There’s a video of me at the age of six where I proudly announce, in Dutch, that I want to take horseback riding lessons (or, I guess more accurately, “horse lessons”). Lucky for me, there was a small horse farm fifteen minutes from where we lived. When I was seven, I started taking lessons there. And my intense love of horses has never faded. All through school, including Undergrad, I rode at least once a week, usually more. I even started showing in sixth grade through 4-H, though I was never the biggest fan of it. The first show I went to wasn’t one I was in, but one I went to watch. I don’t recall most of it, but I strongly remember getting stepped on three times by various horses while wearing flipflops. Which insane parent let me wear flipflops to a horse show?
From riding them to reading about them to playing with horse toys to collecting Breyer statues that I still own to this day, I fully immersed myself in being a crazy horse girl. I even wrote about them.
The first story I remember writing was started in an unlined journal while sitting in the airport, probably on the way to or from Holland, and to no one’s surprise, it was about a girl who had horses. Now, I can’t remember what it was about beyond that, but I’m almost certain it was inspired by The Unicorns of Balinor, because I’m pretty sure the characters were named Ari and Finn, both of whom are characters in that series. Either that or I just liked the names.
Horses have never stopped appearing in my stories since that first one, nor have I stopped reading about them. Once again, shocking to not a single person, one of my favorite books is The Scorpio Races, which is all about horses, both real and mythical. All throughout school I read horse books, many of which I still own (including the entire Unicorns of Balinor series), and even as an adult I still seek them out, though they’re surprisingly harder to find unless you want to read non-fiction, which is generally not something I’m searching for. This is even more true if you’re looking for fantasy. Don’t worry fellow horse lovers, I’m coming to your rescue 😉.
Maybe that’s partially why horses play such a big role in most of my stories. That’s not to say I can’t write something without horses in it – The Children of Oher features exactly zero – but if there’s a place for them, I’ll make sure to fill it. There’s a quote by Toni Morrison that goes, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” and I certainly seem to be doing that when it comes to including horses. So yes, I do fully intend to write Spirits of the Sea solely as an excuse to write about them, because I know some other crazy horse person out there will appreciate it as much as I do.
What’s something you love that you just can’t help putting into the things you create?
What I wrote over the last week
Chapters twenty-one through twenty-four of The Children of Oher
This month has been a lesson in not getting too hung up on writing plans. I made myself this very specific, month-by-month schedule for writing for the year at the end of 2020. But as this month has progressed, and The Children of Oher has kept growing beyond what I can reasonably finish by the end of January, I’ve had to accept that this year probably won’t go quite as I’ve arranged. I might need more than three months to revise the second Enorians book, and then I might need more than two months to give the first Enorians book another look before I start querying it.
This week the owner of the horse I ride every Wednesday told me she would be out of town this weekend and next weekend and said I could ride him a couple extra days. While I obviously very happily agreed, because I’d never turn down extra pony time, it does mean that my writing has and will continue to suffer a little. I simply have a significantly smaller number of hours after work to write when I ride.
So, I’m trying to be flexible and forgive myself if things don’t go quite as I planned. It’s important not to get too hung up on how you think things should go. It’s important not to beat yourself up if you don’t write that exact number of words you were hoping for (guilty of doing that myself on many occasions). It’s important to remember that there will just be days when life gets in the way, and it’s not the end of the world that you didn’t get to write.
I have a whole second half of the year schedule, but honestly, if I can get the two Enorians books revised and start querying the first one, I’ll be happy.
What I wrote over the past week
Chapters eighteen, nineteen, and twenty of The Children of Oher
What I’m reading right now
The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J. Hackwith
Red Dust and Dancing Horses by Beth Cato
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown & Dave King
I’m always impressed when authors put a lot of thought into the foods in their stories. Harry Potter is the first example that comes to mind because of the sheer creativity of its chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties and sugar quills and butterbeer. But even simpler descriptions, like the specifics of smelling cardamom and honey and tea or the characters having pumpkin stew and garlic flatbread in The Sky Beyond the Storm are enough for me to appreciate the effort the author put into their food choices. And I think the reason behind being so impressed is because I have no idea what to include when it comes to food. I have some automatic go-tos, like stew. Always stew. Or meat and potatoes. You know, things that I eat. I struggle with it, and I know it’s something I need to work on.
So, when I started writing “Spirits of the Sea,” which is inspired by a Dutch tradition where draft horses are ridden down to the sea, I wanted to include super Dutch foods. And I wanted to try really hard to add in a wide variety of different things and get specific with the details.
Well, lucky me, I’m Dutch and have regularly gone to Holland since moving to the States back in the late 90s. Not to mention that my dad always brings back a suitcase full of food or asks us to bring a ton for him if we go without him. So finding very specific foods to write about was easy, and I had a lot of fun with it, especially with trying to figure out how to describe and translate what it all was into English.
And now, obviously, I have to show some of my hard work. Here’s a little snippet from during the ride (Now I just need to include nice specifics like this into everything else I write):
They paraded through the center street, weaving their way toward the sea waiting beyond the grassy dunes. Cheers went up as the horses passed. People shouted at those they knew. The scent of fries and deep-fried and grilled meats, herring and smoked eel, and freshly baked pastries and sweet cotton candy wafted over the riders and gathered crowd of people watching.
Veerlie’s stomach rumbled as the wind whipped the scent of her favorite deep-fried, raisin-stuffed, powdered-sugar-covered, fritters toward her. They were only ever made the week of the sea ride. Now that her nerves were under control, she realized how hungry she was and wished she’d eaten a better breakfast.
“That smells so good,” Marysa said wistfully, looking over at the mini-pancake stall standing in front of a dark-windowed store. A line of people wound its way around behind the gathered watchers.
“On our way back, we should stop to get food. I’m starving,” Veerlie said. The sweet, buttery scent hit her and sent her stomach rumbling again. Her mouth watered at the idea of the puffy palm-sized pancakes coated with powdered sugar.
What I wrote over the last week
Chapters fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen of The Children of Oher.
What I’m reading right now
The Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir
Red Dust and Dancing Horses by Beth Cao
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown & Dave King
“The process of doing your second draft is the process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”
– Neil Gaiman
I know a lot of people who moan and complain and say they hate revising, and I can absolutely see where they’re coming from. It’s tedious. It’s frustrating. It’s a pain to have to restructure, cut entire chunks, remove entire characters or merge two because you realize you don’t need both of them. It’s particularly annoying when you get to rereading the same chapter for the seventh time, and you’re just tired of reading it again and again. It’s even worse when you end up entirely rewriting two-thirds of your book. Twice. And then realize you’ve got to remove 100,000 words, because it got wildly out of control during the last revision, and you’re cursing your past self.
Revising can be the worst, but also, I’m actively looking forward to revising the second Enorians book and later this year, giving the first another edit, too. During my final quarter of my Master’s Program, I got really bummed, because I missed writing about Rowan and Aurea and Vivian and all the other characters from the first and second books. I ended up writing a bunch of scenes just for the fun of it, and it was amazing to go back to them.
So while revising can be a pain, it means I get to spend time with those characters again, characters I’ve been missing for the last few months. Not just that, it gives me a chance to do those characters justice, to fix the bits of them and their stories that aren’t great yet, to take out things that don’t fit, to make them and the story better. It gives me a chance to fill in missing details and explore everything again. It gives me more time with my favorite characters. Characters that I know I’ll miss when all is finally finished, because I’ve been writing these people for years, and I love them. If you look at revising as a way to spend more time with the people you’ve created and care so deeply about, it’s really not so bad.
What I wrote over the last week
Chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of The Children of Oher.
I feel in no way accomplished enough to give my own advice when it comes to writing, but I will happily pass along some that I’ve gotten from others. Some that has helped me.
I got myself a Masterclass subscription for Christmas, and naturally I had to start with Neil Gaiman, because I love Neil Gaiman. And during one of the videos he said of new writers, “Your job is to get the bad words, the bad sentences, out, the stories that aren’t any good yet.” It reminded me immediately of something one of my undergrad professors told us in a creative writing workshop, which is to give yourself permission to write badly.
This is such a great lesson, not just for writers, but for anyone who’s trying something new. You’re going to suck at first (unless you’re a prodigy or something). That’s inevitable. I certainly have a pile of hot garbage from years ago that will never see the light of day, but without that pile of bad words and sentences and stories that aren’t any good, I wouldn’t have gotten to a point where I feel like my writing and stories are worth showing to anyone. But I think for writing, especially, it’s a great thing to be told that it’s okay to be terrible, because you know what? That’s what second drafts are for. Your first draft can be a disaster, but you can fix it. And then fix it again. And fix it once more, like I did with my first Enorians book. The book as it is now has absolutely nothing to do with the first version other than the fact that Rowan’s name is Rowan (except even that’s not true, because the spelling changed).
So gives yourself permission to write those bad stories or paint those terrible pictures or play terrible music or continue to struggle to make your body do what your brain is telling you it should while you’re on a horse but it’s hard because muscle memory – this last one might be really specifically aimed at myself. You’ll learn something with every wrong move you make, and as with anything else, the more you do it, the better you get and the easier it becomes.
Since I kept it relatively short today, here’s the first couple pages of Chapter One of The Children of Oher. Keep in mind what I just said about first drafts 😉.
Kora’s wedding day looked nothing like how she’d imagined it in her childhood. First, she was only eighteen. She’d always thought she would be well into her twenties or older. Someone else had picked out her dress, a simple, straight white thing that made her feel like she was wearing a sack. Not the graceful gown she’d pictured, with a flowing train and a sparkling bodice. She didn’t have a veil, though she’d always liked the idea of her husband lifting it to kiss her when the time came. Her hair hadn’t even been done nicely. It lay in its dark, messy waves, the top all frizzy from having a bag pulled off her head. Not pinned up in some elegant style like in the pictures with diamond-studded hairclips and flowers weaved throughout. And the last thing she’d ever wanted was to get married in the middle of summer outside. The sun beat down on her, making her hot and uncomfortable. But worst of all, the man Kora stood in front of, the man she was supposed to marry, wasn’t a man she loved. In fact, she hadn’t met him until ten minutes earlier.
Trying not to look into the stony face of her supposed future husband, Kora glanced at the people around her. They stood in a garden surrounded by houses. An unnaturally perfect garden. Kora had always liked overgrown ones, where the plants were allowed to flourish and go where they wished, but this one felt sterile, controlled. Each flower, each leaf, each petal placed just so. Water rushed somewhere behind her. A river? She wasn’t sure. The grass prickled against the soles of her bare feet.
She wasn’t the only one girl who seemed out of place. On either side of her a half circle stretched at least ten girls long, each one wearing the same sack of a white dress. She couldn’t get a good look at some of them, but the ones she could see looked to be in various states of shock or grief. The blonde girl beside her wept silently, eyes on the ground, her shoulders slumped. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen. The woman on Kora’s other side had hair as green as the eyes she darted in Kora’s direction. Woman, Kora thought, but young, still. Not much older than herself. All the girls in line couldn’t have been older than their mid-twenties. Had they all been brought in from the outside like her?
Each of the girls had a male opposite standing in front of her. Kora glanced at the man before her again. His skin was the color of wet driftwood, and black eyebrows formed a deep frown, his forehead wrinkled and beading with sweat. The muscles in his jaw stood out, as if he clenched them. But his deep-set eyes weren’t on her. They gazed at something to beyond her, and when they flicked to her, she quickly looked away.
Beyond the couples, if they could even be called that, the garden was filled with a large crowd, all dressed as if they were attending an actual wedding rather than whatever this was supposed to be. They spoke to each other in quiet, excited voices. What were they all waiting for?
Trying to relieve the discomfort of keeping her arms behind her back, Kora rolled her shoulders, grimacing. She tried her plastic cuffs again, moving her hands in hopes this time they were looser. The cuffs rubbed painfully against the already sensitive skin of her hands. All the attempt did was earn her a sharp jab in the spine. She shot a glare back at the man behind her. That earned her another jab in the same bruised spot.
A hushed silence fell over the waiting crowd and all eyes drew to the break between the houses across the garden from where Kora stood. Even the men standing before each girl turned to face the newcomer. Kora followed their gaze, fear and anticipation make her sweat.
The woman who stepped into the garden had a warm, open face, though she didn’t smile. She took in the scene around, blue eyes full of affection. Her long, silver hair spilled down over her shoulders, and as she glided forward, her white robes rustled along the grass. A gold chain hung around her neck, leading to a large disk, which rested in the middle of her chest. Though Kora couldn’t make it out, she could tell there was a symbol on the circle.
With a fresh jab in the spine, Kora realized everyone else had bowed their heads to the woman. Gritting her teeth, she did the same, wondering who or what this woman was. Someone important. That much was clear. She walked with an air of certainty, her shoulders back, her head held high, as if she knew just how important she was. She paused beside the statue in the middle of the garden, one that Kora hadn’t yet taken a good look at. Kora was surprised to see the carved figure had no hair. It seemed wrong, somehow. Strangely, she’d been expecting Oher to be some beautiful woman with long flowing hair and a welcoming face, somewhat like the woman who’d just walked into the garden. Instead, carved out of rough, dark stone, the woman’s face had been etched in a pained expression, something like grief, agony, with her eyes closed as if she couldn’t bear to look at what lay before her. She held her arms spread, like she beckoned them, like she wanted them to take away her pain. It made Kora intensely uncomfortable. She focused back on the living woman.
Clasping her hands together, the woman surveyed them with a smile, her eyes warm and welcoming. “Good afternoon to you all, my beautiful children. What a glorious day she has bestowed upon us on this most wondrous of days. With her divine blessing, we have had another fruitful crop yield. With her divine blessing, we have filled our stores with fish from the river. With her divine blessing, we have protected ourselves from the Abominations lurking outside our walls.” She paused, allowing cries of gratitude. When they abated, she smiled and continued. “My darling children, with her divine blessing, we have found willing brides for our sons.”
What I wrote over the last week
Chapters nine, ten, and eleven of The Children of Oher