Monday, March 28, 2011


Ever since I received a rather scathing critique from an agent about a WIP, I've been thinking about antagonists. Not because that agent has become my antagonist--
Well, maybe she has.
But that's a good thing.
Antagonists drive the story. They play the roll of forcing the main character to reach deep inside themselves to act, and they do this by inspiring conflict. Antagonists may or may not be the villains of the story. Personally, I prefer an antagonist who is not the villain. I think it makes for a more complex and interesting story.
As it is oftentimes in writing, the more the writer becomes aware of a writing challenge in her work, the more answers are offered from life. I've seen two movies in the last few months that have helped to define that protagonist-antagonist relationship. One is True Grit and the other is The King's Speech.
In True Grit, Rooster Cogburn and Mattie have an incredibly well-developed protagonist-antagonist relationship. They both are against the villain, Ned Pepper, but Mattie inspires Cogburn to change from a drunken coarse lawman to a man who would push his limits for the sake of a girl. Mattie, as the antagonist, drives the story.
The King's Speech--wow! What a story!
King George VI, or Bertie, is the protagonist, but it's the antagonist, Lionel Logue, who drives Bertie to dig deeper and therefore be victorious over the villain, his speech defect. Again, the antagonist drives the story, forcing the protagonist to meet the challenge and change.
As I'm writing my own story, I'm thinking about these well-drawn characters. My antagonist, I discovered, had potential, but needed a lot of work.
And thanks to the agent, my antagonist, I'm going to make it happen!
A great antagonist makes for a great story, don't you agree?

Friday, March 25, 2011


By Barbara Fleming

Whatever genre a writer works in, his or her values underlie every single word. Mystery writers weave tales of good and evil; much of fantasy is taken up with the same struggle (witness Harry Potter, for example), and classic literature deals with the nature of humans, the meaning of life--all the deep philosophical questions that we resolve (or don't resolve) within ourselves by crafting a value system.

Wherever that system comes from--religion, culture, philosophy or somewhere else--it will permeate the author's writing. To take one example, one of my highest values is respect. I treat everyone I encounter with respect, unless I am given reason to do otherwise, and I expect to be treated similarly. I treat everyone as an individual, not part of a group or class. In my historical novel, Journeying, the principals are an interracial couple who encounter prejudice and ill treatment but always respond, as far as they can, as one individual to another, and respectfully instead of with anger and a desire for revenge. When one character does aim to seek revenge, he does not complete the act; he cannot.

Of course, the essence of fiction is conflict. I wonder if readers notice how frequently those conflicts have to do with differing values--Hamlet's inner war with his conscience, to take a classic example. I could fill this piece with other examples of contemporary or classic fiction that illustrate this point, but that is not the direction I am going.

Rather, I am going to briefly consider how the values reveal themselves.

If an underlying value is love, can the protagonist forgive transgressions by those he loves? Can she take a risk, perhaps a life-threatening one, in the name of love?

If the value is family, do the members of the family support and uphold each other as long and as richly as they can? When circumstances seem to tear them apart, does the family as a value still hold up through how the characters act, speak and interact?

Whatever the value, if it is a positive one, is the reader disposed to like the characters that live by it and dislike those who don't? Through their words and actions, do they reveal the value, or their struggle with it?

It is never, of course, that simple. Fictional families, like real ones, are dysfunctional, sometimes unforgiving, sometimes disconnected. And there are many kinds of families. Still, there is a thread in the story that ties some members of the family together, regardless. People who love each other often hurt each other dreadfully, and sometimes they do not recover from that damage. Still, there is a thread in the story that affirms the priceless treasure that is love. People who treat others with respect are not always treated in kind; indeed, sometimes they suffer for their values. Still, there is a thread in the story that affirms the positive nature of continuing to try, despite the odds.

No good writer tells the reader directly what her values are. The characters do that; events and their outcomes support those values, however subtly. Moralistic tales seldom get published these days. Nonetheless, what we value is the foundation of waht we write. Great writers create memorable characters who exemplify their values, and the characters that live on in our hearts and minds are those that share the values we hold dear.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Read Fiction?

Why Read Fiction?
by Jacqueline Seewald

I like many different kinds of fiction but enjoy most a novel or short story with a happy ending. I hope that doesn’t make me sound shallow or anti-literary. I suppose part of the reason I read is to escape the hum-drum and sadness of real life and everyday existence. I want to read a great love story with characters I can care about. For instance, I love a good Regency because the novels are often clever and humorous as well as romantic. TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS could be called my tribute to that genre.

I want to solve an exciting mystery along with the fictional detectives. I also want to read a book with an interesting, clever plot. I appreciate an intelligently written novel. The three novels in my Kim Reynolds series: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, as well as THE TRUTH SLEUTH (due for publication May 18th) are my tribute to mystery fiction. Of course, they are romantic mysteries with a paranormal edge, the kind of fiction I most enjoy reading.

Reading novels and short stories gives me added perspective on life, while reality provides me with inspiration to write fiction. I believe a good book is one the reader can enjoy. I want to finish reading and feel good, satisfied, mentally enriched but not depressed.

What sort of novels do you prefer to read? What constitutes a good book in your opinion? Who are some of your favorite authors?

Monday, March 14, 2011

French Film Ooh-la-la

Two of my books are set in France, and when I was doing research for my 2010 novel, The Tapestry Shop, I spent a few weeks there. I love everything French, from the sidewalk cafes to the chocolate-filled pastries and medieval cathedrals, but I think the French excel at making films. Granted, American filmmakers are masters of technology and sound effects, but I believe the French are better at capturing images of the human condition. Somehow, the emotions are more raw, more apparent in their films. Is it because they are more comfortable with showing emotion? In any park or square in Paris, on any main street, one can see couples locked in an embrace. No one frowns or gives them the time of day.

This is all to say that their culture, the way they are comfortable with their emotions, shines through in their films. I love French films. If you get films from Netflix, they come with English subtitles, and believe me, you will be so engrossed in the film you will forget you’re reading the English. Some of the best I’ve seen recently are Avenue Montaigne, Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World), The Chorus, and Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter). Try just one. You’ll be hooked.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Those Little Details

As an author of historical romance and a history major, I live and breathe research. Sometimes, though, it can take over my writing. Since, I also am a firm believer in getting details correct and using real historic events and figures to provide color, research floods my mind, at times. This usually happens when I’m first exploring story ideas (and continues far thereafter). Since I’m never quite sure what direction I want to go, I tend to begin by researching a lot of different possibilities to see what inspires me. k

When I first starting thinking about CHANCES, for example, I knew only that I wanted a strong female character and that she would be one of Miriam’s (my heroine from CHOICES) boarding school roommates. That led to a brainstorming session. What type of woman would have a strong character in the late 1870s or early 1880s? Someone who believed in suffrage kept coming out on top. That led to the first round of research into which states had suffrage movements during that time and whether or not there were historic figures within those movements who might inspire a character.

About that same time, I picked up a small biography in a used book store about a female telegraph operator. I was immediately intrigued. A female telegraph operator would be exactly the type of person who would promote suffrage. I learned that railroads had hired women as early as the 1870s so I began to compare my lists (suffrage and railroads that hired women). I hit pay dirt: Colorado had a state suffrage referendum in 1877 and the Kansas-Pacific Railroad, which ran through Denver, hired women.

From there, I needed to create my hero. I needed him to be in conflict with Sarah, my heroine. The little biography again offered up an idea. In the book, there was a recollection about a dead body coming in on a train and it being sent to the wrong undertaker. How perfect! An undertaker seemed like the type of guy who would be conservative and in ready conflict with a pro-suffrage telegraph operator. Editors, agents, and contest judges advised me to make him a lawman but there were too many wonderful possibilities to make Daniel anything but an undertaker.

Now, I had several subjects to research: telegraph operations, suffrage movements and the Colorado state referendum, Denver in the 1870s, and funeral practices in the nineteenth century. I decided to add details on prostitution, literature, ice skating, dances, games, and entertainment halls. I was hooked. I amassed information, maps, books, articles, photos, etc. I did a historic walking tour of downtown Denver and visited museums. I began to discover all sorts of details within each subject that had to be explored further in order to determine what to include and what I had to sacrifice. Then, I began to develop my characters within that framework.

This all was so much more work than my first manuscript, which I knew from the moment I started was to be about an officer’s daughter and an enlisted man at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. It was only as I began to layer in backstory about my villain, Miriam’s mother, that I went off on research tangents about laudanum. I think this was because so much of the story was inspired by research for other projects and done prior to plotting the novel.

My third manuscript, yet unpublished, proved to be another research adventure as I worked to refine Lise, the third roommate, who was part Sioux. Plotting her story led me on a merry chase through the Sioux Uprising in Minnesota (which I had been intrigued by ever since my Minnesota girlhood), Standing Bear’s 1879 trial, and changes in Indian law. I got the chance to investigate early Omaha, politics, and fishing as I crafted my hero.

Currently, I am working on another Denver story which is chock full of even more fun research. I still struggle with having to set it all aside to work on writing…always a struggle in the first few chapters. Just last week, I discovered a wrinkle and had to spend a day investigating details. Now, back to writing, I’ve set the research on the back burner once again and am working to bring all those rich details to life.

Until the next story starts to form.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Settings, and Character Viewpoints

Almost exactly one year ago, we left our Florida home and moved to Colorado. Our route was Orlando to Shreveport, LA, where I was presenting at a conference, and then to Monument, CO, to our daughter's house. Roads – we drove on a lot of them. Through major cities, around major cities, and out in the middle of nowhere. And, since we needed both our vehicles at our destination, Hubster and I drove separately.

When we started, we took the 'meet at a designated rest stop' option. Throughout Florida and Mississippi, they tended to be about 30-50 miles apart, which worked out well, giving us frequent opportunities to touch base and make sure everything was going well. It also drove home the fact that two people traveling the same route will have totally different experiences based on their world view.

When Hubster and I met up, we'd compare what we'd seen, and many times we didn't "see" the same things. Of course, at 70+ mph, it's easy to be looking the other way at the instant something catches the other driver's eye, but there are also things that he'll zero in on that I might not notice.