Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

When Fiction Imitated Life

I think this post is about writing.  Maybe not.  You be the judge….

I find that, unbidden, animals creep into my work.  Recently they have become psychic because it works for the story but also because psychic animals are fun.  Wolf Legend has a psychic wolf.   Wanted Sharpshooter has a rogue psycho cougar.  But I never thought of psychic animals as being anything other than clever additions to fictional stories.

Until now.  What follows was my life last week:

First I should mention that we have a cat named Smoke.  He’s our first cat ever and we have him because our daughter got him as a kitten to become another barn cat to keep their barn free of mice.   Smoke, however, didn’t want to be a barn cat.  He kept coming to the house and meowing very politely to let her know that he’s a house cat, not a barn cat.

Since our daughter already had three house cats and didn’t need any more, she decided her parents needed a cat.  So we got Smoke.  As soon as he came to our house he knew this was where he wanted to be.  He walked around and inspected his new kingdom and informed us that it was acceptable and climbed onto my lap and started purring and has pretty much been there ever since.  Even though we aren’t cat people.  Or, to be honest, we weren’t cat people until Smoke came into our lives.

Anyway, to get back to what happened in the last few days:

My DH Dick started feeling sick Thursday night. So did Smoke. Didn’t come to get us for bed as usual and was quiet.

Dick got worse Thursday night. So did Smoke. Stayed in one spot on the bed all night. Didn’t move. Didn’t do anything.

Dick was really sick Friday morning. So was Smoke. Managed to crawl onto a shirt that Dick had dropped onto the floor and he stayed on that shirt.  Didn’t move, didn’t do anything.  Was really sick and puking and refused to get off that shirt even though Smoke generally prefers me to Dick.  But that day when I offered him one of my shirts, he refused it and went back to Dick’s shirt, where he stayed.  So I left him there while I took Dick to the ER.

It was acute appendicitis.  Dick had surgery and, as happens after surgery, he felt generally awful for the rest of Friday and all day Saturday.  He came home Saturday evening. Smoke also felt awful during that time, couldn’t even climb onto the bed and, when I lifted him there and touched his stomach, he cried out in pain. So I put him back on Dick’s shirt on the floor, which was where he wanted to be. He lay there without moving.

Sunday both Dick and Smoke felt awful. Both lay around and did nothing, Dick in bed, Smoke on the shirt that he refused to give up.

Monday, Dick felt awful until afternoon, when he began feeling better. Same with Smoke. Didn’t move, stayed on Dick’s shirt and felt awful Monday morning, but Monday afternoon he, too, started feeling better.

Tuesday morning, Smoke felt better still.  He came into the kitchen and let me know that he wanted his morning treat and, when I only gave him half a treat because he’d been sick, he meowed until he got the whole treat. Same with Dick. He wanted a full breakfast and is now feeling pretty good.

Oh yes, when I went into the bedroom later that day to put that shirt in the hamper, Smoke watched me pick it up, accompanied me to the laundry, and watched me drop it in the hamper without interest.  Because whatever had happened during those last few days was over.  Both cat and man were okay.

Coincidence?  Probably.  But maybe not.

Anyway, in the future if I can’t get those psychic or empathetic animals out of my work, instead of mentally excusing their existence because it’s only fiction, I’ll accept the reality that art imitates life more than I’d ever realized until we got a cat named Smoke.

Genre Fiction

I’ve been blogging about the craft of writing fiction for some time now.  I’ve been passing on tips learned from other writers and a few things I figured out on my own.  But I find that now when I sit down to write a post, the ideas no longer crowd each other in their need to be heard and read.  So I’ve decided to widen the scope of my blogs.  But how?  What else to say?

I write genre fiction.  Several genres, actually and often all are in the same book. Romance.  Sci-fi.  Small Town.  Paranormal.  Sweet.  Eco-fiction.  And probably a few more I haven’t heard of.  And I’ve learned that not everyone agrees on what belongs in which genre.  There are some generalities, but once you get beyond those general descriptions, genre fiction seems to be all over the place.

So I’m going to jump in head first and see what happens.  Okay, honesty compels me to admit that anything I jump into will more likely involve a belly-flop than a swan dive.  But you get the idea.

Any thoughts?  What genres do you read?  Which do you write?  Why?  Do you like cross-genre fiction?  What would you like to see done differently in the world of genre fiction?  Which genres would you like to see more of?  Less of?  Let me know and maybe we’ll get something going.

As a former first grade teacher, I know that sometimes when there’s  mud puddle in your path that calls out to you with a mesmerizing siren song, the best thing to do is hold your nose and jump in.  And enjoy the mud.

(Note:  It took me years to develop a tolerance for leeches, and guess where they live?  In the mud.  But that’s another story.)

I Love My Kindle

Last week our son visited.  Happened to be here on Sunday so he went to church with us.  Before leaving the house, he asked about this particular church.  Whether there were bibles in the pews.  We looked at each other in puzzlement and wanted to know why he’d ask such a question.

There was a good reason.  He wanted to know whether he should bring his own bible or whether there were bibles already in the pews for those people who wanted to look up passages the pastor was referring to.  We didn’t know the answer to that question because we don’t look up passages, we just listen.  (Hey, at least we don’t sleep!)

He’s a Regional Pastor.   In his job he travels constantly to churches in many states.  When visiting churches he wants to be able to smoothly handle different ways of doing things so if the church doesn’t provide pew bibles,  he wants to have his own.  But carrying several bibles (to have whatever bible that particular church prefers) would add to the weight of his luggage and airlines charge per pound of extra weight.  Several bibles equals several extra pounds and many extra dollars.

So, that Sunday he pulled his Kindle from his suitcase.  He had all the bibles he could ever need right in that one, small device.  Along with all the reading matter his job requires.  And several novels to choose from when he’s done working.

And here I thought Kindles were only for enjoyment.  Mine takes the place of the library I gave away when we moved into a house too small for all those books.  Doesn’t matter now, I’m quickly gathering a new library.  A more extensive one.  And all in that one, small device  that fits in my purse.

This isn’t a plug for Kindles per se, instead it’s a plug for progress in the form of any electronic device that makes life easier and fuller without adding to the mental and physical clutter that present day life involves.  And Kindles, Nooks and all other electronic readers do just that.

Long live Kindles!

Is The Pendulum Swinging Back?

Universe - A Love Story by Florence Witkop
Universe – A Love Story by Florence Witkop

I’m showing this cover for a couple reason.  The first is that I like it.  Thanks NASA, I love looking through pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and as soon as I saw it I knew this was right for my first on-line short story The Eye of The Universe.  (In case anyone wants to read it, it’s available free from Smashwords.  Amazon charges .99 because they don’t do free unless a reader finds something free somewhere else and tells Amazon about it.  Then they’ll change it to match the lowest price elsewhere.  Hasn’t happened yet.)

The second reason is that there are no people in the picture, even though it’s a romance.  Which is okay because it seems that some people are getting tired of naked and half-naked people on romance novel covers.  When I chose this cover, I didn’t know that.  I just knew I wanted this cover so I added a blurb to tell potential readers that it’s a romance because they couldn’t tell from the picture.

I thought I was going against the tide by choosing a cover without an obviously in-love couple on it.  But I’ve since discovered that, as happens with every trend including romance novels, there is a small mini-trend bucking the huge, mega-trends in romances.  That trend is called ‘clean romances’ and it’s what I write.  Sort of.

‘Sort of’ because as of yet there’s no precise definition of a clean romance beyond that there are no sexually explicit sex scenes.  Some purists feel that there shouldn’t be any profanity either, or any pre-marital sex at all.  None.  My work doesn’t qualify on those counts, I do include premarital sex and profanity where it fits, but I don’t follow my characters into the bedroom and give a blow-by-blow description of what happens next.  No particular reason why not.  I like sex and have  no problem with writers who do erotic stories.  But I find it hard to write while rolling on the floor laughing and that’s what happens when I try to describe the sex act.  Too many body parts.  Too many positions.  Too much work.  Guess I’m lazy.

This new trend has been in existence long enough that there are groups on Goodreads (where I first ran across the term) and elsewhere and there are a growing number of reviewers who specifically mention that they will review clean romances.  And there’s an e-publisher dedicated to publishing just clean romances.  Astraea Publishing is very clear about what they will and won’t accept.

Which is good news to writers because not every romance writer wants to include specific sex in their stories.  And maybe I’ll be able to use more covers from NASA.  I really, really love those pictures.