Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing Characters

Cover by Cory Club - Go Bold Designs*
Cover Artist Extraordinaire 

After my firstbook was published, people asked me questions like:

1.    Who was the main character based on?

2.    Is the heroine like you are?

3.    Are any of the female characters based on your birth mother? (This from a friend, and I only have one mom, and no for the record.)

4.    Why did you decide to make the main character immortal?

These questions and others like them really surprised me. The characters in my books are based on themselves. That is the only answer I had. My stories arrive through the characters. Occasionally I might toss in an anecdote very loosely based on something. (The dog, Wolves, has traits from several dogs I’ve been around.) For the most part the characters come from the muse. That means the characters come from so deep in my subconscious that for me they’re separate entities.

I hope that makes sense. Kahtar showed up one day, he was immortal. The heroine arrived the same way, as did the lady from the coffee shop. I spent quite a bit of time with them before I got to really know them, but I never consciously planned what they were like – or even why they were like they were. I listened to them.

Once I took a class by Jeff Gerke about Plot versus Character. (He wrote a book by that name.) It was about helping writers create layered characters, and constructing a three-act story structure that can complement and sustain a character arc. It made me realize that I’m what can be called a “character writer”. Usually writers are one or the other – often either plot or character will come a bit easier to a writer.

For me it is without a doubt the characters. They just come to me, and I simply start writing. All I need to start a story is a blank document. Someone who just starts writing a story without plotting ahead is often called a “Pantser” and someone who plots out the story ahead of time – a “Plotter”. When I first started to write stories I just let my characters run wild. I ended up with ginormous stories that meandered. But oh, did I enjoy writing those stories.

The reason Warrior of the Ages has such a layered story world is because I’ve spent years writing out the histories of many of the characters, and eventually I even found the plot threads. That is when the work began; constructing the story arcs, and many rewrites and five years later I had a book.

Now that might not be a very logical way to write. It takes a really long time. Not only did I write for five years, but I wrote obsessively for five years – full-time plus. I learned a lot by writing like that though. Also, I didn’t end up with just Warrior of the Ages, but with a six book series in those five years. So you be the judge. Subsequent books outside that series have been written much quicker too, and I think that is because I found my writing groove by just writing.

What I’m wondering is, for those of you who write – where do your characters come from? And for those of you who read, do you ever wonder where a writer comes up with his characters? Or do you only wonder that if you know the author? 

*Copyright 2013
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Defense of Twilight

Colossus/Morgue File

This might hurt my career before it gets off the ground, but I’m gonna do it anyway. I don’t write YA (Young Adult), I don’t read it much either, but I like Twilight.

Anyone left? No one has to know. It’s just you and me now.

I’ve heard many of the arguments about why Twilight is bad. I’m not arguing any of the writing semantics. I’m talking about story at this moment – which is at the heart and soul of what we do. I adore literary. I read everything. I adore Austen and Dickens, and D. H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, and Thomas Hardy amaze me.

Sometimes, though, I just want a story. Escape. A tale. Take me away. That can come in the form of Upton Sinclair or that can come in a far simpler format.

There are a lot of books, but they don’t all have that certain something. That je ne sais quoi. I am going to put this claim forth and stand by it: Twilight has je ne sais quoi.

Not that literary books don’t, obviously they do and then some. I’m not saying that Twilight is what I call a living book, meaning a book that takes root in you and becomes part of who you are. I was a Union soldier in the Civil War thanks to Stephen Crane. I will never get over the puppy on the battlefield – ever. Quo Vadis and Henryk Sienkiewicz wrecked me and everything I believed in when Nero ruled Rome.  

My point being only that books don’t have to be literary to transport you, they simply have to do that transportation thing.

That is why I like Twilight – it has that THING. That is surely why it received the response it did. Stephenie Myer translated the gist of her dream onto the page and voila! For a good many readers it worked!

For me the best part of any story is the characters. So while Thomas Hardy’s writing is a masterpiece of art, and I am reverently awed by it I was never once pulled into his story so strongly that I WAS Tess.  

I’m NOT saying that Twilight was better than Tess. You’re completely off track if you hear that. I’m talking about being sucked into a character – or a scene – or a moment in a book when reality truly ceases to be and you are THERE. And you like it.

If you can bring a character to life you’ve got me. Harry Potter owned me. It was pure story. I cried at the end of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy – because I thought it was brilliant. But I didn’t want to be a single person in Pagford. That story had a whole different magic, and I didn’t see it until I got to the end and realized that I was staring into a mirror. Now that is magic. As a writer I was awed, and I pictured Rowling inside a gymnasium with thousands of little index cards surrounding her as she kept track of all her characters. (If she wrote that sitting in a café, please don’t tell me. The focus needed to write like that is just Olympian.)

Reading a sparkly vampire book was so not on my radar. Twilight was never on my reading list. The summer it was popular I took some girls camping. We were out in the middle of the woods in a camper, just me and dozens of teenage girls (or maybe it was two, it sounded like dozens). I woke up one night to a whispered conversation:

          “But if you really loved him I mean REALLY loved him, would you let him drink your blood?”

The conversation went downhill from there. There was one aspect of blood and dating a vampire that Twilight wisely steered clear of. Suffice to say that the teenage girl readers did not. I laid there in the dark pretending like I was not hearing this. Then I read the book. And I liked it, a lot. The first book takes you there – to Forks – yes, to sparkly vamp-land, but isn’t that where you want to go in fiction? Away? Especially if you enjoy your time there?

So have at it readers. I’m putting myself out there and admitting it. Keep in mind too, that I eat organic spinach smoothies every day for lunch accompanied by a couple squares of dark chocolate – and that salad and ice-cream is my favorite meal. This is the way I roll. How about you? Did you like Twilight? Why or why not? And what books have you enjoyed that might not have made the Top 100 Novels Everyone Must Read list? 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

God, Mother Nature, and Father Time Walk into a Café…

Photo Credit: Mantasmagorical/Karfelt

So God and Mother Nature meet at a café for lunch. A surly waitress gives them a booth, drops their menus on the table, and vanishes. God slides onto the bench in his flowing white robe, smoothing his long snowy beard. Mother Nature plops down and the manager scurries over.

          “Excuse me, Ma’am? Are those – uh – service animals?” The pot-bellied manager points to the birds and butterflies circling her head.

          “Let’s just say they are, Sonny,” she snaps. Thunder rumbles through the café and static electricity makes the manager’s hair stand on end. He hurries away.

          “Where’s Father Time?” God asks.

          “You know he’s always late,” Mother Nature mumbles, flipping through the menu and scowling. “I don’t know where half this stuff in here comes from, but I assure you I had nothing to do with most of it.”

          “Girl,” God said, “You’re preaching to the choir.”

          Mother Nature slams the menu shut, puts her elbows on the table, and leans forward. “How are you doing lately?”

          God lets out a long sigh. “You’re the first one who’s asked me that since – mmm – you’re the first one who’s asked me that. I’m busy, my to-do list never ends. You know I rested on the seventh day? Well that was the last time.” A buzzing noise vibrates against the table. God pats his robes and fishes a cell phone out of his pocket. He looks at it and hits mute. “The office can deal with that one.”

          “You sure? I know your work’s important.”

          “Technically that one was for you.” At her raised brows he elaborates. “It was a prayer for the snow to stop.”

          “Oh for pity’s sake!” She gripes, and holds her hands up like two sock puppets, moving her thumb and fingers like mouths she mimes, “I’m hot,” the other hand mimes, “I’m cold!” An ensuing hand-puppet rant follows. “I need rain!” “Make the rain stop!” “When’s summer gonna end?” “When’s winter gonna end?” She smacks both hands against the tabletop and one of the birds circling her head makes a mess on her shoulder. “I’ve got a planet to run and maintain! I cannot run an entire eco-system based on when someone’s daughter is getting married!” Nabbing a napkin off the table she wipes the mess off her shoulder. “I’m telling you they’re driving me crazy. And they’re mucking up everything! Isn’t it time for you to smote them or something? I could help, and it would sure make my job easier!”

          God chuckled, shaking his head. “I love people.” His cell vibrates again and he lifts it off the table briefly, again hitting mute. “Lotto request. Ridiculous. I need to make a filter for those.” Again the phone vibrates and he leans forward to look, frowns, and waves his hand over it. “Bam.”

          “Wish I could do that,” Mother Nature griped.

          God laughs, looking around. “Who do I have to know to get a piece of cherry pie around here?”

          “Can’t you just bam that?”

          “Seriously? Do I really have to do everything myself?”

          Mother Nature leans out of the booth and bellows to their waitress on the other side of the room, “Yo! Can we get some service over here?”

          The waitress hands a check to a customer while clearing dirty plates off a far table. She shouts, “I don’t know CAN you?”

          “I think she wants you to say ‘May’,” God points out. “It’s only polite.”

          “I think someone’s boobs are gonna hang low. I’m in no mood for it.”

          “Do you really have time to be facetious?” God shakes his finger at her, but he’s smiling.

          “It’s one of the job perks. Not that it matters much anymore what with plastic surgery and all. Oh here she comes.”

          The waitress plops two glasses of water on the table, pulls a pad of paper from her pocket and a pencil from behind her ear. “What’ll it be?” She blinks at God, waiting.

          “I’d like a cup of tea, and a slice of cherry pie, please.”

          “We only have cherry pie on Fridays, today is rhubarb.”

God stares at her for a moment, glances at Mother Nature, and slaps his hand against the table. “Bam.”

“Would you like that cherry pie ala mode?” The waitress asks.

Mother Nature shakes her head. “Love a duck, Father Time is gonna bust something. You just made it Friday, didn’t you?”

“It’s one of the perks of the job. Besides, people love Fridays.”

The waitress turns her gaze on Mother Nature’s revolving halo of flying woodland creatures, and scratches her nose with the back of her pencil, waiting.

“I want a salad with fresh field greens – none of those packaged lettuces. I want every fresh vegetable you have tossed in there – nothing pickled or canned. I wouldn’t mind a few golden raisins though. And nuts, something fresh – and unsalted. What kind of cheese do you have?”

“What kind do you want?” The waitress tosses an exaggerated eye-roll in God’s direction. He grins at her.

“Goat cheese, just a little. And I want a BIG plate – make it a platter of salad. I’m hungry.”

“That’ll cost extra. Do you want dressing?”

“Vinegar and oil, on the side. And a chocolate chip milkshake – made with whole milk, whole ice-cream and dark chocolate chips. Got it?” The waitress didn’t answer, shoving her pencil behind her ear she stomped away.

“Well that was very When Harry Met Sally,” God said.

“Hey, I know what I like. Do you actually watch movies?”

“I see all,” God said.

“Poor you,” Mother Nature said.

“I know, right?” God said.

To be continued…

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine Reject

Love has many faces

Dear Hubby refers to Valentine’s Day as the day he’s going to get in trouble. It’s not that hard guys – let me boil it down for you.

Prove your undying love today.

Just kidding! Hah. Mostly. Haven’t we all been polluted by pop-culture? Must. Fight. It. If you had to choose between Air-brushed Movie Star Man and his bouquet of roses, or a real guy who leaves the toilet seat up (and thinks it’s funny if you fall in), which would you pick? Let’s look at that again. Who do you suppose would be there for you through thick and thin, and endure six months of your whining should you ever be on bed-rest that long?

So far I’ve found no correlation between anything I’ve ever seen in the movies, and that hearts and flowers stuff, and marriage. Maybe that’s just us. I’m married to an engineer. Think a hot Mr. Spock who likes to archery hunt and you’ll have it. Valentine’s Day is as high on his radar as New Zealand’s Waitangi Day.

But I love his guts and I wouldn’t change him. (Well, maybe the toilet seat.) (Yeah, and maybe the hunting, but I digress. That’s another blog post.)

Earlier this week I flopped down next to Dear Hubby on the couch and dropped this Valentine hint:

“Friday is Valentine’s Day. I don’t want to cook.”
DH: “Do you want to go out?”
“Naaah. I’ll be writing.”
DH: “Ah. Do you want me to cook?”
“Naaah. I don’t like your food.”
DH: “Um. What do you want to do?”
“Ohhhh. I don’t know. But we should do something.”
DH: “Do you want anything?”
“Mmmm. I’d still like a hover suitcase. Have you invented it yet?”

And that’s where I lose him, always at the hover suitcase. Today I wandered to the supermarket and picked up two live lobsters. Dear Hubby can boil a mean pot of water. The store was selling piles of roses, and heart-shaped cookies, cakes, candies, you know the drill. I nabbed some chocolate covered strawberries and hit the check out.

The cashier told me I was paying too much for the strawberries. She doesn’t know the half of it, I pick off that chocolate coating stuff – it’s not real chocolate. But I was trying to get into the spirit of the day! They’re festive. She redeemed herself when we got to the lobsters though. She bent down and peeked inside the bag and talked to them like she was talking to puppies. “Oh so sad, oh good-bye, good-bye.” I realized I don’t know this crazy woman, but we could be friends.

And that was my Valentine’s Day. Dear Hubby even peeled the yucky coating off the strawberries with me, AND he washed the lobster pot after dinner. He’s getting the hang of that Valentine thing. I don’t even know what he’s talking about when he refers to it as the day he’s going to get into trouble. Unless he’s going to do the toilet seat thing.

That should be illegal, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dream Weaver

Photo Credit: FiddlerJan/Morgue Files 

Last night I had a dream that sort of reflected real life mixed with stories I'm writing. There were several high-speed chase scenes involving the space shuttle, the Amish, and nuclear warheads. A spectacular crash ended in twisted wreckage. The horses escaped unscathed. The buggies weren’t so fortunate, and I’m afraid the Eiffel Tower needed all new lighting, but we saved the world. So there’s that.

All in a good night's dream, but I needed a shower.

The safe house sat at the end of a deserted country road – as they so often do. After the villains were carted away I returned there to freshen up. Because a three-story, unpainted, falling-down, dust-mite infested safe house is where you go to take a nice hot shower. Up three flights of dilapidated stairs sat the bathroom. I turned on the shower to wait for the water to heat. Before I climbed in my daughter came into the room with a dirty bowl. “Mom,” she said, “I can’t find the dishwasher.” I tightened my robe and remembered that the bathroom had one of those extra-small bathroom dishwashers so popular in dreams.

It took several minutes for me to figure out how to insert the lone bowl into the bathroom dishwasher – it was a type I’m unfamiliar with. My daughter figured it out, which was probably the most realistic part of the dream. Yes – the shower water was still heating up, yes we were washing one bowl in the dishwasher, but that’s all that would fit. Bathroom dishwashers tend to be on the small side. My daughter opened the bathroom door to leave, backed back in and shut it quickly.

“Mom! It’s the man with the hoodie! He’s been sneaking around the house all day! I meant to tell you!” I thought that bad guy had gone down in the space shuttle Amish buggy crash. Dang! Plot twist! There was no lock on the door, and the floorboards creaked with each step as he approached. “What should we do, Mom?” Neither of us had our cell phones (like that would EVER happen). The only weapon we could come up with was a Costco-size bottle of shampoo and conditioner. We decided to squirt it all over the bathroom and at least slow him down slipping and sliding. If you can’t stop a villain you can at least make him work for it.  

Suddenly I remembered something and turned to my daughter. “Daughter,” I said. “This scenario is either a story I’m plotting out or a dream. Either way that means I can do whatever I like – even if it ruins the book.”

So I hurried into the hall and shrunk the bad guy down to the size of a mouse. I carried him into the bathroom and flushed him down the toilet – after making fun of his skinny jeans a bit. All bad guys need a small dose of humiliation at the end, don’t you think?

"Turn him normal size when he gets into the septic tank." My daughter suggested as he swirled away.

I think maybe she's going to be a writer too.

How about you? Any dreams you'd like to share? And do you think it would be worse for the bad guy to be mouse-sized or full-size in the septic tank? 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Kidneys

Photo Credit: S. R. Karfelt

Once Upon a Time…A teenage girl played basketball. Let’s call her Moe. Although Moe came from a family of dark-eyed, dark-haired, crazy-handsome Italians – she was ivory skinned and light, apparently inheriting only the crazy-handsome gene. Moe was one of the smaller players on the team, but mighty, skills that come in handy when you need a player to nab the ball off tall players. One day Moe missed a practice, and then another. This wasn’t allowed. Questions were asked. Rumor had it that Moe lay listlessly in her bed – something those who knew her couldn’t imagine. But being a loving and supportive team, well wishes were sent her way such as:

            Don’t you dare miss the game!
            Suck it up, Cupcake!
            You better have coughed up a lung or something!

Moe went to the doctor. The doctor sent her to the hospital. The hospital sent her to another hospital. At fifteen-years-old Moe was in Stage Five Renal Failure. It’s highly unusual to be much of a basketball player in Stage Five Renal Failure. As a matter of fact the doctors couldn’t believe she was still alive. Moe needed a kidney, and had for quite some time.

In retrospect Moe should have received some sort of MVP award for being the BEST basketball player EVER in Stage Five Renal Failure. Don’t you think?

Also in retrospect Stage Five Renal Failure can also be considered the “or something” part of “You better have coughed up a lung or something!”

Moe got a kidney though, because her Dad had a spare that was just her size. Dads can be awesome like that.

See how I did that? BAM. Moe got a kidney. I skipped right over all her dialysis and doctors, hospitals and time, and time and hospitals, and – well, you get the idea. It wasn’t that easy. Fighting for your life never is, but she did it. BAM. Moe got a kidney. Thanks Dad. She started to look Italian too. So now she had the dark-eyed, dark-haired, crazy-handsome package, AND a kidney which is a very important part of all package deals.

Insert some time and some complications – as you probably already know, life does that – and due to a series of unfortunate events Moe needed another kidney. Dad didn’t have another spare, I’m not sure that would have stopped him, but this time around the donation had parameters that ruled out her family members.

Although the world is chock-full of spare kidneys, the great bulk of the population isn’t Moe’s Dad. But a guy at Moe’s church offered to give her his. And it matched. Kidneys aren’t one-size fits all. I don’t know what the odds are of having a guy at your church offer you a kidney and have it fit, but I don’t think it happens every day. Turns out he’s not Moe’s Dad, but he is a Dad.

Life isn’t easy when your kidneys aren’t functioning. Just getting to dialysis three times a week to have a machine drain the blood out of your body, clean it, and put it back, well – it’s not the kind of fate teenage basketball players envision for after graduation. Yet this has been Moe’s life for years.

What’s impressed me so much about this young lady is the grace with which she’s endured. I’ve never even heard her complain. Once I heard her tell one of her brothers he should bring her a drink – and not make her get up – because she didn’t have a kidney, but I personally thought that was brilliant negotiation. I don’t think he fell for it though. Brothers don’t fall for that stuff – not even if you cough up a lung or something.

Next week Moe is going to get a new kidney. BAM. Yep. Just like that. Maybe one of these days she’ll write her own tale – and fill in the blanks. In the meantime if you’d like to give Moe a virtual high-five, click this link and “Like” her Facebook Bean for a Queen page. It’s an effort to raise awareness about organ donation.

And about your spare kidney – you can’t take it with you, you know? Well, you can, but it’s no good on the other side. For all we know you lose points for wasting it. Why not flip your driver’s license over right now and sign the organ donor section? Maybe mention it to your family too. BAM. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blowing Snowmen

Blowing Snowmen
by S. R. Karfelt

Yeah – it’s a hobby. Have you ever tried it?

Mostly I like to write. To say I’m obsessed with writing is a serious understatement. I’m fortunate to be at a place in my life where I can neglect the real world and write a lot. Not as much as I’d like – because apparently sleep is mandatory – but I keep pushing that envelope.

S. R. Karfelt

Books take a long time to write. Sometimes I want to make something faster, something beautiful that won’t take much prep work. I don’t want to use much writing time up doing other things – but the desire to create something sometimes hits hard. I found a way to get a quick fix.

Yes. I blow snowmen, or glass pumpkins – they’re my favorite – or a flower, ornament, or paperweight. It’s not something you can do at home. I go to a glass studio, with professional supervision. Molten lava hot glass isn’t a kitchen project. You can’t even take it home the same day you make it. Glass has to be cooled in a special oven overnight or it will shatter.

Glass Pumpkins by S. R. Karfelt

It’s worth the effort though. It’s beautiful – and if you have the help of a skilled craftsman it isn’t difficult – though some projects can be very complex. The glass studio I go to allows children to blow some glass projects. I often take visitors with me so they can make something too. Mostly because I just like to say, “Do you wanna go blow snowmen?” to my company.

Glass Flower by S. R. Karfelt

A glass blower is called a gaffer. The furnace that is used to reheat glass and keep it malleable is called a glory hole. Yes it is. Get your head out of the urban dictionary. Glass blowing is an excellent winter project because it is hot. When working on a project the gaffer will often have to put the glass back into the glory hole to keep it pliable. It looks almost liquid when it is red hot, but if you’re using tools to try to shape it – it’s quite uncooperative and stiff. It feels like glass even in a pliant form.

Glass Paperweight by S. R. Karfelt

Think you might want to check your area for a glass studio and give it a try? Let me know if you do! I wanted to share my little hobby with you, mostly just because I wanted a blog entitled “Blowing Snowmen”. 

S. R. Karfelt