Category Archives: From Writers

Thoughts, advice, help, and stuff from Romantic Shorts Writers.

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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What is Romance, anyway?

Brian Knight is the co-owner of Premium Promotional Services through which he helps up and coming authors promote their books. His journey in writing began with the creation of his blog ‘The New Author’ which he has been operating and posting articles on for almost 4 years now. His poetry and short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies. Currently Brian is preparing to write his third novel and has set the goal to join his many friends by becoming a published author.

When I first started my online journey to bring Romantic Shorts to life, one of the first people I met was Brian, through his blog The New Author. Brian’s immediate acceptance and support of my idea has been the most genuine encouragement I’ve received. I was privileged to write a guest post at The New Author, and invited Brian to share some of his experience with us. It is my pleasure to introduce Brian to you…

What Is Romance, Anyway?
By Brian Knight

We walk through the grocery stores and periodically scan the books on the shelves. Many of the books have one thing in common – the covers consist of a man without a shirt on holding a woman in some sort of revealing dress. They are either in a warm embrace or passionate kiss. Is this the sum of Romance? Is this the prime example of the Romance genre? Of course not, this is just a small piece of a very big puzzle.

So, with that said, what is Romance?

Romance is a combination of multiple aspects that combine and generate a particular response from the viewer (if it is a movie) or the reader (if it is a book). That would beg the next big questions; what are these aspects and what is the desired response(s)? Well, I’m glad you asked but before we get to that I want to take a moment and say that this is only my opinion and thoughts. With that out of the way let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Romance should reflect the passion of a couple fresh in a relationship. The aspects of a romantic story replicate the meeting, courtship, and coupling of individuals as they find love with one another. Think back for a moment to your first love. The first time you saw her or him; the first time you talked and touched. Those are the feelings we want in a romance story.

To start things off we want to give the reader that idea of something more; the anticipation needs to start building. We want the reader to think “oh, I think there might be something there.” Once we have established the hook of the budding relationship the next aspect is tension. We need to drag out the actual acknowledgement of the affection felt by the characters. Yes, drive the reader crazy; make them shout at the book and think “come on, can’t you see that he or she is in love with you?” My example of this is ‘Bones’ (the show on Fox). Everyone that watches this show knows for a fact that Booth and Bones love each other but they make excuses why they shouldn’t be together or situations arise that keep them apart. Once you have dragged this out to the point that the reader simply can’t take it anymore, and you have built it up to the highest of high it’s time to deliver. At this point you might be thinking – alright time for the sex scene – but you would be wrong. There is a place for hot and steamy scenes in a romance novel but not yet. True romance is delivered with the first kiss. It is in that kiss that the sparks fly and the hearts of readers melt. Why is that? Well, think back to your first kiss with your significant other. You were nervous but once your lips touched the world fell away, your knees got weak, and all that remained was the kiss.

Some of the greatest romance novels gravitate around the kiss. For example, the kiss in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ completed shifted the flow of the story and confirmed their love. An even more iconic kiss can be found in ‘Gone with the Wind.’ When Rhett kissed Scarlett O’Hara, I’m sure there was a sigh of relief and a smile on the face of every reader. That kiss delivered the full blow of passion that everyone knew existed. Okay, take a moment and let those thoughts and memories dance a little. This is not the last of the romance roller coaster.

A true romance takes another step and that step is dejection, rejection, turmoil, or separation. That’s right, you need drama. Your main characters need to be pulled apart for some reason that deals with your plot. Often this can be done by the introduction of a third character but it can be just about anything that maintains the flow of your story. The next aspect of this is the groveling and pining for each other. The reader needs to see and feel their pain when they are apart. The reader needs to know that the only cure is for them to be together. This, of course, brings us to the finish line.

From now to the end of your novel you complete the plot and resolve the drama. I’m getting ahead of myself here. First, the main characters need to be brought back together. This is the critical time and (depending on your story) this would be the perfect time to insert the hot and steamy scene. This is the time when their passion is overwhelming all thought and reason. The perfect example of this is ‘The Notebook’. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie so let’s have an experiment. Do you think the story would have the same impact if the sex scene was closer to the beginning or after they were separated for so long? These scenes are important but should be handled with care and placed properly. One other note about sex scenes; they don’t have to be so detailed or graphic. Romance resides in the mind of the reader and if you, as the author, take away that ability for the reader to imagine the scene as they see it, then the story will lose part of that impact that we all want. Think of it this way, when you first met your significant other did you picture them naked? Did you fantasize about what it would be like to sleep with them? Do you remember the emotion and energy that produced? This is what we are looking for. In sex scenes we want to give enough to paint the picture but leave enough out so the reader can add the details.

This brings me back to my original question. What is romance? Romance is the combination of drama, tension, innocence, passion, loss and desire that prompts an actual stirring of feelings within us. These elements combine to form those fantasies and memories that we hold on to as we grow old.

I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and opinions regarding romance stories. It is my hope that they free your mind to think and develop your own opinions about this complex genre. I also want to thank Alex for the opportunity to appear on Romantic Shorts.

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About Writer's Rights and Romantic Shorts

I was called to task the other day on the Authonomy (from HarperCollins) writer’s forum. Seems a some writers had visited http://www.RomanticShorts.com and had taken issue with the issue of our stance on writers’ rights.

Their comments were clear:

“No, no, no. This is not good for writers.
You want the rights to a writer’s story. Get out.”
“Yeah . . . this really isn’t a good thing . . . Please don’t give up the rights to you work!”

“Here is the bit of fine print you need to be aware of if you choose to submit:
“If your submission is accepted, you will be notified of that, and will be required to submit your agreement to your story’s publication on Romantic Shorts. Once your story has been published online, it becomes the sole property of Romantic Shorts, with all rights being transferred to us, and we reserve the right to edit your work as needed to be included on our site. You will be credited online for the authorship of the original work.”

I wracked my brain trying to remember everything I could about writers’ rights and realized how very right they were to be upset by this, one of the most important issues writers face. I had set about making the appropriate changes to those guidelines, and while I was at it, I replied to the posts asking for additional info and insight. Turns out this was a good thing.

I heard this explanation back today:

“The writer Must retain all rights to what he/she has written. This is a huge deal. A one time right to publish, either on paper or on the internet is fine, but the rights must revert back to the writer as soon as the work is published.
If a writer doesn’t have the rights to a book, for instance, he/she can’t sign a publishing contract. That writer is in a real bind.”

Especially if Romantic Shorts isn’t in a position to pay its authors yet. I get it.

So the website has had a serious overhaul over the holidays. Our first New Year’s competition is set for announcing this Tuesday. I’ll go back and tweak those points some more in the morning.

I’m finding this undertaking of mine is starting to show its own momentum. Kinda like the first time you realize your baby is smiling at you for real – it’s not just gas!

Thanks Authonomy for the help! Check us out somewhere down the road. We may have something interesting for you!

Alex.

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