Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A cast of characters

This is not a picture of me.

I know, I had to do a double take, too.

But, then I remembered that there has never been a time where I was smiling and cutting flowers while simultaneously having my picture taken. Though it does sound like a nice way to spend an afternoon.

My daughter saw this picture while we were shopping at a local craft store (incidentally, I'll be happy to credit the photographer and/or model, should they happen upon this post), and she asked why my picture was on the wall.

Some people just have one of those faces, I suppose. Helen of Troy's launched a thousand ships. Mine inspired floral arrangements. Or at least, that's what it was cast to do.

Please accept my apology for this horribly executed segue.

In the past whenever I've written a fictional story, I've always inserted faces I know into the characters I create.  Authors write what they know, after all. And I have dated a lot of people I'd like to take revenge on know a lot of people.

And because I know a lot of people, I have many pre-existing, non-copyrighted, you-can't-sue-me-unless-you-can-prove-defamation-was-intended personalities stored in my mental hard drive alongside all the adjectives I would need to describe them.

Inevitably, though, when I would borrow the physical and personal descriptions of someone from my real life for character writing, I'd struggle to keep straight the truth from fiction, and as a result I could never really own my writing. Too much real life kept seeping in.

I did not want this to happen for Songs Eight Six.

When I began writing this book, I wanted to be intentional about my characters. I needed to know them objectively as well as subjectively, and if you've ever tried to approach understanding any person you actually know like this, you'll find that you feel like a stalker. Or at least I did. And I'm pretty sure that the person I originally imagined as "Westley" would feel totally violated if he had the means to go through my Internet search history.

Aside: Would it have killed you to have a Facebook, fake-Westley? Or at least done something Google-image-search-worthy? You really made me work for those two pictures of you from your college sports team. Congrats, by the way, on your game winning goal back in '02.

So, instead of trying to reinvent the people I knew into the people I was creating, I did one better. I hired actors.

If you could break into my computer files (pretty please don't), you'd find folder after folder of files named "Cosette" and "Micah" and "Bronwyn", and within those folders, many, many pictures of actors you probably know by other pretend names. Because as actors, they are professionals at being fictional. And YouTube has a whole lot of footage of most of them, speaking, emoting, and gesticulating (I swear that's not anything dirty) in ways that I could shape into the people I wanted to write about.

I studied these actors, their work, their roles. I had to do so without getting attached to any single character they played, lest I end up back at square one, writing about a pre-existing persona. Once I had enough familiarity with these actors, I decided who I wanted to play each of the roles in the book. And then, that's who they became.

That's how my characters became.

This worked for me. So well, in fact, that whenever I refer to any of these actors in my real-life now, I usually call them by the wrong name. The fictional wrong name that I've given them.

I've been VERY fortunate to have had about forty readers in my preliminary test-groups for my novel (this sounds way fancier and more organized than it really was), and in my debriefing with them after they have finished the book (which usually consists of three hours on Skype, because I'm obsessive like that) I always ask them WHO they picture as each of my characters.

Do they insert people they know, like I used to do?

Do they imagine actors, and if so, who?

I am just as fascinated by my readers' process of casting this book as they are curious about who I've picked to play each of the roles as I watch the story on the movie screen of my mind.

I don't know how other authors create their heroes and villains, but as I look forward to writing the sequel to this novel, I already have a file folder full of actors who I don't have to pay royalties to cast to play new characters, because that is what works for THIS author.

You know, the one from the picture.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Einstein is a GREAT name for a dog...

I've never been much of a fantasy reader. In fact, if I made a list of books that I have NOT read, I'd probably lose a ton of street cred with all my booknerd friends. I don't really have an excuse for what has kept me away from the one genre where really anything goes except for that Back to the Future really, really confused me as a kid.

(Why don't Marty's mom and dad remember Calvin Klein? Aren't they the least bit curious about how their teenage son looks IDENTICAL to the boy who was ultimately responsible for them being married??? I'm not sure this is something I would forget, if I were 1950s Lorraine.)

I just kept wanting it all to make sense. To be infallible. For there to be a consistent logic that I could follow. And to be fair, there was... to an extent. But like with all good stories, there has to be a point when the audience is offered the "leap of faith" challenge where they have to decide if they like the characters enough to want to know what happens to them despite the fact that the story couldn't actually happen.

Or at least this is how I always measured the quality of a book.

When the idea for my novel began to unfold, I was nervous to begin writing it in part because I suffer from this Back to the Future syndrome. I knew a large part of my story would need to be set in a place unlike my own reality, a place that would operate within its own laws. Laws I would need (to first understand myself, and then) to explain to my audience.

But through the process of creating this world, I fell in love with fantasy.

Imagination is a beautiful thing.

And the fact that I'm not entirely sure that the plot of Back to the Future isn't a possibility (c'mon, it's 2013 and time travel has got to be just around the corner) just means that writer of that movie is awesome and speaks nothing to the fact that I didn't bother taking physics in high school.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The setting of my story is near a place near where I grew up, and in the book, this is how the protagonist describes her hometown:

Middlebury, Indiana, like many towns in our surrounding latitude, was mostly farmland. During the warmer months, when the fields were alive with activity—planting, blossoming, growing, and harvesting—it was beautiful…almost beautiful enough to make me forget that there wasn't actually anything to do there. But then came late fall when the last of its life and color were reaped away, leaving the decaying, leftover shards of cornstalks to freeze solid in the ground like someone had stabbed the fields to their empty, naked deaths.
I could usually stomach the barrenness of my surroundings through about Christmas, but once the distraction of the holidays had passed, I hated it. In some backward, claustrophobic way, I found the openness of the stripped land suffocating, and I couldn't wait for spring when new green life would sprout up from the ground and somehow make me feel a little less insignificant.

While I can definitely relate to the sentiment behind my character's fictional description of what it's like to live in a part of the world primarily composed of cornfields, I can't say that her perspective is my own entirely.

When I left the Hoosier state for one of the country's largest metropolitan areas, it wasn't because I hated my lot in life. Rather, it was because I loved my husband more than I liked the comfort of the only home I'd ever known. But in these years away, I feel as though I've gained a different appreciation for "back home."

Middlebury wasn't my first choice for my book's settings--which sounds strange, I know since I'm the author and it's not like I have to ask a town's Chamber of Commerce for permission before imagining something takes place there--but after a long afternoon spent driving through neighborhoods and their surrounding (literally) farms, I knew that it was the right backdrop for the story I would tell. 

This place is beautiful. Though, in defense of my narrator, when I chose it I was viewing it during the fall and not during the winter after it's been murdered in the nude.

Middlebury is the quintessential small town. It's green lawns and family-owned restaurants. It's pristine  homes that are still lived in and loved on by the descendants of those who built them. It's faded paint on the side of old barns and dirt on the work boots of the customers at the farm supply store. It's character, earned and well-deserved. 

And I love it.

Part of my research for my book included a pretty extensive* "casting" process. In addition to casting my characters (the details of which I'll save for another own post), I also scouted locations for places that were important to the lives of the people in the story. Their houses, their hangouts, their school. 

I have taken photos of these places (that's not illegal, right?), eaten in the restaurants, and blended in my own coming-of-age with that of my leading lady's so much that when I visit Middlebury now, I have secret hopes of running into her eating pizza at Rulli's, proudly adorned in her boyfriend's letter jacket.

Of course this small town isn't the story's only setting. And while I have fallen more in love with Middlebury, Indiana over the course of writing Songs Eight Six, there are other places my character goes in the book that I would like to visit more it, if only they were real enough and I were eligible to do so. 

*see also, neurotic

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

News from the Writer's Front

I am not a dreamer.  I don't think I've ever really allowed myself to aspire to be or to do because I'm incredibly ungracious with disappointment, so I'd rather not take my changes with the harlot that is ambition.

Part of me, even up until the last period of the last sentence was written in my novel, feared I would never finish the project. The night before I wrote the last two chapters, I had a feeling that the following day I could end the book, and I remembered seriously thinking that that meant I would die in my sleep before the morning came. Before going to bed that night I shared this expectation with my husband as a warning*, and told how I wanted the book to end so he could write it for me posthumously.

(And, that's another reason I sorta felt I was going to die. Because my last name- Posthuma- means "after you die" and is most notably used in conjunction with authors whose work is published WHEN THEY ARE DEAD.)

But, as luck would have it, I didn't bite it before my story had its resolution, and, as a result, my dream I dared not dream--came true.

And honestly, had I known what that was going to feel like, I probably would have dreamed a million dreams before this one. BECAUSE IT WAS AMAZING.

I had asked my family if I could be alone the day I finished the book because, for some reason, it felt like that needed to be a private moment. I definitely wanted to take my turn in celebrating the accomplishment with them, but something inside me was adamant that in those first few moments after, I needed to be alone. 

And, maybe it was because I had suspicions that I was going to SERIOUSLY ugly-cry (which I did), but more than that I think I wanted the freedom to react privately. 

This was also the scenario I asked for last Friday as I prepared to read the letter my editor had written to my publisher about my book. 

Over the course of writing Songs Eight Six, I had several people generous enough with their time to read my story. And honestly, it's because of them cheering me on and rooting for these fictional figments of my imagination that the book will see the light of day. But until my manuscript went to editing, I'd never taken the chance to let someone who DIDN'T know me read it. So, in the back of my mind where Doubt likes to hang out with Self-Consciousness, I wasn't always convinced that everyone loved my story as much as they didn't want to hurt my feelings. 


When I opened the document alone in my bedroom, it was ugly-cry all over again. 

I had been confident in my story, don't get me wrong, but to hear from A REAL-LIFE BOOK EDITOR that my book was everything I hoped it was...well....moments like that should all come with tiaras and roses.

So, all this to say that round one of editing has been completed, and the two-week deadline I had imposed upon myself to get the manuscript back for round two... Well, I didn't need it. As of this morning, I sent it for the final round.

And ever forward we move toward a release date, which - fingers crossed - should be no later than October. 

In the meantime, I've got paper color selections and book size and marketing and blurb writing to do which all make me want to both curl up in the fetal position and shot put a school bus (empty - no children) . I'm both terrified and stoked that this is really happening.   

And grateful. So grateful. For this story, for this journey, and for everyone who has been a part of it.

Stay tuned.

*He knew I was crazy when he married me, and we don't do back-sies

Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Important Lesson, Brought to You by The O.C.

When the first season of The O.C. wrapped back in 2004, I was invited - through a series of fortunate events - to their cast party.

Because I wouldn't believe me either, here's my proof.

There are more pictures, but I'll wait for them to surface in a scandal as my life becomes more notable.

Anyways, this occasion was the first for which I ever flew, in an airplane, in my entire life. Up until that point, I'd never had a reason to get on a plane that I found worthy of facing my fear of flying. And it was't like I even had a well-developed fear. Apart from being forced to watch Alive! in my junior English class (thanks again for that traumatic experience, Mrs. Roberts) I'd never had any personal bad experience with the airline industry. It was more like, "Hmm... I could probably die if the plane crashed, so I can eliminate that possibility 100% if I just avoid flying forever."

Done, and done.

But then, the invite came, and the part of me that was like, YOU WILL GO THERE AND YOU WILL MEET BEN MCKENZIE AND POSSIBLY MAKE OUT WITH THE GUY WHO STANDS IN FOR ADAM BRODY was much more convincing than the distant eleventh grade memories of a soccer team forced into cannibalism, so... I went.

And it was as awesome as you can imagine it was... maybe by inserting into the equation a more current teen drama about rich and attractive people.

Over the past two years, I've realized that much of my life has been lived by the same philosophy that I developed my "fear" of flying.

Somewhere in the abyss of childhood, I'd discovered that life was much more easily lived out by just not participating in it. That if I never attempted anything I didn't know to be 100% foolproof, safe, or easy I never had to face those consequences.

And because of this approach, I didn't die in a plane crash.

Or NOT make the softball team.

Or get rejected as a writer.

Or lots of other things.

But, that doesn't mean that it didn't cost me. Probably a lot more than any of the risk of those things could have.

So, in a very important way writing Songs Eight Six is my own underdog story where the girl faces the giant who is Fear and defies the odds she has stacked against herself and DOES instead of AVOIDS.

And as I count the days until my manuscript comes back to me covered in the scribbles I've always been so afraid of, I am excited that I'm a participant.

And I can't wait for you to read the metaphorical Ben McKenzie that turned me into one.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Trailer, Beta

I really enjoy movie trailers.

I can usually tell within the sixty seconds allotted for them whether or not I want to see the movie.

And since I see on average of six movies a year (INCLUDING Netflix), it's safe to say that most of the time, I don't love the movie trailer enough to want to see a two hour extended version of it.

Until recently, I didn't know that books ALSO have trailers. And until even more recently, I didn't know 1.) that I was supposed to make one and that 2.) how to make one.

I've had mine done for about a month now, and I've been reluctant to post it for a few reasons. Evidently, I've never given due credit to movie-trailer-makers because, DANG, it's hard to condense stories that take two hours to show (or in my case eighteen months and 150,000 words to write) into sixty seconds and do it justice. What further complicated things for me was that I did not have a cool, movie voice narrator at my disposal who can say, "In a world..." with such an epic voice that I actually care about the "world" which he is describing.

You know the voice. And if you don't, Jimmy Fallon can give you an excellent impersonation on YouTube.

Anyway, here's my *first* book trailer for the novel, Songs Eight Six.

(If the video won't play here, visit my Facebook page)

Be the first to try...

Can I just say that I get why authors have blogs?

Because I do. They are writers. Their blogs are like delicious grocery store free samples of what's contained in their larger works, sans decorative toothpick.

And as I now have a larger work from which people can sample morsels, I shall have a blog, too.

No sense in buying a whole package if you can't stand the taste, right?