46 High Peaks: Algonquin & Iroquois 9.18.15

When I climbed Wright Peak a few weeks ago, I’d looked up at Algonquin in the distance and felt a little intimidated. It was tall. And I was already pretty tuckered out on its lower neighbor. But with a couple more climbs under my belt and a gorgeous, sunny day ahead, I decided to give Algonquin a try and go on to climb Iroquois, too, if I had time.  I met these turkeys along Adirondack Loj Road.



I parked at the Loj, signed the trail register, and started out at 8:40am. After almost a mile, the trail splits, with one branch going left toward Marcy Dam and the other turning right toward Wright Peak, Algonquin, and Iroquois. If you climb this way, you’ll be following the orange trail markers from this point.


The trail is moderate at first and easy to follow. After another mile and a half, it gets steeper, and I could hear the pretty cascade known as MacIntyre Falls before I saw it.



From the falls, it’s about another half mile to another split in the trail.



Last time I came this way, I turned left to ascend the trail up Wright Peak, but this time I took the path just to the right, heading up Algonquin. It’s a steep mile to Algonquin’s summit from here, including a slide steeper than any I’d climbed so far.



Here’s another shot looking up the slide. I was really hoping it would be nice and dry, since it hadn’t rained in days, but parts were still wet and a little slimy.



Here’s a view looking back from about halfway up the slide…





I went up a few more rock scrambles after the slide – these were more fun than scary – and then the trail leaves the trees and continues over a rocky alpine zone.





From here, I followed the rock cairns over a wandering path to the summit.








Algonquin’s summit is stunning, with views in every direction, including over the two Boundary Peaks toward Iroquois, where I was headed next.



The trail to Iroquois follows the rock cairns and yellow hash marks down Algonquin to keep hikers off the fragile alpine plants. It’s pretty special to be able to hike in a place like this.



It’s just under half a mile down Algonquin to the place where the trail splits, and it’s easy to get confused here.



The marked trail goes left and descends toward Lake Colden. But if you’re climbing Iroquois, you actually need to go straight here, down a very narrow, snarly, easy-to-miss path through the trees. Someone tried to make that clear with a Sharpie, but it’s scratched out and easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.




The Iroquois herd path is narrow – less than a foot wide in places, so if you pass another hiker, you’ll need to make friends quickly.



The herd path crosses a pretty little alpine bog over a mini-boardwalk. I’m always thankful for the work that’s been done on these trails to let me pass through places like this without having a negative impact.





The route to Iroquois had a couple of rock scrambles that I found challenging. (Twice, I spent a few minutes trying to figure where the trail went around the cliff before I realized that the cliff was the trail.)  The photo below shows one of those spots, from a distance. Once you get right up to the rocks and start climbing, though, you can see that there are, in fact, plenty of good places to put your hands and feet along the way.



Iroquois’s summit is just as pretty as Algonquin’s but with fewer people to take photos, so I snapped a summit selfie with the rock cairn that marks the highest point. This is Adirondack High Peak #8 for me!


I had the mountain to myself for about twenty minutes while I had lunch and explored a bit. Again, there are views in every direction, including a great look at Mount Colden with its dramatic slides and New York’s tallest peak, Mount Marcy, over its shoulder.






There’s also a nice view looking back at Algonquin, which reminded me that I’d have to climb it again to return to my car.



The hike back took about 50 minutes, and after a short trail mix break, I started climbing down Algonquin. The hike down took longer than I might have, because I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Here’s a look at Avalanche Lake and the Flowed Lands from Algonquin.


This photo shows rocky Wright Peak, which I climbed a few weeks ago. It felt so much taller then!



Here’s a look at Heart Lake, and behind it is Mount Jo, which also felt really tall when I climbed it for the first time. I couldn’t believe how tiny it looked from Algonquin.





It was tough to say goodbye to these views and go back into the trees, but the promise of cold water at the falls made it easier. I hiked down, took a quick break to filter water, and made it back to the Adirondack Loj at 4:25 – just about 7 hours and 45 minutes after I started out. The trip up Algonquin & Iroquois  ended up being about 11 miles RT – not my longest Adirondack hike to date but the toughest and the prettiest, for sure.




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46 High Peaks: Phelps and Tabletop 9.11.15

I took advantage of a beautiful September Friday to hike my fifth and sixth Adirondack High Peaks, Phelps and Tabletop.I signed in at the Adirondack Loj trailhead at 8:25am and started the hike with an easy and pretty 2.1 mile walk through the woods to Marcy Dam.








After Marcy Dam, the trail to Phelps follows the Van Hoevenberg Trail for a while. I knew I’d turn that way, but I always like to stop and read the signs anyway. It’s fun to think about where the next adventure might lead. I’ve heard that Avalanche Lake is stunning, so I have my eye on that for a future fall hike.



It’s just over a mile from Marcy Dam to the trail that starts up Phelps Mountain, and the hike is a beautiful one that meanders along Phelps Brook much of the way. Then the climbing begins for the last mile up Phelps.





This climb was steep, but it didn’t feel as difficult to me as the first mile up Esther Mountain, where the loose, rocky trail goes pretty much straight up Marble Mountain for the first mile. On Phelps, I had the summit all to myself for about twenty minutes – a rare gift in the high peaks in the popular fall hiking season.






After a short break, I headed back down. Pretty soon, the sound of the brook let me know I was almost back at the Van Hoevenberg Trail. There’s a really cool tree near the Phelps junction.



Since I’d made pretty good time, I decided to tackle Tabletop as well. This is an unmarked, unmaintained herd path, and many of the older books and trip reports make a point of saying that there’s no sign – just a marker for a ski trail, so I ended up turning off the Van Hoevenberg Trail before I should have, onto a ski trail. It got me to the summit eventually, but with more mud & blood than the people who’d gone on the real herd path. If you’re climbing Tabletop, you should actually turn right at this junction in the trail, instead of going straight under that birch tree onto the ski trail that leads off to the left.



If you turn left, the “trail” is not much of a trail, though it does eventually meet up with the herd path.



The photo below shows where I should have turned after staying on the VH trail a bit longer. As you can see, there is a sign that shows where to turn onto the herd path now.


The real herd path, which I met up with eventually, is much cleaner than the ski trail, though it’s still muddy and full of gnarly roots. The summit of Tabletop is wooded, but there’s a marker and a bit of a view through the trees.





After I made my way down Tabletop, I took a quick side trip to Indian Falls to filter some water and enjoy the view of the MacIntyre Range.




I took one last break to admire the view from Marcy Dam and made it back to the Loj at 4pm, just about 7.5 hours after I’d started out. The hike ended up being about 14 miles RT, but much of that was over fairly level ground, getting out to the two peaks. All in all, another beautiful September day in the Adirondacks!


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46 High Peaks: Esther Mountain 9.7.15

I tackled my first trailless Adirondack High Peak today! Esther Mountain is one that I’ve seen on the drive to Lake Placid hundreds of times, but somehow, I never paid it much attention with its busier neighbor, Whiteface, right there to the left.

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One thing I’ve learned from reading guide books & others’ trip reports is that the “trailless” peaks aren’t just vast wilderness. The herd path up Esther Mountain looked a whole lot like a trail to me – just without the signs and trail markers, so it was more important than usual to pay attention and carry a map and compass. The only time I had difficulty with this trail was at the very beginning, in part because my guide book made such a point to talk about how the trailhead isn’t marked – not at all. So when I got to the parking area near the Atmospheric Research Center in Wilmington and found this, I was perplexed.

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There’s a simple sign there now, pointing hikers in the right direction, down the trail into the woods. After a short hike, that trail opens up to a dirt road that my book hadn’t mentioned. photo 1 (42)

The right path leads back up to the research building, so I went left and found another left turn into the woods, flagged with an orange marker. I could see down the trail that additional blue markers identified it as a snowmobile path. I thought maybe this was another new “unmarked trail” development – like the sign on the bench – so I turned down this snowmobile path and hiked about half a mile before I figured out it was wrong and turned back.  If you are climbing Esther Mountain, you should not go this way. :-)

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Instead, you’ll want to continue along the dirt road. This goes to the base of Marble Mountain, which was a ski area a long time ago, before the days of Whiteface Mountain and ORDA. Here’s an interesting article about that history. 

If you’re going the right way, you’ll see this:

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And then this:

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The right path is blocked off. The left path goes back to Wilmington. The middle path is the one that you want. It goes straight up Marble Mountain. My book described it as a long and steep. That part was right.

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This goes on for almost a mile, and it was my least favorite mile of the hike, both on the way up and on the way down (which makes it my least favorite two miles, I suppose). The rocks are loose and gravelly, so you have to be careful with your footing. I’d only brought one of my trekking poles and wished I’d brought them both.

At the end of this climb, the top of Marble Mountain has a lookout area with what I thought were the best views of the entire hike.

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After this lookout, the trail climbs just a little more before there’s a sign…

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…and then another fairly long and steep-but-not-super-steep climb. As a relative beginner in the High Peaks, I found this mountain to be kind of challenging because of the loose gravel, but there were no real rock scrambles or climbs like the walls on Wright, which I did last week. Esther just felt long sometimes. But even though there weren’t waterfalls or stream crossings to break it up, there were cool red mushrooms and friendly toads.

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Eventually, the trail climbs up to a junction where one path goes straight to continue on to the Whiteface summit and the other turns right to climb Esther Mountain. This junction is marked with a big heap of rocks in the middle of the trail, so it’s pretty hard to miss. There’s a sign now, too.

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For an unmarked, unmaintained trail, this was fairly easy to follow.

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The trail gets narrow at times, which means some scratchy, grabby tree branches may snatch your reading glasses off your head if you tend to wear them as a permanent accessory like I do. But it’s a pretty walk through interesting woods that change as you climb and then descend into a boggy area between Lookout Mountain and Esther.

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The opening in this tiny shed is less than two feet tall. Shelter for gnomes or fairies? Actually, I think it may have been an old emergency toboggan shed for mountain rescues.


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Esther Mountain has a small false summit with a view that’s a little better than the glimpse of Whiteface you see at the real summit. It’s cloudy, but you get the idea…





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After a few quick photos, I continued on to the summit, which I had been warned would be anticlimactic. It was.

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There were no sweeping views like I enjoyed on Wright and Cascade, but there’s a plaque here with a great story about how this mountain got its name.

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Actually, Esther McComb is believed to have made the first recorded ascent of this peak not “for the sheer joy of climbing” but kind of by accident. As the story goes, she was trying to climb nearby Whiteface, got lost, and ended up on this other mountain instead. I wish the plaque included this part of the story. I chose this mountain today because of Esther, and I especially love the story of her mistake. As a writer, I can relate to climbing and climbing in one direction, only to find myself somewhere else at the end of the day.






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46 High Peaks: Wright Peak 9/3/15

After hiking Cascade and Porter last week, I wanted to try a “next step” High Peak, and the friendly, smart people on the Aspiring 46ers Facebook group suggested that Phelps, Wright, or Big Slide might be good options. My friend Sandy and I settled on Wright and set out on the trail after lunch yesterday, hoping that a forecast for clearing skies as the day went on might let us stay dry and catch a slightly better view at the top.

The trail starts out at Adirondack Loj, where we were happy to find plenty of parking, since the holiday weekend hadn’t officially started yet. We started off through the woods on the Van Hoevenberg trail toward Marcy Dam. After almost a mile, the trail to Wright Peak and Algonquin diverges and goes on a while longer before it starts to get steeper.

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We were watching for the left turn to the Wright Peak trail (the main trail continues on to Algonquin, which we’d planned to save for another day) and worried we might have missed it, but two summit stewards on their way down the mountain assured us it was up ahead. They reminded us to stay on bare rock at the summit to protect the fragile alpine vegetation, which is truly lovely and has made a great recovery in recent years, thanks to raised awareness. We found the trail junction, hiked a bit more, and after a steep rock scramble, started the last push to the summit.


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While not super-challenging in the world of the High Peaks, this is the steepest mountain I’ve climbed so far. It was exhilarating and a little scary to be climbing on bare rock above the tree line, and we enjoyed the cooler breeze on this last push. This summit was High Peak #3 for me, and the first for Sandy, or maybe the second. (She’s not sure if she climbed Cascade once a long time ago.)

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The summit was cloudy, but there were some fleeting glimpses of neighboring Algonquin.

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After a little time at the summit, we hiked down through the rocks to see the wreckage of a B-47 bomber that crashed here during a training mission in 1962. 

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It was after four, and we knew we had a steep climb down, so we didn’t take as much time as we might have to explore the top of the mountain before heading back down into the clouds.

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When we got closer to the Loj, we saw these cool mushroomy, fungusy looking things growing among the conifers. I’d seen them on an earlier hike here and found out this is actually a parasitic plant called Monotropa uniflora, also called ghost plant, or Indian pipe. It’s not green because it doesn’t have chlorophyll, which other plants need to make food. Instead, this plant steals food from the roots of nearby trees. 

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We made it back to the Adirondack Loj at about quarter after seven, just about six hours after we’d set out. I learned two things on this hike – first, that I think I prefer getting an earlier start to the day so there’s less clock-watching at the summit and on the way back. And second, I learned that I like to hike with trekking poles. Sandy had brought an extra pair for me to try, and they really made a difference, especially on the way down, so I’m going to shop around for a pair soon.

Already looking forward to the next peak!

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Ranger in Time – New books for the 2015-2016 school year!

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who’s read and shared the first two books in my Ranger in Time series with Scholastic, about a time-traveling golden retriever who’s trained in search and rescue techniques. RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL and RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME have the series off to a wonderful, tail-wagging start, thanks to all of you.
RANGER #1 CoverRANGER #2 Final Cover
This school year will bring two more Ranger in Time books!
Ranger #3 Final Cover
RANGER IN TIME: LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM comes out December 29, 2015. This one is a fugitive slave story that begins on an 1850 Maryland tobacco plantation. Ranger travels north with Sarah, a girl who risks everything to escape with her younger brother when she learns of the plantation owner’s plans to sell him south. My local friends will be happy to know that parts of this story take place in Ferrisburgh, VT and Peru, NY.
Scholastic just gave me permission to share the cover for Book 4 as well.
Final RANGER #4 Cover
RANGER IN TIME: RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE is about a Maori-Chinese boy who stows away on Robert Falcon Scott’s Endurance in New Zealand, just before the ship leaves on a harrowing voyage to Antarctica in 1910. Ranger sees his first killer whales and penguins on this journey through time, which also features blizzards, crevasses, and a life-or-death decision. Look for Ranger’s Antarctica adventure in June 2016!
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46 High Peaks: Cascade & Porter 8.27.15

Each New Year’s Eve, my family tapes a big sheet of paper to the sliding glass doors in the living room with the words “In (year), I want to…” at the top. Throughout the night, we all add things to the list. Some are personal goals. Some are hopes. Some are small joys. There are no rules, really. The list stays there all year and reminds us of the things we say we want but don’t always make time to do. This year, one of the things I added to that list was “Climb a High Peak.”  I’d climbed smaller Adirondack mountains – Poke-o-Moonshine and Rattlesnake are family favorites – but wasn’t sure I was ready for the longer, tougher trails.

Last week, with summer drawing to a close and that 2015 hope still taped on the door, I decided it was time to give it a try. I set out on a morning that was a little shaky in the weather department but decided to go anyway. I figured that if I still enjoyed climbing high peaks in the cloudy drizzle, I’d know that I wanted to do more.  My plan for the morning was to climb Cascade, which has an elevation of 4098 feet, with an ascent of 1940 feet, and then tackle Porter as a side trip if all went well. Cascade on its own is 4.8 miles RT, and the side trip up Porter adds 1.4 miles to the hike.

This is a climb that starts almost right away, after you enter the woods from the trailhead along Rt. 73 between Keene and Lake Placid. There are three small parking areas, and even though I arrived on the late side (around 10am) I was able to find a spot in the busy summer climbing season, probably because it was a cloudy weekday. And then I was off and climbing…

Approaching the summit, it became clear that today was not going to be one of those “million-dollar-view” days. I was essentially climbing into a cloud.

This was my first hike with so much climbing above the treeline – a new experience that I loved! The yellow hashes and some cairns mark the route, not only for ease of travel but also to keep hikers off fragile alpine vegetation. Here I am at the top of my first High Peak, after about an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing…

Stop laughing at my hair. It was drizzle-windy, and I forgot to bring a pony tail holder.

Given the lack of nice views, sunshine, and general warmth at the top of Cascade, I didn’t spend long at the summit. I found shelter behind a boulder, ate some grapes and a granola bar, drank some water, and headed back down to the junction with the trail for Porter.

This trail descends maybe three tenths of a mile before it starts climbing toward the second peak. It was muddier than the Cascade Trail. I met some people hiking this way with nice, clean sneakers and felt a little sad for their shoes.

I loved this tiny salamander. It’s an Eastern Red-Spotted Newt in the juvenile, or eft, stage.

On my way to Porter, I met another hiker who warned me that the summit isn’t all that obvious, so many people pass right by, thinking it’s a false summit. I was thankful for that information and paid attention to my GPS so I’d know when I was close to the end of the .7 mile trail. Happily, when I reached the small, rocky summit on my second High Peak, the clouds were starting to part just a bit.

While there’s much to be said for hiking on a gloriously clear day, it was also pretty amazing to see the clouds part, little by little, to reveal the surrounding mountains. I caught a glimpse of the Cascade summit and wondered if another climb up might yield a prettier view now that the skies were clearing. So I headed back through the mud to Cascade. Approach number two looked more promising…

When I reached the top, it felt like a whole different mountain. The Adirondacks are pretty amazing that way.

I had lunch at the summit (warmer this time!) and headed down to my car. All in all, the hike took about four hours with summit time, and I am officially in love with these high peaks. I’m hoping to do a few more before the summer/fall season ends, and I’m already dreaming about which mountains I’ll write on that paper taped to the wall for 2016.

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Teachers Write 7.31.15 Saying goodbye…writing on…

It’s hard to believe we’re already winding down another summer of Teachers Write, but the smell of number two pencils is in the air, and we know that it’s almost time for you to turn your attention to your classrooms and libraries. Gae has your last Friday Feedback of the summer here. Today’s a good day to take a chance and share if you haven’t already. Imagine telling your students how you were nervous but decided to give it a try…

To choose the winner of our signed copy of ECHO and signed ARC of THE MARVELS, I called to my daughter in the kitchen and asked her to choose a number between 1 and 35 to go along with your comments on the contest blog post. After she hollered back, “Why am I doing this?!” (She is almost 14 and suspicious of my motivations sometimes) she called out, “Three!” That means Linda Mitchell is our winner! Linda, shoot me a message on FB with your address so I can send your books.

There’s no official writing prompt today, but if you’d like to share  thoughts on how your writing went this summer and how you’ll bring your experiences back to the classroom, please feel free to do that in the comments, along with our end-of-camp hugs & goodbyes.

I’m having a tougher than usual time letting go of Teachers Write this summer…maybe because you’ve all written so bravely and been such an inspiration. So yesterday, I was thinking that we might try something new during this school year — little Teachers Write reunions from time to time. They won’t happen on a schedule. They’ll happen when I read something wonderful and manage to cajole the author to come visit, to share a glimpse behind the curtain and the craft behind the story and an invitation for you to try a little of that kind of writing, too.  So be sure to stay connected to us on Facebook & Twitter for a little community writing here and there during the school year, too.

For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my childhood favorites.

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”   ~E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

It’s been a gift writing with all of you, and like Wilbur, I am thankful. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful rest of the summer and a spectacular, inspired start to your new school year.

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Teachers Write 7. 30.15 Thursday Quick Write with Kekla Magoon

When I read Kekla Magoon’s YA novel HOW IT WENT DOWN, I was blown away by the multiple points of view and reached out to ask Kekla if she’d consider joining us to talk about that in a Teachers Write lesson. She graciously agreed – and has today’s Tuesday Quick-Write!

In storytelling, everything is a matter of perspective. Writing thoughtfully and convincingly through the viewpoint of a single character is a challenge to any writer. Incorporating multiple viewpoints in the same story simply brings this challenge to the forefront of our awareness, both as writers and as readers.

A common question I get asked about my YA novel HOW IT WENT DOWN is “How did you juggle all those characters and viewpoints?” That novel contains vignettes from (gulp!) eighteen separate viewpoint characters. Writing multiple viewpoints forces you to think in very detailed ways about how each of your characters really sees the world. It reminds both writer and reader that there is no empirical “truth.” Rather, everything (and I do mean everything) that occurs in a story is filtered through the narrator’s point of view.

In any scene that involves more than one person, each character will be carrying his or her own set of desires, fears, anxieties, thoughts, and observations. If two different people walked into the same room, and were asked to describe it, they are probably going to say different things.

One person might say the room is square with high ceilings. One person might say it is white with gold trim. Someone else might say it’s an office that appears outfitted for an accountant or bookkeeper. These three people could be describing the same room, couldn’t they?

When you write from a single viewpoint, you will not necessarily be describing things as they appear empirically in the world. You can’t possibly enumerate every detail of the space, so you must pick and choose the things to mention, based on your character’s tendencies. In HOW IT WENT DOWN, all of my characters inhabit the same neighborhood, but they each experience it differently. These layers come from your character’s emotional life.

A boy who is scared of the gangs in his neighborhood walks down the street and sees everything in terms of his fear—innocuous things become a threat. The gang leader, on the other hand, feels very much in control of the space, and desires to exert that control, thus he views things as small in comparison to himself. A teenage girl who wants nothing but to get out of the neighborhood looks upon things with frustration and disdain, as compared to a middle grader for whom this block is and always has been her whole world. How would each of these characters respond to, say, stubbing their toe on a fire hydrant?

Practice seeing the world through the eyes of different characters. What interests and excites them? How do their emotions impact their worldview?

Writing Exercise: Write a scene between two characters from the perspective of one person. Then, rewrite the scene from the other character’s perspective. How does it change the way the scene plays out? Consider the character’s motivation and interests, and the way they are likely to describe the scene through their unique viewpoint. What does each character notice about the room or the other person, physically speaking? How does his or her emotional state inform his or her reactions and thoughts as the characters interact?

Optional: This exercise is especially effective if you take an existing scene from something you’ve previously written, and flip the viewpoint. What do you learn about your original viewpoint character by seeing them through someone else’s eyes? What do you learn about your secondary characters’ motivations that might help you create tension elsewhere in the story?

Feel free to share a paragraph or two of your writing from today in the comments if you’d like!

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Teachers Write 7.29.15 Shape Your World with Guest Author Ammi-Joan Paquette

It’s Q and A Wednesday on Teachers Write! That means the comments are open for your questions, not only about today’s post on world building, but about whatever you want to discuss relating to writing & teaching writing. Guest authors will be popping in all day to answer, so don’t be afraid to join the conversation!

Guest author Ammi-Joan Paquette, author of PRINCESS JUNIPER OF THE HOURGLASS,  joins us for a Teachers Write Saturday reflection on world building — that magical mix of setting and circumstance that makes a character’s world feel as real as ours, even when it’s in a fairytale kingdom or another planet.

Shape Your World

So here you are: wordsmith, historian, grammar hawk… author! You’ve got some terrific characters. They’re inhabiting a pretty dynamite story. But what’s going on behind the scenes? Reading a novel without a well-developed world is like watching a stage performance without a backdrop: the actors move and interact and inhabit their roles—but it’s hard to fully immerse yourself in the story.

Something is missing.

Contrast this with lavishly rendered plays—care has been given not only to set construction, period-specific costumes, and expertly painted scenery. There’s also the small things: an ornate side table topped with a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers; a chipped porcelain mug that has clearly seen better days; heavy brocade drapes to give a gloomy, faded glory to the scene.

None of these elements on their own could be argued as being essential to that scene. But taken together? They transport you to another world entirely.

My most recent novel, Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, was the first book I’d written which was not set, in some way, on this world we know. The land of the Lower Continent is not so different from ours, as a matter of fact, but it is fully its own place, complete with history, geography, wildlife, and more.

Once I got the hang of what I needed to do in creating this world, I had a blast! Here are some of the things I learned along that journey.

1. Ask the big questions. Nothing is too obvious when you are building a world. So you should start at the very beginning. What is your country’s name? Who is its ruler? What is the climate? What are the people generally like? In my case, it helped when I could relate my country to a real-world place I was familiar with. I quickly realized that my world had a generally European feel. I knew Torr was a tiny country. I researched small European countries to get an idea of size and population and settled on one that generally fit. This served to anchor the specifics in my mind and gave a clearer expression to the story.

2. Think visually. One of the best ways to bring your world to life is to represent it outside of the written word. For me, sketching a map was invaluable. This map was ultimately reproduced within the finished novel by the immensely talented Dave Stevenson, but for my early writing purposes, I just kept to my chicken-scratch basics. Right away, this act of creation will beg new needs: What does the rest of your continent look like? What are your country’s land neighbors? What outstanding land formations shape your world?

3. Venture outside the lines. Throughout this process, detail is your friend. You should color your world in broad strokes, without worrying about whether this information you’re gathering will be directly useful to or will even appear in the story. The population of Torr, for instance, never appears in my novel. But knowing it is extremely helpful to me in visualizing the events as they unfold across the series. Likewise the history of the Lower Continent (my characters’ piece-of-the-world)—I did a good deal of brainstorming as far as political backdrop and motivation for this, most of which had no bearing whatsoever on book 1. But once I went to begin writing book 2 (and, soon, book 3!), I was very glad to have that foundation to draw from.

4. Don’t be afraid of the mundane. Throughout this lesson so far, I’ve mostly been talking about fantasy worlds. But if you’re writing a realistic story, your world needs no less detail. It might be more easily rendered, but all of the above still applies: Draw a map of your character’s immediate neighborhood. What is the history of his or her family? Describe his relatives, best friends, acquaintances, and more.

5. Whip out your magnifying glass. Big-picture details are important; you can’t have a king without a country for him to rule. But equally important are the smaller world-building details. When it felt appropriate, I described Princess Juniper’s outfit. I invented a crest for the country of Torr, as well as a motto, which I worked into the description of the royal coach. I had a lot of fun giving details about the foods my characters’ enjoyed. I created exclamations and expressions that felt consistent with their country and worldview. The large details anchor the reader into the story; the small details anchor them in the scene.

6. Go exploring. When it comes to writing outside your comfort zone, Google is your friend. In book #2 of my series, Princess Juniper of the Anju (out next summer!), the main characters stumble upon a village built entirely in the trees. I confess, at first my imagination moved in a pretty linear way. To combat this, I went searching for treehouse images—and I was amazed as the treasure trove I discovered. There was no point where I sat down to transcribe an exact description of the images I found online, of course; but filling my mind with possibilities sparked my own imaginative potential, so that the resulting village is filled with much more detail and creativity than it otherwise would have been.

7. Leave a little room for fun. Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun with your world. Upon reading an early-stage draft of Princess Juniper, a friend commented that she would have liked to see the kids have more fun. She was so right! While part of this was plot-driven, pausing their schedule to give them time to be kids, I also wanted a little world-building specificity to bring this aspect to life. A little research uncovered a list of old-fashioned games that kids used to play in centuries gone by: for my medieval-style world, this was just the thing. Instead of giving my characters a general afternoon off, I gave them some unique and specific activities to engage in. Just one paragraph in a whole book, but it’s become one of my favorites.

Building a world, like any other kind of writing, is an intensely personal experience. Just as no end result will be the same, no journey will take the same path. But I do know that the more deeply you live in your world, the more vividly you see it, the more sharply you recreate it—the more your readers will do the same.

It’s your world. Now go and bring it to life!

Note from Kate: Got questions about world building today? (Or anything else relating to writing? Fire away in the comments!)

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Teachers Write 7.28.15 Tuesday Quick-Write with Mike Jung

Our guest author for today’s Tuesday Quick-Write is Mike Jung, author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES with Arthur Levine Books. Mike joins us today to talk about something that seems to visit every writer from time to time at least — anxiety.

It’d be easy to make a joke about “being a writer” = “being anxious” –
it’s certainly true in my case – but I’m actually a pretty firm believer that
it’s more like “being HUMAN” = “being anxious.” At least part of the time,
you know?

There’s a great post on Alain de Botton’s Book of Life which persuasively asserts that anxiety is not a temporary sign that our lives are somehow in need of repair, but is in fact a sign that we are both human and alive. When boiled down to its essence, the process of writing is about exploring and expressing the experience of being alive, which can, of course, be a smidge difficult to remember when we sit down to actually start writing something and anxiety springs upon us and sinks its fangs into our necks like a slavering demon hound of psychic destruction.

But it’s not truly all that dramatic, is it? It might feel like a red-fangedbeast is using our carotid artery as a drinking straw, but we’re really just having an ordinary, everyday, human experience that’s completely unworthy of condemnation. Maybe we can use that as a springboard to getting started. Think about the anxiety involved in trying to craft some prose, kick around a description of how that feeling manifests itself in your mind, then apply it to something else, something that seems entirely prosaic and unchallenging to you. Then see if that juxtaposition squeezes out any more creative sparks. Here, I’ll start.

There are times when doing this feels like a recipe for certain exposure of my gigantic fraudulence. I don’t relish the thought of even one person discovering what a fake I am. If I actually manage to pull this mess together, I’m sure the first person who sees it will scream FRAUD! YOU’RE A FRAUD! That kind of thing hurts, am I right? But I guess there’s no way around it. I have no choice but to bite the bullet, silence my internal editor, and make the next pot of coffee myself. The new guy in marketing sure isn’t gonna do it…

Your turn. GO!

Today’s assignment: Have a little fun with this one & feel to share some reflections in the comments!

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