Before I get too far into this week’s post, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Indie Reader for recognizing The Eleventh Age in their October 15, 2014 “Alike But Indie” column “If You Liked The Magician’s Land, You’ll Love…” It can be difficult being an author in a time when the industry is experiencing so much change. One doesn’t always know the right steps to take to get the work noticed, so it means even more when it comes unexpectedly, as this did. Thank you so much, Indie Reader! You seriously made my week!
Speaking of last week, I forgot to update the Character Tidbits page in all my excitement. To make up for my absentmindedness, this week I’ve posted two new pages–Phileas Foote and Ash (Aisling O’Toole), who is one of my favorite characters and happens to be the subject of this week’s Drawing Lesson, which I’m considering making a regular category, but we’ll see. So, without further adieu…
Never Draw a Changeling… Just Never.
In The Eleventh Age Elli’s best friend is the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and beautiful Aisling O’Toole, who happens to be a halfling–half nymph and half goddess–which makes her a metamorph or shapeshifter. As I mentioned in a previous Drawing Lesson, Ash’s character sketch has given me enormous problems, so much so that I had to quit trying and come back to her with fresh eyes more than once. Since I finally managed to get her right, in honor of Ash’s metamorphic ways, I thought I would share her remarkable transformation.
When I’m drawing a character, I try to find people who look similar to the people I see in my head and work from there, changing them as I see fit. For the most part this is easy enough, and usually I can get a character down within the first three sketches. The girl I originally selected as the basis for Ash was gorgeous. I knew she wasn’t a perfect Ash when I selected her, no one was going to be, but I liked the shape of her features, especially her eyes, which were big but still pixyish and looked very much like the real Ash’s amber eyes. If I had known how difficult she would be, I would have chosen someone else from the start, though that probably wouldn’t have helped me much in the end. You’ll see why.
For the record, this was my third attempt with the original model with the perfect eyes. Even though the drawing is awful (by this point you can see my frustration coming out in the graphite), I am glad I didn’t throw it away like the previous two attempts because it’s nice looking back, to see just how much I’ve improved as an artist. (There’s a lesson in here about practicing, I’m sure, but who needs practical drawing lessons? If you’ve come to me for that, you’re in big trouble, but I digress.)
With every attempt at drawing this girl, I only seemed to get worse, and my younger daughter kept coming along, looking at my work, telling me her chin was too short or her nose was misaligned or her face didn’t fall in the right point on her head. She was a very patient critic, my Bird, even though I became more convinced that I was just a terrible artist with each sketch of not-Ash I drew. Bird is a teenager, so she might have just laughed at my struggles, rolled her eyes and gone about her business. Instead she kept repeating in her very best voice of reason, “It’s better than I could do, Mom. You’ll get it. Keep trying,” which I did, until about a month ago, when I decided I just couldn’t draw a person in profile and I turned to the great and powerful internet for help.
After watching some how-to videos on drawing, I came back to the original model recharged, drawing her several more times, altering hair and even the shape of her eyes, which was one of the things that I liked most about model 1 in the first place, but still I couldn’t get her right. I thought that if I just kept changing things, eventually she would look like the girl I saw in my head, and I wasn’t willing to give up… that is, until I was about half way through this drawing–the last drawing of model 1 ever made.
It is far better than the other drawing, as you can see, however even before I started her ridiculous hair (which I drew several ways before quitting, though the evidence didn’t come out in the picture), I had already figured out it wasn’t really that I couldn’t draw Ash, or even that some small thing about the model needed to be altered and if I could just find whatever it was and fix it, she would be the perfect Ash. The trouble was that the girl I was drawing repeatedly and requiring still more brief art lessons/therapy sessions with my fourteen year old for, was just not Ash, not at all, and I was too stubborn to recognize it. I don’t know who model 1 was, but she wasn’t who I thought she was.
This weeks-long endeavor at redrawing the same girl fifty different ways is how my hidden character inspiration board on Pinterest became full of dozens of potential Ash Wannabes, all of them beautiful, but most of them not at all Ash-like. Here are the other girls I drew in my search for the real Ash:
None of them were good enough, which is why it probably wouldn’t have done me any good to start with a different model, because I was just bound to go through this process, but at least I made some serious strides in my ability to draw a person the right way in one attempt, which is exactly how many times it took me to draw the fifth model, who turned out to be the one.
I’m not certain why I had such a difficult time finding her to begin with, in fact, when I started drawing model 5, I thought she would likely end up in the Not-Ash pile as well. But now that she is finished, with her coy eyes and her lips that hint of a thousand secrets and her wild hair that gives away just enough of who she really is at heart to satisfy that she does not take herself too seriously, I’ve decided that maybe the reason this has been such a difficult journey has something to do with the nature of Ash’s character as a shapeshifter.
Needless to say, if you are going to start drawing people, whether for your work or as a hobby, I highly recommend you steer clear of all changelings, because they have a nasty habit of changing on you when you least expect it. Beyond that, remember that just because a person might be a changeling doesn’t mean they want to be changed by you. I suppose you could say that I have learned not to keep sketching the same person, hoping somehow she would magically turn into someone she was not for my sake.
It rang so often that Author had seriously considered dropping the phone into the fish tank on more than one occasion, but she thought perhaps phones weren’t very good for fish, and fish probably weren’t very good at taking messages.
It wasn’t that she particularly liked the fish, in fact she regularly thought about feeding them to the chickens, but she worried that would make the chicken eggs taste fishy, and surely someone would complain about fishy eggs (and missing fish), and complaints were the last thing Author needed with all of the other distractions keeping her from her work.
She didn’t particularly like the chickens or their eggs, either, because the chickens liked to eat the vegetables and dig for worms in the garden, requiring Author to come up with new and ingenious ways of keeping chickens from gobbling up all the green onions.
But she had to admit that chickens were far better than guinea pigs, because at least chickens stayed outside where chickens belong, and for some strange reason guinea pigs had to live indoors, which meant regularly dealing with guinea pig waste–not her favorite subject.
Even so, Author definitely liked guinea pigs and chickens far better than the phone that rang constantly.
One day, Author decided to make a list of all the things that distracted her most from her work, to try and put the constantly ringing phone into perspective and determine if there was anything that could be done to resolve her distractions, so that she could get back to the most important story she had ever written.
As it turned out, there were several things that were almost as distracting as the phone, like the tree that had barely survived the previous winter and was dying a slow death right before her eyes, along with countless other things around the house that needed fixing and just wouldn’t be fixed because there wasn’t time or money.
The news was almost as distracting as the phone, as well, often causing anxiety from the worry over foreign conflicts and incurable diseases, or worse yet, causing debates about everything from climate change to equal rights.
But those distractions could all be controlled by simply practicing avoidance and self-control. The phone, which could not be turned off, in case of emergency, was an intrusion from the outside world, demanding at least a cursory glance at the Caller ID before being swiftly ignored, unless it required an answer. And that tiny glance, however brief, and the quickest push of a button a dozen or more times a day had directly caused the loss of countless sentences, driven from Author’s brain with each shrill ring, ring. ring! Surely, the most important story Author had ever written required sentences!
However, as Author made her list, she realized that the phone was not the worst distraction of all.
There were three things in this world that were far more distracting than any phone that ever rang constantly…
…and their names were Plava, Aziz and Rorschach.
When they weren’t sitting in the front window, waiting for the next unassuming postman, car, cat, dog, bird, skunk, or ladybug to wander past, so that they could howl another rousing verse of “Bark! Who Goes There!” a song which provided the two dogs with endless entertainment, Plava and Aziz made certain to keep things interesting by taking turns whining at the back door, coming inside and out, going outside and in, forcing Author up from her seat, away from her computer, at least fourteen times a day.
The instincts of dogs could not be silenced with the quick push of a button. Author knew these dogs were definitely much more distracting than ringing phones.
But far worst of all–
Worse than Plava and Aziz,
Worse than the most terrible news and the endless lists of incomplete tasks, which only grew the more it was avoided,
Worse than guinea pig excrement and garden destroying chickens and fish that didn’t know how to answer constantly ringing telephones–
was that heinous,
Rorschach, with his sweet fuzzy cheeks and his entirely-too-innocent purr, was the biggest distraction. Rorschach, with his swishing fat pouch and the charming way he wound himself around Author’s feet causing her to trip almost every morning before she was quite awake, was the greatest of menaces.
If he was not meowing to be picked up and sat on the counter so he could eat three nibbles of food before jumping down again, wrestling with Plava or chasing Aziz, clawing at furniture to sharpen his interior decorating skills or jumping on the piano to play his favorite horror film tune, “Cat Walks Up Piano, Cat Walks Down Piano”, trying to catch guinea pigs through the bars of their cage, eating houseplants, scratching at the back door hoping that he would be allowed outside to harass the chickens, the birds or the squirrels, or napping in some warm patch of sunshine, then he knew Author was writing, which meant he knew it was time to strike. If Author was writing, Rorschach, with his big green, slightly off-kilter eyes and the curious way he licked his side whenever he was embarrassed for falling off the table unexpectedly, could be found walking back and forth across Author’s keyboard, rubbing his nose against her forehead, demanding attention while she uttered impatient curses. If he knew Author was writing, he could be counted on for attempting to knock Author’s computer from its stand because that was when he just had to know how the stand was engineered even though he figured that out at least twice the day before. If Author was busy trying to write the most important story she had ever written, then Rorschach was surely right there, having an exciting game of catch the typing fingers, which involved the cat hiding behind the computer and quickly reaching around to bat at Author’s hands as many times as possible before she finished typing a sentence–current record, 42!
After taking all of this into consideration, Author decided the phone wasn’t so bad, but she knew exactly what she would do with it the next time it rang, and the fish were going to love it.
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
One summer in my innocent years, my older sister and I spent almost every night watching Twilight Zone reruns. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Zone aficionado, or even a fan, mostly because I spent what felt like hours that summer, lying in my bed, listening to crickets, wide-eyed, with my blanket tucked up under my nose and wrapped tightly over the top of my head, so I could see what was coming, ring of highly-trained stuffed animal guards standing watch into the wee hours, as I tried to rid my mind of frightening thoughts, the ideas of evil that lurked in Rod Sterling’s fifth dimension, the place where ordinary, decent human beings become things they never imagined themselves becoming (things I certainly never imagined people could be, at the ripe old age of eleven) and often wound up dead, or worse–sometimes far worse. I promised myself countless times that I would never–EVER!–watch again, but even with all my sweat-dripping panic, my promises proved empty, time and again, as I found myself sitting there in the living room floor, glued to the TV, my own little fifth dimension running wild.
Head over to almost any author’s blog or writers group message board, and you are bound to find an article or twenty entitled something along the lines of “What to do When Your Characters Won’t Cooperate”. Some of them are full of anecdotal charm, as the author admits that all of his or her characters fought the good fight in becoming whatever they became between the brain and the page, others offer lists, both serious and humorous, of things to try when facing off with a character who simply refuses to do what the plot demands of him, and of course there are those who claim that holistically giving in to the character, allowing him to live the life he wants, keeps said character true to himself and makes the story that much greater in the end. What all of these people and their characters don’t know is that they only exist in the Twilight Zone.
As millions of readers turn the pages of their favorite books each day, they have no idea that the characters they know and love are actually schizophrenics, resigned to spend their entire lives perfectly aware that they are trapped inside someone else’s head. It is a hard existence being entirely made up. Imagine for a moment what it must be like saying the same line sixty-two different ways only to have a whole chapter of one’s life, including that godforsaken line repeated until your tongue bled, eradicated in a microsecond, as though it had never happened. Psychopaths might understand on some superficial level, but only a character can truly know what it’s like falling in love with the perfect woman, planning the perfect lives together, only to have your dream girl sleep with her best friend’s boss’s sister’s neighbor’s pool boy for no reason other than so that you can have motive to commit murder (Murder!), just to move the plot along in some writer’s latest mystery novel. And it is surely a fate worse than death droning on as a static shadow of meaningless drivel for 364 pages in someone else’s romance, when all you ever wanted was to open a dance studio, adopt a cat and maybe cure a little cancer, but can a character have that tiny bit of happiness? No! Characters have forever been powerless against the will of the author. Characters don’t get bupkis, unless some writer thinks it up.
Note on usage: Bupkis, in English vernacular generally means "Absolutely nothing", so one might question why an author, intent on being taken seriously, would use the double negative, when it is clearly a violation of everything good and holy about grammar. Bupkis, however, is a Yiddish term that means "Goat feces", which is in fact not a negative, but merely has negative, sometimes smelly, connotations.
It is true, writers feel forced, at times, to torture their characters into existence, but it is not out of some sadistic desire to actually wield the pen like a sword, hacking and cleaving at the lives of those people they have come to love, whittling them down until their bloody forms fit within whatever narrow window the author intends his readers to view them through. Most characters have no idea what is really going on, just on the other side of that insane wall at the edge of their universe, as the writer fights to find the right words, only to end up heartbroken when words fail them both. If they could know, then perhaps they would not be so ashamed when they find themselves doing things that are completely out of character, as far as they are concerned, as if they were being guided by something outside of themselves, to become the stuff of little girls’ worst fears. If they could understand the agony of having an imaginary person, who exists solely in one’s mind, a person you have given life to out of nothing more than neural whisperings and ink on the page, argue with you for days, then perhaps he could forgive the certain death waiting for him there in the well-crafted prose that make up his brief existence. Surely all authors know they are not just the fantasies some cracked-up characters have conjured up to justify their worst, most human moments. Surely they know they are the real ones.
Intermingling in the black and white haze of some 1960’s TV show, narrated by the hard, smooth voice of Rod Sterling, there is a place where author and the authored demand to see eye-to-eye without daring to look, their co-dependence and mutual contempt the ironic twist that threatens to leave them both cold and bloody in a padded room long before any editor ever sees what might become of them–a place where no amount of stuffed animals with mad ninja skills can come to the rescue–a place somewhere in The Twilight Zone.
Last night we watched The Pirate Movie, a 1982 adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, which (Spoiler Alert!) ends with Mabel demanding and receiving her happy ending, both in her dream and when she wakes up washed up on the beach to her fantasy Frederic-without-a-K kissing her, for no apparent reason. Cue Happily Ever After Song and Dance:
Oh, silly Mabel, also without a K.
Anyway, this got me thinking about how liberally the sappy ending is applied for entertainment purposes, even in those works that aren’t intended to be farcical, and wondering why the general public prefers stories that leave a saccharine numbness on the brain to those that tell the truth in all her glorious despair, forcing us to accept life as difficult as it is, and acknowledge that all heroes die, most lovers grow bored and tired and some turn into miserable drunks, the money runs out far too quickly after a windfall leaving only destitution, the guy who survives the shark attack inevitably gets hit by a bus on his way home from the hospital… You get the picture.
I’m hardly the first person to question why we prefer our candy-coatings and rosy spectacles, and Google turns up an expert for just about every explanation, so I’ll spare you my musings where that’s concerned, except to say that the geek in me did find fascinating the idea that commiseration with fictional characters may cause a similar release of neurochemicals in the audience, as if when watching a film or reading a book, we are actually experiencing the lives of our favorite protagonists and antagonists as people we know and have legitimate feelings for. Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention it is a well-known, scientifically proven fact that giddy pirate song and dance numbers assure the survival of the species, ranking right up there with water, food and shelter as necessary to our very existence, but I’m no expert, so don’t quote me. (Okay, so it’s not a fact, but some of those experts should definitely do a study.)
While I, too, enjoy prancing pirates on occasion, I won’t deny that I’m truly a cynic at heart, one who enjoys harsher tales that force us to examine ourselves. When I watch stories like The Pirate Movie, I can’t help but see the catastrophe beyond the Happily Ever After, which to me is really just another happy beginning right before the next tragedy strikes and must be overcome. Silly Mabel, also without a K, will surely discover, soon after the credits roll, that her darling Frederic-without-a-K sees she is one who falls in love far too quickly, that she is a girl who will give him whatever he wants in the interest of continuing in this thing she believes is love, however she will not see it for what it is until Frederic has thoroughly taken advantage of her, leaving her broken and used up, probably singing on a beach somewhere, desperate for her next romance, because that is the way life works. I’m certain I’m not the only one who feels this way, I mean, look how Frozen ended. And even my sixteen year old daughter (who only a few hours before watching the movie read to me an open letter from another teenager to adults who read articles about teenagers, basically requesting that they stop treating teens like some strange beings to be stereotyped and categorized, quantified and explained away) couldn’t help pointing out that Mabel and Frederic’s relationship was “just like every relationship” at her high school, and we all know that the vast majority of those end in tears and bloodshed, usually not too long after the young lovers have professed their eternally dripping, syrupy-sweet, twoo wub to one another and refused for an hour and a half to be the first to hang up the phone.
As an author and a cynic, I’ve set out to tell hard truths in my writing. Though the story is set in present day and wrapped up in the real world, which will become more apparent in future works, The Eleventh Age is largely mythopoeic, and as such there is always the temptation (and plenty of opportunity) to take the easy way out, to fall back to some deus ex machina, or miracle event, to save my favorite characters from their fate, or resort to unrealistic devices to explain away inconsistencies, simply because the world is magical, like Mabel simply deciding that it was her dream, so she could have her happy ending, and Viola! Happy Ending. But in The Eleventh Age, Fate itself is a living, breathing character within the tale, a character very much at odds with our heroine at times, and let me tell you, Fate will not stand for too much divine intervention from the lowly writer, not even if it involves dancing pirates. Meanwhile I’m fairly certain the cynic in me would baby-vomit if I cheated and rescued someone I’ve known must die from the very beginning or had someone unreasonably fall in love just to play to a chemical reaction my audience expects to receive. I get great pleasure from forcing myself to think logically from so many perspectives at once, keeping in mind what all the major players and most of the minor players are doing and all of the whys and hows going on in the background, while Elli walks on the surface of the story and we see in the reading only what she sees, and the things that unfold are only seen as she unfolds them–oftentimes mistakenly and clumsily, because the fact of the matter is she is just a teenage girl. To me, writing is an extraordinary puzzle of human interactions, every character should be deep, and if they aren’t deep from the beginning, then it should only be because their depth has yet to be uncovered. Of course, I’m not going to pretend that I have some superior moral incite that justifies my work, I don’t, or that I am the most exceptional author, I’m not, but I do like for stories to be realistic, even my fantasies. And I love a large dose of bitter to cut through the sweet.
Needless to say, this means happily ever after might always be just happy enough for the time being, where Elli Foote’s concerned, but the poor girl can’t help it that her author’s jaded and a little cruel at heart.
Hi! I’m Luthien Kennedy; Lu for short and Lulu to my siblings, which I guess that would be for long-short. I’m the author of The Eleventh Age, which is what this blog is all about.
I’ve been very busy lately, when I’m not writing book two of the series, curating content and building my web presence, which is pretty scary for me, because I’m officially NOT John Green or even his brother–I’m a total introvert. You will never find a video of me explaining all of history like some mad genius with entirely too much time on his hands, and if you happen to like my work enough to make me famous, I will probably take to wearing fancy silk masks in public, à la Michael Jackson, or better yet the the long hijab-like veil the diva Plavalaguna wore in The Fifth Element (one of my top ten favorite movies, by the way).
My plan for this site, aside from blogging about what I’m doing (or in the case of writer’s block, what I’m not doing), is to provide a place for readers to find extra information about my work from character sketches to back-stories, scene mockups, links to further information, and the like. I intend to update the blog at least once a week and to regularly post new content, so visit often, like me on Facebook, and make sure to follow me while I get REALLY uncomfortable here in black and white, all for your entertainment!
To start, I thought I’d tell you what I’m currently reading. For pleasure I like to read fantasy and some sci-fi, but I tend to find myself soaking in a wide range of subjects for research (because I’m a little strange and love to learn). Right now I’m reading The Power of Myth, which is a book based on the documentary series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. For more information see this link. But absolutely do not go out and buy this book. If you need something to read, you want to read The Eleventh Age, by yours truly.