Or at least, my parody series WAS complete until they released that eighth book yesterday. I'm ignoring that detail for now.
Now I get to bring my attention back to my own novels, which have been a tad neglected during this process, but which I'll be happy to dive into again.
Hope you're having a lovely summer!
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, condensed
CHAPTER ONE: LET’S START WITH A LITTLE WHINGING
HARRY: The Dursleys are mean and my wizard friends aren’t telling me the Voldemort news and I’m grumpy. I mean, yes, that’s my usual mood for most of the series, but I’m REALLY FEELING IT this book, you guys.
So I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in order to (finally!) round out my condensed parody collection. And here was this I came across at the start of chapter 16:
"Hermione had actually progressed to vanishing kittens"
Another item for the list of times the Hogwarts curriculum really disturbs me. Making KITTENS VANISH FOREVER? How is this okay, and not Unforgivable? Or even if it's okay under wonky wizarding ethics, how is it fine with Hermione, who gets all up in arms about house-elves' rights? Apparently the Vanishing spell doesn't just make things invisible, either; it sends them into "non-being." So that's better than Avada Kedavra...how?
And the book even says they were moving up from Vanishing snails to Vanishing mammals, because mammals are much more difficult to Vanish, so therefore the POINT in this class is to learn how to make living creatures vanish forever. When are they planning to use that? Defense against bear attacks? Surely Stunning is more ethical there. (And then why don't they just Vanish Umbridge or Voldemort...ha...)
It's a messed-up school, all right. But I guess it still makes for a good story.
In her books about happiness and habits, writer Gretchen Rubin delineates what she calls the Four Tendencies. They are, in short:
Upholders: respond readily to both outer and inner expectations (that is, expectations from others and from themselves)
Questioners: meet inner expectations, but question outer expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
Obligers: meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
Rebels: resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
You can take the quiz here to find out your own tendency. (I’m a Questioner. My thought when that answer came up: “Hmm, I don’t know, I really thought I was an Upholder. I question the...oh.”)
More here on the tendencies if you’re curious.
But for now, I thought it’d be fun to examine where the characters in my Greek myth trilogy fell on this framework (The Chrysomelia Stories, starting with Persephone's Orchard). So here goes!
Hades and Persephone: both Questioners. In ancient days, Hades resists conforming to the lifestyle of his fellow immortals, and instead finds his way into the Underworld and takes up residence there, asking questions all the while. Persephone, similarly, resists her mother’s expectations about what her marriage and life should look like, and follows her curiosity toward a life with Hades instead. In the modern day, their reincarnated selves behave much the same.
Aphrodite: Obliger. Sure, she’s quite the independent and strong woman, but she does basically please others (and teach them to please themselves) as the point of her existence. However, she does also seek to please herself a good deal too, so…I wonder if Aphrodite is actually a rather unconventional Upholder?
Dionysos: Rebel. The very god of rebels! In my version, mind you, he starts out more as an Obliger, living only to please his lover. But in being saved from death and becoming reborn, he strikes out on his own and decides to devote his life to bringing revelry and unrestrained pleasure to the masses, and enjoy some casual worship along the way. Tabitha, in the modern day, shows her Rebel personality too, by only going to class or showing up for people if and when she feels like it, but she does love her friends and will travel the world to see them or lay down her life to save them, simply because she wants to.
Hekate: Upholder. She has her insecurities and sometimes feels out of place, what with her peculiar gifts and upbringing, but the woman can do well-nigh anything. And you can rely on her 100% if she says she’s got your back. Same goes for Zoe, in the modern world.
Hermes: Questioner. He’s charismatic and engaging, but holds his cards close to the vest, always; you’ll never know the extent of the divine trickster’s clever thoughts. He has complex plans and he’ll see them through, but can you rely on him to do as expected or asked? Absolutely not. Not in this lifetime or any other.
Poseidon: Obliger. He uses his water magic to protect his loved ones, even when he has to keep his powers a secret, and even when it means being lonely. But he does show some of what Gretchen Rubin calls Obliger Rebellion, in breaking the rules to rescue Amphitrite from her life of near-slavery. But even that is done to make HER life happier (as well as his own).
The villains (leaders of the cult Thanatos)
Quentin: Upholder. She’s got nerves of steel, never lets emotion or setbacks get in the way, and sticks to her plans and her mission all the way to the end.
Landon: Obliger. He’s not really cut out for this villain job, honestly, but he wants to do his teammates proud, and now he’s in it too deep to get out easily, so he’s going to try to see this through, to impress them. He really is.
Tracy: Questioner. This evil cult needs a shake-up, if you ask him, and he’s got some new ideas he’s going to try. And he really doesn’t care if you don’t like them. He believes in them and he’s going to do them anyway.
Try the Four Tendencies on your own favorite characters!
I'm happy to be able to liven up this Monday by bringing back Kaitlin Bevis, author of the Daughters of Zeus series! We've been talking about our Greek myth series and the different ways we've handled the characters of the gods, so here she is on this week's topic. Welcome, Kaitlin! Take it away...
Last time I was a guest on this blog, I touched on the surprising similarities between the characters in my Daughters of Zeus series and Molly Ringle’s Chrysomelia Stories Series. Today, I’d like to talk about two characters who couldn’t be more different.
Poseidon and Ares.
Now, there were no saints in the Greek Pantheon. To create a sympathetic character for a retelling there are some major things that the writer either needs to reframe or just ignore. The characters of Poseidon and Ares in both of our books are great demonstrations of that in action on both sides of the concept.
Take Poseidon for instance. In Mythology Poseidon could be benevolent to his followers. His myths inspired the kind, thoughtful, fun god we see in Molly’s series (adorably portrayed by Liam, who funnily enough, reminds me of my Triton), Rick Riordan’s series, and more.
Myths also portray him a violent rapist with control issues and a mercurial temper. Which is more reflective of my Poseidon.
In both my story and Molly’s, there’s something deeper beneath the surface. Both of our Poseidon’s are driven by complex motivations and strong beliefs. We just let them drive our characters in different directions.
Ares is an example where I looked the other way. In mythology, Ares was rash and violent. He had a reputation for being blood thirsty. In Roman Mythology a rape committed by him set the entire empire into motion.
But my Ares is very much a sympathetic love interest. The second generation gods in my books are almost always their own foils. Persephone is basically the goddess of spring and rebirth and she’s terrified of change, Aphrodite’s the goddess of Love and wouldn’t know a healthy relationship if it fell into her lap, and Ares, poor misunderstood Ares is a god of war who hates conflict. I figured if he was “Zeus’s most hated son,” then it was probably because he was as far from him in characterization as possible.
Zeus is a character Molly and I are very much in agreement with being an ass.
Sometimes people get very frustrated when a god they’ve heard a million terrible things about is portrayed in a kind light. (Don’t believe me, look up reviews for Disney’s Hercules). But in every Greek retelling, the author has had to reframe someone as a sympathetic and likable character. The original Greek Gods were monsters. Every one. They were wonderfully complex monsters that had moments of shining humanity and kindness, but those moments are easily overshadowed with only a minute’s research. But, like time, these characters have evolved. As a society we have evolved and changed. We don’t admire the same things we used to. We look down upon things we used to think were just fine. As we evolve, so should our heroes.
* * *
Kaitlin Bevis spent her childhood curled up with a book and a pen. If the ending didn't agree with her, she rewrote it. Because she's always wanted to be a writer, she spent high school and college learning everything she could to achieve that goal. After graduating college with a BFA and Masters in English, Kaitlin went on to write The Daughters of Zeus series.
Visit Kaitlin at her website, and browse all her books at Goodreads. Ask for them anywhere your favorite books are sold!
What I pinned to my purse this week. Almost literally the very least I could do, but I couldn't not do it.
A cross-post from my Tumblr:
I’d like to share with you how our youngest child learned and dealt with the shocking, traumatizing truth that same-sex couples can marry in the U.S.:
Our 10-year-old son: I love Lionel Messi. [A famous soccer player.]
Our 6-year-old son: Are you going to MARRY him?
10-year-old: No! He’s way too old for me.
6-year-old: Also, boys can’t marry other boys.
10-year-old, me, and Dad, in unison: Yes they can.
6-year-old, cheerfully unconcerned: Oh. Okay.
(In case you wanted very anecdotal evidence that homophobia is learned, not inborn.)
I know I thank you a lot, but I wanted to again, for supporting me as a writer, and supporting me as a member of the LGBT community. Thank you for writing how you do. Thank you for being someone I can comfortably send this message to.
That's part of a message I got today from a young woman I've never met, but with whom I've exchanged several emails about writing and publishing--and, occasionally, LGBT issues. Look, I'm a boring, straight, stay-at-home mom who writes about fictional people, some of whom are LGBT, because I like all kinds of love stories. But I consider myself practically a poser; or at least, not really someone who's putting near as much effort as she could into being the good ally I'd like to be. So what kind of world are we living in where someone as half-assed about LGBT kindness as me is getting thanked for being someone who's safe to send a message to about such issues? It breaks my freaking heart. We've come a long way, but we have a still longer way to go yet.
If you're an ally too, and you haven't said so, say so. Pin a rainbow heart on your jacket. Chances are, someone out there is going to feel comforted when they see it. Even if they aren't feeling up to saying anything.
I handed this out, along with pretty bookmarks, at the B&N events I attended over the weekend. (Which were fun, by the way! Got to talk to lots of cool book-loving and book-creating people.) Feel free to use it for your character-creating needs.
WRITING WORKSHEET: DRAW UP A CHARACTER
What’s your character’s name and how old are they?
Where did they grow up and where do they live now?
Relationship with parents or other family members: what’s that like?
Who are their best friends? Why do they get along with them, and what conflicts do they have with them?
What’s their living space like? (Tidy, cluttered, plain, colorful, stark, cushy, noisy, quiet, cramped, spacious…)
Do they like books, music, shows, films? What kinds?
Financial situation: rich, poor, somewhere in between? Where does their money come from?
What do they look like? How do they dress, and do their hair and jewelry and makeup?
What state of health are they in? Any chronic conditions or disabilities?
What was/is their school like? How were their grades? Which subjects were they good at, and which were they bad at? Did they go to college (or plan to), and if so, to study what?
What do they do for a living (for characters old enough to work)? What would they like to do instead, if different? Or for young characters, what do they want to do when they grow up?
Romantic relationships: who are they attracted to? Who have they dated, if anyone? How did those relationships go?
What religious affiliations do they have, if any? What are their views on spirituality and religion?
What is their ethnicity or cultural background?
What political beliefs do they hold?
How’s their sense of humor? Do they laugh a lot, or not much? What do they find funny?
How’s their temper? Do they get in fights and arguments a lot, or not much?
What does your character want most—or think they want most, when the story starts? (They might find they truly want something different by the end.)
What does your character fear most, or struggle with the most? What’s holding them back from getting what they want?
What’s their happiest memory? And their most traumatic memory?
How would their personality be described by those who know them? How would the character describe their own personality?
Some of this will be used in your story and some won’t, but it’s all important for you to know as the writer!
Though I rarely like to emerge from my quiet attic and face the public, I've consented to do so for the next couple of weekends in order to chat about my Greek myth trilogy. So for those in the Seattle area, here is where I will be. All are free events, no reservations required. And I do hope you will come join me!
In celebration of Barnes & Noble Teen Book Fest:
Friday, June 10, 1:00-3:00 p.m.: Downtown Bellevue B&N, hanging out with graphic novelists, artists of posters and cover art, and other creative types
Saturday, June 11, 3:00-4:00 p.m.: Southcenter B&N, signing books with fellow paranormal YA author Gloria Craw
Sunday, June 12, 1:00-3:00 p.m.: Northgate B&N, book signing followed by writing workshop panel with Adaptive Studios
And then the following weekend, out on the street:
Saturday, June 18, Morgan Junction Festival, Meet the Authors booth: my half-hour time slots for hanging out and talking about writing are at 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
May you get out and about and enjoy some books, there or elsewhere!
You get this impression not only in Harry Potter, but in Game of Thrones and other fandoms. We see, or at least hear of, armies and other groups made up of thousands or millions of people, and we know we're dealing with a world fairly vast and large, yet all the widely-strewn characters keep bumping into each other within it. And when you do need an army of millions, they aren't there and you end up with seven or eight familiar faces doing the heroic defending. (GoT does have people hiring entire armies, I know. But at the same time, they also frequently have people traveling hundreds of miles and randomly encountering someone they know. And you occasionally get the weird impression that some entire kingdoms have, like, fifty or sixty people living there.)
TV Tropes does have the "It's a Small World After All" trope and the "Contrived Coincidence" trope, which both overlap what I'm describing, but are not quite the same thing. Thoughts? Anyone else have the Not Enough People For This World impression in other material?
Today I am delighted to spin the spotlight onto my friend and fellow Northwest author, Pam Stucky! Pam is celebrating the release of her newest novel, The Secret of the Dark Galaxy Stone, second in her YA time-travel adventure series, following up on book 1, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse.
She's humoring me by answering some questions today about her writing life, and her answers have made me laugh several times, so I think you'll enjoy them too. Here they are—enjoy!
You’ve written novels in epistolary format (the Wishing Rock series), non-fiction travel guides (Pam on the Map), and lately a YA sci-fi series (Balky Point Adventures)—a very cool variety of genres! Are there other genres you’d like to try writing someday? How about any genres you’ll probably never write?
I've actually also written a screenplay, which, while not technically a genre, was completely different and very fun—a totally different challenge. In screenplays, everything you write has to be something that can be acted. So you can't say, "She was a woman with thirty years of wasted therapy behind her"; you have to figure out: how do I *show* that in a way that an actor can act it? It was difficult but a fantastic exercise, and I think (hope) it helped improve my writing, at least a bit! And even as I write the A's to your Q&A, I'm also at the very beginning of a murder mystery. (It seriously took me a while to get up the guts to google "how to murder someone and make it look like an accident." I swear, it's writing research!!! I swear!!) I'm not sure if it'll be a book or a screenplay yet, but this, too, is an intriguing challenge. Trying to create a mystery is like doing a puzzle backwards: first you figure out the whole picture, then you figure out in which order you should reveal the pieces. Okay, not exactly backwards. But it's definitely a puzzle.
What genre will I never write? Hm ... I would never say never. As with the screenplays and the mysteries, everything is a new challenge and therefore interesting. However, I'm less likely to delve into romance, I suppose. I'm going back and forth on whether I'd ever write a western. Probably not. I tend to think less of "genre" than I do of "what story is interesting to me," though. So if I were to think of an interesting romance or western, I'd give it a try, for sure.
In the Balky Point books, which character was easiest for you to relate to? And who was the most challenging?
I'm always amused when people think one character or another is more "me" than another—because, honestly, I feel like every character carries some elements of myself. I think the main characters tend to be my more public selves—Ruby in the Wishing Rock series; Emma in the Balky Point books. But in the Balky Point books, the Charlies and Dr. Waldo were so easy and fun to write, because they're just my playful selves. (As I'm writing this, I'm noticing: "selves" is a weird word when you look at it!)
I think the most challenging thing for me to write, always, are the bits of conflict. Which, if I'm doing my job, is supposed to come up a good bit in writing! In real life, I'll go to great lengths to avoid conflict. But books need it. So I'll say the antagonists, and the unresolved conflicts, I really have to consciously work on those.
Travel obviously inspires your writing a good deal, in the fiction as well as the travel guides. Do you have plans to visit any new locales (and write about them) in the next year or two?
According to my bank account, there are no travel plans in the near future. But that hasn't stopped me from planning! I visited Australia when I was in college and have been wanting to go back ever since. Lately I've been planning a trip to Western Australia, so I am ready to go when I can. It's such an under visited place, and that's part of what draws me: the possibility of discovery. I would love to be able to spend a couple months Down Under, actually. In my latest book, The Secret of the Dark Galaxy Stone, my characters took the trip for me to the town of Lightning Ridge, in New South Wales, Australia. I went there on my college trip, but for the book I "had to" do more research. I "drove" down the roads using Google Earth (is that the one where you can get to street level?), and their tourism center sent me a huge packet of information. I feel like I've just been there again!
I also can't wait to get back to Switzerland. I'm 7/8 Swiss, and my family took a heritage trip to Switzerland in 2007, tracing our roots. It felt like home, somehow; like my genes recognized it. I want to go back. Maybe in winter, sometime, to one of the carless towns in the mountains. Me, a cozy cabin in the snow, some chocolate and fondue and Swiss wine (it's delicious but they only export 1% of what they produce!). Heaven!
I love that you use humor so often in your writing too. Who/what are your favorite sources of comedy when you need cheering up?
Do you know, this question really stumped me. I rarely seek out comedy, but I really should. There is nothing like a good laugh, like that laugh where you're laughing so hard there's no sound coming out of you and you can hardly breathe ... that's the best! I need to seek out more comedy. I do know that whenever I come across some old Whose Line Is It Anyway episodes, I stop and watch. That comedy that comes from improv, nothing matches that. I actually took an improv class once. I can't remember why. One key lesson that I remember, though, is that you have to let the comedy flow from each moment. You can't pre-plan what's going to be funny in improv, and then try to somehow guide the scene toward your plan; that will never work. The humor comes from seeing a moment, and seeing the humor in that moment. To that end, I'd say that I think of myself as a good observer, and maybe that's part of it. Being an observer, combined with being able to connect random dots, that's where humor comes from, maybe.
I think, too, that what's important in humor is recognizing that humor is not a standalone emotion. Rarely are things only funny. Usually there's something else in there, some recognition of human truth. Recognition that we're all in this together, and "this," life, is pretty odd sometimes. That's why sometimes when you try to re-tell something that was hilarious at the time, you can't. You end up saying "You had to be there," because it wasn't just about the words. It was about the connection, and the situation, and the history of the people involved, their relationship ... humor is so thick, so deep and dense. I think that's why it's hard to do it when you try. The best way to be funny is not to try. I know that's not really helpful, but I think it's true.
You mention A Wrinkle in Time as an influence for the Balky Point books. What other YA books have been an inspiration for you and your work?
Well, there's this author named Molly Ringle, whose delight in the written word is an absolute inspiration ...
First, let me say that I hate labels, and among the labels I hate most are book genre labels. When I write, I write stories I am interested in reading (or, in the case of screenplays, seeing). I don't set out to write a genre. People have told me the Balky Point books are actually more middle grade ... I think their reasoning is that there's no sex, little violence, no dystopia, so it can't be YA because it's too tame. At the same time, I very purposely didn't "dumb down" my writing. There are a lot of "big words" that middle grade kids wouldn't know. Which is fine; my purpose there is that we learn by reading, right? If they're exposed to something they don't know, that's great! One of my favorite compliments of The Universes Inside the Lighthouse came from my niece — who, by the way, spent half an hour telling me everything she loved about the book when she first read it. Anyway, she said, "It gives you a lot to think about." Or something like that. I thought, yes, that's what I want. I want people to think.
What I find interesting is that a YA book is first and foremost a YA book — then it's sci-fi or adventure or fantasy or whatever else. YA does a better job, I think, of recognizing that life is not segmented in the way books are. Life encompasses everything, and I don't see why books can't, too.
So, back to your question. The Fault in Our Stars made me weep so bad ... I was on a plane to Toronto when I was reading it, and I got toward the end and I thought, I need to stop reading this on the plane. I am about to go into a very loud, very wet, very ugly cry, and I don't know that I want to do that on a plane. The fact that John Green was able to elicit such strong emotions from me (and so many others) is inspirational. The Hunger Games books actually sort of disturb me in how popular they are, because I feel like their popularity points to something we've lost. (But that's a whole other discussion!) Still, the writing was so compelling; it kept me reading even while I found myself disturbed. And OF COURSE Harry Potter, which is such an amazing series that, frankly it transcends genre completely. The way JK Rowling built a world so vivid that each of us feels we know it inside and out is indescribable. I aspire to that, one day. It's a tall order.
I don't know what genre "Choose Your Own Adventure" falls under, but I was obsessed with that series in its day, and I still think about how I could do my own version of it. I have some ideas, but haven't fallen on the right one yet. But stay tuned!
Now that The Secret of the Dark Galaxy Stone is out, what’s next for you in the writing life?
I have so many ideas I want to work on, and having just published The Secret of the Dark Galaxy Stone, I'm still in a sort of transitional zone. As mentioned above, I've had a murder mystery in my mind for a while, and I think ultimately that's what I'll settle on. I loved the Nancy Drew books growing up, and I relish a good crime drama. I think it'll be a screenplay. I know the setting; it's based on a real-life setting that I saw last summer on a road trip. I turned a corner and saw the setting in front of me, and thought: I need to set a book here. This is perfect. (I won't say just yet where it is!) I have ideas for a few other novels, and I know what book is next in the Balky Point Adventures. I also have a couple of non-fiction books I want to write. But for now, I think it's the murder mystery.
Going back to being in a transitional zone, that's something I want to talk about because I think we don't hear authors talking about this. Dark Galaxy was my ninth book, though I published all three of my travelogues at the same time, and one of my other books was more of a marketing piece ... my point being that I've hit that post-book zone let's say six times, legitimately. It took me a few books before I realized that every time, finishing the project dumped me into a sort of mini-depression, funk, malaise, whatever you want to call it. I now know to expect it, but in those early days it was disconcerting and troubling. It's a sudden sense of purposeless. Like there's a joy in not having to edit that day, but there's also this feeling of, "Now what?" It's a time when everything is possible, but at which you also sort of need to re-evaluate: am I still on the right path? Anyway, again, this could be a whole other discussion, but I wanted to mention it so other writers who may be writing their first books are aware. It happens. I know musicians who say the same thing happens post-tour. I imagine it's just a post-project thing. What I'm learning is the best thing you can do is jump into creating again. It's tempting to say, "I have worked so hard; I deserve a break!" And that's true, but we creatives are happiest when we're creating. So create.
A Sicilian immigrant almost a century ago hand-carved rooms and passageways in the hardpan beneath the thin farmland soil, and used it as a living space, a cool refuge from the hot California summer sun. Down there he also planted several fruit trees that could receive sunlight through skylight-type openings above. Fruit trees underground, people! It's my Underworld! It's even designed after the ancient Roman catacombs, so, properly Mediterranean.
Amusing addendum: my mom lived in Fresno in her teen years, and found out about this place when she was out with some friends one night. The guys said to the girls, "We're going to show you this cool place, but you have to tell NO ONE." At the time, the Underground Gardens were just fenced-off territory with "no trespassing" signs around it, so they had to sneak in with flashlights. Apparently most people in the city had no idea it was out there; you can't see much from ground level.
So my mom was late getting home after exploring the place, and her parents demanded to know where she'd been and why she hadn't called. (This was the 1950s, well before cell phones.) She finally broke down and told them about it, begging them not to get anyone in trouble. Her dad (my grandfather) declared, "Daughter, I sell real estate insurance. I know every square foot of this area, and I know there is no such place. Where were you REALLY?"
And that forever remained his final word on it. He never believed her. (He died more than 20 years ago.) But now you can tour the gardens, which really do exist! :)