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Hijacked Post

Hey, all. Sam’s ridiculously stressed out over some stupid papers—dunno why she bothers. Writing about me is way more fun. But she can’t be pulled away.

So of course, I’m looking on the bright side: No Sam to block me out from you lot like she usually does.

In case you haven’t been able to tell, this is not your normal post. I’m taking it over for the day. My name is Ethan. I know she’s mentioned me a few times, when she tells you about Stealing the Crown (if only I could get her to get rid of that ridiculous title).

Really, she should talk about me more. She’s been completely ignoring me lately. Every time I try to get her to write more, she mutters something about “dead week.” Not enough murder present for me.


….
……

Look, while I’ve got you all here, can I ask you something? You can’t tell Sam. You definitely can’t tell Mira. If you breathe a word of it, I will hunt you down and gut you. Got it?

…Right, anyway… I… I don’t know how to deal with Mira. It would be a hell of a lot easier to get her back where she belongs if she’d just go along with me. The faster I get rid of her, the faster I can get on with my life.

But she’s just so damned stubborn. She won’t listen to a thing I say. She has to ask why on everything. She acts like she’s so bloody entitled.

OK, so she’s a princess—by law, entitled—but that’s not the point!

What am I supposed to do with her? Sometimes I feel like I’d be better off if I just ditched her. Forget the money, you know?

You know what she did the other day? This still gets me. She woke me up in the middle of the night, said I was screaming. Me, screaming! Like that would ever happen. Alright, so I happened to be having another one of those damned nightmares that don’t let me get proper rest, but she just kept looking at me, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said she was worried about me. Someone, worried about me. Can you believe that? Not even Sam cares what happens to me.

… I’ll never admit it to her, and if you ever breathe a word of it, you will die a very slow and painful death! But, ever since Mira’s been sleeping next to me, the nightmares haven’t been there. I’m actually succeeding at pushing them into the back of my mind, where I don’t think about them as much.

You know what, forget this post ever happened. I don’t need your advice. Life’s about getting out there. Oh shit, I think I hear Sam coming. Bye, all!

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Deadlines

Deadlines.

That one word can make people shudder, strike fear into their hearts.

But I’m not quite sure why.

For me, without deadlines, I would never get anything accomplished. I’m the kind of person that just loves checking things off a to-do list. It fills me with an automatic sense of accomplishment.

There are different types of deadlines. In work and in personal life, most deadlines that people think of are the big, looming, final deadline. If you leave that deadline as it is, of course it would terrify you. It’s human nature. You can’t imagine having to face something so big and impending.

What you need to do is break it up into smaller chunks. For the NCUR program book I was working on, I made a list of every section I needed, what information had to go into those sections, and when I would be getting that information. Based on when I would get the necessary information, I set a due date for each section. I had some curve balls thrown at me, but it got finished, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the project until the very end.

I have a similar strategy with my fiction writing. I’m trying to keep up with my 500 words a day from Writing March Madness, but I’ll admit to faltering a bit. I have a map of where my plot is going. I’ve set specific times for when each plot point should happen, so I’ll hopefully have the first draft finished by October. If only the MCs would cooperate. Even my fanfiction has a schedule. I’ve promised my readers, a promise I intend to stick to, that I will get a new chapter up at least every two weeks.

The key to getting things done is to set manageable goals. Procrastinating gets nothing accomplished, and feeling like you’re overwhelmed will stop you dead in your tracks. Know your limits, and set your goals accordingly.

Slow Bake with Sugar

Wow, I haven’t updated this much this week… Between sewing cosplay, trying out some Latin American food recipes for a presentation next week, finishing up projects (because next week is the last week), and getting ready for graduation, I haven’t done much in the writing department.

My presentation in American Literature next week is on non-feminist characters in “feminist” literature (aka Edna Pontellier from The Awakening). While I’m not a major feminist (I pretty much do what I want), this presentation got me thinking about changing gender roles in today’s literature.

My favorite female characters–Jane Eyre, Yellena from Poison Study–are all kick-ass women. They’re not out actively trying to prove that they are just as good as men. They’re just living their lives. But they know how to defend themselves and they know where and how to draw the line.

Contemporary characters that get a lot of flack are Bella from Twilight and (I have heard quite a bit on) Katniss Everdeen. Bella is completely dependent on the men around her. When one leaves, she shuts down. She encourages his abusive and stalker-ish behavior. Katniss uses both of the two boys for anything she wants. Granted, yes, she’s in a survival competition, but she barely treats them like they’re actual humans. She just goes for whoever is most convenient.

There’s a pretty strong line between these two different types of characters. I like far more about the first two than just that they’re kick-ass. The thing is, junior high and high school girls, the biggest venue for all of the characters mentioned here, are very impressionable. They find something they like, they want to be just like it.

What are we teaching our kids? Do we want them to know that it’s good for them to know how to protect themselves, that they should stand up for themselves and what they believe in no matter who they’re standing up against? Or do we want to teach them that the most important thing in their lives is getting a boyfriend and giving up anything to please and keep him?

Subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) distinctions in writing change what sort of message we are putting across. Take it on yourself to show contemporary girls that it is not enough to be a doormat any more. If you’re going to have a wimpy female character, then at least show realistic consequences for that character so that the young girls who may read your story won’t have a burning desire to be like that.

Because as writers, it’s our responsibility to change the world.

Pocket Notebooks

We had an NCUR debriefing lunch today. I’d never say no to free food. Especially when they have brownies.

So now that I’ve been stuffed with sugar, I’ll get back to blogging.

I want to talk today about the tool every writer should stick to: the pocket notebook.

Inspiration rarely strikes on schedule. In my experience, it usually comes in the most inconvenient time. Like when you’re driving down the street.

I also know from experience that it rarely stays in your memory until you can get it down.

Enter the handy dandy pocket notebook.

NOTE: Please do not use the handy dandy (pocket) notebook while driving. I cannot be held liable for any accidents this may cause.

The best part of this pocket notebook is that it doesn’t have to be in coherent order. I don’t know about you, but while I’m taking notes in a blank Word file, I feel like I have to write in complete sentences and have some semblance of structure and order.

But with the pocket notebook, I feel a lot freer in the way I put things in. Flip through some of my pocket notebooks that are full and sitting on a table. It’s filled with random phrases, dialogue, and names; addresses and phone numbers; nonsensical ideas and future inspiration. The notebooks even have odds and ends of other cards, papers, and sketches tucked into it.

The best thing ever about the pocket notebook is that it’s a boredom reliever. When I’m stuck at work, on a train, anything where I have nothing better to do, I’ll flip through it. Reading the things I have jotted down in it makes me want to write again. How’s that for you, portable inspiration?

It really doesn’t matter what the notebook is made out of. You could even just have a bunch of random sheets of paper or note cards in your pocket if that’s your style. But every true and wanna-be writer has some form of a pocket notebook with them. Do you have yours?

NCUR 2012 and the End of Writing March Madness

If you look back at most of my posts at the beginning of the month, I was talking nonstop about a beastly technical writing project I had. I was writing the program book for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. It got sent to the printers the second week of March.

But I still wasn’t done with NCUR. I pretty much sold my soul to them for the weekend. I was running the information table, directing countless volunteers, and being overall helpful. I worked the information table from 7 AM to 5:30 PM on Thursday, followed by class, 7 AM to 7:30 PM on Friday, and 7 AM to 4 PM on Saturday. I also made a few attendees’ days better by giving them rides back to their hotels.

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time. I’ve worked longer shifts at previous jobs, but there was usually a point I could shut off my brain and just go through the motions. My volunteers could answer the basic majority questions, but I was the one that had to answer the hard questions. I had to think the whole time. So when I eventually got home, I was a little brain fried.

Unfortunately, this killed my writing buzz. I was participating in Writing March Madness,  if you recall. My goal was 500 words a day. Up until the day before the conference began, I had only missed three days out of the whole month. That was met over the conference. I didn’t write a single word creatively those days. So my final March Madness achievement ended up being 25 days of writing, 6 days of slacking.

The good news is, I definitely did hit over 15,500 words (which is what I would have had if I had written only 500 words a day every single day). When I began, my word count was just over 10k. Now I have just under 24k towards Stealing the Crown, 7k towards fanfictions (don’t judge me), and 5k towards smaller miscellaneous projects.

I will keep chugging along in writing Stealing the Crown because I’d like to have the initial draft finished by October so that I can start on the sequel for NaNoWriMo in November (assuming I figure out a plot for a sequel, not just the opening scene). I will also keep you posted on StC updates as they come in.

Where are you at with your goals?  Writing or otherwise. Don’t you just hate it when life gets in the way? But if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have anything to write about.

My Favorite Fictional Characters

Alright, alright. This is a ridiculously broad category. There are so many fictional characters out there, and I love quite a few of them. I have a slight (lying blatantly to myself here) bias towards male characters, because not only do I get to love them for their wicked awesomeness, I also get to crush on them as much as I like. So below are my favorite fictional characters. I’m not saying these are the best of all time: I probably have some more that I like. But obviously these stand out enough to me to be on my mind without furious digging.

Death the Kid
Soul Eater is not my favorite anime out there. Death the Kid may well be one of my favorite characters. He’s complex, unique, and a BAMF. Kid is the son of Lord Death (in the English dub), the grim reaper who rules over the world and protects us all. Kid has quite a few more powers than the rest of the kids in the show, having inherited them through his father. But he doesn’t take it for granted. Kid works hard at what he does. He decides to go to DWMA (the Death Weapon Meister Academy) to train with the other kids even though he’s more powerful than all of them.

But unlike a lot of Mary Sue characters, Kid is not without his flaws. Anyone who has ever seen the show knows his biggest hang up: He has a debilitating OCD in regards to symmetry. If he comes across anyone or anything that is not  at least passably symmetrical, he will either have a meltdown or fly into a blind rage. The irony gets sweeter with his hair. He has three white stripes across exactly half of his hair, the Lines of Sanzu, which have some relation to his powers (you can do a whole lot of interesting research into the Lines and what they represent). Due to his grim reaper body’s rejection of poison, he cannot dye his hair in any way to get rid of the stripes. He himself is what he hates most: asymmetrical.

He has other unique markers. He holds his guns upside down and fires with his pinkies. He’s got some sick skateboard skills. He’s somewhat pompous and full of himself, but he cares about his friends and will do almost anything for them. He went in alone to a deadly place in order to protect his weapons (weapons in this world are humans that can transform themselves). He wouldn’t let his father hand him anything, including an already-made scythe, because he wanted to create his own path. He’s well-rounded and definitely well-developed, with enough hang ups to bring humor to the show without being stupid.

Jane Eyre
See, I do have some women on this list.

(I am talking about Jane from the book, not any of the movies. I haven’t seen any of them.)

Jane is what I would always like to write as a female character and never can quite pull off. She’s got more girl-power than most of the protagonists in the “feminist” literature we’ve had to read for my early American literature class—and she’s not from a feminist novel. She kicks butt and lets no one tell her what to do or force her around.

Since childhood, she’s been standing up for herself and doing what she wants to and what she knows is right. She has a big heart, but doesn’t let people bully her. Not even the big, scary Rochester. And come on, how cool was it when he asked her if she found him handsome and she answered honestly that he wasn’t? She knows how to find her own way, despite the circumstances and time period in which she grew up in.

L Lawliet
L is an iconic character in the manga and anime Death Note. He was created as an equal in intellect but the antithesis in appearance of the villain and main character of the show, Light. This kid is a genius. He’s solved some of the world’s greatest crimes while not letting anyone see him accept the man who raised him and assists him, until the case of the show comes up. He’s pale, sits oddly, touches everything only with his forefinger and thumb, and has no reserves or any knowledge of social mores. The two characters, L and Light, are so dynamic together (the reason Light isn’t on here is because he’s a narcissistic bastard and doesn’t quite compete with the others listed). They both do things that horrify the men around them in order to win. He keeps in pace with Light, risking his life to expose that he really is the serial killer they’re looking for. The only reason he loses is because Light went farther than anyone ever thought he would. But L trained others who eventually succeed in taking down Light, so he really wins in the end.

He’s got enough quirks and odd appearances to put any normal person off. Especially after we’ve been exposed to the attractive, poised, and composed Light for several episodes. And yet he’s so well-written and executed that he is entirely endearing after three episodes of his physical arrival. L definitely has more fan girls than Light. Both the characters are incredibly well-written. Light’s just too egotistical for my taste.

Valek
OK, so I don’t actually have a picture of Valek… He’s from a non-picture book, and no movies have ever been made of Poison Study (no matter how much I would pay to see one).

Valek is an impossible to figure out character. You never can figure out what he’s thinking until he tells you, and that isn’t until the very end of the book. Everything is an experiment to him. Even other people’s lives. He’s intelligent, charming, and deadly. Life is a chess game, and he is always steps ahead of everyone else. His assassin skills are legendary. He helped overthrow the last corrupt ruler of the country.

And yet, with his own power and amazing intelligence, he is still absolutely loyal to the man who spared his life in the beginning of the story. He would even kill his soul mate if the General ordered it, following with taking his own life because he can’t live without her. He’s a fantastic balance of mystery, deadly skill, a good heart, and intelligence.

Captain John Hart
I had to have a villain on here somewhere, of course. And James Marsters is one of my favorite actors. Captain John Hart, only present for three episodes of the second season of Torchwood. For those of you who haven’t seen it, he’s like Spike from Buffy before he fell in love with Buffy and became a pushover.

He’s dastardly, handsome, and a git. He’s worse than Captain Jack Harkness. Jack will flirt with anything with two legs and a brain. John will take anything that moves.

He’s a fantastic villain. You know he’s a villain from the start, the characters on the show know he’s a villain from the start. Yet he still somehow manages to win. Unlike most villains, he’s not a villain because he’s evil at heart. He’s just selfish and thinks he can do whatever the hell he wants. Most of the time, he can and does do whatever he wants. His ultimate betrayal in the end is only fueled because his life is in danger from someone even worse (I won’t give away too many spoilers here). He ends up betraying his threatener and helping the Torchwood team, but only because he’s pissed about being manipulated. No one owns him, and he’ll do whatever he has to in order to do whatever he wants. He’s a well-rounded villain with a clear goal and purpose.

Howl
I haven’t read the children’s book, so everything I have to say about Howl is from the movie. There are other things I like about him other than he’s incredibly attractive and voiced by Christian Bale in the English dub, I promise!

It’s early and easily established that Howl is selfish. He uses his magic for himself and does what he wants. He doesn’t pay much attention to others. He’s so vain that he has a dark magic meltdown when Sophie’s cleaning of the bathroom makes his blonde hair go orange. Once it fades to black, he lies in the bed as if he’s physically ill. He behaves like a child.

But as the show goes on, his true character is revealed. He won’t help the king’s war by transforming himself into a monster because it would harm him. After enough times, he won’t be able to change back. He moves around to keep himself out of the grasp of the Witch of the Waste, because she would probably use him to do some truly evil things. While he plays around with women, he doesn’t eat their hearts like he’s rumored to. His favorite place in the world was a cabin he studied in when he was a child. He loves Sophie so much that he gives up all of his freedom and cowardice in order to protect her. The selfishness is not a complete fabrication. But it is only one facet of his personality among a lot of other things. He’s a character that rings true because he’s as three dimensional as the people that we walk among every day.

Hamlet
The epitome of a conflicted character. While I love David Tennant’s rendition of the prince, I refer to him through my interpretations of reading the play.

His goal is clear. It’s fairly easy to attain, too. Destroy the man who destroyed his father. It’s a reasonable and defendable goal, too. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Murder does something to you. It makes you cold and not like you were before, no matter your reasons for doing it. Hamlet is an intellect, a man of diplomacy and solutions. He has to face what he needs to do, but only once he’s absolutely sure.

His hesitation costs everyone their lives. But it’s still understandable. Not right, but understandable. He has a singular goal, but he can’t reach it. Sometimes the barriers we put up for ourselves are the largest and most impossible to cross of all.

Edmond Dantès
One of my favorite characters of all time. I just keep going back to The Count of Monte Cristo. He is one of the most complex characters of all time. I do enjoy the movie this picture was taken from, but the book is so much better.

He is not an inherently evil person. On the contrary, he’s actually an amazing man with a big heart. Even while he’s destroying lives and killing men, he’s still helping other people like the banker, Haydée, and Bertuccio. He avoids destroying anyone’s lives that did not destroy his.

Though he starts out as ignorant, thinking the best of everyone and really only knowing how to sail, he thrives on the knowledge he gains while in prison. He learns to read, learns languages, learns to sword fight, learns whatever his fellow prisoner can teach him, which is a lot. Though they do not get out the way they plan, he’s innovative enough to create his own opportunity on a moment’s notice.

He’s creative, intelligent, and focused on a singular goal. When he actually survives his revenge plot, he doesn’t know what to do; he wasn’t planning on getting any farther. But thankfully he doesn’t go back to his love from before his imprisonment. They are different people; they wouldn’t get along any more. He leaves with Haydée. Thank god for a unique ending!

Jess
Here’s another man I have no picture of, because this book has an even smaller fanbase than Poison Study. This was my favorite book back when I was still LDS.

Jess is dark, moody, and suicidal at one point. But he’s still intelligent and kind, once he can get past his… well, past. Jess was a major inspiration for Vedo in A Captive Mind.

He grew up with a good, loving LDS family. But he’s always had an innate need to rebel that I can identify heavily with. He used to do drugs, had a ton of different piercings in his ears, and had long hair. But he got past all of that with the help of a friend. He started rebelling in different ways, like showing up to an informal party in a tuxedo.

His life was destroyed when the car he was driving was hit by a truck in the wrong lane, killing his best friend, and his brother and his brother’s wife, and putting him in a comma for three months. He has a history that drives his self-destructive behavior. Everything he does revolves around his past.

Doctor Horrible
This man… So much love for this man. This character is a composite of the genius of Joss Whedon and Neil Patrick Harris. You read my blog long enough, you will learn I have a high respect for Mr. Whedon, who I think is the best television writer of today.

Anyways! This character is the ultimate in sympathetic villain. He only wants to rule the world because it’s in a terrible condition and he wants to make it better for people. I’m pretty sure there are only two reasons he’s a villain rather than a hero: 1) The resident “hero” in the town, Captain Hammer, is a complete and utter douchebag. 2) It’s frowned upon in polite society to take away the free will of the ignorant masses who are destroying the world anyways.

He’s not the dynamic character that is usually the leader of evil. I guess it makes sense since he’s not a leader. He’s quite, shy, and nerdy. But he knows what he thinks is right, and he does everything to that end (or to get the attention of his crush, Penny). He’s another good example of having a clearly defined goal and structuring a character’s actions around that. He’s got many facets to his personality (aspiring to be evil, terribly shy, wants to rule the world, awkward, intelligent, and full of fail). Mr. Whedon is a genius of a writer who always has my respect.

Others

There are so many more I could go into here, as I’ve already said. Jareth the Goblin King (though I’ll admit, most of my love for him comes out of fanfiction and not the narrow view we get of him in the movie), Raeyn from my friend Alex Harrow’s unreleased SF novel, V from V for Vendetta (don’t hate me, I’m referring to the movie; I haven’t gotten to read the graphic novel yet), the Doctor, Tallahassee from Zombieland, the Hitachiin twins from Ouran High School Host Club, Batman, Satan from Paradise Lost… Not to mention a huge list of more classical characters that I absolutely adore. There just isn’t the space or the time to give all the fantastic characters that I love the credit they deserve.

But the top ten I’ve listed here, I try to take something away from each of them. They all operate in unique and fascinating ways that portray true (if extreme) interactions of human beings. These characters have made audiences of different sizes, tastes, and time periods fall in love with them. There’s a reason for that. If I can get my characters just an ounce as good as these characters, I know I’ll have a decent sized audience for my stories. (Ethan’s trying to crash the party and get a word in edgewise, so I’m going to wrap up before he can.)

What are your favorite characters, and why do you love them? Let me know! But please, there’s no need to bash me for the choices I made here. I have wide and varied tastes, but limited space to include everyone. I just went with who was foremost on my mind. I hope you enjoy the list that is a bit different than anything you’d get in a college literature class.

Getting Ideas

I read a lot of interviews about my favorite authors. One question that everyone seems to love to ask is “where do you get your ideas?” The most common answers are “Oh, one night I had this awesome dream…” or “Well my main characters are a lot like my friends…”

Perhaps I work in strange ways, but I never get ideas like that. To be honest, I never get ideas through a set way.

The very first book I managed to finish (don’t look for it; I never bothered trying to market it. It has a loooong way to go before it’s ready to see the light of day) I started when I was in my ninth grade English class. We were listening to songs from some of Shakespeare’s plays. I ended up with a song from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wrote this beautiful scene about a fairy ball and a young queen presiding over all. It turned into a play, which later developed into a novel.

The next one I worked on, A Captive Mind, sprung partly from that. It was intended to be the sequel to that first book, but it took on a mind of its own. To be honest, the initial drafts were pretty much a rip off of Maria Snyder’s Poison Study and some other books I was reading at the time. But hey, immature poets imitate, mature poets steal. I may not have been a poet, but I was definitely immature at the time. And really, that’s how all writers learn to write well. Even Stephen King admits to his early works being blatant ripoffs of dime show movies.

I started a book that was following the daughter of Zee and Vedo from A Captive Mind, but their daughter is an unbearable brat. I didn’t get very far with it. And it’s story line was pretty close to that movie Enchanted. Luckily by that point, though, I was pretty past the point of imitating other story lines. So it got tossed before I finished chapter four.

My newest project, Stealing the Crown, probably has the most interesting beginnings. I follow this web comic called Roommates. It has Jareth the Goblin King (Labyrinth), Erik (Phantom of the Opera), James Norrington (Pirates of the Carribean), and Javert (Les Miserables) living in the same apartment building. Jareth and Erik live together, and Norrington and Javert live across the hall. There’s also a host of other crossover characters popping in and out and living in the building, including Sweeney Todd, Legolas, Harry Dresden, Tallahassee, Aziraphael and Crowley, Eponine…

Anyways, it’s a pretty awesome comic. Highly entertaining, and a super intense arc going on right now. At the beginning of the last really long arc, we found out that Jamie’s (James Norrington) mom was coming to visit. She doesn’t know about the events in the second Pirate’s movie. She thinks he’s still Commador, still engaged to Elizabeth, and still successful. She doesn’t know that he’s actually pretty full of fail. I’d made a comment to the artist that it’ll be interesting to see what happens when his mum finds out he’s dating a thief, Eponine (it’s a crossover comic; the connections made will surprise you). Actually, I stated it as “Oh boy. Wait until his mom finds out he’s dating a… What does ‘Pony do, anyway?” The response I received was “…Economic redistribution? That’s the nicest way I can think to say it.”

I fell in love with the phrase and begged to use it. The artist gave me the go ahead, and I jotted it down in my little pocket notebook for future use.

After working longer on A Captive Mind and beginning to get bored with it, I started thinking about other ideas I could run with for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I recalled that phrase, and a thief character I was currently working with in a roleplay site. What better idea! A plotline started forming in my head of a thief that has to rescue a princess. Economic redistribution is what he tells her he deals in.

After my failed attempt at NaNo, I put away the idea for a while, focusing on A Captive Mind for a little longer. I’d been working on it forever, and I needed to get stuff done. But after talking with different publishing professionals and realizing how stale Zee’s book was getting, I came back to Ethan’s. And it’s been a ride.

The point of this rambling post is that ideas can come from anywhere. You don’t have to have a fantastic story for how you even came up with your story. It should be good enough to speak for itself. A good writer knows how to keep their ears and mind open, and draw experiences from the world around them. Good writing comes from real experiences. That is how an audience connects to a fictional character. You just need to learn how to be receptive and how to translate those events into entertaining prose.