A Certain Kind of Busy: Distracted

So I have been a certain kind of busy, not the kind that is exciting or always useful. I’m just about two weeks out from my due date for baby number 2, and I’m tired, and we’ve been doing various things to get ready for labor and the general life shift that’s about to happen. We’ve had family visit, and have more yet to come.
I haven’t been very writerly. Readerly, yes, but the writing has been far away on the back burner. It’s easy to push back, of course, because I don’t have any exact demands on me at the moment. The important stuff is done. Right now, it’s all exploring WIPs and rolling around ideas. Truth told, however, much of my “busyness” has really just been tiredness, which means whenever the toddler goes down for a nap, so do I.
As I mentioned, though, I have been reading some good books. I just finished Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein. It’s a fictional account of a woman who endures six months at Ravensbruck during WWII. I will not pretend it is a happy book, but it is a good book, and I think it is important to read well-researched accounts of those dark parts of history, and of what so many people went through. Definitely recommended.
I also just started a book (non-fiction) about the Saddam regime in all it’s complex cruelty and manipulation. It’s called Republic of Fear, and the intro alone was good enough to recommend the whole thing. I’m also reading a military Sci-Fi, The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata and I am really enjoying it so far despite the fact that it uses my least favorite narrative style of first-person present tense. That’s a serious compliment, by the way! The only other one I’ve ever really liked was Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races. Dang, that book was gorgeous.
Basically, I’m hurrying to read as much as I can before I have both the newborn and any more writing work come my way. So maybe it’s good to rest now as well, while I can!


Till We Have Faces: The Dividing Line

So, I’m halfway through my Till We Have Faces re-read, and I want to talk about how the book handles the supernatural, because it’s a tactic I implemented in my book almost without realizing it.
In most fantasy books magic either exists or it doesn’t. Gods either exist or they don’t. Same for elves, or curses, or angels or whatever. Supernatural things either happen or they don’t happen. Of course there may be a skeptic, or one culture that believes in a thing and another that doesn’t, but usually the narrative itself offers a clear answer to whether or not a certain supernatural thing exists…even if the characters are only discovering it’s existence for the first time.
In Harry Potter magic explicitly exists. In the Rick Riordan books, the various ancient mythologies are objectively real (I have not read these latter books, but my nieces and nephews are super into them right now). In Lord of the Rings, Sauron–for all his lack of presence on the page–is a real force of evil, just as Gandalf is a real force of wizardly good. Even in books of magical realism, wherein the dividing lines between natural and supernatural can be a bit more hazy, the supernatural elements are shown true. In Like Water For Chocolate, Tita’s cooking has blatantly supernatural effects, despite it being a more subtle “magic.”
But, for the greater portion of the book, Till We Have Faces does something else altogether. It doesn’t tell you what’s real and what isn’t. Most of the characters believe in the gods, and believe in curses, and believe in a great Shadowbrute to whom the beautiful Psyche was sacrificed. They believe in Holy places and and Holy ground, and the Priest of Ungit (who is also Aphrodite).
However there is a clever Greek philosopher who scorns assigning weather or famine or blessing to the gods. Between he and the others, they ground the book in what feels like our own reality: the reality where some people believe in miracles and curses, and some don’t. Some people worship deities, some don’t.
Our heroine, Orual, is torn between the level-headed philosophies of her Greek mentor, and the rich, dark, and unshakeable beliefs of her people, the people of Glome.
And at every turn, she is offered evidence to support either, yet she must make the choice of what she believes. She is one moment convinced of the acts of the gods, and at the next, thinking it all a mirage. She generally believes the gods exist regardless, but it is down to a matter of whether she thinks they actually do or signify anything real.
The author leaves the reader to feel Orual’s confusion, frustration, and uncertainty, just as one might feel in the real world when deciding if something we never wanted to believe is actually true, or something we did believe is not true.
I love this approach because, the truth is, “magic” or the supernatural usually only interests me insofar as it is difficult to prove. That isn’t to say that I don’t like classically magical books like Lord of the Rings and what-not, but that I love subtlety, and I love the power of decision it lends to the reader. Is Orual right? Is the Greek right? Are the gods just or unjust, or do they exist at all? Is Psyche deceived or is she wed to a God?
Who is telling the truth, what do these signs and symbols signify, and what is really bedrock reality and truth? It is a questions many of us ask in our own lives, and it is a question I kneaded gently throughout my own story, the strength and importance of it growing as the story progresses.

Writer Questionnaire

I got this questionnaire from THIS author’s website (S. Jae Jones, author of forthcoming Wintersong), which I sort of happened upon by accident, but enjoyed reading.
This may be a little odd, because I think I’m not quite as far into the whole process as those for whom this questionnaire is intended, but I’ll give it a go!
What do you write?
A lot of random things–fantasy, historical, theology and metaphysics–but the book that got me my agent is fantasy (I think, technically, low fantasy? The sub-sections get confusing, and I have found completely opposing definitions of that term)
How often do you write?
Difficult to answer. I wrote in all sorts of corners of time–when I was in the Marine Corps, even when I was deployed, when I was home for a few months, when I was at University. I wrote the whole story as one book, then did a massive revision to break the (1200 page) MS into three whole books. When I’m revising, every day, but only for 1-3 hours, because that’s how long my kid’s naptime is! I’ve been a little out of the groove since my last revision, and I’m trying to write something new and have been very erratic about that.
Who is your favorite character of your own? Who is your favorite character created by somebody else? Why?
Eeesh. Let’s set main characters aside, because there obviously main because I love them, and I don’t want to explain too much about them just now. After that? I like my quieter characters (James, Mali) and my morally ambiguous ones (Everson). They feel very natural to write, which is odd because I am neither quiet nor morally ambiguous, so you would think I would relate to them less. As for the quiet strength thing, I love admiring qualities that I do not remotely possess.
Written by others? Orual, from Till We Have Faces. For being so flawed and human and exposing my own flaws. Anne of Green Gables for being so romantic and dramatic (my childhood). (Add Ziva David for her linguistic versatility and interest in combat, and those are my “3 fictional characters!”)
If you had the choice of going without writing forever or going without dinner forever, which one would you choose?
Umm…as long as I ate a Linner, or a giant late night snack, without dinner forever, maybe? Or not. I actually feel hungry just thinking about it. I’m hungry all the time. I’m also 8 months pregnant. I have some slightly irrational fears about going hungry, actually, which do not accurately reflect my currently ability to obtain food. I get nervous if I don’t know what I’m doing for the next meal. I like to have that nailed down. I’m just going to defy this question and keep writing and eating dinner, until someone forcibly removes either from me.
Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo?
I think I should, for the discipline of it, but I never have.
What’s your favorite book? Favorite author?
Favorite author is C.S. Lewis, but favorite books by him are many (Till We Have Faces, Abolition of Man, Perelandra, Weight of Glory, The Horse and his Boy). And other than that, The Wall by John Hersey, Mara Daughter of the Nile, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Anne of the Island.
What is your least favorite book? Least favorite author?
Skip. I have a lot of books I don’t like, some I even loathed, but I can’t really pinpoint it. I CAN say that while there are exceptions, I do not gravitate towards 1st-person-present-tense and I do not like stories that don’t stop to think and breathe. Action is great, but I like a more measured, rhythmic narrative.
How long have you been writing?
On the book I’m trying to get published now? There are two timelines for that. I started a completely unrecognizable and completely different story that was the story-germ for it when I was 14. I did not start the actual book as it stands until I was 21. I remember it very distinctly. I was in Iraqi dialect class and was bored because the first week of material was all stuff I already knew, and I took out a notepad and started it. I’m 30 now.
What grades did you get in English class?
A’s, I think.
What does writing mean to you?
I don’t know how to answer that. I like it when I write something that I think is smart and beautiful and–more importantly–meaningful. I like stories. I like processing things on paper–moral quandaries, faith, pain, struggle etc. And I like the idea that something I write might be really meaningful or helpful or poignant to someone else.
What advice would you give to other writers?
I myself don’t have a whole lot to offer in the realm of advice. But I will post a quote that I think about sums it up:
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”   -C.S. Lewis
What motivates you to write?
The simple stuff: A story that I want to enjoy in full form. A thought that I want to flesh out on paper. A struggle or quandary for which a story may be the best medium of figuring it out in real life.
Would you let a stranger off the street read your first drafts?
Sure. I’ve never been shy about offering my manuscript out to any friend or acquaintance who will have it.
What is your favorite part of the writing process? Why?
Two things. 1. the daydreaming part, where I see it all and it’s perfect in my head and I take notes, and write down little lines as guideposts for writing it that way. 2. The reading back over scenes I love. I just get to enjoy the story.
What is your least favorite part? Why?
Just sitting myself down and making myself do it when I’m not “in the mood” or majorly revising a scene when I don’t even know where to start. It feels like staring at a math equation while you try to figure out which formula applies, though, of course, it’s not even that straightforward.
What do you listen to when you write?
Nothing, really. I only listen to music if someone has the tv on, or some super irritating noise, and then it’s just because it’s the least distracting, not because it’s not distracting. When I do that, I have a playlist that’s got a lot of thematically resonant music: Mashrou’ Leila, Beats Antique, Bustan Abraham, Iron and Wine, HaDag Nachash, Black Keys, and a bunch of others. The Theeb soundtrack is pretty fantastic too.
What is your biggest pet peeve in writing?
Underdeveloped, over-the-top romances. Hazy description, so I can’t picture anything. Bland prose. Chapter-by-chapter “cliffhangers.” Anachronisms, particularly of language use. OH. And 21st century social mores jammed so unrealistically into historical characters.
How would you describe the perfect prose? How would you describe your own prose?
  1. Strong and sensuous, but also subtle and simple, but with a lot of takeaway…so basically, I have no idea how to describe it. Reading Till We Have Faces (yes I keep mentioning, I’m rereading it right now) pretty much hits the mark, though.
  2. Oof. Um. Well, lots of scent and touch and terrain. Sometimes a little reserved. I mean, I usually like it pretty well myself : ) But it takes a lot of honing, and sometimes gets a bit thick when I’m thinking too hard.
How often do you read?
I usually have five or so books going on at once. I usually read something theological (Pascal, Lewis, Chesterton, Tozer, Bonhoeffer, etc.) in the morning. Then I sort of grab-bag read if I’m re-reading something. And lately, I spend a good 45 min to 1 hr reading every evening. Sometimes I’m a little more sporadic, though.



Influential Books: Till We Have Faces

I’ve decided to occasionally write about what I’ll call ‘in-the-blood’ books: books that have had such an influence on me that I don’t think I could extract them from my writing, thought-process, or standard of excellence.
See, I have book cravings (like food cravings) where I just HAVE to re-read such-and-such a book, and I’ve been craving C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces lately. It’s one of those every-five-years books.
There are a lot of fascinating things about the book, but I’m gonna offer some quick bullet points and then a few quotes from the first chapter (I just started my re-read) and I’ll probably post about it now and again as I read back through.
-This book has the most compelling, complex, real female protagonist in any book I’ve ever read. I relate to the main character, Orual, like I relate to no other character I have ever read. Her anger, her longing, her flaws, her failures. Everything.
-The atmosphere of this book is…unique. From complete, rugged realism, to faint, unprovable hints of the supernatural, to…well, I won’t spoil it for you. Yet.
-Everything feels real, real, real.
-The themes kick you in the teeth. Those who I have asked (forced) to read this book often end up shaking their fists or being discouraged…for the EXACT SAME REASONS as the protagonist.
-There is redemption, but it isn’t pretty. It’s hard as a stone and sharp as a knife, and not quite what you think
-The way this book deals with gods, belief, history, and humanity is just brilliant.
-Character development bar-none. Characters grow, change, get over things, and change their minds in meaningful ways. Those who seemed wise and right still aren’t perfect, and time tempers both reverence, fear and hate.
So here’s the beginning.
“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend through whom they can hurt me.”
So much is achieved in this first chapter. The fear of the gods, and the atmosphere and scents surrounding them, is quickly established. The smallness and simplicity of Orual’s (made-up) home kingdom is established, the setting near real Greece is made known, and the stepmother trope is upended and reexamined.
“All I saw was that she was frightened, more frightened than I–indeed terrified. It made me see my father as he must have looked to her, a moment since…his was not a brow, a mouth, a girth, a stance, or a voice to quiet a girl’s fear.”
Also, we learn (inadvertently) that the one who is telling us the story is the “ugly sister,” one of the villains of the original Cupid and Psyche myth. We know right away we are being told an old tale, but it feels ruthless in atmosphere, and we are being told it quite differently.

Getting my Comeuppance

This is a tale of how I was full of ire and frustration (about something pretty minor, I admit) and complained and complained, and then got my comeuppance, and have that memory seared in my brain. It helps remind me that maybe, just maybe, I should reserve judgement on a frustrating situation for at least a little longer.
Now I have to provide some caveats to the little story I’m about to tell. As I mentioned, it’s about not complaining, especially when you think you know what’s going on, but you really don’t (which is more of the time than we allow). HOWEVER…
-It is a military story. In both the military and in life, there are plenty of situations in which I daresay NO ONE would begrudge you some complaining and venting. People like to joke that complaining is an Olympic sport in the Marine Corps. Everyone sits around in the smoke pit shaking their fists at the next rank above them and all the general hurry-up-and-wait nonsense. Point being, I’m not saying that there aren’t things worth complaining about (although it still may not be the best solution).
-In this story, my complaint was drastically off-base. That’s not always the case either. Sometimes the thing you’re frustrated about really is happening. It doesn’t mean complaining is going to help, but you’re going to feel less stupid about it afterwards (see below).
So, once upon a time, I was deployed and was working 12 hour shifts (7 days a week, obviously). It was good, hard work, but the shift hours were consistent, which means that it was actually kind of cushy compared to other jobs where you’ve got nothing going on one minute, and are up for 36 hours with no break following that. I knew when I started and when I stopped, and even though “down-time” is pretty much just sleep and whatever PT (exercise) you can finagle, it was still the same every day.
The problem with consistent shifts is that you get used to it. You get “spoiled,” see. No matter that I almost couldn’t string English sentences together at the end of my shift sometimes, I still knew that when I was done, I was done.
But, of course, this is the military, and we still have other things to do besides the work we’re doing. Training, briefings, etc. And when this happened, it was ALWAYS during my off-shift, which meant I had to come in two, three, or six hours before my shift started to do whatever the thing was and I HATED this, especially since it often seemed pretty pointless. The guys on the other shift just did it in cycles during their work hours, while it just made an 18 hour day for me. Less sleep, no PT, you get the idea.
Now, there was a period of time where this seemed to be happening all the time, and it was starting to grate. Now this was frustrating, but remember, this is the Marine Corps, and this is a deployment. I really had no reason to feel so entitled to my “off-hours” if they can be called that. But, somehow, I did, whether I would have admitted it or not.
Finally, the straw that broke the stupid, stupid camel’s back (mine…I’m talking about me). I was called in some two or three hours early, but with zero explanation. I didn’t even know why I had to come in, and for a good half hour I was just waiting around, frustration boiling over, and venting to the guys in our little shop area (which THANK THE LORD had a door, and no one else but my own guys heard me. Probably).
Now, I can’t explain why I’m the fool in this story without also explaining that I was good at my job. I had been forced (yes, forced) to put in for some award related to my work, and there was some list of all the work I’d been doing over the course 2 deployments.
The reason I had had to come in early–and the reason I didn’t know why–was because it was for me to receive an award and go through a conga line of officers to be congratulated, and be given coins.*
I was shocked and, internally, embarrassed within an inch of my life. Here I was shaking my fist at losing some down-time, and it was a bunch of people I didn’t even know, coming in to say “you’ve done a really good job.” I have rarely ever felt such a fool. (I do not say never, because I think it is wise to feel a fool every so often.)
Have I been completely (or even mostly) cured of my tendency to complain when “my” time is yanked out of my hands, justly or unjustly, or when something feels stupid or unfair? Well, no. But I keep this story as a reminder to help me temper my complaints, and try to handle frustrations with just a little more dignity, and be just a little more patient when things aren’t going my way. I still vent and even rant at times, but I try to consider whatever it is–a person, a situation, a hindrance–with a little more grace and a little more reason.
I don’t often succeed, but I have this story to go to when I need some help with that.
*Coins: A military tradition. Officers and higher enlisted in certain billets have coins. The coins are ranked like the billets and go all the way up to the President. Under certain circumstances they give them out, and in the olden days, people used to challenge each other at bars to see who had the “highest-ranking” coin, and then you find out who has to pay for drinks. I say “olden days” because I’ve never actually witnessed someone present a coin challenge, but it’s quite possible there are Posts and units where this is still done.

A bit of Daily Life, and Lessons, and What-not

This morning I had to take our 105 Lb wolf to the vet to get his ear checked. I, of course, had the toddler in tow (he’s on the very early side of toddlerhood) who looks like he got in a fight with the cement porch steps, because he did–big clownish red scrape all over his nose.
Also, I’m over 7 months pregnant, and I don’t know exactly what this kid is up to, but I think he moved to a new position this morning which made me feel like I have to waddle and take deep, dramatic sighs every time I sit down.
Basically I think I have become the complete stereotype of harried-mother-of-young-children. You see her in all the sitcoms and movies. She’s rarely a main character, but rather the friend of the main character who inadvertently convinces said protagonist that they will never have children because it looks exhausting (it is). As a side-note, she’s usually portrayed as obnoxious, pathetic, sanctimonious, or all three.
At the very least I do feel a little pathetic and irritable when I’m trying to wrangle giant wolves, wily toddlers, or somersaulting babies under my ribcage. But, for goodness’ sake, women have been doing this forever, all around the world, under all different circumstances, so I’m not complaining. I’m just being amused at the somewhat silly picture I must present when I’m out and about, and feeling very empathetic towards other women, all around the world and throughout history, who are or have been in the same boat.
I have to confess, nothing–nothing–has broadened my empathy quite like being in this most typical and stereotypical of circumstances. When my husband is overseas for prolonged periods of time, I can’t help but think of single moms. When I take a hot shower to relax at the end of a rough day, I can’t help but think of what an absurd luxury hot piped-in water is; many tired, weary pregnant moms don’t have this. When I look at my kid and fear for his future–fear harm coming to him–I can’t help but think of other mothers whose kids are vulnerable to far more danger, making those fears all the harder to bear, all the harder to dismiss.
I could write a full-fledged essay on that, no joke, but I’ll leave it there.
I have been tentatively dipping my toe into writing this story that’s been swimming around in my head for years, but which gets hard to pin down sometimes. I literally only have three pages of it, but I have a few of those rich, soul-grabbing scenes in my mind’s eye (meaning, the scenes that grab my soul, not necessarily anyone else’s…that remains to be seen).
But man has it been hard to kick myself into gear. Wolves, and toddlers, and pregnancy and what-not. I made a end-of-month word count goal for myself, which would sound pathetic to most, but is very ambitious for me at the present time. Working on those new-story muscles that haven’t been stretched in a good long while.
I’m also re-reading my book, because I’m usually ridiculous like that. If I go too long without reading it, I miss it, and get excited to go back and make sure I still like it, and enjoy bits that I forgot I wrote and, you know, headdesk over obnoxious typos I didn’t catch, and scrutinize everything : )
But mostly, I try to enjoy it.



The Everlasting Trope: Star-Crossed Lovers, Friends, and Foes

I haven’t done one of these trope analyses in a while, and I was hesitant to get into this one because it’s got a lot more going on than I can really address here, but I’m going to give it a go.
When I say “star-crossed” I’m applying it very broadly. This means any situation in which either friends or lovers (or anyone in some kind of meaningful relationship) have to cross or endure a significant divide of either culture, class, experience, prejudice, etc. What I am not talking about here is situations in which the lovers are 100% okay with everything and have absolutely no issues between themselves, but society is looking down on them and sneering. I clarify this, because I am talking about the challenges associated with the relationship itself, not how the relationship is treated by those outside it. There is probably another, more accurate term out there for what I’m talking about, but this was all I could think of.
First, three things:
  1. I actually do really love this trope when done well.
  2. It is often done poorly, without any thought or examination or proper context.
  3. It resonates–like most age-old tropes–for a reason.
So, as per usual, I’m going to start with the problems and work my way towards the good stuff.
When the trope doesn’t work, why is that? What are its main flaws?
  1. It’s often romanticized when it shouldn’t be.
What do I mean here? I mean, of course there is Romance (in the classical sense, as in atmosphere and thrill, not necessarily a romantic pairing) in overcoming obstacles, but there’s more to it than that, and that “more” is often neglected.
Let’s take a super classic example of this trope: the servant girl who falls in love with the prince. People love this story. You could read nothing but some variation on this for the rest of your life and probably never run out of books!
But the truth is, that in many historical contexts (which applies to a lot of fantasy that has a historical setting parallel) the disparity in experience, education, and treatment meant that people of low station (and I’m not even talking slaves alone, just any low station) were often scarcely viewed as human by those of station and power. Or they were seen as a inherently inferior type of human. Horrifying, but true in many times and places. And the way society worked (and in some cases still works) reenforced these beliefs, because those of “lower station” rarely had access to the education, arts, culture, etc. that might “humanize” them to their social superiors.
So Mr. Prince-guy would have to do far more than clutch his heart and say “Egads, she is so beautiful, I love her!” He would have to look at her and come to the realization that, despite their very real differences in experience, she is not just a package of simple functions and desires in human form: she is capable of thoughts and desires just as varied and complex as his. And crossing that bridge would be a big philosophical deal, not easily overcome by mere romantic inclination, and subject to many struggles and setbacks and misunderstandings. Just as it takes a whole lifetime to build a good marriage, it can take a long time, and a lot of work, to dismantle a closely held prejudice.
And if Mr. Prince doesn’t cross that bridge or dismantle that belief? That’s a whole other ball of wax. Then she is mere object to him…an intrigue, a dalliance. And that isn’t romantic at all.
The point is, unless you actually deal with the ramifications of whatever social divide the people are trying to cross, then it will be false, and possibly very troubling. Something painful and destructive is being romanticized. This leads to:
     2. The challenges are glossed over:
This is obviously directly related to the above. I’m going to give a contemporary real-life example for this one: Cross-cultural marriages.
Cross-cultural marriage are wonderful and beautiful and occasionally quite hard. The friends and family of mine who have cross-cultural marriages went into those marriages knowing that they had and extra set of challenges (for marriage will always be a challenge) because there was so much else they needed to learn, and so much that you cannot account for except with the simple passage of time.
Can you afford to travel to meet your new in-laws? Can they come to you? What is expected of you? Are there negative dynamics between the two cultures at large? Will the wedding be like your culture, like theirs, or both? What about child-rearing? What about native languages? Communication barriers? Does either person fear that they will lose something of who they are and where they come from? Do they fear one culture will dominate the other one until it disappears? Are there little frustrations and prejudices that pop up at times of conflict, souring the exchange?
All of these can, of course, be faced, discussed and dealt with in a loving, healthy way. But consider that, even under the most idealistic circumstances, where everyone is happy, and loving, and accepting and supportive, these challenges will still need to be faced. That is not a bad thing, but think how much greater the barriers when there is turmoil, enmity, bad history, bad blood, or anything of that sort going on. The phrase “love conquers all” is not inaccurate, but it belies the difficulty of the actual conquering part. Love is work. Friendship where there is bad history and old wounds is hard. Relationships where you still don’t understand some deep, meaningful aspects of the other person’s life…those are going to take extra effort and grace and compassion.
So when these previous two flaws are in play, it often leads to the third, or is simply replaced by it:
    3. It’s a false barrier, aka, manufactured drama
This is when–whether it’s historical or a fantasy world with complex social dynamics–no one in the story acts like real people would when brought up under those harsh/divisive circumstances. Only the villains uphold the contextually unexplained social divides, and they do so simply to display their villainy, not as a complex character trait of someone raised in that society.
This is when no “good guy” holds a bad opinion bestowed by their station/culture. All the good guys don’t care about class/race/wealth/education/cultural strife! They are 100% unaffected by the social mores (at least, the bad ones) around them!
So the only reason for the star-crossed situation is to create drama where there otherwise would be none, because everyone you care about already holds the correct opinions, or the opinions we want them to hold.
So those are the problems. Oh, but when it’s done right, this can be so compelling! And the reasons for that run precisely counter to the problems above.
    1. Sacrifice and overcoming obstacles ARE romantic
When a character is willing to sacrifice their convenience, reputation, wealth, status, or whatever else for a friend? That is powerful. When they are willing to sacrifice their dearly held notions about a supposed enemy, or a “class” of people they thought was “beneath” them (Pride and Prejudice for a very mild example), that too is powerful.
When a character realizes “Wait, I care about this person way too much. What? How is that possible? I may have to reframe my whole way of looking at things because of them!” That is fascinating (IF DONE RIGHT).
    2. The challenges are confronted and complexity ensues
Not only is it meaningful when characters bridge cultural divides, but it packs a better punch when it doesn’t always wrap up with a neat, perfect bow. I’m thinking of a particular scene in Zen Cho’s The Sorcerer to the Crown (which I adored) in which one of the main characters, Zacharias, (who is of African descent and a former slave) has the final conversation with his adopted father, a British gentleman. It nearly brought me to tears, it was so beautiful, but I don’t think it would have been as beautiful if not for the imperfection and complexity of their relationship as portrayed throughout the book.
Zacharias and his father genuinely love each other and have a real and meaningful relationship, but it is fraught with difficulties. The father doesn’t–and can’t–fully understand what life is like for Zacharias, and what he faces due to his skin color and background. The father also bought Zacharias, and as a result Zacharias has never known his real family. There is sometimes real frustration, wounds, and anger between these two people who genuinely love each other.
The divide is bridged, but it’s not always an easy bridge to walk on.
As a result:
    3. When the barrier is real and great, it is more powerful to see it come down
Obviously all these points are interrelated, but when the star-crossed thing happens and it is severe, and poses a real hindrance to a romance or a friendship, where there are real internal and external challenges to overcome, then it means a whole lot more when that happens.
There is something inherently fascinating about seeing two cultures/worlds collide, and there is something hopeful and redemptive in stories where that collision ends in love, or growth, or a rising from the ashes, rather than in (the quite equally possible) destruction or hatred or increased division.
There is actually a whole OTHER facet (or several perhaps) to the appeal of this trope, more to do with the Cinderella effect (the romantic idea of being drawn out of obscurity by someone powerful and important because you amaze and allure them, or something like that), but I decided to focus on this part instead. Maybe I’ll do the rest of it another time!