Monday, September 22, 2014

That moment...

I think I'm turning into a skeptic as a reader. I find it harder and harder to find a book that grabs me. Walking into the library or a bookshop can be daunting, because how do you choose a book - just one book? I wonder if it's my work in publishing, and as an editor, that has made me so analytical of the finished product, but whatever it is, there is one moment which makes it gratifying. It's that moment when you know, regardless of what it is that sparks it, that this is the book for you.

I remember a friend giving me a copy of The Hunger Games to read. I'd heard a lot of build up about the movie, and of course I'd already seen merchandising showing Jennifer Lawrence playing the lead. Having already seen Jennifer in The Burning Plain and Winter's Bone, and X-Men was a 'coming soon' feature, Jennifer was already a personal favourite, so I knew I had to see this movie, and naturally I like to read the book before I see the movie. Sometimes it's the other way around, but not very often. I think once you've seen the movie, the book becomes somewhat less of an enigma, because the characters have already been brought to life before your eyes.

I'll admit, the thought of a book in which kids kill each other kind of turned my stomach, right up until the games began. Even then, Katniss was written in such a way that you just couldn't imagine her killing anyone. Until the point... (look away if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I'm about to spoil it)... the point when Katniss finds out that Peeta has joined an alliance. For me, it was a light bulb moment and I knew I was hooked. It was all on! Katniss had been betrayed and it was only right that she should fight to win.

There's a Gerard Butler movie I remember that does almost the same thing. For the first half of the movie, you're rooting for Gerard's character. He basically gets talked into pleading guilty for a lesser charge to something he didn't do, and he goes to jail for it. He plots to seek revenge on those who did him wrong, which seems fair to begin with. So, as the viewer, you're with him. But when he kills a young member of the attorney's team, someone who inadvertently got caught up in the plot, suddenly your loyalties switch sides. Well, mine did, anyway. I'm not sure if that's what the writer intended, but certainly by the end of the movie the 'baddies' have become the 'goodies'. It's very cleverly done in my opinion.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to witness someone being 'hooked' by one of my books. It happened right before my eyes. Her expression kind of glazed over while she was reading and she became oblivious to everything else. She'd been successfully transported from real world to my fictional world. For a writer, that's pure magic. It makes the whole process worthwhile.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A congregation of characters

I was wondering what would happen if all my main female characters came together in one room... How would they interact? Would they be similar in mind and like so that they would all immediately like each other and get along?

So then I started analysing them. Of course, in the real world, women who are completely different, from opposite walks of life, do strike up friendships, so it's hard to know, really, whether my characters would be friends or not. I guess the real question I was asking myself was, as a writer, do I write all my characters similarly, or are they completely contrasting?

Let's find out...

We'll start with Cassie, my first and probably most beloved character to come to full fruition in a book. I have to be careful here and not write any spoilers - I don't want to give anything away to potential readers, so I'll try and stick to character traits rather than what they've been through.

Cassie gets along with most people. She's a people-pleaser. Family oriented with strong basic values, she's still learning to put herself first, but after much hardship, she's getting her life back on track. She was pregnant at a young age and married young, so a career has never been high on the priority list and money has never been an issue.

I'm going to skip to Alex from Alexandra the Great next, for one simple reason: she has already met Cassie. It was a natural progression for me, because both stories briefly involved hospitals, and the setting and timeline were easily matched for the two characters to come together. Alex and Cassie are very different in one respect - Alex is career focused and manages her own business, but they are similar in background: they both have tragic pasts and many hardships that have been overcome. Is that enough to make them solid friends?

Kirsten from Beside the Brook is younger than these two characters. She hasn't come from a tragic past, but a normal, straight-laced family with solid values: values she carries with her and is not afraid to voice. Her flaring red-haired nature gets her into hot water sometimes, but her heart is always in the right place.

Adrienne from A Diamond in the Dust is also very sure of herself. She knows what she wants from life, but unlike Kirsten, she tends to be a bit more secretive about that. She's strong: she's beat the odds. She knows life is precious and she's very resourceful. Given the right circumstances, she might give Sarah Connor a run for her money.

Then there's Jess. She had her life ripped apart early on and her heart never really mended. She put up a wall so that it wouldn't happen again - to focus on building a business, a grand home and a stately life. She's proud of who she is and the people she lets inside the walls. Her 'family' is her rock but she's very careful about who she lets in. She's fiercely loyal and would do anything to keep those she loves safe.

Last but not least there's Briley. She likes to look for the silver lining in any situation rather than focus on the negative. She comes from solid country stock, where a spade is always called a spade, but she feels a little bit like the black sheep of the family because she left farming behind and chose instead to live in the city. Like Cassie, she married and had children young, so a career or money has never been the focus of her life.

I'm sure from a reader's perspective, there's some similar flavour to all of my novels, but I'm not sure whether it's within the characters I write or rather just my general style of writing. I can't answer that. Only my readers can.

I think my characters have enough in common that they would certainly be able to converse and have a good time all together. There is huge potential there for friendships. Let's just leave the rest to the imagination...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gone with the Wind...but not forgotten

Okay, so I'm in my forties and I've never seen, or read, Gone with the Wind.

There's something delightful about the Christmas period when old movies come out of the woodwork to grace our television screens, and New Years' Day this year saw me sitting in my sleepwear, coffee in hand, magically no ads except the odd infomercial to interrupt, watching Katie Scarlett O'Hara telling her story of the Old South and her rollercoaster relationship with the infamous Rhett Butler.

So, laughably, my husband and I chortled over how bad the acting was, but, like anything else, the whole movie world has changed so many times through the years between when this was made and now that it can easily be excused. It's easy to compare it to a 2013 blockbuster, but when you think of the restraints of movie making back then, it really would have been quite spectacular. The scene where Scarlett goes looking for the doctor when Melanie is in labour was so 'extra' intensive, I'm sure it would have been quite ahead of its time. All those injured soldiers lying wounded and dying on the ground...

Like many stories from its time, Gone with the Wind is filled with drama, tragedy, loss and heartbreak. Scarlett's character is compared to the transition of the South, representing the change of Georgia before, during and after the war. I'm not sure if this is what the author had intended, but like all classics, it has been analysed, or maybe over-analysed.

As a movie watcher, I was disappointed by the end of the story. Rhett leaves, completely indifferent to what happens to Scarlett or their relationship. He's given up, had enough, thrown in the towel. As for Scarlett, she's a little less disappointing, but still not resolved. She's worked out she doesn't really love Ashley - he's not what she had built up in her mind over all those years she pined for him. She actually loves Rhett and was too blind to see or acknowledge it, and they were both too stubborn to just say it to each other. A common character conflict that has seemingly endured through the decades of storytelling, translating directly through to modern rom-coms, romance novels and contemporary romance. What got me is that ALL the threads of the story are completely left hanging. Scarlett decides she must go home to Tara once more to sort herself out and work out how she will get Rhett back. Everything from there on finishes with a question mark in my mind. For a start, how will her sister react? Scarlett stole her husband for her own gain and that thread was never resolved in the movie (I can't say if it was in the book, having not read it). What will become of Ashley? Yes, he has a business to continue and a son to look after, but didn't Scarlett promise Melanie she would take care of them both?

As a writer, I love this ending...it provokes the reader/viewer to ask these questions and think about the possibilities, long after they've finished reading/watching.

I was initially surprised that Margaret Mitchell only ever had one novel published...but as a writer, if I could write one book, a book that was translated to the big screen like this one, its characters bought to life and remembered as real people, I would be happy.