Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ode to Chocolate (or Switzerland and Writing)

As most of you know, I love tea and chocolate. A lot. Tea with cream and sugar (or honey) and chocolate... Yeah, pretty much any way, shape, or form. But my post, while being about chocolate, is also about how to find chocolate (and clarity) in its native habitat. I suggest Switzerland.

I did a little traveling when I was a whippersnapper. At that age when you think you know everything about everything.

(I find there is really nothing like world travel to knock sense into a person.)

So, I went to Europe. On a tour for school.

My school, while not being the biggest, had a pretty decent arts department. Music, theater, art, etc. And part and parcel of that was the opportunity to join the state's music ambassador program. I was in band and choir, so I had two chances to get elected.

Junior year, I shipped out. Representing the school's choir department along with two members of the band.

It would be my second time leaving the country. The first was a trip to Ireland the year before. Even so, this trip was longer and I was not just on vacation. I was the sole representative for my school's three choir programs. No pressure, huh?

The trip started at a university in the state capital. A week of intense practice and sleeping in dorms and learning to sing in a choir of nearly two hundred. Back home, I was part of a four-part choir with less than forty members. I was a little overwhelmed. Even so, it still felt the same. Just...louder.

The trip started in London (which is beautiful, by the way) and ended in Vienna (also beautiful) about three weeks later. It was like an extended sprint. Hitting a major city every couple days to perform and doing the tourist-y thing when we were not sleeping or practicing. It was awesome and so tiring I thought I would pass out half the time.

By the time we hit Switzerland, about a week and a half into the trip, I was running on fumes.

Enter the exceedingly picturesque village of Champery. 

So, that is Champery. Which leads me to the topic of this blog. Chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

I would like to say I did not head straight for the store's chocolate shelf and pretty much clean them out, but that would be a lie. I sure did buy enough chocolate to feed a small army.

In fact, I bought so much chocolate I ate nothing but chocolate from the day we left Switzerland to the day I returned to the U.S. About a week and a half later. Yeah. That happened.

But Champery has more than just awesome Swiss chocolate. They have what I called the village water trough.

(I don't think that's what it's actually called, but it seemed to fit.)

In the center of town, at the top of the hill, there is a large stone trough full of the coldest, cleanest water on earth. (I feel pretty comfortable saying that even though I haven't been everywhere on earth.)

The water comes out of a spigot that is fed from the mountains. The trough water is mostly used for watering plants and animals. Humans get drinking water from the spigot. Bottled water has nothing on that little well.

But the best part of Champery is not the water, or the cute little village, or the chocolate. Nope. It's the view. I went in summer and it looked something like this.

I swear they could have filmed LOTR there. The entire village of Champery is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. It goes a long way toward knocking a teenager down a peg or two. You can't be in a place like that and not feel small.

Where I'm from, we have rolling hills and valleys filled with wildflowers, but no mountains. You have to drive at least eight hours to get more than foothills.

So, standing on the back porch of a chalet and looking out at the mountains, I admit to feeling pretty in touch with reality. And the reality was that I was really, really small and the world was really, really big.

The only other time I've had that exact feeling was the first time I saw the ocean from somewhere other than American soil.

My first day in Ireland, I went to the ocean alone to watch the sunrise. At five in the morning, it was just me sitting on a bench looking out at the endless expanse of blackness. Then, the sky lightened and (silly as it sounds) I swear it felt like watching the beginning of the world.

But that's how some places make you feel. Small. Which is good, especially if your job is to create worlds. If you don't know how it feels to be small, you can't write it. Worlds are big, people are small. Problems are big, characters are small. It's important to keep in mind.

Also, chocolate. Always chocolate.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Green Eggs and Ham

This is the last in my How, How, How, Where series of posts.

Where I Write

From what I've read, most everyone has their own idea of what place is best for writing. Some need an office, some write in a cottage, some write in coffee shops or pubs. There really are no hard rules on where you can write. It's one of the really great freedoms of the craft.

Honestly, I feel like Dr. Seuss when I discuss writing locations...

Do you write in a box?
Do you write with a fox?

Do you write in a house?
Do you write with a mouse?

Do you write here or there?
Do you write anywhere?

So, yeah. I write anywhere. 

My favorite place is in the den on my dilapidated old couch. It was a gift. From my grandmother. So, I'm obligated to keep it forever. 

She found it at a garage sale for ten bucks. I think it might have been in a frat house at some point.

It is also a faded, purple, tan, and blue paisley. It's just as hideous as it sounds, I assure you. I would post a picture, but I don't want to frighten you.

My second favorite place to write is in the car. Not when I'm riding. Nope. When I'm sitting somewhere, usually waiting to pick someone up, and I have time to roll down the windows and open the sunroof. Just chillin'.

Beyond that, anywhere is fine. I've written on crowded planes, in cramped hotel rooms, on the bus (and subway), in Starbucks during the morning rush, and on a park bench at several different parks. And a few dozen other places. It really doesn't matter. If I'm in the writing frame of mind, I tend to tune out the world anyway. 

So, for the moment, I am without a desk. I may get a desk one of these days (and an office to put it in), but for now I'm diggin' the Dr. Suess writing lifestyle. 

Do you write here or there? Do you write anywhere?

How about everywhere?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Joy of Having Pets

This post isn't related to writing. Nope. Today's post is about my dog, Priya. Who eats everything.

She likes to wait until I have my back turned before she steals (and sometimes chews/eats) hairbands, socks, cell phones, pens, pencils, water bottles, sticks, rocks, clods of dirt, rolls of tape, etc. Basically, if she can lift it or drag it, she's taking it. She doesn't always eat or chew what she steals, but it happens more than I would like.

The issue today involved her eating something. Claritin to be precise. I'll set the scene.

My piano is in the corner of the room by the window. It's great for natural light, but leaves me with my back to the room. The dogs (Indra and Priya) like to hang out in the room with me while I practice.

It's going great. I'm totally in the zone. When I stop to take a break, the room is quiet. Too quiet. The way it is when kids (or dogs) are doing something they should not be doing.

So, I turn around. Yep. Priya has a chewed-up pill packet in her mouth and a guilty look in her eyes. After staring at her for a second, the panic hits. I leap into action, calling the vet (closed), my mom (not a vet), and finally the Animal Poison Control Hotline.

Did you know the call is $65? Me neither. Though, honestly, I would have paid $100 to talk to a licensed veterinarian.

Anyway, I get on the phone and get the nicest southern lady in the country. (I can't be sure, but it seemed like it.) She's very matter-of-fact and, after getting all the info, puts me on hold to talk to a vet.

Did you know some companies pay for any poison control calls made for their products? Me neither. Claritin is one of those companies. If I wasn't already using their products I would start after finding that out. For real.

Anyway, so I get the recommendation I had been dreading. Hydrogen Peroxide. Dum dum dum. I swear, I take one look at Priya and her ears go back. She knows what's up. After I get off the phone, I gather my supplies, tuck Priya under my arm like a football, and head for the bathroom. Seems like the best place to be for a dog revisting her last snack.

I sit on the floor by the door and wedge Priya into a semi-sitting position. I struggle to fill a teaspoon while she is flopping around like a landed fish, trying to take out me, the bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and the rest of the bathroom. Finally, I dump the spoonful into her mouth. She spits out about half of it and has to swallow the rest. I get the stink eye.

When I let her free, she wastes no time turning tail and fleeing in the opposite direction. After repeating this horrible scene two more times, she gives up the goods and gives me a downright lethal glare.

At the moment, she is sleeping by my feet, but still unhappy with me. She made sure to ignore me even as she laid down. I am not on her Christmas list.

That'll teach me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Don Quixote

This is the third entry in my How, How, How, Where series. The blog title comes from one of my favorite musicals. Man of La Mancha. It's based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. My favorite song from the musical (probably from ANY musical) is "The Impossible Dream". 

A little like Les Miserables', "I Dreamed a Dream", but with a positive ending. We sang it (The Impossble Dream) when I was in high school choir. Great song. Okay, I can't resist. I'll post the lyrics before I start today's topic. 

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

How I Decide What to Write About

This question is a little more complicated than the first two. Theme, genre, characters. All fall under this entry. 

Theme: The central idea of a story

The main theme for the Dems Trilogy is redemption. Coming back from the brink. 

In "No Light" Farran has lost himself. He has become dark and jaded, miles from the person he was in the past. Sarah, the epitome of what he has come to hate, becomes who he loves the most. She is his way back. She frees him before he ever escapes from The Corridor. 

In "Darkness Blooming" Lonan is the one seeking redemption. His brother, who once loved and protected him, has come to hate and distrust him. Most of Lonan's actions are done to regain the esteem of his brother, Farran. In his quest, he falls in love with Rissa.   

His past (and Farran's) is explored in greater depth in "Shadows Fall", the third book of the Dems Trilogy.

Aside from redemption, I also explore love, family ties, corruption, and prejudice. I don't select themes before I start writing. I just let the story choose the theme. But those are the ones I see reoccurring most often. 

Genre: The category of writing

I write dark fantasy and science fiction romance. Mostly. I also blend adventure, suspense, and a teeny bit of horror. 

I write what I like to read. As a reader, I like reading about alternate realities and dystopian futures. Solving mysteries, winning battles, falling in love. I've always been partial to reading horror, but I don't write it. I prefer writing what my ten-year-old cousin calls "kissy face stuff". 

Characters: People portrayed in literature

I like to write flawed characters. I like my hero and heroine to be good people, but also dealing with a personal battle. Maybe it's their situation or maybe it's internal. Either way, they need to make mistakes so they can learn and grow. I also like to balance my couples. Alternating strengths and weaknesses.

I love strong characters, but I think there are different kinds of strength. In "No Light", Sarah is strong in her defense of her brother, in her love, and in her loyalty. She won't be fighting any great battles, but she has strength of character. 

Abby, from Kingdom Come, is completely different. She is willing and able to fight for herself. When she realizes how bad the situation is, she throws aside her fears of losing her job to do what she believes to be right. She has confidence in herself and she is outspoken.

I also prefer to write complicated villains. I think it is scarier to have a villain who believes he or she is in the right than one who is simply evil for the sake of being evil. 

In "No Light", Lonan truly believes he is doing the right thing. He is driven by love to commit a horrible act. I think it makes him both easy and difficult to hate. 

Now, having said all that, I mostly just write whatever comes to me. Writing for any length of time you will notice patterns. Character traits, word choice, story theme. 

So, feel free to leave a comment about what you have discovered in your own writing or in the writing of your favorite author. What do you like to read about? Write about?