As many of you writers know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or for those who like acronyms: NANOWRIMO. I’ve been a semi-active participant for the last few years, as have been a few of my coworkers. It’s fun, and sometimes I do get fairly far with whatever project I’m currently working on. This year, since I’m already 176 pages deep into The Flying Ponies, I decided to write a diary from the viewpoint of my main character’s great, great grandmother. The diary is really just meant for me so I know the backstory on the Flying Ponies Grand Carousel, but who knows – if the book takes off, perhaps the diary will someday be published.
The diary is being written in a pretty cool leather journal I scored at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. I have a gel ink pen that looks like a giant white feather to write with, and that’s fun, too. It’s been quite a while since I’ve handwritten anything other than notes for a story. But the real fun, for me, has been the research. Adara, the writer of the journal, lives in Brooklyn during the Roaring Twenties, and she frequents the infamous Coney Island. I’ve been a fan of the place for quite a while now, because I love amusement parks and carousels, and the Island has quite the storied past.
I’d heard of the Dreamland fire, in 1911, that completely wiped out that beautiful park. It was never rebuilt, leaving only Steeplechase (which burned but was rebuilt) and Luna Park to dominate the Island, along with the infamous Boardwalk and Bowery, but I’m learning a lot more. Coney Island still operates, and a few of the historic rides are still there, including the newly-refurbished B & B Carousell (that’s actually how it’s spelled), and the Cyclone coaster. But I doubt it’s anything like it was back in the twenties, when a million people would come to the Island to lay on the beaches and take spins on all the rides.
I also doubt that a lot of people like to do research; I feel that a lot of writers think it takes time away from the writing. And it does, certainly. But to get that authenticity for your story, to really get inside a character’s head who’s in that time period, it’s absolutely essential. I have pages and pages of research on Coney Island, and have books coming that talk about the park during the different decades of operation. I need to know what roller coasters and carousels and dark houses were on the streets of the Island so that Adara and her boyfriend can move through them and have it be real.
Without doing your research, your story will fall flat, because guaranteed, someone out there reading it will know something about the subject you’re writing about, or the time period your characters are in, and if it’s not right, you’ll hear about it. If I’ve learned anything at all from writing fan fiction, it’s that the fans LOVE to tell you when you’re wrong. And with fan fiction, because there are so many stories out there, if you get it wrong once, you’re likely to lose that reader forever. And though I’m not yet published, I’m guessing it’s the same with published books.
So whether you hate it or love it, do your research. Do it because your story, and your characters, are worth the time and effort. And you’ll learn a lot, and thus, so will your readers.
Each writer has a different process by which they make their stories. Some eek out a few words or sentences a day. Some are capable of great paragraphs and chapters per day. I am, most days, somewhere in-between. While working on my fantasy series, I’ve suffered from the neurosis known by all writers as “writer’s block.” I’ve also had joyous days when I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my characters and all their words. Those are the best of days, when I wish I had no other responsibilities but writing.
Working on my new WIP, The Flying Ponies, has been nothing but pleasure. I realize I may be cursing myself for admitting this out loud (I did just knock on the wood of my desk), but it truly has been. I think for every writer, there is that one book or story or poem that is just right, that seems to come knowing who it is and what it is meant to do. I don’t mean it won’t need editing – everything needs that. But you can feel it deep within yourself. It resonates throughout your whole being, and you can’t imagine why you never wrote of it before.
I wrote an earlier blog post about the magic of the carousel, and I think because I’ve always been a horse person, loving the old wooden horses is ingrained in me. They feel right to me. Writing a fantasy story about them feels right. And I think that’s why so far, the writing has been easier than with my other fantasy series. I love my Pentallia characters, of course, and hope to get them out in book form soon. But the Flying Ponies keep calling and talking to me, and I can’t ignore their voices. They’re overwhelming.
And so the words have been flying too, and there’s just not enough time in the day to get it all down. Maybe some day I’ll be wealthy enough to make writing my full-time job, but for now, it has to share with my librarian job, which I love. I work at a great place, with great people who are more family than coworker. Still, old Wellington, my beautiful desk my husband bought for me at a second-hand store, beckons all the time, and I wish I could just park in front of him and write. Don’t we all wish we had nothing holding us back from writing?
My weekend will be busy with my son marching at the home football game tonight, and then watching him play with the high school jazz band at two different concerts tomorrow. Tomorrow night is dinner at the in-laws (who are fabulous people), and then on Sunday is church and taking my dad to see Sully. So when do I get any writing done? Maybe Sunday night, after the rest of the family is in bed.
But the best part? When I do finally get to sit down at Wellington, the words are going to fly, just like those magical, fantastic Flying Ponies who have nestled deep into my soul.
Sometimes you have characters, and those characters just know, instinctively, where they are going to live, what they are going to do, etc. I thought I knew where the Flynn family was going to be living – in a giant mansion in Smoke City. But that wasn’t where Charlotte (the second oldest) wanted to live, apparently, because now they’re living in a giant old mansion out in the middle of a dark wood, with a mysterious carousel that Charlotte finds.
Funny how that works, huh? And maybe funny that there’s a carousel, of all things, out in the woods. I’ve always liked carousels, with their painted ponies and carnival music that shades toward the creepy side sometimes. Frozen in mid-stride, or perhaps mid-leap, those old wooden horses spin around day after day, playing in a world increasingly less in awe of their mystical powers. Because I dare you to take a ride on the armored horse or the leaping prancer and not feel something magical. Go on. I can wait. But it might take you a while to find one of these old carnival relics.
The idea to write something about a carousel horse has been floating around in my mind for a very long time. Being a horse person, I’ve always been drawn to the wooden ponies. But it wasn’t until I took a picture of an old unrestored (he has been now, as far as I can gather) carousel horse and paired it with the Flynn family that their story really started to take shape. And it’s still taking shape as I write this. Being only six or seven pages into the manuscript, it’s difficult to tell where they’re really headed. But I bet it’s someplace magical and haunting and okay, maybe a bit creepy. After all, the carousels of old held honor in places like the White City (Luna City, later) and Coney Island, places where creepiness was just part of their charm.
But can you take that charmed creepiness, that weird mixture of magic and spookiness, and make it into something worth while? Will people want to read it? It doesn’t really matter. The best advice as far as writing goes that I’ve ever read is write for you. Don’t play to the trends. Whatever it is that makes you tick, that infinitesimal stuff that makes you you, is enough to create good stories. And for me, right now, it’s a fascination with wooden flying ponies that started the very first time my mom put me up on one at the local county fair.
Because, you see, there’s still some magic left in the world. And no, I’m not talking sorcerers and flying brooms, or witches and cauldrons. I mean the magic that, when you were a child, you didn’t struggle to find – it was just there. It was part of you. And it’s still there. You just have to find it. For some, it’s a trip to Disney World or Land, or going back to the place where you spent your summers.
I find the magic, my magic, in the wooden ponies of the carousel, resplendent in gold and silver and jewels, with fierce expressions and eyes that, if you choose to look into them, will transport you to worlds you never knew existed. And maybe someday, I’ll be able to share that magic with you.
So I’ve been kicking around this question in my head for some time now. I have seen the The Hobbit trilogy as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Haven’t read the books. I know – I can hear the gasps of disbelief. You, a fantasy writer, have never read JRR Tolkien?! I’ll be honest with you: I tried reading Fellowship of the Ring and after at least ten pages of descriptions of the Shire, I was done. Where was the movement? Where were the characters? Okay, ten pages might’ve been a stretch, but those of you who have read those books have to agree – Tolkien describes everything to the nth degree. That’s not really my thing. I care more about how characters are moving and learning and interacting than what the grass and trees all look like. My own writing is pretty light on descriptions. I give you just enough to see where we are, and then I get on with the lives of the characters.
But the abundance of description in those books isn’t what I wanted to talk about. No, it’s the magic. Magic plays a big part in the Tolkien books. And it’s not just Gandalf’s light magic, either – there’s dark and powerful magic in there, too. Who can forget Gandalf fighting off the demon Balrog? That’s pretty dark. Yeah, the great wizard wins, but he’s still fighting off a force of great evil. A demonic force, no less. And I know plenty of Christians who have read those books and seen the movies, and LOVE them, even with all those dark forces at play, which is great. They are great movies (I’m sure the books are – I’ll take your word for it).
These fans, if asked about reading and watching something with such great evil in it, will usually answer, “Well, the good magic wins.” And so it does. But you know what? There’s another great series, of which I’m only just now reading the very first of (I know, I know), and that’s the Harry Potter books. What, you say? You can’t lump that in with Tolkien’s master work! Why, Tolkien was a Christian himself! Yeah, he was. But he also wrote about the forces of good and evil – the exact same thing that JK Rowling does. The good wins in that series too, I’m assuming. I have to assume, you see – only reading book one. But I have seen the first three movies.
What gets me is that these same people (not all of them, just some of them) will rail on about Gandalf and the good magic, but mention Harry Potter and his own sense of good magic and they turn an about-face and rant about it being a dark series, and that it brings evil to those who read it. We all remember the massive book burnings down in Texas, right? Baptist churches “ridding the world of Harry Potter?” Well, I do, anyway. And it made me sick. It still does. I am a Christian. But I also believe you should be allowed to read whatever you want. I’m a librarian too – we’re kinda big on the whole banned books thing here. I am a Stephen King fan – gasp! I don’t read a lot of his work, because it scares me, which is the point of the books. I don’t think someone should be able to tell me I can’t read them.
But back to the main discussion: why is it the Tolkien books, with their dark and evil magic, along with the good, are so revered, and the Harry Potter books, which also have good and dark magic, are not? Are actually reviled by some? Rowling is an excellent writer. You can argue against that all day long, but the fact remains: that woman is an amazing writer. So what does it really come down to? The magic? Why? Why shouldn’t you read both series? If the magic gets you all riled up against Harry, then get rid of those Tolkien books, too, while you’re at it. I know Tolkien was a Christian, and those books were written from that perspective. That’s totally terrific. And no, I don’t know what religion Rowling sways to, if any. But really, what does that have to do with the books? With the stories? The characters in the Tolkien books aren’t Christians (if I’m wrong, please feel free to let me know, in a pleasant manner). I sure didn’t see any evidence of them going to church or reading the Middle Earth version of a Bible in the movies.
So if those characters aren’t Christian, and they’re still involved in magic, how is that any different than the Potter characters? I’m quite confused by the whole “I love Tolkien and hate Rowling” thing. Really, I am. Mystified, actually. Because to me, those books are just about characters moving in their world and some of those characters use magic. Someone made the comment to me that they didn’t like the Rowling books because there were “good witches and bad witches.” Yeah, so? There are good wizards and bad wizards in the Tolkien books. But yet this person LOVES them. So what’s the difference? You could argue that of course the good magic will win in the LotR books, because Tolkien was a Christian. I could argue back that any sane person, who loves their main characters, isn’t going to let the darkness beat them. Harry Potter and Co. beat the darkness. It might take some doing, but they get it done. I do know that there are Christians who love the Harry Potter books – quite a few of them go to my church, and have no problem with Rowling not being a Christian writer.
This is probably one of those arguments that will never have a clear winner, so I guess I’ll wrap this up now. I love fantasy books, and that includes the urban fantasy genre. And fantasy books have magic. So I guess you either have to decide to only read the Christian ones, or realize that hey, magic isn’t real, so it’s okay for you to read non-Christian fantasy books, too. That could be a whole new discussion, right? Maybe a couple of new ones. So: I don’t get why people revere Tolkien and revile Rowling, and I never will. But I’m going to enjoy Harry and Co., and cheer when they, too, beat the dark forces of magic they face. Wizards they be, and good they are.
Stephen King said once, when asked why he writes what he does, “Why do you assume I have a choice?” Or at the least, that’s pretty darn close to what he said in his book, On Writing. And that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Does the material choose the writer, or does the writer choose the material?
I for one, believe the story chooses you. Or at the very least, the genre chooses you. I read all sorts of books, and all sorts of genres. But when it comes to my own writing? Fantasy and heroes have made their claim on me. And maybe a bit of spookiness thrown in, for good measure. To be super honest, I think the characters really came first. And they wanted to be part of a fantasy world. It’s the only kind of world they wanted.
So then, I didn’t choose what I’m writing. It was chosen for me. And much like King, I don’t have a choice. Even if I tried to change what I’m writing, I don’t think I could. If I did, it would likely be ugly, and horrifying. Because the characters know what they want, and where they’re comfortable. They just need me to write it all down.
Anyone else have feelings on this? Anyone else have a certain genre that speaks to them? Calls their name in the dead of night? Funny thing, though – I don’t read a lot of fantasy. Oh, I’ve read some Brandon Sanderson in the last year (he’s pretty amazing). But I’m just reading the Harry Potter series for the first time (yes, you read that right). My husband is on the fourth book, and I’m half-way through the first. Good stuff. But then you all probably know that already. So, did Rowling have a choice about what she was writing? Or did Harry choose it for her?
Everyone has to make their own decision about what they’re writing, and whether or not to remain true to it. For me, I’m staying true to the fantasy world of Pentallia I’ve created (or was it created by my characters?).
Yeah, I’m really asking this question. I’m asking because one of my main characters, one Declan O’Hara, isn’t cooperating with me. This is the second chapter in this novel that I’ve had to coerce him to do anything, because he’s not in a good mood and doesn’t want to work. He would tell you I’ve saddled him with a side character he really dislikes, but I would argue that he’s stuck with her at the behest of another of the main characters.
Whatever the argument, I’m over it. Working on this part of Ghosts of WarCry is torture. It’s slow going and kind of painful, and I’m about ready to just murder someone. Anyone. Don’t worry, not a real person (there’s enough of that going on, isn’t there?). Just one of my characters. Just to, you know, motivate them. Sounds pretty harsh, huh?
What do you do when your characters won’t work for you, though? How do you write them out of these tough spots? I’m not planning on offing any of my characters, especially a main one. Declan is one of my favorites (are writers supposed to have faves? I don’t even know), but he’s really making this hard on not only me, but himself. He’s being a jerk, really, and even though I think that is a part of his character, he’s also a decent guy. Maybe not at the moment, of course, but it’s there. Down deep. He is a Shadowliege, after all.
I guess I’m just whining, because up to this point, writing Ghosts of WarCry hasn’t been that hard. Oh, there have been a few spots where I know I’m going to need a lot of editing. But other than that, it’s been pretty smooth. So what do I do? Give in, let Dec have his way, and make the side character leave? I really don’t see that as an option at this point in the book, although I’m sure she’s resourceful enough to make it on her own. She’s not a bad person, either. Dec’s just not a fan.
We’ll just see how it goes. Declan will shape up. He always does. But he’s definitely more Tony Stark than Steve Rogers, which is kind of why I like him. He’s a rogue, and he’s already thrown one big monkey wrench into the story. I don’t like using the word “plot” anymore – “story” sounds so much better, and that’s really more what it is. A fantasy story, a story where anything can happen.
So I’ll let Declan sulk a little more, and see how he’s feeling in a day or two. I know, I know. We’re supposed to write EVERY DAY. But that doesn’t happen sometimes. Did you see my post about our Jeeps? I hear the dunes calling our names….
JEEP: Just Empty Every Pocket!
Back around 2007-08, I fell in love. Just like that, just driving down the road. And there she was, in a small used car lot down in Dalton, Michigan. Not real far from where I live. Oh, she was pretty. Dark blue metallic paint that glinted midnight in the hot summer sun. A family heritage that dated all the way back to her grandfather Willys in the 1940s. What was she?
A 2001 Jeep Cherokee Sport, an XJ in Jeep lingo. Square, boxy, perfect. And I knew I had to have her. And not only that, I knew I’d found the brand of vehicle that I could pledge loyalty and love to for the rest of my life. We brought her home, and I named her Eclipse. Partly after an old horse of my mom’s that I rode when I was little, and partly after my favorite book in the Twilight saga (yeah, yeah, I went through a Twilight phase. Didn’t everyone? Don’t lie. You know you did). I loved that Jeep with passion. Nothing was more fun than driving down a dirt road after a long soaking rain and hitting every single mud puddle with glee. She was our main family vehicle, and we all fell in love with her.
And then in 2011 (I’m guessing here), our two kids and I were coming home from a run to MickeyD’s when a car pulled a U-turn right in front of me. With nowhere to go, the car crossing both lanes, we hit it dead square in the driver’s side door. I think I closed my eyes on the impact; I remember coming back to my senses on the side of the road, air bags blown, kids crying in the back seat, and thinking, “Did that really happen?” It did. The Jeep was totaled, but it saved our lives. It basically compacted when it hit the car, driving everything in the engine bay together into a little neat package. Oh, and the guy in the Grand Am? Well, they had to cut him out of the car with JAWS, and fly him by AeroMed helicopter to Grand Rapids, where he almost lost his leg. He got the ticket from the State Police.
I knew I had to have another Jeep. We found a 1994 Grand Cherokee, sky blue, that wasn’t in too bad of shape. A lot of miles, but hey – most of us have a lot of miles. A ZJ in the lingo of Jeepers, we named her Zoey (yes, we name all our vehicles – even our 1985 Travel Villa fifth wheel). By this time, my hubby was also driving a Jeep as a daily driver – Cap, a 2002 Liberty Sport (a KJ). We were a two Jeep family. Zoey lasted me about a year and half, and then hubby took over driving her as she required some special treatment to keep running, and I took Cap as my DD. Zoey went down the road after her engine seized, and along came Dan, our 2006 Silverado, and my hubby’s DD.
But after Zoey left, and having been a two Jeep family, we wanted something else. We started looking at Wranglers, and brought home a beat-up 1995 YJ Wrangler that had lived most of its life up on Drummond Island. With a loud four cylinder engine and square headlights (want controversy? Just ask Jeepers about square and round headlights sometime, but don’t say I didn’t warn you), Shifty O’Jeepers became my hubby’s favorite vehicle of all time. And that’s saying a lot, considering all the vehicles he’s had.
A couple of years after Shifty came home, I got the itch for another XJ. And I found the perfect one: a 1999 red Cherokee Sport with oversized tires and a light visor. She looked like a mini semi truck in her pictures on Craig’s List, and we went to look at her. Just getting back into the driver’s seat of that Cherokee brought back all the great memories I had of Eclipse, and I just had to have her. So Bernadette (named after the spunky little blonde Melissa Rauch plays on The Big Bang Theory) came home to stay, and I know now that I will always have to have an XJ. They quit building them back in 2001, when the Liberty took it’s place for the 2002 lineup. Oh, and we sold Cap to a young girl just finishing up high school, bringing another person into the Jeep family.
Bernadette came from Maryland, a place where the roads remain unsalted, and her body is beautiful. She’s getting her dune flag here in the mail in the next couple of days, and she’s wearing her purple ORV passes across her rear end with pride, just like her Star Wars, Denver Broncos, and Detroit Tigers decals. And when that flag gets mounted, look out! She’ll be hitting the Silver Lake Sand Dunes with her brother Shifty and helping us make even more great Jeepin’ family memories.
Because once you go Jeep, you never go back.