Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Woman of Her Time

Last week I talked about villains and how we love to hate them.

Today, my subject is the heroine (ha, I expect you thought it would be the hero).

I like strong heroines, women who know their own minds and aren't afraid to go after what they want. Sounds just like a 21st century gal, doesn't it.

But today's women are shaped by today's society. You can't take at 21st century woman and plunk her down in the 19th century unless you are writing time travel. Women back then were as much the product of their times as a woman of today.

My heroine, Damaris, would no doubt be scandalized by today's women. She was raised to be subservient to men. First, her father, who gives her away in marriage without so much as a by-your-leave.

Today's woman would object loudly and strongly. Damaris is understandably upset, but she goes along with it. Because that's how she was raised. She never expected to marry for love.

When her husband ignores her and treats her like an uninvited guest, openly flaunting his mistress, Damaris doesn't like it. But she has no recourse. No where to go. No other family since her Papa committed the unpardonable sin of suicide, an act that leaves her further ostracized by her former "friends." And divorce, back then, was not an option.

Damaris, lonely and forgotten, is the perfect prey for Simon, who sees her as a pleasant interlude during his tenure at Riverbend. Only when Damaris falls in love for the first time and then is placed in danger of her life does she dare step beyond her boundaries, self-imposed and otherwise.

Her act doesn't necessarily make her any braver. She is still afraid of what "society" will say about her transgression. She is desperately afraid of being caught out in her lies, exposed as the "fallen woman" she has become.

It wasn't easy back then. I'm not saying it is easier now, but if you leave an abusive husband your friends will still talk to you.

In "Riverbend," I have to ask the reader to walk a while in Damaris' shoes. Maybe her choices won't seem so spineless. Maybe they will see her as a heroine of her time.

Who is your favorite heroine? Mine is Scarlett O'Hara, even as I remind myself that her strength was forged in war and loss. If the Civil War had never happened, she might well have married one of Tarlton twins and spent her life raising children.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Villains We Love

We had a terrible thunderstorm this morning. Storms don't bother me (unless they knock the electricity out), but it sure scared the cat, who hid under my bed.

So I spent the hours before gettin'-up-time with my iPad, catching up on blogs and Tweets. I read Heather McGovern's blog Bad Girlz Write (May 20) "They're Best when they're Baddest" where she blogs about why we love villains.

And we do. There's something in us that secretly admires their audacity and complete disregard for the rules we "Good Girlz" follow.

Yep, we need a villain to make our characters use their wits to outsmart him, to learn something about themselves, to grow in understanding.

I admit it, I love creating villains more than heroes. They make me stretch my imagination. And it is so much fun when I bring about their demise. This demise, denouement, or comeuppance, depending on your viewpoint, can come about in two ways.

In one, the villain is completely demolished: dead, imprisoned or somehow made impotent.  This ending makes us cheer. Other times he manages to redeem himself at the end of the story--which also makes us cheer.

And, we need a little bit of villain in every hero. Too perfect is too boring. Yes, our heroes have to overcome their weaknesses, but in the long run, those weaknesses (or hint of villainy) make them more real to us.

Do you have a favorite villain?

Mine is Messala (played by Stephen Boyd in the movie "Ben Hur"). Remember the chariot race and those lethal wheels?

Aah, villains. We love and hate them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I've always wanted to try Tai-chi, and when our library offered free classes, I showed up -- a week early.

The instructor kindly explained what the class entailed and gave me some literature to study. As I read, I became more convinced that this was for me. What other exercise (or, more correctly, martial art) helps coordinate movement and breathing as well as strengthen the body and mind?

Besides, it looks so graceful. Like a beautifully choreographed dance.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I was anything but coordinated. I was the only fifth grader asked to sit out while the rest of the class practiced the Virginia Reel. I never mastered the polka. My dream of roller skating backward never came to fruition.

In other words, I am a klutz.

But, I have persevered. I think I have mastered some of the arm movements. Putting them together with the steps is another story. But the instructor promised the class -- most of whom were groaning along with me -- that by the end of the course, we WILL have learned all 15 movements and will be able to do them just as gracefully as the demo video expert.

I bought the video so I could practice at home. But it's better in class where the instructor can correct my errors before they get too deeply ingrained.

The difference between this class and my aforementioned doomed efforts is this: encouragement. The instructor didn't tell me I was a hopeless case. She didn't suggest I sit and watch, or quit after one lesson, telling me I was hopeless. Maybe if I hadn't listened to my earlier teachers, I would have mastered the dance--or the backward skating. But I was encouraged to give up, not go on.

It's a little like writing. We have to coordinate plot, character and setting. The story must move along without faltering. And, we need editors, proof-readers and beta readers to catch our errors as well as add encouragement and support.

As for "Riverbend," it is nearing the end. I have one more scene to write. Then comes the editing and revising, then getting some beta readers who will read the story and offer constructive criticism, followed by more editing and revising, and finally sending it out to find a home.

It's a long road to publication. Sort of like learning all the steps in Tai Chi.