Monday Muse: Well, Hello There *Insert Name Here*

Yo!

Yes, I said yo. We’re moving on.

So, I’m a bit laid up with a hell of a sinus infection right as I’m trying to finish up edits for Killing Mercutio. It’s a tad unfortunate. I’m so close, but my head feels like it’s being hit by invisible hammers. The idea of thinking… at all, really, has my whole body protesting.

Boo.

But I’m not going to let that get in the way of writing up a blog for today. Fair warning, though… I have no idea if it’s any good.

I’ve had a few people reading Mercutio as I’ve edited, helping to point out what isn’t reading well to an entirely objective eye. And, fortunately, there haven’t really been many to worry about.

This is because A and I know our characters really, really well. And when you know your characters, what you write tends to be pretty damn clear. Because, get this, your characters are the heart of your story. Plot is important enough, but your characters drive the plot.

I have a hierarchy for my stories. It doesn’t have to be your hierarchy, but it is mine and it works for me.

For me, World comes first. Why? Because everything happens inside that world. The characters are a product of their world and the plot has to work within it, as well, so I have always considered it the most important thing. And the world is, in and of itself, a character for me.

But… a novel like Mercutio doesn’t have a terribly in-depth world. We went with Shakespeare’s Verona and added some history to give it a broader  scope, but I certainly didn’t have to put as much effort into the world as I did the characters.

(For the record, characters come second and plot comes third. For me, plot is a product of world and characters. My buddy over at The Scribble Bug can attest to this. She’s called me a Game Master before; put the characters into a world and then throw shit at them to see what happens. And it sometimes drives her nuts, I have no doubt.)

Before we move on: I did mention I have a terrible sinus infection and my brain isn’t quite where it should be, right? Right now, this feels like it makes sense even if it is a bit rambly, but I could probably understand Benjy Compson, so I might not be the best judge. But I think I was talking about characters. In a weirdly roundabout way. So let’s get going…

In a story like Mercutio, characters are of even more importance. We know the play. So our ability to take these characters and these events and make them new and interesting and, hopefully, intriguing, is the heart of our novel. We had to know these characters. They had to be as well-developed and multifaceted as real people so they could drive the plot and make it their own. Mercutio, himself, made some very surprising changes to his own narrative because of it. (Changes that kinda messed up A’s half of the novel… and I’m sorry, A…) But… how does one get to know their characters so well?

Well… the same way you get to know anyone really well. You talk to them. You let them tell you who they are. For A and I, writing together, we found objective physical models and used the way our picks move, speak, sound, etc to add depth to our characters. Mercutio is tall and slender, so he ended up moving in a sort of graceful lurching most of the time; the lope of a man who’s taller than everyone in the room (but for the time… he’s not 6’8 or anything). Tybalt isn’t traditionally good looking, but he is incredibly sexy because he knows exactly how to use his body to best effect. We got that just from their physical bodies.

But, mostly, we talked to them. We figured out who they were and what they wanted. I know their sex lives (seriously… Tybalt really knows how to use his body to best effect) even though there’s no sex in the novel. I know Benvolio is a writer even though it never shows up in the story. (For the record, A knows this stuff, too. I’m not taking credit for something… though I admit I was the one who thought about their sex lives. What? Someone was talking about their characters’ sexual proclivities and it naturally got me thinking about mine! Romeo’s is particularly sweet.)

How does talking to characters in your own head work? For me, I literally talk to them… but then, I’m insane. I also love character studies (vignettes that won’t ever make it into the novel, but teach me loads), character bios (but for purely physical things, never personality because personalities aren’t stagnant), and when I have physical models, watching those models perform in other stories. Even when they’re different characters, there’s something that carries through — something about the sound of their voice or the way their face moves — and I often like to incorporate that into my character, too. (I suppose out of some misguided hope my story will one day make it to the screen…)

I also just spend a lot of time thinking. Eventually, they start talking to me. The problem is, it’s inevitably when I’ve just decided to do something else.

Well, that’s it for me today. I’ll be back on Friday with Boozy Books. I’m feeling sick… know what that means? Austen! I still have… three (?) left, I think. Any requests between Northanger AbbeySense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park?

C

Silly Sunday: Batfleck v. Silly

I know I’m late! Technically it’s not Sunday anymore in my time zone, so let’s pretend I’m on the west coast… Cool? Cool.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone is aware of the “trainwreck” that occurred at the box office this weekend… Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has been almost universally panned. Except Wonderwoman… Apparently the entire movie served as a 2.5 hour preview for the glimpse of hope that she gave the DC cinematic universe. But yeah… Reviews weren’t great. And nobody was more upset than Ben Affleck.

http://www.dailydot.com/geek/batman-v-superman-sad-ben-affleck-meme/

I feel bad for laughing, but it’s quite silly. Also, he wasn’t named by any critic as the worst thing part of the movie so well done there, I guess…

Sorry for the lateness and tune in tomorrow (er, later today) for the Muse!

-A

Shakespeare Saturday: Let’s Say it Again, Folks

SHAKESPEARE IS FOR EVERYONE!

OK… starting over…

Hey guys. Welcome to this, the most Eastery of Shakespeare Saturdays. I always wondered how Sunday represented the third day. Isn’t that… the second day? Didn’t Jesus die on Friday? Are we COUNTING Friday as a day? It sounds like Jesus came back 48-hours later…

I always wondered that.

Anyway. Happy Zombie Jesus day!

But for today… Shakespeare, again, is for everyone.

 

Have a great day!

C

Boozy Books: Unholy Night

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you had a successful, kick-ass week. I also hope you’re ready for some drinking and a dark, gritty twist on the Three Wise Men because that’s exactly what I’ve got in store tonight. I’m sure the name Seth Grahame-Smith is not unknown to many of our readers because his books Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (along with their accompanying high-octane, campy films) are pretty well-known. But today I’m shining a spotlight on one of his lesser known retellings, Unholy Night.

This book is insane. That’s literally all I could think while reading it. Grahame-Smith turns the Three Holy Men into murderous, escaped thieves and turns the entire birth of Jesus on its head. Bethlehem will never be the same… Led by the murderer and thief Balthazar, the three “wise men” escape from Herod’s prison and end up having to protect the newborn child of (you guessed it) Mary and Joseph. Overall the twisting of the story is quite well done and engaging, however, I will say that some scenes are hard to read (i.e. torture is not fun).

Given the intensity of this book I think an intense wine is called for. Also, because of all the blood in this book it should be red. Definitely red. I’m getting a very heavy red vibe. Full-bodied. Deep and complex. Honestly, I’d almost say a glass of Port would do well alongside this one, but you won’t be going wrong with a merlot either.

Happy reading and happy drinking!

A

Buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Unholy-Night-Seth-Grahame-Smith/dp/B00C2HIIJE

Monday Muse: Happy Coincidences

Happy Monday, readers! Don’t you just love it when things start falling into place? I know I do. Today’s blog is about recognizing that good things have a tendency to happen in clusters. Just as bad things are said to occur in threes I believe good things can go on endlessly as long as you acknowledge them. Find the good stuff and let it propel you forward. Granted, this sounds a little hippy-dippy, but it’s really easy to be grateful for one thing and suddenly find yourself listing a stream of stuff to be happy about. Happiness begets happiness. And happiness, it seems, spurs productivity.

This is the case for me at least. I’ve had a particularly lovely day so far… The first weekend of my show came to a close, allowing me to visit the boyfriend, and this morning the temperature dropped to a beautiful 69 degrees with sunshine, allowing us to take the dog for a comfortable run. This series of events could easily be taken for granted since they’re fairly typical, but after a few stressful weeks it’s become the perfect day. As a result of these and a number of other good things (and the endorphins clearly running rampant in my brain) I’ve been creatively productive.

Two things have happened to lead me to this conclusion. One: A story idea that has been haunting me for weeks has finally taken shape, settling into a pretty solid foundation of characters and plot points. And two: I have finally developed an ending for the short story I started what feels like ages ago. While the body of this short still needs work, I’m now fairly confident that I can get through it in the next few days. I’m calm and happy and my brain is revving its creative motor without a hint of stalling.

As I write this post I’m taking note of every remotely good thing that has happened so far today. I went to the gym  (I know it’s weird, but I truly like going because I feel incredibly accomplished afterwards). Starbucks finally got my London Fog Latte correct (the last three times I ordered it the Earl Grey was replaced with Royal English Breakfast. Still good, but not the same). My boyfriend and I started watching Daredevil season 2 (and so far it’s living up to the first season). I’ve got a bank of ideas that seems to be allowing withdrawals and C is 12 chapters from completing the latest edit of Killing Mercutio. BOOM.

So enjoy the good things, no matter how small, because they may push you in the right direction.

-A

Silly Sunday: Latin is Silly

Heeeyyyyo, all! Welcome to today’s Silly Sunday!

I don’t know if I have ever mentioned (oh, who am I kidding, of course I have), but I took Latin throughout high school and some of university. Five years in total, I spent running through declensions and conjugations… trying to figure out which of 9000 versions of a verb is the right one for the sentence.

And that’s before we get into Latin poetry, which I hated translating so much I purposely used it in Killing Mercutio as a difficult lesson for Mercutio to teach.

Catullus can kiss my ass.

I don’t usually think about my time as a student of Latin, mostly because I remember almost none of it. The lasting impact of the language has been to improve my understanding of English, and my appreciation of the fact that an apple is a fricken apple, no matter what we say about it.

You know who has something to say about it? Eddie Izzard, aka my favorite comedian and one of the funniest men in the universe. Please enjoy:

 

Note: If you don’t know about Eddie Izzard, he is not always SFW. This video most definitely isn’t. So… watch it at home, or on your break, or outside the sushi restaurant you ate at after spending the entire day unpacking…

You will laugh.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Shakespeare? Anyone?

Good evening, everybody! Welcome back to Nerd Cactus for Shakespeare Saturday! Well, some of you loyal readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve opened another show… This one has been quite an interesting ride and I’m very happy (albeit exhausted) that it is finally up and running. Honestly, two and a half weeks of rehearsal have never felt longer. But I have overcome! The show lives! I sing and dance! My body is very tired…

Anyway, I’m supposed to have a Shakespeare Saturday for you and I will deliver! In the past, opening weekends have been difficult, but I’ve got something up my sleeve. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an article that appeared in The Guardian on how to write like Shakespeare. Because who doesn’t want their writing to last 400 years and be considered the BEST? (Seriously, who?)

Take a look and take note!

How to Write Like William Shakespeare!

A

Boozy Books Friday: Comfort Round-up!

Friday. Ah, Friday. It’s here.

Unfortunately, my internet is not. I moved this week, and Comcast is being Comcast (re: dicks), so I’m using the other half’s mobile hotspot to log on and not go insane from lack of connectivity.

On the positive sign, I get to do a LOT of reading. The first thing I always unpack is the couple of boxes containing my most precious books; the books I turn to for comfort, reading again and again whenever I need, well, comforting. My world is in chaos right now — life is always chaotic when everything is in boxes — and I always use books to soothe the anxiety.

Given this combination of reading old favorites and not having a lot of internet, I thought this would be a great time to do a round-up of old entries. We’ve been around for over a year now, and most of you lovely readers have joined us within the last six months, or so. So…here with my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES, is Nerd Cactus’ first official round-up!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I’ve talked about this one before, probably enough that you don’t want to hear about it anymore, but this is the book that made me want to be an author… and that’s important. Also… you should read it before it becomes a show on Starz!

Persuasion by Jane Austen: “Oh God… is she talking about Austen again?!” Yeah, sorry. I did say this was a comfort read list. Most people would recommend Pride and Prejudice, but I like Persuasion better. Quite simply, it’s Austen’s best book.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore: I haven’t talked about this one in a while, but it is, without doubt, one of the funniest books I have ever read in my entire life. Plenty of books make me giggle, but this one makes me laugh out loud. Fair warning: it also seems to attract Onion Ninjas.

The Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde: One of the most imaginative series I’ve read in a long, long time. Probably ever. Ever dream you could go inside books? Well… this is as close as you’re going to get.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson: This one probably seems strange. It’s hardly a comforting series. But sometimes I find a great deal of comfort in epic worlds, complex plots and philosophies, characters you hate becoming the ones you love the most, etc. Erikson is a trained anthropologist and archaeologist… and that’s reflected in EVERY page of this amazing series. (Anomander Rake 4eva!)

The Peter Grant/Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch: A new favorite I often re-read for the main character. A London cop who finds out he’s a wizard and gets to investigate all the “weird stuff”. The best is how he reacts to it. And it really is such a refreshing voice; Peter is not a natural at the magic stuff, but he does have a great deal of heart.

And, last but certainly not least…

Middlemarch by George Eliot: The book I re-read once a year whether I want to, or not. Well… I always want to. I love it so much. You will, too.

So. A round-up of all my favorites. They’re all awesome and I think you should read them. I mean… would I lie?

(No. I wouldn’t.)

C

Monday Muse: Be a Style Maven (Sort-of.)

Heyo! Welcome to this week’s Monday Muse!

So. Style. We all have it. It’s in the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we interpret and interact with everything around us, all the time. It is a large part of the definition of each of us as individuals. A person’s style is their calling card, like leaving a rose at the scene of a crime.

 

That rose thing might have just been an excuse to use this…

For crazy writer-types like me, style isn’t just my calling card, it’s who I am. It’s the definition of C, Author. When it comes to telling stories, your style is how you interact with the literary world; it’s how you land a publishing deal (if you want to go the trad-pub route, of course, but that is a discussion for another day) and how your readers will come to know you. The compact you create between yourself and your reader — the writer writing and the reader, well, reading — is based pretty much entirely upon your style. Take Neil Gaiman, for example; that’s a man with style. It doesn’t matter if he’s writing for kids, adults, the crustacean market (I’ve been reading Thursday Next…sorry)… you know you’re reading a Gaiman. Even when writing superhero comics (check out his Marvel 1602), Gaiman is Gaiman.

And his fans love all of it. People who don’t usually read comics enjoy his comics. Well, everyone loves SandmanThey’re amazing. But I digress. American Gods is not Neverwhere is not Coraline or The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But they’re all Gaiman, and his fans follow him for it.

That’s the style I’m talking about.

Readers of this here blog know a bit about my style. You see it every time I post. And I’m not talking about voice, though that is part of it. The way I write when I’m writing this blog is my “conversational” tone. It’s exactly the way I would write if I were chatting with you on social media… and quite possibly in person. My voice when I’m writing a novel/play/short story/what have you changes based on the story. I did not write Killing Mercutio (the novel, in case anyone managed to forget) the same way I’m writing Sci-Fantasy Brigadoon (which is a working title that…really is quite fitting), but Merc has a lot in common with Fall the God. It depends on whether I feel the need to get super serial up in this… uh… whatever. Moving on.

What does this mean? It means you’ve got to find the thing that makes you…you. The element of yourself that will infuse everything you write, even if the stories themselves could probably go in different sections of the bookstore. The thing that makes people go, “Oh yeah, that sounds like _____! I love *insert pronoun of choice*!” Here at Nerd Cactus? It’s a flair for literary fangirling. All of our ideas have literary backbones (well, OK, there’s the TV show and the one novel…). Mercutio is obviously Shakespeare, but loads of our favorite classical authors find their way into our stuff. Me as a solo writer? Some combination of history,  politics, fantasy, and mythology (and sometimes folklore) will inevitably end up at the heart of my stories. Sometimes, as with Fall the God, they’re all there and I can make up really pretentious-sounding genres like mytho-historical political fantasy. Isn’t that fun? I love it.

So… just like that guy who always wears the coolest hats or the girl who has a signature pair of red pumps (or reversed, I’m cool with whatever)… all us writers gotta find our inner style maven and let her out.

giphy1

So. Give it a think and get back to us. What’s YOUR personal style?

C

ps- I want to thank my wonderful writing group for this topic. Discussing it earlier is what inspired the blog. Y’all are awesome!

pps- Everybody ought to have a maid writing group. They really are indispensable!

Silly Sunday: Superhero Landing!

Happy Sunday! If you haven’t seen the trailer for Captain America: Civil War that was released this past week, please watch it now…

It is excellent isn’t it? I’m beyond excited! Spider-Man appeared! He’s finally in his rightful place in the MCU! WOOOOO! Hopefully this appearance of a fully realized Spidey means we won’t have to watch yet ANOTHER origins reboot movie… Yes, we all know with great power comes great responsibility. Now, please, give us a good Spider-Man stand alone.

Anyway, the reason I brought you all here today is because of an excellent Gif that appeared in the wake of the Civil War trailer. It sums up my reaction to the video perfectly and continues to expose the world of superhero cliches. Also, Deadpool. ENJOY!

giphy

A