January 28, 2012

Jonathan & Drusus Meet

My two heroes agreed to sit down together for a candid interview. I didn't realize this was a big mistake until about half-way through. For those of you who don't know JONATHAN, he is the hero of my historical CHASING THE LION, the completed manuscript that's slowly amassing strong contest results. DRUSUS is the hero of UNSEEN LOVE, a historical romance that is my current work in process and has yet to make its contest debut. It should come as no surprise both their stories are set in first century Rome, though ten years apart, which proved to be a big problem. Focusing on staying spoiler free caused me to miss this completely and things got very interesting, very quickly.

NK: Guys, thank you both so much for sitting down with me and the blog readers today.

Jonathan: Nancy, why is that one wearing a grain sack with eye holes over his head?

Drusus: My name is Drusus, not ‘that one’ and Nancy doesn’t allow readers to know my physical appearance because the heroine in our project is blind. She didn’t want me to reveal my face. Even to her.

(Jonathan looks right at me): You know that’s strange, right?

NK: Yes, thank you. I can always count on you to tell me when you think I’m wrong.

Jonathan: You’re still upset about that kiss in chapter twenty-nine aren’t you?

Drusus: Wait, Jonathan has an on-page kiss? All mine are in my back story. How is that even fair?

NK: Drusus, calm down. Your story isn’t finished yet. And yes, Jonathan, I’m still upset about that kiss. I will go to my grave upset about that kiss. Now please guys, I need to get to this interview.

Drusus: What about this kiss is upsetting?

NK: It’s not—

Jonathan: Nancy knew in the first draft of that scene I was going to fall to temptation and she tried not to let me. It would be dishonorable of me to say why but I tried to tell her repeatedly she’d left me out of that scene and stuck her idealized version of me in and it wasn’t working. The reader would know and all her credibility would be sand in the wind. Thankfully her critique partner told her I would have failed in that moment also. Once she heard it from Whitney she knew she had to write it in. She wasn’t happy about it and even afterward, she still wanted to take it out. That was a rough week for everyone.

NK: But you got your way in the end. It’s rude to interrupt.

Jonathan: (Brow arches as he leans forward.) I think you can extend me some chain considering what you put me through from chapters five to thirty-two, don’t you?

NK: (Needing to changes subject at once) Drusus, tell the blog readers a little about yourself and your story.

Drusus: I’m a slave whose been specially trained to serve a blind master, though when my story begins for the reader I’m being introduced to my new mistress. Laelia is an amazing woman who doesn’t know it. She lost her mother very young and her sight a few months before we meet. Her father hates her for reasons I didn't understand till a few chapters ago, but the only things he hates more than what she reminds him of is being embarrassed and Christians. Since I've been a Christian for about two years, I’m walking right into a lion’s den so to speak.

Jonathan: I faced an actual lion when they tried to execute me for the second time and killed it with only a stick. You should be able to overcome some ill-tempered old man in one scene if you're really a hero.

NK: Drusus has a different story than you and his own obstacles to overcome in his own way. You should respect him if for no other reason than he goes running from problems while you always made more for yourself.

Drusus: (Chuckles and crosses his arms) I do run. Literally, don’t I?

NK: (Laughs at his inside jest) Yes, you do and I’m proud of you for that.

Jonathan: (Clearly unhappy to not be the center of attention for a change) I killed a lion with a stick. He runs away. (He looks pointedly at Drusus.) Do we even have the same author?

NK: That’s enough. I’m sorry, Drusus. He’s not normally so hostile unless he’s in the arena.

Drusus: You’re a gladiator? It would explain the scars.

Jonathan: I was. For a time I was the undefeated champion of all of Rome.

Drusus: Then why haven’t I heard of you?

Jonathan: Because in your time I’m only ten years old.

Drusus: You’re from the future?

NK: It’s complicated but yes, and he can’t tell you anything that happens.

Jonathan: Even about the fire?

Drusus: I already know about the fire. I was four but I still remember. The smells, the darkness, all those people…

Jonathan: Not that fire, the one that’s—

NK: No! (I kick the leg of Jonathan’s stool.) No, he means the great fire of sixty-four under Nero. What other fire could he possibly be talking about? Now, back to this interview, please guys.

Jonathan: Apologies.

Drusus: I’m sorry.

NK: Its fine. I should have known this would happen if I put you both in the same room.

Jonathan: What’s a room?

NK: Sorry, chamber. Room is an English word.

Drusus: What’s English?

NK: You guys are killing me here, seriously. English is a language that hasn’t happened yet. It will become the most popular common language, like Greek is for you.

Jonathan: I know Greek and Latin. Does Drusus know Latin?

Drusus: No, only Greek.

Jonathan: Can you read and write?

Drusus: No, but I can sink a blade anywhere I want thirty feet away.

Jonathan: (Appearing rather impressed now.) You’re a knife thrower? Like from the East?

Drusus: That’s right.

NK: He is pretty impressive with that pair of flat throwing knives of his. Tell the readers what you call them Drusus.

Drusus: The twins.

Jonathan: I would have liked to have had you with me in the showdown between my brothers and me the night before the Emperor’s assassination.

Drusus: I didn’t know you had brothers.

Jonathan: I do. They believed I was a threat to their political ambitions and betrayed me into slavery when I was sixteen. Ten years would pass before I saw them again.

Drusus: What happened?

NK: Sorry, Drusus. I can’t let him tell you and spoil it for the readers.

Drusus: Why not? You’ve already let us talk about our stories.

NK: Yes, but only what would be obvious from the cover or the blurb on the back. I know what I’m doing.

Jonathan: I’m not sure you do. Or if you’ve realized yet that this whole thing is pretty out there, even for you. I know you thrive on being different and marching to the sound of your own sword and shield striking, but this is rather weird.

NK: Thanks, Jonathan. I know I can always count on you to be Honest Abe without regard to hurting my feelings.

Jonathan: What’s an Honest Abe?

NK: Never mind.

Drusus: Do you want to go find the kitchen here and talk women and weapons over some wine?

Jonathan: Sure. I want to see the twins and I’ll show you my training gladius and tell you about the love of my life and how we first met.

NK: Guys, you can’t go past that door. I don’t have any wine, just tea and coffee. Besides, there’s a ton of things you aren’t going to understand out there, like electricity.

Drusus: What’s electricity?

Jonathan: What are tea and coffee? And how do you not have wine? Every house has wine. Even the peasants packed in their little apartments like I was as a boy have wine. I would hope you’re better off than a peasant in your time. You are aren’t you?

NK: I ask the questions here. That’s how this works.

Drusus: So are we finished? It’s getting pretty hot inside this grain sack.

Jonathan: You should try a helmet in mid-day sun. It’s like putting your head in a brazier.

NK: (Total face-palm) That’s the ancient Roman equivalent of a space heater, blog readers.

Jonathan: Of course, what else would it be?

NK: Never mind. Okay thanks guys. It’s time for you to go now. Drusus, give my love to Laelia and let her know to hang in there. Jonathan, give my love to Nessa and tell her I have a surprise she’s going to love when I get to your sequel.

Drusus: Jonathan is getting a sequel?

NK: Bye guys, thanks! Seriously, you gotta go now. I’ll see you soon, especially you Drusus. We’re doing another round of NovelTrack at ACFW and my goal for February is 18K words. Be ready.

Wow, blog readers. Just, WOW. I didn’t realize how much I missed the days these men were just notes on a characterization sheet and nebulous personalities made of some select traits. Back when they would do what I wanted without question. Jonathan is more mature than Drusus, both in years and in character, and does get to give me a hard time because gosh, some of the things we endured together in CHASING THE LION still wrench my heart. 

Because Drusus and Laelia’s story is a romance, his story is a lighter read but he’s got his share of physical pain coming, though nothing compared to what Jonathan suffered. And sorry about the fire drama. Rome’s second great fire in AD 80 is part of the climax of UNSEEN LOVE and I can’t have Drusus tipped off ahead of time because I know him and he thinks he can save everyone and everything and that will cause problems if he tries to fight me in those scenes like Jonathan did with that kiss. And yes, I’m still upset about it. And I always will be, LOL. Drusus is maturing very quickly as we’re midway through he and Laelia’s story, (my current work in process) so to some extent I can still mold him but that clay is hardening quickly, which is encouraging as his creator.

And I know that this entire blogpost is some psychologists case study waiting to happen, LOL. Fiction writers know I’m not crazy (well, at least in this way, hehe). I really needed to have some fun with my guys this weekend, and thanks for letting me.

“Fantasy remains a human right: We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made. And not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

January 22, 2012

Know Your Hero

hero (hir'o) n. pl. -roes. 1. In mythology and legend, a man, often of divine ancestry, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his bold exploits, and favored by the gods. 2. A man noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, esp. one who has risked or sacrificed his life: a war hero. 3. A man noted for his special achievements in a  particular field: the heroes of medicine. 4. The principal male character in a novel, poem or dramatic presentation. 5. Slang. A large sandwich consisting of a roll that is split lengthwise and contains a variety of fillings, as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, meats and cheese. [Lat. heros < Gk. heros.]

Good news: Great heroes make great stories.
Bad news: Heroes are all the same yet nothing alike.

The good news goes without saying but the bad news wouldn't make sense without it. Stay with me for a minute here because this is something I just figured out this week. Everyone over the age of ten or so knows what a hero is but for every person you ask the question, you will receive a different answer. Then ask who their heroes are and you'll get an even broader spectrum of answers. Meditating on that this week (thank you Carolyn and Will) yielded this precept. Heroes in fiction are a two part equation and the writer only controls one side.

The scent of a good cologne will draw me in as strongly as a good read featuring a tortured hero. My favorite is Ralph Lauren's Romance while I don't particularly care for Stetson. Neither of those fragrance makers can do anything about how much I like or dislike their product in reality other than to attempt to influence and manipulate me through advertising. And even then, Romance will smell different on my husband than on the waiter at my favorite steakhouse because their individual body chemistry interacts with the fragrance in subtle but real ways.
Literary heroes = colognes

As a writer there are a lot of things you can do to give your hero as broad an appeal as possible and bring him to life with a strong, conflict driven character arc comprised of his inner and outer journey. The save the cat moments, and there are plenty of fantastic instructions on how to do this out there. A tip is to start in Seekerville like I did, way back before I even knew what a character arc was. But even with a firm grip on craft study and the elements of your hero firmly established, like a good cologne, not everyone will respond to your hero in the same way. This is where the publishing business starts making more sense to me. Suddenly the reason I have to know exactly who my target audience is, how firmly I'm in the center of the criteria of my genre, and my writer voice, style, and eventual "brand" all become important.

Books without a strong hero aren't high on my list to read and more important to the publishers, to buy. Even when the books are swimming in positive reviews, like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Peeta just doesn't do it for me and while I enjoyed the story, I didn't follow the series or become a fan. My taste in hero varies and even then is further varied by my genre preference. I like my heroes to start out as wrecked as possible and that usually is accompanied by some negative behavior even though they're goodness survives under the pain-hardened exterior, but their stories can be anything from a medieval era romance to a quest in a mythical land though historical remains my favorite. By the titles on my shelves, I know the authors whose books are my Ralph Lauren Romance. This is what I meant by the bad news that all heroes are the same and will still be all different. Mr. Darcy, Jason Bourne, Edward Cullen, and Luke Skywalker all struggle to overcome something in their past (internal) or someone in their present (external) endangering their future.

We know the conflicts:
  • Man versus Man
  • Man versus Nature
  • Man versus Self
  • Man versus God
The responsibility of the writer is to truly know the man. In regards to the hero, what defines him as the hero besides the fact he's generally the main character? For me, it's these elements, in order of importance:
  1. I must believe the hero could exist. (Even in fantasy or speculative work, the hero must be credible and authentic. Let me see his selfishness, jealousy, doubt or anger at God, inappropriate moments of physical attraction, etc. every now and then because if he's too perfect, I won't trust him or the author.)
  2. By the end of the journey, I will wish he really did exist or be comforted in the hope that somewhere, he does exist in the form of someone with his character. (The Captain Kirk, the Levi Grant, the Mr. Thornton, the Romeo, the Captain Wentworth)
  3. He must struggle to reach his goal and the goal must be good, even if the goal changes throughout the journey. (If there's no struggle, there's no story and if the goal is burn down the orphanage on Christmas Eve, that's not the hero.)
  4. When faced with a decision, he must make the right choice by my standards and when he doesn't, I need to understand why to be able to forgive him for it. (This is something I've honed in on that developed organically in my own writing. A rich, full-bodied character will make mistakes. When the mistakes come, great heroes penned by great authors have developed the hero's and provided his motivation either before, during, or after the bad choice so the reader understands it and is endeared to the hero even more because of the failure.
There is a little villain in every hero and a little hero in every villain. The author and the character as he matures will decide how much. Once you know and understand your hero, what makes him the hero and what motivates and hinders him, only then can you set out to give him an engaging and compelling plot that will endear him to the reader. How well an author does this determines where in the ranks that hero will fall for their reader but never forget that the reader has their own filter of preferences and life experiences that govern the hero-meter from their side. Create a compelling hero that's true to you as a writer and to the story you will put him in, and the best way to do that is to answer for yourself what makes the hero the hero.

The heroes in my stories are just that, my heroes, and boy do I love to put them through the ringer. Pressure makes diamonds, heat refines precious metals, and whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Is at any wonder I'm such a hero-girl, as a reader and a writer? Not at all. ;-)

January 15, 2012

Estate Sales = A Writer's Playground

Lace-trimmed collapsible fan with peacock and flowers
I'd never been to an estate sale before. The whole idea of walking through a deceased person's home and pilfering over all their belongings just seemed creepy. And then I became a writer. So yesterday when I passed the sign for one in the neighborhood next to mine, I decided to check it out. The why is another blog post entirely about overcoming the fear of the unknown, living with less regrets, etc. but the biggest motivator was a new experience to draw from as a writer.

That estate sale was a second Christmas.

  1. Fiction craft principles came to vivid illustration.
  2. It was like a museum where you could touch everything.
  3. Character, story and plot ideas were forming faster than I could keep up.
  4. Antique dealers are as unique a group of people as writers.
 Backstory dumps are bad. I parked my car and on the driveway were about twenty chairs, two tables, some lamps and I couldn't "see" anything because the forest overwhelmed the trees. A nice man directed me to the side entrance of the house labeled ENTRANCE and then I saw the sold tags on all the stuff in the driveway.

Reveal your characters slowly, the way you get to know a person in real life. This woman came alive for me as I walked her house room to room. The only things modern in that house (last ten years or so) were the washer and dryer pair and an electric iron. In the living room where the sale mangers were camped was of course the jewelry. Room to room I learned more and more about this lady. She loved perfumes and kept the empty bottles, some of which had to be over fifty years old. She loved Jesus, because the cheap prints on the wall in old, yellowed frames where scenes from the Bible. She didn't cook much, or hadn't in a long time because none of the dishes and cookware were modern. Knick-knacks, oh my gosh, the knick-knacks in that place. Most were birds, which makes the fan make more sense now. And I found it intesting that the bedroom came last on the walkthrough. By then I felt I knew this woman, and was allowed into such an intimate place. The needlepoint cushioned headboard made me think of all the things it had witnessed, and then there were her hats and furs. This woman's entire character came together for me in that room. Most of the hats were Sunday, go to church hats. One was ivory with feather trim and a net that looked like it might have been worn on her wedding day. Others were sensible, sturdy felt designs in dark colors and one was all brown feathers with spiked quills jutting from the top that reminded me of the flapper era. Maybe it was the first one she ever bought with her own money. This was the moment I realized I'd just read this woman's life story like I read a good book. I know her, even though I never met her, because of the details and the silent dialogue her possessions, the things important to her and the things noticeably absent told.

Sensory detail at your fingertips. Literally. Being able to touch whatever I wanted was surreal. The ridges in the cut crystal of her perfume bottles. The surprising amount of force required to puff the crochet covered puffer on the older bottles. The unique feel of real fur that synthetic will never reproduce. The more unique feel of needlepoint, a dying art like traditional sail-making. The scent of "old". It's a perfume of it's own, and it's not unpleasant, or musty, stale or mothballs. It's the smell of "old" unlike any other. Best of all for me was the marble.
I've used marble a lot in my writing because my stories have been in Ancient Rome. Mostly as a visual in setting and I don't own any (until yesterday) because it's expensive. This beauty was lying in the kitchen and at 50% of $7.50 it was mine. And what I've learned since being able to touch it, carry it, and own it is amazing.
  • Marble is shockingly heavy. This piece is 13 1/2 inches in diameter and 3/4 of an inch thick and weighs a whopping 14 pounds. 
  • Marble resists heat like nobody's business, and holds cold even better. And it sweats moisture when you change it's ambient temperature suddenly. I wasn't even trying to find this out. I happened to when transporting it and leaving it in my vehicle overnight. 
  • The veins and colors on the unfinished side, which I'd never seen unfinished marble before, are very different than when the marble has been polished.
I have no idea what the hardness of this is on that one to ten scale we learned about in junior high science. I remember talc is a one and diamonds are a ten. What I do know is if my hero or heroine goes down on a marble floor now, it won't just be a hard hit. It's going to be cold. And a marble anything is a good murder weapon because even a small piece would have skull-crushing power without much force behind it.

And if all that wasn't totally worth it, I brought home a new friend.

So let's name my new friend, and can someone please tell me what he is/was?

January 8, 2012

Did that really just happen?

You know those moments. Those... Did that really just happen moments? I think my friends captured the look of that moment well in this photo from 2009. I got a little too into my drunken rock-star character for a role play mystery and did a spectacular backflip over the back of my loveseat and sent red jell-o flying everywhere. Everywhere. LOL.

Sometimes those moments are light-hearted, like this one. Sometimes they aren't, like this past Monday. My father joined me on the swing in his yard and the limb (Stupid Texas Drought) snapped off the tree and bounced off us on it's way to the ground. The weight of the swing chains and two people put some extra G's on said limb and I ended up with a concussion and deep tissue bruising on my shoulder. The great thing about something like that is by the time you realized what happened, it's already over. Like being in a car crash. Then there's that moment afterward. You know it happened, but you still can't quite wrap your head around it.

As a writer, I love to give those moments to my reader. I love to come across them as a reader. Where something happens and it's so unexpected but so believable I'm stunned. Sometimes life will just happen, and it's funny, or heart-breaking. This should be part of our stories, as much as it is part of our own lives. I'd love to hear some of your "Did that just happen?" moments. =)

January 1, 2012

Believe It or Not

In 1937, artist Mark Shoesmith sculpted a bust of world famous cartoonist/explorer/collector Robert Ripley. That in and of itself may not seem extraordinary, until you learn that Mark Shoesmith was blind. He possessed a sense of touch so acute that even without sight, his work produced an exact likeness.

If you've never been to a Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, you should, especially if you are a writer. The inspiration will overrun the mind's capacity to process. What captured me about this particular exhibit is the intense concentration on Mark's face in this photograph. The heroine in my current work is blind, and this assured me I can forfeit concerns about the believability of a particular scene and her abilities throughout. The walk-through of the Ripley collection reminded me, if you'll allow this cliche, the truth often is stranger than fiction, such as the elephant with two trunks and the nine foot tall man born in 1918.

I never would have believed a blind person could sculpt an exact likeness of another individual. I was wrong and I love that. We are so quick to limit the possibilities of others, and dare I say ourselves, by what we know and understand. This is a mistake we make over and over again, particularly when unaccustomed to recognizing the active role God plays in our everyday lives and those God moments and miracles that leave others asking if they believe or not.

I don't have any resolutions, but I do have goals for 2012.
  • Complete my second manuscript currently in progress, UNSEEN LOVE
  • Begin and complete the sequel to CHASING THE LION
  • Final in three contests, win at least one (And Genesis will be one of them I'm taking on this year.)
  • To repeat in 2012 the weight loss in 2011 pound for pound
  • To check another item off my bucket list
  • Have an agent or editor request a partial or full of either manuscript
God bless you as we begin the new year, may your achievements in 2012 silence the skeptics and astound the ordinary, like Mark Shoesmith, the blind sculptor. He was way cooler than the shrunken heads and the first ever space suit made in 1956. At least I thought so. =)
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