Know Your Characters

blue_eyeToday, I saw a post in a writing group in which someone was stuck on whether his MC (main character) would move onto a new relationship following the disappearance and possible death of her lover. Obviously, one should consider the depth of the relationship in question, but why not look to the character to solve this problem? If you have a well-developed character who seems like a real person to you, problems like this aren’t problems at all.

For instance, take veterinarian Dr. Garland Sands from my latest M/M historical romance, A Little Sin. After his lover commits suicide, he is able to move on and find love again. However, if his lover had vanished, I don’t believe he would ever stop looking for him. He’s an idealist and an optimist. He’s a hopeful character. Not only would he be unable to give up hope of finding his lover again, he would probably go to the ends of the Earth searching for him.

A very different character in my epic fantasy novel, Under the Shadow, Mylinka, is separated from her childhood love. Although he has only disappeared, evidence suggests he was killed in a purging of mages. Mylinka is a pessimist. She’s a war orphan with some nightmarish experiences. It’s easy for her to believe the worst. She’s also a highly adaptable pragmatist, so she moves on to other relationships.

So you can see how two very different characters will react to the same circumstances in extremely different ways. If you’re stuck on whether or not a character would do something, just ask the character. If your character won’t talk, maybe you need to develop him more.

How? Fill out some character worksheets. There are tons out there! My favorite character questionnaire is in Will Dunne’s The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. It asks questions like ‘what is your character’s greatest achievement so far? What is his greatest failure?’ Rather than spending a lot of time on your character’s hairstyle, it delves deep into the character’s interior life. It’s my favorite writing book despite the fact that I don’t write screenplays. Another fun way to learn more about your characters is to take online personality tests as if you were them.

Once you’re really in touch with your characters, you won’t need to ask how they’ll act. You’ll just know. And if you’re still not sure, just ask them. I often have trouble getting mine to shut up. I’m trying to write a paranormal romance, and Garland from A Little Sin and Ward from Zen Alpha keep bugging me. They want me to write more about them. That’s the only drawback to creating characters that become real people—they don’t always do what you want.

Negative Rating Survival 101

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To be perfectly honest, as a writer, I sort of hate Goodreads. Why? Because readers can leave ratings without leaving a review explaining why they rated it that way. I also hate them because GR has no way of verifying that the reader actually bought and/or read the book. For example, there is a user who goes by Wendy on GR who rates something like four or five books a day (I’m not exaggerating) and rates them all one-star. “She” only “reads” LGBT books. To me, this looks like an obvious troll. However, after I and many others complained to GR, they responded that she isn’t violating their policies and there’s nothing they can do. She is one of GR’s highest rated reviewers. I’m not kidding. I truly wish I were.

However, there are many normal, honest, real readers on GR that also leave low ratings. This used to irk me. I wanted—no, desperately needed—to know why they didn’t like my book. This still bothers me, but not to the extent it once did. I have four strategies for dealing with this. No, they don’t involve wine or chocolate, but those do help.

  • Look at the reader’s profile.

This is done simply by clicking on her portrait. You can (usually, sometimes profiles are private) see what other books the reader has read and how she rated them. If you recognize some of the books and/or authors, this might give you some insight as to what she didn’t like it. Maybe she mostly reads YA and your book is definitely not YA. Maybe she prefers plot-driven books and yours is character-driven. Maybe she’s just rather harsh and gives most books a low rating. (This is different from our troll, Wendy, who only gives one-stars and “reads” unrealistic quantities of books.) My new release received a two-star rating from a guy yesterday and I was momentarily devastated. When I looked at his profile, I saw that he also recently gave two stars to a book by an author I admire. An award-winning author. Obviously, this guy just has bad taste in books. Heehee.

  • Realize that the reader isn’t you.

Okay, that sounds elementary to some of you, but it was a revelation for me. I don’t rate/review books the way most people (apparently) do. I see books as works of art. I love and respect them—even if I don’t enjoy them. Because I view them as works of art, I see them as having inherent value—some artistic merit apart from whatever my experience is with the book. (And yes, I adored literature classes.) I don’t know if this is a writer-thing or just how I was raised. I’ve never left a negative rating or review of a book. I will give it three stars and say some things I liked (there are always things I liked), things I didn’t like (without dwelling), and who I think might actually like it. Or I don’t review it at all. I leave negative reviews of hospitals if they overcharge me and restaurants if they’re dirty or a business if their customer service is horrible, but books get a pass.

Most readers DO NOT think this way. For them, books are entertainment. If a book fails to entertain, it’s crap. I was sneaking about on a reader message board the other day and someone said if a book contained a certain element she didn’t like, she’d dropkick it off a cliff. This horrified me. If someone talked about kicking kittens off a cliff, I would have had a similar visceral reaction. Most readers aren’t literary scholars who will examine a book from different perspectives. They’re people looking to escape the daily grind of their lives. They want something that meets their needs, whatever those happen to be at the time, and if your book doesn’t meet them, well, off the cliff it goes.

For me, this was an ah-ha moment. It gave me a better understanding of my audience and even some empathy for them that I didn’t quite have before. Sometimes, if they dislike something, they just…didn’t like it. They may not even be able to articulate it. So, they leave a rating. However much I dislike ratings, I have to respect that.

  • Revel in the good ratings and reviews.

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I guess I tend to be a negative person. When I first started publishing, someone could write a beautiful review and I would be on Cloud Nine for a of couple of hours. One low rating and I was in the dumps for days. Now, I try to fully appreciate good ratings and reviews. I roll around in them, reading them several times. I try to imagine the people who left them (okay, I snoop around in their profiles) and send them good wishes and good vibes. I’m not just grateful to them, I love them.

  • Keep writing.

Don’t let a negative anything affect your love of writing. If you find yourself unable to focus on writing because you’re hung up on a negative rating or review, block it out. You might want to take a break and do something nice for yourself—take a hot bath, go for a run, visit with a good friend—whatever makes you happy and puts you in a positive headspace. And then dive back into your work. Don’t let anything get between you and your art. Ever.

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**I’m no longer offering this.**

I don’t want to run afoul of the new EU privacy regulations, so I’m suspending this offer for now.

I promised at the end of my M/M historical western mystery romance, A Little Sin, that interested readers could get a copy of the deleted syrup scene from my website. This is a sexually explicit scene that is intended for adults only. If you’re considered an adult in your country and would like a free copy of this NSFW deleted scene, please email me at: everwintergreen@gmail.com. Tell me what file format you want: MOBI, ePub, or PDF. I’ll be happy to send you a copy.

I deleted this scene because I was afraid it slowed the action of the mystery down too much. Every few scenes Garland and Avery seemed to be up to their eyeballs in each other. I was afraid this was just one sex scene too many.

 

Why Gay Men Weren’t in the Closet in 1923

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My latest gay (M/M) romance is set in 1923 in a small rural town in East Texas. A Little Sin is available through Amazon and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited. While researching this historical western mystery romance, I discovered that gay men weren’t in the closet in 1923. No one was. Closets didn’t really exist back then. People kept their clothes in armoires, chest of drawers, and chifforobes (basically an armoire combined with a chest of drawers.) The idiom didn’t exist.

Instead, gay men who pretended to be straight to fit in with the oppressive heterosexual society were said to “wear a mask.” I found this phrase both poetic and poignant. It describes so beautifully what it feels like to have to hide your true self from people. I’m genderqueer, but I am biologically female and “read” female. Most people have no idea who or what I really am. (Even when I tell them, they often don’t really understand.)  I wear a mask. The stakes, of course, of someone discovering my true identity aren’t as high for me as they are for my protagonists in A Little Sin. Still, the idea that they were wearing masks made me feel very close to them.

There are so many things we take for granted in modern America. In the world of Avery and Garland, indoor plumbing and electricity have not found their way to rural areas. There are no antibiotics. “Okay,” one of my favorite words, didn’t exist until WWII (and it was OK). Prohibition made having a glass of pinot noir illegal. In Texas, literacy tests prevented many people from voting. (It was designed to suppress the black vote.) Texas legislators were openly members of the Ku Klux Klan. (At least now they make some attempt to hide it. Yes, I live in Texas. Yes, I’m bitter.)

Although women now had the right to vote, their roles were largely domestic. Even Garland, the more progressive and enlightened of my two main characters, is amazed when his secretary—a black woman—is curious about his work as a veterinarian and wants to read his old textbooks. The fact that she is interested in science blows his mind.

There were times when I felt quite estranged from my protagonists, who are deeply religious Christians (I’m not), drink buttermilk (ugh), rarely curse, and smoke like fiends. (Smoking was okay, apparently.) I kept wanting to put glasses of scotch in their hands or make them use the “f-word.” (Because I do…a lot.) Writing for these guys was like discovering a new world. Along the way, I fell in love with them. I hope my readers do, too.

There are so many things, so many advancements—both scientific and social—that we take for granted. These things didn’t always exist. They aren’t permanent. We need to be wary of people who want to take us back into a dark, oppressive, and often violent past. We need to be vigilant, vote, and keep moving forward. How can we make America great again when the past is littered with injustices and wasn’t too great for children, people of color, women, and LGBTQIA people? I like to write about history; I wouldn’t want to live there.

Cover Reveal!

A_Little_SinThis is the cover for my new m/m mystery romance, A Little Sin. (That’s Sheriff Avery O’Rourke.) Here’s the book description:

Sheriff Avery O’Rourke has tried to obey his strict Christian faith and lead a “normal” life. In 1923 in a rural East Texas town, “normal” means heterosexual. A cholera outbreak has made Avery a young widower, so he is married to his job. When a murder investigation forces him to confront his truth, will he finally be able to accept being gay?

Veterinarian Garland Sands has returned from Europe to take over his father’s practice. Struggling with shellshock (PTSD) and heartbroken by the suicide of his French lover, he resigns himself to a quiet, solitary life as a country vet. But the murder of the town doctor brings the sheriff to Garland’s doorstep looking for help with the investigation. Seeing Avery awakens dormant feelings. Can he love a man who hates what he is?

This isn’t the lavish 1920s of The Great Gatsby. This is the flip side of that coin—rural East Texas. No electricity. No indoor plumbing. No flappers. In 1923, the timber barons have left and racism, homophobia, and sexism thrive.

A Little Sin is a realistic mystery with unlikely heroes and a timeless romance between lovers caught in a world where their love is forbidden. This book contains steamy sex scenes and is intended for adults only.

A Little Sin should be available on Amazon later today (2/23/18).

Coming Soon!

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I’m almost finished with my latest book! I’m hoping to release it in a couple of weeks–maybe sooner! It’s a strange brew–a historical M/M mystery romance with a Western flare. There’s a grisly murder and a sexy sheriff!

Here’s where it gets weird. It’s set in 1923 in a small town in rural East Texas. This isn’t the 20’s of The Great Gatsby. There are no flappers, no galas, no fancy cars. Life is hard and gritty in rural Texas. There’s no electricity, no indoor plumbing. This is a land of Prohibition, religion, and the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a dangerous time to be a gay man. Both of my men are very much in the closet. One is guilt-ridden by the conflict between his desires and his strict Christianity. The other suffers from shellshock (they are both veterans of WWI) and has his own set of problems.

I fell hopelessly in love with both of them. I had so much fun working on this book. I hope readers love the characters at least half as much as I do. I’ve had trouble finishing the last chapter because I want to hang onto them. Once I publish the book, they’ll belong to everyone; for now, they’re all mine.

The book (I have the title but am not ready to disclose it just yet) will be available on Amazon very soon. I’ll be posting a cover reveal shortly and will discuss the characters and the setting in more depth.

Why Are Writers So Sensitive?

Being able to accept criticism as a writer is vital if you want to have a writing career. People love being critics. They love having opinions, often regarding things they know nothing about, and they especially love knocking other people down. A writer who wants to be published has to be resilient. But why are writers so sensitive?

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In my case, it’s because of what writing entails. Isn’t writing a book just like crocheting an afghan or baking a pie? You just make something—right? No, not at all. Writing is opening up a door in your soul and carving people out of whatever you find there. So, when someone criticizes your work, they aren’t saying they disliked some nouns and verbs strung together in Arial or New Times Roman—they are saying they looked into your soul and found it lacking.

Recovering from a blow like that is hard. I think if/when this happens, your book simply hasn’t found the right audience. It’s like falling in love. Sometimes the people you get involved with are complete idiots who don’t appreciate you. If you’re lucky, you find someone who does.

Another reason I’m sensitive about my works is that the characters are real people to me. It’s like if someone put your best friend in a beauty pageant and judged how she walks and looks in a bathing suit. Friends have positive attributes that go far beyond bathing suits. I take long walks with my characters, having meaningful conversations with them. Often, I lean on them when I need support.

Although I write faster these days, produce a different genre of books, and have learned to pay more attention to things like story arcs and plot outlines, I spent years writing my epic fantasy books. I don’t regret the time I spent with them. I was learning how to write. More importantly, I needed that world and those characters at that particular time in my life. Lycian helped me cope with the deaths of my cousins who were like my brother and sister, the death of my grandmother who was primarily responsible for raising me, a miscarriage, and the deaths of two familiars. He was a kind, quiet companion. Aside from my husband, he was my best friend during that period. I needed him, and I’m glad I had him.

Currently, I’m working on a new m/m romance (it’s a mystery romance!) and am absolutely in love with the main characters. Even as I lose myself in the bliss of writing, I’m preparing for how my characters will be judged, how my world will be reduced to so many stars, and how some people will simply not understand it. That’s okay. I love the characters; I like the work (so far), and I know there will be some people out there who will enjoy it. I’m writing it for myself and those people.