Michaeline: A New Beginning!

A girl holding a page, next to blooming daffodils

“With a leaf from an old English book, a jonquil will serve as a pen — ” (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, it’s another new beginning to a school year here in Japan. I just love a fresh start! There’s new years (of all sorts – Western, Chinese, Persian, fiscal, Ethiopian!), and I also enjoy the feeling of new beginnings that settle in during August, when my childhood school began. I’m spoilt for choice!

But a spring new year? Lovely! The grass here is just starting to turn green, and the daffodils are pushing through the sod. The whole world is ready to begin again, and while I know there will be setbacks (snow predicted for tonight, for example), I’ve got a whole season to grow.

Things do look a bit gloomy this year. My schools all have new curriculums, so time I could have spent daydreaming about stories must now be devoted to daydreaming about lesson plans. Also . . . world war looms. Trump just ordered missile strikes on Damascus, my morning news feed tells me. It kind of sucks all the story-telling soul out of me.

But on the other hand . . . when life goes to shit, isn’t that the best time to try and escape the drudgery and enter a world of fiction? I can’t really control what’s going on in my place of employment, and certainly I can’t do anything about North Korea. But, my story is mine. I can shape it as I like.

It’s a new beginning. Write. Write some more. Finish. Show people. Repeat. It’s not a bad plan, really.

Michaeline: A Wrinkle in Time

I mentioned it last week, but I’ve been travelling in the States for a couple of weeks, and been absorbing story right through my skin!

(Official trailer from YouTube)

Thursday, I got to see A Wrinkle in Time. My mom mentioned that I loved the book as a kid, and I do seem to remember reading it more than once. None of the details stuck, but the essence? Oh, yeah. The movie brought back all those feelings, and those positive messages of love that the book gave me through my mixed-up tween and early teen years.

First, a quick review of the movie: Continue reading

Michaeline: Good Villains, Writing Craft and Mute

Love padlocks on a bridge in Berlin. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD: Watch Mute on Netflix first if you are especially sensitive.

I just finished watching Mute, a near-future thriller that came out on Netflix this month. I found it a riveting story, full of nuances and great writing craft.

The villains are particularly worthy of study. In our writing class at McDaniels, Jennifer Crusie told us how important it is that the antagonist be as interesting and exciting as the protagonist – if not more so. (And here is a blog post from Argh Ink about it.) She also taught us that the villain is the hero of his or her own story, and that we should really like our villains.

If we create a villain that is devoid of all good things, we create a cardboard character with no real life. And on the flip side, our heroes should have flaws. It makes them more believable, and it allows us to pity them, or empathize with them.

In Mute, two of the very many bad guys are bantering army doctors who fix up (or take apart) people for an underworld businessman. Director and co-writer Duncan Jones said he had the duo (Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill and Justin Theroux as Duck) watch the movie MASH for inspiration (Geek Tyrant interview). These two guys are “the smartest guys in the room” and have the kind of great chemistry you need to pull off great banter. These guys are definitely the heroes of their own stories.

But the characters are selfish, and they have terrible flaws. Cactus Bill is Continue reading

Michaeline: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A darling boy dressed as a leprechaun with a top hat, knee breeches and buckled shoes

St. Patrick’s Day is almost always on March 17, and it’s a great way to celebrate your story-telling! (Image via the Graphics Fairy)

Today is another special day for writers: St. Patrick’s Day! The Irish are well known for producing excellent writers who touch the heart and the funny bone. One of my favorites is Oscar Wilde. And romance readers will surely recognize Maeve Binchy’s name! Here are some other authors you can check out on Claddagh Design blog.

Irish folktales provide a lot of fodder for people who like their stories with a little supernatural twist. There are the frightening stories of the banshee, who predict death with their wails, or a wide assortment of seductive creatures (you can find some of them here on Private Island Party blog) such as selkies and Gancanagh (a beautiful, toxic man whose sweat is full of addicting aphrodisiacs).

You probably remember that one of my characters is Thomas O’Malley, a leprechaun who passes as a person of small stature. He borrows some of the newer traits attributed to leprechauns, but I found (in the Irish Mirror, so they would know, LOL!) that the leprechauns were not originally from Ireland, but rather, came from an underwater kingdom in the mid-Atlantic. How they evolved into rainbow-sheltering cobblers is just a testament to how we can take old stories and twist them to suit our needs. Continue reading

Michaeline: The March Lion Takes a Nap

Cold and rainy winter day, street is banked with plowed snow, and the water is knee-deep. A small boxy car chugs through the water.

Through my windshield; this guy made it through the lake, so I figured I could, too. Photo by E.M. Duskova, March 9, 2018

World weather continued to rage this week in my friend universe, but today my area finally caught a break. The skies are blue, and the temps are above freezing, and it’s beginning to look a lot like spring.

But the March lion might just be taking a nap. Goodness, it roared this week! We got a snowstorm Thursday night, which turned into rain around 3 a.m. Friday morning. Schools were cancelled, but teachers still had to go into work if they didn’t want to use up vacation days. Out in the country, the roads were fairly good, but in the city, the streets were flooded with rain and snowmelt. At one point, I drove through a short stretch where the waters must have been 14 inches (35 cm) deep. I never know how deep is too deep; but since the car didn’t die, I guess it was OK.

All praise to the road workers out there during the wet and the ick, working to keep us safe. I got a shot of one guy scooping out a storm drain (I was stopped at a stop light). It made me think of this:

You never knew what was down storm drains. Rotting leaves, abandoned puppies, transdimensional beings who took a wrong turn at Albuquerque . . . it was all in a season’s work, and Jamal Frost was good at his work. Today, it looked like an ice dam was blocking the storm drain at corner of First and Maple, turning the street into a hip-deep pond. Well, hip-deep for him. His cousin Olivia would have been up to her neck in it.

Water flooding the street and a parking lot, decorated with plenty of ice reefs.

Three blocks later, more flooding at a busy intersection. The Yellow Hat tire company must have mermen as employees. Photo by E.M. Duskova, March 9, 2018.

Jamal didn’t inherit winter magic from his father, but summer magic from his mom, and that’s just what was needed on this spring day. He gathered power from the sleeping trees that lined the street, borrowing a little from their budding spring energy. Then he sent the power down, through the cold waters and into the dark storm drain. He could Feel his reach moving smoothly through the liquid, being blocked by the ice, then melting just a touch here on the edge, and a touch there in the center, and the ice shifting to allow a small crack for the waters to escape to the gray water system. There. A whirlpool appeared, and Jamal backed up so he wouldn’t get sucked into the hole.

At any rate, it stopped raining by 3 p.m. and by nightfall, a lot of the road surface was dry again. The floods had receded everywhere I drove, and today it’s lovely.

More snow predicted for Monday, though. Ah, March. More plot twists than a romantic thriller! There’s got to be a story under all this snow, somewhere!

A road worker is digging out the snow bank that is blocking the storm drain. He's ankle-deep in water, and the puddle is starting to swirl around him.

The road worker takes advantage of a stop light and stopped traffic to attempt to clear a snow drain. Our hero! Photo by E.M. Duskova, March 9, 2018.

Michaeline: Lots of Ideas and No Plot

Pre-dawn, March 2, 2018. Outside my kitchen window, on the day after the snow. (Photo by E.M. Duskova)

It’s one of those days, when my head is swirling with ideas, but there’s no obvious (or even non-obvious) plot line. So, I’ll just lay them out, one-by-one. Maybe one of them will lead to a plot line for you.

ALMANAC: Terrible snow in northern Japan, Britain and the east coast of the United States. They have been killer storms, in that at least one person has died. The story of one of the deaths in Hokkaido is a peculiar one. An NHK television reporter on his day off was driving in the forest, hunting deer, according to the Mainichi Shimbun. Three roadside assistant workers set off to rescue him after he got caught in the blizzard, but both of their trucks got stuck. They called for a snow plow, but it didn’t arrive, so one of the workers left to the car to check his surroundings, and he got lost in the snow and died. Snow is no joke, folks. If your hero and heroine are stuck in a snowed-in cabin, don’t send them out to look for help unless they’ve got a long rope tied to the front door. And if they are arguing in a car that drives into the ditch? Make sure they clear the exhaust pipe so they don’t get carbon monoxide poisoning. Unless, of course, they want an unhappy ending.

ALMANAC, PART 2: Cheerful news! Today is the Doll Festival of Japan. Families with young girls typically set up a diorama (that can range in size from a small cabinet to a 5-foot high staircase of decoration) depicting an imperial wedding in the Heian era. The full set has all the props – the bride’s sewing kit and rice cooker, all the way up through the Ministers of the Left and Right, the musicians and three hand-maidens, all topped by the bride and groom on the top tier. It’s like Barbie on steroids, with a good dose of historical drama. Traditionally, children could play with the dolls, but these days, the fancy sets are upwards of $1500, and for display only. The dolls must be promptly put away tomorrow, or superstition says the girls in the family will have trouble finding marriage.

RANDOM JAPANESE IMPERIAL TRIVIA: Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji during her time in the Japanese imperial court during the Heian period (she wrote between 1000 and 1012). According to Wikipedia, Continue reading

Michaeline: Cold Starts for February Fun

I’ve got to say, I just love a cold start on a fresh story. It’s almost a miracle the way ideas bump together and a structure starts to build up where before there was just random litter. I feel like a caveman, bumping rocks together and watching pretty sparks come out . . . and light my campfire.

I found the video clip we’ve been showing this week of Diana Gabaldon’s process to be very natural. The thing that amazes me is that she relies on only one external input – that crystal goblet from a Sotheby’s catalog. For me, I like to have at least two things bump together.

Those things can be words (like in Elizabeth’s writing sprints on Fridays) or images (all praise to Google Image search). My own experiences are like the logs on the fire – the sparks I get (if I’m lucky) fall on some dry memory ready to burst into flames and story.

For example, my Bunny Blavatsky stories started out when I was googling women photographers. Google led me to Bunny Yeager (image from The Atlantic.com). What an exciting name for a character! Full of cuteness and jet planes and all sorts of resonances. But Continue reading