Can You Rebuild as Well as You Tear Down?

Construction Man

There is a time for everything . . .  a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to tear down and a time to build. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

I watch a certain show on Tuesdays (or at least I did until the season finale) where everything is in an upheaval. This show dovetails with a series of popular superhero movies. That should be enough of a hint for you to guess which show I mean. If you’re still at sea, feel free to ask me in the comments which show I mean, especially if you don’t live in this country and might not know. But I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, since the show is current. Suffice it to say that a major upset has taken place and the characters are putting the pieces back together.

That makes for good TV, right? It’s like when we were kids. We liked to build huge block towers only to knock them down and see what happens in the aftermath. Or, we wanted other people to build huge block towers while we had the satisfaction of knocking them down. That’s conflict. Shock, destruction, and chaos add up to a great season finale. Who didn’t reel when **SPOILER (and you’ll have to scroll past the next two pictures)** Captain Jean-Luc Picard had been assimilated into the Borg and called himself Locutus in the third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Yes, I’m reaching way back. And maybe you were in diapers when the show aired so that reference means nothing to you. But the Borg were the enemies of the Federation. Picard belonged to the Federation.

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Jean-Luc Picard

Jean Luc as Borg

Picard as Locutus **END SPOILER**

Overturns occur quite often in books, especially in some trilogies featuring a relationship between a hero/heroine and a would-be love interest. In book 1, which I think of as The Chase, two individuals dance around each other for 90 percent of the book until finally they get a happily ever after (or HEA) of sorts. In book 2, The Separation, the HEA is overturned. In book 3, The Renewal, the plot builds toward the couple swooning over each other again.

As much as I like a good overturn with organizations crumbling and cities in chaos, my skeptical button lights up when an overturn is presented on the page or on the screen, especially if the destruction is widespread. I wonder, Can the writers/producers/trained cats reconstruct to a satisfying degree what they’ve destroyed? I’m not saying the reconstruction always has to be like Bruce Wayne’s vow to rebuild Wayne Manor “brick for brick”—exactly the way it was—at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005; script by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer)—thus ensuring that the world is exactly the same. (Okay, yeah, that’s a spoiler too.) Nothing is ever quite the same after a major upheaval. Think of the shape of our world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 or the aftermath of a disaster like a hurricane.

Authors like J. K. Rowling and TV series creators/writers like J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), Michael Dante DiMartino (Avatar/Legend of Korra), and Bryan Konietzko (Avatar/Legend of Korra) know that a good plan for a series is paramount. Crafting a satisfying and credible season or a series, with all of the twists, overturns, and reconstruction leading up to its conclusion, takes time.

I’m reminded of the explosions that occur in movies. I recently watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries for Batman Begins for the sixth or seventh time, so the subject is fresh in my mind. Nolan and the effects team discussed how painstaking the planning was for the stunts, particularly the explosions. Once something is blown up, it stays blown up. You don’t get a second chance. But you need to plan for how an explosion will work and what it will change.

Overturns are like those explosions. Upheaval is a game changer. Consider the upheaval of The Avengers movie (2012; directed by Joss Whedon). Every Marvel movie after that has shown the aftermath of that event. So, how do you rebuild after that? What do you keep? What’s gone forever?

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With that in mind, I’m issuing this plea to anyone who is in a destruction/reconstruction mode in their stories. I include myself in that plea, since I have a fair amount of destruction in my novel and am sometimes tempted to take the easy way out as I plan the sequel. Fellow authors, you wowed us with the destruction in your works. Now wow us with how you rebuild your world, or barring its destruction (i.e., Earth is blown up), how your surviving characters move on in a satisfying way. Please knock my socks off. I’ll be forever grateful.

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Earth destroyed

Construction sign from kunonet.de. Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard/Locutus from fanpop.com and arachnoid.com. Earth blowing up image from sodahead.com. Avengers image from wallpaperhd.co.

Post 200: “I Fly Blind”

image descriptionAs I considered the 200-post benchmark for this blog and writing in general, I was inspired by the process of J. Michael Straczynski, creator and head writer of Babylon 5—arguably one of the best science fiction shows ever televised here in the States. It aired from 1993—1998. Note the key words one of. Many people have differing opinions about which shows belong in the top ten list of all time best. But some polls list the Hugo-award winning Babylon 5 at least in the top 10 or 25. It was “conceived as, fundamentally, a five-year story, a novel for television” (Wikipedia). This year, I started watching the show for the first time ever, thanks to Netflix. (Yes, I’m late to the party.) I just finished the third season.

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J+Michael+Straczynski+Premiere+Screen+Gems+nTpIdy6jbialOut of 110 episodes in the show’s run, Straczynski wrote an unprecedented 92! I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I love to watch the behind-the-scenes documentaries of TV shows and movies. I especially love listening to commentaries where a show’s creator dishes on how everything was done. Joe Straczynski is particularly forthcoming about Babylon 5. He doesn’t shy away from spoilers, so be warned if you’re planning to listen to his commentaries as you watch key episodes.

If you’re squirming right now because you’re not a fan of science fiction, let me reassure you: you don’t have to have a built-in appreciation for science fiction in order to learn something from this guy. In a commentary for one of the most anticipated episodes in the show’s five-year run—Z’ha’dum from season 3 (sorry; I can’t explain why it’s key without giving spoilers)—Straczynski provides a master class on writing. All of the quotes below have been transcribed from that commentary. First, he talks about his methodology:

The way I wrote this show is to put my cards out on the table every season. I told you, “Here’s what’s going to happen, but you won’t know how it’s going to happen, or why it’s going to happen, or what it’s going to mean.” And that to me is a great portion of the fun.

So, an author is the ultimate sleight-of-hand artist. But you knew that, didn’t you? It takes skill to tell a reader what’s going to happen, and yet surprise him or her with the how. This is why foreshadowing is an author’s best friend. In a sense, you’re hinting to a reader what’s going to happen, but not telling him or her how. Yet in visual media like Babylon 5, foreshadowing has to be shown through key images. This builds anticipation. But as Straczynski alluded to, you might know what’s coming, but you don’t know how or why. And that keeps you watching.

Straczynski then moved on to a discussion of plots and outlines. This quote really resonated with me:

Plots almost don’t matter. Effects don’t matter. Wardrobe doesn’t matter. Technology doesn’t matter. What matters is what William Faulkner called the human heart in conflict with itself.

Since stories are about people, a character’s emotional arc matters. As Straczynski has mentioned in other commentaries, viewers need to have a connection to the characters and their desires. A story resonates with us on an emotional level if we can relate to what the characters want and the forces that keep the characters from attaining their desires. What Babylon 5 does brilliantly is showcase characters who gain what they want and deeply regret that they did. We can all identify with that.

Straczynski followed up that discussion with a quote that warmed my pantser heart:

I don’t write from outlines. After the end of the first season, Warner [Brothers Domestic Television] stopped asking me for outlines. . . . I sit down with a script, get into the scene, and say, “Where do I want to go with this?” And I listen to the characters and write down what they say. I fly blind. I know where I want to go in general with this story, and what the benchmarks are per episode, but whenever there’s a character like [name cut due to spoiler] talking right now, whatever [this person] says is a surprise to me while I write it as it is to you to hear for the first time.

Please don’t come away with the mistaken notion that Straczynski is against outlining. As he mentioned in this commentary and others for the show, he had a five-year plan for the show. So he started off with an outline. He stopped having to write them for the episodes, because he already knew where he wanted to go with the show and each character’s arc.

“I fly blind.” That’s an apt description of me as I write each post for this blog. 🙂 I’m not like J. Michael Straczynski: a writer with a five-year plan. I simply wanted to write about what interests me—what I love. But as a novelist, my process is evolving. For my latest novel, I wrote an outline years ago. As I completed the draft of the novel, I had to throw out parts of the outline, and essentially fly blind as I listened to the characters and learned more about them. But you know what? I ended up in the exact place where I’d planned to end up.

So, to wrap this up in a neat little bow, my plan for the blog is to keep doing what I’ve been doing: writing what interests me and interviewing people who write about what interests them. Thanks for coming along with me on the journey.

Babylon 5 logo image from bolumrehberi.com. Joe Straczynski photo from zimbio.com.

Three Is a Magic Number?

Hope you had a joyous Easter!

Before the snow I wrote about in a previous post came and went like a drive-by shooter, a friend’s mom gave me these from her garden:

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Pretty, huh? But would you say this arrangement is more satisfying than it would have been had there been only two daffodils?

Number-3-iconAccording to the Rule of Three, the answer is yes.

The rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. (Wikipedia)

Want some more on that? Here you go:

The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three. (Wikipedia again)

You’ve seen this rule played out in literature: for example, stories have a beginning, middle, and an end; the three-act structure of a work (setup, confrontation, and resolution); three tasks someone has to perform in fairy tales; stories from the Brothers Grimm like “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes,” “The Water of Life,” and others involving three characters in specific situations (usually a quest); “God in three persons” (from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”); and trilogies like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell and many others.

Number-2-iconYet in regard to book writing, the magic number for me is two, rather than three. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against trilogies. I’ve read dozens of them. But I’m writing a duology.

How many duologies have you read? Probably not many, right? I can only think of a few duologies off the top of my head: one by Sherwood Smith, another by Robin McKinley (I’m still waiting on the second book of McKinley’s duology to debut), and a third by Juliet Marillier. (See, the rule of three still comes into play, even in a discussion of authors of duologies.)

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Many series I’ve read involve an uneven number of books, namely three, five, or seven books. Some dare to be even-numbered series, like Stephenie Meyer’s four-book Twilight series. But three is the popular choice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’ve chosen to write a duology, rather than a trilogy. I know. I’m violating the rule. Though I haven’t yet written the second book, the story arc as planned seems complete not with three books or five, but two.

7873172Sorry, trilogy lovers. I can’t stretch the story over three books just to satisfy a rule. If I might borrow the words of Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring (though he referred to himself), the story would

Feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. (Tolkien 54)

See what I mean? Bilbo understands.

My hat is off to the many, many writers who can pull off three good books. I’m not one of those writers. That’s why I’m glad to know that good things also come in twos. Think about it: two arms, two legs, two eyes. Do you feel incomplete because you lack a third eye or a third hand? My guess is, you don’t.

Are you a firm believer in the Rule of Three? Would you prefer to write a trilogy or a duology? What is your favorite trilogy? Duology? Sandwich? (I threw in the latter to see if you were paying attention.)

To show that there are no hard feelings between me and the number three, check out this Schoolhouse Rock video, “Three Is a Magic Number.”

Another good post on the Rule of Three: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfThree

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955. Print.

Numbers 2 and 3 images from iconarchive.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins photo from middle-earthencyclopedia.

Why I Need Fairy Tales

4042-fairy-tale-castle-1920x1200-fantasy-wallpaperHaving watched the one zillionth romance movie on the Hallmark Channel the other day, I thought about fairy tales. After all, with plots like (1) an office worker bee gaining a promotion to vice president of her company after pitching her great idea to the right person (yet while failing to notice the scrumptious guy in her office who has a major crush on her); (2) a woman winding up married to a famous actor (who turns out to be wonderfully grounded) after she gets drunk one night; or (3) a woman whose adorable son is dying to match her up with his hot soldier pen pal, you’re looking at the modern equivalent of a fairy tale. Yep. Sounds like Once Upon a Time all right. And I don’t mean the Once Upon a Time show based on fairy tales.

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444388I’m not going to get all Bruno Bettelheim on you with an in-depth study of fairy tales, so congratulate yourself on dodging that bullet. (Bettelheim, a noted child psychologist, wrote a seminal work on fairy tales. Read it awhile ago.) I’ve said it before on this blog that I grew up reading fairy tales. So I naturally gravitate to stories with a fairy tale bent. But lately, with friends and family members going through tough times, and finding myself in the same boat, I crave fairy tales even more.

Some might see this longing as escapism. I can see the point. Maybe you can too when the bottom drops out of your life or when trust is broken in some way. At those times, life is more of a horror story than a fairy tale.

Speaking of trust, I recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Some view superhero movies as the modern equivalent of fairy tales, since fairy tales encompass more than just stories about fairies. But this movie was hardly a fairy tale. The theme of trust was hammered home throughout the film. I won’t give any spoilers, so you can stop cringing. If you’ve seen the movie (I recommend it), you’ll agree. Maybe you’ll also agree that there’s something appealing about a guy who just wants to do the right thing. (I won’t say who that is, so you can stop glaring at me since technically this is not a spoiler.)

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Yet when my friend and I left the theater, still discussing how much we liked the movie and how hot Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson in the film) are (and my goodness, they are), I still felt a bit somber as I thought about the issue of trust. But my mood had more to do with the breaking of trust which happened recently in a family I know. Since they’re close friends of mine, I hurt because they do.

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Anthony Mackie (left) and Chris Evans just chillin’

So, yeah, I think about fairy tales. Sure, some of them seem contrived or formulaic. But it’s nice to know that some stories have a happy ending. And on a hard day, maybe reading a fairy tale is just what the doctor ordered.

620574I found a quote at this site, which expresses how I feel. Fairy tales

awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life & to evoke profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that most people experience.

The quote comes from a book I haven’t yet read, which was edited by Jack Zipes. (See reference below.) I can relate to feeling powerless in certain situations.

Fairy tales remind us that life can be better. In fairy tales, good triumphs and evil is vanquished. Peasant maids are found by wandering princes. Younger sons who are belittled by villanous older brothers wind up vindicated and worthy of the hands of princesses. Sad circumstances are overturned. J. R. R. Tolkien developed a term for the latter: eucatastrophe, which means “the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom” (Wikipedia).

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little eucatastrophe in my life. It doesn’t have to wait till the end of my story though. In the meantime, I’ll read fairy tales or watch them unfold on the screen. Like chocolate, sometimes I just need ’em.

What, if any, is your favorite fairy tale? Why is it your favorite?

Zipes, Jack. “Cross-Cultural Connections and the Contamination of the Classical Fairy Tale” in The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ed. Jack Zipes. New York: WW Norton & Co., 2001, 845-868.

Book covers from Goodreads. Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie photo form tmiblogger.wordpress.com. Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster from Wikipedia. Fairy tale castle from desktopwallpapers4.me. Once Upon a Time logo from abcallaccess.com.

Energize!

I like to be entertained. I also like looking at this guy.

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Theo James

And since I recently saw an entertaining movie with this guy (Divergent, directed by Neil Burger), well, that’s even better.

But this post isn’t about that movie or Theo James. (Sorry to disappoint. But at least you have a picture.) It’s not even about Star Trek, though the title of course is a command from that series. As I said, I like to be entertained. Writing is a form of entertainment for me. Consequently, I often write blog posts or scenes off the top of my head that I find entertaining without thinking about whether anyone else might agree. Yes, I’m one of those sad people who love to laugh at their own corny jokes. As I draft a novel, ideas for scenes pop into my head thusly: It would be fun to add a bank robbery scene here. So I write the scene and chortle away.

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12088345But as I began the process of reading through and revising my novel, some of the scenes I thought were entertaining seemed less so. In fact, my energy waned just reading them, so I found myself turning to Plants vs. Zombies or email. I didn’t understand why, until I started reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson states the issue succinctly:

A scene that shows the character achieving a short-term goal but that fails to transition effectively to the next scene dissipates the story’s energy. It’s like stepping on a stair that’s missing. The reader knows instinctively that something’s wrong, sighs, and puts down the book. (Alderson 45)

What’s sad is that I put down my own book. Trust me when I say that as much work as crocheting is, I never stop in the middle of a project to check my email or play a round of Plants vs. Zombies. My crocheting projects are too absorbing, and I know how everything fits together. If I decided to add exta stitches for my own entertainment (like adding extra scenes to a story), I would throw the whole pattern off. (By the way, here’s my latest. I’m still making shoes. My life has become a living version of “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”)

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So, I get it now. Some scenes have no purpose, because they don’t really further the plot of the novel. They’re just distractions like Theo James above.

Alderson has other advice for fixing problem scenes. I highly recommend that you get her book. I don’t want to give all her tips away, because that wouldn’t be fair to Martha.

I think you know instinctively the scenes that energize your story and those that drain the life out of it. During the draft phase, my pulse quickened as I approached certain scenes involving certain characters. But one character’s scenes consistently gave me fits, because I didn’t really know her all that well. I found myself coming up with fantastic, plotty ideas like the bank robbery scene I alluded to earlier (and I didn’t actually involve her in a bank robbery; that was just an example) to make her part of the story seem more interesting. Silly me. I need to invest the time to get to know her, to find out what’s interesting about her and how she would react in situations, so that her scenes have the energy of instinct. Even if she stood there washing dishes, my knowledge of how she ticks, and how that dishwashing fits her emotional arc, would invest the story with energy and purpose. But that dishwashing scene needs to be strong enough to lead into the next scene—to be the cause that leads to an effect like ripples on a pond.

It’s also like driving. I don’t have to think about how to do it or what I should do in a certain situation. I move by instinct. If I turn the wheel a certain way, I can expect a certain outcome. Same with my characters in a scene. If I know that character A is the jealous type, I need to show that somehow, as well as the consequences of a jealous reaction in a follow-up scene. I can’t have her suddenly robbing banks in the middle of all of that jealousy just to inject excitement. Instead, I could probably turn that bank robbery scene into a short story. But it needs to be cut from the novel.

So much to do! But making my story tighter gives it more energy . . . and me as well.

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Speaking of robbery, I couldn’t resist leaving you with this image:

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Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. Print.

Theo James photo from zimbio.com. Tape measure photo from prevention.com/food. Book cover from Goodreads. Bank robber image from lostinidaho.me. Snowman robbery image from jobspapa.com/robber-clip-art.html.

Check This Out: The Shadowfell Trilogy (Part 2)

JM_with_Harry_smallerHey! Welcome back to the blog. The incomparable Juliet Marillier is here for day 2 of our discussion of her current trilogy: Shadowfell. In case you missed part 1 of the interview, you can find it here. Take a look at these covers. Beautiful, aren’t they? (In series order.)

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I’ll be giving away a set of these books. But you’ll have to wait till the conclusion of the discussion for more details. So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s get this show on the road.

El Space: Are you an outliner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? Please walk us through your writing process, Juliet.
clipboardJuliet: I’m at the planner end of the spectrum. I usually sell a new novel or series on the basis of a proposal, which means I have to write a complete synopsis, including the ending, before I start. There’s no wandering in and letting the story take its own course. I like to know where I’m going. My process goes a bit like this:

  • Get an idea for the plot, setting, and main characters. What is the theme? What/whom is this story about? What is the journey for the main characters?
  • Make some decisions about voice, point of view, and structure. How do I want to tell this story?
  • Write the proposal, including a full synopsis.
  • Develop the synopsis or outline into a chapter plan.
  • At the same time as the above, do the required research for the book/series.
  • Start writing. I generally write about three chapters, then go back and revise them. I tweak the chapter plan as I go along. No plan is set in stone—I make changes if I find something’s not working, or if I get a great new idea. However, the overall structure—the architecture of the story—usually doesn’t change.
  • Repeat the last step until the manuscript is finished. Every three chapters I go back and revise all of the previous chapters, so by the time I reach The End, the manuscript has had a lot of refining.
  • All that revision means (a) I work quite slowly and (b) what I have at that point is close to a final draft. I would generally do one or two complete passes through the manuscript to tidy things up, then it goes to the editor(s) at the publishing house. She writes a report, and I attend to her suggested revisions. Then it’s more or less done.

402045El Space: Your books are historical fantasy, some of which are based on fairy tales. Please tell us what excites you most about the genre and why you chose to use real settings as the basis for your books.
Juliet: I didn’t make a conscious choice to write in a particular genre. When I started out, I wanted to use a particular story I’d loved in childhood (“The Six Swans”) as the basis for a novel about a real family. I wanted to explore what the personal cost would be for the sister and brothers who had to deal with the catastrophe of a magical curse. At that stage I didn’t read fantasy, in fact I was hardly aware of it as a genre for adult readers, though I had read some of the classics—Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books. The way I write is connected with my lifelong love of traditional stories, and my style is rather like oral storytelling. I believe those old stories have a great deal of wisdom that is still relevant even in our time. They were and still are wonderful tools for teaching and healing. Only three of my sixteen novels are actually based on fairy tales, but the tropes and motifs of traditional storytelling are woven through everything I write.

Most of my novels are set in “real world” history and geography—the Shadowfell series is an exception. Some contain more accurate history than others. I made some beginner’s errors with the history in my first series, because at that stage I didn’t realise readers who were happy to accept uncanny characters and magical happenings would at the same time expect accurate historical detail. I became more meticulous with the research as I went along. I find real history endlessly fascinating, especially the “grey areas” about which few contemporary records remain. I seized on a snippet of story about a Pictish king being tutored by a druid as the basis for the Bridei Chronicles. I wrote that series using a combination of known history, informed guesswork, and pure imagination. The uncanny elements in my novels are usually based on what the people of that time and culture would have believed in.

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The Bridei Chronicles

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Juliet: Authors whose work combines great writing craft with compelling storytelling. I have too many to list, so here are just a few, all of whose work I read and re-read:

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El Space: An eBook of The Caller, book 3 of Shadowfell, will be released by Pan Macmillan Australia on February 25 with the print edition debuting in Australia in June and in July in the United States. I saw on your website that you’re working on a book called Dreamer’s Pool. Please tell us a little about that.
Juliet: The series title is Blackthorn & Grim, and it’s an adult fantasy series, quite a bit darker than my previous work, with older, more damaged protagonists. The first novel is Dreamer’s Pool, coming out from Penguin U.S. and Pan Macmillan Australia in November 2014.

Here’s how the story of Dreamer’s Pool starts: The embittered healer Blackthorn is incarcerated and awaiting a hearing when she is told she’s to be summarily executed. Then a mysterious visitor offers her a lifeline—she can be freed provided she promises to live by the visitor’s rules for the next seven years. Each time she breaks a rule—there are three all up—another year will be added to her term. Blackthorn knows she hasn’t a hope of keeping any of the rules, especially the one about not seeking vengeance against her archenemy. But with the fey involved, she’s not going to get away with lying.

In each novel of this series, our two protagonists are faced with a mystery to solve. The setting is early medieval Ireland. I’d describe the Blackthorn & Grim books as dark fairy tale + mystery + struggle for personal redemption.

Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you, Juliet, for being my guest! I’m so glad you came by. I’m looking forward to Dreamer’s Pool! 

And thank you to all who visited today. If you’re looking for more information about Juliet and her books, head to her website or to her official fan page on Facebook. Be sure to check there for publication dates for her books.

The Shadowfell trilogy can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
iTunes Books

One of you will win not just Shadowfell books 1 and 2, but a preorder of book 3! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. (TODAY ONLY!) The winner will be announced on Monday, February 23! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Author photo and Shadowfell series covers courtesy of Juliet Marillier. Other book covers from Goodreads and Wikipedia. Clipboard from www1.imperial.ac.uk.

Harry and Hermione, Sittin’ in a Tree?

When I first heard that J. K. Rowling had second thoughts in regard to the Ron/Hermione relationship (every time I opened my ISP, a link to the story was provided), I felt the burn of frustration. And just before Valentine’s Day, too! I refused to read any article on the subject at first. You see, I had wanted Harry and Hermione to wind up together when I read the series. (I have nothing against Ginny Weasley or Ron.) But I got over my thoughts of Harry and Hermione K-I-S-S-I-N-G. And now that the series is a done deal, to learn of what could have been frustrates me.

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I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who they are, but I’ll do it anyway. From left to right, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)

Yes, I realize that as the author of her series, J. K. Rowling has every right to do what she wants with her characters—even regret that she did what she did. But this incident reminded me too much of a guy I liked during my senior year in high school who ignored me the whole year (though I tried to get him to notice me when he passed in the halls each day) until the day we cleaned out our lockers. He sidled up to me after saying hi and stood there in expectation that I would throw myself at him now that he was finally declaring himself available. I don’t know what led him to finally take notice, but I was frustrated by that point. “You pay attention to me now?” I wanted to say. “Where were you the whole year?” Too little, too late. At least he signed my yearbook.

Back to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, 479px-J._K._Rowling_2010I finally broke down and read an E! Online article which has this quote:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling, 48, told [Emma] Watson, 23. “For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

Wish fulfillment. I can relate. As far as the romances in the two novels that I’ve worked on in the last couple of years are concerned, I too had second thoughts. I had developed two characters I thought were cool, and therefore worthy of my heroines. Wish fulfillment? Probably. But two of my graduate advisors saw potential in other characters, characters I hadn’t planned to develop beyond the chapter each was in initially. Yeah, I can admit that now. Following their advice called for a paradigm shift.

I balked at the idea at first. With these two would-be love interests, I would have to work extra hard to make the romance plausible, since I barely knew these characters. Hard work—perish the thought!  Like Rowling said, my reasons for choosing these guys had “little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it.” So, I was tempted to ignore my advisors’ advice. I even wrote scenes between the guys I picked and my heroines. And you know what? There was no chemistry. In fact, there was downright hostility every time these characters encountered each other.

“Whoa, whoa whoa!” you’re probably muttering at me through the screen. “Aren’t you using your imagination? You can make these characters have chemistry.” That’s true in theory. However, once I knew what my characters were like, I realized a relationship between the guys I chose at first and my heroines would never have worked. I needed to get my wish fulfillment out of the way (especially since it dated back to guys like those at my high school—the ones that got away) and pay attention to my characters’ desires. I can’t live out my failed romances through them. They have their own lives to live.

St_ Valentine 98

So, I set off in a different direction—that in which my advisors pointed out. First, I needed to convince myself that each suggested relationship would work. Second, I needed to convince a reader. The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ve succeeded.

Are you a plot clinger? Or, as your story evolves, do you toss aside the plot in favor of allowing what you know about the character to decide the outcome?

Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson photo from hdwallpapers.in. J. K. Rowling photo from Wikipedia. Heart image from absolute3d.net.