Month: March 2013

Home Comforts – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers get together
to share their inspiration.
 

This week I’ve been revisiting an old character I love dearly, but who has really been through the wringer. He’s the guy that saw danger coming and couldn’t get anyone to listen to him. He’s lost a lot and as the world literally falls around him, he doggedly holds on to the only thing he has left – the truth. But his path is so lonely and wretched at times, even as I’m writing him, my heart breaks a little.

So because I’m really a big softie, I’ve been looking for little ways to bring him comfort on his journey. My character lives in a fantasy world, and our backgrounds and circumstances are seriously different – yet I was still able to look to my own experiences for inspiration.

When I was at University I spent a summer picking fruit (apricots and cherries) down in Central Otago (South Island of NZ). The landscape was quite different from the green pastural fields of my childhood home – everything was on a grander scale. The hills towered over sweeping, burnt plains; the river was mountain-fed, fast flowing and more dangerous than anything I’d encountered before; and I was living in an old shearers’ quarters with other seasonal workers.

It was also the time before cell phones and the shearers’ quarters (a very old rambling building with a big front porch – in very bad repair) had no telephone so in order to ring home I had to hike down (and often have to queue up) for the payphone. It felt like I was living in another world.

At that time the things I remembered being very precious were a few photographs, a silver cross necklace my mother bought me (that I tragically lost – but she, hearing how upset I was, sent me another exactly the same) and a few letters. One of my friends lived closer, and his Mum used to send him chocolate cakes which he used to share with me. Strangely, just knowing it was homemade was comforting. When you can’t get to your own family, it’s nice when someone else pulls you into their fold.

But the thing I remember most vividly was one night I’d been visiting friends who lived 10km out-of-town, and for some reason I decided to walk back home by myself. For the life of me I can’t think why I would’ve done it. Although summer down south means the light lasts a long time, I was a teenage girl out in the middle of nowhere – and it was totally dark when I got back to town. But I remember looking out over the great river plain as the sky blazed and faded to black and realising that the stars were the same as home. Although I’m not a big star-gazer the sky was comfortingly familiar. I was able to find the Southern Cross and it made me feel better when the road got darker and the night noises fired my overactive imagination.

My character might not have photographs, but he has a few precious family heirlooms he carries with him. In at least one situation he’s pulled into the bosom of a very big family, and he has the stars too.

Smells, tastes, music and familiar landscapes can all hold comforting memories. I can’t see nasturtiums without thinking of my grandmother. My other grandmother used to say well hung washing looked like a rainbow, I often think of her when I’m hanging my own out. So I’m looking for similar stories for my characters too.

What kinds of things bring you or your characters comfort?

If you’d like to join us in the Thursday’s Children Blog Hop, or see what’s inspiring everyone else, click on this linky. Many thanks to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting!

A Time for Answers: WIPpet Wednesday

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It’s WIPpet Wednesday again, where I crack open my Work in Progress to give you a peak at my writerly heart. Today’s WIPet, in honour of the 27th is taken from page 27 of The Legend of the Kings. Legend was the book that started this great big epic fantasy of mine and I’ve been revisiting it lately to see how much will need to be re-written in light of The Fall of the Kings. Some things that were reader reveals in Legend have actually been explained in Fall, so there’s been a bit of reorganisation – and with regard to this passage – timelines too. Legend was supposed to be generations after Fall but to get the trilogy to hang together it’s now within one lifetime.

Background to this passage: Gaelladorn is isolated from the outside wall by a boundary – the only thing keeping a plague of dragons out. A family tragedy, directly related to the boundary has left Aiden alone and angry, until he stumbles across some information about the boundary that doesn’t make sense. Despite direct opposition from the powers that be at the Sanctuary, Aiden sets off to unravel the mystery. In this passage he has found himself at a sheep station near to the boundary, trying to get information out of the Fraser family – a very tight-knit and until now, closed-lipped group:

Every eye was on Aiden as he recounted his tale of finding the scroll and his theory about what Daniel Fells was doing with the Overseer’s ring.  As he spoke even the children seemed to settle, hanging on every word.

“I was hoping you might know where Daniel was working the day he disappeared?”

 No one said anything.

As Aiden looked at the faces around the table, his heart sank. What could they possibly know after all this time?

“Why is it so important to you?”  There was no warmth in Ian Fraser’s eyes, and the challenge hung heavy in the air.

 Why indeed?  Why was this so important?

Reasons swarmed up to justify his quest.  Because he couldn’t live one more day trapped behind an ineffective boundary.  Because almost everyone he loved was dead.  Because what was left of his life was so unbearable he needed something to fill it – even if it was impossible.  Yet as the painful thoughts arose, something quieter pushed at his memory.

“Because what happened wasn’t right.”

The words seemed to slip out of him, and by the blank expressions he was afraid he’d blown any chance with the Frasers.  But to his surprise it was Annie who spoke.

“My grandmother told me about Daniel, and she’d heard it from her grandmother.”

 “Mother.”  Ian’s voice held a rebuke.

  “No.”  The old lady dismissed her son with a wave.  “He can have the truth, at least what we know of it…”

If you’d like to join in the WIPpet fun, post a section of your work in progress that has some relevance to the date – 27 words, lines, something from page 27 or chapter 27 (it’s pretty flexible), then add your link to this linky and check out what the other WIPeteers are working on. Many thanks again to the lovely K.L.Schwengel for hosting!

 

Making Good Art – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together
to discuss whatever inspires them.

It’s been a tough old week – where keeping this blog ticking over is all I’ve been able to manage on the writing front. Like the title of this blog, I’ve been dreaming of other realms, but have had little time to sit down and coax them onto the page. And as Thursday rolled around I was getting nervous; the inspirational well was looking pretty dry.

They say all things come to those who wait, and I was fortunate enough to find this week’s inspiration in my inbox, hidden away in Joe Warnimont’s Write With Warnimont newsletter. Nestled in the middle of all sorts of writing goodies was this link to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), with a note suggesting it might help ‘strengthen your own writing motivations’.

Well my writing motivations certainly needed a little strengthening, and it turned out Neil Gaiman is as a good a motivational speaker as he is a writer, because 20 minutes later I was feeling much better. In fact I was once again excited to be a writer.

There are many, many gems in this speech, but the one that stood out above all others was his call to ‘make good art’. And if I had to distill it down even further – make your kind of good art.

For me, I’m dead set on writing, and being the best kind of writer I can be. To that end I’m learning everything I can about the art of writing, connecting with other writers and writing as often as I can find the time.

Yet the biggest stumbling block I’ve hit has been the rules: You shouldn’t write in more than one POV, you shouldn’t use adverbs (weed out those proverbial dandelions), prologues are a no-no, and write for your market. All of these rules have merit, but at times, have also squashed – or at best dented, my creative efforts.

Spy an adverb in my writing – any adverb – and I start second guessing myself. Tear my hair out trying to figure out which one of my POV characters could tell this story solo and do it justice. Point blank refuse to lose a prologue, because right now the scene is by far the best way to start this book (book 3 for those checking over my WIP). Oh and don’t get me started on my potential readership or genres…

I know some of you will read this and have an overwhelming urge to remind me that many of the writing rules provide the structure of good writing – ignore at your own peril. And to an extent I agree – trust me I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I guess what I liked about Gaiman’s speech was, the reminder that the most important thing is the art itself. Creating it, enjoying it, and hopefully oneday other people will like it enough to pay for it too.

Only time will tell if it’s marketable or not, but right now I’m in the phase of creating the best kind of writing art I can. The kind that makes my heart sing when I read it – the story that blows my mind first and foremost. So thank you Neil Gaiman for reminding me to trust my our own voice, get vulnerable on the page and create art that I’m truly proud of.

To join in, or to check out what’s inspiring the other Thursday’s Children click on this linky. Many thanks as always to Rhiann Wynn-Nolat and Kristina Perez for hosting!

A Persistent Fool – WIPpet Wednesday

As promised in my last post, The Perils of Falling For Your Villain, this week’s WIPpet Wednesday introduces my newest bad guy known only as the Elder. Have you ever known one of those people who just keep pushing their point far past the point of good sense. Well this poor fool is pushing the wrong person.

Bearing in mind this is a peek into my Work In Progress – The Fall of the Kings, it appears in all its first draftiness. So without further ado: 20 lines of the Elder:

The Elder worked his jaw as he pounded through the trees; pushing through the red haze threatening to overwhelm his better judgement.

Slow down. Pick your moment.

But with the heavy-footed idiot blundering along behind him, it took all his willpower not to strike the fool down mid-stride.

Reaching a heavily shaded spot, secluded and far enough from the crowd, he spun on his heel. The fool wasn’t paying attention and almost ploughed right into him. The panic-stricken look on the man’s face calmed the Elder.

Now he sees the danger.

The Elder didn’t move nor did he speak, as the man stumbled backwards his eyes as wide as a fresh water bullfrog. Unfortunately he wasn’t as smart. Puffing himself up to full height, he started forward again.

“When -.”

“Did I not make it perfectly clear last time?”  There was ice in the Elder’s tone – a fool would have picked up on it – yet the man did not back down.

“But Josiah is looking for -.”

“Enough.” The Elder’s lips peeled back and the word came out as a snarl. “You were warned.”

The fool took another step forward. “Are you threatening me?

Some people are slow learners.

WIPpet Wednesday is a blog-hop, where we open up our Work in Progress to share a slice of the creative process. If you’d like to join us, just choose a slice of your writing that has some relevance to the date – today’s the 20th, so 20 words / lines, from page 20 or chapter 20 and add your post to this linky. Thanks to K.L. Schwengel for hosting!


The Perils of Falling For Your Villain

It’s fun writing the bad guy. He’s the one who pushes the moral envelope, takes the plot into all sorts of dark places and gives our hero the opportunity to prove his mettle. However if I’ve learned anything studying the craft of writing, it’s that characters need to be well-developed, with believeable motives. And in the case of villains; they rarely see themselves as the bad guy.

So in order to avoid the moustache twirling cut-out cliché, I decided to work my antagonist’s backstory. In The Fall of the Kings, that was Marcus Verona.

Now I never saw Marcus as an evil schemer – more like one of those people who truly believe their own manifesto. But every time I tried to write his point of view, he felt very stiff, formal and not very likeable. This was a big problem for me, because this story requires Marcus to be quite charismatic – at least outwardly.

So I turned to his wife Celeste, and tried to see him through her eyes. The result was a short story recounting the summer they met and Marcus’s proposal of marriage. At that time he was a young soldier of limited means, on leave to attend to his dying father’s affairs. They met by chance, but the result was a gorgeous summer of secret meetings at a concealed waterhole on Celeste’s family estate.

It was the first time I really understood where Marcus had come from and what it was that drove him to succeed. The problem was, just like Celeste, I kind of fell in love with him too. Trust me I didn’t see it coming. But this caused me a huge dilemma: I know the path Marcus is on and what this will ultimately unleash for my mythical land of Gaelladorn, and I didn’t want him to be the bad guy.

One of the main themes in The Fall of the Kings is pride. How a refusal to look beyond our own experiences can have major consequences – especially when you’re in a position of leadership. There was no getting around it, in this story Marcus has to be the vehicle for Gaelladorn’s change of fortunes.

So where did that leave me? Because I’m soft, I just could not believe the man who romanced the lovely Celeste could possibly be responsible for what’s going to unfold. I also felt if I eased up on him I would lose some of the tension needed to pull the story together.

The result was a new character. A master antagonist (as if I didn’t already have enough characters in this book). You’ll meet him this week in the Wednesday WIPpet. I had to delve into his backstory too, and I’m pleased to say although I’m sorry for his past there is very little chance I’m going to fall for him. He’s driven by his own demons, but he’ll be pulling some strings in the background to manipulate Marcus too.

It made me feel a bit better about what’s going to happen to Marcus and Celeste – and it should result in a more powerful emotional payoff when it all plays out.

So this is just a cautionary tale about getting too close to your villains. Make sure you know what drives them to darker side of human nature. Give them endearing features as well as repulsive ones so they don’t feel cartoonish – but don’t get so attached you can’t go down the darker path when the story requires it.

A well drawn villain is a great foil for your hero, but be careful he doesn’t steal your heart, or your story on the way.

How about you? Do you love to hate your villains? Have you ever fallen for one? How did that work out for you / your story?

Tagging Thyme Meme: 11 Random Questions…

A few weeks ago the lovely Margaret E. Alexander (of the Story Addict Blog Fame) tagged me to play this meme of silly questions. Thanks Margaret! And because I am the kind of person that likes to embrace silly (and because there is a Tolkienesque question included), I was happy to play along. So here is my take:

1. What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten in public?

I did try chicken’s feet once at a chinese restaurant. But as a rule I’m not very adventurous when it comes to weird food.

I do, however, remember backpacking in Scotland on a very tight (student) budget. One night we have enough money for an order of hot chips for me – and a deep-fried haggis for hubby (there is no accounting for taste). To my disgust they put the deep-fried haggis on top of my chips. Needless to say I preferred to go hungry that night.

I can’t say haggis does anything for me to start off with – but I can not imagine deep-frying improves it all…

2. If you had to go on an adventure, with elves, dwarves, or hobbits, who would you take and why?

If you know me at all, you will appreciate I really had to put some thought into this one. My gut reaction was elves of course; lembas bread, cool gear – swords, rope, magical items and flash travelling garb – and yes I’m shallow, Orlando Bloom did come to mind. But then it occurred to me, being in elvish company would probably highlight how very unpractical I am. I’d feel like the short, frumpy, slow, hanger-on. So maybe I’ll pass on the elves.

I don’t know that I’d cope with the dwarves either. In my reading they seem to be gruff, forthright and even when their sense of humour does come out, it can be at the expense of the stranger (poor Bilbo… chip the glasses, crack the plates). I think I’m probably too sensitive a soul to travel with the dwarves.

Which leaves the hobbits. Short, food-loving, and ultimately not afraid to crawl away from a fight. I think I might fit right in!

3. You are at a rural retreat lodge somewhere deep in Wisconsin or Canada. You are approached by a taxidermist who hands you a stuffed badger and asks you to put it in your lap. What do you do next?

I don’t think so. Will be avoiding rural retreats deep within anywhere – especially if taxidermists are rumoured to be crashing the party.

4. If you were given biscotti, would you prefer it with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?

Although my beverage of choice is tea – biscotti tastes better with coffee. My favourite tea-dipping biscuits are Griffins Gingernuts. The ones we get in NZ are teeth-crackingly hard, but mush-up beautifully when dipped in a hot cuppa.

5. In your opinion, who is the funniest man or woman alive today (comedian)?

I like Rhys Darby and pretty much anything from Flight of the Conchords.

6. If you were given thirty seconds on television to say something, what would it be?

Hi Mum and Dad! *waves*

7. What is your idea of the most romantic date setting ever?

Warm, moonlit, deserted beach…

8. If you could go on one date with a movie or television star, who would it be and why?

What’s the point in going on one date with anyone? And I’m married… But we’re playing pretend – so Robert Downy Jr. He’s so out there, I figure you’d never know what you’d get. But it would have to be one of those dates where you go out and do cool, random things…

9. What is the worst song you have ever heard?

Anything thrash metal… Call me old-fashioned but I like a tune.

10. If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Scotland – in the highlands somewhere, or the Isle of Skye. Somewhere remote and misty and atmospheric appeals to the writer in me. Not so much to the Mum of two kids… But in all seriousness I love living exactly where I do now.

11. Who – in your opinion – was the greatest person to ever live?

Jesus all the way for me!

I’m supposed to tag 11 others to play along, but because not everyone likes to be tagged, I’ll throw the invite out there. If you want to participate in this meme, copy the questions and let me know where you stand (go team Hobbit!).

Amazing Powers of Observation – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together
to talk about whatever inspires them.

After a solid run of editing, it has become apparent that the dialogue in my WIP needs work. This is a good thing! I figure if you can identify a problem, you’re half way towards fixing it — and I already have some great leads to follow-up. So my goal this week is to pay attention to the way real people talk.

Sounds simple? Well it should be, after all I come in to contact with lots of people during the course of my day. Already I’ve been to school, the shopping mall, had a tradesman drop by the house and had a conversation with my elderly neighbour through an open window. The problem is, I can not remember one single detail about language choice, filler words, or colloquialisms from any of these conversations.

*sighs*

But because I’m not the kind to beat myself up over it, I got to thinking why this was a problem. And it occurred to me that some of us just look at the world in different ways.

When I was a second year law student, a criminal law lecturer arranged for some post-grad students to run into the lecture hall, knock some papers down and steal the overhead projector. We didn’t know it was coming and it happened very quickly. We were then asked to put together our own witness statements: How many perpetrators, height, descriptions, clothing and a detailed breakdown of what happened including time they were in the room.

The variances in our statements were shocking. We had different numbers of people, hair colours, ethnic groups and height estimations. More than anything I learned witness statements can be incredibly inaccurate. But it did encourage me to measure every person who visited our flat after that against the door post until I could more accurately measure height. (Strangely, that was how I learned I was so much shorter than my friends. I’ve always felt quite tall)!

You’d think my powers of observation would have improved after that experience. But a few years later I was a potential witness to a real life crime, and once again I was literally looking the other way.

We were living in the UK at the time, and a friend (a local) had been driving us around Essex. While we were driving home through the countryside a car overtook us at high-speed. A short time later we rounded a corner just as the car in question crashed into a wall and two young guys leaped out, jumped over a fence and ran off. The police, who were obviously after them, pulled up and gave chase. We stopped, and eventually were interviewed by the police.

What did I see?

A guy standing on the other side of the road outside a pub. No, I can’t remember any physical details about him either, but I do remember he had the strangest expression on his face. He was absolutely transfixed, staring with a mix of incomprehension and utter captivation; a man literally witnessing a car crash. And my writer’s brain was already building the story behind that expression. (Although if I’d followed his gaze, I might have seen the actual story unfolding…).

Fortunately, the three other people in the car were paying attention.

The upshot is, I have amazing powers of observation — I really do. It’s just that I look at the world in my own unique way. When someone is talking to me I’m not captivated by their word choices, because I’m looking for the meaning behind them. People often don’t say exactly what they mean — their body language, gestures and demeanor are all communicating too, and these are what I find fascinating.

The teacher at school was efficiently busy, but looked up when I spoke, smiled and her response was delivered in a lovely soft, clear voice that is easily understood by six year olds and their much older parents!

The lady from church I bumped into at the supermarket was wearing a vivid red top — because we spoke about how the colour was so bright and cheerful. She gave me a fast hug, and I was impressed, as I often am when I see her, that her eyes sparkle with genuine pleasure when she speaks with me.

The tradesman was softly spoken, efficient and kindly (not at all the norm). And my elderly neighbour who was painting his deck, stood up to speak with me. Although he’s not a tall man, he always stands up straight and I can hear the pride in his voice — especially today when he was recounting how he’d rescued his cat.

No snippets of conversation, but gleaning all sorts of little nuggets to file away for characters. It’s probably why my descriptions tend to be stronger than my dialogue. But I’ll get there. I’ll just have to start jotting things surreptitiously down in a little notebook and see if I get any strange looks!

Many thanks to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting this blog hop. I still can’t figure out how to make the linky run on the blog – but if you click here you can join in – or see what’s inspiring everyone else the week. Have a great week and happy writing!