Monday, October 31, 2016

Trick or Treat! Halloween Antics and a Special Interview

Happy Halloween, everyone! Well, I've been busy this weekend.

When Halloween falls on a Monday, the holiday begins Friday night. I've been going to dances and parties all weekend, and I'm tired. Thank goodness for sugar!

I did the Haunted Half Marathon in Provo again, using the same costume as last year:

It works well for me. It's not in the way when I run, it's the perfect costume for late October running, and people tend to know who I'm dressed as (if they know Gravity Falls). I even saw another person dressed as Dipper this year! And hey, it's not slowing me down. I cut half a minute off my mile pace since last year. Not even that tumbleweed could trip me up!

Yes, I almost got hit by a tumbleweed. It was up the canyon. It was a weird highlight of the race.

This is not the villainous costume I mentioned last week. This is that costume:

Recognize who I am? If you said no, you're not alone. A lot of people thought I was Ariel. Right movie, wrong character.

Get it now? No? That's fine. I'm Vanessa, otherwise known as Ursula when she takes human form to prevent Ariel from kissing Prince Eric.

See it now? It was my brother's idea and it was a good one. I think I may keep this costume for Comic Con.

Halloween is great. The costumes, the brings out the kid in me. Since Halloween is such a kid's holiday, and my book Under Locker and Key is about kids, I thought I'd interview the protagonists about Halloween. Jeremy and Becca, come on out!

Jeremy: Hey, everyone!

Becca: Happy Halloween!

Me: What is your favorite Halloween memory?

J: That's tough. I have a good time every Halloween. But I think the best was the year Rick took Case, Hack, and me out trick-or-treating. I tell you, Rick plays to win. Our feet were dead by the end of the night, but I've never gotten that much candy. My pillowcase was full!

B: How much of it did you steal?

J: ...Your trust in me is astounding. Come on, Becca. It's Halloween. You don't have to steal candy when people just leave it in bowls on their porches.

B: So you'd steal it if it wasn't so readily available?

J: Retrieval specialist, not thief. And it's your turn to answer.

B: My favorite Halloween memory was third grade. That was the year I uncovered the truth about the candy from the Vincent house: it was sugar-free candy, cleverly disguised as the good stuff.

J: That...explains a lot. Sounds like your typical gumshoe Halloween. Must have been fun for you.

Me: Favorite Halloween candy?

B: Not sugar-free candy. It's dishonest, somehow. If you're going to eat candy, eat candy.

J: Now we know what Becca's is not, I'll tell you what mine is.

B: Let me guess. Chocolate?

J: Yep. Any kind. I'm not fussy. I bet you are, though.

B: I like Skittles. They last a long time and they're quality. But Reese's are good, too.

J: We agree there.

Me: What are you going to dress as for Halloween this year?

J: Oh, it's great. Case, Hack and I have a whole group costume set up. Star Wars rogues. Hack's going to be Boba Fett, Case is Lando, and I've scored Han Solo.

B: Wait, you're going as Han? You can't be Han!

J: That's unexpected. I thought you'd go on about how perfect a space smuggler costume is for a thief like me. And I'm not a thief, by the way.

B: Yes, you are. But you can't be Han because I'm going as Leia. People will think we planned it!

J: *laughing*

B: Shut up.

J: *still laughing*

B: I'm not changing mine. Leia is amazing. She's tough and smart and knows how to get things done through the proper channels. You change yours.

J: Because leading a rebellion is the proper channels. And we planned ours for weeks. I'm not changing.

B: I hate you.

J: I know.

B: You little...we will discuss this later.

Well, that's the end of that. Hope it was a sweet treat for your Halloween! Have a great day and a great week! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

So You Want to Write a Likeable Villain...Are You Sure?

So, I'm happy to see that lots of publishers/presses/editors are welcoming the Jolly Fish writers! Yay! Hopefully everyone finds a new writerly home soon!

I've been thinking about villainy lately. This is, obviously, coming in part because Halloween is around the bend, and I'm planning myself a villainous costume. More on that next week. ;)

But also because, after Halloween, comes National Novel Writing Month, and I'm in prewriting right now for the book I'm going to be working on. This book has a villain, and I needed to get into this villain's head, discover motives, and plan moves to counter my hero. I had to think as though my main character is the villain (which is fun) because I want this villain to be strong.

After all, a hero is often only as strong as his/her villain. Who would Harry Potter be with Voldemort?

So, yes, I want my villain to be strong.

But then I got talking to a roommate and she started giving me advice on making my villain relatable, even likeable, and I found myself pulling back. As a writer, I've heard every piece of advice about how I should give my villains soft spots, or tragic backstories, to make them more human to readers. So why was I rejecting that idea?

Why wouldn't I want a villain readers may like?

Okay, I don't think this villain is entirely unlikable. I think this person is smart, cunning, and interesting, with a unique worldview. My villain is my monster, though, and you're supposed to like your own little monster. I also hate my villain with everything inside me.

And I think that's okay.

I've seen unlikable villains done before and I think the writers chose wisely. Anyone here seen the TV show Leverage?

Great show. Highly recommend.

This show is about a team of thieves who take down the rich, powerful, corrupt, and manipulative. The people the Leverage team go up against are awful, awful people. They use their lawyers and money to cow innocent people into silence. They break laws when they can get away with it, but more often they bribe, lie, cheat, and hide evidence in ways that are legal, but hurt many, many people. They are atrocious, nasty, unlikable villains, and they have to be.

Why? Because the Leverage team ruins them.

The Leverage team takes the villains down past rock bottom, destroying the villain-of-the-week's reputation, business, everything. If we liked the villain, this would seem horrible and cruel. But since we hate the villain, we root for the team and feel satisfied when they take this piece of human garbage down.

A likeable villain is a good thing, in most cases. But if my villain is likeable, or has some kind of tragic backstory, then when my hero takes them down the story becomes, in part, a tragedy. Part of the satisfaction of the good guy winning ebbs. The tone of my book, the kind of story it is and the characters I have...I don't think this is what I want.

So, do I really not want my villain to be likeable? Kind of. Of course I want this person to be human, and relatable, not some mustache-twirling cardboard cut-out stereotype. However, I've been drawn lately to villains who are bad, know it, and don't care, and I think this is the kind of person who would fit my story best. No tragic backstory needed, not in this case. I'll let my villain charm readers with their nasty, clever personality. It's been done before.

 *cough cough* Moriarty.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Heart Aching for Jolly Fish Writers

Hey, everyone. The good news this week is that it finally got cold and rainy and OCTOBERish in Utah, and the leaves look great against the gray sky.

But the bad news is that Jolly Fish Press is closing its doors. You can read the press release here.

Jolly Fish's business closes on October 31. Which means that all its writers have had their rights reverted back to them, and their books are no longer going to be published by Jolly Fish. Happy freaking Halloween, Jolly Fish writers.

I'm sure there's discussion and debate about how Jolly Fish handled the announcement, and I know feelings are hurt. So, here, this is what I want to do. Jolly Fish writers, these are for you:

I am so, so sorry to hear what happened. You didn't deserve it.

About three years ago, this kind of thing happened to me. I'm not saying I know how you feel, because each situation is different, but I remember the hurt of feeling like my dream of getting published was right there, close enough to touch, and then I had to watch it slip away. I remember feeling hurt and frustrated and angry and wishing I had someone to blame. I remember crying and wondering why a publisher had any business taking on writers if they were going to close, and why I had any business choosing a publisher that was about to close.

And I'm going to say here what I wish I could have said to myself back then: it works out.

Now, I have a different publisher, one that's a much better fit and takes care of me better than my other publisher would have. It took time, yes, to find this publisher, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It worked out.

I also would tell myself, and I'll tell any Jolly Fish writers who might read this, that you're not alone. There are people ready to help you and who are there just to support you right now. They're the ones looking for your next opportunity, keeping you in ice cream, or just listening as you talk.

I'm sorry, so sorry, to hear about this, and I'm sorry it happened. But although it's the end for Jolly Fish, it's not the end for you. You'll find a publisher; you did it once, you can do it again. But until then, know that many people are pulling for you.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Fantasy Bromance Book Recommendation

I love me a good book, especially one with good characters. And when I find a particularly good one, I can't shut up about it.

But, since gushing on and on about YA literature is typically frowned upon in polite society, I have a blog and YOU get to benefit!

I swear, I'll keep it short. But have you heard about The Last Knight by Hilari Bell?

It's the first of a series, and the whole thing is golden. Here's the link to the book's Goodreads page. If you want an interesting fantasy read with exceptional plot and characters, give it a try.

The story is about Sir Michael Sevenson and his squire, Fisk. You might have guessed by this intro that Michael is a knight, in fact a knight errant. The thing is, knight errants haven't existed in the world of the story for at least 200 years. Think YA Don Quixote.

Fisk is a con artist bound by law to Michael due to indebtedness. Together they rescue a damsel from a tower...and the next day find out the woman was imprisoned in the tower because she killed her husband. Now they need to go get her back.

The storytelling is fun, and the characters of Michael and Fisk are delightful. This is a bromance, a really satisfying one. The relationships in this book feel real, and the writing sparkles. The chapters alternate between characters, so you read Fisk's cynical view on life alternating with Michael's almost naive honor. Also, Fisk is rather sarcastic, which is fun when Michael insists on jumping into dangerous situations. Basically, the whole book is this:

Fisk: Noble Sir, don't do the thing.


I love books like that, and I'm not sure why.

I also enjoy the worldbuilding in this series. The magic system has specific rules and breaking those rules comes with a severe penalty. The laws of the land are also specific and do impact the heroes quite a bit. Seriously, the bad luck Fisk and Michael have is alarming without being unbelievable.

If you're a fan of the BBC show Merlin, you'd probably enjoy these books. Magic, medieval world, two guys being scrappy friends while saving people and getting into adventures and misadventures alike...there are some similarities.

These books are a fun read, and I recommend them to anyone who wants an interesting, entertaining fantasy. I actually crave them; I thought there were only three books and I've been aching to get more every time I go to the library. The library only has the first three.

BUT SINCE I STARTED THIS POST I FOUND OUT THERE'S MORE! If you need me, I'll probably be at the bookstore.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Familiarity Breeds Fear and Pain

Happy October, everyone!

Here in Utah, we have rain and festive-colored trees, so it finally, FINALLY, feels like fall. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I ate Pumpkin Spice Cheerios this morning. Yes, they are real things. Happy Halloween!

I've been literarily (read it again) preparing for Halloween by reading horror books. I swear, the temperature drops below 70 just once, and I grab every book in the library about monsters and killers and ghosts. And the king of those books? Stephen King.

Over the last month or so, I've read a couple of King horrors: It and Cujo.


They're both good, but one left me feeling emotionally satisfied (It) and the other just bugged me (Cujo). Which was weird, because It definitely had a lot more horrifying scenes and moments than Cujo did.

So, like I do with anything that bugs me, I pick at it. And this is what I determined: It can't happen. It can't. It's a supernatural monster that taunts and scares kids and eats them. It shapeshifts. It doesn't exist in the real world, and when the book is over, the monster is dead. It can't come where I am.

Cujo, on the other hand, can happen. It's a rabid dog, not a supernatural monster. There are touches of the supernatural in this book, but not enough to place that barrier of disbelief in my mind. A dog can go rabid. It can trap a mother and son in their car on a hot summer day. The mother and son can be stuck there, day after day, as no one comes to find them. This CAN happen, and the monster is really out there, somewhere.

So it freaks me out even more.

I don't think this is a phenomenon unique to me. I had a conversation with my sister about The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney movie), and she told me she thinks the saddest part of that movie is the scene where Esmeralda and Phoebus kiss as Quasimodo watches. She claims this is worse that any other scene in this movie, and let's remember, this movie involves death, emotional abuse, and physical abuse and humiliation in the Feast of Fools scene. But no, rejection is the most painful, and I actually agree: this is the saddest scene.

I think this is because few of us know what it's like to experience humiliation on that scale, or even events like the deaths in that movie. We don't know what it's like to have food thrown at us in front of everyone. But we know exactly what it's like to be rejected, to fall in love and have the subject of our affection choose someone else. We can feel that heartache because we've felt it before.

On a related note, I remember seeing an Internet post about how Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter is the worst and most hated because we don't normally interact with terrorist dictator evil overlords like Voldemort, so we see him as evil in the abstract, whereas Umbridge, the power-mad teacher who uses her authority to hurt, is much more relatable. We know her, and we hate her, because she's familiar.

Seriously, how much hate do you feel looking at her right now?

I think this idea is interesting to think about, that the familiar hits us harder. It gives us writers a key to making stories more emotionally impactful without being manipulative. Give the reader something familiar, and they'll already have the emotions ready made. The pain of rejection, the loathing of a tyrannical teacher, the fear of a psycho dog under the control of a very real disease. Once it becomes personal to the reader, it becomes real, and once it's real, the feelings deepen.

What do you think? Do you know a story that got under your skin because something about it was so  familiar that it stirred up real, present emotions in you?