Thursday, March 31, 2011

Compelling Characters, Altered Attitudes



Westerns. For years, especially when I was a kid, hearing the word made me groan out loud. The thought of having to sit through one made me tired and fidgety. Dad loved to watch his westerns. And since he controlled the remote, that’s what we were watching. Oh, we could protest all we wanted. But the channel wasn’t changing. All we knew for sure was that we had two choices: watch the western, or go outside and play. Maybe dad kept the channel on westerns for just that reason. Kids who opted to go outside, left him with a quiet house.


Regardless of how much I tried to avoid it, I ended up sitting through several westerns. From 20s to 80s, grainy black and white, to Technicolor that wasn’t quite right, I must have seen every one made. Kirk Douglas, James Stewart, Jack Palance, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, and of course John Wayne were frequent ‘guests’ in the house.

‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ (1949)

I’ve always loved movies. But I wouldn’t buy, rent, or go to the theater to see a western on purpose. Occasionally I’d happen to see one I liked. Westerns with Tom Selleck or Tommy Lee Jones were the first I thought were watchable. In 1988, I fell into teenage lust with the actors, mostly Kiefer Sutherland, in ‘Young Guns’.

‘Young Guns’ (1988)


Good, bad, and ugly (pun intended), I’ve seen several westerns. They were never more than movies. Even the ones I liked didn’t make me eager to see a western when I saw a trailer for a new film.


Until the 2007 remake of ‘3:10 to Yuma’…

‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007)

It came, I saw…again and again and again. Maybe the fact that Russell Crowe is one of my favorite actors had some bearing on my love of the new western in my life. Okay, he had a lot to do with it. But aren’t actors one of the reasons we choose to see or not see a movie? A good actor makes a character believable. A great actor makes a character memorable.

Before getting into a film, a novel, or short story, characters need to be developed and thoughtfully written. A well-written character has strengths, weaknesses, and a uniqueness that makes them hard to stop watching. Of course the traits characters of book, film, and television are often exaggerated. One of my lead characters has a vast amount of wealth…and husbands (yes, husbands; plural). She also has a profound lack of trust and patience that causes a constant source of grief in her life. It’s tempting to readjust her personality in order to cut down on the drama. But that wouldn’t be any fun, would it? And there’s nothing compelling about a ‘Mary Sue’ character. That all-too-perfect, one-dimensional heroine who has no faults and not a person who doesn't adore her completely. (Want to find out if you’re writing a Mary Sue? Try this test: http://www.katfeete.net/writing/marysue.html )

As a writer, the last genre I thought I would ever be pursuing was a western. But, one of my characters originated from an idea for a western and she remains one of my favorite and most well-developed characters.

The character Ben Wade in ‘3:10 to Yuma’ is a dangerous outlaw with a tendency to kill for personal gain or just for being antagonized by the wrong person. His character is revealed to have been abandoned at a young age; which lends to a sense of justification for his criminal life. Though self-proclaimed to be ‘rotten as hell’, the character’s actions show evidence of his age and experience, a weariness of the life he’s led, and the small sacrifices he makes in favor of the other characters.

The film ‘3:10 to Yuma’ changed my attitude towards westerns and the way I approached the genre. I’ve since found compelling and memorable characters in both television and film:


Appaloosa’ (2008) On-screen chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give their characters a believable sense of familiarity and brotherhood.



‘Deadwood’ (TV Series 2004-2006) The superbly developed characters asked the question “How often can the word ‘c*cksucker’ be said in an hour?” and gave a whole new meaning to cursing a blue streak.



‘Justified’ (TV Series 2010- infinity) ‘Deadwood’ may have been un-justly cancelled, but Timothy Olyphant and his Stetson have new life in ‘cowboy cool’ Marshal Raylan Givens.


What characters have changed your mind, turned you in a new and unexpected direction?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canvas

***A continuation of a novel in progress written by Elise VanCise & Rose Wade. The beginning of the first chapter can be found at Elise's blog: Gladiator's Pen ***

Canvas

     The ferry might as well have been a ghost ship. Ten o’clock in the morning and there were more workers than there were passengers. Three cars, including her own, and a handful of walk-ons. Mia wrapped a gloved hand around the paper cup then sipped. The food was expensive but at least edible. The coffee was surprisingly good. But that could have been because she was desperately thankful for something hot to drink.
     The din of the gallery behind her echoed off the walls as she crossed through the rows of tables. Each one sat empty except for an older man occupying one of the booths near a window. The small island didn’t warrant many visitors. Maybe she was venturing further into isolation than she had planned.
     The ribbon of steam from the man’s cup of coffee danced to the left each time he turned to another section of the newspaper. The scene reminded Mia of her father sitting in the kitchen every morning.
     She sipped her coffee as she passed. The sound drew the attention of the old man. He glanced up at her with tired grey eyes and nodded. A pleasant smile tugged at the lines in his face. He’d been handsome in his youth.
     “Mornin’.”
     “Good morning.” Her voice sounded like his. Tired. Not yet awake. Mia nodded to him in return then left him to his paper.
     A chilled wall of air met her outside on the deck. It found its way under her long wool coat. An immediate shiver coursed from her shoulders and down her arms. She braced her hip against the railing and reached up with one hand to tuck her scarf in closer.
     She watched the lights from the small island come into view. The quiet isolation seemed like a perfect setting to her. Cold and grey skies were something she’d have to learn to deal with, though. As if on cue, light raindrops started to fall. A huge drop slid into the open on the plastic lid that covered her coffee. Mia sighed and wondered if it ever stopped raining in Washington.
     Rising wind whistled in her ears and dislodged her scarf. The announcement over the p.a. system was barely audible but Mia made out enough to know the ferry was soon going to reach the dock.
     She made her way back to her car and quickly turned up the heat before reaching for her coffee again. Cold. So much for inner heat, she mused. Mia shivered again and remembered one of the scenes in “Misery”. She was going to end up constantly chilled to the bone while trying to write her next novel. At least it wasn’t snowing.
     Mia felt the slight bump of the ferry reaching the dock. Suddenly, the sense of propelling movement of the boat over the water was little more than a gentle bobbing caused by the waves. Several workers moved with efficient precision to secure the ferry and prepare for the unloading and loading of cars and passengers. One of the workers waved her forward and from the look on his face, Mia wondered if he ever tired of the same routine he had to perform  more than a dozen times each day.
     Covered by thick, slow moving grey clouds, the island and the castle that loomed in the center appeared even more cold and isolated. Mia drove off onto the dock and hoped her new employer was nothing like Annie Wilkes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Immortal in Darkness

     Death crawled through the air, circled the trees, disturbed the living creatures that trembled in response. Their instinct for survival drove them to frantically search for a safe haven from the blackness that crept its way freely into areas it didn’t belong. Death’s energy was a cool blanket that comforted her. Nightfall brought the souls of the dead carried on the chilled night air and rising up around her. The mortals had been butchering each other in the forests for twenty-three years. A time of peace had quieted the din of battle, but death remained. Trees were broken and sliced. The air was ripe with the stench of maggots that had come to gorge themselves on the rotting corpses. The once living bodies were now nothing more than a buffet of putrid flesh.
     Reynard had never minded the decay, watching it being fed upon, torn from bones with tooth and claw. She fed upon life as well; as did every creature in some form or another. She considered her feast an elevated one. It was not the mortals she craved, but her own. Still, the scent of blood was one she appreciated be it mortal or immortal. She lifted her head to relish in the familiar, metallic scent of blood. It was as sweet on her tongue as it was to the immortal energy that pulsed through her body. The mix of sensations so delicious, so enjoyable, a smile of euphoria spread across her face.
     She sunk to her knees beside the headless corpse of her latest kill. She had known at first glance that this immortal was one to be savored. To her delight, his death had been hard won. He’d fought with fluid grace and skill. Knowing she could overpower and defeat him left her salivating for the sight of his blood staining the earth. His power, skills, knowledge, and memories would be prized assets from which her own power would be strengthened.
     Her hand still closed possessively around the hilt of her katana, she let her head fall back, her eyes close. Her heart raced in anticipation for the rush of energy that would fill her eagerly awaiting body. In moments, it began to seep through dead flesh, surrounded and clung as though its reluctance to separate from its host was voluntary. However, she was stronger, hungrier, possessing a greed for the powerful immortal life force so deep-seated in her vicious soul, she couldn’t bear to live without the utter rapture she experienced each time her immortality was fed by another.
     The energy finally gave up its struggle, separated from the body and pushed into the air with a violent shudder. Her grin spread. Her soul reached out, ensnared the stolen life force with sharpened claws. A pleasured gasp fell loudly from her chest as the energy poured into her.
In a torrent as violent and forceful as a tornado, the energy was forcefully overtaken by her, mixed with her own. Claimed. Hers. Now absorbed into her body, she let out a long sigh of gratification.
     “Reynard!”
     She turned a wicked glance towards the familiar voice that had suddenly cut through the air. The Hunters had found her once again. No matter. They would never be able to stop her. She cared nothing for the Doctrine of Immortal Law that forbade the willful killing of their own kind. Her own immortal life depended on staying stronger than those who had and would seek to control her.
     She eyed each of the horsemen. Years of conflict burdened the history she shared with them.
Marcus was a mere two inches taller than she. He lacked the height of his ‘brothers’. His quiet nature, dark hair and piercing green eyes made him the favorite of immortal females. Even the deep scar that marred his upper lip could not dissuade female attention. However, it was his abilities Reynard was concerned with. Following in the tradition of his Greek ancestry, he preferred to watch violence rather than involve himself in it directly. In close battle he was aggressive but clumsy. He fought more out of emotion than skill. Having nearly been lost during a time of war before his first death, his left shoulder and arm were his weakness.
     Leuric, his vivid blue eyes in contrast to the flame red hair common to his Celtic heritage, was a warrior of precision. The second in command, his talent for quiet observation was nearly flawless. Reynard doubted he had missed even the most miniscule of detail of every battle fought throughout his three hundred years. Many of Reynard’s choices in battle tactics were purposefully chosen to prevent Leuric from anticipating her actions.
     It was Jorin, their leader, she was most wary of. Long black hair cascaded over narrow shoulders. His exterior, she knew, was meant to mislead. The thick, but neatly trimmed beard hid a face composed of sharp, angular features. In moonlight, his cobalt eyes were so stunning in color to easily hypnotize anyone who dared look into them directly. Layers of dense clothing gave his form a bulky, relaxed appearance. His overall presence was one of a leader too comfortable in his position to soil his hands with combat unless necessary. An effective ruse to the unsuspecting immortal who lacked awareness. Beneath Jorin’s fa├žade was the chiseled, sinewy muscular form of a warrior who could kill more swiftly than most men could blink an eye.
     Christophe, the brute of the group, was both a worry and an amusement for Reynard. Wild blonde hair matched the unruly scruff on his face. His broad and heavily muscled body was a true representation of his Viking ancestors. A skilled and aggressive warrior, he could be brutal…if he were to catch her. His actions were often sudden and unexpected, fueled by emotion and fury, and several steps ahead of rational thought. In pursuit of Reynard, he’d often acted without weighing her next, calculated move and she would again slip from his grasp. Though she had his mistakes to attribute many of her escapes, Reynard held the concern that Christophe would eventually succeed in his furied attempts out of his sheer brute will.
     Her freshly empowered energy crackled into the air around her as she slowly stood. Her gaze remained on them. Determined violet eyes peered at them through the long curtain of dark hair that blew around her face.
     Watching her hand close tighter around her katana, the Hunters cautioned a step closer. Their weapons raised and intent on capturing the rogue. An end had to come to her rampant killing. Christophe inched further again, his body tense with fury and determination. She had killed often, including one immortal closest and most important to him. Viktor, the mentor he trusted, depended upon for wisdom and guidance, was no longer. All that remained was his immortal energy…which she now possessed. Christophe could sense Viktor’s powerful energy forever trapped behind her eyes. The insult was intolerable.
     Jorin did not have to spare a glance in Christophe’s direction to know the Viking was on edge. Rarely could he adhere to the timing Jorin felt important to battle when advancing on an enemy.
     “Yield, Christophe…”
     Ignoring his leader’s words of caution, Christophe slowly led his war horse down the muddy hill to the gnarled, ancient oak.
     Reynard shifted her eye’s to Christophe’s. With every step, the welcoming glint in her eyes challenged him to move closer. He had attempted so often to capture her. Each time a failure and an insufferable assault on his ego.
     She was taunting him. Again. His narrowed eyes flared with fury. She had escaped capture. Until now, he thought as a feral growl rose from his chest. His grip tightened around the hilt of his sword. The leather straps bound around it creaked helplessly under his massive hand.
     Reynard’s grin spread as she watched Christophe closing in on her. Though her heart raced with the adrenaline and a touch of fear, she held her ground for mere seconds that seemed to last an eternity. She felt the earth beneath her feet shudder violently. Casting a quick glance over Christophe’s shoulder, she saw that the other Hunters had followed in behind the impatient viking.
     She waited them out, toying with them, testing herself until the last moment. When it was upon her, her heart pounding as hard as the earth, Reynard clucked her tongue suddenly and turned to run. Out of the dark thicket trees to her left, a large Rottaler stallion charged forth towards her. Reynard caught the reigns and held fast as she mounted. She fired the horse forward then cast a glance over her shoulder for Christophe.
     He caught the taunting grin and growled as he drove his horse harder. Though his stallion had grown weary from the days of travel before, Christophe refused to let Reynard escape again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Russell Crowe Christchurch Earthquake Appeal

A to Z Blogging Challenge

Next on the agenda for adding life to my Muse is the upcoming 'A to Z Blogging Challenge'. Elise is never in short supply of cool blogs and writing concepts. We can't let our Muse keep napping in the corner can we? We have characters to create, plots to plan, stories to sort, drama to delegate, romance to revel in, prose to...agh you get the picture. And now onto the blog...

From Arlee Bird's blog 'Tossing It Out' comes the 'A to Z Blogging Challenge':

Hosted by:
Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out 

Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe 

Jen Daiker at Unedited 
Candace Ganger's The Misadventures in Candyland 
Karen J Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain 
Stephen Tremp's Breakthrough Blogs 

How does the Challenge work?

             The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.

              You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge.  There is an unlimited universe of possibilities.  You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about.  You don't have to be a writer to do this.  You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork.  Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z. (excerpt courtesy of Tossing It Out)

Beginning April 2011, A to Z, 26 posts, any subject I choose...Hmm, I'm up to the challenge. Are you? To find out more and sign up, go to: Tossing It Out: Sign Up For A to Z Challenge. Don't forget to grab the A to Z Challenge button.


"Bend the rules. If it's funny, you're not in trouble."

Book Blogger Hop

Once in a while, I need a little nudge to post a blog. Inspiration is welcomed. My Muse would be inspiring and helpful if it would learn to stop procrastinating. Thankfully, my writing-partner-in-crime, Elise VanCise, is always finding interesting blogs and ideas for writing, blogging, networking, etc.


This week she nudged me to the Book Blogger HopEvery Friday, the Crazy-for-Books.com blog will post a question centered around books/reading. Here is this week's Q & A:
"Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?"


I haven't recently had the time to read. We've recently moved from Washington State to Virginia and are still adjusting to our routines. And much of my time has been spent house-hunting. 


Usually, I read at least two books at a time, most often three, finding time while I'm waiting to drop off the kids at school, and again in the evening before bed. I try to read 2-3 chapters of each book, each day. My favorite books are both fiction & non-fiction written by Jefferson Bass (authors Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson), and the "In Death" series by J.D. Robb (pseudonym of Nora Roberts). Currently, I'm reading (or trying to find time to read) "Strangers in Death" by J.D. Robb, and "The Bone Thief" by Jefferson Bass (Chapter 1 excerpt). 


"Bend the rules. If it's funny, you're not in trouble."