24 September 2012

In Memory of Rose

Just short of her 101st birthday, my grandmother passed away.  I went to her funeral on Friday.  She was the kind of woman who deserves a blog post in her honor.  At the least.

Rose was born the same year (my husband tells me) that Robert Browning created his best gun to date, the 1911.  Also the same year the town of Price, Utah was founded.  That’s significant because she lived in Price for more than 75 years.

She married her husband, Gerald, and together they built a house during the great Depression with old bricks from demolished buildings.  She lived in that house until the day she died.  Her husband Gerald died more than 53 years ago, and she never remarried.  She raised her two youngest children without him.

Growing up, we’d drive through the canyon on Sunday afternoons and visit her.  She’d always feed us.  The family joke is that we’re not sure what exactly was in the food, or how old it was, so it was probably her that gave us all such iron stomachs.  Once, while spending the night there with my cousin, Grandma made us sandwiches to eat outside under her huge weeping willow.  First off, the sandwiches were made from vegetables she’d run through the meat grinder.  Second, ants kept falling from the tree onto our food.  When we pointed this out to her, she said, “Eat em.  They have meat on their bones.”

She never, ever threw things away.  Her basement was every child’s wonderland with relics left over from the 1920’s and 30’s. (It was also kinda creepy.)  

According to her journals, she did three things everyday:  prayer, exercise, scriptures.  Those words were at the beginning of each entry.  Her service to her family and friends attested to her devotion to her faith.  While, well into her nineties, she still did sit ups.  She also stood on a chair, then got off, then stood on it again, just to make sure she could.  She is famous for whitewashing her house, shoveling snow off her roof, and driving other old ladies around (all of whom were younger than she was), when most others her age would be content watching TV in a comfy chair.

Her determination and independent spirit were legendary.  To give you an idea of what she was like:  A couple of years ago, she fell in her driveway and broke her hip.  Instead of crying for help, she lay there until she felt the pain was bearable (about two hours), then crawled to her house.  She didn’t tell anyone about it for two days.  When her son who lived next door to her found out about it, he took her to the doctor, under protestation.  The doctor told her she would either have to have surgery, or spend the rest of her life in bed.  You can imagine the idea of spending her life in bed didn’t appeal to her.  It was the only surgery she’d ever had.

Grandma Rose’s descendants number more than 250.  She instilled in all of us a drive to excel and an appreciation for hard work.  It is upon the backs of women like her that empires rise or fall and families are made or broken.  I may be overstating it a little, but I don’t think so.  

Even with all her funny quirks, she certainly built up my family and made us strong.  She will be missed.

17 September 2012

Too, Too Many Sequels

I’ve been thinking a bit about how a person writes a sequel or trilogy or even a series.

My children and I have been reading the first three of the Harry Potter series together.  After having read all seven, going back to re-read the first ones has been an eye-opener.  There are so many little details in the beginning of the series that become big details later on, that my brain fries a little bit trying to fit all the pieces together.  How does a person decide that it will be important in the first book to introduce a rat that will be important in the third book and who in the third book will accrue a debt to someone that will be called in in the seventh book?  And do this all before the stories are written!

See?  Even the sentence is convoluted?  

And things like that happen through the series that serve to boggle my mind.  Perhaps to others, whose thought processes are less scattered than mine, it seems a simple thing to catalogue and maintain all those details.  But to me, it’s maddening.  It’s distracting.  It’s enough to make me crazy.

It’s enough to have stopped me from ever successfully having written a sequel.

I have two series planned out.  And now I’ve just gotten myself into a third.  I wrote the fatal sentence that condemned my latest book to having a sequel and I cringed.  I knew all along it was a possibility that I’d have more to tell in the story, but I sincerely hoped I could keep it to a single, perfect, book.  (Are you snorting in derision along with me?  Perfect book, indeed.)

After reading a novel by Robin McKinnley (Sunshine, for any of you who are interested in the title.) that I thought ended with a lead in to a second book -- A second book which Author-of-the-world McKinnley never intends to write -- Ms. McKinnley said something to the effect that she was at the mercy of her muses.  Her muse may or may not decide that a second book must be written and it must be written today.  Or, more likely, it will take her someplace completely different and her fans will just have to deal with the fact that they’ll never know what happens to Rae and Con.

In a way, that willingness to let those characters die or live in the minds of their readers, unfinished... it’s liberating.  It allows each reader to finish the story the way they want.  It allows the authoress to move on to something else that interests her.  

Sometimes, the open ended non-ending works beautifully.  Take, for instance, Lowis Lowry’s The Giver.  The reader is left in suspense of exactly what happens.  Do they die?  Do they arrive at their destination?  Do they win?  Do they lose?  But that suspense is part of what makes the book so compelling and so well written. (I’m tactfully not saying that Ms. Lowry went one to write sequels to The Giver to preserve my train of thought, so don’t ask about them.)

In another way, leaving the adventures undescribed irritates the jakers out of me because I want more!  I want to know what happens!  I want a tidy ending!  I NEED CLOSURE!

Does anyone else have opinions about this they’d like to share?  Does it matter to the populace in general when an author leaves the readers hanging?

I ask because I’m thinking of doing the same thing... of just writing about how the adventures started, and then not taking it further.  I know what many of their adventures are, but does that necessarily mean I must divulge what I know?  Aren’t some hints better than a lengthy reprisal?  Sometimes?

10 September 2012


I have a problem.


How does a person come up with a really great title? One that tells the reader exactly what they need to know about the story in a creative way?  So they’ll be interested in the novels that interest them?  All in a couple of words?

As you can see I have more questions than answers.

For each of the novels I’ve written I’ve had issues with the titles.  I come up with a working one at the beginning, before I’ve even gotten into the meat of the story, and usually stick with the working one up until the end.  By that time, I’ve gotten attached to that title, and have trouble thinking of the manuscript under other names.

For example:  “Uneasy Fortunes”  began its life as “Stuttering” and when people ask me the title of my book, I have to mentally dodge “Stuttering” before grasping “Uneasy Fortunes”.  (And if I’m being honest, I still like “Stuttering” better.)

I bring up the issue of titles because I’m trying to come up with a really good title for the story I’m working on.  This has been difficult, to say the least.  I have switched working titles three times already, unheard of for me.  I have jotted little lists of potential titles on anything that comes to hand when I get notional.  I just read a list of my favorites to my husband and he seemed unimpressed.  Frankly, so am I.  I just haven’t found one that zings.  

So, I think it’s back to the drawing board.  Again.

One of these days I may be inspired with something I’m crazy about.

03 September 2012

Character vs Story: a Dialogue

According to the delectable Shannon Hale, there are a couple different approaches to writing fiction: Character driven, and Story driven.  Although it seems self-explanatory, I’m going to explain, or perhaps just illustrate.  Or both.

In a character driven story, it’s all about the growth of the individual.  The story is something that happens to them.  Usually the characters feel like a real person and their development means something.  In a story driven tale, the characters are there as part of a larger picture.  They are the means by which the story happens.

Case in point:  “Anne of Green Gables”

Which do you think it is?

I’m just going to tell you, since I can’t hear your answers.  Everything written by L.M. Montgomery is character driven.  She is a master at making paper people come to life.  Every person in those stories has a history, personality, quirks, mannerisms, dreams, vexations, talents, the works.  It’s fascinating to think that all these people are the product of some lady’s imagination.  I swear I know Mrs. Rachel Lind.  In fact, Ms. Montgomery wrote an entire book, “A Tangled Web” that I’m pretty sure started out as an exercise in character writing, because that’s what it is.  A professor could teach a semester-long class on that book alone and how Montgomery manages to keep each person in that extensive family distinct.  This approach to writing takes a little more effort to keep a reader’s attention, perhaps, but it is well worth it.

Anything written by Charles Dickens, “The Secret Life of Bees” and the original “Winnie the Pooh” books are character driven.  In any setting in any country, Carles Darnay would still love Lucie Manette, and despair of ever improving himself.  Mrs. Havisham would still be creepy.  Pooh Bear would share adventures with Christopher Robin. 

I was going to make a long list of character stories, but I find I can’t think of many.  Most novels, are story driven.  At least, I think so.  That may be because I am a story driven person, so even when it’s about characters, I see story.  Sad, really, but there it is.

[And it is sad.  I just looked over my bookshelves to prove to myself that most novels are story driven, and I realized my bias has tainted everything.  There are a lot of character driven novels.  A lot.  Probably a good half.]

Louis L’Amour books are all story driven, and possibly even setting driven.   He writes about things that could only happen during a certain time in a certain place. (Not every book he wrote was set in the Cowboy West, I realize, but every one was written about a PLACE, and things that could only happen there.)  The men and women in his stories are products of their time and place and rise up to face the challenges in their surroundings.  (Okay, so he may just create another category.)

Story Driven books are everywhere.  Take a look at anything written by Robin McKinley, Sharon Shinn, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Victoria Holt, etc.  Their characters are well written, but they are there to make events happen.  To tell a story.  Could the one ring have been carried or disposed of by any character other than a Frodo Baggins?  Voldemort would never have been vanquished by anything other than a Harry Potter.  The stories are what define the characters, not the other way around.

Now that I’ve analyzed this a bit more, I will think of it more often as I read.  Perhaps it will make me a more character driven writer.  Perhaps it will make my stories a bit better.

One can only hope.

This just in:  Danica Page's review of "Uneasy Fortunes" can be read on her blog.  And it's a doosy.  Thanks so much to her for such a great review.