Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A TRUE Writer

I've been noticing a trend in the comments section of agent, author, and editor's blogs that I find interesting: many people immerse themselves in the "industry" long before they've even written a book (or at least edited it into something readable).

Now, everyone is different, so I don't mean to impose my own ideals on others. And as it is, I have a hard time calling myself a writer even though I have two books completely finished and a few more on their way. But since I don't have an agent yet or a book contract, I rarely tell people what I spend hours doing during the day (i.e. writing). So I don't understand calling myself a writer without finished products like some of these commentors do. Not that it's bad--it's just not what I would do.


What really surprises me in these comments on the blogs is that when people write "their book," it sounds like they are saying "THE" book. As in the only book they have in them. This is all fine and well if you want to publish just the one book and then move on with your life, but I've also noticed something else about the writers I would deem successful (aka writers with book contracts or books in print and usually the blog authors these others are commenting on). These writers don't have just one book. They have a gagillion ideas and are working ceaselessly to get them all on page. They also have a few complete and ready to go. They've paid their dues to the muse.

Shannon Hale, who is one of my writing heroes (though I've only met her once) has written in her blog that when one book is done, another is started right away. I think since her career began, she's only been without a project once and that's because she knew revisions for a finished project were on their way from her editor. Jo Rowling has said that when one HP was done, she would move on to the next book the very next day.

I think there is a very good lesson to learn from these two examples. True writers can not stop writing. They have so many projects to get out, that they can't stop themselves. They have to/need to write. And even though I consider myself an extreme hobbyist with writing right now, I find myself finishing one project and moving on to the next right away too. It encourages me that maybe, just maybe, I'm setting myself up to be a TRUE writer.

I hope this post doesn't sound pretentious. I only even post it in the hopes that this observation will help other wanna be writers. That they'll not put all their trust in one book and forget to expand their abilities. Because I think I did that at first.

Now I put the most pressing book ideas in five phases. In Phase I, the story is still in idea form, usually written up with a hook and set in the stew pot I like to call my brain. There are a lot in this phase right now, but here I can rank them so as to help me choose the most delicious ideas first. I'm researching pertinent information here too. Phase II is the outlining stage, with most of the research done (though I consider the research never done). Phase III is the actual writing and the other phases you can guess are rewriting and submitting. Maybe it's over-the-top organization, but it seems to work for me and keeps me excited about many projects.

So there is my observation of the week: I think one of the signs of a true writer is constant writing, constant story flow. Sure there will be lulls, but I don't think any real writer would stop at just one book. It's just not in their hard wire.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure Part III

On April 10th, the girl’s birthday, she neglected to choose a winner for the 133 follower’s prize. So as promised, chose another winner. Terresa, author of The Chocolate Chip Waffle, is our lucky winner of a $20 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. Thanks to all blog followers, who were entered in, every one of you.

These are certainly days to rejoice about! The good weather, so many contests floating around the blogosphere, and the beauty that comes from a day spent writing and playing with children. As a capstone to the joy in the girl’s heart was the horde of awards her blog friends had sent her.

Go to the awards.

Choose Your Own Adventure Part II

The girl was so grateful for the heart-felt outpourings of comfort from her blog friends that she felt compelled to share with them her mother’s status. Because, hey! Things were looking up. The sweet mother/grandmother made the four hour journey to Albuquerque and received a more hopeful second opinion. The new oncologist was a specialist in gynecological cancers and enrolled her in an international clinical trial where she’ll be able to receive the two chemos she received before (which worked) and one new drug in Phase III FDA approval, Avastin. Though chemotherapy is no great joy to go through, the treatments are immediate and after six months, they will be over. The best part about having the new doctor is the Dr.’s philosophy that Ovarian Cancer is a chronic illness rather than a death sentence (which was the previous oncologist’s view).

These were days to rejoice about! The weather, the good news about her mother, and the beauty that comes from a day spent writing and playing with children. As a capstone to the joy in the girl’s heart was the horde of awards her blog friends had sent her.

Go to the awards.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fake it 'til you make it

My latest work-in-progress, the Lithuanian folktale, is such fun to write and research. But the writing is bad. Really bad. I keep hollowly assuring myself that it's a first draft and it's supposed to be poor, but it's little solace when I have the music in my head and can't put it on paper. I'll work through it, but right now the rough draft feels more like an outline than actual writing because it's so incredibly, horrifically sub-par. Fake it until I make it, I guess...

And keep moving on.

Meanwhile, we have so much snow at our house that I can't get out of my driveway. Cabin fever is incrementally creeping in....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hi, my name is Jackee and I'm a bookaholic...

I love books.

I assume most of you are the same way (since you're reading this blog). I usually have to leave my wallet in the car if I go to a bookstore, or at least take my frugal husband along. And never is the there more danger for checking account overdraft as there is at Christmas. Not because of Christmas presents, but because of books for myself and kids. I just can't help it! I see all the gorgeous Christmas books and I lose control, like hundreds of dollars out of control. This year is particularly bad because there have been some very great books that have come out. Here are a few that my kids and I have loved this year:

We love Marley, and if you need a non-Christmas one for a child, check out Bad Dog, Marley.

This is definitely a favorite of the year. The rhyming meter starts off a bit rough, but the rest of the book makes up for it. Particularly the pictures: they are beautiful and my five-year-old will read anything with dinos besides.

This was my favorite of the year. It's short, but it made me both laugh and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I'm still looking around for miracles, after this read! :)

These aren't new, but they're are yearly reads that we love:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weaving threads of words, setting cogs and wheels in motion

When I'm writing, I have a mental image in my head of braiding strands of hair (or thread at a loom, if I knew how to do that). I can sense the words blending and turning together as eight locks of hair between all my fingers. With each weave, I'm integrating all the elements of the story and writing. I'm trying to use literary devices, good word choices, fitting dialogue, foreshadowing, backstory, perfect verbs, and most of all, I'm trying to move the storyline forward. It may seem silly, but it does feel like weaving. My sister sent this to me last night and instantly it reminded me of writing too. A lot of things are always happening at once, balls bouncing and cogs twirling, as I write the bare story. They're not all necessarily what the reader can see. And for that matter, what the writer can see in the moment either. Sometimes it's not until I go back that I see something magical that was happening within the story I did not "mean" to happen.

And those are some of my favorite moments of writing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Five T's of Thanksgiving '08

No, no,
this isn't a list of all the things I'm grateful for, just five thoughts I have about the events from this holiday.

1. Terror

Truly, can anything be more sickening than having human beings do such things to one another as they did in Mambai? I don't know any of the victims, but my heart goes out to them and their loved ones all the same. And there's really not much I can say about this incident that will make things better, so I'll just cry a silent tear for such loss of humanity and leave it at that.

2. Twilight

A book. A movie. Perhaps you've heard of it. I can't seem to get away from hearing about it. In the first weekend alone it brought in $70.6 MILLION DOLLARS.
And no, I didn't go see it. It's really not my favorite book, much less genre, though I could learn just a few lessons from Stephenie, no doubt. (Come on, Steph--can I call you Steph?--throw a wannabe author a bone here. Or maybe a hundred, you have a few to spare.)
3. Turkey
Ah, the famous holiday bird. Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about them, and I pride myself on being a *good* cook (or at least an experimental-type one). My solution to the over-indulged fowl is to buy a smoked one--they're guaranteed to be moist and have that sweet, smoky flavor. As added bonuses, they only take 1 1/2 hours to cook and it's very hard for my picky-eaters to tell the dark meat from the smoked white meat. So take that, Jennie-O, I'll purchase a smoked turkey every time.
4. Tappity-tap
This is the sound of my fingers flying through my new story, the Lithuanian folktale retelling. I just can't help myself--the story is beautiful and I'm flying through it. Now if only the writing was as beautiful as the story....
5. Thanks
Of course you knew this one was coming. I am oh so thankful for many things, but among them are my beautiful house (and no this is not it), my wonderful family, and my high-elevation Land of Liberty. I could go on, but let me just hug my whole world for a moment--because I truly am blessed beyond measure and there is little that I would change in my life... unless that super agent walked in and offered me a contract, naturally. And that my mom was cancer free. Yeah, those things will come in time....
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obsessed (and compulsive)

I tend to be obsessive. I know it. I'm also a little compulsive. And never have these traits been more expressed in my writing than now.

I have two YA story ideas I can't get out of my head--they just won't let me rest. I can't sleep, I can't eat. Well, I can eat. I ALWAYS can eat... but the point is Thanksgiving is going to be a wash-out, homemade gifts for Christmas aren't getting done, and my kids are living on crackers and some substance that comes out of a can and resembles cheese. I have a hundred books I want to write, but these have taken such a hold it's almost frightening. I'm of course not going to tell you their entire plots (I'd lose my ardor for them if I did that), but here are some pictures to get an idea of what's wrong with my cranium:

Photo 1: The Graverobber (Photo courtesy of The Resurrectionist film, 2002) Essentially, the book is historical fiction and I'll just say, what would you do if you were on to a cure for a disease of epidemic proportions, but it was illegal to get the necessary cadavers for research and study?

BOOK 2. A stew pot retelling of Lithuanian folklore, mythology, medieval history, Snow White, Beauty & the Beast, and Cinderella. (You'll never know me to be discriminatory!) Visualize it with these pictures:

Photo #2: Stelmuze tree--largest tree in Europe (photo credit to

Photo #3: Curonian Spit, Lithuania (Photo credit:

Photo #3: Two fates and three witches. (Drawing: Galina Bogdel)
Now that the outlines are done, perhaps they'll let me alone occasionally so I can live my life. And sleep, yes... sleep....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chapter 1: The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience

I'm being hounded by my many long-suffering (and permanently biased) family and friends for this book. So at last, I give you chapter one of my recently polished middle-grade tall-tale: The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience.

Chapter 1. Patience Takes the Blame

The drying earth and pig refuse chafed Patty’s backside, up into her petticoat. She itched at the spot and several boys snickered behind her. She would have to remind them of their mistake later, once she was cleaner and more confident. Through a curtain of mud-caked hair she glowered at them. Two of the boys shifted warily.

“Patience Tabitha Cowdery, come here at once,” called Mrs. Hibberd, steel in her voice.

The boys snickered again and Patty gritted her teeth. Now she would have to pay them double, this time for laughing at her name. Nobody but The Hibberd had the courage to call her Patience. She wondered how long it would take to make the boys cry when she and her best friend, Court, pinned them down and pounded their flabby bellies. Manky wouldn’t last long. For all the help his height gave him, he wasn’t the toughest of sorts.

“You boys too,” The Hibberd commanded.

That shut them up quick enough. They followed Patty around the side of the two-story ramshackle house. Keeping her back to them, Patty trudged from the backyard to the front, stepping clear of the boards that supported the home for displaced orphans like a crutch.

Patty halted below the front porch steps and picked at the old blue paint on the banister, avoiding the look of dismay on The Hibberd’s face above her. Behind her she could hear the boys shuffle their feet.

The orphan’s guardian sucked in her breath and propped her hands on her considerable hips. Ursula Hibberd towered over most men, but to runty Patty, she seemed taller than the balsam firs that blanketed the Maine landscape. Court was already there behind their guardian’s wide girth, his shoulders slumped contritely. He wasn’t sorry for himself or afraid of The Hibberd, Patty knew. He felt guilty for the trouble he’d now put Patty in.

“What have you done to your clothes, young lady?” cried Mrs. Hibberd.

Patty shrugged. “Fell.”

“Fell where? A pig pen?”

Patty squirmed. The old broad had guessed and Patty wished for the thousandth time that she could pull off a convincing lie like Court could.

But The Hibberd had already read her face. “You didn’t… you just wouldn’t… would you?”

Patty squirmed again. The smelly mud and pig dung began to dry in the front now too.

“You had better answer me,” ordered The Hibberd.

“I tried to ride that old sow of Mr. McCready’s for a laugh, only the gate came loose and the thing bolted.”

Hibberd’s mouth made a perfect O-shape and her graying hair, up in its loose bun, seemed to stand on end.

“You rode…?” she faltered, then collected herself to her full height. “That is the last straw!”

Hibberd grabbed her by the arm and for a moment Patty saw Molly Ringabow’s exultant face standing in the door frame, watching on. Patty was in for it, and nothing could make Molly happier. And what’s more—Patty’s heart burned—she was likely the gab that told on her.

Hibberd set Patty under the pump and hosed her down with water so cold Patty was sure it still had snow in it. The Hibberd stormed into the house, leaving Patty standing there, sopping and shivering in the wind. A moment later she was back with a pair of scissors in hand.

Gasps fell from the other orphan’s mouths like stones in the Penobscot River. Hibberd turned Patty around and began to hack away at her long, dark red hair. Patty stood still and stiff and bit back the tears the boys would never see. She tried to convince herself that longer hair just got in the way of climbing trees, keeping up with Court, and all the adventures the two of them planned on having someday.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” cried her friend, coming forward at last. “Why are you cutting her hair?”

“Because if Patience is going to act like a boy, she’s going to have to look like one too. I’m tired of seeing this hair in a snarl all the time! Can’t imagine why a twelve year old girl would want to behave so,” answered Hibberd, yanking at the nape of Patty’s neck, where she had set the length. Then she waved the scissors at Court. “No doubt this was your idea, Courtesy. One more of your infernal ‘ultimate double-dares.’ Well, you can just take yourself and any other boys involved down to the McCready’s place, find their sow and apologize for your actions.”

Court stared at her for one long moment in silent protest. Then he turned and glared at each boy that had been down at the pig pen. They understood immediately what he wanted and one by one they shuffled down the hill towards the McCready homestead. Court cast one last apologetic look at Patty then followed behind the other boys, herding them along with his mere presence.

“I’m sorry to have to cut what could have been such lovely hair, but now I hope you have a reminder to act more ladylike,” said Hibberd, spinning Patty around. “Women in this new century seem to want to be men! We don’t need to be men, Patty. We just need to manage the men we have.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” It was best not to argue with The Hibberd when she pounced on the moral decay of 1911.

“Can you at least try and be more like a lady? Can you act more like our Molly?” asked Hibberd, sending Molly’s face aglow.

Patty’s eyes studied the ground. Molly was nothing more than a honey-tongued sneak. And if only The Hibberd knew, she’d appreciate the differences between her two girl charges much more.

Hibberd sighed and straightened her back, hands on her waist. “As added punishment, you’ll have kitchen duty all by yourself.”

Patty should have known that was coming. The Hibberd patted her shoulder, almost apologetically. Almost.
“Now go to it, it’ll likely take you till dark.”

Patty slunk into the house, not caring to see the smug look painted on that blonde, freckled worm’s face.

She cried her sorrows into the big cast-iron pots, scraping and scrubbing the supper stew meat out until her hands and eyes were raw. She kept her fingers busy so that she wouldn’t be tempted to reach up and feel her lobbed tresses.

“Patty? You okay?”

Court hung from the window, the upper half of his body folded midsection and a winsome grin upon his face. If hanging like that was uncomfortable, he didn’t let on.


“You didn’t get your brain addled from the fall in the pig pen? Or get a whipping?”

She sighed. “No, Court.”

His smile faded entirely this time and he adopted the demeanor he had used on The Hibberd.

“I’m sorry, Patty,” he demurred. “It was that durn Billy Budwallow. He opened the gate thinking watching you rodeo through the cabbages would be grand fun. But don’t worry, I got him back and he’ll have to eat his gruel real slow the next few days.”

“Thanks, Court,” said Patty with little enthusiasm.

He shifted in his awkward position and his impish nose crinkled upward. “Hey Patty, have you ever heard of the Goobersnackey?”

Patty knew he was trying to bait her into a new game, but she wasn’t taking. She turned her back on him and stood at the sink, elbowing into the remainder of the forks and spoons. At last her curiosity got the best of her.

“The what?”

Court’s smile curled around his prominent cheek bones. He prolonged his answer by brushing his dark hair out of his eyes.

“Why, the Goobersnackey, of course. Mr. Squeezle told me all about it. See, it’s a giant glass eel that got trapped in them caves just above Little Pushaw Lake and while all the others were swimming up river, he stayed there, growing fatter and fatter on algae and other cave food.”

“Posh!” scoffed Patty. “Squeezle just told you that story to get you to leave his jellyfish alone.”

Mr. Squeezle was their closest neighbor and owned a local lumber operation. Out of a soft spot for the widow Hibberd, he employed the orphans in her group home to run errands or do odd, light jobs. He was an eccentric too, with dozens of jellyfish and seawater he’d transplanted from the Maine coast to the natural pools in his caves. He even went as far as to call the jellies his pets.

“Nah, he wouldn’t lie. Not to me, anyways.”

“But we’re done with ultimate double-dares, right?”

“I promise,” answered Court, brightening.

She was giving in and he knew it. Patty scowled. Court grinned. It annoyed her that he could read her so well.

“Cross my heart,” he added.

And he did.

Then he fell out of the window.

Patty sighed and walked to the sill. Unperturbed, she leaned out to find him lying on his back, catching his breath. At least this time it was the ground floor he had fallen from.

“Oh, all right then,” she hollered down to him, smiling.

“That’s a Patty I know. I’ll invite a few of the fellas and we’ll set out in the morning.”

“And let’s make sure this time we’re not followed by Molly Ringabow,” added Patty, her eyebrows furrowed. “Or she’ll be sorry.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On writing (and bowling)

My senior year of high school I was short a P.E. class, so yep, I enrolled in the easiest one I could find: bowling. Now, I LIKE to bowl--I'm just not that good. I think it’s fun recreation and I especially love to take my kids. There’s something charming about watching them bend over and push the ball down the lane, see their eyes follow the big lumbering thing ping-pong back and forth between the blue, inflatable bumpers, then jump up and down, proud of themselves for just getting the ball all the way down to the vicinity of the pins.

My problem with bowling is that I’m left-handed. Left-handed and goofy-footed. And I was taught how to bowl right-handed. Needless to say, my feet are always in the wrong position, I throw the ball with a curve because the wrong hand leads (or at least my wrong fingers in the hole-thingies). The teacher (who knew me well because he was my brother’s wrestling coach) was patient with me and tried to teach me the “right” way to bowl. My friend in the class, who was also the basketball team captain, tried to help too—but I just never got it. So there it was. I wanted to get better, to bowl above a 100, but rarely did. And my competitive side burned that my athletic friend always bowled so much better than me.

I never did get over 100 more than twice that semester. But I did learn to enjoy the game more. Eventually I quit comparing myself to my friend and just tried to have fun. And I did—I lost that nervousness about stepping up to the line and I simply tried to do MY best without losing the joy of it. I found a balance between fun and the pursuit of improvement and made my peace with it.

When I first quit my PhD project to write (and stay home with my kids), I told myself I’d give writing a shot for 5 years and if I couldn’t “make a go of it,” I’d go back to work. After all, I loved studying wildlife and I loved writing—I could do either in my mind and be happy. That was four years ago and I’m no where closer to being published than I was then. And that’s okay with me now, surprisingly. Just like I did with bowling, I took writing as something I had to do perfectly, focusing on technique rather than forgetting it was something I should enjoy, a journey that should be fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been something enjoyable, but I had begun to take the joy out of it. Once I realized what I was doing, I stopped trying to control the creative process—the journey. And I also had to recognize that I had no intention of quitting at my self-inflicted deadline. I just HAD to write and could not stop, published or no. Even if I went back to being a biologist, I would still have to write.

Now I bumper bowl and never care what my score is because I’m too busy clapping for my co-players, the five year old and the almost two year old. And I write—enjoying the sweet release and sheer entertainment of it. Come what may, I can not stop—I can only go forward with an internal peace in the effort rather than the result. I can’t control if anyone but me will like my writing, but I can control my own balance of writing my best and enjoying the process. Today I can honestly say I’m proud of myself for just getting the ball down to the pins, for just finishing the novels I set out to write.

For the few of you (two? one?) out there who read this blog, what is it that you can not stop doing? What is it that’s a pleasant journey, despite the end result?

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Thousand Reasons Why...

I could name a thousand reasons why I write. Unfortunately, the dozen reasons NOT to write seem to be lately winning out more than I would like:

1. Illness by many around me.

2. A dirty house.

3. Laundry. Does it ever end?

4. Children need played with.

5. I need to exercise.

6. Children need fed.

7. Internet. Why does "researching" the industry take precedence even at 4:30 am??

8. Paying bills.

9. New episodes of The Office.

10. A really good book.

11. Church responsibilities.

12. Last of the season barbecues.

(And I might as well include 13 and 14 as well, since I'm being so honest.)

13. Helping at my daughter's school.

14. Long, hot baths.

BUT on a positive note, Courtesy and Patience has been through a few rough drafts now and the new Cierra and the Sands of Tyne is outlined and started. It's tentatively called The Lost Bloodstone and CSOT becomes more of a prequel with its creation. So really, despite the distractions, the thousand reasons to write are proving tough opponents (but not as much as I would like).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Things in stories that I love to see:

1. A beginning with an action scene that seems unrelated to the main plot, but in the end you realize is.

2. A beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the book, whether by incident, setting, or character mood.

3. Extreme detail in world building so I feel like I'm actually in the place and care about that world.

4. Carefully placed adjectives, metaphors, and similes. And I especially love when these are unexpected but fit perfectly, ones that make you alter your thinking of the description because they are so not the normal, over-used ones. (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak seemed to have a lot of awesome ones, though some were just strange and pulled me out of the story and made me focus on why he said that.)

5. Relatable characters. Need I say more? Okay, I will: I love a character who has at least one trait I can sympathize with.

6. An action-filled middle. But not gratuitous action--scenes that really feel pertinent to the main plot.

7. A twist in the end that I think I've figured out until the author gives me a surprise head-fake. I love that because it leaves me wanting to immediately go back and reread the book to look for the clues I might have missed.

For the rare person who reads this blog, what are your favorite author devices? :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good Beginnings or Best Beginnings?

I'm doing a crazy amount of rewriting right now. Sometimes it feels like time well spent, others... not so much. I know editing has a big learning curve, but sometimes I wish I was preprogramed to know what effective rewriting was. And I suppose like 99.9% of us, the only way to know is to keep at it. Over and over again.

Anyway, with all the rewriting--especially working on the first few chapters--I've been thinking; what makes a great beginning?

I was at my local Barnes and Noble the other day buying a book for a friend when I began reading the design on the shopping bag. Now some of you will know that they are quotes from famous books, but for those of you that have never read them, this is what I saw:

"All children, except one, grow up."
"Call me Ishmael."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
"Happy familes are all alike."
"My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

There are others printed on it of course, and though not all these quotes are at the exact first of the book, they have something in common. They are the first statement that set up the reader expectation. Perhaps some will not agree, but I think these sentences are the lights that direct the eye to the center stage. They let us know where the book is going and provide something to draw us into the main plot. And these sentences do it so well that it's hard to think of them being expressed any other way.

Now my problem: come up with my own stage spotlight in my rewrites. I have good ones now, but I'm looking for something unforgettable and inevitable, just as these are.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hold on for one more day...

Anyone for Wilson Phillips? No, not me. And of course I didn't like such music way back into 1990. Not one bit--I was too cool for that. Even at thirteen.

...But if I did, what of it? I would not be ashamed to admit that. Sort of....

Anyway, the title is applicable because... (Drum roll, please.)

Tomorrow I will be finished with The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm so excited. (Can't you tell?) I've been really happy with it so far. I know there are huge flaws in the writing (which is why you won't be seeing it anytime soon) but the storyline and plots are perfect right now. Really, I don't think many scenes will need tweaking at this point. At least not until I send it out to reader friends. Then I'll use their suggestions and my own intuition. But as it is the story is tight, funny, daring, and... well, I'll shut up because it sounds like bragging. Besides, give it a few weeks and I'll be so-so on my enthusiasm with it. That's how editing goes for me--almost like a high school boyfriend break up.

Yet I'm enjoying my current euphoria!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding Something Magical: Characters Part II

Last night, as I put my five year old daughter down for bed, she said, “Mom, there’s something magic about me you should know: I can sleep with my eyes open.”

(She's so afraid to miss anything that she waits until her poor body shuts down and she's forced to close her eyes and sleep.)

Anyway, I wanted to laugh, but I didn't because it would have offended her. And then what she said made me think. She had something there about fantasy and magic. And I wondered, why are readers drawn to the genre (whether it be Robert Jordan, JK Rowling, Lewis Carroll, or anyone else)?

I've decided it's because we want to feel that connection, that there’s something special or magical about the character, and by extension, ourselves. Harry Potter? He was the plain boy who lived and then became the Chosen One. Alice? She was the ordinary girl who fell through the rabbit hole and experienced life large, life small, and then returned to remember the adventure. And Rand Al Thor? The ordinary farm boy who would become the Dragon and break the world. And in my books, Cierra. The normal girl who has the talents and ability to become something more. My daughter? Ordinary but confident enough to think she can do something extrodinary.

Perhaps it's bad that all these characters are seemingly cliché, but as a reader, I find the ordinary protagonist with hidden potential so endearing that I can’t help but embrace a connection I feel towards them. So yes, my daughter, there is something magical about you, but it’s definitely not sleeping with your eyes open! :)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Clicking With Characters: Part I

In second or third grade L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables became my favorite book. I had another little friend who loved the book (and the sequels) too and decided it would be wonderful, now that I was moving, to write to each other using Montgomery pseudonyms. She said she would write me, signing her name as Anne, and I should write back, signing mine as Diana. I was a bit indignant. I wanted to be Anne. I was more like Anne, I thought. And as it turns out, decades later, I WAS more like Anne. My friend got married early in life, had a bunch of kids right away, and didn’t pick up writing or college or anything like I did.

So did that give me higher claim over the character? (Let’s just pretend the question is rhetorical and I’ll answer it myself, okay?) The answer: No. No. Absolutely not.

Books we love, authors we like, they create characters that have a universal identity. We may not be anything like the beloved character, but we relate with them. We love them—we find anything we can to put us in their places (even if it’s only subconscious). It doesn’t matter how many other people attach themselves to the character, we all love them uniquely and individually—sometimes for other reasons than our associates. Either way, the characters’ voices become enduring in our lives and, particularly as children, help shape who we are. Well developed characters are powerful forces.

And one day I hope I can write a character that can become as good a friend to a child as Anne was to me.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cierra and the Sands of Tyne, first page

I've included two first pages here; one from the Prologue and one from Chapter 1. I like the Prologue because it gives backstory and sends the book right into action, but I also like Chapter 1 because it gives setting and tone better than the Prologue. All this to say I couldn't decide what to give you, so you get both! Poor things! CSOT is completed and has had about twenty-two drafts in the last few years. It's a planned series, so I've started the second book and after about fifty pages in, I've decided to work on Courtesy and Patience for now. But all six books in the Sands of Tyne series (or maybe Arisean Chronicles?) are planned and outlined. They are so fun to write that I can't wait to get to all of them. Each book has a different point of view, though all still third person, with Cierra the focus in the first, Saige (the adopted brother) the second, Jewelea (the adopted sister) in the third, Maia (the adopted cousin) the fourth, Cierra in the fifth, and Saige in the sixth.


Rande Braelilen hoped he could hide his family in the obscure, foothill town of Savantah. Of all the countries in Arisea to choose, Conoblis was the least likely Ghaul would suspect. No Ibiri-navoo had ventured into the area for hundreds of years. The Talents of the Old Country were distrusted by the locals and any wielder desperate enough to live there would constantly be looking over their shoulder, fearful of discovery and death. But Rande was afraid anyway and looking over his shoulder was instinctive. Or at least looking any direction Ghaul and his relentless revenge could attack from.

Rande and his family had been safe for a few months, cocooned in anonymity. They rarely associated with their neighbors, avoiding the inevitable questions and suspicions. But today that all changed; his neighbors were taking an interest, wondering why a bald, broad-shouldered stranger had come around town asking about him. The Savantah Constable, sensing there was something disturbing about the man, politely asked the stranger to leave. The stranger did, but Rande knew he would be back even if the Constable naïvely thought he was gone for good. Rande would have left at that very moment, but Erinn was too ill to depart. And he would not leave her or their daughter.

A figure stepped out of the shadows. Rande held his breath, ready to fight. Then he recognized the silhouette.

“Errin,” he cried, “I thought you promised to stay hidden with the baby.”


Chapter 1. The Ranch

The Wind Valley was appropriately named. In the spring the northern winds brought dust so thick that sometimes Cierra Braelilen thought the sky rained earth. In the summer, the southerly wind blew a heat haze that stifled the lungs and dazed the senses. Winter was no better. Ice and snow spewed into the valley vertically, chaffing cheeks and piercing exposed skin. Even the plants avoided the wind. The sagebrush, saltbrush, and bunch grasses fortified themselves against it, burrowing deep into the soil and allowing the dirt to bank up around their stalks and trunks.

Yet now it was almost fall. And fall really was the only bearable season for any living creature. The gusts died down to a subtle breeze born in the Kendi Mountains to the west, there transfused with the unmistakable scent of pine. The Wind Valley became transformed by vibrant days, crisp, cool twilights, and drowsy, thoughtful nights. Neveah, the Arisean sun, shone through without a ripple or vapor, while at night a billion stars glared through a faultlessly black sky. It was beautiful. And if Cierra had ever been anywhere else, she would have known that one pleasant season was worth enduring three tumultuous ones.

But Cierra had never been anywhere else. She had lived her entire fourteen years in Wind Valley and the neighboring small town of Savantah. For more than four of those years now she was an unwilling guest at Oldman and Son Youth Ranch—a large, functioning farm for dysfunctional orphans. The Ranch specialized in the rehabilitation of troubled youth by working them every waking hour; weeding, sowing, plowing, moving cattle, grooming horses, plucking chickens, mucking stalls, and so on. There was always a chore to do and never a moment to cause trouble.

The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience, the first page

Here's the first page of TMACP. My goal (and so far I'm on track) is the have it done by Oct. 1st. I've really planned this one out well and the writing has stuck to the outline beautifully, which means the plot is nice and tight. My husband argues that I stifle creativity that way--and though the planning way doesn't likely work for everyone--I find there still are enough surprises to make writing interesting. It also helps me add many science and history elements. So again, my methods probably go back to the right-brained/left-brained usage (see bio). I certainly never went out in the field to collect data without creating a data collection sheet!


Chapter 1. Patience Takes the Blame

Patty peered sullenly out a sheet of mud-caked hair. The drying earth and pig refuse chafed her backside too, up into her petticoat. She itched at the spot and several boys snickered behind her. She would have to remind them of their imprudence later, once she was cleaner and more confident.

“Patience Tabitha Cowdery, come here at once,” called Mrs. Hibberd, steel in her voice.

The boys snickered again and Patty gritted her teeth. Now she would have to pay them double, this time for laughing at her name. Nobody but Mrs. Hibberd had the courage to call her Patience. She wondered how long it would take to make the boys cry when she and Court pinned them down and poked their chests repeatedly. Manky wouldn’t last long—for all the help his height gave him, he wasn’t the toughest of sorts.

She walked slowly to the porch steps of the three-story, ramshackle house, ducking beneath the plank boards wedged against the frame that kept the structure somewhat erect. She halted at the bottom step and picked at the peeling blue paint, careful not to make eye contact with the Hibberd.

Hibberd stood on the top step, tapping her foot and propping her hands on her extremely large hips. She towered over most men, and at Patty’s small size, she seemed as tall as the balsam firs that blanketed the Maine landscape. Court was already there behind their guardian’s wide girth, his shoulders slumped contritely. She knew he wasn’t sorry for himself or afraid of the Hibberd. He felt guilty for the trouble Patty was about to enter.

“What have you done to your clothes, young lady?” cried Mrs. Hibberd.

Patty shrugged. “Fell.”

“Fell where? A pig pen?”

Patty squirmed. The old broad had guessed and Patty wished for the thousandth time that she could pull off a convincing lie like Court could.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Long and Exhausting Biography

Writing History

I started reading at four years old before I even had the alphabet down and as a teenager, I would read anything put before me, even the Encyclopedia. I loved reading enough that in school I used to fake sick so I could stay home in the quiet house and finish a book I was really into. (Thanks, Mom, for pretending you didn’t know I was lying!)

At an early age I began telling stories, but almost strictly to myself. Stories were my way of overcoming the terrible nightmares I used to get (and still get!). I would either think up a different story and drift back to sleep or I’d at least change the nightmare to a happy ending. I still find myself doing that sometimes. It’s a weird thing about me I know, but I really have gotten some good story ideas that way.

I tried out writing novels at about twelve, most of which were very cliché and suffocating under past participle overload. I don’t know that the ones that I have kept will ever escape the locked trunk in my garage. By fourteen I decided I was no good, writing was not a valid career path, and I turned to biology and the sciences exclusively.

But really my mind could not give up on novel writing. In college I never intended on double majoring in English, but I took so many English classes “just for fun” that I very nearly did. Then I gave up reading fiction and writing anything but technical papers by the time I reached graduate school and began work on an M.S. in Wildlife and Range Ecology. I loved studying wildlife and ecology and felt like I’d reached my true calling—helping the creatures we shared the world with. And it wasn’t until I was working on my Ph.D. that I realized what I maybe had to say to readers about the natural world around them would help animals and their habitats even more than being a biologist. Immediately my brain began developing dozens of story ideas once again, stories that would not be silenced and demanded paper immediately. It was as if an internal light switched on once again and I wanted--had to--write stories again. Either that or lose my sanity. I was also at a crossroads in my life, and I dove into writing with only my nose plugged. I relearned everything I could about creative writing and set to work.

Now my writing draws on both sides of my intellect: the creative side and the scientific/analytical side (which those little tests show that I use equally, if not efficiently). Some people ask me if my years of education were wasted and I laugh (though really I’m angry) because I live suspended in two different worlds--science and art and oddly enough, they haven't ever felt at odds.

Personal History

I grew up the oldest of five children. You can tell I’m the oldest because I’m very bossy and quite a busy-body. I like to know what’s going on in people’s lives and generally I love to dish out advice, albeit the advice isn’t always rational. I think my mother stayed sane throughout those years raising us and she and my father did a wonderful job—we’re all still friends at least—and that says something.

I was born in New Mexico, raised in Colorado, schooled in Utah, and am raising my family in Arizona. So except for a brief year I lived in Florida at seven years old, I’m a true Four Corner’s states girl (Is that really a description? Let’s pretend that it is…). So here I am—a blood-bred mountain girl and an adopted desert rat. I love the diversity that exists out in the West US and when I’m not writing, my husband, two children, and I are playing outdoors.