Wednesday, April 24, 2013

RTW: Robot-like Humans or Human-like Robots?

We're going Sci-fi on the blog today.  This week's topic over at the YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday is:

In our Bookmobile selection this month, Debra Driza's MILA 2.0, the main character discovers she's an android trained to obey orders. We want to know: What other human-like robots (or robot-like humans?) have you enjoyed in books, TV, or movies?

Robots in real life are boring.  They are pretty much only useful for things like building cars or sucking up your wayward popcorn kernels under your couch while you're at work.  Robots in fiction and movies, however, are badass.  They almost always have super-human strength because, well, why not?  They are almost always better looking than us lowly humans.  (Hello "Fembots", "Gigolo Joe", "Marcus Wright", and basically every other cinematic android ever created)  They are often created with some form of humanistic qualities, which later turns into quite a conundrum when they inevitably develop feelings and attempt to ascertain what constitutes humanity.  Also, for some unknown reason, robots are almost always subservient to humans, when they possess the obvious ability to outnumber, outwit, and out-muscle us in every way.  It sure does make for a good story, though...

 Blade Runner (1982) Poster

The very first character I thought of when I read this question was Rachael from the movie "Blade Runner".  It's an old-school gem by Ridley Scott that explores the parameters of what makes us human and therefor different from a robot.  When the differences become blurred and almost impossible to distinguish, the philosophical pondering really starts.  Rachael is a character that drives the debate of what makes a human, well, human.  To me, she exemplifies the human-like robot concept.

 Bender Bending Rodríguez

Another character that jumped out at me was Bender, from the tv show "Futurama".  I am not a devout follower of the show, but from the few episodes I have seen, Bender seems quite human in nature.  On the show, he is described as, "an alcoholic, whore-mongering, chain-smoking gambler".  Those seem like very human qualities to me.  Plus, he makes me laugh.

Anyone else have a robot-like human or human-like robot from books, movies, or tv to share?

Monday, April 22, 2013

I Am In Love... With Words

Have you ever read something that completely renewed your faith in writing and encapsulated all the intangible beauty of words? 


In keeping with the theme of National Poetry Month, I would like to share a book of poetry that, upon reading just one poem from its pages, I fell hopelessly in love with.  Lisa Olstein is, in my humble opinion, a true artist.  She paints with words, crafting poetry that is so beautiful in its simplicity.  I recently read a few poems from her collection titled "Little Stranger" and felt I had to share a couple of my favorites.  What I love most about them, among so many other things, is that they are not attempting to be innovative or push boundaries.  So much of today's poetry is mislabeled as insightful only because of it's innovation.  This collection is articulate and engaging in its imagery.  Just plain awesome.  Here are two of my favorites:

Furniture Music

During the first snowstorm
we busy ourselves with wind
and the torque of falling
flakes. During the second
we watch menageries
slipping past our windows.
After the fourth we stay inside.
We grow accustomed to
our solitude. We grow hungry.
By the sixth we eat only
what’s white. We watch deer
teeter from the woods on teacup
hooves. If we thought about leaving
the house we’d be terrified.
We think instead of polar bears
patient on ice floes breathing
into the breathing holes where
seals surface, the frigid air
where their mouths won’t quite meet.
We think of the famous Siberian
tiger in the zoo pacing
while perfect camouflage

 This Waking Life II

Fish dart like birds flock.
Traffic runs like fish
hell-bent upstream.
We catch and release.
We cease. We forget.
We do it without noticing;
we put on our finest clothes.
We write love song after love
song and find it hurts most
when we stop singing.
The anchorwoman’s hair
makes sense next to
the other anchorwoman’s hair.
There are offices devoted
to the demise of old words,
others to the rise of new ones.
Routes are mapped.
Factories confuse the air.
From a footprint, experts can
construct a life story, predict
a future path. I don’t want to
know who you are, I don’t
want to tell you who I’ve been
walking down the street or
at night in my bed. I want to
sit next to you while fish kiss
and twist the birded surface
of the pond from underneath
without breaking the skin.

I would highly recommend Lisa Olstein's "Little Stranger" to anyone that shares my love of words.  Happy Monday, and continue celebrating National Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Three Parts Pure Evil, One Part Humanity

I've been examining my characters lately, and analyzing what makes them tick.  Some people spend hours and hours drawing up character summaries and backstories and make tons of lists on each character just so they know them backwards and forwards.  I am not one of these people.  Generally, my story ideas start with at least one character in mind so I do plenty of thinking about them, but I like to let them develop along with the story.  It's fun to be surprised by them from time to time.

The character in particular that I have placed under my perfectionist microscope is the villain.  Villains are essential to a story.  There must be some kind of oppression that is keeping the main character(s) from achieving their goals.  Conflict is what keeps people reading from the first page to the last.  What I have been wondering about my villain is this:

Is he evil enough?

This question made me think about other fictional villains in literature and what makes them great.  Obviously, the degree of evil is dependent upon the genre and tone of a story.  If you are writing a lighthearted coming of age story about a group of kids that get bullied, it might be overkill to have your bully wind up sadistically killing everyone and eating their brains for dessert.  Alternately, if you're writing a gripping horror story, you'll disappoint for sure if your villain is nothing more than a passive aggressive soccer mom that starts spreading vicious rumors out of revenge.

In general, though, I think there are some key components of a great villain.

1) A great villain does not know they are a villain.  What I mean by this is that most people do not actually think they are the bad guy.  Some even view themselves as the hero of their own story.  The crazy ones that know they are doing wrong feel completely justified in it, whether it be religious, vengeful, or perversely protective reasons driving them on.  Crazy, alone, does not make a good villain.  To me, there are only a handful of truly great villains that create chaos simply because they enjoy watching the world burn. (Yes, that is a joker/batman reference)  The Joker from The Dark Knight movie springs to mind, but I also thought of Hannibal Lector.  These two villains are fascinating to me because they are well written explorations into the equivalent of crazy sauce on a crazy biscuit.  Unless you are a super talented author that can delve into the dark and troubled waters of true evil completely devoid of reason, I advise you to steer clear.  Give them a purpose to drive their evil.

2) A great villain is not invincible.  They have faults, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses just like the rest of us.  It's how they adapt to these traits and compensate for them that makes an interesting villain.  This is what I am struggling with in my own villain right now.  I wrote him as a human being with some form of vulnerability that he is hiding and overcompensating for.  In all my analyzing, I wondered if this made him appear weak, which is something I don't want my villain to project.  If he seems weak, he will not be truly intimidating and therefor not a believable threat to my protagonist.  But doesn't that seem more real than a superhuman, emotionless, and invincible villain?  I think there is a small part of all of us that believes the good guy always wins in the end, and in order for that to happen, there has to be a weakness of some kind in the bad guy.  Whether it be vanity, obsession, or faith, a villain should, in my opinion, be a three-dimensional human being with weaknesses just like any other character.

3) A great villain has at least one redeeming quality.  I know this one is controversial and I may have more nay-sayers than supporters, but I'm sticking to my guns on this one.  The villains that I remember reading about and stick with me beyond the last page of the book are the ones that, against my better judgement, I wind up feeling a little bit sorry for.  Take Darth Vader of the Star Wars series, for example.  Can you really hate the guy for what he's done?  Yes, he killed innocent people and struck fear in the hearts of good people everywhere.  But deep down, the kid was just scared.  Every person he ever loved was taken away from him.  To prevent the woman he loved from dying, he chose to let that dark side of himself take over.  It was all for love.  Besides, his good side won out again, in the end.  It's that war of good vs. evil inside us all that I find fascinating to read about.  A character that is one hundred percent evil with no humanity left is about as real and believable as a hero that has no defect whatsoever and is one hundred percent good and virtuous.  But that's a whole other can of worms I'll open in a later post. 

In short, I believe the best villains are human beings, just like you and me.  It's their skewed reasoning and justification that add depth and interest.  They should definitely be evil and threatening to your protagonist(s).  But they should also have a reason for doing so, however twisted it may be to the rest of us.

Villains sure are fun, aren't they?  Anyone else have a good recipe for evil they want to share?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

RTW: Poetry Month

YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday

April is National Poetry Month, as I'm sure you're all aware by now.  That means lots of lovely verse has been floating around the interweb ether for a few weeks.  It has even found its way onto the YA Highway Blog!  Today's Road Trip Wednesday question asks us to share our favorite poem and/or poet.  I find this prompt to be exceedingly difficult; impossible, actually.  To pick just one favorite poem or poet would be like choosing just one thing to eat for the rest of your life.  With so many delicious options available and an ever-changing mood, how could one possibly declare just one thing above all others? 

There are far too many poems that I would label favorites for me to share in one post, but I have chosen one that speaks to me today and has done so many times in the past.  I love this particular poem because it describes my personality so very well.  I tend to take things very personally and feel the weight of others' burdens on my own shoulders as well.  

After what happened at the Boston Marathon this week, I have been in a somewhat despairing mood.  For some reason, these tragic events weigh heavily on me and I find it difficult to shake them off and continue with everyday life.  I have been told many times in my life that I take things too personally and need to develop thicker skin.  This is especially true in the writing industry, where criticism is thrown at you whether you want to play catch or not.

So here is my favorite poem of the moment:


By Tony Hoagland

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—

the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,

the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me

and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.

The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,

and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.

Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk

Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts

but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;

I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,

I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back

and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries

like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.

Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?

You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.

I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:

trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.

Anyone else have an opinion or favorite to share?

By the way, if you are a writer of fiction or non-fiction and haven't developed an appreciation for poetry yet,  check this out.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Food For Thought Friday + Writing Goals

Food For Thought Friday
Writing Goals =

 Double The Fun!

It's Friday: time for some food!  As an extra special treat, I thought I'd share some writing goals along with a recipe in the hopes that, by putting it "out there" in the magical interweb world, my procrastination will be put to shame and run far far away never to bother me again.  If only.  Any who, I am hereby declaring this space safe for goal-sharing.  It's kind of fun and motivational to challenge yourself every now and again, right?  So here are some goals, both writing-related and just plain me-related, that I am hoping to achieve sometime in the remainder of this year.

  1. I will continue to write something every single day, regardless of what is going on.  My children may be completely uncooperative and cling to me like Velcro but I can still manage to spit out a few hundred words on my book or a poem or two when the darling little devils are sleeping.
  2. I will stop self-editing ALL THE TIME.  Ok, that may be slightly unrealistic.  I will make a serious effort to stop self-editing all the time.  Better.  
  3. I will not let The Fear stop me from submitting my work.
  4. I will make decisions.  Yes, they may turn out to be mistakes but at least I'll know the few seconds of excitement I spent in the air were worth the jump.
  5. I will register for a Writers' Conference.  I have heard nothing but wonderful things about people's experiences at these regional conferences and I know it will help me gain experience in marketing myself and my writing.
  6. I will finish this marathon of a novel!

Anyone else have goals to set for themselves or share?

On to the food!  Today, I'm sharing a recipe that requires no baking of any kind.  Weird, I know.  But it's lovely and seasonally perfect and super simple.  Plus, the kids (and the big kid known as the hubs) will gobble it up it's so delicious!  Enjoy!

Spring Minestrone with Chicken Meatballs
adapted from Bon Appetit

8 oz. ground chicken (about a cup)
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan, divided, plus more for garnish
4 cloves minced garlic, divided
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 egg
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, white & pale green parts only, sliced in 1/4 inch rounds OR half an onion, finely chopped
6 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup ditalini or other small pasta
1 cup carrots, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup baby spinach
Chopped fresh basil

Mix chicken, breadcrumbs, 3 Tbsp. parmesan, 2 minced garlic cloves, chives, egg and salt & pepper to taste in a medium bowl.  Make sure egg is disbursed evenly.  Form into 1/2 inch diameter meatballs.  (Makes about 28)

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Cook the meatballs until golden all over, about 3 minutes.  (They will finish cooking in the soup)  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add leek or onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute.  Add the broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.  Stir in the pasta and carrots; simmer until pasta is almost al dente, about 8 minutes.  Add meatballs and simmer until pasta is al dente, carrots are tender, and meatballs are cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add spinach and 3 Tbsp. parmesan and stir until spinach is wilted and parmesan is melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish individual bowls with more parmesan and chopped basil.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

RTW: From Page to Screen

Road Trip Wednesday

This week over at the YA Highway, the question addresses the magical journey of book to film.  The question asks:
The Veronica Mars Kickstarter success makes us wonder, what YA book would you raise $2 million to see a movie version of?

First of all, I must confess that I have never seen Veronica Mars.  Shocking, I know.  It seems like everyone on Earth, including the cave trolls of LotR, have seen this show.  There has been a lot of talk about the whole raising money to make the movie thing and it really got me thinking.  Why in the world would us normal people that make normal amounts of money need to contribute anything when those Hollywood folks with all their millions could just lift up a couch cushion and find $2 million laying among the cheerios and long lost Nerf darts?  What is that all about?

Anyway, my answer to this question came to me instantly and it is my absolute favorite YA book I have ever read.  Yes, I am going to go old-school on the blog today.  The answer is:

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver (The Giver, #1) 

I remember reading this book for school when I was very young and it really left an impression on me.  I didn't fully understand it the first time I read it, but I came back to it several times as I got older and I found more layers revealed themselves to me every time.  It is such an imaginative book and I would love to see it explored in film.  It would have to be done right, though.  All this franchise crap coming out these days has destroyed the book to film leap for me somewhat.  With the right director and team behind it, I think The Giver would be a project I would fight for.

By the way, I just checked out what is hiding underneath my couch cushions out of curiosity.  A treasure trove of lost items, let me tell you.  Among the goods: 2 Nerf darts, 3 Legos, 6 cheerios, 3 pennies, 1 quarter, 1 christmas light bulb and a whole mess of popcorn pieces.  No $2 million.  I could always check the car...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Magnificent Seven Plot Designs

Plot is the skeleton of your story.  Without it, you have a big gooey pile of flesh and skin and eyeballs.  Not so attractive.  But insert some good bones into that baby and what a magnificent bone structure.  Obviously, your story has to go somewhere or it's just a stranded hobo.  Who wants to read about a stranded hobo?  Now, if the stranded hobo hitches a ride with a group of nuns on a road trip to Las Vegas, however, I'm in.  But how do you come up with a plot that isn't completely regurgitated?  

Think about it: how many books have been published in history?  Think they are all completely original and have no resemblance whatsoever to any other books?

Think again.

There are really only seven different types of original plot lines that I've found floating around in the world of fiction, and they have each been used over and over and over again.  The way you twist them, the characters involved, and the settings you put them in are what make a story unique. 

 Just remember that there isn't really a secret formula for a good plot.  The famous authors of the world don't convene in dimly lit caves draped in robes of awesomeness and cackle deviously about being the select few with the secret recipe.  (Actually, this may happen.  As I am not anything close to a famous author, I have not been trusted with this kind of information)  It's all in the telling, as they say.  

Here are the seven different forms of plot I have come across.  Feel free to twist them as you see fit.  If you know of another that I haven't included, by all means share it here.

Seven Examples of Plot Design

1. Rags to Riches
Think Cinderella.  A character begins at the bottom of the totem pole.  Throughout many trials and tribulations that show off their strength of character, they rise to the top.  This type of plot design works well because everyone can relate to it.  I think it's safe to say that we all dream of climbing to the top, whether it be in a social circle, workplace, or society in general.  

2. Boy Meets Girl (or the other way around)
The classic love story.  Two people meet.  They want to be together, and we want it for them.  Crazy things happen that pull them apart, but hopefully they end up together.  Even if it isn't a fairy tale happy ending, the love needs to be believable and there needs to be tension.  I have read many a novel lately that adopted the "InstaLove" mentality and it felt completely unrealistic.  A reader should feel their need to be together and their despair when they're apart.

3. Coming of Age
This is a very popular concept among fiction, because it is something we all go through.  Coming of age can be in the literal sense, as a child grows into an adult, or in more of an emotional sense, as a character transforms through hardship, loss, or even success.  The Harry Potter series is a prime example of both.  

 4. Fall of the Corrupt
I really like this one.  There is something very rewarding to me about a bad person being brought to justice.  I can't be the only one, either.  Look how popular books like The Hunger Games are.

5. The Making of a Hero 
You take a hoagie.  Add some salami, turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, whatever floats your boat.  Just kidding.  But really, this example is another of my favorites, because I find myself rooting for the reluctant hero all the time.  The protagonist may start out hesitant and powerless, but by the end of the story they find themselves saving the day.  I know I already used this example, but Harry Potter is a shining model of the reluctant hero.

6. There's No Place Like Home
The protagonist wants nothing more than to leave their small town behind in a cloud of dust and dive head-first into the big bright world.  But situations arise that cause the big epiphany and they wind up missing what they started out with.  The Wizard of Oz exemplifies this to a "T".

7. Salvation
Someone works to open the heart of a closed off old hermit.  Ok, it doesn't have to be a hermit, but you get the idea.  There is a damaged heart, or several damaged hearts, and someone tries to save them.  I especially like the example of Chocolat, which shows that it could be a whole community of people being saved, instead of just one person.

Happy plotting.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

RTW- A Three-fold Journey Through Time and Space

Road Trip Wednesday

It's Wednesday again, and you know what that means: a road trip on the YA Highway!   This week's question is an intriguing one that I had difficulty answering:

If you could visit any country with a fictional character as your guide, who would you pick and where would you go?

My indecisive nature rang true while thinking about this one and, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't narrow down my list of top three people and places to one.  I also struggled with the fact that, in posting this answer, I will be revealing to the world my deepest nerdy desires to travel with people who don't really exist to places that may or may not exist.

Oh well.

So, I will give you my top three.  They would all be equally awesome, in my opinion.  I used the destination concept very loosely in deciding where I would visit and also some are in a different time as well.  There goes my imagination again.

Trip #1
Guide:  Indiana Jones
Destination:  Egypt, early 20th century


Growing up, my dream was to become an archeologist.  I was obsessed with everything relating to ancient Egypt and fantasized about running important archeological digs and discovering the tombs of the pharaohs beneath the sand.  I remember watching the Indiana Jones movies and latching onto his character with enthusiasm.  I absolutely idolized him.  I think a trip to Egypt during the time when a lot of the Valley of the Kings was being discovered would be a stellar adventure.  We'd probably run into trouble with some locals, but good ol' Indie and his trusty whip would get us out alive! 

Trip #2
Guide:   Albus Dumbledore
Destination:  Hogwarts


This one is easy and universal.  Who wouldn't love a guided tour of one of the richest fictional places ever created alongside the man that lives there and knows all of its deepest secrets???  Dumbledore seems like the kind of guy that wouldn't hold back on all the wild and fun aspects of the castle, even if it meant a little danger was involved.

Trip #3
Guide:  Jay Gatsby
Destination:  Prohibition-era Manhattan


Gatsby may have been a lying, manipulative, selfish person, but let's face it: the guy knew how to throw a party.  What I wouldn't give to throw caution to the wind and dive into that carefree, live-in-the-moment lifestyle just for a weekend.  I certainly couldn't live forever that way, but there is something very alluring about his consuming ambition.  If I could tag along on one of his weekend soirees, I imagine he would be a magnificent host.

I would love to hear any other opinions or ideas on a great trip with a fictional guide.  Think I got it all wrong?  Set me straight!  Who and where would you choose?

Monday, April 1, 2013

NaPoWriMo... Say What?

It's National Poetry Month!

Are you ready for it?  Have you cleared your schedules and set aside some time each day this month?  Have you stocked up on coffee, tea, No. 2 pencils, or whatever else you find essential to your poetry writing process?  Every year, April rolls in and I can hardly contain my excitement.  For me, this is a time to put whatever marathon projects I have been slugging away at aside and enjoy the fresh perspective of a poem a day.  That's right, it's a 30 poems in 30 days challenge.  

There are oodles and oodles of blogs, websites, and other sources on the interweb where you can share your poems each day this month.  Some of them also offer poetry prompts each day to get your gears turning.  My personal favorite is the Writers' Digest Poetic Asides Blog.  Or, if you're not into sharing, keep them to yourself.  Whatever suits your fancy.  But do participate.  It's lots of fun and can give you a fresh perspective, not only on life, but on your writing projects that you may be so immersed in that you can't see the forest for the trees.

Here's one to get you started.  Enjoy and happy poeming!

Virgin snow
encasing my toes
as I blot
pristine white
with these bygone impressions
of my origin