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Month: September 2013

Keep Your Eyes Open

I met a character in one of my upcoming books last weekend. I don’t know who the character is just yet, or where I’ll use him, but I do know I met him.

It was on the platform at a light rail station in Baltimore, where I had just come from an appearance at Comic-con. One of the other people there made such an impression on me that I decided to base the appearance of a character on him. He’ll probably end up being someone’s best friend or big brother since he didn’t strike me as the protagonist type, but who knows who he will end up being in the end.

One of the tricks to making your writing realistic is to use as much of the “real world” as you can in it, and the best way to make sure you do that is to always be on the lookout for inspiration.

As another example, while walking to that light rail stop, I passed by an old boarded up restaurant whose sign was falling apart. Where once it said “China Doll” restaurant, it now reads “Chia Doll.” My immediate thought was “don’t eat the salad.” I will probably use that setting and that joke somewhere down the line, too.

It’s not just characters and settings that present themselves to you at random moments, either. Whole story concepts can smack you upside the head at times like these. While “backstage” at our local Fantasy Fair (where I was performing some scenes from Shakespeare with a friend) I saw someone’s sword and helmet laying on a blanket, next to a pair of high top sneakers. It took the better part of a year for that image to yield fruit, but it stuck with me, and when I was trying to come up with a story for a new novel I remembered that image and Sidekick was the result.

If you’re serious about writing, spend some time just wandering around looking and listening. Walk through neighborhoods, especially if you’re in or near an old historic town with lots of character. Make notes in your handy pocket notebook (which you do keep with you at all times, right?) whenever something strikes your fancy. If you have your phone handy snap pictures of images or locations that strike you as interesting. I won’t advise you to take pictures of people you find interesting because that can get a little stalkerish, but to each his or her own.

Sit in the Mall or a park for a couple of hours and look at the people going by. Try to imagine stories about them: who they are, what they do, what their hobbies are, etc. If you find an interesting idea, write it down. You might find use for it somewhere down the road.

As a writer, your eyes are as important to your craft as your fingers are. Keep them open at all times. You never know when your next story is going to stare you in the face, or vice versa.

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The War on (Fictional) Marriage

It seems like one can’t type the words “DC Comics” without having to use the words “stupid idea” close by. But the latest stupid idea from DC is getting media attention for all the wrong reasons.

This morning the two writers on DC’s Batwoman book announced they were leaving the title because the editorial staff forbade the title character from marrying her female lover (the much more interesting character, Maggie Sawyer). The revelation of this decision by the Powers that Be has started the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the majority of complainers have it all wrong. Homophobia didn’t enter into it. DC Comics is just against marriage.

All marriage.

Before the series of reboots, starting in 2005 with Infinite Crisis and culminating two years ago with the “New 52” the DC Universe was full of happily married people. Superman finally married Lois Lane in the late 1990’s. Three generations of Flashes all had wives to whom they were devoted. Ralph and Sue Dibney were a comics version of Nick and Nora Charles: a married couple who solved mysteries together. True, there were some exceptions. Batman showed no interest in getting hitched to anyone but that’s just the way Bats is, and Green Lanterns in particular had less than spectacular histories with loved ones but at least they made an attempt.

No longer. With history wiped (almost) clean in this last reboot, Clark and Lois are no longer together. Barry (Flash) Allen is not married to Iris West. Every long-standing romantic relationship is turned on its head unnecessarily. And DC hardly deserves all the blame for this trend. After all, Marvel started it.

But comics aren’t the only culprits in this war on fictional marriage. I myself have been a willing participant.

When Sidekick was picked up by its wonderful publisher editorial changes were obviously going to follow, and the first change that was made by mutual agreement was that of Bobby’s marital status. The original ending to the book included Sarah accepting a marriage proposal from Bobby, and the epilogue showed them almost a year later as a married couple. When the publisher told me they wanted a sequel to be published a year after Sidekick hit the shelves, I immediately told my editor that I wanted to rewrite the last two chapters to take out the marriage so I could keep the romantic entanglement between the two characters as a plot thread in later books.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the marriage was at the top of the lists the publisher wanted changed, but for different reasons. Their argument was that teens would have a hard time identifying with a married character. I truly had never thought of that, and I don’t necessarily agree with the idea. If it hadn’t been for the needs of a second book in the series (which also led to the decision to de-age Bobby by a year) I might have fought the decision. In the end, it was the right choice, and it did open up new avenues for the characters as the story continues.

But now I wonder what if I hadn’t made the decision, or agreed with an editorial change, to wipe out Bobby’s marriage? True, most of the plot of Brothers in Arms (no spoilers) would have worked out differently but I couldn’t honestly say it wouldn’t have been possible. The plot complications that I threw into their romance wouldn’t have been as simple but married couples have complications all their own. In literary terms, it’s no more a challenge to have a married couple cope with challenges in their home life than to have two lovers face romantic entanglements. And it would probably involve fewer sex scenes, which would keep the books from getting banned as often.

It’s not even just a question of YA characters marrying, proposing, or even considering marriage. My buddy over at The YA Dogtown recently had a great article about how YA really gives parents the shaft. The YA landscape is littered with the remains of divorces, dead parents, or absent parents. There are logical reasons for not featuring parents too prominently in YA literature, but at least their presence should be acknowledged. And there’s no reason why a YA protagonist should be automatically be excluded from having two parents (of either gender, I’m not picky) in a happy, or at least functional, marriage.

No, as far as my own decision to keep Bobby single, je ne regrette rien. It was right for the character and it made for a better story. But looking at a larger picture, I do have to wonder what kind of message are we sending to teens about the institution of marriage? When people are fighting for the right to get married, are we perhaps discouraging teens from even thinking about making their relationships permanent somewhere down the road?

Something to think about.

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