RTW: A Young Girl's Fantasies

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What books were you obsessed with as a kid?

Just realized I might get some really weird keyword hits with this post title! Oh well. It's appropriate because I was mostly obsessed with fantasy books: Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, and Patricia McKillip.

In fact, our school library rarely had copies of those on the shelf, because my friends and I checked them out in a perpetual rotation. We even used them to leave notes for each other, because odds were pretty low that someone outside our circle of friends would get to check them out. (No, I don't mean we wrote in the books--sacrilege!--we left notes tucked into the pages.)

I also read quite a few nonfiction books. Yes, I did read the encyclopedias for fun. That was probably my start of a love for researching, just for the pure joy of stumbling onto interesting facts. I had my own library of horse books and dog books (though I had neither animal of my own) and to this day I remember 97% of dog breeds by sight.

At about 10 or 11, I discovered my mom's romances (mostly historicals, some trashy). And then she caught me reading a Johanna Lindsay (A Pirate's Love!) right when the characters were in the midst of a love scene. She locked them up, and I had to smuggle them from the library thereafter.

Wow, I have to say that composing this post helped me trace all the influences from what I read as a child that have crept into my writing today, as well as my current tastes in books. Thanks, YA Highway, for the jaunt down memory lane!

Character Naming Resources

For my new book, Crow's Rest, the main character's name jumped out at me right away: Avery Cash. But arriving at names for, not one but two, love interests was a little harder.

I settled on Daniel as the perfect boy-next-door name, and Lonan for the corbin (a type of pooka that usually crosses into our world by inhabiting crows) since it's Irish for "little blackbird". And because I like the way it sounds.

Pre-internet, I relied on a handful of books for finding character names:
Dictionary of First Names by Alfred Kolatch (though any of the baby naming books will usually do)
The Guiness Book of Names by Leslie Dunking (a good source on unusual and celebrity names)
The Writer's Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook (arranged by nationality or origin)

Now you can search online databases for the meanings of names, their origins, and use another tool that's useful to writers--the ability to check for the most popular names in a given year.

So if you know when your character was born, you can check for the most popular name and use it accordingly. Do you want an "everyman" name? Use one of the top 15. Want to show how unique your character is? Use one that falls way down on the list, or doesn't appear at all. Make one up.

And lastly, my favorite resource is an older (1984) numerology book called You Are Your First Name by Ellin Dodge. Using the "science of numerology," the author has created personality profiles for each name.

You'll notice that I put the "skeptical quotes" around science of numerology above, but there have been times where this book has been eerily accurate about real people I've met.

Here's a little of what it says about Angelica, so you can judge for yourself:
Ability to incorporate orderly system, levelheaded practical analysis, and formal conventions into career. Deals in facts, and employs gifted intuition. Extreme desire for perfection in self and others.

But just like Adrian Monk says, that desire for perfection is "A gift. And a curse. A gift."

So how do you come up with names for your characters? Researching the perfect match of meaning and personality traits? Just what sounds good?

Revised Video Pitches

If you haven't been following Pitch University, you may not have seen the good news/bad news scenario that followed my video pitch submission. The good news was that both my pitches were chosen for the Pitch Evaluation Lab last Wednesday. The bad--well, more terrifying than bad--news was that I had to finish revisions by that Friday morning. Knowing that I had a dentist appointment Thursday morning, as well as our crit group Thursday afternoon. And to make it more interesting, we had an intense thunderstorm with wind gusts of up to 80mph--all of which will be picked up by microphones if they're sensitive enough.

But I squeaked in under the wire, and I'm pretty pleased with the results. These will come in handy for the SCBWI Spring Spirit Regional Conference next weekend. I'm pasting my revised pitches below, or you can go to Pitch U's site and see the Before & After with Adam Friedstein's comments.

Show Me the Voice Contest Blogfest

I got a late start today, fighting a cold or allergies! Brenda Drake's Show Me the Voice Blogfest begins today, and I've already sent in my entry. We could either send it now, or wait until we got feedback and send it later; My book has gone through several betas and critiques so I felt comfortable submitting it now. But, in true blogfest spirit, I will still be making the rounds of those who posted their pages to give them some feedback.

I would have liked to submit my first 250 words from Crow's Rest, but the rules stipulate that your sample must be from a completed novel. So I submitted the first 250 from Spirits from the Vasty Deep (from the prologue, actually).

Name: Angela Jackson, writing as Angelica R. Jackson
Title: Spirits from the Vasty Deep
Genre: YA Historical w/ a ghostly twist

(From the prologue)

"Where are you taking me?" I tried to plant my feet, but Miss Bonney roughly pulled me into motion again.

"I'm taking you to the east wing, to put an end to this superstitious nonsense once and for all," she answered, holding my arm in an iron grip. "I will solve two problems with one fell swoop—get some use out of that room, and cure you of lying."

"But I don't lie," I said, my breath coming in puffs as I trotted to keep up.

Miss Bonney snorted. "I suppose you deny telling the other girls the ghost of the groundskeeper and his dog walk the gardens? Or that Tabitha's late grandmother wanted to speak with her? Some of those girls haven't slept in a week. You're nearly ten years old, Olivia, you're getting too old for such stories."

"They're not stories—there are shades all around us, all the time. And I told the others they didn't need to fear these spirits, they don't mean us any harm."

Miss Bonney turned left into a long gallery, raising her candle to get her bearings. Cold and disused, this wing of the school reeked of decay and mildew. Quiet reigned at this end of the building; all the students would be getting ready for bed in their dormitories by now.

My curiosity about the forbidden wing outweighed any misgivings—until we approached the door at the far end. "What is this place?" I whispered, trembling as
I felt the weight of a presence beyond it.

Looking forward to reading people's entries, and "meeting" some new writing friends!

Sneak Peek at My Book Pitches

In case anyone is wondering why I haven't posted in a while, I've been busy making videos. Pitch University's Pitchfest starts up again March 20, with agent Adam Friedstein of Anderson Literary Management viewing and commenting on video pitches.

I've done a new pitch for my completed YA novel, Spirits from the Vasty Deep, as well as my work-in-progress, Crow's Rest. We can't submit our videos until Sunday the 20th, but I thought I'd put them up here for a sneak peek.

Is anybody else submitting a pitch this time around? And you may have noticed that Pitch University is now offering a query feedback option!

Contest Roundup

Marie Rearden dubbed me "The Contest Watcher" on her blog post yesterday--how did she know I had a few more contest opportunities this morning??? And I'm not sure if my title is valid, since a few weeks ago I missed that I had won 2 separate book giveaways. The bloggers had to email me to notify me {hangs head}

But enough of my shame--get to the contests! These are both great opportunities with agent Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency.

The contest celebrating the anniversary of Adventures in Children's Publishing is more time sensitive (she doesn't say when it closes, just that she's announcing the winner Saturday) and a random winner gets a first chapter critique by Natalie. There's a great interview with Natalie as well.

And Brenda Drake is running a Show Me the Voice contest, where you could win a critique of your first 20 pages, first 10 pages, or query by Natalie! To enter, you need to sign up through the linky on the contest page, and on March 20 and 21, you post the first 250 words of your completed book on your own blog.

And then the really fun part: you hop around to everyone else's blog and give them feedback, and they return the favor. Once you have your entry spit polished, you email it to Brenda by March 22. If that sounds confusing, read the rules on her page, she lays them out better. Top 20 entries will be posted Mar. 24, and the winners announced by Mar.28.

Welcome to Crow's Rest, California

I thought I'd offer up a glimpse of my WIP, Crow's Rest, with a teaser from the opening of Ch. 1:

Mom woke me as we hit the outskirts of Crow's Rest, saying, "Brace yourself, Avery." It's what she'd said the first time we'd come to visit Uncle Tam, and every time since, as we got close to Crow's Rest and the Castle. A tingle of anticipation and dread rushed through me and I sat up.

For weeks I'd begged her to let me drive part of the way on this trip; bicycling was nearly a cult in Davis, and I hadn't gotten much use out of my new driver's license at home. But I'd been so wiped out from last-minute packing that instead I fell asleep as soon as I settled into the passenger seat.

As I opened the window, the June air streamed in, tasting of iron-rich dust and heat. Houses flashed by: a few McMansions that had probably been foreclosed on before they'd even been built out, along with the farmhouses that dated from the 1840s on. Buzzing insects circled the weeds, already drying and brittle among the oaks.

As we took that last curve on the approach, tree branches arched over the road, blocking our view until suddenly there it stood—a castle, an anamoly glowing red in the afternoon light. Looming over the Gold-Rush-era town from the top of a hill, making my shutter finger itch. The usual complement of turkey vultures and ravens soared above it, sinister-izing the turrets even more.

I adjusted the vanity mirror, watching the Castle recede for as long as possible as it flashed through the trees, and slouched into the seat with my feet up on the dash.

Blatant fishing: What do y'all think, am I onto something good?

"I Have Walked Through Many Lives . . ."

My husband and I went to see a program at the new venue down the hill, 3 Stages in Folsom. Ensemble Galilei performed while Neal Conan read selections of poetry, Shakespeare, and other works. We enjoyed the entire program (well, not the severe lack of leg room) but what really struck me was a poem called "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz. It describes the writer's experience for me so well:

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings. . .
(more here) or click the video below to hear Mr. Kunitz read his poem

Wow! I've often felt that a few of the stories I tell belong to someone else's lives, and somehow I'm privileged to glimpse them. And have the responsibility of telling them. The conclusion of the poem really captured the conflict of trying to get the stories right: the frustration coupled with optimism.

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.

Do you do "self checks", looking back on how far you've come in your writer's journey, and looking ahead to where you think you'll be? My road has had a lot more twists and turns (and sidetrips) than I expected but I can still see the Promised Land on the horizon.