How One Cowboy Creates His Characters

Romantic Shorts’ good friend, Reid Lance Rosenthal, released the second book of his THREADS WEST: AN AMERICAN SAGA on April 17th of this year to rave reviews and enthusiastic welcome. MAPS OF FATE not only did not disappoint, it cemented the blooming interest of many a reader to a literary work that describes the very essence of the American pioneering spirit. In the midst of his hectic and crazy launch schedule, Reid was kind enough to take the time to share with us how it is that he comes to write the stories of such rich and memorable characters. What follows are his words – nuggets of gold to any new writer. But for this reader and fan of his works, just a reminder – complete with nods and smiles – of the people I’ve come to know and love.

 

They Are Us – We Are Them

A Sketch of a Character Sketch, by Reid Lance Rosenthal

 

Ahhh…the characters. Those personalities who live in the pages. There is scene, setting, plot, story line and the writing – the cadence of flow and timing of words on the page. These are all critical components to a novel. But it is the characters who make the story. Can the author portray them, show (rather than tell) their conflicts, fears, passions, ambitions, dark and light auras through action, dialogue and all important nuance? Does he or she and the readers know them? Truly know them as in actual interaction with the same personalities in an author’s or reader’s life experience?

Many have inquired as to the characters in my books. What is their origin? Are they pure imagination, or do they portray real people?  Which one is most like me? Whom do I “like” the most? Is there some formal protocol used by authors in the creation of the personalities, their mannerisms, thinking, reactions, and goals? I have discussed this with a number of writers far more accomplished than I. I am just a cowboy writing from the heart and hoping folks like it. My conclusion is that the process appears to be distinctly unique to each author.

On a personal level, my characters begin as an element of the story that I wish to tell. I should correct that.  It is their story. I am merely the scribe. Each personality is integral to the progression of the plot. It is their interactions, adventures and romance that fuel the pages with action, tragedy, emotion and sensuality. Each and every one has a little part of me in them. I know all of them. I have been involved with the women, been friends – or enemies – with the men.

As the theatre of the story evolves, so, too, do the personalities upon its stage. They reveal their essence layer by layer as the story line progresses. Writing a multi-generational epic saga is particularly fun. The characters age, mature, and grow from their cumulative life experiences, just as all of us do in “real” life.

They tell me their ambitions, share their desires and whisper the nuances of the tale to me. Complexities and conflict, some secretly personal, and others intensely inter-personal, arise, giving the men, and women, texture, and lending passion and intrigue to their relationships and actions. Just like “real” life.

Threads West, An American Saga sixteen book series, is a one-hundred seventy year epic saga.  There are many characters of every religion, race, creed and gender. They hail from locations and cultures from around the globe. The saga is, after all, the story of America, the West and the American spirit since 1855. It is our story. The ongoing tale of us.

I integrate a wealth of life experience in dealing with all types of people of every conceivable personality type from four continents and every geographical region of the U.S. and Canada into my writings. Each character is based in part on someone real that I have known and observed. Could they be recognized except as a multi-faceted person who plays a role in an ongoing story? Probably not, but I know them. I have experienced these characters, talked with them, seen them live, hate, fight, love and display their good, their bad, and in some instances, ugly sides.

My primary characters are based on true experience and real life interaction – observations, direct participation, or involvement on the periphery of situation and circumstance. My humble thought is it is always best to write what you know. These characters are not simplistic. They manifest good, bad and evil. They are shades of grey. There are great things about them that intrigue, tickle, breed respect, bring a ready smile and evoke emotion – dimensions of the romantic attractions and mentalities. Undoubtedly, readers may want to reach out, grab some of them by the lapels (or blouse), and shake them. Readers will wish some far worse than that! Others they will cheer for, groan with, and relate to.

The characters of Threads West An American Saga are like people in our lives; a combination of truth, fiction, real life mannerisms, sizzling passions—both for the opposite sex, and principles. There is no set line between truth and fiction. The same real pulse of incontrovertible universal energies that affect each of us, affect them. And, just as we are witness to and shaped-by events, so too are their lives forged in the crucible of actual American History in the tumultuous mid 1800’s. The combination blurs distinction.

These books are of the threads of lives of strong women and brave men that weave into the tapestry of a nation and that uniquely American spirit we share with them over generations. The novels are of the land, adventure, surprise and western romance, with the testosterone, estrogen and steamy intrigue integral to both those genres, and permeating our real lives.

I smile as I speak to readers or read their emails. Series fans seem to vest and invest in the characters, different folks relating strongly to different characters, feeling the life experiences and personalities of those in the pages in some way mirrors their own, or someone they know.

There are “rules” to writing fiction, I have been told. And these “guidelines” are very specific when applied to characters – how many, primary, secondary, what type and etc. I have never been partial to rules. I don’t outline my books. I have my character sketches. Usually one short paragraph which describes the physical, mental and emotional bullet points of the character. And, I have a single page with the names of the chapters. Titled chapters – on old style of writing which supposedly became passé many years ago. Each chapter name denotes a key phrase, action or “point” of the chapter all of which are peopled by some – or all – of the primary characters.

I thought it would be fun to share with Alex’s great followers the actual primary character sketches (and mention of the secondary/historical) – I employed in writing Threads West (Book One) and Maps of Fate (Book 2):

Primary Character Sketches – Threads West – Book One

 

Johannes:

Johannes Svenson was tall, lean and blonde. He was both irreverent and charming, and his military service in the Danish Heavy Calvary instilled in him a worldly, quiet but mischievous confidence. Roguish, adventurous, restless, he and his life are adrift. But Johannes, in his search to find himself, was about to be swept into the unknown currents of a far distant frontier by the mysterious rivers of destiny

Reuben:

Reuben Frank had just turned 21. He had led a sheltered existence on the outskirts of the little town of Villmar, on the serpentine banks of the Lahn River in Old Prussia. His frame was toughened from working cattle and the farm with his brothers. His agile mind, good business sense and quiet strength had not gone unnoticed by his father whose health had been in decline since the death of Reuben’s mother several years prior.

Though the family had prospered, the expansion and perpetuation of their livestock operation was confined by lack of land and the rigid social structure of 1800’s Europe. To his surprise, the heritage of his family and the future of their cattle business was about to be placed in his hands.  His ability to rise to the enormous responsibly in an untamed land he had never seen is unknown, even to him.

Rebecca:

She was a dark haired beauty with ravenous eyes and a figure that turns heads. But Rebecca was petulant, clever, demanding, spoiled and jealous of her creature comforts and stature in English high society. Prior to his death she shrewdly assisted her father for years in the family trade. She views the decline of the business her grandfather founded demeaning. The last hope is a mysterious asset rumored to be of great value somewhere in rugged, unsettled land thousands of miles to the west. And yet another life thread begins to spool towards an unknown future.

Inga:

There were few men not arrested by the intensity of Inga Bjorne’s pale blue eyes. Tall, beautiful, curvy, and athletic with long blonde hair, her life had been contentious. She suffered the painful loss of her Norwegian parents when she was eleven. That trauma was exacerbated by a lazy, alcoholic uncle who had then dragged her to New York. His final abuse when she was thirteen afforded her the courage to escape from his perverse control. For seven years she had done what she must to survive in the bustling diversity of squalor and luxury that characterized mid 1800’s New York City. The timely application of her charm, looks and wit was finally about to land her a comfortable job. Unknown to Inga that stroke of fortune would tip the next domino in her life which would shake the foundation of her experiences and her caustic view of men.

Sarah:

Sarah had made her choice. Following the death of her mother the old world held little promise. The glowing letters from her aunt already in America, an ambition and wonder that could be satiated only by exploration, and a strange pull which flowed from the unknown continent across the sea was about to collide with the realities of life, and personalities more experienced and far less innocent than hers.

Jacob:

Feisty, stocky, cunning and violent, Jacob had grown up in the grimy streets of Dublin, Ireland. He had lived hand to mouth, his focus only on the egocentric satisfaction of the day at hand and backroom poker, the mainstay of his livelihood. His quick temper and greed were about to thrust him over the precipice of a major life alteration. The coarse fabric of his existence would intertwine with the threads of others in a quirk of deadly and sarcastic unknown destinies neither he nor they could ever have contemplated.

Zeb:

Zebbariah Taylor was weathered, wiry and wily in the ways of the wilderness. His solitude was of stands of quaking aspens, sun drenched canyons, gurgles of rushing high country creeks and the still waters of beaver ponds which provided the pelts that kept him in supplies. A childhood trauma had made Zeb not much partial to people, or women. He intensely disliked settlements and towns and distrusted most who shared his skin color. His few friends were Indians with whom he traded.

Unknown to him, his path of tough leathery loner would inexplicably intersect with the life journeys of others, resulting in generational influences far more broad and long term than his lone wolf nature could have ever foreseen.

Space prevents description of the secondary Characters, but suffice it to say that all the secondary characters have their own unique personalities and are integral to the journeys and growth of the primary cast. Some of these secondary characters are destined to become primary characters in Book 2, and future novels of the series. As just a few examples, they include briefly, Rebecca’s frail mother, Elizabeth, and the family’s omniscient aborigine servants, Adam, Eve, and Sally; Mac, the tough, broad, red-haired master of wagon trains west; Uncle Herman, former Prussian military officer, now in New York, and Reuben’s uncle; Reuben’s complex brothers Erik, Helman, Isaah and Ludwig, their ailing, but still strong in spirit, father.

Some of the Threads West Historical Characters – real people – include Captain Kennedy of the SS Edinburgh, Jim Bridger, the famous mountain man, and Mayor Ferdinando Wood of New York City, among others.

Primary Character Sketches – Maps of Fate – Book Two

Reuben, Rebecca, Sarah, Zeb, Jacob, Johannes, Inga – The primary characters with whom readers seem to have bonded in Book One continue their lives, and life journeys, their thoughts and essence changing, their relationships maturing, their self-realization growing on the anvil of a dangerous land, tweaked and fashioned via the intrigue of interaction amongst themselves and with others.

Mac:

Beefy, red-headed, red bearded, ox of a man. Tough but compassionate, grounded but shrewd. A man of strong likes and acid dislikes. This veteran wagon master is about to embark on a westward crossing quite unlike any he has previously led.

Eagle Talon:

Handsome, angular, bronzed, this young Sioux warrior is proud and brash, but keenly observant and deeply in love with his beautiful wife, Walks with Moon. Eagle Talon is driven by his devotion to the tribe, his wish for more feathers, but filled with a vague unease. His heartfelt connection with Spirit, and naïve belief in the perpetuity of The People is about to collide with the reality of a West in transition.

 

Walks with Moon:

Beautiful, thoughtful, wife of Eagle Talon. She is filled with quiet strength and wisdom. He is the physical courage, she is the strength and brains of their family which is soon to be expanded. Together they are hot, smoky, primal passion. Unlike her husband, she senses change. She delights in the life growing in her belly, but worries for her child’s future and her husband’s safety.

 

Black Feather:

Tall, angular, powerful, cunning as a cougar, and scarred inside and out. His vicious, savage, vengeful soul is driven by a tortured past. Crafty and cynical, his path is about to cross with one who stirs memory, fanning the final lost sparks of goodness buried deep in his soul.

 

Dorothy:

Not yet a woman, innocent, about to be sucked into a vortex of violence, shaken by unspeakable tragedy, consumed by a new way of life, her very existence becomes the unique catalyst of the beginnings of an unlikely redemption.

 

Israel:

A slave since birth, old, gray, but undaunted, the smuggled news of the day stirs a yearning in him. He and his less than enthusiastic wife, Lucy, are about to become a part of history as they set their life sails for the turbulent winds of freedom.

 

Lucy:

Resigned to a degraded life of life long slavery, her instincts are to merely survive, to preserve the status quo, but her love for her husband, Israel, his magnetic enthusiasm, logic and passionate beliefs kindle a heart-felt hope that has lain long dormant in her soul, and eventually becomes stronger than her fears.

 

Buck:

Zeb’s tobiano mustang horse – human in his understanding, animal in his instinct, he is Zeb’s sounding board. His speed and wilderness savvy saves lives and defines moments in dangerous situations and hostile environments.

Maps of Fate – Secondary Characters

 

Maps of Fate has a plethora of secondary characters. They are all integral to the story, each their own distinctive personality, all crucial to the growth of the Primary characters. As just a few examples, Isaiah and Abraham – Father and teenage son. Kentuckians, marksmen, tough, resilient, headed west with their family; Harris and Margaret – Rotund, jovial, but prejudiced Virginians headed west with their two young daughters. Three Knives, Brave Pony, Pointed Lance, Turtle Shield andThree Cougars – Young warriors, friends and cohorts of Eagle Talon; Joseph – Mormon man, head of a family that is part of the Mormon Exodus west from persecution; Deer Track, Talks with Shadows, Pony Hoof – young Indian women, friends of Walks with Moon and wives of Eagle Talon’s circle of young warriors; Tex, Snake, Pedro – violent, perverted, conspiring members of Black Feather’s band.

Maps of Fate reacquaints readers with the characters they met and had come to love, follow and relate to in Threads West. New primary characters – The renegade, Black Feather, his innocent, traumatized captive, the Sioux, and an older black couple, Israel and Lucy – slaves no longer willing to be second class citizens – eager for their slice of the  real promise of American.

 

I try hard to write from the fair and intensely personal perspective of each character. We are all shades of gray. In the worst of us there is a redeeming quality. In the best of us there is a dark facet. But we are all Americans and it is together as a people that this country was built. It is the threads of disparate lives from uncommon social origins, locations, and backgrounds that made this nation great. Hence the name of the series.

 

I’m delighted to report – and a HUGE thank you to our readers, that Maps of Fate was a #1 best seller in a number of categories and genres within hours of its release on April 17th. It has done terrifically well maintaining many high ranking positions (which obviously fluctuate.)  We hope you enjoy the fun, the story and the message!

 

As always, it has been a pleasure and an honor being invited to post on Alex’s uniquely wonderful blog. Thank you Alex, and thank you readers!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Readers – and writers – can learn more about Reid and his THREADS WEST by visiting and liking his Facebook page, at http://www.facebook.com/ThreadsWest

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