Blog Tour: Crowning Heaven // feat. the evolution of a character in the words of her author

When my lovely + talented friend Emily Hayse asked for volunteers to help out in a blog tour for her debut YA portal fantasy novel, I jumped at the chance. Ever since I had the privilege to beta-read Crowning Heaven a year or so ago, the heroine Heaven (let’s just appreciate the unique beauty of that name for a moment) has been one of my favorite characters; shining out like a steady, sweet light amongst all the other book-people that have laid claim to my affections over the years.

Today we get to find out how Heaven came into existence and enjoy a glimpse of her journey into the world of Grown Up + Published Books.

Introducing Heaven (as written by Emily Hayse)

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I distinctly remember: I met Heaven on a cold, gray afternoon in December. I stepped into a small, empty establishment called Madelyn’s for a hair cut with my younger sister. She went first, and I sat down to wait.  “You can look at the magazines,” encouraged the stylist. “See if any styles in there strike your fancy.”  I knew what I wanted, but I picked them up anyway.  After a few minutes I realized that Carrie Mulligan, sporting a lovely blonde pixie was in almost every one of them.  I had seen her in a couple things before. A friend had mentally casted her as a character in her book. I thought it was cute and set down the magazines to get my hair cut.  But the vision of a smiling girl with dimples and a blonde pixie followed me around for the rest of the day.

fun fact: Heaven has no middle name, and her mother was originally a morally gray character who deliberately abandoned Heaven on Earth.

I was restless. I had just finished NaNoWriMo, I was working on a historical fiction tome set on a British Ship in the seventeenth century. But there was something, something big, lurking in the back of my mind.

That night it clicked into place in my mind. I never remember the clicks really–the moment where it turns from random floating pieces to a solid project that I can build on is usually a black hole of vagueness. But that night, the small blonde girl in the pixie with the dimples got a story.  And I wrote, swiftly, in a beautiful blue notebook that had been gifted me for Christmas, before I forgot the words as they flew into my head: I write in feverish haste. The world is slipping away. I am greeted by the light of a million unknown stars…farewell, Earth! Farewell! 

I wrote notes frantically on note-cards before church the next morning, after church I started a Pinterest board. When a book takes me, it really takes me. I kept the project secret for a while as I usually do, and slowly Heaven and her world took form.

fun facts: Heaven had a temporary foster brother named Chan, who was adopted from China. She loves books, especially fiction, and she does not like fake cheese.

Heaven is a cellist. She is an ex-foster child. She is a lover of vanilla lattes. From a very young age she’s had to fend for herself, even in the context of foster care, and so she’s quite independent by the time we meet her and she has come to terms with grief and regret. Her music is her refuge and a good deal of her income. I do not consider myself a cellist, but it is agreed on by many musicians I’ve met that if they could start over again, they would become cellists.  Maybe in that way I made her the coolest thing I knew how to make. But it was not a conscious decision. She literally walked into the book with her cello over her shoulder and ordered a vanilla latte and I’ve been trying to keep up ever since.  If you want something fun, most of the songs Heaven plays on her cello are on my Official Crowning Heaven Spotify playlist, so you can look them up as you read the book.

fun fact: Heaven came to love vanilla lattes because her foster father, Mr. DeKlyen would buy her one on the way home from cello lessons if she practiced every day that week.

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It was February when the very first person besides myself met Heaven. I was going to a friend’s concert with my older sister, just the two of us, and she, being a clever sort of girl, could tell that I had been keeping a new project under wraps and had not been sharing it. She always figures it out. We were in a clunky van on a cold day, listening to Homecoming, because though I had heard it and fallen in love in the context of Crowning Heaven, everyone else liked it because it was pretty.  We were listening to it on repeat when she asked. I had the notebook with me, I carried it everywhere. So I read the beginning, and she met Heaven. And she fell in love.  “Emily, this is the book you should publish first, I’m serious.”

It was that simple. The real journey began.

Heaven’s birthday is on June 24th. After writing along (rather slowly at times) for a while, I decided in May that I was going to finish the book on her birthday, which I did. It was a beautiful, long day where I wrote 7K by hand and finished at one in the morning, crying over my manuscript.  To me, Heaven personifies quiet and gentle courage. Not the sort that draws attention to itself, but that tries in its small way to do the right thing when given a choice, and I really wanted to show that and its ramifications on a large scale.  She and many of the other characters are examples to me of what I would hope to do if I was in their situation. And I hope it is a similar inspiration to many others.

The Book:

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Heaven Cassidy has only ever wanted one thing: a family. But when she opens a letter from her long-lost mother, she finds herself running for her life. Swept into a world of proud queens and ancient feuds, Heaven must decide whether her dream is worth taking on the responsibility of two kingdoms, one of which wants to crown her and the other to kill her.

Available on Amazon – Add it on Goodreads

Meet the Author:

As long as she can remember, Emily Hayse has been avidly in love with story, a love that has only grown with time. A fascination with human nature and an ongoing quest for courage, hope, and beauty drive her writing passion.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found working with dogs or horses, studying historical tall ships, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. Her hobbies include learning Maori and Gaelic, playing the bodhran, and trying to restore a classic car.

And don’t forget to check out an exciting giveaway soon to be announced on her website, www.emilyhayse.com!

Let’s talk about OTPs // in appreciation of slow burn + healthy relationships

Today we’re going to talk about slow-burn love stories which happens to be one of my favorite types of relationship development under the sun. It’s right up there with enemies-to-lovers and friends-to-lovers. I will freely admit that I am basically giving myself a chance to rave (hopefully with some semblance of intelligence) over two couples that caught my attention and inspired my writer self last year.

The OTPs (One True Pairings) I am talking about today are from two Kdramas (Korean TV shows) that I watched in 2017. I’ve been percolating over this article for a good few weeks now–hopefully I can express my thoughts coherently and do it justice.

tiny, wee spoilers to follow

I Remember You/Hello Monster Couple: Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an

This police procedural drama is all about psychopathy and estranged brothers and “are monsters born or created?” and it’s fascinating; but the core of the story and what makes the drama’s resolution even possible is the main couple.

Cha Ji-an carries the weight of being a criminal’s daughter, but she is also a detective with a strong sense of justice who consistently puts others before herself. She is a protector–sometimes to the detriment of her own safety and emotional health.

Lee Hyun watched his father die and lost his little brother in one night. As a result of that childhood trauma he is closed-off and fighting to prove to himself that he isn’t the monster that his father believed he was.

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The romance starts out gradually. It is literally slow-burn with a dash of enemies-to-lovers as Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an butt heads at every turn. Something I really appreciated about the start of their relationship is that, even though they are continually at odds, they’re not dismissive of each other as people and the clashing of their characters comes more from the fact that Ji-an is a detective and Hyun is a criminal profiler, hence they see things from completely different perspectives.

Of course, once they are forced to depend on each other their relationship gradually morphs into reluctant friendship. Then they start to be concerned when the other person is hurting or in danger and that’s when my favorite aspect of this particular relationship kicks in. The mutual respect and strong concern for the other person’s well-being slowly deepens into love and it’s precious. The feels are real with this one, y’all.

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Their romance is reminiscent of the famous Austen quote: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me.”

I honestly don’t remember them even saying the words “I love you” other than Hyun’s adorable and swoony way of telling Ji-an that she ranks highest in his heart. Not that it isn’t important for a couple to express their love in words, but the thought with Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an is that at a certain point there is no doubt in their mind how the other person feels about them. Hyun knew without even having to ask that Ji-an loved him because she showed him as clear as daylight in the way she looked out for him and believed in him. As for Ji-an, once Hyun confessed to her in the adorable way previously mentioned, she understood how much he cared about her.

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Lee Hyun and Cha Ji-an are important as an OTP to me because even though they have their own personal struggles, even when they are drowning in their own hurt: they stand by each other no matter what. Ji-an’s steadfast belief that Hyun is not a monster like he fears (but just a very damaged person who needs help) has a huge influence on him and essentially jump-starts his road to healing. At the same time Hyun’s constant, quiet care of Ji-an and how he is there for her when she is overwhelmed by grief or fighting a moral dilemma (such as taking the law into her own hands) is one of the best aspects of his character.

They are each other’s anchors, not in an unhealthy I-will-go-to-pieces-if-you-are-not-here sort of way, but as a safe place for the other person. It’s heartwarming and precious and I just really, really love these two.

Disclaimer: I Remember You/Hello Monster is a crime show that deals with psychopathy, somewhat graphic crime scenes, serial killers, etc. Minimal swearing. No indecent scenes. Possible danger of sobbing into your ice cream. Swooniness guaranteed.

While You Were Sleeping Couple: Jung Jae-chan and Nam Hong-joo

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Saving the best for the last. [happy sigh]

Modern love-stories that are sweet + healthy + stable without all the misunderstandings and emotional upheavals/drama actually do exist. I knew they did, but they are few and far between and my list is Very Small. So when I watched While You Were Sleeping last September-November the love story took me completely by surprise.

(disclaimer: While You Are Sleeping is a drama that deals with crime. Minimal swearing. No immoral scenes. Much sweetness. May kill you from the hilarity. Or from the crying. Features Best Secondary Character in the history of Kdrama)

I’m used to OTPs killing my feels with all the pain and tears (coughFitzSimmonscough) or giving me heart-attacks with the dramatic, sweeping gestures. When I started watching WYWS I kept on expecting a drawn-out denial of feelings + emotional turmoil culminating in a declaration of love that (probably) takes place in a burning building or during a stunning sunset. Therefore, I was surprised as the story progressed and Jae-chan and Hong-joo fall in love with all the softness and sweetness of a light summer rain. At first I am ashamed to admit I was actually a bit disappointed. “Give me the Doctor and River Song! Give me Margaret and Mr. Thornton! Give me Han Solo and Leia!” (I demanded).

oh, silly annie.

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I remember the scene when it hit me how perfectly the love-story was crafted. Hong-joo has a special gift, or curse depending on how you look at it. She can see the future (usually a catastrophic future) in her dreams and she and Jae-chan–who is a rookie prosecutor–work together to prevent her dreams from happening or to change them if they can. Naturally, I thought this was much too contrived and convenient. They were clearly meant to be together as a couple, hence where was the suspense? where were the sparks? “I need the chemistry” (I grumbled, completely forgetting that not all chemistry between couples has to be electrifying).

Then THAT scene happened. I won’t say what scene it is because spoilers are the scourge of happy people everywhere, but I was floored. It’s such a quick moment that if you’re not paying attention you might not even realize the significance, but I sat there stunned as my epiphany hit me and everything about Jae-chan and Hong-joo’s relationship clicked into place. From that moment on I was toast.

I think one of the marks of a good OTP is the ability that it has to move you to tears, and after that scene I cried multiple times. But here’s the thing, I wasn’t crying because the love story was sad or gut-wrenching–I was crying because it was beautiful. There is a special quality of trust and belief and actual, real understanding between this couple that I have seen in very few romances. River Song had no idea just how much the Doctor loved her until years after they had been married. Even Amy and Rory–as much as I adore them–struggled with knowing just what the nature and strength of the other’s feelings were.

Jae-chan and Hong-joo know each other so well and understand each other with such clarity that there is no place for dramatic angst in their relationship. Instead the conflict comes from elsewhere, e.g. opposition to their relationship, Hong-joo’s dream about her future death, etc. And through it all they are there for each other as beacons of hope and faithfulness.

The romance in While You Were Sleeping doesn’t have the dramatic flair of many love stories, but it’s that much sweeter for its steadiness and strength. Jae-chan and Hong-joo taught me an important lesson about OTPs, i.e. love doesn’t always have to be portrayed as fire-works and grand gestures and feels-inducing angst and passionate kiss scenes as the world goes up in flames. Sometimes it is simply a couple knowing each other inside-and-out, steadfastly standing by their sweetheart + believing in them and trusting them no matter what.

And I think that is beautiful.

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What about you? What are some of your favorite slow-burn romances? Also, by all means, give me a list of your fave healthy relationships. I WANT ALL THE RECS MY PRECIOUS GINGERSNAPS

epic villains (and the traits we love about them)

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(because we all have to agree that Kylo Ren has a pretty sweet helmet)

It’s no secret among the people who know me that probably about 50% of my favorite characters in books + film would be the villains. And I decided that a post looking into this was long overdue since, after all, I have class (*said in British accent*) and don’t just like any bad guy. I mulled over the villains I do enjoy reading/watching (incidentally I am listening to The Imperial March as I type this) and narrowed it down to the specific traits about a villainous character that makes them leave their mark on my memory.

(so if you want to know how to write bad guys that Annie will enjoy, read on)

Moriarty (BBC Sherlock)

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psychotic genius.

Not going to lie: mental people who are also brilliant terrify me, whether in books or movies or real life. You could argue that Jim Moriarty’s insanity stems directly from his abnormally high IQ level, but no matter what the reason is, this guy should have been put in a straitjacket long ago. But, he is clever and when a bad guy makes me slack-jawed in horrified awe because the twisted brilliance of their plan is nothing like I anticipated…. I love it, humans.

unpredictable.

Granted, Moriarty is predictably nuts, but you never really know how it’s going to break out and if he’s just going to start shouting mid-sentence or instead decide that he’s bored. And when Moriarty is bored, be very afraid.

humor.

He’s horrible, he has no sense of decency, he would force you to commit suicide and smile while you do it, but he still manages to make me laugh out-loud every episode I’ve seen him in. So, either he has some really funny lines or I have a messed-up sense of humor. (tell me I’m not the only one who cracks up laughing whenever Moriarty breaks into the Tower of London. #dramaKing)

creep factor.

If you have a psychotic villain it’s bound to get creepy real fast. Yay for bad guys who are actually frightening.

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Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)

wily, wily worm.

Gollum is a crafty character and all the more so because it’s easy to underestimate him. There’s nothing like being controlled by a magical ring for years to make an already sly creature even more cunning. And it doesn’t help that he does the puppy eyes so well.

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humor.

“Yes, perhaps, yes,” said Gollum. “Sméagol always helps, if they asks – if they asks nicely.”
“Right!’ said Sam. “I does ask. And if that isn’t nice enough, I begs.”

Just the way he puts his sentences together is funny. Then put him and Samwise in the same scene and comedy gold happens.

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 sympathy points.

“And so Gollum found them hours later, when he returned, crawling and creeping down the path out of the gloom ahead. Sam sat propped against the stone, his head dropping sideways and his breathing heavy. In his lap lay Frodo’s head, drowned in sleep; upon his white forehead lay one of Sam’s brown hands, and the other lay softly upon his master’s breast. Peace was in both their faces.
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee–but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.” 
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

I cry every time I read this scene. I’ve discussed Gollum’s character many times and at great detail with my various fellow Tolkienites and we all agree that the saddest thing about him is that he had potential to tear himself away from his dark path, but the hold of the ring over him was so strong that every time he considered it something happened to keep him back. He is such a pathetic, pitiable creature and his story breaks my heart.

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Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

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unpredictable.

A (not-quite-Sith) who throws temper tantrums and wracks havoc on inanimate objects when he’s angry? Yes, please. Uncontrolled bad guys are great because you never can quite predict how they will react (except that it will be explosive) and if you haven’t seen Kylo Ren demolish expensive equipment you’re missing some LOL moments in your life.

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actually does bad things.

When there’s a villain you expect them to actually be, yunno, villainous. So Kylo Ren torturing Poe, killing people instead of just threatening to, and generally being the darker version of his grandfather at that age is satisfying. Even if it does break your heart when he commits some of the deeds he does. *calmly drops Ren off the edge of a cliff*

struggles with the light side.

Talk about intriguing. I love, love this factor of Kylo’s character. The psychology of a Sith is interesting anyways, but when you have one that’s drawn more to the light than they are to the dark, and hence is constantly trying to prove to themselves that they really are as bad as all that…. Excuse me while I do a happy dance over all the fascinating moral quandaries. Which brings me to:

potential for redemption.

You may or may not want him to be redeemed (I’m still torn on that score), but Kylo Ren has serious potential for either an amazing redemption arc or else the possibility of becoming an even darker and terrifying villain. To quote Mirriam Neal:

“Kylo Ren has so much light still left in him that he has to physically cause himself pain in order to keep fighting, because the Dark Side feeds off pain. He is the antagonist, the protagonist, and the battleground of his own story. One thing about true Sith is the fact they are ruthless when harming others to further their own ends. They don’t care if they’re hurting someone else, and this is obviously not Kylo’s case. Kylo isn’t fighting Rey with mere anger or a heartless, stoic demeanor – Kylo is on the verge of breaking down, he’s holding back tears, he is fighting with himself as much as he is with Rey, if not more.

I find it hard to believe that the franchise would present us with such an emotional, sympathetic character if they weren’t planning to give him a redemption arc or, at the very least, giving us an even larger conflict to follow in the coming movies. There’s much about Kylo that we as viewers don’t know and can only theorize about, but they have given us the most emotionally conflicted Sith in cinema history. There is more potential for light and goodness, for redemption, than ever before […]”

Loki (Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World)

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alllll the grey areas.

Conflicted villains are the best villains. That is all.

devilish wit.

Loki’s snark is the best. He is the “god” of mischief after all. And did I mention he’s just a bit clever?

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strong sympathy points.

I don’t even know where to start with this one.

His Dad has serious parenting issues, Loki has serious inferiority issues + family issues + deeply afraid + and this guy needs a therapist like a mosquito needs blood. He’s one of those frustrating characters where you can see exactly where they went wrong and you watch as they make bad decisions (despite your [mildly agitated] shouting at the screen). You root for them to make the right decisions and pull themselves off their dark path—and sometimes they do choose right, which makes it all the more difficult when they choose wrong the next time. His relationship with his adopted brother Thor breaks my heart, and his obvious affection for his mother is sweet and makes me cry without fail. I have strong emotions about this character, in case you couldn’t tell; I think I really must write a Loki analysis article sometime.

it’s not all his fault.

This is where Loki becomes a “sympathetic” villain for me because, despite all his bad choices and wrongdoings, so much of the blame for who he became lies at his father’s doorstep—that does not absolve him of his sins, but it does give us as viewers a connection and level of empathy with him. The need to be loved and valued is an inherent part of humanity, and who hasn’t been disappointed by people they look up to? Loki’s desperate hope + his fear of trusting because he’s been hurt so often gets me in the gut every time.

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potential for redemption.

So. Much. Potential. Don’t let me down here, Loki Laufeyson.

The Master (Doctor Who: series 3 finale, series 4 Christmas special)

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humor.

He is twisted and messed up and ohmystars he’s hilarious. I love it so much when villains have a sense of humor or when they’re given witty lines—half of the reason The Master is funny is because he’s such a nutcase. Parliament execution scene, anyone? *copies his double-thumbs up*

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smart factor.

Manic brilliance is how he rolls and it’s a blast to watch. Not to mention, terrifying. The Master has legitimately scared me on more than one occasion and not a lot of villains do that. When a Timelord goes dark + insane it is not a pretty sight. Take note my Timelordy readers.

it’s not all his fault.

The Master is psychotic-killer genius but (SPOILER ALERT) he was made that way through no fault of his own. His dark path was created for him by some seriously twisted people when he was just a child and a recurring four-beat rhythm was placed in his mind to play on a loop non-stop–is it any wonder he went completely mental? The moments when you see him fight against it, when you see his agony and desperation–they’re gut-wrenching. The Master and the Doctor were best friends as children and it’s heartbreaking whenever they go down memory lane or whenever the Doctor tries to get through to him and help him–basically all the time.

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There’s nothing like a broken friendship that gets repaired slightly (only to be shattered all over again) for taking my emotions through the ringer. The potential for redemption and light is strong in this one. Which is why the last scene with the Master in the Christmas special makes me sad/happy all at once. (You Whovians out there know what I’m talkin’ about.)

Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith)

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struggles with the light side.

Anakin is equally torn between the light and dark side of the force. He cares deeply for people and he’s always trying to save or protect–it’s his gut reaction when anyone is in trouble: “How can I help them?” At the same time the abilities to protect and the freedom of choice that he believes the Dark Side could give him pull at his attention like a moth to a flame. His struggle against the dark, against doing what he knows is wrong, and what he’s tempted to do, is painful to watch and still hurts me every time I see it.

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actually does bad things.

Once he turns to the Dark Side there’s no denying that Anakin does some horrific stuff. That scene with the Younglings in particular is heart-wrenching. It’s deeply saddening and almost frightening to see the change in him, but as writers don’t you just love it when a villain fulfills his potential and actually is dark? I get chills every time he makes his march–not because it’s epic but because it’s how a villain is supposed to be. They’re supposed to be a threat, they’re supposed to be menacing, they’re supposed to frighten–otherwise what impact does it even make when the hero overthrows them? i will now get off my soapbox. 

potential for redemption.

As a twelve-year old writer Anakin is the first character I was attached to who spiraled onto a downward path. Even though I was 95% sure it was going to happen, I still spent the entirety of Revenge of the Sith rooting for him to pull through, to see where he was going and why it was such a very bad thing. It’s hard to articulate since he meant so much to me (and still does) but Anakin was the character who taught me that feeling empathy for someone does not mean you condone them or excuse them, villains are not two-dimensional, that as a writer I should never make them two-dimensional, and that everyone has a story.

Check out this article for a more in-depth look at Anakin Skywalker. There are much spoilers. Ye be warned.

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Peter Pan (Once Upon A Time)

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“Oh, the cleverness of me!”

Can I just mention that I absolutely love that the writers of OUAT took the potential for darkness in Peter of Peter Pan and ran with it? Peter Pan is devilishly clever and overflowing with sharp wit + manipulation + fake innocent-boy charm. He’s easily one of my favorite villains in the history of ever. And he is dark, people.

humor.

Did I mention the sharp wit and just general sassy one-liners?

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feels-inducing.

I had not expected this element at all, but when you think of a boy-villain and what exactly that means, it’s sad to begin with. Then you find out about his past and, while you detest him even more, it also hurts your heart and makes you wish, wish, wish that he could go back and make everything alright again. If only for the sake of the people he hurt.

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Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Does this even require any commentary at all???

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To sum up: villains with humor + unpredictability + dark deeds + grey areas + cleverness + potential for redemption + sympathy points, or a blend of the above traits, those are the bad guys who stand out. That make a hero work harder, and a reader happy. 

Which is the sort of villain that everyone wants.

Okay, Wrenlings, ‘fess up. Who are your favorite villains? Why do you like them? Or are bad guys just not your cup of dark (very dark) coffee?

10 Fictional People I Would Take On Vacation // link-up with My Lady Bibliophile

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Confession: I am starting this post exactly the same way that Schuyler did. Mimicking the greats and all that. ^_^

Confession 2.0: apparently I haven’t blogged in a month recently? *cringe* Obviously it’s hard to find the time lately (work and editing eats all the hours like a starving mammoth), but another problem is I have so many topics I want to post about that I struggle narrowing down my ideas. Yes, this is a legit issue. But looking on the bright side, it means I’ve not neglected Curious Wren for lack of inspiration, right? ALWAYS BE POSITIVE FOLKS. It’s very Important. So is lemonade + reading books until your head hurts (me on Saturday).

That being said, I’m going to stop internally panicking over the fact that I’ve blogged so little of late (life happens) and instead let’s chat about fictional charries I’d absolutely love to take on a (sadly) imaginary vacation/holiday/roadtrip with me.

(I am linking up with Schuyler of My Lady Bibliophile for this because she is a darling and you should all definitely follow/give her free chocolate chip cookies at the cyberspace cafes.)

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The Cook

Judy Plum (Pat of Silver Bush). She would be such a warm, cozy sort of person to have along on a vacation, and the descriptions in the books of her cookery makes me hungry every time. And she’s overflowing with whimsical Irish charm and many, many tales. She could double as Storyteller too.

The Storyteller

Cress (Winter). Her imagination is wild, and I can see her coming up with all sorts of fascinating stories about everyone and every place we encounter. Plus, she’s a lovable darling and could hack into allllll the things if need be.

The Musician

I rather think Sir Eanrin (Tales of Goldstone Wood) could fit this spot nicely. Hilarious. Quick-witted. Snarky both as a cat and as a human. His skill as a musician knows no bounds and as long as he steers clear of any songs about Lady Gleamdren he would be a welcome addition. (although, even if he did sing about her, I’d want him along. *fangirling*)

The Adventurer

Now technically Dustfinger enjoys being home more than he enjoys trekking about the wild, but I love him dearly so he’s definitely coming with. Every vacation needs a fire-wielder, methinks. ^_^

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It’s also probably cheating to bring two adventurers *coughcough* HOWEVER. Penelope Lumley (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) is clever and practical but still adorably imaginative, and I’d be seriously thrilled to meet her in person.

The Comedian

Archie (Indiscretions of Archie). Dear, darling, well-meaning, irrepressible Archie. Just throw Bertie Wooster into the mix and you’d have the perfect recipe for hilarious shenanigans.

The Counsellor

Gandalf the Grey. Need I say more? And if he’s off on an adventure involving dragons or rings or dragons and rings, we could always take Jeeves instead. Right ho?

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The Defender

Kurt (Halo: Ghosts of Onyx). Being a Spartan he’s the natural choice for a warrior to protect this odd motley of people. Kurt shall always be my favorite of the characters in Ghosts and with his friendly personality, warm heart, level-headed thinking, and impeccable fighting skills, anyone might want him as a fellow vacationer. And I could see him actually enjoying a holiday which is not per the usual for Spartans. Ever.

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because this GIF is the most epic

The Medical Help

Rita from Unwind. Short of someone breaking their neck, she knows how to deal with injuries, and she could play gorgeous piano music if we ever got tired of Bard Eanrin’s singing. Also, I’d kind of like her for a best friend, just sayin’. *hugs*

The Mechanic

Han Solo. For obvious reasons.

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The Pastor

Well, he’s not technically a Pastor. And he comes from a fantastical world. Oh, and he is a squirrel. Brother Fir happens to be the most lovable and wisest and whimsical squirrel I’ve read about. He could keep Gwin (Dustfinger’s marten) company and teach him the ways of the creatures in the Mistmantle Chronicles.

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So, let me see here. We have an Irish cook, a brilliant hacker, a faerie Bard, a fire-wielder, a governess, two British gentlemen (good eggs, both of them), one of the Istari, a hard-core Spartan, an Unwind girl, a mechanic/hot-shot pilot, and a squirrel.

This. would. be. epic. And possibly a bomb waiting to explode. But definitely amusing and a riot of fun. Ohhh, yes. Anyone care to join me? We have jammy dodgers and iced coffee.

Should you wish to join in Schuyler’s link-up (which I recommend because BOOKS + FUN) click here.

Now then, readers and writers and ice-cream cake makers: how do you think my crew would get along? Who would be clashing every time they saw each other and who would be best friends? Who would suggest robbing a bank just for kicks and who would be raiding the library (besides me)?

And of this odd gang, who would YOU want to hang out with?

How To Write Lovable Protagonists — Guest Post by Schuyler McConkey

I have a special treat for you today, Wrenlings! My dear friend Schuyler has ever so sweetly agreed to guest post here on Curious Wren, and I am doing cartwheels of joy about it (but not actually because I would probably crack my skull and then I could no LONGER READ OH HORRIBLE THOUGHT).

Schuyler has some of the best main characters I’ve encountered amongst my various splendiferous Human Writer Friends/Acquaintances, which I am slightly (fiercely?) envious of in a Oh-Genius-Why-Do-I-Have-It-Not sort of way. Honestly, Roo is such a sweetheart I want her for a real-life buddy, and JAERYN. *momentary mad fangirling*

BUT. As you shall see she has a method to her madness. So, find a comfy toadstool to sit on and make sure to take notes! Cheerio, darlings.

Schuyler? You’re up.


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Protagonists are pretty important. Where would we be in the world of literature without colorful main characters like Frodo Baggins, Lizzy Bennet, and Ebenezer Scrooge?

Writing a loveable protagonist is fairly easy with your first book. You know them inside out, and generally for a longer time, then any other character you’ll write. You put all your hopes, dreams, and favorite things about literature into them. But writing subsequent characters can get tricky. If you’re published, you have to write them a little faster (ten years isn’t an ideal timeline after book one), and you have less time on the front end to get to know them. Some people have the knack of creating vivid, lovable characters (personally the characters are my favorite part of the process) while others struggle to connect with their characters, and feel like they come across stiff and unreal on the page. Whichever camp you fall in, I hope this exercise will help you learn how to create loveable protagonists, by drawing from protagonists in literature you already love.

Step #1: Make a List of Protagonists From Other Authors.

Take out a piece of paper or open up a Word document and think for a moment about your favorite protagonists in literature. Who are they? Write them down. Now think of the favorite protagonists you’ve written. Write a couple down. You won’t need a long list, but a fair handful from a variety of genres will really help in the following exercise.

From literature, I chose a handful of my favorite protagonists. I passionately love these people, and have read the books they’re in multiple times. I would write fanfiction about them. I would have them over for a party in two seconds flat. It would be incredibly, deeply special to actually get to meet them. (I know, they’re fictional. But STILL.) I chose Cadfael (The Pilgrim of Hate), Linda Strong (Her Father’s Daughter), Jane Stuart (Jane of Lantern Hill), Erroll Stone (A Cast of Stones), and Wilberforce (Amazing Grace). This group comes from a variety of ages, life conditions, countries, and genres.

Step #2 Evaluate What You Love About Them.

Now take your list and jot down what you especially love about these characters. It could be what they do, a profession they hold, a physical quirk they have, a relationship they have, or a personality streak. Here’s my list:

Cadfael: What I Love

Justice, independence, humanity, the way he mentors young people, sarcasm, friendship with Hugh, matter-of-fact perspective that’s open to the miraculous.

Linda Strong: What I Love

Sensible, loves to write, pursuing her dreams in spite of difficult relationships, loves her dad, great with guy friends.

Jane Stuart: What I Love

Loves her dad, loves keeping house, strong sense of imagination, stays true to who she is in harsh atmosphere, strong protective/caring instinct, loves life’s little pleasures.

Erroll Stone: What I Love

Acknowledges personal weaknesses without self-pity, sense of irony, fights hard to overcome flaws, struggles with people using him as a pawn.

Wilberforce: What I Love

Cares for poor and oppressed, does meaningful society work within his Christian worldview, works for years being defeated without giving up, great spiritual strength in spite of physical weakness, relies on friendships for ideas and strength.

Step #3 Pick Out Recurring Things You Love

See how some similar ideas travel through all those characters I like? Look at your list and see if you’re finding some recurring themes. Here are some of mine:

-big hardships to overcome (mostly relational)

-have to work hard to rise above, often sacrificing the deepest part of who they are

-colorful and close friendships with others in the book

-sense of sarcasm/humor

-sense of care and compassion for the oppressed

-dreamers who love the beautiful, everyday gifts and cling to the hope of better things

Your list might look a little different. That’s as it should be—we need a wide variety of protagonists and personalities in literature! But what you love best will become your brand of protagonist. The themes that resonate with you as you read should be the themes that carry through into your own protagonists.

If I talk about a Dickens protagonist, or a G.A. Henty hero, or a Gene Stratton Porter heroine, there are many to choose from, but all of them have the stamp of the original author. They often love the causes and act in the way their author could resonate with most deeply. Your protagonists will be the same. They’ll have different careers, time periods, ages, and relational status in each book—but at their core, they will be who you love most. Making a likeable protagonist doesn’t merely mean throwing together different personality traits and life circumstances from your last story. It means carefully weaving in what you love and along with those things.

Step #4 Evaluate The Protagonists You’ve Written

Now that we’ve looked at protagonists in literature, take a look at your stories, and choose a couple of protagonists you’ve written or want to write that you especially love. For the sake of this article, I’m going to choose Jaeryn Graham, a colorful Irish agent in my WW1 spy novel, and Roo, a sweet ballet teacher who lives in modern day New York. Very different people, right? Let’s see how they compare to my favorite protagonists in literature:

Jaeryn Graham has a fierce desire to be treated justly, and will risk anything to achieve the object he wants without worrying about the consequences. The justice theme in Jaeryn’s arc also appears in all the characters in the above list in different ways, and is one near and dear to my heart. He’s also kind to the oppressed, though sometimes he chooses to oppress them himself to achieve a necessary object. Realizing the importance of close friendships is a huge part of his story as well.

Roo couldn’t be more opposite. She cares deeply, is sweet, loves nothing more than taking deep joy in daily life with friends, and doesn’t need grand things to feel fulfilled. But like Jaeryn, she cares for the hurting, even though she’s unlike him every other way. Roo’s spiritual strength comes from stories I love like Wilberforce, she’s great with guy friends like Linda Strong, and she loves life’s little pleasures like Jane Stuart. Friendships are a very key theme for Roo. I didn’t consciously copy any of those things from the above characters. But because they resonate in what I read, they also resonate in what I write.

I’m about to write my favorite protagonist ever, and already some clear and classic Schuyler themes are emerging. A sense of passion for relieving oppression. An irreverent sense of humor. Some really cool friendships. Those are my core values. They make the writing process fun for me, and what I love can in turn be what someone else loves too.

Do you like your protagonists? Do they carry some of the themes you already like in books you’ve read? If you don’t like your protagonists, or feel they’re lacking something, is it because you haven’t given them the relationships and personality traits you love most?

One Extra Step to Bring Them to the Next Level

Once you have core themes for your protagonists worked out, there’s one more thing you can do that takes your character from good to great. That is simply to know them like a real person. I refer to characters as my fictional friends very intentionally. I have shared sorrow with them, shared work and laughter, shared the deepest parts of their soul. To maintain that same level in each story, as soon as I start a new story, that new protagonist is automatically moved into personal friend. I take them shopping with me and notice the foods and flavors they would like. I pick out their favorite restaurants as we’re driving, make them playlists on Spotify, take them to the concert or watch a movie and register their likes and dislikes. I imagine them in a very vivid way—allowing them to be deeply passionate about big and small life things that might get in the story and might not. The point is not to go story scouting all the time; the point is simply to get to know them on such a deep level that no matter what time period or profession they are actually in, I know exactly what they like. My sister often whispers to me at social functions, “What would so-and-so be doing right now?” And she and I can both tell what they’d be doing, because they have been our friends for so long.

In summary, the important parts of a lovable protagonist are real personality, real life, and real relationships. Those are most easy to write and most colorful on the page when you determine the relationships and personalities of already published protagonists that bring you alive. Put those resonating aspects into your own work, wherever each story takes you—and you’ll be giving the protagonists a piece of your own real, living heart to turn them from flat to 3D.

Schuyler McConkey is a novelist and Bright Lights ministry leader living with her parents and two siblings. She authors a blog, My Lady Bibliophile, where she writes book reviews and articles evaluating classic literature. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to Irish love songs, learning Gaelic, and reading too many Dickens novels.

Beautiful People — Valentine’s Edition // Quinn and Keelyne

Quinn&Kee

Today I am linking up with Beautiful People to chat about a couple I’ve never mentioned on Curious Wren before. Quinn and Keelyne are from my high fantasy The Runner Chronicles which is all about prejudice and war and love and family. Their relationship is unique because:

a) they’re the only two pure-blooded young people left of their race, and so it’s been pretty much a given since they were born that they would end up in an arranged marriage (right now they’re engaged). 

b) they both have special gifts. Quinn can manipulate gravity and Keelyne is a fire-bender. 

I love these two precious bunnies so much, humans. 

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Q1. How did they first meet?

Quinn was seven and Keelyne was five. It was at a Feast of the New Moon, and both children were trying to escape their respective nursemaids. Needless to say, they accidentally sabotaged each other’s escape plans and neither was thrilled with the other.

Q2. What were their first impressions of each other?

Kee made a flame-imp to terrorize Quinn and he retaliated by tripping her up throughout the rest of the evening with his gravity-bending gift.

That answer that question sufficiently?

Q3. How long have they been a couple?

Their parents arranged a betrothal agreement for them when Keelyne was ten and Quinn was twelve. The engagement became official in a public ceremony six years later, and the couple exchanged rings per tradition. The actual wedding will take place a year later and both of them dread the day.

Q4: How committed/loyal are they to each other? Would they break up over a secret or disagreement? Could stress drive them apart? Would they die for each other?

Ohhhh, boy. I’ll try to answer this without spilling too many spoilers.

Since Quinn has a strong code of honor he would never betray Kee, even though being betrothed to her is not his favorite thing ever. Kee on the other hand? You can never be sure exactly how loyal she is to her reluctant fiancée.

Because they’re a couple out of necessity and obligation (pure bloodline and all that) it’d have to be a really terrible secret to get them to actually break their engagement—basically destroying a hierarchy of a thousand years. It could happen though.

Being with each other tends to stress them out so they avoid private confrontations. Formal and distant is their motto. Which is adorable, because their younger siblings ship them and are always trying to “accidentally” trick them into meeting.

They would die for each other without hesitation.

Figure out that conundrum. O.o

Q5. List 5 “food quirks” (feel free to mention non-food quirks).

— Keelyne adores pomegranates.

— Quinn firmly maintains he is allergic to them—how much truth is in that statement is anyone’s guess.

— Quinn hates eating at feasts, he prefers being all by his lonesome or just with a few friends.

— Kee sometimes eats off a flaming plate just to freak people out.

— They both love rich, hot tea.

Q6. Is there anyone who disapproves of their relationship?

Themselves? 90% of the time?

Q7. What would be an ideal date?

Dancing together in the moonlight. Alone, because their first dance at the betrothal ceremony with everyone watching was the most awkward thing ever.

Q8. What are their personality dynamics? Similar? Contrasting? Do they fight a lot or mesh perfectly?

Keelyne = spitfire with a dash of Ice Queen.

Quinn = gentleman with a strong streak of introvert.

When they’re together sparks fly. Sometimes they have calm, agreeable conversations, but the general state of affairs is all tension and unspoken feelings and turbulence and an acute awareness of each other.

Nobody makes Quinn slip from his customary politeness faster than Kee. On the flip-side nobody can get Keelyne’s attention as quickly as Quinn can.

Q9. What have been their best and worst moments together as a couple?

Best?

As children they practiced controlling their respective gifts all the time together, so now that they’re older and engaged the moments when they are most comfortable are whenever they train. It’s easiest to forgot about their future then and just be friendly. It says a lot about their relationship that while they are the most encouraging to each other in maintaining the stability of their fire/gravity abilities they also struggle to control their gifts the most when they’re together.

One of my favorite scenes between them is when one of their siblings gets hurt, and they sit together for hours in silent sympathy while they wait for a verdict from the healers.

As for the worst?

Spoilers, sweetie. So, so many spoilers. *bribes self with peppermint patties not to say anything*

Q10. Where do they see themselves and their relationship in the next few years?

Both of them are terrified to get married, but for very different reasons. I would explain more, but, again, SPOILERS.

*gives everyone freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies in apology*

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Winner of Best Character // 2015 Blogger Awards

And it’s time to announce the winner of Best Character! Thank you so much to everyone who entered nominations back in October — you all have excellent taste. ^_^ And, of course, thank you to the authors for creating such amazing Book People.

Honestly, characters make or break a book for me. It can have an almost non-existent plot, but if the writing is good and the characters capture my heart and run away with it? Well, that book automatically jumps onto my favorites list.

Weighing each of the finalists in the balance and choosing the best out of all of them was hard. When you have three such incredible characters, the choice is not going to be easy.

JACE has to be my favorite character in the Ilyon Chronicles so far. He is a half-breed who used to be a slave and gladiator and he still struggles with the trauma of his scarring past, and the rejection of others because of his bloodline. It’s gut-wrenching and convicting to see his refusal to deny his faith, despite his deep fear that he may not even have a soul. He challenges me not to give up on the things that matter, no matter how hard the struggle might be.

ISIDORE believes herself unlovable, ugly, and left-out and her pain becomes so strong that she hurts even those trying to help her. She is a girl whose heart is splintered more with every blow it takes, and who draws the bleeding shards close to herself and away from others, believing that will keep her safe. Her story is one many can relate to, and seeing how her heart mended and opened to welcome others in was so beautiful it moved me to tears.

PERCEVAL as one of the Knights of the Round Table has an adventurous and demanding life. His evolution from a merry-hearted, untried youth to a mature, wise man is one of the best parts of Pendragon’s Heir. He is flawed, and impetuous which only makes him more realistic.

And the winner is…

PERCEVAL 

His character embodies everything a hero ought to be, and yet he is still believably human with his own faults and temptations. There is a bright, clear essence about Perceval’s steel-true integrity that is wonderfully refreshing. I wish there were more heroes like him in modern day literature.

*much applause and confetti*

I highly recommend you add all three of these fantastic books to your TBR.

Don’t forget to check out the winners in all the other categories of the 2015 Blogger Awards!

Best Cover — hosted by Schuyler on Saturday, December 19th.

Best Title — hosted by Hannah on Sunday, December 20th.

Best Short Fiction — hosted by Ghosty on Monday, December 21th.

Best Character — hosted by Annie (Yours Truly *bows) on Tuesday, December 22th.

Best Book — hosted by Sarah on Wednesday, December 23th.

Best Author — hosted by Allison on Thursday, December 24th.

(I do apologize for the lateness of this post. Two words: unreliable technology.)