WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW & then, DO ALOT OF RESEARCH

  Writing fantasy is hard. One of the foremost rules (and in this a ‘rule is not a bad thing- think of it as a helpful guide; a small, furry marsupial with big, dewy eyes perhaps) of writing is to write what you know. I would say that it provides a useful jumping -off place. You can start small; write from direct experience; even pepper the prose with actual dialogue. Ive been guilty of jotting down notes while in the middle of an intriguing conversation with someone. “Wait a minute! Can you repeat what you just said!” I mutter as I scrawl words across my forearm in a frenzy having as usual left the house without a notebook. Ive actually recreated whole scenes from life. You know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction”?- Well often it is especially living in a small town as I do. Far, far stranger than anything our tired brains could come up with.    I tell my writing workshop kids, “describe an apple or a favorite toy. Write down what happened after you got home from school one day.” “Make sure to put in detail so it doesnt just read like a list.”I sort of see it as a wedge. Writing the familiar opens the door and once youve got your foot in there- (this may end up being a confusing analogy!), you can pry the door wider and wider and see what else is behind there. Or perhaps its more like a stepping stone across a wildly rushing stream full of floating objects, and the familiar lets you lean over and plunge your hands into the foam and pull out…what???   Something strange and unexpected; something that bears little resemblance to anything in your own life. Im not quite sure, and Im definitely no expert. I can only try in a truly pathetic way to try and express how it feels when a story takes charge, and what a thrilling ride it can be.   Feltus Ovalton LeRoi is me. “Cest moi!” as the surly French teacher Monsieur Brondex might say. Great Aunt Eunida is partly me (the messy bits), and so is science-crazy Percy, and so are neatniks Mr. and Mrs. LeRoi, and of course Winston is me as I wish I could be- a wise, big-hearted creature who is smart enough to enjoy the good things in  life.   Incidentally Monsieur Brondex is based pretty much directly on my most-hated tenth grade languages teacher who made my life miserable. She was a sour, old woman with a mustache and I had to sit directly in front of her desk, red-faced and sweaty from the gym class I had right before French instruction. Her beady black eyes would burrow into me, her whiskery mouth would twist in dislike…..whew! She still gives me nightmares. Monsieur Brondex is much nicer but French and prickly in the same way. My next book after Feltus #3 will hopefully (I say hopefully because I might wake up in the middle of the night, panting and sweating and gripped by a new idea which just has to be written down immediately) be either a humorous fantasy about superstition, or a realistic portrayal of a teenage girls journey after a cataclysmic occurrence. I am doing research for both books. Its a lot of fun. I can read all kinds of books on varied subjects both fiction and non-fiction, and not feel guilty that I am spending time away from my computer and new manuscript. And, I can surf the internet all I want. The web is a great place to find out things. And it saves time. At least it would if I just went there to ask and receive the answer to a question about the number 13 or tide levels or rubies or temperature fluctuations or how to make a shelter with some plastic sheeting and two rubber bands. Unfortunately the web is a cunning beast. It lures you in and then doesnt spit you back out again until your head is buzzing and you only have fifteen minutes to get dinner on the table.  Also, I often find that the baby has been crying for the last ten minutes.   Anyhow Id like to say that I researched various things in Feltus 1 and 2 but the truth is I asked my tech-savvy husband a couple of questions abut transmitters, radio signals and motorcycles, and pretty much winged the rest. Magic gives you a wee bit of a cushion in that youre creating these magical objects and also because most fantasy readers are willing to suspend disbelief and accept what you tell them as long as it sounds realistic.            

   These next two books however require a lot of research and Im more than happy to take my time doing all kinds of preparatory work before I even write the first sentence. I have woods behind my house. Perhaps Ill go out there with some sheeting, rubber bands and a penknife, baby well-bundled, and see if I can make a shelter that wont fall down the minute the wind blows. Maybe Ill find out how hard it is to start a fire with a magnifying glass. Writing kind of gives you license to do childish things, to attempt something that mature adults normally dont try- bungee-jumping or eating fried locusts or shaving your head. 

   One of my favorite writers for young people is Michelle Paver. Check out her excellent series- The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Shes traveled extensively, spoken with indigenous people, studied wolves, and eaten seal blubber (supposedly it tastes like almond ice cream and warms you all the way to your toes- but how would you know that unless youd eaten it?) while staying in an igloo. All in the name of research.

  

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