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Author Archives: Regina M. Geither

Creating Imperfect Characters for the Perfect Story

           Characters are the heart and soul of a story.  Any book, no matter how good the plot, how interesting the setting, or how clever the twist, must have characters that are distinct, believable, appealing, and imperfect.  Yes, imperfect.  Readers need to relate to the characters in a book within the first few pages.  They need to be able to identify with the character.  And one way a writer can do this is to give a character flaws.

            We’re only human.  Right?  Well, the characters in a book should be too.  No one likes someone who is wonderful in every way, because none of us are.  And having a flawless character will turn off a reader quicker than they can turn a page.  We all have good and bad qualities, talents and limitations, strengths and weaknesses.  And we like to read about characters that are like us–flawed and human. 

            A well-known and well-liked character such as Harry Potter is a perfect example.  Harry is likeable not just because he is kind and friendly, but because he’s just a little messed-up.  Harry is an orphan, he is mistreated by his aunt and uncle, he hangs out with the geeks of Hogwarts, and he has a dark side that he constantly has to wrestle.  We like him because each one of us can see a tiny part of ourselves in him.  All of us feel alone or rejected at one time or another.  Every person feels neglected by friends or family on occasion.  Very few of us are popular and hang with the “In” crowd.  And we all have a not so nice side that we struggle to overcome.  We identify with Harry Potter, and that is why we love him.

            Love or hate the books, we can all identify with the characters from Twilight, as well.  Bella is an ordinary girl who wants to be extraordinary.  She is clumsy and insecure and sees herself as plain and unattractive.  Sound like any teenage girl you know?  But Edward, the handsome, dangerous, bad boy finds her irresistible.  Even Edward, the two hundred year old undead vampire, appeals to our human side.  He is seen as evil by most of the world, except by the one who loves him.  And he struggles with his carnal urges because he is inherently good.  Don’t we all?  And of course there is Jacob who must protect the one he cares about knowing he will never have a real chance with her.  He also struggles with his carnal urges and even sides with the enemy to protect the one he loves.  Stephanie Meyers, for all the flack she has taken about her books, has the human psyche figured out.

            And what about the characters of the Hunger Games?  Can’t we all relate to one or more of them?  First there’s Peeta?  He is kind and good, but not so athletic.  He is a great talker, but not so skilled with weapons.  You just can’t have it all.  Then there’s Gale.  Gale is the strong, hard working, good looking guy who has to sit back and let the girl he loves make all the decisions.  He’s not in the driver’s seat, and he knows it.  Sounds like marriage material to me.  And of course, there is Katniss, our heroine.  Katniss is your typical strong female character, but with a twist.  She, like Bella, is in the middle of a love triangle and must balance her feelings with her obligations to family and friends.  She is stuck in the middle of the Capitol’s plans for control, and no matter what she does, she is set-up to hurt someone she cares about.  Talk about a no win situation.  I’d say that Suzanne Collins has our human nature pegged, as well.

            In my young adult novel, Island of Tory, Arella Cline is the main character.  She struggles with your typical teenage angst.  She is an only child who has trouble relating to her parents, and when her parents are killed in an accident, she feels regret and loss.  Arella doesn’t like rules or authority and rebels against them every chance she gets.  When she is forced to attend a stringent academy, she breaks the rules and then quits.  But in the end, Arella must make a choice.  She must decide whether to side with good or evil, and she knows that no matter her choice, someone she cares about will get hurt.  She is caught between a rock and a hard place, in fact, between a wishing stone and a cursing stone.

            So a writer must keep in mind that readers like their characters flawed.  Readers want to rub shoulders with fellow narcissistic, insecure, rebel loners who redeem themselves in the end by putting others’ needs first.  That’s what makes them human to us.  They are a reflection of who we are, or at least, who we strive to be.

            Island of Tory is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online, and Joseph-Beth Booksellers online.  Autographed copies are available on this website.

Journey to My Writing Niche

            When I first began writing, I hadn’t a clue on what I should be doing or what I wanted to write.  I only knew I loved the craft and believed I had the potential to be good at it, but my beginning efforts were all over the place.  I didn’t know if I wanted to write essays, short stories, or novels.  I hadn’t even nailed down a preferred genre.  I just knew I wanted to write and be published.  But where to begin?

            I started with short stories.  They were compact enough to keep me interested and the length allowed for repeated editing in a reasonable time frame.  From there I expanded into novellas, though at the time I had no idea that was what I was writing.  I found and joined a writers’ critique group who not only helped me hone my skills, but also introduced me to the many styles, techniques, and genres of successful writers.  I also started attending writing conferences and author talks.  After a time I felt confident enough to attempt a full-length novel, though I still did not know what genre I preferred.

            My first novel turned out to be dystopian, though at the time, I simply labeled it as science fiction.  That was eight years ago, pretty much before anyone had heard of the dystopian genre.  I finished the story in ten months, sent it to one agent and one contest, got rejected by both, and threw it in a draw where it still sits to this day.  Had I known then what I know now and took the time to rewrite and polish it, I might be riding high on the crest of the current wave of dystopian novels hitting the market.  Hind sight is truly 20/20.  But it was my practice novel.  Most writers have one and if you’re afraid to start one, don’t be.  It was my best learning experience.  Editing it would probably have been more work than totally rewriting it, but it was my starting point.  I had written and finished a novel, and I was sure I could do it again, but with more skill.  I was on the path to being published.        

            My next novel was an Arthurian Legend.  Talk about an ambitious biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew project.  Inspired by The Mists of Avalon and the countless other versions of the King Arthur tale, I wrote a whopping 466,000 word manuscript in alternating points of view between Arthur and his sister Morganna.  It took me approximately three years, seventy-six agent rejections, and hundreds of late nights, early mornings, and summer vacation days to realize the genre had had its day in the eighties and was no longer in demand.  Though well written, it wasn’t what people wanted to read.  It too sits in a draw, right next to my dystopian novel.

            Finally, my next attempt was a young adult paranormal fantasy.  I had always been interested in ghosts, alternate realities, UFO’s, cryptozoology, parallel dimensions, and the like.  And being a reading teacher, I knew what kids liked to read and, more importantly, what they did not.  I saw which books were popular, I took what I was interested in, and voila–Island of Tory, my first published novel, was born eleven months later.

            The journey to finding my writing niche was by no means a straight path, but each detour brought me closer to my ultimate goal of being published.  No one has a crystal ball to see what will be the next genre trend, so my advice is write what you like, do it well, and create your own trend.  A good book is a good book, and readers will recognize it when they see it.  And don’t be discouraged when you get a rejection.  A rejection is an opinion of one person at one point in time.  Many great novels and novelists have been rejected by people who now wish they had said “yes” instead.  And if at first you don’t succeed–yeah, you know the cliché–but it’s sound advice that every aspiring writer should remember and live by.  It’s been my writing mantra for years.  It’s helped me reach my goals even when they’ve seemed incredibly impossible.

Real Versus Fictional Settings

           Many writers question whether it is best to set their story in a real location or a fictional one.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  In the end it really boils down to preference, but here are a few of the pros and cons I have weighed in my writing:

Real Setting Pros:

1.  The setting is already laid out for you, so site maps are readily available.  In writing my novel, Island of Tory, I used a variety of online maps to get an accurate feel for the location of key points of interest.

2.  People who are familiar with your setting may be intrigued by a story set in a place they know well and are fond of.  This could increase your readership.

3.  The history, folklore, and local stories of a real setting can be woven into your fictional story, giving it authenticity.

Real Setting Cons:

1.  In choosing a real setting for your novel, you risk being inaccurate in your description if not careful, and this could invoke the wrath of readers who demand precision.

2.  There is no room for deviation in a real setting.  If you put a coffee shop or church in the setting, for the sake of your story, where in reality there is none, you chance confusing or even turning off readers who are familiar with what the real setting looks like.

Fictional Setting Pros:

1.  Your imagination is the limit with a fictional setting.  You can put any buildings, landmarks, or points of interest you choose in a fictional setting to accomplish your plot goals.

2.  No one can dispute the location of items in a fictional setting as long as you are consistent in where things are.

3.  You can add any back story to the history, lore, or culture of your fictional setting without being wrong.

Fictional Setting Cons:

1.  You have to make up the location, history, culture, and anything else associated with your setting.  You can get ideas from real settings, but you have to be careful not to be too obvious in copying everything about a real location, or your readers will see through a simple name change and think you are being unimaginative.

  2.  You have to map out where everything is located in your fictional setting and be consistent in distance and timing throughout your story to make it believable.

            Before starting to write my ya novel, Island of Tory, I was perusing the internet trying to get ideas for the basic plot for my next book.  I hadn’t decided on a real or fictional setting, and I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to write about yet.  The one thing I did know was my story had to have elements of the paranormal in it.  Immediately, I thought of Ireland. 

            Ireland has always been, for me, synonymous with all things magical, supernatural, and mysterious.  The land and its people embrace their myths and legends as part of their history and culture like no other.  And because of this, Ireland is the one place on earth that seems to keep a precarious balance between reality and fantasy.

            In my internet searches, I began looking for remote Irish islands.  Just as Ireland evokes a sense of mystery for me, so too, do islands.  With being cut off from the mainland, island inhabitants evolve their own set of beliefs and lore, making their cultures unique from that of their motherlands.  My searches brought up a variety of Irish islands, all of which had their own distinctive folklore to boast of.  Upon reading the stories and traditions of Tory Island, I knew it was the perfect setting for my novel.

            The lore of Tory Island is uniquely rich, full of tales of fairies, wishes, curses, and ancient rituals.  As I read deeper into Tory’s folklore, I realized the hard part of developing my story was already done for me.  All I had to do was weave the different pieces of island lore into a single plot line, and after eleven months of twisting, turning, and adjusting, the puzzle was complete.

            No, I have never been to Tory Island, and no, I have never been to Ireland.  But, with the help of Google Earth, Facebook, and Shutterstock, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty close.  In writing Island of Tory, I spent untold hours researching the island and its history.  I studied island maps, questioned residents and tourists of Tory via Facebook, scrutinized pictures of the sites to the point of feeling like I had lived on Tory. 

            In writing, Island of Tory, I could have created an imaginary setting, but as Tory Island proves, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  Everything I needed for a mysterious island setting was already there.  Why reinvent the wheel when one is just waiting for you to roll with it?  And in using a real place in which to set my novel, along with real events and folklore to plot my story, I place the question in the reader’s head of where to draw the line between reality and fiction.  It’s this blurring of the lines between truth and perception that adds to the story’s air of mystery that brings the reader back for more.

Creating Imperfect Characters for the Perfect Story

            Characters are the heart and soul of a story.  Any book, no matter how good the plot, how interesting the setting, or how clever the twist, must have characters that are distinct, believable, appealing, and imperfect.  Yes, imperfect.  Readers need to relate to the characters in a book within the first few pages.  They need to be able to identify with the character.  And one way a writer can do this is to give a character flaws.

            We’re only human.  Right?  Well, the characters in a book should be too.  No one likes someone who is wonderful in every way, because none of us are.  And having a flawless character will turn off a reader quicker than they can turn a page.  We all have good and bad qualities, talents and limitations, strengths and weaknesses.  And we like to read about characters that are like us–flawed and human. 

            A well-known and well-liked character such as Harry Potter is a perfect example.  Harry is likeable not just because he is kind and friendly, but because he’s just a little messed-up.  Harry is an orphan, he is mistreated by his aunt and uncle, he hangs out with the geeks of Hogwarts, and he has a dark side that he constantly has to wrestle.  We like him because each one of us can see a tiny part of ourselves in him.  All of us feel alone or rejected at one time or another.  Every person feels neglected by friends or family on occasion.  Very few of us are popular and hang with the “In” crowd.  And we all have a not so nice side that we struggle to overcome.  We identify with Harry Potter, and that is why we love him.

            Love or hate the books, we can all identify with the characters from Twilight, as well.  Bella is an ordinary girl who wants to be extraordinary.  She is clumsy and insecure and sees herself as plain and unattractive.  Sound like any teenage girl you know?  But Edward, the handsome, dangerous, bad boy finds her irresistible.  Even Edward, the two hundred year old undead vampire, appeals to our human side.  He is seen as evil by most of the world, except by the one who loves him.  And he struggles with his carnal urges because he is inherently good.  Don’t we all?  And of course there is Jacob who must protect the one he cares about knowing he will never have a real chance with her.  He also struggles with his carnal urges and even sides with the enemy to protect the one he loves.  Stephanie Meyers, for all the flack she has taken about her books, has the human psyche figured out.

            And what about the characters of the Hunger Games?  Can’t we all relate to one or more of them?  First there’s Peeta?  He is kind and good, but not so athletic.  He is a great talker, but not so skilled with weapons.  You just can’t have it all.  Then there’s Gale.  Gale is the strong, hard working, good looking guy who has to sit back and let the girl he loves make all the decisions.  He’s not in the driver’s seat, and he knows it.  Sounds like marriage material to me.  And of course, there is Katniss, our heroine.  Katniss is your typical strong female character, but with a twist.  She, like Bella, is in the middle of a love triangle and must balance her feelings with her obligations to family and friends.  She is stuck in the middle of the Capitol’s plans for control, and no matter what she does, she is set-up to hurt someone she cares about.  Talk about a no win situation.  I’d say that Suzanne Collins has our human nature pegged, as well.

            In my young adult novel, Island of Tory, Arella Cline is the main character.  She struggles with your typical teenage angst.  She is an only child who has trouble relating to her parents, and when her parents are killed in an accident, she feels regret and loss.  Arella doesn’t like rules or authority and rebels against them every chance she gets.  When she is forced to attend a stringent academy, she breaks the rules and then quits.  But in the end, Arella must make a choice.  She must decide whether to side with good or evil, and she knows that no matter her choice, someone she cares about will get hurt.  She is caught between a rock and a hard place, in fact, between a wishing stone and a cursing stone.

            So a writer must keep in mind that readers like their characters flawed.  Readers want to rub shoulders with fellow narcissistic, insecure, rebel loners who redeem themselves in the end by putting others’ needs first.  That’s what makes them human to us.  They are a reflection of who we are, or at least, who we strive to be.

            Island of Tory is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online, and Joseph-Beth Booksellers online.  Autographed copies are available on this website.

 

Collaging: Finding Your Writing Muse

            I’m often asked where I get my ideas for writing. I wish I could say, “Off the top of my head,” but that’s not true at all. I’ll admit that I am creative, but I need a little inspiration to get the artistic juices flowing. Being a very visual person, I find my muse in pictures.

            I never considered my brainstorming methods to be collaging, until I looked to see what other writers did to come up with their story ideas. When I saw that many of them used a collection of pictures, maps, scraps of fabric, and key words or phrases gathered together in a visually appealing arrangement called collage, I suddenly realized I had been unwittingly using the same writing technique.

            There is no right or wrong way to collage. Talk to ten different writers who use collage to inspire their writing, and you will get ten variations on the “correct” method. But there are some basic components all effective collages have in common. So…here is the Geither recipe for a successful writing collage:

Canvas

            First, you need a base upon which to glue your collection of images. Poster board, tri-fold display boards, cork boards, shoeboxes, manila folders, or even spiral notebooks will work. There is no right or wrong choice. You need to decide which base works best for you.

            I prefer a tri-fold display board due to the fact that it is large, freestanding, and can be folded up and tucked under the bed when not in use. I have, however, also taken the manila folder route on occasion.

Images

            Next, start collecting images. Use magazines, greeting cards, photos, old maps, clipart, or images from the internet. Gather images of people, places, and things. Try to find a variety of pictures that represent setting, characters, and mood.

            When writing my novel, Island of Tory, I visited every Tory Island website I could find. I printed copies of maps, pictures of the points of interest, and photos of local people and animals. These images gave me a good visual feel for the island and its inhabitants.  I also printed pictures of Celtic art and symbols.  This helped me develop the mysterious and foreboding mood felt throughout the book. 

Arrange

            Finally, organize your images into categories–characters, setting, and plot. This is where a tri-fold display board comes in handy, because each section can be used to display pictures relating to one of the particular categories.

            Personally, I like to keep each category separate, but some writers like to mix it up. Again, the choice is yours. Just remember, whether you fasten your images with pushpins, staples, tape, or glue, your collage is not set in stone. Change it when you need to. Add, subtract, or start over as the need arises. Remember that your collage is a tool, not a ball and chain.

Utilize

            Look at your collage before, during, and after you write. Jot notes on it. Add comments and captions. Utilize your collage as a springboard, but never feel tied to it. The purpose of a collage is to stimulate and inspire creativity and help you focus on your story.

            Though I begin every writing project with a complete collage, the collage is rarely finished before my story is done. I constantly add new pictures and words as my story develops. I was still adding pictures to my Island of Tory collage even after I signed the publishing contract. And I even sent portions of the collage to my publisher to hand on to the illustrator, so I could make sure he had a good feel for the mood of my novel.

Muse It!

            With practice, collaging can help you develop, organize, and complete any writing project. Whether it’s a short story, essay, poem, or novel, a well developed collage can be just the muse you are looking for.

Collage used for CURSING STONE

Planner or Pantser? That is the Question

            So you have an idea for a novel, but you’re just not sure how to proceed.  Should you start with an outline plotting out the entire book or just start writing, making it up as you go along?  If you take a survey of writers, novice and expert alike, you will get a plethora of answers on how to successfully start and finish a book.  The correct way, however, will depend upon the type of writer you are and your personal preferences.

            If your personality dictates that you must know precisely where you are going and how you will get there, you are a planner by nature and will tend to lean toward outlining your book before you attempt your first paragraph.  Outlines are like roadmaps.  They can be as detailed or as sketchy as needed.  If you are a AAA trip-tick or Mapquest enthusiast, this is probably your preferred method of writing madness and you are most likely a planner.

            Some planners like to write chapter outlines where they list the main events of each chapter under the chapter title.  This gives them a good overview of their story’s sequence and allows them to get from point A to point B in a nice orderly succession.  Other planners like to put down the “skeleton” of their story first and then fill it in with the “meat” or details, taking a general to specific approach.  Still others work backward, knowing the ending before they begin.  They start at the conclusion and backtrack, detailing the events that lead up to the grand finale.

            Many agents and publishers require an outline of a novel before they will look at anything else.  And though the outline might be an excruciating chore, it does make writing the novel much easier.  Some writers, however, feel that once the outline is written, they are married to it.  Unless the outline is chiseled in stone, you can change it and your story however you see fit.  There is no outline commandment that says, “Thou shall not change your mind once thou typest The End.”

            But there is something to be said for those writers who fly by the seats of their pants and do it with finesse.  These are known as pantsers.  These masters of the imagination can spin a yarn as easily as your grandmother crochets an afghan–intricate, flawless, and off the cuff.  Even when they write themselves into a corner, they find a trapdoor and escape.  These writers enjoy the freedom and excitement of the unknown.  And though they may not know where they are going or how they are going to get there, they enjoy the ride.

            But do not fear if neither approach appeals to you, for there is any number of degrees between the two extremes that are productive.  Scores of writers practice varying combinations of the two methods with great success.  My personal preference is to have a basic beginning, middle, and end in mind, while letting my writing take me where it will.

            When planning out a novel, I am not one to take the time to fill-in a sheet full of Roman numerals and letters, but I do have a vague mental roadmap in mind before I begin to type.  I like to start with my protagonist, making him or her a reluctant hero with genuine flaws.  The plot of my story revolves around this character’s problem and how it is resolved. 

            Second, I add conflict.  Someone or something has to stand between the protagonist and his or her goal.  Without a villain or obstacle, there is no story.  The conflict can be man verses man, man verses nature, or man verses self.  Regardless of the type of conflict, there needs to be drama.  Without drama, a plot dies.  No one likes a story where everyone is content and happy from beginning to end.  But tell a story about someone facing a crisis, and you’ve got an audience.

            Third, I create my setting.  Though I am a fantasy writer, I do not design my story locations from scratch.  I like to research real places and time periods that fit my needs, and tweak them to fit my stories’ purposes.  For example, in my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, I needed to set my story in a remote and mysterious place to suit the requirements of my plot.  I researched various Irish islands to find a real location that would lend itself to my story’s purpose and mood.  When I read about Tory’s history and legends, I knew I had the makings of the perfect setting for my book.

            Once I have the protagonist, conflict, and setting of my novel nailed down, I improvise and adlib the rest, adding characters and events like pavers in a road to the finish.  So if I had to define myself as one or the other, planner or pantser, I guess I’m a Mudblood.  My flavor of writing is a fusion of the two in varying degrees, depending on the story at hand.  And if a random survey of writers was taken, I doubt that most would fit neatly into one of the two categories. 

            So, planner or pantser?  That is the question.  I say…yes.

Writing a Killer Opening: The Rule of Seven

            You have to hook your reader.  We hear it all the time.  But how does a good writer get a reader interested enough to read past chapter one?  The average reader, if you are lucky, will give your book the time it takes to read five pages before deciding to read on, or move on.  So you’ve got to wow them in the first half of the first chapter, or they’ll be moving on to the next book on the shelf without a second thought.  From instant messaging to instant coffee, we live in an age of instant gratification.  Readers expect no less.  I use the rule of seven to hook my readersand keep them hanging on until the very end.

            Rule number one, write an opening line that surprises, shocks, excites, or scares the bejeezus out of your reader.  Begin with a bang.  Get your reader on the edge of a cliff and make them willing to crane their necks just a little more to see what is on the other side.  Some excellent examples from famous books include:

      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984

      He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

       There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

        If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

        When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news. – Anthony   Horowitz, Stormbreaker

         Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

            Rule number two, create questions in the reader’s mind–questions that can only be answered by reading the rest of your book.  Intrigue your readers.  Dangle the proverbial carrot in front of their noses, but at the same time, give them enough information that they don’t feel totally lost.  A reader has to feel compelled to keep reading.  Make it worth their time.  A good writer is forthright with just the right amount of information.  Tell too much and there is no reason to read on.  Tell too little and the reader is discouraged.  It takes a delicate balance to walk this tightrope and not fall flat on your face.

            Rule number three, invent a protagonist that is interesting, unique, but at the same time allows the reader to relate to them.  Your main character needs to have depth and be flawed.  Real people are not perfect and neither are good characters.  Characters with distinctive speech patterns, personal quirks, or bad habits are believable and hold the reader’s interest.  Most of us can relate to the oddball or eccentric, the rebel or loner.  No one is really interested in a plastic Barbie or Ken.

            Rule number four, get the reader emotionally involved with your story right away.  Make your reader angry, or frightened, or excited, or tense, or curious within the first few paragraphs.  Put the reader on deck in the middle of a pirate ship battle, or on trial in front of an angry jury, or in the center of a great archeological discovery, or in the midst of a Nazi Jew hunt, or between the pages of a secret diary.  Make reading your novel an interactive experience that begins on page one.

            Rule number five, create tension or hint at a conflict.  No one wants to read about the guy that has it all, but everyone wants to read about the guy who lost it all.  Without conflict, there is no story, so give your reader a taste of the character’s anxiety right away.  Bait the hook with conflict, and once the reader bites, keep the tension on the line.

            Rule number six, give the reader a sense of time and place immediately.  No one likes feeling lost.  Setting is important, but clue the reader in with a little finesse.  Use time period language.  If your story takes place in the middle of the sixth century, the dialogue should sound very different than that of a story set in 1976.  Have your characters’ dress reflect the time period.  A Civil War soldier’s boots are going to look and feel different than those of a Texas rodeo cowboy.  Give your reader the information they crave without making it sound like you’re filling in a story elements map.

            Rule number seven, start your story at the moment your character’s life changes.  If you remember nothing else from The Rule of Seven, remember this:  your opening sentence should be describing the pivotal moment in your character’s story.  Do not talk about your character’s morning routine when you should be describing the food fight they started to avoid going to second period Biology.  No one wants to know about your character’s mundane drive to Pennsylvania if the real action starts the night they check into a haunted hotel.  Skip saddling the horses and cut to the chase.

            You may have a fantastic story to tell, but no one is going to read it if you don’t hook them in the first few pages.  If an editor says, “Ok, you’ve got two minutes, give me your best shot,” what part of your book would you give them?  If it is not your first few pages, the next story you will be writing will be of “the big one that got away.”

            Excerpt from Island of Tory by Regina M. Geither, March 2012:  I remember only fragments of the day my life was turned upside down and shaken into chaos.  With little more ceremony than a child flipping a snow globe, my world changed.

The Voices in Your Head

            Ghosts, spirit guides, mental illness?  There is any number of explanations for hearing voices.  Gift or curse, the phenomenon is very real for some, and most cultures do not consider it normal.  In his song Voices in My Head, Bruno Mars expresses the question “Is it strange I believe them again?  Voices in my head.”

            The most widely accepted theory for the cause of disembodied voices is mental illness.  Whenever someone experiences sensory perceptions outside of the norm, society chooses to label them with any number of mental disorders.  At first, the individual may be diagnosed with excessive stress.  Post-traumatic stress syndrome is a condition attributed to individuals having an adverse psychological reaction to a highly stressful event.  It is characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there.  Schizophrenia is another mental illness associated with hearing voices.  A schizophrenic individual may experience hallucinations or delusions.  Schizophrenics are characterized by a loss of contact with their environment and a disintegration of personality.  For many, hearing voices equals mental incompetence.

            There are, however, those of the thought that hearing voices is the special ability to tune into beings from another plane of existence.  Some people, referred to as sensitives, claim the ability to communicate with the deceased as well as inhuman spirits such as ghosts, guides, angels, and dark entities.  The voices may sound like an echo or emerge as sudden and unexpected thoughts.  Cases have even been noted where the voices appear as block print inside an individual’s head.  Some individuals can have conversations with the voices, while others can only listen.  Electronic voice phenomenon or EVP’s are sited by many as further proof of the existence of disembodied voices.  EVP’s are said to be at a frequency unintelligible to the human ear, but may be audible to some sensitives.

            “I knew the words couldn’t be real, but the sound of their voices still rang in my ears.  I clasped my fist to my ears, blocking out the insanity trying to move in,” from the young adult fantasy novel Island of Tory.  In the book, Arella Cline is haunted by the voices of her deceased parents after she is the sole survivor of a fatal car crash.  Island of Tory is due for release by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Disembodied Shadows

            Out of the corner of your eye you catch a fleeting glimpse of something moving.  You turn to get a better look…but nothing is there.  Chalking it up as just your imagination is the usual first response.  Tired eyes.  Time for a break.  The dark playing tricks on you.

            You go back to whatever it is you were doing without another thought.  But then it happens again.  This time, the shadow lingers for a few seconds longer.  Your brain registers a human shape before the entity disappears through a doorway.  Now, you start to worry.

            Thinking it’s an intruder, you cautiously follow the shadow into the next room.  Check the closet, behind the door, under the bed.  Again, nothing is there.  At this point, you start to question your sanity.  You think that maybe it’s stress.  Perhaps you’ve been working too hard.  Perhaps…but what if what you saw was real?

            Documented sightings of shadow people or shadow beings have become more common in recent years.  What once was an occasional ghost story told around a summer campfire, has now become a frequent, frightening phenomenon in the world.

            Of course there are many scientific explanations for shadow people sightings, including optical illusions, hallucinations, and medication side effects.  The human brain is designed to interpret the stimuli coming into it.  Sometimes the information is incomplete, especially when it is seen out of the corner of one’s eye.  When this happens, the brain automatically fills in the gaps with familiar data, thus making the distorted shadow of a lamp into the figure of a human, for example.

            Yet, there are many that believe that shadow people are real beings.  Most proponents of this theory think that shadow beings are ghosts.  In the 1999 thriller, The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osmert sent chills through movie-goers with the famous line, “I see dead people.”  But there are a growing number of people who theorize that shadow people are not human spirits trapped on earth, but are earthly visitors from another dimension.  Some even believe that shadow folk are time travelers from our future.  A few are of the thought that shadow figures are astral bodies projected while the physical self sleeps.  And then there are those who blame it on aliens.

            From my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, due to be released in March 2012:  “The fog still swirled around me, but something was taking shape behind the gloom.  I stopped crying and watched as a human form materialized.  Nothing more than a shadow…”

Auras–Seeing Beyond the Physical

           Ever wish you could read someone’s mind?  What if you could glimpse inside someone’s heart?  Did you ever want to predict what someone was going to do, even before the thought ever crossed their mind?  Of course you have.  Who hasn’t?

            It sounds like something from a science fiction novel, however, there are real people who claim they can read a person’s thoughts and intents like you or I read a book.  They are clairvoyants who see auras.

            What is an aura?  There are many definitions, but most agree that an aura is a luminescent display of energy given off by living and nonliving things.  All matter is made up of vibrating atoms.  It is this vibration that produces the energy that some see in the form of glowing waves of color.

            The auras surrounding humans are composed of both high and low frequency waves.  The low frequency waves are related to body function, such as metabolism, circulation, DNA structure, etc.  The high frequency waves are related to thoughts, emotions, and intentions.

            Auras are not static.  They transform as a person’s body and mind changes.  Auras give warning of developing disease, predict thoughts before they are expressed, and foretell of secret intentions.  Auras are a person’s spiritual signature.

            Each color in an aura has a specific meaning and is a physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental fingerprint of the person it belongs to.  Purple is a very positive color that indicates spiritual thoughts.  It is never permanent, only flaring during divine moments of deliberation.  Blue represents a balanced existence.  Individuals who are relaxed and content display a lot of blue in their auras.  Turquoise is the color of a dynamic personality.  People with turquoise in their auras have a strong influence on others.  Green is a restful color.  Green in an aura signifies a natural healing ability.  Yellow auras correspond to feelings of joy, freedom, and nonattachment.  Halos depicted on saints in art are believed to be yellow auras.  Orange is the color of inspiration and power.  Orange usually goes hand in hand with yellow.  Pink is love.  Unfortunately, pink is rare and is usually a temporary thought.  All of the above mentioned colors are positive and would be found in various combinations in an optimistic, well-balanced individual.

            Unfortunately, there are also negative colors found in auras.  Red is a materialistic color.  It can represent anger and force.  Brown is an unsettling color, and is also a color found in auras representing materialistic thoughts or intentions.  Gray signifies dark and depressing thoughts.  Sulfer or mustard auras indicate pain or anger.  White indicates a serious disease or impending death, a lack of harmony in the body and mind.  Any one of these colors in an aura suggests an unhappy, unbalanced individual.

            Skeptics believe that auras may be seen due to brain injuries or disorders such as migraines, epilepsy, or synesthesia.  Vision problems or eye fatigue are also thought to be a possible cause.  And of course, drug abuse such as the use of LSD is also thought by some to be linked to auras.

            In my novel Island of Tory, Arella Cline begins to see auras after recovering from an automobile accident.  She later discovers that her father had also been a Seer during his time on Tory Island.  Arella’s ability to see auras allows her to know who are and are not her true friends on the island.  Island of Tory is due to be release in March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.

Legends of the Tau Cross

     The cross is a familiar symbol to both religious and secular groups. But few people are familiar with the many myths and legends behind one of the earliest forms of this Christian symbol. The Cross of Tau or Tau Cross, named for the Greek letter T, is thought to have been the first cross used in Christianity, but its origins are believed to date back to the Egyptians. The Egyptian cross called an Ankh is a simple T-Cross mounted with an oval called the Ru.

     In its long history, the Tau cross was also the symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek God Attis. In Norse mythology, the hammer of Thor is seen as a Tau Cross. The Bull as the Astrological sign of Taurus gets its name from the Tau and Ru. Even the Druids used the Tau when venerating trees by scrawling the symbol into the bark of their sacred oaks. The Tau Cross was first alluded to in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Ezechiel.

     As Christianity gained followers, the pagan symbols were converted into Christian ones. The Tau was used as the first cross of the followers of Christ and many believe that the cross of the Crucifixion was actually T-shaped, and many early Christians adopted the Tau as the symbol of their religious belief. St. Anthony Abbott (251-356), an Egyptian monk and one of the first Christian monastics used a crutch in the shape of a Tau. When he visited another monk, he would place the crutch outside of the cave, making it a symbol of communion with God. In 1095 the Antonines were founded by a French nobleman after his son was cured of a disease following a vision of St. Anthony instructing him to plant a Tau as an instrument of healing. As a result, Tau Crosses were used in amulets as a protection against disease in the Middle Ages. The most common reference of the Tau in Christianity is with the Franciscan Order of Saint Francis of Assisi who adopted it as his personal symbol of faith and used it as his signature.

     Today, few Tau Crosses still remain. The most well known is the Tau Cross on Tory Island in County Donegal, Ireland. Tory’s mica slate cross stands 1.9 m high. It is situated by the West Town pier and is a lasting reminder of St. Colm Cille and the monastery he founded on the island in the sixth century. Island legends say that a Cromwellian soldier by the name of Aindreas na gCros hated crosses and tried to break Tory’s Tau with his sword. Miraculously the Tau would not break, but the marks of his sword are still discernable today. Because of this, Tory’s fishermen believe it to have powers of protection and pray to it before going out to sea.

     In my young adult fantasy novel, Tory’s Tau is a symbol of the island’s mysterious past and the curse hanging over it. Arella Cline, the book’s main character, learns the means to breaking the island’s curse by discovering a Tau glyph on a map of the island in a mysterious book of prophecies. The Tau Cross becomes an important stop on her journey into the past, a journey she must take in order to return to the present. Island of Tory is due to be released in March 2012.

The Cursing of the HMS Wasp

            The Irish are known for their superstitious nature.  They believe in blessings as well as curses.  From avoiding black cats and ladders to making the sign of the cross to ward off evil, the Irish have a long history of believing in the power of the supernatural.  The people of Tory Island are no exception.

            Tory’s history is full of mystical stories of blessed clay, magic water fonts, secret charms, and enchanted stones.  But most people believe the tales to be nothing more than folk legends, told to explain the inexplicable and amuse the masses.  However, one tragic incident is still rumored to be the result of a true Irish curse:  the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In September 1884, the HMS Wasp set sail from Westport, County Mayo to collect taxes and deliver eviction notices to Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head.  She was on course between Tory and the mainland when disaster struck.  Around 3:45 am, the Wasp hit the rocks directly beneath Tory’s lighthouse and sank to the bottom of the ocean in less than half an hour.  There were only six survivors of the fifty men onboard.

            Was the lighthouse lit?  Reports are mixed.  Some say the light was on, but was purposely turned off at the critical moment the Wasp passed by Tory’s shore.  Others claim the light was never dimmed.  A Royal Navy Court Martial concluded that the HMS Wasp was lost due to a lack of care and attention (her boilers were down, she was taking a quicker but more dangerous course around the island, and junior men were at the helm while senior officers slept.)  No one was singled out for blame, and the case was closed.

            However, rumors soon began to surface, and stories of Tory’s inhabitants invoking a curse against the vessel started to circulate.  Tory was known to have a Cursing Stone called Cloch na Mallacht or Cloch Thorai.  It was believed to be linked to St. Colmcille and the pilgrimage route around the island called An Turas Mor.  On the pilgrimage, islanders would visit various holy sites on Tory.  At the conclusion of their walk, they would turn the stone upside down, a quite benevolent act.  However, a curse was said to be invoked if the walk was done in a counterclockwise direction.  Many believe the islanders used the Cursing Stone to doom the HMS Wasp for fear that Tory would be its next destination for tax collection and eviction.

            Fuel was added to the fire when the Cursing Stone went missing shortly after the night of the Wasp tragedy.  Many theories abound as to the Cursing Stone’s whereabouts.  It may have been buried locally or thrown into the sea, but all that remains today is its pedestal, Cloch Arclai, and the mystery of the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, the legend of the Cursing Stone and the sinking of the HMS Wasp are the foundation stones of the plot.  Arella Cline, an American teenager, finds herself trapped on Tory Island.  The island and its inhabitants are stuck in time because the Cursing Stone was used against the Wasp and its crew.  Arella needs to journey An Turas Mor to reverse the curse.

            Island of Tory is set to be released March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.  Like Island of Tory on Facebook or subscribe to this site for updates.

The Magic of Irish Stones

            Since man’s earliest time, he has relied on rocks for his very existence.  Humans fashioned their first tools from stone.  They learned how to build fires for cooking, warmth, and protection by striking sparks from stone.  Stone walls were the early artists’ first canvases.  Later, great buildings and cities were constructed of stone.

            Given man’s continued dependence on rock, it is little wonder that stones would evolve into man’s earliest symbol of divinity.  At first, stones were worshipped as a manifestation of God himself.  Later, stones were considered God’s dwelling place.  Megalithic monuments were erected for sacred ceremonies all over the world.

            These ancient stone shrines remain standing as a testament to man’s belief that there is power in rock.  In Chile, massive stone statues keep watch over Easter Island.  The pyramids in Egypt tower above the sands.  At Carnac in France, rows of monoliths stand at attention over grassy fields.  And most famously, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England reminds us that early man was industrious and clever as well as spiritual.

            But stones from Ireland have long held a mystique of their own.  Myths abound of the supernatural power of Irish rocks.  One reason for Ireland’s strong belief in stone magic could be attributed to the Celts and their religious devotion to rocks.  Ireland boasts of the greatest collection of wishing and cursing stones anywhere in the world.  The famous Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland is a perfect example.  The legend says that those who kiss the rock will be granted the gift of gab.  Many visitors to Blarney Castle risk bending over backwards to reach the stone with their lips in the hopes that a little luck will rub off.

            Tory Island is no exception to the Irish rule.  As small as this island is, it boasts two magical stones–the Leac na Leannán or Wishing Stone and the Cloch na Mallacht or Cursing Stone.  The Wishing Stone sits at the top of Balor’s Fort.  It juts out on a cliff 100m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A wish is granted to anyone who is brave enough to climb on top of it.  Anyone lacking such courage may also be granted a wish by successively throwing three stones onto its crest.  The Cursing Stone was located at the west end of the island, but it is now mysteriously missing.  It was part of a holy pilgrimage called the An Turas Mór.  The last time the stone was seen was in 1884 when it was allegedly used to curse the English tax ship the HMS WASP and cause it to wreck on the rocks of Tory.  Now all that remains is the Cloch Arclai, the cursing stone’s pedestal.

            In my novel, Island of Tory, I use the legends of these magical rocks to weave a tale of the possible consequences of the curse on the island and its inhabitants.  I imagine that the islanders are stuck in time because of their malevolent behavior.  Because they cursed, they shall be cursed, an Irish version of karma.

            Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Tory Island's Wishing Stone

Tory Island Folklore: Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort

     From its craggy cliffs to its wind-beaten shores, Ireland has long exuded an aura of mystery and magic. Its culture and traditions have been forged from a unique mixture of warrior ballads, clan sagas, fairy tales, and bardic narratives. A magnificent combination of myth, legend, and historic fact embroiders the very fabric of Irish culture.

     The mystique begins with Ireland’s ancient inhabitants. The Tuatha de Danann, one of the earliest tribes of Ireland, were rumored to be a magical people. They were believed to be sorcerers of astonishing power, but their bronze weapons were no match for the iron swords of the invading Milasians. After a great battle, the Danann were driven into hiding. They fled underground and into the depths of the forests to escape all sense of time and place. Defeated but not destroyed, the Danann became known as the Daoine Sidhe Fairies and are said to secretly inhabit the Emerald Isle still to this day.

     Tory Island is one of the few places left in Ireland where the myths and legends of the Irish people are still held close. In fact, the island has quite a few of its own tales. Nemedian settlers from Scythia in modern-day Turkey are believed to have been the first people to occupy Tory. The Formorians, a tribe of sea pirates from Cartage, invaded Tory and removed the Nemedians. Conan, the conquering Formorian king, built a tower, Tu’r Ri (tower of the king) giving Tory its name.

     In the apocryphal history of Ireland, Lebor Gaba’la E’renn, the Fomorian king Balor of the Evil Eye, was a formidable ruler of Tory. A fearsome Cyclops who could kill a man dead with a single glance of his evil eye, Balor was a warlord to be reckoned with. It is said that as long as his eye remained open, no army could defeat him. And to ensure Balor’s success in battle, his men fixed ropes and pulleys to his eyelid to keep it from closing when he tired. No one could defeat Balor, no one except his own flesh and blood.

     An ancient druidic prophecy foretold that Balor would be defeated by his own grandson. In an attempt to defy destiny, Balor imprisoned his only daughter Eithne in a crystal tower high atop To’r Mo’r, the island’s highest point. He forbade all men to approach her prison.

     Three brothers of the Tuatha de Danann lived on the mainland opposite the island: Cian the chieftain, Mac Samhthann the sailor, and Gaibhadin Gabha the swordsmith. Gaibhadin owned a special cow that Balor desired for his own. Tempting fate, Balor raided the Danann settlement and stole the cow back to Tory. Pride sent Cian after Balor for revenge.

     As fortune would have it, Cian caught a glimpse of the beautiful Eithne during the raid. He fell in love instantly. With the help of Birog the Druidess, Cian disguised himself as a woman to fool Balor so that he could be with Eithne. Nine months later, Eithne gave birth to triplets. Balor was enraged. When he discovered that Cian was the father, Balor hunted him down and cut off his head. He then wrapped his three grandsons in a cloth, secured it with a thorn, and tossed the bundle into the sea. Loch Deilg, Lake Thorn, on the east end of Tory is named after the event.

     Balor’s eldest grandchild, Lu’gh was saved by Birog the Druidess, however, and grew to be a man with a vengeful heart. As chance would have it, Lu’gh happened upon Balor while he was visiting Gaibhadin’s forge. Balor was bragging about killing Cian and his sons. Not knowing that Balor was his grandfather, Lu’gh drew a burning rod of iron from his brother’s furnace and drove it through the back of Balor’s head and out through his evil eye. Balor’s blood spilled over the land, turning the hills red.

     Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort, is located on Tory Island’s eastern side, and is the highest part of the island. The fort is only accessible by crossing a long, narrow isthmus, surrounded by 90-meter high cliffs.

     The story of Balor of the Evil Eye is only one example of Tory Island’s rich collection of folklore. There are many more stories surrounding the various points of interest on the island. When writing my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, I used Tory’s existing legends to create a modern day story of magic and intrigue. Balor’s Fort plays an integral part in the novel. Arella Cline, the main character, must carry a cursing stone across the isthmus to the fort as part of her quest to undo a hundred-year-old curse placed on the island and its inhabitants. In using this well known folktale as part of my story, I have given validity to the island myths while weaving a bit of magic into my own narrative.

Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Balor's Fort

Creating Character Names With Character

     Who wants to know about Joe Blow?  Nobody.  So why would you give a character in your book a name that turns people off?  The first step to building interesting characters that will resonate with your readers is to baptize your creations with names that make them interesting and distinctive.

     Every person, place, and thing has a name.  Names designate, describe, label, identify, and illustrate.  When God created man, he first gave him life then he gave him a name.  And in turn, Adam named the creatures of the field, air, and water.  The act of naming is second nature to us.

     But we have taken for granted this powerful privilege of naming.  We flippantly toss out names as if they are nothing more than labels, when in fact names affect personality, appearance, and social capacity.  It was once thought that when a name was given, a mystical influence was exerted over its bearer.  Names give life.  Names condemn.  By naming an object, we categorize it.  By naming a person, we connect him to his soul.

     It is an ancient belief that names hold power.  By knowing another’s name, one could essentially have control over its bearer.  That is why the proper name of God was not used by the Hebrews.  Others believed that evil could be averted by changing one’s name or refusing to reveal it.  In Arthurian mythology, it was considered a breach of honor to reveal one’s name before battle.  But once the battle was fought, the defeated was obligated to reveal his name to the victor.

     When creating characters in your writing, the name should be handpicked to fit the personality of the individual you are bringing to life.  Think about the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social traits of your character, and choose a name that labels your character accordingly.  Using a common or boring name will label your character as such.  

     Choose one attribute to tag your character.  Then find a name that has that meaning.  Baby name books or websites are perfect places to search for names and their meanings.  You may also think of a real person to model your character after.  Choosing the first name of that person or a name similar will fit your character better than pulling a name out of thin air.

     Consider the character’s background.  Where do the character’s ancestors come from?  What does the character do for a living?  Choose a last name that fits your character’s origins and occupation.  Many of today’s last names designate where a person’s family originated or what his ancestors did to put bread on the table.  Consider the surnames Jordan, England, Cooper, and Smith.  There is a reason people have a first and last name.

     In my book Island of Tory, the main character is named Arella Cline.  Arella’s parents are both Irish-American, so I chose an obviously Irish surname.  Because Cline is a very common name, I combined it with an unusual first name to make my protagonist’s name distinct and memorable.  Like the fairy tale Cinderella, my character is transformed by magic and a little help from some kind and mysterious island folk.  I used a play on words to come up with the name Arella.

     The main antagonist of my story is named Declan McQuilan.  He is an island resident who befriends Arella on her first day at the Academy.  Declan appears to be a great guy at the beginning of the novel, but turns out to be a very self-absorbed, evil character.  The name Declan means full of goodness, and that is just the impression he makes on Arella when they first meet.  I purposely used this name to give a sense of irony to the situation. 

     No story is complete without a love triangle.  So I created Cannon Fidelous as my unlikely hero.  Cannon is a fellow American trapped on Tory Island.  He does not like the island or its inhabitants.  He is a loner until he meets Arella.  I chose the name Cannon because he really is a loose cannon type of character.  The name Fidelous is derived from the Latin fidel which means faithful.  And Cannon turns out to be the most faithful of friends to Arella.

     So had I named one of my main characters Joe Blow, would you still want to read Island of Tory when it is released in March 2012? 

     I didn’t think so.

Regina M. Geither is a writer, teacher, and mother of three.
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