August 14, 2011

I Am Looking for a Professional Review of An Unlikely Place

If you write book reviews and are looking to give an honest, complete review of my novel An Unlikely Place, then please contact me at galanham2010@gmail.com.  Please include a link to any reviews you have done for other authors, along with contact information and a brief listing of your credentials.  If I like what I see, I will respond with a coupon for a free e-reader copy on Smashwords.com.  I will publish your review, good or bad, on my websites and on Amazon.com. 

In special circumstances, I am willing to consider sending a free print copy of the book.  However, this can get expensive, so please understand if I prefer for you to get a copy of the book electronically.

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to hearing from you.

GA Lanham

July 23, 2011

And the Dragon Said… Where Are We Going & Why Are We In This Hand Basket?

Could we mess this up any more?  A looming debt crisis, the weather out of control, resources like food and fresh water growing scarce.  The worst of it is there won’t be any miraculous rescuing from our tragedy.  No aliens will land and tell us they know how to fix it, or take us to some brand new world.  Even if Congress somehow manages to come to a compromise before August 2nd, it’s just delaying the inevitable.  That’s because no one seems to understand what is happening.  Raising our debt limit just lets us borrow more.  We have to cut spending, go back to living within our means, but no one is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for that to happen.
It is time for us to ask ourselves the tough questions, and to make the tough choices.  Do we really need the big screen TV’s, the latest, fastest cars, or the best fashions?  Our educational system is on a downward spiral, but our priorities are focused on the NFL season and whether Lindsey Lohan will go back into rehab.  We’re worried about what Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are doing this week.  Meanwhile, our leaders can’t seem to get their heads out of their rears long enough to put aside their differences for the greater good.  Most of the country is withering under an intense heat wave, while people die from natural disasters like flooding, tornados, and this past winter, record breaking snowfall.  Last year, Russia experienced record highs, droughts, and fires, while Pakistan nearly washed away from intense flooding.  Have we forgotten so soon?  The data has been analyzed, and the results revealed.  Yet, climate change is just a myth…
Denial.  It is our greatest weakness.  Not poverty, sloth, greed, or hate.  No, denial is our sin.  Everything else is a symptom.  We are in denial because we fail to learn the lessons of the past.  All great countries, empires, nations eventually fall.  Rome, the British Empire, the Mayans, the Incans, the Egyptians.  They fall because of corruption.  They fall because of greed and human frailty.  They fall because we deny we are the cause of our own demise.  If we wish to survive our own tragedy, we must stop denying we are the cause.  We need to re-evaluate our priorities.  Should we give it all up?  We might not need to, if we can just accept that we don’t have to have it to survive.  Long ago, our forefathers survived by working the land, bartering with others for what they did not have, and remembering what was most important in life.  And before you say the quality of life back then sucked, ask yourself: is it really any better now?  Are we any happier, more fulfilled, or content?  I doubt it.
No, we struggle under mountains of debt and worry about whether what we’re eating is good for us.  Now we work 60 hour weeks for little in return, suffer from ulcers and worse, lose our homes and our jobs, and live in constant uncertainty.  Meanwhile, our health fails from polluted air, polluted food, and polluted water.  We find we cannot make ends meet, can barely afford the bread and the milk, and watch our children face the possibility of not getting that college education we always took for granted. 
Still we deny.
It’s time to wake up.  It’s time to take a stand.  It’s time to choose a future where there is still an earth that can sustain life.  It’s time to realize that money isn’t everything, and ultimately, we can’t take it with us.  It’s time to sacrifice for our families, for our children, and for our future.  We can’t look to our leaders to do it.  We have to save ourselves.  Because folks, it’s not a matter of if.  It’s a matter of when.  We’re already in the hand basket on our way to Hell.  We can still get out, still find our way back.
But we have to stop the denial.  Now.
G. A. Lanham

Giving the Hero OCD II

In my last post I talked about characterization, making your characters more real.  I mentioned giving them flaws and making your villains more relatable.  Well I would like to share a similar article written by another author, Elizabeth Simms.  (I mentioned before I am by no means an expert, and Ms Simms gives a more in-depth rendering of how to make your characters richer.)  As you read her article, you’ll notice that she is essentially giving the same tips I am, but she explains how to do this through the building of relationships.  While I said that my next post would be about settings, I thought I’d share this wonderful article.  So I invite you to read and I hope it helps you.  It certainly helped me!
Tune in next week for an explanation about settings. 
8 Ways to Write Better Characters
by  Elizabeth Sims

Depicting convincing relationships could just be the key to writing better characters. Try these 8 ways to do it.

The very first novel I, aged 20-something, wrote, is unpublished and will stay that way. An ensemble coming-of-age story of four teenagers, its weaknesses are legion: tame story line, thin action, unimaginatively rendered settings, hackneyed themes (though I will say the dialogue wasn’t bad). Having now published seven novels, I look back on that manuscript and realize that underlying the shortcomings I just mentioned lies its principal flaw: poor character development. The kids just don’t pop.

So I’ve been pleased to read reviews of my latest novels (the Rita Farmer mysteries) that praise the characterization—and I’ve been struck by the number of them that cite the realism of my characters’ relationships. While plot is important, good characters can make or break your book. And the best characters are those who relate convincingly not just to their world, but to one another.

Let’s consider, to start, the categories of relationships we might write in our fiction:

Romantic
Parent/Child
Siblings
Aggressor/Victim
Rivals/Adversaries
Best Friends
Boss/Employee
Caregiver/Receiver
Cop/Criminal
Partners (in business, crime, etc.)
Slave/Master
Human/Environment
Human/God
Human/Pet
Casual Acquaintances

 … and so many more.

Everybody has relationships. In your fiction—as in life—you want to take those connections beyond the obvious. Like descriptions, relationships can lapse into cliché. Think of the hero and his wisecracking sidekick, the frustrated housewife and the handsome neighbor, the befuddled father and his precocious child, the renegade cop and the stupid chief.

When you create your characters, go ahead and give them meaty biceps or thin shanks, blue eyes, hemophilia, courage, a ranch, neuroses, penchants for vegetarianism or anarchy or Lawrence Welk or scuba. Do this until you know who they are.

Then, explore who they are beyond themselves.

Here’s how.


1. Make them stop and think.
Introspection is the easiest and clearest way to develop your characters’ relationships. Make your characters think about their bonds; make them challenge their own thoughts and feelings. I love him, but why? What’s the real reason I hate her? What needs to happen so I can get over this?

Shakespeare was one of the first masters of introspection, via his soliloquies. When Hamlet considers the pros and cons of avenging his father’s murder, you think and feel right along with him. You ask yourself the same moral questions. Your heart catches when he fails to take action, and it catches again when he does act. The central issue to him is honor, and only in the context of alliances can honor exist.

Today’s introspective scenes might not be as easily identifiable as those soliloquies were, but they’ve evolved right along with storytelling styles over the years. Take, for example, Michael Chabon’s novelette The Final Solution, which merges the Holocaust with British-style crime-busting through an elderly Sherlock Holmes (though the character remains unnamed throughout the story). In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries, the original Holmes never reveals himself at all; we come to know him only through the eyes of Dr. Watson, the first-person narrator. But in The Final Solution, Chabon affords himself complete license to the great detective’s brain and heart simply by choosing the third-person point of view. In his portrayal, we see that Holmes is a particularly introspective hero, less self-assured than he used to be (though no less sharp), beset by doubts and petty worries, struggling with old age and the tropes of contemporary life. Most important, we see how hungry he is for human connections: Will they like me? Will they understand me? Who am I against? Who am I for? These questions motivate him as the story progresses.

So, take a little time to tell your readers what your characters are thinking about the others. Say you’re writing a story in which a son kills his abusive father. What agonies would he go through, if the act were premeditated? And if it weren’t, what hell would he experience afterward?

Instead of having the son stand next to a tree and tell it his troubles, you might write something like this:
       
        Roger Jr. fingered the five-dollar bill in his pocket and decided to buy the breakfast burrito instead of two Hostess fruit pies, same price. As he paid the zit-faced clerk, he wondered if he would meet his father in hell. If, after tonight, a bus ran over him, Roger Jr., would he go to hell instantly or would there be some kind of processing period? Would the pain of being dragged under a bus be worse than waking up in hell? Do they drag people under buses in hell? Would his father be the one to drive the bus, even? Drive the bus around and around the lake of fire or whatever. Roger Sr. would rightly go to hell for what he’d done—for what he’d done for so many years, over and over—but maybe he could work his way out someday. After half of infinity, maybe. Whereas Roger Jr. would stay in hell forever because he’d be a murderer. “You’re still the dumbest one in the family,” his dad would say in hell, one more time, crookedly, what with half of his face blown off. Let’s at least be sure to blow off the full face tonight.

2. Give them strong opinions.
Some writers seem reluctant to give their characters strong opinions—maybe because we don’t like to seem overbearing ourselves. True, being overbearing may be a flaw, but in fiction, flaws are good. Give your characters flaws that can be fatal. For my series protagonist Rita Farmer, it’s her tendency to lose her temper. Her anger flares, and before you know it she’s doing something she’ll regret. On the other hand, her anger can save her—if it comes up at just the right time. And her fury has much to do with her opinions.

In the opening pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the protagonist, Jake Barnes, does nothing but tell all about another character, Robert Cohn, giving opinion after opinion. From the way Jake describes Robert and his accomplishments, we learn some things about Robert, but we learn a lot more about the way Jake thinks. He clearly despises Robert, yet we soon see that the men are also friends, at least of a sort. We sense that they may become rivals. Why? We want to keep reading to find out. 

Much of the story’s power comes from the feelings the characters have for—and against—one another. We identify with their love, and we’re appalled by their callousness. We are also educated by it. This is how some people live. Is it shallow or deeper than it really seems? Desirable or undesirable? We hold ourselves up to its mirror.

In your own work, remember that every narrator has a personality. Let that narrator’s opinions inform her character. And by all means, let characters gossip among themselves. An exchange as simple as this one between two teenagers can paint a sharp little picture:
       
        “Jeanette has zero self-respect,” said Wendy, shoving two skinny sixth-graders aside so she could be first in the cafeteria line.
       
        “Yeah,” agreed Dani, crowding behind her, giving an extra shove to one of the littler kids, then looking to Wendy for approval. Then, after a pause, “I saw her making out with Tony after the game Friday.”
       
        Wendy whipped around. “Why didn’t you tell me? He told me he went home!”
       
        It wasn’t true, but Dani did stuff like this over and over. She didn’t know why, except that it felt good to get other people in trouble.

3. Play a game of risk.
Make one character sacrifice or risk something for another. Countless spiritual scriptures, myths, classics and modern tales exploit the heart-clutching moment of a character dying to save others, or for a cause. But equally compelling can be a character merely risking his life for another.

In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara puts everything at stake by remaining in Atlanta as Sherman’s army advances, in order to help her sister-in-law Melanie Wilkes through a near-fatal childbirth. The day drags on, it’s hot as hell, Melanie writhes in pain, the doctor is busy with thousands of wounded soldiers, most everybody else has fled the city, and the Yankees are coming. Scarlett doggedly mops the pain sweat from Melanie’s body as the fear sweat from her own soaks her dress. Mitchell could have cut this scene without really impacting her main plot, but instead she positively hammers us with it. Why? Because it’s a test of Scarlett’s character.

Granted, Scarlett had promised Melanie’s husband, Ashley, to look after her while he was away fighting. But at the risk of her own life? After all, Scarlett wants Ashley for herself. How easy it would be to let Melanie and the unborn baby, well, sort of die!

No. We need to know that Scarlett wouldn’t abandon Melanie even when her own life is at stake, because we need to know that Scarlett isn’t merely a hard bitch who gets what she wants. If that was all there was to her, she’d be fine as a stereotype in a soap opera, but she wouldn’t be an immortal character. We would not root for her in spite of her flaws.

Make one of your characters willing to die for another, and put him in position where that could happen. Your readers will curse their alarm clocks in the morning.

4. Add a hypotenuse.
Make triangles. Did you notice something about the relationships I listed earlier? They’re all dyads. Most relationships start out that way, but too often writers stay stuck on dyadic relationships to the exclusion of more complex ones. Consider F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy is memorable only because of the huge hulking reason they can’t be together: Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan.

A lesser author than Fitzgerald might have skimmed over the character of Tom. The very fact of his existence, plus the fact that Daisy took a vow to be true to him, should be enough—and it would’ve been, for a dime novel of the day. But it wasn’t enough for Fitzgerald. He enlarged the character of Tom by giving him a relationship with the narrator, Nick Carraway. Old college acquaintances, their relationship intensifies during the novel, and it’s through Nick’s eyes that we see Tom’s strength, his selfishness, his cruelty and—in a powerful moment when he tries to win Daisy’s heart back from Gatsby—his tenderness.

Our emotions are not rational, and our relationships aren’t, either. This is why romantic obsession is a terrifically handy tool for the writer (sexual attraction being the great motivator of millions of bad decisions—and sometimes, of course, of salvation, when it works out). Consider adding a sturdy hypotenuse to your two main characters and see what happens. The third party doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal, a career, an addiction, a call to adventure, an obligation—anything that gets in the way of the cozy pairing you began with.
5. Leverage the group.
As a writer, you’re a student of human nature. When I was a retail store manager (prior life), I learned that the two games groups like to play the most are Ain’t It Awful and Kill the Leader. People behave differently in groups than they do otherwise, the most obvious and horrifying example being a mob, which is capable of violence far beyond the natural inclination of most individuals because the mob serves not merely as a shield, but as an excuse. The relationships between individuals in a group—whether a clique of three or an organization of thousands—are endlessly varied, shifting and fascinating.

Three works that use group dynamics to gripping effect are the novels A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, The Help by Kathryn Stockett and the play Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. In the first, a group of children fall into the clutches of pirates, and what follows between them serves to illustrate that the veneer of civilization is thinner than most of us can bear to admit. In the second, protagonists from both sides of the divide in segregated Mississippi demonstrate that while groups can greatly influence individuals, the right individual can exercise great power over a group.

And Mamet’s play reinforces all of those messages while giving us a spectacle of testosterone-fueled ruthlessness, set in a Chicago real estate office. Competition for money and success drives the men to cruelty, lying and thieving as one aligns himself against the other, pairs align against individuals, and the group alternately pits itself against the boss, then casts itself in profane servility to him.

One small, subtle moment (which was expanded in the film version of the play) shows how even a passing reference to a relationship can deepen a character’s motivation. Levene, a struggling salesman, is desperate to get better customer leads, and in pleading with his boss, he finally says, “My daughter …” and trails off.

That’s it. No manipulative words beyond that. Just the simple mention of a relationship—a family obligation, the obligation of a father to a daughter, the obligation perhaps freighted by some special, unnamed circumstance about the daughter—helps the audience understand where Levene is coming from. He is needy, and he isn’t above exploiting his own pain.

How can group dynamics deepen your characters? The key is to remember that in a group, relationships and alliances are ever changing, depending on circumstances. And we know circumstances never remain the same. Figure out how the underdog might transform into a tyrant, or how a fun little secret can become a public threat.

6. Befriend ambiguity.
If we wish to write clearly, how can ambiguity be OK? I think Patricia Highsmith is just about the best there is when it comes to harnessing ambiguity in relationships. In her Edgar-winning novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, the relationship between the two main characters is sexually nebulous, and the same goes for her Strangers on a Train.

This was likely due in part to the mores of the time (both were published in the 1950s), but this strangely explicated ambiguity works well to make things feel unsettled, ulterior. Tom Ripley murders Dickie Greenleaf out of a twisted sense of possession, if not love. This is so much more compelling than if Tom had merely murdered Dickie for personal gain, a shallow friendship their only connection.

In your own work, resist the urge to overexplain relationships. Everybody instinctively understands there’s more than meets the eye. In every adult, there’s a bit of a child. In every cop, there’s a bit of a criminal. In every sadist, there’s a bit of a masochist. And in every human, there’s a bit of a beast—and a bit of a god. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

7. Tap into the power of a grudge.
Mythology and folklore are chock-full of motivational grudges, as is life. All of us have probably clung to a grudge against somebody for a while, fantasizing various retribution scenarios, but what kind of personality acts on such an impulse to the point of destructive vengeance? The sort we know too well from true-crime books and “America’s Most Wanted”–type TV: a person whose self-esteem is lower than whale crap, but whose ego is as big as Kilauea. Grudge-holding characters have fueled a diverse range of popular tales, from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Consider Stephen King’s Carrie. King downplays the quality of this, his first novel, but it continues to fascinate and terrify readers. Teenaged Carrie is taunted by her classmates for being odd, dominated as she is by her warped, religious-nut mother. The other kids push her to the limit, not knowing she’s developed telekinetic powers.

The story works so well because Carrie’s eventual murderous rage is believable. And it’s believable because in devising ways for Carrie’s schoolmates to torment her, King put her into situations of intolerable shame and degradation, culminating in the pig’s-blood drenching at the prom. You read that and even though you’re basically a mild-mannered person, you find yourself whispering, “Kill them, Carrie—kill all those bastards!”

Your readers are going to expect any grudge you create for your characters to be that powerful. So do what King did: Create a character with a sensitive spirit, and make him suffer injustices that would make anyone’s stomach shrivel.

Then sit back and enjoy the fun.

8. Don’t overlook everyday interactions.
If you own a car and are at all like me, you can drive for hundreds of miles without reacting to the other idiots in their cars. Somebody cuts you off and you shrug or even smile indulgently. But then, one day, something is different inside you. Somebody zooms too close and your anger surges beyond all reason. You want to run him down and flatten him into the pavement. You want to bump his vehicle off a cliff. You want him to pay.

You don’t even know his name.

Yes, a chance encounter with a stranger can be powerful enough to transform a moment, or a day, even to change your life. Just think what you can do in your fiction, with a little planning and imagination.

Similarly, acquaintanceships can bolster your characterizations. An acquaintanceship can serve to illustrate a character trait, or it can foment enormous change in a whole cast of characters. Good examples are found in Jim Thompson’s noir novel The Grifters. In the first pages, the character Roy Dillon chisels some money out of a shopkeeper, a stranger. But the shopkeeper catches on and beats him up, setting off an entire chain of events surrounding Roy’s recovery.

Let your characters approach others, glance off them, then continue on different trajectories. After all, this is what happens in real life. It’s all in the relationships.

When crafting your characters’ relationships, let the yin-yang symbol be your guide. You’ve seen this circle made of equal parts black and white, with a drop of each color in the other. No relationships are clear-cut, nor are any one-sided. Leaven the love with a little fear, or maybe even hate.

If you spend some time thinking about relationships in this way, you’ll see opportunities to develop your characters further than you ever imagined. Because characters are people, just like us. Relationships reveal the various roles we play, the ever-changing masks we all wear, and the yearnings that expose our hearts. 
G.A. Lanham

July 20, 2011

Giving the Hero OCD

Like a lot of writers, I get asked for writing advice.  And like a lot of writers, I give it.  Why not?  In the end, we’re all in this together.  And I’m a firm believer of giving back.  Am I an expert?  No.  I’m still learning like the rest of us.  Even so, I’d like to impart a few words of wisdom, or share some wisdom from other writing gurus.  So what follows is the first of a serious of brief articles on writing how-to.
So my first article is about characterization.  How many times have you eagerly picked up a book only to be disappointed by two dimensional characters, stereotypes, and clichés?  I can recall several.  Oh they had their good points, but the really memorable stories had characters you came to love, hate, and all the complex emotions in-between.  Think Twilight or Lord of the Rings.  Among other things, you grew to love Edward, sympathize with Bella, and felt pain when he left her.  You couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Frodo next.  And you cried when Sam was callously betrayed by Gollum’s sly treachery.  Not to mention really enjoying it when Gollum got his!  But how did Stephanie Myers and J. R. R. Tolkien do it?  How did they write characters the reader almost couldn’t live without?
Over the course of several years, like every aspiring author, I’ve taken literary courses and lessons in writing.  And one thing I have learned is that no matter what kind of story you are writing, be it romance, fantasy, mystery, western, or even mainstream fiction, if you don’t create real characters that can be related to, your story will fall flat.  No matter how great the plot is, or how wondrous the setting, if the characters come across as unrealistic, your story will fail to capture.  And how to you make the hero relatable?  How do you make the villain realistic?  You give the hero flaws, and you show that the villain has qualities the average reader can sympathize with.  (Even if every action he or she takes makes you want to kill them first!) 
Let’s give this a try.  Let’s say your character is an athlete named Joe.  Joe is muscular and fit, outgoing and generally popular.  Cliché`!!!  Ahhh, but let’s give Joe a problem, a character flaw.  Let’s give him OCD.  It doesn’t have to be severe.  He could just have a mild case.  Now one way to introduce this character flaw is to say Joe has OCD.  Okay.  But remember the first rule of writing fiction.  Show, don’t tell.  Suppose when Joe leaves the house each morning, he must compulsively check all the burners on the stove, check all the lights, and touch the doorknob three times before opening the door and leaving for the day.  Ah, now we’ve just demonstrated OCD.  Even if your reader doesn’t immediately identify it by the medical term, he or she will recognize that Joe has an issue.  Now, depending on the story you’re writing, you can make the OCD into a major obstacle.  Or you can keep it simple, having it only arise when he is stressed or as something to endear a love interest.  All that is entirely up to you as the author.  Just make sure that you don’t take it overboard.  Especially if you’re writing a story about the struggle many have with OCD.  Make it relatable but don’t ram it down your reader’s throats. 
Make sense?  Now let’s try to make our villain more personable.  Hmm.  That might not be as easy as it sounds.  One of the most common mistakes writers make is to create villains that are predictable, two dimensional, and oh so cliché.  (I really like that word don’t I?)  It happens because we, as human beings, don’t generally see ourselves as bad people.  In fact, often the defense of murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and others is “I’m not a bad person.  I had reasons for killing him,” etc.  So how do you relate to a character that does bad things?  Well, you must give him or her motive for their behavior.  Anyone who has ever taken a college human behavioral class learns that no one ever does anything without some kind of motivation or reason.  So make sure your villain has a reason for being so, well, villainous.  The most obvious motives are money, power, jealously, or revenge, or some combination of these.  But if you really want to make your villain believable, give them a more underlying cause for their desire for revenge, power, money, or jealously.  Perhaps the villain is a jealous boyfriend who has mother issues. Maybe the ruthless business man takes down other companies without remorse because he is really seeking revenge on a father who abandoned him.  (By the way, motives and reasons apply as much to your hero as your villain.  Not to mention the supporting characters.)
Remember our hero Joe, with the OCD?  Let’s give him a rival.  How about an unpopular fellow named Jeff.  Jeff is jealous of Joe.  Joe has everything Jeff doesn’t, popularity, good looks, girls.  But now let’s delve a little deeper.  Suppose Jeff also has OCD!  Perhaps his OCD is more serious than Joe’s and it has overtaken his life to the point that coping with day to day activities is difficult.  Perhaps he is jealous of Joe because Joe seems to personify all that Jeff wants but cannot have.  This could give you a tool to create reconciliation later in the story, when Jeff finds out Joe struggles with OCD.  Another tack you could take is for Jeff to know Joe has OCD, and is jealous because Joe doesn’t seem to be affected by it.  To make Jeff’s character even more interesting is to reveal some history about him.  Perhaps his parents shunned him because of his OCD.  Whatever direction you decide to take, revealing Jeff’s motivations and struggles helps readers identify with him.  And this in turn makes Jeff more realistic.
I’m going to refer back to Lord of the Rings for a moment.  Remember Frodo?  Everybody likes Frodo.  He’s kind, he’s respectful, and he’s willing to do what it takes to save Middle Earth.  But he’s also afraid and as he succumbs more and more to the One Ring’s influence, he begins to display characteristics we don’t like so well.  And the ring helps Frodo relate to Gollum, who shares his disturbing fascination for the ring.  Gollum is relatable to the readers because we see how the One Ring twisted and devoured him.  Remember, at one point we find out Gollum was really Smeagol, a weak willed creature that easily fell under the ring’s power.  Being what he was, we feel sorry for him, even as we detest him for his treachery.  (I thought Tolkien revealed the inner struggle of Gollum admirably in the scenes where Gollum displays a split personality.  He actually has an argument with himself that is both disturbing and fascinating.)  The bottom line is we relate to both these characters.  We may not like them, but we still identify with them in some fashion.
And that’s it.  Of course there is a lot more to character creation than simply creating motives and flaws.  One piece of advice I was given once is to create back histories for all of your characters.  Even if some or most of this information never makes it into the story, it helps you, as the author, come to regard your characters as real, living people.  Create habits, likes, dislikes, histories, religious beliefs, nervous tics... whatever you like.  Do it for your supporting cast as well as your main characters.  You can write these histories down or simply create them in your head.  Doing so will help you to find motivations and reasons for your characters’ behaviors.  Which in turn makes them relatable and also helps drives your story.  A little characterization goes a long way towards making your story memorable.  Just try to avoid the clichés, will ya?
So if you’re serious about becoming a writer, then you seek out as much good advice as you can get.  Take it from writers who’ve been in the trenches.  Take some courses.  But at the end of the day, you’ll only be a writer if you write.  And that’s my last piece of advice for today.  Write.  Need some help?  Here are some words of wisdom from my dear old momma:
Apply seat of pants to chair, fingers to keyboard, and just…write.
G.A. Lanham
**My next article will be about settings.  So tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel.  (And wasn’t that a cliché to end all clichés!!!)

July 17, 2011

An Unlikely Place Now on Smashwords.com!!!

Yes, that’s right.  You heard correctly.  I am pleased and excited to announce that An Unlikely Place is now available in e-book format on Smashwords.com.  And even better, the book is priced for just $4.99 a copy!  That’s over 70% off the cover price!  If you are a diehard e-book fan, or just looking for a great deal, don’t wait!  Click here to purchase and download your copy today.  An Unlikely Place is available for Adobe, Kindle, Nook, Apple IPad, as well as many mobile reading devices.  Just sign up as a member of Smashwords… it’s FREE!  And soon you can start reading An Unlikely Place today.
Here’s what others have been saying about An Unlikely Place:
“I couldn’t put this book down!  I wanted to call into work the next morning, just so I could finish it!  All I can say is… when is the sequel coming out?”
Tommie from Roswell, NM
Karen from Pioneer Bank says:
“I don’t usually read romance.  It’s always so predictable.  But An Unlikely Place is different.  The characters, the emotions.  I loved it!”
“A well written romantic fantasy.  …The author certainly knows how to draw out the emotions of the reader.”
Avid Read From the West on Amazon.com
Debra from Roswell says:
“I’m almost convinced this author was abducted.  The vivid details, the in-depth descriptions.  It’s a great read!”
G.A. Lanham
Click here to begin reading An Unlikely Place.  You won’t regret it!

And the Dragon Said… Beauty vs the Wolf

There is a tendency for us, as a modern day civilization, to believe that many of the problems and social aberrancies we hear about are only recent issues.  Serial killers, serial rapists, pedophilia, child rapists… the list goes on.  But the truth of the matter is these kinds of aberrant behaviors have long plagued mankind.  One need look no further than the bible, which from a historical standpoint, documents the deviant tendencies of mankind quite thoroughly.  But we can find evidence in other kinds of tales as well.  Fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, and Donkey Skin, much watered down from the originals, still retain at their hearts, the moral or lesson of the story.  In Hansel and Gretel, the moral is don’t wander off, and don’t accept sweets from strangers.  This was perhaps meant as a warning to children, to protect them from sexual predators and other dangers.  And while the watered down version of Donkey Skin is said to have a moral of staying steadfast to your duty, no matter how hard, there is a disturbing element to the story.  How is it right, after all, that a father should wish to marry his own child?  This highlights a very old history of sexual abuse by parents or other family members, and highlights the fact that it is only recently those women and children can find protection from such abusive behavior.  (For a very well rendered re-telling of Donkey Skin, see Robin McKinnely’s version Deer Skin.  But be warned, her version is for adults, not children.)
I bring all this up because I recently watched two lovely renderings of two timeless tales, Beastly, a modern day version of Beauty and the Beast, and Red Riding Hood.  The moral of these stories is obvious.  Or is it?  In Beastly, a vain and handsome prince, aka class president, unwittingly insults a witch who then curses him.  Made hideous and unsightly, he is rejected even by his own father, and is doomed unless he can find a kind hearted woman to love him despite his obvious flaws.  It reminds us of the very old theme that beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.  Of course, it also shows that we must look beyond of the surface of things to find the real truth, and that we should take nothing at face value.  For those who are wise enough, no tales are needed.  Still, in a modern day society where being thin and beautiful or muscular and athletic is the epitome of success, such cautionary tales like Beauty and the Beast are as important as ever.  Especially in this era of Internet bullying, anorexia, and plastic surgery gone wrong. 
In Red Riding Hood, the tale stays truer to the original telling, at least in time period, although it was altered quite a bit from what I remembered of the classic.  If we look at the original legend, a young girl goes to grandmother’s house.  She is told to stay only on the path as she walks through the woods, and again, not to talk to strangers.  Interestingly enough, in the original, Red Riding Hood encounters the “wolf” (really a euphemism for sexual predator, or perhaps, simply a man who would seduce the woman and dishonor her), and after resisting his charms, she reaches her grandmother’s house.  Only to discover, of course, that the wolf has gotten there before her and taken her grandmother’s place.  Hmmm, what could that mean?  Perhaps, just as the story suggests, the “wolf” has been stalking her for some time and knows her habits.  Or perhaps the “wolf” is really someone known, an uncle or grandfather, and has long threatened Red Riding Hood.  In any case, in the version of Red Riding Hood I watched, the moral is that those around you may not be what they seem, even those closest to you.  Everyone has secrets, and it is wise to remember we may not even know ourselves or what we are capable of.  And it also points out that we should not be too quick to turn on those around us when faced with the possibility of a “wolf” in the fold.  Very often he or she is the one person we never expected, and too often it is the weak or different who become the victims of our fear. 
Both movies are good.  If I had to choose a favorite, I would say Beastly.  It was more true to the classic, modernized to give it relevance, but still a wonderful tale.  Perhaps I like it also because it wasn’t an insipid cartoon churned out by Disney (who has finally gotten more with the times if Tangled is any indication), but a real story about the human tendency to judge only by outward appearances, our idolization of beauty to the point of disregarding unsightly behaviors by those who are beautiful, and about realizing that beauty itself is not the real truth.  (I also liked the fact that it was the prince who needed rescuing, not the princess.)  But I do not discard Red Riding Hood completely.  I enjoyed the story and liked the twist to it that breathed new life into a tale I never really cared for that much to begin with.  In truth, I’d like to see more fairy tales, told as they should be.  Because those classic legends were not watered down versions meant just for children.  They were stories to remind adults of very basic truths, moral teachings told in the oldest and greatest tradition.  In a modern day where ancient deviant behaviors are as alive and well as always, we need the reminders and warnings.  That is, if any of us pay attention.
G.A. Lanham

July 05, 2011

An Unlikely Place at the UFO Festival

What an exhausting but exciting time I spent at the UFO Festival in Roswell, NM.  I met many wonderful and interesting people, including Travis Walton of Fire in the Sky.  I also got to meet Tom Kirkbride, the author of the exciting Gamadin Adventure series.  Even more importantly, I learned some important lessons on what it takes for an author to promote herself in today’s highly competitive environment.  With so many authors and so many books out there, readers are overwhelmed with choices.  Even so, the beauty of it is you don’t have to be exclusive to just one author.  You can have many, many favorites.
While I did not sell out of my books, much as I hoped to, I still gained the exposure needed to get my name and my book out there.  I have an interview with an internet radio station based out of El Paso.  Best of all, I made many new friends, and what can be better than that!
Thank you to everyone for your support and help.  I especially wanted to extend a warm thankyou to Mark at the International UFO Museum and Research Center.  I would also like to thank Debra for her help in getting me to the Festival. 
Without your belief in me, I would never have made it.
Thanks guys.  It was quite an experience and I can’t wait for next year, so I can do it again!
GA Lanham