Friday, September 28, 2012

The fickle art of Pouncery

“But we must stop and think,” Bertram said, collecting the scraps like a grave-robber, “If Pouncing is the same as making loud sorts of noises.”
“Great snakes—what do you mean by that?” Adelaide squirted a spray of orange-peel oil onto her hand and painted a face on the polished table-top with it.  “Father said most specifically not to make loud noises. Is Pouncing a noise? No, of course it isn’t. So we aren’t disobeying. Anyway, ten o’clock is too late for any nanny to sleep, no matter how new she is.”
-The Scarlet Gypsy Song

In sitting down in earnest to begin editing The Scarlet Gypsy Song I am discovering things about this book and these characters that I'd forgotten about since I finished the book back in the spring. For one thing, I gave myself a pain in the neck with POV problems...attempting the all-seeing-eye and then abandoning it in favor of something less confusing. Argh. 
But the Macefields are a group with talent, class, and some good old Victorian swag. In one of the earlier chapters I happened upon a dissertation on the fickle art of Pouncery by none other than the imps of the family: Adelaide and Darby.

Darby slammed the window shut and wandered to the mantle-piece, hands balled up inside his trousers pockets. He eyed the clock—ten-fifteen. That was it. “Are you lot coming or not?”
Adelaide bounced to her feet and grabbed Charlotte’s arm so she couldn’t protest. “We’re coming!”
Bertram grinned and raked the last of the toast-scraps into his pocket, then picked the littlest twins up like two sacks of potatoes and carted them out of the nursery with the others. They tip-toed down the hall and gathered at Miss Woodruff’s door.
“Shall we give her the Bully Scamper, or the Gollywhumper?” Adelaide asked. Pure delight sparkled on her face at captaining a rumpus again.
Darby felt the way she looked: they had been too good since running Miss Perdue off, and he felt like an old saint. “The Gollywhumper.” He wriggled with anticipation. “Creeping in and then jumping scares ‘em a whole lot more than busting through the door.”
“Right. Well then, here’s how it’ll be. We’ll creep in, and—Fergus and ‘Genie? You two remember to keep quiet. We’re not hurting Miss Woodruff, only Pouncing her, so don’t go and wail over it, huh?”

There it was that we got a lesson in How to Pounce. Let's review the steps and rules of this mysterious childhood art--you might just want to try this at home sometime.

1. Don't hurt your victim

2. If you want to perform the Gollywhumper you must creep then Pounce.

3. If you want to perform the Bully Scamper eliminate the creeping and go straight from nothing to Pounce--the quicker the better with this one.

4. A Pounce is not a noun, it's a verb. Therefore "pouncing" cannot be classified as a noise, and we are safe from Mr. Macefield taking us by our shirt collars and locking us in the Conservatory for the afternoon to Think About What We've Done.

Well, there you have it. Many thanks to Darby and Adelaide for coming up with the League of Pouncers. May we all live to a ripe old age and never have trouble with our knees.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Introducing my Lad....

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to....The Highland Laddie. Aye, you heard that right. I used some of the money I had collected over the summer and bought myself a laptop! Originally I had thought to name it--him, rather--The Italian Prince. But then I began to think about the fact that I've never been into Italian-things (except Dean Martin and "Mambo Italiano"...and my cousin's lasagna....and cannoli....) and of course what came to mind next was Scotland. Because if it has always been a fond dream of mine to...

Well...nevermind that.

But suffice it say, I love the accent, the culture, the music, everything! And by naming this computer The Highland Laddie it even has its own song if I happen to lose it:

"Oh where, tell me where, has my highland laddie gone?
Oh where tell me where has my highland laddie gone?
He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done
And it's oh in my heart that I love my laddie well."

See? Perfect. So everyone? Meet Laddie. I am so excited about the ease of writing with this new computer! Finally I have a place of my own wherein I can spin my dreams and stories and tales and things without fear of being interrupted! My heart is full of the blessing of it. The Lord totally worked everything out: from letting me go down to GA to work for a month and make a  bit of money, to leading my cousin to this computer (which was an amazing deal, being refurbed and all...) Everything had God's hand on it which makes me smile even broader. No more having to cram 1,000 words in the hour between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning before Daniel wakes and needs his computer for work! And did I mention that Laddie has amazing speakers? 

I'm listening to my High Kings pandora station at 47% speakers and it's almost too loud. *happy sigh* So here's to long life and happiness for Lad, inspiration and creativity for me, and an equal share of happiness and blessing for the rest of you!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's a wrap! -Or- "When I crossed the finish line!" :)

This morning at 9:00 a.m. exactly I typed the very last words of Fly Away Home. I had been writing for two and a half hours straight, and it felt like a flash--that beautiful, dizzying momentum one builds at the end of a tale. I am going to miss Callie and Mr. Barnett so so so much....thankfully that friendless-ness will be postponed a while because I know I have plenty of editing with which to hobnob with them in the weeks to come. I am so blessed by this story. So pleased with the characters, the plot, the tensions, the's a real accomplishment for me. So. In celebration I thought I'd give you a quick Ten Random Facts list about this new-born book!

1. It will be receiving a new name: not sure what this will entail, but Fly Away Home is already a movie so I am renaming the book.

2. First Word: "I'm"

3. Last Word: "Coffee"

4. Favorite Side-Character: Dirigible. He's just a random dude that popped in unexpectedly toward the end of the book and I love him.

5. The book actually ends with the same line that the short story that inspired the book ends with: " about coffee?" *smile* :)

6. Total word count: 59, 755 words

7. There was a major plot-shift at the half-way point that definitely hiked up the LOCK appeal.

8. Mr. Barnett and Callie have their own form of verbal sparring (quite literally a form) that occurs multiple times, including in the last scene. :)

9. The theme-song for the book is "Beyond the Sea" by Bobby Darin

10. All the specifically named guests (besides Mr. Barnett, Callie, and one other couple) that go on the yachting outing are real celebrities from the early 1950's...including a special appearance by David Nelson of "Ozzie and Harriet." :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yep. Just like a tap.

In honor of Sherlock and my very intense day of interrupted writing, I created this. Enjoy and relate. You're welcome. ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the story behind the story.

It goes without saying that I like stories. I live, breathe, eat, and dream them as do most writers. So of course I am monstrously curious to hear what inspired a certain tale or scene or character. The story behind the story if you will. The frustrating thing is, most people seem to be tight as oysters over the telling of those stories. I don't know why. Or else they say they can't remember. So to satisfy any of your back-story fans, I will attempt to give you a tale on what inspired certain things. If you have any questions about people, characters, stories, etc. that I have not touched on but you've been wondering about, just leave a comment and I'll see if I can't tell you about them as well.

A Mother for the Seasonings-- The plot popped into my head as I washed dishes one afternoon. Agatha Christie said it first and ever since I've held true: dishes are conducive to inspiration. My mind was taking its usual twining path through thought-land thinking of Nothing. Then somehow I started to laugh to myself over a queer idea. "Wouldn't it be quaint if someone named all their children after herbs?" And from there things started to spring up: the children sounded British but they weren't proper and they didn't live in England. Where then? India. And on and on it went till I found myself with a book that makes me smile still.

Cottleston Pie-- Of course we all know where the name came from, but the main character, Simpian Grenadine popped out of absolutely nowhere. The cousins were over and playing volleyball in the back yard. I sat on the porch steps not feeling like playing when some of the younger ones came over. We began chatting about some silliness and suddenly I was sending them off on an adventure to find Simpian Grenadine who could only be killed with the sword: Ruby Elixir. Then Ruby Elixir became Simpian's sword, and he--in turn--became the boy-who-was-Allister, and then we happened to fix on Cottleston Pie as the perfect name for his hideaway, and voila.

Calida Harper--the name "Calida" means "warmth" and it had very inauspicious beginnings. Because Fly Away Home is based off of the short-story "How About Coffee," I knew the main character must be named Harper. Then I started to search for a name that would prove a paradox to her character. I was flipping through my baby-names book (I'm fond of the 'C' section for some reason) and out tumbled Calida Harper. That's all there was to it!

Imperia Murdoch-- Imperia was another character who needed a name. Because of the time-period (early-mid 1700's) I wanted something old-world without being Puritanical. I am dead-tired of names like Mercy, Patience, Prudence, and all the rest of them. Then I found the name Imperia and knew it fit her. Sweet, regal, vunerable...Imperia is the center of Nick's world.

Scuppernong Days-- This was a book that gave me a title before a plot. I was peering out the window at something or other in the middle of cleaning up for the evening and my brain raised a word I'd not thought of in years: scuppernong which--immediately being followed by 'days'--demanded a story. Then Scuppernong started to sound like a sailing ship but had enough whimsy about it that it had to belong to a child's story, and then I found myself with a plot of treachery and high-seas teetering on the waves of mental capacity. I have not delved into this as far as I ought to, but I plan on taking it up immediately after Fly Away Home is finished.

The Scarlet-Gypsy Song-- As you can see, most of my work just tumbles onto me. I seldom have to go after it with a first. {successful plot-spinning must be chased down after the 20k mark} The Scarlet-Gypsy Song had the queerest start you could ever think of, considering what a convoluted tale it turned into. Again, I was just going about minding my own business (I believe I was upstairs putting a book away at that moment) when a single line popped into my head: "There was Nannykins to begin with..." which was quickly followed by "..but she had a bad knee and left for the North." and then I felt a sudden and desperate urge to know whom Nannykins was and who came after her and why they came and then I had Cecily Woodruff and after her a world-swap may read the rest in the oracles of the Gildnoirelly.

Mr. Wade Barnett-- "Sit by my side and let the world slip. We shall ne'er be younger.' Of course I saved the best for last--what do you take me for? Of course his character was shadily outlined in "How About Coffee" but his character--or at least appearance--got a huge boost and bolt by watching Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck. I fell in love with this man with the deep brown eyes and the slow, throaty voice. I had to know more about him, and he presented himself at a time when I had {and have} no tangible man to love. Therefore I was able to pour all my affection into making him a hero worthy of my deepest regard. I think the biggest inspiration for me when I write him is envisioning his eyes. Even Callie admits that she's hardly considered his person...she never looks past his eyes because his gaze holds you there and questions you, turning you softly hither and thither... yes. I like him very much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Never try to beat a lobster at his own pinching-game.

“Callie…will you please sit down and stop staring at me like a specter rising out of a grave?” He brought a chair to me and rather forcefully pushed me into it. “Now start over and I’ll try to understand you.”
I held my head high—queen that I was—and my cheeks burned hot. I would not stoop to repeat that strange and revealing torrent. I had already said too much—shown my wounds too deep—and all I could hope for was that he had listened to none of it. He stood again and brought me a cup of tepid coffee.
“We have no cream or sugar,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I stared into the black, oily depths of the cup and thought of the irony—I’d never known a thing to be so alike my own soul.
“Why don’t you pause and reflect for a moment?”
“On what?” Bitter, coffee-stained tones.
“On this hurlement de rage.”
“I don’t speak French, remember?”
“The deuce you don’t. Please, Cal—quit acting like a hydrophobic raccoon; I’m half frightened at that vicious sparking of your eyes.”
“It was you who started it.”
“By talking about your…your stupid yacht!”
“You don’t have to go, Callie. I thought you’d enjoy the chance to relax with some of the people we’ll have you friendly with someday.”
His humble, cautious tone somewhat tamed my umbrage. I stirred the lukewarm coffee with one finger and dropped my head. All the fire dwindled out of me and left only a smoldering coal. “Sorry.”
“For what?”
“Exploding, rather. But all is forgiven and forgotten.” How easily he said those words—yet I knew he meant them and it was no flippancy. “Callie—I won’t make you be a guest at my yachting party.” His gaze was steady and brown—corduroy breeches with a teddy-bear sheen.
What's this? Disappointment? Callie—what is up with you? You practically shrieked at him that you didn’t want to go.
“But as your boss I am assigning you to work the party. You’ll have all the privileges of a guest, but I expect you to earn your keep. There—does that please the rabid vixen?”
“Does it please her? Gee, Mr. Barnett! You are fabulous!” I actually tipped over my coffee, dashed over to him, and gave him a hug. The lapel of his woolen jacket was rough against my cheek, and his chest solid. My arms dropped limp as soon as I realized what I had done, but Mr. Barnett only laughed and his eyes danced like the ‘netted sunbeams’ in Tennyson’s poem.
“Callie Harper—make sure you don’t show the public this upsy-down side—they might take you for the charmer you are and then it would be all up with us.”
“What is that supposed to me?”
“Nothing and everything in particular.”
I bit my lip and my cheeks flamed again—this time with excitement. “Then while we’re playing at riddles, may I ask a question?”
“Prying, gentle, direct, or merry-go-round?”
“All of the above?”
“Then shoot.”
“Are you any different than everyone else?”
Mr. Barnett sat down on his desk with a hand on each knee. “Jove, She’s turning philosophic on me.” His quick gaze traveled to my face and lingered there. “I could answer that each of us is created differently. But that would not satisfy you.”
“It would not.”
“Methinks you are driving at something a bit more insinuating.”
“You are wondering whether I am like the common rabble…whether I behave like them in every respect. The fact that you ask the question belies a reluctance to believe it…why then, Miss Harper, do you wish it to be untrue?”
I wrapped myself in a hug and turned from him. “And I thought I was the one doing the digging.”
“Never try to beat a lobster at his own pinching-game.”
-Fly Away Home

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rattling o'er the bogs

"I cut a stout blackthorn
To banish ghosts and goblins,
In a brand new pair of brogues
I rattled o'er the bogs
and frightened all the dogs
on the rocky road to Dublin."
{"The Rocky Road to Dublin"}

There comes that moment in every writer's current project when you realize you've got yourself stuck in a rut and there is precious little you're able to do about it.

Except write on.

I came to a spot like that in Fly Away Home and am just now getting out of it. It's not that there are gaping plot-holes. It's just that between one major event and the next I was....floundering. The events were not inspiring me. It felt cliche. It felt forced. (And perhaps it was) But the main thing was that I just needed to take a deep breath, make my thousand-word goals, and press forward. I am out of the mire now and liking the view.
That is the important thing: I'm out of the fess-pit that was my un-inspiration and into the fresh air once more. That whole floundering spot will probably have to be re-written. Actually, I'm sure parts of it definitely will not stay till the end. But I can edit them out. The success is that I made it to the next big event and now see my way to where the weak, low spots are. I won't be getting into that morass again because now there is some foothold that I can rebuild or renovate.

Don't give up when you get in those swamplands. You may feel like you'll never get out of the Dead Marshes or that you are a terrible writer and aren't worth an ink-splatter. In actuality, the writer--much like the person on their way through life--is best proved in the muck and mire. If you give up you were write: you will still be a weak, spindly, cellar-grown author. But the real author is the one who navigates the quicksand, pulls himself up with everything he's got, and stumbles on till one day he reaches the track again and sees how far he's come.

Write on and on and on and sooner or later you'll get there.

 It's as easy {and as difficult} as that

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The window to the soul


As a writer I am guilty of describing eyes too much. The expressions in eyes, the color of eyes, the direction one's eyes are cast...eyes fascinate me. When I was little I decided that blue eyes could be cold and harsh at times while brown eyes were always warm. I have no idea where that thought came from, for my whole family has blue/green eyes. Perhaps the thought came to me on a day when I was sitting in the corner after being cross.

But it is true that eyes are the window to a soul. The reason at times we don't need to speak when in the company of friends is because of the fact that we exchange thoughts with our eyes. Sometimes our eyes say what we don't have words for and therefore must remain silent. I've read secrets in a look exchanged between friends and I.

When I meet a new person I always look at their eyes. I hate meeting people with sunglasses on for that very reason. One of my best friends has chestnut color eyes...almost roan in their hue. They are gorgeous, and sometimes it's almost hard to hold their gaze because they are so deep.

For a long time I thought my eyes were blue...then I thought they were know what they are? I found out a little while ago, and it made me laugh.

My eyes are yellow-green. Isn't that strange? For a long while I was indignant. The only literary character I've come across who has yellow eyes is Chauvelin, and his are described as looking like a coyote's. Rats in a poke! :P

 I have "cat's eyes", Mama says. They are shaped exactly like a cat's and they are that classic yellow-green. Cricket and I almost share the same eye-color. Below is a picture of my sister and I. Because of the lighting/filter we put on it when we edited my eyes looks aqua. Sarah's are golden--I've always loved hers. Blonde eyes to match her blonde hair. ;)

What color are your eyes?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writing a Query Letter: A Moderate How-To

I have only written three query letters in my life. I've only sent one of them. It did catch an agent's eye, but be that as it may I am no expert on this strange and dark art. I still wonder if my letter was really all that great, or if it was just a whim of this agent to ask to read my story. All wondering aside, however, you have asked for a how-to and I'll do my best to oblige you by presenting the little I know.

A query letter is a strange beastie. Writing one can be torturous. But to be able to write a good letter is one of the basic requirements of the business-end of being an author. The idea of a query letter is that this is your one page--sometimes one paragraph--to capture your audience's attention. So there are four main points you want to keep in mind:

1.} Grab them, hook line and sinker from the start.

2.) A query letter must read like the back of a book.

3.) You want to give just enough information without giving it all.

4.) You want to use your voice.

Basically, your letter should start off addressing the agent/publisher, then move directly into your little spiel that ought to sound like those you read on the back of a book or movie. You want that one line that captures their interest and makes them finish reading. Of course you need to give the agent a little more insight into the main workings of the plot than you might give a reader, but you do want to have that mystery about your story that makes them want more.
The third point is that an agent relies on the query-letter to show him how your write. In a way this will be his judgement of you as a writer--based on how you presented your query.

It was fear of this that drove me to write my first query-letter from Basil Seasoning's perspective. It was a silly idea--and I thought a novel one--and the letter sounded great. Since A Mother For The Seasonings is written from Basil's perspective it definitely captured the voice of the thing and the spirit.
After some thought and input from Abigail and Jenny, however, I determined that presenting a query letter that way is just not really professional. Sure, it's fun. Sure some agents might like it. But it is really kind of silly and seems to take the easy route. Because it's easy to write as a character--you do it all the time. But it's harder--and the mark of a better writer--to be able to transfer that voice out of your character's personality and into a really important document.

I started with that letter from Basil, however, tweaked it till it was from my perspective, and re-read it. It was beginning to look good. Mama helped me go over the letter again, substituting words and reading it over and over to be sure it was coherent, intriguing, and kept the flavor of the book. That was the all-purpose query. Then I had to tailor it to fit the agent's specifications which included an author bio, marketability, and future ides for books! Here is what I came up with: (My comments for your benefit in bold)

Dear (Agent's Name Here),
       Proper Victorian children would never have attempted the scheme. But then…the Seasonings are not quite what you would call proper. (**at this point I'd be asking what scheme? Who are these people?**) If you asked the OLAF (Old Ladies Against Fun) they would snort and hold up their looking-glasses. “Proper—never! Rogues? Hooligans?—Rather.” (**I might be chuckling**)
Their father is just as impossible: a British Officer in East India ought to have a wife—especially one with five unruly children. But Herb Seasoning—a widower and an army captain—has little time to supervise the day-to-day antics of his clan, let alone go courting.(**aha! I think I see where this is headed**)
With the summer holidays fresh upon them, Basil, Rosemary, Angelica, Dill and little Fennel have ample time to search out a woman who is willing to marry their father and become an instant mother. Whether the children are interrupting a ceremony at a convent, wreaking havoc at Piccolotto, dashing through the Indian villages, or proposing to every woman in Cape Farsight, the Seasonings are never far from mischief. (**This would make me eager to hear the rest of their antics**)
They are a tenacious, hilarious set and aren’t easily cast down despite the dubious turnout of each attempt at securing a mother. Not for a moment do the Seasonings question the sanity of their plan. A mother is all they will ever want or need—or is it? Could there possibly be something even more important they are lacking? (**This is a fairly conventional, yet reliable way to draw the reader in**)
Fans of humorous and whimsical novels like Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins, and C.R. Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn will be sure to love the quaint sensation of classic childhood at a modern pace found in A Mother for the Seasonings. (**This is how I addressed the agent's question of marketability. I provided him the names of several novels mine resembles in voice and content.**)
I have spent my twenty years of life in a rambunctious, large family much like the Seasonings.  It’s said that the best style of learning is immersion. In this respect I’ve lived for two decades in the very climate that my characters come from which lends me the ability to write their stories with authenticity and insight. I have been writing for eight years and have actively honed my craft during the last several years, including being a member of the recently-disbanded Christian Young Adult Writers’ critique group alongside published authors like Jill Williamson and Stephanie Morrill. As a way to connect with the public and other authors I created a blog at where I have collected a vibrant and active community of writers and readers. (**cue applause for yourselves here**)
Along with A Mother for the Seasonings, I have completed another book: The Scarlet Gypsy Song—a mid-grade “reality-meets-fairytale” novel. I am currently writing a mid-grade historical fiction/adventure novel (Scuppernong Days) and a general-fiction/inspirational romance set in the 1950’s. (Fly Away Home) (**I was happy to be able to list so many projects--the question kind of scared me at first.**)
A Mother for The Seasonings is approximately 53,000 words long. I thank you for your time and consideration and wish God’s blessings for you in your business. My contact information is as follows:

As you can see, the letter was nothing particularly splendid, but it stated the plot concisely, gave the agent an inkling of what characters he'd find and what they might be after, and generally kept the whimsical tone of the whole novel.

Like I said, I've never done this before. I may have broken all the rules of Query Letters (if there are such rules) but the one piece of advice I found is this: Match your letter to your book. If you've written a sweeping, dramatic tale your letter shouldn't take on a quaint tone. If you've written a humorous book you shouldn't be cut and dry. Think about the essence of your book and build off of that. What sort of language matches the feel of your writing? I can tell you that my query letter for Fly Away Home won't be the same as A Mother for the Seasonings. It will be blunter, less childish. It might move at a less hectic pace. But for the Seasonings I knew I needed to present them as the hurly-burly set they are.
When you go to write your letter ask yourself how your characters would explain their story. I would even go as far as to say it might just be a good idea to write the letter from your protagonist's perspective from the very start. Immediately edit it so that there is an omniscient voice, but you will have got into the swing of the thing and you'll find it much easier to state your point and intrigue the recipient of your letter.

I hope this has helped any of you that are looking at writing a query letter. Just write naturally, get the opinion of several friends and/or family members, and get ready to do revisions. Don't be disheartened if you get turned down. (I'm still waiting to hear back from the agent) It's a grand and glorious adventure, and if a several agents in a row don't bite for your query-letter the worst you can do is go back to the drawing board and add a little more pizazz.

Monday, September 10, 2012

That second-glance

Wednesday I spent the whole day working on a query letter for A Mother for the Seasonings.

Wednesday night I spent an hour and a half searching for perfect words.

Thursday morning I decided I'd look at sending it to an agent.

Thursday afternoon I rewrote the perfect query letter, cutting it to shreds and re-piecing it for the agent's particular case.

Thursday evening I sent the query letter to the agent.

Two hours later he emailed back asking to read the manuscript.

Since then I've been taking a leisurely view of life and saying aloud now and then, " agent is looking at my work."

The words still taste strange, but they feel right. And I feel right saying them. The day has finally come when I dusted off my courage, glared at it for a moment, polished it up shiny-bright and sent a query letter round, expecting to be rejected. This agent may still reject me. He probably will. But I am so excited that my first letter to my first agent was enough to catch his interest.

He requested the manuscript.

It must have done the job! I am still waiting for an email or a phone-call and debating within myself how long that might take to come. I'd like to know whether it's a yes or no so I can send it out to someone else, but I already feel this was a minor success. I was expecting to be refused right off after a pause of four weeks. Instead, the Lord blessed me by having me affirmed in two hours. Amazing. So even if the guy decides A Mother for the Seasonings isn't his cup of tea,  I won't be terribly disheartened. He's already done me a great service by asking to take a second look. :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The many faces of Wade Barnett

In the past weeks you have seen a lot of Fly Away Home. It is the project I am working on most consistently, and I've been able to put at least 1,000 words into it each time I sit down. {Which has been pretty much every day!} Thus it is nearly the 40k word-mark which is pretty good! I already know that this story won't stretch out much more than 55-60k words--it is not meant to be a hefty, serious novel. But though you've gotten to know Callie, and though you've heard a lot about her boss, you don't know him that well as himself. I am going to remedy that today.

At first glance, Callie and I thought Mr. Barnett was just an old-fashioned goose who happened to be famous.

After all, he doesn't approve of and hardly understands Callie's ideal of a successful woman. To him, success is entirely based upon merit. He even looks down on his own fame as being a whim of society, and something he really doesn't care two pins about. He is easily pleased and has some idiosyncracies of his own, like having not one, but two files marked "Things That Make Me Smile" and include items like "blueberry pie," "feeding pigeons in the park," and more. He is rather considerate than otherwise, and is ever eager to be of use.
Just that description alone would make a nice, lovable character, but for me it was too one-dimensional. So Mr. Barnett is just a stick-in-the-mud, albeit a charming one? 


There is a downright alluring side to Mr. Barnett that is a bit scheming, a bit roguish, and a lot smart. Of course he means well, but he can play the antagonist on occasion. He bosses Callie around about what she ought to wear, and gives her frank opinions of everything--even when she doesn't ask for it. He's always poking at Callie, trying to whip her into a froth so that:

"...think about tonight from a professional perspective: Nalia loved you. Our little tiff has earned you a new friend already. If we both continue on clever as you please, our little partnership will take off in no time.”
“It sounds an awful lot like a set-up,” I said. “Still…it might be fun.”
Might be fun? By Jove, Callie! To see your eyebrow arching higher with every jab and to see you parrying each thrust like a master swordswoman—anyone in Society would pay good cash to see a match like that. We’ll sell the act, Cal.”

The more conversation Callie and I have with him, the more I realize there's a tiger beneath the faded brown coat. 

Wade Barnett is not a bit absentminded. In fact, he's more alive to the moment and more in tune with the heartbeat of Society than most anyone out there. It's that very thing that makes him such a cool guy. He's got the observation of Sherlock Holmes, the decency of Mr. Knightley, and the wit of Benedick.
He trusts Callie, which is also a thing that could perhaps be his downfall {no promises here} and feels comfortable in her presence. At first he was all courtliness, but the farther we get in the book the more he walks with his hat tipped back and his hands in his pockets. He starts to drop "Miss Harper" and takes up "Callie" as a more natural form of address, though he's not bold enough to call her "Cal." At the same time that they strike sparks from one another and are definitely attracted to one another, he doesn't let her forget that he's the teacher and she's his pupil. Vexing for Callie, but one of the reasons I like Mr. Barnett so much. 

        Mr. Barnett roused me from my brown study with a rap of his knuckles against my arm. “We’re here. Now remember what I told you. Be charming and engaging—like you did at the club last night—but keep your eye and ears open. Take notes on what they do tell you, but also on what they don’t. You must learn to tune your ear to suggestion and to ferret out the cause of that suggestiveness. But whatever you do, don’t be pushy.”

He has no false ideas about anything, including a relationship. He's not so blinded by Callie's wit and charm that he fails to see her bad points. He knows she's naive and not well-trained so he sets about fixing that at the same time he is relying on her. Wade Barnett is not a perfect man and he doesn't boast to be. But he is a veteran in the field of journalism and a man well-accustomed to the world. He has strong values that he is immovable on, but he's tactful and considerate of everyone.
One of my favorite tasks in writing the relationship between Calida Harper and Wade Barnett has been getting to show that they don't take themselves seriously. They are ever exchanging barbed insults that would kill other people but merely give each other amusement. There's a constant give and take in their relationship that makes for a really interesting science experiment at moments. Sometimes he's almost tender, others he and Callie spar like alley-cats. When I started Fly Away Home and realized what sort of book it would be, I challenged myself to write a character I could fall in love with...

...Mr.'ve gained my undying devotion.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"...It'll be a masterpiece."

Ready for September's Snippets of Story? I am! This is quite possibly my favorite time of the month...when I get to share all my favorite pieces and get your thoughts on them. Enjoy! (And for heavens' sake, can't the formatting on Blogger be easier? It doesn't like me block-quoting makes a terrible hash of it so I have to jerry-rig it.)

 I tossed my head and caught Mr. Barnett’s eye. 
 My cheeks burned under the curiosity of that gaze. “What? Stop looking at me like that.”    
 “Like what? I’m only curious.”     
 “Well don’t be. Try to box up your journalistic curiosity for one night and enjoy yourself.”    
 “I am enjoying myself.”      
I ripped my arm out of his and rolled my eyes. “Then let me enjoy myself and stop staring at me as if you’d never seen me before. You’ve spent weeks with Callie Harper.”      
“Not this Callie Harper.”    
 “Well, you played your little trick at the Stork Club, and I’m playing mine here. You certainly aren’t vain enough to think you’re the only human alive who can play the charmer on occasion?”
-Fly Away Home

      Euphoria fell to the bottom and nerves rose to the top again. “But I’m sure I’ll find some dreadful mistake when it comes out. I’ll have spelled a dozen words wrong in one paragraph, or have broken all the most elementary rules of grammar…”    
 “Tell me, Callie, are you in the habit of spelling poorly?”      
“Well…no.” I wouldn’t say it to him, but I rather prided myself on my ability to spell words like “different” and “separate” and “independent” without replacing the E’s with A’s and vice-versa.
-Fly Away Home

Mr. Barnett clapped his hands. “There—you see? You and I were meant to be together, Miss Harper. We’re fire and gunpowder. We’re flint and steel. We’re…we’re the North and South with Dixie whistling and Yankee Doodle dandling. Great Scot, woman—it’ll be a masterpiece.”
-Fly Away Home

A glossy publication always sours my stomach,” my employer said, turning to me. “It seems to make a great show of promising everything and delivering nothing. Besides—it’s impossible to draw in afterward, and I know how disappointing that is to a child.” He laughed. “Did you ever flip through magazines just to draw moustaches on the women and bouffant hairstyles on the men, Miss Harper?”
-Fly Away Home

Golden was the lamplight, brass were the instruments, yellow was my dress, and Jules’ smile was twisted with bronze as he bent his head toward me.
-Fly Away Home

It was always autumn in my memories—bright, copper-winged autumn with wood-smoke purpling the distances and cloying scent of windfalls fermenting beneath the trees.
-Fly Away Home

Eighteen years old and naïve as an infant, I sat on the porch in the light of noonday with a glass of honey lemonade in one hand and my college acceptance letter in the other. Tristan lazed back in a rocker behind me but he held a strand of my long black hair in his fingers and he twisted it now and then as if it was a cord that connected us.
-Fly Away Home

You aren’t a very good gambler, are you, honey?” I drew closer to him so my mouth was at his ear and I could pour every ounce of malice I possessed straight into his soul. “Because if you think I like you well enough to do any favor for you, much less that one, then you belong in Bedlam.”I expected some retaliation, but Jules only swung me out to the fierce rhythm of the dance, twisted, and pulled me close again. When I looked at his face I found a frightening calmness etched into his features. “I knew you’d say that. But you do forget one thing.”
-Fly Away Home

Monday, September 3, 2012

An interview with natural insanity

It is with great pleasure {and a newly humbled mind} that I present to you an interview with Anna Fisher of Insanity Comes Naturally. Anna does not post as often as some bloggers, but when she does you quietly lay your pen aside and die from the sheer beauty of it. She isn't a pen-slayer. She slays the pen-wielder. It's a monstrous gift, and Anna wields it well. So when she responded to my request for an interview in the affirmative, I was rather excited and bouncified. I mean, even in this interview Anna tore down and rebuilt the whole way I look at literature and the privilege of being an author. So enjoy, and check out Anna's blog by following the link above.

So Anna, at your blog you post delightful little pieces now and then of your writing--what book(s) are these pieces from?

I have three stories currently rattling around in my brain: The Brew, which occupies the most of the limited space Up There, consisting of a murderesque mystery with an odd slant; Swashbuckler, which is a fairytale set on its noggin; and Cadwalader, the legend of a hat thief pitted against (or perhaps doomed to share the friendship of) a man who only ever loved one hat. As you can see, I like to set things on their heads. (I also like puns.) Most of what I post is from The Brew, since I'm mostly dabbling with that. 

Nearly every time you share your writing, I find myself wishing I could pack so much soul into so few words. You say you do not write often--do you think this is a case of quality vs. quantity?

Necessity and choice. I just finished nursing school, and now I work 40+ hours a week. I rent a house with my two sisters. That's the necessity: I don't have time to crank out pages-per-day. I'm more of a paragraphs-per-day kind of girl. And that doesn't really bother me; I like my paying job, and keeping house, and I actively choose to do these things. I believe that the act of setting words to paper constitutes but a fraction of my (genuinely perceived) calling as a writer. But that's a rabbit trail for another day... 

Which "antique" authors do you admire the most?

Jane Austen. G.K. Chesterton. Flannery O'Connor. Sayers. A.A. Milne. A bunch of dead Greek poets. 

Who do you take your inspiration from?

The spring of my senior year in high school, I took a college class on Jane Austen, taught by my the-following-semester-to-be Greek professor. I'd read Austen before and dabbled in writing a bit, but in a very proud, sheltered sort of way - because I wanted to be a good reader/writer. The HONR-1000 seminar on Jane Austen changed all that. I can still feel my back cramping up in the awkward desk, smell the old chalk and carpet in the second story classroom of Gundersen, and picture that eccentric Herr Dr. Prof. explaining some detail of the "glorious" Emma with tears in his eyes. Then I saw words not as an art to be perfected and worn like an accessory, but as the capacity for masculine rationality mingled with soul and sensibility, and the vision stole my heart. Some time later I read The Man Who Was Thursday, and that's when Chesterton invaded my soul-space and I've not been able to shake him nor his paradoxes since ('now, I warn you, this Gladstone bag is heavy...'). Of course, I find fellow-writers and other people inspiring, but I think the job mostly belongs to those three men who found reason beautiful enough to break their hearts: the job first and always belonging to my father, then shared with an Episcopalian lecturer in classics and a long-dead British Catholic. 

If you want to be style-specific, my writing reads like an undercooked jumble of A.A. Milne, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, and I don't care who knows it. 

If you could choose one perfect day, what would it look like?

Jesus, no sin, and tea. Which brings us to... 

Coffee or tea?

Tea is like a well-worn friendship: it takes time to brew and enjoy, and the best kind is made around homey things. Coffee is like a romantic fling: you can buy it cheaply or expensively, and get it just about anywhere, but in the end it makes your stomach jumpy and leaves you with a caffeine headache. I think they're both delicious, but I'll take tea over coffee, any day. 

Sun or storm?

Sun after the storm, when there is still plenty of grey mixed with thunder and the smell of rain in the air and cool damp all around, and then the gold starts pushing through the grey and steals your soul like a window into truth. 

What is your favorite sort of music to listen to while living life?

Most days, I revert to my old standbys: Mumford&Sons, Andrew Peterson, Tenth Avenue North, Hawk in Paris (band), Rich Mullins, Fernando Ortega... Carbon Leaf and The Decemberists are music for all seasons, as well... anything that has a range of slow to upbeat pieces and actually uses good instrumentalization. Matthew Perryman Jones' latest, Land of the Living, is excellent. (...and the just-released The Struggle by Tenth Ave and Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew are fantastic, too - I would say more about them, but I'd never stop.) 

What does your laugh sound like?

I'm usually self-conscious of how I sound, but I'm fairly shameless when amused. Whether 'tis cackling, hooting, hollering, chuckling, gasping, chortling, carousing, rioting... all might describe me, though I try to draw the line at snorting. 

Do you tend to write humor or drama best?

I like drama, but even my most dramatic moments are ironical or at least a little lopsided. Even when I'm spitting mad, I'm very likely to break out laughing at myself. My appreciation for the ridiculous is quite sharply tuned. 

Whimsy or Heartbreak?

I like whimsy because it has potential for both heartbreak and happiness. It is, as Andrew Peterson puts so frightfully well, the joy that we feel that leaves a terrible ache in our bones. Whimsy written truly and well ought to break our hearts. So I'm going to plead false dichotomy and not really answer this one. Fair 'nough?

What do you look for first as the mark of a good writer?

We could get into a lot of boring discussion on what makes a good this or that, but I have one initial step, a sort of litmus test, that I often find myself taking. That is, to turn to the back cover and read the brief biography of the author.  If they're British and deceased, that's generally a good sign. 

(If they're American and living, proceed with caution; Russian and oppressed, bail now or forever hold your peace, because forever's roughly how long it will take you to get a word in edgewise. See, you can judge a book by its cover.) 

Which of your created characters is your favorite?

I have a profound soft spot for Darjeeling Falcon, the hero of The Brew, who is as pretentious and idiotic and tack-sharp as his name. 

Is there anything else you wish to say while you have a captive audience?

I'm going to pull out my mildly-worn soapbox here, because I just can't resist. There are a million and one ways to live life and miss people, and as a writer you can't afford any of them. If you want to understand the humanities (let alone leave your mark on them), you can't ignore humanity. Sitting down and putting words on a page using proper grammar and stylistic excellence is easy - thoroughly indispensable, but also thoroughly capable of being taught with a textbook and mastered with a little practice. People don't fit in textbooks; they barely fit into stories, and that only by sitting on the lid to get the latches closed. Humanity is horrid and difficult and bulky and awkward and no amount of experience prevents you from landing on your face at least one more time. But you have to know it if you mean to write anything worth reading. 

Flannery O'Connor once said something to the effect that humans are made of dust, and those who don't want to get their hands dusty shouldn't write. So what if you have the best plot full of meaningful symbolisms and cunning metaphors? Excellent, symbolic writing is not the chief end of any person's life, writer or no. The great writers all got their hands dusty; think of Tolkien and Lewis, with wars and tragedies and childhood stories of ordinary, rotten things like boarding school and Latin grammar. 
Ponder Isaiah 58, live your life (that is: seek first...), and all these things shall be added unto you. As one deceased Russian queries, "How could you live, and have no story to tell?" 

I have no last name half so cool as Dostoevsky, but I shall clamber down from this podium and continue plodding after the eternal God who spoke and it was. It's a long haul on aching limbs, but that's just the joy taking root.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Of Rembrandt and Beatrix Potter

Jenny challenged us this afternoon to write a post about the way we describe our characters. After reading her bits of description I felt a tad disheartened about my own. I don't do amazing. But Jenny raised a proverbial eyebrow at me and gave me this piece of advice:
"I ask for all your Rembrandts and your Beatrix Potters. There is something lovely in each of them."
So of course when she put it that way I had to comply. I rummaged through Fly Away Home and brought out a few pieces of description that weren't too shabby to see the face of the public, and now you will read them and judge for yourself.
The first rule of describing your protagonist is not to use the Mirror Trick. At least, not right away.Sometimes you can't avoid the mention of a mirror throughout the entire course of the plot, but by all means save it till the end. Or the middle. Or something reasonably far from looking like a crutch. The Mirror Trick is that handy, cliched way of showing what your main character looks like by showing them looking at their reflection in the mirror. But how--especially in a first-person novel--do you get around that? I attempted one method in this bit about Callie:

I grabbed a handful of my dark, wavy hair and squeezed it between my fingers. How was my perm holding up? Drat. Split-ends. Time for a trim again. It cost far too much, I’d decided, going to the beauty parlor twice a week to get my hair styled. I just couldn’t afford it—people died often enough, but obituaries don’t pay that well. Consequently I looked like Elizabeth Taylor sopping wet and run through a wringer.

Here you get a bit of Callie's quick wit, her sense of humor, her habitat (1950's) and her appearance. Not too bad, really. My next task was describing Mr. Barnett. I did a very blunt description at the start where Callie reminds herself that she {along with every other young lady in America} has memorized his face. He's famous after all! But along the way I've managed to drop other observations into his character and appearance while avoiding the commonplace:
Mr. Barnett laughed—it matched the elbows of his coat: shiny, worn, genuine 
That bit is, perhaps, one of my favorite pieces of description about Mr. Barnett in the book. I myself treasure laughter so knowing what a person's laugh sounds like is really important to me. Also, those three words totally describe Mr. Barnett's personality, his history, and his coat all in one smack. Eyes are windows to the soul. That's why I can't stand talking to someone wearing sunglasses. But sometime's one can glimpse too much of a good things, as Callie experiences early on in their relationship:
He shifted and bent to look into my eyes. I tried to hold his gaze but it was too open and honest for me. I saw hopes written there, and dreams. I saw a soul and it troubled me. I preferred the cold glaze so much of Manhattan wore—it saved one the trouble being hurt.
But if eyes are good then tone of voice is even more fun to play with. I do like this one line:
"My voice had horns and callouses and was hot to the touch."
...I can picture exactly what that voice sounds like. But moving on. Of course, I managed to get Callie to give me an assessment of Mr. Barnett in one fell swoop. It was rather clever of me, because Callie is not exactly a helpful, suppliant person you'll understand.

Ladybird Snippets. I like it. What do you think?”
What did I think? I sipped my coffee so I wouldn’t have to answer yet. I thought it was a name that perfectly fit my growing picture of Mr. Barnett:  old-fashioned, out of touch with reality, and pretty darn cute.

And then we come to the side-line characters who I love describing. I go by the rule that every character--whether he's a cabby, a doorman, a deli-man, or the printer--ought to have their moment of fame. You have opportunities to make even these shadows memorable by giving them a bit of interest of their own. I am very fond of Annamaria: an Italian baker who once had views of being an opera-singer before she gave it up for a family and children. I'll end with the scene when she and Callie meet for the first time:

...It was then she caught sight of me. “Ahhhh!” (There was a world of meaning in that “ahh” and its accompanying sweep of my person.) “You bringa your pretty girlfriend for lunch, no?”
I examined the clippings on the wall and pretended like I hadn’t heard. Still, from the corner of my eyes I studied Mr. Barnett. He appeared as composed as usual. “No, no, Annamaria—she’s my assistant. I’ve started a new job and she and I are out to change the world.” He motioned for me to come closer and I obeyed—a new sensation of shyness creeping over me.
Annamaria wiped her hands on her apron and shook her head at Mr. Barnett. “Assistant, girlfriend—bah! She’s still beautiful.”
I kept my eyes on the floor, but Annamaria’s thick forefinger was under my chin in a moment and she lifted my head so that I looked into her face. It was broad and good-humored, and red as the roses in her cotton-print dress. She wore little gold hoops in her ears, and when she smiled her teeth were parted in the middle. I found her delightful, and I suppose she approved of me, for she startled me by planting a hearty kiss on either of my cheeks and patting my back. “You helpa heem, no?”
“Yes ma’am, I do.”
“And what’sa your name?”
“Calida Harper, ma’am.”
“Calllida Harper.” She tasted the name, trilling the “l” as if she savored it. Then she chuckled. “Eet sounds like an opera-singer name. Very good—I like-a you.” With that, Annamaria squeezed back behind the counter and continued her work.