Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Every Author's Dream

JANICE: Here is Hazel who is ten years old and a "great reader," according to her grandmother who keeps her supplied with books, including two of mine. She is also being a good model for her cousin, Athena (a name to live up to).
Hazel is the kind of reader every author dreams of - intent and absorbed in the story. Look closely and you can see she is reading Anna Maria's Gift, my latest chapter book. Notice how lovingly she holds it. She even looks like the girl on the cover. Hopefully as she reads, Hazel will become Anna Maria.
Behind her on the couch is another book, Sophie's War, a historical novel set in Comfort, Texas, during the Civil War.
Thank you for being a great reader, Hazel. Now I can go back to work on a first draft of I, Nefertiti with renewed vigor.
My author-reader story is quite different from an experience Sinclair Lewis had after publishing Main Street back in the 1920s. He was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth for a vacation in Europe. As he strolled the deck, Lewis spied a woman sitting in a deck chair, reading his latest book. Excitedly he hid behind a post to watch her reaction. Suddenly she slammed it shut, stepped over to the rail, and tossed it into the ocean! Every author's nightmare.
As for Hazel, not only is she a reader, she wants to be a writer. And she doesn't just want to be, she is a writer. This summer she is attending a summer writing camp and already submitting her work for publication!
Next comes acceptance or rejection. Acceptance is glorious, but rejection can be good, too. To find out how, read my blog, "Good and Bad Rejections," posted on June 27, 2010.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Cheetah Named Halima

JANICE:  Meet Halima, my new writing partner. I needed a model for a character in my historical novel-in-progress and found Halima at our Whole Foods store. She was sitting on a top shelf, watching everyone that passed by. I stopped. "It's Halima!" I said to Tom.  "And it's your birthday," he said. She leaped down, with the help of an employee, and into our grocery cart. As we wheeled her across the parking lot, Halima attracted a lot of attention and photos.  Now she sits beside me at my desk.

She may not be alive but she is a real presence, with her keen golden eyes. Bringing her alive is my job. Her ears perk when I talk to her, and I can hear her loud purr as I stroke her soft furry head and neck. Sometimes she chirps to call me to my desk. If I don't come she growls. Look at the black "tear marks" that run from the corners of her eyes down the sides of her nose to her mouth. These marks keep sunlight out of her eyes so she can see long distances when she hunts. Halima can run up to 75 miles an hour for a short time to catch her prey. Otherwise, she is content to sit by my side and watch.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Esprit d'Escalier

JANICE:  French for Wit from the Staircase: Meaning, as you leave the party in a friend's apartment and start downstairs, you think of the perfect answer to someone's remark, too late to say it. Which is one reason I write books. It gives me time to think of what my characters need to say.

I remember working on A MARE FOR YOUNG WOLF at our dining room table (before I had a real studio). Young Wolf has just been thrown off his horse in front of two other boys. What does he say or do? He's angry and humiliated. Maybe he curses, I thought. But what words? Suddenly they came. "Oh, buffalo chips!" I had a good laugh. As did my editor at Random House, Mallory Loehr, and her colleagues.

At the end of A PEDDLER'S DREAM when Solomon, a peddler, finally realizes his dream of having an elegant store of his own, he and his beloved Marie host an opening party. When the musicians begin to play, Solomon takes Marie's hand and asks if she will dance with an old peddler whose dream has come true.

What meaningful words could she say? What was this story about? I asked myself. It's about a dream, making a dream come true. I put myself in her place, looked up at Solomon's expectant face, and my answer came. "A peddler with a dream is more than a peddler."

They danced and so did we.

Solomon and Marie
Janice and Tom

Now for COMANCHE SONG, my historical novel set in the Hill Country of Texas in 1840. This is the story of  a Comanche boy, son and grandson of peace chiefs. 

We are in a council meeting where the tribal leaders are discussing how to deal with white man's invasion. After the peace chief has proposed establishing a line between them and making peace, the war chief says, "The tejanos will stop at no such line. The only way to show them the land is ours is to kill any man who steps upon it!"

It is Grandfather who replies: "We have a saying among our people that the brave die young. But I say, the wise grow old." The corner of his mouth twitched, and he paused. "When the young stop listening to the elders, they run blindly like buffalo and follow one another over the cliff to die."

I love it.

And finally some words from SOPHIE'S WAR, another historical novel set in the Hill Country, this one during the Civil War.  Sophie is the daughter of German immigrants, many of whom were Unionists in a state that had seceded from the Union. They were called traitors and persecuted by Confederate ruffians who burned their cabins and hanged their men. Sophie's father is an editorial cartoonist who expresses his Unionist views and thus is in danger. Sophie must find a way to save her family.

She comes home from school one day and finds Papa at work on a cartoon about the death of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston in a battle with Unionists. Boldly she grabs the cartoon from his drawing board and tears it in two, saying he can't send it to the newspaper. 

"I'm afraid the Vigilance Committee will come after you."
Papa laid down his pen and stood. "I have been patient with your fears, Sophie, but this is going too far." He reached out his hand. "Now, give it back"
I shook my head.

What can Papa say? He brought his family to Texas so they would be free to speak their minds. After pondering, I thought of his reply. And it involved William Tell.

"Sophie, do you want to let the Vigilance Committee rule the world? If so, go ahead, tear the cartoon into a thousand little pieces, and I'll cower at their feet. Is that what you want - a coward for a father?"
I shook my head. Oh, what did I want?
"Do you think I'm not afraid too?" Papa asked.
"I don't know, Papa. Aren't you like William Tell?"
"I try to be, but he was afraid when he was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head. Remember how his arm trembled?"
"I remember."
"But he did what he had to do. And I will do no less, even if I have to draw the cartoon again. In times like these we all have to do what we are afraid to do."

He did and so did Sophie.