Rubber ducky reading

My little granddaughter has a collection of rubber duckies. She came home from her walk with Grandpa and showed me the latest addition – the pink one.

“Grandma, her name is Darla and she found your new book and is reading it.”

Gotta love the kid. Here’s the book she’s referring to. If you’ve read When the Sun was Mine, my new book, Whispers Under the Baobab is a sequel of sorts (perhaps companion piece would be a better description), for they do not have to be read in a particular order.

 

When high school graduate, Brittany Wright, gets a job cleaning at Happy Hearts nursing home, she is terrified of old lady Flo and desperately wishes she could be in college instead. As an unlikely friendship develops between the two, Brittany discovers that Flo is in grave danger. But, from whom and why? As Flo’s Alzheimer’s worsens, Brittany scrambles to save her. But, ironically, it may be Flo who saves Brittany.

 

When rebel leader, Sidu Diagho, learns that reporter, Flo Mc Allister, has died, he knows that her power to destroy him is still very much alive.

Flo was with him during the coup attempts and all these years later Sidu could yet be tried at The Hague with her notes the testimony needed to convict him.

And the girl, Flo’s friend? How much does she know?

Sidu will do what he must to destroy the evidence against him.

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Authenticity in novels

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00038]

As writers, we’re told:

Write what you know.

Draw from your own experience.

Research.

We do all of that and then … we receive a note like this from a reader.

This question has to do with your last book, EMBROILED (I’m still reading it). Emily’s character intrigues me. Do you happen to know anyone who’s visited a shrink before? I ask because Emily’s sessions with David are vivid. Engaging. I can’t help but feel that this goes beyond the imaginary. But then, that is what a wonderful writer does, right? Carry the reader along.

No, I don’t know anyone who’s been to a shrink. No, I’ve never been to one myself. So, if I’ve truly created an authenticity for my readers (as this one assures me I have) where did that ability to do so come from?

Perhaps the portrayal of a patient with her psychiatrist is influenced by memories of such events in books I’ve read or movies and television shows I’ve watched. I think that could be an explanation, but I believe that would be only a partial answer.

Then this conversation occurs.

Discussing a favorite movie, one of our friends commented on a key scene. “Then the character said exactly what I expected her to say.” For him that was a defining moment, the key to the character and the plot. If she had said anything else, it would have thrown him out of the scene and back into his theatre seat.

What does it mean to create an Emily, a character that readers find so real?

What does it mean to have characters that “stay in character” like the one in the movie?

How do we create the characters who take the reader into other worlds?

We can describe physical features. We can show their reactions to the world around them. We can have other characters react to them.

But, I believe the most powerful tool the writer has is dialogue. What characters say, how they say it, their tone and body language show the reader who and what they really are.

To create that kind of perfection, the author must know his or her characters intimately. The motives that drive them, their fears, their dreams, all of their idiosyncrasies, as well as the more mundane details of birthdays, family relationships, childhood experiences, teen traumas, friends and lovers. Most of this the reader will never know, but the soul of the character, as the author knows him or her, will leach into the novel and into the hearts and minds of the reader.

Working with Emily through four novels, I’ve come to know her intimately. I know how she would react in most any situation. I know what would make her angry or sad. I know what would set her on the offensive and when she’d cower away from danger. I know that she’s a passionate advocate for education, that she abhors war, that she’s a chocoholic … And I know that her choice of a psychiatrist wouldn’t be random. She’d walk out on one if she thought he was a quack, or his personality clashed with hers, or he lacked compassion. Emily would want an upfront, no nonsense kind of person and that’s what she’d get.

So now, I’m not only intimately connected with Emily, I’m familiar with her doctor and that’s what the scenes are built from. That’s what creates a situation that does not allow for a false note and provides a credible story for the reader.

Knowing their characters as well as they know their friends and family allows the author to create authenticity through the actions and dialogue they engage in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture taking – virtue or vice

Mali 6

 

Writers create worlds with their words.  And if the writer is a master at his or her craft, the words allow the reader to “see” a vivid picture of the scene, understand the characters, and thrill with the action. For many readers, creating their own images and impressions from word pictures is what makes reading superior to visual media.

Yet, as I type this, the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” reverberates in my head.

How do I feel about picture taking?

Very guilty:

Many years ago, I sat on the upper deck of the General Soumare plying its way up the Niger River to Tombouctou. We docked at Goundam and watched, fascinated by the desert life on shore. Without moving from my chair, I reached down into my purse for my little camera. I had it partially out of my purse when someone in the circle of Touraug women spotted it. They began to rise and depart. I dropped my camera back into my purse and they settled into their circle again.

Guilty and angry:

I time travelled to the Dogon area of Mali. I use the words “time travel” deliberately as we were amongst people surviving in Stone Age conditions. What they lived on was hard to fathom. Of course I wanted pictures. I raised my camera to capture a mother and her child. The moment she saw my camera, she picked up her child and posed, then held her hand out for money. I put my camera away. It wasn’t surprising that she would want money—any little bit would help the villagers to survive, but I was angry too, furious that careless camera toting tourists had created this situation. There are many better ways to support the poor.

Angry and insulted:

At one time we lived in a unique river-side community in our city. Cyclists on the trails careened to a stop to talk about our houses. Cars drove by slowly, passengers gawking out their windows. Invariably, cameras appeared—the tourists ready to take pictures of the quaint locals infuriated me. Is that how others felt when I wielded my camera?

Guilty again:

I take pictures for my blog—many of them in Mexico. They’re not very good photos, because I feel that I’m intrusive of people’s lives and homes so I snap quickly and hide the camera. I don’t believe I have a right to invade their lives in this way.

Regretful:

Of course I come home with regrets for the photos not taken.  I would dearly love that picture of the man on the horse waiting at the red light alongside my car or the man walking his cow across the main street of town.

Pictures are important, providing glimpses into the past, evidence of crimes, sights to marvel at, an opportunity to travel from your armchair, but at what cost to the subjects of those pictures?

 

Excerpt From EMBATTLED

I’ll be publishing my third book soon. Here I take you back to the first.

She struggled through the thick vegetation, swinging the machete awkwardly, working her way towards her destination. Vines wrapped themselves around her legs. She yanked at the long skirt of her dress to free herself. She swung the machete again, and pushed through the narrow opening she’d created, ignoring the thorns that scratched her bare arms and shoulders. “Suitably dressed, I am, I am.” A spider web enveloped her. The machete cut through it easily enough, but remnants clung to her skin.

The sounds of battle assaulted her senses. Her heart pounded and caught in her throat with each pop of gunfire and thudded with each howl of pain. “Oh Lord, what am I heading into?”

She plunged on and burst into the clearing with a final swing of the machete that nearly toppled her. She pulled the heavy knife back, nicking her shin, but pushed ahead yelling, “Favór ida, stop! Stop!” She waved the unwieldy machete and forced her way between the combatants. Cries of rage rose from them. She watched the arching swing of machetes above her head, cringed, and waited for the killing blows. “Stop, Stop.” She yelled. The men dropped their weapons, fell back, and let her through.

*

Too damn antsy to go back to work, she paced her living room, poured a stiff drink, downed it, and paced again. She kept looking at her hands, expecting to see them covered in blood. Her shin burned from the scrape she had first noticed in the shower.

The television droned in the background. “The sharp report of gunfire, screams of the maimed and dying, wails of grief; replaced by birdsong. Traces of blood and body parts gone, erased by the scavengers. The jungle has reclaimed its ascendancy over man. More importantly, this extraordinary woman, la madame des miracles, as the natives are calling her, has lived up to that name. She has indeed effected a miracle. Proof is as near as the village just beyond those trees where tribal leaders are now debating peaceful coexistence.”

She sank to the sofa, every nerve taut, every muscle quivering. Could that have been me? No way! She squeezed her eyes shut. The jungle battle replayed on her eyelids. That was her, madly waving the machete. She held her face in her hands, inhaled deeply, smelled blood, and felt the jungle close around her.

“Oh, my God! What’s happening to me?”

Yes, I’ve Written a Book

Formal launch

Monday, Feb 6

Enter to win a free copy on my contact page at

www.emandyves.com

 

 

Yes, I’ve written a novel. In fact I’ve written 3.3  novels. The point three is for the one in progress.

What prompted this frenzy of activity, the hours hunched over a keyboard, the rewrite after rewrite, and the attendance at three writing conferences and various workshops, not to mention all the seminars and all the reading about writing?

Ages ago, I lived in Mali, at that time the fifth poorest country in the world. Every moment of every day, I wished… Hey! There was an idea. I could write a book about the Mali I always wanted to see, about waving a magic wand to make it so. Of course, I’d have to throw in a little (or a lot of) hot sex and romance too. Maybe a fight or three, a little sci-fi time-travel stuff, or a fairy godmother, or… The possibilities were endless.

And so it began. Little did I know that “the book” would take over my life. When I finally finished the first novel (although it seems one could revise forever), I was so attached to my characters that I couldn’t leave them behind.

And so it continued. Book two morphed into book three and that morphed into book four—the 0.3 I mentioned earlier. Right now I intend book four to be the “happily ever after” ending, but I’m not precluding a book five or even six. An author never knows what her characters may demand of her.

Website:   www.emandyves.com