I like vampires

Hook the reader from the start.

That’s what my writing mentors have taught me. So, yeah, I have a thing for vampires right now. I’m a little late. Dystopian survivalists seem to be the “thing” now, but I’ve been carrying around Twilight for months. I want to read it. I want to learn from it. I want to discover the secrets of how it became an icon in popular culture.

Oh, yeah. I also think Johnny Depp and Dark Shadows revamped my interest in the vampire culture. Pardon the pun. My mom and I used to watch the show together when I was a little girl. The movie brings back fond memories.

I’ve been working with a group of very talented writers in my creative writing class. Each of them has his or her own blog, and we have a group blog page called the Bluelight Lounge. You can find it at this address:  bluelightlounge.wordpress.com . There is a link to all the writers’ blogs on the page for easy access to their work.

Our assignment this week was to write a blog about reading, so I figured I should follow my own rules and write about reading too.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money, and I was an only child. I spent a lot of time alone. Fortunately, my mom let me get my very own library card, and I was off on new adventures at the public library. Most people in my town won’t remember this, but the public library used to be on the square in an old building. I still remember the smell of the books. I still remember carrying out every dog book I could find. I loved dogs, and I read everything I could about them, including fictions stories—all the Lassie stories and the books about Ginger Pie. And horses. I read everything I could about horses, but I found most of those books in my school library.

I wasn’t a good reader. I was a bad reader, bad in that I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not necessarily what my teacher assigned to me. So, yes, kiddos, I get it when you sneak a book in your lap and turn the pages when you are supposed to be listening to me teach. Sometimes a good book is just too difficult to put down.

The Outsiders remains my all-time favorite, but I like mysterious stories with a twist of the supernatural. I think that’s why Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness changed my life. It opened my eyes to another world beyond the veil. Right now I’m hooked on the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. Odd is a twenty-year-old fry cook who sees dark shapes that show up at places of mass destruction. Are they demons or omens of death? We don’t know. Odd’s visions are a gift—or a curse. Whatever the case, he deals with it with his ever so funny, dry sense of humor. Oh, yeah, he also sees ghosts. Elvis shows up every now and then. And who can resist Elvis?

When I went to the ACFW conference, I naturally had to visit the Revell table at the bookstore. (Hint, hint. I would be ecstatic to see one of my novels with a Revell logo on it.) This year I didn’t have much cash to spend on books, but I could not resist picking up a couple of Revell novels by Mike Duran: The Resurrection and The Telling.

The back cover blurbs hooked me. “When Ruby Case raises a boy from the dead, she creates an uproar in the quiet coastal town of Stonetree. Some brand her a witch; others a godsend.” I can’t wait to open the first page of The Resurrection. So what’s the answer? What is Ruby?

The Telling is Duran’s second novel, and the back blurb is equally compelling: “Zeph is also blessed with a gift—an uncanny ability to forsee the future, to know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets. He calls it The Telling.” Wow. Zeph sounds like someone I know. I can already imagine the movie playing out in my head.

But right now my two favorite books are The Edge and Crossroads, my manuscripts in what I hope will be a series.

I was talking to a friend of mine about how our children were growing up. We’ve devoted our lives to helping their dreams come true. Now she and I, both writers, want to complete our lives—to find and develop our calling. And I believe the answer lies within books—God’s book, the Bible, of course, and the stories He has given us to enjoy our own creativity and to create books to inspire other people.

CONTEST! 

What’s your calling? What are you reading? How has reading changed your life? Please offer some feedback. I will randomly choose from the comments and send the speaker a book from my library. But if you are chosen, you must send me a private email with your contact information so that I can get it to you.

Happy reading!  You have until Saturday, October 13, to join in the conversation. Please let me know what you think. Your words, your writings, truly encourage me, and, hopefully, I, in turn, can encourage you.

Character driven

J. T. Ellison kills people for a living. When she showed up to dinner one night at a nice restaurant and saw her victim alive and well across the room, she freaked out. Wouldn’t you?

J.T. Ellison is a writer, specializing in thrillers, and when she creates a character, she scans the Nashville society sections of the local magazines and papers to find the perfect victim. She just happened to run into one of those victims in real life—a person who was once just a face on newsprint. JT supplied the rest of the details from the depths of her imagination..

Oooooh, what fun!

Writers make the story real for us when they make the characters real to them. Sometimes writers need a visual prompt before they can imagine a character’s personality, predict their actions, know their tastes, feel their pain.

Some writers are plot driven, but I think I’m character driven. Soon after I read The Outsiders as a kid and fell in love with Soda Pop Curtis, I created my own character. He never appeared in any of my stories I wrote as a teen, and he wasn’t an imaginary childhood friend. But whenever I daydreamed, I imagined this person. Today that character is still very real to me. The perfect character. Maybe he’s just waiting for his story to be written.

When I first started my writing venture, I attended one of J. T.’s writing workshops, sponsored by the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and was giddy at the thought of creating my own character.

I wanted to try J. T. Ellison’s technique of building my character around a real person. Like I don’t do that anyway. I always write about people I know—I just don’t tell them. Taylor Swift and I have something in common. She writes about the bad ones, but I write about the good.

I considered perusing the society sections of the local papers, but we don’t have a society section. Too small town. Instead I trolled Facebook and MySpace and gawked at people I didn’t know. That just seemed too weird.

I even considered filling out a dating match for one of my male characters to see what type of girl would be interested in him. But I thought better of it. What if the real live girl thought she had found the match she had waited for all her life—only to find out it could never be?

Nooooo! That’s not my kind of story. My stories have happy endings. As the writer, I’m in control, so I can make it happen, at least in fiction.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m beginning to think I sound a bit deranged like one of those “characters” on Criminal Minds. Eeek. I hope profilers don’t read my blog and think I’m a serial killer. (It wasn’t even my idea to pull Tony the Tiger from the frosted flakes box. But that’s another story.)

I admire writers who create real characters. If I had to pick one of my favorite masters of character creation in addition to J. T., my choice would be Tyler Perry. The man’s a genius.

All of his characters evoke an emotion, but his Madea character is my favorite. Forever the hopeless romantic, I combine love and comedy. So does Perry, but Perry also uses his very real characters to unleash a profound message. He makes us laugh while, at the same time, makes us look dead in the eyes of truth.

That’s why Perry is one of my favorites. His characters are multi-dimensional. I feel as though I actually know them. They have an emotional impact on me.

What character is your favorite and why? What makes that character real to you?

For more information about J. T. Ellison, click on the book jackets to visit her website. You can also see her in person during the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville October 14-16.

Plinky 11 — Name a book that changed your life

Is it possible to fall in love with the characters in a book? The book itself?

I remember the day I met The Outsiders. It was check-out day in the school library day, sixth grade, and I needed a book. Mrs. Sprouse, our librarian, had combed the shelves for another horse novel, but there wasn’t one left I hadn’t read. I spotted a hardback with a white cover lying on its side on a shelf it didn’t belong on. I’m not sure why I was drawn to it. Maybe it chose me.

Serendipity!

As soon I read the first page, I was mesmerized. It has shaped me as a teacher, as a writer, and as a human being.

Here’s my list of 11 Ways:

1. The main character Ponyboy Curtis spoke to me. He shared his thoughts and feelings with me. I knew where he was coming from. I knew what it was like to live on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. He was a good student—so was I. He saw the good in people—so did I. He was a dreamer who liked watching sunsets—so did I. I learned how to get “into” my reading as I made this connection.

2. Maybe Ponyboy became an extension of myself. I learned to see the good in me.

3. This book made me feel as no other book had ever done. My emotions ran the gamut. Ponyboy appealed to my rational side. He was a thinker, but his older brother Darry was a doer, who was too busy raising his younger brothers after their parents died than to sit and appreciate the beauty of sunsets the way Ponyboy did. Darry used to bake chocolate cakes for his brothers and keep them in the refrigerator. (To this day, that’s my favorite desert—and on those rare occasions when I treat myself to chocolate cake, I have to keep it in the refrigerator. )

4. I guess Darry reminded me of my father, always doing the responsible thing. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me.

5. I love people. I love all types of people. I love taking care of people. When I take care of people, I have purpose. The other characters made me long to take care of them. My heart ached for them:

  • Dallas (the thug who provoked the police with an unloaded gun and made them shoot him because he couldn’t carry the hurt he felt after Johnny died)
  • Johnny (the underdog, abused by his parents and tormented by the Socs, who risks his life to save the children and who encourages Ponyboy to “stay gold”)
  • M&M (the innocent little boy who later overdoses on LSD in a drug house and is never again the same)

6. As much as I identified with Ponyboy, it was Sodapop who tugged at my heart. Unlike Ponyboy, Sodapop dropped out of high school. There was no one to encourage him, no one to one to tell him to follow his passions.

I wanted to be the one.

He made me want to be an encourager. He did what he had to do to help support his family. He was good at working on cars, so he took a job at the gas station. Sodapop was always happy, always thinking of others. I think that’s why I fell in love with his character.

7. Throughout The Outsiders, Sodapop is the character who gets “drunk on just plain living”  and “understands everybody.” He wears his hair long, possesses dark brown eyes that are “dancing, recklessly laughing, and “can make you grin no matter what.” He is the peacemaker, the one who holds everything together in the family. Who wouldn’t be drawn to Sodapop? He helps all of us see the good.

8. Hmmm. Is it possible to take a character from your childhood with you to adulthood? I think the spirit of Sodapop shows up in some of my characters.

9. The Outsiders changed my life. Back then when I was in sixth grade, I didn’t understand how. I certainly didn’t understand why. But it made me want to read.

10. The Outsiders also made me to write, to “write real,” the way S.E. Hinton did. (She was only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders.)

11. Most importanly, once I finished the book, I refused to return it to the library, and I slept with it under my pillow each night. I carried it with me everywhere I went. It touched my heart so profoundly that I didn’t want to let it go.

I still don’t.

What book changed your life?

The donkey brays after midnight

I believe people are just generally happier when they make time to escape to their favorite worlds to read. For some people, their favorite worlds involve a comfy couch or bed. Other people retreat to different planets, underground cities, magical kingdoms or alternate realities. You fantasy aficionados know who you are.

I have never been a fantasy reader, but as my reading tastes transform, I’m open to any type of book that catches my fancy. But, basically, I like to believe the world I read about really exists. I suppose that’s why in the past I have enjoyed biographies and memoirs. I suppose that’s why I have an insatiable appetite for the works of Rick Bragg. His words drip off the page like molasses. Whether he’s avoiding alligators or setting readers down to meet his family members, he draws us into his world by satisfying our five senses through delectable imagery and emotion. It also helps that he’s a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. My passion for journalism runs deep within my soul.

When I’m drawn into a story, I want to feel as though the setting, the characters, the conflicts, etc. really do exist. When I was a kid, I read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and then I became Teresa the Spy, jotting down my illicit entries in my own composition books. But my all time favorite novel is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. At the young age of 14 Hinton breathed life into her characters, and they became alive in my mind. I became so attached to the book that I refused to return it to the library. I slept with it under my pillow every night. I made the librarian mad. There was a little part of me that agonized over the fact that I would never be able to meet Sodapop or M&M or Ponyboy. I suppose I subconsciously rationalized that if I didn’t return the book then I wouldn’t have to give up my friendship with the Greasers. To tell you the truth, I think the war between the Greasers and the Socs sparked my decision to minor in sociology.

Journalism teacher Sean Kincaid (from my book The Edge) starts each class with a quote of the day. On one occasion he tells his students, “Words are things; and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.” The quote foreshadows events that change the lives of TJ and Megan.  Ah, the power of words. Even the utterance of one syllable can initiate a butterfly effect.

As I mentioned, I am morphing. I am transitioning from the nonfiction world into the fiction world, and in the words of one of my characters, I “kinda like it.” I am happy right now to stay in the realistic realm although I do not discount fantasy. I think I’ve read just about everything by Frank Peretti, and even though his works include nonhuman creatures, I believe the entities he writes about really do exist.

I have heard about other strange paranormal, legendary creatures straight from the pages of fantasy. Some people even claim a few of these creatures are real. Could it be that fantasy and reality do occasionally intertwine? I live near a bluff overlooking a river, and there have been documented rumors that Big Foot lives in the proximity of neighborhood. I can’t say that I’ve actually seen Big Foot, but I have heard donkeys braying outside my window after midnight. That is a fact. I have heard them with my own two ears. Could it be that these alleged donkey brays weren’t made by donkeys at all? Could it be…?

I have yet another challenge for you. Ever so often we encounter maniacal entities that try to bring about our demise. What monster do you face in your life right now? Give it a name. Describe it. How does it try to do you in?  Let us morph fantasy with reality and add an allegorical twist.

My fantasy creature is the idgit. It is very similar to a gnat or a midge. It sucks the life force out of its prey through zings, snarky remarks and backhanded compliments. The idgit possesses a brain the size of a gnat but is twice as annoying. Victims of the idgit may not realize at first they have been bitten, but soon their wounds swell and create pain. Idgits feed on the rotten, as do gnats, and they often carry hidden toxins. It’s best to seek help right away if you are attacked by an idgit.  Better yet, potential victims can avoid the idgit through strong repellant such as self confidence, strong prayer and daily Bible reading.

Okay, it’s your turn. What fantasy creatures lurk about your reality?