PSA: my apologies for being so lax about posting!

I would like to apologize for my lack of blogging presence recently. There are many reasons why I haven’t really been blogging, but the two primary ones are a.) I’ve been having a really rough (and busy!) few weeks, with WAAAAAYYY too many trials and quandaries ranging from family issues to money troubles to water tanks failing right in the middle of a hot shower (ARGGGGHHH) and b.) I’ve been devoting my 1-2.5 hours of writing time to my fiction work instead. My work on my novel (which began as a short story a few months ago and has now expanded) has been limited to  character intros and outlining so far, but I’m about to charge recklessly ahead into the first chapter. Expect to hear updates on The Novel as time goes on!

(I’ve also been working on a short story set in The Novel’s Asian-inspired fantasy universe, and that’s also coming along quite nicely. I’ve finished all my set-up work and am about to head into my second act, and I’m thinking this one JUST MIGHT come out publishable, if I can avoid messing up the ending.)

As for A, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in that regard. The family issues are resolving themselves (thank gods!) and I’m getting ridiculously excited for college in the fall! This gap year has been wonderful in terms of having the scheduling freedom that I’ve had, but I am finding that without the structure of an academic work schedule, I am not as good at ignoring distractions/making deadlines. Also, I love learning, and am very excited about the classes I am taking this semester, especially Women’s Studies and Anthro 101.

For the record, I also have Evil Plans for this blog, which I will reveal in due course as they come to fruition. 😉 You guys are wonderfully patient with me, and I intend to reward that patience!

ETA: The next review to go up will be of Katana by Cole Gibsen; after that, expect to see my reviews of City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare and Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott! Happy reading!

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Freeform Fridays: Writing an Ensemble Cast (Lessons from Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”)


So, I’ve gone to see two movies over the last couple of weeks. For me, that’s a lot—I tend to only emerge for “big” stuff like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and get everything else on DVD. They were Dark Shadows (which is going to have its own post eventually—I spent much of the movie with my face in my palm so I haven’t quite figured out what to say about it) and The Avengers.

I could seriously write a whole post on how much I loved this movie—I’m seriously considering going to see it again, and I’ve NEVER watched the same movie twice in theaters—but that’s not the focus of this post, so I’ll move on to the real topic: what we, as writers, can learn about writing an ensemble cast from this lovely superhero flick.

  1.    There needs to be conflict.

Conflict is important to all writing, but never is it more necessary than when you are working with an ensemble cast. It’s absolutely unrealistic to expect to get the different personalities necessary to make up a team in the same room together and have them all hold hands and get along right away. It’s even preferable to have a character like Tony Stark, who spends most of the first half of The Avengers quipping at the others and being a pain. Conflict between characters in an ensemble cast equals dynamic scenes and even laugh-out-loud funny moments that can ease the tension of your plot a bit and keep your reader intrigued.

 

2.      …but, there also needs to be a certain amount of harmony.

If your characters do nothing BUT bicker all the time, I doubt very much that anything is EVER going to get done. Someone’s in danger? S/he will probably die while everybody’s hashing it out. Evil supervillain poised to take over Earth with an alien army? Done, while Steve and Tony are still butting heads. When the push comes to shove, your characters HAVE to work well together, whether they like one another or not, so that they CAN save the day.

It also bears mentioning that it’s always a good idea to have at least two characters in the group who kind of “get” each other, achieved to great effect in The Avengers with RDJ’s Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Stark pokes Banner and is generally a pain in his neck, to be sure, but he has an understanding of the scientific aspect that none of the others do, and Banner seems to see right past Stark’s jokey exterior to the softness underneath. They don’t necessarily “like” one another, but each UNDERSTANDS the other, and that understanding is palpable in many of their scenes.

Here they are being total bros. In identically hideous shirts. :3

3.      Choose the right characters/interactions for each scene.

One of the best scenes in The Avengers, in my humble opinion, was the scene where Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is “interrogating” Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Both actors played their parts perfectly, and the scene simply would not have worked had it been, say, Tony Stark or Steve Rogers in Black Widow’s place. There are other scenes that illustrate this point, but this one really stuck out when I was considering how I was going to write this post. Choose the right characters and the right dynamics to emphasize in a scene, and you will come out with something tense and powerful. Choose the wrong characters, and the scene will fall flatter than a cake after the oven door has been slammed shut.

4.      As you get toward the end, try to utilize a polarizing/drastic event to show how the characters have grown together.

The moment when Tony Stark falls to the ground made everyone in the theater that I was in gasp, and you can see that it catches Tony’s fellows off guard as well. This concern—this deep caring for “one of their own”– is what really brings this ensemble cast together. Why this, and not the scenes where they’re all fighting together in a completely unified group? Because this scene packs an emotional punch, and readers/watchers almost always connect to scenes in an EMOTIONAL way rather than a strictly rational way. So give your ensemble cast a tragedy to deal with, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. Put one of their makeshift “family” in danger and watch for a moment, allowing your readers to feel like it could be their sibling/parent/child/lover/best friend lying there on the ground, dead or dying or in grave danger. Punching your readers/watchers in the gut can be a good thing—just don’t do it every scene/episode/chapter or they WILL come to hate you. (I’m looking at you, Supernatural season 7.)

So that’s it. If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, or have questions/comments/criticisms, go ahead and drop a comment below.

Book Review: “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth

I love the way that the model is posed in this shot. I’ve often been in a similar position during haying season– it allows you a “world view” of the hayfields that is just awesome.

Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Author: Emily M. Danforth

Maturity Level: Upper YA. There are a few marginally explicit sex scenes and a lot of difficult concepts.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoy YA that’s written in a more adult/literary style;  you remember what it was like to be a teenager; you have an interest in LGBT issues.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you don’t enjoy literary fiction.

Cameron Post is your average teenage girl, devoted to swimming and old movies. But on the day her parents die in a sudden and violent accident, Cameron is busy shattering the status quo of her tiny-town-in-Montana life in a big way: kissing Irene Klauson in a hay loft. Suddenly and orphan, Cameron moves in with her super-conservative Aunt Ruth and tries to forget all about that day, hiding her sexuality in an attempt to blend in. Until Coley Taylor comes swooping in, that is, and Cameron can no longer hide.

This book was beautiful in so many ways. It was poignant and heartbreaking, with just enough humor mixed in to lighten the darkness. The whole “de-gaying facility” subplot was handled very well, with some really obvious research and care given to its portrayal. There is not a character in this book who is not wonderfully flawed and yet totally relatable, and the world is also drawn in such a way that you have no doubt where you are.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It has such a lovely feel to it, and I appreciate Danforth’s concise but lyrical prose. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Danforth’s work in the future!

Pros

  • Attention to detail. Danforth has dropped us right into the 90’s-era Bible Belt culture without being preachy.
  • The leisurely pace. Rather than being draggy, it was a joy to read and savor.
  • Cameron and I could be friends in real life. She was likable without being perfect, and I ached for her loneliness and confusion, celebrated with her when she had her breakthrough, and generally identified with her despite our differences.
  • The Promise kids and the research that Danforth obviously did into these sorts of facilities.
  • Adam and the wonderful portrayal of the winkte concept.

Cons

  • Slightly slow-moving, and definitely written in a style more suited to adult literary than YA—but I can’t say I didn’t like it!

Favorite Scene (s):

  • Pg 311-394. The whole end bit ran the gamut from arresting to terrifying to beautiful, a raucous roller-coaster ride of emotion that left me stunned by its ferocity. Very well done.

Favorite Line (s):

  • “There was more than just one world beyond ours; there were hundreds and hundreds of them, and at 99 cents apiece, I could rent them all.” ~Pg 40
  • “It felt really good to do something that made no sense at all.”~ pg 71

Star Rating on Goodreads: 5 stars out of 5.

Final Grade:  A+. Transformative, sad, and poignant.

Freeform Friday Announcement

Okay. So. I am no longer doing Friday!reads on my blog because a.) sometimes I don’t have time to round up all my books and check to see how far I’ve gotten and b.) I’ve noticed that my blog has kind of become overwhelmed with reviews. I love writing reviews, and I like that you all seem to enjoy reading them, but I like to keep other sorts of writing present on my blog as well, which is why I’m pleased to announce:

Freeform Fridays!

You might get anything. Seriously. Some weeks, it will be essays. Some weeks, it might be poetry. And sometimes, it might just be me taking a prompt and running with it for a couple of paragraphs, or pic-spamming things I like that are relevant, or talking about writing. There might be even be videos :)

So, without further ado, allow me to present my first Freeform Friday offering: A Love Letter to Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince

 

 

 

Friday Reads + Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers

I’ve been a terrible reader this week. I’ve mostly shelved Clockwork Angel and The Broken Kingdoms so that I could finish Angelfall. Then I went ahead and bought another Kindle book so that I could have something to read when my insomnia acts up and I end up awake but don’t really want to have to turn the light on. Yeah, I know. I’m lazy to boot. In my defense, I’m back on both books , but am also having some serious fun with Luck of the Devil.

Luck of the Devil by Patricia Eimer

Faith Bettincourt has some issues with her family– but what daughter of Satan wouldn’t?

This is not a deep read. It doesn’t have a lot to say about the human condition. It’s a light-hearted paranormal romance and is meant to be read as such. So far, I’ve picked out a few quibbles that I intend to flesh out when I review this later, but so far, it’s perfectly good at being what it is: humorous romance. I’m interested to see how it will progress once I get past all the introductory bits– I’m already fairly sure that Matt is an angel of some sort, which gives me the giggles considering that I still have Raffe on the brain and he would be absolutely mortified that Matt even exists. But enough talk of angels in my head (I’m not crazy, I swear!) and on to this Friday’s second topic: Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers (AKA Two Summers Well Spent).

I applied to Alpha for the first time the year that I turned 17, after stumbling upon while browsing Tamora Pierce’s author website. I had a story that I had been working on for about a month, so I polished it up and sent it in, thinking, “Well, this might be a nice summer thing for me.”

Guys? Alpha is a lot more than a “nice summer thing”. Alpha makes casual writers into serious ones, and gives you the experience and intent to possibly pursue authorship as a career. It also takes shy, socially awkward introverts (like me) and gives them the confidence to “let their nerd flag fly”, as my mom would say. You spend two weeks being instructed by writing greats such as Holly Black, Tamora Pierce, David Levine, and Ellen Kushner, while writing and polishing your own short story for submission. The atmosphere is great, and the people who you will meet are absolutely indispensable– the sort of people who will gladly hash out details of your plot with you at 2AM when you’re stuck. I attended in 2011, and returned as a “Beta” or counselor in 2012, and both times, I had an immense amount of fun and learned so much about the path that I am on. If you are aged 14-19, and you write fantasy/science fiction/horror, then I would strongly recommend that you apply.  The deadline is March 1st, 2012, so get writing! 🙂

If anyone reading this blog would like to help support Alpha, there’s a fundraiser going on right now over here. There are tons of awesome books, critiques, and oddities up for auction, and anyone who donates ANY AMOUNT to the workshop will receive the 2012 Alpha alumni anthology e-book of illustrated flash fiction, which contains art and stories contributed by several years worth of Alphans. This is a great opportunity for the teen writers in your life, and your donations help it keep going year after year! Thank you!

Until next time, dear readers– I’m off to make some headway on my new short story and get showered and fed before Supernatural comes on tonight! That review will be going live on Sunday along with my review of the premier of BBC’s The Fades.