This month, instead of Beautiful People (where you talk about your characters), Sky’s link-up is Beautiful Books, where you talk about your work-in-progress!
I’ve mentioned several stories/story ideas here, but my true WIP is a semi- western Gentle Fire. “Semi”–because the setting is based off early 1800s Anglo and Mexican cultures, but the story world is an imaginary one. Whoop, wait, I guess I should be talking about this in the questions! So off we go.
What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
The 2004 film The Alamo inspired this story…and what particularly grabbed my imagination was the idea of a very young man thrust into a leadership position that would be hard to fulfill with success. I wondered how I might handle such a situation…how someone else might handle that situation..and Durant’s character and motives and flaws appeared almost instantly (though he’s also grown and changed since I got the initial idea).
A contributing inspiration was one of my pet peeves. I’ll explain. 🙂 Through 2016, I got sick and tired of the “you can succeed if you work hard enough” message that appears in a lot of Hollywood stories (just about every sports film I’ve seen and several artist/writer/performance arts films. Plus a lot of the personal stories on American Ninja Warrior). Now sometimes, work and perseverance do pay off, and they’re inherently good qualities. But they don’t absolutely guarantee success, and I remember the night my annoyance with this message solidified. My family and I were watching The Martian (with liberal editing and TV Guardian, mind you), and after astronaut Mark Watney is stranded–alone–on Mars with no chance of rescue, he declares to himself, “I’m not gonna die.” Dad pointed out, “See, that’s his determination.” And I remember thinking, “You know he could still die, right? No matter how hard he works?” Yes, it was good initiative that Watney didn’t mope about his predicament or give up. But that scene nonetheless struck me as hollow, because there was a distinct possibility of failure.
Okay, this is sounding cynical. But here’s what I would rather see: stories like the The Alamo and The Lord of the Rings, where the characters fight for their values. Principles and people they “are willing to fight, and possibly die, for,” whether or not they succeed. I am definitely encouraged by those examples. And I’ve worked all that into Gentle Fire.
I got the initial story concept in April, 2016 (and commemorated the event by making April 24th Durant’s birthday. 🙂 ).
Describe what your novel is about!
Durant wants to live in peace with his family in their frontier home, but the west is too far from the mother country to receive consistent help, and it has no organized government. As the family struggles against wilderness and the lawlessness, Durant fights to help establish a government to safeguard his new home and make it prosperous. And he is keenly aware of the consequences of failure.
Well, lookee there, I managed to write a short synopsis! 🙂
What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!
The landscapes are modeled after places in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, with some south Texas-inspired landscapes here and there. The northern most parts of my imaginary world are mostly mountains; the midlands have slopes and woods dominating, and the southern most portions are desert-ish areas. As such, the southern towns and homes are built from adobe (with a few lumber houses for those who could afford the material), while the northern towns and homes are often log cabins. However, these varied landscapes all belong to one colony of one nation, and Mexicans and Anglos live together in several areas, and those towns/communities are often a blend of the two cultures.
Music has also inspired lots of plot points, story twists, and general settings. These songs in particular:
“West, Pioneer!” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)
“Homeland” (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron)
“In The New World” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)
“Listen to the Mockingbird” (The Alamo)
“Sell Our Lives Dearly” (The Alamo)
“Where You’ve Always Been” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)
“Home Away from Home” (James Galway & Phil Coulter, Winter’s Crossing)
“Flares” (The Script, No Sound Without Silence)
“Hard Times” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)
“Hymn for the Heartland” (James Galway & Phil Coulter, Winter’s Crossing)
“El Bexareno” (The Alamo [note: my keyboard won’t make Spanish accent marks; hope the meaning is clear enough!])
“Clancy’s Theme” (The Man From Snowy River)
“La Zandunga” (The Alamo)
Introduce us to each of your characters!
*looks at list of17+ characters* Or…maybe just the most prominent ones? But rather than narrating personalities, I’ll list the tropes from tvtropes.org that apply to my characters.
Beware the Nice Ones – Threaten Durant’s values or family, and he will not go quietly. His reactions range from calling you out to insubordination (though he always tries the peaceable solution first).
Cannot Spit It Out – He’s definitely better with written communication.
Deadpan Snarker – In some instances (the flip side of the trope above!)
Friend to All Children – He loves kids, adores his niece and nephews, and he likes teaching (and prefers the vocation of schoolmaster to anything else).
Knight in Sour Armor – He turns into this.
Not A Morning Person – And often wakened by nephews bouncing on him in the morning.
Alex huffed. “Why are you always sleeping?”
Durant turned over. “I beg your pardon, you rascal.”
The Quiet One – Initially, but he opens up once get he gets to know someone. And he’s laid back and more cheerful around his family.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? – He hates public attention.
Deadpan Snarker – Definitely.
Determined Homesteader – She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty working with Wilson to establish their homestead.
Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand – Mary manages to uphold a combination of the two.
Good Parents – To Alex, Luke, and later, Sophie. She and Wilson want to have more children once they get settled in their new home (even though pregnancies are often difficult for her).
Happily Married – To Wilson.
Honest Advisor – Mary can see through smoke screens, recognize when both sides have a point–and she tells it like it is.
Humble Goal – She wants to build a comfortable home for herself and her family.
Mama Bear – Don’t mess with her kids, or you’ll be looking down the wrong end of her musket.
Team Chef – She absolutely loves to cook and to keep hearty meals on the table for her family.
(I really need to draw a proper portrait of Wilson!)
Determinator – He has a type-A streak that can make him stubborn.
Determined Homesteader – Wilson is a farmer through and through and honestly prefers to get his living from the soil.
Does Not Know His Own Strength – While Wilson is incredibly gentle with his wife and kids, he sometimes falls prey to this. He once gave Durant a friendly back slap–that was so strong, Durant stumbled forward a step or two. And then refused to quit teasing Wilson about it.
Good Parents – To Alex, Luke, and later, Sophie.
Happily Married – To Mary.
Humble Goal – He wants land of his own and a working farm to pass down to his sons someday.
Mellow Fellow – He’s laid-back and cheerful–usually.
Papa Wolf – Mess with his family, and you’re going to wish you hadn’t.
(Don’t have a drawing of Barros yet. Sorry.)
Papa Wolf – To daughters Teresita and Maria.
Reluctant Hero – Subverted; Barros defends his family and values without a second thought, he but he would rather lead on a social level than go into politics. Guess how well that preference works out.
Reasonable Authority Figure – He generally listens to all parties, and never acts without thinking carefully. On the other hand, he can also make up his mind quickly when needed.
(I’m still developing his character, which is why there aren’t as many tropes for his personality yet.)
Friend to All Children – Possibly because she has several younger brothers and sisters (and a couple of older ones; I think she’s the third child of nine kids).
Humble Goal – To help support her family. She loves them dearly.
Nice Girl – She’s warm and enthusiastic (without being overly effusive) and friendly.
Plucky Girl – She tries to cheer others up and isn’t easily discouraged.
Proper Lady – As per the social and cultural standards of the time (though in a twist on this trope, she’s not an upper-class lady).
Silk Hiding Steel – She moved to a foreign colony–alone–to work as a seamstress and earn money for her family . At age 17.
Spicy Latina – Actually subverted to averted, depending on your perspective. Sanchia is passionate for her values and tends to push others to fulfill their talents and callings, but she’s also down-to-earth and patient and cheerful.
The Social Expert – She’s outgoing, observant, and a good conversationalist!
(Characters not featured here: Alex, Luke, Sophie, Teresita, Maria, Jacobs, Harrison, Williams, Jackson, Dennis, Eduardo and Dolores, various others who haven’t been named yet.)
How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)
Lots and lots of planning. I need to know my characters thoroughly before starting the book, and I need to know what the story is ultimately saying, and where the major plot points are, as well as where everything ends up. As such, I’ve been planning this novel for over a year, and only just beginning to write it.
What are you most looking forward to about this novel?
Writing Durant’s character and journey and growth (and he does grow a lot). And I look forward to writing the world and how the characters react to it and influence it. I also think the story and its settings and problems are fresh twists on the western genre, and so it’ll be fun to play with all those ideas!
List 3 things about your novel’s setting.
- Most characters refer to the frontier as “the western colonies” or just “the colonies”–since the new land was founded by the eastern government for economic benefit.
- Anglos and Mexicans live together in the colonies and eventually created a blend of cultures. The land being harsh and rugged, the colonies of the two nations engaged in trade and came to depend upon one another a good deal.
- The story is set during the dawn of the west, during the 820s–30s. As such, the fashions are 30s style (both Anglo and Mexican) and the weapons are muskets and flintlock rifles.
What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?
See the synopsis above. 🙂 Durant really just wants to be left alone and live in peace with his family.
How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
Spoilers! This is actually a key point, so I’ll keep it under wraps for now. (And maybe intrigue people by doing so…mwa-ha-ha! 🙂 )
What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?
Again, spoilers! I’d rather let readers figure this out for themselves! As for the readers’ feelings…I’ve noticed a trend of bittersweet endings in my stories. Think The Return of the King bittersweet. So there’s that–but I would want the readers to feel quietly inspired. I say “quietly” because sometimes it’s the subtle things that influence you the most.
Now, I considered whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month (in November)–and ultimately decided against it. The reason is that I’ve switched writing methods. Rather than typing at my laptop, I’ve gone back to scribbling with pen and paper and this actually works better for me. Typing is handy, but it’s so fast that I often finish a scene or a line before I’ve planned the next–so I have to stop and think what comes next–and there goes all momentum. But because handwriting is slower, I don’t come to the end of my imagination as quickly, and the momentum doesn’t slow down either. And there’s no “backspace” key on a pen, meaning less incentive to edit during the draft. 🙂 HOWEVER it would be incredibly difficult to reach a handwritten 50k word count in one month. I may twist the rules a bit to suit my methods, or follow along as well as possible for the first week or so, but nothing official. And perhaps, I’m not doing NaNo–I might be able to write humorous blog posts for the rest of you writers to enjoy!