FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SARAH SANCHEZ

August 21, 2018

Tags: Nightwalker, The Portal Keeper, fantasy, writing life, motivation, trilogy, getting into writing, Ajax, series, writing advice, first book, print books vs ebooks, writing process, novel excerpt, work-in-progress, Texas, Utah

MY GUEST THIS WEEK IS SARAH SANCHEZ, AUTHOR OF "NIGHTWALKER" AND "THE PORTAL KEEPER." (FOLLOW LINKS AT TOP OF RIGHT-HAND COLUMN FOR DETAILS.)

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.

I was born in Dallas, Texas. I love Texas. The weather is crazy, but the people are friendly. I graduated from the University of North Texas with a BA in Spanish. Mexico is my second home. My husband is from Mexico, and I have family down there. I love the culture, the people, and of course the food. I have three wonderful children and I love hiking and spending time outdoors when I am not writing.

Fantasy is my preferred genre to write in. There are no limits in fantasy beyond my own imagination.

WHAT GOT YOU INTO WRITING?

I was never a huge reader when I was younger. I guess I just didn’t find anything that really grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I really started to love reading. I would go through series after series.

I never thought of myself as a writer. Term papers were hard to stretch out to the ten or twenty pages required. The thought of writing a book didn’t really enter my mind.

My first book began on a whim. I just wanted to see how long I could write for. This resulted in a completely juvenile story that will never see the light of day. It did teach me that I had the capability to write. I just needed practice and a better storyline.

IS THERE SOMETHING YOU LEARNED FROM WRITING YOUR FIRST BOOK?

Just to persevere. Keep working at it. Don’t be afraid of rewrites. Take your time and don’t rush into publication.

WHICH DO YOU PREFER? PRINT BOOKS OR E-BOOKS?

I probably read about 50/50. Ebooks have their advantage but I still enjoy having a physical book in my hand occasionally.

SHARE A SHORT EXCERPT FROM YOUR NOVEL

It was dark all around him as he struggled to catch his breath. He couldn't make out his hand in front of his face and had no idea which direction to swim in. Suddenly he was roughly pulled out of the water and tossed onto a hard surface. He coughed a few more times and tried to sit up. The floor rocked beneath him, and Ajax realized he was on a ship of some sort.

“Well, what have we got ourselves here?” a grizzly voice asked. “Spots, shine a little light over here, will you?”

Something buzzed by Ajax's ear and then a small but exceptionally bright light shined in his face.

He put up his hand, attempting to shield the beam from his eyes.

“It's a man,” someone called out.

Someone prodded him with a stick.

“Hey!” Ajax exclaimed, swatting it away.

"What were you doing out in the middle of Death Lake at this hour?”

Death Lake, that sounds promising, Ajax thought to himself.

“I'm looking for my friend,” Ajax answered. “Have you seen anyone else? Did anyone else fall?”

“Shut him up,” another voice called. “Get him down below.”

Something covered Ajax's face and then he was grabbed forcefully and carried to another location. He felt as if he were going down stairs. He was flung unceremoniously into a chair, and the hood was yanked off his head. He rubbed the back of his arm, where he had been gripped too tightly. It was dark in this new place too.

Slowly a lamp was lit, giving a little light to the area.

A rhinoceros stood at the head of a table, wearing a pair of striped trousers and suspenders without a shirt. He leaned forward. “How did you come here?”
Ajax scooted back in his chair, looking around the table. He must have really experienced a lot in the past week because the talking rhinoceros didn't amaze him as much as he felt it should.

THAT SOUNDS INTRIGUING, WITH A TOUCH OF THE ABSURD - A TALKING RHINO IN SUSPENDERS! AS YOU SAY, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IN FANTASY. TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR MAIN CHARACTER.

Ajax is just about to turn fourteen. He is a dutiful child who is taking on a responsibility that was never meant.

IS THIS A STAND-ALONE NOVEL OR PART OF A SERIES?

The Portal Keeper is book 1 in the series.

CURRENTLY, WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I just finished up the second book in my YA Vampire trilogy. Nightwalker was just released in May. I am also working on the sequel to The Portal Keeper, I don’t have a title yet.

DO YOU HAVE PEOPLE READ YOUR DRAFTS BEFORE YOU PUBLISH? HOW DO YOU SELECT BETA READERS?

Definitely. I am still looking for more. Some authors don’t want too many eyes on their work. I am the opposite. The more eyes the better. It is hard to find good beta readers who will point out your flaws. But I have a few really good ones.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WHEN WRITING? DID YOU HAVE ANY WRITER'S BLOCK? IF SO, HOW DID YOU WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH IT?

I find working on several projects helps keep my mind flowing. I try to keep the number to three projects. I have found that if I get stuck I can jump to another project and then when I come back to it, I usually don’t have a problem finishing it.

WHAT WAS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?

I need background noise. Whether it’s the tv or good music. Then I usually just try and hammer out a couple of chapters based on an idea that struck me. If after that I think it's good, then I will start making up an outline and doing research if needed. Once I finish the first draft, I will reread it, make changes and then send it out to my beta readers.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES ASIDE FROM WRITING, IF ANY?

I enjoy hiking, not that there are many places to do that in Texas, but I recently got to hike some of the parks in Utah. There is some gorgeous scenery. I also enjoy baking, which probably doesn’t help my chocolate addiction.

A GIRL AFTER OWN HEART - TEXAS, HIKING, AND CHOCOLATE!
THANK YOU FOR SHARING WITH US, AND BEST WISHES FOR YOUR WRITING SUCCESS.

Guide to the Blog Archives

May 13, 2018

Tags: writing life, blogs, year in review, writing process, seasons, holidays, poetry, short stories, Prairie WRiters, homework, exercises, writing assignments, plotting a novel, looking forward, looking back, writing journey, motivation

August 2010: Somewhere over the Rainbow
January 2011: New Leaf in a Writer’s Notebook
February 2011: Kindred Spirits
July 2011: Library Fines and Fine Libraries
November 2011: Bugsy, Slug, the Beatles and Me
December 2011: Do You Know? A Carol for the Family
February 2012: Top Ten Reasons to take up Stained Glass
March 2012: Ode on the Color Green
April 2012: Take me to your Leader
July 2012: For You, Dad
September 2012: A Song for Irene; A Poem a Day Keeps Detractors at Bay
October 2012: Oklahoma Fall
December 2012: Not This Christmas; Janus at the Crossroads
January 2013: Kansas Voices
March 2013: Marching Forward in March
April 2013: A Muse Named April
May 2013: The Desk
June 2013: I Don’t Do….
July 2013: A Literary Cruise; Ballad of Captain Jack Scurvy
August 2013: Yolanda’s Uniform & other School Poems
September 2013: Four Poems in my Backpack
November 2013: Remembering Penny
December 2013: The Joy Jar
February 2014: Three Poems for Valentine’s Day
March 2014: Ghosts of the Midnight Oil; Eviction Notice to my Inner Critic;
Cancelelation
April 2014: Crabby’s Classroom
August 2014: A = Art; B = Bibliography; C = Calvin; D = Danger; E = Exercise; F = Friendship
September 2014: G = Gospel; H = History; I = Immersion; J = Jewels; K = King;
M = Meshki; N = Nuts; O = Obstacles; P = Phyllis; Q = Queen of Hearts
October 2014: R = Rose Garden; S = Seventies; T = Tammie Traylor; U = Unity; V = Vandergriff; W = Wonderland
November 2014: X = Xylophone; Y = You; Z = Zoroastrian
December 2014: Joy Jar
June 2015: Catch a Falling Writer
August 2015: Tuscany, O Tuscany!
September 2015: Relocation, Dislocation & Discombobulation
October 2015: Random Encounter at Random House
March 2016: Two Poems for Easter
June 2016: Two Poems about Fatherhood
September 2016: The Way to the Town Hall
May 2017: Curse of the Dampeners
December 2017: Tia Lynn’s Midnight Ride
March 2018: Marching Forward in March

Y: YOU

November 3, 2014

Tags: writing process, reading experience, autobiographical details, Harry Potter, book discussion groups

YOU, THE AUTHOR, bring to your work all the events of your life. To some extent, whether intended or not, these will shape your characters’ emotions and actions. They add colorful details that breathe life on to the page. Harry Potter fans are delighted to learn that the flying car of the second book was modeled on a battered Ford Anglia owned by her friend Sean. During school and library visits, I tell kids about my jealousy of a classmate, Shirley Bateman, and how I gave that feeling to Craig in ARROWHEAD’S LOST HOARD in scenes with his stepbrother. I let them taste baklava and sip hot tea with sugar cubes, the way Jandy did in SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE, based on memories of my year in Iran.

YOU, THE READER, experience a story through the lens of your own experiences. The consequences of a character’s decisions as you live in his or her skin influence your outlook on the world. You have opinions about a protagonist’s behavior that differ from those if another reader. You may re-read the same book years later and see things in a new light, according to the cards life has dealt you. Hence the popularity of book club discussions!


X: XYLOPHONE

November 1, 2014

Tags: musical score, instruments, xylophone, percussion, alphabet, orchestra, community show, work-in-progress, writing process, children's program, Alice in Wonderland

Does every alphabet have to use a xylophone for X? Not necessarily. In my picture book, X means ten on the face of Big Ben. But for the purposes of this blog about RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR, it fits quite well.

The musical accompaniment to the original songs for ALICE IN TUMBLEWEED LAND will incorporate instruments for any children in Hickory Bend who want to take part, at any level, according to their talent shown in try-outs. There may be a simple quartet, or a full orchestra. I don't want to complicate the plot, but Grant (Jandy's crush) plays the trumpet, and Heidi (her cousin) the flute. A simple tune may be played on xylophones (metal) or glockenspiels (wood).

Like Jandy and Cal, I'm getting excited about this show, as if it's really going to take place! I've been looking up the scores from the Disney movie, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and humming the songs my class sang in our 1975 program at Ludlow Middle School. I directed the drama; my colleague Ian played the piano in that golden afternoon.

How do you get to Wonderland, anyway? In 1973, I had painted the set for another ALICE production, at Forelands Middle School. The book was one of my favorites as a child. Is that why the story and music haunt my waking dreams? I can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel it all in my imagination. Let's hope the readers will, too.

W: WONDERLAND

October 29, 2014

Tags: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll, fiction, middle-grade mystery, character, plot, community theater, writing process

The Hickory Bend production of “Alice” is a new interpretation with a Texas twist by a local writer. Wonderland is re-named Tumbleweed Land. The play mixes events and characters from cowboy history with those of Lewis Carroll’s two books.

Jandy‘s encounters at her new/old school parallel those of Alice down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass. She gets lost in the warren of hallways joining the buildings. A good student made to feel stupid, she can recite Persian poetry, but has missed out on American classics. Friends leave her behind with their chit-chat about fashions and film stars.

Down is up, and up is down. People talk in riddles. Nothing makes sense. Jandy must find her own ways to navigate the landscape. After a weird and wonderful adventure, she will emerge at Tamam Shud (the Very End in Farsi), with renewed confidence and relief that it is over.

V: VANDERGRIFF

October 27, 2014

Tags: favorite teacher, theater, art, talent, mentor, encouragement, naming fictional characters, writing process

How do authors come up with names for characters? Their own lives? The telephone directory? The sound of a name, or its meaning/connotation? All of the above?

Jandy’s favorite teacher at the International school in Iran got her last name from Vandergriff Park in Arlington, Texas. It had a special association for me. My SCBWI chapter held workshops and conferences in a building there, before we outgrew it. As with many of my own teachers, I don’t even know Miss Vandergriff’s first name! Presumably I gave her one. It must be in the bio sheet I drafted when I began to plot SECRET OT THE SEVENTH GATE. So I can look it up if needed.

Miss Vandergriff wears her hair In a French knot, paints her fingernails pearly pink, and wears a jasmine fragrance. That much I rememember. She may not appear physically in RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. I’m not ruling it out, as most Americans have left Iran by 1979, or soon will. Maryam heard a rumor that she was engaged to an Iranian pilot, so she may choose to stay. But her influence over Jandy’s life continues.

Admiring her set for the Ali Baba show, Miss Vandergriff had pronounced her the “best little artist this side of the Dez River!” This gives Jandy confidence to pursue art when she returns to Hickory Bend. Might she become the "best little artist this side of the Red River"? Unable to fit art into her class schedule, she volunteers to paint scenery for a local production of Alice in Wonderland.

Jandy had also been in Miss Vandergriff's class for 8th grade English, but Maryam attended a separate class with students whose second language was English. For the lesson featured in SEVENTH GATE, Jandy created an Arabian Nights tale (number 1,002) while listening to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" - absorbing Persian and Russian culture at the same time.

A teacher's approach to life and work affects kids' lives in big and small ways, for better or for worse. His or her words are imprinted on minds and report cards for decades to come.

U: UNITY

October 16, 2014

Tags: unifying theme, title, unity, writing process, shaping a narrative, plot, fiction, samovar, riddle, still life

What makes this book hold together like glue? Like staples? Like saddle stitching? Not literally, but figuratively speaking. I named it RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. So, the samovar has to take center stage (or at least make its presence felt) throughout the story. The discovery and decoding of its contents must drive the plot. Maryam, Tammie, Grant, cousins, teachers, and the “Alice” cast, if they are to participate at all, must somehow fit into the unifying principle – the riddle of the samovar.

R: ROSE GARDEN and RIDDLE

October 3, 2014

Tags: Dolly Parton, roses, garden, paradise, Iran, Turkish delight, Paul Ruffin, Persia, Texas, 1979, spy science, archetypes, monomythic cycle, detective science, codes, ciphers, secret message, writing process, plotting

"I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden..." It is 1979. The counselor at Hickory Bend Junior High sings the latest Dolly Parton hit as she digs in her files for Jandy's grade reports. A long way from the rose garden indeed, Jandy muses. She and her brother had left their friend Maryam and dog Meshki among the lush, walled gardens of Shekarabad, Iran.

In the archetypical hero’s journey, circumstances alternate between ideal and unideal until all is resolved. Jandy sees Iran as ideal because after the initial culture shock (3 years before 7th Gate began) she immersed herself in life at the international school and enjoyed her friends, especially Maryam. So, although Texas is her birthplace, she no longer feels at home there. Foreign travel has broadened her perspective, and nobody but family understands. How can Jandy get back to the rose garden, literally or metaphorically? What makes a situation ideal? To what extent will she have to compromise?

Intertwined with the readjustment theme like thorns on a rambling rose are questions about the samovar. Who sent it, when will he or she collect it, and what's inside? A message in the brass neck of the vessel is written, drawn, or typed in a code that Cal must crack. I haven't decided on one yet. I like Pig Pen, which my friend Pat Cooper and I learned at the age of 9 or 10. It's fairly straightforward, but could make publication more tricky, involving images rather than a font.

An alphabet code is simpler to print. I can layers of intrigue and humor by having Cal look up Bible verses and getting in trouble from his Sunday school teacher, Aunt Phyllis, for talking in church. But is the sender familiar with the Bible? And what if a different translation is used?

Both my previous mysteries felt too tangled halfway through the plotting stage. There were so many possibilities, and not enough answers. But that's all part of the writing process. One year at a literary festival in Texas, poet Paul Ruffin advised us to "trust the process." His words are secured with magnets to my filing cabinet, visible from my desk. So, I will hack my way through the briars until I smell the Turkish delight fragrance of roses.

P: PHYLLIS

September 27, 2014

Tags: aunt, prejudice, family opposition, family tension, Islam, Big Tex, State Fair of Texas, Quran, Bible, Jesus, Son of God, overseas contract, ex-patriates, Texas, writing process, characters, antagonist

Jandy mentions Aunt Phyllis in SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE as a relative who fails to understand why Clint (Phyllis’s brother) would drag his family halfway around the world, even for a short-term contract. The school counselor, Shirley Anne Traylor, expresses similar views when trying to sort out Jandy’s grades in RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR.

Meanwhile in Iran, Maryam’s Aunt Simin is close-minded in matters of religion. “God is too holy to have a son,” she asserts, “and the Bible is full of lies.” My 2nd graders at a Christian school in Texas cried in horror when I read that part of my book to them. Blasphemy!

I haven’t decided how much of a role these aunts will play in the sequel. But I’m sure they will let me know soon enough.

L: LOBSTER QUADRILLE

September 15, 2014

Tags: quadrille, line dancing, Texas, Dallas Cheerleaders, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, choreography, immigration, Iranian, community theater, writing process

While Jandy Graham is content to paint and shift scenery, Maryam Darabi prefers acting and dancing. When the international school in Shekarabad, Iran, staged “Ali Baba” in 1978, Maryam played a slave girl, Morgiana [SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE]. She swayed and twirled in an ever-faster dance, until she was close enough to the wicked oil merchant to seize his hidden dagger. The school’s previous show had been "Alice in Wonderland" with Maryam in the lead role.

Fast forward to Hickory Bend, Texas, 1979, setting for the sequel, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Jandy sees the local production of "Alice" as a way to help her friend get involved in the community, after the ordeal of fleeing Iran. But Tammie Traylor, a Buffalette cheerleader, has different ideas about the Lobster Quadrille.

Should it be danced with the French traditional four walls (lines) or just one, as in the new craze called line dancing? Another girl suggests the disco-inspired Electric Slide. Will the dancers dress as sea creatures, as per Lewis Carroll's book, or wear hats and boots like the popular Dallas Cheerleaders? As Jandy points out, they can be flexible, because this version of the story is already like no other, having been given a Texas twist by a local writer. She even considers a samovar instead of a china teapot for the Mad Hatter scene. But who has the final say on choreography? What about the music? Opera, zydeco, or twangy country?

I had fun researching the evolution of these dances over the decades.

J: JEWELS

September 10, 2014

Tags: writing process, secrets, jewels, necklace, grandmother, Iran, samovar, hidden, Persian soil, coded message, mystery

Deep in the belly of an antique samovar nestles a little bag of something precious, concealed inside a bag of Persian soil. Is it a necklace belonging to Maryam’s grandmother? Did her Cousin Ahmad steal it, or was it (as he insists later the story) a gift to help him pay for college in the US? All Jandy and Cal have in chapter one is a note stuck in the chimney of the samovar, asking them to look after it “until we meet again” - with a list of numbers and letters on the back which they suspect is a coded message.

No amount of wrestling and brainstorming on my part has persuaded the samovar to cough up its secrets. Like Congress passing a bill so they can read it, I can’t answer these questions until I write the book. That’s how the process worked for SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE and ARROWHEAD’S LOST HOARD. May the genie of the samovar be kind to this humble weaver of tales.

I: IMMERSION

September 8, 2014

Tags: taking the plunge, immersion, swimming, languages, fictional world, writing process, imagination, writing tips, mindset, motivation

With my sister and brothers, I spent many happy hours by the sea. As soon as our picnic lunch had been digested, we would run down the beach to splash, dive, swim, jump the waves, do handstands underwater, toss a beach ball, and gather seaweed - hardly noticing the temperature after the shock of that initial plunge.

"Come on, get in!" we yelled, as our mother hovered at the edge and shivered in her swimsuit. "It's warm when you get used to it!"

At last, Mum would make her decision, take the plunge, swim non-stop for ten to twenty minutes, and go back up to get dry and dressed, leaving us to play.

In high school, my friend Marie spent the fall trimester in France, living with a French family. I wished I'd had the courage to do the same; foreign languages were my forte , but my oral proficiency lagged below the reading and writing. Having to speak a language all the time would have built vocabulary, fluency, and confidence.

Whenever I've taken part in a play, a parade, a book fair with a theme, or a week-long Bible school with kids, the whole world of that event has taken over. Last July I lived and breathed Agency D3; May was all about Fiesta; this month at school, it's Sir Read-a-Lot's Castle.

Total immersion. That will be the key to finishing my work-in-progress. I've hovered too long on the edge. When I set aside other projects (even writing tasks, if not directly related to RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR), and surround myself with Texan/Persian/seventies/Alice books, artifacts, pictures and music, each writing session will flow more easily.

Jump in, Hazel. The water's fine!

E: EXERCISE

August 25, 2014

Tags: Write-Brain Workbook, Lifewrites e-book, writing process, writing exercises, clustering, character bios, free writing, right brain, sensory detail, sense of place, morning pages, dreams, emotions, memory, fiction

In grade school, I wrote in exercise books, nurturing the dream of becoming a writer. As a piano student, I repeated scales and arpeggios to limber up my fingers and facilitate performance for exams or entertainment. So too, physical exercise is beneficial to health at any age. Practice may feel like a chore, or a child's play, depending on the task, coach, energy, mood, etc. But it results in a sense of accomplishment, bringing us closer to our goals.

A helpful exercise I learned from Jane Cross in Dallas is Clustering. Write a word inside an elliptical bubble. As one thought or image leads to another, add lines and words radiating out from the first. (This is also called mind-mapping. The bubbles may omitted. Our brains store information in a similar way. I cluster people, objects, places, seasons, etc. for use in a particular story, or with random words as a general exercise for the "writing muscle."

One instructor guided my writers' group to empty our minds of distractions and recall a moment from childhood. I saw myself jumping the waves on Sandown beach, licking ice cream, smelling the salt breeze, enjoying a carefree summer. Then we imagined a character and saw what was in his or her pockets, shopping cart, etc. These details were noted in "free writing" sessions of 10 minutes each. They re-emerged when I wrote poems for HOMEWARD TRACKS and scenes for ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD. I also interview protagonists about loves, hates, habits, and what they want to achieve.

An SCBWI author once recommended writing to music, which I often do now, matching style to story. Whenever I played "Arabian Dance" from The Nutcracker, I was back with Maryam in the Middle East, where SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE takes place. I surrounded my desk with pictures of Iran from National Geographic and Newsweek. For ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, I listened to Elgar and found magazine pictures of people who resembled my characters.

Several writer-friends swear by 3 Morning Pages a day. I do this (sporadically) on the backs of discarded rough drafts, stashed in my nightstand. I record fleeting emotions and events from dreams while in a sleepy state, over my first cup of coffee. Later, to engage the left side of the brain, I might write a list. Lists generate ideas and can even turn into a finished piece, such as my "Exotic Places" poem.

Shery Ma Bell Arrieta-Russ describes 10 approaches to journaling in her e-book, LIFEWRITES: Descriptive; Process; Comparison; Classification; Persuasive; Definition; Characterization; Analysis; Inductive; and Deductive. "Journaling is a process that lets you discover and re-discover yourself," she states in the introduction. I've enjoyed all these approaches, because they provide new ways of looking and thinking. A range of gel pens and journal covers makes exercises fun.

I recently worked (actually, played) my way through THE WRITE -BRAIN WORKBOOK by Bonnie Neubauer: no white pages, but lots of word games, fill-in-the-blanks, and visual tricks, to get the juices flowing.

If I go for a walk or a swim, to stretch my legs after slaving over the keyboard all day, the wheels go on turning. Plot developments pop up subconsciously; I jot them in a portable notepad, ready to add to the mix during the next writing session.

Hands-on activities I've taught over the years are listed on the Works page of this website. My blog is another form of exercise. It's more rigorous than Facebook posts, but a great way to find readers in cyberspace, as I sift my thoughts and advance the current writing project, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Time to put on my Loreena McKennitt CD, An Ancient Muse, and cluster SAMOVAR.

A IS FOR ART

August 16, 2014

Tags: A to Z, passion, art, eighth grade, junior high, blog challenge, work-in-progress, writing process, plot, characters, middle grade mystery, samovar, Persia, Texas, Islamic Revolution, Iran

Art is Jandy Graham's obsession. The first chapter of Secret of the Seventh Gate showed her walking home from school, hugging a sketchpad. Its sequel, Riddle of the Samovar, begins in a similar way. But now the Grahams are back in Texas, forced out of Iran by that country's Revolution, leaving behind her best friend, Maryam. The only bright spot for Jandy, as she readjusts to American life, is the opportunity to take art as an elective - but only if the counselor approves. Characters are not based on real people, but I do see a bit of myself and my daughter in Jandy's passion for art. It will drive the story and may help her solve another mystery with her brother, Calvin.

EVICTION NOTICE TO MY INNER CRITIC

March 16, 2014

Tags: writing process, editing, critic, first draft, syntax, plot, writer's block

Dear Sybil Womberly-Jones:

I regret—no, let’s be honest, I rejoice—to inform you that as of midnight tomorrow you will no longer reside in any property of mine. You have outstayed your welcome, by breaking the terms of our contract.

When you signed our lease at the launch of my writing career, I blissfully envisaged a partnership in which I would write to my heart’s content, as I did at age six when my teacher affixed a blue star to my re-telling of “I Saw a Ship A-Sailing” in my News Book. You, meanwhile, were to stay in your half of the house, or take long walks, whatever you desired that would keep you away from my office until called for.

Instead, you snooped in my apartment window and showed up on my doorstep at ungodly hours, determined to undermine my confidence with premature advice concerning my first draft. Who are you to tell me this kind of story will never sell? What makes you the ultimate authority on character creation, or plotting devices?

Please have your mahogany desk with its rows of red ink bottles, along with your hairsplitting, syntax-quibbling spectacles, packed up and ready to leave the premises by the aforesaid time. Failure to comply will result in a sharp nib in your ribs or worse. My best friend’s husband is the county sheriff.

Sincerely,

Rita Writer

GHOSTS OF THE MIDNIGHT OIL

March 16, 2014

Tags: Riddle of the Samovar, Secret of the Seventh Gate, the 'Seventies, author, characters, writing process, plot, Narnia, soggy middle, Jandy, Calvin

RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR, CHAPTER SOGGY-MIDDLE-9-ISH
IN WHICH THE CHARACTERS TALK BEHIND THE AUTHOR'S BACK
(Based on an exercise that got me unstuck in my last mystery.)

Jandy: Does this author know what she's doing?
Calvin: I'm beginning to wonder that myself.
J: Did you tell her up front what you want?
C: Not exactly. Did you?
J: No, but I'm going to.
C: Will we get it by the end?
J: We must, or it won't be much of a plot.
C: Readers will hurl the book across the room.
J: And never pick it up again, if there's no--
C: Blood and guts? An explosion every five minutes?
J: Not necessarily, but some kind of danger.
C: As the lights dim.
J: Like in a play.
C: Yeah. They'll watch us squirm.
J: And root for us!
C: Wondering how on earth we can fight our way out of it.
J: Using weapons we didn't know we had.
C: Or hoped we wouldn't have to use.
J: But grab at the needed moment, like Lucy's arrows.
C: And Peter's sword.
J: Summoned across time and space by the bugle.
C: Yeah, except this isn't time travel.
J: Right. She's saving that for another book.
C: Are we going to risk life and limb?
J: Possibly. There has to be a sacrifice.
C: Our reputation. Or pride. Or worse.
J: For the greater good. Truth and justice!
C: Never quite sure of success until the last page.
J: Paragraph.
C: Sentence.
J: So, you reckon we can write this story?
C: Yep. High five!
J: OK. Now, who's going to tell her? You, or me?