Bring out your dead: on killing characters and historical tropes

Hi, peeps! (see what I did there, given the holiday? Heh.)

I hope this weekend treats you well and that everything is fab with you and yours.

This, my friends, IS A MAJOR LONG-ASS POST. But one in which I need to unpack a few things with regard to certain tropes.

I’ve been thinking about the characters I write, and the characters I’ve grown attached to through other people’s writing, and how it affects people when a writer decides to kill a character.

Writers make decisions all the time on which characters live or die, and that depends on a variety of factors, including the genre, narrative arc, and the personal arcs of the characters themselves. It also depends on where the story may be headed, especially if it’s a series, and how that character is going to fit into a larger picture down the line, if at all.

So there are any number of factors involved in a decision to remove a character either from the printed page or a TV show or movie. And there are any number of things that can happen, both inside the story and outside once the character’s death occurs.

There are also much larger currents at play, and those, too, have a role in reactions. Especially outside the story, among those who are following it.

Specifically, I’m thinking here of a couple of series on TV that I follow. Those are The CW’s The 100 and AMC’s The Walking Dead.

And here’s where I put the SPOILER ALERT. If you follow both these series and you have not seen the most recent episodes, DO NOT READ ANY FARTHER. STOP NOW.



Okay, fine. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Let’s proceed.

And because this is a looooong piece, with lots of rumination, grab your fave delicious beverage and snacks before reading on. I’ll wait.

dum dee dum. la la la. ::checks the Twitterz:: ::plays around on Facebook::

Okay, ready? Let’s go.

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Still dreaming after 50 years

Hey, all–

Today is the 50th anniversary of the epochal March on Washington. There are all kinds of things going on to commemorate this event and hopefully that will get us thinking and planning for all the work that still needs to be done.

source: Documented Rights,

Here are some links that might interest you.

The March’s 50th anniversary website. This is the “I was there” section. Some oral history.

Live updates, ABC News.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered that day.

Here is the text, if hearing is an issue.

About a minute and a half of Mahalia Jackson at the March. Her singing gives me chills. More info on her HERE.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, PBS.

source: HRC

Rustin spent 60 years as an organizer and activist, and helped organize the March on Washington. He was also openly gay, and that forced him to stay in the background of the movement. This documentary reveals rare archival footage and interviews to provide a picture of Rustin’s work and life. More on that HERE.

Congressman John Lewis was there. He was the youngest speaker to address the massive crowd. Here he is on NPR today.
And here he is delivering his speech that day.

Check out this Twitter feed: @todayin1963, which is a really cool historical thing. They’re “live”-Tweeting the March (as if it’s actually going on today), using research from a variety of sources. They’re including links to archival footage, like when Peter, Paul and Mary took the stage and performed. Super cool stuff. actually has some good stuff, too. Check it out.

And check out NPR’s piece on a People’s History of the March.

This is a teachable moment, my friends. There are people still alive who remember that era, who remember that day. And no matter which side of the issue they supported, it was a pivotal and crucial time in our country’s history.

Let us all keep dreaming, friends. There is always work to do.

Best wishes to you on a Wednesday. Happy history-ing.

Anna Katherine Green and the birth of detective fiction

Hey, kids–

So, I was thinking about the history of sleuthing/detecting in fiction/literature and I decided to do some digging. I’d heard of Anna Katherine Green, and I’d heard about her character, Violet Strange, who’s credited as the first female sleuth in fiction.

But Green is also known as the mother of American mystery, and she’s credited as writing and publishing what’s known as the first American detective novel, The Leavenworth Case, in 1878 (image below). It’s available at Amazon, if you’re interested (reprinted, obviously). This book, featuring detective Ebenezer Gryce, was published nine years before the debut of Sherlock Holmes.

source: C. Martinelli’s blog

There’s more…

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Time warps and writing

Hiya, peeps–

If you haven’t strolled down 80s lane with me and you’d like to, pop on over to Women and Words. Because I totally went on a nostalgia tour.

One of the comments over there mentioned Armistad Maupin’s work, and yes, I’ll concur. His first Tales of the City captured a particular era and community at a critical juncture in its history. I mentioned several movies that might have some of you walking down your own nostalgic road. Unless you were born AFTER the era, in which case, it’s a great historical lesson, especially if you want to set any of your writings in the 80s.😀

And that led me to THIS thought. No interwebs, no smart phones (and very few mobile phones), not much by way of cable TV, VHS, and satellite TV dishes nearly the size of the ones at the VLA. OMG how DID we survive? Easily. Because that’s how things were. Those of us who came of age in that era are thus immigrants to the digital world, as opposed to the younger generations who were born into it/with it. Those folks don’t know what it is to NOT have the interwebs and mobile/smart phones. So think about how technology and what’s available figures into plots and characters.

Here’s what I mean by that.

So that’s how a jog down memory lane made me think about writing.

Happy weekend!

Abe Lincoln and alt-history

Okay, so I went to see The Hunger Games this weekend. I’ve read the trilogy (which I really enjoyed), but the movie could only do so much in 2.5 hours. A lot of the characters got short-changed, I felt, and the movie didn’t capture what I’ve been calling the utter banality and brutality of the Capitol. But again, there’s only so much you can do with a 2.5-hour movie. The cast was great, and I enjoyed the pacing of it, so there you go.

ANYWAY, my point is, I was sitting in the theater getting ready for The Hunger Games and the previews came on, including. . .

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

For reals, yo. And it freaking looks like it’s going to kick some serious ass. Check out the trailer:


OMG you know you want more of this! Keep reading!

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In Memoriam: Adrienne Rich

“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.” — Adrienne Rich

source: Jezebel (re-sized here)

When I heard that Adrienne Rich had died (March 27), I immediately re-read some of her poetry, which I hadn’t done in a while. And after I’d read it, I thought about words I would use to describe her and what she wrote. I came up with several: fierce, brave, uncompromising, intellect, passion, visionary, unrelenting, inspiring. There are many others, but because of her work as a poet, it’s not necessarily about how many words you place on a page. It’s the words you choose and how you place them.

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Characters and historical context

Hey, kids!

I heard a story on NPR on Saturday (yeah, I’m a geek. I listen to NPR on the weekends!) about the approaching “cashless society.” This dude tried an experiment, where he didn’t use cash for two months. He has a smart phone with the apps that allow you to purchase things with the codes, and he liked the ease of not carrying cash around, but some things, he noted, needed cash. For example, tipping. He ended up having to stiff people, and that really bothered him. And he also noted that some people still prefer the anonymity of cash when making purchases, and he acknowledged that with cash, there are no hidden fees. It is what it is.

The story got me thinking. I still carry cash for tips and small purchases, and “just in case.” I never travel without cash, and I never leave the house without at least a few bucks and some change. Call me weird. It’s how I grew up, and it’s a habit I’ve refused to break.

So what does this have to do with writing characters? Well, click on and find out!

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Mars, baby.

Hi, kids–

As some of you may know, I cut my spec fic teeth back in the day reading everything I could get my hands on that was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB was doing most of his writing from about 1912 to the mid-1940s. He wrote classic pulp fiction, which is what I try to model my space opera series, the Far Seek Chronicles, after. That is, in terms of his spec fic, high adventure, high drama, and amazing settings.

And c’mon. You know who this guy is. He’s the creator of Tarzan. But he’s also the creator of myriad other worlds, including a vision of Mars that his Earthling character, John Carter, had the opportunity to visit and make part of his life.

I also want to be clear. ERB was writing at a time when it was okay and even expected to be racist and sexist. ERB himself leaned toward eugenics, as author John Taliaferro notes in his biography of the writer. (read chapter one here) So yes, these books are racist and sexist, some more blatantly than others. But they’re also highly imaginative, with amazing creatures, characters, and settings. ERB was definitely a product of his time and background, which certainly doesn’t excuse some of the things in his books, but hopefully, it explains it to you, people who may not be familiar with his work. As much as we don’t like to admit it, writers are products of their times and contexts, too, and yes, that can and does get reflected in our writing.

There’ve been tons of Tarzan movies over the years, but here, at long last, is a movie version of what I’m guessing is the first book in ERB’s Mars series, though the title’s wrong. The first book in the Mars series is A Princess of Mars, and it was published in 1912. This was the first novel ERB wrote. So though he’s known more for the Tarzan series, he was writing the Mars series as well.

The premise of the Mars series is John Carter, a veteran of the Civil War (who fought for the Confederacy). After the war, he goes prospecting in Arizona and ends up in trouble with some Apaches. He hides in a sacred cave and there’s something hinky/freaky in there, because BOOM he’s transported to Mars (Barsoom), which is a dying world ravaged by war (and awesome characters and creatures). Because he’s from Earth, he has amazing powers in the low gravity of Mars. He gets caught up in the battles for justice, and there’s all kinds of adventure and some romance, too.

The title of the movie is John Carter, and I’m thinking that probably it’s an amalgam of several of the books, though I could be wrong and it could be based on the first book in the series. Princess of Mars celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and Library of America will be releasing a special commemorative hardcover edition. Kinda cool. And kinda neat that this movie will be released March 9th. ERB fans, rejoice! Let’s hope this one does the pulp fiction master proud.


Yvonne “Miss Dixie” Fasnacht

Hi, all–

I came across this piece today via Twitter and The Advocate magazine. It’s a write-up by Dianne Anderson-Minshall about the death of Yvonne “Miss Dixie” Fasnacht, at the age of 101. I love stories like this, because I’m a history geek, but also because it’s characters like this that provide inspiration for writers like me.

Anderson-Minshall bills her as a legendary New Orleans gay bar owner. And it’s a great story. So read on…

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