Saturday, September 25, 2010

Setting, or a Sense of Place

Setting, in my opinion, is one of the most important ingredients in a successful story. But I've read a few novels lately that barely describe a neighborhood, a house, a room, a town, a tree, or anything that surrounds the characters. We need to place our characters somewhere, as they go through life or have adventures or work out their problems - don't you think?

Most writers are extremely observant - watching mannerisms, eavesdropping conversations, aware of the emotional ebb and tide of situations - and filing these away for future references when they might need them in a story. But don't forget to add the elements of place (Setting) that will increase your reader's enjoyment and understanding of the characters and their situations.

Whether it be the quiet hush of a deep redwood forest, or the noise and constant activity of a city street, show us your characters' surroundings, with enough detail so that we might actually picture them there.

Practice taking pictures in your mind as you go through your daily life, or as you travel, or even as you watch movies or television. File those things away for later use, so that you might be able to recall the wide open vistas of a high desert, or the dusty chalkboards of a classroom, or the hulks of discarded vehicles in the tall weeds of your neighbor's yard.

I don't care how good your story is. A well-told setting, described so that we can picture it in our minds as if we were there, is a requirement, in my opinion.

Can you think of any great settings you remember from stories or novels you've read? How much did it lend to your enjoyment of the story?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eight Questions

There's an Eight Question Internet Tag game going around. Answer eight questions, and send it on to eight people. I saw this first on my agent's blog Coffey. Tea. and Literary. who saw it on Get Back, Loretta my agent-sister's blog. And we've changed the rules a little. So, if you're reading this post *insert evil chuckle* ~ You're It!!

So Okay - I'll bite.

1. If you could have a super power, what would you have? Why?

Fly. I'd love to be able to zing up into a tree, sit there and observe my world, or just ride the wind and glide. Fun, huh?

2. Who is your style icon?

Um. Style, what's that? I definitely need some help in this department. I wear my good barn clothes to town, and my old barn clothes around the farm, but I end up looking like a cross between Annie Oakley and Joan Baez. I love that country chic look, maybe Coldwater Creek, but I can never quite pull it off.

3. What is your favorite quote?

"To thine own self be true." ~ William Shakespeare

4. What is the best compliment you've ever received?

That I did a good job raising my daughter.

5. What playlist/cd is on your ipod/cd player right now?

Jerrod Niemann - Lover, Lover and The Zac Brown Band

6. Are you a nightowl or a morning person?

As far as writing and thinking, a morning person. But not tooo early. Geez, a girl needs her coffee. *grin*

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

As you know, I love all animals, but . . . cats ;-)

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

Ha ha, good one. Actually, when I came to the spot on Blogger where they asked for a name, I couldn't think of anything cute, so I just put my name - Linda Benson. (Now- that's creative) Hey, works for me . . .

There you go. Fill one out yourself if you want to play along. And let us know, so we can go there and read your answers. Have fun!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just Say No

I blogged recently over at Equestrian Ink about donkeys, right here, politely suggesting that donkeys might be smarter than horses. But that was before I read the story of Sariska, the racehorse who just said "no."

A four year old champion filly from Great Britain, who has won five prestigious races and quite a bit of money, entered the starting gates last Sunday and when they opened for the race, she refused to budge. As it turns out, this was repeat behavior from one month ago, when she pulled the same stunt in her last race.

For some reason, this just totally cracks me up. Sariska was immediately retired, and will no doubt spend the rest of her life as a broodmare, romping in green pastures raising champion foals. Apparently, she decided being a career mare was just not her thing.

I say "Hats Off to Sariska," for just taking a stand. Hey - a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 12th

I had intended to write a post on September 11th, in which I waxed eloquently about how the events of 9/11 affected me deeply, and also helped me to focus my writing and start my career as a children's author. (Which is all true.)

Alas, I was too busy reading a book about a boy escaping Afghanistan to write that post. Here's the book I read on September 11th, and it's the best middle-grade novel I've read all year:

Shooting Kabul, by N.H.Senzai

Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers/ 2010

Shortly before the events of 9/11/2001, 11 year old Fadi escapes from Afghanistan with his family to America, as the Taliban close in. But his little sister Mariam is left behind, and lost. How can Fadi adjust to his new life in the United States, when he suffers enormous guilt over losing his six-year-old sister? How can he possibly explain to the bullies at school that he's not a terrorist? Will he ever see Mariam again?

This heart-wrenching story really grabbed me. Find a copy and read it. That is all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer of the Green Tomatoes

Ah, September! Harvest season, when the garden continues in full swing, and you daily pick its wonders: squash, corn, cucumbers, and those fresh, red ripe tomatoes. But not this year.

This year, after a cold spring, a rainy June, and only two months of summer, we might finally have the dreaded Summer of the Green Tomatoes!!

Our squash plants are doing fine - both zucchini and crookneck. You can't hardly do anything wrong with squash, and if you even turn around and look the other way for about ten minutes, when you return you have More Squash.

But as for red tomatoes this year, that's another story. Our temperature is already in the forties at night, and the sixties during the day. With occasional rain. And tomatoes need sun. We performed emergency surgery yesterday, cutting out the extra green growth, and only leaving a few stems with lots of green tomatoes on them, hoping to force the plant to ripen them.

We can only hope and pray that, just like tough revisions on a manuscript, this hard pruning will produce the desired results. But I have my doubts.

So tell me, did you grow a garden? How did your tomatoes do this year??

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kids, Animals, and the Effects of War

I just finished reading MOCKINGJAY, the final book of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. While the theme of this last book *Minor Spoiler Alert* ends up being not so much about the much debated love story, but the devastating effects of war on human beings - I was not genuinely shaken to my core by anything in this over-the-top story. Don't get me wrong - the whole series was a page turner, and the writing excellent, but I didn't, in fact, get teary-eyed except for one scene near the very end involving a scraggly cat. When I finished, I realized what I needed was some good realistic fiction to actually make me feel again.

I want to share with you some great contemporary fiction I've recently read, written with ranching and animals and the outdoors as a backdrop. All of these novels have youthful characters struggling with the effects of a family member in the military. They are not war stories, but they are coming of age stories that pack an emotional punch, because we can truly identify with the characters and situations.

HEART OF A SHEPHERD, by Rosanne Parry
Random House/2009

This lovely little book evokes the spirit of a ranching family, as 12-year-old Ignatius (known as "Brother") dives into the enormous task of keeping the ranch running with just his grandfather, while his older brothers are gone and his father's reserve unit is called up to active duty in Iraq. With details about horses, lambs, calving and the stark beauty of eastern Oregon as a backdrop, this is very moving story about a boy finding his true path in life. I was quite touched, and you will be, too.


Dial Books for Young Readers/ 2010

13-year-old Hannah Gale lives with her step-mom and her baby brother. Still reeling from her own mother's death, she anxiously awaits her dad's return from Iraq, while she lives, day by day, for the horses she befriends at a nearby stable. When her dad returns a different man than the one that left, and her family situation becomes unbearable, Hannah turns to horses for solace and comfort. This a book about healing, and Hannah learns that the power of horses to heal might also be of use to her dad, still suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Wonderful book for horse lovers and others. I loved it.

BULL RIDER, by Suzanne Morgan Williams
Margaret K. McElderry Books/ 2009

I'm in the middle of BULL RIDER right now, and it's great. 14-year-old Cam O'Mara would rather skateboard than ride bulls like his champion older brother Ben. But Ben comes back from Iraq with a brain injury, minus an arm, and unable to walk. With gritty details about his brother's long journey to recovery, as well as the thrill of a sitting on top of a monster bull breathing fire underneath him, and wondering if Cam will have the courage to nod for the chute to open, this book makes you feel like you're right there, and I know I'll stay up tonight and finish it.

I like to read all kinds of books. But realistic fiction, for me, is the thing that packs an emotional wallop. These three books may actually have as much to say about the effects of war on humans than an entire bestselling series. And when you add the outdoors, animals, horses - well, that just definitely makes them my kind of story. I hope you like them, too.