So, these past couple months have been a whirlwind. Can you believe we’re already at the end of February?! I’m lucky that the New Year energy has actually carried through until now. Just yesterday I managed to go bouldering properly for the first time in about five years. I’m still sore, but I would love this to become a regular thing. #fitnessgoals! Continue reading
Ten days in, it’s STILL a new year, and that means new goals, new missions, new inspirations, and hopefully keeping your motivation the whole year long. But as a writer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply making the resolution to “write more,” which rarely manages to actually motivate us to do anything more than stress about about how much we’re not writing. Continue reading
Just informed that I got a place in the Writer’s Voice contest run by Brenda Drake & Co (more info here). So, the blog’s coming out of retirement, and I’m posting my query and the first 250 words of my middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, BETWIXT, both for the contest and for your reading pleasure 🙂
In the small Appalachian town of Candle Creek, the boundaries are clear, yet Elsa Roberts still manages to get tangled in them. As a scholarship student at the prestigious Candle Creek Day School, the public schoolers at her church can’t trust her. At the private school, she’s been labeled “trouble” since the day she punched Izzy Whittaker in the glasses (even though Izzy deserved it). And it doesn’t matter how much Mamá tries to convince her otherwise; Elsa already knows that the kids of Candle Creek will never accept her as one of their own.
And so, she escapes her thirteenth birthday party, crossing a bridge into the wood beyond. There, she finds Aza, a spirit trapped by an ancient curse, who gives her the acceptance she has always craved, and who tells her that she can be a hero.
But the wood beyond is full of danger as well as wonder, and when Elsa sets out to slay a dragon and break an enchantment that threatens to destroy her family, she releases monsters that she never could have imagined. Caught between the dark forces of ancient magic and the very human monsters of Candle Creek, Elsa must find the power to reshape the boundaries of her world, or risk losing her place in it forever.
A middle grade novel that combines fantasy elements with the bittersweet realities of modern middle school, BETWIXT is a story about a girl growing up stuck between worlds, between communities, between histories. Complete at 70,000 words, it is available upon request.
1 | The Wood Beyond
Elsa Roberts was fleeing her birthday party.
She had to climb down the oak tree to do it. Her bedroom was in the attic of the house, three stories up, and the only way for her to escape the party unnoticed was to clamber over her window seat and onto the sill, her fingers clinging to the top of the window frame as she stepped across the two-and-a-half-foot gap to the oak tree’s nearest branch. In jeans and sneakers, it was a feat that made Elsa’s heart pound, no matter how many times she managed it.
Of course, she wasn’t wearing jeans or sneakers. She’d already put on her dress.
There was no time to change into anything more practical. She’d taken too long getting ready, and Mamá would soon come up to check on her. And so, with the late August breeze grabbing at her skirt and the branches trembling beneath her feet, she scrambled out her window and into the old oak, scuffing her shoes against the rough trunk as she lowered herself through the branches. She dropped into the backyard, pausing just long enough to catch a glimpse of the guests through the downstairs windows.
Elsa ducked behind the oak before anyone could think to look outside. At the other end of the yard, a weeping willow tree bent over the path into the woods: a path that led to the Candle Creek, to a bridge that Elsa had never dared to cross—
Not until today.
I’ve recently been told that I can be quite a frustrating person to take walks with. I will admit I’m easily distracted—after all, if you’re going to walk somewhere for fun, what’s the point in walking briskly, hands in pockets, eyes on the ground in front of you to make sure you don’t step in anything nasty? Especially when there are so many things you can see on walks: the engraved facades of old, crumbling buildings, the tiny yellow flowers just starting to bloom in the sidewalk planters, odd-shaped clouds and curious pigeons. In fact, just looking UP when you walk can be heavenly—so many people forget to look up these days, though that might have something to do with the fact that it tends to make you bump into things (other pedestrians, random trees, the person you’re accompanying, etc.).
Which brings me to this week’s trope:
Though Luna Lovegood may perhaps be the most well-known (and best-loved) example of this trope, Cloudcuckoolanders can be found in every corner of literature, from the titular protagonist of Don Quixote, to Spinelli’s Stargirl, and in fact, the trope name comes from Aristophanes’ The Birds, where Cloud Cuckoo Land was an impossible perfect city in the clouds—and the Cloudcuckoolander has always embodied that wonderful, tragic mixture of idealism and impracticality.
That said, it’s all too easy to make the Cloudcuckoolander outright clueless or ignorant, rather than merely different. And at times, such as when such a character is shoe-horned into the role of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they can suffer every character’s worst curse: flatness. There are too many instances where a Cloudcuckoolander’s oddness becomes their only dimension, the author sacrificing the character’s humanity in favor of an oddball characature or stereotype.
Still, there’s always been something inherently endearing about the free-spirited Cloudcuckoolander. After all, each and every one of us has a unique and entirely individual way of looking at and interacting with the world. The Cloudcuckoolander merely takes the most exaggerated combination of these differences, allowing us to examine how looking at the world differently can give us insights, or isolate us: how different ways of seeing the world lead to different ways of relating to the world, as well as our actions within it.
In terms of my writing this week, the Cloudcuckoolander trope has been a main focus. I’ve been working on the second draft of my NaNoNovel, and among all the major changes I’ve been implementing in order to strengthen the characters and better develop the plot, I’ve found that one of my minor characters is becoming more important to the narrative. And working with her character was proving extremely difficult until I realized that her Cloudcuckoolander nature had to be balanced by her less savory character traits (namely, her propensity for lying).
Because it doesn’t matter how distracted we get by the clouds or the flowers, whether we see the world in black or white or shades of grey or in a particularly vivid hue of violet: the key to characters, in both fiction and real life, will always be our conflicting depths.
This week’s trope is brought to you by truth in television.
My week’s been a lovely mixture of waiting-for-Godot -type existential angst (while recovering after last week’s maelstrom of finishing things) and more nerve-wracking anxiety concerning every and all things that are my life.
In short, I’ve ended up in the place between things, and it’s a very unpleasant place to be.
In television and serial narrative, the Filler Episode (usually fluff, sometimes just a one-off monster-of-the-week type thing) is used to pad out the series, to space out plot progression, to give the audience breathing room between the ramping stakes and escalating conflicts. They may be extremely light on plot and are those episodes which contribute little or nothing to the main arc of the series.
And yet, while filler may be an undesirable side effect of needing 12 issues per volume, or 26 episodes per season—a demand of media convention and expectation rather than a narrative necessity, there is something to be said for breathing:
“One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.” –Marshall Vandruff
The truth of it is, I’ve reached a milestone at this point. And though I need to recover, though I need time to breathe and live and BE: to allow the stakes to stand, the action to calm—while I do need time to refresh, it doesn’t feel so much refreshing as frustrating.
In short: My life right now is a badly done filler episode. Let’s hope next week brings back the plot.
So, this week, after a flurry of activity trying to get my current projects—both freelance and writing—DONE, I find myself suddenly in project limbo. And, since I am absolutely dismal at passing time with that thing that people do called “relaxing,” I decided this weekend was as good a time as any to commit to churning out 10,000 words over the course of two days on one of the first drafts that’s been wallowing in my drawer over the past few months. There’s already been some devastating betrayals and a couple actiony bits, but sitting down to write this morning, I actually stumbled upon a scene between my protagonist and one of the major antagonists of this new story. It was a short scene—maybe three or four pages, but what struck me in this scene was the dialogue, which I won’t, for your own sanity, subject you to at this point. Suffice to say, it made me realize the tropes I wanted to write about this week:
Children, especially pretty, nicely brought-up young ladies, ought never to talk to strangers; if they are foolish enough to do so, they should not be surprised if some greedy wolf consumes them, elegant red riding hoods and all.
—Angela Carter’s Bluebeard
There are far too many stories where the moral of the story is painfully, sometimes anviliciously presented, the most famous of which are Aesop’s Fables (hence, the tvTrope term for overt story morals: the Aesop). And while there is nothing particularly wrong with a story having a message, a story whose message is the only important thing about it can hardly be called a story at all. Because stories are not just pretty vehicles for messages which might be better communicated through the post: the best stories are living, breathing entities, with a logic and a morality and a reality all their own. They don’t give simple messages, because simple messages exist only in simple worlds: and the best stories, no matter where they’re set, say something about our world, which is anything but simple.
Themes, on the other hand, are very useful both in making sense of the stories we read, as well as clarifying the heart of the stories we write—because Themes, unlike Aesops, do not pare down reality or feeling to some pithy declaration of UNIVERSAL SIGNIFICANCE. Themes, instead, pose a question. Where Aesops are declarative, Themes are interrogative, and it is this open-endedness, this invitation for readers to engage with the story, that makes themes so important. Not only that, a theme helps focus your writing without oversimplifying it—because if you know the aspects of life that you want to explore, it makes it that much easier to know what situations and conflicts and characters will best illuminate those aspects: it can guide your plotting, your dialogue, your everything, without constraining you to a single foregone conclusion: the villain doesn’t always receive their just punishment; the hero doesn’t always win. And while such endings might be enough to break an Aesop, they may also manage to say something very important about a more general theme.
Do not believe everything your English teacher tells you: more than likely, they are making something up.
This also applies to things you read on the internet.
Do not trust this blog.