Posts Tagged ‘fantasy writing’

inaspeedpaint-jun27

I’m going to share with you the results of some of my research into sixteenth century Ireland and the time of the fae.  Because in our second book, the heroes of our first book end up there. One of my beta readers brought this gem to my attention, and I need to share it with the world.

First of all, what is a “stray sod?”  Well, according to wikipedia:

A stray sod is a clump of grass enchanted by faeries. If a person steps on one, they will become disorientated and lost, even in familiar surroundings. Wearing an item of clothing inside-out breaks the enchantment, allowing the person to find their way again. The concept and phrase appear to originate in ancient Celtic mythology, specifically Irish folklore.

To elaborate, a stray sod is a portal the faerie realm.  And in The Last Faerie Godmother, Cat and Rose are going to encounter them. In fact, they will play a major role in our third book (tentatively called The Last Faerie Tale). It will turn out that nymphs have the ability to create them, and Cat will learn how to do it while she’s stuck in the past.  So when she comes home she will be the only one who can open a portal to the faerie realm, which everyone thought was lost forever.  And it will be full of fae.  Who want to escape to our world….

However we haven’t gotten that far yet.

But good news, everybody! Author and artist Chelsea Crutchley has been quietly producing a web comic called Stray Sod for years, and you can enjoy this delightful story-in-progress right here. (This link will take you to the most recent page of issue #3.  However if you click on the “<<First” link right above the artwork, it will take you to the beginning.)  You can read the whole thing right on your computer, or better yet, purchase a printed copy from her store.  You won’t regret it; Stray Sod is beautifully written and drawn.

I was delighted by the similarities between Stray Sod and The Last Princess — a young girl who plays fast and loose with the rules and has hair she hates, who discovers there are fae hiding in our world and she has a special power regarding them.  Here’s a tiny taste of what you will find:

2014-08-09

Chelsea is a fellow member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and you can follow her on Twitter at @miserbale. I urge you to do so, because she always tweets when a new page of Stray Sod is available, and there could be a new one any day, now. 

This is especially important for me, because each new page inspires new ideas for my daughter’s and my books. And for this we will be forever grateful to Chelsea. In fact, we reached out to Chelsea and she gave us tons of wonderful information about the fae in Ireland.  You can see some of what she shared with us on her site by clicking on “The Fae” link.

Let me know what you think of Stray Sod.  Better yet, let Chelsea know!  And support her by buying a copy, which I’m sure you will treasure as much as I do.

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I hate to throw anything away.  And for awhile my daughter and I had a completely different opening scene to our novel, The Last Princess. We cut this scene, and the opening of the book is much stronger now, but I will always enjoy this little sequence, because it gives a fun, whimsical glimpse into the head of our hero, Cat Brökkenwier, the 12yo who wishes she were a princess.

How’s a girl supposed to get any serious daydreaming done with a little brother on the rampage? It was hard enough trying to do my seventh grade history project without him ricocheting off the walls like a caged dragon.

I know, there’s no such things as dragons. My mom told me. Pfft. How would she know?

I blew a strand of frizzy hair out of my face and picked up the brown pencil from the floor beside me. Hoping for just five minutes of peace and quiet, I leaned over my sketchbook and started coloring in the tallest tower of Windsor Castle. Where my room would be….

“Princess Brökkenwier! You must leave here at once!”

“Nonsense, silly servant. My father is the king. And he said I could have this tower for my very own.” I waved an imperious hand at the little man with puffy pantaloons and ringlets in his hair. “Now go and tell my maid I’m ready for my lunch.”

“No, Princess! The king sent me! We’re under attack!”

“Again?” I put down my silver brush with a sigh. “What is it this time?”

“Dragons, m’lady! Please, it’s not safe in the tower.”

“Whatever.” I stood and adjusted my gold crown. “Take me to my father.”

“At once, m’lady.”

Spiral staircases were so thirteenth century. That’s why I’d had Daddy install an elevator. And a fireman’s pole for quick escapes. The little servant screamed like a girl the whole way down.

As we ran through the courtyard I heard the shouts of the panicking servants and felt the chill of a huge shadow passing overhead. We ducked into the castle proper and secured the large wooden doors. We had almost made it to the great hall when a sound like thunder rocked the passageway and pieces of ceiling rained down. The dragon had landed in the courtyard behind us. I could already smell its awful, smoky breath. The doors slammed open revealing the courtyard on fire, and my brave little servant fainted dead away. But I stood my ground. An enormous yellow eyeball peered at me through the ruined doorway and I desperately wished I had one of the elf archer’s bows. One shot and this would be over.

“Princess!” my dad’s voice bellowed. I spun and there he was. Tall and muscular, bound from head-to-toe in golden armor. He clutched a dwarf-made axe in both fists, ready to rescue me or avenge my death. “Step aside, Princess. This is going to get messy.”

That’s when my little brother landed right in the middle of my drawing, sending pencils and glitter pens flying.

Even though this scene does not exist in the final draft of our book, I like to believe that it still happened.  So there you go; you have a secret bonus scene people who buy the book (when it eventually comes out) will never get to see.

3 Hashtags

Once upon a time, a young princess and her father embarked upon a quest. They wanted to share a tale of adventure and magic and friendship. They spent months of trudging through the jungles full of Wild Ideas and deserts of Empty Thoughts. They set sail on raging seas but were caught in the Doldrums where the Winds of Progress did not blow for weeks. They are on that journey still, looking for a Patron with a bard who will spread their tale all over the world.

But this isn’t about that. The Story of the Three Little Hashtags is a much more humble tale. It is a tale of overcoming modest obstacles and scoring tiny triumphs. Like the Little Engine That Could or Jack Sprat.

Writing the first chapter of a novel is hard. But it is hard over a long period of time; you will work on your first chapter longer than you will work on any other part of your novel. And you will be working on it until the moment it goes to press. However, writing the first chapter of a sequel is much harder (I’ve found). Because who is your audience? Fans of your first book who know all of your characters and how they met and what they did and all of the running jokes? Or people who have never read your first book? With the first book, it’s all about starting in the right place – not too soon and not too late – so you hit the ground running but so you don’t have to fill the reader in on a lot of back story. But with a sequel there HAS to be back story. You CAN’T start in the “right” place, because the “right” place was book one!

I’ve been struggling with the new chapter one for weeks. Months, really. How much back story do I include, how much character introduction do I need to give? Nothing felt right, so the motivation to write was weak. Which meant no progress, which meant no resolution, which meant even less motivation.

Well, last night I finished the draft of chapter one. Actually got to a perfect place to drop a little cliffhanger and close with some tension. And then the magic happened: I typed those three little hashtags that declares to the universe the chapter is complete.

What remains to be seen is whether or not they will live happily ever after.

Cat &amp; Rose

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but one of the reasons my daughter’s and my first book worked was because we introduced a best friend for our main character. When we created Rose, she was really only meant to be in the one chapter, so Cat could ask her for a makeover. We had no plans for Rose for the rest of the book.

In the end, it was Cat’s relationship withRose that provided some of the most emotional aspects of the story.

Also, Rose gave us irresistible opportunities to explore contrasting characters and she gave us a perfect foil for Cat.  Rose could ask questions the reader needed answering, and she gave us someone Cat could confide in and share her secrets with. Rose became one of the most important characters in the book.

But I hadn’t really thought about it before. So when we started planning and plotting the sequel, it never occurred us that we were isolating Cat from Rose for almost the entire book.

To catch you up, in our middle grade fantasy, The Last Princess, we introduce the fae-born, who are the mostly-human descendants of the fae (faeries, elves, goblins, etc.) who vanished because they interbred with humans hundreds of years ago. Cat is chosen to be their princess partly because she has royal blood on her mother’s side, who (it turns out) was the last princess five hundred years ago, but abandoned the crown and eventually used a wish to become human so she could raise a family – all unbeknownst to her husband and children. For the sequel, we plan to have a botched wish send Cat back five hundred years into the body of her 13-yo mother in Ireland, where she has to pretend to be her mother the princess without anyone finding out she’s not (sort of Freaky Friday meets Brave).

For this story, we imagined Cat would be there alone, dealing with a whole new cast of characters on her own. And then one of our beta readers (and one of our moist insightful fans), pointed out that there was something huge missing from our sequel. The vide of the fist book. Cat has a strong rapport with her family members and with her best friend, Rose. All of that would be gone with Cat isolated and along with no means to communicate with any of those people. She suggested that someone else get caught up in the wish with Cat – her little brother or her Dad, or even some kind of psychic connection to the present, so those ties would not be forgotten.

I didn’t cotton to the idea at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I recognized the value of Cat’s relationship with Rose, and how much fun it would be to have both of them stuck together in the past. It will take a fair amount of revising our plot outline to include Rose, but now that I’ve put Rose in the mix I really can’t imagine her not being there.

Rose is a bit like Doctor Who’s companion – that human Everyman who shares the Doctor’s adventures so we can vicariously join in the adventure ourselves. This is another important role the classic sidekick character can play. Also, she will be an important tie to home. Plus, as a side benefit, Cat won’t be spending the entire book thinking to herself.

So for those of you writing your own books, don’t forget the importance of the sidekick.

Last FG Cover

Last week I teased the first not-quite 500 words of my daughter’s and my second book, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER. The idea is to present various drafts of this as time goes on, as sort of an archeological core sample of its evolution.

I invited comments, and received quite a few (thank you!), both positive and negative, and many offered advice. But overwhelmingly, people wanted clarification of what was going on. So I guess 500 words wasn’t quite enough. Therefore I am going to present a little more of the chapter, to the point where I answer many of your questions. I realize I risk boring you with passages that are too long, but I expect you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested, so here we go. (As before, the all-important first 250 words are a slightly different color.)


 

 

Chapter One:  Secrets

 

My arrow struck the goblin right between the eyes. He vanished like a popped balloon filled with smoke and glitter.

Three more of the short scaly green beasties darted out from behind the trees, braver as a group. They raised their axes and bared sharp piranha teeth, then at some unspoken signal ran right for me, screaming and taunting: “Die, Princess!”

Stupid goblins. They always clumped together like that, making a nice fat target. I stood my ground and fired two arrows, one right after the other. My nymph magic gave me a tiny bit of influence over the wood, so I barely had to aim. Two more clouds of green smoke drifted away in the cool breeze.

The last goblin halted in his tracks, alone and uncertain, and dropped his weapon as he prepared to flee. But before he could turn to run, I took two quick steps and swung my fist hard at his chin. Why waste an arrow?

That made four down.

The eerie silence of the dark woods didn’t fool me; more attackers waited for me and my elf-made bow. They always did. I listened for wing-beats in case the sprites were flocking, but I heard nothing from the branches above. So I knelt in the mossy leaves and pretended to tie my bootlace.

When I heard the loud crunch of snapping twigs I smiled. A small giant, maybe. Or a troll. This was getting too easy.

Still kneeling, I eased my bow off my shoulder and slowly reached for an arrow. Then I stood and spun toward the sound, nocking my arrow and drawing it with a single swift motion. An ogre stood five feet away, rotting teeth bared and a massive tree branch gripped in both hands above his shaggy head.

I froze, my arrow pointed directly between his bushy eyebrows. It was Mr. Perrault, my Emissary to the Ogres, my court advisor, and my friend. “This isn’t funny!” I shouted to the forest. “The ogre-born are my allies. I earned their respect and they accepted me as their princess.”

“Bah! Who needs a princess when ze pot is on ze boil? We are hungry.” He lumbered closer, licking his lips. “Twelve years old is the perfect age for cooking.”

I let the bowstring go slack and lowered my bow. This is stupid. I wasn’t going to play Faye’s game.

With a grunt, the ogre swung the club down toward my head and I squeezed my eyes shut.

The illusion of the bow in my hand and the dark forest around me dissolved – along with Mr. Perrault. The afternoon sun lit my face and the sounds of distant sawing and hammering rushed in. I opened my eyes to find myself in the middle of our large back yard bordered by trees on three sides, and wearing my new winter coat and jeans. My knee was wet where I’d knelt in the snow, and my sneakers were soaked.

Faye O’Quinn, my chief advisor on the Seelie Court, took a deep breath as she recovered from her taxing faerie magic. She looked up at me from where she sat, in a patio chair in the shade of the main house.

“You would have let him kill you, Princess?” She raised a delicate eyebrow and brushed a strand of long auburn hair from her pale, perfect face. “Not the best way to preserve your reign, I must say.”

“No, Faye,” I huffed. “Mr. Perrault may have ogre blood, but he would never hurt me.” I stared the part-faerie in the eye. “That was a dirty trick, testing my loyalty.”

“It is not your loyalty I question, Princess. Ogres are untrustworthy, no matter what they promise. I want you to be prepared for that.”

“Cheese, Faye, it’s not like I’m ever going to have to fight a real ogre or goblin. They’re all gone, right? I stomped through the snow toward our new home, catching the smirk on my mom’s face where she was kneeling, planting winter flowers in one of the built-in wooden planters. “What are you laughing at?” I asked her.

Mom straightened and tried to hide her smile. “I’m very proud of you, Catherine. I must admit, Faye’s training has really improved your reflexes, and your magic is coming along nicely.”

“But?” I raised an eyebrow.

She tilted her head. “But don’t you think punching that goblin in the face was a tiny bit … unprincess-like?”

“Mother. Punching a goblin in the face was what made me Princess of the Fae-born in the first place, remember?”

The fae-born were all that were left of the fae – faeries, elves, gnomes, and so on – after they had mixed with humans and blended in hundreds of years ago. Now they all looked pretty much like everyone else, unless you had the ability to spot them like I did. Most of the friendly fae-born were ruled by the Seelie Court, which I’d re-formed as my first act as Princess. The fae-born choose me to be their princess last summer because I had royal blood … and because I’d broken the other candidate’s nose.

Mom gave me her best Mother-of-the-Princess look. “Well I don’t think punching people sets a good example, Catherine. The fae-born all look up to you, now.”

I rolled my eyes.


 

 

Some of you may notice I took your advice.  Thank you.

The challenge here, of course, it to give enough back story from the first book to bring new readers up to speed, but not so much that it creates a huge info-dump. There’s a delicate balance between boring your loyal readers and losing new readers. I’ve also got to fill in what has happened since the end of the last book, which technically counts as MORE back story. And, of course, how do I introduce to new readers all of the familiar characters and their relationship to the story and to the hero?

If I haven’t said it before: writing is hard.

Last FG Cover

This is either going to be an interesting long-term experiment, or a boring waste of your time. You’ll have to let me know.

I’ve reached the point where I can no longer usefully procrastinate on my daughter’s and my second book, the sequel to our first, The Last Princess. So I’ve been forced to begin actually writing. This second book is called The Last Faerie Godmother, and it picks up almost immediately after the first one ended. And that is where our problems begin.

TLP is a fairly complex story. It is contemporary fantasy, so there is some world-building in there, as well as an extensive cast and a complicated plot. We don’t really want to spend our first chapter on a protracted “So, what had happened was….” On the other hand, even the most engaged reader will need some amount of reminding who everybody is and how we got to where we are now. Plus, this is a children’s book – upper middle grade, to be precise. So some amount of hand-holding is probably warranted.

All of this is meant to convey the fact that I am having some difficulty finding the balance between moving forward and looking backwards. Plus, I want that killer beginning.

So here’s my proposal. I’ve written what I think is a pretty good beginning for TLFG. I’d like to try it out on you and hear what you think. Knowing, as I do, that you have not read the first book (because it hasn’t been published), you will be filling the role of the fresh reader who somehow managed to pick up this book first, despite the fact that it presumably has “Book Two” written on the cover. I think this opening is working, but I thought that about every one of the dozen different openings I wrote for our fist book, so I realize this may not make the final cut. The long-term experiment part is where I will post every substantially different version of the opening to TLFP here, and you can compare and observe the process in real time.

Quick note: some importance has been placed on “the first 250 words,” as least for purposes of pitching contests and pitch critiques, etc. The theory is that your average, stereotypical slush reader will decide within the first 250 words if they will keep reading or not. But there are about a dozen layers of this onion; the first sentence will decide if your reader will read the first paragraph; the first paragraph will decide if they will read the first 250 words; the first 250 will decide if they will read the first 3 pages, etc., etc. etc. And all of this is utterly subjective and made-up. But still, probably true to some degree.

So I’m going to present the first not-quite-500 words. The text will change color when you reach the end of the first 250 words. The reason I did this was to illustrate something else: the first 250 words of any book will set up a certain expectation of what is to come. But in many cases (in the best books, in my opinion), this first impression can be yanked out from under you before too long. That is the case, here. In fact, one of my alpha readers – who is very familiar with the first book – asked me what the punchline was, because the character in the first 250 words are not much like the character we left at the end of the previous book. This reader is familiar with my style, and she sensed I was preparing to pull the rug out. So I’ve given you more words so you can see what I mean.

Here it is:


 

Chapter One: Secrets

My arrow struck the goblin right between the eyes. He vanished like a popped balloon filled with smoke and glitter.

Three more of the scaly green beasties darted out from behind the trees, braver as a group. They raised their axes and bared sharp piranha teeth, then at some unspoken signal ran right for me, screaming and taunting: “Your days are numbered, Princess!”

Stupid goblins. They always clumped together like that, making a nice fat target. I stood my ground and fired two arrows, one right after the other. My nymph magic gave me a tiny bit of influence over the wood, so I barely had to aim. Two more clouds of green smoke drifted away in the cool breeze.

The last goblin halted in his tracks, alone and uncertain, and dropped his weapon as he prepared to flee. But before he could run, I took two quick steps and swung my fist hard at his chin. Why waste an arrow?

That made four down.

The eerie silence of the dark woods didn’t fool me; more attackers waited for me and my elf-made bow. They always did. I listened for wing-beats in case the sprites were flocking, but I heard nothing from the branches above. So I knelt in the mossy leaves and pretended to tie my bootlace.

When I heard the loud crunch of snapping twigs I smiled. A small giant, maybe. Or a troll. This was getting too easy.

Still kneeling, I eased my bow off my shoulder and slowly reached for an arrow. Then I stood and spun toward the sound, nocking my arrow and drawing it with a single swift motion. An ogre stood five feet away, rotting teeth bared and a massive tree branch gripped in both hands above his shaggy head.

I froze, my arrow pointed directly between his bushy eyebrows. It was Mr. Perrault, my Emissary to the Ogres, my court advisor, and my friend. “This isn’t funny!” I shouted to the forest. “The ogre-born are my allies. I earned their respect and they accepted me as their princess.”

“Bah! Who needs a princess when ze pot is on ze boil? We are hungry.” He lumbered closer, licking his lips.

I let the bowstring go slack and lowered my bow. This is stupid. I wasn’t going to play Faye’s game.

With a grunt, the ogre swung the club down toward my head and I squeezed my eyes shut.

The illusion of the bow in my hand and the dark forest around me dissolved – along with Mr. Perrault. The afternoon sun lit my face and the sounds of distant sawing and hammering rushed in. I opened my eyes to find myself in the middle of our large back yard bordered by trees on three sides, wearing my new winter coat and jeans. My knee was wet where I’d knelt in the snow, and my sneakers were soaked.


 

There are actually a couple of rugs, here, and the entire chapter will end with a punchline of its own. But I haven’t actually written that far, yet. And my daughter refuses to read what I’ve written until I finish the chapter. So you got the first look.

Tell me in the comments what you thought. Did this grab your attention? Would you keep reading? Are you completely lost? Would you keep moving forward, or put this down and go look for the first book instead?  Or maybe something by a completely different author?

Thanks in advance, and keep an eye out for alternate openings, when I inevitably change this one.

481450197

My daughter and I are in the final stages (knock on wood!) of querying our middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, The Last Princess.  In case you’re new to this blog, the story is basically this:

Twelve-year-old Cat’s dreams come true when faerie folk crown her their princess. But she must embrace the heartbreak of her Trollish heritage to rescue her kidnapped BFF, because nobody wants a troll for a princess.

Cat goes on to become Princess of the Fae-born and discovers some amazing truths about herself and her family, and makes a whole royal court full of new friends.

Now, however, we are starting on our second book, the sequel to the first, and we’re faced with a question: How much backstory do we need to provide at the beginning of the second book?

A lot happens in the first book.  It would not be easy (or particularly interesting) to recount all of it for new readers. But if I don’t the sequel cannot be a stand-alone book.  How important is that, for middle grade readers?

There are other layers to consider. At the very minimum, we need to remind the reader of how our universe works — who are the fae-born and where did they come from, and what kind of magic do they have.  Also, it might be good to remind them of the important insights Cat gained as a result of her adventures.

What we want to avoid (if we can) is explaining who everybody is in a large cast of characters. Who they are, how Cat knows them, their shared history, etc. We’ll never get this book off the ground if we have to explain all of this.

Do you think we are on the right track, or do we need to step back and rethink the opening — or ad a descriptive prologue — to bring everybody up-to-speed?  As it is now, we pick up where we left off, with some fun action. But it won’t really make much sense to anyone unfamiliar with the characters.

Please discuss.

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.

.

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.

.

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?

153501386

I’m back, dear reader, with my (hopefully) improved query letter.  I’ve sought and received a lot of advice on what I had thought was the perfect query.  Then I did so again with what I was certain was an even perfecter query letter.  This one received even more criticism than the first, a veritable blood-bath of red.

So I took a few deep breaths and rewote it from scratch, addressing (I think) all of the vagueness and confusion of the latest version.

So here it is, my soul laid bare. Or something less dramatic. After all, it’s only a few hundred words. Even if they are possibly the hardest few hundred words I’ve had to write in connection with my novel. Comments most welcome.

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics depending on the agent].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier is a daydreamer. She sees faerie-folk among people the way her friends see animals among the clouds. But life as a homeschooler in the suburbs is about as far from her dream of being a princess in a castle as you can get. Besides, her mom says there are no such things as faeries and ogres and pixies, and if she doesn’t buckle down and get serious about her schoolwork there will be “Consequences.” So Cat becomes a model student. For almost a whole week.

That’s when a mysterious, old lady at the fair tells Cat the fae were real but they’ve blended in until they’re almost human, and Cat can see them because she’s one of them. Oh, and because she has this “fae-dar” she might be the last princess of the fae. Now Cat must earn the crown before the goblin prince with his sinister magic beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out. With the help of Mr. Goldschmidt, a dwarf clock-maker, Nanny Schumacher, a brownie housekeeper, Hunter Alfson, an elfin archery instructor, and many others she meets along the way, Cat learns what it means to be fae. Then the goblin reveals the devastating truth: Cat is descended from trolls, not faeries, and nobody wants a stupid troll for a princess. With her dreams and her world shattered, Cat must make a choice: fight the goblin and his army single-handed or use his magic to forget she’s a troll … and everything she’s learned about the fae.

Complete at 66,000 words, “The Last Princess” is a stand-alone book with series potential, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

What do you think?  Would you buy this book?

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The other day I read a blog by a fellow writer, who posed the rather intriguing question: “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” I thought it was a brilliant question. And while she made some excellent points and gave some wonderful literary examples, she never really quite answered the original question.

So I thought I’d take a crack at it.

I speak from some experience; the main character of my latest novel is Cat, a twelve-year-old girl. And before we go any further, I can assure you that I did not start behaving like my daughter while I was writing it. But I did learn to think like her, or like a variation of her. Really, the challenge wasn’t to think like a different gender; Cat is something of a tomboy and is unconventional is other ways. She likes to sculpt clay with her dad, she thinks princesses are supposed to be leaders not clothes-horses, and she wins the day by punching the villain in the nose. No, the challenge was thinking like a twelve-year-old.

In retrospect, I suppose, this seems a little odd. After all, I have never ever been a girl. I have been twelve. But I was twelve almost 40 years ago, and most twelve-year-olds today would not relate to who I was then. The coolest toy I had was Hot Wheels, and the only time we ever rented a movie, my dad brought home a movie projector and an 8mm Pop-eye short. Star Wars and VHS wouldn’t happen for several years. On TV we had three channels — plus PBS if we were lucky and the weather was good.

My behavior didn’t change. But I was fortunate enough to have a real live twelve year-old-girl living in my house who I could observe and ask questions. It really didn’t seem like that big of a challenge. Perhaps because of my fondness for Robert Heinlien. Of course he wrote many of his young adult novellas with female lead characters, but I didn’t get into those until later. I started with the adult novels. I Will Fear No Evil caught me out and fascinated me right from the start, because here was the story of an old man who used his wealth to move his intellect and personality out of his dying body and into that of a vibrant young woman. And Heinlien writes as if he has been a woman. Then came Friday, and The Number of the Beast, both told from the points of view of strong female characters. And Heinlien doesn’t just write female characters, his characters explore their femininity and sexuality. But when To Sail Beyond the Sunset came out, it was a revelation. This book is a first-person (fictional) autobiography of a woman, starting with her childhood in Missouri in the 1880s and through her entire remarkable life of 100+ years. And it is utterly believable and satisfying.

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So when the idea of me writing a female lead character in first person occurred to me, it did not seem like an impossible hurdle. For inspiration I re-read the entire 13 book Hollows series by Kim Harrison, about a kick-ass bounty-hunter/witch in her early 20s. Those books, along with my own daughter, gave me insight into my character’s motivations, attitude, likes and dislikes, and priorities in life.

But for most science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, the idea of merely writing across genders must seem pretty mild. I know a woman who is writing a novel about a teen dhampire – a vampire/human hybrid. In this kind of book her gender could very easily take a back seat to her other qualities and motives. In my own book, The Last Princess, Cat encounters people who have interbred with dwarves, pixies, brownies, gnomes, ogres, elves, and even jinn. So I had to showcase their fae qualities in the way they acted and the way they spoke. Incidentally, I’ve never been any of those things either. And I did not, as it turns out, need to start living in the woods or start pounding swords on an anvil to get into character. There’s yet another dimension to these characters, too: I gave them foreign accents coinciding with the country of origin for their particular fae race. A German dwarf, a Cockney brownie, a French ogre, etc. Some of them are friendly, others are sinister, and that colors their character, too.

The bottom line – the answer to the question, “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” – is this: I behave like a writer. I do my research, I collect my notes, and fill out my characters with qualities appropriate to their race and age and motives and profession and country of origin – and gender. Their gender is only one of many qualities or “categories” one needs to think about when writing a character. This way I avoid stereotypes and banal, flat characters. One’s gender almost never defines a person, nor should it define a character.

But what about you? Do you find your behavior changes when writing outside of your own person “box?” What are some examples of characters that you have written that are utterly unlike yourself?  And what was your experience while writing them?