Sunday, November 25, 2012

Irish Chic with a Chip on Her Shoulder

Ok it’s been a while since I’ve submitted another entry into the badass database but I was seriously lacking inspiration with the poor selection of badass women out there on television lately. But now that Burn Notice is back from its fall hiatus, I am once again inspired by the incomparable Fiona Glenanne.

She is the woman every girl dreams she can be: equal parts super hero, sassy, sexy, say anything, blow up things when you're pissed off complete badass chic.

Since the very beginning of the guilty pleasure that Burn Notice is, Fiona has been once kick ass first and take names later kinda gal. She shoots from the hip, knows her way around household chemicals – not to clean the kitchen floor but to make a bomb that can clean your clock better than a small pack of C4. And lets face it, she’s a fashion plate. Half the outfits she runs around in make you wonder if they have to duct tape it to her body so those flimsy little shirts stay on. Nevertheless, her long flowing hair and her high-heeled wedges makes her one sexy babe.

One of the things I totally love about her is that she’s no spring chicken. Gabrielle Anwar is 42 and a mother of three. I don’t think I had abs like hers when I was 8 let alone after kids.  Even though she’s a tiny little thing, she’s a brick shithouse. She is rock-solid lean muscle, golden tan skin and lithe like a panther. She carries herself with such confidence that you can’t help but believe that her character used to be part of the IRA when she met the love of her life, undercover CIA agent, Michael Weston.

The best parts about Fiona is that she’s a maniac. She is a great foil for Michael in the sense that she adds a level of crazy to the already insane things they undertake in the name of justice. Michael’s crazy, there’s no doubt. Sam’s his crazy sidekick and now Jesse has an element of loco to him that adds comic relief to an already balls-to-the-wall funfest. The boys come up with some wild plans but Fiona’s often the one that wants to go in guns-a-blazing, hell on wheels, collateral damage be damned. The guys are the ones that have to rein her in. She’s an explosives expert. Knows her guns like she knows her shoes, maybe better. And has no problem walking right in a punching a guy in the nose to cause a diversion. She uses her sexuality as just another tool in her arsenal and wields it like a weapon. Heaven help the bastard who crosses her path.

Her greatest vulnerability is Michael. She’s loved him since he broke her heart in Ireland. She’s only ever wanted to be with him yet he frustrates her beyond belief. His greatest desire is to find out who burned him. He never expects her to come along for the ride but she refuses to let him do it alone, no matter how much she tries to talk him out of it. He never sees her side and does what he wants anyway but her loyalty to him makes her follow him because if he died without her, she would never be able to live with herself. As the seasons progress, she matures a little, settles into her life in Miami and with Michael. She’s come to terms with her role in his life. It also helps that Michael’s finally realized he can’t live with out her and they are now in an official relationship. She’s even earned an upgrade in the teaser voice over from "trigger-happy ex-girlfriend" to "trigger-happy girlfriend". Things are looking up in her world.

I think her letter to Michael as she turns herself into the authorities at the end of Season 5 sums up how she perceives their relationship best:
“I loved you. Before I should have, I trusted you. Because I’ve always known your heart. You do what’s right no matter the cost to you. And I’ve learned that when you love a spy, you have to be willing to make that sacrifice too. At times your job has made it hard to be with you, but it’s never shaken my faith in you.”

It’s beautiful and poignant and heartbreaking. The anguish in Michael’s face as he realizes she’s sacrificed herself for him yet again. I think it’s a turning point for him. He’s finally faced with just how much he’s taken her for granted and how much he needs her to be complete. Now that he’s rescued her in season 6, he’s still driven by the need to avenge, but he does it with her as his partner. He consults her and considers her family. She feels accepted and while she’s come to terms with his career she still hopes for a life without it.

While she’s clearly the love-interest-eye-candy to that hunk of man in the testosterone fest, Fiona’s a great example of a woman who can hold her own with the men, do it while still looking like a hottie, and not break a nail as she cocks her shotgun before she blasts you away. She’s a woman you want on your side in an argument, because you don’t want to be on the wrong end of her Irish temper. You might get a spark plug projectile in the eye.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Curmudgeonly Bromance

In my post about My Favorite Bromance, I forgot one adorable, fun and just delightful pair that make me laugh more and more as they get older:

Gibbs and Fornell on the ever-popular NCIS.

The episodes when Fornell visits should be called "Two Cranky Old Men". They are so cantankerous and set in their ways, each one different and stubborn in their own right. Fornell while being the G-man from the often-maligned FBI (according to NCIS) is often the more sensitive of the two. In Tell-All (Season 8), Fornell prods Gibbs about the wedding invitations they've both received from their mutual ex-wife. Yep, you read that correctly. They share an ex-wife. Gibbs married her first. SHe dumped his ass and then Fornell married her. Their marriage lasted much longer and produced a daughter. But according to Gibbs, Diane was a real pill. Fornell... the poor bastard was smitten and though sometimes complains about her, he is still very much in love with her. He spends the whole episode trying to get Gibbs to go to the wedding, because he really wants to attend.

I think Fornell feels the need for solidarity, to be united front so he can gain a sense of closure. Gibbs doesn't want any part of it. When he walked away, he tore the bandage off full steam and never looked back. Fornell still carries the torch and never felt the sense of finality. That is until he appears in Gibbs' 'Basement of Redemption' with a tux on an no place to go. He says to Gibbs "I think i just gave away the bride". Gibbs simply nods and the door bell rings. It's the pizza man. Fornell asks "With pepperoni and onions?" and Gibbs says, "Yup." Fornell smiles then and offers to pay. It's a sweet scene where two men communicate between the lines over the ultimate in 'single man' food. You know they'll have bourbon out of the dirty mason jars and talk shop, maybe even Gibbs will indulge Fornell's reminiscing.

In the season 10 premiere, Fornell returns to aid NCIS in the investigation to find the arch criminal Dearing. There are some really great scenes between Gibbs and Fornell where they discuss famliy. Fornell is there to support Gibbs, he watches out for him, gives a buffer to his feelings which is done in a very nice subtle way. It has to be because Gibbs doesn't like to be coddled. But the best scene is when Fornell brings him dinner. Gibbs is dressed in a pair of jeans and schlubby long-sleeved tee. Fornell dishes out the food and jokes, "You never dress up for me anymore." It's a joke of course, but it's a testament to their friendship on a few levels. One, their whole dynamic centers around teasing jibes. Two, it implies the idea of a longterm 'marriage', Fornell being the 'woman' who nags at her inattentive 'husband' when the magic has died. But the third most important thing it shows is the true friendship they have for each other and the fact that Fornell cares enough to be there for his friend. The essence of a true Bromance.

Take a look at this little clip from "Short Fuse", Season 8 episode 3.

Can't help but love them. Tough guys with wounded souls. The best kind. Because they're interesting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Favorite Bromances

I have been a fan of the bromance for a while now. I 'm not really sure how far back it goes because I really can't pinpoint a favorite until the ultimate bromance (and I believe the duo who coined the phrase) House and Wilson. But it seems to be a new trend, at least in the shows that I frequent.

The bromance is a deep friendship relationship between two men. There can be sexual undertones if you squint real hard, but I think that usually comes from the fact that these relationships tend to resemble the close connection between an actual romantic couple. Like that of good marriage. Caring, banter, angst and humor. A true bromance will be tested––not in a Bros before Hoes kind of way––but in a way that tests the bonds that brought the two men to the friendship in the first place. The ties will stretch but the ultimate trust in one another will overcome no matter how thinly it is pulled.

Lets take a brief look at some of my favorites:

One of the main reasons I watch Hawaii 5-O is because of the McGarrett/Danno friendship. Ok, not gonna lie, if I could just be alone in a room with McGarret, I'd climb him like a tree and set up a wood floor treehouse. Who wouldn't? But I love the dynamic between the two. When they argue in the car (the 'cargument' too cute,  I swear), it's like watching an old married couple bicker in that adorable, annoyingly endearing way that makes you either want to hit them or squeeze their cheeks.

While Steve and Dano bicker, House and Wilson had blistering arguments. There were many times you just had to wonder why, oh why, did Wilson remain friends with him? House was so awful to him. But, there was no denying that they had a strangely symbiotic and dysfunctional relationship that took so many turns and evolutions as the show progressed that I'm sure a psychology student could do an entire dissertation on their codependency.  It was entertaining yet painful to watch sometimes. Pure brilliance, as with a lot of things in that show once upon a time.

White Collar's entire premise revolves around the bromance between Neil Caffrey and Peter Burke. They started out as nemesis and foe, cat and mouse, law man and the con man. Opposites to the core in their nature and their character role. Yet, what happened was interesting––they morphed into a true and genuine friendship. They respect each other's abilities and feelings. And they do legitimately talk about their feelings. It's actually quite refreshing and downright sentimental.

My favorite by far, is the mentor/protege, big brother/ little brother dynamic between Harvey Specter and Mike Ross on Suits. I cannot wait each week to watch these two. They deliver their lines in such quick-witted jabs and quips that you almost miss the subtle affection in the the blatant undertones of sarcasm. They are so very reminiscent of the fantastic verbal sparring of Tracey and Hepburn or Rosalind Russel and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. Mike makes Harvey remember his humanity and Harvey challenges Mike in a way that utilizes his genius-like abilities. Harvey's the pitbull and Mike is the puppy that runs along side of him. It will be interesting to see the puppy grow up and what the Alpha dog does.

I think that this type of relationship, one between two male characters who share a mutual respect and caring, can help us as writers to understand the character dynamic more. Study how they talk with each other, what they discuss and the patterns of their speech. Some of it pertains to the main plot and how they interact with the given situation. Most of it is isolated personal stuff that flows outside of the story plot but lends itself to the main character arc. It gives you insight into the character's personalities and a deeper understanding of who they are as layered people.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite bromance? What makes them special?

Get out your bat and balls. Delve into the fantastic dynamic of the bromance.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WIP: Proving Ground Update

Proving Ground is close, oh so very close, to being ready to e-format and publish on Amazon. It has been scoured and polished by my fantastic critique partners, Karen and Amy and beta read by Jes and Stella. (They totally get my vision!!) I've had nothing but good constructive criticism and positive responses. Dearest Stella said she even had some tears in her eyes, in a good way of course, and that just makes me want to get drunk on mojitos and dance on tables. No, not really, I want to be badass, but I'm so not! But it does mean a lot that both Jes and Stella have had such an emotional response to Jillie and David. My book is way better because of these ladies and I owe them tremendous thanks for their efforts.

It's been a long road for this book in it's various incarnations but I have a clear plan in sight now. It's an epic love story now that will span five books. I'm currently in Book 2: Exfil Point and working diligently to beef up and clean up the plot. Yeah it seems long. Five books you say? Well... Look at it this way––How many times have you watched a movie or been involved in a book and want to know what happens after the book ends? How many of you want to see how after all their stuggles to get together they actually ARE together? What happens when the lights go out and everyone goes home? Well, that's what will happen in the Overwatch Series. Each book is another episode into Jillie and David's relationship and their evolution from colleagues to friends to deep and ever-lasting love.

So I need a blurb. One that lets you know it's the never-ending story, but also gets you intrigued by Jillie and David enough to follow them into the great unknown.

Here's what I have come up with so far:
The last thing Colonel David Vaughn needed on his anti-terrorist task force was another beautiful badass woman. They were his weakness. He had a job to do.

Burned CIA agent, Jillian Craig didn’t want back into the game. But there was only so much sun, designer shoes and hunky Mediterranean men a girl could take.

When a mutual interest brings them together to fight the war on terror, it’s no surprise––sparks fly. Can the two ignore their attraction or is the personal sacrifice too much?

The Overwatch Series follows the epic love story of David and Jillian as they try to balance duty, desire and self-sacrifice to protect the world from terror.

Book One: Proving Ground. See how it all begins.

Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think. Too much? Too little? Too cheesy? Never want to be cheesy... Discuss.

I'm going to post an excerpt of Proving Ground, Chapter 1 soon. I'm also putting my actual professional skills to use and working on a cover(s). I'm torn between paying for the royalty-free image rights for some images, which is a couple hundred dollars vs. working in Poser (a 3D art program where I can make Jillie and David actually look like I see them in my head) Too cool, but WAY more time consuming, considering I'm still learning how to use the program. But, that could also be a couple hundred dollars if I want to use pre-existing morphs to build my characters because that wold make them look badass. And you know me and badass. Since my wallet is decidedly NOT badass, I'm waiting on that issue until the cover is the very last thing that needs to be done.

See you soon,

Monday, July 9, 2012

Guest Post: Stella MT

Here's a guest post from my friend and sometimes critique partner (when she's not working on her doctoral program - sheesh, can't she just find a few hours to squeeze little old me in?) Stella MT from The Great Big Jump. She's been a great supporter of this blog and has some wise "You go girl" insights. I'm honored that she wanted to dabble in the badassery and examine when some femme characters fall short of that right. But, she changed her mind midstream and this is what she came up with. Please enjoy!

Stella MT's Post:
Originally, I had set out to write a funny article about network TV procedurals and their lack of convincingly bad-ass female characters, which could be attributed to several different factors that affect TV and film writing in general. I had it all planned out: who to snark on, who to blame, what could have been.

Then the news of Nora Ephron’s death broke out all over the Internet.

I admit that, outside of her most popular movies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, even You’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia), I’ve never really considered Nora Ephron as a “girl power” icon; all I know is that she’s a superb writer with a lifetime’s worth of snappy anecdotes to share, and I wish I had been able to truly develop my appreciation of her work before she passed away.

And yet, as the news of her passing flooded my timeline on Twitter, I found myself reading Ephron’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1996, where she spoke as an alumna of the school:

Many of my classmates did exactly what they were supposed to when they graduated from Wellesley, and some of them, by the way, lived happily ever after. But many of them didn't. All sorts of things happened that no one expected. […] The women's movement came along and made harsh value judgments about their lives—judgments that caught them by surprise, because they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, weren't they? The rules had changed, they were caught in some kind of strange time warp. They had never intended to be the heroines of their own lives, they'd intended to be—what?—First Ladies, I guess, first ladies in the lives of big men. They ended up feeling like victims. They ended up, and this is really sad, thinking that their years in college were the best years of their lives.

What does this passage have to do with good writing? 

Put it simply, a good story often begins with the choice that must be made by a character in response to an unexpected and difficult situation.  In the case of most female protagonists, the “unexpected” could be as simple as a bad breakup (see: Rachel Green in Friends and Jess Day in New Girl) or as overwhelming as working for an office that might as well be a frat house (see also: Brenda Lee Johnson in The Closer and Ziva David in NCIS).  These moments are filled with the realization that things will never be the way it used to be: all of the sudden, there’s no going back to the old house, the previous branch, the trust that was broken by that lying piece of shit.  Survival, in one form or another, becomes the name of the game.

And yet, not all female protagonists get to become heroines in their own stories.

I look again at all the characters I set out to mock, and it becomes clear to me that they were intended to be strong and sexy in their own way: handy with a gun, easy on the eyes, tough enough to turn the tables on a perp yet sensitive enough to do everything they can for the ones they truly love, be it their messed-up families or the team of crime-fighters in their squad. Yet, as time went on, I found that they’ve only become less compelling as time went on: sure, it may be “realistic” to show our heroines not getting their way, but does it always have to happen on a regular basis? It’s already bad enough to be stonewalled by bureaucrats and left in the dark by lovers and family members… but do they also have to be tortured by psychos every other season, too?

It’s as if the creators of their respective shows are trying to tell us, over and over again, that any woman who chooses to take the bad guys down has chosen a life of martyrdom. Choose that journey, they say, and you will be doomed to a lifetime of trust issues, bad sex, substance abuse, and abandonment from nearly every single person that you’ve ever loved. You may be strong enough for this, they’ll say, but you’ll never be a hero… not even to your own self.

In a way, characters like these are marks of lazy storytelling – and the writers are partly at fault for the inconsistency – but, from my point of view, the repercussions may be more serious than we think. At a time when the entertainment industry has gone completely global, these shows are now shown all over the world, in different cycles, and in every possible language. And not only that, but there is a major chance that these shows – and stories – are being watched, right now, by viewers in countries where women don’t have the same rights and privileges that we have in our comfortable corners of the world.

Is this the message we want to send to the rest of the world: that, even in a democracy, there is no point for an educated woman to stand up and lead the charge against injustice? Is it fair for everyone else to think that the only stories we have to tell about our women – all women – are the ones where they have to do only what is expected, if they want to survive without being victimized?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that a true heroine would never choose to live her life like this.

A true heroine, in my opinion, does not need to blame “the system” for her lack of initiative. She doesn’t have to dress up and go to work: she chooses to dress up and go to work, every day, because choosing otherwise would only make her more restless. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she takes responsibility for all of them, and finds a little humor in every situation. She may have to work a little harder to get some respect, but she will earn it – win or lose – and the guys in the office better recognize if they knew what’s best for them. 

And while it may be possible for her to “have it all” – good looks, great job, wicked skills, maybe a family and/or a nice house – a true heroine knows where the real lines are drawn in the first place. Cute shoes are a luxury, the right connections are a privilege… but truth, love, justice, peace of mind? Those are non-negotiable rights, and our heroine will fight for them, to the bitter end.

Which then brings us, once again, to Nora Ephron, and her message to the Class of ’96 at Wellesley:

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don't have the alibi my class had—this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: Unlike us, you can't say nobody told you there were other options. […] Did I say it was hard? Yes, but let me say it again so that none of you can ever say the words, nobody said it was so hard. But it's also incredibly interesting. You are so lucky to have that life as an option.

Right or wrong – and regardless of who gets to run “the show” – a true heroine gets to choose her own destiny. And that is always a story worth telling, for all time. 


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Badass for Armageddon

Margaret, or “Maggie”, Falling Skies

I love Falling Skies. There’s something so inherently real about it. Yeah sure, the idea of aliens and space travel aside, what would actually happen if the Earth were invaded by a violent race? Would human beings be able to put aside our differences and unite to fight for our home? I’ve often wondered if we could bring it down to the core fundamentals of what it means to be human or if we’ve grown too self-aggrandizing to change. We are supremely stratified as a culture, in America alone. Across the world, even more so. In fact, I just saw an MSNBC show on a security company that fortifies billionaire’s homes with panic rooms and 12-gauge shotgun mounts hidden inside walls to kill intruders. The proprietor of this firm joked that the last people on Earth would be the billionaire and his family holed up in the mansion stocked full for Armageddon. Is that right? Or even fair? Why do the rich get to survive the Apocalypse?

And what about the Doomsday Preppers? Are they really that crazy or might they have the right idea? If what happened in the backstory to Falling Skies actually occurred and a race came to stripmine Earth of its resources and people then, yeah they sure did. These 'crazies' would be the people that might lead the rest of humanity to salvation. They’d be the regular guys, the hunters, the former military and law enforcement, maybe even criminals who’ve learned survival by any means. Throw in a few Call of Duty fanatics who learned strategic guerilla warfare by default and we might have a chance if our active-duty military is decimated. That is if we could just stop being selfish human beings for long enough to band together and organize. But it often takes millennia for humans to change.

The story of the human connection and the will to fight has always been popular. The underdog story, or the reluctant hero character trope. On Falling Skies, one of the most interesting personalities is a secondary character that came in quietly after the first few episodes and made her presence known. Her name is Maggie, we don’t know her last name, nor does it really matter, the conventions of society have gone to Hell. But if you look at it with a critical eye, she has no last name because she is just "Maggie", the young woman who has survived on her own recognizance and wherewithal. All she has is herself. She’s a total badass.

We first see Maggie as a member of Pope’s gang, a rival and antagonist to our educated and honorable hero Tom Mason. Pope is everything that Tom is not. But Maggie is painted in shades of gray. We don’t know where she stands or if we should trust her until she whips out her guns and shoots two of the gang members in the heart to help Tom and Anne escape. One was Pope’s brother. Turns out he’d been raping her since they took her in for ‘protection’. It was implied that they’d all molested her in some way, but never really spelled out. (Side note: rape as a character developer has come under much scrutiny in the prequel story of Tomb Raider and has many people in an uproar. I may or may not do a post on this as I find the whole notion of rape as entertainment abhorrent. But check this link out in the meantime.)

Nevertheless, her experience with the gang has added to her hardness. If you look closely and pay attention though, she was tough even before Pope’s gang. She was just biding her time. We find out later that she survived cancer in her youth and this is what actually made her the mature, world-weary young woman she is now.

Once she joins the 2nd Mass, a regiment in the Massachusetts Militia, we see that Maggie is a skilled fighter. She can handle a gun as if she was trained to do so. She rides motorcycles and is a strong hand-to-hand fighter. Most importantly, she goes into battle without fear. She carries herself tall and with a brick-sized chip on her shoulder. This season, we’ve seen a bit of a lighter side with her smiling and teasing. Her sarcasm is right up front and center but she’s a good soldier and follows orders because she believes in the cause.

Of course, what badass on TV is complete without the gorgeous looks? She’s blonde and beautiful. She’s a tiny scrap of a thing but damn can the girl wear a leather jacket and motorcycle boots like a pro. She’s got tattoos on her arms and usually walks around with messy hair. I love this because seriously, there’s got to be a lack of hygiene products and water. These women don’t have time to worry about eyeliner or if their armpits stink. Aliens have invaded the planet. They've got bigger things to stress over. One of the coolest things about Maggie, played by Sarah Carter, is that sexy, gravelly voice. She's got “dirt” in her voice as Adam Levine once described Juliet Simms’s on The Voice. It’s raw and earthy and just does something to you. And I’m not even into girls.

This brings us to the love interest, or partner. Hal, Tom Mason’s son: cute, affable, boy becoming a man and a soldier way earlier than he should. He started out as impetuous and foolhardy but has grown into his roll of squad leader. He follows orders and is fiercely protective of his two younger bothers. He is often with Maggie on patrols, or scouting runs. They work well together. I think it’s supposed to be implied that she’s taught him a fair amount over the last few months (we’ve skipped ahead in time three months between seasons). But there’s a flirtation there in their jokes. They smile a lot at each other and tease one another. It’s one of the developing relationships on the show and I for one would like to see it happen. They compliment each other and I think that she could use a man who respects her enough to fight along side of her, who was loyal and who might even treat her like a girl every once in a while. Up to this point, he's denied that there's anything between them. We’ll see what happens, because Hal’s actual girlfriend is still lingering around, harnessed and under the control of the aliens. If she ever gets back, you can bet a triangle will exist.

I have to say, if an alien apocalypse ever occurs in my lifetime, I’d look to Maggie to save my ass. Or at the very least teach me how to save my own. We could all stand to figure out how to put our past behind us and find new ground to flourish. It doesn’t matter where we came from, it matters what we do now and the choices we make today. I won’t have a billion dollar panic room or 500 gallons of water stored in my basement. All I’ll have is me.

Pack your ‘go-bag’ and find your leather because you bet your ass when you’re fighting off zombies and aliens, you want them to see you coming and shiver in fear.

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pocket Guide Cnt'd, Inside the Colonel's Trousers

Last time we looked at what was inside Jillian's pockets/purse/tactical gear. It was an strange amalgamation of girlie things, useful trade craft and incendiary devices. It spoke to her dual personality and double life. The two women inside that make up her whole. Warrior and woman.

This time, we'll stick our hand into Colonel David Vaughn's pants... ahem, I mean pockets. Go ahead, give his ass a quick squeeze and move on....

He's an Air Force Colonel who's spent the majority of his life in uniform, in the field. He has very little need for extras. So when David empties his pockets on the nightstand at the end of the day, he takes out a slim black leather wallet. Not too old, not too new, softly worn in. Inside he has his Air Force ID, his driver's license, his debit card, and American Express. He carries $100 in cash, in twenties and he will empty his coins into a large glass mug every day. He keeps his keys on a simple ring, silver metal with a plain tab. One for his house, one for his truck, one for Ops - it also has a punch-in code - and later on in the series, one for Jillian's house. He does not carry one for the other team members, Marcus or Bobby D. Hmm... Just sayin'.

His tact-vest is another story. He lives in that vest, survives by it. The site I gave last time:

It lists what soldiers of different unit designations would need. David's would be the Rifle Squad Leader. He would have the standard fare of grenades, extra ammo, tools, goggles, strobe lights, GPS and SAT phone to connect back to Ops. He packs a Leatherman tool, which is like a Swiss Army knife on steroids and a Maglite flashlight, crazy bright. Get one. The small one still casts a ton of light. (They're the ones the Scully and Mulder used to hold in their hands when entering all of those dark rooms.) He maintains a small amount a non-tactical items in his crowded yet, available pouches. A deck of cards, wooden matches, and American gum - he was the one that gave Jillian the idea because the local children would always ask. He carries extra tablets of Vicodin that he keeps secret from Bobby D, the team medic, for his creaky aching knees. He used to carry a chocolate bar for Jillian, but it gets too hot and melts so he now carries a few packets of dry hot cocoa. It's a survival tactic - when the woman needs chocolate, no one is safe.

He also keeps a bandana tied to his strap and a roll of duct tape in his pack. He wears a dingy old khaki baseball cap when on missions and not in regulation Air Force uniform (Spec Ops soldiers often wear non-standard cammo and foreign guns to perpetuate their "non-allegiance" with the US Forces - sometimes called False-Flag operations.) He wears a pair of dark square, aviator shades, with a strap around back to keep from losing them when it gets physical. Jillian loves them because they're sexy but hates them because she can't see his eyes.

BTW, Vaughn doesn't look like Joshua Dumel
Special Operators don't carry identification or any type of personal trinkets and memorabilia. One, they are 'invisible' and work in non-sanctioned missions. Two, those items can be traced back to their families. And three, it creates 'bad juju'.  While some may think of it as a good luck token, for them it creates bad luck. (I got this off of an episode of the Unit. It may be fictionalized, but it made sense to me). The premise being that the item reminds them of their family back home, makes them careful and therefore unfocused. None of Vaughn's stuff can help identify him, but it's personal nonetheless.

So, what does his stuff say about him? Well, he's a pretty simple guy. Doesn't need a lot of things to add style or flare - plain wallet, plain keychain. He likes to be nondescript, professionally and personally. He's practical. The items in his pack are for use. They all have a purpose. When carrying a 50lb rucksack through the rough terrain of Afghanistan or the jungles of South America, you need only the bare essentials to keep you alive. There is no room for amenities. It's all about what the job needs, survival and life or death.

There a two things there that have to do with Jillian. One is her key on his key chain. They are not lovers at the point in which she gives him a key but, it means that he has free access to her home. She trusts him and he has an open invitation. The other is the hot cocoa. Why would the Colonel, the team leader, carry sustenance for a team member? My point exactly. She's more than just a team member to him. He sees her differently, despite his denials to the contrary. He cares for her and comforts her. There's always a small percentage of his brainpower focused on her and her needs. Why? Because he's in love with her of course!

Each and every person has quirks about what they carry with them. Some more telling than others. It's our job as authors and observers of human behavior to recognize those small details. They are clues to personality, to our character development. They add nuances and depth. Of course, use these snippets wisely. Never be contrived when frosting your character cake. Be subtle. Like a good perfume, a little goes a LONG way!

Happy observing!
~Indigo Grace

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chuck Wendig, Guru

Found this on my favorite writing advice/all things awesome blog today. Truer words cannot have been spoken.

Chuck gives it to ya straight, with a bitch slap for good measure. 

Get over yourself and just do it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Pocket Guide to Characters

No, this isn't a small, tidy little how-to for character development booklet. It's literally: "What's in side your character's pockets?"


My "Soul Mate Critique Partner" asked me a few weeks ago what was in David and Jillian's pockets? She wanted to get to know them more. I thought about it for a minute and things started to pop into my head. It was freakin' brilliant! What a fun way to delve deeper into your characters and come up with  more than just lint!

How can the items in your character's pockets, or let's say purse or satchel or even tactical gear, in the case of my characters, tell you about who you're character is? Well, those items give you insight in to the small details, the everyday needs to organizational skills. Are the items handy, decorative, personal tokens? Do the items serve a generic purpose, or are they there for sentimental value?

Women take a look in your purse. Guys, look in your pants pocket, or even the console of your car. How much of that stuff do you REALLY need? How much of it is stuff you keep because you think you might need it? Aside from my orange leather wallet, my Oakley X-metal Juliet glasses, a little notebook for jotting down ideas and my real glasses for driving, I have tons of receipts in my bag, some with used gum in them. Eww. And a ziplock bag of coupons. Yeah, I'm exciting, I know. I have a small bottle of antibacterial gel I never use, un-chewed gum, Chapstick and a Vera Bradley case to hold tampons and some ibuprofen for a headache.  My big secret? I have some borrowed Xanax wrapped in a reindeer Christmas napkin stashed in a small ziplock bag that I got from a friend, just in case I'm at my in-laws for a holiday and I'm about to have a meltdown because my sister-in-law's demon spawn are crawling the walls. It's a dicey prospect.

What does all of this stuff say about me? I like bold colors - the orange wallet, but never on my body. I spend good money on things that I know are going to last - the -metals. I try to be good about using coupons, but don't always get to it . The rest is all practical needs for when out of the house. There's nothing worse than needing a tampon when your out and you don't have one. The receipts, I try not to think about, but if I'm honest they're from too much fast food. I could lie and say it's just to wrap up my gum but...

So let's play the game: What's inside ex-CIA agent, Jillian Craig's purse? Well first of all, it's an expensive leather and aligator skin black hobo bag. Just like she doesn't scrimp on shoes, neither does she scrimp on bags. However, the bag will change to accent her outfit. But this is her favorite one. Inside, she has her make-up bag (hi-end cosmetics, a lot from Europe - bought when traveling), a large wallet with credit cards under an alias. Of course, tampons and condoms for that impromptu liaison because you just never know when a hot Italian man will take you to Milan. In case she needs to skip town on a second's notice, inside the lining she has an alternate id and passport under a different alias. She has a lock picking set and smaller blade stiletto knife.

What does this say about Jillian? In her personal life, or rather when she's not on the job, she's still always on the job. She needs to have items that keep her identity a secret and allow her protection and a means of escape if the situation arises. She loves the finer things in life. She will spend a lot of money for good fabrics, well made accessories and accouterments. She likes sexy men and is no stranger to the occasional fling. While she'll commit to a life of self-sacrifice for the greater good and a $1000 pair of shoes, she's less likely to commit to a man for more than a few hours and sexual romp.

How about her tactical vest when she's on a mission with the Colonel? Well, it's got lots of little pockets and a backpack for supplies. A kit will normally contain MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), a canteen, 25 grenades and frag grenades. Packs of C4 explosive, detonators, wire, wire cutters, needle nose pliers plus a variety of other tactical gear. Personal hygiene stuff: OB tampons (small and no waste), yeast infection pills and extra elastic hair ties. She carries gum and an iPod, which she'll often give away to children in foreign countries. The local kids love American gum.
Check out this extensive site for the combat load carried by soliders in Afghanistan. Jillian would be the Grenadier.

The coolest part about Jillian is that she's a glamor puss AND a warrior. I like the juxtaposition of those two personalities because they're so incongruous.

Next time we'll take a look at David's pockets and see what that says about him. In the meantime, check out your character's pockets. Or, have fun and take a guess at what your favorite character has in hers. It's work that feel like play and there isn't anything that's better than that!

Dig up some lint!
~Indigo Grace

Monday, May 28, 2012

Black Widow, Marvel Avengers

Agent Natasha Romanov, Black Widow, S.H.E.I.L.D

I didn't grow up reading comic books. Wish I had. My experiences with super heroes came form the televised versions of The Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Batman and the Superman Movies with Christopher Reeve. They were awesome and I never realized just how deep their past went. I never knew there was an entire universe of super heroes. It wasn't until I started teaching digital art and had a student who introdcued me to the fabulous art of Joe Quesada and the Kuberts that I really began to understand. I read the Death of Captain America and was introduced to Natasha Romanov. I have to admit at first I read it because of the artwork. But, then I liked the story and became interested. It wasn't until Ironman 2 that I realized they were the same character. I didn't like her that much in that movie. I think it was mostly because she seemed to be there to tempt Tony Stark. And dammit he belongs with Pepper. (The chemistry between the two of them is fan-tab-ulous, BTW) So, I ignored her.

Until the Avengers.

She is one badass chick.

Why all of a sudden did I like her? I think it was because she showed her vulnerability. Of course, she kicked ass and took names, but there were moments when her fear got the best of her. There are moments where we see her as a badass agent, gathering intel through an interrogation technique of being captured. We see her nervously retrieve Dr. Banner, the Hulk, with trepidation and concern that he may turn into the beast. And we see her use her vulnerability to get info from the Big Bad. But, what really got me was the friendship and connection she has to her partner, Hawkeye, Clint Barton. They have history. While I'm not sure what the Marval canon is, in the movie, they have been partner's for years, working ops together.

She understands him, calms him and grounds him. He supports her, understands her and respects her. Now, is there something more there? Because I'm always looking for that shipper angle, there very well could be. Right now, it's set up that they have a very close, almost symbiotic relationship. But as us romance writers know, that can easily be tipped in the non-platonic direction. There are a few moments of prolonged eye contact and a nice scene where they have a deeply supportive conversation as he recovers from an incident that took him away from her. There is a distinct connection between them and let's face it, Jeremy Renner is a hottie. I'd be friends with him too!

That said, let's look at her badass ability. What's really cool is that she's a regular human - no super powers. She's just highly trained. She's a skilled fighter. She's athletic, uses gymnastics in her fighting style, and kicks grotesque alien butt, multiple attackers at time. She carries a gun, a pistol and sometimes shoots two at a time. She's exceptionally good at espionage and getting intelligence. And, we can't forget that she wears a skin tight black leather suit and boots. With thigh holsters. Sweet. Signed, sealed and delivered - Total Badass.

To read more about Marvel Canon Black Widow go to the source:

Get your vengeance on.
~Indigo Grace

Monday, May 21, 2012

David's Proust Questionnaire

Colonel David Vaughn, USAF Spec Ops,  Counter-terrorism Joint Task Force, Classified.

Last time, we looked at Jillian's Proust Questionnaire to give a little back history on who she was and how she came to be. While I had difficultly with Jillian, I had a much better handle on our hero, Vaughn. Maybe it's because I based him off of two amazing male characters: Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS and Colonel Jack O'Neill of Stargate. He's sort of an amalgamation of both of them however, without the angst of losing a child. Their honor, loyalty, determination and vigilance for what's right. Of course, Vaughn's morphed into his own man, but as a die to cast from, those two are incredible heroes. 

So Vaughn was easy. I got him. His motivations are pure: do the job and do it well, no matter the cost. He has a quiet sensitive side,  a sarcastic side and a creative side. He has a weakness for younger, beautiful badass women (psht, would I love him if he didn't?) and it has gotten him into trouble in the past. His body is starting betray him and he has a tendency to mix his painkillers with alcohol, but that's in his blood. Apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, if you know what I mean. Dad was an alcoholic and abusive. And in that vein there is a darkness inside of him, one that he suppresses, but comes out sometimes when he makes the decisions that no one else wants to make. He's a trained killer and he lives by a code of violence, even if it is for the greater good. His personal life is about sacrifice and he's no stranger to living alone.

Here is Vaughn's questionnaire:

·  Your most marked characteristic? Work and duty always come first, self-sacrifice.

·  The quality you most like in a man? Can take it on the chin and then ask for more.

·  The quality you most like in a woman? The real answer or the politically correct answer? (Real one: Young, beautiful, can kick your ass with a pair of high heels on and shoot you between the eyes from a hundred yards away) (Politically correct: A woman who can do her job effectively).

·  What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty.

·  What is your principle defect? Work-a-holic.

·  What is your favorite occupation? Like to remodel my house.

·  What is your dream of happiness? I don’t know, I don’t really look toward the future.

·  What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? To lose a member of my team on my watch.

·  What would you like to be? A small-town handyman, no pressure.

·  In what country would you like to live? I’ve been all over the world. Every place has some good and something bad about it, even the shitholes of the world, but none of it really compares to here.

·  What is your favorite color? Hmm, that shade of mahogany that’s almost brown, but has red inside of it… it’s great on wood and even better on Jillie when she’s standing in the sunlight. Ahem… yeah, don’t tell her I said that. Strictly need-to-know…

·  What is your favorite flower? Syrian Jasmine, smells incredible when it’s mixed with spice. Shit, that woman is way too imbedded in my head. Also, need-to-know….

·  What is your favorite bird? Birds are a pain in the ass… they always get in the way and give away our position.

·  Who are your favorite prose writers? I used to read Tom Clancy when we were holed up in a room waiting to do a drop but I lost interest. Clive Cussler can be fun.

·  Who are your favorite poets? Dr. Seuss

·  Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Silver Surfer, Batman

·  Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Man, if a woman actually ran around a jungle in tight little shorts like that, I’d have had my head blown off a long time ago.

·  Who are your favorite composers? I usually tend to go for classic 70s rock… but on the rare, and I mean rare occasion… I put on some Opera - Puccini. That’s also need-to-know.

·  Who are your favorite painters? Painters no, but I loved the Silver Surfer comics when I was a kid.

·  Who are your heroes in real life? General Burt Cole, best damn soldier, mentor I’ve ever worked with. He’s a great man.

·  Who are your favorite heroines of history? The one I’m working with right now… I’d want her watching my six any day of the week.

·  What are your favorite names? That’s an odd question. I have a favorite alias, but that too is need-to-know.

·  What is it you most dislike? Men who are cowards.  (My son of bitch old man).

·  What historical figures do you most despise? Too many to recall, nameless men I’ve killed for crimes against humanity.

·  What event in military history do you most admire? Classified.

·  What reform do you most admire? The Homeland Security terrorist mandates.

·  What natural gift would you most like to possess? Toss-up: the ability to read women’s minds… or special vision that identified who was a terrorist and who was an ordinary civilian.

·  How would you like to die? With my boots on.

·  What is your present state of mind? My shelves are calling me… they need to be sanded.

·  To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Heh, my taste for younger women, I guess I’m a dirty old bastard.

·  What is your motto? Air Force Spec Ops motto: First There

·   What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? SERE training… simulates being captured by terrorists, they use your darkest weakness against you to break you and everyone breaks… it’s only a matter of time.

So, what did this tell me about Vaughn that I didn't already know? It gave me things to put into his history, stuff that may never come out in the books, but help me to identify the major themes in his life. It was easy to answer his questions. It was easy to hear his tone and the cadence of his voice when he spoke. Little exercises like this can only help to breathe more life into your characters. If it's not easy then maybe you need to go back to the drawing board and really look at who your character is. Maybe the questions you can't answer are the aspects of that character that need to be examined and filled in. Look closely at them, peer into their darkest secrets; they will tell you what they need.

Happy crafting!
~Indigo Grace