Thursday, January 7, 2010

Passage to India

Today is probably my last blog for awhile, as tomorrow my husband and I are leaving for a three week trip to India. It's a family visit, but it will also include a class reunion of Rajan's graduating class from engineering college. We expect to be on the move quite a bit, as we have lots of relatives, and several of his college friends want to see him before the reunion. We will probably not have much access to the Internet.

We are taking a computer with us, though, so I can write up some blogs in advance. The main reason we're taking the computer is so that I can keep working on Granny's Jig. I'm at a good place in it (about two-thirds through this particular re-write) to stop and analyze it in terms of scenes, and tags, and the like, and to re-evaluate the ending.

I also will be taking lots of notes. India is so rich in history and culture. Earlier I wrote a picture book text for a little girl's trip to Rock Fort Temple in Tiruchirapali. We'll be going there, and I want to firm up a few details--as well as have the temple elephant "bless" me again by tapping me on the head with his trunk.

Meanwhile, I can't wait to see the family again. It's been just about 4 years since my last visit. Every time I go back, it feels just wonderful to be there.

So, ciao for now, and please tune in again next month, when I have a nice line-up of guest bloggers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guest Blogger -- Susan Britton

Susan Britton is the author of the middle-grade fantasy The Treekeepers (Dutton 2003). Currently she is working on an adult novel about Kateryn Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry VII. Here are her thoughts for what makes an interesting story:

“When I’m thinking up a story, I’m usually worried about plot: how will I keep the reader glued to the page? It seems an impossible task. But lately I’ve turned my mind to considering character. I was goaded into this change of focus by a remark I encountered somewhere in cyberspace, something about how when you think of a book you love, you will find you are thinking of a character you love, not a plot, or theme, or fine writing. You think of Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth, not the plot or language use of Little Women. This rings true for me.

“Here’s an idea for creating memorable characters that I’m trying to use these days. It’s an offspring of the common writer’s trick “character tagging” where you identify a character by a certain attribute, such as continual nose blowing or blinking fast or saying “nope” a lot. The idea is to push the tagging farther and deeper—let’s call it deep character tagging. You think up a unique small detail tag that works in a large metaphorical way, and so is able to evoke the whole spirit of the character. Then you mention it at least three times, sometimes dozens of times. For example, in The Book Thief, Papa is continually described as having silver eyes (sometimes said to be like rain as I recall.) His eyes embody much that we slowly learn about Papa—that he is a tragic hero, that he is of great worth, that he is an almost magical presence. A deep character tag should give the character a sort of mythical depth in the reader’s imagination. The villain can benefit from this sort of detail too.

“One way I generate deep character tags is to note specific things about the people in my life. I list them in a sort of character detail pantry to raid at need. The richest tags seem to be those that capture and evoke my love for that person. For example, my husband has this way of springing as he walks that comes from his optimism and energy. I gave his bouncing stride to Farwender, the father character in The Treekeepers. Farwender’s walk renders the joie de vivre that is his signature trait.

“For me, it works best to create characters from real people, not abstract notions or horoscope charts or psychological profiles. Sometimes I think of several people who are similar in character and smoosh them together, gathering typical body language from one person, manner of speech and attitude from another, a flaw from another. Bird, the heroine of The Treekeepers, is a mixture of my son Josh, my niece Anna Rose, and my good friend Bonnie. All three are fierce, risk-taking survivors with tender hearts.

“Here are some observations from my character tag pantry, some of which might serve as a deep character tags: A small boy with a point blank unflinching stare. A young teen who loves to serve food to people. A little girl who is always skipping and twirling; she has this lightness to her. An 11-year-old with the writing voice of a 70-year-old man. A girl with a way of hugging you, holding on to you, and not letting you go when it’s time to leave. A boy who whatever happens is pretty sure it just isn’t fair.

“So, dear reader, what are some observations from your character pantry? What are some thoughts that help you create a character? I would love to hear them.”

Susan can be contacted at:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guest Blogger, Riley Carney

Today's guest blogger is Riley Carney, a sixteen-year old author who has published a five book fantasy series, The Reign of the Elements, and is now working on a new trilogy for young adults. In addition, Riley has started a nonprofit for children's literacy, Breaking the Chain.

You can read Chris Brett's November 27th review of Book I, The Fire Stone at: . At the end of Riley's post you'll find purchasing information, her website, and also the website for her nonprofit. And now..., Here's Riley:

"For as long as I can remember, I have been a storyteller. Throughout my elementary school years, I thought of myself as an author and I wrote an extensive collection of books – stacks of paper, words, and drawings all stapled together. None of these works were literary masterpieces, but they were the first manifestation of my desire to be a writer.

"I actually came up with the idea for The Fire Stone, the first book of The Reign of the Elements series, when I was in fourth grade. I love fantasy adventure stories and one evening I was sitting with my family around a fire, and I started thinking about how mystical the flames were. I began thinking about the elements and their properties and weaving those into a story about magic. Eventually the story began to take shape. During the three or four years that followed, I would begin to write the story and then I would stop and eventually begin again. I tried numerous versions of the story, but I wasn’t able to get it quite right.

"Finally, when I was fifteen, I sat down and wrote a very detailed outline of the story. After outlining, I wrote the book in about a month. I spent about six months editing the manuscript before I began sending it to agents and publishers.

"I wrote the other four books in the series in quick succession; the second and third books, The Water Stone and The Wind Stone, while I was still fifteen, and the last two, The Immortality Scroll and The Final Alliance, when I was sixteen. All together, it took me about fifteen months to write the entire series.

"I think the biggest inspiration behind my writing is my love of reading. Many authors have inspired and influenced me! In terms of originally making the fantasy genre so appealing to me, I would have to say that T.A. Barron and Brian Jacques are two of my favorite authors. I was reading those authors at around the same time that I decided I wanted to be a writer. Now, I would also have to add writers like Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, Eoin Colfer, Cinda Williams Chima, C.S. Lewis, Rick Riordan, Orson Scott Card, and J.R. Tolkien.

"My love of reading is partially what inspired me to create my nonprofit for children’s literacy, Breaking the Chain. I believe that the way to help people, especially children, break the cycle of poverty and exploitation is through literacy.

"I created Breaking the Chain, when I was fourteen, after learning that there are 120 million children around the world don’t have the opportunity get an education and that there are 800 million adults that cannot read or write, two-thirds of whom are women. These women and children are very vulnerable to exploitation. They are unable to get jobs and they cannot feed or clothe themselves. Only through education do they have the opportunity to make their lives better.

"The mission of Breaking the Chain try to eliminate the bonds of poverty and illiteracy for children and their communities through education and sustainable development, both domestically and internationally. Building schools in places where the government cannot or will not build schools for their citizens seemed like a good place to begin. Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, two of them in villages that we adopted where we also provide a water purification system, alternative income for the adults, like goats and sewing machines, and basic medical supplies. We’ve also created a children’s literacy center at a women’s shelter in Colorado, and bought over 1000 new books for children in low-income neighborhoods.

"This year, Breaking the Chain achieved tax-exempt status and my older brother, Nick, who is twenty, joined me (I wasn’t old enough to sit on the Board of Directors or to file the paperwork with the IRS). We are currently developing, and raising money for, a program to put new children’s books in U.S. schools with low literacy rates.

"I believe that Breaking the Chain is making a difference in children’s lives and I hope to continue to provide that hope and opportunity to children in the U.S. and around the world.
I have learned through my experiences with my nonprofit that one person really can make a difference if they persevere.

"A portion of the sales of The Fire Stone go directly to Breaking the Chain.

"You can buy my book at,, (they have autographed copies), local independent book stores around the country, and you can read it at your local library. It is distributed by Ingram and Baker and Taylor."

Author Website:
Breaking the Chain Website:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

La Boheme and Joyeux Noel

This is one Christmas season my husband and I watched two movies (DVD's), each with Christmas Eve as the setting. One was an opera, and one was a war story that really was an anti-war story.

The opera was one I've written about before (when Sacramento Opera performed it last spring): Puccini's La Boheme. In this case, La Boheme, the Movie, starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon as Mimi and Rodolfo. Both their voices are lush and lyrical, as if the composer wrote the music with them in mind, and their acting brought the story alive. All the cast was good, and the costumes and sets made scenes seem like impressionist paintings in motion. This is such a layered story, each time I hear and see the opera, I have a new appreciation for the breadth of understanding Pucci was able to convey in the music. I marvel how composers achieve on musical scores what I struggle to achieve in just words. I can never can see or hear this opera too many times, and I plan to buy the DVD.

The second movie was Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the over all story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war, rather than in an opera theater: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire, and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred. For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget.

So here it is, the New Year, and the Christmas message hovering still. Best wishes for the coming year, and for a time of peace, when people can be united again in their common humanity.