Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Journey

Today I was thinking about writing ( yes, thinking about it, not doing it), and my mind drifted back to the very first time I wrote anything. I realized that this journey I am on today began many years ago.

I was 10 years old and had three beautiful little kittens, Trouble, Mischief, and Good Boy. You guessed it, Trouble and Mischief were little girls ! One day I sat down and wrote a poem about them. It was out of the blue. I loved to read, but had never written anything except my assignments in school. My mother was a children's book editor for a large newspaper, so she took my poem in and it was promptly published.

The second time was when I was 12. I was training a young mare for a horse show, and one day when I went out to the barn, she had suddenly gone blind. My vet said there was nothing they could do for her. Being the stubborn and persistent person I am, I refused to give up on her, and continued to train her using voice as well as foot and rein signals. I entered her in the horse show without telling the officials she was blind. We won the two classes she was in, and it was only then that they found out about her blindness. My story was written up in the newspapers, and so I wrote my own story about my mare and training her, and submitted it to a Children's Digest magazine. ( Not the same one as today, the old one went defunct many years ago.) It was published and I received a whole $10 for it!

Other than school, I didn't write anything else until my second go-round in college, after I was married and had children. I took a cultural anthropology course, and for my final grade, wrote a short book of Haiku poetry. The college published it for their library, but I didn't get any money for it. Again, that was it for a long time.

When we lived on the ranch, I wrote articles for the Appaloosa club newsletter, and other little tidbits of horse "stuff," but that was all...until one night shortly before Christmas, 1996. My husband and I were both on our computers; he was doing some business and I was goofing around. I pulled up a blank page in Word, and for no reason that I can explain, even now, began to write a Christmas story about a Cockatoo and the Star of the East over Bethlehem, on the night of Christ's birth.

That story began a whole series of stories about animals, parrots, and Great Father ( my euphanism for God, Christ, Buddha, Jehovah, or whatever deity one may believe in). I wrote about Christmas, Halloween, the Fourth of July, 9/11, and several others. But I've never tried to get them published.

In 2006, my daughter sent me several books for Christmas, all of them about writing for children...and getting published. In her letter, she basically said, "Mom, get off your butt and start writing for real." I read all the books, got excited about the idea of writing for children, but...really didn't know how to start. Then one day, there appeared in my mailbox the advertisement for the Institute of Children's Literature...complete with the test to fill out. I answered the questions, returned it, was accepted in July of 2006, and to be completely cliche-ish, the rest is history.

A long journey. An interesting though choppy journey. And I'm only midway through. I've published some, but have just recently submitted my first novel, so I don't know yet where that path is going to lead.

The point of all this, I guess, is that we all start somewhere, and maybe that first start doesn't mean anything...or ...we don't know that it means anything. It's a long journey, no matter where or when we start, and we should never dismiss those first feeble, unknowledgeable efforts. Because who knows where they might lead? Mine have led me a place of friends, experiences, learned lessons, and Hope for the future. A place that years ago, I had no idea I would be in. A place I am very thankful for, even if I should never have that book published, because of the people I've met and the things I've learned along the way.

When did your journey begin, and where has it taken you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts and Themes

It's been a week since I wrote anything here, mostly because I've been so wrapped up in my NaNo story that I haven't taken the time to do anything else. I'm up over 41,000 words, which is great, because now I can take the time Wednesday to cook for Thursday and not feel bad about it.

But that's the only good thing about this story! At least, at the moment. I realized today, as I was rereading what I had written...I know, I know, you're not supposed to do that, and now I wish I hadn't...anyway, I realized that I don't have one cohesive story, I have two not-so-cohesive stories!

Oh yes, Lily Leticia has gone off on a tangent, and I'm not sure how to get her back on track. It is the tangent that made me think I have two stories. Actually, I know I have two stories, but the trick now is to get them back together to be one...for the moment, anyway. My husband said, "Why bother? No one will be reading it until you've edited and revised, so who will know?" Always the logical one. The point is: I will know!

So, once I do get through this, instead of making Lily Leticia the MC of a full-length novel, I think I will be able to do two short-chapter books instead. I've never written a short-chapter book, so this will be a good learning experience for me.

As I was rereading this morning, it occurred to me that I didn't really know what the theme of this story is. So I got to thinking about themes, which are almost as much a bugaboo for me as outlines are.
Do you write around a theme? I don't. I suppose I could if someone said you have to have your theme first. But I've always "just written," and then have occasionally been surprised at the end when I realized what the theme of the story actually was.

When I wrote The Year of the Scream, my theme was relationships. But I didn't start out with that in mind. I was about 1/4 of the way through the novel when I was pleasantly surprised to see that my story DID have a theme, and I already knew what it was!

With Lily Leticia, I'm almost through and I still don't know what the theme is. Theme is only one element of the story, but it works together ( or should) with both the plot and the structure. They should be interrelated in such a way that they reflect back on one another. Hmm...

A writer friend once asked me if a theme wasn't the same thing as a moral and I said I didn't think so. When we write for children, we should never try to preach or to moralize the story to them. If kids realize that there is a "moral" or a "lesson" to something they are reading for fun, the book or magazine story will simply end up in the trash.

Remember the story "Charlotte's Web?" Here the theme is the power of loyalty and friendship...the loyalty and friendship Charlotte the spider shows to Wilbur the pig, and how she saves him from being slaughtered. How about "Where the Wild Things Are?" You cannot forget Max, and his anger towards his mother when she calls him a "wild thing" after he has been so mischievious. His anger and how he handles it, by playing it out in his fantasy, is the theme.

The important thing to remember about themes is that you don't want to "tell" what they are; you want to "show" them in the behavior of your characters. How the characters act, react, and interact with one another and with their circumstances in the story should be how your reader will learn about the theme.

Good questions to ask yourself about your story are these: what is the child who reads this going to learn without knowing that she/he is learning? What is she/he going to take away from the story when she puts it back on the shelf? If you can answer those questions honestly and cogently, you know that your story has a theme...and more importantly, YOU know what that theme is !

In the meantime...I'm still asking myself those same questions...but I'm not getting any answers right now!