Jul 29, 2013

Hopes and Dreams

You can't go for months anticipating one of the larger events you've ever been to without a certain degree of imagination of events. At least, I can't.

So here are a few of my goals...hopes...whatever you want to call them.

1. Meet Jeff Gerke, possibly give him a business card and talk about my novel. Maybe get a book signed.
 Apparently my mental image of him is in a suit. And that's me in my costume, although I have no doubt he'll be in costume as well. And far too many stars.

 2. Meet Kathy Tyers, possibly give her a business card and talk about my novel. Maybe get a book signed. Or two.
If you were wondering, that's my best Jennifer Lawrence impression. And those things on Kathy's feet are flip-flops. She's also notably confused because I'll probably be babbling. (I will also probably be wearing shoes, but I was tired of drawing shoes.)

3. Pass out twenty business cards.
 Yeah. That one is pretty self-explanatory.

4. Stay up late.

This one is mostly a lie (I really really hope I can sleep) but will probably end up happening anyway. And those things sticking up past the back of my head? Those are my legs. And I hope we're all fairly accurate - that is, Kaitlyn still has energy enough to tell us a long story at the end of the day, while Meaghan and I watch in enthralled exhaustion.

5. Learn stuff
 This one is probably inevitable too.

See you afterward!
With fear and trembling,

Jul 26, 2013

Six days...

"Chances of survival are dwindling into single digits now..."

Needless to say I'm starting to get frantic. But no need to worry! A certain conference faculty member has assured me that she'll have smelling salts handy. *goes to get a paper bag to breathe into*

May I remind you all that six days to the conference means that you have eight days to submit to my contest? That's right! A little over a week left, and I have a pretty decent pool to pick from. I am super excited.

In that note, I have something to show you...we went to town today and were very pleasantly surprised when the business cards were neither as expensive nor as time-consuming as we expected. We had a hundred of 'em printed for $25 in a couple hours - would have been sooner, except that I had to move the text around a bit so the words didn't get chopped off, and then we were fascinated by all the neat old machines in the print shop. Man.

 So here's the design (left is front, right is back):

And here's the finished product:

I am pumped to start handing these out. But I suppose that'll have to wait at least until tomorrow, because 10:30 Friday night isn't exactly the best time to promote a novel.


Jul 21, 2013


I've given in. I've become Sherlocked.

It wasn’t entirely my fault. Pinterest and my friends kept giving me perfectly logical reasons for doing so, and no one gave me a good reason not to, besides the unlikely one that my heart would be ripped out and I would be left to die on the floor. (Although, now that I have watched the last episode, I find this very nearly true.)

But Mr. Sherlock Holmes has got me thinking. He always does. I have no illusions about my powers of deduction – they’re pretty weak. But when I started reading the stories and watching the series, I would always wonder what he would see if he met me, came to our house. What he would be able to read in us that others never see.

I imagine him darting round my room, possibly studying my lifeless body crosswise across my wrinkled bedcovers with his neat little collapsible magnifying glass, looking very tall in his long black coat under our short ceilings. He’d straighten up and turn to John Watson, who’d be waiting patiently or not-so-patiently in the doorway for an explanation. “Clearly, a young writer.”

“But – how do you know that?”

Sherlock would turn back to my room, pointing his long fingers at various objects as he grudgingly clarifies things. “Dust on the shelves, the books, but not on the laptop, suggesting frequent use by a forgetful or distractible person. A large collection of music on CDs as well. An enthusiast, maybe, but there’s dust on those too; she migrated to digital music soon after the purchase of her laptop. Likewise with the notebooks. They’re well-used but dusty. From the fingerprints on the mirror – two or three younger siblings, one of whom she shared the room with. Once a horse enthusiast but she grew out of that, since most of those books are gone except her very favorites, which are on the top shelf, not easily accessible but still there to admire, but that's irrelevant. From her sedentary lifestyle, the contents of her laptop and the callus just in front of the first knuckle on her right middle finger, she’s a writer.”

In a way this relates to our characters. We always see things in them that the readers never will – little flaws that aren’t visible, pieces of backstory that aren’t really important. But Sherlock got me thinking about my characters in a different way.

As a character, Sherlock is pretty much the epitome of the trait of intelligence. He blows us away with the pure power of his brain. He’s insulted when people around him cannot see – pardon me, observe – the details his mind takes in and intersects so easily.

This is not a post about a fandom, nor about the subject of the fandom. This is a post about intelligence.

1.capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

I was reading a post on Holy Worlds about allowing for stupidity, particularly within the field of military operations. The example the author made was one where a group of soldiers was set to march at a certain time, but decided to go earlier instead. It ruined a lot of stuff. The point she made – that we should make our characters human enough to blunder and spoil things out of stupidity or ignorance – stuck with me, combined with the opposite example of Sherlock, who uses his intelligence to fix things (well, usually.) This led to several points I thought it would be prudent to make about intelligence.

1. Intelligence is relative.
My dad is pretty much a genius. As a civil engineer, he daily processes things I can only imagine – advanced geometry, mathematical gymnastics, laws and ordinances and all the little things that make street plans work. But he’ll look at me playing the piano, shake his head, and say “That looks like magic to me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that my dad is intelligent. Quite visibly so. But intelligence is relative depending on your location and what is happening. This is apparent in many stories just after the New World is introduced. This is the part where your hero encounters a whole world of possibility he never knew and isn’t prepared for. Imagine sending Sherlock through a portal to Middle Earth. What use would his specialized intelligence be there?

Often, intelligence is an overarching trait. It is an ability that helps your character to adapt to, learn from, and thrive in new situations. I can’t see Sherlock taking very long to figure out the new world and how it works, because he’s smart.

This point also applies to characters who are being compared to other characters. Dr. Watson is a prime example. He’s intelligent – as a doctor, he pretty much has to be – but next to Sherlock, his intellect pales. He is intelligent in a different area, and since his area is not the one being focused on, he usually only acts as a foil for Sherlock – someone on the level of the audience who is just as lost as we are.

This is another tactic commonly used for the introduction of the New World. If you have a character who is in some way equal to the audience enter the new setting, you can use him or her to explain things the other characters already know. Be careful to balance this, however, with your character’s already-existing specialty, so you don’t risk him looking stupid (something I’ve seen far too often.)

       2. Intelligence is dangerous.
Another somewhat unconventional example of intelligence is Haymitch. In this excerpt from Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta ponder how Haymitch, whom they know as a crotchety drunkard, became a victor in the Hunger Games.

            Finally Peeta says, “That force field at the bottom of the cliff, it was like the one on the roof of the Training Center. The one that throws you back if you try to jump off and commit suicide. Haymitch found a way to turn it into a weapon.”
            “Not just against the other tributes, but the Capitol, too,” I say. “You know they didn’t expect that to happen. It wasn’t meant to be part of the arena. They never planned on anyone using it as a weapon… It’s almost as bad as us and the berries!”

It’s the same kind of intelligence that brought Katniss and Peeta out of the arena alive the first time. Quick adaptation to their position, then use of the available resources. And that’s part of what makes them so dangerous to the Capitol.

It’s not only the Powers That Be who are threatened by intelligence. The villains fear it too. A quick-thinking army captain with a small force can trounce, slow down, or harry a larger force with relative ease. A sharp commoner can cause trouble for the noblemen. And a brilliant detective can catch even the most furtive criminal. Fellow allies may be threatened as well - the intelligent character may make them feel incompetent, unimportant, or downright useless. Alienated allies are almost as dangerous as the baddies your hero is working to take down.

       3. Intelligence is exclusive.
The title of this point makes it sound like there’s some kind of club or something that no one can get into but exceptionally intelligent people. There’s a sense in which that’s true, but my real point is this: Intelligence excludes.

Think of how many intelligent people and characters you’ve heard of who are incredibly lonely. The artists, the geeks, the weirdos. The freaks. It also seems that the level of intelligence is relative to the level of exclusion. The ones who can pretend that they’re normal often pass themselves off as such, but the further up the scale you go, the harder it is to pretend.

            There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

One of my favorite things about the movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is how smart Eustace is. He keeps beetles in jars and has the mindset of a lawyer and speaks with a remarkable vocabulary. He also has no friends, not unlike a certain detective we all know and love. There is one stark difference between Eustace’s story and Sherlock’s, however. Eustace gains friends because he changes; even though he’s still smart, he’s less arrogant and superior. Sherlock gains friends (or a friend, singular) not because he changes, but because John comes to see him for who he is.

I’d like to draw another example, from a couple of my own characters. Iri and Fairivel. Father and son. Both are very intelligent. They're about as different as they could be. Fairivel is the ruler of Laecla, land of the elves, and he is known to be a fair man, an excellent ruler, and a superb diplomat. Iri is restless, always chasing after what will excite him next, extremely charming, and uses people shamelessly to get what he wants. Both are using their intelligence in a different way, but both have distanced themselves with it. Neither of them have many, if any, people who genuinely care about them for who they are.

     4. Intelligence is blinding.

How could I write a post about intelligent characters without mentioning a few of their faults? The blinding aspect of the title is meant to apply to other players in the story - and to the character themselves.

Think of Watson when he first met Holmes. He couldn't stop complimenting Holmes on his genius. But that wears off pretty quickly and we, through John, start seeing some of Sherlock's faults. He's arrogant, has no idea how to behave around people, and lacks basic knowledge of the solar system, among other things.

Then there's how the intelligent character views himself, especially in relation to other people. With a superior view of themselves, they may treat ordinary people with impatience or even scorn. (For a more complete list of intelligent characters and their positives and negatives, refer to this post over at The Bookshelf Muse.)

There's a more complicated type, for which I'm going to use yet another Sherlock example. When we meet the villain of the first episode, he is a singularly disappointing middle-aged cabby. But as the writers expound on him, his personality, his methods, you forget his exterior. You begin to see the mind behind it. By the time the episode ended, I'd forgotten how disappointed I was that the villain turned out that way. I was utterly fascinated by the twists of his mind. His intelligence had blinded me.

5. Intelligence is underused.

Before I stopped reading dystopian and the like, a friend recommended an interesting little book called Variant. Beyond the mysterious plot and the intriguing setting (an experiment disguised as a walled school where, once the students were in, they never got out and had no contact with the outside world) I remember that the main character, Benson Fisher, set himself apart from other heroes in YA literature in my mind. Because he was smart.
            The whole time we sat there I kept an eye on the trees. There were Society kids out there. One was at the tree line, patrolling on the back of a four-wheeler. I could hear a second one, but couldn’t see it.
            What would make them act like that? Why wouldn’t they just make a break for it?
            As I watched them I thought about what they’d need to have to keep the four-wheelers running: gasoline, oil, tools. All of that could help my escape.
As soon as he learned what was happening, he did exactly what I would have done. He started plotting to escape. I connected firmly with him through the book. He tried to break the other students free of their lethargy. He never missed an opportunity to gather supplies and investigate the terrain for his escape. I wanted to cheer for him.

Benson also lacked another common element of fictional heroes. He had no clever mentor hovering over him, pointing out his every flaw. While this is an effective way to introduce the reader to the world (a tactic often linked with the one I mentioned in the first section) I wish I saw more characters who could interact with the mentor on their own terms.

I'm not sure why I perceive a severe lack of intelligent YA characters. Maybe it's a result of the watered-down literature of our day and age. Maybe no one wants to write an intelligent character because they're simply hard to write. But implementing an intelligent character doesn't mean you have to write a superhero. You just need to do your research.

(I also compiled a list of characters I wanted to use for examples, but didn't get to. Since I didn't want to waste it, here they are:
            Kieran from The Restorer’s Son by Sharon Hinck
            Temeraire from His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
            Claire from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
            Kelsier from Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson)

So what about you? Who's your most intelligent character? Do you recognize or use any of the methods I've mentioned here? Do you have anything to add?

Jul 10, 2013

Fantasy(ish) Photoshoot!

I present to you, the fantasy(ish) photoshoot to end all fantasy(ish) photoshoots!

Well, not really. Mostly it was 45 minutes of clambering around in a tree and trying not to whack the camera on branches and sweating and laughing and swatting mosquitoes. But my epic writer friend Grace and I came up with a few shots that may or may not be any use to anybody. ;) (Read that: 174 photos exactly that I had to pare down a lot to figure out which ones to post.)

I'm going to spam you with all of these, which I might mention are under Creative Commons so you may use them for stock if you like. If you want any of the full-size, unedited versions, comment asking for whichever ones you'd like. (To do that, click on the photo - it should give you a bigger version. Hit "view image" and it should give you the image all by itself in a tab with the file name at the top of the tab; mention the file name and I'll send you the picture. Or you could just describe the picture. Extensively.)

So first we posed in her really, really cool house. And huge. Did I mention huge? It has this amazing chain of staircases where you can stand at the top and watch whatever's going on at the front door, and it makes for some cool angles. I was a bit distracted when I took these or I would have experimented more. I'll have to do that next time.

Yes, that is Grace down there, not me, though our moms mistake us for each other. Same height, same hair, same dark author brains...

Oh, yeah, and Grace's cool sword! Which is actually a replica of Glamdring a.k.a. Foe-Hammer, only with the alphabet on it instead of runes. Which is kind of slightly strange, but ok since we didn't really have that many close-ups of it.

Then we went up to the top of the staircase and posed there. We were a little backlit by the window, and we had to keep telling each other "Tilt the sword this way. No, not that way. This way. No, no. Your other right. Your OTHER - I'm coming up there."

After that, it was outside. It was lovely breezy and humid with a goodly helping of bugs, but like the tough authors we are we trekked around in our leggings with our hair blowing all over our faces and posed.

 The grounds are almost as cool as the house. And three times as huge. She took me into this little pathway where I had to step carefully past dying poison ivy and duck under branches that wanted pieces of my hair.
Once past that, we came out into this little sanctuary under the trees. I couldn't resist.

Yes, that's me acting dramatic.

After that, we came out and found a more open path with a neat little spot where you could crouch down and see a miniature forest under the hedge. 

And some pictures on the path:

After that, the tree. They call it the Spider Tree or the Avatar Tree, and even though it doesn't glow like the Tree of Souls, it's just about as cool.

I wish I'd gotten a picture of it from farther away. It looks like a huge bush - the whole thing is just one big mass of leaves from the outside, and you can hardly see into it. You have to part the branches to get through. But once you're inside...

It's one huge mass of a tree in the middle, with other trees adding to it on the outside. Ivy carpets the ground under it and you can hardly glimpse the sky through the leaf roof.
Even better, the tree is wonderfully climbable. You can just walk along the branches near the ground and (even with a big heavy sword throwing you off balance) not be afraid to fall, they're so thick.

At this point, Grace had to run off and console the baby, who was crying for her. So I kept myself busy with the sword for company.

When Grace came back, we spent almost the rest of our visit clambering around the tree, playing Bored Elvish Rangers.
Staring out from the watch post...nothing new today...sigh.
 Smiling cockily down at an intruder.

Could it be - gasp! Something happening??
 They're HERE! They're here at last! (Not sure who it is, but she's excited. xD)

I have more pictures of me on the ground than in the tree, because once we got up there Grace  seemed perfectly at home. Way more like an elf than I felt. Maybe because it's her tree (not that I would mind having it at our place at all.)

 Me with a slightly weird look on my face.
 Me climbing. My brother said I looked like a frog.
On the watch...

Closeup time!
 Aaaand another! Frizzy hair for the win!

Bonus: Blooper shots...
 This is my "Grace, stop it!" face. Also the shot where I have a fantastic moose headdress.
 If you look really close, you can see a mosquito on my forehead. Great capture, Grace. ;)
 Best handlebar mustache. Ever.
"I'm gonna drop the swo-ord!"

So, sorry for spamming y'all, but I will probably do it again, next time, with different outfits. ;) If you end up using any of these, link me so I can see, please! :D

Jul 2, 2013

Music for Monday: Character Theme 3

Sorry I'm late! We had a houseguest yesterday, and after that I was watching Sherlock. But I'm here today!

I've had this song set for this character almost as long as I've had the character himself. He's changed, but yet he's not. He's grown so much, on both sides of his character, but remarkably, this song still fits him. I can't help but think it always will, at least during this stage in his story.

Bring Me To Life ~ Evanescense

How can you see into my eyes like open doors?
Leading you down into my core
Where I've become so numb

Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I've become 

Iri as pianist Jarrod Radnich. Or is is Jarrod Radnich as Iri?

There's not much that can break my heart as thoroughly as this song when I'm thinking about Iri. This is what's behind his mask of wit and smiles, what feeds his hatred, makes him desperate. There are very few alive who have glimpsed this side of him, but it's the first key to understanding what he's become.

He's lived for fifteen years without love, surrounded by people who value him only for his powers. Since he chose to betray his loyalty to his land and the king's army, he has held everyone at a distance, including God. He believes himself irredeemable, and in his mind, it's made him invincible.

Without a thought
Without a voice
Without a soul
I've been living a lie
There's nothing inside
Bring me to life

The first crack in his world is when he loses his powers - all of them. He was told he wasn't worthy to bear them, and it nearly destroyed him. After living like he has for so long, depending on his power to make him valuable, suddenly he is worthless in his own eyes.

The second crack come when Aaron follows him into the wilderness to kill him - and instead spares his life. Iri begins to watch Aaron closely, furious, puzzled, and wanting whatever Aaron has. His mask had slipped, his real self laid bare, and someone valued him still. Before the end, he has a choice to make...

This song is so perfect for Iri that it inspired some fan art. (I still can't get over that I have fans.) The wonderful R. S. Sharkey made this amazing wallpaper for me, based on this song. I love it to death.