Here’s the synopsis, and below that, the links to purchase. If you enjoy the story, please share with your Facebook communities, and consider writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads or both.
Category Archives: fiction
Here is my book cover for my novel, Unleashed, coming out this fall! It captures exactly the feeling I wanted for the story I tell. A synopsis follows the photo:
If you are interested, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll notify you when it’s available on Amazon!
After her father’s death, eleven-year-old Rowan Graham wrestles with depression. Carolina, her mother, looks for a way to ease her daughter’s grief and decides to adopt another dog. Rowan chooses a wolfhound-deerhound mix and believes she and the pup, Zephyr, communicate through mind-pictures, a phenomenon that her mom rejects.
While vacationing, the family is embroiled in a multi-car accident; Zephyr is pitched from the van and bolts into the wilds of central Oregon. Medics airlift comatose Rowan to Portland for head trauma care.
Best-selling author Moss Westbury is haunted by devastating nightmares. A veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, he writes to expunge his demons. When his nightmares are fueled by unfamiliar howling on his isolated land, he sets out to find the culprit.
Unleashed is a story of devastation, courage, and love, told through the eyes of Moss, Rowan, Carolyn, and Zephyr—each struggling to resolve challenges and fears.
Simply put, sense impressions describe a person, place, or thing. They can also clarify a psychological or physical state. They may make use of metaphor or simile.
We tend to write about the senses we cannot help but use, if our eyes and ears are intact: sight and sound. But taste, texture, and smell are just as important to include. Because I notice this common weakness in my writing, I don’t focus on including them in the first draft, but in succeeding drafts, I work to layer in taste, texture, and smell—although not necessarily all at the same time.
Including the senses adds verisimilitude to our work—they take our reader right there. Every person will interpret the words on the page differently, and that’s fine—readers are building their own fictional impressions and world based on the words we craft.
“He did not answer, of course, because he was dead, was now fine, silvery dust in the dark bronze urn I had chosen, nestled between piles of books and old Silas’s basket, which was lined with the rotting old sweater Silas guarded fiercely. It smelled of salt and pine and wood smoke and now, of course Silas.” [her cat]
This paragraph is from the prologue of Anne Rivers Siddons novel, Off Season. She is one of my favorite contemporary authors because her writing uses place as a character, word painting with the senses to carry us right there. This is the first taste of her Maine that we get, offered in the smells: “salt and pine and work smoke.” And we are introduced to her dead husband, Cam, “now fine, silvery dust in the dark bronze urn I had chosen.” (Smells and textures)
And later, in the same prologue: “…and look down from the top of the piled-stone seawall and watch the bay playing about the rocks, creaming and swelling and falling, glittering far to the west where the afternoon sun was lowering. I would smell the clean, fishy, kelpy sun-on-dried-rocks smell, and I would hear the sea breathe.” Siddons has me. I’m fully captured in her fictional world. (Sights and smells and sounds—and I can taste that fishy smell, too.)
Give the most sensory attention to the important characters and places—it helps guide the reader in understanding what’s important.
One can be lush and still spare. Allow the reader spaces to create for themselves within your work—don’t do it all for them. They will appreciate this.
© Skye Blaine, 2016
Two decades ago, when I wrote the opening chapter of my memoir and took it to a writing group, the response I got was that the readers felt at a distance from the story. They even named that distance: it was like they were standing twelve feet away from the action. As a new writer, I puzzled over their comments. I had no idea what I had done—or not done—that created this impression. But I got clear that I, too, was holding back. My story is hard, and I was avoiding truly digging in and learning what I needed to know about that time in my life.
I gradually learned storytelling techniques—used in fiction, but equally beneficial, and needed, in memoir—such as the difference between scene and sequel, or showing and telling. I discovered that I had been “telling” the story—not putting my characters on stage and creating scenes with dialogue that pull the reader right into the action. This “showing” allows the reader to be inside my character, experiencing their anxiety, rage, or confusion, rather than looking at my character through a camera lens.
No particular narrative distance is either right or wrong. The writer needs to learn to control that distance to fit what is going on, and to manipulate it seamlessly without the reader noticing on a conscious level. If a scene is very, very intense and heavy, such as a rape, more distance may be helpful. We don’t want to trigger our readers so badly that they put down the book. When we provide facts for the reader—what neighborhood the character is in, for example, we are adding some distance. If we were intimately inside the character, they wouldn’t be thinking about the neighborhood by name. They would simply BE there, experiencing where they were walking.
© Skye Blaine, 2015
We create flashbacks when we break out of current story time to give our reader insight into our characters through showing something that happened in the past. They are necessary for writing. We can demonstrate what has affected our character’s motives. For example, if a female character was attacked as a child, she could easily carry that memory and fear into her present relationships.
But flashbacks also tear the reader from the current story time, which holds more immediacy for the reader because it’s happening “now”—even if that “now” took place 500 years ago. It stops forward motion of the story for a while. So although flashbacks serve an important purpose, they need to be used skillfully, and kept short—so we return our reader to current story time as soon as we can.
Flashbacks should always follow a strong scene, so that the reader knows enough about our characters to really be concerned for them. Then the information in the flashback will support and help the reader understand the character more deeply. It is often wise to separate a flashback from the current story time with white space, both before and after. This are subtle visual clues that let the reader know a break in time is beginning, and when it has ended. Be sure and orient the reader at the start of the flashback to when and where we are. Fifteen years ago? Three weeks ago? In a different state or country?
Learning to use verb tenses to clue the reader is also important. If you are telling a story in present tense, then the flash back will be in past tense. But if your current story is told in past tense, the flashback must signal the reader we are going farther back by using the past perfect tense. Here’s an example. It is not a full flashback, so in the novel it is not separated out by white space, but does give some earlier information to clue the reader in to the character’s state of mind now.
“Moss crouched as best he could on the dry hillside dotted with birth, manzanita, serviceberry, and sage. His new prosthesis was superior to his old one, but certain leg motions were still awkward, if not impossible. [We are in current story time, being told in the past tense. ‘Crouched’ and ‘was’ are the clues.] He couldn’t move as quietly as the tracker he had trained to be as a kid—not any more. [This is the flashback sentence. ‘Had trained’ is the clue to an earlier time.] He had a permanent hitch no matter how much he practiced his gait. He missed feeling like an integral, living part of this high desert land—as precious to him as his own beating heart. He’d spent all his childhood summers here in central Oregon. In that time, he’d hiked most of the ranch’s 2,200 acres. [’He’d spent’ and ‘he’d hiked’ are past perfect—he had spent, he had hiked—and make it clear to the reader we’re in an earlier time.] Now, traipsing around for a couple of hours with a breather in the middle was the most he could handle. Today, that rankled. Some days it weighed him down, a heavy grief.” [We are brought back to present story time, but have learned more about our character.]
© Skye Blaine
I’ve done a fair amount of research on the internet for my novel–I’ve checked into leg prosthetics, PTSD, cortical blindness, and “cane travelers”–the proper use of a white cane. I explored possible names for Afghani children, and the kinds of typical family compounds in Afghanistan.
But there is still research needed that can only be done on the ground. I need to return to Oregon, both Eugene and Sisters, to check where I’ve set my story. Sure, I inquired into what plants grow in central Oregon, and used Google Earth to figure out where the large, rural ranch might be located. I spoke to a wildlife specialist about the behavior of cougars. I’m always delighted by how friendly and helpful people are when I contact them.
But nothing takes the place of sniffing the air, feeling the plants, and talking to the people who actually live there. In Sisters, there are five places I need to go: Sisters Inn, Martolli’s Pizza, Paulina Springs Books, the feed store. And I need to drive out the road I’ve picked for the ranch to see if it’s actually possible to set part of my story there. If not, I’ll talk to the residents and figure out a different location.
I’m sorry I can’t go to Afghanistan and taste the dust. My budget doesn’t allow for that.
Sometime in 2015, I need to schedule the Oregon trip.
© Skye Blaine, 2015
The process of envisioning and birthing a fictional story is another way I write myself alive. Every aspect of the story is born out of who I am, formed from all the experiences I’ve undergone.
I write about disability because of raising my beautiful, differently-abled son. I chose an Irish wolfhound/Scottish deerhound mix for my character because I’ve lived in harmony with both of those splendid breeds.Their natures are so familiar to me. I write about human/dog communication because I’ve felt since I was a toddler that my dogs could communicate telepathically, but somehow I’ve lost the capacity. So I’m driven to imagine what that might be like.
My male protagonist, I realized a few weeks ago is, in psychologist C. G. Jung’s words, my animus. The main female character has qualities of both myself and my mother, but is qualitatively different from both of us. The eleven-year-old girl is the daughter I never had.
I write about car accidents because I’ve had two serious ones: in the first, about thirty years ago, my little Red Fiesta ended up on its passenger side. Last year, my Prius landed on its roof–due to a texter–the car reduced from an efficient mode of travel to a dead beetle. Miraculously, no one suffered severe injury in either accident. I chose Oregon for the story’s setting because I lived in Eugene for twenty years, and traveled a few times to teach in Bend.