Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Writing on the Fly - Part Two

Five more ideas for when you only have a few moments to write...

Write about what the next scene has to accomplish; what the scene goals are, what the source of conflict might be, what your heroine needs to do, or what clues have to be revealed.

Do some character journaling of what the POV character will be feeling in the next scene. How will the actions of the upcoming scene make her feel? How will those emotions manifest themselves physically? You can also do this for a scene you’ve already written but want to deepen.

Do some character journaling to try and identify your characters internal wounds; what emotional scars does she bear and how do those influence her perceptions of herself and how she interacts with the world.

Write descriptions. If you know you have a new, unusual setting coming up, or want to create an eerie atmosphere, try just writing that description. Since descriptions aren’t usually in the heat of the moment of a scene, you can write them separately, then weave them in later.

Do lists of twenty. If you have a plot twist you need to come up with, brainstorm a list of twenty possibilities. Need a character flaw? Brainstorm a list of twenty. Perhaps you’re looking for a deep, dark incident in your character’s past that motivates their current actions; brainstorm a list of twenty.

The great thing about a list of twenty is that the first 5 or 6 ideas will be fairly common, and the last few will most likely be wild or over the top, just because you were really having to stretch to come up with twenty. But somewhere between numbers 7 and 15 probably lie a really good, unique plot twist or character trait.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wolves: Friend or Foe?

I’ve always been fascinated by wolves, especially the huge contradictions in how we perceive wolves. From the myth of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, being raised by a she-wolf, to Little Red Riding Hood, our views of wolves have swung wildly from nurturing mother to an embodiment of all the evils that threaten mankind; the wolf at the door, throwing someone to the wolves, and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Clearly, for a large part of our history, wolves have been perceived as evil, terrifying creatures that preyed on man.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Back when man was primarily a hunter, wolves and men respected each other and coexisted in relative peace. They were both efficient predators, keenly intelligent, and lived in highly structured social groups. They understood each other and were, in many ways, kindred spirits.

Then man began domesticating animals, and some wolves were brought to heel and became men’s companions. The wolves that didn’t make this transition were soon viewed as a threat because they couldn’t be controlled.

Men’s lives grew even more distant from their former hunter lifestyle. They began plowing the field and the forest became less and less familiar to them. Soon it turned into a frightening place full of dangers that they didn’t know or understand anymore, and wolves were one of those dangers.

Man quickly forgot that wolves weren’t savage killers, but efficient predators who helped cull down herds of elk, moose, and deer. (Wolves also helped keep these herds strong by preying on the weak and sick.) But man saw only that they competed for the same food source, and they felt threatened. And as much as they feared the wolf, they also feared their own natures, which had once had so much in common with the wolf.

It was easier to focus on the wolf.

They began demonizing wolves and grew to fear him, their fear growing to unreasonable proportions. In their minds, they began to assign wolves dark powers and man’s fear quickly bordered on hysteria. Within that hysteria and fear, the werewolf was born. Soon the human wolf was lumped with witches and demons and sorcerers, an instrument of evil, and the modern concept of the werewolf emerged.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wolf Collage

This is the collage I made when I was working on WEREWOLF RISING. When the characters were in wolf shape, I was having a really hard time keeping them straight in my head. Which wolf looked like what? So I bought a big, coffee table book on wolves from the remaindered section of the book store and tore out the pages and found the wolves that looked like my characters.

I was stunned to realize just how much variety there was in wolf's faces, once you started looking. Also how some seemed so distinctly feminine and others were obviously guy wolves.

The big picture in the center of the top row with the wolf standing in front of the tree in the snow is Luc. Suki is next to him on the right.

Ranger is the black wolf in the top left corner, and Luna is the white wolf just below him. Just below Luna, the third picture down on the left, is Nuri. Doesn't he just look like the class clown of wolves?

Reading Recommendation: FLY BY NIGHT

It took me a while to get into this book, although it may very well have been my mood as much as anything. I can be a very fickle readers sometimes and unable to “settle” into a book. At first, too, I thought it was a bit overwritten, and although the language was beautiful and delightful, it seemed like a littlte too much at first. But then it either faded into the background, or I got use to it, I’m not sure. The author definitely has fun with language.

But more importantly, Mosca Mye is a fabulous heroine! She is complex and flawed and makes many wrong choices and decisions, but each time she makes them the reader can see why she’s made them and would probably have made the same mistakes. If you're looking for strong girl characters, you'll find one in this book.

In fact, all of Hardinge’s characters are complex and fully drawn, and one of the joys of the book is we can’t be sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, right up until the end because everyone is so fully dimensional.

The world the author has built is fresh and fun and based on England just at the turn of the 18th century, but altered somewhat to make it less historical and give the book more of a fantasy feel. And I loved Saracen, the heroine’s pet goose.

The plot was complex and twisting and very well done, with many seemingly disparate threads weaving together at the end for a very satisfying conclusion. The author deals with some very sophisticated themes (including politics and, very obtusely, religion) and doesn’t tie everything up too neatly, which I appreciate because I don't care for things that are too pat. One of the themes of the book is thinking for oneself and making up one’s own mind, and the author echoes this in the way that the book ends, while still pulling off a very satisfying ending. One of my favorite lines of all time comes from Mosca at the end, when someone’s trying to talk her into a more sensible life; “I don't want a happily ever after. I want more story,” she thinks. Readers will feel the same way, wanting more stories about Mosca and her adventures.

Between the language and the plot, it is definitely a sophisticated read, not for beginning readers, although they may really enjoy listening to it on tape. I think many adults would enjoy this is well. I know I did.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Writing on the Fly

When I first started writing, I had a part time job and young kids. It often seemed as if I never had more than twenty minutes at a time to write. So I adapted and I got a heckuva lot of writing done in ten to twenty minute spurts. Sitting in the car, waiting for soccer practice to be over, at the park while the kids were playing nicely (that never lasted longer than twenty minutes!) during a quick cartoon on TV, whenever a small chunk of time landed in my lap, I was ready.

Of course, this works best if you always have a notebook or laptop nearby, which I highly recommend.

Writing in spurts can be so effective that even though I write full time now, I still use the technique to either jump start my writing or when the writing just isn’t flowing. So if you only have ten to twenty minutes to write, consider:

1. Jotting down a quick conversation between two characters, but only the dialog, as if you were eavesdropping on a conversation. You can fill in the rest of the scene (Physical actions, character's reactions, etc.) later.

2. Block out a scene. Make a list of the physical actions that you know have to take place in a given scene. For example, Theodosia needs to come up out of Long Term Storage, look for her father, stop outside his office, overhear Clive Fagenbush’s scolding, have him see her when he storms out of the office. Just the bare bones actions of a scene, but then the next time you have a few minutes, you can just write one of those sections of the scene.

3. If you know the POV character’s overall character arc, brainstorm some baby steps she’ll need to take as she grows.

4. Do some quick character journaling to help you get to know some aspect of your character better. Write about a traumatic event that occurred during her childhood, at age seven or twelve, something that shaped her perception of herself.

5. Brainstorm a quick list of the next few scenes, plot points or events that need to occur in your story so you won’t have to grope around wondering what comes next when you have some time to write.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Back-to-School Night

I went to Back to School night at my son's high school. He's a senior so this is the last Back to School night for me, ever.

It is also his English teacher's last year before he retires. The English teacher, Mr. Baird, has been teaching there for forty years, and he's still one of the best-loved teachers there. After forty years and countless students, the man still shines in the classroom and has a way with kids that makes them want to suceed; to make him proud of their work. Truly, the man is gifted.

He was also my English teacher, too, lo those many years ago.

So when I went to my last Back to School night, which would also be his last, I took a copy of my latest book to give to him. I wanted to give him something, to let him know in some way how much his teaching had fueled a passion in me that never let go. To let him know that he had set my feet firmly on a path that had brought me incredible satisfaction and allowed me to reach my dreams.

But I had to wait until my fifth book to do it. It wasn't until then that I felt confident enough in my writing, proud enough of the story I'd gotten on the page, that I was comfortable letting Mr. Baird see it.

It was a complex moment, handing him that book. I felt awkward and embarrassed, but immensly proud, too. In some ways, it felt like I was turning in a paper that was thirty years late. And yet I also felt like I was handing him proof of how much his teaching had meant to me, proof of how profoundly he had affected my life.

Because the truth was, critics and reviewers be damned. It was what Mr. Baird thought that was truly important to me.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reader Mail

One of my very favorite things ever is hearing from my readers. I've already gotten a couple of requests from readers for a sequel to WEREWOLF RISING, which is very gratifying. I keep forwarding them to the publisher, and if they get enough of them, who knows?

I also received a wonderful email from one of my readers who loved WEREWOLF RISING but said it was frustrating when the only other person who knew about me was his librarian.

I told him that I share his frustration.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And The Winner Is...


Because really, in a contest with seven prizes and eight entries, I CAN'T leave one entrant out. Just can't.

So, Jill, Karen, and Val win a copy of Werewolf Rising for their schools, and Kim, Sheri, Charity, Becky, and Louise win a set of the trilogy.

When you get a chance, email me your snail mail addresses along with a reminder of the school name so I can sign the books "To the students of X school," at

Thanks so much for participating and helping me to get my books in the hands of readers who might enjoy them!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Extending the Deadline

Because (ahem) everyone seems to be so busy with back to school stuff that they don't have time to read any blogs, I'm going to extend the contest deadline until Tuesday, September 5!