The O’Briens Among Us

It seems everyone has watched Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey, which means we all know who Sarah O’Brien is—but if you don’t, here’s the in-your-face “thumbnail”: she’s a snotty, meddling, opportunistic lady’s maid at Downtown—and of course we all pretty much dislike and distrust her, because what’s there to cozy up to?

I’m working on a new novel; specifically, the development of characters (character development is my favorite part of novel-writing, which, if you’ve read The Angry Woman Suite, you’ve probably already guessed)—and I just realized I’ve created a character who’s very much like O’Brien (though she wasn’t inspired by O’Brien, but by someone I used to know). Because the worlds my characters inhabit are never black and white, rarely are my characters either (an exception is Lothian in The Angry Woman Suite). So when I start fleshing out a character, I list her or his not-so-shining qualities on one side of a page and on the other side those characteristics that are attractive—the ones that can make us doubt our own assessments, as in it’s just an eccentricity we might tell ourselves (about a “difficult one”), and we should maybe cut her or him some slack.

Because even O’Brien herself has a soft spot (for her nephew), so she can’t really be all bad.

And O’Brien has no clue she’s a meddler; she actually can be helpful, so she can’t be purposely cruel, right? Right?

She also doesn’t know that almost every time she opens her mouth she pretty much alienates everybody, because of a naturally critical nature—but she can be friendly and approachable as well.

Just as she doesn’t see she’s overbearing and judgmental, because she can be charitable and self-deprecating, too.

She doesn’t see herself as scheming or controlling, because what she also is, is quite bright, and intelligent people are often forward-thinking (we tell ourselves).

However, despite a sturdy IQ, her EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is quite low and so she lacks perspective and empathy, as in how her words come across as demeaning to others. Ironically, she is an overly sensitive individual always on the lookout for slights. She is easily hurt, often feels misunderstood, and would be crushed if she knew how many people go out of their way to avoid her.

One can actually get on with difficult people for some time. Years, actually. How? Well, for one, it’s a good idea to not let a difficult person “in” too close. Tread carefully. Sharing feelings can become ammo for O’Briens at some point in time, against a sharer. O’Briens often want to “fix,” which is not helping or supporting; it’s taking over instead, running roughshod, stepping on boundaries and telling others what to do. And know ahead of time you will always be offending them in ways you can never possibly see coming. The O’Briens are seemingly wired to be offended. It’s the first thing they consider in the morning, as in why did so-and-so get me this present? Or not come to my retirement party? Or (if they did attend) leave so early? To their prickly minds, there are no mitigating circumstances.

And I think this must be the aspect of the world’s O’Briens—how easily offended they can be—that is the foundation of their most unpleasant qualities, those cutting remarks and undermining ways.

O’Briens likely have less than optimum beginnings, maybe even got kicked down the road early on, and unfortunately they’re not resilient, though they can be ambitious. They love an imaginary glory, and see themselves racing against “competitors,” elbowing them aside, tripping them up in their mad quests for long-denied recognition, and turning a screw or two before it’s turned on them—which obviously begs the question: With profiling like that, who among the O’Briens of the world wouldn’t be on the lookout for “offenders”?

Does it help knowing this about the difficult ones? That they probably had tough starts they could never put in perspective? Because … ahem … remember, perspective is something they completely lack.

Depends. On how much distance you can keep. Or how much you want to punish yourself. Because that’s what it feels like after a time of interacting with or having befriended one. It feels like you’re slapping yourself in the face.

Stories are always about overcoming conflict or giving into it. One way or another, a story must have conflict, or it’s just words. Which is why all O’Briens make for great characters—despite a “stiffness” they all, strangely, seem to have, they are conflict in motion. They thrive on it—but unless some upward momentum, some change, occurs, these characters are doomed to predictability. Their snottiness begins to outweigh their positive attributes, and once a balance is that tipped, the weight of an O’Brien becomes a pain-in-the-ass burden.

And so there’s the answer. At some point, when burdens become static, they morph from boring to heavy, to hurtful, and even sometimes dangerous (as in worse than slapping your own face). The difficult people of the world need to be cut loose when they become static, whether they are real-life PIA’s bad for anybody’s mental health, or (safer) characters in novels—or, yes, even fixtures like Sarah O’Brien of Downton Abbey.

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Writers Looking Good

happydogThe other day a friend told me about the number of indie books she’s been reading lately (mainly via Goodreads giveaways—love that site), and how appalling (and really, really sad) the oh-so-apparent lack of copyediting is in some of these books. 

And yesterday I had lunch with a reviewer who told me she’d been given an indie non-fiction book to look at, and that she filled two pages of notes about what needed fixing, and that was the first chapter only!      

I’ve also been doing my fair share of indie fiction reading—and so before I get into ripping into those writers who are NOT securing copyediting for their “babies,” thinking they don’t need it (really? and now define “arrogance,” please), I have read three really great indie novels this year, and recently started another that is so excellent it’s keeping me awake nights.       

Now, for the (gentle) ripping:

I have been in your shoes, thinking I know it all, because I DO know the rules; I can punctuate and spell like nobody’s business, till the cows come home—BUT it oftentimes takes a pair of professional eyes to point out that I just stacked a cliché on top of five others—and the reason I didn’t already know this? Because I get so close to my projects and the elements therein—plot threads, characterization, dialogue—I oftentimes can’t see a cliché for the life of me (and, okay, before you consider banging your heads against your ipads here, enough already with the clichés—though that WAS kind of fun).

When I finished the first draft of The Angry Woman Suite, and polished it and then polished it some more, I took a section to my writers group, heart pounding, fearful of all the things they could say, like maybe go home and set your laptop on fire. 

But that didn’t happen; my story had them. Something else happened instead. I had typos! I had misspellings! (And, yes, I do know where spellcheck is, too—and it’s NOT to be 100% trusted); I sometimes had too many spaces between words, inconsistent formatting —and, ugh, way too many adverbs. How could any of this have happened, after all the hours I’d put into my baby, checking and rechecking?

Well, get this: After my writers group finished poring over the entire book, and after I polished some more, I gave my manuscript to a copyeditor who found even more boo-boos—and then another copyeditor after that, and she found stuff, too!  

Moral of this story:

If you’re a writer and you want your projects to play in the big leagues, indie OR traditional, you absolutely CANNOT get there without a professional copyeditor—trust me on this. Not just a proofreader, but a professional copyeditor who will do everything a proofreader does PLUS inspect for style and consistency and formatting and a million other things that can get by anybody—but not necessarily by your audience!

As for who I trust, and know to be the absolute best, I know a few. Here’s a resource I can personally vouch for: http://www.hjseditingservices.com/#

You might also message your favorite indie authors via Goodreads and ask who they recommend—and successful indie authors WILL thank you for asking, because the better you are, the better the whole here-to-stay indie movement will be. And then we’ll all look good.

 

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been a MIA blogger of late (bad life got in the way; the kind that makes everything besides breathing almost impossible), BUT THEN fellow author Kerry Dwyer tagged me for The Next Big Thing, and here I am, breathing and typing at the same time, mind you (and who was it who sneered I’m genetically incapable of more than one task at a time? Thwack! Take that!).

The Next Best Thing is about authors helping authors, and its premise is simple: Authors answer questions about their current works-in-progress. But before I answer mine, more about the intrepid author who tagged me: Kerry Dwyer:

Kerry Dwyer is a British ex-pat living in France and author of Ramblings in Ireland, an engaging read about, well, rambling about Ireland and the musings it inspired.
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15821729-ramblings-in-ireland
Her current work-in-progress is titled The Book Exchange.
Now my questions and answers:

What is the working title of your next book?

A Woman of Commitment

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came about via a murder that occurred in my hometown a few years back. Actually, just the actual site of the murder—a water’s edge—inspired the premise. I moved the time frame back to mid-century. The point of view is a veterinarian’s (Annie), twenty years after the murder, and the conflict is her long-held suspicion that the wrong person was convicted of her best friend’s murder. And, yes, of course there’s intrigue and suspense, a love story and all the rest.

The opening paragraph reads:

“The summer morning of 1963 that my boyfriend Benny Radisch told me he’d fallen in love with someone else was the same day that seventeen-year-old Katie Plowright’s body was found in a shallow grave near the river’s shoreline.”

What genre does your book fall under?

Pretty much the same as my novel, The Angry Woman Suite. Psychological mystery (minus the historical tag this time—I think).

What actors would you choose to play the part of you characters in a movie rendition?

This is a funny one (to me), considering I’m still “shaping” these characters (and will be all the way to the end). Hmmmm, I have no clue … but I’m seeing Silver Linings Playbook this next week, so I pick Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper!

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’ll let you know when I finish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh dear, I’m not very good at comparisons to other writers! Let’s go with this: I hope it will be compared (favorably!) to The Angry Woman Suite, how’s that?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Other than the aforementioned real-life murder, my inspiration for almost everything has been DDF, my husband (who passed last year). He was the most remarkable person. Unduplicatable (and, yes, I know that’s not a word … yet). He was brilliant and had verve (love that word), and to be around him was to feel can-do, too. But this second novel has been meant, from its start many months ago, for my sister who passed last month.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Other than unsolved murder? And love gone oh-so-wrong? And characters who aren’t what they seem?

Well, for all you dog lovers, there’s a dog in it….

As part of The Next Best Thing, I’m to tag five other authors, and they are:

Paulette Mahurin, amazing human being, friend, and award-winning author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14061559-the-persecution-of-mildred-dunlap

Leonore Skomal, author of Bluff /http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15852327-bluff
Excellent read!

Leslie A. Gordon, author of the must-read, Cheer: A Novel http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15822672-cheer

Sean Keefer, attorney and award-winning author of The Trust (and back cover blurb provider for The Angry Woman Suite) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10316920-the-trust

Martha Rodriguez, author of the children’s book, A Reel Cool Summer http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12062453-a-reel-cool-summer
and fellow member of RABMAD (Read a book, Make a difference), a group of authors who give back.

happydog

#1 at Amazon: The Angry Woman Suite

Here it is: This morning (day after Thanksgiving), The Angry Woman Suite, a Discovery Award winner and Kirkus Critics’ pick, is  sitting on a #1 spot at Amazon … check it out here:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Angry-Woman-Suite-ebook/dp/B007CLHQU2

And here, pasted and copied from you-know-who: 

Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

The Angry Woman Suite [Kindle Edition]

Didja see the #1, didja? Baby Rae and I are dancing…. The Angry Woman Suite is currently #1 in Historical  Fiction and #3 in Mystery.

Here’s Laurie Fuller’s amazing Wuthering Heights-ish cover again (’cause I like it so much): 

… and that link again: http://www.amazon.com/The-Angry-Woman-Suite-ebook/dp/B007CLHQU2

… and me and Baby wishing you happy reading and Happy Holidays (ours definitely are, so far)

New Beginnings

Um … is there such a thing as old beginnings? I always wonder about things like that, like when I see “Live band” advertised (or live anything) … as opposed to what? Dead band? Or, “fresh fruit” on the menu, as opposed to—well, you get my drift….  

At any rate, The Angry Woman Suite (award-winning psychological mystery)has a new beginning: a new cover and a new back cover text, and two whole pages of awesome editorial reviews added to it (and, yes, I’m showing it off here)—and check out this too, just for today: http://fire.kindlenationdaily.com/2012/11/10/check-out-todays-kfknd-book-of-the-day-on-your-kindle-fire-the-angry-woman-suite-by-lee-fullbright/

It’s a whole new edition, soon to hit distribution, and here is that very cool new cover (larger) by amazing artist, Laurie Fuller. It so captures the “Hitchcockian” vibe of The Angry Woman Suite:

The new back cover is still in development, layout-wise, but here’s a first peek at the new text:

new back cover text

And that’s it for today’s new beginning … hope you’re having a good weekend (how many times d’you think I used the word new in this post? And I write?

Sheesh….

The Summer of Berg

I’m in an Elizabeth Berg state of mind.

I recently finished my third Elizabeth Berg novel of the summer (okay, it’s almost November, I get it. I’m having trouble letting go of summer; I have trouble letting go of things, period), all given to me by the same friend. Now, if I’ve ever read anything Elizabeth Berg-ish before this past summer, I don’t remember—and you’d think I would, she’s quite prolific. I looked at Berg’s list of titles this morning, but nothing set off bells (though I wouldn’t set any great store by this).

I often think things are given to us, or arrive, or are placed in our path when they can serve or enlighten or comfort us most. When we are ready.

Without realizing, I’d been ready for the summer of Berg. 

The title of this latest Berg foray is Home Safe, and the blurb on the front cover, by Booklist, reads, “Berg is a tender and enchanting storyteller … A keen and funny observer, she is the poet of kindness.”

All three of the Berg novels I’ve read are about loss of a spouse; or more specifically, a way of life, a state of being; in a way, a slice of identity—or, another way of putting it, a loss of “home” in the metaphorical sense—that safe place—we all know what our safe place is (hopefully), whether it be that lost spouse, or friend, or our dog, where we’re so completely known and accepted and valued, all pretenses and defenses and drama and airs checked at the door, please, only authenticity wanted and allowed here. That’s it, that’s the safe place. That’s home.   

Berg’s books are not sad books. Her characters are not tedious. They are interesting, human and real, and Booklist is right: Berg is the poet of kindness. An incisive poet of kindness, to be more exact. She is not sappy or pithy, and she doesn’t hurry healing along. Doesn’t even tell you that healing is on the guest list. But she invites this unnamed thing in, in the guise of opportunity and new challenge (and, yes, even risk), and she sits it down, makes it feel at home. She wants it to stay a while, get to know it, not fight or challenge it, and so she sets up a conducive environment for it, surrounding herself and her characters with the right (healthy) people, and humor and gentle insight and compassion. No lectures are allowed. Only windbags lecture, anyway (something Berg’s probably already written about).

There are no easy answers in Berg’s books; no homegrown recipe for healing, no pie-in-the-sky how-to manual—but there’s unlimited acceptance and there is the unspoken awareness that we are all, at one time or another, feeling our way home, safe.   

And there is comfort in that; in that we’re in this life together. And we’re in it to mend (and, yes, we can mend); to rebuild, to keep moving, to thrive, not by burying loss and hurt or nurturing it, or distracting it by inciting drama, but by inviting healing in (and by showing all dismissive, lecturing, moralizing, whiny, self-aggrandizing know-it-all loser windbags the door—okay, those were my words, not Berg’s).

I typed up the following passage from Home Safe, and put it on the fridge:

“She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks. Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have. It seems to her that life is like gathering berries in an apron with a hole. Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive. We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead.”    

Love this.

IndieReader feature: The Angry Woman Suite

All About the Book | IR Staff
Lee Fullbright on “The Angry Woman Suite”

An unsolved celebrity double murder in the early 1900’s, and the fallout on three generations of one fragile family, as told by three very different narrators: a young girl in search of autonomy; a young man in search of an identity, and an older man in search of justice.  Read On »

Lee Fullbright on “The Angry Woman Suite”

All About the Book, Homepage Sub  •  IR Staff  •  Oct 16, 2012

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What is the title of the book and when was it published?

The Angry Woman Suite was published March 10, 2012.

What’s the book’s first line?

“It is said that love is comfort, and that comfort comes from recognition of the beloved.”

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch.”

The elevator pitch is it’s about an unsolved celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania, in the early 1900’s, and the fallout on three generations of one fragile family, as told by three very different narrators: a young girl in search of autonomy; a young man in search of an identity, and an older man in search of justice.

What inspired you to write the book?

The autonomy slant was the inspiration. I was visiting Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, site of a Revolutionary War battle, exploring George Washington’s headquarters and the battleground. It was a warm, quiet day, and I considered how different it must’ve been the day of the battle; the noise and bloodshed—and that’s when it hit me: the idea of another story about a battle for freedom, but within family. I even knew, on that day, that my lead narrator would be a woman looking back on her life, and that I would include the Battle of Brandywine as background and as a metaphor for a story about family.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?

There are three narrators and they pretty much share equal billing. But the character who starts off the book, Elyse Grayson, is the novel’s glue—and she’s an understated rebel. As for who she reminds me of, she looks like a girl on my street, but other than appearance, Elyse is, for me, an original.

What’s the main reason someone would read this book?

The Angry Woman Suite can be an immersion and an adventure; a book to get lost in. And I think that’s why many of us read novels. To become lost and then found again.