Dance, Dance, Dance

Whenever I feel down, stressed, or uncertain (thanks to having to wait for news or for something else), nothing lifts my mood quicker than watching a dance-themed movie or binge-watching the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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So recently I watched Dance with Me, the 1998 dance movie directed by Randa Haines, and starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne—a movie I’ve seen countless times. The dance movie of choice used to be Strictly Ballroom until I gave that DVD to a friend who also needed a dance movie to perk her up. Perhaps I will get around to seeing Step Up one day. 🙂

What is it about watching two or more people dancing that is such a reminder of how great life can be—that joie de vivre? And of course it doesn’t hurt that Chayanne is hotness incarnate. Muy atractivo!

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Dance with Me features the requisite dance competition and romance. Hey, they’ve gotta do something after demonstrating how to rumba. And of course dance is the perfect metaphor for bringing two people together as we observe their first faltering steps toward love and dance proficiency.

Here’s a dance scene from that movie. It’s about four minutes long. This comes toward the end, so SPOILER ALERT.

I love how people in the movie work out their frustrations via salsa dancing. I usually work out my frustrations via salsa and chips, so their method seems better. But wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved just by busting a move on the dance floor?

Sometimes, however, a dance is almost an act of war. I can’t help thinking about Pride and Prejudice now (either the Keira Knightley version or the 1995 A&E version), when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy dance together for the first time. I love the tension of that scene, with them on opposite sides, having to maintain the correct social boundaries though they want to scream at each other. Lizzy fires off the first salvo, with Darcy returning fire in a polite way, as they wend their way through the dance. Good stuff.

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Have you seen Dance with Me or that scene I mentioned in Pride and Prejudice? Do you have a favorite movie or show that you binge watch when you need a pick me up? While you think of that, here are some random photos I took while on a walk. I love how the daisy clings to life.

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Chayanne photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) photo from janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com. All other photos by L. Marie.

When Your Mojo Stops Mojoing: A Spa Day L. Marie Style

This has turned out to be one of those weeks when I’ve struggled to write anything of significance. Scenes I’ve written in my story have fallen flatter than the last batch of brownies I attempted. (Who fails at brownies made from a mix? Um, me that’s who.) Sigh. I had to be honest with myself: my mojo wasn’t mojoing.

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Some of this had to do with various points of worry that the week dredged up. The stress of those worries trickled into my writing, which added to the flatness.

Ever feel like that about your writing or other projects?

Some people turn to yoga or take a spa day to recharge. Since the cost of a spa was prohibitive, I had to DIM—do it myself.

Here’s how you do a spa day, L. Marie style:

First, spend a couple of hours with a friend at Ikea enjoying an ultra cheap breakfast, followed by a leisurely look at baby furniture. (Her unborn child will need it soon.)

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This was only 99 cents.

Second, when you return home, watch movies like

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and call it “research.” After wishing you lived in Pixie Hollow and had a lightning bug for a friend, decide to watch something else, since that wish will not be granted. Binge on several episodes of the Pemberly Digital show, Emma Approved, a modern-day retelling of the Jane Austen classic. You can find it on YouTube. It’s like Clueless, except with adults playing adults, rather than adults playing teens. Each episode is around 5½—7 minutes long. If you’re like me, you’ll sigh over Alex Knightley and Frank Churchill for at least an hour, which is almost as bad as wishing you lived in Pixie Hollow.

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But third—and this is very important—procure some viewing snacks like

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These snacks are courtesy of a friend.

Fourth, work off the calories by getting plenty of outdoor time, traipsing among the flowers. Be sure to greet the bees while you’re there. They’re buzzing about, ready for their close-up. But don’t expect them to stay still if you want a photo. None of the bees I greeted did.

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These are blooming in the yard.

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These can be found at my local library.

Fifth, watch more episodes of Emma Approved. Consider whether or not you would want your life to be like the retelling of a Jane Austen novel.

Sixth, after dinner, try again to make that troublesome scene work.

Seventh, believe in yourself. While you’re thinking about how to make that scene work, crochet a flower for a friend’s birthday. Use it to remind yourself that if you can produce this, you can produce a compelling scene.

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What do you usually do when your mojo stops mojoing?

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Sad man from goodgeorgialawyer.com. Breakfast plate from ikea.com. Emma Approved logo from tvtropes.org. Other photos by L. Marie.

Open the Bag

Bag ShotRecently, I watched many of the A&E adaptations of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. One of the main characters—Archie Goodwin, a private investigator played by Timothy Hutton—said a phrase over and over: “Open the bag.” I love that phrase. It means “spill your guts” or “confess.” It’s a much more interesting way of saying to someone, “Tell me everything.” But language is what makes the series and its print form so engaging.

ccd5d7549b6ad3f8f9addfb64b5243d9 Nero Wolfe

I’m going to open the bag (just a bit mind you) about writing and life. So here goes. Several people have asked me when they’ll see my young adult novel about elves. Short answer: I don’t know. It’s currently in review at two publishers. I don’t know what will happen to it at either place. I can say what I hope. But that’s probably already obvious to you.

Waiting is nerve wracking, isn’t it? I can’t help thinking of something Captain Wentworth said in my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion: “I am half agony, half hope” (Austen 225). I won’t go into why he said that, since the resolution of the main conflict hinges on the why. But I can relate to the sentiment.

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I have another young adult novel that I’m wondering what to do with. It needs editing for one thing. Having seen some of the wonderful covers that Jason Pedersen has done for Charles Yallowitz and Ravven has done for several people, if I go the indie route for it or any other novel, I’ll need some cash to pay for a cover by either of these fine artists. They’re certainly worth it. Click on their names to get to their websites and see for yourself.

Which brings me to another subject. There are several authors I’d love to interview. But I haven’t set up any interviews lately because of a funds shortage. With interviews, I like to give away a copy of an author’s work. This is a deliberate choice I make whenever I interview someone. Buying a copy of an author’s book to give away is my way of saying, “I support you, Author.” I’ll let you know when I return to regular interviews. Those are always fun for me.

Being in this state has taught me to avoid taking even $5 for granted. Here’s a video by Ricky over at Stewdippin that best describes life for me right now:

There. If you were hoping for something more salacious, I’m sorry to disappoint. But I feel better for having opened the bag. I’m going back to my middle grade fantasy novel now. I’m in revision mode on that. It’s slow going, but I’m enjoying it. My Pinterest inspiration boards have certainly blossomed as a result. 🙂

Thanks for listening!

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. New York: Signet Classic/New American Library, 1964. First published in 1818. Print.

Book cover from Goodreads. Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin from Pinterest.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Am I Desensitized?

Recently, I watched a bunch of movies where many people were shot or killed in some other way or beaten severely. I also finished reading an urban fantasy novel in which a reluctant werewolf was tasked with hunting and dispatching several vampires who slaughtered multiple people. Very gritty. But when I sat down to watch an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1996), the other night, I couldn’t get into at first. Now, I love this movie. But switching gears mentally to watch it took time. After a few tries, I was able to watch the whole movie without twitching.

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse with Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

doctor_who___2005_teaser_by_mrtardis-d34dd4oWondering why? I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me preface by explaining that I once went five years without watching much television at all—only special news broadcasts (like the 9/11 coverage) and Doctor Who, a BBC show geared toward families. So its violence quotient was low. And I watched Doctor Who on DVD after the whole season was released, rather than each week. This was prior to the start of the first season of Heroes on NBC in 2006. Actually, Heroes was the first network show I watched when I decided to return to network TV watching. I binged on the first season online, having missed the shows when they first aired.

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Though I really enjoyed the show, I was shocked at the violence and gore. If you’ve seen the first season of Heroes, maybe it seems a bit tame compared to shows on HBO or Netflix. But having given up TV for years, I hadn’t realized how programming had evolved.

The fact that I was shocked may seem ironic to you when I clue you in on my history. I grew up in an area of Chicago that many deem unsafe due to gang violence. I heard gunshots many times, sometimes on holidays when people would fire guns as part of their celebration. My family wound up moving due to drive-by shootings that happened on our block.

During a visit to an aunt’s house one evening in a south suburb when I was a kid, the sound of gunfire shattered the night. My father ordered us to stay inside while he and my uncle went to investigate. Turns out a man down the street had made a serious attempt to kill his entire family. One child miraculously escaped. The police arrived along with ambulances. My family went to the hospital with the surviving child who had been grazed by a bullet.

The horror of that experience stayed with me for a long time. I couldn’t help thinking about it two months ago. While visiting my family in the Houston area, the breaking news story was the extradition of a young man accused of murdering his entire family, one of which was a five-year-old. You can find that story here. Interestingly enough, several years ago, I had heard this young man’s father, an Episcopal priest, preach at a church. Now he’d been murdered.

Psychology-Today-logoI was horrified, but the horror faded quicker than it did when I was a kid. And with my recent diet of violent movies, I have to wonder if I’ve become desensitized. The answer, according to psychological studies quoted here, here, and in an article at the Psychology Today website, is yes. You can find that 2013 article here. The study discusses the effects of violent media on the brain. The article describes this finding:

There was a significant decrease in the activation of prefrontal portions of the brain and a greater activation of the amygdala.

The amygdala is where emotions come from while the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us concentrate. This is why I had trouble adjusting to the slower pace of Emma at first. Want to see another study on the subject? Click here for one at the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

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Please keep in mind that I am pointing the finger at myself and no one else. I know when my attitude shifts after a steady diet of one form of media. Maybe you can handle it, but I can’t after awhile. And yes, I know the difference between real-life violence and the Hollywood version of it.

Giving up TV in the early part of the century helped me get a lot of writing done. You know what? I didn’t really miss watching TV during those years. It’s funny what you get used to when you break a habit.

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Though I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I think I’ll cut back on the violent media until then. I need a dip in calmer waters.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley from Pinterest.com. Heroes cast from insidetv.ew.com. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor from mrtardis.deviantart.com. Television clip art from clker.com. Psychology Today logo from eileenkennedymoore.com. Brain image from ladyatheist.blogspot.com.

Now, That’s Classic

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve consumed quite a few costume dramas, some of which are lengthy BBC productions like

Little Dorrit (2008)
Bleak House (2005)
Emma (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Northanger Abbey (2007)

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You don’t have to be an English major to know that all are adaptations of classic novels by Charles Dickens (the first two) and Jane Austen (the last three). (Though I confess to having read all of the above when I was an undergraduate English/writing major.) I have another waiting in the wings—North and South, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring a pre-Thorin Oakenshield Richard Armitage. Whenever I’ve mentioned North and South to others, most of the people I talked to assumed I meant an adaptation of a book of the same title by an American author, John Jakes. No, I mean this:

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I see the gleam in your eyes, oh fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—the six-hour A & E production featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I have that as well.

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I experienced a bit of culture shock as I dragged myself out of nineteenth-century Britain back to the U.S. in 2014. Though I’ve seen all of these adaptations more than once, they still have the power to captivate. And my goodness, Andrew Davies has been quite the busy bee, having penned three of them, with the exception of Emma, the screenplay of which was written by Douglas McGrath, and Pride and Prejudice (2005), which was written by Deborah Moggach. However, he wrote the script for the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice and tons of other productions.

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Andrew Davies

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for ’em. Such works are pure escapist fiction for me, each with its share of joy and sorrow—some more heavily weighted on one side or the other, with a touch of romance in all. Even the tragic aspects are vastly entertaining, thanks to villains I love to despise and plucky heroes (male and female alike) who bear up mightily in pressure-cooker circumstances.

Some might view aspects of these stories as too black and white, particularly those of Dickens, who was fond of populating his novels with loathsome people like Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House or Rigaud in Little Dorrit, characters without a single redeeming quality. And Jane’s books include their share of unpleasant people as well, like Caroline Bingley (and her sister Louisa) in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice). On the other side of the coin are Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)—characters who might be deemed too saintly or perfect. But with each side of the social divide so sharply delineated, black and white characters help emphasize the dichotomy.

While paragons like Esther Summerson and Jane Bennet don’t really draw me again and again to the books in which they reside, I can appreciate the parts they play and how different they are from other characters skillfully devised by Dickens and Austen, characters like the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the equally ridiculous Mr. Guppy in Bleak House. (With a name like Guppy, a character can’t help being ridiculous.)

I wish my novel had a place for a character like Collins or Guppy. But both characters were painted with such broad comic brushstrokes that I fear neither would work with my other characters. Not that all lack a streak of ridiculousness. They come from me after all. 😀

Though some classic novels are avoided now because of the lack of diversity and outright racism in some (though not in the above novels), I still turn to the list above or their adaptations whenever I need a master class in character development and plotting. But mostly, I dive into them when I can’t afford to take a journey, but would like to get away from it all to a world where problems and plotlines are all neatly wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Gratuitous stuffed animal photo—my lion and his friend the dolphin

Pride and Prejudice movie poster from movieposter.com. Little Dorrit poster from cinemagia.ro. Northanger Abbey cover from movieberry.com. Emma from fanpop.com. Andrew Davies from BBC.com.

All Roads Lead to . . .

crossroadI worked with a guy who should have had his own version of Six Degrees of Separation. Every time I’d mention someone, he either knew that person or knew someone connected to that person. So, if I ever grew angry with my co-worker and wanted to vent, I had no one to talk to about him, because he’d eventually hear about it. I don’t dare mention his name, because you might know him.

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A six-degrees of separation flowchart

Know someone like that? If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction book, The Tipping Point, you know about connectors—people who have an innate ability to connect people to other people. (Read this if you want to know more about connectors.)

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I am probably the only connection-impaired person in a family of connectors. I’m usually the person who goes, “I saw What’s-his-name the other day. You know. He’s married to What’s-her-face.”

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This is me, sort of. Actually, it’s Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (2005). But I relate to the posture of standing alone, or at least standing in the wind trying to recall someone’s name.

Connectors know lots of people. My older brother was one of the most popular people at our high school. He’s always naming people he heard from recently. (To which I usually reply, “Oh yeah. I sorta remember him,” knowing that I’m drawing a blank.) My younger brother was popular at his university. Do you know how difficult it is to be popular at a university which boasts tens of thousands of people? His birthday parties are usually populated by at least 40 of his closest friends. Now, I’ve known my younger brother all of his life, but at a recent party he threw, there were people who came that I did not know.

My dad knows tons of people. My mom always manages to connect to people who know everyone. My parents are used to the connecting way of life, because they’re from large families with a combined total of over twenty siblings (though, sadly, several are dead now). My in-laws also know everyone. I remember being in a mall in Houston with my sister-in-law, only to have her run into someone she knew. (We don’t live in Texas by the way. You know you’re a connector when you bump into people you know while traveling.)

Many bloggers are connectors: Andra Watkins; Jill Weatherholt; K. L. Schwengel; Charles Yallowitz; Marylin Warner; Laura Sibson; Sharon Van Zandt; Lyn Miller-Lachmann; the Brickhousechick; T. K. MorinCeline Jeanjean; Mishka Jenkins; Sandra Nickel—just to name a few. And I have several classmates (besides Laura, Lyn, and Sandra, and Sharon) who are born connectors. Whenever I want to inquire about agents, publishers, marketing, or anything else, I head straight to them for advice.

We look to the connectors in our lives, especially when we need to network, don’t we? It’s nice to know someone who knows someone else trustworthy. Connectors seem to love to match you with people they know. Need your car fixed? They know the perfect place to take your little Yugo. (Remember those?) Need your roof fixed? They know the people you should avoid calling. The only awkward thing about some connectors is that they think they know your taste when sometimes they don’t. Like when I was blindsided at a dinner by a well-meaning connector who tried to match me up with someone who also did not understand that this was a matchmaking meal. Talk about awkward, especially since we had no interest in each other.

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A Yugo

Authors are the ultimate connectors in a way. If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens, you know that in many of his books, he often reveals hidden connections between his characters. Then he adds a connector to connect the dots. Don’t believe me? Read Bleak House or see BBC’s adaptation of it. I won’t spoil the mystery for you.

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The challenge for an author comes with connecting characters in a noncontrived way—and by that I mean beyond shock value. Oh, I know. There’s something fun about the “Luke, I am your father” announcements. Have you explored the connections between your characters in ways that might surprise or delight a reader (or a viewer)? I’m reminded of a movie, Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki, in which the main character, Shizuku, checks out library books and constantly finds the name of another character on the checkout cards. (This movie was made in the 90s, so checkout cards were used then.) He becomes an important connector for her. Knowing your characters’ back stories really helps. I’ve been a bit lazy in regard to back story with some of my characters. Some seem too isolated ala the Lizzie Bennet photo above. I’m trying to rectify that by providing more connecting points (i.e., interactions with friends, family, acquaintances, and enemies).

Connectors are a reminder of the richness of being in a community. I’m grateful for the threads like connectors that link us together.

Who are the connectors in your life?

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Gratuitous chicken photo

Crossroads photo from amersrour.blog.com. Six degrees diagram from commons.wikimedia.org. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet image from pinterest.com. Yugo and chicken photos from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads.