Things to Love in the Time of Corona

My spring flowers

Today is March 19th, 2020. It’s the first day of spring. Do people remember what Spring is? It’s the wakening of a sleepy world, one that has no memory of anything that has transpired over the last few months, even over the past few days.

I always look forward to spring. After being cocooned by cold and snow, and the depression that penetrates down to the soul. Spring is what helps awaken the seed of expression in me.

I do have moments of poetic inspiration, but it’s usually spring that refreshes the soul, dusts off the muse, and helps me remember amazing creation in nature and birth, and the simple marvels of science in how the world works.

My heart is having trouble right now. I have this strange feeling that rest right behind my ribs that feels that any moment it might ignite or completely wither. I can’t feed it too much and it can’t starve. I’m sure that several of you know this feeling. It’s not quick panic, it’s not anxiety, it’s just an anxious unsettling. And when I don’t have something to focus on, all I feel is the pressure.

Part of the reason I thought of writing this post is to help me change focus. Spring is a perfect thing to focus on. But more than that, I think that slowing the pace of life is a huge lesson to all of us that live high energy lives.

I’m considering a list of things that I forgot how much I love, not just about spring, but about living and breathing in general. In reflecting, it’s helping ease the terrible monster I feel inside.

Sidewalk Chalk Art

Pretty good art, right?

I grew up with not much money but a lot of imagination. I never had sidewalk chalk when I was younger. What we had (my friends and sister) were pieces of drywall. Remember how cool that was? Drywall? That was one of our favorite parts of when someone built a new room or did some remodeling. When we found some old drywall, a world of magic appeared before us.

For the past few Easters, sidewalk chalk was something I loved giving my girls, because of the magical experiences I felt when I was younger.

Sidewalk chalk is a great way to express yourself to others and a beautiful way to enjoy the sunshine. It reconnects the seeds of youth. When I get chalk in my hand, I’m all the sudden practicing my bubble lettering that I scrawled on my notebooks in junior high. I draw hopscotch courts and person outlines, and every color of daisy I can. It’s an expression of self that is juvenile and young. Rainbows and clouds graffiti on the ground that washes away with the rain. It’s a wonderful feeling that comes with drawing with chalk on the ground.

Baking Bread

I’m the worst domestic. I’m not very creative when it comes to cooking. I have very little imagination for it. But there is something very enchanting about baking, something that feeds me again from my youth.

My mother would make bread when I was younger. My young, formative years were spent in an unusual situation. I’ve posted about this before, but I lived for seven years of my life in a converted dairy barn in a small country town.

Living in a large family with very little money, my mother did extraordinary things to make it feel like we were always wealthy. She masked our situation when I was young, and not until I was an adult could I truly get perspective of our reality.

The simple act of baking bread reminds me of growing up an being small. Snitching dough with the pinch of my fingers. The warm smell spreading throughout our home. I loved her bread. It wasn’t a particular difficult recipe, but it was the act of making it that made it so special. And as I said, I’m not very domestic and have not carried on this tradition, but in the time of reflection, this was something I wanted to do for my family – a service I felt was important to imbue the difficult memories with something courageous their mother tried, much like my mother.

Connect Four and Sorry!

Bet you didn’t know that I am UNBEATABLE at Connect Four. My sister had the game when we were in the tween years, and often times we would just play and play. My sister is two years younger and has always been competitive with me, though she never admitted it. In playing, we both learned several strategies that have sharpened my skills and helped me predict my competitors next move.

I was given a wooden Connect Four game for my birthday last year and decided in this downtime to play my girls until I lost. We have postponed our matches because of online school, but it is still going strong.

And if you’ve never played Sorry! with me, it is QUITE the experience. I call myself sore winner. I’m funny, sarcastic, a bad sport, a loud mouth, never a cheerleader, always the one to kill the one that wronged me… and HARDLY EVER WIN. But when I do, I make it the most memorable experience of Sorry! EVER!

Another time in my childhood, I played my sister Sorry! until I won…. FOURTEEN GAMES LATER I finally won. FOURTEEN GAMES?? What is wrong with me? I love this game, that’s what’s wrong. I will drop anything to play.

Sorry! is my favorite game, and now is a perfect time to play me. My sister has an auto-immune disease and we are not allowed to visit, so the best way to play games with her is online. I love that we found Sorry! and Boggle and Punch Drunk Scrabble (the best way to play Scrabble is at 1 in the morning). If you can’t physically play with someone, this might be the best way to enjoy each other during this time.

Blanket Forts and Trampolines

Trouble is coming.

When all things started to fall apart on Friday, I knew very quickly that I needed to think outside the box when trying to keep kids and myself entertained. The first thing I wanted to do was set up a TV in our front room with retrogaming consoles and then build a blanket fort. My attempt at the blanket fort was dismal when you have a curious cat. It lasted long enough to appreciate the mysterious world that’s under a blanket fort, and also that I don’t need to live in one.

Yesterday, after a very difficult day, (oh… did I mention with all the social distancing and hoarding, we had a 5.7 earthquake?) I made a quick decision to pick up an trampoline a person was selling super cheap in my neighborhood.

Me and my girls set it up, springs and all, and don’t even care that the tramp itself is upside-down. I’ve always wanted a tramp ever since I was a teen. We never had one, but my neighbor had one, and we invented lots of games, one we called Ghost where we had to act out something and be judged, and I was rather good at that game.

My husband has been against a tramp for years. He did grow up with one and just didn’t think we needed it. We have mature trees and spent years climbing and swinging. But now the girls are teens and their imagination in suffering. I have to get them outside.

School being canceled has made my kids very depressed, bored, grumpy, constantly hungry, and the earthquake was icing on the cake. I went and grabbed the trampoline on my way home from work without even asking permission, and the girls are thrilled.

Trampolines let you fly. The weightless bounce is exhilarating. You feel the sky and are transported to a weightless world. And you know when you’ve returned to earth, because you feel gravity for the first time.

These two things center my spirit. They are just little and brought back threads of youth. Showing my silly side to my kids is important to me. My relationship with them is important. My trust and openness with them starts with their relationship with me. I’ve never been super strict, I’ve always been silly and willing to play. Be open to show that silly side.

Re-reading

As much as I love reading, I can’t concentrate on it. My brain is skimming over details and missing so much. I’m trying to finish The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow and I don’t think it’s fair to the book. I love the way it’s written, but have lost my appetite for it right now. I still want to read, so I’ve decided to reread books that I know and want to experience again. Books that I’ve been far removed from for years, foundations to my writing, and something to help distract my mind. I’ve selected three books:

  1. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
  2. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
  3. The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks

These three books I own but forgot about.

The Princess Bride I read in high school, mostly because I loved the movie, which is a good adaptation, however, the book is so well put together that it changed my idea of how literature can be presented to an audience.

Anne of Green Gables I also started reading because of the movie, or series, but it was the first book I finished on my own – that was in ninth grade. It’s so quirky and funny, and about a girl that I identified with.

My mother read Sword of Shannara to me when I was super young. I have very fond memories of laying on her bed with my head hanging off the edge, looking at the world upside-down, worrying about Shea when he fell off the cliff away from his brother. You all remember that part? It was the worst! I read it on my own my first winter in Logan after I was married and felt very isolated and friendless. That book brought great comfort and companionship. Sword is fundamental in my fantasy writing and it will feel really good to remember the beginning of the journey.

We’re All In This Together

I feel almost like a specter in my own life, floating in my body and walking in my clothing. I see a purple sky and wonder how it turned purple. We all have this strange feeling in our chests. Everyone is feeling it. We are not alone. This is one of those life-defining moments where trajectories are formed and changed. It’s important to bring out the memories is a good way, try to enrich the lives around you, because they are forming serious memories right now. Each day is different and ever-changing, but don’t be afraid and don’t fight your anxiety. It’s okay to feel things, it’s important to know emotion and understand it.

Take this time to find in yourself strength you don’t know is there, but it is. The sun is still there and it will still be there tomorrow. Find the memories that have defined your life and share them. You are important to those who love you, so bring out the memories you want to craft for them. It’s a beautiful, but unclear time. But for once, the whole world is experiencing this feeling together. We aren’t alone. We are all in this together. Hang in there!

Book Review: The Starless Sea and Dreamy Meandering

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately.”

Ever since I finished this book, it’s been haunting me. I’m still unsure how I should feel about it. I have very complicated feelings. Complicated. This book is everything and nothing. It does everything right and everything wrong. I ache for the stories and yet, can’t figure out what I just read.

In January, I got the opportunity to see Erin Morgenstern on tour and she was absolutely delightful, like in the ‘we could be best friends’ kind of way. Erin has only ever written one other book, The Night Circus, and I fell head over heels for it. So, the pressure was on for her to deliver a knock out story.

I waited to buy the book for this tour, and when I went to buy my ticket for the event, it was sold out. Stupid me. I posted on my social media if anyone happens to have an extra ticket to let me know. As it turned out, my friend got sick and couldn’t go and I was gifted the opportunity.

And I’m so glad I went. Because as I read the book, I was given insight from the questions she answered that night at her Q & A.

How this book is everything…

First thing I want to say – this book is presented as an experience. Much like her other book, where you feel like you are actually attending the Night Circus, this is developed without chapters and unfolds in layers. It’s sliced into sections inviting you in by telling you stories – stories written so beautifully and sensory that each was a delicious bite of words drizzled with honey.

I loved reading these stories. Many read like fairy tales, but some were poetry in disguise. Each one though was achingly beautiful. It brought a depth to the story that was unlike anything I had experienced, because my heart had grasped so tightly to each word that I lost breath. As a storyteller myself, I was in complete wonderment. Bravo!

“Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets.”

How the book meanders and gets lost…

It’s so hard to put this book into one sentence. Let me try…

Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a book in his college library that leads him to a secret underground library patrolled by cats where he can walk through doors that are lost in time, and eventually loses himself in stories created by the Moon and Fate and Time, and sails the Starless Sea to find the Queen of the Bees. (A nut shell with no spoilers)

So, on a positive note, this is very original, but it does have flavors of other books in it. Alice In Wonderland is very prominent throughout. There are so many references though, so many easter eggs that I couldn’t catch them all.

But that is the thing of it. TOO MUCH.

This book has so many ideas. When looking at the over-arching plot structure it doesn’t have one. Zachary wanders from one thing to another. I actually got very lost about halfway through. It doesn’t SAVE THE CAT or HERO’S JOURNEY. It just meanders around until you also feel lost like Zachary in the doors of time. So many little details were put into that I don’t think all of the threads were found at the end, because I was still confused.

And none of the characters are there to save the lost story. Actually, my favorite character is Kat, and she is not in it as much as I wished. Everyone else kinda falls flat. Kat is the only one with character. A friend actually mentioned she wished Kat were the protagonist instead of Zachary, and you know what? That is a great point. I kinda wish that too.

And let me point out the villain…..

…right. There isn’t one. Allegra, the strange lady that runs the Collector’s Club is a strong contender for the villain, but she isn’t really villainous. She steals doorknobs so people can’t get into the secret library. She did cut off some guy’s hand. That is pretty creepy. But she disappears halfway through the book, so then I was confused by the story’s direction. If there is no opposing force, what drives the main character’s actions?

I also think the main story was poorly cast, if we are talking characters. Zachary is a Video Game major, which I found weird and unnecessary. And then there is Dorian, who’s name isn’t Dorian, but we don’t know him from any other name, is the creepy guy that is Zachary’s love interest. I don’t have a problem with the relationship being same-sex, I do have a problem with the age difference and how it is written. It wasn’t interesting. There was no dynamic. Many times I felt that this was written as a teen romance, but then remember that this guy Dorian is about 50. It’s written that he is a silver fox, but that just makes it gross for me. I can’t connect with the relationship at all.

But the story wasn’t really about the relationship, or if it was, I missed that part with all the other unnecessary details.

When I say it was poorly cast is that the most interesting character is not the main character, and I feel that is a problem. There needed to be more dynamics and more risks when setting up the protagonist. And maybe the relationship didn’t work for me because I couldn’t connect with it, but it didn’t feel authentic either. It was almost like she decided to change the gender of her character to see what the story looked like and didn’t change some of the language surrounding it. Putting Kat as the main character flips it in a positive, interesting way. Kat being a Video Game major makes sense because of her eccentric character. Oh…. as I said, poor casting.

My mind kept coming back to the Night Circus and how deep that relationship went and how I was so glued to it. But it was a relationship hooked me in dynamic ways. I kept trying to give this relationship between Zachary and Dorian a shot, but I several times thought they didn’t even like each other. Looking at it now that I’m out of the story and evaluating it, I think about Morgenstern’s audience. One of the things that made Night Circus magic was the ache we felt for these two people forbidden to love and fated to destroy each other. The love story was weaved into every fiber of that story. It wasn’t so here. It had nothing to do with the story. Funny though, my favorite short story that was told between the Zachary sections was the Ballad of Simon and Eleanor, which was a quick but lovely love story, that later became very important and I just wanted more of this story. The other parts in the book were now a distraction. I didn’t care about the main story. I wish she would have put more thought about dynamics of a strong relationship in the main story as she did with the others.

“It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

And last thing… too much sweet is just too much sometimes. Have any of you ever had a Hot Caramel Apple Cider from Starbucks? They are no kidding amazing. If it’s not on the menu, you can still order it. It’s seasonal, but also on their secret wink wink menu. It is very sweet, and the first sip takes you by surprise. And then you start to get used to it. And then… by the end of the cup you are so sick of it, you don’t even want the very last sip, you just throw the whole thing away.

That is this book.

The prose are marvelous. Every single sentence is well planned, thought out, and poetic in every alliterative. Near the end of it, I felt like my fingers were sticky with honey. Stop mentioning honey. I was saturated with the intertwining words that it’s just too much for the heart and the brain. I no longer could recognize what was special about it. It might be with the cascading plot that toppled around a sea filled with honey, but I really think it was the free reign of ideas that was just a few too many.

This review is hard to write, but it’s also beautiful to write. I loved this book, but I hated it. I loved the fairytale. I hated the story, but loved it. And I hated mostly that Morgenstern gets away with such structure problems that I would get murdered for in my reviews. All hidden in her prose. That’s so unfair.

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

I will recommend people read this book. I wouldn’t want people to miss it. It is a good example to writers and readers of what you can do with words. And a good exercise in how important structure, character, and relationships are to a story.

Book Review: The Hate U Give

I wanted to start off my year with something new, something not so fluffy or fantastical like what I usually gravitate to. This book caught my eye a while ago, and let’s be honest, she has the same last name as me, which makes her cool by default.

This is not what I typically read. I use reading as an escape from the hard stuff, so for me to read something I knew would rip my guts out is a bit strange for me.

The other day my teenage daughter read me the first page of a play called “Nocturne” by Adam Rapp. The first page, first line even, was super difficult for me to hear – about a teenager who accidentally ran over his sister, killing her. My daughter is at that age where this realistic curiosity feeds her emotions. I have grown passed that, having had dealt with real hard situations and having zero desire to revisit them. I have perspective and sensitivity, and it was hard for me even listening to her read this to me.

So, the thought of reading a story about a teen witnessing her best friend get shot by a cop was NOT on my TO READ list.

What changed my mind was Twitter.

I follow Angie Thomas. I have for years, and though I am not super active in the writing community there, I pay attention. She recently tweeter about the audiobook of The Hate U Give being one of the best audiobooks of the decade. THE DECADE.

Well, okay. Audiobook. I was curious. I love audio work and voice artists. Seriously, THAT is my dream job if I wasn’t an author. I have a commute, this should be fine. Listen to it here and there. Right? I think that sounds wonderful. I can do that.

So I downloaded it with a credit I had lying around and started that day.

Some books I can’t listen to on audio. Sometimes my brain needs to voice it. This happens with a lot of fantasy books when I’m engulfed in the cerebral words designed by an artist. Those things I can’t have others interpret for me. I need my head to do the narrating. But books like Eleanor and Park or Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered I wanted to listen to. I wanted to be entertained by the story. Because of the heavy subject matter, I thought maybe listening to this one would be better than reading it. Also, if Angie says it’s one of the best in the decade, than I think it’s worth a listen.

…and I’m very glad I did.

The best way I can describe this book is “Important.”

A quick rundown of THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas – Sixteen-year-old Starr Parker witnesses her best friend from childhood get shot by a cop for no other reason but for the color of his skin.

This book talks about race, social issues, culture, social politics, education, class . . . honestly, I think it touches every issue that people are afraid of. I was tremendously impressed with how it was handled.

Things I learned:

  1. It’s important to stand up for how you feel and what you believe in. Starr was afraid to talk about her experience with her friends. She attended a private school because of the poor education in Garden Heights. In the end, she stood up for truth and justice, no matter who was looking. — I have learned this over the years working in health care. I liked how it was represented so strongly in a book for youth.
  2. A community should act like a family. During the rioting in Garden Heights, the community rallied around Big Mav (Starr’s father) to keep their store open, even when it looked destroyed. Having small business and a strong community with you is important. It brings in safety and a sense of belonging. — I know my neighbors, they are good people. But there are several on my street that I don’t know. If something happened to my home, would they be there to rally for me? I seek that kind of support. I loved reading about that here.
  3. Sometimes people get in a bad way because they are trying to do a good thing. In the book, Khalil (the victim), was highlighted in the news as a drug dealer. Later you find out that he was doing it to protect his mother, not because he wanted but to keep her safe. — I think it’s always good to understand the whole picture before siding one way or the other. The underneath matters too. I really liked this point, because I don’t like how sometimes things are only told from one side. This is an important part of this book – Immediate reaction and sensationalism. When investigating anything, make sure it’s sourced. And it’s okay to form your own opinions, and don’t be a jerk to those that differ from you. Find the root cause of problems and help solve the problems. Be the sunshine in the change that we need in the world.
  4. Family unity. This family was very unified in what happens. And the family isn’t perfect and it shows the imperfections, but it centers on trust and love throughout the whole thing. I really enjoyed the side characters like Nana. Bahni Turpin did such a great job bringing in a rather grumpy old grandma to the stage. The whole performance was masterful. — Family is relations, but it is also who you chose it to be. My family takes in the strays, all are welcome. Believing in others and supporting is what a family should do. We all belong.
  5. Be proud of where you come from. Starr talked about having two versions of herself – the Garden Heights Starr and then her preppy school Starr. She hid the horrors of where she lived from her boyfriend Chris, who is white, which always thickened the perspective of everything. She grew to understand the real Starr and be proud of it. — For the longest time I was ashamed of how poor I was growing up. I later have found similar people with similar stories like mine, ones who understand what it was like to be the odd ones and struggle and to not fit in. I’ve grown to love my upbringing and wear it like a badge. I’m proud of it. Be proud.

This book makes me want to be a better human. The message of this book is about justice, doing what’s right, standing united. . . all things that many are timid about. It’s in my nature to be afraid to ruffle feathers, but when it’s important you should use your voice and stand up for what’s write.

I think right now is a perfect time to understand where you are and where you stand. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book. There is a lot of swearing because it speaks true to the culture and the situation, and I think it’s just as important to the book as anything else. That might scare off readers, but I embraced it and appreciated the authenticity.

THE HATE U GIVE really deserves the attention it has received. I’m glad I gave it a listen and plan on reading more from this author.

Authors and Characters: A Symbiotic Relationship

My Delilah Bard character cosplay from A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. I love dressing up as literary characters.

While I was in the spirit of the holidays, I sat down recently and decided to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas with my mother while she was visiting with me. Dan Stevens is irresistibly amazing in it, as you might expect if you follow him at all, but what you might find surprising, or at least I did, was the introspective glance it had in the mind of a writer.

In the movie, Charles Dickens struggles with finding his characters. As I watched the vision of Scrooge appear and start talking, Dickens asked his character questions to help define him more. And my mouth dropped to the floor and I nudged my mother, “This is so true.” The constant interruptions while in a mid-stream of creativity; the name collecting; the environmental influences… all made sense to me.

Creating characters is a strange business, honestly. And writing is solitary, but it’s not. It makes sense to us that we spend time with other people, even if they are the ones in our heads that are informing us about themselves and the adventure they want to take.

It Starts With A Name

In this movie, Dickens states it all starts with a name; once the character has a name, the character comes to him.

I recently was in a class on developing characters, and throughout the class a theme developed for me about emotional connection. There needs to be a reason to care. I think a lot of that starts with a name too. The right name can say so much about your book. Sometimes a character comes with a name and then demonstrates why they have that name.

In this class, I focused on a character named Browneyes. This is a character I created in my series, but felt she had more to say. She came with her name. It was a nickname that I gave my little girl. I loved her brown eyes. I thought it was cool and unusual. I was at the time also in Imagination Training my good friend and fellow writer Michael Jensen was developing (more to come). In this training, he asked me to invite a character to the safe space in my mind and ask questions. This was an amazing experience for my imagination to just play with. One of the questions I asked her was how she got her name. I was not prepared for this answer. I had always assumed it was a nickname, but not until that experience did I understand it. And when I understood why, her story started to come into place. It was Browneyes’ name, or the name she was hiding behind, that told me her story.

I adore names and always have. I collect them much like Dickens did, or JK Rowling for that fact. The right name can set things in motion.

My character in the book Vampire-ish is named Oliver Brixby. What does that say to a reader? Bookishly nerdy? Unpopular? Insecure? A bit lost and hopeless? Springy? (I know, why is that?) I needed him to have the right name in order for the own story to come together. Both names were ones I had collected. Oliver was a name I had always liked but never used (since it didn’t fit any of my girls).

Atticus Finch. Sirius Black. Bilbo Baggins. Sherlock Holmes. A name is a badge that says a lot about a character.

When I first was signed on with my first publisher, they asked me to change the name of a few of my characters. This was hard for me. The character Taren was originally called Ry. I changed it because it was too close to Reynolds. I understand the change but was not familiar with Taren as a character until the later books, because I hadn’t written Taren before, I had written Ry. My perspective of his ideals changed as well. Ry to me was much more selfish and dark. Taren felt more accepting to change. If I would have kept him as Ry, would he have had the same story arch? I’ll never know.

AND ONE MORE THING . . . In authoring, I am Candace – a princessy name that means “Glowing Queen.” It’s my birth name and I think it’s pretty cool. I always have liked it. It’s not crazy popular and it’s sweet sounding. I like the way it’s spelled, and when I meet another Candace, we are immediately in the exclusive Candace Club. I was never called Candace growing up. I went by Candy. Okay. Right? Candy gives you a very different idea of a person. Candy is a name no one takes seriously. This is a sweet, bubbly sounding name, someone that likes to have fun (maybe too much fun), a people person, a drag queen, a hairdresser with expressive eyes and stunning lashes and gorgeous nails. And I won’t lie, the name Candy suits me in specific ways, but not in authoring. To my family and friends, PLEASE call me Candy, but as a professional, I can’t use this name because of how it’s represented.

I’ve always felt that naming someone is one of the most important things you do as an author. Sometimes it comes easy. I know when a great name crosses my path, a story almost immediately comes to my mind just in the name alone. Spend some time on the name you pick for your character and understand why they have that name, why they identify with it. Just like your name means something to you, give your characters the same chance to tell what it means to them.

Slam Books

There are so many guides, character sheets, books, websites, card games. . . on getting to know your character. But I don’t think you really know your character until you put them in a situation where they need to act.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

– William Faulkner.

In middle school we had these things called Slam Books. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? A Slam Book was a regular ruled notebook where the person who owns it writes a question on the top of the page and then numbers it all the way down. Then they give it to a friend, the friend selects a number to be, and then answer the question on each page. I would most likely try and write the funniest answers, because at the time my job was to be the funniest person in the room – not the class clown, oh no, just the wittiest, funniest person in the room. (I kinda still try to do that. It was my way of getting over my insecurities.) I look at my GETTING TO KNOW YOU stage as what would they write in a Slam Book. (Post on Slam Books here.)

The characters in my novels feel like people I knew in high school, so it’s only logical to me that they would write in my Slam Book (even though that’s more of a junior high thing). I know them well enough, I never forget their names, we shared experiences. As I start to move through the story with them, I find that they become their own people and that I’m no longer seeking to create them, but more they are telling more about them. It’s a nature friendship like any friendship.

I asked a few different author friends about how a character comes to them. A similar response came from them that they don’t get a huge character talking and dictating how to write the story, like Scrooge did in the movie, but more getting to know them as they go.

Alyson Grauer, author of On the Isle of Sound and Wonder stated, “They aren’t super vocal, but they have opinions. The form kind of is like feelings first or textures or colors… I always put myself in their shoes? I guess it comes from acting. But they start as like a feeling or a combination of feelings, and then once I figure out what they look like and how they move and how they talk and all that, then they can talk to me. But mostly, it’s just they have opinions on things. They don’t like have full conversations with me.”

Ben Ireland, author of the Billy Blacksmith books stated this about characters, “It’s more like sculpting. I know what i’m going to do, but the details reveal themselves as I work.”

Jodi L. Milner, author of Stonebearer’s Betrayal, said when I asked about character sheets, “I find more often than not, if I have to fill out a character worksheet, half the stuff I put on there doesn’t feel right later. What helps me more than anything is to find two existing characters I love and mash them together to create something I can use. It really helps with the voice and mannerisms.”

So many of us have our own way of getting to know our characters, but the best way I feel, is to be with them, spend time with them and see what they will do when put under pressure, when they have to make a decision, and why they would choose it.

Characters Have a Mind of Their Own

I remember having a conversation with a new mother. This was several years ago before I had kids of my own. She was complaining about how hard of a time she was having with her toddler and his behavior. I’ll never forget her saying, “It’s like he has a mind of his own.” Really? Like they exist outside of your body? And have their own pulse and lungs and opinions? I still laugh at this statement.

Characters also exist without the writer. It has to. A writer’s job is to send it out in the world to be shared. These characters need to become real in the mind of the reader. When creating characters they often become so real that I miss them when they aren’t around.

When I was writing my first book Vivatera, the idea was only a stand-alone idea. But during the creative process, I found that I really liked my characters and wanted them to succeed. I became carried away with sending them on adventures, so much so that I turned it into a series, with continuing stories beyond the series, just because of how much I want to explore who they become. My second book, Conjectrix, had an overarching concept, but three separate stories. And all I did in this book was put them in a situation and see how they would react: let’s put them in a den of dragons; or let’s meet Katia’s father; or look I put a bunch of mountain trolls right here . . . whatcha gonna do now? Every chapter was me exploring my characters and how they think and react and communicate with others. And I have to say, it’s my favorite book I’ve written because I had the best time getting to know them.

I liked how Dickens was depicted as having conversations with his characters as real people. I remember reading Harry Potter and knowing these characters so well. I also remember having the briefest sadness that there wasn’t an actual Hogwarts and I couldn’t go see my friends there. I think this is a shared problem and why we now have two theme parks dedicated to him.

Characters should exist beyond the words we write. Just imagine all the shenanigans your characters do when they are not appearing in your book. As part of my writing exercises, I like to do journal entries as part of my research. I like thinking of stories that happen with my characters. And not that this research will show on the page, but it strengthens my voice in telling about them. It makes them more real understanding what they would do or what they have been through. I have had one thing come up in the third book in my series that I wrote in a journal entry for the first. I’m very glad I did that, because it became important later on when I needed that information.

Quirks and Cuteness

My daughter is an artist and is always drawing characters she wants to develop into stories; each one has a little bit of a background and a quirk, like hair sticking up or covering one eye. In drawing them, these characters become real people to her. She is definitely my daughter finding the adorable quirk in everything, but I feel very powerless when drawing characters I imagine.

Cute and quirky Greyson

I highlight her art because of the quirk and cuteness of it. The best characters are ones that have a bit of flavor to them. Characters that look like oatmeal, will taste like oatmeal. Without some flavor, the audience will all have a bit of bland in their mouths.

Some of my favorites characters are those that are not perfect and that have a relatable quality to them. Within the first few pages of Percy Jackson, we already know that he’s not a normal kid. He has ADHD, doesn’t pay attention, isn’t good in school – so relatable to Percy’s audience. not just personality-wise, but physically and mentally too. Those details are important.

I have a friend named “Big Al.” He’s a voracious reader and a rather big guy, like the larger than life type, super jolly and wears his heart on his sleeve. He read my series and liked it, and asked for recommendations. At this time I had just finished editing the second in the Billy Blacksmith series. Billy is a big kid, uncomfortable in his own skin, bullied, but always trying to do the right thing. I told Big Al about it and he gave the first book a try. He LOVED it. He identified with the character of Billy, the trials, the struggles of being young and awkward, the WHOLE thing. He quickly grabbed the next one and hounded me before the third came out. Suddenly, this character wasn’t just a character, but a friend, someone that he identified with. These kind of characters can be life-defining. I think a lot of readers search for these type of characters that through their quirks and imperfections, make them perfect for us to love.

I highlight Delilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic. V. E. Schwab really makes her characters likable, relatable, yet complicated. Delilah is not perfect. She is a thief and will always be a thief. She’s dark and mysterious and only looks out for herself. I can’t trust her, but that makes me like her more. She doesn’t turn into someone unexpected; she doesn’t suddenly grow a heart of gold like Darth Vader and throw the Emperor down a shaft in the Death Star. She is the love interest, but not lovable. She will not be the character that takes the bullet – that’s Kell’s job. Delilah stays true to herself the entire series.

And that is not easy. After building a friendship with these characters, one wants them to be in a Happily Ever After. But you know truth of your characters. Not all of them would choose that. Each should have likes and dislikes, but most of all, they should have personality. Make them quirky, imperfect, relatable. Those make up our favorite characters.

Letting Them Go

My job as an author is created believable characters and set them off on an adventure. My characters really do steer the boat. They live so deeply in my head that I know what they need to do when it’s time to act. But once the adventure is over, the characters need to go out on a new, different adventure, one that isn’t hooked to me and my mind, but one that is hooked to yours . They now need to tell their story to readers. Their journey is far from over, even after I type THE END.

If you find those characters that speak to you, much like my friend Big Al did, those character will stay with you forever. They are friends that you are always friends with. It feels like they go away, but you can always revisit them and share them with others. I love it when I share books with others. It’s an introduction to a friend, and hopefully those whom I share it with become their friends too. This journey can be slow, but every encounter with a new fan is someone knew my characters just met. It’s magical and transcending to get a review or message from a fan. My characters are doing their job, inviting these other people to a world and adventure I created for them. It’s wonderful and surreal.

Cover Reveal: Fresh Re-Imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is a driven, fantastical, lyrical retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in a world just adjacent of our own.

People have been wondering what my “SUPER SECRET” project has been lately, and I’m proud to tell you all about it!

Five or so years ago, Alyson Grauer (Aly) came and stayed with me and my family. This was a fortuitous meeting for both of us, and it felt strange that two people could be so similar yet live thousands of miles apart. This was close to the same time her book On the Isle of Sound and Wonder would be released.

The beautiful book was released in 2014 to tumultuous applause, but with the passing of time has been slowly quieted by the ever drowning sea of books. This little book was all but forgotten until a small conversation this summer planted the seeds of a much bigger adventure.

After some simmering on the idea, Aly messaged me and said she was all in; she wanted her book to get new breath. We worked on it secretly trying to iron out details, giving smallish hints of the rumbles going on. When I spontaneously hopped on a plane to Florida to help her attack some of the critical steps in finalizing everything, I think people started to suspect something was up. Finally, we are in a place to share what we’ve been working on.

Several may recall that I received my publishing rights in January of this year, re-releasing my books under my own indie press. This experience taught me a lot, I mean A LOT, and helped me gain confidence that I can do about anything and ignited my desire to help others with all the things I had learned. On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is Shadesilk’s first adventure in Indie press from an author.

With the independent spirit in mind, I wanted Aly to retain as much integrity with her book as possible. Shadesilk was used as a guiding hand and a launch pad for this magical book to reach a new audience, and hopefully rebuild confidence and renew the beauty it once had.

I thought I would send Aly some questions to help you know more about her and this incredible book. Here are her heartfelt answers.

How do you feel about relaunching your book? 
I am so excited to bring this book back in a new way. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that it was first published, but on the other, so much has changed since then, and there were things I had taken for granted in my manuscript that I really, really wanted to change. I didn’t do a complete rewrite and overhaul of the novel, but I made some well-needed adjustments and I am so pleased with how it fit together. I can’t wait to share this stronger, updated version with the world.

What does this story mean to you? 
In many ways, Sound and Wonder was a surprise to me. I had the idea during National Novel Writing Month 2013 to do a rewrite or retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and I kind of just let my imagination run wild with it. Then, in reworking and revising it for publication, I learned so many things about how complicated and challenging I had made it for myself in retrospect. I had never written anything like it: large cast, complex backstories, vengeance and dark magic and a lot of hard emotions woven throughout. Oh wait. Actually. The first long-form work I had ever drafted in high school was a historical fiction pirate story with a large cast, complex backstories, and vengeance charged with difficult emotions. No magic in that one, just a lot of cruel twists of fate. I’ve never realized this parallel before! 

What are some changes we can see in this version?
No spoilers, but there was a specific moment late in the story cut from the original version by editors that has been rightfully restored.
Also, what was I thinking, writing a 25 page prologue that was a flashback-within-a-flashback??? I’ve restructured the opening chapters more sensibly and smoothed out the distribution of flashbacks across the board. 

How has your writing changed over the years?
In the NaNoWriMo community people refer to ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ – that is to say, people who write by the seat of their pants, and people who plot until they can’t anymore and then they start writing. For my whole life I was a pantser, and a lot of Sound and Wonder’s original drafts were pantsed, to a degree. But the thing I forgot was that I wasn’t truly pantsing — I was using Shakspeare’s dramatic structure from The Tempest to guide me. So I was pantsing-with-a-plot? It’s a mess in my head. 
Since the original release of this book, I have read much more widely in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction, and done a lot more research on how other successful authors hone their crafts. I read a lot of Brandon Sanderson, too, which changed the way I viewed epic fantasy.

Oh, and I married a plotter. So I became one too, much to my chagrin. 

What projects are you most excited by?
I like stories that have high emotional value, stories that connect with people and move them – whether it’s drama or comedy, romance or mystery. I love a sense of wonder and whimsy – magic that isn’t quite what you think it is, or unusual, silly twists on traditional archetypes or tropes. I see things in cinematic scale, and sometimes I have a hard time giving myself permission to zoom in or zoom out to find the right balance for a story, but I love when the action, the feeling, and the characters all join together.

You can find Aly’s book for Pre-Order at the Shadesilk Webstore here! And follow all the @dreamstobecome media on Twitter and Instagram!