Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Writer’s (Not So) Small Choices Part 2

Today we’re continuing our exploration of the (not so) small choices a writer makes in developing characters. Yesterday, we focused on names. Today…appearances!

I did not give Clare long, red, beautiful curls because I wanted a stunning redheaded model to be on the cover of my book. Though that was a pretty side effect. No, the reason I gave Clarity red hair was because she’s a girl who wants to blend into the background, so I had to make her stand out in every way. She’s the town psychic, the freak, the one others point at and whisper about. So I wanted her to attract attention physically, too. And it helps that her fiery red hair matches her equally fierce temperament.

For the rest of the Fern family, I could’ve had Clare look like her missing father and Perry look like their mother. But it served my purposes in the story to have it the other way around. Perry, a young man who looks just like his father, is a constant reminder to Starla of her long-gone husband. And Starla, looking like an older version of her daughter, makes Clare think about her own future and whether she wants to be giving readings to tourists thirty years from now. The characters' looks add to their internal conflicts.

I put a great deal of thought into a character's appearance. Before we really get to know a character, what makes them tick and motivates them, we generally get that first glimpse, just like in real life. You see someone and you form your first impression. That first impression is probably way off, but when writing, you need to lead the reader in the right general direction.

How my characters look is a sneak peek at what makes them tick. For instance, in CARRIER OF THE MARK, I gave RĂ­an slightly long, unruly hair, he has dark eyes that burn into you, he always has his motorcycle helmet and leather jacket. His protective clothing sort of emulate his desire to protect the world from his power, while also using them as a screen to hide his more vulnerable side from the world.

Dawn Metcalf, LUMINOUS
I was very clear on what Consuela looked like in this world and in the world of the Flow. She was short, fat and curvaceous with a wide, broad smile and dark skin. Early descriptions of her were that she had "cantaloupe breasts" and a "big, bubble butt" that she flaunted in the changing room mirror. As a skeleton, I wanted her to be beautiful and not scary, which is why her bones were pearly and almost hypnotic, glowing and luminescent. I thought about it being a slightly pinkish mother-of-pearl or abalone sheen. She wasn't a Halloween prop, she was the Lady of the Dead ala Dia de los Muertos: beautiful and powerful and otherworldly.

Brigid Kemmerer, STORM: Book 1 of the Elemental Series
Hunter, one of the male leads from STORM, has a white streak in his hair that's natural. I totally got the idea from a girl I went to high school with who had a birthmark on her head, which led to a naturally different colored streak through her blond hair.

Leah Cypess, MISTWOOD
In the original version of MISTWOOD, Isabel's hair was brown. I chose brown deliberately, because it seems like a neutral, unremarkable color, and contrasted so well with the blond color she chose to shift her hair into when she wanted to make an impression. But then somewhere between revisions 3 and 4, I was talking to my editor, and she said, "Oh, we've found a picture for the cover, and the girl has reddish-brown hair. I don't think it matters, because Isabel's a shapeshifter, but if you want you could change the color of her hair throughout."

I thought it mattered, and I did go and change her hair color. But it wasn't as simple as search-and-replace, because auburn is a more specific color than brown; whenever I used it, I felt it drew attention more than "brown" had. As a result, I removed the color description from Isabel's hair in many places, so that it wouldn't feel overemphasized. And also because, in at least one place, I felt it would be a too-significant clue to a crucial plot point. (Those who have read the book might be able to guess what I'm talking about; it's on page 248.)

I loved collecting these writer secrets and I hoped you enjoyed reading them! Share your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Writer’s (Not So) Small Choices

Have you ever wondered why an author chose a particular character name? Or why that character is short/tall/blonde/freckled? Today and tomorrow, you can take a peek into the writer's mind. (It's not that scary of a place.) We're focusing on the (not so) small choices a writer makes when developing their characters. The things that may seem simple on the outside—like the color of a character’s hair—that were actually a conscious choice we spent a bit of time on!

Today, we’re spilling secrets on character names.

The surname Fern was deliberately chosen. I wanted my main character’s last name to be short and punchy—like her. I went with Fern because, like the plant, she looks delicate but is actually quite hardy.

Part of the Ferns’ family dynamic is that Starla, the mother, leans toward the strange and her kids sometimes just want to be normal. So it made sense to me that Starla would give them unusual first names, and they’d just go by more “normal” nicknames. The boy was always Periwinkle “Perry” Fern. I worked backward with this one. I picked the nickname first—Perry—and searched for an unusual name that could be a longer version of that. My main character, however, was originally called Andromeda “Andie” Fern. ("Andromeda" because I’m an astronomy buff and I like the name. "Andie" because I think it's a girl's name that's both cute and tough at the same time.) But with a title change came a name change to Clarity and Clare was a natural nickname for that. And now I can’t imagine her as anyone else.

Dawn Metcalf, LUMINOUS
I deliberately choose a lot of character names (and nicknames) that reflect not only something about the character's "character" but also a hint about their purpose in the story. In LUMINOUS, I always wanted to use the Spanish name "Consuela," which means "solace" or "comfort," something very much in tune with her character and role in both of her worlds, and her last name was changed from "Bones" to "Chavez," which means "keys," fitting nicely with her ability to walk between worlds.

"Tender" was a fun play on words since he was about as "tender" as a ball of spikes, and "Sissy" wasn't very confident in herself, but her last name--Gardner--hinted at her guardianship responsibilities that she took seriously. I wanted Wish to personify hope and longing and occupy a somewhat lesser status vis-a-vis Tender, which is why his last name is "Squires." And while Joseph Crow could really become a crow, I didn't actually choose his name for that reason; it was more to do with his tribe and its importance and it conveniently made his initials "J.C." which was more than a little hint about what were my bigger plans for his character.

Jenny O'Connell, RICH BOYS
I love the name Winnie, but that's not why I chose Winnie for the main character's name in RICH BOYS. Winnie is actually short for Winifred, which sounds so old-fashioned and mature (and hopefully demonstrates that we all have to grow up and deal with adult issues). Naturally her friends and family call her Winnie. But... when she meets Jay he asks what her real name is. And she asks him what his is (nobody is really named Jay, right?). Turns out Jay's "real" name is Herbert James Barclay III. It's a family name, she learns, and she also quickly gets why he goes by Jay. He is equally understanding about Winifred. From then on Winnie and Jay call each other Fred and Herb. It's only something they do in private, and not something they share with anyone else. I liked the idea of these two very different people sharing nicknames for one another, and that it shows they have a sense of humor and intimacy with each other that they don't share with anyone else.

Leah Cypess, MISTWOOD
When I got my first revision letter for MISTWOOD, one of the first things my editor said was, "You have to change the names of a lot of the male characters." These were the names in the version I sent her: Dykan, Damin, Krigan, Kaer. You see the problem. I'm not entirely sure how I didn't see the problem, but trust me, this is just one of the reasons writers need editors.

So I set out to make up new names. Since I write fantasy, I get to choose names based entirely on how they sound. I start out with the letter I want the character's name to start with. That part usually comes to me pretty easily (though obviously, sometimes my instinct will go bonkers and fixate on the letters "d" and "k"). Then I fill a page, or sometimes more than a page, with a string of syllable-combinations starting with that letter. Some sound more right to me than others, and lead me in the direction I want to go, and finally I come up with a few that sound best. I then go away from my list for at least a few hours, and when I come back, it's pretty clear to me which of the fantasy names I've invented fit which character. Which is how I came up with: Owain, Ven, Albin, Kaer. Much better, no?

When it came to naming my MC in CARRIER OF THE MARK, Megan was the first one I thought of. Firstly, it’s my daughters name and I love using family names in my books. Secondly, it’s a name that crosses borders in the English speaking world, readily known by all, kind of girl-next-doorish. So, while Megan would struggle with all the Irish names around her, all her new schoolmates wouldn’t bat an eyelid at hers. It subtly compounds the duck out of water feeling that sets the scene at the beginning of Carrier.

Sonia Gensler, THE REVENANT
Many have asked how I chose names for the Cherokee characters in THE REVENANT, and people seem particularly intrigued by Eli Sevenstar. It's a pretty awesome name, isn't it? Well, I didn't just make it up. During my research I was fortunate to discover school catalogs from 1896 for the Cherokee Female and Male Seminaries. These catalogs listed the names of each enrolled student from the seniors all the way down to the primary department, as well as almunae dating back to before the Civil War. What a wealth of wonderful and historically/culturally appropriate names! I could mix and match, confident that at one time or another there really was a seminary student with that first or last name. As you might imagine, Sevenstar jumped out at me right away. It was mysterious and alluring, just like the character. I chose Eli for his first name because it seemed more accessible and down-to-earth. (Did I just make a pun?) Now I can't imagine him with any other name, and it's my favorite name for any character I've created so far.

Brigid Kemmerer, STORM: Book 1 of the Elemental Series
I have four brothers in my story, named Michael, Gabriel, Nicholas, and Christopher. My husband's name is Michael, and my son's name is Nicholas. A lot of people think I named the characters after people in my family. They're wrong. I first wrote about these four brothers back when I was in high school, and these are the same four names they had then. One of my favorite male names is Michael, and I always swore I would marry a man named Michael. (Sheer luck, I swear.) When I got pregnant with my first son, I wanted to name him Christopher (the lead character in my first book), but Christopher Kemmerer just has too many -ers going on. So my first son was named Nicholas.

Fascinating, right? Share your thoughts in the comments and check back tomorrow for insights into character appearances!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Perception: Behind the Scenes

No Spoilers! In this post, I’ll talk a bit about the creation of Perception, but don’t worry if you haven’t read it yet. There will be no spoilers. Also, please no spoilers in the comments.

Reminder: The Perception Mega Giveaway is still going on! Check it out!

(Imagine that VH1’s Behind the Music theme is playing now.) Presenting…Perception: Behind the Scenes!

On themes:
The theme of Clarity is family loyalty and the two sides of that protective instinct. Similarly, the theme of Perception is consequences. Everything that happens in Perception is a result of the events of Clarity. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to read Clarity first, but you’ll have a deeper understanding of the characters if you do.

On change:
I didn’t want Clarity to be one of those series where Crazy! Things! Happen! and then the next book picks up where that left off but the characters haven’t changed at all. I mean, catching a killer and nearly getting killed in the process has got have an effect on a person. What that effect is…now that’s something you can play with. But there have to be consequences.

On trauma:
I was also interested in the idea that two people can go through a similar traumatic experience and react in completely different ways. In writing the book, I played with this in an obvious way and in a subtler one.

Other insider info:
- Mallory’s last name is a hat tip to one of my all-time favorite hockey players.

- Perry’s struggle in this book is, in part, taken from past personal experience. Though I won’t discuss it other than that one sentence there. :)

- One of the challenges of writing a sequel is reintroducing the characters in an interesting way, using your main character’s voice rather than a boring info dump. My favorite character reintroduction in Perception is the third paragraph on page 16.

- My favorite scenes to write are Clare and Perry scenes.

- The short-cut Clare takes home from school was inspired by the short-cut I used to take back in the day. Yep, through the woods. And I used to listen to my Walkman (definition: early ‘90s iPod) and walk alone. Basically completely unaware of my surroundings. *facepalm*

I ran home twice. Once when a snake crossed my path and I jumped and stepped into a brook. That was a soggy afternoon. The second time was just like the opening pages of chapter 23. Which, in turn, inspired the cover of Perception. Which is all very weird for me to think about.

When I was a fourteen-year-old wannabe writer who ran home with her heart pounding, if you’d told me the experience I’d just had would one day help inspire a scene in a real book that would be published…I would’ve called you crazy. But there you go. Hold on to your memories. Especially the scary ones. They can all be inspiring.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Perception Release Contest

Perception is officially out in the world! *dances*

You can read more about Perception here.

You can buy Perception at your local independent bookstore or here:
IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

If you’re in New England, consider attending one of my signings. If you can’t get to one of those, but would still like your book signed, you can get a bookplate!

And now, I'd like to thank you with a big ol' contest!

How to enter:

Buy Perception and forward your receipt (or a photo of your receipt) to me at kimharringtoncontest@gmail.com. And that's it, you're entered! Hardcover, e-book, international, pre-orders, they all count.

I've been collecting prizes for this contest here and there for...pretty much the whole year. There will be five winners. And here are the prize packs!

1. Dress like Clare
- A Fern Family Readings T-shirt. (There are only a handful of these in existence!)
- A Clarity bracelet. "Genuine Semi-Precious Gemstones, Snowflake Obsidian, for Clarity, compassion and strength."

2. Work like Clare
- The Psychic Box includes an "authentic" crystal ball, set of Zener cards, and a 336-page book on discovering your clairvoyant potential.
- Tiny Tarot tarot card set.
- Fortune Teller Miracle Fish
(I bought all the above at a woo woo store in Salem, MA.)

3. Live like Clare
- Bottle of Cape Cod Air
- Sailor Knot Bracelet
- Cape Cod themed sailboat coasters
(I bought all the above at cheesy tourist shops on the Cape.)

4. Listen like Clare
- A copy of the Perception playlist. (A list of songs I found inspiring during the writing process, what scene(s) in the book the songs apply to, and my thoughts on the song and how it fits in.)
- A $10 iTunes gift card to buy your favorites.

5. Read like Clare
- Hardcover of Abandon by Meg Cabot
- Hardcover of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
- A $20 gift card to your favorite bookstore!

Fun, right? Plus, all prize packs will also include signed bookmarks and bookplates.

Enter away, and please pass on the word about the contest. The last day to enter is 3/15/12. The winners will be chosen by random.org on 3/16/12.

I truly appreciate everyone who has passed on the word about the book on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Word of mouth is really the best, and I wish I could hug every one of you. (Except the ones who hate hugs. I'd give you fist bumps.) Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And I hope you enjoy Perception!