Tag Archives: vodou

Renmen Talisman

Slightly late, my minions, but I’ve finished my February writing prompt! You still have until the end of the week to submit me yours (Original post found here), but in the meantime, enjoy a piece of my first novel…Dollhouse Daughter.

Humidity congested every inch Azalee’s kitchen despite the blast of cool air from two standing fans and an out-of-date air conditioner jutting out from the window. Her kitchen was spacious enough to do normal cooking and her work, but it felt so small with the oppressive heat. Even her snake, Ayido, was submerged almost completely in a metal tub filled with water with only a few slivers of ice left floating above her iridescent coils.66587Resized_Rainbow_coil-med

Azalee’s customer sat in silence sat at her dinner table, looking out of place in his suit and tie. He had drained the glass of iced lavender tea within seconds of giving it to him, and he tried not to look nervous which in turn made him appear even more so. The herbs in the tea would calm him enough to start talking. In the meantime, she stood at one end of the counter to cut raw chicken for dinner.

She smiled at how lived in the kitchen looked. Almost every inch of her counter space was full. A collection of Haitian rum was arranged on the back wall behind her customers hunched back and as the counter wrapped around to the adjoining wall it seemed to grow a forest of fresh flowers and herb from the granite itself. Small mason jars were lined up beside the greenery with corresponding labels to the dried versions of the plants inside. They reminded her so much of home where the foliage grew unchallenged by Haiti’s minor modernization. But here in the U.S., nature was cut off at every corner and she was forced to grow inside her apartment since there was no yard or garden outside.

“Will you take more tea, Vernon?” her voice soft and melodic.

The man in the suit flinched at the sound of her voice and he shook his head no. He quickly turned his gaze back down to the empty glass to watch the ice melt at the bottom. She took a deep breath trying to keep control of her frustration and inhaled the lingering scent of the lavender to help calm her.

Most of her new clients had reservations about her craft, although they didn’t dare to voice their doubts in her presence. Hollywood had portrayed vodou with enough wrath and obscurity that her gaze caused a visible reaction from some of them. Those reactions tore at her heart, and her patience, when she had used the past ten years to build a reputation for being kind and approachable.

With a huff, she tossed the chicken into a pan with oil and sprinkled some red and orange powder lightly over it. After she washed and dried her hands, she sat down across from him and waited. He didn’t speak at first—didn’t even look at her. He simply stared down at the melting ice as if there was nothing else in the room. The only sound came from the hum of the fans and the sizzle of chicken slowly cooking on the stove.

Finally, after nearly a minute of silence he lifted his head to meet her questioning, but compassionate gaze. He mumbled at first and it took Azalee a moment to realize he was actually speaking words instead of gibberish.

“Go on,” she said. “I am not witch who will curse you for you sins. I am humble servant of the loa and in my home secrets are heard with open heart and closed mouth.”

“I just want to be loved,” he said loudly, his London accent was clear of any hitches despite the tears forming in his eyes.

“Vernon, love is everywhere if you let it in. It is rare to find if looking for her, but she will find you when least expect her.”

“I have spent years of my life looking for love with all the wrong women. After all this time, I have found nothing.”

Azalee head tilted to the side, curious for his answer and watching as her words penetrated his nervousness and doubt. He moved the glass aside and reached for her hands, no longer afraid of touching her.

“There’s emptiness everywhere I go,” his voice earnest and more confident. “In my house. At work. I feel like Death would be a more welcomed companion than this loneliness.”

His hands were soft and clammy in hers and her body’s warmth drained into him as the pain of his loneliness seeped into her—an icy heartache that mirrored her own. Her gift to feel and relieve others of painful emotions was bittersweet on a good day, and tears dripped down her face as he wished and prayed for someone to love him back just as she had prayed to the loa only a few weeks earlier.

“I will do as you wish, Vernon,” she said, a hiccup caught in her throat as their pain melded together. “I will read the bones and the loa show me the way to find your renmen.”

Vernon looked up at her not realizing that she had been crying too, and clenched her hands tighter.

“Ren-men,” he said as he sounded it out slow. “That means love, right? You’ll really do it.”

“Loa, they take time, but yes. I will find love for you. The risk is worth the pain, yes?”

The relief in his eyes and his heart traveled through to Azalee and the coldness of his pain receded until only hope was left. She felt a whisper of air brush against her ear, a sign from the loa that this man was pure of heart. He had suffered long and with the guidance of the loa she agreed he was worthy of a love spell.

After refilling his glass with tea and ice, Azalee set to work gathering the ingredients for his talisman. She took a rosemary and yarrow from the herb jars on the counter and plucked a white flower and placed them all in a glass bowl. Next to the bowl, was a thick canvas cloth with symbols embroidered in purple stitching, which she handed to Vernon.

5bbb8c49b28b103ee0b6dfe864a8d3d0

“This cloth must have part of you for the spell to work,” she motioned quickly to the sweat dripping from his forehead. “As you dry your face, think of what your heart desires most.”

He took it without question and slowly soaked the sweat from his forehead and brow with the cloth. His eyes were closed and his jaw clenched as he thought hard. When he opened them, Azalee had taken the cloth and filled it with the herbs and other items he could not recognize.

“In two week time, you come to me again with the moon high in the sky. I will read the bones for you and then the talisman will be ready.”
“Two weeks?” he asked. “Why so long? Can’t I just take it now?”

She shook her head and her beaded braids clinked like tiny chimes in a gentle breeze. His impatience should have been bothersome, but instead it excited her to do her work—to give back to her community as her mother and great-grandmother before her had. As every Mambo did at the command of the loa. When Vernon left, the spirits would speak to her and weave the magic that would bring one man to the woman who needed him as much as he needed her.

Hope you enjoyed this little piece of Azalee with her customer.

Happy Reading and Writing my lovely minions!

Leave a comment

Filed under Breaking News, Fiction-Read and React

Like A Boss: Writing Exercises for your Work in Progress

François_Boucher_019_(Madame_de_Pompadour)

This was one of the first “appropriate” pictures that came up when I searched for Mistress. I think it’s perfect. She even has a book and writing materials!

I may only be Mistress of Fine Arts, but I am boss (my favorite trendy adjective, by the way) at using writing exercises to maximizing their use on my current work in progress. In almost every workshop or writing group I’ve attended in the past four or five years, my novel Dollhouse Daughter has always been at the forefront of my mind to finish and get it into the hands of my future readers. It’s been a long road and like all masterpieces is still incomplete.

As accomplished as I felt after completing my degree, my novel was in urgent need of structural renovations, character makeovers, and an addition of approximately 100 pages…at least! Add to that a start date of January and a deadline of July, and you have a recipe for confusion, disaster, stress, complete meltdown.

My sweet, beloved minions must be asking, “Mistress, how can you pull that off when you’ve expressed many times how slow your muse works, how you are notoriously slow to get new content written, and how much you procrastinate?”

images (1)

Yes, this is what writing exercise looks like!

My answer…drum roll please…WRITING EXERCISES. Now you’re thinking, “Okay, but those are just to help with the fundamentals and they aren’t even fun.”

Except my minions, they are! Character charts filled out like dating profiles, timelines for plots handwritten on notecards and taped to the wall, writing prompts specifically geared toward the book’s subject. When a book requires this much attention to detail or revising, the key is organization and focus.

Take for example my new outline for the revised plot. I have three separate pages of lined paper, draw so that on the left column you have the major points in the plot: obstacles, midpoint, denouement. And on the right side some keep points or summaries of the chapter’s contents.

3-act-structure

This diagram is both easy to outline with and also not too simplified.

The reason I have three? Well, my book has a main character (Cassie), with a subplot and important point of view from her mother (Marge), and a secondary mother-like character (Azalee). In the current version, let’s call it my MFA version, it had a lot of Cassie (as expected) and she was present in all 15 chapters. Marge was present in about 13 chapters. Azalee was only present in only 6 chapters. Thus I had to equalize the distribution of mother and mother-like character in order for the book to be balanced.

So, now that I was organized, I needed to focus. And here’s where my writing exercises came in handy. I needed new content, and a lot of it was for Azalee because she is a catalyst for the change Cassie had been waiting for.

I’m starting by using my monthly prompts (which you can read about here) in reference to write new content about Azalee, and thus add more content to my book. I feel like it’s an kind of art to take seemingly unrelated exercises, like prompts which pose a different story and genre in each one, and write a chapter or scene somehow related to one piece. This month, I chose a prompt about love spells and how someone would ever come to the decision to use magic to make someone love them. And who better to write this scene with than my vodou priestess!

So, I’m going to share my three tips for using writing exercises to benefit your current work in progress.

  1. Most stories beyond their theme or genre are about people, so choosing a character based prompt that focuses on why a character is making decisions or how they’re feeling are best. They are easiest to apply to many story ideas. You could use the love spell one, most obviously, for fantasy, but if you interpret spell differently you can use it as a scientific breakthrough or natural phenomenon in science fiction, or an emotional state for realistic fiction like romances or westerns or mysteries (to clarify: someone’s emotions are so strong, to call it a love spell would be a figurative description of the emotions). The most important part about that prompt is the intention or emotion you’re focusing on about the person willing to use a love “spell” on someone else is quite a character to write.
  2. There are hundreds of prompts out there that you can tailor to what you’re looking for. If you have a character who will soon have a flashback to childhood, but you’re having trouble envisioning that character. A prompt like this would help you find out what details to include with the flashback by creating the child’s setting: Imagine your character’s childhood room. What color are the walls, what kind of toys do they have, what posters hanging on the wall.
  3. Lastly, don’t be afraid to write something completely off topic. Say your work in progress is located in a warm climate. Don’t be afraid to choose a prompt relating to snow or ice because it puts your characters in a completely different environment or situation and can reveal something truly remarkable or unknown for you to use in your actual piece.

Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to use simple, seemingly unrelated writing exercises to help you and your characters get to know each other. Because getting to know your characters in any situation, no matter how ridiculous, is the most efficient way you can tell your story. Look out for the prompt submission I’ll be posting on 2/22 using my vodou priestess Azalee and how she handles a love spell. If you want to read more about the prompt I used or want to try one of your own. Check out my monthly prompts chosen here.

Happy reading and writing!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Breaking News, Idea of the Day

Day 9: 12 Days of Blogmas

Another more relaxing post for Blogmas.

stock-vector-santa-zombie-walking-with-hands-in-front-112995805

Blargh Little children brainssss!

AND ZOMBIE SANTA!

This is a post with fiction!! Fiction from my manuscript Dollhouse Daughter!

I know my minions will be excited to get a glimpse at some of my well-revised work that, not to brag too much, has its merits. These two scenes are from the prologue and gasp! were both written via prompts. The fateful semester with Janice had many positives, one of which being that almost every single prompt I was given I used to write new content for my manuscript.

This is unlike what most writers use prompts for as the likelihood that taking almost completely unrelated items such as prompts which can vary from: use these set of words, write; here is a setting and a set of rules, write; here is the beginning five words to a sentence, write; here is a picture, write.

I was writing a YA novel with magical realism (specifying in vodou) and all of my prompts could have been way off base. I could have had: write a story set in a western ghost town, use this picture of a spaceship and write, etc. All of which would make my job, to write and make the writing relevant to my work in progress incredibly difficult.

In truth, I was just lucky. They were aptly detailed (not too much, not too little) and I was able to quickly write scenes I needed rather than nonsense I would never use. These two scenes were the most emotionally satisfying when used with the prompt. Shown below are the prompts that inspired the scene and then the scene. Enjoy my lovelies!

1.Bathrooms. Marion Winik (wonderful author that was a guest for our program) mentioned the fear of writing bathrooms, and now we shall tackle it. Also, read the link to help understand the use of bathrooms for characterization.Part of being a writer means having to ground your reader in the characters, which may require them using the bathroom. Your prompt is to write a character in or using the bathroom.

From the outside Azalee’s weathered one-bedroom apartment looked like a garden shed. Cracked mortar held the faded bricks into place, and the roof lost patches of brown shingles as a man might lose his hair in old age. Azalee stood in the cramped bathroom stark naked as she stared at herself in the mirror. She hated this bathroom, so claustrophobic and meager. There was only enough room to fit a toilet, a porcelain tub, and a smudged mirror with chunks missing from the bottom of the glass. Through the screen of the porthole window, the traffic outside her apartment blared up to the second floor where she dressed for the evening.

The bare light bulb reflected the dingy yellow of the walls onto her skin, which left Azalee feeling dirty even after she turned off the light. She warmed the sweet smelling cocoa butter in her hands before massaging it into every dimple of her trim abdomen and shoulders. She took extra care to rub the stretch marks and the scar protruding down her empty womb. Every time Azalee touched the incision, she could feel the ghost of the child stir inside her as if it was still alive. Her lips trembled as she whispered the unborn child’s name.

“Johanna,” her thick accent slurring the consonants together. “My Johanna.”

She brushed away tears from her cheeks and moved to the porcelain tub filled with more herbs to cleanse her legs and feet. Fresh sprigs of mint floated in a few inches of lukewarm water along with halved limes and sage. She used a small blue mug to pour the fragrant water over her legs, and let out a sigh of contentment from the warmth. Just as she picked up a towel, she heard sharp knocking from downstairs.

She quickly rubbed herself down and dusted herself in a mixture of cornstarch and cocoa before adjusting a backless red blouse and pulled on a pair of slick leather pants. Azalee flew down toward her apartment door as another knock echoed through the front hall. When she opened it, Jean knelt before her on the stoop as a knight would honor his queen. The pedestrians ignored the scene, hurrying home before the chill of the rain seeped through their coats and into their bones. She kissed her dark-skinned lover lightly on the forehead and he followed her silently into a dark alleyway.

2.This prompt was simple. Write using an abstract concept (like eternity/courage/love) or animals. I chose animals.

The chatter of bones pierced the comfortable silence of the quaint Georgian courtyard. Azalee threw the contents of a velvet pouch with force into a decorative wooden pan balanced on the brick walkway. A white robe concealed her street clothes in keeping with the traditional Vodou attire. She had only a few minutes to complete the ritual of reading the bones before the energy from the lunar eclipse would fade.  Azalee peered intently at the odds and ends mingled with the bleached animal bones, clenching her hands into her lap because the loa wouldn’t appreciate such nervousness coming from a priestess. She calculated how each piece had landed next to one another, letting the flow of the reading guide what answer the loa would give her.

Her lover gently grasped her shoulder, giving his reassurance, despite the growing fear in her heart. It was at the will of the loa that she would find purpose again. A reason for her sacrifice. An explanation to why her daughter was taken from her before her first breath. With the reading complete, she returned the bones to the pouch, and cleared her thoughts to meditate. The clucking of their offering, a black hen, also soothed her nerves as it bobbed back and forth along one of the paths. Jean returned to the recess of a nearby alcove, waiting for his part in the ritual—spilling the blood of the chicken as an offering to the gatekeeper, Papa Legba.

A cup of black coffee steamed beside her even in the blistering humidity, and brought a sense of comfort as Jean offered the hen and her blood to the loa. The rich scent of coffee had muddled with the coppery tang of blood and Jean retreated to his drum and began to play behind her. The scents took her mind away from the distractions of modern life. She no longer heard cars honking across the road, the glare of the street lamp, or the taste of her lover’s cigarette smoke still on her tongue. Only the offerings of the ritual and the soft drumming remained, leaving her open to the will of the loa.

“Cassandra,” the wind called once more that day.

She turned to see Jean in the passion of the beat, seemingly unaware of the voice in the wind. With the voice came a vision, although this one was not as clear as what she’s accustomed to seeing. She saw flashes of books, a head of white blonde hair, and the pale, almost translucent skin of a young girl. The face was concealed from her, but the emotions that accompanied brought her out of the vision and caused a heart-wrenching cry to escape her lips. Jean stopped drumming and ran to her, checking her pulse and brushing her braids out of the way. Tears streamed down her face and yet Azalee had reason to smile.

“The loa show me our future, Cheri. There is a girl that we must find. A girl we will deliver from a life of pain and who will deliver us.”

Azalee thanked the spirits again for their guidance, setting the bowl of chicken blood before her as the offering. Jean knelt beside her now, not speaking, simply allowing her prayer to guide them in the right direction. To the girl named Cassandra.

 

I hope you enjoy this little glimpse at my first novel.

Happy Reading/Writing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Breaking News, Fiction-Read and React

Day 4: 12 Days of Blogmas

Welcome to Day 4 of  Blogmas minions!

tumblr_inline_nypwd7YVZY1t45i34_540

Today I want to share the first of a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of a writing prompt.

3396473

It is difficult enough for a writer to decide on a story’s beginning, its main conflict, or its content without outside influence. It can be even worse with the wrong kind of prompt.

In terms of origin, I believe the prompt was developed as a form of guided free-writing. That seems like an oxymoron, but when a writer is operating at lower creative speeds or at a full stop (writer’s block to those who believe in its existence) a guided free-write, in the form of an idea or beginning phrase to help inspire a new, unusual, or wacky story.

 

While this may seem like a cute, quirky little exercise to help young writers to learn how to develop character or the importance of place, it’s grounded in a lesson every writer can learn from.

Sometimes creativity needs a little help. It can come in the form of a suggestion from a beta reader, a new character or inspiration, or thinking of a story from a different angle. And this is where the prompt comes in. A good prompt can be used one of two ways: as the inception of a new idea or to help open your mind on your current work in progress.

And the quality of the prompt is how you optimize your use of the prompt. Take for example my first prompt: Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…

It’s the beginning to a new story or simply a new scene. Depending on your style and content it could fit into a current work in progress or begin a whole new set of characters for you to fall in love with.

So, back to the prompt. It’s specific in its imagery, the descriptions of the snow and the moon, setting up a place, a tone, and even a character. It also brings you into a bit of action moving the blackbird in the second sentence. And at the same time it’s not too specific. It could be the beginning of a typical winter for Massachusetts  or a fantastical alternate universe where global warming causes snowfall in the Amazon at the time of the harvest moon. How ever you interpret the prompt, it should allow you enough information that you’re not staring at a blank page, but not confining you to someone else’s idea.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes a prompt well-written and useful. When it can guide your creativity towards a single focus (maybe not on your current work in progress), but something new and fresh to get your mind going. And if you’re lucky, it can turn into something helpful for your work in progress. For some it’s just in terms of getting the creativity working. For others, it can be just the medicine they needed in order to get their mind back to their work in progress.

For me, prompts have been most effective at bringing me new sides of a story I’m struggling with. Dollhouse Daughter (my Master’s manuscript)  has several scenes that would not be in there if not for writing prompts. The entire prologue is the prime example. The last part of the prologue was written with a prompt (courtesy of my beloved mentor Janice Eidus) that had to use the word animal, bones, and one other word (that eludes me). It was the perfect opportunity to showcase a vodou ritual that begged to be written into my story.

Each prompt may not yield such great results or end up in the final draft, but it will do this: give you something to think and to write about.

So, next time you’re stuck or in need of something new to do. Pick a prompt. Pick a friend and write one together.  And then share it with me I’d love to read your prompts.

Happy reading and writing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Breaking News

Bringing Characters to Life: Your Book As a Movie

Every writer has done it at one point or another. Even without meaning to, we all imagine what it would be like to see our story, our characters, our heart on the big screen. It typically happens after the book is out in the world, published and gathered a following, but for me the daydream came after I shared my completed work with a very trusted friend. With at least 30 books being made into movies just in 2014, it’s not uncommon to consider a book potentially being made into a movie after its completion. IF you climb your way onto the NY Times list or achieve fangirl/fanboy status with a large enough demographic (the two things aren’t mutually exclusive) because both will ultimately lead your book(s) down the path to Hollywood greatness.

PhotoGrid_1419820546984

While visiting family for Christmas, some inquired thoughtfully about what plans I had with the manuscript now that I’m nearing the completion of my Master’s degree. Besides asking about the title, subject, etc. of the book, they  were anticipating on my novel being so popular that it could be the next Hunger Games. I’d like to point out here that this is not my goal. The Hunger Games are phenomenal movies, and based off of stellar YA books, but my plans or writing is never in attempt to be the next “whoever”. Sure, Dollhouse Daughter is YA and  it has elements of fantasy much like the book to movie versions making waves in the box office.  However, that wasn’t my original intentional. I wrote Cassie’s story (and Marge’s) because they deserved a chance to be heard.

And yet, the thought of seeing my story on the big screen is thrilling. My characters, my funny bits of dialogue spoken by actors trying to capture the same essence I wrote into the book. It would be an accomplishment beyond my furthest expectations.

Now that the book is nearly finished (pending revisions/epilogue) I want to share my inspirations and casting choices if the powers that be would decide my book should be made into a movie. Please note, some characters will have both inspirational photos and popular actors shown while others have inspirational  photos only. In addition, the choices are almost exclusively made in regards to physical descriptions. So, without further delay, I give you:

 

Left is actress from Newfaces.com and right is Elle Fanning

Left is actress from Newfaces.com and right is Elle Fanning

Cassandra Brooks-13 years old

Inspiration-This was the first picture I found that reminded me of what my brain had conjured for Cassie. It’s nowhere near exact, but the white blonde hair, bright, clear eyes, and a simple beauty of budding pubescence.  The actress was found on New Faces, where most of the “inspirational photos” listed in this post have come from, and provided a foundation for what was cooking in my brain.

Hollywood-Elle Fanning is my choice for Cassie. She has a sweet demeanor and an innocence that fits perfectly for the personality of Cassie. And as fate would have it, I’ve found a photo of her wearing a summer romper similar to the one I imagined Marge dressing Cassie in Chapter 5.

 

From New Faces or Google

From New Faces or Google

Mita Lachman-13 years old

Inspiration- I found this girl, I think on New Faces also, but I’m not sure. She was actually the exact image of who I expected Cassie’s bff to be even down to the red bindi on her brow. I haven’t found a Hollywood comparison, but we’ve got some time considering the book hasn’t even been published. Maybe I should be thinking Bollywood instead of Hollywood for the actress choice. I didn’t want to make her stereotypical for someone of Indian descent, but I absolutely adore the Bollywood and more traditional Persian fashion that it was impossible not to include a character as straightforward as Mita.

 

 

Left is inspiration from New Faces and Right is Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction

Left is inspiration from New Faces and Right is Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction

Marge (Bristler) Brooks-45 years old

Inspiration-This one was difficult. Finding the right look for Marge was a careful blend of strong, feminine features and crazy eyes. The actress found fit most of the description I wanted: strong, angular cheeks with eyes that command attention and wavy light hair that could have easily been teased and out of control when she was younger.

Hollywood-This choice was even more difficult, but my good friend mentioned at the beginning of the post came to my rescue. During our discussion of premium A-list actresses to take on the demands of a narcissistic, obsessive compulsive  mother whose defining moment in her personality was finally beating her mother (both physically and emotionally) into submission. Glenn Close is perfect for the role. After villainous characters such as Cruella De Vil or Claire from The Stepford Wives, Glenn Close is uniquely qualified to play my deranged Marge.

 

henry

Inspiration from New Faces and Jason Bateman on the right

Henry Brooks- 43 years old

Inspiration-This actor from New Faces captures the roughness I was hoping to express with Henry. His history of working in the coal mines hardened him in a way. He even kept the disheveled look even after he was promoted to a project manager position (cozy office job) almost as a physical manifestation of the difficult marriage with Marge. And yet there are times where he is allowed to show emotion when it comes to Cassie and his father. I think the combination of these physical descriptions and emotional experiences will make Henry a pleasing character for the audience.

Hollywood- Jason Bateman.  Good looking, talented, and capable of the hardened, stoic persona that Henry gives off while also managing to be heartfelt and utterly adorable when needed. Other than that, there’s not much else I could ask for. Just put Jason Bateman in some flannel and work boots and give him a slight Pennsylvanian accent and he’s perfect.

 

nathan

Inspiration from New Faces and Matt Kane on the right

Nathan Brooks-21 years old

Inspiration-Like most of the inspirational photos, I found this fellow at New Faces, and for the life of me never wrote down the names. Yet, he captures the gorgeous perfection I wanted for the Brooks golden boy. His hair naturally brown, but dyes it black after meeting girlfriend Miranda who requires a specific “look” for her boyfriends.

Hollywood-From Switched at Birth and Once Upon a Time, Matt Kane is a prime model of male physique to play Nathan. He, in all honesty, doesn’t require much in the way of acting prowess. He’s just a regular 20-something who’s trying to get along with his family while also trying to separate himself and grow up.

 

Now that we’ve covered the main characters before the Brooks move to Georgia (spoilers, I know), I wanted to show case some of the more prominent characters in the rest of the story.

Starting first with my antagonists, Jessica and Clarence O’Donnell. Enter two perfect specimens of Southern grooming, accentuated by lots of money and encouragement from society to be the best out of everyone. And then add one, uncomfortable, slightly introverted, neglected young girl (Cassie) to the mix and you have instant teenage drama.

Bella Thorne for Jessica O'Donnell

Bella Thorne for Jessica O’Donnell

Jessica O’ Donnell- 16 years old

Jessica didn’t have an inspiration to begin with, so I ended up finding her Hollywood match from the start. Bella Thorne is perfect…literally.  Cassie refers to Jessica as a Barbie in her internal dialogue, which can only accentuate Jessica’s perfection. This picture to the left is as close as I could get to what I thought she’d look like. My only change would be to lighten Bella’s hair to a fair, strawberry blonde.  And the eyes. Both Clarence and Jessica have the same shade of blue eyes, so we’d have to affix both Thorne and Brodie-Sangster with different colored pupils. No biggie in the way of movie magic.

 

Clarence O’Donnell- 13 years old

Left is Inspiration from the Googles and Right is Thomas Brodie-Sangster (specifically in his role for Doctor Who)

Left is Inspiration from the Googles and Right is Thomas Brodie-Sangster (specifically in his role for Doctor Who)

Now onto Clarence, who by the picture (above right) was an adorable young boy in my mind, and perfect for my leading lady to fall for, right? Who doesn’t expect a YA book to movie to have a teen heartthrob that the main character struggles with at first and then  grows to love within the confines of the film. And that’s what makes Clarence so clever. Teen heartthrob is a must, and so when it came to choosing the Hollywood actor for my book to movie version, I wanted someone heartthrobby enough to capture the hearts of young movie-goers, but able to crush their hearts with his arrogance (acting). Thomas is perfect for it. His work in Doctor Who as a bratty school boy is an ideal foundation for Clarence.

 

Next is a much more positive character– Jean Abellard. 27 years old. Caretaker. Haitian. Friend. Lover. He’s the kind, Southern man that keeps Cassie grounded and allows her to be herself while at home with people who don’t really know her. My inspiration skipped straight to the actor I’d love to play Jean sans hair in this picture–K.C. Collins from my favorite show, Lost Girl.  He’s a phenomenal Canadian actor who would capture the grace and casual handsomeness that I had hoped for Jean.

jean

 

 

And last, but certainly not least, my favorite character–Azalee Longchamp-26 years old. The short (least spoiler-ridden) description is that Azalee is the shining light in the dreariness of Cassie’s existence. Take the compassion of a mother who lost a child too soon, add a little mystery, a little vodou magic and faith, sprinkle in a bit of spiritual intervention, a dash of calculated recklessness and what do you have. A gorgeous, confident vodou priestess in the market for a young girl to teach the ways of the world and keep her on her toes.

left is inspiration, middle is Kat Graham, and right is hairspiration for Azalee

left is inspiration, middle is Kat Graham, and right is hairspiration for Azalee

We’ll start first with the inspiration. In the prologue I describe the below outfit in what hopefully is an aptly written description that isn’t too specific or too vague (that’s really the dream isn’t it?). And so I direct your attention to the full-figured photo above left for the outfit that first inspired my vodou priestess. Next to that image, in the center, is my Hollywood choice–Kat Graham. She’s currently most notable for playing the witch Bonnie Bennett is The Vampire Diaries, which makes her uniquely equipped to handle supernaturally-based roles. She’s the perfect skin tone, age, temperament. Well, she’s everything. The photo to the right is the hairspiration for Azalee’s beautiful locks. While I’d like to say she would keep Graham’s dark locks, the box braids on the right in that warm caramel shade is exactly what I pictured for Azalee. Granted, there were also little beads and many many more braids, but that is neither here nor there when your imagination can fill in the blanks.

Alas, there was one other actress who could have played Azalee. Angela Bassett would have been brilliant for the role, but I wanted to shy from the current portrayal of Marie Laveau and New Orleans voodoo in American Horror story. It is my most treasured goal for Dollhouse Daughter to highlight the traditional vodou found in Haiti, which can be seen in the different spellings between the Haitian vodou and New Orleans voodoo in this very post. I want to celebrate the wonder and glory of the vodou faith and beliefs, which can get muddled in the theatrics of the New Orleans influence. I love them both, but Azalee and co. come from Haiti and represent a purer form of vodou that has captured my heart in the years I’ve researched and written this book.

In the end, the actors, the photos, the inspiration is simply another way to bring the story and characters to life. I, by no stretch of the imagination, assume that my book will be good enough to make it onto the big screen. But it is a dream. A dream that one day I hope you, my lovely minions, may support and help me achieve. For now, I hope you enjoy this post and look for some excerpts of the novel to come in the near future!

Lastly, I leave you with an adorable kitty selfie. Happy reading/writing!

IMG_20141223_001731

The Spotted Writer and her Spotted Inspiration- Nyla. Future book jacket photo? Maybe!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Idea of the Day

Not So Trivial Pursuit of the Perfect Novel: Colloquialism and Place

Welcome minions! I’m finally adding another installment to this never-ending blog series. I find myself looking forward to these posts more and more because it gives me a chance to truly reflect on what kind of piece I’m developing and to share what I’ve learned along the way.

Onto the topic at hand—where is my story going? No, I’m not talking about the plot or the character’s movements from room to room. I’m talking about the where. The setting. The place. Whatever you call it, it’s the magic behind the scenes or a character all its own. In the dozens of writing workshops and seminars I’ve attended, place isn’t something you just throw in or use without proper consideration.

Not utilizing the full potential of place is as much of a writing crime as too many adverbs. This may not be a carved-in-stone rule of writing, but hell what rule is carved in stone? Mostly, I just want to express how underutilized place is in a ton of commercial writing. When I say commercial writing, I mean books that are made with the intention of being sold or published on the commercial market i.e. Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Scribd etc. Whether it costs money to read your book or not, never ever forget about place. It represents the where in the all-important foundation of your story (simplified: who, what, when, where, why).

If you simply choose New York for your  alien story because it’s easy—think again! Place can ground readers in history like Anglo Saxon Britain or allow the reader an escape to a faraway galaxy uncharted by humanity. I, for one, have fallen prey to laziness in this department for a few of my unfinished pieces that I dare not share with the world yet. This is especially true for my earlier drafts of Dollhouse Daughter, which was initially set in London during the late 1700’s. Without knowing it, I set myself up for disaster.

I knew nothing about the 1700’s much less London in that period. It was after two pages that I made the switch to a modern London with a few chapters based in modern U.S. The change in period was a fantastic relief because it made my job as the writer so much easier, but I unknowingly still struggled with place. My manuscript, still untitled at that time, had grown to a whopping six chapters before my laziness caught up with me. Eventually, my Irish mentor suggested I write what I know because in the chapters I’d written there was little to nothing about British culture. At that moment, I realized the right place for my story wasn’t in London; it was a town called Warrenton, Georgia.

Step 1–to finding the true place for your story is research. A normal part of every story has at least some research. Outside of realm of “write what you know”, we wordsmiths crawl onto the world wide web searching for delectable bits of information. Now that I’ve found the right setting for Cassie’s story, I had to figure out what it meant to live in the deep South. Being a native Northerner, I had quite the task ahead of me, but research is only useful if you…well, if you use it. So, I studied youtube videos, pictures, and articles in hopes that I could catch the essence of Warrenton. But I couldn’t research too much. I had to put a limit on how much I perused because I’m not writing an essay of the culture of the deep South. I only need to learn enough to keep my story moving. And I hope others can appreciate place a little more after sharing the fundamentals I used in my own novel.

Step 2–Dialect is both the easiest and hardest part of showing place because it can be simple for someone to write a dialect they know, and so easy to create stereotypes or bog the story down with unintelligible dialogue.  Mark Twain is by far the best and most controversial example of how dialect can transform a simple novel ( The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) to a piece of timeless literature. He had a magic formula that made his writing seem realistic without distracting from the story. So my challenge was not only to include accurate, exciting Southern dialect to give the right characters flavor, but my Haitian Kreyòl had to be just as present if I wanted to truly represent the vodou of  Haiti. It was even more thrilling to know that my past French classes were put to good use since it was a major component in the construction of Kreyòl as a language.  Below are just some examples of my own use of dialect in Dollhouse Daughter:

Southern:

“Burn my biscuits, that woman’s nose is up so high in the clouds she could drown in a rainstorm,” Betty said.

“And just to ruffle my feathers, that foul woman had the au-da-city to tell me that Sandy should be having little Samantha baptized in a Lutheran church instead of St. John’s.”

Oh, honey,” Jessica said, flashing her too-bright teeth. “It’s all Coke in Georgia. They mustn’t teach common sense in them Northern schools.”

Haitian:

“No, pitit mwen, it will not hurt.”

“Papi, please hear me.Your LeeLee needs guidance.”

“Bonjou, pitit Brigitte,” he bellowed, his baritone voice thunderous even against the sound of the drums. “You have come to us humble vodouisants on a special evening. Tonight we celebrate the changing of the moon by meeting Mambo Azalee’s nouvo zanmi, Cassandra from the North.”

IMG_20140906_125311

Let me know what you think and especially if anything screams out as being inaccurate or unrealistic because I want to make it the best it possibly can be. The next installation of N.S.T.P.P.N. will be coming up shortly with an emphasis still heavily devoted to place. It should be posted within the next few days, so don’t forget to check back. And as always Happy Reading and Writing!

IMG_20140905_135622

 

 

IMG_20140907_153223

Leave a comment

Filed under Idea of the Day