Friday, 10 August 2012

Guest post - Shattered Dreams - Ellie James

I have a brilliant guest post today from the fabulous Ellie James, author of one of my favourite books so far this year 'Shattered Dreams' which is published by Quercus.  Here's a bit more about her Midnight Dragonfly series -  

The firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour has a connection to the Other Side. She knows secrets and truths she shouldn’t, feels emotions that do not belong to her, and see events that have yet to happen. They come to her as glimpses, shadowy, disjointed snapshots that flicker through her dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others--the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever--whisper to her soul.

They come without warning. They come without detail.

But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it. 

Ellie has written a really interesting piece about her love of the unexplained and how that gave birth to the character of Trinity, so without further ado it's over to Ellie.  
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog!
I’ve always been fascinated by the unexplained. I believe we, as humans, are much more capable than we realize, and that no one holds us back more than ourselves. For the most part, we like explanations and evidence. We like proof. In the absence of that, we tend to dismiss fantastical claims. If it can’t be seen or touched, it must not be real. And yet…
  • I routinely pick up the phone to call someone at the exact second they’re calling me.
  • After my daughter was born, for the first few weeks we were frequently awakened by the sound of my recently deceased grandmother’s favorite lullaby coming through the nursery monitor…even though we had not pushed the play button and there was no automatic timer to turn on the CD
  • One night, my daughter, then 3, woke me up to tell me how excited she was that her twin brother (whom we lost during her pregnancy) was finally going to come live with us—this before we’d told her we were expecting again, and before we knew we were having a son.
  • When I was twelve weeks along, a friend who has a history of “knowing things” told me my son would be born severely premature—and he was.
  • Another friend who talked to her mom every evening at 5pm continued to receive those calls for weeks after her mom passed away, except instead of a voice she heard only silence.
  • My aunt knew her way around an old Irish castle she’d never visited or read about.
  • My grandparents’ wedding picture really did fall over, in a quiet still room, the same instant my grandmother took her last breath.
Ask anyone and they probably have at least one woo-woo tale. Cold spots in the middle of a warm room. Intuition about future events. Blasts of mysterious emotion...
Given my love of the unexplained, it’s no surprise that the character of Trinity came to me in a dream, sneaking into a beautiful abandoned mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans. I was right there as she and her friends embarked upon a dangerous game of truth or dare. I saw the premonition that she saw, that of another girl strewn on a dirty old mattress. I awoke abruptly, and very upset. I wanted to know what happened next! Who was Trinity, and what did her vision mean? Why did she have it? What was the trigger? Had it happened before? And….what if it came true? What if, what if, what if….
As I answered those questions, the Midnight Dragonfly series was born.
I’d been writing suspense for years, but Trinity was my first Young Adult character, and she took me by complete surprise. However, I needn’t have worried. Characters have a way of taking over and telling their own stories and I quickly learned that strong characters are strong characters, regardless of age. There are, essentially, two kinds of people in this world: those who wait for life to happen, and those who make life happen.
The characters I most enjoy exploring, whether through writing or reading, tend to be the do-ers. They have:
1. Goals. This is one of the reasons a character like Katniss from the Hunger Games works so well. She has a concrete, well-defined goal that pulls her through the story. Initially she seeks to protect her sister. As the plot progresses, she seeks to survive. Goals give characters something to act upon. They put the character in the driver’s seat and allow them to move the story forward. They raise the stakes. Conversely, without goals, the story tends to happen to the character, as opposed to the character driving the story.
2. Courage. There are so many kinds of courage, the physical kind that comes from confronting danger, but also the emotional kind that comes from standing up for what you believe in and making tough choices. The strength it takes to confront something you know is wrong and the unbelievable bravery that can be required to walk away from a dysfunctional relationship. Characters with courage tend to step forward rather than shrink back. Courage makes your heart race, the adrenaline flow. Courage makes you wonder what happens next. And courage is what leads Trinity to risk her own life to discover the truth behind her visions, when it would have been so much easier to stay in her condo and pretend that when she closed her eyes, she saw nothing.
3. Hopes and dreams. It’s fabulous to be tough and brave and bold, but for a character to be real and three-dimensional, there’s got to be a softer, quieter side, as well. Hopes and dreams turn strangers into friends, and make their struggles more personal—and important.
4. Secret fear/Achilles heel. We all have them. Maybe it’s something simple, like a fear of spiders. Maybe it’s more complex, a fear of being left alone in the dark, which triggers traumatic memories. Sometimes it’s more emotional, the fear of being abandoned or not loved, not good enough. These are the traits that embody a character’s vulnerability and make people care what happens to them. Trinity was afraid of being an outcast. She was afraid of being rejected because she was different. At first this led her to try and hide the truth about her visions, but ultimately (because of #s 6 and 7) she realized her goal (to save her classmate) was more important than her fears.
Those four are all concrete. The next four are more behavioral related.
5. Say what’s on their mind. This is something I, personally, used to have a hard time with. I’d think something, but frequently bite my tongue. In my very first novel, my editor pointed out my character was doing this, too, and she encouraged me to let my heroine have her say. I did, and the most amazing thing happened: the intensity and energy level of the story soared. As my heroine began to speak up, those around her spoke up, giving way to meaty, emotional conversations. AND, I found myself speaking up, too. 

6. Make mistakes. Perfection is an awesome goal, but it’s not realistic. People make mistakes, and characters need to, as well. Maybe you believe your boyfriend the first time he tells you he’ll never lie to you again. That’s okay. That’s trust. But when he lies to you again, this time you don’t believe his pathetic claims to “be better in the future” and you show him the door. That’s growth.
7. It’s okay to be afraid. Sometimes we all are. It goes back to being human. But a strong YA heroine doesn’t let this fear hold her back. She doesn’t let it overtake her life. She faces the fear. She confronts it (hence the importance of bravery) and, ultimately, finds herself that much closer to her goal.

8. No negative self-talk. This is simply my own personal life mantra, which has found its way into my work. Life is hard, and we’re often our own toughest enemy. That’s all normal. But I’d rather not see a YA heroine thinking of herself as stupid or ugly or an idiot. She can be upset with herself—sometimes, we all are. But I prefer to steer clear of the negative self-talk, unless, of course, the journey from negative to positive is part of the story goal J
And then, finally, this one seems rather obvious, but it’s a biggie for me:
9. Name. I simply can’t get to know a character until I know her name. When I’m plotting a new story, I can’t get far without the “right” name. There’s just a big difference between Anne versus Phoebe, Courtenay versus Trinity. Each name has its own vibe, and until I find the right vibe, the character can’t fully gel.
I had such an amazing time exploring Trinity—What about you? What are your favorite character traits? Your least favorite?

Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, ordinary wife and mom of two young kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, walking the dogs, going to baseball games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.

What they don't know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, in an extraordinary world, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.
You can follow Ellie on Facebook or on Twitter@EllieJamesMDB.  Find out more about her Midnight Dragonfly series on her website.

1 comment:

  1. Trinity is such a brilliant name -- but you're always great at names. Thank you for sharing your journey to her!


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