Friday, October 30, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

Public Domain Photo
    The Fringe Benefit of Fear

As a child I had a wild and wonderful imagination. Probably due to the numerous novels that opened my mind to all of the extraordinary possibilities the world had to offer.

Unfortunately, my imagination also opened my mind to more than a few fears. The list of my phobias included: fear of the dark, fear of social interactions, fear of receiving a poor grade, and fear of failure, to name just a few. Consequently, like so many children, I built a world for myself where the possibility of encountering those dreaded situations was limited. However, all that that accomplished was to limit my life.

As adults we tell ourselves, "Grow up; you're not a kid anymore." However, while our brain would agree with that, our heart might still harbor latent childhood fears. I only overcame my fear of the dark in the last ten years! While I never really thought that nyctophobia would make any difference in my life one way or the other - overcoming my fear of the dark has made a difference. Fear of any kind wraps a harness around your heart. Every time we overcome a fear, our hearts become a bit more brave. The other thing I've learned from my fears is that fear is a cousin to failure. Think about it: If you fear something, you stay away from it; you don't even try to conquer it. Consequently, you fail by default. That's not a very positive way to live life. When we overcome our fears we discover who we were always meant to be. Using our imagination allows us to have faith for the future, so much so, that we can actually change the course of our lives.

When I became a full-time writer I began to use my imagination again. I don't think it's any coincidence that at that same time I began to see my fear of the dark dissipate. Using one's imagination is one of the most powerful forces on earth, and should never be underestimated.

The fringe benefit of fear is the opportunity to find our courage.

                          Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Cadaverous - (adj.)
resembling a corpse in being very pale, thin, or bony.
Example: The adolescent's appearance was cadaverous, due to marvelous Halloween make-up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

Took: A Ghost Story
by Mary Downing Hahn

Amazon Description:
“Folks say Old Auntie takes a girl and keeps her fifty years—then lets her go and takes another one.”   Thirteen-year-old Daniel Anderson doesn’t believe Brody Mason’s crazy stories about the ghost witch who lives up on Brewster’s Hill with Bloody Bones, her man-eating razorback hog. He figures Brody’s probably just trying to scare him since he’s the new kid . . . a “stuck-up snot” from Connecticut. But Daniel’s seven-year-old sister Erica has become more and more withdrawn, talking to her lookalike doll. When she disappears into the woods one day, he knows something is terribly wrong. Did the witch strike? Has Erica been “took”?

My Thoughts:
Since Halloween is creeping up on the calendar I thought I'd feature a book review with a bit of spine-tingling intrigue - Took definitely fits the bill! This is the first novel I've read by Ms. Hahn, and was thoroughly entertained by her well-written ghost story for young readers. She is such a great storyteller that I found myself believing the outrageous tale she'd spun. If you have a child who enjoys scary stories, don't miss out on Took: A Ghost Story.

Click here to learn more about the author, Mary Downing Hahn.

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Interview with Author Carolyn J. Rose

A Most Extraordinary Lady

As storytellers, we all have people who have been instrumental in our development as writers. My guest today is mystery author Carolyn J. Rose; she is definitely one of those special people in my life. I met Carolyn during my first creative writing course at Clark College (after my departure from dental hygiene).

Right from the very first class I knew she was special. Not only did she inform and inspire her students, she did it with humor and humility. For that reason, I'm thrilled that Carolyn has agreed to allow me to interview her today on Writ of Whimsy - it's long overdue!

But first, here is the cover image and back cover description for Carolyn's latest mystery novel, No Substitute For Myth:

Is Bigfoot prowling around Reckless River, Washington? Has Sasquatch come to the city?

Barbara Reed doesn’t know if she believes the legendary creature exists, but evidence is stacking up. Something big is scavenging for food in city parks. Something tall and heavy left footprints across a dirt parking lot. And something huge and hairy careened into her one night on the riverfront trail.

Did that same creature kill a man and drag his body into a swamp? Or was the killer human? Will justice be undermined by media frenzy, a tide of tourism, and hundreds of hunters?

With help from the usual suspects, Barb, her drug-cop boyfriend, her pearl-powered wealthy neighbor, and Cheese Puff, her less-than-loyal dog, set out to solve a mystery, catch a murderer, and bust a few myths along the way.

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Welcome to Writ of Whimsy, Carolyn! Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. This is a surreal experience for me; I never would have thought I'd be interviewing my teacher.

CJR - Don't think of me as a teacher, think of me as someone who distilled what I'd learned and passed it along with the hope some of it would be helpful. And think of me as someone who egged you on to write, write, write.

VL - You definitely did that! I'd like to begin by having you give us an overview of your early beginnings and history as an author, Carolyn.

CJR - When I was ten I started writing stories for myself and one of my cousins. I also started telling myself that one day I'd be a "real" writer. When I was 16, I sold a poem to Seventeen and won a community writing competition.

Then I lost momentum. I went off to college, went into Volunteers in Service to America, got a job in television news, got married, got divorced, got another job in another state, got married, moved again, and again, and again. Well, you get the picture.

I didn't have a lot of time or energy to write until the early 1990s when I carved out a couple of hours a week, took classes from Elizabeth Lyon (author of Manuscript Makeover and several other books on writing craft) and started a mystery. It was a learning book and, after a few years of tinkering with it, I tossed it. After that I wrote three mysteries set in TV newsrooms - all now out of print and going to stay that way because they were also learning books.

During the late 1990s, my husband (Mike Nettleton) and I wrote as a team, producing five books: The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Death at Devil's Harbor (originally published as The Big Grabowski), Deception at Devil's Harbor (originally published as Sometimes a Great Commotion), and Drum Warrior (originally published as The Hermit of Humbug Mountain). Starting around 2001, we published them through several small presses: Deadly Alibi Press, SynergEbooks, and Krill Press. A few years ago we got our rights back. We revised the books and published them on our own.

In 2001, shortly after we moved to Vancouver, the news operation I worked for folded. It was a financial blow, but being laid off gave me time to focus on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I abandoned my career as a TV news producer and assignment editor and got certified as a substitute teacher. Then I wrote a project on my own, a dark mystery set in the Catskill Mountains. It became Hemlock Lake and, after years of querying agents and then publishers, it was released by Five Star in 2010.

When Five Star turned down a second book, I decided I couldn't face more years of querying and rejection, so I jumped into independent publishing with An Uncertain Refuge. My sales encouraged me to keep going with sequels to that book and to Hemlock Lake, as well as a love story, A Place of Forgetting.

My most successful book has been No Substitute for Murder, a cozy based in Reckless River, Washington, a town much like Vancouver. It features amateur sleuth Barbara Reed, a substitute teacher. Despite the fact that I do very little promotion and have never participated in free download programs, nearly 40,000 readers -  some as far away as South Africa, Pakistan, Brazil, and New Zealand - have downloaded the book. Many have written to tell me how much they enjoyed the characters - especially Cheese Puff, Barb's entitled dog. That connection with readers means more to me than the paychecks.

In November I will publish book #20. No Substitute for Mistakes, the fifth in the Subbing isn't for Sissies Series.

VL - Gosh, Carolyn, I'm learning so much about you that I never knew. You've been in this business for quite a while. Could you tell me a few of the significant changes you've seen in the world of publishing in that time?

CJR - The rise of indie publishing is the big thing. Competition for readers is increasing all the time. I think it's wonderful that writers can write the books they want to write and put them out there without going the traditional-publishing route. A good story told well will find an audience.

But at the same time, I think there's a lot to be learned from the process of searching for an agent or publisher. It can be time-consuming and painful, but the feedback can help polish your pitch and your work.

I also think anyone who wants to roll on the indie road should make a supreme effort to upload a manuscript that's well-formatted and as free of errors as possible.

VL - Great advice, Carolyn. Since you've been traditionally published, as well as independently published, could you give us some insights on what you've learned from both experiences?

CJR - Years ago I had experiences with two agents. Both gave me sound advice about character development. I didn't realize how much one of my characters moped and moaned until Agent #1 pointed it out.

But Agent #1 was terrible at keeping in touch and often seemed to drop off the map for months, so I ended our association. I queried again and found Agent #2 who sold one of the books Mike and I wrote together. We were walking on air for months, waiting for a contract. Then we learned the division that wanted the book had folded before the contract was negotiated. Discouraged, we stuck with Agent #2 for another year until she told me she couldn't represent Hemlock Lake because it was a rural book and she was a city girl. Because the themes of the book are universal, I'm still puzzling over that.

Meanwhile, we'd "sold" several books to small presses. I say "sold" because there was no money up front, only royalties on sales. We liked the publishers and got a lot of guidance about covers and blurbs and promotion. We also learned exactly how hard a small-press author - and almost every other author who isn't already published - has to work to make even a tiny ripple in the publishing pond.

It was valuable experience and helps me now that I'm "on my own." I miss not having the support and guidance of an agent or publisher, but I don't miss the feeling that the book is no longer completely mine.

VL - Carolyn, how have you managed to write so many books, while still substitute teaching?

CJR - B.I.C. Backside in chair. I take time, I make time, and I try to use time wisely and not think about household tasks that ought to be done.

Also, the great thing about being a substitute teacher is that when the final bell rings, and teachers go to a staff meeting or pack up a load of papers to take home to grade, I skip out the door (sometimes literally) and come home to walk the dogs, get a snack and write. Plus, there's no work in the summer, so I can buckle down and write 6-8 hours a day.

VL - How do you maintain such consistent motivation to write?

CJR - Part of my motivation comes from the kid inside of me who wanted to be a writer. And part comes from my characters. They pop up in my dreams with ideas for what they want to do next. They're a pushy bunch and right now are helping me with No Substitute for Motive, the 6th book in the Subbing isn't for Sissies Series.

Thanks for this informative and inspiring interview, Carolyn! I'd also like to thank you for your friendship and support; I know you've offered the same to numerous other writers in our community. You're the best.

Here are the links where you can visit Carolyn J. Rose:

     Website   Facebook   Blog   Amazon   B & N   Kobo

Carolyn's next book is the 5th in the Subbing isn't for Sissies Series - No Substitute for Mistakes - and will be available in November!


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Windbaggery - (n.)
lengthy talk or discussion with little or no interesting content.
Example: While the white-haired grandfather had a good heart, his conversations were really nothing more than windbaggery.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

The Marvels
by Brian Selznick

Flap Copy Description:
Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on a voyage!

Two seemingly unrelated stories--one in words, the other in pictures--come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

My Thoughts: 
The latest creation by Brian Selznick - The Marvels - just may be his best! While his extraordinary illustrations are once again exquisite, his imaginative and inspired story was so unique and thought-provoking it actually brought me to tears. Set in an old English mansion - in different time periods - we follow Joseph Jervis through his mysterious family's odd history. This well-written and thoroughly researched novel is worth every word of its 600+ pages. I highly recommend The Marvels to readers aged eight to eighty!

Click here to learn about the multi-talented author, Brian Selznick.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

The Deeper Meaning of Fairy Tales

As a young child I was, thankfully, allowed to read all sorts of fairy tales and fantasy stories; my parents (and grandmother), to my knowledge, never thought to limit my literary appetite.
That freedom to read whatever I desired was an extraordinary gift they gave to me; it allowed my imagination to thrive and grow, and thus, gave me the tools to develop my problem-solving abilities for the rest of my life.

Bruno Bettelheim said in his book, The Uses of Enchantment - The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, "Fairy tales are important to the child's development because the main characters - many of them children themselves - demonstrate the tenacious ability to triumph over adversity in a world of giants and cruel parents." While the book is written from a psychologist's point of view, and is therefore a somewhat clinical look at how a child's psyche develops, one of its main points is that children use their imaginations more than logic when navigating through their personal problems.

Mr. Bettelheim went on to say that C. S. Lewis felt that fairy tales are "spiritual explorations" and hence "the most life-like" since they reveal "human life as seen, or felt, or divined from the inside."
(Many thanks to our friends, Tim and Pam, for loaning me this book!)

In a paradoxical way, traditional fairy tales are more truthful than most other children's stories; they reveal both good and evil in the world. However, no matter how violent the story, they almost always reveal a protagonist that, in the end, survives. That element tells the child, that they, too, can work through - and survive - the anxieties that they face.

As a writer one of the ways I like to engage young readers is to speak to them as an adult. That includes the vocabulary I use, the characters I develop, and the scenes (some including a death) that I write. That being said, I always include at least one anthropomorphic animal, magical elements, and whimsical settings. While the details of my stories are of a fantasy nature, the themes and subjects addressed in my books are as real as any human experience could be.

E.B. White once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

Fairy tales allow the writer to create a fantasy story that is full of life's complex truths, while being wrapped in a "once upon a time" existence in a magical, faraway land where imagination rules supreme.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Noosphere - (n.)
 a state of interconnected awareness among all minds, resulting from humanity's biological and cultural evolution.
Example: The pacifists hoped that in time, a more harmonious noosphere would bring about peace.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

Firefly Hollow
Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by
Christopher Denise

Flap Copy Description:
Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big?

Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.

But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?

My Thoughts:

Rarely have I read a newly-released children's book and immediately thought, this will be a classic. However, that is just what I thought upon finishing Alison McGhee's Firefly Hollow. Ms. McGhee has penned a beautiful novel with a delightful cast of characters; I'm sure its powerful message of friendship, loss, and sacrifice, will long be with me. In addition to that, the illustrations by Christopher Denise are exquisite, and bring this whimsical tale to life perfectly. I highly recommend Firefly Hollow to readers aged eight to eighty. Bravo, Alison McGhee!

Click here to learn more about the author, Alison McGhee.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

The Power of a Writer's Words

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”
― Emily Dickinson

While all writers of fiction hope to choose their words in such a fashion as to reveal their story to readers in a wonderful way - can, and do, our words do more than that? Can they, in some small way, contain the power to build a better world?

In the wake of the massacre in Roseburg, Oregon, I've found myself feeling helpless. This is not the first time. Whether it be the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the shootings at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, or the plight of the Syrian refugees, tragic events in our world cause me to wonder: What can I do to help better our world?

The only answer that echoes in my mind is: I can give the generation of tomorrow hope - through writing stories that inspire them, and hopefully, cause them to question the status quo in our world.

The famed composer, conductor, and author Leonard Bernstein once said, "The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. It can affect people so that they are changed...because people are changed by art - enriched, ennobled, encouraged - they then act in a way that may affect the course of the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.

Throughout history authors, poets, artists, and musicians have been the prophets; they've been the ones to raise their voices for justice.

In some small way this post is me raising my voice.

Photos courtesy of the Public Domain

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Whimsical Word of the Week

Hypergraphia - (n.)
a behavioral condition characterized by an intense desire to write.
Example: Some authors don't just love to write, they can't help themselves: they have hypergraphia.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bibliophile's Corner

by Pam Munoz Ryan

Flap Copy Description:
Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. 

My Thoughts:
This beautifully written and uniquely crafted novel is one of those stories that I'd hoped would not end! For me, its two main attributes are its extraordinary plot development and its cast of characters. Echo is one of those books that cannot be put in a box; its independent, yet interwoven story lines, emerge as a colorful tapestry in the final chapter. Exquisite! I highly recommend Echo to readers from the ages of eight to eighty. Bravo, Ms. Ryan!

Click here to learn more about the author, Pam Munoz Ryan.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Champions of Creativity

   Lewis Carroll

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so today I'm focusing on the author of that beloved children's classic.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on January 27, 1832; he was later known to millions as Lewis Carroll. The Englishman wore many hats in his lifetime, including: author, poet, mathematician, logician, photographer, and deacon in the Anglican Church.

Carroll was from a family that included a long line of clergymen. He was educated at home; as a testament to his gifted intellect, he read such books as Pilgrim's Progress at the age of seven! He wrote poems and short stories as a young person, and was a gifted storyteller and mimic as a young adult - even though he struggled with a stammer.

Lewis Carroll was later educated at Oxford University receiving a degree in mathematics and first-class honors - placing first in his class. He became a Mathematical Lecturer at Christ Church/Oxford which gave him a certain amount of financial security. In 1856 Henry Liddell became the new dean at Christ Church; Carroll was to become close with the dean, his wife, and their three daughters: Lorina, Edith, and Alice. (It has been debated for decades whether or not young Alice Liddell was the inspiration for the protagonist in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, even though late in his life Lewis Carroll denied that his character was based on any real child.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865 and became an overnight sensation. It brought Carroll fame, and with it, significant changes to his life - such as receiving loads of letters from adoring fans of the book. Even Queen Victoria was quite taken with the novel.

One of Lewis Carroll's own illustrations of Alice.
In 1871, a sequel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There - was published. That darker story also includes Carroll's famous poem: Jabberwocky.

Throughout his life Mr. Carroll juggled the roles of author, mathematician, poet, logician, and photographer. Amidst these endeavors he unfortunately dealt with migraine headaches and "seizures," according to his personal journal.

Lewis Carroll died on January 14, 1898 of pneumonia, following influenza. He was 66 years old. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland became extremely influential in popular culture and literature - especially in the fantasy genre. Carroll's children's classic has been translated into 174 languages, and has never been out of print.

"One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others." Lewis Carroll

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This past summer I was lucky enough to find this rare copy of both stories by Lewis Carroll in an antique store on the Oregon Coast. It seemed fitting that this edition was published in 1915 - fifty years after the first book was published, and exactly one hundred years ago.

Since my current novel in progress includes a secondary character obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, I just had to buy this book. Research, right?