Taliban execution

Taliban shooting

Taliban shooting of a woman last month

I stumbled across this article by Zainab Salbi (from Women for Women International) and found myself profoundly disturbed. It talks about the recent public execution of a young woman by the Taliban (apparently for adultery) and what hit me most was the description of people cheering, as though shooting a young woman dead and filming it was a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. It made me so angry. I cannot imagine a world where anything, even murder, would qualify for such extreme brutality, but then I’m fortunate, I suppose, to be born in New Zealand (though with the recent madness in Colorado, maybe I shouldn’t feel so secure).

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video clip, but I did leave the page thinking about what Zainab had said. Violence against women is only going to increase with the withdrawal of the international community from Afghanistan, but what is the alternative? Can we really expect to just stay there forever, sacrificing the lives of our brothers and fathers to try and keep them in line? World problems are never easy to wrap your head around, which I suppose is why most of us (myself included) shy away from thinking about them. The only problem is, they don’t go away while we bury our heads in the sand, and sometimes, the suffering of the people we ignore gets so bad it spills out and hurts us too.

I don’t know what to do that would be of any practical benefit. I support societies like Women for Women International because I can see that they focus on empowering women and changing war-torn societies from the inside out, which I suppose is something… but still, sometimes I feel like I should be doing more.

In the end, I guess I do what I always do, I sit down at my computer and write. I try to make sense of the madness by putting it into my story and hoping my characters will come up with solutions I couldn’t have thought of on my own. What about you? How do you deal with scary big issues like this? How do you think people in places like New Zealand should react?

I really look forward to hearing your ideas.

Love,

B

Character and Psychology: Personality

Tsuruchi by Mario Wibisono (Deviant Art)

Your personality is built day by day, a conglomerate of your experiences and more importantly your choices. When you look back over your life, however, you’ll find that certain events stick out. These are the moments when you said to yourself, “I will never…” or “I’ll always…”

When I was a child, I lived out in the country and there weren’t many children around my own age. I remember being scared of some of the older kids. They would chase my brother and I and though I can’t remember them ever catching us, I do remember that I decided I had to look out for my brother and always make sure he was okay. We had to stick together. To this day I have rarely ever fought with him and most of the sibling characters I write also have this fundamental kinship.

What are some of your defining moments? What about your characters?

Big things that influence us are our parents, our friends and our wider social circles – places like school, church, work and so on. Yet these things aren’t totally random. Each choice is based on the foundational blocks that went before. If you align closely with your parents as a young child, you will be more likely to make friends with the sort of children that reinforce those personality traits.

My mother always claims that my brother’s hatred of onions came from emulating a mutual friend of ours when we were little. He claims (of course) that it’s just because he can’t stand the taste (or the texture). Who is right? Maybe it’s both. Once you take something on, you make it your own and it really doesn’t matter where it came from any more.

Sometimes, instead of emulation, you choose to ‘do the opposite’. “I’ll never hit my children” or “I’ll always make sure my family has enough money” could come from wanting to avoid the pain of something that happened to you.

As you can see, personality is layered and complex, built up over years and years of experiences and decisions. When you want to write a good character, it’s worth considering what building blocks have shaped them as a person over the years. Say you have a character bent on world domination, consider what they were like as a baby (probably not quite as evil… unless they are Stewie and just born that way). Something will have happened to make them distrust people – perhaps parental abuse, bullying at school, or even an attack by a stranger where others looked on but did nothing to help. There may have been an event where they decided the only way to feel safe is to be in complete control (hence world domination). Deciding some of these key personality defining events will help you write your character with more integrity and depth.

I’d love to hear what sort of events have defined your protagonists and villains! Post me some examples in the comments below.

Great heroes and villains

Good

Captain America – takes being a ‘good’ guy to the sickly sweet

Great

Malcom Reynolds (Firefly) An excellent example of a ‘complex’ and ‘human’ good-guy

Bad

Darth Tyranus – Waiting most of the film for him to pull out his maniacal laugh… Not much in the way of personality in this bad guy.

Badass

Hans Gruber – a world of YES. I totally got where he was coming from. He was scary because he made sense and so he felt real.

You know how sometimes you read stories or watch movies and they just say ‘yes’ to you, while others seem strangely flat despite the millions of dollars spent on costume and special effects?

For me the difference always comes down to character. Do I believe such a person could exist? Can I see myself in them? Nothing kills a story faster for me than a puppet character with no integrity of their own.

In my own writing, I probably take the whole character integrity thing too far – I have a database of over five hundred characters so that I can understand how parents and grandparents influenced the characters ‘alive’ in the world of the story. Still, being able to get inside your character’s head and intimately know their journey is vital to making them human.

When you go to design your next villain, consider this: Once, they were a baby… a toddler, wide-eyed and curious about the world. What happened? How did they end up the way they are now? We are all the heroes of our personal sagas.

To me, villain’s are tragedies. I love them because I can see where they came from. I pity them, because often they have little hope of redemption. They are already too far gone down the path they have chosen. Macbeth, Hans Gruber (Die Hard), even Darth Vader are good examples of what I mean. Even if your reader or your audience has no idea of your character’s journey to the ‘dark side’, you as the author should know it.

And what about your hero? The same thing applies. A hero who is too good doesn’t do anything for me. If Captain America or Superman saves the day, that’s great for him, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about my own chances. He was too perfect to begin with. I’d take Malcom Reynolds (Firefly) any day 😉 Now there’s a guy who is selfish and constantly fighting a battle with his own conscience. Sometimes he fails, but when it counts, he’s a big damn hero.

Heroes need to go on a journey  – to overcome or discover something about themselves they could never have imagined before they began. It is perhaps a well used truism that you cannot be brave unless you are scared, but perhaps less common is that you cannot be ‘good’ unless you are also capable of being ‘bad’.

Good stories are like a road map to understanding this crazy world of ours and prepare us for the ‘darkness’ we fight in our own lives. The stories that stand the test of time, the ones we fall in love with – go back to again and again have Heroes who are complex, and scared, who redeem themselves even when they screw up badly. They have villains who made sense, who could have been you. Take the effort to build integrity into your characters (both good and bad) and your story will rise to a whole new level of awesome!

 

Better than Christian Bale?

Treasure Island in a new ‘made for tv’ mini-series starring Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood and numerous other recognizable faces!

I’m a huge fan of the original Christian Bale version of Treasure Island and so when I saw this version sitting on the shelf in the Blockbuster new release section, my first thought was ‘Huh? They made a new one?’ and my second was ‘I doubt it will be as good’. Fortunately, I like to watch things before making a final judgement call, as it turns out that this version was not only ‘just as good’, it was (dare I say it)… BETTER!

Those who have been around me this last week may well have had to survive my raving about this film. It was honesty one of the best remakes I’ve seen in a long time – with complexity of character and motive and a good sprinkling of Pirates of the Caribbean style sea-faring fun.

The things I particularly loved were:

It felt much more plausible
Without wanting to spoil anything – the whole question of ‘boy finds treasure map’ … ‘squire agrees to give boy a fair share of the treasure???… Really???’ is addressed in a most interesting and satisfying way. This foundational change gives Jim so much more depth as he struggles to survive and decide where his loyalties truly lie.

The doctor is a coward
I love Daniel Mays, and he plays some of the best ‘coward’ characters. In the Christian Bale version of treasure island, I couldn’t really tell the Doctor, the Captain and Squire Trelawny apart. In this version, they have vastly different personalities (and appearances) and the Doctor goes on a real internal journey to get to the point where he finds his courage (lol, yes, very cowardly lion).

There’s authentic diversity
In keeping with that time period, there are Jamaicans, Asians, and Caucasians (from England and America). They even managed to get some women in there by having the occasional flash backs to Jim’s mother and John Silver’s wife in England (who are having difficulties of their own). The England they begin in feels harsher, dirtier and more dangerous, which I just loved.

I couldn’t stop smiling

Actor for Jim Hawkins – Tony Regbo


As I watched, I found myself scared, intrigued, and above all, surprised. Things happened the way I wanted them to, but I wasn’t sure they would, which made it so much fun! Oh, and Tony Regbo (the one I was most critical of, given my affection for Christian Bale’s Jim Hawkins) was just brilliant… and super cute… and had a killer smile (in those rare moments you got to see it).

Conclusion:
Watch Treasure Island (2012) – you won’t be disappointed!

Nothing but Faith

TourGuide

Who we are is a sum of all our experiences and more importantly, our choices. When I was young, there were many things I thought I would be – a princess, a film director, an actor, a nanotech robotics engineer… I grew up a bit, went to graphic design school and thought I’d work in marketing, then I got a degree and thought maybe I’d be a psychologist… all the while the only thing I actually did consistently was write.

One national novel writing month after another, I kept writing the same story, kept asking myself questions about it and then, after five years, I found that I had a book that I actually quite liked. To my surprise, I discovered other people liked it too and I thought ‘This is it. This is the thing I want to do.’

So then, in my traditional ‘throw caution to the wind and go for it’ way, I quit my job, became an itinerant teacher and took up writing ‘kind of full time’.

Whenever I meet random people I know, which is just about every day (Christchurch is a very small town), they ask me ‘How’s the book going?’ or ‘When is the next one coming out?’ – I smile, saying ‘Next year hopefully…’ while trying to project a sense of certainty that will convince them to keep believing in me.

The truth is I have no idea how long it will take. My last book took five years, but half of that was simply learning how to write and deciding what I really wanted to say. Now I have a world and characters I love and I don’t want to mess it up. My worst nightmare is that I’ve produced a shallow, rushed and formulaic sequel that I’m ashamed to call mine… my characters would kill me!

So for over a year now, I have been developing the world and backstory of Tyria, working nearly every day to make sure that I understand the context – politically and psychologically – of what is about to happen. Where book one was a simple ‘coming of age’ type story, book two is shaping up to be rather more epic. I want to do justice to the promises I made in the first book and give you the best story I can possibly tell. I’m not a perfectionist – book two will definitely happen – but it will happen in its own time.

Thank you all so much for your patience. Your faith is what keeps me going.

Love,
Beaulah

Disappointment becomes inspiration

Image

I watched Snow White and the Huntsman recently and, from the trailer, I had high hopes. I wanted an awesome, kick-butt heroine leading an army and perhaps some sort of epic love story (though I was willing to pass on that part if the heroine had more important things to do). What I came away with was a confused, shallow story with far too many plot holes – Why did the witch keep Snow White alive all those years? Why did one kiss work better than the other? How on earth did they manage to make that armor for her overnight? – And worse, I didn’t have enough emotional connection to any of the main characters to really care.

This has happened before, of course. King Arthur should have been brilliant, if the trailer was anything to go by, but Guinevere was a tad on the pathetic side. Even BBC’s Merlin started out so well, and then Morgana became totally two-dimensional with her sudden “I’m evil now for some reason” flip. I suppose I’m wary of getting my hopes up – and yet, when a film or novel has such promise and totally fails to deliver, I also find myself getting inspired.

I love discussing what could have been done better and trying to re-write the script in my head to make it more satisfying. Elements of that process find their way into my own writing and so I learn and grow from other people’s mistakes as well as my own.

Over the years of doing this, I have worked out a few key distinctions:

People will forgive a lot if they care about the characters

And inversely, they will be much quicker to notice plot holes if you never managed to make them care in the first place. I really wanted to enjoy Snow White, but I was never drawn in to her character. I had more sympathy for the evil Queen than any other character in the film, which isn’t a good sign. Your heroine needs personality. She has to be shown to care, to want things, to be someone the audience can identify with.

If you promise a strong heroine in the trailer (or on the blurb) then making her a constant victim will annoy people

This one is simple, and broken all too often. Opposite in this regard was Brave. Now there’s a girl who can look after herself – and has the courage to face up to her own mistakes and set them right. I could identify with Merida… I had no idea who Snow White really was.

Stuff should make sense

Throughout Snow White, the dwarves and others spoke of her as though she was the ‘destined one’. She had some all powerful healing magic and was pure of heart. The only actual evidence of this in the story (other than people saying it) was that she saved a little bird as a kid and said her prayers in prison – hardly compelling in my opinion. The rest of the time she was just running away from people who wanted to kill her.

Pure of heart doesn’t mean playing dolls with a village girl, its about doing the right thing when any normal person would fail. Snow White needed to face some sort of test of character where she proved herself to have courage / faith / moral fibre above and beyond the average. If she was honestly torn and tempted to do the selfish thing (like that moment in The Goblet of Fire where Harry nearly abandons Cedric to the vines in the maze) and then chooses not to – I would be infinitely more convinced that she is someone worth cheering for.

I saw many parallels in Snow White’s story to ideas I’m wrestling with for Juliana – the young Queen in my own book. In my attempts to re-write Snow White in my head, I’m also seeing pitfalls to avoid and challenges to overcome for myself… and for that reason, if no other, I am glad to have been disappointed by Snow White.

Simple Wisdom

Me Chilling

A photo of me taken near Akaroa

When the going gets tough, it’s important to make the time to pause and take a deep breath.

In the week since I last posted, so much has happened. My boyfriend has revolutionized my ability to keep track of the timeline and characters in my world with some custom software; My writers’ guild has managed to bring together all the resources we need to be ready for Armageddon (a sci fi / fantasy con here in Christchurch next weekend); and I have taught every single day with passion and patience…

…but in the whirlwind of activity I have barely had the chance to breath, let alone sleep. Sometimes, I like to pretend I’m superwoman. I take on a million promises and then push myself to the absolutely limits trying to fulfill them. I imagine that if I say no to anything, this sucessful streak I seem to be riding will deflate and all my good luck will turn sour.

The thing is… I’m not superwoman, and I miss things. I realize that I’ve forgotten to send a vital form or organize thank you gifts for supporters. In the past I’ve beaten myself up for these slip-ups… but now I realize that success isn’t about saying ‘yes’ to everything and it’s not about getting everything right. You’ve just got to pick yourself back up, make the best of what you’ve got and plan how to do better (with less stress) in future.

I asked Helen Lowe what she does to keep writing, even when it seems like there’s so much to do. She said:

The wisdom is easy: you have to give yourself set writing times every week and stick to them. No exceptions. End of wisdom.  🙂

I liked that a lot. Simple, effective and yet the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced.

I’ll tell you how it goes…

Something I learned at UnCONventional

‘Who you know’ makes all the difference!

I went to UnCONventional with relatively few expectations (it being my first Con), but I did really want to meet Helen Lowe – a successfully published Fantasy / YA author from my home town (Christchurch, New Zealand).

My partner and I arrived at the venue and I immediately spotted Helen sitting with other convention people, including Trudi Canavan (the Guest of Honor). They were deep in conversation and I had no intention of barging in to introduce myself. I figured I’d have the opportunity to say hello over the course of the weekend. Then Helen’s partner Andrew recognized my partner (they work at the same engineering company back in Christchurch), and suddenly we were being introduced and I was sitting next to Helen!

Super-happiness-win!

Helen was so welcoming and gave me some great practical advice about how to approach my first-ever book reading the following morning. Even more awesomely, she came down to listen to me read the next day (despite the ungodly hour)!

Helen and I sat at the same table for the group signing session. It was great to hear her talking to people and listen in on her tell another writer from the convention the story about her road to publishing.

Helen and I at Natcon

Helen and I at UnCONventional

These ‘coincidences’ have been turning up more and more frequently in my life of late. I have learned never to discount a chance meeting or an opportunity to connect with another person, because you never know when or how that person will turn up again in your life.

I love people ❤

UnCONventional (part two)

I was just in Auckland at my very first Convention!

It was called UnCONventional and was a meeting of Science Fiction and Fantasy fans from around New Zealand. Many of the guest speakers there (myself included) were authors in the genre. I was honored to be in the company of some very successful published authors like Trudi Canavan, Helen Lowe and Mary Victoria (among many others).

When I first arrived I was rather nervous, but then one of the men sitting with these awesome women spotted my partner and it turned out they worked together back in Christchurch – we were introduced and invited into their circle and I was incredibly glad he’d agreed to come along =P

Over the two days, I got to participate in writing workshops, speak on panels about things ranging from Vampires to Self-Publishing and make a lot of great contacts. I sold eleven books while I was up there – exciting to say the least!

I learned while I was there that the most important marketing you can do is write more books, because each new book doesn’t just add to your income, it multiplies it (since people will want to purchase all your other books if they really love one of them).

Since I’ve been back home (one day so far) I have totally redone my website, gone crazy on pinterest, and begun outlining of my second book properly (in scrivener which I have also just discovered). I am determined to treat this as a career and find a way to be methodical about it so that I can get another (good quality) book out within the year.

Thank you all so much for your ongoing support!

B

Beaulah at UnCONventional

Me and a fellow author (Jonothan) at UnCONventional

UnCONventional (part 1)

WOW! Last night I got the most amazing news. I am going to be on some actual panels at Auckland’s UnCONventional Convention this Queen’s Birthday weekend (1st of June). Check out the programme here. I’m going to be talking about Armageddon, Time Travel, Vampires and Publishing. If you are in Auckland and want to come along, make sure you say hi!!