Guest Author: Diana Rubino and From Here to Fourteenth Street

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Author Diana Rubino

One of the perks of joining an author support group is meeting (either in person or online) other authors who write books about people, places, and times that we don’t hear much about. Diana Rubino writes historical romance set during various periods in American history. recently, she released a book that really caught my interest, and I asked her to share with us.

51yb0hjc7xlAbout From Here to Fourteenth Street:
It’s 1894 on New York’s Lower East Side. Irish cop Tom McGlory and Italian immigrant Vita Caputo fall in love despite their different upbringings. Vita goes from sweatshop laborer to respected bank clerk to reformer, helping elect a mayor to beat the Tammany machine. While Tom works undercover to help Ted Roosevelt purge police corruption, Vita’s father arranges a marriage between her and a man she despises. As Vita and Tom work together against time and prejudice to clear her brother and father of a murder they didn’t commit, they know their love can survive poverty, hatred, and corruption. Vita is based on my great grandmother, Josephine Calabrese, “Josie Red” who left grade school to become a self-made businesswoman and politician, wife and mother.

Excerpt:
As Vita gathered her soap and towel, Madame Branchard tapped on her door. “You have a gentleman caller, Vita. A policeman.”

“Tom?” His name lingered on her lips as she repeated it. She dropped her things and crossed the room.

“No, hon, not him. Another policeman. Theodore something, I think he said.”

No. There can’t be anything wrong. “Thanks,” she whispered, nudging Madame Branchard aside. She descended the steps, gripping the banister to support her wobbly legs. Stay calm! she warned herself. But of course it was no use; staying calm just wasn’t her nature.

“Theodore something” stood before the closed parlor door. He’s a policeman? Tall and hefty, a bold pink shirt peeking out of a buttoned waistcoat and fitted jacket, he looked way out of place against the dainty patterned wallpaper.

He removed his hat. “Miss Caputo.” He strained to keep his voice soft as he held out a piece of paper. “I’m police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Yes?” Her voice shook.

“I have a summons for you, Miss Caputo.” He held it out to her. But she stood rooted to that spot.

He stepped closer and she took it from him, unfolding it with icy fingers. Why would she be served with a summons? Was someone arresting her now for something she didn’t do?

A shot of anger tore through her at this system, at everything she wanted to change. She flipped it open and saw the word “Summons” in fancy script at the top. Her eyes widened with each sentence as she read. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

I hereby order Miss Vita Caputo to enter into holy matrimony with Mr. Thomas McGlory immediately following service of this summons.

****

How From Here to Fourteenth Street Was Born

New York City’s history always fascinated me—how it became the most powerful hub in the world from a sprawling wilderness in exchange for $24 with Native Americans by the Dutch in 1626.

Growing up in Jersey City, I could see the Statue of Liberty from our living room window if I leaned way over (luckily I didn’t lean too far over). As a child model, I spent many an afternoon on job interviews and modeling assignments in the city, and got hooked on Nedick’s, a fast food chain whose orange drinks were every kid’s dream. Even better than the vanilla egg creams. We never drove to the city—we either took the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train (‘the tube’ in those days) or the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

My great grandmother, Josephine Arnone, “Josie Red” to her friends, because of her abundant head of red hair, was way ahead of her time. Born in 1895 (but it could’ve been sooner, as she was known to lie about her age), she left grade school, became a successful businesswoman and a Jersey City committewoman, as well as a wife and mother of four. She owned apartment buildings, parking garages, a summer home, did a bit of Prohibition-era bootlegging, small-time loan-sharking, and paid cash for everything. When I began outlining From Here to Fourteenth Street, I modeled my heroine, Vita Caputo, after her. Although the story is set in New York the year before Grandma was born, I was able to bring Vita to life by calling on the family legends and stories, all word of mouth, for she never kept a journal.

Vita’s hero Tom McGlory isn’t based on any real person, but I did a lot of reading about Metropolitan Policemen and made sure he was the complete opposite! He’s trustworthy and would never take a bribe or graft. I always liked the name McGlory—then, years after the book first came out, I remembered that was the name of my first car mechanic—Ronnie McGlory.

I completed the book in 1995, and my then-publisher, Domhan Books, published it under the title I Love You Because. The Wild Rose Press picked it up after I gave it many revisions and overhauls. My editor Nan Swanson did a fabulous job making the prose sparkle.

When I proposed the story to Wild Rose, I wanted to change the title, since it went through so many revisions. I wanted to express Vita’s desire to escape the Lower East Side and move farther uptown. I considered Crossing 14th Street, but it sounded too much like Crossing Delancey. After a few more hits and misses, the title hit me—as all really fitting titles do.

A Bit of Background—What Was 1894 New York City Like?

The Metropolitan Police was a hellhole of corruption, and nearly every cop, from the greenest rookie to the Chief himself, was a dynamic part of what made the wheels of this great machine called New York turn.

The department was in cahoots with the politicians, all the way up to the mayor’s office. Whoever wasn’t connected enough to become a politician became a cop in this city. They were paid off in pocket-bulging wads of cash to look the other way when it came to building codes, gambling, prostitution, every element it took to keep this machine gleaming and efficient. They oiled the machine and kept it running with split-second precision. The ordinary hardworking, slave-wage earning citizen didn’t have a chance around here. Tom McGlory and his father were two of a kind, and two of a sprinkling of cops who were cops for the right reasons. They left him alone because he was a very private person; he didn’t have any close friends, he confided in no one. He could’ve made a pocket full of rocks as a stoolie, more than he could by jumping in the fire with the rest of them, but he couldn’t enjoy spending it if he’d made it that way. They knew it and grudgingly respected him for it. He was here for one reason–his family was here. If they went, he went. As long as they needed him, here he was. Da would stop grieving for his wife when he stopped breathing. Since Tom knew he was the greatest gift she gave Da, he would never let his father down.

About Diana:
My passion for history and travel has taken me to every locale of my stories, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. My urban fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. I live on Cape Cod with my husband Chris. In my spare time, I bicycle, golf, play my piano and devour books of any genre. Visit me at www.dianarubino.com, www.DianaRubinoAuthor.blogspot.com, https://www.facebook.com/DianaRubinoAuthor, and on Twitter @DianaLRubino.

From Here to Fourteenth Street can be purchased at Amazon as an ebook, paperback, or audiobook.

 

 

 

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Posted in authors, Books, Guest author, Guest author post, history, New Release, Patricia Kiyono | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

It’s ALIVE!

THEY are alive, in answer to this week’s topic:

Do I have a formula for creating a protagonist or an antagonist?

Short answer: No

This is mainly because I don’t set out to ‘dream up’ stories or characters. Inspiration comes to me pretty quickly from an event, (personal experience or relayed to me), a ‘what if?’ (from another story), a picture, or in at least one case, an idea given to me.
The characters in my stories are either based on people I know or they pretty much evolve within the story their stories, rather than me generating them.

A pulp writer I will never be.

I have spoken here about characters taking off and having fights I never intended, or showing up in scenes where I never planned for them to be, (or inviting themselves to my protagonists’ table for lunch!) I find myself struggling a bit between my own ideas and those of my characters. I now have trouble ending one story with a couple, because I had always foreseen the woman putting two and two together and now, the husband insists on telling her ….well, you’ll have to wait and see, (I will have to wait and see!)

I’ve also had characters who simply do not want to cooperate and so, they are out or their parts or are reduced to next to nothing, (a ‘walk-on’ as it were).

It’s almost like raising children: You give life to them and have the best intentions for them, but as they grow, they are going to make their own choices, much of it out of your control and only sometimes can you help them or will they accept your guidancel

my characters seem to be the same.

I wondered many times if I was losing my mind, until I heard a narration about C. S. Lewis speaking about his incredibly popular Narnia series. He would get letters asking him to write concerning the past or future of some of his characters and he would respond that he would love to, “but they haven’t told me their stories”.

A man after my own heart.

Can I create characters out of thin air?
Yes, but they usually arrive with a lot of baggage.

Posted in author's life, big plans, Books, characters, connections, decisions, experiences, Family, imagination, inspiration, Life, protagonists, Tonette Joyce, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Creating My Major Characters

How Do I CAST My Story?

By Jeff Salter

First of all, let me say that it’s not particularly easy for me to delve into the “how” and “why” of what or who I write. Not that I’m trying to keep big secrets here… more like I just don’t think about the process all that much.

As others have posted here this week, authors come in two basic packages — with some (like me) falling somewhere in between. The plotters are those who diligently outline everything, build background files on the major characters, sketch out the entire plot line (including supplemental plot threads), determine the arcs of both plot and characters’ development, etc. Many are quite successful at that process and I’m not one to knock it. It’s just not for me… and, yes, I have tried it. A little.

The pants-ters are those authors who get a flicker of an idea and sit down and pound the keyboard for hours on end. They may have a general idea of where they’re going but not necessarily how to get there (or how long – in plot time – it will take). I’ve never been able to be super organized as I’ve seen recommended in workshops and blogs. I have well over 100 “starts” and hardly any of them — to my recollection — ever arose out of any seriously structured activity.

I’m definitely more of a pants-ter than a plotter, though sometimes writing by the seat of my pants can get me into trouble. I’ve found myself merrily writing scenes and dialog and then suddenly realized I was heading down a rabbit trail. Not only would that material have to be culled, but I’d wasted a lot of time making that tangential trip. I’ve also pulled this stunt: write the beginning third… then skip to the final third… and then go back to the middle and try to fit it all together. I do NOT recommend this process! The continuity issues alone will drive you nuts.

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As I’ve noted – on this blog and elsewhere – many of my stories come from a “what if?” notion. Like, “what if a hung-over woman wakes up in the pitch dark space where the Halloween festival was held and she’s still locked in the fund-raising jail?” [Rescued By That New Guy In Town] Or “what if a level-headed career woman has her apartment invaded by her sick boyfriend who won’t take no for answer?” [Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold] Or “what if a young lady reluctantly does a favor for her aunt and everything goes haywire?” [One simple Favor]. In each of those examples, I developed the “What-If” situation before I realized who the character could / should be… and what she’d be like.

On Patricia Kiyono’s Monday blog, I noted a few details about my process, so let me repeat those here:

Usually, I begin with an image or a concept and work out the primary plotline from there. As I move along, the secondary story arcs usually pop up. As far as characters, I start with the heroine and hero. Then I figure out who they know, where they live / work / etc… and who they confide in. After that, I mainly follow them around and listen to what they say. Watch what they do. Take a LOT of notes!

It’s not quite that simple or straightforward… and, of course, that’s not the complete process either.

Though I can’t think of any specific examples right this minute, I’ve had several of these “What If?” notions and not been able to decide right away if that situation calls for a male or female. Sometimes I have to write a bit about what might happen before it becomes apparent to me which gender to place in the central role.

Our Actual Topic

But our actual topic today is about whether we use a formula to create our major characters. I don’t think I use a formula, per se, but there are certain features which I find I utilize often.

Though I have a parade of villains who are despicably different, many of my main characters have certain similarities.

For most of my stories driven by a heroine, I often write her as smart and capable, but (initially) lacking in assertiveness and/or confidence — usually because she’s recovering from wounds of a bad relationship or unfortunate circumstances (or both). By the end of that story, however, she has surprised herself at how resourceful, courageous, and strong she truly is.

For the stories driven by a hero, I often write him as a somewhat solitary, self-reliant figure who needs the love of a good woman but hasn’t met her yet. He often has emotional baggage, as well… and many of these guys are ex-military. Some of my hero characters have a lot in common with the loners of the Wild West, so it may surprise you to learn that I’ve just recently written my very first story featuring a real cowboy. [It’s due out very soon from Clean Reads.] Many of my heroes have a “secret” back-story which sometimes turns out as not necessarily such a BIG DEAL… but he just figures it’s nobody else’s business. Still, it gives the heroine something to dig around for. Ha.

Almost as important as WHO the heroine (or hero) is… are the people who surround them. Many of my primary characters have wise aunts or uncles they confide in, some have close friends (whether at work or living nearby) who serve as their sounding boards. In cases where my plot is comedic or even screwball, I use these “straight” characters to verbalize what I think the reader might be thinking, as in “I can’t believe you’re going out with that crazy guy AGAIN! Are you bonkers?”. It’s also important (to me) to establish who my primary characters work with. Sometimes they have wise and understanding bosses… but often they have clueless, incompetent idiots in the head office… and getting important things done becomes a monumental task.

Questions:

If you’re a writer, how do you decide upon your major characters?

If you’re a reader, what type characters do you most enjoy?

[JLS # 429]

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Do I Have a Formula? Maybe a Little

Do you have a formula for creating your protagonist/antagonist?

I don’t have a formula exactly, but when I look back on the characters I’ve created I do see certain similarities between my protagonists.

First, they’re always good looking. Yes, I know this is very shallow, and on two occasions I’ve created characters with some sort of handicap, but they’re still cute. (Except for Jake in Rest Thy Head. He was burned so his looks were ruined.)

Second, they aren’t cocky. They’re self-assured and confident, but they aren’t cocky. They realize that they aren’t a Superman and act accordingly.

Third, they’re always faithful. Who’d want to read a romance with an unfaithful protagonist? Not me. I don’t think readers would like that either. I once had a reader take me to task because my heroine was having trouble choosing between two men.

Fourth, my protagonist usually have some competition, and often the competition is the antagonist. (But not always.) In my book Flood my hero is in competition with a man my heroine has known since she was a child. That could be a hard bond to break.

My antagonists vary. Some of them are just plain awful with few redeeming features while others are really very nice people. Often you can pick the antagonist out with no trouble, but sometimes not. Sometimes you have to really get into the book before you start to guess who’s behind all the angst and trouble.

However rules are made to be broken. I’ve written a book with a protagonist who’s spunky, determined, and mad at the world. People aren’t going to like her, which is why the book is still on the computer. I like her though. She isn’t motivated by greed or selfishness. She’s afraid, and her fear pushes her into doing some not so nice things. This book isn’t a romance. It’s women’s fiction. I’ll let you know if the book ever sees the light of day.

What do you think? Do my protagonists sound like someone you’d like?

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Posted in characters, Elaine Cantrell, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Getting to Know You…

This week we’ve been asked if we have a formula for creating our protagonist/antagonist. I don’t. I’m not much of a planner when I write, though I am trying it out with my current project to see if that helps me to avoid getting stuck in a slump. When I write, I usually sit down and let the story come. I have a general idea of what the story will be about and maybe a glimpse about the characters but never any more than that.

When I sat down to write The Second Life of Magnolia Mae all I knew was that Magnolia would be a teenager who travels back in time. I didn’t even know she was going to be an orphan raised by her brother. Her strengths and her backstory appeared to me as I wrote. As I was writing I discovered who she was. A strong young woman with a deep connection to her family and the past.

While I was writing Love Overcomes all I knew was that Ara and Clara were sisters who were close. They’d travel together to Hollywood. I knew Ara was a single mother and that I wanted the sisters to be about ten years apart in age. It wasn’t until I was writing that Arabella and Clara really took form. Clara was the older sister, she was shy, creative, and always put her younger sister before herself. Ara had once been impulsive but after being in an abusive relationship she had withdrawn into herself. She loved her family and friends deeply but couldn’t bring herself to ever trust anyone outside her circle. The sisters came to me as I wrote. I didn’t even have an idea about how I wanted them to look.

I have tried setting up Pinterest boards with inspirations for my characters but it never works out. A few chapters in the hair color changes, eye color changes, the person I thought was going to be a store owner now runs a small bed and breakfast. The character who was an only child now suddenly has four siblings and twenty-five first cousins on one side of the family. I have found that when I write, the characters tell me who they are, not the other way around. It’s almost like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

 

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From Seeds to Blooms: Developing Characters

Field with the blossoming lavender in the sunny summer day

When I read a book, I like to get to know the characters, but when I think about the story later, I rarely remember what they looked like. I tend to focus more on how they handle the central problem. After taking a few online courses about using the conflict to drive the plot, I started to write by focusing on the main problem in the story, rather than who is involved in it. Before I even start writing, I need to know what my characters are dealing with. I know that might sound backwards to some, so let me show you how my mind works by telling you what happened with my last release, Lost in Lavender:

As I said, I start with a problem, or conflict. Last year, Dingbat Publishing put out a call for regency stories called Christmas Bouquet. The guidelines for the proposed stories were:

  1. Stories needed to include something about the Grand Opening of the Winter Gardens at Nettlebloom Estate at a fête during the Christmas season in 1816.
  2. Each story needed to feature flowers somehow.

The callout listed several proposed characters, most of them noble. I don’t like to write about nobility – so I chose the landscape gardener as my main character. I chose him because he had an obvious problem – he needed to complete the garden in time, according to demands of the rather eccentric members of the Royal Horticultural Society. His inner conflict was more difficult to come up with. I finally decided that James Benton had come from a noble family, and his parents were disappointed in him for choosing to take on a trade.

Once I had my hero, I needed a heroine. I write romance, after all. I wanted her to have something in common with the hero, but have a difference that could possibly stand in the way of them becoming a couple. Eventually, Selina Davison started to take shape in my mind. She also loves flowers, and she creates beautiful blossoms out of silk and wire, and then attaches them to the hats that she sells in her millinery shop. The flowers are so realistic that they catch the attention of Mr. Benton as he’s walking through the streets of Highgate.

So now I had two names, but I needed to know more about them. Again, I used conflict to figure out their personalities and what makes them tick. This is when I had to create their backstory. As I mentioned, James is the son of an earl, but he’s the second son, which gives him a little more freedom than if he were the heir. But he’s chosen to work, and he actually does manual labor at times, which infuriates his mother. He tries to appease her by attending a few social events here and there. Selina, on the other hand, came from working stock, but married an earl, so she spent several years as a countess. But when her husband died and they had no children, she was left with only her widow’s dowry. She took that and built her millinery business. Selina has good reason for her polite but cool regard for nobility.

Once I had my characters fleshed out, I needed to get them together. I had a way for them to meet (he notices her handmade flowers on a hat and follows her to her shop), but I needed a reason for them to meet again – and again. This dilemma plagued me for a long time, until my friend author Elizabeth Meyette did a presentation on writer’s block and offered this solution: write the problem with your dominant hand, and then put the pen in your other hand and start writing. I did that, and the answer was – James has a poor sense of direction! He gets lost several times and keeps ending up in her shop.

I’ve always envied those who simply start writing and end up with a story. When I first started writing I had a vague story about a samurai soldier. I wrote about 10,000 words before I realized I had a bunch of scenes that went nowhere. Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) just doesn’t work for me, although sometimes my characters take a slightly different route to get to the happily-ever-after than what I planned!

How do you get to know your characters?

Posted in characters, Patricia Kiyono, Preparing for writing | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

A Walk Through Time

Time travel is a topic that seems to come up a lot around here. My sister and I will randomly talk about it, while she would much rather be able to have a time travel television where she could simply type in the date and place and observe from the comfort of her home, I would rather travel to a place so I could get the feel of it. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to travel back in time. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would I meet? Every time I pick up a good historical novel, I get a little bit of that feeling, there are times when I find myself wanting to find out more than I can by just reading a book. I especially find myself wanting to travel through time for research but only if I can come back at my command. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the 15th century with an illness that would be fatal there but a round of antibiotics here could clear up in ten days.

There are a few projects that I need to research for. One of them being linked to the Robin Hood stories. While it is believed that the legend of Robin Hood is based on a real person there are discrepancies as to when he lived. The earliest mention of Robin Hood was 1377. I would like to travel back to 14th century England to really get a feel for the time. Understand how they lived, dressed, spoke, their hopes and dreams. What was it really like? I’d discover how the legend of Robin Hood came to be. Was he really a nobleman who lost all he had and then fought on the side of the peasants? Or was he a poor man who simply got fed up with being taxed into starvation? If he had a daughter would he have taught her to protect herself? Would she be as skilled as he in a time when gender divides were so strict?

 

I’d also like to travel to 16th century Scotland. While Queen Mary passed the Witchcraft Acts in 1563 the first major set of trials were in 1590-1591 when King James the VI became involved. He was so convinced that there were people using witchcraft against him that he had commissions for those willing to hunt down witches. The king was involved in the torture of many of the women who were accused of witchcraft. What was it like for females in this time? Did they have to watch every little thing that they said or did? What about the midwives and healers? If something went wrong could a cry of “witch” cost them their life? The king accused a teacher of using witchcraft to bring a storm against the ship that the king was travelling on; that accusation ended up with the teacher having to flea the country in order to save his life; giving up everything that he had and leaving all he had known. Was there a safe place where women could run to? Was it safer in the Highlands than it was in the Lowlands as many of the executions were in the Lowlands? These are all things that will help with my work The Man in the Mist which is a shot story I wrote years ago that I am not expanding into a novel.

I think I would also like to travel to 1804 so that I could travel with Sacajawea as she helped Lewis and Clark on their journey through the West. It amazes me that she not only made that journey but saved them a time or two. If not for her they never would have survived. I have read a few different accounts and I would like to be there to get the real story. Then I could write of that experience. I think I would stick around to see when she really died. While it is said she died in 1812 at the age of 24 there are legends that claim she made it back to her Shoshone people, remarried, and lived a long and happy life. I always liked to believe that she did make her way back home, she deserved to find some happiness after the horrible events she had to live through. I would love to be able to write her true story.

There are so many other places and times I would like to travel if there was a way to ensure I did not alter our history and I could come home any time I wanted to. Would you travel to a different time; past or future?

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