Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Nightmare Tooth Project - Meenanful Life, Author Life

My greatest fear involves teeth.

Ever since I was a child, I have had this irrational fear that one day, one of my teeth would fall randomly out of my head and I'd be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.

This is a frequent nightmare for me. Just the other day I dreamed that three of my teeth became horribly loose and I was forced to pull them out, one by one, in pieces, leaving behind their exposed roots, black and rotting in my mouth....


Even just looking at pictures of teeth makes me anxious and disturbed. It has not been fun searching for pictures for this blog entry.

You'd think this would make me obsessed with oral hygiene, but it's had rather the opposite effect.

I do brush my teeth like any normal person, but I definitely fall short at flossing. I'm worried that I'll somehow loosen a crown (this has happened) or a filling (ditto) or that I'll discover some new tooth pain (ditto again).

I pay for this bad habit too, since my dentist visits usually end up dealing with tiny cavities between my teeth. Something that could be fixed with FLOSSING.

But the worst tooth experience of my life was the day I had to get a root canal.

Everyone knows what a root canal is, and everyone has some horror story to share. And I heard every single one of them from work the day before I got mine.

"Oh, you're getting a root canal? My nephew screamed the whole time they did his."

"The only time I hurt worse was when I gave birth."


As you can expect, I entered my dentist's office in near tears the next day.

Now don't get me wrong. Going to the dentist doesn't bother me. For one, I have the best dentist in the world. She's friendly and kind and interested in me as a person, always asking how my family and work is. She's gentle too and refuses to compromise quality. When we did my veneers on my front teeth, she sent the veneer back THREE TIMES because they weren't absolutely PERFECT. Especially since she knew I had a wedding coming up. <3

Perfect teeth for our big day. <3
But thinking about the pain everyone promised, I couldn't concentrate on that. 

My dentist noticed. 

"Feeling nervous, Rachel?" she asked with her slight accent and big grin.

Staring at the drills, the big lights, the creepy dentist chair (I swear dentist chairs evolved from medieval torture devices) and smelling everything LATEX... I admitted to some nervousness. 

The dentist put down her tools and nodded to her assistant, who nodded back and left the room for a moment. 

"You've been coming to me for several years now, haven't you?" she said. 

"Yeah," I said. "I was nervous the first time too, but you made me feel right at home." 

"And you know that my policy is no pain," she continued. "We don't tolerate that here." 

"But isn't a root canal different?" I asked. 

She shook her head. "Everyone thinks it is. And for some dentists, it is different. It's a long process and not one that every doctor is good at. But a good doctor will keep that pain to a minimum, or eliminate it completely. Now tell me," she smiled. "Have you ever felt pain in my office before?"

I didn't think the tiny pinpricks during the numbing process counted so I shook my head.

"Not even with the extractions?" 

I had had two teeth pulled from my head previously by the doctor's brother, an oral surgeon. It was part of the process of fixing my top row of teeth for the wedding. Both extractions were done at once and the only thing I had felt that day was mild pressure on my gums. They even let me hold the teeth afterwords (there's nothing quite like holding a piece of your own head in your hand.)

But there was no pain. I shook my head again. 

"And do you remember that particularly bad cavity that needed to be really deep?"

I did. It was as close to a root canal as I had ever gotten before. But again, no pain. 

"I know this is a new experience," the doctor said. "But I'm going to ask you to trust me, as you have all these years. Can you do that for me?" 

It was hard to say yes, even knowing all that. My fears dictated my reactions. But I said yes. The doctor smiled at me, brought her assistant back in, and got to work. 

Two hours later, someone shook me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes to my doctor hovering over me. She removed her gloves.

"All done!"

I blinked at her. "What?"

"We're finished," she said. "Your husband must appreciate the fact that you don't snore in your sleep."

That's right. I had fallen asleep. I probed the area of the root canal with my tongue and felt no pain, despite the fact that the numbness was wearing off.

"We'll get the permanent crown in next week, once we get the impressions to them," the doctor said. "You did great. Thanks for trusting me."

And I'm glad I did.

Trust is such a crucial theme in my books. Especially trust in difficult times.

In The Stolen Guardian, Ouranos has to put trust in Matt, someone he's believed to be his enemy, when they face a common enemy together.

In both White Assassin and Tanned Hide, Trecheon and Neil have to put trust in each other to get through the calamities they've created for themselves, even when neither quite knows how.

And in my current work in progress, Brother at Arms, trust is absolutely crucial to getting through the events of this story alive.

Most people say that trust is something that's earned. But that's not always true. Sometimes trust is the only thing keeping you going. It's the only way to survive.

And while putting trust in my dentist wasn't a life or death situation (no matter how much I fear my teeth) it was a good reminder that trust is what gets us going throughout the day.

Yes, sometimes you will put trust in someone and they'll let you down. It's a fact of life and a common occurrence.

But the very act of trusting someone, of choosing to put some aspect of your life in their hands, is good. It's an act of faith. And while it's hard and can be painful, it is what ties us together as a species.

Have you ever had to put trust in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you react? Share in the comments below! 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cliches That Your Villain Shouldn't Be If He Wants To Be Respected By Other Villains - Author Life

Being a villain is hard work. All that banter back and forth between the heroes, all the planning to take over the world, all intimidation of your lackeys and certainly all that planning of your secret underground lair.

So it's no wonder that we tend to turn to cliches when we write villains. It's something easy to fall on that people will recognize, so why not do it?

Well, if you don't want your villain to get picked on at the school playground for being unoriginal and boring, it's best if you avoid the following.

1 - Don't go around calling people "fools." 

Literally EVERY CLICHE VILLAIN has done this. Disney is especially well known for this, though Draco Malfoy and even Lord Voldemort himself have defaulted to this somehow-more-evil-than-idiot label.

I don't know what makes the word "fool" somehow an evil thing, but it's so common that I tend to check out as a reader every time I see a villain use it.

Be creative. Use something other than fool. Better yet, make up your own banter rather than being bogged down by someone else's!

2 - Don't have your villain kill/maim/burn/rape/do some other horribly evil thing and say "This is the most fun I've had in years!" or something similar. 

I don't know how many times I've seen this in fiction, but it's a disappointment every time I do.

This is an attempt at showing vs. telling. It's a way for an author to say, "Look at how evil my character is! They're ENJOYING being evil!"

First off, the "enjoying being evil" cliche is way overdone. This is old comic book and children's TV show villainy and not very believable for anyone writing to young adults or older.

If your villain DOES enjoy being evil, you need do to it right. Have them show pleasure with their evil deeds by actions. Maybe they have a sadistic smile, or they shake with a sensual pleasure, or they show a kind of fierce joy in tearing people down.

But having them shout out something a normal person might say while playing mini golf for the first time cheapens the moment.

3 - Don't make an entire race/species/religion/nation evil. 


Let me make things clear. I'm not saying that you CAN'T make your evil people be a single race/religion/species/whatever. It works for a lot of things. War of the Worlds did it, Gears of War did it, and Assassin's Creed did it.

But they modified it.

War of the Worlds has a single race of evil aliens invading Earth. But we don't know anything about the race as a whole. In fact, we learn very little about the group, since they die to disease very early on. This only made the invading part of the race evil. For all we know, there were members of this race on their home planet that were advocating for peace rather than war.

Gears of War has a race of evil, but these were originally humans, grotesquely mutated due to issues created by humanity. Their minds aren't the same as they once were.

Assassin's Creed puts the entire Templar religion against the assassin. But this is an example of extremism. Templars were originally Christian warriors, but they devolved into essentially terrorists and extremists. This doesn't make Christians as a whole evil in this world.

But I have seen so many books where "OMG this race of anthropomorphic lizards are evil and the whole race is decrepit!" that it makes me groan every time I see it. It's a very rare instance that an entire group of people is evil.

On that note, don't make the mistake of trying to avoid this problem by making one person of this race/religion/whatever a good guy and a member of your main character gang, as if one person somehow negates the issue at hand. This is called the "Noble Savage" fallacy. It's a problem that books and movies like The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves face by trying to single out one small group or one individual as an example but making the whole rest of the race evil. This is the same kind of overgeneralization.

English professors love breaking down the Noble Savage Fallacy.

I should also note that you CAN have your wonderful protags BELIEVE that one race/religion/whatever is evil, since that's common and often expected. But hopefully your story will make it more nuanced than that.

4 - Your villain should have more than just grandiose plans to take over the world. 

Notice I said JUST. It's perfectly fine to have someone that has plans to rule the world (or country, or religion, or culture, whatever). But you have to have a REASON.

Do they have a thirst for power? Think about WHY.
Do they have a hatred for a specific race or religion? Think about WHY.
Do they have some unexplored fear? Some ego problem? A desire to prove themselves?

All of these things are important. MOTIVATION.

But just some random idea that "Well I'm evil so therefore I must want to rule the world" doesn't hold water in a good story. People have villainous ways for a reason.

Before you dive into the whole "My villain wants to rule EVERYTHING" cliche, think about other motivations for the bad things they do.

Probably one of the biggest pieces of advice most writers hear, but often ignore, is "Villains are the hero of their own stories." Your villain's motivation and desires are a big part of your character's drive and story. It's crucial to work it out in a way that makes sense to your readers.

And not one that gets them kicked out of Villain School.

Do you have any other villain cliches that bother you in writing? Share them below!