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.


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


Featured Author: Darryl Bollinger

Meet Darryl Bollinger, an award-winning author of seven medical thrillers. The richness of detail in his books can only come from someone who spent twenty-eight years working in the health care industry. It’s a field that touches all of us from time to time — and this author has collected a lot of juicy stories to tell.

The Healing Tree was inspired while Darryl and a friend were walking in the woods near his North Carolina home. He says:

I was halfway through the first draft of what, at the time, was going to be book number seven. On a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a friend mentioned that he had a great idea for a book. “What if someone hiking in the park discovered a tree that was thought to be extinct?” he asked. As ideas tend to do, this one reached out and grabbed me. By the time we finished the hike, I’d sketched out a story. I shelved my then-current work-in-progress and immediately started writing The Healing Tree.

Plants as Medicine

Most good novels contain some fascinating research and this one is no exception:

Since the Cherokee Indians are so much a part of this area, I wanted to incorporate them accurately and respectfully. I probably read four or five books on the Cherokee and their history and visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC. (Highly recommend!)

The Healing Tree is based on the premise that the Cherokee know about the healing tree and its properties, so Darryl also delved into how plants are used for medicinal purposes. His local bookstore, Blue Ridge Books, recommended a great book on the subject: Plants of the Cherokee by William H. Banks.

How Far Would You Go?

We asked Darryl what he would like readers to take away from The Healing Tree.

First, the question of “how far would you go to save the life of a loved one?” Justin Reeve, my protagonist, faces this question a number of times. His sister is dying and conventional treatment is not working. He desperately wants to save her, but at what risks? What compromises will he be willing to make?

The second takeaway is the realization that our health care system is driven by money and greed. As a country, we spend twice as much per capita as the next closest country, yet our outcomes are in the middle of the pack at best.

A Long Time Coming

Like many of us, Bollinger had an interest in writing from an early age.

I’ve always loved reading fiction. As a child, it was an escape. I tell people that it took me over twenty years to finish my first book which, by the way, is still unpublished. I didn’t have the confidence to try to make a living writing, and went into a business career instead. So, I was a “closet” writer for those twenty years.

When I finally retired, my wife challenged me to give writing my undivided attention. That was when I finally finished my first novel. I realized it wasn’t ready for prime time, so I put it in the file cabinet and started on The Medicine Game, which became my first published novel.

When asked about his writing inspirations, Darryl took the difficult step of limiting it to three.

Ernest Hemingway. I love his brevity and concise prose. Every word in his writing counts.

John Updike, probably one of America’s greatest writers—a writers’ writer. One of only four to have won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction, he also wrote non-fiction, short stories, poetry, stories… everything.

Michael Crichton. Brilliant. An M.D., author, and filmmaker. He always started with a kernel of truth and then wrapped an incredible story around that core. Like Jurassic Park. The kernel of truth was dinosaur DNA found preserved in amber. I give Crichton credit for my belief that my books are fiction rooted in reality.

Finally, loyal readers will be happy to know that Darryl has picked up the manuscript he put on hold when he began to work on The Healing Tree.

It’s called The Treatment Plan. My last two books are set in North Carolina, but I’m going back to Florida for this one. When a stranger asks for help in finding his daughter who has been kicked out of a drug treatment center for non-payment, a reluctant ex-federal agent must battle a corrupt health care company to save her and prevent more victims

To receive updates about author friends and their work be sure to subscribe to the Amelia Indie Authors newsletter. Learn more about Darryl and his work at


Want to help spread the word about this talented #indieauthor? It’s easy to tweet.

The premise of The Healing Tree by Darryl Bollinger came on a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “What if someone hiking in the park discovered a tree that was thought to be extinct?” Click To Tweet

The Healing Tree by Darryl Bollinger looks at area customs.“Since the Cherokee Indians are so much a part of this area, I wanted to incorporate them accurately and respectfully.” Click To Tweet

What would @DarrylBollinger like readers to take away from The Healing Tree? First, “how far would you go to save the life of a loved one?” What risks would you take? What compromises would you make? Click To Tweet

Sisters in Smut and Their Stories

When first invited to spend some time at a whacky-sounding gathering called The Smummit, I was both curious and cautious. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was worried about. The event was hosted by my good friend (and favorite extrovert) Dr J and I’m always happy to spend time with smart, funny women — especially when one of my besties refers to them as sisters.

Unfortunately, my hesitation is something these women encounter quite often, simply because of their genre: they write erotica. It’s not a genre with which I’m terribly familiar, so, of course, curiosity took over. Not only were all the Smummit participants delightful humans — they also happen to be good writers. So I decided to conduct some interviews. I hope you enjoy getting to know Ria Restrepo, Wednesday Noir, and Oleander Plume as much as I did.

Meet Some Sisters in Smut

So, ladies — sisters — let’s talk about pen names. Why do you use one and how did you come up with it? Any special significance? Let’s start with you, Oleander. (Here’s her Twitter handle.)

Before I came up with my pen name, I had a blog called Poison Pen/Dirty Mind, and, for reasons that still mystify me, I wanted a pen name that coordinated. Anyway, oleander is a poison, and plume is French for pen, so…Oleander Plume.

And what about you, Ria?

I use a pen name primarily to protect my privacy. It’s unfortunate, but a woman writing erotica tends to draw unwanted attention and I’d rather not have weirdos showing up on my doorstep. Also, most of my family is not aware that I write erotica. I’m not sure how they’d react, but to avoid any possible unpleasantness, I keep it to myself.

As for how I chose it, I wanted something that reflected my Hispanic heritage. I’ve always liked the predominantly Colombian surname Restrepo, so that was easy. To pick my first name, I used a character naming book where I learned Ria means “from the river’s mouth.” I liked its sound and no one appeared to be using it, so that’s what I chose.

But Why?

How did you come to this genre? What are some of the unique joys and challenges faced by romance/erotica writers in general? You specifically? Let’s start with Wednesday.

Writing erotica seemed natural to me. I love the genre and always have. But there’s more to erotica than sex. Maybe it’s weird, but I want to write erotica for women — to give them a mental vacation from their daily lives and a story to lose themselves in. And hopefully, once in a while, make them laugh. This genre is home to me. It’s where I feel safe, and those dirty stories are more than a collection of naughty words: they’re a symbol for empowerment, a chance to explore, a place where everyone belongs.

How about you, Oleander?

Why I started writing erotica is too complex to go into here, but I can tell you why I keep writing it, despite the challenges: the answer has a lot to do with shame.

I’m shamed for being a survivor of sexual violence. I’m shamed for being a woman who enjoys reading and writing about sex. I’m shamed for being a woman who writes gay romance. Sure, I could quit writing smut and possibly have a happier life, but I refuse.

This is my personal rebellion against the conservative right. Against patriarchy. Against the ridiculous and dangerous current political regime.

Against the shame I’ve felt about myself.

Erotica writers can do important things. We can normalize healthy sexual relationships for folks of all types. We normalize consent. We can normalize diversity. We can inspire, empower, and help survivors heal. That’s why I will never stop peddling smut.

Erotica writers can do important things. We normalize consent. We can normalize diversity. We can inspire, empower... Click To Tweet

Some Advice from the Sisters

And, sticking with Oleander for one more question, please: What advice do you have for someone just starting out as a writer?

The absolute best advice I can give is this: your words are not precious. Say it out loud with me, right now:

“My words are not precious.”

Here’s the thing, when you start out, 99% of your work is going to suck. IT’S SUPPOSED TO SUCK! No one is born a writer. We writers make ourselves, using hard work and tenacity. Staying humble is an important part of the process.

When you drop your defenses and allow your work to be edited or critiqued, you’ll grow as a writer. And as a human.

Ria, do you have any advice for our readers who write?

I’ve really stepped up my blogging game within the last year. My blog is called Ria’s Writing and is mostly erotic romance stories. Mainly, I do it to keep myself writing on a regular basis and to build an audience. I also love the challenge of writing stories for the various online writing prompts which allow me to experiment with ideas I might not have tried and gain confidence in my own writing instincts.

Sweet Adventure

Finally, ladies… do you have anything to say about your visit to Amelia Island? Let’s continue with Ria.

Amelia Island is a beautiful area I was thrilled to finally visit. The carriage ride around the historic area was definitely a highlight. I especially enjoyed the ghost stories—and I may have even come away with a picture of a possible supernatural sighting. Above all, though, I was overjoyed to meet and connect with the very talented women I’d only interacted with online. Meeting the Sisters in Smut in person reinforced everything I already knew: they are the most supportive and encouraging group of women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Meeting the sisters in person reinforced everything I already knew: they are the most supportive and encouraging group of women I've ever had the pleasure of working with. Click To Tweet

What about you, Wednesday Noir?

Visiting Amelia Island changed me. It wasn’t the beautiful streets, the charming houses, or even the sea breeze. But believe me, I enjoyed the scenery and still miss the breeze.

It was the company that changed me. I’m an agoraphobic introvert. When I set out to write for a living, I never expected to make friends. But oh boy, I did. I’d already met Dr. J, and chatted with the other Sisters In Smut daily, but I didn’t expect the emotional impact of being in the same room. There was so much laughter, my cheeks hurt the entire trip, and oh gosh, the happy tears. I’m surprised we didn’t flood the island.
Not only that, I didn’t expect to come away from the trip with even more writer friends. Everyone I met, was so sweet, so kind, and taught me there’s more to life than writing and Twitter: I can talk to people, and I can go places. I’ve even been getting out more while at home. The island is beautiful, but I enjoyed the Amelia Island state of mind most. I carried a bit of y’alls good humor and easy-going nature home with me. Seriously, is anyone ever grouchy there?

See what I mean? They’re lovely. Here are some sisters’ author bios for you.


Oleander Plume plans on living until she is 100, so the fact that she didn’t start writing until the age of 50 doesn’t bother her at all. Her short stories have been featured in best-selling erotic anthologies from Cleis Press and Riverdale Ave Books. Horatio Slice: Guitar Slayer of the Universe, published by Go Deeper Press, is Oleander’s first (but hopefully not last) full-length novel. When Oleander isn’t writing, you can find her creating art, dabbling in graphic design, or hanging out with her wonderful family in Chicago, Illinois.

Ria Restrepo may appear to be a mild-mannered bookworm who drinks too much coffee and spends most days tapping away on her computer, but beneath the quiet exterior lurks a filthy-minded sex kitten with a lurid and lascivious imagination. Her work has appeared in Spy Games: Thrilling Spy Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year Volume 1, Chemical [se]X 2: Just One More, The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Volume 3, and coming soon in Best Bondage Erotica of the Year Volume 1.

When Wednesday Noir isn’t writing, she can be found with a cat on her lap, a cup of cinnamon tea in hand, watching cheesy 80s horror movies while avoiding in-person social interaction. She’s not married but considers herself in a committed relationship with Netflix.