Child protagonists

Ever thought of writing a child protagonist? I really admire an author who pulls this off, but so far I haven’t tried it — I mean, yes, young protagonists when I’m writing YA, but not really children.

Trei, in The Floating Islands, is my youngest protagonist. He’s fourteen, and a pretty mature fourteen at that, what with all he’s gone through. Obviously there are hordes of kids about the same age in YA genre fiction, and it really is fascinating to watch how different authors handle their young protagonists. Some ‘feel’ so young (Tamora Pierce’s earlier books), and some ‘feel’ so much more mature (Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven, for example, to my mind features one of the all-time great fifteen-year-old-boy ‘voices’, but not (to me) a very ‘young’ fifteen.

Another great and very unusual fifteen-year-old protagonist is John Wayne Cleaver, in Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer. Totally unlike any other fifteen-year-old protagonist anywhere! In fact, I just bought the third book of the trilogy and read it the same day it arrived, which very seldom happens.

But what’s really interesting and poses altogether different challenges, it seems to me, is to write a child protagonist.

One delightful example is Jaenelle in Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy. Jaenelle is a little girl of about eight or so when she first appears, and her ‘voice’ is just wonderful! I wouldn’t say the trilogy is flawless, but for me the books are ‘catchy’ — I wind up reading bits of them over and over. One of the reasons for that is the young Jaenelle and the interaction between Janelle and her foster-father Saetan.

Anne Bishop uses a really interesting technique with Jaenelle — if I run into Anne again at a convention this year, I’ll have to ask if she did this on purpose — when Jaenelle thinks she might be in trouble, she starts to talk quickly and in run-on sentences. This is vastly entertaining if you are the sort of reader who notices technique! It works VERY well.

Even more impressive is the four-year old protagonist in Dogland, by Will Shetterly.

It took me about fifteen years to read this book because the idea of a dog zoo is so utterly, totally, completely repulsive to me! I can’t begin to express how strongly I believe that dogs should be kept as pets: not on chains, not in solitary confinement in the back yard, and definitely not in a zoo! I mean, check this out, and you will see that I am not likely to fall in love with the background setting of Dogland. Though the historical setting is another thing, I loved that plenty!

Dogland is actually a really impressive book, and the dog zoo background is handled in a way that makes it as non-repulsive as possible, I guess, and when the book opens, the protagonist is four years old! Four! With a first-person narrative! There’s a gutsy move by the author. Naturally, Chris, the protagonist, misses so much that the reader picks up on. It’s a brilliant book.

I should add here, in case anyone rushes out, buys this book, and agrees with me, that the sequel is MUCH less good and reads like Shetterly jammed the front half of a possible sequel together with the back half of a completely different work set in an entirely different world, and it Does Not Work at all, at least not for me. Sorry, but my advice is, read the first book, skip the second. But truly, if you want to see a wonderful job handling a great child point of view, you really need to toss Dogland on your To Be Read pile.

Now: which would be more difficult to write, do you think — a child protagonist, a protagonist with an unusual handicap, or a genius protagonist? Any other categories of really unusual, particularly difficult protagonists I’ve missed?

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You have got to be kidding —

Standardized language is all very well, but

“So you dealed with the farmer.”

instead of

“So you dealt with the farmer.” ???

I agree with Gary that the “standardized” version lacks punch and that it alters the rhythm of the sentence, but that isn’t why I hate it. Well, it is, but it’s not the biggest reason. The real problem is, it SOUNDS INCREDIBLY STUPID to any literate speaker of English.

I am happy to say that my copy editors have either never tried to do this to me, or else have always be cooperative in letting me Stet the verb back to the irregular form.

I also use “knelt” rather than “kneeled.” In fact, “kneeled” got underlined in red for me when I typed it just now. And again, no problem with my copy editors (who do a great job, seriously, I can’t believe they can spot that something on page 247 is inconsistent with something on page 17, but they do). But here I mean, I have never had a copy editor try to change “knelt” to “kneeled,” that I can recall.

I think Gary may be facing the (occasionally) dreaded “house style”, where the publishing house insists on some particular grammatical or stylistic trick which you happen to hate.

Top stylistic detail I dislike about a house style I’ve had to accept: capitalization of the first word after a colon. I like it the way I did it above and the way I’m doing it here: no capital letter, even if the preceding clause is a complete sentence. I get the rule, but usually it looks wrong to me. But whatever! Not that important.

Top stylistic detail I dislike about the writing of otherwise excellent writers: “All right” is TWO WORDS. TWO. WORDS. It is not “Alright.” That is important. I DON’T CARE if the dictionary has knuckled under to the barbarians. “All right” is ALWAYS two words.

And if you’re writing a book and you happen to disagree, well, do keep in mind what happens to me if I’m reading a book and I’ve fallen into the story and Our Hero fights off the giant furry white snake and then The Love Interest cries in horror, “Oh my God, are you alright?”

I flinch and fall out of the story, that’s what happens. And so does everyone who agrees with me, which is a lot of people, including many many people you probably hope will enjoy your book. Just guessing, but that is probably not what you want to have happening in the middle of the action.

And since everyone seems to agree that “All right” is fine and those who don’t mind “Alright” don’t actually object to “All right,” can we just please agree to always use the two-word version so that we can all be happy? Would that be all right with you?

All right, then. Good.

And no dealing playing cards when you really need to have dealt with that pesky farmer, either.

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Thank God It’s Monday —

Because enough weeding for a while! And this is with Saturday being rainy and cold, so that was only one day of weeding. (Much housework during rainy days, so that’s not much of an improvement.)

Actually, if we are being honest, it was only a few hours of weeding, because it’s not like I actually spent ALL DAY outside pulling up the nasty little cold-season weeds before (or more likely after, alas) they have gone to seed. So I can’t really complain, though of course that doesn’t stop me.

Plus, the nice thing about weeding is that you can stand up and stretch and gaze admiringly at what you have wrought, because the weed-free section is beautiful.

But! Also what got done on Saturday was: I wrote that one scene at the end of Chapter Five of my newest WIP, as the last part of the ongoing revision. I had been putting this off for WEEKS. And how long did this take? Yes, of course, just an hour or two, certainly nothing worth agonizing over. Which I knew very well would be the case.

Anyway: done now. I’m taking a break until May, which is when I plan to finish this book. And by taking a break, I actually mean writing a short story that is a prequel to the werewolf (sort of! Not really werewolves!) book that Caitlin is currently shopping around. I never do short stories, but this is an exception!

Started it Sunday. Got the whole entire plot in my head, including the important dialogue (this never happens to me). Up to nearly 2000 words so far. I bet it does break 10,000 words, but I will cut as necessary because I want it to be definitely under 10,000 words and preferably about 7,500.

I have no idea what to do with it after I write it. I mean, if it’s good. (If it’s lousy, I know exactly what to do with it.) Guess Caitlin might have some notion what people who write books can do with a short story.

I’m still interested in Dan Well’s idea about a special NaShoStoMo, but I have to say, a short story every day? They better be very very very short, or else I better be writing during, say, January, because five to eight pages a day is definitely my limit on a workday.

Anyway! I’m going to finish the werewolf story, that’s first. Then the other novel, which doesn’t really have a title, sorry that makes it hard to write about, but it’s a YA for sure, that’ll be in May. Then a break, then a month of short stories (unless I loose my nerve). And then, I don’t know. An alternate Ottoman Turkey? A YA fairy tale, now that The Book Smugglers got me in the mood to try that again? Ask me about July-ish.

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Here’s Magnolia ‘Ann’ on March 25th, when she started blooming:

March 25

And here she is again on April 14th, after two serious storms with high winds plus a week of lows in the thirties, INCLUDING one night where it got down to TWENTY-SEVEN degrees:

April 14

Who would have expected for any spring flowering magnolia to flower this long or through that kind of weather?

Besides ‘Ann’, I have a regular saucer magnolia, which lost its flowers to the cold weather; a M stellata x M loebneri cross which ditto; a star magnolia which ditto; a Yulan magnolia which hasn’t started flowering yet (disappointing because it’s several years old and most magnolias are a little more precocious than this); and a M sieboldii which also hasn’t started flowering yet but has more of an excuse because it just went in last year.

Besides blooming early and withstanding awful weather better than the other magnolias, ‘Ann’, I know from last year, will rebloom later in the summer. Though I must add here that Japanese beetles will eat the flowers, which is very very very annoying. And even if they don’t, the repeat bloom isn’t as abundant. But still, it’s great to have a magnolia blooming in August!

AND, it’s pretty easy from cuttings, too. Here’s my tiny 2-inch-tall baby, one of the few cuttings to survive last year’s early summer drought:

Doesn’t look like much yet, I know, but it will grow!

Nobody paid me to advertise ‘Ann’, btw. It’s just a snazzy little shrub that impressed me this spring.

By ‘little’, I mean so far. You’d expect this shrubby magnolia to get about ten feet by ten feet eventually. Magnolias are fairly drought resistant and will take some afternoon shade, plus I love them, so eventually I’ll probably have even more along that walkway . . . especially since I expect I’ll take more cuttings off ‘Ann.’

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I’ve finally caught up . . .

With my Nina Kiriki Hoffman backlog. And, although I still love her, I have to confess that if I’d read A Stir of Bones, A Red Heart of Memories, and Past the Size of Dreaming first, I might not have kept going with this author.

A Stir of Bones has no real ending, A Red Heart of Memories has a real issue with deus ex machina, and Past the Size of Dreaming had important plot elements that annoyed me by appearing for no reason and disappearing again without a trace. (I am talking about the coyote, mainly.)

So, I still liked all three books, but not nearly as much as the first few of Hoffman’s I read.

I did really enjoy The Spirits That Walk in Shadow, though.

Not Catalyst very much — what, are we venturing not only into SF but also into pornography? Sorry, the ick factor was fairly high for me with that one.

I’d definitely rate A Fistful of Sky as my favorite. Lots of tropes that appeal to me and nothing I’d peg as a problem. And the thing with the bread and other baked goods was priceless!

Also just re-read the nonfiction collection of letters to and from Helene Hanff and published under the title 84 Charing Cross Road. A truly priceless little gem of a book, and I was happy to see that it’s still available via Amazon. What a pure delight from start to finish! Very short, you could read the whole thing in an hour, but very charming.

Coming up soon . . . looks like CJ Cherryh’s 12th Foreigner book is out! Yay! The big question: can she actually reach a resolution in just one more book? Or will there be yet another ‘trilogy’ coming in this massive series? I’m still delighted with the Foreigner world, so I’ll be happy if Books 13, 14, and 15 appear in due course.

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Coming Attractions

It’ll be a while before it’s released, but the Griffin Mage trilogy is getting a makeover when it goes into trade paperback this fall. Check this out —

Now, that’s pretty. I guess the cover might be tweaked still, but this is the one in the Orbit fall catalog, so probably not that much.

I don’t know, does it totally look like a romance? I think the rose in particular makes it look very romance-y. Don’t want to disappoint readers, but the romance aspects, while there, are not usually front-and-center in these three books.

I do like a romance, actually, but I kind of like to put it in around the edges, you know? And I particularly like to shift the romance off in a surprising direction rather than just having the first male character you meet fall in love with the first female character you meet. Though sometimes the characters make their own choices about that. In fact, in Book III, the characters made me change my mind about who was going to fall in love with whom about page 400 and had quite a bit of tweaking to do to adjust the whole book to fit the new romance.

The Griffin Mage books are interesting because I switched main characters with each book, though continuing characters play minor-to-important secondary roles as we go on. It’s like what Sharon Shinn did in her Archangel series or what Jemisin did in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy — which I loved and nominated for a Nebula, by the way, and I was delighted to see it on the ballot — but what I mean is, same world in each book, but a whole different take on events because the main characters change.

I’ll have to ask Sharon if that was a deliberate decision on her part. For me, given the way Book I worked out, I really couldn’t make Kes the continuing main viewpoint character for the whole trilogy. But I had another problem also, because when I was just starting Book II, I had just finished a YA novel (The Floating Islands), and I had an enormously difficult time thinking of an adult, not YA, character and plot.

Finally I declared: FINE, the main character, whoeverhe is, is FORTY-TWO. That solved the YA problem and let me get on with it.

And it worked great. Gereint from Book II worked beautifully for me from the first scene straight through the book. And so did Lady Tehre, actually, though she didn’t walk on stage until much later.

And once I’d chosen different main characters for Book II, of course I was inclined to do the same again for Book III. Worked again, too. Honestly, I love long series where one character is the main viewpoint character for book after book, but I’m starting to wonder how the author does it. At least for now, it seems more natural to me to switch off.

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Indy pics

So, here’s the show team from last weekend:

Pippa, Adora, and Kenya

They look startled and intrigued because I am making noises like a duck to get their attention. See all that clutter between them? That’s eight green qualifying ribbons for Rally Obedience and regular Obedience, with five colored placement ribbons to go with the green. Then Adora’s second-place red ribbons for her conformation class — Nancy Maddox’s beautiful champion ruby girl won that class both days, drat it! But my Adora was a close second, I think.

Then there’s Kenya with her blue ribbon and her trophy. Gotta call a jeweler to engrave the bowl with her name. She’ll have the tenth and last spot on that trophy.

Now, just a few more pictures of my lovely girls:


And yes, you’re right: Pippa is glamorous and lovely and INCREDIBLY photogenic and by all rights ought to be a champion in the breed ring rather than strictly in performance, but unfortunately she had pyometra when she was still quite young. She lost a litter of puppies, and had to be spayed. So that’s why I don’t show her in conformation, which is really to showcase breeding animals, see.

Okay, that’s it about the dogs for a while!

Tomorrow, a preview of the probable cover for the trade paperback Griffin Mage omnibus, coming out this fall! A very, very different cover from the mass market paperbacks, definitely meant to appeal to a different readership. Stop back in and see what you think of it!

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What a weekend!

First I got up at 4:00 AM on Thursday so I could give little Kenya a Dramamine an hour before putting her in the car. I had Pippa, Adora and Kenya loaded up and ready to go at 5:05 and got to my friend Deb’s house in St. Louis by 6:30 AM (and I arrived exactly on time, which was satisfying). After a flurried fifteen minutes or so, we had three people and six dogs loaded in Deb’s SUV and were on the road again, heading for the Indianapolis Cavalier specialty. It was a pretty small specialty this year, about a hundred twenty Cavaliers total.

We got to Indy just in time to get to Pat Lander’s handling seminar, except I was late because somebody told me the seminar was starting an hour later than it had been listed (they were wrong! Oops!) But that did mean my girls got a good walk before I had to leave them in the room again.

So I was showing Kenya and Adora in conformation — that’s the beauty contest part of a show — and both of them plus Pippa in Rally Obedience and Pippa in formal obedience.

Everybody qualified in every obedience event — Pippa did GREAT, especially since it’s been two years since I showed her in formal obedience. Oh, she was FANTASTIC. She did swing just a bit wide on the off-lead about turn, and the first sit? She walked around me and looked at me like I had two heads. Sit? What?

But everything else was great, including all the other sits. She had a rock-solid stand for exam and she did the group sits and downs like she never even dreamed of the possibility of breaking a stay (which is not true!)

And the Rally was fun. Kenya was dreadfully distracted the first day, but she did okay. The other two are more experienced and take whispered commands and hand signals and they were wonderful. Deb got High in Trial l with her girl, though, and the highest any of mine got was second place! Oh, well.

The Conformation show was Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but I showed my girls only Saturday and Sunday because that way I got to watch all the classes on Friday, whereas if you’re too busy yourself, you miss seeing the other dogs, you know? I was especially interested in the ruby boys because I need to think about who to breed Adora to next year. There were some wonderful dogs there.

The quality at this show was quite high, much higher than the average quality at an AKC show. There were any number of classes where you’d sit there and think: Well, this will be tough for the judge, every dog in there is nice. Usually at an AKC show, there are some decent Cavaliers and one or two that are rather nice and maybe one very good dog, plus unfortunately a couple that are just dreadful. (When my young Dara won her first points a few weeks ago, I told people there were ten girls entered but three didn’t count. Sorry, but it was true!)

It’s such a shame to see a dog with terrible structure because you know the poor dog won’t be able to enjoy hiking or jogging or even chasing squirrels, not for very long anyway. Most likely it’ll injure its legs or back, most likely sooner than later, and then the poor dog may be in pain for the rest of its life. Weak pasterns or slipping hocks are bad, straight shoulders are bad, a roached back is very bad (especially if the dog is roaching because it’s already in pain), straight stifles are terrible — all of those things are common and they all mean trouble for the dog as it ages. That’s why structural soundness is so important.

So the judge on Saturday was the UK Cocker breeder Frank Kane. Now, Frank Kane is a pretty famous name in some circles. He’s a very well known, highly respected “all rounder”, which means he judges all breeds. He’s set to judge Best in Show at Crufts next year, which is a huge big deal, and he’s an internationally renowned expert on structure and movement. He lectures on the topic — he gave a lecture at our show on Saturday, which was great — and he wrote Judging The Gundog Breeds, which I may buy now because after Saturday I’m a big fan!

He gave my Kenya first in her class and he told me later how much he loved her topline and movement! And this was the day when she WOULD NOT cooperate with me and was flighty and refusing bait and generally HORRIBLE. But when she stands, she stacks herself — I can’t take credit for setting her up, not on Saturday, she was refusing even steak! — and she moved all right, I guess, at least at the important times when Kane was looking at her.

Go, Kenya!

She won a nice silver bowl. It’s the kind of trophy where you have her name engraved on it and pass it on to the winner of the Graduate Puppy class next year, and her name will go right on there with the names of some REALLY nice puppies. Yay for Kenya!

Unfortunately the obedience took place kind of consecutively with the end of the conformation show and I missed my chance to get a win photo with the judge. Oh, I could cry! But I will post a picture of Kenya and her trophy tomorrow.

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Yesterday it was eighty-six degrees —

Tonight the low is supposed to be thirty-six.  Welcome to April in Missouri!

Did I get any work done this weekend?  No, unless you count planting peas, radishes, daikon radishes, parsnips, spinach, swiss chard and beets.  Whew!  A few weeks “late” — you’re supposed to plant peas when the forsythia blooms —  but not given the weather we’ve been having, which has involved snow on the forsythia blossoms.

Plus I took three of the dogs hiking!  Including my fifteen-year-old Papillon, which turned out to be a misjudgment, because 86 degrees is too hot for him.  I wound up carrying him about half the time.  Even a nine-pound dog is pretty heavy after the first quarter-mile or so.  Oh, well, hopefully it won’t get hot and stay hot for a little while; maybe he’ll get another chance or two before summer really sets in.

Okay!  I have an idea for a short story tied into the werewolf (sort of!  Not exactly werewolves!) novel I just finished.  This is remarkable.  I never, ever get ideas for short stories.  This time I have the whole entire plot in my head.  Who knows,  maybe I’ll join Dan Wells in his NaShoStoMo pledge !

Don’t hold your breath, but actually I sort of think I might. A short story a day! For a month! Dan’s right, it would be an excellent way to stretch myself, because I’m lousy at short stories.

But that’s for this summer sometime, not right now. I want to revise the ms. I’m currently working on — I’ve figured out stuff about the main character that I need to integrate into the story so far — and after that I want to write the one (1) short story that’s sprung full-formed from the aether, and then I want to FINISH the manuscript I’m working on — before June, I expect — and THEN I want to take a month off. But after THAT, I think maybe I will try out Dan’s idea and see if I can do it.

And after that, I’m pretty sure I will try to write another fairy-tale-esque story with a tone sort of like The City in the Lake, because The Book Smugglers gave CITY such a fantastic review that it instantly put me in the fairy-tale mood.

So that’s my plan for my summer! Not saying it couldn’t get revised, depending on events . . .

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When you’re obsessed —

If you like cooking and love good food, but are consumed by the need to write a lot of pages without stopping, what do you do?

Sometimes I have a very tight deadline (Books II and III of the Griffin Mage trilogy, I’m looking at you) or sometimes  I’m just working hard to put lots of words in a row.  But I don’t want to eat nothing but ramen noodles and apples for weeks or months, either.

Last week, when I was writing at pretty close to my top speed, I was also on a Thai kick.

I tried four different recipes for pad thai.  As long as you have shrimp and cubed pork already thawed, you can cook the shrimp and pork while the rice noodles soak.  You’ll also have time to make and slice the omelet, slice the scallions, get the bean sprouts out of the fridge, mince the ginger and garlic, and find the fish sauce, chili paste, and tamarind (third shelf of the pantry, NOT the second where you thought it was).  By the time the noodles are ready to toss in the skillet, everything else will be ready to go, too.  Time to make dinner:  25 minutes.  You can read over the five pages you just wrote while you eat (because that’s what you do when you’re obsessed).

I also made a sort of Thai-Chinese fusion fried rice, with jasmine rice, Chinese sausage, shrimp, pineapple, bean sprouts, and fish sauce and soy sauce.  Very tasty.  Wish I had more Chinese sausages in the freezer.  Time to cook the rice — doesn’t count because I cooked the rice in the morning and stuck it in the fridge to chill until time for dinner.  Time to make dinner:  10 minutes.

Fastest of all:  cellophane noodles with Thai peanut sauce.  I made the sauce from scratch, thank you.  It’s not like it’s hard.  And I simmered the cellophane noodles in chicken broth because I think that makes a big difference in flavor.  Canned, because that’s fine for this use.  Time to make dinner:  5 minutes.

No fussing over desserts because (sigh) it’ll still be nice to ONE DAY lose those extra five pounds.  Fruit, therefore.  At least I really like frozen grapes.

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