Tag: Louis L’Amour

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS–SETTING by CHERYL PIERSON


Are you a reader who loves descriptions and details of settings? Glittering ballrooms, the bone-chilling cold of a winter in the Rockies…or maybe the oppressive, killing heat of the desert? What about something idyllic, like a river or creek babbling through the woods? A beautiful rose garden, or even the ugly side of description—such as barren prison walls, or a Civil War battlefield?

 

 

 

 

It depends on the story, doesn’t it, and again, how much importance those descriptions have on the impact of the action, and the outcome of the story.

Let’s use a ball as our example.

If you’ve never been to an 1800’s ball—and none of us have—we need to know at least the barest details.

Five basic things we need to know are:
What is a ball?
Why is the ball being given?
Who will be invited?
When will the ball be given?
Where will it be held?

That’s enough for some stories. But the main question is—how important is the ball to the plot?

This is where layering comes in—and this one scene, and the details it contains—can be vital to what comes next, or even many scenes later.
So many things can happen at a ball!

Guests can meet for the first time, uninvited guests can show up, clothing can have significance, music can bring back memories, the food can even be poisoned!

Or, the ball can just be a ball, like the old saying attributed to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…” –and if that’s the case, then tedious description and intricate detail is wasted because the ball is just a vehicle to get from one scene in the story to the next, and has no real underlying importance.

 


Describing the details of the clothing worn is sometimes distracting as it pulls us away from the action. We may be reading about a blue satin gown when we need to be concentrating on the man who lurks in the shadows. Too much description can bog down the reader and deaden the story rather than bring it to life.

Why? Because deep description of the things such as décor, clothing, and meals stop the action of the characters. The plot “takes a break” while our minds process all of the description of the scenery, the meals, the clothing. In this case, again, sometimes, “less is more” and we need to let the reader’s mind fill in much of that kind of detail.

Consider this: We know certain facts—a ball costs a lot of money to host. So we already understand that those who are invited are most likely people who move in the same upper crust social circles. Therefore, we know they, too, have money, so are appropriately dressed, arrive in style, and are schooled in proper societal customs. One excellent way to cut through the “red tape” of description (of things we already know) is to describe something that is out of place, or “not right” as this reminds us of what should be—and those details of descriptions we’re already aware of.

Perhaps an impostor at the ball commits a social faux pas without realizing it, alerting others to the fact she isn’t who she pretends to be. Maybe an unlikely hero comes to her aid quickly, offering an excuse, or correcting the mistake before others notice.


This scenario does several things for the story that simple description can’t achieve.

1. Points out the discrepancy in what should be and what is.
2. Allows our characters interaction, and possibly dialogue and observation, rather than the author filling the page with scenic description.
3. Allows the reader the opportunity to learn more about the characters and their personalities through this interaction, and can be a vehicle to reveal something of importance.
4. Can possibly further the action during such a scene rather than slowing it by miles of scenic description.

This is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for detailed descriptions of settings! We can’t call ourselves authors and take the “easy” way out by saying, “It was a ball like any other” by way of description, unless—we put it in the right context.

How about this: 
Jake looked around at the opulent ballroom –the surroundings were familiar in a tiresome, cloying way. Or…maybe was jaded. It was a ball like any other—except for one thing. Something that made him catch his breath and inwardly let go a streak of curses he’d love to shout to the skies. She was here. The woman he’d thought he’d never see again…

Well, anything can happen now, can’t it? Maybe she’s wearing an inappropriate shade of red amidst a sea of violet and blue. There are so many ways to make setting come alive without endless description that many readers become bored with and skim over.

If you read my last installment of this blog series about main characters, the examples I used from Shane (Jack Schaefer) and St. Agnes’ Stand (Tom Eidson) are also prime examples of description of setting as well as character.

But here’s another good one I really think is wonderful from Conagher, by Louis L’Amour. In this story, Evie from “back East” has come out west to marry a man with two children. Evie tries to make the best of things, but she lives in fear at first. The land is so different, After she’s been there a while, she finds there is a beauty in her surroundings she had to grow to love, in time.


As L’Amour describes the heroine’s (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive. Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see. The underlying message is, “The land is what we make of it.”

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence. She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she’d first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving. Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn’t know what has happened to him. She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds. The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie. Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East. One of them says to Evie something to the effect of “I don’t know how you can stand it here.”
This is Evie’s response to her:

“I love it here,” she said suddenly. “I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it’s in the wind.

“Oh, it is very hard!” she went on. “I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances. The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes. But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines. Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there”–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–”until I can see the other side…if there is another side.”

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate. L’Amour gives us this description through Evie’s eyes and feelings, not in writing about it from his perspective as the author.

Think of your own writing projects, and books you’ve read. What importance do you give setting in description, plot, even characterization? Within 40 pages of ‘Conagher’, we understand that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie’s character. She can’t leave it, and it will never leave her.

Endless, detailed description can’t do what L’Amour does through Evie’s eyes in a very few sentences. Do you have a favorite description of a setting you’ve read about or written about?

MK McClintock’s First Annual Western Roundup Giveaway Hop

The under-appreciated western genre peaked around the early 1960s, but readership began to drop off in the mid-to-late 1970s and has reached a new low in the 2000’s. Outside of a few west American states, most bookstores only carry a small number of Western fiction books. From the first dime novel published in June 1860 to the works of Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour to more contemporary authors, the western genre has experienced a variety of changes in an attempt to hold reader’s interest.

During a time when people sought stories of adventure, fictional tales or real-life heroes began to surface, painting a vivid picture of frontier life. With the growth of imagination and special effects, it often seems this beloved genre is buried under the supernatural. I myself am guilty of not picking up a western book until after I watched Lonesome Dove. Old west or new west, this genre has proved time and again that it can stand up to any genre, but it still lacks the following it once had. Though we can’t change that perception overnight, we can share our love of the west.

The western genre is now more than just dirty cowboys and dusty trails and we’d like to celebrate the changes, pay honor to the traditions, and perhaps give a new audience reason to try something new.

This year, a new kind of giveaway hop will be introduced–the Western Roundup Giveaway Hop. Multiple bloggers, authors, and readers are coming together to share books only from the western genre and we invite everyone and anyone to take part.

We’re introducing the First Annual Western Roundup Giveaway Hop

Hosted by MK McClintock, Kimberly Lewis & Cait Lavender

July 20th – 26th

Cowboys are sexy and deserve a hop of their own. The western genre has exploded beyond old west and romance to include werewolves, wizards and other magical beings. Want to meet a charming cowboy or tough as nails cowgirl? Want to follow a mountain man through the wilderness? Want to know what magic has to do with the old west? Want an old-fashioned historical western romance? Well then, hop on and enjoy the ride!

There’s a prize for participating blogs too! 

At the end of the hop, we’ll have a drawing where one participating blog will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card and a western ebook of their choice ($5 value).

To sign up to host a giveaway, go here!

Want to know more about giveaway hops? Visit here and find outwhat’s involved. Can’t host a giveaway? No problem, just tell your friends and share the adventure!

MK will give away two print copies and two ebooks of her latest release. Just leave a comment! The drawing won’t be held until August 1st though.

 

CAN SETTING BE ANOTHER CHARACTER?

Location.  Setting.  Why is it so important to the stories we love to read and write?  It seems obvious in some cases.  In others, there could be a ‘hidden’ agenda. It can actually become another character.

Fifty years ago, the choices were limited.  Regencies and Westerns were prevalent sub-genres in the historical category, and mysteries and detective stories captivated the ‘contemporary’ nook.  Science fiction was still relatively uncharted.

The setting of a novel was a definitive device, separating the genres as clearly as any other element of writing.

The glittering ballrooms and colorful gowns and jewels whisked historical romance readers away to faraway, exotic locales.  Sagebrush, cactus, and danger awaited heroes of the western genre, a male- dominated readership.

But something odd happened as time went by.  The lines blurred.   Rosemary Rogers combined the romance of exotic places with the danger of an action plot, and an unforgettable hero in Steve Morgan that, had a man picked up ‘Sweet Savage Love’ and read it, he certainly could have identified with.

By the same token, the male-oriented scenery accompanied by the stiff, stylized form of western writers such as Owen Wister (The Virginian) and Zane Grey (Riders of the Purple Sage, The Last Trail) gave way to Louis L’Amour (Conagher, the Sackett series) and Jack Schaefer (Shane, Monte Walsh).

Why is the evolving change in description of location so important?  In older writings, many times the location of a novel was just where the story happened to take place.  Often, the plot of the story dictated the setting, rather than the two forming any kind of  ‘partnership.’

But with the stories that came along later, that partnership was strengthened, and in some cases, location became almost another character in the plot.

Take Louis L’Amour’s ‘Conagher.’  As good as the movie was, the book gives us so much more insight into the characters’ thoughts and reasoning.  As he describes the heroine’s (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive.  Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see.  The underlying message is, “The land is what we make of it.”

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence.  She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she’d first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving.  Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn’t know what has happened to him.  She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds.  The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie.  Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East.  One of them says to Evie something to the effect of “I don’t know how you can stand it here.”
This is Evie’s response to her:

“I love it here,” she said suddenly.  “I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it’s in the wind.

“Oh, it is very hard!” she went on.  “I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances.  The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes.  But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines.  Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there”–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–”until I can see the other side…if there is another side.”

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate.  If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

Within 40 pages of  ‘Conagher’, the reader understands that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie’s character.  She can’t leave it, and it will never leave her.

I think of my own writing projects.  What importance do I give setting in my description, plot, even characterization? In my latest contemporary release, SWEET DANGER, the setting is of utmost importance because of the fact that the story takes place in a neighborhood deli,  a normally friendly, safe place to be.  Jesse Nightwalker and Lindy Oliver are introduced to one another by the deli owner.  On a particularly crowded day, they are forced to share a booth.  It’s a “first date” neither of them will ever forget.   Here’s an excerpt:

FROM SWEET DANGER:

Jesse looked past her, his smile fading rapidly. As the flash of worry entered his expression, Lindy became aware of a sudden lull in the noisy racket of the deli. Jesse’s dark gaze was locked on the front door, a scowl twisting his features.

“Damn it,” he swore, reaching for her hand. “Get down! Under the table, Lindy…”

But she hesitated a second too long, not understanding what was happening. In the next instant, the sound of semi-automatic gunfire and shattering glass filled the air.

Lindy reflexively ducked, covering her head. The breath of a bullet fanned her cheek as Jesse dragged her down beneath the sparse cover of the small table. He shielded her, his hard body crushing against her, on top of her, pushing her to the floor. The breath rushed out of her, and she felt the hard bulge of the shoulder holster he wore beneath the denim jacket as it pressed against her back.

Her heart pounded wildly, realization of their situation flooding through her. A robbery! But why, at this hour of the morning when the take would be so low? The gunfire stopped as abruptly as it had started. From somewhere near the counter, a man shouted, “Come out and you won’t be hurt! Come out—now!”

Lindy looked up into Jesse’s face, scant inches from her own. What would he do? They were somewhat concealed here at the back of the deli, but these men were sporting semi-automatic weapons.

“There’s a back door,” Jesse whispered raggedly. “Get the hell out of here. I’m gonna be your diversion.” She didn’t answer; couldn’t answer. He was likely to be killed, helping her go free. He gave her a slight shake. “Okay?”

An interminable moment passed between them before she finally nodded. “Get going as soon as I get their attention.” He reached to brush a strand of hair out of her eyes, his own gaze softening as he leaned toward her and closed the gap between them. “Take care of yourself, Lindy,” he whispered, just before his mouth closed over hers.

The instant their lips met shook her solidly. Every coherent thought fled, leaving nothing but the smoldering touch of his lips on hers, burning like wildfire through her mind. Soft, yet firm. Insistent and insolent. His teeth skimmed her lower lip, followed by his tongue, as he tasted her. Then, he pulled away from her, their eyes connecting for a heart-wrenching second.

“Safe passage,” he whispered.

Lindy didn’t answer, more stunned by the sudden sweet kiss than by the madness surrounding them. Jesse pushed himself out from under the table and stood up, directly in front of where Lindy crouched. Only then did she hear his muted groan of pain, his sharp, hissing intake of breath. The blossoming red stain of crimson contrasted starkly with the pale blue of his faded denim jacket as his blood sprang from the bullet wound, soaking the material.

He’d been shot!

Lindy gasped softly at the realization. How could she leave him now? He was hurt. Somehow, it didn’t seem right for her to escape, to leave him to deal with these men while he was bleeding.

Jesse hesitated. Lindy couldn’t be sure if it was intentional, or if the agony of the hole in his shoulder kept him still for that extra instant before he slowly walked away from the table, his hands up.

Lindy crept forward. Looking past where Jesse stood, halfway between her and the front of the deli, she caught her first good look at the leader of the small band of thieves. He stood close to the counter, his hair spiking in thin blond tufts, his stance indicating he was ready for anything. From the carnage around him, his cocksure attitude was warranted.

Three of his gang stood near the entrance, guns held on the few patrons who hadn’t managed to get out the door. The leader’s Glock was trained on Jesse’s midsection, a wide grin on his pale face. Then, he began to laugh, the gun holding steady through it all. “Jesse Nightwalker, as I live and breathe.”

“Yeah,” Jesse muttered. “Unfortunately.”

The gunman’s grin faded, and his eyes found Lindy’s from across the room. Mercurial. Hard. Deadly. The Glock never wavered, nor did his stance. Only his gray eyes changed, giving Lindy a silent warning before he spoke.

“Bring that baggage with you, Jess,” he said mildly. “Don’t leave her cowering under the table. There’s a back door to this hole, you know. Wouldn’t want her to get shot trying to do something foolish…like, escape.”

http://www.thewildrosepress.com/cheryl-pierson-m-534.html

THE NAME GAME

I am a collector of names.  Have been, ever since I was a kid.  Probably because I always wished for a different one, myself.  Mine wasn’t really exotic, but it was…different.  Cheryl.  My parents decided on the pronunciation of “Chair-yl” rather than the more common way of saying it.  The way a million other people sad it…with a “SH” sound, “Sheryl,” rather than the hard “CH” sound.

So when I began writing, I knew my characters had to have ‘good’ names—names that fit.  Names that weren’t too strange, but not too common.  Names that were appropriate for the time period, the setting, and the culture.

The hero, of course, had to have a name that was also something that could be whispered by the heroine in the throes of passion, yet something that would be tough enough on the villain’s lips to strike a modicum of fear in his heart, just by uttering it.

Because I was writing historical western romance, I decided to pull up a chart that would give me an accurate “slice of life”—possible names for my heroes.  According to US Social Security records, the top ten names for men in 1880 were:  John, William, James, Charles, George, Frank, Joseph, Thomas, Henry, and Robert.

Okay, I could maybe work with the top four.  In fact, the first book I ever wrote was about a gunslinger of this time period called ‘Johnny Starr.’ 

And William could be shortened to ‘Will’—still masculine; but never ‘Willie.’  James—very masculine, and unwittingly, calls up the rest of the line—‘Bond.  James Bond.’  At least, it does for me.  I could even go with Jamie.  Charles is pushing it.  George, Frank, and Joe are names I have and would use for a minor character, but I’d never use those for my hero.  They’re somehow just too ordinary.  Thomas? Again, a great secondary character name, but not a show-stopper.  Henry…eh.  And Robert is just ‘okay.’

I fast-forwarded a hundred years to 1980.  Here are the top 10:  Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, James, Matthew, Joshua, John, Robert, and Joseph.  Four of the same names were there, though not in the same poll position.  By 2009, only William remained in the top 10.  John had fallen to #20, James to #17, Joseph to #13.  The others had been replaced, not all by modern names, but most in the top 10 were surprisingly “old fashioned.”

2009:  Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Alexander, Anthony, William, Christopher, Matthew.

This told me something.  If you aren’t too wild with the names you choose, you have quite a lot of choices!  We know that Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Daniel, and Matthew were Biblical names.  Just because they weren’t on the “top 10” list in 1880 doesn’t mean they weren’t being used—a lot!

Another source of names for that time period is family records.  If you go back through old family documents, it’s amazing to find some of the odd names that cropped up.

Still maybe not ‘protagonist’ material, but your secondary characters could benefit.  And who knows?  You may find the perfect ‘hero’ name!

No matter what you choose, remember these rules, too:

1. Sound and compatibility—Say your character’s name aloud.  Does the first name go well with the last name you’re using?  Be careful about running the name together—“Alan Nickerson” or “Jed Dooly” may not be good choices.  Avoid rhyming names such as “Wayne Payne”—and try to stay away from cutesy names that might make your hero the focus of ridicule.

2. Uniqueness—I’m sure my parents were only trying to be ‘unique’ by pronouncing my name differently than the other 99.9% of the people in the world would automatically say it, but you don’t want your hero to have such an odd name that readers trip over it every time they come to it.  Louis L’Amour was a master at coming up with ‘different’ names that were simple.  Hondo Lane, Ring Sackett, Shalako, Conagher…and the list goes on.

3. Genealogy—Does it play into your characters’ storyline?  If so, you may want to come up with a neat twist somehow on a common name.  In my first manuscript, Brandon’s Gold, the gunfighter, Johnny Starr, is named for his father, but the names are reversed.  His father was Thomas Jonathan Brandon.  He is known as Thomas in the story.  Johnny was named Jonathan Thomas Brandon.  He goes by Johnny.  This keeps a theme alive in my story of the ‘fathers and sons’ of this family, and their relationships.  It weighs heavily, because Thomas is dying, but Johnny doesn’t know it.  They’ve been estranged for many years.

When Johnny’s own son is born, his wife, Katie, changes the name they’ve decided on just before the birth.  She makes Johnny promise to name him after himself and his father, Thomas Jonathan, bringing the circle around once more, and also completing the forgiveness between Johnny and his dying father.

4. Meaning—This might somehow play into your story and is good to keep track of.  What do your characters’ names mean?  This is a great tool to have at your disposal when you are writing—it can be a great conversation piece somewhere, or explain why your villain is so evil.

5. Nicknames and initials—this can be more important than you think.  You may need to have your hero sign something or initial something.  Don’t make him be embarrassed to write his initials and don’t give him a name that might be shortened to an embarrassing nickname.

In my book, Fire Eyes, the protagonist has an odd name—Kaedon Turner.  I gave him an unusual first name to go with a common last name.  I learned later that Caden, shortened to Cade, though not common for the time was not unheard of.  Kaedon, shortened to Kaed, was just a different variation.  It sets him apart from the other marshals, and emphasizes his unique past in a subtle way.

Below are some excerpts from Fire Eyes, available  through The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.  I hope you enjoy!

EXCERPTS FROM FIRE EYES:

Marshal Kaed Turner has just been delivered to Jessica’s doorstep, wounded and   unconscious by the Choctaw Indians.  This is part of their first conversation, Kaed’s introduction.

 “Just pull.” Her patient moistened his lips. “Straight up. That’s how it went in.”

She wanted to weep at the steel in his voice, wanted to comfort him, to tell him she’d make it quick. But, of course, quick would never be fast enough to be painless. And how could she offer comfort when she didn’t even know what to call him, other than Turner?

“You waitin’ on a…invitation?” A faint smile touched his battered mouth. “I’m fresh out.”

Jessica reached for the tin star. Her fingers closed around the uneven edges of it. No. She couldn’t wait any longer. “What’s your name?” Her voice came out jagged, like the metal she touched.

His bruised eyes slitted as he studied her a moment. “Turner. Kaedon Turner.”

Jessica sighed. “Well, Kaedon Turner, you’ve probably been a lot better places in your life than this. Take a deep breath and try not to move.”

He gave a wry chuckle, letting his eyes drift completely closed. “Do it fast. I’ll be okay.”

She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Ready?”

“Go ahead.”

                                                                        *******

From Kaed’s POV—Finding out his “angel’s” name!

“I need to stop the bleeding. You were lucky.”

“One lucky sonofabitch.”

“I meant, because it went all the way through. So we don’t have to…to dig it out.” There was that hesitation again, but he already knew what it was she didn’t want to have to say to him. He said it instead.

“All we have to do is burn it.”

She let her breath out in a rush, as if she’d been holding it, dreading just how she was going to tell him. “Right. Sounds like the voice of experience.”

“Yeah.”

She touched his good arm and he reached up for her, his warm, bronze hand swallowing her smaller one. Her fingers were cold, and he could tell she was afraid, no matter how indifferent she tried to act.

“You’ve got one on me,” he muttered.

“What’s that?”

“Your name. Or, do I just call you angel?”

He felt the smile again, knew he had embarrassed her a little, but had pleased her as well.

“Jessica Monroe, at your service, Mr. Turner.”

“Don’t go all formal on me.” He paused, collecting his scattering, hard-to-hold thoughts. “I like Kaed better.”

“Better than Mr. Turner?”

He opened his eyes a crack and watched as she gave him a measuring look, her cinnamon gaze holding his probing stare for a moment. “What you’re doin’ for me warrants a little more intimacy, don’t’cha think, Jessica?”

She glanced back down at the seeping wound, worrying her lower lip between even, white teeth. Her auburn hair did its best to escape its bun.

Kaed’s thoughts jumped and swirled as he tried to focus on her, wondering disjointedly how she’d look if she let her hair tumble free and unbound. And her eyes. Beautiful. A man could get lost in the secrets of her eyes.
Maybe he should’ve used a word other than intimacy.