Michaeline: Wolves, Past and Present

A friend of mine recently got pregnant, and told me she’s been having nightmares about wolves eating her baby and making her buy another child. It made me stop and think about wolves, and the power they have over our imaginations . . . largely a power that results from story.

Red Riding Hood comes closer to the Wolf disguised as Grandmother
When wolves were a common neighborhood terror. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t think I’ve ever lived in an area where there were wolves; they were never an actual problem, but still, wolves loom large. They are themselves, but they are also a human-made metaphor for things that worry us greatly.

In “Little Red Riding Hood,” the wolf was a predator who ate little girls, as well as grandmothers. There was a moral to the story: don’t talk to strangers, or if you are sick in bed, don’t forget to lock the door.

The wolf as sexual predator was common in pop culture during the first half of the 20th century. Young women would call a problem male a “wolf.” Whistles at attractive young women were called “wolf whistles.” In cartoons, a male character when catching sight of a pretty girl would transform into a wolf . . . eyes bulging, two fingers in the mouth whistling.

Wolves didn’t have to be sexual predators, though. In “The Three Little Pigs,” the wolf was a force of nature . . . huffing and puffing houses down in an attempt to eat the pigs. In this story, the motive is spelled out: the wolf is hungry. So, it’s almost easy to sympathize with the wolf, but the moral of this story is that there are right ways and wrong ways to get a meal, and sliding down the chimney will land a wolf in hot water, not in front of the dining table.

Continue reading

Jilly: Homes With Character

Would you read a book that had a house or piece of land as an important character?

Long ago, in class, we discussed the role of the antagonist, aka the Bad Guy or Girl. We learned that a strong, smart, all-powerful opponent makes for great genre fiction, because their actions will push the heroine to her limits, forcing her to make difficult choices and in the process to grow and change before she eventually triumphs.

We also learned that Nature (a desert, a mountain, a storm) does not make a good antagonist, because it isn’t sentient. Even if it tests and challenges the heroine, it doesn’t respond to her actions. It doesn’t push back, so the story lacks zing.

That made sense to me at the time, but lately not so much. Because in a fantasy world a piece of land, or a house, can be sentient. If it can react, it can be a character, and lately I’ve read a few interesting books and series that use this trope. It’s an idea that holds so much potential. Part of any story’s power is what the reader brings to it, and almost all of us have deep ties to and strong feelings about places we’ve lived. Imagine if that place also had strong feelings about us, and the power to express those feelings? It’s not that much of a stretch if you’ve ever visited somewhere and felt stifled and claustrophobic, or instantly at home. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Messiah Trope

Last weekend, on the recommendation of my 16-year-old granddaughter, I watched the Winx saga on Netflix. The story opens as 16-year-old Bloom arrives at Alfea, a boarding school for fairies. The school also has a wing for “Specialists”–non-magical but gifted fighters. Alfea is a training ground where the students are taught the skills needed to protect the Magix realm from the Burned Ones, an army of horrifically burned creatures whose touch generates an infection that will kill the recipient if the Burned One isn’t quickly eliminated.

Bloom has grown up in a human family. When she reached adolescence and her powers as a fire fairy awoke, she unintentionally set the house on fire, resulting to third-degree burns to her mother. After being recruited to Alfea, Bloom is initially told there were family genes somewhere far up her family try, but she eventually learns she’s a changeling–a fae infant who was substituted for a human baby without the human parents’ knowledge. Over the course of the 6-episode series it becomes clear she was born to save Magix from the Burned Ones. (She’s also self-absorbed and a bit of a mono-maniac about finding her real parents.)

That got me to thinking about the Messiah/Savior trope in children’s fantasy literature. A few features of the messiah figure are:

  1. They were born for a specific purpose.
  2. Their birth/coming may have been foretold.
  3. They are way better at fighting and/or magic than their peers.
  4. They are often orphaned or half-orphaned
  5. They have often been fostered in a family outside the realm they’re supposed to save, and come to the job as adolescents.
  6. They have often been badly treated by these caregivers, giving them an inner resiliency.

Examples of child saviors are:

  • Harry Potter–enters wizarding world at age 11.
  • Frodo Baggins–sets off on a quest to destroy the One Ring at age 51 (which is much younger for a hobbit than it is for a human)
  • Anakin Skywalker (but he turned to the Dark Side) –9 in Episode I–The Phantom Menace and 19 in Episode II–Attack of the Clones
  • Luke Skywalker–sets off to save the galaxy from the Empire’s battle station at age 19
  • Katniss Everdeen–steps up to take his sister’s place in the Hunger Games at age 17, setting off a chain of events that will bring down the repressive government of Panem.
  • Jonas in The Giver is 12 years old when he becomes the Receiver, charged with keeping memories of the before-times for his community, which has elected to take away life choices from people as a way of preventing discord.

Recently, I’ve been reading the Kate Daniels books by husband and wife writing duo Ilona Andrews and it occurs to me that Kate appears to be another example of a messiah character. I’m only on the fourth book and at this point I don’t know if she winds up saving her world (though I suspect she does) but she definitely checks most of the other boxes.

It also occurs to me that heroine of my first book, The Demon Always Wins, checks a lot of these boxes–Dara was born to save Belial; she’s better at demon-fighting than anyone else (in part because few others recognize the presence of demons in this world); she was orphaned as a small child; she was brought up by her grandparents, who were absorbed with fighting demons.

Funny the stuff you internalize without ever realizing it.

Jilly: Secret Declarations

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate the occasion! Chez Jilly, 14th February falls between our wedding anniversary (flowers, champagne) and Mr. W’s birthday (cake, treats) so we don’t make much of it.

I enjoy all the online hoopla, though. It takes me back to my teens, when receiving a valentine card brought major bragging rights at my girls-only high school. Extra kudos for multiple cards, and most of all for unknown senders. I wasn’t the prettiest or the most popular girl in my class, but one year I received three valentine cards and had no idea who’d sent any of them. Whoo!

I can still remember the giddy, fizzy excitement of it. And ever since those long-ago days, the secret/unilateral/unconditional love declaration has been one of my all-time favorite romance genre tropes. Of course, it’s especially delicious because the reader knows the secret will eventually be uncovered, even if she knows not when or how.

The greatest secret declaration story must be Pride and Prejudice. Reserved, uptight, principled Darcy uses his considerable power and influence to save Lizzy from social ruin by bribing a man he rightly despises to marry his beloved’s disgraced airhead of a younger sister. Darcy uses his personal capital to give credibility to the unlikely wedding, whilst doing his utmost to keep his involvement under the radar. He does it all for love, but he’s genuinely embarrassed when Lizzy finds out and confronts him. Swoon!

I think one of the most delightful examples is Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. When country-mouse Kitty persuades rich, good-natured Freddy into a fake engagement so that Kitty can sample the delights of London society (and win the heart of handsome rake Jack), it gradually becomes apparent that Freddy has fallen head over heels in love with Kitty, with no expectation that his feelings will ever be returned. Kitty’s meager budget is wholly inadequate to meet the costs of living among the ton, so Freddy quietly finds ways to meet the shortfall, leaving Kitty in a Cinderella-like whirl of beautiful clothes and exciting new experiences. When his benevolent duplicity is finally revealed, he simply shrugs and says he wanted Kitty to have everything she ever wished for. Nothing more, nothing less. Sigh.

It works wonderfully in fantasy, too. Take The Talon of the Hawk, my favorite of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. The hero, Harlan, is the (smart, hot, principled) leader of a team of foreign mercenaries hired by a capricious High King who doubts the loyalty of Ursula, his dutiful daughter/heir. Ursula’s distrust of Harlan is deep and powerful, but that doesn’t deter him from making an irrevocable commitment of his own and signaling it in a deliciously oblique manner. A secret declaration combined with another of my most favorite tropes–a hero who’s all-in, long before the scales fall from the heroine’s eyes.

I could go on, but I feel the urge to break out the champagne truffles and go on a re-reading binge 😉

How about you? Are you a fan of the secret declaration trope? If not, which ones make your heart beat faster?

Michaeline: Saturday Morning Cartoons

Bugs Bunny star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Bugs Bunny’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In my childhood, Saturday morning meant cartoons. No sleeping in for me! I was glued to the screen watching even crappy cartoons from six or seven a.m. until lunch. One of my favorites were the Looney Tunes cartoon hour. I enjoyed the tales of the Singing Frog from 1892 (One Froggy Evening, 1955), Marvin the Martian, and Speedy Gonzales, but my favorite stories were about Bugs Bunny.

I’m not sure how they got these cartoons on the air in the late 70s and early 80s. Parents were already wary of gratuitous violence – Wile E. Coyote and his plans to permanently rid his life of the cheerful Roadrunner, Elmer Fudd wandering around woods, forests and opera houses with his hunting rifle, Marvin the Martian ready to eradicate the earth and any loose Earthlings.

And then there’s the sensibility – many of these cartoons were first made in the 1950s, a whole generation before X. A lot of their humor was rooted in even earlier times – 1930s gangster movies, slapstick comedy and snappy banter. I didn’t know who Liberace was, or what a teen idol Frank Sinatra was, or a single thing about Sally Rand and her amazing fans . . . but it didn’t matter. The jokes worked anyway for pre-teen me.

Looking back, it does make sense. Violence was very much a part of our world back then – we worried about the Soviet Union nuking us, and gun violence was in the news daily. Also, those re-runs had to have been a lot cheaper than making new cartoons. What I liked best about them, though, is that even though they were accessible to an eight-year-old, they weren’t meant for an eight-year-old. I felt they gave me a peephole into a sophisticated universe. (Note, as an eight-year-old, many of my notions of sophistication were actually shaped by Warner Brothers. It was a cycle that fed itself.)

One powerful lesson that the Looney Tunes taught was the power of the underdog – a quick-talking rabbit who was clever could Continue reading

Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction: The Action Workout

Depositphotos_27159627_l-2015This is the last of my posts on adapting manufacturing quality improvement techniques for fiction writing (unless I randomly remember another one at some point and see a connection).

The Action Workout was a group collaboration technique. The way it works is, you get a bunch of people into a room to review a process with an end goal of slimming the process down to its essentials, removing both unnecessary cost and opportunities for mistakes.

How, you ask, can this possibly be adapted for fiction writing? Hang with me and I’ll explain.

In the Action Workout as taught by a couple of women who ran the IT Help Desk at the manufacturer where I worked, the goal was to break the process into each of its discrete steps, identifying the steps that provided something of value to the customer. If a step didn’t add customer value, you looked for ways to remove it.

Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. What are the steps to serving a customer? Continue reading

Michille: Love in the Time of COVID-19, Part II

Heart

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Jeanne blogged about Love in the Time of Coronavirus. Specifically, she said this: Forced proximity is a romance trope wherein the couple in question is forced by circumstance (blizzard, long-haul truck run, bodyguard, work assignment, etc.) to spend time together. I agree that the stuck together trope will be very popular in the near future, there’s got to be others. I’ve blogged about romance during a disaster before. Jeanne is right again that blizzards are very common ways to get two people stuck together. Linda Howard has a good one in Ice.

But let’s think up some others. How about: Continue reading

Jeanne: Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Magnolia blossom

Magnolia blossoms, seen in my neighborhood on Sunday

Forced proximity is a romance trope wherein the couple in question is forced by circumstance (blizzard, long-haul truck run, bodyguard, work assignment, etc.) to spend time together. I suspect there will be an influx of these stories in the coming months but I have to tell you: I’m already tire of this trope.

Because we’re older and fairly sensible by nature, Old Dog and I started self-isolating a couple of weeks ago. We are doing better cooped up together than I would have expected. Under normal circumstances we have a tendency to snipe at each other when we’re feeling irritable, but we’ve managed to curtail that almost completely, at least for the duration.

For now, I’m able to get out and walk in my neighborhood or head to the nature preserve about 10 miles north of my house when cabin fever threatens to get out of control. If you don’t have that option, here’s a video from my walk earlier this week that may give you a little vicarious out-of-doors time. Continue reading

Jeanne: Is That a Light I See at the End of This Tunnel?

Depositphotos_176350754_s-2019

Megan, my secret-guarding novelist

This morning I went looking for the date I started on my current work-in-progress. The oldest document I found was a Scrivener project dated September of 2015 (?!). It says:

So the idea is that this book would contain three couples:

Lilith and Samael

Gabriel and Angela

Human1 and Human2

Each couple would have history that leaves them reluctant to re-engage with one another.

Lilith and Samael are charged with keeping Human1 and 2 from getting back together.

Gabriel and Angela are charged with getting Human1 and 2 back together.

The three stories play out against each other.

This, clearly, is just the kernel of an idea. I was still working on The Demon Always Wins at this point, and hadn’t even started The Demon’s in the Details, but I wanted to get the idea down on (electronic) paper before it got away. Continue reading