Killing Characters Off

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From time to time every novel writer has to deal with the (sometimes) unpleasant task of killing a character. It’s just one of those things that happens. Killing someone isn’t easy. (Well, at least some of the time,) but the only time I do it is when it’s necessary to enhance the plot.

This first time I killed someone off was when I wrote The Reunion. I must confess, it was a cathartic experience. Jason Matthews, Gillian’s ex husband, was one of the villains in the story. Interestingly enough, he was modeled after my real-life ex. Funny how these things happen. So poor Jason, (she writes tongue and cheek), meets an untimely end, and Gillian hears the story of his demise from a police detective. Did I mention that writing it was very cathartic? Afterwards I discussed it with several other lady authors. Many of them had also killed off their ex spouses–in the literary sense, of course. The lesson here, gentlemen, is if your wife or your girlfriend is an author, be nice to her. Your literary counterpart’s life may depend on it.

 I killed off another villain in The Deception. There were three villains in this story, two of whom were women. I killed one of the women, near the end of the story. Most of the plot had revolved around her conflict with Carrie, the leading lady. In the end, Carrie won battle, however this particular woman soon found a way to get even. Yes, I could have saved it for a possible sequel, but in this case the second conflict was directly related to the first, making a sequel redundant. So, rather than have the storyline repeat itself, I killed the character off, thus ending the conflict once and for all. Besides, she had it coming. I also thought about killing Scott, the deceptive male villain who inspired the title, but this character had children, and I didn’t want to orphan them. Scott would instead end up seriously injured. He too had it coming. However, unlike Jason in The Reunion, none of the villains in The Deception were inspired by anyone I know in real life.

In my soon-to-be released novel, The Journey, I killed a supporting character from The Reunion. This time around the character wasn’t a villain. She was a character I honestly liked and I tried to come up with a way for her to survive, but when I did the story just wasn’t as strong. Her death was an intricate part of the plot. It happens early in the novel, but she still manages to maintain a presence in the rest of the story when other characters reminisce about her, or when they describe the dreams they have about her. Like The Deception, The Journey also has three villains, one male, two female, but this time around I didn’t kill any of them. After all, I don’t want to become too predictable.

MM

The Original Plotline for THE REUNION

Reunion Loew CoverWebLike many authors, I write a treatment before I start writing the actual novel. A treatment is a brief written summary, a blueprint if you will, of who the characters are and what the story will be about. It helps solidify ideas and creates a starting point. Once I start writing, however, I put the treatment aside and let my characters loose. When the novel is complete, I’ll go back and look at the original treatment. To say the final story turned out differently would be an understatement. So, just for laughs, I’m posting what was in the original treatment for The Reunion. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t read it yet, but those who have will probably find this post a lot of fun.

Many of the main points from the original treatment were included the final novel, such as Ian showing up unexpectedly at Gillian’s opening at a Denver art gallery, and her returning to Denver later on to hide out from her homicidal ex husband. However, a subplot about Ian selling his house and moving into a condo with his son, Larry, never made it into the final version. Good thing too. It was boring and it did nothing to enhance the story. Likewise, many other scenes in the final novel were never included in the treatment, such as a pivotal moment when Gillian nearly drowns.

The most notable change, however, had to do with the characters themselves. Laura, Ian’s ex wife, was intended to be shy and demure. A savvy businesswoman, she ended up being anything but shy and demure. Laura speaks her mind. That’s why Jeremy is so direct.

And speaking of Ian’s oldest son–Jeremy was originally intended to be a villain. Aggressive, if not nefarious, Jeremy was to only have a small role before being written out. In the treatment, Gillian befriends him and he tries to force himself on her. She, of course, turns him down. Rejected, he soon enlists in the Marines and ends up being deployed to Afghanistan while a furious Ian blames it all on Gillian. Nah, that definitely wouldn’t have worked. Ian wouldn’t have had such an evil son. Then Jeremy told me he wasn’t a bad guy either, although he’s still drawn to Gillian. He would, instead, became a rival, rescuing Gillian and saving her life when she nearly drowns, then competing with his father for her affection. This created a whole new subplot which became the second half of the book. Many readers tell me it was their favorite part of the story.

The end of the story was fairly close to what was in the original treatment. Now I can’t tell you that because it would spoil it for the those who haven’t yet read the novel. Suffice to say that it all works out, and Gillian ends up with the right guy.

MM

Oh, My!

lips3I’ve had some interesting feedback from some of the men who’ve been reading my novels. They tell me they’ve really enjoyed reading my sex scenes. Apparently I have a talent that I didn’t know I had.

Oh, my! (To quote George Takei.)

Well, I confess. I did some research on how to write “love” scenes, and I’m happy explain the techniques I use.

I start by taking my time to build the sexual tension between my characters, and the build up happens slowly. Arousal starts innocently, with hands accidentally brushing, or touching a forearm. The man may find the lady’s dress sexy. Sometimes horseplay turns into foreplay.

I don’t mention certain body parts by name. I’m writing romance, not a medical textbook. My goal is to describe what the characters are feeling. This isn’t erotica. I prefer to refer to it with words like, “she felt a sweet sensation,” or “she arched her back and enjoyed the warm, tingly feeling.”

We all know what happens during “the act.” My editor came up with a wonderful way to refer to it–“reaching his (or her) release,” and I’ll often use the words, “climax,” “ecstasy” or, “the two briefly became one,” when describing the euphoria the characters are experiencing.

I don’t use much dialogue during my love scenes. Two people who love each other, and who are making love for the first time, probably won’t be in the mood for chatting, and too much dialogue would interrupt the flow of the story. I save the dialog for the pillow talk scene in the next chapter.

One thing I will do, however, try to instill a sense of responsibility in my characters. Oftentimes the lady will be asked if she’s using birth control, or the man will stop to apply a condom.

I only use sex scenes to enhance the plot, and I use them sparingly. There are usually no more than two or three such scenes throughout my novel. My stories are about people and their relationships, and there’s a whole lot more to a relationship than just having sex.

MM

So Why Write Romance?

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I’ve been asked why I write romance, as opposed to other genres, like science fiction. It’s a long sordid story. (Not unlike my novels.) And while it may be a tired old cliche, it’s true nonetheless: Authors write what they know. I’m oftentimes inspired by events in my own life–some big, some small. Sometimes I write about the things I wish for. Other times it’s about things that I wish I could go back and do differently. Most of us read fiction as a means of escape, and as a means to vicariously experience things outside of our own reality. Writing fiction amplifies this vicarious experience by a factor of at least ten.

I wrote The Reunion as a tribute to someone I knew long ago, and never forgot. The idea came to me at a book signing, when I struck up a conversation with another author. Turns out he lives in the same town as my old flame and his wife even knows someone who knows him. It got me to wondering what would happen if, by chance, he ever showed up while I was doing a book signing? That question is explored in The Reunion, and the leading character, Ian Palmer, is based on the man I once knew.

The Deception was inspired by another chapter of my own life. I once met a man who I thought was single, and a mutual friend thought he was single too. Turned out he wasn’t, so I quickly backed off. I’ve since met a number of other women who’ve had the same experience, and even once knew a man who was shocked to discover his girlfriend was a married woman. It’s an all-too-common occurrence  for many of us. The Deception is the story of a decent women who unknowingly becomes involved with a married man. It’s purpose is to demonstrate that the “other woman” isn’t always a home-wrecker because people who cheat will also lie.

My soon-to-be-released novel, The Journey, was inspired by my first husband, who was once the a victim of a violent crime. Jeremy, the leading man, strives to claim his life back and make himself whole again. Unfortunately, my ex used the event as an excuse to play the victim game and as a means to manipulate others. (One of the many reasons why he is now my ex-husband.) Hopefully most crime victims are more like Jeremy. Look for The Journey to be released later on in the year.

I’m in the early planning stages for my fourth novel, The Betrayal. Adultery is once again the theme. This time the leading lady is the wife who was cheated on, and the other woman will be someone close to her.  This novel is inspired by a story once told to me by an old boyfriend, who said he came home early one day and caught his (now ex) wife in the act.

My inspiration comes from everywhere and everyone. It seems I’ve had a rather interesting life.

MM

Stuck in a Literary Sexual Rut

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Oh the problems one encounters when writing sensual romance novels.  As explained in my earlier blog post, Sweet, Sensual or Erotic Romance? Why I Write Sensual, there is a distinct difference between sensual romance and erotica. In sensual romance the sex scenes are written to help enhance the plot as the characters consummate their relationship. The emphasis is on what the people are feeling, while in erotica the emphasis is the sex act itself. The characters’ feelings and emotions are of lesser importance. Most of the storyline in erotic literature focuses around having sex, where a sensual romance may only include a few sex scenes.

That said, as I’m working on my third novel, The Journey, I found myself in a bit of a rut when writing my sex scenes. Let’s face it. There are only two kinds of equipment out there, and that equipment only works certain ways. I was starting to worry that my sex scenes might be becoming redundant.

I decided to do a little research, so the other day I downloaded a copy of an anthology by Anais Nin called, Little Birds. Ms. Nin is perhaps the “literary madam,” of erotic literature. I thought I might learn something new about writing erotic scenes from her. What I found, at least in my opinion, were stories that were a little cold. The characters were one-dimensional and lacked passion. Afterwards I looked at my own writing, and I think there’s something to be said for writing about what the characters are feeling, emotionally as well as physically. As for the redundancy–I suppose it is what it is. Even Ms. Nin’s stories were a bit redundant, yet decades later readers still enjoy them. I guess there are some things in life that people probably aren’t going to get tired of. Like having sex. And eating chocolate cake..

MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I Don’t Do Formula Writing

No SymbolI got the nicest compliment from a woman who told me how much she enjoyed reading The Deception. She compared me to Nora Roberts, which I thought was very kind. Then she told me that unlike Nora Roberts, I don’t use formula writing. I’ll admit I haven’t read that many Nora Roberts books, but she told me that every Nora Roberts novel follows the same pattern, and that her books are very predictable. What she liked about The Deception was that it wasn’t predictable at all. The plot twists kept her attention and kept her turning the pages.

Well, what can I say? I strive to create realistic, three-dimensional characters, and I try to write life-like story lines, (albeit somewhat exaggerated.) As I write I tune into my character’s minds. I try to see what they’re seeing and to feel what they’re feeling. I’m concerned about the conflicts they’re facing, and how they’re going to resolve them. I simply can’t worry about having to have the leading lady met the leading man by page ten, or about having my climax occur twenty pages before the novel ends. That kind of rigidness would destroy my creativity as stifle me a storyteller.

Real life isn’t a formula, at least mine isn’t. In my world Murphy’s Law is alive and well, and I came from a family that knows how to put the fun in dysfunctional. That kind of a background can be a real inspiration for writing a good story, therefore my character’s lives don’t follow a pattern either. Murphy’s Law is alive and well in their world, just like in mine. Life isn’t predictable. Neither are my novels.

MM

It’s Jarring, Life Shattering, and It Can Happen in an Instant

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I’m starting to get feedback on The Deception.  For the most part it’s been good, with some minor criticism here and there, but that’s to be expected. After all, none of us can please all readers all the time. However, one comment I’ve received is about the sudden end to one of the characters. I’m told it was jarring and over the top.

Warning! Spoiler Alert!

I decided to kill one of the characters off in a traffic accident, and no, I don’t warn you about it. That’s because it’s one of those things in life that really does happen, without warning, for the victims or their survivors, and afterwards life is never the same. It’s a reality I know all too well. About ten years ago I lost a young cousin to a car crash. It was completely unexpected. One minute he was a healthy twenty-year-old man, and the next minute he was gone forever.  My own life hasn’t been the same since 1992, when I was sideswiped by an armored car going sixty-five miles per hour in a twenty-five mile per hour zone. I came around a bend, saw him coming at me from the opposite direction, and hit the accelerator, hoping I could get out of his way in time. Didn’t quite happen. I’m still alive, obviously, but it left me with a permanent injury. Twenty years later I’m still flabbergasted about how my life was changed so suddenly.

That said, my decision to kill one of my characters in a car accident may indeed seem over the top for some of you. Others, however, disagree. Since the character who is killed is one of the “bad guys,” I’ve also been told that the scene made them fell vindicated, and they thought it was the character’s “bad karma” that got them there.

Like it or not, it’s one of those over-the-top things that really does happen to people, and it happens all too often. I guess the point I’m making is to never take life for granted. It can, without warning, come to a sudden end.

My thought for the day.

MM

I’m Beginning to Scare Myself

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I’ve had some wonderful feedback on some of the antagonists in my novels, like Ryan Knight in The Reunion, and I’m pleased to be creating people you love to hate. The other day I was describing an antagonist I’m developing for my new novel, The Journey. Her name, at least for now, is Denise Sanderson, and she’s going to be exceptionally nasty. As I was describing her to a fellow author I had to stop myself in mid sentence and say, “You know, I don’t know where these people are coming from, but it’s kind of scary when I stop and think about it.”

Ask any novelist and they’ll tell you that after awhile the characters will start to create themselves. They’ll tell you who they are. That said, they still spring from somewhere deep in our creative psyche, so where are all these bitches and bastards coming from? I’ve always considered myself a good person, and I’ve always tried to treat others the way I would want to be treated.

Some of my villains, like Jason and Ryan in The Reunion, were inspired by some of the not-so-nice people I’ve encountered in my own life. Writing about them has been very cathartic because it really has helped me release a lot of previously unresolved issues. But other antagonists, like Maggie in The Deception, and Denise, in The Journey, are totally fictitious. They have no real-life counterpart–at least no one who I can recall, so it’s made me wonder. Do I really have some deeply buried darker side?

Probably. Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us do have a dark side. These antagonists represent our fears. They represent the sense of outrage, frustration and injustice, that most, if not all of us have encountered at one time or another. These antagonists give us the opportunity to vicariously act out our own anger and frustration. Maybe that’s why we’re so delighted when we finally see them get their just desserts. It gives us a chance to purge our own demons, and that’s a good thing. That said, they still scare me.

MM

Why My Books are Religiously Neutral

Religious SymbolsSomeone recently asked me a very interesting question.  She wanted to know if The Reunion was a Christian-oriented romance book. I told her no, it was not, and my reason is because I want readers of all faiths and backgrounds to read, and enjoy, The Reunion, along with my other books.

There are some authors out there who, regardless of their genre, write novels geared toward readers of their faith.  For example, at a book signing I did last year, I met Mormon author.  She informed me, quite matter-of-factly, that her romance books were LDS romance books. I looked at the covers, and sure ‘nuf, the words, “LDS Romance,” were included in the subtitles of her books. Since I’m not Mormon, she kind of looked down on me, as if I had two heads or something.

I’m pleased she found a faith that she believes strongly in, and if her religion enhances her life for the better then I’m all for it.  After all, this is America, and our country was founded on the concept of freedom of religion.  However, from a book marketing point of view, she was limiting the scope of her readership to other Mormons, so her books would only be read, or appreciated, by a small percentage of the population.

One of the things that makes America great is the diversity of faiths among its people, and  I want Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers, Wiccans, even agnostics and atheists, to be able to read and enjoy my books.  Yes, my characters are all believers, but none are churchgoers.  Again, I don’t want to endorse one religion over another.  Any references made to God in my books are very general, and are stated with phrases such as, “we’ll all say a prayer that he’ll be be found soon, safe and sound.”

I admit I am more spiritual than religious, meaning I believe in God, but I don’t follow the dogma of any particular church.  My mother was a non-practicing Northern Baptist, and my father was New Age, long before Shirley MacLaine came along and popularized it.  My parents weren’t churchgoers, so I didn’t attend Sunday school, and I’ll admit that as an adult, whenever I joined a church, regardless of the denomination, I never stayed very long because I got turned off by the inevitable back-biting and politicking going on amongst the various members.  My own beliefs are a blend of New Age and Christian, and I’ve never found a church were both schools of thought were welcome.  (The Unity faith came the closest, but I don’t agree with all of their teachings either.)

So there you have it.  While I have my own set of beliefs, I don’t use my books to proselytize or endorse any particular religion.  I’ll leave that to the theologians.

MM

Should Authors Be Held Accountable for the Violence in Their Books?

Ink SplatterMy heart goes out to the people of Aurora, Colorado.  I live in Tucson, Arizona.  Not too long ago a similar tragedy occurred here when our congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot at an event in front of a Safeway supermarket.  Six people died, many others were injured, and it had a profound impact on our community. Tragic events such as these are always followed by the inevitable debates as we struggle to make sense of it all, and sooner or later someone always makes the comment about too much violence in TV, movies, or video games, pointing the finger of blame at the entertainment industry.

Movies, television, and books are all mediums for storytelling. All story plot lines revolve around conflict, and how the characters react to, and eventually resolve, the conflict.  Now, whether we want to admit it or not, human beings have a great propensity for violence, so violence is often an integral part of the storyline. This is nothing new.  In fact, Shakespeare was pretty darn violent.  His works are full of murders and suicides. Some writers, like Edgar Allen Poe, describe violent scenes in graphic detail. There is an entire literary genre, called horror, that’s all about violence.

I myself am not into blood and gore, but there are still, nonetheless, some “violent” scenes in my books.  As I just mentioned, it’s part of the conflict and part of what makes the story interesting.  It’s also a catharsis for me, as a writer, to deal with some of the not-so-nice things that have happened to me in my own life, and I find it very therapeutic.  For example, there is a scene in The Reunion in which Gillian learns that her former husband has just murdered his current wife.  However I chose not to portray the scene in a graphic or gory way.  The incident is instead described in a dialog between Ian, Gillian and a police detective.  I leave it to the reader to imagine the blood and gore.  My upcoming novel, The Deception, includes a scene in which three characters are shot.  (Yes, writing that scene was my way of dealing with my own emotions from the Giffords tragedy.)  Still, I don’t get overly graphic or harsh with my descriptions.  My story isn’t about the violence.  It’s about how my characters deal with and overcome what has happened to them.

So, should authors be held accountable for the violence in their books?  Assuming that the author in question hasn’t written a book for the sole purpose of inciting readers to commit an act of violence, such as writing a “how to” book about the best way to kill other human beings, it would be difficult to prove that the author is responsible for any wrongdoing.  While I’m aware of studies out there allegedly proving a link between violent TV shows and movies, and violent behavior in real life, others will argue that the vast majority people do not act out what they’ve seen in the media or read about in a book.  Authors, at least here in the United States, are also protected by the First Amendment, so chances are that a court would rule that those violent scenes would be considered free speech.

Ultimately it is up to the author, and his or her publisher, to determine what, if any, level of violence is appropriate.  As I just mentioned, I don’t get into graphic descriptions of blood and gore in my books, but I’m not going to put up with anyone trying to censor me either.  I know this sounds like a tired old cliché, but if you don’t like a movie or TV show don’t watch it, and if you don’t like a violent scene in a book don’t read it.  Then there is the matter of parental responsibility.  It is up to you, the parent, to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, and to use some discretion in deciding which movies and televsion shows your child should watch, and which books your child should read.  My books, by the way, are written for adults. While they do not contain scenes of graphic violence they do include sexual content. They simply are not appropriate for younger readers.

Our readers want to see the bad guys pay for their wrongdoings.  My books certainly deliver on this, as do most books by other authors.  The bad guys may win a battle or two, but at the end of the day the good guys win the war.  That’s what good storytelling is all about.

MM