Creating Characters: What Do They Want?

April 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image-20-199x300When I originally had the notion for That Summer in Cornwall, my plan was to have my heroine, arriving in late May at shabby chic Barton Hall from Wyoming, get involved in the nursery business that had saved her cousin’s family mansion from bankruptcy a decade earlier in the prequel, A Cottage by the Sea.images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ella-holding-Targhee-sheepHowever, Meredith Champlin, an emergency room nurse at a children’s hospital, is no gardener like her cousin, Blythe Barton Teague.  She was born and raised on a western sheep ranch, so I began to ruminate on what her life goals and desires might be, recalling what a wise person in the writing business once said.  “Ask what your characters want—and what would they be willing to do to get it!”

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First I had to ask myself: what elements are common both to Wyoming and Cornwall?  The latter is a place where many immigrants came  to the American West from Britain’s tin mines and fields to work in the copper and coal mines in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Montana and till the vast open stretches of land, raising animals for the nation’s food supply in the years following the pioneer days.

 

corgi_1Cattle and Sheep need herding, I thought, which meant dogs. Meredith, 35, is a pediatric nurse, so what if she had raised Corgi herding dogs as a rancher’s daughter, and also developed a pet therapy program at her hospital?url-1

Bingo! Corgis are known as “The Queen’s Dog”—so obviously they would exist in Cornwall, too, especially because a lot of sheep are raised in the beautiful fields and on the moors in the West Country.

 

 

 

 

So, I had the answer to “what does Meredith want?”  She wants to be deeply involved in the world of working dogs and would never leave her beloved Corgi, Holly, behind when life’s circumstances land her six thousand miles from her home. It was a natural fit that she could help keep Barton Hall solvent by founding the Barton Hall Canine Obedience Academy on the castle grounds.

 

images-1And what about her past?  She also wants to forget an unhappy love affair with a charming, alcoholic rodeo rider and forge an entirely new life away from injured and dying children after a decade of intense, worthwhile, but exhausting service.  In other words, she wants a new beginning and a way of re-inventing herself and her life’s work.Image 12

And as it happens, in Cornwall, working dogs are also trained in the field of search and rescue, due to the type of terrain where “holiday makers” routinely fall off cliffs that skirt the dramatic coastline facing the English Channel, or get lost on the remote moors, or disappear down deserted mine shafts left over from the previous century’s tin industry.

 

article-1362275-0D710BF7000005DC-485_468x365Then one of those “Eureka!” thoughts struck.   The hero could be a veteran of a dog bomb-sniffing unit in the British Forces, late of Afghanistan, who, along with his Border Collie T-Rex, has returned to Cornwall and is now a veterinarian and a member of the Cornwall Search and Rescue Team.  All he wants is to be left alone to nurse his psychic wounds that vastly predate his service in the Royal Army, though at his core, he yearns for a sense of safety, connection with kindred spirits, and “home.”

So, through the magic of asking (and answering) “What do the main characters want?” I could begin to write Chapter One of That Summer in Cornwall.

The question “What are the characters willing to do to get what they want?” is the engine that drives the plot…a subject that I will probably discuss another time for readers who speculate about such things.  It’s a subject I am certainly wondering about as I prepare to start work on That Autumn in Edinburgh..a sequel two hundred years after the conclusion of my first novel, Island of the Swans

Dogs as Characters in Fiction

March 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 8I often am asked, “Do you base some of your characters on real people?”  Well, fictional characters are just that:  made up in the author’s mind.  However, there’s no denying that there are often ‘real life’ figures who sometimes serve as inspiration.   And, as I learned this year writing That Summer in Cornwall, the same goes for dog characters.

However, just to show how tricky a subject this is, you should know that this Border Collie actually is known by another name as a ‘real-life’ member of the Cornwall Search and Rescue Team…  In my novel, the Border Collie T-Rex–aka Rex–became the name I gave my hero Sebastian Pryce’s dog after I met this dog, seen here having coffee at the famous Poggio’s Trattoria .IMG_6240

Say hello to the real T-Rex…the Great Dane, affectionately known by his intimates as “The Mayor” of a maritime village in the San Francisco Bay Area. This big boy truly was what inspired my naming this important search-and-rescue dog who figures prominently in the novel.

(Well…at least, both boys’ coats are black and white).

IMG_6241And both animals have tremendously good hearts—to say nothing of their amazing noses—and, of course, I asked permission of the original T-Rex’s mistress, artist Lucinda O’Connell, if I could “borrow” his moniker.Image-20-199x300

And then there was the heroine’s dog, a sheep-herding Corgi from the pastures of Wyoming.  The sassy, smart little dog started out in the first draft with the name of “Jasper”—called that in honor of my godchildren’s ‘real-life’  Corgi.

But there was just one problem:  Jasper the Corgi is a boy dog with a boy dog’s name, and as I got into the plot, there were some very compelling reasons to make “him” a “her”—especially since the two dogs have a memorable “meet-up” in Chapter One—much to their human companions’ chagrin.

Therefore, in urgent need of an appropriately feminine name, the first thing that popped into my head was my friend, romance writer Cynthia Wright ’s late, great black lab, seen here with her daughter, Jenna.  So “Jasper” was transformed, via a “global search and replace” on my Mac, into “Holly”– along with profuse apologies to my godchildren Andrew and Grace.

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So, there you have it!  Life in the fictional world can be just as rough as Hollywood…and some of the best performers are left on the cutting room floor…

Researching a Novel The Old Fashioned Way

March 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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 Ciji at ABC RadioI spent more than twenty years as a working reporter (mostly at the ABC television and radio affiliate in Los Angeles) and as a magazine journalist—and my first instinct when I get an idea for an historical or contemporary novel is to go where the book is set.Ciji in front of Caerhays Caslte nr. Mevagissey - Version 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

With That Summer in Cornwall—a stand-alone contemporary sequel to my “time-slip” novel A Cottage by the Seathe action takes place a good decade after the ending of the contemporary part of the novel.  In my mind, there was no choice:  I had to return to the area because the premise of the new book was: “What ever happened to that babe in arms in the first book…and what’s Cornwall, England like some ten years, plus, later?”

IMG_6786 - Version 2Once I determined I was, in fact, going to do a sequel to the original novel set in Cornwall, I immediately called up my good writing pal, romance novelist Cynthia Wright with whom I’d made my first trip to Britain’s West Country to research the original book (and she, a couple of her own) and said, “Wanna go back to Gorran Haven and Mevagissey with me and see what trouble we can get into again?”  Her answer? “Absolutely, if we can also go to that seaside village, Polperro and Lansallos, where all the eighteenth century pirates hung out. I’m thinking of doing a couple of books that deal with smuggling…”IMG_6743

So off we went in October of 2012, retracing some of the same areas we’d visited in the late 1990s and heading off into new territory as well.  We still managed the six-mile “Hall Walk” a second time, and paused at the bridge at Pont Pill where we’d rented a Lime Kiln Cottage from the National Trust on the first trip.  For the research jaunt last autumn, we decided to rent a suite at Caerhays Castle near Gorran Haven, the model for “Barton Hall,”  an important element in both books set in Cornwall.

Image 2This contemporary novel centers on the story of Meredith Champlin—a cousin of Lady Blythe Barton-Teague who is the mistress of Barton Hall and the heroine in CottageMeredith wakes up one morning in her home state of Wyoming to discover she is the official guardian of an unruly “Beverly Hills brat” whom she’s never met and hasn’t a clue how to serve as the unhappy child’s surrogate mother. Her elegant cousin Blythe, now the mother of two thanks to her second marriage to the wonderful Sir Lucas Teague, urges Meredith to come to their shabby-chic castle on a remote cliff in Cornwall for the summer to see if they can’t transform this angry, difficult child (whose mother is Blythe’s estranged sister and has died in a private plane crash) into “a decent human being.”  For me, returning to actually reside within the castle walls allowed me to capture the unique atmosphere of the place local novelist Daphne du Maurier called “Enchanted.”Image 8

Not only did I call on my reportorial skills to capture the local color and feel of this special part of the world, but I also conducted a number of interviews about the amazing volunteer search-and-rescue work in Cornwall performed by highly trained dogs and their handlers who find “holiday makers” known for falling off cliffs, down abandoned tin and copper mine shafts, along with “despondents” who have wandered up on the moors to commit suicide.  The enigmatic hero, Sebastian Pryce, a British Army veteran of the Afghan War who served as a K9 specialist in a dog bomb-sniffing squad, persuades Meredith to co-found a dog obedience academy, with many unexpected consequences flowing from their decision to work together—including, of course, their falling in love.

Image 11I even managed to wangle an interview with the chief Dog Unit Manager for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary (ie the police), Anthony Jordan, who walked me through police operations that coordinate the volunteer corps, Coast Guard, Royal Air Force, and other organizations that make up the network of the search and rescue community.

Their work was amazing and thrilling in so many ways, and I hope that my use of reportorial skills to capture the authenticity of their various activities shines through That Summer in Cornwall–while also telling a ripping good story!  Image-20-199x300

And if any readers are of a mind, a nice review posted on your favorite e-retailer site would be most appreciated.  You cannot image how hugely helpful reader reviews are to get out the word when a book is launched.  The print version will be available sometime later in March.

Downton Abbey in Modern Dress?

February 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 18Authors write sequels for many reasons, but That Summer in Cornwall, just published January 31 as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes/iBook, (print version available in March, 2013), came about because I always wondered what happened to the Anglo-American couple, the former Blythe Barton Stowe, and the life peer, Sir Lucas Teague after they joined forces to save the slightly down-at-the-heels Barton Hall from financial ruin at the end of my bestselling A Cottage by the Sea.Ciji in front of Caerhays Caslte nr. Mevagissey - Version 2

When a storyline “ten years later” began to percolate in my mind, I set off last October to reacquaint myself with the original “Barton Hall”—the wonderful Caerhays Castle perched on a cliff in mid-Cornwall overlooking the moody English Channel where Blythe had escaped to Painter’s Cottage to rid herself of the paparazzi chasing one of Tinseltown’s juicier scandals.  Soon, I began worrying what life would be like—now– for the almost-illegitimate child, Janet, born to Blythe’s first husband, the “cinematic genius” Christopher Stowe, and Blythe’s sister, Ellie Barton—the pair who blew Blythe’s marriage to smithereens in the first book.

 

IMG_6526It was so wonderful to be back along the coast of Cornwall, which stretches as far as the eye can see some one hundred miles across the water from the French coast of Brittany. This region is actually the land of my own Ware forebears, so there was an added incentive to return to the territory I’d visited several times in the last fifteen years when researching A Cottage by the Sea.IMG_6352

For the new novel, I was now able to “book in” at Caerhays Castle in the wonderful Bottom Lodge, the gatekeeper’s cottage across from Portluney Beach, a smugglers favorite landing spot in days of yore.  I was also there to research the remarkable world of volunteer search and rescue teams in Cornwall, including the amazing “air-scenting” dogs who find people who plunge off cliffs, down deserted mine shafts, or get lost on the moors.

The surprise more than a decade later was to see how beautifully the model for the fictional Barton Hall depicted in both novels had been cared for since my last visit, now that “paying guests” helped keep the coffers filled at this eight-hundred acre estate whose village church is some seven hundred years old!IMG_6478

Faced with the same problems confronting Julian Fellowes’ characters in Downton Abbey, the owners of Caerhays grappled with the notion of offering members of the public the opportunity to come to shoot pheasant in autumn, see the glorious Rhododendron gardens in spring, and pause for a nice “cuppa” in the castle courtyard when the weather is fine.  The owners appear to have made a wonderful transition from “To the Manor Born” to “Open for Business”—and I wish them every success as they, like the Crawleys of Downton, seek–and find–new ways to make these enormous houses “sustainable.”IMG_6404