Archive for July, 2014

This week we’re camping, so I will not have access to this — or any other — blog.  So until I return next week, I beg your indulgence and hope you will enjoy this guest blog.

I’m handing the reins over to two young ladies you may have read about on this blog, twelve-year-old best friends Catherine Brökkenwier and Roselyn Connolly, the main characters in my daughter’s and my middle grade novel, The Last Princess.

Take it away, girls.

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Cat & Rose

Rose: Okay, I’m Rose. Cat’s my best friend and she can see fairy-tale creatures the rest of us can’t. And I’m going to ask her questions.

Cat: Wait. What’s a blog?

Rose: It’s like … writing in your journal, but posting it on the Internet.

Cat: Oh, cheese! My mom uses the Internet! Is she going to read this?

Rose: How should I know? Are you ready?

Cat: Sure, I guess. Hello, Internet!

Rose: Okay. So, what’s it like being the Last Princess of the Fae?

Cat: Whoa! I’m not any kind of princess, yet. There are secret greetings and different kinds of fae I’ve never even heard of, yet. And a quest. I’ve got to learn everything before I even have a chance at becoming the princess of the fae.

Rose: So what kind of fae have you met so far?

Cat: Let’s see. I met a cute djinni boy. I think he’s the only pure-blood fae I’ve met. All the other fae are actually just “fae-born” – they have a little fae blood in them but they’re mostly human. Like Gail Westerly, the Information Lady at the library – she’s a sylph-born. And Hunter Alfson, the archery instructor at Squirrel Scout camp. He’s elf-born. And a couple of others, I guess. Nobody special.

Rose: Hey!

Cat: I’m totally kidding! You, of course! Piskie-born – what else? You have perfect blond hair and look like a fashion model.

Rose: Hmmm. Maybe. I was going to be a fashion model when I grew up, but with a real princess for a best friend, that kind of sounds boring, now.

Cat: Hmph! You wanna trade? I’ll be perfect and beautiful and rich, and you can try to impress the creepy ogre-born man across the street. Good luck! Don’t let the foot-long butcher knife scare you!

Rose: I’ll pass. So, okay. What’s it like having a super-power?

Cat: You mean my “fae-dar?”

Rose: Exactly. What else did you call it?

Cat: Mrs. Dalyrimple calls it the Sight. She’s the one who told me about how all the fae disappeared and blended in to humanity hundreds of years ago. And how nobody else can see them besides me.

Rose: Right.

Cat: Well, when I look at someone I can tell they have fae blood because they sort of sparkle if I look hard enough. But what I really get is a feeling of … something different, and my imagination or the Sight or whatever just draws a picture. And I can usually tell what they are because I’ve been reading fairy-tales all my life.

Rose: I know, but I mean, what’s it like being able to see stuff the rest of us can’t?

Cat: Oh! Well, totally cool, obviously. But scary sometimes. Some fae-born don’t want people to know what they are. I found that out the hard way.

Rose: I can’t believe you laughed at Mr. Alfson’s shoes!

Cat: They were pointy! He’s an elf-born! What was I supposed to do?

Rose: I don’t know – act normal?

Cat: You’ve met me, right?

Rose: Yes. So … what’s the best part about being a princess? Almost a princess?

Cat: Oh, wow. I don’t know. I guess if I make it, it will be that I get to help all of the hidden fae-born find others of their kind. So they know they’re not alone.

Rose: That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I think I’m going to cry.

Cat: Shut up!

Rose: Ow! Stop hitting me! Okay, so what’s the worst part?

Cat: You know the worst part.

Rose: Yeah. But the people reading this don’t.

Cat: Oh, yeah. The worst part is my family doesn’t know about any of this. And if my mom found out she would kill me.

Rose: Why?

Cat: Because she’s decided I’m too old for fairy-tales and wants me to grow up and be little Miss Perfect.

Rose: Well, you are almost thirteen. What’s wrong with that?

Cat: You’ve met me, right?

Rose: So what are you going to do, Cat?

Cat: This adventure so far has taught me one thing. I can never be the proper, groomed, button-down darling my mother wants me to be. But I can fake it.

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Thank you Cat and Rose! That was very informative. I’m sure my readers join me in wishing you good luck with your quest, Cat, and your modeling career, Rose. And if anyone knows Mrs. Brökkenwier, please don’t tell her about this, okay?

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This is not your average schoolyard bully fight.

Last week I promised I’d post the progress on the climactic showdown scene in my daughter’s and my WIP, The Last Princess. So here we are. The fact that I’m actually able to do this is an amazing moment for us; only a few short months ago we had no idea how this book was going to go or how it was going to end. Now that we’re here it feels like a triumph every bit as much as it does for the winner for the fight in our novel. This is just one more example how when art imitated life, life can imitate the art right back.

In case you’re not familiar, The Last Princess is about 12-yo Cat Brökkenwier, a girl who only recently learned that she is not entirely human, and that may, in fact, be the last princess of the fae-born the mostly-human descendents of the magical folk of legend and myth who hid by blending in). Her rival for the job is Melvin Francis Gaylord, a goblin changeling who calls himself prince Bone-Breaker. And he has the power to touch you and make you believe whatever he wishes you to believe. The prince has kidnapped one of Cat’s friends, and he has generously offered to trade her back – if Cat lets the prince charm her and make forget all about her claim to the crown.

Cat believes she is part troll on her father’s side, and having finally embraced her trollishness (not exactly what she’d imagined for her princess self), she agrees to the deal….

I swallowed. I needed to end this. Now. I needed to truly be the Troll Princess and take care of this menace once and for all. I ran through all of the things I’d read about trolls in my diary, hoping for inspiration: if you threaten what’s theirs they’ll fight to the end; they’re strong, feel no pain, have fists like stone…. What would Dad do?

I lifted my chin and took a step closer to the prince, thinking about my secret weapon. I grinned, showing my teeth. “Maybe you’d better call that army of yours. Because you’re going to need something to hide behind.” I took another step closer and my hands curled into fists.

His smile faltered but he held his ground. “What are you going to do, Cat-litter, punch me?” He barked another laugh. “Did you forget about my ring of strength?”

“No. Did you forget about my fists of stone?” I raised my fists in the fighting stance Alex had taught me.

Bone-Breaker’s eyes squinted. “Your what?”

“I may be exactly what you say I am, but I’m still not letting you hurt anyone else. Let. Gail. Go.”

“Come a little closer and say ‘please.’” He taunted, crooking his finger at me.

“Please!” I pounced but he scrambled back out of my reach, fear flashing on his face.

Growling with rage he lashed out and kicked the leg of a display table, sending a dozen of Dad’s pots and Mom’s flowers crashing into the dirt. “You want to be next?” he snarled, pointing at the destruction he had caused. “I offered you the easy way out!” He reached for his back pocket.

“Hey!” Dad lurched into motion, but Mom grabbed his arm.

“No, Richard! Cat has to do this by herself.”

I stared at my parents like they were from another planet. Dad had tried to rescue me – even after I’d told him I hated him. And Mom … Mom believed in me?

I turned back to the prince. He held Gail’s phone between two fingers.

“I was going to trade her for you, but now the deal’s off.” He dropped the phone in the dirt and stomped on it with his heel, smashing it with a sharp crunch.

Gail flinched, but her eyes met mine and she raised her chin.

“Now I get both of you,” Bone-Breaker sneered. He turned and reached for Gail, held just behind him by the dark elf twins.

“Wait!”

His body blocked what he was doing but I heard Gail gasp. Her arms flailed, but the twins held her fast, grim smiles splitting their pale faces.

“No! I’ll do what you want!” I leapt and grabbed the goblin by the shoulder, tugging him away from Gail.

“How dare you touch me?” He spun and the back of his hand caught me square in the face, his ring hitting my cheek like a wrecking ball. I sprawled in the dirt and heard cries of shock and surprise all around me. I turned my head painfully and saw the feet and legs of dozens of people standing just outside the booth, like an audience.

“Cat!” My dad shouted. “Are you alright?”

I struggled to my hands and knees, then climbed to my feet. I gave Dad a grim smile and two thumbs-up. He nodded and returned the thumbs-up, his own smile proud.

So, I had an audience, now? All the better. I turned back to the prince.

But instead I found Gail standing in his place, smiling at nothing.

Oh, no! “Gail?” I took a step closer, reaching for her.

Her pale blue eyes focused on me and her smile melted away. “Who are you? You’re not the prince.” She looked around, searching, her pretty brow pinched in confusion. Behind her the prince and his brainwashed minions laughed at me.

I let my hand drop and took a long, deep breath. This was ending. Now. I had my secret weapon and it was time to use it.

“Hey, Melvin,” I called over their laughter, and the goblin boy stiffened. “You want this, come and get it.”

He roughly pushed Gail aside and came to stand toe-to-toe with me. I could feel his hot breath on my face as his beady, gloating eyes drilled into mine, but I refused to blink. After a minute he said so only I could hear, “You know something, grumpy cat? You’re kind of cute when you snarl like that.”

My face flamed and my stomach flip-flopped. He thinks I’m cute?

He blushed at my reaction and tried to cover it with a sneer. “But you’re still just a stupid girl! I wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole if I didn’t have to show you who’s boss.”

I smiled at his sudden embarrassment. And because I knew something he didn’t. “You’re not afraid, are you? Chicken-boy?”

The rims of his ears turned red and he flashed his teeth in a snarl. “Oh, you are so done.” He grabbed my arm.

I wanted to shake him off like a bug when he touched me but I didn’t flinch, even as tingles shot through me. My eyes never left his and I whispered, “One of us is.”

His eyes widened when I didn’t melt into a puddle of adoring fangirl at his feet, and the tingles vanished for an instant.

It was true! My diary said trolls were immune to magic, and the changeling’s charm wasn’t working on me! I chuckled wickedly, loving the confusion on his face.

“How are you doing that?” He grabbed my arm with both hands, squeezing painfully.

Electricity iced through me and I locked my knees so I wouldn’t collapse. Gritting my teeth, I forced my eyes to uncross and focus on his face. “I’m a troll, you moronic little toad,” I spat. “Trolls aren’t affected by magic. Or didn’t you know that?”

His eyes narrowed and the ice ripping though my veins eased to a thousand pin-pricks as his grip faltered. “But … you’re not a troll.”

In that moment of relief I saw the truth in his confusion. “But … my dad….” I panicked, suddenly doubting myself, and the waves of electric ice crashed over me twice as strong. The magic is getting to me! I’m not immune!

The color drained from everything as numbness crept through my brain like icy fingers. I’m not going to win. I should have felt my heart pounding in my chest, but I didn’t. Everything had faded away until only the changeling’s cruel voice filled my world: “You are so stupid.”

I am so stupid, my mind echoed obediently.

The numbness felt like a warm blanket after the waves of ice, and I wanted to wrap it around me and snuggle into it more deeply. I could forget all of the pain and everything bad that had happened if I just pulled the blanket over my head and let somebody else deal with it. Nothing would matter until tomorrow. Always tomorrow….

But another voice intruded, distant and muffled as if I had ears full of cotton. “Fight him, Cat! Fight him off!”

Fight who off? It took me a while to remember how my eyes worked, and I forced them open. Light stabbed in, piercing the fog in my head, and sounds of the crowd poured back in with it. My head lolled to the side and I struggled to focus.

“You can beat him, Cat! Don’t let him win!”

Rose! There in the crowd, shouting at me. Beside her stood her mother, waving her hands at me to get on with it. On her other side stood a man in a uniform, and my eyes fastened on the little gold wings pinned to his chest. Rose’s dad. They were cheering me on.

More shouts rang out: “Shtop toying vis that goblin, Fürstin!” Mr. Goldschmidt’s red beard jutted as he shook his fist, almost lost behind the taller people in front.

“Yah!” shouted Hunter Alfson beside him. “Put that yerk in hiss place!”

I felt my strength trickle back as the shock of what I was seeing warmed my blood. Everywhere I looked the crowed glowed with sparkles. Fae-born, every one of them. I saw faces I barely remembered – the mean girls from Rose’s birthday party, the groundskeeper from soccer practice, neighbors I’d never looked at with my fae-dar before. All of them here, all of them cheering for me. I fought against the numbing fog, my heart thumping in my chest to remind me I was alive.

“Oi! You’ve got ’im on the ropes, now, Your ’Ighness!”

Nanny was here, too? In the middle of the day? How did all of these people get here? Who told them to come? Shock melted the last of the fog: they wanted me to be their princess!

My hands curled into fists as I came to grips with my new reality. I wasn’t a troll. And I wasn’t alone. I may not have known what I was, but I knew who I was, and I would be true to myself forever more. As the chosen princess of the fae.

Bone-Breaker saw my sudden determination and the color drained from his face. “No! You can’t!” In a frenzy he clutched at a charm hanging from a chain around his neck. The silver teardrop had a purple gem cut in the shape of the moon, and Bone-Breaker strained to touch me with it.

“Watch out, Princess!” someone shouted.

I drew back my fist like Alex had taught me, and with my weight behind it I punched the goblin prince right in the face. I heard a pop, and he screamed and crumpled to the ground. The prince rolled back and forth in the dirt, clutching his face with both hands.

A few gasps, and the crowd went silent.

“You broke my dose!” The prince stared in horror at the blood on his hands. “You stupid girl, you broke my dose!”

I could feel the eyes of every fae-born on me as I looked down at the boy writhing in the dirt at my feet. “Yeah. I guess you’re done.

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And just like that, after all of her trials and quests and heartbreaks, Catherine Brökkenwier becomes the princess of the fae. Of course, a bloody nose is hardly going to stop the goblin boy from trying to rule the world….

We are very close to finishing the first draft of our novel. Once we do, we will need a team of beta readers to give us feedback on the completed manuscript. If you are interested in being a beta reader for The Last Princess, click on the Beta Reader Sign-Ups tab, at the top of this page and sign up!

I was going to write about my progress with the epic final showdown in our WIP, between the hero, Cat, and the villain, prince Bone-Breaker.

But this happened today:

 

Thank you, Al, for making that clear.

Next week, the Battle Royale. I promise.

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It has been a perilous and wonderful journey, co-writing a fantasy novel with my 13-year-old daughter. The wonderful parts include the bonding and the delight in each other’s imaginations, and those magical moments when we think exactly alike.

The perilous parts started the moment we decided to cast ourselves as the main characters.

I’ve written here before about how I took some creative liberties with my daughter’s personality and attributes to round out her fictional alter-ego, Cat, in an effort to give the fictional heroine some quirks and flaws to grow out of, and how when my daughter read the first draft of the first chapter, she was less than amused. Still 12 at the time, she did not immediately understand that in fiction you sometimes have to exaggerate things and make them larger-than-life. That the girl in the story was based on her, not what I thought of her.

The exaggeration of character was certainly not exclusive to her fictional self. My fictional self is clumsy, overweight, with unruly hair and a large nose (this is where my daughter pipes up with, “And the exaggerated parts are…?). My character is, in fact, a troll. Well, in fiction, really.

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But as with any book that you pour your heart and soul into (and in this case quite a bit of my actual personality), you begin to think of the characters as actual living and breathing people. And when that spark ignites and they become real, they start to take on a life of their own, independent of your plans. They start to take the story in directions you never anticipated. Strong, living fictional characters demand to be heard, and they will not do something that goes against their true selves ‒ no matter how important it is for your story or how thoroughly you’ve laid it down in your notes.

When that happens, it’s best to hold your breath and pray they don’t stop. Because it’s kind of like catching a soap bubble, and if you can keep it going, those parts of the story will read as absolutely authentic.

I’ve been working on this story for awhile, now, and by this point I pretty much let Dad write his own parts in the story. Dad and Cat’s relationship goes through the ringer over the course of our story, and gets seriously tested, but through it all, Dad’s love remains true, and his support and admiration for his daughter never falter, even when hers for him do. He passes his tests.

The thing is, I have begun to notice my own behavior, and I have found myself more than once asking, “What would Dad do?” Because while Dad has all of my most troll-like qualities in spades, he also represents the best parts of me. And in the fictional world, he can always do the right thing. In my actual world, I do not always have the luxury of crafting my responses or rewriting them if I don’t like how they sound once I’ve spoken them out loud.

Basically, Dad is smarter than I am. And wiser. And a better communicator.

And as weird as it may sound … I want to be more like him.

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When my daughter and I embarked on the journey that has become our novel, The Last Princess, we had a lot of details to iron out. Many – or most – of them got worked out along the way or as necessity demanded, but a key few details were set in stone right from the start.

One was whether to use traditional names and attributes for our fairytale creatures, or to use the more common and more well-known modern interpretations of them. On this I was adamant; traditional as much as possible.

Since we are looking back in time with our “secret history” of what really happened to the elves and gnomes and so forth, I thought we should look at the origins of those creatures. It didn’t make sense to me to muddy the waters with conflicting modern notions based on dozens of movies and TV commercials and so forth.

For example: Elves. We have two modern images of the elf. One is the tall, beautiful people who live in the forest, are terribly mysterious, and use bows and arrows. These were made popular (and to a large degree defined) by Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. The other popular image of elves is the tiny, silly people who wear curly shoes and pointy hats with bells on them, and who make toys for Santa or make shoes for poor craftsmen down on their luck. Or bake cookies.

From what I’ve been able to dig up in my research, those creatures are actually brownies. Brownies like to hide during the day and come out at night, doing chores for the family they have “adopted” in return for bowls of cream or other morsels. Elves are not craftsmen; they are hunters. Elves have their origins on Norse myth, which may account for the connection to the North Pole, and even their curly shoes. But you would never find a Norse elf baking cookies in a tree or slinking around Hogwarts wearing rags.

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26Another blurring of the lines is more recent: the difference between a fairy and a pixie. Tinker bell is a pixy (actually, the original term was “piskie”). Fairies (actually “faeries”) were usually thought to be full-sized people of such beauty that they shone with their own light. More like Tolkein’s elves than the Disney Fairies. In fact, in the original Peter Pan Tinker Bell is referred to as “a common fairy.” The fact that these fairies live in Pixie Hollow and use pixie dust only serves to confuse the matter. It may be that “fairies” refer collectively to a large family of magical, mischievous creatures, such as sprites, nymphs, piskies, bogles, etc., and that the glowing, regal, super-beings who are thought to have ruled the Seelie Court were a special breed called the Sidhe (roughly pronounced “shee”). But to be sure I think we’d have to go back in time and talk to the folk who passed down the stories, which have been lost or altered.

In fact, I plan to do just that in the next book, when our hero is the victim of a misfired wish. So I will definitely have more research ahead of me.

But let me share a few tidbits I have already dug up.

  • Dwarves are German in origin, so it is unlikely they would have a Scottish accent.
  • Genies (jinn) don’t live in bottles; imps do. And imps have red skin, horns and a tail like “devils.” Except there is only one “devil.”
  • The term “a little birdie told me” came from sylphs, creatures of the wind, who were often employed as messengers.
  • Goblins, ogres and trolls often get mixed up and interchanged, but they are quite distinct. Ogres eat children but are timid, trolls turn to stone in the sun, and goblins are small and vicious, but only in large numbers.
  • Gremlins are not really old enough to be considered mythical creatures; they were “invented” during WWII to explain the frequent aircraft malfunctions.

I expect I have some of these facts wrong. And I would be delighted if you would set me straight. Please share what you know and where I can learn more in the comments below.

NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.