Tag Archives: fiction

Creating Ken, Part One

In my last post, I mentioned that although most of my Water Signs characters are inspired by and/or based upon real people I’ve known or met in my lifetime, at some point during the writing process, they took on rich, full identities that extended far and beyond their initial conceptions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of my two protagonists, Ken (based on a man I met in my 20s at the Jersey Shore) and Madeline (based on me, and named for my grandmother and mother).

For the purposes of this particular entry, I want to focus on Ken as an example of how to incorporate some of the qualities, mannerisms and attributes of a real person into a fictional counterpart. To minimize confusion while simultaneously honoring copyright laws, I will use “Ken” when referring to the flesh-and-blood man, and Ken when referring to the character that turns Maddy’s world upside-down in the novel.

Briefly, I met “Ken” when I was a young, somewhat naive woman of 25 (I know for some the “naive” part might be hard to fathom given the age, but I assure you, dear readers, it is the truth). Although I come from a loving, supportive and at times, rambunctious family that encouraged me to go for my dreams and believe in myself, I possessed stubborn, lingering insecurities over being “too fat”, “not good enough” and even “undesirable”, thanks to the normal slings and arrows of childhood and adolescence. Children and teenagers can be very unforgiving of things like an extra few pounds, especially teenage high school boys. Being  a sensitive Pisces sort didn’t help either, as I tended to internalize unpleasantness to the point where I would completely overlook reality.

Therefore, even after losing weight and becoming an attractive twenty-something, I still clung to an old, worn-out image of myself that no amount of positive feedback on any of my attributes could break. For example, I’ve been blessed with great skin, mostly due to the luck of the gene pool. But no matter how many times someone would genuinely compliment me on it, it was hard to absorb the truth in what they were articulating; in my mind, paying a compliment — sincere as it might be — was simply something people did to be nice. This tendency only got worse when my first boyfriend, immortalized in the book as “Jake Winston”, continually criticized me for everything from my hairstyle to the way I looked in a bathing suit.

Needless to say, outside of my dad, brothers, other relatives and a few close family friends, I regarded men suspiciously. They seemed to be people who inflicted a lot of emotional pain, interested in only one thing (for which you had to have the “perfect” face and body to qualify). The summer I met “Ken”, I’d just endured a pretty traumatic break-up with “Jake” and was still reeling from the hurtful things he’d said and done, not to mention the cowardly way in which he’d ended our relationship over the phone.

“Ken” — who was so full of life and energy — completely blew me away. The night we unexpectedly ended up together at a dance club in Somers Point (yes, Chapter One is pretty faithful to reality) after my girlfriend “Carmen” (whose character is written exactly as I remember her) trotted off with another female friend and their two Iranian paramours, I amazed myself with my own words and actions — not the least of which was announcing my intention to hang out with “Ken”, rather than go home at 10 p.m. (the thought of being alone in a crowded dance club was tantamount to torture).

After all, he’d bought a long-stemmed rose initially for my exotic friend, not me, when we were  shaking our booties on the dance floor to some high-energy tunes. I remember laughing with her as we moved to the beat, then — as if out of nowhere — seeing this hand in front of her, bearing the delicate red flower with the red devil attached to its stem. I visually traced the path from stem, to bloom to arm, until I finally noticed a tall, muscular, blond guy with a great smile nodding at her. She accepted the gesture, and as they began to dance, I headed back to our cocktail table, half-laughing to myself (knowing her date for the evening was set to arrive any moment), half-annoyed (she already had a date; why couldn’t some cute guy buy me a rose for change?).

So in the parking lot moments later, in the wake of his clearly expressed irritation at “Carmen” (if you already had a date, you damn well should have told me!), it was as if someone else spoke through me when I suddenly 1) complimented him for bringing along an extra shirt, which we’d all just witnessed him change into; and 2) announced in no uncertain terms that I would not be a “fifth wheel”, but would instead “stay here and hang out with Ken” for the night. It’s a testament to my pathetic sense of self-worth at the time that I immediately followed that by asking if it was alright with him, and then breathed a huge sigh of relief when he agreed to the arrangement.

But from that point on, “Ken” was a charming, attentive companion, once I demanded (in a another surprising move) that either he stop complaining about my friend or I was “outta here”! And when he reacted with amusement, instead of annoyance, it intrigued me. In the instant he took my hand and playfully announced, “Then let’s dance!” I knew the rest of the night would be memorable. I didn’t bank on ever seeing him again, mistrusting his obvious interest in me, thanks mainly to the baggage I was still carrying around. And yet, true to his promise, he showed up at the beach the very next day, much to my amazement and my family’s entertainment (Chapter Two humorously recounts the event in vivid detail).

So how does Ken differ from “Ken” and vice-versa?

In the beginning at least, “Ken” like his alter-ego, was incredibly complimentary, affectionate and respectful. He was also the first (and so far, only) guy to marvel at the small size of my hands. When we’d socialized together that night at the club, I remember him picking up one of my hands and kissing it, apparently fascinated. He’d often tell me how beautiful I was, and there were many occasions when I’d catch him staring at me (which of course, made me nervous since I still didn’t see myself that way).

Both men are Pisces, although I changed the birthdays, giving characters Ken and Madeline a shared birthday of March 7, in honor of my late grandmother’s birthday. My real birthday is March 14, but I thought it would be fun to add to the “star-crossed” appeal of the love story by bringing my characters into the world on the exact day, month and year. Thus, “Ken” and Daria are both Pisces, albeit about two-weeks or so apart, whereas Ken and Madeline not only share the same Zodiac, but also the same time of arrival on the earthly plane of existence.

Other similarities between “Ken” and Ken: US Navy service, working-class upbringing, Catholic schooling, close relationship with mom, difficult relationship with dad, desire for a better life, trailblazers in their families, passionate, patriotic, well-groomed, athletic, good dancers, fun-loving, smart, handsome, insecure at times, sensitive to a fault on occasion, hard-working, ambitious, strong, family-oriented and in possession of an ingrained sense of duty, honor and responsibility.

Both men hurt Madeline (and me) deeply, purposely and unintentionally, depending upon the circumstance. Both men confessed to “not wanting to live in sin anymore” as at least one motivation for marriage, and admitted (with obvious resignation) to “turning into my father after all”. Both wanted to have their cake and eat it, too in terms of retaining a friendship with Maddy/me after withholding the truth about their commitment to another woman.

Perhaps due to the fact that I am working on a sequel, the differences between fact and fiction have become more pronounced. As Ken develops and expands as a character in Sea To Shining Sea, he gets further and further away from his initial inspiration — a process that began somewhere in the middle of Water Signs. Quite possibly, this occurred somewhere around Chapter 30 or so, when the book started to dramatically transform from a fusion of fact and fiction, into purely fictional territory.

I’ll discuss this in greater detail in the next post.

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Tuesday Night Ramblings

I will be back to regular book blogging soon. This has been a very hectic time, between starting a new, long-term writing contract for an internationally known tech company (through a third-party vendor), learning their systems and processes, and attending various trainings via my new company laptop, I’ve had little opportunity to share more insights on the writing process. There is so much more I want to explain about the means through which Ken and Madeline came into being as Water Signs’ two main characters, along with some important plot points, but  it will have to wait until a few personal housekeeping items are also taken care of. Thankfully, by the end of the week, everything will be handled and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Ah, the life of a political activist, blogger, editor, speaker, internet host and now, content proposal writer!

Inevitably, a few crucial elements get lost in the mix, like keeping up with the birthdays of family and friends, properly filing away paperwork and cleaning house — all of which I’ve been diligently rectifying, while I also plan for another road trip, this time to Nashville, where my twin niece and nephew are graduating high school.

Where does the time go?

I was at the hospital the day they were born nearly 18 years ago, (an event that provides plenty of dramatic fodder for a future novel, complete with premature deliveries and a near-tragic outcome for one baby ) and it hardly seems possible.

As a much younger woman, I used to laugh when relatives and/or family friends would remark, “I can’t believe you’re (fill in the blank — 18, 21, 25)! I remember when you were a cute little baby.” Guess it’s time for a new generation to be on the receiving end of such nostalgic observations. In any case, I am thrilled to be able to make the trip and am looking forward to a much-desired family reunion of sorts.

Funny, but the graduates do appear in my novel as “Ava” and “Tommy”, adorable infants in 1992 when the story opens, and Sweet 16 adolescents by the time it ends. In Chapter 35, I include all of my 10 nieces and nephews in an engagement barbecue scene that reunites many of the characters. For my oldest brother’s girls, I chose to use their real names — Alexa, Julianna and Sophia — since they are all such distinctive, sweet and outgoing personalities; I couldn’t imagine calling them anything other than the beautiful names bestowed on them by their parents. As for the remaining boys, ironically, my real-life nephew Mark’s (my oldest brother’s eldest child) character became “Greg”, which is the actual name of one of my sister’s boys. Thus the character based on Greg became “Mark”, while his older brother Chris retained his real name in fiction.

Whew! It was tough to incorporate so many characters, but there was no way I could overlook anyone without hurting someone’s feelings. What can I say, that’s the life of a writer who also has a large, close family!

Anyway, most family members and friends got a kick out of being immortalized in fiction, although I am not quite sure about at least a few living, breathing character-inspirations (one of whom happens to be a protagonist). And I may never know, which is fine with me. No matter how the actual humans feel about their fictional character portrayals, I do hope all of them realize that characters do take on a distinct personality and life of their own during the creative process. That while you as an author begin with a real person in mind, it’s just that — a starting point. By the time you’ve composed 435 oftentimes humorous, oftentimes heart-wrenching pages, your characters have more than come into their own as “people”, so to speak.

I will delve into this in more detail in a future post when I am feeling much more alert, beginning with Ken Lockheart, who by the time I was done writing, had gone far beyond his real-life counterpart in many critical ways. Partly because I had to outright invent outcomes (the reality of which are, to this day, unknown to me), and partly because I purposely wanted the Ken character to be larger than life, he bears little resemblance (other than his US Navy service, some physical traits and a few personality quirks/mannerisms) to the guy who inspired him.

In fact, recent events have seemed to confirm that the memory is a very subjective phenomenon. Let’s just say, I am forever grateful for the sudden, unexpected rush of nostalgia that put an end to my selective amnesia and enabled me to finally become the novelist I’d always dreamed of being. In that sense, it doesn’t really matter how inauthentic or overly romantic my remembrances of this person might’ve been — they served their purpose. And as lovely as a few phone conversations in the not-too-distant past might’ve also been, perhaps they too, were just a mirage.

Sometimes in the moment, we sincerely believe the things we say, or maybe we say them simply because we think it’s what the caller on the other end of the line wants to hear. Was he doing either when he affirmed my observation about the one New Year’s Eve we’d spent together? Or when he noted how alike we both are? I’ll never know, although I choose to believe the former.

Having never been one of those opportunistic, chameleon-like humans who can alter their emotions to fit the circumstance, I am stuck with an ingrained habit of authenticity and honesty. I just don’t have it in me to pretend I feel something I don’t.  And whether the caller on the other end of my line during those few fairly recent telephone interactions truly meant the things he said, or simply possesses the ability to feign raw emotion to serve whatever unknown purpose, I am grateful for the opportunity to clear out the past.  In the final analysis, I have gained a new career not only as a novelist, but as a blogger, political commentator and internet radio host; a fairly wide readership, thanks to social media; the respect of my peers; and the satisfaction of having accomplished a cherished childhood dream.

And it’s only getting better from here.

More to come in another post.

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Chapter Four Excerpt: Sea To Shining Sea

The following excerpt incorporates a bit of real life via my experiences in speaking out against 9/11 conspiracy theorists on prominent sites like Parcbench. As with my first effort, the entire novel is based on real-life experiences; however, unlike Water Signs most of which was based on my own personal reality, Sea To Shining Sea weaves true-to-life public events into the fabric of its fictional characters (who are based on real people).

Thus in this scene, Ken and Madeline confront an angry mob of “truthers”, anarchists and cult-like followers of fictional congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent (I’ll leave it to my politically astute readers to figure out the real-life inspiration behind that character). 😉

The insults hurled at Ken, including “stooge of the New World Order”, “communist, fascist pig”, and “corporate shill” are the same ones I’ve received as a result of questioning and criticizing the foreign policy, isolationism and blatant courtship of 9/11 truthers attributable to one very well-known, 20-year incumbent congressman who champions himself “The Defender of the Constitution” (recognize him yet, dear readers?).

One note to fellow authors and writers: because the events described in Sea To Shining Sea are mostly from public life, as opposed to personal life, it became necessary to make them personal for my characters. Thus, we learn that part of Ken’s passion and outrage expressed against the truther crowd stems from the fact that he’s lost a few Navy buddies in the USS Cole attack.  With respect to the FISA Act (with which I’ve taken some creative liberties in order to make a serious point), the US Congress’ failure to renew it leads directly to the implosion of Ken’s telecomm deal, and the loss of his livelihood — an event that will prompt him to run for Congress as the conservative, grass-roots upstart (a la many of today’s candidates including Ed Lynch, Allen West, Corey Poitier and Bernard Sansaricq, to name a few from Florida). On the way, he’ll encounter much resistance from the GOP good ‘ol boys, who will throw all of their money and support behind their chosen RINO, Bennett Whitehorn.

In other ways, however, Sea To Shining Sea is a hybrid of the personal and public: like Madeline, I too lost a cousin in The World Trade Center on September 11. Like Madeline, I also have a dear older brother with Down’s syndrome, and like Madeline, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a certain former governor for choosing life when tests determined she’d be giving birth to a baby with an extra chromosome. She’s also been immortalized in my book in the character of Anna Hardin. And I’m pretty sure y’all know who I’m talkin’ about, if I may paraphrase Hillary Clinton! If you don’t, you must’ve been hiding out on a deserted island for the past 1 1/2 years, with no access to internet, talk radio or television. 🙂

Seriously, my goal with this latest effort is to uphold American principles, values and traditions within the context of an entertaining, continuing love story.

As always, I look forward to your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read my posts!

Chapter Four

The North Shore Mountains stood resplendent and proud in the distance beneath the orange glow of the Vancouver sun as Ken and Maddy stepped out of the limo and onto the Marina. As a chill breeze enveloped them, he slipped an arm tightly around his wife, who was at once relieved she’d had the presence of mind to put on a lined raincoat before they left the Penthouse. May in Vancouver bore no resemblance to May in South Florida, which typically heralded the return of intense heat and humidity. But in spite of the slight discomfort of an unseasonably cool – even by Vancouver standards – evening, the couple looked forward to a few hours’ respite from all things corporate and political.

Alas, as they approached the impressive line of fellow fun-seekers, they quickly discovered that a few carefree hours aboard a touristy dinner cruise would not be devoid of at least some conflict.

“What’s all that commotion?” Maddy asked, noticing a rowdy group of at least 50 protesters standing off to the side, waving signs and yelling.

“Not sure,” Ken replied, protectively tightening his arm around her as they neared the scene. Upon realizing that the assembly of mostly unkempt, gothic-looking twenty-somethings – interspersed with a few elders who appeared to be veterans of Woodstock – were self-described anarchists, 9/11 “truthers” and anti-war activists, they let out a collective groan.

“Ugh, I thought these idiots were mostly concentrated in Austin, Hollywood and Seattle,” Maddy sighed angrily. “Where’s their hero, Congressman Nathaniel Ulysses Trent? Probably speaking to college kids somewhere in the States, calling for the CIA to be taken out. Or maybe he’s here visiting Vancouver on the taxpayer dime to further incite anti-American sentiment.”

Glancing at Kenny, she noted the palpable rage building within, evidenced by his crimson cheeks and stiff upper body. No doubt, gruesome images of the Cole bombing at the hands of barbaric terrorists – complete with the subsequent gaping hole in the ship’s hull and his friends’ violent, bloody deaths – were reverberating through his mind.

“Kenny! I know you’re mad; I am too,” she counseled in a firm, yet gentle tone. You know more than anyone how much I cannot stand these traitors. I’ve been deleting and blocking them like crazy lately on Facebook, but please don’t pick a fight with them. Just ignore them. Things are bad enough at work already; the last thing you need is to end up in the Vancouver papers as the American Executive who beat up a bunch of punks at the Harbour Cruises Marina,” she warned. “We both know who the media will sympathize with, and it sure as hell won’t be the ‘rich’ Americans from Boca Raton.”

He looked at her wordlessly for a moment before suddenly remembering the fragility of her emotional and physical state, and the news he’d yet to break to her. Surely he could summon the inner strength necessary to practice restraint, notwithstanding the fact that – in that very moment – he wanted nothing more than to teach the aging hippies and their lazy, brainwashed protégées a lesson they’d never forget.

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ve got it under control,” he assured her assertively as they took their place in line behind an attractive, smiling couple that reminded Maddy very much of her cousins Lyle and Daphne. Suddenly she felt a little homesick wondering what everyone was up to back in Pennsylvania. She leaned closer into Kenny’s chest as a cold shiver ran up and down her spine.

“Good,” she noted in a muffled voice. “Because I just want to spend some quality time with my husband and forget about all of the insanity for a little while.”

Madeline closed her eyes and tried to drown out the cacophony of angry epithets and hateful chants of “9/11 was an inside job!” even as the Vancouver police valiantly attempted to maintain order by enforcing a legally mandated distance between protesters and cruise ship patrons.

But in the very next instant, she nearly toppled to the ground in the domino effect caused by a violent, powerful wave of resistance on the part of the unruly mob. Ken had felt the repercussions first, instinctively holding her up while he fought to keep his balance. Enraged, he first inquired about Maddy’s state before sternly instructing her to move further away for the sake of her own safety. Then he returned his attention to surreal mob scene.

“Fucking punks! Damned cowards! How dare you show up here promoting your 9/11 conspiracy bullshit!” he bellowed, as an officer tried to restrain him.

“Sir, please – get back in line now!” the policeman barked at Ken.

“These Woodstock rejects who don’t know a damned thing about duty, honor or country nearly caused my pregnant wife to have an accident! Get them the hell out of here!” he ordered, undeterred by the uniform.

“Corporate shill! Stooge of the New World Order!” an obnoxious teenager taunted at Ken. “Your former president ought to be tried for war crimes!”

“You little son of a bitch; you have no idea what a useful moron you are do you? Do you know how quickly a Jihadist would chop off your ignorant little head?!” Ken shot back with fire in his eyes. By now, two police officers were restraining him, as the others fought to break up the demonstration.

“Sir, please, I am going to have to arrest you if you don’t get back in line! We’re handling this!”

Ken let out a bitter laugh. “Not very well, I’m afraid, officer. What the hell are these people doing here anyway?”

Before the cop could reply, the young anarchist cried out, “Even one of your own Congressmen knows 9/11 was an inside job. Nathaniel Trent is the only member of your government with guts to call it for what it is – just a bloody ploy to instigate two wars for oil and profit!”

“You stupid punk, you don’t know a damned thing, do you? If you did, you’d know that Nathaniel Ulysses Trent is a laughingstock among anyone with half a brain!”

“Nathaniel Trent knows Al-Qaeda is just CIA fantasy, created to take away individual liberty. But what would a fascist communist pig like you know about freedom anyway!”

“Lucky for you, you little dirtbag, it’s because of people like me that you have the right to spew your conspiracy garbage. I was serving my country long before your worthless ass took up space on this earth. You—”

“Sir, for the last time, either get back in line or I will have to arrest you!” the officer interrupted.

By now, Ken’s face was beet-red, his heart pounding furiously as visions of his Navy days flashed through his mind. Although he’d completed his duty several months before the Gulf War began in 1991, he’d still witnessed plenty of tragedy in the loss of several of his brothers during the course of service; had he remained, he could’ve easily been one of the lives lost in the USS Cole. Encountering spoiled, ungrateful and painfully ignorant fools like this nutjob conspiracy crew – the polar opposite of the dedicated, honorable and patriotic young men he’d known as a sailor – awakened a simmering anger within him. Memories of horrific events like the Cole bombing and the September 11 attacks were never far from his consciousness.

A few feet away, Maddy called out to her husband, sympathetic to his turmoil but fearful of its potential consequences. He vaguely heard her cries above all of the commotion, prompting him to abruptly release his arm from the policeman’s grasp and slowly make his way back to his worried wife. By then, the officers had succeeded in subduing the protesters, while the cruise ship finally began the boarding process.

Ken encircled Maddy in his arms and held her close to him for a moment, relishing her soothing words and reassurances that – although initially rattled – she was indeed ok.

“It’s gonna take a lot more than some Kool-Aid-drinking 9/11 truthers to get the better of me, teddy bear,” she joked. “And they’ve sure given me something to write about on my blog tomorrow – along with RINO Whitehorn and the hapless Florida Republican Party.”

Ken let out a chuckle, then reminded her of their deal to put all of their problems on hold for the night. Placing an arm about her waist, he lovingly escorted her to the waiting ship, as the fiery orange sun glistened on the water and decorated the Vancouver sky with streaks of dramatic, colorful splendor.

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