Terry Rich Hartley's Blog: Eclectic Observations

October 5, 2013

Judging from early reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D3OOMEK) and constant personal comments you'd think THE OCTOPUS HOOK MURDERS' protagonist, Gus Bolderjack, was created largely to accentuate a cast of strong women characters. Indeed, I'd like a new head hair for each time I've been asked how I create such strong women to people my stories. Truth is I don't know other than to say it comes naturally. It's what I see in the real world. Sure, men are usually more powerful physically, but that doesn't go far in most cases. If you don't believe me, simply ask any steroidal hulk how well he'd do taking his muscles to a gun fight. (If he's actually tried it, of course, you won't get an answer.). Strength in the modern world is more concerned with resoluteness, ambition, cunning, self reliance, social skills, and an ability to adapt to circumstances. I'd be remiss if I left out one's style of perceiving circumstances. Where one person sees something as a challenge and sets out to conquer it another sees the same something as a threat and runs in circles yelling, "Woop, woop, woop."
If my women characters appear strong it's primarily because I don't patronize. Therefore, neither my male or female characters are "super" in the sense they can't do anything real people can't. That's the great equalizer. I want characters to use human intelligence to navigate the world, not negate the laws of physics to control events. If no one can leap tall buildings in a single bound then all are restricted to self reliance. Equally important is the fact that no one is free of personal warts. Heroes and schmucks, women and men, all have failings. So the characters I create have strengths and weaknesses no matter what sexual apparatus they're packing between their legs.
It's always been that way with me. Back in a different century before I chased a journalism gig and then leapt to the psychological sciences I scribed some science fiction short stories that made it into small magazines. My second—I think my second—was one titled TEN POINTS TO BLASTOFF starring a young woman named Marta. I can't even remember her surname and it doesn't matter. What mattered was she was a human using her wits to overcome tough circumstances. Frankly, she could have been cast in just about any genre and she would have been the same character. I had no difficulty making a "her" instead of a "him" the protagonist.
While THE OCTOPUS HOOK MURDERS is the one currently drawing the "strong women" comments, my prior novel, ARMAGEDDON YELLOWSTONE: HELL UNLEASHED, was little different in that regard. Deputy Sheriff Lita Echeveria, who originated in PARANOIA ON RIVER ROAD and reappeared in ARMAGEDDON, was tough as beef jerky and dumb like a fox. Then there was the quirky but determined TV reporter, Eleanor Druck, who kept trying to take over the story (Authors, you know what that's like.). That character was not physically attractive, she was grating and self absorbed, and yet I loved having her rattle around inside my head while trying to make my story hers.
So, why is it now with OCTOPUS that I'm hearing about women so much? Well, when I revisit the story the reason jumps out at me. Dr. Jan Conway originated in my novella, THE DITCHRIDER'S DAUGHTER, where she dominated. Small wonder she came on so strong in a new novel. Tabloid publisher Aubrey Allbright and state attorney general Carrie Sullivan-Bledsoe are a couple of aggressive, calculating, self-promoting executives soooo much like some people--men and women--I've actually known in the physical world. And FBI Special Agent Mattie Hendrix exemplifies the gutsy ugly duckling that will never metamorphose into a swan but doesn't need to. She has most every quality other than looks to speed her along life's winding, pothole riddled path.
My characters generally start out as composites of people I've known and then morph into individuals of their own. They're fictional, for sure, but none are unreasonably distant from my own experiences. So I guess if you really want to know how I create such strong women characters, open your eyes. Take a look around. You'll understand.
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Published on October 05, 2013 17:53 • 184 views • Tags: fictional-women, strong-women, women, women-characters

May 3, 2012

The use of profanity in novels is not something I spend a lot of time worrying about. It probably would be a concern if I read children’s or even YA books, but I rarely do. Where adult type fiction is concerned I want to suspend my disbelief at the earliest possible moment, a mental event that can only occur if characters ring true. As in life, different characters possess different levels of vocabulary and, within that confine; they have individual means of expression. Some people rarely swear; others can barely utter a sentence free of words that do not end in itch, it, or uck. Additionally, for all but the most profane individuals, social setting guides verbal expression the way it guides all forms of behavior. That’s the world in which we live, and fiction doesn’t work for me unless it reflects that.

Obviously, not everyone feels the same way—like Mr. Blue Nose (MBN) who recently excoriated me for profanity used in my novel Armageddon Yellowstone: Hell Unleashed. Now, before you do a somersault and start screaming that I think all people who are offended by cursing are a bunch of prudes, take a deep breath and keep reading. People who don’t like a book for any reason—including the use of profanity—typically avoid it or, once started, close the book and give it away or throw it out. Not so the true blue nose. In my case, I held a drawing in which 753 entered to win a paperback version of Armageddon Yellowstone. Three won. MBN was one of those. He received it one day and by the very next day had already made a list of the swear words in the book and went to work publicly trashing me. Gee, does it seem like he was primed for a crusade? You can bet your Aunt Minnie’s hat he was. In the span of one short day he received a free book, wrote a review of four long paragraphs and put it not only on the website where he won but also on another major site, which had nothing to do with the drawing. Additionally, he listed every swear word he could find within the review (for examples, of course. Snort, remember he was supposed to be offended by swear words.). His actions are similar to the chest thumper who publicly proclaims great offense at pornography while downloading volumes (so he’ll know what he’s shouting about. Snort, snort, and double snort!.

Snorting aside, here’s the way things are: While I hold a PhD in social psychology and a post-doc in biological psychology, and have written my share of scholarly tomes, my fictional characters gain voice with me. My background is eclectic and I’ve spent time in one capacity or another in roadwork, landscape, home construction, military, journalism, stress research, psychology, and higher education. When I left academic science and teaching behind I actually grounded myself back in “the real world” by riding ditch for two and a half seasons with an agricultural canal company. I bring this up to illustrate the breadth of social interactions that contribute to my feel for the use of vocabulary used in different settings by people of very different backgrounds. That considered, my mental ear simply cannot hear a construction worker curse by shouting something like, “Whillickers!” or “gall darn you, Larry!” Nope, doesn’t work for me. If it works for you, great. Of course, you’ll have to avoid Stephen King, JD Salinger, and on and on. And that’s just what you’ll probably do, avoid them, not trash them. Save that for the book burners and other self-appointed crusaders who strive to give meaning to their impoverished lives.

As for me, I’ll continue reading and writing as I always have. I guess it all boils down to the axiom: Above all be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.

Terry Rich Hartley
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Published on May 03, 2012 15:32 • 354 views • Tags: blog, eclectic-observations, fiction, novel, opinion, terry-rich-hartley