Friday, September 28, 2012

What the Experts Say: Writer Carl R. Brush on TURNING REAL PEOPLE INTO REAL CHARACTERS

Carl R. Brush, Author
Carl R. Brush is a writer. He just released his historical thriller, The Second Vendetta, based on real people in the pre-WWI San Francisco area. He has also published his work in The Summerset Review, Right Hand Pointing, Blazevox, Storyglossia, Feathertale, and the Kiss Machine. In the following post, he shares some tips on turning real historical people into engaging characters.

Turning Real People Into Real Characters
By Carl R. Brush

If you write historical fiction, you’ll almost surely want to include known historical figures in your narrative. Our readers hunger not only to learn about, but to experience these people and their times with an intensity no textbook can offer. Presenting your audience with “real” characters creates a sense of authenticity that puts the reader’s imagination in the midst of the period and the scene like no other device. They’re also fun to write.

Sometimes, they’ll simply pass through, adding a bit of background and color. Your fictional family might, for example, catch sight of George Washington in a parade, but would be no more likely to meet him than you are to meet Barack Obama. Often, however, you’ll involve such characters closely in your story. In a novelized biography they’ll likely appear as protagonist, like Nell Gwynn in Gillian Bagwell’s Darling Strumpet. More often, they will take ancillary, though important, roles like Ambrose Bierce and Hiram Johnson in my The Second Vendetta.

With well-known characters such as Nell Gwynn, the world (not to mention that pesky scholar) knows so much about your subject that your task is not so much to create a story as to make what is known entertaining and absorbing and to perhaps add facts and events that are not general knowledge. (“My goodness, how interesting. I didn’t know that,” is the reaction you want from your readers.) You’re free to invent details and sparkling conversations, and you get to allow readers delicious peeks behind the curtains to find out what Charles II was “really” like, but you must hew closely to the basic facts.

Of course, you do have latitude where there is scholarly disagreement or speculation, as when Hilary Mandel in Bring Up the Bodies, decided whom to include and whom to omit in her narrative about Anne Boleyn’s supposed parade of lovers. However, your essential job is to take the body of known fact and opinion and transmute that “life” into art. You can’t have someone tomcatting around the South Seas at a time when he was supposed to be occupying the White House.

Lesser known figures such as my Ambrose Bierce and Hiram Johnson gave me more storytelling latitude than either Bagwell or Mandel had. Many will recognize Bierce as a turn-of-the-20th-century San Francisco newspaper columnist, the author of The Devil’s Dictionary, and, perhaps, as the main character in Oakley Hall’s recent fine mystery series. Not so many will recognize Hiram Johnson as the premiere reform governor in California History. Elected in 1910 (the election in which my protagonist, Andy Maxwell, becomes a reluctant candidate for the state assembly), Johnson served only two years of his term (No Palin-like resignation. He went to the U.S. senate.), but in that short time brought to the state women’s suffrage, the recall and the referendum, and a spate of anti-trust legislation that loosened the railroad’s stranglehold on the California economy.

Not that I didn’t have to do plenty of research. However, I didn’t feel I had to include most of what I found out, and I didn’t have to present every detail with great historical accuracy. I had parameters, of course. I couldn’t have Bierce writing for the Chronicle, for example, instead of the Examiner; or I couldn’t locate him in Los Angeles instead of San Francisco—Well, I could, but I’d have to come up with dandy historically inaccurate reasons for doing so. Although people in general may not know much about Bierce, plenty know better than that. And there are California history buffs who know every detail. Plus, readers of historical fiction love to catch us up in errors, don’t they?

Johnson’s life is even less well-known, so, although I applied the same criteria as with Bierce, I felt more free to wander. After his progressive period in California, Johnson had a change of attitude, became a granite conservative, and his long stint in the U.S. Senate brought him fame for opposing America’s entry into both WWI and WWII. I used that metamorphosis as an excuse to present him as a stubborn and intractable man whose political power came less from idealism than ambition.

I was free, then, to involve both men in my protagonist’s dispute with the University of California and to create their characters to suit my story instead of being bound by historical reality to the same degree as with a more biographical project.

Whatever your subject, however, it still comes down to what Hemingway said: A writer should create living people: people, not characters.  A character is a caricature. Simply invoking the name of historical persons won’t give them life. That’s as much—or more—up to you as it is to the writer who fabricates a story from imagination alone. 


Not again.
It’s taken Andy Maxwell two years—1908-1910—to help his family recover from the vendetta that nearly killed his mother, burned their Sierra Nevada ranch house, and exhumed some long-buried family secrets—including the fact that his father was black. At last, Andy thinks, he can return to University of California and pursue his history doctorate in peace.
Not so.
First of all, it turns out they don’t want a miscegenated mongrel in the Ph.D. program. Just when he’s enlisted the eminent San Francisco journalist, Ambrose Bierce, to help him attack that problem, it turns out that marauder who started all the trouble in the first place didn’t stay Shanghaied. Michael Yellow Squirrel is back for another try at eliminating every last Maxwell on earth. So much for school.
And then there’s the election.
Reform gubernatorial candidate Hiram Johnson wants him to run for the California legislature and help foil the railroad barons.
And then there are the women.
The debutante beauty and the Arapaho princess.
So, how is Andy Maxwell, going to deal with all these quandaries? The Second Vendetta answers that question and many more with a tale-telling style that pulls readers into the book and doesn’t let them go till they’ve turned the last page, wishing there were more yet to turn.

THE SECOND VENDETTA by Carl R Brush from Solstice Publishing available on Amazon and at Solstice Publishing
Twitter:  carl r brush @carlrbrush

Monday, September 24, 2012

What the Experts Say: Author Tallis Piaget on WRITER'S GUILT

Tallis Piaget is the author of BLACK BOOGIEMEN. The book follows the life of a world renowned biochemist, who when he revisits his home town is appalled at what he finds and unites a group of men to fix it. Piaget is also the executive editor of the Insight2Incite Magazine, as well as a co-host of the Insight Radio Show. He joins us today with a bit of “writer’s guilt”.

Writer's Guilt

by Tallis Piaget

Am I a hypocrite? This question and a few other counterproductive thoughts have been racing through my mind.  It may be difficult, but please attempt to follow the logic of this cobweb filled, thinking apparatus I call a brain.

I just sat here and enjoyed one of my favorite past times (watching ESPN’s NFL football highlights before the Monday Night Game), and as the show went to commercial it enticed me to stay tuned or either I’d miss the next controversial topic.  It referenced the abhorrent play by the Jets current quarterback Mark Sanchez.  Perhaps the failing Sanchez was in trouble of losing his quarterbacking job to the more popular Tim Tebow.  The last word of the commentator hooked me like a beautiful woman snares a man.  I salivated and couldn’t wait to hear about the artificial conflict between the athletes.  And for a second I expressed utter schadenfreude, reveling in those ballplayers’ locker room woes.  For a second I wanted controversy… for a second…   

Then I snapped out of it and remembered that I separate myself from the masses, and that I refuse to join the herd that celebrates other people’s dilemmas.  I am quite sure that there isn’t a Sanchez/Tebow issue at all, and that the story was fabricated simply in an attempt to keep me tuned in. That caused me to question our media.  I assume I asked the question that we all have pondered at times; why is our media focused on negativity and controversy regardless of how it affects the victims?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to offer an answer, I leave that to the reader to evaluate.  My goal here is to offer a confession.

As I questioned the dirty tactics used by our media I realized that I am officially part of that same media, now.  Next, I reread the articles that I’ve submitted, and I must admit that they are somewhat controversial… actually they are extremely controversial.  Furthermore, I confess that I used that writing style purposely to “keep the reader tuned in”.  But isn’t that what I am supposed to do? The template for great article writing has been established.  Why should I wander from a path that guarantees success? And who’s really at fault? 

Trend has shown that controversial topics will snatch and maintain a person’s attention.  Time after time I’ve witnessed many individuals slow down to view a four car pileup, while I’ve seen very few people slow down to watch the picturesque scene of the sun slowly setting behind a browning wheat field.  With that being said, should we place blame on the reader that gravitates to the debauchery, or should we focus on the media that primarily feeds its patrons someone else’s anguish? Of course the blame should be divvied to both parties, in what percent, I can’t say. I can only add that I truly consider my articles to be ones built on evoking a passion for immediate, positive action, and that the only controversy I bring is to incite positive movement.  Yet, even with that explanatory tidbit, I still have to ask myself; Am I a hypocrite?   

About Tallis Piaget

Tallis Piaget is the author of the critically acclaimed book, BLACK BOOGIEMEN.  He is the executive editor of the Insight2Incite Magazine, as well as a co-host of the Insight Radio Show.  Although Black Boogiemen is his first published material, he has been refining his craft for over 20 years.

Tallis Piaget was born and raised of meager beginnings in the inner city of St.  Louis, MO.  Having a natural fervor for learning, he excelled in academics ending with a degree in Biochemistry.  The degree provided the opportunity to work for one of the largest Fortune 500 agricultural companies in the country.  Tallis has worked as an Analytical Protein Biochemist for the past 12 years, earning numerous commendations.

BLACK BOOGIEMEN follows Dr. Trenton Branch, a scientist whose extremely meager upbringing came from his grandmother and the cruel inner city streets. He grows to become a world renowned biochemist, living in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country. One miserable day while visiting his old neighborhood a calamity occurs; this incites the rage of a rabid pit bull within Dr. Branch. He then unites a group of men, waging war against the inner city in an attempt to excise all of its demons.

Sparking what some called the “Civil War of 2020” this controversial story touches on all of the untold secrets of black America, while providing a fast paced, page turning tale of violence and knowledge. With graphic imagery and heart pounding action this book is sure to leave the reader wanting more.


Web page                                                                                               
Twitter:  Tallis Piaget @blackboogiemen               



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tips: Fun Family Writing Exercises

Joyce T. Strand, Editor
Strands Simply Tips
In response to those of you who have asked for some additional “Fun Family” writing exercises, following are some new suggestions.

As I have said before:  writing can be fun and even therapeutic.  Not only can writing itself be fun, but learning to write provides an opportunity for family entertainment. 

Beyond the cryptic tweet and text, we write an e-mail in search of a job, a carefully composed apology to make up for a mistake, or a message at work to help do our job.  Most important, communicating with one another continues to be the base of a relationship. Writing can be a valuable way to reach out to one another. 

So it makes sense to hone our writing skills.

At the same time, in this accelerated world, family members are preoccupied with their individual activities –Mom and Dad with their jobs and with maintaining a comfortable dwelling for the family, and kids with school, sports, band, debate club, and, of course, their chores. Sometimes we have time to read a book, but seldom do we have time to practice our writing skills. Frequently we find writing to be a drudgery and avoid it, basking in the brevity of social media.

So that’s why I’ve developed a series of Fun Family writing exercises. You can view some of my earlier suggestions by clicking on the Fun Family tab above.  Here are some new exercises:

·      Each member of the family to write a paragraph describing what you do when you return from school, work, the supermarket, or wherever. Do you have a ritual? Do you throw your backpack on the floor? Do you get something to eat? Do you change your clothes? Then everyone is to print out your paragraph – assuming you’ve written it on your computer – and put it into a pile and choose an alternative to read aloud to the entire family. If you’ve handwritten it, be sure it’s legible. See if your family can guess which is yours. You might be surprised at their reactions!
·      Write a paragraph about what happens in the morning getting ready for work (that includes homemakers) or school or writing a book etc. How many bathrooms do you have? Do you get up immediately when the alarm or mom calls? Do you run late? Read your paragraph aloud to the family. Be kind to your siblings!
·      Write a page or more of dialogue based on your family at dinner. Read it aloud at the next family dinner. Take turns. It might be interesting to see if your conversations improve or decline.
·      Write a paragraph describing your favorite Super Hero without naming him. All family members to put their paragraphs into a pile. Draw one out that’s not yours and read it aloud. See if family can guess who it is.  (Do not read your own, because your family will most likely know who your favorite hero is.)

·      Write about: A boy enters a room with his sister. Assign a paragraph to each family member. Do not share your paragraphs until everyone is finished. Then read them in the following order:
o   Write a paragraph to describe the room: is it a jail, a hotel, exercise room, bedroom? Small? Large? Does it smell fragrant or pungent? What kind of furniture does it have? Is it a restaurant? Bar? Is it humid or dry?
o   A second family member to write a paragraph to describe the boy: physical description, clothes, approximate age. Is he lean, sweaty, out of breath? Is he wearing shoes or is he barefoot?
o   A third family member to describe the sister. Is she taller than her brother? What color is her hair? Does she look like a sister? Is she dressed stylishly? Is she sweaty and out-of-breath?
o   A fourth family member describes the action of entering the room: did the two run into the room? Did they appear frightened, worried, secretive, happy?  Did they both appear the same as they entered the room?
o   If there are still other family members, write dialogue between the brother and sister. The brother wants to do something. The sister disagrees. The brother convinces her. They do the task and leave.
o   Additional family members can choose any of the above to write.
o   When you have all finished your paragraphs, read them aloud to the entire family in order. It should be an interesting story.

If you have other ideas for Fun Family writing exercises, please leave them as a comment so that we can all share them. I hope you agree writing itself is fun, and learning to write can provide an opportunity for family entertainment.


Friday, September 21, 2012

What the Experts Say: Fiction Fantasy Author Tracy Kauffman on Writing for Children

Tracy Kauffman, Author

Fiction fantasy author Tracy Kauffman has written GWENDOLYN’S WISH, a children’s book about a young girl who receives a special parrot that can grant wishes.  She loves writing for children and young adults.  She stopped by to give us some tips on the special requirements of writing for children. 

Writing For Children
by Tracy Kauffman

There should be a distinct difference in writing for Children than Adults, because of the subject matter.  Children are not capable of understanding the same things as an adult would. 

A theme, topic, or focus is much different for children, because their ability to grasp material and their awareness to data is much more limited than someone much older.  A child’s communication and intellectual skills require memory, understanding and concentration.  It is harder for a child with a small attention span to be able to sit down and read a story than a child with a longer one.

Secondly children have to be able to reason and separate what they have read, understand the difference in what is fiction or fantasy. 

Next children have to understand vocabulary and understand descriptive language that is talked about in the story. 

Last of all, children have to be able to develop their own ideas of what they are reading, from things that  they have learned about in the past.  You would not talk about a complex topic to a small child that has no possible understanding of the subject.

 To be able to write or teach a young child, you have to be able to get down to their level of thinking by considering their intellectual development or understanding capabilities.  This can be done by
·      repetition of words,
·      simple sentences vs. complex sentences and
·      the use of pictures for descriptive purposes.

About Tracy Kauffman

Tracy Kauffman is a Fiction Fantasy author from North Alabama.  She is married and has two children.  She graduated Calhoun College with an associates degree in Applied Science.  She loves writing stories for children and young adults.  She works part time at a nursing home with some fantastic elderly folks who inspire her. She loves hearing their interesting stories and often jokes that she has several mothers and fathers there. She started writing short stories and poetry when she was a teenager. She wants to help bring joy to the world today by her books. As an author, she wants to write books that will edify, encourage and be decent for children and young adults.


GWENDOLYN’S WISH is available at 
Amazon in soft cover and Kindle E-book format  
Also available in Nook



Twitter: @KauffmanTracy

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SPECIAL INTERVIEW: Finalist - Best Indie Book - Tina R. Boscha

Tina R. Boscha, Author

Welcome, Tina.  I am so pleased to be speaking with a finalist in Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Book Awards for Literary Fiction.  Your book RIVER IN THE SEA is very special – you vividly and compassionately portray one girl reaching adulthood in The Netherlands during WWII when everything she believes about family, friendship, and loyalty is questioned by war. I found it compelling and very real.

Q First, can you tell us what inspired you to write about a teenage girl in The Netherlands during WWII?

This is my family history. While I certainly embellished, changed, truncated, etc., this story is heavily based on true events. Leen De Graaf is my mother’s birth name and Leen is very much… Leen.  From a writer’s standpoint, I always believed it would make good fiction – once I figured out how to do it, which took some doing. 

But beyond that, I think there’s a universality to the story that was really attractive to me. I think each of us, especially during our youth, feels this push/pull of what you should do versus what you think is right, of learning that the world is miles from black and white, and that all the ambiguity of life is both beautiful and incredibly terrifying.

I’m also incredibly proud of my heritage.  Most WWII fiction doesn’t take place in the Netherlands, and very few are aware of Friesland and its rich cultural history. Frisians are a very old, distinct ethnic group and I’ve always believed its uniqueness deserved a story. Put it all together, and there was no way I couldn’t write this book.

Q The back story of German occupation and life in an occupied country are critical to your story. How did you apply your research/background information to make your story so credible? 

I am so incredibly lucky in that my parents, now 80 years young, took us to Friesland several times during my childhood. Their childhood homes are where much of the story took place, so I had pictures and my own memories to provide a sense of setting.  As a kid, I grew up listening to terrific, bizarre, and sometimes horrifying stories of what they experienced during WWII, stories of young men hiding in hollowed-out potato heaps and the villagers pouring milk into the canal rather than giving it up to raiding soldiers. I think those stories seared onto my synapses at a young age.

I have to give a lot of credit to my father. While RIVER IN THE SEA is based on my incredible mother and her family history, my dad remembered detail upon detail that you just don’t find in any history book. For example, there is a scene where a young woman’s clothes are stained with daffodil pollen that came straight from him. He told me about fueling lamps with diesel fuel and what the soldier’s uniforms looked like, all those details you need to bring that time to life.

Besides my parents, I relied on the good old Internet for WWII dates and important names. Otherwise, I tried to keep it very focused on the domestic.

Q How do you build your characters? Especially Leen is very engaging – a 15-year old experiencing harsh circumstances as she is growing into adulthood. Her reactions to events are very real – and very much like a teenager’s.

That is a very good, and very tough, question. And, thank you! I am very motivated by plot and “moments” – key scenes where the drama is ramped up.  So I don’t start with character. This has the unfortunate effect of increasing my writer’s self-doubt. I have learned, though, to trust revision. When I first draft, I feel very distant from the characters, as I’m just trying to get words on the page and move to the next piece. The important key is, though, to keep writing! However, by the end of the draft, I am usually crying as I write the important moments. I think what I’m saying is that I get to know the characters as I write, and then in revision, I try to invest more in the characters since the plot is usually laid out. I try to mentally step into his or her shoes and feel the physical sensations, the emotions, think those thoughts, so that the voice feels organic. It’s hard to describe but I feel like I get up out of Tina and sit back down in the character. Perhaps it’s a bit like method acting (although trust me, there will be no acting in my future).

I very much wanted Leen to be a teenager. Impulsive, vulnerable, sometimes shy, sometimes outspoken. It probably didn’t hurt that my stepdaughters were in varying stages of adolescence when I was revising!

Q Who are your targeted readers and what are they looking for?  I find your book very compelling – although I am in the, let’s say, over 50 women’s category.  Yet I suspect if someone reads that the book is about a “coming of age” 15-year-old girl during WWII in The Netherlands they might dismiss it as a story for teenagers.   

Excellent question! This has been a toughie for me, as I feel like this book could be YA and could be straight literary and then it could be historical. That makes the target reader anyone from 16 to 99! But it’s a wonderful “problem” to have, really. I know of young women who identify with Leen, as well as more mature readers who return to their teen years and identify with what Leen went through.  We’ve all had to come of age at some point, which is why so much teen fiction and literature resonates with readers of all ages.

That said, I think I have had the strongest reaction from older readers.  I’ve had women in their 60s email me about the story, about experiencing those emotions, of feeling caught between pursuing their own authentic selves and the expectations their world had for them.

Q When you’re not writing or teaching, what do you do? Hobbies? Sailing? Knitting? Standup comedy? Favorite music?  Favorite authors?

I am a serial monogamist when it comes to hobbies, although a few have stuck with me. The latest: running. Before summer began, I had spent a year so incredibly busy (and rewarding) that I didn’t exercise much beyond walking my dogs – which, by the way, is something I spend considerable time on, and one that I am pretty sure keeps me sane.  And then, for some reason I still can’t pinpoint, I thought, I want to run. This comes after years of hating it and never doing it beyond an occasional five minute spurt here and there. I just ran my first 5k and am just starting the training for a 10k.

Another new-to-me obsession is stand-up paddle boarding. It’s something I do by myself, with my husband, friends and family… Anyone I can get on a board! Living in Oregon provides ample beautiful lakes and rivers to explore, and there’s nothing like gliding over water and taking it all in.

Craft-wise, I’ve been sewing for about four years now, and I love to make my own clothes. I’m about to tackle making my own jeans. Yes, jeans. I just ordered rivets!

Of course, there’s reading. I read everything from the Sookie Stackhouse books to Edith Wharton. My Kindle is on the fritz, though….


At fifteen, Leen De Graaf likes everything she shouldn’t: smoking cigarettes, wearing red lipstick, driving illegally, and working in the fields.  It seems the only thing she shares with her fellow Dutchmen is a fear of the German soldiers stationed nearby and a frantic wish for the war to end.  When a soldier’s dog runs in front of Leen’s truck, her split decision sets off a storm of events that pitches her family against the German forces when they are most desperate – and fierce. Leen tries to hold her family together, but despite her efforts, bit by bit everything falls apart, and just when Leen experiences a horrific loss, she must make a decision that could forever brand her a traitor, yet finally allow her to live as her heart desires. 

Tina R. Boscha

Tina R. Boscha grew up in Wisconsin, a second-generation daughter of Frisian immigrants.  She holds a BA and an MA in Sociology and earned an MFA in 2002 from the University of Oregon’s Creative Writing Program, where she also served on the editorial board of The Northwest Review.  She is a recipient of the Leslie Bradshaw Fellowship from Oregon Literary Arts, and in April 2007 received a research and living expenses grant from the University of Oregon's Center for the Study of Women in Society to support the completion of her novel.  A chapter of River in the Sea, “Fernedering,” appeared in The Portland Review and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and also to the 2004 Best New Writers In America anthology.  Her short fiction has appeared in the Colorado Review and other small literary journals.  In August 2011, she self-published her novel, River in the Sea as both an ebook and paperback.

Presently, Tina divides her time among numerous pursuits, including teaching composition at the University of Oregon and at Lane Community College. She is represented by Curtis Russell of PS Literary.


Blog/web site:
Twitter: @TinaBoscha

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