Sunday, January 8, 2017

Guest Post: "Creating Strong Characters" by Tracy M. Joyce

  
Creating Strong Characters.


I was asked recently how I go about creating strong female characters.  The question took me aback, you see I don’t set out to create “strong female” characters – just diverse, believable characters of either sex.  (BTW I think characters should be “strong” regardless of gender and the term strong characters implies far more than their mere personality traits, but I’ll get to that…)

This question actually made me sit down and count the characters in my book. I had no idea how many women I’d included in Altaica and Asena Blessed.  The preponderance of female characters within my stories is most certainly due to the women around whom I grew up.  My mother was a woman capable of doing any of the farm work on our family farm that my father did, worked long hard hours and still found time for her children, despite her own exhaustion – super woman?  Yes, she was.  My grandmothers were both a huge influence on me too - their stories were far from easy and deserve their own novels.  My family is not unique.  These stories of strength, resilience, compassion and love are all around us and not just amongst women.

Let’s start talking about strong female characters? Well, what does that really mean?   Does it mean populating our writing only with female characters who are tough kick arse types?  No - of course not.  Yet too often I think the notion of strong female characters is seen only in this light.  Are these characters fun to write? You bet?  But you know what? They’d never reach the heights of popularity of characters like Katniss Everdeen, Rose Hathaway or Celaena Sardothien and Alanna of Trebond without having more substance to their characters than their astonishing combat skills.  What about characters like Hermione Granger, Scout, Hester Prynne, Jane Eyre, Anne Shirley?  (Yep I’m digging into the archives, but hey they’re all strong female characters!) 

In our current adoration of the warrior type, particularly in so much YA fiction (yes...I'm guilty), I worry that there is a risk of undervaluing for younger generations, however inadvertently, other roles for women in fiction and real life.  It’s clear why the action heroine is popular, but our female characters can also be doctors, lawyers, scientists, kick arse types and mothers.  (If you think mothers aren’t a tough bunch then think again.) 

My point is strong female characters, or rather strong characters in general, come in all shapes, sizes, physical abilities, races, ages, gay or straight.  They are diverse!  They are not one dimensional. And there is more to being strong than kicking arse.

Now did I write a kick arse character?  Yes several in fact – Isaura and Asha immediately come to mind. Are they just warriors?  No.  They are young women who, for all their confidence, have insecurities; who, for all their bravery, have stark fears.  Isaura has grown up as a refugee in her community and has been subjected to racism and treated with suspicion most of her life, yet she tries to rise above this.  Her whole life has been one of struggle, and yet she keeps going. She is absolutely “no angel” - she makes terrible mistakes and pays the price physically and mentally, yet she keeps fighting.  Asha is forcibly removed from her home at a young age to train with a religious order – a role she doesn’t want.  Unlike Isaura, she is valued and has special rank within her society, yet has no choice in the future before her.  Events she witnesses as a child have left her scarred and in the end she must face them with terrible consequences.

In my novels you’ll also find a loving mother, Lucia, with no martial skill yet who strives in the best way she can protect her family and a granny, whom my friend and fellow author, Kat Clay told me "breaks the mould".   For these characters, it is their personality traits that we initially see as strong – courage, resilience, loyalty and love.  Looking at these traits you could think, “Well,yes of course! They’re brave we all love bravery.  That goes without saying.”  BUT here’s the thing: without portraying their weaknesses and their fears they would not be perceived as believable and strong in either a literary or psychological sense.

So what if a character is portrayed as being weak or not psychologically strong? That does that make them a weak a literary sense?  Of course not!  Another of my characters is a woman who suffers from mental health issues and whose treatment by those around her has only worsened her condition. She can be spiteful, neurotic, jealous, anxious and protective of her family whom she loves deeply.  Her story is complex and she is battling daily against internal demons not of her making.  (In a way her continued battle makes her strong despite her mental fragility.  Like the others she keeps trying, even though her view of reality is warped.) 

All these characters are different, but they all have complex backstories that have shaped and haunt them, they’re fallible. They face daunting challenges, some succeed and others fail, but they’re all “strong”.

Their real strength lies not merely in their personalities, but in how we write them.  It lies in their literary construction.  You want your readers to feel what your characters feel; you want them to laugh and cry with your characters; you want the characters and their story to capture their hearts and not let go.  Their strength and that of your story lies in the diversity and complexity of their creation which in turn leads to believability. 
 
About now you’re probably thinking, “Well that’s just marvellous, but how do we it?”

Let's drop the “strong” female characters tag.  Just think about strong characters of EITHER gender. The same rules apply:

Remember: The real world is not a homogenous society – nor should the world you build, or the characters you create, be.

So what do you consider when you create strong characters? Where do you start?

  • Look around you.  You’ll see people from all walks of life, all races and various socio economic statuses. Watch how people around you behave – how they react.  Be observant and be discreet. (Don’t freak people out and get a restraining order taken out against you!)
  •  Avoid Stereotypes, or turn them on their head
  • Diversity – on the simplest level in terms of looks, think also race, religion, politics, psychology, sexuality, physical ability, psychology, physically
  • Vulnerability
  • Flaws – psychologically and physically.
  • Disabilities? (Don’t be afraid to write a disabled character, just do your research well!)
  • Courage / lack of it
  • Insecurities / confidence
  • Backstory – happy? Traumatic? Influence on  developmental psychology; world view
  • Reactions – show don’t tell (BTW I hate this phrase.) Specific mannerisms.   
  • Nuances, ticks,
  • Realistic dialogue – (read it aloud! It will help)
  • Motivations.
  • Character growth.  (Character growth doesn’t always have to happen in a story, some characters can remain static and simply enact the adventure that is your book, However having them grow, learn and change can make for a more interesting story.)
  • Mental health issues

Now that I’ve given you this lovely little list and my ramblings, I’m going to add one other thing that I think can lead to difficulties, particularly for the beginning writer.  The above list implies planning – some of which is always good.  However, I’ve seen writers spend so much time planning their character profiles and writing screeds about them, that they neglect to start their story; or their character construct then becomes immutable and they loose flexibility in their writing because of it. 

The one thing you should remember is that a character you create should be strong

REGARDLESS of gender.

 
A little about Tracy...
 

Tracy writes epic fantasy for teens through to adults.  Her  stories are gritty, a little dark and morality is like quicksand.  You won’t find any unicorns or fairies here…

Although her stories include romantic elements, they are not romance driven novels. Do not buy these books if you’re after a fairytale….

Consider this a warning: Expect kickass heroines, battles (big ones, small ones - let’s face it, if she’d put gunpowder in this world then there’d be explosions too!)  gore, political scheming, horses, archery and a touch of magic, but NO fairies, elves, pixies, orcs and definitely NO unicorns.  (Unless, of course, its a combat trained unicorn with stealth capabilities …. then…maybe…)


http://www.tracymjoyce.com/books.htmlhttp://www.tracymjoyce.com/books.html



A huge thanks to Tracy for sharing her thoughts on creating strong characters! For those aspiring authors reading this right now, stop reading and get writing!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Review: Over the Edge by Meredith Wild



Olivia Bridge has always been a good girl—good grades, good friends, and a good job that her wealthy parents handed her. Desperate to carve out a life that is truly hers, Liv walks away from it all and takes on the challenge of helping her brothers open a chain of fitness centers in New York City. Just as she’s beginning to find her footing in a new place, she’s caught between two men who couldn’t be more determined to turn all her goodness inside out.

Will Donovan has the capital to make the Bridge brothers’ entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Taking their uptight sister to bed seems a reasonable perk for the risk. Liv is the smartest, sexiest prude Will’s ever met, and he can’t wait to break her down.

Life is too short for Ian Savo to play by anyone’s rules. Sharing women with his friend isn’t anything new, so when Will introduces him to Liv, he can’t wait to get a taste. But falling for the same girl, or falling at all, was never in the plans... 


Genre: Romance
Length: 304 pages

Wow, that was intense. 
And spine-tingling.
And, oh, so satisfying to read.

Meredith Wild certainly delivers when it comes to romance – realistic characters, scenes that scorch the pages and the ability to tug at the heart strings. In “Over the Edge” we’re introduced to Olivia Bridge. She’s a good girl. She’s followed her parents’ lead for so long, but now she’s stepping out on her own, desperate to make a name for herself. She would never do anything to bring her reputation into disrepute…that was until she met Will Donovan – a savvy, handsome entrepreneur who has his sights set on breaking down Olivia’s straight-laced world.

But there’s a twist. “Over the Edge” explores the often taboo subject of ménage à trois. I’ve read other books that delve into this world, but none that do it as well as Wild has. With a multiple POV format, we can see how each character is feeling, where there head is at and how the two men in her life recalibrate their worlds and hearts to sharing Olivia.

I’m a huge fan of Wild’s unique writing style. She has this amazing ability to drag you into her character’s worlds. I was intensely interested in their welfare, celebrating with them when they had their wins, and commiserating when they were at their lowest. In my opinion, that ability is what makes a great writer. 

Even though this is the third book in the Bridge Series, I found I wasn’t spending all my time playing catch up. You could definitely read this as a stand-alone, and not feel as if you were missing out on something. This is a well thought out, well-paced and extremely sexy read. If you’ve never read anything by Meredith Wild, do yourself a favor and pick up any of her titles. You will not be disappointed.

This is a 4.5 star read for me.

Where can I get a copy?

https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/over-the-edge/id1066107103?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
https://www.amazon.com/Over-Edge-Bridge-Series-Book-ebook/dp/B01EIJC2TK/ref=as_sl_pc_as_ss_li_til?tag=novelsale-20&linkCode=w01&linkId=721702d44e461814d3d36c2306b9dd6a&creativeASIN=B01EIJC2TK
https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/over-the-edge-46?utm_source=linkshare_us&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=linkshare_us&siteID=R1agzqBP.wg-FbTPImQKUfJMrGAjJ0ZPYg
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Meredith_Wild_Over_the_Edge?id=UCwuDAAAQBAJ&hl=en
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/over-the-edge-meredith-wild/1123162561?ean=2940158204074&st=AFF&SID=NOK_DRS_ProductCatalogNook_20150928&2sid=Waterhouse+Press%2C+LLC_7992451_NA&sourceId=AFFWaterhouse+Press%2C+LLCM000020
http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Over-Edge/Meredith-Wild/9781943893096?id=6587569684100
https://www.amazon.com/Over-the-Edge/dp/B01MD1R1AC/ref=as_sl_pc_as_ss_li_til?tag=novelsale-20&linkCode=w00&linkId=68a7d6aafc5f22c1dc12c3d643108989&creativeASIN=B01MD1R1AC



About Meredith


Meredith Wild is a #1 New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of romance. Living on Florida’s Gulf Coast with her husband and three children, she refers to herself as a techie, whiskey-appreciator, and hopeless romantic. When she isn’t living in the fantasy world of her characters, she can usually be found at  www.facebook.com/meredithwild.

Connect with Meredith

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Excerpt from Omega ~ Part 3


A lot of you have been asking whether there will be a fifth Helheim book. Well, the good news is YES there will be a fifth book. I'm currently working on writing it, but my life has been crazy so it's taking a lot longer than I expected.

It's Brax's story, but it's also the book that tidies up all the loose ends and hopefully gives you all a sense a satisfaction that the series is over. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to all of my wolves, but like all goods things...

So, without further ado, here's the final excerpt from "Omega".

** Please note that this work is copyright and is unedited and subject to change. **

Brax mentally wrapped a leash around his self-control, holding that motherfucker in a death grip. He was standing in Andrea’s bedroom having found the thing without the need for directions or a detailed map. All he’d had to do was follow his nose, that sugary sweet smell of caramel leading him and his dick in the right direction. He was in over his fucking head. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to scrub the dirty thoughts from his mind. He’d known the moment she’d made her way into the room. It wasn’t Ulf’s slight nod of acknowledgment that had tipped him off. It wasn’t even her caramel scent. It was his wolf. His wolf had sat at attention and the word ‘mate’ had whispered through his mind.

He forced himself to focus on the task at hand.

Find her bags.

Grab her bags.

Get the fuck out of there.

But it wasn’t that easy. Now that he was there in her bedroom, he had this sick desire to looking around, to inhale her scent from the pillow and bedsheets. Hell, he wanted to mark his goddamn territory. But once more, he tugged tightly on the choke chain and brought his self-control to heel. Sliding his hands through the two handles of her old-school suitcases, he belt at the knees and lifted. As he made his way back to the front entrance way, he paused when he heard voices coming from behind a closed door just to his right. He could hear the soft buzz of Ulf’s voice as he spoke to the alpha. Whatever. It wasn’t his business…right? He tried to listen a little harder, but movement at the top of the hallway caught his attention.

Andrea was standing there with her arms wrapped around her torso, hugging herself until her knuckles turned white. He would have thought she was afraid, except for the heat blasting off her body, the scent of caramel getting stronger by the second.

Mate, Brax’s wolf said again, its coarse voice louder than before.

He took a step toward her and her eyes widened. She sucked in a breath, pressing herself into the wall and looking away. It was almost as if she were trying to make herself smaller, to simply disappear.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he heard himself say, but his voice didn’t sound like his. It sounded gentle and reassuring, not the casualness he usually projected. She looked back at him and his heart squeezed in his chest. She was the most beautiful female he’d ever seen. Making a show of being as nonthreatening as possible, he lowered both of her bags to the ground and retreated a few feet. He walked back until the backs of his knees hit the edge of a chair and he sat down.

He watched her from where she was, noting the way she relaxed. Good. He didn’t want to upset her. He had no idea what her story was, but he would totally go all tween girl at a sleepover to find out if she was willing to share. He suddenly got a mental image of Andrea having a pillow fight wearing very little and he groaned. Subtly and, hopefully, unseen, he readjusted his erection pressing against the fly of his pants.

God, he was such an asshole.

Feeling the need to fill in the blank space between them, he asked, “Your name is Andrea?”

Way to go, Jackass. You know her name is Andrea.

“I mean…ah, fuck,” he finished, shaking his head. “Sorry. I’m not usually like this.” He blew out a breath and slumped back into the chair. He’d blown it.

Fucking. Dick.

“You can call me Drae,” she said softly. Brax looked at her just to make sure he’d heard her properly.

“Drae?” he repeated. She nodded and he smiled.

She inched a little closer, but still held herself back from him. Her fear was another entity in the space. She was a timid deer and he was petrified of any movement that would send her running and hiding. What in the hell had happened to her for her to be so frightened?

“Will we be leaving soon?” she asked, rubbing her arms as if cold.

Brax glanced at the closed door between them, trying to see if the conversation was wrapping up or not. He looked back and Andrea’s cheeks suddenly flushed with color. “I’m not sure. I guess all we can do is wait.”

And that is exactly what they did until the door opened and Brax watched Ulf and Avon step out of what looked like a library. Brax looked to his beta, trying to decipher what the expression on his face might mean. Ulf looked incensed. He wasn’t just angry. He was downright enraged by something. He looked at Drae briefly before pinning Brax with a hard stare.

Dropping his voice down low, he jabbed a finger in Drae’s direction and said, “Stay away from her. You hear me?”

What. The. Fuck.

“Yeah,” Brax said, confused. Who was Andrea? Avon’s mate? That would be the only reason for the keep-your-hands-to-yourself speech. He hadn’t sensed anything between them, but maybe they hadn’t mated properly yet. What if…what if Drae was Avon’s mistress and his wife was coming home so he needed to get rid of his dirty secret?

He felt like a douche for even lumping those words together with Drae—dirty secret and mistress. She would never be any of those things. He stared at her, like his stare alone would make all the secrets suddenly appear in thin air.

“Get the bags. We’re going to be late for our flight.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Excerpt from "Omega" ~ Part 2

A lot of you have been asking whether there will be a fifth Helheim book. Well, the good news is YES there will be a fifth book. I'm currently working on writing it, but my life has been crazy so it's taking a lot longer than I expected.

It's Brax's story, but it's also the book that tidies up all the loose ends and hopefully gives you all a sense a satisfaction that the series is over. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to all of my wolves, but like all goods things...

So, without further ado, here's the second of three excerpts from "Omega".

** Please note that this work is copyright and is unedited and subject to change. **

  
Darkness. 

That was all Andrea could see outside her bedroom window.  

Darkness.  

She exhaled, fogging up the glass. She was tired of waiting. Avon had told her she was leaving straight away—last night, in fact—but it was now six AM and she was still at Avon’s house. With her bag packed. And her anxiety was wrapping around her throat and chest, constricting, making it difficult to even drag in the next breath. Her gaze shifted to the horizon, waiting for the sun to penetrate the darkness. Because if it did, maybe it would burn away her unease too.  

Andrea had no doubt Rick was watching the apartment, waiting for her to step outside alone. He would kill her if she did. She knew it like she knew her own face in the mirror. Just then a shiver slithered down her spine, goose bumps breaking out on her arms and on the back of her neck. Someone was watching her. Narrowing her eyes, she swept the space between the boundary fence running alongside the driveway and the forest not four feet from it. A small orange glow appeared in the darkest shadow directly across from her window, followed by pale grey smoke. A cigarette. Andrea’s heart tripped. Rick was out there. She searched her mated bond and found the pulse of his energy close. With her heart pounding in her ears, she let the drapes fall back into place and stepped back from the window. 

Her phone pinged with a message from her bedside table.  She looked in its direction with trepidation. After leaving Rick, Avon had given her a new phone with a new private number. Nobody had her digits, and she had given them to nobody. Avon had told her it was for emergencies only, in case she felt threatened at any time. Andrea picked up the phone, looked at the unknown number first then let her gaze drop to the message.  

The phone fell with a dull thump to the white carpet.   

Her legs gave out, and it was just lucky the bed was there otherwise she would have found herself crumpled on the floor. Her hands were shaking violently. She clenched them into fists, trying to stop the tremor, but it only travelled up her arms instead. Bile burned in her throat as she looked at the illuminated screen. 

I will get you back, Andrea, and when I do, you will realize what pain is. 

It was from Rick. It had to have been. But how had he got her number? 

She stood up and, even though it hurt, she started to pace, her hip stiff and protesting every movement. Her mind was throwing up all kinds of scenarios about when Rick did get her back. The things he’d done to her would be nothing compared to what he’d planned now. How he would make her suffer, he would humiliate her. He would kill her and degrade her body and then throw her away like she was nothing, like she had meant nothing to him. 

Now, Avon’s promise to get her out of there held even more meaning.  

It wasn’t just a lifeline.  

It was a death row pardon.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Excerpt from "Omega" ~ Part 1

A lot of you have been asking whether there will be a fifth Helheim book. Well, the good news is YES there will be a fifth book. I'm currently working on writing it, but my life has been crazy so it's taking a lot longer than I expected.

It's Brax's story, but it's also the book that tidies up all the loose ends and hopefully gives you all a sense a satisfaction that the series is over. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to all of my wolves, but like all goods things...

So, without further ado, here's the first of three excerpts from "Omega".

** Please note that this work is copyright and is unedited and subject to change. **

The rumble of an engine hummed through the back of Saxon’s skull, dragging him into consciousness. He blinked up at the ceiling, trying to make sense of where he was and what was happening to him. But no matter how much he tried to focus on his surroundings, his mind was too sluggish to keep up.
A bump in the road’s surface brought a sharp, distinct ache to his shoulders. He held back the groan when a gentle tug confirmed his arms were tied behind his back. He tried to separate his wrists, testing the tightness of his bonds. He could feel the tell-tale bite of a cable tie around his wrists, and although he should have been able to break the plastic easily, Saxon struggled to do just that.
Over the sound of the engine, there were two voices. One belonged to Mark, the bastard who had seemingly fooled him and the entire Helheim pack into believing he was the victim of an accidental biting by a rogue wolf. Mark had shot Saxon with a tranquilizer dart while they tried to move a fallen tree from the road as he, Saxon and Casey had driven back to Casey’s pack over four hundred miles away.
At least Casey wasn’t in the van with her.
At least she had escaped.
“This is a mistake, Vivian,” Mark said, his voice tense. “He wasn’t who we needed.”
Saxon tilted his head back, straining to hear the conversation over the whir of the motor and the rush of asphalt racing beneath. The woman replied, but he couldn’t make out the words.
“—need to kill him.” Mark spoke again and Saxon’s heart raced in response to the cold tone he could hear in the other male’s voice.
“We can still use him,” The woman, Vivian, replied in a dark purr. He had never heard her voice before, and he certainly didn’t recognize her scent.
With his heart still pounding in his ears, Saxon knew he had to find a way out of there. His gaze slid to either side of his body, inspecting his surroundings. It looked as if he was in the back of a utility van – a brand new one judging by the new car smell still clinging to the upholstery on the front seats.
Saxon tried to bend his legs, but his range of movement was limited thanks to the matching set of cable ties on his ankles. They’d been tightened until the circulation was severed, making his toes numb.
Even if he were able to get the ties off, he wouldn’t make it very far on foot. His shoes had been taken off, and the bottom of his jeans had been hacked away, leaving his lower leg – from his knees to his ankles – exposed.
The van slowed down, veering to the right as it took an exit. Time was ticking away. Saxon had to find a way out, or at least be prepared for when they stopped because he would come out fighting.
The road they were driving on now was far more rutted than the last, the bumps jarring Saxon’s arms, sending the pain roaring through his overstrained shoulder joints. He counted the turns they took, making a mental note of them in case he had to retrace his steps to escape.
Left.
Left again.
Right.
He heard a dog barking—a big dog by the sound of it, kept in the yard behind a chain link fence which rattled with every booming bark.
Sharp right.
The van slowed down to a crawl, bouncing over a deep curb before gravel began pinging the undercarriage. The engine cut, then both doors opened. Playing possum, Saxon closed his eyes and lay still, ignoring the unnatural angle of his arms and the pain radiating out of them. The sliding side door opened, cold air rushing into the back and bringing with it the smell of pine needles and fresh snow.
“He’s still unconscious. How much did you give him?” Vivian asked.
“He should come around soon,” Mark replied.
A strong hand landed on his shoulder, pulling Saxon up. He was hoisted up onto Mark’s shoulders, his head thumping against the small of the guy’s back. Saxon was carried up a few steps, which creaked under their combined weight, and taken into a room that smelled of mildew.
“Where do you want him?” Mark asked.
“Against the wall, there.”
A moment later, Saxon was dropped onto a hardwood floor. He couldn’t stop the groan that erupted from his lips as the movement jostled his arms.
“What the fuck?”
Saxon opened his eyes and stared at the double-crossing bastard. “I’m going to skin you alive,” he growled, meaning every damn word.
Mark’s wolf shifted impatiently behind his eyes. “You’re not really in any position to make threats.”
“I’m not threatening,” Saxon replied. “I’m swearing a goddamn oath.”
The guy actually had the nerve to grin. “The last I checked, you were the one tied up.”
“Stop talking and tranquilize him again,” Vivian said impatiently, handing a small syringe to Mark. Saxon tried to jerk away, but it was useless. There was a sharp pinch on his thigh, then darkness chased away the light.