Good Medicine

 

The contest prompt was “One Room” – I decided on a stillroom in Regency England.

***

As Anna Norris saw it, Sir Richard had not taken leave of his senses. His senses had been taken from him. Anna had been the housekeeper at Pollton Estate for the better part of twenty years, and her husband George its steward. It was a good position and she knew herself lucky to have it. But for the past six months, since the accident, she had her hands overfull with the strange and sometimes terrible doings in the baron’s household. She finally entrusted the lion’s share of cleaning and cooking duties to her staff. Her most urgent business at present was the making of teas and tinctures. The doctor came up from the market town once every week. Betweentimes, the health of the household fell firmly on Anna’s aging shoulders.

rest of the story as published in Short Fiction Break magazine. 

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Contesting and Workshopping

I’ve heard it before – “enter a writing contest” they say. “It will help you hone your skills” they say.

I even believe it. And I have paid entry fees before, and set intentions to submit the greatest short story ever told. No pressure though, right? Yeah, except for the part where I would write a paragraph, decide I hated it, start in on a different story, toss it straight into the recycle bin, toy with an idea for a third, and then go dust my ferns and scrap the whole idea. I’ve sacrificed more than one contest entry fee that way.

But this time I made a commitment and … actually committed. I just submitted my short story “Good Medicine” to a writing contest.

Is it the greatest short story ever told?

NOPE!

But it is finished, workshopped, revised, workshopped again, revised again – and finished!

On the First Night of NaNo – Doggerel Poetry and Holiday Tradition

My family has never really formed any ironclad holiday traditions. I mean, my grandma had a particular way that the tree was always decorated, and very definite ideas about when decorations go up (the day after Thanksgiving) and when they come down (January 6th), but since she passed away we have sort of played every holiday “by ear.”

I tried, with the boys. I used to put a chocolate orange in their stockings every year. And then one year Thing Two informed me that he didn’t really like chocolate oranges that much.

Chocolate Orange

We tried other things, too. I bought a Christmas pickle. But not until after they were all just a bit old to be excited about it.

Pickle

So mostly we just went with whatever we were in the mood for every year at Christmas. Some years we had big ham dinners, some we had pizza. Some years we all got up early, and some years we slept in. Go with the flow, that’s our motto.

Since the last of the boys left home a few years ago, they have generally chosen to spend Christmas with friends or with their girlfriend/fiancee/wife’s family. So the hubs and I have been left to our own devices. We rarely decorate or put up stockings anymore, we buy each other a thing and then we enjoy the time off work and each other’s company.

In 2011, some very close friends of ours from church and ministry invited us to share in their Christmas Eve tradition, “Night Before Christmas Night.” This is something that the family came up with as a way of formally calling a halt to all of the mad shop/cook/prep/wrap/clean/bake madness by establishing a definite beginning to Christmas Family Time. They call it a poetry contest, but then are quick to amend that there is no actual competition and poetry is not required. Anyone is invited to share any talent, skill, or performance art that they wish to bring to the crowd. There is always at least one musical submission, often a photography viewing, and one memorable year included a martial arts demonstration.

The pater familias creates an example poem every year, almost always in the rhyme scheme of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or the poem commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Every year I write a submission or two, often in that rhyme pattern, sometimes in others. One year I did one that was based on Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”

This year I had no particular great ideas, so the night before Night Before Christmas Night I was staring at my laptop, with its blank white screen and blinking mocking cursor, and thinking, “hey, this is just like starting NaNoWriMo every year.”

And then this happened:

On the First Night of NaNo

On the first night of NaNo
my bleary eyes blink
At a pristine white page
yet unsoiled by ink

To plot or to pants, outlines, index cards
Should I write about blacksmiths or write about bards
To hand-write or type or to dictate the mess
Every decision I now second-guess

Should my villains be dragons
Or corporate raiders
Maybe some were-bears
or pirate slave traders

Is my hero heroic, is his mentor wise
Have I mixed up or misused those old archetypes
Minor characters wrangle and plot points are random
One sounds like it came straight from the Tolkien fandom

I lay down and try now to sleep in my bed
While character backstories dance in my head
And then what to my coffee-dazed mind should appear
But a thematic subplot with bunny tracks clear

Once per annum I set aside tidying house
Society, sleep, and attention to spouse
To deal with ideas and intrabrain friction
Take the mess from my head and consign it to fiction

My family’s convinced that my head’s not on tight
But I am a writer and writers must write
So the first night of NaNo next year, I will sit
with a blank page before me, bereft of my wit

My Favorite Heroines

I have been struggling with my WIP. I felt like I just couldn’t get a handle on the main character – like no matter how many scenes I wrote her into, or how much of her backstory/traits/idiosyncrasies I wrote, I never really “knew” her.

Then my lightbulb clicked.

I didn’t respect her. I put so much effort into making her vulnerable, giving her things to worry about, and using her to explore emotional issues, that she had stopped being a strong competent female hero and become just a pile of problems.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for emotionally vulnerable, damaged, insecure female characters in all sorts of writing. These are real people, I know them, I have been one at various times, there is nothing wrong with that. But it didn’t fit the story I was trying to tell. And I was no longer writing the kind of story that I love to read.

So I made the following list, in no particular order, of the female heroines of fantasy, YA, and children’s literature that I absolutely have LOVED (and you will notice, some of the ladies below are more properly supporting characters than protagonists, but for me they were the best parts of their respective works).  As I continue to work on this elusive project, I will be re-reading these works and others as they occur to me, with an eye to picking apart exactly HOW these authors made these smart, determined, competent young women/girls who can overcome the crap that is thrown at them without ever being pathetic or whiny – even though they are all also in some way vulnerable. I am giving myself bonus points if I can figure out why I like these characters more than others in the same books/series/world.

  • Jennifer Strange, from Jasper Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam
  • Both Alianne Cooper and Dovasary Balitang, from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duo
  • Roald Dahl’s Mathilda
  • Door, from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
  • Lucy Pevensie, from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia
  • Enna, from Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern
  • Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking
  • Dot, from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth
  • Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet
  • Julie Campbell Tatham’s Trixie Belden

So, help me out – who do you think of when you think of strong, smart, competent female characters in genre fiction?