Tag Archives: characters

Rami, Sam, and Character Hopping

Writers are famous for falling in love with their characters so when Maria Ann Green posted about the character blog hop, I thought it sounded like fun. Thanks for tagging me, Maria!

I’m going to talk about one of the main characters in my adult thriller, The Drought of Sam Dakota(strictly a working title at this point). This novel was my creative thesis in grad school and this character barged onto the scene and stole the show.

What is the name of your character? Is he or she a fictional or historic person?

Rami Amato is a Native Samoan who played football at KU and went on to settle in Kansas City, Mo.

When and where is the story set? What should we know about him?

The book opens in 2006 in Kansas City, Mo. with the kidnapping of Sam Dakota’s son. It pops ahead to a year later when the local D.A. and a friend of Sam’s, coerces Rami, a local P.I. doing strictly corporate work, into helping Sam find his son. Rami has sworn off kidnapping cases since one went bad on him years before but the D.A. saved his butt when he got in a spot of legal trouble and the D.A. isn’t above collecting that marker.

Rami works on a barter system more than cash. He has issues with paying taxes (Native Samoans don’t pay all taxes but are subject to payroll taxes) given that the government never spends the money where it should to Rami’s way of thinking. His slightly less than ethical approach concerns Sam Dakota, a law-abiding attorney; but Sam’s more concerned with finding his son.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

Sam’s wife suffered from addiction and died before the story takes place. Being a single parent complicates Sam’s life, but Danny is the most important thing. Someone kidnaps Danny from his bus stop in September of 2006;  and in the beginning, Sam lets authorities do their job. By the end of the first year, leads dwindle and the case chills, so Sam looks for other options.

Rami had a kidnapping case go south and blames himself, some would say accurately. He refuses ALL domestic cases now. However, when the D.A. calls in his marker, Rami feels compelled to take the job. The result is his life becomes a disaster zone, and for Rami, it’s no longer about finding Sam’s son. Now, it’s about stopping a force that seems determined to stop Rami.

rami-amato-piWhat is Rami’s goal?

Okay, so this is Vin Diesel but he’s also Samoan and comes as close as I can to showing Rami. His goal was to get the job done because he’s concerned about another case, one that is far more personal. Except it appears people are out to hurt Rami and anyone close to him, and he’s no longer sure which case has him drawing fire. Now, his goal is tracking down whoever has placed the target on his back. He hopes along the way he can save his friend and find Sam’s son.

What is Rami’s personal goal?

For nearly three years, Rami has carried a load of guilt. He rarely sleeps an entire night and he spends all his quiet time wondering what he could have done differently, anything that would have provided a different, a better outcome.

Is there a title or working title? Where can we read more?

It’s been called The Drought of Sam Dakota since it’s inception, but I’m playing with other titles as an agent who loved the opening, did not like that title. Until I find one that I think is better, this is what I use. 🙂 Here’s the query:

Sam Dakota’s son is his world after his wife dies, and his work as a child advocate means he knows how fragile life can be for kids. In spite of what he knows, he never believed it would happen to him. Then, the first note arrives and the words keep him up at night.

“I have your son.”

When Danny vanishes, the chances of finding who took him dwindle with every dead-end. Faced with changing theories and dwindling police interest, Sam hires Rami Amato, a talented P.I. with an aversion to “kid cases.” Rami’s last kidnapping case ended badly; he refuses to let another end like that. Amato uncovers more than abduction. He uncovers a web of lies stretching back further than Danny’s disappearance.

Another note arrives. “I always wanted a boy.” Then another, and another, each note depicting horrors being exacted on Sam’s son. The ongoing nightmare consumes his life as the kidnapper starts a clock, counting down to Danny’s death. For Rami, it’s clear Sam won’t survive the final letter. Time is running out.

When can we expect the book to be published?

I’m currently revising before querying, and we all know even a near perfect book can never find a home while some bad books sell. I try to focus on telling Sam and Rami’s story. If it sells, I’ll be happy but for now, I just enjoy hanging out with the guys.

I’m tagging Natasha Hanova and Leatrice McKinney.

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Censorship and the PC Movement. Writers, Put Up Your Shields!

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 2.53.58 AMOne of my professors in grad school preached a lot about the danger writers might fall prey to the political correctness bug. While there is nothing wrong with being kinder and gentler as a society in our discourse with each other, being PC has not really had that effect. In fact, it appears to have had the opposite. People get into bitter discussions and vitriol flows freely in comment threads and on social media sites. If it sends the average Joe down that path, what is it doing to writers?

Brock Pope informs student writers this is a daily battle. We have to guard against it every time we sit down at the keyboard. The PC mentality is so engrained in our society that all rational thought leaves the building. Everything has become an attempt to ‘marginalize’ people. Recently, I had a scene with my detective, a Native Samoan. My critique partners both suggested it be cut as it was stereotyping. I trust my girls, and I always take their suggestions seriously. However, as writers we have to know when to fall back on our own counsel and what we know and have learned.

When I was going over the piece later, I kept hearing Pope ranting in my head against writers who cave to the pressure “not to offend” or to maintain a “PC” approach. Ultimately, I cut the bulk of the paragraph in question, not because it was stereotyping but because it was info dumping. I researched Native Samoans thoroughly and what I said was not stereotype but fact. There is a difference. When we make every male black character a basketball player, it’s stereotyping. They are not all brilliant basketball players, and they don’t even all like the sport. However, if I write an Italian character who talks with his/her hands, I am not stereotyping. Talking with our hands is a genetic factor in who we are. Attend my family reunions, you can pull major muscle groups dodging the arms.

What bothers me most about this PC culture is we’re slowly wiping out and demeaning our own histories. By demanding others not acknowledge who we are, we are also denying it. I grew up on Italian jokes, loved them, still do. Do we probably look silly talking with our hands? No doubt. But it’s part of who we are, and I wouldn’t change it anymore than I would my name. There are hazards to writing characters that have diversity. We’re encouraged to do it, yet told not to write characters outside our own culture. These things are in opposition. Trust writers to write. Allow them to create characters from any number of cultures, full of a richness that is part their culture and part their own unique personalities.

Writers today can spend too much time worrying about offending people and not enough time writing real characters. As writers, we must ignore the culture wars when we sit down to write. Otherwise, we are censoring our writing more than we’re editing.

How do you silence the inner editor who seeks to censor you?

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Blacklist, Bad Guys, and Bedeviling Behavior

If you haven’t checked out Blacklist this season, you are missing a thrill ride of dips and dives, twists and turns, that serve to spin a tale around the complexity of the human spirit. Raymond “Red” Reddington is one of the most complex antagonists I’ve enjoyed in a while. It helps that James Spader doesn’t so much play the character as inhabit him. However, even with an actor of his talents, you still have to have good writing and this show does. It even flashes with brilliance, something I rarely say about television writing. This isn’t just my opinion since the show has become a hit this season.

The premise is Reddington, a former government agent on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, turns himself in to authorities with an irresistible offer that has a catch. He’ll help them snag bad guys so evil the FBI doesn’t even know they exist but only if he can work with a rookie profiler, Elizabeth Keen. The games begin there. Keen is suspicious, rightly so, about Reddington’s interest in her. The adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer becomes her mantra as she tries to decode her new “partner”.

The plot [so far] is terrifyingly tight and full of secrets that if carefully revealed will make the character arcs totally satisfying. It’s not easy to write this kind of thing in serialized TV. The aspect of the writing that fascinates the most is the carefully drawn and orchestrated Reddington. While all the characters are richly drawn, with layers that allow the writers to leave us suspicious of nearly everyone, it is Spader’s “Red” that lights up the screen.

Case in point: In spite of his obvious criminal nature, viewers develop a comfort level with him. It’s difficult to say an audience “likes” someone who has committed the type of atrocities Red has but viewers definitely find themselves cheering for him against the bad guys he and Keen are seeking. Red is presented in this heroic mold for weeks before he stuns us by killing Keen’s father and his friend. A horrifying scene, it revealed a side of Reddington that remained buried in the back of our psyches. [We love to see the good in people.] Now, the reality came roaring back. People filled the air with questions, “Why did he do that?” or statements of outrage, “He didn’t have to do that!” Yet, that’s who he is. He’s a criminal with a dark past. The reminder saddened us.

We showed up a bit stunned the next week to find that karma had caught up with Reddington. An enemy comes after him, but the Feds protect him. Even Red doesn’t have the code to release himself from an impenetrable cage. When the man threatens to kill Red’s friend and sidekick, Red struggles to get someone to give him the code to save his friend’s life. A completely selfless act and not at all what we’ve come to expect from Red, at least not with anyone but Keen. During the tense scene, he struggles with his inability to save someone his friend. In a bittersweet moment that shows a humanity in Red that touches the heart and we’ve not seen from Red, not even in his scenes with Keen, he communicates with his friend in his native language. Suddenly, that scene in the hospital room when he brutally killed Keen’s dad drifts away. After all, the man was dying anyway. Reddington saved him from lingering, right? Red is redeemed. When he escapes, we cheer him on.

Raymond “Red” Reddington is a criminal, a thug, a killer, immoral, a lost soul. He is also a friend, a companion, a caregiver, and a leader. The best of bad guys are so much more than the ‘evil’ label allows. They are the proverbial onion with layers of complexity. When written this way, it is easy to believe in and cheer for guys like Raymond “Red” Reddington. So much so, that now I worry that Keen needs to watch out for her husband. In spite of everything, Red has convinced me that her husband is a threat to her. I didn’t start the season with the intention of cheering on a bad guy, but I’ve never had more fun doing it.

Who’s your favorite bad guy in literature, TV, or film?

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Facing a Character Uprising: Whip and a Chair, Please.

I told her, "Ain't happening. Not doing that. Not now. Not ever."

I told her, “Ain’t happening. Not doing that. Not now. Not ever.”

We all recognize it. The signs are obvious. Our carefully mapped out story which we worked to meet the three arc story structure is not staying in line. And we all know whose fault it is. It’s not the hard-working writer. No. It is always a cantankerous character determined to forge his own path. How dare he! So we attempt to woo him into line, to no avail of course.

After a bit of head banging – ours not his – we look at our beautifully structured outline and realize the inevitable. This is not truly our story. It may have started in our hands, and we may have molded its beginnings, but the minute the protagonist entered and began relating to other characters we relinquished a degree of control. We still control syntax and diction. We have a say over format and structure. Those chapters and scenes are still somewhat within our purview, but try to tell your character how things will go for the rest of his story and see how quickly he stops talking to you.

Wrestling your character to force him into line with your original vision is a bit like wrangling an alligator. You either wind up an hors d’ oeuvre or you own a pretty but lifeless pair of shoes. It’s always best when a character steps up to the plate and takes over to let them have the wheel. You can step in when you need to and rein in the parts you control but let the character tell his or her story. It is their journey, their path. In the end, we wouldn’t want anyone else telling our story, would we?

How do you handle character rebellions?

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The Inner Sanctum, The Irish Moors, or the Fiery Realm of Hell

Let’s just get this out of the way at the get go. I am a COWARD. One of the many reasons I write is so my characters can do all the things I’m terrified to try. Of course, then I also have fears within my writing. Specifically, settings that I avoid at all costs. Some out of laziness – too much research involved, some out of economics – too much money involved, and some out of pure ol’ FEAR. There are three specific settings I’ve considered using over the years. Two of them I have just never had a plot that worked for, one of them it is just a case of being flat-out terrified to attempt it.

Misty_River_Barrow_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1251129When I was young, I read book after book set on the Irish Moors. I dreamed of the place nearly every night, could almost smell the air in my sleep. It was my favorite fiction setting. Unfortunately, none of my plots or characters have ever worked for it. Sigh.

Another favorite of mine growing up was mythology. The tale of the unfortunate goddess who reigned over the seasons (Demeter) whose daughter (Persephone) was kidnapped by the evil Lord of the Underworld, Hades, provided the Greeks with an explanation for the seasons. While Persephone reigned in the Underworld, Persephone mourned and during those months, everything withered and died. (Fall and winter) Life returned, grasses growing and flowers blooming when Persephone returned to her mother. (Spring and summer) Unfortunately, much as I love the idea of a story set in hell, I don’t have a plot or characters for it either.

The inner sanctum, on the other hand, has characters and a plot waiting. I want to write this story so bad. Unfortunately, I don’t have the knowledge, and the research is daunting. I’m not sure where to begin and frankly, fear of what I might encounter in the process causes me to balk. (What you don’t know, won’t hurt you…) Much as I want to write my POTUS story, much as I want to set my plot around the most famous address in our country, much as I love the idea of secret service and politicians (what more natural conflict could you ask for?), this COWARD has been unable to muster the mettle for it. Sigh.

Perhaps…someday…

Is there a setting that intrigues and intimidates you?

Check out what my CP’s have to say about intimidating settings.

Natasha Hanova      Leatrice McKinney

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Sometimes…Writing can Wait.

IMG_0850This is a tough week to feel like talking about writing. First, there was Boston and then Waco and because this isn’t a political blog, I won’t get into the disaster called Congress. Writing and a discussion of writing seems misplaced. I’ve tried, but then I see faces and hear stories in my head of real heroes, people who ran toward danger instead of away from it, and I’m humbled.

Human beings are flawed. That’s never more evident than in a week like this one. They are also made of heroic fiber that no one could have imagined in advance. As a writer, how do I create characters with that delicate balance between flawed and heroic?

In a week like this one? Be silent. Watch and listen and hear the stories. Let that germinate.

Then, begin again.

My prayers are with the people of Boston and Waco.

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Edge of Truth

EdgeOfTruth.indd

Edge of Truth is a dystopian tale by author Natasha Hanova. Trapped in a world where she can never achieve more than the society has ‘approved’ for her, Rena Moon is a typical teenager. She rebels against everything from the Overlord to the Synbots to her father and aunt. Rena wants more and determines she can get more. The slight wrinkle to things is her ‘secret’. She’s an Other, one of those gifted with a hidden ability.

Like most girls she’s got a bestie, Blaze, and a crush, Nevan, and she has a lot on her plate. There’s the Solstice Celebration, avoiding her problematic little brothers, and her constant search for a way out of ‘Hollowdump’ as she calls her hometown. On one search into Westrock, she stumbles upon a treasure. That might be an understatement since Rena’s ‘Other’ trait is the ability to sense earthquakes. In this case, the quake unearths the cave of riches.

The fortuitous find represents freedom from the oppressive Overlord Andrick and the way of life she’s fought against. A reluctant Blaze agrees to help her market the treasures. Unfortunately, they don’t make it home before curfew and seek refuge from the Synbots at Nevan’s home much to Rena’s horror. Embarrassing moments pile up for her there, and she’s still got to face her father the next day. Rena’s grounding forces Blaze to go to market without her and attempt to sell the goods. This is Blaze’s strength and she does well. Both girls gear up for the Solstice Celebration now that they have outfits fit for who they really are, not who society has made them.

The first sign of a problem is when Rena shows up, but Blaze doesn’t. When it becomes apparent someone has kidnapped Blaze, Nevan joins Rena in the search for her bestie. Balancing her growing attraction to Nevan with her worry for Blaze and her guilt that her desire to leave Hollowdump is what caused her friend to go missing, Rena follows the path of clues. She knows her ‘directions challenged’ best friend is completely unable to lead her kidnapper to the cave and fears what he’ll do when he realizes it. What results is a suspense filled ride across uncharted territory during the ‘burn’, a dangerous sun without the protection of the ozone layer. Problem with her ability is she also causes quakes. She has to worry about and control her emotions as they search. This would be totally easier without Nevan by her side.

Rena is an independent minded female character, which is a huge plus in YA. Blaze is also a strong character although quite different from Rena. Nevan is the quintessential guy crush who can send a girl over the edge causing her to almost forget everything, even her missing bestie, by simply touching her hand. Power is at the heart of the book. In a dystopian society, it often is. However, independence and hope and loyalty win the day in Edge of Truth. The book is an edge of your seat roller coaster ride through a mine field, at the same time it maintains a sweet tale about friendship and first love. It’s a YA must read.

I received an ARC of Edge of Truth for the purpose of this review.

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