“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.

Advertisements

Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I have book winners to announce. But that will have to wait until the end of this post, since I was tagged by Celine Jeanjean at Down the Rabbit Hole to name my ten favorite screen characters. You can read her list by clicking here. Like Celine, I was supposed to tag others. But everyone I know is pretty busy. So you’re stuck with me unless you escape to Celine’s blog. Mwahahahaha!

This was a tough but fun assignment. There are many characters beyond those below who are favorites. I chose the following, because they inspire me in different ways. Since this list is in no particular order, I decided not to number it. Ha ha!!!

Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto)
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien’s trilogy and the film adaptations directed and co-written by Peter Jackson (2002—2003). I can relate to her sadness and frustration. Eowyn wanted a man she could not have. She also longed to do heroic deeds, though others tried to dissuade her. I love the fact that she refused to let the naysayers have the last word, thus proving a woman could be brave in battle.

Eowyn_RotK_11

Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell)
He’s a supervillain with a big heart in the 2010 film written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons and directed by Tom McGrath. This film is a delightful twist on the superhero genre. I love the wonderful banter, the character design—basically, I love everything about Megamind’s journey in this film. He taught me that even supervillains can be heroic.

megamind-movie-wallpapers-a

The Incredibles/Parrs (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Spencer Fox)
I can’t pick one character. This family works as a team, and an awesome one at that. The Incredibles, a 2004 Disney/Pixar film written and directed by Brad Bird, was the “Fantastic Four” movie we really wanted. It’s one of my favorite movies period. I love the dialogue (which deftly showcased character), the action, and the pacing. It deserved the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The_Incredibles-008

Elizabeth Bennet (played by Keira Knightley)
Lizzie is my favorite in the book, so of course she is my favorite in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright). She’s a young woman who speaks her mind, even when she’s totally wrong. Keira, who was the same age as the character when she played her, was an inspired choice.

keira-knightly-as-elizabeth-bennett

The Doctor (played by too many actors to name here)
Turning to the small screen here. I’ve been a Whovian for many years—no matter who plays the time-traveling Doctor in the BBC show, Doctor Who. (There are films also.) The Doctor usually takes it upon himself to save the world. He travels with a companion, who is usually an Earth dweller (though not always). I simply love this show, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013. By the way, I loved it when it was still just a cult favorite. Lately, famed author Neil Gaiman has penned episodes of this show.

THE ELEVEN DOCTORS

THE ELEVEN DOCTORS

Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto [Japanese version] and Alison Lohman [English language version])
Princess Nausicaä is a creation of Hayao Miyazaki who wrote a manga series about her and made an environmentally conscious animated movie on her exploits: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). I’ve probably seen this film 20 times. Nausicaä is the kind of character who makes me want to be a better person. She’s selfless in her defense of creatures others despise. And when she needs to wield a weapon, she’s good at that too.

Nausicaa_ARS_setup_2

Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
Every character Samuel L. Jackson plays is vivid and memorable. My favorite is Nick Fury, the beleaguered leader of SHIELD—a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—because I love his leadership in the Marvel movies, especially the first Avengers (2012), written and directed by Joss Whedon. His question to Thor, “I’m asking, what are you prepared to do?” sears me every time I watch this movie.

Nick-Fury-samuel-l-jackson

The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series; voiced by too many people to name here)
Again, I can’t choose just one person, though Prince Zuko (below right) is dreamy. 🙂 This cast, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made the Nickelodeon series (2005—2008) one of my all-time favorites. Go Team Avatar!

Avatar-Cast-Collage-avatar-the-last-airbender-20397292-1024-683 Prince Zuko

Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen)
Whenever I think of a wizard, I first think of Gandalf. Though I love you, Harry Potter, Gandalf first claimed my heart. Consequently, I’ve read The Hobbit and LOTR dozens of times and watched all of the film adaptations. Gandalf is old, wise, and wonderful. And Ian will always be Gandalf to me.

Gandalf (1)gandalf

007

Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr)
Okay. I can admit to having a major crush on a cartoon character. I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart beats for Samurai Jack, a brave, selfless Shaolin monk who hopes to defeat the ultimate evil—Aku. This creation of Genndy Tartakovsky (2001—2004 on Cartoon Network) has inspired many, many artists, including Tomm Moore, the director of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

Samurai_Jack

Who are your favorite film or TV characters? While you think about that, I’m giving away a book by Charles E. Yallowitz featuring a character I hope will become a favorite of yours—Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts.

P12-372dd FullRes- 300dpi Image

There are two winners. And they are . . .

Phillip McCollum

and

Laura Bruno Lilly!!!

Congratulations, Phillip and Laura! If you’ll confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll have this eBook sent to you. I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon.

Eowyn from revolutionmyspace.com. The cast of Avatar from fanpop.com. Nick Fury from atlantablackstar.com. The Incredibles from thewallpapers.org. Nausicaä from nausicaa.net. Gandalf from nerdreactor.com and blockscreeningreviews.blogspot.com. Elizabeth Bennet from bookriot.com. The Doctor from cinemablend. Samurai Jack image from samuraijack.wikia.com.com. Megamind from worldsoforos.com.

Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

I’ve got book winners to announce, but that will be at the end of this post. Mwahahahaha! So grab a donut and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea while I talk at you for a minute.

coffee_Donut

Ever read a book where a character is handed a truth that would require a major paradigm shift for him or her to accept? For example, the character suddenly learns that magic or monsters really exist.

We’ve all read stories of characters who stubbornly cling to disbelief in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary. They insist that they’re dreaming or “this isn’t really happening” until they reach a plot point (at least halfway through the book) that pushes them toward belief. Or we’ve read stories where a character instantly accepts a completely world-changing viewpoint without a struggle. There are also stories where the character seems to ignore what would be totally obvious to a seven-year-old. I think of that as the Lois-Lane-can’t-see-Superman-behind-Clark-Kent’s-glasses perspective. That’s why we don’t necessarily suspend our disbelief as we read. (Or sometimes we go along for the ride because the characters are so beloved or iconic.)

lois-lane-clark-kent

Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Clark? No? Some reporter you are.

Here is where foreshadowing can be an author’s BFF. An author can hint at the possibility that something major is going to happen at a future point. Foreshadowing also is a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. It provides a solid base to make a character’s suspension of disbelief seem inevitable.

zukos-shadow_4693

Prince Zuko of the Avatar animated series and Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Sometimes though, a rip-off-the-bandage approach works to move a story along. I can’t help thinking of two episodes of Doctor Who, series 4 (2008), starring David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC/BBC America).

Doctor_Who_Series_4

In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, an extremely chilling 2009 Hugo award-nominated two-episode arc written by Steven Moffat, we see a little girl talking to a psychiatrist, while her anxious dad hovers in the background. Such an innocuous scene. The little girl has told the doctor—Dr. Moon—about her dreams.

Doctor Who - Silence In The Library Doctor Moon and girl

Doctor Moon (played by Colin Salmon) and the little girl (played by Eve Newton)

In her dreams, she goes to a library—a place where she feels safe. But as we watch the episodes, we realize that all is not what it seems. Later in the first episode, because of a dangerous development, Doctor Moon has to share a shocking truth with the little girl, a truth that would require a paradigm shift for her to accept. (Quote below from IMDb. **SLIGHT SPOILER.**)

Dr. Moon: What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there. People who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you.

**END SPOILER.** You can read this Wikipedia article if you want to know the plot. Or, I would suggest watching the episodes. They are extremely good.

Another example of a character having to shift from disbelief to belief comes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on), Hagrid tells Harry the truth about Harry’s extraordinary life in this scene from the first Harry Potter movie, directed by Christopher Columbus (2001).

Rowling set the stage earlier by having weird things happen that Harry witnessed, but couldn’t explain. So when the big reveal comes, his struggle for acceptance doesn’t feel contrived.

I’m facing a similar issue in my middle grade book—a character struggling to believe something extraordinary about herself. I’ll ask you the same questions I had to answer for the character: If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?

While you think about those questions, I’ll move on to the book giveaway. Thanks for you patience. If you recall, last week I had mentioned two great books: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue by Charles Yallowitz. You can find those posts here and here. Jordie and Hello Kitty wanted to be in on the reveal. You might have to enlarge the photos below if you have trouble reading the names.

NoneoftheAbove_Cover 25310886

The winner of None of the Above is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

013

The winner of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

012

Congratulations Jill! Congrats, Professor! Please comment below to confirm.

Now I will leave you with a photo I am calling, “The Five Geese of the Apocalypse.” For some reason, they were just standing there on the ledge looking out. Surveying their domain perhaps?

002

Doctor Moon and the little girl from stevegoble.blogspot.com. Doctor Who, series 4, DVD cover from Wikipedia. Lois Lane and Clark Kent from goodgirlsinc.wordpress.com. Coffee and donut from wisdomwoman.com. Zuko from glogster.com. Anakin/Darth Vader from tvtropes.org.

Snow, Snow, Is All She Wrote

001

Now is the winter of our discontent.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in Richard III, Act I, Scene I

The other day, my friend the snow and I got reacquainted when it arrived and overstayed its welcome as usual. Because of this “friend,” I’ve gotten into the habit of kicking my boots whenever I pass them in the hall. Something has to share my pain.

Thanks to the other day’s snowfall, this area has had about 79 inches of snow this year, which is not the all-time record for us, believe it or not. Winter of 1978–1979 holds that record with 89 inches of snow.

I can’t help thinking of the quatrains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which go

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Only for us, it’s “snow, snow, everywhere” “day after day, day after day,” a situation nowhere near as dire as the ancient mariner’s. But we’ve reached the part of winter where I’m ready to run out into the snow, screaming like a banshee: “Why don’t you die already, Winter???? Ya hear me?? Die!!!!!”

CherriesBut you know what else seems to have overstayed its welcome? Discouragement. Many good friends face discouraging situations right now. My heart aches for them. When they hurt, I hurt. And I can’t say that life is a bowl of cherries for me either. Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?

Like this endless winter, these troubles seem to wrap everything in a cold numbness. Just when you think you don’t have any tears left to shed, you encounter another hard situation and find that you do.

Avatar-TheLastAirbender2The other day I watched an episode of Book 3: Fire, the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, for about the 900th time. SPOILER ALERT: Still reeling from the events at the end of Book 2: Earth, the hero, Aang, is at his lowest ebb. As he contemplates his perceived failure (and you need to see the last episode of Book 2 to find out why he thinks this) and recovers from his near death experience (Miracle Max from The Princess Bride would have pronounced him “mostly dead” at that point), encouragement comes from two sources: Roku, one of his past lives, and Yue, the Moon Spirit. END SPOILERS. Okay, maybe those names mean nothing to you if you’re not a fan of Avatar. But I was struck by Aang’s determination to keep going, despite the difficult circumstances of his young life.

   RokuSokka_sees_Yue's_spirit

Roku and Yue (um, Yue’s the one in the dress)

original

Billy Crystal as Miracle Max

I needed that reminder to persevere, though doing so isn’t always easy. I’m also grateful for friends who provide encouragement and words of kindness like, “I’ll pray for you” or “Come over for dinner. We miss you.” I’m also thankful for the little things, like the sun finally deciding to show up, though it arrived late and without an excuse. A little bit of light goes a long way.

Maybe today, you also feel as pummeled as some of my friends feel or as the perps feel after an encounter with Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) on a typical episode of Agents of Shield. Only for you, the last part of that line I just wrote doesn’t even raise a smile. Maybe nothing seems funny right now. The world is one huge gray cloud. “Grief, grief, everywhere” “day after day, day after day.” Even if hope for you seems like a hummingbird’s wings, flitting too fast for you to track, my hope for you is for this winter of your discontent to soon pass, and that you find the courage and hope to keep going.

       200px-MELINDASeason1 Hummingbird

Shakespeare, William. Richard III. New York: Signet Classic Edition, 1964. 33. Print.

Yue image from avatar.answers.wikia.com. Roku from avatar.wikia.com. Melinda May photo from marvel.wikia.com. Aang image from ohappydagger.wordpress.com. Hummingbird from Wikipedia. Bowl of cherries from commons.wikimedia.org.

Check This Out: Boxers & Saints

17261194geneWith me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Gene Luen Yang. I’m betting you’ve heard of him. Not only does he teach at Hamline University (the MFA program) in his spare seconds, he has either written or written and illustrated some of the graphic novels you’ve seen on the New York Times bestseller lists, namely American Born Chinese (written and illustrated by Gene), Level Up (art by Thien Pham), The Eternal Smile, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise trilogy (art by Gurihiru) and Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search trilogy (art by Gurihiru), and many others. And yes, the image at the right is one of his. 😀

Gene is represented by Judith Hansen. He’s here today to talk about the latest graphic novels he wrote and illustrated: Boxers & Saints, published by First Second Books. I’m giving away two boxed sets! More on that later. But first, let’s talk to Gene!

El Space: Welcome, Gene! Wish I could offer you a beverage, but we’re separated by cyberspace. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Gene: 1. I write and draw comic books and graphic novels.
2. I taught high school computer science for years and years.
3. I’ve spent my entire life within this one-hour radius in the San Francisco Bay Area.
4. My Chinese name means “cautious.” When I was first born, my parents gave me a Chinese name that meant “splendid.” When I started walking, I kept bumping my head on stuff, so they changed it to “cautious.”

El Space: Oh man, that’s awesome! What inspired you to produce Boxers & Saints? How long was the process from conception to completion?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel all about the Boxer Rebellion. I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in the year 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized a group of Chinese Catholic saints. I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community. My home church was really excited about the Vatican’s announcement. This was the first time the Roman Catholic Church had ever recognized Chinese citizens in this way. When I looked into the lives of the newly canonized saints, I discovered that many of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion, a war on Chinese soil in 1900. And, in fact, they were killed because they were seen as traitors to Chinese culture. The more I read about the Boxer Rebellion, the more fascinated I became. I feel that this war from over a hundred years ago embodies this struggle between East and West that many Asian Americans have felt from time to time in our lives.

The entire project took me six years from beginning to end.

      boxerssaints 

El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading Boxers & Saints?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is based on history, but it’s historical fiction. The two main characters are fictional, and the story takes a turn towards magical realism pretty early on. I hope that Boxers & Saints will inspire readers to look into the actual historical event. Although the Boxer Rebellion doesn’t get much attention in American classrooms, it’s still a big deal in China. It’s part of a time period that the Chinese refer to as their Century of Humiliation. It still very much affects China’s policies toward the West. As China grows economically, the relationship between China and the West will change. I hope American readers will learn more about events like the Boxer Rebellion to better understand how to move forward.

abcEl Space: You’re a National Book Award finalist for Boxers & Saints. Congratulations! And you won the Michael L. Printz award for American Born Chinese, which also was a National Book Award finalist—the first graphic novel to win that recognition. You’ve also won Eisners for American Born Chinese and The Eternal Smile, a collaboration with Derek Kirk Kim. How have the awards been a game changer for you?
Gene: Thank you! The awards have made my life nutty —nutty in an amazing, amazing way. It’s an honor. It’s every storyteller’s dream to be recognized by prestigious organizations like the National Book Foundation, the American Library Association, and the Eisner Awards. Practically speaking, the awards brought enough attention to my book that I was able to go part-time at my day job, giving me more time to work on comics.

El Space: You’ve written several books for the Avatar series as well. How did that come about? What draws you to a project where you’re strictly the writer versus those for which you are writer and illustrator?
Gene: I was a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender before I was ever connected to the franchise. It is, in my opinion, the best American animated series ever. A few years after the original show ended, Nickelodeon decided to continue the adventures of Aang and his friends in the graphic novel format. They asked Dark Horse Comics to produce them, and a Dark Horse editor asked me to write them. I jumped at the chance.

      atla01 atla04

The experience has been wonderful. I’ve gotten to work closely with Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the original series. I’ve learned so much about storytelling from them. I only handle the writing. The art is done by this tremendous Japanese art studio called Gurihiru.

The Avatar books have been a collaboration in every sense of the word. I’m part of a team, and I’m working with characters who were born in someone else’s head. It’s very different from working on my own stuff. My primary goal is to stay faithful to the source material, rather than stay faithful to my own vision.

472331El Space: Graphic novels have an increased presence in the marketplace. Yet some naysayers pigeonhole them as “comic books for kids.” Obviously, they’ve never read Watchmen. 😀 How would you address this viewpoint?
Gene: Well, comic books are for kids, but they’re not just for kids. There are three major comic book cultures in the world—one based in Japan, another in France, and one here in America. In Japan and France, comics are read by both genders and every age demographic. Every genre is represented. In America, for a variety of historical reasons, the general public has commonly associated comics with superheroes and adolescence.

9516With the support of progressive librarians, academics, and other members of the literary community, we are finally breaking out of that. To anyone who still thinks comics are just for kids, I wouldn’t say a word. I would simply hand them Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. The work speaks for itself.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Gene: My next graphic novel is a collaboration with a fabulously talented Singaporean artist named Sonny Liew. Sonny writes and draws his own stuff. Image Comics recently put out his graphic novel Malinky Robot. For our project, though, he’s handling the art and I’m handling the writing.

It’s a graphic novel called The Shadow Hero. We’re telling the story of the first Asian American superhero, a character from the 1940’s called The Green Turtle, created by a Chinese American cartoonist named Chu Hing. I’m really excited about it. It’ll be out from First Second Books in 2014.

Thank you for being my guest, Gene! I’m looking forward to The Shadow Hero!

Thanks to all who stopped by. You can find Gene at his website, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m excited to offer two boxed sets of Boxers & Saints. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winners will be announced next Tuesday, December 10.

Boxers & Saints can be found here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Green Apple Books
Powell’s Books

Gene graphic image from Gene’s website. Book covers from his website and Goodreads.

Ain’t She/He a Beaut?

Some blog posts seem to write themselves, and this is no exception. It screamed to be born as I drove out of the parking lot of my local library, and fired my synapses to recall a certain grad lecture at VCFA and a subsequent discussion on beauty.

That’s what I want to talk about. Beauty.

red_gerbera_daisy-HD

And what interesting timing. As I began this post, a news story flicked across my screen, declaring that People magazine named Gwyneth Paltrow as the World’s Most Beautiful Woman.

Perhaps when you think of beauty, the poem, “She Walks in Beauty,” by Lord Byron comes to mind. Here’s the first stanza:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes

But I think about an incident during my undergraduate years at Northwestern. (Go Wildcats!) Senior year, my roommate situation was like a revolving door. One would leave and another would arrive. It was just one of those years.

One of those roommates—let’s call her Marcie—had the kind of Miss America looks that guaranteed her male attention. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. But I don’t think many people would disagree that Marcie “was in high looks” as Jane Austen would say.

At first, I thought, Great. I’m doomed. Whose gonna notice me with her around? And then, Opportunistic Me thought, Maybe I can get her leftovers. So let’s just say I had a catty reaction to Maricie until I came to know her better. She told me her story: how women instantly hated her because of her looks (and I admit I looked shamefaced at that); how some men only wanted her because of her looks. In other words, how objectified she felt.

Long story short, that conversation made a deep impression on me—but not then. I was too busy crying my own river, and couldn’t really see beyond my own nose. Cut to now, with the writing of one of my novels and the point of this post. You see, my main character is physically beautiful. Because of that conversation with Marcie, I wanted to write about a heroine for whom beauty isn’t working—as in Marcie’s case. It slams shut some doors and causes her pain.

YET my character is beautiful. And I can’t think of a book besides Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and Sarah, Plain and Tall that I’ve read where the heroine wasn’t described as “beautiful,” “pretty,” “in high looks.” (Note the words I’ve read. You might have read others, and I welcome any suggestions of titles.)

I don’t mean those books where the heroine says in that self-deprecating way, “Oh, I’m not beautiful,” but really is, since everyone reminds her that she is, and even animals follow her around. If there’s a love interest/hero, he’s smoking hot—unless he’s Mr. Rochester. But notice the actors cast in the most recent adaptations of Jane Eyre: Michael Fassbender and Toby Stephens.

Actor Michael Fassbender arrives for the BAFTA awards ceremony in London

toby-stephens-05

They’re not exactly how Charlotte Brontë described Rochester.

The love interest for my main character isn’t what you would call hot. But I fight against the temptation to make him handsome somehow. Kinda like in that stereotypical way when someone takes off a pair of glasses and somehow is an instant knockout. “Oh my goodness! I didn’t notice! You’re gorgeous!!!” I cringe at scenes like that. Just like I cringe at the fact that no one seems to recognize that Clark Kent is Superman, simply because he’s wearing glasses. But I digress. The temptation is there, because I wonder if readers will be turned off if he isn’t hot.

This comes from my often shallow outlook. As I mentioned before, I’m pretty middle grade in my thinking. I used to rate comic book or animation characters by their hotness. Zuko in Avatar? Hot. Tony Stark? Hottie. Thor? Hubba, hubba. (Okay, I shouldn’t lie and say used to. I still rate them that way.)

The issue for me about my main character’s love interest isn’t his looks but his character: how he treats my MC. He’s there for her when others reject her. He’s faithful and loving, but also stubborn and taciturn sometimes. In other words, he’s a real guy, instead of the fantasy I keep trying to inject in my fantasy story.

This is not to say that a hot guy or three aren’t lurking somewhere in my book. But I struggled with whether they really served a purpose, or if their inclusion was my way of worshiping at the altar of beauty. (The jury’s still out on that one.)

What’s your take on beauty? In your WIP, is your main character gorgeous? When you read a book, how important is it to you that a main character be extremely attractive? Please do not misunderstand me. I am NOT against characters who are physically beautiful. I’m just curious.

Photos from greenobles.com and filmofilia.com

“You Can’t Knock Me Down”

If you’re a fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series, these words may strike a chord. Katara said them during a fight with Master Pakku, the titular waterbending master with a sexist attitude in the season 1 episode, “The Waterbending Master” (written by Michael Dante DiMartino). For those of you who are scratching your head about waterbending, it is the ability to use water as a weapon or defense—a different form of martial arts. Someone like Katara can use water like a whip. But her words are apt for me in a different context: handling criticism.

Katara

No higher resolution available. Katara.png ‎(300 × 241 pixels, file size: 82 KB, MIME type: image/png)

Critiques are a necessary part of writing. But I don’t always handle critiques well. Those who know me know that in the face of criticism I sometimes fold faster than a card player with a bad hand in poker. Discouragement often rears its ugly head. Too much for my dewicate widdle feewings. (And no, those aren’t typos. If you know Tweety Bird talk, you know what I mean.)

“Develop thicker skin” is the mantra many writers intone in regard to criticism. And I know this to be true. When discouragement sets in, I wish I could be like Katara in the episode I mentioned earlier. In that episode [SPOILER if you don’t want to know any details because you’ve just starting watching this series] she used water to form ice around her feet and ankles to make her stance solid to avoid being knocked over easily. [END SPOILER]

Developing thicker skin takes time, humility, and courage. I’m working on that. While the “rhino epidermis” develops, I have determined to improve my stance by seeking more advice on craft. In a previous post, I mentioned the craft books littering my living room floor. (Someday I will write about some of them.) But I also headed to the following sources for some much needed perspective:

• Janice Hardy, author of the fab fantasy series, The Healing Wars, has excellent advice here on being your own book doctor—shoring up weaknesses in plot, tone, and structure.
Sharon Darrow, Coe Booth, Tim Wynne-Jones, and other faculty members at VCFA provide great advice on many craft-related subjects.
• Writer Jen Bailey writes about ways to use poetry motifs to describe emotions more powerfully.
• Writer/editor/teacher Linda Taylor has great tips for polishing a manuscript at the micro level.

And there’s always this or this or this. Yeah, I know. Total procrastination, but they make me smile.

What are the ways in which you shore yourself up to avoid being knocked down by discouragement?

 

For more information on waterbending (if you’re curious), go here. Image of Katara from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katara_(Avatar:_The_Last_Airbender))

Fair Use Rationale for Katara.png
It is believed that this image falls under fair use rationale for the following reasons:
1. It is a low resolution copy of a screenshot.
2. It is not used for profit.
3. It does not hinder nor affect the owner’s production of the series nor the sales of the DVDs and products.
4. It provides a necessary visual aid for this post, which mentions Katara.
This image is an illustration of a character in an animated television program or film. The copyright for it is most likely held by either the publisher/producer and/or artist(s) producing the work in question. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of character artwork:
• for commentary on the character in question
• on the El Space blog, hosted on servers in the United States,
qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
The character Katara was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER and all related titles, logos and characters are ™ and © of Viacom International Inc. 2005–2008. All Rights Reserved. Original Presentation 2005–2008 Nickelodeon.