Iceland: Facts for Fiction

If you’re considering Iceland as a setting for your next book, I highly recommend, it. As one friend put it, it’s “otherworldly.” It’s known for amazingly beautiful, natural underground hot springs like Blue Lagoon. Fantastically colorful cityscapes. Volcanoes. A geyser (Geysir) from which all other geysers are named. The spot where European and North American continents split (tectonic plates). Waterfall after waterfall. Some great music. Black sand beaches. And sure, where Game of Thrones has filmed.

Unfiltered photo from my camera! Copyright Bitsy Kemper

Having recently spent a week there, I want to share some ways this landscape can make for an interesting background–if not supporting character–in your next book. Here are some random facts as told to me by historians and locals (that I backed up by other sources):

  1. Names: Besides being crazy long with letters that look like a fly got stuck on the page, there are some things you need to know before you name your Icelandic character:
    • Parents who want to give their child a name that’s never been used in the country before have to get it approved by a governing Icelandic Naming Committee. Really.[https://www.island.is/en/icelandic-names/] I’ve heard they are pretty easy going, as long at it’s not disparaging or derogatory (or, I’m guessing, something like Moon Unit [sorry Frank Zappa] or YouTube). Imagine the fun you’d have with the backstory of the first person named Jane or Pepe!
    • Brothers and sisters have different last names. That’s because the child takes the FIRST name of the dad and adds -son if it’s a boy and -dóttir (daughter) if it’s a girl. A family might have kids named Christopher Vincentson, George Vincentson, and Carolyn Vincentdóttir. (Of course their names wouldn’t be so Anglicized but you get the idea.) The mom can choose to not acknowledge the father and use only her name, although it’s not very common. In that case they’d be Christopher Elisabethson, George Elisabethson, and Caroyln Elizabethdóttir. Rarely, the child can use both names…Christopher Vincentson Elizabethson. [https://wsimag.com/culture/2248-the-peculiarities-of-icelandic-naming]
    • Phonebooks list names alphabetically by first name! Wouldn’t that be a great nugget to sneak into your novel? Well…assuming it’s in a time period when phonebooks were still commonly used…
  2. Space: The population of the ENTIRE COUNTRY is about 340,000, of which about 220,000 live in the capital area of Reykjavik. Think about that…there are fewer living in all of Iceland than in the city of Raleigh, NC; the capital has about as many people as Chesapeake, VA. Average capital city commute time? 11 minutes. (Not a typo. Eleven minutes, door to door. Can you imagine the luxury?) [https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/iceland-population/,
    http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/reykjavik-population/,
    https://www.icelandreview.com/news/commuting-takes-an-average-11-6-minutes/]
  3. Capital: The city looks more like a town with homes that have been there for generations, with many of the same families living in them since they were hand built. Although there is a (small by US standards) industrial area with high rises, the main part of town has homes and historic buildings side by side everything else. Everything is accessible. Even the Prime Minister’s office is smack in the middle of town, a lovely but nondescript two-story building with no guards or parking lot, that anyone can walk up to. (Due to the high wind, almost no buildings in the main downtown are taller than a few stories.) But even though the capital city is lovely and beautiful and the only “real” city on the island, do you really want to write out “Reykjavik” 600 times? Consider picking a smaller town outside the capital so you don’t have to spell it over and over–or force your reader into trying to read and pronounce it in their head over and over. (FWIW “ray-kuh-vek” is the simplified way to say it…RECK or REYK-ya-vek or REYK-ja-vick with a very soft/minor j sound is how I’ve heard locals say it.) Just know almost all towns have equally awkward names, spellings, and pronunciations, at least by American standards. Maybe make up your own city name. Your call. P.S. The cathedral in the center of the capital city is a landmark that seems to be one many people recognize, and is a common tourist meeting place since it can be seen from far distances and is easy to find while walking from almost any point around town. The church was built in an art deco style of the New York Chrysler Building and is supposed to resemble their famous erupting geysir. P.P.S. The city, and well, island, is pretty darn windy, no bad hair jokes!
  4. Weather: beware of stereotyping.
    • You picture a vast snow-covered land, right? Well surprisingly, there is very little snowfall! And even less accumulation. Reykjavik only gets an average of two to three inches of snow per month in the winter. Due to the natural warm springs resting underground, most snow melts soon after it lands, making for little need to shovel driveways or pave roads. Compare that to Alaska, that might get two feet in January! Virtually no snow May to Oct. Note: it rains often throughout the year in Iceland. Precipitation numbers will be different from snowfall. [https://weatherspark.com/y/31501/Average-Weather-in-Reykjav%C3%ADk-Iceland-Year-Round]
    • Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Since it does rain at least a little bit almost every day–or at least it seems like it, that doesn’t mean it’s a hard rain. It might be a light mist while cloudy or while sunny. Or ten minutes of hard rain that fades out like nothing ever happened. Given the year-round island wind (told you it was windy!), no one but a tourist carries an umbrella, as it’ll just be blown inside out or down the street. I like that a variety of same-day weather might make for a fun backdrop, especially if your character is wishywashy or their future uncertain.
  5. Landscape:
    • There are 600 different types of moss covering land and rocks. [https://grapevine.is/mag/articles/2017/12/07/the-life-and-death-of-icelandic-mosses/] They’ve been around since the Ice Age. Some take 100-150 years to regrow if disturbed, kids are told, so they are taught at a young age to respect and stay away from it. Don’t have characters running off the beaten path. Or if they do, it’s has to be hugely significant.
    • There’s a saying that if you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. 🙂 The Norse deforested most of the original land when they arrived a thousand years ago, using trees for ships, warmth, housing, etc. Around 1950 a plan was put into place to start replanting. Most trees are relatively new to the island, and therefore not very tall. So don’t create any dense forest scenes! Hmm, actually, a pre- and post-1950s landscape might make for some interesting comparisons in character growth.
      [https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/the-forests-of-iceland]
    • You’ll find one of the biggest glaciers in Europe on the island.
      [https://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/glaciers/vatnajokull] (Honestly makes me wonder how many European glaciers can there be to compare it to?) Great place for a character that leads expeditions, ice hikes, or conservation efforts, wouldn’t you say?
  6. Drinking: How’s this for a fun fact? Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989. Seriously. [https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31622038] Overall, I found Icelanders to not be big drinkers. Or drinkers at all. Stats agree; studies show they drink less than other cultures: in 2014 there was a reported lifetime abstinence for 14.1% of the drinking age population, and 32.1% of not drinking in the past 12 months, compared to, say, Denmark that had 4.5% and 11.4%. [https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_2.pdf?ua=1] Any bar scenes you put in might need to have a larger percentage of visitors with the local beer (say, Gull–pronounced sorta like ‘gulsh’) or vodka (say, Reyka) in their hands. Don’t ask me how I know, lol. Drinking age is 20.
  7. Prices and food: Ah, gee, don’t get me started. Prices are out of control.
    • A pint of that draft Gull beer? $12-$15 (1450-1800 krona). FOR ONE. Mojito? That’ll be $24, please. I got a vodka soda and was charged the equivalent of $22 for the vodka, and an additional $5 for the cute little bottle of seltzer. Dinner meals will cost a solid $40 each for nothing too fancy. Chinese food, Italian, Mexican, etc, all available. And all AT LEAST $25 a meal; most closer to $35. If you’re itching for just a burger and hit a version of a TGIFridays, you’ll get a pretty good burger and fries (only served medium/medium rare) for $25. Iced tea (no refills) $3-$5. I bought a large bottle of Icelandic water in California before I left, for $2, and the exact same one IN ICELAND was almost $4. Explain that to me? But I digress.
    • Their economy seems to be doing well, although some still understandably complain about inflation. <No political discussion will be had here!>
    • Their meal staples are lamb (pretty gamey I hear, since they are only fed a clean diet of grasses) and lots of fish dishes. They are vegan and vegetarian friendly, but are quick to make jokes about the lifestyle (as are the rest of the world, it appears!). Lots of farming generations there…sheep and cows…so the older generations are slower to warm up to meat-free diets.
    • Also they breed special Icelandic horses too but not for eating! It’s a pretty big exporting business; the horses can fetch upwards of $8,000-$20,000 each (told you everything there is more expensive!). They are smaller than other horses but have a unique gait.
  8. Oh–and one more set of random interesting facts: Taco Bell and Dominos are there. McDonalds is not. Nor is Uber. Both are banned.
  9. Ack, I could go on and on but I started this three weeks ago and keep thinking of new things to add. You get the picture, right? If not, see below 🙂 I think this is good enough for now. I hope you do too. Time to hit the PUBLISH key.

One stereotypical and broad-sweeping comment I will make is that I found the Icelandic people to be truly kind and nice and open. While once a secluded country, it’s slowly getting more diverse with people from all over the world moving in and finding a happy home, whether it’s in the fishing industry, aluminum, retail, educational, tourism, whatever. So if you’re looking for a unique main or supporting character you don’t have to limit yourself to the “typical” Icelander. Because just like with every other country in the world, there isn’t one.

There are plenty of ways to make your characters and setting stand out. Iceland just might be one of the better ways.

Let me know if you do!

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Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

Image result for image person asking help

Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

Fall into writing

Ah, the beauty of Fall. Crisp apples, hayrides, upcoming family visits, free Halloween candy (shush, it’s not stealing, it’s a mommy tax).

But also, it’s Picture Book Idea Month!

piboidmo2014officialparticipant

Yes, I’m a pledged participant (again)!

This is a free club challenge, if you will, where those that sign up agree to come up with one picture book idea everyday for the month of Nov. Sounds easy, right? HA. I dare you!

You don’t write a picture book every day, you “simply” create an idea for one. It’s like NaNoWriMo only it’s for the children’s book industry. There are other programs in Jan and Feb for you to hone those ideas and sculpt them into manuscripts; more on them later.

Dedication is key. Well, so is creativity, but I truly believe creativity can be cultivated. It doesn’t have be an innate skill you were born with. You can become creative if you put the effort in and learn. [Shout out to Malcolm Gladwell and his Outliers concept]

The main reason I love this challenge is because it forces daily effort and commitment to writing. Carpools, soccer games, messy kitchens…they are all gonna be there. So will writing time, if you choose to make it so.

Here’s to creativity, dedication, and overall authorship joy.

A book award makes me livid? Disillusioned? Offended? All three maybe

To be recognized for your work feels great, especially when it’s by experts in your field. Right?

Well you’d think it would.

[image from leavinglaw.wordpress.com]

I got a wonderful email from someone representing a (seemingly?) legitimate industry award. They said they found out about me from one of my Twitter posts. When they looked into my books, one stood out among the others, and they felt it was so good it could win one of their awards. They were excited for me to be a part of it all!

Please note they did not actually READ any of my books, just ABOUT them

The emailer stated:

We provide lifetime marketing assistance and low-cost exhibit opportunities among other things. First and foremost, we recognize excellent & positive products.

[image from gametimect.com]

Of course my *WARNING* *WARNING* BEEP BEEP radar went off because the very first thing they mentioned was their marketing assistance (red flag: they want your money). The second thing they referenced was recognition. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? At a minimum add the part about marketing assistance at the very end of the email, as sort of an aside?

But it gets worse.

I had to pay to be considered for this prestigious award from their panel of judges.

As in, pony up $300 per entry. A THREE HUNDRED DOLLAR entry fee. They were happy to tell me they could offer me a discount if I wanted to enter multiple books. !!! I’d eat up a years worth of profit just to enter (mediocre) books that were written in 2006.

[image from lawnchairnaturalist.wordpress.com]

I was and still am LIVID over this.

Is this common? Is this the going rate? Have I been disillusioned by common/standard business practices? I feel like kid that sees Mickey Mouse without his head on and realizes Mickey is just a kid in a costume, that he’s not real and never has been real. (Uh, sorry if that was a spoiler alert to any of you)

Anyone knee deep in the children’s book industry knows how little we authors (and illustrators) make. In fact, I have been paid less than $300 for an entire book/manuscript contract! (No, I don’t say that proudly) If this is what it takes to get a cool WINNER banner or sticker on the cover of my books, well, looks like I’ll stay award-less. I simply cannot afford to win!

Now I have a business degree. I understand operating expenses and all that. But this is like an Over-the-top Elite Country Club fee–overcharging people just so those people can proudly tell others they are members. It’s self serving and offensive.

Another analogy might be a cheezy self-proclaimed agent that has zero contacts and/or real experience that charges you to read your manuscript. This award doesn’t feel as slimy as those dirtbags, but it still feels wrong.

I am purposely not mentioning the name of the award. My goal isn’t to shame them specifically. I just need to hear from others what their experience has been. If you want to name names, please don’t do that here; email me their names and maybe we can start a secret spy detective club uncovering facade book awards. Or maybe we can help each other cry in our soup.

Until then, please be wary of emails out of the blue. Do your research before sending money anywhere (especially foreign kings that need a short term loan).

[image from wikipedia]

Even if Mickey puts his head back on, I’m still scarred.

April Kidlit Writing Contests

UnderPressureimages

CONTEST TIME

Do you work best under pressure? I do. (Don’t judge) Sometimes a writing contest is just the kick in the butt I need to get moving on a manuscript that’s been getting all dusty and lonely. I’ve scraped up a few contests that all have April or May deadlines, so consider this your official kick in the pants to start working on that in-need-of-attention manuscript that you haven’t have a reason to work on–until now. Yeah, you’re welcome.

EntertoWinimage

I can’t personally vouch for the hosts’ honor or intentions of these upcoming contests, but they look pretty good. And it’s hard to find middle grade (MG) contests. I know most people that put these contests on are volunteers and work really hard, and it all takes time away from their own work, so please read and follow guidelines closely.

Please note I rarely advocate for any contest that charges a fee; to me that’s a flag that it’s not legit. I realize some large contests charge money just to keep the riff raff out, but enter with your eyes open. Also check the fine print to see what you win and whether they assume all rights to your work once you submit it. Some of these might have any of those flags, I haven’t checked, so be careful.

This April contest is like the show “Shark Tank.”  Wining entries are posted where editors and agents can “bid” on seeing more of the manuscript. (No guarantee they’ll love it, of course.) It has grown-up books competing too so make sure your submission really stands out: http://scwrite.blogspot.com/2014/03/announcing-writers-tank-contest.html:

This is a Twitter pitch party just for #MiddleGrade and #NonFiction: http://www.jessicaschmeidler.com/?p=1037

Writer’s Digest 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards. Categories include Children’s/Picture books, Middle-Grade/Young Adult books, poetry, and lots of adult book caegoriess. Awards: $3,000 in cash, national exposure for your work, the attention of prospective editors and publishers, a paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference. Early-Bird Deadline: April 1st, otherwise May 1, 2014: www.writersdigest.com/competitions/selfpublished

These three have May deadlines, with thanks to http://www.writers-editors.com/Writers/Contests/contests.htm for all the deets:

32nd Annual SouthWest Writers International Competition – 10 categories for novels, creative nonfiction, essay, short stories, children’s picture books, and poetry. Awards: $300, $200, $150 in each of the 10 categories. other entries ($20 for SWW members, $30 non-members). Deadline: May 1, 2014 and may be submitted after May 1 until May 15 with payment of a late fee. Info:www.swwcontest.com2014 Leapfrog Fiction Contest – for Adult Fiction and Children’s Fiction (middle grade and YA only). Any novella- or novel-length work of fiction, including short-story collections, not previously published is eligible. The minimum length is 22,000 words; there is no maximum length. Awards: First Prize: publication contract offer from Leapfrog Press, with an advance payment, plus the finalist awards. Finalists: $150 and two critiques of the manuscript from contest judges; permanent listing on the Leapfrog Press contest page as a contest finalist, along with short author bio and description of the book. Semi-Finalist: Choice of a free Leapfrog book; permanent listing on the website. Entry fee: $30. Deadline: May 1, 2014. Info:www.leapfrogpress.com/contest.htm83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition – 10 categories. Awards: $3,000, $1,000, $500, $250 plus more. Entry fees: Poems $15, $10; other entries $25, $20. Early Bird Entry Deadline: May 5, 2014. Info: www.writersdigest.com/competitions/writers-digest-annual-competition

 

CurlyGirlWritingimages

KIDDOS

http://www.freecontestsforkids.com/writing-contests-for-kids.html: I found this website that lists a slew of writing contests FOR KIDS, so if you’ve got a budding Hemingway in da house, take a look here — like with contests for adults, please note I rarely advocate for any contest that charges a fee; to me that’s a flag that it’s not legit. I realize some large contests charge money just to keep the riff raff out, but enter with your eyes open. Also check the fine print to see what you win and whether they assume all rights to your work once you submit it. Some of these might have any of those flags, I haven’t checked, so be careful.

http://www.willamettewriters.com/1/guidelines.php *I know this one charges a small fee

http://www.wipb.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WIPB-PBS-KIDS-WC-Entry-Form-2014.pdf  *Hurry, deadline is April 4

 

Do you know of any others? Hook me up, man, I love these things.

Starting the year off write (heh heh, clever, huh?)

Hello Mr (or is it Ms?) 2014!

Who’s gonna join me on a writing challenge this month? Since my brain’s been idle since the close of

piboidmo2013-header-720x180

I hereby accept this 21-day challenge that various bloggers/writers/illustrators will present starting Jan 5! And it’s not just because a few editors and agents are gonna give prizes, as in fuh-ree critiques (although, sure, that does play into it). It’s because I’m competitive as heck can be and these kinds of challenges tend to get me working harder than I would on my own.

If you wanna join me, check out Shannon’s blog (http://www.shannonabercrombie.com/) or join her Facebook group.

Here’s to starting the year off write!! 🙂