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SURPRISE!

Everyone likes surprises, even people who say they hate surprise birthday parties, surprise filling desserts, and popping an unexpected candy flavor into their mouths. Consider the fun of a mixed-flavor bag of candies à la Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans in the Harry Potter series, one that includes intentionally gross, spicy, or sour little landmines. Consider roller coasters that swoop into dark tunnels and horror movies and thriller novels full of ridiculous plot twists. Science and the experience of every childhood tell us that human brains crave surprise--and need it in order to learn new things and to maintain emotional health.

If you are like me, you also enjoy a certain amount of predictability in your life. For example, my family and I just returned from a road trip during which I was the only one who consistently washed my hands, did not eat off the ground, and did not let any semi-feral animals lick the inside of my mouth, and I am the only one who developed a fever, chills, and muscle aches upon our return. I am not particularly enjoying this surprise.

But that sort of thing, too, is good for us. This experience reminded me that precautions aren't guarantees, that life isn't fair, and that Mama can lie on the couch for a couple of sick days without the world falling apart. Surprise!

When I was younger, of course I was more adventurous and enjoyed taking bigger risks like rough travel, camping in bear country, going on shady carnival rides, driving too fast, partying, whatever. I've gone full worried mommy since I conceived my daughter, and I've learned to appreciate a calm and safe lifestyle, but I still crave surprise. So these days, I get it mostly via thrilling novels, TV shows with plot twists, and artsy foreign films--especially creepy or emotionally jarring ones--that I've never heard of before watching them.

And I'm trying to create a whole string of deliciously horrible fictional surprises for safe-lifestyle, book-loving, vicarious-trauma-seeking readers like myself in Matka Danu Miklagarth, which is now 95K words long (and I'm estimating that the finished first draft will be hitting close to 150K) and which will be carefully tested for thrill quality upon my husband, friends, and whoever else wants to help me fine-tune this absurd story of pirates in monster costumes.

Unwelcome tricks usually do us good in the end. As the character Ginny says of her prankster brothers in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,
The thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.

I hope to one day surprise myself along those lines by turning this insane freak of a historical thriller into something other people enjoy.

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