Days 65-66. I grew up in a world of magic.

Disclaimer: If your gag reflex is easily triggered by sappy words, you might want to leave this post. Actually, there’s no doubt about it, you need to leave this post. May I interest you in something more sarcastic? Check out ANY of my other posts. Seriously, I won’t be upset.

Now that all of the “hard asses” are out of here, all aboard the tearjerker express!

Today, I want to talk about a series of books that defined my childhood. This will most likely be outrageously heartfelt (cheesy) and sensitive (corny). I recommend you take a moment to locate your tissues now. I am not responsible for any ruined shirts caused by your sniffles or runny mascara. In fact, you might be better off just throwing a blanket over yourself now. E.T. style would be the most effective.

I’m going to try to keep the angst to a minimum, but I can’t make any promises. You have been warned.

I used to find it strange when a book was credited as having “saved someone’s life”. Did the book stop a bullet for you? Did it catch a grenade for you? Jump in front of a train for you? (Can you tell which song is stuck in my head?). Whenever I heard someone say this about a book, I would get this image in my head of a book with tiny arms and a sword. The book always had a moustache and spoke with the voice of Antonio Banderas. It seemed overly dramatic and cliché to me. I loved books, but none of them had saved me from a burning building or a car accident.

After a great deal of reflection, I get it. While my Harry Potter books never sprouted arms and fended off some terrible foe like the Boogeyman, they did provide me with an escape and a soft place to land when I needed it. When you’re a child, that’s a wonderful thing. Finding solace in the pages of a book is an irreplaceable gift.

I was ten years old when my Nanny (grandmother) bought me the first three books of the Harry Potter series. I was not impressed. My favorite book, up to that point, was Where the Red Fern Grows. I had no interest in reading about a boy wizard with crooked glasses and hand-me-down clothes. Where were the puppies?!

My Nanny also gave my brother the same three books. Unlike me, he devoured them immediately. He turned each page with such ferocity that I’m surprised he didn’t get multiple paper cuts. Instead of sparking my interest in the books, this just made me inch away even further. If my brother liked them, then there’s no way I’m reading them. Boys and girls do not like the same things. That’s one of the symptoms of cooties, obviously.

A few months later, my parents divorced. My mom and I packed our things and moved to Oklahoma, but my dad and brother stayed in Arkansas. All of a sudden, I was in a new room, in a different state, with no one to play Nintendo with. I know it’s obvious to say, but I missed my brother a lot.

When I unpacked a few of my boxes, I found my Harry Potter books. Somehow in the confusion of the move, I ended up with his copy of Chamber of Secrets as well. It was easy to see the difference between his copy and mine. The pages of his copy were dog-eared and ruffled, but my book wasn’t even scuffed from the move. I immediately knew that I had to read these books. I saw it as a way to feel close to him again. Luckily, even at ten, I had the discipline to read Sorcerer’s Stone first. I told myself that reading his copy of Chamber of Secrets would be my reward for finishing the first book.

Of course, I quickly realized that reading the Sorcerers Stone was enough of a reward in itself.

I felt transported. I always loved reading, but a book had never grabbed me the way Harry Potter did. When Harry escaped his miserable life in the cupboard under the stairs, I felt like he turned around and led me out of mine as well.

Armed with the Goblet of fire (it had been released by then), I started at my new school that fall. I was picked on almost immediately. I was a pretty easy target. I was new, too skinny, and had too many freckles. I know this isn’t anything new, bullying is an epidemic. However, when you’re only ten, it’s disheartening. During recess on my first day, I sat by the door and read. While every other kid was off playing on the jungle gyms, I was helping Harry battle a dragon in the Triwizard Tournament.

I know this sounds awfully pitiful, but I was okay with this. I was much too clumsy for playground equipment, and I liked reading.

Instead of rising to their taunts, I would read. Eventually, they moved on as kids often do. I found a few kind hearted friends. I grew to like my new surroundings and the new people in them.

When I did have bad days, I would read Harry Potter. When I had my heart broken for the first time, I read Harry Potter. When I slammed my fingers in the car door and had to get stitches, I read Harry Potter.

For the first time, I felt empowered. It didn’t matter what happened at school or at home. I had something spectacular hidden within the pages of these books. I had an entire world of magic at my fingertips. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world. (Honestly, I still do).

Harry Potter defined my childhood. That may seem like a pretty bold statement, but I know that some of you know exactly what I mean. Maybe it wasn’t Harry Potter that meant so much to you, but there was a book. The book. The book that seemed to tingle and glow in your hands. The book that was always the first one you spotted when you looked at your bookshelf. The book whose pages you knew just by the feel of them, whose binding you could recognize just by touch.

Harry Potter is exactly that for me. I can remember every excited trip to the bookstore to pick up the newest volume. I remember every time I read that first page for the first time. I remember every morning I woke up with one of the books still in my hands. I remember every tear stained page. I remember every crack in the binding. It’s familiar to me. My second home is in those pages. Always. Until the very end.

I think I need a tissue…

I think books can be a powerful force. Do you have a book that you feel this way about? Which book is it? Tell me about it, I’d love to know.

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Days 44-50. Unbearable Fiction Fad #2: The overly insecure female

Unbearable Fiction Fad#2: The overly insecure female.

I was once a teenage girl.

In my teenage years, I dealt with the typical insecurities of a young woman. Growing up as a woman is difficult. From a very young age we are bombarded with images of women with perfect skin, big boobs, and high cheekbones. Ahem, Victoria’s Secret.

I know how it feels to think of yourself as inadequate. I know how it feels to see a beautiful woman, and suddenly hate a random part of your body.

I still hate my kneecaps. They’re weird.

So yes, I understand why there are so many insecure young women in literature today. As a writer, you want the reader to relate to your protagonist. If you’re target audience is young adult females, then you’d better throw some self doubt into your character.

However, there is a line and it’s not a fine one.

First of all, there is a time and a place for insecure thoughts. This is especially true in literature when our protagonists are dealing with conflict beyond the average person’s threshold. If she meets a dreamy man who is holding the hand of a gorgeous woman, it would be natural to take a hit to her self esteem. Why can’t I look like that?

For example, every time I see a picture of John Krasinski with Emily Blunt, I die a little inside.

BUT! It is not the time to worry about her looks when she is holding a gun (or other weapon) and she’s about to kill zombies (or other evil beings). That doesn’t make any sense. The ability to attract males should not come into question when your life is in danger.

Marco will never notice me if I continue to wear this bulky bulletproof vest! Wah 😦

Second, you should be realistic about her insecurities. If you’re going to make her into an overly insecure female then you can’t pair her off with the hottest guy around. Is she ugly or not? I understand you can use it as a way to show that even the most beautiful women struggle with self doubt and yadda yadda yadda. However, it doesn’t really support her idea of being “average and boring” if you just hand her off to the nearest underwear model.

At most, you should couple her up with the awkward male best friend who always saw her true beauty. It’s about time we inspire young girls to remove the nice guys from the friend zone!

Third, she needs to grow. Let’s say your character is Mona and she’s insecure. You choose to use Mona to save the world. She becomes a hero and a legend! She single-handedly prevents the demise of our beloved Earth.

If at the end of your story, Mona picks up a pint of ice cream and starts an internal monologue of self loathing, you’re doing something wrong. Mona just saved the world! The only thing Mona should be thinking is “Damn. I’m a bad ass!”

This is not to be confused with “Damn. I’m a fat ass.”

In conclusion, the majority of writers want their characters to inspire. I know I do. I want H to show that you can rise above oppression of any kind. I can’t depict this accurately if I keep her as the insecure, whiny butt head she was at the beginning. I want to use her as a tool to show young women that you can overcome yourself.

Sometimes, the only strong role model your reader has is your character.

I think I need a tissue…

I’ve come to realize that a good rule of thumb is to do the opposite of Stephanie Meyers. That’s my number one writing rule. Do not write another Bella Swan. Please.

Days 41-43. Unbearable Fiction Fad #1: The Love Triangle

I’m starting a series on this blog. It’s going to be called Unbearable Fiction Fads. Basically, I’m going to complain about what I consider to be overused in today’s books. This will include plot lines, characters, descriptions, etc. You know, whatever is annoying me at the current moment.

I want to make clear that I am not trying to insult anyone’s work in any way.

Yes, I realize it should be a red flag when I have to start my post this way.

But seriously. This is just my opinion. If your story contains any of these features (or even all of them), just ignore me. I’m sure your book will still be wonderful. There is an audience for anything, really. I have faith that you can pull off what so many other writers have poorly executed. I never said I was above being proven wrong, and I have taken part in my own literary clichés as well.

So take a deep breath and please turn off the caps lock.

Unbearable Fiction Fad #1: The Love Triangle

I am a firm believer in art imitating life.

Sometimes in life you’re only liked/loved/lusted by one person at a time. Sometimes in life there isn’t another equally wonderful and heroic stud fighting your affections. Sometimes in life you nab one mild-mannered nice guy/girl, and you’re happy with it. You accept this. You get married, have babies, and buy matching burial plots in the shady part of the cemetery.

So why it that in so many books the author throws in a love triangle? Of course, this is excluding when the love triangle is the main point of your plot. I get that. However, if your protagonist is off fighting demons/witches/ghosts/vampires/other children in the 74th annual Hunger Games, then do you really need to throw a torrid threesome onto their plate? I think they’re busy enough just trying to survive.

As a reader, I find it really distracting.

Oh my god, Katniss! Is this really the time to be thinking about Gale? YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET KILLED BY AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD! You better stab her before she stabs you! Also, Peeta is the obvious choice so I don’t know why we’re having this conversation.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a love story at all, even when your story is mostly action. It’s just that there are PLENTY of issues for a relationship to have without throwing a third party into it. Maybe the boyfriend/girlfriend is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe they’re secretly a serial killer. Maybe they decide they want to have a sex change and start their own show in Vegas.

Get creative! Do something that hasn’t been done numerous times before. I didn’t even have to try that hard to think of those examples. I just had to look in my journal….

All lame jokes aside, just how great do you think your protagonist is? I know we all think our characters are the bee’s knees, but I know for a fact that my main character isn’t going to have a swarm of hot guys wanting to pollinate her. Too far with the bee metaphor? I’m realistic about her. She doesn’t really have time to wage an internal war between two lovers. No, she barely even has time to think of one guy. Anything more will just seem like bragging.

Although my story is not a love story by any means, I’d rather spend my efforts and energy building up a great love story between two people than to have lackluster chemistry between three. I’ve read too many books in which I didn’t care about either of the candidates. As an author, I’m pretty sure you want the reader to care about your characters. You don’t want them spending the entire book thinking KILL THEM BOTH!

Maybe you do, if that’s what you’re going for.

As I said before, I’m not above being proven wrong. If you put enough effort into your love triangle, maybe it will tear me in two as a love triangle is supposed to. Maybe I’ll actually buy one of those “Team so-and-so” t-shirts, and have heated debates with my friends about who really is the protagonists soul mate. It would be a first but then again there’s always a first for everything.

On that note, I wonder how many cliché phrases I used in this post.

Days 41-43 are down. 141 days to go!

P.S. I was going to include the god awful love triangle from Twilight, but if I get started on Twilight I won’t be able to stop. I have to physically restrain myself right now.

So I reached 55 followers, which is a really big deal to me. My ego hasn’t been this inflated in years. I actually have a headache now! Thank you to everyone who has followed my blog. Writing on this blog has been incredibly therapeutic for me. It’s a wonderful way to get all the crazy out so that it doesn’t bleed into my story. Thank you for being a part of that.

Days 35-40. Writing is jeopardizing my mental health.

I’ve come to realize that becoming a writer is sort of like becoming a voluntary schizophrenic.

Is that just me?

I’ve always been drawn to first person narratives. When I began writing my story, I knew from the beginning that it would be first person. I like the freedom that it gives, and it really allows me to get to know my characters. I would say it allows me to get inside my characters heads, but really it just allows them to get into mine.

Which leads me to my problem…

I feel very lucky that I can hear my characters voice so vividly in my head. When I first started to write, all of my characters felt undefined. I couldn’t pick out their voice from the overwhelming noise of my story. It was very difficult to focus on who they are and how they’re feeling. Over time, I became more familiar with my characters. I started to see them grow into full-bodied visions, instead of the imaginary wisps they had been previously.

The problem, I’ve found, is getting them out of my head when I’m not writing.

I’ve already talked about H (my main character) visiting me in my dreams. What I have failed to mention (for fear of being burned at the stake) is that she also talks in my head all day. Her internal monologue is constantly running through my mind.

For example, I called in to work on Monday. Now before you judge, I was under the weather and I had sick days left. As I was trying to fall back asleep, a voice kept nagging at me.

H: You know, I wouldn’t  have called in. I’m off doing difficult and important tasks in your book. I am becoming a very strong female character, and you are in your pajamas at noon on a Monday.

Me: What the hell, H? You live in a religiously corrupt dystopia so a boring accounting job isn’t available for you! You’re doing difficult and important tasks because I am making you! You are only a strong female character because I am providing the words that fuel you! Furthermore, these are not pajamas! They are lounge clothes!

This is the moment that the very walls of my mental health came tumbling down. I was arguing with a fictional character in my head.

I can hear all of you lighting your matches and picking up your pitchforks.

Now, she feels the need to butt into almost all of my daily decisions.  Instead of a WWJD bracelet, I just need to wear a WWHD bracelet. What would H do?

In the beginning of her birth as a character, I think this would’ve been a creative character strengthening exercise. Asking what your characters would do in your own daily tasks would be a great way to get to know your character. It’s easy to predict how your characters would react in the context of your own story, but you can gain a deeper understanding of them when you remove them from that.

Since H is visiting me in my dreams and talking in my head all day, I’m past that point. I need that to turn off now. I want my own inner monologue! I miss my own whiney voice!

If I would’ve known that writing a strong female character would only cause her to turn around and point out how I am not a strong female, I would’ve chosen a male character.

You hear that, H? It’s not too late…

Well, maybe it is for me.

I’d like to think this isn’t some downward spiral into Crazyville, but rather a sign that I am fully immersed in my story. That’s a believable theory, right?

Days 35-40 are down. I don’t know if I can keep my sanity for 144 more days.

Days 32-34. You’re my favorite character! Too bad I kill you…

I’ve always admired authors who had the guts to kill off their own characters, even when it resulted in tear-stained pages because I couldn’t bear it as the reader.

As writers, we become attached to our creations. We breathe life into them through our own words. They start out shaky and unsure, kind of like a baby giraffe learning to walk, but it’s not long before they become full-bodied with a mind of their own. It’s easy to fall in love with your own characters, and it’s natural to want to protect them (even if it’s from your own words.)

In the Harry Potter series (yes, I do bring this series up frequently. It’s kind of a big deal to me), JK Rowling kills a whole heap of characters. She can classify as a literary serial killer. I won’t name the characters, of course, but some of them are very well-loved and respected. I’ve been reading Harry Potter for 11 years and every time I reread the series I still feel the same ache.

Even as I cursed her for killing a few of my favorite characters, I respected her for having the courage to do so. By writing their deaths, she showed the reader just how bleak times had become.

So I knew in my story people would die. They would have to.

In particular, one important character would die at the end of book one. For explanation purposes, let’s call them Sam. It can be male or female. I’m not going to specify.

I planned this in the early stages of my idea, so it didn’t weigh too heavily on me. I knew that I wanted to build Sam up to a certain level of importance to ensure their death would be felt deeply enough.

The problem I didn’t see coming is that I would start to feel the loss myself. I haven’t even gotten to Sam’s death, and I am already desperately searching for ways to back pedal. I’ve put so much heart and effort into developing this character that I can’t bear the thought of killing him/her.

I know Sams death serves a purpose (I mean, I planned it out myself!) but doesn’t it seem a little rude? I created this character to be killed. I spent all this time on this character just to turn around and kill them. Thais a little sick…

I don’t know if this happens with anyone else but it’s given me a strange God complex.

Ah, here is my little world with all of its little people. Isn’t it quaint? Oh look, there’s Sam! I love Sam. I spent a lot of time on Sam. I used only the greatest traits, a magnetic personality, a vibrant laugh, and a fierce sense of loyalty. Yes, I do love Sam. Oh, would you look at the time? It’s time to kill Sam!

Seriously no one should have that much power!

Can you see how I am still trying to talk myself out of this?

Also, Sam is inspired by a friendship I had when I was younger. What if they read my book one day? It’s a long shot, I know, but what if they did? What if they recognized themselves in Sam? I’m sure that would be a lovely surprise for the first half of the book.

Hey, this Sam character is kind of like me. That’s very sweet of Mariah.

Then they get to the terrible shock at the end.

Oh, what’s happening? Oh my god! She killed me! What a jerk!

I’m starting to think this isn’t the best way to show an old friend that I care.

Have you had to kill off a beloved character? Did you hesitate or try to look for a way out?

Days 32-34 are down!

I just want to add a huge thank you to anyone who has viewed, subscribed, or commented on my blog. I never thought I’d even get one subscriber so to have more than one is a pretty big deal. I really appreciate all the support 🙂

P.S. Stop by next time to see how I explain that being a writer is like becoming a voluntary schizophrenic.