Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I love it when....

I love it when I find one of my character's faces being sported by someone in the real world. Especially when I'm not looking for it. A few days ago I was watching a film set in the 1800s, Prussia and Canada, and was taken aback by a traveling peddler character who looked remarkably like Karl Gottfriedsen, my traveling peddler character in KINDRED. Though a minor character in my story, he was one who sprang to life quite vividly.

Jan Rubes, born June 6, 1920, in Volyne, Czechoslovakia (Now the Czech Republic), died June 29, 2009, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Excerpt from KINDRED, Copyright 2009 by Lori Benton

The mule lowered its head, puffing plumes of breath. The peddler gaped at Ian.
“You—the nephew of Hugh Cameron—would rob me?”

Ian reached for the man. Gottfriedsen set the brake and scrambled off the far side of the wagon with such haste his round-brimmed hat tumbled to the mud. Ian vaulted from the saddle in pursuit, but there was no need. Gottfriedsen had scurried to the rear of the wagon, unbolted and flung wide its painted doors. Lifting placating hands, he took a step back from Ian, who towered over him.

“You look for these things on the paper. You won’t find.”

“I had better find, or have their price back in coin.” Feeling absurdly like a highwayman, Ian withdrew his pistol and gestured with it. “I want ye in there, with me.”

The man ducked his balding head and complied, joints creaking as he hoisted himself into the wagon. Ian climbed after him into a narrow confine of hanging tin and rag-wrapped stoneware, of crates and chests with innumerable drawers. Light from the open doors fell across the clutter to a corner where folded blankets rested on an upturned crate. Ian took a seat on the crate, keeping the pistol aimed, and consulted his list.

“Right then. First item.”

Halfway through Rosalyn’s lengthy description of the brooch, the little man bobbed his head, eyes trained on the pistol. “Ringed with the seed pearls, ja, with the leather casing. To the pretty daughter I sell.”

“She claims she paid your price—”

“She did.”

Ian held up a hand. “And after ye went to the stable for the night she had second thoughts, thinking to make a different choice from your wares come the morning, so she left the brooch on the table in the dining room, with the things my aunt purchased. And then,” he drew breath in the midst of the recital, “in the night ye entered the house and took back the brooch, and a mold for six candles, a snuffer—” He glanced at the list. “And a pierced-tin lantern, and were gone ere the theft was discovered.”

Color flushed Gottfriedsen’s lined and sagging cheeks. His breath made an indignant puff in the chill air. “A false accusation against me. I will show.”

With small, half-flinching motions, he took down the nearest chest, stained dark with age, removed his mittens and began rummaging within. Gottfriedsen’s hands were bird-like, red with chilblains, and shaking. Ian watched the man, in case he got it into his head to snatch for some object suitable for attack.

The first chest was stocked with soap. When a heap of the scented stuff lay on the floorboards, Gottfriedsen turned the chest up for Ian’s viewing. “You see a brooch? No brooch.” He swiped a coat sleeve beneath his nose, and reached for another chest.

There were countless places in the wagon to stash an item as small as a brooch, places the uninitiated might never find—without dismantling the conveyance down to kindling. A search in this mode could take the day.

“Mr. Gottfriedsen,” Ian began, but noticed that the man had stopped pawing through the second chest, and stilled. He couldn’t see the peddler’s face, but there was light enough to see the color rising up the back of the scrawny neck poking from a frayed coat collar. Slowly, Gottfriedsen turned, blinking at the thing in his hand. He moistened thin, chapped lips and gently placed the brooch he’d sold to Rosalyn between them on the wagon’s planked floor.

[end excerpt]

Monday, September 28, 2009

All's Quiet

Been pretty quiet around here. This waiting period stretches out, but I'm content with it. I've spent the past week reading, more so than writing, and while much of what I'm reading is research for WILLA (and some of it is fiction, which is necessary for filling the story-telling well), when I'm not writing--seriously writing, for several hours a day at least--I feel incomplete. Uneasy. A tad bit guilty. 

Today my prayer is that despite the ton of research material I still need to work my way through to tell Willa Obenchain's story, despite the siren call of good novels (thank you, Lord, for good novels!), that I will strike the balance of writing and research and reading that doesn't leave me feeling like my world has tilted a bit off kilter. And use my time wisely.

Here's to moderation in all things!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Proposal

This morning I'm finishing up a proposal for Kindred, requested by an agent I met back in April, at Mount Hermon.

Every agent requests the material included in a proposal in a slightly different form. This agent's guidelines, available on his website, are quite detailed and asked some really good questions to help distill a story down to its essence. I don't find this process easy, but it's certainly valuable and I think something I'll improve upon with practice.

He asked for the first 50 pages. It's been a couple of months since I last looked at them, so I decided to edit through them before printing them out. Glad I did. I trimmed out another 700 words from the section (the first 6 chapters), and shortened the ms by two pages. Makes me think another full blown edit is in order, but... I'll wait on that. I could keep trimming line by line and probably make a fairly respectable dent in the word count, but I still feel there are some macro edits that could be done, should be done first. I don't have the eyes to see just what those are at present, which is why I set Kindred aside to work on Willa. For now. Whenever I have a plan of attack, I'll delve back into K.

Now I must go think about things like Promo Sentences, Sales Handles, Back Cover Copy and my Purpose For Writing This Novel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thinking about Denver

... and all the writers at the ACFW conference this weekend. Many of you are friends, many are acquaintances, many publish books I love to read. I think you all are some of the coolest people on this earth and I wish I could have joined you there in Denver this year.

May you be blessed.

May you be blessings.

May not one of you go away without inspiration, or enlightenment, or direction, or encouragement.

May God do exceedingly abundantly above all you could ask or imagine, according to the power that works in you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More KINDRED news

Got a SASE back from from an agent in the midst of my creation today, and it wasn't a rejection! I've been asked to submit a proposal and sample chapters of KINDRED.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Kindred news

Good news. Here.

Edited to add (and to play with the new upgraded composer): Kindred is a finalist in the Audience-with-an-Agent Contest at Novel Matters blog. Details in the link above.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Living History

I love it when the perfect research source turns up on the first page of a Google search. For WILLA, I need to learn about 18th century naturalists in the American Colonies, the Revolutionary War, and just after.
Willa stood over the man. His brows were tightly bunched now. The evidence of pain roused her into action. She began unloading her basket. When the man still hadn’t stirred by the time she lit the fire, so conveniently laid for her, and swung the water likewise provided nearer the flames, she checked to be sure he was still breathing, then removed from the travois the items she had found at the base of the ridge where he had fallen, and set them in a row beside the hearth.
What were those items?

Anticipating that I'd need to know in some detail as I wrote WILLA, I found Cathy Johnson's site. Cathy is a living historian who has set up "as a working artist/naturalist of the early 19th century." She's also published her expertise in book form, which I have open before me.
"The living historian literally tries to bring the past to life, to breathe the breath of humanity into dry facts by dress, speech and action. It's a kind of performance history, an on-the-spot reenactment of a time from our past."
Cathy's book, DRAWING ON THE PAST (Graphics/Fine Arts Press) is full of drawings of the equipment early naturalists would have taken into the field.

So what did Willa remove from the travois?
Canteen, large satchel, narrow leather pouch. A small round glass with a handle. And a strange container made of tin, round-sided and long, with a strap for carrying and a sliding wire pin for a clasp. The blanket she had found with him was damp. She spread it on the floor to dry.
Certainly not an exhaustive list of the equipment such a naturalist would have with him, but why this particular naturalist is missing the greater part of his gear... that's a story that will be told in other places.

Friday, September 04, 2009

This week's blogs of note

And a Kindred update, sort of. But first the blogs:

Rachelle Gardner blogged on the Purpose of Christian Publishing.

Nathan Bransford had a Writer Appreciation Week, beginning with this post.

Kaye Dacus has a series (on going now for two weeks) on Bad Guys (and, presumably, girls), beginning with this post.

I think the Novel Matters blog is worthy of reading every day, no matter what they're talking about.

And what's up with Kindred? I'm still waiting, that's what. Another agent passed on it. I have another query out, and the whole manuscript is still being reviewed (in theory... doubts assail in the long silence, but I beat them back). I should go back to my agent research and send out another handful of queries, but on the other hand... I'd like to wait and see what those considering it now will ultimately decide to do.

I'm right glad God's in control. My times (and novels) are in His hands. Knowing that frees me up to rediscover the joy of story-crafting (Willa!) without a whole lot of concern about what the final outcome of the uncountable hours I've spent at this endeavor will be.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Naming Game

I'm in the process of fleshing out the cast of WILLA, my new historical (1784, New York), and I'm having fun with names.

I find it interesting how names get attached to various characters, and how different the process is for each, as individual as the characters themselves. Sometimes a name springs out of the ether, so to speak, and a character evolves to wear that name. This is what happened with my protagonist, Willa. Her full Christian name (she has others) is Wilhelmina Dagna Obenchain. A mouthful, that, but I knew her first as Willa of Ramshackle, and saw her as a middle-aged woman, of German heritage, wise in the ways of herbs, both European/Colonial and Native, puttering outside a backwoods cabin in her herb garden. The story I'm writing tells how she became that woman.

Obenchain is the name of a street not far from where I live. I get a lot of names from street signs.

Another major character, Neil MacGregor, I've lifted from an unfinished contemporary story (which the cancer interrupted ten years ago, and never could get my mind wrapped around it again to finish it). It's been interesting to see how he has changed in small ways after transplanting him into the 18th century, giving him as near an approximation of back story and current challenges and goals as I could. Despite having survived a similar devastation as I'd created for him in the contemporary story, my historical Neil is emotionally stronger, spiritually centered, and far less angst-ridden than his contemporary version. Is it because it was a time when men were men? (wink)

I like to hunt up photos of actors, or just random folk, for a visual representation of my characters. Sometimes I have a general idea what sort of character someone will be, but I haven't settled on a name. I throw names at them like pasta at a wall, to see if one will stick. Often one will early on, but sometimes I need to find the visual template first. This happened with my antagonist, Richard Waring. I had his last name chosen for the way it looks on the page. It's pronounced WARE-ing, but it looks like "warring" and that word says a lot about Richard. Anyway, no first name would stick to him, until I found his face. He's James Preston Rogers, but he's also Richard.

I also have Mohawk characters to name. This required tracking down resources with Iroquois names, their tribe, clan and meaning, which happily I managed to do, at least for a short list. As well as their Mohawk names, these characters have Christian names too. For Joseph Stillwater/Theyanoguin (Long-Bow, or perhaps The Western Door is Open), I've cast Eric Schweig, as he looked in a movie called The Broken Chain.

I had to think through why this character has both of those names. They weren't chosen arbitrarily by those who gave them to him, or in the case of his Christian name, why he chose it for himself. So I couldn't choose them arbitrarily either. I had to understand Joseph, his history, his soul, to understand why he bears the names he does. All that required hours of thought and research. On a name! For one character!

Once the main cast has been named, I start naming secondary and minor characters. I make sure they go well with the main cast's names. Not too many starting with the same letter, or all of them two-syllables, or too many of them ending in "a" or any other sound. I like to include as many different ethnic names as possible, to represent the melting pot that was the American frontier in the 18th C. In this story will be Irish, Scottish, German, and Mohawk, for starters. There's a wealth of obscure Biblical names to draw from, which were in use at the time, as any perusal of early census records will reveal. Census records, especially from 1790, are a gold mind. So is my family tree.

What I love best is when a character has remained nebulous to me, refusing to declare herself, but I find a name and it sticks and suddenly she's living and moving and having her being, as though the name were all the magic it needed to animate her, and get her to spill her life story to me, and what she wants, and how she means to get it.

Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of novel writing. Anyone else have other ways of naming their characters?