Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Two new novels follow the separate lives of twins whose parents thought it possible.

The twins are fraternal, a boy and a girl, with very different personalities. What could be more natural when Mom and Dad divorce than for Mom to keep the girl and for Dad to take the boy? “And never the twain shall meet” is the parents’ decision for the four-year-old brother and sister.
Kyleah’s Tree, by Janet Muirhead Hill, begins when Kyleah is eleven years old. She lives in a foster home because her mother died when she was five, and the grandparents she was sent to live with moved to a retirement home a year later. “We’re sorry, they don’t allow kids,” she was told before someone took her to a family of strangers. Is it any wonder that Kyleah has trust issues and determines not to make close friendships? “If I love them, I lose them,” she believes.
Many hair-raising adventures ensue when she and a thirteen-year-old foster brother run away, trekking from Kansas to Canada in search of families they have lost.
Kendall’s Storm, the companion novel, begins when the boy is ten-years-old going on eleven. His dad takes him from town to town and state to state, leaving each without notice or any time for Kendall to gather up his belongings to take with him. He is the timid twin who fears both his father’s wrath and just about everything else. He longs for his sister and carries a faded photo of the two of them taken just days before their fourth birthday—and their separation.
When Kendall rescues a dog from a hail storm, his loneliness is somewhat abated, his courage begins to grow, but his fateful adventures are far from over. Kendall has learned that when he dares to ask his father questions, he might not get an answer, and that when Dad doesn’t answer, it’s bad news. Two questions he’s learned never to ask are whether or not his sister and mother are alive and, if they are, why can’t he see them?
When Dad decides to settle in southwest Washington on Long Beach Peninsula, Kendall is not happy. He hates the cold dampness and is afraid of the ocean. When he learns that his father’s job is not with the FBI as Kendall liked to believe, but rather a drug dealer, Kendall is devastated and runs away only to be lost in the rain forest. After he’s rescued, Dad is arrested, and Kendall goes to a foster home where he lives with three other boys until a typhoon sweeps the area.
Kendall and Kyleah, twins with different innate traits, travel journeys that have almost no similarity. They live in very different settings, experience different life styles, and are influenced by different kinds of people. The foster homes they each live in are opposite—one kind and responsible, the other abusive and negligent. Yet, they share a bond like no other, a bond formed before birth and strengthened in the first four years of life. Book reading groups will find fodder for lively discussion as they compare and contrast these children’s stories. The comprehensive discussion guides in the back of each book will stimulate thoughtful debates for adult readers as well as for middle-grade students in classroom settings.

Each of these novels is an exciting, stand-alone read and both are now available. A third book will be released next year, completing this trilogy of twins.

For more information about these novels or to schedule an interview or a school visit, please contact the author at 406-685-3545 or e-mail her at author@janetmuirheadhill.com. These books may be purchased for $12.00 each at www.ravenpublishing.net, www.amazon.com, or in many fine stores.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Writing the Ending

I have always maintained that the ending is the hardest part of the book to write. My style of writing is to develop characters I care about and then hand the reins to them, so to speak. Beginnings are usually easy, as I place these characters in the middle of some action with a dilemma to solve. Then I ask them, "What will you do, now?" and the story takes off. I don't outline. I don't plan the end until my characters take me there.

However, in a recent assignment, my Fiction Writing instructor gave the class an interesting assignment, which I just completed. "Write three possible beginnings and three possible endings to the story you are working on." Each of the three was to take a different approach from the types of endings and beginnings outlined in the book, Ficton Writer's Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.

Although I am only about two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through the novel, Kendall and Kyleah (working title), the third book of the twins trilogy, I found this assignment both useful and fun to do—especially the endings. This was a surprise to me. Knowing the possible ways I might end the book gives me a target—a beam of light in the distance I can use to keep my focus. I still don't know which of these three endings, if any of them, I might use. But writing them has energized me and made me want to get on with the journey, over whatever rough roads lie ahead, toward that beam of light.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Third Person Omniscient Point of View

In my last post, I talked about point of view, particulary, third person limited subjective POV, where the reader views the story only through the senses of one character. Another effective method, when done well, is to write from the omniscient viewpoint. The point of view is not that of a character in the story, but of an unseen other, usually the author, who tells the reader everything that is in the history, hearts and minds, of all the characters or a certain few of the characters in the book.

George Eliot used this technique in her book, Middlemarch. So did Lemony Snicket in his "Series of Unfortunate Events." Rather than losing the reader with too much switching between characters as writing from multiple viewpoints can do, this technique makes the reader feel included. The author or whatever omnicient narrator is telling the story, is confiding in you, the reader, and you feel privileged, somehow, to have this god-like knowledge shared with you.

The first book of Lemony Snicket's series, "The Bad Beginning," begins in a most unusual way, speaking directly to you, the reader, as if he cares deeply about your well-being.

"If you are interested in stories with happy endings," he says, "you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning, and very few happy things in the middle."

This conversational style from the omniscient narrator's POV continues throughout the book, telling you what is happening in the lives, minds, and emotions of the three Baudelaire children, as only an all-seeing god would be able to do.

I have not used this approach in any of my novels, but find it a very fun and intimate style to read.

Let me know what you think? What is your favorite POV style to read?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Clarifying a Confusing Concept—POV

I'm jumping into the middle of an issue with this post, and will come back later with more background from my workshop lesson on POV. For now, I want to relate an idea that I hope will help writers who struggle with this concept, hence this post.

When writing fiction, you must decide who is narrating the scene and stick with that person's point of view. You also have to decide how many points of view there will be in your book. There are many skilled authors who write from multiple view points successfully, but it's tricky for those who don't quite get what POV is all about.

I prefer to write entire books in third person but strictly from one narrator's POV. In the book I'm writing now, I switch viewpoints from chapter to chapter, but never mix them within a chapter. That will change when I get to the middle of the book and my two main characters meet and interact. Then there will be two points of view per chapter, but never more than one per scene.

I admit that I'm a stickler for adhering to one point of view per scene. You may ask, why bother? The advantage of a single or limited number of viewpoint characters, is that the reader finds it easier to follow the story, as well as to know, relate, and get into the body, heart, and mind of a character. As a general rule, the greater the number of characters from whose point of view you write, the less your reader will care about any one of them.

That isn't as important in the book I'm currently editing, because the protagonist is not a person, but a principle. The author has peopled his narrative and dialog with many POV characters. This actually makes writing and editing more difficult, because it becomes easier to mix points of view without realizing it. But for the sake of clarity and ease of reading, it is imperative to write each sentence, each paragraph, and each scene strictly in a single point of view.

When I've conducted workshops on fiction writing, I've found that the lesson on Point of View is often the most difficult for my students to grasp. As I lay awake last night contemplating this problem, I came up with an idea that might help writers who are grappling with the concept.

When struggling to see where you may have inadvertently mixed points of view, try this. Choose one character in the scene. Be that character. Switch to first person. Change every thing he does, says, or thinks to "I" and rewrite the scene. By doing so, you will more readily see from that character's eyes and eliminate other viewpoints. When finished, rewrite the scene in third person, with the corrections you made while writing in first.

For example, the following paragraph mixes two points of view.

Mary wanted to meet Paul, the new boy in her literature class, so badly she could taste it. And then, voila, just as she turned the corner on her way to Mr. Egland's Spanish class, she ran smack into him. Books flew. He stooped to pick up the papers scattered from both his and her notebook. He sorted them as quickly as possible, all the while worrying that he'd be late for Chemistry. Mrs. Dohner tolerated no tardiness.

Choosing one of the characters, I'll be Mary.

I wanted to meet Paul, the new boy in my literature class, so badly I could taste it. Then, voila, just as I turned the corner, heading for Mr. Egland's Spanish class, I ran smack into him. Our books flew. He stooped to pick up the papers scattered from both our notebooks. I knelt to help, searching for eye contact, but he would only look at the papers. Finally, thrusting a handful at me, he muttered as he sprinted away, "I can't be late. Mrs. Dohner will have my hide."

Then change it back to third person. (Mary, we realize, can't know what Paul is thinking unless he tells her.)

Mary wanted to meet Paul, the new boy in her literature class, so badly she could taste it. Then, voila, just as she turned the corner, heading for Mr. Egland's Spanish class, she ran smack into him. Their books flew. He stooped to pick up the papers scattered from both of their notebooks. Mary knelt to help, searching for eye contact, but he would only look at the papers. Finally, thrusting a handful of papers at her he muttered as he sprinted away, "I can't be late. Mrs. Dohner will have my hide."

I hope this helps. I'd like to hear your questions or comments.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Titles for young adult novels from Raven Publishing

In my last post, I asked for help in finding a title for my book about a junior high boy assigned to work in a homeless shelter. Several titles were suggested to me. The winner, so far, is "The Body in the Freezer." Yep, you gotta read the book to find out why. Coming soon.

Coming sooner is Kendall's Storm, the companion novel to Kyleah's Tree, which is also being reissued with a study/discussion guide at the end. To complete the trilogy, the third book that brings the twins, Kendall and Kyleah, together is also looking for a permanent title. So far, I've called it "Twins Together," "Reunited," or just "Kendall and Kyleah." Also thinking of dubbing it something like, "The Runaways" as there have been episodes of running away in both books and may be in the third, if it continues as planned. It isn't finished yet.

I began, as I always do by writing a few chapters as my muse (and characters) led me. As ideas came to me, I wrote a rough general outline of what will transpire, but I never know for sure what turns it will take or how it will end. That is up to the characters, who, once developed and put into situations I think up, teach me what they would do, and often create situations of their own. Being true to my characters allows both me and the readers to learn what the character's lives are really like. Readers can relate to characters whose emotions and reactions are authentic. That's what makes "true fiction." Both Kyleah's Tree and Kendall's Storm are available as ebooks on Amazon.com and on Smashwords.com.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What's in a name?

Captain's Conundrum, Captain in His Own Mind, Homeless Children. The first was suggested to me, and I like it best, the second, I contrived with much effort, and I don't like it at all, the third has long been the working title and will never be more than that.

Titles are not only necessary, but critical to the success of a book. It helps if a title naturally comes up in a variety of frequent searches. If a reader sees a book on a shelf, the title should reach out and grab him or her. But don't fool the reader with a title that connotes something it's not as I did with Danny's Dragon. Let it somehow reflect the contents of the book.

Yes, the right title is important, but with the latest book I've written, I'm still searching. I've never had this hard at time with a book I love. It was exciting to write,maybe my best yet, but no title ever suggested itself.

A junior high-school boy named Samuel Ellingsford Capulin III, who likes to call himself—and have others call him—Captain, lets his arrogance, temper, and acid tongue get him into serious trouble. Suspension from school and community service in a homeless shelter are prescribed to instill some humility and respect. An only child, Captain doesn't get along well with his father. But then Dad is gone most of the time as an airline pilot with a lot of intercontinental flights. Captains doting mother tries to take up the slack with over-indulgence.

Over time, his judgmental attitude toward homeless people begins to change. At about the same time, his world starts falling apart when he learns that his parents' marriage is in trouble and his mother is ill.

A homeless girl about his age and her baby sister add complications that grow exponentially the more he becomes involved with them.

Oh, I can't tell you more, though there is a lot more to tell. The question is, where is the title? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. If I get enough suggestions, I'll make this a contest that you may help me judge, with a free book as a prize to the winner.