Tuesday, April 21, 2009

something wicked.

The  friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for Death Eaters. - JK Rowling. 

I'm writing from best friend Sarah's house, overlooking her lake of cute turtles. Well. It's not her lake, I suppose. It's sort of a shared thing, a natural resource, but you get the general idea. I'm watching the water because, according to Sarah, there is a large monster fish flopping around somewhere in the depths. This place is like a wildlife reserve! I like monsters so I've been excited about seeing the Volkswagen Fish for awhile now. So far, no luck. Neither the fish nor the turtle population is particularly relevant to this post, I just wanted to mention them. Turtles are darn cute in cartoons, don't you think?  (As to whether or not they're cute in real life ... I'm undecided.  They're cuter than ducks but that isn't saying much.)

I've name dropped my two best friends, Melanie and Sarah, in various written form over the years. This makes them notorious, I like to think. I always assume as long as I say nice things about my friends, they don't care if I write about them. This plan has only backfired once (so far).  

Several years ago, I wrote a column detailing an adventure Sarah and I had at a high school football game. Whenever our team scored a touchdown, the cheerleaders threw Jolly Ranchers (the candy, not happy farm workers) into the stands. As is procedure in a candy toss, we tried to catch the goodness. At one point, a piece of candy hit Sarah's mouth and caused massive bloodshed. I'm not going to lie ... it was quite humorous. Later on, I wrote about the incident. I linked the experience to how even "good things" we think we want can bring lots of pain. I know, I know. It's kind of a trite/cheesy way to get to the point. It was several years ago.  I was still learning how to write that kind of article blah blah blah. Anywho. When the story went through the editing process, and I saw it in print, it made Sarah sound like Kong - like she stood atop the highest bleacher, bellowing threats to the kids trying to catch candy, demanding the jackets of the freezing masses so she could weave a giant net to trap the candy that would be all hers.  *evil laugh*

The article wasn't that bad, but it was close. The experience taught me to be more careful in how I wrote about my friends. Until now.  

Now, all these years later, I'm forced to rethink my decision.  The rethink started recently, when A Friend Who Shall Not Be Named was unabashedly teasing me.  I don't even remember what he was teasing me about. I just remember it was getting monotonous.  And so I murmured some pointless retort like, "I wouldn't say that if I were you." 

And he laughed and said, "Or what will you do about it?" People assume because I am small, I have no bite.  They assume because I am a weak and clumsy girl, I have no effective weapons in my arsenal. They are wrong. I raised one eyebrow and smiled, defiant.  

I said:  I will put you in my novel.

He said:  I would be honored.

I said:  Oh, you far underestimate my powers. 

When I'm not writing about my friends as snaggle toothed villains, I try write good things about them.   I'm just not above taking necessary measures.  

Still with me?  

Because that convo made me think of how funny it would be if I gave baddies the names of friends (would they still be my friend if I did that?).  Then, I started thinking about a few of my favorite villains in literature.  

Voldemort is the obvious place to start. He's terrifying and sinister without being remotely comical (have you seen the latest trailer for Half Blood Prince?  Did you scream and pretend to cast spells with the chopsticks in your take-out?  Cause, um, I didn't do that, of course.  I'm just wondering if you did).  I thought of Beira from Melissa Marr's book Wicked Lovely.  In the scene where Beira is introduced, Marr describes the paintings hanging on the wall.  They're grotesque and sick and I still remember them (in my mind, they look a lot like some of Bacon's work ... not Footloose Bacon, the painter Bacon).  Beira is no sweet little tooth-fairy.  The woman is all evil and ice. 

When you talk about villains, you have to talk about Charles, no?  Dickens gave the world Fagan and Madame Defarge.  *shudders*  Remember her?  She sat around knitting the names of her victims.  I pictured her with long spidery fingers (red thread making a slow deadly pile on the floor beside her chair...).   Shakespeare added Don Juan and Lady MacBeth and Hamlet's uncle (what was his name?  Claudio?  Or no?  I'm getting my bardwires crossed :).

East of Eden is my favorite novel (other than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) and I think, partially, it has to do with the villain; a human monster named Cathy.  Steinbeck goes to great lengths to make Cathy Trask unlovable.  She's intentionally evil. She skankily abandons her husband and sons (shoosting one of them), and consistently plots ways to bend people around her own sadistic will.  (I read some literary criticism once suggesting Steinbeck actually wanted her to be the personification of the Devil ... don't know if that's accurate though.)  There is nothing redeeming about her. And yet there's a scene in the book, a scene revolving around Cathy the Revolting, that helped me see my relationship with God in a completely new way.  I won't try to hash it all out here because I don't want to ruin the book if you haven't read it. Short version:  God loves heroes and monsters.  We all have a little bit of both inside our hearts.
In young adult or children's lit, baddies sometimes seem worse as a looming presence than in the the flesh.  Neil Gaimon put Bod in a graveyard with all sorts of friendly ghosts and the constant threat of The Man Jack.  Rudyard Kipling put Mowgli in the jungle with a bunch of friendly apes and the constant threat of Sher Khan.  Murderers in graveyards and the shadow of a tiger slinking through a jungle ... that's pretty scary stuff.  Just the presence was almost scarier than the final showdown.

But that is the good part:  Mowgli and Bod and Harry and Meg Murray (didn't mention her ... but kudos if you know her story :) and all the characters in books do eventually face their monsters.  And sometimes I get to live vicariously through them on a page to the point I think I can defeat mine.  Maybe that sounds kind of trite too.  I think the best story, the hardest kind to write, is the kind that makes a reader feel a little bit more brave in the end. You don't have to shove sugary morality down some one's throat to help them feel more brave.

"Fairy tales are more than true," writes G.K. Chesterton. "Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." 

Books rock my world.  Have I mentioned this before? :)


Jenny is giving away a copy of her new book, So Not Happening.  If you scootch over to her blog, you can enter to win by leaving a comment about your favorite teacher.  Jenny also posted the cover of her new novel which looks fab :)  I'm about to spill her secret: Jenny is a magician.  She manages to write books that are 1.) lovely  and 2.) coherent at a rate I envy.  I've been working on a project I affectionately call "The It" for quite awhile now.  My friends, the ones who think I'm kidding when I say I'll name villains after them, they do not like this waiting business.  I let some of them read portions of "The It" and now they're dropping threats trying to get the rest.  Here in the swamp, writing tends to move at a slug's pace. 

I am presently fighting a mild addiction to purple fine-tip Sharpies.  I outline on cheapo yellow legal pads and the purple looks so pretty with the yellow ... 

I cannot, and will probably never, understand why "rompers" are in style for people over the age of three.   Your thoughts on this?

I finally got the glasses I ordered over a month ago.  They are dark-rimmed, big, nerdy, and awesome :) 

I went to LifeWay the other day to see if my book was there.  I walked casually back to the teen section, browsed around, and didn't see it.  Then I looked through music for a bit (did you know Phillip LaRue has a solo CD out?  Does anybody have it/like it?  I was a big fan of LaRue back in the day) and then made for the door.  And guess what?  Just as I was about to leave, I saw pink.  Paperdoll was up front in the New Releases section!  :)  

So it might be up front if you live near a LifeWay.  It got its first reader review over on CBD. The Paperdoll over on the sidebar is a portkey to Amazon, where it is in stock too.  It's out now (confetti!), but I still want to have a release day fiesta here on the blogaroo on May 1st.  I'm trying to think of something super exciting besides, uh, just telling you about the book and putting up a teaser.  We can't do snacks or muzak but I have some fun ideas.  :) 

When I told my parents the book was in a store, they went to see it. They bought a copy. This is funny because I gave them one already (actually they have more than one) but they got a kick out of buying it. Mom took a picture of the process. Proud parents are the sweetest :) My dad has read the book twice now. Real men read Paperdoll. ;)

Let me know what's on your mind. Happy Weekending :)


  1. Al this talk about villains took me back to, um, a week ago when I was madly wrapping up my research paper on villains in English lit:S Not fun, but villains are kind of fun! To hate, I mean. Especially when you seek revenge by naming them after friends. Hehehe.
    And it's nearly May 1! I haven't been out in a while (I wonder how deficient in vit D I am by now), but when I do come out of hiding, I intend to look out for Paperdoll. It does come out in Canada, right?? If I find it, I'll take a pic so you can see it through "international" eyes.
    Okay, I think this is long enough! (Sorry.)

  2. Turtles, East of Eden, and LaRue all in one post. Must say, I absolutely love this blog and I'm excited to read Paperdoll at some point ; )

  3. I love the pic of your dad! He looks so happy. And I also love the fact that he is a Gokey fan. :)

  4. Your dad looks sooo happy! fun!

    What about Dickens' Miss Havisham?! She spooked me.

  5. Sarah, villains are, indeed, fun. Sometimes I think they're the best part of the story ... sometimes I even think they're more interesting than the hero. Sorry if this blog gave you research paper flashbacks ;) I'm pretty sure Paperdoll is out in Canada! Definitely send me a pic if you find it :) I heart Canada. I went to Prince Edward Island a few years ago and pretty much left my heart there :) I'm also heart Tim Hortons! (is that cliche to like Tim Hortons?)

    Amy, glad you like the blog! Things can get certainly get pretty random around here :)

    Mel, you found a way to comment YAY! :) Dad is with you in your Gokey love. After last night ... I'm starting to like Kris more. I never disliked him, I was just meh. But I'm liking him way more now. It wouldn't surprise me if he made it to the final two.

    J, How did I forget Miss Havisham?! She was a creeper, for sure. Dickens could really write a villain. Sarah reminded me of a funny story involving your mom and Vegemite (sp?). Remind me to tell you about it.

  6. I just got Paperdoll in the mail and I have read through the first two chapters already. I use it as a guide for my quiet time. Just thought I would tell you how much it has inspired me!! I can totally relate to everything you are talking about so far. It had truly opened my eyes to new things about myself and about God. So thank you! This won't be the last Paperdoll comment I leave, so hopefully I won't get to annoying haha.

    On another note...I am starting a list of books that I want to explore this summer before I go off to school. East of Eden has now made the list since you liked it so much. Any other recommendations??

  7. I used to want to be Meg Murry. :) And since my best friend is a tall red haired boy, sometimes I think of him as my Calvin O'Keefe... :) now if only our story would turn out like theirs! :) I also really like Philip LaRue's new music, Jars of Clay's brand new cd is really good, and I'm so excited for Bethany Dillon's and Christy Nockels' new albums! :)

  8. My friend's university colors are purple and gold -- she'd smile if she knew the way you outline. :)

    Meg Murray -- A Wrinkle in Time?

    My 15-year old friends say I should publish my personal journals, or as they call them, my novels (since I write so much). That's not happening because there isn't really a plot line or any common threads, especially in high school.

    I'm with Abby ^^ on Jars of Clay (their Closer EP?), and I've been enjoying Coldplay, Brandon Heath, and Future of Forestry.
    I really hope this publishes this time; I've tried a couple times before.

  9. YES! Success! It published my comment!

  10. You know, villains can be awesome...especially when they are named Sir Guy and played by actors like Richard Armitage. Had to throw that out there...couldn't resist pluggind one of my many obsessions. *wink*

    The title of your post made me think of the show "Wicked" which is FINALLY coming to my neck of the woods this fall. Can. Not. WAIT. I so better get excellent tickets!!

    And I am so glad you found Paperdoll at your local LifeWay because otherwise I'd be emailing you pictures 'cause I KNOW it's there. *wink* BTW, did you get my message through Xanga about the fact that I have a copy of your fabulous looking book on my TBR pile?

  11. Lindsey, I'm so glad you're liking the book! Chat about it all you want. When I was doing the heavy editing on P., I really missed being in a group of girls to discuss it with. I think books are more fun when you get to talk about them. It's sweet to know you can relate to what the book says :) As far as books I would recommend ... hm. Eden is certainly an awesome place to start (the first part is slow because he gives such detailed descriptions of Salinas, but worth it!). Have you read The Giver? Even though it's considered children's (or maybe YA?), it was required reading for me in college and it rocked my world. I still think about it sometimes. Let me think about this one and I'll get back to you ...

    Abby, how sweet that you have a real live Calvin! :) I never loved Calvin as much as Gilbert Blythe, but he is pretty darn incredible. And to know Christy Nockles AND Bethany Dillon have an album coming out ... makes my heart do backflips.

    Jess, thanks for commenting! This blog is so finicky with comments and I have no idea why. Keep all those journals! You never know where they'll go. One of my favorite parts in Paperdoll bloomed out of what I almost wrote as a blog entry. Also, I've never heard of Future of Forestry. I'll have to look them up!

    Ruth, my brother texted me with this Wicked news and I squeeled in Target. It is a must see. We're thinking of going again too even though the tickets to Wicked are crazy pricey. and yes, I got your message! I can't wait to hear what you think of the book :)

  12. I've never seen it, just listened to the soundtrack for YEARS.

  13. As always, thanks for the shout out. I'm so not worthy.

    I have Wicked Lovely. Had it for a year. I couldn't get past chapter three. Should I keep going?

    And you read Graveyard Book!! Love Bod. Though honestly...haven't finished that either. I keep making my ninth grade boys read it.

    And I LOVED Giver. I thought it was deep on so many levels even though it's like a fourth grade book. I made my ninth graders read that too back in the old days of teaching English. I loved how Jonas was like Christ--the sacrifice.

    And I am days away from getting your book on my doorstep. I cannot wait!!!

  14. We had to read The Giver in 7th grade. I thought it was weird then, but kind of interesting. I like it more now, and I'm actually thinking about reading it again. It's funny, though, that I still think about it. In fact, I was thinking about it this morning! Did you read the companion books? Gathering Blue and Messenger go with The Giver, and they are excellent!

    Yeah, this blog always makes me post the comment twice, because the first time is an error. But I will persevere...

  15. Haha, of course I wrote that and it published on the first try! :)

  16. Rachael, so glad you persevered in your blog commenting adventure! :) I'm hoping eventually the kinks will work themselves out. I've never read "Gathering Blue" or "Messenger" but I should! (The only other book I've read by Lowry is "Number the Stars".) Thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely check them out. :)

  17. Haha, writing people into the book I (hope to) write is a threat I use, as well. Authors have such great power... :)

    And I am not quite sure that I support rompers, either. I mean, I told my best friend to get one that she tried on, but only half of it was because I knew she liked it... part of me just wanted to see her wear it in public and notice other peoples' reactions.

    And I absolutely LOVE the quote from G. K. Chesterton! I am writing that one down, for sure.

  18. Hey Natalie,
    I've recently been able to visit this website again on my computer (dumb ENC network settings), and I thought I'd share it. I love it.


    You can stream a number of different albums, including Phillip LaRue's! It's also got Brandon Heath, Family Force Five, Jon Foreman, Fiction Family, Hillsong, etc. etc. You can try out the songs before you buy the CD. :)