Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This Reaper Gig is Harder Than I Thought...


In last week's post, I promised I was going to kill off a character in my WiP. I'm still gonna, don't get your knickers in a twist, but I just wanted to share the problems I'm having with you all. Here goes:

Let's assume for now that this death WILL make the book better. But... In order to move forward, I have to take a few steps back. Sure, some people are confident enough to alter the plot in their head and keep moving forward like everything's changed, but I just can't do that. It feels like I'm writing an alternate universe of what I'd originally planned, and that just keeps nagging at me until it's closer to the new version of reality. And I like to have most of the pieces set up before I can knock over that last domino.

In part, there are numerous alterations I need to make to the plot for this death to feel more organic, more believable. But more than that, I wanted to go back and make sure that everything that character has done up to this point will make them a character the reader will miss.

I want the reader to be bawling when it comes, because the death has hit them as hard as it affects me. I want the reader to say, "No!!! Why, Tere Kirkland?" (Because we all call authors by their full names when we're mad that they've killed a character, right? What, I'm the only one who said, "No!!! Why, Suzanne Collins??" at least three times during the Hunger Games Trilogy? I doubt that very much! :P )

I want, more than anything else, for this death to be meaningful, and not feel like something that I decided to do just to move the plot forward. (Which, yes, in part it is, but shhh! No one needs to know that!) I can't tell you how many times I've been affected by a death in a book, but I can tell you that the reason I bawled my eyes out until I could barely read the print in front of me was because the author made me care.

Sometimes the character might start out as a jerk, but redeem themselves in death. (Boromir, I never really liked you, but you sure redeemed yourself by protecting those hobbits. Plus you died like a bad-ass, which is befitting a steward of Gondor.)

Other times, it's just painful, and seems unfair. (Oh, Beth, why did you have to give that poor family the hot potato from your muff and then catch your death of cold? Why?!!1!)

Speaking of Collins (rather than just invoking her name, lol), her use of death in Mockingjay still affects me.


I know some people hated the scene where Prim dies/is murdered by what is probably Gale's invention. As I was reading, I didn't really like it either, but not for the reasons most people did. What I hated was that there was no scene where Katniss grieves for her sister, not in a satisfying way, just a "That's unfair!" way. At least, not until she gets back to District 12 and that damn cat comes home yowling for her. Oh, Buttercup! How was it that the sense of loss was so much greater when experienced—not through the emotions of her sister Katniss, who was pretty well emotionally numb up to this point, and with good reason—through the perspective of that mangy old cat. 

It really makes the first scene in The Hunger Games that much more poignant for me when I re-read it, so much so that I sometimes cry when I get to a certain line:

"Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love." 

Sometimes I can't even make it any farther than that.

That is power. That is the kind of death I want for this character, even though Prim had the benefit of three books for the reader to get to know and love her, and I'm killing off this character about halfway through book 1. 

But is it Prim herself, her own actions, her dialogue, that make the reader care for her? Or is it more than that? I mean, we see early on how much Katniss cares for Prim, literally keeping her alive when their father died and their mother grieved. The horrible moment when Prim's name is drawn, Katniss can barely function. She can only think of one thing: to sacrifice herself for her sister. And THAT is what makes our emotional connection to Prim so strong. Powerful stuff!

Has anyone else given this much thought to the "legacy" a killed-off character leaves behind? What do you do to make their death more meaningful? I'd love to hear it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Someone's Gotta Die...

It's happened to all y'all at least once, I'm sure. You get stuck, wondering which fork in the road to take to escape your sagging middle. I've been able to lie to myself for a few months, blame the lack of progress on my WiP on revisions for Evangeline, when in truth, I had no idea how to make the middle of my WiP match up to the end I have in mind.

Until I talked it through with my husband and a friend. 

Normally when people in real life ask me how my writing is going, I just tell them I'm revising something old and working on something new. But this time, I mentioned how it had been a long time since I'd worked on my WiP, how I didn't know what to do next. My husband, bless his heart, says, "Kill someone."

At first I resisted, but as I thought about it, a new fork in the road unrolled before me: something I didn't want to write, something I knew would break my heart to do, but that makes sense in the grand scheme of things. 

Usually my M.O. in this situation is "add a new character", but I already had a large cast, and didn't want to add to the confusion. But taking a character away, particularly one that the reader has developed an emotional attachment to, works even better to add conflict and ramp up emotional tension. It just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

I've often been averse to killing a character for motivational purposes, i.e., revenge. Particularly if that death provides the set-up for a character to go on some bullet-spraying killing spree, or become the next Green Lantern, or whatever; even more so if that character is a woman whose death serves the sole purpose of catapulting the hero into action. Believe it or not, this is a common trope in comics, and is referred to (mostly by women who read comics) as "fridging". 

Sorry. Tangent.

But anyway, I think this time, the death will be meaningful, and feel like it occurs naturally in the plot rather than feeling contrived. Sadly, now that I'm planning this death, all the other pieces seem to be falling into place.

Do you have any tried and true methods of getting around your writer's block? Or to make sure you don't have sagging-middle-itis? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss me!: Irish Channel Parade

When people think of New Orleans, images of French Creoles and Ragin' Cajuns come to mind. (Not that there are any French creoles left, and there are almost no real cajuns in the big-city) So you might be surprised to learn that New Orleans—like most U.S. port cities—has a HUGE Irish population, numerous and proud enough to put on a heckuva parade every year.

The Irish Channel parade was FOUR WHOLE DAYS after Mardi Gras this year, which happens from time to time. I almost didn't go since I was feeling all paraded-out, but I figured y'all would want pics. I'm glad I went, because I had a blast!

For those of you who don't know about the Irish Channel Parade (which is pretty much everyone not from Louisiana), it combines the fun of Mardi Gras floats and throws with walking clubs trading flowers for kisses. Plus, people throw cabbages and potatoes and carrots—though this year it was like a potato famine, there were none to be found! Maybe they outlawed throwing potatoes, like coconuts, they can do some serious damage! The usual throws like beads and cups were green and shamrocked, of course.
There were flowers...

And pipers...
Brass bands...

And plenty of cabbage!

I won the prize for awesomest throw (my friend Stacy and me):
I later caught a wig to go with it, but I let my husband borrow both since he shaved his beard and head right before Mardi Gras (Stacy's husband Charlie and Jay):
Jay was actually working at the gelateria, but we had to come down and say hello. The parade passing right by the street he works on might have also motivated us to walk down there. ;) He made some special gelato flavors for the parade: Irish Coffee, Guinness, Bailey's, and Jameson, and man, were they good!

He was also selling corned beef sandwiches, which was good because the leftover corned beef went great with all that cabbage!

Hope you've got the luck of the Irish with you today! I've only got a little Irish heritage. I'm mostly Scottish, and as any Scot can tell you, Scottish luck is the exact opposite of Irish luck. ;)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I would have given anything to be like...

When I was a teen, I met a girl who changed my life.

*Holly* (not her actual name, of course) was blond, tall, and had the classic beauty of a young Meryl Streep. She moved to town when I was about fourteen (which is part of the reason that Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin is having such a profound effect on me as I read it), and started hanging out with my friends. I felt honored that she wanted to be friends with me, super-dork zit-face. But she always told me how pretty I was, and how I should take more care with my looks. (Cuz that's what true friends do, right? Riiiiight.)

One by one, *Holly* alienated my old friends, but I didn't notice. All I saw was how she helped me with my hair and makeup and how we swapped clothes, and eventually, we were each other's best friends forever. And practically each other's ONLY friends. Still, I would've given ANYTHING to be more like her—including my old friends, who by this time, had no interest in either of us.

So I started wearing skimpier clothes (this was the early-mid nineties, and you can imagine how many crop-tops I had, but hey, I had like a four-pack back then, so my bod looked GOOD!), I started going to the mall more often—with *Holly*, of course—and I started to flirt with boys. Not any boys from my school, since they all knew the old me, but boys from other schools. Now I was the new and improved me, smoking Marlboro Lights at the Speedway and getting felt up in the parking lot. Sounds so glamorous, right? Yeah, but there was always this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I was a fake, or that I wasn't as good or as pretty as *Holly*.

In the short, sweet summers, we went swimming in our teeny bikinis to attract the attention of *Bill*, the guy *Holly* had always had a crush on. *Bill* was our school's stud-muffin extraordinaire, but the kind of guy who you couldn't hate for it, since he was so genuinely nice to everyone. He was my sister's first, I think, and she always said how gentle he was (no matter that I never wanted to hear it, blech!) *Bill* became like a trophy for *Holly*, a trophy she never won in high school.

Eventually *Holly* went to vocational school while I had to stay at my old school, and I missed her at first. But slowly, we stopped talking. She made new friends—so much for forever. By the time I was fifteen, I'd started hanging out with the other freaks (who weren't packed off to vocational) at my (ridiculously tiny) school. I'd figured out a little more about who I really was (though I still loved my cropped tops (what? It was the nineties!)), and what I wanted out of life. I'd started writing, I was painting and drawing pretty regularly, and I realized that—for the first time in my life—I LIKED myself. I made plans for college, for art school, for the future.

*Holly* came back into my life sporadically after that, befriending me again, and started dating my boyfriend's best friend. After only a few months of this tenuous renewal of our friendship, we got in a huge fight. Honestly, I don't even remember what the specifics were, but I do remember her being much more overbearing than before. Or maybe I was just less of a pushover, less of a non-entity, and no longer her little shadow. She seemed like a completely different person to me, too, less confident, less beautiful, and less... cogent. My dad (social worker and supper-table psychiatrist) always called her my "little Borderline friend". Not a lot of tact, my daddy.

It wasn't pretty, our bff breakup, despite the best efforts of my boyfriend's sister to get us back together—she invited *Holly* to my seventeenth birthday party in secret, which caused a lot of hysterical screaming and even more crying. I didn't talk to *Holly* at all after that. I felt like she was trying to take my friends away from me—get them on her side—and I wanted to keep my distance.

(Do you believe this is an actual book? Cute, non?)

Anyway, years later, I heard she'd gone to a small tech college, the same college that *Bill* the stud-muffin went to, and accused him of raping her. I didn't know what to think... but I felt more sympathetic toward *Bill* than her. *Bill* and I even caught up over the winter break of my Freshman year of college, and he told me that they'd been dating for months, she seemed completely normal, and then, BAM! she took a wrong turn that led to crazy-town. And ya know what? I believed him. Over a girl who had claimed to be my bestest friend. Because over the years I'd seen more of her than I ever cared to, and I knew exactly what she was capable of. And I kicked myself for ever wanting to be like her, instead of myself.

Okay, if you've read this far, I'm not writing this to show how I was right and she was wrong, or that she was a horrible friend, because none of that matters. What matters is that I stopped thinking that I would have given anything (friends, dreams) to be taller, blond, and beautiful. I grew to know myself, to love myself, and that never would have happened if all I wanted was to be more like her.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, looking up to someone who is worthy of your devotion is the best feeling in the world. I look up to my mother, my sister, my co-workers in this way. They deserve my respect. The girl who used to be Meryl Streep? Not so much. I'd been picturing her finally making a home with the husband I heard she'd married, and the kid I'd heard she'd had. I felt ashamed for our bad blood in the past, and I wished her well. I WANTED to respect her, and the life she'd settled into.

Then I heard she was living in some crap-hole outside Watertown, New York, divorced, fighting to keep custody of her son, and not even her little brother (the source of this juicy gossip) thought she was a good enough mother to vouch for. *Holly* apparently had it out for his fiancée, too, and had drunkenly told the poor girl—while they were out camping, so she couldn't get away from *Holly* if she tried—what a slut she was. Her brother's fiancée ran off, *Holly* tried to follow her (to keep taunting, to apologize, who knows), but was too drunk, tripped and smashed her face on the hood of a car, and had to be taken the ER, and then an emergency dentist to get some new teeth.

Some part of me deflated when I heard this news. THIS was the girl I'd emulated for years? The girl I wanted to be like? This drunk with the broken teeth? This bad mother? I was stunned. But at the same time, glad that I somehow wound up in such a different place in life. Would I be the same person if I'd never had her in my life? Probably not, so I'd never change a thing. But if I could have told my teen self one thing, it's this:

Be yourself. 

So now I'm sharing this with the rest of y'all, in the hopes that you've found or will find real role models, women and men worthy of your admiration. Memories of my friendship with *Holly* are so closely linked to my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, it's hard not to sound bitter, so I apologize for that. I was originally going to write about how I wanted to travel the globe collecting valuable artifacts like Indiana Jones because they "should be in a museum". But I never wanted to be like him as much as I longed to be like *Holly*. I wanted to write something that came from the heart. Apparently, my heart is a dark, bitter place.

On a cheerier note, be sure to hit up as many blog posts with this theme, comment on them, and you'll be in the running for some awesome Like Mandarin prizes. See details at Kirsten's blog. Lastly, check out Like Mandarin. Reading it is like time-travel... I'm transported back to age fourteen. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, I want to be like Mandarin. ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Answer You've All Been Waiting For...

My camera cord was on top of my microwave!

Wait.. that wasn't the answer you were waiting for?

Oh, right, my LIE from Wednesday's post. I'll run down my truths and lie really quick, because I've also got Mardi Gras pics! YAY for my super-awesome Friday post!

#1 I really can touch my elbows together behind my back. I seen videos of people doing it on YouTube, so at least I know I'm not the only one. I am the only person I've ever heard of who has a divergent sacrum and two pairs of coccyx bones. I'm thinking about donating my body to science. ;)

#2 I really did win two copies of Liar Society, one from Kimberly Derting (which I decided to keep for unforseen future purposes, mwah ha ha), and one from Elana J's blog (which I graciously declined). Of course, I was already knee-deep in the nook version by the time I learned that. :P

#3 Toes still blue. Krispy had the lead on that one.

#4 Ah, Melissa, you clever boots, you sensed my lie right off the bat. I've never even been skiing or snowboarding. I actually hate the snow. And I'm a little ashamed I didn't do more research on this lie, being as how I love research and am usually a stickler for accuracy. So there you go, folks, behold the power of proper research.

#5 I confess I have a deep love for organ meat. I was born in Germany (thanks to my Army Dad), and my German godparents were always feeding me weird meats and wursts and things. And no, I don't speak German anymore, even though I grew up speaking both German and English. So yes, I love sweetbreads, headcheese, and liver paté.

Okay, now that's done, on to the main event!

Here's Thursday night, Muses. I didn't get a shoe, but lots of people around me did, so I'm gonna say I brought them luck. ;) I did get an awesome Muses bracelet and a glittery notebook on top of a mountain of other throws. They know me so well. I'm going to use the heck out of that notebook!

There was a lot of rain the rest of the weekend—no surprise there—but Sunday was beautiful, so I wanted to share some pics from the Thoth (pronounced Toe-th) parade.
Here's the street in front of my friends' house, St Charles Avenue. Literally thousands of people were gathered along the Avenue in the Garden District alone. It's much more family oriented the farther uptown you go. Nobody's flashing flesh for beads.
 This one's for you, Tricia! One of the first Thoth floats was made to look like Pat O's!
The rest of Thoth's floats are very Egyptian inspired, which I love. Here's a pic of some of my friends (and a lot of people I don't know, lol) yelling for throws.

The parades also have high school marching bands, local and visiting, and other great brass bands. This one's called Minor Mishap. I wish I would've got a pic of the washboard player, she looked awesome!

Other clubs, like dance clubs and riding clubs, run between the floats.

Here's a pic of me on a ladder enjoying the view! Ignore my flipped out hair, it was under a hat all morning. Until the sun came out, it was pretty chilly.

This is my friend Beth and her sister. It was their birthday, but they're not twins, they were actually born two years apart. Proof positive people: gimmicks get you beads. Apparently so does crawfish. My friend Stacy traded a plate for throws during the Mid City parade.

Aren't they gorgeous? Burled (or boiled, however you want to say it) by my own sweet husband. Delicious! And yes, that's pineapple you're seeing in the bottom left. Spicy, juicy love!

Well, it's good bye carnival season, hello festival season! We've got the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival coming up (which I will post about at the end of this month), French Quarter Fest, JazzFest, Seafood Festival... it goes on and on, which is part of the reason I love living here.

Hope you liked my Mardi Gras pics. I had a blast. I wish all y'all could have been here with me!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Liar, Liar: The Lesser Key Edition

Okay, I know I promised more Mardi Gras pics, but I misplaced the USB cord for my camera. 

Instead, I thought I'd share something that really made last night relaxing and enjoyable after several days of reveling and carousing. A book! And not just any book, the book that's shocked the blogosphere pink! Even me. Look: 
I've always wanted pink hair, and I think I look a little like Jem in my pinkified state, so that's killing two long-time dreams with one stone. Yes!

Seriously though, Lisa and Laura Roecker's debut novel, The Liar Society, was the perfect way for me to end Mardi Gras (the Homecoming Dance theme was perfect!). It had just enough action and intrigue to keep my overloaded senses interested while I rested my tired body. I think I read about half the book in only a few hours, it was that engaging.

Not only did the plot keep me reading like I didn't want to put it down, the writing really helped me zip through. I loved Kate's voice, every simile, every witty aside. She wasn't snarky or sappy, she felt very real. And, in some ways, familiar. If you're a reader of Lisa and Laura Roecker's blog, you'll know what I mean.

Congratulations on writing such an awesome book, ladies! You've come a long way from The Haunting of Pemberly Brown, and honestly, I can't imagine Kate without pink hair. Love how seamlessly that was added in, and the extra element of depth it brought to her character. Y'all rule, and so does Liar Society. So I shouldn't be surprised how many people love the writing. And the story... And the secrets... And the LIES.

Speaking of LIES, two of my other favorite people on the web, Krispy and Alz, recently did their own version of this post at A Nudge in the Right Direction, which I shamelessly ripped off. They listed five facts about themselves, four truths and one lie. Care to guess which of the following facts is a lie?

#1 I can touch my elbows together behind my back. I'm not as flexible as I used to be, but I can still do that. 

#2 I actually won TWO signed copies of The Liar Society from online contests...after impatiently downloading the book the very day it came out! Which tells you exactly what kind of luck I have.

#3 Right now my toes are painted bright blue.

#4 I once broke my wrist snowboarding. Damn moguls. 

#5 One of my favorite things to eat are sweetbreads. Just a little caper-butter sauce, and yum!

I'll post later this week with the answer, once I find the cord to my camera and deal with those pictures. I promise it'll be soon, no lie! ;)

Thursday, March 3, 2011


No, not the Sagan novel. Or the Hollywood blunder adapted from said novel. Or the show 3-2-1 Contact...

So what does the damned title have to do with anything, you ask? After a recent post by my bestest blogging buddy, Abby Annis, I realized that I should probably have my contact info right there on my blog.

Again, thanks to Abby, I was able to rectify the situation in a flash! See the pretty purple script in the sidebar there? Instead of clicking through my profile to find my email, all anyone has to do to email me is click the link.

Want to win a button of your own, hand crafted by Abby herself, who will slave over every pixel? Just hop on over to this post, where you'll see how to enter! Here are some deets!

The prize: A custom made button for your blog!

I can tailor it to match your blog, use an image or font of your choice, or whatever you want. I am limited by my Photoshop, since I don't have a full program (PS Elements 7--I want CS5 so bad), and everything I know is self-taught from years of fiddling with the program, but if you're the winner, I'll do my best to give you exactly what you want.

To enter, you must be a follower!

I want one in red! ;)

That's it, y'all! I'm out until Ash Wednesday, but I'll be back with plenty of Mardi Gras pics for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Druids, and Muses, and Knights, Oh My!

Wondering what that title's all about? Those are some of the carnival krewes parading tonight and tomorrow! Hang on for a quick tour of some of my favorite krewes.

Tonight kicks off the parades this week with Druids at 6pm down St. Charles Avenue, screwing up traffic all over Uptown. Luckily, I get to leave work at 4:30 today and tomorrow, and I'm taking Friday off. Yes!

The Krewe of Ancient Druids is one of the all-men krewes, and this is their 18th year. One of the fun things about Druids, besides the cool throws, is the secrecy. Their king's identity is never revealed to the public, which harks back to some of the first Carnival traditions. Can't wait!

Tomorrow is one of my favorite nights, with Babylon, Knights of Chaos, and Muses.

Instead of a tractor, which is what pulls most of the floats (gets kind of smelly, yeah, and do they ever break down!), the king's float for Babylon will be pulled by a mule this year, which is what Krewe du Vieux uses to pull their (our. I'm still getting used to being a part of the madness!) floats through the Marigny/French Quarter every year.

Knights of Chaos is always a fun, and mostly satirical parade, sort of like Krewe du Vieux. One of the interesting things about Choas is that they always use flambeaux in their parade, a controversial tradition which many krewes have either done away with or changed. The original flambeaux carried flaming torches to light the parade floats up at night. Here's a modern version. See? Traditionally, people hand/throw change to the men carrying these smelly, dangerous flaming sticks.

Some newer flambeaux are either propane, or lamer still, LED. I love the look of the old flambeaux, minus the danger and the weirdness about the thrown change, but it's a long route, maybe these guys make good money? Still, you can see why it might be a controversial topic.  

Muses is one of the most fun krewes, a newer super-krewe made up of women only. The floats are beautifully lit and just gorgeous. The theme last year was "Muses' Guide to Love and Romance."  *this year's was Dancing With the Muses*

One of their most coveted throws, like the Zulu Coconut, is the Muses Shoe.

The wife of one of my coworkers is in the krewe, and he just sent me a link to a flicker account where you can see all the shoes they've decorated to throw to lucky parade goers.

I'm going to dress up in my blue tutu and wig and mask again for Thursday, and make SURE I get a good picture of myself in costume to share. It'll insure I get a good haul that night, too. ;)

*Updated Saturday Night*

Keep your fingers crossed that I get my first shoe!