storytelling

Dear Reporters covering the Romance Writers of America's National Conference,

The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference this week, from July 23-26 in San Antonio, Texas. We know you enjoy covering this event. And those of us in the romance publishing industry love having the spotlight on us. It's a fun story for the summer, and with all the horrible things going on in the world right now, I know this piece of eye candy is much-needed mind sorbet for your readers, listeners and viewers.

That said, I am asking for a moratorium on certain words and phrases too frequently used in reference to romance books and romance writers. While I appreciate not everyone has the same tastes and that your story may only be a fluff piece, romance writers and readers are sick of hearing particular words which have historically been used to denigrate and marginalize our chosen genre.

Not only are these words and phrases overused, they're cliches, and will make you, the reporter, look lazy in your own writing. So eliminate them!

1. "Bodice ripper": this is a term developed in the 70's and 80's when historicals were popular. Today's romances include so much more than Regency-era stories—paranormal, contemporary, romantic suspense, inspirational, erotic romance...please, do your research and take this term out of your romance vocab right away.

2. "Not your mother's romance books": this phrase has no relevance or meaning. Mothers who read romances likely passed down their favorite books to the younger romance readers in their families, inspiring a whole new generation of readers. If you mean to say that levels of sensuality are different from decades previous, then you might want to look a little more closely. Sensuality levels still vary widely book to book, subgenre to subgenre. I guarantee that Fanny Hill (1748) is still much raunchier than any inspirational Christian romance I've ever read.

3. References to Fifty Shade of Grey in either the pejorative or as the superlative example: yes, the movie is coming out soon. And while writers appreciate the success of Fifty Shades, erotica and erotic romance has been around for a long time. Why not look up Sylvia Day, Tiffany Reisz, or Megan Hart? (Note: yes, there is a difference between erotica and erotic romance. Learn it.)

4. "Formula": I've written about the F word before. Romance has often been labelled "formulaic", and yet all fiction is built upon an established guideline for storytelling. If you have to use a word, use framework.

5. Any suggestion that only single, desperate women read romances or lonely housewives or have impossibly standards for their men: No. Just no. Readers get enough flack in public when people on the bus look over their shoulder and say "Oh, you're into THAT, are you?" Yes. We are. Just as I'm sure those judgey types are into murdering young women and burying their bodies in the forest, like in that thriller they've got tucked into their pocket. Romance readers are educated, earn incomes, have families, and strive like anyone else for balance in life. Don't be a douche and paint us with that wide stereotyped brush. Otherwise you'll make us think all reporters are...well, we can leave that. Because you know what people think of your kind, right?

6. "Heaving bosoms": yes, we know the conference is largely attended by women. We have breasts. They heave sometimes because we love what we read, or we're out of breath because we're trying to up the counts on our Fitbits. Your mother has breasts, too. So does your dad for that matter. You probably spent the early years of your life smushed up against them, or possibly feeding from them. Keep that in mind and please, don't use this cliche to describe conference attendees.

7. Purple prose: romance writers actually try to avoid this as much as possible. And so should you. Failure to avoid purple prose only makes us believe you actually yearn to join us in writing romance...and we'd welcome you with open arms and heaving bosoms if that's what you want to do. If not, then please, for Elmore Leonard's sake, drop the frills.

 8. "Harlequin" used as a generic term: my personal pet peeve since, full disclosure, I work there full-time in addition to writing for them—Harlequin Enterprises is a company, and is probably best known for their romances. But not all romances are from Harlequin, obviously.

9. Fabio: don't get me wrong. Everyone loves Fabio. He has a special place in romance book lore, but like Fifty Shades, he is not the be all and end all of hero archetypes. We're all different women. We all like different kinds of men and women.

Hey, I get it. With this wealth of colorful material surrounding you, how can you resist the glistening muscles of male cover models attending as guests? How can you not comment on the pageantry of romance writer prom?

Well, do. But do so respectfully. If you find yourself snarking more than smiling, looking down your nose because you think these women can't find real jobs or can't find a man because you think they have impossibly high standards, you picked the wrong story assignment. And we'll know it. Don't be that guy.

By refraining from using any of these phrases while reporting on the conference, you'll help dissolve a long-held bias against readers and writers of genre fiction for women. And you'll also earn the respect of millions of smart, social-media savvy women.

Thanks, reporters.

Respectfully yours,
Vicki Essex

1 Comment

When I first started writing, I heard a "rule" whispered throughout writers' circles:

Never kill a pet in your book.

It sounded like good advice at the time, though it did tweak my sense of authorial autonomy. Why shouldn't I be able to kill a pet in fiction? Pets are just as important as sources of motivation, plot and twists as any human character, and they're certainly just as human as any biped, with their own distinct personalities. Sometimes, they're the greatest source of comfort for the characters, becoming full members of the family. I argue that in order to tell a story, authors must sometimes make the difficult choice to kill off a pet.

Unfortunately, the fan backlash to pet deaths can be quite passionate—some writers and artists have even lost fans over it—which is how I imagine this "rule" came to pass. But as writers, it is our duty to tell the truth—the emotional truth, the literary truth and, the truth that lies in humanity's relationships with all creatures great and small.

I started thinking about the stories I'd read or seen over the years and wondered how a family pet or animal friend could be sympathetically and effectively killed off. Here are a few examples, and how and what they did right and wrong.

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD

Family Guy (TV show)

A couple of weeks ago, the animated show Family Guy suddenly killed off main cast member and fan favorite family dog, Brian. Viewers were shocked, saddened and angry. But it turns out their ire may be short-lived: Family Guy may resurrect Brian. 

While this episode was quite moving and addressed the loss of a family pet in a unique and humorous way, returning to status quo rings false with what should be a life-changing event. Of course, we've yet to see how his "death" will affect the rest of the season, or any future seasons. But if Brian is brought back, even on a semi-permanent basis or in flashback form, it might undermine his importance in the family structure. He risks becoming a running joke, like South Park's Kenny ("Oh my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!"). Viewers will feel cheated of their one true moment in what is otherwise an often subversive, trite and absurd show (which I still enjoy for exactly those reasons).

One thing is for certain: fans of Brian and of the show have been given an important glimpse at the tenuous threads we have on life, and how easily they can be cut. It's really a blessing this is a cartoon, which allows for the impossible, including the return of a beloved family member, no matter how they bring him back.

For Better or For Worse (comic strip) by Lynn Johnston

In 1995, comic strip writer and artist Lynn Johnston killed off her cartoon family's aging sheepdog, Farley. According to an interview in Wikipedia, Johnston received 2,500 letters, many of them negative.

I remember reading an interview with her where she said people swore never to read her comics again. I remember being equally shocked and depressed by Farley's death, perhaps because like so many families who read For Better or For Worse together, my family grew up with the Pattersons, and Farley was as much our dog as theirs.

Importantly, Johnston managed to make Farley's death meaningful. He not only continued his legacy (he bore offspring who lived on with the Patterson family) but he also died a heroic death, saving the youngest Patterson child from drowning.

It's clear from the interviews that Johnston had known Farley was getting on in years; but Farley didn't just get old and sick and shuffle off the mortal coil while suffering or in pain. None of us want to read about that—it's an unfortunate reality most pet owners don't want to face, especially when our goal while reading a comic strip is to escape. Instead, Johnston treated us to one last hurrah, showing us the aftermath and all that comes with losing a loved one. Despite her medium, which could have kept Farley young and spry forever, Johnston's always been true to her characters, to time and change and life and all that comes with it, for better or for worse.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book) by J. K. Rowling

In Rowling's final Harry Potter book, the first to die is Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl. When I read it, I actually screamed "Noooooo!" What did Hedwig ever do to deserve her ignoble death, trapped in a cage, at the hands of a killing curse meant for The Boy Who Lived? She didn't even get a chance to fight back, to protect her master, to earn a death worthy of a great wizard's familiar.

Here's why Hedwig had to die: her death served as a stark foreshadowing of the many violent and senseless deaths to come. She couldn't be given a fight of her own in this battle because, like the rest of the wizarding world, she was hopelessly outmatched, trapped in the cage Harry thought would keep her safe--a cage paralleled by the final battle at Hogwarts. She wasn't even given a proper burial, which made the whole situation that much more heartbreaking.

On a more practical level, Hedwig is an extraneous character, and when animals and pet sidekicks are relegated the same function as furniture—or, in Hedwig's case, inconveniently easy-to-recognize messenger owl—they are hard to keep track of. An author needs to account for every character's whereabouts in every scene, and frankly, I think Rowling made a wise decision to get rid of the excess baggage Hedwig would have been while using her as an important literary device.

Still, I'm mad she killed her off. Because Hedwig!

The NeverEnding Story (film)

The death of Artax the horse has to be one of the most traumatic animal companion deaths ever in the history of movies. He comes to a slow, heartbreaking and horrific demise by sinking into the Swamp of Sadness, and Atreyu's pathetic, desperate cries for help tell us nothing and no one is going to save that horse.

My issue with this particular death—aside from lasting over an agonizing minute and half—is that Artax's death doesn't serve much purpose in the movie except to make Atreyu's journey more difficult. He doesn't have a steed for the rest of the trek until he meets Falkor, who is arguably a way better means of conveyance, being able to fly and talk and all.

Fans of the film might argue that the boy and horse are, in fact, the closest of companions. There's no doubt they have a connection—we're told Artax can communicate with his boy and serves as a guide on his journey. From a hero's journey point of view, that makes Artax Atreyu's mentor figure. And by the rules of the hero's journey, the mentor must be lost. It's supposed to garner sympathy from the viewers or something, but frankly, I found Atreyu's inability to save his best friend painted him as an unworthy hero. I mean, pulling on his lead and screaming at him clearly wasn't working. A sharp rap on the butt, maybe.

Like Hedwig, Artax is the victim of archetypal story structure, a tool to carry the story and plot forward. But unlike Harry Potter's owl, we resent the hero for letting his friend die in the pursuit of his cause. I might have sympathized more with Atreyu if Artax were a motorcycle or ATV or a tauntaun, because in this instance, making it worse didn't make the story any better. Also, I wouldn't have had to watch a horse slowly drown.

The kicker is that Artax is "resurrected" at the end of the film, which is relieving, but also aggravating for the reasons stated above. Sure, The NeverEnding Story is supposed to be a meta fantasy that revives itself in the fertile minds and imaginations of kids of who read (moralizing! Read and horses won't die, kids!), but when Bastian is soaring over Fantasia on Falkor's back and he spots Atreyu galloping across the plains on Artax, didn't you feel a little cheated?

 

Were you ever affected by the death of a fictional animal or pet? Did you agree with the author's decision to kill it off? Was it effective or did it turn you off the author's work? Let me know in the comments below!

I don't watch commercials. Not when they're on TV. I don't even have cable or spend much time watching the few channels I do have because I stream or download all my shows. And I patently ignore any commercials that come on before YouTube videos.

But now and again, I'll see a commercial go viral, and thanks to the internet, I can actually choose the commercials I want to see and decide for myself how effective they are. These videos don't always have a lot of flash or substance but they do have something that speaks to me: authenticity in effort and genuine emotion. These things will always win over manufactured desires--empty, winding roads with sexy cars and fake women in the passenger seat; overly attractive men and women partying in a million-dollar mansions, etc.

For the record, I do enjoy Chipotle, I want to buy a Chevy Sonic and listen to more of OK Go's music, and while I don't drink Bud on a regular basis, I do have some modicum of respect for the commercial, whether or not it's staged.

Here are a few of my recent favorite commercials.

Chipotle:

 

Chevy Sonic and OK Go Needing/Getting:

 

Budweiser's Flash Fans commercial (from the Superbowl):

2 Comments

"So, romance has a formula, right?"

"They're all the same story over and over, after all. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back."

Simple. Sure.

"So, what is that formula?" asks the novice writer aspiring toward their first book. "Can you send me the outline that will get me published?"

The answer comes in two very succinct and rather rude words. The shorter and more polite version of that is NO.

Because romance authors hate the word formula. "Formula" implies a rigorous set of instructions that have a magical answer at its end. The answer is "Happily Ever After", but the HEA is never the same twice. No, don't say marriage is always the same, or miracle babies with CEO sheikh cowboys are always the same.

Every story is different. Period. They may have the same-looking results, may even take similar steps along the journey, but those journeys--in essence, the story--are different for every character because every character is different.

Think of it like a long car ride with you, your sibling and your parents. Each of you has their own thoughts, feelings, experiences. Each of you perceives that car ride in a different way. I can tell you that the "formula" for your ride is taking the highway route north until the 64 exit and making a left. You'll all get there, but along the way, what is going on in your minds? What happens at the pit stop? You all end up in the same place at the very end of that ride, but you did not all get there with the exact same perceptions of that ride.

"But there has to be a formula," the novice writer says. "I learned it from my high school writer's craft class."

Oh, you mean the hero's journey? Or are you talking about the structure of a plot? Or are you talking about the different kinds of story types?

Okay, yeah, sure, I suppose those are "formulas." But Luke Skywalker and Dorothy Gale did not have the same movie, did they?

"Well, they sort of did."

Sure they did.

"Why are you being difficult?"

Because in seeking the magic "formula" you are dismissing your own ability to tell a story in search of a shortcut. You think that by putting tab A into slot B, you'll have all you need for that award-winning, New York Times bestseller. You think all you have to do is lead your character by the nose through all the hoops and your tale will be a surefire win.

It doesn't work that way. You can't write in a vacuum. I can say "approaching the innermost cave" as much as I want, but until you've made it there with your own characters, or read enough books that you can understand when the MCs have reached that point, you will probably stare at me and wonder if I'm coming on to you.

What does work is writing the way you write and then learning about "the formula" in books, workshops, classes, the internet, from your fellow writers so that you start to understand why your story meanders all over the place, or why it's so boring in the middle, or why no one's satisfied in the end, or why everyone seems to hate your hero or heroine. Read books. Watch movies. You have probably already perceived the structure. It will be easier to understand when you're trying to get through it yourself.

You can't know how to write unless you write. And no matter how much you plan and plot and outline, stories have a way of surprising you, of running off like a hyperactive three-year-old brandishing a hammer. When you get to those moments, or when that three-year-old has suddenly disappeared from sight and you start panicking, that is when you pull out your map, retrace your steps and figure out where that kid might have gone and where he's headed now.

So yes, there's a formula. There are steps every hero takes in his quest. But the formula is not on a piece of paper, or a single website. You can't recite it as though it's the formula for measuring Energy.

"So...what's the formula?"

Oh, for crying out loud...HERE. HERE IT IS. ENJOY.

 

14 Comments

This is a lesson to journalists, aspiring journalists, and anyone who is a writer or wants to be a writer.

Research and balance are important, whether you're writing fiction or a news piece. If you want people to take you seriously, to believe you and trust you to tell them something important, you have to do the legwork.

A little news channel called WNEP in Woosic, Pennsylvania, put up this story, about how some parents are concerned that an English teacher who has served for more than 20 years happens to write erotica for Ellora's Cave under the pen name Judy Mays. Concerned citizens are "disgusted" and want the teacher to quit.

I am trying very, very hard not to be mean, to say what I really think about these particular small-minded witch hunters who apparently have nothing better to do. I am holding back all the things I really want to rant about, including the state of sexual freedoms in America, the personal lives of citizens, the devaluation of our educators, the hypocrisy of Western morality, and a bunch of other things that would likely make me sound smarter than I actually am.

Instead, I will focus on the gatekeeper to this piece of utter nonsense: the news media.

Having trained as a journalist, I know that small town media outlets struggle to fill inches and broadcast minutes. I know that reporters work on tight deadlines and can't always get the interviews they need to complete their piece. I know that, especially if you're young and just starting out, it can be intimidating to interview difficult subjects, especially those who are being attacked.

But none of those are valid excuses in the end. People are smart, and they will call bullshit on you if you leave out key pieces of information. And when you come off as blatantly one-sided in a story like this one, you become less than laughable. You become a sham.

The journalist in question, Kena Vernon, was more likely out of time rather than biased. The edits were a little sloppy, the script poor. There are huge leaps of logic with little supporting evidence, and no confirmations from the author in question. With little more than a few clips off YouTube to support the whole story, she should have killed it. In the end, the piece came off as petty, petulant and malicious as the women gathered in the opening shot. And yet, WNEP still ran the piece at its full 1:42.

The backlash has been both heartwarming and cringeworthy. As of the writing of this post, more than 3400 people joined the Support Judy Mays Facebook page since it started at 2pm EST today. WNEP has garnered more than 200 comments on the story--many of them nasty--and people have been calling the station to complain.

If anything good has come out of this, it's that Mays's sales have likely jumped this afternoon: in a tweet, Ellora's Cave was pleased by the support for her.

Here's the thing, and I should haven't to point it out, but I will: There's a person involved. And when you tell a story you think is full of conflict, sensation, something sexy and attention grabbing, the moment you decide to single out and pick on ONE person, you MUST stop and decide if you've been fair and balanced and given that person an opportunity to rebut.

I know it might have been a rough day. No one would return your phone calls and you had two other pieces to finish editing. I know it was probably just a fluff piece to you anyhow, and dammit, those minutes needed filling!

Yeah, life as a broadcast journalist sucks. It's why I never became an actual journalist. But good reporters must hold themselves to a higher standard if they want to tell real, impactful stories. It is not enough to say you tried your best to get the story, but you'll have to go with what you've got. As Master Yoda so eloquently put it, "Do or do not. There is no try."

By only telling half a story, you subject all involved to hurt, ridicule, abuse--not just Judy, but all those parents who complained in the first place. You could be destroying many lives. And you will most certainly hurt your own career and tarnish your media outlet's reputation.

In the case of Judy Mays, WNEP made it very, very personal to a lot of people--writers, readers, publishers, editors, parents, students, coworkers...a lot of people.

Perhaps there are those at Local TV LLC who are smugly sitting back at the number of hits they're getting on their website. Bad publicity is better than no publicity, right? Those ad dollars have to come from somewhere. But just as bad writing will cull your readership, poor reporting will decimate your news-watching viewer ship.

Perhaps there are those who will say that people love these stories regardless--celebrities, scandals, car wrecks: we're all just cavemen waiting for the next bloodbath, and it's their mandate to "infotain" us. Well, hey, I love going to the zoo, but there's only so much shit-flinging and masturbation I'll put up with at the monkey cage.

So journalists and writers take note: research, balance and more importantly, decide whether or not you're actually telling an important story...or if you're just flinging poo.

</Rant over.>

Leave a comment and I'll randomly pick a winner for any one of Judy Mays's Ellora's Cave eBooks! Draw will take place May 2, 2011, 9 p.m. EST.

 

 

For the hubby’s birthday, I bought him Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games for PS3. He’d been coveting it for a while, being a fan of the game developer’s other titles including the Grand Theft Auto series.

Red Dead Redemption is an open-concept third-person shooter/adventure-type video game set in the final days of the Wild West. You play John Marston, a reformed hoodlum forced to go after one of your ex-posse buddies. During your quest, you have to complete tasks for various people, accumulate weapons, ride hither and tither on your horse, and so forth.

I think the best review and summary is still here. (Warning: profanity laden, but hilarious.)

Generally, I don’t play a lot of newer video games—I’ve always preferred the old point-and-click or type-based PC adventure stories of the late eighties and early nineties made by Sierra. They had linear paths and set story lines. You had to do everything in sequence, and any deviation from that would likely result in a run time error. RDR, however, gives you a lot more leeway in terms of when and how you complete missions. You don’t even have to play the set storyline, as long as you’re content to ride across vast, scenic southern desert plains, hunt animals, pick flowers, collect bounties, and stop the occasional horse thief, rape, stage coach hijacking, or runaway bandit.

Which is generally what I enjoy doing. Or what I now enjoy doing, after watching my husband get to the very end of the game.

CAUTION: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR RED DEAD REDEMPTION AHEAD

See, John Marston has a wife and son the government is holding hostage, to ensure you carry out your mission. After shooting your old friend dead, you get to go home, and there’s even a lovely, wistful song that plays as your ride your faithful horse across the lush landscape…but that’s not the end of the game.

Upon your return, you have to rebuild your ranch and your family’s trust in you—buy cattle to replenish your herd, do chores, accomplish various tasks for your family members. It’s all very domestic. Plus, you still have the whole world to explore and pick flowers in. There really doesn’t have to be an end.

Except there does.

After all, you’re a thug. A former wanted man. You’ve killed and maimed dozens in your quest for some skewed justice. So the government comes after you and your family at the ranch. An epic battle ensues. It’s just you and your son (but mostly you) against, like, forty guys. If you play through this mission, you will likely be killed a half dozen times before you actually get through it. But the gods of video games give you the power to come back to life and start at those blessed automatic save points, so all is well…for now….

The cut scene ensues. You get to the barn. You get your wife and son on a horse. You tell them not to worry. You kiss your wife goodbye and tell her you love her. You watch them ride away. John Marston is all alone now in the barn, surrounded by a dozen lawmen.

You know what? I can’t even go on. Here, watch it. (WARNING: graphic violence and blood)

I think I nearly burst out in tears when I saw this. How could you devote an entire game—hours and hours of game play—to helping/being this almost unstoppable (anti)hero and not have a happy ending? He was just getting his life back in order, reconnecting with his family and rebuilding his ranch. And then, unjustly, it’s all taken away from him. More importantly, it’s all taken out of your hands.

Therein lies the real tragedy of this epic. Up until that moment, you had a choice in almost all things: you could choose to help those in need, or ignore them, or shoot them in the back and take their belongings. There were consequences to your actions, whatever you chose to do. But in this final moment, you can’t run away. You can’t get on a horse and follow your wife and son. You can’t surrender, or even find a place to cower in fear. The computer gives you exactly one second—that gold-hued flash of dead-eye cognizance that slows down time enough for one final act of defiance—to realize how futile your actions are.

No chance to respawn. No save points to be reborn into. The video game gods decide that’s the end of Jack Marston’s journey. Game over.

I was shattered. Inconsolable. I nearly flung myself upon the screen and cried along with his wife.

But that’s not the end of the game.

You “return” as John’s son, Jack Marston, three years later after burying his mother. Young Jack has a mission, and it’s to find the man who killed his father. My husband played through these missions right to the final showdown. And even as the man’s body lay bleeding out in the dust, there was no satisfaction in revenge. No riding off into the sunset or even a chance to move on from there. That’s the end. That’s where the curtain comes down.

I was thoroughly disappointed. Playing Jack was not like playing John—and I came to the horrible conclusion that John could never be replaced. It didn’t have anything to do with an actual change in the character’s identity, age, experience, game play, or any of those things. Sure, I’d miss that horse-straddled gait, those scars and that gruff voice, but Jack looked enough like his father that those things could be overlooked. And anyhow, you still got to play and do the same things you did with John.

Rather, it was about the character arc and the stakes the senior Marston faced. I didn’t like Jack because the only thing he had to look forward to was a cold, empty vengeance with no consequences. He didn’t have anything to lose. And we really didn’t want to spend any more time with him performing the same drudging tasks we’d gone through with John. The end result: most people who’ve played RDR hate Jack for deigning to fill his father’s worn, dusty, blood-splattered boots.

So what does this all amount to? What did this time sink of a video game earn me except a flat butt, a lot of heartbreak and an inability to move on with my own saved missions, knowing what lies ahead for poor John Marston?

On the writing side of things, it turns out I learned that one’s emotional investment with one’s characters is dependent on their journeys and the stakes.

Not that those are the only things that makes a good story/video game—I wasn’t nearly as invested in Super Mario Bros., ever. The story is as two-dimensional as the characters themselves (despite being iconic). Sure, there is satisfaction when you finally save the princess, but really, who the heck cares? Mario didn’t exactly grow as a person (no mushroom jokes, please) and the only thing he ever had at risk was his own overall-covered hide.

In addition to character journeys and high stakes, good storytelling involves unpredictable outcomes. Will they/won’t they? is the classic sexual tension plot. “Will he defeat this dastardly villain?” is typical of adventure and crime-fighting genres. The higher the risk, and the more that the character is developed with flaws and foibles to interfere with the goal, the more in question those outcomes become.

When things end happily, it’s great; but when it ends tragically, shockingly, you mourn for them, with them. And you look for what’s next, what the characters will do now. Just think of the end of The Empire Strikes Back—arguably one of the most successful cliffhangers ever. Or look at any of Joss Whedon’s work: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rife with twists and deaths and shockers that become pivotal to a season arc.

So all those hours spent on the couch riding mustangs across an alternate-universe Texas didn’t go to waste. I now have a plot bunny for a Western fantasy I want to work on. And I can now add "scarred reformed cowboy" to my list of men I admire as (anti)heroes.

At the very least, I learned this from John Marston: life sucks, but you make the best of what time you have. And then you die.

From Ukraine's Got Talent, this beautiful performance:

I was absolutely stunned by the simplicity of this piece. It's amazing how a few lines drawn on a light table can be so poignant and tell so much. The music and narration was just...wow. I think every storyteller should strive for this kind of economy and art.

Wow. Just...wow.