What a character!

What is the one thing you look for in a good book – a solid ending? plot twists? maybe a style of writing? I’ll be willing to bet that’s what you might say, but your inner workings really like the characters.

There are only so many kinds of stories, especially if you are drawn to a particular genre. Romance has: protagonist meets someone special, loses them, re-finds them, the end. There are a lot of variations on the theme, but it’s still the same basic storyline. Thriller: either everyone wants to kill you, or you have an undying need for revenge. Said and done.

You get the idea.

During my most basic acting class in college, the professor stressed to us that it did no good to act at anything. What had to be done was react, and done in such a way as to be believable. He didn’t want to see us on stage acting like we were petrified with fear. What he wanted was to see us react out of fear. Or hate, love, hunger, or whatever the need at the time might be.

Plot, setting, realism, etc. all have their places in a well-crafted story. They are all needed, but if one or more is weak, the story may survive. If the characters are flat and lifeless then …

So let me look at characters. The many books I’ve read on the subject always seem to have an aside comment on how to make a character unique. Something along the line of picking a trait that was not usually associated with that particular type of character. An example would be a tough guy that always likes to smell flowers. For the longest time, I thought they were saying make your characters stand out.

Now, after becoming more ingrained in the writer’s culture and indeed talking to several of them, I’ve come to believe there is definitely more. The idea is unique characters, and in that respect, the authors of the advice had it slightly skewed. I think they may have been trying to say – characters need to be offbeat. Syncopated from what the reader expects. It is that unpredictable, quirky difference that people care about, and that deviation from the norm holds true no matter the genre, even classic fiction.

Anyone can smell flowers, but it takes a real son-of-a-bitch to kill someone because that person walked on the killer’s favorite flower.

Anyone can swear. However, I once knew a first sergeant who dressed down his unit for over twenty minutes and never once used a swear word, or even alluded to a situation in which those words could have been used, not even a synonym. The ending result? The unit felt horrible after the chewing. But it was a masterpiece of art, completely different from the expected. I stood agog at the verbal spectacle, especially since the NCO was an undying master at cursing.

Conclusion? The soldier was brilliant. He was quite a character and behaved out of the ordinary, even for him. Now tell me a reader wouldn’t be motivated to pick up another book by an author that used that character.

I think readers want the unusual suspect. If readers can guess what is about to happen, it doesn’t work well, with the exception of letting them imagine they have guessed what will happen, and then yanking the rug. I believe they want that added twist of literary kismet; it’s expected, the one they cannot conjure, or in a more sophisticated way, something they can call up and summon, but desperately don’t want to live through, no matter how vicariously they experience it. Characterization is a way to produce that atmosphere, because Mary, or John, can react in strange directions, in unexpected yet ingenious ways, or they can die too soon.

Readers grow attached to characters. They love them, but a plot twist is simply a change in circumstances. They may like, even appreciate the author’s ricochet of direction, but it enthralls them to see how the king or queen roll with the changing reality. Suspense may paralyze us, but only because of the character’s involvement.

The highest classification of humor is a plot device, the lowest is the farce. Regardless of all that; humor in the situation may make you grin, but the guffaw happens when Tommy gets hit in the balls, or bitchy Sally lands on her ass after trying to kick the dog and misses. Tears of tragedy dripped not because the two star-crossed lovers took their life. That is explained in the very beginning. They soaked cheeks because desperate Juliet tried to drink any remaining poison and then, between sobs, kissed Romeo for any scraps that remained and still failed to find enough.

The lifeblood of fiction comes from the characters, literally (pun intended).

I have two friends that know what they are doing with characters:

Leah Erickson with her award-winning, The Brambles


Lisa Towles with her book, Choke

Please check them out. You will enjoy them, and While you are at it: if you haven’t read The Sigma Factor please do!

The last thing is every author needs feedback, so don’t forget to review everything you read. That includes my blog, my book, Leah and Lisa’s books. Everything.


What a menagerie

Holy Cow! The living room is a living example of a cacophony. The oldest girl is plunking out the theme to Beethoven’s Ninth, while the youngest girl is practicing how to make a sound on the piano with every finger at the same time. The youngest of all (one minute younger than his sister) is quiet only because the Polar Express movie is playing so he can watch, “My train! My Train!” The next oldest girl is explaining how the brand new chicks are following the mother hen around like, well, a hen and chicks. The boy that figures everything out too quickly is sure the new rabbit cage is stupid (explained at the top of both his lungs and his speaking range.” The kit is getting used to its cage. Hope it likes noise. By the way for those that don’t know a kit is what a baby rabbit is called. Anyway, we have no idea whether it is a doe or buck yet.

The only thing I know about the little darling is it is the newest member of the household. It was a close contest. The chicks arrived yesterday too. They were incubated at school as a lesson for students, and now they are returned to us alive and, for now, well.

My God, let’s take a census here – ten kids (children not goats) four cats, three inside dogs, two outside dogs, a potbelly pig, a Juliana pig (ugly as hell, but if we hadn’t taken him, the asshole that had him before would have abused him even more). Oh yeah, back to the roll call. Two roosters, two hens, six chicks (I just found out there are more to come today) and finally one lop-eared kit.

I did forget one animal, well three actually, if you include my wife and myself. I forgot the unicorn. She’s not really a unicorn. She is a white pony that my youngest, who loves the mythical animals, calls her ‘corn. She has the one live one. She must think of it as disabled because the horn is missing. Then there are three more stuffed inside. That’s stuffed animal toys. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a monster who goes around stuffing mythical beasts. One of her ‘corns is a rocking ‘corn. Then there is a smaller version about as big as a basketball, and then finally, there is the ‘corn that has to be slept with, otherwise, every bit of the seven layers of Dante’s hell envelops the house. The shrieking alone is loud enough that the corpse of Beethoven probably hears it while he’s trying to rest in his peaceful deafness.

And people wonder why I call this house the looney bin.

Personally, I’m waiting for the day the youngest two are house trained – wait – potty trained. I have spent the last fourteen years buying diapers and/or pull-ups, or cleaning cloth diapers. Do you know at one time we had six, that’s half a dozen, six children in diapers at the same time. That was one full kitchen trash can or rubbish bin of poop catchers a day. Whew, am I glad that’s over. Well, it’s almost over. Two more to go.

I was just informed that we will have more chicks coming home to roost today sometime. No idea how many.

Say, you might want to look up Lisa Towles’s blog. She interviewed me this week and here is the link.


My Family

What Do I Do Now?

Welcome back!

Have any kids, grandkids? I have a large family, ten children living under my roof and two who have their own families complete with their partners who are raising my five grandchildren.

As you can imagine our house is always on the beastly side. Let me back up a bit on that; that may be an exaggeration. There are some days between three and three-thirty in the morning when there can be something resembling a hushed level, although there is one child who only needs about seven point three minutes of sleep every day.

Coincidentally he is also the one who yells at everything, rants, and claims everyone is stupid. Maybe there is a pattern there. By the way, his voice is high-pitched, and when he screams it pierces right through one of my hearing aides, bounces around like a ricocheting bullet that brandishes a bayonet, and exits out the other side.

We love him so much.

We love all of the little carpet devils, named so after the small tornado-like phenomena that rolls across the prairies and deserts, not because of their demeanor. Regardless of how the name sounds they are little angles and I would not trade them for anything. A stiff shot helps a bit though.

Our family is quite the hodgepodge and is about as extended as a family can be. There are adoptees, of which my wife is one as are more than a few children. Of course we have our bio-kids some of whom are louder and more headstrong than others. They tend to surprise me. That started about the time they got started. Genetics can be a bitch. My father-in-law lives in town, my wife’s bio family not a far piece down the road (local talk), and we keep in touch with the surrogate kids too. Those are the children my wife carried and gave birth to in order to help other couples achieve their dream of family.

The aunts and uncles of all the kids stretch out in every direction, especially if you count the half siblings, adopted siblings, and bio siblings of both of us. We have service personnel, teachers, doctors, students, business managers, and truck drivers.

All in all, we have quite the asylum.

Someone told me that in order to write I have to have come from a dysfunctional family. Well, I sprang from a functional, dysfunctional one. Pardon, you say? I know. That sentence alone sounds nonfunctional. One hell of an oxymoron isn’t it. My mind is still boggling.

Imagine living it. I do, and love it, but there may be a clue as to why I don’t have any hair left.


What Do I Do Now?

Welcome to the first post of my blog. I think an apt name might be: What Do I Do Now?

Today’s post is an explanation of what might be expected from visiting here. It will be a multifarious adventure. I would use the word eclectic to describe it, but that is one of my least favorite of words. It sounds good. It trips off the inner-voiced tongue well enough, but I associate it with a negative air of superiority. I’ve seen it on so many websites belonging to Literary Agents just before my query gets sent back to me with a form letter that, after reducing it down to its lowest form, means hell no.

Please let me be clear here.

I’m talking about the association of a word with a bad experience. I’m not trying to debate them. I probably needed, or in fact deserved to be rejected. It takes time and a butt-load of rejections to become a writer. Hell, even J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job. (Disclaimer: that in no way means to imply that I am the next J. K. … etc.)

Anyway, back to the blog. There will be many wind gusts my thoughts might blow around on, and I have no idea in which direction they will travel. As I sat down to make a list of the things I might cover, I was enlightened to the proclivity of my mindless wanderings. I should have guessed though. My Great Grandfather had a wandering disposition. Why just the other day while marching my DNA back through history it looked as if I truly descended from a line of bastards. But it was a false alarm. I’m not literally a bastard, although I’ve heard several utterances justifying the name be tattooed on my buttocks. Kind of poetic isn’t it. So, call me what you will.

Oh, wandering again.

Do you see what I mean? At any given moment in time, my mind might dart off in new and unexplained direction. By the way, I will probably talk about moments in time at a later date.

I’ll stay away from politics. There are enough people out there that blog about that, some do it with intelligence, some with as much smarts and mud as the backside of a jackass might have. I see no reason to muddy that field anymore. As it is, hip waders are useless.

That brings me to my last sub-topic for this post. I spent some of my best years in the Army, and while there I earned the equivalency of an advanced degree in what President Truman termed,  cussing. I try to behave, but an occasional expletive (The transcriptions of Nixon’s tapes made that word famous) might fall out of my mouth, or fingers, whichever. If that irritates you, I apologize and ask that you simply redact it. Examples on what that is have been talked about and displayed ad nauseam in the last few months. The gist of this is, I don’t want to offend, but sometimes those words can be perfect descriptions.

To sum it all – come on back. There’s no telling what might be here.


What Do I Do Now?