World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Killing Your Darlings

WIP It Wednesday, revision edition

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Most people know that the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” is not just the title of a new movie about the early Beat poets starring Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a term, variously attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King,  and others, that writers use to remind themselves that when you’re revising, no matter how much you’re in love with a joke or a turn of phrase or a particular passage of prose, if it doesn’t work for the overall good of the book, it has to go. As I revised the last portion of the Snark and Circumstance e-novella series, I whacked a lot of darlings this morning. It was a virtual bloodbath here, with some phrases cut down quite easily and painlessly, others struggling and clinging to life even as I knew they deserved to die. But an executioner has to be heartless, so the blade came down; noble sacrifices of parts were made for the good of the whole.

And as I was revising, I was thinking that sometimes “kill your darlings” is almost more literal. Sometimes you have to kill the characters you love, your almost flesh-and-blood darlings – or at least let really bad things happen to them. And that’s a lot harder (unless you are GRR Martin, apparently).

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To be honest, I used to scoff a bit at this notion. Duh, they’re characters, not real, I would think. But I have to tell you that when you spend a lot of time with these fictional people, inside and outside your own head, it becomes a lot harder to be disinterested in their welfare. Yet at some point in any narrative, your main characters have to come up against some serious chiz, be tested to the point of breaking, and that’s when some weird authorial maternal instinct kicks in for me and I want to protect them from all the pain and sadness in the world. But if I did, that would make for one really boring book. (And mean I have a pretty dangerous ego investment in identifying with my characters, perhaps).

So I had to suck it up and let my snarky self-rghteous teenage heroine, Georgia, get her much-deserved comeuppance.  For those of you who have admitted in reviews of the Snark series that you want to slap Georgia, I’ve got some good news for you: fate and her own ego slap her silly in this last installment. I had to let her be humiliated and regretful because that’s not just good plotting – sometimes that’s the only way to learn. In life and in fiction, I think, you have to earn your happy ending. And in Prom and Prejudice, I think Georgia earns hers.

I discovered something else through this revision process, but I’ll save that for next week: perfectly healthy writers can develop crushes on their male “romantic leads” and it is neither unhealthy nor creepy. I hope.

Stay tuned.

what I’m reading

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what I’m listening to 

Image(I can’t believe this is thirty years old)

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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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Works (Not) Cited Part Two: Literary Influences on the WIP

WIP It Wednesday continues (though sometimes I worry that I should put less time into the blog about the work in progress and more on the work in progress itself).  Last week I posted about the research I’ve done so far (and I just picked up two great tarot books to add to the collection). But this week I’ll focus on the literary works that have influenced the work so far. I’m sure I’m not accounting for all of them because the unconscious is tricky like that 🙂 but here’s a good-faith effort to present the influences:

Some paranormal/fantasy YA that hasn’t influenced the book directly, but must have, somehow:

Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series. I have to admit that I was a somewhat reluctant reader of fantasy, based on what I’ve read before, but once I started these series, I was hooked. Clare creates such strong, varied characters and the relationships between them are so complex and engrossing that I tend to forget the magical stuff going on at times with these Shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, Nephilim, and all. While my book will never be as complex as this series, I think I’m working on my own version of the genre Clare has mastered: the (sub)urban fantasy. I guess I have portals of sorts in my WIP and I admire the way Clare sort of explained how they work, or, at least where they came from through the combined expertise of a scientist/inventor and warlock. And for the record, I am Team Simon, though things are working out nicely as far as I am concerned for Clace. I’ll let you know in May 2014 if I make it to the release of the final book  without gnashing my teeth to little nubs in anticipation.

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Jessica Spotswood’s Cahill Witch Chronicles.  My witches are different from Spotswood’s but I love what she has done with them, having them live in a somewhat recognizable past in which a religious right in charge has snuffed out witches and their practice – or so they think.  This feminist view of history and power makes the book especially appealing to me. Plus, I have a wild crush on Finn.  When I asked Spotswood via Twitter whether she would “give [him] a break” in the third and final installment, she tweeted that she would make me no promises. So , Dear Readers, I do not get results, but at least you know that I am out there in the trenches, fighting for you.

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I just finished April Genevieve Tucholke’s mesmerizing Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and while it’s not about witches, it certainly raises some intriguing questions about the nature and definition of evil. River has some formidable powers, and he’s (probably) not the Devil, but to what extent is he responsible for the havoc (murder, suicide, mayhem) he wreaks? And does Violet love him or hate him? How much of her love is the result of being taken in by River’s “glow”? Can you ever trust a guy with supernatural powers? I can’t wait to read the sequel and find out (I googled the date of the sequel as soon as I put down the book, too. Summer 2014).

DevilDeepBlueSea_FINAL_LR1 If my book turns out to be even 1/10 as good as these, I will be dancing from the rooftops of my town.

The YA novel that started this whole idea of a 400-year-old witch trapped in the body of a seventeen-year-old many years ago had to be Twilight.  I have to admit that I found the relationship between Bella and Edward more disturbing than enchanting. What I wanted to hear more about was what it was like to be stuck being a teenager forever. That idea entranced me, if only because if you had told me one day as I sat in high school, “This is it. This is where you will stay forever”, I would have run screaming down to the creek and tried to drown myself in it. I was captivated by the idea though Meyer did not explore much of the aching loneliness one would feel, fated to never grow older, to stay the same, in stasis, as everyone around you changed. I was intrigued by the logistics of how that would even work – how often would you have to move, exactly, from town to town before your neighbors noticed that you never, ever looked older.  Could you ever forge  relationship with anybody under those circumstances? I also, to be honest, wanted to present a view of love and sexuality that wasn’t as heavily weighted toward abstinence and the idea that the female is the threat to the male’s chastity and honor (go back and check some of the stuff Edward says to Bella about how she is the one threatening his control). That’s too sexist and last century for me.  But I’m not going to say anything more critical about Twilight because the world has done enough of that already. I’ll just say that despite my reservations expressed above, I wholeheartedly agree with agent Mary Kole’s assessment that the novel is, to paraphrase, 450-plus pages about longing. And that’s a pretty formidable thing.

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Non-YA influences

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita gave me the idea of having a really creepy devilish guy who has had his hand in all the awful stuff that’s happened in history, from holocausts to revolutions to political assassinations to everyday persecutions.  And, if I were being truly honest here, I would have to give the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” some due credit because it’s based on the novel and I’ve heard that song a lot more than I’ve read Bulgakov’s book.  But you should, because it’s really good and because Daniel Radcliffe said he likes it, too. When Harry Potter endorses a book you go read it. I don’t have a big scary black cat in my book, though, because I live with one every day and I fear her wrath.

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Apparently Arthur Miller’s play has been used to torture New England high school students for years, but The Crucible is brilliant in presenting the witch hunt as metaphor. He was writing, of course, about the Salem Witch Trials on the surface but really about the HUAC/McCarthy trials of the 1950s and the insidious and very real ways in which a small group of frightened and bigoted people can turn a community into a lynch mob living in terror of being the next one accused. I present this idea in the book with a false murder accusation of a young man who looks like he’s up to no good and makes a very easy scapegoat for the religious right “Family First-ers” in my fictional town.  (I say fictional, but it’s based on a real place and the events are, unfortunately, not pure fiction).

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That’s a pretty long reading assignment, so I’ll stop now and let you get to your reading. Please tell me, in the comments or through Twitter or Facebook, any of the books you’ve loved and been influenced by, especially those dealing with magic, witches, or scapegoating.

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

What I’m re-reading:

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what I’m reading:

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What I’m listening to:

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WIP it Wednesday: Works (Not) Cited

(Part One)

A whole lot of reading goes into writing.

I am always amazed when my students who’ve mentioned that they want to be writers come up with a blank when I ask them what they like to read. Some even admit that they don’t particularly like to read, so I have no idea why they want to write except out of some twisted sadistic impulse, but that’s not what I want to explore here.

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Reading-toward-writing can be conscious, such as when you do research on a subject to help inform and flesh out your book. Sometimes it’s done for inspiration, such as when you turn to books that do a particular thing well, like presenting juicy kissing scenes, for instance, or the author was masterful at creating a certain feeling that you want to get into your book, like a character’s complex feelings when a loved one dies. But oftentimes, the influence/inspiration is unconscious. Everything you read informs your writing and your consciousness in some way, but I’m not going to be able to account for that here. (Or anywhere else!) Instead, I’ll share what I have consciously consulted while working on A Time of Shadows, my YA (sub)urban fantasy about a 400-year-old witch trapped in the body of a seventeen-year-old Colorado high school student.

This week I’ll focus on the “conscious” research, although some of these texts, especially the films, were viewed/read long before I hatched the idea for the book.

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 HISTORICAL TEXTS/RESEARCH BEHIND A TIME OF SHADOWS

  • I’ve already posted about WB Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight (1907), but that’s just one of many texts I’ve consulted so far, including
  • The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkranz, a seminal text in Rosicrucianism – I’m not sure I’ll use anything from this weird, mystical story, but the Rosicrucians (Knights of the Red Cross) will probably come into it as an ancient order that was created long ago to combat my villain.
  • String Theory for Dummies, Andrew Zimmerman Jones, 2009 This one is kicking my butt intellectually, which I suppose puts me in the sub-“dummy” category. My writer friends reassure me that I don’t need to explain the magical mechanisms by which my sorcerers and others make stuff happen, but I really want to know what a wormhole is and understand dark matter. Maybe it’s the academic dork in me. Or maybe I just want to know what the guys are up to on The Big Bang Theory
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  • Tarot for Dummies, Amber Jayanti, 2001. Not my favorite tarot book but the only one I own right now.  I started reading tarot when I was in high school and did off and on until someone stole my deck of cards when I was in grad school. I can only assume that that person has accumulated some formidable karma as a result. Tarot readings play a big role in the book. I’m looking for a good Celtic deck for myself now, or this awesome one I saw on Etsy with foxes that’s no longer available.
  • Daemonologie  and Newes from Scotland, 1597, King James VI and I. When he was just the King of Scotland (and not the whole UK), James got impatient when his second wife’s ship was delayed in getting her to the wedding so he sailed out to meet her. Such violent storms hit that he figured they had to be the work of a coven of witches (in Berwick, specifically) because who else would dare to mess with a King’s wedding plans? He became so obsessed with witches and destroying them that he wrote this manual and even participated in some witch trials.  He also re-wrote a little thing he liked to call The King James Bible and filled it with anti-witch stuff.
  • Scottish Witchcraft: The History and Magick of the Picts, Raymond Buckland, 1995
  • Website: Celtic Dress of the Sixteenth Century, Meistr Gwylyn ab Owain, https://www2.hau.edu/~wew/celt-clothing/ Number one thing to remember about Scottish dress: tartan was not worn until the nineteenth-century after the Clearances.  The fact that several sources besides this have said that little is known about Scottish dress during this period equals an academy-mandated artisitic license in my name., as far as I’m concerned
  •        Image(And why wasn’t this cool Scottie the mascot when I went to CMU?)
  • Books about Wicca whose names I did not record because I am sloppy.
  • Life after Death, Damian Echols, 2012; the Paradise Lost: The Murders at Robin Hood Glen film trilogy, 1996-2012, dir. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky; West of Memphis, dir. Amy Berg, 2013.  I saw the first of the Paradise Lost movies about the West Memphis Three murder trial when it first came out in 1996 and thought that something just wasn’t right with these so-called experts claiming three high school kids in a Satanic cult murdered and mutilated three 8-year-old boys.  It took 20 years and a troubling Alford plea to get the WM3 out of prison. Their story reveals so much about what prejudice, classism, and hysteria can do to destroy the lives of people deemed as too different, and I have a character who is falsely accused of a crime somewhat like this.  Image Not because I want to capitalize anybody’s pain but because this kind of abomination should never, ever, ever happen again. And that’s what the book’s about.
  • A bunch of stuff read fifteen years ago about repressed memory and children’s accusations of Satanic abuse in preschools. I read it all for an academic paper I was writing analyzing The X-Files as a meditation on the culture’s recent infatuation with (and subsequent repudiation of) repressed memory. Can you believe that show premiered 20 years ago?Image
  • Books and articles about Robert Boyle, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and alchemy, all elemental in creating the book’s villain figure, who abuses the sort of power these guys hoped to master.
  • Christina Larner, Enemies of God: The Witchhunt in Scotland,1981. Such gripping stories I almost want to retell all of them in the book. I’ll probably end up not even retelling any of them, but they certainly inform what I have happen to Becca and her mom and aunt back in the early 1590s.  And it’s where I learned about witchprickers. (You’ll have to Google that or wait for the book!)
  • Cotton Mather Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions  1689.  Lots of good quotes and proof that this country was founded on the persecution of women/witches.  Here in Springfield, Massachusetts, four people, , including Hugh and Mary Parsons were put to death in 1652 for crimes of witchcraft. I might put their names in the book just for fun whenever I get stuck for a name.

There were so many more books whose names I didn’t jot down and there will be many more.  And these are just the ones I consciously chose to inform the book.

Next week, I’ll do my best to uncover the ones with an unconscious (mostly) influence.

Until then, happy reading and writing.

What I’m reading

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What I am rereading

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What I am listening to

Image The Kinks on Pandora internetradio

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