Thursday, February 3, 2011

Answering a fan about Miranda and Starlight

A high-school girl from Ohio e-mailed me to ask questions about her favorite series, The Miranda and Starlight books. Here are my answers:

What a pleasant surprise to get your e-mail. Thank you for thinking of me and for asking such thought provoking questions. I am very glad to know that you liked the Miranda and Starlight series. I think that Starlight Comes Home is my favorite, too. I am currently working on putting all six books, slightly condensed to avoid repetition, in one volume. I'm calling it A Horse and His Girl. I just finished entering and editing the fifth book, and am starting on the sixth. I have also written a few other unrelated novels in the meantime. I've published one, Kyleah's Tree, and have written it's companion novel, Kendall's Storm, but have only published it electronically so far, at a site called All of my books are available there, and all but Kendall's Storm are available at Amazon's Kindle Store. I recently finished a young adult novel about a boy who gets in trouble and has to work in a homeless shelter as punishment. I don't have a title for it yet and don't know when it will be published, but it is one of my favorite books so far.

I hope I can satisfactorily answer all your questions. First, you asked about the inspiration for the series. It was mostly my granddaughter, who was about eight at the time I started writing it. She and her two brothers lived with me and my husband at the time. Jayme was a lot like me in her obsession with horses. When I was little, even though I lived on a ranch and had horses available to ride, I wanted a horse of my own. By the time Jayme came to live with me, I'd sold my horses. She wanted to ride horses every chance she got, but most of all, she wanted a horse of her own. Like Miranda, she believed that living with grandparents instead of her mom, being new and feeling left out in a new school were all problems that wouldn't matter if she only had a horse. My husband and I took Jayme and her brothers skiing almost every weekend. Jayme didn't enjoy it as much as her brothers did. One day on the ski lift, Jayme asked me to tell her a story. I began telling her the story of a girl much like her. She helped me choose the name, Miranda. By the time the day was over, I had told her, chapter by chapter, a whole book. I decided to write it down. Of course, in the process, it came out a little differently from how I told it to her, but that is how Miranda and Starlight came to be. Starlight was fashioned after the horse of my dreams when I was a child. I always wanted a pure black horse, but never owned one. Like any fiction, the author tends to add and adapt some of her own experiences, and there is some of that, but the main inspiration was Jayme, plus a lot of imagination.

Why did I bring Miranda, Chris, and Laurie together? I hadn't really thought about how unusual that seems, given how different they are. You've heard of the saying that opposites attract. They also make a more interesting story. I think the friendship between the three arose naturally from the situations I gave them. There is always a bully, it seems, and often his or her bullying stem from loneliness and wanting to be liked. Chris really liked Miranda, but to get her attention, he tormented her. It was his horse that gained her interest, of course, but once they spent time together, she began to see more to him than his bullying. Laurie? Hmm. I think I got my inspiration for her from my favorite classic novel, Anne of Green Gables. As much as Miranda is like Anne, Laurie is like her best friend, Diana. I love that book, and though I didn't consciously copy it, I do believe that it influenced my creation of a friend for Miranda. The three were thrown together because of being on the outside of the popular cliques in the school.

Why did I decide to have Miranda's Dad come back and stop Adam from marrying Carey? And why did I make Miranda hate Adam so much? Very good questions. The answer lies in the way I write. I develop characters, give them situations, and let them dictate the direction of the story as I do my best to stay true to them. I didn't know in advance that this was how it was going to turn out. Adam was rude to Miranda from the beginning. I wasn't sure why at first. When he told her about her father, it was shown that the way he treated her was just because she reminded him of a friend he'd lost. I could have gone with that, but somehow, Adam kept showing traits that I disliked. He still had not become Miranda's friend. Yet it seemed natural that he would fall for Carey and vice-versa when they met. At that point I could have made Adam a nice guy, but it didn't seem to fit.

In real life, I saw how Jayme resented men who came into her mother's life, as well as into mine, for I was single (divorced) when Jayme first lived with me. Jealousy is natural for a child that age or at least it was for Jayme and thus, Miranda. Perhaps it would have turned out differently if I hadn't introduced Margot, who was inspired by a little girl I met at a book signing. She had an older sister named Miranda and they were both fans of Miranda and Starlight. So I began asking, "what if Miranda had a sister?" With my imagination in overdrive, I decided that she could be Adam's child. The more I developed Adam, the more unlikable he became. He obviously didn't like horses or children the way Miranda did, and that was another reason for her to hate him.

In the beginning of the first book, I introduced Miranda's three wishes—the things most important to her. I wanted to have those wishes come true by the end of the series. I didn't know when I wrote about the news and the letter from Miranda's father at the end of Starlight's Courage, that he would ever be found. I assumed I'd leave him dead, but I didn't close that door. When Adam turned out to be a jerk, I wanted to give Miranda her father back. As I said, I write as characters lead me, not knowing what's going to happen until it does. I write character-driven versus plot driven stories. I've tried outlining, but it doesn't work for me.

As far as advice for you if you want to become a writer—find your own voice and the method of writing that works for you. If writing isn't fun for the writer, it won't be fun for the reader. There are those who write a detailed outline and stick to it throughout their novels and enjoy doing it that way. Many of them are very successful and continue to crank out formula books for the best-seller lists. If that works for you, and you enjoy it, there are classes and information on just how a story should be shaped. There are many other authors—some very successful—who, like me, write as the story unfolds, not knowing where it will lead until it gets there. There are rules we all need to follow to make our stories interesting and marketable. They can be easily learned. I would also advise, that if you are serious at making a living by writing, that you also take classes in business management, for writing is a business to be managed, if it is to succeed.

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