Every story has a villain

I’m not having a good time grinding the old brain into gear this week (it’s a post-Bouchercon haze and I didn’t even go to Bouchercon), but I came across this on the Internet. Food for thought.

 

 

Every rose has a thorn.

Every story has a villain.

Every beginning has an end.

 

 

 

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Real-life villains

As we still – as individuals and as a nation – reel from the tragic events on Las Vegas, villainy is at the top of our collective minds. Not only were the events Sunday night horrific, but it brought out some truly dark and divisive comments in society, including people who claimed that the victims didn’t need relief money because “they were rich” to the now-former CBS attorney who said the victims were undeserving of sympathy because “country fans were mostly Republicans” (apology since posted).

Yesterday, Becky posed the question that with all this going on, why do we even need fictional villains? Real life seems more than capable of providing enough villainy for everyone. Of course I–like her–believe we do need fictional villains because we need fictional heroes. We need triumph. And you can’t have a hero without a villain. The bigger the hero, the bigger the villain.

But it strikes me there’s another, more insidious, type of villain at large in society. One that is more difficult to overcome.

Despair.

Events like natural disasters and mass shootings can bring on despair like nothing else. What can we do? We’re just little cogs in a big wheel. We seem to be doomed, so why bother?

Once again, I think fiction comes to the rescue. If we can write and read about the triumph of heroes, there’s hope for us. Soldiers, cops, firemen, private detectives, fabric store owners, pet shop owners, clockmakers, Quaker midwives–all these heroes look at the circumstances in their own lives and say, “no.” They could turn around and walk away. Yes, even the professionals. There are other jobs out there. But they don’t. They look despair and chaos firmly in the eye and say, “not in my town.”

I think we need that. Too much grimness and depression clogs the news cycle. We need to see someone triumph to believe we can triumph.

Even if that person is fictional.

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Image courtest of Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan retreat center, Friendship, NY

A long, late night

Otherwise known as…oops, I did it again.

I could blame the late night reading. I could blame the switch to working at home, which means one day is pretty much identical to the next. I could blame the chaos of a release week.

I stay up too late at night. I know I do. Except…late nights are the only time I get to relax. Read. Think about…things. From the time the alarm goes off at 5:30am to about, oh, 10:00pm, my day is concerned a lot with other people. Get the kids up, dressed, out the door (yes, even though they are teenagers). Work the day-job. Fix dinner. Talk–or at least try to talk–to the kids about their day when they get home (see above reference to teenagers). Squash some writing time in there. Watch TV and spend some time with The Hubby.

You get the picture.

But late at night, the house is quiet. No one is making demands on my time. It’s just me and the book du jour. Bliss.

Except that it keeps me up. Makes me forget stuff – like doing my post for the blog.

I need a better calendar. Or I need to give up those late nights and go to sleep.

{Pause}

Anybody have a favorite calendar?

Teenagers – cats or vampires?

As you might know (or maybe not, because hey, are you really that interested in my home life?) I have two teenagers. The Girl is 17 (and a high-school senior – ack!), The Boy is 15. Some time ago, I put forth the following theory:

Young children are like dogs; teenagers are like cats.

Here’s my thinking. Young children are generally happy to see you, always willing to play, will happily eat at any time of day (ususally) and smother you with affection, whether convenient for you or not. Teenagers might be happy to see you – if you come bearing gifts or car keys; are rarely happy to play (I submit our family board games as evidence); eat when they want to, regardless of whether that coincides with the dinner hour or not; and give affection on their terms, again, usually when you are offering gifts or car keys.

Based on the past summer, I’ll offer an amendment: teenagers may also be vampires.

Think about it. They sleep until noon. They stay up until the wee hours of the night. They are often pasty from lack of sun (because they are holed up playing video games or watching Netflix – although The Boy does not exhibit this symptom), and their food choices are often…a mystery. Those cupboards opening and closing at 1 a.m.? What in the world is he looking for? Why is she suddenly not eating salmon, one of her favorite foods? Why are all the marshmallows missing from the container of Lucky Charms?

Hmm. That last one might also be attributable to their father. But I digress.

The point is, teenagers are creatures of the night. I remember those days. Now? Well, as the meme says, “I’m not an early bird or a night owl, but I can rock 11 a.m. like nobody’s business.” Maybe that means vampire is a step in the evolution of the teenager.

In the meantime, those bumps in the night? Probably my kids foraging for a snack.

Pride before a fall

“Pride goeth before a fall.”

I’ve always prided myself on organization. I knew where I was supposed to be and when. I scheduled my Mysteristas posts well in advanced and I’d never messed up.

Until today.

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I have no excuses and I have no post. Mea culpa. So just tell me: what’s your best (worst?) “pride before the fall” moment?

By way of an apology, I’ll give a $15 Starbucks gift card to a random commenter.

Photo courtest of Oleg Afonin, used under Creative Commons license.

In search of vindication

So, it’s August and we have a new theme. It’s Wednesday, and I’m thinking “what am I going to write this time?” Because, well, brain cramp.

I realize, I could really get some vindication in the next month. Problem is, it’s not exactly the kind I want.

I’m working on one of “those” projects at the day job. To sum up, we used to do The Thing one way, then we changed our minds and said The Thing was going to be done a new way. Being the person responsible for The Thing, I approved the new way. Except…

People are pitching a fit. They have to meet customer expectations and the new way of doing The Thing doesn’t really work for them. So go back, do The Thing the old way, and then we’ll customize it per client. Oh, and this decision will result in N versions of The Thing, all of which are different and will totally compromise quality and version control (which in this particular case, falls to me as the owner of The Thing).

I can see where this is headed. This will come back to bite us in the…you know. I have issued the warnings. I don’t have any clout, so I’ve been overruled. Only a matter of time before the whole thing blows up; I’ve seen it happen in other jobs. When it does, I guess I’ll be vindicated. Not really what I’m going for here.

On the home front, both kids have summer reading because–high school. For The Girl this is A Piece Of Cake. She loves to read, she is super organized, and a bit obsessive about her grades. All is well.

The Boy is the exact opposite. He has two books and one novella (“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) to read as well as something called “a double-entry journal” to turn in by September 1 (he returns to school on August 31.”

So far this summer he has gone on two trips for Boy Scouts, worked, and played a lot of basketball. I essentially tortured him into reading one book before his last trip. He is maybe 50% through the novella. I figured I’d get him to read the darn books, then worry about what the…heck a “double entry journal” is.

But yesterday, I found out. He has to pull ten quotes from each book and answer 2-3 questions about each quote. This, ladies and gentlemen, is A Lot Of Work for a kid who Does Not Like To Read. Every day, I remind him this needs to be done. We’ve pulled ten quotes from the first book. He has six from “Dr. Jekyll.” Every day, his response is, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll get it done.” Usually said as he traipses out the door.

He has less than a month. He thinks it is plenty of time. It is less time than he realizes. I’ve seen this movie too. Where the kid blithely ignores Mom’s advice, doesn’t get the work done, and winds up with a failing grade as a result.

Again – vindication for me. Again – not really the kind I’m going for.

But, you know – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll all turn out.

Maybe pigs will fly.

Ever been on the receiving end of the wrong kind of vindication?

I always knew I’d be an English major

My oldest–affectionately known as “The Girl” in my social media–starts her senior year of high school next month. Accordingly, we have begun all the grand college tours as she searches for her next educational home. She’s interested in political science, so candidates are of course being evaluated on that criterion.

All of this, plus Kate’s post Monday brings back memories of my own quest for college. I always knew I’d be an English major. What I was going to do with that degree changed over the years (law school, education, etc.), but I made up my mind in eighth grade. I was going to read books for my college years.

Because of this, I looked mainly for liberal arts colleges. (I can hear all the business and engineering folks snickering now.) And yes, I went to college as a declared English major and never wavered, despite many people asking if I also knew how to flip burgers because if I didn’t teach what else was I going to do with an English degree? (I am not flipping burgers, trust me.)

And because of that, I do exceedingly well on those “How many of these 100 essential books have you read?” quizzes. I hit most of them in college. And I learned some things:

  • Medieval English is really hard to read and if you have to have the jokes in Chaucer explained, they aren’t very funny.
  • American literature was obsessed with sex and religion for a Very Long Time.
  • Most 19th century American writers were…ponderous. Except for Mark Twain. I still think he’s funny.
  • The English Romantics were often a bit over the top in their emotions.
  • Those “Victorian” values and the image of being sexually repressed? Yeah, that was for the middle and lower classes. Victorian writing is full of sex and sexual imagery.
  • American literature in the 20th century leaves me scrabbling for anti-depressants and the English were often completely indecipherable (James Joyce anyone? Samuel Beckett?)

But the period I really liked was the Elizabethans and especially Shakespeare. My absolute favorite course was called “Shakespeare in Stratford.” We read five Shakespearean plays and took two trips to Stratford, Ontario (Canada) to see them performed, so the choice of plays for the course depended on the season for the theater company. We also saw Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I enjoyed it so much, The Hubby and I went back for a week on our honeymoon.

When I tell people about this, especially non-reader type people, they stare in horror. “I never understood Shakespeare, especially why he’s still so popular.”

If you are one of these people, I have some advice: see Shakespeare performed. Movies are fine, plays are better. The words on the page are okay, but it is a completely different thing when you get the body language, inflection, expression – and, of course, the correct reading of anything that may be in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare touches the human condition in a way that few other writers have ever done for me. I think this is why his plays are equally successful in multiple time periods. Franco Zeffirelli’s original “Romeo and Juliet” can be translated into 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The “Taming of the Shrew” is just as good done as written, or as “Kiss Me Kate” or “Ten Things I Hate About You.”

I’m not much on time travel. I like modern times just fine, thank you very much. But if The Doctor showed up in his T.A.R.D.I.S. today and offered to take me anywhere, I think I’d want to meet old Will. Pick his brain a bit. Have a glass of wine or three (I’m positive there’d be drinking). Assure him that his plays are going to have a good long run.

Or maybe I’ll just torture The Girl with yet another viewing of “Hamlet.”

Readers, Shakespeare fans or no? Read or performed? Writers, what author would you like to sit down with over a nice glass of wine?