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)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway!


This is a short post, but I hope you'll find it sweet:

I'm having a Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key!

Starting today, and going until May 21st, you can enter (for free) a giveaway on Goodreads to win one of three print copies of Under Locker and Key.

You can use the widget below to enter the giveaway.

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

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Kyra Leigh - Reaper (5/9)
Katie Nelson - The Duke of Bannerman Prep (5/9)
Christina June - It Started With Goodbye (5/9)
Erin Beaty - The Traitor's Kiss (5/9)
Misa Sugiura - It's Not Like It's a Secret (5/9)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Most Magical Alarm Clock on Earth

This week two things happened:

1. I moved.
2. The weather was cold and gross and then today became warm and sunny.

So, as a result, I needed some time to enjoy the sun once all the moving was over. I went out walking up Provo Canyon with my brother and sister.

It looked like this, except spring, not fall.

Since the weather was so nice, we inevitably started talking about good family memories at amusement parks, namely Disney World. We had listened to Disney music on the way up the canyon, and we started to talk about the music as well.

I mentioned that I thought once that it would be great to use "Circle of Life" from The Lion King as an alarm in the morning. Can you imagine waking up to that? My sister agreed, but added that you'd start to hate whatever song you used as alarm before too long. My brother suggested switching out songs so you don't ever get used to one being the alarm. (We also considered using them only for special occasions.)

So, for your viewing/listening pleasure, here is the list of songs we deemed perfect as morning alarms either for starting with a loud note or for being cheerful and optimistic.

"Circle of Life" (The Lion King)

"A Star Is Born" (Hercules)

"When Will My Life Begin" (Tangled)

"Gaston" (Beauty and the Beast)

"One Jump Ahead" (Aladdin)

"Friend Like Me" (Aladdin)

"When We're Human" (The Princess and the Frog)

"The Bells of Notre Dame" (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

"Perfect World" (The Emperor's New Groove)


"Fantasmic!" (Fantasmic! show in the Disney parks)

That was fun. I'm sure there were a bunch of great wake-up Disney songs I missed, so if you think of one, please mention it in the comments. Next week, I'm sure I'll be back to more serious, writerly matters. But for today, I'm enjoying my musical vacation and wishing I could take a real one.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
J.C. Welker - The Wishing Heart (5/1)
Gwen Cole - Cold Summer (5/2)
Laurie Forest - The Black Witch (5/2)
Laura Silverman - Girl Out of Water (5/2)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Things I Learned After My Book Release

Under Locker and Key is out in the world!

It's at Barnes and Noble, right there on the shelf! The B&N here let me sign a few copies!

And the next day, I had a launch and a signing!

It went well. I had a good turnout (most of the guests were friends and family, but they were super-encouraging and all the cupcakes got eaten, which is nice) and I didn't embarrass myself too much signing books. It's a good thing I practiced my signature before the book came out.

This is wild. It really is. I thought it would feel real when the book was out, and it does, but no more real than it has been feeling. Then again, I haven't had a lot of time to sit and dwell on it. It has been a few very busy weeks, which taught me the first lesson of post-release life:

- Life goes on despite the release.

See, I knew this already, but it's interesting to see it happen. I have the release, the launch, everything, and then I have errands to run and chores to do and my actual day job to work, so I haven't had time to get ice cream and sit and smile that I am now a published author!

That will have to wait until life slows down a little. I did have a launch party, and there was cake, but lesson 2:

- The release and launch are work, not play, for the writer.

Holy cow, Tuesday and Wednesday were exhausting for me. I'm not even that sure why. Tuesday I had no events; the book just came out! But for some reason I was so tired at the end of Tuesday. Maybe it was the social media notifications, or just the emotions of the day. The launch itself meant I had to be on all night, and even before that, I had to help set up. I slept in the next day! However, lesson 3:

- The launch is fun!

It really was! I had a great time. I was working, and it took a lot out of my introverted self, but I really enjoyed presenting about my book, running a giveaway and activity, and signing copies later. If I didn't think too hard about it, I felt like I belonged there, signing books. It felt right, and I loved talking to people as they came by. I would love to do more book events, and I'm trying to set some up.

And now? What's happening now? Life goes on, but it is a little different. Lesson 4:

- The book isn't mine anymore, so I have to be more careful online.

They tell writers not to read our reviews, so it's not so innocent for me to go on Goodreads anymore. I still do, but it's hard to see the number of reviews going up while doing my utmost to ignore it. People are talking about my book, and they will say good and bad things about it. None of it will help me be a better writer, so it's better to let it go for now.

As for the future, here's what I learned:

- This is only the beginning.

There will be other books, other launches, other reviews...this isn't a one-time thing. I have a sequel coming out, and between now and then, I'll be visiting schools, bookstores, and libraries, trying to get the word out about my book.

You know what? That's fine with me. As tiring as the launch was, I loved it. This is the work I want to be doing, and I'm finally doing it.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Sarah Jean Horwitz - Carmer and Grit: The Wingsnatchers (4/25)
Patricia Bailey - The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan (4/25)

Young Adult:
Kes Trester - A Dangerous Year (4/25)
Joanne O'Sullivan - Between Two Skies (4/25)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Under Locker and Key: Meet Jeremy!


Oh my goodness, people, my book comes out tomorrow! And the day after that, I have my release at the Provo Library!

It's finally happening. A book I wrote is hitting shelves. I'll be able to see it at Barnes and Noble.

This feels...unreal. Like I'll wake up and it will have been a dream. But it's not, and even when I look calm, inside my head, I'm constantly doing this:

Anyway, I'm sure you're here for this week's interview. This week, in honor of the release, I'm interviewing Jeremy Wilderson himself, 12-year-old retrieval specialist.

Jeremy: Hey, you got the title right!

Me: Well, you're a retrieval specialist, right? Not a thief?

Yep. Not a thief. I don't steal anything, no matter what you might have heard.

But you do break the rules, so I hear.

Only when the rules get in the way of helping people. Then those rules, much like graham crackers, were made to be broken.

All right. Ready for a few questions?

Fire away.

Tell me about your work. What do you do, exactly?

Well, if you're calling me a retrieval specialist and not a thief, you probably have a good idea of what I do already. But, this is for your readers, right? At the core of it, I retrieve lost or stolen items for my classmates. So, if a bully steals lunch money, if you get a cell phone confiscated by a teacher, or even if you accidentally leave your hat on the bus or throw away your retainer, I'm the guy for the job. I can get anything back.

Why ask you, though? Why wouldn't kids go to a teacher to help them?

Sometimes they do. But sometimes the teachers are the problem, like with confiscated stuff. Besides, teachers aren't exactly subtle, are they? If a kid wants their stuff back but wants it back discreetly, they ask me. I don't make a mess, I don't leave evidence, and I don't make waves.

So, why don't you ever get in trouble? It sounds to me like this kind of thing would get you enemies.

Like I said, I don't leave evidence.

Do you have enemies, then?

One, for sure.

May I ask who?

Do you really have to ask? That gumshoe Becca! I could regale you with stories of all the times I outwitted her, but it might be better if we move to the pizza question now.

Very well. How do you eat your pizza?

I'm fond of pepperoni, and if that's what I have, I like to peel some of the pepperoni off and eat that first, then eat the slice from narrow point to the crust. I've tried Case's fork-and-knife combo, and Hack's roll-up method, but I prefer the classic style.

 How is it working with Case and Hack?

We don't really work together, since we all have our own areas of expertise. I'm no help to Case with his art, or Hack with his computers, and they haven't exactly mastered the art of picking locks, which is pretty much standard practice for retrieving. But it's great to be able to talk about my jobs with someone, and Case and Hack understand. We also use our skills to help each other. Case gives Hack and me forged hall passes, and Hack knows all the cheats for video games. They're my first priority when they need something retrieved.

You sound like quite the trio of criminal activity.

In the best way. We never use our skills to hurt anyone. We help people, and we're good at what we do.

So I hear. What is your favorite Disney movie?

I take it you're not counting Pixar, am I right? No? Then, at this point, probably Zootopia. It was smart and funny, and I loved the characters. The ending was pretty great, too. I like movies where someone gets outsmarted. That said, I have a soft spot for Tangled. I like Flynn Rider as a character. I know, I know. Figures, right? But I'm not a thief.

 ....By any chance, did you read Becca's interview from last week?

I read Case's and Hack's, but I don't really care what Becca has to say, so no, I didn't. Why?

No reason. Except that you and Becca may have more in common than you think.

Right, Becca and I are similar. Sure. She thinks rules are the greatest thing since buttercream frosting, and I think rules get in the way as often as they help. She throws people up against the wall and yells at them, and I quietly do my work with grace and finesse. She's a detective, and I'm a retrieval specialist. I can see why you'd think we have things in common.

But you both help people.

I guess there is that. I thought we could have worked together, but she made very clear what she thought about THAT idea.

What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?

Hanging out with Case and Hack. We play video games mostly, but we also do other things like ride bikes and mess around with our craft, like explore air ducts and try to invent a better invisible ink. Sorry, I guess that counts as working. But it's more fun when we're all working on something together.

What are you most afraid of?

Easy. Becca Mills. Next question.

I was going to ask you what you thought of Becca, but I suppose you just answered that.

You know those horror movies where the monster isn't particular fast or strong, but is just always there, one step behind the hero? That's Becca. It doesn't matter where I am, or what job I'm working, she's always there! Lurking, just around a corner, waiting for me to leave evidence.

Which you don't do.

Nope! No evidence, nothing Becca can do. What can I say? I am just that good.

Well, thank you, Jeremy. That wraps up my questions.

No problem. And hey, readers? If you ever lose something, feel free to hire me any time. Refer your friends. And, if you want to pay me for my services, I like chocolate cake.

All right, that's all the interviews! If you want to see more of my characters, you can get the book starting tomorrow!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Allison K. Hymas (MEMEMEMEMEMEME!) - Under Locker and Key (4/18)
Mark Maciejewski - I Am Fartacus (4/18)

Young Adult:
A.E. Caplan - Grendel's Guide to Love and War (4/18)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Under Locker and Key: Meet Becca!

Guys...8 days!

For all of you in Utah, next week on the 19th, I will be having my launch at the Provo Library at 7 pm. It's open to the public, and will be a fun event, so you should all come!

All right, I'm sure some of you have been looking forward to this week's character interview, so I'll get right to it. This week, we have with us Becca Mills, 12-year-old private investigator.

Becca: Hello. Yeah, I guess that's kind of me. Without those heels. I don't like heels.

Me: All right, so I'm going to ask you some questions.

I've seen the past posts with Wilderson's crook friends. I know how this works.

Some of your questions will be a little different.

They'd have to be. I don't work the same way those criminals do.

So tell me about your work. What do you do, exactly?

Like you said, I'm a private investigator. When kids have problems, like stolen goods, or if they're framed for cheating, they can hire me to solve the case and clear their name. My rate is reasonable.

I hear it's not just kids who hire you.

It's true. I'm a peer mentor during the school year, so the teachers give me a certain amount of responsibility, and I'm glad to say I've earned it all. They know if there are kids sharing gum in class or cheating on their cell phones, I'll find out and stop it. I ALWAYS stop it, and I do it WITHOUT breaking the rules!

May I ask how you got your start?

Sure! I've always wanted to fight crime. Dad's a lawyer, and Mom's a detective. I've grown up watching them make the world a better place by stopping criminals, and they seem so strong and happy. Especially Mom. So, when I entered middle school and saw what a lawless nightmare it was, I joined the peer mediators and started taking on individual cases. I did some freelance solving in elementary school. Not much, but enough so people knew I was the girl for the job.

It sounds like you're well on your way to being Scottsville's next big detective.

You really think so? That would be great!

So, tell me how you eat your pizza?

So, I am getting some of the criminals' questions. Hmm. Normally, I guess. I pick up the slice and eat it, and then toss the crust. It's a waste of stomach space. I like veggie pizzas best.

Me too, typically. What's your favorite Disney movie?

That's easy. I like Tangled. But, honestly, Zootopia really spoke to me. Maybe that one will become my new favorite. But right now, Tangled is definitely my favorite.

I notice that both those movies involve charming thieves.

What are you saying?

Just making an observation.

Reclaimed thieves. Both of them. Eugene and Nick both stop stealing and work for the good side.

Have you come across any thieves you think may be reclaimed, then? Someone who might switch sides?

I thought I had. Turns out I was wrong.

May I ask who?

I don't want to talk about it. What's your next question?

Favorite thing to do when you're not working?

Working is my favorite thing to do. But when I'm between cases, I like hanging out with my friends. Elena throws great sleepovers, and Liesl is the best to just spend time with at the mall or at a movie or something, though I prefer to be with all my friends.

Sleepovers? The mall? You like girly things like that?

Why so surprised? It's not like they take time away from my work or from the track and field team.

Tell me more about track and field.

I throw shotput. There's not much more to say. Coach says, though, that I'm the smallest shotput athlete he's ever had, and that's something to be proud of, I think.

*Silence while I speculate on how someone so small can throw shotput and decide to drop it*

Anyway...I have two more questions for you.

Fire away.

What are you most afraid of?

I'm not afraid of anything.

Everyone's afraid of something.

Not me.

You sure?

*glares at me*


...Okay, then. Last question. What do you think about Jeremy Wilderson?

I don't want to talk about that creep.

Well, he's going to be here next week, and I'm going to ask him about you--

And he'll tell you all kinds of lies because that's what he does! He's a thief and a liar and he gets away with all of it! It's not lawful and it's not fair and I won't stand for it. Sure, the guy's cute, I'll give him that much, but it shouldn't matter. It doesn't matter. Crime is crime. If no one else is going to stop him, then I guess I'll have to do it.

That wraps it up. Thank you, Becca.

You're welcome. It was a pleasure. Can I go now?

You're free to go.

Don't talk to me like I'm a suspect. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a thief to take down.

All right, that was Becca! Come back next week when we have the big man himself here and I interview Jeremy Wilderson.     

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Lindsey Becker - The Star Thief (4/11)

Young Adult:
JC Davis - Cheesus was Here (4/11)
Corrie Wang - The Takedown (4/11)