Eleven Questions for: Axel Blackwell

TWW
Timeless love.
Brutal cruelty.
An impossible decision.
So, The Timeweaver’s Wager, you guys. This book. People talk about page turners all the time, but this sort of redefines the term. It’s also dark and lovely and haunting and will stay with you long after you put it down. Do yourself a favor, and check it out. But do not open it until you have time to read it, because you will be really mean to anyone who makes you close it to do other stuff.
I was lucky enough to convince author Axel Blackwell to answer eleven questions about The Timeweaver’s Wager, writing, publishing, and life in general.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is the very definition of “couldn’t put it down.” Pacing is something a lot of writers struggle with. What’s your best tip for keeping the reader turning pages?
A:
If it’s boring, skip it. That’s what the readers are going to do, anyway. Save them the trouble. Both of my novels had a huge brick of text about halfway through—long boring explanations of backstory. This information was necessary to move the plot forward, but it sucked. In both cases, I slashed about half the scene, then broke up the rest by interrupting with current events or using other devices to keep the reader interested while I slipped the backstory in. It’s kinda like hiding your dog’s meds in a wad of ground beef.

Q:
You are being sent to live in the fictional world of your choice for one year. Upon your return, you may bring one thing back with you from that world. Where do you go, and what do you bring back?
A:
I’d probably go wherever they have dragons and bring one of those back. If you have a dragon you can pretty much get anything else you want.

Q:
Your books can get pretty dark at times. Have you ever scared yourself while writing a scene?
A:
When I was 19, I actually stopped writing (for several years) because I upset myself. The story was about an introvert who finally finds love. Unbeknownst to our MC, his other personality was very jealous, so he takes his girl on a moonlit walk through fresh snowfall at his mountain cabin—then chops off her foot and leaves her to die. It all made this horribly beautiful picture when I thought it up—the white snow, her white skin, the silver moon and a bright red blood trail to add a splash of color. But once I had created her character and his character, I couldn’t bear to do that to them. Fortunately, I have matured since then.

Q:
Planner or pantser?
A:
I have always been a pantser. Half the fun is finding out what happens next. When I sat down to write my previous novel, Sisters of Sorrow, all I knew was that Anna was hiding under a beached rowboat while the world was exploding around her, and something on the island wanted her parts. I had no idea, whatsoever, what the rest of the book was about, and no other characters in mind. However, The Timeweaver’s Wager is a rewrite of a story I first wrote in 2006 or 2007. The original, which was only about 12,000 words, acted as an outline for the final version. I was impressed with how much faster and easier the process went when I had a map to follow. So I am planning on experimenting with outlining my next project.

Q:
Fill in the blank: I cannot write a book without _____.
A:
Coffee. A good playlist helps, too.

Q:
Indie vs. trad is always a lively debate. What advice would you give writers who are just looking into publishing for the first time?
A:
I would advise them to ask someone who knows more about it than I. Seriously. There is an unbelievable amount of information available in various forums and online groups. And I would tell them none of that information will do them much good until they have written and published wrong a few times. There is so much to learn, and things change so quickly, OTJ training is probably the only way to get the hang of this gig.

As far as indie vs. trad, if you are just starting out I would say the traditional publishing route is a good idea IF you are willing to wait years for your first book to be published, willing to accept a pittance for your years of hard work and waiting, and willing to accept the high likelihood that your book will never be presented to a single reader, even if it is an excellent piece of work. But that’s just my opinion for beginners. If you make it big and the trads come knocking on your door, it might be worth your time to talk to them then.

Q:
Without getting into spoiler territory, if you were to sit down with Glen at those railroad tracks at the opening of The Timeweaver’s Wager, what would you say to him?
A:
“Just eat the damn casserole.”

Okay, I’d probably say a bit more, but Glen was on a good path. He was putting his life back together. He had realized that his grief had gone from serving Connie to serving himself, and he had come to the point of decision. Most of the time, tragedy in the past cannot be repaired. One must learn to accept life on the terms it presents. Glen was just on the cusp of doing this, which is why the Timeweaver’s wager is really a dilemma for him. I guess if I had any words for Glen in the opening chapter they would be, “Hang in there, buddy. This is gonna suck. Big time. But you’ll be glad you did it.”

Q:
Which of your own characters would you have dinner with, and why?
A:
I’d have to say Alan. That guy is just a joy to be around, makes you feel good about yourself, laughs at all your jokes, and somehow, no matter what life throws at him, he always seems to come out on top. Also, he’d probably spring for dinner at a much nicer restaurant than I could afford. I’ll just have to remember not to ask him about his past.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is a very different book from Sisters of Sorrow, but at their core they have some things in common. What would you say draws you most to a story? What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling?
A:
The world is full of darkness. It is dangerous and it is scary and if you encounter the darkness you will be permanently changed. Violence and disorder are the default setting for the human race. The artificial safety bubble we are born into is fragile as frost. But with sufficient courage and love and the proper application of force a hero can repel the darkness. The life that acknowledges and confronts this truth is much more vibrant than one built on ignorance and wishful thinking. Kinda like how the blacker the black on your LCD TV, the more brilliant the colors. I love stories in which innocence and evil come face to face, in which the heroes struggle to the very last ounce of their existence in defense of innocence, in which—live or die—the hero knows they did not capitulate or concede to the darkness.

Q:
Who are your biggest creative influences?
A:
My biggest influence, by far, is Stephen King, which I guess makes me a bit of a plebe, but the dude is popular for a reason. He is a master of his craft and he understands people—which is critical if one intends to invent people and direct their activities. I am also a big fan of Dean Koontz. My early influences were Bradbury and Lovecraft.

Q:
Best writing snack?
A:
Right now I’m really into Costco muffins. They are necessary to soak up all the coffee I drink. I also like Costco trail mix. But I pick out the almonds—one of the little ways I confront and repel the darkness.


If you’re an indie author and you’re up for answering eleven questions, email me.

Eleven Questions for: Marcia Meara

Marcia Meara is a native Floridian, living in the Orlando area with her husband of 29 years, two silly little dachshunds and four big, lazy cats. She’s fond of reading, gardening, hiking, canoeing, painting, and writing, not necessarily in that order. But her favorite thing in the world is spending time with her two grandchildren, ten-year-old Tabitha Faye, and twenty-month-old Kaelen Lake.

Her latest novel, A Boy Named Rabbit (Wake Robin Ridge #2) is now available at Amazon.

Q:
While writing: silence, music, or white noise?
A:
Silence. Absolute silence. When I’m wandering around in an alternate universe, scribbling down what I see my characters doing, any noise at all will pull me right out of that world, and bring everything to a screeching halt.

Q:
A Boy Named Rabbit deals with The Sight–have you ever had a premonition or psychic experience?
A:
Not really. I do have pretty good intuition about people and their motives or behavior. Of course, where it concerns men, I’ve often ignored it, which didn’t always work out well for me. But that’s a whole ‘nuther story! As for things like The Sight, mental telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition, I’ve never had any unusual experiences myself, nor seen anyone else experience any. However, I’m fascinated by what the human brain might be capable of that we just haven’t realized, yet. Since we only use a small percentage of our brainpower, it makes me wonder what we might be able to do if we ever find out what all those unused gray cells are there for.

Q:
Best beverage for writing?
A:
Earl Grey, hot. (Me and Jean-Luc Picard.)

Q:
Best beverage for not writing?
A:
Earl Grey, hot.

Q:
You’re an indie author. Did you consider going the traditional route? What made this the best model for you?
A:
Simple. I’m also a 70-year old indie author. It seemed to me that the long, drawn-out process of sending out manuscripts and receiving rejection letters over and over, ad nauseum, until (if you’re lucky) being accepted by a traditional publishing company was something best left to someone far younger than I. I don’t have decades in which to make this all happen. And I very much want to tell as many stories as I can in the years left to me. So for me, it was a no-brainer. Self-publishing, all the way. From concept, to draft, through editing, and then publishing, my first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge was “out there” in nine months. (And it definitely felt like giving birth, too.)

I did a lot of reading on the subject, and frankly, I think the traditional publishing industry has some built-in drawbacks for many writers. I don’t mean self-publishing is the answer for everyone, but it should certainly be carefully considered. Am I making millions? No. But I’m making a whole bunch more than I would be if I were still sitting around waiting for a publisher to decide to give my book a chance. And that works for me.

Q:
Rabbit is an endearing little boy who faces a lot of peril. What are your best tips for putting characters you love through pain and suffering? Are you sometimes tempted to go easier on them than the story demands?
A:
I don’t have a problem throwing trouble at my characters, because I believe in them, and their ability to overcome the odds—so I’m never tempted to go easier on them. I’d be more inclined to do the opposite, and make it even harder, I think. I often wonder when I’m done if it’s been difficult enough, or shocking enough, or scary enough to allow the character to prove his or her worth.

I can’t offer a lot of advice, because I seldom know when I start writing exactly how bad the situation might get. The folks in my tales usually tell me, and I write it down. I guess my only tip would be to have faith in your characters and trust that they can do the merely difficult with one hand tied behind their backs. The impossible might take a bit longer, but they can do that, too. Just turn ‘em loose, and they’ll surprise you.

Q:
What’s your favorite thing about publishing besides the writing?
A:
Seeing my book on the Amazon website or in print on my bookshelf. I’m still astounded when I realize I’ve written 3 novels and a book of poetry in less than 2 years. And people are reading them! (Okay, not the poetry, so much, but I wrote that one just for me, anyway, since poetry will never sell like a novel will.) Nothing beats the thrill I get when I open a box from the printer, and pick up that first copy of my latest book. Holy Moly! Reading good reviews is a close second.

Q:
Top three favorite fictional characters?
A:
Surely you meant 33, right? I mean, three? Oh, dear. Who to choose, who to choose…thinking…

Okay, Harry Dresden has to be my first choice, for far too many reasons to list here. Best. Wizard. Ever. Period! And his desire to do the right thing, no matter what it costs him personally has pulled me back for 17 books now.

Second choice is definitely Dorothy Gale who taught me to look for rainbows everywhere I go, and that the best way to kill a wicked witch is to drop a house on her. In fact, pretty much everything I know about life, I learned from her.

And tied for third, this motley crew: Odd Thomas from the wonderful series of the same name by Dean Koontz; Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans; Inman from Charles Frazier’s beautifully profound novel, Cold Mountain; Ada, from the same book. Count Laszlo de Almasy a/k/a The English Patient; the Phantom of the Opera; Tybalt, King of Cats, and Toby Daye, who loves him; the assassin Sicarius from the Emperor’s Edge series…Oh, brother! Somebody STOP me! It’s possible I’ve mentioned more than three, here.

Q:
Is there a genre you don’t write in, but think you might like to one day?
A:
I really enjoy reading good urban fantasy, and I’d love to be able to create a believable world filled with remarkable creatures that roam the streets of our cities. I have no clue how my favorite UF authors do it. I’m in awe of writers like Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine, and Seanan McGuire, to name just a few. I can’t imagine writing the kinds of stories they write, but oh, how I’d love to! In the meantime, though, I’m pretty happy telling tales of romantic suspense, some of which do have some strange elements thrown in for fun.

Q:
You’ve just finished writing a book, or completed some other big milestone. What do you do to celebrate?
A:
Ummm…the happy dance around my chair? Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything special, other than call or email friends and happily proclaim that it’s DONE! I’ve usually already got another story started, and I just sort of switch gears and move on with that one. Sorry to be so boring, but that’s about what happens. Oh, wait. I bought a new purse when I finished Rabbit. Does that count?

Q:
Best villain (books, movies, or TV)?
A:
Villain, with no “S” on the end? Ack. How can I do that? So many to choose from! Okay, here goes. I guess my favorite of all time would have to be Dracula. He’s the first really evil guy I remember reading about, many decades ago, and he still gives me shivers in every incarnation that comes along. (Look! Only one villain! How good am I?)


If you’re an indie author and you’re up for answering eleven questions, email me.

Everyone hail to the pumpkin song

Eleven things for Halloween:

1. The post title, of course, comes from the song “This is Halloween” in A Nightmare Before Christmas. This was the correct answer to the October poll asking for the best Halloween movie. Fifty percent of you got it right.

2. The other half of you chose It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is certainly a good one. But you’re still doing Halloween wrong if you don’t know Jack Skellington is the pumpkin king.

3. Nobody chose either Halloween or Night of the Living Dead. I was especially surprised that Michael Myers did not garner a single vote, although I quite agree with you. (By the way, there is no November poll because mah book is being released next week and will be occupying the sidebar space where the poll normally sits. But I’m sure we can all agree that the best Thanksgiving pie is cherry anyway. Shut up with your pumpkin.)

4. ahsclownAmerican Horror Story, which was maybe the least scary thing on TV last year, is the scariest it’s been since Season 1 this year, and maybe even scarier. You really can’t beat a creepy clown when it comes to scares, and John Carroll Lynch is giving us the creepiest one since Tim Curry played Pennywise.

5. The adaptation of It in which Tim Curry played Pennywise was not scary, despite Curry doing a fantastic job. The production values were… not high. So there’s no point in watching that for Halloween, but you might consider reading it, because it still wins my scariest book ever award.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary are my runners up for scariest Stephen King books. His son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is also really scary.

7. That family hasn’t got the corner on scary, of course. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that stands up, and Poe will always be the master. I haven’t read much lately that genuinely scared me, though. (By all means, give me your recommendations in comments.)

8. If you want a movie instead, my personal picks for scariest movies are Seven and Silence of the Lambs.

9. Last year’s The Conjuring deserves a mention too, because it brought the scary back to scary movies. We need less of that nauseating found footage nonsense, and more good old fashioned scares.

10. I’m going to say it one more time, movie people: startle does not equal scare. Don’t just make me jump and call it a day. I’m not going to have nightmares about being startled. You’ve got to disturb me.

11. My fun sized candy bar of choice this year is Almond Joy. Yours?

Eleven Questions for: Lyda Phillips

MrTsmallLyda Phillips is a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. Her novel Mr. Touchdown was awarded first place by the Writers Notes Book Awards, juvenile fiction, and an honorable mention from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, multicultural juvenile fiction. A native of San Antonio, Lyda went to school in Memphis, Tennessee, and has degrees from Northwestern, Columbia, and Vanderbilt universities. Here are her positions on eleven burning issues.

Q:
Indie authors have a lot of jobs on top of writing. Which do you think is the hardest? Which is the most fun?
A:
My day job?

Sorry, I know you mean all the other things we have to do that a legacy publisher might, or might not, do for us after publication, like advertise, promote, solicit reviews, enter contests, sell to bookstores, buy a booth at BEA and put stacks of the new release on tables, with us behind, signing away. Indie authors have to do 99 percent of that for themselves. The hardest part for me was cold-calling bookstores, schools, review sites, and risking that patronizing pity indie authors so often encounter. That “bless your heart” reaction. The cold touch of loser dust falling on my head.

Absolutely the most fun was school visits. Kids don’t give a flip who published your book. They just like to put off taking the math quiz for an hour or so. Plus they ask great questions and are usually cute. But wait, I just remembered that by far the most satisfying experience I had was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis (Mr. Touchdown is set in Memphis, 1965), and seeing a group of kids act out a scene from the book. I think a tear or two might have been shed.

Q:
Mr. Touchdown deals with some difficult issues. What was the most challenging part of writing it?
A:
Putting my characters in jeopardy. I was in a great writing group in in Nashville at the time and one of us ran across a bit of advice about treating your characters like a teacup on a slanted table, slipping closer and closer to the edge. The advice was to keep tilting the table. It was really hard because you start to love your characters and want to protect them. But that’s not dramatic tension.

Q:
There’s a lot of indie vs. traditional debate out there. Name one factor that you don’t see discussed often, but that you think writers should consider when deciding which path to publication is best for them.
A:
I think most writers should make an attempt to publish traditionally, try to get an agent. That process informs and educates, it gives you an eye into what works, what sells, what sucks, what’s ridiculous and mocked, the importance of grammar and proofreading. (Jen? You said you would correct typos, right?) [Note from Jen: I didn’t find any.]

Q:
Fill in the blank: When I sit down to write, I must have ________.
A:
a chair.

Seriously, I can write with pen on paper in a coffee shop, on a laptop at work, sending myself an email, in silence or with my husband grinding smoothies next to my ear, sitting on the porch staring out at the yard. What I can’t do is sit up in bed and jot notes to myself.

Q:
Plotter or pantser?
A:
A bit of both, I pants and then I plot, pants, plot–back and forth to the last syllable of recorded time …

Q:
Mr. Touchdown takes place in 1965. That’s not far in the past, but it was still a very different time. Did you do any particular research or have any particular rituals to put yourself in the right frame of mind?
A:
Mr. Touchdown is semi-autobiographical so a lot of it was memory driven by guilt. I also heavily researched the Civil Rights era, especially events that happened in Memphis, most of those after 1965, like James Meredith’s March Against Fear, the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike, with the chilling slogan, I AM A MAN, which directly led to Dr. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel. And I could slip into that world just by remembering the smell and sound and chaotic excitement of the cafeteria in my high school.

Q:
Best cream pie?
A:
Coconut, but best PIE is Miss Sally Bobo’s Chocolate Fudge Pie, Lynchburg, TN, home also to Jack Daniels.

Q:
You write both novels and screenplays. Are you equally comfortable with both? Has your experience with one influenced how you approach the other?
A:
I started with novels, moved to screenplays and felt I had found my place in life. I was a wire service reporter and screenplays totally synched with that rapid fire, no padding, tell the story in dialogue and action. When I tried to move back to writing novels, I have found it very hard to make myself fill in all the thoughts and feelings and description that a screenwriter knows will be handled by the cinematographer and the actors’ faint smiles and raised eyebrows.

Q:
What are you reading right now?
A:
I just finished The Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan, and am about to start Under Magnolias, by Frances Mays (Under the Tuscan Sun), which I’m reviewing for Chapter 16, a book review and essay site sponsored by the Tennessee Humanities Council.

Q:
Best marketing tip?
A:
Don’t let your hurt feelings make you quit calling.

Q:
Fictional character you’d like to hang out with?
A:
Boris from The Goldfinch

 


If you’re an indie author and would like to answer eleven questions, email me.

Top eleven questions I have about the GoT trailer

Warning: vague spoilers for Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire.

The new Game of Thrones trailer was released; you can find it here. I think it’s well done: the shots come and go too fast to spoil anything, but still convey the tone nicely. As usual, they’ve cut some good music in there.

But I have questions.

11. Why did Jaime get Joffrey’s haircut?

10. Is that the Queen of Thorns walking past Joffrey at the beginning? Oh dear, wonder what she’s up to.

9. Which one of these shots is of a secret Targ, and which is of a secret Benjen?

8. Why does Theon look so much like, um,Theon?

7. When did Rast turn into Craster? Or, wait. Rast. CRASTer. I see what they did there.

6. How is that kid who plays Joffrey so good at making me want to punch him in the face with just that tiny bit of screen time, and why isn’t everyone nominating him for awards?

5. Not really a question, but needs moar lemon cakes.

4. Who is Littlefinger talking to?

3. Is Varys having a scene with the Red Viper the most awesomest thing ever?

2. Dragon flying over King’s Landing WTF?

1. WHERE IS COLDHANDS?

Eleven Tips for Surviving Week Two

It’s November 5, which means some of us – and I’m not going to mention any names – are already feeling it: This is stupid. It’s not worth ignoring my family and losing sleep and making all these other sacrifices for. That’s all fine for the people who are writing good books, but mine is just stupid. My characters are stupid, my plot is stupid, and this whole thing is too much of a mess to revise into anything worthwhile. I’m too tired for this. Because it’s tiring and stupid.

Or maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re having a great time and your book is brilliant and you just can’t wait to write more of it. Good for you! And of course I won’t be cackling when, somewhere between now and, say, November 9, it hits you too. What kind of person would that make me?

All joking aside, it seems nearly universally true that week two brings a dip in enthusiasm and energy, to at least some degree. It’s by far the easiest point during NaNo to fall behind and peter out. So here are my best tips for making it through that nearly-inevitable second week slump:

Get playful. Do something fun. Even if you’re writing serious literary fiction. Come up with something, anything, that you will look forward to writing, not because it’s smart or worthwhile or important, but because the actual writing of it will make you giggle. It need not fit in with your plot as you see it right now.

Give every single one of those playful ideas free rein. Have a sudden urge take your main characters and flee your plot in favor of a trip to another dimension where the dogs are in charge? So send them to another dimension. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense. It’s all words.

But rein them back in when necessary. The other dimension thing didn’t work out? Want to go back to the point of departure and do something else instead? That’s okay too. Just take that dog dimension and move it to its own Scrivener card (I always have a folder called Deleted Scenes and Extra Features for exactly this kind of thing), or if you’re working in Word or similar, somewhere at the end of the document under a big divider line.

As long as you don’t delete them. Are you crazy? Why would you want to lower your word count like that? Don’t delete anything, ever. You wouldn’t delete your youthful mistakes would you? The bad relationships, the even worse jobs, the unfortunate fashion choices? No you wouldn’t (for the most part), because even though they didn’t work out, they taught you things and helped shape who you are.

These rejected scenes are doing the exact same thing for your story. And there might be a description in there, an insight into a character, something you can’t see right now but will find value in later.

There is really no overstating this: it is not your job to make value judgments in November. Keep all the words.

Torture your characters. Conflict equals story, right? Besides, why should you be the only one suffering? Think about what’s bad in your protagonist’s situation at the moment, then find a way to make it worse.

Change points of view (character edition). Need a breath of fresh air? Write from Sally’s perspective instead of Harry’s for a while.

Change points of view (office edition). If you have a laptop, this one is easy – go write someplace else. If you’re anchored to one writing space only, find smaller ways to change things up a little. Burn a different candle, open or close the blinds, tape pictures up around your monitor. Anything that will make this feel less like the same slog it was yesterday, and more like a new and different slog.

Toughen up. I know, this one sounds harsh. But if that whole playful thing didn’t work out, you might need to go the other way. You’re writing a book. That takes work. Work is not fun every single day. You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it.

Remember that a lot of fiction is at least a little bit stupid. I like to answer that this-is-stupid voice with a little game I call Imagine The Pitch Meeting:

“You see sir, it’s about these people who are batteries? Except they don’t want to be batteries anymore.”
 
“You see sir, it’s about these guys who use coconuts to make horse sounds, so you don’t have to spring for actual horses in the production, and then they kind of wander around and meet some people, and they’re looking for a grail, except not all that hard, and then they never find it.”
 
“You see sir, it’s about a sponge. Who lives in a pineapple.”

All stupid, right? But two out of three of those came out really, groundbreakingly well. And the third, while in fact stupid, put smiles on millions of children’s faces and made truckloads of money, so that’s something. It doesn’t matter if your story seems stupid. Everything seems stupid when you’re tired. Stupid is a value judgment, and as we’ve already established, making those is not your job right now.

Have your I Didn’t Give Up reward all ready to go. If on day 14 you’re still on track, or at least within shouting distance of it, make sure you get something good.

Okay fine, quit if you want to. But not until November 15. Make a deal with yourself that you will push through this week. If you still want to quit during week 3, then you can do it.

On the dark side

Spoiler content: American Horror Story: Coven (mild); The Silence of the Lambs

So without having seen another episode of American Horror Story: Coven, I’m reconsidering my position on Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie. My problem here was the complete lack of dimension. We found out everything we needed to know about Madame LaLaurie in the first ten minutes of the first episode, and considering the real-life person on whom she’s based, we can guess she’s not likely to change much. Which means we haven’t got much left to explore. There are no layers there. Nothing sympathetic or relatable. Nothing at all but pure one-note evil.

I’m not one of those people who thinks every single villain needs to be complicated; I’m cool with just plain monsters showing up in horror stories. But in this case, did we really need the woman who played Annie Wilkes to such amazing, terrifying effect to do it? It just seemed like a waste of talent.

But the thing is, one note can still be pretty interesting (and terrifying) when it’s played right. I got to thinking about characters of pure, unadulterated evil who are nonetheless elevated by good performances. Here are my top eleven picks for one-dimensional monsters who are still done well:

  1. Hannibal Lecter, as played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. This is the most obvious one, no? Lecter has more dimension in the books – there’s a human under there somewhere, or at least there was at some point – but as far as this film alone goes, he’s nothing but a purely black heart. Yet still, at the end, you’re at least half rooting for him to eat that warden. (No? Just me?)
  2. John Doe, as played by Kevin Spacey in Se7en. His actual screen time is short, and he’s only got one side to show us in those few minutes, but the performance is riveting and unforgettable.
  3. Jon Ryder, as played by Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher.
  4. Top Dollar, as played by Michael Wincott in The Crow.
  5. Freddy Krueger, as played by Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Completely uncomplicated, completely iconic.
  6. Max Cady, as played by both Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear.
  7. Maleficent, as voiced by Eleanor Audley in Sleeping Beauty.
  8. The Wicked Witch of the West, as played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.
  9. Count Rugan, as played by Christopher Guest in The Princess Bride. Is sadistic and wholly evil, hilarity ensues.
  10. Roose Bolton, as played by Michael McElhatton in Game of Thrones.
  11. Cancer Man, as played by William B. Davis in The X Files. I don’t care what you say, anyone who is that mean to the Buffalo Bills is pure evil and that’s all there is to it.

So I’m going to keep my eye on this Kathy Bates performance and see where it goes. I’m curious to see what she does with it. (But the rest of my AHS complaints still stand. And I still just can’t even with the magical-deadly-vagina-as-superpower.)

Eleven tips for a glorious (yet painful) NaNoWriMo victory

The NaNoWriMo site is doing its annual relaunch today (or so says Twitter). Yay! I’m a planner so I start thinking about NaNo in August, and by the time October rolls around I’m all aflutter and abuzz and awhatnot. For me, relaunch day has always been the official kickoff of NaNo season rather than the actual first of November.

This will be my tenth NaNo. I think my worst year I stopped at 15k. Last year I got to 100k. Of the nine I’ve done, I’ve won six and lost three, which means I know how to do both!

Your mileage may vary, but I can only think from my own head, so these are my top eleven tips for making it to the 50k mark and beyond:

  1. No matter how great you do during week one, you will want to quit during week two. Everyone does. The trick is: don’t.
  2. Take some time in October to make a plan with your own word count targets for each day. The standard 1,667 is all well and good if you can actually write 1,667 words every day. But look at your calendar. You’ve got all the things and all the stuff. Some days it’s just not realistic to think you can write more than 500 words, which means you’ll need another day where you can write 2,834. Get out your calculator, make honest assessments of your time, and figure out exactly where that 50k is going to come from.
  3. Never get more than 5k off your goal if you can help it. Making up five thousand words is doable. Ten is in forget-it-I’m-just-gonna-go-watch-TV territory.
  4. You may have a lovely vision of two free hours with the door locked and the phone off and the tea hot and the scented candles lit. That’s a nice dream. Now let it go. If you’ve only got seven minutes, write for seven minutes.
  5. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser doesn’t matter. What matters is that you go into November feeling as ready as you need to be. Make a list of things you can do in October to make it easier on yourself, and see how many of them you can knock out. (My list.)
  6. If you’re having trouble getting the words flowing, try changing POV from third to first or vice versa, or from character to character. It’s okay that it’s sloppy. That’s December’s problem.
  7. Things like continuity and logic and whether you called that character Barry in one chapter and Toby in another are also December’s problem. Just keep going.
  8. The week two slump is such a pivotal moment it deserves two spots on the list. The importance of sticking out week two, by any means necessary, cannot be overstated. If you make it through that, you’ll finish.
  9. Think about what, specifically, you want to get out of this. Maybe you want to get into the habit of writing daily; maybe you want a complete first draft; maybe you just want to see what happens when an angry clown falls in love with a kindergarten teacher only to find that his intended is actually a zombie from the planet Corn. Those are goals, so write them down. Then define success according to them. It might mean more than fifty thousand words, or it might mean the word count actually doesn’t matter that much to you, or it might mean you’ll be happy as long as you come away with a deeper understanding of planet Corn. Whatever it is that you want, know it going in, because NaNo is precisely as useful (or as silly, or as fun) as you make it.
  10. Make no mistake, it’s going to be painful. No matter what you do. It’s okay that it sometimes makes you want to just rip out your eyeballs, strap them to your keyboard, and burn it all while playing the angry mob from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the background. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun!
  11. Yay, you did it! Now what you’ve got here? Is a draft. If you’ve written it in hopes of a wider audience than just yourself, it’s going to need love and care and rewrites. So don’t celebrate so much that you go drunk-dialing agents, ‘k?