I'm Just Saying…

January 25, 2016

Yes, I Want My Fictional Characters To Be Happy. You Got a Problem With That?

Greetings fellow Scribes and Bibliophiles!

Let’s get right to today’s topic, shall we?

As readers, we all have favorite characters we’re attached to:

Readers and characters.png

Whether it’s Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Homes, or Gandalf… there are quite a few fictional people we would line up to spend some quality time with. We admire them, we like them, we get them. And we’re pretty sure they would think we’re awesome too.

As we read their story, we are invested with a deep desire to see everything work out for them. We want them to be okay. We want them to be happy. No, really. They have to be happy.

But what about the writer? We create our characters, live with them, spend time with them, day in and day out. We become attached to them. We want them to be okay, too. And yet, we know they can’t be. So what happens when it gets to this…

Writer and character

See, this is a problem. You know why it’s a problem? Let me tell you why. Because as human beings we all want this –

Cinderella_-_So_This_Is_Love_-_1

Not this –

belle crying gif

We dream of living a happy, pleasant, problem free life of this –

cinderella and forest creatures

Not this –

cloverfield 2

Unfortunately, writers are screwed. We know that to write a really good story you have to have emotional, nail biting, gut wrenching, on the edge of your seat, down to the wire, zero seconds to spare… CONFLICT. If nothing is at stake for your character, you get this –

Karl Urban yawning

and then this –

chandler sleeping.gif

And that’s not good.

So, if you think about it, since all human beings want only to be happy and avoid suffering, then the goal of the writer is to make sure your character doesn’t get the first one, and can’t avoid the second one.

Bummer.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because I’m editing my second book of The Fixer series, The Killing Kind. And I started to notice that for all the problems I set up for my girl Katerina, they never really got in the way, they sort of went like this –

red sea.gif

And then I noticed her life was practically like this –

 

singing in the rain gif.gif

Not good. Not good at all.

But, I like Katerina. She’s a hard working, decent human being. She’s a good person caught up in bad situations. She should get what she wants. She should be happy.

Oh crap.

So I saw my problem. And I set to work fixing it. Katerina’s got a long, hard road ahead of her. But I’m hoping there’s going to be some happiness in the future for her. Seriously, seriously. We’ll see.

And now… for the shameless marketing portion of this blog:

The first book in the series, The Fixer: The Naked Man, is on sale now for 0.99 cents on Kindle , Nook , and Kobo

Catch up on what’s happened so far because this summer, Kat will be back….

Final Teaser _2 Killing Kind.jpg

Until next time….

J.

 

 

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December 10, 2015

Shameless Marketing

Filed under: Books,Funny,The Writing Life — jillamyrosenblatt @ 10:17 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Marketing. *sigh* This is a bold statement, but can I just go out on a limb and say marketing is the bane of the writer’s existence. It’s the “fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench” as John McClane would say.

Let me tell you what happens…

I finish my book, The Fixer: The Naked Man, and I tell a friend, “Hey, I published my book, The Fixer: The Naked Man” and my friend is like

elaine pushing jerry gif

And my friend is really happy for me! Good, right?

So my friend goes out and buys my book, The Fixer: The Naked Man (yay!!)

And this is great, right?

There’s only one problem. There’s over 7 billion people in the world, 742 million people in Europe, and almost 319 million people in the US (thank you Google Search). I kinda, sorta hoped my book would be read by a few more people than my friend.

I’m really excited about my book (no, I’m not mentioning the title again. That’s obnoxious). Seriously, seriously. I’ve been living with these characters in my head and I’m very attached to them. Actually, I love them all, even the bad ones (you have to love them the most). So how do I let people know about these characters that I love because I hope they’ll love them too? Marketing.

I write. Writers write. We don’t market. I don’t market. I don’t know how to market. Who markets? *sigh* I’m sensing a “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” thing happening here.

When I’m writing my story, and I’m in the process, I’m like this

wb frog dancing

Ask me to start talking up my book and now I’m like this

still frog.gif

Bummer.

In my defense it’s not that I haven’t been reading about marketing. I’m trying. I really am. First, I read that you don’t sell a product. You sell yourself. Great. I’m a quiet introvert with a lower belly pooch who spends every spare minute locked in my room staring at a computer screen while my eyesight fades and my hemorrhoids bloom.

Let the marketing magic begin!!

However, lack of ability is no excuse for not trying…

When I started in screenwriting I learned you should be able to pitch your story in a sentence. Okay, here goes:

The Fixer: The Naked Man

A desperate young woman takes a dangerous job fixing problems of wealthy, powerful men.

How was that? No? Okay, try this:

Young, sexy woman takes a dangerous job fixing the problems of wealthy, powerful men who want to get into her panties.

Better?

I also learned you can use other titles in your pitch to explain your story. Okay, here goes:

The Fixer: The Naked Man. Think Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum meets James Bond- ish.

Anything? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

I think the Internet is amazing, opening up the possibility to reach readers everywhere. Even so, trying to spread the word about a book feels a little like this

man calling out yodel

Sorry, I couldn’t find a gif of a man calling out.

The point is, I’m trying. Really. I even joined Instagram. No, there will be no bikini selfies.

You’re welcome.

So, now I’m considering the alternative: Shameless Marketing. A marketing that says nothing is off limits. I believe in this book and I’ll stoop to any means necessary to convince people they should read it.

Are you ready?

puss n boots gif.gif

Please buy my book so I don’t end up a crazy cat lady, alone and destitute…

Anything?

No?

Damn.

I did learn that book branding is very important. Do I know what that means? Yes, yes I believe I do. I believe it means that it’s necessary to be consistent with the book series’ covers and color scheme. So, I made a decision that all of the book covers for this series will stay with the black/red color scheme, so The Fixer series will be easy to recognize (I’m probably going to keep the silhouette design too).

So, here’s the cover:

The Fixer The Naked Man for coupon referral

And I want 10 points for remembering to put the cover in the blog post.

Thank you.

I shouldn’t admit this but I was going to end this post when I realized I hadn’t put in the links to purchase the book (paperback and ebook). That’s a -5 points. Here they are:

Amazon

Kobo

Barnes and Noble

Okay, I’m going to get back to working on Book 2 of The Fixer series. It’s called The Killing Kind and it’s a full length novel.

Oh, wait. Sharing. I forgot to ask about the sharing. Right. If you like this post, can you please share and retweet. I would appreciate it.

And if you have any marketing suggestions you’d like to share with me… thank you.

Seriously, I hope you’ll give the series a try. I think you’ll like it. I hope you’ll like it.  And it’s received some really good reviews from people who are not my relatives.

Okay, that does it. We covered a lot. Do you think I’m getting the hang of this marketing business?

Yeah, me neither.

Take care,

J.

October 18, 2015

The Fixer: The Naked Man – The Blog Tour

Hi Everyone!

Tomorrow begins another first for me on this self-publishing adventure – the virtual book blog tour. Luckily for me, I am working with BookBear. My thanks to Ailbhe, who has been terrific and has made this a very fun and enjoyable process! The questions have been great and I am excited to list all the stops on this week’s tour below and the early bird stop that just happened on the 15th:

15th OCTOBER

Woman On The Edge Of Reality- Author Interview

http://wp.me/p1jLP-77y

 

19TH OCTOBER

www.bookbear.info

Beauty, Books and Babble:  Book Review

www.beautybooksandbabble.blogspot.co.uk

 

This is a Book Review Blog- Book Review

https://thisisabookreviewblog.wordpress.com/

 

Blondie Marie- Guest Post

http://www.blondiemarie.com

 

Chapter Five- BookBear Q&A’s

www.Chapterfive.wix.com/chapter5

 

20th OCTOBER

 

Book Wormie Spot- BookBear Q&A’s

http://www.bookwormiespot.com

 

Karleigh Reads- BookBear Q&A’s

http://www.karleighreads.com/?m=1

 

21ST OCTOBER

 

Antill Book Reviews- Book Review

https://antillbookreviews.wordpress.com

 

Living The Dream- Book Review & BookBear Q&A’s

http://kellyallenwriter.weebly.com/

 

I Love Smart Books- Review

www.ilovesmartbooks.weebly.com

 

22ND OCTOBER

 

Birds That Love Words- Book Review

http://birdslovewords.com 

 

Nerd Girl Official- Book Review

http://nerdgirlofficial.com

 

23RD OCTOBER

 

Your Book Babe- Book Review

http://yourbookbabe.weebly.com

 

Authors & Read Book Corner

https://arbookcorner.wordpress.com

 

24TH OCTOBER

 

Book Hooked Blog- Promotions

http://helenaisbookhooked.blogspot.co.uk

 

25th OCTOBER

 

Alice And The Books- Book Review

https://aliceandthebooks.wordpress.com/contact/  

 

Judging More Than Just The Cover- BookBear Q&A’s/ Book Review

http://www.judgingmorethanjustthecover.blogspot.co.uk

 

Rach With Books- Book Review

https://rachwithbooks.wordpress.com

 

Lindsey Lewis Smitherson- Own Q&A’s/ Book Review

http://lindseylewissmithson.com/

 

Annies Home- Spotlight/ Social Media posts

shopannies.blogspot.com

I hope you’ll stop by some of these sites and take a look at the interviews/reviews.

I love to hear from readers! You can find me on Facebook (click link on the right of the page) or drop me a comment through my website.

Wishing everyone a good week! 🙂

Jill

 

April 6, 2015

Inside The Writer’s Room

Hi Everyone!

I hope you all had a very happy holiday. For those of you who celebrate Easter, I hope the mutant sized bunny, who for some unknown reason does NOT frighten the crap out of children, brought you all the chocolate you desire.

Personally, I skipped the basket offering of the giant Lepus and went right for the pint of Ben and Jerry ‘s Phish Food, (I’m not hung up on ceremony, just give me a spoon).

While snacking and waiting for Alan, my whiz of a graphic designer, to finish the e-cover for The Fixer: The Naked Man, I got to thinking about a book I saw years ago in the library. It was a collection of photographs of the work spaces of writers.

I must admit I liked the idea of a sneak peek into the hidden writing cubbies where stories are crafted.

So…I got to thinking…maybe it would be fun to give a little photo tour of the place where The Fixer came to life.

Let’s get right to where the magic happens, shall we?

 

20150405_123703

I find a dedicated workspace, organized for maximum efficiency, is crucial to the creative process.

One out of two ain’t bad.

A word of advice, if your workspace isn’t conducive to creativity due to excessive clutter, you may find yourself sprawling,  creating more makeshift areas for your work:

 

20150405_114533

Oops.

Now, let’s talk about inspiration. Every writer needs inspiration, a muse,  some inexplicable person, place, or thing that mysteriously aids the creative process. If you looked closely  at the pic of my desk,  your eyes did not deceive you…

 

wpid-wp-1428249117298.jpeg

There he is, The Wookie himself (bobblehead version) to provide endless hours of entertainment and inspiration (okay, not hours, more like seconds, but who’s counting).

Factoid sidebar: I do a bitchin’ Chewbacca the Wookie imitation, but it does require consumption of a milk-based product first.

But I digress.

So, how do I keep my laser focus during the creative process? Well, it’s important to keep distractions to a minimum, like trips to the store. Making sure to stock up on the essentials will give you more precious writing time:

 

20150329_172950

And let’s not forget the essentials for non writing time. Rest and relaxation for the brain is key, making quality downtime a necessity, not a luxury , allowing me to return to the work rejuvenated and refreshed. I do this in several ways:

 

20150405_123228

Followed by…

 

wpid-wp-1428250006807.jpeg

 

Binge watching can be extremely therapeutic. Believe me, you think nothing’s going on in the brain while watching the entire season of The Big Bang Theory in one sitting. So not true. The wheels are turning.

And for the record, the tv is not old, it’s vintage.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the mini tour. I’ve got to get back to editing. I can’t wait for the e-cover to be done. I’m excited to show you! Another sneak peek of Chapter 1 will be coming soon!

Take care,

J.

March 27, 2015

To Pinterest or Not To Pinterest…Is That The Question?

Hi Everyone,

The editing continues and The Fixer: The Naked Man gets closer to completion. Yay!!! I spoke to my graphic designer, Alan, and the process of a book cover has begun!!

Continuing the discussion of letting people know about The Fixer, can we talk Pinterest for a moment? I discovered Pinterest through an article on book marketing. It was important to make a Pinterest board for your book. An author needed to do this. The article didn’t really say why or how this was a necessity but it had to be done.

Fair enough.

I signed up. I have boards for my two books, Project Jennifer and For Better Or Worse. I like Pinterest. It took me a few minutes to figure out it was electronic scrapbooking but I’m in. It’s actually quite addictive, in a good way. When I put together my board for For Better Or Worse it gave me the chance to post pics of my inspiration for the Ian character: Ewan McGregor.

imagesCA2GXZLT

The weird,  wonderful thing about writing is inspiration can come from anywhere, a movie, a song, an actor or actress. There were 10 characters in FBOW and yet, I really only had a visual on Ian. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love the other characters (and you really do need to love them all, even the ones that are shits), but having that picture reference helped me to develop the character and identify tics and habits.  Like I said, weird and wonderful.

So back to The Fixer: The Naked Man. I had an idea of what Katerina Mills looked like before I made the connection to an actress that was the perfect match (more on that in a minute). However, the character of Charles Winter was the big surprise. I had trouble imagining him; I had trouble seeing him. I liked him but I couldn’t seem to get a handle on him; he didn’t stand out. I tried writing his description but it just wasn’t.  I consoled myself. He was supposed to be a one shot supporting character anyway. In, out, and gone.

When I moved on to writing the rough draft for the second book, I couldn’t stop thinking  about him. Would he come back? Meh, I would think even as he kept lurking in the back of my mind (characters do that, you know, they lurk in the subconscious,  just waiting for their chance to take over and run amok, little stinkers). I would think, maybe, he might show up again in a future book, someday… And then…

I was spending my Christmas holiday channel flipping and catching up on movies when…I saw Him for the first time (who for the moment will remain nameless). An actor who was the perfect inspiration for Charles Winter. He had it all: height, build, face, and that voice! That was all I needed. I had a visual and my character had the all clear signal: let the running amok begin!

That’s when the writing took off like (insert your cliche of choice here – I’m going with “a bat out of hell.” I like the old faithfuls :)). The whole relationship between these characters opened up. The direction of the series twisted and turned in unexpected ways. That weird, wonderful process of making connections and new meanings from narrative, plot twists, and dialogue began to flow. I could visualize what would happen to these two characters, what they would have to go through, the road they would have to travel, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Seeing my characters visually led me to seeing them emotionally. Now I’m even more attached to this series.  And…yet again, I point out my petit problème…I’m the only one.

Sooooo, back to Pinterest and my marketing conundrum. Question: Do I make a Pinterest board and post pics of the actor and actress who are the inspiration for these characters? Isn’t that doing the reader a disservice? Isn’t that depriving the reader of the fun of choosing for themselves? Does it ruin the reader experience?

It is nothing new that writers find inspiration in actors for stories. How many screenwriters have said, “I wrote this part for (insert name here).” I do wonder what would have happened if John Malkovich had said “Thanks but no thanks” to starring in Being John Malkovich. Awkward.

Let’s consider Jane Austen for a minute. When she wrote Pride and Prejudice , did she have a real life inspiration for Mr. Darcy? She could not have imagined that one day Colin Firth would be Mr. Darcy.

darcy

 

No offense to Mathew Macfadyen, his performance was excellent.

matthew macfayden

 

How about Sherlock Holmes? Is it Basil Rathbone,

basil rathbone

 

Jeremy Brett,

jeremy brett

 

or Benedict Cumberbatch?

benedict cumberbatch

 

Who would Arthur Conan Doyle choose? All of them? One? None? Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up? Actually, I think it is all of them, each in their own wonderful way.

The chance of the actors who sparked my imagination for Katerina Mills and Charles Winter starring in a film or tv adaptation of The Fixer series is probably something I won’t have to worry about now or any time in the near future. But as Jake Barnes said in The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

But I do wonder, do I reveal this part of this story’s evolution or should it remain the writer’s secret?

What do you think? Let me know.

Until next time, when I tackle yet another path in the marketing maze, The Contest.

Take care,

J.

P.S.: If you haven’t read the sneak peek yet for The Fixer: The Naked Man, please check it out!!! Go to http://www.jillamyrosenblatt.com and have a look 🙂

June 30, 2010

Of Mice and (Writing) Men

In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf pontificated on  novel writing and how the process would be “affected by the sex of the novelist.” Writing the opposite sex can be, in my opinion, a tricky business. The non-fiction market is flooded with such titles as How Men Think, For Women Only: What You Need To Know About The Inner Lives Of Men, and the classic Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. These books only accentuate the emotional and psychological divide that exists between the sexes. In the movie As Good As It Gets, a woman asks Jack Nicholson’s character how he writes women so well. He answers, “I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.” This line may get on my nerves but it does raise the question, how does a writer effectively write the opposite sex?

The writer’s burden is always to create characters that are truthful, and therefore memorable; characters that feel “real” in a fictional world. Well, it’s my turn now.

I have reached the point in Deciphering Bella where Mark, Bella’s husband, is ready for his moment at center stage. Through nine chapters, Mark has been seen only through Bella’s eyes. To explain why now is the time for Mark’s point of view is impossible. This entire book has followed its own rhythm, its own natural progression. It is simply time. I suspect Mark will have a lot to say about his life, his marriage, and certainly his wife. So what will he say? Good question.

Women’s preoccupation with understanding men has been going on since recorded time. What do men want? What are they thinking? What are they feeling? I hesitate to say it, but I’m sure more than one woman has wondered at some time, do men have any feelings? The male sex itself is cloaked in secrecy. Look at it this way: their private den/game room/tv room is referred to as a cave. That alone speaks volumes.

I am the last child and only daughter in a family of three children. All I can offer is this: the male influence is powerful. I despise the sound of nagging (giving or receiving). It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Except for the scant bout of chattiness, I talk less rather than more. My conversation consists more of short statements then questions. I can ride in a car for long periods in total silence. I know better than to interrupt a man while he’s concentrating on one task to discuss something else. Women multi-task. Men don’t. In spite of all this, I have yet to crack the code.

When writing men, I can’t figure out if they are the distraught, vulnerable, heartbroken victims crooning love songs or the callous, careless louts you read about in women’s magazines in answer to questions like, “What’s the worst way a guy ever broke up with you?” And I do wonder, are we as women writers guilty of writing in absolutes? Do we only make room for The Prince or The Cad, with not much wiggle room in between?

There are many writers, men and women, who have created amazing work in writing the opposite sex. Larry McMurtry’s portrayal of Emma and Aurora in Terms of Endearment and Judith Guest’s glimpse into the innermost thoughts of Calvin Jarrett in Ordinary People are only two examples. Calvin appears truly mystified by the behavior of his wife. In his musings of Beth’s past mood swings and outbursts, we get a realistic portrait of a man at a loss. Though he clearly saw what was happening with his wife, he couldn’t understand her actions. The end result was a man unable or unwilling to deal with the situation. 

To be honest, perhaps describing a man as being “at a loss” is not accurate. I seriously wonder if most men feel the best way out of an issue/disagreement/argument is to admit guilt in the matter or stay out of the way, compliment her shoes, and hope it all goes away. I suppose that line of thinking goes with the conventional wisdom that men are easy to figure out – sleep, sports, and sex. I’m not convinced writers can accept that. It’s in our nature to always be on the hunt for something deeper – what lies beneath.

The excellent indie film, Small Town Saturday Night, written and directed by Ryan Craig, was an eye opener for me. Craig created three-dimensional, fully formed male characters, portrayed by a group of fantastic actors. Craig doesn’t spoonfeed his audience and he doesn’t explain everything. He leaves it to the audience to pay attention and piece together the puzzle of these characters. I found that these men are not heroes or villains, all good or all bad. They are human, they are flawed, and their emotions and reactions to their successes and failures in work, life, and relationships, from their own perspective, ring true. Craig shows that men have their own way of communicating, and they do communicate; however they also compartmentalize their life, experiences, and emotions as women rarely, if ever do.

But now I have to concentrate on what my character, Mark, will say and do. He has a wife with serious emotional and psychological issues. At this point in the story, he has yet to realize just how serious these issues are. It will be my challenge to accurately portray a man faced with difficulties in his marriage he never expected; challenges he “didn’t sign up for.” As in life, what kind of man Mark turns out to be will depend on his decisions. I will have to know what he’s thinking as he makes those choices.

I think I’ll pick up a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus as part of my research. It couldn’t hurt. 

I’m just saying. 

J.

June 13, 2010

Ernest Hemingway Lied To Me!

Filed under: Books,The Writing Life — jillamyrosenblatt @ 6:20 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I think every reader has a love affair with Hemingway. I have no scientific evidence to back this claim but I’m sticking to my theory. I am a latecomer to the Hemingway experience. In my thirties, I read The Sun Also Rises. The cursed, thwarted love of Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The lost generation! Drinking! Spain! The running of the bulls! I could live without that last one but you get the point. The next book I read was A Farewell To Arms. Wounded ambulance driver Frederic Henry and his nurse, Catherine, fall in love. Risking everything, they flee to Switzerland, all for love, true, passionate, devoted love. Spoiler alert: Catherine gets pregnant, the baby is stillborn, Catherine dies, everything goes to shit. Ah, but it’s so romantic.

Hemingway’s books are romance and ruin, triumph outmatched by torment, and above all, an overwhelming, all consuming commitment to the idea of everlasting love.  Everything a hopelessly romantic girl wants in her novels. So I thought.

Aside from his tragic end, I confess I was ignorant of the details of Hemingway’s life. So when I read the autobiographical A Moveable Feast, my chick lit heart fluttered reading the gorgeously simple description of Hemingway’s life and love with wife Hadley. “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other,” and “…it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything.”  I was so thrilled with Hemingway’s version of romance that I mentioned A Moveable Feast in my novel For Better or Worse, as a model for the romance between my characters Ian and Elizabeth. 

I didn’t finish A Moveable Feast. I didn’t want to read any further. Those sentences were the perfect ending. Hemingway had described love using his “iceberg principle,” leaving much of the work to the reader’s imagination. I was only too happy to fill in the missing pieces with thoughts of continued romance and blissful happiness.

I happened to be in a bookstore one day when I picked up a book about the life of Ernest Hemingway. It was then that I found out Ernest and Hadley didn’t have the distance. Ernest moved on to Pauline. They didn’t last. Neither did Ernest and Martha, or Ernest and Mary. Did he love them? I’m sure he did. But none of them lasted. What happened to A Moveable Feast? This was not the Hallmark Channel movie of the week bio I had created.

I was upset. I wanted a refund. Ernest Hemingway lied to me! I had filled in the blanks only to be confronted by harsh reality. No fair! Now I can hear your reproaches. “Leave Papa alone,” you will say, “he had his own problems.” And you’re right. After all, this was not fiction but real life. I knew his end. What was I thinking?  I assumed that Hemingway wrote fiction of love thwarted, love denied, love destroyed but it was not that way for himself. I assumed Hemingway had found in life what he denied his characters in fiction.

In actuality I had it backwards. He denied his characters the love he continuously searched for in life and never seemed to find. I fell into the reader’s trap. I mentally wrote a different life for him, a temporal happy ending, simply because that’s what I wanted.

I wonder if we as readers have lost our tolerance for the unhappy ending. We want our “happily ever after” and we won’t take anything less. Perhaps it is for the simple reason that so much of real life has an unhappy ending or at the very least, an unresolved ending. Everything lost or nothing gained; at the very least, nothing changed. Tell someone you have written a “realistic ending” and they will brace themselves. There’s no joy in Mudville. 

A few years ago The Guardian reported on a survey conducted for World Book Day. A whopping 41% of those polled preferred a happy ending. It further reported that of people polled over the age of 40, only 1.1% wanted to read an unhappy ending. It comforts me to know when it comes to opening a book, I am not alone in my expectations. There are others who would much rather read Bronte’s Jane Eyre saying “Reader I married him,” then Frederic Henry leaving his dead wife behind saying “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”  

And so I had my love affair with Hemingway. And I subjected one of the giants of literary fiction to my insatiable emotional need as a reader to see things “work out” and for everyone to “be happy.” I must confess I hoped for a medical miracle for Jake Barnes so he could be with the Lady Ashley. And deep down I knew Catherine wasn’t going to make in A Farewell to Arms but I kept hoping, even to the last page.

Ernest Hemingway didn’t lie to me. He told the truth, his truth, a “realistic” truth, and that’s all you can ask any writer to do. But I can’t help thinking it would’ve been nice if just one of his stories had a happy ending. I’m just saying…

J.

May 21, 2010

You’re Not The Boss of Me – When Characters Take Over

About six months ago I started thinking about my next book, Deciphering Bella. I was just getting to know Bella. I knew she was a young woman with a difficult past and her past was going to intrude on her present: physically, emotionally, and mentally. Whenever I pictured her, she came across as docile; she said little, and took action even less. She was a passive character. As for her husband Mark, in my mind, I had him all worked out. He was going to be stalwart, stoic, and dependable throughout the story.

And then something happened.

That “something” happened a few weeks after I was discussing the book with my mother, my faithful reader, my sounding board, my truth-teller. In short, she is the one person who will tell me if I have written a piece of crap. She listened with careful attention while I explained my concern that the story was not developing. When I finished she asked, “Have your characters started talking yet?”

That statement alone leaves most non-writers scratching their heads, saying “Hunh?” It’s difficult to verbalize the process of a story coming into being. Express the idea of a fictional character having “something to say” and your listener may either be fascinated or give you a nervous smile and take a few steps away from you.

Here’s the truth of the matter: as writers we have characters running around in our fertile imaginations. They have thoughts, feelings, their own lives, their own stories to tell. I have often heard it said, “The author may want one thing, but characters do what they want, they make their own decisions.” Much has been written about the process of character development, and characters becoming larger than life.

In his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, the wonderful teacher Robert McKee proposed the idea of  a story “writing itself” was in itself, fiction. The phenomenon was nothing more than a writer coming to know his/her characters and world in depth, as they should.  

Sometimes characters take on a life of their own, to the dismay of the author. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, was also a writer of historical fiction. It has been said Doyle despaired over Holmes eating away at his time, preventing him from completing more important works. Finally, fed up with the genius detective, Doyle resolved to be rid of Holmes once and for all, killing him off in “The Final Solution.” Doyle may have been ready to live without Sherlock Holmes but readers were not; their outrage forced him to bring Holmes back.  

So what happened those weeks ago? In searching for my story, I began to question why Isabella, a young woman with such a troubled background of mistreatment and abuse, would be so docile. Wouldn’t there be a shred of anger suppressed in her personality? My imagination jump started: scene ideas began to form, dialogue started to flow. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty.  And Mark the dutiful husband? It became clear Mark was not going to behave as I had decided. Bella and Mark’s relationship took on a new depth, and conflict began to grow.

At that moment, I felt as if my characters had just thumbed their noses at me and said, “You’re not the boss of me.”

They are so right.

McKee may very well turn out to be right, but for now, it doesn’t feel that way. I will continue to ask questions, letting my imagination wander and following wherever it leads.

Until next time,

J.

May 15, 2010

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the best writer of us all?

On June 7th, The New Yorker magazine will publish a list of The 20 Best Writers Under 40. I’m always a sucker for these lists. Each year Crain’s New York Business magazine compiles The Top 40 Under 40, a list that covers all industries. I always make sure to check it out as I like to see what people are doing and how they have used their talents. Let’s face it, there are people out there in the world doing some very cool things. The majority of these people, sadly, never make a list and the world at large never hears of them.

It didn’t take long for some strong reaction to hit the internet (see the report by Leon Neyfakh over at The New York Observer website: “Lit Agent Ira Silverberg to Haters: Don’t Throw “Buckets of Shit” on The New Yorker!). I have to say, when I heard about the list I was surprised by the effect it had upon me. On the one hand I was excited because I love discovering a new writer. To open a book is like opening a present; the treat is discovering the work of someone you’ve never read before, getting to know their style, their prose, how they weave a sentence. On the other hand, the novelty had barely worn off before I was in the midst of a Stuart Smalley downward spiral of  “stinkin’ thinkin'” about my own abilities. “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to die homeless and penniless…”  It was an ugly scene.

It’s a fact I could never be on a 20 Best Under 40 list for the obvious reason. Beyond that, there was that sinking feeling, the “knowing” that I wouldn’t be on such a list anyway, even if I met the age qualifier. I think all writers struggle with the self-doubt of whether they are good enough, if their books are good enough. For years I carried the mental ball and chain: I should be writing “an important book,” “the great American novel,” a book of deep prose addressing weighty matters that captured the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times we live in. What writer hasn’t dreamed of writing a book that stands the test of literature and time to become “a new classic” as movies are advertised on TNT?

Am I proud of my work? Absolutely. Do I think you should read my books? Of course! And yet, I believe to be a writer is always and forever to be a student. To truly touch a reader,  a writer must constantly experiment with language, arranging words like building blocks until finding the optimum construction. Clearly not all writers are the same. Some have that extra “something.” Who has the right to make the call on who those writers are? Judging by Neyfakh’s article, that’s still under discussion.

The writer can be his/her own worst enemy, constantly critical and unforgiving, choosing to see only what is lacking instead of focusing on their strengths. I still find myself inching perilously close to the booby trap of wanting to write “an important book,” instead of focusing on writing the story I need to tell. As I work on Deciphering Bella, I remind myself daily that my goal is to write truthfully of a relationship between two deeply flawed people. Whether or not that subject is important, the reader will decide.

In a few weeks I will pick up my copy of The New Yorker and read about The 20 Best Writers Under 40. There are new writers and their wonderful words to be discovered. And then I will go back to my computer and work on my own story, the story I need to tell.

J.

April 28, 2010

What’s In A Name? (Character Name That Is)

Do character names really matter? According to Shakespeare, I guess not. I suppose in his mind, a Juliet by any other name wouldn’t have made a difference. Romeo would still have been hot and bothered. However, me thinks that if that had truly been the case, Shakespeare could have named his play Romeo and Gertrude. Obviously, he didn’t. (No offense to any Gertrude’s out there).

As I begin Deciphering Bella, one of the first items to consider is, of course, the names of the characters. I admit picking names has never been my strong suit. While I’m better naming women characters than men, every time I have to name a male character I immediately go to my standard list: Bob, Robert, Rich, and Michael. In Project Jennifer, I named Joan’s jilting fiancé Michael. When I wrote the first draft of For Better or Worse, Elizabeth’s untrustworthy lawyer boyfriend was… Michael. That was quickly pointed out to me and corrected; Michael became Nick.

Does a name of a character truly make a difference? I think so, obviously. I wrote an entire book about the importance of the right name. Project Jennifer was the hypothesis that women named Jennifer had the looks, poise, and grace that other women only dream of. Is that true? The jury is still out.

However, looking at books and movies, I find there are certain names that are used again and again, and those names imply certain characteristics, creating expectations of what the character will be like.

For women, Elizabeth, a name I picked for my heroine in For Better or Worse, seems to be popular. Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Elizabeth Swann, Elizabeth is a name that invokes the idea of the strong, opinionated, capable woman who can be tender and tough when needed. I particularly enjoyed playing with the use of Elizabeth’s name in For Better or Worse. She used her full name to invoke a sense of professionalism, capability, and responsibility. Her suitor, Ian, immediately chose to call her Lizzie, a deviation that suggests something more unfettered and wild, a glimpse into her hidden persona.

For men, Jack is a popular name. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Titanic’s Jack Dawson, and of course, Pirates’ Jack Sparrow. The name Jack conjures multiple possibilities, adventurer, rescuer, hero, even scoundrel. In any case, the name implies strength, resolve, and resiliency, all good qualities in a leading man. 

So how did Bella become Bella? Bella is actually Isabella and as I begin work on the first draft I am realizing that some characters call Bella by her full name and others, such as her husband, use her nickname. It will be interesting to work out their different perceptions of Isabella and if that is perhaps why they choose her full name or nickname. When searching for a suitable name, I always felt the name Isabella sounded quite romantic and formal, even regal. I liked the juxtaposition of a young woman like Bella having such a troubled background and yet having a name that would make one think the world was her oyster.

Bella’s husband, Mark, came by his name in a roundabout way. I had actually chosen a name, Tim. I described my story and characters to my mother. My mother is for me that one person every writer needs: the one that will tell you the absolute truth about the work. I mentioned Tim’s name. The response: “Tim? No! Not Tim! Pick another name.” I was surprised Tim received such a strong reaction (no offense to any Tim’s out there). Yet for the story and events I was describing, she felt the name Tim didn’t fit the man and would not go the distance. As Mom’s instincts are usually correct, I went back to the drawing board.

A question was put to me once: Do I visually imagine my characters by picking an actor or actress in the part? Good question. I do. But only for male characters, never female characters. Don’t ask me why. In that case, for me, the name becomes secondary, I already have a visual on what my character looks like. Perhaps that’s why my creativity light dims whenever I have to name my male characters.

In For Better or Worse, I knew exactly who Ian MacKay looked like: Ewan McGregor. For the record, I had no visual reference on any other characters in the book, only Ian. 

For Deciphering Bella, I have a visual reference for Tim. However, I don’t believe in influencing the reader, so I will keep the actor’s name to myself, for now, and reveal it after the book is published. 

In the end, I thought a while and decided on Mark, a name I have never used before. Mark seems a good solid name, and gives a sense of an upright, dependable man, although time will tell the tale if Mark turns out to be those things. Mark or Tim? Does it matter? For the record, I had no trouble switching the name and became acclimated to Bella’s husband as Mark with no hesitation. As Mark develops, it will be interesting to see if his character evolves in ways I could never imagine had he remained Tim.

J.

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