Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Why are your characters squirrels?”

“Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?”

“Fantasy.  Adventure.”

“Oh, what’s it about?”

“Well, the characters are squirrels who…”

Usually one of three things goes down after this part, which always feels ridiculously like an embarrassing confession to me as the words leave my mouth.

  1. “Oh. So are they for kids?”
  2. Silence, maybe a vague chuckle or a “That’s interesting.”
  3. “Why squirrels?

My answers to all of the above:

  1. They are for everyone.
  2. Just smile.
  3. It’s a long story.

I don’t mean long as in complex, but often I have trouble coming up with a really solid, concise answer to this. Truthfully, squirrels were what popped into my head when I was coming up with the idea, but perhaps it would help to know when exactly it was that I first conceived the idea for A Dewdrop Away.

I was in late middle school. I was an avid reader. And up until about high school, most of my favorite books featured animals as the main characters. Hence, a lot of the characters I made up in my head were, you guessed it, also animals.

I decided I wanted to use this post to highlight what I consider probably the five most influential books/series behind my inspiration for Dewdrop. (order is not necessarily priority; they’re simply laid out in the order I can remember reading them, from first to last.)

1. the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.

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This was probably the first longer, chunkier series I picked up around the age of 8. I made quick work of devouring every single book available, and the best part was, more kept coming out. I was reading these books from elementary through high school and I enjoyed every single installment, though some stick out as my favorites: the original Redwall novel, as well as Mossflower, Mattimeo, Martin the Warrior, The Outcast of Redwall, and The Bellmaker. I’ve never read another series quite like this to date: the characters are so vivid and human. Each species of animal in the Redwall series had its own particular flavor, or stereotypical personality associated with it, though there was occasionally breakage of these perceptions. There were stereotypically ‘good’ animals- mice, squirrels, otters, badgers, etc. , and bad animals, or ‘vermin’- weasels, stoats, foxes, ferrets, rats. The concept of prejudice due to a species’ reputation and of animals who fought battles of good versus evil just as humans do in stories- complete with swords, castles, and quests- ensnared me, and the world of Arborand with its different ‘races’ of squirrels and the conflicts they face was for sure influenced by the magical world Jacques created.

2. The Poppy series by Avi (illustrated by Brian Floca)

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Oh boy. I started buying these through my elementary school’s scholastic book club, and I got hooked.  They’re short books with simple stories and in each the heroine, Poppy, is pitted against a different, much larger and more formidable enemy- like the evil owl Ocax in Poppy and some real asshole beavers in Poppy and Rye. I can’t put my finger on what exactly made these books so great, so compulsively readable, but I loved them so much that one of my first attempts at writing my own story was almost an exact copy of the Poppy books. The main character comes from a troubled colony, has to deal with leaving home on her own, and even had a little earring in one ear and had a sassy mockingbird companion that was obviously a fill in for Ereth the porcupine. What can I say, I was really good at hiding my muse xD.

3. The Rats of NIMH series by Robert C. O’Brien and Jane Leslie Conly

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I can’t remember exactly when I started reading these books, but I actually read them twice, and it’s rare for me to read a series twice through, no matter HOW much I like it. The second time I borrowed the audio tapes from my library and listened to it on the floor of my room with my younger brother. They were dark and gritty and perfect, and I loved the community of laboratory rats living free in the wild with their human technologies, and the story of the inner conflict among them and their liberation from the lab at NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) which had been experimenting on them.

4. Watership Down by Richard Adams

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It’s a classic, and there’s GOOD REASON. The mission is simple: for Hazel and his group to find a new warren to call home, but their way is fraught with danger, and a lot of their world as rabbits is out of their control, dictated by the mostly invisible presence of human beings. This story was dark, disturbing and heart-warming all in one breath, and it’s one I will never forget…as I write this I realize I need to reread it. The 1978 movie was also amazing.

 5. The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis

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Another darker, more gritty series that centers in book one around mice living underground in the city, then moves to the country in The Crystal Prison. I went through these books in a matter of days after finding the first one in a bookstore in Maine. You forget that these mice are mice. They struggle with superstition, prejudice and fear of “the other”, as well as a dark presence naming itself god. This trilogy also had amazing illustrations to match the unsettling tone.

You forget, in all of these stories, that the characters are animals. They aren’t stories about fluffy little creatures existing in their natural habitats. They are stories about and for people, with deeply human themes, and somehow I feel that the fact they’re told through the eyes of small animals makes that impact stronger. Some other books I loved and read growing up involving animals which didn’t quite make the list are the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel, the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures by Michael Hoeye, A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler, and The School Mouse by Dick King-Smith (this last of which I took from my school library so many times I think they wondered why I didn’t just have my parents buy it).

So why squirrels? That’s why. I hope you took a seat 😛

Hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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journals, diaries, and poetry, oh my!

I’ve always been a little obsessed with handwriting journal/diary hybrids, books where I’d talk about my day and daily dramas and then suddenly launch into discussion of some bigger, deeper theme out of nowhere. I started when I was around 11 or 12 and continued (albeit very intermittently) into my twenties.

I’m a very all or nothing type of person- I’m either doing something 110% or I’m not doing it at all. (so if I ever miss posting on this blog, expect not to hear from me for another year. JUST KIDDING…I think). Journals were no exception to this rule. I wanted my entries to be daily, though of course they never were. All my old journals are full of maybe 3-7 day periods where I’d write daily and then a silence that could last days, weeks, or even months before resuming again. Sometimes I’d even try to summarize everything that happened for these silent gaps in the next entry, usually precluded by a “It’s been FOREVER!!” (It’s at the very least, amusing stuff, especially the teen journals. Ah, the teen journals.)

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                 proof of the damage!

As I went through college and beyond, the gaps between my journaling increased. I have years that are not recorded at all, where others I’ll experience a burst of activity and then drop off the face of the earth again. I also fell in and out of love with journaling. Sometimes I was really enthused about it, while others I felt it only served to make me realize how uninteresting my life was. I also noticed that as I got older and life obviously became more complex as a result, I became less honest in my journals, which was upsetting to me. Journals were supposed to be a place I could come and be completely honest with myself, not to skip around anything I didn’t want to face head on in order to make better, more nostalgic reading for myself when I came back to them later.

Last year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to write some in a journal every day, a sort of final challenge to see if I could do it. For a while (nearly 3 months) it went well, and I managed to get something down every day, even enjoyed it the majority of the time. But one thing I’d failed to account for was that it did take time. I liked to handwrite all my journals and my insistence on doing it every day was taking away from the success of another one of my goals: to write poetry on a regular basis. I write poetry in the same way I write journals, by hand, and a lot of the time when I was done with my journaling, especially if the entry had been emotional or particularly deep or searching, I found my well all dried up when it came to poetry. Not only that, but some of the entries in my journals became downright poetic when I really got going on something I couldn’t really articulate.

It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed this strange melding. In fact, back in 2012 I wrote an entry in which I wondered if poetry and keeping a ‘diary’ weren’t so different as I’d first assumed in terms of purpose. Being that I valued poetry more, I started to wonder if maybe I should make poetry my diary of sorts, and write daily in some poetry book rather than a journal.

From September 10th, 2012:

Poetry is like pouring out feelings you can’t even put into words, and that’s what I like having a diary to be about too, but I don’t know…if someone were to read a diary, they might be hurt or troubled by what they find- but with poetry…poetry is always under the guise of art. The words are not straightforward, so even if you write something in the heat of hateful feelings, it might be construed differently by the very person it’s about. It might be enjoyed by them, and then, assuming the poem is for poetry’s sake as well, long after your angry feelings pass, you can still love the poem, unlike how you’d be ashamed of an angry journal entry. Because poetry is beautiful, and transcends something base inside, so that sometimes in the act of writing it we come to reconcile our emotions and achieve insight into the deepest reaches of ourselves. Poetry can be therapeutic indeed.

Of course every poem I write is not so personal as a diary entry, and every diary entry I wrote was certainly not poetic (HA) but I had a point. The similarities were there, and if I had to pick one to spend time on, I wanted it to be poetry. (I’d also like to note I think it’s funny how concerned I was over people reading my journals…as far as I can tell, there wasn’t anything catastrophic in there…though I suppose I understand my point xD)

When I journaled, I felt like a lot of what I wrote as boring, and I always felt like I missed writing about the real ‘good stuff’. With poetry, the only things you take from life are the ones that strike you in some way, the moments that seem to glow with a special sort of luminescence. So while my poetry will never tell me what I ate yesterday morning or what test I passed or what inside joke I created, it will take me back to the memories that matter most upon reading, memories  only I can fully unlock. And as a bonus, it will hopefully be something completely new and different to each reader who sees it, as any good piece of art is.

Do I still journal? Occasionally, but only when the spirit moves me. Poetry has by and large taken the front seat in my handwritten life ;).

I hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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Fanfiction: a tribute

“There’s a time and place for everything, and I believe it’s called ‘fan fiction'” ~ Joss Whedon

“Fanfiction isn’t copying- it’s a celebration. One long party, from the first capital letter to the last full stop!” ~ Jasper Fforde, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

In my teen years, I used to write fanfiction. In fact, fanfiction was pretty much all I wrote. I’d started some original stories before my fanfic era, but for a good three years of high school, those stories went on a perpetual hiatus while I occupied other peoples’ worlds.

Fanfic is to some the lowest category of the low; it’s embarrassing to admit you write it, and it exists for fanservice purposes only. But for me it served another purpose as well.

All writers are big readers. At least, every writer who feels the calling to write in their bones, is a big reader first. I went through a lot of periods where I wasn’t writing, but one thing was constant: I could never stop reading. If I go a month without reading a book, I feel wrong. Weird, like there’s a piece of me missing, a phantom limb itching to be scratched.

I was falling in love with other people’s worlds and words long before I ever found or fell in love with any of my own. Sometimes my love of another person’s creation would get to such gargantuan proportions where I’d think There is NOTHING I could write anywhere near as good, as perfect, as beautiful and enticing as I find this story. There are no characters I could create to rival these. Of course, I still feel all these feelings when I read things I love, like I could never measure up, like I’m burning from the inside out with jealousy at the same time as I’m savoring every minute of the tale. And that’s what we want as readers, isn’t it? A story that not only gets us so fully immersed we forget when our last meal was or what time of day it is, but a story that we might resent just a little because we wish we’d written it ourselves.

Through all of my teenagerhood, I had one such crush on the Harry Potter series, (I mean, don’t get me wrong, that fire’s still burning, but there was a point when it was an absolute inferno ). Not a unique obsession, I know, especially considering I am the “Harry Potter generation”- I was Harry’s age when the books picked up and Harry’s age again when the last one came out. There were (and are!) HORDES of people writing fanfic for these books, and I was one of them for a few years. I’d been having problems with writer’s block and my writing changing and growing and not knowing my exact style or voice so well anymore, and then on top of this I fell so much in love with J.K. Rowling’s world that I stopped thinking about my own worlds entirely. I could never write books like these, I could never write characters as vivid as these.  But even though I had generally grown to fear all writing, I still felt the itch to write *something*. So I wrote fanfic.

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the Potter books, holding a prominent place on my shelf 🙂

I wrote either angst-filled fanfic or silly, cracktastic parodies for the most part, and while most of the time I felt weird about not writing anything original (in fact, I can remember wondering during that time if I’d ever feel like writing anything original again), I also started to notice the good it was doing me. Fanfic took my mind off of world-building. I started writing with a world already pre-built, conditions already set, and a whole cast of side-characters to choose from, already fleshed out to an extent by canon. This left me to focus on story and characters. Whether I was writing an original character or shading in one from the canon in my own interpretive way, whether I was making up my own story or doing a parody or parallel plot to a pre-existing story, I was able to focus so thoroughly on these things without having to worry about building a foundation first or having a place for these characters and stories to roam. All of my stories today are very character driven, and all of my favorite stories were always character driven as well; I think fanfic helped me to achieve this quality I emulated. And because fanfic was not a place to take yourself too seriously, I felt I could relax a little more writing it, which allowed the words to flow.

There’s fanfic out there that’s pretty ridiculous. I might even say the majority of it is pretty darn ridiculous, including most of what I’ve written in the past ;). But it’s damn FUN. As a reader, it’s a virtual playground, and as a writer it helps you to concentrate on and exercise areas of your writing. It can even help you to find and strengthen your own voice at the same time as you try on and imitate the voices of others. I know writers have differing opinions on this, but if someone were to write fanfic based on my work, I can’t help but think that no matter how bad the writing, how out of character the characters, I would be pretty darn flattered. Because I know the feelings that inspired me to write fanfic, and those are feelings I think every writer hopes someone someday will feel about their books.

I hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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Writer’s Block- does it really exist?

Almost two years ago, I printed out this pile of exactly one hundred poems I’d typed up . The poems included were written over the span of the past three years (so, since 2010 or so) but the overwhelming majority of them were actually written within the 2012-2013 year. ONE YEAR.

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A highly attractive pile of paper!

Flash forward to present day and these poems have been read over and sorted, once, twice, five times, and there’s a hefty pile I consider Not Exactly Quality. There’s another, slightly larger pile that I considered workable/submittable, and lately I’ve finally been getting around to actually submitting them places. Of course, now that I’m actually submitting, I find the ‘acceptable’ pile has shrunk yet again, and the ‘I really love this, it needs to get out there’ pile is even smaller.

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Several slightly less attractive piles                         of paper!

Why, you may ask, am I showing you piles of paper? What’s my point with all this? Why, I’m so glad you asked! WRITER’S BLOCK is my point.

For nearly two full years after college ended (when I was no longer being prompted or assigned poetry) I hadn’t written a thing due to writer’s block. Nothing I thought of seemed good enough, and when I had a good idea I couldn’t find the right words. Eventually the fear of that blank page and of the desecration of the Ideal Poem I held on a pedestal in my head led to an extreme creative drought. Writer’s Block got me, and it got me good.

Then, something miraculous happened, and that something is this: I sat my ass down in a chair, took a journal and started writing poetry. I wrote for fifteen minutes, and I surprised myself. I didn’t completely hate what I wrote. The next day I wrote for thirty, and the going was a lot harder. Then I scrapped the time idea and set myself page goals, trying to write a full page, front and back, in my poetry journal every day. I told myself I was not going to go back over anything I wrote there for a while, that I wouldn’t edit or even reread anything- anything went, single lines that popped into my head as I was going, a scrap of this, a scrap of that, disjointed stanzas, you name it. As long as I fulfilled my page quota and had one new page of raw material every day, I was playing by the rules. AND IT WORKED. So simple, yet somehow it had taken me years. And it wasn’t the first time I’d gone through this cycle; I didn’t even have ignorance to fall back on. I started feeling so much regret over the time I’d wasted not writing any poetry. If I wrote 100 rough poems in a year, how many could I have had in the space of 3 years? If I had 25 I was in love with, how many would I have to love in 3 years?? Obviously I’ll never let this happen again, I thought. But I did, again and again. The only thing I can say for myself is the dry spells weren’t quite as long.

There are those who say writer’s block doesn’t exist, that all you need is hard work and dedication to write every day and you’ll never experience it again. Then there are those who say NAY, that fabled beast is real and it will eat you alive! Who’s right? From my own experience, I’ve personally come to believe that the truth is a bit of both extremes, as is often the case. Writer’s block does indeed exist: just as being super inspired and having the words flow out of you like no one’s business is a real and euphoric experience, having everything move at a dead crawl and hardly being able to string a sentence together, feeling ‘blocked’ in other words, is equally real. No amount of schedule and dedication has managed to make it go away and never come back. I’ll be in the middle of a novel and suddenly I’m having an astronomically difficult time hitting my quota. I’ll sometimes spend nearly the whole day doing what is normally only a few hours’ work.

BUT. On the occasions I did triumph and wrote through the block, I found that it usually only lasted about a week tops, and at the end of the day, I felt REALLY good that I’d got the words out there, even if they were probably shit. Contrast that with the months (or years!) of feeling blocked that come from backing down and letting the fear build every day, each day making that wall in my head a little higher, and there’s a clear winner in the field of strategy ;).

I don’t think there’s any doubt as to whether writer’s block exists, I think the real question is whether we’ll let it get us, whether we will let it win and force us into a dry spell, or keep writing through it. I’ve let it win SO many times, more times honestly than I’ve been the victor. But I’m trying not to let that happen anymore. I think it’s likely, looking over the pattern of the past, that I will- but I’m aiming to prove myself wrong.

“writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”

– Charles Bukowski (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”

-Lili St. Crow

{Hope you’re well and see you next week!}

~ C

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