Saturday, August 29, 2009

Princess Willa: A Fairy Tale

JJ Bennett has a contest running over at her blog Jennifer J Bennett for the prequel (or sequel) to a Fairy Tale that she posted a couple of weeks ago.

My entry follows. On September 1st, the entries will be posted on her blog and readers will be allowed to vote for their favorite. Please, if you like my story, pop on over and give me your vote!

Here it is:

Princess Willa

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful orphan named Wilhelmina. She loved a farmer’s son named Purleon, whose one ambition was to become a knight. He was tall, handsome, and an excellent fighter. However, he lacked a suitable horse, and was too poor to buy one.

As the annual tournament approached, Purleon trained even harder. The tournament was his one chance to prove himself. He hoped that he would be taken into the service of a great lord. “When I am a knight,” he promised Wilhelmina, “I will marry you, and take you to my lord’s castle. You will live like a princess!” This made her laugh with love and happiness.

But he still lacked a horse. As the weeks went by, Wilhelmina racked her brains for some scheme by which she could help him obtain one, but could think of nothing. She supported herself by doing laundry and mending. She had very little money to lend her beloved.

A few days before the tournament, Wilhelmina was walking to the market in the next town, feeling very sad for Purleon. Suddenly she saw a thin, tired, homely-looking woman leading a magnificent charger down the road. “Where are you going with that horse?” Wilhelmina asked.

The woman looked at her sadly. “My husband died,” she said. “I have no more money to feed myself and my children. All that I have left is his horse. I am taking it to the market to sell it.”

“My young man needs a horse,” said Wilhelmina, “so that he can go to the tournament and become a knight. I want to buy your horse for him, but I have no money.”

The woman eyed her shrewdly. “Perhaps you can barter with me.”

“What could I possibly give you in exchange for something so valuable?” asked Wilhelmina.

“Your beauty,” said the woman. “If I were as beautiful as you, I could win another husband to take care of me and my children.”

Wilhelmina thought for a long moment. She was convinced that Purleon would love her whether she were beautiful or not, especially if she were able to give him this charger. She agreed.

The woman put her calloused hands on Wilhelmina’s face, and as she did so Wilhelmina saw the woman’s cheeks grow youthful again, her teeth become strong and white, her hair like flowing gold, her figure full and pleasing. She felt herself grow thin and worn in exchange. The woman put the reins into Wilhelmina’s hand, picked up her skirts, and ran down the road, rejoicing.

Wilhelmina was afraid that she had been tricked by some sorceress, but the horse was just as strong and handsome as ever. She took him to Purleon proudly. “Look, I have found a horse for you! Now you can enter the tournament.”

It was hard to determine whether Purleon was more astonished by the gift, or by the change in his beloved. “What happened to you?” he asked. She told him how she had met the woman on the road, and exchanged her beauty for the magnificent charger.

“You’ll still marry me and take me away with you, won’t you?” she asked.

“Of course I will!” he promised, but he did not take her in his arms.

The day of the tournament arrived. Although Purleon was not the champion, he fought so well that he did capture the attention of a rich lord. His head had been turned, however, by the many beautiful maidens who threw their scarves down to the contesting knights. He paid Wilhelmina for the horse out of his winnings, but he did not take her away with him.

Wilhelmina was heartbroken. All of the women who had been jealous of her beauty now mocked her, calling her “Princess Willa.” None of the young men would court her, or even go near her, because she was so ugly. For a year, she waited for Purleon to come back for her. She used the money he gave her to buy a beautiful gown, and wore it every day in the hope that he would see her in it and remember that he loved her.

Eventually, she realized that he wasn’t coming back. She went to the riverbank to drown herself. As she sat there sobbing, an enormous orange cat walked up to her and rubbed his head against her shoulder. “Go away!” she cried.

“There, there,” said the cat, rubbing more persistently and purring. “No use crying over spilt milk. The best thing to do is lick up as much as possible, and try to trip the milkmaid again.” He grinned.

In spite of herself, Willa laughed. The cat jumped into her lap and settled there. “I know your story, Willa. I am convinced that Fate will somehow reward you for your good deed. In one way, it already has.”

“What do you mean?”

“I happen to know that Purleon is miserable. He doesn’t like serving a great lord as much as he thought he would. He has married a pretty, selfish young woman. Neither he nor his wife think of anyone but themselves, which makes for an unhappy marriage, indeed.”

At this, Willa began to sob again and wanted to throw herself into the river. But the cat had fallen asleep in her lap, and was so heavy that she couldn’t remove him. So, she sat on the riverbank until he woke up again. The crisis past, she and the cat went home together.

So that is how the lovely Wilhelmina became Princess Willa and met her magical cat. Knowing that Purleon was married helped her set him free in her heart, and she became happy again. She withdrew from society, living in a cave and helping those who were more unfortunate than she. Secretly, however, she hoped that the cat was right, and she would be rewarded for her good deed.

Perhaps, she might even get her beauty back.

(c) Christine Hardy 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Publishing Time

Publishing Time. As in, the glacial pace of the publishing industry.

Nathan Bransford's blog post has suddenly taken a lot of pressure off of me in terms of rushing to finish my manuscript. Heck, I might even be satisfied with one sentence per day. By the time I finish, medieval fantasy novels may have been out for a while and then come back in again, and I'll be riding the cusp of the new wave!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I'm looking for help so early

There was a debate yesterday at Nathan Bransford's blog about whether or not writers should seek advice about representation for their first book. The assumption one poster made was that you have to write 10-12 books before you can be considered a real writer, and that if you are hanging out on agent blogs, you aren't really serious about doing the hard work of getting your novel written. I came in late to the discussion, but wanted to put my comment up here for your perusal:

Not to stir up the old debate here, but I have an observation about the whole "writing lots of books before looking for agenting advice" thing. Perhaps this will explain to certain posters why people like me are doing what we are doing - i.e. looking for lots of advice while working on our first (or nearly first) manuscript.

I am almost 39. I have been writing stories since I was a kid, and attempted a couple of novels before this one. My English teachers always told me I was very talented.

But, I also have technical skills and stopped writing in order to pursue an M.S., get a job in a technical field (clinical research), get married, stay married, and have a child with medical issues. My life has been hectic, to say the least.

But now I am teaching part-time and finding that the lid on Pandora's box won't stay shut any more. I have to pursue my dream or die.

But I am writing in isolation. I know no one else who writes, I am not hanging around literary types, I teach math and statistics all day, and I married a guy who doesn't even like to read. So the Internet is my only connection with other writers and with the publishing world.

As well, EVERY SINGLE article, speaker or author about writing says that you have to write what agents want. The very first person I ever heard talk about writing was from some tapes my mom brought back from a writer's conference she attended, and he said that you shouldn't write ANYTHING at all until you've sold the proposal. Otherwise, it's a waste of your time. "Don't write for free," he said.

I found out since then that although this may be true for non-fiction, it is not true for fiction. But, taking his advice, I did craft a proposal for a novel and submit it to a publisher. It was rejected, but she took enough time to send me a letter explaining her reasons and asking for more things from me in the future. That encouraged me to try to find out more and to keep writing.

So here I am... and that's why.

Oh, and, like Laura, I really love THIS book and THESE characters, and want them to have a fair chance at getting published.

(As well as justifying all the time I've spent on this to my spouse.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good News and Bad News

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I picked up two more classes to teach for the fall; the bad news is that now I won't have the time to finish my manuscript before Christmas, as I had hoped. It is just so *very* frustrating!

I know... everyone says "If it's important enough, you'll make time for it." Well, that's true, but at what cost? I have learned the hard way that I can't write and be an effective wife, mom and teacher. Teaching is a 60-hour a week job for 20-hour a week pay. It would be different if I could use the same notes, but darn it if every semester I don't get different courses. So I have to make up new notes, handouts and tests all the time, which is incredibly time-consuming.

(This semester, I do have a few sections of a course I've already taught, but they changed the book on me! As Charlie Brown would say "Arrrrgggghhhhh!!!!")

But, I'm grateful for the income and the scheduling flexibility. I'll just keep taking it one day at a time.

I just hope Zeke gets used to being in his crate. That dratted beagle just pees all over himself whenever we leave him. Today I was gone for TWO MINUTES before my husband got home. We drove past each other on the street. Don't you know that dog made a mess? God bless his little furry peabrained self, but I hope he "gets it" soon!

P.S. I just have to add that I realized after this post that I hadn't cleaned the cage yet, so I went downstairs. That wasn't pee in the cage... it was drool!!! Too, too funny.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"When you write you tell yourself a story. When you rewrite you take out everything that is NOT the story."
— Stephen King

Stephen King also says that he is "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries." I haven't read any of his books, so I can't comment on that. Horror is not my genre.

But, I can say that my goal is to be the literary equivalent of a spinach quiche. Healthy, satisfying, a little bit unusual, and appealing to those who are tired of Big Macs.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rainy Day

We're having a soft, rainy day today. I love rain. It's an excuse to curl up with a cup of tea and a book and not stir until dinnertime.

Only, I can't quite do that. The house still looks like a bomb hit it, from being on vacation. It always seems as if the van vomited our belongings into the living room upon arrival. I've been slowly sifting through and putting things away, but it's been a busy week. This is my first slow day.

Where's Rosie the Robot when you need her?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brag Day

Okay, everyone, here's an idea I just had:

Today will be "Brag Day." I am inviting you to post in the comments a paragraph or so of dialogue or description of which you are particularly proud. It could be fiction, non-fiction, whatever. Give us a taste of what you are working on!

Alternately, email it to me and I'll add it to this post.

C'mon... Brag a little!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Too much feedback spoils the novel

With a short hiatus ahead of me, I am psyching myself up to start writing again. I did a *little* while on vacation, but not very much. I was too busy spending time with my long-lost family in Ohio.

Having had some time to reflect (between early morning Scrabble, trips to the zoo, fishing and walking the dog and boys in the park), I've come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I was able to stop completely for a while is the level of confusion that has resulted from too much feedback.

I'm more eager for feedback than most writers. I really want to know what people think before I spend more precious months of my life working on something. The problem is that other writers have totally different opinions from mere readers. The other writers who have looked at my stuff say, "There is way too much exposition here, you have to take this out as it slows the whole thing down."

The readers say, "This is happening way too fast! Who are these people? Where are they? Why are they doing these things anyway?"

From all the writing blogs I've looked at, it seems that the only writing style allowable these days is basically stream of consciousness. Or, rather, stream of action. Everything has to happen pretty much in the moment to hold an editor's attention. The number one rule is "Show, don't tell."

But when I read books that have been published by very successful writers... oops! They use a ton of exposition in their first chapters. I just read one by bestselling romance author Nora Roberts in which the entire first chapter was basically backstory. I enjoyed it. I kept reading. It didn't slow me down. But apparently, if I were to submit a similar first chapter, I'd be given the good old "form rejection."

None of it makes sense.

So I have decided "To heck with them all!" I'm just going to write the story the best I can and if no one wants to publish it, I'll just self-pub and move on with my life. Grandma's not getting any younger... she just celebrated her 98th birthday. I need to finish this and record it so she can listen to it. She can't read any more, but listens to audio books all the time and is waiting for mine.

I owe it to Grandma.