Archive for Historical fiction

END

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , on September 28, 2008 by Trina

Finally, I typed that one little word. Wow! It felt good. My first young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, is finished–all 55,000 words. It has been a fifteen-year journey from the first draft to the finished novel. One that I am both happy and proud to have behind me. I made a lot of mistakes in writing this novel–see previous posts below, but I have also learned a lot about the craft of writing. I don’t think I’ll make the same mistakes again.

I’ve posted two excerpts on the new young adult page of my Web site.

I am prepared for the daunting task of researching agents to find a good match for THE MAGIC QUILT. I will look for agents that are knowledgeable about the young adult market, then spend the next several weeks writing a synopsis and a killer query letter and then submitting THE MAGIC QUILT to those agencies. Wish me luck.

I blogged that I would finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st, 2007. I didn’t quite make it–it took me nine months longer than that. The day job and life intervened.

Below is part of the long history of writing THE MAGIC QUILT from excerpts of previous posts.


Decemer 22, 2006: Finding Time

I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school in 1993 and then didn’t look at it again during the years that I taught middle school. I never tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and whether I had all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. (Big mistake. BIG. Never start researching after writing the first draft. Do the research first).

May 25, 2007: History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor
I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” where Katharine accompanies Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups, you walk away with insights and more work. So, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in resolving the conflict, so I’ve got to revisit it.

June 1, 2007: Creative License
I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago (a rewrite of the version I wrote in 1993). This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character.

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.


June 9, 2007: Keeping Characters Fresh

My goal now is to finish rewriting the historical portions of the novel first, because they are the most difficult to get the emotional interplay right between and among the characters. I did finish a rough draft of a rewrite of the final chapter, and I’m going to start by finishing the ending. I have the history correct, but I don’t yet have Katharine’s voice consistent. Her character grows throughout the novel, so I want to make sure the chapters reflect that growth and match her voice. So I am making what I hope is the final rewrite of the novel for consistency, tightening, and pace of action. I also am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me because I’ve fallen in love with several scenes that do NOT move the story along; they have to go.

July 23, 2007: Writing fantasy: the truth inside the lie.

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

Stephen King wrote those words. In writing fantasy, we can apply King’s words because we are creating a fantasy world and then making our readers believe that our lie is real. We couldn’t do that if there wasn’t some truth inside the lie. So in order to create a realistic fantasy world we must start with the truth and then build a lie around it.

Creating Katharine’s fantasy world means building a world based upon reality and making sure readers know the rules of that world. The characters must remain true to those rules throughout the novel.

And so, now that I’ve revised the historical parts for accuracy, I’m going back through THE MAGIC QUILT again, chapter by chapter, focusing on the magic world that is Katharine’s reality. Is the fantasy world that I’ve created in the young adult historical fantasy realistic, believable and most of all, exciting to young adult readers.

August 31, 2007: Building the lie
I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Any child who has participated in the fantasy world of children’s books and films, where superheroes exist, a man in a red suit drives flying reindeer, noble lions rule, and kids go to wizard academies, believes the lie. But beyond that, in children’s private imaginary worlds, they can be princes and princesses, plastic figures can come to life and entire armies may do battle on their bedroom floors — all in their imaginations.

It follows then, that it should not be difficult to convince young adult readers that an evil shape shifter can spew deadly smoke from his eyes, or that Katharine can fly, or that the Great Shape Shifter, Askuwheteau’s eyes shine with blue light. He can pop in and out of time at will. But I have to explain where he gets this wonderful power.

October 29, 2007: Taking up the gauntlet
My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period. (Ah, wrong).

November 27, 2007: Shape shifting: point of view problem
I am fixing the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals. I’m editing two chapters from the middle of THE MAGIC QUILT, where Katharine, her grandmother and Sara Revere have transmutated into animals. I have been struggling with the narrator’s POV. Should I call Katharine “the cat” or “Katharine.” Likewise, should I use “the red bird” or “Grandma.” And should the narrator refer the animals as it or she?

December 1, 2007: Perfecting the perfect pitch
(When I wrote this, I actually thought I was going to finish the novel by 2008).
It may not be perfect, but I think this pitch will hook a sixth grader:

Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. The metallic smell of blood and gunpowder is heavy in the air. Katharine is a shape shifter who has traveled back in time, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. She must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose— an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

January 1, 2008: Write. Edit. Polish—Submit.
I polished my way through chapter 13, of the 24 chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT. Because of the trickle down effect from the later chapters, the first half of the book needed a lot of rewriting. Fixing minor plot flaws, correcting some point of view issues and deciding which minor characters need bigger and smaller roles took up most of my editing time.

Looking back over my older writing, I discovered something else. I have really grown as a writer. I recognize some novice mistakes in my older work, like POV issues–I couldn’t seem to find the MC’s voice, plot holes and leaps, telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition, dialogue tag problems, and tense changes. In fact, some of my older stories are real stinkers. Back when I wrote them, thinking they were awesome works of art, I sent each to friends and family. I apologize for that—I should have sent a clothespin with each story. I even submitted some of these stinkers for publication.

March 28, 2008: The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line.
Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow shape shifters changing into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a shape shifter who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting.

September 28, 2008: This journey is over, but another is about to begin.

Perfecting the perfect pitch

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2007 by Trina

It may not be perfect, but I think this pitch for my young adult novel THE MAGIC QUILT will hook a sixth grader:

Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. The metallic smell of blood and gunpowder is heavy in the air. Katharine is a shape shifter who has traveled back in time, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. She must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose— an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

I took advantage of a pitch critiquing opportunity on Book Ends blog. Whether you’re published, unpublished, have a pitch appointment or are pitching through an equery, every author needs to be able to summarize his or her book in as little as five words, but no more than three sentences (or so). In other words, you need to capture an agent’s, editor’s, or reader’s attention quickly.

So I submitted one paragraph from my query letter intended to grab an agent’s attention. Click here to read the post. I had read that one of the best ways to write a pitch was to read the backs of books in your genre — wrong in this case, BTW. So I modeled mine after the back cover of Harry Potter. I was pretty proud of it:

Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother, but all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

This is the response the agent gave:
I like the beginning a lot. I think the first three sentences are terrific. What a great Harry Potter-like book without going straight to telling us that. However, this is another case where the ending lost its fire. I guess I’m not sure I want to read about a wizard who ends up in Boston. Where’s the magic? Where’s the army of insects? The fun of a wizard book, or of any fantasy, is the fantasy. In your description of what’s actually going to happen you neglect to tell us about the fantasy. Since it seems your target is probably a younger audience, my question to you is would a 12-year-old (for example) be interested in reading about the “strength to face her destiny”? or are they more interested in reading about evil wizards and magic quilts? That’s what we want to hear about in the last sentences.

This is a comment from the post, and most other comments took a similar vein:
Harry Potter indeed. That pitch is a word-for-word madlibs of the actual back cover copy of the first Harry Potter novel:

“Harry Potter has never been star of a Quidditch game, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives announcing that Harry has been chosen to attend Hogwarts, an elite school for the training of wizards and witches…” (front flap, Arthur A. Levine Books)”

At least the querier knows what works, but I think she loses points for originality.

Shocked and surprised by the reaction, I’ve now got to start over on my pitch — good thing I didn’t send that pitch to an agent. I need to remove the parallels with Harry Potter because THE MAGIC QUILT is more than a fantasy, it is an historical fiction/fantasy, set in 1775 Boston. The Harry Potter series is not historical.

The agent liked the details in the first three sentences, but she wanted a hook that would capture the attention of a twelve year old. So, I thought about what I would want to read if I was twelve. I dug out an old pitch I’d used in a query before I decided Katharine should travel back in time only to 1775 Boston, instead of visiting China past and future America. (I needed to cut the book, and by focusing on the American Revolution I accomplished that). Here’s the old pitch:

Katharine, an unpopular sixth grader, seeks solace by talking to animals and wizards until she discovers a way to escape her unhappy life–through a time portal in a magic quilt. Each square leads to a different period in time and Katherine suddenly finds herself face-to-face with some of the most adventurous and dynamic figures in history, including Marco Polo, Paul Revere, and Pocahontas. Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

This young adult novel goes further than fantasy in its accurate portrayal of history, especially 1775 colonial America. In addition, Katharine faces the separation of her parents, and abuse from her alcoholic mother, resulting in the involvement of social services in her family’s life.

This pitch is too long, and I’m sure it will NOT hook a twelve-year-old.

So here’s a first rewrite of my pitch.
Standing on the Lexington Green, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. Having traveled back in time through portals in her magic quilt, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water haven’t even been imagined, her new friends are dead, or dying, the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air. She must make a choice. She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose, whether an alligator, dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

A second:
Twelve-year-old Katharine felt no shame about standing on the Lexington Green crying. Wouldn’t any wizard who transported herself back in time directly into a battle where being run through with a bayonet, or shot with a musket ball are real dangers? Now, with her friends dead, or dying, and the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air, Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

A third:
Katharine is twelve years old and a wizard in training, learning how to transmutate into animals, travel forward and back in time, and defend herself against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who has promised to kill her before she can destroy him. Leaving her unhappy home behind, Katharine travels back in time to 1775, Boston, where protected by defense sorcerers in the form of black cats, she finds herself caught up in the magical world of spying, espionage, and rebellion that will free her friends from tyranny.

A fourth:
It started as a normal afternoon, Katharine was late getting home to watch her sister, except that Katharine has just heard animals talk and seen time turn back. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? As if in answer to her question a large yellow dog looked through the window at her, and said, “I’d best transmutate.” Several black cats walked around the house, their bright yellow eyes scanning the yard, surrounded by clouds of billowing black.

Of course, if I use the third or fourth pitch, I may be accused of madlibbing Jonathan Stroud or Madeleine L’Engle.

I can’t decide which pitch is best, so I’ve asked my husband, marketing writer Harry Calhoun, to choose and/or write the best pitch for me.

Harry says:
I actually like the first one best. Katherine being in danger in the midst of battle is certainly more interesting than her crying. I think the third one is your second best, and the last one deals too much with what happens in the early part of the book. Also, is it true that her friends are “dead or dying” in the battle? That’s scary!

Yes Harry, it is true that some of Katharine’s friends from 1775 were killed in battle. I couldn’t write the novel any other way and keep it realistic. Such is the reality of war, heavy sigh. In the battle at Lexington, eight Massachusetts men were killed and ten were wounded, with only one British soldier wounded. Here is a scene from the final chapter of THE MAGIC QUILT.

Katharine steeled herself. Joe lay dead, his shirt and the grass he lay on saturated with his blood, the metallic smell of it in the air mingling with the smell of gunpowder. She smoothed his blond hair, closed his eyes and surrendered her childhood. She looked at the battle scene through the eyes of an adult.

She counted seven minutemen lying motionless on the ground— their sightless eyes looking eerily at no one. One wounded man crawled toward a house leaving a trail of blood in his wake. There was too much blood; he wasn’t going to make it. Nine other men lay bleeding, but at least they were moving — they were alive.

I’d love to hear your opinions of which is the best pitch.

Taking up the gauntlet

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2007 by Trina

My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period.

From my post on December 22, 2006:
I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, THE MAGIC QUILT is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.

Thank you, Harry, for your support.

Now it is nearly a year later, and my young adult novel in progress is still not finished. Harry reminded me that I’ve been working on the novel for the entire four years that we have been together and I’m still not finished with it. I got mad at him, but I am really angry with myself. I had to ask myself why I am not finished.

I have been making steady progress, but it comes in spurts. I’ll make a writing schedule and stick to it until something happens, or nothing happens. Life gets in the way. We go on vacation, family visits, we adopt a dog, it is too beautiful outside to write, or the day job gets more stressful. Then, I’ll work on shorter pieces trying to get up the energy to work on the novel. And the cycle repeats.

Harry threw down the gauntlet when he asked me how long it would actually take me to finish my WIP. I’m taking up the gauntlet he threw down. With Harry’s somewhat reluctant support, I’ve decided to work part time, cutting my day job to 92% of my current hours. This means that I’ll have two Fridays off per month. Two days that I can write for eight uninterrupted hours. And I am going to finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st using those days off, as well as a early mornings and weekends. Even though the holidays will come and go, I’m still going to finish. I am too close not to.

I have just sent the last three chapters to my writing group for their critique. I am editing the other chapters in the novel for consistency. I am also reading it to make sure Katharine’s voice is right. Her character changes throughout the novel as her control over her magic and her confidence in herself grows. The narrator’s voice must change with her. And, I’m tightening and trying to give the reader credit by not telling them everything.

Wish me luck.

Building the lie

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , on August 31, 2007 by Trina

While many people are having cookouts and spending time with family on Monday, I will be “building the lie.” I’ll be cementing the final bricks in the fantasy world that I’ve created in THE MAGIC QUILT. What fun it is to make fantastic and terrifying events happen. Yet, there is a cost in reality and logic. I can make the Great Wizard Cerulean’s eyes shine with blue light. He can pop in and out of time at will. But I have to explain where he gets this wonderful power.

In writing fantasy, the writer must create a fantasy world (the lie) and then make readers believe the lie is logical and real (the truth). See Writing fantasy: the truth inside the lie. In THE MAGIC QUILT, I have made time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible routine parts of day-to-day life.

Any child who has participated in the fantasy world of children’s books and films, where superheroes exist, a man in a red suit drives flying reindeer, noble lions rule, and kids go to wizard academies, believes the lie. But beyond that, in children’s private imaginary worlds, they can be princes and princesses, plastic figures can come to life and entire armies may do battle on their bedroom floors — all in their imaginations.

It follows then, that it should not be difficult to convince young adult readers that an evil wizard can spew deadly smoke from his eyes or that Katharine can fly?

“Children’s fantasy demands the strictest logic, consistency, and attention to detail. … It is no wonder that the greatest children’s fantasists—Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien—had day jobs in the driest reaches of logic and philology.” From: The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy

My attention to detail is what I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults reading THE MAGIC QUILT. In 1775, everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary then, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I hope the mix of magic and the setting in the past will be believable.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, DR. ZIEGAWART IS IN, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

The chapter opens with Dr. Ziegawart in the form of a cockroach in Katharine’s school cafeteria.
A large roach, as long as a tube of Chap Stick, he clung to a trashcan by the hooks on his six legs, unnoticed by the rowdy students eating lunch in the cafeteria. None of the teachers (who were all imbeciles) or the cafeteria staff (who were about as intelligent as slugs) saw the cockroach clinging to the trashcan, waving its antennae in constant search of a change in air that could mean danger to a small insect.

Following are problems with the logic of the fantasy of DR. ZIEGAWART IS IN and my solutions:
When Dr. Ziegawart morphed into his true form, no one noticed him. I let him be noticed.
Dr. Ziegawart sat down hard on a cafeteria bench that was too small for his large frame, nearly sliding to the floor. “Newts eyes,” he cursed, remembering that transmutations always drained his power.

A cafeteria worker approached him and said in a raspy voice “You, there. You do not have a pass.” With gloved fingers, she pushed her hair net back on her sweaty forehead, spreading something that looked like gravy across her face. “What are you doing here sir?”

The smell of body odor overpowered him. Dr. Ziegawart shivered in revulsion looking at the cafeteria worker’s double chin. “I’m a child molester, just hanging around watching my next victim.” He winked, watching her eyes get round in shock. Before she could react, he touched the silver locket hanging around his neck and …

Why doesn’t Katharine see Dr. Ziegawart when he transmutates from a cockroach to his true form? I let her notice him.
Heartened that Katharine was white-faced and trembling like a leaf in the wind, Dr. Ziegawart was confident that he looked every bit the part of the evil wizard that he was.

Katharine doesn’t seem scared enough when she meets Dr. Ziegawart. I added some physical reactions and thoughts throughout the section.
Unable to open her eyes, surrounded by darkness, Katharine’s stomach churned, threatening to send its contents up. She fought the nausea. Chocolaty laughter floated toward her, wrapping her abdomen in a sick vise. The ugly wizard pointed his gnarled finger at her in the blackness.

Instantly a heavy weight pressed down on her chest. Fear prickled in her throat. She couldn’t catch her breath. Hot … she was too hot. A trickle of sweat ran down her neck, but still, she couldn’t force her heavy eyes open.

Katharine felt a gust of wind. With great effort, she opened her eyes. Sara Revere stood before her, wind blowing from her fingertips. She didn’t understand what was happening. Chills shook her. Her teeth chattered. She was too … too cold. This is what it felt like to die. The thought sent icy fingers of dread to her heart. Lindsey would be helpless without her … Her heart squeezed out fear in little pulses that tightened her throat and throbbed in her temples. Dr. Ziegawart would find her again.

How did the evil roaches get in refrigerator to deposit the poison in the hamburger? Solution: Dr. Ziegawart held the refrigerator door open.
Last night at precisely midnight, one hundred of Dr. Ziegawart’s followers in the form of cockroaches sneaked into the school cafeteria’s refrigerator while he held the door open for them. Dr. Ziegawart had given each roach a poison pill that it shredded with its mouthparts. Using its salivary glands each roach had then moistened the powder with its saliva and swallowed it. The poison mixed in each roach’s small stomach where digestive enzymes turned it into toxic roach scat. If anyone had looked in the refrigerator during the night, they would have seen a carpet of brown roaches fanning their wings and depositing poison scat in the raw hamburger.

Katharine was a messy eater in the original version, which didn’t fit her character. I changed the scene so that her friend Brittney is the messy one.
Dr. Ziegawart watched in satisfaction as Katharine bit into her hamburger. Out of the corner of his eye, the roach saw hefty Brittney squeeze three packs of ketchup on her burger and take a huge bite, cheese and ketchup running down her fingers. Her manners were utterly revolting. It would serve the slob right when she died of poison.

Brittney had not suffered any effects from the poison, simply because she was a character that I added into the scene after it was originally written. I poisoned her.
And as an added bonus, the portly girl wizard that had befriended Katharine sat unmoving. Brittney was surely dead …

Why aren’t other students poisoned? This was corrected with one sentence of dialogue.
“Of course only wizards are susceptible to the poison,” Sara said.

Wouldn’t students notice and remember? Again corrected by one sentence of dialogue.
“I will cast a memory removal spell over this room. Anyone who was in this cafeteria today who is not a wizard will have no memory of the events that transpired here.”

Keeping Characters Fresh

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , on June 9, 2007 by Trina

I’m optimistic that I will finally be able to finish my young adult novel in progress, THE MAGIC QUILT. Working 5 mornings a week on the book has helped the characters to stay alive in my mind. What I struggled with before was that when I did have an hour or two or five to work on The Magic Quilt, usually on Saturday or Sunday morning, it took me at least an hour to get back into the world of 1775. I would read my historical notes and skim chapters before I was there in my mind; I need to feel what Katharine feels and experience life with her.

So, I’ve set aside Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to write from 6 to 8 am before work. Two mornings were short writing sessions this week due to pressures from my day job — final deadline for delivery of test items to one of our clients. Even with only an hour, it was enough to keep me in the story and keep Katharine alive.

My goal now is to finish rewriting the historical portions of the novel first, because they are the most difficult to get the emotional interplay right between and among the characters. I did finish a rough draft of a rewrite of the final chapter, and I’m going to start by finishing the ending. I have the history correct, but I don’t yet have Katharine’s voice consistent. Her character grows throughout the novel, so I want to make sure the chapters reflect that growth and match her voice. So I am making what I hope is the final rewrite of the novel for consistency, tightening, and pace of action. I also am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me because I’ve fallen in love with several scenes that do NOT move the story along; they have to go. I have started a folder of unused scenes. I’ve called the folder “sequel.” When I delete scenes and sometimes whole chapters I move them to this folder on my computer. I may never use these scenes in a sequel, but at least I don’t feel like they are lost.

In the words Diane Chamberlain of one of my favorite authors, writers need to give the reader some credit to follow the story without telling them everything:

Even though my work-in-progress is my seventeenth, I’m still having to dial back my desire to over-explain all the relationships and past events early in the story. The chapter I’m revising right now. . . I actually think I can cut it out altogether and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, the pace will slow down and that’s the last thing I want. I need to remember that my reader will enjoy a feeling of discovery as she makes her way through the book. I don’t need to weigh her down with information she can figure out on her own. Read Diane Chamberlain’s blog.

If this blog is silent over the next couple of weeks, it is because I am making a tremendous effort to finish The Magic Quilt. Wish me luck.

Creative License

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2007 by Trina

Below is an excerpt from Katharine Taylor and the Magic Quilt that is the focus of this blog.

“Dr. Warren’s Speech.”

… Sara Revere touched the silver locket on her necklace and transmutated into a tiny black bird that stood on her bedroom floor. Katharine transmutated into what she hoped was a brown cardinal with red tipped wings and an orange beak.

“Come Katharine,” the blackbird said and flew out the window. Katharine was afraid to fly, but she closed her eyes and flapped her wings a couple of times. She landed on the bed, grasping the bedspread with her claws. Her heart pounding, she flew once more around the room.

Still a little nervous, she stood up straight on her bird feet, took a deep breath and flew out the window. Wind hit her, like when she rode her bike down hill.

A flock of blackbirds circled the house, which startled her until she heard one of them call her name in Sara’s voice. “Follow us,” the black bird said.

When Katharine looked down, the house was small. The privy a small box the size of a domino. A flutter of fear made her wings skip a beat and she fell a few feet, sure she would crash to her death. But the Cardinal’s instincts took over and her bird body pumped its wings faster and she caught the flock of blackbirds. She was actually enjoying the wind fluffing her feathers. When she looked down again, she and the flock were above the church.

Sara dove into a window. Katharine followed her and perched on a beam in the church ceiling next to bird that was Sara. “We have the best view in the church, I knew we would,” Sara’s voice said from the blackbird’s beak. “And we’ll be able to hear everything.”

“I don’t see Dr. Warren,” Katharine said. There were at least one hundred people crowded into the sanctuary.

“Since Dr. Warren’s not here yet, we didn’t miss anything.”

“But how will he get into the door, or up to the pulpit with all these people?” Katharine asked. “The door is blocked with men. He’ll have to elbow his way through the crowd.”

Suddenly, there was a disturbance at the front of the church. Dr. Warren’s white wig appeared in the window behind the pulpit. He put a black leather shoe through, gold buckle gleaming, and jumped to the ground. Whispering voices filled the church. Unobserved, Sara and Katharine flew above the pulpit where they could see a ladder leaning against the outside the wall below the window. Dr. Warren must have climbed the ladder to get into the window behind the pulpit.

The men in the room stopped talking as soon as Dr. Warren stood at the pulpit. It may have been hard for the men in the back of the room to hear him, but the brown and black birds sitting in the window behind the pulpit heard every word. He took note cards from his pocket and read, “Our men are thrown in prison without a jury trial. They are found guilty with no defense and hung. Their families must fend for themselves. It’s time to fight back! King George III has violated the rights of his people so he forfeits our allegiance. If General Gage or any other Tory tries to arrest anyone for political reasons, we will seize British officers as hostages. Consider this war! Our intelligence efforts have begun.”

When a man with a beet red face pushed his head into the window, a black and brown bird flew into the rafters with a noisy fluttering of wings . Dr. Warren went over to speak to the red-faced man and then came back to the pulpit, “It has come to my attention that an influenza epidemic is spreading quickly. I am needed to care for the sick.” …

Struggling with whether to include the above in the young adult novel I’m endlessly revising, I posted this question at the Writers Net Discussion Forum: http://www.writers.net/forum/read/12/70190/70190Vf. For those of you who don’t want to click the link, or aren’t a member, below is a summary.

I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago. This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character. (I am a science researcher who was a former science teacher, far removed from the history of the American Revolution).

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.

In order to correct the history, I had to remove a chapter because it took place in March of 1775 and my novel is set in April. After meeting with my critique group, I want to put the chapter back in. but this will involve the central character taking a trip back in time to March, and then making another second trip in April, which will involve some rewriting work.

Meanwhile, my husband is asking me when I’ll ever finish the novel (I have, after all, been working on it for three years). I keep saying soon, but sometimes I feel like the answer is really — never. Since this is my first time around the block with a novel, I decided to post these two questions as a sanity check:

1 How important is it to have every fact correct in a historical fiction or fantasy novel? I have tried very hard to make the novel match real history as much as my humble science background allows.

2 When is enough enough? I do not feel that my novel is ready to query agents yet, but will it ever be perfect? I keep incorporating feedback from my writing group, but I wonder if I am rewriting too much.

Here are some of the responses that I received: You can read the responses in their entirety at the link above.

I write historical FICTION and fiction is the key word here. I presume (and I could be wrong) fantasy falls into the same category as fiction, since it’s not REAL. In order for some of my events to take place, I had to make a factual event happen earlier in the year than it did in reality, but, because the book is fiction I can do that. However….I clarified in an afterward that I was AWARE I had changed the time line so as not to be corrected by historians who KNOW when the event actually occurred. I believe Stephen King exercised his “poetic license” in Christine. He wanted to use a specific model for his car, but it wasn’t manufactured until a year AFTER the book took place. A short afterward stating he used that car because….even though he was AWARE it wasn’t manufactured until a year later took car of car enthusiasts who would have been breaking down his door to tell him that car didn’t even exist when his story is set. And I agree with Harper about the writer’s group. Unless you have experienced (i.e. published or very close to published) writers in the group, not all opinions may be correct. I’m in a group in which I’m the most experienced writer and I’m making corrections to assumptions all the time. Be careful.

It will never be perfect. And writing groups can be tricky because everyone’s got an opinion and they can’t all be right. Do they all say the same things, or do they each have a different slant on it? If they all agree on the problems, you should probably listen. Otherwise, you should follow your instincts. But it’s never going to be perfect. As close as you can get to perfect is to be really serious about revisions and take it as far as your skill allows. But don’t stop until you do that.

Anyone one who works for the customer directly knows taking a long time to produce a product can hurt your business. So What? Trying to flog a sub-standard product to a knowledgeable clientele will attach the odor of dead fish to everything you do for a lot longer than it takes to re-write a chapter or two..

I really appreciate the help from these experienced writers. The afterword is exactly the fix that I needed and I’ve just added it to the end of my novel. It corrects this issue and others that I have been struggling with in getting the history right. I never would have thought of it on my own.

I will keep revising the novel until I am happy with it. It is the right thing to do, even though it seems like an endless task. I do have confidence in my writing critique group. I think their suggestions have made the book stronger. So I’ll keep on keeping on and let you know what happens.

History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2007 by Trina

Let me introduce you to THE MAGIC QUILT, a historical fantasy for young adults that is set in 1775 Colonial America. The novel is a historical fiction story about the time before the Revolutionary War, but more importantly it is also a fantasy that I believe will capture adolescent minds.

Brief summary:
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother. But all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels through time portals in her magic quilt to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I have researched 1775 Boston so much, the world of 1775 seems as real to me as this time and place. As I mentioned in the last entry, this is my first attempt at writing a novel and I probably shouldn’t have started with a historical fantasy. I didn’t realize when I started it the amount of historical reasearch I’d have to do. After all, science is my field, not history.

I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. I’m finally done with that, whew. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” and the last historical chapter. Katharine accompanies him on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups. You walk away with insights and sometimes more revisions. One of the women in my writing group wondered how the men of 1775 would react with Katharine accompanying Paul Revere and suggested that Katharine disguise herself as a boy – now why didn’t I think of that. The section starts with Katharine as a cat and Paul Revere as a dog. Another member said she kept waiting for Katharine and Paul Revere to change back into animals and she thought it would be more fun for kids to read with another scene with Katharine and Paul Revere as cat and dog.

So, as always after attending my writing critique group, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in the end, so I’ve got to revisit it.