Monday, February 24, 2014

Life-Changing Literature

Breath out, breathe in. I had to remind myself of the process. In through the nose, pushed out through the mouth.  Repeat.

I glanced across at my friend, noting her wide eyes and pinked cheeks.

"I had to look away," she admitted. "It was just..." And there it was again, the wide-eyed did-that-just-happen look that begged me to complete the thought.

I didn't need to. My thumping pulse bore witness of what had just taken place.

Few things have this shaken-to-the-core effect on me: a good car crash will do it--especially when I'm at fault, powerlessly watching someone in the throws of a seizure puts me in the same place, and anytime a child is mistreated in my presence will send me right to the verge of crazy.

But it was none of those.  This time it was Shakespeare.
The fandom wouldn't miss a beat. "Because: Tom Hiddleston," they'd chorus.

And they wouldn't be wrong--he was the reason I heard about Coriolanus in the first place, combed my group of friends for a willing theater-goer, and happily whipped out the plastic to cover the tickets.  

But the smug fandom wouldn't be entirely right either. Actors spin a story in their own unique way.  Through a brilliant combination of body language and vocal inflection they portray raw emotion to the viewer.  However, without a story to tell, even the accomplished and oh-so-attractive Tom Hiddleston wouldn't have gotten very far.  

This leads us firmly to the heart of the matter: Shakespeare, one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

Imagine dragging an obscure Roman warrior from the past and breathing life into his long-forgotten heroics and human foibles. Let me share a portion with you from the end of the play. (No spoilers, I promise!) After having defended Rome with his own life, Coriolanus is banished from his homeland by those who lauded his name only moments before.  In shame and great humility, he turns to the man he defeated and becomes a sword in his enemy's hand against his own people.  Desperate, Rome sends emissaries to plead their case. One by one. they are turned away by Coriolanus.  As a last recourse, they send his beloved mother, wife, and young son to his camp:

Life-changing literature.

I can never aspire to what William Shakespeare has done, but every time I interact with his works, I come away enriched, uplifted, and inspired.  He has grown me as a writer and human being in ways I can't express.

Here's my point: there is great need for writers to be readers.  Losing ourselves in a good book, play, or movie is as good a way as any to get the heart racing and the creative juices flowing.  In my quest to extend my online presence, I overlooked the importance of immersing myself in good literature, and as a consequence, my writing suffered.  Now, empowered by the immortal words of Shakespeare, I pick up my pen (ahem, laptop) and get to work.

I urge you to do the same.  Find what inspires you--people, places, high quality literature--and jump in with two feet.
And, let me tell you something, it doesn't hurt if "passing sexy" Tom Hiddleston is part of the process. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Knights in Tarnished Armor

I do occasionally date.  (I know, SHOCKER.) And in the big bad world of dating, I've met some humdingers.  Case in point: the guy who asked me for a second date before we'd gone on the first, then after the first date, never called me back. That'll make you feel like a princess.
The knight in not-so-shining armor I'm thinking of was nice enough, relatively gentlemanly (he slogged through slushy snow to pick me up on the curb so I could keep my shoes dry--winning brownie points in my book), and he was oh-so-obliging and friendly. I firmly believe I could have made him date me if I had wanted to, but after about two dates, neither of us was interested enough to put forth the effort.  This is something happily married folks tend to misunderstand.  Sometimes it's just better to be single.

Go ahead.  Gasp, turn blue, and keel over.  I live in Utah, for Pete's sake, I've heard it all.  After 37 years of living the single life, here's my favorite nugget of wisdom: happily single is preferable to unhappily attached.

I'm not talking about ego or convenience--though it is nice to not have to fight over the remote on Superbowl Sunday or argue about whose socks were left in the living room or whose dishes were left in the sink.  What I'm talking about is something so good it makes your life better. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about making your life easier, like the newest whatchamacallit that will both dice your vegetables and remove stains from your favorite jeans.  Nope. I'm talking about improving your life in ways that really matter.  Three blog posts later (see The Power of Fairytales), I still don't believe Happily ever after solves all your problems.  In fact, it usually opens a floodgate of new ones.  But, if it's right, good, and worth fighting for, it can bring genuine joy to your life.

I'm still looking for my prince charming.  Not some stunningly handsome bloke with scads of money, a fancy car, and charm oozing out his hooha, truth be told, I prefer knights in tarnished armor who've been around the block and carry a ding or two from the ride.  Real, good, and funny suits me just fine.  

Until I find one who a) fits the bill, and b) is also intrigued enough to take on a crazy redhead, or c) is Tom Hiddleston, I'll keep conjuring Mr. Fantastic up in the land of twisted fairytales.  True love and romance aside, there are few things as satisfying as creating a hero readers respond to with, "If you leave him out to dry, I'm going to hate you!"

Meet the gentlemen who inspired the aforementioned comment, the Beast and his faithful companion, Jack: 
*Author note: for this exercise, please picture the Beast as quite big, burly and beastly.  That is all. Carry on.

They had tromped into the dining room—which was really little more than a dingy space with a large table, chairs, and some shelves for storage—with Jack trailing slightly behind.  Jack was tall and broad shouldered, with the muscular physique indicative of hard labor.  In any circle, he would have been considered a large man, but compared to his master he looked average.  Additionally, Jack had dark rumpled hair, a strong jaw defined by a trim mustache and beard, and intelligent brown eyes.  If it weren’t for his common attire, he might have passed for a gentleman. 

After my captor had pointedly ignored me and seated himself at the head of the table, Jack introduced himself, offering me a friendly grin.  Meanwhile, the Beast took one spoonful of soup, spat it back into the bowl, pushed it scornfully aside, and proceeded to mutter about how horrible it was.  On the other hand, Jack shoveled spoonful after spoonful into his mouth as if it was the best thing he’d ever eaten, practically endearing him to me on the spot.  I looked from one to the other, folded my arms across my chest, narrowed my eyes at my host and pronounced, “You really are a beast.” 

He laughed the low sardonic laugh that made the hair on the back of my neck prickle.  Propping his booted feet on the table, he leaned back in his chair.  “Of course, princess.  That’s all you can see, isn’t it?”

(Excerpt from Becoming Beauty, all rights reserved.)

They are quite lovable, aren't they?  Like most things, they become more charming with time. Oh! And if you should happen to come across my prince charming, will you send him my way? I think he may have gotten stuck in a ditch or something...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Plot Twist!

I grew up smack in the middle of a grunting group of boys--a circumstance I refer to as being raised by wolves. Perhaps because of this, I special in humanizing heathens (turning out-of-control preschoolers into competent first graders).  What saved me during childhood is the same thing that preserves my sanity today:

I learned to laugh at myself.

My dad, the Grand Poobah of bad punnery, taught me this lesson early in life.  Even when questionable comments come tumbling out of my own mouth and my face is burning with embarrassment, my gut reaction is, This is going to make a great story! And when others pop off with something truly witty and unexpected, my level of appreciation is expressed in a blasting laugh that frightens small children and animals. (For reals.) Over the years, I have come to believe that laughter really is the best medicine (unless you suffer from appendicitis, in which case laughter would be a counterproductive measure), and I have come to treasure those who make me laugh regularly.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I don't know about you, but there's enough reality in my reality without spending my off-hours trudging through overly-serious fiction.  Characters must struggle, overcome challenges, and deal with setbacks, but they DO NOT have to wallow in the depths of despair.

It never hurts to tell the funny side of the story. In fact, it keeps readers from falling asleep, putting the book down, or reaching for something else.

In the immortal words of Donald O'Connor from Singing in the Rain:

Make 'em laugh!
Make 'em laugh!
Don't you know everyone wants to laugh?

Take the time to find your funny, embrace it, and share it with humanity.  We could all use a good laugh.
Thanks for visiting! How do you feel about funny characters and dropping them into ridiculous situations? Let's talk about it!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Twelve for the Fourteenth

Romance. Everybody loves love, right? 

My latest project, a twist on the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, is packed with mystery, romance, and the antics of twelve mischievous sisters, a couple of smitten gardeners, and several puffed up noblemen. As a Valentine's gift to you, here's one of my favorite romantic scenes.
Artwork from Ruth Sanderson's Fairytale Collection
Twelve: An Introduction
* * * * *
             A star-littered sky stretched protectively over the forest, the full moon’s light filtering through the leaves to bathe the clearing in cool beams. The sounds of polite conversation grew as a company passed through the woods, a breath of fog unfurling in their wake. 
             The ladies, garbed in swishing gowns and beaded dancing slippers, dropped their lashes beguilingly and flashed coquettish smiles at their equally well-dressed partners.   From the dark recesses of trunk and bough, a stranger kept silent vigil.  His jaw tightened as the last couple neared his hiding place.
              The lady paused only a few feet from him.  Her brown hair coursed in waves down her back as she tipped her face up to the moon.  The fog, now thicker than before, lapped at her skirts.
             “The woods are quite lovely, are they not?” said the gentleman who accompanied her.
             A sigh passed her lips. “Sometimes life can be so stifling.” With her face tipped up to the moon, she missing the gentleman’s predatory expression. 
             From his vantage point, the stranger missed nothing.  His hands balled into fists. 
            “All sorts of freedoms await you, my lady,” the gentleman purred.  “You have only to partake.”
            “I just want to live.” She faced him.  “Is that too much to ask?”
         “Of course not.” He stepped close enough to run a finger down her cheek and cup her chin in his palm.  “You deserve all the pleasures of life.”  His arm snaked around her waist. 
          From his hiding place, the other man saw the woman stiffen.  She pressed a hand against her partner’s chest.  “I think you mistake my meaning, Jayson.” 
        “Never,” he said gruffly, pulling her nearer regardless of the palm still pressed against his chest.  “I know exactly what you want.”  Then, not in a soft, lingering kiss, but in the rough manner that bruises tender lips, he planted his lips on hers.
         The woman’s face twisted with anger.  Placing both palms against his chest, she shoved with all her might and freed herself from his grasp. 
         Stunned, the man watched his prey sidle away. “My sweet,” he tried, spreading his hands before him.  “This is what you’ve been longing for, is it not?”
         “No,” she answered curtly.  “I longed for freedom, not being pawed at like a common tart.”
          He stepped toward her, his eyes glinting.  “Just like a woman. You don’t know what you want.”
          Poised half in moonlight and shadow, the woman stood at the edge of the glade, the mist building at her back. “I do know one thing: I was a fool to think you could offer me anything of value.”
         In a quick movement, the man lunged for her.  The stranger, a mere breath away, could no longer stand idly by.  Taking a step forward, he reached out a finger, hooked it under the woman’s sash and deftly yanked her into the shadows.  Clapping a hand over her mouth, he pulled her back against him.
               Her companion, now swearing under his breath, blinked in confusion before making a cursory search of the area.  The billowing fog and guttering moonlight made his efforts fruitless.  After a moment, he drew himself up, his mouth twisted into a sneer.  “Have it your way.” His voice lacked the warm invitation of a moment ago.  “If something befalls you, be it on your own head.”  Without a backward glance, he stalked down the path.
                Only then did the stranger realize how still the woman had become.  She had not cried out, but the way she held herself reminded him of a deer frozen in a hunter’s sights.  He took his hand off her mouth and whispered into her ear, “Are you all right?” His voice came out huskier than he intended.  Clearing his throat, he added, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
                Slowly, with her shoulders set, she turned to confront him.
             Her face—caught in a slim band of moonlight—softened.  “It’s you,” she said, her voice full of wonder.  Without another word, she flung her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.  The man’s eyes widened in surprise, then, savoring the feel of her mouth on his, they drifted closed.  
* * *
Thanks for dropping in! If you'd like to read more from Twelve, please peruse Arguing with MyselfEmbracing the Fangirl WithinJust a Taste, & Interlude in the Rose Garden. And fingers crossed, we'll see it in print soon!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Power of Fairytales

Fairytales are timeless. They cross the boundaries of language and culture to teach enduring lessons. Messages of hope are nestled between Once upon a time and Happily every after, it doesn't matter where you live or what language you speak. (Versions of Cinderella can be found in any culture.)

As I have seen in my own classroom, children love these whispers from long ago. Tales like Cinderella and Snow White encourage them to dream and imagine something greater for the future. A spark ignites when children are exposed to the magic, wonder, friendship, cleverness, and true bravery characterized by fairytales.

Perhaps I'm a romantic, but I believe in fairytales. I believe in their enduring goodness and their ability to uplift souls.  I'm not naive enough to believe in happily ever after, but fairytales have taught me to hope for better things and to embrace the beauty I find each day.
That's why I write and educate.  There is enough darkness, hate, and depression in the world.  The world needs more laughter, happiness, and good causes to champion. We need heroes and heroines, princes and princesses who will fight boldly and refuse to surrender when dragons appear, just as they read in their favorite fairytales.

Learn more about my own fairytale, Becoming Beauty, based on my favorite fairytale, Beauty and the Beast. Also, links are embedded throughout the post to direct you to related posts. Thanks for stopping in!  Everyone has favorite fairy stories from childhood. I'd love to hear about yours.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Evil Queens and Sister Step-Uglies

Is it just me, or do the bad guys always get the best lines?  

If you have what you say, I'll make you rich. 
If you don't, I'll make you into shoes. 
-Jim Moriarty, Sherlock

Do you hear that? It's the sound of battles fought and lives lost. It once pained me to know that I am the cause of such despair, but now their cries give me strength. 
-Queen Ravenna, Snow White & the Huntsman

It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled.
-Loki, The Avengers

I am an inveterate movie junkie, and I adore the one-liners that roll off the tongues of villains like Loki, Jim Moriarty, and every Evil Queen who ever graced the silver screen.  And honestly, my fairytale-loving soul goes nuts over things like this:
But, what makes villains so appealing that we can't stop chatting, pinning, tweeting, and sharing about our favorite baddies?

One word: depth.

The perfect villain cannot be absolutely evil. There must be a back story and a kernel of humanity that keeps the reader from dropping the book on the nightstand or the viewer from changing the channel. Nothing slays interest more thoroughly than predictability. 

Readers and viewers want to see characters facing real-life struggles. That doesn't mean Write What You Know. It means weave truth into that vampire versus werewolf or coming of age wizard story. Make the heart of the battle something real, like the inborn need to find yourself, discover your inner strength, and define your place in the world. Heroes and villains alike must be a blending of good and evil, brilliant and dim, strong and weak. 

When that perfect balance is struck, characters jump off the page, villains capture our hearts, and we can't stop talking about, thinking about, and emulating them.We become so invested with the characters and their adventures that when we reach the last page, we dig through epilogues and acknowledgements, just in case (like the yellow brick road) our efforts leads to something unexpected. 
Writing great characters isn't easy, I'll be the first one to admit that. But I'd love to hear about your favorite love-to-hate-them and hate-to-love-them baddies. Leave me a comment below! And for a word about Anti-heroes, (because how cool are they?) follow the link!