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Friday, April 11, 2014

Guest Post - Creating a Pitch Perfect Character

Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting author Mindy Klasky!  She is launching her new Diamond Brides series this month and has written a wonderful post about how she turns a stock character into a complex and unique individual.  Since Mindy's one of my BFs, I had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series, PERFECT PITCH.  I'll admit, I'm not a fan of baseball - the game is too slow for me, but there was nothing slow about Mindy's story! After I finished this fun and entertaining read in a single day, I'd wished the Raleigh Rockets were a real team I could cheer for.  Plus I loved the humor (as I do in all Mindy's stories).

Mindy Klasky:

Romance.  It's a literary genre built on tropes, on familiar storylines told in unfamiliar ways.  You've probably heard the shorthand before:  Marriage of convenience.  Secret baby.  Virgin bride.  Single father.  May/December.  There are a couple dozen more, but you certainly get the idea.  

Each tried-and-true storyline relies on stock characters – the alpha male, the wounded warrior, the prostitute with the heart of gold, the shy virgin…

And if those snapshots were the only basis for romance novels, the genre would have burned itself out long ago.  But tropes are only the beginning of a romance novel.  Stock characters are only the bare outlines.

The real fun starts when the author colors between the lines.

When I started writing the Diamond Brides Series of short, hot, contemporary romance novels about the players on the (imaginary) Raleigh Rockets baseball team and the women who love them, I knew I was going to rely very heavily on tropes and stock characters.  With each book limited to about 150 pages, I didn't have time to build minutely detailed character stories, to provide volumes of background information, to sketch carefully shaded essays on psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Instead, I selected traditional plots within the romance genre and peopled them with unique characters.

The trick was knowing just how to make my characters stand out as individuals, how to make them quirky enough that readers can remember them as specific, well-defined people, without giving in to the pressure to make them outright bizarre.  As an author, I needed to structure details, building them as carefully as a baker balancing rich cake between layers of frosting.

Take DJ Thomas, the hero of Perfect Pitch.  He's an athlete at the pinnacle of his career, experiencing the best season of his life.  But that's only the surface definition of the man.

He's a man attracted to a woman who seems to outclass him in wit, confidence, and public sympathy.  He's a single father who is often exasperated with the child he doesn't understand.  He's a son who is wounded by his own father's domineering need to win.  He's a teammate, struggling to do his best so that the other Rockets players have a chance of winning a championship.

But even those details weren't enough to define Perfect Pitch's hero; I needed to drill deeper.  As a man attracted to a woman (whom he's inadvertently insulted on national TV), DJ has to deliver the script prepared for him by the Rockets' publicity team.  But at the same time, he wants to communicate his own, personal apology.  Even as he desires a deeper relationship with the heroine, he worries about what that public status will do to his professional reputation, to his personal image, to his paternal obligations and his filial ones.  Late night phone conversations with the heroine after ball games played on the road become fraught with meaning, with traps for the romantically unprepared.

And the complexities spin out further, like ice crystals on a freezing window pane, as DJ factors in all his other roles.  Suddenly, my "Athlete Hero" isn't just a stereotype. The precise details add up to a specific love story about unique people.

Writing nine novels in the same ballpark (see what I did there?) has given me a chance to exercise my authorial muscles.  For each book, I need to look at my conventions, to analyze my stereotypes and to determine how I can make the characters and stories unique.  You can get more of an idea of my approach by reading a snippet here: http://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/books/passion/diamond-bride-series/perfect-pitch/

And you can buy Perfect Pitch at its value price of $0.99 here: http://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/books/buy-books-here/#pitch

What are your favorite novels where stock characters are transformed into something specific?  What tricks did those authors use to delineate their unique stories?


Thanks for a wonderful post Mindy!  I know a book about an assassin who started as a stock character and then transformed into an artistic pack rat.  I can't recall the title or the author.... ;>

Friday, April 4, 2014

Q&A and Give Away with Duncan W.Alderson

Who, you might ask, is Duncan W. Alderson?  Well, I'll tell you!  Back when I started writing, I struggled to find information and guidance about the craft (back when there was no Internet or cell phones - a truly barbaric time ;). The universities in my area didn't offer creative writing classes to the community, and I couldn't find any local writing groups.  Then one day, I see an ad for the Rabbit's Hill Writer's Group offering writing classes.  I jumped on it and signed up right away.

Duncan was the owner and teacher at Rabbit Hill.  We had classes in a barn turned art studio turned writing room.  It was wonderful.  I met other writers, received feedback on my stories, learned the craft of writing, and made a few friends.  Not only did my writing improve, but I loved the class style so much, I use it for when I teach (shhh...don't tell Duncan ;).  I credit Duncan's classes as an instrumental part of my writing success.

I'm so excited that Duncan's debut novel, MAGNOLIA CITY has just been published.  It's a historical fiction set in Houston, Texas in the 1920s. Now, I realize most of my readers are more fantasy/science fiction readers, but this novel is just wonderful.  It's rich in details, but not overwhelming.  The characters are masterfully drawn and I was suck into this world about love and oil.

Below is an interview with Duncan, and he has offered to give away a signed copy of his book to a random commenter (ALL are welcome to enter)!  Please include your email addy with your comment so I can get in touch with you. Contest ends April 15 (tax day for those in the US).

Q&A with Duncan:

1.) What sparked the idea for this story?
I grew up seeing photographs of my mother as a flapper in 1920s Texas. The exotic woman in the pictures seemed so different from the practical housewife who was raising me, that I had to write a book to explain who that other woman was.


2.) Why historical fiction? Is there something special about this genre that draws you to write?


I wasn’t drawn to the genre particularly, just to this subject matter inspired by photos of my mother. I was trying to write about my own experiences in the 1960s, but this other voice kept interfering, so I finally went with it.
 
3.) The book is rich with setting details and authentic historical information.  How much research was involved?  Where did you find the information?  Was any one source more helpful then the others?
This was the biggest challenges of telling this story. I spent years researching the period in general, and my own hometown in particular. The Texas Room at the Houston Pubic Library has a collection rich in history, as do libraries in Galveston and San Antonio. Certain books were key in helping me understand early Houston history, such as Houston: The Unknown City by Marguerite Johnston.  One of the most useful sources for items used in everyday life was a copy I made of the 1927 Sears & Roebuck Catalogue, which I found at my local library.


4.) During your research, did you discover anything surprising and unique?  Perhaps something that you used in your story?


When I read Houston: The Unknown City by Marguerite Johnston, I discovered that the historic nickname of my hometown was The Magnolia City. This became the title of my novel.

5.) What do you find most interesting about Hetty Allen?

He desire to become a “modern” woman. This is a large part of what drives her as a character.

6.) What else do you enjoy doing besides writing? Interests? Hobbies?
Spending time in Manhattan going to operas, concerts, theatre and museums. My wife is an art dealer, so we do a lot gallery crawls in Chelsea and attend a lot of art openings.


7.)  How did you become a writer? Is this what you saw yourself growing up to be? Or did it take you by surprise?


I think I became a writer by default. I was a child actor, appearing as Tom Sawyer on both stage and television with the Houston Civic Theater. My dream was to become a movie star and change my name to Duncan Divine. Then my family moved from Houston to our lake cottage in the piney woods and my acting career was suddenly over. I took up writing stories instead and penned my first novel, Retama, in high school.

8.) Do you have a writing routine? Talk process for a moment, how do the words get on the page?
I’m a very lazy writer. I’m not at all like Joyce Carol Oates who writes eight hours a day, seven days a week. When I’m under deadline, I try to log in four or five hours a day, but otherwise find all kinds of excuses to avoid working. When I do write, I always pen my first drafts in long hand with a good fountain pen.  I love the feel of the nib scratching against the paper. I use Natalie Goldberg’s approach of free writing, so never experience a writer’s block. I just keep my hand moving and something always comes out.  Then I type that “shitty first draft” into my computer in 18 point Times Roman triple spaced.  That’s when the real work begins, as I revise the pages over and over, printing each draft out and marking it up with a red pen. After twelve or fifteen drafts, I usually end up with something that feels coherent, so reduce it down to 12 point Times Roman double spaced and print out the final draft, which then gets integrated into the work-in-progress. 


9.) Office? Closet? Corner of the living room? Do you have a set place to write?  A favorite?


I’m lucky to have a writing studio out in the barn in our backyard. I’ve gotten to where I can only work there, as that’s where all my files are, my comfortable desk and the Roget’s Thesaurus that I’ve been using for over forty years. It’s a quiet space away from the house where I can go to be alone with my muse.  Or take a nap. 


10.) What are you writing now?  What's coming out next?


I’m working on the sequel to Magnolia City, called The Tibetan Magic Show.  It was actually written first, but needs a lot of revision.  My editor wants it on his desk my Christmas, 2014.