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.
So I’ve just hit 201 pages on Ghosts of WarCry, and a big twist has been revealed. That in and of itself is exciting, but there’s something else even more exciting and scary going on tonight: our son is graduating the eighth grade, and going to the dance with a girl. Wowza. As I said, pretty exciting stuff.
And nerve-wracking. How did our son get to be fourteen and graduating into high school? When did this happen? I don’t think my husband and I have aged that much (don’t look too close at our hair, though). I’m not sure I’m ready for this next step. Our daughter is moving into sixth grade next year, middle school, and that doesn’t seem at all possible either. Why is it our kids have to age? I’m not saying I want the baby stage back, but maybe somewhere in-between?
Our son is happy, of course. He’s really happy that the girl said yes. And he’s fourteen now, only two years away from that coveted driver’s license. He’s been looking through truck ads for a few years now, dreaming about that perfect ride (aka a Dodge truck with a Cummins diesel in it). But our family is into vehicles. We own a Chevy Silverado, a Jeep Wrangler (YJ), and a Jeep Cherokee Sport (XJ). So his desire to start driving is quite natural. Still, though, I’m not sure good old Mom is ready for watching her son drive out of the driveway with his buddies for a night on the town (or two tracks, in our family’s case).
You learn as your kids get older that while you still have a say over them, especially when they’re living in your house, they are their own people. They have their own ideas about things, and while they might take your opinion for what it is, they have their own. And sometimes they don’t line up with yours. My husband is not a Dodge fan. His father isn’t a Dodge man, either. But our son loves those trucks with a real passion. As you can imagine, this makes for some spirited conversation sometimes. And one of my sisters and her husband are diehard Ford truck people. And that can lead to very spirited conversations that lead to harassing and teasing.
And thinking about how you can’t make your kids into people they aren’t leads me to thinking about my characters. I can’t make them do much, either. Oh, they still live inside my books, of course, and as of yet, they haven’t moved out into the big wide world we live in. But they have minds of their own, and I’m finding out new things about them every day. That comes with age, too – writing age. I’ve been writing fan fiction for years, since around 2002. I’ve written lots of stories that are hosted on a large fan fiction database. And since starting out writing those stories, I’ve learned a lot. Maybe more than I sometimes wanted to in a given period. Because fan fiction reviewers are not kind people. They know the characters, and if you don’t get them just exactly right, they’ll tell you what you can do with your story. So I’ve learned how to write. I’m not saying I write well yet, but I write as well as I’ve learned how to at this point.
And with each line I write, each paragraph and chapter, I learn more. I grow more as a writer. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes I don’t want to mature as a writer. I like how I write, thank you very much. But it’s necessary, just as letting my kids grow up is necessary. And let’s be honest – it happens anyway, doesn’t it? Time marches on, leaving no one untouched.
It’s all part of getting older, I guess.
So I’m on page 113 of Ghosts of WarCry, and already the plot I’d imagined for it has taken a big turn. I’m okay with it, but I have to admit, when it first happened, I wondered just what in the world was going on. And how was I going to roll with it? But the character that turned my plot on its head assured me everything was fine, and that he knew it would all work out.
As it turns out, he was right. I’m loving the new direction. It’s really freed up movement between some characters, and brought new characters in that would’ve only been seen in the last few chapters. And my gut tells me this is the right path.
Anything like this happen to you? When it does, are you able to roll with it, or does your stomach get all tied up in knots? Do you trust your characters? If not, why not? Sometimes trusting them can be difficult. You might think they’re leading you down a really wrong path. And, you might be right. But sometimes you just need to trust that they do know what’s going on, and they know how to handle it.
And if they don’t? Well, that’s what the revisions are for, right?
So I finished editing Peril at Stormsurge for the third time today. It feels good to have another go at it done. But is it really done? How do you know for certain when you’re done editing? Is there any good way to tell?
I’m feeling good about this last run-through. I know, only three times, you’re saying? Three? Some writers edit ten or more times. Is that even enough? What would be the magical number? Well, don’t get too worked up. My next step is to send this version to my Kindle and reread it for any more flaws, any more words that just don’t quite fit or ring true. I love reading my stuff on my Kindle. Why? It feels like you’re really reading a book, not just some story you’ve been pouring your heart into and over for the last (insert time length).
I’ve printed out the submission guidelines to the next publisher I’m aiming for. I don’t plan to hurry. They have some requirements that are going to take me a while to work out. But that’s okay, because in the meantime, I’ll be reading Peril on my Kindle, and going, “Now how the heck did I miss that the first three times?!”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes as I’m writing, or looking on Pinterest for models for my stories, my characters whisper to me. They tell me what kind of castle they should live in, or how blue/brown/green their eyes should be. I used to tell them to shut up, but now, I listen. They always seem to know best, and they almost always get their way.
When I start thinking of a new story idea, I jot the ideas down in my Moleskines, if I have any handy. Cheaper versions of this popular notebook work, too. I prefer ones without lines, but hey, I’ll use whatever I can reach. And I need a good pen. It doesn’t have to be expensive – in fact, some of my favorites are just plain old Bics (fine or medium point). Anyway, after I get my notebook and pen (no pencils, people), I write down what’s careening around inside my head.
This usually includes character descriptions, snippets of dialogue (it’s fun if it’s between two people arguing, like Dec and Bannan), and some plot points. When I first started working on what would become Peril at Stormsurge, I had a huge blue three-ring binder that I packed full of notes. I cut pictures of character models from magazines – this was back in the day before Pinterest, when one actually had to go through magazines to find character inspiration. Yes, this story has taken me that long. But the problem with all that plotting and outlining was that my characters were taking shape, becoming real and whole, and well, they had different ideas about what they looked like, and where they were going to live.
I tried to shut them up. Really, I did. I wouldn’t work on the story, which just gave them time to rally together. Their whispers got a lot louder, until I finally gave up. I gave in. And they went back to whispering behind my back, plotting out their own courses through the story. Whenever I did something they didn’t like, they got louder. So now, I just listen to the whispers. And I think my writing, their story, is really much better for it.
I browse Pinterest and other sites with one ear tuned into them. They let me know when they see a picture of themselves, or of a place they want to visit, or a place they want to live. It’s much more of a partnership now than it used to be. And it only took me, oh ten years or so to find out that truth.
You’re probably thinking by this point that I’m mad as the hatter. Well, that just might be. I’m definitely unique. But then, aren’t we all? What works for you probably wouldn’t work for me, and vice versa. I’m just letting you know that this is how it works best for me. You have to find out how it works best for you and your characters.
But you know, it wouldn’t hurt to at least listen in a little to the whispers.