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.