My sister is a reading specialist at a school for high risk students in Alpine, Utah. She asked if I would come and speak to an English class. This made me nervous, but I did it, and I'm so glad! Not only was it fun, but it also gave me the germ of an idea that grew to be my novel, Menagerie.
This is what I did. As the students came in, I handed out a few pieces of paper with these words on them:
Side kick/ Ally
One student chose the setting: Jamaica
Our hero: I can't remember what we named her, but we decided her special ability would be she could talk to animals.
Villain: Godwin, because it's the antithesis of Satan loser
Mentor: an old woman
Ally: a slow talking sloth
Then using a four act plot, the class helped me create the inciting incident, the pinch points, etc. And I loved it. But not all of it, obviously. I decided that even though I've been to the Caribbean, I don't know enough about Jamaica to set a story there. (Even though most of my book, The Pirate Episode, takes place in the Caribbean.) The mentor old lady became Elizabeth, Lizbet's grandmother. The ally, or allies, became all the talking animals. But most of the plot twists came from the kids in the class. I owe them this story, and I'm soooo grateful.
You can read more about my school visit here.
You can buy Menagerie here. It's FREE for this weekend only.
BUY IT HERE
Everyone talks to animals. Some do it every day, although very few stop to listen for a reply. Lizbet Wood does, and this is just one of the things that set her apart. She really doesn’t understand how different she is until violence shatters her solitary existence.While Lizbet seeks to understand why mother sought refuge on a deserted island in the Pacific Northwest, she comes face to face with the dangers her mother tried, but failed to escape. When her mother is gravely injured, Lizbet is forced from the island and thrust into a world even more complex and threatening than she could have ever imagined. A world where the animals have no say…or do they?
Animism (from Latin anima, "breath, spirit, life") is the worldview that non-human entities—such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects—possess a spiritual essence.
From Declan’s Research
The birds heralded the storm, as they always did. They liked to be the bearers of scuttlebutt Although, as Lizbet had learned long ago, not all birds were created equal, and some species were much more reliable than others. Not that they lied, very few creatures had the ability or cunning, but rather in their haste to be the first in the know, some blurted out misconceptions and half-truths.
Not that Lizbet had much familiarity with liars—or people, in general—but she’d read of several, as Rose, her mother, had accumulated an impressive library over the years. Not that Lizbet was in any position to know what was and was not impressive library-wise, or any otherwise, since Lizbet herself had never been off the island she and Rose called home.
The howling wind drowned out the calls of birds, and the chatter of squirrels and chipmunks. Opossum, skunks, and fox sought shelter in the forest’s thickets. Rats and mice scurried to find hidey-holes. Lizbet fetched an armful of wood from the shed to stoke the fire while her mother gathered candles.
Wind rustled the tarp protecting the woodpile. The pine trees, used to standing straight and tall, moaned as the wind whipped through their canopy, and bent them in directions they didn’t wish to go.
“A man approaches,” Wordsworth whined, terror tainting his words.
Lizbet looked over the German Shepherd’s furry head to the storm-tossed sea. The Sound, normally a tranquil gray-blue slate, roiled as if shaken by an invisible hand. Lizbet couldn’t see anyone, but her heart quickened. “Are you sure?” She saw nothing but a curtain of rain, an angry sky, and churning tide. The gulls, who generally swooped above the bay, had wisely found shelter. The otters, too, had disappeared, and for once the noisy, boisterous sea lions, were silent.
The dog nodded. “He’s lost, but hopeful.”
“Hopeful? Of what?”
Wordsworth shook his head. When another flash of lightening lit the sky, his ears flattened and his tail drooped and he cowered as the thunder boomed.
“Come,” Lizbet said, “let’s go inside. Only an idiot would be out on the water today.”
“He’s no longer on the water,” Wordsworth whined. “His boat has landed.”
Lizbet peered into the storm, saw nothing more than before, and added another log to her collection. Their cottage was made of stone, but the adjacent shed which housed the woodpile, gardening tools, and bird seed, was constructed of recycled wood. Wind blew through the slats and rattled the shake roof. The cottage would be warm and dry in a way the shed never could.
Wordsworth whimpered again. Lizbet knew he longed for the comforts of the house as much as she did, but she also understood he had an important job to do, and he would never back away from protecting her and her mother from strangers.
“There’s no one there,” Lizbet said, stomping toward the cottage. She climbed the steps and pulled open the Dutch door. The warm comforting scent of the crackling fire mingled with the aroma of ginger cookies welcomed her in.
Rose stood at a large pine table, stacking the cookies onto a plate. Lizbet stared at the number of cookies, knowing that she and her mother would never be able to eat so many. Her mother was waif-thin with flyaway blond hair as insubstantial as her slender frame.
“There’s a man in the cove,” Lizbet said, wondering if her mother already knew, and if so, why she hadn’t warned her.
Rose kept her gaze focused on the cookies and blushed the color of her namesake. She was as fair as Lizbet was dark. We are as night and day, her mother would say, Together, we are all we need.
“Are you expecting someone?” Lizbet demanded.
“No, not really, but I…” Rose’s voice trailed away.
Lizbet clomped through the kitchen to the living room, weaving through the stacks of books to the fireplace. She dropped her logs onto the hearth, placed her hands on her hips, and marched back into the kitchen. She hated surprises, but she was also curious.
“Who is this man?” Not Leonard, the postman—her mother would never blush for the potato-shaped letter carrier. Besides, Leonard would never venture to the island in a storm. He only came every other Tuesday. Today was Saturday.
“You don’t need to worry about him,” Rose said without meeting Lizbet’s eye.
“Why is he coming? Will he bring books?”
Rose laughed, but it sounded strange—strained and nervous. Lizbet decided that she already disliked this man. She plucked a cookie off the plate.
Rose looked up sharply, an expectant look on her face.
Lizbet studied her cookie, suddenly suspicious. Her mother studied and experimented with herbs and she’d taught Lizbet a variety of recipes. Dandilions to lighten the mood, lavender to soothe worries, chamomile to bring sleep, basil to stimulate energy, and gingerroot to make one forget. Lizbet sniffed the cookie and touched it with her tongue.
Her mother watched.
Lizbet smiled, took a big bite and left the kitchen. In the privacy of her own room, she went to the window and pulled it open. A cold breeze flew in, ruffling the drapes, and blowing about the papers on her desk. Ignoring the wind, Lizbet stuck her head outside and spat the cookie out into the storm. She slammed the window closed.
“What are you doing?” Rose asked.
Lizbet started. She hadn’t heard her mother come in. Wrapping her arms around herself, Lizbet said, “I was looking for the man.”
Rose’s lips lifted into a smile. “Please don’t worry about him. Here, I’ve brought you some tea.” She set down a steaming mug on Lizbet’s bedside table. “Gingerroot, your favorite.”
“Want to come and read by the fire?” Rose asked.
Lizbet glanced back at the storm on the other side of the window. An idea tickled in the back of her mind. “In a second,” she said. After plopping down on her bed, Lizbet sipped from the mug, but she didn’t swallow. Instead, she let the tea warm her tongue.
Rose lifted her own mug to her lips and watched Lizbet.
Lizbet set the mug back down and met her mother’s gaze. After an awkward moment, Rose lifted her shoulder in a halfhearted shrug and headed down the hall.
Lizbet bounced from the bed, closed the door, and spat the tea back into the mug. She poured the entire cup down the toilet in the adjacent restroom, flushed, and climbed back onto her bed. She lay perfectly still, waiting for her mom to re-enter the room. She didn’t have to wait long.
A few moments later, her bedroom door creaked open. With her eyes firmly closed, Lizbet practiced her corpse pose and didn’t even flinch as she heard her mother steal into the room. Rose tucked a quilt around Lizbet’s shoulders before creeping back out and closing the door with a whisper click.
Lizbet peeked open an eye and met Wordsworth’s steady, brown-eyed gaze. “Who is he?”
“I don’t know,” the dog whimpered, “but he isn’t scared.”
“How can you tell?” Lizbet asked.
“The smell. All emotions have a smell.”
“My mom—what’s her smell?”
Wordsworth jumped up on the bed beside Lizbet and nestled against her. “She loves you.”
“I know. But I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”
Wordsworth whimpered again and snuggled closer. “You have to let me out so I can meet this man.”
“I can’t. If I do, she’ll know I’m awake. You’re on your own.”
Wordsworth blew out a breath, stood, shook himself, and jumped down. He went to the door to bark and whine. It didn’t do any good. Her mother ignored him, which told Lizbet two things. One: the potion Rose had given Lizbet must have been so strong that Rose didn’t worry about Wordsworth waking her. Two: Rose didn’t want to be interrupted.
Lizbet sat up as a thought assaulted her.
Wordsworth, as if reading her mind, jumped back up beside her and gazed into her eyes.
“This man is my father!” Lizbet blurted out.
“You cannot know this,” Wordsworth whimpered.
“She loves him enough to drug me just to spend time with him! Of course he’s my father!”
Wordsworth moaned a disagreement.
Lizbet had a lot of questions—mostly because she was only twelve, but also because she lived a solitary life with her mother on an uninhabited island in the Puget Sound. She had faith that all of her questions would eventually be answered, but the biggest questions in her heart and mind all centered around her father.
Lizbet kicked off the quilt and crawled off the bed.
Wordsworth placed his nose against her thigh, stopping her. “There must be a good reason your mother doesn’t want you to meet this man.”
“She never said she didn’t want me to meet him.”
Wordsworth snorted. “If she had wanted you to meet him, she wouldn’t have given you the ginger root tea.”
Suddenly Lizbet hated her mother. “She can’t keep me from my own father.”
Wordsworth parked his butt against the door like a giant hairy roadblock. “You do not know he is your father.”
“Of course he is. Who else could he be? Now move.” She grabbed Wordsworth’s collar to pull him away. His fur bunched up around his collar, but he wouldn’t budge.
Lizbet tried the doorknob, but since Wordsworth outweighed her by nearly fifty pounds the door wouldn’t open. Lizbet flounced to the window.
“Where are you going?” Wordsworth asked, his ears poking toward the ceiling.
“To meet my dad.” Lizbet threw open the window. The wind spat rain in her face and carried a breath of bone-chilling cold into the room.
Wordsworth stood and shook himself, but didn’t move away from the door.
Lizbet had one leg thrown over the sill, and her exposed foot was already soaking from the storm.
“You’ll look like a drowned cat if you go outside,” Wordsworth said.
She sent him a dirty look. He gazed back at her. She clambered out the window. The rain hit her like hundreds of shards of ice. The cold stung her face and pierced her clothes. She ran around to the side of the house so she could look in the windows.
Inside, sitting side by side on the sofa amongst the towers of books, snuggled together in front of the fire was her mom and a man. Lizbet knew she’d never seen him before—not that she could remember, at least—but there was something in her that recognized him. She felt as drawn to him as a bird to a worm.
But as she watched him laughing with her mother, Lizbet had another realization. She knew that even if she introduced herself to this man, because of the cookies on the platter, in time, he would never remember her. She’d only be a vague recollection—a face he couldn’t place.
Lizbet never drank gingerroot tea again.
And the man returned, year after year.