The Stories Begun











{September 5, 2013}   Fandom and Head-Canon

Okay, drawing back the writing curtain for a minute.  I usually don’t talk about my process/views on the art’s interaction with readers this much, but this is important to how I read and write, so why not. You have been warned – there’s a heavy mix of academics and fandom in this.

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I’ve been doing a lot of work lately on my writing, so it completely makes sense that the writing blog got put aside. It may also be that I’ve been writing less here because when I get depressed I internalize so much that I don’t even write–and if anything can be said of this year, it is that it’s been an adventure in depression and working through it–but only enough to work on Stars.

So, a few months ago, I was in a race to finish this project that had been absolutely kicking my butt for over a year: the second story in my thirteen story series of faerie tale adaptations. Strains of a Sonant Storie is my writing baby. I have a lot of projects I have worked on and care about, but none so deeply important to me as Strains. The theory of Strains is as much about taking some well-known (and intrinsic to my childhood) tales, some lesser-known (also intrinsic to my childhood) tales and writing them in fun, different ways as it is about taking the stories that sit in my heart and finding a way for me to own their existence in my life. I literally have been studying faerie tales and mythology since before I knew what studying was.  I need to tell these stories as much for me as I do for other people.

Stars in Their Houses (my adaptation of The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces, or The Twelve Dancing Princesses) was an exercise in just about everything strange and wonderful in the evolution of a manuscript. When I built Strains as a project back in college, I had just the one tale I planned to tell in a modern context, an adaptation of The Frog Prince. Those plans haven’t changed–I’m still rather excited about my plans in that area. No, it was the plans for Stars that changed dramatically. I was in the middle of scripting out Scarlett (the Little Red Riding Hood adaptation), actually.  I wasn’t even thinking about Stars when it changed so forcefully that I could not work on anything else.

One of the forceful changes was the modernization.  The other was bouncing to and fro between a truly shameful amount of narration styles and narrating characters–third-person omniscient, third-person limited, first-person narration by the mother/youngest sister/oldest sister, to name a few–before realizing that this story belonged to ALL the major players. The story could not live if I didn’t give each sister a voice, nor would it be complete without the soldier. Yes, I had thirteen voices racketing around in my head while I wrote.  And yet another twelve peripheral characters who danced in and out at their whim, bringing little gems of themselves to be used in the story as I liked.  All of these wonderful characters, who I loved so dearly, were clamoring to tell me their back stories and futures and arguing with my decisions about them and showing me their true character with little anecdotes that just had to make it into the script or how was the reader going to understand them?

My head was a busy place.

And it would have stayed that way, but for one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: I put a strict, conscious moratorium on head-canon.

As an occasional fan-fiction writer and full-time head-canon lover, part of me screamed: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! THIS IS THE ONE WORLD YOU HAVE FULL RIGHTS TO AND OWNERSHIP OF! THIS IS WHEN YOU PLAY TO YOUR HEART’S DELIGHT, NOT HOLD BACK! In many ways, that part of my brain was right: If ever, this was the time.

And yet, every time I found myself wandering into the back (or future) stories of characters, I would ask myself: Does this matter? Will it make it into the manuscript in some way, shape, or form?

If the answer was no, and it often was, I put down my planning pen and typed out another paragraph or two in the story.  I would only pick up my pen again if it was absolutely necessary, and not in that Danny Kaye sort of way.  If the answer was yes, on the rare occasion it was, I would scratch out long-hand what it was about the character I needed to know, what event affected how they interacted with other characters, or what time/culture determined the zeitgeist the character exemplified. Then, I typed another paragraph or two to keep me from moving on to the back story of another character.

This was hard. In some ways, it was torture for me because I like things to be complete.  So, a back story for one or two of the twelve dancing partners made me long for the back story of all of them.  College plans for Leoné (sister number seven) made me hurriedly pick up my pen to detail exactly what each girl would do post-secondary . . . and then throw the pen back down because NO!  Leoné’s future is important because reasons that I will not spoil and defining and the culmination of her and another sister’s plot depends on said sister sister waving Leoné’s future career in her face.  In fact, that moment for Leoné is vital to the end of the entire novel ending as it does, and it all hinges on her interrupted college plans.  Pisca (sister number eight, pronounced PISH-uh, for those wondering) also has some schooling relevancy to her plot.  Her skills enable the other sisters to get to the world below.  Of course her schooling is important.

Do you know whose schooling matters other than those two? No one’s. I mean, it’s significant that the older girls took over the secondary education of the younger girls once Mom went SUPER crazy, because it isolates this poor family even more (which is SO necessary to their commitment to escapism in the world below), but post-secondary education REALLY DOESN’T MATTER for the other ten girls.  And it kills me not to figure it out.

So why don’t I?

Because of you, dear reader.

Well, and because of JK Rowling.

But mostly you.

Backing the truck up, I promise.  I grew up as part of the Harry Potter generation and did the whole midnight release madness several times (although, one less time than my father did because HE STOOD IN LINE TO GET THE FOURTH BOOK TO ME RIGHT AWAY BECAUSE HE IS AWESOME AND THE PERFECT FATHER) and, frankly, I just don’t care for him anymore.  Even less than I did at the time I wrote this.  It’s not because he wasn’t a big deal in my teen years or that it wasn’t a joy for my friends to finally understand what reading for fun was, but because HE’S ACTUALLY NOT THAT GOOD. Also, because I HATE HOW ROWLING IS A MASSIVE CONTROL FREAK. She makes fun of non-canon shippers in interviews!  She still gives information out about the future and pasts of completely non-essential characters, not to mention main characters!  She wrote that stupid freaking epilogue because she just couldn’t handle her readership seeing anything about her books other than the way she does! Argue all you want that interviews are not corpus and therefore not canon, but interviews wherein she definitively states the futures of characters are symptomatic of her complete and total distrust of readers (see also: Dumbledore (or any character) being gay everywhere but in the books.)

I NEVER EVER want to be like this.

Because you exist, readers.  I write these books for me, but I share them for and with you.  I trust you with my books and short stories.  Not only that, but I give them to you so that your imagination can bring them to life in a way I cannot and will never be able to do. It is your imagination, your personalities, and your existence as individuals and ‘teams’ and a collective that gives my story meaning beyond “taking the stories that sit in my heart and finding a way for me to own their existence in my life.”  Sure, that’s what they mean to me.  In Stars, the characters mean even more to me because I built a lot of the characters’ isolation around their mother’s health problems – health problems I’ve been dealing with since I was young.

But that’s what they mean to me.  To you, it could be the freedom the girls seek that’s significant.  It could be their relationships with each other.  It could be the dichotomy of their attempts to escape the fatalistic nature of their names as well as how they desperately cling to those names.  It could mean something entirely different to you and, more than anything as an author, I WANT IT TO.

I want my work to mean something to you so badly that I am willing to let go of my instinct to complete things and invite you to complete it in your head.  You will never catch me saying, “Oh, this IS what happens after the last page.”  Nope.  Nuthin’ doin’.  If I ever get asked, “So what happens with blah-blah-blah, or what happens in so-and-so’s life?” my response will be simple: “I don’t know, but what do you think?  I’ll trade theory for theory.”

Because I don’t know.  Because what happens to so-and-so in your head is just as valid as what happens to them in mine.  The book is over.  I told the story I needed to tell. You read the story you needed to hear. Your future for the characters is just as, if not more, important than mine is because YOU are the one who brought life to the characters outside the walls of my mind.  My mind limits my universe.  Your mind expands it.

Now we get to the academic part:

Stories live well past the life of the author.  The fact that there are so many stories without known authors is proof of this fact.  What makes these stories live?  Is it the fact that they were stored somewhere on a page or skin?  Probably not, seeing as the oral tradition is still our strongest tool for dissemination of information (though not necessarily correct information), despite the advent of the internet (hello, Youtube and Vimeo and Instagram Video, etc, etc, etc – even the internet recognizes the ultimate power of the oral tradition).  In fact, Strains of a Sonant Storie is named and written out of respect for those oral traditions! Stories live because the words of the many, not the few, keep them alive and I would be a consummate fool to ignore that, especially in the face of the origins of the stories I am adapting.  The author (you can easily insert artists of any kind here), upon presenting their work to a public (however small that public may be), is relinquishing control of their work to the masses, and doing so because they realize that stories need an audience to properly live.

This is the contract that I believe exists between every writer and every reader, no matter the novel.  In my head, Neville marries Luna.  That’s it.  That’s the future of the books I read.  In my head, Silas Lapham rebuilds his business, but never re-enters society because he knows the person he became in pursuit of it.  In my head, Penelope and Irene Lapham do enter society and, while Penelope is never accepted by anyone except her husband, Tom, Irene shines (but only because she ignores the darker costs of being in society).  That’s the future of the book I read.  Is that how Howells imagined the future? I don’t know – he’s too dead to ask.  Is that how Rowling imagined the future? I know it’s not, but I do not care.  The books I read ARE NOT the books she wrote.  And therefore, by trying to control how I relate to those books, she is violating the contract between writer and reader.*

I respect that contract too much to ever tell you something about a character’s future or past outside the manuscript definitively.  If it’s relevant, it’s in the manuscript.  If it’s not: decide for yourself.  If you disagree with my interpretations of my own characters: write a new ending!  Those characters are not the characters I wrote – they are the characters you read.  And I want you to be happy with their endings.

I want to uphold my side of the contract by declaring it is NONE OF MY BUSINESS how you think the characters’ lives turn out.  Unless, that is, you wish to tell me.  Then, please, share.  I can’t wait to hear what you think about their respective futures.  Oh, and I promise I’ll be speculating right there with you, trading theories back and forth.  Because the other part of that important contract is this: in return for the favor of bringing my work to life in a way I never could, I engage with you.  Outside of writing more manuscripts, you are my highest concern because you gave me a gift I could not have purchased/achieved/made on my own. The head-canon of the fandom IS what made/will make the book, so it is something I not only respect and encourage, it is something I love and protect.

Right now, my fandom is very small.  It’s a group of friends who are wonderful, amazing second and third readers (not to mention the best cheerleaders I could ask for).  When it gets bigger, though, this contract will still be in effect.  So, to my prospective readers who will have Stars in Their Houses, or other Strains from the Stories, in their hands one day: I have no idea what happens after my books end, and really only a vague idea of what happened before they began. I can’t wait until you figure it out, because I’m just as curious as you are. I want to hear your theories.

I know this was all very dense and a bit strange.  I know that my academic-esque look at the contract between author and reader flies in the face of creative ownership/intellectual property.  But it’s important to me that you, as my existing and potential readers, know that I believe – in a very academic, fundamental sense – that you are as important to the life of my creations as I, the creator, am. You always will be.  This is who I am as an author.

Best of luck to all you dear people (and in the hopes that, one day soon, we’ll be swapping theories),

RJ

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Okay, this went on way longer than intended.  But I’m happy with it.

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*Let it be known that I respect the hell out of Rowling as a person.  Her efforts on behalf of under-represented groups are nothing short of astounding.  Her giving attitude when it comes to money is admirable.  I like Rowling, the Person.  I do NOT like Rowling, the Artist.

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By the way, the faerie tale re-writes got put on hold because of a wedding and summer season of rodeo.  I really thought I could get them done around the wedding activities and before the summer season.  Thankfully, winter season has arrived.  Less thankfully, I’m moving at the end of this month so PACKING AND CLEANING FRENZIES FOR EVERYONE.  After THAT, though, I should be able to do my two months things as, again, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo because that would actually hurt the progress of Stars in Their Houses, while this project will help.  Thank you for your patience and I hope that the me behind this curtain is an author you can like and/or respect. This was actually very scary for me because I really care about you as readers and revealing so much of my process and how I see my art’s relationship with you feels very . . . naked. Take care! ~RJ

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Last week I promised another bit of nostalgia for writing week because I had been reading through all of my old things.  As I’m typing this, I’m still trying to choose what to do.  I just have no idea what I should pursue, which is sort of why all those old projects died and why I chose that particular project last week: it was one of the few projects that has managed to stay alive over the years.  Perhaps this is because, despite what it may look like from last week’s scene, it’s not a romance.  Like every teen, I was caught up in the whimsy of romance when I began writing.  However, I soon found out that I am not a romantic and so most of my stories became very hard to maintain.  Silly me.  Still, there is a romance that is historical enough and interesting enough that I think I am willing to work on a scene that I had to leave out for time/word count (I hate maximum word counts for assignments).  This would have been in Sirius, my creative piece based on my research on Malory’s view of women in the Arthurian legend.  In Sirius, the Round Table (which came to Arthur through Gwenhwyfar’s dowry) is in some ways alive to Gwenhwyfar (she calls it her bach, a Welsh endearment) and this is when she begins to understand that her choices are ever going to be influenced by the table.

Father began presenting suitors he considered worthy of the table when I was just shy of my sixteenth birthday.  He had always considered warriors best, painting them bright and shining with his words and leaving them to live in my mind as glorious echoes of what might be.  None of these men Father presented measured up to the meanest of Father’s pretenses.  Nevertheless, I was willing to give them a chance.  These men were real, concrete.  Something in their reality made them compare to Father’s fantasy.  Perhaps it was not immediately apparent, this special quality that my father had perceived.  Certainly he was not all he seemed at first, or I could never imagine my gentle, faerie-crazed Welsh mother marrying him.

When the first warrior entered the great hall that contained the table, I felt physically ill.  I had already developed a deep disdain for the man and his disgusting habits, but this was more than mere frustration.  This was turmoil and violence.  This was poison and blight.  I had felt the presence of my table for nearly two years and I had learned to tell the difference between my feelings and its.  This reaction belonged to my table but was manifesting so strongly in me that I could not ignore it as I had in times past.  I excused myself, graciously or ungraciously I do not know, and did my best to regain some equilibrium.  When Father came to me later, I refused to consider the man.  I explained as best I could how the table had reacted, knowing my father thought that the table was merely an extension of myself.  Whatever he considered the table to be, he took my word for it.  The young warrior was not brought to our house again.

This pattern repeated itself several times with slight variations over the next several months.  I wasn’t always physically ill.  Sometimes my humors were out of balance in such a way that my mental faculties were taken away.  Sometimes both.  Soon it came time that I was sixteen and a half.  It was time for me to take a husband and we all knew it.  And yet, every time  a suitor was presented to the table, the reaction was desperate.  I cannot imagine what made the table feel that each and every suitor wasn’t just unsuitable, but was so horrific that it had to reject  each and every one vehemently.  I don’t know that any of them knew  why they never received a return invitation.  I’m sure rumors were beginning to spread.  My poor father was graying quickly and I was beginning to show signs of age that are not attractive in a maid.

Finally, there came a day when I went in to my table.  It had been quite some time since I had spent time at its feet.  I had long since given up the childish whims of a girl who needed comfort or solace.  Now, I was an adult.  Now, I needed answers.

“Pray tell, what are you doing?  Am I destined to be an old maid–a spinster–with nothing but a table for company?  Some company you’ve turned out to be.  You make me ill at the sight of any young man!”  I began with my complaint right away.  I saw no reason to mince words with my table.  It had been my constant companion for so long and besides, alive it may be, wonderful it may be, thinking and feeling it may be, but it was too different for me to care about whether or not I hurt its feelings.

Of course there was no answer.  Nothing direct anyway.  I had learned that the table communicated in gut feelings rather than anything as mundane as vocal speech.  It took a minute but a soft, negative impression to register.

“No what?” I yelled.

Loneliness.  Forlorn longing.  Both swept through me, then vanished.  I wasn’t sure I enjoyed this anymore than I enjoyed the violent and prolonged reactions to the men who came to call.  Those were merely embarrassing.  These emotions being visited upon me in mercurial fashion were draining.

“Thank you for that, I suppose,” I answered, no entirely sure what message the short moment of feeling was supposed to mean.  No loneliness, or should I be prepared for more of it because I’ll get more suitors it would never approve of?  I never really know with my table.  I couldn’t even imagine what the longing meant.  I decided to ask a different question.

“Why me?”

Surprise filled me.  Surprise that I’d even ask, that I didn’t want this.  That I hadn’t asked this for . . . there was a sense of multiples.  A sense of the table and I joined.  A feeling of “us.”

“Us?!”  This was the first I had “heard” of an us, that I had ever considered the table’s motivation to be anything other than self-serving.

Confirmation filled me.  This “conversation” had been much more direct than I had ever experienced before.  It was much more disturbing than words.  There was no room for deceit in this form of communication–my table was wholly transparent and entirely sincere.  In some ways, that was more frightening than dealing with a seasoned liar.  I wasn’t sure I wanted this sort of honesty.  The table though it knew best, my bach thought it was taking care of me!

Worse still, even with this transparency, there was the inexact nature of the mode of communication.  I knew the table meant well, but I couldn’t determine its intention.  Without that, I was left with a terrible decision.  Was I going to allow this table to continue to dominate any and every interview I was to have in the hopes that it some how knew best, or was I going to choose for myself, hoping that I could simultaneously ignore the strong reactions of my table and unsurface my own?

“I’ll be back,” I whispered.

Days passed.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening in my own head and every time I went near the room that held my table I felt a welcoming sensation that should have filled me with warmth.  Rather, it chilled me to the bone.  My table no longer hid in the background of my life.  I wished I could somehow go back to the moment before I confronted my table, before I allowed it to become such a strong, living presence and change something.  But the fact remained that I still needed the answers I had sought that day and nothing but speaking to my table would have even brought me close to them.  Wishing would change nothing; even if it did, the change would be for the worse.

My father stopped bringing soldiers home.  I think he sensed the discord in me, even if he didn’t understand it.  There was a silent agreement in the house that none of us would speak of the lack of marriage until I had sorted myself.  Then, and only then, would we approach the subject.  I appreciated the space.

However it didn’t help.  Months passed and nothing changed.  I worried and my parents despaired.

Finally, after cringing away from a certain doorway for nearly a full season, I stopped my dithering.  I marched to the room and entered the table’s presence for the first time since the interview that had spiraled me into this self doubt.

“I put myself in your hands.”  Happiness tainted with insecurity blossomed in my chest.  I found myself filled with fear, too, for I could not tell if the insecurity was the table’s or mine.

Tah dah!  Way late, but done! 😀



It’s writing Tuesday again!!  I cannot tell you how glad I am for this!  Usually I have at least one idea running around in my head, but not this time.  So, it’s time for another thousand or so words of creative something.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading a TON of my old stuff and determining what I want to do with it.  Some of it is still in that scary writer’s limbo: I know I want to do something with it, I just have no idea what that something might be.  Some of it has moved up into the “work on it soon, you dip” file (this is a slightly more urgent file than the “to be worked on” file mentioned in the last writing Tuesday post, just to be clear).  None of it has been tabled.  But, because of the nostalgia trip, I decided this week’s one shot (and next week’s) will be from images in as yet undeveloped scenes from these stories that have been flitting around in my conscious for a while.  This week’s scene is at least three years old (I began saving the ideas for it in April of ’08) and it’s about time I started writing parts of it down.  It’s from the rodeo family series I’m developing, the third book called Life on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.  The series is currently named after the first book because I’m too lazy to figure out what I want to call it.  Mostly, I’m working on this because it involves one of my favorite characters.  If I could marry this man, I would (Is that weird, creating a character you’d marry? NAAAAHHHHHHH!!).  You’re welcome, Celeste (That’s right, I so know you would, too!).

Addison hated to call Jason with something this huge.  Well, she hated to call anyone with something so monumental, but Jason Stern especially.  She wasn’t a fool.  She knew how he felt, she knew that whatever she asked of him–unreasonable or no–would be done.  It felt like she was using him.  Then again, shouldn’t thirty years be enough time to get over someone?  It wasn’t as if she hadn’t given him his space.  He had come to her after thirteen years of silence.   That should have meant he was over her.  That should have meant that calling in a favor wasn’t a big deal, that they were just friends and that was that.  That should have meant she didn’t have to feel guilty.

But she did.  Addison could spend all day with the wouldacouldashouldas, but it didn’t stop the truth of how she felt.  Or the fact that she knew that thirteen years had been enough time for Jason to become a good man, but not enough for him to “get over” her.  Thirty years had been enough for that, maybe, but not enough for him to want somebody else.  Jason was a problem, a good friend, but a problem.  So, Addison hated to call him with anything, but especially something this huge.  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t just calling in a favor.  Besides, she knew that it hurt her husband, Levi, that Jason might be able to do something that Levi couldn’t.

However, despite all this, Addison needed Jason.  Or, more correctly, her daughter, Coreen, needed him.  So, Addison called.  Three seconds, two rings, one deep breath.

“Hello?”

“Stern!”

“Ad!”

“That’s me.  Please tell me you’re home.”

“I am.  What’s wrong?”

“Who says–”

“Don’t play with me Ad,” Jason snapped at his long-time friend.  “Let’s be honest, you call me for two reasons: good news and bad news.  You never call just to say hey.  Besides, who on this green earth cares if someone’s home if the news is good?”

“You’ve got me there.  On all counts,” Addison said tiredly.  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Never you mind.  At least, not right now.  Tell me what’s wrong and we’ll figure out you bein’ a lousy friend later.”

Addison winced.  When she had met Jason, he hadn’t been nearly so honest or straight-forward.  She had taught him that.  Some days she appreciated it.  Some days she regretted it.  Most days, she couldn’t decide.  This was one of them.

“Coreen’s pregnant.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, that’s about all we can figure to say ourselves.”

“Is the boy in the picture?”

“No, and we don’t want him to be.  Lousy son of a buck, that one.”  Ad smiled through the tears that started to fall.  Jason had been the one to teach her that phrase.  When she was new to college rodeo, Jason had been her gateway to it all for a while.  During this tough time, these were the small things that she had to hold onto.

“What can I do?”

“I hate to do this to you, I really do,” Addison paused for a long moment, gathering the courage it would take to make this request, “but is it possible for you to let Coreen live at your place for a while?  She can’t do school and be a mom at the same time.  We’d come out and pick her up if we could, but she won’t let us.  We’d feel so much better if she were taken care of by someone we know and not in a dingy apartment paid by some waitressing job.  We’ll pay you rent, we’ll help out with any unexpected expenses of any sort, you won’t be responsible for her much at all, she’ll just be a really quiet roommate.  You won’t even see her that much, seeing as you’re on the road so much!” Addison rushed through the last part of her proposal as fast as she could, part from nervousness, part from guilt.  Was there even a justification for her request or was she completely out of line here?

“Ad, don’t be stupid.  When does she move out of the dorms?  She’s at U of A, right?  I’ll make sure I’m there to pick her up.”  Jason didn’t even bother to say yes.  As if there had been any doubt he would do what Addison asked him to do.  She called and he jumped.  There was a disturbing pattern to it all, but in many ways it was the least he could do.  He owed so much to her after the way he treated her when they were together that he had a lifetime of paying her back before he could call it even.

“She has until the end of this week.”

“Good, I’m in town until next week.  I’ll be able to help her get settled.  And don’t you even think about payin’ me rent.  D’you still have my e-mail, hon?”

“Yeah, Stern, I do.” Addison sighed.

“Send me hers and her phone number.  Make sure she knows to expect to hear from me.  We’ll arrange a time for me to help her move out.  I assume you want to be kept in the loop without her knowing?”

“You always were a quick study, Jason.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know about that.  Does she know you’re callin’ me about this?”

“Not yet she doesn’t,” Addison admitted.  “I didn’t want to get her hopes up.  I’ll only send you her info if she agrees that moving in with you’s the smart choice.  Frankly, I think it’s her only healthy choice, but what do I know?  I’m her mother, I haven’t known anything since she was fourteen.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that, Ad,” Stern objected.  “Every teen is like that.”

“You’d think that, but not every teen runs off to college and gets pregnant their Freshman year.”  Addison wished she could take the judgmental words back as soon as she said them.  She was so glad her daughter hadn’t been there to hear them.  This was one of the reasons Addison secretly thought it was a really good idea her daughter wasn’t letting Levi and Addison come pick her up.  Things were just too volatile right now and were liable to blow up in their faces.  Perhaps in a few months, but right now there would likely be some unforgivable words said that wouldn’t just damage the parent-child relationship, but the grandparent-grandchild relationship to come.  It was time, hard as it was, to back off.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know you didn’t.”  Addison was grateful that, no matter how awful she could be, she had a friend like Jason, a friend who always saw the best in her.

“Just keep her safe, Jason.  Do what I can’t.”

“You bet, Ad.”

Jason was glad of the silence as he hung up his cell phone and tossed it on the couch in his sparse living room.  Well that’s going to have to change, he thought at no one in particular.  This was no atmosphere for a teen, much less an expecting mother, much less a child.  He was lucky, though, he had the means to change that.  It was time for a change anyhow.

See you next week with something else inspired by the archives!

~RJLouise



Okay, today’s a writing day.  I have NOTHING to talk about by way of craft and I’ve been dying to work on something other than blogs for weeks.  Seeing as I won’t really have time to write anything outside my blogs for the next six and a half weeks, you best bet I’m taking the time NOW to do it.  Also, if I don’t do this now, the right side of my brain will do a hostile take-over of my motor functions and bang my head against my desk in protest (mostly likely the left side in an attempt to dull its reactions).

Now, what is a writing day, you may ask?  I will answer: It’s a day where I take an idea (preexisting or totally new) and develop it into a one-shot.  It may be a snap shot of a scene I want to write, it may be an image I want to develop.  No serial one-shots allowed!  It’s been a disgustingly long time since I put up a writing sample.  This is a writing blog, for crying out loud!  Where’s the writing?!?

Well, it’s finally here (and I think I’m going to make this a fourth and fifth week tradition from now on–the prospect of that hostile take-over really frightens me).  But first, as always, some rules (I love me some rules):

  • As I already mentioned, NO SERIAL ONE-SHOTS!!!!  If I fall in love with something I’ve done (which is not likely first time around), it gets put in the “to be worked on” file.  NOT the “blogging” file.
  • One thousand two hundred fifty words, +/- 10%.  This is the rule of thumb one of my college profs used for “big” essays and it works well (for those of you out there screeching, “That’s nowhere near the length for a big essay,” please keep in mind that we did a paragraph essay per class and weekly essays–he was being kind).
  • If I so chose, I can do a brief blog post beforehand.  No more than three paragraphs.
I believe that’s all that needs to be done.  Now, for the writing!
  The girl had made her peace with the dip.  Past this point in the road, there was no easy place to turn around excepting the loop that ran by her parents’ house.  That was no good option and the neighbors knew her beater well enough to know who the crazy person was pulling a K-turn in the middle of the out-of-the-way residential area she had lived in her whole life.  Someone would mention seeing the car to her mother and father and ask how the visit went (the neighbors were horribly nosy, and the last visit had been such a debacle they were dying for more gossip).  The girl would then get a miles long lecture about neglect and love and how she had a funny way of showing it.  No, she knew better than to try that.  So she made her peace with the dip, despite the fact that this was the point of no return.  The dip meant she was coming home.
It had always been that way, when she thought about it.  With her strict upbringing and her parents antiquated ideas about an appropriate curfew for a high school student (most study groups didn’t end until eleven–where in heavens name did ten o’clock make sense for a curfew?!), the girl was often isolated from her friends.  Even when they did go out, this was the point where the conversation began to wind down.  There was no sitting and talking  in the car in the dim pool of the porch lights allowed.  And there would certainly be no inviting the friends in the house.  If the girl took longer than her parents deemed appropriate for a goodbye, they would come out and collect her from the car.  It was mortifying for both parties, the driver and the passenger, so even the girl’s friends had learned to respect the curfew.  Only the newest ever challenged it.  Unconsciously, the conversation would begin to peter out at the dip so that by the time the house was reached, the girl was safely inside before too long.  The girl had come to hate the dip for the role it played in her isolation.
It was only when she moved out for college (and never again came back to live under the same roof as her parents) that she began to look back on those memories fondly.  Her friends, after all, had loved her enough to put up with the daily shenanigans of her misguided parents.  They had never pushed to come to her house, knowing it would cause her pain–pain if she didn’t ask on behalf of her friends and pain if she did.  Those small comments between the dip and her house were treasures, the things that her friends had to tell her before the night ended.  This was when her peace was made and she was able to look at the dip as a place to go beyond, not a place to run from.
And here she was, crossing it again.  Physically more than intellectually, she knew just how much to slow down and just when to punch the gas to prevent scraping the bottom of her car, but not lose too much speed.  After all, however claustrophobic and frightening home could be, it was still home.  Once she passed the dip, she might as well get there fast.
The parents cordially greeted their daughter with about as much love and tenderness one might expect from a couple who felt all their hard work and care in raising their child had been thrown back in their faces.  It was a stiff meeting–clearly neither party had forgotten the words said (or the particularly well aimed projectiles thrown) at their last encounter.  Franky, though, this stiffness was barely worse than their usual stilted version of family life.  At least there was an agreed upon reason for this.  As far as the girl could recollect, that had never happened before.
Still, the uneasy agreement on what caused the issue made the conversation no easier.  In fact, in many ways, it made the conversation harder.  The girl would not apologize for refusing her parents’ offer to move back in with them and be–for all intents and purposes–a slave with the “benefit” of living with the masters.  The parents would not apologize for their expectations for their daughter, nor the frequently expressed disappointments when they failed to be met.  Neither party was willing to apologize for the items thrown and destroyed.
It was not long before the silences were unbearable and the conversations intolerable.  The girl was reasonably confident nothing else would be thrown and that no words could make her feel worse.  Unfortunately, she was also confident that no words would make her feel better.  Perhaps indicative of a bitter soul, but true nonetheless.  Too many opportunities for the right words had come and gone–some hers, some theirs.
There was some purpose to today’s visit.  Perhaps not an apology, but a peace offering.  A grandchild.  Surely no parent could deny the child of their own!  There was no boy or girl to raise the child with, just the girl.  She had seen no relationship on the horizon and had decided to have the child on her own.  Perhaps not the wisest of decisions, but if she delayed getting a new car she really didn’t need (the beater was still going strong) and worked from home a bit more often, there was no reason this couldn’t work.
The parents brusquely pushed her out of the house when the announcement was made.  Two minutes later, they followed.  The parents had made their peace with the dip, too, you see.  It was a different point of no return.  They knew that if they had sufficiently shamed their daughter, she would turn around before the dip and come back with apologies to make it better.  But if not, she would blast by the dip without a second thought and do whatever she pleased.  The parents realized it had been years since they had been able to shame her into doing their bidding (her choice of college had proven that) and this was too important to leave to chance.  They didn’t catch up in time.  Just as the father lay on the horn to alert the girl of their presence, she crossed the dip.  She turned back, though, and for a moment the parents hoped.  But she stopped before the nose of her car touched the dip.  She got out, and waited.
Such a simple thing, this dip.  Unassuming in it’s presence, worn but well-kept, it never stood out to anyone so much as it stood out to these three.  For something meant to bridge an otherwise difficult point in the road, it certainly acted as an uncrossable chasm for this family.  They stood across it, staring.  Cars parked on either side, silently confronting each other.
It was too much.  The girl knew it was time to go.  She had passed the point of no return.  The beater’s door gave off rust as she slammed closed, turned the key in the ignition and reversed into the nearest driveway.  Without a backwards glance, she drove away.  For a single, short moment, it looked as if the father might follow–not out of love, but spite.  But the dip’s strange power over this household asserted itself once more, and the much more pristine car pulled the K-turn the girl had studiously avoided for so long.
A lone neighbor had noted the strange happenings outside her window and had watched the wordless exchange.  Before the parents’ car had passed out of her view, she was on the phone.  The rumor mill was running once more.
And the dip sat in the middle of the road, blissfully unaware.
Oooh, that was fun!  See you next week!
~RJL


{April 19, 2011}   Why I love what I hate.

Remember when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out?  The fans had been waiting for three years (the longest Rowling ever made the fans wait) for this book.  Many of us who had been growing up with Harry (as I had) were all of a sudden older than him.  We were salivating in anticipation.  And then we read OotP.  This boy who had been our hero and classmate and everything good about someone who had to overcome a bad situation quite suddenly turned into a world-class (heck, multiple worlds-class) jerk.  He mistreated his friends, he was a boor and lost his girlfriend before he even really had her, he was terrible to the one man who consistently tried to help him through everything, he insisted on acting misunderstood when–in all reality–many people tried to understand him and he refused to let them.  Harry shut people out.

And yet . . .

After all that, after the whining and the screaming and the fighting and the bs teenage shenanigans that I hated every minute of, I was still rooting for Harry, as were a lot of other readers.  Yeah, Harry was terrible.  He turned into everything I hated about being a teenager and the teenagers who I was around.  But he was still my hero, not because he had many (or any) redeeming qualities in this book, but because Rowling had written him so believably that I still cared about this whiny teen after an 800+ page book of his bull.  I’ve written before that I’m kind of tired of Harry Potter & Co., and I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t love Rowling’s writing.  I think it’s good, but I’m not one of those who think it’s lasting.  Except in this book.  In book five Rowling took a much loved character and turned him into the least lovable version possible and still came out with a huge (if not bigger) fan base.  In OotP, I feel like Rowling created something I can not only like, but respect.

Something similar happened just this morning in the webcomic I mentioned last week.  I know I just posted about All New Issues, but I have good reason for bringing them up again, so please forgive me.  This time, I wish to talk about the writing.  Dani O’Brien is the other half of the ANI team.  She’s the main writer (though the artist, Bill Ellis, started the comic by himself and still contributes to the plot and characters).  She’s phenomenal at making the right decisions for her characters.  They are not always popular.  About a week and a half ago, after one of the characters went on a truly horrific date, she kept in line with his character and had him sleep with his date anyway.  I did not like the character for making the decision, but I loved that he made it.  It was exactly what I expected him to do, and I would have been disappointed had he not.

Today’s comic (the one linked above) he made another decision in keeping with his character that did surprise me.  I guess it hadn’t hit me just how much of a dick this character was.  Due to reader reactions from a couple weeks ago, Ms. O’Brien knew that today’s strip would not be popular (the character not only slept with his shallow and terrible date, they’re now dating).  According to her twitter account (what?  I follow my favorite webcomic artists on twitter–they’re clever and make my day brighter . . . don’t judge), she expected hate mail.  I’ll admit, I was displeased enough to comment on the comic, but at the same time that I expressed my displeasure, I also expressed how awesome it was that Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Ellis had created a situation that elicited these responses.

I love what I hate because it draws me in.  Rowling, ANI, Nicholas Evans (The Loop, Buck Calder), Suzanne Collins (The Underland Chronicles, Ripred; The Hunger Games, Haymitch), A Girl and Her Fed (Agent 146: Clarice), and too many more to list create characters that I cannot stand, but have to read more of because they create the tension that drives the situation.  Sometimes these are the main characters, sometimes these are side characters driving the main characters to action.  Half the time, these characters aren’t even antagonists, which is so many kinds of awesome!  Writing that inspires passion in the reader is exceptional.  Writing that inspires negative passion that–against all expectations–engages the reader even deeper is astounding.

This is a skill I am working on.  A good antagonistic situation (whether or not there is an actual antagonist) is hard to create.  It means making tough decisions with your characters, putting them in situations you (and most likely your readers) dislike or with characters you hate, even though you created them.  Sometimes it even means having your best and most loved character making a hellacious decision.  Sometimes it means hurting your characters, which can be akin to hurting yourself.

At best, I’m writing antagonists now.  Eventually, I’d like to get to the point where I’m writing antagonistic situations where the surroundings or the protagonist themselves are the “antagonist.”  I have the greatest respect for these authors who manage this balancing act.  They’re inspirational as well as entertaining.  I love that, as an author, I never lack for examples and enjoyment.

Go write someone (or something) horrid,

~RJLouise



“There are no small parts, just small actors.”  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that (or the industry equivalent) said.  And, honestly, it’s a lie.  Incidentals make up the life and breath of literature.  Small characters are small for a reason.  If they’re too big, they take away from the story that the author is trying to tell.

But!

This does not mean you get to cheat and spend less time on said characters.  In fact, this is a very bad idea.  Small characters need to be there with purpose.  They are small for a reason, but that does not mean they are unimportant (which, of course, is the intention behind that silly phrase that I began my blog with).  Small characters are good things, vital, and must be treated as such.

Before I go into my tips on how to make characters small but memorable, I will share two examples of what I feel are the perfect small characters.

Current Popular Literature: The Hunger Games, Gale.

Before all you Gale lovers raise up in a huff, I’m speaking of the first book only.  Not the series (and, even then, I’d contend he was a minor-ish character, but that’s for a different day).  In The Hunger Games, Gale is physically present in all of three chapters at the very beginning.  It’s well established that he’s  the best friend of the character and, with the way the character reminisces for a few more chapters, you get the feeling there might be more to it than that.  However, soon, he’s gone.  Katniss, the main character, becomes so wrapped up in the Hunger Games and Peeta (the young man who went with her) that she almost completely forgets about her best friend Gale.  However, the reader never forgets Gale.  There’s just enough of Gale at the beginning that the entire time Katniss has to pretend to love Peeta, the reader’s heart is aching for a young man he/she knew for two and a half chapters.  Gale is hardly what I would call important to the story, but he’s memorable enough that his side story can be made to be either as significant or insignificant as the reader allows.

Past Popular Literature: The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Prince Bumpo.

Prince Bumpo is a much smaller character than Gale.  He has two scenes in this particular book.  Regardless, he’s one of the most distinct characters because his main feature is something that all humans can relate to: longing to be something else.  He’s so very human and flawed that it’s easy to like him.  I did an entire paper on the subject of Bumpo’s scenes because of how they’ve been changed over the years, but here’s the essential: Prince Bumpo is in love and feels inadequate.  So he asks Dr. Dolittle to change him so that he may become more attractive to his Sleeping Beauty (who he once happened upon and even kissed, but she ran away in horror at the sight of him).  The Doctor agrees, in exchange for a boat and his freedom from Bumpo’s father’s prison.  In the end, a quick fix is made and the Doctor feels horrible for practicing this deceit.  As they leave, the Dolittle’s companion, Dab-Dab the Duck, points out that the Prince really should learn to be happy with who he is, as he’s a good sort of fellow.  Bumpo is memorable, beacause he is so much of what we are.

So, how do I suggest going about the making of good small characters?

  • Give them one thing that is particular to them.  Trevor, one of my minor characters, is a good listener.  That’s his deal.  Because of that, he becomes–while remaining a peripheral character–competition in the love interest category.  Or, at least, that’s how one of the other males (who is a much bigger character) sees it.
  • Make them relatable.  Minor characters tend to be incredibly quirky or incredibly generic.  Either one works, as people tend to see themselves as too individual for the crowd or as someone who can blend with the best of them.  Side characters fill that function.
  • Don’t fill in too many features, one or two is good.
  • Minimal is a great idea at the start.  If it comes later that the character needs fleshing out, you’ll find out then.
  • Too much background that does not involve the main character is a death sentence.  Don’t kill your story.
  • Plan their exit before you even put them in.  Knowing where they end makes it easier not to let them get out of control.

I’m sure there are other ways, but these are some I’ve learned and am still learning to apply.  Remember, minor characters are really what the audience makes them, not you.  Give them something fluid to work with, they deserve to have as much fun creating their version of the character as you did.

Off you go!

~RJLouise



et cetera