

And that’s true. Just sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s a bit easier said than done.

Which would explain why you haven’t seen many blog posts out of me lately, and why the Firmament: Gestern progress bar hasn’t moved for a long while. As much as I would like to be, I’m not perfect, and sometimes I’m feeling dauncy and not feeling like writing, and so I don’t.

But there’s always another month, another week, another day. I could sit here and beat myself up for only writing one day in January, but I won’t. Because my energies are better served right now pushing past the daunciness and getting words on word processor. Now whether that means writing Gestern or editing Implant, I don’t know just yet. I’m still working out my publishing plan for this year. I’m still hoping to publish two books, but we’ll see.

For now, I’ve got to figure out how to write while coughing and in between studies, a job interview, church, Bible study, chores, and spending time with family and friends.

As Lucy would say, “Eeeeeewwwwww.”

You Look Different Than I Remember, Old Yeller

Or, I don’t like sad stories anymore.

It’s weird. I used to love sad stories. I owned the Doctor Who quote “Sad is happy for deep people.” Where the Red Fern Grows was my delight. The Fault in Our Stars? Yes please. And just give me a tissue and I’d be ready to spend an afternoon weeping over the end of The Wrath of Khan. (Yes, nerdy stories can be sad, too!)

I preached the virtues of imperfect endings loudly and clearly. You have to give up things, or it’s not realistic, I contended. Everything can’t turn out perfectly.

Then, I went to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in December. It wasn’t a very good movie or a very good adaptation, so I had an excuse to hate it (a three-hour film about a battle that took about five pages to describe in the book? really?) but there was more to it than that.

I watched the soldiers fall and die right and left in the epic Middle-Earth battle, and suddenly, I felt nothing. I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to leave.

Then my dad wanted me to watch his favorite sci-fi movie with him (yes, more nerd stuff). It was a pretty good story, though it felt a little rushed, but then a perfectly good, beloved character died. And I suddenly wanted no part of the rest of the story.

Why?

It troubled me for awhile. It was just fiction, after all. What had happened to the whole “You have to give things up” and “Life isn’t perfect” spiel?

Those things are easy to say, I realized, when sad things haven’t happened to you.

The revelation surprised me. As a long-time struggler with severe depression, I’m no stranger to feelings of sadness. But those were inner struggles. They were mine to fight and overcome. No matter how bad things got, if I fought and prayed and tried hard enough, I’d live happily ever after.

Then one of the people I loved best in the world betrayed me. And there was nothing I could do to change their mind or bring them back.

Then my sister left, embroiling the whole family into a time of chaos and pain. And no matter how much I tried to be there to comfort and talk to people, I couldn’t make things go back to how they were supposed to be.

Now some of my most treasured relationships are damaged, and I don’t know when or if they will be fixed.

But I want them to be fixed. I want people to come back. I want everyone to live happily ever after. I want to live in a Doctor Who world where there’s always a way to make things turn out right. I want someone to look me in the eyes and tell me that things will be okay.

Then I see these fictional stories where people die, and dogs are killed, and lovers lose each other forever, and they remind me that that’s not the world we live in.

And for all my talk of realism, sometimes I don’t want that reminder.

Yet on the other side of the Old Yellers, and the A Walk to Remembers and the A Tale of Two Citieses, there’s a story of a God who came down to earth to die for the ones He loved. And it’s that very same Person who lifts my chin in these moments to look into my eyes and say “Courage, dear heart.”

Because at the end of the day, the sorrow is one color in a greater painting. One aspect of a story that I can’t control, because it’s being penned by Someone much wiser and kinder than I. Someone who wouldn’t include the pain if it didn’t lead to a beautiful purpose.

So I am trying to open my heart to sad stories again. Because there may be a thousand bittersweet conclusions, but they are never the true end.

After all, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

“I Think They Felt Hopeful to Her”

I won’t announce that “I’ve been on a blogging hiatus” since you already know that if you follow my blog at all. I’m sorry for not warning you all ahead of time — the holidays just got so busy and I got out of the habit. But I’ve been thinking of blogging ideas for the new year, and I’m excited to share them. I’ll be on a more regular schedule, among other things. But in the meantime, here’s a story I wrote last year for you to enjoy. I know it’s a little late, but merry Christmas!

It was an unspoken policy on most class-A vessels not to have any ship-wide Christmas celebrations. There were too many people from too many different backgrounds, and the prevailing policy of ISA was one that was tolerant and respectful of all of its various members. But the Surveyor was different, because Captain Trent insisted that by celebrating Christmas or various other traditions we were giving the crew a much better opportunity to practice tolerance and respect than if we did nothing at all. “No one is forced to join us,” he insisted. “If anyone finds Christmas offensive, they can stand on the sidelines for one day and be glad for those of us who celebrate.”

Still, it wasn’t a huge deal. The B-Deck lounge was decked out with a faux tree and ornaments, and some of the crewmembers would put on a concert or two, and those who wished exchanged gifts. Sometimes the Captain would have a few close friends to the officer’s mess or his cabin for a special dinner, but that was all. People had more time off, and the schedule generally relaxed for a few days before picking up as normal again.

The trouble became procuring gifts secretly. Especially if I wanted to get anything for the Captain or the Doctor. Nothing could be ordered or brought aboard without the Captain’s express approval, and the Doctor was altogether too smart and too observant. Not to mention that supplies could sometimes take months to be delivered, so we had to think far in advance to get anything to the ship on time. I usually solved this problem by making things, and the only things I knew how to make were mechanical. I’d invented a portable hand dryer for the Doctor a few months back, and had kept it tucked safely in the bottom of my closet behind my shoes, knowing that it was safe there. The Doctor never thought about his own clothes more than was absolutely necessary, let alone anyone else’s.

It had taken me a long time to come up with something for the Captain, but at last I’d programmed a new pad to connect to all of his electronic books and catalogue exactly what books he had on them and where to find them. He could even touch a title on the catalogue and the corresponding story would open on the applicable book.

I had gotten the Captain to help me order a new apron for Almira, and I wracked my brain about Guilders for weeks before finally deciding on socks. It made me wrinkle my nose, but they were practical, and Guilders liked practical.

Crash and I had a game of just giving each other whatever we happened to see on our way out the door to greet each other wherever we happened to be in the vicinity of the holiday, so I never worried about him. He’d probably end up with a lightbulb or a bit of laundry I hadn’t put away. The best had been the time that he arrived as a surprise, and in my search around my quarters I couldn’t find anything detachable except the short, blue curtains on the portholes, so I’d ripped one down and presented it to him. I’d probably end up being the lucky recipient of a bolt or an old worn out communicator.

This year, however, I had a new problem. August.

August had arrived only six months before Christmas the year 2320, and I hadn’t been able to think of anything in the first two months I knew him, and by then it was too late to order anything, and I tried in vain to think of something to download. So Christmas Day found me desperately gathering a plate full of cookies and tying a bow around them. One thing I had learned was that August didn’t like chocolate, so the plate was mostly full of decorated sugar cookies, with a few oatmeal raisin and peanut butter mixed in.

I slipped into the lounge, where people were exchanging gifts, making toasts, and laughing in the merriest way. Gripping the warm plate of cookies, I looked around the room for my brother, but couldn’t find him. Of course. August wouldn’t be at a party.

I rode the elevator down to C-Deck, found his cabin, and rapped on his door four times. “August!” I called. I could hear faint, indistinguishable sounds from inside. “It’s Andi.”

“It’s open,” his soft voice called in return, and I balanced the cookies on my left arm and used my right hand to press the button on the side of the door.

It slid upward, and immediately music met my ears.

August sat at his desk, boots propped up on top, a drink in his right hand, his face illuminated by the dim lamplight. The music came from his computer, and I vaguely recognized it as being a style from the mid-nineteen hundreds.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
let your heart be light
from now on our troubles will be out of sight…

His eyes were closed when the door opened, but he opened them as these lines played, and he smiled at me. “Hello, Andi.”

“Hi.” I smiled back. “Can I come in?”

“Of course.” He slid his boots off the desk and onto the floor and sat up straighter, placing his drink on the desk as the music continued to play. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.” I handed him the plate of cookies, feeling a little shy suddenly.

“Thank you,” he said, his soft, Austrian accent blending perfectly with the quiet scene. “It was very thoughtful.”

I briefly wondered if he’d gotten me anything, but pushed the thought from my mind. “I looked for you at the party in the lounge.”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry. I meant to go, I guess I didn’t realize the time.” It felt like a lie, one that he believed.

“It’s okay.” I listened as the song changed to something about a snowman named Frosty who was a jolly, happy soul. “This is nice.”

He nodded, and looked towards the computer. I thought for a moment he wasn’t going to say anything else, but just a hint of awkwardness infused the silence, he spoke. “It’s what I do every year.”

“Why?”

He turned to look at me, studying my eyes for a moment. “She always loved the ‘oldies’ as she called them.”

I instinctively knew that “she” was our mother, and a longing washed over me, tinted with jealousy. “Why?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. She liked old-fashioned things. I think they felt hopeful to her. Like something good from the past coming back. I think she felt like she belonged there.”

It was a longer sentence than he usually made. I listened more carefully to the music now, as it shifted into lyrics about rockin’ around the Christmas tree. It was unfamiliar, and I felt suddenly like an intruder. I stood up hastily. “I’ll leave you to it, then….”

“No.” He looked up quickly. “It’s okay.”

As I slowly sat down again, he added, “She was your mother, too.”

I nodded, forcing the tears to stay in my eyes.

For a moment we were both silent, listening to the songs. They ranged from jazzy and playful to thoughtful and wistful, but they were all Christmasy. All hopeful.

“He wasn’t always like that, you know,” August began.

“I know…” I hastened, but he kept talking.

“I remember one time… it was before you were born… I remember wondering why her stomach was so big.”

I smiled a bit, and he kept looking at the computer screen.

“We were making cookies. Dad was in the other room reading the news, and she let me make a special cookie for him. It was supposed to be a starship, but since I formed it myself, it was probably more of a shapeless mass. But it looked amazing to a three-year-old. She let me decorate it, too. All by myself.”

I didn’t stop a tear this time. Reaching into the inner pocket of my uniform jacket, I pulled out a picture of a smiling, brown-haired woman who bore quite a resemblance to myself.

“I gave it to Dad after it was done. He said it was perfect. He smiled at her.” He stopped there, and the music went on uninterrupted for a whole song. Then he shrugged. “A silly memory I suppose.”

I reached out and touched his arm, still clutching the picture with my other hand. “Not at all.”

He pulled his arm away gently to wipe his eyes. “She loved Christmas. For awhile I didn’t like it, because of that. But… I guess it didn’t take me long to figure out that remembering her was a good thing, and this was one of the ways to do it.” He shrugged again, and fell silent. It wasn’t awkward this time, and we both listened as a song I recognized, Auld Lang Syne, played. When it was over, he turned towards me and laid his hand on the cookies.

“Thank you for these, Andi. I tried to think of something to get you, but….”

I touched his hand, to stop him. “You did give me something, August.”

He smiled, and we went on listening to the Christmas music our mother had loved.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sale!

I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter that all three Firmament books would be on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but I didn’t mention that they aren’t the only ones! Several of my colleagues are also putting their books on sale for the biggest shopping days of the year! Check out this list and see which ones strike your fancy. Hard copies will be on sale on Friday, and ebooks on Monday, and coupon codes are listed next to the book when necessary. If there is no coupon code, the price at the link is the sale price already, which makes it even easier! Happy shopping!

Since I haven’t read most of the books included, I can’t necessarily recommend them, so keep that in mind. But if you’re in the mood for something new, this is the time to give them a try without too much risk!

Books:

Kendra E. Ardnek
The Ankuluen: Cyber Monday
Saffron’s Big Plan and Other StoriesCyber Monday
Do You Take This Quest?: Cyber Monday

Faith Blum
A Mighty Fortress: Black Friday  [V4Y5K36D — 10%] and Cyber Monday
Be Thou My Vision: Black Friday [7626YZAK — 20%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Brown
The Prodigal Pup: Black Friday [SB14CP31 — 25%] Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 — 25%]
Learning Lessons from Furry Friends: Black Friday [SB14CP31 — 25%] Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 — 25%]

Kelsey Bryant
Family Reunion: Black Friday [YFY84GHU — 20%]

Elizabeth Ender
RansomedBlack Friday [GNE6VUXY — 30%]

J.J. Francesco
Blood Chain: Cyber Monday

Julie Gilbert
Nadia’s Tears: Cyber Monday

Leah Good
Counted Worthy: Black Friday [K7CVNEER — 40%] and Cyber Monday

Melody Grubb
The Land of Calais: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Warmth of His Eyes: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Send Me, Lord Jesus: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Rachel Heffington
Anon, Sir, Anon: Black Friday [9MTYHSX3 — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Rebekah Jones
Journeys of Four: Cyber Monday
Grandmother’s Letters: Cyber Monday
A Year with the Potters: Cyber Monday

Jaye L. Knight
ResistanceBlack Friday [Q45HN6G9 — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Tina M. Neely
Diamond Hair Princess: Black Friday

Joel A. Parisi
Shadow Play: Cyber Monday

J. Grace Pennington
Radialloy: Black Friday [Y2XHGYDN — 25%] and Cyber Monday
In His Image: Black Friday [KXNZ7PYN — 25%] and Cyber Monday
Machiavellian: Black Friday [UFXGUYMM — 25%] and Cyber Monday

Jennifer Sauer
Why Rodney Never Should’ve Gone to the NAPIC: Black Friday [F76DDR7S — 45%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Touch My Tears: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Third Side of the Coin: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Cara Simmons
The Haven: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Leviathan: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Champion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Jordan Smith
Finding the Core of Your Story: Black Friday [NL4NJXWS — 30%]

Rachel Starr Thomson
Reap the Whirlwind: Cyber Monday
Lady Moon: Cyber Monday
Angel in the Woods: Cyber Monday

Therese Heckenkamp
Past Suspicion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Frozen Footprints: Black Friday

Melika Dannese Lux
City of Lights: Black Friday [FNB98MY6 — 35%] and Cyber Monday
Corcitura: Black Friday [GU46WHKT — 55%] and Cyber Monday

T.R. Lykins
Last Heartbeat: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Life Gift: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Melanie D. Snitker
Calming the Storm: Cyber Monday