I can’t discuss plot without also discussing characters, since the plots of my books are clearly driven by the whims, dreams and desires of the people I choose to write about. There are some writers who are masters of plotting; I’m not one of them. I’ve often heard complaints from editors and agents in the past that not enough happens in my books. And I think this is because I tend to focus on people who are relatively quiet, a bit cerebral, churning with lots of inner conflict. And too much plotting, in the hands of an amateur, can result in a book that feels forced and contrived. So I give my characters a free rein, and try to let their personalities and idiosyncrasies determine how the book will bounce along. This all reflects my habits as a reader as well: I’m not the sort to thrill over intricate twists and turns in a storyline; I’m always interested in the people and personalities. I use books as a way of figuring other people out, and what makes them think or do the things they do. As you might imagine, I am a big fan of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, as well as fiction.
In the author’s note I included in The Novice Master, I discussed my long-time relationship with the character of Ellis Barlowe, who, as a younger man, was the central character in my first novel, Secret Vow. So I won’t go into that, because I want you all to go out and buy the darn book! (My Amazon ranking is looking very anemic all of a sudden). But I can give you some insight into the character of Evan, the ‘novice.’ He is, as some reviewers have suggested, immature, a bit over-pampered by his parents, but he is also earnest, bookish, intelligent, and utterly desperate for love and approval. I did not play up his background as much as I probably should have, but he feels his status as an adoptee, and his later misfortune in developing a brain tumor, are, irrationally, two strikes against him, and that he is not really a normal American boy-man at all. It’s also implied that his relationship with his adopted father is rather strained, and this helps propel him first toward an imaginary mentor, then toward Barlowe. He really isn’t based completely on anyone I know, but I think close friends and family will see a little of my husband in him, maybe. But only a very little bit… And yes, he does resemble the infamous surviving perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing. I do not want to glorify that pathetic young man in any way (I won’t even refer to him by name); but I admit that when studying his picture in the media, I was struck by the utterly lost look in his big dark eyes, and thought there was some kind of plea for help there. I wanted to give that same quality to Evan, the kind of beseeching look that Barlowe would find both bothersome and moving.
Persephone is partly based on someone I knew….once. Not saying who, but it’s not anyone close to me. But she has a lot of me in her, as well, especially that desperation to please and impress through scholarship. And a weakness for magisterial older men. I married an un-magisterial man my own age (He’s three weeks older than me), but I do confess to crushing on one of my silver-haired professors in college. I was struggling in his class, and he suggested a little private one-on-one meeting to discuss my situation. Believe it or not—and this is absolutely true—he had a fatal heart attack the day before our scheduled meeting! So instead of meeting with him, I was attending his memorial service. He was an OFM, so that probably would not have ended well anyway. But that dear friar-professor lives on in my character Barlowe’s physical appearance: the cool blue eyes, sweep of snowy hair, noble profile and frosty demeanor. And someone please remind me NOT to send this blog post to my alumni magazine!
(They would ignore it in any case. I think my alma mater is a little embarrassed by the female novelist who writes novels about Catholics, with sex—judging by the short shrift they gave Secret Vow in said alumni magazine. Well, you prudes, where did I develop my skills as a writer after all?! Right there in the heart of the “Enchanted Mountains.”)
And now a brief status update on the upcoming eBook version of The Novice Master: Pronoun.com has FINALLY come through, and will allow me to publish on their platform. That means I will be available not only on Amazon, but also Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple and Google Play (whatever that is). In additional they promise a very professional looking product. I’m trying not to get too excited because some kind of glitch is inevitable. But I do hope to have that eBook up (so many people have been asking!) on or about January 1stof the new year.