Nanowrimo spotlight: M.L. Millard on Nano Light

My interview on The Kelworth Files. Writers, follow their blog!

The Kelworth Files

Good morning everybody! I have a familiar face coming back for our first spotlight interview of the season: M.L. Millard, who was also in the spotlight back in 2014. M.L. is participating in Nano for the fifth time this year, and this time she’s a rebel… Welcome back, M.L!

What are you writing about this year?
This year littlefootI’m finishing my Littlefoot series. Well, really part three of one book. I put the first part on Kindle, but when I’m finished with this last part I’ll put them all together on CreateSpace. I loved writing part one so much, but now I feel like I’m having to force it. I hope it’s funny anyway! Littlefoot finds herself in all kinds of mixed up fairy tale situations. In part one she was a Rapunzel with normal-length hair, a Cinderella who didn’t want to go to the ball, and more. Part three…

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In Their Shoes Is Not Enough (On Grace and Understanding Your Characters)

The other day I drove past the park and a woman was on the swings. She was by herself, and she was about 65 years old. She wasn’t twisting slowly back and forth and contemplating; she had a good swing goin’ on. I had the thought, “I wish I could put my soul in to mingle with hers.”

Was she reminiscing? Were her childhood memories of swings good ones, or was she living a childhood she’d missed out on sixty years ago? I would guess the former based on her body language. All I know is that when people say to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it’s not enough. If she’d left her shoes in the sand for me and I’d gone and put them on and swung up to the trees, I’d have felt the way feel on the swing, plus having shoes that didn’t quite fit. Even if I could have gone back to her first pair of baby shoes and lived in all her pairs of shoes throughout her whole life, I’d still have had my genetics. Her life might have seemed very different to me than it seemed to her.

Yes, this is about writing. I’ll get to that soon.

This week our church is doing a beans and rice challenge. I’m not sure that’s what they call it, but the gist is everyone eats beans and rice for a week in order to identify with people who are limited in their food choices, remember to pray for those in need, and save money on groceries, giving what we save to a worthy cause.

I did this same challenge a few years ago, and that time it didn’t seem like a big deal. It was the way we ate at the end of many a month already. This time, it’s been quite a while since I had to really pinch at the end of the month, and my experience was totally different. I did NOT like remembering what it had felt like to eat whatever we had at the end of the month, even though at the time I hadn’t thought much of it. It was just the way things were.

To be clear, we never went without food, and we knew we had relatives and friends who would buy us a meal whenever we needed. Still, for some reason eating beans and rice when it wasn’t what I wanted brought up some strange feelings this time. I was averse to it. I kind of felt like Scarlett O’Hara. “I’ll never be hungry again!”

Again, I never actually went hungry or even thought I might go hungry, but why did I feel like that? I have some ideas, but they’re not relevant to this post.

So. About writing. Wanting to put my soul into the woman on the swing reminds me of what we do with our characters. In fact, I’m sure it’s years of writing that made me think of it that way when I saw her. Trying at two different times in my life to put myself into the shoes of people who are restricted to beans and rice every day confirms to me that we can never really know another person even if we put ourselves in their shoes. My putting myself in their shoes at one time in my life showed me something completely different than it showed me years later. There is a flaw in the “in their shoes” philosophy. So as a writer, I want something more. I want my soul to mix with someone else’s until I truly understand what it is to be them.

Some people, when asked to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, imagine themselves in the other person’s situation and still have no compassion for them. Part of the problem might be that they are putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. This is where grace comes in. When putting yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t give you compassion, and you are not given the chance to mix souls, you must trust that God’s directive to have mercy and compassion makes up for this inability.

Oops, this is about writing.

This whole beans and rice thing has made me second guess my ability to understand my characters. Oh, Woman On The Swing, how I wish I knew how you felt and why you felt that way. The best I can do is to spend time with my characters. I have a better shot at mixing my soul with theirs than I do with real people, since they do live in my mind, after all. To this day it bothers me that I accidentally had two of my characters in Anaheim Tales phrase something the exact same way. A sign of a weak writer. No one else would probably notice it, at least on the first reading, but it’s there, and I know it’s a lack of understanding of my own characters. There’s no good explanation. They’re not good friends who might have picked up on each other’s way of speaking. It’s a matter of just plain not getting into the soul of my character.

I’m not sure I put all these thoughts in the right order, but I think you can understand my meaning. I’m afraid I’ll put too much of myself in my characters, and I’m afraid that they will look so different to me in twenty years that I’ll be ashamed of them. Will I misunderstand them because of my personality and life experience? Will a character who seems noble to me now seem selfish or shallow or sexist to future me, or to current you? Will I understand my character better after publishing and wish I could change their actions? Interviews with other authors tell me that yes, I will. And so I suppose I should just mingle souls with my characters as well as I can until publishing day and send them off with a little grace for them, and a little for me.

Lions and Tigers and Sexism, Oh My! (Or Why Does the Cowardly Lion Think He’s a Coward)

My first bucket list item was to become a published writer. Check! Next on my bucket list was to be in a play or musical. I’ve played in the pit for many a production, but I’ve never acted on stage. So when Music To My Ears, where I give trombone lessons and where my daughter participates in the musicals for kids and teens, decided to do The Wizard of Oz with an adult cast, I couldn’t pass up the chance.

I auditioned to be the “cowardly” lion. Kind of fits my life journey. I’ve always known I’ve had a brain and a heart, but I didn’t develop courage until later in life, or at least I didn’t recognize it in myself.

Whether I’m a natural at singing and acting or whether my boss decided to reward me for my ten years of exemplary service, I got the part. I picked up my script and decided to start by memorizing the song “If I Were King of the Forest.” If I were king of the forest, not queen, not duke, not prince.” “Hey,” I thought. “What’s wrong with queens? Dukes and princes have less authority than a king, yes, but a queen could have just as much.” I toyed with changing “queen”  to “earl.”

Next came “If I Only Had the Nerve.” I know the lyrics to “If I Only Had a Brain,” but I didn’t remember the lion’s lines. Right off the bat, it says “Yes it’s sad, believe me Missy, when you’re born to be a sissy.” Sissy comes from calling a boy a coward by way of calling him a girl. Not cool. But I couldn’t change it because it’s part of the rhyme. I’d have to change the whole thing. It’s sad believe me fellow when you’re born a-being yellow? No, whole new problem. “This is why I’m a writer and not an actor,” I thought. I’d be the most obnoxious actor in Hollywood. “Excuse me, don’t you think my character would say something more like this?”

But the more I thought about it, the more those lines seemed appropriate to the character. Wouldn’t someone who thought he was a coward be likely to have fallen prey to the wrong thinking that anything feminine is weak?

Did you know that L. Frank Baum, the author of the original Oz books, fought for women’s right to vote? What a guy! We’ll never know what he thought of the song lyrics, as they were written after he died. Did his books contain any of the same sexist language? I doubt it, even with my reasoning for how they fit into the lion’s psyche, but I haven’t read them, so I don’t know.

Time for a trip to the library, after I work on my roar 🙂