Revisiting My Writer Past

Laura's House

As most of you know, I was on vacation last week. I intended to post this Tuesday, but when I got back, unpacking from camping, catching up on work and all the stuff I’d neglected before and during vacation, and realizing that deadlines I’d pushed back to the end of summer were now less than two weeks away. All to explain why this post is going up on Friday.

While I didn’t get to go to Realm Makers this year, I did end up in St. Louis, MO on the Monday after Realm Makers. A couple of my friends and I took an awesome week-long road trip to Missouri. And, I still got to revisit one of my writing roots.

The year was 1996. I was six years old when my parents loaded up our old Midas motorhome and took my brothers and me to Missouri.

My dad had read the entire Little House series to us, me curled on his lap listening to the rumble of his voice in Pa’s stories and knowing that I was his Half Pint as much as Laura was Pa’s. We’d already visited the replica of the little cabin in the big woods, though it is now a little cabin surrounded by tiny saplings. I don’t remember if we had visited any other sites by that point. I eventually visited all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, the last one in Independence, KS when I was sixteen.

But on this trip, we were stopping at a Laura Ingalls Wilder site not in the books, yet essential to them. I’m talking about Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO, the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder actually wrote the books.

I was six. I was awed in the museum at Pa’s fiddle and a handwritten manuscript. The house was old and huge. The furniture big. The tour boring. I don’t remember anything from most of the house.

But I do remember Laura’s desk. It was big with cubies and space for writing. And there, standing in front of that desk, I made the decision.

I was going to be a published author someday.

The year is now 2015. Nineteen years have passed since I saw that house in Mansfield. Seeing things as an adult is both the same and different.

The wonder at seeing Pa’s fiddle is still the same. Pa’s voice in my head is still my dad’s. I’m still my dad’s Half Pint.

Pa's Fiddle
Pa’s Fiddle

The house is different. It’s smaller. I actually remember the tour through the rest of the house. This time, I see the people and their lives, not just the author and her books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is smaller. I’m actually taller than her (by a whole inch, but I’m still taller).

And the desk is smaller. My own desk at home could swallow it. It doesn’t look like something big enough to start off a little girl’s hopes and dreams.

Laura's Desk
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s desk

Still, I choked up standing there. At six, I’d stood there and decided I was going to be a published author. Nineteen years later, I stood there a couple months after my first book released. A surreal moment.

Nineteen years. A longer road to publication than my six-year-old self could’ve comprehended. I’d thought I’d be published by sixteen or eighteen at the latest (because eighteen year olds are so old when you’re six).

Have you ever read the Little House books? What memories do they bring up?

Do you have a specific memory of the day you knew you wanted to be a published author?

Road Trip Snippets

I’m on a road trip this week so this is a scheduled post. I’ll answer the comments when I return.

In honor of road trips, I’m going to share of few snippets about road trips, roads, and driving.

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A few years ago, I went on a trip with my dad to Texas. To a Michigander, Texas roads are strange to look at. The bridges, off-ramps, and on-ramps are all these swooping, beautiful loops. Some are even decorated. Ever driven through Fort Worth? The highways are built in layers, stacked on top of each other.

2013-03-05_08-39-32_645In Michigan, we just don’t build roads like that. All the bridges are built as short and low as possible. There are a few swooping on-ramps, but they have huge ice warning signs and sometimes they drift shut with snow during storms.

On that same Texas trip, we were driving a stretch of high way south of San Antonio. The speed limit was 75. My dad was blowing by all the other cars on the road. Curious, I glanced at the GPS, which shows our speed. We were going 70.

In Michigan, most freeway speed limits are 70, and a large portion of the population drives at 75 to 80 or more. If the speed limit were 75, then Michiganders would probably go 90.

But in Texas, where it is legal to go 75, the drivers go 60. Strange, huh? Maybe it was just that stretch of Texas road. Any thoughts, all my Texas readers?

On our way home from that trip, my dad swerved to avoid a pothole. I swayed with the car. Swerving around potholes isn’t something unusual for Michiganders.

My dad glanced in the rearview mirror. “He’s not from Michigan.”

“Who’s not?” I asked.

“The driver in the car behind us. He hit the pothole.”

It is something many of us Michigan drivers learn. If the car in front of you swerves, odds are they are swerving for roadkill, a pothole, or shreds of a tire cut open on a pothole. It’s like a big game of Follow the Leader meets Obstacle Course. Add in a little bit of Memory because it never hurts to memorize the locations of the worst potholes so you know when to swerve without even thinking about it.

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Several years ago, a few friends and I took a road trip through West Virginia. I quickly learned that very few roads in West Virginia are straight. They twist and turn all over the place through the mountains. At the end of each day, my upper arms hurt from turning the steering wheel and holding it through the twisty turns while going up, over, and down the mountains.

Speed limits are a little crazy on some of the back roads. In the valleys, the semi-straight parts of the roads, the speed limit drops to 45. When the road goes up and over a mountain, the speed limit goes up to 55 even though it is physically impossible to actually go 55.

I also quickly learned that in West Virginia, the speed listed on the yellow signs is the maximum speed you can go. In Michigan, we look at the yellow speed of 40 and continue to go 50. In West Virginia, I learned really quickly that going 30 when the sign says 20 might not be such a good idea. In fact, it dumps the cooler onto your friend’s lap and cause a lot of screaming.

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What about you? Any fun road trip stories?

A Trip to a Book Sale

Last Saturday, I realized I might just have a problem. I’m a wee bit too addicted to collecting books.

Every year, my small town holds a festival to celebrate simply being in existence (because small towns still hold celebrations like that). There are fireworks, a parade, half the businesses run sales, the other half do some type of special dinner or hot dog fry or something. It’s pretty crazy. As part of the celebration, my local library holds a book sale.

On Saturday, I was just sitting down to edit when I remembered that the book sale started at 9. It was now 9:37. The parade (which closes down the street in front of the library) started at 10:00. I live 12 minutes away.

It was going to be close. I grabbed my purse, dashed out the door with a quick explanation to my mom where I was going, and hurried into my car.

I didn’t make it. I arrived at the final turn as the local police closed the road. I was stuck half a mile away from the library.

So I did what any level-headed, book-addicted girl would do when a parade stands between them and books. I parked and walked the half mile to the library. Did I mention that it was 85 degrees and humid out?

I fast-walked to the library (after all, the longer I took, the more picked over the books would be) and managed to outpace all the candy-crazed kids eager for the parade to start.

Finally, hot, sweaty, and red-faced, I stumbled into the air-conditioned library. And realized that for the first year ever, they’d decided to run the library sale Friday and Saturday. The boxes of books were already half empty and picked over!

I found a couple of YA books, but none my favorites, and a few research books. All told, I found 8 gems buried in the boxes of books.

After paying, I stepped back outside. The beginning of the parade was just reaching the road in front of the library. I could either wait the 45 minutes and watch the rest of the parade or hike back to my car and leave right then.

I decided to leave. I was supposed to be editing, and I’d have to make the walk either way. Might as well do it before the rest of the crowd and miss all the crazy traffic.

By the time I reached my car, the bags of books had cut trenches into my fingers and ached into my shoulders. Blisters had formed both between my toes where my flip flops had rubbed and on the bottom of one of my feet where the plastic chafed.

I was thankful the sale had been so picked over. My usual forty pounds of books would’ve been way too much to carry half a mile back to my car. Eight books were heavy enough.

Probably the most amazing thing about the whole day, was that I managed to fit the books on my bookshelves when I got home. 😉

Have you ever been to a library book sale?

The Grip of Cliff Hanger Endings

cliff-hanger

I’ve been told the ending of Dare is a cliff hanger. When I was writing it, I actually didn’t intend for it to be a cliff hanger. I saw cliff hangers in the traditional sense where in the last couple paragraphs or line someone runs up and reports “so and so has been kidnapped/captured by pirates/about to be executed” etc. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that cliff hangers are more than that.

So here’s my thoughts on cliff hangers from what I’ve observed. This is not meant to be a how to on cliff hangers or a set of writing rules. Just something to think about.

A cliff hanger is a promise.

It’s as simple as that.

There is a slight difference between the cliff hanger at the end of a chapter and the cliff hanger at the end of the book. With chapter endings, the promise to the reader is vague. The cliff hanger promises that this action or question or emotion will be resolved somewhere in the book, but the author isn’t going to say when. The reader keeps reading to find out.

The cliff hanger at the ending of a book almost always is a promise about the next book.

What do I mean by that? It means the cliff hanger more or less spells out the plot of the next book. While a reader is left really wanting the next book, they still feel satisfied with the current book. They know the cliff hanger will be dealt with once the next book comes out.

This can be very literal (warning, minor spoilers). For example, in Mary Lu Tyndall’s Charles Towne Belle series, the first book ends with the main character finding out that her sister has run away. Guess what? In the second book, the sister is the main character and the whole book is her adventures after she ran away. That book ends with her being reunited with the sister from the first book, only to find out that the third sister has been kidnapped by pirates. Can you guess what the plot of book 3 is going to be?

in another example, the cliff hanger can be more of an determined resolve on the part of the characters rather than a literal action. In the Lord of the Rings movies (sorry, switching to movies), The Fellowship of the Rings ends with Aragorn’s determination to rescue Merry and Pippin and Frodo’s determination to keep going into Mordor. The plot of The Two Towers is thus the battles Aragorn and friends end up joining as part of trying to get Merry and Pippin back and Frodo’s quest to find a way into Mordor. That movie ends with Aragorn realizing the main battle is yet to come and Frodo and Sam finally thinking they have a way into Mordor. The plot of The Return of the King is Aragorn fighting the final, big battles and Frodo finally making it into Mordor.

Sometimes the cliff hanger promise at the end of a book is simply a question or a concern. The plot of the next book is usually that question or concern playing out.

But no matter how a book cliff hanger is done, it is always a promise for the next book. It is not a lack of resolution in the current book. The cliff hanger ending usually happens after the main plot of the book or movie has been resolved. If the plot hasn’t been resolved, then the cliff hanger should be a chapter ending cliff hanger, not a book ending cliff hanger.

This is why the ending of the movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug bugs me (Sorry Hobbit fans. Also, spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched the movies). Don’t get me wrong. I like the movies and I’m not one of those people who is going to rant about the changes they made or that kind of stuff because (for the most part) they made them into good movies and stuck to the book fairly closely.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ends with a more traditional cliff hanger. It shows the bird banging on the rock and Smaug’s eye opening. There. The promise of the plot for the next movie. We know that Smaug is awake and defeating him will be the plot for the next movie.

Only, it wasn’t. Not entirely, anyway. The dwarves get to the Lonely Mountain and fight Smaug, then he flies away and makes his “I am Death” speech and Bam! The movie ends.

This bugs me for two reasons: 1. It promises to the viewer that the plot of the next movie will be Smaug carrying through with his promise and 2. The plot of The Desolation of Smaug is not resolved since Smaug is not defeated.

#2 would be all right if #1 were the case. But, Smaug is knocked off before the opening credits of the next movie.

And it cheapens his death. Instead of building up from the tension of the whole movie, Smaug becomes a minor bad guy to knock off quickly in the beginning of the movie so the real fight can begin. We no longer fully care about Smaug’s desolation because we happen to know this movie isn’t about that. It’s about the Battle of the Five Armies that is coming up.

The tension is killed. The cliff hanger is a waste of a cliff hanger.

That “I am Death” scene was a chapter ending, not a book/movie ending. And before you argue that it is one book and couldn’t be broken up easily, I’ll counter that Lord of the Rings is technically one book and that one was broken up just fine. Plus, they managed to get a good plot arc for An Unexpected Journey. They could’ve done the same thing for The Desolation of Smaug.

Really easily, actually. The Desolation of Smaug should’ve included the final battle against Smaug in Lake Town, using the tension that had been building throughout the whole movie so that when that arrow is shot, everyone is curled in their chairs biting their fingernails hoping it will strike true. Then, the movie could’ve ended with the scene of the dwarves watching Smaug fall from the sky when Bilbo turns around and sees that Thorin is starting not to act like himself.

There it is. The promise for the next movie’s plot. Because this time, it actually is the plot of the next movie. The Battle of the Five Armies is about the big battle, but it is also Thorin’s struggle with dragon sickness, his fall, and his redemption in his heroic death.

I know it would’ve thrown off some of the movie lengths and some of that kind of stuff, and I know a lot of people really like where The Desolation of Smaug ends. But from a purely story-writing look, it wasn’t the place it should’ve ended. If a writer ended a book that way, their fans would be all kinds of mad because the story wasn’t truly over. Nothing was resolved.

It is a little better now that all the movies are out and I can watch them pretty much in a row because that way I can pretend the ending of The Desolation of Smaug is simply a chapter ending. In a way, that’s what The Hobbit movies are. They are extended chapters of one story. Still, if you make three movies you are still essentially making three stories and thus each should have their own arc and resolution.

Okay, I’ll stop my mini rant now.

What do you think? Any thoughts on cliff hangers?

I Met My Character The Other Day

I met Brandi.

Not literally. You might think I’m going crazy if I claimed to have literally met one of my fictional characters. But I came close the other day.

I was at a fairgrounds the other night and had just claimed a spot on a ride called the Sea Ray, a big metal swinging boat. Of course I picked the seat far on the end. While I don’t like the dropping feeling, I’d watched this ride for a while and it didn’t seem to go too high or anything. I thought it would be fun.

Shortly after I sat down, this young girl and her father approached the ride. They glanced at the two open seats next to me, and the little girl hesitated.

I smiled at her. “I don’t bite.”

She grinned, clambered onto the ride, and plopped into the seat next to me. “What’s your name?”

“Tricia.”

She repeated my name and smiled.

Since her dad didn’t look too worried about her chatting with a complete stranger, I asked, “What’s your name?”

“Charlotte.”

“That’s a pretty name.” I told her, earning myself a huge grin.

When no one else approached the ride, the operator walked over. There was only the three of us on our bench and one other person all the way on the other side. The operator looked at Charlotte. “Do you want to go easy or go all the way up?”

“All the way up!” She shrieked and bounced in her seat as the operator nodded and pushed the buttons to lower the bar across our laps.

That’s when I started to get worried. The bar didn’t lower very far. I had to sit on the edge of my seat to brace myself against the footrest because I’m so short. How far was all the way up? We didn’t even have decent seat belts in this thing.

The ride began swinging back and forth. Higher and higher. Faster and faster. Until we left our seats at the apex of each swing, hung in the air a moment, and fell down.

I clung to the bar and squeezed my eyes shut. This was too much. Too much dropping. Too much falling.

“Higher!” Charlotte yelled next to me.

“No!” The word squealed from my throat. I could only imagine how terrified I must have looked, braced in my seat, my fingers white knuckled on the single bar holding me in place, my feet braced under the lip of the foot rest so tightly I gave myself a pair of bruises.

Still we whooshed up and up until our noses were level with the center pole from which the ride hung. Down we fell, a free fall lasting long enough to toss my stomach into my chest. I screamed.

Finally the ride began to slow. As we eased to a stop, I pried my fingers from the bar, swiped my hair from my face, and tried to pretend I had not just panicked on a kiddie ride at the fairground.

I turned to Charlotte and stuck out my hand. “It was nice to meet you.”

She took my hand, gave it a firm shake, and grinned. “Nice to meet you too.”

Then we all turned, left the ride, and never saw each other again.

(Picture from http://carnival-rides.com. If I’d seen this ride go this high while I was watching, I probably wouldn’t have picked it!)

A Letter to My Future Self

Dear My Future Self,

For one of the first times in my life, I’m not in a hurry to be you. I’m content to be me right now, right here. I still have dreams I’m waiting for, goals I’m working towards, but I’m not in a hurry to grow up into you.

You have to deal with the consequences of the decisions I’m making. Please know that I didn’t make them lightly. Perhaps the one I regret the least now are the ones you regret the most. Or you regret not doing something that it never occurred to me to do.

I pray you are content. I pray your faith has grown and matured.

Hopefully you’ve learned to learn from the mistakes I’m making now. Perhaps by the time I become you, I will be better at facing failures and picking myself up afterwards.

I hope my dreams are everything you thought they’d be. Or perhaps you have moved on to a new dream. I hope you haven’t gotten too cynical to dream.

Most of all, I hope you’ve learned to worry less. Perhaps you have. You know all about me, but I know nothing of you. Still, I worry about you and where you’ll be all the time.

Sincerely,

The Current Me

Inspiration for Dare – Setting

So far the blog tour celebration has been exciting! To check out the rest of the posts in the tour, click here.

Today I’m going to share with you where I got the inspiration for the setting in Dare.

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When I describe the setting for Dare, I describe it as American West meets medieval or South Dakota with castles plunked into the middle of it. When I began writing Dare, I knew I didn’t want the usual, European geographical setting. I wanted something different.

And that’s when I remembered a camping trip from a number of years ago. My family and I were on our way back from Yellowstone when we swung through South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. It had rained a few hours before, so it looked like George Washington was in serious need of a handkerchief.

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After we stared at Mount Rushmore sufficiently long enough to ingrain it in our memories, we piled back into our suburban and punched Custer State Park into the GPS to find our campsite for the night. It was about 6 in the evening. All of us were hungry. All we wanted to do was get to a campsite so we could set up our tents, eat, and go to sleep.

We didn’t know, however, that the GPS automatically routed us to the middle of the state park, not the entrance to the state park campground. For those who don’t know, Custer State Park is huge. It’s filled with twisting roads winding up, down, and around through the Black Hills. We drove and drove and drove until we finally realized we were lost. We were somewhere on a scenic route with sections of one-way road between these sharp peaks.

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We were truly lost. We spent hours trying to find our way out of this maze of scenic roads. Finally, at about 10 at night (yes, we’d been lost for four hours), we discovered we’d gotten out of Custer State Park and stumbled across a small campground called Horse Thief Resort. We had to set up our tents and eat a quick meal in the dark. But at that point we didn’t care. It was a pretty memorable adventure.

The scenery of South Dakota stuck with me, so when I was thinking about interesting scenery for Dare, I decided that the South Dakota/Nebraska area would be perfect. How many medieval fantasies also have prairies and western-style saddles? I modified the geography so Acktar isn’t exactly South Dakota, but it does resemble it. The Spires Canyon in Dare is named after and based on the tall spires of rock my family saw while lost in Custer State Park.

What about you? Any family vacation stories to share?

All through this week, I’m holding a giveaway to celebrate the release of Dare. Click here to find where to enter or enter from any of the posts along the blog tour.

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Outlaws and Redemption Stories

Outlaws & Remption

I absolutely adore the movie Tangled. Not only is it an all around sweet movie, but it has a big white horse that acts strangely like my own horse, but it also has an outlaw-turned-good-guy in it. I’m a sucker for those stories. Whether it is Flynn Rider in Tangled or Killian Jones/Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time, the outlaws with a soft heart get me every time.

But I can’t blame my obsession with this type of character on Flynn Rider or Killian Jones. I don’t even blame Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, even though that was my favorite Disney movie growing up.

Nope, I blame Renn Frayne.

Tall, dark, handsome. Steps into a bad situation and saves the girl and her land while also being stuck in a crazy love triangle.

Never heard of him? Well, you must not read Zane Grey Westerns. Zane Grey was an American writer who wrote a number of adventure stories and Westerns in the early 1900’s. Yes, the writing is early 1900’s style and the descriptions can sometimes drag on for pages.

I started reading Zane Grey in my teens, and my first Zane Grey was Knights of the Range. Holly Ripple is left alone on her ranch when her father dies. Before he died, her father gathered a group of loyal cowboys and dubbed them Holly’s Knights of the Range. When the ranch is in danger, the outlaw Renn Frayne accidentally saves Holly and reluctantly joins the fight to save Holly and her ranch. I might have had a little crush on Renn Frayne in my teens.

DSC09523A shelfie of one of my shelves of Zane Grey books. Knights of the Range is second from the left. Twin Sombreros, its sequel, is the scuffed cover next to it.

Why am I drawn to the outlaw-turned-good-guy so much? Perhaps it is the depth of the struggle that these characters face. Maybe it is the reminder that, as a Christian, my story is a redemption story.

It’s probably no surprise that my upcoming release Dare features a conflicted assassin.

What about you? Are you drawn to outlaws-turned-heroes?

A Writer Gets Her Wisdom Teeth Removed

Teeth

I slid onto the brown, cushioned chair. My heart pounded. Nerves filled my stomach better than the food I hadn’t been allowed to eat for the past six hours.

I shouldn’t be such a wimp about this. After all, I’ve had my characters get stabbed, shot with arrows, and cauterize their own wounds without any sort of pain killer whatsoever. I should be able to handle getting my wisdom teeth removed.

Even worse, I wasn’t worked up about the surgery part. I could handle the aftermath, and I’d be asleep when the surgeon removed the teeth.

No, I was freaking out over the needle for the I.V. That tiny, single prick.

The oral surgeon breezed into the room. The assistant placed the rubber mask for the happy gas over my nose. “Relax and breathe deeply. Try not to talk for the next couple of minutes.”

I sucked a long breath through my nose and stared around the room, at the blank TV, the empty stool in the corner, the x-ray of my teeth on the computer screen. The happy gas didn’t seem to be working. Tension still curled my muscles. The monitor bleep bleeped my heartbeat.

“Hold out your arm.” The oral surgeon pulled out a stool and sat next to me. I draped my arm towards him. He tied a rubber tourniquet around my upper arm.

I bolted upright, nearly knocking the mask off my face. “Wait! You’re putting the I.V. in my right arm? Can’t you do my left?”

The surgeon raised his eyebrows at me. “Anything special about your right arm?”

“No, it’s just…my right arm.” My tongue wasn’t working right. I didn’t have the energy to explain why I was freaking out. I needed my right arm. If it got a bruise from the I.V., I wouldn’t be able to spend Saturday editing like I’d planned.

“Okay, get ready. Just a little pinch now.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. He was right. It was only a slight pinch. He removed the tourniquet.

“So, what do you do in your spare time when you’re not getting your teeth out?”

The oral surgeon was trying to distract me while the I.V. started working. But I might as well go along with it. “I’m a writer. I write books.”

“Oh, what kind of books?”

“Young adult fan…fantasy…Christian fantasy fiction.” Did that sound as slurred to him as it did to me? “I actually have an idea for a book where a guy from the Middle Ages goes to the dentist.” It was an idea I’d had while at the dentist a few weeks’ before, right before I’d learned I needed my wisdom teeth removed.

“Just think how bad something like this would have been back then. No anesthetic.”

“Yeah, though my idea would have him go to a modern dentist. Time travel. He’d freak out.” The things a writer thinks of while getting her teeth cleaned at the dentist. I could just see the guy freak out by the strange torture session.

By this point, the oral surgeon was probably relieved when I passed out.

Goals for the New Year

Antique pen and inkwell

This is a time of year for looking back at the past year of goals and looking toward new goals. After the holidays punctuate the end of the year in celebration, its time to get back to business. Back to the grind and the hard work that it takes to achieve goals.

This past year, I wrote 3 books and edited 3 books. I sent out 11 query letters and received 11 rejections. I finally established a writing routine and stuck to it for over nine months. I started this blog. All goals checked off a list.

This year, I have a new list of goals. I’d like to write 4 books and edit 3 books. I’d like to improve this blog by making it more reader friendly. I have other goals that I can’t reveal quite yet, but they’re exciting.

The long list of goals can be overwhelming. Shoulders can sag under the weight of goals needing to be checked off lists upon lists. Even exciting goals can be wearisome if they seem too big.

But they needn’t be too big. Yes, I have goals, but I must ultimately bow to God’s will. His will for my life trumps all my goals.

I hope, as you set out on your goals, that you are sustained as you tackle them this year.

Looking forward into this new year of blogging, what would you as readers like to see in this blog? More book reviews? More posts on writing? Other things?