Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heroes for Inspiration

If I told you I write while surrounded by more than 65 handsome and heroic men, would you think I was exaggerating? Maybe not, if you’re also a writer! The truth is that the heroes—and the heroines—we create are never far away. It’s almost as if they live on some alternate plane that we reach through intense concentration, as though we are privileged to tell their stories instead of making them up.

This was first brought home to me on receiving the advance copies of TRIUMPH IN ARMS in 2009, and realizing they signaled the end of my Maître d’armes stories. These gallant swordsmen had been with me so long, after all; though the first book in their series, CHALLENGE TO HONOR, was published in 2005, the idea of writing about the fencing masters of Old New Orleans first occurred to me in 1998. I’d come across these men in Herbert Asbury’s THE FRENCH QUARTER, where they were described as the epitome of strength, daring and danger in aristocratic French Creole New Orleans during the final years of dueling. Men who were excluded from polite society, never introduced to gently-bred young ladies, yet so deadly with a sword that they could claim anything they wanted? What stories there must have been about them. What stories I could invent!

In the way things happen, however, I’d just signed a contract for a contemporary series. This historical idea had to go on a back burner. It never stopped simmering, however, and I stirred it with research trips to New Orleans. Photocopying endless pages of microfilmed newspapers from the 1840s at the Williams Research Center took me so deep into the time period that I longed to live there. Walking along what was left of that famous street of fencing masters, the old Passage de la Bourse, now Exchange Alley, gave me a frame for them. Staring up at the houses remaining from the period made images shift through my mind like seeing ghosts. Then there was taking photos—which included a man on a balcony reading his Sunday paper who didn’t much appreciate being recorded for research!

At last the time came to start writing. The first sword master book was done at my leisure, and then readied for submission with short proposals for two more in the same setting. At the last minute, I added single-paragraph descriptions for an additional three books that were ticking my brain. To my surprise and gratitude, my editor immediately contracted for the entire six-book series. Then my German publisher did the same after no more than hearing the project described over dinner. Amazing.

Now Christien Lenoir, my last swordsman, was making his bow. I saw him in my mind’s eye in one particular scene by candlelight. His dark hair is tousled from sleep, he’s shirtless so his hard torso gleams, and in his fist is his sword as he makes a vow that will bind him forever to a woman and child. I smile when I think of it. And though I’ve moved on, have already written other books set in 15th century England, Christien will ever be with me.

It’s only natural, after all.  If our characters are not alive for us, how can we, as writers, expect them to live in the minds of readers?


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

1 comment:

Landra said...

Ooh, now there's a round of 6 Blake books I haven't read yet. Better get busy becuase these ones sound fabulous.

To answer your question I don't think a character can be expected to live in the minds of readers unless we, the writers, have fully developed them in our minds. As a reader I fall in love with characters and everything they do. I often wonder when an author wrote a certain piece of dialogue for a character I love did they too jump out of their chairs and cry 'It's perfect!' or did their mouths drop to the floor as mine did.

So if I'm passionate about a character, I would imagine the writer is too.