The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Lost (War of Nytefall Book 2)

Glory to the Princess General!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

As the Vampire Civil War of Windemere rages on in the shadows, a mysterious girl appears to deliver mayhem to both sides.

Rumors of old-world vampires disappearing and mortals being attacked by an army of humanoid monsters have reached Clyde’s ears. Still learning how to rule the city of Nytefall as a strong, but fair leader instead of a vicious warlord, the former thief assumes he has rogue agents on his hands. Instead, his people stumble upon Lost, a teenage Dawn Fang looking for her father and aided by a decrepit bunny that might be an animated corpse. Bounding from one side of the Vampire Civil War to another, this carefree girl will turn out to be more trouble than she looks as all of the demons of her past emerge to get what they have been promised. Yet, her chaotic actions are nothing compared to the secret of her creation, which will change the very fabric of the Dawn Fangs’ world.

It is time for the womb-born to be revealed.

Book Excerpt: Lair of the Thief

The four-story building looks no different than those around it, except for the window shutters being on the inside. A winged hound statue sits on the flat roof and leans over the eave, its eyes locked with a matching piece across the street. Clyde stares up at the red-eyed decoration while blindly waving to those who excitedly greet him. Licking his lips, he kneels in front of the door and picks the lock in a few seconds. He still pushes it open as carefully as possible in case there is a chain, which he snaps with a simple flick of his finger. The vampire slips inside and nearly bumps into a pile of bags that are leaking silver coins. Closing the door behind him, Clyde is amazed at all of the treasure that is left in the hallway and rooms. A bedroom to his right is filled with jeweled armor that nobody would wear for battle, the metal visibly fatigued from having so many gems fused to its surface. Moving without a sound, he takes in the sight of jewelry hanging from hooks and goblets meticulously stacked to the ceiling. He stops at the entrance to what used to be a bathroom and has now been turned into a storage place for a ten-foot tall fountain that once stood in a Gaian courtyard. Heading for the second floor, Clyde can see that the nearby kitchen has been left untouched by the widespread hording as well as uncleaned. A sniff of the air tells him that the mess is recent and is a combination of chocolate and hot sauce. Unnerved by the unfamiliar pairing, he moves with more caution and keeps his right fist ready to strike.

Reaching the third floor, Clyde hears the tinkling of coins falling and makes his way to the end of the hallway. He is about to enter the room when it finally dawns on him that he probably should have knocked before entering the house. The former thief scratches his head and turns towards the stairs only to look back at the door. With a shrug, Clyde creates an illusion of a loud bang at the front door and leans against the wall. It is only when he glances at the floor that he spots discarded clothes on the rug, including a hydra-skin jacket. Before he can hide or move for the stairs, the door opens and Mab walks out. Muttering curses, the brown-haired Dawn Fang is completely naked and fails to notice her old partner until she is halfway through with putting on her underwear. Neither of the vampires are sure of how much time has passed as they stare at each other in horror and discomfort. Clyde regains his senses and opens his mouth to talk, but he is immediately blinded by a clawed swipe to the face. He slumps to the floor as the burglar gathers her clothes and rushes back into the room, the door slamming hard enough to knock over several teetering piles of treasure throughout the house.

“What the hell, Mab!?”

“Don’t barge into my house!”

“First of all, I broke in. Second of all, are you bathing in coins?”

“I was counting my latest haul.”

“Why were you naked?”

“It’s hot in here!”

“Then open a window.”

“And let a burglar sneak in?”

Get War of Nytefall: Lost on Amazon for $2.99!
Add it to your Goodreads To-Read Lists!

*****

Start the adventure from the beginning with War of Nytefall: Loyalty!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

All Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”

   

The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from enspireusall.com. Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from popsugar.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.

What Is a “Real” Job?

I’m a freelancer. Under my given name or other names, I have

• Proofread books, articles, legal material
• Copy edited books


• Line edited books
• Written short stories, books, and curriculum
• Ghostwritten books


• Helped other authors develop their books
• Reviewed manuscripts
• Written standardized tests used in various states

For years, I worked in an office as a part-time or full-time editor. But as a freelancer, I work at home. For all of the above tasks, I have been paid by publishers or book packagers working with publishers. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times people have hinted at or even said outright that I don’t have a “real job.” By that I infer that people mean a job you do away from your home, one that pays benefits.

  

Is this (photo at left, representing someone working in the food industry) a “real” job? So, working on a computer at home isn’t?

I know people who have jobs outside of their homes but lack benefits, because their companies chose to avoid those. Would their jobs fall under the umbrella of “real”? I have also heard stories of people working in the food industry who complained about their jobs. They leave home every day to go to their places of employment. Does that mean their jobs aren’t real, if they say on social media, “I’m not gonna work here forever. Someday, I’m gonna get a ‘real’ job”?

When I searched for images to use with this post, I found a meme that discussed YouTubers. I chose not to use that image because I was not sure about copyright issues. Suffice it to say that some YouTubers make a large amount of money working at home making videos. Apparently, some people take issue with that.

Many writers are well acquainted with this sort of comparison. Some don’t think they can call themselves “real” writers because they either aren’t compensated for their work or are not compensated to the degree that authors like John Grisham or J. K. Rowling enjoy.

Still others have been told that they aren’t “real” writers, because they write books for children or teens. “Real” writers, according to those naysayers, write for adults.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of a conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. You know the one.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

The comment that really struck me was this by the Skin Horse:

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

When I struggle with being labeled as not having a “real” job or being a “real” writer, this conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit helps me move past the negativity of those who deem what I do as “less than” based on a subjective standard.

How about you? Ever been told, “You’re not a real [fill in the blank]”? What did you do?

Editing illustration from clker.com. Ghost writer image from seoblog.com. Chelsea Cheeseburger Shoppie and Petkin by Moose Toys. Pinkie Pie Equestria Girl doll by Hasbro. Photos by L. Marie. Velveteen rabbit illustration by William Nicholson found at commons.wikimedia.org.

Write to Please or Write with Ease (i.e., What I Really Want to Write)?

Hope you had a splendid Easter. I had an Easter meal at the home of some friends and came away with a ton of leftovers, including the Peeps in the photo below that my friend Carrie decorated. I’m useless at this type of thing by the way.

Before church, I watched a behind-the-scenes video by a music artist I love, which was about the making of a video for one of the songs on her latest album. During this video, she talked about how she was finally at a point where she was no longer desperate to please people. She didn’t say that as if to imply that she no longer cared if anyone bought her music. The songs she’d written for the album came from a place of confidence and joy, because she was finally free to be who she was.

Kirstea feels free to be who she is. But she hopes she won’t become a free meal for the giant owl standing near her.

I love that sense of coming to a place where you create the way you want to create. Yes, there are risks involved. You put your stuff out there and people might hate it. Or they might love your vision.

That video came at an interesting time. I’d recently had a conversation with a grad school classmate who asked me if I felt pressured to write a certain kind of story (i.e., contemporary realistic issue-based or something based on the mythology of my culture). Please do not misunderstand me. I love both kinds of stories. I’ve actually had a contemporary realistic novella published under a different name. But honestly, I gravitate to fantasy stories based on the mythology to which I am most familiar. I told my classmate that I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I write the stories based on characters who deeply interest me, regardless of whether they look like me or not.

I seldom lean in the direction that well-meaning people steer me. In college when people told me I needed to major in something “useful” (like biology, poli sci, or physics) rather than continue in the writing program (part of the English department), I continued in the writing program. Though they didn’t see the “use” of such a program, I found it very useful when I had to write books.

To be fair, under contract I’ve written books that other people had suggested I write based on a need (like a picture book for an ESL program). Some were ghostwritten, others as work for hire under my name. (L. Marie is a pen name, as many of you know.) Pleasing the client (usually a publisher or a famous person contracted by the publisher) was paramount.

But creating a world like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, or Charles Yallowitz’s Windemere has been my desire since I was eight years old. That was back when cuneiform was all the rage. I’m very influenced by writers like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Sheila Turnage, Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley, N. K. Jemison, Neil Gaiman, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Holly Black, and many others.

Sir Terry Pratchett, N. K. Jemisin

Still, I know several people who would never willingly read a story I’ve written because they don’t like fantasy stories. It would please them greatly if I returned to contemporary realistic fiction. I won’t say never, if a character comes my way whose story is compelling to me. But I won’t say yes just to please someone.

How about you? Is the freedom to create what you want to create something you desire? What do you think about pleasing others? Is that good, bad, or something you’re indifferent to? Feel free to share. (If you are curious about the video I mentioned earlier, you can find it here.)

Having escaped from the owl, Kirstea has resumed being free to be who she is. But now she wishes she was tall enough to carry off one of the Peeps.

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. N. K. Jemisin photo from Wired.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie is a product by Moose Toys.

Beneath the Surface

Lately, when I’ve heard people talk about the movies they’ve seen, invariably I’ve heard phrases along these lines:

• Stunning visuals
• Bad script
• No character work
• Script okay, but not memorable
• Rich in cinematography, but dialogue poor

The last comment really resonated with me, because I love dialogue. I’ve memorized whole sections of dialogue from movies like The Princess Bride and Moonstruck. Not so with the movies I’ve seen lately. In fact, I can’t think of a single line of dialogue from any of the movies I’ve seen in the last four months. This is not to say that I disliked those films. They were very enjoyable.

As you know, dialogue and characterization go hand in hand. Dialogue can reveal a character’s motives and help move the plot along. Good dialogue can be fraught with tension.

I brought up dialogue, because I’m reminded of some feedback I received on a chapter I’d written, which centers around a family dealing with a crisis. The friend who’d read the chapter mentioned that she wanted to feel worried about the main character, but didn’t. While she complimented the writing, the scene just didn’t have enough tension. I later stumbled upon an article online that helped me realize why that scene was so troublesome.

In the article, “What Can You Learn from David Mamet About Adding Subtext to Your Script?” Justin Morrow mentioned this:

In all good drama, no one says what they want. . . [D]ialogue (or conversation, depending on what plane of reality you happen to be inhabiting) is all in the subtext, the hidden motivations and secret engines that drive our interactions.

The author went on to talk about Mamet’s screenplay for the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, a 1992 movie adaptation of Mamet’s award-winning 1984 play. But what really caught my eye in that article (which you can find here), is this quote by Ernest Hemingway (sorry, David Mamet):

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

In my scene, the characters said what they meant (i.e., that they were angry or hurt), because I thought directly stating what was going on created tension. But the scene lacked subtext-—those simmering undercurrents that let you know there is more to a scene than meets the eye.

The following excerpt is from “The Light of the World,” a short story by Hemingway.

When he saw us come in the door the bartender looked up and then reached over and put the glass covers on the two free-lunch bowls.
“Give me a beer,” I said. He drew it, cut the top off with the spatula and then held the glass in his hand. I put the nickel on the wood and he slid the beer toward me.
“What’s yours?” he said to Tom.
“Beer.”
He drew that beer and cut it off and when he saw the money he pushed the beer across to Tom.
“What’s the matter?” Tom asked.
The bartender didn’t answer him. He just looked over our heads and said, “What’s yours?” to a man who’d come in.

You can infer by the bartender’s actions that he has a low opinion of the narrator (Nick) and Tom. Though the dialogue seems sparse, I felt the tension of this scene, because of what the bartender didn’t say.

If I had written that scene, I probably would have had the bartender show his disdain by saying something mean or sarcastic immediately. But I love the fact that Hemingway didn’t do that. He showed the tip of the iceberg and let the reader infer that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Does every conversation have to be as subtle as the one Hemingway wrote? No. But considering the subtext can make your dialogue memorable.

What was the last movie you saw or book you read that had memorable dialogue or a scene of tension that you thought the author/screenwriter handled well? What engaged you about that dialogue or scene?

Glengarry Glen Ross movie poster from movieposter.com. Subtext image from theatrefolk.com. Dialogue image from clipartkid.com.

Why I Love Fairy Tales

I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I grew up reading fairy tales. Consequently, I developed a love for them that goes beyond what people mean when they say, “I love chocolate.” Oh yes. I went there.

When you Google “what is a fairy tale,” this comes up:

fair·y tale
ˈferē tāl/
noun
• a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands

• denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
modifier noun: fairy-tale “a fairy-tale romance”

I’ve always wondered why fairy tales were called that—fairy tales—when you can’t find fairies in some of them. According to Wikipedia:

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

I’ve also wondered why many people consider kids as the primary audience for fairy tales. Sure, my parents read them to me when I was a kid. But I never stopped wanting to read them as I grew older. I find them as soothing today as I did when I was a kid. I love being transported to a world different from my own, where magical activities are par for the course. This is why the stories I write primarily are fairy tales.

By why are they soothing? (Of course, not every fairy tale fits that description. There are many fairy tales—particularly those geared toward adults—that aren’t soothing at all. I can’t help thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2006 movie, which was quite unsettling. But I digress.) In an article entitled, “On the Importance of Fairy Tales,” at the website of Psychology Today (you can find it here), Sheila Kohler writes

Here, in these ancient tales, the small boy or girl can through the hero/heroine triumph over the large and often dangerous-seeming adults around him or her. . . . There is something essential about the repetition of the same words which soothes the child, nurtures the imagination and assuages his fears.

I also love fairy tales, because many follow the hero’s journey model. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) As the call to action is accepted, we get to travel along as the hero (male or female) sets out on a quest to find a lost treasure, vanquish a villain, or find true love. (Now I’m thinking of the “to blave” scene from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, a favorite of mine.)

Here are some of my other favorite fairy tales (or in the case of one, a book about an animated series), or favorite novels that have fairy tale elements (in no particular order; keep in mind that some books represent the series as a whole):

   

   

This seemingly untitled book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The spine of it is so worn out, I had to tape it.

    

    

 

   

  

There are many others I could have shown here (like Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, which I also have). Do you like fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?

My unicorn is just chillin’.

Fairy tale image from dreamstime.com. Legends of Windemere cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.