Sunday, May 31, 2015

Monday Musings: The Dark Side

I know this post is long overdue. I intended to share this post about my favorite fictional villains last week (Are we even supposed to have favorites when it comes to diabolical and fiendish characters?!) but my schedule was simply too full last week. Besides, villains are a tricky subject and having a bit of extra time to process my thoughts was not a bad thing. I will be fluctuating between literary and movie characters at random, so I hope that won't distract anyone.

Villains aren't like protagonists. The heroes stick in your head and when you hear a story title, such as The Hunger Games, you think "Oh! That story is about Katniss!" You don't ever think "That is President Snow's story!" It just doesn't work that way. But these poor, under-appreciated and despised characters have their vile fingers on the heartbeat of literature. They control the pulse. The flow. The dramatic ups and downs of the plot. And, man, do they have their moment to shine in the climax. Of course, the climax usually ends quite badly for them, and we do SO enjoy that moment when the Wicked Witch of the West finally gets her comeuppance and melts into a puddle of goop on the floor. That has to be one of the best moments in cinematic history. Period.

But lets move on.

Smaug is one of my all time favorite villains because he is a dragon. Of course that isn't the only reason I like him, but mainly that sums it all up. The Hobbit was one of the first epic classics I ever read. I read a great deal of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott when I was a girl, but this was one of the first books I read that had a REAL villain. He wasn't just a cad like Mr. Willoughby. He was powerful and murderous and greedy and incredibly vain. And he was a dragon. Did I mention DRAGON? And the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch did his voice in The Hobbit films only makes him more epic.

Yes, I am a huge nerd. I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek and comic book heroes. Darth Vader is truly one of my all time favorite villains because he has such a strong back story. When you watch the first Star Wars film, he comes across as pure evil, although never quite as evil as Emperor Palpatine, who is about as evil as they come. I don't think I could ever picture HIM with a back story, but I love Anakin Skywalker's back story. It made him human, not just Evil-machine-on-a-Rebel-killing-rampage. And I especially like how there was a chance for "redemption" for him in the end, when he chose to save his son at the expense of his own life. When this sort of attention and detail is put into a villain, they do truly become memorable. I could almost admit that Star Wars is truly about Darth Vader. Almost.

Lord Voldemort is another powerful literary villain that managed to remain the primary antagonist throughout an entire series. Voldemort had always been intended to be the counterpart to Harry Potter. Their stories were so intertwined, their fates so bound together, that there could never have been a story without the Dark Lord. I love how these two characters are constantly compared and contrasted throughout the series, causing heartache for Harry and frustration for Voldemort, because neither character fully understands why or how they are bound to one another. It is the ultimate battle of good versus evil. I also like the fact that Voldemort's history is fleshed out in the stories, that he isn't just left the Master of Pure Evil but that he is also shown as Tom Riddle, the boy with a name that would one day become He Who Must Not Be Named.

And let's not leave out the Weeping Angels from Docter Who, because they give me the creeps. Admit it. You like them, too.

There are so many other iconic villains I could mention, like the White Witch from Narnia, or the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, or Kahn from Star Trek, to name a few more. Please, take a moment to tell me who your favorite villains are and don't forget to tell me why! I love hearing from you all.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Musings: What I Have Been Up To

This week I am going to take a break from my Character Study, which I hope won't disappoint anyone too much. I am so excited about my next post involving my favorite Villains, and I can't wait to hear your own favorites, but this week I am going to take a break and catch you up on what I have been up to.

I've been playing with kittens, obviously, but Wagzy got mad at me for manhandling and stalking her litter, and she has hauled them off to a new hide away. I haven't seen them all week. Such torture. I don't know what she is so upset about anyway. It's not as if I can help myself. I mean, look at that little face. Who would be able to resist loving on that?

When I haven't been scouring the yard for missing kittens, I have been frantically busy. I am in the middle of a bank merger at work, so I have been working long, hectic hours and have another week of long, hectic hours to look forward to. It has been exhausting, trying to get used to new facilities and computer systems, while trying to calm the nerves of panicky customers concerned about their bank accounts. This has, sadly, put a damper on my writing. By the time I get home and get dinner scraped together, and maybe splash suds around a few dishes, it's all I can do to find the sofa and press "play" on the TV remote.

I also took the time to actually sit down a read a book this week, which I do not get the chance to do as much as I would like. I've been so wrapped up in fantasy lately I decided to take a step outside my usual interests and read A Change of Fortune, a light-hearted, historical romp by Jen Turano, which I found for free on Amazon. As a brief review, I can say I enjoyed the story and finished it, although the plot was terribly unrealistic (so much so I often winced), and some of the characters got a tad annoying after a while, but there was enough humor to keep my exhausted brain amused in spite of those downfalls. It's not one I will likely reread, but since it was free, no harm done!

I have not managed to get much writing done this week, but today I did accomplish a major rewrite on two chapters for After, which I am very, very far behind on. I have only a month and a half to get this first round of rewrites done so that I can send it off to my editor. The story has become much more complex than the first little story I wrote, already fifteen thousand words longer, and I am only half way through the rewrite. If I am not careful, this novella is in danger of becoming a full length novel. I am also working out some other ideas for a bonus to this particular release, but I can't get into all that quite yet. Spoilers, you know.

On a more positive note, I sent the second draft of When Ravens Fall to my editor this week. That was such a good feeling, sending it away, because it means I can put it from my mind for a few weeks and focus solely on After, which really does need some undivided attention.

I also just received my tentative cover design for When Ravens Fall. All I can say is "Wow." I am so eager to share what my designer has come up with. Contracting the cover design is by far my favorite part of the story writing process. I love seeing what a designer can do with the words I have put together. Seeing my thoughts come to life through pictures is very satisfying.

And, on top of that, I am gearing up for After's cover reveal, some time in June. I will be revealing the exact date very soon. I have already started to hear from several bloggers who will be joining me in my first official cover reveal. If you are a blogger and wish to join them, please fill out this quick form so that I can add you to my mailing list. As soon as I reveal the cover, I will be hosting my designer on my blog. So if anybody is looking for a good designer in the upcoming months, you will want to be on the look out for this exciting guest post.

And, last but not least . . . Five Enchanted Roses will be released a bit later this summer as well! Scuttlebutt has it we are looking at a July release date, and I will be sure to let you know the exact date the moment I know it. I am so eager to read the other stories in this exciting collection. Have I mentioned that Beauty and the Beast is one of my all time favorite fairy-tales?

And, (sorry, not quite done) Rooglewood Press will be announcing their next Five-Something-Something contest in only a few weeks. I will not be entering this next competition, but I am terribly curious to find out what fairy tale will be featured this year. I wonder which timeless tale it will be? I am going to take a stab in the dark and say Red Riding Hood. What are your guesses? Let's see if any of us will be right!

On top of all this banking and writing and cover revealing, I have to add two weddings, several graduation open houses, and home renovations into the mix. This year is proving to be one of the busiest I've experienced in a long while. It will be simply heavenly to get the bedroom gutted and slapped back together again, so that we can move out of the living room. Camping out isn't so bad, but my poor husband doesn't like sharing his bed with the cats, one of whom seems to think he is a human and has the right to sleep on the pillows, or your face, whenever he pleases. Right now, I am just waiting for Sam to finish pulling down the walls so that I can pull down the remnants of plaster on the ceiling and haul away the old insulation. Then, time to run the electrical! If you start seeing pictures on Facebook with me featuring a drastic frizzy, black hairstyle, you will know why.

What are you up to this summer? I would love to hear what mischief you have up your sleeves!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Upcoming Cover Reveal

That's right, scribblers. I am finally getting ready for my first official cover reveal. I cannot wait to share the cover of After with you, nor can I wait to introduce you to my talented cover designer. As you can tell from the above photo, Tutu cannot contain his enthusiasm either. Such a loyal puss.

I am looking for anybody who might be interested in participating in After's cover reveal, scheduled for some time in June. I will get you the specifics once I receive your contact information. Anyone who is interested in joining me for this reveal, please go here to send me your contact information. I will be contacting you shortly with more details.

So excited about this summer, what with the cover reveal for After coming in June, with Five Enchanted Roses coming out in July, and with the cover reveal for When Ravens Fall coming in July, I have a busy summer ahead of me. I just sent When Ravens Fall off to one of my lovely editors tonight, so I will have edits to add to my list, as well as finalizing the second draft of After so that I can get it off to my second lovely editor later this summer. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Monday Musings: The Tragic Character

I hope you brought your tissues, because we might need them today.

SPOILER ALERT: Due to the nature of Tragic Characters, reading this blog any further, without having read these stories in advance, may cause irreparable harm and devastation if you are intending to read these stories, or see the films these stories have been turned into, in the future. Proceed with caution and, please, don't hate the messenger.

I simply do not know where to begin. There are so many tear-worthy characters in this world of pen and paper that finding a place to begin is nearly as traumatic as the tragedies themselves. I think I am going to start with a couple of terribly famous characters that everyone should be familiar with, with all of the books being turned into movies lately, and then I will progress into a few other stories that are just as memorable but perhaps not quite so well known.

One point I wish to make when discussing Tragic Characters, is that these types of characters must always serve a very important purpose to the overall plot, otherwise they leave us feeling cheated. I have read several books over the past few years where certain characters die--and, yes, the shock factor is epic--but I felt so angry and so let down because I could not see the POINT of it. If the author's sole purpose for killing off a favorite character was to make me insufferable angry, then he succeeded, but from a literary standpoint, I feel he may have made grave errors in judgment. I will come right out and say that J.K. Rowling is one of them, although she sets the stage well, because characters die a lot in these books. However, she killed off so many of her most memorable characters in her last book I almost couldn't stand it. Honestly, did she have to kill off so many of them to make her point? Why Fred? Why? I love her books, I do, but you have to admit that Fred Weasley and the Lupins were real tragedies.

1. Thorin Oakenshield from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. 

Tolkien has a gift for writing stories about endearing characters driven to the very edge of their sanity, who somehow find the strength and courage to revert their course at the very end, choosing to do the noble and honorable thing at the risk of their own lives. Many of these characters end tragically, such as Thorin, Boromir and Theodin, while others such as Frodo do not die at the point of a sword, but continue on into the great unknown sadder but wiser souls. Even Gollum can be considered a tragic character, because he was not always the monster he became in the end, although he did not have a change of course at the end. He plunged to his fate, driven by his madness, with no backward glances. Thorin is one of my favorite Tolkien characters which is rather odd, because as a general rule, I prefer the human and hobbit story threads more than the Dwarfish and Elven stories.

2. Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games trilogy.

Let's face it: Finnick's death was more of a shock than any other death in the series. It also had no point, which was perhaps the point of it, I suppose, but I felt terribly cheated over this one. Finnick and Annie had such a unique and heart-wrenching love story, that for it to end so horrifically was unsatisfying for me. I understood the death of Prim, even though I hated it with ever fiber of my being, because it was important to the development of Katniss, although I did not care for the way Katniss's final story developed. I would have liked to see more hope and less despair and drug-induced comas in the final story of this trilogy. I truly wish Finnick and Annie had seen a different end to their story.

3. This next one is perhaps more suited to my upcoming post on Villains, but I grew so attached to this character throughout the book that I simply cannot assign her the role of pure villainy. The heroine/villain from Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

This has become my favorite of Ms. Stengl's novels, because I love the progression of the Dragonwitch throughout the story. Sometimes, I find flashbacks distracting, but in this story I became more wrapped up in the flashbacks than I did in the real time story. This was cleverly, and masterfully, done. And, yes, in the end, I felt the loss of this character but a deep satisfaction, too, because I understood why it had to happen. And the WAY it happened--this story broke my heart, but in a good way.

4. Davy, another character from Peace Like a River

This character's tragedy was not so wound up in his death. He made some choices, choices that some might claim were justifiable and others might claim were not, that put him on a path that he could not return from. His choices affected not only himself but his entire family, setting them on a collision course with a very bad, very hateful man. This is one of the funniest, heart-warming stories, but it will truly make you cry.

5. Since this post is already getting rather long, I will sum up these last few rather quickly. Some of my other favorite characters from classic literature are Rebecca from Ivanhoe (this character suffers a romantic tragedy which I feel counts in this post. I always felt Ivanhoe chose the wrong girl. Sorry, if anyone disagrees, but I am a huge fan of Rebecca) and Eponine from Les Miserables. Another good example of a tragic character is the father from Dicken's Little Dorrit. Without the father's plight in this story, there would have been no story. His tragedy was so tightly wound up in this tale that the story simply could not exist without him.

And as a bonus, for all my fellow geeks! My absolute favorite tragic character from TV is Doctor Who.

Those of you who know Doctor Who will understand that no explanation is needed here. And, yes, the Eleventh Doctor is my Doctor.

Please share some of your favorite tragic characters! I love hearing from all of you!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday Musings: Princess vs. Dragon Slayer

This is Part 2 in my Characterization Study. Today I am going to share some of my favorite literary heroines. Oh, this list is endless. However, the real challenge for me came, not in narrowing down my list, but in trying to put into words how I feel about heroines. Let's face it, ladies: the feminine ideal is a subject of much debate in our world, with views ranging from the Victorian ideal, to the Amazon woman, to women being little more than slaves to serve their husband's whims.

So, tell me, girls, who are we supposed to be? And more importantly, who does God want us to be?

This is a subject I have studied with much distress over the years. I have been all over the spectrum, trying to find where I fit in the grand scheme of womanhood. Should I be meek and mousy, hiding in the shadows to keep from being noticed? Should I cry out and stand up for myself and fight for what I believe in? How should I dress to best promote my womanhood? Where exactly are we supposed to fit in, ladies, in a world where "women are taking over and men are being told to sit down and shut up?" (I am quoting someone: I think it was my Marmie, but I can't quite remember. So whoever you are, thank you for letting me borrow your poignant words). This issue has been a subject of debate all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve took that fruit off the tree and gave it to Adam. God told her, point blank, "you're going to want what your husband's got." She was going to want his position of authority. She was going to want to be stronger than him. Better than him. More powerful than him. And, yes, certainly, she had the capability of taking that all from him, but that is not the path God wanted her to take.

But, I do not believe God wanted her to be abused, to be looked down upon because of her sex, to be told to hide her femininity from the world, to be seen and not heard, to wait on the sidelines while Adam fought all the battles.

I believe God had dragons for Eve to fight as well. Metaphorically, speaking. Let's talk about some of the heroines in the Bible, the most enduring piece of literature in all of history. Let's talk about Deborah, the prophetess, who inspired her people to fight against their enemies and led them into battle. God delivered the enemy into the hands of a woman. Let's talk about Esther, who used her place as a woman to sway the heart of a pagan king and save not only herself but all of her people. What about Miriam, the slave girl, who defied the laws of Egypt to save her infant brother? Look at the Proverbs 31 woman, who not only ran her household but also business affairs. God praised her for her ability to function in the world, providing for her family while running her household. We were not intended to sit idly by.

I love girly things. I like boho, and shabby chic, and dresses with boots, and lacy tops, and cheap but fabulous jewelry. I also love my blue jeans, and my work gloves, and my baseball cap and tennis shoes. My conclusion: I love being feminine, but I want to be strong, too, like Deborah and Esther and Miriam. Conclusion?

I want to be a Princess, but why can't I slay the dragon while I'm at it?

So, here are some of my favorite literary heroines (two from classics and two from modern novels) and some of the reasons why I love them so much.

1. The most obvious is Eowyn, from J.R.R. Tolkien's enduring LOTR series--both from the books and from the movies. I love the fact that this character is both fragile and strong. She wears the most adorable clothes, and at the same time she can handle a sword. One of my favorite quotes, from the movies, is "The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them." I think Tolkien did a wonderful job of handling her femininity, of showing her vulnerability as a woman, but also showing her strength and determination. My absolute favorite scene is when she confronts the Witch-king. No man could kill him. Eowyn's place as a woman gave her the right and the strength to vanquish this foe, with the help of a brave, little hobbit. This was not a feat Aragorn could have accomplished. This task was for Eowyn.

2. Swede from Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. This book was required reading in Advanced Creative Writing in college, and I could not put it down. This book is a treasure trove for writers. Swede is another fragile but strong character. She is only a little girl, but she has to face very grown up troubles in this novel. Watching her struggle with things beyond her, in her funny and wild way, is very heart warming. She is fiercely loyal, so much so that she is willing to excuse her older brother's crimes. Her love of family is unparalleled.

3. Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte's classic story is one of my all time favorites. I cannot tell you the number of times I have read it, nor can I guess the number of times I will read it again. I love this heroine. She is young, and unimportant, and abused and desperate for love and belonging, but she has a strength of character I can only hope to one day emulate. I like Mr. Rochester, but some times I hate him for putting Jane into such a compromised position. I love dark, tragic heroes but in this story, it is the heroine and not the tragic hero that really touches my heart. When she willingly gives up everything she desires because she feels it is the right and moral thing to do, she displays such depth of character.

My final selection is stepping way outside the box here. I hope you can keep up with me. I had a very difficult time choosing my second character from a modern novel. There are so many to choose from: the stubborn Katniss from The Hunger Games, the flamboyant Kale from Donita K. Paul's Dragonspell series, proud Una from Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Heartless, bookish Hermione from Harry Potter...I could go on and on. I finally chose Wanda.

4. Wanda is the main character in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. I picked this book up because I was bored out of my mind and the premise was unlike anything I had read before, and I was pleasantly amazed by the read. This is a science fiction story about a parasitic alien race that invades the earth. However, the story is not told from our perspective, but rather from the voice of one of the aliens. Wanda, as the humans call her, begins to struggle with her role in the universe when she realizes how much the Souls are hurting the people of earth. For the first time, she begins to question her purpose and her future. She is a good, kind character, horrified by all forms of violence, but through the influence of her human host she learns how to be strong and kind at the same time. For you romantics out there, this is one of the most unusual love triangles of all times: two girls, trapped in one body, in love with two different men. It is a gritty story, but so thought provoking. Side note, I did not particularly enjoy the movie adaption of this story--it was one of those "Meh, it was okay" moments. The book, however, I could not put down, and it was long. For those of you who revel in thick novels, this one was deliciously long.

What are some of your favorite literary heroines? Do you agree or disagree with any of my choices? What do you think makes an ideal female character? I would love to hear your thoughts. As a side note, when I sat down last night to finish editing my post for this morning, I noticed that Kaycee over at the Pink Cave posted a similar post about her favorite heroines yesterday! You should check out her blog post. I was delighted to see some overlap!

Join me next week as I delve into the Tragic Character. I am SO ecstatic about this upcoming a hiccuping, sniffling, sobbing sort of way. I hope you'll bring a box of tissues and join me for some of the most tear-worthy characters of all times.