Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In the Shadow of Light -- Learning to Put Kids First

Most of my books are lighthearted cozy mysteries. I don't shy away from real-world issues -- Jolie Gentil heads a food pantry, the protagonist in Falling Into Place has PTSD. People confront such things every day, so I include them, often adding a bit of humor.

I steer clear of politics and religion (except for jokes between a couple of men of the cloth) because readers pick up my books for entertainment and escape.

And then the U.S. government started taking kids away from their parents and I felt a more visceral anger than I'd ever imagined could be directed at politicians. How dare they inflict such cruelty on kids, many of whom are escaping terror in their homelands? I cried.

And then, because logic could not possibly matter to decision-makers who would do such things, I wrote.

In the Shadow of Light is the story of Corozón and Kyra, one Honduran, one American, both taken from their parents. Readers know the depth of Kyra's parents' grief, but not that of Corozón's mother. In the real world, most people don't care about women like her.

There are touching moments in this 20,000 word novella, and some parts of the ending are happy. I hope reading their stories will help people feel more empathy for refugees (because that's what people fleeing terror are) and devise better ways to treat them with dignity.

I don't want to lose readers by giving a voice to these children. But had I been too timid to stand up to blatant bullies, shame on me. I wouldn't deserve loyal readers.

You can find In the Shadow of Light in ebook and paper, at major retailers. Large print (and more retailers) available soon.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Authors Put Kids in Books

I love the sense of humor many children have. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes adults smile because of a child's literal interpretation of the world. I still remember a niece asking to see the frog I said I had in my throat.

Putting children in a story can be a challenge. Their thought processes need to reflect their age group; their humor or beliefs can't be those of an adult. Most of all, they need to have a role to play, not simply be literary trinkets.

I placed pre-school Jessie in Falling into Place as the companion Grandpa Everett was most comfortable with. Children don't judge, and an adult who is ill-at-ease with other adults can have a chance to shine with a child who loves them. 

The most I considered the kidlet question was in creating three-year old twins for the 11th Jolie Gentil book. Lance and Leah don't solve any part of a puzzle, but they do add color and the occasional sense of contemplation. I quickly decided several things:

  • Children are better added when they can function somewhat on their own, otherwise the adults have to constantly cater to their needs. 
  • Two kids can be better than one (if reasonably close in age) because they can amuse one another.
  • Kids can limit the danger parents are willing to place themselves in. What sleuth wants to leave a child without a mom or dad? For a mystery, parental caution doesn't always contribute well to suspense.
  • Readers have different perspectives on what children of a certain age are capable of. They may pause to think "would a four-year-old really do that?"
The last point came up several times in my critique group as they read Underground in Ocean Alley. Consensus seemed to be that the three-year olds were way too verbal. That led to several discussions with my family members. 

I finally went with what my sister and I agreed on. Lance and Leah were just like most of the kids in our family -- toddlers who were smart, funny, and quick to speak. I couldn't bring myself to use 'baby dialect' or limit their vocabularies.

That's not to say I'll never create a shy child who doesn't have conversations with adults at age three. My bottom line is that I have to be comfortable with continuing child characters, far more so than adult personas. And I like the fact that smart child characters can sometimes outsmart me. 
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