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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

June 16, 2019 | Writing

For years I got up, showered, dressed, drove the kids to school, and then joined the masses riding the electric train to Chicago to work. Sweltering summers and below zero wind chill I walked to my office. Of course I enjoyed city events during lunch time being in downtown Chicago was great. Then at the end of the work day reverse commute back on the train, pick up kids, and then home to cook dinner. Friday was family pizza night.

Now I work from home, I don’t have to get all dressed up and drive in the insane Atlantic traffic. And my kids are grown. I’m also an author so I write from home. Sometimes I go to a local cafe or Starbucks. It’s an opportunity to get out of my four walls and interact on a somewhat personal level with people. In other words, listen in on random conversations.

Technology. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ to paraphrase Captain Kirk in Star Trek, Wrath of Khan. Writers are introverts and todays technology is for us the best of times and the worst of times. We don’t have to leave our homes – almost ever. Every thing we need is an App away from our finger. We can live our total existence – At. Home. Want to move? You can sell your home online, buy another one online, and have a service pack and deliver your possessions to the new home. Online, folks

We write, research, submit, publish, and promote our books from our desks. Gone are the days of submitting via snail mail, traipsing to the post office to mail synopsis, first three chapters, and query. We submit everything online.

It gets even better. Think about everything you can do from the comfort of your home, your bed, your car. Shopping malls are having a difficult time competing with online shopping and many stores are closing. When in Chicago, I go to Water Tower, sit, drink Starbucks, and watch shoppers, mostly young people, tourists, or city residents shop. I ride the CTA. Everyone is praying, their heads bowed, nope they’re staring down at their phones. It’s not just the young, older riders are playing games or on Facebook.

How about attending a basketball or football game? Tickets are sky high, you have to be searched to get in. And it’s damn cold. Why not watch with friends? At. Home. The line to the bathroom is shorter. And of course – order food to be delivered. There’s Apps for that.

Hungry? Grocery shop? I hate walking down every aisle often impulse buying. Now I put together my Kroger grocery list, pay, and schedule a pick up day and time. And I don’t have to get out of my car. Whole Foods, Instacart deliver groceries as well. If I still lived in Chicago I’d surely take advantage of this in the winter. At. Home.

Order out? Pick up or delivery. Restaurants, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell deliver. And we once believed the drive-thru was awesome. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Jenny Craig, online meal services that setup meals according to your dietary requirements and then delivered to your home. Even comes with cooking directions. Kroger and Publix have started meal service programs. Grub Hub, Door Dash are utilized by restaurants to deliver from a variety of restaurants. You can order Chinese, Thai, American, whatever and have it all delivered. Wait sixty minutes for a table? Late from work? Your family’s dinner can be timed to meet you at the front door. At. Home. And once we thought pizza delivery was a big thing.

Need a doctor? You can arrange – with an App a consultation with a physician via your smartphone. Your medication can be delivered. At. Home.

Need a car? In case you want to venture out of your home. There’s an App. When I lived in Chicago I used Zipcar. I’d set up a location, day and time for a car. Car came with a gas card and a special parking space. I drove the Prius across the street from where I lived. I had a choice of vehicles luxury, compact. I test drove different makes in case I wanted to buy a car. Did you know you can purchase a car online and have it delivered? At. Home.
Don’t need a car? Lyft and Uber. I used both when I first moved to Atlanta because I had no idea where the hell anything was. Still don’t know, but being driven around gave me the opportunity to learn where places were and sightsee at the same time.

Let’s not forget Amazon. Believe me I’ve tried. The bane of my existence and yours too, admit it. I’d probably ball up in a fetal position if it disappeared. From books, to toilet tissue, toys, small appliances, clothing, food, handbags (yeah I know), items you didn’t even know you needed/wanted can be found and delivered – free (Prime) to your front door. I’ve found myself staring at the Amazon delivery app following the delivery route as they make their way to my front door. I think that would be called stalking if I weren’t paying for the goods. It’s amazing how many empty Amazon boxes I see on a weekly basis in the recycle bin. Prime. When I needed a particular type of bandage after my knee surgery, I couldn’t find it at any nearby drug store. I looked it up on Amazon and in two days it was delivered. When my daughter’s orders are delivered – I’m not saying she shops a lot on Amazon, but she shops a lot on Amazon. At first I was concerned but I understand why. She’s a busy professional with an active child and little free time. Having it delivered she saves precious time. As a writer the same applies. Need notebooks, goody bags, and of course copies of your book. There’s Amazon self-publishing. Alexa. She’s in a lot of homes. Yeah, mine too. Echo show. I tolerate her. Don’t trust her. Skynet. I set writing reminders, timers for writing, shopping lists, and listen to music. My eight year old granddaughter has Alexa and damn if mine doesn’t respond quicker to her. Netflix and Prime Video. Replacing traditional networks. You can subscribe to individual networks. More innovative and interesting series – no commercials. Plus not only can you watch at home – wait for it – also on your phone, iPad, or Tablet. Hotspots. Remember when we made fun of the name ‘iPad‘ when first introduced by Apple? I just binged Good Omens on Prime. I’m a Terry Pratchett fan. Networks run the same programs over and over and over again. Boring. On Prime Video I can watch the entire Farscape any other beloved series without commercial interruption. At. Home.

Have you experienced or watched someone when the Internet goes down? Panic, heart palpations, loss of appetite, loss of mind. The world coming to an end? You’re trapped in your home, you’re all alone, isolated you’ll never receive another email again – and that’s just the first ten minutes.

Physical proximity is no longer necessary. WE have to make time to be out with friends. The smartphone, smarter than us. Tethered to this little beast that weighs four to six ounces. We text each other even if we’re in the same building. Attending a workshop and a friend is sitting on the other side of the room? Text them. We conduct our lives on the phone and sometimes it plays out like a soap opera with no filter. Who hasn’t heard conversations that belonged behind closed doors? We write on our phones, save the document, send via email, and edit. Or play Candy Crush.

Face it we’re trapped in our homes, and it’s paradise. Need to clean? Roomba.

Next time you’re out with friends, count how many phones are on the table. One of my Sophisticated Ladies makes me put my phone away when we are together. It must be in my purse. So far she hasn’t slapped my iWatch wearing wrist. I FaceTime my cousin. At. Home. All from our personal space – no pants required. For my call center job we have meetings in an online meeting room. Easy way to get one hundred agents from all over the country together. One day we’ll have dinner with friends, each of us in our home, chatting away to holograms of each other.

You can hire fitness trainers to come to your home. Or…. I just saw a commercial for a fitness program called Mirror. It’s an interactive exercise program. No more going to the gym when you can work out in front of a six foot mirror with others, in front of their Mirror, in real time classes or take one of the videotaped classes and then log in and post your results. No social interaction? If your friends have Mirror it’ll be just like going to the gym. Except you’ll be At. Home. In my sci-fi novel, my protagonist tries to avoid her fitness coach who appears in her home via hologram to remind her that she’s missed classes. The future is now people.

Not to be morbid but the old tradition of viewing the deceased in their home could return. Never. Leave. Home.

Like I said, it’s the best of times, we should embrace the goodies. HOWEVER put on clothes, get out, enjoy the arts, look at real people, eat food at a real restaurant, and enjoy the world. Besides your Amazon order will be waiting when you arrive home.

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Thanos and Cersei – Heroes (Of Their Own Story)

May 9, 2019 | Writing

Spoilers aren’t in this post. If you saw Avengers – Infinity Wars you know Thanos destroys half the universe with a snap of his fingers. Although I do wonder how he could snap his fingers wearing a thick metallic glove. And Avengers – End Game is about what happens next and how the heroes defeat Thanos and restore the destroyed half of the universe. Thanos doesn’t seem as happy as he appeared in Infinity Wars. He wanted to save (rule) the universe and he did, according to his way of thinking. Excited? Didn’t seem so. He’s a recluse, destroys the infinity stones. Okay that was a spoiler. Sorry.

Cersei, the emotionally abused, ignored, constantly and flagrantly cheated upon wife of Robert Baratheon, lives in the shadow of a dead woman Robert worships who didn’t love him. That’s not a spoiler. Cersei is a Lannister, a female Lannister unfortunately, yet the most cunning of them all. She learned from her father the importance of power and how to get it. However, she’s a woman and as such in the Seven Kingdoms, women don’t rule. Something Daenerys plans to change. That in itself has got to piss off Cersei, if anyone is going to be the first female Queen, it’s her. Cersei’s one true love is her brother Jamie, the father of her three children. And he deserted her. She’s been humiliated, forced to walk naked through Kings Landing, watch her children die one by one. She now sits on the Iron Throne, Jamie is off being the good soldier honoring his commitment. She’s submitted to sex with a horny, power hungry Euron who has dreams of ruling by Cersei’s side. Good luck with that, honey. Dare I say Cersei has BIGGER balls than Jamie, Tyrion, Jon, and whomever have the idea they’re going to take her down. Did you see Cersei out there pleading for peace? Hell no. Tyrion did the pleading, she smirked. And did you see where she stood? On top of the castle, looking down on everyone. To her, they are there to take what she’s entitled to, has suffered and earned. How dare they? They are the villains.

Thanos, didn’t start out evil, but when your mother believes a prophecy that you will destroy all life in the universe and tries to kill you…well that will definitely put a scar on your psyche. I didn’t read the earlier comics but through YouTube and my son, I got a quick history lesson. Thanos, due to some super powerful steroids, grew big, strong, and kinda ugly, and fell in love with Death. To prove his love he killed his children. Later he adopts Gamora and trains her as an assassin. In the movie he loves Gamora like a daughter and to secure the Soul Stone he has to kill her. He doesn’t want to but he has to. If you want power, you have to seize it, and to keep it, you have to…. Well you have to just….

Both are heroes – in their own minds. Heroes? Wait, what? The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, is my story bible. One of his archetype’s is The Shadow. He characterizes this person as the dark side (Starwars), rejected aspects of something. I’m quoting Vogler here, The Shadow can be all the things we don’t like about ourselves. The villain, is dedicated to the death, destruction and defeat of the hero. Vogler wrote, “It is important to remember in designing stories that most Shadow figures do not think of themselves as villains or enemies. From his point of view, a villain is the hero of his own myth, and the audience’s hero is his villain. A dangerous type of villain is ‘the right man,’ the person so convinced his cause is just that he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Beware the man who believes the end justifies the means…” pg 68. Thanos? Cersei?

Vogler wrote something that stays with me every time I write, read, or watch a tv or movie, — the story is only as good as its villain. A strong villain pushes a hero to up their game and to to the end of the moral line they refuse to cross and dares them to cross it. I find that romantic. Note: In the Into the Badlands series finale, the character Moon is hunting for the witch, Cressida, who killed Lydia. He finds her and she says she’s unarmed and questions whether his honor would allow him to kill her. Moon’s response: Fuck honor! Yep he’s a hero ready to cross that line. And not one serious Badlands viewer has a problem with it. Of course, she escapes and sets up Moon searching for her. Oh right, THE SERIES WAS CANCELLED.

Villains do terrible things, hurt, kill people and need to be brought to justice. They’re egotistical, crazy, psychopaths. From our point of view, but not theirs. They have their supporters, those who believe as they do or are just avoiding getting their head squeezed like a grape by The Mountain, or twisted off by Pilgrim. The Avengers, Jon Snow, Daenerys, all are trying to take away what they’ve rightfully earned. They intend to rule, make decisions about what the world(s) should look like. They’ve suffered, see suffering, and believe they can make a difference, no matter the billions and poor folks they have to kill to do it.

Villains always have a story to tell.

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Villains Need Love Too – Part Two

January 10, 2018 | Writing

Star Wars- The Last Jedi has debuted. I saw it. No spoilers but I enjoyed it and was pleased I wrote about Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in part one on loving your villain.

I planned on editing and posting part two of my post on antagonists but of course there was Christmas, family, a seven-year-old granddaughter, and a flu bug that took me down Christmas night, right after The Doctor Who special, and left me weak and susceptible to every request made by my granddaughter. Like any good antagonist the bug discovered my physical weakness, manipulated it, and wore me down. I preserved like any good heroine, drank lots of water, vitamin C chewables, OTCs, and crawled under a blanket until my body defeated the evil. Of course it was 2018 by that time. So here’s part two.

Villains or antagonists are essential to your story. The hero needs a reason to move out of their ordinary world and the villain serves this purpose. Villains have a backstory, motivations, goals, and hopefully conflicts if you plan on redeeming them. If they aren’t conflicted by their actions, they should die like the dirty dog they are. You as a writer should know all of this even if it doesn’t make it onto the page or screen. Is your Andy going to be redeemed or are they going to die?

Casablanca is my favorite love story movie. I cry at the end every time I watch it. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa, Claude Rains is Captain Renauit, Paul Henreid is Victor Laszlo, and Conrad Veidt is our villain Major Heinrich Strasser. Each actor was cast perfectly for their role.

In Casablanca Rick is the hero. He’s stoic, a loner off the grid, yet still has a soft spot for true love. His armor is rusty and he’s tired of the fight. He’s run away to Casablanca to hide his pain and make money. But his true love, Ilsa shows up – with her husband, Victor. And Victor is a real hero. Rick’s pain comes back, he turns on Ilsa. And then – cue the dark music, Major Strasser struts into Rick’s bar.

Vogler in Hero’s Journey says the hero’s entrance should tell you about them. The first behavior should be character. The same holds true for an Andy. Before Strasser enters the cafe, we already know details about him that prove when we finally meet this man he ain’t hero material. He’s in full dress uniform, medals on his chest, his posture is spine stretching straight. He’s always at attention. He pauses in the doorway of Rick’s cafe and draws everyone’s attention.

So who is he? He’s a high ranking German officer (bad), he’s a Nazi enforcer (double bad), his orders are to clean up Casablanca, find Victor Laszlo and escort him back to Germany (all very, very bad). Strasser is my Andy. He is the hero of his own story. He believes he’s right. He serves Nazi Germany and a believer in the Third Reich. Vogler suggests at least once going thru the story in the antagonist’s skin. Sometimes that’s difficult to do because writing bad people isn’t as much fun as writing nice people. How do they see themselves? The world? Strasser’s a winner and he’s about to capture the man who inspires others to rebel against tyranny.

Flip this for a moment. What if Strasser is a German officer fighting the Third Reich from within and comes to Casablanca to rescue Victor Lazlo? And Rick wants to turn Lazlo over to the Germans for money and have Isla for himself. Sends shivers down my spine. The change makes Strasser a hero, and Rick the …. Oh Hell, Andy.

But that’s not how the story goes. Strasser is Rick’s nemesis, the dark to Rick’s light. Rick’s original plan is to sit back and do nothing. But Strasser pushes him to take a stand. Why does Strasser choose Rick to intimidate? Rick is everything Strasser hates. An American who believes in freedom, equality. If Strasser can break Rick and take Laszlo back to Germany he’s succeeded in his assignment. Glory, honor, prestige. He will prove his worth to his superiors.

Rick faces off against Strasser. The dark moment, the last opportunity for Strasser’s redemption comes when he discovers Lazlo is leaving Casablanca. Rick gives him a chance to stop, warns him twice. Strasser sees his future success flying away, everything he’s work for, killed for, leaving and disgracing him. He’s probably never failed. He can’t, won’t be redeemed. He’s shot dead, not changing whatsoever in the movie. And I’m here to advocate that’s okay. Strasser’s role is not to change, his role is to push, make Rick see he needs to get back in fight. His final words to Ilsa make tear up. They don’t matter to a hill of beans compared to the fate of the world. Rick needs to abandon his safe sanctuary and return to fight taking Captain Renault with him. The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But that’s okay. Not every Andy is redeemable. Darth Vader, redeemable, Loki, working both sides of good and bad, Voldemort, definitely unredeemable. As a writer once you fully know your Andy and have decided to kill or redeem them it should be written in a true fashion so the reader doesn’t roll their eyes in disbelief. Vader was forced to make a decision, let Luke die or save him. In that last moment Vader chose to save his son, sacrificing his own life. My antagonist, Richard, is not redeemable. He’s the force that makes Sophia decide whether she’s on the side of good or bad. But can she destroy him, without destroying herself? But first, my girl has to suffer.

The important thing is you have to build up to the villain’s black moment. Make them twist and turn, debate internally what their decision should be. You just can’t have them hand over the weapon after the hero/heroine says ‘You’re good, I know you are.’ After all the turmoil and destruction Andy has caused they can’t just say, ‘Okay you’re right.’ They have to struggle with what they’ve done, believe they must atone for their wrongs. Go to jail, lose the love they think they deserve.

So write your Andy like you love him.

Footnote: Conrad Veidt, the actor who portrayed Major Strasser was a strong advocate against Nazi Germany. His third wife was Jewish and he refused to renounce and divorce her. It meant he’d be blacklisted. So be it, he and his wife moved to Great Britain. He gave his life savings to the British government for the war effort. Veidt when cast in German roles insisted he be the villain.

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Villains Need Love Too: Part One and Star Wars

December 13, 2017 | Writing

Rant: Coupons. I clip coupons. What gets me is when I have to purchase two or three of an item to get my $1.00 off. Really? I’m a single person and buying extra means it stands a great chance of spoiling before I eat it.

Since it’s Star Wars week, month, I’ve written this blog with the movie in mind and heart. Part Two, next week, I’ve taken Christopher Vogler’s, Hero’s Journey, and flipped the script. It’s going to be the Antagonist’s Journey.

I love antagonists. I love writing them, following their downfall or redemption in movies and books. I want to know what makes them the way they are and why they’re so determined to destroy the protagonist. Is it for love, money, power, fame? What motivates them? How far will the hero/heroine go to defeat the bad guy?

Villain, antagonist by any other name is still the same. The character who opposes your protagonist. I’m going to call them, Andy (male) or Andi (female). Andy(i) is my favorite character to mold. They’re dark, and damnable. Their purpose is to provide motivation for the protagonist. Push, shove them out of their ordinary life and off to battle a person, event, or even themselves. Make them grow from the experience, find a solution, take a chance on love.

So what about Andy(i)? What is their motivation? Why are they so eager to spread discord, attempt to kill your protagonist, rule the world. They aren’t dumb. They’re the smartest person in the room – according to themselves. And they just might be. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Ripley and the Alien, Thor and Loki, Thor and his sister, Hela, Batman and The Joker (Heath Ledger to be specific), my ex-roommate. They are yin and yang. You can’t have one or an interesting read without the other.

Let’s look at Darth Vader or as he was known when he didn’t have replaceable parts, Anakin Skywalker. Anakin’s future was foretold when he was young, to bring balance to the force. But also, as Yoda pointed out, he could destroy it as well. Which could be interpreted as destroying the established order to create a new better order. Obi-Wan trained him. Palpatin took over won Anakin’s soul and everlasting allegiance and turned him to the dark side using his greatest fear – Padame’s death. As Pamala Kinney, a Facebook friend, pointed out Palpatin was truly evil. Not a redeemable bone in his mutilated body. So we root for him to die. It takes one more film for that to happen. I won’t spoil how and who does it.

As for his young apprentice, Vader takes his role serious kill without conscience, wipe out any opponent to the plan to bring order to the galaxy – their vision. Luke Skywalker comes of age, seeks adventure, learns his father was a Jedi and wants to be just like him. He finally gets the opportunity to battle Vader and what’s his reward? His hand cut off and delivered the absolute worse news a hero wants to hear. “Luke I am your father.” Vader then doubles down, if Luke joins him they can rule the galaxy as father and son, and defeat the Emperor. I would have demanded a paternity test. But wait, isn’t this same spiel Anakin gave Padame? When Obi-Wan confronted Anakin they engaged in a verbal battle on the definition of good. Obi can’t convince Anakin he’s on the wrong side, and Anakin believes Obi-Wan is wrong and if he can’t convince his mentor well, he’ll just have to kill him. Obi-Wan stops short of killing Anakin. He does destroy half of Anakin’s body. Palpatine’s arrives and saving and rebuilding Anakin only cements their father-son relationship.

Luke decides there is still good in his father and will save him. The dark moment as defined in Vogler now motivates a change in the mission. Still defeat the Empire, but Luke won’t kill his father. He senses good. I’d have gone for the kill.

So is there a redemption possibility for Kylo Ren? If I were writing Star Wars Episode Nine, he’s dead.

When writing Resurrection I used the Hero’s Journey to create my Andy. First I needed his backstory. Richard Jensen from the outside looks like a great guy. He’s handsome, rich, owns his own business, is respected, charming, and has the boy next door act down. But underneath he’s damaged goods. All his life he’s been bullied by his arrogant, emotionally abusive, skirt-chasing father. He wants to be better than his father, he wants to prove to everyone how powerful he is, and has the knowledge to make the world a better place. According to how he views the world, witches and non-witches both. He’s going to have it all and the love of a woman equal to himself.

Richard chooses my protagonist, Sophia Sullivan, as the only woman who fits his strict standards. Problem is she’s in love with someone else. What’s a great guy to do? He joins forces with a powerful evil to destroy her family, kill her boyfriend, and take over Chicago. Because….. he knows all those things are wrong for her. She needs to see the big picture from his point of view. If he isolates her from everything she ‘thinks’ she loves and values, then she’ll love him and they’ll live happily ever after in his kingdom.

Okay, okay, Sophia’s not totally naive as to Richard’s antics but she finds it difficult to believe the man who has been a close male friend for years and whose shoulders she leaned on when her brother died is up to nefarious behavior and she’s being manipulated. She sees the good in him, until it’s almost too late. Will she join him? Kill him? And just how angry will she be when she figures it all out?

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