Did I Write That?

I recently talked to Unexpected’s First Reader about the novel.  I also sent it to Jack, my best friend, because he insisted on reading the novel he is “starring in,” as he put it.  Due to these conversations, I’ve decided to re-read Unexpected, which I haven’t looked at since I finished it in November.

My first reaction to reading the first two paragraphs was, well, unexpected.  Because I haven’t read them since I wrote them 4 months ago (they were written on Nov.1) the words were unfamiliar.  I remember the story, I remember the characters, but I don’t remember the book word for word.  I really did pause at the end of the first paragraph and utter the title of this post – “Did I write that?”

Reading it, I found many phrases that I find entertaining.  I especially like this line: There were no good ways to land, only bad and not as bad, and currently she was falling in a way that would hurt a lot when the ground interrupted gravity.

This reality is why I like to leave a book to sit for a while after I write it, so that I have fresh-ish eyes when I read it.  I just didn’t expect for it to be this fresh!

I Need an Event!

Now that I have my massive timeline on the wall, and some idea of how the five (maybe six?) books will break out, I realize that I need something.

Specifically, I need an event.  There are already two major world events that link the first four books – the lunar eclipse that starts it all, and the big celebration at four years in.  The ends of three of the books braid together as well, as the main characters’ lives intertwine.  The fourth book will go past the end of the other three, and pick up the braid and carry it.  (That’s part of the inspiration that struck last night as I blogged.)

However, between four years and 10 years, there is a huge gap with the stories not linked in any way.  I’ve decided that I need to add another big world event to tie them together again, perhaps at seven or eight years.

But what can that event be?  I’ll have to go back to the original book and see if something jumps out.


I got a big piece of paper, and started outlining the intersecting storylines of Butterflies on parallel timelines.  I thought this would help me figure out how the five new books will fit together.

At least that’s what I thought.

From here, there are spoilers so if you don’t want details of Butterflies, stop reading!

It turns out that writing down something that I already knew was going to be convoluted didn’t make it any more straightforward.  Two of the stories are pretty clear – Mara and Gretchen have lives that are isolated from other main characters, for different reasons.  This lasts until they reach Butterfly Gardens, the school where several of the characters meet.  Arrival at Butterfly Gardens is where I wanted to end each of the three girls’ books.  While they join the school at different ages, it’s easy enough to make their books different lengths.

It’s Andi’s story, as well as the royal children and the world beyond the three main characters, that are intertwined and challenging.  The first ten years of her life are also easy, like the others.  The problem is that before Andi goes to the Gardens, she spends a year as a handmaid to the queen.  This brings her into the lives of both of the royal children, and peripherally into the court (and to some extension, the world).

I also need to go back in time with book 4 to make sure we include the stories of Damien and Izzy (the royal kids) and the things leading up to the war.

OOH!  I just had a thought, about how to split these books!  This is not the first time that blogging about a problem has led to a possible solution.   With that, I’m going back to my big piece of paper…


Birthdays and Age

After yesterday’s thoughts on why someone wouldn’t know the exact date of their birthday, I thought it would be interesting to consider some of the ways a person could still register age without a date.  Some of the concepts below are likely to be things that are used in real cultures, although I don’t know enough to tell you which ones.  (If you know, please share!)

The reason to consider age, rather than date, is related to the use of the information.  The exact date doesn’t matter to everyone, but a generalized concept of how old you are groups you with people of similar age and designates your role and responsibilities in society.

Without a calendar, people may not register an actual age.  Instead, they might simply divide their lives into segments that can be marked by physical changes.  When you hit puberty, you become an adult and take on a different role in society.  When a woman goes through menopause, her role changes again.  (With men, it is harder to mark an end to breeding/productivity, but perhaps there is a way to define that as well.)  This would be most likely seen in a smaller, simpler society, perhaps hunter-gatherers or early agrarian cultures.

Another option, with or without a calendar, is to count age by the year rather than the day.  In this model, there would be one day that everyone “ages up,” perhaps tied to a cultural holiday or a special day of its own.  Everyone who was born after the previous celebration but before the current one would be considered “one” and start counting there.  It would feel a bit odd to us, especially because we tend to count age in months up to 2 or 3 years old, but it ends up working the same as far as dividing kids into cohorts.  Really, a 13-month-old and a 22-month-old are both still “one” by the way we count birthdays; they just get to “two” on different days.

None of this helps people who don’t know their age because it wasn’t recorded or told to them.  Those folks just have to guess, and they can use the people around them to figure out their general age.  And really, if they live in a world where the exact date doesn’t matter, estimating is probably good enough.

How Do You Know It’s Your Birthday?

After watching Tangled and working on Mara’s story, I’ve been thinking a lot about how a person knows their birthday.  It seems so natural to us that someone would know the date of their birth, but there are lots of factors that actually contribute to that knowledge.

Think about it.  There are three major things that need to happen for your birthdate to really stick as important information.

1. You have to use a calendar.  This sounds ridiculous, right?  Everybody uses a calendar.  Or do they?  What if the day of the week, or the number of the day, didn’t matter?  What if every day was the same in your culture, if only big things like full moons or the changes of seasons were really distinct enough to register?  If a group of people doesn’t divide time into an equivalent of months and years, then how would someone be able to pinpoint the exact anniversary of the day they were born?

2. Someone has to tell you.  You weren’t able to tell time when you were born, so someone (usually a family member) had to witness your birth, record the date, and then share that information with you when you were old enough to get it.  This is where my train of thought started, because Mara was sold to a slave trader when she was born.  Normally, that would put her in a situation that negates all of the above; no one is going to record the date and mark it later.  Fortunately, she’s born during a lunar eclipse, giving her a nickname that has to be explained, and so she does have knowledge of when she was born, if not the exact date at first.

3. You have to use it for something.  We celebrate birthdays, and write them down on licenses and applications, and generally use birthdate as part of our identification and identity.  This is the big reason why you can just spout off a date when someone asks, and why that little box on the calendar looms large.  You use it, so it’s important enough to remember.  This is the one that makes Tangled feel just a bit off every time I watch it.  Rapunzel’s captor blows off her birthday as no big deal, with a “Your birthday was last year” response.  If her “mom” doesn’t celebrate it or mark it, we get a bit of the previous issue and a lot of this one.  I don’t know how Rapunzel knows when her birthday is – we’ll have to assume she was told at some point – but we do know why the date is important to her: the floating lanterns that she sees every year.

This train of thought can also lead into the many different ways you can develop a fantasy culture, because how a group of people denotes age or marks time can be a fun way to give the reader a sense of difference from their own lives.  Perhaps I’ll chase this path tomorrow!


White puffs fall like smoke from the roofs.

Drifting clouds of frozen fog shrink my view, while flakes melt to raindrops on my windshield.

Everywhere cars creep, drivers skittish on slick surfaces.

Sky and street reflect sodium lights to turn everything an odd shade of pink as monochrome coats the world.

Snow dust gathers, builds dunes, insubstantial hills and valleys appearing where once the earth was flat.

Winter weather comes again.

Time for some reading

My friend who is acting as First Reader for Unexpected called tonight to tell me that he’d finished it, and that it was very entertaining.

He also suggested that I not censor Kiwi, that her language is part of her character.

Our brief conversation (which also discussed the story and the twist I was so proud of) makes me want to read it.  Of course, I’m in the middle of a book right now, plus working on Mara’s story, so it might be a little bit.  It’s been a few months, though, so I should be far enough removed to be able to find flaws.

I think I’ll print it out in the next few days and add it to my pile!

The Beauty of Adding Details

In the original Butterflies, I limited the growing up years of the three girls (Gretchen, Andi, and Mara) to snapshots, moments that lined up with each other and gave the reader a taste of their childhoods.

Now that each is getting her own book, I’m finding the freedom of structure a lot easier to work with.

For example, what we saw of Mara’s years as a street kid was one scene after she’d been with the group for two years.  It also included a flashback of how she found and joined the group in the first place.  The whole section was put together oddly; it had to have a time-correct piece to align with another one of the stories.  It also had to have the flashback, to give us context, and this caused it to be a little cluttered.

Now those scenes are separate, and have been a bit reorganized.  We get to experience her stumbling across the gang as the moment happens chronologically.  Without the need for a flashback element, the scene can grow and give us a lot more insight into the group.  The other scene, which brought us the flashback, got rearranged and moved up a year.  It’s not time sensitive now that it doesn’t have to be linked to Andi and Gretchen, and moving it means there is more time for things to develop before the next key piece of the story.

We will also no longer be dependent on future Mara demonstrating skills for us to know what she learned.  With this expanded story, we’ll get to actually see her learning and using some of those skills!  As she is a scavenger and sometimes-thief, you know it will be fun to see what knowledge she gains.

Some Weekend Inspiration

Mara’s childhood is taking shape, especially now that I’ve let myself skip ahead to the two years she spends with a group of street kids who work together for survival.  This is where the fun stuff starts; she learns some interesting skills, she has a social group, and the setting expands from one room to the whole capital city, including secret hiding places inside the city walls.

Of course, this group already existed in Butterflies, if only as a short chapter.  That’s the point of the overhaul, you see; to take the intriguing stuff that we only glimpsed when it was one novel and add the details and elements that make it truly interesting.

This meant that I needed a better grasp of the group, both who they are and how they survive.  Starting yesterday evening and continuing on into this morning, the little gang took shape in my imagination.  I figured out their structure, developed two of their “rules” and decided on how they make their living.

These four kids, including Mara (whom they call Moth), are scavengers, opportunists, and occasional petty thieves who don’t steal from their neighbors and always pay for food.  Their new leader is chosen by the outgoing leader, and when someone gets too tall to fit into the spaces where they live, that person ages out of the group.

Now that I know about this little band, I’ve been able to really get going on writing about them.  Not only will we get to see a lot more of this part of Mara’s life, we’ll also learn a lot more about the capital and what goes on there.

That Silly Thanksgiving Poem

When I was in elementary school I wrote a silly Thanksgiving poem.  The school created a “book” of students’ writing and drawings, and somehow the food-related poem ended up in the publication.

I have no idea how they chose what went in; that was a long time ago.

I don’t remember the whole poem, but the final verse was family humor for a while so it stuck.  It occasionally pops into my head, particularly when I overeat.  (Tonight I ate way too much barbecue, and the poem appeared on cue.)

I know, I know.  Now I have to share:

I ate so much I think I’ll die.
Oh my gosh, there’s cherry pie!
My grandma makes the very best,
I’ll cut one slice and eat the rest!

Not fantastic, but you can see why it shows up when I pig out!

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