Truth

I recently read Emma Thompson’s charge against the current generation of film stars, how they don’t seem to believe enough in their work to promote it, and that if one loves what one does enough, one should be willing to shout it from the rooftops.

It hit home. Because I have been doing a terrible job of promoting Magic Most Deadly. Granted, it’s not because I don’t believe in it, but it’s fear of being found annoying or arrogant or pompous. Or who knows? Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence – not it the book, but in me. I’m not going to try to psycho-analyze myself too deeply here. I just know that, to do justice to my book, I need to be bold about it.

So, truth:

Magic Most Deadly is the best damn thing I’ve ever written. It’s not highbrow literature. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But it is a fun story, with characters who became very real and individual people to me throughout the writing, and with a twisty and entertaining plot. It’s my tribute to Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Lloyd Alexander and Brian Jacques and all those writers I’ve mentioned in every one of my “Influences” posts.

I loved writing it. I even enjoyed editing and polishing it. I researched the heck out of that thing, and even enjoyed that part. I grew as a writer (and a person, really) throughout its creation process.

It’s a great little book. And I hope everyone who likes mystery and fantasy and humor and English country houses and strong-minded heroines and a hero who respects that and a fussy, stubborn mentor in the background will pick up a copy and give it a read.

Not because I want to be rich and famous and everybody loves meeeeee and thinks I’m wonderful! But because I really, I honestly do, think you’ll enjoy it.

Magic Most Deadly. Get your tickets today.

(Did I do okay, Ms Thompson?)

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Character Sketches

By which title I mean, real sketches of my characters. Not written sketches of their personalities, etc.  Art. Done by me. Not an artist.

I was trying to put together a concept sketch for a potential cover designer last week, and got enormously fed up at my inability to draw anything better than stick figures. I used to take art lessons, said I, and the pencil drawing I did of a horse has hung in my parents’ house for years and nobody ever guessed it was drawn by a kid, and the bird in pastels I did for Grandma is now hanging in my kitchen, and looks lovely, so why do my fingers no longer obey my brain when it comes to drawing?

Enough is enough, said I. If I’m going to be teaching art to my children, I better start believing and practicing some of the precepts.

A few hours later, I had come up with two reasonable sketches – one of Maia, and one of Len.

They aren’t perfect. If I were to draw them again, and again, and again, I know I could get them better.

But you know what? I like them just the way they are. And I think they convey a lot of strength and personality that wouldn’t necessarily show in a more polished and perfected piece.

So here, without further ado, is the first public appearance of Miss Maia Whitney and Mr Lennox Davies, co-protagonists of Magic Most Deadly:

Maia Whitney

Maia Whitney

Lennox Davies

Lennox Davies

After finishing Len’s portrait, I was bitten by the art bug, and now every time I sit down for a few moments you can find me picking up a pencil and paper and working away on noses, eyes, and ears. I drew a couple fairies for my daughters to play with, and even got bold and attempted a unicorn (er … definitely need work in the direction. Proportions were WAY off).

After telling myself for years that “I wish I could draw, but I’m just not an artist,” it’s fun to prove myself wrong. Anyone can become an artist, especially if you’re willing to accept that your first attempts will not be great.

Who knows, maybe by the time I’m ready to publish the next Maia and Len book, I’ll have even better portraits of them ready to go!

And speaking of publishing, and speaking of art …

I found a cover designer! Amanda of Fly Casual, and she did the most amazing job, I am so blown away. I can’t wait to share the cover with all of you. So that’s what I’m going to do. NEXT WEEK. Monday the 16th.

If anyone wants to help me share the cover, let me know in the comments and I will email you the details. In the meantime, go check out Fly Casual! Amanda is a wonderful graphic designer, and a joy to work with.

Boston

I am thinking, along with much of the rest of the world, about Boston tonight.

We still don’t know many details of what’s happened. I can’t bring myself to look at photos (not only because of the stark horror of them, but because the thought of someone deliberately choosing to take a picture of people suffering and in pain rather than helping those people fills me with rage – and yes, I understand that for some people it is their job, but it still enrages me, reasonably or not) or watch any video.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law ran the Boston Marathon, with my sister there to cheer him on. I keep thinking about them, about all the what-might-have-beens. She’s expecting their first child now. I just … the possibilities shake me to my core, and the fact that the “might-have-beens” for my family are realities for others has brought me to tears more than once this afternoon.

For several years, my dad and I volunteered at the Ironman in Lake Placid. I loved being stationed on the runners’ path best of all, for the energy and joy and determination. We would come away completely drenched in Gatorade (you try handing out drinks to runners without getting soaked in the process), exhausted, with lungs hoarse from screaming encouragement to them, and so, so filled with satisfaction and delight.

This … this hits me close to the heart.

Earlier today, before I found out about Boston, I finally finished a “hero adventure dress” for my five-year-old, her reward for diligently practicing walking with straight feet until it became natural (her pigeon-toed stance was becoming a serious problem – she couldn’t walk without tripping). She put it on, and her silver sparkly shoes and said “Where’s my sword? I’m ready to go fight the monsters, and be a hero!”

I went to share that tidbit on Twitter … and promptly saw the news about Boston.

I went back and read my reaction post to Newton later this afternoon: Light and Love. It helped, to remind myself of my mantra, my firm belief that only by being light can we conquer the darkness in this world. That is my “sword.” That is how I fight the monsters.

Out of the ashes of this tragedy, I am already seeing evidence of others practicing this. Acts of kindness, of courage, of faithfulness, of hope. Of love. Petty differences swept aside, suddenly we are all humans together.

My heart aches tonight. But I will hold to my faith, and I will be a light, and I will practice love, and above all, I will pray for healing and mercy and justice.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

This is the only way we can stop the encroaching dark.

Once Upon a Time, and Good vs Evil

Once Upon a Time is one of my favorite shows (I almost wrote “new” favorite shows, but since it is more than halfway through its second season, I can’t really call it new anymore, can I? I still think of NCIS:LA as new, though, and it’s in its fourth season. I guess it just takes me a really long time to get used to a show!). I am not quite as enamored of it as I was in its first season, but I still really enjoy it. I’d enjoy it more if all of the characters except, possibly, Gold and Granny, didn’t do really stupid things on a really regular basis, and then act shocked when said stupid decisions come back to haunt them, but even so. It’s a fun show to watch.

Last Sunday’s episode really got me thinking. (Ahead lie theme-spoilers, though I won’t be giving any details away. Still, stop reading if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know anything about it.)

*****

*****

*****

Still here? Right.

At the end of this episode, it looked like Evil had taken another giant leap forward toward defeating good. And Snow was sick of it. Tired of doing the right thing every time, and coming out poorer for it. Tired of always showing mercy and having it come back around to haunt her. Tired of always taking the high road, when it seemed only to hurt those she loved.

David tried to comfort her, but let’s face it, David is really good at hitting things and making noble-sounding proclamations, not so much at … well, anything else. So his comforting speech and meant-to-be-encouraging words fell flat. In fact, he was lucky, because if I’d been Snow, I would have decked him for his lame, cliched words. She just basically ignored him. Kind, kind Snow.

Here’s what he should have said:

“You are absolutely right. We have been fighting evil our entire lives, and every time we think we’ve won, it crops back up and steals our happy ending. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? We aren’t fighting for our own happy ending. We’re fighting for Emma’s happy ending, for Henry’s. If we are just fighting for ourselves, how are we any different? Regina wants her happy ending, and we want ours. The means we take to that end are different, but they’re both driven by selfish motivations.

“What makes us different, is that we aren’t just fighting for ourselves. We are fighting to make the world – both this world and our other home – better for everyone. Safer. We are fighting so our daughter and grandson can live in freedom, instead of in bondage to evil.

“And yes, I know that you are tired. It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to want to lay this burden down. It’s understandable that you feel it isn’t worth it. That’s why I’m here. I still believe. I’ll carry you through this period of doubt, and someday, when I’m the one struggling, you’ll carry me. That’s what we do for each other.”

I think sometimes, especially in fantasy, it’s almost easier to make Evil nuanced than Good. We’re been trained to go against the cliched “bad for the sake of being bad” guy, giving them all kinds of depth and interest, but in this era of anti-heroes, it can be hard to remember what it is that makes the true hero stand out.

I recently re-read Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin, and while it isn’t the brilliant, gripping prose I remembered it being when I was eleven and enthralled by it all, parts of it did still stand out to me with a shining, brilliant light. The notion of true heroism being fighting against the dark even when you know it’s hopeless, even when you know you will lose, simply because it is the Right Thing, and because you have faith that eventually, even if you’re not there to see it, light will overcome the darkness, and you want to be a part, however small, of that light.

I’m interested to see where OUAT goes with this “Dark Snow” theme they’ve brought up. I hope they’ll use it as a chance to bring in some of these deeper motivations behind “being good.” Given their track record, I kind of doubt it, but I can hope, right?

Do you watch Once Upon a Time? Are there any TV shows that you do watch that cause you to ponder philosophical questions on a semi-regular basis? Do you think it’s harder to make a hero interesting than it is to make the villain sympathetic?

The Importance of Story

Heroes, heroism, and what all that entails, is a fairly common theme on this blog. It wasn’t until I read through Diana Wynne Jones’ essay collection, followed by The Wand in the Word, that I started to understand some of my impulses that drive me to contemplate such ideas, and to search for ways to bring them into my stories without even realizing it.
We as a society, especially here in America, are in desperate need of heroes. Not even real-life heroes, though those are (obviously) important, but heroes of mythical stature, for us to look up to and emulate without even knowing it. America is a funny land: we have absorbed so many cultures to make up this beautiful, multi-facted nation, and yet we haven’t embraced any of their myths – nor do most of us embrace the mythos of the Native Americans, which is beautiful and rich and deep.
Instead of myths and legends reaching back into a shadowy past, showing us heroes and heroines and quests and striving for a goal more noble, we have generations of Americans raised on Disney princesses and Power Rangers as children, vampires and dystopias as teenagers, gossip magazines and reality television as young adults. Not all of those things are bad – but they aren’t anything close to enough.
We have no King Arthur, no rich carpet of legend rolling out beneath our feet, for us to tread upon and absorb without even knowing it. The closest thing we have in this country to a cultural mythos are comic book heroes, and while those have their own value, they don’t have the weight of age behind them.
That’s not something I can change. I don’t have a TARDIS, I can’t pop back in time to create another Beowulf.
But I, personally, have a strong sense of the importance of heroes. As a kid, I fought imaginary dragons in my back yard. I believed in standing up for the underdog, even in my kindergarten class, wearing a pretty dress with my hair in two long braids, not letting anyone bully Thomas because he didn’t fit in. How did that happen (aside from my parents’ teaching)?
The books I read, the Stories I learned. What books did I grow up reading? Books by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Brian Jacques, Edward Eager, E Nesbit, L Frank Baum …
People say fantasy doesn’t matter? That fantasy books aren’t Real Books?
It is fantasy, myth, legend, the hero seeking to save others, the beauty of the quest through danger to achieve salvation, that will rescue this world from falling into utter darkness.
In the end, fantasy books are the most Real Books out there. They just might be the most important books you will ever read.
They are certainly the most important books I will ever write.

Television Heroes

I’ve done a list of my favorite literary heroes, but never of favorite tv heroes. Silly me! Lately I’ve been looking at the rather disparate list of characters I love on tv, and trying to figure out what it is about them that draws me – whether there is one common theme, or if I like each for completely different reasons. So then, naturally, I decided to blog about it.

Here, then, is my list of top five television heroes, with one thrown in as a bonus at the end.

Chakotay (Star Trek: Voyager):  Carl and I recently started re-watching the Voyager series (re-watching for me, first time for him – true love!), and I was astounded to discover that it was nowhere near as awesome as I remembered from when I was watching it as a teenager. I mean, the basis is awesome, and the acting is brilliant, but the writing, oh the writing. It’s pretty much “The Janeway Show,” and none of the other characters really get much development until Seven-of-Nine shows up. Then it’s the “Janeway and Seven Show.” And that sucks, because really, it could have been so amazing. And Chakotay was one of the most amazing characters on it. A basically kind, gentle man with enormous compassion and such strong ethics, forced by his principles into a life of violence. So much conflict in him, and clashing loyalties, and his rarely-seen but wickedly delightful sense of humor … yeah, even after all these years, and even with the major issues I now see with Voyager, Chakotay is still one of my all time favorite television heroes.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs (NCIS): Ah, Gibbs. I knew I loved him from the moment I heard his preferred method of dealing with politicians was to shoot them (actually, that’s his preferred method of dealing with most people, come to think of it). Taciturn, rude, terrible people skills … Gibbs still manages to win the hearts and loyalty of those who work with him. Probably because along with all those negative traits, he’s also fiercely loyal to his people, protective, deeply loving, and almost always right. The NCIS team really is like one big family, and Gibbs is unquestionably the father-figure to them all (well, aside from Ducky, who is most definitely the eccentric great-uncle of the clan). If I were ever in mortal danger, it’s Special Agent Gibbs I’d want protecting me.
Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly): I hate to admit that I was kind of on the fence regarding Mal at first. It wasn’t until the end of the episode “Safe” that I made up my mind on him. When Simon was asking him why Mal came back for Simon and River, Mal says “You’re my crew.” “Yeah, but you don’t even like me,” Simon pointed out. “You’re my crew,” Mal said blankly. “Why are we still talking about this?” And that’s when I fell irrevocably in love (not really, Carl). I love Mal’s stubborn loyalty, the fact that he will do anything at all to protect his people, whether he likes them or not. The fact that he never, ever gives up, even when he is utterly beaten just adds to his endearing qualities. As someone whose stubbornness goes far beyond reasonable limits (be quiet, Carl), I like seeing that portrayed as a good quality in fictional characters.
Carson Beckett (Stargate: Atlantis): It is entirely possible that much of my fondness for Carson is influenced by his adorable Scottish accent, along with his habit of calling people “son” or “love” or even “wee man” (that last one delivered with killing sarcasm). Mostly why I like him, though, is for his Everyman qualities. In a company made up of scientists, military persons, and administrators, Carson is the one normal guy (though a perfectly brilliant MD in his own right), the one who genuinely cares for everyone, who treats each person as an important individual, who is never too busy with his own tasks to take the time out for others. He’s perfectly sweet, and did I mention the Scottish accent?
The Tenth Doctor (Doctor Who): The Ninth Doctor was my first introduction to the show. I’m still tremendously fond of him, but oh, the Tenth Doctor. That unique blend of remarkable kindness and ruthlessness, compassion and cold-bloodedness … not to mention his delightful sense of humor, his zest for life. His occasional rudeness, usually followed by sheepishness at having been rude adds to his charm. And his loneliness just breaks my heart. Weep, weep! If Gibbs is the person I most want to have my back if I’m in danger, the Tenth Doctor is the one I think would be the most fun to have around when I’m in peril. Even if he caused much of that peril to begin with.
And the promised bonus: Sherlock Holmes, my dream husband.

I expected to like Watson best in the latest BBC adaptation of Sherlock. On the surface, I do like him best. Sherlock is an egotistical maniac, cold-hearted and quite thoroughly amoral, self-described as a “high-functioning sociopath.”

And yet … it was Sherlock that I dreamed was my husband (literally – I dreamed Carl and Sherlock were the same person). It was quite a friendly dream, actually – Sherlock/Carl, John Watson and myself, solving a mystery together, the two of them totally in character, nothing racy or anything I’d be embarrassed to have my mother read on this blog. Sherlock/Carl and I just happened to be quite happily married, as well. And somehow, every time I watch the show, I find myself more drawn to him. No idea why. I’ve quit trying to analyze that one.

“John, stop chattering on this phone – the game’s afoot!”

So, in looking over this list, describing the characters, I am indeed seeing a pattern. Ruthlessness when necessary, compassion and kindness, fierce loyalty and protectiveness toward “their” people, and a wry sense of humor. Not exactly the dashing, noble hero of traditional fiction, nor even the typical anti-hero such as Han Solo or Jack Sparrow … but it works for me. And also explains a lot of the hero-characters I find myself writing!

Who are some of your favorite tv heroes, and why?

Disclaimer: I really don’t watch a whole lot of tv. So I’m sure there are some fabulous characters out there that I just haven’t discovered. If I left your favorites off, it’s not necessarily because I don’t like them! 


Disclaimer #2: I know there aren’t any female characters on here. I’m going to do a post later on with favorite tv female characters. I’m not sure why I separated them, except that maybe that helps me squeeze two posts out of this topic instead of one? Or maybe that it’s so much harder to find strong female leads on tv (which is a post in and of itself, but not one that I think I’m fit to tackle), so it’s going to take me a bit longer to figure out five that I really love as much as I love the five mentioned here. But I’ll get there eventually!

Influences: Terry Brooks

I’ve always liked the name Will. William seems stodgy to me, and Bill boring (or, as one William I know once put it, “a bill is a duck’s mouth, NOT a person’s name”), but I do like Will.

I put the responsibility for that squarely on the shoulders of two authors: Susan Cooper, for her fantastic Will Stanton; and Terry Brooks, for Wil Ohmsford of The Elfstones of Shannara.

I still vividly remember finding this book for the first time. It was at our old library, the one we’d been going to since before I was born. I had looked through the entire children’s section and realized that I had read, if not all the books, almost all of them, and certainly all the ones that interested me (the Goosebumps books were completely safe from ever being borrowed by me). So, for the first time ever, I crossed the middle of the library into the adult section. I have no idea how old I was.

The above cover was the first thing I saw in the adult section. The very word “elfstones” caught my interest, followed very quickly by the Robin Hood-esque characters pictured. I added it to my pile, brought it home, started reading, and was instantly immersed.

The second Brooks book I read was The Druid of Shannara, which confused me horribly until I realized we were talking two separate Ohmsford generations, here. I didn’t care so much about Walker, but I loved all the tidbits about Wren, and, not having Wikipedia at my fingertips back in those days, went back to the library and found all the Shannara books they had and began skimming them, trying to find the one that would tell me more about Wren. I finally found The Elf Queen of Shannara, and as you might have guessed, loved every word. I think I named a character “Wren” in every story I wrote for ages after that. She was awesome.

Over time, I’ve read all of the Shannara books except the short stories and graphic novels (and finally got them all in the right order), and most of the Landover series, too. I also read Sometimes the Magic Works, which is still probably my favorite book on writing, from a writer, ever (I also really love Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, but that’s more of a book on life, from a writer, than just a book on writing).
As I’ve grown and broadened my fantasy horizons, I can see a lot more of the flaws in Brooks’ writing than before. He certainly has no shame in utilizing tropes, or in using the same ideas and themes over and over (and over and over). His best books are, I think, his Word & Void books, which are gritty and dark, magic mixing with modern reality in a completely believable (and terrifying) way. The fantasy ones get repetitive after a bit, and I think the ones set in the more “modern” fantasy times (The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara books, and the High Druid books) are his weakest. My personal favorite is still Elfstones, both because it is the first I ever read, and for its characters – Wil, Amberle, Eretria, and Prince Ander.
Brooks is one of those rare writers who combines brilliant world-building with unique and dimensional characters (for the most part. Like I said, the later books get repetitive). And while someone today might dismiss him as following too many tropes, you have to remember that he is directly responsible for some of those things becoming tropes – other writers have copied off of him, turning his originality into tropes.
Sacrifice on a personal level for a greater, impersonal good is a continuing theme woven throughout his works. So is familial love, stronger than any spell. So is the seductive lies of evil contrasted with the harsh reality of good. So is the idea of one person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, refusing to give in to hatred and darkness, and turning the tide of the battle.
Cliches? Maybe. Truths that are important for people to be reminded of, even in fantasy version? Absolutely.
Not all evils can be fought with a sword (or elfstones). But evil can and must be fought every day, in all its various forms, by those who love peace, love goodness, love love itself. And I for one always appreciate the reminder of that I always get in Brooks’ works, and try to incorporate some of those truths in all my own works, whether it be the obvious point of the story or simply the truth hidden behind my writing.
Heroes don’t always look heroic, but the world needs them just the same.