Friday, December 30, 2011

Guest Post - English History Authors

Debra Brown, author of the fine Victorian Historical Novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, has invited me to guest post on the English History Authors' Blog. The subject is: Writing Another Gender, Another Time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Character's the Thing

I write character driven fiction, trying to create interesting, psychologically complex, believably human characters, placing them in situations where they must deal with problems. For dramatic effect these problems ought to be bigger than deciding between coffee or tea for breakfast—although such mundane choices can precipitate a dramatic scene, such as an emotional flare-up having little to do with what to drink for breakfast—but they don’t have to involve life or death alternatives. I think of such choices as forks in the narrative road; the characters needn’t make the “right” choices, at least not according to the reader’s idea of right or wrong. There are many ways to get from L.A. to Chicago. For example, after having been instructed by his father’s ghost, Hamlet’s “right” choice, with twenty-twenty hindsight, might have been to kill his treacherous uncle in the first act, but that would have made for a very short play.

Much popular fiction follows a predictable pattern of character development that many readers have come to expect. The typical “character arc” can be worked out over a canned outline and a skillful writer can use mechanical plotting to produce a satisfying and marketable result. Character driven fiction is riskier, but when successful the literary rewards (though not necessarily the monetary ones) can be great.

In his preface to “The Portrait of a Lady,” Henry James referenced Ivan Turgenev concerning “the fictive picture.” According to James, Turgenev’s fiction almost always began “…with the vision of some person or persons who hovered before him, soliciting him, as the active or passive figure, interesting him and appealing to him just as they were and by what they were.” Those characters were “available” to the writer “…subject to the chances, the complications of existence, (Turgenev) saw them vividly, but then had to find for them the right relations, those that would most bring them out; to imagine, to invent and select and piece together the situations most useful and favorable to the sense of the creatures themselves, the complications they would be most likely to produce and feel.” I don’t think you can do that with a canned outline, although a writer might give the semblance of having done so, though it’s rather like painting the Sistine Chapel by the numbers.

For more than a century readers have asked, “Why did Isabel Archer make the choices she made?” as though they could have chosen better under similar circumstances. That’s like asking, “Why didn’t Hamlet kill Claudius in the first Act?” I think the better question is whether or not those characters acted plausibly, and most important “humanly” within the context of the story, even though the outcome is not the one the reader might have wished for, or in the end found most satisfying.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Turner - Three Masterpieces

I've always admired the art of Joseph  Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), so it was only natural that I had my artist-heroine, Marcia Brownlow, admire him too. I recently guest posted a brief excerpt from The Flower to the Painter on Rachael De Vienne's blog. The three paragraphs describe Marcia's impressions upon first viewing three great Turners at London's National Gallery.
The year is 1877, a time of transition in the art world, with the Impressionists gaining recognition in Paris, while  London looks more to the works of the Academic Neo-Classicists, the Romantic Neo-Gothicists, the Pre-Raphaelites and their newer offshoot, The Aesthetic Movement. Marcia is torn between the old and the new. She ponders the present and future of art as she contemplates the work of one of the greatest painters of the recent past. Her reflections are accompanied by pictures of three Turner masterpieces.

Welcome to My New Blog!

I created this blog to replace, a website that had been designed and hosted by my former publisher, Drollerie Press. Drollerie closed shop 10/21/11 and, sadly, my old website went with it. I'm going to try to re-publish some of my old posts, but going forward I'll be blogging about my new novel now available in paperback and e-book, The Flower to the Painter (Fireship Press, 2011), as well as new stories and other things related to my writing.