The Teen Weather Report

girlinrain Weather plays a part in setting descriptions for most adult novels I read and for the teen novels I write. But there’s a difference.

In writing for teens, I have to keep in mind that they react to weather conditions differently from the way mature individuals do.

Most adults monitor the weather to take safety precautions or plan their essential business or family errands, keeping in mind those who depend on them. For teens, weather is much more personal than that.

For example, an adult with responsibilities looks at a hurricane tracked in the Gulf of Mexico and thinks, “I’d better stock up on supplies and board the windows.” A teen thinks, “I had a date for Saturday night!”

If a teen gave the daily weather report, it might go something like one of these:

  • “Windy today with temperatures dropping into the low fifties by this evening, perfect for wearing my new sweater to the football game.”
  • “Heavy snow is expected today, deep enough for my dad to make me shovel the driveway before he gets home from work.”
  • “Clear and sunny, with tulips and daffodils in bloom and a slow warming trend throughout the week. The best part is that I had my colors done, and I’m a ‘spring’!”
  • “Humidity this morning is high, with a likelihood of hair frizzing. By afternoon, we’re looking at an 80% chance of rain, so there goes my plan to lie out by the pool.”

Teens–gotta love the way God made them.

What is your favorite anecdote regarding a teen and his or her attitude toward the weather?

 

 

Seeking My Niche

Niche.statue

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I have one of those in my house—a niche. It’s carved out of the wall at the end of a short hallway. Not much fits there, but I placed a tall pottery vase that is flattened from front to back so it nestles in the space just right.

And boy, is it showcased.

Isn’t that what we authors are supposed to do? Find a niche for our work? An audience where it’s showcased rather than one of many similar, cluttered objects where none stand out.

I suppose those are extreme examples, but books can’t yell for attention like humans can. How do I find the audience(s) where my novels might catch fire, so to speak?

I’m thinking out loud now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My YA novels in the Bird Face series use humor and hope to address serious issues facing teens today. Each novel addresses at least a few. It’s the way I like to write stories, with my protagonist facing multiple issues and crises that are intertwined.

So, how do I find a niche for those books?

Right now, I’m looking for teens with particular challenges or areas in teens’ lives where certain types of stories or characters are lacking. Stories featuring a teen that is hearing-impaired are hard to find, for example. So are those with Catholic teen characters.

I wrote my first book because I care about kids who are shy or bullied. It’s fiction that contains elements of Christian faith, and the half-Cajun Wendy naturally became Catholic because all the Cajuns I knew were Catholic.

I wrote my deaf teen character Sam in my second book because I care about hearing-impaired teens. A good friend in my twenties taught at a school for the deaf, and she shared her experiences.  I grew up not understanding much about the hearing-impaired children I met, but I later worked around hearing-impaired adults, who referred to themselves as deaf and who became my friends.

Like an ethnic group, both hearing-impaired and Catholic teens like to see characters similar to themselves occasionally depicted in the fiction they read.

I’ve decided to try target-marketing to both Catholic teens and hearing-impaired teens (as I continue to market to all teens, Christian and non-Christian). I know, I’ve selected two niches, but I’m still figuring this out.

Anyway, that’s my plan for today.

Are you an author struggling to find your niche? As a reader, are you attracted to specific religious aspects of story or social issues in story lines?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney

You’re This Close: 14 Signs of Future Publication

ThisClose

The community of fiction writers has been one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever belonged to. Its members are quick to reassure others that yes, we’ll get our best work published. It’s only a matter of time.

And it’s true. It’s happening within our Scriblerians group.

I’ve read a number of blogs and articles describing the signs that an author is close to landing a book contract with a publisher. But there’s nothing like having those indicators right here at home among the Scriblerians. They bolster the confidence of all our members, and if you’ve experienced any of the following, know that your time for seeing your book in print will likely come too.

(Any or several of these signs might apply to any of our members.)

  1. You find your niche and a following grows rapidly for your blog, Twitter account, Facebook author page, etc.
  2. You are approached to speak about a topic you blog about or cover in your fiction.
  3. You are asked to write about it for another’s blog or periodical.
  4. You are hired to edit a published author’s work.
  5. You win one or more fiction-writing contests.
  6. You are sought as a judge for writing contests.
  7. Your short story is selected for an anthology or for publication in a magazine.
  8. You are selected by a publisher as an “influencer” for its books, reading and reviewing regularly.
  9. You are hired for any reason by a publisher that knows you aspire to be published.
  10. You become involved in the production of others’ books as an illustrator, editor, or consultant.
  11. Your rejection letters become more personalized, offering suggestions for changes to your manuscript.
  12. You are asked to resubmit to an agent or editor after changes to your manuscript.
  13. You are referred by a published author to his or her agent.
  14. You sign with an agent.

Of course, none of the above may happen. We’ve heard of authors who send out a few queries, full manuscripts are requested immediately, and they sign a contract with a publisher within weeks.

But most of us need some bolstering along the road before we reach our destination. If you seek publication of your book—fiction or nonfiction— I hope an item or two on our list encourages you.

What other signs can you cite and add to these?

Cynthia

cynthia-toney

Less Than Perfect

My seven-year-old and I love Monster High. And one of it’s big themes is flaunting your “freaky flaws”. Of course, they’re all monsters, so it’s having things like green skin, snake hair, scales, fur, or fangs. In real life, I like my characters to be less-than-perfect too.

Right now, I’m a bit tired of dystopian fiction and wasn’t quite ready to pick up a new series. However, when I read a review of Rachelle Dekker’s The Choosing, I picked it because one of the main characters stutters. Now that I’m into the book there appears to be a psychological reason for this, and I’m dying to find out what it is. Please oh please don’t let this be a McGuffin. Because we all know I hate those creatures!

I am not a big reader of contemporary fiction/romance, but I decided to try Melissa Tagg’s From the Start based on the sample chapters. The heroine meets the hero while she’s in her pajamas and has traded her contacts for glasses. If I were a single woman, that would be my worst nightmare. That the heroine is nearsighted and not portrayed as a nerd like most characters who wear glasses won me over. I finished the book and want to read the entire series, because I’m now in love with the family and locale.

Two more books endeared me because of their main characters’ not-so-freaky “flaws”. I am going through the NPR 100 Best Young Adult Books list and selected Anna and the French Kiss. Oo-la-la. The heroine rocks a gap-toothed grin, and the hero has been equally untouched by an orthodontist. He’s also really short completely wrecking the YA boy hero archetype. The sequel, Lola and the Boy Next Door features another nearsighted heroine and a way-too-tall genius hero. NOTE: For those who read The Scriblerians for recommendations let me warn you that Anna and Lola are not Christian titles and contain a certain amount of objectionable content.

The irony of this post is that I too escaped orthodontic intervention (because I didn’t need it) and managed to make it to my mid-twenties before I needed glasses. Being a teen in the 1980s and then an engineering student, I graduated from college feeling a bit like a unicorn. Seriously what middle-class kid hasn’t suffered through braces, and engineers are known for being bespectacled nerds? Granted I fit into the second category although I almost always wear contact lenses in public, and I prefer being called a GEKE.

So what book did I just pick up from the library – Uglies?

Do less than perfect characters draw you in or do you prefer heroes and heroines to be idealized?

The Problems With Computer Generated Images

While the credits rolled up the screen and the epic music roared in our ears, we shuffled out of the theatre. Rotten tomatoes, my favourite movie review site had given the sci/fi a solid 75% which was actually pretty good, hence our presence in the crowd.

I was struck by the computer-generated images during the movie. It was as if the producers were saying “Look what we can do now, and we can also do this… and THIS!” I yet again wondered how in this galaxy were we going to top what I just saw….. Buuuuut, that was the first and last thought I had of the movie. The adrenaline rush subsided quickly as it would have after a roller coaster ride, and there I was discussing what groceries we needed to pick up on the way home.

Seriously, am I the only one who feels cheated when I’m not rehashing the plot’s twists and turns, mourning that I won’t see my beloved characters until movies 2 and 3, or marveling at how the screen writer caused us to have a closer look at our own lives?


 

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It just so happened that I recently went to another movie called Ex_Machina that delivered on all the above. It had received a 92% from Rotten Tomatoes and I figured that deserved another try.

Well, it was well worth the admission, popcorn, drink, and my Kit Kat bites. Here is the summary:

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test-charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated–and more deceptive–than the two men could have imagined.

The movie had me guessing all the way through, and had me more or less stumped. Which is what I love! It reminded me of my all time favourite old classic, The Sting where the audience was stung, not the actors. The CGI was present, but was only there as background effects for the story. The movie was intelligent and thought provoking and I’m still rehashing the plot when I wake up at night. And best yet, there were only 3 main characters, jostling for dominance.

The movie brought forth the question of responsibility when creating artificial intelligence, and sparked a host of interesting discussions at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I can be entertained with some impressive effects, but to be truly worth my time, I need more than that.

CGI has become an impressive tool in the movie-makers’ hands, but sometimes at the cost of good old fashioned character development, interesting plots and thought provoking themes.

Now its your turn. What are your thoughts on CGI?

How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

The Aesthetics of Genre: Horror

deep-sea-anglerfishWhen it comes to the genre of horror, many Christians have pronounced it ugly, sinful, nasty, and won’t give it the time of day. Others may enjoy the adrenalin rush of a good scare from the safe distance of a book or theater seat, but may not admit it to their church friends. Then there are individuals, like myself, that find the genre of horror useful.

 

I like to read things that make me better, challenge me in someway. Good horror, like good science fiction and fantasy, will do that for me.  That’s not to say that contemporary fiction or YA fiction doesn’t do that either, but good horror has a very special way of challenging a reader on deeper topics. Before you chastise me for not mentioning the Bible, remember that you will find all the known genres, including horror, in that Book of books.

People seldom equate being frightened as useful.Like I pointed out in my last blog entry, being afraid of the right things can be helpful. To me, good horror isn’t about inciting blind fear or terrifying an audience. There is horror like that, and I almost never waste my time on that. Good horror it’s about challenging fear in the right way. This is where aesthetics come in. All genres have aesthetics (linked to definition above), it is what happens when an author’s story collides with a readers expectations, imagination, and world view. These are a few that a great horror story will touch on for me.

  • What is beauty?
  • What makes something beautiful?
  • What is good?
  • What makes something bad?
  • What is evil?
  • What makes something or someone evil?
  • If something looks beautiful, is it automatically good?
  • Can God redeem Evil?
  • Should God redeem Evil?
  • Should those given to Evil be redeemed?
  • If something is ugly to me does that make me the monster?
  • What happens when a human tries to play God (you know mad scientists)?
  • What does it mean to be human?

As frightening as a horror story may appear on first blush, it is my response to it that always interests me. Some of the most frightening stores to me portray Evil as banal or everyday. A good example of this is the bureaucracy of Hell in Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

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There are several things I find useful in good horror, and it isn’t blood and gore or the fact that a story may give me nightmares for months. In fact, the shock and gore horror is something I rarely care for, much like jump scare scenes in movies. Such tactics are nothing more than a trick at your audience’s expense, tricking an audience is inexcusable.

cartoon-angry-monster-face_fkTFzKhd

All fiction has the ability to challenge and inform. What makes horror so different is it’s ability to challenge specifically the things we fear. When done right, even cause us to evaluate those fears and perhaps strengthen our humanity. For your viewing pleasure, here is a good example of something from a sub-genre of horror. Something that actually hits a little closer to home and current events. The type of horror I find useful (It’s in two parts).

 

 

Would you classify these videos as horror? Why or why not?

 

The next post I do is on the topic of sub-genres of Horror. You might be surprised as to what you find in them.

The Genre of Horror: Let’s Talk About It.

Scary Young Girls Face On Halloween Day

 

For many Christians, the idea that horror literature could be legitimate as an expression of faith and love sounds like heresy. After all, how can someone that claims to serve the God of peace and love purposely intend to terrify people? I mean, isn’t intentionally scaring people some kind of sin, or if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

Those questions are valid and move this discussion from mere literature into theology.  When you consider The King James Bible has 71 instances where there is a command to “Fear not.” The idea of frightening people seems antithetical to the basic tenants of the gospel.

Any student of Church History understands clergy have been scaring people into the Kingdom of God for centuries, does that make it right? No one’s figured that out yet. One of the most noted and famous sermons preached from our side of the 16th century is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That sermon is as much a horror story as any Stephen King novel. More important, the sermon underscores the one aspect of God that people seem to forget. Life apart from God is a life of misery and loss.

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Going to Hell is everyone’s right of choice and God doesn’t mind accommodating anyone’s desire to spend eternity out of his presence. For many of us believers the idea of being apart from God, now that we have tasted his love and generosity, is terrifying. Remember Christ’s words on the cross when the full judgement of the world’s sin came upon him, and his true parent turned his back to look away from the only Begotten of God?  Jesus said,  “My  God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s pure abandonment and fertile ground for the horror genre.

Horror is as much apart of the Bible as faith and blessing. Consider the beggar Lazarus wanting to warn his family about the judgement waiting for them and is told “no.”

Many people consider that horror is only about frightening people.  Who wouldn’t think that when looking at pictures of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, or watching a long list of movies made for the sole purpose of shocking and terrifying audiences. What people don’t realize is that horror isn’t strictly about scaring people.

scary-halloween-night-background_z1ohZadO(1)

 

Horror explores important topics like hubris, monsters, the unknown and our responses to things we don’t understand. This genre, when done well, allows us to explore our own darkness from the safety of our favorite chair. Some of my favorite horror stories such as  The Birthmark by Hawthorne, or Frankenstein by Shelly, or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe deal with the topics of unforgivable sin and hubris. These dark tales aren’t grossly gory, but they are entertaining and cautionary in nature.

Horror can also deal  with hope, redemption, acceptance and love. Don’t believe me? Read the stories I mentioned and decide for yourself. Of course not all horror is good or even entertaining. Some of it is genuinely awful, but that’s true of all the other genres too.

graveyard-night-scene-in-the-moonlight_Gkx2h-Kd

There are those tender hearts out there that say,  “Fear is always bad.” To that response I’d  say fear as an emotion isn’t intrinsically a bad thing.

My family owned land and horses in Southeastern Washington State. It’s very arid and dry and home to rattle snakes, scorpions, millipedes, and a few other venomous creatures, Bringing the horses in from pasture could be an adventure as it sometimes brought me face to face with this innocuous little rattle from the tall grass or from beneath a sage brush. That little sound could make my heart stop, not to mention my feet.

I would turn around, and go back the way I came, why? Because I stood a good chance of getting bit by the thing making that sound.Was I afraid? Yes, but in a good way that kept me from harm.

Before we dismiss all instances of fear as ungodly. Let’s not forget that running away from temptation because we fear entanglement is completely encouraged. (1 Cor 6:18, 1 Cor 10:14, 1Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22).

There are things that should genuinely should frighten us, like hardening our own hearts to compassion, kindness, and the leading of God’s Spirit. We should always fear injustice, bigotry, and genocide. The violence of Fergeson and Baltimore were far more horrifying than any zombie apocalypse, but very similar to those stories – except no one was eating brains.

Digital Illustration of a Dragon

The genre of horror serves a cautionary purpose, useful for discovering our own personal evils as well as exploring our own redemption, forgiveness, and pathos. I maintain that horror has as much place in Christian fiction as romance, fantasy, mystery, and any other genres you can mention – maybe even more so.

Click on the link below and be prepared for a pleasant surprise. It’s an award winning zombie short film that will surprise you and make you rethink the uses of horror.

Can you define the components of  horror as a genre? Do you think it’s appropriate for people who call themselves Christians to read it, write, or watch it? Why?

The problem with Christian speculative fiction

gold-angel-and-devil_MkIDRJLd

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a strong advocate for Christian speculative fiction. Not only do I read it, but I write it. And most of it, I like a lot.

Write about vampires, elves, alternate reality, virtual reality, dystopian futures, new worlds, aliens, werewolves, zombies, shapeshifters, magic umbrellas, time wrinkles, or invisibility cloaks and I’ll read it.

But write about angels, demons, or the devil, and I am extremely hesitant to pick up your book. Why? Because unlike vampires, werewolves, zombies and the rest– angels, demons, and Satan are real.

Let’s get one caveat out of the way right now: the Bible mentions witches and witchcraft too, and condemns them, but I don’t have a problem with most witch stories. Fanciful Harry Potter-like good vs. evil stories are not the kinds of witches the Bible talks about. What Scripture prohibits are people that mess in the occult- communing with the dead or diving the future. In other words, fiddling with the very real supernatural realm.

I have to wonder about Christian authors who write stories about angels, demons, and the devil. I’ve read books where they are portrayed very well – for instance, Tosca Lee’s Demon:A Memoir, or Shauti Feldhahn’s Veritas Conflict. In these books, we have stories showing how biblical supernatural beings might interact with our world as suggested by the Bible.

Demon Veritas Conflict

But in other Christian books, we have themes that are very troublesome to me because of their lack of biblical basis:

  • Stories about people becoming angels after they die.
  • Paranormal romance between humans and angels.
  • Stories with characters that are half-human/half-demon, or (even worse) half-human/half-angel.
  • Stories where the devil is portrayed as a joke.
  • Stories where a character dies and goes to purgatory, and then has to work to get to heaven. And (even worse), decides once they earn heaven that they don’t want to go there.
  • Stories where angels or demons die. (Where do they go if they’re killed?)

Maybe you remember these two films: Michael starring John Travolata as an irreverent Archangel Michael from the Bible. He’s dirty and nasty, but smells like cookies so women follow him everywhere; and City of Angels with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. Here, Nicolas Cage is a guardian angel that falls in love with a human. (The movie was ok, not great.)double featureI actually liked the movie Michael, it was funny and heart warming at the end. Did I think it correctly portrayed Michael from the BIble? No. But then, I didn’t expect it to because the people weren’t marketing it as a Christian film.

But if a book or movie is marketed as Christian in basis, I expect it to adhere to biblical themes and teachings. How does a reader reconcile Christian fiction where the story contradicts what the Bible teaches about angels, demons, and the devil?

Is it just me, or are others bothered by this?

If the theme of the book is biblical (sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness), does that make it okay to portray real supernatural beings contrary to biblical teaching? Should some leeway be given for literary license?

Please comment because I’d love to hear what you think.

Lisa Godfrees

Lisa Godfrees

Why I Didn’t Really Lose an Earring

What if a whole world of miniature people lived right under our noses? Don’t children of every generation allow their imaginations to dive into the idea? From Gulliver’s Travels with the Lilliputians to The Indian in the Cupboard, stories have been written for centuries to indulge this favorite fantasy.

My first place pick for the very specific genre of Dollhouse-sized Speculative Fiction?

borrowers

The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The first of five in a series, I love Norton’s narrative of life under the clock in early twentieth century England. The other books in the series are just as good, but her word pictures that introduce readers to the world of “borrowing” leave me as intrigued today as they did when I was ten.

The Clock family: mother Homily, father Pod, and daughter Arietty are the main characters who live between the floors of a large country house. Pod regularly ventures into the human beans’ living area for groceries from the pantry and various household items as needed from other rooms. By necessity, they live a quiet life. However, Arietty longs for freedom. She has never left her home, never explored the house, never stepped outside. I hope you can see where the story might go from there.

Knowing human nature, a Borrower can never let himself be seen, must never talk to a bean. The results would be disastrous. At a minimum, he would be asked to vacate the premises, at worst, the humans would obtain a cat to get rid of the vermin of Borrowers. Oh, but I take that back. The Clocks face something worse than a cat.

courtesy of currentissues-language-dialectdiversity.wikispaces.com

courtesy of currentissues-language-dialectdiversity.wikispaces.com

The story makes for a great read-aloud. Norton builds tension with each chapter, and every time an object is described, we automatically compare our use of the object to why a Borrower needs it. I am 99% sure that Mary Norton spent her entire childhood making up the possibilities and finally wrote it down for us to enjoy. All those details make for great discussions as we read the book as a family.

Wait a minute, you say. Aren’t the Borrowers really stealing? Do I want my child to admire them? One more topic for discussion. Let your kids muddle through the trickier aspects of morality and guide them through that maze.

There really could be Borrowers. Norton provides the perfect explanation as to why things disappear in our homes. Is an old sock missing its mate when you remove laundry from the dryer? A Borrower got to it first. Did you leave a safety pin on your dresser, and now it’s gone? A Borrower assumed you wouldn’t notice its disappearance. I’m convinced that several of my earrings, only one of each pair, mind you, are decorating some Borrower’s home, or maybe they now hang from the ceiling of a Borrower dance hall as a disco ball.

earring

Now, there’s an idea. Teachers and homeschooling parents, I’ve just given you a story starter for a composition: “The Borrowers Took My _____________________.” What fine explanations might your children come up with?