Kick Ass Girls of YA ~ Jacklyn Madison


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I was invited by my friend, Libby Heily, and her publisher, Fire and Ice YA Books, to participate in their Kick Ass Girls of YA Blog Hop. For this Blog Hop, I was encouraged to discuss a YA character close to my heart, either already existing, or one I’ve created. Having already discussed my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in previous blog posts, I figured it was a good time to introduce my own character, Jacklyn Madison, the main character of the manuscript I’m querying to agents as we speak, The Order of the Key.

Why is Jacklyn a kick ass girl? Well, for one, she kicks ass. Literally. After accidentally unlocking her long dormant Aegis, Jacklyn discovers she is a Body Key with supernatural strength, speed, senses, and healing. The leaders of the Order of the Key capitalize on her abilities by teaching her how to fight the inter-dimensional monsters they are sworn to defeat. Jacklyn quickly takes to her new superhero lifestyle and becomes a valuable member of her new group. Not only that, but she makes the group her own, working to make it a better place for everyone involved.

Self-esteem? Jacklyn’s got it, despite having been a geek with a bully problem. She’s an athlete, and her mother works nonstop, so she’s largely responsible for her younger brother and sister. Who has time to worry about what the kids at school think? She’s got things to do. And it’s not a problem anyway, because Jacklyn isn’t just tough, she’s fast-witted and sharp-tongued and she doesn’t intend to suffer any of your crap.

OK Media Pitch 1With all of this, what really makes her strong is her compassion. Jacklyn is torn by the fact that she must kill to protect humanity from inter-dimensionals. Not only that, but she quickly realizes she might have to kill members of the Order to protect the people she loves. Her younger brother and sister are her world, and she would do anything to help them grow into productive members of society, let alone to protect them.

Jacklyn Madison is kick ass, but not perfect. She’s got a temper. She’s prideful. She struggles to trust. And she can sometimes hide behind a good quip.

That’s why I love her. She possesses what I look for in all of my kick ass heroines–strength, but also humanity.

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If you’d like to know more about me, Jacklyn Madison and The Order of the Key, follow my blog or sign up for my mailing list, here.

To visit all the other blogs in the blog hop today, click here for a complete list. And for the chance to win some great books from Fire and Ice YA, click here to enter their Rafflecopter.

The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

Buffy Turns 20: What BtVS and Joss Taught Me About Writing

 

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Just a portion of my Buffy Bookcase

Twenty years ago today, my then-boyfriend/now-husband Ismael tried to get me to watch the first episode of a new show premiering on= the struggling WB network called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I rolled my eyes at him. He had strange taste in television and, while I loved vampires, I had never felt compelled to see the movie. I just had no interest in it. Even after that day, Ismael kept pushing. No, the series was really good. It took him by surprise. It would take me until a year later to try an episode. That episode would be the two-parter, Surprise and Innocence, more popularly known as the episode where Buffy and Angel make love and Angel turns evil. I am not being hyperbolic–I wasn’t the same person after that. Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life, it changed how I saw myself and who I was as a person. It motivated me and informed who I am as an artist.

 

So, as a love letter to a series I can still recite the dialogue for, I’m going to discuss the top ways Buffy changed my writing and my life. Note – Spoilers ABOUND. If you haven’t watched…just watch the show. Seriously?

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  1. Lexicons Change…Muchly. The sarcasm. The snark. The strange turn of words. I still refer to people as bitca. I’ll add ish to turn verbs into adjectives and age to nouns to make them verbs. If there’s something to be said, I’ll ‘pop culture’ it up. I abbreviate words that don’t have abbreviation. I give emotions place names, like Waah Waah Land. I reorder words to sentences in odd ways. Pathetic much? Probably, but I started this show when I was fifteen and deciding who I was going to be. Was I intending to be Buffy and The Scooby Gang? Not so much. But it found its way in and I can’t help going for some serious quirkage when I’m feeling chattish. Don’t be afraid to play with language, as long as your audience can understand you.

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2. Risk-Taking Pays Off. When my boyfriend was busy bugging me about the series, he was very interested in the fact that the principal of the school was eaten in episode six. Seriously, it was his main selling point. I didn’t get it until they turned Buffy’s love interest evil in season 2…and kept him that way for the rest of the season. This show would do anything, and even when it hurt, I loved it. Joss Whedon, the series’ now well-known creator once said, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” And he did, solidly, for seven seasons. He disappointed us, but then he gave us great narrative reasons why our sadness was necessary. And Joss’ commitment to risk wasn’t just about risking his characters–it was about risking his reputation. He managed to craft and direct very risky episodes such as Hush, an episode with only 17 minutes of dialogue, The Body, an episode entirely about the strange and detached feeling of losing a loved one, and Once More, With Feeling, otherwise known as The Buffy Musical. All very risky, all paid off nicely. Taking creative risks with your work keeps it interesting.

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3. Happy Sadness is Okay. There are episodes of this series that make me laugh out loud and cry real tears. They make me worry for the characters, and they make me cringe in embarrassment. As a teenager, Buffy taught me that the confusion of my emotions was not strange. It was just life. Life can be twisty. As an artist, it taught me that genre isn’t a real thing in art. I mean, if you want to sell it, you need to know what genre it best fills. But when you’re writing it? Write the thing. Art is about portraying our journey in a way that makes sense to us. And our journeys aren’t romances or coming of age stories. They certainly aren’t comedies or dramas. They are all those things. Well, for some of us, they may not be a Western, but you get my point. Be free. Worry about labels later.

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4. Success Does Not Come Without Clunkers. The Puppet Show. Ted. Most of Season 7…Oops. Some of the series wasn’t spectacular. There were episodes that I can only barely stand to rewatch when I do my rewatches. Which is proof positive that not everything you do is going to land with an audience. And that’s okay. BtVS is still judged as a whole and your body of work will likely be, as well. That doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Some really good lines from the series come from The Puppet Show, Season 7 led up to a spectacular ending, and Ted…well…Ted had John Ritter! So, even your missteps can yield positive results.

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5. POV is Important. The Zeppo follows sidekick Xander through a day in which he stumbles blindly through a relatively minor issue while his friends deal with some world ending cataclysm we know nothing about. You know why? Because we’re with Xander and, frankly, he has no time for this Hellmouth thing. Superstar throws you into a world where Jonathan, a relatively minor recurring character, is suddenly a star, right down to getting placement in the title credits. In the Season 5 episode Buffy vs. Dracula, Dawn, a little sister we have never met thus far, just pops up, and we’re expected to accept it. She’s been planted there and the memories of the world has been altered to include her, but we don’t find that out until later. For now, we’re just surfing through the story, trying to figure out what is going on, and it adds a sense of mystery and foreboding we wouldn’t get if we knew everything. Point of view can make or break your story. Use wisely for best results.

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6. People CHANGE. Sometimes they change slightly, sometimes they are affected by something that completely and irrevocably alters the fabric of who they are. But the most important thing is that people evolve. I’m not who I was when I started watching Buffy. Buffy was much more mature, but also more dark inside, when she finished the series. Willow was stronger and wiser. Xander was more sober and careful. Dawn was less whiny. Giles was less up tight. Anya learned to care. Tara became confident. Angel and Spike repented for their wrongs. Faith went from tragic headcase to true hero. Cordelia became a higher being and Oz became a werewolf zen master. Your characters have to be altered when they finish their journey, or else what is the point?

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7. Know When to Hold Back. Joss Whedon and the writing team didn’t know what they were scripting when they created Earshot. In Earshot, an encounter with a demon gives Buffy mind-reading abilities, which lead to her overhearing a plot to kill all the students in her high school. It was scheduled to air in April 1999. And then, a week before the episode was to air, the Columbine High School Massacre happened. A freak moment of accidental prescience. Whedon and the network hurriedly pulled it off the airwaves because escapism isn’t fun once it isn’t escapism anymore. In that vein, artistically we should pay attention to when our work may be insensitive or cruel and be sure to yank that back. Art should not be used as a sword to harm.

A more artistic example of knowing when to hold back is evident in The Body. While the series had always been for mixing laughter and tears, for this episode, there is no laughter to be had. It is forty minutes of grueling sadness because it is so truthful, in a way that art should be truthful. Examining the emotions of the main characters after Buffy returns home to find her mother dead, The Body soars as an episode that doesn’t have half of the well-known Buffy style, because it can’t. Even vampire slaying because a numb, necessary event happening despite the main focus. Despite its sense of humor, Buffy knew when to take itself seriously.

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8. Even People You Love Can Be Unlikeable. This one, I REALLY needed in my private life. The lesson was very strongly learned through the richness of characters in the Buffy Universe. I hated every character at some point. In Season 1, when Angel is all cryptic before disappearing, Batman-style, or when Cordelia doesn’t get that Buffy is cool, even when she saves her ass. In Season 2, when Xander decides it’s cool to make the entire female population of Sunnydale fall in love with him by magic and later doesn’t bother to tell Buffy that Willow is trying to re-ensoul Angel. In Season 3, when Willow and Xander cheat on Oz and Cordelia or when Buffy lets loose with Faith. In Season 4, when Buffy seems to forget about her friends or when Riley does ANYTHING. In Season 5, when Dawn whines incessantly or when Xander tries to convince Buffy to try to love Riley even though he betrayed her. In Season 6, when Willow gets addicted to magic and lies to Tara and when Buffy plays around with being a reckless idiot. In Season 7, when Buffy keeps screwing up, then making self-righteous speeches. Make your characters human. Make them flawed. We’ll love them all the more.

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9. Make Things Relatable. So, you’re fighting a war against a hellmouth full of demons? Make it feel more like high school, so your audience can relate, since most of us…MOST of us…have never went to war against a hellmouth full of demons. Even with the craziest twists our stories take, we should never leave them out of our audience’s reach. Ground them to reality and make them that much more powerful. And speaking of powerful…

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10. Who Run The World? WEIRDOS. Nothing showed me how to let my geeker flag fly like Buffy did. As I watched the characters in the series grow more powerful, and also as I watched Joss Whedon, a self-proclaimed geek, become more successful, I truly understood that the things that kept me from fitting in are also the things that make me interesting, that make my work unique. Embrace the weirdness. You’ll be stronger for it.

Finally, I want to thank Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cast, the crew, the writers, and Joss Whedon for creating a show that taught me so much and guided who I would become. And also, thank you to my husband, whose incessant nagging (I say this lovingly) led me to become an even bigger fan than he was. If you’re a writer and you haven’t watched this series, you need to check it out. As silly as it sounds on the surface, it truly is a television masterpiece.

Fancasting The Order of the Key

In August, I participated in an online event for Kyra Dune’s release of her latest YA Fantasy novel, Elfblood. As those events go, I played a game with attendees. For this specific game, I decided I would throw out some character description and let other people cast the characters for my upcoming novel, The Order of the Key. I promised to post the best results here, so here we are (Also, read to the end for a quick publishing update)!

Jacklyn Madison: Jacklyn is 18 years old with dark curly hair, hazel eyes, and an athletic build. She’s kind and loving, but she’s got a sarcastic streak, quite a bit of pride, and a big mouth that always seems to get her into trouble. She starts out a little naive but she becomes stronger the more she learns in her time at the Estate. She’s tough, a fighter, but gentle…even killing monsters leaves her feeling guilty.

The submissions for Jacklyn, some of them seemed far too innocent. Some of them seemed far too sexual. To me, the best entries skated the middle of the road between sweet and sexy. 

If you wanted known actresses, you could go with one of these two.

Belinda Clemons suggested Pretty Little Liars star, Lucy Hale. I could totally see this!

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Another good one? Lori White Lazzara suggested ex-Disney star and musician Demi Lovato.

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If we’re looking at a relative unknown, Lori White Lazzara came up with another option.

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I HAVE NO IDEA WHO SHE IS! Her picture is all over the place on hair styling websites and she’s gorgeous, but I don’t know who she is. So…if anyone does, let me know. 🙂

Kyp Franklin: Kyp was born a leader. He’s incredibly intelligent and driven, but he’s emotionally closed, somewhat hard to read. Known for his complex relationship with the truth, Kyp has a one-track mind. He has every intention of turning the current mission of The Order upside-down. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, brooding and attractive, Kyp would probably be the last person in the world to even consider his own appearance…unless he can use it to manipulate his way into a better position to meet his goals.

MANY gorgeous guys were submitted for Kyp, but all of them…while fun to look at…scanned a little too old for Kyp, and…I hesitate to say this, a little too beefcake.

Personally, I’ve never had a casting idea for Jacks. But I have had one for Kyp. Kevin Zegers of The Mortal Instruments would be my choice…although the eyes are wrong. The rest, however, are so perfect for Kyp, I almost made his eyes blue. No, not really.

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I’ve written about this before. I had no idea who this guy was when I dreamed Kyp up, but I saw him and was blown away by how close he was to my mental image of him.

Lavinia Franklin: Lavinia is refined and cold. She has a temper, but is far more the type to cut you with her words through gritted teeth, or wait until later, so she can destroy you when nobody is watching. Her brutal side is mostly hidden unless she feels she requires a show of strength. Devious and manipulative, Lavinia always has a plan. With long brown hair and a tall and slender figure, Liv is just as beautiful as she is deadly.

For this one, Angela Walker Cruz was the closest to my idea of Lavinia. Actress Jo Champa has the right look in many images of her.

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My own personal casting choice for Lavinia, would be Hemlock Grove‘s Famke Janssen.

Her entire face screams, “Don’t screw with me.”

There are plenty of other characters, but if I did all of them, it would take quite awhile. I think that once the book is released, I will revisit the idea again, and ask for some feedback from readers about who they would like to see.

For anybody wondering what’s up with the release, it has been delayed due to a few necessary edits and the fact that we are hard at work at an amazing cover that will do Jacklyn and her crew justice. Once things are set and the wheels are in motion, I will let you know all about it. Don’t forget about me. The Order of the Key is still well on the way. It will be in your hands soon, and now that I’ve found my forever publishing home, the next ones will be released much more smoothly.

Do you all have any casting possibilities for me? Please feel free to post them below!

YA Romance: When Strong Doesn’t Have to Mean Single

Hey folks! I’m guest blogging today at All the Way YA, discussing romance in YA and what the potential implications are. See a preview below. For more, click here.

When the movie Tomorrowland was doing its press tour, an interview in Vulture with writers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof (and also star George Clooney) in which Lindelof was quoted as saying the following when asked about rendering strong female characters. “What if she doesn’t get distracted by romantic entanglements? What if her “romance” is with the future?”

In my infinite insecurity (I am, after all, a writer. We’re all insecure.) I started to think about my story while panicking. Was there something wrong with romance in an adventure story? My story doesn’t involve a romance with the future! The relationship between my main character, Jacklyn, and her confused and confusing as hell potential love interest, Kyp, is a central part of the plot. It’s often the driving force. By not having my main character’s true love be adventure, or being a hero, or something more abstract, was I being somehow anti-feminist? Considering my strong feminist stance, I was genuinely concerned that I had miscommunicated my message.

Jacklyn Madison Character Interview

Hi all! I’m making a guest visit this week on Jena Baxter’s blog! Or…err…*cough* Jacklyn Madison, my main character from The Order of the Key is, anyway. Check out Jacklyn’s interview here! And while you’re at it, check out my new piece of promo art above. More to come!

Introduction AKA My Life as a Character

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Me in my natural habitat – behind my laptop

There is alot about writing to be learned in everyday life.  My life teaches me quite a lot, but it is divided into several pieces and I’m never quite sure how those pieces are supposed to come together.  As an introduction, I’m going to rattle off a little summary of these pieces to you. I believe they will help you get to know me better.

1) Mother – I have a wonderful two-year-old son named Logan. Everything that involves him is sunshine and rainbows except when it’s not and then it’s stress and ‘oh my God, don’t do that!”  He brings out many qualities in me, but one of them is not the ability to be an adult.  While I can tell him not to climb something because he will hurt himself, I can’t seem to keep myself from laughing at his antics. Can you blame me for laughing when he calls “Look mommy!” and I find him with his fingers stuck up his nose? (Yes, you can.  And you probably should.)

2) Wife – I’m married to an incredible fellow writer, Ismael.  From him I’ve learned that love can transcend all sorts of difficulties, things can be seen from multiple sides, and patience and understanding can go along way.  I’ve also learned that I’m very funny, especially when I’m angry and that no matter what kind of fancy cup I buy to store the toothbrushes, they will always, ALWAYS be on the bathroom counter when I wake up in the morning.  (You didn’t expect it all to be nice, did you?  We’ve been married for ELEVEN YEARS!)  I also learned what true love is, so there’s that.

3) Friend/daughter/sister, etc. – From those around me I have learned that there are those that will do anything to help you and those that you will do anything for.  And there are the opposite. There are arguments that end in “Chat with you next week!” and those that end in slammed phones and facebook defriending. There are things a person can say that will stick with you forever, and there are times when you have no idea how much you’ve effected somebody else’s life with your own words or actions.  Also, there is clutziness, sarcasm, stupidity, shared interests, snorty laughs, spit takes, intellectual conversations, horrendous nicknames, stories that nobody will ever let you forget, and lots of love.

4) Writer – A hat I wear with trepidation. Is that what I am?  A writer?  I’ve never been published.  And yet, I eat, sleep and breathe fiction.  If you see me walking through the streets and my lips are moving, I’m working my way through some dialog I will write later. And if you stare at me, I will look at you like you’re the crazy one, just like a real New Yorker. I carry around a journal in my purse and my pen drive in case I happen upon a computer.  My outlines are saved on my phone in case I need to look something up quickly.  Yeah, I’m definitely a writer.

5) Editor – My husband and I serve this function for each other. We may never technically write a collaborative project, but every project we work on is somewhat collaborative.

6) Fangirl – This is an important part of my life!  This is where my interests lie, because for me, writing isn’t a hobby, it’s life’s blood.  So when I watch TV and squeal because I love an actor, or tweet endlessly about my favorite couple in a novel, quote things nobody should remember or laugh at jokes others would never get…fandom made me do it.  People I have met through fandom have made me cringe and others have become some of my closer friends without ever standing in the same room as me.  Fangirling with others involves important writerly discussions about character development, plot, themes and settings.

7) Worker – I have learned many useless things from jobs, like how to make a tub of ice cream and how to fix a VHS tape (likely the most useless thing I know). I’ve also learned many useful things like how to work tenaciously until a job is done and how to stay strong under pressure (sometimes I’m admittedly a little wobbly on that one, but I’m getting better).

These are pieces of me. Of course, I’m simplifying things.  There is plenty of other stuff.  I love Broadway musicals, I sing in the shower, I’ve lived through traumatic experiences, I’ve been in a couple of student films (if we’re lucky, nobody will ever find them).  I am a whole, complex person with many different facets.

If I can be so many different things that impact the core of who I am, than the characters we write need things like this to become three dimensional. They can’t exist in a plot-induced vacuum where all they do on a daily basis are the things the plot requires. They should have outside interests, other people they interact with, a past that takes place before the story starts, and all of these things should inform who they are and what they do.

Allow these things to make a character react more believably in a situation.  Let the impeccably calm romantic ingénue get angry for a questionable reason.  Let the soldier fall apart when he’s supposed to be a hero and hold it together when there’s nobody to save.  And give them a reason why.  Some snippet from their past.  Some association made.  Some facet of their personality that makes them a whole person.  Just be consistent, so the behavior doesn’t feel as though it is blindsiding the reader.

It will make your plotlines less obvious and your characters more interesting.  Sometimes less likable, but definitely more interesting.  And that’s a good part of what makes a story readable.

Wondering, “What does she know?”  Check out my bio page.  You may still feel that way, but at least you’ll know who you’re saying it about.

‘Till next time!