By Dee S. Knight (Guest Blogger)
Erotic romance author and children’s books? Um…not really
All right, I admit to being the last person—an erotic romance author—you would look to for information on children's books. And I don't want to talk about children's books, per se. I was struck, however, about a book I read about in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper a few years ago, and with the author. I took notes, as you’ll see.
At the time, I had moved back to the land of my elementary and high school years, the Tidewater area of Virginia. As you might know, this part of The Old Dominion is a hotbed of most things military. There is a huge naval port, an air force base, a naval air station, a marine base, and an army post, all in the Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach area. That means young, handsome, virile men in uniform (and out) all over the dang place. Whew! (fanning self)
But that's a blog for another day.
Wherever there are military men and women, there are wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, and parents leaving their families, often for extended periods of time. That means there are missed holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, recitals, and ballgames. Being a member of a military family is hard duty, and frequently hard to understand, especially for the youngsters. I know what I'm talking about, having grown up in a Navy family with a father who was a "ship-board rate," meaning his job forced him to work on board a ship rather than on shore. Most years, his duty took him to the Mediterranean region and other places, an average nine months out of each year. Now, fathers and moms can be gone a year or more if they're deployed to, or in support of, the conflict areas of the world.
So, when I learned of then Lieutenant Commander Ross H. Mackenzie, a Navy father, I was intrigued. He wrote My Sailor Dad* to try to explain to his 8-year old son what he did and why it's important. I noticed the announcement about the book for two reasons. First, I thought it was brilliant idea and long overdue. Second, the article told of the (now retired) Lieutenant Commander’s visit to a local elementary school to talk about writing. It struck me that as writers, we sometimes make the simplest exercises hard. Editing and brainstorming aren’t rocket science but we sometimes get so tied up over them that we make them harder than they should be.
Mr. Mackenzie talked to a group of children about a dragon. Through a series of questions, he guided them in describing the dragon's color, size and activities. He was a huge, yellow, fire-breathing creature with big teeth who liked to eat up little girls. (Sounds like some of my dates from U.Virginia back in the day.) But, Mackenzie asked, what if such a dragon scared some young readers? On the spot, the kids changed the character to a small, purple dragon who blew smoke puffs and lived in a shoebox in the closet.
In that instant, those children learned to question their first inclinations, to brainstorm new ideas, and to edit what they had already decided on. A classroom teacher probably would need half a week to teach what the father cum author illustrated in one assembly. We all need to remember the same lessons.
Does our character description match what we want her/him to be in the story? Or do we want to change the character to fit a description we have in mind, one that better suits the audience we're addressing and the goals we set for the story?
Have we sufficiently thought through the process of who and what our character is? Planning is not always a four-letter word. Characters are more than how they look. What habits does the character have? Piercings? Tatoos? Overbite? How have any of those things made the character when he/she is?
Do we let the threat (or dread) of editing stop us from making changes that would better suit our characters? If so, don’t!
Did Mr. Mackenzie ask the children what kind of car the dragon drove? Of course not. Dragons don’t drive (everyone knows that). Cars weren’t necessary to the story. Often, we write things unnecessary to our stories. Cut those parts out, no matter how much you might like them.
As thrilled as I was to read about this book, I was sad to see that it took more than two years for Mackenzie to find a publishing home. In this day of far-away wars, long deployments and almost all of us knowing someone affected by administration and DoD decisions, books of this sort are great for military families and (maybe especially) those not associated with the service. Mr. Mackenzie has since written several other books, including My Soldier Dad. I wish him continued success and thank him for his service.
For myself, I have my own take on a book about the Navy, and it’s not a book for children, though reading it with a significant other might lead to children if you aren’t careful! Naval Maneuvers is three novellas characterized by naval terms: “Weighing Anchor” (moving on in life to a new love), “Dropping Anchor” (settling in safe harbor with the one you love), and “Anchor Home” (smooth sailing with a second chance at love).
This is from “Weighing Anchor.”
"And what is your name, pretty?" Mel Crandall addressed the dinosaur bones in an undertone, bending nearly to face level. The skeleton displayed an open mouth and rows of fierce, sharp teeth.
"Roger," a man standing next to her said in a low voice. Startled, she looked up. Up being the operative word. She stood a decent five feet ten inches, and he beat her by a good half foot. She studied him. He ignored her.
The guy had a solid profile, strong chin, chiseled cheekbones, and a straight back with muscular shoulders. Short brown hair. He wore glasses and stared straight ahead, but glasses couldn't disguise the laugh lines that radiated from the corners of his eyes. His posture was near perfect and he was not overweight, as evidenced by the trim fit of his jeans and red polo shirt that clung enough to give evidence of a low body/mass index number.
As a doctor, she immediately noticed body characteristics before actual looks. But with this guy, examination in lieu of admiration was hard. Men were often put off by the fact that she paid attention to whether they looked sallow or flushed, or if their hands were cold or warm before she "saw" them. She noticed if a man's eyes were dilated or glittered with fever before she registered eye color. Dates started with mini examinations before she relaxed enough to enjoy personalities, but that's just the way she was. Men had to take it or leave it. Sadly, most left it. Which was why she talked to dinosaurs at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History all on her own.
Mel moved on to the next exhibit, a shorter built specimen but still tall and with a nasty spiked tail. "I wonder what you looked like," she murmured. "What color were you, what did you eat, and what's your name?" She bent to read the exhibit information.
That same guy had followed her. Rather than having a strong profile, she was beginning to think he was a weirdo.
Quickly, Mel moved to the next exhibit. "And you are–"
He stood beside her again! Mel started to look for a museum guard but saw none. Great. Planting her hands on her hips, she turned to him. "Stop following me," she said loudly enough that people in the general area turned to see what was happening.
The guy said, "Hold it."
Hold it? Hold it, as in "Wait a minute, little lady?" She opened her mouth to lay into him when he turned and removed his glasses, showing the richest, most chocolatey brown eyes she'd ever seen. The words stuck in her mouth.
"I'm sorry, what?"
In a lower voice she said, "You're following me from exhibit to exhibit and talking to me. I want you to stop."
"I didn't realize…" He wiggled the glasses at her. "I'm working here and I'm afraid I didn't notice you."
Well. What was worse, that he was a pervert following her place to place, or that he wasn't a perv and hadn't even noticed her?
His brow furrowed while he studied her. "Yes. Yes." Then he shook his head. "Roger."
Again with that Roger.
"Gotta go. Later." Then he smiled at her. "Just a minute, okay?" He folded the glasses and put them first in a protective case. Squatting, he placed a briefcase on the floor and opened it. He stored the glass case inside a pocket. Then he removed something from his right ear—an earbud?—protected it and also put it in the case.
Mel watched all of this with curiosity. He expected her to wait for him? What arrogance. And yet, wait she did. When he stood, holding the case in his left hand and smiled once more, her heart stuttered. The guy was drop dead gorgeous—at least to her understanding of the word. Normally, she appreciated the male form, mostly from a medical viewpoint. This man she enjoyed with pure pleasure.
And good God. He hadn't been talking to her, he'd been talking to whoever was on the other end of that earbud. Embarrassment flooded her.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I thought you were…" She slid her hand between the two of them and then to the exhibits.
"No," he said. "I apologize. I shouldn't be testing this stuff around people. The last time I did it a kid thought I was calling him Roger." His voice had a soft drawl to it. Western Virginia or North Carolina, maybe? Somewhere in the mountains. It felt like a cool stream as it ran over a body hot and tired from hiking: refreshing and invigorating, at the same time soothing and relaxing. She wanted him to talk more.
Stop that! She laughed. "I thought you were naming each dinosaur." He smiled and dimples indented his cheeks. His eyes crinkled and Mel's breath caught. This guy should come with a warning label. Approach with caution. Could bring on lustful intentions and ultimately, broken hearts. Take only in small doses and in public places.
He held out his hand. "David Stimson."
She took it gingerly, half expecting lightning to bolt between them. Nope. Nothing. So much for romance novels. He had a nice hand, large and warm with healthy pink nails, and she grasped it firmly. "Melissa Crandall."
"Nice to meet you. Do you mind if I wander along with you?" Grasping the briefcase with his left hand, he deftly moved to the left of her.
"No, please. It's a free country." She walked to the next dinosaur re-creation. "And this one is…" She half waited for his pronouncement.
"Not Roger," he said, stopping her heart with that killer smile again. He leaned over to read the information. "Torosaurus latus. It says here that these bones were dug up in North Dakota, but that the Torosaurus roamed from Canada to Texas, and that he had the biggest head of any land mammal."
"Well, I guess that's something to be proud of," Mel responded. David laughed and she found herself smiling back. When she moved to the next exhibit, he strolled along with her.
He pointed to the next specimen. "Poor guy. Starved to death."
"Oh, yeah? How do you know?"
"Can't you tell? He's all bones."
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Barnes & Noble: http://tiny.cc/hd8jyy
Find out more about Dee on her website. And contact her at dsknight [at] deesknight [dot] com.
Newsletter (sample): https://preview.mailerlite.com/o2g1i0?fbclid=IwAR0COlyuPY-Hu30KTBdT092j_GZeuN5z4pc1LtsvHTyr6IbiSpsGqeIgT90
*"Children's book explains Navy life" Lia Russell, Virginian-Pilot Currents, January 24, 2010
My Sailor Dad, Ross H. Mackenzie, Patriot Kids, LLC
For more information see www.patriot-kids.com or visit Mr. Mackenzie’s Amazon author page: