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Posts Tagged ‘Asandra’

Why is it easier to blog than to work on my novel? I cannot really say. Except that with every few hundred words I write here, I have the privilege of hitting the word: Publish. Whereas, with my novel, ‘publish’ will not be an option until many more months of labor have been inserted. Oh, yes, and several thousand dollars. Nevertheless, I do make progress on my novel. And with each word I dutifully type into the Word document I get just a little bit closer to finishing.

Some novels are hard to write because you lack inspiration. Others, because you lack focus. Still others, because you lack incentive or experience. But a select few novels… These are hard because they hit a little too close to home. They express more of yourself than you meant to share. And going to the computer to type no longer feels like an escape from the every day. No; it feels as if you are reliving your every day.

Now, all along I have protested that this novel has been a painful growth spurt–and I do believe it is. But I am also beginning to wonder if maybe the novel is so hard because it is so much of myself. I can recall writing Asandra (Book 2) and telling my mother that it was too sad. No one would like it. And yet, it was the novel where people began to say, “You let us see so much more of you.” It was the tale that got people really, really hooked to my writing.

So, in truth, the Lure of Lemons may turn out to be the epic failure I fear it will be. Or it may become yet another turning point in my career. Either way, the answer will not be found on this blog or in procrastinating any longer. It will be found in finishing the work and risking myself yet again to share it. The consequences for failure won’t be so extreme; but the rewards for success will be sweet. So I had best get back to drafting…

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For those of you a little more interesting in my personal musings than in my writing advice, I offer you a second post for the day. One that still touches on writing but focuses more on Your’s Truly.

I’m breaking ground on my novel–again. The writing of the Lure of Lemons has been a herky-jerky ride (note: Spell-Checker doesn’t think that herk-jerky is a word. Merriam-Webster would disagree. Feel free to click on the link for the definition and for proof that I don’t blatantly ignore all rules of grammar and spelling.). One minute, I’m tapping away at my keyboard with lightning speed, inserting glorious paragraph after glorious paragraph. The next, I’m at a dead halt for days or weeks. Then I’m up and running again. I will breathe a deep sigh of relief when I finally finish the draft. I feel as if I have been on one of the old, wooden roller coasters and have been jammed and pushed and whipped around until I am nauseous, dizzy, and covered in bruises. Okay. Maybe that’s a stretch. But not much of one.

64, 064 is my word count. It may not sound like much, if you know about writing novels or about the million people it took only one month to complete 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (again, click on the link if you want to know more). Of course, I did that challenge too, but had to scrap most of it and start over. Sometimes experiments fail. And the writing techniques I employed for NaNoWriMo left me wandering around in the dark once I was finished. But its not so much about the specific word count as it is about my process.

Given my experience with four novels (Issym, Asandra, Xsardis, and Mark of Orion), I know that my first draft should only be about 108,000 words, which puts me well past the halfway mark. And once I reach the last quarter of the book, I usually pick up speed–as if I am running downhill. So the good news is: I’m nearly to the home stretch. To quote Einstein as he rode a motorcycle in the adorable movie IQ, “Wahoo!”

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” ~Charles Dickens’ opening for A Tale Of Two Cities.

This is one of the most repeated first sentences ever. And it is not even the whole sentence. In an epic run-on Dickens adds: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

What Dickens wants us to see and feel and learn and anticipate, we see and feel and learn and anticipate. So profound is his first sentence that even those who have not read the book can quote you those first few words. We authors can learn much from Dickens. We can also take away a lesson from observing countless readers who remember only the first portion of his novel: brevity is a virtue.

As you struggle to write your own first sentence be aware that there are many ways to give the director’s call (mentioned in my last post) and capture the reader’s heart and soul. There is no one, better way.

The dramatic opening. This often utilizes nature to mimic the stormy or sweet or tense tone readers will uncover in the story.

“Thunder rippled across the frozen lake.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Issym.

The unassuming opening. It takes a soft approach, that makes the reader lean into the very ordinary nature of the words.

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” ~Charlotte Bronte’s opening for Jane Eyre. This mild opening for a very dramatic novel causes the reader to wonder, “What was there a possibility of?” And so the bond between author and reader is secured. Only the book can answer the question the reader has now latched onto.

“They moved with joint precision.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Asandra. Again, there is something quite ordinary about movement, but it also raises questions like “Why are they precise?” “What makes them move jointly?” “Where are they going?”

The evident opening. There are no hidden questions, no lost meaning, no parallel imagery. This opening, as its name suggests, is evident.

“The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.” ~Jane Austen’s opening for Sense and Sensibility.

“One strike of his sword after another, the youthful warrior barreled through his enemies.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Xsardis.

We know we are going to deal with the traditional Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility and that we shall see a medieval adventure take place in my own Xsardis. With unmistakable clarity, there is also a draw. We cut through all the fancy words and jump (in Austen’s work) to a traditional estate and (in my own novel) to a medieval battlefield. As a director’s call this leaves no room for losing a reader, as they are immediately forced onto stage. It might, however, jar them.

The location opening. It is possible to arouse the reader’s curiosity based on opening location alone. It is a risky move. If the reader finds the place uninteresting he will close the book, but, if he longs to know more or has a traveler’s heart, this opening can be highly persuasive. Most readers long to go somewhere. That is why they read.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien’s opening for The Hobbit.

“Ho Chi Minh City in the summer.” ~ Eoin Colfer’s opening for Artemis Fowl.

The image of a creature living in a hole is captivating. It begs questions like “What kind of hole?” “What’s a hobbit?” “What was it doing in a hole?” “Will it leave the hole?” And while I knew nothing about Ho Chi Minh City when I first read Artemis Fowl, I wanted to learn. The foreign sounding title awoke my sense of adventure.

The problem opening. This opening names a problem from the start. It may not be the problem, but it will point to the climax that will unfold.

“‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” Louisa May Alcott’s opening for Little Women.

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Anthony Horowitz’s opening for Alex Rider: Stormbreaker.

Financial woes for our young heroine in Little Women and the impending doom faced by Alex in Stormbreaker. Such problems arouse sympathy (even on the part of Jo’s drama, which doubles to show us a good deal of her character) and keep the reader browsing on.

The first-person opening. This is the last opening we will discuss today. Books told in first-person carry with them unique strengths and challenges. Their opening sentences should ignore all location, all weather, all danger, all other characters except the narrator. Unless you have a good reason to break this rule, the first sentence of this kind of book must give readers a glimpse at who they will be following through the entire novel.

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” ~Rick Riordan’s opening for The Lightning Thief.

Such a comment makes us 1) feel sympathy for his unhappiness, 2) wonder what a ‘half-blood’ is, and 3) want to learn what events led him to wish he was not a ‘half-blood’. This makes for a powerful combo.

Opening types abound. Most are short; some are not. Most beg a question; some don’t. But the good ones all draw the reader towards the content of the entire book–not just the next paragraph. The one rule you should follow is this: make your reader want to uncover the adventure.

(Written 6/27. Scheduled for you while I am away.)

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So here is the deal. I’ve got a lot of new followers and likes on this blog (thanks everybody!). Since my life story is a bit confusing, I thought I’d dedicate this post to the top ten highlights of who I am and what I do. If you are new, you can catch up without wading through the hundreds of posts I have made on here.

1) After I accepted Christ at age four I discovered an absolute passion for serving Him and teaching others the deeper truths of the faith. I taught the preschool Sunday school class before I had hit middle school myself. I loved it.

2) Creative and athletic from birth, I followed in my three siblings big footsteps to strive for excellence in much; but it took me a while to discover what I was really made for.

3) At fourteen I started playing the fiddle. As my fingers danced along the strings I was looking towards Heaven and an earthly career. Life swept me in a different course. It was when I put down the violin that I really picked up writing.

4) While writing and imagining is something I have always loved, my choice to become an author has much more to do with a calling than with a desire to do something I find pleasurable. After watching my Christian friends ingest trash called teen fiction, and then watching them leave the faith behind, I found my heart aching to reach them in literature, to provide them with something clean, honest, and adventurous to read.

5) When, at fifteen, God called me to take on the challenge of changing literature, I thought He was crazy. But, so clearly called, I pressed ahead. Discovering that a major part of the problem lay in publishing, I established Rebirth Publishing, Inc., at seventeen. My first series of novels, Issym, Asandra, and Xsardis, hit shelves in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

6) In February of 2013 (at 20) I graduated with a Bachelors in Organizational Management. While most people think it is crazy that an author went for a business degree, I am well-satisfied with my choice. All my life I have loved organizing and leading. At times, I find business more fun than writing and often just as creative an outlet. The degree serves me well as I direct Rebirth Publishing.

7) My passion grew until I began speaking and teaching in a variety of settings, showing kids and adults that the time to serve God with the whole heart is NOW. This is one of my favorite, albeit the most exhausting, parts of my varied job. I also lecture on business and writing, and mentor students personally through email and classes.

8) Fun facts: A) I have seriously desired to quit on publishing, writing, and speaking at least a half dozen times. Thanks to God’s steadfast counsel I never did and I now LOVE my job. B) I dabble as a singer/songwriter/guitarist/worship leader too. C) In high school I memorized most of the New Testament. No education ever served me better. D) The perfect writing setting for me involves a good view; my laptop; coffee; maybe a candle; and Josh Garrels or wordless, spunky music (like Lindsey Stirling) playing in the background.

9) As a single gal with a ridiculously supportive family and a network of friends throughout the country, I get to travel a lot for work. What I learn of life on my travels and at home, as well as what I learn from the students I teach, is purposefully crafted into my novels. Ever since Issym, I have determined to share my heart through my writing. You will get to know me in a new way when my next book, Mark of Orion, comes out Thanksgiving 2013.

10) I am on the adventure of life, learning more about the God I love, how He loves me, and how I can love others. It is my greatest joy to serve the King of kings. It is my honor to discover Him in writing, in nature, in music, in organization, in Scripture, in fellowship, and in the quiet and uncertain times of life.

So, there, those are the significantly inadequate highlights of my life. I will leave you with two verses that are my inspiration.

1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV, 1984), “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

Philippians 3:12 (NIV, 1984) “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

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It is graduation day. Finally, I’m a college graduate.

I have been having a lot of flashbacks from different points in my college career, and as I promised you around New Years here is some self-reflection. My mom’s verse for me is Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,<sup class=”crossreference” value='(W)’> but I press on to take hold<sup class=”crossreference” value='(X)’> of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Nothing much sums up my life better than that. College really began in high school, when I took a few classes at local colleges. I learned then that I was not as outmatched by the big, broad world of adulthood as I had thought I was. I was still a bit of an introvert. And I spent every spare moment of that senior year writing or thinking about writing. It was the year I published Issym. And then I made the very logical decision to go to school for a business major.

Honestly, I don’t know that I would have gone to college if I had not started with a Business/Bible degree. It was the Bible degree that pushed me to head to South Carolina for college, stepping out of Maine, the only home I had ever known. I will never regret my one semester at Bible College. It was my chance to be a real student, to write on the side, to live boldly, to make friends, to feel warm everyday. I enjoyed Chick-Fil-A for the first time; I learned how to drive on a six lane highway; I discovered the value of coffee with the girls. Very importantly, the time at college granted me a deeper foundation of Bible knowledge and exposer to different chapel speakers and their ideas. I discovered that home could be found anywhere, even in the sweltering south. I made good friends that semester; not one of them lasted as more than a ‘Facebook friend’, which was okay too. Life is funny like that. What I desperately want to be permanent sometimes only lasts for a season. But oh, what a season! One must embrace moments. You do not reject summer because it cannot last.

My description of that semester at Columbia International University (CIU) would be incomplete if I did admit how very near death I seemed one fateful night when the chest pains I had been experiencing all semester surged to a new high. After not leaving my dorm room for a week, I was rushed home to Maine and admitted to the ER. I did homework in my hospital room, searching for the feeling of normality and holding onto hope that I would be able to go back to college. I remember being amazed how my heart (we had a special scan run) looked like an angry Muppet and how one floor of the hospital had the overwhelming smell of coffee. What was then diagnosed (although falsely so) as costochondritus allowed me to get on my feet, slowly. I discovered rest–pure rest–was about all I could do for myself. Somehow, through it all, I made it to the release of my second book, Asandra. That accomplishment may be my proudest because of how many obstacles seemed to get in the way. It was also the book where I learned how to be honest with readers, how to show them my heart. The reception was phenomenal. That semester I learned in a new way how true 2nd Corinthians 12:9 is, “But he said to me, ‘My grace<sup class=”crossreference” value='(P)’> is sufficient for you, for my power<sup class=”crossreference” value='(Q)’> is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” So I boast in Christ’s strength. I am full of weakness; He is not.

The fateful events that haunted me near Thanksgiving break led me on a journey back to Maine. At the time it felt like failure to leave my new home and head to my old one, to move back in with my parents, to have them carry my laundry, to barely drag myself to school every day. I was proud that I had finished the semester at CIU, but I knew that there would be no quality of life if I stayed in South Carolina. I could not have anticipated how good home would feel, how important it would be for me to work alongside Maine Bible Quizzing as a worship leader (for a pretty crazy crew of adults and teens), to participate in my nephew’s lives, to see my sister’s new home the day she bought it, and to take my place in so many little things. No, I have no regrets about coming home. Who knew then that what had been misdiagnosed as costochondritus would later give credence to my Lyme diagnosis as we came to understand just was really going on inside me. I could not understand during my semester at Husson University in Maine why I was not getting better from the supposedly curable costochondritus. So as my business grew and had me traveling, and when the opportunity for online college came along, I jumped at the chance.

I transferred to Nyack College where I completed my degree just today. The program was still business, but its title was ‘Organizational Management’. I think I had expected to be less of a guinea pig (I was in one of the first primarily online OM programs at Nyack), but all-in-all, I graduated and that is what is important. I published another book, the best yet (Xsardis). I invested in my home and family. I found an impact zone in Maine and outside, as  I began book touring. While I had lots of fun with friends in Virginia and met some awesome people at Soulfest, probably my favorite trip of the year was Ohio. The people I spoke with (young and old) and the reception I received was astounding and memorable.

During this last year of college I have learned more about myself than I thought possible. In understanding Lyme and what was going on in my body; in accepting whatever the outcome of my health is; in participating with friends and family; in investing in home and accepting the value of seasons that come and go; in traveling; in speaking; in writing; in worshiping God and writing songs; in choosing joy and peace; in seeking God’s will for my future; in meeting some very remarkable people that had a big impact on my life, I have discovered a fuller, deeper life. From uncovering my desire for coffee shops, to my love of Lindsey Sterling fiddle music, to my happy-place by my sister’s side, to the charm of dancing in my father’s arm, to the merit of playing guitar in an empty house, I have grown to understand a bit more of who God made me to be. I have learned that I love mentorship and so am working on mentorship programs with students. I have learned what I want to write about; who I want to be; and why it is so very important to live as God has called us to live.

So what’s next for me? Lots of family-time and reading by the fireside in the coming month. Part of my Lyme treatment is a doctor’s order for rest and that’s what I will be focusing on as much as possible. I head to the road in March to catch up with friends I have not had the time to see. I am highly motivated to work on my already-drafted novel, Mark of Orion, that has captivated my heart and my imagination. I plan to write/publish/and speak for six months as I look at buying my own printing equipment and try to gage how far I am from making a living based on my writing career. Whatever adventures come next, be they in this state or another, I will carry with me the lessons learned of joy and peace and seasons and the beauty of God’s majestic plan for my life and this world. I look forward to following where my Lord leads. The purpose of my life is to go where He sends me, to share His goodness with the world, to grow to know Him and love Him better. As my graduation verse, Ephesians 2:10, says, “For we are God’s workmanship,<sup class=”crossreference” value='(U)’> created<sup class=”crossreference” value='(V)’> in Christ Jesus to do good works,<sup class=”crossreference” value='(W)’> which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

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Continuing our theme of introductions, let us talk about The Backstory Introduction.

There is nothing quite so powerful as a story. A well-told backstory is especially strong. While there are different types of backstories, a general rule is that it should allude to a lifetime of information and character development without taking up pages and pages.

The character backstory describes a specific event (likely traumatic) in the main character or hero’s life. This gives the reader perspective, from the beginning, on why the character is the way he is. It can be helpful when the character is tough and unlikeable. Similarly, when the story is set in the past, the character backstory can set the stage with political and geographical facts. Examples might be the car crash of the detective’s wife or the day his daughter was born. Seeing how he handles pressure in the first scene and how his family is (or is not) his priority in the second tells the reader big things about the character.

The legend backstory is what I used for each book in The Xsardis Chronicles. It alluded to the moral of the story; it told of the past heroes of Xsardis; it gave the land depth and history; and it showed some principles about my world that it would have been hard to otherwise detail. It also set the field as a medieval world, despite the fact that my first chapter would open on Earth.

The historical backstory can be real or imagined. It will tell of an event that happened before the story took place. It will not follow any living characters on which the book focuses–although it might incorporate deceased relatives. This is useful for treasure hunting tales and stories that need to incorporate background information that the narrator of the tale does not know.

These are three common backstory introductions. They each take on a unique shape; and they each borrow from each other. Here are some cautions when using them. 1. They can be boring–especially the legend backstory. What you find interesting about battles and lore may completely bore the reader. And since your introduction is at the beginning of your book, this can stop a reader before she even gives you a real chance. So be careful. How? Ask readers’ opinions and (like with the foreshadow introduction) be willing to cut your intro. Also frame the story with something interesting. The introductions of Issym, Asandra, and Xsardis were narrated by Reesthma and Joppa, who told their tales while adventure and death crouched at their door. This added drama to the story. 2. Accuracy can be hard to maintain. Every introduction you write sets the stage for the rest of your book. Maintaining the integrity of your book in this context–which is removed from the rest of your book–can be a challenge. Spend time and painstakingly be sure that every fact you share in the intro is accurate Look ahead to what books will come next in your series. Does this information still fit? 3. Brevity is an author’s virtue. Introductions tend to lag on. No matter how interesting your backstory, it is NOT the story. Readers want to get something from the backstory, then get to the real tale. So keep it short. A well-told, short backstory has every possibility to endear your reader, make them love your style, give your story and your world depth, and excite the whole book. A long and/or boring tale will do just the opposite. It’s the kiss of death.

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Here is the picture of the purple phone I mentioned. You cannot really appreciate just how purple it is in a picture, but I have to admit that it is growing on me…

I was a writer again today and it felt good. I fell in and out of projects. From reading the Orson Scott Card book on characters, to re-reading Asandra to try to figure out exactly what I did with that story, to figuring out timeline issues in Xsardis, I have tackled a variety of important things. And I am learning from them all.

When I am super busy I do not have time to develop my craft as I would like to. I rarely try short stories because there is not time. I would never have dared to attempt a poem. But the more I write, the more I want to expand my horizons. I think I can blame the Writers’ Guild for my attempt today at a poem. Though, when I say ‘blame’ I really mean ‘thank.’ I was inspired by something today and I was able to take the time to write a poem about it. My fellow guild members had given me the courage (or maybe the shove) to attempt it. I cannot even begin to guess if it’s any good. And the big problem with poems and me is that they are so personal that I don’t want to share them. But even if no other soul ever discovers it, it was so freeing and exciting to write.

When I am working out an issue, I usually pull out my guitar and sing it out. It is cool to watch myself begin to sort things out through writing. Although this was not an issue but an appreciation of great beauty. My heart feels alive in a very new way and my poem was an attempt to capture that.

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