Short, Boring and Bloody?

Join me for the last post concerning surprising secondary characters in SPFBO7 novels as author David Stephenson shares his thoughts about character development in his SPFBO7 entry Enemy Unknown. He confesses that if he hadn’t kept at least one secondary character under control, his book would have been “short, boring, and bloody.” Perhaps you have such a secondary character in your book as well?

In your mind real people, and imaginary characters, are represented with the same neural modelling. A real person, through their actions and their words, provides stimulus that makes you rethink – remodel – reprocess all you know of them. What you then think of them, changes that modelling. An imaginary character cannot do that – they are not external – they cannot suddenly do something, or say something unexpected. But you can think about them, in the same way you can reflect on real people, and they can run amok within your mind. Drawing upon all you know of anyone you met, any other character or trait you have already processed. They can become, in your mind, as real as any person you know. Even to the point of being pathological, but more likely just really, really potent.

To allow them to grow so real – this can be one of the greatest joys of writing, the delightful madness of the unexpected. This is a joy an author experiences perhaps far more than a reader might be. A reader is surprised, somewhat, by every character in the story – they do not know what is coming. The writer ~should~ know what is coming, and can be utterly astounded by the sudden, unrestrained lunatic within who takes control of their fingers and bashes the keys to their own desire.

Main characters can do this, a little. Sometimes a lot. A main character arc is usually entwined with the plot and themes of a tale. Restricted, at least a little. Perhaps that makes them rebel, a little.

Side characters, however, might only have one or two restrictions. Their reason for being might be to fulfill some minor need need in the story. A plot device, or prop – their single purpose being their only restriction, and so they can grow, taking inspiration from the story events, the interactions – the deepest emotions of the author. Drawing stimulus from deep in the unconscious, growing as they gain the attention of the author, as they write. Stealing the story, or spinning off to a new series …

Torvor – the minor character who thumped his way into a major role, in later books of my series. Strong. Handsome. Rugged. Skilled. Hilarious. Stealing from my unconscious desires of how I wish to be – how I was, more, when young. Well, as I remember … I digress. His comments are fast and cutting, with a smirk. He is worldly – a hundred times more suited to being in the dangerous situations than the main hero, who is thrust into intrigues he can only barely handle. Were Torvor the hero, perhaps the book would be short, boring and bloody. As it stands, I, as writer, know his place and kept him under control – a mirror to reflect the limits of the true hero. What Torvor does in later books, however … might be up to him.

It Happens to Compulsive Plotters Too

Join me today in consoling and appreciating author Jon Ford (Jon Ford – Author.)  His SPFBO7 entry joined 289 other non-finalists a while back, although The Critiquing Chemist did say Hunters: The Ballad of the Songbird  “was hard to put down” adding that “Ford creates complex dimensionality … while still leaving enough mystery to keep the reader intrigued.”

I asked Jon about his writing and discovered that he is the second thorough plotter to participant in my survey of misbehaving secondary characters.  You’d think anyone as careful as him wouldn’t be surprised by his own creations, but, well, read on…

Hi everyone, I’m Jon and I’m a compulsive plotter. 

It’s a conversation I’ve had with many other writers, are we ‘Plotters’ (i.e. we meticulously plot our books to death!) or ‘Pantsers’ (I.e. we just write the book letting it unfold onto the page!)

I’m the former.

I have a huge spreadsheet (the ‘Spreadsheet of Doom’) where every book, every chapter and every character arc of my Songbird saga is laid out. Which is why it was surprising when a few characters decided – of their own accord! – that their role in the story simply wasn’t enough.

I have two types of these characters…

‘Supporting’ characters and ‘background’ characters.

To give you a couple of examples from HUNTERS.

I have a huge [cast] of characters. In that respect the book is kind of Game of Thrones-esque. Two of those characters are Lyssa Balthazaar (a Vampyrii, head of House Balthazaar) and Zarra Anderson (a bounty hunter). Both of these characters had sort of sidekick characters, both of whom demanded bigger roles than I originally conceived.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Lyssa’s lieutenant is her niece and best friend, Mercy balthazaar (that’s not a typo! Read HUNTERS to find out why it’s not capitalized!). I started writing Mercy as this bright and warm character, she had a real enthusiasm for the world. I fell in love with her. So much so, that I found myself wanting to write her in scenes that originally had been Lyssa’s.

For example, there’s a chapter where Lyssa would have traveled to meet one of the other main characters in the saga. That meeting would have been a serious meeting of peers, but I changed my immaculately plotted arc to let Mercy take that trip instead. The dynamic of that chapter plays out very differently now while also adding a really interesting sub plot to Lyssa’s arc. She and this character now don’t get to meet until book 2.

Another example is Zarra’s partner, Becka. When you first meet Zarra, she’s chasing down a rogue monster in the streets of Havana. Becka is the voice in her ear, giving advice. She’s the tech-girl behind their little bounty hunting operation and the two have this fun dynamic. Like bickering sisters. Texan born Zarra is older and more experienced, where Becka is a young Brit. The banterous interplay was such fun to write. Becka’s role is significantly expanded for Book 2 in the series (BLOOD TO EARTH – coming soon!) because I just simply wanted to write her more!

Moving on to the ‘background’ type of character that forced a bigger role, this was slightly different. I won’t spoil anything here, but the first one was a tiny background character in an early chapter of HUNTERS. This one grew in story significance purely because of something one of my Beta Readers said about her. The character now recurs in book 2 with a surprising new direction.

There’s also an entirely new unplanned character in book 2, which came about when I really enjoyed writing a certain chapter in book 1 and decided it was something I really wanted to explore more. 

A Character with More to Give

Join me today in distracting author Jennifer Ross (Jen McIntosh) as she awaits a verdict from The Fantasy Inn on her #SPFBO7 novel Blood of Ravens.

Jen is a self-proclaimed plotter who is used to her characters behaving as expected. She blames her time as an Olympian athlete for Alexan’s unprecedented brashness. Read on to find out why.

An author saying they have a favourite character is a bit like a parent admitting they have a favourite child, so while I won’t go as far as to say that Alexan is my favourite character, he is definitely my favourite POV character to write.

Which is ironic, when I consider he started off life as a supporting character, and a disturbingly one-dimensional one at that. He served a purpose, and that purpose was to further the plot. But then he became a love interest and required further fleshing out and, over time, as I developed his backstory and explored his past, I began to realise that he had far more to give. To the point where he took over the narrative and became the POV character for that storyline.

I’ve seen other authors talk about characters who just insist on taking centre stage, which isn’t something I’m familiar with. I’m a plotter, through and through, so my characters tend to do as their told. But equally well, in my other line of work (high performance sport!) I’m used to constantly reviewing and challenging the status quo in pursuit of improvement and looking back on it now, it feels like Alexan took those opportunities to present his case. To explain to me why he was the better choice for narrating that storyline.

And, true to character, he wasn’t far wrong.

Because one of the things that fascinates me is perception, and how two people can be presented with the same information and come to two opposing conclusions. How we see the world is shaped by our experiences and how we process information through that lens is what shapes our reality. As I came to understand Alexan’s experiences and figure out how they informed his perceptions, I realised he presented me with a great opportunity to explore the other side of my world.

The fact is that nobody ever thinks they are the bad guy, and a good villain is one with a good motivation – and by that I mean clear and/or logical motivation, at least to their mind. I first started building this world in my mid-teens, when life was simple and conflict in books didn’t need to be any more complicated than good versus evil. But when I came to revisit this world nearly a decade down the line, my understanding had changed and I wanted that to be reflected in my writing. Alexan provided the perfect opportunity to do that. I love the complexity of his backstory and current predicament, and the nuance it offers me as a writer – but most of all, I just love spending time in his head. He’s a grumpy git with a big heart, and that’s a lot of fun to write.

Pet the Wolf at Your Own Risk

Join me today in consoling and appreciating author Peter Blaisdell.  His SPFBO7 entry joined 289 other non-finalists a while back, although The Weatherwax Report did call The Lords of the Summer Season “one of the better written books in my batch” and added that it had “one of the most dramatic openings of the books in my pile.”

When asked to describe a secondary character in The Lords of the Summer Season who insisted on a larger role, Blaisdell offered a new twist. His upstart is an animal, and quite a ferocious one at that.

My SPFBO 7 entrant, THE LORDS OF THE SUMMER SEASON (Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3kMDESe ), is a fantasy set during San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. It’s about an almost immortal magician and a witch who have a long, fraught relationship through history and, because of a series of misfortunes, wind up together in 1967 in San Francisco. That summer, everything seemed limitless – until it wasn’t, so what better place for themes of attraction and creativity run amok than flower-power drenched, psychedelic San Francisco when magic was real?

Anyway, the protagonist, Bradan, faces horrific threats in the story, but he also has one constant and fearsome friend: the wolf Tintagel (Bradan named him after King Arthur’s birthplace).

Tintagel started out as a side character, but as I wrote THE LORDS OF THE SUMMER SEASON, the wolf shrugged off the pet role and evolved into an embodiment of nature’s mysterious, atavistic, and implacable qualities. Whatever I wanted as the author, this character didn’t want to fit into typical fantasy clichés! Tintagel isn’t a werewolf; he’s perfectly happy being a wolf. In fact, he’s contemptuous of people. Sometimes, he’s even contemptuous of Bradan. Also, unlike many fantasy animal companions, this wolf doesn’t start out fierce, but then become mellow and cuddly as the story progresses. He’s ferocity incarnate from beginning to end. His essential character never changes, never softens. And Bradan is always on sufferance.

Perhaps the wolf’s one humanizing feature is a sardonic sense of humor – usually at Bradan’s expense. But then again, who really knows what Tintagel thinks? That’s part of his charm.

A brief quote in the novel highlights this. It’s from a flashback to the early 6th century when the wizard, Merlin, introduces Bradan to Tintagel:

The huge beast sat nonchalantly on its haunches beside Merlin with the rising sun outlining the pair in rose-violet light.

“You made a friend—sort of,” Merlin said to Bradan. The wizard looked amused. So did the wolf. “Don’t take him for granted,” Merlin continued. “Ever. He’d eat your flesh in a heartbeat and do worse to your soul.”

Now Bradan stared at the wolf. His earlier impression of utter savagery was confirmed. Full morning had come, but the creature sucked up the ambient light like a vortex drawing all the illumination near him into a shadowy netherworld. Even without hearing of the creature’s former vocation as a sort of ghoul chaperoning souls to the afterlife, Bradan found the wolf a fearsome entity.

“This is my new helpmate?” Bradan asked.

“It’s good to have allies in disordered times,” Merlin said. “How could it harm you?”

“Well, he could tear my head off.”

“Come on, pet him,” Merlin said. “He may bite, but we’ll hope for the best.”

How Generic Outlaw #4 became Ludo

Join me today in distracting author Bjørn Larssen as he awaits a verdict from Lynn’s Books + The Critiquing Chemist on his #SPFBO7 novel Children.

When I asked Bjorn Larssen to do this guest post, his first question (actually his only question) was whether his character Ludo could say what he says at the end of this post.

Well,  there was only one reasonable answer to give him, so that is what I did.

Bjorn says … When I started working on Children, I just wanted to write a re-telling of selected Norse myths. One of the things that interested me were the parts between the stories – when King Thrymr acquired Thor’s hammer, how exactly did he get it? When Loki went to search all the Nine Worlds for the hammer, how did he know to go straight to an unimportant jötunn king? What happens before the myth in which Thor dons a wedding dress – and afterwards?

I already knew that the mythology was incoherent and sometimes self-contradictory, but I was surprised at how much time I spent writing those…connecting tissues, compared to actual myth re-tellings. One of the parts I had written was what I called “the outlaw section” and it wasn’t working. My character gets outlawed for questionable reasons, meets a bunch of outlaws, things happen for a while, then he is rescued and goes to meet the Gods and re-enact The Fortification of Ásgard. Excellent. I just needed to expand the section beyond “things happen for a while.”

I had The Evil One, The Strong One, The One With The Heart Of Gold, and then I had a Stick Figure Outlaw, because I needed them to vote whether to keep my character alive or kill him, and the result needed to be 2:2. So, I added a Generic Voting Outlaw and proceeded to outlining the things that were going to start happening. But the GVO kept disappearing, because I kept forgetting he existed – after all, he has fulfilled his task within the first five pages of this section. And then I saw this photo of Joel Kinnaman… 

…and Ludo was born. Born? He was alive, I could smell him (not recommended), tell you how he moved, how he spoke, how he laughed, where he came from, why he became an outlaw, but most of all he wanted to tell me that he was a fucking delight that came to rescue my book.

And he did. Speedy, wiry, his movements swift, voice high-pitched, words clipped. Quick to fight and quicker to laugh (his sense of humour may make Loki’s look reasonable, but still). Impressed by strength and courage, but not by unnecessary sadism. And – sad, so quietly that while everyone knows about it, everyone forgets – which is a mistake. 

“People shouldn’t own things when I’m around, it unsettles me,” Ludo says, when explaining “I got me outlawed for fun. I’m not good with laws and rules and property.” But there’s a broken note, as not all of that fun was equally funny… and all this came from one glance at the photo. Ludo kicked the door in rather than appeared, a complete, headache-inducing person, making my other characters seem flat. (Later I checked out the TV series the image comes from, The Killing, and I was surprised to discover no trace of Ludo in Kinnaman’s character. But once Children gets picked up by Netflix, I have words to say about the casting.)

I’ve been saying since then “…and the rest of the section wrote itself,” but I just began to suspect Ludo wrote it, just so that he could introduce himself: “I’m a fucking delight. The nicest man you’ll ever meet. Not an evil bone in my body.” And… you know what? It’s not really untrue.

Thanks so much for having me! – Bjørn (writer, blacksmith, spiritual Icelander who can be found these places: BlogFacebookTwitter)
Aye, what he said – Ludo
The question: Can Ludo say “I’m a fucking delight?”
The answer: Fuck, yes.

A Handwritten Note, A Lavender Rose, and Shattered Memories

Please check out this new release by science fiction writer, SFWA friend and all around good guy J. Scott Coatsworth. His September release is a brand-new MM sci-fantasy novelette with a distinct dystopian / urban fantasy vibe.

A handwritten note.
A lavender rose.
And memories cracked like shattered glass.

Kerry has had a bad day, and he’s sick of his life in Arco Four. Nothing ever changes, even for a firedrake. Days and nights pass with a quiet air of desperation, as everyone tries to convince themselves their lives in the superscraper have meaning.

A strange scribbled note offers him a distraction—and maybe a chance to finally unlock his broken memories.

But to find out, he’ll to go Outside. No one ever goes Outside. Still, what does he have to lose?

Check out all the places where you can buy this.

A Little Teaser…

Patrick stared through the tree branches at the sky where the stars shimmered brightly, eyes wide as moons. “Ever wonder what’s out there?”
Kerry shook his head, scratching the back of his neck absently. “Sometimes.” He liked that his cousin talked to him like an adult and not a ten-year-old. Patrick was a few months older, starting to look more man than boy.
Patrick nodded. “Mom says there are whole planets out there.”
He looked up again. Each of the stars was a pinprick of perfect light in the blackness of the country night. “Where?”
He pointed to the brightest star in the sky. “Right there…”
Kerry’s world exploded with light, and he screamed.
Cracks shattered Kerry’s memory like glass, and it fell away in shards, leaving him staring at the blank gray walls of the booth.
“Fifteen credits. Thank you.”
He flipped off the flash image that floated in the air above him and pulled the plug on the me jack, slapping it back into its holder. After a rough day with the Guard, he’d come for a little escape—a childhood memory of rain, or the beach, or… something comforting from before the Change.
Why did it have to be that one?
Snarling, he slipped out of the booth onto the club floor. Dancers jostled him on all sides, the smell of sweat heavy in the air, and the throb of heavy funk blared from a dozen speakers. He pushed past the tangle of arm and legs on the Shack floor.
Kerry growled. He needed quiet. Time to think. He’d skipped his last dose, and he could feel the fire building inside—he didn’t want to hurt anyone. Sooner or later, someone would come looking for him to make him take another pill, but right now he felt awake, and alive.
Those who weren’t too stoned to notice scrambled out of his way when they saw the firedrake tattoo across his face. Te streak of red in his hair and his father’s angular features, set him apart from the many others crowded into Arco Four. Those, and the finely laid tracing of dragon’s wings that graced his cheeks and the bridge of his nose like spider silk.

 

A thousand and one voices inside your head

Join me today in distracting author  C.E. Page (Cassandra Page). Her #SPFBO7 novel Deathborn has not only survived a review on Lynn’s Book Blog, the reviewer says she “had a good time with Deathborn.” Now Cassandra awaits a more specific verdict.

When asked if secondary or minor characters clamored for more of a role in Deathborn, the author provided me an answer I will always appreciate. I, too, create my stories as I go, and I, too, don’t like the name “pantser.” Page has found a far more descriptive way to explain this process.

Are you a “discovery writer” too? Read on and find out!

Sometimes it seems that writers are people living with a thousand and one voices inside their heads. If you wander through the halls of the various writing groups you will often hear authors complaining about characters who refuse to behave as they were meant to. Characters who insist on stealing the limelight from others or whose voices are just so intriguing they deserve more page time. The advice to counteract this problem often goes along the lines of: “you’re the author you tell the characters what to do not the other way around.” But it is not that simple.

Or it might be for those authors who are meticulous plotters. Who know every in and out their story needs to take to get from point A to point B. But the creative process is unique to each person. I am a character focused author; my stories always start with a single character and their place in their specific world. Deathborn started as Nea’s story. The first scene I ever wrote was a version of what is now the start of chapter five. A woman investigating the body of a man in a ditch who had died under suspicious circumstances. I knew nothing else about any of the other characters or the story. People would call me pantser but I dislike that word and much prefer discovery writer. I discover the story as I go. This also means I discover the characters as I go and sometimes they really surprise me.

The first draft of Deathborn was told solely from Nea’s point of view. Garret was never meant to be a point of view character. In fact, I seriously thought that he wasn’t going to survive the events of the book. But as I got further into the draft I felt he had a bigger role to play in the overall series. Then we have characters like Harvey who kept edging his way into scenes. He was always lurking there on the sidelines waiting to jump in when I least expected him to. I knew he also had a bigger part in this story but I wouldn’t know just how he fit in until I started drafting Brightling.

I guess it isn’t that my characters insist on having bigger roles but rather that as I go through the process of discovering my story I uncover more about them and how they fit into their world. But why Harvey and Garret and not Emil or Jasper or Molly? I wish I had a definitive answer because I am sure that would save me a lot of hair pulling and thumping my head against the desk during drafting. The writing process for me as I mentioned is about discovering my story. It is intuitive and somewhat messy, but I trust my gut when it comes to my characters. And yes, some are louder than others; some insist on more page time and the rest step back to let them have it. But for me it’s not really the characters themselves being pushy but rather my understanding of the world of the story evolving. Of the path through the mire being illuminated. And that’s why it’s so hard for some authors to accept the: “you’re the author, you’re in charge of this story” line. Sometimes we really aren’t in charge. Sometimes the story is a magical beast charging at breakneck speeds towards a loch in which it intends to drown us.

When you’re surprised by your own writing …

Join me today in distracting author Tim Hardie as he awaits a verdict on his debut novel Hall of Bones from the Lynn’s Books + The Critiquing Chemist.  Tim is a fellow contestant in #SPFBO7.

Tim has managed to capture my favorite thing about writing — that moment when …

Wait, I’ll let him describe it in his own words.

Djuri’s Story

Djuri started life as a severed head in a sack.  Not a promising start, even for a minor character.  There was something, even then, nagging at the back of my mind.  Djuri – that’s too good a name to waste on a severed head.

At the same time, I had another character whose name didn’t fit because he’d gone from being a minor background figure (i.e. having a name, which as fantasy authors all know is a small yet significant step up from being ‘the warrior’) into something more.  He kept tugging at my shirtsleeve, saying things like “My story’s interesting, write more about me.”

Stories often focus on the hero’s victories and accomplishments, whereas Djuri’s tale is one of defeat and how people deal with the consequences.  It’s so hard to explain this process to a non-writer but as soon as I brought Djuri’s name together with that character he came alive for me, in a way he hadn’t before.  Djuri’s story was hard choices and a life full of regret.  I found myself pulling for him, even though he was fighting on the wrong side.

The severed head guy got Djuri’s old name (sorry Igull) and Djuri walked onto the pages clearly for the first time.  He was a character who never featured in my original plotline for Hall of Bones.  However, I can’t now imagine The Brotherhood of the Eagle series without Djuri.  His character provided a vantage point for the story that I didn’t even know it needed.  When I began writing it was an “Oh, this is interesting moment.”  They’re the best kind.

When you’re surprised by your own writing and the story takes you off in a different direction, that’s a real payback moment for an author.  Djuri provided that moment for me in Hall of Bones, and I’ll be forever grateful.

 

Then give me a better part

Join me today in distracting author Anat Eliraz as she awaits a verdict on Jewels of Smoky Quartz from the blog The Fantasy Inn.  Eliraz is a fellow contestant in #SPFBO7.

When I asked her about secondary characters who tried to have more of a role her novel, she provided me with this creative response.

“I could tell her…”
“Don’t dare!” I glared at his face as a mischievous smile spread across it.
“Then give me a better part” he leaned back in his chair, crossing one leg lazily over the other.
“But you were supposed to be just a minor character!” I said between gritted teeth.
“Too bad… It’s your call.” His blue eyes following my every move.
“Okay!” I raised my hands in surrender.
“I knew I could talk sense into you!” 
He smiled. He was handsome when he smiled, but not quite my type.
Without another word, he rose and moved to the door. Letting himself out, he closed the pages of ‘Jewels of Smoky Quartz’ behind him.
I let out a long sigh. Once the pages settled down, a giggle escaped me. It quickly turned into a hearty laughter.
“Two can play this game!” I said, mostly to myself, as I sat in front of the computer and started typing.

Lord Kiran was supposed to be just a side character. Someone the two main characters meet on their way. He was supposed to help them out a bit, give them a clue- but that was all.
As a panster, I don’t write the story from start to finish. I write scenes. The more I wrote, the more Lord Kiran demanded a larger part in the plot. He can be very persuasive at times…
I was reluctant at first, but once I decided to stop fighting him (Aikido training, after all!), I suddenly understood he could be more useful than I first anticipated.
Not only did he earn a larger part in the story- both in helping the plot progress and raising the tension in personal relationships, but he will further develop in the next book!
Sometimes characters have a mind of their own. From my experience- you should listen to them!

Minor characters with major ambitions

Join me in sharing consolation and appreciation with author A.R. Henle (Alea Henle.) Her novel The Museum of All Things Lost & Forgotten just became one of the 290 books that won’t make SPFBO7’s final 10, although Fantasy Faction did call her work “fascinating and unique.”

Today she tells us how she had a plan for each of her three main characters, and then two of them began negotiating for different roles.

Many minor characters have major ambitions.

In the case of The Museum of All Things Lost & Forgotten, I started with three character who share certain core commonalities: they’re among the youngest of the Forgotten (quasi-immortals who exist only in the museum) and they host the spirit of Memory who powers the museum.

One character would be little more than a walk-on. A second would play a vital role but they would not be “on stage” most of the time. The third gets the biggest role and wound up kicking down a door while wearing Crocs.

The walk-on character accepted his fate (although he’s currently negotiating for a bigger role if/when/when I write another book set in the museum).

I planned for Rumaisa to take the second role and Jay Doe the third.

Note the word planned.

Rumaisa turned out to be a lot more proactive than I expected (she’s the one who insisted she could kick down the door despite wearing Crocs). Jay Doe, on the other hand, proved a lot more tentative. This worked out when I switched her to the second role, where she was younger (chronologically as well as physically, something one has to keep in mind when dealing with quasi-immortals) and arguably still in shock from having shifted from being a human on the margins in the world at large to one of the Forgotten. I suspect Rumaisa had her eyes on the third role from the start (she, too, is negotiating for a sizable role in another book.)

Then there’s Tiy. The assistant director of the museum rather than the director only because, as one of the Forgotten, she can’t physically leave the museum (the director has to be a regular human). Many Forgotten cling to the places and things they knew in their “before lives” and resist change. Not Tiy. She enjoys being on the cutting edge and exploring ways to adapt modern technology to support the museum’s core mission: remembering that which was lost or forgotten. The reason she agreed to join the Forgotten in the first place was to learn to read, and she’s never let go of learning.

The Museum of All Things Lost & Forgotten is told from the point-of-view of a sorcerer from the “real world” (who happens to be the younger sister of the heroines of other books in the standalone Ordinary Sorcery series).

Tiy has made it very clear that she expects me to write more works set in the museum—and intends to be the pov character. She’s willing to wait until I’ve finished a few projects already in-process, but no longer.

She may not be quite so happy when I finally start her book, however, as it will likely require she go somewhere she’s avoided for a very long time: the drought-stricken place she once called home.