Keeping it short here today. This past weekend was Parents Day at my daughter’s college. Bob and I drove over 4 hours to visit Gabbey at school. When we arrived, the school had planned some activities, but none them appealed to us.
Field Day for Parents? Pass. I am a grown up. No one can ever get me into a Potato Sack Race again.
Football Game? Gabbey said, “Heck no.”
We checked TripAdvisor for local attractions, and this is what we found:
Yup. Things to Do is grayed out. Gabbey’s college is located in the dictionary definition of BOONDOCKS. The Potato Sack Race was looking better and better.
At least we got to spend a couple days with Gabbey.
When I’m at home, our local attractions are:
- Longwood Gardens (pretty famous)
- Brandywine River Museum of Art (original Andrew Wyeth paintings, he was a local)
- Brandywine Battlefield (re-enactment once a year)
- Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure at Lum’s Pond (awesome, but now infamous, see earlier post)
If we go a little further afield, we can reach Hershey Park, Hershey World, Lancaster (Amish Country), and anything in Philadelphia.
What are the local attractions in your neck of the woods?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my scribbling notebook this month.
This is the place where I work out plot problems. Some people use white boards, some use index cards or Scrivener. For me, working it out visually and long hand is the way to go.
I hang on to my notebooks after the book is written. It’s reassuring to remind myself that, even with some of my most successful stories, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time but eventually figured it out. For example, here’s the thought process that led to me deciding who would rescue Riley Pendragon from his cell in the Dulac basement in The Inquisitor’s Mark.
Some lessons I have learned from my scribbling:
- The obvious path is the least interesting. Complications and reversals make for a better story.
- Cut the things that delay information getting to your characters and readers.
- Whichever path provides the most pain and trouble for your protagonist is the one you want.
- Sometimes I’m asking the wrong question, and that’s why I can’t move forward.
- The thing I thought was going to happen next is the wrong thing to do, and my subconscious knew that all along, which is why I ended up in the scribbling notebook in the first place.
What’s your brainstorming method?
An interesting conversation has come up several times recently with friends and family members, and I was wondering what my blogging friends thought.
Is it okay to track the locations of your family members by their phone?
Our family uses Life 360, an app that lets you locate the members in your circle. My husband and I are in the circle, along with my daughters, and we added our German daughter as soon as she arrived. Bob reports that some of his co-workers who have seen him using the app thought it was “invasive” and “a little creepy.” A family friend said that he had qualms about using the app with his college-age daughters, but eventually decided in favor of it. My sister, meanwhile, said, “What’s the name of the app? I’m signing up!”
We use the app daily to answer such critical questions as:
- Did Gabbey leave work yet?
- Is Gina’s band bus on the way home from their competition?
- Has Bob left for the airport, or is he still at work?
- How long till Dianne gets home so Bob knows when to have the cold martini ready?
Checking the app for someone’s location is safer than calling or texting them while they’re driving. Gabbey and Gina aren’t allowed to have their phones with them at work or band practice, so if you text them, they can’t answer. And although we might ask the girls to “text us when you get there,” they sometimes forget.
The only time I felt the slightest qualm about using the app was when Gabbey went away to college, and then it did feel a little like spying on her. I asked her about it, and she just shrugged. “I don’t care. Where am I going to be that I don’t want you to see?” I’m glad she feels that way. If she’s going to be taking a bus to the airport every time she comes home from school, it will ease our minds if we can track her progress.
What do you think? Is a family tracking app a technological blessing — or, as my husband’s co-worker called it, “creepy?”
It’s been a whirlwind summer for me, and from what I’ve been seeing on your blogs, the same is true for most of you. Don’t you think we all need an extra summer to recover from the regular summer? (Maybe a secret summer? Like a secret extra day? Wink, wink.)
- My summer started off with a Memorial Day cookout at my house for friends and family which culminated in a text from my recently married brother asking if he could call because he had “some news” to share. We were all pretty sure what that news was going to be, and yes! — I’m expecting a new niece or nephew in December!
- I attended the first annual Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival in Easton, Maryland which started off with a fantastic crab feast for the authors on the night before the event. Many of my fellow authors had never eaten whole crabs before, so I conducted a tutorial at my table on how to open them up and get the good stuff out.
- In not so great events, my father unexpectedly had to have a pace maker installed in July. It was kind of an emergency, but everything went well, and he is feeling much better now. So all’s well that ends well.
- My oldest daughter landed a plumb role in our community theater production of GREASE. She was Marty, one of the Pink Ladies. The show was a heck of a lotta fun, although it was disconcerting to take her grandparents to a show where Gabbey cursed, smoked, drank, flipped the bird, and adjusted her cleavage on stage. Nevertheless, she nailed her solo, Freddy My Love, so all was forgiven.
- No sooner had the two week production of GREASE ended than we were off to St. Croix for a fabulous family vacation and diving adventure.
- Then of course, there was the contractor fiasco and a two-week scramble to get the bathroom finished by ourselves. We did get it done just in time to dash off to the airport and greet our German daughter. She’s been here over a week now and is starting school with my younger daughter today. Last week, we had fun showing her around the town. I attended the first football game of my life on Friday (no, really, it’s true) because she wanted to see our high school team play. Since our team trounced the other team, it was actually pretty fun.
- Unfortunately, we had another awesome event planned for her that got abruptly cancelled. You may have seen news stories about the woman who died on a zip line course in Delaware last Wednesday. Well, my husband and the girls were scheduled for the zip line the following morning, but the company called Wednesday night to cancel our reservation. They didn’t explain why, but it was all over the news, so we knew. According to witness accounts, the woman disregarded the safety instructions and disconnected both her safety lines at the same time. My daughters and my husband, who have been on the course before, say they can’t imagine why anyone would need to do that. The trainers drill the correct procedure into the heads of all participants before they enter the course. I suppose we’ll never know what caused this woman to make that tragic mistake. It was very sad, and my heart goes out to her family, especially those who were there when she fell — and I’m also relieved that my girls weren’t there on that day. There’s been some grumbling about “more regulations being needed” since the accident. I do hope the company is allowed to keep the course open and running because sometimes an accident is just an accident.
- Last but not least, Gabbey left for college. So we added a daughter, subtracted a daughter, and the net result is a status quo of two teenage girls in the house.
I wish I could say that things will quiet down this fall, but looking at my calendar, that’s not going to happen. So I’m kind of feeling like this:
In July we hired a contractor to paint our stairwell and upstairs hallway, strip the wallpaper from our upstairs bathroom and paint it, too. (I want to note right here that his business card said: Painting and Wallpaper Removal.) He was supposed to start the Monday after we returned from St. Croix, and he knew we had a deadline of August 19th, the day our German exchange student was due to arrive. The guy expressed some concern about the time needed to strip the wallpaper, and so my husband said he would work on it beforehand. A contract was signed.
My husband stripped half (HALF!) the wallpaper before we left for St. Croix.
The guy showed up at the appointed time, met with my husband, and started setting up for the job. He was upstairs a couple hours. In the meantime, my husband finished packing for a business trip and left the house for the airport. The contractor waited for about 15 minutes after he was gone, then came downstairs and announced to me that he would not do the wallpaper job. “It’s not coming off easily. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. There’s no way I can strip it, primer, and paint it in the week I have allotted for this job.”
Remember, my husband had already removed half of it.
I said, “Okay, but can you work on it this week — during the time you’ve promised us — and we’ll finish whatever you don’t get done?”
His reply: “Let me rephrase. I will not do the bathroom job. I can do the painting in the stairwell and hallway, or if you prefer, I can pack up and leave.”
I was sorely tempted to tell him to leave. But it flashed through my head that I could strip the wallpaper myself (Theoretically. I’d never done it before.), but there was no way for me to paint the stairwell without scaffolding, and there was no time to hire anyone else. Reluctantly, I told the guy to do the paint job.
Bob says I made the right decision, the logical decision. But he also says that if he had been there, he would have been so mad he would have thrown the guy out. Believe me, I was mad too. I couldn’t stand the sight of him for the rest of the week. It was all I could do to be civil. But at least the stairwell got painted.
And every day, after the painter worked his measly 3 hours or so, I scraped wallpaper — starting from the minute he left until I went to bed. It was hard to remove, but I don’t have any experience to compare it to, so I can’t judge his claim that it was the worst wallpaper known to man. Two days in, I posted something on Facebook about hating wallpaper, and a former teaching colleague offered to loan me a steamer. It came off a lot easier with the steamer. (Why didn’t the professional guy have one?)
My husband joined in when he came home from his business trip. And we got the bathroom finished three hours before we had to pick up our exchange student at the airport. Finished version below.
Have you ever had a contractor up and quit on you?
I’m excited to kick off the release tour for Joshua David Bellin’s book Scavenger of Souls, the sequel to Survival Colony 9, which releases Tuesday, August 23. Josh is here today to talk about the challenges of writing a sequel.
- Josh, congratulations on the upcoming release of Scavenger of Souls! Can you give us a brief summary of your first book, Survival Colony 9?
Survival Colony 9 takes place in a future world where human civilization has been devastated by a series of wars and environmental disasters. And then, following on the heels of these cataclysms, a mysterious threat appears: creatures called Skaldi, which have the ability to consume and mimic human hosts.
My narrator, Querry Genn, is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Survival Colony 9, one of the small, mobile bands that came together in the years after the wars. In addition to the severe problems all the survivors face in a desert world crawling with monsters, Querry faces two that are unique to him: he lost his memory in an accident six months before the action of the book starts, and the leader of his colony is a very demanding man who doesn’t tolerate Querry’s disability. The story takes place during a critical two-week period in Querry’s life as he tries to recover his past and fight for his colony’s future.
2. When you first sat down to write the sequel, what was your strategy for approaching it?
I’m not much of a planner; I usually just sit down and write. But with a sequel, I knew I had to be somewhat more systematic than usual. So I jotted down lots of notes, planning out possible narrative trajectories for my main characters, creating brief biographies for the new characters who appear in the book, drawing maps of the territory where the action takes place, and so on. I left a lot of things open, because I’ve found that I do my best writing when I let my characters and my story lead me to unexpected places. It was just a matter of finding a good balance between planning and winging it!
3. When I wrote the sequels for The Eighth Day, I found that I had to dig deeper into my world building and go beyond what the reader learned about the setting in the first book. How did you delve deeper into the world of Survival Colony 9?
One of the things I wanted to show in Scavenger of Souls was that Querry’s colony was not alone in this world. It seemed to me that, with the almost complete collapse of global civilization, various survival colonies would develop along very different lines depending on any number of factors: who led them, what access to technology they had, where they were situated geographically, and so on. So in Scavenger of Souls, the reader meets a number of different colonies that coexist with Querry’s, but that are very different from—and sometimes in conflict with—Survival Colony 9. Those new colonies were fun to create, and they also gave me a chance to introduce one of my favorite characters in the Survival Colony series: Mercy, a feisty teenage girl living in one of the colonies that Querry encounters.
I also had to delve deeper into the origin of the Skaldi, because I felt that readers would really want to know where these creatures came from and why they were here. Trust me—the answers are not what you expect!
4. What did you struggle the most with while writing Scavenger of Souls? (I’m assuming you struggled. If not, what made it a breeze?)
Oh, I struggled all right! I struggled with how much backstory from the first book to include in the second, how to tie up the loose ends from the first book, and how to bring it all to a close while still leaving the reader with a sense that Querry’s story continues beyond the final page. My biggest struggle, though, was that I had originally conceived this series as a trilogy, and when I decided along with my agent and editor to transform it into a duology, I had to make some very tough decisions about what to cut. Never easy to do. My only consolation is that maybe I can use some of the material that didn’t make the final cut in a spin-off story or something!
5. What’s next for you?
I’ve completed a third YA novel that I’m super-excited about, a deep-space action/romance titled Freefall, which is due out next year. After that, I’ve got a couple of manuscripts partially written, one of them YA science fiction, the other YA historical. I’ll work with my agent to figure out which one to focus on, and that’ll be my writing project for next year!
Woo Hoo! Looking forward to Freefall as well as Scavenger of Souls! Meanwhile, see below for information about the book, the author, and a giveaway.
About the book:
Querry Genn is running out of time. He may have saved his survival colony and defeated a nest of the monstrous Skaldi, but that doesn’t mean he has any more answers to who he is. And Querry’s mother, Aleka, isn’t talking. Instead, she’s leading the colony through a wasteland of unfamiliar territory. When they reach Aleka’s destination, everything Querry believed about his past is challenged.
In the middle of a burned-out desert, an entire compound of humans has survived with plenty of food and equipment. But the colonists find no welcome there, especially from Mercy, the granddaughter of the compound’s leader. Mercy is as tough a fighter as Querry has ever seen—and a girl as impetuous as he is careful. But the more Querry learns about Mercy and her colony, the more he uncovers the gruesome secrets that haunt Mercy’s past—and his own.
With threats mounting from the Skaldi and the other humans, Querry must grapple with the past and fight to save the future. In the thrilling conclusion to the story that began with Survival Colony 9, Joshua David Bellin narrates a tale of sacrifice, courage against overwhelming odds, and the fateful choices that define us for a lifetime.
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: August 23, 2016
For order links, visit http://joshuadavidbellin.com/my-books/
Praise for Survival Colony 9:
Tantalizing mysteries abound among the human and inhuman inhabitants of the bleak landscape, and the post-apocalyptic plot is satisfyingly full of twists.—Booklist
Joshua David Bellin brings serious game in a post-apocalyptic thriller that collides breathless action with devious world building and genuine heart. A terrific novel!—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and V-Wars
Set in a gritty post-apocalyptic world, Survival Colony 9 is both an adventure and an exploration of what it means to be human.—Margaret Peterson Haddix, New York Times bestselling author of the Missing Series
About the author:
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, with the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, set to release on August 23, 2016. A third YA science fiction novel, the deep-space adventure/romance Freefall, will appear in 2017.
Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
To find out more about Josh and his books, visit him at the following:
Sorry I didn’t get around to any blogs last week. My family and I were vacationing on the remote, paradise island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On arrival, we learned that the drinking age in the Virgin Islands is 18, so my daughter Gabbey (age 19) was old enough to join my husband and me in a celebratory rum punch.
People drive on the left in the Virgin Islands, although the steering wheel in the cars is on the right. There are a lot of precarious switchback curves along the coast with a speed limit of 35, but experience proved that 15 or 10 mph is more appropriate.
My husband found the numerous potholes aggravating at first. Then he realized how much traction they offered in the rain. Our Ford Fiesta rental would never have made it up some of the hills without those potholes. (Although we did think the pothole that had its own waterfall was getting a bit silly.)
Driving in the daytime, we had to look out for chickens crossing the road. And mongooses. At night, we were confronted by crabs. Yes, crabs, scuttling sideways across the highway. The very first one we saw was as big as a dinner plate. It faced off against our Ford Fiesta, threatening us with its claws. “Dinner!” exclaimed Gabbey.
“You go get it,” replied Bob.
Nobody left the car.
On our first full day on the island, Gabbey, Gina, and I signed up for a Discovery Dive program with the Sweet Bottom Dive Center. (Bob is already a certified diver.) After a brief skills lesson in the pool (brief, because we were familiar with the equipment from snuba and comfortable in the water), we moved to the ocean for our first dive. 45 minutes at a depth of 40 feet.
The next day, we hiked out to the Carambola Tide Pools, literally uphill both ways. We climbed up and over this 1,200 ft peak (through the rain forest) to get to the pools — and then, after a lovely swim, turned around and climbed back over it again.
According to Bob’s workout app, this excursion was 6 miles round trip. My Garmin-brand fitbit said it was 10,000 steps. Neither app accounted for the 1,200 foot incline coming and going. When I got back to the hotel and collapsed, it seemed like no time at all before my bracelet started beeping. Apparently, I’d been inactive for an hour, and it suggested I get up and move around.
I would’ve smashed the fitbit with a rock, except for the energy it would have taken to find a rock and also perform the smashing.
Clearly, we needed a day of rest after that, lounging by the pool and the beach. We could still make ourselves useful because the island was infested with Pokemon, especially Zubats.
Unfortunately, there was only one PokeStop on the whole resort: The Captain Morgan Libation Hut. There wasn’t anything to do but hang out there all afternoon, collecting Poke Balls every 10-15 minutes. And what to do while we waited? What to do?
If the resort looks deserted, it’s because it was. We shared the beach with about four other people. It was almost like having our own private island.
On our final day on St. Croix, we booked a second dive trip with Sweet Bottom, diving off the pier at Fredericksted, St. Croix. This one was 65 minutes, 25 feet in depth, and colorful.
Both my daughters are gung-ho about getting fully certified now (and woo-hoo! it would count toward Gabbey’s college phys ed credits!). I am seriously considering joining them. It’s only taken my husband 10 years to inch me toward this. I think the snuba adventure in Key West this April was the breaking point when I realized I was no longer afraid of being under water.
Meanwhile, I’ve returned home with my creative energy restored and regenerated. Let the writing begin!
Hewitt Town, Ohio
July 4th, 1863
Henry Clemmons opened his eyes just as acid bubbled up from his stomach. He bolted upright, grabbed a pail from beside the bed, and retched into it. The room spun. Henry sprawled back into the mattress. He rolled into a ball and moaned.
“Ah,” a voice said. Calm. Gentle. “You’re awake.”
On the other side of a doorway stood Lincoln Hewitt. Link, as Henry knew him, was bent over a long board made of poplar wood, dressed in the same dark pants Henry saw him in the night before. His feet were bare, stained black. His dark hair, the color of ink, was brown with sawdust. A cigarette burned between the first fingers of his right hand, the scent of tobacco heavy in the air.
“Did you sleep at all?” Henry asked. He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before, gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece. He found his drawers tossed over a trunk at the end of the bed and pulled them on. He looked back to find Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue.
Link’s eyes were his most notable feature. Never before had Henry met a person, male or female, with eyes like his. Link eyes were the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray. An ash fell from the cigarette and landed dangerously close to his toes. Fire burned in Link’s eyes, sometimes bright as dawn and sometimes smoldering like embers, always burning.
“The Welk baby died last night,” Link straightened and took a drink from the tin mug that seemed permanently affixed to the middle finger of his right hand. Dark circles ringed his eyes. His shoulders were loose and slouching. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and looked around the shop as if he were surprised to see slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners. “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast. The Widow up the way brought biscuits and I found some berries.”
Henry cleared his throat and attempted to moisten the inside of his mouth, as if just the thought of the widow’s dry, crumbling biscuits, produced in mass quantities, was enough to make swallowing a chore. Link brought the old woman meat and provisions from town and she repaid his efforts with biscuits best suited as doorstops. “There’s goats milk as well, if you are so inclined. Should you add the milk to the biscuit, perhaps it will be more palatable.”
“You really want me to eat, don’t you?” Henry asked.
“Can’t have you wasting away.”
“What’s the catch?”
I was immediately struck by the strong visual images on this first page – the play of color and light in the scene. I can visualize what this would look like on film, the “slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners” and eyes “the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray.”
The one visual element that left me confused was Link “bent over a long board made of poplar wood.” What wood? Is it lying across a pair of sawhorses? This is a workshop, so perhaps he is making something with it, but he’s got a cigarette in one hand and a tin mug in the other, so he’s obviously not working on anything right this second. This could easily be clarified with a change of phrasing.
I assume the relationship between the two young men is sexual, but then, the last time I assumed that two characters on the first page of a First Impressions post were gay, I turned out to be wrong. They were just best friends. However, with phrases like “his clothing lost piece by piece” and “Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue,” I think I’m on surer ground this time.
My last comment is that “The Welk baby died last night” comes as a non-sequitur between “Did you sleep at all?” and “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast.” I don’t know why the Welk baby dying is a reason for Link not to have slept. Is he making a coffin? Is that what the poplar wood is for? This makes sense, but why did he have to have the coffin ready by morning, and how did he get the news of the baby’s death in the middle of the night?
There’s about a thousand more months left before November and the end of this presidential election, and as awful as it’s been so far, I expect it will get even worse before it’s over. (Not that the nastiness will stop after the election. No matter the winner, a lot of people are going to be very unhappy.)
I thought it might be interesting to put things in historical perspective by highlighting other notoriously vicious presidential campaigns.
For instance, in the election of 1860, Stephen Douglas got personal, saying Abraham Lincoln was a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman.”
Meanwhile, Lincoln said of Douglas: “His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”
Melania Trump took a lot of heat last week but not as much as Rachel Jackson in the election of 1828. John Quincy Adams’s campaign not only accused Andrew Jackson of being a despot and uneducated, they also viciously attacked Mrs. Jackson, a divorced woman who had previously been in an abusive marriage. Adams’s supporters called her a “dirty black wench”, a “convicted adulteress” and accused her of “open and notorious lewdness.”
I don’t know how low the Trump-Clinton election season will go. Pretty low, I expect. But I wonder if it will top the election of 1800—the only occasion when a vice-president ran against the president he was currently serving with—Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams.
Thomas Jefferson said that John Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Adams’ supporters countered with dire predictions of a Jeffersonian presidency: “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames… female chastity violated… children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”
Phew. It’s a good thing Jefferson didn’t get elected, huh? Oh … wait …
I’m happy that the cleome (spider flower) is blooming now! People will stop thinking we are growing marijuana in front of our house.
Still waiting on the tomatoes though.
Hungry, Hungry Hippos have nothing on our goldfish. Sometimes they leap right into the air when you throw them food.
The pool is warm and inviting.
The purple coneflowers are in bloom.
Aaaand, the mint has gone wild and overrun the herb garden.
Meanwhile, Sorcia chases the shadows of butterflies.
Anybody know what this flower is? It turned up in my bed of wildflowers this year.
What does summer look like where you are?