Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Costumes

I had to do my pre-trip Target run this morning, which was also an emergency candy run. I never get trick-or-treaters (possibly because you can't see my house from the street and I don't turn on my porch light), but I'm afraid that if I didn't have candy, that would be the one time I needed it, and I'd have had to resort to candy canes from last Christmas. I was lured while I was out by the adjacent TJ Maxx, but that worked out because they had the kind of tights I needed for much less than at Target, and they had a really cute pair of ankle boots that will be perfect wear for a steampunk convention.

In spite of the fact that I was on a Halloween candy run, I momentarily forgot what day it was and was therefore somewhat taken aback to find myself browsing the racks next to a woman dressed as a ladybug, complete with wings.

Last night, I worked at the church's community Halloween carnival. They had to move everything inside because of rain, so instead of the usual "trunk or treat" in the parking lot, they had people set up in the doorways of the Sunday school classrooms. Some of the people still went all-out in decorating their doorways, but it was a shame the police department and fire department couldn't go with their original plans because there's no way to make something indoors cooler than trick-or-treating at a fire engine or police car.

The most interesting cross-cultural costume had to be the Asian Indian little girl wearing a Native American costume, escorted by her mom in a sari. I wondered if there might have been a message in the costume, something like "I'm not that kind of Indian, you idiots," or if she just liked the costume (she might have been Pocahontas, but I didn't get a close enough look to see if it was a Disney princess thing). As large as the Indian population in this area is, and as long as the schools have been using "Native American," I doubt these kids are running into that misconception very often.

Just as there seem to be "sexy" versions of things to be costumes for women, generally done by finding a way to add a corset, the toddler girl version of costumes seems to be to add a tutu. There was a rather adorable Supergirl toddler, with a red tutu for the skirt and a little cape. There were no toddler Minions, much to my disappointment, because that seems like the perfect costume for a toddler -- the walk, language and trail of destruction are all more or less the same.

I think there were almost as many boys dressed as knights as there were girls dressed as princesses, though ninjas were also popular. There was one family where the two older boys were dressed as knights, and their infant sister was dressed as a princess (basically, a lacy nightgown and a pointy hat with a scarf hanging from the top). I think if I were doing a family theme costume like that, I'd have been tempted to dress the baby as a dragon. There was a cute baby Frankenstein's Monster, in a sleeper sort of thing with a hood that made the monster head.

I was working a craft booth, and we also had the station for getting the rub-on tattoos. The pastor teased me about running a tattoo parlor. I wasn't very good even with the rub-ons. I either got them too wet or not wet enough. I mostly volunteer for this thing because it's fun to see all the costumes, and then they usually let the volunteers take any leftover goodies from the cake walk.

And now I have to finish getting ready for this convention. I've reached the point of deleting things from the to-do list. I've edited enough of the book to be able to do a reading, so I'm not going to worry about that today. Mostly, I'll be knitting and putting together promo stuff.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The White-Hat Hero

I've been talking about the various shades of heroes, focusing mostly on those who might not seem like the traditional hero -- the ones who are darker or flawed. These days, though, it seems like it's easier to get audiences interested in these darker heroes than in the traditional good guy. I was recently on a convention panel about bad boys vs. good guys, and someone said that the good guys are boring, which is why people like the darker heroes more. I said that if your good guy is boring, then you're doing it wrong. But how do you write a good guy people will like?

First, you have to like the character. If you think your white-hat hero is a sanctimonious, boring goody-goody, you can't expect your readers to like him. If you're not doing that on purpose because you think it's a twist to have the white-hat guy be a jerk and the darker guy be the real good guy, then think again about why you want this character in your story. If this isn't the sort of character you can write well, then don't try to make it work. Go ahead and write the character who appeals to you.

A nice guy doesn't have to be perfect. Another comment made at that panel was that it's hard to relate to a pure and perfect hero. My response was that the hero doesn't have to be pure and perfect to be good. Even the best people with the noblest intentions can make mistakes or fail. Attempting to do something nearly impossible and having a bad outcome or being misled by someone with evil intentions doesn't even create a shade of gray. Good people can have bad moods, be discouraged or snap at people. Good people can have flaws and blind spots. A generally positive trait can become a flaw in some circumstances. Being too trusting or too self-sacrificing can be a flaw. Good people can have fears and phobias and weaknesses that they try to resist.

It also helps if the hero doesn't see himself as perfect and if other characters recognize his flaws. I think this is the main thing that's turned audiences off of a lot of the traditional heroes. Writers forget to have the hero recognize his own flaws or be at all self-critical. The guy who's noble and righteous and who sees himself that way can come across as a bit of a jerk or holier than thou. In real life, people are often harder on themselves than anyone else can be, and they're more conscious of their own flaws than other people are. You don't want to overdo this, though, where the hero is constantly beating himself up for invisible flaws, to the point where it looks like the hero's biggest flaw is that he doesn't realize how awesome he is. He just needs to be realistic about himself and aware that he isn't perfect while he tries to improve. On the other hand, it can really help gain audience support if the hero is a bit of an underdog, if the other characters underestimate him, dwell on his flaws or misinterpret his motives. That generally works a lot better than if the other characters are full of non-stop praise or if they don't seem to see flaws that are obvious to the audience.

It's okay for the white-hat good guy to have a sense of humor. That seems to be another misconception about this kind of character. I keep seeing the Luke Skywalker vs. Han Solo comparison when the good boys vs. bad boys issue comes up, with the idea that you get the bad boy Han Solo with all the funny quips and boringly earnest Luke Skywalker. But if you really look at those movies, Luke is very funny, as well. I got sucked into one of the marathons on cable a while ago, and I was astonished by just how many of the funny lines or funny reactions came from Luke. He wasn't at all humorless. He was actually quite snarky, he had Han's number from the start, knowing just how to manipulate him, and he gave as good as he got from Han. If you let your good guy have a sense of humor and give him some of the good lines instead of reserving all the fun stuff for the bad boy, you'll go a long way toward making him someone we want to cheer for.

When you're writing a more traditional good guy hero, take advantage of the possibilities inherent in the character. One of these is contrast. You can get a lot of drama and humor out of a contrast between character and situation. A dark bad boy hero in a dark, dangerous world isn't all that interesting. Put an earnest nice guy in that dark, dangerous world, and you've got something you can play with. There's also a lot more potential drama and angst about putting someone with a strong moral compass into an impossible situation. The darker hero may be more of a pragmatist and able to make the rational decision, even if it's a lesser of two evils. The guy who really believes in doing no harm and who has lines he can't make himself cross is going to have a lot more trouble when he's between a rock and a hard place that involves a moral dilemma in a choice between two evils or two mutually exclusive goods. But trying to make a moral choice doesn't mean a good guy has to be stupid or that you have to frame the situation that way -- like the common trope where it's presented that the good guy killing the bad guy who is in the process of killing or hurting multiple people is somehow an evil act, so in order to remain truly good, the good guy can't really do anything. And sure, lots of innocent people died, but the good guy's hands remain clean, and that's good! You have to let your good guy be smart. He can feel bad about being forced to kill someone, even as he recognizes it as the right thing to do, without him turning to the dark side because he killed the villain. Screwy morality is one of the big things hampering the good guys in fiction.

I've been using the masculine pronoun here for simplicity, although it applies to all heroes. However, it's a lot trickier with a female protagonist because it seems like audiences are harder on them, and a lot of the criticism comes from women. A white-hat heroine who's at all competent is likely to be labeled a Mary Sue and dismissed. That's why it's important to let a character have flaws that are recognized. Sadly, it seems like a female character who's at all confident in herself will be labeled a bitch. On the other hand, the dark bad girl generally has to act like a man in drag and will be criticized if she acts at all feminine. I don't really know what the solution is, other than to try to write decent female characters while ignoring the inevitable backlash criticism and support as a reader or audience member the good female characters who are out there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Emergency Yarn Run, Part 2

I had to make yet another emergency yarn run this morning. I'd already used 300 more yards than the pattern called for, and I wasn't yet done. Now I know to up the estimates for anything in this book.

Meanwhile, I resolved my convention issue. Someone else going to the convention let me know that they actually did want panelists to request more panels. That goes against the grain for me because I'm used to the programming people at the convention I work on having conniptions about problem panelists who start making lots of requests after the program is set. Apparently, this convention had some issues that left them scrambling, so they ended up letting people more or less program themselves. It seems like that would make more work, but on the other hand, it allows panelists to avoid the Law Of Convention Programming and make sure they're not opposite something else they want to do. It's nice to see when something is scheduled and what's opposite it before you say you want to do a panel. So I now have three more panels.

And while I was at the craft shop, I got supplies for making something to give away for promos that I hope might start going viral.

Now to finish the knitting, make promo stuff, and continue with the editing. I got a good start yesterday, then ran into one of those things that was a great concern to the editor but that seemed blindingly obvious to me. When something is blindingly obvious to you, it's difficult to judge how to explain it without going overboard with exposition. Fortunately, my narrator character is a newcomer who needs lots of stuff explained to her, so I think I can work it out, but I had to sleep on it to figure it out.

While I'm off working, I leave you with an impressive halftime show. I was in a military marching band, so all the curves make me twitchy, but I know just how much work had to go into this, so I'm kind of in awe. Though I think the T-Rex should have eaten the drum major, just to make it Art.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Diva Flouncing

The water heater cabinet repairs are finally finished. The time management ended up being as bad as ever. "We'll come by around 10 when we first get on the property" turned into a "we're running late, and it will be about an hour and a half" phone call at 11:45, which turned into a "we have to run by the office, but we'll be back in two hours, tops" phone call at 4:30, which turned into them showing up right before 8 -- at the beginning of the Grimm season premiere. Grrr. But it only took a few minutes, and now I'm free. Until the next thing that has to be repaired.

But I still got my picnic. I finally got smart and was driving to the parking lot near the park I like instead of taking a little more than half an hour to walk there so that I could spend more time walking in the woods and less time walking in the neighborhood. But then once I was in the car, I decided that meant I could drive anywhere, so I went to the lake nearby and sat on a nice, flat rock shelf where I could watch the sailboats. I got some good quality thinking done, so I'm ready to plunge into revisions today. Going out to the lake for the afternoon has long been on my list of things I need to make time to do since I like water and since the lake is so close, but I never manage to do it. This way, I managed to combine a little Fall Fun Fest with some work.

It's going to be a busy week because I'm leaving for a convention on Friday, and there's stuff I have to do to get ready for that, including finishing the knitting so I'll have something semi-costumey to wear and putting together some preliminary promo materials. I also have to do some revision work because I have to get it done and because I need to have a piece ready to read. I got my schedule for the convention yesterday and since I only got scheduled for two programming items (a reading and one panel), I had a moment of contemplating pulling out of the convention and then not having to worry about this stress and having more time to work on the revisions. I'm not sure quite what's up with that because just a week or so ago the con chair had sent me a list of programming she was planning for me, and none of that was on the schedule they sent. The schedule included a list of all programming and a note to let them know if there was anything else you wanted to be on, and most of the panels had at most two or three people on them, so maybe their "final" schedule was more like the programming survey other conventions send out ahead of time, and they actually want you to schedule yourself on other stuff. At the moment, I'm kind of torn between pulling out to get some work done and going and taking advantage of the light schedule to do what I want to do instead of what I'm programmed to do. With so little on the schedule, it's not like I'd be missed, but I think it could be good research and a chance to start building a little buzz. It's probably better to have people wondering why I'm barely on the program than to pull a diva flounce. You should never pull a diva flounce unless you're absolutely certain they won't just say "okay, whatever" instead of meeting your requirements to get you to stay, and I don't think I yet have the stature to make anyone cater to my wishes. Even when you do have the stature, you have to use it sparingly and only in cases where it's truly an issue for you.

And now to start tackling that to-do list so I can maybe someday achieve the stature to where I can say "Two programming items? Um, don't think so. Not worth the trip" and have people say "No, don't leave us! We'll put you on anything you want!"

Friday, October 25, 2013

July Flashback

I've sort of revived my old cooking blog with the story of the spaghetti squash. I'll try to post more often there, but that would mean trying new things, and I haven't been cooking a lot lately. But it is fall, and that's when I tend to turn into Betty Crocker.

I spent much of yesterday having a flashback to July. You may recall that I spent much of July dealing with repairs to my water heater closet. The work didn't get entirely finished. There was one part of the water heater installation that wasn't done, there was one section of sheetrock that wasn't completed, and the door wasn't painted. I ran into the contractor when he was working on a neighbor's house back in August and mentioned these things to him. He said he'd get back to me. Wednesday, I was thinking about having to maybe get nasty and get in touch with the HOA to say these things hadn't been done, but before I did anything, I got a call from him yesterday afternoon. He was working on my next-door neighbor's house (the same problem I'd had with the water heater cabinet) and wanted to come by to finish the work. Of course, the "I'll be right over" at three turned into showing up at six, and there was one part he was missing to do one last thing, so he's supposed to come by this morning. He's only an hour late, which is early for him. I'll start nagging in about fifteen minutes (he made the mistake of giving me a phone number).

But then it should all be done! This has really been an epic saga.

Because of all the waiting, I got no work done (it's hard to get into the right mindset when you think you're going to be interrupted at any moment). Instead, I did a lot of knitting, since that also counts as work and is very time-sensitive. Today, though, I'm planning to do a real retreat to brainstorm these revisions. I've got some good Black Forest ham, some good hard rolls I baked yesterday (something else I did while waiting), and some Honeycrisp apples, so I'm going to take a picnic to the woods with my notebook and sit in the quiet and solitude and work out all the things I need to work out. That way, I can hit the ground running on Monday.

Meanwhile, my main e-mail is down, which is making me twitchy. My fan mail address is working, but I keep getting an error message with my main business/personal address. The annoying thing about the error message is that it says they're experiencing technical difficulties, but then give a link for troubleshooting it. If it's their technical difficulty, there's no real troubleshooting you can do. Why leave the sense of doubt that it might be our fault? By going through a different home page, I can at least see the headers of messages, so I know I'm not missing anything critical, but I can't open any message without getting the error notice.

On the bright side, that means I can hang out in the woods for a couple of hours this afternoon without feeling like I'm missing anything.

And I just got the call that it would be another hour to an hour and a half before they get here, so I'm going to go do my brainstorming in the woods and call them when I get back. Given the time management I'm used to, they won't be here until after then, anyway, so I don't want to put my plans on hold to wait.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Switching Gears

I survived the kids again last night, and now I have two weeks off before I have to face them again. Not that I'm counting. We made tissue ghost puppets -- wrap a Kleenex around a cotton ball, tie with string, then attach string to a popsicle stick -- and made them dance. Three of the little girls spent the entire time coloring their ghosts (the markers were for making faces, but if they wanted a pink ghost, then I guess that was okay). The boys made their ghosts attack the teen helper. She's a pretty good fit for me. A couple of weeks ago, she wore a Doctor Who t-shirt. Last night, she had to leave early to go to a booksigning. That's definitely behavior I want to encourage.

I think I got a good start on putting together a collection of mood music for book revisions, and I still have ideas brewing. I hope to maybe even get a start on reviewing the book and tackling some of the revision suggestions today, but I do need to do a grocery run, and I have to do some baking for a Halloween party this weekend. And meanwhile, I'm still frantically knitting to finish my cape before Octopodicon. A weekend immersed in steampunk at that convention should be good for getting me in the right mindset to plunge into revising the book in earnest, but I want to have at least the first chapter revised before the convention so I can have a closer to "final" version to read at the convention.

However, after what I hope will be a productive Friday afternoon, I'll get my good night of TV because I'll be finishing my rewatch of Grimm in time for the season premiere, and then there's Haven. I'm not planning to watch the NBC Dracula because I found the promo trailer boring. If you can't hold my attention for two minutes in what should be the highlights of the series, I don't have high hopes for that series. Even the Victorian costumes weren't enough to hold my attention.

Now to do some baking and then some writing work ...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Revision Process

I spent yesterday trying to switch mental gears from contemporary fantasy involving fairy folklore to steampunk (no pun intended with the "gears"). It's been a couple of years since I last worked on this book, so it took reminding myself about it. One thing that usually works to re-immerse myself in a project is listening to the book's soundtrack, but that didn't work because the soundtrack didn't ring a bell to me at all. For a while, I even thought it might have been a first draft soundtrack, before I changed my mind about a lot of stuff, but then I found in my notebook where I'd associated certain songs with certain scenes. This soundtrack was more about finding the particular emotion in each scene than about finding the overall sense of the book.

The trick is that it's hard to capture "steampunk" in music. There are steampunk bands, but they don't sound to me like this world. There's a band in my book that incorporates calliope with fiddle, guitar and drums, and to me, that's what a true steampunk band would sound like, but I doubt there's a real band like that anywhere (if there is, I must find it). I've mostly used Celtic music for mood setting, but then that doesn't help much in the gear switching because that's also what I used for the fantasy book I was working on, although that was more ethereal Celtic instead of acoustic party Celtic (Enya vs. traditional Irish music). I think I may need to do another pass through iTunes and create a "mood" soundtrack in addition to the scene-by-scene soundtrack. Yes, that does sound like Advanced Procrastination Methods, but all this time, I'm mulling over the editor's notes in the revision letter and thinking of how that would play out. I've already come up with some new ideas and how to implement them.

The revision phase of writing, especially when it's revision based on someone else's comments, is always a challenge. It's more about thinking than about execution because it requires changing your mindset. You wrote things a certain way in the first place because that seemed like the best idea at the time. Now you have to revisit those things, look at them from someone else's perspective, and be honest with yourself about whether or not there's a better way to go. Fixing something may be more about the scenes leading up to it rather than fixing that one scene. For me, I generally have to give myself a day or so of griping and whining to get that out of my system before I can look back and realize that the editor really did have a point. Yes, an editor can be wrong -- even empirically, as in a reading comprehension issue or having missed something that was directly stated -- but even so, if the editor could miss it, a reader could, as well, and the miscomprehension could still come back to being my fault. I've only ever had a couple of cases where it was a pure case of someone missing the obvious that was made very clear, and there was no need to fix anything.

One thing that's going to be tricky with this book is that it's an alternate history. Because of certain things that are different, events didn't play out the same way as they did in our timeline. Some of the same events are happening, but in a different time and place. The American Revolution didn't happen in the 1770s. It's taking longer to get to that point, so it's starting in the 1880s, but some of it is starting in a very similar way, just in the different time. I did a ton of research to find events I could morph and move to this point. But this is a young adult novel, and I can't expect teen readers to have the same level of historical knowledge that I have after extensive research. The editor suggested adding an author's note, which is a good idea and means that I don't have to find a way to have characters who don't know that they're in a different timeline talking about how their timeline is different. I may take a look at Scott Westerfeld's steampunk trilogy to see what his author's notes looked like (I remember them being in those books). I'll also probably add an extensive section on history to my web site when this book is released, with a list of books I read for research.

Today's choir day, so I won't have as much time to work. I have to do my lesson plan, make a sample of our craft project and rehearse some of my choir music. Meanwhile, my thighs are very angry at me because I apparently was a wee bit too enthusiastic in ballet class last night. Ow.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Change of Plans

There's a saying that if you want to make God laugh, announce your plans. So, after I announced yesterday that I didn't have a deadline this fall and was going to allow myself to enjoy the season, I opened my front door this morning to get my newspaper and found a big package from my new publisher (I don't know when it arrived -- the UPS guy didn't bother to ring the doorbell). It was the edited manuscript for the book with a revision letter and a request that I get this round of revisions done in the next month.

I guess this means I'll be leaving my characters in the current project in jeopardy for the time being. I still intend to do as much Fall Fun Fest as possible. The key is balance. I don't have to go all-or-nothing. If I do quality work time on the days when I work, I can allow myself quality play time. At least, that's the theory. I think the focus today will be on getting back into the mindset of this book and thinking about the revision suggestions, and I can do that on the patio. I'm actually looking forward to digging into revisions because I love this book and enjoy playing in this world, and I appreciate the chance to make it better.

In other news, last night I did battle with a spaghetti squash, and I finally figured out how to win without a chainsaw. I may have to revive the old cooking blog to tell the story, but there are a few things I want to try with it first so I can have a full report.

Last week, I dug a book off the To Be Read shelf, since I was between library trips, and I was mildly pleasantly surprised. I've pretty much gone off romance novels, but this was a contemporary romance from the late 90s, and I liked it enough to remember why I used to like that sort of thing, It's really the market that's changed significantly, not me. This was the sort of thing I was trying to write when I was trying to write that sort of thing. There was a phase in the late 90s when the hot thing was contemporary romantic comedies. Most of them had cartoon-like covers rather than the clinch paintings you saw on historical romances or the landscape or single item of jewelry covers that had been on contemporaries. These still fit the "rules" of romance, but seemed to be a precursor to the chick-lit phase that came soon afterward.

Anyway, this book reminded me of something that stuck with me from an unlikely source. In the novelization of one of the Star Wars prequels, there's a description of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a lightsaber fight. The narrative goes on about various Jedi knights and their fighting styles and how they've incorporated this or that technique. But Obi-Wan didn't do any of these things. Instead, he was a master of the classic basics, with the point being that flawless execution of the classic form allowed him to fight well against anyone in any circumstances.

I think that often applies to entertainment. There's so much emphasis these days on "hooks" or gimmicks, putting a twist on things, that the basics have been forgotten when what might really work is flawless execution of the classic form. I wouldn't call this book flawless (I'm not even going to name it because it's long out of print), but it was a simple, basic romance that had interesting characters in a situation that generated conflict, and we saw their relationship grow and develop as they dealt with the conflict. No crazy hooks or gimmicks, nothing groundbreaking. Just a "if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you like" book. I keep seeing articles on why romantic comedy films seem to be a lost art form, and I think this has a lot to do with it. They keep throwing in bigger and bigger gimmicks, to the point they've forgotten what the original point was, when what they really need is a basic story that fits the romantic comedy formula, with high-quality writing, acting and directing.

I also think that this has something to do with some of my challenges in finding reading material. There's so much focus on finding what makes something different than what's gone before that I think "classic" stories have a hard time getting published. Things have to be taken to extremes or given huge twists or gimmicks to get attention. But sometimes what I want is a really well-written classic romance, mystery or fantasy. I don't care if I've read a zillion quest stories. If you give me a very well-written one with characters I love, I'll enjoy it. I'd rather have that than something totally new and different that has shallow characters and weak writing.

Of course, "different" generally only means "the thing that's almost exactly like all the other 'different' things that are currently hot."

Ah well, who am I to talk when the book I'm revising is an alternate history steampunk fantasy? Talk about throwing in all the trendy terms -- but at heart, it's your basic romantic adventure.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall Fun Fest Begins!

I had to make an emergency yarn run this morning because either the yarn company lied about how much yarn was in the skein or the pattern lied about how much yarn was needed for the project. According to the pattern and the yarn label, I bought more than I should have needed, but I came up way too short -- and not even in the range where it could be individual variations in knitting style. And wouldn't you know it, it's not a yarn that the craft store down the block sells, so it meant driving to the store in a nearby city. But while I was at it, I got some other supplies for the upcoming steampunk convention. Now I have to knit frantically to finish this cape in less than two weeks. When I ran out of yarn last night, I got started on a Christmas present project, so at least I got something accomplished, but the next couple of weeks are going to be a knit-a-thon.

Meanwhile, I survived the first time for my choir to sing in church. Problem Child wasn't there, which made it a little easier. They did a good job and were ridiculously cute, and fortunately, they saved all the waving at parents and calling out "Hi, Grandma!" for after they sang rather than while they were singing. They were actually reasonably focused while they were singing. Then in the later service, I got to help out with the choir my kids from the last two years are now in because one of their directors wasn't there. I helped corral them and get them in robes. And I got lots of hugs from them.

We had perfect Texas fall weather this weekend -- crisp and cool in the morning, just slightly warm and sunny in the afternoon. I spent much of the weekend outdoors, doing some wandering around a festival in my city and then visiting a nearby town for some more touristy wandering around on Saturday and then taking a really long walk around my neighborhood on Sunday. This is my favorite time of year and since I'm not on deadline, I'm going to make enjoying it a priority instead of pushing myself to stay inside and write. For the past ten years, I seem to have spent the fall holed up inside, writing. This year, I'm going to get out more.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Characters in Jeopardy

I got back in the writing game in a big way yesterday, almost getting up to what I consider my usual standard of production. I hope to make even more progress today, but I have to make a library run and do some laundry, as well. I've already done my library browsing online via the electronic catalog, so I know what I want and where to find it, and I know that it's available (or was when I checked). I'm in a kind of weird reading mood, where I'm not entirely sure where to go next. I don't know quite what I want to read now. I'm currently reading something off the To-Be-Read shelf and enjoying it far more than I expected, but I don't know that I'm in the mood for more of that sort of thing. This is the time of year when I usually dig into the mysteries and epic fantasies. I found a few things in my little notebook of books to look for that I've been saving for this time of year, so I'll get a variety of books and see what sticks.

I may turn the library trip into a kind of Day Out. I haven't stopped by the coffee shop there in a while, so I may get some tea and do a brainstorming session there. The lady who runs the coffee shop may be wondering what happened to me. It's a potentially drizzly afternoon, so I guess I won't be sitting on the patio. They've approved an expansion and remodeling of the coffee shop, so it will be interesting to see what becomes of it (the city owns the library building, and the coffee shop leases space in the building -- it's a synergy thing).

In the current book, I've managed to get all my characters in all three parallel plot lines in jeopardy at the same time. That's rather fun. Of course, I know that one of them isn't really in danger because I know what happens next, but readers shouldn't know at this point. This is when I cackle and rub my hands together with glee.

Meanwhile, I've got another project to tackle that's more administrative and marketing. To get the writing, this other work and the knitting done and still make time for Fall Fun Fest, I suppose I'll have to be more efficient.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Classical Music for Kindergarteners

Choir went a little easier last night because Problem Child wasn't there. The choir is singing in the early service Sunday morning, and is it bad that I'm hoping he won't be there because he didn't get the reminder yesterday? I can only imagine what he might do to act up when he's got that kind of audience. The focus last night was on the "dress rehearsal." My latest attempt at exposing them to music appreciation, Gregorian chant (to show them what people sang in church a long time ago), didn't go over so well. They aren't fond of anything slow or quiet. They say it makes them sleepy. But one of the kids did ask for the Chopin again, so some of the brainwashing may be working. I figure it's like introducing new foods to kids -- do it often in small amounts, until it becomes familiar enough to tell if they don't like it because it's different or if they really don't like it. I think next week we may make tissue ghosts and make them dance to "Danse Macabre" or "Night on Bald Mountain," then talk about scary stuff and sing the song in our curriculum about not being afraid and what to do when you're afraid. Because of various special events and holidays, I only have to prepare for four sessions between now and Christmas. For Christmas, I may introduce them to Renaissance music and jazz. The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack is a good intro to jazz, and I've got some Baltimore Consort Christmas music.

Meanwhile, in adult choir we're starting work on pieces from Messiah, and then the women are doing the "Lift Thine Eyes" piece from Mendelssohn's Elijah. I've sung it before, but I was doing the first soprano part at the time. Now I'm having to learn the second soprano part. But since we're now heavy in second soprano (and not all the firsts can actually do the top notes), watch me have to switch as soon as I learn it.

I got off track with writing yesterday because by the time I had things ready for choir, it was almost time to go. I may have been slightly sidetracked by knitting. I got my own copy of the Victorian lace book from Amazon (finally), so I can return the library copy when it's due Friday and still finish my current project. I got to the tricky bit yesterday, and it took me a few tries to figure it out, but now that it's started, it's going along pretty well. I'm making a lace capelet for steampunk convention wear, and it's knitted first with the body in a kind of modified fan and feather scallop pattern. Then you go around all the edges, knitting on a frilly border. I'd finished the body and had to start on the border, and it took me some playing with it to get it going in the right direction. I'm about to round the first corner, which will be a challenge. Since this is for a convention and will be part of promoting the next book, it's easy to tell myself this counts as "work." It is good for something to do when I get stuck. Today I have some errands to run, but I hope to get back to the writing, too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dark Heroes and Anti-Heroes

I'm still talking about heroes and the different kinds of them. In today's market, the dark hero or anti-hero is very popular. If you want to get technical, according to most of the writing books I have, an "anti-hero" is someone who would usually be a villain in the role of protagonist. That would be something like a story about a pirate in which we're encouraged to cheer for him evading the Royal Navy, a bank robber in which we're hoping he'll elude the police, mobster stories, heist and caper stories, etc. But people often use the term anti-hero to describe a hero who does things that aren't generally considered "heroic" -- the hero who's more violent than he should be, who breaks the law or bends the rules in the name of the greater good. I'd generally consider that a "dark" hero, but the lines get blurry, and some characters cross over the lines, so I'll discuss both in the same post.

If we're going by the technical definition, I think the main dividing line between a dark hero and an anti-hero would be whether the hero is doing what he's doing for the greater good. A dark hero might be doing illegal things, but he's doing so because they're necessary for a cause outside himself. Or he might be breaking the law of an unjust government. Robin Hood might be an example. He's a thief, but he's targeting the corrupt and redirecting their wealth to the needy. An anti-hero would be stealing for his own gain. An example of that might be the con-man hero of the movie Catch Me If You Can, who until the end of the movie is using his considerable skills to move himself up in the world and make his own life more luxurious and exciting.

But a character can sometimes be both. One good example might be Mal Reynolds from the TV series Firefly. He was a thief, scavenger and smuggler. In some episodes, he and his crew were openly pulling criminal heists. Their usual victims were the corrupt government or corrupt individuals, but the profits from these jobs went to the crew, not to any kind of aid to poor people. But then Mal was also a sucker for an underdog and had a habit of taking "jobs" for no real pay in order to help someone who needed help. He was on the wrong side of the law, but only sometimes was he a true anti-hero.

Then there are the pseudo anti-heroes, the characters where their illegal background is more about character development than plot -- the bad boys with hearts of gold. There's Han Solo in the Star Wars movies, who was a smuggler before his entry into the story. We see the consequences of his criminal background, but once he's in the story, he doesn't really do anything criminal. A similar example would be Duke Crocker on the TV series Haven. He's a criminal and smuggler, and there are references to his criminal activity throughout the series, but he isn't really an anti-hero because his role in the story isn't about his criminal life -- it's not about him pulling off a job that we hope he gets away with. His criminal life is character development and a source of conflict when circumstances force him to team up with his childhood friend, who's now a cop, in order to save the town.

A dark hero might be someone who behaves like a villain, even as he works toward the greater good. He might be violent, he might not care about collateral damage, he might be a generally nasty person, but he's putting himself on the line against evil. Urban fantasy is full of this kind of figure.

Dark heroes and anti-heroes are really popular right now, and there don't seem to be a lot of limits as to how dark you can go. If someone can pull off a serial killer as a hero, you've got a lot of room to work with. But you still have to make the audience identify with and believe in these characters. They have to be human beings. Show a variety of their relationships. Give them people they care about, and who care about them. If someone we like loves these people, we can see that they're lovable. Or maybe they've lost someone they loved, and we see their pain over that.

Give them motivation or some explanation for why they're the way they are. Going back to Catch Me if You Can, we saw the way that young man was brought up and how unhappy his life became when everything fell apart, so we understood his need to escape into a fantasy world, even if that world was created with illegal acts. The bank robber doesn't necessarily have to be getting money for his mother's lifesaving operation, but we need to see why he's willing to go to these lengths to get money. Mal Reynolds in Firefly was desperately trying to maintain his independence by having his own ship and his own crew, and he would do anything to keep his ship running and to provide for his crew.

You can also gain audience sympathy by making a character like this charming and highly skilled. We like caper stories because they bring together a team of people with specialized abilities who are usually the best at what they do. It's fascinating watching them work, even if we don't sympathize with what they're doing.

These days, it may actually be more difficult to make audiences love a truly good hero than a dark hero. There are ways to do it, though, and I'll talk about that next time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Last Weekend's Reading

This morning is gloomy and gray, and when I got my newspaper off the front porch, I was reminded of another reason I'm fond of this time of year. My neighbor's lights were on, so his house had a kind of warm glow in the murky gloom. That made me think of when I was in high school and lived in the country, so I had a very long rural bus ride to school -- for a while, it was more than an hour and I had to catch the bus before 7 a.m. At this time of year, when the days were getting shorter but Daylight Saving Time hadn't yet ended, it was still dark for much of the bus ride, and I made the most of an otherwise miserable experience by looking at the houses we passed. I couldn't see through the windows, but in places where the lights were on, the windows had a yellow glow, the way small children draw windows as yellow squares when they draw houses. The homes looked warm, cozy and inviting, and I liked imagining that they were the kinds of homes you'd stumble upon while lost in the woods in a fairytale world. Your mind plays funny tricks on you when you spend an hour early every morning bouncing down barely paved country roads in an old school bus. Fortunately, midway through my sophomore year my dad started teaching at my school, so I always had a ride to and from school and no longer had to take the bus. Still, even now when I see lights coming through a window on a dark morning, I'm instantly transported back to that bus.

I mentioned that I spent the weekend reading, so here's some discussion of what I was reading. First, there was The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. This is another one of those books that straddles the line between fantasy and literary/women's fiction. I got it from the library, and they stuck a unicorn sticker on the spine, but my guess from the publisher/imprint, the authors giving endorsement blurbs and the "other customers also bought" books on Amazon that it's published as literary/women's fiction rather than as fantasy (since I no longer have a convenient local bookstore, I can't see where it's shelved). A graduate student goes on a walk, finds a mysterious old graveyard, reads the poem on a tombstone, then gets lost when she tries to walk back from the graveyard, finding herself at a fabulous house where a beautiful woman invites her to stay and enjoy the party she's having. Our heroine finds herself caught up in the glamorous world of the fae, but the glamour starts to fade and turn into real danger. When she escapes, instead of finding herself back in her own world, she's in a world out of a fantasy novel, under the protection of a sullen wizard (who gave me the slight impression that someone was writing Professor Snape fanfic). To survive in this world and maybe find her way back home, she'll have to learn to do magic, herself.

I mostly read this for market research because I'm trying to find where they draw the line between women's fiction with magic in it and fantasy with women's fiction elements, so it was hard to just read this as a book while turning off the analytical part of my brain. I think this one comes down to being more "women's fiction" because the focus is on the experience rather than on the plot. A fantasy novel would probably be more focused on a specific goal and driving toward that while this was about what it was like to live in that world and how it was affecting the heroine. I found myself imagining the book club discussion guide questions as I read. That might make it a little frustrating to fantasy readers who want someone to do something, but then those who get frustrated with fantasy novels because they want to spend more time just reveling in the world instead of rushing about on quests might really enjoy it. I found the title a bit misleading because I expected a title like that to go on a funnier, more satirical book. This book isn't meant as a comedy. I suppose all this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation. I didn't think it was a bad book at all, and I was engrossed in it. It's a "portal" book about someone from our world in a fantasy world, which is one of my favorite things. I just didn't love it the way I wanted to, based on the title and general description. Now I kind of want to write the book I thought it would be. Too bad the perfect title for it is already taken.

Then for something completely different, there was possibly the most unique romance novel I've ever read, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. What makes it so unique? It's a romance novel whose narrator is a man with Asperger's Syndrome, and it maintains that voice throughout in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways. Don is a geneticist who lives a very ordered, regimented life based on maximizing efficiency in everything. But he's lonely and has decided to find a mate in the most efficient way possible, ruling out things that he considers dealbreakers with a detailed questionnaire. Of course, no real woman can live up to the standards in his survey, so he gets a colleague to help him sort through the "maybe" responses from online dating, singles mixers, etc. When a woman shows up at his office saying the colleague sent her, he assumes she's part of the project, then is thrown totally off-balance when she's everything he said he didn't want -- and then when he finds himself wanting to see her again. Fortunately, he has an excuse. She's trying to find her biological father, and he's a geneticist. He offers to help her test the various candidates. Along the way, the two of them have all kinds of adventures, and he finds himself realizing that optimizing his life for efficiency has left out room for things like fun.

This is a really sweet, charming, funny book that I practically read in one sitting. I'm impressed with the consistency of the narrative voice and the way that clues the narrator doesn't pick up on but that the reader does kind of leak around the edges. Supposedly, this is in development as a movie, and I think it would make a good romantic comedy, if they do it well. The lead role will be tricky, though.

The scary thing was how much I identified with the narrator. I'm way too empathetic and emotionally sensitive to have Asperger's, but I do have a thing for efficiency and routine. I like to say I don't follow a set routine, but watch me twitch if a guest in my house uses the glasses that are supposed to be used for milk at breakfast for iced tea at lunch or if someone calls me at a time designated for something else and disrupts my schedule. It doesn't hurt for all of us to remember to make time for fun.

Speaking of schedule … I think I'm back on track with the writing and moving ahead, though I did hit a minor roadblock yesterday. I've got two parallel plots going on, and while I have one figured out, the other mostly exists to get the other character in place, so I have to figure out what she's going to be doing, without making it a re-tread of what was in the previous book. I think I have that figured out now, too, and we'll see in this afternoon's writing session.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Good Things

It was so delightful having a quiet weekend with nothing going on. That may give me stamina for the next few weekends, which are going to be busy and social. There are festivals, parties and conventions pretty much until Thanksgiving, though I do have one November weekend whose calendar squares are currently blank. It didn't rain as much as I hoped on Saturday, and it was hot and muggy, but that was balanced out by an excellent (and quite unexpected) outcome for the Texas vs. Oklahoma football game. (Hook 'em!)

I did finish that scene on Friday. Yay! It turned out that my problem was that I'd written the wrong scene in the first place. It was a good scene, but it didn't fit the story. Rewriting it meant negating the good scene I'd already written. Thus, the resistance. I needed enough distance from what I'd written to start over. It probably still needs some tweaking, but the bones are there. I'm now at the point of moving on into the future rather than rewriting what was there, and today is delightfully cool and rainy, so it should be a good writing day. I have to do some thinking and brainstorming first, but then I hope to plunge forward.

I forgot to mention on Friday that I watched the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. I think the jury's still out on that one. There's the potential for lots of stuff that I might love, but there's also the potential for lots of stuff that I could hate. I do like the grown-up Alice we see in this. Apparently, the actress is trained as a dancer/gymnast/acrobat, and it shows in the action scenes, where she's quite good at throwing herself around. It's the Summer Glau effect of someone who really does have a well-trained body doing things like that, so you can believe that she really can prevail. The more I learn about dance, the more I know that you do not want to mess with a ballerina. The thing that worries me is the potential romantic triangle. Basically, the story is that when no one believed her about her adventures in Wonderland, Alice kept going back to try to find something she could use as proof. She was still a regular visitor as a teen/young woman, and that's when she met (and apparently freed) a genie. She and the genie fell in love, but then the evil red queen killed him. Back home, Alice's father had her locked up in Bedlam Asylum, and they're on the verge of giving her a lobotomy to stop her from believing that all this Wonderland stuff is real (and she's kind of hoping to forget her broken heart). But then the white rabbit sends the Knave of Hearts to get her because her genie has been seen alive. Now she's back in Wonderland on a quest for her true love.

Unlike most of the Internet, I actually like her genie love. He seems to be the "good boy" in this potential triangle. However, they haven't really developed him or the relationship yet. In the parent show, they have a bad habit of telling us a relationship is "true love" and expecting us to just accept that, so I don't know that we'll get more than that. Then there's the Knave, who's a classic TV "bad boy," complete with black leather jacket and British football hooligan attitude. Because I have watched TV before, I can already see the triangle developing, with Alice falling for him while on her quest for her true love (something most of the Internet seems in favor of). Then again, the whole True Love thing is big on these shows, so maybe not. If they bother telling us why the True Love is the True Love and dare have her not distracted by the charming bad boy, then this could be fun for me. Then again, the villains are pretty awful (and not in a good way) and the level of CGI is distracting. It's basically entirely greenscreen, probably because Wonderland is too weird to be played by any real place on earth. Basically, at this point I'm watching, but if it dies of low ratings (a distinct possibility), I won't be engaging in any "save our show" campaigns.

In other geeky TV news, it's nice to have my love for something validated, and this weekend the cast of Haven did possibly one of the craziest things done during a convention panel. They performed a wedding for two of their fans at New York ComicCon. One cast member performed the ceremony (which probably was more symbolic than legal), another provided the music on guitar, and the third played matron of honor. On paper, this is a dark and spooky show, but it has this fun undercurrent of lunacy and humor that probably comes from the cast members. Judging from the documentary on the making of an episode that was on the last DVD set, I might even be willing to watch a reality show about the making of this series because everyone involved in the show is insane in a good way, seems to like each other, and seems to be having a blast. They apparently amuse themselves in their free time while shooting in a small Nova Scotia town by having singalongs/jam sessions, and that turned into an actual band.

So, if anyone wants to get married during one of my convention panels, I can sing "Ave Maria" pretty well. I've never been a bridesmaid, so I'd be honored to do that, too. But no ugly dresses, please.

Oh, speaking of music, I got a huge "aw" moment at church Sunday. They were talking about the importance of children's programs and showed a video that included clips of kids at church and little interview segments from the kids. I remember when they were shooting the interviews back in the spring because they were pulling kids out of my choir. They were asking the kids what they like most about church, and one of them very confidently, with no hesitation, said children's choir. She was in my choir at the time and had been in my choir for two years. So I must be doing something right.

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Enchanted Anniversary

Today is a Getting Things Done Day. So far, I've taken care of several errands, including taking out the recycling, getting weatherstripping for the front door at Home Depot, doing a Target run and picking up a few grocery items for planned menus. One of the things I got at Target was an extendable microfiber duster. I was going to get one of those Swiffer extend things, but there was a much sturdier one with a longer reach and a washable/reusable duster, so I went with that instead. I've already used it to dust the ledge where my suit of armor stands, and I made a start on the bizarre ledge in my bedroom where the bathroom has a partial ceiling but the area between it and the sloping roof ceiling is open. I got some epic dust bunnies down from there, which could explain my constant allergies and the reason that room gets so dusty all the time. I barely got started before I had to wash the duster. Maybe some other time I'll bring the big ladder in from the garage so I can see what I'm doing. At the very least, I must have made some dent in it with just the stepladder, and I may be able to keep the worst of it down if I do this on a regular basis. Then at the grocery store, I scored a manager's special deal on some fresh tamales, and there was some fun mutual rejoicing with the other lady who found them at the same time. I restrained myself from stocking up because my freezer is already full.

My next Getting Things Done task will be to finally write the scene I've been procrastinating about for more than a week. I seem to have some kind of block regarding this scene because although I have a pretty good sense of what happens, I can't seem to make myself write it. I'll just stare at the computer, then get distracted, then come up with some task I really need to do before I write it. But I have decided that it will be written today. I'm going to set an alarm for 3 this afternoon, and at that point, I have to sit down and write this scene, and not get up until it's written. Before that, I can brainstorm, mind map, try to create a musical soundtrack for it, find the theme song, do housework, post on the Internet, or whatever. But at 3, I WILL write this scene. I'm not sure why I'm procrastinating, other than that it's a pivotal scene and I want it to go right.

Then I'll let myself enjoy the weekend. I actually deserve some kind of celebration this weekend because Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of the day I started writing Enchanted, Inc. Before that, I'd done research, outlining, character development, plotting and had even written the first few lines. But October 13, 2003, was the day I sat down and started writing pages. According to my calendar, I wrote 18 pages that day.

This could explain why I currently don't have ideas for more stories. Ten years is a long time to work in a single universe, a long time to spend with a group of characters. I love that story and those people, but I'm ready to move on. For now. It's possible that I'll come to miss them and want to revisit them.

Now to go get a few more things done before the Writing Hour strikes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More Wacky Morality

I barely survived the kindergarteners last night. I had no energy and not much in the way of lesson plans. The main thing we had to do was work on the song we're singing in church the Sunday after next. My problem child was in full-on brat mode, and it spread to all the other kids. When we were singing the song, he started doing it in funny voices and then making up his own crude words. The other kids followed suit. I shut off the music and gave them the full guilt treatment, reminding them that when we sing in church, we're singing to God and asking if that's how they talk to God. That settled them down enough that we were able to practice together with the preschool choir. I'm still worried about what they'll do in front of an audience. Problem Child is the type who would choose that time to act out and get attention.

Otherwise, Beethoven saved my bacon. We had a rhythm stick day, first seeing if we could copy rhythms. Then I showed them how music can sound like other things, and we made a rainstorm using the sticks. And then I put on the "Tempest" movement of the 6th Symphony, and it turns out last year wasn't a fluke. They listened to it in rapt near-silence. I still had more than five minutes left, so we got out the crayons, passed out paper and had them draw what the music sounded like to them. I may check the Peter and the Wolf CD out of the library and start introducing them to that, bit by bit. Small children seem remarkably receptive to classical music if you present it to them as something cool rather than treating it like musical broccoli that they should only consume because it's good for them. If I can just instill a love for music in general in these kids, I figure I'll have done my job.

I've been thinking more about yesterday's wacky morality post and realized even more weirdness with the Star Wars universe. Supposedly, it would start Luke down the path to the Dark Side if he killed the Emperor to save his friends, the Rebel forces, the Ewoks and pretty much the whole galaxy in general. And yet, killing the Emperor to save his son was what redeemed Darth Vader and turned him away from the Dark Side. So apparently the same action can either doom you or save you, depending on where you start, and personal motives are better than big-picture motives? And it also seems that shooting down fighter pilots or shooting stormtroopers has nothing to do with your dark vs. light status (since no moral questions were ever raised about that), but killing the person who's sending them into battle will make you evil. Moving that into our world, it's like saying it was perfectly okay to mow down all the German troops (many of whom were conscripted) and bomb German cities, but it would have forever darkened your soul to take out Hitler one-on-one.

I don't know if this is really a black and white vs. shades of gray issue. It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, there's the view that the villains are bad and should be dealt with accordingly. On the other, there's the idea that villains act one way and heroes act another way, and if a hero acts like a villain (regardless of motive), it's bad, but if a villain ever acts like a hero, then it's good. So killing is bad for the hero, except for killing the villain's minions, which is okay. But if the villain kills the right person, he's redeemed.

This issue may be why Grimm was my favorite of the fairy tale shows. I think they've shown Nick to be a pure white hat because he's taken a cop's approach to his family legacy, treating each creature he comes across as an individual case. He's not "kill 'em all" like his ancestors, but rather befriends and helps those who need help and deals with the ones who are a threat, whether they're a threat to humans or to other creatures. He may feel some remorse when he's forced to kill, especially when it's someone acting more out of biological imperative than out of sheer malice, but there's no implication that he's turning toward any kind of dark side when he does so. He's a good person trying to help the greater good, even if that sometimes gets messy, and I don't get the impression that we're expected to question his morals.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Wacky Morality

I think I'm starting to recover, as I managed to sleep late this morning, which means I'm unwinding. The knee is only slightly stiff and not at all painful. I can walk and manage the stairs normally. I'm still not sure about anything more intense, which could make children's choir tonight interesting. If the improvement continues, I may attempt the beginning ballet class tomorrow night as a substitute for the class I missed last night. We'll see. It might be wiser to give the knee an entire week off.

I was reminded yesterday that I never did any posts inspired by WorldCon panels. I guess I went straight from WorldCon to preparing for FenCon, and my brain never caught up. The main panel that inspired lots of blogworthy thoughts was, oddly enough, the one on Star Wars. David Brin said some really thought-provoking things about the morality in that universe that I think also apply to the way morality is perceived in general in a lot of modern entertainment. He also had a very interesting thesis about Yoda being the most evil character in the series because at just about every critical turning point, he either did something or refused to act, which resulted in things turning out the wrong way. And there are some crazy things like assigning the training of the most potentially powerful Jedi ever to the rookie who's barely finished his own training or letting the only remaining potential Jedi grow up with no training at all, when they're supposed to be the last hope.

But the main thing that made me think was the weird morality that stacks the deck against the good guys. Brin talked about how in the confrontation with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, the Emperor is gloating about the number of people he's about to kill, and the gist of it is that Luke killing the bad guy to stop him from doing bad stuff will be what makes Luke turn evil. That reminded me of the wacky morality in the TV series Once Upon a Time, where killing the evil sorceress who's about to wipe out the entire town and who killed her mother and set most of the things that destroyed her life in motion leaves a "black spot" on Snow White's heart. As in the Star Wars universe, the villains can run amok, then do one good thing and be totally redeemed, but the good guys will go bad if they actually do something to stop the bad guys from running amok.

I think they're trying to show how good, sweet and nice Snow White is, but to me she looks like a terrible ruler who puts her own emotions ahead of the good of her people. They intercut the "current" story with flashbacks from the fairytale past, and those are non-linear, so you see events out of order. We saw the bit where they'd actually caught the evil queen and put her on trial, but Snow White wouldn't execute her, and they knew they couldn't hold someone with her power in prison, so they just let her go. Since then, we've learned this came after she slaughtered a whole village for revenge and held another whole village hostage. Since they let her go, she's enacted a curse on their whole world that yanked everyone out of their lives and left their world in ruins, and she's killed even more people. But executing her after a trial would have darkened the good guys, while letting her keep hurting innocent people is perfectly okay?

It's hard enough to be a hero without all sorts of wacky rules about what a hero is allowed to do, even to a villain and even to help protect innocent people. If you can't kill a villain in order to keep the unrepentant villain from hurting more people, how are you supposed to win?

This doesn't come from the original tales, where the villains were thoroughly punished. Cinderella's stepsisters got their eyes poked out by birds. Villains might also get put in barrels studded with nails and dragged through town. Fairytale heroes were supposed to be kind to animals, the poor, old people and those who weren't obviously attractive, but they were under no obligation to let villains walk all over them. I think some of the problem comes from poor planning, so that the power balance or competence balance between the hero and the villain is off, and that means shifting the rules around to keep the hero from winning until the story is over. If one action by the hero could end the story and stop all the misery, it's easier to come up with a reason why the hero can't just take that one action than to revise the story to keep things more in balance so that it takes more than just that one action.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Coming Attractions

I'm more mobile today -- mobile enough to make a grocery store/library run, but probably not mobile enough for ballet. The knee no longer really hurts, and I can walk normally, but it's still stiff and not quite up to anything more than ordinary walking, so I think I'm going to continue taking it easy. Heat seems to help, so I will probably spend much of the day with the heat wrap thing wrapped around it. I mostly got caught up with last week's TV yesterday, so today I might try doing some writing, if I can make my brain focus. I might need one more day of winding down mentally.

I had semi-joked about wanting next weekend to be rainy so I can have a good stay-at-home-and-relax time, but now it looks like I'm really going to get it. It won't also be a good cold snap like we had last weekend, but at least it should be nice and gray for curling up with a good book or two, listening to music and maybe doing some book brainstorming.

And now my brain has gone totally blank. I'm afraid that I don't have the mental energy for the meaty posts that are brewing after the weekend, but I don't really know of anything else to say.

On second thought, there may not be writing today.

Some discussion you might look forward to in the future:
"White hat" heroes vs. "black hat" heroes (I'm already doing some of this in my writing posts, but you can expect a lot more discussion here)
Why folklore makes a good basis for fantasy fiction, and which areas are still there to be tapped
How fantasy is evolving and how that evolution is marketed (and accepted -- or not)
What's cool on TV now

A final word of advice: If you're playing improv games and the one comes up where you're expected to make up lyrics on the fly, and you can't even write lyrics when given ample time, a big, high note to back up someone else finishing the song always works.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Convention Recovery

Today is recovery day from FenCon. I was going to try to go over and help with the final clean-up, but I apparently overdid the work I did tearing down last night because my bad knee is non-functioning this morning. Walking is a slow and painful process. It may loosen up throughout the day with rest and gentle movement, but by then it will be too late for me to be able to help.

In spite of today's physical pain, I think this may have been my favorite FenCon so far. Part of it may have been the later than usual date, which meant my ragweed allergies weren't in full force, so I was able to actually enjoy the convention. I wasn't sick, like last year. Thanks to a video I did for the opening ceremonies, I was more famous and recognized than I've ever been (nearly a decade of novels and I get mildly recognized, one four-minute video and I got fannish adoration from famous people). They kept me very busy on panels, so that I always had something going on during the day, and when I wasn't working, I was helping the tech crew or the staff lounge. I also seemed to interact more with the guests of honor, which I often don't get the chance to do. I had a really nice lunch chat with Teresa Nielsen Hayden. She was very active on a Usenet writing forum I used to frequent, and though she understandably didn't remember me (I don't know if I ever got up the nerve to post), the fact that I remembered her got the conversational ball rolling. I spent a fair amount of time with Charles Vess, helping him with a computer issue, and he gave me chocolate, so I think I'm now a forever fan. I'm not a very visual person, so art isn't a big thing for me, but I did buy a copy of the print of artwork he did for the convention because something about it spoke to me and I think it will need to find a place on my office wall. Or maybe my bedroom wall. Anyway, it will need to go somewhere once I finish whatever redecorating I decide to do.

In spite of being a music person, I've never managed to hear much of the musical programming at the convention, but I made a point of hearing Heather Dale after listening to her sound check. Just checking the microphones, she had a lovely voice and excellent pitch (I have pitch issues), so I had to hear her actually perform. And then I had to buy a CD. We chatted for a while, and she guided me to one that actually fits perfectly with what I'm currently writing because it's all songs inspired by folklore about fairies -- and not the cute kind. I have a feeling I will end up getting more of her music and becoming a raging fangirl.

Meanwhile, I now have a celebrity endorsement for my chocolate chip cookies, as I fed Amber Benson after a panel we had together. We also geeked out over Harry Potter together on the panel, agreeing that we kind of want to crawl inside the books.

I ended up having a lot of fun with the Whose Line is it Anyway game, although I'm still not great at improv. I was the one playing the "hostess"  in the party guests game, and I did manage to guess them all. I saw cameras in the audience, so there will likely be photos surfacing.

I got lots and lots of blog fodder ideas from the various panels I was on, so you can look forward to that over the coming weeks.

Here's a nice photo essay the local newspaper did about the convention (My PR coup). You may have to go through a screen offering you a subscription, but just click on the "free version" button. The Doctor Who panel I moderated is included. I was the crazy person who decided to include the Dalek on the panel (he didn't say much). I'm the one in the red top toward the middle of the panel.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Convention Time!

I'm getting ready to head to FenCon. It was a little unnerving when they were still working on the hotel yesterday afternoon as we were setting up. They'd done a major remodeling project that was supposed to be done by this weekend, but there were still rooms that were gutted and they were still running electrical wires and hanging light fixtures late into the night. It will be exciting to see how much is done this morning. I was up there until nearly 11, helping hang things from the ceiling in the main ballroom and setting up some of the stage lighting, after spending much of the afternoon helping test microphones and slicing things in the hospitality suite. I guess I was trying to see how many departments I could be involved with.

I've got some cookies in the oven now, and then I have to go over early to provide some Mac tech support to one of the guests. I just took a really good look at my programming schedule, other than glancing at it to see that I had programming, and my, but I'll be busy. I've got panels on Doctor Who, Star Trek, fantasy in general, other TV stuff, heroes and villains, etc. They're also doing a geeky version of Whose Line is it Anyway that I somehow got drafted for. I don't think well on my feet (I need a lot of pondering time), so that should be interesting.

And now I'd better get dressed and get over there so I can pretend to play computer guru. A full report on convention fun will be coming next week.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

PR Flashbacks and Convention Prep

The FenCon fun is about to begin in earnest. Once I wrap up a few things, I'll be heading over to help set up. Then tomorrow the convention begins. I've had more success in my PR efforts this year, and it's reminding me of my love/hate relationship with that field. There is a kind of high you get when you're promoting something you really believe in and you manage to find just the right person to pitch it to. It's also fun playing knowledge resource, the one who can find the right information to help a reporter. That's sometimes enough to make up for all those pitches that are totally ignored. I spent a lot of yesterday helping a photo assignments editor pick the right event during the convention to send a photographer to. I don't think I want to go back to work at a PR job, though. Doing this once a year is enough.

I've decided to read excerpts from the book currently in search of a good home for my reading. I've edited together snippets from the introductory scenes of the major characters. I may need to do a little more internal trimming, as my last read-through came to about 23 minutes, and I have about a 25-minute slot (30 minutes, with time to clear the room and let the next person in). I need a little more breathing room than that. There may also be cookies, if that helps entice people.

I got a week off from the kids because instead of having choir, they had a special kid-oriented worship service. I went because they asked choir directors to be there in case there were kids whose parents were at other activities, and it was really cute. They let the kids take the lead on a lot of things, and you haven't seen adorable until you've seen a four-year-old playing usher and passing the offering plate, very very earnestly.

Now I need to read through my reading excerpt one more time, check the video using my TV as a monitor, then head over to the convention hotel. Fortunately, it's not that far away.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Reluctant Hero

I'm still talking about types of heroes, and this week the spotlight is on the reluctant hero.

In a way, every hero should be at least a little bit reluctant for at least part of the story. A refusal of the call to adventure is even a part of the hero's journey. Being a hero is difficult. Not just anyone can do it, and showing the hero wrestling with the decision helps demonstrate that this isn't something that can be taken lightly. But there are varying degrees of reluctance.

Some of the more "comic book" style heroes -- the larger-than-life superheroes -- may show little reluctance. They've accepted that heroism is their calling, and they leap into the fray when they're needed. Even so, the origin stories for these heroes usually involve some moment of reluctance, refusal or self-doubt before they take on the cape and tights in earnest. Today's audiences may be a little less accepting of this kind of hero, though. The more recent superhero movie adaptations have put more emphasis on the heroes wrestling with or running from their fates. Even James Bond in his latest movie spent some time just hanging out before he was forced back into action. Being "relatable" is important in today's fiction, and it may be hard for many people to relate to a hero who doesn't at least stop to think before taking on the role of hero.

The "refusal of the call" may also come at different parts of the journey. An eager, naive hero who desperately wants to be a hero and have adventures may jump at the chance, with no hesitation, only to waver when things prove to be more difficult than he expected. He may even try to back out and return home, only to find that it's too late, that he's in this up to his ears and has no choice but to complete the journey, so that he spends the rest of the story, up to the final turning point where he learns a valuable lesson, reluctant.

Another common reluctant hero trope is the hero who just wants to be left alone. He may have already had his moment of heroism that wasn't as glorious as they make it out to be, or he may have suffered a great loss, and now he wants to look out for himself, without having to worry about anything else. When something happens that makes him needed, he tries to avoid it. He tries to stay out of the way and claims it's none of his business. He may try to play mentor and coach someone else into taking on the hero's role while staying out of it, himself. But eventually his better nature and sense of duty win out, and he joins the fray. We see this a lot in Westerns, where our loner hero is usually an embittered Civil War veteran who lost his family and who has moved out west to be left alone, until the nearby town is threatened by bandits, etc. Or there's The Road Warrior, in which Mad Max would prefer to be left alone but gets drawn into the fight to help save the community. At the end, this hero may join the community or continue his loner ways until he's needed again.

This may also happen with someone who feels he's a failure -- he tried being a hero but failed, or his efforts backfired. Now he doesn't want to get involved because he's afraid he'll fail again or fears he's no good for anyone. The last person he tried to help died, and he doesn't want to risk that again. He'll fight getting involved because he really does believe that it's better for everyone that he stay out of it. This kind of hero may take something extreme to get him back in action, like a dire situation that only he can deal with combined with a swift kick in the pants from a sidekick. His story becomes a redemption story as he makes up for his past failures with his heroism and emerges reborn as a changed man.

The reluctant hero can verge on being an anti-hero if he's a person who would normally be doing non-heroic things but who finds himself going against his own nature to help others. This is the Han Solo type. We're told that he was a smuggler, but during his entire time in the story, he's doing heroic things, even though he keeps insisting he's only doing it for money until he can't help but come back to join the final battle.

I think the reluctant hero is popular because he reacts the way we might imagine we'd react in a crisis -- we might complain and resist or be afraid, but when we're really needed, we might pull ourselves together and do the right thing. There's also a lot of potential for a growth arc, where we can see the hero be transformed. If he's already perfect and willing at the start, there's nowhere for him to go.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Breathing Time

I can't believe it's October. It doesn't feel like October. This year has gone by really quickly. I'm lost sometime in June or July. We still have some lingering summer, so it doesn't quite feel like fall, but that will come in a couple of weeks, and then it will be my favorite time of year.

Thinking this way got me started thinking about this time of year fifteen years ago. I went to a conference in Houston the first weekend of October, then when I went back to work, a former client who'd gone to work at a PR agency called me and asked me to lunch. It turned out that one of the companies I'd been doing PR for had consolidated their public relations at one agency, the one this person now worked for, and they wanted me to come work there to handle this client. I'd been intensely unhappy in my job for a while because of the way the agency where I worked was managed. The boss was a lot like Michael Scott on The Office, but more of a frat boy type. When I first went to work there, they seemed to judge everything based on your seniority at the company, so I had people supervising me who had a lot less experience than I did. But I stuck it out, and soon I had the seniority, but that didn't seem to count for much when a new person was suddenly promoted over my whole department, and she not only had less seniority, she had less experience, and she had zero people skills (to people below her -- she was great at sucking up to the boss). It didn't take much to make me want to leap. By the beginning of the next week, I'd accepted a job offer and handed in my resignation.

I'd learned from the last time I changed jobs that taking some time off in between jobs was a good idea, so I set my start date for the beginning of November, which gave me a week off plus my two-weeks notice. But because I was essentially working for The Firm, where leaving was considered a betrayal, I was supervised in packing up my office and then walked to the door when I resigned. That gave me most of October off, and it was sheer bliss.

I got a little taste of what it would be like to write full-time. I did do a lot of stuff around the house, as I'd moved in the previous summer and wasn't entirely done unpacking and settling in, but I got to set my own schedule. I took long walks to think and spent a lot of time reading and writing. I've recommended doing a trial run before making the leap to writing full-time, and this only made me want it more. The main thing for me wasn't so much the writing time as it was the time to breathe. Most of writing is thinking, and most of it happens away from the pen/keyboard. That's the time I was missing. Taking long walks and looking at the fall colors really is an important part of the writing process, and the time I spend writing is more productive if I've also had ample breathing time.

Little did I know that just a little more than three years later I'd be doing this full-time, for real. Since I'm not on a tight deadline this year, I need to remind myself of that year and how good it was for me to take the time to enjoy my favorite part of year.

Of course, that can't start until after FenCon. Then Fall Fest will begin!