Showing posts with label characterization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label characterization. Show all posts

17 July 2017

Cats and Gats

by Steve Liskow   

Last Friday, my wife Barbara and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.
For 31 of those years, we've had from one to three cats, and knowing that Ernie and Jewel will probably be our last pets is disconcerting, especially since both are developing health issues at a much younger age than we expected. Jewel has been on steroids (forfeiting her football scholarship) for nearly two years to fight her asthma (yes, cats get asthma!) and she's beginning to exhibit some of the side effects that the drug can cause.

Ernie has developed stage two kidney disease. So far, he loves his diet food--he has always eaten like a teen-aged boy--and is responding well to the blood pressure meds he takes because of the kidney problem. But both cats are only nine years old, and they've been together almost from Ernie's birth.

Barb and I met at a theater audition not long after I'd adopted a cat from someone who couldn't keep her. Many of out theater friends pointed out that cats fend for themselves more easily than dogs--which we both grew up with--if their servants have a schedule that involves late rehearsals or travel.

Cats are better teachers, too. They can demonstrate everything an actor needs to know about concentration, and they help me with my writing now because they give me a sense of proportion. Dogs may pretend they like a chapter because they want you to feed them. Cats don't care. If you don't feed them, they'll go out and kill something...or tear up the couch and stare at you so you understand it was your own damn fault.

A character in Jodi Picoult's House Rules claims that all cats have Asperger's syndrome, and it may be true. If you have a cat, you know it's always about them. Cats are narcissists at heart, and that fits well with some of the great villains in literature: Moriarty, Goldfinger, Hannibal Lector, or Edmund in King Lear. When cats stalk their prey, they model a focus that can be truly frightening, but the also convey a calculation that works with either villains or sleuths.

Cats can help you depict character quickly in other ways, too. What does it show you if a person doesn't like animals--or, better yet, if animals don't like him? Fran Rizer's Callie Parrish has a Great Dane. Robert Crais gave Elvis Cole a feral cat. He's just called "Cat," which says it all, doesn't it? Linda Barnes's PI Carlotta Carlyle has a cat, too. Megan Traine, the female protagonist of my Chris "Woody" Guthrie novels, has two cats. She named the tuxedo with double paws Clydesdale (usually "Clyde"), and calls his calico sister Bonnie.

Remember the Disney film That Darn Cat (I know I'm dating myself here)? Dean Jones's character was allergic to cats, and it helped deepen his character. Clint Eastwood played a New Orleans detective with two children in 1984's Tightrope, and a crucial scene shows the family dog stuffed into a clothes drier. What does that tell us about the bad guy? Don't worry, he gets what's coming to him.

Many publishers and contests stipulate that an animal can't be killed or tortured in the story, and that just shows ho much most of us value pets. Watch the memes and petitions on Facebook if someone mistreats an animal. Some of my neighbors complain when a rabbit or raccoon gets into their garden, but sometimes I think I'd rather have a raccoon, rabbit, skunk, fox or coyote living across the street instead. We wouldn't talk politics and they take care of their space.

12 December 2013

Good Character / Bad Character

by Janice Law

I’ve been reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens, and I was once again struck by his emotional reaction to his characters, especially to Little Nell of The Old Curiosity Shop, a typical Victorian saintly child, whose precarious situation and dodgy health provoked transatlantic anxieties. Folks actually met British steamers at the New York docks to get the latest news of this Dickens’ heroine.

Few of us will create such emotional havoc in our readers and today the internet spills the beans via blogs or Twitter. But it got me thinking about writers’ relationships with characters, in particular, with the way that some characters just write like a dream while others resist their translation to print and even when successful represent a long, hard slog.

I can hear the amateur psychologists in the background muttering about covert self portraits and sub-conscious impulses. Frankly, I hope that’s not true, because the characters that I’ve had the most trouble with are the virtuous ones, while certain weird and wicked people just jumped off the page.

Of course, evil is stock in trade for the mystery writer. But even slightly off that homicidal reservation I’ve found that the wicked make good copy. Years ago, I wrote All the King’s Ladies, an historical novel set at the court of Louis XIV and based on the Affair of the Poisons. Two particularly heinous characters, the Abbe LeSage, a defrocked priest, Black Mass celebrant, and pedophile, and Madame Voisin, abortionist, vendor of love potions, and poisoner were among the easiest characters I’ve ever written.

I might have trouble with the King, with his various ambitious ladies, or with the celebrated Police Commissioner De La Reynie but never with LeSage or Voisin, who greeted me each morning with snappy dialogue and wholly unrepentant attitudes. Given their habits, I really think I would have found them unbearable if they hadn’t also possessed a sort of gleeful energy, which makes me think that robust vitality trumps any number of other virtues – at least on the page.

Short mystery stories are the natural habitat of such types. The short story needs punch and compression, and characters need to be sharply drawn if they are to make an impact in the handful of pages allotted to them. For this reason, I have always favored either first person narratives or single point of view for the form.

But even in mysteries, evil needs to be the seasoning, not the main dish. In All the King’s Ladies, LeSage and La Voisin were minor characters, however vital, and I only occasionally, as in The Writing Workshop about a writer’s murderous search for a sympathetic editor, write a story entirely from the point of view of a cold-blooded perpetrator.

More usually, the narrator is either an observer who only gradually realizes that his or her friend or acquaintance is up to no good or else is drawn into crime by circumstances only partly beyond control. And here, I think, personal tastes and interests do sometimes surface. I found the would-be literary writer who moonlights in fantasy novels in The Ghost Writer sympathetic because he had, like most writers, little rituals to help him get into the writing mode.

The drug dealer’s girlfriend in Star of the Silver Screen lived a totally different sort of life from mine, but she shared my taste for old movies and found a surprising hiding place within movie fantasies. On the other hand, I didn’t like the heroine of The Summer of the Strangler, though I was sympathetic to her role as editor for her philandering husband. Still, she wrote very nicely, in part because she lived in the suburban Connecticut town were I spent a quarter of a century.
So what is my relationship with my characters? I don’t love them like Dickens, and I’ve only become fond enough of a couple to keep writing about them. Anna Peters ran to nine novels, and Madame Selina and her assistant Nip Tompkins look set for several more outings in the short story markets.

As for my relations with the rest, they are curious. Some writers create elaborate backstories for their characters and can tell you their genealogies and private histories. Not me. Maybe it’s an exaggerated respect for the privacy of imaginary beings, but I only know what they choose to reveal. Characters start talking to me and telling me things and I write them down. That’s about it.
Sometimes they tell me a lot and they wind up in a novel. Other times their visits are brief and end in fatality; they’re destined for short stories. To me, a good character has a distinctive voice, insinuating ideas, and mild obsession. Plus, a taste for gossiping – with me.

22 March 2013

Theory on the Origin of the Muse

(or: Character/Idea Generation Eccentricities Pt. II) 
Terpsichore (a muse), marble, John Walsh 1771 

by Dixon Hill

Prologue:

About five weeks ago, Louis Willis posted an article concerning character development and the impact it has on a writer’s sanity. In the Comments section of that post, I cited earlier comments made by Fran, Elizabeth and R.T., and explained that my system of character creation/development was sort of a “rough hybrid” of certain ideas they had espoused.

Inspired by Louis’ post, I wrote my own post (2 weeks ago), in which I explained how I sometimes incorporate daydreaming and play into my methodology for character development. This post partially clarified what I meant in my own comments on Louis’ post. And, I mentioned something Fran had written, in her comments about Louis’s post, to hopefully help facilitate my explanation.

Today, I will expand that explanation by noting how some comments made by Elizabeth illustrate ideas that sometimes figure into the “primordial stew” of my character development. Additionally, I’d like to touch on the importance of “non-daydream dreaming” -- as I believe it factors into the equation.

(I’d like to take a moment to make it clear, here, that: Though I might quote Fran, Elizabeth or RT in order to use their quotes as springboards for my own ideas, they are just (and ONLY) that -- Springboards. You should not think I am speaking for them. I can only speak for myself, in this realm, and would not want anyone to think I’m trying to convey what Fran, Elizabeth or RT may actually believe concerning the subject at hand. Such clarification, I would leave up to them.

Further: This series of essays concerns the manner in which I have sometimes created characters and/or plot in my own successful writing. The reader, however, should not construe this as meaning that I believe the methods outlined are the “right ones” or the “only methods” that a writer may use. Instead, my objective is merely to share methods I have used in the past -- for those who may have an interest in such techniques – and to possibly theorize about the psychological origins of these methods, as well as their possible link to the origin of the Greek term “Muse.”)

That Being Said . . .

Elizabeth wrote, in her comment on Louis’s article about character creation: "...the character starts talking in my head. I simply write down what he or she says..."

This sometimes happens to me, too. And, I always think I’m really lucky when it does. Because, a character who starts talking in my head usually has a humdinger of a story to tell, and s/he tells it very forcefully.

In my opinion, such “character force” really adds punch to writing -- even in the first draft. A character like that is often angry, hurt and bursting with story. You cut ‘em, man, and they just spill their guts all over the place. It spews out hot and strong; they’re not shy. And, what they say will cut a reader to the emotional quick. Very powerful stuff.

What is this voice?

Well, the voice is my imagination, of course. But, in a very important way, it’s more than that, because -- while each voice is inarguably a part of me, generated by my own imagination -- it also stands apart from me, extremely alien to the thoughts that had, moments ago, been dominating my conscious mind.

This sort of voice is what I often think the ancient poets were speaking of, when they coined the term “muse,” perhaps because it seemed as if the gods must have injected the thought -- wholly unexpected by the thinker -- straight into the thinker’s mind.

My belief, however, is that these voices in my head are generated by my subconscious. I suspect that the reason I’m often startled by them, and surprised when they speak out in my mind, is because they’re created when a subconscious thought bubbles up into my conscious mind.

"Three Sphinxes of Bikini"  Salvador Dali
Vast areas of the human brain and intellect remain uncharted. In many cases, we currently don’t even have an inkling of what questions we should be asking -- concerning thought, the mind, or the brain -- in order to get the answers we would need, if we are to increase our knowledge in this realm.

One thing I believe most researchers agree on, however, is: Among other tasks, our “subconscious” is that portion of our thinking which generates dreams. And, our dreams (mine, at least -- and I assume yours also) are populated by people and creatures that are not silent. They speak to us. In some cases, even when they don’t use words, their body language and facial expressions leave us feeling that they desperately desire to communicate some intangible idea to us. This can sometimes be an idea we (our dreaming selves) intuit as having great importance of some kind.

I often find that the “voice” comes when I’m looking at something that ignites my interest. A few seconds or minutes later, as I’m concentrating on that visual “igniter” (or catalyst), a voice suddenly, and surprisingly speaks out in my head. Conversely, on rarer instances, when I’m listening intently to some auditory catalyst, an unexpected image (or “vision”) will suddenly explode across my mind’s eye.

I believe the intersect between the conscious mind and the subconscious is one of those largely-uncharted areas I discussed a few paragraphs earlier. And, the theory I would postulate (I know of absolutely no scientific evidence to support this theory, I might warn you!) is that, when the subconscious tries to communicate with our conscious brain, it does so through it’s dream-generation mechanism.

When I’m looking at a visual catalyst, my eyes and the visual centers of my brain are already fully engaged, so I hear a voice -- the auditory portion of a dream (according to my theory) that’s generated by my subconscious, and communicated to my conscious mind through that portion it can access: a sort of “bridge to conscious thought,” if you will. Likewise, when my auditory senses are already engaged by a catalyst, I receive the visual portion of a waking dream, because my visual senses are not engaged, leaving that pathway open to my subconscious’ intrusion on my thoughts.

In other words, I believe these “voices” and “visions” are the result of my subconscious using dream-mechanism-stimulation to communicate with my waking mind, along pathways that are not (at that moment) tied-up in the reception of catalytic stimulus.

This is why I say that the voice I sometimes hear is created “when a subconscious thought bubbles up into my conscious mind.” Additionally: I believe, this is why -- while the thought obviously comes from my own mind -- it also seems alien, and apart from me. Who has never encountered a disturbingly alien landscape in a dream? When the audio or visual portion of a dream suddenly intrudes on one’s waking mind, that can be just as disturbingly alien in nature.

What can act as a catalyst for these voices?

For me, at least, that varies greatly.

The protagonist’s voice in my short story “Dancing in Mozambique” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 2010), for instance, first spoke to me when I sat looking at a “Mysterious Photograph” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

For those unaware: AHMM runs that Mysterious Photograph page as a contest, asking for short-shorts around 250 words, and they publish the winning entry a few months later. The photo in that month’s issue showed a staircase in what seemed, to me at least, to be a haunted house, or a spooky old tumble-down hotel.
Not the AHMM photo, but you get my drift.


I looked at the photo, and suddenly heard a gravelly voiced man in my mind say: “When a pineapple came bouncing down the steps of that spook house staircase, I knew we’d found Jai. He’d seen us coming.” The voice had a rough, haunting and “hunted” edge to it that spoke of exhaustion after long foot-slogging and prolonged bombardment of adrenalin. It wasn’t a voice I’d ever heard before, but I instantly knew the man behind it.

I knew him, because I’d known a lot of men like that. I’d met them while I was in the army. At times, in fact, I’d been that man. My subconscious knew him inside and out, which (I believe) is why -- though I didn’t recognize the voice, itself -- I KNEW that man! And, knew him WELL.

As I am wont to do, I let the voice continue its tale as I typed the words into my computer. This is similar to what’s often called “stream of consciousness” writing, though, in a case like this one, based on the theory I postulated earlier, I would tend to deem it a “stream of subconscious.”

First, the man told me what happened immediately after that grenade (“pineapple”) had been tossed down a dilapidated staircase at him.

Later, I listened as he told me what had happened to him previously, how he had come to find himself in this dark place.

I knew, when I met his voice, that the man was a soldier. But, I didn’t know what kind of soldier. Over time, as he told me his story, I realized that he’d spent many years working as a mercenary in Africa.

At that point, I remembered an old adage I’d once learned. This adage, a sort of short limerick, or “mantra,” is a mnemonic device designed to explain (and help people remember) how to ensure that a person who is shot does not survive the wounds. It is a method named, I believe, for the place where the technique was born: “The Mozambique*.” And, I knew then that I’d discovered the axle around which my story’s helix could be entwined, as well as the name of the tumble-down hotel in which the action took place.

After the voice in my head finished speaking, I went back through what I’d written -- cognizant of the Mozambique axle I wanted running through the center of the story -- and put down the lines that fit into 250 words, yet still strongly told the man’s story.

The 250-word version of the story was probably not terribly good. I don’t love it, because, to my way of thinking, it is a skeleton. And, though there is suspense, there is little mystery -- particularly at this length. It certainly didn’t win the Mysterious Photo contest, either. But, I wrote it more as an exercise in teaching myself to write shorter, than as an attempt to win a contest. [As readers of my posts on SS may know, I’m not somebody who has been successful with short-shorts. In fact, the shortest story I’ve written, that sold, was submitted at 1,500 words (to a magazine that wanted 1,000 to 1,500 word fiction), but later -- after I cut it further, at the editor’s request -- finally ran just under 1,000 words.  And, serendipitously, that story "Buffalo Smoke" came out in this month's (April 2013) issue of Boy's Life.]

The initial (250-word) version of “Dancing in Mozambique” is posted below, so you can see the results of the above process. As I wrote earlier: I don’t love it. The voice in my head is still there, however, for you to “hear” as you read it.

Readers who wish to do so, and who have access to the July 2010 issue of EQMM, may read the final product for comparison and contrast -- which may prove interesting, particularly in light of my next post.

                                                      Dancing in Mozambique 
                                                           (250-word version)

The Hotel Mozambique, Chicago. Aptly named, I thought.

When a pineapple came bouncing down the steps of that spook house staircase, I knew we’d found Jai. He’d seen us coming.

Jai was a tricky bastard—learned that the day I met him. We fought as mercs in Africa. His last trick was stealing our pay, leaving us to die.

But Claw and I survived.

Now the pineapple. We dove right and left; as effective as hiding behind a sheet of paper. The grenade hit bottom, but didn’t go off.

Claw shouted, “Dud!” scrambled up the stairs, feet pounding on the hollow, rotted wood. I saw the pin still in the grenade; Jai always was a tricky bastard.

I started to shout. My warning died stillborn, executed by a heavy-caliber double-tap from above. The slugs kicked Claw’s body half-way down the stairs.

Blue smoke curled down the staircase. A step groaned.

I side stepped, saw a jeans-covered hip between rail and ceiling. I fired; blood geysered and Jai fell, weapon bumping down the steps. I vaulted Claw’s body and rounded the landing, pumped a round into Jai’s torso—center mass—as he struggled to pull his backup piece. My third shot drilled his head.

I walked away, recalling that long-ago training mantra learned in Africa, when I still called him friend, before he betrayed us: “Twice in the body, once in the head; that’s the way you know he’s dead—when you dance in Mozambique.”

I shut the door behind me.

In two weeks, I will explain how R.T.’s comments on Louis Willis’ post (the one that set all this in motion) illustrate the manner in which characters organically changed, in order to add depth and life to the piece, fleshing-out the 250-word skeleton into the final story of nearly 8,000 words, which sold to EQMM. This explanation, however, will necessarily evolve from a discussion of “character creation” into a discussion of how character action and interaction sometimes blossom naturally into organic plot. Which is why I’ll save it for next time.

See you in two weeks! --Dix

*Please note: Though I learned of the “Mozambique” during my tenure in the army, neither the Mozambique technique, nor the limerick that accompanies it, are taught in any US Army schools, nor is the technique considered acceptable practice.

24 February 2013

I Was Just Wondering

by Louis Willis

I’ve been wondering about character creation. Not so much how you fictionists, or is it fictioneers (I’m not sure of the difference but that is a subject for another post), create characters, but I was just wondering how you manage to stay sane while doing so. Specifically, how you give each character a personality that distinguishes him or her from other characters, even minor ones.
Actors take what the playwright or screen writer has written and make the character their own, becoming the character. You fictionists, on the other hand, have to create several characters in one story, sometimes in paragraph or even one sentence. I was just wondering if you become each character in order to create him or her, to give them personalities, including the various emotions each must have to be believable. 

I began thinking about how fictionists create characters while reading A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly in which she, a white writer, created the black male amateur detective Benjamin January. I decided to write a post about creating characters after reading the short story “Pansy Place” by Dan Warthman (AHMM January-February 2012) that Rob mentions in his January 16 post. The protagonist, Jones, is white and Akin, the young man who goes along with him to confront the bad guys, is black. He reminds Jones of himself when he was young--a tough, no nonsense kind of guy. In addition, Warthman created a believable damsel in distress, L’Vonte, Jones’s cleaning lady, and Konnie Kondrasin who was Jones’s agent when he was taking on dangerous jobs. In all, including the three bad guys and L’Vonte’s boyfriend, there are eight characters he has to give different personalities with different emotions, though he gives the bad guys a collective personality.

In these two examples, the characters are of different races. Even when you create characters of the same race but different gender, you may have to be a woman and a man in the same story, and that has to do something to your mind. In the delightful story “Acting on A Tip” (EQMM July 2012), which Rob also mentions, the female author, Barbara Arno Modrack, creates Marty, a very believable male protagonist. He is an ex-alcoholic, ex-journalist who has moved with his long suffering wife Jenny and their youngest son to a small town where he helps catch a serial killer. Modrack has to first think like a man (assuming men and women think differently), switch bodies and be his wife, switch again, and be the teenage son, and finally switch and be the killer. She doesn’t give us the interior thinking of each character. We see the action from Marty’s perspective, but certainly, Modrack had to give each character a little personality to make them, even the minor characters, convincing.

In creating characters, you base some on relatives, some on friends, and even some on strangers, but mostly they come from your imagination. No matter, you still must give them different personalities with the accompanying emotions, and creating those various emotions, my friends, must take a toll on your minds, doesn’t it?

I was just wondering how you do it and still maintain your sanity.
To all of you a big

06 September 2012

What I did on my Summer Vacation

   by Deborah Elliott-Upton
 
 
The familiar prompt every student has been instructed to use on a September paper has been: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. To that, a writer would have to reply: What is a vacation?
 
 
I don't know a writer who takes a real vacation any more. If they travel, it's often for research for a work-in-progress or in search of a work-in-progress.
 
 
Forget not taking a computer as a way to force yourself into relaxing and not "working" -- it won't work. We'll use the cell phone's notepad, pads supplied by the hotel and napkins in the restaurants to scribble great ideas we won't want to lose.
 
 
One would believe a writer could depend on a good memory since we write vivid descriptions of details others may not notice or recollect as clear, but alas, most of us have indeed lost wonderful ideas that came to us at a time when we were unable to jot down a notation to jog our memory later -- or worse, not be able to read our own writing the next morning or remember what the cryptic message meant.
 
 
A vacation without writing seems impossible, so I thought I had a solution: I enrolled in a couple of college classes I assumed would aid my writing and keep me too busy to work on an actual project. I chose Philosophy and Psychology, figuring both would be a boost to my deciding what my characters might do in certain situations.
 
 
My downfall was having interesting instructors who encouraged discussion.
 
We watched films in Philosophy and discussed how the subject matter worked (or not) in today's society. Philosphy, religion and a director, writer and actors choices determined how the film "moved us" as an audience. So much for not playing my own What if game with those choices. My mind went into overload of ideas.
 
In Psychology, we learned why people may act differently from one another. The instructor brought a hypnotist to class and he gave a demonstration and answered questions. (Guess who not only had more than a few questions, but also volunteered to be one of the subjects just so I'd know how that felt?)
 
Both classes had discussions about those who lived under different circumstances than our own. Talk about wonderful research for characters -- both classes were filled with interesting characters.
 
The Philosphy class contained the usual suspects of college-age students and a mix of varied ages and backgrounds.
 
A biker with a gray beard who argued belief in God turned out to be a Viet Nam veteran who had returned to college on a full scholarship. I'm not completely sure, but from some of his opinions, I think he was a stanch Republican.
 
His counterpart was originally from Oregon and extremely Liberal in his point of view. One day he decided to load up the kids and his van and tour the country, ending up in Texas. He was an avowed atheist. He also professed a love for Bill Clinton, so I'm guessing he was a Democrat.  
 
These men were polar opposites and yet both had lost their wives to death.
 
The Oregon man had left his home following his wife's death.
 
The biker's wife had been murdered behind a convenience store.
 
Two men who had seemingly nothing in common besides choosing to take a summer course in Philosophy, had in reality shared the same pain of losing a spouse.
 
That alone raised my muse from her slumber.
 
The Psychology class was a mixed breed of fellow students. A young racecar driver happened to know my dad (also a racecar driver), ended up the following Sunday in my church which was a surprise to us both. A man who came from Uganda was pursuing a degree to help people coming to America like himself was soft-spoken and extremely polite. One would not guess he had been chased by lions. A young woman had returned to college to become a nurse after working years in a clerical position and being fired when she was late to work because she'd been in an automobile accident. Her change of career was unexpected, but had completely changed the course of her life.
 
Everyone in this class knew someone who had problems with bullies, abuse or self-mutilation. (An interesting fact I was surprised to discover are tattoos and piercings are considered self-mutilation. The reasons people choose to do these things to themselves was interesting and eye-opening.)
 
The Muse was wide awake now and not just whispering in my ear or tickling my mind with ideas, she was shouting: Write something!
 
So, I did.
 
Vacation? I'm not sure I know what that is any more.

17 November 2011

Good Writing Sells

by Deborah Elliott-Upton
Travis Erwin

My friend, Travis Erwin, had his first-ever book signing this past weekend. The novel, The Feedstore Chronicles, is not the type of fiction he usually writes, but is a funny, can't-put-it-down, quick read. Travis describes himself as "a native Texan, a humorist, a devout carnivore unafraid to write or read a good love story."

A stereotypical-looking big ol' boy (he's past six feet tall) and refuses to eat vegetables (unless you count fried okra), Travis is a real friend when you need one. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, he looks like all he does is watch football (he is a Saints fan!). He has a beautiful wife, two rambunctious, good-looking sons and is a true enigma to me as he usually writes women's fiction.

Now if that last bit didn't stop you in your tracks, not much will. This is what I find interesting in what we're told as writers particularly about what will and what won't sell in the mystery market. When I began writing in earnest, writer's conference after writer's conference speakers directed us not to write serial killer stories as they wouldn't sell since the market was swollen with those kind of submissions. Well, serial killer stories continued to sell and show up on the bookstands, in the movies and on television on a regular basis.

We were told our characters had to be believable. A protagonist or even a sidekick that fell into the description of Travis Erwin would not be believeable to most editors. Heck, if I didn't know him so well, I'd agree.

My take on all this is that it is good writing that sells. If the story idea seems overdone -- as in the case of yet another story about teenagers and vampires -- well, that depends on the author drawing the readership in with a good tale.

Travis said his story is based on compilations of some people he'd met through the years and experiences that actually happened when he worked as a teenager in a feedstore. I think most writers use their personal history to create characters that ring true to the reading public. If we read about a detective who shares some of our own qualities, quirks or behavios, then the story is more plausible. I also enjoy when the hero isn't quite as heroic or "proper."

When Nero Wolfe consumes breakfast in bed while wearing silk pajamas, I know he understands the fine art of dining that most rushing about in the Fast Food World has never experienced. Dining with nero Wolfe is recalling a time when everything wasn't quite so hurried and long before grunge became commonplace in eateries. Unfortunately, "dressing for dinner" is regulated for a few times during the year in my own life, so I appreciate it when a writer arranges such an occasion in his own stories.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not all fussy all the time with my characters either. Sometimes the best fun is when characters do something that wouldn't pass muster with the politically correct crowd. There's something about a tough guy in detective novels that lures me into spending time with them. I adore Mike Hammer's hardboilded persona, even when he flies into a rage. Maybe it's because no matter how much we have benefited from the feminist movement in the workplace, a girl likes to know a man would and could protect her if needed. This doesn't mean I'm not above wanting the heroine to be able to take care of herself aka Stephanie Plum or Kinsey Millhone. I don't know many who like a wimpy woman these days in literature -- or in person. I want my heroine to be able to handle the bad guys all on her own and if she saves someone else while doing it, that's even better.

Sometimes I like to settle back with a good story that will make me laugh out loud. The Feedstore Chronicles fits into this category. Who doesn't need to lean back, kick off their shoes and just enjoy a fun story once in awhile? Thanks Travis for allowing me to do just that yesterday. You made me blush just a little, and that's probably a good thing, too.