#writerproblems: Balancing #WritingGoals in #storytelling and #Blogging During These #Uncertaintimes

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Mama Robin calls
as morning’s dew captures light


Never mind writing haiku without coffee is hard.

Anyway.

‘Tis July first! The year is officially halfway over, and with all that’s happened in the world, I know many would prefer to wash their hands of 2020 and be done with it.

But then there are folks like me, who see a half-year of potential rather than a full year wasted. Lamenting opportunities lost only breeds bitterness and anger. Now is the time to grow onward and upward with whatever we have.

Even if all we have is a page of fantastical hopes.

Fellow Young Adult author K.M. Allen posted a couple articles recently about her own struggles with time management during the lockdown life and balancing the writing we do for our platforms vs. the writing we do for, you know, storytelling and whatnot. (Allen used a much better term–“The Art of Authoring.”) Her posts got me thinking about my writing mindset, and how I’ve tended to lump aaaaaaaaall the writing together into this single act. Writing a blogpost? Still writing. Writing notes on history? Still writing. Writing an actual honest-and-true story? Still writing.

Were my extra teaching jobs and graduate school work still a part of my life, this kind of writing would be enough. Heck, I’d be ecstatic if I found time to blog while writing term papers. But these extra factors are not a part of my life right now. Sure, University work still is–I even presented on nonfiction writing at the Lit Fest earlier this month. While researching I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest article called “The 9-Minute Novelist,” and that got me thinking…

Why not me, too?

I know I’ve bemoaned my struggle with time before–when my kids were toddlers, when they attended school but only part-time, when everyone’s home on summer break, etc etc etc. When lockdown life began, I thought for sure I could do do a little, just a little, writing. But too often I allowed blogging, researching, plotting, and those other -ings replace the actual DRAFT-ing that needed to happen.

Some are quite adept at blending one task to create another–history notes get typed up into the blog to help show a writing update, for instance. I know I used my 2019 attempt at NaNoWriMo as a chance to both draft and post all at once. It worked for a little while, just as the notes-turned-blogposts can work for a little while, too.

With the coming school year’s attendance procedures impossible to predict, parents like myself have to be prepared for more of “School at Home” while also working in or out of the home. (And of course, just as I type this, Bash has come into the room. “What is it, dude? I’m trying to work,” I say. “But I wanna be by you,” he says with the smallest possible voice, and moves all my materials to snuggle up by me. Oh, little kiddo.)

Some days the kids are great at occupying themselves, and other days not. Parent-Writers, we know setting aside “hours” to write, even once a week, just isn’t realistic. Heck, I’m amazed when the kids leave me be for twenty minutes in a row.

And that’s the key here: working with the minimum amount of time, not the maximum. Let’s consider what non-kid stuff requires our attention in the day, and where we can find those nine–or ten–minutes to write.

(Yes, I’m back to the old bulletin board. I need my visual schedule!)

One Hour

Risky thing, setting aside an hour. Either a movie better be on that ALL the kids will watch, or someone else needs to be in the house with the kids. My online classes are an hour long in the evenings when Bo is home. If I do a movie during the day, that is my one chance at an hour block. This time’s usually needed for grading, a task that I can safely break from and start back on when kids intervene. Writing-wise? That hour better be had outside of the house.

(Aaaand now Biff is in the room, poking Bash with his toes. “Why don’t you two read something?” *Two pairs of eyes continue staring off into space as toes continue poking legs*)

Thirty Minutes

Done right, half an hour can be a very productive time. One can write proposals for a conference, respond to a few students, or catch up on the late grading. As a writer, thirty minutes is perfect for looking through research, scoping out potential publishers, or drafting.

(Aaaaand now Blondie pokes her head in with a page she just has to read from Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls. “Yes, kiddo, thank you. Now go and occupy YOURSELVES. I am not here to entertain you!” Three bodies sluff off, complete with drooping shoulders and groans of “I’m too tired to build Lego.”)

Twenty Minutes

This is probably where one can feel the sprint effect–that is, there’s not a minute to waste. Good! Too often I fall down the social media hole with Twitter or YouTube. We must make every minute of that twenty count, be it drafting, editing, grading, or…gasp…exercising.

Again, being realistic with myself. I know I won’t set aside an hour for it, not even half. Twenty…yeah, I could swing that, if the mood strikes. Plus I can drag the little “what are you doing nooooow?” buckos right along with me. Win-win.

Ten Minutes

Okay, THIS has to be the golden number for one who’s got kids and job AND writing in life. Even my attention-lovers can be occupied by books, drawing, or Snoopy Monopoly for ten minutes.

So many lovely moments can be made in just ten minutes: reading a story aloud to kids. Drafting dialogue. Answering student questions. Editing a scene. Playing catch outside. Prepping for class. Networking on social media. Writing a Goodreads review.

Maybe it hurts a little inside to think I’m only spending ten minutes with my kids/story? I can’t do that! They deserve better! We need to remember this important point.

The day is no mere ten minutes.

I’m usually up from roughly 4:30am to 9:30pm. Want to guess how many minutes there are in seventeen hours? 1,020 minutes. Or, 102 slots of Ten Minutes.

102.

You are not giving your kids 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. You are not giving your writing 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. Don’t beat yourself up over organizing your time. If you don’t organize your time, then you will always feel like something is being set aside for the sake of the other, and that fear will lead to nothing but bitterness, anger, and the Dark Side.

Nothing has to be sacrificed here. Honest and for true. You just need to jigger those expectations over what you want to do and when. Take me, eager to publish the sequel to Fallen Princeborn: Stolen before 2020 ends. If I set aside 10 minutes to edit every day, I can make that goal. I want to expand and re-publish Middler’s Pride, too. 10 minutes a day can get me there. I’d LOVE to get “Hungry Mother” in an online magazine, finish the novella What Happened After Grandmother Failed to Die, work on the OTHER Princeborn novella I’ve sketched out–

And I can do all those things. I will do all those things. And you can, too.

Ten minutes at a time.

STAY TUNED NEXT FORTNIGHT!

Yup, two weeks. Part of this “jiggering” of expectations means blogging can’t overwhelm the story-writing. I’m going to follow K.M. Allen’s idea of blogging every other week, scheduling my own posts for the first and fifteenth of every month. Thank you all so much for your patience, kindness, and encouragement, and I hope you’ll be back when I share the interviews, analyses, music, and doodles waiting in the wings!

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

#LessonsLearned from #DianaWynneJones: Small #Family #Conflict Can Grow Into An #Epic #Fantasy

For a long time, I loathed writing the “intimate family story.” They were all the rage in school, these small-cast, down-to-earth stories of relationship conflict without any hope of a happy ending. Where’s the fun in writing such a story? You can’t have any massive showdowns or laser battles. It’s not like you can blow up an aircraft carrier when everything’s set on in the middle of Fort Bored, Wisconsin.

Now I know such stories have their place and their readers. Nothing wrong with that. But as a reader and writer, I struggled to see the true weight of small conflict…until now.

“What’s Aunt Dot look like, Mom?”

“Why does David go away to school?”

“Why is David’s family so mean?”

Blondie, Biff, and Bash sat around our meal/school table, their peanut butter sandwiches untouched, string cheese still wrapped. Apple sauce dripped from their spoons onto their Oreos.

“Is David that guy?” Bash points to the boy on the cover.

I shook my head. “Nope. That’s Luke.”

I had thought long and hard regarding which Diana Wynne Jones book to read to the kids. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first choice, but it seemed…oh, it seemed too easy a choice. They had seen the movie which, while very much its own creature, would still give the kids lots of visuals to think on as we read. I wanted to start from scratch and require the kids to visualize the story for themselves. This isn’t a typical challenge put to seven-year-olds, who are still very into picture books and the like, but Blondie was quite used to lunchtime read-alouds without any illustrations, so . We’d had success…and see if Myth-Reader Blondie would catch on as to who’s who in this story of freed mischief and horrid family members. Good thing I didn’t have this particular cover, which gives away the whole bloody mystery…

I mean, come ON. To post the climax of the story on the flippin’ cover…

Anyway.

Eight Days of Luke is a perfect example of just how epic an intimate family conflict can be. Jones accomplishes this in two parts: first David’s family, and then Luke’s.

Unlike most boys, David dreaded the holidays. His parents were dead and he lived with his Great Aunt Dot, Great Uncle Bernard, their son Cousin Ronald and Cousin Ronald’s wife Astrid; and all these four people insisted that he should be grateful for the way they looked after him. (9)

One paragraph in, and readers know the family dynamic is not at all pleasant, let alone fair. Being an orphan is lousy in and of itself, but to live with relatives who expect nothing but gushing gratitude for nothing is its own level of Hel.

“David,” said Aunt Dot, “I thought I told you to change your clothes.”
David tried to explain that he had now no clothes that fitted him any better. Aunt Dot swept his explanation aside and scolded him soundly, both for growing so inconsiderately fast and for arriving in advance of his trunk. It did no good for David to point out that people of his age did grow, nor to suggest that it was the railway’s fault about the trunk. (19)

Expectations set for David are always impossible to reach. He is not allowed amusements of his own, like a bicycle or a friend. The latest strain brought about by his family’s misunderstanding of when school let out leads to David boiling over and saying what no one’s dared say.

Before she or anyone else could speak, David plunged on, again trying so hard to be polite that his voice came out like an announcer’s. “It’s like this, you see. I hate being with you and you don’t want me, so the best thing is just to leave me here. You don’t have to spend lots of money on Mr. Scrum to get rid of me. I’ll be quite all right here.” (30)

While this cover also gives away Thor’s hammer,
there’s also a lot of magical whimsy with the way
Luke ribbons his fire amidst the garden.

The relations are utterly flabbergasted at David’s bluntness–no one denies David’s words, but they are so angered by it all that they send David away without lunch. David sulks in the backyard and, overcome by a desire to say awful, cursing words, unwittingly cracks open the very ground to reveal snakes and fire and…another boy named Luke. The two fight back the snakes, and then David is summoned to face the judges, his family.

“We will say no more about your rudeness at lunch, but what we would like to hear from you in return is a proper expression of thanks to us for all we have done for you.”
Under such a speech as this, most people’s gratitude would wither rather. David’s did. “I said Thanks,” he protested. “But I’ll say it again if you like.”
“What you say is beside the point, child,” Aunt Dot told him austerely. “All we want is that you should feel in your heart, honestly and sincerely, what it means to be grateful for once.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” David asked rather desperately.
“I sometimes think,” said Uncle Bernard vigorously, “that you were born without a scrap of gratitude or common good feeling, boy.” (47)

It doesn’t matter that David really is thankful not to be sent off to a remedial math tutor for two months. It doesn’t matter what his manners are, or what he does to stay clean (which, for a boy, is nigh impossible anyway). David’s very presence in the family breeds contempt, not love, and in that contempt there will always be conflict.

It takes some time with the mysterious Luke to bring about some much-needed change to David’s family’s dynamic. Cousin Ronald’s wife Astrid, for instance, ends her days of simpering and snapping and starts standing up for David’s needs.

“Honestly, David, sometimes when they all start I don’t know whether to scream or just walk out into the sunset.”
It had never occurred to David before that Astrid found his relations as unbearable as he did.

[said Astrid.] “Bottom of the pecking-order, that’s you. I’m the next one up. We ought to get together and stop it really, but I bet you think I’m as bad as the rest. You see, I get so mad I have to get at someone.” (127)

David’s family also doesn’t know how to handle the new attention from individuals keen to find Luke: the gigantic gardener Mr. Chew, the inquisitive ravens, the impeccably dressed Mr. Wedding, and more. David can’t fathom what these people would want with Luke, and Luke doesn’t know either, at least at first. It takes a run-in with a ginger-haired man who looks a lot like Luke to move the mystery forward into another scene of accusation before familial judges.

This style initially reminded me of the mosaics of Rome until I scoped out ancient Norse carving.

“One of my relations,” said Luke. “He’s lost something and he thought I knew where it was.” To David, he added, “And I see why Wedding’s so set on finding me now. It’s rather a mess.” (131)

****

Most of the other people were shouting accusations at Luke at the same time. David did not notice much about them except that they were tall and angry and that one man had only one ear. Nor did he notice particularly where they were, though he had a feeling that they were no longer in Uncle Bernard’s dining room but somewhere high up and out of doors. (144)

Now unless you were reading that blankety-blank version of a cover with Thor and the two boys on it, you may only now begin to see that Mr. Wedding, Mr. Chew, Luke, and the others are far more than arguing family members. David is witnessing a clash among gods and goddesses, a conflict spanning across all centuries and further, to hillsides of fire, to prisons of snakes, to storm-bringing hammers.

And yet for all that power, that end-of-days, time-bending power, they are still a family of bickering relations refusing to believe a boy’s words.

Sound familiar? It does to David.

The chief thing he noticed was how small and frightened Luke’s harassed figure looked among them. Never had David felt for anyone more. It was just like himself among his own relations. (144)

This parallel stays with us as we watch David offer to clear Luke’s name and set out to uncover the missing object Luke’s been accused of hiding. It takes a visit to Three Sisters living in a cupboard in a city boy’s basement and running a gauntlet of young warriors, but David soon discovers the secret ward hidden in the fires beyond time, and retrieves that which all thought Luke had stolen: Thor’s hammer.

Luke’s name cleared at last, his immortal family rejoices while David learns the fate of his own family.

When the thunder had abated a little, Astrid said, “You’ll never guess what’s happened, David. Dot and Bernard and Ronald have run for it.”
“Run for what?” said David.
“Run away, silly,” said Astrid. “The police think they’re out of the country by now. That’s how much they were worried about you being missing. Or me either, for that matter.” (199)

Now this cover’s got more of a Young Adult feel, what with the spitfire of Luke standing defiantly with his arms crossed and his firey hair blending with the flames surrounding him.

Blondie was shocked David’s family took off. “But he’s a kid!” she said. “They can’t leave him!”

I showed her the page of text. “Welp, they did.” Astrid explains that David was the real owner of the money that his relatives had been spending all these years, and once word (from Mr. Wedding of all people) got to a neighborhood solicitor about David’s situation, the authorities put a warrant out for David’s relatives.

Blondie nodded in approval with this. “Astrid’s way nicer now, so that’s okay.” David feels the same way, too, and says as much. Because his presence in the family was such a source of conflict, the absence of family here takes all the conflict with it. For David, life can only get better.

Could the same be said for Luke? David learns the answer when he asks about those who had taken Thor’s hammer.

David was still puzzled. “Did he–Sigurd–like the lady more, then? He didn’t seem to–just now, at Wallsey, I mean.”

“No. He was mistaken,” said Mr. Wedding.

“Was that mistake your doing, by any chance?” Luke asked shrewdly. “Brunhilda seemed to think it was when she came to see me in prison.” Mr. Wedding thoughtfully stroked the raven and said nothing. “I thought as much,” said Luke. “Their children might have threatened your power, eh? But she found another way of cutting your powers down when she took the hammer into those flames with her. Am I right?”

Mr. Wedding sighed. “More or less. These things have to be, Luke. We’ve been in a poor way, these last thousand years, without the hammer. Other beliefs have conquered us very easily. But now, thanks to David, we’ll have our full strength for the final battle.” He turned and looked at Luke, smiling slightly. Luke looked back and did not smile at all.

It came home to David that Luke and Mr. Wedding were going to be on opposite sides, when that final battle came. (201-2)

Unlike David’s relations, Luke’s family has no intention of running. Oh no–that conflict is far from over. He may not have to go back to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but there is no promise of better things in his future. For Luke, there would always be conflict with his family. But these family squabbles would do more than hurt feelings or send a radio into the compost. Family squabbles on Luke’s level could drown islands, crack open time, and burn countless cities to dust. Any small, intimate conflict within a family of gods is destined to impact the world entire.

Be they mortal or immortal, some families are born to fight.

~STAY TUNED!~

I have a few kickin’ interviews lined up, and I’m excited to share more lessons in plotting. I also want to share some of my own writing ups and downs. It’ll be a wee bit, though, as I want to spend time in June exploring YOUR work and all that you’ve been up this spring. Hooray! I’m so excited to hang out with you!

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

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with a #Breakout from #DistanceLearning

Good evening, everyone! May is almost at an end. I’ve informed Biff and Bash’s teachers that they will not be continuing in school after this week; there’s only one week left after this, and from what I’ve been told, the week’s going to consist of nothing but Zoom meetings. Oh, they can call them “Ph Ed Parties,” “Sing-Alongs,” or whatever else. In the end, it’s a Zoom meeting with kids who have the patience of a gnat as far as cameras go. Soooooo nope. It’s time we break out of the school year and escape to freer lands of imagination, where Lego robots and Cuddly Crews roam free.

Not that I’m one to equate school with prison.

There’s always opportunity to learn when we step out. The village executions, for instance, always help us learn something new.

EXECUTIONS are frequent in any COUNTRY not ruled by a Good KING. They take place in public in a holiday atmosphere. People flock to Executions and bring their CHILDREN, and sales of snacks and rinks are vast. Methods of Execution are various but are generally designed to be as much of a spectacle as possible. Thus burning at the stake is a great favorite, along with impaling, crucifixion, disemboweling, etc., while suspending the victim in a cage to starve is also very popular. Hangings and beheadings, being over rather swiftly, are generally done only in batches of ten or more. Some Tours will generally include an Execution in their schedule, but on most Tours the Management wishes to spare its Tourists the sight of anything so painful. You will be irritated to find you have just missed it.
The approach to the CITY will be flanked with stakes and crosses carrying fresh corpses; its streets will be lined with severed heads or rows of throttled dangling bodies; its walls will be hunt with desiccated cadavers or skeletons in small iron cages; and outside there will be large charred patches smelling of mutton chop. But you will be too late to witness anyone actually dying
.

See? We now learned that witches weigh the same as ducks.

Oh stop, you know I’m joking. Wyrd and Wonder is almost at an end. The school year is almost at an end. The confinements of math sheets, recitations, and journals suffocate more than ever before. Like good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes, we want out, darnit!

TORTURE is obligatory at some stage on the Tour. Generally this takes the form of being tied to rings in the wall almost too high for you to reach, and then being flogged. But on occasions worse things happen. Tourists usually find the Management blanks their minds to the details afterwards.

(I originally found that image of Gollum being tortured in Fellowship of the Ring, but Calvin’s cries are all too fitting with what I’ve been hearing the past few weeks.)

Springtime sun beckons my kids to bike rides outside, to sidewalk art, and to bubble battles. The last thing they want to do is be stuck inside and learn about clocks. On these golden days, when the bumblebees meander from yard to yard, and the neighbors pull out their firepits for an evening of beer and lazy chat in lawn chairs, our school space in the house may as well be Azkaban prison.

PRISON is really a lot of DUNGEONS in one place, plus a fairly grisly TORTURE chamber. The prison will be reached by a stone stair, dampish, lit by torches in brackets on the walls, and guarded by sadistic soldiery. Most of these GUARDS are rather careless: they think no one can escape. All Tours tend to prove this assumption wrong.

So, I admit it: I’m not all that restrictive these days. Much like the GUARDS in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I’m not going to be harping on anyone too much unless I absolutely have to.

GUARDS are the TOWN Watch and quite useless. They always arrive too late to quell a TAVERN BRAWL or riot. This is because there are too few of them and all of them are stupid. Tourists will be glad of both these facts at the point when they are trying to leave the Town unseen.

While I’ve never passed out like an elf at the table, I do get lost in coffee and grading, Biff is all too eager to escape with his bike for a trip around the neighborhood. For that kid, his bike = Biff’s happy place.

UNDERGROUND PASSAGES are usually there when you need them. No FORT, CASTLE, MONASTERY, or TEMPLE is without one. Thus your escape from an uncomfortable PRISON or situation is assured. Traditionally, the Underground Passage will be down some stone steps from the cellar or DUNGEON, where you may have to clear away some rubble, and then it will be wet and slimy with puddles underfoot, because it always takes you under the nearest RIVER. It will bring you out a good healthy distance from the DANGER you were escaping usually into a clump of prickly undergrowth. This is how the Management takes care of its Tourists.

Yes, we all could use an escape. While I can’t ignore teaching for the university, the twins and I are most certainly ready to break free of 1st grade shackles and move on to summer freedom. We want to return to the playgrounds, the rivers, the ducklings. We don’t want to worry about reading assignments, music glyphs, or *#Y#)#%*$#@ Zoom meetings.

Let’s get out. So long as we don’t run into any wizards, we’ll be okay.

DAMMIT!

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

Blondie’s #Fantasy #MG and #Kidlit #BookRecommendations for #WyrdandWonder

Hey Jeanie Beanie, where’d you go yesterday? Wasn’t your novel supposed to be on sale? What happened to this marathon of posts for Wyrd and Wonder?

Hi, guys. Yes, my novel was supposed to be on sale, but there was a gaff with Amazon, sooooo it can’t be on sale right now.

(You’re welcome to buy it anyway, if you’d like. It’s on Kindle Unlimited, too!)

I’m bummed, but there’s no use moaning about it, not when my eldest turned ten over the weekend.

Originally, we were to take her and some friends to see the new Scoob! movie in theaters. But when the world went into lockdown, aaaaaall that changed. We managed a day of coded messages, dandelion seeds, and mysterious footprints for a present hunt, all topped with chocolate milkshakes and Scooby-Doo cake. I could not bring myself to break from her to write here, and I have a feeling none of you would want me to, either. x

Even now I can’t just sit and gab about Diana Wynne Jones. As much as I love her work, I want to give Blondie another moment in the sun with you here. So today, let’s hear from Blondie about what she loves to read in a Fantasy, and then let her update us on her upcoming summer adventures. So first, let’s hear about Blondie’s new favorite series, Last Dogs.

Despite Biff and Bash going at it in the hallway instead of cleaning their room, Blondie and I continue towards another fantasy series, one she loves to reread–Endling.

One of Blondie’s presents was a video game based on The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, which got Blondie back into reading this long’n’awesome series.

And now, at long last, we talk of Blondie’s dragons and her own comic creation, Captain Fantastico. (I’ll attempt pictures when Blondie colors them. Her sketches are TINY!)

For this ten-year-old, the best fantasies bring animals–and sometimes people–together in a strange land to fight for hope. I think we could all use an adventure like that, don’t you think?

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

#Celebrate #WyrdandWonder with Blondie’s #Dragons! #fantasy #illustrations and #storytelling

Good morning, everyone! My deepest thanks to all who shared my novella during is free days in the online book-lovin’ world. In this craziness of all this virtual workshopping and teaching and grading and blah blah blah, I thought it was high time Blondie step in and update everyone on her all-important dragon studies–we couldn’t have timed it better with Wyrd and Wonder. Take it away, Blondie!

Hello! It has been a while since I have written on here. You are probably wondering what these pictures are of. Well, the one below is of 2 dragons attacking as of down underground are plotting their next move. Now you are probably are thinking, ” How did the dragons make so advanced technology? ” Dragons have learned to make these marvelous machines by watch us make them. (I can show you a photo of this happening if you want on another post) This way dragons can track even the tiniest bit of treasure anywhere to stockpile in their caves and hideouts. Now, onto the next one!

This photo is of a normal dragon underground cavern. This particular pod of dragons chose it to be a safety cave for sleeping in. Now normally you wouldn’t see a dragon with a reading lamp. But, as I was saying before, dragons have grown quite advanced and are making more and more human machines. (human machines are normal everyday appliances like a toaster) And so, there you have it, a official view of a dragon cavern.

Now this picture is of the dragon breeding grounds. Now the dragon family on the right hand corner does not look happy. Why? Probably because that other dragon is hovering above their eggs. Well, since nobody ever dares take a dragon egg or eat it because both have unfortunate side affects, why is it angry? I think it is because the snake dragon was just trying to get a good look but the parents thought he was too close. And one more thing. You might want to say happy birthday to the family in the left hand corner, because one of the dragons just hatched!

Thanks to all who are reading this post and enjoying it. I do hope you all know more on current updates on dragons. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Blondie:)

P.S. Hello, Lonely Old Sea Dragon!

Yours Truly,

Firewing

Isn’t she a wonder? My heart beams when she creates like this. x Master Steeden, I hope you can hunt down that Old Sea Dragon so he can say hello! I’ll have her come back later this week, just in time for when my YA Fantasy novel will be on SALE for just 99 cents! Tomorrow I want to share a powerful excerpt from Diana Wynne Jones’ observation of children and how they can inspire your fantasy writing.

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

#Celebrate the #fantasy of #WyrdandWonder with #freefiction, #roads, and #rivers to impassable #mountains

“Mommy, I’m Bandit!” Biff hops toward me with his bear held high. “And this is Snowman! We gotta go to Texarkana County for cookies!” He runs in place, revving noises loud and strong, and then bolts down the hallway to my room, where there is no trace of cookies or Texas.

Bo sits at the table with his latest P.J. O’Rourke book, tea in hand. He’s trying to look innocent, but it’s not MY doing that the soundtrack for Smokey and the Bandit has been on for HOURS. Biff didn’t find that CD downstairs on his own, oh no. That little bugger had help.

“At least he’s not talking about bootleg beer,” Bo says.

“EW, beer is GROSS!” Biff hollers from my cookie-free room. “I’m on the run for bootleg cookies, not Coors!”

Bo hides behind his book.

“Eastbound and Down” starts up for the 3,511th time.

Must. Go. Outside.

Blondie and Bash are in a fit of camaraderie, which I’ll take over the previous fit of racing and grabbing at each other’s hoods and yanking each other to the ground. The two are blowing bubbles and talking up a storm over their new Comfie Club, choosing with of their stuffed animals will be in charge and whether or not Biff will even be invited.

The last bit, I admit, hurt. Biff’s the middle kid, just like me, and I was often left out of my brothers’ games when we were kids.

“Watch out, Snowman, here comes Smokey!” Biff tears by the window, “horn” blaring as his bear shakes frantically above his head. “We gotta jump the bridge, look out! Aaaaaaaah!”

I watch that boy and his bear leap from couch to chair and back as the banjo strums on. He’s reveling in an adventure all his own. Who am I to force him out of his imagination and into another’s?

We all need our passage out of reality once in a while. Thankfully, Wyrd and Wonder provides the perfect opportunity to escape the humdrum for something new.

Perhaps, like Biff, you wish to escape via the roads. Weeeeell they ain’t exactly paved in Fantasyland.

ROADS in Fantasyland are not good. Tourists have frequent cause to complain. There are several types of Road, each with its characteristic inconvenience.

  1. Ancient magical ways, normally engineered from some black rocklike substance impervious to wear. These are so old that only short stretches remain. The rest has been torn up or buried in some ancient CATACLYSM. This can be exasperating. You are just beginning to make some decent mileage on this tarmaclike surface when it stops, and you are back to a snail’s pace again.
  2. ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS. These are wider than an eight-lane highway, dead straight, and made of cobbles that preternaturally show no sign of aging. Though hardly ever used today—they are characterized by windswept emptiness—they were clearly built to allow a traffic of horse-drawn carts, four lanes in each direction, travelling at seventy miles per hour.
  3. Old trade routes. These are long-disused and normally serve to do little more than point you in the right direction. If you try to follow them you are quite likely to get lost when the route peters out into pathless moorland or even MARSHES. If the route is obvious, you will find no shelter along it, and no WATER.
  4. Unpaved roads. These are the norm. They are always muddy and full of deep ruts from the passage of MERCHANTS and previous Tours. They lead through dangerous WOODS and abound in rocky defiles ideal for AMBUSH. Nobody ever maintains these, despite frequent representations to the Management, and you have to use them because they are the only way to get about. Some Tourists lose patience and ride across country, but this is not recommended because it is the surest way to get attacked by APELIKE CANNIBALS.

Hmmm. Maybe roads aren’t the best way to go with those cannibals and ambushing bandits hiding all over. What about the mountains?

MOUNTAINS are always high and mostly snow-capped. There seems to have been no ice age in Fantasyland, so the Mountains rise tens of thousands of feet into pointed, jagged peaks, which have evidently never suffered erosion. They are full of rocky defiles and paths so steep you have to dismount and lead the HORSES. Almost certainly there will be at some stage a ledge along a cliff that is only a few feet wide with an immense drop the other side. This will be covered with ice. Snow will be xweeping across it. The Rule is that you always in a hurry at this stage.

MOUNTAIN PASS, BLOCKED. The Rule is that any time you need to get from one side of the MOUNTAINS to the other, the pass across is blocked. The pass will be a narrow rift high in the Mountains, and by the time you have climbed up there, either with the forces of the DARK LORD hard behind you, or knowing you have only so long to get to the other side before the forces of Darkness get there first, you will find the pass…impassable. Usually the Management applies this Rule by prudently sending you off in winter, so that the pass is snowbound; on occasion, though, the blockage can be a landslide or a fall of rocks. In some cases, you can go down and round the long way, but mostly you just have to bash on through. Somehow. See also HARDSHIP and HYPOTHERMIA.

Oh yeah, hypothermia…never mind! Well I do like my rivers. My town’s on a river, my state’s on a river. Heck, did you know that Wisconsin is home to 26,767 miles of streams and rivers? That’s enough to circle around the entire globe and THEN some! (I learned that while digging up facts about Wisconsin for the kids to copy for handwriting. Ain’t that neat?) So, let’s try a river.

RIVERS  in Fantasyland are often very peculiar. Some even flow uphill. Setting aside normal features such as the fact that neither WITCHES nor the forces of the Dark are able to cross RIVERS, , we are left with the unaccountable way that each bank of a given RIVER is liable to be different, and even more unaccountable way the local inhabitants ignore this oddity. The reason seems to be that the left bank of a River (face downstream) is often Highly Magical and full of Hidden Dangers, so that the dwellers are unable to see that side of the River at all. Heaven knows what they think they see instead, or the reason for the difference between the two banks.

BRIDGES. The inhabitants of Fantasyland seem to have a distrust of Bridges, maybe because they provide an easy way for an invading ARMY to cross to a VILLAGE on the other side of the RIVER. This is a great inconvenience to the Tourist. The Rule is that, when being pursued by the forces of the Dark, you are going to need to cross a Bridge, and there will be no Bridge. While the Tour is waiting to find a way across, the forces of the Dark have time to catch up. Even if there is supposed to be a Bridge on the route, you are likely to arrive to find it broken–whereupon the forces of the Dark gain steadily again. The only Bridges sure to be still in place are ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, and they will be huge, with, as soon as you get to the middle, a tendency to develop a small but impassable gap right at the apex.

Well, how on earth can we get anywhere when the mountains are blocked, the roads are awful, and the bridges on the verge of collapse? I guess we’ll have to stop at a river’s town and socialize with the townsfolk therein…tomorrow. x

Until then, you can still catch my novella for FREE! Enjoy a little history of railway bridges over the timeless Mississippi as bounty hunters race to catch a saboteur determined to destroy a mysterious train…

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

#FREE #historicalfantasy #shortread to #celebrate #WyrdandWonder! Nothing says #weekendreading like fun #fantasy to escape #lifeathome.

“Why do spirits need electricity?”

Bash sat in my lap as we watched Spirited Away earlier this week.

The story’s so like a fairy tale, yet all its own. A girl’s parents are lured into what appears to be a forgotten town to eat mysterious food, and turn into pigs as a result. Chihiro finds work in the bathhouse at the edge of town, a place run by a witch and filled with spirits, in order to remain near her parents and save them from the butcher’s block. Chihiro must learn true selflessness and love in order to save not just her parents but some of the spirits enslaved by the witch.

I love the organic growth of this story, the uniqueness of its characters, and the boundless possibility blossoming on the fringes of the worldbuilding. This was my favorite film to watch during night feedings with Baby Blondie. This time, I sat with another child on my lap to watch Chihiro’s adventure.

But unlike Baby Blondie, Bash did not merely snuggle and nap. Instead, he asked questions. Lots, and lots, of questions.

“Why do they have fans? Where does the train go? Why are some people people-shaped and some like ducks and some all blobby? Why do spirits need to eat?”

I, erm, tuned him out after a while. But I couldn’t blame Bash for having questions. We often associate magic with shapeshifting dragons, but not trains. We expect ghosts to haunt a place, but not run restaurants or ride trains. And why would spirits be sending mail to one another?

Fantasy stories take many, many shapes, be they within our present, past, or another time altogether. It’s just one more reason to be excited for Wyrd and Wonder, a month to celebrate all things fantastic no matter where they take place…

…and, well, to share my own historical fantasy, which just so happens to be FREE right now, and its mysterious train, The Weeper.

The old barrel boarder coughs himself up again. Someone ought to rip his heart out just to end that poor human’s misery. “Weepers ain’t no tale, b’hoys. I done beat the road on one. Wipe yer chins, I ain’t fibbin’!”

The remaining foremen, strumpets, and golden boys aren’t quieting down at all, so the old barrel boarder looks to Sumac. “Caught it up by Black River Falls durin’ a thunderstorm so loud you’da thought Paul Bunyan’d lost his Babe, just stompin’ and a’thunderin’, blowin’ trees down to find his partner. But,” and here the old man leans over the back of his bench, all mysterious like, soot mapping the creases of his face, “once the train done left the storm, I still heard the cryin’. The cryin’ come from inside the cars. T’ain’t natural, t’ain’t natural at all. A guard atop the car spotted me hidin’ by a couplin’ and took aim with his rifle, but I done jump before he could shoot.” He shudders. “Tarnation, ain’t never touchin’ no Weeper again.” And he spits into the fire for good measure. “Weeper creeper. Creep nuthin’. That’s the devil’s train, it is, wailin’ its way through a town like it’s late to Hell.”

There’s no mention of trains in Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is understandable. Jones is parodying all the old-school, medieval-style epic fantasies, which never seem to advance technologically beyond 1700. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.) Her entry on transportation highlights the classic mainstays like carts and boats.

TRANSPORT. Because of MAGIC and bad ROADS, Transport is very primitive. Here, though, are some general notes:

  1. By land, if you do not ride a HORSE, you must go by cart or wagon. Both of these have wooden wheels and no springs. Carriages are known, but very rare, even in TOWNS. They have slightly more springing but are distressingly likely either to break down or to be waylaid by BANDITS. Tourists who ride in a carriage complain how chilly they are despite sheepskin coverings inside. Ladies and Evil WIZARDS prefer to travel instead by litter. This is a kind of curtained bed that can be slung between Horses, but most often is carried by a team of strong servitors or SLAVES. Litters are most frequently encountered in CITIES.
  2. By WATER, whether sea or RIVER, you must go by small wooden BOAT, FERRY, RIVERBOAT, or SHIP. Whichever of these craft you find yourself on, be assured that one of the following will occur:
    1. It will sink, possibly because of attack by a SEA MONSTER; Sea Monsters are attracted by Tourists as mice are by cheese, although it is a lot easier to understand how the mice know the cheese is there than how the Sea Monsters know the Tourists are there. Perhaps Tourists possess an identifying SMELL to which Sea Monsters are unusually sensitive. Even if there is no Sea Monster in the region, the Ship is likely destined for the bottom: why captains take Tourists on board at all is a mystery, in this context, unless they are confident of cleaning up on the insurance.
    1. You will be attacked by PIRATES, who will hack to death or hang all the crewmen who have no NAME and possibly the grizzled but kindly Captain as well, so that you can pause for a restorative tear or two before trying to reconcile yourself to the fact that you are now a SLAVE, bound to be either a GLADIATOR or a GALLEY Slave.
    1. You will be betrayed to the forces of the DARK LORD as soon as you have been either delivered to your destination or thrown off the vessel in disgust by the crew.
    1. The Ship proves to be able to fly through the air rather than merely chug through the water. This will of course obviate your inborn tendency, as a Tourist, to seasickness; instead you will discover airsickness.
From Neil Gaiman’s Stardust

But let us save talk of roads and rivers and impassable mountains for another day.

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

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 #Food (and a couple #slowcooker #recipes!)

What does spring smell like to you?

SMELLS are everywhere and strong, and, except for those of ENCHANTRESSES and INCENSE, unpleasant. Even DANGER has a Smell–the REEK OF WRONGNESS. There is something in the chemistry of the land that makes Smells. It is probably a fallout effect of MAGIC, but see also SOCKS and TROUSERS.

No, no, no–although Diana Wynne Jones is spot on with that Reek thing.

While it’s true that springtime in Wisconsin has some unpleasant odors–fertilizer, anyone?–there are also the gorgeous smells of budding fruit trees and daffodils, fresh-cut grass and firepits.

Nothing gets my mouth watering like the smell of a meat over a fire, be it a grill or a firepit. Blondie, too, is always happy to see Bo cooking hot dogs outside, or to have a weenie roast with my mom. The twins…well, like me they enjoy setting marshmallows on fire. Unlike me, they don’t eat them in a s’mores, the weirdos.

Since yesterday’s schooling time was…um…not great, let’s consider the contented joy of cooking night fires preparing our favorite savories and sweets…and how those in Fantasyland so rarely seem to have either. Then I’m going to share a couple slow cooker recipes that Bo and I have enjoyed here because, well, being in lockdown and unable to go camping, we need to bring the taste of s’mores in SOMEhow.

FOOD. See STEW, SCURVY, STEW, WAYBREAD (also known as Journey Cake) and STEW–though there are occasional BIRDS, FISH, RABBITS and pieces of cheese. Generally the diet is an unvaried one, although MARSH DWELLERS can work wonders with ROOTS. Puddings are unknown except occasionally in the Courts of KINGS. Tourists who suffer from diabetes should be quite safe.

WAYBREAD OR JOURNEY CAKE is a flat cake, infinitely nutritious and weighing almost nothing, on which Tourists may sustain themselves for long periods. In appearance, it seems to be halfway between a ricecake and a ship’s biscuit, and in substance, it is truly remarkable since those eating it are never hungry and absolutely never suffer from any deficiency disease (see SCURVY). In some areas there is also a kind of grass capable of being eaten instead of Waybread, but this seems to grow only when your Waybread has run out. It is strange that the inhabitants, given the remarkable properties of Waybread and grass, do not choose to live entirely on one or the other. The reason must be that neither tastes of anything very much. After a month of eating them you will even be glad of STEW.

WATER. You may drink or wash in any Water, however scummy, while on the Tour, except in the MARSHES, where it is full of wriggly things. Water in Fantasyland does not harbour germs. The only other Water it is unwise to touch will be either near the home of an ENCHANTRESS or on the trail left by a WIZARD. This may turn you into things or show you disturbing pictures.

STEW (in which thick and savoury translate as “viscous” and “dark brown”) is the staple FOOD in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time. Given the disturbed nature of life in this land, where in CAMP you are likely to be attacked without warning (but see BATH), and in an INN prone to be the centre of a TAVERN BRAWL, Stew seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak. But it is clear the inhabitants have not yet discovered fast food. The exact recipe for Stew is of course a Management secret, but it is thought to contain meat of some kind and perhaps even vegetables. Do not expect a salad on the side.

While the following casserole isn’t exactly fast food, either–or easily transportable–it is quite yummy with its hint of Thanksgiving. Plus it’s a great way to utilize stuff likely sitting in your pantry and freezer. I got it from Fix-It and Forget-It: 5 Ingredient Favorites, a book that’s been a big help in slimming down our grocery list.

Ground Turkey with Stuffing and Veggies

Prep: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 3-8 hours
Ideal slow cooker size: 3-4qt.
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
* 1lb lean ground turkey
* 2 cups frozen mixed veg
* 1/4 cup Italian dressing
* 1tsp steak sauce optional (I’ve yet to use it)
* 16oz can wholeberry cranberry sauce
* 6oz pkg. stuffing mix for turkey

  1. Combine ground turkey, veg, Italian dressing, and steak sauce (if using) in the slow cooker.
  2. Pour cranberry sauce over top. Sprinkle with dry stuffing mix. I also slice up 3 tablespoons of butter to spread across the stuffing, too.
  3. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or on High 3-4 hours.

Honestly, I burned a firewood-scented candle while eating my helping of s’mores cake. I love love LOVE the smell of campfires, and the Fix-It and Forget-It: Slow Cooker Dump Dinners and Desserts book gave me a chance to transport myself to that beloved setting while the kids ran around the house in a sugar rush. Yes, this dessert is SUPER sweet, so take it in small doses. 🙂

S’mores Lava Cake

Prep: 10min
Cooking time: 2.5-3 hours
Ideal slow cooker size: 5-6qt
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
* approx 15oz box chocolate cake mix, plus ingredients listed on back
* 3.9oz box instant chocolate pudding mix
* 2 cups cold milk
* 0.5 cup mini marshmallows
* 0.5 cup crushed graham crackers
* 0.5 cup chocolate chips

  1. Grease crock.
  2. Prepare cake batter according to package directions directly in crock.
  3. In a bowl, prepare the chocolate pudding mix with the 2 cups of milk.
  4. Cover cake mix with mini marshmallows in crock, then carefully spread pudding mix over the marshmallows.
  5. Top evenly with crushed graham crackers and chocolate chips.
  6. Cover and cook on Low 2.5-3 hours or until edges are done and pudding is bubbly. (I had to go longer, around 3.5 hours, I think, but that could have been my crockpot.)

Lest I forget, I’m putting my own stories on sale to celebrate Wyrd and Wonder, too!

My Historical Fantasy novella Night’s Tooth will be FREE May 15th-18th. It was so much fun digging into the western genre and uncovering the magic hidden there.

Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down.

Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts.

It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…

Inspired by classics like For a Few Dollars More and fantasy cult favorites like Highlander, “Night’s Tooth” is a western with a fantasy edge set in the Fallen Princeborn universe.

My YA Fantasy Novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be just 99 cents during Memorial Day weekend (May 22-25). If your neighborhood’s still on lockdown like mine is, let’s escape together in the hidden farmlands where magical portals await…

Desperate, they crossed over The Wall to hunt Humans. But they made one mistake. They took Charlotte’s sister.

In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shapeshifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte runs away. She takes her bratty younger sister Anna with her, swearing to protect her. However, when their bus breaks down by a creepy old farm, the inconceivable happens—Anna is wiped from human memory.

But something inside Charlotte remembers. So she goes over the Wall in a frantic rescue attempt, accidentally awakening a once cruel but still dangerous prince, and gaining control of a powerful weapon, his magic dagger.

Charlotte’s only chance to save Anna hinges on her courage and an uneasy alliance with some of the very monsters that feed on humanity.

Welcome to River Vine, a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.

Whew! I think that’ll do it for today. I’ve planned a puppet-themed school morning for the kiddos, so we’ll see if this goes gloriously well or gloriously awry…

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

#writerproblems: #worldbuilding a #fantasy when the #writing #magic seems all but gone.

Magic.

We could all use some, I think.

But where to find it?

Ah, now that is the question. Some wander over the occasional ancient wall or two. Some play hide-and-seek in peculiar wardrobes. Some explore animal homes. Some play a forgotten boardgame. Some even purchase a kit from a store.

And let’s not even talk about the parents that spend the day graveyard-hopping with their kids (post forthcoming).

For those of us confined to a house of snits and snaps and other plastic mayhem, the hope for peace and quiet and magic feels all but gone, especially when lockdowns are extended, when schools are closed for the year, when jobs are furloughed until further notice.

Oh, I cried when Wisconsin’s governor extended the lockdown. Even though all the rational parts of me knew this was coming, I still cried. I had hoped my mother could finish her teaching tenure with her students. I had hoped my sons could continue their Occupational Therapy. I had hoped my daughter could return to her friends. I had hoped for a little time for myself, too.

But none of this is meant to be, dammit, so here we are, fearful of the outside world while driven mad by the inside one.

How do we counter this?

Magic.

Perhaps you find it in an old story, as I did. “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” began with a photo spotted in the fall of 2018.

Something about the old woman reaching for that apple…it was like she was reaching for, for something else. For me? N-no, but something about the urgency in her manner, the aggressiveness. She needed that fruit. But why? I mean, it’s not like people’s lives depend on a single apple.

Uuuuunless they did.

And from here came the crack and thunder of magic gone wrong. People’s lives did depend on this apple, if that apple was needed in order to stop a Happening from, well, happening.

But what was Happening?

Why, a story, of course.

But sometimes even an inspiring photo isn’t enough. We need to look beyond the photo’s perimeters. What does the traffic sound like on the street? How high do the buildings tower over others? Are we in a world of electronics, or some sort of yesteryear? And smells, don’t forget smells.

(Yes, even towns can have a characteristic smell. For decades, Milwaukee was always blanketed with the smell of yeast from the Miller Brewery. Ever since they removed that level of operation from the downtown location, my nose no longer believes the rest of me when I drive to Milwaukee.)

In order to build upon that initial inspiration, we’ve got to put our sense-memory to use. After spotting the wee shop in the background named “Meatball Obsession,” I focused on my first date with Bo when he cooked me spaghetti. He loves making his own sauce, a day-long endeavor that fills the house with a rich, spicy, meatiness that makes you think the very air is edible. And suddenly I’m imagining people walking about nibbling on saucy meatballs since apples were for magic and not eating.

Hmmm. Sounds a bit silly.

Eh, why not? It’s my story, dammit. At the time I wasn’t looking for serious fare. To help me stay lighthearted, I even put on the soundtrack to Midsomer Murders while I wrote, Parker’s themes for mystery in rural life the perfect balance of spooky and delightful. The mix of smell, sounds, and sights helped me focus on building a story about a woman—no, not just a woman. Look at that hat and coat. Come on. Surely this is a Madame, one of status and prestige…even if no one else agrees. But Madame who? Hmmm…say, isn’t that my Midsomer CD over there?

(Yes, that is occasionally how things come into my stories. If something’s in my eyeline, then iiiiiiiiiiin it goes! So when in doubt, look around you.)

And one apple seems so paltry. Surely Madame Midsomer would insist on purchasing not just one apple but a dozen, certain she could stop the mayhem of her own doing from destroying the entire town. The seller, however, doesn’t like her, refuses to help, and the magical authorities take her away and everything’s fine and life is happy the end.

After posting the story on my free fiction page, I decided to send it off to an online magazine. They didn’t take it, citing the need for more developed worldbuilding and consistent tone.

Well, poop. I liked it, so the story stayed as is…until this past March.

Something Or Other Publishing reached out with information regarding their latest anthology project and inquiring whether or not I’d like to submit.

Um, sure? Except my current short fic WIP wasn’t close to being ready, and SOOP’s deadline was just a few days. What to send, what to send…

I passed “Tampering” off to another fantasy reader to get feedback. While he liked a lot of things, he just couldn’t wrap his head around the meatballs.

But. I. LIKE THEM!

And yet.

Maybe in this confinement, when we’re so ready for ANYthing to break us out of the rutted dread, I was hoping for those meatballs to just come a’ rainin’ down, blessed by the wind.

But in a short story, where the worldbuilding must be solid in only a few paragraphs, I couldn’t justify having something so oddball as obsessions with meatballs. Even one as out there as Neil Gaiman knows he has to tone things down sometimes for the sake of the readers.

A fresh challenge comes when we remove that presumed Thing from the worldbuilding. To us, that Thing embodied so much of the story, like the meatballs representing the out-there zaniness of my setting. In focusing on that zaniness, though, I forgot to give the setting any sort of history, or rules, or heck, even a name. When we over-prioritize the gimmicky Thing instead of characters or plot, is it any wonder readers question the story’s logic or tone?

This calls for serious inspiration.

I didn’t want this urban fantasy to feel too dated, but I did want it to feel different. It hit me I wanted magic to be a normal thing in this society; at first this was to be through the meatballs, but now, I wanted a calmer presence, something akin to Ingary in Howl’s Moving Castle. Witches and wizards were simply a part of life there. One went to a wizard for spells or potions to protect a voyage, help a crop, etc.

Why not let magic be as natural as a flower from the ground?

*gasp* Or the fruits of the trees?

So many possibilities opened in that moment. A quaint farming community, a town proud of its home-grown magic…because it was unique?

Or because it was dated because the rest of the world had moved on to more modern methods?

Imagine magic factory-made and shipped to big box stores, as pleasantly packaged as a box of cookies, consistently good. Not as good as home-made, mind you, but still, you know, good.

Now this story wasn’t just about a sorceress angrily fighting with a fruit seller. This story was about a community struggling under the weight of a pompous magic-wielder. A town proud of its natural magic and fed up with those who misuse it.

At last, I’d found the world built.

And its name was Pips Row.

“Hullo, Seller!” Madame clacked her way down the walk with the straightest of spines and the most pointed of chins. It made no difference to her that the Seller was addressing a small group of whiny school children and their frazzled teacher on the importance of fruit in Workings and other Spells. “So, just as there’s a fruit for every season, there’s a magic for every fruit. Why, if not for lemons, you’d never have fireworks. If not for holly berries, you’d never have snow for Christmas.”

“Isn’t that fascinating, children?” the teacher said with as much enthusiasm as a slug in a salt shaker. “While most communities import their magic from the capital’s factories, little places like Pips Row carry on the old-fashioned way.”

Old-fashioned, indeed! Madame Midsomer had half a mind to show this frumpish excuse of human being just how “old-fashioned” a Regional Sorceress could be. “Excuse me, Seller?”

“Why don’t people here buy by their magic from Merlin’s Mart like everything else?” One gap-toothed girl asked while licking sprinkles from her fingers.

The teacher opened her mouth to speak, but Madame Midsomer brushed her aside. “Manufactured powders don’t hold a snuff to the real thing, child. Now out of my way. I have urgent business to discuss with Seller.”

Out of the corner of Seller’s eye, he could see the tower of Madame Midsomer’s residence shudder ever so slightly, sending a cloud of pollen from the flowers of her creeping vines into the air. The wind coughed—an unsettling sound to any native of Pips Row.

Seller gave a tight-lipped smile to the teacher behind the little mob. “If you’ll excuse me.”

But this school group was not of Pips Row, and had so far only learned they can throw sweets without consequence. “No! The hag can shut up so you can show us real magic!” the girl said, and the lot of them pitched fistfuls of sprinkles at Madame Midsomer.

This was unwise.

Dear writing friends, do not look upon this time of lockdown as a creative drought. Peruse old works for new potential. Tap the dust off favorite reads for new lessons. Lose yourself in the emotions of music. Look upon the world outside your window, and ask:

What’s hiding in the beyond?

Thanks so much for reading my little explore into this writing experience! If you like the sound of “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer,” then I hope you’ll help its chances for publication by voting on SOOP’s website. If you’ve already voted—

~STAY TUNED!~

Photos and music and stuff are a’comin’ after I figure out yet another school-at-home conundrum.

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