DL Fowler's Blog

Author Interview at PaperBackSwap.com

The folks at PaperBackSwap.com were kind enough to interview me on their blog. Here’s a link to our conversation. We talked about being how is it was for me, a man, to write from a female character’s POV, Lincoln’s psychology, my biggest influences and a few other things.  Hope you’ll take time to check it out.

And PaperBackSwap.com is a well done platform. Only, whenever my book goes up, it’s snatched up in a matter of minutes. So either you have to be fast , or more people need to share Lincoln’s Diary – a novel.

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Lincoln’s Cosmopsis and My Tribute to John Barth

Don’t bother looking it up. Cosmopsis isn’t likely in your dictionary. John Barth used (probably invented) the term in his 1958 controversial novel, The End of the Road. The image of Jacob Horner, Barth’s main character, sitting on a train station bench all night has stuck with me since my college days – yes, they had trains before I entered USC.

What was Horner’s problem? He was paralyzed by indecision. He had $30 with which to buy a train ticket and couldn’t find a reason to visit any of the available destinations.

No. That doesn’t parallel anything we know about Abraham Lincoln. Not the indecision, that is. But the paralysis, yes.  Many of Lincoln’s contemporaries describe episodes like the one his law partner William Herndon recounted. Lincoln sitting in a chair in their law office one morning, staring into the cosmos, disconnected from the reality around him.  Herndon couldn’t shake him out of his trance. Two hours later, Lincoln kicked one leg straight out then crossed it over his other leg and launched into telling a raunchy story as if the previous two hours never happened.

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I Believe In …

By the way, the opposite of belief isn’t logic, it’s disbelief.   Reasoning is what we do to fortify our beliefs. 

A friend of mine (we’ll call  him John because that’s his real name, and since I know so many people named John no one will know who I’m talking about) – anyway, he told me “Human beings are not rational, we’re rationalizers.”

While I was doing research for my novel, Lincoln’s Diary, I discovered that Abe Lincoln was great at rationalizing. My favorite example was his reply to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who complained the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional. Lincoln replied that it  certainly was constitutional since, as commander-in-chief, he had the constitutional authority to appropriate enemy property to advance the war effort. But if slaves weren’t property, the Proclamation didn’t do anything, so it didn’t violate the Constitution. 

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No Idea How This Wound Up On My Blog

Posted in Characters, Inside a Writer's Head, Plots, Plots, Psychology, Writing by DLFowler on February 25, 2011

Here’s what we love in a good story – a protagonist we care about (it doesn’t hurt if we fall in love with that person) and an antagonist we want to see the world get even with.  Hmm … it sounds like the way we like our politics.

 I saw a comment recently to the effect that dictators (I think the reference was to the Saudi royal family) hold on to power with generous social programs. Who bites the hand that feeds them?  The commenter made a veiled reference to American politicians as well.

But here’s the real deal. Despots throughout history have seized and maintained power by employing the same emotions that help people like me sell novels. As human beings we love to hate demons and save victims.  Write a book that does both and it will sell (of course you have to get the word out, which isn’t easy.)  Demonize the other guy in politics and people will follow you even when they’re hungry, as long as you get the word out and you’re a sympathetic victim or you can find an embraceable poster child.

The nice thing about  being a novelist is that your plot doesn’t have to be so believable if you can pull off the love/hate thing well enough. Your plot can be sort of like … well, real life. And readers will suspend belief long enough to follow your characters on whatever journey you have in mind for them.

Oh, I forgot. Life is stranger than fiction. If your story is too much like real life,  people won’t  believe it.  They’ll go back to thinking politicians buy power with generous social programs, and what they said about their adversaries was, well, it had to be the truth. Right?

The Truth of Consequences

Posted in Characters, Inside a Writer's Head, My Books, Psychology, Show Don't Tell by DLFowler on February 13, 2011

I’m lying in bed this morning testing the frontiers of technology – writing this blog post in my iPhone. Since the moments just after I wake up are often when I have my deepest insights, it makes sense to do. After all, the iPhone probably wouldn’t survive the shower – my other 20 minutes of inspiration.

The rest of the day I’m assaulted by distractions. I’m not a multi-tasker, somewhat OCD, so I only gave about 50 choice minutes a day.

Here’s what I’m thinking about. Behavior inhibitors. Those force fields that throw down gigantic blood-red stop signs in front of us.  

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Strong Female Characters

Posted in Characters, Lincoln's Diary, My Books by DLFowler on February 11, 2011

As I created Sarah Sue Morgan for LINCOLN’S DIARY – A NOVEL I hoped she’d become a strong female character. One of my readers called her a “female MacGyver.” Hopefully, that means I came close to the mark.  But since my next novel includes a female protagonist, I decided to do some additional research on the subject.

I think I struck pay dirt when I came across an article on  overthinkingit.com.  The flowchart probably overthinks the question a little, but the trail that runs along the top of the graphic provides a pretty good recipe for creating strong female characters. All you have to do is answer the following questions in the affirmative. Let’s see how Sarah scores.

  • Can she carry her own story? [check]
  • Is she three dimensional? [more concrete – does she have internal conflict? check]
  • Is she more than a flag bearer for an idea? [check]
  • Does she have any flaws? [and we’re talking ditz here … check]
  • Does she survive the second act? [check]

Bingo! She’s a strong female character. 

Of course that’s how I see it. The trick is making her live that way on the printed page.  If you take the time to check her out, please let me know if I hit the mark.

My Journey Inside Someone Else’s Head

Posted in Characters, Inside a Writer's Head, Research by DLFowler on February 9, 2011

It fascinates me how we get surprised when we notice other people don’t see the world through our eyes. The way this plays out most often is think that if something worked for us, it should work for everyone else. “Take this medicine – it worked for me.” Or, “I know just the exercise you need.” How about “What do you mean it didn’t work for you. You just didn’t try hard enough.” 

The toughest part of getting inside someone else’s head is getting outside of your own. Distancing  yourself from your own experiences so you don’t confuse them with the other person’s. You have to turn off your memory and open your ears.  Both are hard.

Sometimes I get so pissed off by what I find inside another person’s head, I start yelling at them. Next I close my ears and start digging through my own memory banks. Nothing gets accomplished. I have to settle down and come back at it again. And usually, I can’t handle doing that right away. I need some time to decompress and reorient myself. 

Whether the journey’s successful or not I bring the stuff I found back to my own head and file it somewhere in my brain. So what do I do with the stuff I find inside people’s heads?  Hey, I’m an author. I create characters out of it.

Non-violent Psychopath at Risk

Antisocial and narcissistic. Jacob has to avoid both at any cost. The stack of articles he’s pored over the last dozen years say so. They tell him he could have turned down the serial killer path long ago. But early on, he chose to flog the other seven ‘defects’ into submission. Or at least he’d channeled them into a brilliant career as a corporate CEO.   

 Burying the memory of the little girl who lit up his life – she always made him beam, at least until she was taken from him – helped balance his sense of right and wrong. As long as he kept that straight he could make his narcissism seem to be about other people’s wounds. It was easy to rally the troops when he defended another tormented or abused soul. That gave him a sense of belonging to something bigger than himself at the same time he got a taste of the justice he ached for. So he’d make it about something other than himself. Unselfishness at its highest. But if he fixated on his own horror, he’d be a lost soul no one else cared about. And eventually, all he’d become obsessed with balancing the scales any way he could.

 Keeping that stolen little girl buried in the clutter of his memories these last dozen years had kept Jacob on the sociable path. Now meeting Amanda took that option off the table. If their ripples had never met, he’d still be safe. So would the rest of the world. Except for Amanda.

So if he burned Amanda’s violator, would that just be the beginning? Or would justice taste so sweet he’d devour every scumbag who might have robbed him of the little girl he once cherished? A tingle rushed up his spine as he imagined draining the lifeblood from one bastard after another, like a vampire feeding its thirst for survival.

A Terrific Resource for Writers

Posted in Characters, Emotions, Research, Show Don't Tell, Writing by DLFowler on January 17, 2011

I came across a great resource recently and added a link to it in my blogroll (BookMuse – see on left below).  A couple of things right off the bat … the emotions thesaurus and a feature called “Expressing Cardinal Emotions: Male vs Female.”  I plan to use both of these to help with show-don’t-tell issues I run into with my writing.

A great example is the difference between physical reactions of men and women to anger. Men want to hit things, women glare and cross their arms.

While I’m focused right now on show-don’t-tell emotions, Bookshelf Muse also has a Settings Thesaurus with words you can use to show-don’t-tell physical surroundings.  

I recommend you frequent the Muse if you’re a writer.

Anger

Posted in Characters, Emotions, Research, Show Don't Tell, Writing by DLFowler on January 15, 2011

Yet another installment in show-don’t-tell.  Today’s emotion is anger.

Someone really pissed me off the other day. I ground my teeth and wound up the muscles in my back like over-tightened violin strings.

Please post your description of how your body responds to anger.