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Category Archives: Writing is Life
…show me the glint of light on Daenerys Stormborn’s hair.
There’s this saying in writing–show, don’t tell, and that’s what was wrong with the last couple of all-important episodes of Game Of Thrones.
It’s all over the internet today, how Weiss/Benioff demolished a whole lot of character arcs in their rush to the finish. Maybe they went overboard making sure EVERY fan prediction for the characters didn’t happen. Maybe they are just that clueless. Bottom line, they told us things rather than showed us, and that’s just unacceptable.
The writers, whichever were at the helm for each particular episode, have been dragging along the Targaryen family curse from day one. They tapped it every now and again, but Daenerys has been the champion of the oppressed, the savior of the innocent, blah, blah, blah all along. Right up through the Battle for Winterfell, she has held that role. Two episodes later, she’s burning every man, woman and child–including her own soldiers!–in King’s Landing while her true enemy (Cersei) watches from the Red Keep, untouched. She’s in the god-damned window! For now, you see, Dany is mad. Gasp.
Driven mad by the fact Jon has more of a claim to the throne, by virtue of his noble penis. Driven mad by learning she’s her lover’s aunt, which is no-nevermind to a Targaryen, but is a no-go for a Stark. Driven mad by the fact that while he’s beloved all over Westeros, she will never be. Driven mad by the quick betrayal of one of her staunchest supporters, the loss of her most devoted and beloved Ser Jorah, the death of both her dragonchildren. She’s a woman, you see, and her emotions have gotten the better of her. Oy. Sure, all that could drive most people mad–but in two episodes? Really, not even two, because it was set up in the largely non-eventful episode #4.
There was time to make that all happen and, while I’d have hated it for reasons I’ll expand upon in a moment, I’d have lived with the disappointment, maybe even have found reason to be okay with it. But considering the writers TOLD us–through other characters, mind you–all about Dany’s descent into madness but never showed it to us (outside of a few well-acted moments on Emilia Clark’s part, so kudos to her) and then stripped her of her entire character arc, I just can’t accept it.
And now for at least as big an issue as the writing itself–It’s not just Dany. ALL the women in the story are stripped of everything they are. Everything.
This story evolved from “a clash of kings” to “a clash of queens.” Two women, brutal, ambitious, determined, strong, decisive even when it hurts women, battled for the Iron Throne. One gets a soap-opera ending (? I’m not convinced Cersei is dead) while the other is stripped of everything she was. And then there was Sansa, to a lesser degree, as she fought for Winterfell. Setting aside the, “Without the insert horrific abuse here, I’d still be a little bird,” line (which I obviously have not), in the actual battle, where was she? In the crypt, accepting the fact that, “The bravest thing we can do is be honest.” Bullshit. But ok. I’ll accept that as part of her arc. She’s not a warrior in that respect. But then she swears to her brother (Jon gets to be all kinds of stupid and naïve without ever losing his power, mind you) that she won’t tell his secret, and five seconds later, she’s telling Tyrion.
And then there’s Brienne. Freaking Brienne of Tarth, after her huge, beautiful moment of becoming Ser Brienne of Tarth, gets reduced to a weeping wreck, wrapped in a Stark-style robe, begging Jaime not to leave her. What the actual fuck? One romp in the furs with the magical dick of gold and she’s no longer who she was? LOVE DOES NOT, SHOULD NOT DO THAT TO ANY WOMAN, least of all Brienne. And certainly not in the span of moments! It was ridiculous.
In today’s social and political climate, the women of the story losing the throne, losing their minds, losing their dignity, LOSING EVERYTHING THEY FOUGHT AND SACRIFICED FOR so that the Dude Who Doesn’t Really Want It can have it all stings so hard. And make no mistake, with the burning of King’s Landing, Dany will NEVER sit the Iron Throne. Never. So when she unleashed dragonfire down upon the city, we all knew it was the end for her. A couple of weeks ago, when the women saved Winterfell, we were given a token. As usual. What the men giveth, the men can taketh away. And it’s total bullshit.
Cersei, Dany, Sansa, Brienne, Arya–they all fought as hard, harder, than any man in the show. For their loved ones. For power. For their birthrights. For their honor. And now, with a pale bit of writing, they’re reduced to the same ineffectual female characters too often found in fantasy fiction.
All hail the power of the penis mightier (than the sword–get it? I stole it from Saturday Night Live. Jeopardy parody. Hey, it’s appropriate, in this context.) Maybe Arya (who rode out of Kings Landing on a white horse, no less) will be the one to save the day. Maybe she’ll sit the Iron Throne. Maybe Sansa will come down from Winterfell and do it. Maybe Cersei isn’t dead after all, will rise out of the rubble and reclaim Westeros. Anything is better, at this point, than Jon. (A character I’ve actually liked all along.)
And, to be honest, had all the stripping and demolishing of characters not happened, I’d have been ok with Jon on the Iron Throne. It’s where HIS arc has been going all along. And that’s the thing–all the male arcs have been built, remained consistent, and have–thus far–been believable. Yes, terrible things happen to the men too, so don’t even go there. Seriously, don’t. I remember Theon/Reek.
The old woman’s prophecy said Dany would attain the throne, and turn away from it. But the old gypsy said Cersei would die at the hand of her younger brother (another tidbit that got bandied about for apparently no reason) and that didn’t pan out, so prophecies come to pass as apparently randomly as they do in real life. Red herrings to throw us off the one Arya got from Melissandre, about her closing brown eyes (Walder Frey), blue eyes (Night King,) and green eyes (Dany? Cersei?) being real? Who knows? At this point, a lot has to happen in the final episode, but nothing is going to take the sting out of the way things have gone down these last two weeks.
Being the brutal optimist, I’m still crossing my fingers that a satisfactory ending is in hand, that the writers aren’t flubbing it completely, and have us all up in arms to make that BIG ENDING all the better.
We shall see.
Their worlds and words are a part
of my days and my nights and my
in-betweens. They talk to me while
drive, and sleep. They give me
scenes and dialog and dilemmas; joy and sorrow and
horror. They give me
the impossible, and task me to make it plausible. At least
There’s Aggie and her mason jar, and
Rosemary’s wish, the one she won’t
take back. Then there’s
the woman who runs over the not-quite-a-man, in a town
on the edge
of forever. And crusty Queenie, who
never did much right, who
never thought it quite necessary, who
might manage to do some good.
There’s Yvonne and Jacob, back in 1949,
Bonnie-Jane and Hannelore, in 1985. And still,
in stories written and always calling, Nell and Ledanora,
Mabel and Frankie and Tracy. Back and back, to
Ethen and Zihariel, Linhare and Wait. There are
warriors and queens who knock on my skull–Remember us?
I do. I do. How can I forget? You were once
my everything. The foundation of
my everything. The beginning of
If not another book gets published, I will
write and write and write. There will be
mutiny, otherwise. Inside my head. In
dreams and waking. I’ll walk about like a character
from Wonderland, quite mad and rather glad to be so. Better
than the knowing, the abandoning, the void of a well
left to dry.
I prefer the parade never end, a continuous loop, of
characters and places already known, and those
slipping the red-ropes to join in, unannounced but
always welcome, to dance their dances and sing their songs, to
tell their tales and ask for my assistance in
ditching the parade for
I got to be the guest of honor at another Senior Book Club yesterday, out in Stratford, CT. I love these groups. The insight, the wisdom, the open and genuine comments, questions, and understandings. They make me know I did a good job writing people their age in The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses). I get them! And they get me.
One thing that has cropped up time and again is a certain character’s uncanny cleverness, her ability to think and act quickly, her calculation. It doesn’t seem believable, or even feasible that a woman of her age and experience could come up with the plans she does, in the time she does it in.
I find this infinitely interesting, and slightly disheartening.
When I create a character or situation–unless it’s fantasy–I make sure there’s at least one instance I know of to give credence to a character trait, or a circumstance. There’s an adage that goes something like, “No matter what you can think up, there’s been weirder/sadder/horrific…er.” In the case of this character, I’ve known young women as clever, as calculated, and as quick as my character. They exist, most certainly, and outside of literature and movies.
We have no issue believing in Hermione Granger’s brillaince, but she’s from a fantasy world. Lisbeth Salander (Dragon Tattoo), but she’s a psycho. How about Young Sherlock Holmes? Hmmm…why is it so hard to believe? Is it because she’s female? Beautiful? Young? Too otherwise ordinary? All of the above?
I painted my character (Tressa) as a sheltered southern belle who looked and acted–outwardly–as one would expect. But I showed her doing things outside of that facade. In her background, she went to college when women of her place in society typically did so only as a “husband major.” She not only got accepted into college, but into a major largely reserved for men. She went out in search of her brother the moment she came into her inheritance at twenty-one, against her family’s wishes–something she’d been planning and working towards since she was little more than a child. Before she ever stepped foot on the page, she manipulated her circumstances, and the people she was supposedly obedient to, without anyone being the wiser. By these things alone, her cleverness should have been evident. When she does all she does in the body of the book, it comes off–to some–as unbelievable that a young woman her age could not only think it all up, but pull it off.
There are other questions that always come up–What actually happened to Enzo? is a big one. The question of my clever, cunning Tressa is one, I suppose, that strikes me as a surprising thing to question at all.
It makes me wonder how many others thought the same thing, and why. To be clear, I never have an issue with any nits or picks a reader has–all opinions are valid, whether or not I agree. It’s their take on things, from their perspectives. When I get a question, or read a review that gives me better understanding into minds that don’t think the way mine does, I’m truly grateful. It’s all fodder folks! All fodder.
Life has been a bit of a whir since June. We sold the house, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) released. We moved. I’ve done author events with several book clubs and library groups. We went down the shore with our daughter and her family, and some friends. Frankie D and I went up to Bar Harbor, where I did an author talk/signing at the Jesup Memorial Library (gorgeous library, amazing town.) Just this past week, my son and his girlfriend came in from Portland for a (always too brief!) visit. They flew out this morning.
In between there were reviews, and lunches with friends; a wedding, family gatherings, and, of course, setting up my new home. Writing has been sporadic at best. For me–a writer who has written most every weekday, 9-4 since 1994–it’s been unsettling, to say the least. Now, next week, I head down to Myrtle Beach, a trip I’m really looking forward to, but it’s another week of no writing, making this shortened week less than productive, too.
Or is it?
I started a new novel back in April. There are two storylines, one that takes place in 2009, the other in 1947. The stories link through two characters–young in 1947, old in 2009. It’s been a struggle to get the two storylines to play nice. I love them both, they just didn’t seem to want to fit together.
And that’s because they really didn’t. Maybe it was all the upheaval, the enforced time away from the writing of it, but this novel proved to me today that it’s actually two. One’s not a sequel to the other–they’re entirely separate novels.
I’d written over 100K words in two and a half months, and the original book was nowhere near done. In trying to integrate the novels, they were both losing something of their voice, their heart. Now I have two novels in progress, and I adore them. The 1947 novel–Thirty Days Dancing at the Edge of the World–comes first. Then St. Simon by the Sea will get its turn. The novels still connect via those two characters, but the connection won’t alter the storylines in the slightest. It’s my hope that, if a reader reads both, they’ll take on an added depth. We’ll see. Maybe I’m just spouting nonsense.
One of the reasons I decided to post this is due to a question I get, every time I do a Q&A with a reading/writing group: Do you ever get writer’s block?
I’ve come to understand that what I experienced with this book that ended up being two, and pretty much every book I have ever written, is what some consider “writer’s block.” I never quite realized that until recently, and I think it’s because I never let it actually “block” me. I chip away, come at it from different angles, and I’m not afraid to shred it all to bits. It makes me get more creative, and tenacious. Writers who hit these walls and let it stop them call it writer’s block. I call it…something else.
Writing can happen in a wave of euphoric genius of putting words on a page that we never actually remember thinking; or it can be the above chipping, shredding frustration. Sometimes, we have to work for our art. No pain, no gain? Yeah, that works.
So, no–I never suffer writer’s block. Never have. Never will. Because if I ever come to a point wherein I won’t put in the necessary effort to get past it, it’ll be because I’m done writing. Period.
I rarely bring up Goodreads or Amazon reviews here on this page. It breaks an unspoken rule, and that fourth wall between writer and reader. Do you hear a but coming? Today, I found something amazing in the review section on Goodreads, and it struck me so completely I had to immortalize it here.
(Not the full review–just the pertinent part)
“What is real; to what extent do we live our fictions; what should be real? Wonderful characters whose souls are stirred by death and words and a past built upon more words and immortal youthful misdeeds. […]this is a book for the spirit and the mind. It is also a paean to the passing of an age of great authors who lived immortally, if not tragically. Kudos to DeFino. I call this category of fiction, Quixotic Drama.”
Quixotic* Drama. As Linus Van Pelt is prone to exclaim, “That’s it!”
This is exactly what I do in all my writing, whether fantasy, romance, fairy tale, or contemporary fiction. Quixotic drama. I have a name for it now. And you know what the old tales say about naming something–there is power there. Great power. I can already feel it thrumming in my fingertips.
In googling the term, I see it’s not quite unique to the world, though I don’t find it in reference to fiction. Whether a thing or simply new to me, it’s magical. The connection to Don Quixote, in all its facets, pretty much says it all.
exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.“a vast and perhaps quixotic project”synonyms: idealistic, romantic, visionary, utopian, extravagant, starry-eyed, unrealist unworldly.
Just putting this here, for posterity’s sake. Dreaming August won the Rone Award for best Women’s Fiction, 2017. For anyone wondering what the Rone Award actually is, look here. Otherwise, just gaze upon my pretty star. Hehee!
Thanks for all the kind words, well wishes, and congratulations! I am still basking in all your love.
I was a little stuck yesterday. Writing the last pages of Thicket Stars, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to let this family break, or keep it together. Neither one felt right, to be honest. I didn’t want a happy ending tied up with a pretty bow, but the evolution of my characters didn’t ring true with abandoning one another either.
Instead of forcing this key moment, I closed out early in the hopes a bit of simmering would work it out. The brain never turns off. I forget what ingredient I’m going to the pantry for between knowing I need it and arriving at the shelves; when it comes to story, my brain is a steel trap…that’s not aware it’s set and ready to spring, but that’s beside the point.
Last night, watching So You Think You Can Dance, Taylor and Robert danced to Change is Everything. The dancers fight being together, and breaking apart. Absolutely gorgeous, choreographed by Travis Wall to an a capella version of the song. And my brain, ever-working, snapped its spring.
This moment changes everything
The course of blood within your veins
A stranger’s form, your skeleton
See the bones glow as they break free
Long, long and long ago, I was twenty-one, pregnant with my second child, and married to a man who was finding life with a wife and child, a job and another baby on the way terrifying. Claustrophobic. He was constantly battling with his love for us, and his need to fly. It manifested in too many scary nights, wondering when I’d get the call from the morgue. One day, I sat down with him and said, “I can’t do this anymore. Go. Do what you need to. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
That moment changed everything.
He didn’t go. He cried. He told me he couldn’t leave me and our daughter, the baby on the way. He loved us too much. That week was the happiest we’d had in too long. He seemed…good. Happy. At peace.
And then he was gone. Motorcycle accident. Just like that. A week later. Another moment of change. Isn’t that what life is? A series of those moments.
It all came together last night, listening to that song, watching the push and pull of the dancers, remembering that conversation with Brian. I won’t speak for all writers, but I have no hang-ups about laying it out there on the page, all the gore and the glory of my life, for all to see. Call me an exhibitionist. It’s how I deal. It’s how I make my stories authentic and, I hope, touch my readers.
This moment changes everything. That really is the key to the climax of this story, the answer to the question: Do they break? Or do they heal? I know now. I just wrote it. Well, most of it. You’ll have to wait a while though.
This is the result of a ten-minute* writing prompt in my writing group. It’s cute and silly, and right now, I can really use a little cute and silly.
(*I did edit a little just before posting this up.)
The prompt was: A brother and sister only one year apart in age; what happens when they’re teenagers and dating one another’s friends? When in doubt, go immediately to fairy tale!
“Hansel? Who is he?”
Hansel leaned around his sister. The sigh escaped before he could suck it in. “Leave it alone, Gretel. You won’t like him.”
“But will he like me?”
“Everyone likes you. Why do you even ask? Even the witch liked you better.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. She didn’t like either of us. She was just hungry, and you were a little more plump.”
“You were the one with boobs at nine. I was like an orange on a toothpick.”
“Forget about her.” Gretel flipped her flaxen braids. Flaxen. Was that even a word anymore? None of the girls, flaxen-haired or otherwise, would even look his way since the oven incident. In his circles, rescuing was done by a dashing prince, and the rescued a fair damsel in distress. He was totally screwed.
“Come on,” his sister nudged. “Tell me about him.”
Hansel took a bite of his sandwich, stalled by chewing it those 30 chews he got into the habit of making, back in the cage, when every minute outside the oven counted. “His name is Jack. He’s pretty dumb. I heard he traded his mother’s last cow for a sack of beans.”
“Beans? That does sound dumb. He’s kind of cute, though.”
“You’re going through my friends a little fast,” he said. “I won’t have any left after you’re done breaking all their hearts.”
“Don’t be so selfish. I offer to fix you up with my friends all the time.”
If there was anything worse than being the fair damsel in distress, it was being set up by his dashing prince. Hansel took another bite, another thirty chews. Anyway, Thumbelina was a bit small, Belle was into big, hairy guys, and don’t even get him started on Goldie. What a bitch. There was only one girl he’d even had any interest in, and she’d been sleeping close to a year now. He was pretty sure it was going to last a while more. Maybe Ovengate will have simmered down enough by then to give him a shot.
“Just introduce me.” Gretel smoothed her braids, pinched her cheeks. “Come on. Please?”
“Fine.” Hansel flopped his sandwich onto the tray. He slid along to bench to Jack’s side. “Hey, Jack. Want to meet my sister?”
Jack looked up, a little dazed. “Uh, the blonde over there? Sure. Why not?”
Hansel waved Gretel over. “Jack, Gretel. Gretel, Jack. Now I’m going back to my sandwich.”
Sliding back to his place at the cafeteria table, he listened in, just to be safe. Jack was all right, but Gretel was his sister. And, embarrassing as it was, he did owe her.
“Beans?” Gretel laughed, tossing those braids. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“I’m not sure,” Jack answered. “The old guy was just so convincing. My mom tossed them out the window. This morning, there was a beanstalk the size of a tree. I think there’s something to it.”
Hansel went back to eating. Jack was one of the last of his friends to escape his sister’s attention. There was still Quasi. His place was kind of noisy, but at least they were both outcasts. And thank goodness he had no worries about his heroic yet slightly shallow sister ever being interested in him.
Frankie D loves his Hallmark Christmas movies. I DVR all the new stuff and those we haven’t seen so we can watch one pretty much every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It has become a tradition for us. Like most holiday traditions, there’s a fair bit of schmaltz involved. The movies aren’t great, but some are cute. Some are awful, but we can laugh at that. And then there are the ones that piss me off, because they could have been really good, and failed miserably.
Journey Back to Christmas. Even I was looking forward to this one. That darling of Hallmark Holiday movies, Candace Cameron Bure starring as a post WW2 nurse whose husband didn’t make it home. A “Christmas comet” sends her forward 71 years to 2016 and into the lives of a small town cop, his family, and various others.
Time travel. Christmas. World War 2. All the elements were there, and yet, egads, it was awful. Plot holes and tropes and ridiculous dialog that sounded like it had been written by a high school student who really wanted to be funny or dramatic or touching, but wasn’t. The worst was a cardboard busybody character whose only role was to forward the ludicrous notion that Bure’s character was somehow a threat to the town, a character who then vanished in the middle of her “coming around” scene, only to arrive at the end with a changed tune. Few of the little details matched up–like the Christmas star that so importantly tied the gazebo lights to the story being colored in the past, yet white in the future. And the ending was just so…what’s the word? Trite? Ill-conceived? Flat? Completely predictable? How about…stupid? Yeah, really, really stupid. I won’t put up a spoiler. Suffice it to say it was the most ridiculous ending I think I’ve ever seen in my life.
I growled at the television through most of this movie. Frankie D couldn’t even do his fall asleep after the first ten minutes and wake up for the last ten thing, because I kept waking him up. “You think too much about this stuff,” said he. “What does it matter? It’s mindless.”
What does it matter? What does it matter?! It does matter! Shouldn’t we expect a cohesive story that doesn’t require a whole lot of, “It’s okay, it’s just a Christmas movie,” to get through? Why is mediocrity aspired to? Why is a poorly executed product okay? Because it can be? Because people don’t notice? The ones who don’t, won’t, whether it’s done well or not. So why are those who don’t care catered to, instead of those who do?
I don’t like this “mindless” business. Mindless doesn’t mean poor quality. It means being able to just go with it without having to parse things out, without finding the message within. A Christmas Carol isn’t mindless. A Christmas Story is.
As you can guess, it’s not just my rant against Hallmark Christmas movies. This phenomenon is rife in the publishing industry, and very much so in the romance genre. Now it’s spreading to Women’s Fiction. I simply don’t understand why, when it can be done well, and also appeal to all kinds of readers, the industry isn’t insisting upon it?
This is nothing new. I’m aware. Drek has made millions for eons. I just don’t get it. I mean, I do, but I don’t want to believe the implications I’m forced to acknowledge. And now, before I get political, I’ll say–it matters. Quality matters. At least, it should.