June 11

Getting ready for a writer’s retreat in McCall, Idaho

Cabin in McCall

Cabin in McCall. Photo taken from the rental site.

The Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writers of America is having their annual Writer’s retreat this month.  This will be my third time attending.

We will be going to the same cabin in McCall we went to last year. As you can probably tell from the photo we are in a pretty remote location during retreat. We can’t get internet there, which is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because, though everyone has a computer with them, our typical online distractions, like facebook, are no longer available to us in McCall. But, you can bet that you will require a vital piece of information for your story and you can’t get online to research the topic.

During our four-day stay, we engage in several power hours a day. The power hours are simple things.  A timer is set and we write for an hour. No editing. No researching.  No plotting. Just writing. It’s a great exercise and you really learn how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time, especially if you find someone to compete with–word count wise. They are also probably the most structured thing about retreat.

For those who want to do more than huddle among the blue screens of a computer, or empty two or three pens into a notebook, they’ll find plenty.  A member or two did enough walking during last years retreat to have walked an entire marathon. Several members go into town to enjoy the farmer’s market, old-fashioned chocolate shop, the beach and so much more. My first year, we saw plenty of deer from the cabin window.  Last year we saw a fox moving through the tall grass and wild flowers. I can only imagine what we will see this year.

Once we’ve exhausted our writing for the day, we find things to do. Someone brought cards and hard candy and several of us played twenty-one. We bring books to read. We play games that allow us to get to know each other better or have long conversations. I’ve never been bored.

With this being my third year going to retreat I have a pretty decent idea of what I need to take with me. I’ll be bringing clothes I can layer, because the weather at McCall can vary. The usual stuff you would expect.  And writing supplies. This year that probably means a hardcopy of the two stories I’m working on, along with my computer, a notebook, pens, etc. I’ll bring a throw with me to cover my shoulders for when  my body seems to have a different temperature than everyone else in the cabin. A small pillow to sit on for the hard surfaces, a surge protector because you can never have too many of those. Plus, I’ll bring a special treat. There is always an overabundance of desserts there.  Alcohol is also readily available. Those who know me well would probably gape at the fact that I had a glass of some kind of alcohol every night.

As social and collaborative as the retreat can be, the cabin was usually pretty quiet, which allowed people to sleep in, nap or write until their fingers and pencils were stubs, which I have personal experience in each.  It’s also highly productive and relaxing. I believe I managed to write nearly 20,000 words at retreat alone, and I know I was not in the minority on that. Why would I not look forward to retreat?

Category: Uncategorized
May 24

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

False PrinceIn a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

The False Prince is the first book in the trilogy and I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d think of when I started.  It was the right genre, but it was more literary than contemporary in feel. However, once I got past the first chapter Jennifer A. Nielsen held my attention. The story reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin and Prince and the Pauper. Trickery and wit allows the hero to survive the danger and save the day.

I must admit I suspected Sage’s true identity fairly early on, though I’m not sure if it was because the clues were obvious.  It could have simply been that I am older than the audience was intended for. But I still had a “What the…” reaction when I got to the reveal of that particular plot point and it wasn’t the good kind. I felt cheated and had hoped the story would go in a different direction. There were also times when Sage’s arrogance annoyed me, but considering his age and his history, his arrogance was realistic.

What didn’t seem realistic to me was how wily Sage was. He did things, anticipated things in a way that seemed almost prophetic. He thought pretty far into the future or made very good, very quick decisions on how to act, which is the case is not explained in any of the three books. But he’s at least consistent in those decisions.

RunawayKingJust weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

The sequel to the series, Runaway King, is decent. The story’s beginning caught my eye much faster than it’s older brother, but I also remember the particular story less than the other two. This one relies heavily on the whole “Prince in disguise” motif with some pirates thrown in.

His arrogance still exists in this book.  And he often sees those older than him as stupid and unwilling to see the truth. Again with his almost prophetic vision, he starts making plans for events that don’t even happen until book three. This book is truly a set-up for the third and final book, and while interesting, does suffer from that “middle book” syndrome trilogies often have in a second book.
Shadow ThroneWar has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?


The finale kept my attention.  However, there were parts where I felt the storyline went on far too long.  Their was a lot of mourning without purpose and a lot of tracking down/chase scenes. The tension was tight though so I was never really bored with the book. His arrogance has dwindled down and he takes advice and help easier in this book.  But this book had the most problems of the three I think.  The motives for a few people weren’t clear until the end, and when the reason Mendenwal joined the war came out I wanted to yell, “That’s it?” King Humphrey went to war because of a lie Jaron’s father told and the fact Jaron challenged him to a sword fight when he was 10 for insulting his mother? The fact that “I promised him half of Carthya as his spoils of victory.” Felt thrown in as well.  Another issue I have: we never learn what happens to Mavis. He was a minor character, but I still wonder did he survive the war? Did Mavis and Jaron ever see each other again?

The three books are worth a read though none of them can be called flawless. And my favorite was the first, which really could have been a stand-alone. The series is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean women don’t have a role. Imogen, and the princess both fight to protect the kingdom in different ways. Neither of them are trained to fight so a lot of it is with kitchen knives or risking their lives to ensure a plan works.  They both save Jaron at different times, in different ways. Their are also women in the story who prove ferocious, determined to protect their homes.

Have you read the Ascendance Trilogy? What did you think?

March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

November 18

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the entirety of November.  For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month is when you try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  This happens in November.

The month is over half-way over and I find myself ahead of schedule by a lot. I’ve never been ahead, in fact, with one exception, I’ve never hit the goal in the allotted time. I think the main difference from now and earlier years is that I’m not allowing myself to edit what I’ve written and I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time.

I don’t expect perfection when I take part in NaNoWriMo. When the goal is to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t expect anything near perfection. The goal, for me, is to get as much of the story written as possible by deadline. By not allowing myself to over think what I’ve written my stories develop more organically and I’ll often find more creative solutions to plot issues than if I took my time and thought my way through the issue.

Those are the positives.  The negatives are that I often end up with a lot of material I end up needing to delete and discard, because I didn’t edit and what I have doesn’t actually work well with the rest of the story.  I’ll find a plot hole the size of Wisconsin that needs patched up or eliminated some other way. And I often have a lot of rewriting to do so that I’m showing instead of telling.

My favorite thing about participating in NaNoWriMo is that the hardest part of writing–which used to be the easiest for me–writing the book is mainly done by November 30th.  I then get to start editing it, rewriting it and making it better. Yes, editing is easier for me now days.  Maybe that’s normal for writers–the editing becomes easier than writing new material.

This years novel is actually the beginning of what I was planning on being my sequel. With what I’ve written so far, I’m getting the strong impression that this “novel” won’t actually be long enough to be a novel. That I’ll, in fact, need to add what I end up with to the end of what I have written. Since what I have written isn’t technically long enough to be a novel by itself, this may be for the best. But I won’t know until I actually get everything written and then re-written and cleaned up.

If I do end up combining the two things together than I’ll have a lot of editing to do, including parts of the novel that I have had written a long time, simply because I’ll have more time to introduce concepts that I’m only now touching on in this “sequel” because it wasn’t relevant to what I’ve now written.  It’s amazing how much a few pages of writing, a simple challenge can change your writing.

I also enjoy the community, and encouragement that can be found on NaNoWriMo. There are write-a-thons available throughout the month where you can meet up with other writers to write. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, and potentially new critique partners, friends and resources.  Prizes are given for hitting 50,000 words.

If you’d like to finish a book or see how many words you can reach by Nov. 30th, I’d urge you to try NaNoWriMo. Or, try to start from the beginning next November.

October 20

Jane-Emily Review

Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.

Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.

Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.

One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!

The story was good but slow and predictable. This is probably because it was written in 1969. Louisa is set up as the heroine in this story, and while she is observant, she doesn’t save the day.  I won’t say who does for those who may be interested in this book.

This book does do a good job of letting readers learn about Emily through second-source reports.  Clapp has Emily’s doctor, Emily’s mother and Emily’s best friend talk about Emily, share stories that paint a convincing picture of a selfish little girl. If you have problems conveying information about a character that NEVER makes a physical appearance but whose presence is felt throughout the novel, this one would be a good one to study.

For those who want more than a horror story, Louisa and another character do fall in love throughout the small book. Though the way she does in the story, does not put Louisa in a flattering light. She has a boyfriend at the beginning of the story and starts dating the new guy before any issues arrived between them.  Only after the romance begins does she have problems with her first beau and they never officially “break up.” Granted, I don’t believe Louisa intended to cheat on her boyfriend but being more open, and not just when she feels jealous at her boyfriend, would have put her in a better light.

This story has a love triangle in it. Louisa falls in love with the same person Emily proclaimed she’d marry before she died 12 years ago. Emily then decides the best way to break up Louisa’s relationship was to arrange Jane’s death.  Jane doesn’t die, but again, it wasn’t because of anything Louisa did to stop it. I am glad to report the boyfriend isn’t the one who stops it either.

If you don’t mind books with a slightly slower pace than we’ve grown accustomed to and a story that has become predictable, again probably because of a change in society, you may find this book worth the read.

October 18

Tiger Eyes Critical Review

According to spiritanimal.info, Tigers are a symbol of courage, anger, and that “part of you that you would normally try to hide or reject.” With this knowledge, readers have a clear idea of what 15-year-old Davey Wexler is like once she introduces herself to Wolf as Tiger. In Tiger Eyes, Davey is coping with the fact that her father was murdered and has become the symbolic tiger.

The shadow she wants to deny is her father’s death. For most of the book, she’s not willing to deal with his death. Early in the book, when she’s alone, Davey begins to remember the night her father died. Before readers can get too far into the events of that night, she pulls herself out of the memory (61) . She immediately distracts herself by going home and writing her and wolf’s name together on several sheets of paper.

Davey not only avoids remembering her father’s death, she lies when forced to confront the fact, even briefly, that he died. A good example of this is on Davey’s first day of school in Los Alamos and is talking to classmate, Jane.

“Is your father a physicist?”
“No,” I say. “My father’s…dead.” It is the first time I have said that to anyone.
“Oh,” Jane says. “I’m sorry.”
“He died over the summer,” I tell her. “Of a heart attack.” Once I get started I can’t stop myself. “He died in his sleep. Everyone says it was a good way to go. That there was no pain. He was only thirty-four.” Why am I doing this? Why am I telling her this story?
“I don’t know what to say,” Jane tells me. “It sounds terrible (90).”

Despite avoiding the topic of her father’s death, she is still having to work through his death. Common knowledge states that one of the steps to the grieving process is anger and Davey is a very angry girl. This is seen angry best and for the first time, during her first encounter with Wolf. Even Wolf questions her about it.

“Who are you so pissed off at, anyway?”
“The world!” I tell him, without even thinking about it. I am surprised by my answer to his question and by the anger in my voice. It is the first time I realize I am not only sad about my father, but angry, too. Angry that he had to die. And angry at whoever killed him (49).

Later, readers also learn that she’s not only mad at her father for dying. She is mad at her mother for how she’s handling things, for how she’s living her life, for leaving her to feel all alone after her father’s death. This can be seen after her Aunt and Uncle tell her it’s too dangerous for her to take driver’s ed now and to wait until she’s a senior in high school. Her mother simply agrees to what her aunt and uncle say, as she has been.

“Since when…since when I’d like to know?” I explode now. I don’t care about logic or emotion or anything. “Can’t you think for yourself anymore? Do you have to let them decide everything?” I spin around. Jason is drinking a glass of mil and listening intently. I turn back to my mother and point my finger at her, accusingly. “You’re getting to be just like them…you know that…just like them (160)!”

Readers are allowed to wonder if Davey is correct in her accusations, and that her anger at her mother is justified, because it’s her uncle Walter who tries to take control of the situation when her mother is beside her.

Davey shows courage at the end of the book when she faces her fear and makes peace with her father’s death. She also has the courage to forgive her family for having different coping methods and for, in some ways, neglecting and abusing her.

Davey is the symbolic tiger. She shares the tiger’s anger, the tiger’s courage and she has a side she wishes she never had to acknowledge.

Works Cited
Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes. New York: Dell Pub., 1982. Print.
“Tiger Spirit Animal.” Spirit Animal. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.

 

October 16

Jane-Emily Critical Review

Reflective Ball Symbolizes Unobtainable Desires

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp is about two girls, Jane and Louisa, visiting their family and the long-deceased, malevolent twelve-year-old girl, Emily, that haunts the grounds. The reflective ball that Emily frequently uses is a symbol of her demand for the unattainable and her ability to get it, even after death.

Emily’s father was highly indulgent of his daughter. Emily’s mother, Lydia Canfield, and doctor both admit this to Louisa at different stages in the book. Emily’s doctor, Dr. Frost, even gives a great example of how her father overindulged her daughter.

In his eyes she was the most wonderful creature ever born, and when she asked for the moon he gave it to her!”
“The moon,” I repeated. “That silver ball in the garden. It’s rather the same he gave it to her!”
“It was the same. Jack took Emily outside one night to look at the moon. He told me she thought it was pretty, and she wanted it. Jack almost tore his hair out wondering what to do (95).”

The phrase “I’d give you the moon,” is popular because it is a nice way of saying “I’ll give you everything I can.” The moon is not something you can have, and Emily’s desire to own it, though understandable does not make it any less unattainable. However, this knowledge does not deter her father. He can’t give her the moon, but he does give her something that looks similar, something that can stand in its place. He gives her a silver reflective ball, which apparently was not enough for her.

When she’s about ten, Emily broke the reflective ball. Her father than asked what her why she broke the reflective ball.

…she said that when she looked into it she saw a face that wasn’t hers. It was an ugly face, she said, and she insisted that it must have been the face of someone else who had looked into the ball (59.)

Her father tried to explain things, but eventually he replaced the broken reflective ball. The replacement was a reaffirmation that he would still “give her the moon,” so long as he was capable, but he sweetened the lesson, put more value on the gift, when he “assured her that no one except Emily would ever look into it. That it was all hers (59).”

In doing so he gave the idea that if she wanted something, she could make it hers and hers alone.

This mindset, these lessons, brought about Emily’s death. While sick with a cold, Emily wanted the son of her Doctor, Adam Frost, to play with her. He refused, using his father as an excuse to leave the house. Believing getting Doctor Frost would bring her son back to her, she told her mother she felt even worse and that she should call Doctor Frost back. When Lydia Canfield told her she would not call Doctor Frost, Emily asked if Doctor Frost would come if she’d get sicker. Her mother said yes. As a result, Emily, when alone, opened her window in the middle of winter and poured water over her body. She made herself as cold as possible. She contracted pneumonia and died.

Even death did not keep her from getting what she wanted. During one of many conversations Louisa shared with Lydia Canfield, she learned that Emily’s father and brother–both precious to Emily, died under circumstances that are mysterious and were unexplainable. Lydia Canfield wonders if Emily somehow took them so they’d be with her. The one other person Emily was attached to was Adam Frost, the boy she killed herself over and the boy she made perfectly clear, she intended to marry.

Adam Frost is now a doctor and he’s proposed to Louisa. Readers, like Louisa, can imagine Emily’s thinking: she is the only one allowed to marry Adam. Thus, Louisa hesitates to accept his proposal. She explains her fears, that Emily took her brother and father and that she would do whatever she could to stop her and Adam getting married. She tells him: “If Emily reached Jane-if she hurt her in any way, any way–I couldn’t marry you! You know I couldn’t. And Emily knows it too (117).” Despite her fears, Adam convinces Louisa to accept her proposal.

That night reflective ball glows and Jane is certain she hears Emily crying. The nine-year-old goes outside in the rain to investigate to get trapped outdoors. The next night she contracts pneumonia and seems to be following in Emily’s footsteps. Lydia Canfield recognizes this, believes Emily is about to take Jane away, and a fit of protective rage, she charges outside and destroys the reflective ball.-In destroying Emily’s father’s testament that she can always have the attainable, Emily loses her powers, her strength and her greed. It symbolizes the end to Emily receiving the unattainable.

Work Cited
Clapp, Patricia, and Patricia Clapp. Jane-Emily and Witches’ Children. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 2007. Print.
October 14

NorthAnger Abbey: Critical Review

Northanger Abbey is an example of Impaired Judgement

Northanger Abbey is about seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, who is finds love and romance in the books she reads and at Northanger Abbey. Most of Catherine’s problems and misunderstandings in the book is due to her ineptness at reading people.

Early on the story Catherine’s brother, James, meets Catherine’s friend, Isabella and a relationship develops between the two. Catherine does not think much about their relationship and has no clue what Isabella is referring to when they meet one sunny day:

Isabella, embracing Catherine thus began “Yes, my dear Catherine, it is so indeed; your penetration has not deceived you. – Oh! That arch eye of yours! It sees through everything.”
Catherine replied only by a look of wondering ignorance (123).

This demonstrates Catherine’s inability to judge people or situations. She did not recognize the relationship between James and Isabella, or even consider a marriage offer may be made between them but once told of the proposal, Catherine is ecstatic for her friend and assures her that her parents would approve of the match.

Later, Isabella gets a letter from John stating that they would receive a living of 400 pounds a year and could marry in 2 and a half years. Isabella does not take this news well. Catherine tries to assure her and Isabella replies with:

“It is not my own account I wish for more; but I cannot bear to be the means of injuring my dear Morland, making him sit down upon an income hardly enough to find one in the common necessaries of life. For myself, it is nothing; I never think of myself (138).”

Instead of recognizing Isabella’s disappointment for what it is—not getting the money she thought she’d get through marrying her brother—Catherine accepts her reason for why she isn’t happy. If Catherine had figured out the true reason for her unhappiness, she would not have been so confused when she see’s Isabella dancing with Fredrick when she’s engaged to James. She also could have warned her brother to try to prevent him the heartache he inevitably feels.

In that same scene, Catherine further demonstrates her ineptness at judging and understanding people when she talks to Isabella’s brother, John Thorpe:

“I am glad you are no enemy to matrimony however. Did you ever hear the old song, ‘Going to one wedding brings on another’? I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope.”

“Yes; I have promised your sister to be with her, if possible.”
“And then you know”–twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh–”I say, then you know, we may try the truth of the same old song.”
“May we?–But I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey.” (128-9)

Catherine does not catch on to the fact that John is actually asking her hand. She does not even realize he is interested in her as a potential bride. Instead she is thinking he is speaking of singing a song together with him. Because of this, Catherine does not understand Isabella’s teasing over her ‘engagement’ with John, and is horrified when she realizes John believes them engaged. She also doesn’t understand how she gave him that impression. She has no interest in marrying Isabella’s brother.

Her inability to judge people and relationships does mean she is caught by surprise and often embarrassed when she realizes the true intentions of those she interacts with. Her ineptness however is realistic, creates intrigue and suspense in the story and some much-needed drama that otherwise wouldn’t occur.