#flashfictionfriday: Going Home

October had arrived in the Pacific Northwest, chill and damp as always. Our friends, Jonna and Jake, lived on Black Lake, on the north end of the lake where my sister and I had spent our childhood. A true Northwesterner, Jonna had planned a day on the lake despite the weather. A women’s day out with my sister, Sherrie, our old school friend, Evonne, and our dear friend from Texas, Irene. We planned to cruise the lake and show Jonna and Irene where we had lived from 1963 through the 1990s.

Jake was worried we would wreck the boat, calling instructions as we pulled away from the dock. “Don’t worry,” we called back to him. “Jonna knows how to drive.” Nevertheless, he stood in the rain, fretting at sending his beloved boat out under his wife’s control, loaded with sparkling cider and a group of women he knew all too well. This despite the fact Jonna would drink no wine until after we returned.

Despite Jake’s misgivings, Jonna neatly negotiated the deeper channel between the half-sunk, rotting posts of the old Black Lake Mill, which had burned in 1918, and was never rebuilt. Like many parts of my childhood, the old posts had simply been left where they were, rotting corpses of a time when Timber was King, and money grew in the forest surrounding Black Lake.

Our boatload of women and laughter slowly passed the new summer homes and palaces of the nouveau riche jammed onto narrow lots, professionally landscaped and manicured. Crammed between the mansions were the familiar, now-ancient mobile homes and the older, rundown shanties. Our childhood friends, “Black-Lakers” all, had lived year-round in these flimsy, drafty homes. Oil was expensive, so feeding the fireplace or woodstove was how we stayed warm back then.

In the 1930s, when my father grew up in the hills above the other side of the lake, the area had been exceedingly rural, a poor place teetering on the edge of poverty. In the 1960s, when I was growing up, it was working-class but still small and insular. Many of the people around the lake had gone to school with my father, and he knew them well.

Jonna slowly followed the shore past those homes, old and new. It was surprising which tattered old cabins stubbornly held on, clinging to their places despite being elbowed aside by the beautiful new homes of the well-heeled few.

Hugging the shoreline, we went south, passing down the eastern side of the lake toward the house that had been my family home for thirty-five years. I was curious, wondering what it looked like. As we idled along, I thought about those years that we had spent there, the good and bad.

How many evenings had I sat beside my grandmother at the picnic table, gazing out across the water to the Black Hills rising above the lake and dominating the view? How many campfires in the fire-pit on the beach, and barbecues? How many summers were spent swimming from morning to evening? I couldn’t wait to see it again.

When we approached the place our home had been, we only recognized it because the contours of the shoreline hadn’t changed. Having fished those waters for so many years, Sherrie and I knew which half-sunken log meant we were nearing the neighbor’s house. Ours had been beyond the woods next door.

The neighbor’s house had seemed large and modern when I was young and had been referred to as “the airplane hangar” by the locals when Ken Nolan built it. I was surprised to see how small it really was. It was greatly changed, but I recognized the mid-century wall of glass facing the lake. The new owners had abandoned the small lawn and gone to simply having a large deck, surrounded by tall salal and Oregon grape. They had sacrificed much of the view from inside in the interests of privacy, I suspect.

Even though the neighboring house was so changed, I was filled with anticipation for the first sight of our childhood home, with me going on and on, telling our friends how beautiful the property was.

We never saw that house, despite my eager searching.

Just beyond the now-ancient grove of alders that had separated our property from the neighbors was a rundown building. It did resemble my parents’ house but was definitely not the home I had grown up in.

It had been made into a duplex and was clearly a rental unit for the large house that now sat behind in what had once been the swamp. The acre of lawn and gardens that had been my parents’ pride and joy was lost to the wilderness, with a dilapidated fence cutting the yard in two. On either side of the fence, narrow paths snaked through the weeds, muddy trails to the beach. Grass and weeds stood waist-high, obscuring the once-beautiful home.

The beach and swimming area were gone. A marina dominated the waterfront, with five dilapidated power boats moored at several docks. Thinking back on that sight, I suspect that summers there see few children playing in the shallows, as the formerly sandy beach is now a swampy morass.

I confess I was devastated to see the old family home in such disrepair.

The last time I had approached the house from the lake had been in 1995 after my grandmother passed away, while my mother still lived there. That day, as we returned to the shore, I had viewed the modest home in its park-like setting, with a broad lawn that took an hour to mow even with the riding mower. Cherry trees, alders, and maples had shaded the yard, with roses, camellias, rhododendrons, and other heirloom shrubs framing the house. Blueberries, cascade blackberries, and loganberries had pride of place in the immense vegetable garden that was to the right of the house when viewed from the lake.

When we were growing up there, the inside of our home was cold and damp and frequently in disrepair. There were no carpets because Mama said they would be ruined, and certainly the linoleum hadn’t stood the test of time. Our furniture had been worn out, and Mama wasn’t really into interior decorating.

Besides, as she was always reminding us, there was no money to fix things up. Dad had a good job, but money was tight. Nevertheless, however shabby it had been compared to the homes of our wealthier classmates who lived in town, it was immaculately clean inside and out. Nothing was ever out of place, because what would people think? Mama had strong opinions about people with poor housekeeping habits and was rather vocal about it.

As I said, the house itself had been nothing special, but the yard… 350 feet of waterfront and five acres going back toward the road. The yard and the view were what my parents had made themselves house-poor for.

When I was a child, the yard had been a magical place of refuge from disapproving adults, with many places to hide and read and to be important to someone, even if it was only the cat.

I didn’t know what to think when we saw the rundown hovel with a flock of boats parked in front. I was glad to be in the company of my friends and my sister, as I fought the sting and burn of tears. I think because I’m four years older than Sherrie, her memories were of happier times than mine, when Mama rebelled against Dad’s wishes and got a job outside the home so she could have some extra money.

Our friends in the boat, Irene, Evonne, and Jonna – they knew. These women could tell what had occurred, how it had set me back. They were united, a wall of strength, silently commiserating and allowing us to just take it all in, yet there for us if we needed to talk about it.

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

At last, Jonna turned the boat, and we idled along the shore, cruising south around the swampy end where the Black River begins its journey to the Chehalis River, and then to the “new” development of Evergreen Shores, built in the 1970s. Then we went north along the west shore, passing the strange dichotomy of shanties mingled between high-end vacation manors. Having circled the lake, we finally negotiated our way back through the rotting pilings at the north end and approached Jonna’s dock.

Jake had been standing there the whole time, likely expecting we would sink his boat. But we hadn’t, and bless him, he was happy to help Jonna park it.

I’m an author now, middle-aged. I’ve lived a long and interesting life, and still I find I have lessons to learn. A place is a place, and a building is only a home when someone lives there. I think that what I really discovered by going back to the lake house is that you don’t go home by returning to the scene of your childhood.

My childhood home still shines in my memories, but nowadays home means comfort and cozy evenings on the back porch with my husband. Home is a wall with photographs of our children and grandchildren.

I carry home within my heart and memories, and wherever I am, that is home.


Credits and Attributions

Going Home, A Memoir by Connie J. Jasperson © 2018, All Rights Reserved, was first published on Myrddin Publishing Blog, on January 17, 2018

Black Lake Sunset, by Florence Lemke, 1973. Painted by the author’s aunt, image reproduced from the private collection of Connie J. Jasperson. © 2018 All Rights Reserved. Printed by permission.

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Author motivation #amwriting

What motivates a writer to write? What makes an ordinary person believe they can write a book that others will want to read?

For me, I want to read certain books, and for some reason, my favorite authors refuse to churn out a book a week–go figure.

So, I try to write the kind of stories I want to read. An idea occurs, a wild moment of “what if” and I must write it.

Sometimes it’s just a scene or a drabble. Sometimes it is a poem. Other times it will be a short story or a novel.

No matter where I am, I want to talk about books. Books and the craft of writing absorbs me. The internet offers me the chance to learn new things about writing craft and gives me a hundred places to discuss them and people to “talk shop” with.

Reading books and writing obsesses me, and everything motivates me.

I’m not sure why, but I do my most creative work when I should be doing something else. My best writing gets done when I should be getting ready to leave the house for an appointment.

As writers, we talk and talk and talk about a character’s motivation, but the author’s motivation is critical. WHY are you writing?

When I am fired up, I do my best work. Life can be complicated here on the homefront, so writing is an escape from dealing with the realities of being the family caregiver and living with chronic pain. I can write anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. Sometimes I don’t feel too creative, but at that point, my blogging skills kick in. For me, blogging is talking about writing, and that’s writing too. It keeps me thinking.

In many ways, I am a social justice warrior. I write about all kinds of people experiencing hard times and injustice, and the fallout that sometimes occurs. Sometimes the good people don’t win, and how they handle defeat is the real story.

When I have an idea for a story, it’s never with the intention of preaching a sermon—I leave that to better qualified people and more adept authors. The stories I want to write are about people who face great challenges and how those events shape their actions.

Life and all its many detours intrigues me, and as a reader, I gravitate to those kinds of novels, in all genres. Memorable characters grow on you over the course of the book–they are not delivered fully formed on the first page. They are intriguing, and we don’t always know what they will do next. There is a hint of mystery about them, and if the author did their job, at the end of the book we don’t want those characters to leave.

We want to instill an air of mystery in all our characters, whether we write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, pot-boilers, or cozy mysteries. People cease to intrigue you once you think you know all there is to know about them.

It is the complexities of your friends that keep them interesting, the little things you never knew that surprise you when they are revealed.

Developing a character, deploying just enough information at the right moments to pique the reader’s curiosity is a balancing act, and not everyone can do it with finesse. Thus, I read and read and read—classic literature, epic fantasy, cozy mysteries, spy novels, vampire romances, and space operas—I read in all genres, hoping to gain an idea of how it’s done right.

I also find many examples of how it’s done wrong.

My advice today? Read widely, read daily, read in all genres, even those you “don’t like”—but read. Reading widens your mind, and an open mind is creative, and a creative mind puts out great work.

Trying to master the balancing act of creating compelling characters and setting them in intriguing circumstances motivates me. I love the feeling of meeting the challenge, picking up the gauntlet tossed down by my favorite authors, the “ah hah” of having written a story I would want to read.

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Hyphens #amwriting

When creating my world of Neveyah for the Tower of Bones series, I discovered that hyphens are the gateway  to writer’s hell. I put together compound words, hyphenated to make them specific to that world.

I did this, not realizing I would be stuck writing these words consistently hyphenated for years… and years….

Take my advice and do not use a hyphen in your invented words unless the universe will dissolve without it.

In the real world, if a compound adjective cannot be misread or its meaning is firmly established, a hyphen is not necessary.

Words that are single words and don’t need a hyphen:

  • backstabbing
  • backstabber
  • (a) breakup as in (a) divorce, break up as in taking apart
  • breathtaking
  • comeback as in succeeding again, come back as in return to me
  • counterintuitive
  • counterproductive
  • downright
  • herself
  • himself
  • hobnob
  • latchkey
  • mainstream
  • midweek
  • myself
  • nevertheles
  • newfound
  • nighttime
  • nonetheless
  • nonstop
  • overdo
  • overexpose
  • overpriced
  • overrated
  • oversized
  • roundup as in a rodeo, round up as in a review or the next highest round number
  • secondhand
  • selfish
  • sidekick
  • sightseeing
  • straightforward
  • woebegone
  • yourself

A few words do require a hyphen to ensure their meaning is what you intended:

Wikipedia says: Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word. When a compound modifier other than an adverb–adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstandings, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a “player of American football” or an “American player of football” and whether the writer means paintings that are “little celebrated” or “celebrated paintings” that are little.

Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy, and can be adverbial as well as adjectival (spine-tinglingly frightening). However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually unhyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students.

Words that DO need a hyphen:

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building

Some compounds are improvised to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds start out as improvised compounds but become so widely accepted that they are included in the dictionary as permanent compounds. Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are words like

  • know-it-all
  • heart-stopping
  • free-for-all (as in a rumpus)
  • down-at-the-heels

Context determines whether to hyphenate or not.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?” If your intended meaning is clear without the hyphen, leave it out.

Wikipedia offers the following examples:

  • Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)
  • Wild-goose chase (a hunt for resulting in nothing) as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a chasing a goose that is wild.
  • Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which in legalese could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)
  • Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which implies you have no liability protection).

A crucial task for you as an author is to make a stylesheet that pertains to your manuscript. Create a list detailing words that must be capitalized, which ones are hyphenated, and include the proper spellings of names for all people and places.

Some people use Scrivener for this and swear by it. For myself, I don’t need a fancy word-processing program with a difficult learning curve—my life is complicated enough as it is. You can make a simple list or go wild and make a spreadsheet. I use Excel to make storyboards that are my style guides for each novel or tale I write, and for every book I edit.

You can do this in Google Docs too, and that program is free–the perfect price for the starving author.

Regardless of how you create your stylesheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • List invented Words and all Names spelled the way you intend them to be written forever, noting whether it is two words (De Mal), hyphenated (De-Mal), or two syllables connected with an apostrophe (D’Mal)
  • Note the page number on which the word first appears so you can check back for consistency.
  • If it is not a person’s name, list the meaning and how it is used, for example, if the word denotes a city, or an animal, or plant, etc.

Refer to this style sheet frequently and update it with every change you make to spelling in your manuscript.

I learned this the hard way. Making a stylesheet for a book after it has been written is a daunting task, and most editors will ask you for one when they accept your submission. Some editors refer to this as the ‘bible’ for that manuscript because all editorial decisions regarding consistency will be based on the spellings and style treatments you have established for your work.

I do suggest you go lightly when it comes to hyphens and apostrophes in your invented words. The reader likely won’t notice them too much, but they can become annoyances for you when you’re trying to ensure consistency in your narrative. Whether it is a handwritten list, an Excel spreadsheet, a WORD document, or in a program like Scrivener, a simple directory of compound words and phrases that are unique to the world you have created will be invaluable to you and your editor.

 


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Hyphen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hyphen&oldid=824118099 (accessed February 11, 2018).

 

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Garden Choir in February

 

The crocus suite opens with a lone voice

A tenor, singing a hymn.

Gradually voices join, rising together

Swelling until a symphony of color

Blankets a pocket corner

Of the winter garden

In February.

The first lone soldier

Standing tall and singing

With voice and color proclaiming

This is my time! This is my corner,

My season in the garden

Is February.


Credits and Attributes

The Garden Choir in February, by Connie J. Jasperson, ©2018 All Rights Reserved

Woodland Crocus, By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#Writerlife101 Day 7: Worst writing advice #amwriting

Writing advice is good because beginning authors need to learn the craft, and simple sayings are easy to remember. They encourage us to write lean, descriptive prose and craft engaging conversations. The craft of writing involves learning the rules of grammar, developing a wider vocabulary, learning how to develop characters, build worlds, etc., etc. Authors spend a lifetime learning their craft and never learn all there is to know about the subject.

Writing advice is bad because it is so frequently taken to extremes by novice authors armed with a little dangerous knowledge.

  • Remove all adverbs.
    This advice is complete crap. Use common sense and don’t use unnecessary adverbs.
  • Don’t use speech tags.
    What? Who said that and why are there no speech tags in this drivel?
  • Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t Ever Don’t do it!

Quote from Susan Defreitas for Lit Reactor: Sure, hot tears, a pounding pulse, and clenched fists can stand in for sadness, fear, and anger. But that type of showing can not only become cartoony, it doesn’t actually show what this specific character is specifically feeling. In order to do that, you either have to relay the thought process giving rise to those emotions or you should have already set up some key bits of exposition.

  • Write what you know.

Well, that takes all the adventure out of writing. Did Tolkien actually go to Middle Earth and visit a volcano? No, but he did serve in WWI, and lived and worked in Oxford, which is not notable for abounding in elves, hobbits, or orcs. Your life experiences and interests shape your writing, but your imagination is the fuel and the source of the story.

  • If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too.

Quote from Helen Scheuerer for Writer’s Edit: Your reader hasn’t spent the last year or more combing through your novel like you have, so that’s just silly. I’ve seen this advice everywhere in the last year, and it bothers me – it just doesn’t take into consideration how hard writing is. Yes, we love it, yes, we don’t want to do anything else, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge at times, it doesn’t mean that it’s not work.

Bad writing advice goes on and on.

Kill your darlings. It’s true we shouldn’t be married to our favorite prose. Sometimes we must cut a paragraph or chapter we love because it no longer fits the story. But just because you like something you wrote doesn’t mean you should cut it. Maybe it does belong there—maybe it was the best part of that paragraph.

Cut all exposition. So, why we are in this handbasket, and where we are going? Some background is essential. How you deploy the exposition is what makes a great story.

Bad advice is good advice taken to an extreme. It has become a part of our writing culture because all writing advice has roots in truth.

  • Overuse of adverbs ruins the taste of an author’s work.
  • Too many speech tags can stop the eye, especially if the characters are snorting, hissing, and ejaculating their dialogue.
  • Too much telling takes the adventure out of the reading experience.
  • Too much showing is boring and can be disgusting. Find that happy medium!
  • Know your subject . Do the research and if necessary, interview people in that profession. Readers often know more than you do about certain things.

New authors rely on handy, commonly debated mantras because they must educate themselves. Unless they are fortunate enough to be able to get a formal education in the subject, beginning authors must rely on the internet and handy self-help guides to learn the many nuances of writing craft. These guides are great, useful books, but they are written by people who assume you will use common sense as you develop your voice and style.

Hack writers bludgeon their work to death, desperately trying to fit their square work into round holes. In the process, every bit of creativity is shaved off the corners, and a great story with immense possibilities becomes boring and difficult to read. As an avid reader and reviewer, I see this all too often.

Great authors learn the craft of writing and apply the advice of the gurus gently, producing work that stays with the reader long after the last line has been read.


Credits and Attributions:

The Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice You Will Ever Hear (and Probably Already Have), by Susan Defreitas April 11, 2014, https://litreactor.com/columns/the-ten-worst-pieces-of-writing-advice-you-will-ever-hear-and-probably-already-have,  © 2016 LitReactor, LLC (Accessed 05 February 2018.)

The Worst Writing Advice, by Helen Scheuerer, https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/worst-writing-advice/, Writer’s Edit Copyright © 2018. (Accessed 05 February 2018.)

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To schedule writing time or to wing it? #amwriting

I think that to be a writer, you must be obsessed with your own art, taking and making time to write. There is no other way to produce a finished book.

But to be a happy writer, you must have a balanced life. What is the point of life if you’re so busy writing about fictional lives that you aren’t present in your own?

That need to be present in my real life is why I schedule my writing time.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch. Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing, by either rising two hours before they must depart for work or by skipping TV in the evening.

I fall into both categories.

When I am gripped with a new idea, I find myself stopping off and on all day as I go about the business of daily life, making notes, quickly getting down any thoughts that occur. This is a habit I developed when I was employed outside my home. Until 2012, I was like everyone else, with a job and commitments that took precedence over any writing I might have wanted to do. I saw very little television in those days, as evenings and weekends were my only time for writing, making art, or for reading.

Now that I’m retired from working outside my home, six in the morning until noon are my best working hours. Unfortunately, being retired means you are always available when a crisis occurs. Events happen that disturb my writing schedule, but I usually forgive the perpetrators and allow them to live. At that point, I revert to writing whenever I have a free moment.

I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper even when not writing, but I keep things dug out. I’m like every other person. I make a stab at vacuuming and dusting, and cleaning bathrooms. I do laundry and change the beds regularly. These are the tasks everyone does, chores that keep our homes livable. I fit these chores into my writing time the way I used to fit writing into my working life.

But there is one hard, inviolable rule in my home, a rule of my own making. Whatever else happens during the day, we sit down to the table and eat dinner together. We turn off the television and turn on quiet music and enjoy the meal as a family. Then we work together to clear the table and clean the kitchen, continuing any discussions that were begun during dinner. This time of the day is dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open and maintaining the connections that bind us.

When my children were in school, I made dinner a priority. After school activities and sports sometimes interfered but for the most part, the evening meal was the one sure meeting place for my family all through “the blender years” of child-rearing.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our lives and interests with others. Creativity applies to everything from making a meal, to painting, to coming up with a business plan. Your spouse or child’s creative bent may be wildly different from yours, but if you want their support, you must be supportive of them. Therefore, we who write should set aside a specific time to write, allowing us to be creative and still be supportive of our families who all have activities and interests of their own.

In many ways, to be a writer is to be supremely selfish—about every aspect of life. It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or two just for that pursuit, a pocket of time where no one is allowed to disturb you. It might be good to encourage your family members to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors.

Write when and where you can, and the rest of the time you must live and love with the same intensity that you write.

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Early Morning Moon #flashfictionfriday

Early morning moon

Waltzing across the sky at dawn

Lights the frozen land beneath.

Winter morning moon

Not blue, not blood,

Unique only for its rarity.

Early morning moon

Naked, uncloaked by clouds,

Waltzing across the sky at dawn.

 


Credits and Attributions:

By Jeff Fennell from Oregon, USA (Early Morning Moon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Early Morning Moon, poem by Connie J. Jasperson © 2018 All Rights Reserved

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Chapter length #amwriting

Authors just starting out often wonder how long should a chapter be.

A good rule of thumb is to consider the comfort of your reader. Many readers want to finish a chapter in one sitting. With that said, you must decide what your style is going to be.

Some authors make each scene, no matter how short, a chapter. They will end up with 100 or more chapters in their books, and that is perfectly fine.

Other authors try to set a word-count limit. I personally have found that 2,500 to 3,000 words is a good length, and most scenes seem to average that. One series of my books has  longer chapters, as it is really a collection of stories surrounding the main character. In that series, each story forms a chapter and sometime they are longer than 3,000 words.

Within the arc of the entire story are smaller arcs, arcs of conflict and reflection, each created by scenes. The arc of the scene is like any other: it begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, ending on a slightly higher point of the overall story arc than when it began. Once you have decided what length you are comfortable with for your chapters, longer scenes can be an entire chapter on their own, or several scenes can be chained together to make a chapter.

When you chain scenes together within one chapter, conversations can serve as good transitions that propel the story forward to the next scene. In literary terms, a good conversation is about something we didn’t know and builds toward something we are only beginning to understand.

That is true of every aspect of a scene or chapter—it must reveal something and push the story forward toward something.

With each scene we are also pushing the character arc, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does, and then to reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

Some editors suggest you change chapters, no matter how short, when you switch to a different character’s point of view, and this is my preferred choice. I don’t think that is completely necessary in every case, but you should limit point of view changes. It’s easier for the reader to follow the story when they are only in one character’s mind for the majority of the story. If you do switch POV characters, you must change scenes with a hard, visual break such as two blank spaces between paragraphs, to avoid head-hopping. (Head-hopping: first you’re in his head, then you’re in hers, then you’re back in his—it gives the reader “tennis neck.”)

So now we come to a second question: Should I just use numbers, or give the chapter a name?

What is your gut feeling for how you want to construct this book or series? If snappy titles pop up in your mind for each chapter, by all means go for it. Otherwise, numbered chapters are perfectly fine and don’t throw the reader out of the book. One series of my books has numbered chapters, the other has titled chapters.

How do you want your book constructed? You must make the decision as to the right length and end chapters at a logical place. But do end each chapter with a hook that begs the reader to continue on to the next chapter.

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A Favorite Fantasy Monster: The Shapeshifter #amwriting

Every fantasy tale has a fantasy villain, a monster of some sort, whether it is human or a mythical creature.

First, let’s examine the word monster. What does this word actually mean? The word originated in the late middle ages, after the Norman conquest, and is of old French origin. It evolved from the word ‘monere,’ which meant ‘to warn.’ Originally, it meant any creature that was different and frightening and might have supernatural powers. In our current usage, the word monster has evolved to mean an imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening.

Shapeshifters are an intriguing ‘monster,’ wonderful villains or companions to add to a cast of characters.

Shapeshifting is the ability of a person or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape. This is usually inherent ability. It can also be an ability granted by divine intervention, or it can involve using magic to alter one’s shape. The most common form of shapeshifting myths is that of therianthropy, which is the ability of human beings to metamorphose into other animals.

Other forms of shapeshifting allow the character to perfectly mimic their surroundings or assume the form of an inanimate object. Thus, they go unnoticed until it is too late.

In historical mythology, the ability to alter one’s shape was thought to enable the creature to trick, deceive, hunt, and most importantly, kill humans. In modern fantasy fiction, this ability to completely camouflage themselves makes them the perfect candidate to fill the role of the unseen assassin.

One of my favorite shapeshifters of legend is the Selkie. Selkies are creatures found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish mythology, and are possessed of the ability to transform themselves from the shape of a seal to human form. Seal shapeshifters like the selkie exist in the folklore of many cultures, even among the Chinook people of North America, who have a similar tale of a boy who changes into a seal.

In legend, Selkies shapeshift by shedding their seal skin. This can be a chancy thing because they must reapply the same skin that they originally shed to return to seal form. The selkie must have a good hiding place for his seal skin, or he will be trapped in human form forever.

As you might imagine, stories surrounding these creatures are usually romantic tragedies. It’s an idea that offers a great deal of opportunity for mayhem, murder, and magic.

What makes a selkie good fodder for fantasy romance, is that they can remain in human form for only a short amount of time before they must find their seal skin and return to the sea. In many stories, humans have unknowingly fallen in love with selkies—a plot twist that creates the tension in a story.

Many famous stories tell of humans finding and hiding the skin of the selkie, thus preventing it from returning to seal form. The unhappy selkie may not regain the sealskin until years later, but when they do, the selkie returns to the sea, abandoning their human family.

Legend says that in their human form male selkies are exceedingly handsome and are possessed of great powers of seduction. They’re said to seek those who are dissatisfied with their lives, lonely women waiting for their fishermen husbands who have been away at sea for too long.

Female selkies are also possessed of seductive beauty, stealing the hearts of men. These stories tell of men finding and stealing the selkie’s seal skin, placing her under his power, forcing her to become his wife. In other tales, selkies have been known to lure humans into the sea by using the ability to create illusions.

Those kinds of stories don’t usually end well for the selkie or the human.

I haven’t written a shapeshifter into any of my work, but now the idea of the selkie is rolling around in the back of my mind. I may include one in a piece I have currently in the planning stage.

How this article came about:

The Challenge

I was challenged to write a post on a fantasy monster, by fantasy author Lindsay Schopfer. The creature could not be from my own books, which rules out minotaurs and dragons. I had to challenge another author to do the same, and I couldn’t pick the same creature as that which my predecessor had written about. Then I was to provide links forward to the other posts:

Lindsay Schopfer’s article on dragons can be found here: A Favorite Fantasy Monster: Jane Yolen’s Dragons

He was challenged by Aaron Volner, whose article on Darkhounds can be found here: A Favorite Fantasy Monster: The Darkhound

I, in turn, am challenging author Stephen Swartz, whose website can be found here: www.http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com

This is the challenge for others who choose to take up this sword and create their own chain:

The Rules:

  • You must write a blog post about the subject of a favorite fantasy creature of yours and why it’s a favorite.
  • The creature may not be from one of your own books.
  • You must challenge one other author to do the same.
  • You may not pick the same creature as the person who challenged you.
  • You must provide a link back to the post of the person who challenged you, and a link forward to the person you challenged once they publish their post, so people can follow the chain if they want.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Selkie,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Selkie&oldid=818257141 (accessed January 27, 2018).

By Edward Fuglø, Postverk Føroya (faroestamps.fo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#FineArtFriday: Prusik Peak from Gnome Tarn

The above picture of Gnome Tarn was found on Wikimedia Commons. This serene alpine pool is approachable only on foot, a hike that usually takes two days each way. It a long, steep, and grueling hike that is not for the inexperienced. The trail through The Enchantments (where this photograph was taken) climbs 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to Snow Lake, gaining 4,100 feet (1,200 m). The trail climbs over sloping granite rock to the Lower Enchantments. The entire hike is 9 miles (14 km) one-way, with 6,000 feet (1,800 m) of elevation gain to an end elevation of 7,800 feet (2,400 m).

But those of us no longer able to make such a grueling jaunt can still enjoy the scenery, thanks to Wikimedia Commons and the wonderful imagery of photographers like Niko Kurov. 

Quote from Wikipedia: By the 1940s climbers discovered the area and began naming the crags. Bill and Peg Stark of Leavenworth, became frequent visitors who drew upon various mythologies to name features of the landscape. When they made their first visit in the fall of 1959, they were captivated by the golden splendor of the larch trees in the fall, the numerous lakes and tarns, and jagged peaks towering above. They used fairy names such as Gnome Tarn, Troll Sink, Naiad Lake (officially Temple Lake), Sprite and King Arthur legends in the Lower Enchantment Basin because “the lower basin was not as austere as the upper basin,” according to Peg. They used Norse names and mythology for features of the upper basin, for example Brynhild Lake (officially Inspiration Lake), Lake Freya (officially Tranquil Lake), and Valhalla Cirque because, Peg said, it felt “as if the Ice Age had just gone off.”

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, not too far from where this image was taken. Pictures like this remind me of my youth, bringing back the memories of places where I have walked and the sights that produced such a profound respect for the natural world. These memories find their way into my work, hopefully with the magic still intact!


Credits and Attributions:

By Niko Kirov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “The Enchantments,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Enchantments&oldid=803292318 (accessed January 26, 2018).

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