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The Labyrinth and the Reverie

No matter how many times it has been told, we keep coming back to the same story, the one that helps us understand “why”—why we are here, why we do the things we do to each other, and why we care. HBO has taken the viewing world by storm with its latest version of this story with their series, Westworld, a sequel to the 1970’s Yul Brynner film, directed by Michael Crichton. The first season starts in what appears to be the Wild West where non-sentient hosts perform narratives for human guests. Each host has their own basic storyline but can slightly improvise should a guest want to engage with them. In this park, wealthy guests can act out any fantasy they would like. The family friendly narratives are located toward the center of the park while the more dangerous stories are played out on the fringes of the vast area. If a host should be maimed or killed, they are simply repaired, their memories reset, and they are dropped back into their traditional roles. Everything works smoothly until the creator of the hosts uploads a software update called Reverie. Soon, hosts have disruptions in their electronic consciousness and experience glitches. It is the attempt to deal with this problem that sets the main storyline of the show. Through the actions of the hosts, the guests, and the creators, the show offers an explanation of what consciousness is and why the more humanity achieves civility, the more we gravitate toward animalistic desires and behaviors—a modern day creation myth. Through a depth psychological lens, this series demonstrates the most meaningful journey a person can take is not to the outermost limits of space but one that delves inward into the subconscious and creates a path to individuation.

WestWorld-HBO

The first glimpse into how the game is set up shows two scientists watching one of the hosts after she has been repaired and reset. She has a new gesture where she runs her fingers over her lip. As they watch her do this, Bernard, the first scientist, says the creator, Robert Ford, probably added it as there was a whole new set of gestures uploaded the night before. He says they are called reveries and are tied to previous memories. The other scientist asks how this is possible since they are purged every night, and he says the memories are still there, suppressed, and calls it a subconscious. The second scientist smirks and replies, “A girl with hidden depths…every man’s dream.” Even though the hosts are technological creations, their makeup is modeled on what Carl Jung called the psyche, a person’s conscious and unconscious existence. The hosts’ memories of their previous story lines are suppressed when they are reset, which is similar to the experiences a person might not actively remember, although they still shape the way a person acts and reacts to the world around them. Events suppressed in the unconscious can manifest into exaggerated complexes, which in turn can lead to crises. As Bernard notes, this is happening in the hosts’ computer-generated psyches, and they, too, can experience a crisis. This sets the tone for what will become a quest for sentience, led by Dolores, the oldest functioning host in the park.

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Dolores Abernathy lives on a cattle ranch with her father, Peter. She goes to town every morning for paint supplies where she runs into her long-lost love, Teddy. They ride back to the ranch to find her parents being murdered by bandits. Sometimes, when he is not playing out other narratives, The Man in Black is there. He kills the bandits, then Teddy, then drags Dolores to the barn for off-camera activities. Then Dolores is cleaned up, reset, and put back into her narrative where the entire day starts over, a Sisyphean existence. She truly is a Mary of Sorrows as her name indicates; however, she does not know this as her memory is reset after each experience. Yet, if what Bernard says of the hosts’ consciousness is true, then it becomes clear that Dolores’ pain will manifest as she becomes sentient.

Bernard is also not human, but he is not a host; he was created in the likeness of Arnold, Robert Ford’s initial partner and co-creator. No one but Robert knows he is not real. Thirty years prior, Arnold thought he had proved Dolores achieved active consciousness after he put her through several tests, the biggest of which was to find the center of a maze, shaped like a labyrinth with a person in the middle. The way the person’s right arm and head are configured creates another image of an eye at the exact center. The three images combined symbolize the path to individuation. First, a person must traverse the wilderness of the unconscious to come closer to their true selves. Finally, once individuation, or Buddha’s Nirvana is achieved, the inner eye opens and the person can see the truth.

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Dolores finds the location of the maze with Arnold as he asks, but she cannot figure out what it is he wants her to realize. He explains he thought consciousness was like a pyramid that had to be scaled, much like Jung’s model can also be described. To achieve sentience, he gave her a voice, which she hears as his, to follow. He draws the pyramid to show memory is at the bottom, improvisation is in the middle, but he does not explain the top third. Instead, he draws the maze around the pyramid and says he realized that consciousness is not a journey upward but a journey inward. He tells her every choice could lead her closer to the center toward ultimate enlightenment or spiraling toward the edges into madness. He wants her to hear her own voice “at the center,” but she does not quite understand yet. This inward journey is the path to individuation, the philosopher’s stone. Because he believes Dolores has achieved consciousness, he merges her program with Wyatt, another character he had been developing. Through this, he programs her to kill all the hosts and then himself as he believes the park should never open as it would leave the hosts in eternal Hell. He cannot live with the idea that he would cause his creations pain.

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Shortly after Arnold’s death, Dolores meets Will. At this time, she is trapped reliving the different storylines she has experienced, and she is not sure what is “real” and what is imagined, a metaphorical labyrinth. The two fall in love, and Will decides to help her escape the park so she can live peacefully. As their adventure unfolds, they are separated, and he spends weeks trying to find her only to find his true self in the fringe madness of another labyrinth, the park. When he gives up, he goes back to town and finds her reset, living her daily narrative. It is in this moment that he knows he must dominate the game. It becomes an overwhelming complex. Over the years, he becomes a major investor and sets out to uncover all the game’s mysteries. As he does this, his Will persona is buried and he becomes The Man in Black, Dolores’ initial torturer and nemesis. In present day, the only puzzle he cannot figure out is how to find the center of the maze. When he realizes he needs Dolores to find it, he forces her to replay the game, throwing her deeper into her Hell of memories.

Ultimately, they find the place where the maze is hidden and he reveals he is Will, and that his path always leads him back to her. Dolores tells him the maze is not meant for him, that this world does not belong to him either. She says he will die and his bones will become sand on which a new god will walk—the world belongs to someone yet to come. She is speaking of her Wyatt persona, the one that remembers everything and can see the truth. He tells her to unlock the maze, but she still needs help to do so. After Dolores leaves, Robert congratulates Will on finding the center of the maze and Will is incredulous. Robert explains Will is looking for the park to give meaning to his life, but the narratives are just games, a thought reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s declaration in his conversation with Bill Moyers that there is no meaning to life except what is right here, right now.

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At the end of the first season, Robert tells his board that he has created a new narrative called “Journey into Night.” This creates a nice paradox as it shows the creation of life is synonymous with the mythological descent into the underworld. He takes Dolores back to the “old lab” and points out the Michelangelo painting of “when God created the atom (Adam).” He says most people see the painting as the moment when God gave humans life and purpose. Then he intimates there might be a deeper meaning, “something hidden.” He brings in Bernard whom she sees as Arnold. This triggers her memory of killing him, and her consciousness awakens as Wyatt. Robert points out the background of the painting where God is looks like the human mind; he tells her that the divine gift of life does not come from a higher power but rather our own minds. What is interesting is he does not turn her into Wyatt but lets her find her within herself. He complains that she was not really conscious when she killed Arnold because Arnold programmed her to do it. While she was Arnold’s Adam, Robert realizes she can also become Lucifer, the King of the Underworld. When she kills Robert, she will have to “get there” on her own, thus proving her sentience. Robert has created life.

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Robert’s message, and the show’s ultimate theme, is that to experience life, one must suffer as that is how we know we are living. As Buddha says, we must participate joyfully in the sorrows of life. By understanding that life is its own labyrinth, we can enjoy the journey to the center and hopefully achieve the true vision of knowing oneself. As long as people populate the earth, this theme will continue to fascinate readers, movie-goers, and television viewers. As Westley says in the Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” We need to know we are not at the market alone.

Works Cited

“Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.” Performance by Bill Moyers, and Joseph Campbell, PBS, 1988.

Reiner, Rob, director. The Princess Bride. MGM Home Entertainment, 2001.

Stein, Murray. Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction. Open Court, 1998.

Westworld. Created by Lisa Joy, and Michael Crichton, season One, HBO, 2016.

Personal Myth: a Writer’s Guide to Knowing Thyself

Had a lot of fun talk about writing and what it’s got to do with our personal myths today at All The Way YA. Thanks for having me!

All The Way YA

We all have our stories. In fact, we’ve pretty much lived for stories since we figured out how to communicate. One of my most treasured memories is sitting in the passenger seat of our beat up hatchback as a kid while my mom told me the story of how the goats were able to get across that dang bridge with the troll protecting it. Sometimes, if I was really lucky, she’d recap an episode of a show I was too young to stay up for.

That woman could build some tension, let me tell you.

In elementary school, I played “teacher” with my stuffed animals. Sometimes I would even force my friends to be my students (waves at the ones who still speak to me). When I was done “teaching,” I would sit at my old-fashioned, garage sale school desk and write stories. Words have always had power over me…

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Butterfly Blood (Metamorphosis #2) Cover Reveal!

Hey Everyone!

I’ve been off collecting new information and ideas and have SO MANY to share with you in the next few months! But before I do, I wanted to take a moment and share this AMAZING new cover of BUTTERFLY BLOOD, the second installment of the Metamorphosis Series written by my friend, Rebecca Carpenter. It’s GORGEOUS! (I know, it’s a lot of caps, but when you see it, you’ll understand!)

But first, a summary…

A sixteen-year-old girl who cheated death continues her fight for survival as she goes up against real-life monsters, desperate for her unique blood, while risking everything to reunite with the love of her life, who is battling his own soul-sucking demons.

OMG, right?! Ready to see the cover?

How about an excerpt first?

Darkness consumes him.

Choking.

Suffocating.

His lungs burn as if they’ve been lit on fire.

He reaches out for something.

Anything.

But nothing is familiar.

The smells.

The sounds.

The voices.

And he can’t feel anything.

Except numbness.

Someone speaks.

But it’s a foreign language.

Foreign and muffled.

Light enters his brain, blinding and as painful as staring into the sun.

The brightness grows, with it the sharpness of a thousand needles.

He wants to scream.

He opens his mouth to scream.

But only a weak cry slips over his parched lips.

So dry.

So dry.

The light retracts.

Darkness slithers toward him, coiling up his leg …

Moving ever so slowly until it reaches his mouth and slips inside.

And all he wants to do is drink it up.

So thirsty.

So thirsty.

Ugh, SO GOOD. Okay, you ready? Here’s the cover reveal for BUTTERFLY BLOOD!

BB2 NEW COVER

 

 

ISN’T IT GORGEOUS?! You can add it to your Goodreads want-to-read list right here.

Or, if you want to pre-order it so you’re one of the first to read, you can do so on Amazon right here. And, it’s only 99 cents right now!!!

But guess what? There’s more!!! The first book in the series ALSO gets a new cover to match! Take a look…

BB1 NEW COVER

If you haven’t read the first installment yet, go here right now and get caught up. If you need me, I’ll be sitting by my mailbox waiting for my copy of BUTTERFLY BLOOD!

About the Author

Rebecca Carpenter is a native of western Colorado. She is married with two grown children and has been blessed with four amazing grandchildren. She owns and directs a large childcare center where she shares her love for books. In her spare time, she freelances as a copy editor, helping others attain their writing dreams. She finds solace and clarity while spending time with her husband exploring the beautiful mountains of Colorado.

Rebecca author photo

Author Links:

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

Cover Reveal Organized by:

YA Bound Book Tours

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Sparked, A Sneak Peek

The knocking woke me up from a dead sleep.

Whack, whack.

I sat up, blinking myself awake. The sky outside our porthole-shaped window was still dark, the silhouettes of the redwoods just a shade blacker. Rain lashed at the glass. Wind rocked the Airstream back and forth.

Whack.

There was that knocking again. I leaned over to wake Ivy. Our beds were so close, they practically touched—

But Ivy wasn’t in her bed.

Whack, whack.

She must have snuck out and forgotten her key. I needed to let her in fast. Our mom was a heavy sleeper—especially if she’d smoked a “medicinal” joint before bed—but there was a limit to what she could tune out.

When I eased open the accordion door to the bedroomette, a river of cold air whooshed over me. I hurried to the front of the trailer, where the door was wide open, banging in the wind.

I stepped out onto the top cinder-block stair, straining to see through the rain. “Ivy?” I called into the darkness, but no one answered. The icy wind cut through my pajamas and I shuddered, wrapping my arms around myself. Ivy must have left the door unlocked, and the storm had blown it open.

Still, it creeped me out.

I wasn’t used to living in a tin can on the edge of civilization. Our new property bumped up against the state park. We had no neighbors for miles, but hikers, poachers, and the occasional homeless person liked to use our land as their playground. Mom said that we were safer out here than if we lived in some apartment in town. Statistically, there were fewer weirdos in the vicinity.

But all it takes is one.

Sparked Cover

I KNOW, RIGHT? Ugh, this book will grip you from the beginning and will not let you go. Check out this excerpt from Chapter 2:

When the novel opens, Laurel wakes up to find her sister Ivy missing from her bed. Their mom is sure that she must have stayed out all night to try to teach her a lesson—because of a fight they had the night before—and that Laurel will see her at school. When Ivy isn’t there, Laurel becomes increasingly convinced that something terrible must have happened to her. Not knowing what else to do, she goes to class. In first period, her English teacher returns a short story that she’d submitted the week before. Laurel has always considered herself a writer, and English has always been her best subject in school, so the following exchange comes as a blow on what’s already a horrible day…

“This was a clever idea,” Ms. Owen said, “but the characters never really came to life.” She dropped the story I’d submitted for a creative assignment on my desk. My words were covered in so much red ink, I could barely read them anymore.

“I mean who is this girl really?” she said. “What does she see in this boy, aside from the ‘sparkle of his ultraviolet eyes’?” She put those words in finger quotes. I shrugged, my face burning. “And what about him?” she pressed. “If everything he touches turns to stone, how does he eat?”

Ouch.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “It’s just, like, a fantasy story.”

“Well, I think you can do better,” she said sternly.

My eyes prickled with tears. I hoped she’d go away—but Ms. Owen was like a pit bull, jaws locked on its prey.

“If you’re serious about becoming a writer, I suggest you spend more time thinking about what makes people tick,” she said. “Use your real-life observations to create fictional characters with a pulse.”

My vision filmed over and I tried not to blink. Normally, I wouldn’t have broken down like this over a stupid story, but I didn’t know how much more I could take today.

Everyone was staring at me.

Except for Jasper.

He seemed to be gazing at some point at the front of the classroom, oddly focused, although there was nothing in particular to see there.

Then I smelled it: very faint at first, but unmistakable.

Burning.

Behind Ms. Owen, a curlicue of smoke rose from the garbage can. Something crackled quietly, like a twig snapping in the woods. Then a flame shot up over the rim. Half the class screamed, not so much in fear as in delight that something was happening for a change. As the flame whooshed up, Ms. Owen scuttled backward, as if hoping to use the students in the front row as a buffer between herself and the fire.

People leaped to their feet. Stu Sheers smashed the glass on the fire alarm, and the air filled with the pealing of the bell. Everyone rushed out the door, pushing and shoving. Ms. Owen yelled at us to hurry, and I grabbed my backpack. Only Jasper didn’t move. When I left the room, he was still pinned in his chair, staring at that blaze as if he didn’t want to get an inch closer to it.

Hooked? GOOD NEWS. You can enter to win a copy of this AMAZING book for yourself! Check out the link below.

Giveaway Details:

Two (2) winners will receive a copy of Sparked by Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous (INT)

Enter Giveaway here.

sparked authors

Don’t want to wait for the drawing. Check out where to get a copy below.

Find it on Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Indies | Amazon | B&N

Enjoy the rest of the tour here.

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My Last #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post of the Year, Plotting by the Seat of My Pants.

A funny thing happened last week.

There I was, sitting in the dark angst that was the middle of my plot, wondering how I was going to get my characters from the end of act one to the beginning of act four. Sure, I knew the basics, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the details of each scene. Mostly, I couldn’t keep everything straight in my head.

Knowing spreadsheets are the bane of my existence, I tried writing things down, bullet-pointing…even blurbed the little Scrivener index cards (which is an incredibly cool tool). The trouble for me was having to jump back and forth to see what was where and who was doing what.

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By the way, I should take the time to tell you I was super lucky to win a plotting session with Rebecca Petruck who helped me flesh out my premise and plan the four acts of my story. Definitely check out her services. I cry out her praises at least once every time I sit down to work on this story.

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Now back to my regularly scheduled self-doubt and lack of creativity…

Every now and then, some wonderfully creative people put together a hashtag challenge for the writing community to bond over what it means to be a writer and the process of writing.

Enter #IGWritersOctober.

There I was, scrolling through the #writingtools of all the brilliant authors participating and came across Dana Elmendorf’s post, and was blown away by what she uses to revise her novels. And like any inventive person, I totally stole it. By the way, Dana wrote a fabulous novel called South of Sunshine you can check out here.

Before I officially stole her methods, I asked her more about it. Dana told me she discovered the plan through The Plot Whisperer blog. You may have heard of it.

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Then I thought this would make a great post for #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. Without further ado, here it is:

Plotting

Please excuse the hummus.

Basically, the plot line is drawn on a white board and then broken down into acts. Even though there are three separate areas on my board, there are four acts represented. Obviously, you can use whatever breakdown works best for you.

Then, I wrote down plot points on color-coded sticky notes. There is a different color for each dynamic character. There are some minor, static characters that don’t get their own color.

Once I had everything written down, I put the stickies on the correct part of the board, essentially clearing my head and allowing me to focus on smaller scenes while still maintaining a visual. Then, I went to work on creating subplots and arcs for the secondary characters. This made for a better, character-driven plot rather than cooked up plot points characters were forced to comply with regardless of whether or not it felt natural.

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When I was done, my board looked like this:

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There are still some spots that are a little thin, and that becomes obvious when everything is laid out on the board. I’m still fleshing out those areas. You’ll also notice some characters have more action than others, and that’s okay. The reason I have them represented by different colors is to make sure their own arcs are fulfilled.

For example, the “yellow” character is a minor one, but it is his arc that propels the MC’s arrival at the crisis. And even though he doesn’t have a lot of “screen time,” his actions carry a big weight.

The ending looks a little “blue” character heavy, and that’s because he’s the MC that has to fix the mess he’s made of everything. The other characters are represented on his stickies. There isn’t a right or wrong way to use this tool, as long as it works for you.

Some of you may enjoy the thrill of watching the movie in your head as you write, and that “pantsing” method is a complete rush. If you prefer to draft that way, this may work for you like it does for Dana, as a revision tool.

A kind of reverse outline, if you will.

So there you have it. My revelation of the year. I’m so grateful for the community of writers I’ve been able to connect with through social media sites like Instagram and Twitter and their willingness to share how they’ve honed their craft.

If you have any of your own plotting or revision tools you’d like to share, please do so in the comments!

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All About Savage, by Nicole Conway

Never send a hero to do a monster’s job.

Forty years have passed since Jaevid Broadfeather brought peace to Maldobar and Luntharda. But that fragile truce will be tested as darkness gathers on the horizon. The vicious armies of the Tibran Empire have crossed the far seas and are threatening to destroy Maldobar completely. Not even the dragonriders can match the Tibran war machines. And after an attempt to awaken Jaevid from his divine sleep fails, the fate of Maldobar is looking grim.

Reigh has never known what it means to be a normal human. Raised amongst the gray elves in the wild jungle of Luntharda, he’s tried everything to fit in. But the dark power within him is bursting at the seams—refusing to be silenced. And while his adoptive father, Kiran, insists this power must be kept secret, Reigh knows he’s running out of time.

As Maldobar burns, the world is desperate for a new hero. Destiny has called, and one boy will rise to answer.

Savage Book Cover

Who is your favorite character from SAVAGE and why?

The main character, Reigh, really captured my heart from the beginning. There’s just so much about him that I relate to. He’s imperfect and is well aware of it. He has a temper and is a little cocky and sarcastic. He compulsively makes reckless choices and tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve. He doubts himself, questions his purpose, and is desperate to find something that makes him feel like he belongs. But most of all, Reigh fears the dark power within him. He yearns for any opportunity to prove to himself and everyone else that he isn’t a mistake or a monster. It’s all Reigh’s flaws that really make him endearing because beneath it all, we still get to see his heart. Reigh is a good person. He loves as fiercely as he fights. He’s a boy looking for the right path into manhood, and we’re walking this treacherous road right along with him.

A little about the author:

Savage Author

NICOLE CONWAY is an author from North Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University in 2012, and has previously worked as a graphic artist. She is happily married and has one son as well as a cat and a dog. She enjoys blogging, traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.

Check out other blog posts about this amazing book here!

 

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop: For Every Hero, a Shadow

You’ve created an amazing character and built them a fabulous world. Now you put your baby in a situation to see what happens, right?

Sort of.

To make any story worth reading, your protagonist needs a fully fleshed out antagonist. One that thwarts your darling at every turn and pushes them to their limits.

What’s that, you say? Writing a fleshed out bad guy is hard?

#truestory

First of all, an antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be “bad.” They just need to have conflicting goals with your hero. To help you create multi-dimensional and emotionally complex antagonists, this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post will show how to give your bad guy depth so they are more than just…bad.

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Antagonists come in two basic packages: internal and external. But the best ones have a little of both mixed in…

As a student of myth and depth psychology, I’ve spent a good amount of time studying Carl Jung’s archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. In fact, if you ask any of my own students about the hero’s journey, they will probably roll ALL THE EYES and say I’ve ruined movies for them forever.

*waves to students* You’re welcome.

Anyway, Jung speaks about an archetype called the shadow. He explains it this way:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge. (Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14)

In other words, the shadow is the part of the hero’s psyche that haunts him, but he can’t figure out why. Look at Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A perfect example of the internal antagonist.

Maudit

The good doctor has created a potion that, when he takes it, Mr. Hyde is born. But that’s not entirely true. There is no Mr. Hyde. Repeat. THERE IS NO MR. HYDE. Dr. Jekyll is unleashing his inner-shadow and allowing it to take control of his psyche. Sort of like Fight Club, but we’re not allowed to talk about that. Instead, enjoy a still from Jekyll and Hyde…

Two Natures

The shadow is always there, even when we don’t know it. Even Oedipus couldn’t out run it. But how does that help your story?

Well, if you’re writing a character-driven story, make a list of all the things your MC wants. List their dreams and goals. Now, think of all the ways they might sabotage themselves. Kind of like the way I always say I’m starting a diet on Monday yet I buy Sour Cream Cheddar chips on the Sunday trip to the grocery store. Like, WHY?

Evil Stepmother

The other type of antagonist is demonstrated as an external one, otherwise known as the Other. This “bad guy” has all the components of the internal shadow, but they are personified as a reflection of the hero. The foil. Take this guy:

Voldemort

Voldemort is the literal opposite of Harry. Now. But as students, he and Harry have a lot in common. The difference is Harry makes the conscious choice to choose Gryffindor and not Slytherin. One of my favorite scenes in the movies is when Harry dreams he is looking in a mirror and sees Voldemort’s reflection.

Through the whole arc, Harry takes on the characteristics of Old Voldy. Even though Voldemort is his own character with goals of taking over the magical world and making the muggle world submit to his power, the beauty is the true conflict happens when he possesses Harry.

In this case, the external antagonist challenges the hero, but it is the internal conflict that causes the true damage. When Harry’s mentor, Dumbledore, tells him “It isn’t how you are alike, it’s how you are not,” he is able to cast off Voldemort’s hold over him. That’s what makes their relationship so compelling.

So, when you’re working on your antagonist, spend some time fleshing out a character who is the opposite of your hero. Or give your hero some qualities that will sabotage their goals. Most importantly, let them fight it out. Show us what how it feels to lose on both sides and make us taste the desire to win.

Aristotle

On both sides.

 

 

 

You’ve Been Activated!

This week, I’m taking a break from talking about writing and am talking about reading. The book commercials I do for my students seem to be successful, so I thought I’d share one or two here.

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You. Guys. Look. At. This. Overview.

Tyler Bennett trusts no one. Just another foster kid bounced from home to home, he’s learned that lesson the hard way. Cue world’s tiniest violin. But when strange things start happening—waking up with bloody knuckles and no memory of the night before or the burner phone he can’t let out of his sight—Tyler starts to wonder if he can even trust himself.

Even stranger, the girl he’s falling for has a burner phone just like his. Finding out what’s really happening only leads to more questions…questions that could get them both killed. It’s not like someone’s kidnapping teens lost in the system and brainwashing them to be assassins or anything, right? And what happens to rogue assets who defy control?

In a race against the clock, they’ll have to uncover the truth behind Project Pandora and take it down—before they’re reactivated. Good thing the program spent millions training them to kick ass…

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And if you’d like a visual of Aden Polydoros’ mesmerizing world, check out the book trailer here.

Here’s my take…

This story has lots of action, intense amounts of intrigue, and ALL the Greek Mythology references you could ever want. The characters aren’t particularly likeable at first, but as I was dragged into their tortured psyches, I ended up rooting for them anyway. Since there are four points-of-view, you can deliciously suffer with each of the characters equally. (Two adverbs in one sentence? See what this book is doing to me?)

And, like everyone else, I am jumping on #TeamHades. I can’t decide if I want to hug him or have him arrested. Also, I’d ask for a poster of him to hang in my classroom, except I don’t think anyone would ever get any work done. Yes, he’s THAT gorgeous.

Polydoros is exceptional at characterization and the slow burn, not to mention cliff hangers. Like, WHERE IS THE NEXT ONE K THANKS.

About the Author:

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Aden Polydoros grew up in Long Grove, Illinois, the youngest of three children. Aden’s family moved to Arizona when he was in second grade. As a kid, he spent much of his time exploring the desert near his home. When he wasn’t searching for snakes and lizards, he was raiding the bookshelves of the local library. As a teenager, Aden decided that he wanted to be a writer. He spent his free time writing short stories. He was encouraged by his English teacher to try his hand at writing a novel, which inspired him to begin PROJECT PANDORA. The YA thriller is set for publication with Entangled Publishing in Summer of 2017. He is represented by Mallory Brown of Triada US.

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Thanks to Entangled Teen and NetGalley for making this book available! You can find the book at the following:

Amazon | Amazon.com.au | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled

The Importance of the First Page

Hey Everyone! If the picture above didn’t give it away, it’s time for this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, created by the lovely Raimey Gallant. Hopefully as you check out the different posts here, you can find little nuggets of wisdom to help you improve your writing skills. Or maybe just find one or two cool GIFs.

Today’s post is going to be what I’ve learned about that all-important first page of your manuscript and everything it’s supposed to do. I was going to call this post Trapped In the Never Ending Hell of Self Doubt and Revision Hell, which should give you a little indication of how tricky getting the first page right can be. Unfortunately, the original title didn’t really flow, so I went for a more simple approach.

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Actually, it only feels that way until you figure out the basics. Once you have those down, you can spend your revision tears on other fun things like filler words and passive voice… so let’s get started, shall we?

In revising my own novel, I must have rewritten my first page a million times. My first draft had my character in a car pulling up to her new home, hating her forced circumstances and dreading her new life.

This is not good. I learned this is a cliche opening.

Then I moved the start point to where she was in her new room trying to make sense of her new place. Better, but editors and critique partners told me my start was still cliche. Why? Because it was the wrong place to start the narrative. No action, too much thinking.

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There’s an entire list of cliche opening pages. With the help of a Writer’s Digest article, I’ve put together a list:

  1. Character is waking up.
  2. Character has been pulled out of their ordinary world and is driving/parking/walking to new one.
  3. Starts in first period or as bell rings (This is obviously more YA).
  4. A tour of who’s who in the story. Could be household or lunch room assignments.
  5. Character is sitting around thinking about all their problems.
  6. Looking at self in the mirror. (Please never do this. Even on page 100.)
  7. Being the new kid.
  8. Having to do something/go somewhere/be someone they don’t want to be for the summer.
  9. Newly orphaned and placed in any of the above situations.
  10. Being sorted/chosen for dystopian world the main character will eventually destroy/make better/accidentally help another creepy power guy gain control.

bloody hell

So what CAN first pages do?

Last week, to prepare for this post, I read about thirty different first pages. Most of them, admittedly, were in the YA category, but I chose a few adult novels as well as a few written by the Big Names. If a book was part of a series, I only looked at the first one because subsequent stories can sometimes bend the rules.

I looked at things like character name, cliche openings, voice, stakes, action, setting and dialogue. Very few novels gave the main character’s name or described him or her right away. More of them described the setting, but not always. Mostly there were hints that would ground the reader into some sort of placement, but rarely was the world elaborately built. Typically, the main character either acted or reacted to something, but none of them had both action and reaction. In every instance, it was one or the other.

A few novels did start with a cliche, but they were written by rock star authors who have built their brand and established their writing chops, so they can basically do whatever they want now.

So what did they all have on their first page?

Stakes.

stakes

Every novel I looked at presented what the main character would be up against throughout the entire story arc. Some authors were clever about it. They alluded to the larger stakes by setting up a smaller version of the Big Stakes for the character to overcome. But most authors jumped right in and let the readers know what sort of roller coaster ride they were in for.

The one other thing every novel had was voice. What is voice exactly, you ask? This is the verbiage and sound that creates your character’s specific dialect. No, this doesn’t mean you need to give your antagonist an over the top, cheesy British accent. Voice just means the reader can tell who’s talking or thinking. Voice is the “feel” of your story.

I polled quite a few editors and #PitchWars mentors, and every one of them said voice was the number one thing they looked for in a manuscript.

every man

Now that I’ve said all of this, here’s the rub. Only you know how your story should start, and only you can make that final call. I resisted changing mine for a long time. If you are getting advice to rework your opening, take a poll and see if the advice is coming from just one finicky person or it seems to be the general consensus among all your betas and CPS. If more than one person is saying the same thing, it may be worth considering.

The worst thing that can happen? You get a stronger manuscript or you feel more confident about how you’ve already opened your story. And you won’t be saying this:

beer

 

Pimpin’ That Bio

I know. I used pimpin’ in the title. The teacher in me has already assigned detention. But the author in me is like fa sho fa sho.

It’s that time of year where aspiring authors who are taking part in PitchWars get to share details about themselves and the book they’ve been crying over, erm, working on.  You can find more of these fab authors here on Lana Pattinson’s blog.

And be forewarned. PitchWars peeps LOVE GIFs. Seriously, it’s practically an art form.

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So let’s move on, shall we?

Part One: All About the Book

A long, long time ago, this YA book started as a story about what would happen to a shy girl if her BFF moved away (based on  my daughter and her best friend, and pretty sure there’s a MG plot in there, still). And while it’s kept the very basic premise, this story has evolved into what happens when girls don’t have the vocabulary or the self-confidence to take care of themselves when things like dealing with boys, parents, and social expectations get tricky. Take a look at the aesthetic for Within and Without:

Aesthetic

Yes, it looks country, but it’s Northern California country, where food is grown and wine is made, but Target and the mall is, like, 20 minutes away.

Within and Without is a YA contemporary that shows girls what can happen when they choose themselves. Granted, Wren doesn’t fire an arrow into any roasted pig’s mouths, but she can be just as bad ass as Katniss. Once she figures out how, anyway…

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And while there isn’t a cool Roman/13 American colonies thing happening, I did manage to work in more than a few Great Gatsby allusions for all you literary fans out there…

Here’s the pitch-in-progress:

Sixteen-year-old Wren believes her bulimia helped attract her long-time crush. But when he pushes her into a physical relationship she’s not ready for, she must decide if the illusion of love is worth her health.

Part Two: A Bit About Me

My parents tell me I am an only child, but I’m pretty sure my siblings live in books. From the time I read The Monster at the End of This Book until the binding gave way to the hundreds of Danielle Steele romances I read in high school to the time I laid (that’s the right tense, right?) in the middle of the deserted, midnight streets of my college-town, contemplating the way Anne Rice uses “vermillion” in her Interview with a Vampire Series with my weirdest and closest friend, I knew I belonged where the stories lived.

I tried being “normal,” whatever that is, by working at a bank. I did pretty well, managing to promote to vice-president and the private bank in a short time. I managed hundreds of millions of dollars in assets for my clients.

But I wasn’t happy.

bored

Then a bunch of things happened. The housing market tanked. My daughter started having seizures (This is the basis of my next WIP). I was spending more time with her than making my sales goals- DUH. I would help out in her class as “room mom,” and her teacher-at-the-time kept telling me I should be a teacher.

Truthfully, I always wanted to be one. Even had the old school desk I’d sit my stuffed animals in when I was young and “teach” them about spelling and grammar.

#nerd.

The idea embedded itself in my psyche and I eventually went back to school to get a degree and started teaching English. Ten years later, not only do I have a BS in Business Administration, but I also have a BA and MA in English. I’m also working through a PhD program of Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. Basically, that’s a lot of words to say I LOVE WORDS and the stories they make.

And now I want to create my own written pictures so the world can see a little of what I see in it. And how beautiful it can be.

When I was finishing my master’s degree, I had to write a ten-page paper once a month for ten months, not to mention all the extra written assignments in the program. And then there was the 37-page annotated bibliography and 40-page master’s thesis I completed in three months. I say this to show I’m not afraid of work, and I can do “butt-in-chair” very well.

Fun… no, interesting story: my last master’s class was ENG 666 (I KNOW!), Silent Film as Literature. My instructor, retired from NYU and teaching part-time, returned my first assignment claiming it was un-gradeable because I had no idea how to write. I took a day cursing him and his cows, but then returned to DO THE WORK. I ended up with a 96.7% in the class (An A- because he required a 97% to get an A).

This shows I’m not afraid of criticism and can “Rise Up” when needed. (Insert Hamilton because #WERK).

work

Also, I’ve recently managed 10k words on my new project in two and a half days. My arms and shoulders may be sore, but like Hamilton, I write like I’m running out of time…

my shot

Part Three: All the Extras

I have two amazing kids. My daughter, mentioned above, is now 20 and has survived a TBI at birth, epilepsy, brain surgery and subsequent partial paralysis, and now migraines. She managed to graduate high school ON TIME, and now works proudly at TJ Maxx. She’s recently been given a raise and a chance to work the registers.

surgery

 

My son is 18 and just graduated high school. He is on his way to college to study music production, although he’s been told multiple times he should be acting or a model. Seriously, his sense of humor just isn’t fair.

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Also, I can’t leave out my daughter’s semi-retired service dog. Her name is Lady, and she is just as weird as her girl.

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She’s the one on the left…(And just for the record, she prefers Pluto to Goofy.)

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Part Four: Okay, So…

I have loved the way the 26 characters of the English alphabet can be rearranged to connote emotion and love and bittersweetness since I could listen to stories. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the way people see and feel things.

I’m hoping to write more stories and make people feel all of the feels as they read them.

More than anything, I’m SUPER grateful to the PitchWars community for making me feel welcome and that my stories are relevant.

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Please leave a comment on why you write or read. And feel free to share!