More Similar to or Different from You – How Do You Like Your Protagonists?

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More Similar to or Different from You – How Do You Like Your Protagonists?

I remember reading a blog post a year or so ago about the trend toward awful/bitchy/ugly/unpleasant – fill in your own blank – heroines. People are bored with nice girls finishing first, or so the assertion was made. I gotta tell you, I resisted that one. A lot. Still do. While I might want a badass heroine like Gal Godot in Wonder Woman, I also want a heroine I can root for. A fully drawn, complex character, but one who underneath it all is a pretty decent human being. (That would probably be the one flaw in Wonder Woman – she wasn’t all that fully drawn because the focus was the action.) The above-mentioned story seemed to be mocking decent female characters, implying they were weak, uninteresting, and not worth caring about.

wonder woman

So I ask – as a reader, are you drawn to characters who are more like you, or more different from you? Same question for the writers in the room: are you more likely to create a character who is exactly like you or starkly dissimilar? Add your comments below!

In Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, the protagonist is a timid, privileged white guy of 30. He’s afraid of everything – including most people, so he holds them in disdain. Can’t be bothered to strike up a conversation with anyone he doesn’t already know – which makes it pretty hard to meet new people. He goes out of his way to avoid social situations. He’s good at math, prefers order to chaos, plans everything welllll in advance. In other words, the complete opposite of me.

The second main character, Paula – she’d probably be nominated as Supporting Actress if we were talking about an Oscar role – is a lot more similar to me.

So why’d I do arrange the characters that way? Well, for one, it wouldn’t be a very interesting story for an outgoing guy who loves people to go around the world. He might have a great time, but he probably wouldn’t learn or grow very much. But why isn’t the main character a woman? There’s the small matter that this story was developed out of a real conversation I had with a male friend, the person on whom Stan was initially patterned.

So how did I write the character? When I started, I just thought, “What would Tom do?” Eventually, though, Stan became Stan and wasn’t so similar to Tom anymore – and I was able to ask myself, “What would Stan do?”

It also helps to have a pretty good sense of people. I’m still looking for 30-year-old male beta readers to test-drive the book, because I want to be sure the dialogue is realistic. Other men have told me it is, but not guys as similar to Stan as I’d like to hear from. If that’s you – give me a holler and I’ll get you an ARC (advance reader copy). So I know people. I like people. I pay attention to people. I like character-driven books, movies, and TV shows. And I’ve also studied a variety of personality profiles. You may be familiar with Myers-Briggs, DISC, and the Enneagram. Just in case you’re wondering, Stan’s profiles for each of those are below.

personality profiles

Time will tell whether I’ve written Stan’s character as realistically as I think I have – or whether that even matters. My second novel is about a man, too. It also came out of a real event. But the details about that are for another day. In the meantime, I’m finishing this draft so I can start the rewrites.

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

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Baseball Beards – More than Superstition

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Baseball Beards – More than Superstition

As a baseball fan, Stan would be all over the post-season. Twelve-year-old Stan is a huge New York Yankees fan – what 12-year-old who lives East of Kansas isn’t? He and his buddy are thrilled to meet two members of the Yankees’ Double A team, the Albany-Colonie Yankees: Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. He still roots for the Yankees as an adult, but he’s not an uberfan. For instance, he’s not irritated by Mets fans and merely raises an eyebrow when the Yankees miss the playoffs in 2008.

Stan played baseball in prep school, and at one point thought about pursing a professional career in the game. On his way home from his round-the-word trek, he stops in Houston and tours Minute Maid Park. It’s during that stop that we learn why he gave up on baseball, and instead fell into a Wall Street job he never much liked.

baseball beards

As I write this post, I’m watching my home team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, trying to even the NLDS (National League Division Series) with the Dodgers, who lead the series 1-0. The Washington Nationals just finished up a come-from-behind win over the Cubs. As much as I’ve always loved baseball, I haven’t been following it much these last five or six years. No particular reason – just other things taking priority. So as I’m watching these games, I’m particularly struck by the number of players with everything from a mild hipster beard to the full-blown hippie thing going on.

That ever-reliable resource Wikipedia tells us, “A playoff beard is the superstitious practice of male athletes not shaving their beards during the playoffs. Playoff beards were introduced by ice hockey players participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and are now a tradition in many sports leagues.” But it seems, these days, there’s more at work regarding beards in baseball than superstition. At the start of Spring Training last year, Sports Illustrated did a story titled “The 2016 guide to baseball’s finest facial hair.” And not everybody thinks favorably of these furry faces. Back in March 2015, USA Today did a piece titled, “The face of baseball is entirely obscured by its beard.”

The Ryman - Sept 2017

Hubby and I in Nashville, Sept 2017

Personally, I think they look pretty scruffy. My husband has a well manicured beard that his grandmother hated. She was of the era when the only way to look presentable was to be clean-shaven. Whenever she would nag him about his beard, I would defend him, telling her, I think he looks quite handsome.”Clean shaven vs Bearded

So Stan starts off as one of Grandma’s clean-shaven gentlemen. However, as he travels the world, he looks to lighten his load and make things easier, so he grows his hair long and has a beard he tends every now and then by the time he makes it home. But he has a reason. Other than macho posturing, I’m not really sure what these ballplayers are thinking.

What are your thoughts on beards? Yea or nay? Does it matter if they’re busy or well trimmed? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

What’s on Your Travel Bucket List?

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What’s on Your Travel Bucket List?

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While the character of Stan is loosely based on a friend of mine, he is fictional. There may be a man (or men) out there in the world who are similar to him, in terms of age, interests, and world views – but I don’t know them and did not pattern this book after them. Likewise, the character of Paula is based loosely on aspects from my past. However, she’s a fully drawn character, a fictional person. There may be a woman (or women) like her out there – but I don’t know them and am not writing about them.

The point is that I made it up – this story about a guy who travels around the world. Yes, there are actual historical references, real people are mentioned, and as much as possible, I’ve fact-checked the details. But the travel plan, how Stan gets from place to place, sneaking his dog into places he couldn’t possibly sneak a dog into, and all the characters he meets on his journey are straight out of my own imagination. So it makes sense – to me – that Stan visits a couple of places I’ve visited or that are on my travel bucket list, chief among them Greece and Australia.

But there are more places than those on my bucket list. For one thing, I’d love to do a tour of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. I’ve never been on a cruise, so one of my travel bucket list items is an Alaskan cruise. I’d like to get that one crossed off by May 2019.

When I was in third grade (a loooong time ago), my family did a brief tour of Western Canada that included Alberta and British Columbia. Then we visited Toronto when I was about 12. (My dad was Canadian.) However, I’d love to do a tour of the whole country. My husband and I are thinking about buying an RV trailer – so that would definitely be the way to see our Neighbor to the North!

I’d love to travel to the interior of Mexico, as well as the beaches, and see South America. Gotta dust off my Rosetta Stone before we do that, as my rudimentary Spanish probably will not suffice for a trip of that magnitude – but if immersion works, I’ll be better at the language by the time I get home.

Most people list travel as the thing they’d do if time and money were no barrier, and yet surprisingly few ever do. Estimates put the number of Americans who travel abroad at about 10 percent annually – and the majority of those never stray further than Canada or Mexico. My friend Janet has been all over the world. A number of years ago, she went to Peru – has pictures with the llamas at Machu Picchu. A couple years back, she did a river tour of Viet Nam. Most recently, she took a trip to Bali this summer. She says her kids know she’s not leaving them an inheritance because she’s traveling every chance she gets.

So where will your dream trip take you? How’s the planning coming? Is it a dream that will become a reality, or is your travel likely to remain virtual? Visit Twitter to give your answer on my Travel Bucket List poll.
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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

Hometown Holidays Different from Holidays Around the World

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Hometown Holidays Different from Holidays Around the World

So yesterday – October 1st, was International Music Day, International Coffee Day, Walk your dog dayand National Walk Your Dog Day. I posted about all of these on my author Facebook page, as all are relevant to Stan’s story. How does one learn about all these interesting and very specific “holidays”? There are lots of sites that list them, but Brownielocks.com – a homespun website if ever there was one – is one of the most comprehensive. Want to create a holiday? Just google it: a search for “how to create your own holiday” will yield many a story, tip-sheet, and blog post on the subject.

There are quite a few other holidays that could, however tangentially, pertain to our world-traveling protagonist. October 4 is National Taco Day – and Stan’s last stop before returning to the US is Mexico, the country where the taco originated. October 6 is American Libraries Day – and Stan’s mom is a librarian. October 10 is National Face Your Fears Day – you could say that the whole story is about Stan learning to face his fears. Ditto October 19 – Evaluate Your Life Day. October 25 is International Artists Day – Stan’s best friend is an artist, so he sees a lot of art on his trip.adopt-shelter-pet

This week – October 1-7 – is Great Books Week. Of course, I think Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is a great book, but I’ll leave that you, the reading public, to decide. 😊

And the month of October is Adopt a (Shelter) Dog Month. Isis says, “Woof!”

Holidays are one way that a culture expresses itself. We celebrate and commemorate the things that are important to us. What Stan learns, however, is that what’s important to us, as Americans, often has no bearing on what is important to people of other cultures. July Fourth is the mother of national holidays here in the U.S. Doesn’t really mean much elsewhere in the world, except perhaps to expats who fly Old Glory to celebrate. Likewise, unless you’re Buddhist, you’ve probably never heard of Buddha Purnima, colloquially known as Buddha’s Birthday and celebrated in  most Asian countries on April 8.

Holidays are full of tradition – times typically spent with family and friends. Even if you don’t go out and create an official holiday that gets its own internet memes, maybe it’s time to create a special day/week/month tradition that is unique to your friends and loved ones. Could be anything. Stay in Bed Till Noon Day. Wear Golf Hats Week. Eat Breakfast Together Every Day Month.

Tell us about your favorite holiday. Why is it special to you? Post your answers in the comments section!

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

Talking Out Loud to Myself in My Head

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Talking Out Loud to Myself in My Head

A couple weeks ago, I had this idea for a new novel. The entire story is told via the running dialogue in the main character’s head. For one thing, it would definitely prevent “head hopping” – the (controversial) “practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene.”* Of course the character would interact with other people, which would occur as it does in virtually every other novel, with dialogue indicated by quotation marks. But what she was doing would be constantly narrated. Maybe it’s been done before, but I’ve never read that book.

I think she might be a nurse who develops a drug problem – of course, Edie Falco already nailed that character, so maybe just a school teacher. Oh, wait. Walter White. Well, I’ll figure out some profession that hasn’t yet been depicted with an addiction issue.

So I told my husband my idea, and then I put it on the back burner, or so I thought.

woman driving.jpg

Been working really hard to get Stan done – and I was having trouble with two episodes I want to depict in this final chapter I’m writing, about his experience in Brazil. So while driving the other morning, I decided to turn off the radio to see if I could work out the details in my head. Suddenly, the strangest thing happened. I noticed myself narrating my thoughts. Instead of just noticing that white truck over there with a dented tailgate, I thought in my head, “Look – that white truck over there has a dented tailgate.” Likewise with the school bus with its tail light out. And the motorcyclist without the helmet. Instead of just noticing and grasping the information, I was silently narrating it all to myself.

WTF?

Do I do that all the time? I’d never noticed it before. Is that because I can’t hear the narration with the radio, or when I’m actually having a conversation with another person? Is this a habit, a temporary phenomenon, or something that comes and goes? I still haven’t quite puzzled out the answer.

But it’s interesting to think about, both as it relates to this new novel I’m contemplating, and as it relates to Stan. Stan’s the main character, to be sure. There are secondary characters, namely his friend, Paula, and his dog, Isis. And plenty of tertiary characters. But the story is about one guy traveling around the world. So he’s by himself, a lot. And he thinks things to himself, a lot. I tried not to overdo that aspect, and indicate his unspoken thoughts with italics. That works pretty well, except in the places where there are a lot of foreign words, as those also warrant italics.

I don’t know about you, but my husband and I have three dogs and a cat – all of whom I talk to with some regularity. They don’t have to be there, though, for me to talk out loud. I’ve been known to talk to the vegetables as I’m chopping them, the plants as I’m watering them, and the clothes in my closet as I’m trying to decide which ones will get to venture out in public on a given day. I’m guessing that not everybody does this. But I suppose it does make sense that the character I am creating talks to himself and his dog. Partly because it’s a behavior with which I am personally very familiar. But also as a device to let the reader know what’s going on in Stan’s head. I hate the omniscient narrator – so I want the reader to have a reason to know what Stan’s thinking. I can get away with those italic quasi-thought bubbles once in a while. But when no one’s there and you still need to know what’s in his head, one of most practical ways to do that is to have him talk out loud. Like this:

Typically a day trip for Guadalajara tourists, Tequila is just shy of 40 miles from the second largest metro area in Mexico. When Stan books his “Tequila Tour,” he’s shocked to find it’s just 14 American dollars. “The whole trip, things I’ve expected to be expensive have been cheap, and things I would think would be affordable have been expensive,” he mutters to Isis, who licks his ankle in agreement.

***

To the group’s pleasure, the tour concludes with the opportunity to drink just about as much tequila as they can consume. Recalling his Chicago experience, Stan limits his intake on the tour to a cursory tasting. That’s what the name says – TASTING, he thinks, looking around at the rest of his tour-mates who obviously perceive the concept of “tasting” differently.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer first-person or third-person storytelling? Are you OK with an omniscient narrator, or would you prefer to see the story through the eyes of one character – or one character at a time? Post your thoughts in the comments section!

*As defined by Randy Ingermanson on AdvancedFictionWriting.com

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

Phoenix’s Fetish for Name Changes

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Phoenix’s Fetish for Name Changes

Name changes

I don’t know if this is a phenomenon specific to Phoenix, or if it occurs a lot of other places, but I noticed recently that we seem to have a fascination with changing the names of locations around the Valley. Here’s a list, off the top of my head:

(1) In 2008, Squaw Peak became Piestewa Peak, named for a female Native American soldier fallen in the Iraq War.

(2) Christown Mall, which had that name ever since it opened in 1961, became Phoenix Spectrum Mall in 2000 in attempt to modernize – but it then changed to a hybrid of Christown Spectrum Mall in 2006. Everybody still calls it Christown.

(3) The outdoor amphitheater that was originally Desert Sky Pavilion has since been:

  • Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion (1996-2001)
  • Cricket Pavilion (2001-2006)
  • Cricket Wireless Pavilion (2006-2010)
  • Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion (2010-2013)
  • Ak-Chin Pavilion (2013-present) Current naming rights are held by the Ak-Chin Indian Community, although the venue is not located on tribal land.

(4) Opened in 2002, the Dodge Theatre has since sold its naming rights, becoming Comerica Theatre in 2010.

(5) What started out as America West Arena in 1992 became US Airways Center in 2006 when the airline merged and changed names. In 2015, it sold naming rights and became the Talking Stick Resort Arena.

(6) Cardinal Stadium had its name for two short months when it opened in 2006, until the naming rights were sold and it became the University of Phoenix Stadium. However, it was announced in April 2017 that UoP is pulling out, so the hunt is on for a new sponsor – and a new name.

(7) The new hockey arena opened as Glendale Arena (2003–2006). Then it also sold naming rights and became Jobing.com Arena (2006–2014). It then became Gila River Arena. Is it any wonder gambling’s a big industry here, with three out of four of the local pro teams’ venues affiliated with casinos?

Don’t get me started on the college bowl games. Three Arizona games appear in the top 14 on this list of the 40 bowl games, ranked by the absurdity of their names.

What’s the point? Getting it right can be difficult for even the most diligent of authors. Stan visits a LOT of venues over the 18 months of his trek, which takes place from April 2011 through October 2012. One place he stops on his way home is Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros and formerly known as: The Ballpark at Union Station, Enron Field, and Astros Field.

facts

I did my best to research and fact-check every detail, but in this world of near-constant change, I’m willing to bet I got something wrong. Maybe even a couple of somethings. The goals was correctness, though – and I’m going to print this coming Spring with these facts in place. If readers find things that are off, I’m sure they’ll let me know.

What’s changed in your community since you moved there? Pictures are even better – so send us your links!

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.

Weathering the Weather Around the World

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Weathering the Weather Around the World

Fall in Phoenix.jpg

This and similar memes have been going around my Facebook feed the last couple days. It’s probably only funny – or freaking frustrating! – if you live in Phoenix, have escaped the inferno that is Phoenix, or know someone who still slogs through 27 months of summer in the Valley of the Sun. Sure, it sounds petty when you stack it up against blizzards and other cold-weather challenges, but month after month of searing heat weighs on you. Unless you’re one of those freaks who mountain bikes or hikes in the middle of the day in – literally – 120-degree heat.

I grew up in Phoenix, moved south to Tucson (where it’s anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees cooler) for college, and then moved to the East Coast in the early ’90s. I moved back to Phoenix in December 1999 – and spent nearly all of the year 2000 in an extraordinarily cranky mood. It wasn’t until the heat broke near the end of October that I realized what the problem had been: I was hot. And I’d forgotten what Phoenix summers were like – especially without air conditioning.

Yep – I grew up and was living in a house with what we locals call a swamp cooler. It’s a setup more formally known as evaporative cooling, where a fan blows air on wet pads, which circulates cool air throughout the house. This is actually a very good system for a lot of the year because everything you’ve heard about the “dry heat” of Arizona is true – except for the monsoon season. The problem is that swamp coolers stop working when the humidity hits much above 20 percent. (Although an article on air-n-water.com says they work up to 50 percent humidity – that was never my experience!) So back to the heat – I was miserable. But over the last 17 years, I’ve become reaccustomed to summers in Arizona. I don’t think I’ll ever love them, but the heat no longer puts me into a murderous rage.

The interesting thing is that once we’ve been in a place for a while, we learn what to expect. We know that summers in Arizona aren’t just hot – they go on for what seems like forever. Those from the Pacific Northwest know that they have to capitalize on the rare sunny day because they’re few and far between. The Midwest prepares for tornado season as best it can, while residents of the Gulf states know that hurricanes take their sharpest aim at them from late August through September.

Stan, the main character in my novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, travels from New Jersey all the way around the world, and finds himself in a wide variety of weather, some of which he’s expecting, and some of which nothing can prepare him for. He needs extra layers in Greenland in May and a bathing suit in Brisbane in February. Because he’s carrying only a rucksack with him, his clothing options are limited, so he must shop for specific apparel as he needs it, and sell or donate it as he finishes with it.

What if we had to carry our whole wardrobe on our back? Could we do it? I’m sure I’d figure it out if the choice was learning minimalism or staying home, but it’d be a steep learning curve, to be sure.

The good news for Stan is that he makes it. And the good news for us in Phoenix is that while the daytimes are still crazy hot, the nights are becoming temperate and wonderful. Send a shout-out if you’re ever in the area and want to get together for a chai latte at my favorite indie shop.

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Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.