Dedicated to my first Nanowrimo win- The Red String. Celebrate every triumph!
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Last week I met historical fiction, mystery, and memoir author, Lisa See, possibly most famous for the movie adaptation of her novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. She discussed her inspiration through a series of coincidences and the specific writing journey related her newest release (on paperback), The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, a Chinese-American adoption story. It’s a tale of mothers, and, as Lisa says, it’s a universal tale because everyone has a mother.
Lisa See and Pearl S. Buck are two authors I admire greatly for their beautiful literary renderings of Chinese characters and settings. My YA trilogy, Days of the Guardian, and my middle-grade short story, The Baiji, include Chinese flavors, though to a much lesser degree. I have no Chinese relatives and have never traveled out of the U.S, therefore; I depended upon research.
There are many things as universal as mothers though, and I did my best to display the emotions, themes, and personalities that characters of all backgrounds and cultures share. I hope readers see themselves in my stories.
After all, everyone has a mother.
While you’re waiting for the 2018 movie release, read the review of my favorite L’Engle novel, A Ring Of Endless Light.
Enjoying some Houston/ Gulf Coast Soul today….
Listen to more from The Suffers.
Braydon burst into laughter. Today was his tenth birthday. He couldn’t stop smiling. Memories of his last birthday party had faded a long time ago. He had been four years old. He’d loved dinosaurs and was an only child then.
Every year he was given a different, yet equally lame, excuse. His parents claimed they were too poor, too busy, or too something. Brayden knew the truth—all they cared about was Katie.
Brayden’s little sister, Katie, was five years old and had Down syndrome. His parents’ lives revolved around Katie. Last year, they actually forgot it was his birthday, until he reminded them at bedtime. They promised to make it up to him.
-Excerpt from Monster-Shark, my contribution to the Perceptions Anthology: Special Needs by Inklings Publishing, a collection of stories for educators, teachers, and students that include characters with special needs.
I’m honored to be included in this anthology. Growing up with a brother with Asperger’s Syndrome (years before this form of autism had an official name), I wanted to write a story representing kids who feel unnoticed because the special needs of their brother or sister take up much of their parents’ attention, time, and money.
I also interviewed a friend of mine, the mother of a sweet boy named Enzo, who has Cri du Chat syndrome and she told me, with tears in her eyes, about what often happens when Enzo plays with other children in restaurant play areas. They always make him “it” and run away from him, screaming. He has fun, but it breaks her heart. Then I interviewed some kids under twelve and asked them about what games they could think of to play that would include kids with special conditions like Enzo’s.
Monster-Shark was the result.
Critique. It’s not everyone’s favorite thing, right? But as a writer, critique groups are necessary for me, a good hurt. Of course, not every circle of writers is a good mix or a constructive influence. I don’t know the secret formula for finding the perfect critique group. Somehow I’ve been super lucky. I attend three amazing groups that suit my location, my genres, my commitment, and my skill level. They accept my writing for what it is, yet challenge me to do better without insulting my ineptitude. Sure, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Critique hurts sometimes, no matter what. And we still debate the common trivialities: the Oxford comma, clichés, and the ever-popular-bad-apple, adverbs.
Today a writer in my critique group lost his battle with cancer.
William Barnes wrote historical fiction. His latest work-in-progress dealt with the sordid history of the Texas Rangers. Before I continue, I must confess—I’m a Yankee. When we arrived at the “Western Expansion” portion of our U.S. History books in high school, our teacher skipped it, claiming this part of U.S. history wasn’t important, as it contained dubious facts and silly folktales. In contrast, my children took two Texas history classes before graduating from elementary school, which I considered suspiciously xenophobic. Bill read his work-in-progress at critique group and shot bullets through my prejudice. In his native Texan drawl, he read his excerpt aloud, a complex tale with Rangers hunting down Mexican-heritage citizens while those in Congress debated boundaries and laws. Conflict, complexity, humor, and action surrounded the historical facts of his story and I was surprisingly intrigued. Funny how a brilliantly scripted “silly folktale” can change minds, huh?
But I gained more than a new respect for Texas history from Bill. That same night, I shared my piece with the group, a flash fiction horror story. Bill liked it so much he emailed me later and volunteered to beta-read anything I had. I sent him a YA fantasy short story. He sincerely loved it and detailed the reasons. When I lack confidence in my writing abilities, it helps to recall Bill’s words. A Texas grandfather and longtime-writer of historical fiction went out of his way to encourage me, a YA speculative fiction writer.
Though cancer stole Bill from the world, his encouraging words live on. They lend me confidence on days of doubt. Before he passed, I had the precious opportunity to thank Bill for his encouragement. I imagine him riding into heaven on a wild mustang.
Critique is important. Facing tough criticism molds us into better writers. But there’s a flip side. Encouragement also makes us better. If there’s someone like Bill in your critique group, thank them today.
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