We Will Be Eclipsed

Today is Monday, August 21, 2017. A rare event will occur this afternoon, a total solar eclipse. And even more rare, the contiguous United States will be able to view this incredible event. There hasn’t been a coast to coast eclipse since June 8, 1918!

There are many kinds of an eclipse: total solar, partial (common), annular (most of us never know about these and you need special filters to even see it), and lunar (at night and most can see if weather permits). Of all these, the total solar eclipse is the most rare and most sought for viewing. 

This will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for nearly everyone.

Most folks have not had the opportunity to view a total solar eclipse. In the last 100 years, there have been only seven in the US and limited numbers of the population were included, and then, weather also impeded viewing. 

  • 06/30/54 – Northern NE through western Michigan and some of Minneapolis
  • 10/02/59 – Massachusetts only
  • 02/20/63 – Central Fla, then hugged the coastline up through Virginia’s eastern shore
  • 07/10/72 – North Alaska
  • 02/26/79 – WA, OR, ID, MT, ND (many missed this because of rain/clouds)
  • 07/11/99 – Hawaii and was clouded out

So, you ask, I’m not a scientist, what’s the big deal? The big deal is what it looks like, how nature reacts, to see darkness during the peak period of the day, to feel how air changes and how you change during the rare moment.

In the Dark, Middle, and Medieval Ages, an eclipse portended danger, deviltry, disaster, death, sickness — all things that were considered evil and scary. That’s because most did not understand the nature and the reason for the eclipse’s happening. 

Today we understand why an eclipse occurs and it is much less scary but there are moments during the eclipse that are still worth your attention. Animals will react differently. Birds will hush and roost. Day animals will seek cover and many night animals may emerge. Often wolves and dogs will howl. Some believe there will be significant shifts in the tides (though I cannot attest to this). And the sky will turn black. Crescent shadows will appear on the ground (worth taking pictures of). 

It is a moment when we can feel one with a universe and realize how small we are within the constantly shifting nature of it. This is an event you cannot stop, stall, or change. It does tend to make one feel a little bit small when you are out of control.

Everyone will be affected differently. Be sure to have your glasses and proper filters for cameras (and cell phones). Do not risk eye damage! Do not try to drive and watch. Do not drive with your eclipse glasses on. DO stop and appreciate the moment.

The actual eclipse will be about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The rest of the time, the moon will be traveling across the sky and and gradually across the sun. All in all about 3 hours of the most incredible event ever. 

The next total solar eclipse will pass over Mexico, central US and Canada on April 8, 2024. And then we in the US will have another contiguous event on August 12, 2045 (see the map below).

If you are a writer, live the moment. Breathe the change in the air. Share the experience with others and see their reactions. Listen to nature as it reacts. Listen to humans as they pause their lives to experience the event. Be one of them standing still.

Whether you watch live, watch on TV, or decided to skip the moment, you are in the rare event. Record your place in it. Write it down. Find something to remember whether you watched or not.

And if you are a writer/author/journalist — use this memory, capture the emotions, discover something to use for memoirs, historical fiction, special feature reporting, short stories, speculative fiction — don’t let the moment eclipse your memories. Capture then and use them! Eclipses make wonderful fodder for foreshadowing, creepy murder mystery moments, horror stories, mad scientist motivations, feral shapeshifters, vampire emergence, noire-esque villainy, knights and oaths…it is food for every pen, everywhere. What you learn will be invaluable.

I’m going to enjoy this rare moment because I may not have any chance of one again. We have our viewing glasses and our flag and we’ll take a selfie to remember we were there (hubby and me). 

One last personal thought — think, for a few precious minutes, we will all be able to look up and see the same thing. We will be one under the heaven. I think that’s worth letting everything else be eclipsed for two minutes. See you under the sun.

Thanks for stopping by.
I remain, Yours Between the Lines,

Be a Hero at Villainy


Lately I’ve been writing about characters, what makes them work and how to do them better. I’ve looked at the hero and anti-hero and we’ve examined how to write more depth and give our characters the real touch.

But what about the villains, the real antagonists, the truly bad guys (and gals)? (For our purposes here, I will refer to the bad guys as “he” or “they” and that is NOT meant to exclude the most terrific evil villainesses!).

What makes the reader love a villain? Is it the clothes? The style of your writing? The weapon he uses? Is it the POV or the struggle of his character? What’s the secret to a writing your best?

We writers are told to make characters relateable but how do we do that and make a villain seem true?  Some suggest that it’s good to use shame or guilt to inspire turning to the “dark side.” Using the character’s foibles against him makes a good backstory but doesn’t endear the character per say. Their personal journey into darkness is interesting but that alone will not keep me with him.

It’s the STORY and the one issue that motivates and drives the story that makes me go with an author to the dark side. What I can relate to is a problem and how the bad guy intends to solve it. The hero and the villain will tackle the problem differently and independently (most likely) and I am going along with each because I NEED to know how it works out and who does the best job.

Yes, I want to feel their pain but I don’t want to know why the pain matters. I want to be where they are, when they are. Then I will have empathy or sympathy, or even delicious hatred (as the author molds me). Why the pain exists isn’t as important as what the villain intends to do about it.

I’ve written about making characters real by using dialogue that feels authentic. You do that in character mistakes. Yes, your villain’s limitations are interesting but so are their screw-ups and their obstacles. When they mess up, they are suddenly human, and we FEEL for them, even when we know they are the bad guy.

We cheer for a villain who won’t go down. We love to hate the clever, the sneaky, the witty, the nice ones who can also be very mean. Most of all, we love their stories because they mirror the struggles and mistakes of the protagonist. They share the same goals. Different purpose. Different reason. Same desire. Different use of it. Think of when a bad guy and a good guy have a bonding moment (or a m/f relationship). They may share the same outlook or same desire, but the reason for their want is what makes the story hum. 

As American author Chuck Clousterman said, “The villain is the person who knows the most but who cares the least.”

Remember that most coaches and teachers will tell you that the villain IS the story:

  • A murder isn’t about death. It’s about the mystery of it, the whodunit and why the villain hid it.
  • A theft isn’t about the stealing. It’s about the reason, the need to steal. Whodunnit certainly but how. We need to know why yes, but more important is what happens next because of the theft?
  • Do we always need a happily ever after? No, because real life doesn’t work that way and villains can keep us coming back because we’ll HOPE to find it and we’ll be nodding our heads when it doesn’t happen. 

We hear a great deal about the villains “moral dilemma” and this is the choice the villain made and why he must continue doing what he does or has planned. THIS is what separates the villain from the protagonist and why the villain is the most important character.

Most of all, I think most villains don’t see themselves as the “bad” guy. They are only doing what they think they are forced to do for personal, professional, or moral reasons. This is their whole reason for being.

Villains then are the most necessary, the most dynamic, and the whole reason for the story.

Look for darkness around the corner. Turn out the lights and create the drama. Make the reader – and me – believe in the darkness and we will become your villains “frenemy,” fall in love when the lights go out and, though I hope the good guys win, I can be convinced to be content when they do not.

Villains forever! Make yours work and you will be a reader’s hero of villainy.

Thanks for stopping by.
I remain, Yours Between the Lines,

Are You Writing Naked Salad?

Are You Writing Naked Salad?

I’ve been on a “writing characters” kick of late, probably because I’m neck-deep into finishing my latest novel. I’m busy tweeking each character, making sure I keep them fully fleshed and that each one has a unique flavor, or voice.

I’ve also been binge-watching an old television show called Leverage. It was on TNT from 2008-2012. The story centers around an ensemble cast of high-tech misfit crooks who steal from other crooks to get satisfaction for wrongs done by the wealthy and corrupt. They come together for just one job, then they come back together again (and stay together) to continue doing good work. It’s sort of Robin Hood and Equalizer meets Oceans 11 on Mission Impossible with a MacGyver. In other words, it is the best many worlds in one.

What is endearing about the show, more than the stories, are the characters. The main crew includes a thief, a grifter, a hitter (he hits, really, and hates guns), a hacker, and a mastermind (who didn’t start out being any sort of a criminal). All of these characters do what law-abiding people cannot.

In other words, they are anti-heroes.  The whole lot of main characters are pseudo villains! And the real villain in the story is actually a good guy! It’s clever and unique and I’m completely mesmerized by the brilliance.

Each episode provides a good lesson in plot while showcasing character insecurities. The show highlights how who they are indirectly brings together a group of dysfunctional people into a highly functioning team.

A lot like salad. Naked salad versus gourmet salad.

Salad?? How’s that, you ask? Think of each character in a story is like a part of a salad. Each “mark” in Leverage is a separate plot or a big bowl of lettuce.  But do you want a naked bowl of lettuce? Do you write naked salads?  Of course not. That’s dull and boring.

You add tomato for freshness and a bit of acid. Have to keep things from getting too sweet.
You add mushrooms for that earthy feel, that touch of reality.
Add some onions for a sharp bite, a bit of spice and frustration for characters (not to mention heartburn because it keeps characters from getting complacent).

Maybe add some egg for a solid plan or bacon bits for innovation. Add meat for flavor. Your choice of turkey, chicken, sausage or fish. Always use what’s available locally. Saves the team money.
Add carrots, cucumbers, zucchini based on habits and genre.
Bored? Add white asparagus or hearts of palm for Mediterranean or island flavors. Every team needs a challenge on vacation.
Then dress your salad in Italian, Russian, Spanish, French, or Danish blue sauce to seal that travel element.

And voila! A salad – a story – worth sinking your teeth into, something full bodied, with character and unique qualities.

Too normal? Change out the lettuce for spinach. Add warm nuts (a crazy character can be load of fun), and orange wedges (children add interest), and use oil and vinegar. Nothing like two characters not blending like oil and vinegar to make a delicious conflict.

You don’t want a naked salad. You want a bowl filled with goodies, something with diverse flavor, or characters appealing to your palate and maybe others, too. Something dressed to….kill? Charm? Excite?

In the end, characters, like the ingredients in a good salad, are what keep naked plots and naked salads from being boring and turn them into challenging delights, worth your time and effort.

Oh and I have one tip — add spicy applesauce for dessert. Makes for a great cliffhanger!

Now, I have to get back to my salad, um, I mean my characters. Remember I have a new book coming out the end of October, my paranormal fantasy called, TIME AND BLOOD. I promise it will be a tale with a healthy bite.

Thanks for stopping by and keep writing! And if you get the time, take a peek at Leverage. I think you’ll enjoy the gourmet salad (it’s on Netflix).
Yours Between the Lines,