Saturday, March 23, 2013

How the Idea Became the Vivid Reality - The Quadrilogy

Alright, kids, this is the story of how four mischievous characters snuck under my skin, took over my life, and have also brought me some of the most joy and grief a writer can suffer. They collectively have added up to well over 300 single-spaced pages of material, spanning the hysterical to the dramatic to the sexy. And that's nowhere near what the finished product will yield. This set of muses has been my baby for a long time, always lurking in my mind waiting for new material to spring on and take home with it. Those characters are always lazing about up there, poking their noses in at the least opportune times, urging me to write some more.

First I'll tell you how this all came about, these particular characters. In junior high, I became friends with a girl who was simultaneously the weirdest and most intriguing person I'd ever met, for a variety of reasons. She was obsessed with the vampire characters written by Ann Rice, as well as Michael Jackson, she had an absolutely fearless personality, and I'd never seen anyone so quirky and confident about it. She could go on for a solid 15 minutes on a topic that I would have absolutely no knowledge of, or in normal circumstances, interest in, but somehow she would still keep me entertained just by listening to this endless stream of oddness coming out of her mouth.

Anyway, one of the things that intrigued me about her was that she was a writer, and a freaking good one. She has improved greatly over the years, but she was still brilliant even as a teenager in eighth and ninth grade. And one day at lunch, I can't quite remember how, she just suddenly started a doodle, basically, of a story of me living in a mansion with four vampires. Lestat and Louis from the Ann Rice vampire series, Michael Jackson, and Orlando Bloom, whom I had a massive crush on at the time thanks to Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.

And this spiraled out into this whole, chapters-long story about how an older me met and moved into a mansion with these four vampires, and then fell in love with Orlando Bloom. I can tell you this, the fictional version of Orlando Bloom is very sweet and charming, and of course the much more witty and cute version of me fell for him immediately. However, the movie and book versions of Lestat and Louis were very much changed to suit our purposes and my friend's vision of them. They're awesome.

Well, in high school, this story morphed, retaining the same characters except for Michael Jackson who got replaced by a selection of other characters. In this version, all the characters were in high school, except I was Lestat's cousin and I had decided to move in with him and go to his school, of course taking on all his friends and dating the SBO, Orlando Bloom!

I had a great time. Both in the stories and out, reading about all these adventures I got to have. Those stories kept me entertained all through junior high and part of high school. Fast forward several years, and that's where things started to morph again, just in this last year or so. I had decided that I wanted to create my own spinoff of the high school story my friend had invented, maintaining all my favorite parts of the characters (save myself, which got replaced by someone far more entertaining, in my opinion) and the circumstances, just making them my own and going from that original idea of cousins going to school together and snowballing from there.

And then, I can't remember exactly how this happened, or even if this happened before or after I'd started my spinoff, I had another brainwave. I was writing a scene about an actor playing a part in a stage production in the musical Cats (which I had just fallen deeply in love with). For a long time, that character and that scene just sat in my muse folder, on it's own, when that same friend that had started this whole thing in the first place (the brilliant writer), saw Cats herself. And she immediately agreed with my assessment that our versions of the Lestat and Louis characters perfectly matched the characters Rum Tum Tugger and Mr. Mistoffelees! So I let my friend read that lonely Cats inspired muse, and our Lestat got the part, with Louis starring as well.

Which takes us back to my spinoff. (I know, we're jumping around like kangaroos, bear with me.) After joint-writing more with that Cats scene with my friend, it still just sat there for another long time. And then I had an idea . . . what if my Lestat (his name is Aidan in my universe) got to have his own story? What if there was more to my spinoff than what I had originally planned?

Thus, this monster was born. And it is amazing. After Aidan got his own story, and Savannah (the replacement character for me, the cousin) already had her story in high school, what about Ryan/Louis? He had to have a story! Those three were my main characters, my little beloved trio, but I also had squeezed in there a fourth character, Josh, the friend. At first he was much more of just a supporting character, more there for the entertainment that his cheeky, inappropriate, incorrigible self lent to the story, but as I kept thinking about him and his role in Savannah's story, I figured that he deserved a story too.

So we went from three to four. Savannah got her story with the very changed Orlando character that I named Chase in high school. Josh got his story in the first few years of college. Ryan got his after college in his mid-twenties, and Aidan, true to his somewhat commitment-phobic and womanizing ways, didn't find his match until his late twenties, and she burst in on his life like a firecracker!

To sum up . . . I just spent forever telling you backstory on a set of muses that you probably won't ever read. Why? Well, because I love telling the story, that's why. And I love the characters. Don't get me wrong, I love all my characters. Like right now, I'm working on a muse about an ex-spy who is dragged back into the spy life and hijinks ensue! Yes, I said spy, don't judge me. She's awesome, and I have learned more about guns, spy training, and espresso than I ever wanted to know, thanks to her.

But my quadrilogy characters have a special place in my heart. They hold a lot of memories, the original four and all those that have come from them, spanning into a group of many, all of whom are wonderful. So, I just wanted to share the story of how it all came to be, this beast. This life-overtaking monstrosity. It has consumed me. And I wouldn't change a bit of it.

How I Became a Writer

For some reason, I am suddenly inspired today to tell a story. Kind of a long story, and I'm sure you have better things to be doing, but that's okay. I'm telling it anyway. This is the story of how I became a writer.

The very first time I ever actually sat myself down and started to write a story, I was 10 or so. I remember sitting in my bedroom I shared with my sister in the apartment we lived in, in Morgan, Utah. And this story was about a deer. I don't actually remember now what the story involved, but I knew it was a female deer, and at the beginning of the book, I was describing her walking through some trees, rustling the leaves as she passed them. I was absolutely enchanted then, as I still am now, at the glorious way that words translated images so beautifully.

Words have always been easy for me. Ever since I was a kid that could barely read, I have sucked up words with a passion that is unending. I was the kid at recess who sat under a tree and read James and the Giant Peach in second grade because I didn't have friends, and I was okay with that. If I could have, I would have lived in the library. I loved to see those shelves crammed full of every kind of book, those mysterious, entertaining, colorful covers of books that had the most intoxicating mysteries and adventures inside.

So it's really no surprise that writing was something that has come naturally to me. Being such an incurable bookworm as a kid and teenager fueled that fire, and still does. Reading is a unique solace that a person can retreat to, somewhere sheltering and yet unreal that one can go to escape the unbearable things of life and for a short time, have the freedom to be somewhere else. With other people. In another world. That's how it has always been for me. The characters and places in books have always had a pull on me that I've never wanted to resist. And I feel for those characters as if they were real people, sometimes I want to reach through those pages and just hug them, or laugh with them, or cry with them. And sometimes I do, even if it is something as cheesy as hugging that book.

When I was in junior high, 8th grade to be specific, I was sitting in my US History class behind a guy that I had a crush on. And when we weren't passing notes (boy, did my tweeny-bopper self get a rush out of that), I was often bored. This particular teacher had a way of making the American Revolution sound as exciting as reading a legal dictionary. He had this voice, this monotone voice that might occasionally go up or down in volume, but it was one of the easiest sounds in the world to just tune out.

So naturally I found other things to keep myself from falling asleep and drooling attractively on my desk.

I wove a few (see also, dozens of) friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss, I doodled on my notebook, and then one day, just for fun, I started writing down made-up names that popped into my head. And the first one I came up with was Laika.

It came to my attention several years later that I was not the first person to come up with this name, there was actually a Russian dog that was the first animal put up into space with the same name, and this devastated me. It was not solely my name. But I got over it. This is not the only name that I made up only to find that it had been made up by someone else too. I always feel a surge of righteous anger and indignation when this happens.

But anyway, I had this name. I liked this name a lot. It was somehow foreign and familiar and poetic and realistic all at the same time, and while I kept on jotting down names that were a mix of sounds and syllables that I was putting together in my head, my imagination kind of . . . exploded.

A royal family, a quaint village, magical Elves (we're not talking Santa Claus here, we're talking Terry Brook's Shannara and JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings), mythical creatures, a grand quest, and certainly danger along the way. This picture of this gorgeous tree? This is what one fraction of my world looked like in this story. A new printer of my dad's printed this picture off as a test, and I totally swiped and kept it in my writing binder.

Now, let me be both indulgent and critical for a moment. This idea was GENIUS. I still think so. However, when I wrote this story, which quickly spun from just an idea to over 1,000 handwritten pages (not an exaggeration) of TWO books, I was a dramatic, emotional, hormonal teenager who had many enthusiastic friends who I was delighted to have contribute ideas, characters, and even pages of writing to this project.

It was a disaster! So much of those books were random and delightful pieces of fluff that had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story and everything to do with the interactions and lives of me and my friends. I had well over 50 characters in those books, and almost all of them were me and my friends, come to literary life in a world that was manipulate-able in so many ways. You would not believe how many 9th grade girls got their dream boy in writing that year, it was insane. And I was the orchestrator of most of it, I'm happy to say.

Anyway, so this idea was great, the writing was . . . shite. The story was there, to be sure, but it was positively buried in the outrageous and hysterical mound of fluff and nonsense of me and my fabulous friends.

Two pivotal things happened when I was in high school that ended this era. The first one was finishing the second book. Two separate, distinct adventures and plot lines that were in two separate binders. I had a idea where I wanted to go next with this, but at the time it involved my main character, Laika (told you I liked the name) growing up and having grown up daughters. And I just didn't know if I could do that, emotionally or realistically. I wasn't 20 or 30 years old and married, I wasn't 40 or 50 with grown kids, I didn't know how to write that. I was a teenager, that's what I wrote. And I also didn't know if I could basically take my heroine off her pedestal as the star of my show and have someone else take her place. It was like Ariel from Little Mermaid having a daughter, it was cool but just felt . . . so wrong! Look how old that ridiculous hairstyle makes Ariel look!

The second thing that happened, that just took the heart and soul right out of me, was that a few large chunks of my books got lost. I was devastated. I had lent parts of the book to friends to read, and either they were returned missing pages or damaged beyond use, or in one case, the binder my pages had been kept in was stolen. I have since discovered that one of the first rules of writing is to ALWAYS have a copy. An updated copy that, in the event that you lose part of the original, you have a backup. I didn't have a backup. Sure, most of the story was in my head, and I could probably faithfully reproduce what I'd written, but still . . . the thought of having to rewrite so much both exhausted me and broke my heart.

I didn't write again for a long time. Not because I didn't want to, a part of me did. And I did write a page here and there, little moments that came to me. But nothing serious or of any length. I was still too heartbroken. It probably sounds pathetic, but it truly broke my heart. To have something that was such a part of me, such an integral element in my life, to have it be fractured and broken like that . . . it hurt. I didn't blame anyone for it, I knew that it didn't mean to them what it did to me. And I know in at least one case, one friend was so frantic about having lost what I'd lent him that he even had a reward out for the binder that had been stolen that had my pages in it.

So anyway, I took a long sabbatical away from writing. It wasn't until much later, after I was married and I think after I had my daughter, did I finally go back into the world of writing. My reading had never stopped, and when I made my way back to my muse, what I was reading at the time was Julia Quinn. She is a Regency Era romance author, and she is one of my top three favorite authors. I loved her books, every one of them, for their characters and their humor and the richness of the writing. So it's not surprise that my first story I wrote coming back to writing was a Regency Era romance. And, looking back, this time it was more the plot that has issues while the writing had greatly improved. I guess that's what time and experience does to you.

It was a bit of a slow start, but from there on, writing was back in my life, and over the years since then (it's been four or so) I am confident that I have written in excess of thousands of pages of single spaced typing. I finally got myself a laptop when I got married, an easier and faster way to write, and boy have I made use of that system. At this very moment, in my muse folder, I have 152 items, including 9 folders that have multiple other documents in them. And this is not counting any co-writing I have done with my dear friend, that's another . . . 6, I think. That gives me easily another few hundred pages. I promise I am not bragging, I am just stating how far I have come in his new era of my writing. I've been busy. And I have loved it.

If I were to pick out the flaw in my writing that bothers me the most, it might be consistency. The reason I have 152 separate items in my muse folder right now is because I have over 180+ separate stories going on. And I have only ever finished (I use that term loosely) maybe 5 of them. That is pitiful. It's not that I don't want to finish, in fact I would dearly love to finish. To read those stories and laugh and cry with my creations. It's just that the muse is flighty and picky with me, and unfortunately never stays with the same muse for long. It rests comfortably in that muse for a few days, maybe a few weeks, on the rare occasion even a month or so, and then takes off again, flitting to another one or going off to take a vacation, leaving me in a slight stupor from writing and a little bit anxious about when my muse will return. And my poor characters, in my poor story, sit untouched for who knows how long. It makes me feel so neglectful!

I visit them. I read over what I've written and I wish I could write more. I wish I could finish those stories. But when the muse isn't smiling, I can't write like those characters deserve. But I visit them, and still love them, and whisper promises that someday, they will have their ending. Someday.

I am always promising a someday, and I swear that someday will come. Hint hint, muse. Stop flitting. Come back. And settle already!

Wanna know what my most recent two victims are? An unstable workaholic father who falls in love with the nanny taking care of his son, and a female cross of Jason Bourne and every awesome action flick chick you've ever seen. They are amazing. A lot of my writing is inspired by things in my life, what movies I've seen, what songs I'm listening to, what actors or actresses I'm obsessing over, etc., and these two are no surprise. Well, actually, my super secret agent/spy girl was kind of a surprise, she snuck up on me, but I have had her niggling around in my brain for awhile now. In the time I have been writing these two muses, I've written something like 90+ pages between the two of them, and not even made a dent in how long their stories will eventually be. I have pivotal moments, or nonsense moments that pop into my head, a string of events that I organize into chronological order and hope beyond hope that someday I will be able to knit all these pieces together into a complete and understandable story. (I hate that part, by the way. The knitting.)

I wish I had the focus and the inspiration to be able to just work on one story at a time. I really do. But it seems, that whenever I have the muse smiling at one muse, the muse tends to smile and give me ideas for several all at one time. So, really, focusing on one is really just unreasonable. If I have an idea for a muse, be it a sentence, a picture in my head, a phrase, an emotion, anything, I HAVE to write it down. And if I postpone, if I just make myself a note to do it later, I lose the magic of the moment. And it's quite terrible, and it makes me feel horrible, so I get stuck between four or five different muses at the same time, trying to do them all justice with completely separate emotions happening in each one, and it's truly exhausting.

I sound like a deeply disturbed person, don't I? Well, that's because I am. Disturbed and annoyed and pestered and gifted by having these amazing, wonderful, absolutely hysterical characters in my head. I can't even claim this brilliance for myself, I have imaginary friends in my head telling me to write brilliant things. And I do hope they never stop.

Truly, words have changed my life. Reading them, hearing them, writing them, words have become a ruling part of my life, a majority of who I am. And even if no one in the world ever reads my words, it is enough for me to have written them. To have them out of my head and in a physical form is something beyond spectacular. To someday have someone read them, and maybe love them even a fraction as much as me, maybe that would be too much to hope for. But it could happen. As much as critique and criticism scares me, I would be willing to let my words be read anyway, just in case one person finds something worthwhile in them.

Maybe that's just what all this is about, this lonely little post floating out there in the abyss of the internet. Maybe someone will catch it in their net as they surf along one day, and maybe they will want to read more. Maybe they will read what I have written, and they will smile. Maybe. And out of the words I treasure beyond my ability to say, I will have created something . . . beautiful.

The Sneaky Nature of Fandoms

I was pondering last night on the natures of fandoms (I use the word in a loose context, BTW, I mean anything you can be a fan of, not just nerd things). In particular, I was thinking about how the love of something can be either immediate, or come up out of the blue and over time. Or how you can be a fan of something for a long time, and never really understand exactly what it is you're a fan of. I have a few examples.

My fandom I have been indulging this week is Pirates of the Caribbean. Yeah, y'all know what I'm talking about. There are not enough flattering words for those movies. This was a fandom that was immediate, it took no time at all, sitting in the movie theater that first time, to just fall in love with everything about it. I loved the story, I loved the costumes and sets, and more than anything, I LOVED the characters. Captain Jack Sparrow in particular. Like a lot of people, in the wake of Lord of the Rings, I had gone to the movie primarily interested in seeing Orlando Bloom, since he'd pulled off the whole hot Elf thing so well.

And I left that theater with a raging crush on Johnny Depp.

Who can blame me? Most everyone else did the same thing. This was the movie that skyrocketed Johnny Depp to superstardom, and for good reason. He is my favorite actor, and he deserves it. There is not a role that this man cannot play. Trust me, I've seen a lot of his work. He is brilliant.

So, anyway, there's my example of a fandom that was immediate. An instant love of the Pirates world and everything in it. My next example, the sneaky fandom that pops up out of the blue, is another Hollywood alum.

Robert Downey Jr. I'm fairly sure I have mentioned once or twice my . . . slight obsession with this man before. And it's an obsession that truly came out of nowhere. I had seen Iron Man before, and I liked it. I had seen other movies with RDJ before, specifically Sherlock Holmes, and while I liked them, it wasn't anywhere near a fandom level. Just a standard, "Oh, this is a good movie, he's a good actor" kind of thing. I think I was watching Jude Law while watching Sherlock Holmes more than I watched Robert Downey Jr.

But then, one night my husband and I decided to watch Iron Man again, and . . . the fandom was born. I fell in love.

Something about that arrogant, funny, quick-witted character had me glued to the screen in a way I hadn't been the first time I watched it. I was utterly enthralled. And then, I'm not sure exactly what happened next, but either way they happened in quick succession. I watched Sherlock Holmes again. And it was clear that it was not just Tony Stark who had stolen my heart. It was the incredibly gifted actor playing the role.

Don't get me wrong, I adore the character of Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes as well, but my heart truly belongs to RDJ. And the same time as watching Sherlock Holmes, I also made the big, BIG mistake of looking up clips of Robert Downey Jr on YouTube.

I was stuck there for days. I kid you not, I do not exaggerate. Days. Yes, breaks were taken for things like eating, mothering, sleeping, etc., but I did not do any other personal time activities other than watch clips of that man for DAYS. Hours upon hours upon hours, and one stint even lasted 8 hours after I put Sammy to bed! I'm not kidding! I voraciously pounced upon every video I could find that had RDJ in it. I saw clips from movies, I saw dozens of interviews, I saw behind the scenes featurettes, I saw everything. I can even tell you which video it was when I absolutely fell in love with him, the man, not the characters.

This one.

Again, not kidding. I've seen that clip probably 20 times now. I have it memorized. Shut up. I can feel you laughing.

Anyway, that spawned an outrageous need to watch every movie RDJ had ever been in (he and Johnny Depp are similar in that they can play ANY role), know about his life (that was a party, let me tell you), and I also discovered that he is a musician. A d*mn good one. I hadn't even known it, but he had even released an album.

Which I downloaded. And listen to frequently. And sing along, because I have all those memorized too. (Side note: I kind of melted a little bit when I heard his voice. Like, into a puddle of gelatinous goo on the floor because it had been awhile since I had heard something so seductive and sexy as that husky, gorgeous voice.) Here's a link to one of my favorites songs of his, if you wanna give it a listen.

Now, I want to make sure we're clear that I'm not stalking the man, or that I'm a creeper. I've purposely kept myself from going THAT far. (I don't live in Hollywood anyway, so it's not feasible.) I know what year he was born, but not what day, and I know about his family, but not intimate details. And I think that Robert and his wife, Susan, are the most adorable couple in the world.

Their love story is just ridiculously cute. (Yes, I watched that interview. And that one. And that one . . . )

So, yeah. Fandom that inexplicably became a fandom despite having been exposed to it before. And, I'll have you know, this is the fandom I am currently most known for. If my friends have a RDJ related question, guess who they ask . . . And I usually know the answer.

This next one is the fandom where I was a fan for years, and didn't even know it. And this one goes to the King of Rock and Roll.


Look at that face. Who doesn't love that face?

Anyway, this fandom came about in an interesting way. See, I have inherited most of my music tastes from my parents. When I was little, I was exposed to a big variety of music, since my parents have different tastes. My mom loves country, my dad loves . . . well, he loves a lot of stuff that played when he was growing up. So whenever we were at home or in the car, there was always music going. Country with my mom, an alternative rock station for my dad when he wasn't listening to KSL (news, talking, I hated it), and for four solid years there, we were parked on an oldies station that played music from the 50's through the 70's. Carpenters, Air Supply, the Beach Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. All of the goodies. Even if I didn't know the words, I knew the tune, and boy, do I have memories associated with all those tunes.

Anyway, while we were in this oldies phase, I heard and loved so many songs, but being a kid, I never bothered to really find out who sang what. I knew the Carpenters by sound, since it was so distinct, but I knew very few others. (For the record, I could also pick out Reba McEntire in a lineup. My mom was very proud.) So I heard Devil in Disguise, Return to Sender, Suspicious Minds, Can't Help Falling in Love, all without knowing that it was Elvis singing those songs. Even Jailhouse Rock didn't tweak in my head that it was Elvis.

And then, many years later while I worked as a librarian and I was putting CD's away one day, I happened to flip over an Elvis CD to look over his songs and lo, to my surprise, I had been a fan of Elvis all those years and never knew it!

Return to Sender and Devil in Disguise were a couple of my favorite songs and I had never known that they were Elvis songs! I gleefully took that CD home, listening with joy to songs that I loved that now had a name to go with a voice. I was pleasantly surprised! No wonder everyone made such a fuss about Elvis, now I knew why!

So Elvis turned out to be one of those fandoms that I'd been participating in all those years, just without knowing exactly what I was a fan of. I didn't mind finding that out, especially when I looked up pictures of the guy and discovered he was even more smoking hot that I had originally known (I'm talking younger Elvis, not horrible hair, jumpsuit Elvis).

I even have a poster, it's on my ceiling right now. Next to a poster of Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.

Robert Downey Jr. in an Avengers poster is on the back of my door, which is another fandom, BTW.

I love fandoms. I love being a fan of things. I love being a nerd in the way that I can have totally unreasonable, irrational love and excitement about something that I find amazing and cool and worth my time. Simon Pegg said it best in this quote, I love it so much;

"Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating."
― Simon Pegg

You are so right, Simon. Being a geek is liberating. Having fandoms is joyful and liberating. Having an unabashed love for something so distant from yourself is a unique kind of freedom. And so, I devote myself to my fandoms. I devote myself to the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp, Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. Elvis. Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkein. Julia Quinn and J.R. Ward (romance authors). Narnia and Wonderland. I wholeheartedly express my enthusiastic, over the top, and sometimes childish love for these things that have endeared themselves to me and earned my eternal adoration.

I salute you, fandoms. I'm yours forever.

Now tell me, dear reader . . . share your dirty secret. What is, or are, your fandoms(s)?