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Toddlers and Writing: Like Oil and Water – Guest Post by Kit Campbell

Kit Campbell author photoToday I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest blogger. Kit Campbell is the brains behind the business end of Turtleduck Press, and she’s also the author of our newest novel, Shards.

And? She’s doing all that around a small child. Here she is to explain how.

I think most people who are not parents don’t really think about what it’s like to have children. That’s not a dig or anything like that, but why should they? Children are something in the future or something that you occasionally see at holidays and then can return to their respective parental units.

Even parents don’t really think about what it’ll be like in the future. It’s hard, when you have an infant, to picture what he’ll be like as a toddler, a preschooler, a teenager, an adult. So, while I knew when I had children that I would have less time to work on my stories, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was getting into.

I should probably preface this by saying that I’m fairly new to this whole parenting thing; my only child will be a year and half just after the new year. I have, in this last year, managed to partially rewrite and completely edit my debut novel Shards, which was just released this past Sunday.

How did I manage this? Very carefully. And by “very carefully,” I mean by careful use of what little free time I have left. I like to imagine that, as the small, mobile one gets older, I’ll get some free time back, either by him learning to concentrate on things or by eventually sending him off to school. I may be deluding myself, however.

Right now, I have to do all my work while he’s sleeping. And I do mean all—not only my fiction work, but also my normal, daytime job, which I do from my home office. I also need to do some things around the house or yard while he’s asleep too, usually things that involve dangerous chemicals or sharp implements.

I’ll tell you one thing. I have learned to focus like nobody’s business.

Sometimes I can get some work done while he’s up, usually things that I can be interrupted during and not lose my train of thought. But he’s at this stage where he wants to know what I’m doing at all times and, if at all possible, also do what I’m doing. Or steal what I’m doing and run off with it. (He also wants to eat all my food. Anything I don’t want to share has to be relegated to nap time.)

He can occasionally be distracted by being turned loose in the backyard, though if he notices the laptop within range, he’ll be back. Sometimes he can be distracted if I give him whatever food item he’s been coveting and stay where he can see me. (But hide the laptop behind a plant. Or a stack of dishes.) He is, however, never distracted when I ask his father to watch him and then hole up in the office. He will stick his face up against the glass door and run his tongue along it until I let him in.

I once wrote 50,000 words in a month while working full-time and taking graduate-level engineering classes. Who would have thought that one toddler would prove more time-consuming than that? But it’s probably good for me to have the structure, and despite the decrease in productivity, I wouldn’t go back to the way it was before. Life’s a little more interesting through all the chaos.

About Shards

Shards by Kit CampbellEva Martinez is just trying to finish her religious studies degree before her mom guilts her into coming home, when Michael saves her life. There’s definitely a spark between them, but Eva needs to focus on her studies and upcoming trip. Turns out Michael knows a lot about her major, but there’s a lot he’s not telling her too. Will Eva discover the truth about herself before it’s too late?

Kit Campbell has never met a mythology she hasn’t liked. This sometimes leads to issues, such as the occasional Norse God of Thunder showing up in the Garden of Eden. She adores weaving in the possibilities forgotten magic can bring to a story, and enjoys making up new creatures, such as large, venomous monsters that hunt in packs.

Kit’s stories have been published in half-a-dozen anthologies, and her YA novella, Hidden Worlds, was released by Turtleduck Press in 2010. Shards is her first full-length novel.

Kit lives in Colorado in a house of ever-increasing chaos. She can be found around the internet at kitcampbellbooks.com, @KitCampbell, and on Goodreads.

More Reading

Kit’s doing a blog tour this week — if you’d like to read more about Shards, all the links can be found at Kit’s website here.

And, in totally unrelated news, I’m blogging at Turtleduck Press about being addicted to stress.

 

NaNoWriMo: The Final Stretch

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re into the last few days, the time of reckoning. You have one weekend day left, and two weekdays.

How are you doing?

If you’ve already hit 50,000 words (or whatever your personal goal may be), congratulations! You can coast for the rest of the month and, if you’re American, enjoy your Thanksgiving / turkey dinner / Black Friday / etc.

If you’re still short of the goal, don’t despair! Great things happen every year in the last few days of NaNoWriMo. People pull off superhuman feats to win. Sit down, glue your pants to your desk chair (or a chair at the coffee shop, if that’s more your style), and try a few of these methods to keep you focused

But what if you know you physically can’t make 50,000 words? Or you’re not willing to write complete and utter crap to get to that magical but arbitrary number?

Take heart. You may have written more this month than you do in other months. You’ve probably written more than you would have if you hadn’t attempted NaNo. You may have been able to jump on that wave of NaNo energy. You’ve almost certainly learned some valuable lessons about yourself as a writer — even if it’s just a realization that NaNo doesn’t fit your writing process, or that you need to find a way to make more room for writing in your life than you did this month. Maybe you’ve even developed some good habits that will serve you well going forward.

(Full disclosure: I’m in that last camp. I’m participating as a NaNo Rebel, editing instead of first-drafting. My initial goal was 50 hours, but I’m sitting at around 25 and I’ll be lucky to hit 30 by the end of the month. But that’s an hour a day, better than most months, and it’s gotten me back into the habit again. And, unlike NaNo, it’s a pace that I think I can sustain.)

So what’s next?

Don’t send out your freshly minted novel into the world yet!

December is unofficially National Novel Finishing Month — since you may not have hit the end of your story even if you hit 50,000 words, and most published adult novels are quite a bit longer than that anyway. (How much longer depends strongly on genre.)

March is unofficially National Novel Editing Month…and if your editing process is anything like mine, a month may be just the beginning. Don’t even think about publishing until you’ve edited — and that means the big stuff like plot, pacing, and characters, not just fixing your grammar and typos.

But don’t think about that yet. For now, celebrate, type like a crazy person, or look back on the month and figure out what you’ve learned.

And know that, no matter what you have or have not accomplished this month, you rock.

*cue Chariots of Fire theme*

Your turn! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how’s it going? If not, how has your November been?

Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

From Anna by Jean LittleA couple of months ago, I wrote about strong female characters in SF and F. Today I’d like to revisit some of the characters who inspired me as a younger reader and writer. If you have a budding reader — of any age — to buy for this season, consider the following recommendations lists…

Middle Grade Novels

Amy from M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. Amy is a princess cursed to be “ordinary” – she’s not beautiful or good at embroidery or dancing like her sisters. But while lacking in traditional royal virtues, she has a wide independent streak. When her parents try to marry her off, she runs away into the forest to live on her own terms. No ass-kicking here, but plenty of resourcefulness and gentle humour, and an age-appropriate romance on her own terms.

Anna from Jean Little’s From Anna. Unlike most of the novels here, this one is historical fiction, following a German family who emigrates to Canada ahead of WWII. While the shadow of the Nazis lurks in the background, the plot rests solidly on the difficulty of fitting in to a new place. Anna is hampered by having bad eyes and poor English, but her stubborn streak may prove to be her greatest strength.

Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Like Amy, Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be married off, so she runs away to cook and clean for dragons instead, and her life gets much more interesting from then on. Her employer, Kazul the King of the Dragons, is actually female, and she befriends a pretty awesome witch in the forest of the title. Even when she eventually does get married and have a child in subsequent books, her awesomeness is not diminished. (Fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell did a series of posts on these books, starting here.)

Nancy Blackett from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. In this series set (and written) in 1930s England, two groups of children sail small boats around a large lake and have adventures that include a strong dose of imagination. Nancy Blackett is the captain of the boat named Amazon, and she lives up to the name – she’s the ringleader of all the adventures, and a fearless pirate whose favourite expression is “Shiver me timbers”. Who says girls can’t be pirates? (Though you will notice her strength is fairly masculine in form.)

As a bonus, Nancy isn’t the only strong girl character in the series — Titty Walker from the Amazon‘s rival boat, the Swallow, is a thoughtful dreamer who gets her moments to shine, and a later heroine, Dorothea Callum, is a writer and storyteller to balance her scientific-minded brother Dick.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid LindgrenRonia from Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Lindgren is better known for creating Pippi Longstocking, but I have just as much love for the less off-the-wall Ronia. She grows up in a castle in the woods, running wild among a band of robbers and befriending a boy from a rival band. Pure fantasy? Yes…but what’s wrong with that?

(I’m not going to list all the best-known classics about girls here, but I’ve mentioned some of my favourites over here.)

Young Adult Novels

Kim from Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward. In this Regency world with magic, Kim is a street urchin (masquerading as a boy to avoid the inevitable fate of a girl on the London streets) who’s hired to burgle the wagon of a performing illusionist. But his magic turns out to be real – he’s no circus hack, but a true magician who’s gone incognito after being framed. Soon she’s learning how to do magic herself while helping her new friend clear his name. There’s some romance, especially in the second book (which has more about London Society and less running around in a circus wagon), but the real fun in this duology is the madcap capers that ensue.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffreyMenolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy. Forbidden to pursue the music she loves, Menolly runs away from home (sensing a theme here?), befriends some fire lizards (think tiny dragons – a more YA-friendly and more mellow version of Danaerys from Game of Thrones), and follows her dreams to Harper Hall. This series has been a gateway to adult SF&F for many a young reader, but beware — while the Harper Hall trilogy is safe, some of the other Pern books get pretty mature in their subject matter.

Vesper Holly from Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series. Think of Vesper Holly as a teenaged version of Amelia Peabody – a nineteenth-century adventuress who travels to exotic locations and solves mysteries. ‘Nuff said? (Lloyd Alexander is one of my all-time favourite MG/YA authors, and he has written a lot, so if you get someone hooked on him, he’ll keep them busy for a while!)

(This part of the list is shorter because when I was growing up, there wasn’t a Young Adult genre the way there is today. I went more or less straight from Anne of Green Gables to Anne McCaffrey, A.C. Crispin, Isaac Asimov, and other YA-friendly SF&F authors — and I think I’m pretty typical. But if you have more YA classics about girls that I’ve missed, please chime in!)

Picture Books

I also had a few favourite picture books about girls, both fairy tale retellings by Robin Muller. Tatterhood features a cursed but fearless princess who scours the world for her beloved sister, while Molly Whuppie and the Giant stars an equally fearless woodcutter’s daughter who rescues her two older siblings from certain death. Both of them got read to pieces in our house; they are utterly wonderful, if you can find them.

Your turn! What classic books about girls can you recommend for younger readers?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like one of the following:

Turtleduck Press Cover Reveal: Shards

I’m excited to unveil the new novel release from my indie publishing house, Turtleduck Press. Shards, by Kit Campbell, is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance featuring an inquisitive Latina university student and a handsome guy who’s keeping supernatural secrets…secrets that have to do with her, and with a past she doesn’t remember.

Intrigued? Here’s the cover:

Shards by Kit Campbell

Shards comes out on December 1, and Kit will be guest posting here that week. In the meantime, you can read more about Shards over at Kit’s website.

(Apologies for the brevity of this post. I’m deep in the throes of novel editing…)

YA Gothic Novels

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba BrayJane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. All classic Gothic stories from the nineteenth century. But Gothic has never really gone away…or if it has, it’s baaaack (dun dun dun). This week on the blog, we’re looking at recent Gothic novels in YA.

Gothic Tropes

To recap from last week’s post, here are the main Gothic tropes:

  • An old, decrepit mansion in the wilderness.
  • A mysterious, emotionally distant master of the house (or sometimes mistress, if it’s not a romance).
  • A young woman (such as a governess) who is new to the scene.
  • An orphaned/unwanted child or children living at the house.
  • A terrible secret (sometimes supernatural).
  • The mood of horror, usually related to a moral transgression (such as a murder).

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Libba Bray’s 2003 YA novel A Great and Terrible Beauty is a good example of all the main Gothic tropes.

The central character, Gemma, loses her mother early in the book (and her father is unable to care for her, so she’s essentially an orphan) and is sent away to a boarding school in the woods, run by a mysterious headmistress who knows more than she’s saying. There are secrets that Gemma must unravel, an old chapel, and supernatural goings-on. And there’s a mysterious, distant love interest.

There’s even a new teacher to stand in for the governess, although usually the governess is the POV character. In this case, being YA, the story focuses on the (quasi-)orphan instead.

Bray’s novel explicitly explores the theme of last week’s post, the Gothic and the feminine. In the story, Gemma and her friends discover a form of magic that stands in for, and ties in with, their chafing against the restrictions of Victorian society and their awakening as women. They’re curious about love and sexuality, but there’s no approved outlet; they’re desperate to control their own lives and feel empowered, but society won’t permit it. Magic gives them freedom — but with limits and dangers attached, because this is a Gothic novel, after all.

(I should point out that this is the first in a trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are titled Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.)

A Gothic Reading List

Other recently published Gothic novels for YA readers include:

  • Sharon Cameron – The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen (steampunk)
  • Leanna Renee Hieber – The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, and The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess (another boarding school story, or at least that’s where it starts…)
  • Kenneth Oppel – This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent (retelling of Frankenstein)

Your turn! Do you like Gothic stories? What do you like about them? What books can you add to the list?

The Gothic Novel and the Feminine Touch

In celebration of Halloween, we’re talking Gothic fiction this week. That’s a big genre, ranging from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe. But what I’m particularly interested in are stories that exemplify the core of the genre — novels like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw.

What tropes do these stories have in common? Here’s a clue…

This recent edition features Heathcliff at his most, er vampiric.

This recent edition features Heathcliff at his most, er vampiric.

Gothic Tropes

  • An old, decrepit mansion in the wilderness.
  • A mysterious, emotionally distant master of the house (or sometimes mistress, if it’s not a romance).
  • A young woman (such as a governess) who is new to the scene.
  • An orphaned/unwanted child or children living at the house.
  • A terrible secret (sometimes supernatural).

As with all horror, there’s something wrong in the setting — a moral transgression that has resulted in something terrible. The young woman has to solve it and right the wrong. The master is mixed up in it — it’s his secret, though usually some of the servants are helping him keep it. Sometimes the young woman and the master are involved in a romance, which can’t be consummated until the secret is uncovered and robbed of its power.

Clearly Gothic stories are highly gendered — think of the young innocent woman (and children) in danger, or the brooding Gothic heroes like Rochester and Heathcliff. But more than that, it’s always a woman coming into the man’s house.

So what’s up with that?

What This House Needs is a Woman’s Touch

Maybe This Time coverThe Gothic house is cold, run-down, loveless…kind of like its master. Only the young woman can turn it into a home and rescue the children (and, if it’s a romance, warm the heart of the Gothic hero). Sometimes she fails — as in The Turn of the Screw or Wuthering Heights. Sometimes she succeeds — as in Jane Eyre or Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie’s modern-day retelling of The Turn of the Screw.

(Side note: Maybe This Time is quite different in tone — it’s got heavy romantic-comedy elements — so don’t pick it up expecting a dark, broody psychological horror tale, even if many of the plot elements are the same.)

But the young woman isn’t always a virginal, innocent type. Jane Eyre is virginal, all right, but she’s pretty cold herself, thanks to her own upbringing as an orphan (in a cheerless boarding school run by a harsh master — almost a Gothic mansion in its own right); it takes meeting Rochester for her to develop passion. Andie, the heroine of Maybe This Time, isn’t young — she’s already been married once — but she’s certainly cheerier than the other denizens of the house.

The Maiden and the Crone

Jane Eyre coverYou’ve heard of the mythical three stages of womanhood, yes? Maiden, mother, crone?

If we can accept that the young woman is more-or-less a maiden, who develops into a mother (and wife) over the course of the story, then what about the crone?

Well, as it happens, the young woman usually isn’t the only woman in the story. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw (and Maybe This Time) all have a housekeeper who isn’t able to keep the house running as it should. Of course, she’s not the mistress of the house. She’s also not young and marriageable — which makes her the crone, and therefore somehow unable to provide a “woman’s touch”.

The Madwoman in the Attic

I love how this cover screams "horror pulp", unlike the Jane Eyre cover, which screams "serious literature". Wuthering Heights has some fun pulp-y covers too.

I love how this cover screams “horror pulp”, unlike the Jane Eyre cover, which screams “serious literature”. Wuthering Heights has some fun pulp-y covers too.

Besides the young woman and the crone, there’s one more female trope in Gothic fiction: the proverbial “madwoman in the attic”. That’s (the first) Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (though interestingly enough, Great Expectations has a male hero). You could also argue to include the governess in The Turn of the Screw, who turns from maiden to madwoman over the course of the story — a common reading is that the ghosts she sees are hallucinations.

So what’s wrong with these women?

In the standard approach, they’re symbols of repressed feminine power. For example, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys retells Mrs. Rochester’s story from her own point of view, which exposes racial issues as well as feminist ones.

They’re also symbols of broken transitions and unfulfilled roles. Miss Havisham’s fiance left her, which is why she wanders around in her wedding gown for decades. Mrs. Rochester has gone mad early in her marriage (which may or may not be Mr. Rochester’s fault, depending on your reading) and is therefore unable to fulfill her role as wife. In Maybe This Time, one of the ghosts plays double duty as the “madwoman” due to her untimely death.

Again, it takes the maiden-turned-mother to put things to rights.

Next week, we’ll delve into Gothic stories for younger readers and examine some interesting edge cases…

Your turn! What do you think of my theories? Am I out to lunch? What’s your take on the feminine and the Gothic? Which Gothic novel is your favourite?

You might also enjoy my review of the Gothic film The Woman in Black.

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1If you liked this post, check out the latest anthology from Turtleduck Press, which features TWO Gothic short stories — one from me and one from Kit Campbell, whose novel Shards is out next month.

 

WANA Friday: Childhood Home

Welcome to another edition of WANA Saturday, er, Friday, where you’re invited to join us in blogging on a common topic and going on a blog-hop to read everyone’s takes.

This week’s prompt is:

Tatiana de Rosnay has written a book called The House I Loved about Rose Bazelet in France in the 1860s when her house was to be destroyed in the reconstruction of Paris into a modern city. This book made me think of the houses that I have lived in and loved. What house, or place, have you lived in that you loved? Tell us about it.

I grew up in suburbia, so I can’t say I loved my childhood house exactly. Yes, it was home, but my heart belongs to old houses, like my grandmother’s house in Vancouver or the house I’m lucky enough to live in now.

And I don’t miss the suburban lifestyle — my current home has a good balance of public transit accessibility, nearby amenities, and backyard and other green space.

But I did move across Canada when I left home.

I miss Alberta.

(If you’re not Canadian, think “American midwest” and you won’t be far off.)

The Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

The Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

I miss the huge prairie skies, with their ever-changing clouds, their pure deep blue, and their spectacular sunsets.

I miss the fields of wheat and oat and barley, the sparse rows of trees set up as windbreaks, the big red barns all made in a particular style.

I miss the Rocky Mountains — but that’s a post for another day.

I even miss winter. Sure, it’s longer and colder and darker than winter in Toronto, where I live now. But it’s a lot sunnier — in fact, the colder it is, the more likely it is to be sunny. It’s drier and less windy. And the snow stays crisp and frozen, rather than turning into ankle-deep slush that must be waded through. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the -30 C weather Alberta gets in the winter, but I really hate slush.

When I was growing up in Alberta, we used to pretend we were Arctic explorers (thank you, Arthur Ransome). We built forts and made snow paths with our toboggans (one benefit of having a big suburban backyard!) and slid down hills and went cross-country skiing and skating outdoors and climbed snow mountains. Even shovelling was fun…for a while!

Other WANA Friday participants this week

Janice Heck shares memories of her childhood home

Your turn! If you’ve moved from one climate to another, what do you miss?