Monday, September 16, 2013

Birth of Real Magik Trilogy

I thought I should talk a little bit about where the trilogy came from. At the time when the idea was born I was still working for Walt Disney Feature Animation. This was back in 2000. I'd been reading the Harry Potter series and finding it a bit juvenile for my tastes (well I was an adult reading children's lit for heaven's sake, what did I expect?). I was also watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and loving the irreverent style with which they addressed massive danger while still keeping it real and scary. Somewhere in my head I was thinking though, yeah but all these things have one thing in common, the heroes are all pretty decent looking. None of them looked like I did as a kid and still did as an adult: big boned, zaftig, plump, chunky, curvy, fat.

I was also nervous as a kid, to the point of panic sometimes. You never saw that in those shows or books. I was insecure and had melt downs. Yeah all of this maybe made me a freaky kid growing up and I'm a different a adult now, but I also thought that freaky kids are human kids. There are lots of them out there and a heroine with those traits could speak to them. Voila, Fred was born.

I also had a Nina in my childhood who got me through the bumps. So it was easy to come up with her character.

From there I came up with the over arcing story line for the three books and broke it down into each book so that they hooked together like nesting dolls, each building to the next.

From the story came the other characters although I have to say that Oedipus came directly after Fred and Nina. He was clear as day and just as feisty from the second he bloomed in my brain. He was always Fred's introduction to the world of Magik and he was always rude about it.

So I started writing about 2000 in bits and pieces, usually on a pad of paper clipped to my animation desk. Whenever I had a notion or a sentence I'd take a second to write it down. Probably not Kosher by Disney's standards of working, but I did get my work done despite my little breaks.

Then on the weekends I'd work in my office at my apartment for hours at a time, forgetting to eat frequently. I wound up with a 300 page manuscript that was still incomplete and still growing when I stopped in 2003. Walt Disney Feature Animation had virtually closed its doors on traditional animation and I left to take up freelance illustration, a career that took up all of my time. I shelved the book for ten years.

When my illustration work began to dwindle in a waning economy during 2012. I found I had time to work on the book again. I took it down and started again, editing a great deal to trim excess material, getting the thing down to 300 pages total instead of 300 to start.

The whole thing was completed in April 2013. I painted a cover for it myself and posted it on Facebook and started planning for publishing it myself on Amazon Kindle. The cover got a LOT of attention on FB. I was stunned. Many independent publishers really liked it and wanted to know what the story was about and did I have a publisher yet? Suddenly I had an independent publisher reading my manuscript and then I had a contract in front of me. Now I have a book about to be in print and a trilogy about to see the light of day.

It's been a long journey from 1999 to 2013 but satisfying. I hope that readers accept Fred and her friends warmly and that they appeal to some kids who aren't Harry Potters or Buffys. We can't all be heroic and pretty. Some of us just manage to do our best in the face of danger and look OK instead of fabulous but go on anyway and that's its own kind of heroism.

Authors Who Influenced Me

I was a little frustrated with the author profile program on Goodreads as I went about adjusting the names of authors who influenced me. I'd originally sketched in a few names as I was in a hurry to set up the page and figured I'd go back later and fill in more. Well, when I went to do a comprehensive list, I found out there was a pretty skimpy limit on how many you could include. So, here I am with a blog where I can talk about the writers I love and why.

The first I couldn't include was John Steinbeck. Ouch! When I read East of Eden in eighth grade I was floored. The descriptive power. The clean plot. He was elegant in a tough way. And it was all so California, specifically Northern California, where I grew up. I was enthralled.

Next was Mary Shelly. My God. How could I leave Mary Shelly out of my list. She created the first real scary monster story of my youth. It was so descriptive in its horror, in a way that no other older horror stories had ever been. I was enraptured. I think it planted the seeds for my love of horror fiction.

Edger Allen Poe came later in the stream of things but he was just as big an influence. Ye gods, he was wickedly horrific. I ate up every sentence. I think I learned the idea of suspense from him, waiting until the appropriate time to reveal the worst thing you could possibly imagine. And of course making sure that the pay off was worth the wait.

More recently Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher created the Kindle (Fire-Us series). I recommend them to anyone that's looking for an example of realistic post apocalyptic YA reading. The characters are so tangible and broken by events preceding the book that you can easily imagine the world they're living in. Strangely the books got only middling reviews but I'd rate them much much higher.

Jumping back to my youth again, Robin McKinley was a piecemeal influence. I didn't like all of her books but at least two of them were like cherished friends of mine. I read them over and over. One in paperback form finally disintegrated last year. Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast was so clever that it never failed to surprise me every time I read it. The heroine was rewritten to be smart and take-charge rather than a lovely sad-sap. Then there was The Blue Sword written about a fictional desert country conquered by a "British-like" country. One of the "British" girls strikes the natives as part of a prophecy and they kidnap her, taking her far into the mountains, where her countrymen cannot find her. Whether she shows herself to be the prophesied one or not you'd have to read to find out but it's high adventure in the flavor of Prince of Persia.

So those are all the authors I couldn't list. I could say lots about the ones I COULD list but that would be a much longer post. Perhaps another day.

Another Book Coming Out

While I'm mostly blogging about the Real Magik trilogy, I do have other things in the mix. I thought I'd share one with you. I have a collection of short stories coming out soon called "Wishing and Wanting".

A meek young woman stumbles onto a magic lamp; a savvy goddess falls for a mortal man, and a determined mirror maker goes on her own quest to break a curse. Three women who will be faced with difficult choices in strange situations. Wishing and Wanting is about the strength of a woman’s heart and the cleverness of her mind when she’s pushed to the wall. Heroines can be just as formidable as their counterparts, even if their methods are different.

They're three very different tales but they're united in their subject matter, strong women taking the tough road to find their place in the world. I'm hoping that you'll enjoy the light flavor of the writing though. They're each romps in their own way.

So look for Wishing and Wanting soon at It’s due to be released October 22 2013.

Starting with Grandma

If I’m going to talk about me and my writing at all I have to talk about my maternal  Grandmother, Earline Desmond.  I was really fortunate to have her in my life,  living in the same town and so close that she could babysit and take me on trips with her.  She was incredibly imaginative, both a painter and a storyteller.  I don’t know what happened with my Mother, she wound up a math teacher who can’t read fantasy novels because she can’t picture what’s going on in them.

My Grandmother read me fairy tales from a book without pictures, insisting that I had to see them in my head.  That was a huge concept for me at six.  Picturing things in my head from words on a page.  It seeded something in me that took root.  I think it lead to my interests in illustration and writing.

When I was little, my Grandmother would provide my cousin and I with pencils and water colors, brushes and watercolor paper.  Then she would let us loose to imagine on paper.  Nothing was wrong.  Everything was interesting.  She would ask us to make stories around the things we painted.

She knew stories that no one else seemed to know.  Like the Vallejo Native American myth about Mount Tamalpias.  I’ve since tracked down the story and validated its existance but when I was ten I had no idea how my Grandmother knew it when no one else did. 

The story went that an Indian maiden was bathing by the San Pablo bay waters when a water god rose before her and told her he had fallen in love with her.  He begged her to come with him and be his wife.  She agreed but when he took her to his watery home she drowned.  In grief and remorse he rose up and laid her body to rest upon the moutain top, creating the shape of a reclining woman that we see from across the San Pablo bay—though only from Vallejo’s perspective.

See, how cool is that?  When your Grandmother comes up with a story like that as you’re riding in a car past a distant moutain range you’ve seen dozens of times  and never thought anything of—don’t you just go wow—at least when you’re ten years old?

She died in 1997, confused about most things.  I had already begun to miss her.  I miss her still.