The Rush of the Mush

I’m a bit late posting pix from my trip to The Resort at Paws Up, in Greenough, Montana. But since it’s May, and it’s supposed to hit 87 degrees today, this is a good time to look at some ice and snow, right?

I was in Montana to write about dog sledding for Roam, the Travel Channel blog. This was my first ride–and I hope it won’t be my last.

Resort at Paws Up

Morning at the Resort at Paws Up. Just another day in a wintery paradise.

 

 

I drove up to find see the dogs had arrived in their own “car.” Yes, those cut-outs are customized for their ears.

 

 

Hannah, my guide, let me peer into her truck to see the dogs’ harnesses and other gear. Dogs peered back at me.

 

Hannah could barely restrain the dogs, once they were hitched to the sled. It’s true–they’re born to run.

 

The dogs stopped to scoop up snow when they were thirsty. In case you’re wondering, bathroom breaks  are taken on the go.

 

At the end of the trail, Hannah and a few pups were happy to pose for pictures. This was a fantastic experience–thank you, Paws Up!

 

 

Dorothy M. Place and The Heart to Kill

I have a guest blog post to share with you today, from author Dorothy M. Place. Her new book, The Heart to Kill, was released late last year. Be sure to read the excerpt at the bottom of this page, and visit Dorothy’s website to learn more about her work. Thanks for sharing this post, Dorothy.

~ Lynn

 

The Heart to Kill, by Dorothy Place

 

“Dorothy M. Place lives and works in Davis, California. Since submitting her first short story in 2008, she has had eleven stories accepted for publication in literary journals; three have been awarded prizes and one, a fellowship. Her debut, literary fiction novel, The Heart to Kill, was published by SFA Press (2016). A collection of fifteen short stories is being prepared for marketing to agents/publishers this spring. Her second novel, The Search for Yetta, is in process.

“The Heart to Kill is a story of a horrible crime, an enduring friendship, and personal illumination. Sarah Wasser, a student at Northwestern University Law School, returns to her apartment one evening to find two telephone messages. The first is that she has not been chosen for a coveted internship for which her father has arranged an interview; the second is that Sarah’s best friend in high school, JoBeth Ruland, has murdered her two children.

“To mislead her father about her failure to obtain the internship, Sarah secures a position on JoBeth’s defense team and, against her father’s wishes, returns to her family home in Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina. She sets out to become a vital member of her friend’s team and regain favor with her father, only to find that she is not well-prepared for working in a community rife with chauvinism, malice, duplicity, and betrayal. Her efforts are met with the benevolent amusement of the senior law partner, the resentment of the expert trial attorney, the rush to judgement by the folks of Eight Mile Junction, and the discovery of the role of several individuals in the degradation of JoBeth. The Hungry Monster Book Reviews awarded The Heart to Kill its gold award (February 2017).

“The story was influenced by Euripides’ play, Medea (a barbarian princess of Colchis), who gave up everything to help Jason, who married her, find the Golden Fleece. When they return to Greece with the prize, Jason leaves Medea for a Grecian princess. In revenge, she murders their two sons and his intended bride. That play, as well as the stories of several women who murdered their children, inspired Sarah’s journey. The book’s title comes directly from Euripides, where he has the Greek chorus ask, ‘How does she have the heart to kill her flesh and blood?’”

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:

“She looked to the sky, searching for the moon. Now a small sliver, it seemed to be hanging precariously from the branch of a nearby tree, like an ornament, belonging more to the tree than the sky. Then, after taking a few steps back, Sarah watched the moon fall off the branch and return to its proper place among the evening stars. Funny thing about perspective, how a small change in one direction can dramatically affect everything else.” – The Heart to Kill, by Dorothy M. Place.

South Dakota’s Buffalo Roundup

baby bison and mother

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

You’d think you’re in a Western movie. Cowboys and cowgirls crack whips in the air, dust swirls, horses whinny–and then you hear it: the thunder of hooves coming out of the Black Hills.

Custer State Park bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Put the annual Bison Roundup, held in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, on your bucket list. I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it while on a press tour. I rode, standing up, with other writers and photographers, in the back of a pick-up truck as we bounced across the grasslands, following the wranglers. (We held onto to safety rails as we hit stumps and prairie dog holes, or there might have been some headlines about trampled journalists.)

South Dakota Bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Riding alongside the bison–and these are American bison, although most of us call them buffalo –is a don’t-miss experience. Cowboys and cowgirls have to prove their skills to ride in this yearly event, when 1,300 of these massive animals are pushed into corrals to be counted and vaccinated. First year babies, or calves, are branded.

Bison

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Custer is a 71,000-acre park, but the land can only support a set number of bison, so some are auctioned off. The rest are set free to roam the park again.

Cowboy at bison roundup

The 2017 roundup is scheduled for Sept. 29, and it typically draws a crowd of 20,000 or more. If you go, take a chair or blanket to spread on the ground, so you can watch from the hillside. It’s free and open to the public, but you can buy a pancake breakfast while you wait for the action to start, or hang around afterwards for a bison BBQ lunch, if you’re hungry. Bring your binoculars, video recorder, and camera, because these are memories worth keeping.

bison

 

Planning Your Novel With Janice Hardy

I’m excited to share a post today from guest blogger Janice Hardy, author of the teen fantasy fiction trilogy, The Healing Wars. She’s also the founder of Fiction University, a writing instructor and a popular speaker at conferences and workshops. Janice, thanks so much for sharing this excerpt from your new book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Author Janice Hardy

Is Your Novel Character-Driven or Plot-Driven? 

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Writers (and novels) typically fall into one of two camps: character driven or plot driven, If you’re the kind of writer who comes up with characters first and figures out the plot as you write, then you might find it frustrating to try to work out a plot first. Just like a plot-driven writer might find it difficult to develop the characters first. Knowing which you are makes going forward much easier.

If your idea (or writing style) leans more toward one side than the other, don’t worry. Writing is a process, not a fill-in-the-blanks, one-size-fits-all template.

Are You Character-Driven?

Character driven means the focus is more on the character and her internal journey than the external issues of the plot. This doesn’t mean plot isn’t important, but the issues the character deals with are personal and often affect only that person or the people closest to her.

The main point of the novel is to show character growth and have the protagonist learn a valuable lesson about herself that allows her to be a better person (or points out a fatal flaw that causes her doom in a darker tale. Not every novel has to have a happy ending.)

Character-driven ideas typically manifest as a character with a problem first. This person has an issue that is central to the story and the journey to understand that issue is at the heart of the conflict. What that character is going to do isn’t always clear at first, because the journey and the emotional story arc is what matters more.

For example:

  • A woman with a fear of commitment must learn to let others in.
  • A selfish boy must learn to think about others.
  • A workaholic must learn to take time for family.

 

How this works with a plot: These problems are all internal, even though they likely have external problems due to these issues. A fear of commitment might translate to being alone and unhappy, selfishness could lead to having no friends, and working all the time often ends in divorce.

But the end goal isn’t as simple as “find someone to marry” or “make a friend” or “quit a job.” Those goals won’t solve the underlying problem until the character goes through her emotional journey. There will be goals and problems that allow the protagonist to grow and learn what she needs to learn to achieve a specific goal, and that’s where the focus lies.

 

Key Elements of a Character-Driven Novel

  • The protagonist is responsible for what happens to her and acts to make the novel happen.
  • Internal forces affect the protagonist.
  • Personal growth and emotional change of the protagonist are major parts of the resolution of the novel.

 

Are You Plot-Driven?

Plot-driven means the focus is more on the external elements forcing the characters to act than on the personal journey. The stakes are frequently higher and matter more on a larger scale. This doesn’t mean the characters are unimportant, but solving the problem is more important than character growth or lessons learned, though characters can grow and learn even in plot-driven novels.

Plot-driven ideas typically manifest as a situation or problem first. An interesting situation has occurred and someone is going to have to deal with it. Who that someone is might not matter at first, because resolving the problem is what matters more.

For example:

  • Terrorists are planning to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge
  • A plane goes down in the wilderness and a survivor has to make it to safety
  • A protest at a factory turns into a riot

 

How this works with characters: These problems are all external, even though each will focus around a character who will likely have personal issues to deal with as she resolves her problem. Stopping terrorists entails personal risk, survival in the wilderness draws on untapped strength or knowledge, dealing with a riot requires commitment and diplomacy.

But the end goal isn’t “face your fears to stop a terrorist” or “find your inner strength” or “redeem yourself for a terrible mistake.” The novel won’t be about the growth or lessons learned, even though the protagonist will likely change a little over the course of the novel as she resolves the external problem.

 

Key Elements of a Plot-Driven Novel

External forces trigger the plot and cause the protagonist to act by reacting to that event.

Resolving the external problem matters more than a personal change in the character.

 

Are You Both?

It is possible to have both—a strong protagonist with a compelling emotional journey who is put into an interesting situation that needs to be resolved. Through resolving the plot problem, the emotional journey of the protagonist is experienced and achieved.

This is a powerful combination and it’s not a bad thing to aim for with every novel. But don’t worry if your idea leans more to one side than the other at this stage. You’ll have plenty of time to develop both sides—character and plot—if you want to do both.

For example:

  • An FBI agent faces his own seditious past while trying to prevent a terrorist attack.
  • A timid girl discovers her own inner strengths when her plane crashes in the wilderness.
  • A workaholic realizes the value of family when a protest at work turns into a riot.

 

How this works with both: These all have external problems that are made more difficult by internal issues. Stopping a terrorist exposes a dark secret, survival in the wilderness triggers a realization of personal strength, a protest turns deadly and reveals what matters most. The external end goal is the catalyst that forces the protagonist to change internally. The novel is about the growth and lessons learned as the protagonist resolves the external problem. The two sides work in tandem to craft a plot arc and a character arc that depend on each other.

 

Key Elements of a Plot- and Character-Driven Novel

  • External forces trigger the plot and affect the protagonist in a personal way that forces her to act.
  • The protagonist can’t avoid the external problem because it would have serious repercussions on an internal issue.
  • Resolving the external problem is what will allow the protagonist to resolve her internal issue.

 

Books don’t have to be fully plot driven or fully character driven. These are just terms for common writing styles that can help you figure out how to approach writing a novel. Don’t feel you have to be one or the other or your novel won’t work, but if you do know you think a certain way (plots first or characters first), that can be an asset in the planning process.

*Excerpted from my book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure

Where do you fall on the character vs. plot scale?

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. One entry per blog, but you can enter on every stop on the tour. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Looking for tips on writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel, and the just-released companion guide, the Planning Your Novel Workbook.

Australia, Mate – Snapshots from Taronga Zoo

Hubs recently returned from Australia, bringing home some snapshots of the Land Down Under. Here are a few scenes from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. They’ll have to hold me until I can visit in person.

kangaroo

© William Coulter 2016

Kangaroos are the largest marsupials living on earth, and because they can only move forward, not backward, they’re Australia’s national emblem. Isn’t this one beautiful? They roam freely in the countryside.

William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

The entrance to the zoo whets your appetite for the creatures and native plants you’re going to see.

giraffes

© William Coulter 2016

It makes sense that the feeding station for the giraffes is high in the air, like the leaves they pluck from trees in the wild.

koala

© William Coulter 2016

You’ll have hard to look hard to spot this koala; he was hiding in the foliage on the left. Probably tired of having tourists make his picture. Not much to see here, so let’s move along…

AustraliaZooCritter2016

© William Coulter 2016

The Taronga Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals from 350 species; many are endangered.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

Australia is known for his deadly animals, and it has more poisonous snakes than any other country. Spiny leaf insects like this one don’t look cuddly, but they’re harmless and are kept pets in many Australian classrooms and homes.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

This is just an ordinary pup, waiting for his owner. Apparently Aussies love their dogs and take them everywhere. He’s not part of the zoo, but I’m a dog lover, so I had to include him.

Famous Writers’ Homes: The Hemingway House

Writers, maybe more than other kinds of tourists, seem to be fascinated with authors’ homes, and this one, where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West, Florida, is both famous and beautiful. I wrote about it recently for Roam, The Travel Channel Blog; you can see more here.

Hemingway, of course, was known for his economy of words, and his novels are considered American classics (although more than one high school student, forced to read The Old Man and the Sea, has disagreed).

We visited the house one summer, and I wondered how anyone could endure the tropical heat–until the guide pointed out how the windows and doors could stand open to the island breezes. When the wind blows and the palms rustle, it’s pretty magical. And of course, there are the legendary six-toed cats, like Hairy Truman, seen below.

If you visit, be sure to look for the penny embedded in the cement around Hemingway’s outdoor pool. Built in the 1930s, it was an incredible extravagance, costing over $20,000 dollars. Hemingway remarked that the penny was his last cent!

Gardening Talk at the Smyrna Library

morning glory

Morning glories

Did you know that nasturtium blossoms once sparkled with lights?

Want to grow a tomato that’s so delicious and prolific, it helped a farmer pay off his mortgage?

Join me at the Smyrna Library on Monday, April 25, and I’ll spin some stories about old-fashioned, heirloom flowers and veggies. I’ll tell you why today’s gardeners still grow these “antique” varieties, and where to find them (hint: the big garden centers don’t usually sell them).

My talk starts at 6:30 p.m., and admission is FREE. Check out this link for more info. See you there!

~Lynn

Book Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison

Mabry_FierceandSubtle_jkt_HR

What do you wish for?

In author Samantha Mabry’s debut novel, A Fierce and Subtle Poison, seventeen-year-old Lucas is drawn irresistibly to a mysterious house, said to be cursed, that sits at the end of a street in Old San Juan. Locals scribble their wishes on notes and toss them into the courtyard, which is filled with poisonous plants, and it’s rumored that a girl with green skin and hair like grass lives behind its walls.

While Lucas spends the summer with his father, a hotel developer, idling away his time and partying with friends, several girls from town go missing. One of them is pretty Marisol, whom he’s been seeing.

As Lucas starts to look for answers to the disappearances, he meets Isabel Ford, who lives in the cursed house. Isabel’s touch, he discovers, is poisonous. Worse, when Marisol’s body washes up on the shore, and her little sister also vanishes, Lucas becomes a suspect in the crimes.

Isabel’s poison affects Lucas, but it’s also slowly killing her, so the two join forces to find a way to end the curse.

Her book, Mabry says, was inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” She re-told the story, adding elements of magical realism like those used by Latino author Isabel Allende, and moved the tale to Puerto Rico. The result is a haunting novel that’s so rich with atmosphere, the reader can feel the humid, tropical air, and the cold sting of the sea that took Marisol’s life—and may have taken her sister’s.

The book is filled with romance and suspense, sacrifice and longing, and myth and mystery. Eventually, Lucas becomes the keeper of the written wishes, even as he spins a wish of his own. When the book ends, some readers will still feel a need for closure, but Mabry has crafted a haunting, exciting novel – with a stunningly beautiful cover – that will resonate with readers.

(Jacket image courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers)

“Getaway” to the Booth Western Art Museum

IMG_3334

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made plenty of getaways with stolen goods.

Why not plan your own getaway? There’s a hidden treasure waiting to be found in the little town of Cartersville, Georgia: the Booth Western Art Museum. This pueblo-styled museum, featuring Western artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, is the only one of its kind in the Southeast, and home to the largest permanent Western art exhibit in the U.S.

You don’t have to be a cowboy fan to enjoy a visit. The Booth’s galleries include “Faces of the West,” where you’ll find works portraying legends like Geronimo and Doc Holiday, as well as other Native Americans, African Americans, and Western women. Another exhibit, “Heading West,” is dedicated to the earliest settlers of the region, including fur trappers, stagecoach passengers, and mountain men.

Movie buffs can explore “The Mythic West,” with its collection of pulp magazine covers and vintage movie posters. Look for John Wayne (as if you could miss this larger-than-life star!), rodeo champion-turned-actor Hoot Gibson, and others.

An exhibit called “Ansel Adams: Before and After,” has proved so popular, it’s been extended through April 3, 2016. It’s a fascinating look at some of the photographers who influenced Adams, as well as some of the artists who learned from him.

One of my favorites is the Presidential Gallery, with its collection of signed letters from each president of the United States. Art in the Civil War Gallery traces our nation’s worst conflict; its paintings are hung in chronological order to help visitors understand the timeline of battles.

Keep your eye on the museum’s calendar, so you don’t miss any special events. There’s an annual Summer Entertainment Series, as well as a yearly Cowboy Festival and Symposium scheduled for October. Bring the kids for a reenactment of the shoot-out at the O.K. corral and demonstrations of fancy roping and Native American dance.

Book Review: In Wilderness

In Wilderness

I don’t like to post reviews for books that I’m not crazy about, especially when the book was a free copy from the publisher.

That’s the case with In Wilderness, a novel I received from a LibraryThing giveaway. While author Diane Thomas’ book is extremely well-written, suspenseful, and even lyrical, with finely-drawn, heartfelt characters–I must confess, the subject matter is just not for me.

Set in 1966, In Wilderness is the story of Katherine, a successful, 30-something businesswoman who loses both her baby and her health after she’s exposed to an environmental poison. Soon her husband abandons her, and when her doctors tell her she’ll die within months, she leaves work and home behind, and retreats to an isolated cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, where she intends to live out her remaining days alone.

But fate has a different plan. She encounters Danny, a twenty-year-old Vietnam veteran who’s living off the land and suffering from PTSD. While I don’t want to spoil the story, as it unfolds, we realize that these two terribly damaged people are helping each other while surrounded by the healing powers of nature.

But if that description makes this sound like a lighthearted read–well, it isn’t. I shouldn’t even use the word “healing,” because this is no fairy tale, dark woods notwithstanding, and neither character experiences anything like true redemption.

I found this book disturbing, primarily because Katherine takes so much abusive treatment from Danny (although he’s kind and attentive at times, he’s also violent, dangerous and unpredictable). At one point, I couldn’t understand why Katherine didn’t head back to civilization for help (by then, she has a compelling reason to get away from him).

Other critics have said this book testifies to the healing powers of nature, too. But in the end, I think “therapeutic” might be a better word to use. That’s because while the natural world comforts these characters, it doesn’t or can’t restore them, either to the people they used to be, or to society at large. While these two broken, sorrow-filled people find some balm in the wilderness, I was left feeling sad and disturbed.

This isn’t to say this isn’t a worthy book. Most critics have given it high praise, calling it “gripping,” “powerful,” “haunting” and “harsh and beautiful.” It’s just too dark for me.