People often ask me what motivated me to become an author. Or why I write contemporary romance. I blame it on my misspent youth. I was a soap opera junkie for many years. It began when I was in the sixth grade and it continued into adulthood. I suppose I could blame it on my mother too. Instead of telling me to go do something more productive, she got me started on her soaps.
I used to schedule my college classes around my soaps. Mind you, this was in The Dark Ages, before we had the Internet, so having my first VCR was a truly liberating experience. I could now have a life. I was able to tape my soaps and watch them at my convenience. I taped my favorite soap everyday for many years.
What makes soap operas so compelling?
So, what was it about soap operas that was so compelling? According to my high school drama teacher, soap operas were real life, exaggerated. Soap operas relied on classic plot lines, such as extra-marital affairs, illegitimate children, and long-lost family members. Viewers could make a connection because they were believable stories.
The other thing that made the soaps so compelling were the characters. I never watched the now defunct All My Children, but I know who Erica Kane was. Dr. Marlena Evans on Days of our Lives was my personal favorite. Two great actresses, Susan Lucci and Deidre Hall, played those memorable roles. They transformed these fictitious characters into believable, three-dimensional people.
I too strive to create believable, three-dimensional characters in my contemporary romance novels, such as Ian Palmer, Gillian Matthews, in The Reunion, and Carrie Daniels and Alex Montoya, in The Deception. I also work hard to create believable stories. My plotlines twist and turn, just like a soap opera. My characters get involved with the wrong people. Long-lost lovers are reunited, and people betrayed by the ones they trust the most. In other words, they’re real life, somewhat exaggerated.
That’s a fellow author said to me the other day. Of course, she didn’t mean it literally, although she had a point. Some of the things we novel writers do to our characters is just plain mean. Then again, some of those characters have it coming.
I was telling her about Scott, an antagonist in The Deception. Scott isn’t the nicest guy on the planet. He’s a married man who puts himself out as a single guy, and his actions have hurt a lot of people, especially Carrie, my leading lady. Once she and her friends realize Scott’s stories aren’t adding up she ditches him. I planned on writing him out of the story at that point, but then someone else told me, no, I couldn’t just write him off so quickly. Readers would expect him to be punished for what he did, and they’d be disappointed if he were able to simply walk away. So, I took the advice.
Scott is later arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and he gets his comeuppance in the form of a humiliating strip search. I told my fellow author how I went online and read testimonials by real people who’ve had this experience, and I based Scott’s story on those real-life accounts. That’s when she looked at me and said, “You novel writer’s are evil.”
Well, what can I say? She wrote a memoir. I write fiction.
Jason Matthews is one of the antagonists you meet in The Reunion. He’s never actually seen, but his presence is most certainly felt, and he has a major impact on the story.
Gillian, the female lead, has a history of getting involved with the wrong men. An artist by profession, she tells leading man Ian her story of visiting Tombstone, Arizona, to do some research after being commissioned to do a series of paintings about the Old West. While in Tombstone, she happened to meet Jason, a bartender and street performer. Handsome and charming, Gillian asked Jason to model for the paintings. He not only accepted her offer, he swept her off her feet, and Gillian believed she’d finally found her true love. The two eloped a short time later.
Unfortunately, Gillian’s happiness with Jason would be short lived. Instead of being the man of her dreams, Jason became her worst nightmare. She eventually divorced him, and because they had no children, she believes he’s in the past. Nightmares, however, sometimes have a way of recurring. Gillian’s worst nightmare will suddenly come back to life when she learns that Jason has murdered his current wife. He’s now on the run, and the authorities believe he’s looking for her. What makes the character even more sinister is the fact that he’s lurking, but never actually seen, leaving both Gillian,and Ian to wonder where and when he will finally strike.
Alex Montoya, the leading man in The Deception, has to be one of the most likable, and sexy, characters I’ve ever created. He’s strong yet quirky and vulnerable at the same time. The American-born son of a Spanish immigrant father, Alex is American in every way. His father, however, still clings to Old World customs and traditions. This creates friction between them.
Alex and Carrie, the leading lady, have a friendship dating back to the fourth grade. They remained friends through high school, but drifted apart when they attended colleges on opposite ends of the country. Ten years later Carrie deeply regrets letting Alex go. After her identity is stolen, and she’s accused of a serious wrongdoing as a result, a friend arranges for her to meet with a bright young attorney who can help her. Much to her surprise, that bright, young attorney is none other than her long-lost best friend, Alex.
I created Alex in part as homage to a friend who was the first American born child of Italian immigrant parents. While proud of her heritage, she too sometimes found herself in conflict with her parents whenever they tried to impose their Old World expectations on her. His other inspiration comes from a real-life cousin who’s an attorney and dedicated family man. In fact, the book is dedicated to him.
If I had to describe Alex in one word, it would be loyal. He’s the kind of man who’s willing to go the extra mile for the people he cares about, while not expecting anything in return. That’s what makes him such a positive role model.
I’ve had wonderful feedback on some of my antagonists, such as Ryan Knight in The Reunion. I’m happy knowing I’m creating people readers love to hate.
I’m developing a new antagonist for my upcoming novel, The Journey. Her name, for now, is Denise Sanderson, and she will be exceptionally nasty. The other day I described her to a fellow author, but I had to stop myself in mid sentence and say, “You know, I don’t know where these people are coming from. But it’s kind of scary when I stop and think about it.”
Ask any novelist. They’ll tell you that over time, the characters start creating themselves and they’ll tell you who they are. However, they still spring from somewhere deep in our creative psyche.
Some of my villains, like Jason and Ryan in The Reunion, were based on some not-so-nice people I’ve encountered in my own life. Writing about them has certainly helped me release some previously unresolved issues.
Other antagonists however, such as Denise, in the forthcoming Journey, and Maggie, in The Deception, are totally fictitious. They have no real-life counterpart. As a result, it’s made me wonder. Do I really have some deeply buried darker side?
All of us have a dark side, whether we care to admit it or not. These antagonists represent our fears. They represent the sense of outrage and frustration we’ve all encountered at one time or another, and they give us the opportunity to vicariously act out our own anger and frustration. Maybe that’s why we’re so delighted when they finally get their comeuppance. It gives us a chance to purge ourselves of our own demons, and that’s a good thing. That said, they still scare me.
I wanted Carrie Daniels, the lead character in my romance novel, The Deception, to have a girl-next-door quality. Judging by the comments I’m receiving from reviewers, I must have hit my mark.
A freelance photographer and former child model, Carrie’s entire world is about to come crumbling down. Three years earlier her mother suffered a debilitating stroke, and Carrie went from riches-to-rags once her mother’s insurance ran out. Her financial calamity, however, is only the beginning of her problems. Her significant other is about to dump her. Once that happens, she’ll be left homeless and vulnerable as her former mentor seizes the opportunity to exploit her for her own selfish gains.
Carrie experiences both sides of infidelity. First she’ll learn that significant other has been unfaithful to her. She’ll then meet Scott, a married man who presents himself to her as single and available. Carrie leaves the relationship once she realizes things aren’t adding up, but by then it will be too late as Scott’s wife seeks revenge. Yet despite her troubles, Carrie remains resilient as she tries to make the best of what she can. She’s the kind of character you can root for; sweet on the outside, but strong on the inside.
Carrie is a mostly fictitious character. While I didn’t model her after anyone in particular, although I’ve put a little of myself into her. Photography is one of my life’s passions, and, in my younger days, I dreamed of being a model.
You know, creating despicable villains really is too much fun. Ryan Knight from The Reunion is a great example. He certainly got my editor’s, and my proofreader’s, dander up.
Ryan only appears in the flashback chapters, but he makes an impact. Ryan is a college student about to graduate and embark on his career as an architect. He and the young Gillian have been dating for the past couple of years, but their relationship has become strained. Ryan is putting in a lot of overtime in the architecture building. He says he’s working late on class projects. Gillian, however, has her doubts.
A few days after his graduation, Ryan asks Gillian to stop by his apartment. He has news he wants to share with her. Gillian believes he’s going to propose to her, but Ryan’s idea of a proposal is the last thing she expectes.
Ryan was based on several real life men I’ve known; my ex-husband, a moody ex-boyfriend, and a good friend’s ex-husband. With a cocktail like that, you know you’ll have a real monster on your hands.
My editor commented that Ryan was, “a bit mental.” I also worried that my proofreader would quit on me. Ryan had certainly made her angry. So much so that I had to keep reassuring her that he only appeared in the flashback chapters. He would make his exit in chapter six. After that, his name would rarely be mentioned. Thankfully, she stayed on board.
I’ll conclude by saying that in fiction, conflict creates the drama, and Ryan certainly knows how to create some conflict.
Gillian Matthews, one of the lead characters in my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, has had a successful career as an artist and a little fame to go along with it. Her personal life, however, has been a disappointment. Gillian has a knack for getting involved with the wrong men. That will change when travels to Denver for a gallery opening, and man from her past will suddenly reappears.
Ian Palmer is the one man she never got over. They soon resume their relationship, but Gillian’s world will shatter once again when something unexpected occurs behind the scenes. She’ll later become the object of affection from a new, and much younger man, while Ian attempts to win her back for a third time.
Gillian is based on a real person. Me. I was a graphic designer before I became a writer, and we’ll just say that my personal life given me some great fodder to work with.
Ian Palmer first appears in my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, as a middle-aged man. He has had a successful career as an architect, working his way to a top position with a large firm. His personal life, however, has been less than stellar. Ian married the wrong woman for the wrong reasons, and the marriage ended badly. Now his life is about to change. He has a second chance with Gillian, his long-lost love. However, his new-found happiness will soon be put to the test as Ian struggles to balance Gillian, parenthood, and his career, which is about to come to an unexpected and untimely end.
Ian also appears in the story as a young man. During the flashback chapters he’s an outgoing but ambitious college student who meets Gillian, the girlfriend of one of his classmates. The two quickly become friends. Later on, they will become more than friends. Unfortunately, Ian’s ambition and desire to succeed will be their undoing.
The inspiration for this younger Ian comes from someone I once knew, years ago. His real life inspiration really was an architecture student, and the scene where Ian and Gillian first meet is based on a real-life event. This is why Ian will always be one of my favorite characters. There are some people we simply never forget. Of course Ian Palmer wasn’t his real name, and the character has his own unique personality. All of my characters, whether they are inspired by real people or not, are unique individuals. That’s what makes creating them so much fun.