A Dad, a Day, and a Book Giveaway

I’m writing this post on Father’s Day. To all of you dads out there—a toast to you! I live a thousand miles away from my dad, so I didn’t see him today. Instead, I talked to him on the phone and gave the requisite greetings. My younger brother, who also is a father, went there to be with him—his Father’s Day present from my sister-in-law.

The desire to be eloquent rises within me as I think about Father’s Day. But whenever I try to be what I’m not, I come off sounding phony. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that desire and just be myself.

Know what I think of when I think of my dad? I think of how he taught me to draw, how he read fairy tales to me at bedtime, and taught me to ride a bike. And every Christmas, like clockwork, I could expect the latest Stephen King novel from him.

I remember as a teen how embarrassed I was to buy feminine products at the store. If the cashier was male, I’d balk and refuse to make the purchase. But my dad had no problem buying what I needed.

“Got you some on sale,” he’d say proudly, as he plunked a bag on the kitchen table.

I remember my first car—a Hornet station wagon. (Yeah, I’m old. But it was old when I got it, so, yeah.) It had a tendency to break down on various roads. Dad would have to come get me, sometimes in the dead of winter. Dads do things like that, see.

The test of a father’s influence is when you still love something when you become an adult. My dad infused within me a love of animation, science fiction, and mysteries, fortified by the books I discovered on the bookshelves at our old house (Ray Bradbury; Isaac Asimov; Agatha Christie; Erle Stanley Gardner) and the shows we’d watch together (Doctor Who; Looney Tunes, Star Trek in various forms).

    

    

Each week, my father and I discuss books that we read or are currently reading. Right now, he’s into a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I’m also reading a mystery:

So, though I’m not with my dad on this special day, we’re still together, sharing the love of a good mystery book.

Speaking of good books, I have one to give away: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson. (Click here if you missed the interview with Sarah.)

    

The winner of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1WriteWay!

Marie, please comment below to confirm.

While we wait for Marie, do you have a great dad story you’d like to share? Please comment below!

Small critters wishing their dads a Happy Father’s Day

P. S. Thank you, Dad, for everything. 😀

Book covers from Goodreads, with the exception of the ones photographed by L. Marie. Father’s Day image from clipartpanda.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.

The Needs of the Many

This past Tuesday night some friends and I sat down to watch the science fiction epic, Interstellar. I’d missed it when it debuted last fall.

Have you ever had a movie hangover, where the events stayed with you days after you’ve seen a film? That’s the effect Interstellar had on me. (Inception, a movie by the same director—Christopher Nolan—was another “hangover” movie.) Interstellar was written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (at the right in the photo below) and featured Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.

interstellar-posterchristopher-et-jonathan-nolan_580xh

The science wasn’t the issue. I have A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle to thank for some of my early enlightenment on that score. I also had a really good physics teacher and a science fiction-loving father who indoctrinated my brothers and me early. No, the emotional story caused me to face ugly truths about myself—hence the lengthy pondering.

star_trek_2I won’t give any spoilers though I’m still processing this movie. But I’m reminded of a quote embedded in the following dialogue from another movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), written by Nicholas Meyer and Jack B. Sowards. (Sorry. I can’t avoid a spoiler. You might click here if you haven’t seen this movie and want to know the plot.)

Kirk: Spock!
[Spock slowly walks over to the glass and pushes the intercom]
Spock: The ship . . . out of danger?
Kirk: Yes.
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh . . .
Kirk: The needs of the few.

star-trek-into-darkness-poster-sc-geekIf you’ve seen this movie, or at least the 2013 movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, where (SLIGHT SPOILER) roles were switched, you know the significance of this scene. (END SPOILER.) So I have a question for you, a question also appropriate in light of Easter: What, if anything, would you be willing to sacrifice in order to save lives? Does your answer depend on how many people would be saved? Would the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few for you? I’m thinking of the premise of Interstellar and an agonizing choice one of the characters made early in the movie. (Click here for Wikipedia’s plot review of Interstellar, if you want to know the movie plot.)

While you mull over the questions above, I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure I would choose to do what the character in the movie did, though the need was great. Every selfish intention within me rises up. I’m not proud of this, however.

I’m painfully reminded of the fire fighters who hurried into the twin towers of the World Trade Center to help people during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They did their jobs, knowing that death was a strong possibility as they entered the towers. Many fire fighters and other emergency workers died that day. Their heroic actions still bring tears to my eyes.

Firefighter Fire Fighter Fire

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

It seems hypocritical of me to say that I’m grateful they were willing to do what I would have been terrified to do. It also seems doubly hypocritical if I turn around and blithely make a character in a story take an extremely heroic step that I wouldn’t take if I were in his or her shoes.

Sigh. Sometimes art provides a mirror I want to avoid looking into. But perhaps a long look is necessary in order for me to change.

Click here for a great post at Screen Rant explaining the science and ending of Interstellar. If you’ve already seen Interstellar, perhaps you’ll appreciate this Honest Trailer.

Have a wonderful Easter or Passover!

Interstellar poster from mtv.com. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan poster from leagueofdeadfilms.com. Star Trek Into Darkness poster from soulculture.com. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan photo from buzzerie.com. Fire fighter from firefighterfire.com.

Check This Out: Unmade

Once again, I welcome to the blog the awesome Amy Rose Capetta. If you were around last year, you might remember that Amy Rose came on the blog to talk about her debut science fiction novel Entangled. Well, she’s here today to talk about the sequel—Unmade. Get ready to rock!

ARCAuthorPhoto  20256579

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amy Rose: 1. I used to be a bookseller, a baker, and a teenage indie filmmaker.
2. I have lived on the East Coast, West Coast, in the South and the Midwest. What does that leave? The Southwest? I don’t think I could do that. Even thinking about it makes my skin feel dry.
3. My favorites are: sunshine, good books, learning things, almost any food, road trips. I’ve driven across the country four times.
4. I have a little tree in my writing room. I’m looking at him right now. He’s getting a little droopy. I hope he makes it through this winter. I hope we all do.

El Space: I hope we do too. In this second book of Cade’s story, what did you learn about yourself as you wrote Unmade? Was there anything you did differently than when you wrote Entangled?
Amy Rose: I learned that I am willing to do anything to make a book work, including abandoning a full draft on deadline, and starting from scratch with only a few months to go. It was the most terrifying writing experience of my life, and I wouldn’t have been anywhere near brave enough to do it without VCFA. But once I saw what I really wanted the story to be, I knew there was no other way.

El Space: How did you determine how much back story to include?
Amy Rose: I am one of those “only include as much as you need for the story” types. In fact, and this might be blasphemous to mention, but for Entangled and Unmade I came up with a lot of back story as I wrote, as I found the need for it. Because with making up a whole universe of planets and people and problems—you could spend ten years of your life coming up with back story only to cut most of it out. At some point you just have to start writing. And I like the surprise of finding things out as I bomb through rough drafts.

phinea

El Space: What inspired you as you wrote this second adventure?
Amy Rose: The opportunity to get deeper into the characters. I think for me that love comes from a long history of series reading in fantasy and science fiction, but also a newer love of long and satisfying character arcs on TV shows, ones with lots of reversals and drama that drive the characters to new places. It’s probably not a coincidence that some of my favorites in this category are “genre” shows like Battlestar Galactica. But my secret favorite in this regard is Angel, the Buffy spinoff. If you see where some of those characters start their arcs, and where they end up, it’s wild. But you live it with them, one episode at a time, which is so emotionally engaging. And it feels believable to me. People can change so much, and at the same time we can see who they are through all of it, what stays intact. I wanted to write those sorts of character arcs.

battlestar-galactica-003David Boreanaz as Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer S03E06 Band Candy 4

El Space: Do you have a playlist for this book? If so, what songs would you include? What characters, if any, inspired you to think of these songs? I’m especially intrigued with what song Rennik might have inspired. 🙂
Amy Rose: Okay, so I absolutely cheated and wrote most of Unmade to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. But it was right there, and it was so perfect. The composer doesn’t just give us his idea of what futuristic space music sounds like; he takes little bits of instrumentation and melody from all of these different cultures, and weaves them together and then adds the big epic tense thing that makes it suit the story. The result is music that ties the character in space back to Earth and home and connection and culture and longing. Like I said: too perfect.

Playlist

As a fun thing, I had people make a playlist for Unmade for a giveaway, and tell me the one song they would bring to outer space. I got some really fun answers—everything from Deep Purple to David Bowie to Beethoven to Taylor Swift.

Rennik’s song would be something by the guitarist Kaki King, something intricate and instrumental. Also a bonus because a friend told me that Kaki King reminds her of Cade.

Kaki+King

El Space: What attracts you the most to science fiction?
Amy Rose: Creation. Adaptation. Looking at everything sideways or upside down or a thousand years in the future. It’s a great way to explore big questions, because it doesn’t tether you to this particular moment, this culture, this way of looking at things. It allows you to think a little bit bigger than that—which is beautiful and a bit addictive.

Science Fiction Wallpaper (2)

El Space: I’m a long-standing advocate of duologies. What made you decide to tell Cade’s story as a duology rather than a trilogy?
Amy Rose: Haha. Well, that’s a long story. I did consider a trilogy, but in the end the two parts of the story really are bookends. I had enough material that I could have written three books, but that’s not really the question. The structure always made sense as two. There are two major things that change the trajectory of Cade’s life. There are two times that Xan changes everything. And most importantly, there are two endings. The small one that’s a waystation on the journey, and the big one that brings it to a close. I worship really good trilogies, but for that exact reason I don’t want to write one unless it’s the right shape for the story—unless that’s the only way to tell it.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Amy Rose: I am working on two very different things. One is a contemporary fantasy book, set in a theater. It has a central love story between two girls, which is something that won’t surprise readers of Unmade. I was always trying to get Lee and Ayumi more page time! The relationships were one of my favorite parts of these books, and I wanted something that put a love story at center stage, unabashedly. In reviews of YA genre books, we often hear a lot about “thank goodness there’s not too much romance in this!” which is funny to me, because I am ALWAYS looking for a good love story. Maybe not every reader is, but I think minimizing it is just a way that we distance ourselves from the idea of what girls like to read. I know I did that when I was a teenager. Well, now I am much too old to give any f***s. I love love stories. And I really wanted to tell an epic one.

The other story is contemporary, which is completely bizarre for me. I never thought I would write one. But it kept getting in my way, so I let myself write a draft. Then I put it away for a year because I couldn’t figure out how to revise it. But I have some ideas now. And I kind of love working on it. Like I said: bizarre.

Thanks, Amy Rose, for being my guest today!

Looking for Amy Rose? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Unmade can be found here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Great Lakes Book and Supply

One of you will win a copy of Unmade just by commenting. The winner will be announced on March 11.

Author photo by Cori McCarthy. Kaki King from elisarusso.com. Battlestar Galactica cast from thewallpapers.org. David Boreanaz as Angel from theangstreport.blogspot.com. Playlist image from femininoealem.com.br. Earth from whitegoldsilver.blogspot. Dr. Doofenshmirtz from phineasandferb.wikia.com.

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

Steph_2_copy_(2)

Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

006

Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. 🙂 How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

light-vs-dark

El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

books3

El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

no girls allowed 1

I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

11864728

Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

Christmas Ornaments 019

011

A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.

Going for the Heart

Today, I’ll reveal the winner of Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere books. (See author interview here.) But before I get to that, let me get to this. . . .

When I was a kid, Saturdays were for watching martial arts films and Godzilla movies. I didn’t care so much about plot or whether or not a story was emotionally satisfying. Watching two people with a specific skill set fighting each other or watching a crowd running from a huge monster provided enough satisfaction for a kid like me who generally felt powerless.

bruce-lee-bruce-lee-32791998-1200-791

Bruce Lee!

But when I became an adult, a story’s emotional core mattered. Plot and action scenes without heart failed to interest me. And heart is shown through good, solid characters with emotional arcs.

In an article in Entertainment Weekly about Christopher Nolan and his latest film, Interstellar (in theaters November 7), writer Jeff Jensen said of Nolan, “Finding new ways to emotionally engage an audience has become increasingly important to him” (Entertainment Weekly 23).

      interstellar-poster-christopher-nolan CHRISTOPHER-NOLAN-INTERSTELLAR-MOVIE-2014-HD-WALLPAPERS

Glad to hear it. I’ve generally found Nolan’s films to be emotionally engaging. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are two of my favorite superhero movies ever. I love Nolan’s ability to write/produce/direct a film that engages the brain and the heart—not an easy task. So of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Interstellar, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and involves a wormhole.

          Batman-Begins the_dark_knight_poster1

Charles Yallowitz is another author who strives to engage the brain and the heart with his books. (How’s that for a segue?)

          Charles_author_photo_B&W Compass_Key_Cover

So, let’s get to the winner of his books, shall we? The winner of the Legends of Windemere books is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy of City Jackdaw!

Congratulations, Andy! Please comment below to confirm, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address you generally use with Amazon. If for some reason, you cannot accept, please let me know and I will choose another winner.

While you cheer for Andy, please tell me the name of your favorite Christopher Nolan film or, if you like, name something (or someone) a film has to have in order to engage your heart. I’ll start by telling you two words that generally work for me: heroic elves. Now if Christopher Nolan somehow worked them into the plot of Interstellar, he has my loyalty for life.

Jensen, Jeff. “Interstellar.” Entertainment Weekly. 24 Oct. 2014. 20-28. Print.

Bruce Lee photo from fanpop. Instellar images from hdwallpaperscool.com. Batman Begins poster from filmoria.co.uk.

Why Nuanced Characters Matter: A Tale of Two Series

Having finally begun watching season 4 of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (oh Netflix, I would marry you if I could), a four-episode arc helped me decide something vital about character: the need to make characters distinct. An episode of the 2001—2002 A & E mystery series, Nero Wolfe, adapted from the novels by Rex Stout, served as an interesting contrast to those episodes, and not just because of the genre switch.

  nero-wolfe-complete-classic-whodunit-series-timothy-hutton-dvd-cover-art  Star Wars The Clone Wars Season 4 cover

This paragraph is a bit spoiler-y and rather long, so feel free to look away if you’re appalled or even bored. The four-episode arc features the clones fighting the enemy on a dark planet under the command of a Jedi hostile to clones. (If you aren’t sure who the clones are, you might click on the Star Wars link in the first paragraph.) See, the thing about clones is that they look the same. What a profound statement, huh? That’s what book learning does for you—enables you to come to sharp conclusions like that. The design team gave them different hairstyles and tattoos to make them look distinct. (See for example, Captain Rex and Trooper Fives below.) Kudos to the design team for that. But when their helmets are on, you can’t tell many of them apart, unless you’ve memorized the various design elements on the clone trooper armor. I know what you’re thinking: some fans probably could. However, I stopped caring (and I’m not saying you should), first, because of my confusion about who was who, especially when several clones would appear on the screen, all performing virtually the same action. Second, I couldn’t muster enough concern for the main antagonist—a Jedi. While a Jedi antagonist has shock value, I didn’t understand how the other Jedi could fail to confront a Jedi as hostile and unconcerned about life as he was. They usually noticed disturbances in the force. Yet none of them denounced him, because a decision had been made by the producers to make this person the antagonist without offering the why behind his decisions. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief, because I was not provided enough information about the character.

RexFivesArgue-PoD

Captain Rex and Trooper Fives from Star Wars: The Clone Wars

(If you avoided the above paragraph, it’s safe to look now.) In all fairness, the show has a slight handicap: it has to fit within a certain window—between the prequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. So the growth of the characters is limited by those parameters. Since we already know what’s going to happen to some of these characters, some of the tension is lost.

Let’s move on to Nero Wolfe. From 1934 to 1975, Rex Stout wrote a ton of books and short stories featuring Nero Wolfe. I guess you can safely say that by spending that amount of time with his main characters—New York private investigator and orchid aficionado Nero Wolfe and his operative Archie Goodwin (who narrates the stories)—Stout really knew these people.

   ccd5d7549b6ad3f8f9addfb64b5243d9 Maury-Chaykin-Nero-Wolfe2

Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe

The thing is, Wolfe, Goodwin, the police officers (Cramer and Stebbins) often at odds with them, and Fritz Brenner (Wolfe’s majordomo) spring to life so vividly, you can almost predict what each would say when he enters the room—predict in a good way that is. You can do that, because the author, and in the case of the TV series, the scriptwriters, helped us know how these characters tick—their likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies (Archie’s swagger; Wolfe’s pursed lips; Cramer’s cigar chomping), without resorting to caricature. Even the steady parade of murderers and thieves (this is a mystery series after all) are given raisons d’être beyond the simple need to make them villains. They have plans and hopes and sorrows. We can even sympathize with them all the while rooting for them to get caught.

Writing vivid, nuanced characters a reader or viewer grows to care about is a tricky thing. I don’t have to tell you that, though I just typed that sentence. It means going beyond the initial decision to make someone a hero or a villain or other aspects that are essentially cosmetic. It means knowing the why behind that person’s decision to go one way or another. And that takes time and a desire on an author’s part to dig deeper.

Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe from Wikipedia. Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin from Pinterest. Captain Rex and Trooper Fives from starwars.wikia.com.