A Tribute to Stan Lee

Growing up there wasn’t a lot of money for entertainment. My biggest outlet was my library card, and it took me to many magical places. Places I still and will always remember. On rare occasions there were a few dollars here and there for comic books. I would clutch my wrinkled dollar bills and stand in front of the tall metal carousel at the drugstore, spinning it endlessly, trying to choose just one story from among the many. It was never an easy choice, but that is where I first made the acquaintance of Mr. Stan Lee.

Not directly, he didn’t make cameo appearances in small town drugstores. No, I met him through Thor, the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man and Captain America. I was such a geek that when I saw the name “Jocasta” on the memory stick, when Jarvis morphed into Vision and Tony Stark was choosing a new assistant, I literally bounced in my seat with excitement. I had it bad. I still do.

That’s the power of good storytelling. That’s the power of art.  It resonates, and you remember. The feelings of anticipation and excitement, of being invested in what is happening, and in finding yourself in the story.

I spent many happy afternoons being a part of Stan Lee’s world. I never got the chance to tell him personally, but maybe that’s best. Instead, I use my own stories to do him honor, and hope that I reach someone the way he reached me.

We don’t get to stay here. We pretend that’s not true. We diet and exercise and slather ourselves with the latest miracle treatments, but no matter what we do, we don’t get to stay.  The best we can hope for is to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be the big kind of difference like Stan Lee made, inspiring and entertaining millions. It can be the difference we make to just one person, but that difference is our only true legacy here in this place.

Stan Lee’s imagination was a springboard for millions of creators that came after. Countless graphic artists, writers, actors, producers, and fans all owe some small debt to the inspiration he provided us. His passing is sad day for me, but I feel so grateful that I had a chance to be a part of his world, and for the positive influence those times had on me.

Thank you, Stan. I hope wherever you’re going next you still get to make beautiful things, and share them with those around you.

“The BOOK was better!”

When I was growing up there were books that I read where the characters did things that were too socially taboo to be shown in the movie versions. Often, this was adult intimate interaction, or SEX, for short.  Sometimes, more rarely, it was graphic violence. I concluded that this was why so many people often lamented, “The BOOK was better!”

I have always appreciated both written and visual storytelling, and thought I understood the “unwritten rules” that encapsulate both.  But I get the sense that something has changed.

It started for me I watched Big Little Lies, and then read the book. The visual series was a cinematically beautiful story, full of beautiful people doing ugly things and often sexually graphic and violent things. That is an observation, not a complaint. I enjoyed the art of all those moments, and though I could not find a single character I liked in the tale, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a well told story.

I wound up reading the book because a friend of mine went on and on about how good it was, and then after I discussed some of the scenes with her from the television series, she started to say more and more frequently with a puzzled look, “That wasn’t in the book.” Curiosity won out, and I purchased the book.

Much to my surprise, there were no graphic adult interaction scenes present in the book, at least not like there were in the TV series, and in fact, the book seemed tame to me in comparison. I understand that when adaptations are done from book to screenplay not everything that works in a story works in a visual medium, and that you have to change some things to deliver the same impact for the viewer that the reader received from something like internal dialogue, or an omniscient third person point of view. But essentially, as far as I could tell, the visual story exceeded the societal taboos of sex and violence far in excess of the book, and that was a new experience for me.

When did we become more open to SEEING something portrayed than READING about it?

I grew up in the age of politicians ranting about explicit lyrics and wanting to label words, while retailers shunned selling those albums labeled as such.

I now live in an age where words are more censored than films.

It came up again today in a message board that I am part of where an author was asking for help in determining what could be included in a YA novel that wouldn’t get it booted from an independent publishing outlet, or limit its acceptance by a publishing house. The answers floored me. Teenagers are not allowed to drink unless there is one character stating that drinking is bad and demonstrating a lack of interest. No F-bombs. No sex for the underage. No drug use.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate those behaviors, but I am real person, who has lived a semi-real life, and those things happen. You have to deal with them growing up. Pretending they don’t is utterly ridiculous to me. Almost as much as letting our words be censored by ANYONE.

Yet, now for the cost of a cable subscription or a movie ticket, teenagers can SEE those things happen. They just can’t READ about them.

I think that there is a reader for every story that can ever be told. I think those stories have the potential to make them feel like they are not alone, and that they can survive whatever they are facing because the character in a story they read showed them how it was done.

I don’t have issues with the freedom that visual storytelling has gained in my lifetime. I am concerned that we are allowing our written stories to be throttled and cleansed of the truth that is life, and in doing so we are telling readers of all ages that they need to fit into a certain box and stay there for the rest of their lives.

I don’t think we have to give up one freedom to have another.

 

Speaking from the Heart – Inspiration

Where do you get your ideas? What do you use for inspiration?

Those are two of the most commonly asked questions for authors. They are also  impossible  to answer. They imply that the answer has more meaning than the end results.

Where we get our ideas, and what inspires us is as individual and unique as the storyteller themselves. It’s not like we can draw a map where X marks the spot that will allow you to pack a bag, travel there and partake.

Any idea or inspiration that will resonate comes from the heart of you.

The confusion may come in because the author or artist’s ideas touch you, and so you instinctively seek to understand more about them, confusing your journey of self-introspection with a journey into the author’s heart and mind.

 

The simple truth is, if a story has touched you that is about you, not the author. Don’t look away from what you find in yourself. Don’t seek to validate it with external experiences that are not your own. Don’t look for inspiration outside the things that move you as a person, and as an artist because that is your voice.

You will need a firm grasp of your voice if you want make it heard above others.

Hold the things that inspire you close. Seek them often. Use them to renew your will to move on, even when things seem their darkest.

There has never been a story told that won’t touch a reader somewhere the way you yourself have been touched. Don’t be afraid to be that author for someone else.

Now go write something brilliant today!

Until next time,

Jo

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Jo Brown is an international award winning author, experienced journalist, blogger and fanfiction enthusiast who writes romance because to her, “every story is a love story.” She is also a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She publishes her unique blend of love, adventure and romance under the pen name Cybill Cain.

ALAREON MEDIA is her dream to help other authors on their journey through her personal and business experience. Contact her today and learn about all the ways ALAREON can make your story shine!

 

 

 

Speaking From the Heart- The Problem with Genre Labels

Some people will tell you that they only read certain genres. Mystery, thriller, romance, fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, the list and the subgenres within each one is dizzying.

To me a good story can hold more than one of these elements, and in fact to be memorable it must.

Why? Because life is more than one thing. We as people are more than one thing.

Life can be filled with any and all of these elements swirling and churning all together at once. For a story to be relatable and leave a lasting impression on me as person it must be rich and multi-dimensional, incorporating multiple threads of an existence.

No detective is an island. While they solve crimes they still have feelings, and some of those can be romantic.

No fantasy character can quest and make me care unless they also have an emotional storyline.

No life is lived, fictional or otherwise, without forming intimate connections to the world around them.

The best lives, the ones that make the most difference, incorporate more than one experience and so does a good story.

If you took the time to talk to a person, and really got to know them you would find that everyone has a thrilling moment of mystery, a fantastic experience where reality seemed to peel back around them, and most of all they have a love story. Someone they have, or someone they seek to give all the other parts meaning. Someone they can share their experiences with and feel that they are understood and connected to the world around them.

Life and stories are only as limited as you let them be. Always be open to more.

Until next time,

Jo

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Jo Brown is an international award winning author, experienced journalist, blogger and fanfiction enthusiast who writes romance because to her, every story is a love story. She is also a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She publishes her unique blend of love, adventure and romance under the pen name Cybill Cain.

ALAREON MEDIA is her dream to help other authors on their journey through her personal and business experience. Contact her today and learn about all the ways ALAREON can make your story shine!

Speaking From the Heart – Visual Storytelling

One night while having dinner with some friends I tried to open my mind and share my passion for writing. If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation like this with someone who isn’t into it, then you can probably understand the difficulties that are inherent to this scenario.

There are some things that you just have to be on the inside of to understand. Writing happens to be one of those.

The example I used was this: “There’s a bicycle leaning against a tree.”

I gave them a minute and then asked them to describe what they saw to me. The answers varied because they had drawn on their own life experiences to create the image I asked of them. Some of them pulled from the real experiences, and some from images they had seen in TV or movies.

If,  as an author, I needed that bike to be a specific brand or color, I would have told them to imagine it and provided more detail.

Because I didn’t provide any more direction for their minds than I did, they were able to supply the image they emotionally connected with and were ready to see what happened to that bicycle with whatever came next in the story.

When you are telling a story be sparse with descriptions unless you truly need the detail for a story point. This will allow the reader to directly connect to your story, and start to immerse themselves in actually becoming the character you are creating.

You can change perspective with the direction you provide, or with the direction you don’t.

What perspective do you want your reader to have when they read your work?

Once you know that, it not only informs how you communicate to them, but how they respond to the words you are giving them.

Speaking From the Heart – Where’s the romance in Romance?

I started reading romance novels in my early teens, and have been a fan of the genre since. Now, I publish them, and have been a romance author myself for several years. My knowledge on the subject spans both decades and subgenres. In Speaking From the Heart, I will discuss the evolution of the romance novel in my lifetime, and ask some of the questions that I have as a reader and as an author.

Today’s discussion: Where’s the romance in Romance?

I ask this question not only of today’s authors, but of authors from the past as well. It’s not an easy question, because what makes something romantic is completely subjective to the reader and the author.

For a book to be technically classified as a “romance” the Romance Writer’s of America offers this:  Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 

As a reader of modern romance, I sometimes struggle to find a romance novel that contains actual romance.  Often the leads are “hooking up” but somewhere in the graphic descriptions , or the manufactured drama that so many think is necessary to validate the love story, there is no actual emotion happening between the characters that makes me  want to emotionally invest in their story.

I don’t think this is new. Looking back at the kinds of books I was reading when I first started, they had their own brand of emotionless interaction, their love stories often even initiated by actual physical violence that somehow shifted and became two characters “falling in love.” The only thing that may have changed in the romance genre is my perspective on it. But the question remains, where is the romance in the stories we label  as Romantic?

Where are the stories that give us the good feels, and the cathartic cries? Where are the ones that make us swoon inside and smile secret little smiles that make the people around us wonder what is going on in our heads? Where are the characters we long to meet, and wish we could emulate, or even become? Just for a day, or an hour, or an evening when we curl up and open a story to become someone else, just for a little while.

For some, romance is roses, and fancy dinners. For some romance is your significant other remembering to place the umbrella by the door so you won’t forget because the weather forecast said it was going to rain today.

Books can be about anything. I’ve rarely met one I didn’t like, but to me, if they are labeled romance, I want to buy some feels when I make a purchase. Specifically, I want some gosh dang romance.