Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
As both a writer and reviewer I learned you have to hook the reader at the start. At numerous conferences the first thing most agents/editors say is you need to hook them at the very beginning of the story. Some even say the first sentence!
I remember a few years ago at a SCBWI Editor’s Day event, my own first page being read out loud. I was nervous. But one editor commented on how much he liked it and wanted to read more! The sentence?
The dead have a way of stumbling in on me, of messing up my life.
One class I took at UCI extension was The Intermediate Novel taught by the fab Lou Nelson who helped mentor me when I first started writing EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA. Some of her advice deals with hooking in the reader and in this case also editors and agents:
What is a hook? It’s provides a compelling reason for readers (agents and editors) to read further. A hook is something exciting, fascinating, curious, horrific or otherwise attention-grabbing that makes reader wonder. Curious what’s going to happen next, compels readers to continue reading.
Remember most agents and editors have only so much time to go over requests. You have to hook them in on that first page and even the first paragraph. Leave the back-story for later or better yet weave it throughout the story.
More from Lou Nelson:
Start with a lead hook. After the reader reads this they should wonder-in regard to the event as well as the outcome—WHY, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and/or HOW.
Here are some examples of great first lines from some YA books:
Emma Woodhouse-handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition-had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress her. Until the vampire attacks began.
--EMMA AND THE VAMPIRES by Jane Austen and Wayne Josephson
The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.
--CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare
From up high, everything seems to spill from itself.
--DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS by Beth Kephart
Strangers never walk down this road, the sisters thought in unison as the man trudged toward them.
--SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce
I'm sitting alone on the other side of the world talking to a sea turtle that might be my mom. The boy I love is with the girl he loves, and the girl he loves may not be me. If I was halfway to crazy before, I fully arrived now.
--SEA by Heidi Kling
Anyone want to share their own favorite one liners?
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Right about now I should be doing the dreaded, “Before We Begin, Let’s Define Our Terms. What is Description? What is Setting? What color is my hat?”
However, I refuse to do these things on the grounds that it’s boring. I would have to do stuff like look in the mirror to see what hat I’m wearing. (Author or Reader?) I would have to look up words. Scan through paper or online dictionaries. Root around inside how-to-write books like,
“The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy” by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond,
“How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Orso Scott Card.
Or, Google for meta-descriptions of description-writing at websites like:
Jeff Gerke’s “Where The Map Ends” (http://www.wherethemapends.com/writerstools/writers_tools_pages/tip_of_the_week.htm):
• Description, Part 1—Introduction
• Description, Part 2—The Establishing Shot
• Description, Part 3—The Full Sensory Sweep
• Description, Part 4—Comparisons
By gum, I’m not gonna do that!
Having disposed of the official definitions created by people who know of which they write, when -I- think about the building blocks of settings, I think in terms of descriptions of:
1. miscellaneous characters (Sometimes—but not always—this kind of description is really an aspect of characterization. When it is largely characterization, it doesn’t belong here so we can drop it. (Clang!)
2. a room or any kind of interior space (One type of setting)
3. an exterior space, usually part of nature. (Another type of setting)
4. “space, the final frontier” –but only if you’re a Trekkie. (Clang!)
5. objects decorating either indoor or outdoor space. Play and film set designers cleverly call this “set decoration”.
When I have my Reader Hat on, I pay far more attention to the details of internal settings like living rooms, deep wells, classrooms and belfries, than I do exterior settings. I’m particularly entranced by objects that fall under the category of set decoration.
Descriptions of the outside world usually have my eyes glazing over when I’m reading them. That practice gets me into a heap of trouble later on when it becomes important to remember that the mountain chain blocking the protagonists from their goal runs north-to-south, not west-to-east, and the characters are currently on the –west- side of the mountains. (Oh! That’s why they have to creep through the Mines of Moria! Gotcha!)
When reading another author’s physical descriptions of characters as part of setting, my Reader Hat must slip down over my eyes. For example, several chapters after beginning one of Andre Norton’s juveniles years ago, I realized that a woman I thought was middle-aged was actually in her teens. Andre may possibly have messed up but more likely, I had let my attention slip for a second and decided out of nowhere that the character had grey hair.
When I have my Author Hat on, I spend great gobs of time describing most everything. Within the limits of a given scene, if my Author hat is screwed on –really- tight, I’ll even make an effort at hitting as many of the Five Senses as possible. For instance, I –love- creating new species of trees and wild animals—the colors and textures, and even the scents and sounds. (Yes, trees make sounds and animals have scents.)
Once, I spent an inordinate amount of time on a rug. I mean, describing a rug! This random bit of piling detail on detail probably had readers thinking the rug was going to be significant in the future. Well, sorry. Not so much. (I understand when readers get put out about this kind of writing.)
Over all, I’m more likely to provide detailed descriptions of furniture, people, animals and trees than I am to mention any wall-floor-ceiling or the broad geographic layout of the land. This may come from being myopic.
Recently, I’ve been serving as a beta reader for a UK author named Malcolm Cowen. After a short interlude near the young protagonist’s home, Malcolm describes a scene in which “Mary” stands on a road with a steep drop to her left and an even steeper natural stone wall to her right. He eventually takes us up that fiercesomely slanted height. Mary finds herself in the middle of a mountainous landscape that seems to scroll on forever as our character travels through it, climbing slopes, riding down into valleys to find hidden pools beyond the bushes, turning sharply past rocky walls to find totally unexpected vistas—waterfalls, forests, villages—before her.
I was and am deeply enthralled by Malcolm’s descriptions. Why? Because waiting expectantly for the next bit of scenery to come into view around a curve or over a rise in Malcolm’s manuscript reminded me of weekend rides in the car when I was a kid—long before the Interstate. You never knew what would be around the next curve in the road, thanks frequently to the foliage blocking the view. It was always such an adventure, even when we had travelled that way many times before. The adventure of discovering settings through a door, up a staircase, and around the far side of a great tree are something we owe our readers.
I think it’s time for me to start wearing Author’s Glasses, so I’ll remember to describe the –distant- countryside.
What setting descriptions do you most enjoy reading—or do you skip right past them?
On what kind of descriptions do you focus as an author? What do you tend to ignore, in order to get on with the story or for other reasons?
Thanks for reading!
Sherry Thompson, author of the YA fantasy “Narentan Tumults” novels from Gryphonwood:
Seabird (Paperback) http://amzn.to/90QXDA
Earthbow Vol.1 (Paperback) http://amzn.to/cvK2hD
Earthbow Vol.2 (Paperback -- due out at any time)
Earthbow V.1&2 combined in electronic format http://amzn.to/aimTRk
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Gloria Oliver took a picture for me of a tree in a park in Portland, OR. That particular tree seemed to have an opening that resembled a maw in its base – and where would that maw lead to (unless it really is a mouth on a particularly hungry and evil tree?
So a recent trip to New Zealand and Australia for two science fiction conventions (Au Contraire and Aussiecon/Worldcon) recently resulted in the usual – more pictures of trees. And some rocks.
But really, who could resist taking a picture of the path (in a nature reserve called Zealandia) winding between two trees? Not I. One of my friends pointed out that it’s similar to a scene in The Crystal Throne – the hidden entrance to an elf village. But I was getting several other story ideas when I saw it. Time will tell which ones will win out.
The whole length of pebbled beach and the nearby cliff face is all gray but yet just a bit off shore is a collection of red rocks. There’s a story idea there that will probably be moved to an alien planet.
The fallen tree supported by the big branches of the second tree suggested one idea. However, the green of the orchids growing along the fallen tree resembled a garden that some arboral or avian species could use.
So, when I'm asked 'Where do you get your ideas?', there are times when I can point to a picture. And then I'll get stranger looks than usual.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I was browsing the shelves of Colliseum Bookstore back in 1988. Not sure how many of you ever heard of this gone-but-never-forgotten Grandis Libris Domus. I feel sad for those who never experienced it. The classic browsing place. I was flipping through titles in the "Psychedelic New Age Science Fiction Rock & Roll Romps" section with Tim Leary and Jimi Page. There was a single book. It was called Milky Way Marmalade. I bought the book and strolled over to Central park, sat on a giant brass mushroom in the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Beside me a dwarf was smoking from a huka. I read the entire tome aloud and he did a little dance and said "Yes my friend. There is nothing else to read."
Ok- maybe that didn't really happen. Milky Way Marmalade was not in print in 1988. It was published in 2003 and I was the author.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Not only that but I'm donating a signed copy of CROSSED OUT with some pretty cool swag at the end of the month to some lucky winner.
It's officially released! Book 11 of The Guardians of Glede YA fantasy series. Here is the blurb:
Attempting to escape one’s past can have devastating consequences.
Ask Tavin Sylvain, who is trying to forget all about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the trolls six months earlier.
Ask Kitiara, who would like to escape her sordid past in Kartonn, where she was known as the Princess of Pleasure.
Or ask King Jansson van Tannen, who would like nothing better than to keep his family intact and not have to face the possibility of losing one of his own beloved children to fate.
When the past rears its ugly head, all three are thrown into turmoil. Tavin, Brann and Kitiara are lost in Karsaba, without magic, without direction, without hope. And in the middle of a troll invasion. In a race against time, King Jansson and King Kyel gather their closest friends and allies to find the children before the trolls find them first.
I posted a teaser earlier on, but you can read a larger excerpt on my homepage at: JennaKay Francis and you can read the entire first chapter on my publishers page at: Readers Eden
Monday, September 20, 2010
In the meantime, it just so happens I have a middle grade title coming soon in ebook from Binary Press Publications.
Letters to Juniper will be released in ebook in November.
Letters to Juniper is a gripping account of life inside a Separatist compound during an FBI standoff, from a 12-year old girl’s perspective. Sarah Smith remembers when she was six years old her mother died and she moved to northern Idaho with her brother and father. Their lives changed drastically. The only vivid memory she has of her early childhood is her best friend Juniper Holland. In her letters to Juniper, Sarah reveals her innermost thoughts and feelings about her reclusive life with three younger brothers under the rigid oppression of her father and stepmother who call themselves Separatists. Their lives are turned upside down by an FBI investigation into her father’s association with members of the Aryan Nation. As the tension and violence escalate, Sarah faces life and death decisions in order to survive.
In May 2007, Letters to Juniper" won YA Fiction.com's "First Three" middle grade contest with this comment: “’Letters to Juniper’ was a pleasure to read, and the judges quickly became intrigued by and invested in Sarah's story.” One of the judges was so intrigued she asked if I would let her read the full manuscript, which of course I did.
The ideas for my novels always come to me in the voice of the main character. Letters to Juniper was no different. During the 90s, I was as horrified as everyone else at news stories about the Montana Freemen, Ruby Ridge, and the Waco Siege. In all three cases, children were living inside the compounds during the standoff. I asked the question: “What would it be like to be a child, yet old enough to be aware of what was happening?” Not long after, Sarah came to me and told me her story in the form of letters, like a diary.
Wouldn’t it be swell if the act of writing simply involved taking dictation from the voices in our heads? Creating a character requires more than voices. The character must become flesh and blood. I had to unlock the mystery. Who was Sarah Smith?
The news stories were all about what happened after the FBI showed up. Lots of footage of reporters and agents standing around with video cameras trained on buildings. Okay, so Sarah’s home was surrounded by federal agents. How did she feel about that? What was her true conflict?
I needed to know what was going on inside those buildings, which meant I had to peer into an alternate universe of Aryan Nations inhabited by skinheads, white supremacists, Separatists, and neo-Nazis.
I visited some of the groups’ websites but they were packed with propaganda and hate speech. They were also pretty sophisticated. While I was poking around at one of the sites – I won’t say which one – an angry red message box popped up on my screen: “WARNING!”. The message said something about me not being a registered user. I don’t remember the exact words. I closed my browser. Then someone sent me an email asking why I was looking at the website, which totally creeped me out. I couldn’t figure out how they knew my email address. During my initial research I read about a writer who had become acquainted with a group of neo-Nazis in the Chicago area so he could get interviews for a story. Then he disappeared. I decided one-on-one contact was a really bad idea. I didn’t respond to the email.
Instead I looked in a different direction. I spent hours and hours at the library digging through the periodicals section. I found several accounts in magazines and books by attorneys, law enforcement agents, and journalists, all of whom had witnessed life inside isolated, extremists’ compounds. Many of their stories provided details about the leaders’ use of rigid beliefs and oppressive rituals to control others, especially women and children. I had found Sarah’s conflict.
That search led me to interviews with women who had left extremists compounds with their children, some of them refugees of the Branch Davidian ranch in Waco. Their confessions offered a glimpse into the emotional impact on the children. I also gleaned background information which helped me understand how the women and children ended up in those situations. From their stories I constructed a bio for Sarah Smith. At the same time I discovered a key element to her past that surprised me, and will certainly surprise readers.
The more I researched, the more I understood Sarah. When creating a character I definitely use character sketches, bios, and interviews. But for me, research is a passion. Through my research process, the characters show me who they are. They come to life.
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I know when I'm not writing enough fiction because I start to dream stories. They play out like picture shows in my restless subconsciousness, magical enticing tales that carry me along until I wake up. Always in the middle of the best part. And always dying to know the end of the story.
A few years ago, I was swamped with work and one or two crises along the home front, and I didn't have the time or the energy to sit down and work on developing a new novel or even a short story. On cue, after about two or three weeks of non-writing, I fell asleep and dreamed of two female scientists in the jungles of South America who stumble across the remains of the officer who was supposed to be guarding their research facility. The man didn't die, mind you. What they found was his skin, complete with uniform, after he molted.
There was also a dream that involved a young married couple who, on the surface, seemed to have it all: wealth, good looks, the ability to vacation at the hottest spots on the planet. The truth of the matter? Every vacation spot they were at, be it a resort at a mountain lake or a beautiful villa in the Mediterranean, was troubled by some netherworld creature, and this young couple had been sent there to ferret out the evil beast and destroy it. Who did they work for? I never found out. And boy, I tried!
The first novel I ever got published (no longer in print) resulted from a full-blown dream born of the flu and a fever. At least that dream came complete with an ending. The book is called Dead of Summer and was my first foray into Young Adult fiction. It was also my first published ghost story -- certainly not my last.
So lately, I have been swamped with full-time classes, a part-time job, an upcoming out-of-state workshop, and a huge crisis on the home front, but so far, no mind movies. I'm disappointed but hopeful. Who knows? Maybe tonight I'll watch a movie about a mysterious man, his sports car, and his sword. Or maybe a tale about a group of kids, the last days of summer, and a haunted playground. The possibilities are great to think about! Now if only I could just stay asleep long enough to see the ending.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
The Fane Queen is book 11 of The Guardians of Glede YA fantasy series. I briefly talked of the Fane in another post here. This is their story. This book is due to be released today from Writers Exchange E-Publishing. Here is a little snippit:
"Really?" Kitiara asked. "How old were they when they first met?"
Tavin shrugged. "I don't know. Fact is, I don't even know how old they really are. I've never asked, but probably in their sixties."
"Sixties?" Kitiara gasped. "Gods! They don't even look middle-aged yet!"
Tavin managed a weak smile. "They aren't. Not for elves. We can live up to two hundred years."
Kitiara stared at him, aghast. "What about Davans?" she asked Brann. "How long do Davans live?"
"The usual for humans," Brann replied. "Eighty or ninety years. Unless you're Brann van Tannen. Then your father kills you for running away twice in five months." He sat back down, drawing his knees up tight. "Mama is probably hysterical. I'm going to catch hell for this."
"You didn't have to come," Kitiara retorted, anger in her voice. "No one asked you to come running to my rescue. I was doing just fine."
"Really? And just how were you planning to pay for the magic?" Brann snapped.
Kitiara clenched her jaw, and shoved her hand into her pack. She drew out a small cloth pouch, and hurled it at him. He yelped as it struck his forehead, then fell to the ground, coins clinking. He picked it up, his gaze moving to meet hers.
"Where did you get this?"
"I borrowed it from your father," Kitiara seethed.
"I was going to pay him back."
"How?" Brann cried in fury, coming to his feet.
Tavin rose as well, and grabbed Brann's arm. "Calm down," he said softly, then sighed as Brann yanked away.
"How?" Brann demanded again of Kitiara, anger driving his tongue. "How were you going to get the money to pay him back?"
Fury and hurt crossed Kitiara's face, and she surged to her feet. "You just never let it go do you, Brann? Why did you take me to Odora Dava in the first place? Why couldn't you just leave me in Kartonn? Did you drag me away from the only home I knew just so you could keep throwing your moral judgments at me? I am who I am, Brann. The whore of Kartonn!"
"Does that mean you have to be the whore of Karsaba as well?" Brann screamed at her. "It has to stop somewhere, Kitiara! Or do you plan on working your way across Glede?"
Kitiara gasped, and slapped him full across the face. He sucked in his breath, staggering backward. Without a word, she snatched up her pack, and stormed away. Within seconds, she was lost from sight.
I will be posting the first chapter on my website sometime today as well, just as soon as I get the files from my publisher. Hope you enjoyed this snippit.
Friday, September 17, 2010
I was born in Puerto Rico, a small island, 100 miles by 50 miles, out in the Caribbean Sea. And while PR is a property of the US and we have many of the same fast food restaurants you find there, we also have unique foods all our own.
A lot of these unique foods come from vegetables and fruits not normally found in the continental US. One of these unique vegetables/fruits is the plantain. Though plantains look somewhat like the bananas you might be used to, unlike the yellow variety you see at the grocery store , you can't eat plantains raw. They must be cooked, even when they're ripe . (If you don't, you'll get a heck of stomach ache!)
Depending on how mature the plantain is will depends on what you can make with it. Also the more mature it is, the sweeter the dish will be.
A normal plantain is about two to three times the size of a yellow banana. They're also kind of hard, unless they're ripe.
To make Puerto Rico's version of French Fries - tostones - you want the plantains to be green (unripe). Peeling the plantain's outer layer, you'd then slice the fruit of the plantain into thick chunks. (Think of peeling a banana and cutting it up to put into your cereal. Except the banana is much bigger, the slices thicker, and the peel harder to pull of.)
Each of the chunks will get dipped in salt water for a second (to help them not stick) and then get placed in a frying pan with a half inch of oil or so. They'll be cooked until they start to turn golden then be pulled out and redipped in the salt water.
That's when they'll get crushed pretty flat by a tostonera, then get fried it some more.
When the tostones are golden brown, they get pulled out and set aside to cool for a minute on a paper toweled platter (so the excess grease can be absorbed). At my house, we NEVER wait. When Mom makes them at family gatherings we're all dashing into the kitchen off and on when she's not looking to snatch one, sometimes even burning our fingers.
Do they look awesome or what?
Just like fresh made fries, they smell wonderful when freshly made! Tostoner are usually served as a side dish, just like French Fries.
A lot of people like to dip them in mojo/mojito, which is a garlic/tomato sauce. But that's too bitter for me. I use straight ketchup instead! Just like with my fries.
My mouth is watering just thinking about them! YUM!
I hope someday you too can get a chance to taste some. (And don't even get me started on Amarillitos Fritos (sideways sliced fried plaintain when they ARE ripe. Taste so sweet! Super YUM!)(Salivating even more now). Mmmmmm...
Unveiling the Fantastic
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Jewels of Earda is a trilogy. The Quest for the White Jewel is the first, The Brotherhood of Mages the second. This was a finalist in the Dream Realm awards. The third is The Secret of the Jewels.
The Quest for the White Jewel, On the world of Earda, the Jewels rule all.
Power flows from their depths,and the world responds to the will of their holders - and, the will of holder of the Black Jewel, which rules them all. Yet, legend speaks of a time when there was no Black Jewel, and the lands were ruled in peace by the White Jewel. They are merely legends, now, the truth of it lost in the mists of
time. Or are they? Liara and her foster-brother, Brader, intend to find out.
The Brotherhood of Mages, The Black Jewel has been destroyed and several of the Jewels of Earda need Holders. In their hidden refuge, the Brotherhood of Mages plot to destroy the newly-found peace. When Jindera's brother iskidnapped by the Mages,
she vows to rescue him. She joins with Corin, a peddler and former thief who has his own issues with the Brotherhood. His way of dealing with them is avoidance. When Jindera is injured, Corin knows he must help her. They encounter the Holders of the Orange and Green Jewel. Jinderabonds with the Red and this small group seeks the Brotherhood, hoping if the refuge is destroyed, evil will be defeated and peace restored to Earda. Can they rescue Jindera's brother before the confrontation?
The Secret of the Jewels, The Black Jewel has been destroyed and the White Jewel rules the others. The Brotherhood of Mages are in flight and many of the mages are dead. Something troubles the Jewel Holders. The words of an elderly Healer send them on quests to find the secret of the Jewels they hold. Are the Jewels merely tools or is there a hidden danger in their use? The seven Holders must learn the truth.
I had intended to end this series with the second book since all the Jewels had holders. Then I had a dream. In that dream I realized the Jewels weren't what I thought they were and I had to do the final book. The first of these books was plotted in a writing streak that lasted 72 hours. Then I sent it out but at the time I wrote it fantasy wasn't a big seller and though several publishers liked the idea, they weren't buying fantasy. The book sat on the shelves until I discovered electronic publishing and I found a market for it. The trilogy is available from DiskUs publishing and a number of other venues.
On another day I will talk about the Henge series and how my grandchildren played a role.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
When I look through family albums, I see pictures that reflect on my life. I pause at the photo of the girl sitting in front of the mirror and reflect or meditate, trying to recall this particular time and event.
Mirrors are good reflectors. They don't lie. We can't hide ourselves from a mirrir. They show us the way we are. Looking in a mirror reflects a happy face, a sad face or a puzzled face.
Another great reflector is a body of clear water on a calm day. Notice the trees in my photo then look at the water. You see the trees, point for point. You can see your own face, too, or your dog's or cat's reflection.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
You know what they are, don't you? Those little things that you toss into a recipe that just suddenly make it sing? Those little adds that you didn't plan on, but find out they cement the foundation. Those little things.
Way back when, during some of the first books of my YA series The Guardians of Glede, I tossed in some little beings called the Fane. They are like fireflies, zipping about. Sometimes you can see them, sometimes you can't. They are explained as "intuition", that "nagging voice", the "voice of conscience". We all have heard them at one point or another in our lives. The whisper to turn right instead of left, thereby avoiding an accident or some such.
The Fane started out so innocently, so small, an added ingredient. And yet, they have become so large, so necessary, so needed. Turns out they balance the different magics in the land, keep one from over powering the other. Without the Fane, things begin to collapse, havoc ensues.
Sometimes it can be the addition of a new "character" or sometimes just a characterization of a character that adds the special ingredient to the sauce. I have brownies in my books. No, not the kind you eat, the little mythical creatures of lore. Early on, I gave them names starting with G. It seemed natural. I didn't plan it - at the time. But more and more brownies started showing up in the books and strangely, they all had names beginning with G. Later, there was a brownie who showed up and claimed his name was Rind. It set off warning bells for the other characters simply because it was different. It was explained, but it added a small ingredient of mystery. And early on, my brownies were rather cantankerous. They still are. It's become a brownie trait in the books. It's fun to play with that attitude they have, and how the other characters react to them.
So, when you're reading or writing along and some strange little aside pops into your head and your manuscript, let it play through. It might just end up being one of those interesting little asides that cement the foundation. Or maybe it's just the Fane, whispering in your ear.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I had a cool post on plotting planned for this week, and then the whole world went to Hades in a handbasket. The day after Labor day, I had a new freelance job doing an English Adaptation in the inbox (money for writing, yay!), and I was thrust knee-deep into my graduate course work. Which wouldn't have been nearly as much of a problem except the fam and I are getting ready to head off for a brief vacation on Wednesday. Meaning everything has to be pretty much done before we go. Toss in any number of football related crises, and my week has passed in a blur of exhaustion.
And today my editor says we can get started on the next Library of Athena book, to be released this fall. So I'll squeeze that in.
I haven't written anything new in days.
I got two rejection letters from agents about my YA Historical.
I still have a movie from Netflix that I got last week that I haven't watched.
So I'm really sorry there's not this great, all-inspiring post about how I organize my plot (I have a picture and everything!).
I will leave you with this bit of wisdom that came to me while writing above mentioned YA Historical, regarding villains/antagonists. The best villains are a little bit sympathetic to the reader. We have to get them and even feel for them, even if we completely hate them. Not only that, but as an author, you MUST see their point of view to write them well.
Villains are never evil just to BE evil (unless you're writing spaghetti western.). They ALWAYS think what they are doing is RIGHT.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Ever laughed out loud, burst into tears or just sat back and said ‘Wow! This is great!’ while reading a novel? Those are the ‘Yes!’ moments. They’re the ones we remember for a long time, and (for me at least) those books and stories are the ones we talk up the most.
I believe it’s that ‘Yes!’ moment connection which makes the difference between people forgetting all about the novel they just read, and recommending it to (perhaps even buying it for) someone else. It’s what makes them remember a writer’s name as well as the book’s title. It’s what makes them seek out more of that author’s work.
So how do we go about creating a ‘Yes!’ moment?
I wish I knew. I thought I’d got the crying part nailed – people often burst into tears when I suggest they read my work – but apparently that’s not quite enough.
I do think it requires a strong emotional connection with at least one character in the story, but there’s more to it than just empathy.
Although I’m calling them ‘Yes!’ moments, I think the particular scene or line of dialogue which triggers them is the tipping point rather than the stand-alone cause. The connection with the reader started on page one and (hopefully) built up from there.
What does a ‘Yes!’ moment look like?
For me, they usually come as a surprise. Most of the time it’s a laugh out loud piece of dialogue or a minor story twist, immediately followed by a shocking/sad moment in the story (or vice versa). It could be a piece of raw honesty from a character I related to, or the death/break up/departure I knew was coming but hoped wouldn’t. Sometimes it’s the happy ending, or the poetic justice of the villain’s demise.
My guess is that different readers experience different moments. What connects with some people leaves others cold, so we should aim to have more than a few. If we write them well and work them smoothly into the rest of our story, I’m sure our readers will notice…at least, I hope they will.
How about you?
What ‘Yes!’ moments have you had while reading?
Jon's debut novel, Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010 (click here to see the trailer).
His presentation/workshop, The Fine Art of Self Promotion is based on entries from his popular online journal, An Englishman in New Jersey.
Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Sometimes I can rise to the occasion and words pour forth like salt, encouraging my little blinking slug cursor to hasten right along. Other times - not so much. The slug can dilly-dally, take its time, enjoy the scenary.
It's not that I don't have a lot of stuff on my mind these days. Rather, I think I have way too much stuff on my mind these days. The world has expanded. I see, know, read, experience more now than I ever did in the first 30 years of my life. The internet has brought the world to my fingertips. I can even go online and view web-cams of foreign places. (I sometimes go out and look at places like Hawaii while it's winter here.) But is this ability a good thing? Or is it just information overload? Too much of a good thing?
Imagination used to create these places for me, places that I can now just look at, read about. In some ways, the knowledge has actually stifled my creativity. In other ways, it has given me more fodder for creating. New images, new words, new ideas. Maybe too many 'news' in there. And my slug cursor once again slows and occasionally even stops. Which 'new' should I reach for?
Then again, maybe my little slug has simply reached the edge of the grass and is contemplating crossing that big expanse of concrete, known as the driveway. What is on the other side? Will he make it? Is it any different, better, nicer than where he is at the moment? Should he retreat? Retire at the very spot he is now at? Push on? Explore this dangerous, new world, see what is over there?
New worlds, new horizons, new ideas, new stories. Moving forward, slowly sometimes, in a bit of a rush other times. Somehow the blank page gets filled. Somehow, the little slug bravely pushes forward.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
A big thing I've learned by reviewing is how this helps me with my own writing.
Examples: Great writing motivates me to get back into my writing loft and write. It pushes me to find better and more unique ways of expressing myself.
Some great books that have given me that extra kick I need include:
Maggie's writing is delicious and very yummy. Read the candy store scene and tell me if you don't feel that sexual tension building!
Another example of lush, rich writing set in the deep South.
FALLOUT by Ellen Hopkins
What I love about Ellen's writing is how it speaks to you with such a big impact. One of her books, BURNED, spoke to me as I could relate with her main character. I felt as if she knew what I'd been through. Powerful writing. Tell me if that doesn't motivate you to push yourself to the next level with your own writing. I know it does for me.
The same can be said about reading books that aren't really that great. And this is all subjective too. Books that I feel are disappointing, make me want to 'prove' I can do better. Once again, I'm in my writing loft, writing.
Finally, reviewing is a great way to connect with other publishers and authors. I love getting emails from authors thanking me for reviewing their books.
So whenever you feel sluggish and need an extra kick in the pants, pick up a YA book. Read it. See if I'm not right.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
I began telling myself stories when I was in elementary school, because I often couldn’t get to sleep at night. This went on for years. Each night, I would run through the story up to where I left off and then add to it. Occasionally, I’d get tired of my POV character—who was often myself—and try out my current story from inside someone else’s thoughts. When I did this, sometimes I found myself backtracking in my “plot” because this other character was more interested in something else that was going on, or because he or she had “arrived late” in the story and I was just plain nosy to see what she or he had been up to before walking on stage.
In the meantime, my best friends and I used to imagine time travelling—or more specifically time-snatching. We would choose someone from different historical periods and imagine ourselves as hosts and guides to them, while we showed them the wonders of 1950’s America. (blush) Poor, captive historical people! Most of the time, we tried to imagine how they would react to electric lights, television (B&W) or cars. In our view, they were always impressed.
After a while, we branched out into SF and began wondering what aliens visiting Earth would think of our world. For that, we had to come up with personalities for the aliens. Generally, the group opinion was that the aliens were not impressed with us, so this was a short-lived pastime. We went back to historical periods and resumed time-snatching.
Years later, specifically when I was in my early 30’s, I got the inspiration to write a fantasy novel—Seabird. I didn’t think about it when I started but it turned out to be a young adult book. What else was it going to be when the POV character was a teen still in high school? Cara was on her summer vacation at the beach when she was snatched to another world. At first, Cara had a lot of me in her and not much of anything else. Poor kid.
I had a few elements of my story in mind: I knew that she would be swept to Narenta after finding an intriguing seabird necklace in a boardwalk shop. That she would be told that she had an important role to play in the welfare of the Narentans. That she would absolutely refuse to fall in with the plans at first. And, finally, what terrible event would change her mind, and how the book would end. But I didn’t know much about her personality or interests, and very little about the people she would meet—with the exception of one of the villains.
I wrote for a few days and then ran dry. I prayed about it a lot. This story, though only scraps of a few plot ingredients and one character, was already important to me. Anyway, various thoughts came wandering into my brain, and a few of those thoughts reminded me of how I used to create characters when I was a kid.
I started again. Who would Cara meet? What would they be like and what would they think of her? What would she think of them? What was their place like? Was it like an historical period with which I was familiar? (Not so much to that last question: Narenta turned out to be a fairly alien alien world.)
While gong back and forth between each character’s reactions to the others and vice versa, I discovered all sorts of interesting things about the Narentans and also about Cara. For instance, she had reneged on a promise to stay home with her best friend and was carrying an unopened letter from her friend in her jeans pocket. She had a brother who was into SF movies. She had worked briefly at a stable and was a local champion at Quark Brigade. And had sort of a boyfriend but wasn’t really that interested in him. Aha! Where could I insert someone to be a romantic interest? And, hey, how come he didn’t like her at first? What was that about?
I hadn’t written for days. (I didn’t think of any of this as “writing”.) I was too busy having fun developing characters—like the various Narentans who would just assume that Cara had some kind of magical ability because some Narentans did. Or that she naturally knew how to ride a horse and use a bow. (Yes, to the first. Not even a little bit, to the second.) Cara wanted to go back to the beach—now please. Some Narentans were desperate for her to stay and rescue them, though they didn’t all agree on how she was to do that. Meanwhile the antagonists wouldn’t mind if Cara left but figured it was safer to kill her.
“Seabird” set the pattern for my characterization—and my plotting—from then on. I work out a skeleton plot and always—nearly always—make sure I have an end to the story. Then, I set the storyline aside. I begin with two or three characters and get to know them—beginning with the protagonist. I “learn” far more about them than can possibly fit into the story. I’m afraid I don’t use physical character sheets—I have the equivalent inside my head. When I can think of nothing new about a particular character, I switch to another one, usually beginning with how they react to the character(s) I’ve already developed. In the process of developing these interrelationships and everyone’s individual motives, juicy little nuggets pop into my head. Look at that! This guy plays a flute! That one’s a poet and a bad one, and his mother abandoned him when he was very young under tragic circumstances. I know the name of that person’s horse, and I know why his girlfriend gave it that name. And so on.
Eventually, I reach critical mass when it comes to the characters, and I go back to writing the story. Actually, by now, I already have some scenes scribbled down on index cards or typed up in Notepad files. My skeleton outline has put on a lot of weight, but still has room to grow. Developments in characterization don’t cease until I type “The End”.
Here’s a couple of my favorite and more bizarre characters, and how they developed.
Khiva the stoah, from “Earthbow”. Khiva is a sentient arboreal animal. She was supposed to be in just two scenes: In the first, she surprises someone who is secretly crawling into a window and in the other she fortuitously gets a different character out of a fix. Khiva is based on my experiences living with cats and watching squirrels. Plus she has the prehensile tail of a monkey—which was needed for the plot. And she’s a chatterbox-mostly for the fun of it. That was it for her—at first.
As I wrote more and more of Earthbow, it kept getting darker and darker. Not what I had planned at all. Earthbow badly needed comic relief. I thought about bringing in another human character or making one of my protagonists more self-deprecating, but neither solution seemed to fit.
Then I remembered Khiva. I went back and thought through her character in depth, realizing in the process that she really had more going on in her furry little brain than I had given her credit for. She hates her job as a plant-gatherer for a human herbalist. She, like most stoahs as it turns out, is very into equal rights for stoahs alongside the traditional “three peoples” of Narenta. She seems self-centered if you just listen to her chatter, but she actually has a soft heart for anyone in trouble or in pain. She’s a bit vain—not that I blame her with such great fur. And she’s addicted to rosehips. Before I knew it, she was threaded throughout “Earthbow”, essential to its plot, and promises to turn up in its sequel.
Bert-and-Marsha-from-Hoboken, from “Marooned”. (Or, how not to do it.) Now I ask you, do Bert & Marsha—much less Hoboken—sound like names from a fantasy novel? I wrote most of Marooned during National Novel Writing Month, a few Novembers ago. For those of you who know nothing about it, the object of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000+ words on one novel during the month of November. I had done some (legal) prepping for the challenge before November 1st of that year, by nailing down the characteristics and motives of my two principle characters. I was busily writing away one day (1667 words per day, minimum) when I realized that the protagonist needed to hear news from a neighboring village and, without telephones or computers, that meant I needed people to arrive on the scene and be eyewitnesses.
I was so rushed with trying to reach my NaNo quota for the day that I couldn’t take time to figure out names according to my naming conventions and I hadn’t a clue what the village was called. So, Bert & Marsha strolled into the village where the main characters were and announced they had fled Hoboken. I have never characterized on the fly so much in my life. Suddenly they had three children. (Or is it two?) Marsha started acting like a real dim supermom.
Bert refused to fit the role of dad. Argh! I backtracked and stuffed Bert in jail. Why? A nameless character had attacked my protagonist the previous day, and I still didn’t know anything about that person, except that they were now in jail. “Jailbird” became Bert. Combining characters solved that problem. Ah! Marsha had arrived from Hoboken to break Bert out of jail! Outstanding! Next thing you know, I realized that Bert was not who he professed to be. Poor Marsha! And like that. Whoosh! Rush characterization for a NaNoWriMo novel is so much fun.
Bert, Marsha, and Hoboken are all still awaiting their real names—but I do know a lot about them.
Sherry Thompson – author of Seabird, Earthbow – and most of Marooned.
Fantasy Character Background Info (workform)
Fiction Factor – Creating Characters (numerous articles)
How to Create a Character Profile Sheet
Saturday, September 4, 2010
This book came about by an article that I read about a remote mountain village that believed in the Fairy Sickness. When babies died at birth or shortly after, the villagers believed that the fairies took them. Old beliefs die hard. Once modern medical intervention occurred the babies stopped dying. But the villagers merely assumed that the fairies were no longer interested. They didn't connect the better health care with the infant survival rate.
I got to thinking, what if they were right? What if the fairies really were taking the babies. Why would they all of a sudden stop? Thus, THE FAERY SICKNESS was born.
Here is the blurb:
Vala Kalei has always been different from the other villagers, saved from death by the fae, and condemned by her own neighbors. But when she makes the decision to go to the faery realm and retrieve the babies that have been dying, she opens up another whole world of mystery, pain, heartache and love.
And here is an excerpt:
Vala scrambled to her feet, terrified and confused. Too startled to do anything else, she turned and bolted. Past terrors pursued her, down the road, across the meadows and into a thin copse of leafy trees. Still, she did not stop, but raced on, stumbling, falling, picking herself up, and always moving on. The waterskin banged and sloshed against her hip as she ran, leaking cold water down her leg.
At last, exhausted, out of breath, she staggered to a stop, using a birch tree for support. Her chest heaved with exertion, her leg muscles quivered. Confusion numbed her. What had happened? What had caused the red light? Shaking, she pulled the medallion from beneath her shirt and looked at it in the moonlight. The large red stone embedded in the silver sparkled. How could it have done that to Odig? What exactly had it done? So much didn't make sense anymore. Not Tyrs' words, not her uncles', not the strange occurrence with the medallion. Vala shook her head, and returned the medallion to its hiding place beneath her shirt. When she was rested enough to be aware of her surroundings, she gasped.
She had never seen this part of the meadow before. Two huge boulders stood like sentinels, black against a darker background. Puzzled, she straightened, her leg muscles quivering in protest, and walked toward the rocks. As she passed between them, a tingle shot through her body, much like the ripple of excitement she used to get as a child, playing hide and seek. She paused, one hand on each boulder and leaned forward as a gust of wind swept around her. It brought a strange scent, one she had never smelled before. She took a hesitant step forward, then shrieked as the ground beneath her suddenly gave way.
She slid down a steep embankment, clawing and grabbing at anything she could find to arrest her fall. Sharp grass sliced through her fingers, small shrubs broke free in a cascade of dirt and stone, jagged rock cut into her stomach and arms. And still she fell, until at last, she landed on a small ledge jutting out from the bank. She lay still, stunned, one hand still gripping a piece of plant she had pulled free.
A new sound reached her, pounding and roaring in her ears. She struggled to her knees, her head reeling. She had only a second to take in a vast stretch of water, sparkling in the moonshine, before she toppled, plummeting over the side of the ledge to a pool of water far below.
And here is where you can buy it and read the the first chapter:
Friday, September 3, 2010
Eventually, I stopped fighting my inner muse and rolled with it. And now, I feel exceedingly blessed to be a published author during a time when YA has come into its own - it's cool to write for teens right now.
I'm not saying that there hasn't always been an audience for the type of books the contributors to this blog write - there have always been teen readers who've longed to read something they could relate to, something written for them by an author who understood the particular trials and tribulations of high school; the angst of not fitting in, that first (often painful) crush, the worry over how to transition from "kid" to "adult". But until fairly recently YA wasn't as celebrated as I might have liked.
Tastes are cyclical. What is considered popular changes according to some arcane schedule. After Steve King burst onto the scene in the 70's, Horror was the new darling in the publishing world. Dean Koontz, Clive Barker and Anne Rice got big advances that earned out. Then came Tom Clancy, who kicked off the political thriller trend; Dan Brown ushered in a spate of suspense-thrillers with a historical overtones and then ... then came Harry Potter, written by J.K. Rowling. In my mind, this happening was The Beginning of the thirst for YA/MG as we know it today.
Suddenly, it was not only acceptable to write for a younger crowd, it was also pretty lucrative. Cornelia Funke, Rick Riordan, Stephanie Meyer and a host of others were becoming household names.
Don't get me wrong - I know that for years there have been books available for teens, some really good books, most of which I read growing up. Our great-grandmothers read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Lois Lowry were YA authors before YA was uber-cool.
Writing YA is now cool. Not a day goes by that I don't struggle against the urge to dress in all black and don mirror shades before going to Starbucks and ordering something grande.
Yeah, okay, I'll admit it; I don't do that since I'm not cool, as my kids point out to me daily. But my genre is.
Kathi Wallace is the author of Assiniboin Girl released by Drollerie Press. She can be found most days on Twitter as Kathi430 or her blog, kathi430.livejournal.com
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Whatever the cause, once I began reading my father's collection of science fiction and fantasy the stories I treasured most were those from the alien point of view. Authors such as Andre Norton, Gordon Dickson, Hal Clement and James White - to name a few of my 'must read' authors from back then - created believeable aliens, ones who weren't just slightly different humans.
I love to write about nonhumans. They do take a bit more time, since I have to design their worlds, cultures and languages (including what do they swear by and what are their swear words). But once they are part of the story, it can be so interesting to see the universe through a different set of eyes (or whatever the aliens use for visual sensors).
Some of my nonhumans are based upon familiar forms. In the Crystal Throne universe, for example, there are elves and gryphons and dryads as well as humans. The Fleet Ones in that world are the descendants of several horselike beings that live in that magic world. There are also treelike beings who, when they are young, are mobile and resemble green-skinned children. That way they are able to travel the land far outside their mothergrove and decide where they want to plant themselves.
There is another plantlike being in my galactic agents series of stories that resembles a short turquoise bush that can walk. It is also the pilot of ship. And then there's Sstwel, the first of her people to attend college on Earth. She has featherlike fur, which is blue on her head and short tail, and green out to her clawed hands and feet. She also has a strong hooked beak and large brown eyes. She is majoring in marketing and picks up human expressions quickly, though she's not always sure of their meaning.
When I talk at Young Writers' Workshops, there is usually only time for us to do the general description 'what does your alien look like'. The choices range through furred, scaled, feathered, shell-encased, rock/crystal-based, even robotic. But to me it is heartening that usually for every alien described with emphasis on claws, fangs and heavy weaponry, there will be one or two that have a backstory - sometimes why they came to invade Earth, but there are also alien pets, princesses, or misunderstood monsters as well.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
There is a sure sign when my creative output is flowing and I am deep in the process of cruising through a book or a screenplay or editing a film. I am happy.
But when my moodiness escalates or when I walk around grunting and mumbling there is no doubt where I am. I am in the IN-BETWEEN.
Just ask my wife.
The period of time between projects is always the most frustrating to me. I feel unnatural, incomplete. I need the output to flow. It is never a matter of not having an idea. Or having writers block. For me it is always a matter of too many ideas and narrowing it down to a single, workable concept. I tend to bounce around from idea to idea- weighing the benefits of spending the next chunk of months single-minded and devoted to one project. My minds surfs genres, tries to imagine outcomes (a very bad thing), swings with the moods of the music I listen to or the movies I watch. It's a difficult place to journey, this IN-BETWEEN. It is a very difficult thing to finally know what road I am about to embark on. First thing I need is a title I like. I cannot write ANYTHING without a good title. Next I need a soundtrack. My Ipod becomes my muse- each song a scene.
I just recently stepped out from the IN BETWEEN and began a new YA Novel. One I am extremely excited about.I have my title and I have my soundtrack. I am having a difficult time reaching cruising altitude with it as I try to find its proper voice, but being out of the IN BETWEEN is always a step in the right direction. The mumbling stops. The grunting and the grumpiness cease. I feel human again.