World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Making Villians and the Nature of Evil

WIP It Wednesday, Halloween 2013

I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil as I work (slooowly) on this WIP. I’ve never written a real “bad guy” before so this is new to me, and like all good liberals, I do not believe in a Manichean universe or a world in which some people are just born evil. If there is anything we can truly call evil, I think, it develops in a person as a result of complex environmental factors. I have to believe that this applies even to the pus-bucket who was just arrested (thankfully) for buying a puppy on Craigslist so that he could torture it.  Only two things in the universe would prevent me from punching that crapbag in the face if I saw him. One: I really need to believe that I am “better” than that. And two: I know that I wouldn’t be able to punch him hard enough. Better to donate to an animal rescue group to help other victims and hope karma eventually takes care of this sphincter muscle masquerading as a human being.

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As for my writing, to create this character, a villain with a capital “V”, I have had to think a lot about what makes him so villainous, so I’ve thought a lot about some of the literary and historical characters I have found to be truly evil. I’ve read some great books about evil and psychopathology, like Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: Why Good People Turn Evil, both of which I’ve read fairly recently. But I think the first time I became aware of what could be called evil was when I saw a film in in fifth or sixth grade about Hitler and the Holocaust and realized for the first time that human beings can do some truly despicable things to one another. I had nightmares for a week. Then in late adolescence, I was fascinated by the Manson family, because I was a neo-hippie myself and horrified by the idea that young peace-and-love chicks could be persuaded (or coerced) into stabbing people. And as an adult, I was a huge Sopranos fan, in large part because, like many viewers, I was captivated by Tony’s balancing on an icepick-thin point between being an average guy from a messed up childhood home and a truly amoral, unfeeling “monster” capable of hurting anyone. A lot of us must feel this way, because Tony has morphed into a Son of Anarchy, a Blacklist baddie, and a meth cooker who manages to strike fear in viewers’ hearts while wearing tighty whites. Clearly I am not the only person who finds these characters so compelling. Image <-miss you, Mr. Gandolfini 

One thing that really fascinates me about those we could label “evil” is the fact that, as far as I can tell, no evil person in history has ever thought they were evil.  I don’t think Vlad the Impaler sat around his castle, drinking blood out of empty human skulls, and saying to himself, “Yep, I sure am evil.”  I think most “evil” people do what they do because they think they’re on the side of good, or at least because they think they’re right.  I heard an interview on NPR a few weeks ago with Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and confirmed my suspicions about villains’ sense of themselves. She seemed genuinely surprised when the interviewer characterized Nurse Ratched as evil, because she always saw the character as someone who was convinced she was doing right in a difficult situation.

Image  <- Louise Fletcher – totally not evil

So for my WIP villain, Count Giancarlo Montoni,  whose name is taken from one of the first Gothic villains ever in Ann Radcliffe’s The Castle of Otranto, I have used the notion of a bad guy who is convinced he is good, or at least that he’s right.  He has powers beyond those mortals possess and believes that this gives him special rights or privileges – or  greater insight into what needs to be done to make the world a better place (as he defines that). He’s also modeled on the devil figure in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a guy who waltzes through history seeing what mayhem he can instigate, and in that vein, he’s also somewhat like the demons in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, who use their powers to do little more of use than mess with people. (They knock the hat off of a bishop, for example, if I recall correctly). I find fascinating and disturbing the notion that people with power and ability might do very bad things just because they can, and Montoni does this to a great degree. The world is his board game and we’re all just little plastic figures to move about.

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In this regard, I hope to make him like the literary character who most scares the crap out of me: Iago, from Shakespeare’s Othello. What always gets me at the end of that play is not the body count, the sheer number of lives that have been cut short or otherwise ruined for Iago’s caprice. It’s that when he’s asked by a thoroughly debased and shattered Othello why he did it, Iago refuses to tell him. And that destroys Othello even more. Because Iago made all of this awful stuff happen to him and Othello will never, ever know why. Iago is not the cartoonish super-villain in a crappy movie who dangles the hero over a shark tank while explaining, in great detail, the twelve points of his plot to destroy the world as well as his complex motivations for doing so. No. Iago is not going to give Othello – or the theater goers – any closure. Like Honey Badger, Iago don’t care. And a person who doesn’t care is truly scary. Because they are capable of anything.

Image <- if i just bummed you out with this post, go immediately to Youtube and look up this guy

So that’s what I’m working with as I try to flesh out my first bad guy. I’m a little bit like Victor Frankenstein, stitching together influences from here and there to make a monster.  Let’s hope things turn out better for me than they did for Herr Doktor.

What I’m reading

The-Statistical-Probability-of-Love-at-First-Sight

what I’m listening to

lou NY albumRIP, Mr. Reed. As my friend Chris said, “The world just got a little less cool” with you gone.

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MY GHOST STORY

This one goes out to my new Twitter followers – I said when I hit 400 (a paltry number to some, I know) I would play Truth or Dare or True Confessions, so here we go 

My real-life encounters with ghosts!

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I am more than willing to admit that this first one is probably the psychological manifestation of late adolescent grief, but it was powerful and surreal enough to me to remain a vivid memory many years later.  (I can already see my husband smirking skeptically when he reads this, but a promise to Twitter followers is a sacred vow, right? I have to reveal something big and potentially embarrassing.)

When I was sophomore in college, one of my best friends died very suddenly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this event affected how I looked at the world ever after. Besides the fact that I loved her and felt closer to her than I did to most people, her death forced me to acknowledge something that most young people know on some level but don’t quite believe in their hearts: Even if you’re not old, you can die.  Just like that. The ground is always a little shakier after that realization for any young person; any step feels like it could set off a min i earthquake with infinite shock waves spreading everywhere. Months after her death,  I was in a psychic tailspin at the time and something pretty bad was about to happen to me.  In the midst of this, she came to me twice, when I was half-asleep, half-awake. (Yeah, I know.  The fact that I may or may not have been asleep proves that it’s just a dream and not a ghost and I probably agree with you. However, I will add that there is a school of paranormal thought  – and  ancient wisdom – that argues that ghosts come to us in our sleep to tell us what we need to know.  They catch us when we are least likely to miss or dismiss the message).

In the first encounter, which was truly a dream, I was walking with my then-boyfriend through the common area in the dorm and she was sitting there, , reading a book. I was surprised to see her, naturally, and she looked up and said, “Be. Careful.” And then I woke up, shaken, because, trust me, my friend was not one to shy from danger. Rather than warn me about it, she would have grabbed my hand and jumped headlong into it with me.

I met her again a few weeks later, when I was lying on my bed reading Faulkner.  (I swear I did not fall asleep, but I’ll readily acknowledge that I was a typically overtired student and, much as I love Faulkner, I found Absalom! Absalom! hard going.)  I felt a hand on my bare knee (our dorms were overheated so I wore shorts in the dead of a Pittsburgh winter) and looked up from my book to see her sitting there for about half a second, long enough for me to recognize her and hear her tell me, “It’s going to be okay.” And then she was gone.  Maybe it never happened. Maybe I “saw” her because I needed to see her again. But looking back, I think her words helped.  At the time they may have given me the hope that I didn’t see anywhere else.

The next supernatural encounter came years later,when  I was wide awake — and at work. My workplace at the time happened to be a haunted restaurant, a former estate that had been turned into a place of fine dining and had ghost hunters coming on a somewhat regular basis, though this was long before there were thirty television shows devoted to paranormal exploration.  The people who owned the place and who had worked there for years were pretty unforthcoming about it. They weren’t running around telling everyone about what they’d seen but if you asked, they would calmly and matter-of-factly describe it and leave it to you to believe it or not.  They knew what they had seen.

In my first weeks there, I didn’t think much about the ghost stories at all.  I went about my business, though I found it odd that a few times, as I was in the little waiters’ nook  on the second floor grabbing something out of the little refrigerator, I often turned my back to have the refrigerator slam shut behind me.  This was an old refrigerator, with one of those pull handles, and it was not easy to open or shut. I usually had to put my whole weight into it to do so.

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And then one evening, I was at the bottom of the grand staircase, ready to carry a tray upstairs, and on the landing, for about two seconds, materialized a small woman with her hair pulled back in a bun and a long skirt, the very portrait of a Victorian lady. We looked at each other, and I may have taken a step forward, because I was not scared at all; strangely, I was too fascinated, electrified, somehow, to be at all freaked out. But she was gone. I stood there for a few seconds, then went upstairs and delivered the food to my table, and when I came back down I must have looked stunned or shaken because one of the waiters, whose family owned the place, just smiled at me and said, “You saw one, didn’t you?”  I told him what I saw, heart pounding and expecting him to think I was out of my mind, but he just said that the older lady often comes out when there were kids among our dining guests because she likes to see them.

I’ve replayed that moment, brief as it was, many times in my head since then, but I haven’t told many people about it. If I describe her as I saw her, as kind of shadow-y, like the white outline of a person, yet three-dimensional, like a hologram, then I just sound like someone who was raised on Disney World’s Haunted Mansion ride and Princess Leia’s image shorting out as she begged Obi-wan Kenobi for help in the recording stored in R2D2.

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And I get that, because now, twenty-plus years later, I don’t quite believe it myself. But I swear it happened, and I am glad that it did. I am glad to have the idea that there is more to this corporeal world than we can see, and that fact seems logical to me (why wouldn’t there be more?)

Feel free to post your scientific or psychological explanations of what I’ve just divulged to you, my dear readers, and I’ll probably agree with you. But if you send me your own true-life ghost stories, I’ll read them with great interest and empathy. Please tell me if something like this has ever happened to you.  That way my husband can smirk at someone else for once :). And he has one of the best smirks going.

Happy Halloween and thanks for following! (The image at the top of the post is a photo of a wall in the Spanish Casa de las Caras, the House of Faces, which supposedly contains ghostly images. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cara_mujer.JPG)

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Writing by the Numbers

Like a lot of writers, I suspect, I have always been averse to numbers. When I was a little kid, I loved Grover and and when my daughter was little she loved Elmo, but I never ever liked the Count.

images-3I can appreciate obsessive compulsive behavior as much as the next person, but I had a visceral reaction, as if someone had run a cheese grater across my skin, to his particular compulsion, counting everything in sight. As I grew older, I became more and more hopeless at math tasks, and when I got to eighth grade and was introduced to imaginary numbers I was truly perplexed. Aren’t all numbers imaginary? I spent the whole class period pondering this and forever missed what I was supposed to have learned about the concept (expect that for some reason the imaginary number as actually a letter, “i”, and it was italicized, which was kind of cool).

As a grownup writer, numbers play a far greater role in my life than I would like. So here are the three (Count them! Three! Ah ah ah!) sets of numbers that could give me fits if I let them:

1. Book sales

My publisher doesn’t share this with me often, and while that can be frustrating, it’s probably a good thing.  I know people who go to Amazon.com daily – even several times a day – or to Novelrank.com to watch that sales rank rise and fall the way some people tune in to their televisions everyday to watch that lady drop the ping pong balls and choose the lottery number.  In each case, the number seems, in some way, to determine their fate, and that’s a truly angst-inducing process. I’m not being glib here – book sales determine a writer’s fate in real ways. I just prefer to live in denial, to assume that everything is fine enough and, ideally, spend the time writing instead. I never had the goal of being a bestseller. I just want to be able to keep writing and not feel like I am indulging myself, taking valuable time away from other things I am supposed to be doing (like counting cereal Box Tops collected by the students at my son’s elementary school).

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2. Word Counts

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month– is almost here, and it’s a good thing. Every November it motivates countless people to attempt to write one novel in one month, and if even a tenth of those novels are decent first drafts, that’s pretty wonderful. My problem with NaNoWriMo is personal. I hate the way it ratchets up the numbers game, the way writers post in between word sprints their word counts on social media (it’s something some writers do almost daily even outside NaNoWriMo). “210k! Woohoo! Almost at my goal!” I understand that this motivates you and I applaud your progress but I am just petty enough to think, when one of these gazillion word counts taunts me from my Twitter feed, that this person should heed my mom’s advice that no one likes a show off. I know many writers that set a daily word count for themselves and I admire the way it keeps them honest and productive. Word counts just make me want to flagellate myself with a stick as I sit in my kids’ schools’ carlines or at my actual day job thinking “I am not writing.” If I had to attach a number to my (lack of) productivity I would look like this

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3. Twitter followers

I never thought that this would be part of my writing life, and not just when I was a kid dreaming of being a writer and Twitter had not been invented yet. I never thought about it until a year ago when my publisher told me I had to get on Twitter. I was uncomfortable at first because what exactly do you tweet twenty times a day anyway? “Drank a cup of tea”? who cares. Lie and say “Drank a cup of tea. Johnny Depp poured the milk”?

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That would be the only possible version of that tweet that would interest anybody. But now, a year later, I am tweeting away, though my follower count is miniscule compared to others, some of whom sign up for services to glean followers and swell their numbers. Following the number of followers has become a new unappealing numbers game. The follower count can rise and fall literally second to second, and I have to admit that when I lose five followers in one day I am insecure enough to wonder what I did wrong (possibly nothing – apparently Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow and I don’t always make the cut. Which is okay, because I suspect many of you are robots anyway). So Twitter becomes a site of anxiety or, worse, perhaps, a closed loop of commerce in which we all Tweet posts to our book rankings and reviews and book sales and giveaways in the hopes of raising all the numbers (sales, rankings, word counts, and followers).

Enough already. I’m going to Tweet the link to this post and then get back to clipping Box Tops.

And for all participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! May the words be with you.

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DRUMROLL, PLEASE . . .

DRUMROLL, PLEASE . . .

Announcing the winner of the PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL Scavenger Hunt:
DESNICA KUMAR !!!!!
She’ll be receiving autographed copies of the series so far (the final installment comes out in January) and an Amazon gift card. Congratulations, Desnica, and thanks to all who played the hunt. She totally deserves a crown and a court like this, don’t you think?

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Nazarea Andrews’ Beautiful Broken

Image Today the blog gets to host Nazarea Andres on her blog tour promoting Beautiful Broken, the second book in the University of Branton series!

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Since I have spent almost my entire adult life on college campuses, I was especially intrigued by the idea that Nazarea’s University of Branton series is set at a fictional college. She graciously answered my questions about college as a setting, writing a series, and what she hopes her readers think of her latest offering, BEAUTIFUL BROKEN. My first question was about why she chose her setting. She wrote

I loved college. For some people, high school is THE golden years. For me, I really blossomed in college, and I adored it. With the explosion of the New Adult category, I could write about it. So I did. College setting was a completely natural setting for me, based on that.

 On the question of whether Branton is based on a “real” college, she said

The town of Branton is very (VERY) loosely based on a few towns I grew up in. The college is equally loosely based on the tiny college I went to school at—there’s several scenes when writing, I totally pictured my lecture hall and school library. Of course, nothing very dramatic happened there.

 Since Scout and Dane also appear in This Love, I wondered if she knew as she wrote that book that they would be getting their own in Beautiful Broken.  She said 

I knew Dane would, almost from the first scene he’s in. (Which, is like, the first chapter of This Love). I didn’t know what his story was, but I knew he had a lot of shtuff going on behind that sexy face. When Scout appeared in the book, things started to click and they started clamoring for me to tell their story. I knew they were going to take me a darker place than Avery and Atticus, but I’ll admit that I loved writing their story.

And as for the source of her characters – well, Nazarea might be keeping mum about that 🙂

There are personality traits in all my characters that are pulled from people I know. Descriptions, definitely can be influenced by real life. But, no. My characters tend to come straight from my head. Which is good, because Dane and Scout would be a mess to have in my real life. I do hope readers find things to relate to—it’s nice when my readers connect with the characters, right? 🙂

 Finally, I like to ask writers what they hope readers will take away from their book, what they want the reader to feel, and I think I like Nazarea’s answer best, so far:

Daaaaayum.

Lol, that’s a reaction, right?? No, I’d love for them to feel. Anything at all, although obviously, it’d be nice to have them LOOOOOVE the book. I’d like them to look past the initial appearance (neither of which is good when looking at Dane and Scout) and see what motivates the choices people make.

1.  What made you decide to place the series at a university? What

 made a university seem like such a greta place to set a series of

 books (and it’s such a great idea I can’t believe that everyone

 doesn’t do it!)

I loved college. For some people, high school is THE golden years. For me, I really blossomed in college, and I adored it. With the explosion of the New Adult category, I could write about it. So I did. College setting was a completely natural setting for me, based on that.

 2. Is Braxton based (even loosely) on a real campus or school? In what

 way?  [And BTW, is it BRAXTON or BRANTON? I see both on the internet,

 and right now my connection is so slow I can’t look it up again 😦 ]

The town of Branton is very (VERY) loosely based on a few towns I grew up in. The college is equally loosely based on the tiny college I went to school at—there’s several scenes when writing, I totally pictured my lecture hall and school library. Of course, nothing very dramatic happened there.

 3.  What made you want to tell this particular story, the one about

 Scout and Dane? Did you know they were going to get their own book as

 you wrote _This Love_, in which they also appear?

I knew Dane would, almost from the first scene he’s in. (Which, is like, the first chapter of This Love). I didn’t know what his story was, but I knew he had a lot of shtuff going on behind that sexy face. When Scout appeared in the book, things started to click and they started clamoring for me to tell their story. I knew they were going to take me a darker place than Avery and Atticus, but I’ll admit that I loved writing their story.

 4. Do you find that readers, particularly college-aged ones, see

 themselves or people they know in these characters? You seem to have

 created ones that people can easily relate to. Do you base any of your

 characters on real people or people you know? (I like to think I

 don’t, but really, don’t we sort of have to do that, even

 unconsciously? Or else none of the characters would seem remotely

 “real”.)

There are personality traits in all my characters that are pulled from people I know. Descriptions, definitely can be influenced by real life. But, no. My characters tend to come straight from my head. Which is good, because Dane and Scout would be a mess to have in my real life. I do hope readers find things to relate to—it’s nice when my readers connect with the characters, right? 🙂

 5. Finally, what do you hope people think or feel after finishing the

 book? If you could control this, which we writers know we can’t :),

 what would you like people to take away from BEAUTIFUL BROKEN?

Daaaaayum.

Lol, that’s a reaction, right?? No, I’d love for them to feel. Anything at all, although obviously, it’d be nice to have them LOOOOOVE the book. I’d like them to look past the initial appearance (neither of which is good when looking at Dane and Scout) and see what motivates the choices people make.

 Don’t you want to have that reaction, too? So go read the book! It’s available at Amazon as an ebook, or paperback and at Barnes and Noble.  And connect with Nazarea at her site, her blog, on Twitter, and Facebook.

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Fan Art Friday

and a reminder! This awesome piece of jewelry – “the Vegan Necklace” – was created by Kelly Haggard Olsen of Kinetic Arts and inspired by my character Georgia.

 

4efihupvl0rt And in December, you’ll have a chance to win it by entering a raffle to raise money to find cures for Leukemia and other blood diseases. I’ll let you know when and how closer to the time of the raffle. But if you can’t wait – or just want an amazing bracelet or earrings to go with your future necklace – check out Kelly’s wares at her Etsy shop!

And while you’re waiting, enter the PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL SCAVENGER HUNT to win signed e-novellas and an Amazon gift card.  Just check out the previous post for the deets!

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The Pride and Prep School Scavenger Hunt

Here’s your invitation to play a game, check out some great blogs, and win an autographed copy of the novellas and a $20-dollar gift card from Amazon!

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First, you’ll have to answer the questions below to find out what you’re looking for.  Then, once you know what objects will be hidden on participating blogs, you’ll have to  visit them (which, trust me, you would want to do anyway). Once you find them, report back here with the answers as comments (tell me what you found and where).

1.  On their first day as bio lab partners, what does Georgia tell Michael she will not be a part of?

2.  Jeremy invented a drink by this name, and he gave a lot of them to Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

3.  Georgia has a pet that likes to bite people a lot.  What is it?

4.  Leigh gets teased for dressing like a member of this “old order” sect that lives primarily in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

5. What literary character does Georgia want to do a class presentation about (though Michael thinks this is a lame idea)?

6. In Pride and Prep School, what does Georgia discover in the Endicott kitchen that makes her think she just might have been wrong about him all along?

7. Georgia, Trey, Michael, and Tori watch a movie about these creatures of the night until Michael can’t stand it any more.

8. In P&PS Michael runs into Georgia in a suburban drug store and is shocked to find her holding this.

9. Georgia is surprised to discover that Michael enjoys listening to the music of this Caribbean artist.

10.  Dave and Gary have a punk band; this animal is part of the name of the band.

Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll have to look for pictures of these items on these blogs:

 JC Emery:   http://jcemery.com/
The Things That Run Through My Mind: http://monicabsanz.blogspot.com/
Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight: http://nicolezoltack.blogspot.com/
Team Elsker: http://stbende.blogspot.com/
Just Sayin’ : http://nazarea-andrews.blogspot.com/
Jessica: Brooks’ Let Me Tell You A Story: coffeelvnmom.blogspot.com
Adrianne James: http://adriannejames.com/ (Note: Adrianne, in keeping with the spirit of the scavenger hunt, has made you hunt for it.  But it’s there!)
JayCee DeLorenzo’s See JayceeJugggle
A Day in the Crazy Wonderful Beautiful Life: http://rachelbateman.com/
Louise Gornall:  http://bookishblurb.com/blog/

THE CONTEST IS OPEN TO US AND INTERNATIONAL READERS BETWEEN WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16TH, AND SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20TH AT 8:00 PM EASTERN STANDARD TIME. The winner will be chosen randomly from all correct entries and on Monday, October 21st and announced on this blog on Tuesday, October 22d.  Leave a comment with your answers to the questions and where you found them PLUS your email so I can send you your stuff!

GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY READING!

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You’ll Catch More Flies with Agave Nectar

Why Georgia’s a Vegan (and answers to other burning questions on my book birthday)

It is aliiiiiiive!

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And to celebrate the book’s birthday, I am answering reader questions. (Which I will happily do, any time, by the way).

Last week, a writer friend asked, “Why did you make Georgia a vegan? That’s such a hard diet to follow!” And I guess there is enough Georgia in me, despite my denials, because I thought for about half a second “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle! It’s an ethical choice,” but I would never say that to anyone. It’s snotty and exemplifies why Georgia, despite her best intentions, is a pretty lousy spokesperson for veganism since she turns everyone off with her snarky dismissiveness. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, I want to tell her.  And if I did, she would say, “Honey is not vegan, moron. Try agave as a substitute.” images-2

Back to the question. As I told my friend, the short answer to why Georgia is a vegan is that I am one. Mostly. Unlike Georgia, I am not as hardcore and that used to make me feel guilty, like I was a disgrace to the cause or something. But in recent years, I have learned to let up a little. It is hard to find vegan food when you’re out and about, so I will, on occasion, eat a muffin or a scone or even a piece of cheese if I am about to turn into some un-funny version of the Snickers ad in which people are not themselves when they’re hungry.  Image There’s no score card at the end, as far as I know, and I am still saving animals with 95% of what I eat. I don’t know that Georgia would appreciate that yet, but she’s learning. She’ll get there.

And that’s another reason I made her a vegan. It’s not a very Jane Austen trait to have in a character based on the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. (Although Lucy Briers, the actress who played Mary Bennett in the 1995 BBC version, is a vegan.)

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But Elizabeth Bennett was awfully sure she knew what was what and had more than a little bit of a self-righteous streak. So my “Lizzy”, Georgia, has her heart in the right place, and believes in veganism for all the right reasons, but she judges the eating habits of those around her a little too freely. And I can tell you from experience that being a veg*n (vegan or vegetarian) in a community of carnivores causes unintentional tension all the time. The daily decision about what or where to eat can devolve into a three-hour debate during which everyone just gets so tired they end up chewing on raw ramen noodles just to settle the whole thing. And if you think of veganism as being about more than what you choose to eat, but also about how you look at the relationship between people and animals, and even between people and other people, then you’ve got one character with a really disparate worldview from nearly everyone else around her –and especially, in Georgia’s case, very different from the conservative preppie let’s-hit-the-Cape-and-throw-a-lobster-into-the-pot view of her nemesis/love interest/lab partner, Michael.

A last reason Georgia’s a vegan? There are a lot of teenagers who are becoming vegans, either experimenting with it by cutting out meat and animal products, or who embrace the life wholeheartedly for its health benefits as well as for ethical reasons. I wanted to represent them.  And I don’t see a lot of vegans in popular culture, period, but certainly not in YA novels. Carolyn Mackler’s Vegan Virgin Valentine is the only one I can think of, and it disappointed me that for the main character, being vegan turned out to be a temporary fad, something she did in part to punish herself or to gain a sense of control over her life. I know that happens a lot in real life; I know plenty of fine people who sheepishly tell me, when they find out that I’m a vegan, that they tried it, they really tried.  And that’s okay. Again, there’s no score card being kept.  But I wanted to portray a young vegan whose choices were made very consciously, with reason and knowledge, and who has made those choices for life.  She just needs to lighten up about the fact that not everyone’s made the same choice – that’s part of what she has to learn.

In part three of the series, Pride and Prep School, Georgia teaches Michael to make stuffed shells with tofu ricotta

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as they both begin to recognize that seeing another point of view can be liberating and fun. And tasty. Check it out now at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.

And if you have any questions about the books or being a veg*n, send them my way! I’m not a proselyte like Georgia – I’m not out on the street corner preaching the gospel of animal-free eating.  But if you want to talk about it, I’m always happy to do that. And if you’re a teenager thinking about going vegan, then check out resources like the Vegetarian Resource Group, which has a great section on their site about Being Vegan and Vegetarian in High School, or PETA or PETA2, which also helps out parents who aren’t sure what they’re kids are getting into. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about great resources for recipes, and vegan teenagers can join TeenVGN on Twitter. They’re “fueled by compassion!”

Image   PETA’s sticker and Tshirts rock, and these wristbands are from TeenVGN Image

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Too Much Work in Progress: Juggling Life and Writing

WIP It Wednesday: Works Not-So-Much in Progress

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I should be writing.

I should be working on the WIP that I haven’t touched in a week.

I should be typing the revisions to the sequel to Snark that I promised an editor and spent the weekend making instead of making progress on the WIP.

I should be outlining the other projects, or getting ahead on blog posts, or working on the scavenger hunt with my Indie Ignites friends to promote PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL, or compiling that list of interesting facts about me for the guest post feature on someone else’s blog.

I AM WRITER. HEAR ME WHINE.

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This is, of course, a paraphrase of Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem that rocked the Women’s Movement and was part of the soundtrack of my life as a child of the Seventies. And as a Seventies girl, I grew up, thanks to women like my mom and Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem and Billie Jean King and

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Marlo Thomas and her Free to be You and Me, believing that I would have a full-time fulfilling job as part of my life as an adult woman. And I do, as a professor of writing and literature at a New England university.

So let’s add to the above list:

I should be reading student papers.

I should be reading revisions of student papers.

I should be reading and preparing lecture notes and discussion questions for tomorrow’s classes.

I should be checking in with some students’ advisors to see why they are not attending class or handing in assignments or keeping up with the material.

And don’t get me started on what I should be doing as a wife and mother, like the laundry and mopping the floor and buying onions and figuring out the source of the vaguely unpleasant smell in the living room, all before I pick up the kids, feed the kids, take them to various extracurricular activities and help them with their homework (true confession: I am actually relieved that I cannot be called on to help with some of the homework now, as algebra mystifies me as much now as it did in eighth grade).

This is the universal lament of all writers and all working women (and men, probably) everywhere: I don’t have enough time for it all.

When I was studying nineteenth-century women writers as a grad student, I was struck by the number of those women writers who were unmarried and childless, because it seemed so impossible at the time to be able to be both writer and mother.  The list of those who did’t live long enough to even consider undertaking that juggling act, or lived but did not even attempt to perform it, is pretty impressive: all three of the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Florence Nightingale, Christina Rossetti . . . (the list goes on). Author Elizabeth Gaskell did juggle both jobs, and her journals are filled with her worries about failing at both of her duties as writer and wife/mother – as well as some pretty disgusting sounding recipes for puddings that could be left in the hearth to cook all day and allow Gaskell a little writing time (she may have been the unacknowledged master of the Victorian “crock pot.” And as a child of the seventies, I know about the crock pot).

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I don’t know any writer – especially women writers – who doesn’t feel this way, especially since most of us have to work at other demanding jobs in order to have the luxury of writing (in the hope that one day we will be able to sustain ourselves on royalties from that writing). It’s especially hard because by its nature, writing is a pretty solitary job that requires long periods of uninterrupted time to think, to imagine, and to wander around in a completely made-up world until we get our bearings and can render what we see there to others. And that’s hard to do when you have to squeeze it in between your day job, drives to and from dance classes, and all of your other responsibilities.

But I don’t post this just to whine (though thanks for letting me do this a little).  I wrote to ask those of you who find yourselves in this category – trying to write while maintaining another job in or out of the house and trying to be a parent/spouse/partner – if you have any survival strategies you’d want to share.  How do you carve out work time? Keep your sanity? Manage to be the “good enough” mother and writer and worker, to borrow DW Winnicott’s phrase from object-relations theory (psychoanalysis)?

I’ll leave you with one strategy of my own: Have a support network. Mine is the virtual mutual admiration/talk-me-down-off-the-roof society that is Indie Ignites.  Just this morning one of us was freaking out on Facebook about not getting revisions done quickly enough, and within hours we were online offering support, wisdom, cheerleading, and bad jokes when appropriate. Even if we never see each other, we know what it’s like to juggle all of these concerns so we can empathize, sympathize, and even apply a kick in the pants when necessary. It’s amazing how far an online pep talk can go toward keeping you writing and functioning.

Please post your suggestions and strategies in the comments below.  It would be nice to think we’re in this together, wouldn’t it? (How about a little Seventies’ style solidarity? :))

What I’m reading:

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What I’m listening to:

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An (Im)modest Proposal

It’s Teaser Tuesday again, and PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL comes out in a few days (or weeks?)!Image In trying to decide what to tease you with, plot-wise, before the installment is out, I kept thinking about the first proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice, the one that Mr. Darcy bungles so badly, and how difficult it was recreating a version of that in PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL. Here’s the scene from the 1995 BBC version:

Even before he speaks, you can tell it’s not going to end well. They’re so tense and miserable, and then, of course, he is so arrogant in his admission that despite her being unworthy he still likes her. It’s cringe-worthy viewing for sure.

And it’s a great adaptation of the original, which appears thus:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority–of its being a degradation–of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. 

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience, when he should have done. He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and, when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she said…

I have to confess that no matter how many times I’ve read the book, it’s actually the dialogue from the BBC version that sticks with me, and I think that’s because in addition to having the lovely visuals to help my memory, the BBC writers just nailed it in terms of the tension between desire and a sense of duty and privilege for Darcy in wanting something you fear you shouldn’t want, and for Elizabeth, the horror of being simultaneously “esteemed” and insulted.

I try to capture that in a scene in P&PS, which I place in Georgia’s kitchen, where many of the most important scenes occur between Georgia and Michael, and where their differences are so pronounced through something as fundamental as what they eat (Georgia’s a pretty hardcore vegan; Michael thinks that’s just nonsense and will never give up lobster). I can only hope I did the scene justice.

For a great comparison of the “First Proposal Scene” in Pride and Prejudice adaptations, see MyPrideAndPrejudice.com. And please check out PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL, the third installment in the SNARK AND CIRCUMSTANCE e-novella series.

Which version of P&P is YOUR favorite? As you can probably tell, I’m a 1995 BBC fan myself.

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