The Smile

picture of unfinished bust of Nefertiti

If there was one thing he could say was mysterious about her, it was the way some secret amusement lived at the left corner of her mouth. Not large enough to be called an enigmatic smile, it nevertheless caused her eyes to narrow slightly as though she was preparing to laugh. It set off the intelligence in her hazel eyes and declared her self-sufficient, confident, at peace with herself.

The moment he saw that, he was captivated. He wanted to explore it – and her – thoroughly, leaving as little as possible unknown. He knew it was impossible to ever know another human being fully, completely, because you could not live in two minds at the same time. Yet – with her – he wanted to come as close to that as he could. He wanted to spend months and years prolonging that understanding, to truly perceive who she was in all her independent glory. And when he could see that, he would really begin to enjoy her. He would use everything he had learned, but carefully and in tiny increments until the day would come when he could look at that beautiful face and see that secret amusement had disappeared.

Then he would say, “What happened to that independent woman I used to know?” And he would walk away, with her secret alive now in the corner of his own smile.

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Character Is

definition of character

What if I don’t want to, she asked me.
It’s a consideration, I replied. But not one that will change my mind.
When will you come back?
When it’s appropriate.
When is that?
I’ll know. Until then, you’ll have to bear with it.
Aren’t you asking a lot of a kid?
Indeed. I smiled. But it can’t be helped, and you are up to it.
How do you know that?
I know your character.
Silence.
What is character?
Ah. I paused a moment to consider. Then, character is what choices you make and how you react to the consequences of those choices as well as the choices of others that affect you.
Silence. Tug on my hand. Stop. Looking at one another.
Then I know your character, too.
I smiled again. Indeed.

Review of HUNTED (Iron Druid Chronicles #6) by Kevin Hearne

Hunted (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #6)Hunted by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By this point in the series, anyone reading about Atticus will know what to expect – he (and whoever chooses to be with him) will find themselves constantly in danger of losing life and/or limb. It’s the usual fast pace and humour taking turns with insight. What keeps things going is the fun of watching Atticus figure a way out of a current dilemma only to set things in motion for a future one.

In this book, he’s just finished devoting 12 years to training his druidic apprentice Granuaile and is ready to bind her to Gaia’s service. But first he has to deal with elves, dark elves, Olympian gods, vampires, and a backstabber among the Tuatha de Danaan. Those 12 years are probably the quietest he and the new druid, who is also his lover, are likely to have for a while, as they tumble from one perilous moment to another, trying to stay alive long enough to figure out what the hell is going on.

Though I rated this book four stars as I have the others, this was probably my least favourite of the series so far. In all of the past novels and short stories, the action is told from Atticus’s point of view. In Hunted, he gives a few pages to Granuaile and the result is less than satisfactory in my opinion.

When seen from Atticus’s point of view, the new druid is both fierce and funny with a perspective that is at once both similar enough to his to be compatible and different enough that he finds himself rethinking some of his notions. But Hearne seems to have trouble creating that unique view when Granuaile is the narrator – she loses her edge and the word choices make her sound like Atticus rather than herself.

Since she isn’t given many pages in which to narrate, this isn’t a serious fault. Because of what happens with Atticus, I understand why Hearne felt he had to give Granuaile the narrative, but it came off clumsy and not quite believable.

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Mrs. Padesky, 1978

Almost all writers hear voices. For some writers, the voices are conversational; they speak directly to the writer and serve as weather gauges. “I would never do that” or “How did this happen?” I think of those kinds of voices as being like Method actors – they won’t do anything they think is out of character and they can be surprisingly stubborn and willful. I don’t get actors in my head. The closest I’ve ever gotten is a character refusing to show up. No matter how I started the story, he refused to be part of it. Never said a thing, just wouldn’t show up. I had to recast the story to get it done.

In my head, the voices generally aren’t talking to me. You know those stories about people who got radio transmissions over their tooth fillings? My characters are more like that. While I’m brushing my teeth, they may suddenly start talking, having a conversation or even an argument that goes on like the sound on a television in another room. Unless they say something really interesting, I usually don’t pay attention to them. For me, writing a story is usually about getting an idea, hearing a snippet of something and watching as a character forms and starts doing something. I may know generally where he’s going, but the method of getting there is usually up to him. But occasionally, I hear a voice start talking and it just continues. Like a trance channeler, I pick up a pen or start typing, transcribing what I hear. Unlike most of my fictional characters, I don’t know anything about these people before they tell me and I’m always mildly surprised by what they say. This story is one of those.

* * *

Mrs. Padesky, 1978

macrame baby crib

I was a dancer in a previous life. I know, because everybody says how I’m so graceful, considering how big I am and everything. Anyway, that Mrs. Wiggins on the next block, she said I was too, and she should know because she makes her living out of telling people about their past lives and all. That and her social security check.  Anyway, she says I was a dancer once.

Do you believe in past lives? I do. Mr. Padesky – that’s my husband – Mr. Padesky don’t. But he’s so fond of me that he don’t interfere, although if he didn’t want me to go down to Mrs. Wiggins, I wouldn’t. Man’s got to be the boss of the family, I think. There can only be one boss if things are going to work right and it oughta be the man. That’s the way I come up, and I never had a reason to change my mind.

It’s hard sometimes, though. A man don’t always understand like he should, you know? Well. Well, I’m very artistic – painting and everything. I decorated the house myself and those ceramics – the ones with the plants in them – I painted those myself. Took a class at this plaster shop. I really liked it. Enjoyed picking out what I was going to do next and mixing the colors and painting. I had to stop, though. They changed the class time to evenings, and I had to be home to make supper. I’m going to take a macramé class now. Over at the crafts store. Friend of mine wanted to take a cooking class over to the college. French cooking. Didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but I don’t think I’d be interested in that. All those funny vegetables they use and things like snails and all. Plain cooking is what I like. My mother taught me. And I don’t think Mr. Padesky would like it, either. But I think I’ll like the macramé class. I always wanted one of those hanging planters like they have at the flea market at the old drive-in movie place, but it seemed like a lot of money for a planter. Now I’ll be able to make my own.

Mr. Padesky sometimes laughs at me because I’m all the time working on some artistic type thing. Says I’m wasting my money on making a lot of junk, but I know he don’t mean it. I told him, I says, “Everybody should have a hobby, and mine’s making pretty things.” I tried to get him interested in a hobby, but had to give it up. Mr. deSalle, over to the next street, he makes furniture. Bookcases and such. I thought Mr. Padesky might like making furniture. Something pretty but something useful. We both like that. So I talked to him about it and he said he worked all day making things and what did he want to come home and make more things for?

Sometimes it’s hard, being an artistic type. I got a need to make pretty things. Mr. Padesky, he don’t understand that, but he’s fond of me, so he don’t interfere. After supper’s over and the dishes done, that’s when I get to work on my things. I got a room of my own to work in, now. It used to be my daughter’s room, but she’s married with her own house and a baby coming. On her wedding day, I was standing in her room, thinking about how empty it was going to be without her, and Mr. Padesky come up and patted me on the back and told me to stop blubbering. “She ain’t dying,” he said. “Get hold of yourself.” I just had to laugh. Just like I’m doing now, remembering it. He was a little sad himself, you know, but he didn’t want to say so.  ‘Course, he was right, and that’s when I decided I’d make it over into my work room – like an artist studio. Mr. Padesky was all for it. Said it would keep my junk out of his garage, so he was all for it.

After supper then, I work on my projects. Right now I’m making a quilted photo album for my daughter and the baby. After I learn how to macramé, I’m going to make her one of those cradles that hangs from the ceiling. Not that I want her to put the baby in that. I wouldn’t trust it to put the baby in. No, Mr. Padesky and myself, we’re buying her a real crib. But the macramé crib I saw at the crafts store where I’m taking the class, it’s so pretty. It’s all done in white and pink yarn or rope or whatever, with little beads that look like baby blocks, and teddy bears and things in it. I thought she could use it for storing diapers or toys or something. No, we’re going to give them a real crib for the baby. I feel kind of bad about it having to be new, though. When my daughter – we were only blessed with the one child – when she was old enough for a bed, I loaned the crib to a neighbor who was carrying. And be darned if she didn’t up and move away and take it with her while we was on vacation. I used to insist we go somewhere once a year, do something as a family, give our daughter something to write about after summer’s over and she’s back in school, you know? Anyway, this woman moved while we were gone and took the crib with her. Isn’t that something? Mrs. Wiggins said she might have been a thief in another life and don’t seem to have learned her lesson. So my first grandchild will have to have a new crib instead of being able to use the one his mother used. I feel bad about that, but cryin’ over it won’t change a thing.

Oh goodness, look at the time! I just had to run down to the store for Mr. Padesky’s beer. Tell you the truth, I was workin’ on that scrapbook for the new baby – I’ve been a little worried it wouldn’t be done in time; my daughter’s due any minute – so I was working on the scrapbook instead of going to the store and time just got away from me. Can’t imagine what Mr. Padesky would say if he came home from work and there was no beer. I best be getting along.

It was awfully nice to meet you, and welcome to the neighborhood.  When you have time, maybe you can go on by the craft store. If you’re artistic, you might want to take a class and I might see you there. Wouldn’t that be nice? Alright now, you take care. Hope to see you again. Now where did I leave the car? Oh, there it is. Okay then, bye-bye. Now where did I put my keys? Bye-bye.

THE END

Struggling With Modern Literature

“Personal cynicism, disillusionment and bitterness.” This is a sentence I found describing the thrust of modern literature. If true, it describes why I don’t read much of it. A Twitter friend told me that he doesn’t believe that real life has arcs. I disagreed, saying my own life has had plenty of arcs, a lot of them resolved in an unsatisfactory way. This is my reason for avoiding cynical, disillusioned, and bitter fiction. Since I worked so hard to not give in to feelings of despair, it’s unlikely I should find them entertaining even in fiction form. Thus, I find my reading solace primarily in genre fiction.

Recently, someone wrote about how genre fiction remains popular. It’s always around and probably always will be. It isn’t out of the ordinary, which is why it isn’t very appreciated by critics. This may be true. In which case, we genre writers may be like male Bower Birds, each trying to make our niche nests a little more inviting to potential readers, decorating and rearranging our prose into something pleasing to ourselves. We reveal ourselves in our individual glory and hope that others find us attractive. We are dismayed when a flashier bird gets the attention.

But do we have any intention of trying to be that flashier bird? Don’t think so.

Some of us write to entertain. Some of us write to answer our own questions. Some of us write to find out what we know. There are other reasons and combinations of reason. One thing that unites us is that we find genre writing pleasurable.

Come to the genre side – it’s fun here.

What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

I’ve just started corresponding with my #LitChat friend @Mamafog (also known as Karen) about what makes a fictional character likable. In particular, she asks what makes a character likable for me?

As seen previously in this space, I’ve been giving my reading some thought, finding more and more of the novels recommended to me by others as not enjoyable or just okay. Where I used to devour anything readable – including the backs of cereal boxes when I was out of books – I now have to make time to read, so naturally resent spending time on books I don’t like. And, generally speaking, I don’t like books where I don’t like the main characters.

What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

  • I guess, first of all, I have to be able to see myself, at least a little, in him or her. Someone completely different will make it hard for me to identify with them as they struggle with their challenges. This isn’t usually a problem, since all of us share some traits.
  • S/he has to have a decent code of ethics at core. Just the basics – not killing people for fun or wanting to have ultimate power, that kind of thing.
  • S/he has to be self-aware. There’s no point in seeing how a character grows if s/he remains blissfully ignorant of the changes s/he’s gone through.
  • I like a sense of humour. It can be dark, sarcastic, self-deprecating, or just wacky. Humour helps us recognize ourselves and frame a situation. What makes you laugh helps define you. And if you have no sense of humour, that might be funny in itself.
  • With secondary characters, I prefer they not be there just to serve as cannon fodder or to scream on cue. Even if they won’t be around long enough for me to learn much about them, I like it when I feel they are as much people as the main characters.

That’s the short list for me. I’m sure that continuing to think about it will bring other things to light, like why some books I enjoyed even though I didn’t like the characters. And what part narrative plays in helping me decide whether a book and its characters are good or not*.

Got your own list  of what makes you like a character or not?  Let’s talk about it.

* ‘Good’ being a term relative to our individual interpretations, of course.

Show Me The Character

I started reading Incarceron (by Catherine Fisher) as part of my foray into YA books (also read Leviathan by Westerfield and Thompson, reviewed on Goodreads here). It started up slow for me and only now, where the two main protagonists are actually talking with each other, is it really starting to get interesting to me. I’m also reading The Pale Blue Eye (by Louis Bayard) and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (by Susanna Clarke). These books, in conjunction with some discussions on both LitChat and SciFiChat on Twitter have underlined for me the fact that if I don’t like the characters, I probably won’t like the book. Maybe this is why so many modern novels in ‘Literature’ remain only partially read by me – they seem to be inhabited by a bunch of people I would not want to know. Some writers have told me they like to read about the human condition. My condition is such that I want to spend my precious reading time with either an interesting puzzle, learning something new (nonfiction), or with fictional people I can admire or whose company I enjoy.

What have you learned about yourself from what you’ve read?