While on a brief family holiday in the North Woods of Wisconsin I find myself blessed with another award from fellow writers JI Rogersand Ann Marie Swaim. I do hope you will check out their stories and sites—they never cease to amaze me!
Let’s settle in around this campfire, well stocked with boxes of crackers and chocolates, marshmallows and cider, and talk as the cedar’s smoke soothes us from a long summer’s day in the water.
Do me a favor—keep Bash away from the extra kindling, please.
What’s your favorite water sport? To play and/or watch.
Apart from kid-watching, you mean?
Look, my son Biff’s over there in the yard now. You hear him with that soccer ball? He’s throwing at the campsite’s sign and yelling, “I tackled it! Home run points!”
That should tell you how involved we are with sports in my family.
What book would you recommend that everyone read?
My answer hasn’t changed in years: Diana Wynne Jones’ Reflections on the Magic of Writing. There is so so so SO much here to unpack. She’s got lots to share about craft in the way only Jones can: with firm experience and wicked humor. She’s also open to sharing her thoughts on the stickier points of being an author, like conflicts with publishers and horrible school visits. But what I love the most is her openness about her life. She had a nasty childhood during World War II, and learning how she battled such dark years with stories made me feel like I could battle my own depression with stories, too.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because if I start, I will not stop.
What can move you more, images or words?
This is a tough one. Often I daydream in words, but I find myself more often moved by images around me. I can see something—a peculiar clump of trees stranded in a corn field, for instance—and a story just, well, comes. I wonder what’s in the trees, and can imagine a long-forgotten cabin, walls cracked and falling in, mold creeping in from every side, bat scat and raccoon refuse littered about…save for one corner, where a trap door remains, pristine and perfect, waiting for just the right curious hand to open it…
Who in your life (living or dead) provided you with the best inspiration?
You know, a year ago, I’d probably have said my dad. After all, he and I spent hours together going over my stories, polishing them to perfection for school.
No, it’s that I have children. My children need me sane.
I am their caregiver. I am their lap, their hug, their kiss goodnight. I am their maker of macaroni and cheese. I am their bedtime reader. I am their music finder, movie player. I am their clean underwear finder and silly face laugher. I cannot be any of these things unless I have a clear head and steady heart. How do I get these? By dumping all the nastiness of me onto the page before it infects them.
Biff, Bash, and Blondie are my drive to write on. I write to be what my kids need me to be.
What I need me to be.
What has been the hardest struggle to overcome to keep on blogging?
So often I worry that what I’m writing isn’t worth reading. Why should anyone care what I think about this composer/author? Who really wants to read m’ramblins’ about raising children?
Speaking of which, mind Blondie doesn’t eat another hot dog, that crazy little carnivore. Biff, stop throwing marshmallows into the fire!
Your writing will make you vulnerable. After all, we’re taking the innermost parts of ourselves—our ideas—and translating them into words intended to provoke thought and, in some cases, emotion. It can be painful to do, but it’s also what makes good writing worth reading. It’s what make stories resonate.
Over the course of three years, I’ve learned that artists don’t just struggle with craft, but with Life. They’ve got their own issues with kids. Their battles own with grief. Their injuries with abuse, with depression. When I feel like I have nothing to say as a writer, then I write as a parent, a child, victim. There is always a part of me that has something to say. It’s just a matter of finding that part.
What do you feel is the best blog post you’ve written to date and why?
Oh man. Um…let me get the kids into the cabin first. I need to move my chair, too…the smoke always finds me, draws tears from my eyes.
“The Machete and the Cradle” is the very first post I published on Jean Lee’s World, and it deals with just how dangerous my postpartum depression became during my children’s early years. It’s a time I cannot think upon without cringing from myself. I look at my sons now, poking each other with a koala and a bunny while nestled into their Planes: Fire and Rescuesleeping bags, and to think how close I came to abandoning one of them…
But I overcame that shame in the shadows, and managed to find the words to cast those shadows into the fire. This burning is one of the most difficult things I ever did, and considering where I and my family are now, it is most definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Do you plan your blogs in advance and schedule their release or just blog by the seat of your pants? Or a combo?
It’s a combo. Sometimes I get a fire of ideas I want to share and I whip out a month’s worth of blogs in one afternoon, while other weeks (especially this past summer) I’m up late Wednesday night typing for Thursday’s post.
When you’re being creative, do you prefer quiet or some form of sound (music, audiobook…) in the background?
Always music, always! I get frustrated when I don’t have the right music to write, so much so the story gets muddled in my head. 95% of the time I use instrumental music, but every now and again a song with lyrics hits the atmosphere just right, especially when the words speak to the characters’ feelings.
If your home was on fire and you could only save one book, which would it be?
I wouldn’t go for a typical book. I’d grab whatever creations my children made: the boys’ drawings, Blondie’s stories. Those will always mean more than any other book. There could be a signed copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in my house, and I’m still goin’ for the kids’ work, because THOSE can never, ever be found anywhere else.
If you had to choose one of your current projects to tell a group of strangers about, what would it be?
As the stars take hold of the sky behind the plume of fire’s smoke?
Campfires are the perfect place to share the darker stories. Be they the fantasies of my childhood, like Dark CrystalorWitches, or the epics beloved by my father like Highlander and Dune, we sit here with the dying embers surrounded by countless dancing shadows of tales. Anyone, anything could be prowling around out there, beyond the fire’s reach, just waiting for its moment to sit, be seen, be heard.
My Fallen Princeborn Omnibus dances among such shadows. It comes from the hidden lands of magic, escaping from shapeshifters cursed and gifted, wielding weapons wicked and beautiful. Not only do these stories come for the thrill of the spirit and heart, but to help define what it is to be a family.
I hope that, after all is packed back into the truck and we’ve returned to civilization’s plumbing, you’ll stop by for my cover reveal and ARC giveaway.
I’m giving away 1,000 copies of Stolen through BookFunneland Instafreebie starting September 1st. Yup. One THOUSAND. That be a whoooole lotta copies! But this is my first novel, and I’m keen to hear how readers see the world I’ve seen in my head for years. Next week, as I sit us all down in the cluttered living room for punch and a slide show from my vacation, I’ll start the countdown to the cover reveal of Stolen and the giveaway. Don’t be late!
Now, before I look into the cabin to see who’s jumping on top of whom for a comy circus show, I’d like to nominate 11 more artists for the Liebster Award. Wander this endless campground and stop by their sites sometime. Their fires each burn with unique passions in art, photography, music, writing. Rekindle your own creativity with a shared s’more and smile.
Questions to pick my nominees’ brains on creatin’ and stuff:
What would you consider to be your earliest creative work that foreshadowed the passion to come? Be it taken on a disposable camera, doodled in a school book, or tooted on a kazoo, those school-day scribbles count for something!
If you could gain you favorite living artist’s permission to create an homage of their work (for example, writing a fan fic story with your favorite character), who would you approach and what character would you write with?
I’m always looking for strategies to fight back the distractions. How do you focus yourself in the sea of Life’s Noise to create?
What are the three most inspirational places you’ve ever visited?
Time for the dead artists now! If you could sit down for a cuppa or a pint with any dead artist, who would it be and why?
What’s one stereotype people always apply to you because of who you are/where you’re from? Just for an example—I grew like a corn stalk when I was a kid, so EVERYONE assumed I was really good at sports like basketball. Guess what I suck at? ALL SPORTS. Because I live in Wisconsin, people around me just assume I’m a fellow Green Bay Packers fan. Guess what I hate watching? FOOTBALL.
If there’s one book on craft in your passion you’d recommend to every fellow artist in your field, what would it be?
Favorite grilled food? The answer should be bratwursts, but because you’re friends, I’ll try to keep an open mind. 🙂
Okay, I’m not, I repeat, NOT, a huge Disney fan, but even I’ve got a few favorite Disney films, like Something Wicked This Way Comes. What’s your favorite Disney film? No, Pixar doesn’t count.
And speaking of films, what’s one movie you’re kind of embarrassed to admit you like, but you just can’t help yourself? (Krull, since we’re sharing.)
Share your current endeavors! C’mon, you deserve a chance to plug your work. 🙂
I hope to inform my nominees over the next few days.
We only want to check out what’s behind this one corner before we continue on our way. Peek into this one strange window and then go back to our business. Stick our heads into this one rabbit hole, then move on with our lives.
But now with Aionios BooksI’ve found the rabbit hole and tumbled back into Wisconsin’s secret places. The more my editor Gerri and I dig into the world-building of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, the more I find myself going over the old notebooks and sketches. Then “Normal’s Menace,”the short story popped up–Oh yeah, my point of view experiment from last year…I sent it to Gerri for fun because it featured my pastry-obsessed crusader for children, a wolfish fellow named Dorjan. Gerri enjoyed it so much she suggested writing a series of short stories on the various characters involved in the River Vine world.
While I hadn’t been planning to spend time running around and away from the series’ narrative arc, I gotta admit–it’s been really fun. As I learned when experimenting with point of view, short fiction is all about the powerful, passionate moments. All the world-building, the character development, conflict and such–none of it can afford to be a slow burn, because moments don’t burn slow in short fiction. Anger, regret, desire, fear, defiance–when these feelings ignite within us, they burn our spirits until we crumble into ash, or forge us into something new.
These are the moments I now hunt for on the fringe of River Vine. They appear in the not-quite-common places: breaking up with a girlfriend…who is capable of eating you. Disagreeing with a boss…who promises to burn your legs off. Telling off a stranger…who somehow knows your nasty secrets.
Enter “The Boy Who Carried A Forest in His Pocket,” the first short story in Tales of the River Vine.
My sons love to pick up tree seeds and bring them home. Biff is very methodical about it, fixating upon the number of seeds he can stuff into his pocket, while Bash is already growing them in his mind. “What if they make trees in my pocket?” he asks as he skips along at my side. “Then my bed can be in a tree, and my comfies can sleep in trees, too!”
From this, my first short story grew.
“Just.” Jamie tosses his glasses onto the grass. “One.” He blinks, and suddenly Buddy sees nothing but light, beautiful, soft, warm, violet light, like he can sleep in a bed of violets, like he’s clothed in the royal robes of Jerusalem. “Trick.”
“Just. One. Trick,” Buddy echoes. He is very tired. Sugar crash, a voice in his mind says, and he believes it.
“The Boy Who Carried a Forest in His Pocket”
Each of the six short stories in Tales of the River Vine will be free to download as they are released one at a time in the coming months on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.I’d love to hear your thoughts on these stories, too, so please be sure to read, review, and share.
2019 Update: Due to recent changes in the publishing relationship between Aionios Books and myself, Tales of the River Vine has been pulled from the market to be repackaged and distributed in new editions.Stay tuned!
I use several of Danna’s albums when I write, The Sweet Hereafter especially when I need an atmosphere of unsettlement. There is no orchestra here; often only a few string or woodwind instruments play at a time. Percussion is limited. Harmonies come and go like sunlight beneath a breaking cloudbank.
My protagonist flees an abusive home. She finally is in control of her fate…until a bizarre accident wrecks her bus. No one questions the circumstances, nor does anyone think it strange when another bus, empty of passengers but filled with everything the stranded travelers need, just so happens to come along on an otherwise abandoned stretch of interstate. Only the protagonist feels the wrongness of it all, from the ground beneath her to the sudden stillness of the trees.
I could not have closed my eyes and worked this through if not for Mychael Danna’s The Sweet Hereafter. I visualized the empty road easily enough, but I enjoy the quiet of Wisconsin’s empty places. I could not make myself uncomfortable.
And then I put the tracks “Bus,” “Bus Stop,” and “Why I Lied” together, and found myself shivering inside my protagonist’s skin.
Danna’s music also makes a writer’s point: use only what you need, and use it well. It’s all too easy to dive into sweeping descriptions of the world’s logistics. Background, right? Context? Readers need it!
No, no they don’t. Keep it simple. Share just enough to catch the reader’s eye. Keep him a few steps behind. Then, you may broaden the reader’s vision as the story advances. Danna’s “A Huge Wave” is the perfect track to reflect this idea, for the instruments build slowly from strings, to percussion, to wind instruments, to crest in volume and slink slowly away into the mists once more.
If ever you need your characters to feel unsure of the world about them, lose them in Danna.