Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Town Made the Characters

The Town Made the Characters
By Kay Springsteen

When I began Lifeline Echoes, I decided on the premise of the story first – a trapped individual and someone who had been his voice lifeline, keeping him hanging on. I knew the story would begin in one location and end in a completely different place. Once I settled on Los Angeles as the starting point, I went in search of the opposite end of the spectrum, Small Town, Anywhere, U.S.A. I could have chosen the Midwest, since I grew up in Michigan, but something screamed Cowboy to me, so I invented a small town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. That’s how Orson’s Folly was born. But a small town needs people or it’s just a ghost town.

The stories that take place in Orson’s Folly (so far, Lifeline Echoes and Elusive Echoes), take the whole town to tell. While the primary focus in both stories is on the hero and heroine, like most people, they aren’t living in a bubble. They have interactions and these interactions push the story along. Main characters need to be made real. You may start with an idea, cut it into a paper doll, dress it, add layers until you have a plastic cutout, and then finally add the polish that makes the character alive. But it’s not enough to make real-life main characters. You have to make your secondary characters just as alive and just as believable—just as loveable and just as unlikeable.

So, I populated Orson’s Folly with some typical small town folks. But just putting these folks in place was the same thing as putting cardboard cutouts in Yankee Stadium instead of hiring extras for a baseball movie. They’re present but they do little to move the story along. Add a few “real” people into that crowd of cardboard and a soundtrack of stadium noise, and you get some motion in the stands to disguise the cutouts. Add a section of people seen in close-up talking, eating hotdogs, cheering when the hero hits a home run, and interacting with the hero in the form of perhaps getting an autograph, and you have a realistic backdrop to a scene that advances the story.

When Ryan returned to Orson’s Folly after being gone for over a decade and a half, the sheriff told him half the people thought he’d leave again and 49% were afraid he wouldn’t—and the sheriff was the 1% who would wait and see what happened. Bingo. My town’s residents now had relationships to my hero. Some liked him, some didn’t. Some figured he’d bail again, some hoped he would. From then on, every interaction shown between Ryan and the town “extras,” showed which side the extra was on, and gave an idea of Ryan’s place in the town. He may have returned, but he’d have to earn his standing again.

The key to building the layers of all the characters is to consider their relationships to one another. Parent/child, romantic interest, siblings, best friends before or now, competing athletes, casual acquaintances, former lovers, aggressor/victim, rivals, boss/employee, customer/clerk, caregiver/care receiver, law enforcement/criminal – these just to name the tip of the iceberg. Once I decided on the specific scenes my story was going to show, I populated the scenes with characters. For instance, when my heroine stopped for gas, I built layers on the cardboard cutouts of gas station attendant and other customers and had my heroine run into two gossiping townsfolk who stopped talking when she rounded a corner to find them there, giving the heroine a sort of edgy feeling and the knowledge that something was going on but it wasn’t for her ears., emphasizing that she was still an outsider in the town.

In Elusive Echoes, many of the same characters from the first story returned, and some got ramped up roles. The trick in this case was to build on any characterization already laid out in such a way that it didn’t contradict what had already been developed. There is a bit of leeway with secondary characters because they don’t have as many layers added into them as the well-fleshed out primary characters.

In Orson’s Folly, however, I have managed to build a system of several tiers of characters: the main characters, the supporting cast, and townspeople who are shown in various levels of interaction throughout both stories. The primary characters (Ryan and Sandy in Lifeline Echoes, and Sean and Mel in Elusive Echoes) are the main secondary characters in each other’s novels. All of these characters had to stay true to form while at the same time taking a backseat when not in their own story. But the secondary character of Justin McGee (Ryan and Sean’s father) is more like a secondary and a half character – not quite primary but definitely above secondary. Thus, it was a bit easier to keep him in his place as the glue of the McGee family through both stories. His relationship with his sons as well as with people in the town never changed.

The key to holding the characterizations true was to examine their relationships to each other and use these relationships as a sort of keystone. Ryan was the big brother who left and returned years later as the Prodigal Son. Sean was the kid who’d been left behind, who had moved into taking on the responsibility for running the ranch when their father had to step back some. He had a hard tome relinquishing the role of responsibility when his brother returned, and they were still doing a push-pull a year and a half later when the story became Sean’s to tell.

But I think sibling or parent/child relationships are fairly easy as long as you know the family history. How can other secondary relationships be utilized to move a story? The power of a decades’ old grudge can create hatred that festers and malevolence can grow to such a degree that family feuds are born. Or take the triangle. These are often seen in romance, but what if the writer takes a triangle and twists it so that it’s not a romantic triangle but a triangle between the love of the heroine’s life and someone to whom she gave life? Different kinds of love but equal in intensity – and then she must choose between the two.

In order to add the final layer to a character, the one that makes the character stand up and say “notice me, I’m real,” the writer must take into account the character’s relationships with others. Thus, the town of Orson’s Folly, or rather relationships with its inhabitants, is what put the polish on the characters that started out as cardboard cutout ideas.

To find out more about twisted triangles of love . . . I invite you to pick up a copy of Elusive Echoes

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Character Monday: Meet Sean McGee from the Echoes Series

We first met Sean as the baby brother in Lifeline Echoes, when he welcomed Ryan home:
The skinny boy's frame had become lean and muscular. Glow-in-the dark blond hair had toned down some but Ryan noticed it still had a tendency to curl at the ends even though his brother kept it cut short. Sean had been thirteen when Ryan left. He'd grown into a man Ryan scarcely recognized.
Sean's tension visibly drained. His smile started slowly, in his eyes first, then spread to his mouth, where it bloomed into a full grin.
"Ry!" In two long-legged strides, Sean was in front of him. "Oh man, it's good to see you!"
In a move too sudden for Ryan to dodge, Sean folded him into a bear hug and lifted him off his feet, his carefree laughter driving out the last vestiges of Ryan's uncertainty.

…showed his brother up:
"Lost your touch with horses there, big brother?"
Ryan spun around. Sean leaned indolently in the doorway.
"Horses? No." Ry shook his head. "I can still handle a horse. That?" He jerked a thumb at the stall behind him. "Is not a horse. That is a demonic replica of a horse."
Sean pushed off the doorjamb and sauntered toward his brother. Inside the stall, the agitated snorts of the big roan continued but the kicking had stopped.
"Domingo? This guy's a sweetheart. You just gotta speak his language." He held up an apple.
"You mean you have to bribe him," Ryan said flatly.
Sean smiled and held out his free hand for the lead rein.
Ryan stood well back when Sean eased open the stall door and stepped inside, apple first. When the horse took the apple, Sean clipped the lead to the halter.

…took his brother out on the town:
Ryan took a second look at the other girl. "Whoa! Is that little Melanie Mitchell?" he asked his brother.
Sean nodded, an eager grin splitting his face. So that's the way it rolled.
Ryan whistled appreciatively. "She sure grew up well." The poke in the ribs went a long way toward making him feel like a big brother again.

…told his brother the hard truth:
Ryan winced. "I didn't think Dad ever understood any of it. I figured he'd have tried to stop us so I never gave him the opportunity, never told him much."
Violence born from sixteen years of hurt and loneliness guided Sean's punch into the wooden beam, so close Ryan felt the whoosh of air passing. Sean's green eyes registered satisfaction when Ryan flinched away from the blow next to his head.
"You don't give Dad enough credit," Sean grated.

…had his brother’s back:
He was propelled on waves of obvious aggression, his obedient wife trotting in his wake, as though on a short leash. Sean stepped into Brody's path, but the old man brushed him off, his eyes never leaving Ryan.
Sandy bit her lip. Brody MacKay had always made her a bit uneasy. Seeing him now, with obvious malevolent intent on his features, her sense of uneasiness increased tenfold. Somewhere in his fifties, he was a formidable antagonist, as big as his son but with a coldness that never failed to chill Sandy to her core.
Ryan made a barely perceptible hand motion, warning Sean to stay out of it. The younger McGee stepped back, but he didn't go far. He had his brother's back.

…and gave his brother support:
A Styrofoam cup of something hot was pressed into his hand. Ryan looked down at the coffee then up to Sean's troubled face. His brother shoved a sandwich into his other hand.
"Mel and Charlie brought food." Sean closed his hand over Ryan's shoulder, giving a little shake. "You have to eat, Ry, just a couple of bites. You're a liability if you're running on empty."

NOW…it’s Sean’s turn. Find out why frogs hold special meaning to him:
He didn’t think he’d ever be able to look at another frog anywhere without thinking of Melanie Mitchell’s underwear.

Why he’s talking about names:
When he noticed everyone was now eyeing him expectantly, he realized he’d have to say something. “Ah, um . . . well, I’ve always been partial to Grace.”

How he handles difficult topics of conversation:
“Are you and Mel doing it?” Embarrassment leaked like cherry-colored paint to stain the kid’s freckled face.

How he handles stress:
Her lips, so warm and welcoming, her body so soft and his for the taking. He’d never felt more alive than he did as he pinned her against the bar and lost himself in the passion that always hovered between them like an ion-charged storm, ready to erupt with thunder. She went limp in his arms with a moan as he claimed the affirmation of her life that he needed for his own to continue.

And why he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
Elusive Echoes, June 28, 2011, Astraea Press

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Moonlight on the Palms by Lisa Greer Now Available!

Hi, Lisa Greer here! My gothic romance novel, Moonlight on the Palms, is out now. If you like Southern settings, a sultry and twisted but sweet romance, and a mystery, I think you'll enjoy it. The novel is set in Brownsville, Texas, where I currently make my home. I've included a short excerpt below where the heroine, Astrid Kent, meets her ex-lover, Juan Marquez, again after eleven years.

Astrid's   brain   felt   like   a   lump.   Nothing   made   sense.   She  
leaned  against  the  marble  topped  island  for  support.  
“I   was   married   to   your   mother.   I'm   her   widower   now.”   He  
said  these  words  as  if  speaking  to  a  stupid  child.  “You  look  like  you  
need  to  sit  down,  Astrid.  Come  with  me.”    
Juan   came   to   her   side,   putting   his   hand   on   her   back   and  
steering  her  back  down  the  hall  to  the  dim  sitting  room.  The  touch  
of  his  arms  around  her  brought  even  more  pain  as  did  the  sound  of  
her  name  on  his  lips.  How  she  had  longed  to  hear  it  again,  and  now  
she   realized   it   had   all   been   a   fantasy.   He   had   belonged   to   her  
mother  during  all  those  years  she  had  dreamed  of  him.  Juan  placed  
her   on   a   white   brocade   couch   that   had   been   there   since   Astrid's  
teen  years.  His  hand  lingered  a  beat  too  long  on  her  shoulder.  
“What  are  you  talking  about?  How  could  you  have  married  
my   mother?   You   can’t   be   serious.”   She   kept   thinking   she   would  
wake  up  from  what  must  be  a  nightmare.  
Astrid  looked  at  him  closely  for  the  first  time,  tears  standing  
in   her   eyes   despite   her   attempts   to   will   them   away.   His   face   was  
burned  into  her  heart.  She  would  have  known  it  anywhere,  and  she  
had  dreamed  about  it  over  and  over  in  the  past  eleven  years.    
His  long- lashed,  ink  black  eyes  were  backlit  by  the  last  rays  
of  light  coming  through  the  huge  window  in  the  sitting  room.  His  
hair,   straight   and   cut   short,   glowed   blue- black   in   the   lamp's   rays.  
His   skin   gleamed,   flawless   and   the   color   of   mocha,   but   she   could  
see  lines  around  his  eyes  that  had  not  been  there  before.  He  would  
be   thirty- two   now,   but   he   looked   older   than   that   somehow.  
Unaltered  fine  features,  the  classic  Roman  nose  and  sensual  mouth  
made  her  breath  catch  in  physical  pain.  

Buy  Link:http://www.astraeapress.com/#ecwid:category=662245&mode=product&product=3906042

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Terrific Tuesday: In the Spotlight by Liz Botts

When sixteen year old Hannah Brewster lands the lead in the school musical she hopes it will be the perfect chance to get the attention of her family and her long time crush, Kyle. The only problem is that school super star, Josh Larson, has been cast opposite her, and he seems to like her as more than just a cast mate.
As Hannah and Josh grow closer, things between Hannah and Kyle get complicated. When Hannah realizes that Kyle is not who she thought he was, she also realizes that she just might like Josh as more than just a friend.
Will Hannah and Josh be able to overcome their obstacles and admit their feelings before the musical ends?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Character Monday: Meet Amelia!

Today Amelia, the heroine of “Matching Wits With Venus”, has agreed to speak with me at The Saddle Ranch, a western-themed restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Amelia is already seated at a booth against the wall when I arrive. As she stands to greet me, I see she’s wearing a white lace sweater over a tight black dress.

I love your sweater!
(Amelia blushes slightly.) Thanks. I got it at the Rose Bowl flea market. It was part of the trousseau of an old Hollywood star. At least that’s what the woman selling it told me. The white lace reminds me of a wedding dress.

After Amelia shakes hands with the manager, who has come over to our table to greet her and insists on introducing him to me, we resume our conversation.

Amelia, where do you live?
Here in West Hollywood, with my dog Petal, who’s a Maltese-Shih-Tzu.

Are you a native of this area?
Yes. My father is Gerard Coillard, the research scientist. Maybe you’ve heard of my mother, Stella Sweetwater? She was in a lot of movies in the 80’s.

What do you do for a living?
(As Amelia smiles I see a slight dimple in her right cheek.) I’m a matchmaker.

So it’s true, you are the Amelia of “Happily Ever After by Amelia”?
(Amelia nods and offers me the fruit platter the manager has sent to our table.) People are always surprised that anyone would want to be a matchmaker, especially in Hollywood, where a lot of marriages have a shorter shelf life than a tub of cream cheese. But that’s the challenge.

Do people really want to find a soul mate?
Everyone is looking for love. I just show them how to find the perfect partner.

What’s the best part of your job?
The wedding invitations. Well, that and the baby announcements.

Learn more about Amelia in “Matching Wits With Venus”.

For centuries Cupid has longed to be more than Venus’s arrow boy.  When he’s sent to eliminate “Happily Ever After by Amelia”, the matchmaking business threatening Venus’s status as the goddess of love, Cupid decides to steal Amelia’s methods and make his own matches.  While spying on Amelia, Cupid accidentally shoots himself with his magical arrow and falls in love with her.  But bereaved Amelia doesn’t believe in the existence of Roman gods, and she’s certainly not looking for romance.  She’s too busy perfecting the patented personality profile that’s made her Hollywood’s favorite matchmaker.

Disguising himself as a mortal financial advisor, Cupid manages to break through Amelia’s guarded exterior.  As their passion deepens so does Cupid’s guilt about deceiving Amelia.  Cupid’s interference with Amelia’s life causes her business to falter, leads to a sterile spring that threatens the animal kingdom and shatters the longstanding peace between the Roman and Greek gods.  With the fate of the natural and under worlds at stake, Cupid must decide whether to reveal his true identity and risk losing the chance to live happily ever after with Amelia.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot New Release: The Keepers by Monique O'Connor James

Jess denies God.  In his infinite wisdom, he’s taken everyone she’s ever loved. Moving to the French Quarter was a ploy to erase the guilt she felt for rebuking her faith.  Perhaps, if she hadn’t met Justin, an angel preoccupied with getting back into God’s good graces, and drowning in his hatred for humanity, her plan would have worked.

Justin’s general disdain for the human race makes him difficult to like, but some higher power has appointed him her keeper.  Justin’s convinced he can mend her broken relationship with her maker, but in the process he learns a thing or two about his own humanity.

Never mind falling in love, that’s not supposed to happen.  In fact, it may even be forbidden. Jess just wants Justin to understand her plight, and he wants to protect her from a world she doesn’t know.

If neither are equipped to save the other, then whose soul will live and whose will perish?

At last check, this awesome new release was at #11 on the amazon YA list and #1 on the Hot New Releases.  CONGRATS, MONIQUE!  This book isn't specifically geared for YA, so if you enjoy a good story about good vs evil, you'll love this one!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Contests and Free Prizes!

We're one of the main sponsors for the romance portion of this exciting summer blog contest.  Check it out to enter for prizes!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writer Wednesday: Why Your Book Needs a Realtor

Why Your Book Needs a Realtor
By Kay Springsteen

This is it! You’ve decided to move. Maybe your house is too big, maybe it’s too small. Maybe you just want to live someplace else. Either way, you’ve decided you’re finished with the house you’re living in. It’s time to sell it. To do that, you have to put it on the market.
So let’s say you’ve been living in this house long enough to get comfortable. You’ve made a few improvements, tweaked a few things. Maybe you’ve put on an addition. And along the way, your kids have grown, so you’ve added growth charts with some cute little nicks in the woodwork of their bedroom doors. Nothing big, and it’s so cute and heartwarming, you just know the house’s next owners will want to preserve those marks forever like you were doing.
And, well, maybe getting in and out of the master bath is a bit awkward because the door sticks, but if you just give it a tiny kick, it opens just fine. Yes, those stains on the carpet are a tad unsightly, but—hey, it was New Year’s Eve of 2000 and Auntie Em thought the world was about to end when the clock struck midnight, so she was chugging the grape juice. And when the countdown ended and the neighbor shot off his gun…yeah, maybe that’s not as cute now that 2012 is approaching and Auntie Em likes prune juice.
So your house has some quirks that not every prospective owner is going to love…some might even hate them. What do you do? You clean it up. And since you have a hard time with destroying the evidence of some of your best memories, maybe an objective opinion is called for.
You wouldn’t consider selling your house without cleaning it up and having a third party (AKA your realtor) evaluate what you still need to do to show it off successfully, right?
So why would you consider doing anything less for that story you’ve been sweating over for the past several months or even years?
You’ve built your world, met your characters, introduced them to the world, added in a plot so they have tasks to accomplish. You’ve given then a voice and shown them participating in activities that lead to other activities. You’ve crafted a heart-stopping climax and finished with a breathtaking flourish. You’re ready to submit to a publisher and take that bow into the world of publication, right?
No one tells the perfect tale in a flawless fashion. We’re all human – more human than the characters we’ve created, actually. We’re bound to miss a period or a set of quotation marks. We probably have too many commas or a misplaced modifier. We may even…gasp! We might have a plot hole or two.
So, your story isn’t 100%. What do you do? You can send it in and risk rejection before the acquisitions editor reads past the second or third page. Or you can polish it.
Oh, you’ve already polished it? What about page 17, where your character said she hasn’t been home in 10 years, and then on page 24, she says she’s been away for 11 years?
It’s easy to miss the small details by being too close to the story you wrote. And it’s those small details the reader is going to notice and say, “Wait a minute!” 
So after you realize you’ve done as much as you can with the story, what do you do? You call a realtor. Or at least a critique partner or a group of them. You need someone to look over your work. Someone who will be able to look at what you’ve crafted with a…well, a critical eye. An objective party. Not the spouse, who will either joke your story’s foibles away or not get it. Not your best friend who will gush about your work because, well, you wrote a book!
You need someone with strong grammar and usage skills, someone who understands fiction and how it’s written. The best critique partners are other authors—this also gives you a chance to critique their work for them to return the favor. Trust me, every time you critique someone else’s work, you will learn also.
Now, I’ve developed a partnership of trust and fun with my critique partners. When they point things out, they’re not trying to undermine me or say my work stinks. They’re giving me insights that I can’t have about my work because I’ve been looking at these pages for so long I overlook things. They’re helping me improve and become a better writer.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun at it. My Achilles heel is the difference between lay and lie. I even tried to teach myself to remember the difference by remembering that chickens lay and people lie. But I frequently miss it because it’s one of those things I grew up with: “The shirt was laying on the floor.” It’s a family colloquialism.
So, what do my crit partners do? They cluck-cluck like chickens whenever they find I’ve done this. We have fun with it because writing fiction, through all its processes, should be fun. Otherwise, why do it?
I trust my crit partners with my baby. I may or may not agree with everything they tell me, but the things they find are things at least I am made aware of. Sometimes, I don’t agree with them and yet I can see I’m not right either, and at such times, critique partners are great persons to brainstorm with. “Obviously plan A isn’t working, so what do you think might fix it?”
As a writer, you owe it to yourself and to the story you’ve been working so hard on, to include crit partners in the process. They are your first line of editing so you can present the most polished manuscript possible to the publisher. And believe me, if you can’t take what a trusted critique partner says without folding, you will have problems when your book goes into the publisher’s editing stage. A crit partner will help you polish your work for the editor to prepare for publication. An editor, on the other hand, has a job to do, and that is to spin your work into gold for your readers to enjoy to the fullest possible extent. The more polished your submission, the easier the process of editing will go.
If you need further convincing about the benefits of a critique partner, consider this personal story. Based on my tag line and brief synopsis, I was invited to a chat pitch with a major publishing house’s top editor. I became finger-tied (the equivalent of tongue-tied) and completely bombed the chat. However, this editor obviously sensed my nervousness, and she changed her question tactic. She asked if I had a critique partner or group, and I told her yes. She asked what they thought of the work, and I told her they liked it. She then asked me for a full submission directed to her attention. Why? She confided to me that my pitch was weak but the fact that I worked with critique partners showed a level of professionalism and dedication, and she knew the manuscript would be more polished than if I submitted it with just my own editing. Editors want the submission to be as polished as you can get it, too.
Critique partners can be found in various writing groups at http://groups.yahoo.com/ (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RWCcritique/ is one; others can be found using the search function, http://groups.yahoo.com/search?query=romance+writing+critique) and at reviewfuse.com. Also, eharlequin.com has a forum in the community tab, where you can reach out to and connect with other writers.
Happy writing! If you want to learn more about polishing your manuscript to make it gleam, check out Kim Bowman’s blog, where she’s discussing how to format your manuscript for submission.