Tuesday, July 17, 2012

100 Shades of Blue and Gray

Today I'm privileged to have as my guest an as yet undiscovered author, Leia Davenport, who has a work in progress titled "100 Shades of Blue and Gray". Leia received a seven figure advance for the work, so I'm very excited to learn more about it.

Me: Welcome, Leia. Thanks so much for joining me today.

LD: My pleasure. It's wonderful to have a chance to talk about my new book.

Me: Tell us a bit about yourself.

LD: Oh, there's not much to tell, really. I'm a housewife with three kids. (Laughs). I live in Charleston.

Me: Charlestown? Boston?

LD: No, silly, Charleston. You know, South Carolina? Fort Sumter?

Me: Oh, right. Isn't your book set during the Civil War?

LD: Well, my heroine, Melody Anne, doesn't call it that. She lives in Atlanta and she calls it the War Between the States. Yes, it's a historical romance that begins in 1861 and ends...well I haven't got to the ending yet, But I might take my characters through the entire war. Maybe a series, three or four books.

Me: That's ambitious.

LD: Oh, it really isn't. I mean it will only take me a month or so to write the first one and I expect the others will go just as quickly.

Me: How can you turn out a book so quickly?

LD: Well, you know, all that editing and revision stuff, it just seems so...unnecessary. I mean, it's a story. Stories don't need a lot of editing. I just use my spell checker and that's good enough.

Me: That's certainly one way to do it. Would you share something from the book?

LD: I'm so glad you asked me that. I brought along a few paragraphs. I was hoping you might include them as a kind of sneak preview.

Me: Would you like to read them to me?

(We paused while Ms. Davenport opened her portmanteau and pulled out a sheet of paper.)

LD: "Oh Rhett," Melody Anne exclaimed meaningfully, "this terrible war. I don't know what I'm going to do while you go off to fight those damned Yankees. Whatever will I do?"

Me (Interrupting): Wait a sec. Wasn't Rhett the name of one of the characters in Gone With The Wind?

LD: Well, I don't see what difference that makes. I mean it's a good, strong male name and readers will already think of the South when they hear it. You know? And Rhett is VERY strong, well endowed, with stamina, if you get my meaning.

Me: Sorry, please go on.

LD: Where was I...oh, yes. Rhett looked meaningfully at her. He was dark and handsome in his gray officer's uniform with the curly gold stripes on the sleeves. His eyes were blue and hard, as hard as the sword hanging by his side, as hard as the marbles in the fish bowl. He was a hard man, indifferent to her concerns. But his indifference didn't make any difference. He had ignited a fire within her and only he could quench it. The muscles under his shirt moved seductively. Melody Anne felt herself getting hot and wet.
"Oh Rhett," she said meaningfully.
He came close, took her in his muscular arms. The strong, male scent of him almost made her swoon.
"I must have you. Before I go off to die." He took her hand and placed it on his swollen organ.
"Oh Rhett," she exclaimed.
He kissed her, a hard, indifferent kiss. He threw her down on the daybed and ripped her bodice open.
"Oh, Rhett," she cried meaningfully, fumbling at the wide leather belt around his waist. "No, no, we mustn't."
"Yes, we must."
His trousers fell around his knees. His sword clanked on the old yellow pine floor put in by her daddy when he'd first built the plantation house years ago right after he'd emigrated from Ireland to this gentle land of peach blossoms and happy people and become a successful gentleman before Momma died of the fever and little sister Harmony was called to the angels before those damned Yankees and that ugly Mister Lincoln got set to ruin everything.
"Damn these petticoats," Rhett exclaimed passionately with passion.

LD: Well? What do you think?

Me: I'm in awe. You seem to have captured something definitive. It's hard to put a name to it...

LD: Well, that's what I was trying to do.

Me: Thanks for coming today, Leia. Perhaps we can do it again and you can share some more of your book with us.

LD: Well, I'd love that. Thanks for having me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Readers and Writers

A writer's job is to tell stories, to capture some piece of human experience with words and do it in such a way that other people want to read it. Really good stories open our minds to a deeper understanding of our common humanity. Really bad stories are so bad they make us want to cringe, even if they sell fifty million copies, which just proves that humans are about as diverse a bunch as you can find anywhere in the universe.

WARNING: Cliché Alert
Everybody has a story.

Ants don't tell stories. It's a human thing. The essence of storytelling is its humanness. Somehow a successful story taps into the reader's story. Since a writer doesn't know the reader's story, the challenge is to write something that strikes a chord with the reader, something that taps into the reader's real or imagined or possible human experience. Marketing and demographics try to pin down the reader's story, but that's not what I mean.

I have read many thousands of stories, books and poems. They ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, in every genre, from the earliest epics to the latest wave of eBooks. I've gotten really picky about what I like. I am no longer engaged simply by plot and setting, although a good plot is essential and the right setting helps the book come alive in my mind. What engages me is something which resonates inside and puts me in the characters' world, a world different from the one I'm used to. I'm not a cop, but I love characters like Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly's very human detective. I'm not a semi-literate criminal but I love stories by Elmore Leonard, who brings his characters to life with brilliant dialogue that makes me feel like I'm a fly on the wall in the motel room listening to these morons plan a heist.

Thrillers? Come with our heroes into dark and dangerous places, confront ruthless and terrible enemies, overcome life-threatening challenges, dodge flying bullets and against all odds make the world a temporarily less dangerous place.

Romance? Be transported into the arms of the ultimate lover, travel to distant and exotic places where you find hot love with someone who satisfies and exceeds your inner fantasies.

Mystery? Follow the puzzling clues, put it all together, escape danger (kind of like thrillers) and engage with dark and psychotic people you probably never want to meet in your real life.

Sci-Fi? Explore the dangerous and unknown universe where anything can and possibly does exist.

History? Ride with Stonewall Jackson and General Lee through days filled with senseless death over the bloody battlefields of the Civil War.

The reader doesn't have to be similar to the characters. One reason people read is to become someone else. I write thrillers, but most of my readers don't carry a gun. They're not familiar with high-tech explosives. They don't jump out of helicopters armed to the teeth or find themselves trapped in an ancient crypt filled with bones while bad guys try to kill them. The folks who read my books may never do any of those things in real life, but through the magic of words they can. A manual of how to jump out of an airplane at 22,000 feet won't do it, but a story that successfully makes the reader feel the experience as the character jumps into danger certainly will.

A scene like that would include the feelings and thoughts of the character, the sound and feel and look of the aircraft, the kind of weather, air, temperature, time of day, the feeling of the air rushing by, the snap of the chute opening, the hard contact with the ground, the way everything smells, the way the harness grabs you in the groin, the smell of everything and more, all done in a few sentences or paragraphs.

Good writers allow the reader to enter the character's world so completely that it comes alive in that reader's mind. Good writers make the reader forget it's a book. Good writers make the reader want to keep turning pages.

Want a challenge? Become a writer.