Guest Post: Writing for Three by Anne E. Johnson

I had the good fortune to meet Anne at Headhouse Books in Philadelphia, where she gave a spectacular reading from Green Light Delivery back in May of this year.  She’s a fabulous and versatile writer, and I do mean versatile.  She writes short stories and novels for practically all age groups, including children, young people, and adults.  In this guest post, she shows us the fine art of keeping her trio of Webrid Chronicles main characters distinct.  ~~Mo

The Webrid Chronicles are about Webrid, obviously. But he can’t save the world alone. Part of my job as an author is to make sure the reader can distinguish Webrid from his fellow main characters, and to keep those distinctions consistent throughout each novel and the series as a whole.

These Three Musketeers in Space could not be less like each other. Most obviously, each of them has unique physical traits. Let’s say, they would never be mistaken for siblings (except for the way they argue). It’s equally important that these three characters be distinguishable by their speech mannerisms. As is true with every human I know, these aliens speak in a way defined by their upbringing and self-image.

Webrid is huge, bulky, and hairy, with claws and sharp teeth. He couldn’t care less what he’s wearing, and he doesn’t think or speak in complete sentences. He’s clumsy and often hungover, as we find him the morning after a night of partying in chapter 1:

From his vantage point on the floor, he could see his pants from yesterday, poking out from under an overturned chair. They were good as new once he shook the glass dust out of them. He had the claws of one foot caught in the first pant leg when someone knocked on his door.

“Crap,” he said to the universe. “Yeah, comin’!” he called to his visitor. He bumped his head on a wall lamp while hopping down the hallway. “Who is it?” The question was followed by a musical rrrrrip as his claws sliced through the cloth. “Aw, freakin’ hell.”

Stravin, Webrid’s drinking buddy, is slender and neat. He decorates his downy white feathers with expensive, fashionable clothes. He’s an engineering genius and clearly educated at the finest schools. Like Webrid, Stravin appreciates pleasure, but as a delicacy, not a smorgasbord:

“Come in, come in,” urged the slender, feather-coated man. He wagged a long, downy-white finger at the cart. “My dearest Webrid, I thought you’d forsworn this carting nonsense.” Before Webrid could reply, Stravin motioned into the foyer. “Ah, well. Just roll it into the front hallway. Nothing else to be done, I suppose, since I know you won’t leave it outside.” Quietly, but just loud enough for Webrid to hear, he added, “And this way my neighbors won’t see it.”

Once the cart was parked, Stravin dragged Webrid toward a velvet-covered ramp. “Burrow those giant cloppers into the sweet softness, my dear.”

“What?”

“Your feet, you brute. Into the footholds.”

Webrid didn’t see any footholds, but he stepped onto the ramp as he’d been ordered. The velvet swallowed his toes and heels. “Hey!”

“Don’t struggle so, darling. Think of it like sex. Just let it happen naturally.”

And then there’s Zatell. She and Stravin go way back. She has an illegal interplanetary rocket taxi service, and keeps her very own rocket in her back yard. (Never mind that she’s a truly awful pilot.) But the most remarkable thing about her is her shape. Zatell has about thirty little hand-feet encircling her round body-head. She walks by rolling or cartwheeling. And she talks like somebody whose defense mechanisms are always on full-blast:

“You stinky hoongofl!” she cried as she rolled toward the passenger side of Stravin’s car. “I haven’t seen you in ages. What sewer have you been hiding in? Is there even a sewer wide enough to hold your ugly butt?”

Talking to Zatell was like talking to the working girls at Joolo’s Skinny Dip Club. Webrid knew better than to be offended at the trash that spewed out of their mouths. Laughing warmly, he bent way down and gave Zatell’s puckered face a nuzzle. “Hey, sweetheart. Lookin’ good!”

As with all inseparable friends, these three sometimes need to be pulled apart before they blacken each other’s eyes. But they’d also lay down their lives for each other without a moment’s pause.

Thanks for dropping by, Anne!  I can hardly wait to dig into the latest escapades of Webrid, Stravin, and Zatell!  

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You can learn more about Anne E. Johnson at her website.

Purchase Blue Diamond Delivery directly from the publisher, Candlemark & Gleam, or on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Don’t miss the rest of Anne’s blog tour stops, which include author AND character interviews, more terrific articles, a giveaway, and a space music countdown!

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Patterns I can’t ignore

Some of my friends and readers aspire to be writers.  A lot of them tell me that they struggle to sit down and write consistently enough to finish their projects, and many have asked how I managed to do it.  I don’t have the answer for them.  In this first blog about writing, I offer the story of my discovery about what worked and is still working for me.  I hope you find it useful.

By nature, I’m the kind of person who can’t help but notice patterns.  I’m also a novelist who is keenly aware of the fact that writing and everything associated with it is consuming copious amounts of my thoughts, energy, and time while I’m immersed in writing the first draft of the second novel in the Staves of Warrant series.  Being aware of the effects the writing process has on me didn’t come as a surprise.  What did sneak up on me was an evolution in the pattern of those effects.  Let me explain.

In 2008, I began writing a medieval fantasy series that ultimately grew to five novels over a period of two years.  While I was writing them, my writing/life pattern was an absurd contradiction of emotions and priorities.  I was miserable, tormented, unable to function happily and effectively in more ways than I care to remember.  At the same time, I was elated, mentally stimulated, creative, driven to write, write, and write.  In early 2011, I burned the manuscripts and destroyed the electronic files of those novels for a number of reasons, the most significant of which was that they didn’t tell the story I wanted to tell.

Later that same year, my writing/life pattern changed, and I wrote the first novel in the Worlds of Warrant series.  This time, my emotions and priorities were in sync.  I slept soundly and long enough to feel rested, ate healthy foods, took daily walks, and enjoyed being where I was and doing what I was doing.  Every day, I sat down with a writing goal for the chapter I was working on–character building, driving the plot, creating a setting, etc..  Yet, I gave myself permission every time my fingers touched the keyboard to let the characters and the story reveal themselves.  Yes, I had a plan, which included research, an outline, and notes.  Yes, it was work.  Yes, I had responsibilities above and beyond writing.  I’d had all those things when I wrote the previous novels.  But this time, neither the plan, the work, nor my non-writing hours were so restrained, subscribed, stressful, or overbooked that they didn’t allow room for the critical component missing from my previous pattern:  delight.

The change was so dramatic that I remember precisely when I became acutely aware of it.  I was sitting at the table in my lounge, typing an early chapter in the book.  I looked up and saw the spires of Lincoln Cathedral, a clear view of which I had from a bay window across the room.  My thought was that even though I had no idea where my life was going, I was in the right place at the right time and doing the right things.  I returned to writing and for the first time ever, it seemed my fingers couldn’t keep pace with the words that started flowing.  I typed like a madwoman, and the story didn’t flow; it insisted relentlessly.  Hours later, I typed the final words of the chapter.  It was then that I realized how I felt: literally breathless and acutely aware that I was filled with delight.

What accounted for the delight wasn’t that I’d finished a chapter.  Before I began the novel, I had made a commitment to myself to be aware of my life and how I was living it.  As I consciously explored the world around me in the context of how I felt as I explored it, the world took on a new hue, and so did my writing.  For the first time since I undertook the task of writing a novel, I was truly telling the story I wanted to tell, the story as it spoke itself to me.

For me, the patterns of writing and living are one and the same.  Their patterns are intertwined strands of DNA, of the very thing that makes me who I am.  Life entails making plans and working consistently on a goal, just as writing does.  Making a commitment to myself to explore, to take the time to be aware, and to accept that I am in the right place at the right time doing the right things help me bypass distractions that interrupt my life/writing.  It gives me permission to let life and my stories tell their tales, and it makes both simply . . . delightful.

Happy writing!