Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I SPY: Creating Great Characters (People)


Join the authors and friends of *Not Your Usual Suspects* for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing. Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do. *TODAY'S POST:* Creating Great Characters (People) by Julie Moffett.

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects, creating great characters. Characters are the most important part of your story. Everything revolves around them. In fact, they are so important, I'm going to give you a big secret right up front...creating memorable, unforgettable characters will make just about anyone's novel (or screenplay) publishable. But you can't just create characters, you must create people. Real, relatable, lovable, and yes, even despicable people.

Now, here's a little quiz to test your character knowledge. How many of the following fictional characters do you recognize? Can you name the book or movie they come from?

1.) Han Solo
2.) Neo
3.) Scarlett O'Hara
4.) Harry Potter
5.) Indiana Jones
6.) Marty McFly
7.) Voldemort
8.) Captain Jack Sparrow
9.) Sherlock Holmes
10.) Romeo and Juliet

I bet you knew most, if not all, of them. That's because these are a few examples of characters who came alive. They became people. All ten of them all had unique quirks, flaws, frustrations and joys. Some were good, some were evil, and the rest were somewhere in between. They were absolutely different and yet absolutely relatable to us. 

Characters are the centerpiece, the foundation, of your story. The action, the plot, the dialogue all begins and ends with your characters. They are the most important part of your story. Therefore, your #1 job as a writer is to establish early reader identification with the characters in your novel. You must make your readers care about your characters and become emotionally invested in their success or failure. In turn, your characters must care about something in order to drive the plot. Now, here's a tip: if you have two major characters who are passionate about opposing things, you have created instant conflict. That's a good thing!


Because I'm a Star Wars geek, I'm going to use Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo as character examples. Hopefully, you're familiar with the basic plot. Han Solo cared about money, while Princess Leia and Luke cared about freeing people from an evil empire. Opposing goals = character conflict, even among the good guys. Luke's and Leia's goal drives the plot, while Han remains as an obstacle of sorts. Han doesn't care about oppression, he's all about the cash. But Han is a critical figure, nonetheless, because by the end of the story HE becomes changed by the plot. He grows, develops, does the wrong thing, the right thing, and sometimes nothing. He makes mistakes, he tries to fix them. He lives. He is a person. Luke, the hero, represents us, the every man/woman. He cares about his family, about goodness, about doing the right thing. We can relate (or at least aspire) to that noble goal, so we can identify with his goal. That makes us feel as if we are part of the story. Luke has become more than just a character, he has become a person.


The best characters have flaws, quirks and are relatable in one way or the other. No person (or character) should be perfect. Characters that are portrayed as perfect are not considered relatable. So, as you sit down to pen your story (or edit one already written), ask yourself, what do my characters care the most about? What makes them real? Relatable? What makes them people? Once you are able to craft an answer, make sure their words and actions align to their uniqueness. Voila! You've created great characters.




FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy Book Birthday to Murder in Real Time!!!

Today is the official release day! MURDER IN REAL TIME, the final installment of my debut cozy series is loose in the wild and I'm having enormous emotional conflict. The experience is surreal, bitter-sweet and mind-boggling. The debut in this series, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, released one year ago this month and way back then, today seemed impossibly far away. Now, today is here, the series is ending and I'm whirling between euphoria over my baby's release and utter bereavement over the ending of an era. 

To celebrate this wonderful day, I thought I'd share a sneak peek of MURDER IN REAL TIME, then offer a digital copy of all three books in the series to one commenter. So, if you like the excerpt and want to read more, leave a comment with a way to reach you and I'll select a winner at random on Friday.

Happy Book Birthday to my baby, MURDER IN REAL TIME, and if you're wondering how this babbling author completed an 82,000 word novel when this tiny blog post is a total mess, so am I.

Enjoy!

MURDER IN REAL TIME: Sneak Peek!


Chapter One

My phone vibrated on the Tasty Cream table between a dish with four French fries and a bowl that once contained the world’s greatest hot fudge brownie sundae. I glanced away from the bowl and placed a paper napkin over the chocolate carnage to cover my shame.

“Covering that bowl won’t erase the fifty thousand calories you ate. You know that, right?” My best friend, Claire, smiled and sucked on the straw of her chocolate malt, unaffected by the damage we’d done to our waistlines by ordering half the Tasty Cream menu.

“It wasn’t fifty thousand calories.” My guilty gaze swept over the napkin barely concealing the enormous bowl. “It was maybe a day’s worth of calories. I can skip eating tomorrow and it will be like this never happened.” Lies. Skipping meals wasn’t in my repertoire of practiced disciplines.

“Mmm-hmm.” Claire shook her cup and poked the straw in and out of the lid. “Or,” she smiled wider, “you could train with me. We can rock and run together.”

I rolled my eyes and rubbed my tummy. “I can’t run a marathon, even if there is live music.”

My phone buzzed again and I flicked it with my fingertips.

“The Virginia Beach Rock ’n’ Roll Mini is a mini marathon. It’s right there in the name. Only three-point-one miles. You could run that far without breaking a sweat.” She made a sad face. “It’s no fun alone. Please?”

“Stop making that face. I swear, when you’re sad a little fairy dies somewhere. It’s not natural.” This time I lifted my phone when it buzzed. Telling Claire no was tougher than keeping my internal promise to only eat half the sundae. I read the text display and scrolled through the few messages I’d ignored during dinner.

“Sebastian?” she asked.

“Adrian.” I smiled, though I shouldn’t have. Adrian had been my one true love, until he left me for college. I plotted my revenge for a decade and then moved home when the FBI downsized me in July. Guess who’d also moved home? Yep. Adrian. We sorted things out after I saved his well-toned heinie from a murder charge and again after he saved mine from a crazy lunatic. Somehow, the saving and the sorting left things…complicated. In some ways it had been easier when I wanted to shove an ice cream in his nose and be done with him. Now, I alternated between wanting to squeeze his middle or squeeze his neck. I shifted in my seat. “He probably has another crazy plan to garner votes.”

I needed to make peace with my waffling emotional attachment to my ex. The flipflopping was exhausting, plus he was the town’s homegrown golden boy and running for mayor. We were going to be sharing our little three-by-seven-mile island for the foreseeable future.

Most of the locals had watched Adrian and I grow up together and some still pined for us to reconcile.

“Adrian runs three point one miles before breakfast.” Claire sighed. “I’ve seen him. It’s nice to watch.”

“So, ask Adrian to run with you.” I sipped the tepid water in my glass, regretting my over-indulgence more by the minute. I blamed the Tasty Cream’s inviting old-time soda shop ambience. The minute I treaded over black-and-white checkered tiles and pulled up a little red cushioned chair, anything was possible. Except eating only half my sundae.

“Uh-uh. Adrian’s your man.” She held a palm up between us. “I don’t care what you say. You loved him once and that means I can say hi to him and we can have fun together, in your presence, but I’m not running a marathon with that man, mini or otherwise, if you aren’t there. It’s not cool.”

I loved her so much.

“Besides, I need time to talk to you.” Claire’s long dark bangs fell over her eyes and she pushed them away without making eye contact.

“About what?” My phone buzzed in my hand.

“Answer the poor man. You know how excited he gets about things. What’s going on now?” She crossed and uncrossed her legs, shifting in her chair.

“He says he has a surprise for me.”

Claire clucked her tongue.

“It’s not that.”

“What?” Her large brown eyes widened in faux innocence. “I didn’t say anything.”

I pulled a few dollars from my purse and placed them on the table. “I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not that.”

“You can’t know what he has for sure. It wouldn’t be a surprise if you knew.”

I followed Claire to the register to pay the bill. Her sea-green pedal pushers were amazing with black platform heels and a black silk blouse. I’d break my neck in anything higher than a three-inch heel, but Claire could outrun me in stilettos. It had happened more than once in Macy’s. With heels, she was average height. Without them, she was stretching for five foot two. Her posture, confidence and general disposition screamed runway model. All those cotillions her parents forced her through gave her a taste for self-respect and fashion. The rest was lost in translation. Like the part where they thought she’d settle down and start a family. Claire had the crazy idea it wasn’t 1955 anymore.

That reminded me. “Do you have plans to see the SWAT guy again next weekend?” She’d waited months for a member of the FBI’s SWAT team to ask her out. They turned up at my birthday party together last weekend, but she hadn’t mentioned him since.

She shook her head before I finished the question.

I handed the teen at the register my bill and some cash but fixed my attention on Claire. “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”

She shrugged. “That’s part of it.”

“I love talking about guys with you. Why on earth would you try to make me run three miles for that? Meanie.”

Claire huffed while I stuffed the change from my bill into my wallet. “It’s a mini marathon. Three miles, not thirty, and it’s at the beach.”

“I live on an island. I see the beach every day.” Chincoteague, Virginia, was a delightful costal town adjoined to the mainland by a bridge, the harbor and the sky. The bridge seemed to attach us to the world but, in all honesty, Chincoteague was its own planet. We had a long history of traditions and customs. Some were quaint, and some were odd by mainland standards, but Chincoteague was the epitome of small-town living. Peaceful. Beautiful. Islanders were family. Granted, every family had its quirks, especially one with twelve hundred people.

“Come on. Virginia Beach.” She threw her arms wide and held the door with one hip as I passed. “They play live music. There will be tons of people there. It’ll be like college all over again.”

“I’m too old for college.”

“Speak for yourself.” She stopped short and sighed. “You’re right. Never mind. It was dumb.”

I touched her elbow. “It’s not dumb. I just ate a gallon of ice cream. I should be begging you to make me run a marathon. Look,” I lifted my shirt. “I had to unbutton my pants.”

She laughed. “Put your shirt down before someone takes a picture.”

A flash illuminated the evening.

I blinked through the dots floating in my vision. A man speed walked away from us, wearing a navy-colored windbreaker and khakis.

“Who was that?” Claire asked. “I think he really took our picture. Unless he was shooting the Tasty Cream.”

I turned to examine the ice cream parlor behind us. Its cone-shaped roof interrupted the beautiful island sky. The sun set earlier since fall had arrived and though it was barely past dinnertime, deep hues of smoky gray and violet above us suggested the hour was much later. A few stars shone in the distance over the water. I rubbed my eyes and turned in a circle, seeking some other item of interest a tourist might photograph. A family pressed open the Tasty Cream door and a heavenly mixture of sweet and salty scents drifted on the air to meet me. Fries and ice cream rolled in my tummy. A tummy now captured on film, popped button and all.

“If I find him, I’m demanding he delete that picture.” I stepped off the curb and crossed the street to my apartment, with Claire at my side.

“Tell me about the SWAT guy. Wyatt. What happened with him after you left my birthday party?”

Claire sighed but didn’t answer.

I rented the only available space on the island when I moved home during the summer. Thanks to Adrian and a silly rumor about the house being haunted, no one ever wanted to live there. The owner hadn’t rented the space in a decade. Not the upstairs apartment I now called home, and not the downstairs unit, which had housed numerous failed businesses over the years. Now I lived in the apartment for next-to-nothing rent and Adrian owned the building. He used the downstairs for his campaign studio. Lucky me, living upstairs from temptation.

Except, I wasn’t tempted. Not really. Not normally. Possibilities for a future with Adrian had dissolved long before our reunion this summer. Destiny had already dropped six-foot-sexy, Special Agent Sebastian Clark into my life. Sebastian, my personal hero. When Adrian was accused of murder this summer, I’d called Sebastian for advice. These days, I also called Sebastian my boyfriend. I adored him. In fact, I expected to see him soon. He rented a room by the month at Island Comforts, the local bed-and-breakfast, but spent more nights at work or my place than at the B&B.

My tummy gurgled.

Claire looked at me. “You better hope that picture doesn’t end up in the paper tomorrow.”

I shook off her comment. Weirder things had happened to me since moving home. “You’re dodging my question. What happened with the SWAT guy and what do you want to talk to me about?”

“I need your advice.” She braced her palm on the exterior railing to my apartment and began climbing the wooden stairs. “Not as my best friend, but as, you know, the other thing.”

Before the FBI downsized me from my human resources position, I’d finished my counseling degree and planned to work with agents under stress or those who had discharged their firearm or been injured in the line of duty, etc. It was a good plan. The FBI paid big money to contractors for those services. I thought hiring me would save the bureau a ton of money. They thought firing me would too. So, I moved home to chase my dream and open a private practice, which proved more complicated than one would think. Small towns. Nosy neighbors. Those sorts of things weren’t always a counselor’s friend.

“You want me to counsel you?” I worked to keep my voice flat. Any inflection on my part might be misinterpreted by her, and our friendship would take the hit. I slid my key into the lock, opened the door and motioned her inside.

“A little.”

“Finally!” Adrian rushed from my kitchen to meet us at the door. “I texted you four times. I was ready to come and get you. What were you doing over there for two hours, anyway? Never mind. I don’t care.” His stormy blue eyes were wild with pleasure. “I have a surprise.”

“You mentioned that.” I normally complained when he let himself in through the secret staircase hidden in the wall of my bedroom closet, but clearly this wasn’t the time. I hadn’t seen him so excited since he won the state spelling bee in third grade and got a new Nintendo with all the games.

“Sit down.” He motioned us to the couch.

“Is he okay?” Claire whispered. “He looks a little crazed.”

Adrian stood before us, rubbing his palms together. A sudden frown replaced his eager expression. “Where’s Sebastian?”

“He had a deposition with internal affairs.” Claire still worked with Sebastian at the FBI in Norfolk.

I envied that sometimes.

“What’s going on?” A deep tenor sent tingles over my spine, and my cheeks ached with a sudden smile. Sebastian stood in my open doorway with flowers and a bottle of champagne.

Adrian’s jaw fell an inch before he recovered some of his enthusiasm. “I have something to tell you guys.”

“It’s a surprise,” Claire added.

Sebastian widened his stance. As a general rule, special agents didn’t love surprises. “Go on.”

Adrian cleared his throat, evidently thrown by Sebastian’s entrance and gifts.

“Fine. I rented my home through Halloween night and it’s all very hush-hush. I can’t give you all the particulars yet, but details are coming, I promise.”

“And?” Sebastian leveled his gaze on Adrian, who rolled his shoulders back.

“And I hoped I could stay here.”

“With me?” My voice hitched on the second word.

“Yes.”

“No.” Sebastian moved inside and shut the door. He got a vase from under the sink and put the flowers in water.

Adrian gawked at me, waving his palms as if I could change Sebastian’s mind. His panic compelled me to intervene, though I wasn’t sure whose side I was on yet. I took a few deep breaths. Was the air thinner in the upstairs apartment? Getting in the middle of these two always made it hard to breathe.
I stood and faced the kitchen. “Um, well, let’s think this through.”

Sebastian turned narrowed eyes on me. I shook my head at Adrian. He motioned wildly again. I stood back up and stepped toward the kitchen. Sebastian glared from Adrian to me.

Claire giggled. The sound snapped me back to reality. This was my apartment. I decided who stayed here, not Sebastian. I anchored both palms over my hips and turned on Sebastian. Adrian took my seat on the couch and nudged Claire with his elbow.

“I don’t see why he can’t stay here. Is there a reason you have a problem with that?” I cocked a hip for good measure.

Sebastian looked past me to the couch, his expression blank.

I moved forward until the toes of my goddess sandals bumped Sebastian’s shiny dress shoes. “Fine, then it’s agreed. Adrian stays here. You can stay here, too.”

The corner of Sebastian’s mouth pulled down. “What if only I stay here with you and Adrian stays in my room at Island Comforts?”

Oh. Yeah. That was better. My moment’s pause was enough to settle it. Sebastian tossed his key over my head.

“Sweet.” Adrian jumped up and headed for the door.

“Hey,” I turned to Adrian. “What was the secret you texted four times to tell me about?”

“I told you all I can.”

“You didn’t tell me anything.”

He flashed his politician smile. “That’s because it’s a secret.”

Adrian disappeared and Sebastian popped the cork on his champagne. “I’m glad that’s settled. Tonight we celebrate.”

“What are we celebrating?”

Claire sashayed across the floor and leaned over the little island in my kitchen. “I take it the deposition went well?”

Sebastian slid a glass to Claire. “Internal affairs closed my case. I was cleared of all culpability. The board determined I’d followed every protocol on the operation and justice prevailed again.”

“Congratulations.” She lifted the glass in a toast motion and sipped.

Relief flooded through me. “What about Jimmy the Judge?”

Jimmy the Judge was the mob boss who wanted Sebastian dead. Sebastian had worked undercover for eight months in Jimmy’s operation, infiltrating his crew and leading a bust that resulted in the death of five members of Jimmy’s crime family. Jimmy somehow turned to vapor and slipped between Sebastian’s fingers in the kerfuffle. Sebastian had moved onto the island to hide while he hunted Jimmy, and Jimmy hunted him. I got an ulcer.

“We have fresh intel suggesting Jimmy’s in Vegas. I’m headed there in a few days to follow up on a couple decent leads.”

I tipped my head and tossed back the alcohol. I didn’t want to think of Sebastian chasing Jimmy, but I didn’t want to open my mouth and ruin his good news either.

Claire set down her glass. “Well, congratulations, Sebastian. Thank you, Patience, for a lovely dinner. Now, I’m heading home. It’s a long drive, and I have to get up early. I’ll leave you two to celebrate.” She winked.

“Hey, how’d it go with the marshmallow from SWAT?” Sebastian asked.

Claire screwed her mouth into a knot. “It’s funny you call him that because he was kind of like talking to a marshmallow.”

I scrunched my brows together. “I thought when you called people marshmallows it meant they were soft and weak.”

“I don’t know about that,” Claire said. “He was all muscle. Unfortunately, his head was one big muscle too. Hard as a rock.” She wrapped her knuckles against the side of her head.

I pushed my bottom lip into a pout. “Bummer.”

“Yeah, but it’s okay. Can we talk later?” She lifted a brow.

“Anytime.”

Sebastian lifted my glass with his and followed us onto the stoop outside my door. He sat. I walked Claire to her car, enjoying the cool night air.

We reached the sidewalk as the Sheriff Fargas climbed out of his car. “Evening, Patience.” He took off his hat when he saw Claire. “Miss Claire.”

Claire blushed on cue, accentuating her flawless mocha latte complexion, and lowered her long curly lashes. “Sheriff Fargas.”

Those two had started flirting a few weeks ago and it still confused me.

“I was on my way to the Tasty Cream for dinner,” he said. “Would you like to join me?”

“I don’t know.” Claire looked at me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Make an excuse for her? Encourage her?

“Your phone’s ringing,” Sebastian called to me.

At the same moment, Sheriff Fargas pulled his phone from his pocket. “Fargas.” His eyes shut for two quick beats before turning to Sebastian. The set of his jaw and rigidity in his stance was grim when he returned the phone to his pocket.

Sebastian waved my phone in the air. “It’s still buzzing.”

“Mine?” I called up the steps.

“Yeah. Double-oh-seven.” Sebastian read the display.

“That’s Adrian,” Claire interjected.

Sebastian answered my phone.

“I’m afraid I need a rain check.” Fargas touched Claire’s hand lightly and turned for his car.

Sebastian bounded down the steps two at a time, keys in hand.

“What’s going on?” Claire demanded as Fargas tore away from the curb in his cruiser.

“Adrian found two dead bodies in my bed.”
Grab your hat and pail, you guys! Let's go!

Murder in Real Time, The Patience Price Mysteries, book 3

With the chaos of summer tourists and fall birders out of town, counselor Patience Price is looking forward to the quiet life she remembers. She longs for some peace. And an apple fritter. But the calm is cut short when a reality show sets up camp to film a special about ghosts on her little island. Now fans, reporters and crew have flocked to sleepy Chincoteague. Who knew ghost hunters had an entourage?

When two cast members are killed in a room at the local B&B—a room usually occupied by Patience’s FBI agent boyfriend, Sebastian—she finds herself on the case. Sebastian doesn’t want Patience ruffling any feathers but, as always, she can’t help herself.

Patience promises to let Sebastian handle the investigation—he is FBI, after all—but after a drive-by shooting, her wicked curiosity gets the best of her. And with the TV show forging ahead with filming, the list of suspects (and the line of food trucks) only grows. But has the shooter already flown the coop? And how do you find a killer when you don’t know who the target is?

Amazon       Barnes&Noble       Carina Press        iTunes        Kobo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Writers' Retreat!

Now and then it's rewarding to celebrate the muse, the process, the milestones in the fellowship of like minds. I'm at the Midwest Romance Writers Retreat this weekend in Olathe, Kansas.

Timing is wonderful! We are at the beginning of a 90-day writing challenge. I've logged just under 50k words in two weeks. The weather is perfect--first week of autumn. Cool, crisp mornings, moderate daytime temps. A huge deck, scenic views, terrific food!

Members work together to make and stuff retreat goody bags, so it's like a mini conference for four days. One might bring notebooks, another pens, books, magnets with our logo. Or delicious chocolates, hand sanitizers, Mardi Gras beads...anything goes.

Writing is such a solitary business, so gathering with close friends, sipping hot tea or coffee while having interactive discussions...just recharges this writer's emotional and creative batteries.

Here's hoping all of you enjoy your weekend.
Sunny

P.S. Here's one of the books we are studying by our own Alfie.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Readers, Writers, and Easter Eggs



As a reader, I love discovering “Easter eggs” and as a writer I’m challenge to come up with meaningful ones for my readers. And if you are wondering what the heck I am talking about, read on.
According to Wikipedia, “An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in a work such as a computer program, video game, movie, book, or crossword.”
I learned about this concept in software, when sneaky programmers liked to insert hidden gems like images of butterflies that took flight when you rolled your mouse over a spot on the screen or undocumented features that you stumbled over while trying something else. Recently, this concept in writing was highlighted when I was re-reading a long series that had several Easter eggs sprinkled throughout.



Now on the first read, did I recognize all of these little sly reminders from earlier books? Nope. Oh, one or two seemed vaguely familiar, but I think real recognition happens at the subliminal level. It was that wonderful sense of coming home, a familiarity that draws me back to characters and stories that I will read over and over again. And in the process of re-reading these books, I was able to consciously see the connections the author had created over multiple books that spanned several years (probably why some seemed familiar, but not readily remembered).


I want to write books that readers return to again and again. I want to sprinkle in Easter eggs that reward those repeat readers but also resonate on a subliminal level the first time through. These little gems are not the important clues in a murder mystery or the red herrings we use to misdirect the reader.



No, they are the characters that drift in and out of our stories that amplify our protagonists. The characters that provide our heroes and heroines with what the late Blake Snyder called a “save the cat” moment. A scene that shows the kind of man, or woman, your protagonist really is. And in doing so, endear them to the reader—even, maybe especially, when our heroes and heroines are not acting particularly heroic.


Or maybe it is a location that your chracters return to periodically. A building under construction in one book is complete and visited in another. Or a background eyesore that is renovated over several books becomes a focal scene in a later book. All of these instances help ground your characters in a real world.


So the next time you are plotting a multibook story arc, be sure and include some Easter eggs. Reward your readers with a little brightly colored jewel burried in the black and white print and help your characters remain memorable book after book, read after read.

(by Sharon Calvin)


Monday, September 22, 2014

Circles... and CATHERINE COULTER

I started trying to write a novel after I'd devoured every Romantic Suspense title housed in the Waterloo Public Library system, and local book store. I had plenty of favourite authors (Nora Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann, Karen Robards, Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, Catherine Coulter) but even working a demanding job, I'd average reading a book every two days. The authors I loved couldn't satisfy the voracious appetite I'd developed, so I decided to see if I could write something myself.

It was in the late 90s when the internet was in its infancy. EBooks were unheard of. Traditional publishing was king.

Being a researcher, I wrote a letter to an expert (one of those pen and paper numbers--to one of my favourite authors) asking for advice. Amazingly, she wrote back (on beautiful thick paper)

Her advice was as follows...(paraphrasing)
1) Just do it! Write everyday. (check)
2) Keep a copy of Strunk and White next to the computer (check)
3) Do your research thoroughly (I'm going to write more about this later)
4) Join your local RWA chapter (I joined KOD which was online and as close as I could get)
5) When you've completed your manuscript go to the local/regional/national RWA conference (check check check)

Ok, there were a couple more points, but...

Fast forward sixteen years to the annual Harlequin Party held at RWA Nationals and I'm in the restroom--THE RESTROOM!!--and in walks the woman who wrote to me all those years ago. Catherine Coulter. I had a total fangirl moment and started gushing about how she'd sent me such a beautiful letter all those years ago (I'm sure she sent hundreds), but she was so gracious and sweet and probably just wanted to use the restroom in peace. What a lovely woman, to take the time and make the effort to pass on that good advice. That's what I love about romance writers. They care. They try to help other writers. See--it makes a difference. I was attending this particular conference as a RITA finalist (did I mention that?? Ha :)) so it felt like the whole process had come full circle. Anyway, I'm sure she doesn't remember me, but I will never forget the influence Catherine Coulter has had on my career and life. 

 

Back to that research thing. When I started on that first story (HER SANCTUARY) there was zero information available on the FBI and even less on art fraud--trust me, I looked. I read as many books as I could find, but I was too broke (by then we were on one income, first house, living in Scotland, with a baby on the way), too unsure of myself, and too British to imagine I could make a trip to Quantico. I'd be laughed at, arrested and deported. So I invented a fictional division for my FBI people. I say this because the resources we have available to us now for research are absolutely incredible. Books, memoirs, websites, and DVDs contain so much information my head spins, and on top of that, the FBI have public affairs people who regularly consult with writers. I still think it's OK to create fictional divisions and to tweak locations and procedures because we're writing fiction, but nowadays it's a choice. Don't judge me :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

History Comes Alive

I recently finished writing the final (and sixth) book in my Mindhunters series (hallelujah!). As I developed the backstory for my hero, Andrew “Einstein” MacKenzie, an ex-SEAL who works for my fictional serial-killer-hunting agency SSAM, I worked backward from the few facts I’d already revealed in the previous books. I realized he would have been in college at the time of the 9-11 attacks, and being the genius that he is, it didn’t take long for me to figure out he could easily have attended MIT and was in his senior year there when 9-11 happened. I added a personal stake in the horrible events of that day and decided he'd signed up for military service the moment he graduated, wanting to prevent terrorists from claiming more innocent lives. (Eventually, he was injured, left the SEALs and wound up in my book, of course.)

While my book doesn't take place during 9-11, I bring this up today because thinking about Einstein—my character’s nickname, not the scientific icon—had me thinking about fictional stories in which actual historical events either impacted the characters directly or came alive for me because I was seeing history through his or her eyes.

One example that came to mind was a historical romance trilogy I read many years ago. I still recall the vivid use of the real event in the three stories, probably because that particular event was one I knew little about. Susan Wiggs’ Chicago Fire Trilogy is set during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed hundreds of people and left about a hundred thousand people homeless. Though I’d briefly heard about the fire in history class, it really came alive when experienced through Wiggs' characters.
Artist's rendering of the fire, by John R. Chapin, originally printed in Harper's Weekly; the view faces northeast across the Randolph Street Bridge. Image as shown on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire.

Another book that stuck with me was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The love story (or love triangle) unfolded against the backdrop of the French Revolution. 

Which brings to mind Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Part of what makes this such a great story are the endearing and powerful characters who are challenged by the lives they led in French society in the early nineteenth century, from the Battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.


Is there a period of history you enjoy reading about or experienced more vividly after reading a fictional account? Any memorable books that used history as a backdrop in a way that challenged the characters (I know there have to be thousands of examples!)? What era or event would you like to see more fiction set in?