Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Characters who should get their own book

It's a Top Ten Tuesday freebie this week - pick your own topic (hosted by the Broke and Bookish blog).

So Marvel has movies for Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Spiderman, and Captain America with more on the way, but so far nothing with a female main character, like The Black Widow.

I'm not losing sleep over this, but it did get me thinking of some characters that deserve to have their own book (or movie).  As a great fan of Arthurian legend, I really enjoyed the The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stuart, that allowed Merlin to have his own story, and likewise when Morgaine got to have her own book, the Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradly. Though I haven't read it yet, I love the idea of allowing the Wicked Witch of the West a chance to tell her side of the story (Wicked, by Gregory McGuire)... and now very soon we'll get to hear Maleficent's side of The Sleeping Beauty story.

I want more of these! Famous heroes and heroines: let's hear your story told by your nemesis, or by your best friend, sidekick, etc.

10. Princess Leia, from the Star Wars movies
With all the speculation going on about the new Star Wars movie, this plucky gal came back into my mind. The movies never really explain how she became a Princess, did they? We know about Luke growing up on Tatooine, and now we know perhaps too much of Darth Vader's backstory, but I'd love to learn more about Leia.

9. Hermione, from the Harry Potter series
I am not a huge fan of Harry Potter. He's a so-so character. He's only interesting to me because of the colorful cast that surrounds him. What if Hermione had been the Girl Who Lived? Hmmm?

8. Lucy Pevensie, from the Chronicles of Narnia
I always thought it was so interesting how the four children in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe actually got to grow up and become adults in Narnia, only to be sent back as children into their own world. Would love for C.S. Lewis to magically pen another novel filling in more details about Lucy, my favorite of the four.

7. A History, from the Archived series by Victoria Schwab
The premise of this series has always super intrigued me: how people's memories are organized and archived as Histories, beings that are alive and sentient and yet, not quite human. Would love to see this series continue, from the point of view of one of the Histories instead of their human caretakers.

6. Spock, from the Star Trek series and movies
I know he's a bit dry, but I still think he deserves his own movie

5. The Darkling, from the Grisha series
He's mysterious and powerful and deeply conflicted. I need to know more about this guy. I NEED TO KNOW.

4. Eowyn, from the Lord of the Rings
As deeply as I love the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, I was always just a touch disappointed that there wasn't at least one female in the Fellowship of the Ring or in Bilbo's unexpected adventure. Thank goodness for Eowyn, at least! - and the big role she got to play. I just wished she'd got an appendix of her own, like Aragorn and Arwen did.

3. Mr. Knightley, in Emma, by Jane Austen
My favorite Jane Austen male character, and the most noble. I have a really hard time imagining a Jane Austen story from the point of view of a gentleman...all the other Austen men make this sound like a very bad, boring idea... except for Knightley.

2. Loki, from the Marvel movies
Okay, I just flat out love Loki. There, I've said it. Give me more Loki!!!

1. Gandalf, from the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings
I'd love a story about Gandalf, when he was a boy and a young wizard causing havoc, experimenting with fireworks and giving elves headaches, as I'm sure he did. I'd love anything more about Gandalf, young or old or anywhere in between.

What character do you think deserves to be the star of their own book or movie?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Characters I'd want for my friends

I've done a slight modification of this week's theme,Top Ten Books About Friendship, brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish and their Top Ten Tuesday.

Not long ago I listed my top ten girl friendship books, and if I expanded it out to include all friendships it would also have Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings, the guys in The Outsiders, Laurence and Temeraire in His Majesty's Dragon (hey, dragons count!) and Sylvi and Ebon in Pegasus (pegasus count too!).

But my list changes in very interesting ways when I change the criteria to characters I'd want as MY friend.

For instance, I love the friendship of Karou and Zuzana in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. But both girls would intimidate me in real life. I'd love to hang out with them in the Poison cafe and talk art and mythical creatures, but when it gets down to the knives and the teeth... eh... I'll pass.  Same with another one of my all time favorite fictional girls: Harry Crewe, from the Blue Sword. I love her to death, but when I think about having her over for tea? Or watching Star Trek re-runs or BBC period dramas with her into the small hours of the night? I'm just not feeling it with her.  It'd be sort of like making small talk with Helen Keller or Mother Theresa or Margaret Thatcher: it might be lovely small talk, but with someone like that, it really ought to be big, important talk, you know?

A note about ladies in love stories. They are not good friend material: too wrapped up in their guys. I love a love story, but in real life, it's no fun when all your friend can do is sigh with starry eyes or bawl with tear filled ones.  Lilac from These Broken Stars is a neat girl, but she's going to be a bit to wrapped up with Tarver for a while to qualify as being a decent friend to anyone else.

But the characters on my list today: I feel like I could really talk with them: about big things and little things too; and they wouldn't just talk about their boyfriends. I could have them over for tea and enchiladas and not be totally freaked out if they notice that my dining table is a little scuffed up or if they hear my kids burp. I wouldn't be embarrassed to ask them all the little quirky things that we love to know and share with our friends, like favorite recipes, favorite lines from movies, and guilty pleasure books.

10. Elisa from Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson
Elisa is so insecure in the first book of this series. I just wanted to nibble pastries with her and commiserate about life.

9. Bod from the Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.
Actually, I'd like to be friends with just about anyone in this book. Even Silas. And I normally don't like hanging out in graveyards: but the characters in this book! Oh! They are so lovable (except for the bad guys and the ghouls, of course).

8. Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Oh my gosh, I love friends who make up fantasy worlds and take me to visit them!

7. Anne from Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Actually, Anne is a little intimidating to me, because she's just so full of energy and imagination and verve; but I think I could get over my shyness with her with a little coaxing.

6. Jake from Dragonhaven, by Robin McKinley
Jake is a bit rambling... tending to run off on tangents... but he's humble and thoughtful. And, he could introduce me to dragons: definite bonus.

5. Temeraire from His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik
Not only would it be immensely awesome to boast a dragon as a friend, but this particular dragon loves books. Oh, the discussions we could get into!

4. Skeeter from the Help, by Kathryn Stockett
She totally didn't fit in with the other girls she grew up with; she could see right through them. And she was proud to call black maids her friends in the South of the 1960's. This is my kinda girl. Not to mention we could talk writing...

3. Cynthia from The Mitford series, by Jan Karon
Another writer (and illustrator), full of laughter and bravery and vulnerability. A bright, shining soul. She is so much fun to read, I'm sure she'd be a great real friend, too.

2. Bilbo from the Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Because he loves to be at home. Reading, eating, puttering in his garden, like me; and yet he's also liable to being whisked off into adventures by wizards.

1. Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Because who knows what I might find behind wardrobe doors if I were friends with her... and I just love her kindness, her frankness, her young/old soul.

What character would you want for a friend?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Diversity in kidlit

I love books that feature diverse characters from other cultures or races or ethnic backgrounds than my own. I go out of my way to find them. Recently I read Played, by Liz Fichera, with a Native American main character, Sam. Then I discovered Liz Fichera regularly promotes YA books with diverse characters on her website, and encourages others to do this same on a regular basis. Other websites promoting diverse YA books are Diversity in YA, DiversifYA, Mitali Perkin's blog, and YA Highway has occasional posts on diversity in YA. I'm sure there are more... also, I haven't run across similar blogs for middle grade books (please comment if you know of any).

I join many others in saying that I appreciate the growing number of secondary characters who are of different colors and races, but we need more MAIN characters. And we feel that white-washing the covers is sneaky and wrong (showing the main character as being decidedly more white than he/she is in the book). We also need more non-white writers and authors. We know you're out there (speaking to you, A.K.!)

My plan is to highlight a book with a non-white main character every month, starting with Played this month. This is a companion book to Hooked (which I plan to read soon), and highlights some of the secondary characters from Hooked.

The main characters are Riley (suburban white girl) and Sam (from the Gila River Indian reservation); this is one of those great "you're the last person I'd ever fall in love with" stories that I never get tired of.

Highlights of this book, for me:

~A main character that's Native American... I loved Sam! 

~Sam's friends on the Rez (Gila River Indian Reservation near Phoenix)

~His grandmother and her baskets

~The road trip to California (on a motorcycle!) and its unexpected consequences

~just a touch of a reverse love triangle going on between Sam, Riley and Fred

~the secret about Sam's father

~My first impression of Riley wasn't too great but she had some lessons to learn about peer pressure (haven't we all?) 

Do you have any book recommendations that showcase diversity?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A story about Insecurity and Inspiration

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writershos Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Back in March I posted "how an old dream is rekindled" - just for kicks and giggles, I read the first two chapters of my long-shelved unicorn story, Refuge, to my four girls, and they loved it and clamored for more. So, their love inspired me to start working on the story again.

At first, I thought, "this writing isn't half bad... I can clean this up pretty easily". After all, I had 5 years and 3 more manuscripts' worth of writing experience since I shelved this first attempt at a manuscript.

The first four chapters were in good shape and didn't need much work, but after that, what a mess!! I finally realized that mere "revising" wasn't going to work. I was going to have rewrite it, or at least major parts of it.

Insecurity started biting at my ankles (you know those little dogs that are called ankle biters? sometimes insecurity shows up like an ankle biter.)

Sometimes, Insecurity shows up more like the Hound of the Baskervilles: dark and really, really scary.

This has happened before (the insecurity part, and the massive rewrite part). I mean, we all know that good writing is essentially rewriting, right?  So the first thing I do when facing a rewrite is I find all the good stuff that is worth keeping, because that makes me feel better.

I read through the first third and copied all the parts that were worth saving. Little bits of characterization, setting, and dialogue. The document with all my bits and pieces was a jumbled mess, so (because I don't yet have awesome software like Scrivener), I had to figure out someway to organize it so that while rewriting, I could easily find the good stuff and fit it back in.

I organized the bits and pieces by character. So I ended up with five documents for five different characters, (kind of like a character worksheet, but in reverse). Then I made a sixth document to keep all the setting details that were worth saving.

At some point, skimming through this sixth document of setting details, my brain did the cool thing it sometimes does (not nearly often enough) and made a CONNECTION. My imagination looked at all those setting details and suddenly, eureka! - it realized that the setting was, in fact, a SIXTH character.


The ankle biter, Insecurity, was momentarily pushed aside by Inspiration, which in contrast is a lithe, shimmery little dragon, kind of like Mushu, the miniature dragon from Mulan,

but a prettier, more clever version that impresses the cricket more often.

Inspiration twined around my torn-apart story like a purring dragon-cat, sparking imaginative fire for a few days.
(this is not the purring dragon cat of Inspiration my mind had envisioned, but this was too funny not use anyway)

Then, the fire went out, and the ankle-biter was back. Because all the pretty little bits and pieces still had to be stitched back together with new words, and the new words were coming slowly and painfully and weren't nearly as pretty as Inspiration had promised.

So, I'd like to say this little story has a happy ending, where the ankle-biter got put on a leash and the purring dragon cat was enticed to stay around and continuing breathing Inspiring Sparks into my story, but the reality is I'm still limping along at rewriting. My new words, more often than not, lack voice. Lack original details. They lack tension and sensory richness and they feel like "filler."

But I write them down anyway, because my favorite quote is Jack London's: "you cannot wait for inspiration; you must go after it with a club" and if I club that fickle dragon cat with bad words then eventually he spits a few good words my direction.

It all takes time and work and that, THAT's how you keep the hounds at bay, until you discover (SPOILER! highlight to see) that the Hound of the Baskervilles of Insecurity is just an ordinary hound tricked out with phosphorous to make him look scary. End spoiler.

What animals do you imagine Insecurity and Inspiration to look like?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The omniscient narrator in all her glory

You don't see many books written with an omniscient narrator in modern literature. The omniscient narrator knows the whole story and can add her opinion about the events as they unfold, but on the flip side, it can distract from the characters themselves, keeping us from getting close to the characters and getting "into" the story. But a really, really good writer can pull it off... and I'm about to wax analytical (and fangirly) over one that worked.

Most young adult fiction is written in first person point of view (see my footnote for a famous, or perhaps notorious example).  I've read a few YA books in third person point of view (see footnote for another example), but the only two young adult books I've read with an omniscient narrator were The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak, and one I just finished: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, mostly written from Frankie's point of view but often interrupted by an anonymous narrator.

Now, I loved The Disreptuable History: not just because of the opinionated narrator but for SO MANY REASONS (which will be listed later). But before I go all fangirly about this book, first I have to analyze WHY the book makes me go all fangirly.

First, a one sentence summary of the book: Frankie is a sophomore at a boarding school and doesn't like it that her boyfriend won't tell her about the secret, all-boys club he's part of, so she secretly one-ups the boys in the club by out-performing them in all their pranks... but with unexpected consequences.

Next, I simply have to share the first spot in the book, in the first chapter, that made me fall in love with the omniscient narrator in all her glory:
By summer's end... Frankie was curvy, lithe, and possessed of enough oomph to stop teenage boys in the street when they passed her. But if we are to accurately chronicle Frankie's transformation  and so-called misbehavior in these pages, it is important to note that her physical maturation was not, at first, accompanied by similar mental developments. Intellectually, Frankie was not at all the near-criminal mastermind who created the Fish Liberation Society, and who will, as an adult, probably go on to head the CIA, direct action movies, design rocket ships or possibly (if she goes astray), preside over a unit of organized criminals. At the start of sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks was none of these things. She was a girl who liked to read, had only ever had one boyfriend, enjoyed the debate team, and still kept gerbils in a Habitrail. She was highly intelligent, but there was nothing unusually ambitious or odd about her mental functioning... 
She had never been in love.
After the narrator spouts her opinion about Frankie's transformation and how it will likely lead to impressive future scenarios (head of CIA, movie director, criminal mastermind), the story immediately zooms back to a close focus on Frankie and what she's going through right before school starts, and the narrator doesn't interrupt for a while, which is important. Because we've got to get close to Frankie in order to get INTO the story, not just be amused from a distance like the narrator is.

How to use an omniscient narrator but still form close connections to the characters:

1) an omniscient narrator can start a story off with a real flare, by raising anticipation about cool things to come in the story, by inserting wry/witty opinion, and by layering on hyperbole

2) after a short introduction, the omniscient narrator has to step down from the spotlight and let the main character(s) become the focus, so we can connect with them

3) the narrator can reappear again at the beginning of some, but not all chapters to impart a little more opinion-laden information, but must pass the spotlight back to the characters after a few pages. Any information imparted by the narrator before the real action begins again with the characters should be delivered with distinctive voice and must be somewhat quirky information, maybe even a bit soap-opera-y, (for instance, details about Frankie's parents' divorce), but also modestly insightful.

4) The narrator can appear again at the end to impart some omniscient wisdom about how things all turned out, but the characters must also be allowed to show the same thing by their actions.

Okay, now that I've got all the analytical stuff out of the way, here we go with the fangirly part. I LOVED this book because:

1) it reminded me of a version of The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler for teenagers

2) loved how Frankie was a strategist: how she thought about everything before she said anything; she'd consider all sorts of possibilities and consequences in a matter of seconds and then (almost always) come up with a response that kept people guessing about her

3)  loved how Frankie beat the boys at their own game in so many clever ways, but also, she was vulnerable, too (can't go into much details without being spoilery about that part)

4) loved how Frankie manipulated language (like using "nocuous" as a word, the opposite of innocuous)

5) loved the pranks she came up with

6) I loved the ending, so perfectly bittersweet: how Frankie gained something very important to her, but lost something too, but most importantly "she will not be what other people tell her to be"

End fangirl part, and on to footnote part:


Lots of discussion and examples of the different types of narrators and point of views for fiction can be found from far more reputable sources than myself, but of course I want to share examples from my own experience because it allows me to showcase books I love.

So, here are three examples of different points-of-view from the beginning paragraphs of three famous books.

First person (main character identified by use of "my" and "I")
My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.
(If you know what famous book this is from, tell in the comments; then again, you might not want to admit you know what book this is from).

Third person limited (main character identified by name and by his/her perceptions)
Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark--in the dead of winter the sun didn't rise until eight--but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze.
                                 -from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Third person omniscient: (main character identified by name, but described by a narrator or storyteller)
Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock. Certainly upsetting enough to disturb Frankie's conservative mother, Ruth, and to rile several boys in Frankie's New Jersey neighborhood to thoughts (and actions) they'd never contemplated. 
                               - From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Do you have any memorable stories told by omniscient narrators?

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