Monday, March 31, 2014

100 Happy Days Premature Start

Come tomorrow I'm doing the 100 Happy Days Challenge alongside Holli Moncrieff. All day I kept thinking the challenge had already started, and you know what? It made me more productive! I thought "What do I want to show the world I've gotten done today?" Feeling millions of eyes on me definitely made me up my game. I donated two large bags of clothing, and then treated myself with ice cream. Then I drew a picture of it... because I thought the challenge had already started. But I'm not sorry!

Part of my happiness challenge will be documenting it with illustrations. That, in itself, is challenging. I'll post them to tumblr this time, as a change of pace, and tweet the links.

Like I said on twitter today, I don't think this challenge is quite aimed at me. When they asked my happiness level before starting the challenge, I put 7, and most days I'm an 8. I'm happy as a constant, and more than content with where my life is headed. But I can always stand to be happier! (Besides, one of the testimonials from people who've completed the challenge was "fell in love during the challenge". I could get on board with that.)

What about you? Up for recording 100 days of happiness?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do You Believe in the Boogeyman?

Lividia and her boogeyman
When I was a kid, I was afraid of something I couldn't see. It lived in the dark, under my bed, in the closet, anywhere that was shadowed. I imagined it as a shadow man with long fingers, the better to grab me with. I was reluctant to put my feet on the floor when I climbed out of bed, because as soon as I did, he would grab me and pull me under. I never got as far as imagining what would happen after that.

I was told the boogeyman wasn't real, and I knew this was true. But I was still afraid. I knew, too, that there were things in the world science and logic couldn't explain - good things and evil things. (being a preacher's kid, I got pretty familiar) I knew I had power to dispel the evil things, but when it's dark and you're alone, you don't feel very powerful.

As I grew older, I was fascinated by fear and its power to drive people, or stop them from doing what they want to do. I had my own fears, but I was always fascinated by the fears of others and the reasons behind them. Fear, like love, is powerful. It's a force all its own and causes many of the horrors of the world. It calls to us just like love does, but the promises it makes aren't happy ones.

Strawman concept 2011
I finally captured and incorporated my earliest fear into my first novel. It seemed like such an obvious choice, a fear shared by so many children. But my villain doesn't just scare you, he takes away that light in you - the light that dreams, and hopes, and fights the fear. He takes your imagination. To me that's much scarier than death. To live in a world without the daydreams and musings that get you through mundane days. To lose your creativity.

Today, my boogeyman has turned inward. He's that voice inside that tells me I can't succeed, that I'm already behind, that I shouldn't even try. He still tries to take my imagination, quench it, box it in. He speaks with the voice of a million naysayers, to snatch and grab with those long fingers, and try to tear me apart. But he'll never succeed. Because I created him. And I control how far I let him go.

Do you have a boogeyman?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book in Progress: Gone by Michael Grant

The last book I reviewed was Seraphina, an awesome YA fantasy that I just can't say enough good things about. This week, the book I'm reviewing is the YA dystopian thriller Gone by Michael Grant.

It's been awhile since I found a book that made me stay up reading til 3am and go to work groggy the next day because I simply can't put it down. Gone is definitely that book. (see the end of the review for the downside to this)

Gone is the story of what becomes of a small California beach town when all adults and older teens suddenly disappear. Bullies run amok, older kids are left raising younger kids and trying to prevent the destruction of their fragile little society. Some kids have special powers that others either envy or fear. Animals have started mutating and attacking humans. Food is running out. There is no way to call for help and no escape. How many will die?

Confession: This book is traumatizing me.
I won't give any spoilers, but it's already made me cry, feel hurt, angry, disgusted, horrified, exhausted, hopeful, and exhausted again when I saw there are FIVE books in the series. I don't know how much more of this I can take.

Gone starves you, beats you, breaks your bones, and makes you walk through hot deserts hoping there will be water in sight. Michael Grant isn't afraid to do horrible, despicable things to his characters in the name of plot. I both admire and fear him at once. It's the mark of a great writer to make you empathize this much with his characters. And there are so many characters. Characters you once hated, shown in a different light, you feel sorry for, you begin to sympathize with. You don't want anyone to die. And then they do. (I won't tell you who or how many.)

If I'd known some of the things in this book before I'd read it, I might not have picked it up. I used to work at a daycare and now I teach art to teens. To me this is a horrifying book, because it's all happening to children, and a lot of it seems chillingly true-to-life. It's very much the Lord of the Flies crossed with Stephen King that Goodreads says it is.

"Worse than the Hunger Games?" you say. Yes, because those were older children, a select group who were chosen, knew what they were up against, and some of them were trained to fight. The teens and younger kids in Gone are caught completely unaware, have lived a pretty comfortable life with no big bad government butting in, and aren't at all trained in warfare. Most of them don't even know how to care for themselves without supervision, and that's what's so heartbreaking. That's what makes me want to enter the world of the book and take care of them. But, of course, I'd disappear.

So, why am I still reading this book? Because it's good. It's written well, it's invoking emotions (maybe too many of them), it's stripped-down language without over-description, which really works for the type of story it is. It's an interesting storyline that's very compelling with well-developed characters, and well-maintained multiple points of view.

I'll echo one thing I said earlier that counts against it as a series. It's emotionally exhausting. There is no break, just constant action. That's why I don't want to put the book down. I might've said it a little tongue-in-cheek earlier, but I really don't know how much more of this I can take. I don't know if after I finish this first book I'll be able to pick up the second one.

I had the same experience with James Dashner's The Maze Runner. I got so tired of the dread hanging over the characters, the constant feeling of claustrophobia, that I just didn't feel like going back into that world again. That series only has three books. This one has five.

Would I encourage you to read Gone? Sure! Because you can decide for yourself if the author's pace, style, and plot is something you like. I wouldn't recommend it for young/immature readers, though.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What is Your Theme Song Right Now?

What song represents a defining moment you've lived recently?

I've had a fluid playlist since high school. It changes depending on the moment or the mood. The songs I like lately are very positive, encouraging songs. I've been feeling like I'm on the edge of a great life event that hasn't happened yet, and all my music is celebrating it. It also celebrates the little victories that happen every day.

This is my themesong right now:

Reasons for this song choice:
1. The local paper mentioned me teaching a teen art class.
2. Frances Hardinge displayed my fanart on her website. 
3. I've been keeping up my Monday and Friday blogging routine faithfully since I started it.
4. I Google REALLY well.
5. My 5-year plan is taking shape.

Please share the reasons for your theme song choice too!

Friday, March 7, 2014

John Cleese Can Solve Your Writer's Block

Are you in the middle of revisions? How about a particularly hairy part of your first draft and you can't seem to get around the problem you've created for yourself? John Cleese's approach to creativity may be able to help.

I found this lecture really enlightening, and grinned from ear-to-ear while watching it.  (The original article is on I've applied Cleese's five factors unconsciously many times. Those are always the times I've had the most fun and produced the best work.

John Cleese is brilliant, and what he says can be applied to any creative field. See if you agree.

Short Version:

  1. Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
  2. Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
  3. Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
  4. Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
  5. Humor (“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

Long Version:

Monday, March 3, 2014

This is Why I'm Hot: Character Desirability

What makes the characters you admire so desirable to you? This question came up in a conversation I had with a male coworker recently, and we touched on a few things, but nothing that completely explained it. That inspired me to stalk the internet for articles that shed a little light on the subject. Actresses who aren't traditionally pretty still attract the desire of male fans, sometimes even more than their prettier peers. Male actors don't have to be handsome to have swoony fans and devoted fanclubs. Why?

My coworker and I raised the subject of the 'ugly-pretty' face - models, actors, singers, etc who have a very pronounced 'flaw' in their features (sometimes more than one) that makes them stand out, but on its own isn't attractive. It's the combination of the flaw and the face that make the magic happen for fans. Some female examples of this are Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman, and Julia Roberts. Male examples are Robert Carlyle, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Matt Smith.

So what makes these people or their characters desirable?

I discovered a good example of this in the Hallmark mini series The 10th Kingdom. The character of Wolf began the show as a desperate, over-enthusiastic neurotic. His desperation didn't do much to attract the attention of his beloved Virginia. It was only after he got control of himself and projected confidence that she succumbed to his charms. So did many fans.

The same can be said for Rumpelstiltskin in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time. Before he became the Dark One, Rumple was cowardly and repulsive - so much so that his own wife left him for a more confident man. With the injection of power, his confidence rose, creating a character who no longer cared what others thought of him. Fans were drawn by this new magnetism - and even more so when Rumple attracted the unlikely admiration of Belle.

This brings me to another point, brought up so well by Brianna Shrum on twitter. She's attracted to characters who show desire for or are desired by other characters. We've often seen this point proven in the dating world when a person is in a relationship. Suddenly they become much more attractive and get more attention than when they're single. It seems that desire breeds more desire.

A fantastic example of this is the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia, which Brianna referred to in her tweets. In this episode, we see Sherlock flustered by an attractive woman, which usually does not happen to Sherlock. The reason for his reaction to Irene Adler has more to do with the quality of her mind than the quantity of her body (which she displays freely). We all know Sherlock is attracted by another's intelligence or the appreciation of his own (i.e. John Watson), but Irene takes it to the physical level.

I believe the appeal of the desired goes deeper than mere popularity. When a person is desired, it affects them internally. They feel more confident and they display a different side of themselves. Like with Sherlock, they show off. (I believe the term is 'peacocking'.) Instead of facing the world as though its judging them, they parade as if it loves them, because they've tasted that love and attention already.
via tumblr

 When a person doesn't worry about being judged, they can be themselves, and often the best of themselves. So what we're really attracted to are their best qualities shining through, unhampered by self-consciousness.

A Scandal in Belgravia not only showed us Sherlock's desirable side (which many of us saw before that), but also his vulnerability. Letting his guard down with Irene leaves him drugged and disoriented in John's care. Seeing an independent, confident person show weakness or softness plays upon our sympathies and makes the other person seem more human. With women in particular, vulnerability brings out the need to nurture, to be depended on, and, therefore, it's attractive.

Showing vulnerability is also a strength of character, since a person who shows both strength and weakness must be honest with himself and others. It involves quite a bit of trust as well. Only strong characters risk opening themselves up to the possibility of betrayed trust. Strength is very attractive.

Those are a few traits that make characters desirable to me. If you have further insights, please share them in the comments. Thanks!

You might also like the articles I read before I wrote this.
A Batch of Cumberbunnies by Jennifer Proffitt
Unlikely Male Sex Symbols an article from The Guardian
Love vs. Lust: An Analysis of A Scandal in Belgravia from Sherlock Character Analysis on Tumblr

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