Monday, June 28, 2010

That's what's in a name.

Sorry to anyone who opposed this, but I have made a final decision on the name in question all those posts ago. Let me tell you the story.

I work with a lot of paperwork on a daily basis and sometimes run across names that are familiar to me. Aaron Hyde, Ron Hatchett and Cameron Romero have all shown up and those are names that H. and I have come up for Autobots’ holoforms.

Well, today, Michael Anthony from Philadelphia passed across my desk. I laughed a lot, then looked up the address of Mr. Anthony. It is in the same neighborhood as Our Mother of Consolation church, a major location in the book. It can’t be coincidence.

So, to all of you who voted, THANKS! But I’ve been waiting for the character to assert his name and it just happened. Michael Anthony remains.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Character Notes, Part 1: The guardians

I was reading a friend's story this morning before church and found that occasionally she would excerpt her character notes when discussing her stuff. Just for fun, I decided to do some of that here. It also helps that I haven't had my USB drive since Friday, when I left it plugged into my computer at work. So this is the extent of my writing for the weekend.

So, I'm starting with the guardian group. This includes the authority figures of the book for the most part, but I'm going to focus on my own fantastic five--David and Sarah Mack, Lynn Barrett, Leticia Serrano and Andrew Farragut.

David and Sarah, obviously, are Ella's parents. I approached her relationship with them from a slightly unconventional (or conventional, depending on how you look at it) standpoint. I think one of the things that exemplifies this is a conversation with Katey that I had. I was telling her about a part of the book where Ella has to commit an act of faith by leaving her parents for a time. I was talking about how they know where she is going, but not what the end result is. Katey stopped me and said "She TOLD them about all of this? I like that!" Ella has a very open relationship with her parents; she wants to maintain trust with them because they have given her a lot of leeway in her upbringing. Some people might have exploited that, but she appreciated the amount of trust that they were showing her. Of course, David is a teacher at her school, so she can't get away with much anyway, but the point still stands.

Their relationship in the book also hinges on irony because the entire plot is woven out of certain deceptions on both parts, whether intentional or unintentional. Ella wants to keep her parents informed of what she intends to do, but hesitates to tell them the fundamental facts about her activities. They demonstrate a great deal of trust in her, but we find out midway through that they have been withholding critical information about what happened the previous summer. They all are lying to the people they trust and who trust them for the sake of protecting each other.

I also see David and Sarah in a slightly idealized way. They remind me collectively of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. It's not that Ella is wayward or misbehaving, but her friendship with Michael leads her to do things that they do not approve of at times. They don't turn a blind eye to her activities and priorities, but they are very forgiving of unforeseen consequences. One of my favorite conversations of the whole book takes place on Christmas Eve, when Ella is about to leave and her mother makes sure that she does so with the knowledge that she can always come back. It is important to all three of the Macks that she knows where her home lies.

Lynn and Leticia are a set of opposites. Lynn, like Alex, seems to be perfectly genuine and has Ella's best interests at heart. Like Ella's parents, her entire relationship with the main character is marred by crimes of omission. In Ella's parents' case, it's a crime of leaving out their knowledge of her magical abilities. In Lynn's case, she is the most honest of the enemies. She only claims to be a friend and to have been on Ella's side, but the rest of their relationship is a healthy friendship. She is critical in helping Ella. A major theme of this book is that there is too often something profoundly screwed up in the best of relationships.

The entire book stemmed from this conversation in The Matrix Reloaded:

Neo: I suppose the most obvious question is, how can I trust you?
The Oracle: Bingo. It is a pickle. No doubt about it. The bad news is there's no way if you can really know whether I'm here to help you or not, so it's really up to you. You just have to make up you on damned mind to either accept what I'm going to tell you, or reject it.

Lynn's mentoring is a great thing with sinister origins. On that level, it is comparable to Ella's relationship with Alex.

Leticia, on the other hand, is the most honest of the allies. She started out life as Lindsey Morgan, a friend of Lynn's from New York. But when I got to the scene where Ella was to meet her, an El Salvadorenan spitfire who reminded me of Hermana Portillo emerged. In her opening scene, she reminds me of Hermione Granger, which makes her a good counterpart to Ella, the Hermione Granger of the entire series. She is committed and loyal, but unimpressed by fame or legacy. She does have strong fighting tendencies, but her priorities are defensive rather than offensive.

Andrew is still on the same page, taking a strong role as a guardian. He is, if anything, a more stalwart hero type than any of the other guardians. In fact, I look forward to writing more of him the most because his role in the book changes rather drastically from Book 1 to Book 2. Leticia will evolve as well, but I think that Andrew accepts a duty that is not his and which is not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing Romance in the Shadow of Stephenie and Smith

As you all know, I am a Twilight enthusiast. I have a ticket to see Eclipse as soon as it opens (even if it took some convincing for me to go to a midnight showing with 8 a.m. work the next morning), I write on the Twilight juried archive at and I've read all of the books several times. I even have a t-shirt that I made myself for "Tanya's Denali Bed and Breakfast: We do Bachelor(ette) parties."

My sister-in-law talked to me last year about not wanting to continue reading Twilight until she finished her book because she didn't want to be influenced. In thinking about some things recently, I can understand that.

Between Twilight and Vampire Diaries, I feel as if the YA genre is inundated with slightly ridiculous gem metaphors. Edward has topaz eyes. Elena has lapis lazuli eyes. It gets worse when you think about Bella swooning over her personal Greek god and how she's always kissing his marble lips. Her favorite books are from a time of very flowery language and it shows.

On the other hand, my book is narrated by a person who thinks in very straight-forward terms. She knows all of the Twilit adjectives, but that's probably because she had them on a vocabulary list for homework, not because she looks at Alex and thinks that he has emerald orbs or something.

The subject of this blog post came up because, two nights ago, I got around to writing a specific romantic scene. Since I've been writing in a non-linear fashion, one of my first completed scenes included a quick kiss between boyfriend and girlfriend. Alex gives Ella mistletoe for her locker as a joke. Obviously, they occasionally get to engage in some PDA. But I have been working sort of backwards on their relationship because I know the end result and I need to know where the starting point is.

So, two nights ago, I wrote the first kiss and compared to the marble-snogging bliss from the meadow scene in Twilight, it was pathetically tame. But it was realistic. I rarely channel myself into Ella because she's not much like me, but this time I made an exception. I remember being a sixteen-year-old and experiencing my first kiss. I didn't think like Bella Swan. I felt giddy and light-headed and wanted to do it again and again. When I fell in love, I found a man who made me feel the same way.

So, did Ella hear a symphony while kissing petal-soft lips and gazing afterwards into emerald (more like peridot) orbs and gripping his curly, onyx-colored hair? HECK NO! She thought like a normal teenager who is too busy worrying about SAT prep to think about how she unconditionally loves her personal Greek god.

Maybe it would help if I 'shipped her with someone, but personally, I don't know if she's even met the person she'll eventually live happily-ever-after with. She's in a high school relationship that's not very healthy, she's best friends with Michael but doesn't feel that way about him... For all I know, she'll get married to Harker (character from Book 2 that I'll talk about someday).

The point of the story is not the romance of it. It's a contemporary urban fantasy thriller and I want people to relate to the romance rather than idealizing it. I probably will never have something like Twilight Moms, but I hope that there will be adults who still want to read this kind of affection.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Done With Dignity

So, here's one thing I never thought I'd put on my writing blog: WARNING: GLEE SPOILERS AHEAD! And Mistborn...

I'm a big Glee fan and have watched all of the episodes and the season finale related to something I was thinking about over the weekend. So if you haven't seen the season finale and it matters to you, don't read any further until you've seen it.








There, that should be enough, I think.

So, over the weekend, I was doing a beta job for someone's novel. It was the last 20 or so pages of their manuscript and in the middle of this segment, one sixteen-year-old character professed their love for another. I immediately wrote in my comments that while this was pretty much expected of the YA genre and high schoolers these days, it was not set up very well and was unnecessary in my opinion. One of the things I liked best about this section was that the other character did not reciprocate it.

Compare this to the season finale of Glee. All season long, they've been leading up to the Regional championships against their much-more-acrobatic-and-daring rivals, Vocal Adrenaline. Since "New Directions" creamed the competition in spite of cheating at Sectionals, we were all on tenterhooks to see if they'd go to Nationals. The last three episodes of the season established them as the moral victors and impossible to beat. And...they didn't win. They didn't even place. I admired the show for that. I cried unpredictably at the scene where they sing "To Sir With Love" after talking about what that experience has taught them this last year. It was great.

So, finally, look at Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. At the end of the first book, the classic hero dies, leaving the evil overlord still in power and his allies to eventually mop things up. Gutsy, Brandon. It was fantastic. So was the rest of the trilogy, but I remember rereading that just to make sure I didn't get that wrong.

I have to wonder how many people have thought of defying convention in such ways before. After all, George Lucas explained the stormtroopers' ineptness as "Only good guys shoot straight." Everyone knows that good wins out in the end. Everyone from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, Achilles to Aragorn would agree. Aristotle would argue that the good guys are the ones who escape with their integrity intact and few heroes actually do fit that criteria, but no matter what, truth will out, love overcomes all, etc. etc. Even in Breaking Dawn, yes, there's a huge threat, but it all works out in the end. That kind of disappointed me, to be frank.

So, I have really no qualms about conventionality, but the thing is, it now requires a lot for me to think that it's being done with dignity and without the ever-present triteness.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What I did on my writing vacation

What happens when you take two intrepid/crazy/adventurous friends and unleash them and their to-do list on Philadelphia for a weekend?

Let's see... (Warning, you may have to tilt your head on a couple of these pictures)

We left in high spirits...

Some of us were more high than others...

But the other was not to be outdone.

We had a lot of ground to cover...

So, most of the time, we ate...

And ate...

And ate...

We didn't eat here, but who has a fancy McDonald's? Apparently, the Germantown district!

And these guys are EVERYWHERE--Provo, Philadelphia...

We also found a few amazing things out. For example, did you know that...

Or that Betsy Ross is Asian?

I loved the architecture. You never knew what you were going to get.

We saw the old meet the new on more than one occasion.

But we always took time to smell the roses.

We saw Leticia's and Ella's houses.

Paid a visit to school and parish...

And we visited another place of worship...

We visited some places known to many...

And found a few treasures with fewer tourists, such as a mezuzzah on the oldest continuously-inhabited street in America...

or a church with a fallout shelter.

Mostly, we found places where I could vent my frustration at writer's block.

So, we had fun and came home to friends and family.

Any questions?