by Camela Thompson
Today marks my first day back in the office since I started my long break. I remember when I took time off work, several people were excited and asked if I was going to write full time. Perhaps one day in the future I'll be able to retire from corporate life, but not now. Not yet. And maybe not for many, many years. I would be lying if I said I didn't struggle with it initially.
When I started this break, I thought I would use the time to write a couple books. Maybe even three. Instead, I sat at my computer writing chapters, only to delete them. I focused on marketing in the second half of April and all of May. By all accounts, the launch was solid--a definite improvement over the first. It gave me hope that this author platform thing will continue to get easier as time goes on. I jumped into an ongoing marketing strategy. I started a podcast. I spent a ton of time with my dog and husband. I had time to write and interact with my family. I even had energy to do things on the evenings and weekends. I did write a book. It wasn't the book I expected to write, but I was thrilled it happened.
I may have struggled with writing, but I learned some things about myself. I accepted that I can't continue to work full time and be an author without help. I'm lucky that my career by day is lucrative. My career by night--writing--is not. Yet. Having a dual income means we are lucky enough to have someone come in and help clean so I don't have to spend time on it on the weekends. We have a dog walker come every day so I don't worry about our pup. I need to look for help marketing. I made the choice to take a challenging job (that I fortunately enjoy) rather than work part time and attempt to live with a little extra from writing jobs. That would have meant learning how to churn out articles, spending more time cleaning, fixing stuff around the house, and finding ways to save money and live in a really expensive city. It's doable. It just wasn't the route I decided to take.
I enjoy the challenge of my day job, and spend most of that time analyzing trends and pulling together numbers. I listen to business issues and work hard to find solutions. It keeps my brain whirring. For some reason, I do a better job of writing when I'm working. My husband's theory is that I need to use the analytical side of my brain for the creative side to flourish. I think it has more to do with having incentive to spend precious spare time wisely on a hobby I enjoy. Less time is dedicated to the wormhole that is the Internet and more time is spent typing. I'm more willing to push through writing walls and persist rather than wait for a muse to strike.
My weeks just got busier, but it doesn't mean I'll stop writing. The book output may be lower than it would have been otherwise, but I'm not so sure about that anymore. I've accepted that I may only be able to kick one book out a year, but I'm going to take the time to make that book as good as I can get it. Both working and writing means sacrifices. In the coming months, I know to look at the things that get put aside and make sure the right sacrifices are made.
Have you had to make sacrifices for your passion?
by Camela Thompson
If you read my post about writing a book in a month and a half, you're probably wondering how writing a book in a week could be a good thing. Last time I pushed myself, worked too hard, and snapped up an opportunity to take some time off. This time, it was different. An idea popped into my head and kept spinning around and kicking things until I had to write it down. After months of wondering if I would ever get another idea, I ran to my laptop. I typed for hours, only walking away to figure out where to go next. Within five days, fifty-thousand words had spooled out of my head and onto the screen.
Even my loyal assistant grew weirded out
with the amount of time I spent typing
When I was young, I asked a ton of questions as I tried to understand how things work. I still do. It's why I'm an analyst during the day. It has always frustrated me when the answer to a question is, "It depends." I prefer answers to be straight forward and logical. It's why I often fall on my face as an artist. Now I have discovered that the amount of time it takes to write a book is fluid, and how that time passes--how it feels--also varies.
I started this hiatus from work back in April. It ends next Monday when I start up the day job again. In that amount of time I expected to write a book, maybe two. I spent the majority of my time writing chapters only to delete them. I started my third book in The Hunted series three times. THREE. None of them felt right and my editor agreed when I met with her. The good news is she helped me see what wasn't working. We brainstormed. It is a gift to have someone in my life who understands my characters and will let me talk it out. Plus, we met at a bar with hard cider and bacon. That took the sting out of learning I was looking at another rewrite.
The next morning, I wrote some decent chapters. I feel optimistic that they won't be going in the trash bin, but the next scene didn't jump out and beg to be written. Being on the right path was enough. I accepted I would not write a book. Determined to enjoy the rest of my break, I scheduled time with friends. And then something happened in the last place I would expect: a movie theater viewing of Magic Mike XXL.
The movie wasn't good so far as storylines and dialogue goes. The men were gorgeous, the dancing was great, and I will never look at Cheetos the same way, but I didn't give a rat's ass how Magic Mike got the bros together for the big show. But something Donald Glover's character said wound up something in my brain and it would not stop ticking:
"...these girls have to deal with men in their lives who every day, they don't listen to them. They don't ask them what they want. All we got to do is ask them what they want and when they tell you, it's a beautiful thing, man. We're like healers or something."
I write thrillers. Sometimes I even crank out horror stories. I don't do chick lit. But that line got me thinking about all of the women in the world who feel invisible. Ignored. It spoke to my history. What would drive a woman to seek validation of her existence? What would make someone crave acknowledgment on such a basic level, something that could be fulfilled by the simple question, "What do you want?" The answer: Emotional abuse.
A character came to life in my head. I could picture her leaning over her sink in her shitty little apartment. I could feel the pull to wipe off her makeup in response to years of programming by her ex-husband--an ex-husband who had left her. This woman has good friends who rally around her now that she's not isolated any more. It isn't until she finds herself that he comes back because he can't stand to see her happy without him. I followed her down a rabbit hole and I ran to keep up. Scenes played like movies. When it was done I had a migraine and wondered if I had written fan fiction (I don't think so, but the migraine left me a little muddled).
I have used this break to figure out where the strain and weight I felt last time came from. I've looked at ways to make life easier. I looked at different career options and asked myself what I should do with my life. I can't claim I have everything figured out. But I found joy in writing again. I had a new idea. Most importantly, I have faith that I'll have more. I have no idea what I'll do with this book--whether I'll publish it or even what genre it's in--but I feel lucky this happened. Now I have to apply the lessons from last time and not force the rest.
by Camela Thompson
I was recently in an interesting Twitter conversation with @TheWriteMunz. He had heard my tirade on Jurassic World and wanted to know my opinions on Fridging versus a Red Shirt. First, let's start with the definitions.
Fridging is a specific technique used to motivate protagonist characters into action. The writer creates a traumatic situation involving someone the protagonist cares deeply about. Often the protagonist's family member (or entire family), wife, girlfriend, partner, or best friend have something horrific done to them, usually ending in death. The body is left so the main character finds it and is further traumatized. The trope originates from the storyline of Green Lantern. Major Force literally leaves the protagonist's girlfriend shoved in a fridge for him to find later.
I explained this concept to friend and she told me, "Once you know to look for it, it's everywhere." She's right and there's a reason. The death, mutilation, or rape of a loved one is a very compelling reason to seek vengeance. It's often seen in comic books and video games, but it's all over the place in television, books, and movies.
These are more obvious examples where the fridging incident is a main feature of the plot. There are plenty of movies, like Star Wars, where more distant characters are killed off to motivate a character into action (Luke Skywalker coming back to his Uncle Owen's farm and finding the crispy bodies of his uncle and aunt).
Max Payne - A cop comes home to the gruesome murder of his wife and baby. His partner is also murdered. He sets out to bring the people who ruined him to justice.
Supernatural - So many to choose from. The Winchester boys lose their mother, Mary, who is burned alive on the ceiling of baby Sam's room. Sam loses his girlfriend the same way, watching her burn. Both are motivating factors in their drive to hunt demons. There are many, many more characters shoved into refrigerators on this show throughout the seasons - Google it.
The Barber - A cop is convinced he knows the identity of a serial killer and becomes obsessed. When the case is thrown out and his name run through the mud as a dirty cop, he shoots himself while his son is reading upstairs. Twenty years later, the son goes on a mission to bring the escaped killer to justice.
The Fugitive - A woman is brutally murdered in her home and her husband is accused of the crime when he comes home to an active investigation of the crime scene. The husband escapes police custody in an accident and goes on the run, professing his innocence and searching for the killer along the way.
The Red Shirt trope comes from the original Star Trek television series. If you've ever seen the show, you know that the characters in the red shirts have a limited life span from the time of their appearance (except for Scotty because he's a badass). Red Shirt characters have little or no direct tie to the main character and are used to move the plot forward. You'll see them most often in crime mysteries, thrillers, and horror. It's common to have a Red Shirt appear in the first chapter of a thriller to illustrate the presence of a killer (I've done it myself in All the Pretty Bones). A great example of this in television is Supernatural, which uses the trope not only to demonstrate the presence of a killer, but also hint at what it is and how it works.
Why wouldn't it be okay to use these?
I use the Red Shirt trope, so I'm not going to argue against it unless you rely too heavily on a limited set of main characters and only have appearances from people who strictly serve the purpose of dying outside of your core character group. There are people in the world who need to exist for things like gas stations, grocery stores, and police departments to keep running. Remove everyone and you have a problem unless you're intentionally writing a dystopian thriller.
As long as we have stories with murderers, there will be Red Shirts. If someone doesn't die, there isn't a murder to solve.
Fridging is more problematic and, honestly, a bit tired. I would challenge people to find more creative means of motivating their characters. There are a lot of reasons why people join the police force. Yes, some of them involve murder, but branch out! Maybe your superhero just has a psychological complex--those can be interesting without an entire family being slaughtered. The biggest problem with Fridging is the majority of victims are women and minorities. It's so prolific that the term Women in Refrigerators was coined a long time ago to capture the phenomenon. I gave a more equal opportunity range of examples above (dads are great fodder, apparently), but our straight white male protagonist is often motivated by something happening to his main squeeze.
More examples of Fridges in Comics
A great post by The Promethean Playground on why we need to do better
by Camela Thompson
I was thirteen when Jurassic Park came out and it blew my mind. The dinosaurs were terrifying and lifelike. When I saw the previews for Jurassic World, I jumped at the chance to go with my friends. I wanted to bask in the nostalgic glow of raptors eating people. The premise was a little absurd--who would open a theme park after the first attempt failed on every level--but I was willing to overlook a lot in terms of logic and science. What I wasn’t expecting were the frustrating writing choices for the female lead in the movie. I couldn’t help the disappointment I felt as I walked out of the theater.
When I first drafted this post, the frustration sang through. I articulated this in a conversation with my brother and was presented with an opportunity to approach this piece a different way. My brother was immediately irritated with my impassioned plea for change and viewed it as a fringe opinion because of my tone. His eye rolling demonstrated my need to take the emotion out of the argument and frame a logical critique with suggestions for improvement. Challenge accepted, bro.
The hiring process for the chief position in a park that houses dangerous dinosaurs would involve an evaluation of risk management capabilities. This is especially true when the first park failed epically and a subsequent attempt on the mainland also failed. Someone as interested in park statistics as Claire would also understand how long it would take to get so many guests to comply with initial safety protocol. Poor attitudes and compliance were realistically illustrated when the relocation was finally ordered. Where I take an issue with the writing is that Claire didn’t even argue with the man who hired her to run the park. If she had insisted on initiating safety protocol, she would have realistically represented the position she had been hired to do, and there still would have been more than adequate time for carnage. No gore or film time would be compromised.
A stereotype illustrated repeatedly for female executives is the barren ice queen: A woman who foregoes nurturing a family in order to climb the corporate ladder and embrace her inner control freak. Claire was no exception and the trope was embraced with enthusiasm. She didn’t know her nephews’ ages, delegated the responsibility of watching them to an assistant with zero qualifications, and printed up an itinerary for a date with the rebellious alpha dino-wrangler. Even when she was presented with a field of slain herbivores, her last articulated thought was concern for her nephews. There is nothing wrong with electing to not have children (it’s the decision I made), and we’re still human. A reasonable response would be check-ins with the kids at the hint of an issue, and a level of elevated concern once she discovers the nephews are missing and the ultimate predator is killing for sport. Just because we don’t have children doesn’t mean we don’t love our family.
As an executive, it is imperative to learn how to effectively delegate. A successful business leader knows their weaknesses and how to balance them out with strong employees. Since Claire is running a multi-billion dollar operation, I will make the leap that she was successful prior to being hired. Arguing with the behavioral expert because of personal friction during a major emergency was grating. Instead of yelling everything short of, “You’re not the boss of me!” have Claire display frustration at her inability to fix the situation. It’s potentially amusing, but the motivation is a function of the situation and not her inability to defer to an expert. Also, sexual tension was understandable, but pausing to make out during a pterodactyl attack was asinine.
The final point I will harp on is minor next to the others, but I found it grating because it was easily avoidable. Especially in a city like Seattle with a lot of hills, women tend to wear functional shoes and switch them out at the office. Even those of us who drive usually wear flats and switch to heels in the parking lot. In New York, where people are more fashion forward, women carry their heels in their bags and wear cute flats on public transit. A woman who has spent considerable time running a park and walking on heavy gravel would have functional shoes instead of risking ankle fractures. Cars and bags would be a great place to store these flats. I will admit I was impressed by how fast she ran in the heels. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
I wanted to love this movie. There were a lot of things I enjoyed. The dinosaurs (!!!), the youngest brother’s enthusiasm, and Jake Johnson’s character was wonderful among other things. Please don’t misinterpret the critique of the writing as criticism of the acting. Bryce Dallas Howard did a great job with what she was given. It wasn’t just Claire I took issue with--tropes were relied upon with multiple male characters.
If I could change one thing, I would ask that the writers spend time developing depth in their main characters. As it was, the impression was that the writers believed the audience needed nothing more than special effects. Intelligent decisions are more complicated to execute, but that extra attention may have made the movie something really special.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.