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Friday, September 9, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Flaws

Hey, Y'all! This is the last day in my first-ever book give-away. If you haven't entered yet, please do. (Just click on the little blue "Contest" link at right, read the rules, and join up. It's easy!) LAST DAY, LAST DAY, LAST DAY!

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! Happy birthday, Caden!

They drive us crazy, cause us grief, and make us humble. Yes, I'm talking about our simple human failings, the flaws that make us imperfect, and today I am grateful for our flaws -- not just for our fictional characters, but for all of us.

I remember a marriage counselor I knew who started early session by asking each partner to write a list of the traits he or she had most admired in the other when the pair first met. Since they came in angry, that usually took awhile. Then he asked them each to produce a list of the traits they found most annoying.

It was surprising how well the two meshed up. On his first list, the husband might say he had admired his wife because she knew her own mind. On the second, he'd call her stubborn. On her first list, the wife might say she loved how decisive her husband had been. On her second, she'd call him impulsive.

Our worst flaws are often extensions of our greatest virtues. Another way of seeing that is to recognize that what our advocates see as our virtues may seem like vices to our detractors. We can't be everything to everyone any more than we can always be perfect.

And so it is that today I salute flaws: yours, mine, and those of our fictional characters. Cheers for being human!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Most Imperfect Hero

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. This is the final week, so hurry and climb aboard!

One of the more flawed heroes I have ever written was my fictional first-born, Dr. Brandon Demarse, the hero of my first published novel, BENEATH SIERRA SKIES. Not coincidentally, this is the book, a 1990 release from Silhouette Romances, that is now being re-released in digital format. Hooray!

Robin Hill, a social caseworker at my fictional Chico General Hospital, is horrified at some of the apparently heartless things she sees our hero do. On the morning when he breaks the bad news of her husband's death to a new widow, Robin observes that he is the kind of physician who "treats pathologies, not people." She can't imagine anyone colder.

It takes some fairly dramatic circumstances (a plain crash in California's Mokelumne Wilderness Area) to force Robin and Brandon to spend time together, and even more difficulties before she begins to crack him open, understanding what makes him tick and why he hides emotion from (almost) everyone.

Here a conversation they share when he is still trying to hide emotion.

"...What was the subject?"

"Marriage. Specifically yours."

"Oh, yes." He paused. "I hadn't really planned to, but my mother keeps pushing me to 'find the right girl and settle down.' I guess maybe it's time I got on with it."

"That's some attitude."

"Well, I'm not fool enough to believe in fairy tales -- True Love Conquers All and all that. I figure what I need is a kind of condominium-wife."

"A what?" Robin drew back in revulsion.

"Low maintenance, you know? Like a condominium. A low-upkeep marriage."

"Low upkeep? I've never heard of anything so -- "

"So practical?"


Let me guess. You're thinking Robin had some work to do with this guy, and you are absolutely right! I'll bet she enjoyed almost every minute of it, too.

When we mention heroes with imperfections, one of my recent favorites comes quickly to mind. Tom Burnett, a major character in my new book, A SECRET FAMILY RECIPE, is a good man, but with a few obvious flaws -- and a bit of a chip on his shoulder. This scene happens in the middle of the night, during a very tense week in the Burnett household.

[Tom] filled a glass with milk, got out a fork, and sat down at the kitchen counter. That's when he heard the bedroom door and knew Karen was about to catch him red-handed, eating red beans and rice in the middle of the night – a small violation of a small promise he had made to himself to avoid eating between dinner one evening and breakfast the next day. Well, at least he wasn't breaking a promise to anyone else. If his father's betrayal had done nothing else, it had taught him that.

“Hi, Honey,” Karen said, her voice smoky with sleep.

“Hi, yourself.” He lifted his fork defiantly. Just let her say something.

“Couldn't sleep, huh?” she asked instead. He guessed she must be postponing the inevitable assault on his dignity.

“No. You, either?”

“I slept pretty well for awhile.” She looked at the bowl of hot food and Tom knew what was coming next, but Karen surprised him. “I don't suppose you have any more of that?”

“Um, uh, no. No, this is the last.”

She sighed. “Pity. I'll find something else, then.”

He watched as she opened the refrigerator and started looking through its contents. “No comments about eating in the middle of the night?”

She turned and gave him a sweet, sleepy half-smile. “Sometimes it's good to break the rules,” she said. “Frankly, this seems like a good time for some comfort food, don't you think?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I thought so.” He took another bite of the spicy leftovers.

I have a soft spot for Tom. I'll let you know when he's available in paperback. :-)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writing Flawed Characters

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. This is the final week, so hurry and climb aboard!

This week we're looking at how to write characters with realistic human flaws. Author Sydney Katt (who claims he writes "about murder and mayhem so you don't have to!) has written a nice blog on creating flawed characters, which may not be quite the same thing, but it's certainly worth a look.

I've written a little about the human flaws I've allowed in my otherwise perfect characters. Now I'm enjoying Sydney Katt's flawed folk, especially his description of the impatient character: I KNOW that guy!

Have fun as you consider how to write and exploit the flaws in your characters that will make them seem more real -- and as Sydney says, less boring.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Knowing the End From the Beginning

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. This is the last week, so climb aboard!

Business guru Stephen Covey, in his famous book THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, encourages folks to imagine what people will say about them at their funerals. When you've thought of all the great observations you hope others will make about you once you're gone, then you can think of ways to become that great person everyone wants to eulogize.

It's a bit macabre, perhaps, to talk about death, and yet it is, as the poet says "the blight man was born for." (That's Gerard Manley Hopkins, if you care to look it up.) None of us gets a pass.

That said, I've had reason to think quite a bit about death lately. In the period of about six days, three men we knew well all passed on and a fourth had a health crisis that will take him from us soon. On the morning we buried one friend, I made note of some of the things people said about him.

For starts, there were several hundred people there; the chapel where the family held the service was full. I thought of the "no services" message I've seen in so many newspaper death notices and knew I'd hope to have a full building, just as Ralph did.

Four or five rows at the front were reserved for his family and eleven members of his family took part on the program, in addition to eleven more who served as pallbearers. I bore and raised a batch of children. I hope when my time comes there will be many close loved ones to see me off and to carry me there, just as there were for him.

People spoke of his loyalty, his humor, his warmth and love. They laughed about funny things he'd done and cried only about missing him. It's a sobering thing to think about the world going on without us in it. I can only hope that one day -- far, FAR into the future -- I will do as well as Ralph has done.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing the PERFECT Hero

Congratulations to Alan, my AP colleague and this week's winner in my first-ever blog book give-away contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. This is the last week, so climb aboard!

Last week we looked a little at what makes up a fictional hero, focusing first on what you'd notice first: his apearance. Now let's dig in to his personality.

Of course your hero must also be perfect, right? Otherwise he's not a hero! Let’s reconsider that idea. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to live with a companion who was never, ever wrong, who was always right, always knew it, but never, ever (not even once!) rubbed it in your face or behaved badly in any way.

Okay. So much for perfection. For our purposes here, let’s just say it is seriously overrated. We are human beings. We have flaws and imperfections. Sometimes our flaws are what others enjoy about us the most -- and I’m not talking about that bitter, nasty, high school enemy who was always trying to find some way to put you down. I’m thinking of the personality equivalent of Brooke Shields’ eyebrows or Lauren Hutton’s slight gap in her front teeth. We love what is different and outstanding about others.

So what is different and outstanding about your fictional hero? In my book, RIDE THE RAINBOW HOME, Jim McAllister has a gorgeous body, long blond hair, and a “crooked” smile. (Believe it or not, I didn’t realize my own smile is often crooked until I wrote Jim and my dh picked up the phrase to describe me.) Jim is also somewhat quick to anger, a touch on the impulsive side, and a just a touch jealous. He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for Meg, and for purposes of my book, that’s what counts.

Brother Kurt, Alexa's hero in AT THE RAINBOW'S END, can be more than a little bit jealous. He is also a bit old-fashioned in his ideas about the proper roles of men and women, so Alexa needs to teach him a few things before he is ready to be her equal. The trick is, in the end, she has Kurt. When you'll meet him, you'll know that's a pretty good deal.

What are the little human traits that make your characters seem more real?