The Look of a Leader

Last weekend, I saw Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler). The phrase kingly bearing came to mind as I watched Chadwick Boseman play the titular character.

Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers about the film. This post isn’t so much about the film as it is about the phrase I mentioned above.

Dictionary.com has this definition of kingly:

stately or splendid, as resembling, suggesting, or befitting a king; regal

Not that you needed that term defined. I looked it up, because I thought of the preconceived ideas many of us have about how kings/queens or other significant leaders should look and act—what we think “befit[s] a king.”

When you think of a king/queen (fictional or nonfictional), do any of the following adjectives come to mind?

• Decisive
• Intelligent/Skilled
• Charismatic
• Bold
• Honorable
• Tall/Attractive
• Wise

They do in my head. T’Challa of Wakanda (Boseman’s character, the 1966 creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) fits all of the above. But he is a fictional king. So why, I asked myself, do I have the idea that a person with a “kingly bearing” fits those adjectives (or at least most of those)? Probably because of Saul, Israel’s first king. Check out this description, which I found in 1 Samuel 9 (in the Bible):

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people (vv. 1-2, ESV).

A month ago, I watched a 2006 PBS documentary on Marie Antoinette, written and directed by David Grubin. Marie Antoinette, as you know, was married to Louis XVI of France. But the historians interviewed in the film probably would not have used most of the adjectives in the list above above to describe Louis XVI. Biography.com had this to say about him: “He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork.”

Louis XVI of France when he was the Dauphin of France.
By Louis-Michel van Loo – Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4936896

There are many other kings in history who don’t fit the mold either. I’m sure you can think of several whose tyranny or abdication of leadership to more forceful individuals made them a blight on history. But whenever I inject a king or a leader equivalent to a king into a fictional story, I have the image of a Saul or a T’Challa. (And yes I know that Saul was not considered an ideal king. But he had that “kingly bearing.”)

Watching the movie and thinking about my views on “kingly bearing” made me realize that I need to go beyond preconceived ideas when I create characters. It’s not enough to have a character “look the part” (i.e., merely having traits borrowed from other similar characters), which can make that person seem cliché. He or she needs to be fully realized—warts and all.

Kitty knows that she has the look of a leader. Don’t let the cupcake fool you.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther photo from trends44.com. Kitty photo by L. Marie.

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This Is Me

Happy Valentine’s Day (and Ash Wednesday)!

If you’ve seen the movie, The Greatest Showman (starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Michael Gracey), you might know that the title of the post is the title of a song from the movie, which was sung by Keala Settle and other members of the ensemble cast. Yeah, I’d never heard of Keala Settle either before seeing the movie, though she’d starred on Broadway for years. Yet there she was in the movie, singing one of the most memorable songs from it.

A friend and I saw the movie this weekend. Afterward, we walked back through the frozen tundra to the car, processing what we’d seen.

Some of the lines of the song ran through my mind:

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. (Written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek)

This post is not meant to be a review of the movie, though I thought it was fabulous. (Guess that statement is a mini-review of a sort.) I won’t give any spoilers about why the song was sung, though it came at a very appropriate point in the movie. And this post is not a commentary on the life of P. T. Barnum, the subject of the movie. I was struck, however, by the song and how long it took to get the movie made—seven and a half years, according to Hugh Jackman. Studios were reluctant to back an original musical. But this project was a passion for him. In an interview I found on the internet (sorry, I didn’t copy the link to the interview) he said this project was more like who he was than other projects.

Maybe you can relate to the lyrics I quoted above. I certainly can. And I can relate to a seven-year journey of working to get something made. I began my elf novel seven years ago. I’ve written many books and other things since then. Some were published, some weren’t. But the elf book is my passion project, which has its antecedents in a story I wrote twenty years ago—you read that right—back when I wrote parodies.

I grew up watching a little cartoon called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were parodies of fairy tales.

I thought I’d try my hand writing at those. But instead of using existing fairy tales, I wanted to write original fairy tales. I came up with some characters who rescued princesses. Only, they weren’t very good at it.

This is not the story I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I can’t find that one for some reason. This is another fairy tale I wrote back in the day. But I wrote all of my fairy tales on yellow paper like this.

I worked on that story off and on for six years for my own amusement, considering it a hobby like crocheting, while trying to finish a science fiction novel for adults. But around 2004, an astute friend asked me, “Why don’t you write fairy tales instead?” She meant for publication, instead of the science fiction novel for which I struggled to find a good ending. “They seem more you,” she added.

Honestly, the notion of getting that story published had never crossed my mind until she spoke those words. Well, I polished it, submitted it to publishers and agents, but got nowhere. Only one agent asked to see the full manuscript. He mentioned that he liked some of it. Now, let’s flash forward seven years. I’m in grad school at this point. An advisor read my fairy tale, which had been rejected probably twenty-five times. Ironically, I had submitted chapters of this book as part of my application to get into the graduate school.

She said, “I liked some of it.” Familiar words. And then she said (and I’m just paraphrasing here, since we had numerous conversations on this subject), “You’ve got to take writing more seriously. These characters deserve better.” Meaning, stop writing parodies, making fun of the fairy tales you claim to love. Write from a sincere heart.

So, I lifted several characters out of that book and gave them a new home and a new plot, which became the book I started seven years ago.

That’s why I was encouraged by The Greatest Showman. It’s nice to know that projects made with love can find an audience of people who love them too.

What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a project?

If you want more information on the movie, check out this
HBO Interview, which involves Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Zac Efron talking about the movie:

The Greatest Showman movie poster from cinematerial.com. Fractured Fairy Tales still from avxhome.se. Other photos by L. Marie. The Valentine owl crochet pattern can be found here.

Life Off Camera

Happy Eclipse Day—the first total solar eclipse in 38 years that we’ll be able to see here in the States! Some friends traveled to Carbondale, Illinois for this occasion since that’s the place where it can be viewed the longest.

Try as I may, I’m not always able to capture, via my phone’s camera, all of life’s amazing moments. Like the time aliens took over New York, but were stopped by the Avengers (thus freeing us to all have shawarma at the end). Or the time when the evil peace-keeping robot (what an irony) threatened to destroy the world, and the Avengers had to help out again.

Okay, those events happened on the big screen, instead of in real life.

But I can’t help thinking of last week when I witnessed a territorial fight between two male hummingbirds. I immediately thought of Jill Weatherholt, a blogger/author you undoubtedly know. Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t think of her because of the fight. Jill has shown me photos of the hummingbirds around her house.

I was seated near the balcony at the home of some friends after their hummingbird feeder had been refilled and placed on the balcony. The usual ruby-throated hummingbird soon landed on the feeder. Let’s call him HB-1. I mentioned “usual,” because one of my friends told me this hummingbird usually came to the feeder. But this day, a rival came too—HB-2.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Oh, yes he did!

Pretty soon, tiny wings beat the air even faster, while long beaks jabbed. After a bob and weave, HB-1 got the better of HB-2 and forced his rival to fly away. Sadly, my phone was nowhere near me at the time, so I did not get pictures.

Nor was I able to capture something that happened at a birthday party I went to recently. The birthday child was a little girl who turned one. Over forty kids were present. One of the games they played was one involving a box wrapped with about fifty layers of wrapping paper. The kids sat in a circle and passed the box around, each unwrapping one layer, hoping to be the one who reached the last layer. That kid would have the privilege of claiming what was inside the box.

The kids gave that box the care and attention a neurosurgeon would give a patient. Every time the kids thought they’d reached the end of the wrapping paper, still more layers would appear. Without knowing what was in the box, they were fully invested in solving the mystery of what was inside. I was the one tasked with picking up the discarded wrapping paper, so I didn’t have a free hand to snap a photo. But I loved the fact that the kids were riveted by a wrapped box, rather than some expensive video game. (Lest you think I dislike video games, let me admit to you now that I play them. Just sayin’.)

Neither of these moments has the awe-factor of a solar eclipse, I know. But life has these little moments of mystery and wonder—moments too quick or too powerful to capture on film. Like the time a two-year-old hugged me around my knees. Like the laughs I shared with friends last week. I’m glad I was fully present, enjoying those moments, instead of fumbling for my camera.

But I was able to capture this butterfly not too long ago. He sat still, allowing me time to photograph him (though I wish I’d managed a closeup).

What moments have you enjoyed recently that took your breath away, but that you weren’t able to record on your camera?

Solar eclipse image from Wikipedia. Avengers poster from nzgirl.co.nz. Hummingbird from free-background-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Wrapping paper from zazzle.co.uk. Monarch butterfly photo by L. Marie.

A Crisis Point

This past weekend I went with some friends—Me, Myself, and I—to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thoroughly loved it.

There’s a scene in it where the hero, Peter Parker, reaches a crisis. That’s not exactly a spoiler. If you know the hero’s journey model, you know that a hero usually goes through a crisis before the end of the story. I have to quote a line here from the movie in order for the point I wish to make in this post to make sense. So, if you don’t want spoilers of any kind, stop reading at the bold and start back up again at the next bold point.

⭐ SPOILERS!!! ⭐

After Peter messes up so badly that he has to get help from Iron Man, Iron Man decides to take back the suit he had given Spider-Man to use while fighting crime. Peter declares, “I am nothing without this suit.” The sign of someone in crisis.

⭐ END SPOILERS!!! ⭐

In The Writer’s Journey—Christopher Vogler’s look at mythic structure as discussed in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces—Vogler talked about the ordeal or crisis a hero faces. This is part of the hero’s rebirth.

A crisis is defined by Webster’s as “the point in a story or drama at which hostile forces are in the tensest state of opposition.” We also speak of a crisis in an illness: a point, perhaps a high spike of fever, after which the patient either gets worse or begins to recover. The message: Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. An Ordeal crisis, however frightening to the hero, is sometimes the only way to recovery or victory. (Vogler 161)

I teared up at the scene from Spider-Man that I mentioned earlier, because it hit close to home. For most of my life, I’ve been writing stories and other things. But lately, I haven’t been able to write much at all. Anything I attempted seemed strained. Even writing a blog post has been difficult. Most of my friends are busy with their books. But I got nothin’. Some of this is due to the steadily mounting rejections I’ve received for my fiction books or criticism I’ve received for nonfiction work. But to be honest, it’s mostly due to self-doubt—feeling like a failure. So, I freeze up every time I think of writing anything—even this post, which took twice as long as posts usually take.

“I’m nothing without writing,” I found myself declaring. I had reached a crisis.

I knew I had two choices: (1) to believe that declaration and continue to go on a downward spiral; (2) to get up again and find out what’s really true about myself.

After some soul searching, I got up. Instead of writing, I’ve been doing other things. Like making miniature rooms out of paper and fabric. (Um, I’ve always been a little quirky.) Like taking photographs of flowers. Like crocheting. Like hanging out with friends. Like watching great movies. Like babysitting. Like taking walks and enjoying the wind on my face.

    

I think you already know by now that what I’d believed about being nothing without writing wasn’t true. I’m more than what I do or don’t do. I’m still who I am—me, warts and all. Life will go on, whether I put pen to paper ever again or not.

I’m reminded of the phoenix and how it had to die in order to be reborn. This season of my life has been a kind of death and rebirth. Old as I am, I still needed to be reborn; still needed to see life anew.

Who am I? I’m L. Marie. Daughter. Sister. Friend. And right now, that’s enough.

Is it me, or do you see a face in this tree, like a person saying, “Ooo”?

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie poster from heyuguys.com. Phoenix image from clker.com. Photos by L. Marie.

Finding Dory in You (and Me)

If you saw Finding Nemo (2003) and the sequel Finding Dory (2016), you know that Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang with short-term memory loss. In the first movie, she accompanied a clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) on an impossible journey. In the sequel, she went on yet another impossible journey that I won’t spoil here.

    

I thought about Dory recently, because I acquired this Dory vinyl figure.

Dory had some of the funniest lines in Finding Nemo. Though her character was endearing, I found her a little annoying, because she would rush off without thinking through anything. That aspect didn’t change in Finding Dory.

On the Dory wiki, I found this description

[H]er optimism proves an invaluable quality to help overcome the impossible. To Dory, the glass is always half-full.

Marlin, the doubtful dad ruled by fear, is pretty much her opposite. While Dory’s motto could be, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” a good one for Marlin is, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”—Murphy’s law. I can relate to that.

I’m like Marlin—cautious to nth degree. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, some of the greatest achievements come through taking a risk.

Dory knew that. She would rush into action, never once doubting that she could accomplish what she set out to do.

In Finding Dory, two characters in trouble asked each other, “What would Dory do?” They admired Dory’s ability to think outside the box and persevere through incredible obstacles.

I have to admit that Dory’s can-do spirit annoyed me at times. But if I’m honest, I have to say I’m not really annoyed with her. I’m annoyed with myself. Can do? It only takes one rejection to turn my can do into “I guess I can’t,” which leads to “Nope. Not trying that again.”

But Dory never met a challenge she didn’t accept.

With Independence Day coming up on Tuesday, I can’t help thinking of the risks taken and the battles fought to bring about this independence. What would Dory do? She would have taken any risk to be free.

So it’s time for me to shed my Marlin approach to life. Time for me to turn the “Not trying that again” into “You know? I think I will.”

What about you? Do you think of yourself as Dory—can do, will do? Or Marlin—don’t try and you won’t fail? Or are you like Nemo—ready to do whatever Dory does? Or maybe you’re like Becky—just carrying a bucket ’cause somebody asked you to? (See the movie if you’re wondering who Becky is.)

Maybe, like me, you’re inspired to find the Dory in you.

(Having internet problems right now, so I will sign off for now.)

A great article on blue tangs: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/06/03/480556852/please-lets-not-find-dory

Finding Nemo poster from funny-pictures.picphotos.net. Finding Dory poster from disneymovieslist.com. Becky from ohmydisney.com. Marlin from beafunmum.com. Dory vinyl figure photos by L. Marie.

We Can’t Let Evil Win

Today, I began a post called, “What Is Happening to the World?” which was full of my anxious thoughts about recent events. I had gone to bed the other night, feeling anxious and angry after the news account of the attack on London. I woke up with the same anxiety. Hence the post I just mentioned.

But I scrapped that post.

Look at this.

    

And this.

And this.

I’m reminded that the world isn’t totally full of sadness and evil. There is beauty, kindness, love, joy.

Yes, there is grief. I’m grieved by acts of senseless violence.

Maybe that’s why one of my favorite comic book characters is Wonder Woman. I haven’t yet seen the movie. But my friends and I plan to see it on Tuesday. When I was a kid, I read Wonder Woman comic books, and dreamed of being a superhero. While I didn’t love her outfit, I loved her strength and outlook of hope. I loved that she used her gifts to make a difference in the world—her way of combatting the darkness.

See that glint of light on the poster? I chose this poster because of the light. Though darkness might seem to hold sway, a little bit of light always shines through.

We can choose to bring the light of hope to someone in the darkness of despair. (Yes, there is a way to do that without sounding Pollyanna or giving false hope.)

We can choose to be fully present to those around us who need a listening ear.

We can choose to let a child show us the wonder he or she sees in the world.

We can choose to be kinder to each other.

A friend sent this video to me on a day when I needed a laugh. Maybe you need this right now. It’s not the cure for cancer or hopelessness. But it’s a start.

Wonder Woman movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Make ’Em Feel Something

A book I’ve been slowly going through these days is a writer’s craft book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you know anything about Donald Maass, you know that he’s a literary agent who has read thousands of manuscripts. He’s also written other craft books.

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Over the years I also have reviewed for publishers and other venues more manuscripts than I can count. But sometimes I found myself puzzling over why a manuscript didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Maass’s book gave me insight with this quote:

When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. (Maass 4)

Many times, I did not feel anything while reading a manuscript. Even stellar writing, Maass mentions, can be a turnoff if a reader does not feel anything while reading a story. So the point of Maass’s book is to help writers create the kind of stories that cause readers to experience the journey—not just read about it. In other words, the kind of stories that make readers feel something.

Part of that experience is fostered through helping to immerse a reader in a character’s emotional journey. Have you ever had a hard time writing an emotional scene? I have. Usually while drafting, I only scratch the surface, especially if a character feels a complex array of emotions. Consider how you felt on an extremely emotional day.

emotions

So, writing emotional content does not come naturally to me. But Maass cautioned

While it’s fine to fill pages with what is natural and easy for you, it’s also critical to get comfortable writing what isn’t natural and easy. (74)

I want to get better at writing emotional scenes. This means I might have to rewrite a scene over and over until I break through the wall of resistance within myself.

Something else that inspired me to get better at writing emotional content is a quote from another book I’m reading. In one of the forewords to The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie, written by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, director Chris McKay and producers Dan Lin, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller wrote

When assembling these [LEGO] movies from the beginning, we always start with an emotional question to explore over the course of the story.

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They actually asked more than one question to shape their main character’s emotional arc. One of these questions was a what-if question. (I won’t share those questions, since doing so would involve a spoiler.) Sure, the filmmakers want to entertain people with their production. But also they want people to feel what the character feels along the way. This inspires me to carefully consider the what-if questions that are the basis for my character’s emotional journey.

the-lego-batman-movie-2017

How do you feel when you have to write scenes with high emotional content? Is it easy for you? Hard? If the latter, what do you do to press onward?

If you don’t write stories, consider the last book you read that really moved you. Why do you think it did?

Maass, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Miller-Zarneke, Tracey. The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie. New York: DK/Penguin-Random House, 2017.

The LEGO® Batman Movie poster from xemeston.ir. Emotions image from taringa.net.