Tim Ellis’s Featured Author

Battle Park, Chapel Hill, NC

Today Tim Ellis has been kind enough to feature me as an author on his blog timellis.weebly.com. I talk about the various forms of writing I’ve used throughout my life and how this experience applies to the creation of Tenderfoot.

Tim is the author of ten books in multiple genres with a new one, The Flesh Is Weak, due in August. Check out his bio as well, it’s an inspiring story!

Big thanks to Tim for the feature!

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.

Meet Jules Jennings, International Student

DSC04389

American School of Paris Yearbook, 1987

WHY JULES IS AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT

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!

The World of Tenderfoot

The Old Well, UNC-Chapel Hill

When I set out to write the story of Jules, Andrew, and Nick, I had to choose a  setting. Where did their story take place? Was it during a historical period? Were they on another planet? What rules governed their world?

After considering a universe of ideas, I settled on Chapel Hill, NC in the current day. Why Chapel Hill? There are several reasons. First, I live nearby so I had access to do first-hand research. (Never underestimate the fun in first-hand research!) Second, Chapel Hill is a place that is fairly well known because of the academic reputation and athletic records of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Using a town that is known would allow me as an author to concentrate on the finer points of the setting (like the inside of a dorm) without having to describe the larger setting of Jules’ world because information is easily accessible on the Internet. Besides, Chapel Hill is a wonderful example of a charming town and gown city in the South. I chose current day to add to the readers understanding of the setting and culture.

Setting Jules’ story in a known location in the current day highlights the contrast between the unusual things happening to her and the normal life of her friends on campus. Despite the fact that Jules’ roommate Jade is a cheerleader on a prestigious college cheerleading squad, Jade acts as a control versus Jules. The normal versus the abnormal. The understood versus mystery. The predictable versus the unexpected.

The “normal” setting works to heighten Jules’ fear of being outed as “different.” All she wants is to be normal and fit in. Don’t we all?

To make Jules’ world as accessible as possible, I used real names for campus locations and street names. The businesses off campus are renamed but if you really wanted to know where certain scenes happen, it’s not hard to figure out. It was a thrill to visit Battle Park, adjacent to the campus, and take the photo for the cover of the book. A visit to South Mountains State Park is scheduled in two weeks. I plan to take a slew of photos and video.

I’ll admit I am a fan of Twin Peaks and was excited to visit the Double R Diner in North Bend, Washington and order a slice of cherry pie. This is my way of paying it forward. The next time I’m in Chapel Hill, I may have a beer at “Hilltop” and toast Jules, Andrew, and Nick.

Searching for Portugal

A SIlent Film, Chapel Hill, April 2011

One of my favorite bands, A Silent Film, has been together for several years but it was only a few months ago that I became aware of their music. When I heard one of their songs, I went to the Internet to do a little research and find out what I could.

The story I stumbled upon is pretty interesting. ASF came together in Oxford, England several years ago. They became well known in their community but for some unknown reason, they didn’t capture the attention of the large music industry. Then one day, they got the call. One song was playing on a radio station in Portugal and it shot to the top of the charts. Suddenly ASF was in high demand. Requests for TV interviews, news articles, and other media poured in. An invitation to a famous music festival materialized. Portugal loved ASF.

Due to this success, ASF was able to move forward. They recently toured the United States and are in the process of recording another album. I would hope, to great fame and fortune. (Read their song lyrics – phenomenal story telling and poetry.)

What’s my point?

As an indie author, I need to find my Portugal. Somewhere there is a market for my work. It might be a small market, it might be a larger market. But it’s out there. And I am going to find it.

This is why I am attempting to make my ebook, TENDERFOOT, available on all the online book stores that will have my work. It’s why I tag my posts, joined some writing boards, research the industry, set up google alerts, and fill out author information everywhere I leave an electronic trail related to books. There are a thousand little details that are part of being an indie author, and I have notes on them all. Because I never know who might happen to pick up an ereader looking for something to read and decide my blurb sounds pretty good.

This is what I keep in mind as I write my second book. Someday I will find my Portugal.

Music Currently Inspiring Blinded

If only I could listen to every song and write nonstop for 13 days!

I cannot write without music.

TENDERFOOT was written on: 3 computers, loose-leaf paper, notebooks, napkins, and a receipt. (It was a really great idea!)

TENDERFOOT was written at: my one hundred year old tiny cherry desk with the finish rubbing off underneath my wrists, in the back of a minivan with the kids bouncing around, in my brother’s apartment in NYC, on vacation in upstate NY, and at work in between phone calls.

The constant? Music. iPhone.

Here’s the playlist currently inspiring BLINDED:

6/29/11

  • Rebelling Voices by Marmalade Sky (Nice guys from Bristol btw!)
  • Dig by Incubus
  • Pyro by Kings of Leon
  • Hurtful by Erik Hassle
  • Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves) by The Wombats
  • Ruby by Kaiser Chiefs
  • Under The Sycamore Tree by Death Cab For Cutie
  • Everyday (Coolin’) by Swizz Beatz

5/26/11

  • Still Need You by Language Room
  • Broken Jaw by Foster the People
  • Many of Horror by Biffy Clyro
  • Colours by Grouplove
  • We Used to Wait by Arcade Fire
  • Take Me Out by Atomic Tom
  • Julie June by A Silent Film