Inspired by a Beloved Character?

Readers love character-driven fiction. We’ve all had our imaginations captured by a character (or characters) so well drawn that we feel compelled to dive into the story alongside them. That personal connection can be so powerful that we feel this character is someone we know — almost like a close  friend or family member whose trials tug at our heartstrings.

Some characters are so well-loved that we can read about them on social media where their fans compare knowledge of a character’s activities, interest, or appearance. They post and debate and argue over what he/she did or didn’t do, what they might do, or even what they should do. In fact, there’s an entire genre known as fan fiction in which avid readers will borrow an author’s characters and write new stories for them.

What is a Beloved Character?

But today, on the eve of the release of When Starlings Fly as One, we’re checking in with Irish historical fiction author Nancy Blanton to get her views on the topic. In reading her blog post on the topic I couldn’t help but notice: Blanton walks her talk. Nowhere does she expect her readers to fall in love with characters from whom she is distant.

She says, “When I use the term “beloved character” I mean first and foremost that the character must be loved by the author. A writer can’t possibly make a reader care about one of their characters unless they themselves first care very deeply about them — and know them extremely well. That knowledge and understanding is like relationships with real people: it shows itself over time.

We asked her about Merel de Vries, the protagonist of her latest novel, When Starlings Fly as One. As with many wonderful relationships, this meeting was purely serendipitous. “I wasn’t even thinking about the book or the story. I was in bed, browsing dreamily through my Pinterest feed. And there she was.”

“She stared at me from a small portrait, a headshot as we say, and not even head and shoulders. The painting was quite old and badly scratched, but the scratches looked like teardrops. Something about her dark eyes hooked me and I couldn’t sleep until I had found something about who she was. The post said only, “Head of a young woman, c. 17th century by an unknown Dutch artist”.”

Follow the Clues

There was, however, an additional clue: word ‘ashmolean’ appeared in the caption. Living in the U.S., Blanton says she was barely familiar with the magnificent Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England. Regardless of its holdings, this museum holds a great deal of historic sway: it is the world’s second university museum and Britain’s first public museum. The first of its buildings went up in the 17th century specifically to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677.

If you know that Blanton loves research every bit as much as she enjoys creating stories to share her findings, you can probably guess what came next. “I contacted them. They had the painting, but no further information about the subject or painter. In that case, I had a blank slate on which to build. I purchased the usage rights for my book cover, even before I had really started the manuscript.”

So, on one hand, the author was free to create a story to match the portrait. On the other, there really wasn’t much to go on. Or was there?

Portrait as Character Sketch

“From this portrait alone, I knew Merel was young, smart, petite, and a bit sad. The bow in her hair made her look younger than she probably was, but the grand pearl necklace and fine yellow gown said she lived as a person of wealth. I may never know who she really was, but I certainly hope I’ve reflected at least some of her truth.”

That the woman was Dutch initially seemed to be an obstacle, but actually provided the author with an unexpected — and perfect —  solution to writing about the 1641 Irish Rebellion against the English. Although her heart is forever and always with the Irish, Blanton hoped to approach this episode with as unbiased look as she could muster.

A Character’s Point of View

shallow focus photography of teal and white ceramic bowls and cupsSince ‘histories are written by the victors,’ finding objectivity could prove difficult. The English side was well documented and recently the Irish perspective has become a bit easier to uncover. Creating a fairly young and mostly neutral protagonist would allow the reader to travel with Merel as she discovered both sides of the story and explored her own internal conflicts.

From there Nancy Blanton did what she typically does for a character. “I gave her a birthday, parentage, relationships, desires, flaws. Some of what I set up in the beginning changed as I progressed in the story, and learned more about her and how she would react in specific situations. I got to know her, and well before the end of the book, I loved her.”

We hope you do, too.

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When Starlings Fly as One by Nancy Blanton will be available June 23, 2021.

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Birth of a Book Cover

Developing the right book cover for your new work involves far more than simply choosing a more durable paper stock and a lovely graphic. Like almost everything else in the publishing industry, when done well, the addition of a book cover appears quite simple. And that appearance of ease and simplicity is part of the goal.

In the time it takes to write, edit, and prepare a manuscript for publication authors find themselves responding to “tell me about your book” or “describe your work in progress” over and over again. Eventually, though, that book gets published. Who, then to “tell me about your book?”

Who’s Going to Tell About Your Book?

If you guessed the book cover you’re absolutely right and have arrived at its purpose: the book cover stands in for the author when she is not available. Its job is to tell about the book, to let the prospective reader know a little bit about why the author loved this story enough to tell it — and why they’re going to love reading it. That’s a tall order and one not generally fulfilled by a prefabricated cover design.

A great book cover is comprised of several parts: the title, the spine, the inside front and back cover copy. We will look at some of those parts in the future. Today we’re going to start with the overall image which likely includes some of those other components. The simplest way to do that seems to be to trace Nancy Blanton’s process as she created the cover for When Starlings Fly as One. Or, as one reader asked, “How did you get from A to B?”

Young Woman in a Dutch Portrait

The process started, as it always does, in Nancy’s glorious imagination and the cover pictured at the top of this post. As readers of her first series know, Nancy is a great fan of the portraits of the time. She was intrigued by the young woman and truly loved the Dutch portrait initially featured on the cover; it inspired many aspects of the protagonist and her personality.

We posted a few versions of that first cover on Nancy’s Facebook page and on the Amelia Indie Authors page as well and asked her existing readers about their preferences.

While both Nancy and her support team appreciated those comments they were not at all what we expected. Frankly, we thought the crowdsourcing would provide a clear preference. At first it did not. After reviewing the comments elicited by book cover number one, Blanton and the team moved from confused to inspired. In our experience, that’s what readers do: they inspire.

The Trip from A to B: Readers Inspire

Although the book covers look very different from one another, there are a number of logical steps from point A to point B. Here’s some of what Nancy had to say when she recently shared the finished book cover on social media:

You truly inspired the new look. We’ve used the murmuration background that was most favored, along with the preferred type style for the title, and made sure it was clearly readable. We also retained the castle image, though it is on the back cover now. And though I truly loved the Dutch portrait of a young woman, several of you pointed out that use of it on the cover could discourage male readers.

This is a book for all genders, for anyone who is interested in Ireland. That interest is the core that will attract readers to the book, and so we put Ireland on the cover. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

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When Starlings Fly as One

Publication date: June 23rd

Be sure to follow Nancy on the social media platform of your choice.

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

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Although the book covers look very different from one another, there are a number of logical steps from point A to point B. Click To Tweet

After reviewing the comments elicited by cover #1, Blanton and the team moved from confused to inspired. In our experience, that’s what readers do: they inspire. Click To Tweet

The simplest way seems to be to trace Nancy Blanton’s process as she created the cover for When Starlings Fly as One. Or, as one reader asked, “How *did* you get from there to here?” Click To Tweet

 

Words We Love – #wordnerds

Many authors find it easy to become overwhelmed, to feel as if they’re behind in their goals. The words just don’t come. Or, if and when they do, they are clunky and pathetic.

This feeling of heaviness can slow us up even further — so much so that we can forget why we do what we do. We forget all of the wonderful stories we have to tell and the amazing “characters” we’ve met — people whose stories are itching to be shared.

We forget there are readers “out there, somewhere” waiting for that next release. We forget that any political- or pandemic-related heaviness will eventually pass as well.

Sometimes we even forget the love of words that launched us as readers and, probably not long after, as writers.

In an effort to lighten the mood and to celebrate those wonderful building blocks that allow us to do what we do, Amelia Indie Authors started to celebrate Word Nerd Wednesdays. Members of our team create delightful graphics, in celebration of some of the quirky words we love and would like to get to know better. The posts are light and social and (we hope) lots of fun.

#WordNerdWednesday

Funny, as I think about our collection of weird words, I’m reminded of the usual Monday night homework in elementary school days. You might have had the same assignment. On Mondays we would receive a list of new spelling words. After copying them down from the chalkboard, our homework was to look up each of them in the grown-up dictionary and write the definition beside each word.

I don’t know about you but this almost always turned into a very long assignment for me. Each page was a source of adventure as I got distracted by the tastiness of all of those amazing ideas. They were magnetic.

The Amelia Indie Authors are not the only ones with such a fascination. Some authors are intrigued enough to create entire books on the topic. Favorite Husband and I are currently on a lengthy road trip so my personal collection is in storage. As I looked around Amazon for the exact titles and publishing info, I turned up a few new ones. (So far I’ve managed not to buy any new ones. So far.) Perhaps one of these will speak to you.

If you’re on social media, you can find our Word Nerd Wednesday offerings on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. When you run across them, please take a moment to “like” or comment. If you find a particular favorite, go ahead and share it. Believe it or not, that’s a wonderful way to attract people to our work.

We also invite you to use the comments section of the posts to suggest new words for consideration. In fact, if you have any favorite “weird words” you’d like us to add to the queue, please add them in the comments below.

It’s Easy to Tweet About This

We forget all of the wonderful stories we have to tell and the amazing characters we’ve met — people whose stories are itching to be shared. Click To Tweet

Sometimes we even forget the love of words that launched us as readers and, probably not long after, as writers. Click To Tweet

Funny, as I think about our collection of weird words, I’m reminded of the usual Monday night homework in elementary school days. Click To Tweet