Childhood Heroes

I have a soft spot for the fictional heroes of my childhood. The first has to be Robin Hood. I loved the old TV show with Richard Greene. I can still sing the theme song Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen. Robin Hood Robin Hood with his band of men. Feared by the bad, loved by the good. Robin Hood. Robin Hood, Robin Hood. Or at least that’s my memory of the lyrics. The characters in the show had such great names, too—Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian. Such descriptive, enticing names. It made me fall in love with noble characters, history, right vs power, helping people, and outsmarting the bad guy. I was sad when I got older and found out Robin Hood probably never lived. I thought Sherlock Holmes was a real character, too, for a long time. When a character is that dimensional, they take on a life force and it’s hard to believe they never actually existed outside of the imagination. The second in my list of heroes is Zorro. He’s the California version of Robin Hood. I was born and lived in California until I was 12. The state has a rich history with the building of the missions, the fight for independence from Spain, the gold rush (yes, I know there was a lot horror involved in the treatment of the Native Americans, etc., but I was a kid. I only saw the romantic side of history.) California is also an incredibly beautiful state—the mountains, the desert, the redwoods, and above...

Falling in Love with a Character

I ordered this book through the library some time ago. I was pretty far back on the waiting list and by the time my name came up I had forgotten why I wanted to read it. I’m pretty sure I decided to read it based on a review, but I have been disappointed in the past when a book has had a good write-up. Consequently, I was a bit skeptical when I started it. Don Tillman is not your typical rom-com main character. He has issues. In particular he is obviously someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, though he doesn’t realize it, and is cringe-worthy in social situations. I read the first few pages with an Oh, my God! expression on my face. What a horror, I thought. How could someone with his issues find someone to love him? He began to win me over on page 10. He was in the middle of giving a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome (I think his friend set him up with the lecture in hopes he would recognize himself) and became horrified when someone explained to the kids in the audience that Asperger’s was something you were born with. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Don exclaims, “Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant.”  He goes on to explain that it’s potentially a major advantage. He gives an example in which emotional behavior would lead to a disastrous outcome—Imagine you are hiding in the basement with your friends. The enemy is searching for you and you have to keep totally silent, but your baby is crying. You have a gun. The parents in the audience...

Bilbo vs Frodo

I have always preferred The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Consequently, I’ve always preferred Bilbo to Frodo, but it is only recently that I’ve been able to figure out why this is so. I was watching the Hobbit on HBO, refreshing my memory in preparation for the next installment coming out soon, and one scene struck me as a pivotal moment for Bilbo. He’s invisible, having just escaped from Gollum and the goblins, and he overhears Thorin saying Biblo has probably deserted them and run back home—that’s why he’s missing. Bilbo could do that. He could leave at that point and go back home. He’s invisible and they would never see him. He knows Thorin has always doubted him. He’s no hero and he’s not a thief. He feels out of place and floundering. The dwarves are so strong and good at what they do and Bilbo feels like all he knows how to do is live a quiet life and tend his garden. But it’s at that point that he choses fully to commit to the quest. When he first decided to join them it was more from a sense of adventure and fun. But this time he truly wants to help them. He takes off the ring and reveals himself. When asked why he hadn’t left he tells Thorin that he’s right. He misses his home. He misses his books and his garden. That’s where he belongs. And that’s why he had to come back. They (the dwarves) don’t have a home. Someone took it from them. But he will help them take it...

Critique Groups

We had our critique meeting last Friday and it was bitter sweet. The sweet was reviewing Lisa’s manuscript which was such a fun read. “Slacker Nanny Falls in Love” is sure to find a home. The voice is pitch perfect. Of course we had a few suggestions—nothing is ever perfect. But I hope my next manuscript gets a similar reaction. I won’t have much rewriting to do if it does. The bitter part of the meeting was saying good-bye to Sean McCollum. The rat is moving to the Virgin Islands. Really, Sean? You have to move to paradise and abandon us right before winter? And while we are happy that he has this opportunity, we’re going to miss him so much. Getting the right mix of people in a critique group is so important. Having a bad member can really upset the balance. My group once seriously discussed disbanding and reforming so that we didn’t have to tell a member that she was toxic and we wanted her to leave. To avoid that that kind of situation, here are some things to consider if you are starting or looking for new members for a critique group: Are you working at your craft? If so, how much have you written? (You need to determine where this person, or the group, are on their writing journey. Are they beginners? Intermediate? Are some published? Is it a mix?) Ideally, you want a  mix. If you are a beginning writer and the group is full of published writers it may not be the right one for you. They may demand more of you...

Missing a Climax

I recently watched a movie about a woman whose estranged husband faked his and their son’s death—lost at sea during a storm. Fourteen years later she sees her husband on a friend’s vacation video with their son, now grown up. He runs a diving charter on a Caribbean island so she flies there to get her son back.  There’s lots of good tension with the possibility of a hurricane hitting the island in a few days, trouble with the law because she doesn’t have a passport and has lied about losing it, and the fact that the husband and son are gone on a charter and may not be back in time before the law finds out she’s lying and/or the storm hits. To make matters worse she finds out that her husband is the most popular guy on the island—very generous with his time and always helping people out. People consider him a saint. Great set-up for the main character. She’s facing all sorts of problems and could even end up in jail. She only has an old photo of her son at age 3 as proof. She burned everything when she thought they had died. The husband comes back and then takes off alone for another island, leaving the son behind. Perfect chance for the mother to bond with the kid. By now the police have found out she lied about the passport. She tells the officer the truth and he forbids her to say anything to the kid while he checks out her story. But instead of checking it out, he calls the husband and leaves...

Dialogue—Lines That Stay With You

My father used to spout reams of poetry. I was constantly amazed at the amount of literature he had memorized that he could pull out whenever he wanted to. I don’t have a good memory for words. I have a hard time remembering people’s names. I hated reading nonfiction as a child because there were no pictures. I remember images. I remember faces. I learn better when I can see it demonstrated. So when some dialogue or a descriptive phrase sticks in my head then it has to be pretty amazing for me to be able to remember it years later. One of my all time favorite lines is in Con Air. In case you’ve never seen it, a bunch of convicts take control of the plane transferring them to a new supermax prison. Nicholas Cage plays a convict who has been paroled and is only on board until he reaches the prison where he will be officially released. (We won’t go into why he couldn’t be released directly from the prison where he had been serving his sentence.) The movie sounds a bit cheesy but it’s actually pretty good. There’s the standard amount of blood and guts—it is an action movie, after all—but it also has some great dialogue. My favorite line happens after the convicts take over the plane and they are dancing to Sweet Home Alabama. Steve Buscemi plays a serial killer (think Hannibal Lecter) and he says to Cage, “Define irony. A bunch of idiots on a plane dancing to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.” It’s the...