Welcome to my writing pages! The main focus of this page is to explore ways beginning writers can find inspiration. You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:
Monday Sparks: Writing ideas to fan your creative flame
What’s the adventure that could happen in a grocery store? Depends on the writer. But I wanted a prompt that would get us thinking about adventures in very ordinary settings.
Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. North By Northwestbegins when typical business man Roger Thornhill waves over a waiter who is calling out for Mr. George Kaplan. Enemy agents think Thornhill attracted the water’s attention because he is Kaplan and the movie kicks off. … And Then She Was Gone, a TV-movie my dad enjoyed years ago, stars Robert Urich as another typical business man riding a subway. He notices a preschool girl on the train. After she gets off, he sees a missing child poster and realizes the child pictured is the preschooler he saw.
So what’s the adventure for this photo? Here’s mine.
“Mom, do you want Cheerios?” I held out the cereal box to her.
Mom was staring down the aisle of the grocery store like she’d just seen a snake slither into it. “That’s-that’s ….”
I followed her gaze. A heavily bearded man was putting Raisin Bran in his shopping cart.
“It can’t be.” Mom whispered.
Mom pushed our cart. “That man. He looks exactly like the father of a boy who committed suicide my senior year in high school.”
“That’s weird. Your hometown is a thousand miles from here. But you could run into his brother. It’s weird but not scary.”
Mom picked up the pace. “He was an only child.”
“Maybe it is the father.”
“And he hasn’t aged in thirty years? I’m pretty sure Rob’s father died shortly after Rob did. If Rob did die.”
I grabbed hold of the cart. “You said he committed suicide.”
“They found his car in the river, and he left a note in his bedroom. His body was never found. His girlfriend died under suspicious circumstances, and he was a suspect.” Mom’s stunned eyes locked onto mine.
My youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, seems to be an unusual kid. He doesn’t live for video games and has little interest in an online life. He loves to be outdoors, fishing, exploring our woods, or working on outdoor projects. He’s a high-level reader but gets frustrated finding contemporary books he likes. So many middle grade and young adult books are fantasies. Even ones advertised as mysteries or adventure stories often have a fantasy element. The books that don’t are many times set in the past. But kids need adventure stories, set in 2020, with realistic plots, to inspire them to seek their own adventures.
The Problem with the Fantasy Element
Fantasy or scifi is my second favorite genre. I understand the attraction. But other genres offer equally entertaining reads. The glut of fantasy and scifi books in the middle grade and YA markets is discouraging to someone looking for something different.
I think all these fantasy stories convince kids that adventures can only happen in their imaginations, the time of true adventures is past. Or that they have to be the Chosen One, possess some special power or position, to be eligible for an adventure.
The Problem with Technology
The ubiquitous possession of phones seems to have convinced many authors that kids can’t have adventures in current times. I think that’s why a lot of stories are set in the recent past, so the characters don’t have access to phones. In America, so many people live in cities and suburbs that they don’t realize the country isn’t completely wired.
Smart phones have made creating adventures set in the U.S. more difficult. An author doesn’t want to resort to the idiot plot, forcing the main character and his friends into making stupid decisions in order to get them into challenging situations.
But with some research, contemporary adventures are possible.
I have firsthand proof. I live in rural Ohio. We can’t get broadband internet at our house. It’s not that it’s too expensive. It’s simply unavailable. I’ve hiked in many parts of the state where cell service is nonexistent. My phone would make a good coaster in those places, and that’s about it. Even in remote places where I can call out, it could take hours for first-responders to reach me if I was in trouble.
The truth of all these statement can be seen in the PBS series Expedition with Steve Backshall. Steve Backshall is a British explorer and naturalist. The point of the series is to explore little-known or unmapped areas of the world, like the jungles of Suriname, flooded caves in Mexico, or a mountain in Greenland. The crew and guides took a ton of gear with them, but if one person had a serious accident, getting help, in most cases, would be impossible.
The series ran here in the winter, and my whole family looked forward to sitting down together for each episode, excited to see a part of the world we know nothing about. Any of those episodes could spark a story.
My youngest has found a series he loves, The Three Investigators mysteries. Three fourteen-year-old boys run a detective business in California, and sometimes get work with the help of their friend, Alfred Hitchcock. The series was started by Robert Arthur in the 1960’s.
I want adventures stories to ignite in my kids a desire to seek their own adventures when they are old enough. I hope they see the world as a place of wonder, where mysteries still exist to be solved or explored or simply to marvel at.
Do you think real world adventure stories are important for kids to read? What books do you recommend?
It’s taken me a lot of years of denial, but I can now finally admit that I’m a romantic. But not in the contemporary sense of the word. Currently, romantic means anything to do with a couple falling in love. But I’m a romantic in the way it was defined in the nineteenth century. I love stories filled with adventure, introducing me to new lands and new people. I want ships that sail into unknown seas, mysterious maps that hint at lost civilizations, and heroes who believe in gallant action.
Dove by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill is a true story that’s romantic in both senses. It’s a tale of the youngest person to sail solo around the earth, and the story of how he met the young woman who would eventually become his wife. Although it isn’t the main theme of the story, Dove is also about how, bit by bit, Robin and his wife Patti embraced Christianity.
Robin Lee Graham left California in 1965 at sixteen and returned in 1970 at twenty-one, a husband and soon-to-be father. I’ve read two version of this story, The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone is the kids’ version. I enjoy it because the author gives an explanation of sailing terms and it has wonderful photos. Dove is for adults.
I love Dove for so many reasons. First, Robin describes his longing for the sea, something he shared with his father, and for a life different from what he experienced in suburban America. As his father wrote to his mother, explaining why they should allow their son to attempt this, “Lee is more interested in living than longevity.”
Second, the story brims with an exuberant freedom. The reason it took Robin five years to complete his journey was because he took his time, spending months in the countries he reached. He and Patti sailed wherever they wanted while exploring the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, swimming wherever it looked interesting, eating whatever local foods they came across.
Third, he relates how he and his wife changed from pagans from California to Christians. One significant event in that journey was when Robin was caught in a terrible storm off the coast of Madagascar. After being awake for forty-eight hours in a storm that threatened to tear his boat apart, Robin prayed, with his arms clutching the tiller, “God or whoever you are, please help me.” At that moment, the storm began to die.
When I decided on adventure as my theme for the month, I knew I had to ask author M. Liz Boyle to do a guest blog. Her first novel, Avalanche, in the Off the Itinerary series concerns a group of teens trying to survive in the mountains after getting caught in, appropriately enough, an avalanche. The same characters return in her second novel, Chased, released earlier this year. You’ll find all the details about this adventure after the post.
Take it away, Liz!
We’ve all seen headlines like ‘Injured hiker found by tourists, airlifted to hospital,’ ‘Youth camp evacuates as wildfires encroach,’ and ‘Flash flood surprises campers.’ Since news stories are attached to real events and real people, why not use headlines as imagination sparks for fiction?
Once I was backpacking with a group of 10 in the Grand Canyon. We had two seasoned leaders and months of preparation in our favor, so even though we were on such a primitive trail that rangers don’t routinely patrol it, my group was ready for the challenge. Now the thing about the Canyon is that you’d have to be blind to not see the many signs warning hikers not to attempt to make it down to the river and back up to the rim in a day.
Well at 2:00 pm when the sun was blazing down on the wall of the South Rim, we met a couple who was trying to do just that. It had been hours since we’d seen day hikers, so we knew we were in hardcore territory, and we had just descended the Cathedral Staircase. What is the Cathedral Staircase? Imagine the longest set of stone stairs in the world, double it, and put it in a pizza oven. Oh, and strap a 50 pound bag to your back. The couple we met was facing that with 20 ounces of water and a Clif bar (minus the backpacks full of lifesaving gear). The girl was in a heap and had signs of heat exhaustion, and the boy didn’t have a clue what to do.
Our group was able to share food, electrolytes, hold up a sleeping pad to provide shade for the overheated girl, and call for help. After much conferring among our leaders, we chose to separate. Most of our group went ahead to our campsite and to filter water at the river (which our fastest hikers then delivered to the couple), and the rest stayed with them until the rangers arrived in the cool of night to hike them out.
The experience opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all just a few poor decisions from being in a dire state, and life is fragile. After our trip we received news that the couple was safe and recovering well from their close call.
Meanwhile we heard a few other headlines that showed how quickly a tragedy can occur. As a hiker, it made me aware. As a writer, I was inspired. If a headline can summarize a true story, why not create a fiction story based on a headline? I wrote my next novel about a group who helps a dehydrated hiker (sound familiar?). Except in my book Chased, I added a plot twist. When the dehydrated victim recovers, he becomes a threat to the very people who saved his life (sometimes the fiction is more enthralling than the inspiration!).
Chased barely resembles the experience that sparked my imagination, but a whole YA novel developed from simply considering how the media would tell the real story. How will headlines (or would-be headlines) shape your next story?
Marlee and her sisters are glad to be hiking again with the Miles boys. Their group of five is strong and cohesive as they explore the rugged mountains of Montana.
When they first meet Thad, a dehydrated hiker on the trail, they offer first aid to help him recover. Thad seems harmless until he tells them to hike a few extra miles at sunset. When Lydie finds a hand-drawn map that Thad dropped, the group realizes that he is a modern day treasure hunter – and he decides that they’re after his treasure.
As they rush to flee from Thad, they make split-second decisions and find themselves in a unique set of dangers. They climb up unforgiving ridges, sneak through the night to avoid him, and experience a threatening thunderstorm.
To make matters worse, Marlee becomes distracted with a nagging worry that Ellie might move away from home.
What is God’s plan for the Miles boys and Stanley girls? How will they get away from Thad before it’s too late?
Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone).