An Interview with Fleeta

Welcome Fleeta Cunningham, and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.  Lets get started.

1. What do you write, fact or fiction.
Tom Clancy said, “The difference between fiction and fact? Fiction has to make sense. “
I write fiction. I am incapable of making a straight report. I have to make it more dramatic, improve the dialogue, magnify the characters–I never let the truth get in the way of a good story. My mother often told me to stop taking a button and sewing a three-piece suit to it. Somehow, though, I just can’t resist.
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2. When did you start writing
I wrote my first story when I was eight. I’d been to see the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and I just couldn’t believe that silly girl was taken in by the witch and ate the poisoned apple. And I’m claustrophobic myself, so when the dwarves closed the princess up in the glass coffin, that was too much. I went home and re-wrote the story. And a passion was born. In middle school and high school, I worked on the school newspaper and annual. No one knew who was behind that salacious gossip column for years. Later, as the librarian for a major Houston law firm, I wrote a syndicated column for my professional newsletter. Some of those columns have appeared as text material for academic Library Science programs. A few years into my career, I began writing novels as an after-hours escape from the world of torts, contracts, and litigation.
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3. Where do stories come from
Stephen King said, “We never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know that we don’t know.”
I think we hate to admit where we get ideas for stories. We eavesdrop on people at the table behind us in the coffee shop. We watch people walking in the park. We take gossip and recast it into unidentifiable plots. We re-arrange confidences from our dearest friends. In other words, we don’t tell where we get our story ideas for the same reason magicians don’t explain their tricks. It destroys the illusion. When asked–and we all are–I just say, “That’s the way it happened because I said so–this time. Next time, I may tell it different.”
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4. Why do you write romance instead of something more ‘literary’
I write to entertain. I hope to give my reader an hour away from daily life, show her a set of problems that she doesn’t have to fix, guarantee her a happy ending, and take her to a place where the right man and the right woman find each other. I don’t suppose football players or musicians or film actors are ever asked to justify what they do. They entertain, give us escape, and do so because they have talent, work hard, and are willing to risk losing the attention of a fickle public. Sometimes they turn out a magnificent effort. Once in a while they touch us with their valor. But mostly, they entertain. And if I write well enough that one reader smiles or has a moment of pleasure or feels better about her own life, I call it successful.
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5. Any last words you’d care to share with us
I’ll offer you another quotation. This is Isaac Asimov. “If my doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”  I couldn’t explain the compulsion to write any better than he did.
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Fleeta
What a pleasure it has been to visit with you today.  Thank you, Fleeta!  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading your books, now available at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_8/192-2004880-2827930?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=fleeta%20cunningham&sprefix=fleeta+c%2Caps%2C247&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Afleeta%20cunningham
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Tiffany

USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, OR MAKE IT DO

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing my new short story CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET make its debut. I’m particularly pleased with this story about a proper young Boston librarian who makes a tour with a septuagenarian group across England and in the process meets her unique ‘someone’. The story is close to my heart for many reasons, not the least of which is that I spent my honeymoon in the United Kingdom almost thirty years ago. I’ve made a few trips back ‘across the pond’ as they say, and never been disappointed.  In the course of putting this story together, since I am primarily grounded in the vintage years of the twentieth century, I kept dipping into first hand accounts of lives lived against the nightmare of World War II. My admiration grew with every story and every personal encounter. Along the way, I picked up a small book entitled MAKE DO AND MEND, a reproduction of the official Second World War instruction leaflets issued by the Board of Trade.  The subtitle, Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations, pretty well tells the story. Take a look at what the staunch ladies of the British Isles were doing for the fifteen years rationing was in effect.

1. Cooking — Never light your oven to cook a single dish. With a little planning you can easily prepare an entire meal while the oven is hot, as well as a pudding or tart that can be eaten cold the next day. Turn out burners directly the food is done–it will keep hot in the oven for some time.

2. Bathtub economy– Limit yourself to one hot bath a week. Use a bowl and sponge on other days. Never have the water in the bath more than 5 ins. deep.

3. Your household linen has got to last!  Storage–If you have some linen which is not in use, store it away–but not in a hot cupboard and not if it is starched. Wash, mend and air before putting it away. Refold at intervals to prevent wear at the creases. Only store clean linen. When sheets get very thin, turn sides to the middle by cutting them lengthways down the centre, and either oversewing the outside selvedges together or joining them with a run-and-fell seam. Trim away the torn parts of what are now the sides of the sheet. Turn in the edges and hem them. Towels–thin places and small holes can be reinforced by machine darning or by hand darning with soft mending cotton. Large holes should be patched with the sound parts of other old towelling –never use new material. Patches on towels should be tacked in position without the edge of the patch being turned in. These edges should be stitched on to the towel with herringbone or cross-stitch.

4. Knickers ( women’s panties) renewed– One good pair from two old pair–here’s how to manage it. Usually it is the gusset that’s worn–so cut a new gusset from the good side of the second pair. Shape the new gusset, which should then be stitched into place. The raw edges should be cut down and blanket stitched closely on the wrong side to make this as strong as possible.

5. To keep pace with a growing girl– Last year’s yoked frock can be enlarged by unpicking the skirt from the yoke, dropping it to waist level and inserting a contrasting band to make the lower part of the bodice. Use bands of the same colour to enlarge the sleeves. The frock will still be too tight across the chest so insert a contrasting band from the waistline to the neckline.

6. Expecting a baby — A suggested layette

4-5 gowns (material) to be used by day and night, 22-24 inches long, taking up to one and a half yards of 36 inch material each

4 vests (undershirts) woven or knitted

3 matinee jackets (diaper shirts) 2 oz. wool each

3 pairs bootees – 2 oz. wool

2 medium-sized shawls – about 8 oz. wool each

Muslin napkins ( diapers) never buy more napkins than you really need, remember fair shares!

7. Adapting your ordinary clothes for maternity wear – Try to avoid spending coupons on special maternity clothes. Almost all your existing clothes can be altered easily so that you can wear them comfortably until the baby is born, and you can wear them again afterwards. For instance, why not put in an attractive matching or contrasting gathered or pleated panel in the front of the dress?

The leaflets gave advice on everything from mending torn buttonholes and making slippers from cardboard and rags to saving fuel and mending chair seats. I’ll bet today’s recycling supporters could even learn a few things from the economies of the period.

What about your family? Do you remember World War II or have family members who do? Share a story with us, leave a comment, and I’ll be choosing someone to receive an epub of  CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET  at the end of the day. Love to hear from you. And now that I think about it, all that interesting research suggests another story. Looks like I’m in an England frame of mind.

Fleeta Cunningham

Strange Things Writers Do

One of the most bizarre things writers do is trace the lives of people that don’t even exist. Characters are more than just the names and series of events portrayed in a book. Long before we type ‘Chapter 1’, we sit down and think hard about who will inhabit the story. Not just names and personality quirks and physical descriptions, but where they went to school, and for how long, and what their first pet might have been, and whether they are scared of spiders or thunderstorms or the ocean. What are their key memories prior to the opening of the story?

Yes, I actually develop memories for my characters. The kind that we have in moments of great shock, pain, or wonder. Whether tragic or joyous, we’ve all known intense emotional experiences where we, or the world as we know it, change forever from one minute to the next. I got the idea from David Corbett’s THE ART OF CHARACTER: CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS FOR FICTION, FILM AND TV. I’ll be the first to admit that thinking about the memories of a non-existent person is extremely weird, but then so is taking notes about how much different kinds of stab wounds bleed, or making my daughter trip me to see how a character would fall.

As a writer, I’ve found that creating these life-changing moments for characters is an eye-opener. I write the memories out, as Corbett suggests. Not for inclusion in the final manuscript, but to feel for myself what drives the people I’m inventing.

Below is the essential memory for Morgan Tregarth, the hero of my recently completed manuscript, ‘A Most Improper Connection’, which takes place in the 1840s. When the story opens, this is the event that has obsessed him for nearly a decade. It’s not a prologue, nor is it in the final draft, just part of my notes about him.

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Morgan set his quill down on the teakwood desk to snatch the letter with the London address from one his uncle’s numerous Indian servants. Elation dissipated as soon as he recognized his father’s handwriting. With a sigh, Morgan touched the unfinished note before him on the wooden surface.

He’d written to his wife every day since arriving in Calcutta, begging for news of her and their unborn child. So far, she had not replied, although his father included news of her whenever he wrote, usually a perfunctory line or two about her health.

Disappointed, Morgan broke the seal and unfolded this latest missive. The words didn’t register immediately: “…sorry to inform you…disappeared with all her possessions…we can find no trace…”

Breath exploded from Morgan’s lungs in a near-sob. Pushing himself to his feet, he tried to inhale again, leaning on the desk. Nothing in his nineteen years, not even the death of his mother or his father’s remarriage, had ever hit him with such force. Straightening, he left the study, oblivious to everything but the silent howl of ‘Why?’ in his mind.

Eventually he realized that he stood before the door to his bedchamber, but he had no memory of walking through the house and up the stairs. His hand shook so badly he could barely turn the handle.

Once inside, he pushed the door closed again and leaned against it. Tears stung his eyes and nose, but did not flow. After what seemed an eternity of listening to the faint sounds of the crowded street below his shuttered window, he stumbled to the bed. Seating himself on the edge, he slumped over, his hands on his knees. Out of habit, he reminded himself that he had to be strong for his wife and child, then brought himself up short. Alix had left him. He had no one to be strong for any more.

He lowered himself onto his back. As he stared up at the ghostly mosquito netting, two things coalesced in his mind. One, that he would never ever give his heart to anyone again. Two, that while Alix had turned her back on him, he was still going to be a father. He would find his child if he had to hunt until hell froze over.

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Talk about fake memories! I wrote a similar scene for the heroine of ‘Most Improper Connection’. (Hint: her name is Alix.) And I wrote the key memories 0f the hero and heroine of my current work-in-progress. I just hope I don’t loose my marbles when I’m old and start telling people at the nursing home about someone’s missing wife. Hey wait, that gives me an idea for a character…

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for a reason that made perfect sense to you?

WHERE THE STORIES COME FROM

Yes, someone is always asking, “Where do you get the ideas for your stories?” I have a writer-friend who usually answers, “Walmart. They had some on special, so I took a few.”  I’ve wanted to come back with an equally snappy reply, but I somehow always think of a good one about two hours after the conversation. So I rely on the boring, unvarnished truth. I don’t know where stories come from.  Once in a while I’ll get an idea from something I’ve read in the paper. Or I was unabashedly eavesdropping and heard a bit of personal history I just couldn’t wait to expand into a full-fledged plot. Once I delved into my own early memories to create a scenario. That one is still my mom’s personal favorite. But mostly stories come from the open-ended quest to discover “What if….” and follow that rabbit down the rabbit hole.

Recently I’ve branched out a bit in following that trusty rabbit. I’ve been doing some shorter works, short stories and a novella. Those are new formats for me. It’s a well-established fact inside my family that I have a hard time saying good morning in less than 20,000 words. Trying to tell a whole story in under 50,000 is a stretch. Browning said the reach should exceed one’s grasp; I’ve taken on the challenge. Two of my pocket-sized productions will be coming out shortly, so here is a sneak preview. I’m not sure I can tell you where the ideas came from, but I’m pretty sure you can find the end result on Amazon.com in the near future. They will only be available as e–pubs, but that makes them really portable, right?

CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET

Her septuagenarian traveling companions quenched every flicker of pleasure Gill Banks anticipated during her trip to England. Then Simon, not quite a stranger but definitely an unknown element, challenged Gill to let her own heart lead the way. And she found that a close encounter with a crumpet can change a life forever.

EXCERPT:
You said it, Gill. It’s magic, maybe a sudden spell that vanishes at midnight or maybe one that can’t be broken. I don’t know. But I do know I looked at you two weeks ago, when you came on the coach, and I saw sunlight break through the clouds. I told myself somehow before this tour ended, I’d have at least one good conversation with you. I’d find out what made the gold lights in your eyes shine and how you look when you laugh. I’d almost given up hope when I saw you in the tea shop, unhappy as a wet kitten. Then I said your name and you smiled. I saw that sunlight part the clouds again. I grabbed the chance because I wasn’t about to let you slip away before I found out who Gill Banks is.”

HELP WANTED: WIFE

When rancher Cole Witherspoon, a practical man, decides his ranch needs a woman’s touch, and he needs a wife, he goes about filling the vacancy in a practical way. He places a help-wanted ad. He doesn’t suspect when Cherilyn Bixby answers the ad how many lessons in love he’ll be learning from the no-nonsense schoolteacher…and her big, red cat.

EXCERPT:
It’s mighty brave of you to come out here all by yourself.” Cole rocked back on his boots. “I know most women want courting and flowers and love and so forth. I do believe that if two people make up their minds to treat each other decent, pay their bills, and find a little fun along the way, that’s a pretty good framework for a marriage. Stands a better chance than the lovey-dovey nonsense shoveled out by the movies. Your letters, they sorta tell me you take a practical view of things, as well.” He gathered up her suitcases. “Let’s head on to the ranch.” He started to reach for the wired box.

“I’ll take that one.”

“Funny looking case. What is it?”

“My cat.” Cherilyn lifted the case and turned toward the truck.

“Your CAT! Lord, woman, we’ve got barn cats at the ranch. You didn’t need to go and bring one.”

“This is Arabella, a pure-blooded Maine Coon cat and she’s no barn animal. She lives with me.”

“Cat? In the house? Never had a cat living in the house. Don’t think I’d want to. Better turn her loose in the barn with the rest of the mousers.”

“Now listen here, Cole Witherspoon, If it comes down to her being in the barn or me taking that next bus back, I guess I’ll just go back.”

Well, I have two pretty determined heroines heading out into new lives. To keep up with them, I’m going to have to branch out into a few new endeavors myself. How about you? Have some new challenges ahead? Hope they are as successful as Cherilyn and Gill found theirs.

Let’s get winter behind us and go look for wildflowers and romance, shall we?

Fleeta Cunningham

A Writer’s Retreat in Fredericksburg

A Writer’s Retreat
Enchanted Porch, Fredericksburg, Texas

Every now and then if a writer doesn’t run away, she will go insane.  This was the idea, born out of a desperate need to escape the holiday hustle, endless stream of visitors, cleaning house, and trying to catch up on the thousand things at work left undone until after the holidays.

And run away is exactly what I did…to the most beautiful cottage in Fredericksburg.  With three other writers, we absorbed the tranquility and reveled in the crisp fresh air, then we got busy on our projects. No phones, no endless football games, no somebody needing this or that, we were able to use our time to bounce ideas off each other and to create brilliant scenes or witty dialogue.

As Blue Jays and House Finches greeted us in the morning with delightful chatter, we relaxed with steamy cups of tea and discussed the day’s goals.  Breaking for lunch, a fat little squirrel would race up and down the live oak just beyond the back porch, showing off his recently scavenged pecan, then swish his puffy red tail just to be certain we were paying attention.  We sighed in contentment and agreed that this was the life.

Why couldn’t everyday be so glorious and productive?

Sometimes stopping to smell the roses isn’t just a good idea, it is necessary to exist.  For writers who have to wear many hats, our wonderful creation often takes the back burner, yet happens to be the one thing that keeps us going.  So, nurturing the need to dictate what our characters tell us becomes critical even when life interferes.  Most especially when life interferes.

That is why, during my eye-opening stay at Enchanted Porch, I decided to make this passion a priority in my life.  Not only will I be a more productive writer, I will be a more joyful writer.  I will not let others fill every waking moment with their wants and needs.  I have to put writing back at the top of my to-do list and will cut back on doing so many unnecessary things for others.  After all, a writer writes.

January Full Moon Guest–Sherri Shackelford

Sherri Shackelford and Ann Stephens

I’m super excited to be here, and I want to thank Ann Stephens for inviting me. I met her several years ago, just after she’d published her first book. I was in awe! I still am…Recently I joined Ann and Sherry James at a writer’s retreat. We had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and set some ambitious goals for the coming year.

When setting goals, you need more than will power alone. You need to change the roadblocks in your environment that are preventing you from achieving your goal. There are six key areas to consider when setting a goal or changing/creating a new habit.

Values – Why do you want this goal? What does it mean to you? More money…better health?

Skills – Take classes, do research, and learn the skills you’ll need to achieve your goal

Teamwork/Support – Find some support. Friends, family, professional groups. For example, when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I joined Romance Writers of America.

Incentives – don’t forget to reward yourself! Take care of yourself. Get your nails done. See a movie. Buy some new shoes. Celebrate your achievements!

Environment – Invest in your environment. I decorated my office with Goodwill finds. I painted them and spruced them up. My writing is important to me – and I wanted my writing space to reflect that.

What about you? Do you have a goal for the coming year?

Right now I’m really excited about the book I have releasing in February. When I wrote my first book, Winning the Widow’s Heart, I had trouble keeping one of my secondary characters from taking over the story. JoBeth McCoy was smart, savvy, and incredibly self-reliant. I realized she needed her own story!

Since Jo was a woman ahead of her time, she needed a job that fit her independent spirit. I decided to make her a telegraph operator. Turns out, Western Union liked to hire women because they could pay them less money. Go figure!

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Gentlemen don’t court feisty straight shooters like JoBeth McCoy. Just as she’s resigned to a lifetime alone, a misunderstanding forces the spunky telegraph operator into a marriage of convenience. Wedding the town’s handsome new marshal offers JoBeth a chance at motherhood, caring for the orphaned little girl she’s come to love.

Garrett Cain will lose guardianship of his niece, Cora, if he stays single, but he knows no woman could accept the secrets he’s hidden about his past. The lawman can’t jeopardize Cora’s future by admitting the truth. Yet when unexpected danger in the small town threatens to expose Garrett’s long-buried secret, only a leap of faith can turn a makeshift union into a real family.

Thank you, Authors by Moonlight, for having me!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!

One commentor will receive an advance copy of The Marshal’s Ready Made Family.

ABOUT SHERRI!
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance.

A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.

Sherri is putting the final touches on three more books for her Cimarron Springs series, and will release all the details as soon as they are available.

Visit Sherri’s web site to get the latest scoop on all of her books.

Productivity

January is typically a month when we set resolutions and goals for the coming year. This year I’m looking more at the means to reach my goals rather than just focusing on the goals themselves. Sure, the goals are important, after all, if I didn’t have goals I wouldn’t know what I’m working toward, or what is driving me to keep pushing forward in this crazy business. Writing is hard work and is packed with moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. Guarantees are few and far between.

But if I don’t produce the pages, I won’t ever have a finished book I can put out there for the world to read, and, hopefully, enjoy. If I don’t produce pages I’ll never see the cover, never know the fun of watching the book sell, or the joy of hearing from readers.

Therefore, my focus this year is on upping my productivity. Before I can know the thrill of finishing yet another book, I have to sit down and write—turn a blank page into one full of words that take the reader from the beginning to the middle and to the end. On one hand, sitting down and writing seems like a simple concept. You just do it. On the other, that can be a tough row to hoe. We have families, jobs, and other activities all begging for our time.

And then there is the small is issue of procrastination. Many writers I know struggle with that fifteen letter word on a daily basis. Why? Well, as I mentioned earlier, writing is hard work. And, in spite of how much we love the craft and being able to say we wrote a book, some days the words don’t come easy. Some days we discover we’ve written ourselves into a corner, or a character has taken on a dimension we didn’t plan for them to. It’s then we have to stop and figure out where we went wrong, how to fix it, and where to go next. Believe it or not, sometimes scrubbing that bathroom is a heck of lot easier and more appealing than working on the book!

So, to help me with upping my productivity this year, I’m attending a conference this weekend that is solely devoted to just that—productivity. I’m looking forward to networking with other writers who are as eager as I am to learn ways to get those pesky and elusive words onto the page. I’ll spend two days hearing and discussing ideas on how to write smarter and faster, how to write amidst the chaos life can dish out, and how to dodge potholes on the writing road. I can’t wait!

What about you? Do you have a plan for 2014? What would you like to accomplish this year?

Whatever your plans, good luck! And don’t forget, the holidays might be over, but it’s still cold and snowy outside and ELF TROUBLE is a fun read you can enjoy any time this winter. The Studs 4 Hire boxed set is also still on sale for $0.99.

See you right back here in February!

Sherry James

All Romance Ebooks
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Christmas Carol for Writers

For some reason at this time of year, I have a compulsion to play around with a perfectly good Christmas carol. With apologies to Santa and the Reindeer, here is the current offering. Hope all y’all have a truly grand holiday and there is a scarcity of coal and switches in your stockings come Christmas morning.

A Christmas Carol for Writers

You know Roberts and Austen and Rowling and Woolf,

Christie and Cartland and Bronte and Boothe.

But do you recall

The most dedicated writer of all?

Rosemary, the red-nosed writer,

Had a very nasty cold,

And her poor nose was scarlet.

You might even say it glowed.

All the other writers

Had gone off for Christmas cheer,

Leaving her a laptop

And a deadline much too near.

Then on Christmas Eve so late,

Editors came to say,

“Rosie, with your prose so bright

Can you do another re-write?”

Then how the others praised her

And how they cried out with glee,

“Rosie, our favorite writer,

You’ve saved the anthology!”

With best wishes to all’,

Fleeta Cunningham

www.fleetacunningham.com

SANTA RITA SERIES

Don’t Call Me Darlin’

Black Rain Rising

Elopement for One

Half Past Mourning

Cry Against the Wind

CONFRONTING DESTINY SERIES

Bal Masque (forthcoming)

SHORT STORIES

Close Encounter with a Crumpet (forthcoming)

Help Wanted:WIFE (forthcoming)

NOVELLA

Double Wedding, Single Dad (forthcoming)

Oh, I NEVER Read Romance…They’re So (Fill in the Blank)

And you know all the descriptors that slip into the blank, don’t you? You’ve heard them. “Trashy”. That’s one of my favorites. Usually accompanied by the expression reserved for foul odors and inebriated strangers. Or the line that goes “I suppose they’re all right for some people, people who don’t want to read real books, but I’d never bother with love stories. I only read books that are worthwhile.” That comment came from a visitor to the Texas Book Fair some years back. Looking at her dingy cut-offs, unwashed hair, and flip-flops, I had to think a few romance novels would be good for her. But who am I to say? Perhaps her six inch tome on the reproductive habits of earthworms gave her real happiness.

I really don’t want to hammer people who don’t like my genre. I’m overjoyed when people read anything–any subject, any format, and in any place they can curl up with an author’s thoughts. I applaud their right to channel their interests in every direction. All I ask is a little respect for the talented, hard-working authors who want to give readers a rich story with strong and interesting characters and a satisfying resolution to a believable problem.

So if I believe anybody is entitled to read whatever he/she may choose, why am I on my soapbox? Because I think romance writers have contributed to the betterment of the world in very concrete ways. Wouldn’t the world be a poorer place if Jane Austen had written only descriptions of English gardens? We’d never have known Mr. Darcy and his literary/theatrical/musical descendents!  What if Emily Bronte had settled for recording her mum’s recipes and skipped giving us Heathcliff? Would we ever have developed the pattern for all the brooding, noble heroes of filmdon–from Valentino to Clint Eastwood? That would leave all of us in a wasteland if we had no heroes to occupy our dreams.

Oh, but those are LITERATURE. Yes, I heard that. And yes, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights have endured, but somehow I don’t think Austen and Bronte were consciously creating belles lettres when they picked up quill and began. I think they were telling a story for the sheer pleasure of doing so.  They wrote for the same reason Nora Roberts wrote that first  manuscript while snowbound with sick children.  Creating and escaping!  And the joy of doing so.  Romance writers are still sharing with readers their delight in creating and escaping every time they invent a believable hero or an appealing heroine, or touch a reader’s heart with a well-crafted story. Blessed are the story tellers, whatever their era, whatever their style of yarn-spinning.

Somewhere back in those days of Higher Aspirations, I suspect some proper matron in violet silk, sipping tea and glaring at her debutante daughter, explained in righteous tones why she’d never, ever sully her mind (insert shudder of revulsion here) with the frivolous natterings of chatty Jane or moody Emily! Better dear daughter should mind her pocket handkerchief and become a social ornament for her future husband. It was her philosophical descendant, the woman of inquiring mind and dingy cut offs who assured me she’d never (insert another shudder here) waste her time on Nora Roberts or Debbie Macomber. Better she study the inner workings of  earthworms and plan her report to the Committee on Nightcrawlers.

What?? No romance? No dark, mysterious hero in the shadows? No joyous confession of love and the promise of a happily-ever-after ending? Pity!! But to each his/her own. Where’s my copy of Emma?

Fleeta Cunningham

www.fleetacunningham.com

fgcunningham@yahoo.com

SANTA RITA SERIES

Don’t Call Me Darlin’

Black Rain Rising

Elopement for One

Half Past Mourning

Cry Against the Wind

CONFRONTING DESTINY SERIES

Bal Masque (forthcoming)

SHORT STORIES

Close Encounter with a Crumpet (forthcoming)

Help Wanted: WIFE (forthcoming)

November Full Moon Guest-Sally J. Walker

“This book would make a great movie!” Really?

By Sally J. Walker

I have three facts to prove in this blog.

Fact One: Not all novels CAN be successfully adapted to the screen.

Fact Two: The novelist’s voice and style are moot points in the collaborative medium of film production.

Fact Three: Novels are intended to be a private exchange between the writer and the reader, whereas films are public group orgies.

Now, if you have read the above three facts and accepted them, you are ready to read on. If you choose to argue them, read something else.

Fact One embodies the essence of adaptation. Novels are written to reach the intellect of the reader. Sensations are titillated by thought association, just as factual information or exposition is provided for reader understanding. The motivation, memories, emotional impact experienced by the characters can be explained in novels. Film relies on ONE concept: Visual image.

Certainly sensations can be depicted VISUALLY, whether by character reaction or audience identification. For example, seeing a steaming turkey fresh from the oven evokes that aroma, just as a pile of steaming manure at the feet of a milk cow…You get the “picture.” What film CANNOT do is explain what the character feels as a novel could. Those internal thoughts and emotions are frequently the fiber, the richness, the perfection of novels that cannot smoothly or naturally translate. Some films have successfully used VOICE OVER to allow the character to explain, usually as a device of logic. However, over-use of this intrusive device tends to annoy the audience who is caught up in experiencing the moment WITH the character. The V.O. can seem to be a lecturer trying to guide the interpretations of the audience who are too stupid to draw their own conclusions. Bad reaction.

Exposition is another fiction writer’s device that doesn’t translate well to film. Some novels rely heavily on underlying information in a character’s background or a culture’s history that directly impact the character’s limited options or the plot events. Scrolling information at the opening, V.O., Series Shots as glimpses, or depicting a very brief back-story scene have all been used successfully to deliver information to the audience. First, ask yourself if this back-story is VITAL for the audience to get it or to be sucked into the total story. Then ask yourself HOW the vital information can be served up succinctly, actively, VISUALLY. The joy of reading is mental immersion in a different time and place. The joy of film is the visual empathy of sharing with characters the experience of the moment. Both are illusions, one totally on a mental plane, the second on the plane of visual awareness. Novels deliver the illusion slowly, but successful films create ONLY the immediate moment. When cinematic storytelling becomes documentary teaching, the illusion is lost and the audience grows restless. Bad reaction.

Another problem inherent to adaptation: Readers of popular work formulate their own image of what the characters look like, what their voices sound like. The casted actor and the director’s interpretation will more often than not conflict with the reader’s image. Perfect matches are rare. An actor turning the tide of the public image so the character is known as HIM is even rarer. Frequently, the novelist has to give up his/her image for the sake of collaboration, which leads us into Fact Two.

The art of prose is the unique manipulation of words that defines the voice and style of a writer. Abstract and esoteric concepts separate each writer and provide for lively comparisons in the literary world. Screenplays are NOT literature. Screenplays are the crisp, bare-bones blue-prints that will guide the various craftsmen and artists who will translate the written word to a visual medium. The beauty of the WORD is not primary. The beauty of the IMAGE seen through the camera’s eye is everything. If the glorious description of a place cannot be matched by the location scouts or constructed by the set designers, especially within budget, then it will be changed. Workability is the key word to translating fiction to film.

“Surely a novel’s dialogue will adapt well, won’t it?” Dialogue consists of the words that reflect who the characters are and what is important for them to say. So much of movies is dialogue, what the characters are say and NOT saying. Film is about innuendo, not spelling everything out. In a novel the dialogue can be subtle or direct, effusive or succinct. Then the character has the luxury of an internal response. Multi-layered dialogue for dramatic interpretation must do BOTH. The adaptation writer must be willing to delete inane, playful, redundant conversations then create verbal exchanges that MOVE the cinematic story. A succinct punchy ending to a verbal battle in a film scene can cover an entire chapter of bitter exchanges depicted in a novel. The writer simply must remember this long-ago quip: “These are movies, not talkies.”

One last comment on collaboration. Look up the definition of that word. Then make a list of all the roles of people involved in bringing a film to the screen. (Don’t know? Scribble down their titles as the credits roll by.) Remember the screenplay is merely the blue-print. Each of these people–these artists–will uniquely interpret their contribution. Some may read the original novel for flavor. Others may see no point since the mediums are so different. The producer’s fiscal guidance and the director’s leadership are central to the feel of the film. Early in their careers, most novelists learn they have to give over a degree of control to the editors in the publishing houses who will manufacture and distribute their books. Well, the film industry spreads that control among many more people with the producer and the director at the top of the food chain’s hierarchy. Many writers contract as associate producers to retain some control. Still, the writer must accept that the novel’s precious words, images, characters, and events will inevitably be rearranged, deleted, corrupted, and mangled for the sake of the film story, usually as a result of collaboration. The entire production crew is responsible for the end product, not just the writer. The novel’s concept of intimacy between writer and reader does not exist in a theater, which brings us nicely to Fact Three.

Reading a novel is supposed to be a very personal experience. The very nature of comprehending language is personal. A newly divorced astrophysicist from the southwestern United States will not read MADAME BOVARY with the same appreciation as a schoolgirl from a village near Paris. Logically, based on each reader’s unique life experience, the thought associations, the images derived from the words will be different. The reader is alone with the writer’s words. True, the story and the characters remain constant, but the experience of each reader is unique in the solitude of the words registering on the mind.

Contrast this with all these individuals coming to a theater or settling in a living room to view a film. Certainly these viewers retain their individuality and opinions, but the experience of the film is a group experience. Together the audience lives those moments with the characters. The successful film holds the audience in their seats. The outside world fades away. The experiences on the screen take over the visual awareness of the audience. Afterwards, when the credits roll and the lights come up, the illusion is shattered, the real world returns, the group disperses to digest what they experienced together.

The Group Factor of film viewing needs to be understood by the novelist, not from an economic point of view but from an artistic perspective. Of course, the novelist wants to create a best-seller. Those books, however, will still be read one at a time. To be commercially marketable, a film must relate and appeal to a broader audience, a large number of individuals who will get it, who will lose themselves in experiencing the immediate moments of the characters on that screen.

Sometimes the characters and their stories are meant to be strictly between the writer and the reader. That storytelling deserves to be revered in its truest form as a novel. But other times, the author can see a story and its people come alive and transport a movie audience en masse through the sharing of a bring the cinematic story to life separate from the book.

I urge you to read the books then watch the movies of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Harper Lee), THE EAGLE (Rosemary Sutcliffe), THE LUCKY ONE (Nicholas Sparks) and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (James Fenimore Cooper). Look for what was retained and what was changed.

* * * * * * * * *

Sally Walker’s published credits include literary, romance and western novels, a nonfiction essay collection, several creative writing textbooks, stage plays, poetry, and many magazine articles on the craft of writing, including staff contributions to two international film magazines. With close to 30 screenplays written, her first one sold in 2012 and several novel-to-screenplay adaptations contracted, Sally has a well-respected manager representing her in Hollywood. In addition to long time active memberships in such national writing organizations as RWA, WWA and SCBWI, she was president of the prestigious Nebraska Writers Guild 2007-2011. Keeping to a strenuous writing schedule, she still has time to work as Editorial Director for The Fiction Works, in charge of acquisitions and supervising sub-contracted editors. Sally has taught writing seminars, both on-site and on-line, for over 25 years and is the facilitator for the weekly meetings of the Nebraska Writers Workshop in Ralston, NE.  For more information on her works and classes go to her website at http://www.sallyjwalker.com

* * * * * * * * * *

GIVEAWAY ALERT

Excerpt from opening chapter of Sally J. Walker’s DESERT TIME. The pdf of the novel will be given away to randomly selected reader who comments on this blog.

CHAPTER ONE

Council Bluffs, Iowa – 1857

Out of the suffocating blackness, a dulcet Southern voice crooned, “Don’t move, Little One. Just lie quiet. There, there now.” Tildy tried to snuggle closer to the warmth of a broad male chest, but the cold water surrounded, tugged, sucked at her body.

Water? Why am I in water in my wedding clothes, no, my traveling suit? And where’s Ike?

A whir erupted into a cacophony of sound surrounding her. The blackness lightened to ethereal gray. A horse screamed and screamed again. Harness jangled. Water viciously thrashed against creaking wood. Muddy water, wet horsehide, and a sweet, spicy man-scent assaulted her nose. Her open mouth gasped against slick, starch-flavored cloth and the vibrant thunder of the heartbeat in the solid chest.

This isn’t Ike. Did I just groan against some stranger’s chest? But Ike’s a stranger, too, isn’t he?

“Goddamnit! Will someone hold that horse! He’s forcin’ this wagon into the current. Where’s the stupid bastard who was drivin’?” the same voice turned harsh with authority and accusa­tion, rising distinctly above the chaos. “He’s kickin’ it to pieces! Rope him! No! Get out of my way!”
Tildy forced her eyes open to find herself looking down a long, dark-suited arm to a man’s hand extended toward some big, black, struggling thing. The hand swung side-to-side, moving a pistol like a snake mesmerizing its prey. Only this prey was white-eyed, frantic Tom-Boy, the Percheron stallion her father had harnessed to the wagon that very morning. His good-bye gift.

“No-o-o!” she screamed as the pistol exploded.

The enormous black horse jerked then thudded heavily onto the slashed mud bank. As the entangled and stilled Tom-Boy slid against a second lump of half-submerged black animal, one rope then another whistled through the air to snag a big hoof. The twang of the lines halted his movement. The wagon bed settled. Water whooshed softly. A bird chirped from nearby trees. Staring at the taut ropes, Tildy’s neck muscles reflexively tightened.

Dead! He killed Tom-Boy!

Her ears filled with a roaring just before the blackness returned.

Nat Carruthers barely got the pistol into its holster before the young woman held in his left arm went limp once again. The Missouri River current picked the same moment to surge around the tipped wagon bed, gently lifting it. He pulled his suddenly freed burden high against his body and stumbled several steps backward, up the riverbank. Her water-soaked skirts wrapped around his legs. He had no choice but to sit down in the mud, keeping her head on his shoulder, her cool face pressed against the heat of his neck.

A comfortable calmness settled over Nat as he sat very still with his prize, watching the few dock-side rescuers become a voracious horde determined to reclaim human property from the river. A hulking bargeman shouted orders above the confusion.

The horseman in Nat winced as the two dead animals were cut from their harness. He grimly appreciated the quality of the stud he’d been forced to sacrifice. Blood swirled in the brown water. The animal hadn’t even been aware of his shattered front leg. The mare’s drowning death throes had crazed the big fellow beyond help. A matched pair. Breeding stock. Nat’s jaw clamped. He narrowed his eyes and scanned the crowd, hoping the sonofabitch was dead who had caused this loss . . . and near-loss. Gut-instinct told him the world and the girl in his arms weren’t that lucky.

A light buggy clattered onto the nearby dock, scattering onlookers. A drowned-rat of a man scrambled off the seat. Without even a nod of thanks to the driver, his obvious rescuer, he jumped from the dock’s wooden planking onto the bank and hurried toward the men pulling his wagon and dead animals from the Missouri’s velvety hunger.

“Judas H. Christ, I thought I was a goner.” His excited, twangy voice turned heads as he pushed his way through the crowd. High on the action and attention, he rattled on to no one yet anyone who would listen. “I was swept almost a half mile ‘afore that farmer there hauled me out. I tell ya, the Mo’s fifty times meaner than the Mighty Miss. Aw, shit!” he moaned. “Them horses dead?”

Nat let out a long breath before looking down at the young woman settled so perfectly in his lap. Sadness for her and an elusive, unexplainable yearning impacted him as he studied her.

Freckles sprinkled across her pert nose and cheeks enhanced rather than marred the opal shimmer of her face. The wet, thick ropes of unbound hair, arch of eyebrows and long, lacy lashes glistened deep auburn in the spring sunshine. The lush, faintly pink lips parted on a puff of breath. Blood pulsed in her slen­der neck and her heart beat in time with his own.

A twisting pain ripped through Nat’s chest. He drew back and arched his chin in the air just as her man spied them.

“Hey, that there’s my bride!” He sloshed toward them, grin­ning and nodding stupidly. “Way you’re holdin’ her, friend, she must be alive. She’s a purty thing, ain’t she? I’m Ike Beaumont. Tildy an’ me just married up this mornin’ at her folks’ place over in Brea.”

Wiping the river water from his dark blonde hair as he dropped to his knees beside Nat, the man finally had the decency to look concerned. He laid a cautious hand along the fragile chin Nat had been admiring. “She is awright, ain’t she?”

“Fainted, I think. She was thrown out an’ swept under the wagon.” He wanted to slam a fist into the ignorant blue eyes possessively raking his hard-gained treasure. It wasn’t his place to accuse and judge, but he couldn’t help himself. “She would’ve drowned, you know.”

“Aw, damn!” A careless, half-smile tilted one corner of the man’s thin lips. “Ain’t even had a weddin’ night an’ I almost kilt her.”

Nat frowned, protectively pulling the young woman closer. “What the hell did you say?” The carefully enunciated words produced the desired effect. He enjoyed the intimidated man’s rapid blink of wide eyes that looked everywhere but at him, the flick of a nervous tongue, and the self-conscious shrug.

“Aw, I always try funnin’ when I’m nervous-like. Tildy’s real special. I didn’t mean she weren’t. Um . . . Ya think she needs a place ta rest . . . or maybe doctorin’? I ain’t got much money fer either–”

“You are one dumb sonofabitch!” Shifting his burden only slightly, Nat bent a knee and rose to his feet in one motion. He had voiced an insult and couldn’t reach his gun for reinforce­ment, but he saw it didn’t matter. Again the man’s blue eyes blinked and his tongue flicked. Nat pushed past him toward the dock.

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