A Fun-Filled Weekend: The Tidewater Comicon

A Fun-Filled Weekend: The Tidewater Comicon

Until last year, I’d never attended a comic convention. It was on a whim that my husband and fellow author Andrew found out last year that there was going to be a comicon in our area in October. Tidewater Comicon, the first of its kind in our area.

Andrew then asked me would we like to sign up for a table and sell our books there? I said sure, it was worth a try to meet other people and get our names out there! I wasn’t entirely sure that my historical fiction and young adult books might sell well (Andrew writes science fiction, adventure and fantasy) but it was worth a try!

More than that, it would be a fun experience because I’d never been to a con before. I’d heard of them before, but had never attended one.

That first con, held in October last year, was one of the most fun Saturdays we had had in a while. Not only did we get our names out there like we had hoped (we sold out almost all of our books! Note I said our books. Even my young adult and historical fiction stories), but there was something else that I enjoyed about being there: seeing so many people who were all showing off their passions for something.

When we heard that they were going to hold another one in April of this year, this time spread over two days instead of one, we signed up for a table again. And this time, between the two of us, Andrew and I had even more books to sell. I only had two books, False Cape and Elodie and Heloise, to sell in October. Between then and now, I put out three more: Bienvenue, Dominique, and Back Bay. I was so excited to sell them to people! Having more books means that you look more like a serious author. And having put out ALL those books, False Cape and Elodie and Heloise, in three years is even more impressive. I’ve encountered many authors who spend years working on just one book.

Our table after setting it up on Friday evening, the day before the con started. We started off in this style, with the table facing diagonally, and eventually changed it to straight. Unfortunately, I don't have a pic of that. :P

Our table after setting it up on Friday evening, the day before the con started. We started off in this style, with the table facing diagonally, and eventually changed it to straight. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pic of that later layout. :P

The fact that the con was going to be across two days instead of just one meant that we would have even more of an opportunity to sell our books. I love having our books to sell online, but being able to engage with people one-on-one about our stories and have them put a face to the name on the book cover makes all the difference. You can see the person who put their time and effort into creating that book that you’re holding your hand.

Something new happened at this con that didn’t happen before: Andrew and I had repeat customers.

This time, we had people coming to our table asking us if we were at the last one. And occasionally, someone would tell us, “Yeah we bought one of your books last time and now you have more? I’ll take that one, please!” Sometimes, we had people approach the table who had bought something from us last time and wanted to tell us how much they loved our stories! Sometimes, those same people were chatting with us for so long that other people would come up to see our wares and they would recommend our book to them! One guy told us he loved the dinner scenes in my book False Cape because it brought him back to being a kid and sitting around the dinner table with his family. Another teenaged girl gushed to her friend, who joined her some minutes later, about how awesome our books were and that he needed to buy them!!! Her enthusiasm made me smile. And it was moments like that that made me happier than anything! It’s really something to see that people are enjoying what we write!

More than that, it was so great to see all the people dressed as different characters. I had a lot of fun picking out who was who. I didn’t get all of them, but that’s OK. By the second day, I was taking more pictures, which I will include here! 😀

As a disclaimer, if you happen across your picture here and want me to remove it, let me know and I will. 

Of all the characters I saw, I saw the most amount of people dressed as Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I kind of figured. Those characters are still pretty popular.

Hands-down one of the most well-done Harley Quinns I saw at the con.

Hands-down one of the most well-done Harley Quinns I saw at the con!

There was also Groot and Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy.

A little girl stopped to have her picture taken with Groot and Starlord, so guess what? I stopped to take a picture too, along with dozens of other people.

A little girl stopped to have her picture taken with Groot and Starlord, so guess what? I stopped to take a picture too, along with dozens of other people!

Lots of Star Wars characters, including a funny moment in front of our table when two Princess Leias encountered each other and stopped for a group picture!

And of course Doctor Who. Many Matt Smiths and David Tennants. Saw a few Fourth Doctors too (I had to look up which number because I recognized them as one of the Doctors but I didn’t know which number. I’m still new to all of that!) I’ll never forget a David Tennant who stopped at our table, “scanned” our bookcase with his sonic screwdriver, then turned to us and told us that our books were OK. Then, on the second day, the girls in the booth next to us dressed as the 9th, 10th, and 11th doctors, respectively. As you can imagine then, when other Doctor Who-related characters came by, the girls had their pictures taken with them!

The Doctors with a Dalek, the woman second from the left.  "EXTERMINATE!"

The Doctors with a Dalek, the woman second from the left.
“EXTERMINATE!”

 

And now the Doctors with the Tardis!

And now the Doctors with the Tardis!

Various Disney princesses too walked around, such as Belle, Ariel, and Snow White. Speaking of Snow White, there was the Evil Queen, who stopped to offer a Snow White a little treat.

2015-05-17 13.15.07

 

Then there was a Belle. I was taken back to when my mom made me a Belle costume (the yellow dress she wears when she dances with the Beast) for Halloween when I was a kid!

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There were also a few Ariels, including these two. Hey, Ariel’s my girl, of course I’m going to get pics of Ariel cosplayers!

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2015-05-17 14.53.12

 

There was also a Daria, which thrilled me to no end. I love that show! When I saw her walking by, I ran out from behind our table and managed to catch her to get a picture.

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Game of Thrones characters made an appearance too. A Melisandre stopped at our table and bought some of my books. I didn’t get a pic of her, but Andrew did here. She was accompanied by a Jon Snow who must have gone without his glasses for the day. He kept holding his phone close to his face in order to read the screen! Several Daeneryses also walked by too, all holding little dragons of course!

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I supposed that I could’ve gotten into the spirit and dressed as something, and in fact, I almost did! At the last possible moment after the first day, actually. I thought of wearing a Renaissance-style dress that my mom made for me in high school and going as a slightly more obscure character, Cecily Neville Duchess of York, the mother of three English kings during the War of the Roses. (I read about her because she and I share the same name. Hey, there aren’t as many Cecilys as there are other names, so finding out that a major historical figure shares my name is really cool!)

Except that…… well, I would have wanted to put a little more effort into making it look authentic. Like with a headdress of some sort. In all the pictures I’ve seen of Cecily Neville, she wore a headdress like the one below.

And who has a headdress like this lying around these days?

Yeah, not so much…..

So I scrapped it and instead wore one of my vintage style dresses with some newly bought Tardis earrings from the booth next to me. Which I got compliments on all day! 😀

I think what I loved most about being at the con was getting to see so many different characters and talking with people about my passion for writing. Andrew and I were sad when it was all over. Getting to talk with people about our books and selling them to people, not to mention seeing all sorts of characters walking by our table, was such a fun experience. I liked seeing people who were showing off their love for a favorite TV show, movie or comic. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that it’s important to have a passion. It gives you something else in your life besides the usual routine of work and everyday life.

Plus, it’s fun! And don’t we all need a little fun in our lives? :)

Character Inspiration – Miyoko Raymond

Character Inspiration – Miyoko Raymond

This is the fifth entry in a series where I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind some of my characters.

Miyoko Raymond is the fifth main character in the Traveling Society series. As you can probably tell from her name, she is of Japanese descent. More than that, she is biracial: half-Japanese, half-Caucasian.

Her American father, Zachary Raymond, met Miyoko’s mother, Akasuki Kisshoan, while in Japan. He was in the military, she was a girlfriend of one of his other friends. When they broke up, Miyoko’s dad and mother began dating and they eventually married. Miyoko is the oldest of three children and the only one of her siblings to be born in Japan. Before she came to the US and began attending the homeschool group, she spoke only Japanese, since she was around her mother all the time. And in fact, until she was about eight years old, she was an only child, which made it easy for her family to move around as much as they have. They’ve lived in Japan, Guam, California, and, now, in Virginia. Her younger siblings were born in the Hampton Roads area. She has a sister named Kaori, who is about eight years younger than her, and a little brother Akio, who is in kindergarten when the stories begin.

Given her heritage, I imagine that she would look something like this:

Taken from http://swirlgirlarmy.com/post/52805972999/meet-swirl-girl-icon-aylya-hollowell

Taken from http://swirlgirlarmy.com/post/52805972999/meet-swirl-girl-icon-aylya-hollowell

 

Like Lavinia and Patty, her full name in the original Travel Club stories was changed when I decided to update the stories. She used to be called Myoko Nevern. You wouldn’t know from looking at that name that she’s supposed to be of Japanese descent. In fact, I made up the name Myoko because I wanted to something Japanese (you see, these were the days before we had the Internet and I could readily look this stuff up in five seconds!). Nevern, well, that was just a random name that sounded cool with Myoko. Not an actual last name.

Fortunately, that changed when I updated these characters!

Truth be told, I wasn’t that far off when I made up the name Myoko. You see, there is an actual Japanese first name that is very similar: Miyoko. And there you go. I had an actual name for her now!

As you can imagine from looking at her name, Miyoko is of Japanese descent. In the original stories, she was full Japanese, an immigrant from Japan. I picked that for her character because I’d never been to Japan and that would give me an opportunity to “travel” to Japan, since I’ve never been there before!

When I updated the stories, I decided to still make Miyoko Japanese, because that would open up some adventures for the girls in Asia. However, I thought, why not make her instead biracial, half-Japanese, half-Caucasian? I was inspired by several biracial people I know. One girl on the fringes of our social group is half-white, half-Korean, and another girl I befriend in college is half-Korean, half African-American. And I thought it would be fun to draw on what it must be like to have a dual heritage like that and put that into Miyoko’s character.

Now, having a dual heritage might play into Miyoko’s appearance and some of her personality (note that I didn’t say all), but that’s not all there is to her. I didn’t want that to be the focus of her character arc and personality. I did however decide that just because she is Japanese, that doesn’t mean that she loves video games and green tea, etc. I didn’t want to make her a stereotype. I wanted her to be a real person.

However, with me being a foreign language nerd, I thought it would be a great idea for Miyoko to be bilingual. That would also allow them, in possible future adventures to Japan, to navigate through the country, since Miyoko would be there to help them overcome the language barrier.

In the story, Miyoko’s capacity for speaking foreign languages is a matter of pride for her. Miyoko spoke only Japanese until after her sister Kaori was born, so when she came to the homeschool group, she didn’t speak much English. Her mother Akasuki enrolled her in the enrichment center because she wanted her daughter to learn English. So it was through her friendships with Nellie, Lavinia, and the other girls that she learned English: watching TV, chatting, and just interacting with other anglophones. She speaks English well, but she does use Japanese words every now and then when speaking with her friends. And when she talks to her mother on the phone, it is a mixture of both languages. I was friends with a girl in high school who spoke Russian and English, so it was always a treat to listen to my friend chatting on the phone with her parents in half-English, half-Russian!

Outside the group, she also interacts on a regular basis with her cousin Yoshiko, whose marriage she attends in Bienvenue. Miyoko doesn’t see her Japanese side of the family often since they all live in Japan, so Yoshiko is her link to that country. Not only do the girls get on well, but Miyoko gets to practice Japanese with her via Skype. Having a close cousin like that was based on my own friendship with a cousin on my mom’s side of the family (if you’re reading this, you know who you are! 😀 ). Even the fact that Yoshiko and Miyoko are eight years apart in age was taken from real life. 😀 Yoshiko is closer to my age, a late-80s kid (hehe), while Miyoko was born in the mid-90s, like most of my students.

When she isn’t practicing Japanese with her cousin and chatting with her American friends, Miyoko loves to play guitar. Her parents encouraged her to find a musical instrument to play and she chose the guitar because she loved the sound. I decided to have her play guitar because not only do several of my past students like to play that instrument, but also, I played it for a time. I’m more of a piano/keyboard/synthesizer girl now, but I still have my guitars! We don’t get to see that side of her much in Bienvenue, but it’s going to come out in the second book, where Miyoko becomes a more central character. 😀

There are also some other traits of hers that haven’t come out yet, but I don’t want to put in any spoilers for the next book (which I’m working on right now!) 😀

Speaking of Traveling Society books, if you’d like to read more about Miyoko and her adventures with the Traveling Society, you can find the first book Bienvenue on Kindle here and on paperback here.

And tune in next time when I’ll be switching gears and discussing another one of my series, A Wash Woods Legacy, and its central character: Mamie Marsh.

Character Inspiration – Anna Anderson

Character Inspiration – Anna Anderson

Welcome to the fourth entry in a series where I talk about the inspiration behind some of the characters in my novels!

Anna Anderson is another character from my Traveling Society series. Like Nellie, her entire name remains the same in the Travel Club and Traveling Society stories, the only other character to have that. I thought about giving her a more unique name, but I decided to keep it. Her name appeals to the poet in me. A A. 😀

When I pictured what Anna looks like, I imagined someone with dark hair and blue eyes. Now I know you must be thinking, wait, don’t you have another character with blue eyes and darker hair? Why yes indeed I do, you’ve been paying attention! 😀 You see, I made Anna’s appearance similar to Lavinia’s because the two of them are close friends, like Patty and Nellie. That’s how they were in the original stories and I thought it’d be fun to retain that aspect for my updated stories.

A couple of Internet searches for pictures for inspiration later, I found this lovely picture on Pinterest.

oIRu8

Like Patty, Anna didn’t have much of a personality. In fact, I don’t even remember what character traits I even gave her. She was just Lavinia’s best friend and that was it. This meant that I could have a lot of fun filling in her background and interests because I had a blank slate!

And oh did I have fun creating a backstory for Anna Anderson!

Anna is the oldest of eight children. At the homeschool enrichment center where I work, I have encountered many large families just like hers. In fact, one family I know of has eleven children. I can’t imagine what it must be like growing up with that many siblings! I have one younger brother and that’s it!

Of all the things that people think of when they think “homeschooled,” (probably things like “conservative” and “Christian” come to mind for most people), featuring a large family was the one thing that I wanted to have in my story. I’ve taught a lot of homeschooled students who come from families of five or more children. So it’s a fairly common thing.

So when I decided to create a story for Anna, I decided to pull that into her background. I was the oldest of two, so I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a chaotic household. However, my dad was one of eight (which means I have tons of cousins on that side of the family!). In writing about Anna’s family, I drew on what it must have been like for my dad growing up with all those siblings.

Like Lavinia, she is interested in music. Lavinia and Anna both love country, pop, and Christian music. In particular, the girls enjoy the music of a pop singer named Lindisse. Lindisse is supposed to be a hybrid Francesca Battistelli/Delta Goodrem singer: a popular singer who writes upbeat, piano-driven music with positive (but not cheesy) lyrics.

I had thought so many times of referencing real popular artists like Christina Perri or Imagine Dragons in my stories, especially since my own students like their music. However, I knew the references would date my book. I’ve read YA books from the 70s that included references that I had to ask my parents about because I didn’t understand the punchline or even what the characters were listening to (a book referencing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” comes to mind). So instead, I came up with my own popular bands and singers. Instead of Carrie Underwood, there’s Sheryl Summer. Alicia Keys became Maddie Shannon. “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” became “Don’t You Dare Leave Me Now.” (Similar title with a similar sentiment, given what the former song is about!) Another real world reference, a TV show which Lavinia and Anna both like watching, and whose name was changed, was The Voice. I called the show Popstarz USA instead. It’s still a TV talent contest, but it’s got a different name. I did that so that my stories would remain timeless rather than dated. 

Not only does Anna enjoy listening to music, but she also plays music. Her instrument is the clarinet. In Bienvenue, Anna and Lavinia play a piece for a local talent show. I used to play the clarinet, so I put that into Anna’s character. I played clarinet in the school band from fifth through ninth grade. Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble, the Marching Band, that was all me! I only stopped because in my sophomore year I decided to join the school choir instead. I even still have my instruments too, a plastic clarinet for marching around outside and a wooden clarinet for indoor performances. Given my experiences in playing that instrument, I thought it would be perfect for Anna! Even her experience in going to Band Camp mirrors my own. In middle school, I attended a local band camp, where kids from all over the county came together and perfected their skills amongst other kids their age. Of course, the band camp I attended probably didn’t allow homeschooled students, but you know, that’s half the fun of coming up with your own stuff! You can tweak it how you want! 😀

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about the final main character in my Traveling Society series: Miyoko Raymond.

And to read about Anna’s adventures in the Traveling Society, you can purchase the Kindle version of the first book here and the paperback here.

Character Inspiration – Patty Monaghan

Character Inspiration – Patty Monaghan

This is the third in a series where I talk about the inspiration for characters I’ve written about in my books

Patty Monaghan began as Patty McIop, a girl of Irish origin with bright red hair, light skin, freckles, and light eyes. In other words, someone with a similar appearance to me. I can’t remain in the sun for a long time without burning, so you won’t see me hanging around the beach during the height of summer. And so it is with Patty.

As such, I picture her as looking something like this:

Found on Deviant Art. Can you believe this was created using ballpoint pens??

Found on Deviant Art. Can you believe this was created using ballpoint pens??

In the original Travel Club stories, each of the girls were paired off with someone who was their “best” friend. Just like in the Babysitter’s Club books that I loved so well. In those stories, Patty and Nellie were besties. Beyond that, Patty really didn’t have a personality. She was just the Irish girl who hung out with Nellie. I hadn’t really fleshed out much of her character. So I had some work cut out for me to bring her to life then. Because you know me, I like to have vibrant characters that jump off the page. It makes the story that much more engaging!

One thing I knew had to go was Patty’s last name. When I wrote her character, I picked a random name that sounded Irish. Of course, I know a lot better now! The truth was, I didn’t know what I wanted her last name to be then. There were so many different, actual Irish surnames to choose!

One evening during a family visit, I happened to be watching the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. That night, the special guest was actress Michelle Monaghan. I’d vaguely heard of her before, but couldn’t place where. What struck me though was the sound of her last name. Not only did it roll nicely off the tongue, but most of all, it sounded Irish. To verify, I checked several surname databases and sure enough, Monaghan is an actual Irish last name.

Bingo!

So Patty McIop instead became Patty Monaghan. More specifically, Patricia Anne Monaghan, a.k.a. Patty.

So now that she had a new name, what about her personality? Like in the original Travel Club stories, Patty and Nellie are very close. They aren’t best friends, but they do spend the most amount of time with each other, though they get along well with the other girls. I figured that they should have similar personalities then. As such, Nellie and Patty are not afraid to speak their mind and can both come across as abrasive to others.

However, Patty is very sarcastic. In a way, her sarcasm is something for her to hide behind. She wants to seem tougher than she actually is and doesn’t like to show any vulnerability to anyone. It is fitting then that her Twitter page quotes The Hunger Games, her favorite book series. She knows what she wants and she says it, usually shrugging and adding, “I was just telling the truth” at the end of her statements. In that respect, she is quite a bit like me. I have strong opinions about things I love like music and writing, and I know that it can put people off. So I added that bit of my own personality into Patty’s.

When it came to determining Patty’s interests, I wanted to give her something that other girls her age might see as something they could try: math and science. I read somewhere that even now, the number of girls in higher level math and science classes is much lower compared to the number of boys. I say even now because when my mother was Patty’s age, almost forty years ago, she and one of her other friends were the only two girls in their higher level math classes. Math was something that my mother absolutely loved and still does. She even says that she contemplated a career using her math skills, but she never did.

That always fascinated me about my mother. I always wished that I had been more inclined in math and science, but I’m a language and musical person. You make do with what you are given! So I decided to make Patty into someone who enjoys her math and science classes to encourage other girls her age to give that math class a try and see what happens! Maybe it’ll turn out that you’re better at math than you ever thought! I myself didn’t like math when I was in school, but because of my interest in sewing, I actually enjoy geometry. Clothing is wearable geometry, after all.

Because of her interest in math and science, Patty’s goal is to become a veterinarian. She loves animals and biology. She can rattle off the names of bones in a cat’s body right off the top of her head. That aspect of her personality was inspired by a student I had a few years ago. She was really good at animal anatomy and even asked if she could look up the names of different bones in French for extra credit! Giving Patty something that I am not as familiar with allows me to step outside myself and play as someone else who isn’t me. :)

And isn’t that half the fun of writing? 😀

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character: Anna Anderson.

To read more about Patty and her adventures with the Traveling Society, you can purchase the first book in the series here for Kindle and here on paperback.

Character Inspiration – Lavinia Welch

Character Inspiration – Lavinia Welch

Welcome to the second of several posts detailing the inspiration behind some of the characters in my books.

Like Nellie Tryke, Lavinia Welch is a character that I created for my Traveling Society series. Unlike Nellie, her original name was not retained in the new stories. Her original name was Lavinia Sharp. I can’t even remember why I changed her name to Welch instead, perhaps because I thought it sounded better. Actually I remember now. It was supposed to be a reference to her British Isles roots.

When I thought of Lavinia’s appearance, I pictured someone like this: long brown hair, blue eyes, freckles. I’ve always thought that brown hair and blue eyes was an intriguing combination, perhaps because one of my favorite singers, Nolwenn Leroy, happens to be a brunette with light blue eyes. So I thought it would be great to use that for this character.

Found this on Pinterest

Found this on Pinterest

Of all the Traveling Society characters, Lavinia is the most like me, at least, personality-wise. I knew that I wanted one of the girls to be musically inclined. When I decided that Lavinia’s interest was going to be in music, I decided why not make her a singer. Singing is one of my life’s passions, so it would give me something to write about which I knew well.

Little did I know that Lavinia would develop into the sixteen-year-old version of me.

At her age, I loved music more than anything else. While other kids played sports, I sang in the school choir. Like Lavinia, I also listened to my favorite music all the time, though my favorite music was not contemporary! Lavinia enjoys country music, which is not something I like but which I wanted to explore a little more of in her character. Like me, Lavinia also loves to sing and is known among her friends for constantly humming and trilling when she thinks no one is listening. She even takes private voice lessons. When I was Lavinia’s age, I took voice lessons for several years, so I’m very familiar with singing and what it’s like to sing Italian songs, like the kind of songs that Lavinia has to sing for her teacher.

Oh do I know this book very well!

Oh do I know this book very well!

 

Her experiences in singing and gaining confidence mirror my own. In Bienvenue, Lavinia has a confidence crisis when she hears another girl her age singing with a voice well beyond her years. Angela Brennan, the young girl with the mature voice, is an amalgamation of several girls I knew when I was in choir as a teenager. Sara was a senior when I was a sophomore and she sang Tell Me On A Sunday as if she were the woman living those lyrics. Another girl I knew like Angela was named Katherine. She sang with such confidence and maturity and oh was I jealous of her. Anytime she sang, people stood up and cheered. If she’s not on Broadway right now, I’d be very surprised.

Like Lavinia, I became just as intimidated after hearing them sing. At that age, I was very fragile and the littlest thing would set me off. That’s how Lavinia is. To help with her character, I drew on my own experiences of hearing Sara and Katherine singing and my own feelings of inadequacy.

Of course, that’s not all there is to Lavinia. Like me at that age, Lavinia is shy and not assertive, the perfect foil to someone like Nellie who expresses herself without much of a thought as to how it will be received. However, she is also kind and reserved. Perhaps her biggest flaw is that she always wishes that she were someone else instead of being happy with who she is. How I can relate to that. Lavinia also loves any and all things French, which is another one of my passions. Her fluency in French serves her well during her trip to France with Nellie and Patty in Bienvenue. Lavinia is the only one who speaks French, so she is able to use her abilities to help the group.

Though much of Lavinia is like me at her age, there are some differences. Her background was directly taken from my Travel Club stories. The oldest of two girls, has divorced parents, and is from Britain. I remember making Lavinia of British origin because I was, and still am, a bit of an anglophile. Many of my favorite music artists are from Britain. Keane. Kate Bush. Pet Shop Boys. The Fixx. To name a few! Also, when I wrote the Travel Club stories, my favorite books were all from British authors. Jane EyreWuthering HeightsA Little Princess. So I chose Britain because it was a place I was fascinated with and wanted to visit.

And who knows, maybe I’ll be getting to travel to Britain through Lavinia in a future story!

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character: Patty Monaghan.

To read about Lavinia and the adventures of the Traveling Society, the first book in the series is now available here on Kindle and here on paperback.

Character Inspiration – Nellie Tryke

Character Inspiration – Nellie Tryke

Welcome to the first of several posts detailing the inspiration behind some of the characters in my books.

Nellie Tryke is a character in my Traveling Society series and the only one whose full name was retained from my original Travel Club stories, which I wrote about here. The other girls in the series still have the same first name as before, but the last name is different. I’m not sure if Tryke is a real surname, but I thought it sounded too cool to throw away! (McIop, however, I tossed away like a dirty rag. That’s not an Irish surname! Same with Nevern. What was I thinking??)

When I thought of what Nellie might look like, I imagined Nellie as a tall (about six foot) blond with curly blond hair and dark eyes. Kind of like this:

Note: I didn't take this picture. I can't even remember where I got it...... :-/

Note: I didn’t take this picture. I can’t even remember where I got it…… :-/

 

When going into writing these stories, I wanted to make sure that above all, the character development and their personality are what drive the story. Many YA books I read at that age were all about romance. Those books didn’t interest me much. I preferred stories about regular girls like me who were at that weird transitional time between being a kid and being an adult and still trying to find themselves.

With Nellie, I knew that I wanted her to be an imposing figure. She likes to lead people and is always the first to suggest something. She can also come off as brash for those who don’t know her, since Nellie always says what’s on her mind. Since other people are intimidated of her because of her personality, I figured what better way to show off those character traits than by making her tall? In the original Travel Club stories, she was the club president (remember, I based the Travel Club on The Babysitter’s Club, hence the title). This time around, I retained Nellie’s personality, but instead of making her a president (since the girls aren’t in a formal “club” like in the original stories), I made her instead the so-called leader of the group, pretty much the glue that holds everyone together. Wherever they go, she is always prepared to help out and lead everyone. She always looks up places where they can go when the girls travel together (in Bienvenue, her phone is loaded down with a navigation app so that the girls will never get lost while walking around Paris) and has something fun in mind for everyone to do. She also thinks that she knows everything, but then again, doesn’t every teenager think that at some point? I know that I did! 😀

Something else that I thought of when I developed Nellie’s character was what does she like to do in her spare time? The most interesting literary characters, for me, are people who have many interests. Maybe those interests don’t always drive the story, but they are there. It’s something else for the character to do away from the main action! And, it’s more realistic.

I allude in Bienvenue to the girls having part-time jobs. Many of my high school students work at the mall or a local Starbucks. And I too had a job at their age during the summer. So I decided to have that in the background for my girls. Again, not something to drive the story, but it’s something else that keeps them occupied. Also, having a part-time job gives the girls spending money for their adventures.

Nellie, when she isn’t working at home or at the enrichment center with her friends, is a waitress at a local Mexican restaurant. I chose that job for her because I was a waitress at that age. I only lasted a month, however. My boss overheard me arguing with a customer over their order (they said they’d ordered one thing, I said they didn’t and thus implied that the customer was wrong. Ooops!). He told me he’d call me when he needed me. That was almost fifteen years ago. I’m still waiting for that call. 😛

Fortunately, Nellie has been able to hold down her job for longer than I ever did as a waitress!

Nellie’s interests in drawing and all things Sherlock were inspired by several of my students. These girls were always passionate about their love of art and British TV, and it meant that we sometimes got off topic in class during discussions, but I didn’t mind much. I teach small classes anyway, with less than ten students in a room. One of those students told me that she aspired to be an artist when she grew up. And she had a lot of talent, so much that I told her I wished I could draw as well as she did! Drawing is something that I’ve always wanted to better, but I just never have.

So when it came time to think of interests for my characters, I decided to use my students’ personalities as inspiration for Nellie and her interests. In a way, I’m living through Nellie because I’ve always wanted to be able to draw well but just haven’t ever taken the time to do it!

Of all the girls in the Traveling Society, Nellie is the one whose personality resembles me the least. Since Nellie is not like me at all, it’s a lot of fun for me to write from her perspective! I get to step outside of myself and act as someone completely different. And I think that’s half the fun of writing stories: getting into the minds of different kinds of people. 😀 Besides, if she were too much like me, it would be way too easy!

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character, this time one who is very much like me: Lavinia Welch.

To read about Nellie and the adventures of the Traveling Society, the first book in the series is now available here on Kindle and here on paperback.

Thoughts on Bienvenue

Thoughts on Bienvenue

After a visit with my parents last February, I brought my old computer home with me. When I say “old,” I do mean old. We’re talking about a desktop computer manufactured in 1991 with enough hard drive space to hold maybe a quarter of what is on my laptop and, most importantly, MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Yes, I am that old.

You know you're a 90s kid if you remember this.....

You know you’re a 90s kid if you remember this…..

 

So why all this talk about old computers?

Because the last time I booted up that computer was in the late 90s, when I was in late elementary school going into middle school. And on that computer were all of my old stories. 

When I wasn’t sucked into a book or playing outside making up countries and languages (I was a language nerd even then!), I used that old computer as my hub of entertainment. I spent more hours than I could ever count just writing stories about people. Well, and I also played games. Raise your hand if you’ve ever played Math Rescue, Word Rescue, Commander Keen, Hocus Pocus, Jazz Jackrabbit, and other shareware games. Ohhhhhhh yeah…..

Doo doo do-do-do doo!

Doo doo do-do-do doo!

 

But we’re not hear to wax nostalgic about that.

You see, on that old computer were a group of stories that I wrote about a group of friends in my age group who traveled together. I called them The Travel Club. I had read the Babysitters Club series from cover to cover, even rereading my favorites several times over. Inspired by those books, I wanted to write a similar set of stories. The friendship aspect was particularly important to me. Being a loner kind of kid, I didn’t have a close-knit group of friends of my own at school, so I wanted to live vicariously through my characters. I wanted to know what it was like to be a part of a group of girls who all spent time together and shared things.

However, I wanted my stories to be different from the BSC. I decided, why not take my girls on traveling adventures? 

I wanted to see the world, and this was my way of doing so.

So over the course of a dozen different stories, Nellie Tryke, Patty McIop, Lavinia Sharp, Myoko Nevern, and Anna Anderson traveled to France, Texas, and Japan. Never mind that I had never been to those places. In retrospect, the stories were very unrealistic (unlimited funds and time, for one thing), but hey, I was a kid having fun writing. If I had been bogged down in realistic details, the stories wouldn’t have flourished the way they did. Who thinks about time and money when you’re a kid anyway?

In addition to traveling, I wrote Travel Club stories set in their school where the girls had to deal with more humdrum aspects of teenage life, such as dating and family relations. I stopped after a few stories because I upgraded to a newer computer, so the stories sat on that old hard drive collecting dust.

And I forgot about them until last year.

During my visit, I booted up that old computer for curiosity’s sake. I played an older version of Oregon Trail and a European geography game I remember buying with my dad at a computer show. The game is so old that it still had Bonn listed as the capital of Germany, Czechoslovakia was still a country, and the Balkan countries had not broken up yet. After amusing myself with those old programs, I decided to check out the stories I wrote. They were still on there too, all loaded in Ami Pro.

So I began to pull those old stories off the computer hard drive before it self-destructed from age. I was still surprised that the computer still loaded, considering how old it was. Most notably, I saved as many of those Travel Club stories as I could to a floppy disk, since the computer is so old that there were no USB ports yet.

 

OK now you're really making me feel old.... Someone hand me my dentures please.

Someone hand me my dentures please. I’m feeling old….

 

When I brought the computer home with me (200 miles in the car strapped in to the back seat belts), I was eager to boot it up and show my husband my old computer. The thing that I spent hours typing stories on. My entertainment center. My beacon of 90sness.

It wouldn’t load.

The fan started up, but not the hard drive.

No amount of hooking the hard drive up to other sources would work.

In short, the stories were gone. Every last one of them.

For a two-decade old computer, it sure lasted a lot longer than expected. I have no idea what really happened. It loaded fine at home but not at my house. Maybe the car ride jostled it too much and it just couldn’t boot anymore. Or it was just plain too old. I will never know.

Since the stories were gone, I knew I had to do something with those Travel Club stories so that they could live on somehow. So at the urging of my husband Andrew, I decided to revive those stories. If they couldn’t live on in their original Ami Pro-ness, then I would take the original idea and update it. Make it more realistic. More modern.

In short, turn it into this:

 

Bienvenue cover (small)

 

I usually say that I am proud of whatever I have just written. A lot of authors say that. Here’s the thing. I don’t say that to appeal to emotions. I say that because I truly am proud of any story I write. The hours that go in to planning the story, writing, revising, writing, revising again, watching my characters grow in sometimes unexpected ways (Lavinia’s phone call to her mum at the end of the story, for example, was not planned), and just watching something come to life that didn’t exist before, are why I write. There’s a scene in Saturday in the Park with George that shows the painter speaking a line and suddenly an image of a plant pops up on stage. That’s how the creativity process feels for me. You say a word and something comes into existence that wasn’t there before. And I love that. I live for that happy feeling of creation.

Boy, if twelve-year-old me who wrote those stories in Ami Pro could see what I’d done with those ideas, and especially to see them published for anyone to read, I know she would be doing a Snoopy happy dance all over the room. That’s what I did yesterday when I got the e-mail that Amazon approved the Kindle edition and that it was now available! All the hard work. And now it’s here.

And this is only the beginning of their stories. Trust me. I have quite a bit of adventure planned for Nellie, Lavinia, Patty, Miyoko, and Anna!

Click here to purchase Bienvenue for Kindle (will be available in paperback soon).

Thoughts on “Dominique”

Thoughts on “Dominique”

Four years ago, I was sitting alone in the teacher’s lounge of a school where I worked as an itinerant teacher for the TAG (Talented and Gifted) students. I had some time to kill until my next class. I had already planned my beginner French lessons for the students for the next month and wanted to think about something besides work. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet and I already wanted to go home.

“How about I translate a portion of that novel I just finished reading?” I thought to myself. “Just for fun. I’ve never tried to translate a book before. The book is from the 1800s so it’s probably on Project Gutenberg for me to look at.”

That fleeting moment of boredom turned into a two and a half year project: my first attempt at translating an entire novel.

What you have to understand about that undertaking is that until then, I had only translated short pop songs for my friends. Pop songs. Not many words.

But one paragraph turned into a chapter, which turned into a “I might as well just translate the whole thing, why not??”

80,000 words later, well, what an project that turned out to be.

Not only did my French improve, but also my ability to render French thoughts into readable and understandable English did as well. Translating is more than just looking at a sentence and plugging the words into their second language equivalents. There’s meaning, tone, sometimes historical context, and style of words to consider. Language is such a human invention that it’s no wonder things like Google Translate, while getting better in how they, well, translate what you copy and paste into the box, can only do so much in conveying what is really being said. Think of the Bible and the multitudinous translations that have been done of that one work. And each one is different in the tone and choice of words.

When I decided to translate this novel, I had to really think about HOW I would translate Eugène Fromentin’s work. Would I keep the very formal French or would I try for something more contemporary (but not including lols or something of the like!)? And most of all, could I actually translate this thing, given that I had no experience in translating something of that length before?

Well, I did.

Was it easy? Sometimes it was, other times, it was a pain in the neck. I’ve become so bilingual that whole paragraphs I understood well in French were hard to put into comprehensible English. I also had to be consistent with the style that I had chosen: formal 1920s instead of stiff 1800s. I wanted to keep the style as comprehensible to modern audiences as possible.

Then….. well, I’m not going to lie. The character of Dominique needed serious psychiatric help. And I was stuck with him for two hundred plus pages.

Nonetheless, despite its literary flaws (an unreliable narrator who could be infuriating at times, not really getting to know the main love interest Madeleine), I fell in love with the poetic language that Fromentin used throughout the book. It’s obvious that he was a painter from the way he described the landscapes where Dominique spent his childhood. I felt like I was right there with Dominique as he explored the countryside. Since I am a poet myself, I felt like I would do especially well with translating those passages. And as painful as those passages of self-deprecation were, they were so vivid that I could really feel Dominique’s pain of unrequited love.

Two hundred plus pages and two and a half years of working off and on, I finished it at last! And then I sat on it for a while because I knew it needed another read-through and edit, but I had already moved on to other projects. Thanks to edits from my husband and me, I at last uploaded the files and put them on Amazon for all to read.

And I could not be prouder of my work. What began as a momentary assignment to keep myself occupied turned into a huge project! And now, English readers will get to lose themselves in this beautifully written story, as I did when I read it in the original French. Sadly, Eugène Fromentin is quite an obscure author, even to native French speakers (the woman whose house I stayed in during my stay in France had never heard of him, neither had my French professors at my university in Tours). Now he can at least be known to English speakers.

 

Click here to purchase my English translation of Dominique on paperback

Click here to purchase my English translation of Dominique for Amazon Kindle

Cantare in italiano

Cantare in italiano

After playing the clarinet since fifth grade, I was ready for something new. When my sophomore year of high school rolled around, I decided to join the high school choir instead of continuing with band. My parents didn’t mind what school activity my brother and I did, as long as we did something we liked.

Since our high school chorus was a performance-based class, we students didn’t receive individual attention from the teacher beyond “oh you have a low voice, join the bass section,” or “you have a low voice, go with the altos.” (That was me.) So my mom signed me up for voice lessons.

Every week for two and a half years, I went to Mrs. Baldwin’s home for voice lessons. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only did I learned how to breathe properly, how to enunciate, and what my range was, but most of all, I learned how to sing in a foreign language.

My two favorite classes in high school were French and chorus. No surprise there for this proud music and language nerd. So I delighted in singing songs in Italian. Not only is it beautiful, but also Italian is one of the easiest languages to sing in, bar none. Ah eh ee oh oo. That’s it. So much easier than English when it comes to vowels.

Singing Italian art songs and arias as a teenager led me to choosing to take Italian language classes when I entered in college. As a French major, I was required to take another foreign language. Oh no. *sarcasm* Everyone else took Spanish, so I went for Italian to be different. I could’ve really gone for different and chosen Hebrew or Arabic, but I wanted to stick with a Romance language.

I took two years and a half years of Italian and loved it! While the similarities in vocabulary with French helped me with my learning (the verb manger means “to eat.” So does mangiare), I loved the language enough on its own. There is a reason that so many operas are written in that language. It’s musical and sounds gorgeous. The grammar at times was also different enough from French that I felt like I was learning something new, i.e. the placement of direct object pronouns and the more frequent use of present participles. I considered myself not fluent but conversational by the time I finished Italian 301. I got the gist of Italian pop songs and I could read basic Italian.

Then I forgot most of what I learned.

You know what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. That was my Italian knowledge. I didn’t find a use for what I’d learned. I haven’t been to Italy yet. One day. My French knowledge stayed, of course. After all, I teach it all the time, so it’s kind of hard to forget that!

Then I got an idea a few days ago.

One of my favorite singers, Eliza Rickman, wrote about a challenge given to her from her producer Jason Webley. He challenged her to write a song on an instrument that she had never played before. She came away with not one but two songs that day, written on the ukelele, which she hadn’t picked up before that day.

I thought to myself, That’s a cool idea, writing a song with something you’ve never tried before! Why not try writing a song in a language you’ve never written in before? I had been meaning to keep up with my Italian anyway. And I could still form basic sentences, enough to teach the basics to someone. Why not give it a try?

I am proud to say that today, I wrote my first song in Italian.

What was it like to practice a song in Italian?

Well, it goes without saying again that what a musical language Italian is! And SO easy to rhyme in! Unless it’s a foreign word like il bar, most words in Italian end in either -a, -e, -i, -o, or -u. So creating a rhyme scheme was easy peasy lemon squeezie (or however that last word is spelled!). I wrote a basic draft of some lyrics in a little under an hour, then music was put to it in about forty minutes. Not bad!

And of course, I will be sharing this song later, once I’ve practiced it a few more times! Who knows if it will make my next album. I really enjoyed the process nonetheless! I got to brush up on a language that I don’t speak everyday, and I have a beautiful song to play too!

Who knows? I might end up writing an album’s worth of songs in Italian in the future!

 

— —

 

Speaking of songs and such…. My collection of Italian music isn’t as extensive as my French music collection, but I do have some favorites. When I began learning Italian, I sought out as much (modern) Italian music as I could, like what I did when I learned French. Italian music, however, was not as easy to come by as French music.

Elisa is hands-down my favorite Italian singer, not just because she’s actually one of the few Italian singers to write and sing most of her material in English. She has an amazing voice that can be soft and vulnerable but also powerful and emotional. I also got to meet her a few years ago ( 😀 😀 ) but that’s a story for another time!

 

Here’s one of my favorite Italian songs of hers, called Luce (Tramonti a nord est) which means Light (Northeastern sunsets):

I also enjoy Laura Pausini, who is more known here in the U.S. for her Spanish albums. She records each of her albums in Spanish as well as in her native Italian. Given the large Hispanic population here in the U.S., her Spanish records are easier to find. I, however, prefer her in Italian. Her music is a bit more adult contemporary than much of what I listen to, but for clear diction and interesting lyrics, I like her music. And she has a killer voice!

This is probably my favorite, called La prospettiva di me or My perspective. I love the lyrics, which talk about getting away from a bad relationship and striking it out on your own, finding your own perspective on things:

And OK, because I couldn’t choose between two songs, here is my second favorite of Laura Pausini’s, a cover of a 70s song called Io canto, which means I sing, and is the title track of the album of the same name. What I like about Io canto the album is that its a covers album full of songs that I don’t already know. So I’m not making constant comparisons between her version and the original. What it has done is expose me to more Italian music! :-)

And now, here’s Io canto.

Another Year Older!

Another Year Older!

They say that you are only as old as you feel.

Today, I may be another year older, but goodness knows I don’t feel (and look!) like it!

For the record, today I’m turning 30! It’s really hard to believe, to be honest, that I’m turning 30. I know that I feel different. Goodness knows I’m a far happier person than I was the last time I turned an age divisible by 10! I know I am. I can feel it and see it in my face.

But I don’t feel 30!

The only way I feel 30 is that I’m far more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I’ve never been happier with myself! I’ve found what makes me happy (speaking French, making music, writing), I no longer cringe when looking in the mirror at myself, I’m a LOT more patient, and most of all, I enjoy the gifts that God has given me, such as my ability to pick up a foreign language without much difficulty, my musical talents, and my writing. Everyone has their own talents and what they are good at. I have found mine and I’m happier than ever with them. They are a part of who I am and I should not hide them from the world.

As for looking 30….. yeah, no I don’t look 30! 😛 I’ve never looked my age. When I was a teenager, I always looked younger. I hated it! Because when you’re young, you want to look older. Then when you’re older, you want to look young. It’s weird how that works. You always think the grass is greener, I guess. Everyone tells me that looking young is a good thing when you’re older. I’ll take their word for it! 😀

In any case, I’m looking forward to what 30 will bring. It will be even better than 29! 😀