If You’re Going Through Hell…

So, I was thinking what is it that makes a character memorable?  What is it that authors do that makes us as readers want to stick around for that character’s journey, that makes us keep turning pages, and have an almost visceral reaction at the end of that character’s journey? 

The answer I came up with is simple.  The author puts that character through hell, literally and figuratively.  A memorable character is battered, bloodied (often times literally), knocked down over and over—and yet that character gets up again and again and again.  Rather like the country music song with the line that if you’re going through hell, keep on going.
I’ll illustrate with a few of my favorite characters.  Look at the journey of Scarlett O’Hara the spoiled rotten princess at the beginning of Gone With The Wind.  By the end of the book, she’s been through three husbands; survived a War which defined who we are as a nation; shot, killed, and buried in a shallow grave a Union deserter intent on robbing her and her family of what little they had left after that War; lost a child to a freak accident; lost the woman who truly was her best friend (though Scarlett didn’t have a clue how good Melanie was until it was too late); and sees the only man who could be her equal in all manners walk out on her.  It’s only with Rhett walking out on her that Scarlett realizes it isn’t Ashley she wants, it is Rhett.  Yet, despite everything that happens to her, Scarlett gets up, lifts her chin, and plunges onward, because in her worldview, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow is another day to walk out of the hell her creator placed her in.
Another of my favorite characters is Morgaine of the Fairies from The Mist of Avalon. Morgaine is taken from her mother at a young age, to be trained as a Priestess of the Goddess.  She lives through the trials of becoming a priestess, accidently sleeps with her own half-brother (Arthur), conceives a child by her half-brother, is forced to give that child up when she develops milk-fever, watches her son be groomed to despise Arthur and ultimately challenge Arthur for his Kingship, and in the end, watches her son and her brother destroy one another in the battle for Camelot and she is helpless to stop their deaths.  Yet, she gets up and takes Arthur to Avalon, knowing that is the only way to preserve Arthur’s dream of a peaceful Britannia.  The novel ends with Morgaine realizing that all the time she fought against the new religion that Arthur gave homage to was a waste of precious resources and more precious blood.  This new religion has not replaced the Goddess in the hearts and minds of Her people.  Rather, She has just assumed a new form.  Morgaine’s journey through hell has left her physically broken but much wiser.
The last of the memorable characters on this very abbreviated list is Harry Potter.  Look at the hell his creator put him through: orphaned, raised by people who—at best neglect him and at worst are downright abusive to him—thrown into an environment where his life is in danger in every single book, and by the end of the series, everything he thought he knew was turned upside down.  His dad wasn’t the paragon of virtue Harry wanted to believe he was, his godfather attempted to murder Severus Snape using Remus Lupin in his werewolf form as the murder weapon, his mother was friends with Snape, and everything Snape—the one person that Harry was certain was evil to the core—did to protect Harry, to keep him alive, and insure that Harry could defeat Voldemort was done out of unrequited love for Harry’s mother.  Harry even had to make the choice to die and then actually die to be able to defeat Voldemort. 
As an author, I have to put my characters through hell.  If the characters aren’t going through hell, there isn’t a lot compelling a reader to keep turning the pages.  So, I’m driving the bus right into the heart of hell.  Hop on.  It’s going to be a fun ride.  I promise on the other end of the ride, it will all work out fine.

The Searchers

When I was thirteen, I saw the movie The Searchers for the first time.  My parents both warned me, that despite starring John Wayne, this was not the John Wayne I had already grown to love and respect.  John Wayne in this movie was the embodiment of unreasoning evil.  To say I was appalled while watching the movie would be a massive understatement.  I refused to watch the movie again until I was well into my twenties and curiosity compelled to watch it again to see if my memories meshed with the reality of the film.
My memories were correct.  John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards was as vile and unreasoning as I remembered, but with age also came an ability to see what a masterpiece this film is.  It is listed time and again on the top one hundred movies of all time, and often is in the top ten for westerns.
Ethan’s racism and hatred for anything that didn’t fit into his “white’s only” worldview, however, continued to haunt me.  When I started work on my master’s degree in English, during the first semester of master’s work, all master’s students must take a class on bibliography and research.  The culmination of that class is a term paper of no less than fifteen pages, not including the “works cited” pages.  I decided, early on, I wanted to write about The Searchers.  Because I’m inherently lazy, my favorite method of analysis is deconstructionism—revealing where and how the text (in this case, the film) is at odds with itself, with society (either in general or the society presented within the text), and how the opposing forces within that text cause instability and ultimately cause the text to unravel. 
I spent weeks researching this movie, watching it over and over, and even went to the John Ford Archives, housed at the Lilly Library on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington.  I was allowed to view an original script from the movie, complete with Ford’s own notations in the margins.  Like a bolt out of the blue, while reading Ford’s notations and comparing those notes to the movie, it became very apparent there were things that Ford changed literally moments before a shoot. 
Ford takes the character of Ethan Edwards and makes him into a katabatic hero (the hero who has to descend into the depths of hell and return).  Ford also took great pains to portray Ethan as an unbending, narrow-minded, vicious racist and at one point in the movie, uses Hollywood film-making short-hand to hammer home the point that Ethan is not the hero of this film.  In the scene at the fort, when Ethan and Marty (the half-Indian who is also searching for Ethan’s niece, Debbie) arrive to discern if one of the white girls “saved” from the Natives could be Debbie, the tightening of the scene to only Ethan’s face, twisted with hatred and half shrouded with darkness makes it very clear that Ethan is not the hero.  Tight shots like that were reserved for the villains in Hollywood.
Anyone who has ever seen The Searchers for the first time cannot help but spend the whole movie wondering if Ethan is going to kill his own niece because, in Ethan’s own words, “she ain’t white no more.” 
Another change that Ford did, on the day of the shooting, because it is not in the script and it isn’t noted in the margins, is the scene where Ethan rides into Scar’s tent (Ethan’s foil in the movie, because in his own way, Scar is just as much a racist and just as narrow-minded as Ethan), kills Scar and scalps him.  Heroic white men did not do that.  In the movie Cheyenne Dawn, another Ford movie, the white men who arrive in a saloon with scalps taken from Native Americans are treated with less than contempt. 
So, with all that going on in The Searchers, what makes this such a cinematic masterpiece, that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorcisi all claim to watch it at least once a year, and that garners top rankings in “Best of” lists?  A lot of things.  First of all was the landscape porn that Ford was so in love with.  We, as viewers, are granted breath-taking panoramic views of Monument Valley, where the men searching for Debbie are juxtaposed against this huge vista.  Ford’s use of light and shadows goes into the realm of artistry.  Secondly was the manner that Ford darkened the character of Ethan, and then did not give us any forgiveness or redemption for Ethan.  The movie opens with a shot through an opening doorway and ends with the movie being shot through a door which closes on Ethan, leaving him out in the wilderness and denied acceptance into society.  Marty, the half-Indian, is welcomed back into society.  The girl who “ain’t white no more” is welcomed back into that society.  The unbending racist is denied acceptance and return to society.
I strongly recommend watching The Searchers, more than once.  Watch it several times.  At the least, watch it once a year.

The Cosmic Shooting Gallery

An astronomer recently said that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery.  Recent events have certainly given credence to that statement.  The massive meteor that seared across the Russian Urals early this morning and the missing us by a whisker (in astronomical terms) of an asteroid brought it all home. 
What I found so interesting was the seeming nonchalance of the many Russian drivers who recorded the fly-over of the meteor.  In Russia, I gather, many vehicles have dash and rear mounted cameras to prove who was at fault in an accident and also to try to keep the police from attempting extortion or intimidation on motorists.  (That could be a whole other blog, now that I think about it.)  However, those dash cams caught this fireball arcing across the early morning sky and of all the video I’ve watched, not a single driver seemed to pay it the least bit of attention. 
I’m sorry.  If I saw something like that blazing a path across the sky in front of me, I’d be slamming on the brakes, rubber necking to see what in the sam hill it was, and at the least, remarking about it.  How often does the average person see a ten ton—a TEN TON—piece of rock fall out of the heavens?  That chunk of space debris punched an eight meter wide hole in the ice of a frozen lake.  Several smaller pieces broke off and one of those pieces slammed into a factory, causing the roof and part of a wall to collapse.  It produced a sonic boom strong enough to shatter windows and released more energy than the nuclear bomb North Korea recently detonated in a not so secret test.  In just about any circle, that isn’t a normal, every-day occurrence.
And then there was the asteroid 2012 DA14 which passed about 17,000 miles above us, closer than the satellites orbiting the heavens above us.  In astronomical terms, that’s razor burn. 
These aren’t the first rocks to drop from the heavens.  Most of the impact craters from these space bullets have been eroded away over time, because we do live on a living planet, but there are quite a few still visible.  Meteor Crater in Arizona is probably the most well preserved of these craters, because of the environment of Arizona itself.  Another crater is in the Yucatan Peninsula, known as the Chicxulub Crater.  This creation of this crater is probably what sounded the death knell for the dinosaurs. 
There are over 170 known or suspected impact craters on Earth, the largest  and oldest of these just recently discovered in Greenland.  One of the reasons that we don’t have a lot more is because as I said, we live on a living planet and the forces of erosion and tectonic plate movement do gradually erase these scars from the surface of our planet. 
However, if it’s all the same to Mother Nature, I’d like to stay out of the shooting gallery.  I don’t want to look up into the sky and see a pinpoint of bright light rapidly approaching and realize that I’m standing dead center in the bulls-eye.  Or, as one astronomer tweeted, “These events are just the universe’s way of saying ‘How’s that asteroid detection program coming?’”

It’s My Job

My Muse and I have reached a truce.  I have promised that I will keep working on the new manuscript that I started for NaNoWriMo if She will leave me alone to work on the edits for Gossamer Dreams.  So far, it seems to be working.  I twisted around and around and around how to resolve some character motivation issues almost a month ago on my way to Starkville, Mississippi and just could not make the pieces fit.  I felt like I was trying to put a square peg into a round hole.  As anyone knows who has attempted such a feat, it ain’t easy.
Then, on Wednesday, on my way to the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, the resolution hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was going at it all wrong.  Instead of trying to figure out Cole’s motivation and change that, I needed to adjust Rebecca’s. 
It probably means a total rewrite of two-thirds of the manuscript, but that’s okay.  Once I get into it, it won’t take long—if I can convince my family to leave me alone to write.  I love my family to pieces, but they still just don’t understand when I have the headphones on and my fingers are flying over the keyboard, I really am working.  My job is writing.
As supportive as my DH is, he doesn’t quite understand that I have to view this as a full time job.  That means a 9 to 5 job—or a 8 PM to 4 AM—or whenever I can put those hours in.  Somehow, my family just doesn’t view this as a job.  Sigh…
Now, if only my Muse can talk to them and tell them to leave me alone when I’m writing.  

Pet Peeves While Reading

I have a few pet peeves when I’m reading a book, any book, and because they’re my pet peeves, I go out of my way to try to avoid the things I dislike in my own writing. 
My first pet peeve is the hero/heroine that is TSTL (too stupid to live).  I’ve been reading an e-book that was free (good thing it was, too) and I thought the blurb looked interesting.  So, I downloaded said book onto my Kindle and that night I started reading.  A few pages into said e-book, I’m thinking that the heroine is a Mary Sue.  Okay, we’ve all written one of those and perhaps, to some extent, all our characters are Mary Sues or Gary Stews.  As the creative force in a character, some of ourselves does tend to bleed over into those characters.  I could condone that.  Two thirds of the way into this book, however, I realized the heroine was not only a Mary Sue, she was going to become a TSTL character.  The hero, a supernatural being, has spent the last several chapters begging the heroine to not confront the completely, totally, evil supernatural being devoid of anything resembling a conscience all by herself.  Guess what she did?  Sigh…all by her little lonesome…I didn’t finish said book and I’m debating deleting it from my Kindle.  I wondered how in heaven’s name said book was published, so I checked the front page for publication information.  Oh, here’s a surprise.  It was self-published.  That is not to say that there are not a lot of good self-published books out there, but if you want to self-publish, for the love of heaven, hire a good editor!
Another of my pet peeves is head hopping.  Because I struggle with POV on a regular basis (just ask my editor, she’ll tell you), I am hyper-sensitive to it in other works.  I don’t like reading and feeling like I’m trying to follow a tennis match.  For the love of all that’s holy, STOP HEAD-HOPPING!  If the character you’re working with can’t see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or feel it, and you’re writing about how the character’s face twisted with anger—you’re probably NOT in that character’s POV.  Most of us don’t think, “Gee, I’ll bet my face is twisted in anger,” when we’re angry. 
My last pet peeve is probably my biggest peeve and a guaranteed manner to insure I’m not buying your book.  I will read the free sneak peek on Amazon for a book and if I find a glaring historical inaccuracy, I’m not purchasing said book, no matter how good the sneak peek is.  Matter of fact, I stop reading at that inaccuracy.  As someone who has a major in history to go with my master’s in English, and is totally anal about historical accuracy, historical inaccuracy is the fastest way to make me stop reading because you’ve now destroyed the sense of suspended disbelief that any reader must maintain to get into a book.  
Case in point…I was reading the sneak peek of a book and the author began describing the uniform of a doctor serving during the Civil War.  He was dressed in grey…okay, he was with the Confederate forces.  So far, so good.  He had shoulder boards with M.S on the board…Oh, the author did not just write that…the vast majority of Confederate troops DID NOT have shoulder boards, in a deliberate attempt to keep their uniforms different from those of the Union.  On his collar, which was buff colored, was his rank in “intricate scrollwork.”  Not unless he was a general…and the author wrote this doctor was a captain, and general was one star per rank as general, encompassed within a laurel wreath design.  Okay, captain would be three bars on the collar—no scrollwork.  The scrollwork was on the sleeves of the frock coats, shell jackets, and greatcoats, and the pattern was an Austrian (or sometimes called a Hungarian) knot, and again, the number of the braids determined the rank.  Captain would have two rows of braid worked into that Austrian knot pattern on the sleeves.  Then the author wrote about the yellow stripe on the outside seam of said doctor’s trousers and the red sash this doctor was wearing.  Lemme get this straight…this guy was so far out of uniform he should have been arrested as a spy and shot on sight, or arrested for impersonating a general, or something.  Yellow meant cavalry.  Red was for artillery.  The medical corps on either side of the conflict had black velvet stripes on the outside trouser seam, and most of the medical corps of the Confederacy had black trim on the jackets, frock coats, and great coats.  Green was also an approved color for the medical corps, so black trim with a green sash would have been fine.  Not cavalry trousers, artillery signification with the red sash, buff trim which was only for generals and general officers, and scrollwork on the collar! 
In this day of much easier research with the internet, there is no excuse for historical inaccuracy.  It took me five minutes on Google to find everything I needed when I needed to write about signifying rank on a Confederate officer’s uniform. 
So, what’s your pet peeve when reading a book?

A Long Overdue Farewell

Corporal Robert Archer

Our little town marked a long overdue, solemn ceremony today.  In 1950, nineteen year old Corporal Robert Archer, of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division was listed as missing in action in the Korean Conflict.  In 1951, it was reported that he died in a Chinese prisoner of war camp of malnourishment.
Today, Cpl. Archer’s remains arrived at Indianapolis International Airport and he was transported with full military honors to a local funeral home. 
I had to be in town to go to the post office and what I saw in town gives me hope for my country.  In downtown Brazil every corner was adorned with American flags while citizens, retired military, many members of law enforcement and local fire departments stood in small clusters, huddled against the cold, waiting for the funeral procession to bring Cpl. Archer to the funeral home.  There is an elementary school along the procession route and the children of the school were also standing out on the sidewalk, bundled up for the cold wait. 
On my way home, I met the funeral procession.  I have never seen cars pull onto a shoulder as fast as I did while those vehicles in the procession slowly traveled west into town.  Many people got out of their cars and stood quietly in respect for this fallen hero.  I was one of them.  As a former member of the military, I came to attention in a salute.  Miles of vehicles behind the procession did not attempt to pass the procession and many had their lights on in respect for this young man who gave the last full measure for our country.
While I stood at attention, honoring this young man who died long before I was even a gleam in my daddy’s eye, it struck me that this could have been my daddy.  Daddy served proudly with the 101st Airborne Division.  He wore his “pukin’ pigeon” with immense pride.  He went to clerical school at Fort Benjamin Harrison and after that, he was slated to go to Germany and then Korea.  Fortunately for me, my brother, and definitely my mother the conflict came to an end before he had to go to Korea.
My daddy died several years ago.  I still remember the discussion my brother and I had when we were planning what to dress Daddy in and what to place in his coffin with him.  We knew no suit and tie for him because if we sent him off dressed in that manner, he would come back and haunt us for the rest of our lives.  So, Daddy wore his favorite flannel shirt, blue jeans, and of course his suspenders.  To honor Daddy, everyone—myself included—wore a pair of suspenders to his funeral.  We put his “Pit Crew” jacket in with him, earned from his days of assisting with the pit crew of the Northview Marching Knights when my son was in the marching band.  He was so proud of those kids, and especially my son—who took up the clarinet because “Grandpa said it was his favorite instrument.”  We also put a pack of cigarettes and a lighter into the breast pocket of his shirt.  Even though Daddy had quit smoking decades before, he was always bumming a “goodie” from me or my brother.  And, lastly, we put his ballcap with the 101st official logo on it in with him.
Korea has been termed “The Forgotten War.” I am thankful for the turn-out today for this long ago fallen hero.  Daddy was one of those men who served in this forgotten war.  He was a part of the volunteer honor guard who placed flags on the court house lawn every Memorial Day because he considered it not only his duty but his honor to pay respects to those men we honor every May for their service and sacrifice.
So, to Corporal Robert Archer, I offer my respect, and my gratitude for your service and for the ultimate sacrifice you paid.  Rest in peace, brother.  Rest in peace.

Sucking It Up

I’ll admit it, I’m tired.  I’m very tired of the negativity that seems to be pervasive in today’s society.  I will also admit I fell into the trap of negativity and I over-reacted to something that usually doesn’t even annoy me any more than a mosquito on a hot July evening.  Most of the time, I’m pretty easy going and not that hard to get along with.  Lately, I’ve had a hair-trigger on my snarkiness and temper.  So not a good thing…
I’m physically tired.  Insomnia is brutal.  I’ve suffered from it since I was in my very early teens.  I may joke about getting a lot of writing and creative work done in the wee hours of the morning, but the truth is, severe insomnia is crippling and exhausting.  (Not to mention expensive because it takes a LOT of concealer to hide these circles and bags under my eyes.)  If it wasn’t for a prescription sleeping aid, I would never sleep.  The few times I’ve been without said sleeping aid for a day or two I honestly did not sleep.  The attack of the zombies happens often at my house.  Fortunately my DH doesn’t believe in shooting zombies because if he did, this is one zombie who would be dead.
I’m emotionally exhausted.  I feel as if my emotional/spiritual batteries are completely depleted.  I’ve gone past the warning blink that says I’m down to “less than 10% battery left.”  It’s been a rough fall and early winter.  I gave everything I had to the classes I taught this fall semester and that is something I wouldn’t change for the world.  I owe it to my students to give them 100% in my classes.  I have actually deleted a lot of the Facebook pages I followed because the reports on those pages were just too frightening and left me feeling helpless and totally jaded. 
Unfortunately, this exhaustion is bleeding over into my writing.  I am literally forcing myself to write the edits that need done to Gossamer Dreams and as any author knows, when a writer has to force him or herself to write, it ain’t pretty.  I’m managing to get five or six pages of edits done in about three hours.  Sigh…this is going to take longer than I thought it was. 
I didn’t find myself forcing the words to come with the edits for The Devil’s Own Desperado.  Maybe that was because it was my first, and the enthusiasm and excitement overrode any and everything else.  Maybe I liked that couple more…Nah…I actually like Cole and Rebecca a lot but right now, something isn’t clicking with the three of us.  Wow, taken out of context, that sentence could be really loaded.  (Oh, look…the snark is returning.) 
Time to go back to the edits.  If the snark is back, it means the second wind has hit…come on, buttercup, back to that other reality…