Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Musings: The Hero

Part Two in my Characterization Series will be focusing on some of my favorite literary male protagonists. This was rather challenging, to narrow down a long list of possible heroes to my absolute favorites. I finally decided that I would share several protagonists from different literary genres. It is a little difficult, and unfair, to compare a character from a children's book to one created by Dickens or Tolkien, who had so many more pages to flesh out their characters. So I chose several characters, one from a children's book, one from a fantasy series, one from a classic, and one modern novel. I am also going to include a few bonus characters at the very end, for you visual learners like me!

1. Scruggs from the Peabody Series by Jeri Massi.

I loved this character as a kid. When the series starts, Scruggs is actually the neighborhood bully, but by the time the series winds around to an end, he is basically the leader of the group. The others all look to him. As a child, I very much enjoyed this transformation. Watching him mature, both socially and spiritually, was something I found fascinating. I like to believe that everyone is capable of change, that none of us are outside the reach of God's grace, and I think this is an important moral for young readers, in our world where bullying and stereotypes are so prevalent. I found that I grew to respect this character, more than some of the others, because I knew where he had come from, and where he had come from was not a nice place. His struggle made his character endearing and memorable to me.

2. My favorite fantasy hero, somewhat comically, is Howl from Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle. I know. Howl is not really an admirable character. He is shallow, and selfish, and annoying, and a terrible flirt. But, yes, like a great many other fans, I fell in love with Howl. I remember reading an article by Ms. Jones once where she said she found it odd that so many of her fans wanted to marry Howl. I have to agree with her, that considering his character flaws, this is rather unusual. So what is it about Howl that makes him so dynamic a character? I think it is how he interacts with the other characters in the story that makes him an enjoyable character. In all honesty, the other main characters are no better than him. There is Sophie, the young girl cursed into the body of an old woman, who is as cranky and irritable as they come. There is Calcifur, the fire demon, and let's not forget the Witch of the Waste, who thinks she is in love with Howl and creates all kinds of drama trying to get him. All of the characters are flawed, they all play off of each other, and the end is satisfying. I can't honestly say that I feel Howl learns his lesson in the end, although the story does end well and it seems that Howl and Sophie find their happy ending. In several of the following stories, Howl and Sophie show up as minor characters, but Howl is still as outrageous and naughty in those stories as he was in the first one. Somehow, though, I don't seem to mind. I still love him.

3. My favorite classic character is Mr. Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. What is not to like about John Thornton? He is a somewhat tragic character, pulling himself and his family from the ashes and into the prosperous position as a "master," a mill owner. He has an aloof exterior, which is just a smoke screen for his sensitive nature. He falls quickly in love with the heroine, Margaret Hale, but their social differences, and their pride, drive a wedge between them. I love how his story comes full circle and he falls on hard times again, but his financial difficulties do not break him. His character remains just as admirable and likable. In fact, I think his hardships make me like him the more. As a side note, the BBC miniseries is simply spectacular. If you have never seen it or read the book, you must watch the miniseries. There are only a few films that I actually enjoy more than the actual book, but North and South, is one of them. (As a caution, make sure you get the right North and South. There is a civil war miniseries of the same name which is a completely different story, and contains objectionable content).

4. My favorite character from a modern novel is Sean Kendrick from Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. Sean Kendrick is a character of few words. He is shy but very strong. He does not feel the need to tell others what he thinks or feels because he is confident enough in himself to let his actions speak for him. He loves horses. Did I mention he LOVES horses? I really like how Ms. Stiefvater handles his character, especially in contrast to her outspoken, fiery heroine. As a side note, I recommend Ms. Stiefvater's books with caution, as they frequently contain content inappropriate from young readers. The Scorpio Races is the cleanest of her stories, and it still contains some swearing and gruff language. If you don't mind skimming over these parts, the overall language of this novel is beautiful. Her use of imagery is stunningly done. I think every writer ought to read this story if simply to study her use of language and her vivid story world. It is truly a beautiful telling.

And, now to the bonus heroes...for you movie lovers, I am going to share some of my favorite male protagonists from the film industry. I won't say much about them, because I feel they are iconic enough you won't need an introduction or an explanation. My favorite movie protagonists are: Han Solo from Star Wars, Malcolm Reynolds from Serenity, Captain America from the Marvel Universe, and (please don't laugh) Murdock from the original A-Team series.

Who are your favorite literary heroes? Favorite movie heroes? I hope you will all join me next week, when I will be sharing my favorite literary heroines! And, yes, I am sure I will share a few movie heroines as well!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Character Encounter

Jenelle, one of the Five Enchanted Roses authors, suggested we take part in a Character Encounter that her friend Kendra is hosting on her blog, which you can visit here. I have never done one of these before, and after reading Jenelle's encounter, which you can read on her blog, I decided I would give it a try. I had a difficult time choosing which character I wanted to visit, and finally decided on my heroine. But then I changed my mind. I am instead going to introduce you to a minor character in Wither who is quite a major character in the "Neverway Chronicles." Yes, he is also going to be featured in After. And, yes, he does have future stories to be told. So I hope you enjoy this very brief introduction to a quiet little character with huge stories to be told . . . I expect great things from him. The life of a Spook, after all, is anything but droll.


The air is cold and smells dry and feels brittle like old leaves. I can't see where I am. The darkness presses against me on all sides. When I stretch out my hands, I can feel the prickle of branches. I know without question I dropped myself outside the village limits, somewhere in the Neverway. How could I have been so careless? I can hear the wilderness around me, whispering its dangers, of sharp cliff faces, brutal mountain winds, and of flesh eaters and other horrors I myself had placed here. It would be just my luck to perish at the hands of the monsters I had created.

Ahead of me, an orange glow begins to bob toward me. I freeze, my breath a mist in front of my face, but as the glow moves closer, I realize it is lantern light and not something more menacing.

"What do you think you are doing!" a voice calls.

"Oh thank goodness it's you!" I exclaim as I hurry toward the friendly glow. I would know that voice anywhere. Victor sounds pleasant, not angry, his tone gentle but cautious. He peels out of the shadows, bringing the warm light of a lantern to the dark patch of forest I found myself in. He pauses to search my face, in that quiet and intense way I know so well. It is a little discomforting, I discover, the sober directness of his gaze. It pains me, knowing that the soberness in him is brought on by circumstances and not his true nature. I take time to study him in return. His features are softer than I had imagined, still carrying the remnants of youth. His eyes however grab me, dark and inquisitive, the eyes of one who has seen much.

"I don't know you," he says, surprised.

I laugh, as my heart beat begins to regulate again. "No, I suppose you don't."

"It is not safe to be out alone," he tells me, and after a quick glance he adds, "Especially unarmed."

"I know, trust me. I am actually here to see Bet Haverly."

His expression clouds. "I am afraid you come at a bad time. She left the village two nights ago and has not returned."

This disappoints me. I had been so eager to see her. She must already be at Briarstone Abbey. I can tell from Victor's expression that Bet's absence worries him. It would. He feels responsible for all of the villagers he fights to protect. He feels responsible for a great many things.

"You take good care of them," I say, feeling a little sorry I wrote him such a difficult part. "But you cannot blame yourself every time something goes wrong." I am not thinking of Bet Haverly or the villagers but of those from Victor's past, those he misses with every breath.

"That is easy to say, but impossible to do," he says quietly. His eyes hold mine, still narrowed inquisitively.

"Nothing is impossible," I whisper back. I want to tell him that everything will be alright, that his story is yet to be told, that there is a larger plan at large, but I know he would not understand or believe me. The most important lessons are always learned by living them. Someday he would know the story of his life as clearly as I do, but I will simply have to wait for him to discover the path for himself.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Musings: The Character Dream

I've decided to spend a few weeks focusing on characterization. This year, a great deal of my time is going to be devoted to rewrites. I am a Mad Hatter Plotter, which means I don't plot very well and my first drafts drive me absolutely crazy with their plot holes and inconsistencies. Once I have a first draft in place, then I dive into the story and start focusing on specifics. Characterization is usually the first problem I tackle.

Most of my stories are character driven. I almost always start with a vague plot idea and then ask myself: "What if THIS kind of a person lived in THIS story world?" I love characters. I love creating them. I love finding out what makes them tick. One of the challenges with writing characters, however, is making them real. You can't focus on just one attribute or characteristic because your characters will be flat and one dimensional. In order to make characters come alive on the page and to make your readers feel along side with them, you have to dig deep.

I had a dream this week which prompted me to change the direction of my first post in this series. Dreaming is not uncommon for me. I dream every night, and most nights I remember my dreams, at least in part. Saturday night I had a dream about my husband. This, however, is rare. The only times I ever dream about my husband, I am searching for him because there are zombies outside the door or the Nazis are on their way to our house to burn our books and execute our kitties and I can't find him ANYWHERE. But not this week. This week, I dreamed about my husband. And not just one of him. I dreamed about three of him. Each version of him seemed to express one aspect of his character. I found all of them attractive, and it drove me crazy every time a new version showed up, because I was already in love with the previous one, but I couldn't help myself. I kept falling in love with each version of him that came along. 

The first version of my husband was what I am calling the Super Hero Sam. I have another name for this character, too, but I will come back to that. Super Hero Sam was awesome. He was every fan girl's biggest dream come true. He had an airplane full of gadgets and guns and he flew around the world saving people. I got to jump out of airplanes and chase villains with him and risk all to preserve justice. It was a blast. No, if you are asking, my husband is not a super hero, but he does have a very strong sense of justice. He believes in solid right and wrongs, and believes in fighting for what you believe in. It is one of the reasons I love him.

But it is not the only reason.

The second version of Sam was the Humanitarian Sam. After I finished jumping out of airplanes, I dreamed that I met another Sam. This one was travelling the world with his family, visiting third world countries trying to help people who needed food and medicine. I really, really liked this version of Sam. He was probably the most real of the three versions. He felt human. He had a family. He was easy to talk to. He wanted to help people behind the scenes with things that really mattered. I have another name for this character, too, but again I will come back to that.

While I was traveling the world with Humanitarian Sam, I met a third version of him. This one I call the Tragic Sam. He was a king of some third world country that was fighting to save his little kingdom from villains and financial ruin. He was misunderstood. He was under-appreciated. He was depressed. He was lost. He was SO lonely. I fell for him the hardest. I've always had a soft spot for tragic heroes.

I laughed when I woke up because this really was one of the oddest dreams I have ever had, and I've had my share of bizarre dreams, but this one stuck with me. I kept thinking about all day yesterday. And then it hit me. I wasn't being unfaithful to Sam every time I fell in love with a new version of him. I was UNSATISFIED with the one-dimensional versions of him. I wanted something more. I didn't want a wedge of the triangle. I wanted the entire triangle.

Characterization is like that. People want the whole deal. Inspired by these three versions of Sam, I came up with a Triangle for Characterization. And if this has been done before, which I'm sure it has, I apologize if I am reusing it, but it is so perfect. There are three sides to every character: 

There is the Man You Want to Be -- the Super Hero who jumps out of airplanes and saves damsels in distress. 

There is the Man You Really Are -- the real you, the one who has a family and a life and an occupation. 

Then, there is the Man You Wish You Weren't -- the man with weaknesses and flaws and painful histories. 

You need all of these to develop a fully rounded character. The best characters have dreams, have solid presents, and have painful pasts and flaws and character quirks. One aspect isn't enough. You need the whole deal.

I certainly did. I like my fully developed and well-rounded Sam so much better than each of these little versions of him. I wouldn't want any one of them. I want them all.

I hope you will join me for the other posts in this series. I am planning to delve into some of my favorite literary characters and pull out some of the reasons why I like them so much. I will be focusing on the different roles that characters play in the story--such as the hero, the antagonist, the side kick, etc. It will be a great deal of fun to pluck out some of my favorite literary characters and prod them a little bit to see what makes them tick. 

Title Page for Wither

The title pages for each of the Five Enchanted Roses stories arrived this week, and I've been up to my ears in projects and haven't gotten around to posting it yet. I've already shared on Facebook, but I wanted to share it on my blog as well. I really like the fact that Corwin is featured on the front of the title page, and with the Briarstone Abbey in the background, surrounded in mist? Oh, it's simply perfect. The designers at Rooglewood Press deserve a huge Hurrah!

As penalty for the merchant’s theft of a single rose, the Beast of Briarstone Abbey demands his youngest daughter, sweet and innocent Sookie. But Lilybet Haverly will never allow her sister to face such a dreadful fate! Armed only with a butcher knife and her own determination, Bet climbs the wall and plunges into the Neverway, where the dead walk and ghouls hunt human flesh. She will find this Briarstone Abbey—and the Beast who lives there—whatever the cost.

You can go see the other title pages for Five Enchanted Roses here. And don't forget to add Five Enchanted Roses on Goodreads.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Musings: Switching Gears

I am pleased to announce I have finally finished the rewrites for Wither. On Thursday evening I sent my revised manuscript back to the Five Enchanted Roses editing staff, with no small amount of joy and nervous jitters. I worked so hard on these revisions, I was ecstatic to send it off for review . . . and yet there was that part of me that still felt nervous. Today I received a very sweet little note from Anne Elisabeth Stengl informing me she had read the story and approved of my revisions. I was just about as excited to receive that  note as I was to discover my story had been included in this wonderful collection. Almost, but not quite. I don't think anything will be able to top that experience, at least for a little while. :)

Now that I am about to take a step away from Wither while the editing staff does their magic behind the scenes with their own tweaks and edits, I am going to take a break from my playlist posts. This will be my last song relating to Wither for a bit. It is time for me to switch gears and focus on some of my other projects for a while.

Yes, I do have a few other projects in the works. I am halfway through my first rewrite for After, the prequel to Wither. I will be publishing this story in eBook format to begin with, since it is a novella and not a full length novel. A couple of weeks ago, I received the finished cover from my wonderful designer, and let me tell you, the results were spectacular. This cover is so perfect for the story. I can't wait to share it with you all. Very soon I will be asking if anyone is interested in participating in my cover reveal. I will also be guest hosting my cover designer around the same time as the cover reveal, so if anyone is looking for a cover artist, you will want to be on the look out for that as well. 

For those of you who expressed an interest in my second Five Enchanted Roses submission, I have good news for you as well. I AM going to be publishing When Ravens Fall in the fall of this year. I am about to send it off to my editor the end of this month and will be starting the process for the cover design very shortly. I will be publishing this ebook before After, for two reasons. Number one, it is a birthday present for someone very dear to me, so I must get it done before the big day. Number two, this will give me an opportunity to get some practice and experience before I launch the first book in The Neverway Chronicles. I am so excited about this series, I want to make sure I do it right. So I am giving myself a little bit of extra time to pull After together. There will be more details to come on all of this as well, so keep popping in!

Now, to the playlist! Since this will be the last song I am sharing for a while, I was having such a hard time choosing. I have so many other wonderful songs on this playlist, but I think I am going to share this one. "That Was Then" by Casting Crowns is one of my favorite songs for Wither because it so strongly reflects the struggle of my Beast. I did not come across this song until mere weeks before I sent the story off to the judges in December, but the song has become my favorite. It is such a good reminder that we cannot live on our mountain top experiences, that a valley will come our way, and when it does, we do not need to lose hope. God has a plan to bring us out of those valleys and back into wide open spaces. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Monday Musing: Easter Thoughts

I decided, in honor of the weekend, I would share some of my favorite Easter songs, just for a change of pace. Also, as promised, an update on my rewriting.

I have finally made it all the way through the manuscript for Wither, although I was exactly 2,077 words over my word limit. After several days of polishing, I am down to 645 words over my limit. I trust to be able to shave that off without too much hair pulling. I am hoping to be finished--finally--by the weekend. Hurray for finished projects! There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Now some Easter music! What are your favorite resurrection songs?