Thursday, August 30, 2012

Novelist Pat McDermott on Children in Adult Stories

I'm very pleased to welcome back Pat McDermott, discussing a topic I've often been curious about: making child characters central to an adult story. I've never tried it myself, but I've read some great examples (David Mitchell's Black Swan Green pops to mind).

In her new novel, Fiery Roses, Pat used this technique, and agreed to share her thoughts about it.

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Children in Adult Stories

Blackmail and murder hardly make Fiery Roses a story for children. Yet a few vibrant moppets have stolen their way into this action/adventure fantasy set in an Ireland that might have been. Why include children in an adult story?

A child’s perspective can ease the tension, offer a simpler point of view, or add a touch of humor as it furthers the story along. In this excerpt, two girls amuse a reporter.

The sight of two red-haired demons bicycling straight at her frightened her until she realized the skinny legs pumping the pedals belonged to freckle-faced Mary Margaret Gannon and her sister Joanie.

“Allison! Allison!” Little Joanie skidded to a halt, braking with the toes of her sneakers. “An old, old man is visiting Aunt Betty. He must be a hunnerd-an-ten!”

Mary Margaret backpedaled to a stop. “He came to see her garden.” Holding the handlebars, she straddled her bicycle and sighed. “He said none of the flowers in her garden was as beautiful as her, and then he kissed her hand.”

“He’s going to court her,” squealed Joanie. “Wait till we tell Daddy!”

No secrets with kids around. Then we have the adult character who flashes back to childhood. I used this trick to help readers understand Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin and newlywed husband of Princess Talty. Here, he shares a haunting memory of his first meeting with his grandmother.

“‘Come here, boy’, she said. ‘Let me look at you.’ My mother gave me a nudge, and I went and stood in front of Bridget.” His eyes shut tight at the recollection. “I thought she was a witch, Tal. I can still see her weird purple eyes staring at me, never blinking. Then she said, ‘You look nothing like my Frank.’ She only spoke to my mother after that. While we were having tea, she said, ‘He’s left-handed. That’s no good,’ and other equally endearing things.”

Fiery Roses takes Neil and Talty to a parallel world, where they meet Kavie, a darling eight-year-old who gives Talty a chance to demonstrate her archery skills.

Kavie stood with his back to the sun, shooting arrows into, or at least near, a moth-eaten hide thirty yards in front of him. Pieces of straw peeked from beneath the target, an old boarskin shaped to somewhat resemble the unfortunate boar who had once owned it.

Smiling at his comical lack of skill, she waited until he reached for an arrow before she spoke. “Hello, Kavie. You’re up early. Practicing your shots, are you?”

“Good morning, goddess,” he said in his squeaky but endearing young voice. “I’m going to be a great hunter, like Papa.”

“That will take lots of practice and hard work.”

“I don’t mind.” He stood tall. “I’m small, but I’m very brave.”

Kavie will have a chance to prove his bravery, as will little Joanie, and yes, even Neil. The children’s presence undeniably enriches the plot of Fiery Roses. I’m glad they insisted on jumping aboard.

* * * * *
Fiery Roses, released by MuseItUp Publishing on August 10, is Book Two in the Band of Roses Trilogy. Book One, A Band of Roses, was released in May. The third book, Salty Roses, is due for release in November.

To learn more about Pat McDermott, visit her website.           

Fiery Roses on Amazon or directly from MuseItUp Publishing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paranormal Fascination is Hardly a New Phenomenon

EBENEZER'S LOCKER, a paranormal mystery for tweens.

A hundred years ago, Corbin Elementary School's building housed Dr. Ebenezer Corbin's School for Psychical Research. It seems that a couple of old spirits are still wandering the halls. It's up to Rhonda Zymler to find out what they want.

Ebenezer's Locker follows the adventures of Rhonda, a sassy sixth-grader who's having trouble finding her place and identity. Getting to know these spirits becomes Rhonda's quest. The more she digs, the more perilous her task becomes, and to complete it she must take two trips back in time. This story blends the realities of an economically-challenged modern American town with supernatural elements. What Rhonda finds not only gives her life a sense of purpose, but changes the fortunes of her entire town.

*   *   *

Movies, TV dramas, reality shows, novels, non-fiction... Every type of media seems obsessed with the paranormal. But, while this might seem like a new phenomenon, it's only the latest of many times this craze has hit. When I was doing research for Ebenezer's Locker, I learned a lot about a previous period of spectral fascination.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, America was loony for specters. The ghost fans, called the Spiritualists, sought connections with the dead in the parlors of mediums. These were men and women (and even children, sometimes) who seemed or claimed to have the ability to talk to the Summerland, the world beyond this life.

In Ebenzer's Locker, Tallulah Radley is an older lady in the neighborhood who happens to be a psychic medium. The kids go to her for help when they realize that they're facing ghosts.

I had a wonderful time doing research about the old days of American Spiritualism. I filled Tallulah's home with the sort of equipment that would have been used at the turn of the century, as if she might have inherited it from a psychic ancestor. Most important for her is a planchette, a wooden device with a pen in it. Through the planchette, a spirit can write a message for the living.

Although American Spiritualism started because people believed in the afterlife and wanted to communicate with it, it blossomed because of its economic potential. People made a ton of money looking into the future or the past for clients. And, not surprisingly, the industry was rife with cheats. My research uncovered many faked, theatrical ways the so-called mediums made their connections with the other world seem more spectacular.

I packed all of these devices into a single, breathless speech by Tallulah, who would never do any of these disreputable things. In this scene, two of the girls are in a seance with Tallulah, trying to communicate with the ghost of Ebenezer:

            Mica walked over to one of the two floor lamps in the room. “I should turn these off, right?”
            “Whatever for?” said the medium. “We won’t be able to see.” She patted the back of the chair Mica was to sit in.
            Mica didn’t budge, though. “Séances are supposed to be in the dark,” she said stubbornly, “or maybe with just one candle.”
            I was glad she’d brought that up, since I’d been thinking the same thing. But Tallulah was not pleased. She didn’t sound like a cookie-baking grandma now. “Young lady, sit down this instant.”
            Mica, looking as stunned as I was, followed the order.
            “Dark-room séances are the last refuge of charlatans,” Tallulah said.
            I didn’t get it. “The last what?”
            She sighed sharply. “I’ll say it in simple modern words for you young people. Only phonies have to turn out the lights at séances, so they can cheat.”
            “What kind of cheating?” asked Mica in a tiny voice.
            Tallulah stood, her voice full of emotion. “Some cheaters have an assistant hide in a cabinet and tap on the wood, pretending to be a spirit communicating.” She drew her hands above her head in a circling motion. “Some have wire puppets draped in sheets that float across the ceiling.”
I thought she was done, but no.  She seemed near tears. “I’ve seen phonies keep objects in hidden drawers under the table.”
“Why?” whispered Mica.
“So they can sneak them out as if a spirit made them appear. Some will hold a client’s sealed letter to their head and heart and pretend to absorb its meaning.” Tallulah mimed pressing an envelope to her forehead, eyes closed, very dramatic. Then she opened her eyes wide and shouted, “But actually, they drip rubbing alcohol on it so they can read through the envelope. And you know what some fakers do to make it seem like a spirit has appeared in a darkened room?”
            We shook our heads, afraid to speak.
            “Well, I’ll tell you. They dip gauzy white cloth in glow-in-the-dark paint. And they hide the cloth…” She gasped, as if amazed at her own story. “Well, they hide it in their underwear, children! I will not be compared to these razzle-dazzle snake-oil salesmen.” She plopped down in her chair, limp and exhausted.

*   *   *
You can buy Ebenezer's Locker in any e-book format directly from MuseItUp Publishing
or on Kindle from Amazon.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thoughts on My Three-Novel Summer

Dear Reader:

Never, if you can manage it, publish three books in as many months.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not thrilled to have three novels published. Trust me, I am. And I certainly had no control over this situation, my books being with three different publishers.

What was the downside? Everything you'd expect:

1. Potential readers got confused. My own family can't keep track of who is publishing what, and in what format. Friends and acquaintances who clearly wanted to support me didn't know which title was which genre or age-group.

2. Three blog tours, back to back. That's really all I need to say on that topic. You can imagine.

3. Over-saturation of my brand. To much of me, too quickly, associated with too many different titles.

But I did learn a huge amount about publishing and promotion. Here are a few of the many things I've taken away from the experience:

1. Daily posts on blog tours are a waste of time, unless the blogs are very high profile and a lot of strangers will read them. Just jumping from one small blog to another tends to keep you in the same circle of potential readers. Your Facebook and Twitter followers and other contacts lose interest quickly ("Wait, didn't you just have a launch day?").

I gained very few readers, despite all that effort. Next time, I will spread out the blog marketing, perhaps to once a week.

2. With three publishers utterly distinct in their approaches, I learned about various release choices. I can see that it is important to me, and to potential readers, that my books are available in both print and e-formats, and at all the major online venues.

3. Publishers probably do want a sequel, no matter what they say on their submissions guidelines.

So, dear reader, I survived the crazy three-book summer of '12. It was fascinating, thrilling, exhausting, and terrifying. And, while I hope to have many novels published in the future, I hope to spread them out by at least a few months!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Trouble at the Scriptorium giveaway winner, and another giveaway!

The winner of my Launch Day Giveaway is....

Katie Clark!

Woo-hoo! Congrats, Katie.

Thanks, everyone, for showing such enthusiasm. And never fear: the blog Unusual Historicals is also doing a Trouble at the Scriptorium giveaway (I'll have two posts there this week), so hop on over there and try your luck!

Remember, there are a few more stops left on the blog tour:

Friday, Aug. 10: C.K. Volnek's blog
Sunday, Aug. 12: Second appearance (interview) on Unusual Historicals, plus giveaway
Monday, Aug. 13: Interview on Stacy Green's blog
Tuesday, Aug. 14: Guest post about writing historicals for kids, on Elaine Ouston's blog

If you missed some earlier stops and want to catch up, here's a complete list.

And, unrelated to the blog tour, I'll also be the featured interview starting Wednesday, Aug. 15, on the renovated Drunk Monkeys lit e-zine.

Next week, I'll be sharing my thoughts about the experience of doing three blog tours in a single summer. Yikes! Hope you'll stop by and join the conversation about this authorial ritual.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Launch Day! Win a copy of TROUBLE AT THE SCRIPTORIUM!

So, I had this situation, see? I'd done all this graduate work in medieval musicology, and I was becoming interested in writing fiction for kids. The result of combining those two things?

Ta-DA! I wrote the tween medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium. And I'm thrilled to report that this novel is now available directly from Royal Fireworks Press.

Harley is a twelve-year-old servant boy at a castle north of London in the thirteenth century. Lady Margaret, also twelve, is the daughter of the castle's lord. Together they must puzzle out a message hidden in a book of Gregorian chant. There's something very suspicious going on at the scriptorium where the book was made, and people's lives are in danger! 

Here I am, clutching my precious author copies:

For more information on the book, plus some teacher's resources, visit the Trouble at the Scriptorium page on my website.

My blog tour begins next Monday, so I'll be posting direct links to those posts and interviews later. But here's where I expect to show up in the coming weeks:

Monday, Aug. 6. Ruth Schiffman's blog (why I wrote this book)
Tuesday, Aug. 7. Across the Plain of Shining Books (from the point of view of 12-yr-old Lady Margaret)
Thursday, Aug. 9. Unusual Historicals (book excerpt)
Friday, Aug. 10. C.K. Volnek's blog
Sunday, Aug. 12. Unusual Historicals (interview)
Monday, Aug. 13. Stacy Green's blog
Tuesday, Aug. 14. Elaine Ouston's blog

Say, would you like to win a review copy of Trouble at the Scriptorium? (It's an early print version, with a few illustrations missing.) Just leave me a comment below, including your email address. The winner will be announced Friday, August 10. (Sorry, but this is open to U.S. residents only because of postal costs.)

P.S. I just signed a contract for the sequel to Trouble at the Scriptorium. Harley and Lady Margaret have another exciting adventure in their future! The London Hurdy Gurdy takes them to the big city.