Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Candid Camera: A Look At Character

I think I'm addicted to something. A new something, I mean. Blog chains, in general and particular. Here I am again taking part in an AW blog chain, topic of which endeavor is Character. Specifically, a scene which perfectly captures the essence of your character.

So last night I got out my “camera” and went hunting for a candid snapshot. After wandering through four of my novels and dozens of characters, I finally settled on this scene from my novel SS-5. (For those of you new to my blog, that's 2009's NaNo novel, my first excursion into YA, thriller, and suspense. Details here: http://frontnotes.blogspot.com/2009/10/historical-note-teenage-spies.html )

SS-5 is based on the true story of five Dutch teenagers (four boys and a girl) who, when the Nazis took control of Holland, banded together to fight back. At this point in the novel, the boys have been assimilated into the real Resistance, and are actively involved in deadly espionage. The pressure and danger is forcing them into a maturity far beyond their age, and it's ripping apart the bond of friendship between the five.

Affected most is Charlotte, who is forbidden to take part because of being female. She's forced to watch as her friends are destroyed, and is tormented by the ferocious need to take part in the fight.

The scene should be self-explanatory. Thoughts and critical feedback would be awesome!


Charlotte sat in her room, drawing with fierce strokes the figure of a girl in armor. A girl, standing on a hill, armies sprawled shining out below her. She held up the flag of victory, and from open mouths all around poured grateful accolades. But there was no triumph in the girl's eyes, just a sort of sad relief.

Had Joan the Maid, centuries ago in France, wondered if she could ever succeed? In those days when everyone said she was mad, had she known that her cause was true?

Charlotte wondered.

After a moment, she laid down her pencil and pushed up the sleeve of her sweater to look at her watch. Piet had leaned toward her for a moment during dinner, whispered “Meeting tonight at six” and then turned back to his carrots before anyone saw.

Ten minutes yet before she had to leave.

She hadn't been in school today; she'd been with her mother, a few blocks away, with two terrified children huddled in a cellar. The Gestapo had broke down their door the night before, hauling their parents and older brother away. The two children, both girls younger than six, had huddled under their bed and managed to escape detection.

“Jews?” Charlotte had whispered when her mother told her.

“No.” Lorrie Skyyjer's face was grim. “The father had helped in printing and distributing pamphlets about the Allies' progress in the war. He was the man who brought paper, only that. But it was enough. Someone saw, reported, and the Gestapo came.”

A neighbor had found the children. They refused to come from under the bed, even when Charlotte and her mother came. They stared at something only they could see, and, arms twined together, refused to move.

Finally they had to be pulled out, separately since their combined weight was too much. Charlotte didn't think she'd ever forget their screams.

And here she sat, on her feather bed, in her warm house, wearing good, solid, even pretty clothes, with a full stomach. Safe. Secure. Out of danger.

While all around her people lost their lives fighting back.

Charlotte traced the figure on her easel with the tip of her pencil. “What would you do, Joan? What did you do? Did you sit safe at home and wait for your brothers, your best friends, to die?”

History proclaimed the answer.

And also the price Joan had paid.

Restless, Charlotte got up, pacing her room, until she gave it up, tugged a scarf over her flame of hair, and hurried out into the night.

The farmhouse was dark and empty, the barns likewise. The truck wasn't in the yard; obviously Farmer Smit, Jan and Piet hadn't arrived back yet.

She slipped through the darkness to the kiln, and swung the secret door open in the dark. From below she saw the flicker of candlelight. “Hello?”

“Charlotte?” She caught the owl-like glow of Jos's glasses. “Where is everyone?”

Charlotte's feet thudded down the earthen steps. “The boys aren't back yet. Isn't Hendrik here?”

“He's not coming.” Jos slid over on the rug, making a place for her to sit. “I've been here hours alone. I'm glad you're here.”

Startled, Charlotte glanced over to see if he was joking. But beneath his glasses, she saw not the twinkle of mischief, but the glitter of tears. “Jos. What's wrong?”

He shook his head. Nothing.

She turned him so he faced her. “Jos. What happened?”

His throat convulsed as he swallowed. “Remember the flour mill?” His voice was only a whisper. “The flour mill that was being converted into an munitions factory that we blew up?”

She nodded.

“I went along because I was small, and good with chemicals and fire. But Farmer Smit made sure no one knew my name or who I was. It was safer that way, he said. So I was the one who destroyed the mill, along with them.”

He paused. “The day before yesterday the Gestapo caught one of the people involved. They tortured him until he gave names. The Gestapo caught every one of the people involved in that mill, and twelve more who had nothing to do with it. Thirty people shot, Charlotte. Thirty people dead because of me.”

Oh, Jos.” Emotion surged through Charlotte, smothering her. Jos took his glasses off, rubbing them with his handkerchief. In his eyes she saw the pain and the agony of guilt.

He's just twelve. Oh God, he's just a kid. He can't be responsible for thirty people's deaths.

Her hands twitched, ready to pull him into an embrace, hold him tight. Tell him it would be all right.

But somehow she knew it had gone beyond that.

“If only someone had known,” Jos said dully. “The first man they captured was in prison for a week before he talked. If someone had been inside, someone who could warn the others, then no one would have had to die.”

His words mingled in Charlotte's mind with words she'd heard Farmer Smit say.

“We need someone on the inside. Someone to find out what the Germans are going to do. But we can't ask anyone to risk their lives to that extent.”

And in that moment, Charlotte knew what she had to do.

Her mouth went dry, just thinking about it. Her father...everyone...

Bitter fear and sweet relief clashed in her mouth.

She knew what she had to do.


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Friday, June 11, 2010

Bobblehead: Reacting To Rejection


It's an ugly word. Anger, sorrow, frustration, abandonment, loss, and discouragement are all conveyed by rejection. It's probably one of the most difficult things anyone can face.

And it's a non-stop part of a writer's life.

I've been getting a lot of rejections lately. In my personal life they've been coming thick and fast, but more importantly, I'm being rejected in my writing life.

This summer is the first time I'm actively pursuing publication. I've been playing around with it since 2007, but this year I've turned my hard-headed stubborn persistence to GetPublishedOrDieTrying. Two of my novels are sitting on editor's desks, waiting for the final verdict. The third (last year's NaNo novel SS-5) I've been sending out to agents since early April. I've probably sent it to close to 30 agents so far. Most have gotten back to me within a week with politely worded rejections, some form, some personal. I've gotten to the end of my list of “probabilities”. I'm mopping up the “possibilities” and, gritting my teeth, now moving into the “you've-got-to-be-crazy-to-think-they'll-accept-it” bracket.

Am I discouraged? You better believe it.

Am I giving up? Not on your life.

Writers are suckers for punishment. They have the toughest skins on the planet – it's a survival thing. I watched a kid playing with a bobblehead doll the other day, and suddenly the image of a writer came to mind: the kid's poking finger was the rejections, and the doll who (stupidly, stubbornly, without fail) bobbed back up to take more punishment was the writer. I ended up doubled over laughing, clutching my purse, making futile, laughter-limp gestures, to the consternation of store employees. (try to explain a metaphor like THAT to a Wal-Mart clerk)

So no, I'm not giving up. Neither are the multitude of fellow writers close to me who have been handed out some pretty crushing rejections these past few months. Yet a couple of them have come to me, exhausted and frustrated, wondering if there's really a good reason for pushing on. Maybe there's something wrong with the novel. Maybe it really sucks. Maybe it will never get published. I might as well not send it out anymore.

I wince every time I hear it, because it echoes my thoughts so perfectly. The truth, though, is that it's a terrible time for novelists. What with the economy and the growing commercialism of the publishing industry, it's incredibly hard for new writers to break in. But it's not a reason to give up. I've a few friends who consistently remind me that the right person for my novels is out there. I just have to find them.

And that's what it comes down to. Don't give up. Don't let the rejections stop you from sending out your novel (or short story, or poem, or article) again and again and again. If your work sits at home, buried in some dusty drawer or cobwebby corner of cyberspace, it's 100% sure that no one will accept it. If it's out there, knocking on doors, there's a chance.

So that's where I stand. I'm the bobble-head doll who, after getting hit with three rejections before breakfast, turns right around and sends out five new queries before lunch. It helps, in a bizarre way. Maybe it's all about faith. Maybe it's believing enough in your dreams and your writing to keep throwing it out there.

Whatever the case, I do have faith that sooner or later, it'll all be worth it and my manuscript will land on the right person's desk, at the right time of day, with the right weather outside and the right cup of coffee nearby and... you get the picture. :)

Don't give up. Don't get discouraged. Somewhere out there the right person (and the right desk, and the right time of day, etc) is waiting. You just have to find them.


How do you deal with rejection? Share all the crazy ways you cope with this hard aspect of a writer's life. Have you gotten a particularly crushing rejection lately? Go ahead and vent. Or perhaps you've gotten some really good news! Share the encouragement!