Inspiration

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a workshop run by the UWSP English Department’s ACORN (A Chance tO Read in compaNy) program. The ACORN book this year is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and the workshop sessions I attended were Tomoko Kuribayashi’s lecture on Margaret Atwood, Per Henningsgaard’s lecture on the role of colonialism in Alias Grace, and Sarah Pogell’s lecture on nineteenth century psychology.

The workshop was fabulous. The UWSP faculty were knowledgeable and interesting, and the topics fascinating. The day was fun and got me excited about literature again . . . . and made me question myself as a writer.

I began my first novel, Charlotte’s Inheritance, while I was in graduate school: taking literature classes, discussing literature, analyzing literature. I was immersed in the literary world. The idea of Syncopation came to me during the same time period, though I wrote it after I’d finished school. These books reflect my mind at that time.

I don’t want to say that my novels are in the same class as the novels of Margaret Atwood or Tracy Chevalier or A.S. Byatt, but they are heavily influenced by these writers. Charlotte’s Inheritance and Syncopation have themes and layers and complicated characters. They could be studied. I’ve spent many years trying to get them published, and a common criticism from agents and editors is that they are “too literary” for such-and-such a publisher’s list.

I’m a practical person. I want to be a published writer; I want to have an actual career as a writer. So, I’ve decided to write more light-weight novels in the hopes that this is what the publishing world is willing to publish—something like The Stolen Goldin Violin. I wrote this with / for my family with no illusions as to it having literary merit. The Stolen Goldin Violin is a quick, light, fun read.

In the past two years, I’ve gotten excited by a few ideas for light-weight books (see my previous blog postings), but after a little time, I find myself uninspired. This didn’t happen with either of my first two novels. I had slumps, but these stories were forged by a fire within me that raged until the story was out.

I don’t want to spend more years of my life pouring my soul into a literary novel which will never be published, read only by a few close friends. I’m not a literary snob. I read everything. I like fluff and didn’t expect to have trouble writing fluff.

Recently I’m just so uninspired, and I guess I’m just trying to figure out why . . . .

A New Story

Gosh, it’s been so long since I posted. With my oldest starting high school a month ago, life has been a little crazy here. I haven’t done as much writing as I’d like either.

So, I guess I should let you know that I’ve decided to put my book about Olivia on hold because I’ve got a great idea for a young adult historical thriller. I don’t want to give too much away here, but I will give you the basics.

There are two parallel stories:

In one, a modern teenage girl goes to Washington DC on a school trip (like my son and I might do in March). In a museum in DC, she discovers a portrait of a woman wearing a tiara that was stolen from her great-grandmother. By digging deeper into the history of the tiara and its owner/thief, the girl puts herself in danger.

The historical story involves the modern girl’s great-grandmother who, as a child, took a ride on the Titanic. With her on that ill-fated ship were jewel thieves, spies, and all sorts of craziness.

I might be writing the historical part of this novel during NaNoWriMo this year. The modern part I would write after my trip to DC (assuming I go on that trip).

So, really, I should be doing research, developing characters, and plotting my action instead of writing this blog to you. Toodle-oo.

The Hunger Games

If you have not yet read this series, I advise you to rush out and buy it at your favorite bookstore or go to your local library and get on the waiting list. (They most probably will not be on the shelves.)

Normally I wait to post my favorite reads of the year until the end of the year, but I’m obsessed with this story. I don’t want to leave the characters or the world (even though it was a pretty awful world), and I thought I better post about it and get it out of my system, so I can return to the characters and world I’m supposed to be writing about!

When my older son first told me about The Hunger Games(first book in the series), I asked him what it was about. He told me, and I immediately decided I didn’t want to read it. That night, a friend of mine told me she had just read The Hunger Games, and she thought it was possibly the best book she’d ever read. The next day, my older son came home from school with an audio copy of the book. We listened to it in the car as a family, then sat in our living room and finished it.

A few days later, unable to take the library’s waiting list, I ran out and bought a hard cover copy of Catching Fire (second book in the series). We read it as a family on a long road trip. I obsessed about the story and characters all during that vacation.

When we got home, I pre-ordered Mockingjay (third and final book of the series). When it arrived in August, my older son and I fought over it, and I (being much older) won. I read it first, then he read it, then I began reading it out loud to my younger son. (I read it twice in about a week.) My husband is reading it now.

So, you ask, what is this book about?

It is set in the future after some sort of nuclear war or disaster. North America is divided into 13 districts and the Capitol. After District 13 rebelled and was destroyed (about 75 years before the book begins), the Capitol initiated the Hunger Games. One boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen by lottery from each district to participate in the games. The Hunger Games take place in a wilderness-sort of arena, they are televised, and the children participating must kill each other until only one is left. So, now you know why I first decided I didn’t want to read it. Pretty icky stuff.

But Suzanne Collins is a magnificent writer. It is a horrible world, but the characters are gems. They aren’t all lovable or even likable, but they are all incredible. Every single character has depth and grows over the course of the trilogy (unless they die, of course, and there is plenty of that). There aren’t easy answers or solutions to the myriad of problems, but the people try to survive in the best way they each know how.

It is rare for a book (or movie) to deliver fast-paced, violent action and delicate, complicated characters. The people in this world sometimes do horrible things to survive, but they never recover from it. They are irretrievably damaged or changed by what they do and what happens to them.

You have to read these stories. You’ll be changed too.

The Stolen Goldin Violin Sequel

We’ve gotten a number of requests to write a sequel to The Stolen Goldin Violin, so I thought I would update you on that issue. I am currently working on an adult novel, a mystery taking place in 1880s England. I’m hoping to have this finished by June 2011. My next project could, indeed, be a sequel to The Stolen Goldin Violin.

I’ve had some very different requests about this sequel. Some people see it taking place at ASI the next year, with May, Hunter, Bayly and Sebastian as returning main characters. Some people see it taking place at ASI the next year with a different group of main characters. Others have moved us out to San Diego with May and Selena meeting up with Augustina Goldin.

What are YOUR thoughts? Do you like any of these ideas? Do you have ideas of your own? I’d love to hear from those who want a sequel. If you cannot respond to this blog, email us your thoughts about a sequel. We love to get fan mail: elizabethcfelt at gmail.com (Replace the “at” with @ and leave out the spaces.)

Reject Bowker’s Manuscript Submission Service

Would you pay $200 a year to have your manuscript in a slush pile? This is what Bowker Publishing is asking authors to do.

If Bowker can convince publishers and editors to buy into its service, authors will have no way of reaching the publishing industry without paying exorbitant fees. Only writers who can afford to pay will get published.

I am outraged! Please, writers, refuse to submit to this service!!! Please, editors and agents, refuse to participate in this scheme!!!

Book Sales at Institute

The American Suzuki Institute is this week and our book is for sale in the institute store. The manager of the store says it is one of her best sellers! Our book signing yesterday went pretty well–many people had already bought the book from the store, and we sold some additional ones ourselves.

The most fun thing is to be walking around campus and seeing people we don’t know sitting in the shade or eating lunch at a picnic table and READING OUR BOOK! Very exciting!

Institute Book Signings

The American Suzuki Institute is almost here! We have several book talks and signings organized during institute. They are open for anyone–you don’t have to be attending institute to come.

We will be in the Noel Fine Arts Center at UWSP, room 201 (Stevens Point, Wisconsin)
Monday and Thursday, Aug 1 and 5, at 11:00am
Monday and Thursday, Aug 9 and 11, at 11:00am

We hope to see you there!

New Novel

All through the school year, I can’t wait for the summer, so I can do some writing. Now that it’s the summer, I’m looking forward to the school year, so I can do some writing. Ha! Even though my kids are no longer small, they still keep me busy. Plus, it is a battle to get “computer time” as everyone in my family wants on. I don’t mean this as a whine session–I love being a mom. And, the truth is that I’m a pretty lazy writer, so I sometimes let other people’s desire to use the computer as an excuse for me not having to write.

Anyway, today’s blog is supposed to be about my new novel. I’ve broken down and started re-writing my newest novel, converting it to a mystery. I’m really happy with it. I’ve changed to first person and toughened up my protagonist, Olivia. I’m so happy with the Prologue that I’d like to share it with everyone. Please let me know what you think. (If you are an agent and editor and interested, let me know: elizabethcfelt at gmail.com).

Prologue
I’d played many roles in my years as an actress, but strangely never murderess. It wasn’t a role I much cared for now. I had not killed poor Mrs. Bracknell no matter what the chief constable thought. And I certainly didn’t steal that jeweled monstrosity, the Emrubdiam of Khartoum.
Wrists tied tightly together with linen strips and attached to a small ring, I sat in the back of a dog cart being transported to whatever stood for a prison in the nearby country village. Although cleaner than I’d expected, the dog cart was uncomfortable and dangerously unsteady. I sat awkwardly on the bare wood, my arms tight against the ring in the corner, each rut or rock in the road jarring the cart and knocking me against its hardness.
The cart was meant to carry dogs to a race or a hunt, but with a belly laugh, the Admiral had compared me to a dog and ordered it for my transport. The farmer turned police officer who came to take me away had objected, citing the open back and his inexperience driving this weak vehicle. I would soon be grateful for the Admiral’s theatrical rather than practical choice of transport.
The air was cool for a September morning, patches of fog hanging in the valleys and gulleys of the countryside. The sky was a dark steel grey and thunder rumbled in the distance, though it might have been the sound of railway cars banging at the station some three miles distant.
About fifteen minutes from Hudson House, we entered a thick but small wood, where the fog seemed to cling to the heavy-leafed trees. The wet cold air was hard to breathe. I found the wood ominous and a bit frightening. Having spent my life amid the cobblestones and traffic of London, I did not trust the English wilderness.
Faced to the rear and watching the road disappear in the fog, I did not see the sharp turn at our front. The driver must have known the path, but he did not slow sufficiently. The cart tipped, angled sharply and rolled briefly on one wheel before going all the way over. The wood panels of the corner in which I was tied split apart and I was thrown into the brush at the side of the road. My hands were still tied with the metal ring dangling from the linen strips.
The policeman had also been thrown but landed on his feet, his hands wrapped in the reins. Cursing and staggering, he tried to slow the horse who continued dragging the shattered cart down the road. Before he could look back and see what had happened to me, I darted into the darkness of the wood.
It would only be a moment before he had the horse stopped and returned for me. I had little chance of out running him, with my hands tied and wearing a thick skirt and slippers. The fog would be my friend, but I had no desire to run thoughtlessly and become lost amid the trees. Moving only about twenty yards into the wood, I turned sharply and ran parallel to the road, back the way we had come, looking desperately for a place to hide.
The wood had many tall trees, but now that I was running among them, they did not appear so very close together. The forest floor was thick with saplings, shrubbery and gorse bushes, which snagged at my skirt and slowed my progress. The fog was patchy and not a reliable camouflage. I needed to find a hiding place and quickly.
Behind me, I heard the police officer yell, “Miss Snow! Yeh’ll do yehself no favors by runnin’. Come back now and I’ll not tell a soul yeh ran.”
I dropped to the ground, slid under a thick bush and tried to quiet my breathing.
He continued to yell, enabling me to follow his movements by ear. At first he moved farther away, thinking I’d run deep into the woods. As I began to be relieved by his dwindling voice it grew stronger.
“Miss Snow! Miss Snow! I can track yeh, yeh know. Yeh left a trail of broken brush.”
His voice grew louder as he talked.
My heart raced and I prayed he was bluffing. There was nothing I could do now. If I came out of my hiding place he would see me for certain.
He stopped calling, but he was now near enough that I could hear him, the snap of twigs, the pulling of shrubbery. I held my breath when I saw his worn brown boots less than five feet from where I lie.
He stood still, uttering no sound. The entire wood seemed to have become eerily silent.
So, of course, I felt the urgent need to cough.
The tickle at the back of my throat was impossible to ignore. My eyes watered, I vibrated my throat to dislodge it, to no avail. It was as though an army of ants were dancing in my esophagus.
Just as I thought my capture was unavoidable, I heard noise. An erratic tapping echoed across the wood. It was the strangest sound, like a drummer who had lost his beat, tap-tap, then silence, then tap-tap-tap, then a shorter silence, then more tapping. Soon the entire wood hummed with the drummer. The leaves in the brush above me swayed and bowed, dispersing raindrops onto my face.
The tapping was replaced by a crack of thunder and the heaviest rainstorm I had ever experienced while hiding beneath a small shrubbery. The policeman let loose a few obscenities and ran back to the road.
I allowed myself a small, throat-clearing cough and felt much better.
The bush kept much of the water away from my person and I was not as soaked as I might have been. I waited until the storm had passed and then crawled from my hiding place. Moving as carefully as possible, I approached the road while keeping hidden in the wood. The broken dog cart lay in the ditch at the side of the road. The horse and policeman were nowhere to be seen.
I returned to the shelter of the wood and began chewing on my linen bindings. The material was well made and strong, but I was soon able to create a small tear. I tried pulling my wrists apart, but I could not get the material to rip all the way through. Ignoring the sodden leaves and mud, I sat and placed the heel of my boot against the tear. I pushed and pulled until I felt my arms would pop from my shoulders, and finally the tear worked its way across a single layer of the material. When it had torn through, the rest of the linen was easily unwound.
It was now time for a transformation. Lifting my outer layer of skirt, I removed the pinafore I had taken from the nursery that morning. Pulling at my tight sleeves, I withdrew my arms then tugged my day dress around so I was wearing it in reverse. It fit badly across the shoulders and was extremely tight across my chest. The bustle, now in front, looked extremely odd. I put on the pinafore which hid the rumpled bustle and gave me an expectant look. I pulled the pinafore tight across the belly, so as not to look too far advanced in my pregnancy.
Next, I ripped the linen bindings into strips and braided them with a blue ribbon. I took down my beautifully coiffed, although completely ruined, hair and formed two simple plaits. I formed them into a ball at the back of my head and placed my makeshift linen-ribbon cap on the top of my head, just above my forehead. Simple hair and simple cap for a country girl.
My eyes are the envy of Amorphis. My mother had green eyes and my father blue. I was born with both, and grey to boot. My eyes are changeable, moving from green to blue to grey depending on the proximity of each of those colors. Making certain the pinafore hid the green of my dress and with the blue ribboned cap on my head, I transformed from an aristocrat with green eyes to a simple maid with blue.
I returned to the road and headed in the direction of Hudson House, walking with my legs a little more apart than normal: the stable gait of a sturdy woman. I would knock at the back door and report as extra kitchen staff for the weekend. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a start. The best way to prove my own innocence would be to reveal the actual murderer, and to do that I needed to get into the house.
The fog had disappeared with the rain and with the end of the rain, the sky had become a lighter and more friendly grey. The muddy road soon left the wood for the plowed fields of –shire. As I trudged along, I considered the people currently ensconced in Hudson House. I knew a great deal about some and nearly nothing about others. I could imagine nearly every one of them as guilty. Sighing deeply and stepping around a puddle, I took my thoughts back to the evening at Oscar Wilde’s salon and the beginning of this preposterous mess.

Youth Writing Group

About 2 or 3 months ago, I helped to start a youth writing group in my community. Our group has kids between the ages of 10 and 16 who get together, critique each other’s writing (in a wonderfully supportive, helpful way), and play writing games.

I’ve been so inspired by the intelligence and humor and gifted writing and commentary from the members of this group. It is so much fun to be a part of.

For the last two meetings, we have had a blast doing round robins. The way this works is that everyone in the group starts with the same sentence and then begins a story with that sentence, writing only about two more sentences. The sheets are then passed to the right. Each person then reads what the new sheet says and adds two more sentences. This goes on until the stories are back to the original person. We laugh so much as we do this. I thought I would share some of these stories. The // slash marks indicate a change of author:

It was a dark and stormy night, but I still had my flashlight and the cabin’s roof didn’t seem to leak much. // Who, oh why, had I decided that going on an evening expedition would be a good idea? It was too late now, of course…. // I was planning my night different but then at the stroke of midnight, everything went wrong. It’s all my friend’s fault. She brought me to the ranch for a week, and “we” meaning “she” planned an evening expedition in the buggy outdoors. I’m not a nature girl. // I’d rather put on skits–endless comedy skits to make people laugh. That’s my idea of fun, not swatting at the mosquitoes that seemed to have infested our cabin. // With grim determination, I decided that even here, in this wet cabin, in the middle of the night, a person could perform. I turned on the flashlight, shone it on myself, and began singing “Over the Rainbow” while doing a simple tap routine. // Hooray! I thought, Hey, why do I keep saying Hooray? Suddenly I blacked out. // I woke up in a bee’s hive and tried to get out. Then I thought, Why am I here? // “The answer to that question, if you complete three challenges!” said a game host bee. // 1, collect 50 gallons of hone, 2, stinger or sword fighting, and 3, eliminate the evil Bozzz Bee!!” // “OK, one sec,” I replied. I pulled out my cell phone and ordered 50 gallons of honey. // The sword fighting proved not to be a challenge–it was just a bee, after all, but what about the evil? I looked up to find my friend laughing and clapping; was she the evil, or was this only the awkward end of a skit?

Here’s another story with the same beginning, so you can see how the stories diverge:

It was a dark and stormy night but I still had my flashlight and the cabin’s roof didn’t seem to leak much.// But still it was miserable. JoJo! I thought and got my dog and brought him in. // It was a horrible thought; my dog sitting in a cage. They would have to put him down if somebody didn’t come and get him in two weeks. So I decided that, even if I had to go to the depths of chimichanga land I would buy my dog back. Not a chimichanga. // Or maybe I would buy my dog and then buy him a chimichanga. I might as well buy one for me while I’m at it too! // And maybe a chimichanga land T-shirt too! Wouldn’t the kids at school be jealous! But I was wasting too much time in daydreams. // Now was time to get to business… I started making a plan in my head as I rummaged through my messy room for supplies. // My dog is man’s best friend. How could they take away man’s best friend? // “Viva la chimichanga!” I shouted, grabbing a leash, a collar, and a small bag of Dog-O-Bits and heading out the door. It would just be me and my dog, forever, … and maybe Crystal, if I could convince her to join in my quest. // My dog was locked in a cage just across the street, but as I neared the road, an ice cream truck pulled up. “Ice cream!” I thought. “This is better than a chimichanga or a dog!” I bought a rainbow blast and was so delighted by the flavor I didn’t see the truck back straight at me.

A Mystery ?!!?!

I was on vacation last week and so didn’t do any writing at all–but I did do a lot of thinking. Before leaving town, I wrote a chapter in which my main characters arrive at a country house for the weekend. There are about a dozen people at the house, and so I had to introduce each of them and make each distinctive enough that the reader wouldn’t get confused. I was pretty happy with how that scene turned out.

While on vacation, I kept thinking about what would happen next, and it seemed, with all these quirky people gathered for the weekend, that it was time for a murder. What!? I said to myself. I’m not writing a mystery! There is NOT to be a murder at this country house! I fought this for several days, but finally gave in and thought, OK, if there were to be a murder, who would be killed? It was easy to answer, because one of the characters (who I’d imagined to be a very nice person) had turned out to be rather nasty. I realized that if this were to be a mystery, my heroine Olivia would be the detective and I would need to adjust her character a bit. With these changes, I realized I liked the new Olivia much more than the old Olivia.

So, I guess I’m writing a mystery. Funny how these things turn out. I wonder if historical mysteries sell better than literary historical fiction….