Monthly Archives: September 2012

Colorful, Colloquial Characters (Rated PG for Earthiness)

As a child, and okay, as an adult, too, I happily read Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books. His ability to describe his characters such as Soup’s nemesis, Janice Riker, is peachy. “She was the biggest and strongest and meanest kid that the world ever knew. She had the body of a hunched-back, bowlegged ape and the brain power of a fully ripened bean.” I could visualize her so easily. Along with physical descriptions, speech patterns or a character’s colloquialisms can add to our understanding of characters.  My use of “peachy” above made you form judgements about me.

Bridget Birdsall, http://www.bridgetbirdsall.com, author of ORDINARY ANGELS, is a master at using colloquial dialogue, sensory language, and description to create memorable characters. The story is told through second-person, making it easy for the reader to picture herself as a character. You pull on your favorite frog-print pajamas as Helen barges through the door. ‘I”m not changing in front of him,” she says. She spots your church dress all bunched up in a ball on the radiator. “Better hang that up before you have to sleep in the pee-bed.” Words such as radiator and church dress ground us in the setting. Pee-bed not only characterizes but conjures up the sensory experiences of smell and sight, leaving lasting impressions. How can a writer achieve this?

Inspiration can be found through watching people  and eavesdropping. This overheard conversation between an older nurse trainee with a thick accent speaking to a patient whose daughter held her hand could become a memorable character in one of my stories.

“I know you can’t make caca,” Lily said. She had flaming red hair, as if she needed anything more to set her apart.  “I know you can’t make caca,” she told the patient.  “I have same problem.  I help you.”  She rubbed the woman’s abdomen.  “Oh,” the patient squealed after a few minutes.  “I think I should go to the bathroom.  I think something’s coming out.”

Lily winked at the woman. “You poop in bed. I clean up.  Don’t worry.  Poop, poop, poop. Mmmm, is that a fart I smell? Good, good.  You fart.  Later we take a walk.  That will make you caca.”

The elderly woman lifted herself up. “I think I could use the bathroom. Close the door please”.

“This is your daughter,” Lily said.  “Why close the door?  You’ve smelled her poop.   She poops. You poop.  That’s what we do.  We poop.”

Someday the spirit of Lily will end up in a story of mine. As storysharers, we read and write, striving to find just the right heartbeat of our characters. That’s what we do. Storysharer would love to hear about the ways you bring your characters to life.

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Filed under Children's Writing, Inspiration, stories, Writing Tips

Living Other Lives

The beauty of the world of literature is that it allows you to live other lives. I’ve been an attractive 17-year-old red-head whose many adventures include solving the mystery of who’s trying to harm Fortune, the racehorse on my aunt’s ranch. In the same story, I had the chance to brood (as only a teenager can brood) then choose between one of the two young men who drew my eye. Now that’s living.

I’ve also been nine years old again, trying to earn enough money to go to Adventureland, and discovering, after a thief breaks in and steals Mom’s electronics, that there’s plenty of adventure right at home.

Just last week I became a photographer for National Geographic. It’s been so exciting. I’ve taken pictures of such fascinating creatures as the Goliath Tarantula, which can propel hairs from its body to scare off predators. Not a big hairy deal, you say? I’d like to see you try it.

tarantula

And in the case of my WIP, I’ve transformed into a CELEST, a Creature of Essence Living under Sky and Trees. I’m only 3 5/8 inches tall and my adventures include needing to escape from a nine-year-old by the name of Cliff. In order to help me enter this world, I looked to Tatiana Katara’s (tatiana@ faeriefactory.com) fairy house creations for inspiration.

Titiana Katara
Writing enables us to live other lives, and so does reading. While reading Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN, I took a break to ride my horse in the woods. I caught myself peering through foliage, readying myself to slay the dragon threatening my village.

I estimate that in a given year, keeping in mind all the manuscripts I create or revise, and including minor characters, I’ve been able to live over 100 lives. Ah, the power of stories.

If you’re looking for a story starter, a way to enter a different world, try going through your old photos. Here are a few from my albums.

Storysharer would love to join you as you live another life, so share your stories.

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Interview with Author Kathleen Ernst


Kathleen Ernst, a Madison native, is a social historian, educator, environmentalist, and the award winning novelist of 24 books. Her historical fiction for children and young adults include American girl mysteries. Her long anticipated American girl six-book Caroline Abbott series will debut September 4th. The third book in her adult Chloe Ellefson mystery series, THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY, will become available October 8th.

What an exciting fall you’re about to have. Two new projects! The third book in your adult Chloe Ellefson mystery series, THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY, as well as the long anticipated Caroline books for younger readers. Will you be on tour? Any school visits or book signings?
I’ve got three launch events for THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY scheduled:  October 16th on Washington Island, October 21 at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, and October 23 at Booked For Murder in Madison.  I’ll also be touring extensively to introduce Caroline Abbott, with stops in West Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington state.  All the details can be found on the calendar page of my website:  http://www.kathleenernst.com/calendar.php

I’ve been counting down the days until September 4th when CAROLINE, the new American Girl six-book series, comes out. Is it true it includes a mini-doll and game? Can you tell us a bit about Caroline?

Caroline Abbott, an independent and adventurous nine-year-old girl whose story is set near Lake Ontario during the War of 1812, learns to face her most challenging moments using her heart as her compass.  Going above and beyond to help those around her, Caroline gives of herself without expecting anything in return–becoming the kind of real everyday hero that any girl can be.  I hope that Caroline will help modern readers realize that they too can navigate challenges by taking positive action.

Caroline’s stories are told in six books.  Although each stands alone, readers will enjoy following the action best if they start at the beginning of the series.  Books can be purchased individually, but they are also available in a six-book set that includes a game.  The Caroline doll, mini-doll, and some amazing accessories are available from American Girl.

You’re such a talented writer, especially because of your ability to evoke settings. While touring Cade’s Cove in the Smokey Mountains this past August, I thought of you and your writing. Do you have any plans to set any stories in the Appalachian Mountains?

The Southern Appalachians will always be very dear to my heart.  One of my favorite novels, yet unpublished, is set within the Smokey Mountain National Park.  I’d also love to set a Chloe Ellefson Mystery in the Smokies.  This series focuses on historic places, and Chloe loves the mountains as much as I do.

Describe your perfect day.
The perfect work day includes a hot cafe mocha, hours spent at the keyboard with words flowing effortlessly, and the occasional flash of inspiration for some unexpected plot connection or twist.

The perfect personal day includes time spent far away from anything crowded or commercial, perhaps exploring an historic site, perhaps exploring the natural environment.

I enjoyed exploring your blog, and especially loved looking at pictures of yourself as a child. On one of your blog posts you talk about how you’re able to make readers care about your characters. “I think the secret lies in creating a character with authentic emotions. In the six-book series, Caroline sometimes feels happy and sometimes feels sad. She has moments of anger and fear, and of joy and celebration. She has cherished dreams tucked away in her heart, and she does everything she can to make them come true.” It must be thrilling to be able to bring your characters to life and to see how much your readers come to love them and care about them.
You’re right–there is nothing better than hearing from a reader who identifies with a character!  I’ve gotten some wonderful notes from readers who appreciate some aspect of Chloe Ellefson’s life.  And I’ve already heard from some girls who are excited about Caroline Abbott.  What a joy!

You have an impressive website www.kathleenernst.com, a colorful and interactive blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com, several YouTube videos, and an active Facebook page. How fun is it to interact with your readers?
I love it.  Everything I do is done for readers, and connecting with them is awesome.  I can’t always respond as quickly as I’d like, but I treasure every connection made.

Thank you, Kathleen. And thank you for sharing your stories with the world.

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