Friday, 20 August 2010

Whose Character Is This Anyway...?

He’s fleshed out in my head. Perfectly. A Gene Krupa look-a-like. Check. A big guy, a thug. Check. Dark hair. Check. Sleepy eyes. Yes. Full lips. Oh, yes. Age? Forty. Good. That’s him. That’s the hero of my story. Ready, set, go.


What’s that? Betty says he needs to be younger. He should be in his thirties. His thirties, she says? Okay, okay. That’s doable. Thirties it is. Once again, hands poised over the keys, I’m ready to begin.


What now, Betty? Oh, he should be more refined, not quite so thuggish. A step up from a thug, perhaps just a gentlemanly mobster. Yes, my mind calculates. I can see it. Of course. Drop the street talk, let him be more educated. Own a joint, not just work it. Back to work I go.

Well, hell.

Excuse me? What difference does it make if he has a hairy chest or not? Betty, you ARE joking, right? What’s wrong with a smooth chest? Ah. Betty thinks hairy chests are sexy. She would never be attracted to a smooth chested man.

Not being a selfish author, I would never dish up a character to Betty that she wouldn’t be attracted to. After all, Betty is my female eye, my pulse on the sex appeal of my book.

By now, my character has been transformed—but only slightly, just minor tweaks here and there—but he’s still recognizable, still looks like Gene Krupa. Hell, though, with Betty’s alterations, he IS Gene Krupa. But I can still pull it off, produce a gangster-type hero who still fits pretty much into my original vision. Who knows? The changes may make him even better.

Hold your horses.

Now Betty disapproves of my character’s girlfriend, says she’s too young for my Gene Krupa look-a-like. I have to take Betty’s opinion into serious consideration. Betty is a mature woman, after all, whose age group will encompass a good deal of my reading audience. So now my character’s girlfriend has been changed to be a woman closer to his age.

But who knew?

Now Mary, another reader, weighs in. Mary is younger than Betty, and feels passionately that the character should be with a younger woman. Not only that, but she insists that the heroine be a virgin. The hero, Mary is convinced, would never marry a woman who was not virginal. And Mary feels SO strongly about this issue that she says she will not read the book if the heroine is not a young virgin, and, furthermore, will not speak to me anymore it this demand isn’t met.

Literary blackmail. Betty and Mary become mortal enemies. Who wins? Does a coin toss now decide my hero’s fate? Eenie meenie miney mo?

You think I’m joking. I’m not. This scenario actually happened to me.

What did I decide to do? Who won…Mary or Betty? Neither. The hero won. I was forced to rely on the old tried-and-true decision maker: my gut. It took some cleansing, but I managed to sterilize my brain of all suggestions and start from scratch, just let my man evolve from his origin in my imagination. I put HIM in the driver’s seat, told him…YOU steer, buster.

A writer has to be careful in selecting reading buddies. If they are close friends, you sometimes feel the need to mold the story to their vision, not yours. Sometimes they have characters in their own heads and want for you to bring them to life for them. And that’s when their contributions can be deadly for your writing. You, like I, might find yourself torn—even to the point of damaging your friendship—if you can’t accommodate their ideas.

I DO have a crit partner. She’s priceless. She watches for what she calls ‘commercial breaks’ in the stories—those elements that don’t gel, don’t flow. She doesn’t always agree with me. I don’t always take her input for gospel. All right, well, maybe about 99-3/4% of it, but who’s counting? 

We agree, we disagree. Most of the time, I fight her suggestions tooth and nail, just to let her know I’m in charge of the story; but, more often than not, I incorporate her ideas into the work. I trust her judgment, her instinct. So far, I've been lucky, because my own instinct has coincided with hers. If it doesn’t, it just doesn’t, and we’ve agreed those indecisive issues will be an editor’s call.

So far, she hasn’t threatened crit-partner blackmail over any of our differences. And, remembering my ordeal with Betty and Mary, I suppose I must be really, really grateful.

Who reads your work while you’re writing it? Close friends? Strictly other writers? Actual crit partners?

How far do you allow them to go with their input? How seriously do you take that input? How do they respond when you disagree? When you stand fast to your own idea and have to say ‘no’ sometimes?

Have you ever had a Betty/Mary situation? And if you did, how did you resolve it?

I’d love to know.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Please Don't Forget Me...

Please remove your shoes before entering. You are about to step into the hallowed area of my romantic heart.

For those who don't already know him, I’m going to introduce you to the fictional sachem of my heart, one of the most beautiful characters I’ve ever read. This character is so beautiful, rich, luscious, ethereal, while somehow managing to be one hot bad-ass—I think of him and I hear Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, I see ancient red and gold tapestry, taste dark wine, feel cool grass beneath my feet, drown in deep brown eyes, kiss full sensuous lips, make passionate love in the still wee hours of the morning in Hollywood Forever Cemetery (yes, you heard me—a cemetery). I spiral helplessly into powerful orgasmic pleasure when he takes me, when he enters me and when he…bites me.

The character who is the high priest of sensuality, the prince of passion, the god of love in my fantasy world?

He is called Donte Fedelta. He is a vampire. A five-hundred-year-old Italian vampire. And he is one of the main characters in Z. A. Maxfield’s book, Notturno.

Donte is the classic tall, darkly handsome continental. An elegant, cognac drinking, expensive cigar smoking Italian count who is described as having a demonically beautiful face, long and angular, hooded eyes, high cheekbones, wine darkened lips. He is who Bela Lugosi only wishes he could be.

I fell in love with Donte before I even read Notturno, with nothing more than a scene from an excerpt. In this scene—at the very beginning of the book—Donte follows the main character, Adin Tredeger, into the cramped restroom aboard an airplane. The beautiful Italian vampire ravages Adin in this small space in one of the most erotic encounters I’ve ever read. Needless to say, it catapults the story into a startling, highly sensual, exquisitely disturbing start.

The pièce de résistance is when, after having his way with the dazed Adin, after leaving his mark and drinking of Adin’s blood, the gorgeous vampire straightens his clothes and politely, gently beseeches, Por favore, non dimenticarmi—please don’t forget me.

What makes this delicate plea so remarkable is that Donte has no intention of letting Adin forget him; but, being true to his aristocratic bearing and his genteel nature…well…he must of course ask, anyway.

At those words—so unusual, so delicate after such a forceful, titillating sex scene—Donte Fedelta owned me, lock stock and barrel.

The fact that this enigmatic creature can get into Adin’s mind and, just by a touch of the hand, is able send him into shattering climactic paroxysms is not a bad gift to possess. In one scene, both highly sexy and hilarious, Donte does just that in a restaurant. After Adin is helplessly sent into an orgasm with Donte’s touch—practically by mental ventriloquism—in a scenario that even Sally who met Harry could not match, the engaging vampire innocently asks, Complet, mon cherie, Adin? Priceless.

Who understands the mysterious mechanics of our minds? Certainly not me. I only know this fragile beauty, all bound in a big, strapping, jet-haired, dark-eyed, powerful man’s body arouses me, turns me on. The delicacy, the elegance, with which this character speaks, acts and thinks, offset by his immensely frightful, demonic power is the stuff good characters are made of.

If a man can be created who is so compelling that the reader finds themselves believing in vampires—no, begging to be devoured by a vampire—he is a well-written character.

When the reader is able to feel the character’s cool skin, taste his lips, see in vivid color as he (in one memorable scene that sticks stubbornly in my mind) rushes down the stairs of his villa, dressed in a white shirt and slacks, a golden robe billowing behind him, he is a marvelously fleshed-out character.

Such small details perhaps seem insignificant. Or are they? For such minute features to fix themselves in one’s mind so strongly that they can almost reach out and feel the silky texture of the robe, hear the soft swoosh of the fabric as the character walks is masterful artistry. Furthermore, if a character was not so colorfully, intimately projected, would the reader ever even notice these seemingly unnoticeable touches? Probably not. But when one is so hungry for the unforgettable character, feasting on every word, every nuance, every microscopic detail that is part of the man, these things are absorbed and cherished.

Since, as always, this is not a book review, I won’t divulge too much of the plot, except to say that Adin Tredeger is an authority on antique erotica and he has acquired a five hundred year old journal which is a written and sketched account of an Italian count’s forbidden affair—amore vietato—with a young lover named Auselmo.

The journal is titled Notturno and the author was none other than Donte Fedelta. I won’t tell you how Donte was ‘turned’ vampire or why. But the vampire wants his precious book back—as it is his only physical memory of Auselmo who was murdered—and he relentlessly follows Adin to retrieve the journal.

Thus begins a richly woven love story of Donte and his mortal love, Adin.

That is all of the story I’ll tell you; however, I will say that the journal entries themselves are some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of Donte’s thoughts, his erotic mind. These luscious entries, so fluid and exotic, could stand alone, separate from the book. I had to shake myself while reading them, reminding myself that some beautiful vampire did not really write them—that he was indeed only a fictional character.

An example: Auselmo, so lovely, like an angel fallen to earth to tease and mock me with his beauty, or this: There were more stars in the sky this summer, Auselmo, because you placed them there me for me every time you smiled.

Adin Tredeger is a delightful, sexy, handsome man with a wonderful dry wit, and he supplies some of the most memorable lines in the book. I ADORE him. He’s a man I’d love to love in real life. And his pairing with this serious but oddly comedic vampire is pure genius. They are a dynamic partnership.

Now, once again, since this is NOT a book review, I’m only supplying this buy link

because…well…because…you might like to read the steamy excerpt—the high-octane, squirm-in-your-seat scene from the airplane bathroom—for yourself. And while you’re at it, there’s a hot trailer as well.

Anyone who knows me knows my weakness for Italian men. I make light of it, but in truth it’s more than just a one-track libido. It’s something, some beautiful man who looms in the shadows, just beyond the light in my mind, a face I know intimately even though I can’t see its features. He’s beautiful, dark, sensual. He’s part of me, he IS me to a certain extent.

Who knows? A lover from a past life? Maybe he’s ME from a past life. Whoever he is, I recognized him the moment Donte Fedelta softly asked, after a torrential bout of love-making in a cramped airplane bathroom, for Adin to please not forget him.

Donte, the ageless, tormented, beautiful, powerful aristocratic vampire in Notturno who, through Z. A. Maxfield’s pen to my heart, became the face to the Italian of my erotic dreams.

And it was as though Maxfield tapped into my consciousness and painted this beautiful creature—monster, Donte says he is—who has haunted my dreams and imagination as long as I was old enough to appreciate a beautiful man.

Donte, please. Just one bite. Just one. I promise. I’ll never forget you, Caro. Oh, wait. He’s not real, is he? Damn.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Can I Kiss You...?

My thoughts today weren’t really writing-related, and I started not to write them at all. But the feelings in my gut are just too strong. I’ve got to try to express them.

A few years ago, my daughter met a tall, lanky, good looking young man at a typical Texas poolside bar-b-que. She was so struck by him—something about him, besides his obvious looks—that, very uncharacteristically for her, she approached him and heard the words coming from her mouth, “Can I kiss you?”

That kiss lasted three years. They married. Oh, sure, they have their ups, they have their downs. But they’ve weathered them. And the way this young man—his name is Mike—weathered these ups and downs, the way he managed to protect my daughter fiercely while growing into his own maturity has endeared him to me. He is the proverbial son I never had.

Well, Mike has been diagnosed with lung cancer. He’s thirty-five years old. Monday, he goes for two days of testing at M.D. Anderson in Houston to chart an approach to treatment. The doctors are confident, optimistic for his prognosis. They feel his age, his good health and strength are positives. But, of course, there’s the anxiety. The word cancer just does that to people.

While I feel confident, too, it’s made me look so hard at my feelings for Mike, my love for him. For my daughter. And I realize I love him every bit as much as I love her.

He and my daughter are supportive of my writing. One of the most touching things about this support is: Mike told me that, in their cabin at Rayburn Lake, he planned for the attic/bedroom to be a writing room for me. The fact that he took my writing seriously enough to incorporate a space for it in their country get-a-way was one of the most beautiful things anybody had ever done for me since I started writing. Hey, I was flattered just by the fact that they included me in their resort cottage (I AM the mother-in-law, after all!), so the thought of getting my own writing room blew me away! And touched my heart. Really, really touched my heart. And we took it as a sign that the former owners of the cottage had left behind an old electric typewriter.

Although the cottage is being sold now, the beauty of their support still lingers and continues to be  a force that drives me. They are proud of me. THAT pride means more to me than a million writing rooms.

I am a slow writer. I’ve slacked and just can’t seem to get to that last paragraph, the words the end, of anything I’ve ever written. It is not that I do not write well. It is not that my stories are not good. I can’t tell you WHY I haven’t finished anything.

But I’ve made a pact with myself. A pact my beautiful son-in-law and daughter do not even know about yet. And it is this: I’m going to finish my WIP. I am going to dedicate it to them. I’m going to make them proud, to create a finished PRODUCT to give back the work that their support deserves. Sure, maybe that’s no reason to write. But it’s not why I’m writing. It’s why I’m going to FINISH.

So, Mike. My son. Let’s make a deal. You fight your battle, and I will support you through every second of it. And I will fight my writing battle and make you proud because YOU have been there for me.

I’m so glad my daughter walked up to this wonderful man on that sultry summer day and asked, “Can I kiss you?” It changed her life in beautiful ways forever, and it changed mine, too.