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I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Character on the Couch: Jillian Neal's Brock and Hope

Today I'm delighted to have Jillian Neal and her characters from her newly released novel Gypsy Hope to the couch. We authors typically try to use our powers for good, but Jillian is taking it a step further. For every copy of Gypsy Hope sold, Jillian is donating $1 to the ProLiteracy organization to help combat adult illiteracy. ProLiteracy works globally to educate, provide resource materials, and to help people that are illiterate. So pull up a beach chair, and let's meet these characters!

This is the kind of cover that makes me go "awww!"
First, let me thank Cecilia for having my characters, Brock Camden and Hope Hendrix, on the couch today. Strong characters, passionate love scenes, and deep emotion are the hallmarks of my work. Brock and Hope’s story is no different but does offer another element that I think makes it all the more compelling. Brock is illiterate. Overcoming that, learning to accept both of their pasts, and ultimately a future neither of them imagined makes Gypsy Hope an engaging and heartbreaking novel, to be sure. But I write romance so there will always be a happily ever after. I wouldn’t even know how to write anything else.

1. If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.

Ha! Honestly, a court order wouldn’t be necessary though Brock Camden would probably not go willingly. He would go for Hope. He would do most anything for her. They’ve been best friends since high school. They would both tell you that counseling would be helpful due to their traumatic childhoods. (Brock’s father was an abusive alcoholic. That situation led to his dyslexia and illiteracy never being diagnosed. Hope’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was a little girl.) Brock is a cowboy through and through, however. He would be more inclined to work and try to bury his pain and his past out in the pastures. That is how he’d been dealing with all of his issues right up until the moment Hope proposes they become a couple long enough for him to “show her the sexual ropes” she feels she’s missed out on.

2. Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?

Largely the conflicts are internal. Hope has fear/anxiety issues due to her parents’ deaths. Brock is terrified that someone will figure out that he’s illiterate. When Hope discovers his painful secret, he pushes her away, too. She has to convince him that she loves him whether he can read or not and show him that illiterate does not mean unintelligent, unlovable, or even unattractive.

3. It's always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?

Brock would follow Hope’s lead. She would cautiously seat herself on the couch. He would sit beside her, wrap his arm around her, and immediately be ready to tell you to “back off” if he thought you were being too intrusive. If he sensed or suspected that Hope was afraid or that the session was too painful, he’d suggest/demand that they leave. He’s extremely protective and would like to think that their problems could be solved without external help.

4. Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?

Brock would only talk if Hope asked him to share. I envision short clipped sentences. He can be quite gruff. His cowboy drawl softens the blow. His opinion would be - what happened in his past happened. There’s no changing it. Why drudge it up now?

Hope would talk more openly in an effort to seek healing for the issues she knows she has. If she loosened up, Brock might follow suit.

5. Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?

If Brock were alone and not driving, he’d have whiskey straight up, probably something from the Jack Daniel’s distillery. He’s wary of alcohol after seeing what happened to his father when he drank too much, so he would not over do it. If he were with Hope and driving her home, he’d just have a cheap beer. Hope wouldn’t be likely to venture into a bar alone but does like a glass of wine. She’s a light-weight, so she would be cautious.

6. When you're building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)? And for this book, how did you research illiteracy?

The research on illiteracy actually came many years before Gypsy Hope was born. When my eldest son was eight, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. We were inundated with the horrifying statistics about illiteracy. 757 million people around the world cannot read or write a simple sentence. Nineteen percent of graduating high school seniors cannot read above a third grade level. I wanted to give illiteracy a voice, and in that desire, Brock Camden came on the scene.

As for my characters, they tend to come to me fully-formed. As I write, I get to know them. This is why I will re-write a manuscript at least three times before it goes to my critique partners or my editors. I want to really dig deep and get to know my characters. I’m constantly asking myself, “What if? and How would they react?” when I write. I always want to dig deeper. I never want to “phone in” a scene.

Speaking of Myers-Briggs I am an INFJ empath. Given that I derive other people’s emotions with ease, my novels tend to have a great deal of emotional depth. INFJ’s think using images. So, I often use Pinterest for character and plot development. I can pull the emotion out of an image and transfer it into words. I knew Brock had been Gypsy Beach’s football star in high school but I was missing a part of his past. I opened Pinterest one day and three pictures of sexy cowboys were at the top of my screen. I had it. It hit me like lightening. He was ultimately a misplaced cowboy never meant to be on a beach in North Carolina. So, how had he gotten there? How did that make him feel? and Would he ever go back to the ranch that raised him?

Jillian Neal is a Romance author that manages to blend her imagination, Southern sass, and loving heart in every novel she pens. She showed her talent for weaving intricate plot lines and showcasing dynamic characters in her seven-book, urban fantasy, series, The Gifted Realm. Her skillset continues to shine in her contemporary series, Gypsy Beach, which will leave you with a longing to pack your bags and move to a tiny beach town full of bohemian charm.

She lives outside of Atlanta with her husband and their children.

Cecilia says: I'm an INFJ, too! And yes, I also think in images, although I'm still not good at Pinterest. Thanks so much for coming by and bringing your characters! I do want my readers to know that Jillian's books have the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. They're perfect beach reads whether you have a beach to read on or not.

If you have a character you'd like help with or would like to feature on this blog, please fill out & submit the comment form on the top right. Thanks, and happy reading!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Characters on the Couch: Aidee Ladnier's Charlotte

Today we get to meet Charlotte, aka "Charly," the other half of the paranormally talented duo from Aidee Ladnier's ongoing project.

India Eisley, Aidee's visual model for Charlotte (from Aidee's Smudges Pinterest page)

Character Two name: Charlotte (Charly)

Age: 16

Gender: Female

Species (if applicable): Human

Cultural or historical context (if important to the story, e.g., if it's a Regency): Modern day teenager, American South

Brief description and relevant history: 

Charlotte's parents have just divorced and she and her mom have moved in with her great aunt. Although bullied at her last school, she's still angry to be moved away from everything she's ever known. Her mother offers to help her remake herself for her new school and Charlotte adopts the name Charly and tries to remake herself as the perfect, popular girl. She begins hanging out with the popular crowd but she's drawn to Miranda. And when she's around Miranda she hears voices. Then when they touch, suddenly both of them can see the echoes Miranda sees only they don't repeat actions but instead interact with the young women (like their touch completed a psychic circuit). Miranda represents everything scary to her, gifts she doesn't understand, a sexuality she's not comfortable with, etc.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist: 

I feel kind of backed into a corner with this character. She has every reason to stay away from the other character and I'm uncertain how to build the bond between them.

Follow-up questions:

The relationship between Charly and her mother is potentially a huge area to explore. Does her mother help her reinvent herself because she wants to help or because she wants her daughter to be “normal”?  

I think her mother helps her because she wants her daughter to have the best. She's willing to take on two jobs in order to pay the credit card bill to pay for Charly remaking herself. She feels guilty for uprooting her daughter but after her divorce, they literally had nothing and so her mother retreated back to her family support system. Charly has family all over town but doesn't realize it at first.

Having every reason to stay away from Miranda is a good basis for a romance novel character. What do they have in common other than unusual talents and homosexuality? Is that why Charly was bullied?

Miranda is a painter and is volunteered by one of her instructors into doing set painting for the school play which Charly is one of the minor players in.

Has Charly had any unusual experiences before she met Miranda that could be related to their talent?

When she's around Miranda she occasionally hears whispers and voices. This alarms her that she's possibly having auditory hallucinations, but as soon as she connects with Miranda she realizes that she's actually hearing the same component that Miranda sees. It's a little harder for her to tune out, and starts to cause some anxiety. They quickly learn, though that once the circuit is complete, the spirits last thought is completed, their last words finished and their last breath breathed. They can move on.

What does Charly want from life? What does she fear most?

Charly wants to be accepted. She joins every club and extracurricular activity she can when she's enrolled mid-year. Her idea is that the law of averages will mean she'll meet someone she can be friends with. She's afraid of being lonely. Her mother is always at work, her aunt is really old and comes from an alien (small town) culture, and Charly's afraid of being alone.

And for the relationship – what does Miranda have that Charly envies and vice versa? Mother/lack of mother relationship could be huge here.

I think Charly's envious of Miranda's ability to buy or do or go anywhere she wants because her family has a lot of money. Charly's mom is barely making it, forced to move in with family in order to survive. Initially, I think Charly's a little willfully ignorant of her mother's finances, but it slowly becomes more worrisome for her. She sees Miranda as having everything she wants and not wanting it.

Cecilia says:

Common values and interests are a great force of attraction to other people. When clients talk to me about wanting to find a partner or even to meet new friends, I encourage them to put themselves in situations that will allow them to meet people with the same interests repeatedly. Think about your involvement in Southern Magic. I’ve found several good friends through Georgia Romance Writers because we have a common interest – writing – that helps us “get” each other.

Both of your characters want the same thing – acceptance. It doesn’t look the same at first because they’re doing opposite things to gain it. Miranda, who wants to be accepted by her family, is in avoidance mode, and Charly is actively pursuing it with all her activities. Gradually coming to recognize it and realizing that they actually do understand each other on a deep level will be a great romantic arc to your story. It also sounds like they have the potential to connect at first through artistic pursuits, again with Miranda being more behind-the-scenes and Charly pursuing the spotlight, but both involved in the drama department.

The desire for acceptance also provides a good basis for conflict because it will also get in the way of them pursuing their helping the spirits cross over. Even in a place that has stories like The Ghost in the Field, people who actually have that kind of talent are often shunned. Thus there needs to be something positive they can connect over on a deeper level. I can see your characters having arguments as to whether they should continue with this spiritual work, but both of them having a noble reason to continue. For Miranda, it’s wanting to help her best friend cross over. Perhaps Charly can discover something that could help her family finances, like a treasure hidden in her great aunt’s house that one of the smudges knows about. That brings up a different value – altruism, or whatever else you’d like to call it.

As for Charly’s internal conflict, her primary conflict emotion sounds like anger hiding fear. The relationship with Miranda has the potential to gradually give her the sense of security she wants if she can overcome fear and envy, which will cause her to push Miranda away at first, and learn to focus on what’s truly important to her.

Thanks so much for bringing the girls by, Aidee! I enjoyed analyzing them. These are fascinating characters, and I look forward to seeing how this story turns out.

If you have a character you'd like help with, please send me a message through the contact form (upper right on page) or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com

About Aidee Ladnier:

Aidee Ladnier began writing fiction at twelve years old but took a hiatus to be a magician’s assistant, ride in hot air balloons, produce independent movies, collect interesting shoes, and amass a secret file with the CIA. A lover of genre fiction, it has been a lifelong dream of Aidee's to write both romance and erotica with a little science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, or the paranormal thrown in to add a zing.

You can find her on her blog at http://www.aideeladnier.com or on her favorite social media sites.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Character on the Couch: Aidee Ladnier's Miranda

Today I'm so excited to have an unpublished character for my couch. I love featuring the published ones, but I admit that these are even more fun for me. Meet Aidee Ladnier's Miranda:

Ellen Page, who is Aidee's visual model for Miranda (stolen from her Pinterest page)
Character One name: Miranda

Age: 16

Gender: Female

Species (if applicable): Human

Cultural or historical context: Modern day teenager, American South

Brief description and relevant history:

Miranda is a high school student that identifies as lesbian which you would think is her big secret, but no, it's that she can see "smudges" or echoes left when people die. She can't interact with them, just watch them as they do the same things over and over that they may have done in life. Miranda's mother died young, when she was four or five, from cancer but she's never seen her mother's ghost echo. Miranda's father remarried and she has a good relationship with her stepmother although they have little in common on the surface. She is an average student and has friends at school although her best friend committed suicide the year before (not really, she was murdered which is the crux of the exterior story when Miranda sees her echo struggling with an invisible attacker). She's also very interested in the new girl, Charly.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist:

This character has a lot of death surrounding her and I'm uncertain how this will affect her or even allow her to function. I want this story to allow her to bring her friend's killer to justice as well as be a tiny first romance between my two characters but I'm afraid she has too much on her plate.

Follow-up questions:
What does Miranda believe about what happens after people die? Is there a heaven? Hell? One way to think about it is, what was she taught about death as a child? Does she belong to some sort of spiritual or religious tradition?

Miranda was raised in a Methodist household and believes that when people die they go to Heaven if they’re good and Hell if they’re bad. I don’t think she’s thought about it much, just that this is what happens. She was told that her mother went to Heaven and to her that just means she’s no longer around.

Does she believe that the smudges are really the peoples’ spirits or just echoes before she meets Charly and they find out the truth? How old was she when she started seeing them? (Note: we'll meet Charly next week)

I don’t think she thinks the smudges are people’s spirits. She’s only seen them do the same thing over and over like a recording. So to her, they are almost disconnected from the people they represent, more like a snippet of a 3D film only she can see. I think she started seeing them at a fairly young age and that her mother may have also seen them and counseled her not to speak of them. Perhaps her mother would have explained more when she got older, but since she died when Miranda was young, that opportunity passed. Miranda’s father’s family has lived nearby (perhaps a few hundred miles away), but he met Miranda’s mother while he was at college and she came from somewhere else. Miranda has never met anyone from her mother’s side of the family possibly because her mother had a falling out with them or even ran away.

How was Miranda’s mother’s death handled? Like, was there a big funeral with lots of supportive family, or were she and her father essentially left to themselves with some show-sympathy and a few casseroles? 

One of Miranda's most vivid memories of her mother's death was her father dropping her off at school the day after the funeral and going to work. It was as if nothing had happened or it was an event that happened in the past. He was unwilling to talk about it, her grandparents (father's side) seemed relieved, and everyone politely stepped around the subject at her elementary school. She never even talked about it until her father's new wife asked her about it. And then it all came flooding out, tears, rage, feelings of abandonment and her stepmother helped her, validated her, and offered her comfort. It's one of the reasons that their relationship is so good in the present. While Miranda cannot go to her father or her father's family due to their coldness and stand-offishness, her stepmom, has always been there and her stepmom's family has always welcomed Miranda but they live very far away.

It might be helpful to think about larger motivation. What does Miranda want from life that seeing the smudges keeps her from accomplishing or thinking that she’ll accomplish?

The smudges have sort of forced Miranda into the role of silent witness. They give her a sense that no matter what you do in life, you're remembered by something insignificant like walking your dog or taking out the trash. She's stalled a little (not wanting to think about applying for college, not wanting to apply herself in school - making passing grades but nothing above). She fights to remain staunchly average despite the fact that she's not. Due to her father's career as a physician and his family money, as well as her intelligence, she has a lot of opportunities that she's passing up on.

What does Miranda fear the most?  

Being rejected by her father and stepmother. As a result she has never explicitly come out, and in return her family has never asked about her sexuality. She also doesn't date so that the delicate fiction that she's a perfectly average daughter is maintained. And she'll certainly never mention the smudges.

You mention a best friend. Were they a clique of two, or are there others? Does Miranda have friends or do other kids avoid her because she’s weird?  

She was friends with several other high schoolers but Anne was her best friend. When Anne died, Miranda pulled away from her other friends, turning down activities, parties and invitations. At first they gave her some slack, but now everyone thinks she should be moving on. But Miranda really just wants to be left alone.

Do Miranda and Charly live in a place like Charleston or New Orleans where there’s more of an acknowledgment of odd spiritual stuff, or are they in a setting where anything outside the strict Christian norm is regarded with suspicion? Setting could also strongly impact how accepted their sexuality is.

I think they're not too far from a large city like Charleston or New Orleans, but their town is small to middling. Some odd spiritual stuff is accepted - for example, everyone knows the story of the Ghost in the Field who cries for her children on rainy nights. That said, they aren't so small that they're expected in church every Sunday but small enough that everyone knows what church you go to. There are a couple of prominent out gay couples, so their sexuality though atypical would not result in their house being burned down.

Cecilia says:

Wow, Miranda does have a lot on her plate, but she also has a lot of advantages and resources that balance out her challenges. Instead of being too complex, it all sounds like layers to the same internal conflict.

Miranda doesn’t want to be noticed because notice brings rejection. That’s what she learned from how her father and his family tiptoed around her mother’s death and denied its importance, even to the point of being relieved. What did the poor woman do to bring that kind of negative attention? Or was she an extraordinary person who married into a traditional family who couldn’t handle her, and she couldn’t help it?

Miranda senses that her mother was rejected by her father and his family, possibly for this talent Miranda inherited from her. But what about the good things Miranda learned from her mother? Is she throwing out everything because of how her mother’s death was handled? It’s great she has a good relationship with her stepmother, but she needs to resolve her feelings and fears about her mother in order to move forward, and that will mean looking at the whole person, perhaps acknowledging parts of her mother she hasn’t allowed herself to think about. It also might mean rejecting some of the messages she’s gotten from her father and his family, which will push her emotionally out of this stuck place. I’d do a complete character profile for Miranda’s mother and figure out what characteristics Miranda inherited from her that are not allowed in her father’s family. For example, Miranda is a painter. Is it possible she wants to be an artist but doesn’t think her family would approve of that career choice, so she keeps her grades average so as not to be pushed into an “acceptable” path?

Doing whatever she’ll end up doing with the smudges and taking up romantically with Charly will definitely bring Miranda notice as well as give her a sense of connection to another person who truly understands her on all levels. You’re giving her a great choice for her to make – the safety of ordinariness and the security of fitting into her father’s family or following her heart with the possibility of being something really special with someone really special with all the risk it entails. Her core conflict emotion is fear, and what will push her to overcome it is your character and story arc.

Thanks for reading! We'll meet Charly next week. Meanwhile, please feel free to check out some of Aidee's published books. If you have a character you'd like help with, please send me a message through the contact form (upper right on page) or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com

About Aidee Ladnier:

Aidee Ladnier began writing fiction at twelve years old but took a hiatus to be a magician’s assistant, ride in hot air balloons, produce independent movies, collect interesting shoes, and amass a secret file with the CIA. A lover of genre fiction, it has been a lifelong dream of Aidee's to write both romance and erotica with a little science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, or the paranormal thrown in to add a zing.

You can find her on her blog at http://www.aideeladnier.com or on her favorite social media sites.