Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chick(en) Cliques

I could never be a scientist. I am far too likely to anthropomorphize animal behavior.

Take our small flock of chickens for example. There are seven of them. Helen and Ellen are the mature gals. They are the soul remainders of our first set of hens. If you know chickens, one is a Dominecker and one is a Barred Rock. They don't care about their color differences though. They are friends, through and through. They've shared the loss of their rooster and their friends to some wily fox or coyote. They're like wise forty-somethings who 've lost the taste for cattiness and gossip. All they care about is a good worm and laying a big egg.

The other five we refer to as the brown hens. For chicken folks, these girls are Rhode Island Red/Buff Orphington crosses. I've been watching these upstarts a lot lately. They've grown out of their gangly pullet stage and have come into their own as young "women". The girls who look more like Reds are the "mean girls", the ones who look more like Buffs are the "peacemakers". They split upon party lines here, two and two.

Then there's Little Brown Hen. She likes people. She'll let you pick her up and cradle her. If you're outside she'll seek you out. If you're inside she'll seek you out. The cats, dogs, and horses don't scare her. She's her own chicken and wise in the ways of interspecies communication. In human terms, she'd be the "Art Chick" and here's the picture to prove it.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, a lot. Whether you're writing about humans or animals, behavior is behavior. And no, humans don't typically scratch through large heaps of horse manure to find bot fly eggs, but there's plenty of other chicken behavior that mirrors our own. My current shiny new middle grade WIP actually has humans for characters. Thirteen year old female humans to be exact. I think Little Brown Hen and the four other Browns can teach me a lot as I start to write to school scenes.

I just need to make sure I don't have my human girls start clucking and scratching in the dirt.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bad Dog! Good Dog?

"I knocked down my boy!" "Kujo is my hero!" "You got it? I want it!"

Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with the craft of writing.
No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post

This is Henry. When you think of the song "What do you do with a problem like Maria?" Just insert the name Henry. Although he's not a will-o-the-wisp, he's a 100 + pound Great Pyrenees dog. If you are unfamiliar with the breed, they are French. First clue. They are independent because they were bred to protect flocks from wolves and coyotes. Second clue. They have a lot of hair. Third clue. They are what is classified as a "giant breed." Fourth Clue.

Acquiring Henry. Well we had to put down our wonderful, sweet, mannerly, ten year old Pyr named Elmo about a year and a half ago. It was devastating as you would expect. Enter Henry. Oh, it started innocently enough. An e-mail, from a friend, with the subject line:

"I hate to do this to you."

The e-mail contained a sad plea. Friends one state away had found a teenage male Pyr. They couldn't find his owners. He was obviously well-bred. They had a vet friend who would neuter him and do all his shots at shelter prices. Did we want him?

Oh my gosh. A Pyr? It was meant to be. Elmo must have sent him from the heavens. We now realize that Elmo knew that if we didn't take him, he'd never find a home. Because....who would put up with him!

Why Henry is a bad dog. Henry does not come when called. Henry likes to roll in fecal matter. Henry will ignore your call. Henry will look at you, see you calling him, then turn and RUN in the opposite direction...for hours. Henry drags home dead stuff. Henry will snap at you if you ask him to get out of the car. Henry will not come when called. Henry has a deep bass bark that he knows how to use. He also has a soprano howl that he has taught to the rest of our pack. He sheds. He will use his paw to punch closed doors (to get your attention). He will use his paw to drag across your arm, thigh, back (to get your attention). He will bump his rear end against the footboard of the bed (to get your attention). He will whine (to get your attention). All of the aforesaid attention getting tactics are so he will be let out and will then be able to ignore your call. I'm convinced it's a master plan.

But then there's this Henry. Sigh. What are you gonna do but love him up?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Visualizing Characters

Lately, as my writing has ramped up, I've been thinking about how lucky I am to have an artistic background. Both of my picture book manuscripts will be as much about the illustrations as the story, which is the way it should be. Since my artistic talents lie more in the 3-D realm, someone else will be illustrating my stories. I am already excited about a future in which my characters come to life visually. I can just imagine the double page spread of Grandma Frances in her very long car.

As I write, I frequently mind travel to the story. I really need to be able to see the imaginary places I create. If I can't reach out and feel and smell and touch both my characters and my setting, how can I write?

Sometimes I look at my students or people on the street and ask myself is that Character A? Is that him? At my children's chorus concert I found my supporting friend for the new middle grade novel I hope to start sometime after the new year. I have this real live girl's face locked in. Once I saw this face, the questions about character for my fictional character stepped in to place. I can't always do this with my main character's though. I have more of a shadowy idea, which gives both myself, and my eventual readers, room to interpret.

What about you, how do you find your characters?
Hey Lady, What would you say about me?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Today has been one of those picture perfect western North Carolina snowy days. Light silvery flakes fell continually and as the sky went dark, every branch, every stem was coated with a thick layer of white frosting. I'm not a huge fan of snow and this part of the world has seen more than its share for this month, but I cannot deny the beauty.

Now I am snug in the house. The dogs and cats have all found their favorite warm spots (three on the bed!), the family is well-fed, and the farmyard critters are tucked in for the night.

And me, I am mentally obsessing about the writing dream. I'm resisting the urge to troll agent pages and the blue boards. Yet, at the same time, I can't help but look at this urgent obession as a gift. I've waited for many years for the fire to rekindle. It's a roaring flame now, the warmth that I need for a snow-filled winter.

Write-on! Merry Christmas! Stay Warm!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Downside of Writing Time

The stars are in alignment for my quest. Combined with the tides, gulf streams, and Canadian air currents, Western North Carolina has been inundated with SNOW this December. For me, that usually means a break from teaching with back to back snow days or optional teacher work days.

I live down what is affectionately known as "the crookedest road in the county" and though there's probably a metaphor in there somewhere, it's a pretty literal statement. This road follows the western side of a river and looks like a snake created it. So, optional teacher workdays aren't always possible for me.

But I digress. What this all adds up to is writing time! Glorious, beautiful, wonderful writing time. So you ask, what's the downside? Ummm, it's my, umm, downside. All this time sitting at the computer, sitting in the bed with warm laptop on lap, taking breaks for chamomile tea with honey and cream, oh and just one Christmas cookie while I'm at it. Well, I'm starting to suffer from Oompah Loompah syndrome. My derriere (always loved that word) is becoming derivative. The saddlebags are spreading. The bootay is a beautay.

So as I dream of one day getting to folow this dream full-time, I'm wondering how do you keep the downside from becoming a downside?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Every ten weeks or so, I go through the process. I drive an hour to the cool city. Park in the pay lot. Walk to the chic yet approachable salon and have my hair done by the girl with the mermaid tattoo. The hair is a process. She mixes the color. Grabs the foils. Then we process. Endlessly. About my kids, my job, my life, her acting, if her house has had any offers, and lately about her new girlfriend.

Today I learned about said girlfriend's process of writing plays. Yes, she is a local playwright. Her process hinges around pressure and a deadline. She will actually book a venue AND cast the actors, all before ever setting pen to paper. Then she writes her play in a frenzy. The girl with the mermaid tattoo says that the play then interrupts their lives at the strangest moments. They might be talking about who's cleaning the bathroom when said girlfriend will say "You know what could happen in the play..."

It got me thinking about my own process and how I get from first sentence to the end. Long drives in the car help. My characters come to life in my imagination as the wheels turn. I imagine scenes and situations. Sometimes I hear voice, though that usually happens when fingers touch the keyboard. I take notes. Little rambly squiggles that make no sense to anyone but me. Shorthand fiction. I don't verbalize very much about my writing ideas. Somehow they seem ridiculous when spoken out loud.

When writing I have to act things out. I have to put my hands on the imaginary steering wheel and turn the car. Then stop and think "How do I write that?" More and more I'm doing research ahead of time. That's new for me. It helps some. Sometimes I wonder if it gets in the way.

So what's your process?

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Journey of a Book

So for many of you in my known family of friends - you may not have known that I write.
When did it start? About 11 years ago. I broke my wrist getting bucked off a horse (the right wrist, the left wrist came later and that's a whole 'nother horse story). I couldn't make jewelry, which at the time was my primary source of income.

A few years before that a psychic had told me I should write. Another saw me making money, something to do with pictures, children, and animals. Okay, hocus pocus, I know, I know. But those kinds of little things get you thinking.

Screech, fast forward, right arm in cast. A story bubbles forth. I don't think I ever finished it. I wrote a smashing three chapters or so, then...fizzle. I started another novel...this time I got to around page sixty, then...yep...fizzle. Finally, the dog book came to me. I wrote 121 pages, close to 45,000 words. I had finished a book.

Left turn. I had no readers. I thought it was perfect. Oh if you could read that first draft you would double over laughing at sentences like "They happily bounded across the yard." I sent it out to two publishers. EEK! So embarassed now. But this book wouldn't let go.

Screech, fast forward. Life gets in the way. In my case a teaching career, a master's degree, and two beautiful children. The writing languished. Until two years ago, I confessed to a colleague that what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a children's writer. I owned it. It felt good. I started writing again. I completed a second manuscript. And a picture book manuscript. I joined an online forum of kidlit writers. I went to a SCBWI conference. I signed up for a kid lit creative writing class that starts this winter.

And today, well today I finished the second draft of that book. I still love it. It's better. It might not be publishable yet, but it's better. Let the journey continue.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yet another Writer Blogger

Yes it's true. You are witnessing the birth of yet another writer/blogger. I guess it's not really the virgin birth as my teaching blog has been up for a few years.

But this blog, this blog is about my secret desire. The secret desire I decided to make public a few years ago. I want to be a published children's author. And no, I don't want to self-publish. I want to hone my craft, learn, dig deep, find the stories that will delight and inspire and do it in such a way that "those in the biz" will sit up and take notice. Pompous? Maybe a little. Do-able? Maybe not. But maybe. And the maybe is what I hold on to. goals....what will this blog be? I can answer the first. My goal for 2011 is to write at a minimum, once a week, about the process of my writing, the things that inspire, or about the country life that surrounds me. Who is this blog for? Primarily for myself, as a place to stretch my fingers and hone my voice. Will I make errors, probably, there will be no beta readers for the blog. This will be raw J.Ro. But hopefully, out there somewhere, in blog world, what I write will strike a chord and resonate with another writer.

Ready...set....go...let the blog begin! Wahoo!