Wednesday, April 22, 2015

She Will Be Victorious

They say that behind every powerful man is an even stronger woman. Well, behind every strong woman is a man who tried to beat her down. For Queen Victoria that man was John Conroy.You know Vicky. You've never heard of John. Well, have you? That's because Victoria was a resilient girl who never let Conroy become her puppet master.

Victoria's father died when she was young and her mother soon went broke. It takes cash to raise the queen of England and she turned to her husband's old friend. That's our Johnny boy. There's no record of their conversation, but I believe it went something like this.Mama: I'm broke and my daughter is supposed to become the most powerful woman in Britain. A little help here?Conroy: Oh, you want me to move in with you and control your finances and break your daughter emotionally so she's too weak to rule and I get to control the money foreeeeever?Mama: Wait, what?Conroy: Yeah, I'll help.Mama: Yippee!

For the duration of Victoria's childhood, Conroy called the shots. He fired staff who were too kind to her. Whenever she disobeyed, she had to stand on a dark landing all alone with her hands tied behind her back. Years passed. She grew from a scared child to a teenager who dared rebel in tiny ways, like glaring at him when he came into the room and writing gushing diary entries about people Conroy hated. Of course he read her diary, what responsible guardian wouldn't? He also never told her she was going to be queen of  England. Her governess, who he never could manage to fire, slipped a royal family tree into a book of hers one day and she figured it out. He did his best to keep her from becoming a queen the world would want to have.
Victoria's old, fat uncle-king got older and fatter but he stubbornly refused to die before Victoria came of age. That put Conroy's panties in a twist, so when Victoria came down with typhoid fever, he struck.Here she is, barely lucid, hair falling out, the governess Conroy hasn't managed to fire yet hovering at her bedside, when Conroy barges in flapping a paper. Just sign it, and I'll be your financial secretary forever and ever. She later wrote of this time, "I was extremely crushed and kept under and hardly dared saw a word." Yet somehow, Victoria found the strength in her to resist, even when her mother (who historians speculate might have been Conroy's lover) got in on the bullying.
The night Victoria gets the news, she walks up to Conroy and tells him, "I'm the Queen of England. Sucks to suck. Get out of my palace and die alone."
Something like that, anyway.
You know the rest of the story. She brings about the Victorian era and has landmarks on every continent named after her. The sun never sets on her empire. One of the strongest rulers in history, but what stands out to me is her weakness.
She knew she was destined to be the queen of England. Well, eventually. She knew didn't have to bow down to Conroy. But he took away any power she might have had as a child and cut her off from the people and things that would have lent her strength.
We all have a John Conroy in our lives. Someone who decides to play puppet master and succeeds only because we stand limp and let him jiggle our limbs. Someone who thinks any slight expression of free will is an intolerable act of rebellion. Someone who can't be pleased, or reasoned with, or satisfied by anything other than a bowed head and a hushed tongue. Someone who wants you to be their constant faucet to their constant drain. 
Unless you plan on becoming Queen of England sometime soon, there's only one way to deal with a Conroy: Stand up for yourself. Stand up for yourself and be victorious. 

Victoria recovers, turns eighteen, and outlives her uncle-king.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Level Up

This was the fourth and probably last year I attended Teen Author Boot Camp, a young author's conference put on by local author group Writers Cubed. The first time I went, I was fifteen and still struggling to write two notebook pages a day. Now I'm eighteen, interning with a publishing company and I have seven completed novels under my belt. Seven. My goal was six by graduation. I go to enough author events that I was recognized by three different authors that day without having to introduce myself.
The keynote speaker was fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson. He talked about his own writing, and surprisingly, a favorite video game of his, Spelunky.

As  I understand from Brandon's explanation, Spelunky doesn't do lives. Once you die you die. Back to level one. There are no power ups either. So even though its dungeon crawl design is similar to many video games, it's ridiculously hard.
He hated it, but of course he had to beat it, so he kept playing. And eventually he made it to the top. He came to realize that even if he couldn't upgrade his character, he could upgrade himself.
Writing is the same. Brandon Sanderson has hit the NYT Bestseller list six times. He writes eighteen hundred page books and people buy them. He travels around the country appearing at conventions because everyone wants a piece of him. But he didn't let the fame go to his head, and he didn't have this "lonely at the top" mentality either. Instead, he said one of the most reassuring things I've ever heard. He wrote something like eleven novels before he got published. Once he hit it, he hit it big. But he said that if he were to die at the computer, if his family found him with his face in the keyboard, nose on the T key, spewing one letter across fifty pages, and that was his hundredth unpublished novel, he'd still be okay-because those novels helped him upgrade himself.
I was a runner-up in TABC's first chapter contest, and part of my prize was free author edits on my writing. So I went home, flipped open my laptop, and started typing up the edits.
And then the screen went black.
It turned out to be nothing more than a harddrive error, so after a few hours of frantic button pushing, virus scanning, and file salvaging, I was good to go. But for half the day I was worried I'd lose two complete novels that hadn't been backed up in their latest form. I've come close to this kind of crisis before, and this wasn't the worst time, but I spent several hours on the brink.
However, I never fell into despair. I remembered what Brandon Sanderson said about upgrading yourself. So even if I don't get to read back over my pride and joys, I still have the fruits.
I think this is good advice, not just for writing, but for life. You can never measure your self worth by possessions acquired, connections made, or awards won. It's all about the upgrade.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: The Unhappening of Genesis Lee by Shallee McArthur

Rating: ****
Genre: Science fiction mystery
Pages: 238
Series: Stand alone

Genesis Lee is many things-dancer, science geek, panic attack sufferer-but the core of her identity is belonging to the Mementi. Thanks to 2084's cutting edge technology, the Mementi can store their memories in objects called Links, unlike the Populace who choose the keep them in their heads. The Mementi can remember every day, every joy, every heartbreak-unless the Links get stolen.
When Gena meets Kalan, a Populace boy, he claims they've not only met before, but that Gena knows who the Link thief is. But for the first time in her life, Gena's memory is drawing a blank.
When the Link thief attacks her best friend, erasing the last two years of their friendship, she's willing to do whatever it takes to get both of their memories back.
But teaming up with Kalan isn't so easy. Tensions between the Mementi and Populace run high, and Gena just might have happened into a forbidden romance-if her memory of Kalan didn't keep rebooting every time she met him.
TUOGL is a complex story-science fiction world, mystery plot, and romance woven in throughout-with an equally complex protagonist. Gena is a sister and a daughter, so sometimes she has to put family first. She's a dancer, so sometimes her upcoming recital takes center stage. She gets panic attacks, so sometimes she has to tune out of the chaos and action of the plot and get a grip on herself. The threat of the Link thief can never completely wipe away her worries about her personal life. Sometimes the different fragments of her identity get jumbled and crowd each other out, but over all she feels extremely real.
The science behind the Links is fascinating and well researched, but at times bogs things down. The average reader can't keep up with Gena's enhanced brain. Thankfully, neither can the non-Mementi characters, and her explanations to them double as well needed info dumps on the reader's behalf.
The Unhappening of Genesis Lee changed the way I look at memory, the role it plays in forming our identity and interactions, and it's certainly a book I'll remember for years to come.