Monday musings: Inside the shell of character

I love buying eggs from my next-door neighbor.

Aren’t they lovely?  So many different colors! On the outside, anyway — inside, eggs are eggs.  Lisa has at least four varieties of hens running around her yard, maybe even five or six.  It’s so much fun to look out my kitchen window and see them scurrying to and fro in search of bugs and other good things to eat.

We used to have chickens, too, but they eventually went into chicken retirement.  (You can read about that here.)  They provided not only eggs (and amusement), but also food for thought.  Click here for a link to a blog post from a few years back that was inspired by a little backyard observation.

That’s the best kind of observation, really, isn’t it?

So what does this motley dozen nesting on my kitchen table tell me today?  Well, perhaps that despite our outward trappings–race, nationality, gender, faith, age, political leanings, etc.–on the inside, where it really counts, we’re all the same.  As a writer, I’ve learned that it’s the inside of my characters that counts, too. Whether I’m writing about a girl on an adventure at sea in 1835 (THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED), a mouse who dreams of being a secret agent and the fifth grade boy who helps her out (THE BLACK PAW), modern-day stepsisters on the receiving end of a spell gone terribly wrong (ONCE UPON A TOAD), or a whole cast of moms and daughters who end up reading the classics together (THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB), it’s the heart of the matter that’s most important.

Sure, I need to pay attention to details like dress and appearance and mannerisms and all that.  It’s part of my job (and a very fun part, I might add) to make the window dressing as interesting and alluring as possible.  But what is it that really connects us to those who live out their lives on the written page? What is it that makes some characters wrap themselves around our hearts?  Think Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  Or India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  

It’s what’s on the inside, isn’t it?  It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings.  Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all.  So when you’re writing, be sure to crack open that shell and breathe life into your character from the inside.

Give your character a heart, and it will speak to the heart in your reader.

 

 

 

 

 

The view from my window

It is, as Pooh might put it, a very Blustery Day here in the Northwest…

The sky is slate gray, and a gusty wind is flinging raindrops against my office window.  From where I sit, I have a good view of the maple tree in our backyard.  A few last holdouts in its branches will soon join their compatriots on the lawn below, but at the moment they’re frantically waving yellow flags of surrender.

 

November is the PERFECT month for writing.

Who in their right mind would want to be outside in weather like this?  November always brings a string of days that find me perfectly content to be here at home, happily settled in the armchair where I do all my writing.  My laptop is open for business, I have a cup of tea close at hand (a delicious herbal brew from Teaforte called Blueberry Merlot at the moment), and the dogs are napping at my feet.

Well, OK, Bonnie’s napping at my feet.  Billie’s more interested in the “people cookies” that I’m about to tuck into.  No point in a cup of tea without a cookie or two, right?  Sorry, Billie — you just had a dog cookie.  No more treats for you!

November, December, January, and February are my most productive writing months for sure.  Not that I don’t write year-round — I do — but in the spring and summer and early fall, I’m always fending off distractions, particularly the lure of the outdoors.  This time of year, though, even the dogs don’t want to go for a walk.

What’s your favorite season of the year to write?

 

 

 

 

 

Will work for macaroons

Working from home definitely has its advantages.  The commute’s a snap, for one thing, and I can set my own hours, wear my pajamas all day, and skive off to the movies mid-morning while everyone else is stuck at their desks.  (Not that I ever do, mind you, but I could if I wanted to.)

It definitely has its disadvantages too, though.  For one thing, it can get pretty quiet around here, even though our Shetland sheepdogs are good company.

Office colleagues Bonnie & Billie

Plus, the boss is a slave driver.  Man, does she crack that whip!  What’s that, you say?  I’m the boss, so I have no one to blame but myself?  Um, I guess you have a point there…

Once in a while my mean old boss cuts me some slack and tells me to go have fun.  One of my favorite things to do in this case is have friends over for lunch.  It gives me an excuse to clean the house, for one thing, plus I love to cook.  And it’s always nice to have a reason to use my favorite pink china I inherited from my mother.

Today I made pumpkin soup, perfect for a chilly November day, and to go with it we had sourdough rolls, sparkling cranberry juice, and my friend Susan brought a delicious salad, while my other friend Sue (yep, two Susans–isn’t that funny?!) brought MACAROONS.

I am a sucker for anything coconut.

Especially yummy little cookies like these.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Sue gave me the recipe, which is super-simple.  I can’t wait to whip up a batch myself!

COCONUT MACAROONS

1 14-oz. pkg.  shredded & sweetened coconut (5-1/3 cups)

2/3 cup sugar

6 T. flour

¼ tsp. salt

4 egg whites

1 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325.  Combine coconut, sugar, flour and salt in large bowl. Stir egg whites and extract together, then add to coconut mixture and stir until blended.

Using a cookie dough scoop or spoon, scoop coconut mixture into 1 T. size mounds, 2 inches apart, onto greased and lightly floured baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper).

Bake for 20 minutes or until edges look golden brown and lightly toasted. Transfer from baking sheet to wire racks and cool completely.  Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

 

Fan art Friday

Wow, do I have some treats for you today!  A trio of incredible pieces of artwork sent to me by two of you.  (By the way, if you click on them, they’ll enlarge for you so you can see the detail.)

First up, check out this Flashlite magazine cover designed by Cassie:

Cassie did this for a school assignment.  I’m not the least bit surprised that she received 100% on it, and that her teacher had this to say:  “I never have seen anything more unique and well done! It looks as though you have traveled and visited Fashion Week in Paris and studied it.”  (Nope, says Cassie — no trips to Paris, just to the pages of WISH YOU WERE EYRE!)

AWESOME job, Cassie!

And here are two drawings by Emma.  I just LOVE all the details!

 

Aren’t these FABULOUS?!  Thanks, Emma!

 

 

NaNoWriMo

How many of you out there are participating in NaNoWriMo? How many of you even know what NaNoWriMo is?

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, “NaNoWriMo” stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It happens every November, and perhaps is best described as a writing marathon, which writers sign up for (it’s free!) with the goal of writing a novel in a month.  Sounds crazy, right?

And it is, in a way.  But crazy in a GOOD way!

While I’m not doing NaNo myself this year in an official way, I’m unofficially using it as a motivator for keeping my new book moving forward.  (Which it is, yay!)   I have some young friends who signed up for the Young Writers Program, though (click here to learn more about it).  They’re busily writing away toward their goals, so I thought it would be fun to interview two of them.

Here’s what Eliza, a 4th grader in Oregon, has to say about the experience:

Q.  Could you tell other young aspiring writers a little bit about NaNo, and how you decided to get involved with it?

A.  Nanowrimo is a great way for anyone to just get their words and ideas down on paper with no restrictions, just for fun. I decided to get involved in it because my sister Molly had lots of fun with it.

Q.  How many years have you done it now?

A.  3 years.

Q.  How does it help motivate you?

A.  Just being able to write stuff down and come back later to make changes gives it all an exciting “rush and hurry” sort of feel.

Q.  What are you hoping to accomplish this year?

A.  4,000 words and a good book.

Q.  What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about doing it?

A.  Stop thinking and get it done. (And have fun!!!!)

Thanks, Eliza!  Happy NaNo-ing!   

Now here’s Margaret, a 7th grader from Georgia, who wrote a little essay about the experience for us:

NaNoWriMo is an adventure.  A fast-paced, finger-flying adventure.  Last year, when I did Youth Writers Program (YWP) NaNo for the first time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I knew that I was going to be writing a novel and only had the month of November to do it.  And I also knew that I loved to write and NaNoWriMo was a place where I could.

I set my word count goal as 25,000 words.  In YWP NaNoWriMo, you set a goal for yourself and try to reach it during the month.  I didn’t really know what my story would be like, but I had what I call “puzzle pieces.”  These puzzle pieces consisted of the skeleton of what my story would be–a few ideas toward the plot line, some interesting character names, and a couple of phrases that I thought were so witty that I had to include them somewhere.  Then the adventure began.  Motivation had struck and I was writing like a maniac.  But what was so unique was that in a way, I had no choice to let everything go and hold nothing back.  Writer’s block tried to stop me more than a few times, but I just kept on writing and the puzzle pieces I had started with began to fit together and form a story.

Another neat thing about NaNo is that even in the quiet of my room while I’m writing, I know that there are thousands of kids out in the world who are just like me.  They love to write and they’re ready to go on this month-long adventure to create a story.  Maybe next year, you’ll come on this journey with us–this crazy, exhilirating adventure that is NaNoWriMo.

Wow, you make it sound irresistible, Margaret!  Thanks!

Anybody else out there doing NaNo?  Feel free to chime in and let us know how it’s going!  We’ll check back in with you all at the end of the month to see how things went.  Have fun!

 

Turning over a new leaf

So I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this last year, and am finally home again now for a good long stretch.  Which means I finally have time to clean my office!  Here’s what it looked like a few days ago:

Can you believe that mess?  It’s a total hurrah’s nest, as my Nova Scotia grandmother used to say.  (She pronounced it “who-raw’s nest.”)  This is what happens when you’re juggling multiple deadlines and lots of travel.  But it sure makes for a horrid place to work.

I’ve been busy these past few days, sorting, tidying, filing, tossing, dusting, vacuuming, straightening, and organizing.  I finally finished last night.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Ahhh.  MUCH better — I can breathe again!  And write.  Which is what I’m going to do right now…

Tidy surroundings are a vital part of my writing process.  How about you?