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.
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 reflects 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 that he became completely unaware of his surroundings. By 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 that 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 very first time. That 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.
Thanksgiving was always a big deal in my family. My mother would get up before dawn to put the turkey in the oven, and she made all the trimmings from scratch. Dinner would be served in the dining room, and we all wore our Sunday best. Uncle, aunts and cousins would join us, and other years we’d spend Thanksgiving with them at their home.
When I became an adult Thanksgiving was still a big deal. During the years when I lived close to family my mother and sister-in-law took turns hosting the big family gatherings. After I moved away I would either spend Thanksgiving with my own spouse or friends. Other years we would fly back to Arizona and spend it with my family. Regardless of where I was, Thanksgiving was always the second biggest holiday of the year.
Years later, when I wrote my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, I included a chapter a Thanksgiving chapter. Cassie and Jeremy hit it off over dinner, and afterwards they stepped outside for a walk. While they were away Samantha has a serious talk with Gillian, and the two women make a surprising wager.
A Thanksgiving scene from The Reunion
Samantha smiled to herself. It was looking more and more like Jeremy would become a good friend to Cassie. After dessert, Cassie suggested that he take a walk with her to work off some of their dinner.
“Good idea,” he said. “Would you two ladies care to join us?”
“Not me, thanks,” said Gillian.
“Me neither,” said Samantha. “We don’t get to hang out together very often. You kids go and take your time.”
Jeremy and Cassie quickly grabbed their coats. They were discussing the apartment in Colorado Springs as they went out the door.
“They seem to have taken a liking to one another,” said Gillian once the front door closed behind them.
“Yes, they have. Gillian, can I ask you something?”
Samantha’s voice had a serious tone. “Exactly what is the nature of your relationship with him?”
Gillian grabbed the wine bottle and refilled their glasses. “Let’s go have a seat in the living room.” They picked up their wine glasses and Samantha followed Gillian to the sofa where they made themselves comfortable.
“Jeremy is a very special friend,” said Gillian. “We got off to a bit of a rough start, but then it worked out. I truly believed he’d be my stepson someday, but then Ian threw the brakes on that.”
“Gillian, if this is none of my business just say so, but is there anything more to it than just a friendship?”
Gillian hesitated for a moment. “You mean, have I ever slept with him?”
“Good heavens no. I’ll admit that first night we were together in Las Vegas, I had a moment, and I mean a very brief moment, of temporary insanity while we were out on the dance floor. He’s a good dancer, I’d had a glass of wine, and I sure thought about it, but nothing happened between us that night, or any other night for that matter. Later on, when I thought about it again, I realized I’d wanted to turn him into another Ian, and I could never use Jeremy like that. He saved my life, Sam. Whoever he eventually ends up with will have to understand that he and I will always have a very special relationship. It’s not romantic, but we share a very special bond. One that will last for both of us for the rest of our lives. So please, don’t worry about your daughter. I’m not going to be jealous of her. In fact, I think they’re a good match.”
Samantha sighed in silent relief and gave her friend a knowing smile. “Gillian, do you have a hundred dollars?”
“Of course I do. Why?”
“Because a hundred dollars says that come next Thanksgiving, Jeremy really will be your stepson.”
“Oh, come on, Sam,” said Gillian with a laugh. “I can’t take your money like that. I’m not taking Ian back. No way, no how.”
“Of course not. You’ll just go out and have yourself tattooed in his honor.” Both women burst out laughing, and then Samantha turned serious once again. “Quit kidding yourself, Gillian. You’re going to take him back, and you know it.”
“Fine. Then I’ll lose the hundred bucks. It’ll be the easiest money you ever made.”
Gillian gave her friend a smile. “All right then. One hundred dollars says I won’t be married to Ian Palmer a year from now.”
“You’re on.” The two women shook hands on their bet and Samantha grinned once more. “Just be prepared to pay up.”
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.
I first visited Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in the 1990s. While famous for its ski resort, ranching is still a vital part of the area. So, when I wrote my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, I located the fictitious St. Eligius Ranch near Steamboat Springs. St. Eligius Ranch is a former cattle ranch turned horse sanctuary. It’s also the home of Laura Palmer, ex-wife of lead character Ian Palmer. A number of key scenes in The Reunion take place at St. Eligius Ranch, including the story’s final climax. Later on, when I wrote my contemporary romance novel, The Journey, I also set a number of scenes at St. Eligius Ranch.
I revisited Steamboat Springs in the summer of 2014, this time to research the area for future novels. I also brought my camera with me, and, as luck would have it, I found something that somewhat matches the description of St. Eligius Ranch. Of course I kept a respectful distance and took the photo from the side of road. You can clearly see a two-story house, as described in The Reunion, along with what appears to be a fifth-wheel trailer parked nearby, as was also described in The Reunion. Maybe life really does imitate art.
By the way, photography, like writing, is one of my life’s passions, and I do art photography under the name Gayle Martin. If you would like to see more of my work please visit my website at gaylemartinphotography.com/. In the meantime, please enjoy this scene from The Reunion, as Gillian, visits St. Eligius for the first time.
a scene from The Reunion
Laura took Gillian to one of the small corrals outside the barn and pointed out a black mare with a white blaze down her face and three white socks. “We call her Miss Mollie,” said Laura. “She’s got a lot of stamina, but she’ll respect her rider, as long as you know what you’re doing, and it sounds like you do.”
Jeremy came up behind them. “Miss Mollie? Good choice.”
Laura pointed to a large bay gelding in the next corral. “We call him Pretty Boy. He’s Jeremy’s favorite.” Before long the horses were saddled, and they mounted up. Will stayed behind, saying he had work to do. Laura rode a young buckskin gelding she called Fred.
“He’s Miss Mollie’s son,” she said. “He was a young foal at her side when we adopted them two years ago. I think he’ll turn out to be a fine horse, but he still has some rough edges to work out.” Laura led them away from the barn and onto a narrow trail leading through a lush meadow. Gillian couldn’t get over the sheer beauty of it. The aspen and cottonwood trees were turning gold.
“When I first came here, I was an ex-housewife who didn’t know one end of a horse from the other,” said Laura. “I was originally hired as a bookkeeper for Will’s veterinary practice. Next thing I knew, I was writing grants, planning fund-raisers, and doing everything else I could think of to keep money flowing in the door for the foundation to help care for these animals. Back then I was living in the cottage, that’s what we call the fifth-wheel trailer, and I soon became friends with Will. He taught me, and both of my boys, how to ride. He also taught me how to help take care of the horses. Along the way I’ve been kicked, bitten, and occasionally stepped on, but I’ve learned to cope with it. Horses are easy. Two sons aren’t.”
“Thanks, Mom,” said Jeremy.
“Anytime,” she said with a knowing grin. “Some of the ones we get are simply neglected or have owners who, for whatever reason, are no longer able to care for them. Those are the easy cases, and we can usually get them to new owners right away. Others arrive abandoned, injured or starving. They need some TLC, and we’re often pretty successful with them as well. We also get the occasional hard-luck cases. They’re the ones who have suffered some serious abuse, and it never ceases to amaze me just how cruel some human beings can be. They usually need complete rehabilitation, but we’re not always successful. There’ve also been a few that we’ve had to put down as soon as they arrived. Those are the ones that really break your heart.”
They continued across the meadow and began working their way toward the ridge as Laura went on with her story. “This ranch used to be called The Flying M, and it’s been in Will’s family for over a century. When Will’s father inherited it from his great-uncle, it was still a working cattle ranch. Will’s dad was also a veterinarian. He started up the veterinary clinic, and he started taking in injured and abandoned horses. By the time Will finished veterinary school, they decided to stop raising cattle and add a horse sanctuary to the clinic. They sold about half the acreage, and the name, to the big dude ranch resort next door. Will renamed the place St. Eligius. He’s the patron saint of horses and those who work with them. That pretty much sums it up. The foundation survives mostly on grant money and donor support. We also do a number of fundraisers throughout the year. One is coming up soon. It’s the haunted hayride we do every year with the Flying M. It’s the last Saturday in October and we always have a lot of fun while we’re at it. We have volunteers of all ages who come and participate, and the boys always come to help out as well.”
Now that I’ve completed my latest contemporary romance novel, The Scandal, I’ve been doing a copy edit for my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion.
I wrote The Reunion back in 2011, and it’s gotten four and five star reviews on Amazon. However, I’ve grown as a writer since then, and I want the writing style to be more consistent with my later work. A copy edit is when you make minor changes, such as eliminating filler words or rephrasing a sentence. The story content remains the same. It just reads a little smoother.
I finally finished yesterday morning, or so I thought, because as I took a break to do some household chores a new scene suddenly played through my mind.
A new scene and an updated version
Without spoiling the plot, I’ll simply say that one of the antagonists, who appears about halfway through the story, is thwarted. However, this villain did something illegal, and I never held her accountable for her actions. She simply disappeared once her plan failed. Looking back, I realized not addressing this was a mistake. Doing something against the law is simply wrong, and the character, albeit a minor one, should have been held accountable. The new scene is a conversation between Gillian, one of the lead characters, and Paul, her assistant, as they discuss the legal actions they intend to take against this antagonist. The scene ends with the reader feeling that their efforts will be successful, and it adds closure to the episode. The story then returns to the main conflict.
The rest of the story remains as is. The Reunion has been and always will be my favorite contemporary romance novel, as the inspiration from the story comes from someone I once knew, years ago, who has been and always will be near and dear to my heart.
I sometimes go back and reread my earlier contemporary romance novels as over time I forget some of the details. While I’m there I may also get an idea for a spin-off novel, or I may consider using a character in a future book. It’s also interesting, and occasionally nerve wracking, to see how much I’ve grown as a writer.
The Reunion was my first contemporary romance novel. Prior to that I’d written a cookbook and a series of children’s novelettes, (all under a different name), but The Reunion was my first real novel. It’s also the one nearest and dearest to my heart, as it’s loosely based on someone I once knew. We went our separate ways years ago, and after I started writing books I began wondering what would happen if, by chance, he ever showed up at a book signing. I have no idea actually, but the scenario became the inspiration for The Reunion.
So, as I was wrapping up my latest novel, The Scandal, I grabbed an old copy of The Reunion and started reading, but instead of a happy trip down memory lane, all I saw were things I wanted to go back and edit. Apparently I really have improved as a writer. So much so that the work I was so proud of years ago now looks amateurish, at least to me. Cynthia, my editor, has become much more stringent as well. Granted, most people would never notice the wordiness here, or the choppy sentence there, but to me it’s like listening to sour notes. So, I’m going back and doing a tweak. I’m removing filler words, such as, “decided to,” along with bits of unnecessary narrative. You know, the stuff you won’t miss once it’s gone. The story, however, remains the same. Each and every chapter and scene is still there. They just read a little better.
By the way, I’ve written three spin-off novels from The Reunion. The Journey comes the closest to being a sequel. It’s about the same family, but with different lead characters and an unrelated storyline. The Betrayal and The Letter include minor characters from The Reunion, this time with bigger, more significant roles. Gillian the lead character from The Reunion also makes cameo appearances in both books.
Ask any fiction author. They’ll tell you characters have minds of their own. Believe me, I have experienced this phenomenon many times myself. There’ve been many times when a character came out differently than planned, and it’s always been for the better.
Villains in particular have a certain quality about them. They’re typically more complex, more charismatic and, for lack of a better word, sexy. Jeremy Palmer in my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion was the first. Originally intended to be a rogue character who would do his dirty deed and disappear, Jeremy ended up having a special charisma. He went from being a rouge to becoming a rival who would compete with his father to win Gillian’s affections. Josh Ramsey in my later contemporary romance novel, The Letter was intended to be a conman. Then the chemistry between him and Stephanie unexpectedly sizzled. So I revamped him into a mystery man.
I strive to make my villains as despicable as I can. There’s nothing more fun than seeing a villain we love to hate get their comeuppance. Some of my more dastardly villains include Scott Andrews in my contemporary romance novel, The Deception. Scott was a married man presenting himself as a single man to entice unsuspecting single women. Then there’s Beau Fowler, the corrupt detective in The Betrayal. He tried to frame an innocent woman for a crime she didn’t commit. And finally, there’s Craig Walker, the sociopathic villain in The Stalker. He’ll resort to kidnapping and murder to get what he wants.
Now it’s happening again. This time it’s Calvin Michaelson, in my upcoming contemporary romance novel, The Scandal. Cal’s a Hollywood mogul with a reputation as a playboy. Intended to be a despicable villain for readers to hate, his character became more dynamic than expected. He too is being revamped. He’ll still be a playboy, but at the end of the story a new and completely unexpected side to Cal will be revealed.
My readers have given me nice feedback about the characters in my contemporary romance novels. I love them too, but let’s not forget my other characters. The nonhuman ones.
I love animals and I grew up around dogs and horses. So, it stands to reason that some of my characters are dogs and horses. They may not be as cunning as their human counterparts, but it doesn’t means they don’t cause problems.
In The Reunion, a black mustang named Miss Mollie puts Gillian in a real jam. Her dachshund, Duke, also becomes the catalyst in a major life changing event. However, these animal characters can do good deeds as well. Some even end up being the unsung heroes in the story.
Lurch, the lovable mutt in The Betrayal, helps save Emily’s life, while Lucy, Shane’s dog in The Stalker, becomes attached to Rachel, much to his chagrin. My upcoming book, The Scandal, will also have a canine character. This time it’s an English springer spaniel named Barney.
Those of us who have pets will tell you they really are part of the family, and my two real-life dogs are no exception. Of course, they wish I’d spend less time writing and more time with them. In fact, if it were up to them, I’d dote on them twenty-four/seven. Lucky for them they have a nice big cozy dog bed right next to my writing desk. Now, if only I could get them to give me feedback on my writing. Unfortunately, about the only words they really seem understand are eat, food, and treats.
When I tell people I write contemporary romance novels they’re genuinely curious about what I do. They ask a lot of questions such as, are my books a series? No, they are not. Are my characters based on real people? Sometimes. Ian and Gillian in The Reunionare loosely based on people I’ve known.
Gillian in particular is based on someone I know really well. Me. I really was an art major in college. Some of my work has been in juried art shows. I also thought about buying an art gallery, but couldn’t get the funding. I’ll never know for certain what my life may have been had I made different choices, but Gillian was a wonderful opportunity to play what if.
Ian was loosely based on an old college boyfriend. I incorporated some of his positive traits into Ian, such as his desire to succeed. However, none of us are perfect. My old boyfriend certainly had his faults too, but most of those characteristics were not part of Ian. Oddly enough, I later found some of his negative traits in antagonists in other stories, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Funny how our minds work.
Whether inspired from a real-life person or not, each character is fictitious and unique individual. I must be doing a good job as I’ve had some interesting feedback from readers. Some truly hated my villians and were glad to see them get their comeuppance. Others shared their frustrations over the protagonists making bad decisions. My all time favorite, however, came from my proofreader, who was reading The Reunion in her apartment complex laundry room. She said one of the antagonists, Ryan Knight, made her so mad she started cursing him out. Then she looked up and noticed other people were giving her strange looks. Her story was the highest compliment anyone could ever give me.