My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with an important #writetip for #kidlit #storytelling

Soooooo my puppet plans for the day went so-so. Each kid had a snit at some point: Blondie in making the puppets, Bash in writing his play, and Biff in performing for his family. Still, the kids had TONS of fun at various points of the day creating their robots, rockets, and superheroes. We also took breaks to watch the ultimate puppet show, The Muppet Show. The episode with John Cleese is always a favorite!

I also had a lovely chat with long-time friend, Anne Clare. It always lifts the spirit to connect with an old friend and fellow creative who adventures with teaching and parenting at home as I do. Be sure to stop by her site and say hello!

This week we also found the library that contained the last book to Blondie’s current fav series: Last Dogs by Christopher Holt. She’s found a lot of escape in this series, and I didn’t want to cut off her escape time by missing one of the books.

Escape is very important in times like this, and I hope you each have found that beloved book to transport you out of the current chaos (feel free to share it in the comments below!). I’m excited the stories I’ve written have helped others escape; nothing helps me reset like escaping into my fantasy writing. Diana Wynne Jones also considered fantasy stories to be a delightful bit of escape and adventure for children, but she also reminds writers that fantasy is much more than that for children. Through fantasy, children discover how to be their best selves.

From Writing for Children: A Matter of Responsibility

…many writers, not only those who say imagination drives you mad, get the wrong idea. They assume that because a thing is “made up” it is unreal or untrue (disregarding the fact that any kind of story except the most factual biography is always “made up”). They see a child reading a fairy story, or constructing his or her own fantasy, and they at once conclude that the child is retreating into make-believe simply to get comfort in a melancholy situation.

Fantasy certainly does provide comfort–and who is not entitled to a little comfort if they can get it? For those who need that, it is the mind’s perfect safety valve. But a child reading, say, a fairy story is doing a great deal more. Most fairy stories are practically perfect examples of narratives that fit the pattern of the ind at work. They state a problem as a “what if” from the outset. “What if there were this wicked uncle? That evil stepmother who is a witch? This loathsome monster?” Stated in this way, the problem (parent? bully?) is posed for the widest possible number of people, but posed in a way that enables the reader to walk all around it and see the tights and wrongs of it. This uncle, witch or monster is a vile being behaving vilely. As these beings will invariably match with an actual person: parent, sibling, schoolfellow, what a child gains thereby is a sort of blueprint of society. Reading the story, he or she is constructing a mental map–in bold colors or stark black and white–of right and wrong and life as it should be. Turning to the cruel parent or schoolfellow, where right and wrong are apt to be very blurred, this child will now have the mental map for guidance.

An important part of this mental map is that the story should usually have a happy ending–or at least an ending where justice is seen to be done to villains and heroes alike. This is again part of life as it should be. The mind, as I have said, is programmed to tackle problems, joyfully, with a view to solving them…it is important that the blueprint instructs them to aim as high as possible.

If you bear in mind these responsibilities as you write, you need have no fear that any child will mistake the blueprint for the actual world. Children recognize the proper workings of the imagination when they are allowed to see it and may quite well remember your story, joyfully and gratefully, for the rest of their lives.

As you all continue on your adventures through the fantastic, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember the authors who inspired you with their monsters and warriors, and how those stories brought you here, to your Wyrd and Wonderful place, to create a new world of monsters and warriors to inspire a new generation of readers drawing up their own blueprints to becoming their best, their brightest, their most unique selves.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with #Clothing

Anybody else have to do laundry on Mother’s Day? I did my best setting the twins off to put away clothes while Blondie helped me fold. The job got done…eventually. Bo grilled despite the snow/rain outside, so our tummies were warm and full by the end of the day. 🙂

All that laundry yesterday got me thinking about which Tough Guide to Fantasy Land highlights I wanted to share today for Wyrd and Wonder.

There are many world-building curiosities DWJ clearly had fun poking at in her book, attire being one of them.

CLOTHING. Although this varies from place to place, there are two absolute rules:

  1. Apart from ROBES, no garment thicker than a SHIRT ever has sleeves.
  2. No one ever wears SOCKS.
    See also CLOAKS, COSTUME, and KNITTING.

COSTUME. It is a curious fact that, in Fantasyland, the usual Rules for CLOTHING are reversed. Here, the colder the climate, the fewer the garments worn. In the SNOWBOUND NORTH, the BARBARIAN HORDES wear little more than a fur loincloth and copper wristguards (see CHILBLAINS and HYPOTHERMIA). However, as one progresses south to reach the ANGLO-SAXON COSSACKS, one finds VESTS and BOOTS added to this costume. Further south still, the inhabitants of the VESTIGIAL EMPIRE wear short SKIRTS and singlets and add to this a voluminous wrapper on cold days. Thereafter, clothing steadily increases in thickness and quantity, until one finds the DESERT NOMADS in the tropics muffled to the eyebrows in layers of ROBES (see HEATSTROKE).

UNDERWEAR is optional and largely nonexistent. It is believed that some form of loincloth or drawers is sometimes permitted, but the Management is naturally coy on this subject. Bras are certainly unknown, but in the case of dancing girls may be replaced by sequined things with tassels.

SOCKS are never worn in Fantasyland. People thrust their feet, usually unwashed, straight into BOOTS.

BOOTS. In Fantasyland these are remarkable in that they seldom or never wear out and are suitable for riding or walking in without the need of SOCKS. Boots never pinch, rub, or get stones in them; nor do nails stick upwards into the feet from the soles. They are customarily mid-calf length or knee-high, slip on and off easily, and never smell of feet. Unfortunately, the formula for making this splendid footwear is a closely guarded secret, possibly derived from nonhumans (see DWARFS, ELVES, and GNOMES).

Ah, sharing Diana Wynne Jones always brings a smile to m’face. We’ll see how the antics with our schooling at home help me choose tomorrow’s selection. In the meantime, stay healthy and keep on walkin’!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#MothersDay and a #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder!

To all Moms and Those Who Mother: A Blessed Mother’s Day to You!

So you may think that as a mother, I would spend this post gushing about my kids.

Erm…nah.

I talk about those little hoodlums enough. Besides, Blondie turns 10 in a few weeks, and I’m bound to get her on around then to talk about fantasy adventures she loves.

So let’s shove the kids into a room with trucks, dragons, and “cutelys” (Biff’s latest stuffie animal crew, of which he’s the zookeeper and it’s all undeniably adorable) so that you and I can take a moment to realize it’s the month of Wyrd and Wonder. Huzzah!

Once I discovered this amazing celebration of all fantasy reads, I just had to jump in. Before this month, my kids’ only knowledge of Diana Wynne Jones was the Ghibli adaptation of her beloved Howl’s Moving Castle. When I finished reading the lovely little mystery Basil of Baker Street, I asked them what they’d like me to read next for lunchtime. They gave answers involving puppies, robots, and spaceship schematics.

Nnnnope! Time to visit the Queen of the Fantastic. Not with Charmed Life–I don’t need the boys accusing Blondie of draining their life force (or vice versa). And no, I didn’t take them to Howl’s castle. I’ll share an analysis of the chosen story later this month. 🙂

In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to celebrate Wyrd and Wonder with favorite snippets of Jones that highlight her craft and humor. I love love LOVE Reflections on the Magic of Writing and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, so I’ll be sharing highlights from these books every day over the next…hmmm…let’s say for twenty days or until I finish the chosen story with my kids, whichever comes first. Shall we start with a fitting entry for Mother’s Day? Indeed! Yes, one that instructs Tourists of Fantasyland to be wary of those mothers of fantastical nations, the Queens.

Queens ruling in their own right are rare, but they do occur. When they do they are:

  1. Totally useless because dominated by a male lover or COUNCILLORS, or both.
  2. GOOD, but incapacitated by MAGIC or scruples or both, in the most extreme cases, this Queen will sit on her throne perpetually in a state of blanched preservation. Tourists requiring favours of her will need only one look to know that here is something else they have to put right before they can get on with the real business of the Tour. When rescued such Queens can put things in order with commendable briskness.
  3. Good. This Queen will be a MAGIC USER and terribly conscientious. In her case the Tour will reveal something highly amiss with either her COUNTRY or the whole continent. The Queen will often have to join the Tour to put this right (see SAVING THE WORLD). You will have to spend the Tour worrying about the Queen’s safety.
  4. Old-fashioned bad. This kind of Queen is totally in control. She has everybody terrified of her, possibly through Magic. And, again possibly through Magic, she will be beautiful…Her Country will be the most abject and oppressed of any on the Tour. Since she is very cruel, this will not bother her at all.
  5. A bad mother. This Queen is really ruling for her young son (see CHILDREN), but she will be so anxious to go on ruling that she will be bringing the lad up to be wholly dependent on her. This Queen is a dangerous sentimental bitch, because she will claim that everything she does is for the sake of her Child. She will try to POISON anyone who gets in her way. Only a powerful AMULET will help you here. Naturally no Tourist will want to have anything to do with this Queen, but it will usually be necessary to release the young KING from her clutches before you can proceed on the Tour. The local God may well insist on it.

Oh, it is going to be sooooooo fun sharing these! I hope you find Jones’ words a source of fun and inspiration as you create your own story-worlds.

Speaking of story-worlds, I’ve thrown my own tales into the Wyrd and Wonder celebration!

My Historical Fantasy novella Night’s Tooth will be FREE May 15th-18th, and my YA Fantasy Novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be just 99 cents over May 22nd-25th

Night’s Tooth is about as about as gritty a story as you can get and Jean Lee is just the woman to deliver it. Her world building and sense of timing deliver a heightened sense of tension and you’ll find yourself holding your breath page after page. For those with a low suspense threshold, I recommend reading Night’s Tooth with all the lights on!

Thanks for the awesome review, P.J. Lazos!
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I typically read any kind of genre if the writing flows. But my favorite tends to be the YA fantasy and YA paranormal. Because of what I do for a living (oncology nurse), it is refreshing to read something that takes me far from this reality and into an alternate, believable time and place.

The heroine, Charlotte Aegir, is perfectly flawed. So, while the storyline and the world-building is so creative and imaginative, and steeped in faerie, Charlotte’s flaws and rough edges are also so true and…well, real, giving this dark fantasy novel a genuine emotional core—a beating heart—that we humans can relate to.

Amazon Review

Thanks so much for reading this slapdash post written while Bo and the boys race along with Bandit down the highway with Smokey on their tails. I hope you’ll come back for the upcoming journey through craft and Fantasyland–be sure to share your own celebration of all things fantastic in the comments below, too. Let’s spread the word that spring’s the time for Wyrd and Wonder!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Indie #Author #Interview: Chris Hall discusses #reading, #blogging, #writinginspiration, and other delightful bits of the #writinglife. Thanks, @ChrissyH_07!

Greetings, one and all! After a rough week schooling the kiddos at home (stay tuned for THAT post), it’s high time we celebrate Indie April with an interview with an AMAZING writer and reader, Chris Hall.

Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!

Nice to be here, Jean!

I was born, grew up, lived and worked in the UK until 10 years ago, when childless, in our forties and fed up with our jobs, my husband, Cliff and I upped sticks and emigrated to South Africa. We’d already met people here through a school exchange programme which Cliff was involved in, visited numerous times, and finally decided to come to a new country and do something different.

We’ve settled in a town about 30 miles from Cape Town, where we can almost see the ocean from our house. Our cat, Luna (after whom my blog is named) emigrated with us and loves it here. We inherited some chickens along with the house, all of which have since gone to chicken heaven at a ripe old age, but now we have two large brown hens which usually means lots of lovely eggs, although it’s a bit hot for laying at the moment they tell me.

Chris is on Goodreads, too!

Since I moved out here I’ve done various voluntary work, been employed as an administrator in a guesthouse and an art gallery, and now I’ve turned freelance doing copywriting, ghost-blogging and social media stuff for other creative people who lack the time/patience to do for themselves. In my spare time I write a lot and read a lot (when I’m not chasing hens off the veg-patch or catering to Luna’s little whims). It’s all a far cry from the 24 years working in risk management which I left behind in the UK.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Two of my favourite authors have written about the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King and Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin, have both had a positive impact on the way I write. Their words are wise.

But also, when you read any book with the eye of a writer, your experience is a whole lot richer. Considering the way that other authors construct their books and frame their words makes me think that little bit harder about my own writing.

What is your favorite childhood book?

This is difficult! I’ve wrestled a bit with this, but having roamed my bookshelves, it has to be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series – and if forced to choose one, it would be The Little House on the Prairie. For the whole of my first high school year (aged 11-12), I totally lost myself in Laura’s world. The daily chores, the struggles and adventures of pioneering life, within the context of this close-knit family, enthralled me. I always had one of her books in my school bag. I’d take it out at every opportunity before and between lessons and bury my head in the pages. The covers are little battered and the pages yellowed, but I still have them all.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My ‘stand out’ visits were to the homes of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. I fell in love with his poetry when I was studying advanced level Spanish, prior to a series of visits to Spanish-speaking countries back in the early noughties (that’s another story).

Neruda has three houses in Chile: in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Isla Negra. I visited all three over the course of two trips to Chile, and I found all three utterly stunning: true reflections of the man and his poetry. The ultimate is the house at Isla Negra, located right on the beach in a tiny, remote town. Getting there on a local bus was an adventure in itself, but the sprawling, single storey property and its surroundings are jam-packed with mad collections of ships mastheads and bottles, shells and ship’s bells and all manner of things. I especially liked Neruda’s writing room which looks out onto the ocean. He made his desk from a piece of driftwood which he waded in and rescued from the waves.

On your website, you call yourself an “accidental blogger.” How would you say blogging’s benefited your writing life? Do you recommend it as a method of building an indie author’s platform? What’s one thing you do differently now with blogging that you wish you’d done from the beginning?

Blogging has been a very happy accident. When I began with my website, I really had no idea that there was this big, friendly and supportive world of writers (and others) out there. What a revelation!

The support and the feedback from the people in our little corner of blog-land has been a tremendous encouragement, which I hope I reciprocate adequately. Keeping up the blog has helped me with the discipline of writing something almost every day, although I don’t post all that I write. Some things are remaining under wraps.

A blog gives you a presence as an author (indie or otherwise). It gives you a chance to get out there, show off you books and share a little about yourself. My Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are all connected to my blog, and more recently I’ve added Instagram too. So now I can be found and so can my books, should anyone care to look. Whether this had as much impact on the sales of my books, I’m not so sure, but it forms a foundation.

Blogging has been, and still is, a journey for me. What I put out on my blog now is all my own work or about my work: stories, installments, reviews, a bit about my successes (and failures) in trying to promote my books and occasionally, a bit about my writing life.

And I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d done differently at the start. As in many things, I’m still learning and growing. Change is good; development is better. I’m planning to set up a separate author website under my actual name; it’s something I’ll ‘get around to’.

You chose to publish your first book, The Silver Locket (2012), under a pen name. May I ask what your reasoning was for using a pen name then and not now?

I have to admit that it was out of a lack of confidence. I was a ‘secret’ writer then. I hardly told anyone about the book when I first published it on Amazon, much less publicized it. But little by little, as people I knew downloaded it – even bought paperback copies from me – then read it and told me that they enjoyed it, my mindset started to alter. I could actually bring myself to tell people that I was an author!

Then I had a couple of short pieces published in online magazines and I joined Medium and started publishing on there, all under my own name, so it seemed logical to continue. I now wish that I’d written under my own name from the start. Holly Atkins will remain a one book wonder.

Your next publication, A Sextet of Shorts (2018), takes reader through a variety of quick adventures both personal and fantastical. Can you take us through the process of how you choose to craft a story as short fiction and other stories as novels?

The six short stories I published in that slim volume were ones I’d written way before I started working on The Silver Locket. They were the stories which I’d written for the creative writing classes which I attended for a couple years before we left the UK. I’d had good feedback from the writing tutors and members of the associated writing groups, and I was pleased with them.

Two years ago, I decided to dust them off and publish them to use for a bit of local publicity. With my bio and blog details on the back cover, there are copies in waiting rooms, doctors’ surgeries and hair salons around my home town. A couple of them are quite well-thumbed now!

Since writing them, and although I continue to enjoy writing the many, many micro- and flash-fiction pieces I’ve put on my blog and flung out around social media, I’ve discovered how satisfying working on a novel is. There’s so much more time and space to get to know the characters, immerse myself in their lives and watch what they get up to. And that comes back to finding my Happy Place.

You’ve published TWO novels in 2019! The first, You’ll Never Walk Alone, takes readers back to the 1980s in a location quite different from your own! What inspired you to set the story in Liverpool, and in that particular decade?

My former life in Liverpool has been an enormously important part of my personal history. I moved there in 1981 to attend University, and You’ll Never Walk Alone is set in that city at that time. I was in my early twenties and those were truly my formative years, when away from where I grew up, I started to make my own way in the world. Very little of any of that is in the book, but Gina and Lucy would have been my contemporaries, and the house in which they live is based on one of the large, converted old buildings where I had a flat, even down to the Chinese landlord. The locations in which the novel is set would be very recognizable to anyone who knew the city then, but everything else is pure fantasy!

The novel was a long time in the making. Gina, Lucy and Cynthia were born out of a short story I’d written more than 10 years earlier. That’s a long time for a character to be hanging about in The Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde, 2003), but now they have a book of their own, and they’ve told the world they want another. One day, ladies!


Considering your experience writing fiction set in the past, how would you describe your research process in taking care the historical context is accurate? What would you consider to be the ethics of writing about historical figures?

Can I say how scary it is to think that the eighties are historical now?! But I do always check my facts so far as I can, mostly via our friend, Mr Google. Even though I lived through the times and events which form the backdrop to You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket, (circa 1983 and 1989 respectively), I covered the research ground as wanted to make sure there were no glaring errors.

When writing Following the Green Rabbit, I was even more conscious of the two time periods in which the narrative is set. I researched what people would have worn, what they would have eaten and drank, what herbs would have grown in England in the early 17th century and so on. I deliberately left the earlier date vague and avoided mentioning any identifiable historical figures for the very reason of avoiding any dilemma about portraying real people.


Your latest, Following the Green Rabbit, features some heroic children in an Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure. What would you consider to be the biggest challenge in writing a Middle-Grade adventure, and how did you see yourself through that challenge?

First if all, let me correct any misconception that despite the tropish title, the story has anything in common with the Lewis Carroll fantasy story. It may be sub-titled a ‘fantastical adventure’, but that’s to do with the girls’ inexplicable transition to ‘past-times’. There are no mythical creatures or size-changing potions; the children find themselves in a place and time where the dangers are very human and very real.

As for the challenge of writing for a MG audience, I hope I made the story page-turning enough, I hope there were sufficient cliff-hangers and there was adequate suspense and enough alarm. But I suppose I fell back on telling a story which I would have wanted to have read, with characters with whom the much-younger me would have identified.

Time and feedback will tell me to whether I pulled it off as a MG adventure, but I’ve described it as a ‘novel for adventurers everywhere, from 9 to 90 years’, partly based on the fact that my 90 year old mother said she ‘really enjoyed it and didn’t want it to end’. My mother is not one to hand out compliments lightly, so I consider that to be praise indeed!

Out of aaaaaall the fiction you’ve written through the decades, what would you consider to be the most difficult scene you ever had to write? What made it so hard, and how did you overcome it!

Ah, this is where sex rears its ugly head!!

Both of my adult novels required sex scenes. None is gratuitous; each is an integral part of the story. The ways in which each of the scenes play out tell the reader something more about the characters involved, and after all, people in their 20s who are attracted to each other will inevitably end up in bed.

There is no doubt that sex scenes are difficult. You don’t want to be too cheesy and you don’t want to be too anatomical, and I believe that cutting to ‘waves washing over a beach’ is a cop out. The scenes must feel real.

Basically, they all involved a large number of rewrites to hit the right tone. I haven’t written anything especially graphic, although I did end up toning down the one at the start of Chapter 10 in You’ll Never Walk Alone during my final, final edit.

Hooray to new projects! I know that, like me, you worked on something new during 2019’s NaNoWriMo—and you got way further in your project than me, too. Will we be seeing another Chris Hall tale hit bookshelves in 2020?

Well, yes, I was indeed busy with a new book during NaNo. I guess I’m almost half way through the first draft now. It has been semi-parked through December, but now we’re in the final days of the holidays, I’m ready to get stuck in again.

I decided to write a novel firmly rooted in South Africa this time. The story is set in the present day, in a fictional small town on our West Coast and the overarching theme is the lack of water which is a serious and on-going concern for us here. The narrative combines a slightly romanticized tale of everyday folk with a large dollop of magical realism and myth thrown into the mix. I have assembled an eclectic cast, some of whom people might recognise from some of my stories last year. All but one of them is contributing nicely to the story, but I can’t quite get under this one’s skin yet.

It’s a more ambitious project than any I’ve worked on before, but for the moment I’m just going with the flow. I’m not sure how I’m going to pull all the strands together, but that’s all part of the fun. I’m hoping to complete the first draft by mid-2020, so who knows, maybe it’ll be ready for release towards the end of this year. No promises though!

Last question, I promise! (Hee hee!) Does writing energize or exhaust you?

When I’m deep inside a story, crafting that story energizes and excites me; there’s a little shot of adrenaline too. That’s when it’s going well.

Ah, but when it isn’t! It’s frustrating, it’s unnerving, it’s heart-thumping for all the wrong reasons. I question what I’ve written. Is this a story? Is it going anywhere? I guess some of that might not happen if I planned properly. But that’s not how I write.

I go through a whole gamut of emotions. Not every day, not all the time, but enough.

Many, many thanks, Chris! I can’t wait to see how your writing blossoms in the months to come.

I do hope you’ll check Chris out! Be sure to also swing by and vote on my own short story for an anthology produced by Wisconsin’s own Something or Other Publishing. Every vote matters!

Inspired by street photography and fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” takes readers to the town of Pips Row, where magic grows as sweet as the fruit of the trees. In the wrong hands, however, magic becomes as rotten as the sorceress who wields it, and no one is more rotten than the fearsome Madame Midsomer. Today, the people of Pips Row have had enough.

The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer

Stay tuned! Gah, I gotta vent a little about teachers NOT used to distance learning having out-of-whack expectations of little kids. I’d also some lesson ideas for you to use with your children, and then some music to escape the home and discover writing inspiration.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writingtips from #reading #DonaldMaass to cope with #showdonttell, and a call to #vote for my #fantasy #shortstory!

Hullo hullo! I hope you’re healthy and safe, wherever you are. Today was…well, it was a Monday, make no mistake. But we did get through the morning, and I did get to work this afternoon on revising a short story to be submitted to local publisher Something Or Other Publishing (SOOP).

For those who recall my Free Fiction installments from oh so long ago, there was a tale called “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer.” I’ve been spending some time revamping this tale for a submission to one of SOOP’s anthologies, and the submission is now complete! All that’s left is for you, dear readers, to vote.

Please click here to vote for my story to be selected for publication!

I didn’t just want this post to be a “meet MY needs” kind of post, though. Tonight while slurping down some reheated beef soup I was paging through Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction and came across a page that all writers could appreciate.

(Well, all writers could appreciate this entire book, but that goes without saying.)

This excerpt comes from the chapter “Inner versus Outer” discussing that ever-nasty writer problem of showing vs. telling. Enjoy!

Writing out what characters feel ought to be a shortcut to getting readers to feel that stuff too, shouldn’t it? You’d think so. After all, it’s through characters that we experience a story. Their experience is ours. Actually, the truth is the opposite. Put on the page what a character feels and there’s a pretty good chance that, paradoxically, what the reader will feel is nothing.

Here’s an example: His guts twisted in fear. When you read that, do your own guts twist in fear? Probably not. Or this: Her eyes shot daggers at him. Do you feel simmering rage? Meh. Not so much.

Such feelings fail to excite us because, of course, we’ve read them too many times. Those daggers have dulled. What gets readers going are feelings that are fresh and unexpected. Yet those feelings also need to be real and true; otherwise, they will come across as contrived–they’ll ring false and fail to ignite the reader’s emotions. ….

Human beings are complex. We have emotions on the surface and emotions underneath. There are emotions that we minimize, hide, and deny. There are emotions that embarrass us, reveal too much, and make us vulnerable. Our emotions can be profoundly trivial or so elevated that they’re silly. What we feel is unescapably influenced by our history, morals, loyalties, and politics.….

We’re clear. We’re vague. We hate. We love. We feel passionately about our shoes yet shrug off disasters on TV. We are finely tuned sensors of right and wrong, and horrible examples for our kids. We are walking contradictions. We are encyclopedias of the heart. ….

With so much rich human material to work with, it’s disappointing to me that so many manuscripts offer a limited menu of emotions. I want to feast on life, but instead I’m standing before a fast-food menu, my choices limited to two patties or one, fries or medium or large. …They work only with primary emotions because that is what everyone feels, which is true, but this is also a limited view.

So how does one create emotional surprise?

Be obvious and tell readers what to feel, and they won’t feel it. Light an unexpected match, though, and readers will ignite their own feelings, which may well prove to be the ones that are primary and obvious. third-level emotions. That’s the effective way of storytelling.

Gosh, I love this book. I’m going to keep stealing time away to re-read Maass whenever the kids are busy with school stuff. Craft-talk like this does wonders to the creative fire, especially when it’s revision mode. Do you have any craft books you’d like to recommend? Please do in the comments below!

Stay tuned! I’ve a lovely indie author interview coming! No, I didn’t forget about the homeschool lesson plans or music. We’re getting there. 🙂

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#StayHome and Escape #SelfQuarantine with #FREE #YA, #Scifi, and #Fantasy #Fiction from @AioniosBooks…and a quick #BetaRead of my #microfiction would be awesome!

Hello, everyone! Yes, I’m still alive, and so are my kids.

The past few days have been quite the learning experience for the three Bs and myself regarding patience, kindness, listening…maybe some science in there too, but honestly, at this stage it’s all about learning to live with one another every waking hour of the day. Hopefully some of the school stuff is sinking in, but as I say whenever I sub in a classroom: So long as no one hurts themselves or each other, it’s a good day. 🙂

On top of learning to learn together, I still need to find time to teach my online university students. I’m going to try something Thursday and Friday to see if it’ll help bring a little balance to my teaching load…and hopefully free up time to write, too.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few freebies with you. Aionios Books, publisher of my first novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, has made a number of their ebooks free through the end of April!

Click here to visit Aionios Books!

Be sure to visit them for books of Young Adult, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. Because these downloads are through them and not Amazon, I do hope you’ll make a separate trip to my Amazon Author page and leave a book review when possible. Those reviews make a HUGE difference for indie authors such as m’self.

Click here to visit my Amazon Author Page!

I did manage to sneak in a quick couple of hours this past weekend to write. It wasn’t enough time for my short story, but it was enough time to answer the prompt for my university journal’s microfiction contest: create a story of 300 words or less featuring a famous woman from literature. This rough draft is a few words shy of 300, but I feel like there might need to be a little trimming done to make room for other details, depending on your feedback. I hope my choice in fictional character counts, too!

Title? Not sure yet. I’ll take any ideas you have!

Sally blew a perky blond curl out of her eyes. Every stitch had to be perfect.

“You sure you didn’t send it off with Marbles?” He called. “I know it’s all torn up, but it’s still mine.”

“Of course not, darling,” Sally cooed. The sewing machine needle pulsed up and down with the rhythm of their high school’s favorite slow song. She hummed as she shifted the pieces of delicate blue cotton beneath the point, her thread blending in perfectly.

“You don’t think someone walked off with it during the party, do you?”

 Sally bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Maybe.”

“Look, I know it’s dumb, but I am not going on vacation without it.”

“Oh, I know, darling, I know.” Dim sunlight fell through the glass blocks near the ceiling and washed out a picture Sally had taped to the wall of a Christmas pageant from their childhood. The moment he held her hand to go out on stage, she swore she’d never let him go.

“Lucy probably snitched it. Damn, I knew she was pissed about the new realty job.”

There. Sally’s chair made a nasty scraping sound against the concrete as she stood to hold up her work: a sport coat. He could wear it every day without any stupid dog or sister or anyone else stealing it away.

Sally lay the coat over her chair and glanced over at the computers. There he was, pacing with his phone while that slut Violet packed lingerie.

Sally had a bag, too, only it contained plastic sheets, duct tape, and a hammer. She took it with her up the stairs and out her cottage door. Pumpkin vines roped the entire yard, their yellow flowers filling the air with sincerity.

Nobody takes Sally’s Sweet Baboo.

It’s not much, but it’s fiction, and it’s storytelling, and with all the staying at home and teaching 7 to 57-year-olds, it’s nice to create a little mayhem. 🙂

~STAY TUNED!~

More homeschooling tips, writing, and music are on the way!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: more excellent #online and #handsonactivities for #reading, #geography, #science, and #art courtesy of @anneclarewriter

Good day, my friends! Thanks so much for sticking with me through this week of re-calibration and preparation for the coming spell of homeschooling. I do promise to get back into the writing soon; the plan is to go quiet on Jean Lee’s World for a few days so I can work on some flash and short fiction for my university’s journal (sharing here for feedback, of course), and then also write up a few lesson plan samples (ibid).

(Yup, I do actually write when life allows! You can see some short WIPS of mine on my Free Fiction page. I’ve also got a novel, novella, and some serialized fantasy, if you’re so inclined, and most of it’s free on Kindle Unlimited. Click here to check’em out!)

For those visiting my site for all the homeschooling stuff–welcome! Please don’t forget to take care of your own creative sparks to stay sane. I’ve been writing on this site for 5 years now, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create and communicate in order to maintain one’s mental health. Please also check out some of those wonderful folks who follow my blog or have been interviewed here. You’re going to meet beautiful songwriters, poets, authors, and photographers on both sides of the globe. xxxxx

So, let’s finish the week strong with more resources dear friend and fellow indie author Anne Clare called to my attention. As a teacher and mother of three kids under the age of ten, Anne knows all too well how tough it is to keep kids engaged while also getting her own work done. After I shared my post yesterday of online and hands on activities, Anne emailed me a whole bunch of stuff she’s found in her own hunt for things to do with her kids. Her hunt was super successful, as you’ll soon see!

Extra Science Stuff

  • Mystery Science: Oodles of lessons and materials! A portion of it’s for free; if you help spread the word about the site, you level up on your access level.
  • Real Wild: A Youtube channel featuring some killer wildlife videos, including the late great Steve Irwin.
  • Steve Spangler Science: tons of experiments perfect for the home setting, especially for sensory kiddos!

Extra Reading Stuff

Scholastic has created a Learn at Home site with an amazing mix of reading, video, and hands-on activity all organized by theme, time frame, and age group. HUZZAH!

Extra Geography Stuff

Anybody else remember the PBS ’90s gem known as Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? What had started as an ancient PC game with a pile of floppy disks transformed into books, more games, cartoons, and of course this game show focused on history and geography. I learned a lot from this show as a kid, and there are a bunch of episodes on YouTube.

More recently Google Earth has created a free online game to let your homebound gumshoes chase Carmen Sandiego all over the globe. Click here for more info!

More Art Stuff

  • Create Art with Me: This site is jam-packed with age-appropriate projects. Drawing, watercolor, painting, pastels, foils, charcoal–if you can create with it, it’s on here!
  • Crafts by Courtney: A really cool mix of projects for grown-ups and kids alike.
  • Fun-A-Day: Cool Crafts for the little Jedi–and Sith–in your household.
  • Pinterested Parent: More fun artsy ideas, such as this salt watercolor project, to keep kids occupied without busting your wallet.
  • Picklebums: When it comes to projects for multiple ages, simple is always best, such as this squish painting activity.
  • Easy Peasy and Fun: This one requires a membership if you want the printables, but browsing its crafts may give you ideas for adapting with your own materials.
  • Artful Parent: Creativity abounds on this site! I particularly love the focus on sensory kiddos.

What a treasure trove of ideas! I’m excited to show these to my three little Bs and see what strikes their fancy before we head off to the craft store after lunch. So long as we avoid the cart races down the aisles, we should be okay. Enjoy your own explore here, and remember–we’re in this together! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#AuthorInterview: #indie #poets David Ellis and Cendrine Marrouat discuss #reading #inspiration, #writing #poetry, and #submissions for the @abpoetryjournal

Happy March, everyone! Spring is coming slow and steady to the Midwest. Let’s celebrate a new month with two amazing indie authors who’ve founded a literary journal currently open to submissions.

Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourselves, please!

Cendrine: My name is Cendrine Marrouat. I was born and raised in Toulouse, France, and now live in Winnipeg, Canada.

I am a photographer, poet and the author of 15 books in different genres: poetry, photography, theatre, and social media. In my career, I have worked in quite a few other fields, including translation, teaching, social media coaching, and journalism. I was a content curator and creator, as well as an art critic for a while too.

David and I launched Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal and the Poetry Really Matters show in 2019. I am also the co-founder of a photography collective called FPoint Collective. Finally, I created the Sixku (a poetry form) and the Reminigram (a type of digital photography).

My website can be found at www.cendrinemedia.com.

David: Hello, my name is David Ellis. I am a British born and raised, I live in the South-East of England.

I am the author of several collections of poetry (my debut collection won an international award in the Readers Favorite Book Award Inspirational Poetry Category). I also have authored a short story collection, co-authored several books with Cendrine and co-founded Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal with Cendrine too.

I have interviewed hundreds of authors about their creative drives and what has inspired the writing in their lives.

My website can be found at www.toofulltowrite.com.

What was an early experience where you each learned that language had power?

Cendrine: My mother was a teacher. She was adamant that I learn to read, write and count before the end of kindergarten. My father is an avid reader, like she was. As I discovered the world around me, I realized that words mattered, that the way a person spoke or wrote had an impact on people’s perception of them. Then I studied English and (some) Spanish in school and at university. My understanding of the power of language increased tremendously as a result. 

David: I think for me, my epiphany with the power residing in language started with and will always be indebted to the late author Terry Pratchett. I remember when I first started reading his books that I needed a dictionary to keep up with some of his turns of phrase. What I believe was happening was that he was planting seeds that were evolving into the more humourous aspects of my writing. My English grades actually went up higher than any other subject at the time, due to Pratchett forging a love of language inside of me, as I devoured his fantasy Discworld series.

Furthermore, it has been through the act of writing poetry for many years that I have discovered my passion for crafting inspirational and motivational verse. The reactions from people regarding how I have encouraged them over the years with my words have given me even more respect for the magical power that language can have, along with how words can heal people and bring them closer together.

Who are your favorite under-appreciated writers/photographers? Let’s spread the word on them, here and now!

Cendrine: My favorite poets: Kahlil Gibran and Alphonse de Lamartine. The Prophet is loved worldwide. But very few people actually know that Gibran wrote many other stories. His drawings are also beautiful.

Lamartine was a French writer, poet and politician whose most famous piece, The Lake, also contains his most famous words:

“Oh, Time, stop your flight!  Hours, don’t run away!

Allow us to savor this delight, the best of life’s brief day!”

My friend Isabel Nolasco, the other co-founder of FPoint Collective, is a very talented photographer. She hails from Portugal and the world is starting to discover her images.

David: If we are talking poets, I would definitely have to go with Edgar Allan Poe, since I wrote an entire book of poetry inspired by all of his poetry! I would say that Poe is remembered more for his short stories but probably less well known for some of the unique gems in his poetry collection. Leonard Cohen is another hero of mine, who I think gets more focus on his music than his poetry, which I find to be really sensual and compelling.

I have a few favourite indie writers who could always do with more reader love any day of the week. Christie Stratos (www.christiestratos.com), who has her own podcast interview show and writes really unique fiction books (check out her Dark Victoriana collection). JD Estrada is another amazing author who has a ton of brilliant books covering fiction and lots of incredible poetry, you can find him at https://jdestradawriter.blogspot.com/. Finally, I would also like to put out a quick shout out to Anais Chartschenko, who is a fabulous musician, poet, author and fellow lover of tea! She can be found at https://anaischartschenko.weebly.com/. All of them are extremely friendly, multi-talented and very inspirational to me in many different ways. They are definitely very groovy people, so go check out their wares soon!

Cendrine, you also regularly update your growing collection of photography. How does visual expression differ from written expression? What does a composition need to contain before you feel ready to hold your camera up for the shot?

Cendrine: Photography and poetry are the same to me. Whether I pen a piece or take a photo, it is all about telling a story but in the “show don’t tell” fashion.

Composition is in the mind before it ends in an image or a poem.

David, you find inspiration in the classic writers of the past, including Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. What is it about such writers that brings the poetry out of you?

David: I’m fascinated with the poetic language that they employ in their writing works. I remember at school being overwhelmed by having to work out what every sentence of Shakespeare’s plays meant, line by line, I actually ended up feeling it was quite a tedious process. It wasn’t until years later that I developed a real fondness for the bard (I’m glad my school years didn’t completely put me off!) when I discovered how he was playing with the language he was using and inventing many idioms that we commonly use to this very day.

I’ve felt that Edgar Allan Poe combines the art of storytelling with his poems magnificently. ‘The Raven’ stirs up such vivid imagery and emotions in me, when I read it and listen to it being read aloud.

There is so much inspiration in the past, providing that you have unique ways of navigating it, appreciating its splendor and inherent beauty. I draw a lot of energy and writing experience from these authors because of what they are describing and the filters they interpret the world through in their own eyes. I find it a privilege to be reading the classics of the past, absorbing them and reinterpreting them for an appreciative future audience.

For me, I’ve actually reached a point where I’ve realised that I can literally find infinite inspirational material from the past and that is an incredible feeling to have in your life. Now, I just have to find the time to keep writing and publishing all of the ideas that I have!

Together you two have created a poetry journal, Auroras and Blossoms. Are you currently accepting submissions? What does it take for a piece of writing to be featured in your journal?

Cendrine: We accept submissions all year long. Our magazine promotes inspirational and uplifting poetry and poetry-related content, no matter the topic. We accept everyone (adults and teenagers alike), as long as they have something positive to say.

Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal is family-friendly, which means that the poetry has to be clean. No swearwords and no erotica / political pieces. The poems we select come from people who understand two things: the meaning of the word “positive” and the essence of poetry as an art form. They have a great message to share, a message that can help readers see the world in a different way.

David: Cendrine and I joined forces together on Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal because we both have a vision to share more inspirational poetry with the world, written by very talented people from all around the world. This specific type of poetry is the main reason why we both started writing and publishing books.

We encourage people to submit to us from all walks of life, we do not judge people on whether they have been published in previous journals. We prefer to instead look at the quality of the poetry a person writes and whether it could deliver an inspirational theme and message to our readers.

We don’t really have a specific type of poetry style that we are looking for, we will accept short and long pieces. As long as you take us on an inspirational journey with your writing and give us reasons to believe that your poem was written to be positive, uplifting, and/or motivating then you have an excellent chance of being published with us.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better poet/photographer as an adult, what would you do?

Cendrine: I would not do anything differently. I had a difficult childhood followed by challenging teenage years. I learnt a lot from my experiences and that is what makes me the artist I am today.

David: As a child, I think I ignored my literary instincts for quite some time, until it became apparent that I was excelling at English Language and English Literature more than any other subjects I was studying. I also developed a passion for song lyrics, in addition to poetry but I refrained from attempting to make music for many years. So, my advice to my younger self would be to start writing and refining your craft as soon as possible because it will take you many years to discover what you are truly good at and what motivates you to write every single day. That’s when the really exciting part of your life begins!

What is the most difficult part of your artistic processes?

Cendrine: Nothing, really. I am just a slow writer. But I have improved over the years.

David: I think for me it is having too many ideas to deal with at once and engaging in the necessary discipline to sit down and list out all of these ideas. This can extend to listing down ideas that I have about the project itself. When I find my focus, I can keep going for hours, often at the expense of not noticing where the time has gone. So yes, focus is the most difficult part for me in the artistic process, once you nail it down and commit to a project, that’s when you can ignore all other distractions and get on with completing a project to the best of your ability.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Cendrine: It energizes me greatly!

David: I used to find writing exhausted me when I worked on many different aspects of it at the same time. Take National Poetry Writing Month for example. When I participate, I tend to write and edit poems every day for a month, make a professional looking blog post and share many other poems that I find too and then attempt to read them all as well. When you are looking at tens, possibly even a hundred posts at a time, in addition to trying to write your own polished post, it is easy to get burnt out.

I’ve therefore learnt to be more considerate of my own time and not to try to cram too many things into one day. Writing has become a lot more fun for me as a result and I can do much more of it, when I appreciate and reflect on how much I have achieved in a single day.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Cendrine: Strongly? I’m not sure. But you cannot be a writer if you are afraid of sharing your voice and emotions (even indirectly) with the world. Because every word you leave on a page bears your mark one way or the other.

David: I think it is imperative for writers to be empathetic and to feel emotions strongly because they can then act in ways that people would do in real life. They can get under the skin of a character or subject matter and write in a way that emotionally connects with the reader.

All I know is that I write deeply, emotionally stimulating poetry and it creates a magnetism that helps me connect with like-minded people. When this is lacking in writing, whether it be the passion, focus or drive from the writer, if this emotional distance is conveyed to me as a reader, I am not going to be compelled to read more of their work, plain and simple.

What are common traps for aspiring writers and photographers, and how do they avoid them? (My young daughter is quite keen on both photography and writing, so I’d love to share your advice with her!)

Cendrine: Most of the aspiring artists I have met lack self-confidence and compare themselves to others way too much. How do you avoid those traps? Do NOT listen to naysayers.

Just know that you cannot please everybody. Do not take negative criticism personally. But pay attention to constructive feedback. Compare yourself to others only to understand your own style.   

David: Read the kind of books that you would like to write. Think of the kind of things that you would like to see written but can’t find and then go write them yourself.

Take advice from “How To Guides” as a means to enhance your own creativity but just take what things work for you and discard the rest. Don’t buy many guides and spend all your time reading them as an excuse to neglect your writing.

By all means be prepared but only do enough research to get yourself started. Starting is always the most difficult part in any endeavour. Find a theme, think a bit about it, do your research and get writing as soon as you possibly can. The rest will follow soon enough. If you need guidance, write a short outline of what you want to achieve and then work through all of those points but don’t spend all your time planning and get writing!

Try to write every day, even if it is only a few lines. I have been told constantly in any artistic profession that anyone, no matter how busy they are, can spend at least ten minutes a day indulging in their own creative expression. You will make more time as your passion grows. Diligently find the time to fuel your creative passions, watch an hour less TV a day, shut yourself away for small periods of time, turn off the computer or put aside your mobile phone if you have to and make time in your life to create, your soul will thank you for it.

Be sure to share your work with friends and other writers. Be willing to take constructive (not negative) feedback for your work. Write until you have so much good material that you simply have to publish, then work to get it published!

Just one of the amazing photos from FPoint Collective!

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

It’s high time for some powerful music, especially since it was such a joy to use music to welcome spring last year. I am finally, FINALLY working on a bit of short fiction, and would like to share it with you! We also need to consider the dangers of altering characters mid-story, and how those changes cause disconnect among fans…not to mention plot points.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Celebrating #5years #blogging, #writing, and #parenting! Taking a moment to #givethanks and be a #proudmom.

Pardon all the -ing words, but one look at the calendar and I realized: I’ve been at this for five years.

Five may not sound like a really big number to you, but here…well. In that time my family’s faced

When I think of how far this family’s come, five years translates into a saga of potties, doodles, and early-morning snuggles, of anxieties, holes, and well-loved stuffies.

And you, all the while, reading along, experiencing this writing mom’s life with me.You’ve shared my love of craft and music. You’ve met with me to speak of your own stories written and read. You’ve encouraged me through my own publishing adventures and continue to give me input on whatever fiction I’m able to create.

For this, “thank you” will never be enough. You are my community. You are my tribe. You are the stars in my night when depression’s clouds roll in.

You are wondrous, each and every one of you.

I am proud of my own stories developed these five years, to be sure…

…but what truly thrills me more than anything is the creativity I’ve seen blossom in my kids over the years.

Bash’s love for the robot Wall-E is as vast as the universe. He’s made stories with Wall-E meeting the Transformers, Santa Claus, My Little Ponies, Thomas the Tank Engine, and even the old Hanna-Barbara superhero Blue Falcon. This is a boy eternally creating, finding characters and conflicts where no one else does. My son, who fears failure so much, is one of the most fearless storytellers I’ve ever met.

To see Biff willing to write his own stories at all lifts my heart. This is a boy who finds what he loves and sticks with it, such as stories from the Island of Sodor, only here with the buses he rides to school: “Once upon a time in the busing company of L__, the buses were working hard…” His teacher tells me they’ll be working on “Expert Stories” soon–stories where the kids can write about things they know well. Biff is so thrilled to write about Star Trek he literally hops up and down when talking about it. We’ll see if the Sodor Style comes to Starfleet this spring!

And now, last but never least, comes Blondie, who’s written her own moment for this post. Allow me to bow and give the stage to my daughter, my heart’s smile, my Blondie.

Hello everyone!

She did, too!

I have been reading the Adventurer’s Guild book series. It is filled with unsuspecting (and sometimes a little terrifying) surprises. I am right now working on a 300-piece puzzle of the constellations. I hope I finish it today.

You know Thunder Kidz, my company? Well, it is 1 year old this year. (pull out the disco ball, get the giant speakers, turn it up, and let’s party!!!!!)

I would like to recommend some books and authors. You should read Endling: The Last and Endling: The First by Katherine Applegate because it is full of fun and exciting (and sad) parts in it. my favorite character is Byx the darine because she’s a girl and darines have things that I like, like soft, silky fur and looks like a dog, and I absolutely love dogs. It is my most favorite book series. Katherine Applegate did lots of other good books such as Wishtree, which when a tree named Red is the wishtree, and I really like the baby animals in it, and I haven’t read Crenshaw yet, but I will, and more.

Also, there’s Allan Zullo, who has done Bad Pets, Bad Pets on the Loose, and more. The Bad Pets series is about wacky and zany pets do crazy stuff, like a dog drove a garbage truck into a lake! More recommendations will be made when I write here again. I will be writing more on Alley Heroes in the future. It right now has 12 chapters ,I think, and is supposed to have 14 chapters, but I’ll probably go over 14. I would like to add that I love writing on this website to you and writing stories and drawing comics. Happy writing, y’all!

Best writing wishes to you,

Blondie (aka: Firewing) 🙂

Best writing wishes indeed! From my family to yours, may Heaven smile on your creative souls and inspire you to continue spreading the friendship and hope you have so graciously given us. What adventures await in the next five years? With companions like you and my family, I can’t wait to find out. x

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

I think it’s high time for an interview, don’t you think? Plus I’ve more music to share, and maybe, JUST maybe, a little new fiction. Fingers crossed and turn thrice widdershins for me!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writerproblems: #writing awesome #characterdesign in three sentences or less.

Yes, I know that hashtag #characterdesign is more of an art-related thing, but it fits with this little lesson learned, believe you me.

This week started with its usual chaos: calls at 5am for a substitute teacher in 5th grade–no wait, Kindergarten. No wait, art, just art for aaaaaall the grades, can you do that? Bash wakes up with a swollen eye from Lord knows what (don’t worry, it left just as mysteriously as it came), university students re-submit work I had already flagged as inappropriate for the assignment requirements. On top of all this, another university contacts me to schedule an interview for a full-time gig. (insert excitement and anxiety here.)

Meanwhile, I did my best to stay in the writing community loop, reading about the racial controversy over American Dirt and learning from fellow indie author Michael Dellert that The Arcanist is calling for western speculative flash fiction:

Is there another short story inside me for the bounty hunter Sumac? I asked myself as the twelve-year-olds tried to stab each other with colored pencils. 1000 words didn’t feel like a lot of wiggle room. Night’s Tooth was meant to be a short story, after all, but writing a fantasy western inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name trilogy meant a LOT of slow-but-tense moments. Thus, the novella instead of the short story. (Click here if you’d like to read one of those moments.)

As magical showdowns percolated in my mind, I continued planning my excursion into the “dark, impulsive, whiny villainy” of Disney’s Star Wars. I had my collection of Robert McKee Story quotes at the ready for studying the bizarre mix of Hux and Kylo interactions in The Force Awakens and shift from there into the smothering subversions of The Last Jedi.

That is, until my perusal through Agatha Christie’s short fiction sparked a little something that I just had to share.

So we all know that when it comes to short fiction, you gotta pack a lot into a tiny space. Plot, character, setting–aaaaall that jazz has gotta be played at a heightened, almost truncated speed. There’s no time for meandering interludes or long drum solos.

(RIP Neil Pert. I know he wasn’t a jazz player, but Bo’s a HUGE Rush fan, so he’s been showing concerts to the kids and now I’m stuck in a land of music metaphor that doesn’t jive and we’re just going to move on because I clearly have no sense of what decade I’m in.)

Agatha Christie wrote over a hundred short stories. If ANYone knew the importance of keeping the story elements thrumming along, it was her. This is especially clear when she describes her characters. Like any good musician, Christie’s style moves sweet’n’slick with just the right amount of flourish.

Miss Lemon was forty-eight and of unprepossessing appearance. Her general effect was that of a lot of bones flung together at random. She had a passion for order almost equalling that of Poirot himself; and though capable of thinking, she never thought unless told to do so.

“How Does Your Garden Grow?”

In just three sentences, we’ve got a sense of this character’s physical appearance, interests, and mindset. Christie doesn’t dwell on the minutiae, like what Miss Lemon wears or how she does her hair. That all falls under “unpreposessing appearance.” But some readers whine when they can’t “see” a character without more precise detail. What if we picture different things? What if we don’t see the character the same way the writer did? THAT CHANGES THE READING EXPERIENCE, DOESN’T IT?!

Honestly, folks, does Miss Lemon’s outfit affect the story? No. Does it matter if each of us picture “a lot of bones flung together” (damn, I really like that bit) in different ways? No.

More importantly, a short story doesn’t have space to waste on that kind of detail. When a writer’s looking into contests like The Arcanist‘s, he/she can’t afford to spend a hundred words on description when forty will do the trick. Heck, even twenty’s enough for Christie in some cases. Take these character descriptions of two parents.

Mrs. Waverly’s emotion was obviously genuine, but it assorted strangely with her shrewd, rather hard type of countenance.

Mr. Waverly was a big, florid, jovial-looking man. He stood with his legs straddled wide apart and looked the type of the country squire.

“The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly”

Again, the colorful details are skipped in favor for body language and behavior. We get senses of these people–the hard, heart-broken mother, the upper-class, happy sort of father. We may not know what these two look like, but we know their body language, and in this we get impressions of their attitudes and behaviors, which are far more important than hair color.

Six months ago she had married a fifth time–a commander in the Navy. He it was who came striding down the beach behind her. Silent, dark–with a pugnacious jaw and a sullen manner. A touch of the primeval ape about him.

“Triangle at Rhodes”

Those third and fourth sentences say it ALL. “Silent, dark”–readers can already get a sense of a nasty face, but since this man’s “a commander in the Navy” then we know he’s going to carry himself like a man of authority and power. Words like “pugnacious” and “sullen” tell readers how he’s going to interact with the other characters: always negatively, aggressively, and without any sort of kindness. The fact he’s “primeval” practically forces readers to picture this character as a sort of sub-human, incapable of empathy or feeling.

And aaaaaall that characterization is given in just eighteen words.

When Poirot’s friend Captain Hastings narrates the story, Christie is also able to take advantage of her ever-lovable unreliable narrator, which allows her to misdirect readers when she so chooses.

The sixth Viscount Cronshaw was a man of about fifty, suave in manner, with a handsome, dissolute face. Evidently an elerly roué, with the languid manner of a poseur. I took an instant dislike to him.

Mrs. Davidson came to us almost immediately, a small, fair creature whose fragility would have seemed pathetic and appealing had it not been for the rather shrewd and calculating gleam in her light blue eyes.

“The Affair at the Victory Ball”

Oh, Hastings, you do love a pretty face. Poirot’s partner loves to let readers know when he’s a fan of a woman or not, consistently keen to describe her appearance and whether or not she’s attractive.Once in a while, though, he’ll catch something genuine, such as Mrs. Davidson’s shrewdness. Likewise, if Hastings doesn’t like a man, he’s obvious about that, too, and these opinions from Hastings always alter how he interacts with the characters as well as how he interprets their words and body language. This in turn affects the information readers receive, and so by the end of “The Affair at the Victory Ball” we’re just as surprised as Hastings to discover how wrong we are about these people.

Once in a while, though, Christie does allow a little drum solo when a minor character takes the stage. It seems to happen when it’s a character type Poirot, Hastings, or the omniscient narrator ignores in favor of more interesting goings-on: a mere citizen, a member of the populace where the mystery occurs. Sometimes it’s this common-ness that plays its part in getting Poirot to the mystery, such as in “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”:

Everything about Mr. Jesmond was discreet. His well-cut but inconspicuous clothes, his pleasant, well-bred voice which rarely soared out of an agreeable monotone, his light-brown hair just thinning a little at the temples, his pale serious face. It seemed to Hercule Poirot that he had known not one Mr. Jesmond but a dozen Mr. Jesmonds in his time, all using sooner or later the same phrase–“a position of the utmost delicacy.”

“The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”

And this bit from “A Cornish Mystery” is a lovely reminder to readers and writers alike that every setting’s character, no matter how bland and un-unusual, is still a person with problems, fear, and feeling.

Many unlikely people came to consult Poirot, but to my mind, the woman who stood nervously just inside the door, fingering her feather neck-piece, was the most unlikely of all. She was so extraordinarily commonplace–a thin, faded woman of about fifty, dressed in a braided coat and skirt, some gold jewellery at her neck, and with her grey hair surmounted by a singularly unbecoming hat. In a country town you pass a hundred Mrs. Pengelleys in the street every day.

“The Cornish Mystery”

It seems Hastings spends an awful long time introducing us to a character that’s just one of a hundred one would pass in the street–81 words, in fact. Why so much time on a single, ordinary character in a short story? Hasting’s description creates an expectation of ordinary-ness, regularity, typicality. But of course, Christie being Christie, this time spent on an ordinary character comes with reason: this ordinary character, this one of one hundred, is murdered. Why would someone murder this one Mrs. Pengelley out of a hundred one would pass on a country town street?

Ah. That is why the reader reads on.

So when you work on your own character designs, writers, always ask yourself what matters more: the character’s appearance, or behavior? The character’s look, or feelings? A character’s choices are often the influence of action and pacing, but there’s no denying that sometimes, a character’s appearance alone may twist the narrative into surprising directions. What matters is that you share character traits important to the story. Picturing a character’s apparel means little when readers cannot see a character’s attitude.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

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