"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fun with Google Earth

I've discovered Google Earth is a handy tool for doing research. I like to use it when I’m writing about a place I can’t visit. Even when I’ve been to a location, I usually find I need more information when I get into the actual writing, so rather than revisit a place, which is usually impossible, I turn to Google Earth. You can virtually visit nearly any place on the planet without leaving your office chair. You can get the geographic image of a place from space and also zoom right down to travel roads and streets as if you were right there. Just click on the “yellow man” icon and drag him to where you want to be on the map and he’ll put you on the ground. So if you haven't done so already, give it a try the next time you have to travel from home for research. It’s a great feature.

To download, go to: www.earth.google.com

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sidekicks

The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Laurel and Hardy. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Captain Kirk and Spock. Batman and Robin. Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Did you ever wonder why a story’s hero or heroine more often than not has a sidekick? Now imagine that main character without the sidekick. It would be pretty dull, wouldn’t it?

A sidekick is one of those major secondary figures whose main purpose is to show the hero’s good side as well as his not-so-good side. They have to be a pretty cool character themselves and both you and your reader might find yourself liking them just as much as the main character. But they aren’t there to steal the show. They are there to make the show better. Their function goes deeper than just having someone for the hero to talk to. If they weren’t important, the hero could just talk to a horse, a dog, a cat, or himself. And, unless the horse is Mr. Ed or the cat is Midnight Louie, it can get pretty dull pretty fast.

A sidekick is a way to show your hero’s personality. How does he respond to the sidekick? Is he nice to him? Does he treat him with respect? Or does he act superior to him and treat him rudely? Will he die for him? Chances are if he won’t die for his sidekick, then he isn’t much of a hero. As a reader, we get to see the hero’s true personality simply by the way he interacts with his sidekick.

His sidekick can come from just about anywhere. He can be a friend, a servant, a business associate, a sibling, even a parent. He will act as a sounding board for the hero. Dialogue between the two is a good way to show the hero’s thoughts without long, boring passages of introspection or narrative. A lively interaction between a hero and his sidekick advances the plot. And it’s always a good idea to have somebody who has your back because we all know the hero is going to get himself into a pickle and somebody is going to have to rescue him.

The fun thing about sidekicks is that they are usually polar opposites of the hero or heroine. They can be combative, contrasting, or complementary, but they need a strong personality of their own that allows them to stand up to the hero who is often willing to push his weight around if allowed. The sidekick keeps the hero grounded.

Of course, you don’t have to have a sidekick. Your hero could just talk to his cat, but he’ll be much more interesting to the reader, and your story will have a rich layer it might not otherwise have.

*Image "Dancing Dogs" by Federico Stevanin courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kindle and Nook Editions of "Came A Stranger"

Original Paperback

Slowly but surely I'm releasing my backlist as ebook editions. In the spring Desire's Treasure came out and now I have Came A Stranger available for all you Kindle and Nook readers. Came A Stranger was one of my most popular western romances and received several awards and five-star reviews. It was the winner of Affaire de Coeur Reader’s Choice Award for “Outstanding Hero," and it was a finalist in their "Best American Historical" and "Best Overall Historical" categories. You can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both the ebook and paperback editions.

Seth Sackett is a necessary evil, and Maggie Cayton despises him even before she sets eyes on him. But he’s the hired gun who can prevent Big Ben Tate from forcing her and her children off the White Raven Ranch, and her opinion of him can be put aside long enough to accomplish her goal.

For twenty years, ever since she was a young woman of seventeen, Maggie worked alongside her husband to build the White Raven Ranch out of the wild, untamed wilderness of Wyoming. Then suddenly her husband is dead, and she suspects the bullet was bought and paid for by wealthy rancher and neighbor, Big Ben Tate. Facing the full responsibility of the ranch, her children, and her aging mother, Maggie is encouraged by many friends to sell out. But she’s fought too many odds and too many battles with man and nature to give up without a fight. She’s also experienced enough to know she can’t go up against Tate alone.

As Sackett tries to resolve the war between her and Tate, Maggie discovers that Sackett is not what she expected a hired gun to be. He’s more than a loner, a man whose presence casts a dark shadow of dread and danger. He’s a man with a quiet charisma who readily establishes a position of authority with the ranch hands and gains respect in the hearts of every member of her family. She has every intention of ignoring his blatant sexual advances, but she soon finds herself giving into the traitorous desire he so easily evokes.

What Maggie doesn’t know is that Seth lives in a private hell of memories and harbors a bitter secret that haunts him day and night. He has come to save the White Raven Ranch and protect its inhabitants, but his sojourn there will be one of enlightenment. As he falls in love with the indomitable Maggie, he dares to dream for things he never believed himself worthy of having. But the only chance he has of seeing those dreams come true is to reveal to Maggie the darkness of his past and risk losing the only love he’s ever known. 

ebook edition
“An action-packed, sensual page-turner. Came A Stranger is impossible to forget.” Affaire de Coeur

“A truly enjoyable read [with] endearing characters from beginning to end. Ms. Sandifer has the unique ability to look within the human spirit. An engaging talent that draws the reader in.” The Literary Times

“Powerful, sensual and delightful. The characters are unforgettable.” Romantic Times


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Environment and Your Protagonist

Have you ever wondered how you would have turned out if you’d been born and raised in a different part of the world by different parents? Would you still behave the way you do, believe in the things you believe, have the same values, or would you be an entirely different person with an entirely different outlook on the world and an entirely different set of rules by which to live by? I would imagine a study has been done on this somewhere by someone and probably paid for with your hard-earned taxes. But all that aside, as a writer, you will want to consider your characters’ environments to help you understand who they are and why they are unique.
   
We often look at a past event, usually traumatic, to help define our characters in some way. This event might be the catalyst that has made them take a certain path or develop a certain opinion, emotion, or world attitude. It could even be a parent’s or sibling’s behavior that has made them determined to grow up just the opposite. A person’s entire formative years usually have the most impact on who they become later in life, but the picture is larger than one event or one driving influence. True, a person can break away from a bad childhood but something about those years will have still defined that person’s personality in some way. How the person deals with it is of utmost importance as well.
   
Let’s take two sisters, for example, raised on a ranch in Montana in the late 1800s. They seldom interacted with anybody but their family and a few neighbors a few times a year. Life isn’t easy out on the ranch; there are many hardships and many challenges that the family faces to carve out a living in this harsh land. One sister grows up to be completely self-reliant, loving the tall mountains and the vastness of this untamed land. She loves riding her horse along with her father and brothers, rounding up cattle and chasing wild horses. She could never imagine living anywhere else and hopes she can marry a man who will enjoy the same type of life. She can’t envision herself living in the confines of the city. For her, it would be a fate worse than death.

Her sister, however, hates being twenty miles from town. She longs for pretty dresses, the city, and sophisticated men in dapper suits. She has no desire for the rough cowboys she’s been around her entire life whom she considers uncouth at best. She doesn’t like to be involved in cattle drives or roundups and prefers to stays in the house with her mother cooking, cleaning, sewing, reading romance novels, and picking wildflowers. She resents the ranch’s isolation and the monotony of life that sees no change but that of the seasons. As soon as she’s able, she plans to leave, even if it means marrying the first man to come along who will take her away.
   
So how has this same environment defined each of these sisters? And why has each taken opposite ends of the spectrum? To take it one step farther, you could ask yourself what would happen to these women if they were forced to leave their comfort zones. What if the sister who loved the ranch ended up married to a rich man in the city? And the sister who wanted to go to the city ended up with a rancher she didn’t love on a nearby spread? Or take it another direction. What if they both found themselves in another country learning a few culture and a new language, forced to make a living any way they could? How would the environment of their formative years affect the way they deal with their new situation?
   
Environment can have a monumental impact on defining a character, but one has to ask if a person would develop the same traits had she or he been born and raised in a different environment. Are our good and bad traits inherent regardless of who raised us and where? Is it in our DNA to be honest, self-reliant, responsible, courageous, ambitious, optimistic? Or is it in our DNA to be a liar and a cheat, irresponsible, cowardly, gloomy and unsatisfied? Besides personality traits, don’t overlook the talents and skills your characters will develop that can come only from their given environment. These are also part of who they are and what they will become.
   
Your characters, like you, have more than one defining moment in their lives that have shaped their minds and their dreams and put them on the path they’ve chosen to follow. Despite what traits might be inherent in their DNA, the social and physical aspects of their childhood environment will have left them with attitudes, mores, and beliefs that could only come from those early formative experiences. Whether they hold onto these or rebel against them will be for you the writer to decide, but your characters will be richer if you delve deeply into the environments in which they were raised.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Flawed Character

Many writers believe that if they can make their protagonist quirky or even flawed in some way, it will take the character from being flat to well rounded. For example, you could have your protagonist be a heavy smoker with a weakness for prune juice; a mad scientist who grows exotic green beans in the back yard for research purposes only; or a young woman who buys so many books she has only pathways through her apartment and has put herself dangerously close to bankruptcy. But quirks and flaws are not real characterization. They are not the thing that makes us care about a character or compels us to keep reading. They are only superficial traits unless they hold some relationship to, or involvement with, your main plot line. Not that your characters can’t be quirky or flawed, but those things alone won’t carry the story.

Another type of flat character is the one more commonly seen, the one who doesn’t have any flaws or quirks and seems to be simply in the story to move the action forward. He’s the stereotypical good guy and he’s doing everything a good guy is expected to do. He is handsome and brave and sexy and wears the white hat. Even if he wears a black hat there isn’t any dirt on it. He rides along throughout the book but it’s the action, not him, taking center stage. Maybe we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him because he got jilted ten years ago by the only woman he ever loved. But if the old love affair has nothing to do with the present action, it’s a torch we would just as soon he douse.

For a reader to care about a story, there has to be something at stake for each of your main characters, and whatever is at stake has to be directly related to the present story line. It is not only what that character might lose, but also what he might gain, for these stakes will drive him. They will motivate him. A character’s goals, desires, and fears should also be considered; these can create inner conflict as well as exterior conflict with other characters. Consider the challenges each character will face in achieving his goals and desires.

Scenes, even beautifully written, will not keep the reader’s attention if those scenes are filled with murky, shadowy characters who have no personal stake in the outcome and who appear to be there only as place holders to drive the action forward. We all love quirky characters, but remember that flaws and idiosyncrasies are only the icing on the cake. They will never be a substitute for the cake. To create truly “flawed" characters, start with what’s at stake.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Your Writing Adventure

One of my favorite quotes pertaining to writing is by E. L. Doctorow. He said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is how I feel when I start a new book. I might have the opening in my mind, and a few scenes in between, maybe the ending (which will usually change), but the rest comes as I travel that long, dark road with the “headlights” opening the way around each bend and over each hill, showing me things I wasn’t expecting and involving my characters in adventures I hadn’t planned.

Not all writers go about it this way. I am thoroughly amazed and impressed by writers who sit down and plot every last detail out before they put one word to paper. They use elaborate outlines up to a hundred pages worth--some even scene by scene. And there are those (it’s rumored) who even construct storyboards, sketches and all.

But this degree of organization not only boggles my mind, it makes me highly suspicious. Certainly these individuals run into some bumps in the road even with their detailed planning!

For me, every book idea is like a river, continually changing. Invariably, no matter the preparation I undertake beforehand, when I start writing, the characters say things I wasn’t expecting, do things I didn’t anticipate, open doors I didn’t know existed, and head down roads that weren’t on my map! Then along comes an intriguing character or idea that becomes integral to the story and not only puts my elaborate outline in the ditch but ultimately makes the book better and stronger. I always discover things about my characters and my plot that I simply couldn’t see until the writing began and the characters came to life. I’ve also discovered that these surprises are what makes the writing journey so challenging, fun, and rewarding.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how a writer gets from page one to the end. Some methods are better than others for each of us, but there is no right or wrong way. Do what works for you. One way or the other, all you really need when you embark on your writing adventure is a spare tire, a full tank of gas, and a really good set of headlights.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Publishing Changes in Our Future


With the tremendous success of ebooks and the closure of many bookstores around the country, everyone in the publishing industry has had some new challenges to face. For those of us who have been in the industry for twenty or thirty years, the changes might be harder to get our minds around. Things simply aren't the way they used to be, from submitting your work, to selling it, to marketing it. It's a whole new way of doing business and things are changing so rapidly it can be rather daunting for those of us used to doing things the old way. But there's a lot of information out there if you can find the time to weed through it. Here's an article and a site that has a lot of good information and might be of interest to many of you, both new writers and seasoned. "Five Big Publishing Stories of 2011" at Digital World.