Category Archives: My Writing

Writing I’ve finished and writing I’m working on

Who Is Edwina?

Some years ago I heard about a family involved with a divorce, a remarriage and the problems the daughter had because of it. I imagined a story about her and named her Aleta. So, who is Edwina?

Aleta was an only child. She adored her father. He threw her out along with her mother and filed for divorce leaving his daughter devastated. She is now only a weekend and holiday visitor.

To complicate the story the father finds a girlfriend with children of her own and marries her. Aleta is no longer an only child.

cover for Edwina by Karen GoatKeeper Who is Edwina? Read it to meet her.

Such a set up gives so many possible plots. I chose one where the stepmother has a daughter Aleta’s age. Both are preteens. Both had status before this marriage. Both want to keep this status. Megan has practice topping her little brother. Aleta doesn’t.

What does any young person need when life has them down and is beating them down further? A friend. How do you find a reliable friend?

Aleta found Edwina. Who is Edwina? Aleta isn’t sure. After all, a big, shaggy, black dog with red eyes who can talk is not exactly the usual pet.

Such an animal must be a delusion. No one but Aleta can see Edwina. Further proof Aleta is hallucinating.

At this point the plot has even more possibilities. A big, invisible dog can so a lot of things. Think of all the pranks Aleta and Edwina can pull if Edwina really exists.

Poor Megan doesn’t stand a chance. Or does she?

Aleta’s life has changed because of her father’s decision. That decision stays. Aleta has her own decisions to make now. Will she remain Megan’s enemy?

Who is Edwina? Aleta doesn’t know, but if she is lucky, Edwina will help her make some of those decisions.

Writing Book Series

After writing “Old Promises” I found I’d left Hazel and her mother in the middle of everything. Somehow I’d found I was writing a book series without meaning to.

Series are very popular with writers. If readers like a series, they look forward to the next book. The series sells. And writers do need to sell books to support their writing habit.

cover for Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper
The first book in the Hazel Whitmore trilogy introduces Hazel as she deals with grief and bullying in New York City.

The ending of “Old Promises” was based on a crime committed many, many years ago in Dover, Arkansas. In the third Hazel Whitmore novel I imagined what might have happened afterwards with the characters in the two books.

Right away I had problems. Writing book series requires lots of notes about the characters, the plots, the settings. Every detail must be right in every following book.

Old Promises, Hazel Whitmore #2 by Karen GoatKeeper started me writing book series
In this second book about Hazel Whitmore, she moves to rural Missouri only to find she is in the middle of a family feud.

I did not have those copious notes as I never intended to keep writing about Hazel. All my other books had been single novels.

So I read the first two books making up those copious notes. Then I started writing “Mistaken Promises” with the premise that someone didn’t believe Hazel didn’t cause all the problems that came to a disastrous climax.

I knew who this person was. I thought I knew why. Except I didn’t.

Fictional characters aren’t real. Except they are real in their stories and the minds of their authors. And this person I thought was the villain of sorts wasn’t that person at all.

Mistaken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #3 by Karen GoatKeeper completes writing book series about Hazel for now
Family secrets can have unintended consequences as Hazel finds out in this third book about Hazel Whitmore.

It took months for me to sort out everything. Then I did know who and why. Then “Mistaken Promises” could be and was written.

There are a few people who enjoy reading about Hazel. In some ways I miss her and would like to continue her story. There are lots of possibilities.

Writing book series takes a commitment I am not willing to make right now. I’ve gone on to other projects. So, for now, this series is a trilogy.

Learning To Cope

What are the main themes of the Hazel Whitmore series? Bullying in various forms is one. The big one is learning to cope with some of the curve balls life throws at you.

In “Broken Promises” the curve ball is grief and a life turned on its head. In “Old Promises” the curve balls are moving to an alien culture and loneliness.

learning to cope with life is one theme in Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper

Hazel had friends in New York City. She was a good student and respected by her peers.

In Crooked Creek, Missouri, Hazel is a newcomer. Things she took for granted in the city like cell phone service, being close to stores and internet service are gone along with her friends and the respect of her peers. She is an outcast.

Learning to cope with these changes is hard for Hazel. Giving up is easy. Letting others define who she is would be understandable. Except it would rob her of her self respect.

Does she behave like a superhero? No. Such people are not very real or representative of most people. Having backbone and standing up for yourself is something all of us can do even if we sometimes break down and hide. And that is the way learning to cope with these curve balls goes for Hazel.

facing life and learning to cope are themes in Old Promises, Hazel Whitmore #2 by Karen GoatKeeper

Hazel faces loneliness and isolation. She goes looking for friends and finds ways other Ozark young people deal with these. These conditions are facts of life in a rural community and have been since pioneer days.

Rural Missouri, especially in the Ozarks with its hills, ravines and hollows, has lots of problems getting cell service and internet service to people. My house is tucked away in a ravine with the nearest service a quarter of a mile away.

No service is not a problem for me as I grew up without cell phones or internet. Most young people today use both of these daily. Losing them takes a lot of adjustment.

Nothing in life is certain except that it changes. Learning to cope with those changes is fundamental.

Writing First Drafts

I love writing first drafts. I’m on top of the wave of a new idea surfing along on the new characters and plot. The brain hums. The fingers fly across the keys.

Some writers find writing first drafts a scary time. They are terrified of making mistakes, leaving plot holes, ending up in a dead end or the whole story disintegrating.

Not me. I find this a liberating time. If there are mistakes, if the plot fizzles or gets unworkable, I keep going on a new tack. The problems can be edited out later.

Even with careful planning, characters are not real yet. They become real for me while writing first drafts.

cover for Edwina by Karen GoatKeeper

In “Edwina” the main character Aleta has had her perfect world blown up in her face by divorce. She hasn’t even adjusted to that when a stepsister moves into her room ransacking her things.

This much I knew. Aleta would be angry. How angry? What would she do? How would she feel beyond the anger? Anger focused at whom?

What about the stepsister? She was used to being first in her mother’s life. Now her position is threatened. What does she feel? How does she deal with it?

All of these questions were dealt with in that first draft as I wrote it sweeping up to the shore of The End.

cover for For Love of Goats by Karen GoatKeeper

In “For Love of Goats” there is a series of short skits about Star, the little goat. I’ve raised goats for over forty years. I’ve watched hundreds of kids grow up. Now I was attempting to be one of those kids.

What would a little goat kid feel like being born? How would she react to her new world? How would she react to a sibling as kids are normally born as twins?

I started with a list of situations. But writing first drafts of the stories let me play with the reactions, delve into the emotions, see the world new as a new kid would see it.

Perhaps writing first drafts can be scary looking at that blank page or screen. For me that is the opportunity to let the imagination loose, to fly through the story exploring the possibilities and seeing the characters come to life.

Changing Plot Lines

There are times when a plot simply does not work. That was the case when I first attempted writing “Broken Promises” and I learned changing plot lines was one way to writing a novel.

I wanted to write a ‘city girl moves to the country’ type of novel. A favorite series is Anne of Green Gables. And I am a city girl who moved to the country.

The other idea was something between a girl and her father. I came up with this plot wherein the father gets kidnapped and the girl goes and rescues him.

Totally ridiculous. My only excuse is that it was my first attempt at writing a novel. It was a disaster.

I put the mess into a file, closed it and went on to other things. But the idea kept nudging me.

Then the Marines came to my brother’s door. His son, my nephew, my mother’s favorite grandchild, Private First Class Brandon Smith had been killed in Iraq on my mother’s eightieth birthday.

cover for Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper
When you like a storyline, but the plot doesn’t work. Set it aside for a time. When you take another look, life could help you rewrite the plot to take your storyline into a novel.

Grief is different for each person. Working through grief is different for each person. I go numb and work at my job, at something. For my brother it was unreal for almost a year until his son’s friends held a birthday party for Brandon. He would have been 19. My mother never recovered.

By November, NaNo time, I was changing plot lines for my old novel idea. Hazel Whitmore got a new chance to star in her own novel. And the new plot did involve her relationship with her father.

When I sat down at my computer in November, the novel seemed to write itself. I had done some research and talked with my brother.

And yes, I did get a letter from the dead. It was from my father. My hands shook. It was a day or two before I could open it.

Changing plot lines had rescued “Broken Promises” and let it become a novel. It deals with grief and some of the emotions grief can bring into play. And grief is one emotion everyone must face sometime in their lives.

Novel Timelines

Novel timelines aren’t always needed. Short stories or novels that happen over a short space of time usually don’t need them. Even longer novels may not need them.

When I began writing “The Carduan Chronicles”, I didn’t need a timeline. There was one space ship, nine Carduans. Other than keeping track of the weeks and months to keep the natural happenings in sync, I could meander along.

Then I added a second ship coming in from space. The two ships had to meet up in a certain length of time, 16 of their weeks. A timeline became essential. Even the novel itself became a countdown of sorts.

One type of novel timelines
In “The Carduan Chronicles” the Carduan week has six days. When I set up the timeline, I set it up by weeks counting down from 15 as that is the length of time involved in the book. each week counts down the days for the two ships. This timeline is needed for the draft as the two ships, although they are in different locations, are trying to arrive at the same location at the same time.

Novel timelines can rescue a novel from major blunders. When I wrote “Dora’s Story“, I rarely used a timeline and didn’t set one up. The plot floundered so I set one up and found I was a year short in the novel.

Trying to insert that necessary year brought me to redoing some plot lines and creating subplots. I had to have a beta reader go over the story. She found several places where my repairs didn’t fit in or weren’t made.

length of time challenge in novel timelines
When I go walking through a ravine, I cover about two feet in a step. Six inch logs are stepped over easily. I count 4000 steps in a mile.

I wish I’d done the set up sooner.

How do you know when novel timelines are necessary? Look at your plot. If you have subplots fit into the main story arc, if the main character has a time limit, if you have more than one plot line running, you definitely need one. Or you can set one up just in case.

How elaborate does a timeline need to be? That depends on the plot. For “Dora’s Story” the timeline was more general. For “The Carduan Chronicles” the timeline is day by day.

reimagining time for novel timelines
If you are four inches tall, as the Carduans in “The Carduan Chronicles” are, that same ravine is entirely different. Fallen leaves are a sea to push through. Six inch logs must be gone around or clambered over. A step is maybe two inches. How far can the Carduans go down a ravine in a day? How long will it take them? This changes how time is measured in a timeline.

There is one big pitfall in novel timelines. I tend to rush events, impatient to get to the crisis.

If you drive 60 miles at the speed limit of 60 MPH, it takes an hour to get there. Cooking a roast takes a certain amount of time. Most people don’t walk 50 miles in a day.

Keep your timeline realistic.

A side benefit of doing novel timelines is a better understanding of your plot. And that is part of the recipe for a better novel.

Tracking Down Milkweeds

Asclepiadaceae flowers are unique. As are those of orchids, they are complex and took years to understand. Perhaps that is what set Dr. Rintz on the task of tracking down milkweeds.

Dr. Rintz first met these complex flowers in Malaysia through the genus Hoya. He spent time trekking through the jungle looking for these plants and found a few new species.

Hoya is a tropical genus. Since Missouri is definitely temperate, Dr. Rintz started looking at the native genus Asclepias.

Asclepias syriaca, the common milkweed, is easily spotted when tracking down milkweeds
Tracking down milkweeds like Asclepias syriaca, the common milkweed, is easy when the plants are several feet tall and lined with flower umbels. Note the typical milkweed flower arrangement: five wells around a central disc.

Dr. Woodson explored this genus back in the 1948 and wrote a monograph about it. These 200 some pages were the last full treatment of the genus until Dr. Rintz began tracking down milkweeds and studying them.

Over the course of ten years and traveling thousands of miles, Dr. Rintz found all seventy-six members of Asclepias known to occur in the United States. Some of these are very rare requiring him to get special permission to go on private lands to see and photograph them.

tracking down milkweeds is made easier by color in Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed
The bright orange of butterfly weed is what many people recognize. They often don’t realize this plant is a milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, and can range from yellow to red, even bicolor. Note that this flower has the typical milkweed arrangement: five wells around a central disc. The wells may be longer than in the common milkweed, but the arrangement is similar.

As part of this study Dr. Rintz brought back preserved flowers to dissect, acquired seeds to plant and looked up many of the papers written about the quest to understand these complex flowers and how they worked.

Many botanists now confine their work to perusing herbarium sheets, studying dried and pressed plants. This process can distort the plants.

In tracking down milkweeds and studying them as living plants, Dr. Rintz found several instances when the living plants were very different from their herbarium representations. One milkweed has recumbent umbels, ones that hang down, but has the umbels pointed upward on the sheet. Two others look almost identical on their sheets, but are very different as living plants.

tracking down milkweeds is harder when the plants and flowers are much smaller as in Asclepias verticillata, whorled milkweed
Asclepias verticilata, whorled milkweed, is easy to overlook. The stem is thin, barely a quarter inch diameter and only two feet tall at most. The leaves are thin, an eighth of an inch wide. The flowers are dull in color. Still, the flowers have the five wells around a central disc.

The three volume book “Asclepias: A Study of the Living Plants” by Dr. Richard Rintz should be the new standard study of this remarkable genus. It discusses the genus in general including growing information about many of the species. It examines each species from the historical aspect and its growth. Each species is illustrated both in photographs and in dissection drawings.

Written in plain language, it is easy to follow for anyone familiar with this genus. If you are considering tracking down milkweeds or just want to seriously study them, this set is your best guide. The set is available through this website. Please request your copy through the Contact Page.

Developing Plots From Stories

Developing plots from stories takes ideas and turns them into novels. When I began “Dora’s Story”, I began with the idea of following a dairy goat as she grows up. This led to a list of stages a goat goes through growing up from a breeder through her owners. I had a story idea.

developing plots from stories was complicated in Dora's Story

The idea was further developed from a list of possible owners and what they would do with this goat. I had a list of a dozen possible owners drawn from the many goat owners I’ve known or read about. But I didn’t have a plot.

My basic plot was the story of an owner losing her goat and finding her again years later. I went through my story list and selected several I could fit into the plot idea. Each owner then became a story within the main story and needed a plot.

Whenever I am developing plots from stories I go through a similar process. Some of my books are straightforward. For these the story becomes a bullet point list of plot points which become the novel.

Developing the plots from stories takes another twist for a novel like “Capri Capers” formatted like a movie serial. Each chapter needed a cliff hanging ending. The basic story was for Harriet to gain her dreams of property and goats then fall in love with Arthur.

developing plots from stories can take time coordination

Two sets of villains enter the story. Leroy Rogue is a dastardly villain and pulls suitably evil schemes. Dan Janus is only trying to marry money and pulls off little stunts through his two helpers.

Again I did a list of bullet points, one for each happening. This let me set up the cliff hangers. The original draft actually followed the old movie serial format where each chapter replayed the cliff hanger inserting how it was avoided. The final draft edited out the replays.

Every writer must find the way of developing plots from stories that works for them. I’ve met writers who use extensive outlines. Others create the character and story in their heads, sit down and write whatever comes to mind. I prefer using bullet point lists and time lines.

Road Rally Races

People love speed and racing each other from on foot to horses to cars. Every spring the road rally races come to Dent County.

The local paper wrote up big articles about the race, Hundred Acre Wood Rally, and the drivers beforehand along with a map of the routes plus viewing places. I paid scant attention as I milk in the mornings.

Then I got an idea for a novel and the Rally was a good starting place. So I started checking out the event.

Road Rally races aren’t like horse races where the first one over the finish line wins. They are timed races where the winner has the fastest accumulated time for the several legs of the race.

road rally races are held on back country gravel roads
The waiting crowd stands around in the designated Road Rally viewing area and talks, eats, takes pictures until someone calls out the Rally cars are coming. A car tops the hill and races down leaving behind billowing dust clouds.

Ridge became a big fan of the road rally races. Since these racers are urged to respect traffic laws, he did so as well. Yet, he loved the driving, the skill, the speed.

The villain was based on a happening very long ago in northwest Arkansas. A college professor wooed one of his students and married her. He moved her out into the woods with no way to communicate with anyone or get to anyone. Her family finally tracked her down a few months later.

road rally races take top notch drivers
The Road Rally cars come down a hill and make a turn onto another road. In dry weather the cars can slide across on the loose gravel. In icy weather they slide on the ice. If they slide too far, they slip into the ditch. Once the cars make the turn, they can speed off down the road leaving a cloud of dust drifting over to settle on the spectators.

Ridge’s car is the bridge between the two. It is his first car. It is special in a way only a first car can be special. Driving it is a passion Ridge is loathe to give up or have reined in.

cover for Running the Roads by Karen GoatKeeper
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I enjoyed writing “Running the Roads”. I found the road rally races interesting. Watching the cars swoosh down a hill, slide around the curve and zip off down the road was exciting. I do understand the passion some people feel watching these events.

Every March I read the articles in the local paper. I look over the map. And then life takes over. Milking is done first.

Finding Stories

Finding stories is different for every writer depending on what they write. There is no magic formula.

Learning to see stories all around you takes practice. You read or hear an interesting news story and ask ‘what if?’ You see an interesting person and make up something about this person you neither know nor ever meet.

When I go walking, I see plants and animals. I want to know more about them. I researched and wrote about some in “Exploring the Ozark Hills”. Some end up in short form in posts here like this week’s White Yucca Towers.

cover for Exploring the Ozark Hills by Karen GoatKeeper

When I start a novel, I begin with a character. Then I wonder what this character might do, who the character might meet, where the character may live. Each of these questions helps me in finding stories about this character.

A story line is not really a plot, at least to me. A story is a list of ‘what ifs?’ Some of these sound interesting, but lead no where. Others keep opening up new ideas and new lists of things about the character.

In the course of a story, the main character must change in some way. A writer writes because writing is important so that change may matter only to the writer. Since an author writes for people to read the story, this change must matter to other people.

a life tragedy was a way of finding stories to tell as in Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper

When developing a story for Hazel in “Broken Promises”, I started with a single idea: city girl moves to the country. So what! Even the original story was silly and totally unworkable.

After the death of my nephew, PFC Brandon Smith, in Iraq, I suddenly had a story based on what members of my family were coping with. When I added the financial crisis occurring then, I had a story.

Once there is a list of ‘what ifs’ and a character and a change for that character, it’s time to develop a plot.

Finding Character Motivation

Having an interesting, believable character is crucial to a good story. But it isn’t enough to make a story. Finding character motivation is what makes a story.

In creating a character the writer creates the looks, the emotions and the actions. But, if that well crafted character just sits around, a reader will wander away in a few pages. The character must do something meaningful.

People do not go rushing from place to place just to go rushing. They have reasons to go places, things they want to accomplish on the way and when they get to their destinations.

People do ultimately meaningless things like cleaning house. After all, even though the goal of a clean house can be realized, it is short term as dust and dirt quickly return. The purpose of cleaning is to keep the dust and dirt down to manageable amounts.

This is not a good story.

What is this new character going to do? Why would the character want to do whatever this is? Why does this matter?

Finding character motivation require the writer to answer these questions.

finding character motivation determined plot in "Edwina"

The answers may be as simple as adjusting to a new life normal, growing up a little as it was for Aleta in my book “Edwina”. The answers may be changes in the characters around the main character as it was in “Dora’s Story” where Dora’s purpose was to survive and live her life as a goat while the people who own her change because of her.

Emily from the goat novel Dora's Story
Developing Emily’s character was challenging as she appears as a young girl at the beginning of the story and later as a teenager.

In “The Carduan Chronicles” the characters have many layers of motivations as each must face the loss of their former lives, rebuilding their new lives and learning to survive on a new planet. As I write the Planet Autumn series, each of the main characters must grow up even as they find they are ultimately on a planetary quest.

Notice the use of the word must. This is important for finding character motivation. The character must accomplish or attempt to accomplish some goal that changes who he or she is in some way.

Then the character becomes part of a story. The motivation determines the plot.

Exploring Ozark Hills

Over almost thirty years one thing has remained a constant here. Exploring Ozark hills has been and is a great pleasure.

At first everything was a new discovery. Each flower, tree and animal was something to be written down as special. We bought the Missouri Department of Conservation guidebooks to identify these new discoveries.

exploring Ozark hills for lady slippers
Lady slippers are not common as they are very particular where they grow. We came across some on the north side of a couple of ravines.

Each year exploring Ozark hills took us to new places looking for familiar sights and seeking new ones. Lady slippers hid up a ravine. Indian pipes appeared on the hills.

Even so many years later new plants and animals turn up. Special encounters happen.

I shared these special things first in a local ad paper and now on my website. They fill a book “Exploring the Ozark Hills”.

This was a surprisingly difficult book to write. I split it into the four seasons. Spring, summer and fall had so many possible things to write about, it was hard to choose the twenty-one I included.

exploring the Ozark hills for Indian pipes
Indian pipes grow underground getting nutrition from rotting matter and roots. Only the flower stalks and flowers emerge much as mushrooms do. They appear in the late fall.

Winter was different. When I wrote “Exploring the Ozark Hills”, I looked for themes to fill up the slots. Then I had to find photographs to go with them.

Falling snow is very difficult to capture with a camera. The eye sees it easily. The camera does not unless the flakes are the large clumps that sometimes begin or end a snowfall.

This was one of the first books I wrote. The essays are still pertinent. The photographs are still beautiful. For spring, summer and fall I could go out and find everything again, although some are much more difficult to find now.

The winters here in the Ozarks have changed. This last winter was the first in several when we got several inches of snow. And it was gone in days, not weeks.

Changing weather patterns are making exploring Ozark hills a new challenge again. Only now it takes spraying up to deter the ticks.

Naming Characters

How does a writer choose names for their characters? I find naming characters challenging and frustrating.

Names reflect the times. When choosing the name Hazel for the main character in “Broken Promises”, I needed a name from around 1900 as the character was named after her great aunt, but not embarrassing in 2000.

cover for Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper

Names reflect national and regional origins and religions. Spellings can differ for names too. When most people were illiterate in the rural United States, people spelled names the way they said them.

Sometimes names are chosen to suit the novel as I did in “Capri Capers”. Harriet’s last name Zeigenhirt is German for goat. As the novel was pure escapist, the villain’s names reflected their status: Rogue, Rascal and Lawless. Even Dan Janus got into this as Janus was the two faced Roman god.

cover for Capri Capers by Karen GoatKeeper

There are many sources for names both online and in print. I’ve used both. When I’m at home and not able to get online, I find the phone book, old school yearbooks, membership lists and movie credits places to find inspiration.

Naming characters takes on even more challenge when the book is set in the future or involves aliens. The Planet Autumn series I’m working on presently is such a headache.

A fictional future Earth provides the backdrop. Much of this will never appear in the books, yet it is vital to the plot. It also affects names.

More of the names presently being used will probably change to be more reflective of a time when space travel is possible. Yet other names will still reflect nationalities and religions, even though these are not part of the books.

In “The Carduan Chronicles”, presently in hiatus, the characters are aliens. Normal Earth names wouldn’t work. Some writers may find this easy. I do not.

Naming characters from the planet Arkosa, now residents of Cardua, forced me to get really creative. I got out my botany books and geology books. A little adaptation and I had my alien cast of characters.

The next challenge is being able to pronounce them easily.

Looking For Milkweeds

Spring wildflowers are blooming along the roads and up on the hills. Summer wildflowers are getting ready to bloom. I am already looking for milkweeds and finding them.

No, milkweeds are not blooming yet. They are growing. Would you recognize one?

Purple milkweed makes looking for milkweeds easy
One of the earliest Missouri milkweeds to bloom, purple milkweed can be five feet tall topped by a large umbel of purplish pink flowers. Fritillary, Sulphur, skipper butterflies are frequent visitors crowding in with the bees and wasps to enjoy the copious nectar.

Other than a few big milkweeds, would you recognize a milkweed flower? And what is a pipevine? Or a milkvine?

Some of these flowers make it into wildflower guidebooks. Most of them don’t as they are not big enough or common enough or colorful enough.

tall green milkweed makes looking for milkweeds hard
If you look closely at the flowers of the tall green milkweed, they have the same pentagonal disc, five backswept petals, five backswept sepals as more showy milkweeds. These flowers too attract many insects with their copious nectar.

Guidebooks have their limitations as well. Each plant is given a small bit of room for a flower picture and a description.

When I go looking for milkweeds, I need some basic information. Habitat, size, leaf shape and arrangement come to mind. Some of this in online, if you have a smartphone, which I don’t.

Having looked through “Missouri’s Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines” I know some of these and can easily check the pages to refresh my memory.

Milkweed plants have opposite or whorled leaves. The flowers are arranged like pentagons with five sides. Most live in sunny, meadow type areas.

purple climbing milkweed or milkvine flowers
Like regular milkweed flowers, milkvine flowers have a central pentagonal disc and five petals. The leaves are heart shaped. This is Matelea decipiens, the purple milkvine. The white milkvine flowers of Matelea baldwinia look the same, but white.

Milkvines are climbing milkweeds. There are only two in Missouri. One is purple. The white one is only found in the southwest corner. They like wooded areas.

The two pipevines are very different from each other. One grows near rivers and has huge leaves, over a foot across, and green pipe-shaped flowers with purple fronts dangling from long, thick vines. The other is found in the woods and has a distinctive zigzag shape with purplish brown, pipe-shaped flowers on the ground.

Pipevine flowers look like one kind of pipe
All pipevine flowers have this pipe shape. They lure insects inside trapping them in the bulb at the top so they will fertilize the flower and get covered with pollen. This takes a day or so, but the insect has plenty to eat. The flower then wilts letting the insects escape to visit another flower.

Lots of information about these plants is stuffed into “Missouri’s Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines”. When I go looking for milkweeds, I definitely want a copy in the truck for easy consultation.

Seeing Characters

There are many ways of seeing characters. It’s tempting to decide the story determines what the characters look like. In truth, it is how the author sees the characters.

In old westerns white hats meant good guys and black hats meant bad guys. Around WWII Oriental and German characters changed into bad, sinister characters. During the Cold War Russians became the bad guys. Personal attitudes toward and experiences with different groups of people can color how an author sees characters.

Age is another problem. While getting my teaching certificate, a speaker brought some children of different ages to the classroom. The youngest one was positive a tall, skinny glass held more water than a short, fat glass even when the water was poured from one into the other. An older child knew the amount of water did not change.

Up to beginning high school age, young people are concrete learners. They want to see and touch things to learn about them. Sometime in the teen years abstract thinking clicks in.

Another age factor is obvious to me now. I can relate to much of how younger people think and feel because I was once that age. They cannot relate to how I think and feel as they have never been my age.

The challenge in seeing characters is to go past such clichés and biases so that the story does determine what the characters look and act like. In some stories like “Capri Capers” these are wanted by the type of story. Usually they are not. Then the big challenge is recognizing when you let stereotypes and biases creep into your characters.

As I struggle through Mounzz of Autumn, I find these creeping in. Names are a big part of this. For now I am ignoring the name problem as it is easy to fix. At least inserting new names is easy.

Some of the biases are working their way out as I rewrite the story as I finally recognized where they had inserted themselves. Personalities are emerging and, as these are written in, I am seeing characters more clearly which moves them away from the stereotypes.

Playing with Water

Science activity books try to make learning science fun. What is more fun than playing with water on a hot summer afternoon?

Water is easy find in the United States. We take it for granted that we can turn on the tap and fill a glass with clean water. That is not true in many countries or even some places here. Where do people get their water? What do other people call water?

Those are some of the questions I tried to find answers for as I wrote “The City Water Project”. The answers I found are in water trivia notes, water puzzles and water stories.

Why is water special? Is water so special? Will hot water float on top of cold water? Can you heat water in a paper pan? Why does ice float?

cover for The City Water Project by Karen GoatKeeper

Maybe you think water temperature goes up continuously as ice becomes water becoming steam. Does it?

Next time you use a straw, ask yourself why and how a straw works.

I knew a lot of the investigation results because my science classes did many of them. Many of my students enjoyed playing with water as we worked outside on sunny, warm days at the end of the year.

playing with water activity
One activity in “The City Water Project” is putting a layer of hot water on a layer of cold water. This is possible because hot water is slightly less dense than cold water. It still takes careful preparation and patience to achieve this result.

Even so, I did every single investigation and activity before putting them in “The City Water Project”. There were some changes I needed to make so anyone could get good results. And this made me use the directions I so quickly dashed off, after all, I knew how to do these. But you may not so the steps had to be clear and easy to follow.

Perhaps you wonder why water matters to me. My father had no running water in his house and I lived there several years.

The last activity is truly playing with water. Making and flying a water rocket is challenging, fun, and a way to get wet. How high will your rocket fly?

Finding My Characters

The Planet Autumn series may have begun as a way to teach some basic scientific concepts, but it has become a story of the people on the mission. That makes finding my characters very important.

The story premise is with an exploratory mission on another planet slated for terraforming and occupancy by humans in a couple of years. So the cast of characters includes all the members of the exploratory team, all 117 of them.

Obviously 117 characters is far too many to work with regularly. Many of them may hardly be mentioned in the planned six books.

How many of these are important characters? In “Prelude to Autumn” there are two main characters: Fred and Victoria. In “Mounzz of Autumn” the mission has split into four Stations. Each Station has a main character.

Fred is at East Station. Who is Fred? His mother died recently as a result of a tragedy on a previous mission. He and his father are adjusting to being on their own. As a new teenager he is facing those changes. He is honest, scientifically gifted, curious, loyal, caring and lonely. Being talked down to by adults is a pet peeve.

Adrian is at Central Station. As the Team Leader’s son, he occasionally uses it as clout when he wants something. He tends to be laid back, athletic, friendly, seemingly casual, skeptical.

Abdul at South Station is caught in the middle. He is outgoing, but has no friends as his father takes them on missions as often as possible. His parents are secretive, afraid and want their son to do nothing to attract attention to them. Joining the mounzz project with Fred and the others gives him a chance to be accepted and welcomed by others. It also brings him into conflict with his parents. It makes him feel important.

Alexandra is at West Station. She is nosy, brave, loyal, a good student. She and her best friend Stardust are willing to risk everything to defend a cause they feel is right.

There are many minor characters who play important roles and need fleshing out as well. In finding my characters I use these ideas to see them. In writing the story these basic traits expand taking the characters to where they develop their own voices and behave according to their characters.

This is the goal of finding my characters: to have them feel real enough to speak and behave as themselves, not clones of me.

Dora’s Story” had even more characters in my background notes as I had to know every goat owner and goat entered in every class in all of the goat shows.

Finding Peace In Nature

Radio news is endlessly about the pandemic. It’s so hard to relate to this. When I get upset by it, I go walking finding peace in nature.

I moved out of the city fifty years ago. At first I missed things like the stores, the theaters, even the people. I wanted to move back.

In the meantime Jennifer, my first goat, was born. I started walking around my father’s place.

The chance came to go back to the city. There were so many things I thought I wanted to do. When I got there, I was lost. I no longer belonged. I went home to the country.

Ozark woods show peace in nature
Stand on the hillside, Breezes ruffle through your hair, Peace seeps through your soul. Nature may seem a peaceful scene for contemplation. It can bring peace to one who is filled with stress and worry. In reality nature is filled with danger for those living on the hills.

As a writer I read how publishers want articles and books about other cultures. Rural areas are another culture which we don’t recognize as we assume everyone is much the same.

The difference has become glaring to me over the past year. I hear how people were stuck in their apartments or houses. Their options were limited.

I can understand how frustrated that can be. Living up north in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I would get cabin fever over the winter stuck inside looking out at the waist deep snow and longing for spring.

Perhaps that makes me value even more being able to walk out of my house and half a mile over the pasture and up into the hills whenever I can manage. Finding peace in nature keeps me sane on those days when nothing seems to work out.

Standing out in the midst of the trees or looking down the creek or watching the vultures soar overhead brings a quiet deep inside. That feeling finds me trying to express this in words. Haiku is an easy way to do this.

cover for My Ozark Home by Karen GoatKeeper

When I can’t get outside, looking through my pictures taken over the almost thirty years I have lived here now helps too.

Finding peace in nature formed the basis of “My Ozark Home”. Perhaps looking at the pictures and reflecting on the haikus will do the same for those still stuck in the city.

Order your free pdf copy of “My Ozark Home” from Smashwords.

Developing Characters

Every novel and most nonfiction books other than textbooks have characters. Developing characters is a very important consideration for any writer.

Some writers may protest that a nonfiction book like memoirs are about real people, not characters. A character is the person or thing the book is centered around whether that entity is real or imagined.

In a memoir a writer may be writing a personal story, but that story happened in the past or is based on the past. And the person you were then is not the person you are now. So you must try to become the person you were then in order to write that story.

Your past self becomes a character.

For me developing characters begins with a general idea of my characters. What they might look like. A few character traits are added.

I read a book called “One Great Way To Write Short Stories” which had a list of possible character traits. I added a few I thought of. Picking a few off this list is a good starting point. It does only work for people.

Animal characters requires a knowledge of the animal and choosing character traits true to that animal. At one time animal stories were actually people stories with animals as the people, but that is no longer how most are done. When I wrote “Capri Capers”, the goats and kids were based on my own goats and experiences with them.

Developing characters is not limited to human characters
This book had both human and animal characters. Each one needed to be unique and believeable.

Developing characters then becomes putting the characters in a situation and writing the situation out. I write the situation letting the characters react to it using their basic traits. Those few traits morph and flesh out as I write.

National Novel Writing Month and Camp are good ways for me to do this. Since I can’t stop and edit without losing my word count, I push myself through. By the end of the story arc my developing characters are real characters.

Since I now have a clearer view of my characters, rewriting the novel lets me adjust the characters earlier in the story. This in turn adds depth to the story, maybe even changing parts of it to make the characters more real for the reader.

Making Writing Fun

There are times when writing is plain hard work struggling to keep putting words down and forcing the story to unfold. That’s when it’s time for making writing fun again.

I was working on “Dora’s Story” trying to get the timing right. There was a missing year to fill in somehow. I began to hate sitting down and staring at the same old problem.

November was coming. I was looking for an idea for a new novel. I needed a diversion. Where would an idea come from?

cover for Capri Capers by Karen GoatKeeper

At the time we were watching old Rin Tin Tin movie serials. For those unfamiliar with Rin Tin Tin, he was a German Shepard hero from WWI who began working in the movies. His sons followed him. There was even a television series.

The movie serials were short chapters in an ongoing story created to keep people coming back to the theaters every week. Each chapter ended in an impending disaster which was somehow averted at the beginning of the next episode.

Growing up my father used to tell us about his high school dramatic ventures. His group would write and perform a new melodrama for the lunch crowd every week. He always played the dastardly villain. At graduation the student body roundly booed him which is the correct way of cheering a villain.

As with “Goat Games” I thought why couldn’t such a serial be written about a goat? So began my wiring project for November, a way of making writing fun again.

First I needed a list of characters: hero, heroine, villain(s). Second I needed a list of possible disasters. Each disaster became an episode written in the original format with the disaster averted at the beginning of the next chapter.

Capri Capers” was not intended originally as a novel. It was only a way of making writing fun again. Except the story was so much fun.

Serious rewriting and editing turned the draft into a novel. Making writing fun was achieved so “Dora’s Story” got done too.

Coordinating Story Lines

In the Planet Autumn series, a group of people is dispatched to the planet to explore it over a span of two years. The first book, “Prelude To Autumn”, has everyone getting oriented at the Central Station. Starting in the second book, “Mounzz Of Autumn”, the people are scattered at four Stations and I am left coordinating story lines.

Although each Station is in its own area of the planet, the people are coordinating with each other. Each Station then has its own story line taking place inside the Station and links to the general story line of the Mission.

The secret to coordinating story lines as far as I can find is to adhere to a strict time line. I tend to start out doing a day by day chronicle for each different line.

I did some of the same things in “Dora’s Story“. The big difference is that those stories were separate incidents around a common character. Both the Planet Autumn series and “The Carduan Chronicles” interweave the stories.

In “The Carduan Chronicles” I am coordinating story lines between two ships that eventually meet up, or hope to. These two ships are in totally different locations as one is on the planet surface and the other is flying through space.

Carduan space ship setting for coordinating story lines
This floor plan of one Carduan space ship alters with the crates replaced by seats for passengers and shows how little area the group of 49 Carduans has and the limits on my plot for one ship.

In this book I worked each ship through a week at a time. This worked because the two ships were not in communication with each other. It was like writing two different books and melding them together. Once the two ships communicate, my tactics change.

In “Mounzz of Autumn” the four Stations are supposed to be contacting each other daily. As information is shared between the groups, the story in each Station progresses.

Once I finish this day by day alternating from Station to Station draft, I will isolate each Station story section. This will let me make sure the story line for the Station is not repeating itself, skipping events, messing up names and events and all the other plot problems that arise.

Another aspect of doing this separate analysis is adding more depth to the characters and setting. Changing the point of views to first person has made the lead characters much richer and more defined. Once the separate drafts are done, they will again be put together. Coordinating story lines is complicated, but doable, if adequate care is taken.

Finding Dora Crossbred Dairy Goat

I like the challenge of National Novel Writing Month every November. However, it means I need to have an idea for a novel every year. One year it left me finding Dora.

One question seems to pop up a lot for authors. Where do your ideas come from? In self defense we come up with some way to answer.

The truth is that they just are there. The nudge can be a book, a news item, a picture, some person we know who has something happen or something that happens or has happened in our own lives. The question is “What if?” to find a new way to look at this nudge.

preliminary sketch for Dora's Story
The drawings for Dora’s Story were done by Martha Cunningham. This is one of her preliminary sketches.

Finding Dora was like that. I was driving out to see a friend thinking about nothing in particular. I had just reread “Black Beauty” and wondered if something similar would work about a goat.

I’ve known lots of goat owners and heard or read about many more. There are owners of other kinds of livestock whose behavior and attitudes are applicable to goats as well.

I found myself thinking about possible owners and incidents. The list was a long one. which ones would I use?

Emily from the goat novel Dora's Story
In Part 2 of Dora’s Story Emily gets and names Dora to participate in a 4-H livestock project. She and Dora become fast friends. When her mother sells Dora, Emily is devastated and tries to find her.

It’s rare I sit down and outline an idea for a novel. Usually I have a bullet list of possible incidents. Finding Dora took an outline.

I decided on a cross bred dairy goat with a young girl as her first real owner. The girl was Emily. She names her goat Dora.

The big problem was the time line. The story took place over a number of years. Each of Dora’s owners had to fit into and fill this time frame. The goat shows had to fit in too along with all the classes, people and goats involved.

I still have those pages of notes. And it is several pages. Finding Dora was challenging and taught me a lot about writing.

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Determining Points of View

Points of view in Mounzz of Autumn has become complicated. I suppose it has always been that way and I didn’t notice.

This second book in the Planet Autumn series is centered on basic genetics and that has been the difficulty up to now. The real problem was sitting down and working out the genetics.

I like the mounzz and all their colors. These should make the genetics easy. They don’t.

In Prelude To Autumn everyone is at Central Station. It sits in the center of a circular meadow (suspiciously circular) where the mounzz graze. These animals come in vivid colors: red, blue, purple, orange, yellow and blue and yellow stripes.

For those familiar with a color wheel, purple is a blend of red and blue, orange is a blend of red and yellow. The blue and yellow stripes are an argument between blue and yellow. Dig out hazy memories of codominant and incomplete dominance in genetics.

mounzz sketch
At first Fred and the others look out the Observation Window and see these mounds scattered on the meadow. They later find these are creatures they name mounzz in “Prelude To Autumn”.

However, there are other basic genetic combinations. There is simple dominant recessive and sex linked. Add a bit of complication with a second gene affecting how the colors are expressed.

Obviously all of these would be difficult to lump into the group of mounzz found around Central Station. The solution is to have more than one Station and there are four. So I finally sat down and put the genetics in order for each of the Stations.

That brings me back to points of view. In Prelude To Autumn Fred is the main character and tells the story. In Mounzz Of Autumn Fred is now living at East Station. That leaves me with blanks at Central, West and South Stations.

Fred is again telling the story at East. But other characters are prominent at the other Stations. Fred is stuck at East. The original draft went to third person for the other Stations, but first is much better and matches the first book.

So now I am revising the points of view in a new draft. Alexandra takes over at South. Abdul heads up South. Adrian is watching over Fred’s blue mounzz at Central. And writing has become complicated once again.

Look at more drawings and try some tongue twisters in “For Love of Goats“.

Exploring Pumpkins

Plants grow all around us although we often ignore them or call them weeds. They are interesting to study and that is the real purpose of exploring pumpkins in “The Pumpkin Project”.

Pumpkins are interesting for lots of reasons. They are fun to grow. They are good to eat. They are fun to decorate. They are used in competitions.

exploring pumpkins by decorating them
People think of carving pumpkins. There are other ways to create interesting pumpkin decorations. This contest included this dog, a snake, pumpkin men and more.

I began writing “The Pumpkin Project” with the investigations. Each one of these suggested topics for puzzles. That took me to the internet where I began exploring pumpkins.

One site I found is devoted to growing giant pumpkins and entering them in competitions. People from all around the world grow these pumpkins and I emailed a few. Their stories are in the book.

Other sites listed sayings and trivia about pumpkins and there are lots of them. Some of these became puzzles or notes in the book.

exploring pumpkins by growing giants
Young Ben is seven with his first giant pumpkin, 307 pounds. The older Ben has grown them for many years and now judges at the local weigh in.

Did you know pumpkins began in South America and were grown only for their seeds? They weren’t even orange then.

I love looking at seed catalogs and packets. How do all those seeds get into those packets? I didn’t know and I found out.

Of course one activity is growing pumpkins. Some pumpkin plants are small enough to grow in a large pot. Others will take over an entire garden.

Lots of people love to decorate pumpkins and this makes a great activity. I prefer to eat them and I found lots of great recipes which I made and enjoyed eating. The cookies with lots of walnuts in them are my personal favorite.

Missouri state record giant pumpkin
Richard Bottorf loves growing giant pumpkins. He spends a lot of time preparing his pumpkin patch and caring for his pumpkins. It paid off several years as he set new Missouri state records.

My garden still includes sugar pie pumpkins. These are the best eating pumpkins. My goats think so too.

The book began as a botany science book. Once I focused on and began exploring pumpkins, the book was a lot more interesting and fun.

Get started on your pumpkin investigations, puzzles and activities. Check out “The Pumpkin Project“.