In Which Storytelling and Character Defeat the Dark Side

Seriously, though, would you mess with Leia?

My husband has, on occasion, told people that our greatest failing as parents was our inability to get our kiddo interested in Star Wars. For her, it all seemed to boil down to: parents’ love of the movies + stubborn resistance to things parents love = disinterest in Star Wars.

Fair enough—we’ve all been there with our own parents and our own personal Star Wars.

But this past weekend, we finally sat down and watched Episode IV: A New Hope. The next day, I got a request to doozy up her hair in Princess Leia buns. I’d love to say this was a parental victory, but it had nothing to do with us. In reality, the conversion happened because of the power of story and character.

It was an interesting exercise watching the movie through someone else’s fresh eyes—and through the eyes of the person who matters most in the world to us. It also was interesting talking to her about characters like Han Solo, who seems like less than a good guy at first (and who maintains that delicious edge of scoundrel even later on)—and about Darth Vader, whose back story my kiddo doesn’t know and whose role in the story remains mysterious. It was amazing to hear things like, “Don’t mess with Princess Leia!” afterward and to see how this character captured my kiddo’s attention just as she did mine when I was a girl.

Because who doesn’t get caught up in a bold, brave, problem-solver like Leia—someone whose dedication to her cause is unstoppable, but who is completely human (and more than a little sarcastic) at the same time. Or Han, who is more than he believes himself to be. Or Luke, who yearns to do something important and change the world. And don’t even get me started on the layers upon layers that make up Obi Wan.

So, it wasn’t dedicated Star Wars parents who changed my kiddo’s mind—it was the story and the characters. And it served as a good reminder that these two things aren’t just to be found in books. They’re on television and in movies, in video games and in plays—and they’re important in all forms. So as much as this one movie opened my kiddo up to new possibilities, she (and the movie) reminded the die-hard book person that I am that my chosen story format isn’t the only one. Star Wars: blowing my mind since 1977.

Just don’t get me started on episodes I-III….

Mad-libbing it with The Bachelor—Because the End of the “Journey” Is Near

Will you accept this rose?

This week the Bachelor takes ____________________ (female name) on a date to ________________________ (place name). They travel to their romantic date on a _________________________ (mode of transportation). It’s so beautiful there! The Bachelor and __________________________ (same female name) can’t believe that they get to visit such a place. They can talk about nothing else. (No, really, they have nothing else to talk about).

____________________________ (same place name) is the perfect place to fall in love. But just as they begin to get comfortable, a ___________________________ (different mode of transportation) arrives to whisk them off to ___________________________ (different place name). Believe it or not, it’s the perfect place to fall in love, too! This is the best date of their entire lives. It really seems like they’re both here for the Right Reasons.

To prove it, though, she’ll first have to tackle her fear of _________________________ (common phobia). Because the only way you can show that you’re truly ready for love is to overcome her greatest phobia.

But even with that behind them, the Bachelor begins to have doubts. Will her _________________________ (noun) get in the way of her making a serious commitment? There’s only one way to find out—spending time alone together in the Fantasy Suite. They both claim they’re looking forward to a whole night of talking and getting to know each other better, but viewers know that the Fantasy Suite is really a code for _____________________________ (verb ending in -ing).

Soon it will be time for the final episode, but will the Bachelor choose ____________________________ (same woman’s name) or will _______________________________ (different woman’s name) win his heart in the end and receive the final __________________________________ (plant or flower name)?

Tune in next week for the most _______________________________ (adjective ending in –ing) episode of The Bachelor ever!

[image via ABC/Craig Sjodin]

When Life Gives You Snow….

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The entrance to our yard. The snow’s so tall we’re considering tunneling to other locations.

Like lots and lots of snow—like over 75 inches of it—it’s difficult to look on the bright side. The city of Boston is struggling to keep moving, the venerable T is falling to pieces, and my small town seems to think it’s cool to dump a whole street’s worth of snow in our driveway.

Speaking of tunnels, we essentially have created one at the end of our driveway simply so we can leave the house.

Speaking of tunnels, we essentially have created one at the end of our driveway simply so we can leave the house.

So what’s a gal to do when nature provides a little more snow than is, strictly speaking, necessary? Since lemonade seems a tad too tropical under the circumstances, what are we left with? Snow cones? Ice pops? In an attempt to look on the bright side, I’ve been brainstorming ideas.

  1. It provides a great cardio-vascular work out. Sure, the gym is probably closed. And even if it it’s open, you can’t get to it. The good news is that a hearty work out is just outside your door. Break out that shovel and get your exercise. Bonus: Shoveling also allows you to leave your home and potentially reach the gym. Someday.
  1. It gives the kids an extended February vacation. Clearly not every part of this fair country has such a vacation, but here in good old Massachusetts—where February is kind of a bear—kids get a week off. And it’s coming next week. The children of eastern Massachusetts will be so rested after the snow days and vacation week that they’ll be chomping at the bit to learn, learn, learn when they get back to school.
  1. It’s pretty. I mean, the whole winter wonderland thing. It’s still kind of pretty. Sort of. Kind of. Isn’t it?

Okay, so maybe the snow is a bust. We’ve gotten more in the last 17 days that we have since 1920. And it just keeps coming. We’re scheduled to get another foot of it this weekend. So stay warm—and if you have any thoughts on how to make lemonade (because, in the end, it is a refreshing beverage after hours of shoveling) from insistent, snow-driven lemons, I’m all ears.

Even with the snow drifting away from it, the swingset is slowly being buried.

Even with the snow drifting away from it, the swingset is slowly getting buried.

Two Years of Scribbling in the Garret

May Alcott's original illustration of Jo scribbling away at her writing,  from the two-volume publication of LIttle Women.

May Alcott’s original illustration of Jo scribbling away at her writing, from the two-volume publication of LIttle Women.

I realized this blog has been in existence for two years today almost by accident. If a date’s not written on my planner—and is not, say, my husband or child’s birthday—I tend to forget it. And a blog anniversary (I can’t really use the word “blogiversary” with a straight face, even when I’m typing) isn’t the kind of thing you really mark on your calendar. So, the first anniversary went entirely forgotten.

But, it is, in fact, two years to the day since this little experiment in blogging began, and to honor the occasion, I’d like—once again—to have a little celebration of Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, and Jo March. Only this time, I’ve got lovely pictures.

The very gorgeous cover of an 1880 edition of Little Women (both volumes together at last!).

The very gorgeous cover of an 1880 edition of Little Women (both volumes together at last!).

Harvard’s Houghton Library is a veritable treasure trove of intriguing literary stuff. In this case, it’s illustrations from the original two-volume publication of Little Women, illustrated by her sister May Alcott. I wondered what May must have been thinking as she illustrated these two volumes and found the fictionalized version of herself—the artist sister—therein. Was she hurt by Louisa’s portrayal of Amy? Offended that her sister made herself the heroine of the story? Grateful that in the end this same writer-sister fixed her up with Laurie (because who wouldn’t be, really)?

Oh, Laurie, couldn't you see you belonged with me and not Amy?

Oh, Laurie, couldn’t you see you belonged with me and not Amy?

Or was she able to celebrate her sister’s literary achievement just as we still celebrate it today? In my spare time (ha!), I’m going to do some research and try to find out. But for now, enjoy the illustrations, and thanks for being a part of what’s now an ongoing blog experiment!

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On New Year’s Resolutions and Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, rocking some dazzling (and enviable) self-confidence in the Blank Space video.

Let’s get two things out of the way up front: 1.) I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years; and 2.) I am a big Taylor Swift fan. I’ve liked her music from the get-go and like it even more now that my kiddo is a huge fan. And her latest album, 1989, did not disappoint.

So what does this have to do with resolutions? Well, I’m not really a big proponent of them. I know they help some people to start the year off fresh, but in my experience they’re easily made and easily broken. Maybe this means I’m the weak-minded type who’d be easy prey for Jedi mind tricks. Or maybe it just means I’m realistic about my own flaws.

I’d love to drop a few pounds, run my first marathon, write every day for hours on end, and be more organized on the household front. Will I really do all of these things? I’m going to go with no. Though I always aim for good health, I haven’t been able to run in months (a frustrating health development) and I can’t possibly write every single day—I work and have a kid. As for household organization, I think I can safely admit that I err on the side of what (I hope) is friendly chaos.

So what would a resolution in honor of 2015 really get me? Other than a sense of frustration with myself—something I already excel at having—when I don’t live up to the resolution, not much, I’m afraid.

Which brings me back to Taylor Swift (no, I didn’t forget about her). The new album contains some glorious statements of self-acceptance and empowerment, from the letter to her fans about change and learning from your mistakes to the songs contained therein. And I love it as such, from start to finish.

I’ve danced gleefully to “Shake it Off” with my kiddo up and down the aisles of a grocery store, not caring a whit if neighbors, or even complete strangers, think I’m crazy. I’ve watched the video for “Blank Space” more times than I can count, talking along the way with my kiddo about how Taylor Swift’s not serious when she sings things like “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She’s doing something remarkable, in fact: reclaiming her reputation and her sense of self.

It’s a gift to be able to accept yourself, grow as a result of your mistakes, and laugh a little as you’re doing it. And it’s important to realize, at least for me, that every day—not just New Year’s Day—is one in which you can be true to yourself. You can work for and toward something you love, whether it’s your friends, your family, your work, or a passion that you pursue despite your work. You can look forward, as Anne of Green Gables always did, to tomorrow being fresh with no mistakes in it. And then you can make mistakes and it will be okay.

So, on this first day of 2015, I wish you all the ability to accept and love yourself for who you are, to laugh at the small annoyances thrown your way, and realize that even if “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” you can choose to not let them get you down. It’s not an easy choice—haters come in all shapes and forms, external and internal—but it’s one we can all strive to make.

Because it’s time to shake off the old year, and celebrate the new one. And if you need a little inspiration, you can always watch this. Pretty. Awesome.

When it Comes to Revising, Which Way Should I Go?

Lately, I’ve been channeling Dorothy Gale in the unfortunate area of general confusion about how to proceed with my writing. (If only I’d started channeling Judy Garland in the area of singing. If only.)

I’m at the point where I have first, even second, drafts of more than one novel manuscript. They all need work. Like a lot of work. And revising is never a hardship for me—I’m an editor, after all. I like editing. and trying to find solutions to story problems. So what’s the hang up?

For a long spell this fall, there was a sizable hang up indeed—that of deciding upon what to spend my sadly few writing hours. Do I keep pushing forward with the historical fantasy story that was my thesis in Lesley’s MFA program? Do I dive whole-hog into one of two contemporary YA stories instead? It’s nice, of course, to be in the position where I have multiple drafts of multiple stories.

But which way do I go?

The siren song of first one, then another, would call me. And I’d answer each call. Briefly. Always very briefly. It look a while to figure out that there’s a way I could use this to my advantage. Which is what I hope I’m now doing. So I have two stories that I’m revising—one much more complex than the other. I give time to both and then take breaks from both—it’s turned into a giant switch-up.

There’s clearly going to have to come a time when, like Odysseus, I lash myself to the mast and force myself to listen to the siren song of one of these stories—and do my best to sail right past it and stay on course with the other.

But for now, I’m doing what makes most sense—and keeps me sane and writing. Even if, alas, not singing like Judy Garland.

 

Have a Magical Day!

Sure, Cinderella's castle isn't really covered in glowing icicles. But it sure does look pretty.

Sure, Cinderella’s castle isn’t really covered in glowing icicles. But it sure does look pretty.

Disney World is one of those places that you either love or hate. I definitely fall into the love category. Having just returned from a trip there—with hours upon hours spent on rides, watching shows, meeting characters (Chip and Dale rock), and generally having a wonderful time with my extended family, I have some insight into the Disney experience. I also gained some unexpected insight—and perspective—on my own writing. Specifically:

Sometimes it’s good to turn the laptop off and leave it at home. Rid yourself of any possibility of writing or revising and let your brain just rest. I am not good at this. As a slightly compulsive person who’s also a working mother, finding time to write isn’t always easy. So I force myself to work after work and on weekends. I make myself sit at the computer and put words onto the page. This can be a good thing. It can also be damaging when it leads to no rest and no playtime. A gal needs a break every now and then.

There’s no such thing as “real” magic. I know this as a sophisticated adult-type person who’s view of the world is firmly grounded in reality. But magic is so much fun, even if it isn’t real. The magic at Disney World is so seamlessly created that it almost feels real at times. And even when it doesn’t—even when you know the snow on Main Street USA isn’t the real thing because chance snow squalls don’t happen in Orlando—it’s still pretty darn awesome. The careful orchestration doesn’t lessen the greatness. Instead, it adds to my marveling at it. Someone (or more likely a large team of someones) crafted every last moment of the Disney World experience. It’s world-building of the highest order. Magic isn’t real—it’s created. Writers create magic in the same way, and it’s nice to be reminded of that now and again.

Embracing one’s lack of cynicism is a good and healthy thing. I am not a cynical person. I hope never to be one. Sitting on a Disney shuttle bus surrounded by happily chatting families from all around the country—whose kids are sporting Elsa dresses and whose dads are wearing mouse ears—it’s like a breath of fresh air wafted through. And on a crowded shuttle bus, that’s saying something.

The world needs more fireworks. And song and dance routines just for the sake of having song and dance routines. And dance parties in which people wearing large, furry character costumes bust a move with you. And folks who without a shred of irony wish you a magical day. Because who doesn’t want to have a magical day?

So, I thank my lucky stars that there is such a place as Walt Disney World and people who have job titles like imagineer and kindly folks who are happy to chat with you about how awesome their vacations are—and how much they hope yours is as well.

Now I’m back to work and life and even some writing and revising. But if you wish me a magical day, I’ll be happy to wish one right back at you.

An Autumn Nor’easter

 

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A magic carpet of wet leaves to walk on.

If this storm had come in December instead of October, we’d be buried in snow right now. Thankfully, it’s not even close to winter yet (at least in my mind) and we’ve just gotten a welcome dose of rain. Not so far from here, trees are down, taking cars and electricity lines with them, and streets are beginning to flood. In my neighborhood—a sheltered little corner of town—the damage consists at this point of some water in the basement, small tree limbs on the ground, and drowned earthworms (R.I.P, little fellas).

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The rain’s come down fast and furious, and the storm drains are already past capacity.

So, my kiddo and I walked to school today as we always do, thumbing our noses at this briefly weakened segment of the storm and belting out “Singing in the Rain” (sorry, neighbors) as we skipped our way through deep puddles and flooded storm drains. I’ve always liked the rain, and I’m pleased to say that it appears to be an inherited trait.

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Our Halloween decorations took a hit, and some little branches are down. There are candles at the ready, though, in case the power goes out, and worse fates than working by candlelight..

But now I’m hunkered down at my desk, hoping to do a little writing as the wind whirls around my little yellow house and the guinea pig snoozes, blissfully unaware of that her squirrel and rabbit cousins are outside braving the elements. The kettle’s doing its business in the kitchen with a mug of hot tea just moments away—and like Gene Kelly, right now I have a smile on my face.

Children’s Book Wardrobe Envy

This article on Jezebel detailing the many movie and television outfits that the author of the piece wished that she had hanging in her own closet got me laughing—and thinking about what characters from the world of children’s books have wardrobes I’d personally yearn for. It turns out, depressingly, that there are a good number of picture book characters who dress much better than I do.

Pretty much everything in Olivia’s closet is a thing of beauty but this, her signature look, is still her best. That splashy red! The sailor collar! Those stripey tights! The whole ensemble says, “I am playful, but underestimate me at your peril.” And who wouldn’t want a dress that said all that without you having to say a word?

Like me as a child, Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline has to wear a uniform at school. Uniforms are meant, of course, to level the playing field–where everyone looks the same and can be treated like equals. Of course, as anyone who’s been forced to wear a uniform knows, there are many ways to make even an ensemble worn by the masses your own. This can be achieved through accessories, or simply the right attitude. Take that yellow hat and coat, a red neckerchief, and a whole lot of sass, and you have Madeline. Sure the tiger at zoo was intimidated. Wouldn’t you be?

While his cousin Peter went for a more classic look (though he was a tad too apt to wreck it when he’d assembled one), Benjamin Bunny had a jauntier style while it lasted. He knew how to rock a pair of clogs…and a tam-o-shanter, too. And in the words of ZZ Top, “Every girl crazy bout a sharp dressed man.” Or, in this case, bunny.

Kevin Henkes’ Lilly was a master of disguise, but also master at turning out a smart look. With her kickin’ red cowgirl boots, purple plastic purse, snazzy dotted dress, tail bow, cape, and hello, a CROWN, she is the undisputed queen of her world. I wish I had this dress and one tenth of her confidence when she wears it.

Does anyone exude hipster cool like Wilma does in the Where’s Waldo books? She’s never given the center stage treatment she deserves, but we all know that Wilma rocks the stripes and cap in a way that Waldo only dreams that he could. She wears practical shoes. She’s rocking the stripes in every wrong way. And like the honey badger, Wilma doesn”t care. Plus, she could single-handedly bring back the mullet. Not that this would be a good thing. I’m just saying Wilma could do it.

The Little Prince may not have figured out how to have a healthy relationship with the flora on his small planet, but he knew how to put an outfit together. From this bow-tied outfit, to his jaunty scarf, to starry shoulder epaulets the narrators draws on him in his final portrait, his outfits are indeed fit for a royalty.