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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blog Renovation Complete!

As you might have noticed, things have changed a bit on my blog! That's because I had it made over to coordinate with my new website, which officially launches tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peak in today at The Character Therapist! You can sign up to receive my newsletter and win a free Writer's Guide to Character Motivation ebook!

Things have been hectic with the launch of the site, writing guest blog posts, and coordinating the blog I've decided to have a Character Clinic next week where I'll knock out 4 assessments in one week! Stay tuned!

Please click here for a chance to receive Cathy West's debut Vietnam historical, Yesterday's Tomorrow!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Review and Giveaway of Yesterday's Tomorrow

Happy Memorial Day! I hope you take some time today to remember the veterans who gave their lives for our freedom. I've saved my review of Catherine West's debut novel, Yesterday's Tomorrow, to post today, in honor of those who have gone on before us.

From the author's website:

It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined. As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while desperately trying to keep tabs on her only brother who enlisted some time ago, but both tasks seem impossible.

When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.

In an unexpected twist, Kristin and Luke are forced to work together. With war raging all around them, they engage in their own tumultuous battle of emotions. Headstrong and willing to risk it all for what they believe in, they’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill their own private agendas. Kristin is after a story that might get her the Pulitzer. Luke wants retribution from the enemy that took away his family. In the face of death, Kristin and Luke must decide if they’re willing to set aside selfish ambition for the love that seems to have ambushed them and captured their hearts.

This book literally had me holding my breath. It whetted my appetite for a good suspense and balanced it with just the right amount of romance and intrigue. Cathy West obviously did a lot of research (I'm sure much more than the sites she references at the end of her book) and the end result is a powerful, moving tale of love, redemption, and overcoming obstacles.

Since this book is set in the Vietnam War time period, I think one of the most prevalent themes running throughout it is that of the reaction of soldiers and media personnel to the war. In short, many people in the book have post-traumatic stress disorder. It was called battle fatigue or shell shock back then, but Cathy obviously did her research about this and explains that to the reader.

Cathy's portrayals of the gruesome aftereffects of war are dead on accurate. For a person to have this disorder, two things have to be present:

(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others
(2) the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

Check and check! The things the men and women see in war change them. I liked how Cathy had Kristen come to the realization that she wasn't ready for everything she was seeing. Her push to write award-winning material came with an emotional and psychological price that haunted her far past the time when he plane touched down on US soil.

Cathy has people experiencing flashbacks, exaggerated startle responses, auditory hallucinations, difficulty sleeping, irritability and anger...reading this book is almost like having a PTSD manual at your fingertips. Very well done, informative, and realistic.

(Thought this sketch was oh-so-appropriate, considering today and Cathy's book. Click on it to enlarge.)

To be entered in the giveaway for Cathy's book, click on "Follow" to the right (because I want this to be a reward to my readers!) and leave your name and email address in a non-spam format in the comment section below. I'll run the giveaway through Sunday. Good luck!

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Funnies

The Fusco Brothers

Copyright J.C. Duffy 1-8-11

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

T3 - Character Communication

Communication defines relationships, and it is impossible not to communicate. Our behaviors communicate. Our silences communicate. We use words as needed to do the same. How a relationship or family is organized, how it will operate, what it will do--all determined through communication.

Spoken communications have two aspects according to family systems theorists:

1) Content aspect: This is the actual information being passed along. "I like that red blouse you got last Christmas."

2) Relationship aspect: Depending on the context of the situation and inflection in the voice, the informative statement above could be a command from husband to wife to wear that particular blouse to his parent's home that evening. This type of message would define the relationship in some way.

The wife then can either confirm the definition and wear the blouse or attempt to redefine the relationship by ignoring his statement to convey that he has no control over what she wears. Or, if her husband said this after she had finished dressing in that very top, then she could simply say thanks to his compliment.

The Relationship aspect of communication falls into what the writing world calls "subtext."

Subtext can be determined by the character's inflection, tone, and volume. If the husband's words from the example above were spoken with sarcasm, then it would be apparent that he didn't like the blouse at all. If he said it with a sexual connotation, then his meaning would also be clear.

Subtext can also be discovered by a character's body language, which includes facial expressions. If the husband said this while buried under newspapers or yelling it over the blare of the television, this would carry a different meaning than if it he was fingering the blouse in the closet or massaging his wife's shoulder's after she had the blouse on. Likewise if he said it with a grimace or a leer, that would also convey subtext outside of the actual words.

Next time you're writing in dialogue, try to stay away from too much WYSIWYG dialogue, as Brandilyn Collins calls it in her book, Getting Into Character. This stands for What You See Is What You Get dialogue. While people do say exactly what they mean sometimes, it's far more human to include subtexting.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Voices in Your Character's Head

A while back, I did a post on Parent, Child, and Adult ego states and explained how when we communicate, we come from one of these position. Today I want to focus on when our characters hear the voices of these ego states in their head, namely coming from their Parent ego.

To recap that earlier post:

The Parent ego state is a set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we learn from our parents (or caretakers). It's almost like we unconsciously mimic them, incorporating their values, morals, and core beliefs into our outer communication. We express these ideals by being either critical or nurturing.

Nurturing Parent is soft, loving, and quick to give permission. The Critical Parent is the other side of the coin. When in this state, a person will react as they imagined their parent might have reacted, or they act toward others the way their parents acted toward them. It's uncanny, but we might use some of the exact same phrases we head from our parents, or strike the same postures, use the same mannerisms or gestures...we become our parents.

The Parent ego state can be likened to a tape recorder. It constantly plays pre-programmed statements that we can hear when we are adults almost like a voice in our head. the tapes can make a person feel either good or bad depending on whether it's a recording from our Critical Parent or Nurturing Parent.

Far more likely is that our characters (and us) internalize some of those negative Critical Parent (CP) messages. Perhaps our CP plays negative, put-down statements like, "You're not good enough to amount to anything," or "You're ugly/stupid/crazy." This internalization by the character can lead to negative self-talk and low self-esteem. (And let's face many fictional characters can you name off the top of your head who have an issue with not meeting expectations they think their parents had of them?)

Here are some examples of this in action:

Child wants to be loved = CP says "You don't deserve it."
Child wants to give love = CP says, "It isn't wanted."
Child is angry at an unrewarding job = CP says, "This is the best you can do because you're lazy."
Child comes up with a new idea that goes against old ideals = CP says, "You're crazy to think like that."

Far better would be to internalize the loving, unconditional sayings of the Nurturing Parent, like, "I love you," "You're a winner," "You're smart," "You're a princess," or "You're beautiful." But to this I heave a great big sigh. I just don't see much of this phenomenon...certainly not with clients in my office.

Q4U: What voices do your characters hear? Who's on repeat play in their head? (And can I just get a shout-out from those of you out there who actually remember tape recorders like the one shown above?)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Sense of Entitlement

Joe wrote in asking me to talk about sense of entitlement. He and his daughter were talking about Lindsay Lohan in particular, and how she could walk out of a jewelry store with a stolen $2500 necklace as though it were a common, everyday occurrence.

Joe wants to know: What is is about money, fame, etc., that causes people to walk around feeling as though their status is something we should all be concerned about? Why do people utter, "Don't you know who I am?" as though who they are is supposed to be an excuse for them to do whatever they want to do?

While this is a bit out of the ordinary question, I think it applies to writers and readers alike, especially those writing YA, since this topic is quite common in those years. Self-entitlement is something that causes me so much headache as a therapist. Clients with this type of attitude are never satisfied with anything you do. Nothing is good enough for them, and they generally never express gratitude. It's like they think they are royalty.

Which brings me to my first talking point. I find it interesting that in your question you singled out people with money and fame as being self-entitled. Perhaps this is because at the time you emailed me (again, sorry about the email glitch that cost me 3 months of write-ins!) Lohan had just been arrested for felony grand theft and it was uppermost in your mind. But I work with people who almost exclusively have nothing to their names--no cars, houses, or assets of any kind--yet they, too, can have a sense of entitlement, that they are owed something by society.

If you think back to how your children were as toddlers, you should remember that they behaved as if they should get what they wanted, when they wanted it (typically ASAP, if your kids are anything like mine). If they didn't, whining and tantrum behaviors commence until you almost wish you could just give in. Children are naturally egotistical--the world revolves around them, or at least as much of the world that they are concerned with. 

But when this typical toddler-like selfish attitude is seen repeatedly in adults, you're dealing with psychopathology.

Children have to be taught to have a proper sense of entitlement (earning what they get), not a false sense, like Lohan's belief that she deserved that $2500 necklace just because she's who she is. When a child is overly praised for things, rewarded for tasks that should be done as a matter of course, and handed things without any effort on their part required, they can develop a false sense of entitlement.

These children are done such a disservice by their parents. Yes, I guess I blame Michael and Dina Lohan. They obviously did not teach her the value of hard work and earning things. Children need to be taught the connection between making an effort and achieving success. This is the way of the world. I believe Lindsay and others who are rich and famous--Winona Ryder comes to mind--actually think that the rules of the world don't apply to them...because they weren't taught these rules in childhood.

One can only hope that Lindsay feels the burn when she's asked to back out of movie deals because she's difficult to insure or when she has to serve jail time and/or go to rehab and miss out on career opportunities. She's got to pay the bills somehow. While this might be an eye-opening experience for her (if jail time actually happens...looks like the internet is saying she might just be under house arrest for a few days, not over 100 days in jail), it might also drive her to even more desperation. Time will tell.

Interesting that I've talked about with my staff many times, since it's so prevalent, even in economically poor populations. I actually did a group on the short story by O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi (click on the title to read it online). Excellent book about sacrificial giving and the exact opposite of a false sense of entitlement. Great story to teach from. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks for writing in, Joe. It was fun to go off on a little tangent. :)

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Review of PJ Nichol's Short Story Born Again

When PJ Lincoln contacted me to review his short story Born Again, I was intrigued. No one had asked me to review a short before (and when I say short, I mean 3500 words), so I agreed. I downloaded it from Smashwords for free using a coupon code that PJ has agreed I can share with one lucky commenter.

I have to say that the concept behind PJ's former flash fiction submission for Writer's Digest is quite fascinating.

Here's the blurb from Smashwords:

Beth Tanner is a liar. For more than a decade, she has hidden the truth from her devoted husband, Jackson. They’ve built a solid life together, with the house in the ‘burbs and a couple of kids. On a rare evening out, Jackson’s lust for the latest electronic gadget sets the couple on a crash course with the truth. Born Again takes a fresh look at the bonds that keep people together in a fast-paced short story. 

So this little splash of fiction embodies one of the three Triple Threats of marital discord: COMMUNICATION.  Right off the bat we know Beth has a secret, and her life is just so status quo that you quickly read this little piece to find out what she's hiding.

It's also got a little for the speculative fiction lover. PJ's "LifeSync" gadget at a Brookstone store in the mall where Jackson and Beth are hanging out could fill a full-page novel with endless possibilities, no problem.

If the gadget would truly allow you to sync lives with your partner...would you want to do it? See events from their eyes? Know what they were thinking, feeling? Would we want them occupying our very thoughts, even if it was in hindsight? Would you want to be an open book...I mean, crack-spined open? What do we hide from our spouses on a daily basis?

Then I got to thinking about how this is exactly what the Lord Jesus does every minute of every day. I can only imagine how he must cringe at impure thoughts of lust or bitter plans for revenge that his people have. He is more than LifeSynced with us...he's omnipotent.

At any rate...this is a super quick read. It's got a little language, but it is Christian-themed, as evidenced by the title. Born Again is available for sale from for 99 cents, as well!

If you're not a follower of this blog, please click on "Follow" to the right and then leave a comment with your email address (in a non-spam format) to be entered to win!

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Funnies


© Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes 5-13-03

Glad that we all made it through another bogus prediction. When the Bible says that nobody will know the time of the Second Coming--not even the Son--why do people persist in thinking they know? I just don't understand it.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Power of Words

I watched this video and was deeply touched. Words do have power, and we'd be wise
to heed that power and wield it carefully.

Take 2 minutes and watch'll be so blessed and glad you did.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Rejected Teen Love

This week's assessment comes from Elizabeth, who is writing a YA mystery/thriller set in present time. Homeschooled antihero Donnie* comes from a high society family. His dad was rarely home, fairly negligent, and verbally abusive at times. Donnie grew very attached to his mother until, at the age of 16, her Parkinson's disease changed her, making her bed-ridden and ill-tempered. He encouraged his younger brothers to never leave her side. Vivian is hired as a maid to take care of things around the house. Donnie becomes quickly attached to her, because she reminds him of his mother pre-Parkinsons's. When this attachment morphs into romantic feelings on Donnie's part that aren't returned, Vivian quits her job as their maid.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Elizabeth wants to know: Would it be realistic for Donnie to completely lose it when Vivian quits and convince his brothers to help him kill her?

What you're describing here for Donnie does seem to be a fairly large leap, given what little info I have. The antisocial urge to kill someone doesn't arrive in a vacuum, and there should be a few other characteristics that Donnie should have so that this wouldn't surprise the reader.

I say surprise because that's exactly what it did to me when I read it. I can imagine a 16-year-old boy who imagines himself in love with the maid to feel a lot of emotion when she "spurns" him (quits the job). Likely he'll be overwhelmingly embarrassed, but people tend to not exhibit embarrassment as a general rule. Instead, they run straight to anger, which is the secondary emotion, but easier to handle. So yes, I'd imagine him getting fired up about her, maybe even wanting to prank call her or egg her house or some other juvenile stunt.

But kill her?

Since Donnie is 16, he's too young to have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). But if he had some symptoms of Conduct Disorder (which is usually a precursor to APD), then his homicidal urge would make more sense, especially if you have him influencing his brothers and staging an all-out premeditated attack against Vivian.

But not to make him this weirdo, either, right? So I looked over the breakdown of Conduct Disorder and began imagining this boy Donnie. The teen angst due to Vivian's betrayal....I think you're going to have to give the reader some clues up front that not all's well in Donnie's mind.

For example, one criteria of Conduct Disorder (and he'd only have to meet three to get the diagnosis) is deceitfulness of theft. If Donnie snooped around Vivian's car or even her personal home or car and tried to take something of hers, something that he'd value, then this would tip the reader off that he's got a dark side. (Now that I've typed that...that's totally what you'd have to do. You might definitely have thought of some ways to alert the reader in this regard, but the sketch was absent those details.)

Let's say he took something of significance to him and of little significance to her, like her chapstick or pen. This would meet the criteria of stealing items of nontrivial value without confronting the victim. it could also be a really good way for Vivian to start getting the creeps...her stuff is missing, but it's little stuff so she can't very well make a big deal to her employer (the dad). She could have just misplaced her pen or dropped the chapstick. See?

The bit about him being this charismatic leading brother could be worked in to fit the diagnosis, too. Many charismatic people lie on a regular basis. I mean, we've got people claiming to be God off and on, and many religious group members follow the lies to their death. This is charisma. Deceit usually doesn't take the unappealing roadway. So if Donnie could sort of be like a little conman with how he treats  his brothers and others, lying to them to obtain favors he wants (which could still be twisted and have him get these favors not so much for himself, but for his ailing mother), then this would be another characteristic.

Once Vivian leaves, he might should try to destroy some property of hers first, without jumping straight to an assassination plot. If you show him ramping up, then the reader will ramp up along with you. You won't have to spell it out, they'll get it and say to themselves, "This guy Donnie is off. Not at all how he originally came across." (And so many psychopaths are the same way! You'd never know them if you passed them on the street.)

The one area that I think Donnie might not meet much criteria would be the aggression to people or animals, unless you can make him more intimidating or bully-like when trying to get his brothers of even Vivian to do what he wants. But I honestly find the other, conman stuff to be a bit darker...not quite so obvious as outward aggression. This incongruity makes his choice of murder to be all the more shocking (in a good way...not surprising as in, "what on earth?) to the reader.

That's all I got this late Monday evening. Been a long weekend! But I welcome any additional questions in the comment section. I hope this helps!

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Richard Mabry's Tender Scar

I was given an excellent resource for people who have lost their spouse, one that I intend to keep on hand in my counseling office. I would encourage you to pick this book up at Amazon, either in print or Kindle format, if you have experienced this heartbreak or get it for someone you know who has.

Dr. Mabry was kind enough to autograph this copy for my mother-in-law, who lost her spouse of just over 25 years in March. I'm eagerly sending it her way, as I think it will really speak to the mental and emotional state she is in right now.

Tender Scar is autobiographical. Dr. Mabry lost his spouse after 40 wonderful years together. He grieved, and in that process, wrote emails to his children, family members, and ministers that he later made into conversational topics for each chapter.

The chapters are heart-wrenching. I've never lost a spouse, but it was all too easy to imagine these feelings Dr. Mabry is so forthcoming and candid about. I cried several times through this book, finding myself grateful that the chapters were short, two or three pages at most, and that I could absorb the concepts being discussed in short spurts.

I think this book is in a really grief-friendly format. My mother-in-law is being pulled in so many directions at this time, and her thoughts and emotions are all over the map. I don't think she'd be capable of sitting down and reading an emotionally intense book page after page after page. With Tender Scar, she'll be able to read a chapter here or there, and even skip to a chapter that she thinks might pertain to what she's dealing with in the moment, given the descriptive nature of the chapter titles.

The biggest change for grieving spouses is truly mental. In one chapter Dr. Mabry talks about changing the way you think, which is cognitive therapy in a nutshell. For so many years, you're part of a couple. You don't do much without thinking of how your partner will be affected. Once that partner is no longer living, you have to fundamentally change the way you interact with the world, and think of how things will affect you alone instead of you together.

This book might be little, but it packs a powerful punch. Dr. Mabry ends each chapter with a prayer for guidance and wisdom for the reader as they experience their own grief journey. This is truly a great resource for counselors, ministers, and lay people alike.

Thanks, Dr. Mabry, for your generous spirit, in both sharing this book with the world and specifically with me and my family.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend Funnies and Giveaway Winner!

The winner of Trish Perry's new release, Tea for Two, is BJ!  
Congratulations! Please send me you snail mail addy.

Pros & Cons
Copyright Kieran Meehan 3-29-11

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Technique Toolbox - Teaching a Child to Self-Regulate

I work with a lot of kids, and a lot of whom come from really traumatic backgrounds. As a result, they have a lot of emotional problems and have trouble self-regulating when their world gets out of whack (which it often does).

Children, being developmentally slower intellectually, don't have the words to express themselves when they are upset. Very young children cry, and older children tend to scream and have tantrums. It's important to intervene in a child's life and teach the the very important skill of self-regulating as early as possible.

At a conference I attended, I found out one of the simplest interventions you can do with a child to get the point of deep breathing across to them. I've not used this with my 3-year-old yet, but I plan on it. So if you've got children in your novels having a difficult time calming down or stopping tears, give this a shot.

What you will need:

An index card
Laminating machine (if possible, to make the card last longer)

What you do:

Have the child draw a picture of a flower on one side. As they draw, explain that to really appreciate the beautiful fragrance of a flower, you have to inhale deeply. Demonstrate with an exaggerated expansion of your chest cavity.

Then have the child turn the index card over and draw a picture of a birthday candle on a piece of a cake. Tell the child about what a deep breath is needed to make sure the candle is fully blown out. Exhale with them, practicing to blow the candle out by directing your outward breath to the card.


Children have to learn what breathing can do for them when they are upset. Getting oxygen to the brain can help sooth the child, make them more rational and alert. Most people tend to breathe in shallow breaths, and practicing doing this automatic function with a different method is useful. Breathing through the nose gets the oxygen in faster because people tend to inhale more deeply when doing so by their nose anyway.

Children can learn to calm themselves (called self-regulation) by using this two-sided card that fits in their back pocket. Some kids get so upset that they are red-faced, crying, and unable to speak, even if they should want to. Helping them see that moments like that are the perfect time to get the card out and practice self-soothing with deep breathing.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Nazi Sympathizer?

This week's character assessment comes from James. He's writing a historical drama-slash-psychological-thriller during the WWII time period. Otto* is my first Nazi to take up space on the couch. Otto was raised during Hitler's early reign, and his idealistic youth's driving motive was restoring Germany to its rightful place. He enlists in the German army and goes to war against his father's will. He survives, but not without scars and disillusionment in Nazism. Stationed in Russia, Otto comes to feel affection for a Russian girl, who he later discovers is Jewish. She gets killed somehow because of Otto and Otto becomes embittered. He fights to find justification for his decisions, clings to his faith, and dies internally divided but unrepentant.

Then the story begins.

It's in his limbo stage after death that he meets a man named Peter who offers him a way out of he explains why he lived his life the way he did. Otto resists but eventually agrees to sit down, and at length, he reaches catharsis, accepts forgiveness, and is taken into Heaven.

James wants to know: Since this character is a Nazi, how will I be able to confront a stereotype and challenge what people think about God's forgiveness? No one is beyond redemption, but people don't quite grasp that God will forgive anyone for anything, even people with beliefs we demonize.

This will be a challenge to write well, James. Well, actually the challenge will be to write the back cover copy well enough so that people even want to buy and take home a book about a Nazi. 

When I say the word "Nazi" and ask you to free associate (say the first word that comes to mind), the first word that likely goes through anyone's head is Hitler. Hitler was associated with the mass execution of Jews, concentration camps, Aryan Nation....none of this is positive association. To add even more difficulty to your plight, you've got a character who's gung-ho Hitler, at least initially.

I'm not advocating not to write this story at all. I'm intrigued by the concept, and I think others will be, too. But you'll have to be very careful to use people's perception in your favor. Psychology can help with this.

Public opinion about Nazis is largely hatred, disbelief, and some ignorance. It's the ignorance you can play on. I would only hope that there were some people in Hitler's regime who didn't agree with him 100%. Some people who risked it all to save Anne Franks. That's the beauty of fiction...take us to a time, place, and era and show us something we don't expect to see, make us feel something (sympathy) for a Nazi we don't expect to feel.

If you make this Otto a regular guy, with dreams and vices like the average Joe, he'll be someone others can relate to. Not many people in today's age can relate to Nazism. There is the neo-Nazi movement in America (if you really want to be disturbed, check out their website), but by and large, this kind of nationalism hasn't been experienced by people today, unless you count the swell of national sentiment after 9-11. If you could capture that positive feeling of unity and somehow bring readers around to understanding that that was where Otto was coming from, it could work. I could relate, even as I swallowed my bile about him being a Nazi and experiencing the same thing I felt.

I know you didn't ask for that little bit, but consider is a freebie. :)
Really, a book about a Nazi should be no different than a book about a prostitute or a hero who robs banks.  But because the word Nazi will be in the book blurb somewhere, you've got to quickly cover major ground in getting the reader to buy in to the concept, since Nazi is one of the most hated terms in all the land.

How can you do this? Here's a few suggestions:

1) In the back cover blurb, I'd mention his disillusionment very quickly. No need to go into his idealistic youth...not on the cover. Unless you're wanting it to be a secret that Otto is dead at the beginning of the book, I'd start off with the old, bitter Otto...the one who wished he could have done some things differently. We can all relate to that. 

2) Show Otto in a very human moment in the very first scene of the book. Readers who get past the blurb usually go to page one. If your page one has Otto engaged in a battle against Russia or blinking at Hitler with adoring eyes, they'll throw it back immediately.

3) Use Otto's introspection to your advantage. You will need to use this cleverly, since it looks like the book is sort of an interview between Peter and Otto to determine if he can leave his limbo state. So Peter will likely be asking questions and Otto answering (or refusing). If Otto's introspective thoughts bring into question his blind allegiance or whisper at a regret he feels for the death of the Russian'll grab your readers. We all want to read about that stuff because we've all questioned and regretted. It's universal experience, while Nazism is not.

You know, I feel compelled to mention a book by Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love. Everyone knows that this book is a fictionalized account of Hosea and Gomer, and everyone knows that Gomer was a prostitute in the worst kind of way. This book has been in the top 25 for over ten years. And people knew exactly what it was going to be about before they bought it. Here's her blurb with my interjections in red:

Can God’s Love Save Anyone? (the overarching question...very intriguing)
California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. (sets the overall tone) Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. (wham! non-prostitutes can relate to this, and it hints that she's not thrilled with her occupation) And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside. Then she meets Michael Hosea. (the sentence that keeps us reading the rest of the blurb)
Like you said, your novel would be a perfect example to showcase how even the very worst sinner can be forgiven. I wish you the best with it. Any additional questions, please leave them in the comment section.

Q4U: What about you, readers? What would make you pick up a book about a Nazi? Please leave constructive comments that James can use in his characterization.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Tea For Two Therapeutic Review and Giveaway!

Trish Perry's latest release, Tea for Two, was a delight for me to read...mainly because I'm a therapist and the heroine is too.

Here's a blurb from Trish's website:

Counselor Tina Milano has been visiting Milly’s Tea Shop regularly for the past several months. She has many friends but no steady man in her life. Zack Cooper is a local farmer who provides Milly with fresh fruit and vegetables. As a single parent, Zack is doing his best to raise his teenage son and daughter on his own.

When the kids get in minor scrapes with the law, Milly gently encourages Zack and Tina to work together to draw the teens back before their rebellious natures land them in even hotter water. At first Tina sees the relationship in only a professional capacity, but soon her friends notice the luscious scent of romance in the air and decide to help things along.

Tea for Two is a faith-filled novel that explores the delight of second chances, warm friendship, and unexpected romantic encounters.

I appreciate small towns, I do. I live in one. And Middleburg, Virginia, definitely constitutes a small town. I felt for Tina, as she encounters the joys and pitfalls of living and counseling in a small town. Everyone knows everyone else, you can hardly go anywhere and not encounter clients. (This just happened to me at Applebee's on Cinco de Mayo....except I saw two, not just one.)

Anyway, Trish went to lengths to make sure that her romantic set-up passes the muster...and it "technically" does. When Tina agrees to informally help Zack with his teens, she tells Milly that it'll be all "loosy-goosey." The argument is then made that counselors often give informal advice to friends outside of their professional capacity, and this is very true. I don't enter into a counseling contract with someone I eat lunch with and help them process through several options available to them.

That aside, this story was such an enjoyable read, full of discovery and change for everyone involved, including a delightful little twist you just don't expect toward the end. Zack's children display classic signs of abandonment issues, and in the aftermath of Zack's own grief, he probably missed some signs prior to the police involvement that would have clued him in earlier to their distress. Tina's unabtrusive methods prove to help this fictional family, and the character arc for the kids and for Zack is satisfying to read. (And it gives me hope for a few of my own clients.....)

Tea for Two is the second book in Trish's Tea with Millicent series, but it reads fine as a stand-alone. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment below with your email address in a non-spam format; i.e., charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com. I'll randomly pick a winner and announce it on Saturday in conjunction with my Weekend Funnies.

Don't miss out on this charming book!

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!
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    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    T3 - Motivation Reaction Units

    Two weeks ago, I posted on the Rational Brain v. the Emotional Brain. In that post, I mentioned that a person can do things that seem to outsiders to be utterly crazy (one example I gave was Mike Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear). I explained the reason for this is that the emotional brain commandeers the rational brain.

    This got me thinking about the Motivation-Reaction Unit popularized by Dwight Swain. I believe I can make them make more sense to you. My crit partner, Katie Ganshert (who has her first book coming out in May 2012 from Waterbrook Multnomah!) has a great explanation of a MRU on her blog, which I hijacked. (*waves* at Katie!)

    What elements compose an MRU?

    1. Motivating stimulus: the stimulus occurs outside your character
    2. Character reaction: the reaction occurs inside your character

    Four Components of Character Reaction:
    1. Visceral reaction: the character has no control over this. This is a gut reaction that happens automatically.
    2. Thought: what thoughts race through your character's mind after the visceral reaction?
    3. Action: what does your character do?
    4. Speech: what does your character say?

    Important note about order: Don't get it wrong.

    The motivating stimulus must come first. Your character can't react to something that hasn't happened yet. You wouldn't want to write: She yelped and jabbed her finger in her mouth after the hot water splashed against her skin. This reads funny--the MRU is out of order.

    The components of the character reaction must stay in order as well. A visceral reaction always comes before action or speech. When hot water splashes against your skin, your nerve endings burn, then you yelp. It's not the other way around.

    Get the order right and hook your reader. Get the order wrong, and your reader will know something is off, even though they might not be able to verbalize what's wrong. (End of Katie's explanation.)

    So we know that our emotional brain (which is the amygdala) overrides the rational brain (prefrontal cortex) at times, even surprising us with our own reactions. Research has shown that the amygdala is not only faster, but it's more powerful. (Just believe me on this. It has something to do with many connections there are from the amygdala to everywhere else in the brain. Won't bore you with more.)

    What does this mean? It means that our emotions have more influence in our life than our rational brain. Swain doesn't mention "emotions" proper in the actual character reaction, but it actually comes before the "visceral reaction" in the sequence. Let's look at an example.

    If I'm walking to my car in the parking lot and a shadow rushes at me from the side, I will feel fear within a millisecond. The visceral reaction I have might be nausea, panic, blood rushing in my ears.  Maybe a few tenths of a second after that, I might experience an instinctive or reflexive action, such as clawing for my mace spray or grabbing car keys to strike out with. It's reflexive, and in times of danger, the standard reflexes are fight, flight, or freeze.

    The rational brain is so far behind that a thought or attempt to speak hasn't even engaged yet. I haven't yet fully understood what is happening to me. I certainly haven't figured out that I might be either getting robbed or that some overzealous Brownie is just trying to sell me cookies. Even more interesting is that I might actually have the rational thought that this is just a Brownie selling Girl Scout cookies, but that won't stop my emotions and physiological reactions already under way (the cold sweat, labored breathing, rapid heart rate).

    Anyway...hopefully you see how tightly interwoven the emotional brain is in the entire character reaction sequence. Swain instinctively knew this...and psychology and neuroscience back him up.

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