A “Real” Hero

Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I wasn’t able to be with my mom (except by phone), but I enjoyed being with my in-laws.

This might seem like an odd post-Mother’s Day post, but here goes. (I never said I was normal. And I’m in between interview posts, so . . .) An article in Entertainment Weekly, “To Cap It Off,” discussed the “sarcasm-free wholesomeness” of the Marvel character Captain America. In the quote below, article writer Anthony Breznican quotes Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America (don’t worry, no Endgame spoilers):

Even the actor’s friends didn’t get it when he tried to explain Cap to them; one asked if he was supposed to be “boring.” Evans sighed. “If it comes out boring, I’ve really missed the mark. He’s not boring. He’s real.” (29)

I absolutely love love love (did I mention I love it?) that sentiment. Wanna know why? Even if the answer is no, I’ll tell you. It makes me sad that some people think a hero is “boring” if he or she isn’t out-snarking everyone or shooting first (looking at you, Han Solo). Look, I love a good quip, which is why Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheroes (loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). And like many others, I appreciate an antihero (looking at you again, Han Solo). But it takes effort to make a character not only real but admirable even if he or she never utters an ounce of snark. I can’t help thinking of the elevator scene in the 2014 film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Boring is not a word I would use to describe Cap. Sincere and willing to fight for what’s right—definitely.

Some view sincerity as “boring.” But I’m reminded of the 2017 Wonder Woman movie and how many admired Wonder Woman for that trait.

I appreciate Chris Evans’s desire to make the character he plays real. If you look at any of the Marvel films featuring Cap, you’ll notice that he never tries to hide how he feels, while some people, on the other hand, use snark to hide what’s real about them.

When I was growing up, sarcasm never worked with Mom. (See how I worked this back to Mom? Makes this kind of a Mother’s Day post after all.) I couldn’t use it with Dad either, especially once he gained a master’s degree in counseling psychology and would talk about the “walls” of sarcasm. But Mom would give me a look that said, “You are fooling no one. What’s the real story?”

What traits do you admire in a hero (and by hero I mean male or female)? While you think about that, I’ve got a book to give away: Up for Air by Laurie Morrison. (Click here for the interview with Laurie.)

  

And that book is going to Penny at LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please comment below to confirm.

Breznican, Anthony. “To Cap It Off.” Entertainment Weekly, April 19/26 #1558/1559. 26-30.

Chris Evans as Captain American photo found at contactmusic.com. Wonder Woman movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Author photo by Laura Billingham. Other photos by L. Marie.

Woman to Woman: The Alpha Male

On a day when the sharp scent of peppermint permeated the air (I’m not sure why it did), Kitty came to me with a request while I lounged outside.

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Kitty: Can we talk, woman to woman?
Me: Sure. What’s on your mind?
Kitty: Can we talk about boys for a minute?
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll fail the Bechdel test if we do.
Kitty (unfazed by my remark): Would either Gandalf or Jordie be considered an alpha male?

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Me: Um, well, maybe Gandalf. Jordie . . . frankly no.
Kitty: Good. Then I will choose him as the companion of my heart.
Me: Huh? Why?
Kitty: I am alpha.
Me: Uh . . .
Kitty: Thank you for helping me clear that up.
Me: Uh . . .

I found this conversation timely, since I’d just finished reading Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, which has an alpha male secondary character. While reading it, I wondered whether or not the concept of the alpha male has changed since the 1950s when the book was written. With Sigourney Weaver’s awesome performance as Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, an increasing desire for strong female heroines ensued (hence Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road; some men complained about her role, however, according to the Chicago Tribune). Has the fictional alpha male evolved consequently?

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Under Gandalf’s disapproving gaze; Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

First, I wondered about the universal characteristics of an alpha male. When I picked up another Mary Stewart book, also from the 50s—Madam, Will You Talk?—I found a description of a dude who is “singularly good-looking” and who “had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication—that sort of powerful, careless charm which can be quite devastating” (Stewart 11). Though he was not the alpha, this description seemed apt for alpha males on one level.

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I decided to compare that description with one found at this post at Romance Novels for Feminists, which mentions romance author Jill Shalvis’s view on the subject:

Rather than describe a male character’s characteristics in detail, Shalvis uses the shorthand “alpha” to signal to readers that the character possesses a certain type of über-desirable masculinity, a masculinity characterized by toughness, strength, and the need to protect those around him, particularly his girlfriend/spouse/mate.

So far, only women have given an opinion. What do men think? I found out at AskMen.com:

An alpha male has certain unmistakable characteristics. A natural leader, he is a pack-builder. He leads, provides for and protects his pack (his significant other, his buddies, his teammates, and so on).

the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-jim-and-jamie-dutcherInteresting. In the young adult novel I finished writing months ago, my 17-year-old main character views himself as alpha, but meets a female (the other main character) who disagrees. He has to learn how an alpha really behaves. The AskMen article, “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male,” vividly discusses this behavior. You can find that article here.

We’re used to fictional alpha males like James Bond; Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s books); James T. Kirk; Batman; Aragorn; Odysseus; Beowulf; Green Arrow; Daredevil; Gaston; Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s books); characters Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Humphrey Bogart, Samuel L. Jackson, or Jet Li played; anyone from the Fast and Furious movies; Duke Nukem; Wolverine; Superman; Robin in Teen Titans; the Man with No Name Clint Eastwood played in westerns; Russell Crowe as Maximus or Jack Aubrey; Tony Stark; Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hal Jordan (Green Lantern); John Stewart (also Green Lantern), Thor; Black Panther; Frank Woods (Call of Duty); Nathan Drake (Uncharted); and many, many others. While some might be viewed as relics of a bygone era, others reflect the changing face of the alpha male.

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Cap, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; Black Panther

In a Slate.com article, “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them” (click here for that), I learned about an omega man:

While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.

Yikes! But I don’t want to get off on an omega man tangent here. Yet it shows an interesting backlash of sorts against those viewed as “domineering” (see the Romance Novels for Feminists post) alpha males.

Maybe that’s why James Bond received a reboot. According to this article by Paul Whitington at Independent.ie., “[Daniel] Craig’s Bond [in the film, Casino Royale (2006)] was young, confused and even vulnerable.”

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So today’s alpha male is strong, but tries to keep it real by admitting to foibles (i.e., Tony Stark admitting he’s a “piping hot mess” in Iron Man 3). Yet audiences are divided on the evolution of the alpha male.

But let’s get back to Mary Stewart. When I opened Nine Coaches, I expected to find an archaic viewpoint. Stewart, however, showcased an alpha male and a strong heroine, neither of whom is threatened by the strength of the other. I love that!

What do you think of the alpha male? Got a favorite or a strong opinion on the subject?

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Can their love survive?

AskMen Editors. “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male.” AskMen.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Grose. Jessica. “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them.” Slate.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015.
Horn, Jackie C. “Evolution and the Alpha Male.” Romance Novels for Feminists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? New York: William Morrow, 1956. First published in Great Britain in 1955. Print.
—. Nine Coaches Waiting. New York: William Morrow, 1958. Print.
Whitington, Paul. “Film… From Craig to Connery: The Many Faces of James Bond.” Independent.ie. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Black Panther from Marvel.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner from news.doddleme.com. Daniel Craig as James Bond from fanpop.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from oblikon.net. Book cover from Goodreads. Alpha male gray wolf from fineartamerica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Unconventional Love

Hope you had a pleasant Valentine’s Day. Now, don’t groan at me for mentioning the day. I spent part of it not in the conventional, eating-in-a-restaurant-while-gazing-into-my-date’s-eyes way, but eating chocolate and watching Justice League Unlimited episodes from 2004–2005. (It’s okay if you run away in horror. There will be slight spoilers soon, so go if you must.)

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Since it was Valentine’s Day, an episode called “Double Date” (written by Gail Simone) seemed very appropriate and helped me realize something else later. The episode involved these members of the Justice League:

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Huntress and the Question

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Black Canary and Green Arrow

It’s okay. You don’t have to care who they are. (Click here if you want to find out more about the members of the Justice League.) The episode wasn’t a conventional double date, since Huntress and the Question weren’t a couple (at least not right away) and all four were on a stakeout for various reasons. Black Canary and Green Arrow, however, were a couple. I grew up reading comic books in which their relationship was mentioned. Though they’re superheroes, they’re more conventional. I mean look at them. Both are pretty. And we like looking at pretty people, don’t we? Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Better still, I’ll let these images speak for me.

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Prince Zuko from Avatar and Stephen Bishop from Being Mary Jane

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Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Chris Evans as Captain America

Getting back to the Justice League, I have to admit that the Huntress and the Question were more interesting to me than Black Canary and Green Arrow, because H and Q were labeled as “unstable” by their colleagues. Toward the end of the episode, Huntress asked the Question why he agreed to help her in her vendetta against the man who killed her father. When he finally gave his reason—“I like you” (as in “I like like you”)—I melted faster than chocolate in a microwave. And though the action in the picture below (top right) caused Black Canary to say, “I’m sorry, but ewww,” I was totally down for it. They were broken people who found a connection.

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So, what did I learn? (See the first paragraph, where I mentioned that I learned something.) I learned that I love characters with baggage. Not the psychotic serial killer baggage, but emotional scars nonetheless. I can relate to them because of my own issues. A character can be as pretty as a picture. But to really get my attention, that character has to have a wound of some kind.

28da5770f2c53556e75b4356fde68ebaThat’s why I still love Moonstruck, a 1987 movie written by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri (photo at right). Everyone in the movie has baggage. One of my favorite quotes related to baggage was spoken by Ronny. I’m sure I’ve used it before in a post. Here it is again:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

“Love the wrong people”? Been there, done that! “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!” Truer words were never spoken.

Which character(s), if any, really resonated with you recently? Why?

Huntress and the Question from pinterest.com. Black Canary and Green Arrow from caballerodecastilla.blogs. Prince Zuko from twitter. Stephen Bishop from cocoafab.com. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from movie.anonforge.com. Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers from pinterest.com. Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri from pinterest.com. Valentine from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com.

Soft and Strong

007A glance at the label of the generic brand of bathroom tissue I use (yes, I dare to go there) got me to thinking. I can see the value of softness and strength in bathroom tissue. But as human characteristics, softness and strength seem like polar opposites, because softness is often equated by some with weakness. I take umbrage to such a notion.

My mom’s got the softness and strength combination down. You probably think the same thing about your mom. My mom’s a hand patter. If you’re miserable, she likes to sit beside you and pat your hand, telling you that everything is going to be okay. But Mom morphs into steel when she goes into battle mode. She’s quick with a handbag upside your head if you decide to break the law. Yes, there is a story attached to that statement, but I won’t go into it now.

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Kate Spade handbag—a classy way to hit someone on the head

I love the juxtaposition of softness and strength in the males and females who populate various fictional worlds. Yet I have very little interest in heroes or heroines who are only seen in one light—that of strength, whether they are viewed as purely cool, physically powerful, or hilariously snarky. I can’t sympathize with a character who completely lacks a soft side. I can understand if he or she desperately wants to hide the fact that he/she is vulnerable. But the absence of any discernible softness causes me to put a story down.

Even Captain America (played by Chris Evans) has a bit of softness beneath his rock-hard abs. Don’t believe that? If you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [SLIGHT SPOILER], remember the hospital scene when he visits Peggy (who has her own show now on ABC—Agent Carter)? [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] That scene caused even my jaded heart to melt. And I loved the scenes between Cap and Sam Wilson (the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie), where they talked about their difficult adjustment to civilian life.

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Cap and Peggy

34529Here’s a great example of softness and strength from Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. (For the plot, click on the book title.) The narration below shows what a character named Shawn thinks about a witch named Magrat who needs to rescue Shawn from some murderous elves. [SLIGHT SPOILER] Shawn doubts her ability to help until he realizes a fundamental truth:

Mum was right—Magrat always was the nice soft one . . .
. . . who’d just fired a crossbow through a keyhole. (268)

Shawn later learns that Magrat (who works with Greebo, a vicious cat described as “just a big softy” [269]) was extremely lethal, even as she “daintily” raises the hem of her dress to kick an iron-allergic elf with shoes bearing iron attachments. [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] Good stuff!

Because of the desire to portray heroines in a strong light and not as damsels in distress, sometimes authors (and I’m thinking mostly of myself) fight against bringing out a heroine’s soft side, hoping readers won’t judge their characters as weak.

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You might get the impression of softness when you see this cupcake. My plans to take over the world, however, might cause you to think something entirely different.

In the first incarnation of my novel, my heroine didn’t seem to have any flaws. She only mildly annoyed some of the secondary characters. Her inability to laugh at herself—to see herself as flawed—was a flaw on my part as the author. I had to start over with her and her story.

The first thing I needed to do was take myself out of the equation. While I hate to be ridiculed or abused, that doesn’t mean I should avoid writing a character’s journey that involves horrible bumps in the road. And while I like to be liked, a character who is liked by everyone isn’t a very compelling character.

One of my VCFA advisors once told me to pay attention to the way secondary characters act toward the main character. While that might seem elementary to you if you’re an experienced storyteller, that advice instigated an epiphany for me. The friction of interactions, often caustic, helped shape the pearl of a better character. Even more interesting, it provided the mixture of softness and strength I find compelling.

In what ways are your characters soft and strong?

Pratchett, Terry. Lords and Ladies. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter from somewhere on the Internet. Kate Spade handbag from thebusinesshaven.com. Book cover from Goodreads.

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.