The Opposite of Frenemy

Today I finished reading a fun, light book. It’s the seventh (I think) in a series. We’ve known since the first book that there was a horrible, unsolved crime lurking in the background. A main character remains haunted, having witnessed the crime as a child but unable to identify the killer.

In this book, the killer is finally unmasked. And it turns out, the killer is the person no one suspected; the one who befriended the child witness, who welcomed the newcomers into the community, who offered a calm voice of reason in all situations.

She was almost too good to be true.

However, until this book, a reader wouldn’t give this character serious thought as a the villain. She read as good, but not in a sappy way. The character experienced good days and bad, sometimes made choices our main characters didn’t love, but ones that seemed rooted in reasoning and thought.

Book seven, however, offers a character who, while still offering a voice of reason and a supportive shoulder to lean on, is suddenly tired. This character has a light shined upon her that she hasn’t in previous books. While I think the author was, perhaps, a bit obvious in leading us to the conclusion, she nonetheless offered readers a shocking villain. How could this woman, who had stepped in to be surrogate mother/friend/confidante/mentor, have all that evil hidden inside? How did she balance her double-life?

As an author, I’m curious to know if the writer decided at book one who the villain would ultimately be, or if she worked her way to the choice over time. I love learning about each author’s unique writing process! And I know it could go either way, which is fun to think about.

In this story, the villain is the opposite of the frenemy; the frenemy is the friend who appears as enemy in public, and friend in private.  Here we have the enemy who appears as friend, and that’s just not right. Is this the worst kind of villain? The one who can commit a horrible crime and when satisfied, act as though she’s a victim, too? Perhaps.

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October: Spooks and Spirits and Villains

Our hearts go out to those impacted by the horrific shooting in Las Vegas yesterday. Sending love and healing to all.

Villainy

noun vil·lainy \ ˈvi-lə-nē \

  1. villainous conduct; also :a villainous act
  2. the quality or state of being villainous :depravity

(Courtesy merriam-webster.com.)

  1. the actions or conduct of a villain; outrageous wickedness.
  2. a villainous act or deed.
  3. villeinage.

(Courtesy merriam-webster.com..)

One of my all time favorites, is Professor Moriarty, from the Sherlock Holmes novels.  An evil mastermind, leader (ruler?) of the criminal underground, Moriarty is relentless in his goal of besting Sherlock Holmes; he is one of the rare few to truly challenge Holmes on an intellectual level. What makes him so fascinating? I love puzzles, so I think that Holmes would be quite interesting without Moriarty; however, I don’t think that the stories would be nearly as long-lasting and Holmes’ character nearly as robust.

Another would be the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A nasty piece of work, she not only killed Christmas, but she also banished happiness.  Elsa on a bad day has nothing on the White Witch! The White Witch’s villiany includes freezing her enemies, and (did I mention?), preventing Christmas from coming.

Let’s not forget Lord Voldemort, from the Harry Potter series. A vile psychopath, Voldemort wants all the power for himself, in order to remove the silly limits and rules that get in the way — muggles? They should exist only to serve him, if they exist at all. Good wizards? Useless. No, Voldemort has evil in his heart — if he has one — and only his desire to do evil sustains him.

Who are some of your favorite villains? Would your most beloved characters be the same without their arch-rivals?

Late at Night: An Excerpt

“It was an old-school watering hole: dark wood, low lights, and minimal décor. I liked it. It was unpretentious, lacking the flash and sparkle of the newer places in town, the ones with DJs and rope lights all over the place. Did the edge of a bar really need its own color-changing rope lights? I didn’t think so. Parked at the far end of the glossy, well-aged bar, I had my back to the wall and full view of the place. As was my habit, I was early to the meeting, so I had time to study my surroundings. The waitresses were dressed in black skirts and white blouses, nothing too short or too tight. None carried a notepad, so they were trained to memorize a patron’s order. Again, I liked it. Pagers clipped to their pockets seemed to let them know when an order was up, because every now and then one of the women would glance down before gliding over to the kitchen window or bar to scoop up someone’s food or drink. Orders were delivered with a smile, empty glasses were whisked away and replaced with full ones, and the whole process seemed to flow with ease.

A quick peek down the bar showed a mix of men and women, mostly in jeans and cotton shirts, consuming cold beer and warm pretzels. No fruity, frozen drinks for this crowd. The low hum of conversation ebbed and flowed in the air, a soothing white noise that lulled one into calm. Except, one of the patrons at the bar wasn’t calm; in fact, this blond fairly vibrated with nervous energy, and my gaze was drawn to her again and again. She seemed to be alone, at least she wasn’t interacting with the folks on either side of her. Her glance kept sliding toward the door, and then quickly back to her drink, as though she didn’t want to look at the door but couldn’t help it. Odd, I thought, but not my problem.

I continued to study the place, in between sips of my Guinness. Yeah, it was alcohol, but not Scotch, so I figured that didn’t count. Much. Who was I kidding, I thought. I pushed the glass away and threw a handful of pretzels into my mouth. The open wood beams added character and age to the place, while the music in the background was a mix of acoustic guitar tracks and subtle, smoky jazz numbers. It was unobtrusive.  The whole theme of this place seemed to be one of calm. I glanced back toward the slim, nervous woman, only to see her slide off her bar stool and head for the ladies room on those spiky high heels some women preferred. I suppressed a shudder; my feet hurt just looking at them. She glided across the room, though, so clearly she was okay with those ankle-breakers.

I should follow her, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. The tap on my shoulder startled me, which pissed me off and had me whipping my head around to see who dared touch me, who had managed to sneak up on me.  The owner of the fingers was tall, at least six feet, and broad-shouldered.  His thin sweater looked soft, maybe cashmere, and was paired with dark denim pants. The pants ended at a pair of sensible brown Oxford shoes. He stepped back and held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Oliver. Are you Rachel?” His voice was low and smoky, much like the jazz whispering in the background. Oliver’s bright blue eyes provided an interesting contrast to his dark wavy hair and olive-hued skin. A great example of the American melting pot, I thought.  I slid off the bar stool to face him, and shook his hand.”

(Amber Dreams, Unpublished Work © 2017 by Pamela A. Oberg)

This piece is something I’ve been playing with for a while. It’s a locked room mystery, and I’ve locked myself in. Oops! One of these days, I’ll figure out how to write myself–and the characters–out of the room. In the meantime, what do you think is happening? What comes next? This is the middle third of the story, and I’ve finished all but the last bit. I’d love so hear what you think is going to happen! I’ll give you a couple of hints: Rachel is a private investigator, and struggling alcoholic with a fondness for quality Scotch. She’s tough, but has a big heart. Oliver? He’s got some family issues to work through. Ready? Go!

 

Late at Night

Evolution keeps humans on their toes. As day turns to night and visibility decreases, our hearing is heightened and our fear sensitivity strengthened. A bump in the night makes the heart race and a bead of sweat forms on the brow; the scratching of a branch against the side of the house, the pelting of sleet on the roof, wind rattling the windows cause children to dash to their parents’ beds for a hug and a snuggle; reassurance that all is well. In the dark, humans seek comfort and safety.

When the sun sets and day turns to night, the cast of characters changes and strange new worlds emerge. The cacophony of the day makes way for a chorus of night sounds. In fiction, the writer uses human propensity for fear and discomfort in the darkness, or the seeking of comfort, to create moods distinct from those of the day. Late at night, the world is a different place.

Late at night. . .owls awaken to glide on near-silent wings, swooping and diving to capture field. Bats dance on the breeze, consuming mosquitoes and flies with a voracious appetite. Fisher cats scurry through the dead and decaying leaves littering the forest floor in search of a meal. The night birds sing and coo, sheltering the young under protective wings, snuggled into warm nests. The tree frogs chirp, and the raccoons unleash their mischief, breaking into unbreakable trash cans with a clang, searching for tasty treats and scattering trash. The possum scuttles about as it culls the pests from the yard. The snapping of a twig echoes through the night, seemingly as loud as a thunderclap.

Late at night. . .ladies of the night awaken to paint their faces and garb themselves in the flashy costumes of their trade, raised voices calling to potential johns. Dealers slip through dark spaces and hide in shadowed doorways, stalking their prey; addicts, dead and decaying, push through the litter around their flophouses and alleys, searching for the next fix. The club bands sing to wailing guitars and pounding drums, while the doorman collects the cover, and the bouncers remove the brawling mischief makers from the bar, culling the pests onto the street in a tumble of noise.

Late at night. . .lovers come together, limbs entwined, as soft music plays and silken sheets slip away; murmurs and kisses are exchanged, flesh rubs against flesh, faster and faster until a crescendo of motion and feeling is achieved. Then, all is quiet and still, except for the sighs of the satisfied as they fall into slumber.

By applying a setting of night versus day, the writer spins scenes to elicit heightened awareness or fear, or emphasize a desire for comfort and safety. From the inhabitants of the space, to the emotion elicited, late at night, everything changes.

Images: Pixabay.com

The Magic of Vindication

I had a rare, magical weekend where I was able to make the time to binge read a series of novels. One of things that jumped out at me was the on-going vindication of the main character. Zoe is snarky, sassy, independent, and frankly, kind of annoying a lot of the time.  Yet, she’s really appealing, too. She does what she thinks is right, goes with her gut, and learns every lesson the hard way.

But, she’s almost always vindicated in the end. Her gut is a steady compass, and she gets herself into the worst trouble when she doesn’t listen to her gut. Often, her friends and allies are arguing against her gut, as it’s rarely giving Zoe the safe direction, and certainly not the easy one. But while the heads and hearts of all the characters are often distracted by  fear or safety or logic, Zoe’s gut zeroes in on the core of a situation.

As a reader, I can be impatient with main characters. Some of the novels I haven’t enjoyed as much in the past are the ones where the main character does silly things for silly reasons, and somehow manages to survive or solve the puzzle by chance.  There’s no vindication of their choices, there’s just annoyance at the lack of reality and common sense.

Zoe makes choices. They’re not always good ones, but they are deliberate, and when those choices are based in her instincts? The right things happen.  There are missteps, of course. Stories would be boring if there weren’t set-backs or if solving the puzzles was easy. What would be the point?

As Zoe’s magic grows and she begins to acknowledge who and what she really is–no spoilers for those who haven’t read the series–Zoe begins to realize that her instincts are worthy of trust.  Her personal growth results in increased confidence in her gut, and ultimately, she learns to fight for her choices. As a reader, I’m in love with her growth and the on-going vindication of her choices.

If you’d like to meet Zoe, and you like a little paranormal in your reading, check out the Covenant College series by Amanda M. Lee.

Manic Monday

Do you ever have those days, where you wake up thinking, “I got this.” And then the heavens or fate or some other thing proves you utterly, incredibly, completely wrong? Think Stephanie Plum on any day that ends in why. Yeah.

I’m having that day.

Which is why this blog is late–apparently I don’t know the difference between 7/31 and 8/31 (really, is there a difference?!?). But there’s good news!

Before I share the good news, I’m going to share a little bit more about the team of folks I’m fortunate enough to manage. These folks are smart, committed, funny, and diverse. What we do is complex, and not universally loved or admired, but it is important work. One of the challenges for me as a leader is how to keep supporting, encouraging, lifting in a meaningful way; how do I let these folks know just how much I value what they do, and the way in which they do it? What I’ve realized over the years, is that almost every situation brings with it both challenge and opportunity. It’s easy to see the challenge. The opportunity? That can be tougher to identify or acknowledge. Part of my role, then, has become helping my team see opportunities, instead of just problems.

It’s not easy. Sometimes I have to hunt for those opportunities. Rarely, the only opportunity to be found is one that is such a stretch, I would lose all credibility. But, that’s rare. I’ve found that finding opportunity is skill, and like any skill, it has to be exercised to be strengthened; I have to stretch in order to grow.

Where’s today’s opportunity? Where’s the good news? I have a fantastic scene written in my head, based on today’s real-life events. This will likely be something I write for Rachel, the protag in the novel I’m drafting. She would totally have a day like today, and if I capture this experience right now, I should be able to make the scene vibrant, detailed, an d dreadfully, uncomfortably, completely real. And that’s always my core question when I write–how can I make what I write feel as real to readers as possible? Today, the answer is to experience it.

 

Happy Monday!

My Inspiration Home

When I was in elementary school, I began doing science fairs. This was always a project between my dad and I, and it was one of my favorite parts of every school year. By high school, I was determined to become a scientist, and I took every science class I could cram into my high school schedule. Off I went to college, as  a Marine Biology major.

Except.

No one told me what to expect of college, much less how to choose a college. There’s another essay (or therapy session) here, but suffice to say, but the end of my junior year, I’d had enough of professors who began the semester with, “I’m only here because it pays for my research.” Ugh! So, I quickly looked at my record and realized the only way to graduate on time was to A) become an English major (I’d been filling my schedule with English courses because they were fun) and B) do a summer semester.

Except.

I couldn’t afford to live on campus over the summer, and I lived two hours from my university. Back in those days, online classes were not a thing. So, like any logical young woman, I applied to the summer semester abroad program. There was financial aid for that! Lucky me, I was accepted, and in July I jetted off to Cambridge University for six weeks of classes.

There are no words to express how much I loved every minute of my time there. We were at Gonville and Caius College,  right in the heart of Cambridge. I took a survey of the works of Thomas Hardy class, and one called History of England through Architecture. For the latter class, we went on one excursion every week, traipsing over the country-side to places tourists rarely visit.

It was heaven. At least once a week, I attended a play, usually Shakespeare (my concentration with 17th and 18th century English literature, with an emphasis on Shakespeare).  We saw casual plays on the various Cambridge campuses, more official performances at The Royal Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon and at the Barbican in London. We visited Canterbury, London, Dover; the estate of Vita Sackville-West, the home (purported) of Shakespeare–we went everywhere. We also took an overnight trip to a college in Wales.

It was much too short of a trip, and I dream of the day when I can take my daughter there. Of course, her interests are very different, so I’m careful to remind myself that she likely won’t love it like I do. But, it will be lovely to share something that’s so very important to me, with her.

I maintain a love for all things English (well, maybe not the food), especially the writers.  From the obvious, such as Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to more contemporary choices, such as Louise Penny.

We recently turned our spare room into a library, and I’ve begun digging out my scrapbooks and the books I collected while in England. I’m working my way to shelving the British authors. Little gets accomplished as I try to unpack those boxes, but oh, what lovely memories I get to re-visit!