Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And on Those We Love to Love: Protagonists

So I’ve shared my thoughts on antagonists—what about the challenge of creating a three-dimensional PROtagonist?  I have run into this issue throughout my work and have witnessed the struggle peers endure while trying to merge credibility with the heroic qualities that protagonists are often expected to live up to.

For me it can be a walk on a tight rope.  In my first work, Secrets of the Tudor Court, Mary Howard is a protagonist and victim of abuse.  I explore her skewed thinking based on how being raised by a narcissist father beating her mother may affect her emotional processes and choices.  I fashioned her as sweet, yet balanced her anguished tenderness against the disillusionment with the at-times fatal court intrigues.  In my interpretation of her life, this helped add a jaded quality to her as she aged.  In Secrets' . . . companion piece, Rivals in the Tudor Court, the tightrope lost its net.  Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, his wife Elizabeth, and his mistress Bess are a strange mixture of pro- and antagonists.  They are flawed, some blatantly so, but in my portrayal, I illustrated the massive struggles they were up against, within themselves, and with the man they loved (Norfolk included in his own self-love).  No easy task, but to date, that challenge remains my favorite of my Tudor novels, I must admit, because of the dynamics of these three complex individuals.   

My third work, The Sumerton Women, includes characters of my own creation to highlight the British Reformation; the event itself could be called pro or antagonist dependent on one’s personal stand.  Cecily Burkhart is the unmitigated protagonist, with a few good folks backing her up.  She has also been my most critiqued character.  Cecily is presented as good, no doubt; evolving her as she aged into a strong, independent woman who owned her mistakes was how I infused her with the qualities of those I know in “real life”—good people despite and because of their flaws.  Indeed, they do exist! 

Of my Tudor novels, my most difficult protagonist proved to be “my” Margaret Tudor.  She is a toughie, that little redhead! Developing her was standing on a craggy Scottish highland, gazing into the sky at the unyielding brown-eyed gaze of feisty, determined, yet troubled glory.  Margaret was thrown into Scotland, its queen as a young teen, expected to rule, breed, and defend the crown, while remaining true to her English Tudor roots as best she could.  A heady task for a headstrong woman.  Margaret was, in my estimation, ruled by her fiery Sagittarian heart, which led to poor choices.  Can a protagonist be a true protagonist while exercising the poor judgment our lovely Queen of Scots did so many times?  Of course, says I!  That’s what made her a protagonist.  She tried.  She fell.  She got up.  She fell again.  And again and again.  But kept on trying.  And (spoiler alert), though her life did not go as planned or hoped, Margaret drew on her own unique brand of strength and still wore her crown, head held high. 


I have works up my sleeve these days, in which I hope to keep growing in my building of complex protagonists.  As a writer, creating characters are like birthing children—you don’t quite know what you’re going to get, but you’re going to love the heck out of ‘em regardless.  In the best of worlds, protagonists can be balanced, raw, and real—flawed, but still embraced.  And, hopefully, adored.     

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On Being Pro-Antagonist

Oh, those villainous, oftentimes handsome devils!  Whether it is the sustained thunder of a hypnotic voice, the sideways smirk revealing the hatching of a devious plot, or a subtle, irresistible humor, they are the scoundrels we “love to hate.”  So what started my intrigue with the “dark side,” as a child longing to be a “real” writer someday . . ?

Perhaps it was a bit worrisome to some that it was rarely the leading man for me . . . In classic Disney animated features I invariably gravitated toward the dynamic personalities of Aladdin’s Jafar, The Jungle Book’s Sheer Khan, the sensual and bold Ursula of The Little Mermaid fame, and charming, raven-haired Captain Hook, Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis. Even the tormented priest in The Hunchback of Notre Dame had a haunting appeal . . . For Pete’s sake, though—what was it? 
            
I hazard that, regarding the aforementioned, stacked against the protagonists these anti-heroes had, for me, the most dimension, the most realization, and free-agency . . . There were motives, not simplistic heroism of “A leads to B leads to Happy Ending C.”  Many times these characters even experienced crises of conscience, indulged us with glimpses of tortured souls, and sometimes bore affection for their adversaries. 

As I grew older and my love for classic film developed under the tutelage of very artistically-minded parents, my interest became more contemplative.  Why in the world do these antagonists captivate?  It was not Michael York’s impressionable professor role in the musical Cabaret, but the golden Maximillian with his twinkling eyes and opportunistic, sleazy magnetism.  It was not gorgeous Omar Sharif’s Yuri Zhivago, or the impassioned, dedicated Pasha Antipov in David Lean’s version of Dr. Zhivago, but the sting of Komarovsky’s pragmatic wit and skewed honor that drew me. 
            
Leading them all was another, however, a character who inspired my writing journey in earnest.  He was the kind of man one should never bring home to Mother; a gambler who regularly visited houses of ill repute.  It was thought he might have even sired a bastard or two.  He ran blockades for his own gain, betraying cause and country as his whim carried him, and played on the vulnerabilities of a clearly unstable young woman with a host of issues . . .

He stood at the bottom of a staircase with a crooked smile and I was ruined. 

Margaret Mitchell named him Rhett Butler. 

But Rhett was the hero, wasn’t he? . . . Didn’t he save Scarlett?  Over the years my interpretation of Gone with the Wind evolved from Rhett as unattainable love, to hero, to . . . just one interesting S.O.B.  What I learned about Cap’n Butler was . . . he didn’t save Scarlett at all.  He enabled Scarlett with the tools to save herself.  But that green-eyed, enchanting, headstrong girl who was so appealing to so many was too much for nearly anyone she encountered.  Like the scrawling on a bathroom wall says:  “No matter how good they look, somebody somewhere is putting up with their ____.” 

Scarlett, in the original work, sequel notwithstanding, was hard to handle, shall we say, for the men in her life.  Her epiphany revealed itself in those sparkling green orbs, alight with the knowledge that she was enough for herself.  That tomorrow, indeed, was another day and Rhett Butler could go off and be Rhett Butler.  Maybe he’d come back; maybe he wouldn’t.  And that was, somehow, okay in that moment.    

As to Rhett?  “Frankly my dear . . .”

I realized, perhaps subconsciously then, that I wanted to write about people like this; people who were a bit broken, people who were damaged, messy, and complex.  People who were misunderstood.  Villains come in many forms in “real life,” and for entertainers like myself, we channel them into our art.  I have thus far portrayed, eagerly, riskily at times, the desperados of the 16th century, such as the unforgettably brutal 3rd Duke of Norfolk and, in my most recent work, Margaret Tudor’s less-than-wise choices in men . . . My lifelong fascination with human behavior will not stop there, whether they be victims, renegades, or, my very favorite, a bit of both; people who culminate into the real, the complicated, the bruised but never broken SURVIVOR. 

            

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Foreign Releases To Date

I thought to brush up my blog by posting a collage of my foreign releases to date. Thus far, these are the Croatian, Czech, and four UK releases.  I have deep respect for the art teams involved and am so grateful for the vision infused into their designs.                                                            

                      

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN -synopsis

One of the most intriguing yet most overlooked figures of the Tudor age—Margaret, Queen of Scotland, daughter of Henry VII, and sister to Henry VIII—comes to vivid life in a stunning novel of love and ambition, from the acclaimed author of The Sumerton Women. From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland. Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost… Coming in February, 2013 from Kensington Publishing!

Monday, October 31, 2011

THE SUMERTON WOMEN: a synopsis

Look for THE SUMERTON WOMEN, available from Kensington Publishing on April 24th, 2012 at your local bookseller, or pre-order from amazon.com! . . . . When Cecily Burkhart is orphaned at age eight, she becomes the ward of Harold Pierce, Earl Sumerton, and finds herself surrounded by a family as endearing as they are complex. There is Lord Hal and Lady Grace, who both nurse a secret pain behind a fa├žade of wealth and excess, their son, the innocent young Brey, and their daughter, the devout and intense Mirabella. There is also Father Alec Cahill, loving tutor and mentor, who maintains an unblemished exterior to disguise a secret of his own. After a string of traumatic events befall Sumerton, everything changes. Old dreams die to be replaced with new plans. Cecily must learn to adapt to a different life, a different love, and hold together a household fractured by tragedy. Meantime Mirabella struggles to adjust to the violent changes being made in Henry VIII’s England, changes that will rob her of her calling. Grief-stricken, Mirabella reshapes her life by embarking on a sequence of choices that threatens to destroy the lives of everyone around her unless she learns to accept one vital truth. This fast-paced character study is a poignant illustration of the ties that bind women and the tragedies that tear them apart. It is a saga of faith tested, of loyalty and betrayal, of resentment and forgiveness. Above all, THE SUMERTON WOMEN is a novel about the choices people make that alter lives forever.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Miniseries in My Mind: Why I Write Historical Fiction

At first when it came to my attention that some have coined my works as “soap opera-y”, I was mildly offended. Upon further reflection, I then realized, though they may have intended it as a burn, my work DOES resemble a soap opera! When I think of the impact soaps have had on the history of dramatic work, such as All My Children, the cancellation of which caused quite a stir among fans, I could not help but revise my view of this opinion. Many people love drama, not because it is unrealistic, but because it captures reality in an emotional, creative, and often relatable way; drama reflects life. Examining any family, one will see interwoven stories rife with all that makes drama compelling; rivalries, addiction, betrayal, misguided love affairs . . . Some may call it a soap opera, I call it a Tuesday!

I can say with pride I attended the most exclusive film school in the United States, right in my parents' living room. They raised me on classics such as Dr. Zhivago, Gone with the Wind, Camelot, The Lion in Winter, and miniseries such as The Thorn Birds, Roots, and Rich Man, Poor Man. I was enthralled by the scope, the subtleties, and the nuances of the actors that captured emotions in a way today’s film industry only touches upon. We did not just watch movies, we experienced them. With in-depth analysis, discussing the motivations of the characters, the director’s choices, and the theme of films, I was taught a deeper appreciation of the art of drama that would shape my professional life.

Always an avid reader and writer since I could hold a pencil, I longed to capture the kind of emotion I saw in these films, translating it onto paper in a way that would engage a reader’s heart. A miniseries in my mind . . . And so I took to writing in earnest as a teen and into my twenties, when I was at last fortunate enough to secure an agent who shared my vision, landing my first book deal at the age of thirty. My dream of sharing my love of drama, characters, and intensity could at last be shared with the world!

My stage is historical fiction. History for me is a vehicle in which drama and emotion play out in a palatable form—everything is back there waiting to be delved into and experienced. It is not just names and dates, battles and politics. It is the human condition, a tale timeless, transcending any era. SECRETS OF THE TUDOR COURT and RIVALS IN THE TUDOR COURT (both of Kensington) were character studies of ambition, avarice, jealousy, loss, adultery, abuse, and madness. Historical figures and events provided the framework for my intent, that of translating the weakness and strength that is humanity into a moving, compelling drama. I relied on as much research as was available to me at the time, and continue to learn how to hone those skills along the way to lend more credibility and authenticity to my work. It is an ongoing learning process, and someday I hope when I look at my last work as compared to my first, I will see growth and improvement along the way, not just in my research abilities and the filtering of anachronisms, but in my exploration of the vast gamut of emotion that encompasses the human story.

So enter the miniseries in my mind, if you dare, and let me take you on a journey of the heart and the soul, a journey we all experience—the journey that is life!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Abuse in the Tudor Court

In my works SECRETS OF THE TUDOR COURT and RIVALS IN THE TUDOR COURT (Kensington Books, May, 2011), I chose to illustrate quite a detailed account of the abuses suffered by the Duchess Elizabeth Howard and the more speculated abuse of her daughter Mary Howard at the hands of the third Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard. Why did I choose to do this? Because I like gory descriptions of another's pain? On the contrary. As a survivor of domestic violence myself, I chose to tell the story in a way that would perhaps at times shock the reader into awareness of the hopelessness of women not only in the 16th century, but the hopeFULness of women of today. In the time period of Duchess Elizabeth and young Mary, there was no help available. Men could do as they pleased as fathers and husbands, and they took full advantage of that, as the Duke of Norfolk's actions illustrates quite well.

In Barbara Harris' intriguing article "Marriage: 16th Century Style" and George Frederick Nott's "Works of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder"in two volumes, we see firsthand letters the Duchess composed making attempts at seeking help in vain from the Lord Privy Seal Thomas Cromwell, and even appeals to King Henry VIII himself. Ahead of her time, Duchess Elizabeth spoke out when no one else would and though it is unfortunate she was not heard, it speaks of a courage seldom seen in documented early modern history on the part of these amazing women. Sadly, we also see the reaction of her husband the Duke, not unlike reactions of many modern abusers--denial and threats should the abuse be exposed coupled with accusations of her "slander".

Though most would call the story of Duchess Elizabeth tragic, I feel she made a difference with her outspoken cries for help and assistance, showing not only women of her time that women COULD have a voice, but illustrating even more to contemporary women that WE have a voice now.

Seeking help is hard. I know. Women (and men) in abusive relationships feel trapped and live in terror of their abusers. They don't know where to turn. Often isolated and controlled, help seems no where in sight. But there is hope and help. Take that first step. Call a friend, a trusted family member, or clergy person. We have resources today that the poor Duchess and her daughter could only dream of. It is up to us to use them and become survivors, not victims, of our abusers. There can be healing. I am proof of that hope realized.

Attached find some helpful links for study and sharing that may help others reach out for the help I so encourage them finding at:

http://www.thehotline.org/ ... National Domestic Violence Hotline

http://www.wiit.com/?gclid=CNzg06K6_aQCFQod5wodG35RkQ ... The Women's Institute for Incorporation Therapy

We live in a time where we have a voice. Use it loud and use it proud!