I am currently working on edits for Echo of the Cliffs, the third and final Juniper Sawfeather novel, due out in May. This new book will be the most exciting of them all, featuring mysterious killer whales, vengeful mermaids, and a new monster living deep inside an ocean cave.
In chapter two, Carter and Juniper are celebrating Valentine's Day. They didn't have a lot of luck with Christmas or New Year's, so here's hoping this holiday goes a little better for them. This is a freshly edited sneak peek at my new book. I hope you enjoy it.
Oh, and if you haven't started this series yet, now is the perfect time to download Cry of the Sea (book 1) and Whisper of the Woods (book 2). Learn how Carter and Juniper meet and watch them try to rescue mermaids from an oil spill and save an ancient enchanted tree from being chopped down.
I got myself a sketchbook and some drawing pencils. I’d never been good at art, but I decided to see if practice could improve my skills a bit. I’d seen a lot of interesting things this past half year, and I wanted to remember them somehow. It took me many tries to get my mermaid’s eyes just right, and then it there was a lot of crumpled up paper again until I could get her whole face. Clearly, drawing the whole mermaid was outside my abilities. I decided instead to try to draw the landscape from the mermaid’s vision. Nature came a lot easier to me, and my drawings of cliffs and caves weren’t that bad. After a couple weeks I actually got brave enough to show them to Carter.
It was on Valentine’s Day. Carter promised me a great, romantic date to make up for all that went wrong on New Year’s Eve. I was to meet him at his parents’ house, and he was going to take me out for a nice dinner and maybe a walk on the beach afterward. I’d gone to the forest earlier in the week to gather up some twigs fallen from my Red Cedar tree. I was hopeful that if I tossed them into the ocean it would somehow beckon another mermaid to us.
Only, surprise! It was raining. Storming, in fact. Just driving to his parents’ house, an hour away from mine put my life in jeopardy. My car needed new tires and wipers I learned in a super scary way. By the time I got to his house, I was a wreck. His mom and dad welcomed me in and set me down in their all white living room in front of a fire, and I soon had a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. Mr. and Mrs. Crowe were pretty upset about the weather, too. Their evening plans had to be canceled as well. Mrs. Crowe was dressed in a beautiful white suit with a pink blouse and matching pink high heeled shoes. That was definitely not a going out in the rain kind of outfit.
Ultimately we all decided to stay in and wait it out. She heated some frozen spinach and cheese quiches and made a big salad for all of us to have for dinner. After we ate, they made their way upstairs and left us alone. Carter was devastated.
“I’m so sorry, June,” he said for the tenth time. “I can’t get a break with these holidays.”
“It’s okay,” I responded for the tenth time. “I’m just happy to be with you.”
He put his arm around my shoulders, and we stared at the fire as it crackled. “I am enjoying this, though,” he told me. He nuzzled against my ear and kissed it gently. Whispering, he said, “It’s a little romantic, isn’t it?”
I giggled, a sound that rarely came out of my body. “Yes, I guess it kind of is.”
“I’ve got something for you.”
He walked over to the cabinet under the counter where their landline phone existed along with a very orderly collection of magazines and mail. While he leaned over to pull out what I assumed was a Valentine’s present for me, I hurriedly grabbed at my message bag. I didn’t own a big purse, so this was all I could find to hide the box of chocolate and corny card I bought for him. I got it out and put it on the coffee table in front of me before he came back. I looked up to find him holding a very large package wrapped in red heart paper with a big bow.
“Wait!” I said. “What’s that? I didn’t get you anything big.”
“You didn’t have to,” he said, placing the box in my lap. It was heavy. He picked up the candy and card from the table and waved it at me. “This is exactly what I wanted. And a kiss.”
I kissed him. Just a quick one.
“I feel guilty.”
“Don’t. It’s mostly from my mom anyway. She helped pick it out, and paid for it.”
“I am nothing but.”
I untied the ribbon and tore off the paper. The box was from a department store I’d never been brave enough to enter because I knew the smallest thing in the store probably cost more than I could ever think to afford. I glanced at him, unsure. “Um, is this really okay?”
I opened the box, not sure what to expect. A beautiful black wool pea coat was folded up inside. I pulled it out and marveled at it. “It’s gorgeous.”
“You needed a new coat. A good one,” he said. “You can’t keep borrowing your mom’s. Put it on.”
I stood up and slipped my arms into it, enjoying the smooth satin lining. They got the size right. The sleeves went down to my hands. The length of the coat reached my hips. It had a wide collar I could flip up. I buttoned it. It was so warm and cozy. With my hands in the deep pockets, I twisted my shoulders back and forth as I modeled it for him.
“I love it. I don’t want to take it off.”
Carter laughed. “Well, I do! I thought we’d be outside tonight, and you’d get to wear it, but instead we’ve got this nice fire and a cozy couch. I’m kind of hoping some layers will come off.” I flicked my eyes to the staircase, and he waved my concerns away. “They’re up in their room and won’t come out. I promise.”
My own smile was so big it hurt. I took off the coat and folded it back into the box. In addition, I took off my cardigan sweater, eliciting an approving wink from him. I tossed it in the box. Then I slid it under the table with my feet as I sat back down, acutely aware of my bare arms and the thin material of my blouse.
Carter ran his fingers down one of my arms. I thought he was about to take my hand, but he reached for a piece of candy from his box instead, teasing me. “Delicious,” he said with a mouth full of candy. After he swallowed, he ran his fingers through my hair, spreading it out around my shoulders, exactly the opposite way my mom always did. I wondered if he knew he was doing that. My cheeks were warm. I blamed it on the fire.
“So, what did you want to show me?” he asked.
I reached for my bag on the floor and pulled out my sketchbook. “Don’t laugh, okay. I’m really more of a photographer than an artist.”
“No laughing, I promise.”
I wasn’t sure if I totally trusted him on that, but I opened up the book anyway. I flipped the pages to show him the different drawings I’d done of beaches, cliffs, forests, and caves. After I was done, he took it from me and went back to the first page. He looked at each picture much slower, taking his time to really inspect them.
“These are good, June,” he said as he came to the last one. “I mean, they are much better than I expected.”
I smacked his shoulder. “Nice.”
“No, I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re really good.” He turned to the picture that was most panoramic of the cliffs dropping off into the ocean, the one I tried my hardest to match the image that mermaid had put into my mind. He tapped it with his finger. “Have you tried looking on the internet for any place that looks like this?”
“How would I even do that?”
“What if we reverse-image search?”
“You sound like Haley with your technological fancy-talk,” I told him. Instead of responding to me, he pulled out his phone and took a photo of my drawing. He went on the internet to a site I wasn’t familiar with and uploaded the picture. In seconds he got a screen full of photos and paintings similar to my sketch. I was completely floored. “My world has just expanded.”
“That’s my goal,” he told me with that gorgeous grin spreading across his face, “to expand your world on a daily basis.”
We started thumbing our way through the images until I saw a photo fairly similar to my drawing. Not an exact match, of course, but definitely the same kind of landscape of steep cliffs falling into the sea, caves almost hidden at the bottom, and trees sprouting from the tops. “Click on that one,” I said.
It took us to a website about Olympic National Park. This stretch of shoreline was captured by a kayaker on vacation. Carter began reading the article when my own phone rang. It was my mom. I didn’t want to answer, but I knew she’d keep calling if I didn’t.
She got right down to business. “The rain is supposed to head out of here around midnight or so,” she told me. “This big of a storm is going to cause a huge run-off. Your dad, Randy and I are all headed up to the San Juan Strait in the morning to get some fresh samples. Would you like to be part of this? We’re going to need to leave about four.”
“That’s early,” I said.
“Yes, so you’ll need to come home now if you’re going to get any rest.”
I looked at the clock over the fireplace mantel. It was only nine-thirty. I glanced at Carter who was still reading the article on his phone.
Mom was still talking, I realized. “…work tomorrow?”
“Do I work tomorrow?” I repeated, assuming that was what she was asking. “No. It’s a day off for me.”
“This will be important data,” she reminded me. “Pollution from that construction run-off is causing the extinction of many sea creatures, including the orcas.”
I knew this. Mom and Dad had been discussing this issue a lot over the past several weeks. Apparently a Killer Whale body had washed up on San Juan Island a couple weeks ago. Testing had been done on its blubber to find that it had toxic levels of poison so bad that they had to bury it in a nuclear waste depository. Dad had learned from his contacts in Canada that the number of orcas in the area was down to only eighty. It was a bad situation, worsening every day.
I wanted to help. Marine Biology was still my favorite subject, and whenever their causes aligned with my love of sea life, I always wanted to participate. I just didn’t want to give up my nice evening with Carter. Even though it hadn’t turned out the way we’d expected, it was still cozy and kind of romantic. The lights were low and the fire warm. I fully anticipated some great kisses and caresses coming a little later on.
“Are you coming or not?” she asked.
Clearly, I was taking too long to answer.
“Hang on, Mom,” I responded, equally impatient. I put my hand over the phone and tapped Carter on the knee. He looked up from his phone. I liked how he immediately turned it over, showing me I had his whole attention. “Mom needs my help on a project tomorrow morning. They’ve got to head out very early, so that means I’d need to leave now.”
His face darkened, his blue eyes flicking over to the fire, and then settling on the back of his phone. Just guessing, but I think he was looking forward to what was going to happen on this couch in front of that fire later on, too. He jutted his chin out like he was about to say something, but then he let it relax and simply nodded. “Sure. Fine. I mean, if you need to.”
I hated this. I didn’t want to ruin our Valentine’s evening. Evenings like this were so rare for us. “Hey,” I said, leaning into him so that my long black hair fell over his hands and forced him to look back up at me. “What if you come too? I mean, we’re studying ocean pollution to help save killer whales. Maybe that might be interesting to you.”
The darkness fled almost as if someone shot a spotlight on him. He grinned. “No trees this time?”
“Ocean, baby,” I said with a shimmy. “You love?”
“I love.” He said that while looking right into my eyes.
Like I said above, this is a great time to get the two previous books. Cry of the Sea is discounted to only 99 cents at Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes until the end of the month. Whisper of the Woods is only $2.99. Book three continues the story from the moment where book two leaves off, so get caught up now.
Have you already read them and are looking for some more fantasy to pass the time until Echo of the Cliffs comes out? check out this sweet Valentine's Sale listing from my Fellowship of Fantasy author group, where you can be sure to find a great book free of explicit language or graphic sex. I know I'll be filling up my Kindle with some of these this week.
In my newest book No One Needed to Know, my main character, Heidi, is 11-years-old and in 6th grade. The premise of this book – an adolescent girl becomes aware that her older brother is Autistic, what that means and how that affects her, is based loosely on my personal experience. I do have an older brother with developmental challenges, and I wasn’t fully aware of his differences until I hit 11 or 12 years old.
While this book touches on some real life feelings and moments of my life, it is a work of fiction. One of the challenges I faced when writing the novel was that some of the memories I have with my brother are in situations that might not necessarily exist today. I was in 6th grade in 1981. The editing and revisions of this novel were done in 2014 when my daughter had just finished 6th grade. Also, I grew up in the perfect planned community of Irvine, in southern California. My daughter is growing up in a suburban sprawl in the country outside Nashville, Tennessee. These make for some pretty big differences.
My mother suggested I should just set the story in the early 80s, but I felt there were enough issues going on in the book to not also make it a historical novel. I felt it needed to be current and relevant to kids today. The solution was to blend my past with my daughter’s present. In some cases this was tricky.
Here are a few examples of how the world has changed.
My brothers (I have two actually) and I grew up when playgrounds were terrifyingly fun. I mean, I grew up in the age of spinning merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters that went fifteen feet in the air. There was a two-seat swing in the Kindergarten playground at my school with no straps that easily could swing six feet high or more and was made of aluminum.
The park nearest my house was almost entirely cement, sculpted to look like giant sea creatures surrounding a sunken ship. My oldest brother had to get stitches one time after banging his chin hard on a squid’s tentacle. I know there were dozens of broken bones from neighborhood children over the years, thus explaining why the playground no longer exists. In No One Needed to Know, Donald and Heidi frequent a park that has a giant ship in a sandbox next to an alien-ship-looking-structure full of tunnels. This was a real place too. I went on Facebook to discuss it, and my old friends have very foggy memories of it (one friend who lived near the park informed me that what I thought was a spaceship was supposed to have been a volcano).
Most of these parks are gone. My daughter grew up going to bright playgrounds with plastic slides and soft groundcover or mulch underneath. To me, they are fun for climbing and sliding, but not great for imagination. To rectify that a park like the one Heidi loves exists but is unusual, I had her lament the loss of the good playgrounds:
This park, the only one of its kind left, had a life-sized boat stuck in a sandbox to look like a shipwreck. It was full of places to hide and climb—and probably spiders. I tried not to think about that too much when I played on it. Right next to it was this bizarre cement structure with tunnels to creep through. It looked like a flying saucer. Both were great for playing make-believe. The orange and blue “big toys” were not good at all for that kind of playing. Occasionally they might have a steering wheel randomly hitched to a protective railing, but what fun was that? Were we kids supposed to think we were driving a funky jungle gym through space? Driving it through the ocean?
Because this was the only park worth my time, I planned my weekends around playing there. It was a long bike ride from home. We had to take this bike path that connected three different subdivisions, pass by two different elementary schools, and cross a bridge that went over the train tracks to get there. So a considerable chunk of a Saturday afternoon had to be spent just getting there and back again.
And how did we get to the crazy, dangerous playgrounds? We rode our bikes. We stayed out all day and we went far from home. Irvine was full of bike paths and bike lanes. This crazy park was out behind my middle school, where I rode my bike to and from most school days. It was (and still is) a very bike-friendly place. I don’t know if kids still ride their bikes much. Even if they do, I sincerely doubt mothers are allowing their 11-year-old daughters and special needs children to ride their bikes 5 to 10 miles (or more) from home, unchaperoned, like we did.
There are no bike lanes or paths anywhere near where I live now, and the traffic is too congested to brave riding without them. To take a good bike ride, you have pack your bikes in your car and take them to designated trails. Yeah. So, my daughter hasn’t actually learned how to ride a bike (she’ll hate me for writing that). Walking or riding to any of her schools would be flat-out dangerous. Kids today get picked up from school by their parents or take the bus. Few walk or ride home on their own anymore. Parents stick close by on outings. I didn’t even let my daughter walk unaccompanied at the mall with her friends until she was in 7th grade. I still stayed at the mall to be available, just not with her the whole time.
And speaking of the mall. Heidi and Donald have a few scenes where they are at the shopping center, without parents. One of the biggest scenes in the book is Heidi being followed and taunted by bullies while alone in the shopping center.
Well, as in most children’s books, I couldn’t have the action taking place if Mom was nearby. Bullies would not bully in the presence of a parent. Donald is 16, but he’s much younger developmentally. I had to explain their bike and shopping center freedom by describing the layout of their neighborhood:
When the park got too crowded, the two of us would head to the shopping center to get hamburgers before going home. Our house was in a subdivision set off the main road in town. Basically, it was a few blocks from our house to get to that street. We only had to cross through one light to get to the shopping center, so all the kids in my neighborhood biked or walked there. My mom was always telling me how our town kept growing bigger and bigger on the outside, but this little part in the middle stayed the same. That’s why my parents bought a house there, not far from the house where my mom grew up. She liked the safety and convenience of it all.
I always liked having everything so close, too, because we had a lot more freedom in our neighborhood than kids in other areas. My mom felt pretty secure about letting us wander around without her, as long as we checked in regularly by phone.
Oh, did you catch that part about the phone? That’s an obvious change from then and now. Cell phones. We didn’t have them. So, we’d ride our bikes far from home and play at life-threatening playgrounds. What happened if we got hurt? We’d ride home bloody. That’s how it went.
Now kids can call for help. And the mom that’s sitting on a bench in the park or at the food court in the mall can come running. Kids have their own phones. Some even as young as nine or ten. I gave my daughter her first cell phone when she turned 11, right before 6th grade, because she’d be riding the bus home instead of staying at after school care. I was behind the curve, for most of her friends had them already. I gave her a smart phone in 8th grade when the peer pressure was wearing me down too.
Kids now have computers, internet, infinite television/movie choices, and amazing video games. There is no reason to go outside. Ever. But I wanted Heidi to be an outdoorsy girl. I made her athletic, good at soccer, and just the kind of kid who’d rather be on the move than sitting still.
When I was in 6th grade we didn’t have a lot of choices in video games. Just Atari or going to the arcade. I wasn’t into it at all. My oldest brother struggled with video games. In a scene where Heidi is trying to make her brother act his age, she encourages him to do more things 16-year-old boys do:
“Right now your room looks like it belongs to someone my age or younger. Since you’re sixteen and not ten, it’s time to get your room updated.” I reached up and took down several posters and pennants. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the store and buy you some rock music posters. Got any favorite bands?”
“Then we’ll listen to a bunch of music on the Internet until you find one or two. Would you like a poster of a supermodel in a bathing suit or a calendar of them? It’s kind of a gross thing that most teenage boys have.”
“I guess that’s okay.”
I went to the shelves and pulled off several of the most poorly made airplanes and put them on Donald’s lap. “Next we’ll get you some new hobbies. Hmmm. Maybe a book or two would be nice. We could get you some games like chess or checkers. Let’s think about some video games too.”
“Too fast for me,” Donald said.
I wasn’t sure whether he meant the video games or my whirlwind approach to changing his lifestyle. “You’ll learn,” I replied.
My editor questioned me about the ‘date’ that happens in this book. He wasn’t sure kids Heidi’s age would be on a date. Fact is, that part hasn’t changed as much as you’d think.
In the summer between 5th and 6th grade, I dated a boy named Kirk. Unlike the jerky Kirk in my book, this Kirk was sweet and gentle. We spent a lot of time at the park near his house. (Another horrifying place we all loved with a metal slide coming out of a tall wooden tower four stories high.) One time we rode our bikes unaccompanied to the movies to see The Muppet Movie. Yep. The first one.
I broke up with him to date Greg, a popular boy at school who was into me. So cliché. And dumb. Thankfully, Kirk and I eventually became friends again. In fact, he was one of my best friends in high school, sang at my wedding, and is still a good friend to this day. I remember an afternoon with Greg, a friend of his and that guy’s girlfriend having kissing contests to see who could hold a kiss longest. I’m not talking anything sexy. These were literally pressing lips together and counting. So lame, right?
My daughter had a boyfriend briefly in 5th grade. I let her go to the movies with him once, but I sat in the back of the theater. She didn’t have another relationship until 8th grade and that didn’t go anywhere. Her friends, though. Goodness. This is an area where, strangely, parents haven’t decided to be overprotective. A lot of kids she knew in 6th grade were dating frequently, unchaperoned, and several claimed to have performed some kind of sexual act before graduating junior high.
For the sake of No One Needed to Know, I kept dating in the story old-fashioned and clean.
Kirk and I decided to ride our bikes and meet at the movie theater in the shopping center so that we wouldn’t have to get our parents involved. This way neither of our parents knew it was a “date,” and no one would be given a hard time about it. My parents were used to me going out to play with boys, and Kirk’s parents thought he was out with Tom.
We met half an hour before the movie, giving us plenty of time to buy popcorn and change our minds about which movie we wanted to see. We each planned to buy our own boxes so we wouldn’t have to touch buttery fingers. It would just be too distracting. It was only a first date, after all.
IS 6TH GRADE ELEMENTARY OR MIDDLE SCHOOL?
For me, 6th grade was the top class of elementary school. Junior high or middle school was 7-8th. Here in Tennessee most 6th grades are in middle school. The school district around Nashville has middle school starting in 5th grade. Too young, I say!
It was important to me that the kids in No One Needed to Know were at the top of the hierarchy and not at the bottom. I needed them to feel like they were in control of everything happening. They had to be cocky. When 6th graders are at the bottom of the heap, they aren’t as free with their opinions and behaviors. They don’t want to get picked on. I also didn’t want Heidi to have older friends in school available to help her out.
I did consider making Heidi a 5th grader, but that was pushing it for the freedom and dating situations I needed her to be in. I didn’t think anyone would buy a modern day 10-year-old gallivanting around town on her bicycle or going on an unchaperoned date. Or dating at all, for that matter. One year does make a difference.
I did some research and discovered there are still some schools in the U. S. that have 6th grade in elementary school. Due to school overcrowding, it is rare, but it does happen.
Cathy and I could finally start our visit with each other. We talked about which teachers we hated the most and what it was going to be like when we finally got to start junior high.
“My cousin is in sixth grade and is already in middle school,” Cathy told me. “I’m so jealous.”
“I don’t know,” I commented. “I kind of like being in elementary school one extra year. Junior high seems scary. Everyone’s so tall.”
Speaking of school… My oldest brother graduated from high school in 1984. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) didn’t give a definition for Autism until 1987. It wasn’t included as a Special Education category until 1991. That was the year I graduated from college – 10 years after the life moment in which my story takes place. My mom had been a teaching assistant in a Special Education preschool, and after I graduated college I began working with her and then eventually moved to a private school for Special Ed up in Los Angeles. Over time, my mother and I learned about what Autism was, and we unofficially concluded that my brother was on the Spectrum. He is not “slow” or “brain damaged” like the teachers had proclaimed when he was in school. Nor is he “retarded” like all the kids taunted back in the day.
Nowadays, we have better Special Education. We have better Early Intervention. We have more knowledge. In 6th grade my daughter volunteered to work in the SEEK program at her school where kids assist special needs students. I think kids today are more familiar with the terms Autism, Down Syndrome, and Developmentally Disabled. They are more tolerant than they used to be, although it can still be better. There is an active effort in schools to stop using the “r-word” as an insult. It still happens, and it will always give me the shivers. It is my hope that my novel No One Needed to Know will be part of improving sensitivity toward kids who have learning challenges and are differently abled.
“Ms. Anderson?” I bit my lip and then blurted it out. “I know you can’t talk about the other kids in your program, but can you tell me about Donald? He’s my brother and all, and I would love to know more about why he’s, you know, the way he is.”
Ms. Anderson sat down with me by the concession stand and took the time to explain to me how Donald had a combination of disabilities. She said he was on the higher end of the Autism Spectrum. Along with that he had poor eyesight and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. That made him, in simple terms, slow to understand things and mature.
“Do my parents know all this about him?”
“Yes. We have meetings a couple times a year to discuss how he’s doing and make goals for him.”
I focused on the group around my brother’s bowling match. My mom and dad sat at a table behind them, cheering for him like he was a five-year-old in a T-ball game. “Why have my parents never told me about his condition?”
Ms. Anderson gave a tiny shrug and offered, “I couldn’t say. Perhaps they didn’t think you were ready to hear it?”
All those times I got in trouble for yelling or making fun of Donald, doing mean things like locking him out of the house or just being impatient with him—I hadn’t exactly been proving myself to be very mature. No wonder my parents thought I wasn’t old enough to handle this kind of information. I was grateful that Ms. Anderson was giving me this chance to understand.
If you’re interested in learning more about No One Needed to Know, visit my page about it. You can order a print copy from Amazon for the purposely low price of $6.99 today.
I hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane with me. I’d love to know some things that existed in your childhood that are different now. Feel free to comment below.
This is my 3rd year as an author sponsor for Multicultural Children's Book Day. I'm always happy and proud to be part of this wonderful, informative event. This year, I signed up to be a reviewer as well. Author Francesca Forrest supplied a copy of her YA novel Pen Pal for me to read in exchange for an honest review
Pen Pal is a story about a 12-year-old girl named Em who lives in an unusual place, a village of floating homes just off-shore in Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico. She puts a message in a bottle, introducing herself, and sets it afloat. With a little intervention from nature, a friendly postmaster, and fate, the bottle winds up half-way around the world in the hands of an imprisoned activist named Kaya in an island country in the Pacific Ocean. The two write letters back and forth over the course of a year.
The novel is told primarily in letters, journal or diary entries, and some extra material like newspaper articles or emails. There isn't any outright narration. The chapters alternate POV from Em to Kaya. The majority of the plot is revealed in their journal entries.
I enjoyed this book. It is a very interesting and compelling read. Both Em and Kaya have intriguing stories, and I liked learning about both of their extremely different lifestyles and how they wind up helping each other when their situations become dire.
Em is impoverished, has a brother in jail, and lives in a makeshift home that floats on rubber tires. Her way of life is threatened by public opinion, local politics and hurricanes. People look down on the people from Mermaid's Hands (the name of her village) because of their chosen way of life and that her family and friends have a strong belief in the "seafather" who provides them with what they need from the ocean.
Kaya, on the other hand, is in her twenties. She is from an unnamed island (called W----- in the novel) where the classes of people are divided by lowlanders (wealthier and educated) verses the mountain people (poor and uneducated). The mountain people have a strong belief in their mythology and legends. Kaya is especially intelligent for a mountain girl and wins a scholarship to a lowlander school and then goes to college in America. But she is back home because she had a dream that the Lady of Ruby Lake (goddess of the island's volcano) wants her to organize a celebration for her. She comes home and does this, but the government sees the celebration as an act of insurgency and arrests her. She is imprisoned in an isolated temple protruding over the volcano.
It took me a bit to get into this novel. The reason being, I didn't know that Mermaid's Hands and the island Kaya was from were fictional at first. I thought, being a multicultural book, it was based on real places. It isn't clear for a long time in the book where these places are. It is well into the book before you learn Mermaid's Hands is near Mobile, Alabama. I thought it was off Louisiana up until that point. Also, it isn't until the final third of the book that we learn the island "W-----" is near Indonesia. Being that the characters are writing letters and journal entries, they don't actually describe themselves very much. I guessed, but wasn't sure, that Em was African American until it was made clear quite a bit into the story. Also, I didn't picture Kaya as Pacific Asian at first. I was imagining her as from somewhere like India or even Morocco.
There is no front or back matter in this book from the author discussing where her inspiration and research came from, and I wish there had been. A few chapters into the book, I went searching for "Mermaid's Hands" and came up empty. There is no such place. The closest thing to it is a place in Cambodia that I've seen on a CBS Sunday Morning special. I did wind up going to the author's website to learn more about why she wrote this novel. She has some good information there and artist renderings of Em and Kaya. I recommend visiting the site if you read this book.
Once I realized these places were from Forrest's imagination, I enjoyed the story as pure fiction and stopped trying to read more into it. The ending of the novel is tense and exciting and totally worth the wait. It is awesome to see female characters so courageous and forthright.
I will admit to getting frustrated with the occasional grammar hang-up. It only happened during Em's diary entries. I didn't mind the aints and double negatives, because she was from the South. It's just that her poor grammar and spelling weren't consistent. 90% of the time her grammar was spot on, making the times when she writes things like "could of" instead of "could have" look more like author error instead of a character thing. I feel like it either needed to be clear that Em had trouble with spelling and grammar by doing it all the time, every time, or it needed to be removed completely.
I know Pen Pal is targeted for Young Adult readers. It is fairly unusual to have a YA novel without any teenagers in it. While a teen reader could enjoy the book, especially if they are an avid reader, I feel like it is actually more of an adult novel like the way Secret Life of Bees, The Book Thief, or Kite Runner feature children but are actually not children's books. The story is pretty complex and requires the reader to apply their own knowledge to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Want to have a pen pal of your own?
As an environmentalist, I'm not a big fan of dropping bottles in the ocean. However, I am a big fan of letters in the mail. If you (or your students) would be interested in trying to get a pen pal, especially one from another country or culture, go to International Pen Friends. They have sign-up forms for individuals and full classes. They will match you with a recipient, and you can make a new friend.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books
Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i
According to Goodreads, I read 36 books this year (not including the picture books I read to my babies at work). That's more than usual, and I'm kind of surprised. I've become a pretty slow reader. I tend to only read for a few minutes at lunchbreak and at bedtime, or when I'm stuck in the car waiting for my daughter to come out of rehearsals. The second half of this year, a lot of my bedtime reading has gone away in favor of watching The Daily Show or election news coverage. Also, I read a couple of my own unpublished projects this year to decide what to work on next. That took some time.
My new addiction to audiobooks has definitely made a difference in my reading output. It has also helped my sanity during my long commute to and from work. I don't love every audiobook I get, but most of them are fantastic. Listening to audiobooks is also a way for me to get through more bestsellers, because I don't tend to purchase those as often as indie books or books I can get autographed.
So here we go: My favorite book of the year. This was a hard choice to make because I read a lot of great books this year. Still, I have to go with Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. It's an historical fiction told from four different points of view. Even though you know from the beginning of the book that it will end tragically, you still grow to love, laugh with, and sometimes despise these characters. They are very real, and Ruta has done another amazing job. She's sooooooooo talented. And look! I got a signed copy!
Okay, so that means Salt to the Sea can't be my answer for any other categories, even if it fits.
My favorite big publisher book I read this year: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. This story swaps the pov between two twin siblings, a boy and girl. What's tricky is that the boy's story is from when they were 11, and the girl's story is from when they were 16. It's a complicated puzzle that had me riveted and emotionally wrecked. Such brilliant writing. I feel that English/Writing teachers need to use this book in their classrooms to study how it all comes together in such a genius way. Incredible.
My favorite indie pubbed book of the year. (In my opinion indie pubbed means self-published or published with a small press). The winner here is Trail of Secrets by Laura Wolfe. Yes, this book is with my publisher Fire and Ice YA Books, but that isn't what makes me partial to it. Although, I will confess that I wouldn't have probably discovered this book if it wasn't with my publisher. I haven't read a horse book since Black Beauty in elementary school. This is a great YA mystery that is more about competitive teen girls than horses, though. I thought it was fun and kept me guessing like a good mystery should. I look forward to more books by this author.
Favorite book series I read this year. This is a toughie. I read three series this year. Libba Bray's Diviners Novels, Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking. I also read the final book of the Raven Boys series by Maggie Steifvader. All of these books were AMAZING!!!!!! I listened to all of them on audiobook too. This is an incredibly difficult decision to make, so I'm going to judge on the quality of the writing as well as the acting of the narrators. To that end, I'm choosing the Patrick Ness books. You must read these (or better yet, listen to them).
Favorite book by a local (Nashville or SCBWI Midsouth) author (besides Ruta Sepetys). This was tough too because Sharon Cameron had a new book out (The Forgetting), and I love everything she writes. Helene Dunbar's book What Remains and Jeff Zentner's book Serpent King both broke my heart. Still, I have to give this one to Brooks Benjamin for his fun middle grade novel My Seventh Grade Life in Tights. I just adored this story about a middle school boy who wants to be a dancer instead of a football player.
The book that surprised me the most this year. It might sound self-serving, but I swear it's not. The book that I expected not to like at all and wound up enjoying immensely was Tomato Slices. Yes, this is the anthology of tomato themed stories, poems, and recipes which features my fairy tale "The Tomato Quest". It was a couple years between submitting and the book coming out, and I didn't know what to expect from it. The book's release was nearly silent, and nobody knows the book exists. I was paid in advance for my work in Tomato Slices, so it doesn't affect anything but my pride if people pick it up. That said, the stories are sweet, sentimental, fun, and in some cases adorable. The recipes look delicious, although I haven't tried any yet. If you know anyone into gardening, cooking, charming stories, or tomatoes, this would make a great gift.
What's next up for me? I'm currently reading Girl on the Brink by Christina Hoag, Fire and Ice YA Books. It's great so far. Chilling. I still need to read the other stories in Fantastic Creatures, the brand new anthology featuring my horror story "Mother's Night Out". It's FREE on Kindle, BTW. Then I need to read a book to review for Multicultural Children's Book Day. I'm leaning toward a book called Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest for that.
What books have you enjoyed this year? What books are on your to-read list? Feel free to comment below. Also, scroll through to read some other blog posts or visit the rest of my site to see if anything I've written might be a good fit for you.
My birthday is this week. I’ll be thirty years removed from the day I turned 18. It seems so long ago, and yet I still have some vivid memories of that time. My book Whisper of the Woods is also having a birthday – its first. Within its pages, my heroine Juniper Sawfeather turns 18. I can say that her birthday was extremely different than mine, but they were both a little, let’s say, challenging.
I turned 18 while living in Irvine, California.
I was a senior in high school. We’d just finished a run of the fall play called Dark of the Moon, which was about witches and curses and a lot of fun to do. I decided to host a birthday party at my house with all my drama and show choir friends. (If you want to imagine that, watch the Lin-Manuel Miranda SNL sketch “Crucible Cast Party”)
Well, a couple of my best friends thought it was hilarious that I was now about to be “legal” to have sex, and they went in together to buy me a red, lacy piece of lingerie called a ‘teddy’. They announced to everyone that my birthday was a “Teddy Party”, and other people came with innocent teddy bears as gifts. The whole thing was truly mortifying on several levels.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of my birthday party sulking. I was criticized (rightfully so) for being a spoil-sport and a party pooper. There was another great half of a senior year left for me, but if I have to pinpoint a moment when those friendships started to deteriorate, it was that night. The night I turned eighteen.
In Whisper of the Woods Juniper Sawfeather turns 18 after being 170 feet up in the branches of a tree for four days and nights in the freezing January weather of Washington State. She is being held captive by an ancient tree spirit who is causing harm to anyone trying to come up and help her down. She has survived the worst storm of the season so far, and a few other terrifying magical things I can’t mention because it will spoil the book.
Here’s a little excerpt from her birthday “party” when her family and friends are gathered to try to figure out how to get her down from the tree:
“What are you doing here?” Carter asked.
Nick raised a white paper bag. “I happened to be poking through the school records and saw that today was June’s eighteenth birthday. I brought her a cupcake to celebrate.”
“You brought her a cupcake,” Carter said. He voice was too even. I hadn’t heard him sound like that before, and it was a little scary. “Are you serious? She almost died here last night.”
“Well, then she’ll really enjoy this, won’t she?”
Bam! Carter slugged Nick right in the jaw. It happened so fast, I only saw the white bag fly out of Nick’s hand and smash against the tree. Next thing I knew Nick was on one knee, holding his jaw. Carter stood over him, his arm pulled back ready to strike again. One of the girls had screamed. I wasn’t sure if it was Haley, Regina or Tracy, but Tracy dropped to her brother’s side. My parents rushed toward the scene, and Dad pulled Carter back.
“Damn!” I heard Kyle say. “That kid’s got an arm on him.”
“So this is what I get for trying to be nice?” Nick asked, getting to his feet.
“You deserved that, Nick. There’s nothing nice about you,” Haley spat at him. “I read that column you put on the school newspaper's blog yesterday, making fun of June for climbing the tree and saying she was going to stay up there until she saw Bigfoot or something. It was rude.”
“He did that?” Carter said, struggling against my dad to get at him again. “What’s your problem, man?”
“Nothing,” Nick said, his grin wickedly wide. “I just think your girlfriend is the best show in town.” He called up to me. “Did you see anything while you were up there, Sawfeather? C’mon, tell us!”
So… I’m gonna go out on a limb (see what I did there?) and say that as rough as my 18th birthday was, Juniper’s was way worse. Although, she did have a boyfriend. A pretty awesome one, if you ask me. Also, if I have to pinpoint the moment her relationship with Carter and her best friend Haley strengthens, it was that day. The day she turned eighteen.
Do I have a point to this blog post? No, not really. Just celebrating another year of living and another year with Juniper. I’ve finished writing book three, and I kind of miss her. I’m looking forward to my editor notes to have the chance to hang out with Juniper just a little bit longer.
Just to let you know, the way my publisher, Fire and Ice Young Adult Books, is celebrating these birthdays with me is by lowering the price of my Juniper Sawfeather ebooks. Cry of the Sea is only $0.99 through Christmas, and Whisper of the Woods is at $2.99. You can find links to all the online bookstores on the pages for each book on my website, or just click on the pictures here to go to Amazon Kindle.
Feel free to leave a comment, sign up for my mailing list, or scroll through and enjoy some of the other posts.
Oh, and there’s more!!! I have a guest post today about the environmental themes in these books at http://www.scifiandscary.com/putting-environment-in-a-fantasy-novel/ that you might enjoy.
I'd like to welcome author Kandi Wyatt once again to my blog. We are both contributing authors to the new anthology Fantastic Creatures (free on Kindle).
Today we are celebrating the cover reveal of her newest book, the 5th book of her Dragon Courage series, Dragon's Posterity. Critics say if you are a fan of Eragon (which I am) you will love this series.
About the book:
Is there really a right way to braid leather?
Ruskya doesn’t know anymore. Is it worth fighting over? Twenty-one winters ago, he was ready to take on the turquoise dragon rider, but now he fears facing his oldest son.
Kyn, Ruskya’s youngling, wonders if he’s going crazy when an image begins haunting his dreams.
Soon, he realizes it may be the key to helping not only Ruskya and his son Ardyn, but all younglings and their trainers as they adjust to growing up.
Will Kyn be able to help Ruskya, Ardyn, and the other young riders? Follow your favorite characters from the exciting Dragon Courage series as they empower the next generation and give dragons to their posterity.
I am new to the Dragon Courage series, so I asked Kandi to tell me a bit about it. I am a big fan of dragons, and I was curious as to how they are featured in this book. Are they monsters, beasts or characters in the story? Wyatt told me, "The dragons are good and benevolent, but there is a strain that are wild and free. They talk, and many have said that the dragons are as much characters as the rest of the humans."
You can learn about all of the books and how the whole idea began by going to Kandi's Website.
If you're a high fantasy buff, you should check this series out and enter her giveaway!
Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that's her own five or the hundreds of students she's been lucky to teach. When Kandi's not spinning words to create stories, she's using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.
Feel free to leave a comment for Kandi or me below!
To celebrate the release of the new book Fantastic Creatures: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology, several of the contributing authors have created a scavenger hunt with a terrific prize! We're giving away a Kindle Fire loaded up with fantasy novels by many of the authors with stories in this great new book! To participate in the scavenger hunt for your chance to win, all you have to do is visit each blog and collect the clues: numbers that are hidden in each post. At the bottom of this page is more information about how to enter.
Fantastic Creatures features 20 short stories, each one centered around a different creature found in mythology or lore. My story is "Mother's Night Out" and it features werewolves.
To make this scavenger hunt interesting, we've all traded blogs. You can learn more about my story "Mother's Night Out" at author A. R. Silverberry's blog. Meanwhile, let me introduce you to Kandi J. Wyatt who has written a high fantasy story for Fantastic Creatures titled "Reviving the Sword". She shares her thoughts on how she combined character types to create an intriguing story.
We’ve all seen the plot line: multiple strangers thrown together with one mission tying them together. One of the most famous and beloved is Star Wars. Luke, Leia, and Han never would have known each other if it hadn’t been for R2D2. Anime is filled with these tropes as well as role playing games. Having watched Sword Art Online, Angel Beats, My Lie in April, and Ano Hana over the course of the last year, I wondered if I could write a story where the characters were thrown together.
As I contemplated that idea, my youngest son came home all excited to lead us to a website to discover our personality type. My husband and I took a look. I discovered there were other people like me! I also found a world of in-depth information on personalities. The vague idea of throwing characters together took on a more solid form. What if I took personality opposites and made them work together? With that in mind, I began to think more about the story.
A sword began to sing to me. I wanted a sword that was large, unwieldy, and yet amazingly smooth. I knew it was possible because when my husband purchased his Irish hand and a half long sword, we looked at the matching dagger. I saw it and thought, No way. That’s too big for me. Then I picked it up. The dagger floated in the air and fit my hand! That was what I wanted in a sword. I also knew if I was to describe fight scenes, I had to have a sword that I knew how to handle. My only experience is with a boken, a martial arts wooden practice sword fashioned off the katana. I needed to research. I spent an hour and a half up in my nineteen-year-old’s room. He has on display my husband’s Irish long sword, my matching dagger, and a myriad of other swords, knives, and daggers. He lovingly cleans them and keeps them presentable and rust free. When I came back downstairs, I sat down and drew Kingdom Defender.
Having found the key player, I now needed someone to wield him. I went back to the website of the personality types. To my surprise I found one called Defender. The polar opposite of the Defender is Entrepreneur. So, my sword wielder was quiet, methodical, and loyal while the sidekick was one who lives for adventure. I then needed a third person. I chose a Commander. The reasoning for that choosing will have to wait until other stories come out, because my original story morphed and changed to fit a short story format. Suffice it to say, I had three characters with very distinct personalities and I had the research to be able to know how they would react in any given situation.
Since I had a sword, I had to have someone to wield it. That entailed someone with hands. Since the story was in an anthology of fantastical beasts, I had to have a creature from mythology. That left me with a fairy, elf, goblin, orc, faun, minotaur, dwarf, or centaur. I asked fans for help and narrowed it down to a fairy or a centaur. The centaur won the vote and my heart.
Next I had to figure out what kind of a centaur. I asked a student who loves horses and some friends for their input. The student without missing a beat said, Appaloosa. My friend said, Arab. So, I did some looking online and found the equivalent of an Arab Paint. I made the centaur red-headed after my student, and a girl to be different. I figured a red-headed, red and white paint Arab wielding a sword with a green jewel would look epic. She received her name from my daughter who found Alastriona on a website.
The main companion who lives for adventure is a gryphon. Arnhyder, has left home to travel. He and Alastriona have traveled together for a while. He keeps her entertained. The third character is an elf, but not an ordinary elf. She’s more like an anime character, down to the Asian features. She came about due to the back story that developed, but fell out of use in the short story. In time, my readers will be able to hear the rest of the story and truly learn who Sagishi is.
With Sagishi’s Asian background, the Elven language is based on Japanese. I thought it fit since I was writing an Anime fantasy. It was interesting figuring out what I wanted to say. I apologize in advance for slaughtering the language. First off, I did what I tell my Spanish students not to do and used Google Translate. I had it say the words. Then I transliterated them into phonetic English.
I do hope you check out “Reviving the Sword” in Fantastic Creatures: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology. While you’re waiting to pick up your own copy, I have some coloring sheets that you can work on. They aren’t centaurs, gryphons, or elves, but my normal fantasy creature—dragons! They are all drawn by me and are free to print and color.
You can find them at http://kandijwyatt.com/downloads/dragon-to-color/
And please follow me at www.facebook.com/kandijwyatt
A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology
Here be dragons ... and selkies and griffins and maybe even a mermaid or two.
Twenty fantasy authors band together to bring you a collection of thrilling tales and magical monsters.
Do you like to slay dragons? Or befriend them?
Do you prefer to meet cephalopods as gigantic kraken or adorable tree octopuses?
Each story focuses around a fantastic creature from folklore or mythology, and they range from light and playful tales for the whole family to darker stories that may make you wish to leave the lights on.
These stories carry the Fellowship of Fantasy seal of approval. While our monsters may be horrifying, you won't stumble into graphic sex and constant swearing.
Perfect for the fantasy lover who can't get enough of mythical beasts.
Get your ebook version for free at:
Barnes and Noble
and put it on your to read list at Goodreads
In the spirit of the season, I've decided to share some spooky, children friendly poems I've written. Enjoy! Oh, and go all the way down to the bottom for the cover reveal of the new book featuring my scary YA story "Mother's Night Out", coming out in November.
Noises in the Dark
By D. G. Driver
In a single instant
I spring up from my sleep
Something out there woke me
From my slumber so deep
Darkness grips the room in terror
An eerie glow from under the door
What’s that? Did I hear a creak?
Is something moving across the floor?
Blankets pulled up to my chin
Protect me from my fear
Lying still as marble
A movement might beckon it near
“What’s out there?” My mind screams
I wrench in sweat and tears
It sees me in this state
Through beady eyes it peers
“Help me!” I whine in frustration
Nothing comes in reply
It’s just torturing me
Before I actually die
What was that?
I cover my head and squirm
The rational possibilities:
The dog? The cat? A worm?
Breath exhales at length
Another inhale takes forever
Close my eyes, forget it
It will strike whenever
I throw my teddy bear across the room
My hero gliding through the night
He soars across and hits the wall
Turning on the light
That I can see
But just to be careful
I’ll keep the light on
For whatever was here
Now seems to be gone
And if that doesn’t work
I’ll cry out for Mom.
By Donna Getzinger
He stumbles and falls
This little creature of mine
He squeaks as he walks
But I like him just fine
Sometimes he’s wicked
Sometimes he’s mean
And often he makes
My mother scream
Mostly, though, he stays in my room
Hiding under the bed
I’d show him to you,
But you might get scared
Of my pet monster named Fred.
This next rhyme is one I made up when I used to teach drama and dance classes at elementary schools and after school programs. It is a game where the students sit in a circle. They pass a small pumpkin around, like "Hot Potato", while reciting the poem. Whoever is holding the poem on the final word get to act out a very dramatic (and hopefully over-the-top) death scene. Naturally, that person is now "out", and the game repeats until there is one final survivor. My students always had fun playing this.
The poem is copyrighted, but please feel free to play the game with your students or children on Halloween. Have a blast with this game. Expect some Oscar-deserving death scenes and a lot of giggling corpses. For a prize, let the last survivor keep the pumpkin.
Pass the Pumpkin
by D. G. Driver
Pass the Pumpkin, pass it fast.
Who knows how long this song will last?
The headless horseman’s coming soon
He comes by the light of the Halloween moon
If he sees you with his head
You’re gonna wish that you were dead
Is that him knocking at the door?
Oh no! It’s too late!!!!!
I hope you enjoyed all that silliness. I don't write poems often, so there you go. What I do write are novels and short stories, and this has been my year of getting stories published in anthologies. My third one of the year is coming out on November 17th (and it's my understanding that the ebook version will be FREE).
Two or three of you who've been following me for a while may have read my scary baby horror story "Mother's Night Out" when I had it up on Wattpad. Well, I've pulled it off of that page, spruced it up a bit and had it accepted into a real-life book called Fantastic Creatures. All the stories in this book are free of graphic content and bad language and are rated PG-13 or younger. My story is one of the few scary ones with a bit of blood, but it's perfectly appropriate for my usual YA readers. Below is the cover for this wonderful, fun book, and if you click on it, you can read the little bit about werewolves I wrote for their blog. Make sure you follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get updates about when the book is released.
Oh hey! Still with me?
Just reminding you, that while I don't have a Halloween-ish horror book out right now, I do still have a great ghost story, Passing Notes, selling for only 99 cents.
I'm also hosting a Goodreads Giveway for a signed copy of my eerie YA novel Whisper of the Woods about a girl trapped 170 feet up in a tree by an ancient tree spirit. The giveaway ends at midnight on October 30th, so don't wait.
With Halloween looming, there have been many promotional opportunities to advertise my books with groups of spooky themed stories. At this point, none of my books really fit into the Horror category (although I have a scary story coming out next month in a new anthology – more details to come). I do have one published ghost story, my novella Passing Notes. I chose not to include it in the Halloween book promotions, though, because the ghost in my book isn’t scary. He’s actually really nice, helpful, and a bit of a romantic.
Some people have read Passing Notes and told me they think my ghost is really an angel. I’ve even considered going back and rewriting the book using the word “angel” instead of “ghost” to see if that might get more readership. Maybe if people saw it as an angel story, they’d read the book for the sweet, sentimental message it holds instead of waiting for it to get scary. In all honestly, I waffle on this subject several times a week. I am currently plotting out two companion stories to go with Passing Notes, so the idea of making the book more “spiritual” than “paranormal” is on my mind a lot.
So, I decided to explore the idea of what is the big difference between a ghost and an angel. In many movies, TV shows, and books these spiritual beings are interchangeable. For example, when Kevin Costner’s dad finally appears in Field of Dreams is he a ghost like the other baseball players, or is he an angel? In the movie Ghost, Patrick Swayze is loving and helpful, but couldn’t that movie just as easily been called Angel?
On the other side of things we have Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and movies like Sixth Sense where a psychic is able to talk to stranded ghosts and help them finish their business and move on. Definitely ghosts. And there are shows like Dominion, Lucifer, and Touched by an Angel, where angels are absolutely Heaven sent/created to change the lives of mortals.
By these rules, ghosts appear to have originally been human, and angels are originated in the spiritual realm. Does that mean then that a person visiting from beyond is not an angel? If you’re doing a séance and call the spirit of your long lost aunt, she is a ghost not an angel? If your best friend you lost to cancer visits you at your bedside to assure you he’s okay, he’s a ghost not an angel?
I looked around at some websites by psychics and mediums for their opinions on the matter. Bob Olson of Best Psychic Directory writes that the confusion comes from not using the word “spirit”. In his opinion (which makes a ton of sense to me) ghosts, spirits, and angels are different things. A ghost is a trapped, earthbound soul that has never crossed over to the light. A spirit is a soul that has been beyond and has returned, usually to visit or help a loved one. An angel is a messenger or servant of God. Think of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life.
In a lot of stories where a long lost love or family member has returned to be helpful, the book, movie, or TV show refers to them as ghosts. Olson thinks this is for marketing purposes. “I can only speculate that the TV show producers and book publishing executives… used the word “ghost” instead of “spirit” in their titles for marketing reasons. There had been a lot of success with television shows and books… that used the word ghost, so it probably seemed like a savvy marketing choice. But there’s no question in my mind that these terms “spirit” and “ghost” confuse many people.”*
Melanie Beckler is a medium and author. From her site Ask-Angels, she explains: “Ghosts and earthbound spirits miss or avoid crossing over into the light, and then they must draw on the energy of people, or physical locations to stay bound to the physical plane… Visits from your loved ones in Heaven, is an entirely different experience than that with ghosts and earthbound spirits. The main difference is that your loved ones in Heaven have crossed over into the light… They have received a great deal of healing, and their energetic being has been restored… Much different from the encounters with earthbound spirits and ghosts, visits from deceased loved ones can be beautiful, healing and positive experiences” And finally, “Your spirit guides and angels are always available to help, whenever called upon… But they will sometimes connect with you without your direct asking, in the cases of emergencies, or when you’re in need of an encouraging hug energetically, to help protect and comfort you, or when someone else is praying for you and invites them in.”*
Now, of course, there are scary ghosts and angels in fiction and perhaps in real life. Horror films and YA paranormal romance are filled with them. In these extremes, there is absolutely no question of the difference between an angel and a ghost. Ghosts are dead people here to haunt and terrify the living. Angels are often fallen and here to either cause the end of the world or to prevent it.
I think the difference between ghosts and angels also depends on what you believe. If you don’t believe in Heaven, then then all souls in spiritual form here on Earth must be ghosts. If you don’t believe in ghosts, then they must all be spirits or angels from beyond. Some people don’t believe in Biblical stories of angels and demons but might believe in something more like guardian angels. It gets complicated.
On my part, I do believe in ghosts, and I believe that I’ve encountered a few over the years. I’m positive the 150-year-old house that used to be the location of the daycare where I work was haunted. We named one of the ghosts “Duncan”. My family was pretty convinced our tiny cottage house in rural Tennessee had some children ghosts that laughed and played outside in our yard regularly. I swear to this day a ghost watched a play I was in over my shoulder in the wings of a theater in Oakland, California. A couple years ago my husband and I got both thrilled and spooked on an overnight ghost hunting trip to an old haunted hotel. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an angel or spirit. If I have, I was unaware of it.
I hope the confusion has been cleared up for you. I think I’m still waffling.
I now suspect that the character haunting Mark in Passing Notes is probably a “spirit” and not a ghost or an angel. However, it seems a bit lackluster to blurb my book: Mark is being haunted by a spirit who wants to teach him to write a love letter…
I think I’ll leave it alone and let him remain a ghost. What do you think? Feel free to post your opinion below or let me know about other books or stories that feature ambiguous ghosts. Want to know more about Passing Notes. Visit my page all about it. And if you’d like to read it, the novella is always only 99 cents everywhere ebooks are sold.
When people ask me these days, “Who is your best friend?” I always answer, “My husband.” It’s true. He fits the definition of Best Friend. He and I spend all our time together. We share all the ups and downs. We laugh at each other’s jokes, and cry at each other’s sadness. He gets as angry along with me when something goes wrong, and vice versa.
But then people roll their eyes and say, “Well, of course, but who is your best friend besides the person you’re married to.”
That answer is harder to provide. I have had several people over my lifetime that I considered best friends. All of them have faded away over time and been replaced by others. There is one woman right now I consider my closest friend, but we don’t hang out together like friends do in the movies, and she has at least a dozen other good friends that are probably higher on her list than me. Still, I know if I need her shoulder or support, she’ll be there. I think she knows that about me too.
I was at a wedding last night where my step-niece of 25 had two best friends as her bridesmaids. They claimed to have been her friends since they were four years old. Wow. They seem like the kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants kind of close, and I can see them being all Ya Ya Sisterhood when they’re old. I’ve always envied those kinds of friendships. I never have had those.
I recall having a couple best friends from Girl Scouts in 3rd grade. I changed schools in 4th grade, and those friendships were gone. It took a while at my new school, but I finally got one solid best friend before the year was out. Jennifer was her name. We were Judy Blume novel tight until 6th grade. That’s when the mean popular girls in school decided to hate me, recruit everyone else to hate me (including Jennifer), and bully me. It was a real Harriet the Spy type experience. I finished elementary school with no friends at all.
Middle school for me was 7th and 8th grade. I had one friend named Betty in 7th grade. She was a very smart girl, super shy, and we liked doing art and calligraphy together. Sadly, our friendship came to an abrupt end before the school year was over. I don’t really know why. She never told me. She just stopped calling me or taking my calls. I don’t think her mom liked me, and that may have played a part in what happened. So… I went into 8th grade with no friends again.
But then! Then! I got into Musical Theater class. I connected with a group of complete nerds, and we hit it off. These people remained my best friends for the next five years. We were a force of Drama nerdiness, and we loved it. My bestie of the best was a girl named Sonia, fresh from living abroad in Taiwan. She was hilarious and bright. She was exuberant and extroverted to counter my quiet introvertedness. We were an inseparable team. None of the boys we dated through high school managed to get between us. Their existence in our lives was brief.
Alas, high school, that weird time when teens are trapped in a dome where nothing exists outside of it, ended. My dearest friends and I parted ways for various colleges. The colleges changed everyone, and all of those people I loved so much were gone from my life. Completely.
Once again I was alone. I never made friends like that in college. I was too shy to get in involved. I never realized how much I leaned on my best friends in high school to provide my social life for me. Without them, I was lost. I had some boyfriends, but no real friendships came out of that time.
I have a reason for all this best friend reminiscing. I recently beta read a book for an author I know, and my favorite character in her book was the quirky best friend. It got me thinking about how best friends are often portrayed in YA and MG books. A lot of the time they are the more easy-to-like character. If the main protagonist is serious, the best friend is often silly. If the mc is heroic, the best friend might be more timid. If the mc is super smart, the best friend might be a little dorky. In girl books, isn’t the best friend always a little less attractive or beguiling than the mc?
I confess, even in my Juniper Sawfeather books, Haley comes across as far less noble and desirable as Juniper. One reviewer of Whisper of the Woods wrote honestly, “I still have reservations about the best friend when I started reading this book and I honestly don't like her. She's immature and annoying and well, I guess she's being her age. But I was glad to see her character developing in this book.” (Yes, I did just put a fairly negative review quote about my own book in my blog post. For more about my thoughts on teenagers being teenager-y in books, read my post: http://www.dgdriver.com/write-and-rewrite-blog/how-teenager-ish-should-a-ya-book-be
Why would I create a character that is less-so than my main character? Well, Haley was created to be more “typically high school”. Her concerns are inside that dome I mentioned above. She wants more friends, popularity, and a hot boyfriend. These are her main concerns right now. She cares for Juniper, but the extreme environmental activism of Juniper’s parents has made Juniper super unpopular. Haley suffers beside her, resenting it quite a bit. She has a hard time coming around to support Juniper’s exploits in the first two books, but in book three Echo of the Cliffs (coming out in May, 2017), you’ll see a whole new Haley, inspired by Juniper’s activism, with a mission that is all her own.
I created Haley (and consequently the mean girls Regina and Marlee) to juxtapose against Juniper’s character. Juniper is in her parent’s shadow, but she still shares their views about the environment and sees the bigger world outside the high school dome. She is eager to escape from high school and get her life started. So naturally, when the mermaids stranded in an oil spill present themselves, it isn’t farfetched that she would step up to try to help them. And when she learns that a 1,000 year old tree is going to be chopped down by a timber company, she would want to climb into its branches in order to save it.
But is Haley superficial? Not in my mind. I think her desires for popularity and a good boyfriend are real and valid. There’s nothing wrong with those goals. I think that if I told the whole story from her point of view, she’d have a lot to say about it all. Granted, it would be a very different kind of book.
In real life, best friends are the lead characters in their own stories. Sonia was my fun, vibrant best friend in my personal high school story where I (in my head) was the leading actress of the high school drama department. On the other hand, I was the shy, overly serious best friend in her story of being the much-loved center of attention.
Think of Ron from Harry Potter. Clearly, of the three best friends, he is the silly one. He gets all the funny lines and comedy scenes. However, no one can argue that he is superficial or unnecessary to the book series. Likewise, Grover, in the Percy Jackson series, is the cautious one and gets most of the laughs. Still, without him, Percy wouldn’t achieve much success. Iko, the best friend to Cinder in the Lunar Chronicles, behaves just like a typical, adorable, always there pal even though she’s actually artificial intelligence. She is lovely comic relief in a very intense science fiction series.
There are books where the best friends are more complex, but I am finding that tends to happen more often when the POV changes to the different characters. In the Raven Cycles, for example, the best friends are not quirky and funny. Ronin is quite severe and Adam is quiet and pained. They each get their own chapters, and Ronin even is the main character in the second book. Other books with marvelous rotating POVs of best friends are The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Sometimes, though, as in real life, the main character has no best friend. Being alone with no one to talk to is the point. Mark from my book Passing Notes has no one to give him good love advice, nor does he have anyone to tell when he starts communicating with the ghost. His loneliness is part of his troubles. He doesn’t know how to talk to people, because he has no one. Other lonely characters might be heroes on quests in fantasy novels. Eragon comes to mind. Or you have someone searching for someone to understand them like Gordie from These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar.
As a reader, think about the best friends in the books you read. Why are they there? In what way are they helping the plot or the main character’s arc?
If you are a writer, think about the best friends you are creating. Remember that the more real these people are to you, the more realistic they will come across in your writing. Think of your own best friends from your school days. How did they enhance your life? When those friendships were strong, how did they help you? When those friendships failed, how did it hurt? Imagine their story if they were the leading character, and you were the supporting role.
I’d love to know your thoughts about best friends in books. Feel free to comment, listing any books you know that have great best friend characters and why.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.