Beckon the Lovely

Not long ago, my friend Sharon emailed a link to a TED Talk by author/filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal (see below). You might know this author either from her books (see above) or from her very popular and very heartbreaking New York Times article, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” (The answer to that is, yes.)

If you have twenty-one minutes to kill, take a look. I highly recommend it. But in case you don’t, I’ll give you the upshot of the video in seven words:

Make the most of your time here.

That was Rosenthal’s motto. Was, because the author recently died from ovarian cancer, which made the video all the more poignant for me. Though this talk was given years ago, I found it very fitting today.

One of the pieces of advice she gives in the video is to “beckon the lovely.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear ugly words, or discover that someone lovely died from an ugly disease, or I hear about the ugly actions of others, my soul craves something lovely.

[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I think of flowers and sunsets and clingy baby pandas. My friend Jill emailed this article, which features a video of a clingy baby panda. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. There is a reason why this video has over 160 million views. Lovely sights beckon to us.

Like flowers. Flowers of any sort catch my eye.

   

Photos from a couple of years ago and recently (last photo). Alas, a recent snowstorm killed these sprouts off.

Crocheting also is a way I beckon the lovely. I promised Marie of 1WriteWay that I would post a photo of a jellyfish I crocheted recently for a little boy’s birthday party, thanks to this pattern. I can’t help but smile that the designer chose to make something lovely and cuddly based on the form of a creature with a harmful sting.

When I consider ways to beckon the lovely, I’m reminded of lovely gestures people make. Last week, a colleague came bearing two boxes of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, which brightened our day.

Speaking of gestures, the lovely Jill Weatherholt is giving away a signed copy of her debut novel, Second Chance Romance. (U.S. only. Sorry.) All you have to do to be considered for the drawing is to comment below. What have you seen recently that you consider lovely? Perhaps you were the one whose lovely gesture made someone’s day. Do tell! Or describe what you plan to do to beckon the lovely this week. The winner will be announced on March 27.

     

Amy Krouse Rosenthal book cover from Goodreads. Second Chance Romance cover from Jill Weatherholt. Dunkin Donuts Munkins from Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

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The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

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I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

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And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

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But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

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Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

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Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

Enduring Love

white wedding cakes2I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of turning on the news or logging on to my ISP and hearing about the latest celebrity breakup. But the news media seems to feast upon those.

Okay. I get it. Bad news is considered news worthy. But is yet another breakup among the thousands we’ve heard about really news worthy since celebrities often break up with other celebrities?

You don’t have to answer that. I wrote that to preface how greatly refreshed I was to receive the latest TED Talks email, which featured this talk: “This is what enduring love looks like.” The presenters, Stacey Baker and Alec Soth, use photographs to discuss how couples met and remained together. You can watch that video below if you have a spare ten minutes.

I love hearing the stories of how couples met. I never get enough of those. I enjoy looking at wedding photographs and other captured moments of family togetherness like vacation photos. You can call me weird if you like. I don’t mind. I love engagement stories and those promposals that keep popping up on YouTube. Wondering what a promposal is? Click here.

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Okay, a promposal isn’t exactly a story of enduring love. And maybe some people go overboard yielding to the pressure of making a memorable promposal. But I love the sparkle in the eyes of the storytellers as they discuss how wonderful it was to be sought after and accepted.

A good story energizes me. The stories I most resonate with remind me that there are such things as love that endures, faith, hope, and redemption.

I’m not an ostrich by the way—trying to bury my head in the sand to hide from bad news. I’ve been through bad breakups. My family has weathered some awful storms. That’s why I gravitate toward stories of love that lasts. Because I already know what the alternative is like.

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Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV

Wedding cake from weddingphotographye.blogspot. Promposal image from alyceparis.com. Heart photo by L. Marie.

“The Echo of Embarrassment”

Like a stone tossed into water, public humiliation has a ripple effect. We can easily draw up a list of people who have endured public shame in recent times. Maybe we’ve even had a few judgmental thoughts about them. But do we ever think to listen to them?

Thanks to an excellent post by Nicki Chen, “Easter Thoughts on New Life and Monica Lewinsky,” I listened to a recent TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky—a woman publicly vilified in 1998. (Click on Nicki’s post title to head to her blog, Behind the Story.)

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Monica Lewinsky

I remember my thoughts back then, when we first learned about her. My sympathies were for a wife humiliated by her husband’s affair. I never gave a thought to how Ms. Lewinsky might have felt. Until now. Until her talk. You might lend her your ear, if you have a spare 22 minutes.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Lewinsky talked about the pain she and others experienced after being bullied online. Some quotes that jumped out at me from her talk:

Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “Shame can’t survive empathy.”. . . Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline.

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Brené Brown

If you listened to the talk, you’ll recognize that the title of this post comes from it. As Ms. Lewinsky stated

The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community, but now it’s the online community too.

Isn’t that the truth? It’s sad how lives become fair game for others to rip apart. I cried when I heard the talk, mainly because I realize how judgmental I usually am when I think someone “deserves” to be ridiculed. Those who have experienced it know that online persecution is a descent into hell without a “get out of jail free” card.

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I can’t speak for you, but I’ve got a few words for myself, thanks to this talk. It takes only a few seconds to scar someone for life with one’s words. It also takes only a few seconds to sympathize with someone and possibly turn that person’s life around. Instead of joining the crowd throwing rocks, I can do something else: I can consider how I would feel to take such a public blow. I can also find a better use for my words—building someone up with them.

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There’s another famous story that mirrors Monica’s. If you’ve got another few moments, you might check out John 8:1-11 in the Bible.

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Monica Lewinsky photo from somewhere online. Monopoly “get out of jail free” card from texasxriders.com. Rocks from thedangergarden. Brené Brown from telegraph.co.uk. Public shaming sign from mashable.com.

The Stanton Effect: Write from Experience

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Today on the blog is a guest post by the awesome Laura Sibson. You know her from her blog, Laura Sibson: A journey toward writing dangerously. As an added bonus, Laura writes young adult fiction. Welcome, Laura!

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Many thanks to the inestimable L. Marie for creating this series and offering me an opportunity to be a part of it. I graduated with her from the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. As I work toward the final draft of a contemporary young adult novel, Andrew Stanton’s TED talk helped me think more deeply about the elements of storytelling. The final point that Stanton makes in his talk, Clues to a Great Story, is to write from your experience.

I knew from the time that I was a teen that I wanted to write novels. The problem was that I didn’t think I had anything to say. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the advice was WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. I was a young white woman from a middle class family. What the heck did I know? I grew older, worked, married and had children and I guess by then I knew some stuff, but it didn’t seem to be stuff that would make for a good story. So I still did not write.

Then I got an idea in my head to write a story about two sisters who find out that they are witches. Obviously, I wasn’t a witch (maybe that’s not obvious, but trust me) but I did (and do) have a sister. As I wrote that story, I was able to infuse a paranormal fantasy with real sisterly love and real sisterly rivalry. Those aspects of the story were some of my favorite scenes to write because I could write them from my truth.

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The next novel I wrote was about a teen girl whose mother dies. The main character decides to fight her uncle to keep the house that she’d lived in with her mom. My own mother is very much alive and I do not now nor have I ever had an evil uncle attempting to toss me from my home. But I lived for a time with my grandmother in the Baltimore house that inspired the story. Here again, I could write from my own experience. I’d walked those streets; I remembered the cherry tree in the back yard and the maple gold hue of the hardwood floors in that house. I believe it was the details from my experience that made the setting come alive for my readers.

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The house that inspired the novel

The story I’m writing now is different from any other that I’ve written. A while back, when I read a scene to a group of writer friends, the whole room went silent. It was a good sort of silent. I’d moved the listeners with my scene and it wasn’t because I’d jumped through verbal hoops with my prose. And it wasn’t because I’d ended the scene on a suspenseful cliffhanger. It was because I’d written a moment of emotional truth. The situation I’d written was fiction, but the feelings were authentic.

Andrew Stanton shared in his talk that he bears two scars from his premature birth. He wasn’t expected to live. But live he did. In fact, Stanton said that the knowledge of his premature birth galvanized him “to be worthy of the second chance he was given.” In time, Stanton gave those scars to a tiny fish and he named that fish Nemo.

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Stanton says, “Use what you know,” but he goes further than the old adage with which we are all familiar. “It doesn’t have to be plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience.”

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We all have scars of some sort. Rather than being burdened or shamed by those scars, we can take guidance from Andrew Stanton. Let’s allow those scars to inspire us toward creating work that resonates with people on an emotional level.

Thanks, Laura, for this fabulous post. Other posts in the series can be found here, here, and here.

For all who are reading this post, here are some questions: How has your experience helped shape your writing? How have you allowed your own scars to be shown in your writing?

Author photo by Marvin Dangerfield. Euodora Welty jpeg fromblog.writeathome.com. Nemo from fanpop.com. House photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Truth image from pinterest.com.

The Stanton Effect: Invoking Wonder

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiThank you to L. Marie for asking me to be a part of this guest post series. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz. I run the Legends of Windemere blog and publish books under the same title. I think that covers the “My Name is” requirement.

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This is about one of the points on Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk. I chose to write about invoking wonder in the reader. As a fantasy author, this is a very important goal whether I focus on it or not. I have to draw readers into a world that doesn’t exist outside of the page, so there is more that I have to say. For example, I can say, “They drive to New York City,” and people will immediately visualize the city with familiar landmarks. You may have to describe some of the area, but people have a pre-existing notion of what you’re talking about. If I say, “They rode into the city of Rodillen,” then nothing very cohesive comes about. This requires that I describe the buildings, people, weather, culture, and whatever else I can slip in without doing a full info dump. This is really just to set the stage too, but it is a piece of invoking wonder since you want to draw readers into your world.

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Maybe it’s because I have to tug harder at a person’s mind to get them to step further out of reality than Earth-based genres, but this is something that I feel should be done with every aspect of a story. The plot must be riveting at most points, the characters should be interesting, and the world has be both unique and recognizable. All of this is a challenge because one never knows the balance, which is where editing and beta readers can be helpful.

A difficulty that I always have is that I visualize a lot of what I’m doing, so I’m in a permanent state of wonder when it comes to my stories. An outside opinion is what helps me find out if that comes across in the finished book. Well not so much the finished book, but the first draft. My point here is that authors do have blinders on whether they realize it or not because they’re more attached to the story. This makes the invocation a little unclear to our own minds. (Note: I have Supernatural on while typing this, so invocation and similar words might be turning up a lot.)

-Supernatural-supernatural-32710241-1024-768Bobby Singer

Touching on a riveting plot, I always think it needs a good amount of both action and character developing downtime. This will prevent things from growing dull while maintaining growth for the characters.

In regards to wonder, you can aim for two things here. The first is making the reader excited that an action scene can happen at any moment, which helps them read through parts that might be slow. By action, I mean everything from car chases to a detailed shopping spree that ends with a canceled credit card. Basically, things that aren’t dialogue and exposition, but still carry the story ahead.

The other thing is that the reader starts to wonder how the characters will change. This might be the strongest area of wonder invocation that I can think of since we’re talking about the vessels that a reader will attach to. Consider several of the questions that go through your mind as you read a story. Will THEY survive their quest? How will THEY change over the course of the story? Can HE/SHE handle being rejected by someone they love? All of these involve wondering about the characters and not the main story. We get curious about these fictional people and think about how they’re going to come out of their adventure. It’s another connection that makes a person mentally plunge into the story.

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Now, everyone will have their own methods and foci when it comes to invoking wonder. I’m only going to list my personal ideas here:
1. Detailed world that touches on as many senses as possible. What does the reader see, hear, and smell? Taste and touch are more situational.
2. Give the characters personality, subplots, and growth that isn’t so straightforward as “hero get stronger.” Knock them down from time to time and show what they’re like when they stand back up. The reader will be curious to see if they can keep going.
3. If your story has magic and monsters, then go wild with the descriptions. Yet always remain consistent. Try not to have a troll look different in every encounter or switch your spell system in every book. Consistency helps create a solid foundation that a reader can work off of to explore your world.

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4. Foreshadowing. Hints can get a reader to keep going beyond their bedtime and return for a second read through.

To sum up here, I think invoking wonder differs from author to author. This is only what my opinion is and that’s influenced by my genre, reading history, and the specific stories that I want to tell. I’ve had people get absorbed by my books while others give up in the first 10 pages. It’s all personal preference when it comes to this arena.

One thing I do think is necessary for everyone is to go into a story with a clear and positive mind. If you read something with the expectation that you will hate it, then you’ll probably hate it. That wonder will be missing because part of you never wanted to wonder about the story. I’ve done it with books that I was made to read in high school and I still can’t bring myself to read them. This whole thing should be fun and sinking into the story with a sense of wonder is a big part of that.

Thanks, Charles, for such a great post in this series! Other posts can be found here and here.

Want to purchase Curse of the Dark Wind? Click here.

Supernatural photo from fanpop.com. Troll from mata.hari09.free.fr. Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer from pt-br.supernaturalbrasil.wikia.com. Wizard from wallpapersa.blogspot.com. Fantasy book from abstract.desktopnexus.com.

The Stanton Effect: Building to the Punch Line

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiToday, I’d like to welcome to the blog Nancy Hatch, who is here to bring you the second in a series of posts on The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. (See the first post here.) You know her, you love her from her blog, Spirit Lights The Way. Take it away, Nancy!

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Andrew Stanton begins his TED talk with a joke about three men in a bar in the Scottish Highlands—a backpacking tourist, a bartender, and an old man.

He uses the joke as a tool to convey compelling storytelling:

* The old man engages the audience, drawing us into his world and revealing his character as he shares his tale with a strong Scottish brogue.

* He makes us care as he explains how he built the bar, constructed the stone wall out front, and installed planks on the pier . . . “with me bare hands.”

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* The old man claims center stage with the sole speaking role, yet all three characters are necessary. None is extraneous. The tourist provides the reason for the telling of the tale. The bartender’s presence establishes that the old man is not exaggerating.

* In the same way he crafted the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, the old man builds his story on a firm foundation, one piece at a time. He keeps the finish line in mind. He never veers off course. He steers the story to its predetermined end.

* He creates drama (“anticipation mingled with uncertainty”) as he decries the fact that he’s not called “MacGregor the Bar Builder” or “MacGregor the Stone Wall Builder” or ”MacGregor the Pier Builder.”

Now he’s got us!

We’re curious. We want to hear the end of the story. We want to learn what he IS called. We are ready for the reveal. . . .

* When he delivers the punch line, he doesn’t complete the sentence. He allows the thought to hang mid-air. He doesn’t spell it out. He doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t insult our intelligence. He doesn’t reveal his actual nickname.

He allows us to follow the breadcrumbs and connect the dots.

He’s given us 2 + 2 and leaves it to the born problem solver in each of us to fill in the blanks and come up with the solution.

And we do.

Since he constructed his tale with the same precision he used when building the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, we lay the last piece with confidence.

There’s no wiggle room. We cannot misplace his meaning.

“Och, mon . . . ye must be MacGregor the Story Teller!”

Thanks, Nancy, for being part of this series! On Wednesday, Charles Yallowitz will be on the blog with part three of The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. Hope to see you here, too.

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Jordie would like to believe that he’s as good at telling a story as MacGregor or Nancy Hatch. But when one of his stories bores Kitty into a stupor, he has to rethink that supposition.