Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hero Lost Anthology Interview with Yvonne


***

Hello and welcome to another Interview with the Author featuring some of my fellow Hero LostAnthology authors. Don't forget, the anthology is coming to you in May! This week I'm interviewing Yvonne Ventresca who contributed to the anthology her story “The Art of Remaining Bitter”.

Jen (J): How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light?

Yvonne (Y): Part of what draws a reader into a good story is rooting for the main character and their ability to overcome struggles. That ties back to the concept of darkness and light. Without conflict, there would be nothing to root for. Sometimes it can be hard for authors to put our beloved characters in dire straits, but it’s a necessary evil. As Nabokov said, “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”



(J): Why do you think we feel an attraction to fallen heroes, and cheer for their redemption?

(Y): Ah, the inherent attraction to underdogs! Whether it’s the un-favored Super Bowl team or Rocky in the boxing ring, there’s something satisfying about hard-fought attempts at victory. The same is true for fallen heroes. If they were heroic once, we’d love to see them rise to the occasion again. It’s a way to live vicariously and to have hope that our own struggles are conquerable.

(J): For kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?

(Y): In “The Art of Remaining Bitter,” Sylvia dreams of becoming an artist, so she’d binge watch Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting.”



***


Thanks so much, Yvonne, for taking the time to answer my questions AND for sharing the cute memes. I particularly love the Bob Ross one :) Make sure you stop by Yvonne's website to learn more about her and her work; also, click over to the Hero Lost Anthology website to read about Yvonne's story and all the stories featured in this year's Insecure Writer's SupportGroup Anthology. Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hero Lost Anthology Interview with Olga Godim



Hello and welcome to another Interview with the Author featuring some of my fellow Hero LostAnthology authors. Don't forget, the anthology is coming to you in May! This week I'm interviewing Olga Godim who contributed to the anthology her story Captain Bulat.

***

Jen (J): Why do you believe the concept of a “hero lost” is relevant to our times? Does the idea of a “fallen hero” appeal to society as a whole in light of the current social climate? If so, why do you think we feel an attraction to fallen heroes, and cheer for their redemption?

Olga (O): For me, “lost hero” and “fallen hero” are not synonymous. A fallen hero is the one who turned to the dark side. Or perhaps, he has always been on the dark side, a nasty thug, so to speak, but one of his actions inadvertently benefitted good people, hence: he’s suddenly lauded as a hero. I’m not interested in those and I don’t understand the attraction some folks feel for the “fallen hero.” A bad guy is a bad guy.

On the other hand, a hero could be truly lost, when nobody can find him. Either he doesn’t wish to be found and hides or something happened to him. In either case, he disappears from public view. Such situations are fascinating to me. I want to know what happened and why.

Sometimes, it is an illness or a simple wish to live his life away from the limelight. Other times, it could be something more sinister.

I explored just such a situation in my own story. My hero is lost in the physical sense. Nobody could find him for 25 years. My protagonist is not that hero at all. She is a Finder, hired to find the lost hero.

(J): Do you think that perceived heroes (in real life and in fairy tales) should uphold their position as heroes regardless of personal challenge? In other words, if a hero has an important role to play still, not just “I saved this place or that person once upon a time”, do you believe that person is responsible for continuing their heroics or should they be “allowed” by society to fade quietly into the background?

(O): I think that you need to perform a heroic deed, to display outstanding courage in the service of others, only once to be considered a hero. Nobody could be such a hero all the time. It’s not feasible to maintain this level of self-sacrifice long-term.

There is a different kinds of heroics though, a quiet kind. When someone lives with a terrible disease, for example, and tries to maintain her dignity and kindness to others, no matter how hard it becomes, that is real heroism because it lasts, day after day. And nobody celebrates this hero. Nobody wants to know about her courage. It’s not glorious. It’s grueling.

(J): Lost heroes could be perceived as anti-heroes or could descent into the realm of villain. Were you tempted to allow your hero to do that? Was there ever a moment when you considered letting your fallen hero fall to the “dark side”?

(O): No. I’m never tempted to make my characters anti-heroes. They can have doubts and fears. They might lie and cheat. They are not ideal persons, but I can’t write about anyone I actively dislike. For me, an anti-hero is cruel and greedy, and I hate such people. I must sympathize with my protagonist, otherwise I don’t have a story.

(J): I’m a hard and fast believer in the need for villains. Without villains, we are unable to truly understand the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” and the war that has raged in every story since their first telling. How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light? Are you a fan of fallen heroes who DO become villains? And if your fallen hero was to become a villain, what might that look like?

(O): Learning to write villains was the hardest writing lesson for me. I don’t think I actually mastered it because I don’t understand the villains’ motivation. Why would anyone want to rule the world? It’s so much bother.

In our lives, true villains are extremely rare. Much more often, the obstacles in our lives arise from something mundane, someone else having goals at cross-purposes to our own. Think of two candidates competing for the same position or two persons competing for the same lover. One of those could behave in a less ethical manner than the other, but does it make him or her a villain? Or just more determined to win. Maybe from his point of view, he is a hero.

Alternatively, the adversity could be something huge outside our control, like weather (a hurricane) or landscape (a mountain). Those make excellent antagonists: they don’t need motivation at all.

(J): For kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?

(O): No TV for my heroes. They read! Besides, most of my characters live in fantasy worlds, which are somewhat quasi-medieval. No technology of any kind.  

***

Thanks so much, Olga, for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure you stop by Olga's website to learn more about her and her work; also, click over to the Hero Lost Anthology website to read about Olga's story and all the stories featured in this year's Insecure Writer's SupportGroup Anthology. Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hero Lost Anthology: Interview with Ellen Jacobson


Good afternoon!

I have another interview with fellow Hero Lost anthologist, Ellen Jacobson. Ellen is the author of the forthcoming story, "The Silvering." Ellen generously agreed to answer a few of my questions before she set sail for exotic locales. Seriously. She lives on a boat :D

Jen (J): Why do you believe the concept of a “hero lost” is relevant to our times? Does the idea of a “fallen hero” appeal to society as a whole in light of the current social climate? If so, why do you think we feel an attraction to fallen heroes, and cheer for their redemption?

Ellen (E): I like the idea that anyone can be redeemed and that even those among us who have done the most horrible and heinous things can repent, turn their lives around and contribute to society. Sadly, that probably isn't how it works in real life which is why it's so enjoyable to read about fallen heroes and the triumph of good over evil in fiction.



(J): Lost heroes could be perceived as anti-heroes or could descend into the realm of villain. Were you tempted to allow your hero to do that? Was there ever a moment when you considered letting your fallen hero fall to the “dark side”?


(E)I've been thinking about trying to turn my short story into a novella or novel. If I did so, I think it would be interesting to explore the temptation of the “dark side.” But it wouldn't be a clear-cut battle between good and evil, where my lost hero, Caestu, is making a conscious choice to align himself with evil. Instead, I can see him torn by his desire to lead a “normal” life and conform with what society expects of him, even if that means turning a blind eye when it comes to how his society oppresses others.


(J): I'm a hard and fast believer in the need for villains. Without villains, we are unable to truly understand the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” and the war that has raged in every story since their first telling. How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light? Are you a fan of fallen heroes who DO become villains? And if your fallen hero was to become a villain, what might that look like?

(E): My first reaction is that every good story does have some sort of villain, whether a person or a larger force of evil. I'm trying to think of a story I've enjoyed that didn't have villain, but I can't. Are there stories without villains? This is one of those questions that I'm going to keep at the back of my mind when I'm reading and dissecting how authors craft their stories.



(J): For kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?


(E): I don't have Netflix, so I'm not exactly sure what shows they air, but if I had to pick a series that my hero, Caestu, would binge watch it would have to be something to do with fishing (like The Deadliest Catch) since that's how he makes his living. Or maybe The Bachelorette. Caestu really wishes he had a wife and family. He's too shy to approach someone he fancies, so he would probably enjoy daydreaming that a beautiful woman would pick him to be her husband.

***

Thank you SO MUCH, Ellen, for taking the time to talk with me about ideas of good and evil, heroes and villains, and letting us learn a bit more about you and your character. To learn more about Ellen and her life on a boat, check out her blog, The Cynical Sailor. To learn more about her story, "The Silvering", click on the Lost Hero Anthology link HERE.

Thanks for reading!
Have a beautiful afternoon. I hope ya'll are warm. It's FREEZING here!!!


Friday, March 10, 2017

Writing Dark to Find the Light

Conflict is the basis of every good story. Whether the main character is at war with an opposing army, an evil wizard or his mother-in-law, it's the conflict that tells the reader to what end the hero is heading. Literary fiction loves internal conflicts: hero vs. himself, and I've read articles by authors which state that some of the darkest, most vile villains can be found hidden deep within our own psyches. Fantasy and science fiction, however, deal heavily with outward conflicts. Every hero has an internal conflict, yes, but genre fiction prides itself on plot driven stories that are thrust forward by bad things happening to good people.

When faced with a lost hero as a protagonist, I immediately began thinking of dark themes. Why? True, I do love a good Gothic ghost story, but I think the adjective “lost” points us to the shadows. Heroes shine; they are noble and brave and wear blue tights and golden capes. But if someone is lost, if someone is missing, there's the age-old story device of the “deep, dark forest”. Deep, dark anything makes me shudder, feel claustrophobic and immediately want to draw my sword and start swinging. I know many people who don't like reading about dark themes. They certainly don't care for monsters and wizards and fallen knights. They like tidy tales with happily ever after endings - and there's nothing wrong with those stories. We need those stories. We need to sometimes escape from the challenges and darkness of the real world and, for a few, shining hours, know beyond any shadow of any doubt that everything is going to be OK.

But when we want to go deeper, when we want to really tug at the veneer of life, we write dark. Why is that? Well, I think it's because when we set our fictional heroes up against a seemingly insurmountable foe – be it monster or memory – we are able to shine that proverbial light onto many of the issues that are present in our real world. Real life is tough. It's hard. There's a lot of crap that goes on, that surrounds us and presses in. We battle fear, we battle injustice; some of us battle chronic illness or worry for someone we love. These villains are real and we turn them into beasts with fangs and ax wielding murders.

Sometimes we even turn them into ourselves.


Our lost heroes aren't villains. They aren't perpetually clawing their ways through dungeons. They are desperately seeking salvation. Just like we all are. They go through hell in order to glimpse heaven. We put our characters through the ringer so that we can figure own way out of the dark forest. We write dark so that, as our characters find their way back onto the gravel road, we, too, can look up and glimpse the stars.

(This post is also posted over on the Lost Hero Anthology website. Click over to learn more about my story, "Mysteries of Death and Life", and to read about the other anthology authors and their stories. The collection comes out May 02 :D)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hero Lost Anthology: An Interview with Lesleigh Nahay

Good afternoon!

Sorry about the late post. I haven't been well the past two weeks and blogging got pushed to the back burner.

A little bit ago, I virtually sat down and had a chat with fellow Anthology author Lesleigh Nahay about lost heroes and other such topics. Lesleigh's story "Breath Between Seconds" will be published in the Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life Anthology THIS MAY!  Lesleigh, welcome and thank you again for spending time with my questions.

Me (J) : Why do you believe the concept of a “hero lost” is relevant to our times? Does the idea of a “fallen hero” appeal to society as a whole in light of the current social climate? If so, why do you think we feel an attraction to fallen heroes, and cheer for their redemption?

Lesleigh : I think because we acknowledge that everyone is flawed, we are drawn to those circumstances where an individual can find redemption. Watching someone else rise above a fall gives us hope that we can as well, however slight or immense our falls may be.
But no, it can't universally apply to society as a whole, ESPECIALLY in light of current social happenings. People make judgments according to the experiences and the values they've been exposed to. If you live within some sort of metaphorical 'box', what one person calls a hero is what another person will call a villain.

(J) : Do you think that perceived heroes (in real life and in fairy tales) should uphold their position as heroes regardless of personal challenge? In other words, if a hero has an important role to play still, not just “I saved this place or that person once upon a time”, do you believe that person is responsible for continuing their heroics or should they be “allowed” by society to fade quietly into the background?

(L) : In a way, I think that negates the truer notion of what a hero is. True heroes don't set out looking for a way to prove themselves. More often than not, they are given the title because of an instinctual response to an unpredicted occurrence. That 'instinctual response' is one in which they instantaneously and without logical thought, put value on something other than themselves, and then reacted without thought to their own welfare or safety. If you read the news about Good Samaritan or 'daily hero' type reports, most of the time, they vanish as soon as their role is done. Most of those articles are on the behest of the person they saved, desperately wanting to know who their heroes are.

To force someone into maintaining that role, I think could conceivably turn into your next question, where resentment can turn to bitterness can turn to retaliation. Also, what right have we to demand that someone else constantly sacrifice themselves for us? At some point, all of us should be someone else's hero. Or at least our own.

Then, of course, there's those who take helping and saving others as their purpose in life: health care, social workers, police and fire fighters, teachers, search and rescue, military. But these aren't roles that are usually forced upon them, and they would call it civil service or their civic duty versus career heroism.

I think a commonality would be: If not me, who else?

That being said, I love the whole concept of SUPERheroes (I'm currently in my Batman shirt, Superman's hanging onto my fan cord above me, Wolverine- the Hugh Jackman one- sits in my front window beside Wonder Woman, and my bookshelf is covered in Funko Pop Mystery Mini figures). And that is a mix of psychological studies that do include Narcissism, unquestioned civic duty, pure good vs flawed good vs bad and evil, and a constant reevaluation of motives.

(J) : Lost heroes could be perceived as anti-heroes or could descent into the realm of villain. Were you tempted to allow your hero to do that? Was there ever a moment when you considered letting your fallen hero fall to the “dark side”?

(L) : No, not in her story-line. But she does question whether her actions are for the good side, or if the other side is truly the better one. And in trying to flesh her story out more in my first edit, I found myself on a tangent that began to play up her opponent. While, if I ever choose to make this into an actual novel, all those possibilities and background unknowns will make for some awesome revelations and twists, they began to outshine her to the point where she was disappearing completely, which lost the irony of her heroism. In a way, it could have turned her into the anti-hero. But it was important that she be the one readers have greater empathy for, so I rewrote it to align back with the original concept.

(J) : I'm a hard and fast believer in the need for villains. Without villains, we are unable to truly understand the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” and the war that has raged in every story since their first telling. How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light? Are you a fan of fallen heroes who DO become villains? And if your fallen hero was to become a villain, what might that look like?

(L) : I do love stories and film that make you both love and hate the villain, because it forces you to question what is good and what is bad and what is evil. There is no two, there's not even just three classifications. And it's not always so easy to come to a concrete conclusions about other people's motives and underlying force.

If a story is all happiness and light, what do you learn from it? What is the author trying to tell you? How does that help you grow at all? My own stories don't have much of Happily Ever After. As a reader, I want more than just entertainment and a happy bubble outside reality. If you look into the origins of Fairy Tales- and not the Disney-d versions- they weren't meant to entertain or marry off all the teens into fantasy-led loveliness. They were meant as lessons and a way to teach upcoming generations of what to be aware of. The world is not made up of purely good, and those who question the legitimacy of a situation are typically the ones who survive.

Not that my MC is purely good, but I can't think of a way that she could conceivably become a villain in her situation. Even if I made her a traitor or a spy, only a select few would call her villainous.

(J) : Finally, for kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?

(L) : Hmm. Falling Skies. I wonder, what would a fantasy world's version of Sci-fi be??

Thank you so much, Lesleigh, for spending some virtual time with us today. I can't wait to read your story! To learn more about Lesleigh, wander on over to her BLOG. To learn more about her upcoming Anthology story, click over to the Lost Hero website! You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram :)


Happy Wednesday!

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Faithful Gardener



Story is an integral part of my life. Not only do I write them, not only do I work towards a life fueled mostly by Story, I am passionate about the written word. I am also passionate about the tradition of storytelling, something our modern culture needs desperately.

Madeleine L'Engle lamented once that the word "story" has come to mean something that is false. You're accused of "telling a story" when you lie. "Oh that's just a story," someone scoffs when they hear a parable, a fable, a myth. It's said in such a way to cause derision. A shrugging of the shoulders, a turning away.

"We want facts!" Modern American's scream. What we really need is truth. And truth, my friends, is rarely found in facts. It is usually, mostly, found in Story.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes may be familiar to you from her bestselling book The Women who Run With the Wolves in which she discusses the wild woman archetype. I am in the process of reading Wolves for the first time even though I used to shelve it at a bookshop when it first came out in paperback. I knew then I'd stumbled upon something weighty, something important. It was not until now, some 20 + years later, that I find I am ready for it. I knew I'd found a voice I needed to hear. What I didn't know was how beautiful that voice resonates.

Dr. Estes is a lyricist. I discovered her poetry, quite by accident, in her book The Faithful Gardener. It is a lovely, rabbit hole moment: researching a novel I found a quote from Wolves. I went to order the book online (from Barnes and Noble, if you must know) and discovered this lovely little tome. So I ordered it too, on a lark, and was so captivated by the cover and the excerpt printed on the back that I dove right in.

My, my. What a plunging.

The book is told in classic fairy tale language. Estes talks to us from her memories as a young girl sitting with her "giant" of an uncle and learning the subtle and profound art of storytelling. Estes comes from both Hispanic and Hungarian bloodlines. Both have infused her veins with the fire of Story. Her uncle, whom she called Zovar, was a refugee from WWII. He'd seen unimaginable horrors. He'd fled Hungary as soon as he could to put as much distance between himself and those memories and to start afresh in a free world. It was Story that helped him through the nightmares; it was Story that gave him hope and new life. He clung to the old stories, the old ways of sorting out life. He also retained the wisdom from those ancestral stories that applied to mankind's relationship to the land. Or, at least, the relationship we SHOULD have to the land.

This book is a real find. Estes and Zovar captivated me from page one. It's short; I could have read it in one sitting had I not started it close to midnight. But don't let that fool you. It's not a light read. It carries a weight with it and one that is not lightly tossed aside. I can't wait to read it again, underline the wisdoms, take notes and let them trickle inside me until I feel I, too, can in some microscopic way, understand the start of what Zovar was trying to say. I long for Story and for those who harbor that exquisite gift of creating it. Word weavers are rare, a blip on the radar of authors and artists. They are the poets and the madmen; they are the refugees from physical terror and horror as well as the misunderstanding of modern society. They hunger for community; they thirst for the telling.

"Now surely," Estes writes, " amongst the most soulful humans ever created, especially those mad for stories, hard work, and the living of life, were the dancing fools, wise old rosws, grumpy sages, and 'almost saints' who made up the old people in our family."

I can only hope, in some small way through Story, I can become one of them too.

Read on,


Friday, March 3, 2017

A Pilgrimage of Place


This is a photo of a place in which I used to dwell. It wasn't perfect. We didn't own it. At the time it was home and it was all we thought we needed. There was a courtyard in which we gathered and feasted, two spots of earth I planted flowers and hung hammocks and trained roses. When it rained, the drops gathered in the uneven bricks, creating small lakes in which the birds would later bathe. We could sit underneath the little patio and watch the drops fall like mercury from the flat, poorly sealed roof. Windows opened through ivy, screen popped out and stray cats would appear in the living room. The kitchen - o the kitchen! - had a curved doorway out of brick, a floor of uneven slate, a bar, and more cabinet space, counter space, than any place we'd lived before.

We thought we'd be happy there for years.

Then the management changed. The air conditioning went out and we roasted at 85 degrees in the sweltering, Southern summer while being told there was "nothing wrong" with the unit. The outbuilding was rented to another tenant and we had to put up with strangers rambling through the gate at will, regardless of if we were entertaining friends or relaxing in the hammock. Palmetto bugs swooped in through the windows and fluttered from the exposed pipes while we chased them around with a flimsy flyswatter.

Perspective shifted. It was time to move on.

I grow homesick for this place of my memory. At times, I wish we'd stuck it out, fought for better air units and learned to live with the constant intrusions. Deep down, I know that's against my private nature. We left the loft and went on to another place before leaving that city for good. Each move, each shift has seemed perfect until reality sets in and the gloss of new found freedom rubs off.

Still...

...each of these places is a part of me. A part of my history. My mythology. I cannot go back but it is also impossible to move forward with taking into account all the places I've been. The road lies before me shrouded; I can see but a few steps in front of me. There are goals, there are dreams and I know in what direction I am headed. 

Still I carry with me every place I've ever lived.

Still I carry with me every place I've ever been.

This is part of an ongoing, personal writing project titled A Pilgrimage of Place : a Deeper Look at the Things We Carry. To read more, search the Labels "a Pilgrimage of Place", "The Things we Carry", or "Personal Mythology.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 2017 IWSG : Keep Working

Good morning! Welcome to the March edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you are unfamiliar with our gathering, or if you'd simply like to peruse the list of fantastic writers, click HERE and you'll be taken to the site and the sign up list. And while you're there, you might as well sign up and join us! You'll be so glad you did.

We are a group of writers who gather once a month to offer our insecurities to the writing world and/or offer support to those in need. We're all in this together. It makes the writing life a little less lonely when you know there are 230+ other writers experiencing the same highs and lows as you are. You really aren't alone :0).

***

There have been two months this year. We tentatively step into number three. Some of you have already faced battles and great joys. Chronic illness fluctuates and I go from mountain top to valley in a matter of moments.

I subscribe to Poets and Writer's Magazine. It consistently inspires me and pushes me to be a better writer. I find prose and poetry that challenges who I am as a writer as well as what I'm doing, what I'm creating. Even in the midst of communing with the couch cushions I have been able to dig deep and think about what I'm doing and why.

The January/February issue is their annual Inspiration issue and this year's is filled with beautiful things, things that make me realize my short comings but that push me toward that distant apex of "the best I can be". It's still a long way off but I'm moving towards it every day. What really spoke to me was their annual look at debut poets. It wasn't so much the entire feature but what one poet in particular said in answer to a question about writing advice.

"Keep working," poet Ari Banias writes. "Follow the shape of your mind's particulars (its rhythms, its oddities) like a bloodhound, and take the poems [or narrative] as far as you possibly can, so that they (the words, the stories) are utterly yours, so that you're writing in that singular way that singular thing no one but you can write. Each time." (words in parenthesis, mine)

Oh my.

Take the narrative as far as you possibly can.

I started asking myself what this means. How can I take my words, my work, as far as I possibly can? I cannot unless I open myself up to the words, the story, and let it take me as far as it can possibly go. It's not up to me to take the story. It's up to me to listen, to stop trying to write a novel and start letting the story seep through my arms, fill up my blood and bones and pour through fingers to keyboard and page. Our soul's work can be seen in black and white.

That is truly amazing. It is the miracle of the call of the writer.

I encourage you today, Dear Reader, to let your story take you as far as it possibly can. Let the words be utterly and completely yours. Don't falter. Don't try to be what someone wants you to be. It doesn't matter if dear Aunt Essie is going to hate it. I doesn't matter if your mother doesn't get it. You have to let the story tell itself through you. Get out of the way. You can edit later.

But for now, right now, let the narrative carry you.

xo,