Friday, March 23, 2012

My Favorite Tyrants

So this has been a very, very long week.

If you've been reading along, you may remember that I once referred to my 2 1/2 year-old daughter as a gorgeous little Russian despot. A tyrant  with bright blue eyes and a killer left-hook.

Well. The Czarina has returned. Let me just say that this week involved all of the following:

no no no no no no no no NO I WON'T!
running into parkinglots
late nights
early mornings
time outs
fingers caught in windows
broken toys

I know that God laughs at me. I mean to say, laughs with me.

No, at me. These days it's definitely at me.

This is okay. My life is pretty funny. And sometimes it's difficult not to laugh when your stubborn little Mossad-agent in training decides to stage all-out war.

But Mama is tired.

So, for today, in honor of my little Czarina, a list of 6 of my favorite tyrants of all time:

1. Cleopatra

The world was hers. She ordered men around like puppies. And she wore great eyeliner.

2. Genghis Khan

A big, bad meanie. Basically created the Mongol Empire and conquered most of Eurasia. And did it with a Fu Manchu.

3. The Lady MacBeth

Wild, erratic, nutso. At least in Shakespeare's version, intent on world domination.

4. Vlad the Impaler

The inspiration for Dracula. One scary son of Pete. (The name says it all, really.)

5. The Emperor Nero

Supposedly fiddled while Rome burned and liked to capture Christians. Enough said.  

6. Czarina Wylie. Ruling Despot of Turnpike Road.

Notorious for tantrum-throwing (usually in front of visiting dignitaries), plate-launching, and yogurt-tossing. Also refusing to hike any further.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Note: If you haven't read or watched the final installment in the Harry Potter series, there are spoilers ahead.

Last night, my husband and I finally watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. In the midst of summer travels and work and toddler-wrangling and life, we'd missed it in the theatre. Not only had neither of us read the final book in the series, we'd also managed not to ask or overhear just how the whole saga ended. So when we sat down, excited, in our dark living room with our newly HDified TV, we had no idea what was going to happen.

I realize we're behind the times. But bear with me.

I was sure that J.K. Rowling was going to kill Harry. I thought, this is the only reconciliation for such a myth and magic-laden epic: sacrifice the boy. Save the world.

Happily, I was wrong. And the movie ended as it should have--our focus on the faces of three true friends.

But this made me, today, ponder on endings. Crafting a beautiful, memorable, and above all satisfying ending has to be one of the toughest things about being a writer. Creating an ending for a series must be even more difficult, considering that your readers have made a major investment in the lives and times of your characters.

One of my favorite historical authors, Sara Donati, ended her acclaimed Wilderness novels by utilizing a series of news articles and obituaries in her fictional town's newspaper--a newspaper her main protagonist, the heart of the series, had founded. It was a poignant and lovely way to close the book on a host of memorable and beloved characters.

But there are other ways of doing this. Cinematically, it just seems easier.

Butch and Sundance went out guns blazing.

Thelma and Louise drove a car off a cliff.

                                         And Rhett decided he didn't give a damn.

Movies have the luxury of outside influences--musical scores, set direction--to aid in just how deeply their endings affect a moviegoer. But writers have only words, and those words had better be the right ones if a reader is going to close the book truly changed from what he or she has read. This is no easy task.

Anton Chekhov once said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." And writers, as much as moviegoers, want to be there in that world and in that moment--whether they're captive in a dark theatre or huddled under the covers, reading by flashlight. They want to see the light on the broken glass.

I'm still not certain if I love the ending of the Harry Potter series, book or film. And this is interesting to me, because I'm utterly in awe of J.K. Rowling, profoundly moved and fascinated by the widths and depths of her imaginative powers. I can't read her novels or watch the films based on them without grinning hugely, even at the dark parts. My God, that woman has a gift.

But I wonder, at times, if it's possible to truly write a great ending. And has anyone ever really done it successfully? Or do we leave this to our readers, assuming that--despite our best efforts as writers--they will find a sort of imaginative closure off the page, in the recesses of their own imaginations?