Monday, July 17, 2017

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

So, first off: we have a new Doctor in Doctor Who, and it's a woman.

My thoughts? Honestly, the show premise allows for it, so writer-wise, I see nothing wrong. As a viewer who is behind a season (and told that Time Lords regenerate into the other gender only after taking their own lives), I'm a little apprehensive about what I've missed. (What have you done, Doctor? I'm really scared to catch up now!)

I'm also sad because I really liked Peter Capaldi. But I am interested to see what they do with a female Doctor. Dynamics will certainly be interesting.

Anyway, on with the show! Today's blog post is brought to you by William Shakespeare (who graciously donated the title of the post) and by that question that haunts all writers:

Where do you get your ideas from?

I've heard this, you've heard this, we've all heard this. And it doesn't get any easier to answer.

So, ideas. Where do they come from? Where do any ideas come from? How do all the little thoughts and impressions in a day join together to create something worthwhile? Does anyone really know? I can track some of the development of my ideas, but something always seems to be missing.

With me, when someone asks where I got the idea for the Jeremy Wilderson books, I tell a tale about being given an assignment to create a middle grade character while reading lots of middle grade mysteries and wondering where the thief character was. But in a way, describing it like this is similar to being asked for a cake recipe and saying, "Get flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and some other things, and then you have a cake!" It ignores the process, that magic that somehow results in a finished product.

 And even that doesn't always work. Sometimes, you mix eggs, flour, sugar, oil, etcetera etcetera, and you somehow get a steak dinner with mashed potatoes. The idea looks nothing like the finished product!

I just had the opportunity to attend a day of the BYU Books for Young Readers conference (it was awesome), and one of the visiting writers commented that the initial idea for a book kicks it off, but then it gets shed like snakeskin as the story grows. I like that description.

So, where do I get my ideas? *sighs, scratches head, and fiddles around on the computer for a while*

Honestly, all over. I don't always know what's going to give me an idea, but I know the feeling when I get one. And, honestly, a lot of them are bad ideas in the long run. Stupid stories, or stories that aren't going to work. Or, not bad ideas, but things that aren't going to help me now. Things I should save.

I think writers have the habit of thinking a lot and paying attention to our random thoughts. We don't dismiss "what ifs" but like to follow them to their conclusion. Some of my ideas have come from that: what if a middle school criminal was the hero in his mind? What if in a fantasy world, humans are considered as magical as we would consider elves to be?

Some of my other ideas come from dreams. That makes sense to me; in dreams, we free associate, and some random ideas stick to other random ideas to create something fresh and interesting. I love waking up after those dreams and writing down what I remember. This happened for a fantasy I'm working on (although the inciting dream has long since been shed away), as well as my dream sci-fi and a new WIP that, frankly, is going to be a blast to write.

But some ideas I can't explain. My master's thesis came about because a wild image of a girl running into an ancient forest popped into my head when I was desperate for a story idea, and I latched onto it, wondering who she was and why the forest would be safer to her than where she was.

It wasn't this exact picture, but it was close.

Long story short, I don't really know where ideas come from, though I can usually tell the tale of the story's birth in a way that makes sense.

However, no matter where they come from, I love that electric feeling when I get a new idea and develop it into a story!

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Jennifer Fenn - Flight (7/18)
Jennifer Honeybourn - Wesley James Ruined My Life (7/18)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming, A Review

I love Spider-Man. He is easily my favorite superhero.

Why? Because I care about both the hero and the mild-mannered secret identity. With Batman and Superman, I don't really care about the person as much. I love that Peter Parker is a real person with normal, real-life problems. He doesn't have a billion dollars or a government job - he's a photographer who has to somehow make rent while still saving lives. He's accessible, and balances real life with being a good, responsible hero.

I like that. I think that's the kind of hero that readers and viewers can relate to. I also enjoy a hero who can mouth off to the villain as he fights them.

And I loved the new Spider-Man movie. Seriously. Loved. So, here's my review.

I will avoid spoilers. I promise. But, really, if at this point you don't know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man or what his skill set is, I feel bad for you. Rocks aren't easy to live under during the summer.

So, what did I like about the movie? It had a great tone. It meshes "high school" with "superhero" very well, and Peter comes across as a realistic teenage superhero. The character interactions were also enjoyable and felt realistic. That was probably my favorite part of the movie: the way Peter and his friends interact.

The humor was perfect for the movie. It isn't funny in the same way Guardians of the Galaxy is. Again, it's high school. It's quick wits and sarcasm, which is exactly what Spider-Man is like: mouthing off to villains and whipping out quips.

But my absolute favorite part is how they handle a newbie hero who is doing his best but still making mistakes. With so many teen hero stories, the hero gets in trouble for being irresponsible. I was worried, a little, that they'd do that with Spidey. Which wouldn't make sense, really, because it's Spider-Man. The whole "with great power" thing? Yeah. You see what I mean.

But they didn't do that! Every time Peter has a chance to do something totally irresponsible with his powers, he doesn't do it. I hope this doesn't count as a spoiler. You see temptation, but responsibility always comes first. Every bit of trouble Spider-Man gets into is because he is new to saving people. He doesn't know, exactly, how to minimize damage and how to deal with villains yet. It's not irresponsibility. He's just learning the ropes. And I loved that. It was a nice take on the "teen gets in trouble" trope.

I did have one criticism: where the heck was the spider sense in all of this? Does this new incarnation of Spider-Man even have this power?

Maybe it was there but I didn't see it. I should watch this movie again. Maybe a few times. Heck, I should buy it when it comes out.

Overall review: a rather friendly and amazing movie (see what I did there?). Stay to the end of the credits for one of the best credits scenes Marvel has given us to date.

So, I'm going to be visiting the Orem Public Library at 2 pm on August 1. If you'd like to come, the details are here.

And here are the debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski - A Dash of Dragon (7/11)

Young Adult:
Blair Thornburgh - Who's That Girl (7/11)
Julie Shephard - Rosie Girl (7/11)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fourth of July and Other Explosions

Happy Canada Day, a little late, to you!

And Happy Fourth of July, a little early, to you as well!

My work schedule is finally settling down, and I can't work on my most current projects until I get feedback on them, so I'm in a kind of limbo. However, it is giving me time to plan my next knitting and writing projects, so that's been good.

I'm also doing some more author visits, and will be at the Orem Public Library on August 1 at 2 pm. If you're able to go, I'd love to see you there!

In other news, the roads were nuts today. Everyone's out shopping for barbecue food and supplies, and fireworks, and ice cream because it's hot as Mordor out there this week, and, of course, Provo does the biggest Fourth of July festival I've ever seen (and I'm from Philadelphia!), so there's a carnival in town here, another festival in Orem (Colonial Days), and people setting up for tomorrow's parade along the streets.

See the tents? The blankets? It's like this. For miles. The parade is tomorrow morning.

So, roads are packed, and people are slow since they're looking for parking that's at a premium. I'm driving home today and I'm behind someone going slow, slower than expected. I try to peer around them to get an idea of if there's a line of backed-up cars in front of that one. The car graciously gives me a good view of the nothing ahead of it by swerving to the left, and then to the right, and then back to the left.

Eventually I get my chance to pass this car and I look over. AND THE DRIVER IS ON HER EVER-LOVING CELL PHONE!


I hate this so much. As someone how has repeatedly almost been hit, both in my car and out running, by people texting while driving, I'm not quiet about it. If you're talking, I get it. Some phone calls are urgent and there's nothing you can do about it except put the phone on speaker. But texts are inherently NOT urgent, and so you swerve and drive erratically and everyone behind you knows what you're doing.

Drive safe this holiday season. Put the freaking phone down.


Well, you wanted an explosion, right?

Here's a better one, courtesy of San Diego's 2012 fireworks mishap (they accidentally set off 18 minutes of fireworks in 15 seconds), followed by tomorrow's debuts. Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Middle Grade:
Beth McMullen - Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls (7/4)

Young Adult:
Emily Bain Murphy - The Disappearances (7/4)
Kendra Fortmeyer - Hole in the Middle (7/6)

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Couple of Giveaways

This week I've been learning what it feels like to be a career writing, and I love it.

Not that I am; I am very far from being at the place in my life when I can quit my day job and write full time. But, this last week, I did so much writing that I got a small taste of what it would be like to wake up and write all day, every day. It's exhausting, but I enjoy it.

I still have a ton of writing to do, and honestly, all I did last week was write, so I don't have a lot of interesting things to report (except that at this time last year I'd just come back from Disneyland, so there has been some reminiscing this week).

I did take part in a couple of giveaways last week, which are both still going so if you want to try to win a copy of Under Locker and Key, you can!

One giveaway is part of Celebrating Debutantes 2017, a series of giveaways and interviews with authors whose first books are coming out this year. Here's a picture of my giveaway, which includes a signed book, a bookmark, and a pair of "Retrieval Specialist" sunglasses:

Under Locker and Key is one, but there are a lot of other great novels you can win, so I recommend clicking through the below link and doing some exploring. Free books, am I right?

The other giveaway is from the blog From the Mixed-Up Files and is specifically middle grade. I'm giving away a copy of my book, and like the other giveaway, there are plenty of other middle grade books worth reading that are also being given away. Here's the list of all the books that are part of the giveaway, and you can click through the below links to learn more about each one:

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, by Leah Henderson
AHIMSA, by Supriya Kelkar
UNDER LOCKER AND KEY, by Allison K. Hymas
UNDER SIEGE! by Robyn Gioia
THE GHOST, THE RAT, AND ME, by Robyn Gioia

Here are the links for the giveaways:

Celebrating Debutantes 2017

From the Mixed-Up Files

And, here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Carlie Sorosiak - If Birds Fly Back (6/27)
Bonnie Pipkin - Aftercare Instructions (6/27)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dream Diary

Things that have happened in the last week:

1. I discovered one of my running routes may be .5-1 mile longer than I thought (which would explain why my times are always worse than expected when I run it).
2. Speaking of running, I just got back to my normal running schedule after 3 weeks of unusual and recovery runs, so this morning's 4-mile-fast run felt like death. Thank heavens for cold showers after hot summer runs!
3. I've been working hard on my work in progress, revising it and polishing it as much as I can.

The work in progress is the one about sleep and dreams. I'm currently working on 3 books at once (Arts and Thefts finalization, a third Jeremy Wilderson book, and this other one), but I call the dream book my work in progress because it's a new project.

As a result or driving into dream science and spending so much time and energy using my imagination, I've been having some weird dreams lately. Weird, vivid dreams that leave me wondering, "Where did that come from?" I usually have pretty vivid dreams, but this last week they've been weirder than normal.

So, here are some of my recent bonkers dreams. We'll see if any of them turn into stories (my WIP came from a dream, appropriately enough):

- Snowy morning in June (I blame watching the new live-action Beauty and the Beast three times in three days for this one). I was on vacation in some small resort town, and it was snowing, but I still needed to go running early in the morning. I remember this dream because the cold of the snow was so vivid, as was the taste of the dark chocolate I bought during said run from the candy store that was strangely open at 3 am.

- Apocalypse. I dreamed that something had happened that had destroyed modern civilization, and my dad was trying to protect me and my siblings as we traveled through Provo. (Happy Father's Day, all!) I don't know where my mom was. I do know, though, that there was widespread flooding and people were dropping into comas for no good reason. Other people were finding these amulets that looked like crescent moons, and, if you had one with you when you returned to the place of your birth, you'd get superpowers. I was born in Provo, so I wanted to find one! I was trying to solve what had happened and how to stop it from getting worse. The other thing I remember about this dream was that people who still had indoor plumbing charged people to use their toilets. Seems like a good apocalyptic strategy.

- The half marathon from Hades. Clearly, I dream about running a lot. This one, I'm sure, comes from the two halves I did recently. But this race was organized by a despotic government that had magical monsters and powers behind them. I was part of some group that believed that by running this race, I'd have a chance to counter some of that power and prepare for a coup. They were helping me cheat (apparently, that was needed to counter all the other racers' cheating), but they still expected me to take 3 days to finish a race that currently takes me two hours. Oh, and the kids from Fablehaven were there.

- A TV show based on my book. I dreamed I was watching a TV show based on the Jeremy Wilderson books and I was on episode 5, which is impressive considering I've only written 3 books, so it was going further than I'd written. I was upset because they had some good ideas, and I couldn't use them because I wasn't the one who came up with them. But then I woke up and realized that they were, technically, my ideas because I dreamed them and I can use them if I want to.

So, that's my dreaming recently, or at least, what I can remember of them. When I sleep deeply, and am exhausted mentally and physically before bed, I have dreams like this. I can't express how vivid they are: I've been able to feel and taste things in the dreams like they're real. Maybe I should keep journaling what I dream, for research purposes.

Here are this week's debut:

Young Adult:
Larissa C. Hardesty - Kiss Me Kill You (6/19)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Race Results

So, first: a shout-out to the people who have checked out/put my book on hold at libraries. Thank you for making me feel like my book is wanted.


(I'm still excited about this.)

It's also on Barnes and Noble's website, now.

Now, on to the race results!

So, I just came back from a vacation where I ran two half marathons. You saw the report on the first race, in the Grand Tetons, last week. Now I'm going to tell you about the second race in Yellowstone.

The conditions in the Tetons were perfect: a relatively flat, paved road to run on, ideal temperatures, and sunny sky. Yellowstone, not so much:

This is a picture of my brother and sisters running the 5K the night before the half marathon. I don't know if the picture shows it, but it was cold and very rainy. It was miserable, and I feel so bad for my siblings. They were soaked through by the end.

The next morning, it was rainy and we even had a little sleet, but that ended by the first mile. After that, the sun came out and we had a bit of wind, but the worst part about the rain was all the puddles it left behind. The trail (yes, trail) was covered in huge puddles that you had to dodge. The mud was also thick and slippery.

Add to that that yes, it was an actual trail with exposed rocks, weedy patches, and even small trees, and the run became that much harder. We also had some steep hills we didn't have in the Tetons.

But the thing that burned me up the most about the race was that my brother of the Spartan Race fame, who is fit but doesn't run long distance, kept pace with me the whole time and even pushed it so I was running faster than my usual, dashed forward at the end and beat me by two seconds. I will get him back for that. There's no justice in this world if someone who doesn't prepare can beat someone who has spent weeks preparing. He says that keeping my pace kept him from burning out, but still.

Revenge ideas are appreciated.

But, as a result of our running together, I got a PR on a hard trail: 2:03:29, two minutes faster than my previous PR. I was 14th in my age and gender division. And, now that I know I can do it at altitude on a difficult trail, I'm thinking I can beat a 2 hour half marathon on an easier, paved road at a lower altitude. All I have to do is imagine my brother a few feet ahead of me the whole way. I helped him pace, he pushed me faster. It's amazing what stubbornness, pride, and sibling rivalry can do for you.

It was a beautiful trail, though, through pine forests and along a river. I'm glad I did it. I got three shirts and three medals out of it, too, which, as any runner can tell you, is a very good thing.

The center medal in the picture with me with three is for the Grizzly Double. Doing both the Grand Teton and Yellowstone half marathons earned me and my parents an extra shirt (which is great) and a third medal (which is fantastic).

It's interesting that we did the "Grizzly" Double, since when we drove back after the race we actually spotted a grizzly bear near the Tetons. It was my first time seeing a grizzly in real life, so that was amazing and the timing was perfect.

I just hope my brother was sore yesterday, or there really is no justice in this world.

Here's this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Meg Eden - Post High School Reality Quest (6/13)
S.K. Ali - Saints, Misfits, Monsters, and Mayhem (6/13)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Checking in to Report

First off, I was online yesterday, and I found something interesting:

My second book is now up on Amazon.

There's a release date, a nice summary, and everything. It's also up on Goodreads, but that one doesn't have the cover art yet. But hey, if you read Under Locker and Key and are waiting for information on the sequel, here it is!

Now, in other news, guess what?

I ran another race.

This one was near Grand Teton National Park and was held by Vacation Races. It was a half marathon, and it was beautiful. I mean, look at the finish line!

This is where we sat and stretched and ate green bananas and gloated over our new medals! And it looked like this the whole way! I ran 13.1 miles with the Grand Tetons constantly visible!

I loved it. So glad I get to do it again, kind of.

Yes, this weekend will be Part 2 of my running vacation, when me, my parents, and my brother will run another half marathon near Yellowstone Park. It's supposed to be a little hilly, but I'm really looking forward to it. I love being able to do this much running in a week, especially when the runs are races.

Racing is fun. There's the crowds cheering, the finish line, the medal, the free food...but also the feeling that I'm accomplishing something special. That I'm pushing myself to my limits and achieving. I get that feeling as I run, and also as I write.

It's nice to have a vacation where I can experience both.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Lauren Albright - Exit Strategy (6/6)
Gareth Wronski - Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy (6/6)
Leah Henderson - One Shadow on the Wall (6/6)
Alexandra Ott - Rules for Thieves (6/6)

Young Adult:
Natalka Burian - Welcome to the Slipstream (6/6)
Sarah Tolcser - Song of the Current (6/6)
Alexandra Ballard - What I Lost (6/6)
Kayla Olson - The Sandcastle Empire (6/6)
Rebecca Christiansen - Maybe In Paris (6/6)
A.V. Geiger - Follow Me Back (6/6)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations

I did a school visit!

The school was Timpanogos Intermediate School. They put me in a small auditorium and I got to present to about 5 classes of middle school students. Honestly, I underestimated my time and had lots of extra time for kids to ask questions. The good news is that they rose to the occasion in a big way. Some asked questions. Others spouted ideas like, "What if Jeremy went back in time?"

I don't know if, as a writer, I'm allowed to encourage fan fiction (shouldn't I want kids to write their own stories, not mine?), but if I can, those kids should totally do it. Their ideas were great, even if I couldn't use many of them without fundamentally altering the story.

So, first school visit since publication: success!

Next week, I'll probably be talking about the race I'm running this Saturday in the Grand Tetons.

But for today, I want to make a summer reading list.

This is in part inspired by a Goodreads question I was asked, but since I've had friends ask me what books I recommend, I'd like to post a few: 5 books each in middle grade, young adult, and adult. I'm limiting myself a little, since there are so many books I love in each category! I'm going to omit the gimmes, like anything by Rick Riordan or the classics that I've already stated I love. These will be the hidden gems I've found and enjoyed to no end that make for good, fun summer reading.

Middle Grade

1. Archvillain by Barry Lyga

This is Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog for kids. The main character gets powers the night another super-powered kid falls from the sky. Not trusting the alien kid, the protagonist becomes the villain to his hero. It's smart, poking fun at the superhero genre while still being a fun member of it. Likeable characters and exciting plots.

2. Story Thieves by James Riley

James Riley is consistently funny. This book is no exception. Also, it is a little meta: with the idea of kids being able to jump into books at will as a major part of the story, be ready to see the author mention himself. Again, characters are likeable and the story is imaginative.

3. The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris

Ever wished Arthurian legends could be more sarcastic? Then this book's for you! The whole series follows tales from Arthurian legend but in a way that feels like Patricia C. Wrede's take on fairy tales in the Dealing With Dragons series. Very clever writing and dialogue, and adventure while still poking fun at the traditional tales.

4. Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

 Magic bakery and strong family connections. This book is "bliss" to read - pleasant, light and enjoyable, like a good pastry, and I love that the relationships between the family members are realistic but kind. Also, magic bakery.

5. Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

This is by the same author who wrote the Bartimaeus books. In these, ghosts run amok and only kids can sense them, so kids work for agencies for stopping ghosts. These books follow the only child-run agency. Dark and creepy, but also funny and tightly written, a good book for stormy summer days.

Young Adult

1. Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

This book is a light, entertaining book about a teen cooking reality show. There's romance, mystery, and all through it a strong current of competition. This book makes me want to cook something, and it's fresh enough not to feel like every other teen romance out there while still being familiar and comforting.

2. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I love this book. This is about teenagers who are "naturals" at solving crime (the protagonist is a natural profiler) who live together and are trained by the FBI to be agents one day. Smart writing, smart subject. The crime psychology feels chillingly real. It's a thrilling read.

3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga makes the list again, but this time, not for his humor. Dark book, this one. The son of a serial killer struggles to stay human (aka, not go murderous like his dad who trained him to be so) and also seeks to identify and stop a serial killer. Like The Naturals in many ways, but much darker and grittier, so if you like horrors and thrills, this is a good one.

4. The Siren by Kiera Cass

And we're back to light. This book, by the author of The Selection, is a take on "The Little Mermaid," in a way. Girls who are drowning are sometimes allowed to become sirens. They live a hundred years as a siren before becoming mortal again, and during that time their voices lure people to their deaths. A sweet, romantic story with very likeable characters, more so than I expected for a book about girls luring men, women, and children to their deaths.

5. The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

The Phantom of the Opera set in the Caribbean. If I need to say more to entice you, know that the setting feels vibrant and real, and story follows the original fairly well, all things considered, and you get to see the Phantom from "Christine's" perspective, which gives the story more depth.

1. The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner

This is a work of nonfiction. It tells the stories of the Hershey and Mars chocolate empires, from beginning to current day. I loved learning about the making of chocolate and how both companies started, their philosophies, and how they became what they are now. I also finished with a real admiration for Milton Hershey as a person.

2. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Apparently, I like food and magic. This book is about both, but also about sisters and family. The main characters come from a family where all the women have some special, magical gift. When one sister comes back to their hometown after being away for a while, things start to happen. It's a magical, fairy-tale-like read that's great for summer.

3. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is glorious and this is a good first book for new readers. Sarcastic, humorous, smart (so very smart), this book about a con artist taking over the role of postmaster is wonderful. The fantastic elements are present but the focus is more on the character Moist's plans and schemes.

4. Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Urban fantasy about a wizard in Chicago who occasionally helps the police solve crimes. This book is great, with a wonderful voice and an imaginative world that feels real. The series just gets better, too. If you like Supernatural, read this book. You'll be doing yourself a favor. Great characters, just great.

 5. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

Another nonfiction, but not as sweet as the chocolate book. This is about the Vidocq society, a club of cops, detectives, profilers, and all kinds of other crime fighters who meet up, eat dinner, hear details of a cold case, and solve it. It can be creepy in places, but if you like true crime, this is a fascinating read.

These are certainly not the only books I enjoy, but they're some of my favorites and they're great for light, interesting, dark, scary, thrilling summer reading. I'd recommend these books to my friends.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Sandhya Menon - When Dimple Met Rishi (5/30)
Nadine Jolie Courtney - Romancing the Throne (5/30)
Karen McManus - One of Us is Lying (5/30)
Julie Israel - Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index (5/30)
Andrew Shvarts - Royal Bastards (5/30)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Disney Defense: Sleeping Beauty

So, the Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key is over. Congratulations to the 3 winners!

In other news, I'll be visiting Timpanogos Intermediate School in Heber, UT tomorrow morning. It's my first school visit since my book came out. We'll see if it's any different now; I'll report back about it next week.

This week I have a Disney defense; it's been a while since I did one of these. There are some things said about this film that I don't entirely agree with, and I have to say what I think. This post won't be as long as some of my other defenses.

The film is, of course, Sleeping Beauty (as you likely guessed from the post title).

This movie is an old Disney classic, and it's known lately as the movie that gave rise to the reboot Maleficent and the film where the title character only has about 18 lines. I've heard this statistic used as an argument that Sleeping Beauty is anti-feminist.

And it seems to be: the passive princess in the tower, sleeping away, while the prince cuts through thorns and fights a dragon.

But here's the thing I believe:

This movie isn't about Sleeping Beauty. She isn't the protagonist. Neither is Phillip.

Radical notion, I know. But let's consider.

The protagonist of a story is the "one who strives." That's not Briar Rose. It's not really even Prince Phillip. They both do as they are expected to do, and more or less passively go along as others direct them. (See my post from last week about strong characters.) I'd say the only thing either of them does of their own will is Briar Rose telling Phillip she'd see him again (against the fairies' wishes) and Phillip actually showing up (against his father's).

Not that contradicting authority is a sign of strength. But it can be telling.

So, who's pulling the strings? Who is acting and not being acted upon?

The fairies.

That's right! Maleficent, the evil fairy, sets the whole story in motion with her spell. And the good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather, respond with their own protections.

It goes like this whole film.

Maleficent: *casts spell*

Good fairies: *counter spell* *hide the princess*

Maleficent: *searches for princess* *finds princess* *brings her to the spindle*

Good fairies: *put the castle to sleep*

Maleficent: *captures Phillip, the "true love" according to the spell alterations the good fairies made*

Good fairies: *rescue Phillip and give him weapons*

Maleficent: *tries to stop Phillip*

Good fairies: *magics him through obstacles*

Maleficent: *confronts Phillip as a dragon*

Good fairies: *enchant sword*

Maleficent: *dies*

That's it. That's the story. This isn't a tale of prince and princess and true love, not at its heart. It's not about Phillip's courage, although I don't discount that, either.

It's a story of good versus evil, with fairies combating each other with whatever weapons they have. Maleficent acts directly with her own dark magic, and the good fairies often act through other people, but they do act.

Briar Rose and Phillip are not the heroes of this story. They are secondary characters, pawns even. Everything that happens is part of a battle between the fairies, the forces of good and evil.

Which is why I didn't buy the depiction of the good fairies in Maleficent. They aren't secondary characters. They never were. They are the good to Maleficent's evil, the force available to counter hers. They're powerful, even though everyone only ever seems to remember the "make it pink/blue" birthday fiasco.

So, that's Sleeping Beauty: a story of good versus evil. The prince and princess are not the protagonists, not here. Doesn't make it a bad movie, but it does change the focus, don't you think?

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Darcy Miller - Roll (5/23)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Strong Characters: Acting and Not Acted Upon

Hello, all!

I hope you're having a good week. First things first, I want to remind you that my Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key is running one more week, so if you haven't entered and want to, then you still can. You should! Who doesn't like free stuff? Use the widget below to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas

Under Locker and Key

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends May 21, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
Anyway, on to the blog post! I decided to revisit an idea I've batted around before: what defines a character as "strong"? As "weak"?

I think this is important for writers and readers to determine, since we all want our heroes to be strong (unless otherwise desired, which can make for an interesting book), or at the very least, we don't want people calling our characters weak when we didn't want them to be.

Personally, I think it's important so we can see through cheap gimmicks that make a character seem strong without actually doing it, much like how a logical fallacy can make an argument seem valid when it doesn't actually do anything of the kind.

Now, a logical fallacy doesn't mean the argument itself isn't strong; it just means that it can take a weak argument and make it seem strong. Same with gimmicks, like the following:

- The character is good at fighting and using weapons.
- The character is a surly loner.
- The character is stubborn as all get out.

These things can be part of a strong character's make-up, but weak characters can be like this, too. We as society seem to think that someone who resembles Katniss from The Hunger Games is automatically a strong character.

If Katniss is a strong character, it's not because she can use a bow, doesn't get along with anyone, and doesn't give up on what she wants.

No, I'd say she's strong because she acts and isn't acted upon.

In The Hunger Games (the first book), Katniss makes her own choices. Yes, she's pushed around a bit by the society she lives in, but her choice to volunteer is hers and hers alone. She doesn't succumb to what others want but chooses and acts in her own way.

In later books, I think she starts to weaken as a character, leaving other characters to define her and her story (Catching Fire, anyone?). But at first, I think the draw to her isn't that she's good with weapons but because she acts and is not acted upon.

One thing that bugs me more than anything is when a character is presented to me as "strong" because he/she (more and more "she," lately) fits some kind of societal value, but is still acted upon instead of acting. Take Elsa from Frozen, for example.

Can you tell me one thing she does that isn't a passive reaction?

Elsa lives in hiding all her life because her parents wanted her to. She conceals her power and her feelings, even from her sister. Then, at her coronation party, she accidentally reveals her power. This is not done on purpose; it's a reaction to her sister taking her glove and yelling at her.

When the people around her are frightened by her powers, instead of dealing with the situation like a queen should, she runs away. She reacts and is acted upon. Even later, when Anna tells her that she's set off an eternal winter, Elsa doesn't do anything to fix it. She lashes out at Anna, again accidentally, and continues to hide. The only reason she goes back to Arendelle is because she is literally carried back there by someone else.

Elsa doesn't act for herself. She reacts. She's acted upon through the whole movie. Anna is the one who acts for herself, choosing to go out and find her sister. She acts by deciding to marry a man she just met. It's a terrible idea, but she at least takes action and makes her own decisions. Elsa doesn't.

I'm not saying Elsa is a bad character or that Frozen is a bad movie. There's room for strong and weak characters in fiction because that's realistic. A character rules by fear and reacting to everything is interesting in the context of the story.

But I disagree with Elsa being considered strong because she sings a song about liberation (when she's running away from all her problems and responsibilities) and looks like this:

And Cinderella is considered weak because she does housework and is kind. Cinderella does everything she can to go to the ball. She does her work and makes her dress. She doesn't run away from her problems but faces them head-on. She doesn't wait for her prince, but goes and finds him. Her only help comes when she has already done all she can for herself.

Seriously. Look who's the one who saves the day at the end in Cinderella, when the slipper is broken and all hope seems lost. It sure as heck wasn't the prince.

The more I read and watch movies, the more I realize that a strong character is someone who takes charge of their own life to the best extent that they can. They may not always succeed, but they at least try. A weak character lets others run their lives and/or only react, never act. I used female characters for this list, but you can apply it to others, for sure.

Draco Malfoy, for example. A weak character. Dobby, on the other hand, definitely takes the initiative.

If you have any thoughts about my theory that how a character acts or is acted upon decides if they're strong or weak, let me know in the comments. This is a complex writerly issue and I keep trying to get to the heart of it and explore other dimensions of character development.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Cale Dietrich - The Love Interest (5/16)
Melanie J. Fishbane - Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery (5/16)
Kate Watson - Seeking Mansfield (5/16)