Wednesday, September 12, 2018

To plot or not to plot

As an author, I've generally written by the seat of my pants, stopping only when I realize the story isn't going anywhere. I do like diving in without a direction, but even as far back as Living Canvas, I discovered there needs to be a road map. I seem to be needing one sooner in the process these days. While I still like to start out blind to get to know my characters, my companions on the journey, I need to figure out what’s going on before I write too many words. 

As I work on the final EPITAPH installment, I have discovered there’s no shame in plotting. I can still be amused with detours that will undoubtedly happen along the writing process. Plotting/an outline is just a general direction to travel, not the only road to get there! 

Some authors (myself included) like to be surprised while we're writing by an unexpected turn of events, and that can be incorporated into an outline simply by adding "something bad happens here." That leaves the road open for creativity and subconscious cues that come from the characters on the page. 

The answer to the age-old question? In my humble opinion, you can have the best of both worlds. Take along your atlas on that road trip, but be prepared for a detour or an uncharted point of interest. Those unplanned stops are generally what makes the trip the most fun.
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Meanwhile, I have to tell you (cuz I'm SO EXCITED) that the penultimate EPITAPH book is coming out NEXT WEEK! Here's a link for you to buy it now so you don't forget!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Gardens and Topiaries

My latest obsession is topiaries. This from someone who definitely does NOT have a green thumb.

I'm very fortunate to have a house once inhabited by someone who knew how to garden. I've been able to plant and have success, although not nearly as much as the previous owner. With very little maintenance, I can actually grow things! I have tremendous respect for people who take the time to make their plants more beautiful. When I walk around my neighborhood, many of the yards have beautifully landscaped gardens.

With a little fresh air and sunshine, this is what my vegetable gardens look like. For a number of years, I had a strawberry patch that thrived out there, but with a couple of years where I was unable to do any gardening, even the strawberries suffered from lack of attention.

Inside, I've had *this* plant for probably 20 years. It's an ivy, and I have it creeping over my cupboards. It keeps growing, but this is what it looks like. Bare vine on one side, leaves on the other.

When I visited Disney, these sculptures were made from flowers and plants. Aren't they amazing?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tall Tales

How many people are familiar with the tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox? I grew up with these stories in the upper Midwest, but it occurs to me that to people in the lower half of the United States (or outside) he might not be as recognizable.

The legend of Paul Bunyan is a tall tale about a giant lumberjack, perhaps more well-known in the north woods. It is said the 10,000 lakes that make Minnesota famous are Paul's footsteps.

On a recent trip to spend time with relatives, we stopped at a "cook shanty" for breakfast, lumberjack style, complete with this lovely statue of Paul and his sidekick, Babe, the blue ox. It brought to mind lumberjack cartoons I used to watch on Saturday mornings when I was a kid.

In the Epitaph series, I've made several references to the Benson brothers as "built like football linemen," but in the upcoming installment, the "new girl in town" envisions Thad Benson as Paul Bunyan (as an avid reader, she has a very active imagination).

I always enjoy revisiting old legends and folklore when I write. What are some of your favorites?

Watch for the next in the Epitaph series, coming this fall.
The first five EPITAPH books

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Going on a Troll Hunt

What does an author do when she's between stories? Most often she keeps writing! But those are the moments when I find my best sources of inspiration, when I venture out into the world to discover new things.

I'm getting into the mind frame of my next character, who works with plants and trees and such, so what better place to visit than an arboretum? Actually, there is another place that serves as inspiration for my new setting, and I'm also planning a return trip there, but they don't have trolls.

Yes, trolls.

On a very warm day in the middle of the summer, my dear husband agreed to accompany me on a troll hunt. The arboretum covers 1,700 acres of land filled with trails and activities. To complete the troll hunt, we would have had to find six trolls and cover approximately six miles of trails. Some people abbreviate the miles by driving to parking lots that are close by, but as someone who enjoys hiking through dells and glens and meadows and trails, I opted to hoof it. We didn't cover six miles, and we only unearthed four of the trolls. Guess that means I have to make a return trip!

We found an aggressive troll who threw boulders at cars, a sneaky troll who lays in wait for unsuspecting prey to stumble into his trap, and a troll hiding behind a tree. Our fourth troll was actually the troll hideout, complete with giant toothbrush, cooking pot, basket and a wood-frame teepee. Everything in their camp was oversized.

Troll Trap!

Did I find the inspiration I was looking for? Yes! The hedge maze promises to figure prominently in Epitaph 7. The trolls? Not so much inspiration, but what a fun idea. I loved coming around the corner on a trail and finding a troll hiding in the trees.
Troll stew?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Birth Order

I've read the books, the articles, the psychology. Where you fall in line with your siblings tells a lot about who you are as a person. I subscribe to that - a little bit. But as with any rule, there are exceptions.

I married an "oldest" child, who firmly believes in the idea that the "youngest child" (looks at self, yep, I'm one of those) is always spoiled and gets away with things the oldest never could. I beg to differ. As the youngest child, it was assumed I would follow my older siblings and commit the same or similar transgressions, hence, intervention methods were taken. It took me a long time to figure out how come I was blamed for certain things I never did! Why my parents assumed I would act a certain way.

Don't get me wrong, some of the psychology is spot-on and I'm not here to tell you none of those birth-order traits apply to me. I am here to tell you some of those birth order traits apply to all children, no matter where they fall in the natural order.

So what's the point today? Bryan Benson.

For those of you following my Epitaph series, you might have read my concerns that Bryan was annoying me too much to get his own darn book. I'd committed to writing 7 Epitaph books, but when it came to that final sibling, I had a hard time relating to him, until I considered his birth order.

Bryan is NOT a youngest child. He's technically a middle child, but as I was writing Epitaph 6 (which is with the editor as we speak! YAY!), I figured I should give Bryan a chance to show me he was worthy of his own story, and you know what? He did. He has two older brothers who give him grief and a younger sister with "special talents." Is it any wonder this guy has issues? In each of his siblings' books, he's framed from their perspective. Of course they love their family, but they also don't consider his feelings all the time. He's their brother, after all. In Bryan's case, birth order does matter, and in order to write his story, I had to take him away from the bosom of family to give him a chance to grow and thrive and show the world there's more to him than being Amy's older brother and Thad and Garth's little brother. The more he showed up in Epitaph 6, the more I knew he deserved his chance in Epitaph 7.

Where do you fall in the birth order? How has it shaped the person you've become?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Are selkies really a thing?

Had a reader ask me recently if Selkies are really a thing or if I just made them up, so I thought I'd share my answer with all of you!

When I started the Epitaph series, all those darn McCormicks ended up with red hair (as is somewhat common among the Irish) with one notable exception. Liam's hair was black. I always knew Liam's story was going to involve Selkies -- yes, it's a genuine Irish legend and NOT something I made up.

Her's the official line on selkies (courtesy of Wikipedia):

A typical folk-tale is that of a man who steals a female selkie's skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife.But the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home, and will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved.
Male selkies are described as being very handsome in their human form, and having great seductive powers over human women. They typically seek those who are dissatisfied with their lives, such as married women waiting for their fishermen husbands. In one popular tattletale version about a certain "Ursilla" of Orkney (a pseudonym), it was rumored that when she wished to make contact with her male selkie she would shed seven tears into the sea.

I've always been fascinated with fairy tales and folk tales - even the "Grimm" ones. When I set out to write THE SELKIE, I checked deeper into that particular legend, including watching an excellent movie called The Secret of Roan Inish (I would recommend it!). I also read another author's take on the legend, which was kind of fun. Roses bloomed all over the selkie's cottage out of season when the selkie's relative moved in. Naturally, when writing my version, I added my own spin, a little something known as artistic license.

The first five books

Friday, August 3, 2018

Crepuscular rays - Fingerprints of God

Q:  How many times do I hear people asking me what goes on inside an author's mind?
A: More times than I can count!

Today, I share with you some of those thoughts...

When I left the house this morning to take my morning constitutional, the dew point was still high. The sun was still rising. Combine the two and you get a beautiful combination of a natural phenomenon called crepuscular rays. As a woman of faith, this phenomenon presents itself to me as God shining down on me. Well, maybe not me in particular, but on the world, as if the morning fog makes His presence known in a more visible way.

All along the walk, more rays of sunshine, reaching to the sidewalk through the trees, lighting my path. These are the days I feel well and truly blessed. These are the days I know I don't walk alone in this life. With this natural display, God makes himself visible, touching the earth, all-encompassing, raining sun on every inch of the road I walk. Today was particularly impressive in that I had to walk through those rays to get to the sidewalk, through those rays all along my route. What a feeling of peace and comfort.