Friday, August 31, 2012

The Villain: Twisted Hero or Evil Incarnate?

“No one is an unjust villain in his own mind. Even - perhaps even especially - those who are the worst of us. Some of the cruelest tyrants in history were motivated by noble ideals, or made choices that they would call 'hard but necessary steps' for the good of their nation. We're all the hero of our own story.”
Jim Butcher, Turn Coat

One of my favorite quotes from urban fantasy author Jim Butcher expresses the concept of evil, not as an absolute, but as an expression of the villain's motives and psyche. Does evil ever exist for the sake of evil? When I think of my favorite books, the villain always has a "human" element, or a driving force that is real and just in his own mind. He doesn't usually see himself as the villain, but as a new and powerful wave of change.

Villains can be forces of nature. We don't consider typhoons, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or other natural destructive elements inherently evil, but they do create havoc and chaos for those caught in their wake. Is the bad guy like one of these acts of Mother Nature? Is he an uncontrollable and unstoppable force because of his nature or does more appear under the surface?
As the creators of these evil phenoms, writers in books and film often desire to explain the villain, to look for the seeds of his corruption, or to have him represent an abstract concept. Like Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th series, perhaps the villain's transformation to mad killer is rooted in the bullying and abuse he suffered as a child. Or perhaps he is a representation of the neglect children suffer as Robert Englund says of the evil he portrays in the iconic character of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy Krueger. No matter what the purpose, the desire is to interpret the evil in some explainable way.

But, what about the evil for the sake of evil? Can evil ever be independent of the villain's past or the author's representation of theme? Even in the Paranormal Activity films, the demon-ghost haunting the family needed a motivation behind it. The terrorizing of the family was explained by a bargain struck between the ancestors years ago to claim the first male child. What if that reason didn't exist? What if the demon simply struck because he could? If rationalizations for evil don't come into play, does it give it more power or make it more terrifying?
Villains with motivations and past experiences that explain their actions make them round and intriguing characters. But, what if they don't have a motive? What if like a tsunami, they simply act and drown their victims in the force of the wave? Might that not be the most terrifying villain of all?

What is scarier to you: a villain who believes himself the hero of his journey and/or reasons for his motives, or an evil that is a force of nature with no true motivation besides destruction?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cover Reveal: Rise of a Rector
by Heather McCorkle

For Writer Wednesday, I'm celebrating this week's Rise of a Rector cover reveal from YA author, Heather McCorkle. If you haven't checked out her fantastic Channeler series, now is the time. It follows Eren through her journey of self-discovery, mystical powers, and life-altering challenges. Stop by Heather's site to learn more.

It's finally here, the cover reveal for Heather McCorkle's Rise of a Rector, the final novel in her channeler series (due out this October). To celebrate Heather is giving away two copies of her historical fantasy novel, To Ride A Puca. Before we get to that though, here is the cover:

To add it to your Goodreads lists click here. If you'd like to check out the rest of the channeler series (her novella Born of Fire is now FREE on Amazon & B&N!) you can do so on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. To win an eBook of To Ride A Puca, all you have to do is help Heather spread the word. There will be two winners! To enter fill out the form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, August 24, 2012

Game of Thrones Parody

The Freaky Friday posts are still running every other week. So, this is a "skip" week. But, I couldn't resist giving you a little something. Found this Game of Thrones parody on Youtube awhile back. It's so funny, and since the Maroon 5 song, "Payphone" has been stuck in my head the past few days, I thought this little gem a perfect filler for Friday. Enjoy!

How do you like Game of Thrones? What do you think of the parody/recap?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Social Media Sign-Up: Okay, Now What?

Ever wonder what to do after you've signed up for all of those social media accounts? I have one piece of advice for you...interact. Today, I'm blogging over at Muse, Rant, Rave, the home of my fellow paranormal romance and urban fantasy writer, Melinda Collins. I'm discussing the nuisances of how to use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and more. I hope you'll stop by!

Icons Available for Free from Elegant Themes

How important is social media to you? Join us over at Melinda's blog for more on the subject.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Freaky Friday: Alien 3

After all that hoopla over saving Newt - the little girl from the second film - Alien 3 opens up with a sequence of jarring images: dead bodies, electrical fires, a tiny alien, and a lone survivor, Ripley. Wait a tick, you put me through hours of Aliens just to kill off Newt in the opening scene of movie three? Come on! If that's not bad enough, Ripley lands in the most unlikely place in the universe: a defunct prison with a skeleton crew of staff and inmates. But, don't worry because this bunch are religiously reformed. Okay, sure.
Fine. I signed up to watch this sucker so I'll buy it. It's probably the most ridiculous premise in the franchise, but whatever. I'm along for this ride. Strap me in.
Gonna be a bumpy ride. Sorry, couldn't resist.
Ripley awakens to her worst nightmare: Newt dead, cute guy from Aliens dead, an alien probably on the loose, and a motley crew ready to jump her - and I'm not talking about skipping rope or your after school special. In an attempt to keep the haven't-seen-a-woman-in-a-century inmates away, they put her in a potato sack and cut her hair. Okay, the shaving her head incident was because of some outbreak of lice or something. Who cares? It makes her look tough, so it's done.
Back on track, the alien pops up from the crashed ship and wants to reek havoc. Unfortunately, he needs a proper host so he can mutate. AND THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO STAB THE SCREEN! Spoiler alert. If you don't want to know what happens, stop reading. We have a planet full of humans that cannot go anywhere. I repeat, they are stuck in this hell hole. But, what do the writers/producers/bastard-creators-of-this-flick do? They kill the dog! That's right these SOBs have the alien mutilate the dog so it can grow into big scary alien. Let me make this very clear, in a horror film you can kill as many humans as you want. Enjoy! You can even get away with making children all evil and possessed, but do NOT kill an animal, especially dogs. You're not Stephen King. This is not Pet Sematary. DON'T DO IT.
Don't hate the player. Word.
Now, I'd love to recap the rest of the movie for you. And yes, I did watch it just for this review. But, my hatred of this particular moment prevents me from continuing. Let me say, you're not missing much. There's some battling with the prisoners, then teaming up with the prisoners to battle the alien, then pseudo-help arrives, and it all goes downhill. Ripley makes a sacrifice that lacks much emotion and no surprises crop up at all. The end.

Rating: F- *grumbles*

What do you think of Alien 3? How do you feel about violence against animals in horror films?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why I Talk To My Characters

Yes, I talk to my characters. I admit it. I yell at them. I call them names that I would not repeat in front of my grandmother. I plead with them. I beg them to stop doing that really annoying thing that has been bugging the bejesus out of me for the last fifty pages. In short, I treat them like real people - most of the time, people that generally irritate me to no end.
But, why, silly writer? Aren't you creating those characters? Why would you treat them as if they were real? Simple. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it's a duck. If it sounds like a real person, acts like a real person, and annoys me like a real person, guessed it, it's a real person. The last thing a writer wants is for a reader to come back and say, "The characters felt so flat, one-dimensional, like reading a cardboard cutout." *Shudders*
When I'm describing a particular scene, I imagine what it would look, sound and smell like. I visualize the details down to the crack in the sidewalk, the blaring car traffic, and the rotten stench from a sewer cover. It doesn't all get used in the story, but it helps paint the picture. The more vivid the image, the more "real" the experience. The technique is similar to the way movie folks use storyboards.
As for characters, a film's casting director has to find the perfect actor or actress to depict a role. This is not all that different to the way a writer fleshes out a character. Besides physical appearances - which often can be altered without hurting the story - the character needs a certain personality, a swag, a je ne sais quoi. They need to come alive by including a history, a childhood, a perception of the world. Everything, absolutely everything, can mold a character into a person.
So, despite questions to my sanity - and come on, being a writer practically guarantees a disposition for the crazies - I talk to my characters.

Have you ever read a story where the characters practically walked off the page? What made them real to you?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Time Shift for Freaky Friday Posts

Hi everyone. Quick note. I'll be writing the Freaky Friday posts every other week for the next month or so. I haven't been able to catch up on my horror movie reviews due to looming deadlines.  Thanks for stopping by the blog. And in token, I offer you these cookies...

And a sleeping Baby Chuck. You can't stay mad now. It's impossible.

Thanks for understanding! Hopefully, we'll be back on a weekly Freaky Friday basis by the time winter rolls around. Until then...

What's your favorite horror movie? Not a horror film fan, what about your favorite overall movie?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

If I Created Gymnastics...

I have this great new idea for a sport that should be in the Olympics, Gymnastics.
Awesome! What's it like?

It has five events. First, we'll have the competitor jump onto this little piece of...
Oh, like a tightrope and they'll have to walk across it?
Walk? Heck, no. We'll make it a beam a bit wider than their foot and they'll do jumps and flips and splits and turns on it!
We'll call it Balance Beam!
That sounds really tough.
Ha, just wait.
Next event, we'll put this bar up, but much taller than them. So tall, in fact, they'll have to be hoisted up.
Oh, and then, they'll hang from it, and whoever hangs on longest wins?
Are you dreaming? Heck, no. We'll put up another bar, then make them swing between the two, over them and under them. They'll do handstands, oh and jump from one to the other with just their hands!
You're crazy.
No, I'm uneven. Like the Uneven Bars! Perfect. And I've only started!
Do we have any horses?
Yeah, horses. Let's get a horse, we'll stand the animal in 
the middle of the floor.
And have the athletes ride? 
Heck, no! We'll have them spring off the horse!
I think that's cruelty to animals.
Okay, we'll use a fake horse, but no handles. We'll call it Vaulting!
What about a trampoline? Nothing is complete in life without a trampoline.
This is getting out of hand.
They can do spins and twirls and jumps and flips! Picture it!
Oh, I am. And the insurance this will cost.
Stop being so negative. We're adding Trampoline.
Last event, we'll put them on a huge floor.
Great. You're finally relaxing. So, they'll race on the floor?
Heck no! I'm talking leaps, splits, and jumps. Actually, if the athlete doesn't jump at least twenty feet int he air, they're disqualified.
You're seriously unbalanced.
Fine ten feet, but that's my limit for Floor Exercise.
I cave. So, how will we find men willing to do this?
Men! Hah. These are women's events. I've got something special in mind for the men. Now, where did you put that horse?

Thank you to all the athletes of the Olympic games. You make us proud. And congratulations to the USA women's gymnastics team for bringing home the gold. You ladies are inspiring!

Have you been following the Olympics? What is your favorite event?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Corgi Corner: The Grassy Knoll

Welcome to the newest edition of Corgi Corner. In this episode, Chuck has some fun rolling around in the grass.
Put to a swinging Irish beat, courtesy of the Celtic Fiddle Festival, Chuck gets his groove on.

The Grassy Knoll

How do you like the newest edition of Corgi Corner? Any shenanigans you'd like to see Chuck star in?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Freaky Friday: Aliens

Having now seen all the films in the original Alien trilogy, I can say with utmost certainty number 2, Aliens, is my favorite. Fifty-seven years after the original Alien movie, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, awakens to find the world hasn't changed all that much in a half century. The technology is pretty much the same, except for the cool new guns, and her expired "pilot" license still enables her to "drive" a sweet robot looking thing. Hello foreshadowing! No spoilers.
The premise is a bit far-fetched. Would they really allow a woman just out of chryo-statis (loooong nap) with obvious symptoms of PTSD on a mission to investigate the colony on the very planet where she escaped an alien attack? Also, why doesn't all hell break loose in the 57 years Ripley slept in her cozy pod? Were the aliens waiting for her to wake up to mess with her head? *shrugs*
I'm also not happy at all with the way marines are portrayed in the film. I get this group is a bit more rag-tag than most, but I highly doubt they'd be haggling their commanding officer in front of outsiders. Nor would they give Ripley a hard time when she's debriefing them, after their commanding officer reprimanded them. But, anyway...

The action scenes and standoff with the aliens blew my socks off! Not literally. But, for a movie made in 1986, the graphics sped light years ahead of its predecessor. The aliens - more than one this time - made for some scary fight sequences. And mama alien, WHOA! Do not mess with the mama.
Little Newt (played by Carrie Henn in her one and only acting role). Oh Newt. Putting aside the fact that I have no idea how this kid survived, I really took a shine to her. The connection between Newt and Ripley also felt genuine and not at all forced. Ripley's maternal and protective instincts bared some major claws and the showdown at the end...well, let me not spoil it for you, but to say, IT ROCKED!

Rating: B+

What do you think of this sequel? Better or worse than the first? 

ETA: As one of my faithful readers pointed out, I was incorrect in my assertion that critics reviewed Alien 3 as the best. Number 2 is in fact rated the most favorably. So, I've changed the beginning of the post accordingly. Thanks, PT!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Critique Partners vs. Beta Readers

Let’s get ready to...edit! Critique Partners and Beta Readers are the gold medalists, the critically acclaimed, the crème-de-la-crème, the très magnifique. In short, they are the essential ingredient in your story recipe. Without these marvelous wonders, your manuscript will fall short of its proper cooking time.
Attributed to Tim Lucas, Flicker toolmantim under Creative Commons license Attributed to Amy Stephenson, Flicker YoAmes under Creative Commons license
Do you want a soufflé or a bowl of mush?

Who are these fabulous beings? Well, first, let’s define the difference between the two.

Critique Partners: working with you chapter by 
chapter of a work-in-progress. 
Beta Readers: offering feedback AFTER at least the
first draft is complete on the whole MS. 

When do you use beta readers?

Stephen King in On Writing discusses writing with the door shut. He believes that a writer needs to draft in the dark without any input from the outside. He would not advocate critique partners, instead relying on beta readers once his drafting was complete.
I'm of this persuasion. I've had the great privelege of working with fabulous critique partners in the past. However, in my writing journey, I've discovered that the process doesn't work for me. I'm a "closet" writer. I need to simmer in my own oven before opening the door. My MS needs to be almost cooked before I can start letting another chef meddle with my recipe. Had enough cooking metaphors yet? :)

When do you use critique partners?

Not every writer feels comfortable wandering in the dark, waiting for input before forging ahead. If you find yourself going over the same chapter again and again, this is when critique partners shine. They can help get you past that nagging chapter, that plaguing scene, that sagging middle or that dull beginning. Like baking cookies with kids, they cheer you on when you're doing well (yum), and call you on it when you're not (more chocolate chips).

Where do you find them?

By far the most common question I'm asked about critique partners and beta readers is where to find these mystical beings. Here's the thing, they're not all that hard to find. The key: social media. Join writing related Twitter chats, comment on writers' blogs, go to a professional organization (RWA, SCWBI, SFWA) chapter meeting (find one in your area or online), attend conferences and workshops, talk on writing forums, and most of all, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Writers are often introverts, but the only way you'll find the help you need is to ask. As I told another writer just this week on Twitter, the worst that can happen is the person says, "No". Know what happened? She asked me! And...I said yes.

What do I do with all of this feedback?

Let it cool. The worst thing you can do when taking that fresh MS out of the oven, or in this case, getting it back from your critique partner or beta reader, is to cut into it. Read over the feedback, but before you start making changes, give it a few days or even weeks to percolate. Roll it around your mind and see what sticks. Don't be defensive. Don't dismiss the reader's comments. But, don't blindly follow them either. You need to see what works best for YOU and YOUR story.
Ideally, you'll get feedback from multiple sources. If all of the readers say the same thing, THIS is what needs to be changed. If one reader says your heroine is too nice, and the other says she is too mean, guess what? Leave that heroine alone. Not every reader will connect with every aspect of your story.

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Which method works best for you?