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 :)