Archive for March, 2012

Here’s Part II of my exploration of sacrifice in pop-culture. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to read Part I.

Warning: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Whedon-verse: Buffy, Angel and Firefly

Joss Whedon seems almost as gung-ho about sacrifice as J.K. Rowling. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel, and Firefly, most of the characters–if not all–at some point sacrifice their happiness, their loves, and ever their lives in the pursuit of the three big S’s– Slaying, Saving The World and Surviving. Most of the time, these sacrifices are selfless and truly heroic, but Whedon goes out of his way to occasionally subvert the trope as well.

Buffy, of course, puts her life on the line every night as she patrols Sunnydale. In one of the most memorable episodes of the series Buffy, like Katniss Everdeen, gives up her life to save her sister from a certain death. Nearly all of Buffy’s sacrifices are true heroic actions, selfless and pure of intention.

But I think some of the other characters’ sacrifices are even more interesting. In one episode in the first season of Angel, Buffy’s high-school ensouled vampire lover manages to become human again, and both he and Buffy are over the moon. Their star-crossed love affair is star-crossed no more! They spend a perfect day exploring the aspects of their love that have been so long forbidden them. But when Angel realizes he can no longer fight evil as a weak mortal, he makes the decision to undo the whole previous day. Not only does he sacrifice his opportunity to be with the woman he loves in order to continue saving the world, but he must live with the knowledge that Buffy will never know of the sacrifice he made.

Spike, too, makes sacrifices for Buffy, but he is motivated by love rather than the pursuit of Good. Over the course of many seasons, Spike slowly becomes more sympathetic as a character, but when he commits a terrible act against Buffy, he undergoes a long and painful journey in order to restore his soul. He knows that restoring his soul will cause him pain, guilt, and possibly even death, but he loves Buffy so much that he will sacrifice anything to become the man she deserves him to be. In the series finale, Spike offers his life up in the ultimate sacrifice, crumbling to dust as the Hellmouth collapses, even though he knows that Buffy does not love him.

In Firefly, and Serenity, the follow-up movie, sacrificial themes are present, but many are subverted in unexpected ways. When Mal leaves to meet with Inara and spring The Operative’s trap, he explicitly tells Zoe that if they do not hear back from him in an hour to come and rescue him. “What?” he says. “It’s cold out there! I don’t wanna get left.” While most movie heroes would have told their crews to go on without them, Mal very much subverts the trope by insisting to be rescued.

But, in contrast to Mal, who in many ways represents an anti-hero of sorts, Simon Tam makes the most noble and pure sacrifice in the series. No one takes much notice of it, however, because it does not result in his death.

He's also really cute.

Simon Tam’s sacrifice does not result in his death, but that makes it no less noble. In order to save his sister (are we noticing a theme, here?) and comfort her in her distress, Simon sacrifices his career, his fortune, and the life he knew in order to live as an outlaw while protecting his sister. Of all the characters on Firefly, Simon is seemingly the one least concerned with notions of honor or pride, yet in the end his series-long sacrifice is one of the most poignant in the Whedon-verse.

Do you have a favorite Whedon sacrifice? Tell me about it in the comments! And join me tomorrow for the third installment of my posts on Sacrifice, where I’ll talk about the Winchesters on Supernatural.


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Sacrifice: Part I

Happy Monday, everyone! I don’t know about everyone else, but we’re having some gorgeous Spring weather here in London, and I couldn’t be happier!

I finally got to the theater to see The Hunger Games. I read Suzanne Collins’ epic trilogy in the space of a single week last year, and was blown away by her lush descriptions, heart-racing pace, and heart-breaking characters. While I had a few issues with the movie adaptation, overall I felt the director remained faithful to the book in all the right ways.

One of the most powerful moments in both the book and the movie is the pivotal sacrifice at the beginning: Katniss volunteers as Tribute in the place of her younger sister. This act of self-sacrifice sets the events of the book and movie in motion, and allow Katniss to bloom as a strong, powerful and heroic character.

I love me a strong female protagonist!

But Katniss’ sacrifice got me thinking about other sacrifices. I remember my high-school boyfriend once saying that for him, the definition of true love was “sacrificing your life for someone you care about without them ever knowing what you had done for them.” As a lover of books, movies, and good TV shows, I have seen sacrifice presented in a hundred different ways with a hundred different characters, but the act of sacrifice never becomes less compelling. So, I’ve decided to do a three part installment series regarding sacrifice in pop-culture. Today, I’ll talk about the way sacrifice is presented in Harry Potter. Later in the week, I’ll discuss Buffy and Firefly, Supernatural, and maybe even something else!

Please be warned, SPOILERS DO FOLLOW, so stop reading now if that offends you.

Harry Potter

These books are so chock full of sacrifice that I couldn’t even begin to cover every instance. Sacrifice for love, sacrifice for honor, sacrifice for redemption; these books do it all. I’d like to focus on two characters, Harry Potter and Severus Snape.

Harry is the clear hero of this franchise. I don’t think anyone was surprised when it turned out that in order to destroy Voldemort once and for all, Harry was going to have to sacrifice his own life.

And he'll do it with his jaw set, too.

For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I think Harry spends most of the series being a bit of a shit. I think this was done intentionally by Rowling, who understands that a true hero rarely actually wants the life he is forced to lead. What’s the saying? Heroes aren’t born, they’re made. Harry’s is certainly a heroic sacrifice; he lays down his life to save his friends, his society, and presumably the world. But it is also a redemption; a true moment of selflessness at the end of a long road paved with a good deal of whining and acting out. Harry becomes a hero in that moment, and not a second before.

Severus Snape’s sacrifice also takes the form of a redemption, but it comes at the end of a long road paved with mistakes and pain. Snape was never a hero–even as a child he was selfish and weak, and when these tendencies followed him into adulthood, he made a number of unforgivable mistakes. But when the love of his life died, he made the choice to become a double agent for Dumbledore against the Death Eaters. It was not an easy choice, and I don’t think it ever got easier for Snape. He was a suspected Voldemort sympathizer for years. The child of his love, Harry, loathed the sight of him and went out of his way to be cruel to him. He was forced to kill his only friend in the world, Dumbledore, when the great man asked him to. Snape never got a happy ending, and his sacrifice was only recognized after his death. But he got redemption.

Which are your favorite moments of sacrifice in Harry Potter? Comment below, and make sure to tune in for tomorrow’s installment, Sacrifice:Part II-Whedon-verse, where I’ll talk about Buffy, Angel, and even Firefly!


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Seven Times a Lady

…and that’s a whole lotta lady.

In the interest of honesty, I will freely admit that I wasn’t going to post today. I have had three very frustrating days of attempted ideation that have resulted in zero new material. Zilch. Nada. My notebook looks a bit like something filched from a madman–crossed out lines and character names interspersed with scrawled timelines stuck between strange words and phrases like “neo-futuristic wasteland” and “grape jelly” and “dungeon time-shift.”

When I haven’t been busy writing nothing good, I have been reading Emmie Mears‘ urban fantasy manuscript. Trust me, folks, you’ll see this talented woman’s name on the shelves sooner rather than later. I won’t give away any of the juicy details, but keep your eyes peeled for this delectable feast. Epic, intimate, supernaturally realistic; the story doesn’t disappoint.

Which leads me to my next order of business! Emmie has passed along a fun little blog-o-meme called Lucky 7!

 

Prime numbers FTW!

The rules are:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

What fun! I’m excited to share a little literary nugget with you all. Let’s get to it!

The air was heavy with the musty scent of dust and long disuse.

“Is this a library?” Kyla asked. Her voice echoed softly between the rafters. She had loved libraries for as long as she could remember; she loved the way they smelled, especially. The the smell of paper and ink and bindings; the smell of infinite stories waiting to be read; the smell of knowledge.

Tam nodded. Their feet left dark imprints in the blanket of pale dust that lay thick upon the rust-colored floorboards.

Mmm, libraries.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a big enough following to select 7 bloggers to carry on the torch. So, how about this: if you read my blog and would like to take part in this fun meme, post the picture and the rules to your blog and share some of what you’re working on! I can’t wait to read them!

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Betamax

Back when I was a semi-avid rock-climber (which mostly involved sitting around and watching more talented climbers climb) I noticed that climbers would refer to beta when discussing climbing routes. As the story goes, the term originated from one famous climber, Jack Mileski, in reference to an old videotape format replaced by VHS.

“Do you want the beta, Max?”

Who knew climbers could be so clever. Basically, beta is a way of mapping out problems, adjusting for difficulties, and achieving the greatest flow of movements from one position to the next. It can be a community activity, sometimes, with several climbers helping each other out with the appropriate beta for a particular route.

I was not this good. Image via unpics.com

As I become further embroiled in the dark underworld that is trying to become a writer, I have learned about a different kind of beta. Beta-readers are other writers kind enough to read your manuscripts or drafts with a critical eye for grammar, syntax, continuity and characterization. They provide valuable insight into things that you, as the author, may be too close to see. Apparently these useful, friendly gremlins are also known to some as critters, from the French critiquer. So, beware: if you ever beta-read for me, be prepared to be called a critter.

But the climbing beta and the reading beta aren’t so different, methinks. Often, when you’re up on the wall, you’ll ask another climber for help with beta, because you’re so close to the damned wall that you can’t actually see where you should put your feet, or where the best handgrip is, or even which direction the climbing route is going. In similar fashion, a beta-reader is great for spotting plot-holes, reminding you that you completely dropped a character after the first chapter, or telling you that you are simply headed in the wrong direction.

It’s also great to have someone who can tell you exactly why something isn’t working. As much as I love the family and friends who are more than happy to read my manuscript, and as affirming as it can be to hear how much they like it, it can also be frustrating. Sometimes when I ask how to improve the responses fall into the “I’d like it if it were better” camp.

But thanks to the careful and detailed notes of my new beta-reader, Emmie Mears, I am well on the way to a sparkling third (ugh) draft (and not falling off the metaphorical rock-wall)! Here’s to taking one more step towards the dream!

Do you have a beta-reader (or someone who helps you with your work, if you’re not a writer)? How do you tell when and why something isn’t working?

 

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Oh, I have been a bad, bad bloggerina. I am aware of this. Self-flagellation starts…now.

I can only blame my lack of regular writing on the cock-eyed monster I call editing. Editing is like…cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, or trimming your hair regularly. That is, absolutely necessary, but hardly an enjoyable task. As a writer, you have to make time for sweeping the dust out of the corners of your plot, pulling out the weeds of stale dialogue and sloppy description, and snipping off those scraggly loose ends that make the rest of a healthy story look like poop.

But editing can be stifling and discouraging. No one writes a sparkling first draft, but coming back to a manuscript or a story after a few months of working on other things can be stupefying and upsetting.

“I wrote THAT?” you say, staring in horror at the jumbled mass of mixed metaphors and stilted dialogue. “What on earth am I going to do? I should just start over.”

Snoopy feels my pain. Image belongs to C. Schulz

But you don’t start over. You polish those rough edges, and dig out the gems hiding in the dirt, and cut out the useless characters until finally, the whole things gleams. And then you do it all again. And again. And it’s exhausting.

And unfortunately, I am not a great multi-tasker. Which means, when it comes to editing, I am solely focused on editing, and I get no writing done whatsoever. Which is fine, until I’m done editing, and I haven’t actually written anything in what feels like months. Well, one might think I could just start writing again. Do I do that? No. Instead, I stare at a blank screen for hours until I inevitably get distracted with cute cat videos or learning Italian or deciding that today is the day I want to learn how to make quiche.

Can you blame me? Quiche is delicious. Image via theage.com.au

In one of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s brilliant books, The Angel’s Game, the protagonist pumps out pulpy gothic romances under a pseudonym while struggling to complete his own novel. When asked by his protégée where he finds inspiration, David says, “Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table and your bottom on the chair and start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That’s called inspiration.”

I find the idea of inspiration as nothing more than hard work unsettling. On an emotional level, I feel like inspiration should be there when I wake up in the morning! When I brush my teeth at night! How can I write without inspiration? But on an intellectual level, I realize that inspiration is often just doing it. Squeezing that brain and sweating until something clicks.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Every flower must grow through dirt.” (Oscar Wilde didn’t say that. I can’t remember who did.) Thomas Edison said that “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Yoda said “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

How does your editing process affect your writing? How do you make your flower grow through the dirt? Do you wait for inspiration, or do you squeeze your brain until it hurts? Let me know in the comments!

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