Posts Tagged ‘Reflections’

I totally missed this month’s group posting with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! I temporarily was without a phone service for one very frustrating week. No phone, no WordPress password, no blog post. However, I thought the “Question of the Month” for June was particularly interesting so I’m going to post my answer anyway.

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OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names? 

I find both equally as hard. I would say the only time in the last thirty-five years that a book title came easily was The Sasori Empire. It’s Book Two in The Chronicles of Aden Weaver series I’m currently working on. How did I come up with it? Sasori is Japanese for scorpion. The baddie of the series is a scorpion shapeshifter, and the title for his association needed an epic name. This led me in a very organic way to the Sasori Empire for the bad guys. Straight away, I knew it would make a great book title, too. Still, to this day, it is the favourite of all my story titles.

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The character name which came the most easily was Sun, the child slave who enters the story in Book Two. Her name was just ‘there,’ fully formed straight away. I didn’t have to effort or chase, or change it five times in writing the prose. “Sun” is like a haiku. It’s short and quintessentially her. It’s one of my favourite character names for its simplicity.

To me, naming your pieces is important. It’s part of the ritual, of drawing inspiration out of the ether and giving it form.

And it’s a significant step in writing the true story which wants to be written. If the name of a character or a story does not ring true for me as the reader, I’m turned away. And the same happens for me as the writer. I can’t get to know and understand my characters, and therefore do them justice, without their real names.

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My current series evolved out of picture books I wrote and illustrated twenty years ago. Names which were appropriate for pre-schoolers were not appropriate for upper middle grade readers, so they needed to be changed.

It took me a year to get them right. I changed the side-kick’s name three times and yet, I still wasn’t happy. Then, I heard my sister-in-law say, that she’d always thought if she had a baby girl she’d call her Te Maia. I loved the name immediately. When I paired it with the surname I already had, Te Maia Wilde, a feisty sidekick was born.

I find the protagonist’s name much harder to choose, because there’s so much riding on it. A main character’s name has to hit it out of the ball park. It has to be easy to say and easy to remember. It has to paint a picture in as few words as possible. Can you imagine Star Wars without Luke Skywalker? Or The Hobbit without Bilbo Baggins? Or The Hunger Games without Katniss Everdeen? These are solid names to hang a heart on.

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With my current protagonist, I couldn’t get anything to fit. He needed a strong, stable name with potential hero in it. I tried Franklin, Benjamin, Sage, and many more monikers. Nothing ‘felt’ like the kid I knew so well in my head. He needed depiction through his name, but no matter how I chased, it remained elusive. Like the white stag in the distance, I could glimpse the form but never catch up.

It required patience. Staying the course.

Four years after starting the rewrite, I happened to read a blog about the success of the Harry Potter series. One of the important factors in the success, so the journalist proposed, was the fact that the hero’s name was ‘relatable.’ The name Potter is taken from those who used to make their humble living in days gone by sculpting clay, and people responded to that sense of familiarity, so he surmised.

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I thought about this, and considered the different professions which were common to most societies and times, and the name “Weaver” popped into my head. I had the surname.

The first name came much later, from a project my youngest was involved in at school, and one of the boys listed in his class was called Aden. I paired this with Weaver in my head. And, I finally had my protagonist. We could sail!

These days, I keep notebooks and jot down great words and names so I have plenty on file. It’s still torture though.

How about you?

How do you figure out your names and titles?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”~ Stevie Wonder

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“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”~ Maya Angelou

This famous saying is one of those truisms that seems well said when we hear them as young people, yet sinks in deeper and deeper the older we get, the more we realize the profound truth.

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Today marked a certain milestone.

My youngest son turned thirteen. He boldly crossed the threshold to teenager. To commemorate, I gifted him his grandfather’s razor. Though he isn’t shaving yet, he soon will be. The razor is good quality and with continued care will last him for years. I know the gift hit the spot because he examined the razor minutely, popped open the lid and looked inside. He had to plug it in and turn it on. As he navigates these wild waters of his teenage years, I want him to feel supported and to feel loved.

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I’m glad he liked his gift, and I’ll freely admit I’m relieved he’s not using the razor, yet. He might be jumping with giddy glee from milestone to milestone, but, poor mama back here needs to sit down a minute and get her breath. We’re at the stage now where his childhood is hurtling by so fast it’s giving me whiplash.

Today also happened to mark another important milestone.

It was the day my beloved “adopted grandfather” Bruce left Toastmasters. He retired after having been in the speakers’ association for twenty-six years, much to the chagrin of all present, especially me.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. Both sets of my grandparents lived in England. As a consequence, my entire life, I’ve idolised grandfathers and that patriarchal figure in the family.

In my writing, the grandfather figure always plays a key role. In the series I’m working on at present, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, the first book starts off with Aden’s conflicted relationship with his ‘Papa Joe.’ It ends in the third book, which I’m writing at present, The Last Tree, with Aden now the grandparent telling his grandchildren a bedtime story.

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My maternal grandparents, Evelyn and Alfred Leonard

To me, that is the penultimate circle of life, when you have the child and the elder present in a story. I may have never met my own grandfathers, however, I can indulge in the experiences I missed out on by vicariously living through my characters, and I must say it is very soothing and healing to do so. I thoroughly recommend it.

Spending time around my “adopted grandfather,” Bruce, has been a real tonic these last few years, also. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. Meeting him at Toastmasters each week has been a hoot.

On that day, nearly four years ago, when I dared try Toastmasters, I went along sceptical and highly self-conscious and absolutely terrified at the idea of tackling my all-time biggest fear, public speaking. I made myself go by assuring myself I didn’t have to join; I was just ‘going to have a look.’

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When I arrived, I saw two silver haired gentleman standing talking outside talking. Bruce shook my hand and welcomed me warmly.

I felt an instant gravitational pull towards this venerable elder. I sat next to him for the rest of the meeting, and Bruce brightly asked questions about me at every opportunity. He said he was 96-years-old, a war veteran. He had recovered to sprightly good health after having both knees replaced at the tender age of 90. I had made a friend.

Needless to say, I joined the club.

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After the nerve-wracked, heart-thumping, knee-knocking experience of delivering my first speech, I walked to the back of the room and Bruce stood there, clapping.

He said, “Congratulations, my dear! You’ve been blooded.”

It was something only a patriarch would say, and I loved him for it.

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be guided by him through many of my speech projects. At Bruce’s farewell party today, held not four days out from his 100th birthday, our club said heartfelt goodbyes.

I gave a one minute speech and said, “Everyone asks Bruce, ‘what’s the secret of your longevity?’ It’s not vegetarianism. He makes every single person he meets feel special. For that reason, everyone he meets loves him. Bruce is surrounded by love everywhere he goes. That’s the real secret to his youth.”

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. How will you be remembered? By the way you made people feel.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”~ Malala Yousafzai

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The “tween” morphs before my eyes. This weekend, he celebrates turning thirteen (ominous bells toll somewhere!) Wasn’t he a baby a moment ago?

He’s taking that step over the threshold, from hovering ‘between child and teenager,’ into official teenagedom.

We’ve been feeling the rumblings of the fiery belly within the volcano for a few months now. I’ve referred to my youngest son’s tween years in previous posts, by likening our household to being the wary villagers living on the slopes of an active volcano. Rumbles like meltdowns and unexplained grumpiness accompany bouts of joyous abandon on a daily basis.

The “tween” morphs before my eyes. His second year of intermediate school is much more social and about friendships and social groups. You never let your friends down, so he tells me. He’s spending more time on his phone. I had to request he put his mobile down for the entire drive we took in the car today, so that we could have a conversation.

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The first year at Intermediate school, he spent an hour or so gaming in the evenings, but it was on his computer, mostly playing games like Roblox and Minecraft, which he did for the most part alone.

This year, every night after dinner’s eaten, homework and drum practise are done and all the chores are finished, the youngest son plays Fortnite. There are alternate explosions henceforth, of giddy dances of triumph, and bursts of molten lava bearing anger and frustration down the slopes, either killing or scaring the daylights out of the poor, unsuspecting villagers.

What weaves these explosions of energy together is a lot of enthusiastic boy talk as he and his friends discuss their game. I watch sometimes from the kitchen while I’m making dinner. Their continuous conversation is punctuated with “Bro” “Bruh” “Yo” “Rip” “and “tight.” Every aspect of the previous game and the kills they made has to be discussed before they can start again.

The son does play solo quests sometimes but, they seem very sad affairs. No, Fortnite is all about the squads, and the way the groups of kids get to hang out together in virtual reality and play war games to their hearts’ content.

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In our house, Fortnite is played through the Xbox on the big screen of the tv, and the youngest son can talk to his friends as they play. This sort of enlarged experience is all part of the more hyped up version of himself he is at present. His voice rises in pitch more often, and he sometimes collapses to a bed mortally wounded by something I’ve said. Apparently, I don’t understand where he’s coming from, even though on the other hand I’m ‘the only one he can tell everything to.’ I tell you, it’s turbulent times in the village. We look up at the black smoke wisping from the peak across the sky.

What else is to come?

The “tween” morphs before my eyes.

There’s no change in the tone of voice yet, he can still reach a high note I can only dream of.

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Another thing that hasn’t changed is the sweetness. The innocence is still there, thankfully. I delight in the purity I still see in him.

And, he retains a need to discuss everything with me. I’m a “touchstone” for now. I remember though, with horror, the terrible creature I morphed into at the age of fifteen. I shudder to think of that happening to my youngest son. He has such a beautiful heart. So far, he hasn’t changed from the usual earnest, sensitive spirit he always was.

However, his appearance is slowly dramatically changing. He doesn’t look like my baby anymore.

All of a sudden, he’s sprouted literal inches overnight.

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I swear. I looked at him tonight and he’s taller than he was yesterday! I felt like someone had taken my child away and replaced him with a much bigger version, and I wanted the smaller one back. His face looks different, the cheeks no longer chubby. Can people really grow that fast? I’ve heard it said that the body releases so many growth hormones, that it does more growing in adolescence than at any other time in our life.

The youngest son’s only just started shooting upwards.

Tonight, he and I looked at one another from his new elevation, and he said, “Imagine when I’m looking down on you.” I said, “Let’s not imagine that, yet.”

Did you ever see the play, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off?’ I did, and that’s how I’ve been feeling lately, with my newly minted teen. Any advice would be welcome!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. ~ Peter Ustinov

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My status update on Facebook of a week or so ago asked whether sleep deprivation was ever used as a form of torture. It was an earnest question. Because having experienced insomnia brought on by menopause in the last four years; I have come to realize how important sleep is to my well being.

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Getting enough hours of shuteye each night is essential to my health, and to my mental health and emotional wellness.

I’ve noticed myself getting annoyed with people out in public, I have little mini road rages in my car, and I don’t give way with a smile as often. I’ve done stupid things like putting the phone in the fridge, and the milk in the freezer, and I’ve forgotten appointments.

This has made me aware that for me to have a sunny attitude and happy interchanges with people, I require a certain topping up of the tank. When there are only a few hours sleep under the belt, the tank’s at half full.

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They say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

Women need twenty minutes more than men, and once they’re awake generally find it harder to fall back to sleep than men.

In the last four years, I’ve been finding it more difficult to fall asleep again if I’m disturbed in the night. I’m still raising my two younger boys, and sometimes, they wake up, needing me for some reason. The end result: I’m sometimes getting through my days on three to four hours sleep.

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Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post  says women aren’t getting enough sleep and once famously called sleep ‘a feminist issue.’ I see her point. I do find everything harder to do on less sleep, let alone attaining my “full potential.”

Instead of relishing the day, I’m battling the day. I can’t get ahead or enjoy the moment.

My grandmother, rest her soul, only ever slept three hours a night. When I asked her why, she said she’d done so her whole adult life. She didn’t need more than that. Me, I need a good nine hours a night to be at my best.

They say that sleeping a whole seven hours at a stretch is a relatively modern innovation, and that in the past, people usually slept two or three hours, got up for a spell and then went back to bed. This was one of the suggestions I heard, to get up and do something relaxing in a low light, like yoga or meditation, before returning to bed.

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It’s about training the mind and memory to attach wakefulness to other areas of the house, and to associate restfulness with the bedroom.

The last four years have been a bit of a struggle, as I’ve been barely functioning on auto-pilot each day, after sleeping a few hours.

I had to look into different things I could do to assist me on the path back to the land of the sandman.

The first thing I did was go to see a medical herbalist. The herbal tinctures she prescribed were instantly effective, and wonderfully natural and non-toxic yet, the price, exorbitant. After a few successful months, I realized the budget couldn’t sustain the price of the tinctures, so I quit. I had to do what I could at home to help myself get the Z’s.

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It’s all still a matter of trial and error, but at least here’s somewhere to start.

*Top Tips for Better Sleep*

*Take regular exercise each day, aerobic and weight training can cut down the number of times you wake in the night

*Carbs for dinner give the body a peak in the levels of insulin which helps you to nod off

*Try to establish a routine bedtime, as the body can set a pattern for unwinding at that time

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*Switch off all sources of light in the room, the darker the better for production of adequate levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps us stay asleep

* Play slow soft music; it’s been found that music with a rhythmic rate of around 60 bpm syncs with the resting heart rate

* Meditation or relaxation/breathing exercises prior to bedtime help release the stress of the day and detach from the dramas

I’ve learned the hard way to make sleep a priority. How about you?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before. ~ Albert Einstein

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**with ref: the special report, Are you getting enough sleep, by Alex Davies

012 (16)What a week! There is this thing kids with special needs do sometimes, which myself and friends who have special kids like to call, “running with Diablo.” It refers to those inexplicable times that come around with cyclical regularity, when our kids go off the rails for a short time.

Overnight, they go from sweet and obliging to fickle and resisting.

I’m not sure what sets Sam-the-man off. Our fifteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome will periodically become impossible to deal with. What causes it? I’m not sure.

It never lasts more than a few days, yet while it’s here, he can cause merry havoc.

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Sam’s been running with Diablo this week. Yesterday, his teacher rang to say he’s not listening to any of the teachers in class. The day before, the taxi driver had to move him to the back seat, because Sam kept taking his shoes off and putting them in her face as she was driving. On Tuesday, my neighbour came to tell me Sam was in his school uniform lying on the grass verge. We ran down and there he was. He must have gotten off the taxi outside our house, as usual, but instead of walking up the drive to the house, he’d walked along the street and lain face down on the grass verge. Luckily he was unhurt. I thanked my neighbour and brought him inside, thanking our lucky stars as well.

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The rest of the time, Sam’s a model child! He will do everything he’s asked. He knows his daily routines, though he still needs a parent there to keep him on task. He can do everything for himself with guidance. It’s taken a lot of work and patience over the years to get him to this level of independence, but we’re here and so proud of his progress.

Sam’s doing really well in school and in general. He’ll happily sit and do his homework for an hour with his carer supporter in the evening. He’ll do anything he’s asked with a smile on his face that melts your heart.

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Then overnight, Sam is the exact opposite, he won’t do a thing I say, and he won’t go along with a single thing the family is doing. He plonks himself down and refuses to move. It’s like a switch is flipped. I talk to him a lot at these times, to explain why he has to do a thing. If he hears enough that makes sense to him, he’ll cooperate.

Next week, I’m attending another child behaviour workshop run by Sam’s school. A special needs mum needs tools in her kit!

The best tip I ever heard was “Distraction! Distraction! Distraction!” and it’s the parental trick I use with Sam most often.

They say the mental health of someone with Downs’ syndrome is five years younger than their physical age. Therefore, Sam is mentally around ten.

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When his behaviour derails, and he’s sitting on the floor refusing to get up and walk to the taxi, I divert his attention, “Oh, did you see that bird?” “Did I tell you about the thing we’re doing this weekend? Come on, get your shoes on and I’ll tell you.”

And the second best tip would be momentum. Once you’ve got them moving in the direction you want them to go/doing what you want them to do, KEEP GOING, do not stop!

Momentum is your friend.

A friend asked, “How do you cope?” Some days are harder than others.

Sam-the-man tests me sometimes to be more resourceful, and he keeps all of us on our toes. There are times when he’s locked us out of the house, or taken something important, like the remote for the garage or a personal device or car keys, and hidden them.

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We’ve lost many tv remotes and devices over the years that the phenomena even has a name, we call it a “Sammy special.”

The fact is it’s not easy, and as a parent I am tired a lot of the time.

I’m not sure whether his cyclical bad behaviour is a childhood thing he will grow out of or not. I remember my father asked me a couple of Christmases ago, “How much do you think Sam will grow up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” That’s the thing. The future is unknown. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess.

Meantime life is never boring, and I wouldn’t trade Sam for all the money in the world.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with open eyes. ~ Nehru

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

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I’m reminding myself the “IWSG Day Question” is optional. This week I wanted to write about something which has been on my mind lately re my writing. And that is, the transformational power of a good critique group.

It was writer John_Yeoman who said, ‘There are no great writers, only great editors.’ Everyone writes a rough first draft. Our work has to be edited until we’re blind. And then we need a second pair of eyes to look at it, and to look at other people’s stories as well, to refresh the mental palate. I remember when I first joined kiwiwrite4kidz, in 2004. One of the organisers and authors, Maria Gill, said, the best advice she could give me was that I should join a critique group.

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I ran scared from that advice, in truth, for years. I had been tinkering on children’s stories in my spare time. I’d been quietly attending workshops and conferences, stalking the literary scene. I preferred being on the outside looking in. An introvert and a loner, I also didn’t feel ready to share my work. I was scared it wasn’t good enough.

Who was I to say I was a writer, and could bump shoulders with other literati?

It was an intimidating process, at first. It took me a long time to get past the initial stage of paralysis. Years later, I tried an in-person critique group. I was so awkward and self conscious and uncomfortable in those social situations, that I felt it simply wasn’t for me.

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I started the online group ‘Writing for Children’ in 2014, on the awesome Kristen Lamb’s Wanatribe site. I met other writers there, and quite naturally, I began swapping chapters with one of the writers, the wonderful Maria Cisneros-Toth, for critique. It was the first time I had shown the upper middle grade story I’d been working on, The Or’in of Tane Mahuta, to anyone.

It was my first real experience of a ‘critique group’ situation, where you’re submitting your chapters each week and getting feedback to work on, and simultaneously reading another person’s chapters and giving feedback on them. It revolutionised my work.

My book began its transformational journey from seed to plant.

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After that, I joined the group, The Magnificent Five, and The Creative Collective, and last year formed another ‘group of two,’ The Two Amigos.

Through that time, I finished and published the Or’in of Tane Mahuta, and edited and published the second volume, The Sasori Empire.

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This year, I’m working on my third book, The Last Tree, with a group I call ‘The Gang of Four,’ (because I like the band!). Four is an effective working number to my mind, because you get a broad range of feedback and yet, there’s still a manageable work load. With two kids still at home, I have to be careful how I manage my time.

It does take energy and commitment, yet it’s worth every minute because critique stimulates and prospers the work and the authors. You get instant insight as to whether an idea has worked, whether your story is making sense and where more or less is needed.

Critique groups provide a fertile laboratory for testing our creativity.

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Sometimes you’re too close to the story to recognize the issues for yourself. One of the things that never fails to amaze me, is that I can see clearly the things which need changing in someone else’s work far more easily than I can in my own. Why is that?

I don’t know.

This give-and-take process of feedback creates a positive force that generates evolution in the work.

We may not love our stories when we first write them, but it’s how we feel about them at the end that counts. And a good critique circle can facilitate great work.

What about you? Have you found yourself a writing critique group, yet?

The Two Amigos

 

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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 “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” ~ Stephen King

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The All is Lost moment is powerful because it is primal ~ Cory Milles

Loss in the course of life is inevitable, yet we eventually become enriched and deepened by pain. We learn and grow from experiences of difficulty.

As writers, we can employ obstacles, failures and friction in a similar way, to force our characters to evolve.

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In his book, The Prophet, poet, Kahlil Gibran, writes of love, ‘He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant.’ This gives an apt metaphor for human life. In our short spans on this planet, we suffer and win and are made anew. ‘That you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.’

This is exactly which happens in life and what we seek to get right with writing fiction. It’s why people read, too.

As my teacher Kate de Goldi said, ‘We remember the readings that acted like transformations.’

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Author, PJ Reece wrote, ‘We’re not attracted to stories without conflict simply because we can’t learn anything from them. They are empty of the seeds that might nurture our own growth, in whatever direction that might be. Of course we love to read happy stuff in books too, but only after the hero has travelled his or her difficult path of personal growth and finally reached the reward for their journey.’

This is precisely why we like books with a solid definable problem.

Think Harry Potter vs Lord Voldemort, or Katniss vs the tyranny of the Capitol. We know who we’re cheering for and that there’s the promise of a good fight.

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All stories, since the first tales told around the campfire, capture the same essence, that of our collective struggle through life.

The stories we remember are those about characters who strive and fail. We love those who transcend their lower natures to become something more, because we relate to that battle. The triumph of our tiny hero, Bilbo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings, when he throws the ring in the fiery pit is universal and the jubilation at the return of the king is the sort of life-affirming, inspiring fodder we will read for generations. They’re the stories about the human condition, our common travail, and they’ll never age.

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In the Warrior Writer’s course I took with tutor, Bob Mayer, he taught us that conflict is the fuel of a story. He also taught that the goals of the protagonist and antagonist must be opposed, although their goals don’t need to be the same thing.

Whether your antagonist is the ocean, a person, or an idea, in order for the core conflict to work, it must bring them against the protagonist in direct dispute. For one to achieve what they want, the other can’t achieve their goal. Therefore they become locked in a dilemma which needs to be resolved.

The questions which this tussle generates keep the readers glued.

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If your story is low key and quiet, then force the protagonist through inner fires. ‘The best stories — and the most lifelike — are ones that follow/force the protagonist through a series of disillusionments.’ Wrote author PJ Reece. ‘I see all protagonists as bumbling their way into the dark, otherwise they never leave their valley, the Valley of the Happy Nice People, and who wants to read about that? No one.’

In other words, if you want your story to be remembered, get the problem nailed down because a sturdy conflict can turn a mediocre story into a bestseller.

With a believable force opposing our hero, the characters are forced to make choices, and we ask which choices they will make and what will be the result. Result: reader engagement.

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Some stories have a background antagonist, who presents no immediate threat, in which case most of the conflict will come from friends, family, team members and “threshold guardians.” Yet, whether there’s a direct or indirect antagonist, each external mini-battle must expose more of the root of the character’s internal conflict.

Each test slowly grinds them to whiteness, teaching them a life lesson or giving them the option to change and grow.

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Within each story there are both internal and external sources of conflict. The internal relates to the character’s inner flaws which need to change. The external refers to the physical forces opposing him creating tension.

In every scene the ideal is to have both an external and internal conflict.

The transformation at the end of the book comes only after the protagonist confronts their limitations and defeats both them and the antagonist. Hopefully, there is a glorious resolution of storyline. There is a positive change in the central character arc, a blooming of the protagonist’s full potential, and a reward, a boon, “the gift of fire” to bring back home for the tribe.

Or as writer, David Farland said, ‘At the end of your novel, there are only three rules: Payoff! Payoff! Payoff!’

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Life is trouble. When everything goes wrong, what a joy it is to test your soul.’ ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

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In October of this year, my youngest son will be going on the trip of a lifetime. He and eleven other lucky kids from across New Zealand have been chosen to go to Disneyland.

Two weeks ago, we received an invitation to apply for a place on the coveted annual trip with Koru Care New Zealand, through our association with Heart Kids NZ. Yesterday, we got the happy news he had been accepted, and we’ll happily do our bit to help raise money for the trip, as this is such a great opportunity.

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Koru Care New Zealand is a charitable trust established in 1983. It’s run by volunteers ‘making dreams come true for seriously ill and disabled children.’ Heart Kids NZ is another charitable trust. It’s committed to providing lifelong support to those born with congenital heart defects and heart disease.

The youngest of my three boys was born in 2005, with complex congenital heart disorder (or CHD), although we did not know that at the time.

The first clue came when he started coughing at three weeks old, though he had no other symptoms of ill health.

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The cough would come and go from then on, however when he did contract the flu, then his health would plummet fast and the cough would become life threatening and continuous. It took me five years to get a diagnosis, as we went down the road of misdiagnoses and educated guesses and countless trial treatments.

Finally, after trying everything, I went back to our doctor with the whole story. She listened carefully to his chest. Her discovery of a heart murmur led to the hospital tests, which finally confirmed the problem was a hole in his heart or Atrial Septal Defect.

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In 2010, he underwent double bypass open heart surgery. The operation was later added to the “unusual casebook.” The hole in his heart was ‘more than just a hole, there was only a rim between the upper chambers,’ the surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Rumball, told us later. ‘And his heart had grown a single vein from the liver to the bottom of the heart,’ something she had never seen before. Dr. Rumball had to figure out how create an autologous pericardial patch to fix both issues.

After six hours of surgery, my five-year-old woke in Pediatric Intensive Care, with a gash down his chest, in a lot of pain. His recovery process began there. Only three days out from the surgery, he moved to the high dependency unit and was already taking his first steps. Three days later we were released to go home.

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We’ve come a long way since those days.

They say it takes paediatric heart patients a year to get their energy back and a decade for the body to recover to the pre-surgery state, however, he is in good health these days. The difference with heart kids is that they are a little “fragile,” they don’t have the same stamina as other kids. They are also susceptible to emotional, developmental and behavioural problems.

My son has thrived since the surgery. Gone are the days and nights of coughing. He has quality of life and the prospect of a healthy future ahead, thanks to the wonderful doctors and staff at Starship Children’s Hospital.

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While we were in hospital, we joined the amazing Heart Kids NZ foundation. We put his name down on the list of kids interested in going to “Heart Camp,” a weeklong retreat each summer. From the age of eight, he has gone to camp every year. He’s learned adventure skills like kayaking, abseiling and rock climbing. He’s sat around campfires, and gone swimming, ridden the flying foxes and water slides. He’s made friends and had important experiences of independence. Because he was well known at heart camp, his name came up when Koru Care said they had places for four Heart kids on the Disneyland adventure.

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My son was the right age and state of health to be eligible, so his name went forward with a lot of others. And we were lucky enough to get picked. He was excited when I told him the good news because he has never travelled anywhere or been to a theme park, and he’s always wanted to go. This sweet boy who has been through so many trials in his life, will get to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to Disneyland!

Thank you to Koru Care New Zealand and to Heart Kids NZ and to the medical staff along the way for making all of this possible and for making a boy’s dream come true.

Blessings come in many ways, even when they’re sometimes dressed as catastrophes.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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If you can dream it, you can do it. ~ Walt Disney

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A tragedy befell our garden this week of Edwardian proportions.

On Tuesday night, around nine o’clock, a storm sprang out of nowhere. It only lasted a few hours and yet, it did untold damage across our region. Trees fell down on people’s houses, on cars and across roads. Winds gusted 100 -160 kilometres an hour and in some places got up to 210 kilometres. A four story building under construction caved in, and there were power outs in many areas, leaving people without heating on the coldest night of the year.

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I went to bed around 9.30 on Tuesday night, afraid of the big gusts of wind roaring around the house. About half an hour later, I was woken by a loud, insistent banging on the door. My neighbour, Pete, stood on the doorstep in an oil slicker, holding a powerful torch, with the wind and rain howling behind him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Your big tree’s fallen down.”

My heart sank. No. Not that tree.

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Not the tree my parents planted in 1962 when they first moved in. The tree my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Jewel of the Garden’ for its radiant magnificence. The tree whose dramatic changing hues, shedding of leaves and regaining of resplendent green shoots has heralded the turning of the seasons throughout my life. The tree I went and hugged for a few days in a row after dad died, and sang to. No. Not that tree.

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I remember when dad came back to visit the old homestead, a few years ago. He walked out into the backyard to admire the liquid amber he’d planted fifty years before. His head tilted, and he marvelled, “It’s grown so big.”

No.

Not that tree.

I couldn’t bear to go and look at it that evening and, besides, it was too wild outside. I waited until the next morning. Then, I went out into the garden, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Most of the main column was gone. My nephew, who lives in the sleep out, said he could hear branches cracking in the storm. He’d gone outside to get a look and could see the big gusts of wind whipping the branches around. He went back to bed and threw a mattress over himself when he heard another loud crack, then a resounding thud when the top half fell.

Miraculously, it had crashed into Pete’s backyard, missing everything except for his clothesline.

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I was relieved to see the remaining trunk was still firmly planted in the ground and that many of the branches still seemed strong.

The tree removal guy says he hopes to salvage what’s left. He can trim the branches and trunk. The tree will be half the size, but the prognosis is that it might survive to be hugged another day.

Boy, I hope so.

I don’t care to lose too many more family members at the moment.

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The theme of loss and the reality of it in our daily lives is difficult.

At the end of the middle grade novel I’m working on, The Last Tree, when the hero, Aden misses his elderly mentor, Geo, he asks himself, ‘Is this what it’s like to grow up, there’s more pain and losing people?’

I think that’s one of those storms we all have to go through, when we start to mature, in becoming aware of our mortality and that our parents aren’t going to live forever. There are moments of understanding that one day we’ll have to find our way through this world alone, and one day, we’ll take the place of our parents as the elders in our own families.

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The elderly or grandparent character in a story always represents our mortality, by the nature of their advanced age, they represent impermanence.

I love to write the grandparents and always include them in my fiction. The truth is, that half the Jewel of the Garden must be taken away, that grandparents will die some day, and that our beloved parents will one day do the same, and so will we. But, the student, the child, the garden will carry on. The new growth will replace the old tree. And the next generation will blossom and thrive and have their season in the sun. That is the flow of life, and there is comfort in that knowledge and wisdom in acceptance.

Have you ever weathered a major storm or lost a tree you loved? What did you do? What nugget of wisdom did you gain from the experience?

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(Dad’s grandson and great-granddaughter)

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

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OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

As a matter of fact my life has been cloudy lately and there have been a few deluges as my beloved father died in February, following my mother, who had died two years before. I would say that the process of writing itself really helped me come to terms with things.

I’ve always found it cathartic to write.

I learned to read and write at the age of seven. I enjoyed to write stories. As a teenager, I was still writing stories, and I started to keep a personal journal as a way of releasing my fears and worries and doubts. Writing has been an essential lifeline throughout my life. It helps me make sense of things to see the thoughts take form into words.

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Writing blog posts about the passing of both my parents was therapeutic and helped ease the pain. I was able to share with people through my blog and my newsletter about what had happened.

Going back to my work-in-progress was a bit trickier. At times of great emotion, I tend to put down my book and walk away for a while, sometimes for long periods.

Top Tip: Set a time limit.

I’ve learned that it works when I say to myself, you can grieve, be with family, however you have to be back at work by ‘such-and-such’ date.

Top Tip: Stick to your deadline.

It’s a bit of structure imposed upon the chaos. Once, there’s a set deadline to return to my writing desk, I try to stick to it.

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Top Tip: to get writing again, sit down at my computer, open the document and start.

Every time, before I know it, the magic starts to take over.

Right away, there is engagement with the work.

It’s like feeling you’re exactly where you should be and there’s nothing you’d rather be doing.

Once back in the zone, writing, editing, working on my WIP, I feel my balance return and sense of equilibrium become restored.

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As the poet, Sage Cohen, said so eloquently, ‘for me, writing has always been alchemy: from resistance to acceptance, from pain to beauty.’ Yes.

The world in creation begins to shine. The right words come. But what it takes is showing up.

The really successful authors are those who treat it like a job. They stick their butts in their office chairs and write from nine to five.

In reality, they’ll put in far more hours than a forty hour week. It’s a time intensive profession. The reward always comes in the fiction itself. We do the work. We show up.

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Then, we open ourselves to ‘being alone with the gods’ as Charles Bukowski put it and that’s where the transcendent joy takes over. When we’re lucky, sometimes we catch the lightning and write it down perfectly. Or as Cohen said, ‘transcend the events of our lives, finding a resonance of grace simply by writing something just right.’

Before you know it, skies are blue and the sun is shining again, and you’re scampering around capturing words like butterflies.

For the magic to happen though, the only way is to keep on writing, to put B.I.C butt in chair.

What’s that old saying, the harder I work, the luckier I get? That sure is true for me.

How about you. What keeps you writing?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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There is no other feeling like that, you will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. ~ Charles Bukowski

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