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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Fantastic-Schmantastic List of Easy Last Minute Costumes

Happy almost Halloween!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love dressing up in a costume of my own design and getting out there and seeing what other people have made. I begin working on my costume months ahead of time, all the excitement building up, until -- VOILA! HALLOWEEN!

That said, I know that not everyone is as Halloween-crazy as I am. Some of you may even be *gasp* costume procrastinators!

Well, no fear. If you're still struggling for a costume idea, you're in luck.

May I present to you:

The Fantastic-Schmantastic List of Easy Last Minute Costumes

All of these costumes are homemade and can largely be put together with nothing more than a journey through the back of your closet and perhaps a quick trip to your local thrift store. Here we go!

1. ZOMBIES. Look, we were never going to get through this list without mentioning zombies. Might as well get it out of the way. Way out of the way. It took a lot of strength for me to include this because, as people close to me know, I have a thing about zombies. Like, you know how somebody are irrationally afraid of spiders?
Yeah, like that.
But zombies.
Anyway, zombies are a decent last minute costume. But better yet, try going as a zombie with a twist! And since the blog is about fiction, why not make it a literary twist? Zombie Elizabeth Bennet is an obvious choice. Zombie Poe. Zombie Wilde. Zombie Peter Pan. Really, feel free to zombify to your heart's content.

Zombie Elizabeth Bennet Instructions

What you'll need:
For clothing:
White night gown (preferably ruffled)

For makeup:
White/pale face paint
Black/dark eyeshadow

For fake blood
Corn syrup
Red food coloring

Bonus: Peeling skinCorn syrup
Glycerin soap (liquid)
Gelatin (plain)
Makeup setting powder

Follow the instructions here to make some awesome fake blood. Before applying the blood, don your best frilly long white or light colored nightgown, easily found at a thrift store. Pin your messy hair bag in a "I slept in my prom hairstyle" kind of way. Paint exposed skin with white face paint or other very pale makeup. Use the dark eyeshadow to create sunken looking eyes and cheeks. For the finishing touch, apply fake blood to mouth and dress.

For the bonus:

This is the best recipe I've found. Never mind that he does a horrible job of giving any measurements -- just focus on getting the consistency right. In actuality, this is very hard to mess up. Once your concoction is made, apply to any areas you want to make look peeling/decomposed/scarred. I recommend a nice neck/jaw wound, as though a zombie chomped down on your neck. Once the concoction is applied, go over it with the white face paint. Then take your fake blood and dark eyeshadow, and any other colors you have/want to use, and begin coloring it in the make it look disgusting. Set with some makeup setting powder if available.

Congratulations, you look disgusting!

2. Patrick Bateman.* Get back to your scary roots this Halloween. Zombies not your thing? Yeah, I don't blame you. But you can still get your scary on with a character like Patrick Bateman. The American Psycho title character can be done in a few ways, whether you're going for the minimalist overgroomed wax figure look or, my preference, the plastic poncho look. 

Poncho Sporting Patrick Bateman
What you'll need:
For clothing:
Clear poncho or garbage bag (a bottom up deal would be amazing, but not essential)
Blue or white button up shirt
Red tie

For makeup:
Foundation and concealer (optional)

For fake blood
Corn syrup
Red food coloring

Again, follow the instructions here to make some awesome fake blood. Put on your nice clothes. Make the most pristine tie knot you can. You need to look immaculate. I highly recommend the foundation and concealer because you want that face of yours to look creepy smooth, like a wax doll. With a high hold gel, slick your hair back. If you have a garbage bag for a poncho, cut out a head and arm holes. Don your poncho. Now take your fake blood and splatter your face and poncho. Practice a manic grin and hand out business cards.

3. The Grand High Witch. Anybody else have the (mis)fortune of reading The Witches by Roald Dahl as a child? I love Dahl's work, but that doesn't make these witches any less terrifying. Intent on killing children they look like regular people until the remove the gloves, wigs, shoes and entire faces to reveal their true form. 

The Grand High Witch in Disguise
What you'll need:
For clothing:
Black shirt
Black pants or long skirt
Black gloves
Ugly black shoes (her deformed feet can fit in cute shoes!)

For makeup:
Lip liner
Dark matte eyeshadow
Dark eyebrow gel (optional)

Bonus: Hair
Long black wig

This one will probably require explaining, but the people who know The Witches will be sufficiently freaked out by your ensemble. The key thing here is to get the clothing right. Once you don your black ensemble, the goal of the makeup is to make your face looking a little to right to be real. This isn't your face, after all -- it is a mask you are wearing to trick people into thinking you're human. So make the blush a little too circular, line the lips just a shade darker than your natural color of whatever you are wearing, and fill in your eyebrows to make them completely uniform. A bonus here would be to use a light brown eyeliner or matte eyeshadow to draw a seam line around the perimeter of your face to show where it comes off.

For the bonus: A wig is not necessary, but it can be a nice finishing touch. A long, straight dark wig has the bonus of allow you to reach up and scratch under it -- a telltale sign that you are a witch!

4. G.M. Dark, The Illustrated Man. People seem to have a weird thing about carnival workers to begin with, the transient lifestyle being a little on the side of ideal for convicts and criminals. And then, a carnie covered in tattoos representing the souls of his victims? That is the making of true terror.

The Illustrated Man, G.M. Dark

What you'll need:
For clothing:
Black suit
Top hat (optional)
Walking stick (optional)

For makeup:
Temporary tattoos, or skill with some washable markers/face paint

Bonus: Mustache
A curled up mustache not unlike Dick Dastardly's

As much as the monochrome black is essential, nothing in this costume is more important than the tattoos. They are what give the Illustrated man his name. So cover any skin that is showing with tattoos -- except for your face. These tattoos should be of people. This might be hard to find in temporary tattoo form, so enlist a friend to help and paint you with markers, face paint, or go for outline drawings and just use an ink pen. Once tattooed, put on your snappy suit, affix your mustache and go steal some souls.

*Update: So, the inclusion of this costume has been bothering me. I'm not gonna remove it from the list because it is a good costume. American Psycho is a well done horrorshow of a novel, and Bateman is an awesome horrible character. What's bothering me is the weird sort of tooled up cult around Patrick Bateman that seems to idolize him. But let's not get it twisted. There is a risk of this costume making light of murder, rape and general violence. That is not the intention. I think, in this case, it is a matter of where you personally draw the line. He is a fictional character from a well-written gruesome novel. But his crimes are very much poignant in the modern zeitgeist.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Short List of Don'ts

I've been away for a while ... obviously. Where have I been? Touring the Antarctic? Toiling away trying to find the next perfect number? Trying to make a sweater out of my own hair?

No. None of these. I've been working, hanging out with my partner, playing softball and doing a personality overhaul on my MC.

And I've been reading. I'm always reading. Any spare minute I have -- at lunch, on the train, on the elliptical -- I read. I read because I enjoy it, but I also consider it my writer homework. I read authors I respect, established authors, but I also read new authors. First novels, newbies to the field of YA and fantasy/sci-fi. I read to see what is being written, what is being published, what is being read.

And while I've found enjoyment in many of these novels, I've also come across some Don'ts. I was inspired to write these down for you after I had to put down a novel on page 7 because I was so beyond exasperated. It was such a sad experience as a reader, I realized that it was my heroic* duty** to share these Don'ts with you.

A Short List of Don'ts

  1. DON'T use dialogue as an excuse for exposition. Really, it's annoying. Imagine you live in a world where magic exists, but only a 7th child has the ability. Don't reveal this on page 2 by having Mary-Jo turn to Bucky-Bob and say, "We are so lucky to be 7th children, which means that we have magic and other people who are not 7th children do not since only 7th children have magic." Not only is this a horrible sentence -- it's also silly. Bucky-Bob lives in the world, too. Why would Mary-Jo feel the need to explain this to him in casual conversation?
  2. DON'T make your super special character go on about wishing they weren't special. Being special is every little kid's dream. Deep down, we all harbor some secret wish to be better at something than everyone else. So when Mary-Jo is the most awesome-est gymnast ever, don't make her prattle on about wishing she could just be like everyone else and not know how to do a quadruple tuck backflip into a roundhouse handspring ...or something. She was receive approximately zero empathy or sympathy from your reader.
  3. Speaking of which, DON'T have your character whine about being privileged. And while we're at it, don't you do this either. I've come across this a few times, usually monarchy wishing they could live like the peasants***, but the most egregious example was in the book I just put down. The MC, Guilty Gertrude, tells us there are two classes of people: the Gonna Dies, who are lucky to have food once a week, and the Silver Platters, who live in luxury. Guilty Gertrude then goes on about how she wishes she wasn't a Silver Platter. Oh really, Guilty Gertrude? Because you've just said the other option is to be one of the Gonna Dies, and I really don't think that's the better option. White guilt, or any permeation of it, isn't a good look.
  4. DON'T make your character tough. It's played out. I'm not saying that there can never be another good stoic character. But maybe it's time to consider some other personalities? There are a lot of options out there.
  5. DON'T make your character hotheaded. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. If this is how your characters handles things, then go for it. But understand that this is also played out. You need to bring something else to the table the a redheaded girl who's badass with a bow and has a bad temper.
  6. DON'T be too serious. Not all novels are comedies, but all novels can use comedy. Your MC or somebody around your MC should be making jokes occasionally. Because that's what people do. If somebody was walking around taking everything in the world super-serial all the time ... well, people would probably laugh at them for taking everything so seriously.

*Because noticing flaws in others is the definition of heroism ... oh wait ...
**Hehe, duty.
***Really? You want to live in the street that people are emptying buckets of excrement on from their windows? Because that's what's happening in your medieval-y world.