BurCon: Giving Thanks

It’s rare for me to find something that fully seduces and captivates me. I’ve found that as I get older, I have a markedly finite amount of patience for things I have to try to like.

When I find something that sucks me into its snare immediately, I appreciate it like a foot rub after 12 hours on my feet.

Supernatural was one of those snares. Our own fabulous Kristin McFarland told me to watch it, and I remember when I posted a Facebook status inquiring about others’ thoughts, it quickly became the highest-endorsed show anyone had recommended since Hannibal stormed the Alps with elephants (and that was even way before he got into cannibalism and Jodie Foster’s head).

The pilot sucked me in. I’ll admit to having previously thought the premise a bit thin — two brothers fighting demons and looking for Dad — sort of like Buffy with less than 50% of the X chromosomes. Admittedly, there are a few issues in that vein, but as the show progressed, I began to feel a warm regard for it, and before too long, I was sitting it down to tell it how ardently I admired and loved it.

What Supernatural accomplishes with a fervent and zealous deliberation is best exemplified in its ability to turn a humorous episode into a soul-searching exploration of its characters and their very evident humanity. Last night Spouse and I watched French Mistake (Ep 615), which is known for its über-meta hilarity — and in that episode I saw a glimpse of some of the finest acting Jared Padalecki has ever done when they’re back home, and he’s staring at a wall.

That might not sound particularly compelling, but he slaps the wall, thumps it with his hand a couple of times, and you see a dozen emotions flicker across his face. And because of that, I felt something.

That, my friends, is why I spent eight months drooling, binge watching, and ultimately saving-scrimping-pinching to be able to attend a Supernatural convention.

It’s been my first real foray into active and contemporary fandom. Buffy — my beloved Buffy — ended before I found it. All the things I loved as a kid — Fear Street, the Nightworld, X-Men, Power Rangers, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings — all of it was pre-Twitter, pre-Internet, and without any knowledge of what cons were or how to find them. I loved those things alone, from the relative sanctity and safety of my own room.

Supernatural has been, in some ways, the first fandom I found to be a home. The actors and creators feel like genuine people. When Jared hashtags #SPNfamily on Twitter, he means it.

There’s something to be treasured in getting to see a show build itself each week, in the chance to digest each episode after a thorough chewing instead of swallowing whole seasons in one bite like some kind of…Leviathan.

Is it worth it to spend money (lots of it) to fly cross-country (or cross-ocean, as many did) and see the faces of a show’s actors in person? That’s really up to you — you can be a superfan without ever having been forcibly removed from the set. The greatest thing about the experience is getting to love something together, cast and fans. And that’s what I learned this weekend.

Plus, a hug from Misha never hurt.

For me, the weekend was distinctly special. I got to meet Jared, Jensen, Misha — all of the obvious cast members. Which was really wonderful and exciting. But perhaps even cooler for me than those very brief hellos in the autograph and photo op queues was getting to spend a bit of actual time talking to Osric Chau, Travis Wester, and Felicia Day. Osric is absolutely delightful, Travis is a fellow fantasy author, and Felicia…well. Felicia is Felicia. I don’t really have words.

I also got to meet our lovely Shauna Granger in person as well as another writer I’ve known via Teh Internetz for a couple years, August McLaughlin. So as it is, these pictures…

Shauna and me! Live! In person! FOR REALSIES!
Shauna and me! Live! In person! FOR REALSIES!
August and me -- if you don't know who she is, get on that.
August and me — if you don’t know who she is, get on that.

…Mean as much or more to me as these pictures…

Yep. That's a J&J sammich made of Emmie.
Yep. That’s a J&J sammich made of Emmie.
Felicia and I are ready for battle.
Felicia and I are ready for battle.

Most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well for the weekend…but there’s always next year. And until then, the ones above (all four of them) are the ones that really count.

Oh, and this one! Which I never would have gotten without Shauna having the chutzpah to ask for:

Me with producer and writer Adam Glass.
Me with producer and writer Adam Glass.

One of the other awesome moments of the weekend — getting to talk writing shop with Adam Glass, who has been with the show for years. *Salutes Shauna*

This week, I’m giving thanks for so much. For this show and the people who make it. For getting to meet friends in person after years of knowing them online. For getting to hear Mark Pellegrino sing Sweet Transvestite. For Osric as Rapunzel.

Would I go back? I’m already planning for next year.

Who’s with me?

PS: If you want to hear more about my weekend, I posted a vlog about it. It’s a long’un, but there’s some good stuff in there!

BurCon – Sunday November 24th

I was very lucky to win a ticket to the Supernatural BurCon event for Sunday, thanks to the awesome Debra Kristi!

Because it was such short notice for me I couldn’t do any of the autographs or photo ops with the stars of the show, so I was reduced to taking a few ninja shots of them. I thought I’d share some of the pics I got. Forgive the quality – I forgot my real camera and was reduced to taking pics with my phone so some of them are quite grainy.

photo 4First up! I was lucky to get to meet fellow Spellbound Scribe, Emmie Mears in person and we got to chuckle about the similarities of our hairs. And, thanks to Emmie’s keen eye, we got to meet one of the writers and Executive Producer, Adam Glass. Mr. Glass was very nice and approachable, I think, if we’d had the time, he would have let us talk to him for hours.

It was an added bonus to get to meet Emmie while at BurCon, since we live on complete opposite sides of the country.photo 1

Then, while waiting for the big panel of the day, I just happened to be standing in front of the table where Misha Collins was signing autographs. It wasn’t confirmed that he would be at the con until just a few days before, so it was quite the event for people to get to meet him. I managed to sneak a few ninja shots of him before one of the con organizers shook her finger at me to stop.

He spoke on stage as well and I have to say, he was as sweet as you hope him to be when watching the show.

photo 3After that, it was time for the big panel. Then badass-nerd-girl-fighter Felicia Day took the stage. We were all excited to see her fabulous new haircut (see mine and Emmie’s hairs above to understand)! And she answered questions about gaming, the show, being a nerd girl, working in front of and behind the camera and her hobbies. A favorite question was, “Real or fictional, who would you like to trade bodies with?” Felicia’s answer? “Well, I’d like to have a penis, that’s for sure!” Ultimately it was a toss up between Clive Owen and George Clooney.

When her time was up, rather than signaling her discreetly, the one and only Jensen Ackles snuck up on her and scared the bejeezus out of her. It was adorable. He timed it with the laughter and cheers to one of her answers, so she didn’t register the change in our voices when we spotted him.

image (2)She said she was blushing after he disappeared behind stage again. I know I would have been beet red had it been me!

photo 2
I’m sorry for the grainy quality! I had a fantastic seat, but phones you know…

Then, after a quick charity auction (where a Justin Beiber look-a-like bid $3,100 for an autographed cheerleader uniform, signed by everyone at the con), it was time to see the boys we’d all come to see. Yes, that’s right, J2: Jensen and Jared.

My husband and I were very lucky, years ago, when the show had just finished its first season they were invited to the Paley Festival, we managed to score tickets to see it. For those of you who don’t know what that is, every year the Paley Festival (formally the Radio and Television History Museum) invites casts and crew of (mostly) new popular shows to come and speak about the show. We got to see J & J, the producers, director and some of the writers. We were all impressed with the humor and humility of J & J and I am happy to say, so many years and seasons later, they were just as funny, just as humble and just as photo 5sweet as they were back then.

As you can probably guess, I’m a Jensen/Dean girl, but I didn’t forget about you Jared/Sam fans, here are a few shots of him in his spiffy Fedora. Many girls were yelling for him to take the hat off to see the legendary locks of his, but I thought it was pretty cool!

If you’re curios, that pic in the bottom left corner is Jared signing the charity uniform. They started to play music to pass the time, so Jensen started to dance (that’s why his hands are up like that). It was pretty funny and adorable, if you ask me!

One of my favorite parts of the panel was the moment a fan asked the boys how they got into the more emotional moments of their scenes. What did they do to show their emotions? What would you recommend to an aspiring actor to capture those moments? Well, Jared took the question first and he was saying that he never, ever fakes emotions – what we see is what he’s feeling. And Jensen had this reaction:

imageYep, he’s rolling his eyes and shaking his head, mouthing the words, “Come on…” Hilarious. That is just one of the many moments where the guys traded jabs with each other. At one point, when Jensen got one too many questions in a row, Jared threw up his hands and said he was leaving. These guys are just awesome.

They say don’t meet your heroes because you never know what kind of person they really are, but I can tell you, if you met these guys in real life, you wouldn’t be disappointed. The con organizers specifically asked people not to express their love and adoration when asking questions, so that we didn’t run over time, but some could not help themselves and you know what? The guys didn’t stare blankly, didn’t sigh or shake their heads. No, when a fan told them how much they loved them (or screamed it from the audience), the boys smiled and told them (and the rest of us), how much they loved them too.

It was a great day and I can’t thank Debra enough. BurCon is a yearly event, if you’re a fan of the show, I highly recommend trying to go!

 

 

Spin-Off City

Who are these new faces beside those familiar faces? Oh, wait, nope, don’t care…

Sometimes it seems like half the series I love end up getting a spin-off. Buffy: Angel. Vampire Diaries: The Originals. Friends: Joey. (Shudder.) And now CBS is saying How I Met Your Mother may get a spin-off/reboot in the form of How I Met Your Dad.

When we love things, we not only have a hard time letting them go, but we also want MOAR MOAR MOAR of them. Occasionally it works, but as often as not, shows and series are run into the ground by extended storylines and plots that just can’t carry the weight of an independent viewership. Shows spin out instead of spinning off, and tens of novels are written about characters we just don’t care about.

Can you tell I don’t usually go in for spin-offs?

I love Buffy, but I’ve never made it through Angel. I haven’t even tried The Originals. I only watched the pilot of the short-lived Joey show because my college friends had more loyalty to Friends than I did and insisted I should. (I regret giving in to peer pressure: that’s 30 minutes of my life I’m never getting back!) I’m only just starting to venture into the follow-up novel to Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, which I adore and am afraid can’t continue as awesomely as it began. I can take or leave all the books that follow Jacqueline Carey’s original Kushiel trilogy. That much-later Brandon Sanderson Mistborn-follow-up, Alloy of Law? Nope, nope, nope.

I just can’t do it.

Frequently I joke that I don’t have much author loyalty*: I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s other work, I’ve not read any of GRRM’s sci-fi, and I don’t have an abiding love for Lord John Grey in Diana Gabaldon’s other work. When I get into a series on screen or page, I fall fathoms deep in love with the characters and stories in front of me. If those beloved characters carry on, as in the not-so-great Buffy comics, I’ll keep slogging along in spite of my better judgement. And I am venturing into the Fever series follow-ups, because the world is rich with possibilities for new stories. But when a plot-adjacent character ventures off on his own, I won’t follow unless I really love that particular individual… and neither Angel nor Klaus was interesting enough for me want to look up after he’d moved on.

The trouble is that often when a new series spins off of the original, it doesn’t have enough independent tension to hold it together, so it unravels rather quickly. I mean, Wolfram and Hart? Evil demon lawyers? Seriously? That’s not a compelling villain, at least not to me, and while I’m willing to watch a character I love fight a weak-sauce bad guy every now and then, I’m not game for watching a protagonist who leaves me cold fight a villain who doesn’t impress me.

And frequently, the characters just aren’t well-rounded enough to act as a center of gravity for an entire new cast and plot. A hollow protagonist can’t hold an engaging love interest, won’t challenge a menacing antagonist, and doesn’t attract deep secondary characters. While I enjoyed Klaus’s dynamic with some of the original characters of The Vampire Diaries, I’m not sure he’s versatile enough to act as the pivot point for a multi-year, independent series.

Clearly, though, I stand alone in not particularly caring about spin-offs, because their creation generates enough interest and money for networks and publishers to keep unraveling original plots and casts every year. The Originals started this fall and pulls similar viewership numbers to its parent show, and Angel ran for a solid five seasons.

Beats me. I’m just not that into them.

So where do you stand? Are you a spin-off lover or hater? Do you watch them on a case-by-case basis? Are there any spin-offs you’ve liked better than the original?

*Joss Whedon may be the only** exception to this statement. I’ll watch (almost) anything the man makes.

**Guy Gavriel Kay may be another exception, but his most recent books have started to test my love.

Why zombies?

At a cousin’s birthday party last night, a funny little eight-year-old boy came running over.

“Can I read your book yet?” he asked while his mother looked on.

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “No, buddy,” I said, and his face fell. “Well, not yet anyway.”

“When?”

“Up to your parents, really, but my guess would be somewhere around sixteen.”

“But I love zombies!”

I smiled. “Me, too. This book’s just a little too grown up for you still. I’m sorry.”

He frowned and pouted a little, but then he looked back up. “Why do you write about zombies, anyway?”

And isn’t that the question of the hour??

I actually get asked that a LOT. People look at me and expect me to write YA contemporary romance, or even fantasy. They don’t expect horror, mainly because I don’t look like Anne Rice, I think. I mean, aside from a preference for black nail polish, I look more like…well…a soccer mom, I guess. So why horror? Why zombies?

Here’s my response:

In the first place, zombies are pretty generally evil. There’s no chance for redemption. So with zombies, the ultimate goal is to kill them, and since they usually attack with numbers on their side, you get to be really creative in how you kill them. My favorite method from my first book included a gas station nozzle through the eye socket….my protagonist then blew up the whole place. Sort of fabulous, right?

But then there’s the real reason, and it’s that when you totally mess up the world around a group of people…when you push them to the brink of starvation and civilization, you really get to dig into human dark sides. I ask you this: if you had guns and food during the zombie apocalypse, but just enough for your own family, what would you do if your neighbor came calling for help? Would you help him?

Or what if there was someone wreaking havoc within your little camp. What would you do? Would you set up some sort of jail system, complete with trial by jury? Or would you simply kill the rabble-rouser?

These are the questions I love to explore, love to dig into, within my zombie stories. As I like to put it, in my Undead America series, it’s not the zombies you need to fear; it’s the people.

For more information on the Undead America series, check out the books on Amazon.

Zombie Days, Campfire Nights

No Angels

World Building is…not what I thought

Primarily I write contemporary romance. But one day my hubby and I were talking about new story ideas and I told him I wanted to write something about lawyers and paranormal. But I didn’t want to write vampires. So I made up my own species. The Vampyyri and Jaktur.

TU-smallThe Vampyyri are beings who live off the emotions of humans. One touch is all they need to gain enough energy to make it through a day or two.  Any emotion works: happy, sad, angry, depressed. The stronger the emotion the more life-sustaining energy they gain. The Jaktur hunt the Vampyyri. Unlike the Vampyyri, the Jaktur are mostly human. They live off food and water just like we do. But they are immortal for the most part since they can only die at the hands of a Vampyyri with a specific kill shot. And they possess superhuman powers.


So you ask…what does this have to do with world building?!EVERYTHING! When I started this story I thought “I’ll set it in modern-day Dallas.” Which meant, to me, that the world building wouldn’t be that extensive. Because I associated world with the setting around us. Boy was I wrong. There is so much more to it than the setting. I have pages of notes about the Vampyyri and the Jaktur. Building their societies, their species, was all part of world building. From their origination, to how they die, how they survive and their hierarchy. With each question I answered there were five more I had to ask myself.

The work to build not just the plot and character arc, but also a species and their quirks can be exhausting. The reward is WORTH every frustration, every minute contemplating and every ounce of confusion. Because world building is the freedom granted to a fantasy writer to make their characters however they want them to be. The only rules are the ones you make up.

Contemporary is fun because you don’t have all of the “other” things to worry about. Humans are humans and the settings don’t really change. However, the constraints can be great depending on your story. I can’t very well have my cowboys walking around in the Wyoming winters wearing shorts and flip flops in a contemporary story. But if I wanted to do that with a fantasy story…well, that’s my prerogative. And THAT is awesome!

Needless to say, when I sat down at the computer on the first night the concept of world building changed for me. And now…I can’t wait to get started on my next new world!

Why Fantasy?

Who hasn't dreamed of visiting?
Who hasn’t dreamed of visiting?

“The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”                    –Albert Einstein

I sometimes dread telling people that I’m a writer, because the inevitable follow-up question is always: “Oh, well, what do you write?” And, when I’m being honest, the answer to that question is fantasy. And that answer opens up a veritable Pandora’s Box of reactions and comments.

Now, before I go on, let me clarify. I am in no way ashamed of reading, writing, or loving the fantasy genre. But when I tell strangers or acquaintances that I write fantasy, I get blank stares, rolled eyes, snarky comments, generalized confusion, or any combination of the above. “What’s fantasy?” some people inexplicably ask me (do you want the long answer or the short answer?). “Oh, like Twilight!” some folks crow, apparently delighted to have found a way to pigeon-hole me. “Don’t you feel like there are more important and interesting things happening in the real world that you could write about?” some rudely suggest.

But regardless of the way each question is worded, each reaction asks basically the same thing: Why fantasy?

I’ll tell you why. I write, read, and adore fantasy because of the wonder. Do you remember your first experience of wonder? For me, it’s a memory from when I was two or three. Someone–a parent or sibling–lifted me up to pick an apple from an apple tree. The memory is like a shattered mirror; shards of images and bright glimmers of emotion. The feel of the sun-warmed apple skin, smooth and fragrant in my palm. Broad green leaves whispering against each other. Strong hands holding me. Excitement. Safety. Awe. Because most of all, I am filled with wonder that there is a tree that makes apples, apples that can be eaten!

Throughout my life, I have found this wonder in many places, but most reliably in the realm of fantasy. In the Kingdom of Prydain, where pigs tell the future, sacrifices bring about miracles, and Assistant Pig-Keepers become Kings. In The Dark is Rising, where even children can wield great power and the balance between Light and Dark hangs in the balance of one boy’s decision. In Narnia, where animals speak and justice always triumphs. In ElfQuest‘s Land of Two Moons. In Alanna’s Tortall. In the Parallel Worlds of Chrestomanci.

I spent my childhood jumping into cupboards, getting lost in the woods, and chasing after woodland animals, seeking in the real world the wonders I discovered in fantasy. And in some ways, the fantasy worlds I loved so much seemed more real than my own life. More clear, more appealing, more important than the sundry goings on of daily life. A reality that was all mine, born of another’s words and brought to life by my imagination.

I’m an adult now, and much of that wide-eyed childlike wonder has been eroded by the inevitabilities of education, responsibility, and society. But still, I find myself thinking of far-off places where moonlight breeds magic and the things you dream become realities. And so, I write fantasy. And maybe one day, someone will pick up something I have written and discover that place where everything is more beautiful, love is more true, and possibilities are truly endless; that place called wonder.

Learning to Yield

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The other night I came across an inspiring post by author Jane Kirkpatrick about how the acronym YIELD can be used to show us how to find happiness as writers. Check it out. I’ll wait.

Are you back? It’s great stuff, right? Well, it got me to thinking about the concept of “yielding” and how it fits into our lives as readers, writers, and human beings. Warning: philosophizing ahead.

When we hear the word yield, we may think of the big yellow traffic signs that (in America, at least) urge us to slow down and give right of way to others before continuing on. But that’s only one connotation of the word. It can also mean to accept defeat or to give in to someone/something that is stronger.

In our hectic world, where we fight from the moment we wake up until the moment when we fall asleep again, sometimes what we need is to yield, to give in to the bigger flow for a while and let it carry us.

  • As WRITERS we need to yield to the muse. When she’s there, let her take over our busy lives and make magic. When she’s not and the well is dry, we may just need to take a break (says the girl who can’t handle not writing).
  • As WRITERS sometimes we need to yield to our characters and let them tell their stories. I’ve found some of my best writing comes when a character does or says something I didn’t plan.
  • As WRITERS we need to know when to yield to the end, whether that means a story is ready for publication (enough tinkering already!) or that it is time to shelve it and accept failure as part of the learning process.
  • As READERS sometimes we just need to yield to a story and let it take us where it will. Stop trying to guess the ending or wish certain fates for the characters and just fall into the flow of great writing.
  • As READERS we should yield to will of the author. Story didn’t turn out the way you wanted? Complain all you want (privately), but don’t act like the author wronged you. It’s their story, not yours. They have invited you to participate in it by reading it.
  • Remember the big yellow sign? As PEOPLE we need to learn to look out for others and sometimes give them the right of way, even if they are wrong. (Says the perfectionist narcissist.)
  • As PEOPLE, we need to take time off from fighting the good fight once in a while and just go where God/goddess/fate/the universe/whatever-you-call-it wants us to go. I’ve found that on the rare occasions when I stop struggling and let it be, I’m happier and healthier, plus things manage to work out without my effort. (Gasp!)
  • As PEOPLE we need to realize that no matter what society demands, we can’t do it all. If the laundry doesn’t get done this week or the house doesn’t get cleaned, so what? Sometimes we need to acknowledge our limitations and yield to the notion that we’ve done our best and that is enough.

I guess what I’m advocating is giving up some of this control that society seems obsessed with. I’m the first person to believe that in order make your dreams come true you have to work for them, physically, mentally and spiritually (I’m a believer in the art of manifestation), but I also know there is a time when we have to recover from all that work.

For me, yielding means different things: maybe it’s taking a break between projects or mulling over a plot point I’m stuck on, picking up a book and reading just for the fun of it (reading as a reader, not a writer) or even just letting that crabby co-worker down the hall think she’s right. And sometimes it means admitting I’m sick and therefore can’t do what I’d planned, or that I won’t make a deadline.

But you know what? In the end, yielding is just as important as striving. It’s the other side of the coin that allows things to come to fruition. It’s the winter to summer, the period of rest that lets us gear up for the next big fight. And that’s okay.

What do you think about the idea of yielding? Do you find it easy or difficult? What do you do doing those fallow periods in life? How do you think we as writers/readers/people need to yield?