#BuffyWatch the Final Season

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that Brian O’Conor and I were embroiled in a battle of two T.V. series. Brian had to watch the first seven seasons of Supernatural before I finished watching the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whoever finished first get’s to decide which world we’ll use first for a spin-off game with our RPG troupe: MageTech.

And I am thrilled to announce that I AM VICTORIOUS! I DANCE THE DANCE OF VICTORY!

OY YEAH, BURN WITH FIERY ENVY BRIAN!

Poor Brian.

Okay, but seriously. It did come kinda close there. Brian was trying to be a sneaky snearkerson and finished season 6 without telling anyone and was well into season 7 over the weekend. So much so that I realized, though I only  3 episodes left, he just might finish and I’d look like that jackass hare and he’d be the cool tortoise. Couldn’t let that happen.

Now, on to my review of the last season.

So many times there have been moments where, if someone had warned me, I would have forfeited the whole damn bet. But no moment could have killed me more than the death of Anya. I realized that she is my favorite character out of the whole cast. First it was Xander, then Willow, but Anya, Anya never let me down. How? How could they kill her? I know at the end of a story like this, there should be casualties, but damnit.

I think Anya was a big reason why the show worked for me. She was funny but full of emotion and a lovely break from your average character.

But I was so, so damn disappointed that they didn’t give Xander an appropriate moment over her death. It was just like, “Yep. She didn’t make it. Bummer.” I know they’d broken up and were finally able to move on, but I would think it would still be devastating for him.

In the beginning of watching BtVS I really was just watching to beat Brian, but the more the show went on, the more it worked for me. Though, not the season with Adam and Riley. I can imagine it being a show you let play in rerun while you’re doing other things, but you’d fast-forward through any Adam or Riley episodes. Except for Hush that is.

I can just hear Kristin and Emmie squeeing over hearing that I didn’t hate the show and even liked a lot of it.

The Big Bad of season 7. It was really interesting, though I found it strange they took so long into the season to introduce it. The beginning of this last season felt a little like a middle of the series season, back to Monster of the Week episodes with no main plot tying them together. But when Joyce first materializes for Dawn and Cassie for Willow, it was very diabolical. You think something wonderful is happening, you finally get to have one more moment with someone you love who’s passed on, only to learn it’s a manipulative ancient evil. That’s some good stuff.

Speaking of the Big Bad – Spike’s redemption was pretty good. I still didn’t like him like I did before THE incident, so really, I was glad he died. Not in they way I was glad that Warren died, but I thought it was the only thing that could/should happen to him after the turn they took with his character.

An unsung character: Andrew.

I’m really glad they found a way to turn him around and keep him around. Andrew and Jonathan always struck me as great characters who were unfortunate to fall in with Warren. (SCREW YOU WARREN. YOU DIE AND YOU STAY DEAD.)

 

I know, I know, Andrew kills Jonathan, but he was like the mislead, well-meaning, nerd who lost his way.

He was a lot like Anya for me.

And at the end, when they were fighting side-by-side… *takes a moment*

So yeah, that was one of the hardest things for me. I didn’t expect to find characters I liked as much as I did while watching the show and after Xander and Willow kept upsetting me, it was nice to have them and then Anya is just killed.

Moving on.

Something I hated, hated, hated, was the introduction of Kennedy. I liked that we got to meet all the potentials and they were wonderfully diverse in every way, but FFS I did NOT like Kennedy. I know we want redemption Willow to have some happiness, but Kennedy wasn’t it. She was pushy and catty and mean and in her own words: a brat. I don’t understand how, after wonderful relationships with Oz and Tara, Willow would let herself be seduced by a girl who makes fun of her powers and the core of her being. And she was just so damn big for her britches, just because she was making out with Willow she was suddenly more important than the other potentials, always pushing her way into the pow-wows with Buffy and the others. GAH! I DID NOT LIKE HER.

Anyway. I did not make any of these memes and I loved that I found them because I feel totally justified now.

Moving on!

Giles returned! I was so damn happy about this. He was my other favorite character and I loved that we got to see him again and he stuck around. And damn if he doesn’t prove again and again what a badass he is.

Dawn and Faith. I’m lumping them together because I’ve made it well known that I didn’t like either of these characters. At all. I think the writers did a good job with them at the end. This season showed us a calmer, more mature Dawn and Faith. Both had turned down their cliche personalities and felt much more human to me.

The finale. I’d heard that BtVS suffered from the “Seinfeld Curse” in that the finale was stupid or cheesy or a let down. I have to say, I didn’t get that. I did say in my last post that I was surprised this was the last season and I said earlier that the beginning didn’t feel like a final season, so I do wonder if they found out mid-filming that they weren’t getting renewed and maybe people felt it was wrapped up fast? I don’t know, but I didn’t think the end was bad. You know, other than killing characters I liked. Damn it.

So there you have it. I didn’t hate it. I liked a lot of it. There were some bumpy times and sometimes I felt like quitting and letting Brian win by default and there were choices I didn’t agree with, but over all, it was a good story.

Now for my decision. I still like Supernatural better, much better, and I would rather play a Supernatural RPG first, but I have decided to have us play Buffy first. My main reason is that our GM, Kristin, never gets to play a main character, but if we play Buffy then Drew will substitute as the GM and Kristin will get to play a character in the Buffy-verse. I think she deserves a turn at playing a character.

(P.S. I know I left a lot of stuff out, but this damn post is 1200 words already!)

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Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an interesting holiday. It’s a long weekend when most people break out their shorts and sunscreen in order to greet the summer with a cookout, picnic, or visit to the beach. It’s the start of summer, especially for those of us who live in areas where school gets out before Memorial Day, making Memorial Day the official start of summer vacation.

I love a good cookout, breaking out the grill and using good food as an excuse to hang out with friends and family. It’s a national tradition here in the States.

But as much fun as it is, that’s not what Memorial Day is about.

Memorial Day is about remembering those we have lost in the line of service, those we have lost who have fought for this country, those who have died to protect us. Yet strangely, I find this holiday is often overlooked and passed over and weirdly confused with Veteran’s Day.

People get super serious on Veteran’s Day and often talk about sacrifice. But while our veterans often sacrifice a lot, they don’t sacrifice their lives. That’s part of the definition of being a veteran. It means you survived.

Memorial Day on the other hand is about the men and women who didn’t, the ones who never escaped the battlefield.

Despite having grown up in a military family, the real meaning of Memorial Day wasn’t something I ever really thought about. My parents had lost friends in the service, but never anyone I could remember. Never anyone that I knew.

That all changed when a high school classmate of mine was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Now every Memorial Day I remember a boy with an easy smile, a quick wit, and a bright intelligence who is now just a memory and a white gravestone in Arlington Cemetery. And I pray that none of my friends who are currently in the military will be joining him there any time soon.

I would rather celebrate my friends on Veteran’s Day than Memorial Day.

The purpose of this post is not to make you feel guilty or bad for your cookouts. Please don’t. I will certainly be enjoying a burger grilled to perfection at a friend’s house today. No, the point of this post is to remind you that not everyone is celebrating today.

For some people today is a reminder of the people they have lost, people who once filled and centered their lives but are now only represented by a gravestone and a folded up flag.

So today when you go out, be sensitive, be kind. Smile at the person at the grocery store as you run in to buy a quick bag of chips before hitting the cookout. You don’t know who they might have lost, who they might be remembering today.

Today I remember Mike McGahan. Who do you remember?

Virtual Hoarding

I was, I suppose, a semi-early adopter of Pinterest. I heard about it, checked it out, played with it. And yet, I never really got it. I pinned things I liked for the wedding: gorgeous dresses, pretty bouquets, decoration ideas. I thought it might help me develop a mental picture of the wedding I wanted to have, and that might help the florist and event staff with the decorations.

wedding pins
My cake was similar. Sort of. And the shoes…

It didn’t.

Really, the florist designed my wedding, and she did a fantastic job. But my carefully curated collection of online images really contributed nothing beyond keeping me busy for a few hours every week. And even then, I wasn’t sure what the point was.

When the wedding was over, I stared at my pins, closed the website, and moved on with my life. I’d hear people talking excitedly about pinning things, finding great ideas for crafts and cooking, and I’d try it again halfheartedly, creating a new board, putting three things on it, and moving on again. It just didn’t captivate or distract me the way it seemed to do for so many women my age.

I was puzzling over my lack of the virtual hoarding gene on Twitter one day, when several of my fellow Scribes told me they used the site to create “inspiration boards” for their works in progress. This intrigued me. As a teenager, I made giant collages on my walls and notebook covers, cutting and pasting photos and phrases from magazines that inspired or moved me, and I would look at those pieces every day to lift me up when I experienced the inevitable teen lowness I regularly felt.

So the thought of a digital collage just for one of my books? Well, you can bet those $700 boots you pinned last week that I wanted to give that a try. So in investigated the boards of my fellow Scribes, and I thought to myself, “Self. This looks like fun.”

I started off slowly, with the actors who looked like my characters. Then I added a protagonist’s gun, and some photos of San Francisco. And that was the beginning of the end.

pinterest
Just a few of the things.

From book boards, I moved on to fairy garden boards. Then it was gorgeous or adorable animal photos, followed by ideas for steampunk cosplay. And now that we’re about to be homeowners? It’s all about the home decor.

I’ve even gotten my husband hooked. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone or we might scare him off.)

So what’s the deal? What changed, to make me finally “get it?” Is Pinterest just virtual hoarding, as I said, a concentrated form of browsing that allows you to save images and links for no real reason? Or is it something else, a type of creative outlet that helps you simultaneously brainstorm new ideas while also sorting through your existing thoughts? A little from column A, a little from column B?

What do you think? Do you use Pinterest? Is it part of your creative process, or just a way to kill time?

Nailing Character Voice

vintage_mic“All your characters talk the same,” said my critique partner. “If I plucked a quotation randomly from within the pages, I wouldn’t be able to tell who was speaking without looking at the dialogue cues.”

My jaw dropped. All my characters talk the same? I thought to myself. Impossible! They were well-rounded characters with developed backgrounds and unique personalities. I could practically hear their voices in my head as I wrote! So why did they sound the same to another reader? And more importantly, how on earth was I going to fix it?

When I’m pounding away on the keyboard trying to up the word-count on whatever project I’m currently working on, the last thing on my mind is how my characters talk. Heck, I’m usually happy if I can remember where the quotation marks go! But imbuing characters with unique voices is in fact crucial to making them jump off the pages as memorable individualsIt’s a messy, tricky art. And if, like me, you’re having trouble mastering that art, here are a few suggestions to speed you on your way.

1) Listen to the way real people talk…

not how people in movies or on TV or in the pages of a book talk. Go to a cafe. Ride the subway. Sit alone at a bar. And then listen. It’s okay–I’m giving you permission to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, just this once. Really listen to the rhythms of sentences, and how different people string words together. Does the severe-looking woman in the business suit use the same language as the hip young dad with junior in tow? I doubt it. The same goes for characters.

2) Remember that character and voice are a feedback loop…

…continuously amplifying one another. Characters’ backgrounds and personalities give cues about how they should and would talk as real people, and the resulting “voice” in turn strengthens the character by reflecting those qualities. Let’s say a rags-to-riches prodigy constantly uses big technical words to explain simple concepts. That tells the reader Doogie Howser still feels like he has something to prove. Maybe an ex-military bodyguard speaks in short words and choppy sentences because she believes actions are more important than words. Voice may be informed by background and personality, but it is also a window back into the character.

3) Add in verbal tics and habitual phrases…

…without resorting to cliché. We humans are creatures of habit, and the way we speak often falls into familiar repetitive patterns. While I’m not suggesting you have your character say “like” every two seconds, sometimes one character’s verbal tics can set them apart from the others. Think of Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman’s indiscriminate usage of “yo” and “b***h” throughout the show served to make his voice distinctive from Walter’s or Skylar’s while also giving cues about his personality and background. Just be careful not to repeat it to the point where it becomes a catchphrase, like George R. R. Martin’s character Ygritte’s now-famous line “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

That is, unless you’re trying to start a meme.

Well, that’s it! Follow these steps and you should be well on your way to mastering the tricky art of character voice. And don’t feel bad if you can’t get the hang of it at first: I’ll still be over here wondering why my uneducated, sullen love interest shouldn’t talk like a poet! “You know nothing, yo!”

Takedown Twenty, or, How Long Is Too Long?

This post is a combination love letter, book review, and meditation on writing books in series…

greetings-from-trenton-new-jersey

Picture this: About three and a half years ago I got off a red-eye from Australia to learn that my eight a.m. flight out of LAX didn’t leave until eight p.m., which gave me and my family twelve unanticipated hours of quality airport time, and oh-by-the-way the small bulge on the disk between my fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae was HERNIATING into a much bigger problem.

There’s not enough Vicodin in the world to deal with that kind of nonsense.

Some time that afternoon, I picked up a book by Janet Evanovich at the airport bookstore. Plum Spooky is one of the accessory novels in the Stephanie Plum series. My strongest memory after that was reading on the flight home, as stoned as you please, and LAUGHING so hard my husband worried the flight attendant would escort me from the plane.

Those monkeys in the foil hats still make me giggle.

Maybe you had to be there.

Or maybe you just have to be a Janet Evanovich fan, the kind of die-hard who’s read every one of the Stephanie Plum novels (but not necessarily seen the movie because the casting was all wrong). The kind who would pay full price for a hard cover copy in an airport bookstore. The kind who honest to God cares whether Stephanie ends up with Joe or Ranger.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, Stephanie’s a bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey. She works for her sleazy uncle, her sidekick is a former prostitute named Lula, and her grandmother is crazy, but not as crazy as Joe’s grandmother, who regularly zaps Stephanie with the evil eye. The author has a quick wit and a deft hand with the details; in Takedown Twenty, she describes a crowded room at a funeral home as “filled with the smell of carnations and failed deodorant.” Even without the Vicodin, there’s usually at least a half a dozen places in each of these books where I laugh out loud.

But here’s the rub. There are twenty books in this series (plus the four holiday Plum novels) and the essential conflicts haven’t changed. They are:

  • Is Stephanie going to catch the bad guy?
  • Is Stephanie going to be able to pay her rent?
  • Is Stephanie going to marry Joe or go off with Ranger and have bottle-rocket sex for the rest of her life?

I started Takedown Twenty knowing Stephanie would go up against someone big and mean. I knew she’d fumble around and get beat on a little (this time the mobsters hang Stephanie over a bridge and she gets dumped into the Delaware River). I knew she’d probably shoot something inappropriate (this time it was some bad guy’s ear). I knew she and Lula would eat donuts and fried chicken and her mother would get dinner on the table every night at six.

Pretty much I had the first two conflicts answered before I even opened the book. Somehow or other, Stephanie would catch the bad guy, and therefore earn enough money to make her rent. She did, although in all honesty the suspense wasn’t that suspenseful, and the wrap up was really kind of blah. It was almost like the author didn’t even care about those parts of the story, but knew they had to be there to make, you know, a plot.

Which means there’s only question either of us is still interested in: Joe or Ranger? The problem is, Stephanie’s spent so much time playing with the possibilities she may not be able to make a commitment. Readers expect the mystery, the humor, and the violence.

And they expect Stephanie to flirt with Ranger, then go home to Joe. But committing to one leaves the other one out, which is a problem.

One of the things that makes Takedown Twenty a little different than the other books in the series was that the Joe/Ranger conflict seemed to have a broader reach. Rather than just asking which guy she will choose, the author seems to be wondering if Stephanie’s ever going to move beyond a crappy little rental in Jersey and a dangerous, sometimes unpleasant job. While I welcome this hint of character development, it’s come at such a slow pace I was left with an overwhelming feeling of desperation.

And not the good kind.

I never once worried that Stephanie might not survive her dangerous escapades. I do worry whether Ms. Evanovich is going to be able to write herself out of this pickle. I don’t think her problem is her commitment to the character. Her problem is her reader’s expectations.

See, my mom reads these books, and she thought Takedown Twenty was JUST GREAT. It has everything she likes: humor, action and (very light) naughtiness. The book was released last November. Today, it has over three thousand reviews with an average of 4.1 stars (and almost 2000 5-star reviews), and a current Amazon sales ranking of 254. Those numbers come from a huge fan base, and I’d argue a solid percentage of those fans keep coming back because they know what they’re getting. If Mrs. Evanovich makes any substantive changes that would actually allow Stephanie to develop as a character (i.e. find another line of work, choose Joe, choose Ranger, do SOMETHING for pity’s sake) she’ll lose a chunk of her audience.

A couple weeks ago, my friend – and fabulous urban fantasy author – Jami Gray did a blog post about how long was too long for a series. She argues that six books is a good length, long enough to really develop the characters, but not so long that things get stale. I think her point is valid, and though I’m writing as someone who hasn’t done the series thing yet, the introduction of a major new conflict can keep things fresh. It may not be the safest choice – think of all the readers who STOPPED after Anita Blake caught the ardeur – but it can keep the story going.

But when you’re talking the kind of numbers Ms. Evanovich generates, do you really take that risk?

Pardon me while I go all fan-girl for a minute…Ms. Evanovich is fantastic writer. She’s my idol, I want to be her when I grow up, and her book How I Write is something every author should read and re-read. Her characters are lively, her language is fresh, and her voice never falters. That said, Takedown Twenty was mostly an exercise in frustration for me. I laughed some, I admired the author’s craft, I was entertained. More or less. And I’ll read (Fill In The Blank) Twenty-One because, you know….

Joe or Ranger?

I’d love to see your comments on whether character development is a necessary part of every series. Is putting out an entertaining product enough?

Peace,
Liv

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are All the Dragon’s Daughters: What a GoT Video Taught Me About Strong Women

I was going to write my post on something else completely, but then my fellow Spellbound Scribe, Emmie Mears, tweeted this awesome Game of Thrones tribute video. Go. Watch. You won’t regret it. You may even find yourself watching it over and over as Emmie and I have.

Now, I don’t even like GoT and I thought it was really powerful. What I couldn’t get out of my head were the women in the video, especially Daenerys. I found myself wondering, “If I’m not a fan of the books or show, what is it that I’m reacting to? It has to be speaking to me in some other way.” This is my answer to that question, setting aside all mythology associated with the book/show.

The first part of my answer is we’re seeing women that history has not allowed us to have and that we desperately need. The second thing we see in the video is Daenerys freeing the slaves of her people, effectively becoming a savior/mother-figure to them. While there have always been and will always be women who do not fight for good, for the most part women have risen up against injustice in the world, from the abolitionists, to those who went on hunger strikes to get the right to vote, and those who set up schools today in countries where the education of girls is considered pointless, or even immoral. But we have always had to do it from the sidelines or the background. Only a rare few, like Benazir Bhutto, have been granted the power to do so from an official standpoint. And look what happened to her – when she became too controversial, she was killed. Silence the ones who speak out, the story goes, and others will be afraid to raise their voices. Oh, how wrong that theory is.

Daenerys’ declaration, “I am the dragon’s daughter and I swear to you, those who would harm you will die screaming,” is so powerful it gives me chills. This is the kind of fierce love of a queen for her people that calls to mind the warrior queens of old like Boudicca and Macha. (Interesting that I could only name one historical queen and had to revert to mythology for the other.) I firmly believe that if we had more female rulers throughout history, we would have seen this kind of protective determination time and time again. After all, even Queen Elizabeth I considered herself married to her country and did all she could to defend her people, her only children by choice, from the Spanish. She may well be the closest modern equivalent we have to Daenerys.

Cersei is the wisdom in this video, stating the stark truth that a queen such as Boudicca or Guinevere would have known, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Say what you will about their politics, but this strikes me as something Margaret Thatcher or Hilary Clinton would have said, a straight-shooting wisdom borne from years of experience and a desire to not play the sugar-coated games of flattery that male politicians usually engage in. I firmly believe that a woman in power would be less likely to go to war than a man. Women tend to try to solve things diplomatically, using violence only as a last resort or a form of self/loved one/country/tribe defense. I’m not saying we’d have a utopia, but I think our world would have less violence with more women ruling things.

I find it interesting that one of the most compelling lines of the whole video is delivered to a young female character: “There is only one thing we say to death, ‘not today.'” That is a message that women the world over, like this young girl, need to be told. If we were told from little on that our answer to oppression – whether it be religious, political, sexual or economic – should be “No, not today,” what a stronger, more balanced world we would have. I propose that we all adopt that as our slogan and sing it loud in our lives. We may not be queens, but we can show in our lives that we will not be subjugated, forced to endure a thousand tiny deaths at the hands of men.*

I know I’ve taken this all out of context of the book/show, both of which have done their fair share to perpetuate violence against and oppression of women, but I think this  video strikes an important nerve in the female subconscious (or at least in mine). We need more women like we see here: queens/presidents willing to stake their lives on protecting their people and doing what is right, women who speak the hard truths people may not wish to hear, and those to accept the message that no, it’s not okay to bow down to societal forms of death – not today, not ever.

Until our world changes and we can have these women in power in reality, it is our duty as female writers to create them in fiction. These are the characters to whom women young and old will relate, to seek to emulate, and we need more daring Daenerys. Otherwise, when winter comes, and we know it will as it has so many times before, we will find ourselves unprepared.

*I by no means believe that all men are oppressors. I know there are many who willingly champion our cause. And yes, I am a feminist, but I am not a man-hater. I was fortunate enough to attend an all-girls high school that taught me how to stand up for myself. And now that is why I write stories of strong women.

PS – I’m seriously considering getting “I am the dragon’s daughter,” tattooed on me to remind myself that I am strong and have a duty to my foremothers to stand up against oppression.

What are your thoughts on the video or the opinions I’ve shared? How/why does the video speak to you? Am I way off base?

Writing as a Career

Recently I’ve had more and more conversations about professionalism as an author. I’ve also seen more posts popping up on how to behave professionally. This is something that comes and goes in waves. Last year there was a lot said on “Authors Behaving Badly” and “Reviewers Behaving Badly”. What I haven’t seen much about is the overall professionalism that is necessary when you decide to make writing your career. Not just with reviews, but at conferences, online in general, and at signings.

So here are a few things I think we tend to forget when we spend day in and day out behind a computer in our PJs.

1. Appearance

One of the greatest things about being writing being your career is the freedom to be who you are. A stuffy suit isn’t always required. While PJs are fine for working at home, when you head off to a signing or conference, I’d recommend making sure you check to see what general dress codes are. Also, make sure you plan your wardrobe to fit what you’ll be doing. If you are on a panel speaking, signing, or pitching to agents you want to make sure you look your best. Even in jeans and a nice shirt.

2. In-Person Attitude

I’ve had a handful of experiences that I would prefer not to repeat when I’ve met an author. It’s important to remember that no matter how big (or small) you may be, you are still a person. Readers will be ecstatic if you acknowledge them with a simple hello. You will more than likely make their day if you offer to sign swag or their book. And if you have a conversation with them about every day life, not just your work, then you’ve probably made their whole weekend. But don’t forget a blow off can ruin the weekend as well. When you are promoting yourself in person, you have to put away all the stress and focus on the positive. Fake til you make it if necessary.

3. On-line Attitude

If you’re anything like me, it’s a lot easier to open up online. As a professional I have to remember just because I’m behind a screen doesn’t mean I can let it all out. It can be easy to type a long ranty post and hit publish. But I caution you to do this. Yes, readers like to see authors as people. That doesn’t mean they want to know all of your dirty laundry. You don’t have to be upbeat and happy all the time, but it’s important to have someone close to you who you can confide in when the waters gets rough. A close confidant is much better at offering advice than the Internet anyway. 🙂

I love writing. It is now my career and I wouldn’t want anything different. It’s always good to remember that this is still a job. One that helps to pay my bills and if I want to be successful I have to be professional–I just get to have fun while doing it.

What tips do you have?