Stuck In A Box

For Blinded, my next book about the story of Jules, Andrew, and Nick, there were several goals I wanted to accomplish. One of my main goals was to place the story in a setting that would cause maximum conflict between Andrew and Nick. They had a few confrontations in Tenderfoot and I really wanted to push this and blow their relationship up. It started with “What if Nick and Andrew were stuck together for an extended period of time in a situation where they had to work together?”

I decided to do this because Nick and Andrew have a tense relationship that swings between truce and nuclear war with Jules thrust into the role of referee and mediator. The conflict between them adds surprise and complexity to the story. Plus for me as an author, it’s fun!

When I started planning Blinded, I had an idea of what material I wanted to cover but I needed a setting that would allow me to trap Andrew and Nick in a box. That meant it was time to bounce ideas off of someone, in this case, my coworker John. (Alas, he has moved on. The day job will never be the same.) In our last brain-storming session, we suggested crazy ideas to each other to see what stuck, then shot them down as fast as we could. The rest of the day jobbers can’t help but listen in and offer suggestions once they see how much fun we’re having!

Here’s the list of ideas we considered:

  • Bank vault
  • Cave after an avalanche (And how many rescue people would this involve?)
  • Submarine (Not a Bond movie)
  • Ferry
  • Train
  • Cage (Tempting, so very, very tempting)
  • Plane/private jet (Nick and his endless resources)
  • Closet
  • Building falling down (Too depressing)
  • Basement
  • Roof
  • Prison/jail (Another interesting idea)
  • Shipping container
  • Locked room (Couldn’t figure out how you’d keep Nick in a locked room. He has skillz.)
  • Boat
  • Elevator (Pretty sure I’ve seen that movie ten times)
  • Drawbridge
  • Island
  • Ski Resort on mountaintop
  • Ski lift (Too cold, they’d freeze to death)
  • Car

Ultimately, the car won in the form of a road trip. This way Nick and Andrew have the option of getting out but choose not to, even though they really, really want to! <insert evil laugh here> While the road trip thing has been done before, it adds a sense of urgency to their quest that a jail or elevator does not.

If you missed the post on where the gang is headed, check out my personalized map on Google. If you want to know why they are working together, well, you’ll have to read Blinded this Fall!

As an aside, writing exercises with a large number of participants help the afternoon go by with a smile!

Fighting Time

Writing requires enough time to string together the ideas that make up a sentence, a paragraph, a page.

This is tough to do between phone calls at work and parenting at home. Somehow I’ve make it work. Sleep has been downgraded to near last on the list. It shows when I greet the alarm clock with a curse, near every morning.

I love my day job. I get to work in a nice building with interesting, friendly people and assist people with a variety of VOIP phone issues. It feels great to hear a customer describe an issue that I know I can assist in resolving. It feels even better when they thank me. Best of all are the moments when all is right with the network and I get that narrow window to throw a sentence or two down.

But I am fighting time. There’s not enough of it. Ever.

After an unexpected two week TENDERFOOT detour, BLINDED has moved forward. Chapter 5 will end soon, 15k words stuck down, and my (everything but) merry band of characters have crossed the Indiana state line.

My fingers are limber. The three day weekend is upon us. I might win this round.

Tenderfoot: A Fairy Tale

My personal copy of Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, received when I was 10 or 11 years old.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Jules. She was happy. Her family moved from place to place where she had grand adventures with her friends. Then one day, her mother died in a car crash. She was very, very sad.

Soon the time came for her to make her way in the world. Jules decided that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would be a fine place to continue her studies. Jules made new friends. Yet strange things kept happening! Her eyes played tricks on her and she heard things she did not want to hear. Familiar foods tasted weird. Jules didn’t know what to do!

Then Jules met Nick. He was scary and mysterious. Jules got mad at herself for wanting to find out more about him, especially since there was this nice boy named Andrew. Andrew was skilled with a sword. Jules thought that was hot. Between the two of them, Jules felt like she was in over her head!

So Jules ran. While she ran the trails of Battle Park, she thought about Nick. Nick knew something. Jules decided to find out what. She went to see Nick’s band play where the most amazing thing happened. Nick’s music created a magical energy! This both amazed and frightened Jules. During a break, Nick was mean to her. He told a story about being a Troll! Jules didn’t want to believe it but Nick wore the same exact pendant! Why did they have matching pendants? Why did Nick say he knew Jules her whole life? What a liar! Worst of all, he kissed her in front of everybody!

The next day Jules confronted Nick. He told her a fantastical tale about the strange things happening to her. Jules felt a little bit sad that she was never going to be normal like her friends. At least she wasn’t alone anymore. She had Nick now.

And boy did she! Nick would not go away, no matter how much Jules ignored him. But it;s hard to hate someone who takes you on a cool hiking trip to South Mountains State Park. They went swimming and Jules got to see his cave. Nick even taught Jules how to put her shields up so she could have some privacy. She didn’t want him spying on her and Andrew. Jules liked Andrew alot. Maybe too much. They would run together in the mornings. Jules felt hopeful. Love does that.

Then a horrible thing happened. Nick set Andrew up! This made Jules angry. She didn’t like being angry. She was better at being sad and depressed. Anyway, Jules was sooo angry she stopped talking to Nick! But Nick had a plan to get her to talk to him. On Halloween, he dressed up like a fencer and challenged Andrew to a duel. Andrew didn’t even know it was Nick! But Jules did.

So Jules made a really hard decision. She ran away from both of them. And that’s why she was alone when trouble found her…

I faithfully marked off each story read in Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales

Meet Jules Jennings, International Student


American School of Paris Yearbook, 1987


Early in the process of writing TENDERFOOT, Jules’ back story needed to be imagined. Where was she from? What was her life like there? What impact did it have on her character and behavior?

If you’ve read my bio, and I’ll assume you have, you may have noticed a few similarities between Jules’ background and mine. We both lived as Americans abroad in Paris, France, attended international schools teaching American academics, are from families that place a heavy emphasis on travel, and have a world view a bit outside of the mainstream.

Why do Jules and I share this background? There are several reasons. But first, I will define the term “international student” as it is used in the book:

An international student is a child of school age (not post-secondary) who moves with their family from a place they consider “home” to another country.

  • While the student has left behind extended family, friends, and community, they continue to live with their nuclear family.
  • The international student has a place and culture they identify with and which they consider “home,” but it is not where they live. For the purposes of this book, the home country is the United States and its culture. Pearl S Buck, while an American ex-patriot, would not count in this definition because she was raised in China and self-identified with China, not the United States.
  • Frequently, the international student moves more than once to another country and there is set time or place for the next move. This makes the future uncertain.
  • This definition stands in contrast to students who visit another country and attend school for one school year while living with a foreign host family.

Here are the reasons why Jules is an international student:

Write about what you know.

  • It’s a common rule of thumb for writers. I’ve lived through the experience of being ripped up from one culture and plunked down in another. Got that one down cold.

The international student experience is relatively unknown.

  • If someone knows of another book where the main character is an American who has lived abroad as a teen, I’d love to read it! Please leave a note in the comments.

In the United States, the international student experience usually is thought of as students from other countries coming to America for a school year in high school as opposed to American students leaving the country with their families.

  • This assumption provides an opportunity to flip the meaning and make it something unique.
  • As this is a rare experience, it is something new to share with readers.

The international student experience is interesting.

  • With a unusual situation comes unique opportunities. During the three years I spent at the American School of Paris, I visited the U.S.S.R. on spring break, went with two grades of students to Ullswater, England to attend Outward Bound, and performed on choir/band trips with students from other international schools in West Berlin, Frankfurt, and Vienna. The trips I missed? Ski trips every February to the Alps, sports trips all over Europe for competition, and a spring break in North Africa. These were just the school trips. My family traveled Europe extensively the three years we lived there. Opportunities abound for the exploration of other cultures.
  • More nationalities than Americans attend international schools: I had friends from all of the Scandinavian countries, France, Spain, various Arab countries, and a sprinkling of others. The funny thing was, as different as our native cultures were, we formed strong bonds with each other because of the us vs. them mentality: the internationals speaking English versus the French!
  • As a teenager, having access to a transportation system as comprehensive as that of Paris is very cool. The students at my school ran all over town on weekends, frowning at the embarrassing American tourists in their white sneakers and fanny packs. (It was the ’80s.) We didn’t have to be sixteen years old with a driver’s license and access to a car to get away from our parents. I was thirteen when my parents let me take the metro to meet friends on the Champs-Elysees to see an (always American) movie. This type of freedom is unusual and liberating.

The experience of the international student applies to military brats but in a different way.

  • While I was a pseudo-military brat, I never lived on a military base like the kids I saw when we went shopping for American goods on base at Ramstein, Germany or SHAPE, in Belgium. I believe their experience is different from the one experienced by international students because in these military towns, the students do almost all of their socialization on base. Schools and shopping are usually located on base, so these students have less interaction with the native community.

Parental and societal expectations are different in the international community.

  • There is both the internal and external pressure on a student to succeed – and to succeed at a level that is equal or higher to the parents’ success. This can be a tall order when the parents are given pay and responsibility commensurate with a job working abroad. As students, we were expected to not only attend college but to attend a great college. We took International Baccalaureate and Honors classes and were expected to bring home good grades. The internal pressure came from trying to measure up and find a way in the world that would allow us to live this kind of lifestyle on our own.
  • Other cultures live by different rules of law and teenagers like to push boundaries. This equals potential diplomatic incidents. For example, if your kid gets arrested by the French police, there is no phone call home, plus they can hold you as long as they like, releasing you only when they have something worked out with your Embassy/Consulate. The ramifications could be huge. Being a teenager abroad poses different challenges than found in the United States. My mother happily repeated the stories of the (few) kids who experienced these ramifications to keep me in line. It worked.
  • In line with following local laws and customs, international students receive greater responsibility at a younger age than peers back home. Was I running around Paris at age thirteen? Yes. Was I expected to be home on time, not get mugged by the Gypsies, stay with my friends at all times, and to keep a distance from suspect individuals? Yes. I was forced to learn and use French and understand the laws and customs of the French, and in doing so, learn about the larger world.
  • Living within the French community, we made friends with multiple families in our French apartment building. We held open house parties for our French neighbors and attended their dinner parties. One family was kind enough to invite us to their summer home for a week in southwest France. While speaking French with them for a week was difficult, it was worth the struggle. Getting to experience another culture full-time is an amazing opportunity.

Finally, the most important reason for while Jules is an international student: the development of backstory is enhanced by drawing on rich cultures.

There are three types of cultures intersecting in TENDERFOOT; a public university in the American South, the cultures of France and Sweden, and the world internal students. All of these cultures add to the story.

  • Jules has lived in Manhattan, Paris, and Stockholm. The moves were traumatizing to her. She finds the campus at UNC-Chapel Hill warm and welcoming and chooses it because it is a place where she feels safe… for a time.
  • Jules’ family has extensive roots through her mother’s side in Sweden and much of her backstory is provided by the modern-day culture and folklore.
  • Manhattan, New York, is a popular location for setting movies and TV shows. It is Jules’ home base because most readers will be able to picture living there and what that is like.
  • Paris, France, because again, it’s something I, as an author, know something about and can impart to the readers.

These rich cultures provide Jules with several personality traits:

  • She is not afraid to pick up and move on, but she loathes it.
  • She has a larger understanding of the world than her peers. Her friends Jade, Jenny, Michelle, and Priya act as controls.
  • She is quick to spot danger because of her upbringing.
  • She clings to the familiar.
  • She is a people-watcher and likes to figure out people’s motivations.
  • She always feels like an outsider.
  • She’s developed enough adult distrust of the world that she questions everything and uses sarcasm as a defense.
  • She’s always moving somewhere new, i.e. always a Tenderfoot.

I hope you enjoyed my blog about Jules Jennings, international student, the main character and narrator of TENDERFOOT. I invite you to meet her for yourself!

Tenderfoot Haikus

Nature's canopy, a picture captures moment, lovely Battle Park


As a reader, I like to be surprised. This was my central thought while writing the blurb, or description for TENDERFOOT.

Yet, as an author, I like to leave clues. And while I won’t be expanding the book’s blurb or openly discuss the plot developments (Ever feel like you’ve seen the movie after you’ve seen the movie’s trailer?), I might pull out the breadcrumbs and put one here, one there.

Why, look! Here are some now…

Folklore retold is
Paranormal fantasy –
College life dawns,
annoying Troll legacy,
Andrew is the one.
New morning sunrise
my heart, hand, and sword –
Jules has them all.
Eighteenth summer,
it starts over again –
This one will resist.