The Middle Grade Character

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Pictured: My niece, Chloe

My title protagonist from “Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment” is, at the start of the story, eleven years old.  But eleven years old was a long time ago for me.  …Too long.

And as a writer, if I come off as condescending or not relatable to my target audience (middle grade), all is lost. I know that if I want to write a character from a age group different from mine well, if at all possible, I need to spend time with someone or lots of someones from that age group.  And I’m lucky enough to have a niece the same age (or close–she’s ten) as my protagonist.  I’ve also observed Girl Scout troops and youth groups of the same age, but it’s time with Chloe (said niece) that I love the most.  The reasons for that are twofold: One: it’s quality time with a smart, funny, sweet, creative girl whom I love with all my heart, and two: “Belinda”—courageous, blue eyes, freckles, plays basketball, loves animals—is modeled after Chloe.  It works well.

Today, after a breakfast at Applebee’s to support my nephew’s youth group fundraising, I had the honor of watching Chloe’s volleyball game and then toting her along to Christmas Gifts on Broadway.  This lovely shop is a traditional Christmas destination for our family, though it’s been years since I was last there, and this was Chloe’s first time. She was enamored with so many of their wonderful items, and it was a joy to see the look on her face as she buzzed from room to room, taking it the Christmas splendor.  I got to see it through her eyes, and the more time I spend with her, the more of her “middle-gradeness” will ingrain itself into my thought process.   Sometimes I take notes of what I see–sometimes merely mental notes—and sometimes I just enjoy the moment.   It all makes its way to my brain, and more importantly, to my heart.

…The moments where she acts silly and makes me laugh, shows her crafts and collectible toys, amazes me with her thoughtful insights about how the world works, and makes me proud with how hard she works at her sports and how much she loves her family and pets…gah, I love it.  I am in awe of her, and thankful to have her as a prime example of her age. She reminds me that middle-graders are, or can be hyper, child-like,  imaginative, goofy, intelligent, gross, thoughtful, loving, cranky, wise beyond their years, helpful, eager, frustrated, passionate, and adventurous.   On their best days, they’re bundles of chaotic fun, with waves of gentility, humility, and spurts of smack-you-upside-the-head wisdom. No wonder it’s such a fun and eventful age to write!

I love spending time with my niece.  When “Belinda” is finally published, I will owe (and already do owe) a big dose of gratitude to this girl.  So, here’s to you, Chloe Rhiannon.  My favorite (and only) niece, and forever my inspiration.  And to my readers, for another heart-warming article about inspiration and encouragement, click here.

What cute/endearing/funny/overall nice stories do you have about the kids in your life? Share in the comments! 

Psst!  Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and be sure to check out my novella “The Christmas Beagle“, available for pre-order soon!

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What’s Your Stinky?

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What’s Your Stinky?

In honor of National Puppy Day, this blog post will be inspired by Emmie Lou the beagle and her Stinky.   Emmie loves her Stinky.  If I’m not wrong, you have a Stinky, too.  My Stinky is the Belinda Starr series.   It’s the thing in my life that takes up most of my time, has been loved to pieces, and possibly, maybe just a teensy weensy bit, interferes with other aspects of my life.

Emmie and her Stinky:

Emmie and Stinky

 

Emmie’s Stinky got her name because as often as we’ve had to wash this thing, still the stench remains.  That’s how much our beagle loves this toy.  She’s played and slept with it so often, it has a perma-smell.   Stinky is Emmie’s  go-to chew toy and utensil of choice for of tug-of-war.  She’ll spend hours chewing and playing with Stinky, and when she’s ready to collapse, she’ll fall asleep with it under her paw.  Generally speaking, we don’t discourage Emmie’s playing with Stinky, but when she chews holes through her, we take Stinky away for mending and replace her with one of Emmie’s other toys.

I spend an insane amount of time working on Belinda Starr at the Metallic Enchantment.  I’ve drooled all over that dragon enough times that no amount of detergent will get my smell off of it.  There have been times where Steven has to smack me on the head with a rolled up newspaper because I’ve chewed holes through Belinda Starr and have left bits of fluff around the bedroom (please note: we do not smack the beags with newspapers or any other object).   Anyway, as hard as it is, sometimes I must put my Stinky aside and focus on other projects. Sometimes it’s a short story.  Sometimes it’s writing in a journal.  Sometimes it’s not writing at all, but other tasks that engage a different part of my brain; painting, walking, household chores, etc.

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve been neglecting your physical health in favor of your Stinky.   I’ve been making changes to incorporate an exercise regime into my busy schedule, because as much as I love writing, I also love being alive.   It’s hard to step away from Belinda  Starr, but here’s the thing:  not only does my body need to move, doing so can actually help produce the solutions to whatever current writing dilemmas I’m facing.

So before you chew any more holes in your Stinky, step back a moment and ask yourself…what in your life are you neglecting?  What is out of balance?  And here’s a good one, have you moved much in the last 24 hours?  What is your Stinky?  And is it about time to let it take a rest?

Stinky

What’s your Stinky?  Is it full of holes (out of balance life)  or is it pretty much intact (in-balance life)? Let me know in the comments!

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The Bad Side to a Good Influence

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Don’t follow good advice at the expense of who you are.

Attention introverts and people-pleasers…this one’s for you!

One of my characters in Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment has a pattern of hiding his true self.  Because he has poor self-perception he often lets other people choose for him.  Another character of mine acts in similar ways.  She dreads hurting feelings, not because she genuinely cares about other people (though she does), but because of how causing dissension it will make her look.  Thoughts of confrontation and standing up for herself paralyze her.    (What will they think of me if I disagree?)

We’ve all heard of bad influences, the smokin’, drinkin’, cussin’ deadbeats that warranted words of caution from our mothers.  …You know, peer pressure and such.  Then there’s the abusers and users.  They’re the ones who, in one way or another, find a way to control and/or exploit you.  Maybe you’ve learned to stay away from these types of people, or maybe you haven’t (I hope you have).

Let’s talk about a third kind of person. This person could be described, perhaps, as a good influence.  They’re goal-oriented.  They have morals. They are kind to others. They’re not mixed up in drugs and they’re not in a troll-doll-worshiping cult.    Maybe they’re opinionated and strong-willed, or maybe they’re easy-going and non-abrasive.  Either way, you might be persuaded by this individual than you realize.  And that might not be a good thing.  

Let’s say you’re focused on a goal, whether it be fitness, career or otherwise related.  Good for you!  Things have been going alright so far, but you’re not sure what to do or where to go next.  In walks Passionate Pam.  She sure can talk, and it sure sounds like she knows her stuff, but there’s a good chance Pam’s talent has nothing to do with your goal and everything to do with persuasive speech.  You can’t blame Pam.  That’s who she is.  She’s just quoting what she knows to be true, even if she doesn’t have any experience in that particular field.  And yet she sounded so sure of herself, you go ahead and try things Pam’s (misguided) way.  And it blows up in your face. We’ve all been there.

Then there’s Cool Cam.  You admire him because he’s intelligent, soft-spoken and approachable.  He offers many solutions to your problem and even admits he doesn’t know everything.  Maybe he points you to some good resources.   Now, despite Cam’s good advice, there’s a nagging little voice in the back of your head that says “go this way!  …This way, I say!”  To said voice, you say, “nah…Cam didn’t mention doing it that way.  Cam does it this way.  I should probably do it this way, too.  Cam is smart.  I should be like Cam.”

Both Pam and Cam are good people.  But if you continue to do it their way while ignoring that little voice (I.E., you), the bad influence on you, this time, is you.   Don’t follow good advice at the expense of who you are. If you do, said advice has the goodness sucked right out of it.  Aspire to be like Cam, but not if that means discontinuing you.  Appreciate Pam for the uplifting energy she brings to the table, but don’t let your energy disappear because of it.  Learn to trust yourself.  Be confident that the decision you’ve made for your own life has just as much merit to it as that of Pam’s or Cam’s.  Don’t let yourself be talked into doing something that just is not you.  This means the ever-important lesson of learning to say no, even to Passionate Pam and Cool Cam, who have your best interest at heart.   Pam might act upset or try to convince you otherwise.  Cam might give you a blank stare or nonchalant shrug, which you then might interpret a million negative ways, all of which aren’t what Cam had intended to mean at all.  Even if Cam thinks your way isn’t the best, do yourself a favor and do it your way anyway.   Pam and Cam…?  They’re good people.  They’ll get over it.

Chances are, Pam and Cam really won’t care too much which direction you choose.  And chances are, it’s all in your head that they’re going to come unglued, think you’re an idiot and unfriend you.  Remember, Pam and Cam are good people.  They’re not likely to demonstrate such unseemly behavior.  And you…?  You’re good people, too.    Now, if you’re the black sheep in your family or social circle, you might often keep your opinions to yourself as a means of avoiding drama and the same old judgmental, head-bashing comments.  More power to you.  I completely understand.  You can keep your opinions to yourself and still take action, still make your own decisions and walk your own unique path. Just like my underdog, follow-the-crowd character from Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment, you may not be a leader, but you can be the leader of your own life.  Remember, your ideas and decisions matter, because they make you who you are.  Embrace it!

What Writers Want

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“It’s the difference between letting the ache push me forward and letting it push me down.”

 

Today I wrote.  A lot. Being so, I have a nasty case of brain-mush.  So much of my life is dedicated towards completing Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment, and as I’ve said before (and in case you didn’t know), writing a novel is HARD.  Someday soon I hope to see Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment become a best-seller, but tonight my mind, heart and soul are just plain tired.

It’s trying, to say the least, to put so much effort into something like this, especially when there are other things for which I long.  This longing is at times, an all-consuming ache.   I ache for writing-related, J.K. Rowling-level fame.  I ache to visit Ireland, New Zealand, and my brother in Arizona.  I ache for financial stability. I  ache for my husband and I to have a child.  The ache for all these yet-to-be-obtained things can be useful in that it pushes me towards completing my goals, but the ache can also be so painful that it borderline undoes me.  That’s when I need to stop for a moment and remind myself of all the things for which I am grateful, the things I already have now,the things for which I once ached:

  • Christ, my Savior.  The One who solved mankind’s biggest ache of all.
  • My husband.  What a man!  My kindred spirit, my sweet Bunny, the love of my life!
  • My mom.  She’s been such a blessing to us!
  • My beagle.  A furry blessing, what could be better?
  • A loving and supportive family.
  • Good friends, old and new
  • A great middle-grade fantasy novel in the makings, Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment. 
  • Three completed works available on Amazon.
  • Time to write!  What every author wants and needs!
  • Food, water, shelter.  For real, these things ought not to be taken for granted!
  • The freedom to write what I want.  Another blessing not to be taken lightly.

And,

  • Confidence

This last one is the difference between letting the ache push me forward and letting it push me down.    I’m still tired.  My brain is still mush.  And while the ache has not subsided, I am confident that with God’s help (and God willing), that ache will be manifested into a wealth blessings yet to come.  For now, I think I’ll take advantage of another one of life’s many blessings:

  • Rest.  Specifically, rest in Him.  Resting in Him means knowing that even though I ache, I am never alone.  He’s heard my heart’s desires, and although I can’t be sure my plans will align with that of God’s, even if the  Belinda Starr series never sees the shelves of Barnes and Noble, through the storms of my aching, one thing I can be sure of is His divine peace.  What a blessing.

 

For what do you ache?  What blessings do you already have in your life?  Let me know in the comments below!

Success for the Struggling Writer

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“This blessing reminded me that rewards for hard work sometimes come in the most unexpected, touching and wonderful ways.”

Writing is tough.   The actual writing part is hard enough, and then of course there’s marketing, which when it comes down to it, is how you become a financial success.   If you don’t know how to market, even through a traditional publishing route, you’re likely to not see the higher numbers.  Even though I don’t write solely to make money, it is one way of measuring success.  For me, as I’m sure it is for many of my colleagues, money from sales trickles in at a rate not even suitable for a five-year-old with a lemonade stand.   And if reviews were dollar bills I’d have just enough to rent a Red Box movie.

But this past week has shown me an amazing a blessing.  This blessing reminded me that rewards for hard work sometimes come in the most unexpected, touching and wonderful ways.  This blessing has some serious writing chops himself and  I’m proud to call that blessing my eleven-year-old nephew.   When the numbers aren’t there and you’re starting to question whether or not you have what it takes to make it, remember…you never know who might be paying attention.  I submit to you, this uplifting piece of wonder:

Keaton's Report about Sarah censored

 

Can’t quite make it out? The report my nephew wrote for school reads as follows:

Have you or one of your family members had a dream and followed it? My aunt has, she did not back down from being an author.  Someday soon she will have lots of published books.  As a young senior in high school, she read books like Harry Potter, Bridge to Terabithia, Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess Bride, and Holes, etc.  She has written Compulse, The Voiceless, The Christmas Beagle and Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment.  These four books are only the start to her writing career.  

Sarah Eaton is my aunt’s name.  She lives in (city, state), taking care of my grandmother. She is married to Steven Eaton.  They both live in an RV with their dog Emmy Lou.  Sarah might look like any other woman you see, but she’s a fast thinker and is usually writing. If she’s not doing that, she’s reading or spending time with her family.  

My aunt is like the funniest, most interesting books you’ve ever read.  She loves animals and enjoys the outdoors.  As a young child, she was home schooled by her parents Judith and Donald Miniken.  Since there were only two channels on their TV, my aunt usually read out in their backyard/forest, or in their garden.  When she was bored, my aunt Sarah would play with sticks, pretending they were wands from Harry Potter, with my aunt Amanda.  

Thanks to my aunt, I want to become an author.  As her nephew, I’ve read her first chapter book, Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment.  It’s a really good read! Wait until it gets published and you’ll maybe get to read it.   Don’t forget to check out her other books, like Compulse, The Voiceless and The Christmas Beagle.  Sarah got her inspiration for The Christmas Beagle from her dog, Emmy Lou. 

That’s all the reasons I chose my aunt as my role model.  I hope that she, as well as other authors inspire you to write a book.  When you want a dream you should never give up.  Whether writing a book or making a song, try your hardest like my aunt did.  If you try that dream is yours.  

I melted when I first read it.  Little else could remind me of my importance in such a meaningful way.  I am beyond lucky to have this kid in my life, and as though this homework assignment wasn’t enough of an honor, a friend and former college classmate of mine wrote a blurb on my Facebook timeline yesterday:

“Both Keith and I are feeling distracted tonight. We’re working on separate projects, both at critical junctures in the plot, and both of us are like squirrels. Or really excited dogs. Or something. And I was kind of getting down on myself for my lack of self-discipline when the thought occurred to me, “You know who knows what this is like? Sarah knows what this is like. And she doesn’t beat herself up, at least publicly. She knows it’s part of the process, and she sticks with the process till there’s a breakthrough. Okay. I can do this.” And that was a very comforting thought. And I thought I should tell you.”

Commitment speaks volumes to those around you.   Keep at it, writer.  Keep at it.   And while you’re at it, forward some of that encouragement to other writers.  It could be just the spring in their step they needed to keep at it themselves.

So, fellow writers, I wish you success.  I wish you writing friends who remind you that you are indeed making a difference. I wish you truckloads of cash and ample constructive reviews. I wish you fatty contracts, literary awards and film rights.  And, especially when you’re doubting your abilities, I wish for you a kid in your life. …A kid who has been paying attention to your writing habits, who looks up to you and has deemed you worthy enough to call you his role model.  To be called such is an incomparable measure of success.   It’s a reward worth more than any amount of money, and I think it’s one of the most important thing I’ll ever be.

Dogs VS Cats: Writing Companions

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Cats or dogs?

Many writers I’ve encountered have a furry companion, and most of the time it either meows or barks.  The majority of the time, however, it’s the feline friend writers prefer.  Ample writing time, coffee and cats is the recipe happiness for many a writer (throw in a few dozen good reviews, too).   Rarely have I encountered writers who have a dog.  As a dog owner, this was disheartening to me, but to each their own!  I love cats, too, but I’m allergic, and the allergens trigger my asthma.  Still, cats have their merit, as do dogs, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, I like to have my sweet Emmie Lou right by my side.

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She’s a wonderful little beagle!  It just so happens there is a beagle in Belinda Starr, making Emmie the perfect inspiration for that particular character.  But not all stories have dogs, nor do all writers write about animals.  But even so, having a furry friend by the writer’s side gives her a sense of wellness she would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  For example,

The dog companion:

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  • Lies at feet with a canine-brand loyalty.   This fills the writer’s writing room with good loyalty vibes.  This is a crucial concept when sticking to a writing project.  Writing takes loyalty, to yourself and to your work.
  • Cocks her head (hounds more than others, I believe).  This makes her an excellent conversationalist.  Writers often need to bounce ideas off others.  The head cock gives the writer the impression that they are being heard, even if they have to repeat themselves to the confused pooch.
  • Will let you know when it’s time for a break.  Dogs have bladders and stomachs, each with different functions.  One says “Hey, Ma, let’s go for a quick walk outside.  You can stretch your legs, get some fresh air, get a fresh perspective on that troublesome character, you know, the reason you’ve been banging your head on your desk for hours, and I’ll urinate on stuff.  Sound good?” The other says, “feed me!  Oh, while you’re at it, you need to eat too, remember?”   And then there’s the doggy mind, which needs stimulation, and will remind you it’s break time when it tells doggy to bring you the slobber-ridden toy.  Go on.  Step away from the computer for a while. You need the stimulation, too!
  • Snuggles close.  When you’re stressed, nothing says “I’m here for you, writer!” like having a dog nuzzle up to you and give that wistful puppy sigh.  ❤
  • Reminds you there’s more to life than writing.  Usually by wiggling her sweet face onto my lap and staring up at me with those doe-like eyes.  Makes me melt, every time, and convinces me it’s time to spend some time with her and my less-furry other loved ones.

 

The cat companion:

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  • Purrs! One of the most relaxing sounds on the planet Earth!  When writer is going bonkers, writer can just pet the purring machine, and if it’s an automatic engine, then voila, stress-be-gone!  If it’s a stick-shift, the purring machine may take a while, and if it’s a tricky engine, purring may be replaced by swiping claws.  Stress-reducing results may vary.
  • Sits on shoulders.  While this may make it difficult to write, it’s nice to know that at least someone cares about your writing.
  • Also reminds you it’s break time:  Knocks stuff down, meows because food, bats at loose strings on your sweater, knocks stuff down, digs claws into shoulders, knocks stuff down, meows because, well, meow, knocks stuff down.
  • Curls up on your lap.  Cats are generally more compact than dogs, making it easier to allow them to situated themselves on your lap in that adorable little ball of cat they fold themselves into.  How convenient, when you need to stop typing and think for a while, there’s a kitty, all ready for your thinking-pets!
  • Gives you a bath.   Hey, writer.  You’re stinky.  You need to be cleaned. Kitty says so.  You’re welcome.

 

I love my writing companion, and when I’m working on Belinda Starr, there is none other like my little beagle, Emmie Lou. Who is your preferred writing companion?  Does it bark or meow?   Let me know in the comments below!

Guard Your Writing Time

 

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So, you’ve closed the social media tabs, tucked the little one in for the night and fed the dog.  Great.  Woo hoo!  You’re ready to write!  …Until your friend contacts you and asks you to (fill in the blank), and you will, right?  Because you can just drop everything…after all, you’re a writer.  Your schedule is flexible.  

The moment you decide to become a full-time writer, you must stop seeing it as a hobby.  Treat it as a career.  Writing is my career and I know I wouldn’t be able to write the 7-part middle grade fantasy series Belinda Starr if I didn’t treat it as such.  Even if you don’t plan on making money off of it, you did decide to start writing for a reason, right?  Maybe you just want the accomplishment of completing a novel.  Whatever your reasons, you still have a book to write, and the more you treat it like an afterthought, the more it’s going to be reflected as such in your results.

So, then.  This:  After you’ve prioritized (family needs, etc), make your writing schedule inflexible.  Ask yourself, if your writing time were time spent working another job, say, at a local deli or at a school as a teacher, would you be as willing to drop everything?  As a writer, you are your own boss.  At any other job, what would your boss say if your friend called and demanded “you need a break”?

You may not even commit said drop because you’re “such a good friend”.  Be honest.  You just might be looking for a distraction…an excuse to not write.  If you’re reading this and you have an author friend or one in the family, pay attention: This writing thing they’re doing…?  It’s important to them.  My family and friends have, for the most part, been pretty respectful of my writing time, but their minds aren’t wired like that of a writer.  Home time to them is free time. Home time to me, more often than not, is writing time.

Now, writers, if you’re headed for a burn-out, then by all means, take a break.   And what’s more, being a full-time writer doesn’t mean your whole life should revolve around writing.  Make time for other things.  As difficult as it is for me at times to tear myself away from Belinda Starr, I do have other things going on in my life. Don’t neglect your relationships and your health. Find a good balance (I recommend a break every hour or so to get up AWAY from the computer/desk and do something else for ten minutes, a short walk, fold a load of laundry, etc., but then get back to it!)

Point is, when it comes to writing, you need decide your schedule, and sometimes, you won’t know if your schedule is doable until you try it on for size.  Tweak what needs to be tweaked, but find a schedule that works for you, and then stick to it. Solid.  Inflexible.  Remember, this isn’t just a hobby.  This is your career, or it’s at least something you want to happen.  Make it happen.