Writing Journal: Always Winter and Never Christmas

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“Always winter and never Christmas,” is one of those lines that is used, in excess, in my family. Any time someone says anything about winter a chorus of voices says “Always winter and never Christmas.” The magic of this statement is found in the Chronicles of Narnia, in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis.

I have always loved the idea the evil magic kept Christmas from coming and that Santa Claus actually works as one of the King’s servants. I love it when he comes to Peter, Susan, Edmond, Lucy, and the Beavers and says, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last.”

He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…
Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.

It is a wonderful feeling as a child to have such a joyous representation of the coming of Aslan. Every child given the chance to celebrate Christmas knows the thrill of the holiday. They know all about bells, sleighs, the man in the red suit, carols, special food, and presents.

I have always wanted to share my love of Christmas in my writing. Many of my books take place in the fall and early winter, but I’ve never had one that worked with the Christmas holiday. The other ones were too short and dark. The light and delight of Christmas seemed harsh and garish in that setting. I had not established a world where it soothed the soul like it does in ours. There was zero soul soothing in my first world.

In my YA story, Jonah has been rescued from Prison by the sacrifice of a man named Soul and brought to live in a new place: Greenhome. Greenhome is a magical place of safety and joy. Families are made there. Men and women take in the worst of children and give them a home. The childless and the parentless come together in Greenhome. Jonah comes from the Streets—a dirty, dark, and violent place—and finds himself awed not just the abundance of food and clothing, but by the celebration that’s about to take place.

Jonah has never celebrated Christmas. He’s never been given a present and he has never given a present.

Lights, candles, garlands, trees, holly, presents, and songs surround him. (While I work on these scenes, I often sing “What’s This?” from Nightmare Before Christmas.) His head spins with all the traditions that are so new to him.

Using Christmas to juxtaposition the difference between the coldness of the Streets and the warmth of Greenhome has tickled my heart. I love Christmas. I have more fun, and sometimes funny, Christmas stories than I have time to write, though one year, maybe this year, I’m going to try to record some of them. I have written about why Vincents celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, but have I written about the year the yard caught on fire? Have I written about the magical Christmas where it snowed and my brother got to come home? Have I ever written about my first kiss being on Christmas Eve?

In book 2, after all the things that could go wrong have gone wrong, the joy of Christmas will be part of what holds Jonah up through the darkness. The light of Greenhome decorated for the holiday will remind him that not all the world is lost in shadow, war, and hopelessness, for that is what Christmas does, right? Christmas is the celebration of God coming with a peace-offering to a dark and lost world. He is the light and he came down to us offering peace. His Son came and willingly subjected himself to a body, poverty, betrayal, suffering, and then death for us. This is the great and deep truth of Christmas. This is the under-girding foundation of all that is wonderful and magical about this holiday.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2/14

As a writer, you pour bits and pieces of yourself into your worlds and your characters. Christmas, in all its glory and magic, is one of the ways I’ve done that in my story. It makes me so excited!

A sound made him pause. Voices lifted outside his frosted window. People were singing. He listened wondering what kind of songs they sang here in Greenhome. Where they bawdy songs filled with cursing like the one Christopher taught them? Or maybe they were the haunted sad song the crones sang? Sometimes an unborn would be harvested that could sing. They usually died quickly on the Streets. Singing wasn’t a helpful skill. The words came to him: born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!”

The song made little sense to Jonah. It did draw him in a way, a quiet way. It didn’t feel dirty like Christopher’s song and it didn’t make life seem darker like the crones’ song. There was a powerful joy in the voices raised and the words sung. He’d have to ask Soul what it meant. Maybe it had to do with this Christmas thing everyone seemed so excited about.

– Icicle Rain by Abby Jones

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Writing Journal: A Character Interview

Inspired by Bethany Jennings, I decided to do my own character interview. In the past, I always thought these were dumb. Most of my aversion stems from the fact that I write in a very visceral manner. My stories are quick, painful, bloody, and over. I don’t really have a strong sense of my main characters until the third or fourth rewrite. I’m a pantser and one of the failings of writing without an outline is that you don’t get a real sense of worlds or characters until after the book is finished. Then you polish polish polish and attempt to herd cats into a basic plot.

I’m not sure why reading Bethany’s character interview inspired me to do one as well, but it did. So, I’m going to roll with it. We’ll see what happens.

 

Abby Jones’ Interview of Ralph

Ralph

Ralph sat in his chair kicking his feet. He’s even shorter than I pictured him. He’s not a dwarf, just not a boy blessed with long legs. His green hair is the brightest point in my gray and brown office. It shines like a beacon of joy and oddness.

I sit down opposite him and hold out my hand. He shakes it with a shy smile that pulls down the right side of his face. We exchange a few pleasantries while he continues to swing his feet back and forth since they can’t reach the floor. After getting over the shock of his bottle-green hair, I notice how strong his arms are for a boy his age. I notice the gentle shape to his beautiful brown eyes. They’re going to melt a lucky girl’s heart some day, I find myself thinking. A sense of sadness softens my smile. No, they won’t. I, even as I interview him, know his fate. I know no girl will ever have the opportunity to love the twist of his lip, or his brown eyes, or his green hair. I shake it off. Now is Ralph’s chance.

Let’s start with the basic’s okay, just to warm up. What’s your name?

Ralph.

Just Ralph?

Well yeah. Unborns like me don’t get last names. It’s not like we have fathers.

What’s it like to be an unborn?

Not much different from being a born, other than the last name thing, and the skills.

Skills? (Yes, I’m playing dumb to draw him out.)

You know: skills. Each unborn is harvested with skills. I guess it’s the King’s way of making sure someone wants us. I knew this guy once in Gang White (he leans in and his legs stop swinging) with the most useless skill ever. It’s amazing they didn’t just shoot him. His skill was whistling. He could whistle like his lips were some crazy flute. You should’ve seen Colin’s—that’s Gang White’s Master—Colin’s face when the boy just lit up and started whistling like a wild little bird. (Ralph shakes his head.)

What happened to him?

He got sent to the scroungers. Died I think. I don’t remember now.

And what’s your skill?

My skill? Well, it ain’t whistling. (His mouth dips down at the right with every word.) My skills metals. Iron specifically. I can work it real well, least that’s what Kent and Gil say.

Kent and Gil?

Gil salvaged me and Kent’s his brother. They’re Greenhome’s blacksmiths.

Salvaged?

Yeah, you know, salvaged. I broke the law back when I was part of Gang White. They were going to throw me in the Prison. Gil paid the cost of my crime for me and they sent me to Greenhome instead. He’s my salvager. I, I owe him everything.

Do you like living in Greenhome?

Like? Of course I like it. We have food, clothing, and Christmas. I never even knew about Christmas until I came to Greenhome. Can you imagine? All those years on the Street and never knowing about Christmas. Seems sad now. Besides, if I wasn’t at Greenhome, I’d be in the Prison or I’d be dead . . .or both. The Prison isn’t a place you want to be. I heard (again he leaned forward) that they’re all crazy in there and they do things like sew weapons into their skin and stuff. I even heard that they eat each other when they die. (He shudders believing the stories boys tell each other after the lights go out. His legs start swinging.) I’m more thankful than I can say that Gil salvaged me. I just hope, I hope I can live up to that someday.

It has to be pretty amazing to have someone willing to do that for you.

Yes it is. (His face reddens. He wipes his eye the back of his hand and sniffs.)

So, let’s change the subject. Tell me about your green hair.

Well, it’s green cause I liked the color. When I made my first lantern with Gil and Kent’s help, I smashed a green piece of glass and embedded it in the metal. It was really neat to see the glass melt and then harden. I gave it to Gil. He hung it on his door. I’m going to make him another one and give it to him for Christmas, but this one will be a lot better. I’ve learned a lot since then.

No one thinks it’s strange for you to have green hair instead of brown or blond?

Brown? Brown hair would be strange! That new kid Jonah has brown hair. He stands out like a sore thumb, so does that girl Adele. Her hair is gray. It’s not like silver or something, just gray.

So, everyone in Greenhome has hair like yours?

Yep. Some of us just stick with one color, like my green. But other kids, mostly the girls, change their hair color almost every month. It’s crazy. Who needs a new hair color that often?

How old are you, Ralph?

Twelve, I think. I’m short for my age, but I’m strong. I can beat most of the older boys in an arm wrestle. Even the one’s in training with Duke.

Training with Duke?
Yeah, every kid trains with Duke when they turn sixteen to learn basic fighting skills and how to shoot a gun. If you want, or if he wants, you can stay in and join up with Greenhome’s army.

Are you going to join Greenhome’s army?

Naw. I’m going to be a blacksmith like Gil and Kent. I’m gonna make the guns, not shoot them so much.

Don’t you think it’s strange for Greenhome to have an army, especially one filled with sixteen-year-olds?

Are you crazy? Have you seen the Streets? Look around. (He swings his arms wide.) The world isn’t a safe place. Why last summer, I heard that there was this place out west that couldn’t harvest kids, so they sent a gang to go steal other people’s kids. You think Soul and Duke are just going to let some people come steal us? You think we’re not going to help them fight that gang? Besides, Duke always says we’re safer for the training than we are without it. At least, he always says, “we ain’t in danger of shooting ourselves with the wrong end iffen we know which end the bullets come out”.

And it’s not like it’s the little kids learning. Only the older kids get trained.

I can’t help but smile at his impersonation of Duke. It’s almost spot on. Well, Ralph, I think we’re just about out of time. Any last thoughts or something you’d like to say?

I don’t think so. I just want to make sure I did Greenhome, and Gil and Kent, proud. They gave up everything for me. An unborn from Gang White? I want to make sure I don’t say anything that might get them in trouble.

I think you did just fine Ralph.

Okay, good. Thanks for talking with me.

 

He vaults out of the chair and tares out of the room running and whooping like a boy on the first day of summer. I can’t help but smile at my dear brave Ralph, smile and hope he strong enough for what’s coming. He was right about the people with no harvested unborns. He was right about the gang coming for children. I fold up my paper and put away my pen. I’m glad I had this time with a twelve-year-old blacksmith apprentice because I’ll never have it again.

 Ralph is a character in my Gentle Magic Fairy Tale, Icicle Rain.

So, how’d I do on my first character interview?

Quote of the Weekend

Trees, machines, souls

all have some which are white as snow

or black as coal.

Trees, machines, souls,

each one of their hearts,

rotten and whole

the King knows.

Old Souls, Builders, and Scarecrows

will not to the dark heart of the Enslaved bow

but will arm the children

with bows and arrows.

Trees, Machines, and Souls,

Old Souls, Builders and Scarcrows

one and the same,

the neutral must change

no longer able to ignore

the Enslaver’s pain.

The good must stand

by the scarecrow and his brothers

The unborn, rejected by their parents must rise.

The Enslaved, and the coal black hearts of the Guardians

must be fought,

must be stopped.

The Saviours can save one,

but backed by  Old Souls and Builders,

Scarecrows could stand in the breech for many.

Icicle Rain, by Abby Jones

(Poetry isn’t my strong point. I started off with a bit of a rhyming rhythm and it just changed into lines of prose. That’s pretty typical for me. This bit of whatever it is describes some of the classes in my Work-in-progress Icicle Rain. Icicle Rain is a young adult novel mixing elements of Steam Punk, western, and fairy tale. I hope to work with my cousin over at Oregon Curiosity Shop on some of the Steam Punk aspects. )

Quote of the Weekend

Unborn

Torn from the sleeping safety of the womb

Where do you go?

Having lived not here,

Having lived not there,

But torn, unborn.

Not in heaven,

Not in hell,

But born on the other side of a Door.

Opening beyond our own,

Just beyond the edge of sight,

Beyond my reaching fingers.

Where do you go?

Where do you go to live?

Beyond the Doors.

– Unborn, by Abby Jones

(The opening poem to my Work-in-Progress Icicle Rain. I’m working on a parallel world where aborted children go to live out the lives that were taken from them. It’s a Steam Punk, Western Fairytale. The Oregon Curiosity Shop on Esty  can give you a visual on the Steam Punk side of things.)

Writing Journal: Writing a Fairy Tale

I don’t have any great writing let-me-splain-01lesson to share at the moment, so what I’m going to talk about is the joy I have suddenly found in writing a fairy tale.  Some of you followed my Worlds before the Door blog and so you know what I used to write.  You have my permission to skip the next paragraph.  For those of you new to me, let me explain…that would take too long…let me sum up.  🙂  (Now you know exactly what kind of geek I am, and that I grew up happily in the 80’s.)

My writing is dark and detailed.  Now it’s hasn’t been detailed for the readers, but under the hood, it’s complicated.  I told all of my dark stories in a magical, fantastical setting.  This fantastical magic had very intricate rules.  It had to.  If you’re going to give your supernatural heroes supernatural enemies and have consistent battles, or any type of battles, you have to know who can do what.  Who can have visions and who can’t?  What type of visions?  When?  That’s the details.  I wrote about serial killers, mass murderers, insane asylums, and other such things.  The darkness came pouring out of me because light shines brighter in the darkness.  Hope is sweeter after emptiness.  Healing only matters if you’re broken.  Forgiveness is for the damned.  This is why my stories are dark.  I had to do a lot of emptying, breaking, and damning before I could bring hope, healing, and forgiveness.

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The problem was very few people could stomach them.  Those who actually made it through my 70-page prologue, where everyone died, did so with lots of shudders.  A few readers told me they couldn’t read what I wrote.  They loved the message but they couldn’t bear the depth of the darkness to get to the light.  The people not interested in my stories far outweighed the people who loved them.  (Thank you to everyone who loved them!!!)

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I wanted to share my stories and I wanted to encourage the body of believers.  I wanted to remind them through my stories that there is hope in the darkness when you’re broken and bleeding.  I wanted to remind them of the power of forgiveness.  I want to show a true love that is a choice of the mind instead of a whim of the heart.  I didn’t want to be one of those people who stubbornly and rebelliously refused to change at the request of others or the dictates of the Lord out of some misguided desire to be true to self.  What did I do?  I started writing fairy tales for children.

1024For the past few months, I’ve pounded my head against a brick wall with my Fairy Tale: Icicle Rain.  It was such a struggle.  I had so much to learn about this world.  Nothing felt comfortable, familiar, or smooth.  I had to edit every scene already written as I wrote new scenes and discovered more about the story.  Then it happened:  I had a moment.  The whole story came together.  The darkness became so very dark and the light became ever brighter, if smaller for a time.  I found a piece of the heart of the story:

(Just to make it clear, Gus is a mouse and Presto is a mushroom with many eyes.  Oak is a dryad.  I told you it’s a fairy tale, right?)

“And your heart?” Presto asked raising several eyebrows at Gus.

“My heart?” Oak patted his coat and trouser pockets.  “Where’s my heart?  Oh, yeah, I gave that away.”

“Do you know who has it?”

“No, but they needed it.  Their own heart had been broken, so I gave them a new one.  I gave them mine.”

“Can you tell us even one little thing about who has your heart?” Presto asked getting irritated.

Gus grunted at him.

“You know, sir,” the mouse turned to Oak.  “It might be a good idea to know a little bit about this person.  Your heart belongs to them now and that brings responsibilities and obligations.”

“I know that they are kind,” Oak said.  He leaned forward, listening not with the ears he no longer had, or seeing with eyes no longer his own, but listening to what he had given away.  “I know they needed hope.  I know great sorrow and loss mark them.  She lost everything she cared about, and that loss broke her free.”

“Did you say she?” Presto said, leaning forward.

“Yes.  I gave my heart to a woman.  She loved eight men and when the last one was safe or dead, or both, she left.”

“Sounds like a bit of a floozy if you ask me,” Presto muttered getting another pointed glare from Gus.

“No.  No.  Not grown men.  There was only one grown man.  The rest were growing men, her growing men.”

Gus gasped.  “She had seven sons?  You gave your heart to the mother of seven sons?”

“No.  I gave my heart to a woman with a glint in her eye and a heart for trees.”

The mouse and the mushroom gasped.

“That’s impossible,” Presto said, never truly at a loss for words.  “Impossible, I tell you.”

These few lines won’t mean a whole lot to you, but to me they were the moment I found a huge part of why I was writing this story.  They represented all the darkness still coming, but it wasn’t an empty darkness.  It was a darkness with lots of hope.

I fought against writing children’s literature for years.  Poor writing plagues it.  Everyone is doing it to try to capture some of the monetary magic of Twilight.  I often find most YA, and Tween books filled with angst instead of adventure, worship of romance instead of the truth about real love, and lacking adults as if adults can’t be in YA fiction.  (Obviously, there are exceptions.)  I didn’t want to throw myself in with that mix, and yet…I love good children’s stories.  Many of my favorite books are books I read in high school or were written for that age group:  Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Sunshine, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  I love a well-written story for children.

So, I shook off the self-imposed stigma I had attached to writing for young people.  Who cares if most of it out there is tripe or poorly written?

I embrace my new stories.  I love writing a Fairy Tale because it can have all of the darkness, and not all the magic has to be explained like it was in my other stories.  I love writing a Fairy Tale because I can pull from all the myths and truths that I love and hold dear.  I love writing a Fairy Tale because I found a piece of the heart.

Shiny

Shiny!

I’m not one of those people who believe that the best way to battle darkness is to pretend it doesn’t exist.  I think it’s best battled by facing it head on.  Heavy thoughts from someone with a blog covered in bright colors and paisley patterns who writes kids stories about her nieces and nephews, right?  Nope.  I consider myself the Kaylee of the battle against darkness.  I can face the darkness with tears and a smile because my soul is safe.  A Hand mightier than my own holds it.  The darkness doesn’t like hope, laughter, and smiles.

Writing Journal: Timeline

I’m a pantser, as most of you other writers know.  I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a pantser over the years.  You can read the article I wrote featured on the Magill Review here.

Because I’m a pantser who abhors all things outline related, my stories come out a bit on the messy side in the first rough draft.  I’m aiming for a particular goal when a great idea or plot point derails me, and I’m off chancing that rabbit until I sort out how it connects with the rest of the story.

dugsquirrel

Squirrel!

Case in point, my WIP(work in progress): Icicle Rain started out as a revenge story.  Two friends commit a crime.  Deke goes to prison.  Jonah accepts the mercy offered to him.  Deke languishes in prison feeling betrayed by Jonah.  He breaks out determined to get revenge.  Now that I’ve grown more comfortable in my new world, gotten to know my characters better, and fleshed out the political lines, the story has turned into an epic war story.  (Surprised?)  The kernel of the revenge story is still there, it’s just no longer the main driving force.

Let’s look under the hood of novel-writing.  Behind every well-written story is a complex timeline of events.  One the reader may never ever see.  It lists out everything from hair and eye color to seasons and day-by-day actions.  It tracks where and when each major player is at all times regardless of whether it’s a scene in the book or not.  It tracks weather.  It makes sure everyone ends up at the right place at the right time.  It even tracks chapter breakdown and has character portraits.  (A writer has to remember who has a big nose and who doesn’t.)

So, each morning as I add a new scene, or edit an old one, or both, I make little adjustments to my Timeline page.  When I first started writing, I wouldn’t start the timeline until I finished the first rough draft.  But as I developed stronger writing muscles and my stories became more complex, I began my Timelines whenever my brain became confused and muddled by facts.

With Icicle Rain, I started the Timeline at the same time I started the book.  I had three or four characters in my head, one or two magical abilities, a couple of scenes, and an undeveloped setting.  Over the next few weeks, that grew into a handful of chapters, ten or so characters, and four days of plot points.

For the first time, I’m recording events on my Timeline as they happen in the book.  I’m adding and adjusting the Timeline as I add and adjust the story.  I always make sure the Timeline file is open alongside the story file.

What has this done for me?

  • First, it’s let me see my progress as a writer.  I believe having the Timeline open from the beginning shows a level of commitment and professionalism.  It shows my growing confidence in my storytelling and writing abilities.  Before I would have just written, let the chips fall where they may, and sorted it out later.  Now I know what editing is like and I’m trying to save myself some work up front in the initial rough draft.  I think, and hope, that this is growth in my ability to write.  I know what’s coming when the books done, so I plan for it now.
  • Second, it’s let me watch the world grow.  This is a new world, a new writing style, a new voice for me.  No matter what genre or age group I write, I have signature elements: darkness, damage to the hero, healing heroines, grace, mercy, hope, friendship, and ultimately light overcoming the darkness in the end after a long hard road.  But this brave new world is not modern, it’s futuristic, it pulls from my other world, for sure, but it’s very different.  It’s a fairy tale.  This has allowed me to be more poetic in my descriptions, mythical in my creations, and mysterious with my magic.  Those of you who have read any of my other stories will recognize some echoes from those worlds, but seen in a new light.  The Timeline allows me to see the world grow in a more truncated format than the chapter-by-chapter story.
  • Third, it’s helped me be aware of timeframe conflicts earlier on.  Instead of writing, writing, writing, reaching plot point 24 and realizing nothing is coming together correctly, I’m on plot point 4 making sure everything’s moving forward at the right pace.  When I see they aren’t, I adjust either the story or the Timeline.  This gives me a greater sense of control and helps me see where I need to go.

How is this not outlining the story?  It is in a way.  It’s outlining in hindsight.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Any story I’ve ever written has a goal.  I’m either working towards a scene or exploring two characters.  But, I still don’t know what twist and turns the story is going to take.  Icicle Rain still has big dark patches.  I know how I think I’d like it to end at this point, but I’m not sure of the exact path to get there.  I know what I want to happen in the next few days to each of the main characters, but I’m not sure how that’s all going to play out.  Keeping a Timeline as I go let’s me see where I’ve been but leaves the future dim.

And, I like it that way.

I like the not knowing because it lets me hear the story for the first time.  I get to be sad, happy, touched, and angry as I’m writing.  I don’t know yet how all the threads weave together.  It’s exciting and motivating just like when I read a book I’ve never read before.  I can’t wait to pick it up and find out what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to come together.  It keeps me turning the pages.  It keeps me typing and dreaming.  That’s why I’m a pantser, a reverse outliner, a Timeliner.