It’s the time of year for gathering with friends and family, so I invited my good friend and fellow author, David Lee Summers, and his wife, over for dinner. David writes steampunk, science fiction, and horror, so naturally the conversation turned to fiction writing, and famous fictional characters. We got to talking about Star Wars.
I love Star Wars. I saw the first one on the big screen a few weeks after it premiered, and it was amazing. To me, it was sort of like a sci-fi version of Camelot, complete with knights, a princess, and an evil wizard. What made the story work was the characters. We talked about how well all the characters were thought out and developed. Then came the prequels. (Not bad. Not great, but not bad.) After that came Disney. Ugh! Suffice to say the rest of the conversation was about the importance of character arcs and consistency in storytelling.
So, what can I say? Some people get together and discuss sports, current events, or politics. Get storytellers together, and we’ll sit around and analyze famous, iconic characters, and talk about what makes them work. Our inspiration often comes from other storytellers.
Tonya Claiborne was first introduced in my earlier contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal.She was the seventeen-year-old sister of Annette Claiborne, one of the antagonists, and I created her almost as an afterthought. Like her cousin, Emily, Tonya is an aspiring musician. She also has another talent; reading people’s body language.
While only a minor character in The Betrayal, Tonya nonetheless had a significant role. We’ll meet an adult Tonya in Aquamarine. A music major at The University of North Texas, Tonya looks forward to graduating the following year. She’s also in love with Evan, and they plan to marry once they graduate. However, things don’t always go as planned, and Tonya’s life is about to change in ways she could have never imagined.
Tonya is a purely fictional character. However, in my own life’s journey I’ve run across a few rare individuals who excelled at reading body language, and I was amazed at how accurately they perceived other people. It’s a skill I would have liked to have had myself.
Aquamarine is currently available for the Amazon Kindle. A paperback edition is coming soon.
Everyone who writes fiction understands how our characters seem to come to life as we’re writing. We start out with an idea of who we want them be, but before long, they’re telling us who they really are. It’s what makes novel writing fun. For me, it usually happens with antagonists. Some, like Craig in The Stalker, come out much darker than planned. Others, like Cal in The Scandal, love their bad boy image. Deep down, however, they have good hearts.
Now just so you know, they don’t communicate verbally. There are no voices in my head. I think the best way to describe it would be to say they take control of my fingers as I type. Especially when I’m writing dialog. The conversation just flows out of my keyboard as I watch their personalities come through. It feels almost as if I’m channeling a real person from a different dimension. Of course, that’s not literally happening. I’m tapping into the part of my psyche where imagination lies, and what fascinates me the most is how the characters evolve into people who are entirely different than what my conscience mind had envisioned.
They say there are certain things you should never ask an author or creative writer. One of them is, “Can I be a character in your book?”
For a time, however, this was a running joke between me and one of my friends. First, he dropped me an oh so subtle hint in my birthday card. Then, whenever we’d run into one another, he’d tease me and say, “Hey, can I be a character in your book?” I’d tease him back and reply, “Sure. How do you want to die?”
Oh, if you only knew
Here’s the real butt of of the joke. Some of my friends actually are in my contemporary romance novels, as they are inspiration for some of my characters. Ian, in The Reunion, is loosely based on an old college boyfriend. Lauren in The Scandal was inspired by a family member, and the idea for Craig in The Stalker came from someone harassing a friend on Facebook.
That said, my characters are all unique individuals. Each has their own distinct personality, including their own quirks. My protagonists aren’t perfect. They make their fair share of mistakes. Some of my antagonists are downright chilling. Others are good people who’ve made bad choices. But regardless of whether the character is inspired by a real person, or someone I created from scratch, all are believable, three-dimensional people who readers can connect to.
So, did I ever put my friend in one of my books?
Well, sort of. There is a supporting character in my upcoming contemporary romance novel, The Diversion, who is somewhat similar to my real-life friend. Both are professional musicians, and both are serious about making careers in the music business.
Can a man and a woman just be platonic friends? It’s a discussion I’ve had with people over the years. Some say yes. Others say no.
My only siblings were two older brothers, so I grew up around boys. As an adult I’ve had many wonderful non-romantic friendships with men, some of which lasted for years. Even today I have male friends who are single and heterosexual, just like me, but we’ve never taken the friendship to the next level. I simply don’t feel the romantic attraction, even though I genuinely like them as people and enjoy their company. Of course I have had some friendships which, over time, grew to something more, but they were the rare exception.
I’m including a male/female platonic relationship in my next contemporary romance novel, The Diversion. Those of you who are familiar with my other contemporary romance novels may have noticed that my female leads all have a close female friend and confidant. However, I like a little variety, so this time around my female lead’s close friend and confidant will be a heterosexaul man. She thinks of him as the brother she never had, and he thinks of her as his other sister. No, they won’t be taking their relationship to the next level, although I may do this scenario in a future contemporary romance novel. For the moment, however, I’m still trying to decide which man she’ll end up with, but it definitely won’t be her platonic male friend.
Writing contemporary romance novels is incredibly fun. I get to create interesting characters, put them in all kinds of precarious situations, and write action-packed scenes. I suppose it’s the adult version of playing make believe. And while those action-packed scenes are fun to write, there’s another kind of scene I also love writing. It’s the quiet, intimate moments when the character is in a time of personal reflection. It’s when I go inside the character’s head and make the emotional connection which, in turn, creates the magic moment when the character becomes more than just words on paper. He or she essentially becomes a living, breathing human being who seems so real that we can almost reach out and touch them.
The following example is from my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. Ian believes he’s just lost Gillian, the love of his life, to his son, Jeremy. Ian takes a long walk to try to sort things out, and reflect on what has happened.
a sample read from The Reunion
Ian spent the next few hours walking, but he was in such a state of shock he became completely unaware of his surroundings. At sundown he was sitting on a bench at an empty playground in a small neighborhood park. Gazing at the playground equipment in the twilight, he saw ghostly images of Jeremy as a small child, laughing and playing. How could such an innocent little boy have grown into the man who betrayed him? Darkness was soon upon him, but he had no desire to leave. His mind was filled with images of Gillian and Jeremy, laughing and smiling, while they enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Las Vegas strip. Then he saw the two of them together in their bed. Jeremy was making love to her. Would she respond to Jeremy’s touch the way she’d responded to his?
“Oh, stop torturing yourself, Ian,” he said aloud. “It’s over and done with and you allowed it to happen. Now you can’t undo it.”
He couldn’t bring himself to leave. His mind was filled with the memory of a long-ago night in his college apartment. Gillian was on the leather sofa, wearing his old yellow bathrobe, and he was making love to her for the first time. It was the moment he knew he had found his one true love, and twice he had foolishly pushed her away. Tonight, she was somewhere faraway, in her marriage bed, with Jeremy for her bridegroom. She had entered a place from where he could never get her back.
The breeze stirred and he heard the leaves rustling on the ground. The cool October night air seeped through his jacket. It was time for him to return home, to his own empty bed. Finally, he stood and walked out to the street. Nothing looked familiar. Walking to the nearest corner, he didn’t recognize the names of either street. He looked at his watch. It was after ten o’clock. No doubt Larry would be frantic. Reaching for his phone, he called Larry, who answered on the first ring.
I’m going back to Hollywood for my next contemporary romance novel. This time my lead character is a musician whose dream is to become a recording star.
The Harvey Weinstein story broke while I was in the early planning stages for my last contemporary romance novel, The Scandal, which also takes place in Hollywood. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the real-life scandal really threw a wrench into my plans. My original intention was for my lead antagonist, studio head Calvin Michaelson, to be a sexual manipulator, but with the Weinstein scandal came the #Me Too movement. I keep politics out of my novels, and the last thing I wanted was for my book to become politicized. So, after many, many revisions and rewrites, Cal ended up becoming a redeemable character, and I had to place many of his negative traits into another antagonist, tabloid journalist Randy Hall.
This time around things are different. Weinstein is now serving twenty-three years in the pen, as well he should be, and the #MeToo movement seems to have run its course. Now I can finally create the villain I wanted to create in The Scandal. His name is George Monroe. He’s a high-level executive with a record company, and he’s going to be like the devil incarnate. Charming, compassionate and caring on the outside, but underneath the mask is a manipulative control freak who micromanages the lives of those around him for his own narcissistic pleasure. The working title is, The Diversion, although it may be subject to change. What I can tell you for certain is this is going to be fun write.
A question fiction writers are often asked is will they write a sequel. Some authors do write sequels or perhaps they’ll write an entire series of books, as I did with a series of novelettes I wrote in the 2000s as Gayle Martin. The Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers was about two modern day youngers taking a summer road trip with their mother. Along the way they stopped at historical sites where they traveled back in time to learn the real history of the American west. While each book in series was about a different historical figure, there was an overall plotline that carried over each book; the road trip the two kids were taking with their mother.
When I switched genres and started writing contemporary romance novels I made the decision to not write sequels. Sequels can be problematic as they tend to be redundant and are often not as good as the original. My books would be stand alone novels and each story would end with complete closure. However, there were times when I created a supporting character who was interesting enough to warrant having his or her own story, as was the case with Jeremy in The Reunion. He soon his own book, The Journey, but The Journey wasn’t a sequel to The Reunion. It was a spin-off.
Simply put, a spin-off is when characters from one story are put into a different story. The late producer Norman Lear created a television show in the 1970s called, All in the Family. It was a huge hit, and those of you born in the eighties and beyond have no doubt heard of it or have seen it. All in the Family soon had a spin-off called, Maude, which in my opinion, was a whole lot funnier. Maude was Edith Bunker’s outspoken cousin who was first introduced in an episode of All in the Family. Interestingly enough, Lear later produced a spin-off from Maude called, Good Times, which was about Maude’s housekeeper, Florida Evans. All three shows were hits and ran for several seasons.
Hey, if it was good enough for Norman Lear, then it’s good enough for Marina Martindale. Along with The Journey, I’ve written two other spin-off novels; The Betrayal, another Reunion spin-off, and my newest novel, which I’ve just started, called, The Diversion, which is a spin-off from The Betrayal. It’s lead character, Tonya Claiborne, was a strong supporting character with a lot of potential. Look for The Diversion in 2021.
All stories have their antagonists, and in my latest contemporary romance novel, The Scandal, Randy Hall is perhaps one of my most villainous characters to date. He’s the ex-husband of lead character Lauren McAllen, and his goal is to destroy her at all costs.
Randy and Lauren had a dream marriage until Randy developed an addiction disorder, leaving Lauren no alternative but to file for divorce once the marriage became toxic. Randy, however, doesn’t think he has a problem. He sees Lauren’s departure as abandonment, and, in Lauren’s words, “no one dumps Randy Hall and gets away with it.” As the story unfolds Lauren is unwittingly caught up in a major Hollywood scandal, which Randy skillfully uses as a weapon to wreak havoc on her life and her career.
Many of us have experienced relationships which started out well, only to unravel because, unknown to us at the time, the person we became involved with had an addiction disorder. Unfortunately, people with addictions don’t come with warning labels, and addicts are oftentimes masters at hiding their addictions until it becomes too late. Once the addiction becomes known some partners will end the relationship as quickly as possible, while others may go into their own form of denial, believing they can change the addict. It’s a great romantic fairytale, but one I will never write about, because the reality is that the only person who can change the addict is the addict him or herself. In the real world the so-called helpful partner becomes the enabler who reinforces the addiction, and the relationship typically doesn’t end well.
Randy is a composite character whose inspiration comes from a few men I’ve known in the past who, sadly, turned out to have addictive disorders. Thankfully, none were as toxic as Randy, and none of the relationships lasted long.
Will I included Covid 19 in any of my future contemporary romance novels? No. I absolutely will not.
This isn’t to say pandemics can’t be good subject matter for a novel. For some genres, such as science fiction, mystery, or thrillers, an epidemic can make for an interesting story with plenty of conflict and drama. (I read The Stand, and loved it.) However, I write contemporary romance. My characters are hugging, kissing and making love, which would be rather awkward in the age of social distancing. Erotica writers on the other hand might have fun writing, shall we say, interesting, scenes about masks or Zoom sessions, but I write sensual romance, which means most of the action in my stories takes place outside of the bedroom
I’ve spent much of my time during the lockdown going over my earlier books, and as a result, you’ll be seeing a spin off novel from my contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. One of the minor characters in The Betrayal was a teenager named Tonya Claiborne who appears in the latter part of the story. She’s a strong character who has the potential for a leading role. I wrote The Betrayal in 2015, so you’ll meet an adult Tonya in the new book, which will most likely be titled The Diversion. The young Tonya was self confident but likeable, so we’ll see what happens when life throws her curveball and she goes off course. I had planned on The Rival being my next book, but I’m bumping it back until after The Diversion. So, it looks like I’m going to be busy for awhile.
In the meantime, in case you haven’t read The Betrayal, I’ve posted a free preview below.