Waiting On Wednesday – 60

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m waiting on A DAY OF FIRE: A NOVEL OF POMPEII by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Eliza Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, with an introduction by Michelle Moran. It’s a Historical novel which will release on 4th November 2014 (publisher: Knight Media, LLC). I love stories set in Ancient Rome, and this one sounds really exciting. All the authors involved in the project are great, and the blurb has me bouncing with glee.

What do you think?

A Day of Fire From Goodreads:

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.

An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.

An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.

A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.

A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.

A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard about this book? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?

Writing a large cast of characters – with Black Sails

Hello gentle reader,

Fantasy and Historical novels have something in common: they often have a large ensemble cast of at least a dozen main characters, with up to hundreds of secondary characters. Writing a large cast of characters presents some specific challenges: how can the writer make sure each character is distinct from the others and fully realized?

(Please note I’m not talking about the use of multiple points of view here: I’m only discussing managing a big ensemble cast).

With the fourth season of Game of Thrones being aired this month, you may be surprised that I haven’t chosen it as an example to support my argument. Although GoT does have a large ensemble cast, it circumnavigates some of the challenges of writing a large cast because all the main characters are in separate places.

Today I’d like to give a few pointers about writing a large cast of characters who are all in the same place and are forced to constantly interact. I wanted to use HBO’s Deadwood (aka My Favourite Show of All Time) but I realize this show was cancelled in 2006 and you may not have seen it. Therefore I’m going to use a far more recent example: Starz’ Black Sails, whose first season aired in January (side note: this show isn’t censored and the viewer discretion is advised). It’s a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. I’ve been careful not to include spoilers here.

Black Sails introduces us to a cast of 11 main characters and more than 30 (named) secondary characters. They are all in one place: New Providence Island (West Indies) in 1715.

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How do the writers of the show manage to make us recognise each character and care for their fate? And how can you do the same in your Work In Progress?

1) Create distinct characters

The key here is to give each main character his own name, his own way of speaking, his own look (clothes), his own motivations (reasons to be in the story) and his own plotline or “story arc”.

What can be helpful is writing an “ID card” for each character before or while you’re drafting: that way you can keep track of each detail and refer to the character’s card for consistency.

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In Black Sails, Eleanor Guthrie is one of the key characters, and she ticks all the above boxes: her speech, her clothes, her hairdos, her goals and her story arc are completely specific to her and she can’t be confused with any other character.

2) Organize your key characters in groups and don’t introduce them all at once.

Black Sails 2
The characters in Black Sails can roughly be put into 3 groups: one led by Captain James Flint, one led by Eleanor Guthrie and one led by Captain Charles Vane.

Of course, these groups aren’t set in stone: as the story develops, people mingle, allegiances shift, etc. But these groups are a great way to introduce all the characters at the beginning: a reader or viewer can’t memorize the names of 20 characters in one chapter or one episode. However, what they can do is identify a few main characters and the group around them.

At the end of the first episode of Black Sails, I couldn’t tell you more than a couple of characters’ names. I could, however, tell you that Captain Flint was the main lead character, that his goal was to find a Spanish treasure galleon, and that his crew consisted of a nice and wise quartermaster, a handsome first mate, and a clever cook with a secret.

3) An opportunity for diversity

Having a large cast of characters is a golden opportunity to introduce characters with diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, from different age groups, with various sexual orientations or with disabilities.

Black Sails makes quite an effort to introduce diversity in its cast of characters. In 8 episodes, these topics weren’t fully developed, but there’s room for some interesting characters’ development in the seasons to come.

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4) Make us care: create complex characters

With a large cast of characters, it’s important that each one is fully fleshed out, with qualities and flaws. To make them as human as possible, it’s necessary to have them make good AND bad decisions, experience a wide range of emotions and be both strong and fragile.

If you check out Black Sails on Tumblr, you’ll see the premise of a fandom taking form. And among all the people who watched the first season of the show, you’ll see there are people who love Flint. Other people who hate Flint. People who love Vane. Other people who hate Vane with a fiery passion. People who love Max. People who can’t see why Max is even in the show. Etc. Etc. The reason all these people can’t seem to agree or make up their mind is because these characters are complex enough that you can’t really love them or hate them. There are no heroes and no bad guys.

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Let’s take Charles Vane as an example. This character is introduced as a villain. In the first couple of episodes he manages to kill a nice (elderly) secondary character, to punch Eleanor in the face and to beat up Max. So what writing device turns this cruel, murdering pirate into a complex character we actually care about? First, he has friends. Well, one friend, at least. This shows us others do see more in him than what he appears to be. Secondly, he rarely gets his way. For someone who’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, he actually rarely gets what he wants. That makes us sympathize with him, somehow. Finally, he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t love him. That’s always relatable. As a result, by Episode 6, you sort of like Charles Vane, with his flaws and his “no one understands me” attitude. Right? But he wouldn’t be a complex character if he was just this misunderstood guy. So in Episode 8 (the last in the season), the writers have him back to his old ways and you’re back to shouting at your TV screen and wondering if he’s-going-to-kill-everyone-oh-my-I-can’t-even.

Please note I could have written almost the same paragraph about James Flint, except that he starts out as the “hero” and ends up being not that hero-like…

5) Show, don’t tell

My final advice when writing a large cast of characters is to remember to show them to the reader, not tell the reader about them. We need to understand who these characters are and to make up our mind about them through their actions, not because we’re told about them.

Black Sails John Silver
In Black Sails, Long John Silver is a good example of a character we aren’t told much about. We don’t really know who he is, where he came from and what his backstory is. We do, however, get a really clear idea of what kind of person he is through his actions. By the end of the season, we know he’s an opportunist, a liar, a thief, a terrible cook, a very clever man and the Most Likely To Make It Out Alive of the show. That’s characterization well done.

So tell me: have you included a large set of characters in your manuscript? How did you go about it? Most importantly, have you watched Black Sails? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Cover Reveal: What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you the cover of What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen (expected publication: 4th November 2014 by NAL Trade).

I really enjoyed Renee’s debut, Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. I’m excited for her second book to be out, and I’m even more excited to reveal her beautiful cover art!

Here’s the book blurb. Scroll down to check out the cover!

In late 19th century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto:“Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer, and led to an infamous love affair. 

The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watched the flames rise and consume what had been the pioneer town of Chicago, she couldn’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world was about to change. Nor would she have guessed that the agent of that change would not simply be the fire, but more so the man she met that night…

Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store.  He and his powerhouse coterie— including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation.

But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago was transformed into the Gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.

Praise for Dollface 

“Intoxicating….Fans of Boardwalk Empire will love Dollface.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Sara Gruen

“A lively, gutsy romp of a novel that will keep you turning pages.”—Karen Abbott, New York Times Bestselling Author of Sin in the Second City

And now the cover…

WhatTheLady_Cover

Isn’t it gorgeous?!

You can add What The Lady Wants on Goodreads and/or pre-order it here.

 

Jazz Age January – 1

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Hello gentle reader,

Jazz Age January is a reading challenge hosted by Leah at Books Speak Volumes. The idea is to read books related to the Roaring Twenties during the month of January.If you want to join in the fun, read about it here.

This week, I’m reviewing DOLLFACE by Renee Rosen.

Dollface

Title: Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties

Author: Renee Rosen

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Publication: 5th November 2013 by NAL Trade

Blurb (from Goodreads):

America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up because I read somewhere fans of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire would enjoy it, and I wasn’t disappointed. I found in this book the same atmosphere and the same kind of plot that I love in Boardwalk Empire. What I also thought very interesting was that this story is told from the point of view of the women: wives and mistresses of the mobsters.

All in all, it’s an excellent example of historical fiction set in the 1920s, and I do recommend it if you read Adult books.

What have you been reading this week? Make sure to leave me a comment below!

Waiting On Wednesday – 34

Hello gentle reader,

this week I’m waiting on Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter (expected publication: 27th May 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Book). It’s a YA Historical novel set in Ancient Rome and it sounds awesome!

Cursesandsmoke

From Goodreads:

When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard of Curses and Smoke? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?

Book of the Week – 17

cover_ruby_in_the_smoke

Hello gentle reader,

this week I’m reading a YA Historical Mystery/Fantasy. The Ruby In The Smoke (A Sally Lockhart Mystery) was written by UK author Philip Pullman. It is the first book in a quartet published between 1985 and 2004. Set in Victorian London, this series follows sixteen-year-old Sally as she investigates her father’s death and uncovers secrets that threaten her very life.

From Goodreads:

“Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty. Her knowledge of English literature, French, history, art and music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol.

When her dear father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally is left to fend for herself, an orphan and alone in the smoky fog of Victorian London. Though she doesn’t know it, Sally is already in terrible danger. Soon the mystery and the danger will deepen – and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke…”

What are you reading this week?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly, a YA historical novel with zombies and a steampunk vibe, is out TODAY! And I have the pleasure to interview debut author Susan Dennard about the release and her writing process. As a reminder, the idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers.

Author : Susan Dennard

Genre : Young Adult, Fantasy

Location: Germany

Website: http://susandennard.com

Official Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnQuHXPTUP0&feature=youtu.be

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4499623.Susan_Dennard

Twitter: www.twitter.com/stdennard

Books : Something Strange and Deadly series: Something Strange and Deadly (2012), A Darkness Strange and Lovely (2013) from Harper Teen.

My interview (22/07/2012):

On writing

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t say that I ALWAYS knew. I didn’t start putting my daydreams onto paper until I was around 13 or so. After that, all my dreams of a becoming a marine biologist vanished in my obsession with writing (though I was a TERRIBLE writer). Of course, I was such a snotty teen, though, that I refused to be taught–I didn’t want to learn to write since I thought I was already amazing. Ha! Then, when I went off to school to major in creative writing, I got side-tracked by marine biology. Funny how those things work!

I still love science and the marine world. College and graduate school were amazing experiences. In fact, the only reason I returned to writing was because my husband and I would have to live apart if I pursued my PhD. So–rather than separate–I moved with him to Germany, started writing (and studying the craft of writing) full-time, and the rest is history! 😉

When and where do you write?

I write in my office everyday. Or…I do something writing-related everyday. I’m very strict about this. My rule is that if my husband is working, I ought to be too! So either I’m BICHOK-ing (butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard), revising, or working on “administrative stuff” (emails, blogging, self-promotion, etc.).

What do you say to people who want to be writers?

Do it! Sit down and write. That’s the only way to achieve your dreams–but make sure you dream big too! I think success is three-part: aiming high, working hard, and not giving up. It’s so EASY to let dreams slide away when things take a while or don’t work out as you’d hoped. But you CAN’T give up. My mantra before I was published and to this day is: “It’s not a race. You know what you want, Sooz, so just keep on plugging away until you get there.”

I want to share my stories with as many people as possible, and so that’s what I’m trying to do!

On Something Strange and Deadly

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? (How did you come up with a historical novel with zombies?!)

Well, the initial premise came from a dream. My brother was missing; I knew I’d do anything to save him; and the only people who could help  mewere a ragtag team of outcasts. I took that idea and fleshed it out. I knew I wanted a paranormal/creepy element, and I settled on ghosts and corpses after rummaging through what scared me most! It sounds so silly, but honestly, I scanned my shelves trying to pick out which books made my skin crawl. If I was scared, then surely I could transfer that fear onto the page–and nothing creeps me out more than ghouls and zombies!

The historical aspect–specifically 1876–came about because I knew I wanted a steampunk vibe (but not 100% steampunk). I adore 19th century literature and history, and after some preliminary research, I discovered the Centennial Exhibition (the first American World’s Fair). I thought, “Whoa! What a great place for walking corpses! What if…what if my team of outcasts are actually zombie-fighters brought in to protect the Exhibition?”

And that, my friends, is how Something Strange and Deadly came to be.

Why did you choose to write for young adults?

I’m not sure I ever consciously set out to write YA…I just knew I wanted to write a book that I would love. And of all the books I’ve read, the ones that stay with me the most are the books I enjoyed growing up and during my teen years. I knew I wanted to write THAT sort of book, and so…I did! 🙂

 What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m writing the third book in the Something Strange and Deadly series (so weird to work on it when book 1 isn’t even out yet!) as well as a novella set before the events in the trilogy. I’m also working on some other projects–Screechers, an epic fantasy in a desert world; an untitled space opera with author Sarah Maas (Throne of Glass, Bloomsbury 2012); and a fluffy, fun contemporary.

You can buy Something Strange and Deadly on Amazon here. And you can enter the Something Strange and Deadly Outbreak giveaway here.