Character Development – Is there a right or wrong way?

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Several years ago, the editor working on The Greeks of Beaubien Street sent me a rather terse message. Coming to the end of the story, he still had no idea what Detroit detective Jill Zannos looked like. I was baffled because I know I’d mentioned that she was a beautiful Greek woman, in her thirties, tall and slender. What more did this guy want from me?  Exhausted to have to read to the end to find out she was a loner with no girlfriends or that her boyfriend was a jerk, he also disliked the periodic memories of Jill’s childhood, from the encounters with her odd neighbor, being picked on in elementary school because she was Greek, to the lamb’s head cooking in her grandmother’s apartment. (A memory from my own childhood.)

Reflecting on the type of stories I’ve read, generally I’m satisfied with a short description of a person’s physical attributes, and then my imagination fills in the blanks. In my books, I might say someone’s a blond or brunette, that they have big breasts or are overweight. Violet, the daughter of Pam’s ex-husband in Save the Date, is morbidly obese at the beginning of the story but after two books, she’s lost weight and although still overweight by conventional standards, is healthy and happy. I felt it was important for several aspects of the story to define her weight, her hygiene, negative attributes of her personality, but little else. As the story grew, we discovered that Violet was intelligent; completing her master’s thesis, shy, quick witted and creative

I might emphasize weight gain or loss as an attribute of their mental health; “she was so upset she couldn’t eat a thing,” or “in a moment of despair, she stuffed a donut in her mouth.”

Last night, I began reading a new series the name of which I won’t mention because I don’t want my critique to be taken the wrong way by any perspective readers. Suffice to say, in spite of some rather detailed character descriptions, I’m getting used to the writer’s style and hope I’ll finish the first volume. In the first chapter, he’s introduced the main characters and I know an exhaustive list of their physical characteristics, their history, what they did in their youth, what subjects they majored in in college, and what their personalities are like, including quirks and limitations. Although it seems a little draggy to me, I can see that I’m being led someplace where this information might be necessary. I’ll let you know.

As my characters develop, I’m just learning about them. I don’t have all of the answers at the beginning of a book so I am unable to tell you everything about them right from the start; it will be revealed later, as the story grows. I love to send out hints here and there, and careful readers tell me they love it that I force them to read between the lines sometimes. Unlike my fellow author of the new series mentioned above, I tend to piecemeal out to the reader the history of the character through reflection or interaction with other characters. However, not everyone likes my method.

It’s just my way, not the right way I’m sure, as my encounter with the editor confirmed.

For more information about the Greektown Detroit Detective Stories, go here.

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Grounding Research Is Vital for the Paranormal

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Writing paranormal romantic suspense gives me a lot of leeway. I can make up all sorts of things like dragon shifters who come from another planet or werewolf shifters who have to intone an ancient chant to change from man to wolf.

But the only way to make the fantastic parts of my writing believable is to ground the rest of the story in reality. And that means research.

Take my novella Wyatt, for example. It’s part of a three-book serial that Patricia Rosemoor, Ann Voss Peterson and I have on preorder right now at most eretailers.  In our stories, an old gypsy woman has cursed three young men because their fathers helped convict her son of a crime she knows he didn’t commit.

My story is the first one in the set. For police detective hero, Wyatt Boudreaux, the gypsy psychic chose blindness as his punishment.  And after she leveled the curse, he was shot in the head in the line of duty.

I thought it would be cool having a blind hero trying to discover whether the gypsy woman’s son was really guilty—and at the same time winning back the woman he lost because the old gypsy crone was her guardian.

But how was I going to make you believe the reality of my hero’s situation?  Luckily for me, the National Federation of the Blind is in Baltimore, and I was able to contact them for information. They have a series of booklets written by blind people, telling about their lives. And the details helped me understand how Wyatt would function. Also, I was also able to interview a blind married couple and see how they managed in their own home.

Something as simple as keeping the house neat and putting everything in its place is important, so they don’t trip over anything.  I had my hero do this—and also use their cooking methods.  To chop vegetables, he uses a tray to keep pieces from escaping. His stove has special markings on the dials, so he can tell the temperature. Cans have Braille labels. For trips outside the house, he folds his money in different ways to tell which bill is which. And because he lives in a small town, he has to get around using the services of an unreliable taxi driver.

An important point he mentions in the story—if you’re blind, you can’t know if someone is looking at you, which kept him from sneaking into the heroine’s bedroom at night when guests are in the house.

One other thing I also decided with a blind hero or heroine. I’m never going to try to write a person who was blind from birth. In Wyatt, I needed my hero to remember what things looked like—so he could recall them and give me visual touchstones to add detail to the story.

For example, he hasn’t seen the woman he loves in five years because the whole gypsy community hates him for his father’s role in the murder conviction. But he’s able to vividly recall her features.

I’ve always loved learning details that make my stories more authentic for readers.

What makes a story feel real for you?

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Tourists Prayer (funny)

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Sharing a tourist prayer with those of you who are planing your next vacation:

Heavenly Father, look down on us your humble obedient tourist servants, who are doomed to travel this earth, taking photographs, mailing postcards, buying souvenirs and walking around in drip-dry underwear.

Give us this day divine guidance in the selection of our hotels, that we may find our reservations honored, our rooms made, and hot water running in the faucets.

We pray that the phones work and that the receptionists speak our tongue.

Lead us, dear Lord, to good, inexpensive restaurants where the food is superb, the waiters friendly and the wine included in the price.

Give us the wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we do not understand. Forgive us for undertipping out of ignorance or overtipping out of fear. Make the natives love us for what we are and nor what we can contribute to their worldly goods.

Grant us the strength to visit the museums, the cathedrals , the palaces and castles listed as ‘musts’ in the guidebooks.

And if perchance we skip a historic monument to take a nap after lunch, have mercy on us for our flesh is week.

For Husbands Only
Dear God, keep our wives from shopping sprees and protect them from ‘bargains’ they don’t need or can’t afford. Lead them not into temptation for they know not what they do.

For Wives Only
Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making fools of themselves in cafes and nightclubs. Above all do not forgive them their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.

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The perfect fiancé is a cheater and the fabulous Christmas wedding is off. But the would-be honeymoon cruise may fulfill the dreams of Julia and her unexpected companion.

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Mona Risk published more than twenty books, some translated in German and French.
She received an Outstanding Achiever Award at Affaire de Coeur Magazine and is a
Best Romance Novel winner at Preditors & Editors Readers Poll;
Two-Time winner of Best Contemporary Romance Novel at Readers Favorite;
EPIC’s Ebook Award Finalist; and Kindle Top 100 Bestselling Author

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Springtime is for roses

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Rainbow Sorbet grown exclusively in water with goldfish

Springtime! Time for fresh roses!
But also for late frosts or snow… What a bummer, having to wait to plant bare root roses because of fickle weather patterns.
But wait! I found a solution!

I plant my bare root roses in water. This may not work in all areas of the world, but it’s a real winner in Alaska where summers (at least around Anchorage) seldom get over 80 degrees. Your best bet for success is using a higher grade rose, at least grade one and a half, so it has a good root system.

There is a problem with ‘planting’ in 5 gallon buckets (or similar sized containers), though. Mosquitoes. Those little bloodsuckers love standing water, the perfect incubating area for their eggs and larvae.
Goldfish to the rescue! You can buy feeder goldfish at pet stores or larger Wal-marts for about ten cents each. I put a couple in each bucket of water and let them eat any mosquito larva that appear.

Queen Elizabeth grandflora rose grown in water with goldfish

There is an added bonus to the goldfish. Not only does their swimming keep the water from becoming stagnant, the by-product of their feasting (fish poop) is an ideal fertilizer. My Queen Elizabeth roses were nearly seven inches across one year!

Also, it’s fairly simple to move the containers inside if the forecast is for freezing temperatures. This works on both ends of the growing season. You can also ‘chase the sun’ if their once sunny spot becomes too shady later in the season. Note: all roses need at least six hours of sunlight.
Be aware, though. This method only works for one season. You are essentially forcing the roses to grow and there isn’t enough nutrition in the water to replenish the plant for a second season. If you’d like, you can plant the roses in the garden anytime, but at least six weeks before the first hard freezes. It takes at least that long for soil-feeding roots to become established. If your winters are mild, you will probably have success. However, if you have six months or more of sub-freezing temperatures, I recommend just tossing the plant in the dumpster. The stems and thorns are too tough to compost.
The blooms you get from growing your own roses may not be as fancy as the ones from the florist, but if you’ve chosen well, they’ll most certainly smell better.
More pictures and detailed ‘planting’ information at www.growalaska.net and www.chilloutroses.com. Note: emails and phone numbers are not correct. These are old sites for reference purposes only. I no longer sell roses, either.

Here’s a pretty bunch of roses for you! Yours for only #99cents!

Kiss Me, Thrill Me: As Only You Can. Seven great stories by USA Today and NY Times best selling authors. Available exclusively on Amazon (and for a limited time).

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Reading, reading, reading

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I was a reader way before I was a writer–but not by much. My mom saved my first illustrated story about the fictional character Tracie (instead of Traci) and her pet ant named Blip. I think I was six…it wasn’t a blockbuster but it had a beginning, a middle and an end. My ant looked like a baked potato–which is why I never pursued art.

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he is adamant that in order to be a good writer, you need to read. I think that because I write, and edit, I’d lost track of reading for enjoyment–audible really helps with a different way to get that story in! But for 2017 I made a promise that I would read again. Actual print books mixed with what I’ve got on my Kindle.

I forgot how much I love devouring a story. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl and Sharper Objects–wow. The gorgeous sentence structure, the characterization and, oh yeah, subject matter, all are on point. I’ve read The Road, Cormac McCarthy, an awesome tale of dark hope. I’ve started Elizabeth Chadwick, The Greatest Knight, oh, and I’ve read Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander, a timely historical about the Catholic Church and the girls in the laundry–this book takes place in 1960 ish, and is climbing the charts.

What I thought might be a tough thing to follow through on has been a rediscovery and a delight. What books are you reading? Is that how you “escape” after a hard day?

Happy Tuesday, readers,

Traci

www.tracihall.com –read by the sea

 

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How You Can Help A Single Mom by @DonnaFaz

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Did you know that one-quarter to one-third of all families in the world are headed by single mothers? In the past, death of a spouse had been the biggest factor. But today the reasons have become much more varied and complicated. Increased rates of divorce and non-marital childbearing, changes in cultural trends, as well as an increase in positions for women in the workplace, and the list goes on. Furthermore, it is estimated that fifty percent of children born today will spend some portion of their childhood in a single-parent household. Would you like to know how you can help a single mom?

Because support is one thing that every parent needs, that’s exactly how you can help a single mom: by offering your help. If you know a single mother, consider reaching out to her with offers of:

  1. A listening ear—Everyone needs to vent emotionally every now and then.
  2. Babysitting—A night to relax away from the kids can do a single mom good!
  3. Taxi Service—There’s no way for a mom to be in two places at once. Consider offering transportation to school or sports practice. This is especially easy if your child attends the same school or is on the same team.
  4. Uplifting—Good deed don’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Bake a cake, send a card, offer a smile, invite her over for dinner, cook dinner for her, help with lawn care (planting flowers in the spring, pulling weeds in the summer), or any other pick-me-up that you can think of.

While stress does take its toll on the emotions and on the health, you can help by reaching out today to a single mom you know.

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To Homeschool or not to homeschool

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  I sometimes run into folks who downgrade a homeschool education. Usually it is because they feel the kids won’t get “socialized.” I can see where this might have been a problem in the Middle Ages, where a child might be taught by a tutor and have little outside contact, but not in today’s world.
   When I attended public school it was in a one room schoolhouse. We had eighteen kids on the average, one teacher, and a teacher who came in only in the mornings. There were eight grades, no kindergarten. 18 kids + 8 grades, + 1 teacher = outstanding education. It was like going to one great big homeschool. When we reached high school, the teachers would say “You must have gone to a country school,” because we knew so much. That was because we 1) heard the lessons of the grades ahead of us, over and over, 2) had to help teach the younger children as we reached the upper grades, 3) had to figure out our own math and other subjects when the teacher was busy. We had open access to the answer key, and would correct our own papers, then figure out why we got something wrong. We had no bullying (older kids took care of that), no cliques (not enough kids your age), and no major problems. We got along, despite the huge age range, but mainly because of it.
   Later I taught 6th grade in a public school, only to find distinct disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that 1) all the kids the same age are grouped together. This promotes bullying and cliques. Disadvantage # 2 is that they were all supposed to learn the same thing at the same time. This doesn’t happen, so I had to individualize the program and the books they wanted me to teach. I don’t care if it is a public or a private school, if they throw all the same age kids together, they create problems, both learning and social.
   Home schools on the other hand, usually have an age range. They interact with adults more than public school children do. When the older children help the younger ones, they learn to be kind. I’ve gone to homeschool conferences where the kids come too, and in general, all the kids are well behaved. Often the older children in the family are “caring for” the younger ones as they go around to choose their curriculum.
  Home school children are BETTER socialized that public school kids. They do after-school sports, and learn swimming at the area pool while other kids are in school. They do the shopping with their parents, learn how to keep house, maybe animal care or mechanics. Because homeschool takes up half the time during the day than public school does, kids and parents are not trying to squeeze in homework at night when everyone is tired. Home schoolers can take trips as part of their education. They usually end up being independent thinkers, while public school children are put on the “conveyor belt” to be educated as little robots. They learn the family values rather than the teacher’s values. Independent work is discouraged (like in Common Core).
   Homeschool is SAFE compared to the public schools.
   So, YES, I completely recommend home schooling. If you can do it, give up whatever else you are doing, and start. You don’t have your children that long, so any sacrifice is worth the start.
  Even if you can only homeschool for a year or two, there is a big difference in a child’s maturity. A teacher once said, when watching my mature-acting home schooled grandson, “++ is twelve going on seventeen.”
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Academy Awards Ceremony – the good, the bad, the ugly!

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Millions of people were glued to the TV last night to watch the cream of Hollywood stroll down the runway in their designer dress and tuxes, and to celebrate their art, with all the glamour, the hype, the expectations, and rewards. Along with that comes crushing disappointment, and sometimes confusion and wounded pride.

Last night was brilliant right to the end. How in the world did the wrong envelope get into Warren Beatty’s hand? He seemed at a loss, checking the envelope more than once before announcing the best film winner. La La Land – a story itself about hope and longing, and never giving up on your dream. A worthwhile, beautiful film. But then it was taken away and to everyone’s shock Moonlight was declared the winner. I have not seen this, so can not comment. But the horror and embarrassment of being up on stage, handed the highest honor of achievement, Best Movie, only to have it snatched away, was painful to watch. 

 As writers we can identify with the Hollywood dream. Those who want to write a screenplay, those costume designers and everyone behind the scenes, the directors who want to bring out the best in each film, and the actors who are so driven they will do anything to pursue their dreams, while knowing most of them will not succeed.

Oh yes, writers know that well.  We write for years and face rejections everyday. It can come from editors, readers who don’t like the book, publishers who don’t think your story, or your writing, or your grandma is worthy. But we persevere and stubbornly don’t give up. That is our job. That is our love, and it is our passion.

So I’m raising an Oscar to each and every one of you! Celebrate each and every success, no matter how small, or how long it takes. Live the Dream. Believe in yourself and find your happiness.

I did, and I couldn’t be happier!

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