Sunday, April 30, 2017

Heel-Face Turn

My best friend has been visiting from out of town this week, and we have unsurprisingly been looking back over the past--in part because our ten-year high school reunion is coming up and in part because we just generally miss the old days. As often happens in our conversations, we started talking about the stories and characters we love.

One of the things I've noticed as I've started reading and watching stories with a critical eye is that there are certain tropes, certain story gimmicks, that I fall for every time.

I'm a sucker, for instance, for a good ensemble cast (Community, for instance; or The West Wing; or les amis de l'ABC in Les Miserables). And I pretty much always love a story where a super-powerful being has to live as an average mortal (this happened to one character in the first US version of The Power Rangers twice, and if you stretch the definition a little bit, it's part of the central conceit of The Devil Is a Part-Timer).

But one of my favorite tropes--one that wins me over pretty much every time--is when a bad guy tries to be a good guy. I love a Heel-Face Turn.

The name for this trope has its origins in professional wrestling. A "heel" is a wrestler whose shtick is being unlikable--they're the one that you're supposed to hate, who's supposed to be the bad guy. A "face"--short for "babyface"--is the good guy. The face is the one that you're supposed to root for and rally behind. So, a "Heel-Face Turn" is when a heel turns a new leaf and becomes one of the good guys.

And I am 100% here for it every time.

I think what gets me about this trope (when it's well executed, and, to be fair, sometimes it's not) is that it gets to something that, to me, is so important from a character-crafting standpoint: most of the time, the baddies think of themselves as the heroes.

There are exceptions--to quote one of the Batman films, "some men just want to watch the world burn." But, usually, the villain has motivations outside of tearing everything down. Maybe they have a job to do. Maybe they're trying to protect their family. Maybe they're trying to survive in unforgiving circumstances.

Some of my favorite character arcs from childhood on work their way through this process. Zuko in Avatar: the Last Airbender. Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z. Tommy, the Green Ranger in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. H.G. Wells in Warehouse 13. Regina in Once Upon a Time (what I've seen of it, anyway). Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Kovu in The Lion King II (don't hate--that movie was precious).

There's something about a character that isn't necessarily practiced in it trying to be good--even if they're bad at it. Sometimes especially if they're bad at it.


For as much as I love this trope, it's not one that's made it into my work very often. I write ensemble casts every chance I get. I've got outlines and partial drafts for stories with all manner of deities or supernatural creatures that have to live as mortals. But I've only ever written one Heel-Face Turn.

And it's in Project 2016. 

I've talked a lot lately--if not on here, then in casual conversation--about how much I love the characters in Project 2016. I think this is part of why. 

The thing with a good Heel-Face Turn is that it takes time. There has to be a build up. You've got to plant the seeds--there's something that's not quite right, something that's striking the character in an uncomfortable place or some view of the world that's not quite true. But making that switch shouldn't be easy. It can't be--not if your character's actions up to the point of the turn are going to have any meaning. You have to have a complete understanding of the character if you're going to pull it off effectively. And, beyond that, you have to know how well your other hero(es) are going to adjust to this apparent shift. How trusting are they? To what degree with they have safety measures in play if the turn isn't genuine? What will they or won't they do to protect their loved ones?

I've had a good ten years to spend thinking about these questions with the characters in Project 2016. And I've had plenty of people smarter than I am to look take second looks and ask questions I didn't think of.

Heel-Face Turns have given me some of my favorite stories and characters. All I want for Project 2016 is for it to do the same for someone else.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Playing Around

I finished up a contracted project this week, which means that I've got some free time to fool around.

Okay, actually it means that I can start working on the next round of revisions on Project 2016 and on a short piece for the anthology my local writing group is putting together. But I can pretend that I'm going to take some time to relax.

Really, one of my favorite pastimes is one that mixes well with my work. It lets me explore stories and try to get inside a character's head to see what they'll do when confronted with different situations and options. It lets me take part in a narrative that may go down unexpected roads. It lets me get a sense of who a character is without having a specific set of events planned out and pinned down.

Have you figured out what I'm talking about?

RPGs have, in the last five years or so, become one of my favorite hobbies. I played my first session of D&D back in 2012 and had more fun than I think I've ever had in my life. I've tried other systems since then--World of Darkness, one of the Star Wars systems (shout out to my RPG buddies from grad school--I miss you!).

I started playing the first Dragon Age game around the same time, and while video games aren't and will never be my "thing," Dragon Age and Mass Effect are two series that I'm pretty much always down to play, and I've played each game over and over.

I think, for me, the appeal hits on two levels. The first is the performance. I love theater--I had aspirations for being an actor at one point. Though I'm not able to pursue that professionally, it is still nice to get to play around and stretch those muscles (you never stop being an actor, I think--but you do sometimes stop trying to make your money that way).

The second draw is the way that the games help me figure out a character. I've never written anything that stars a character that I played in an RPG (though my WoD changeling Val is begging for a story), but I have sometimes based my characters on things that I'm working on. It lets me put the character in a situation where I don't know what will happen. This isn't really possible in a story that I'm writing because, as I've mentioned, I start with some pretty thorough outlines. Knowing what happens or what needs to happen changes the way that I approach the character.

Playing with a character in an RPG lets me take the character out of the box. In tabletop, I don't know the endgame. I have to rely fully on the character's instincts, even if those instincts mean that the character is going to run right up to something that will probably try to kill them (I played a chaotic good druid once and nearly died pretty much every session).

Even playing a character based on one of mine in a video game is useful. I know the story (because I pretty much only play two series of games, and I know how all of the current stories end), but the situations aren't the same ones that I put my characters in. It gives me a chance to sit down and figure out what different situations might pull from my characters. I've learned a lot about who some of my characters are this way.

So I'll still be working on projects in the coming weeks. But I do plan to spend some time playing--because the playing, even when it feels frivolous, helps.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Anniversary

This blog turned a year old this past week.

That's a pretty big milestone for me. I've never been very good at sticking to a blog schedule. I'll make it six months, eight months, but I think this is the first time I've made it an entire year.

When I started this blog a year ago, I had just sent out the submission packet for Evin. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was in publication limbo. I had just started meeting with my writing partner and trying to find local writing groups.

This blog's anniversary is the anniversary of my making a conscious decision to actively pursue writing. Not to the exclusion of my day job (because that is still not feasible), but in addition to it. Basically, this time last year, I took on another job--one that takes up as much time as my day jobs and, at this point, pays me mostly in the feeling of accomplishment or wonder or frustration that comes with taking something from my head and putting it on paper.

In this year, my first novel has been published. My short story has made its debut. I've successfully pitched for an anthology. I've written, rewritten, and re-rewritten a project that I've been working on since high school. I've sent queries, gone to conferences, and met with agents. I've found a writing group in my community. I started an author website.

But most importantly, I've written.

I've written more this past year than ever before in my life. Granted, not all of it has been good and sometimes the doing has been a struggle, to put it mildly. But I've written. I've finished projects and started new ones. I've revised and outlined and retooled and expanded.

It's been great.

I'm not sure how my writing career, such as it is, will progress in the next year. There are still queries out, still lumps in projects that need to be smoothed, still stories that have upcoming due dates. There will be more conferences and revisions and drafts.

I'm not sure what's next. But I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES now available!


Crime and Family collide in SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, a pulpy period short story by A. S. Crowder, now available as a Pro Se Single Shot!

Helen revels in the pulsing nightlife in her home city of New Orleans. She has a fashionable look, a bootlegger boyfriend, and a city full of speakeasies to explore. She also has an older sister who staunchly opposes Helen's involvement in the city's shady underground.

On one eventful night, Helen discovers that her sister is neck deep in her boyfriend's business and that her boyfriend is less than happy with her sister's work. When a threat to her sister's life is revealed, Helen takes action, planning to take down her boyfriend's organization one man at a time.

Win or lose, taking down some of the most powerful bootleggers in the city will change Helen's life forever. She stands to gain much, but what will she lose?

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES by A. S. Crowder. From Pro Se Productions.

Featuring an evocative cover and logo design by David Foster and digital formatting by Antonino Lo Iacono and Marzia Marina, SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES is available now at Amazon for only 99 cents at  
It is also available for most digital platforms via Smashwords at

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital eBook copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions’ Director of Corporate Operations, Kristi King-Morgan at
To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sometimes It's Queer

(This is, yet again, not the thing I planned to write this week, but it is something that's been on my mind for about a month. Since minor tasks are still proving to be pretty difficult, I'm going to go with what's got a stronger hold on my brain.)

Though I only realized it in hindsight, most of my childhood was spent looking for characters that were like me.

And let me start of by saying that finding those characters was easier for me than it was for a lot of people. I'm white, I'm cisgendered, I'm from a comfortably middle class family. There are fewer white cis girls than white cis boys in media, but they are present.

Still, the absence of characters like me kept me from engaging in a lot of media. I missed the boat on Star Wars largely because the only image of a female character that I saw was Leia--and I saw her in the metal bikini more than any other outfit. I might not have understood at the time why exactly this bothered me so much, but I know it made me say "no, thanks" to the franchise. Even when I did (finally) watch the movies, I couldn't get past that to really engage with them. There are a lot of books, movies, and TV shows that I skipped over. No women? Nah, I'll pass.

As I've gotten older, I've started looking for representation beyond gender. I've figured out another aspect of my identity--one that doesn't typically show up on screen or in pages or that, when it does show up, is used as a code to indicate something shady or wrong or evil about the character. See, I am attracted to men. I'm also attracted to women. Which means seeing characters like me that aren't depicted as depraved doesn't happen much.

In recent years, I've started seeking out queer characters. What I've found is that some creators have always been trying to get queer characters in the picture. Somewhere in my mind, I guess I was always dimly aware of this. I don't see how a person could, for instance, not read Idgie and Ruth's relationship in Fried Green Tomatoes as anything other than romantic. You'll never convince me that Grantaire isn't in love with Enjolras in Les Miserables. And even though I grew up watching a dubbed version of Sailor Moon that painted Michiru and Haruka as cousins, I understood that the relationship between the two wasn't familial.

There's a documentary called The Celluloid Closet that tracks some of the ways that Hollywood films have included queer characters without being explicit. These coded representations, for better or for worse (and, just to be clear, some of these have lead to tropes that are definitely for the worse) have been the main way that queer characters have made it to screens and pages.

We've moved away from some of this--LGBTQ+ characters are present in media now in explicit ways--some of the time, anyway. And that's good. It's not been without its problems, but it's good.

Something that gets me, though, is the degree to which people will bend over backwards to not notice the existence of some queer characters. I was baffled by some of the apparent response to LeFou "having a gay moment" in the remake of Beauty and the Beast (which, to be fair, I didn't go see, so I have no idea what said moment entails). But my confusion was less that people would be upset about the presence of a queer character than it was about the fact that apparently a bunch of people didn't pick up on LeFou's attraction to Gaston before.

Dude literally sings a bar song about how hot his friend is. Come on now.

In my work, I include queer characters--mainly queer women. But I don't often use the word girlfriend--mostly because I find both girlfriend and boyfriend to be inadequate descriptors. I communicate characters' affections and attractions through actions. The characters take actions that, in other contexts would be read as clear indications of a beyond-platonic relationship.

But people just. Do. Not. See. It. These women hold each other's hands. The cuddle together. They lean their foreheads against each other. They explicitly say "I love you" to each other. Several of the readers get it. But for some, the notion that these women are romantically involved just sails overhead. If I was writing about a heterosexual pair, there would be no question as to the nature of their relationship.

I guess I understand, on some level. We're not trained to expect queer relationships the way we are straight relationships. That take-for-grantedness lets people make those leaps for man and woman pairs, but hesitates to do the same for pairs of women and pairs of men. And, as The Celluloid Closet suggests, we're used to queer characters being presented in such a way that their queerness is easy to gloss over. The potential that some characters are queer is frequently dismissed out of hand.

But, even if a character's sexuality is ambiguous, even when they don't explicitly label someone as their boyfriend or girlfriend--sometimes, they're queer. So I guess maybe keep that in mind next time you read or watch something.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Mood Boost

My plan for this week was originally to write about knowing your genre--something that is super important for a person like me who writes across different genres with specific tropes and expectations attached to them.

But at some point on Saturday, I hit a serious downswing.

The thing with depression, even depression that's typically reasonably well-managed, is that sometimes it just slams you. Nothing happens; there's no inciting incident that sets off a spiral. Sometimes you're just standing in the middle of a snack aisle at Target and all of your energy is suddenly gone and the notion that you should bury yourself under the covers and never move again seems like the best possible use of time--and even if it's not, what does it matter? It's not like what you do is important in the long run anyway.

I haven't worked on anything in almost a week. I've spent too much time sleeping. There are plenty of things that I have to do--some things that, under normal circumstances, I'd be jazzed to do--but I can't do them. Getting out of bed was Herculean. Now I have to do more?

And so your weekly blog post ends up being late because the effort of actually taking the laptop out of the bag is too much, and the ceiling's not gonna stare at itself, and you know there's not going to be a way to get out of work on Monday, so you might as well just try to save up whatever mana you can so that you can make it through work and then go back to bed. And, of course, the fact that the post is late makes you want to do it even less.

So I'm not going to talk about genre knowledge this week. Maybe, hopefully, I'll be able to next week.

Instead, I'm going to share some songs that I use as pick me ups when I feel, for lack of a better word, blue. And, for my purposes, I'm using the Drowsy Chaperone definition of blue:

"A little anxious for no particular reason. A little sad that I should feel self-conscious at this age. A little self-conscious anxiety resulting in non-specific sadness."

It's not completely accurate, but it offers a little insight.

This doesn't have much to do with writing, beyond that I sometimes use these songs to pick me up when I feel this way. And one of the songs is on the playlist I made for project 2016 (you can find part of that playlist here, if you're interested).

Thanks for hanging in there with me. See you next week.