Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sample Sunday: Kat Among the Pigeons

From Plants

This is from a novel that should be available in early March.  I hope you enjoy the little section I've posted here.

About the book:

Katlyn is a member of a fae clan that guards the line between human and magical lands, a secret she has trouble hiding from her new human boyfriend even before she unexpectedly finds the fate of the world in her hands.

She isn't magically strong (and unlike other fae who understand all animals, she only caught birds and cats -- not a good combination). However, when she isn't able to reach other fae for help, Kat and her boyfriend frantically fight the enemy with the aid of a lazy tom cat, an African gray parrot that only speaks in verse, and a wise-cracking cockatiel with a bad attitude . . . and she's trying very hard not to think the world is doomed.

When we got a block away from the shop I opened the cage and let Gaylord come and sit on my shoulder. He looked around, nodding.

"So this is the real world, huh? Doesn't seem so bad. What's the white stuff?"

"Snow. Water so cold it's frozen."

"Gah." He did a little mock shiver and jumped down on the steering wheel, holding on tight as I turned left and right.

"The snow will go away soon. But you're going to be in a nice warm house, anyway. The world's not safe outside for small birds."

"I'm tough. I can --"

A semi went through the intersection in front of us. Gaylord screamed, threw himself backwards off the steering wheel and tried to bury himself in my jacket. I fought very, very hard not to laugh.

"You can come back out," I said. "The truck is gone. But those are the sorts of things you'll see out in the real world."

"I'll stick to a cage," he said, his voice muffled.

But he came back out a while later and cautiously held to my shoulder. I drove at a nice, sedate pace, enjoying the calm.

As we went past Mrs. Hale's house he saw cats and made some rather rude sounds.

"Be nice. Those are some of my friends."

"Friends? You have a pet cat and cat friends? What kind of weirdo are you?"

"The kind who can speak to cats and birds."

"Oh, that's got to be great," he said. "I can imagine what the cats have to say. Could you please hand me that cute little bird there, if you don't mind? It's just far too much trouble to leap up and grab him."

Well, he had that remarkably right.

We started up the hill and headed toward my house, and as the place came in view I found David's car parked in front, and David sitting on the porch swing, reading the paper.

He'd come back!

"Into the cage. The human doesn't know about me and birds and cats."

"Ah. Okay. Cover me up, will you? I felt cold going from the shop to the car."

"No problem."

I hastily got him into the cage and put blanket over the top.

(Snip for story content that shouldn't be read out of context.)

"Hey, you with the hands. It's friggin' cold out here, you know."


I took the blanket off the top of the cage and carried Gaylord across the room to where Shakespeare sat. The larger bird stared when I brought Gaylord out of the cage and put him on the perch next to him. He even sidled away a little.

"Ah come on, big guy. I took a bath today," Gaylord said in parrot.

Well, Gaylord did have Shakespeare's attention at least.

Outside David hit the horn several times.

"So what's wrong with the creep?" Gaylord said shaking his head.

"He's not --" I started to say he wasn't a creep. But actually, at the moment, he was. "This isn't all his fault. He won't be around for much longer."

"Yeah, whatever. Just make sure he doesn't mess with me," Gaylord said, clicking his beak several times. "The guy is odd, you know?"

"I know," I said. "Don't worry. Can I trust you two not to get into trouble if I leave you out?"

"Hey, I'll be a perfect angel," Gaylord said.

I didn't know if I should believe him or not. I ignored the occasional horn blasts, and worked hard at curbing my anger. At least he hadn't brought Aletta along, which cheered me up a little. I put food and water out for both birds, smiling to see the way Shakespeare checked out what I had given to the smaller bird.

"Hey, how about a little food for me, too," Cato said, walking into the room and jumping up on the chair nearby.

Gaylord landed on my arm and leaned down over Cato's face. He fluffed out his feathers and half raised his wings.

"So, you're the cat, huh? Think you're hot stuff do you, Mr. Fuzzy? Well don't mess with me, cat. I'm faster than you'll ever be. And you're never going to fly, butterball. So don't even think about trying for me."

Cato watched the little bird twittering away, his head tilted slightly. Gaylord snapped his beak a few times and stopped. Cato glanced back at me.

"So this is him, huh? Cute little guy," Cato said.

"What did he say?" Gaylord demanded, staring the cat in the face.

"He said you look very dangerous," I answered.


Content that he ruled the roost, so to speak, Gaylord climbed back up on the perch with Shakespeare, who still eyed him with open speculation. I trusted them both, but I did whisper a little spell to keep them from going at each other if something set them off.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Choose your own path

From 2011-01-28

Always remember this: Not everyone works the same way. In fact, I've yet to find two writers who do work in exactly the same way. Keep that in mind when you go off reading blog after blog about what you MUST do to be a good writer. The only thing you must do is find the combination of things that will help you write a good story. The blogs you read are telling you what has worked for one or more people in the past. Don't be afraid to try some method that might appeal to you. If you found a way that works for you, that's great -- but for most writers, the path is not entirely clear on how to get from the spark of an idea through the first draft -- never mind the rest of it. And even if you find something that works for you the first time, chances are that you're going to need to try something different for some other story.

The one thing I see repeated over-and-over again is writers saying they're afraid they haven't gotten it right. Here is one thing I always keep in mind and something I have been telling people for years:

The only story you can't fix is the one you never write.

And that means writing it to The End. If you go kiting off to something new because the story isn't working, then you never learn how to fix those kinds of problems -- including abandoning work because of an obvious plot problem or abandoning it just because it no longer interests you. Why doesn't it? Figure it out. Work your way through problems. Find out what went wrong and do your best to fix it, if not in reality, at least in your mind. Study the stories that go wrong, because you will learn more from them than you will from any story you breeze through without a problem.

Writers also need to remember to run wild with their imaginations. A first draft is the place to experiment. Even if you use an outline to get the basics down, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be open to new ideas while you write. Most people know that I write outlines -- often quite extensive ones. But if you have been in chat with me while I write, you will often see a 'Oh, I need to change that' or 'I need to add that' while I'm in the midst of working. I know what I want for the opening, the middle and the end, and I can wander off the path all I want along the way. Having an outline is a roadmap. It tells me where my character is going and how long it will take him to get there, but it doesn't tell me exactly what he's going to see, say or do. There will be detours and side trips. If I have no idea where the story is going, the trip is likely to wander all over the place and not build any coherent, exciting story line. Little pieces might be interesting, but they don't always meld into a coherent and exciting whole. I might as well be writing a series of loosely related short stories.

Many people can have a good idea of where they are going in a story, even without an outline, and keep the plot and ideas in their minds as they write. I, however, don't want to risk losing the fire that first called me to the story, so I get down as much of the story as I can. I play with that idea, arrange, rearrange, add and delete until I have the shell of what I want.

However, an outline only provides a simple guideline. I know what to aim at but that doesn't stop me from experimenting. It doesn't even stop me from changing the outline if something moves in a new direction that works far better than what I'd done before. I'm free to experiment because I am working within at least a shell of what the story is about. If the story doesn't have that shell, I'm more likely to go wandering off into areas that really have no true connection with the storyline. They looked interesting, but they really belong to a different story. When ideas like that leap up, I write them down and plan to do something with them later. I have THIS story to tell right now.

So even if you're running wild with your story, be sure to keep an eye open for those cliffs. You don't want to find yourself running right off the edge. It can be hard climb back up to find that path again.