Breathing Life into Maggie O’Shea (Part Two)

I’ve been told that all authors come to love their characters—that they become the Authors’ children.  I’m no different.  I love Maggie, despite what she put me through.  She was the most difficult character to develop, and the one I spent the most time wrestling with.  She didn’t talk to me throughout the day, like many authors recount of their characters, but she did tell me how she was supposed to react in her story.   When I messed up a line, or sent her in the wrong direction, she let me know.

The first challenge for me was the easiest—determining what kind of personality she’d have.  Throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by strong, smart women.  Maggie had to be clever—maybe not at the same level as Candace, but definitely clever.  Of course, there are practical reasons for that.  If it’s true that few readers want to read about idiotic characters, it’s truer still that few Authors want write them.  I also wanted Maggie to be disciplined, but bullheaded, strong, yet vulnerable, and overly self-sufficient at times, having to learn to trust.  The challenge, once I determined her attributes, was to create a character who could grow from the first page, and then put all of that in a teenage girl.

I have to admit, once I determined that my protagonist was female, I had a panic attack.  I know very little about teenage girls.  I don’t have children of my own, and I didn’t grow up with a sister, so I worried that I’d create a stereotypical teenaged girl that readers would reject.  Worse still, I worried that I’d create a character that teenage girls, and the people who know them, wouldn’t believe.  It’s crazy, each time I sell a book, my first thought is, “Gosh, I hope they like her.”

I didn’t base Maggie off of any particular person I know, but I did take nuances and attributes from several people and incorporate them into her.   I’ll only talk about one for now.  I made Maggie a swimmer because of one young woman, whom I dearly love.  A former swimmer, and former student of mine, this particular “kid” impressed me with her drive and tenacity.  I think athletes, especially those who compete in sports like swimming, have an internal fire that is developed from thousands of hours of training.  They don’t get the limelight like quarterbacks, pitchers, or point guards, but they train nonetheless.  I admire that tenacity, and it was a quality Maggie had to have.

Strong from the start—I didn’t want Maggie to be helpless until some metamorphosis changed her—those characters irritate me (and, no, I’m not naming any names).  Yes, Maggie had to be strong from the start.  I wanted her to be frustrating at times, and she is, but never annoying or sniveling.  The reason why is simple: many of the people I love the most frustrate me, and I them, but that makes our connections stronger—it certainly keeps things interesting.

Over the months, I’ve had a number of readers comment on one aspect of Maggie they enjoy—the constant internal dialog.  Honestly, it’s one of the things I enjoyed most while writing her.  I didn’t start out writing Maggie that way, but I found “she” wasn’t happy until I did.

The other aspect of Maggie that I am delighted I settled on was her mixed Cuban and Irish heritage.   I am fascinated by both cultures and the beauty of both peoples.  Maggie definitely identifies with her Cuban heritage more than her Irish, but both are important.   I don’t believe she would have been as strong a character without the influences of both, and I hope I’ve done them justice.

As I said before, it was a struggle to figure out exactly who I wanted Maggie to be, and now that the series has ended, I’m happier than ever that I stuck with it.  This part of the story is over, sure, but I feel as though Maggie is out there, somewhere, with Gavin.  Even if she only exists in the minds of a few readers, that makes me happy.

What Inspired the Weald Fae Journals Series? (Part One)

It all began six years ago.  On a warm Ozark Sunday morning back in 2008, I found myself looking at a piece of property on the shores of Beaver Lake in Carroll County, Arkansas.  The bluffs, the wet-weather stream beds, the gnarled trees—the land spoke to me.  Rick, my partner, and I climbed down to the water’s edge through a mass of vegetation that seems to grow everywhere in the Ozarks, and were captivated by the quiet moments we shared listening to the gentle lapping sound of waves breaking on the pebble shore.   I started that day looking for a place to build a house, not the setting for a fiction story.   That particular piece of property sold years ago, but it did stir the creative juices and set the WFJ series in motion.

The idea for the Weald Fae Journals came about slowly and, if I’m being honest, it started out dramatically different than the story you now know.   Rick and I both commented on how “magical” the property seemed.  As is often the case with us, we began talking about the kind of house we’d build there.  From the beginning, there was only one style that would work for me.  A huge fan of Carmel by the Sea, I had to have a storybook cottage—the land demanded it.  I spent a week or two scouring the internet for images and plans, hoping to find the perfect storybook home.  It didn’t exist.  So I sketched it, and awkwardly plotted the lines on a CAD program until I had a floor plan.  Over the next few weeks, I tweaked and altered the plans until I’d created a cottage that I have ever since dreamt of building by the lake.  Every detail of it emerged, from the chestnut colored beams and stone fireplaces, to the plum roof tiles, the old stone gazebo, and the octagonal library.  I’d lost myself in what was possible—practicality never played a role.  It became Aunt May’s cottage in the WFJ’s series (and yes, I will build it one day).

Once I had the cottage plans (and then managed to convince Rick that a storybook would be the way to live—not an easy task, by the way), we set out searching other pieces of property.  For weeks we looked, and then one day, yet another Sunday, we found the perfect piece of land.   Unfortunately, on a visiting professor’s salary, I didn’t have the means to buy it at the time, but I found a way to make it look like I had envisioned.  The Weald was born.

Originally, the idea of writing about the land and the cottage was intended purely as a way to entertain our friends’ children.  I thought it would be amazing to write my own “Weald Creation Story,” and add it to the mystery and charm that already existed on the land.   For months I wrote pages and pages of “fairy tales,” aiming to keep children entertained and, I hoped, make their visit to the Weald a little more magical.   I continued until I’d written about 160 pages.  No protagonist, no Unseelie, just fairytales to bring each crazy feature of the property to life.   That’s how it stayed for months.

In the fall, Rick and I were walking around Lake Fayetteville—which is just a few miles from where I live now, and often served us as a surrogate for Beaver lake—and everything changed.  It occurred to me that I should write a story that people might want to read.  That was daunting.  I’d practiced law for a few years, conducted terrorism research at the University of Arkansas, and had just finished my Ph.D.   Interesting achievements, yes, but none of them provided me a clue about writing fiction.   Today, I believe it’s a good thing I was blissfully ignorant and naïve, both about writing a novel and finding an agent.   Had I known anything about literary agents and slush piles when I began?  Well, I rarely do anything that leads to perpetual rejection and unmitigated frustration.  But I digress.

I knew I wanted to write a fantasy fiction—it’s my favorite genre.   With that in mind, I tried to breathe life into a protagonist, craft a struggle, and create a world for it to take place.  I wrote the first chapter—it took a week.  What I had was awful, and I knew it.  Maggie was a sniveling brat, and I still didn’t have a real plot.  Other than the fact that I knew she would have powers, I had nothing else.

Some people call me driven—and I suppose with three post-graduate degrees, that is somewhat true of me.  But more than anything, I’m stubborn.  I refused to let a little thing like “no plot” stand in my way, so I did what I’d been trained to do elsewhere in my life…I started researching.  I spent the summer of 2010 prepping for a class I was teaching in the fall, and reading everything I could on the Fae.   I didn’t read popular fiction.  Instead I read books on folklore and books by authors who believe them to be real.  Early on, I paid more attention to Irish legends of the Sidhe than anything.   I found them fascinating.   I preferred the more ancient version of Sidhe that tied those beings to the elements, rather than the fallen angel tradition that came much, much later.

As my research progressed, I began looking at Fae and similar beings from other traditions—German, Chinese, Native American.   It was mesmerizing.   That summer, the summer of 2010, the Fae as I’ve written them began to coalesce.   With a better idea of what I wanted, I returned to my manuscript and began working on story details.  I wrote the Earth trial first, figured out the Water trial next, and crafted sentences for a few weeks with a clearer picture of who I wanted Maggie to be.   While trying to sleep one night, but unable to keep my mind from wading through the story, a plot began to form in my sleep-deprived brain.  Excited, inspired, I got up—I think it was about 2 a.m.—and settled in front of my computer.  By 6 a.m., I’d outlined the entire WFJ series—all four books.  While I freely admit to “massaging” parts of it from time to time, the finished product is remarkably close to that original outline.   I still intend to build a storybook cottage on Beaver Lake, but in some ways, I feel like I already have.

MODERN GOOD READS FEBRUARY BOOK OF THE MONTH NOMINATIONS

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It is time to nominate our February Book of the Month. Let’s let the fun of a new book and discussion begin.

This month, in anticipation for Valentine’s, we are looking for your FAVORITE ROMANCES… We have a few already on our reader’s favorite bookshelf, but wanted to add a few more to our selections. Please add your favorite romance to our list and we will get the poll up soon.

NOMINATE HERE

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This is a great group of book lovers… We have great genre discussions, more free offers than any other group. I am looking forward to a great discussion!!!

Toby Little: Writing Letters to the World

Repost from the Huffington Post: this story of Toby Little moved me.  What a great commitment, and a joy to read.  Here’s the original story:

Many little kids dream of changing the world, but how does someone so small make an impact on a place so big?

This 5-year-old boy from the UK may have found a way.

toby little writing to the world

Toby Little, of Sheffield, England, is reaching out to every country in the world through a campaign of handwritten letters. He’s determined to contact at least one person from each of the UN’s 193 nations — and get a response back.

Toby’s mission began earlier this year with a reading assignment from school. His mother, Sabine Little, told The Huffington Post via email:

In the UK, children bring books from school to read at home. Back in May, he chose a book called “A Letter to New Zealand,” which describes the journey a letter takes. After reading it, he asked, “Mummy, can I write a letter to New Zealand?” –- and while I was still trying to work out how I might wing that, he said, “Can I write a letter to the whole world?”

toby little writing to the world

At first she thought his enthusiasm for the project would wane, but 239 letters later, Toby is still going strong.

So far he’s written to 187 countries and heard back from 66 of his contacts. He now has a website called “Writing to the World” where he and his mother track his progress.

“Every country we find is celebrated as a success -– more so, the further along we get -– there are only six missing now!” Sabine Little wrote.

toby little writing to the world

But Toby’s project won’t end there. The 5-year-old also wants to find a way to help the people he’s connected with.

“When we started writing letters, we kicked off with easily accessible, first-world countries,” his mother added. “Suddenly, we got an address for Somalia. When we researched the country, Toby was sad and asked what he could do to help. Together, we looked for a charity whose work was accessible to children.”

Toby chose ShelterBox, a charity that provides for families and children who have lost everything due to disasters. Just today, Toby met his goal of raising $950 (£590) for a shelter box containing all the resources a hard-hit family might need. And his fundraising won’t stop there.

“I want the world to be a better place,” Toby told Good Morning America.

What’s the next goal for a boy who’s already reached almost every country in the world?

“If you ask Toby, he’ll tell you that it is to visit all the countries!” Sabine Little wrote.

You can also find Toby on his Facebook page.  Go, Toby!