Tag Archives: path of the warrior

RPLA win raises visibility of little people in mainstream society

One of the more gratifying aspects of winning 2nd place in the Royal Palm Literary Competition was that the it happened in October. This month is Dwarfism Awareness Month, and as readers of St. Nic, Inc. know, little people–dwarves–play an important role in the story and plot. I think my fictional characters mirror the roles real dwarves play more generally in our society, even though they are not always recognized or acknowledged. I am pleased that the RPLA award have given greater public visibility to this novel and, by extension, little people.StNicInc,COVER

Someone recently observed that all my novels address a social justice issue of some sort. In the Pirate of Panther Bay series, the stories focus on interpersonal violence and human dignity. In Renegade and A Warrior’s Soul (the Path of the Warrior series), the issue is bullying and sexual assault. In St. Nic, Inc., prejudice and discrimination are critical elements of the plot and storyline. In fact, I can honestly say. without giving too much away, little people are an indispensable element to the story–the story just wouldn’t be the same, and not nearly as interesting, without them. Dwarves are full-fledged, multi-dimensional characters with their own ambitions, courage, fears, skills, and competencies, and their choices as individuals determine the outcome of the story. In no way are they tokens.

Just who are some of these central characters?

  • Rowdy, the software engineer turned businessman, who company’s revenues power the North Pole to achieve its social mission;
  • Ron Cutler, the seasoned corporate attorney turned civil rights lawyer
  • Lisa Patten, the chief of surgery at the North Pole hospital
  • Fred, a professional nurse who befriends one of a lead average-sized characters

Several other characters play smaller but important cameo roles.

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeImportantly, St. Nic, Inc. is not a story about little people. Rather, it’s a story about the North Pole, and what it might look like if it really exists. Little people make up about 25% of the North Pole population. Average-sized people play prominent roles as lead characters, but, like all societies, this is an ensemble story with different characters on different paths and arcs.

So, why do little people exist at all? Good question. St. Nic, Inc. was written in part with an eye on broaching a broader discussion about prejudice in mainstream society from a different perspective. I have a lot on my website discussing these issues, and the role of little people in the development of the story as well as their role in the novel, including:

So, thank you RPLA for helping me bring this discussion to a broader audience!

For more information on Dwarfism Awareness month, click here. Support Little People of America by either joining (here) or buying St. Nic, Inc. through the LPA’s web site (under the section “Fiction with dwarf characters”).

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Lessons in Writing Styles: Cussler vs. Clancy vs. Staley

One of the great benefits of Beta Readers–those brave souls willing to read drafts of your work before presenting it to the world or a publisher–is their insight into your writing style. Sometimes we resist these comparisons–as happened in this case–but they often yield a useful perspective that helps us define our own style and gives us a marketing angle as well.

This came home to me recently while my Tallahassee-based critique group was reading an early draft of St. Nic, Inc., my fourth novel released in August 2014.  After reading the opening chapters, critique group member and aspiring novelist Emily Timm said “Your book reads like a Clive Cussler novel.” After a few chuckles from the other members, she added, “and I mean that in a good way.”

Now, at this point, I was a bit embarrassed. I had never read a Clive Cussler novel, although I knew he had sold a lot of books. In fact, he’s sold millions, and his books have been on the New York Times best seller list twenty times. But this information was really useless to me as a writer, and I didn’t know how to process it. I wasn’t sure if this really was a good comparison.

Then, another reader (but not a critique group member), Mark McNees, said St. Nic, Inc. “artfully combines the action of a Tom Clancy novel with the insightful social commentary and multiple levels of experience as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.” Two more great cites. The contrast in writing styles between these now deceased writers was potentially significant: Orwell wrote in a class literary tradition while Clancy wrote action-adventure-technology thrillers. 

While I am very familiar with Orwell’s work, I wasn’t well versed in Tom Clancy’s, except for watching a few movies based on his novels. Tom Clancy was a genre buster and one of the few writers to have their inaugural novel (The Hunt for Red October) shoot to best seller status.  Still, I understood the genre pretty well, and I was curious how my writing style compares to Clancy’s.

The only way to find out was to read their books. What I found was quite revealing.

Of course, my writing style is different–neither Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, or George Orwell. In part, this is the result of my focus on writing for young adults and middle school readers for the first three novels. St. Nic, Inc. is written for the general fiction market although it is accessible to young adults. These readers want fast plots, plenty of action, and a gripping story. The rule is the less description, the better. In this way, Clive Cussler’s style, although he is geared toward adult markets, is well suited to my approach.

But I also included layered characters with arcs that peak at different times based on the trajectory of the main plot and subplots. Thus, my stories aren’t as straightforward as Cussler’s, and my characters experience significant life changing events that influence how they view the world. Like Clancy, I strive to make my fiction authentic. The Pirate of Panther Bay attempts to stay true to the real world of pirates and the historical context in which the characters live. The Path of the Warrior series attempts to ensure the martial arts self-defense skills are authentic and realistic, set within the context of middle-school bullying and violence. These values permeate the stories and books.

So, where does St. Nic, Inc. fall? Of course, it’s a little bit of each. I admire the lean writing style of Clive Cussler even if it won’t earn him accolades from the literary elite. (Of course, readers love it.) While I would like a little more flourish when reading Cussler’s novels, the action and pace keep me engaged, and I’m not sidetracked by subplots or thinly disguised attempts to be classic fiction. The characters and stories are straightforward, and that suits his fans (and publisher). These are very easy reads, the epitome of escape literature. I like Clancy’s commitment to keep the adventure-thriller grounded in reality and the characters more layered and complex. This also has turned out to be a highly successful strategy, and it probably reflects his own personality as a writer. While still escapist in its approach, Clancy’s novels require a bit more patience and enjoyment of the journey.

Based on the comments I’ve received from readers, St. Nic, Inc. seems to reflect a happy evolution of my writing style, one that embraces a lean writing style with layered stories. I am pleased to embrace comparisons to all three highly successful (for different reasons) literary giants. I’m not sure I would have made these connections, and become more confident in my own writing style, if hadn’t been for the prodding and candid observations of my beta readers, friends and critique group.

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Mapping ninjas into the classroom

Imagine a series of middle-grade novels that allow parents and teachers to explore the following questions in their classrooms:
  • How does violence effect human behavior and psychology?
  • How do stories reflect how people behave through fear, shame, power, strength?
  • What is the nature of courage and leadership, and how does this bystander culture limit it
  • How does bullying, intimidation and oppression, by individuals and in groups, effect human
  • How doe adults relate to children, and how is this different from peer relationships, whether child to child, or adult to adult?
  • How do young teens deal with the challenges, threats and violence they face on a daily or regular basis?
Well imagination is no longer necessary! These themes and more are developed through the stories and characters of A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade.  Honestly, I didn’t realize how thorough these themes were, and how well they mapped over to newly established Common Core literary standards, until I went through the exercise myself.
While I had written the books thinking about classroom use, I was quite gratified to see how well they fit the needs of classroom teachers.The results are available for free download at my website, www.srstaley.com, or by clicking here.
These maps are for 7th grade common core literary standards. I am working on 5th, 6th and 8th grade maps as well.
Stay tuned!
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