Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating Likeable Characters

Compelling, likeable characters immerse me in a story. Even the most exciting plot won't keep me turning the pages if the main characters don't make me feel invested in their plights.  I tend to be drawn to characters I can relate to on a deep level. They are often flawed, are experiencing struggles, obstacles and personal growth, and have an unusual outlook on life or a sense of humor.

Lead characters displaying some kind of flaws endear themselves to me the most. I recently read Book One of Shadewright (science fiction) by Dean McMillin. The juvenile character, Phantist, is an outcast orphan, insecure about his newly acquired shadow shaping talents.  His plight took me back to elementary school, when I was often bullied and teased, and I felt eager to read on to learn whether Phantist found his journey to more secure ground the way I eventually did.

In Ellen Cross's Holly's Healing (holiday menage), Holly Reece is disfigured and partially disabled after a car collision with a drunk driver. Her vulnerability, after losing what seemed like the perfect life, is what caught my interest and made me want to see how she would overcome the suffering that stood in the way of her personal growth. Not only does Holly have a flaw, but she's also in the midst of a struggle - another important grabber for me in a story.

As a former expat, I found Nadine Hays' Happier Than a Billionaire (memoir) a hilarious read. Having lived in Peru for two years, I repeatedly laughed out loud and said to myself "that sounds familiar" as Nadine and her husband adjusted to their new life in Costa Rica. I still remember how the electricity went off without fail whenever I tried to broil a steak, how the shower would diminish to a trickle whenever I rinsed the shampoo from my hair (if someone used water on the first floor, there would be no water pressure upstairs), and how most mornings I woke up to vendors yelling "carrots, potatoes, onions" as they rolled their wheelbarrows full of produce down the street. But what really drew me to the narrator in Billionaire was her struggle - surviving in a new and different country - as well as the sense of humor she maintained no matter how dire the circumstance.

When I write my books, I try to create characters certain readers will relate to. If you're a gung ho, got-to-get-the-job-done-at-all-costs person, you'd love elite open water swimmer,  Jeff Dickson (The Open Water Swimmer). He's fiercely competitive and goal-oriented to the point that he's socially awkward and unsophisticated around women. You might be able to relate to the areas in your life which feel a little out-of-balance as a result of your eyes-on-the-prize drive. Jeff's about to learn that there's more to life than just crossing the finish line first.

Children's writer Dana Thomas is the typical spontaneous creative. You never know what this impulsive children's author will do next. Early on in The Open Water Swimmer, she decides she'll pack up her laptop and head to the nearest open water swimming race to identify the swimmer she's been dreaming about. But she's insecure about herself as a person and a woman as a result of a failing relationship and is about to embark on a journey to learn a lot about both.

Message from Viola Mari's Marissa Jones is a oceanographer/meteorite scientist at Scripps Institute in La Jolla. Since she's a geeky scientist, her best friend, Jennifer, incessantly tries to match her up with men she knows (many of us have dealt with this situation at some point or another)...I happen to have rather horrid memories of a certain friend setting me up with an overweight Italian man who was obsessed with chocolates and caramel apples in the food court and kept exclaiming, "Oh, my God" whenever we passed another food counter. What a night of bliss that was (not so much). Anyway, back to Marissa- she's also a rescuer, accustomed to caring for her family and friends, while in most cases neglecting herself and rejecting assistance from others (now if this doesn't sound like a familiar female trait, I don't know what does).

Marissa's eventual lover, professor Justin Lincoln, is another one of those whimsical creative types. He's used to women swooning over him and taking relationships and the rest of his life one minute at a time. You can probably imagine what kind of chaos ensues when Miss structured scientist meets Mr. Minute-by-Minute, but let's just say the explosion leads both characters to undergo some serious re-evaluation and personal growth.

Whenever I recall books that became favorites, lead characters jump out in my mind. I remember Jamie Zeppa's fearless and adventurous attitude as she leaves Canada to teach English in distant Bhutan (Beyond the Sky and Earth - memoir), the vulnerable and lost Mala in Nicholas Christopher's A Trip to the Stars, who voyages to different seaside locales around the world, the restless Lady Dona in Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek, who rebels against her confining female role and embarks on exotic adventures, and so many other characters who endeared me to them from the very first pages so before long I found myself feeling like the character's number one cheerleader and best friend.

Now that I've shared my thoughts on how characters bring the text to life, I'd be thrilled to hear your comments on the subject.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Books Set in Exotic Places

My first two novels as well as my latest work in progress are set in exotic, often seaside locales. The reason for this is quite simple. I thrive on traveling, especially to places where there's water I can not only dip my toes in, but also dive in and  swim in! My travel experiences stay with me long after I've returned home and have their way of working their way into my writing.

Two weeks ago, we travelled to Cabo San Lucas, where I spent a minimum of two hours daily swimming with the fish. I relished floating along with a school of 1000 fish, pretending for a moment I was one of the gang. Years ago during our honeymoon, my husband and I dove Half Moon Caye Wall in Belize. While we absorbed the rainbow colors on the reef, three dolphins swam up beside us, occasionally giving us a playful nudge. Last summer we were in Cancun during sea turtle mating season and had the privilege of releasing baby sea turtles, which were only the size of my palm, from the hotel hatchery into the ocean at night. I couldn't help imagining their lonely journey through the dark water to find food. We've kayaked crocodile infested rivers in Costa Rica, climbed to the top of exploding Pacaya volcano in Guatemala, got chased by a pack of coatimundi in Panama and slept in hotels where sea crabs crawled out of the sink and the mattresses were harder than volcanic rocks.

Something about traveling renews my enthusiasm and gives me a fresh perspective on life. For those of you who share my passion for travel, not necessarily to perfect places with every amenity you have at home, but places not frequently visited, that have this way of throwing surprises at visitors, you'll likely enjoy my books, which will provide a nourishing escape without the hassle of flying.

On a day when snow's swirling outside your window, you can curl up in a chair with a cup of hot tea and imagine you're seaside with hunky hero, ocean swimmer Jeff Dickson. You can follow Jeff and his love interest, children's writer Dana Thomas to swimming races in Greece, Portugal, the Caribbean island of Roatan and Tunisia and before long you'll almost believe you're at the beach.

After a hectic day at work, you can curl up on the couch and join meteorite scientist Marissa Jones on her adventures to the beautiful historic city of Prague and sunny Belize as she searches for answers on how to save the world from an approaching comet cloud. She's a geeky scientist completely awkward around men, so you'll laugh out loud when she falls hard for Justin Lincoln and acts like a crazy whacko. Laughter is good medicine for whatever ails you, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

In my work in progress, Expedition to Mountain River Cave, you'll join geologist Kent Dunbar on an exciting caving expedition to Vietnam. Adventure guide Rebecca Devereux signs on to be one of his assistants after one of her clients succumbs to a heart attack on a southern Arizona hike and is laid off from the outdoor work she thrives on. Who would ever imagine that a sweaty hike through the jungle and rappeling down rock faces into a cave full of bats and rushing water could lead to love?

My aim when I write is to give you the great escape you crave. My books deliver exotic travel, loveable heroes and heroines (and some despicable villains of course), humor, plenty of erotic romance and plot twists that will keep you guessing. I hope you enjoy them :-)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Thank you for dropping by to visit me on this blog hop!

I was kindly tagged by Diane Adams, author of Life Should be Beautiful, If the Stars Fall, and That One Thing. You can read more about Diane's books by going to

Today, I'll answer 10 questions about my work-in-progress, a romantic suspense entitled Expedition to Mountain River Cave.

What is the working title of your book?  Expedition to Mountain River Cave

Where did the idea come from for the book?  The movie Sanctum. The cave and the exotic tropical setting piqued my interest in writing another romantic adventure. Don’t worry everyone will die an agonizing death the way everyone did in that movie, though. My story is much more like Romancing the Stone than Alien vs. Preditor.

What genre does your book fall under? Romantic suspense

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?  Ed Harris would be my choice if he still looked like he did in Apollo 13.  Kent’s got the same dimples, the same muscular, sturdy body and a similar tough, down-to-business exterior. Viggo Mortensen might work well, too. I can't think of a female actress that looks like Rebecca, though. She's a green-eyed, voluptuous brunette.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book? Rebecca is desperate to start over and Kent needs a scientific assistant who can get it done, but neither of them expect this remote jungle expedition will lead to lusty attraction that can't be denied.

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency? I hope to publish this work with Extasy Books, the publisher of my two earlier novels, The Open Water Swimmer and Message from Viola Mari.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The book’s not yet finished, but I’ve been working on it since September, 2012 and hope to submit late in February.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My books aren’t like any others I’ve read so far. I aim to take my readers to exotic places, like Nicholas Christopher's A Trip to the Stars and aspire toward Jennifer Crusie’s humor…A good laugh improves my outlook on life so  I like to deliver some of that fun to my readers.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? I watched some National Geographic documentaries on you tube about some expeditions to Mountain River Cave in Vietnam several days after I watched the Sanctum movie and the next thing I knew, a story sprouted inside my head.

What else about your book might interest the reader? My books tend to feature quirky characters and appeal to readers who enjoy humor, outdoor adventure, and science (in this case the geology of caves). I also enjoy writing panty-wetting sex scenes and this book delivers plenty of those - all in the great outdoors!

Thank you for reading my blog post. Now I'll pass the torch on to  Lynsie Buchanan who will post on January 9. Her debut novel, The Healers, will be published in the summer of 2013 with Extasy Books.