Tag Archives: character development

Wednesdays with Writers: What if you were all alone and had cancer? Who might take care of your children when you’re gone? Sally Hepworth explores this, as well as social anxiety, domestic violence in THE MOTHER’S PROMISE. Oh, and Bali, new motherhood, character development…

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A powerful and emotionally riveting portrait of what it means to be a family, A MOTHER’S PROMISE is poignant, breath-taking, and authentic, perhaps Hepworth’s best to date. 

I flew through this book, not because the topics touched upon are light-hearted; but because the writing is so smooth, so effortless, so authentic and engaging. But be warned: if domestic abuse (including rough sex), miscarriage, cancer, and social anxiety are triggers for you, by all means, select this book with caution. Still, Hepworth does a remarkable job of presenting these situations in a veiled attempt so that we get the gist of what’s happening, but don’t have to relive every raw moment with her characters.

Alice is a 40 year old single mother raising her daughter, fifteen year old Zoe on her own
; Zoe’s father isn’t exactly in the picture. But then Alice gets sick and is given a grim prognosis, she is befriended by her R.N. and social worker who attempt (sometimes erroneously) to correct the “problem.”

THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is searingly honest, emotional, and not at all sugar-coated. It’s about who one can trust in their network of love and support; it’s about ‘what would you do,’ when there’s not exactly a clear winner. THE MOTHER’S PROMISE reframes what it’s like to be alone, but dependent, it’s about finding that network of support when your own flesh and blood may fail. mother%27s-promise%2c-the

So pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me and Sally as we chat about writing, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, and family.

Leslie Lindsay: Sally, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back! I know from our conversation last year about THE THINGS WE KEEP, you tend to get a lot of story ideas from human interest stories you come across in the media and how it might affect your family. (Hint: me, too…it’s my favorite part of the news). And so, this story THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is no exception. Can you tell us a little about what spurred your TTWK Coverideas into action?

Sally Hepworth: Yes, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE was spurred by the news–an article about a single mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who was searching for a guardian for her eight-year-old son. The woman’s ex-partner was not in the picture, her own parents had passed away and she was an only child. She didn’t have any friends or colleagues who she felt she could ask. I wondered … how does someone end up so alone? I have a big extended family, so this was hard for me to wrap my head around.  I wanted to explore it in a novel. stack-of-newspapers-high-resolution-image2

The more I thought of it, the more I realized there are many ways a person can be alone. Some people are physically alone, others are alone in marriage or a decision. Some claim to feel alone even when people surround them. Before I knew it, I had begun a total exploration of the ways a person can be alone … and the ways they can rejoin the world, even under the toughest of circumstances.

L.L.: I have to say, I fell into the rhythm of reading about Alice and Zoe so quickly.  They were easy to like, slightly flawed, normal people experiencing the extraordinary (in both regards as Alice has cancer and her daughter has debilitating social anxiety). Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for each of these characters? And a little, too about the secondary characters: Kate, the nurse, Sonja the social worker, George the psychologist?

Sally Hepworth: Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the characters before I began writing. I didn’t set out to make Zoe a certain way and Alice another way, I wanted to let them reveal themselves to me as I wrote. The same is true for the secondary characters. I tend to be a planner when it comes to plot but characters tend to unfold organically without too much help from me.

L.L.: You do a lovely job of blending several different storylines and characters, all of which have a hint of dysfunction and a trace of authenticity that has readers question their own situations and whether they made the ‘right’ decisions at the time. Did you set out to write a controversial medical/emotional tearjerker, or did it sort of evolve into that?

Sally Hepworth: I wouldn’t say I ‘set out’ to do anything much other than telling a good story. That is my primary purpose: to entertain. But I think the best way to entertain people in fiction is to make the characters feel real, and the conflicts they face relevant. If I suck the reader in enough to make them question their own situations, I’ve probably done my job properly. 

L.L.: Your knowledge of Zoe’s teen culture is pretty spot-on, but you yourself are mom to three young kids, one just a newborn. Can you talk a bit about how you were able to download-55‘get into the head’ of a 15-year old?

Sally Hepworth: I spent a fair bit of time talking to teenagers for this book–my babysitters, to the teenage kids of friends, the neighbor’s kids—anyone I could. I adore young people, so this was a real pleasure. And I also watched a few teen American movies. But ultimately, I had to just imagine what it would be like to be fifteen and suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder. That is sometimes the most challenging (and interesting) part of being an author—stepping into someone’s else’s reality and being that person (at least for a few pages).

L.L.: What do you hope folks take away from THE MOTHER’S PROMISE?

Sally Hepworth:  That we are better together. Humans are relational beings. We aren’t meant to be alone. Sometimes life throws us hardships to force us to reach out and help one another.

L.L.: We’re early in the year, so what’s on your 2017 “Bucket List?” It doesn’t have to be literary.

Sally Hepworth: We’re building a house at the moment so getting it finished is on my
bucket list. I’ve written all my novels to date at the kitchen table, so it will be lovely to have an office with a wall of bookshelves from which to create. We’re also taking a family holiday to download-56Bali this year, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’d also love to take a trip to the U.S. to meet my editor and the wonderful folk at St. Martin’s, but as I have a newborn, that might have to be on my 2018 bucket list.

L.L.: Is there something I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Sally Hepworth: How about…How am I coping with new motherhood? Let’s just say this. 2+1=150,0000 kids.

L.L.: Sally, a true pleasure! Thanks so much for popping by.

Sally Hepworth:  The pleasure was mine.

For more information, to connect with Sally on social media, or to purchase a copy of THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, please see: 
Sally Hepworth Headshot_highest res_credit Mrs. Smart Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES. New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s debut novel as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”. THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES was also the highest selling debut Australian fiction of the year in 2015.
Sally is also the author of THE THINGS WE KEEP, published in January 2016. The Things We Keep was a Library Journal Pick in the U.S. for January 2016, and an Indie Next Pick in the U.S. for February 2016. NYT bestselling author of The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion praised THE THINGS WE KEEP calling it ‘A compelling read that touches on important themes, not least the different forms that love may take.”
Both novels were published worldwide in English and have been translated into over ten languages. Sally is currently working on her next novel. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the tech world:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of K. Bassel at SMP and used with permission. Teens at cafe retrieved from Wikipedia; image of Bali retrieved from Wikipedia]

Write On, Wednesday: Bestselling Author Lisa Unger on CRAZY LOVE YOU

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By Leslie Lindsay

Okay…I am crazy in love with this book. Having been a Lisa Unger fan for some years, I practically *devoured* this one. CRAZY LOVE YOU (Touchstone, 2015) is a delusional love story bringing out the dark, edgy side of the first male protagonist Unger has written to date: Ian Paine. And we’re lucky—so lucky—to have international bestselling author Lisa Unger here with us today.
L.L.: Immediately, I was taken with Ian’s character, his voice, and his insights. He’s dark, he’s edgy, he’s brilliantly talented when it comes to art and writing. Yet, there’s something darker still. I read another interview Lisa in which you say you woke up one day with ‘this male voice in your head’ (Ian’s) and felt like you were out of your element. Can you talk a little about how you were able to insinuate yourself into his psyche so well?
LISA UNGER:
I am not sure I insinuated myself into Ian’s psyche as much as he insinuated himself into mine. His voice, his motivations, his ideas and struggles were very accessible to me, even though his experiences are far from my own. I treated him as I do all my characters – with compassion, empathy and an open heart. When you treat people that way, they reveal themselves to you. It’s not so different with character. He was unreliable in many ways, and his world was unfamiliar to me. But over time I got to know him pretty well.
I didn’t feel out of my element with Ian per se, but with the idea that he was a graphic novelist, a world I knew very little about. I did a lot of research for that element of the story.
L.L.: Ian hails from the fictional town The Hollows in upstate NY (first mentioned in Unger’s, FRAGILE). The town has a life–an agenda–of it’s own. I’ve always been fascinated with the complexities of land/environment as a story device. In your opinion, can the environment actually become a character all on its own?
LISA UNGER:
We are all intimately connected to our environment. Where we live, why we live there, what we love and hate about it says a lot about us as people. If plot flows from character — and it does– so does setting. Where a story takes place is as important as any other facet of the novel. And everything – plot, character and setting– are so intricately connected as to be inseparable. The Hollows takes this concept to another level because, for me, it has become like the other characters I have met. You’re right; The Hollows does have a personality and an agenda. And it is revealing itself to me in the same way as my characters tend to. I never intended The Hollows to become it’s own entity, a place I would have to explore and discover over a series of books. It surprised me, as my characters often do. And it’s not done with me yet.
L.L.: I certainly don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it is a gifted author who can combine so many elements–hauntings, psychological insights, family dysfunction, and psychics into the mix while still keeping her reader’s hooked and turning the pages. Hooks, are indeed one of those elusive tools author’s need in their toolbox. In fact, sometimes we need to show up with a tackle box! Lisa, do you start out with one hook and then continue to up the ante, or do you have many hooks floating around when you begin and carefully craft the whole? [In other words, are you a pantser or plotter?]
LISA UNGER:
I never think of “hooks” when I’m writing. Whatever elements surface in the writing of a book flow from character. Ian certainly has a number of big issues he’s dealing with, and it would be impossible to get to know him without understanding trauma, addiction, family dysfunction, and the rift between fiction and reality. I don’t plot my stories. They evolve in the writing, and the subjects that wind up being addressed in the telling are organic to character.
 
L.L.: CRAZY LOVE YOU is a darn good psychological thriller but it’s also brimming with a rift of social issues: drugs/alcohol and addiction, post-partum depression/psychosis, child abuse, adult love, imaginary friends…and so it got me thinking about genre. Do you start out with an ‘umbrella’ genre of say, psych suspense and then develop a sort of microcosm of genres as you write? And in the end, does genre even matter?
LISA UNGER:
Much like the concept of “hooks,” I don’t think the writer has any business thinking of “genre.” Those are marketing concepts and have no place in the creative headspace. My advice: write the story that is yours to tell; do it to the best of your ability; hone your craft; get better; do it again. Think about plot, character, prose, setting, atmosphere while you’re writing. But never try to fit your work into a mold created by others. My novels are always going to be dark. I hope they’re suspenseful enough to keep people turning the pages. There will be a deep dive into character, motivation, and relationships. But ultimately it’s up to publishers, booksellers, and readers to decide if they’re mysteries, or thrillers, or suspense, or crime fiction or whatever. I actually have no idea.
L.L.: So, I have to ask a bit about your background. In my “former life,” I was a psychiatric R.N.—I’m no stranger to family dysfunction, addiction, the darkness of depression and the turbulence of psychoses—but do you have a background in psychology, or have you always been ‘just’ a writer’ (1.8 million copies sold worldwide, by the way), or is your writing knowledge a combination of your various jobs and backgrounds?
LISA UNGER:
I have always been a writer, since I was a kid. I have honestly never wanted to be anything else. I will say, though, if I weren’t a writer, I would probably be a psychiatrist. There is nothing more fascinating to me than the human psyche and all it’s various twists, turns and mysteries. So, to that end, I am constantly reading, learning, and researching the topics you mention. All my novels are a combination of my observations, knowledge, imagination, and research. And of course I rely on experts like you when I have questions, or want to spin out possible scenarios.
L.L.: I understand you write daily, you never take breaks (‘too many stories in your head’) and your ‘golden hours’ of productivity tend to be around 5a.m. to noon. And you’re the mom of a little girl. Whew–I’m exhausted just thinking about it! What’s your advice for maintaining balance?
LISA UNGER: Well, the balancing act requires daily adjustments! I used to think there was one perfect (ever elusive) formula for getting everything done every day. But parenthood, like creativity, is a kaleidoscope, changing and shifting with the light. You have to be willing to change with it. My daughter comes first; everything else has to wait until her needs are met. I don’t always get my golden hours, so I tend to think of her school week as my work week, stealing time on nights and weekends to work when need be, or inspiration has been asked to wait. And then I remind myself that it’s a blessing to have a life so full of wonderful things that I love – even when it’s chaotic!
L.L. Okay, I think I’ll stop there. Wait! One more: what happens to Ian’s father in the end?
LISA UNGER:
Aw, come on, Leslie! Did you really think I was going to answer that?! The answer is in there. You have to go back and read it again! (Insert diabolical laughter here.)
L.L. Thanks so very much for popping by and chatting with us, Lisa! Couple of little plugs before we end~Lisa is working on her next book, due out in 2016 and toying with a new-to-her-genre: YA. Stay tuned!
*****
Lisa Unger
New York Times bestselling author of
CRAZY LOVE YOU (Feb 2015)
Lisa Unger is the bestselling author of 13 novels and several short stories. CRAZY LOVE YOU is her latest release. IN THE BLOOD, now in paperback, was a 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Book, Amazon Best Book of the Month, Suspense Magazine Best Books of 2014, Sun Sentinel Best Mystery Novels of 2014 and Indie Next Pick

 

Write On, Wednesday Thursday: What you can learn by reading a bad book

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My critique partner and I love to, well…critique. It’s part of the job. Occupational hazard. We critique our own work, we critique each other’s. We gripe about good authors who write bad books and bad authors who write good books.  We compare ourselves to other debut authors–what have they got that we don’t?  What made an agent sign them, but not us?  We love to find fault with characters and plot, and dumb sentences.

We aren’t perfect. Therefore, we can’t possibly write a perfect book. No one can. In this business, we find that there’s a buzzword: subjective. What I like, she may not. What she likes, I am may find garbage. And then there’s the whole literary agent rejection letter, “We wish you all the best, and please keep in mind that this is just one opinion and another agent my feel differently.” [hint: subjective].

So, what can be gained by reading a so-called ‘bad’ book?

A lot. For one, we learn what we don’t like.

Be it too many f-bombs, or too many details about what the character is wearing. Or, perhaps too few details about the character’s style. If I don’t know if the protagonist prefers plaid to cashmere, then I can’t “see” her properly. Authors don’t need to be overt about this, but to weave it into the threads of the story.

If I can’t relate or sympathize with the lead character, then it’s over. We need to care on some level. We may not care about the entire character, but we need to care about some aspect of her. A recent book (I won’t say which, don’t want to offend anyone), had a female charcter that seemd too whiny and needy. Did I *not* care about her? No. I cared. But here’s why: she was also pregnant. Maybe she’s more hormonal because of that, um…little parasite growing in her uterus. Makes sense. I could relate to her because I’m a mother have have been pregnant twice. I know the twinges, the tightness, the feeling of oh-so responsible-ness. So, even though this character wasn’t my all-time favorite, I still enjoyed her story.

Bad books teach us:

  • What to do and what not to do as writers
  • To layer in plot, character traits, sub-plot, because being overt about it is, well…dumb
  • To avoid ‘habit’ words. Those are words like, ‘so,’ ‘but,’ ‘and,’ ‘were/was,’ etc. In one book I was very distracted by them. “So, he ….”  Get rid of the ‘so,’ and jump in with what he actually did. ‘So’ is a filler. ‘So’ may be how we talk in real life, but in books, it’s needs to read clean and snappy.
  • Avoid cliches. They’re hard, I know. I want to slip them in, too but when I read them in a published book, I get it…they don’t add a thing. Don’t use them.
  • Let your reader putz through a few slighty confusing passages, that is–let her puzzle it out. You don’t have to be writing a mystery to do this. Just don’t give all of the facts all at once. Give some nebulous ones, a little pliability won’t hurt.

As for “good” books–we’ll tackle that next week!

Write on, Wednesday. Thursday.

Write on, Wednesday: The Benefit of Book Trailers

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By Leslie LindsayWrite On, Wednesday:  Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You're Having an Affair

No doubt you’ve heard of a movie trailer, right?  The commericial-style blurb about an upcoming or already-showing movie–a sneak-peak of the funniest/most romantic/endearing/action-packed segments that leave you eager for more.  But a book trailer?!?  What the heck is that?!

Simply put, a book trailer is another means of bringing attention to a book and/or the author.  We live in a media age–from iPhones to streaming videos and music from our laptops, reading is now becoming a little well–mainstream.  Not that I agree with the novelty of it, but I do agree that there is something to say for the efficiency of electronic devices.  Again, it’s still a concept I struggle with. 

If you’re into book trailers, then great!  It’s yet another avenue to reach potential readers.  Here’s a list of “fantastic book trailers and why they are so fantastic:” http://therumpus.net/2013/06/fantastic-book-trailers-and-the-reasons-theyre-so-good/ 

One of my favorites is from Deb Caletti’s HE’S GONE (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz-n4-TSDGA Wow–this one starts out almost exactly like the book (see Deb’s interview from last week’s post).  Yet, it’s different–I “saw” Dani differently in my mind’s eye and seeing her in the book trailer through off my perspective and shook my imagination.  While the HE’S GONE trailer had me wanting more, I know, from past experience that movies are hardly ever as good as the book. 

If multimedia platform development speaks to you, consider yourself lucky.  Writers and authors today are expected to do the lion’s share of marketing and promotion of their work–even with agents and publicists on board.  Making connections, reaching out to (potential) readers, and being personable is all an added value to the busy author. 

Are  you a luddite when it comes to technology?  Would you rather just hole up and write your All-American novel while someone else markets your book?  (Son’t worry–I’m right there with ya). Try this writerly assignment instead: 

  • If your book were to be a movie, who would direct it? 
  • What about cinematogrpahy?  Would you have it documentary style?  Close panning of the camera?  Wide-shots? 
  • What soundtrack might you give your “movie”/book?  (a favorite on-going excercise for me to to download songs from iTunes which I think are inspirational for my story &/or character)
  • Who would play the part of your antagonist and protagonist?  What character traits (in movies or TV) do they embody?  Perhaps they are a conglomeration of several characters?  (My “Steve” is Dr. Gregory House mixed with Jerry Seinfeld; my “Joe” is Pierce Brosnan, “Beth” is Claire Danes).
  • Create a collage of your book.  Pull from magazines, catalogs, even on-line images.  Print ’em off develop a “story board” collage.  Images often help create flow.  (I’m actually planning to make “character cards” with an image I think resembles my character along with vital data and goals, fears, etc.  I may even laminate them so I can carry along when I work remotely). 

For more ideas on book marketing and promotion–and making you own book trailer, see:

Coming up Next Week:  Interview with debut novelist Karen Brown on THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS.