Monday, September 28, 2015

Beautiful Monsters - Cynthia Ogren's Hollywood-themed romance

Greetings, commies!

Say hello to the glamorous and witty CynthiaOgren, a pop culture devotee and author of an introspective and richly developed novel Beautiful Monsters set in Hollywood filled with all the drama you’d expect from a glamorous romance – with a few unexpected twists.

MJN: When people talk/write about Hollywood, it's usually with a mixture of feelings that seem to contradict each other: admiration, envy, judgment and ridicule. In real life, the grotesque and the sublime goes hand in hand. In Hollywood, these elements are taken to a whole new level. As an author, you have to know enough about the industry to make your narration authentic. At the same time, your proverbial "beef" with the industry can't be too raw. If you have too many horror stories that you've experienced first-hand as an actor or director, you will be too emotional to tie those stories into a coherent plot. So what is your personal experience with Hollywood - if any - and which one of the above-mentioned emotions is prevalent?

CO: First of all, thanks for inviting me to your blog interview, Marina. I'm delighted to be here, and I'm further delighted to reply to your interesting, well-conceived questions.

Hollywood: the land of contradictions! It's the perfect setting for Beautiful Monsters because, just as it's a brittle glass stage for actors, it's also the perfect testing ground for my characters. I haven't spent too much time in Hollywood or LA, but as an avid pop culture devotee, I've watched and read about it for years—everything from tabloid newspapers to reality television to biographies. Also, my sister was a working actress on stage, television, and film for many years. While she never became famous, she worked with many big-name stars, and she dished to me regularly about the gossip, the craft of acting, and the accompanying lifestyle.

You might be surprised to hear that I have no beef whatsoever with Hollywood. Hollywood is just a spotlighted microcosm of the same lifestyle that most of us share on a more mundane scale. Essentially, we all are beautiful monsters to some extent. While many people think that being a celebrity would vastly improve their lives, I wanted to show that it's not all it's cracked up to be. There's enormous pressure accompanying great beauty, riches, and fame—and numerous complications. And it's extremely difficult to live a sane life under that constant microscope. Some manage it, others don't.

MJN: We hear so many stories about Hollywood stars destroying their lives behind the scenes because they feel "ugly" and "empty" and "unloved" even though on the surface it seems like they have all the bragging rights in the world. There is a school of thought out there, perpetuated by authors like Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens who glorified the "little people" of the world, that true love is only accessible to those who are totally stripped of all material and social benefits. Only outcasts, the deformed and the destitute, can find true love and friendship that's not tainted by vainglory. I don't know if I personally buy into that theory. I think writers invent those theories to make the down-and-out people feel a little better and give them some hope. What do you think?

CO: Well, I'm not so quick to paint the common folk as white and the rich as black—or vice versa. In fact, I feel we all should be painted in gray tones. I do think it's a wonderful to give hope and insight to the great masses of common folk, but in Beautiful Monsters, I try to break that stereotype. Most actors are not so full of bravado as they portray on camera or at award shows. In fact, actors are some of the most insecure people on the planet. They are at the mercy of gossip, age, studio whims, and the good will of their fans. It's a bit of a cutthroat business, and there are always prettier, younger actors right behind them who would sell their souls for a chance for a role—any role. I do, however, agree with Hugo and Dickens that wealth, fame, and beauty do not make us happy. A wealthy aristocrat—or a film star— does not automatically draw the happy card. Rather, it's the love of family, wonderful friendships, and our interests that make life fulfilling. And those are available to people across the socioeconomic spectrum.

MJN: I see you have a dual major in English and Psychology. I often see those career paths matched up. Was there any specific branch of psychology that you studied in depth that gives you a more three-dimensional perspective when you create your characters? Your book was described as having emotional depth and meaning, so I was wondering your interest in psychology had something to do with that.

CO: Yes, psychologists and writers have much in common. They both study people, so it's a perfect marriage. I've always been a people watcher who is interested in the human psyche. I particularly find abnormal psychology interesting. People (and characters) are not one-dimensional prototypes. They all have a place on the abnormal behavior scale— with neuroses, quirks, and abnormalities. That's what makes the world diverse and interesting. All my characters have distinct personalities with inherent quirks and flaws. I LOVE flawed characters, so Riley and Keller are imbued with all manner of idiosyncrasies. When I take these two damaged characters and put them on the glass stage of Hollywood AND throw obsessive love into the mix, we're in for a wild ride! I'm very interested in the topic of love because it makes no practical sense. People do outrageous things in the throes of love. It's said that the legal plea "not guilty by reason of temporary insanity" was developed because of this phenomenon.

MJN: Let's talk about the structure of your novel. One of my favorite plot tools is having a movie within a movie, or a book within a book. In Beautiful Monsters, you have a production-within-a-novel structure. How does the storyline on screen complement the turbulent love story between Riley and Keller?

CO: I'm all about subtext. Readers are smart, and they are readily able to grasp the subtleties of a well-layered plot. Beautiful Monsters is three levels deep. It's the title of the book, of course; it's the title of the vampire film that's the setting of the book (more subtext and analogy there); and it's the theme of the book. The vampiric element of the story lends itself to the predatory nature of some of Riley and Keller's friends and co-workers. And Riley and Keller have both monstrous and redeeming characteristics, which makes them beautiful monsters—just as we all are. The element of obsessive love with Hollywood as a setting allowed me to cut the dynamic open and explore it thoroughly. In fact, I'll be examining it more in the sequel, which I've started. I've been humbled and delighted to have readers search me out and rave about the book, demanding a sequel. I think they relate to what Riley and Keller endure to be together.

MJN: Let's talk about your female protagonist Riley Rinaldi and the role that makeup artists play. My birth father is a former opera singer. He says that getting into character and putting on a mask really messes you up. Sometimes you lose that fine line between the character and the performer. Sometimes the masks sticks to the face too tight and you cannot rip it off without taking some of the skin off with it. Makeup artists are the often unsung and neglected heroes who help create those characters. In a sense, they play that Frankenstein role of literally "creating a monster". Do you believe there is a symbiotic bond between the makeup artist and the actor?

CO: Very interesting question! Yes, I do think there is a symbiotic relationship between the makeup artist and the actor. Just as an author gives birth to his books, the makeup artist must feel that same pride and concern for the characters he creates. And conversely, the actor is dependent upon the makeup artist to give him the "face" of the character he populates. On a side note, I had to chuckle when you mentioned method acting because it plays a vivid role in the sequel to Beautiful Monsters. The readers want more of Riley and Keller, so I'm going to dish it up in spades!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Laundry Room - a novel of the Israeli Resistance of 1940s - interview with Lynda Lippman-Lockhart



A recent release from Penmore Press, Lydia Lippman-Lockhart’s novel The LaundryRoom tells the story of the Israeli resistance of 1946. 


In today’s interview Lockhart opens up about the emotional genesis of the book. “On my tour to Israel, one of the stops was at the Ayalon Institute. The place, and what went on there, captured my imagination. When I returned home I started doing research and found almost nothing about it.  That was six years ago. I contacted the museum and received an email from one of the youth who had participated in the clandestine operation. We corresponded for two years while I wrote the book. Sadly she died one month before the book came out. Almost every important incident in the book is true.”

MJN: You have a degree in education and spent 26 years teaching English at a high-school. Incidentally, it was a career I had once contemplated. Then I realized that our educational system has become extremely bureaucratic and politically polarized and standardized, without much latitude for creativity. God help you if you deviate one step from the approved curriculum. At least that was my experience. I realize every state, every district is different. I imagine, your experience was a positive one. Otherwise you wouldn't have lasted 26 years. Do any of the frustrations I expressed ring a bell?



LLL: I also felt the strain of government bureaucracy, but what I did in my classroom was not an issue. Yes, there were certain curricular activities I was supposed to teach, but I had the latitude to do it my way. I loved every minute. I have been to my student's college graduations, weddings, baby-namings, and still reap the benefits.



MJN: Does your teaching tenure provide any kind of miniature marketing platform? Do you still stay in touch with some of your students and their parents, who would welcome a chance to read your book?



LLL: I have been retired eight years, yet my faculty has been a terrific support system by attending my book signings, liking my Facebook posts, and linking me to others.



MJN: Israel's position is rather controversial. That's what makes writing about it so interesting. No conflict - no story. Right? That being said, do you get annoyed when people ask you questions, "So what is your position on ____?" I am asking because I write about Irish history and the nationalistic movement, so there's always one person in the audience who asks me, "So whose side are you on?"



LLL: I have never been put on the spot. My story was more about conviction and loyalty than it was about one particular country. Every country has had their heroes.



MJN: In my experience, one thing that suburban Jewish Americans do not always realize is that Israeli culture is very different from their own. They romanticize their brothers and sisters in the Middle East. They even take that coveted trip to Israel in order to see the holy landmarks, expecting it to be an eye-opening experience. And it does end up being an eye-opening experience - but not in the sense that they had expected. Can you elaborate on that a bit?



LLL: I have been to many countries, but there is something about Israel that crosses the boundaries of one’s imagination. My experience was much more than I could have ever imagined. Three of the world's most influential religions were born there. Yes, there are problems there, but what country doesn't have problems? Look what Ireland endured for so long.



MJN: Can you recommend any films that touch upon the early days of modern Israel? I can think of one The Black Book. It does briefly show life in a kibbutz, though most of the film is set in Holland during WWII.  



LLL: I'm not familiar with any film available in the US. That's why my book should be made into a film.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Art of Passive Aggression - J. Scot Cahoon on playing a vengeful underdog

When you first look at J. ScotCahoon's head shot, you think of a young Jake Gyllenhaal or Toby Maguire. Then you look closer and see Cillian Murphy, who has made a name for himself playing comely psychopaths. I can see Scot heading in the same direction. Slender and outrageously photogenic, he could pass for boy band material, yet there is an air of arrogant malaise veiling his features. In his reel, there is not a single boy-next-door role. You may not even want this boy living next to you.

If he was my son, I'd probably want to strangle him. And I mean it in the most flattering possible way (this is coming from someone who is a mother in real life). Rarely do you come across an actor who manages to stir equal measures of sympathy and antagonism without as much as raising an eyebrow. While casting him for the role of Hugh in The Last Fenian, I had to tap into my maternal side. Although I'm not old enough to be Scot Cahoon's mother, I had to activate my parental instincts, because his character has a very complicated relationship with his parents and had, in a sense, contributed to their alienation from each other. Arguably, because of him, Mr. and Mrs. Malone are strangers. A sickly runt, whose birth had nearly killed his mother and rendered her barren, Hugh is both an embarrassment and an enigma to his father. In a rural patriarchal society where brawn is prized above brain, Hugh is clearly at a disadvantage. Having grown up with ridicule from his peers, exacerbated by his older brother's chivalrous attempts to defend him, he develops a peculiar outlook on life, bitter and vindictive. So I had to ask myself, "What would it feel like to be a mother to this child who had ended my reproductive career prematurely, causing my husband to lose interest in me?" Would maternal love always triumph over resentment? (For the record, you'll never hear me singing about unconditional maternal love that knows no boundaries. That's Hallmark fluff. I don't buy it. Just thought I should warn you.)

Cahoon's Hugh is not a universally sympathetic underdog that everyone automatically roots for. The last thing I wanted was to create a family dynamic with clearly outlined aggressor-victim roles. That kind of black-and-white delineation would simplify and cheapen the story. The underdog is eloquent and sophisticated. In spite of being willowy and pale, he exudes certain intellectual superiority over his brawny father. Hugh's status as a runt gives him certain carte blanche privileges. Knowing that his father, who has no qualms about hitting his physically sturdy firstborn, would not stoop to applying physical force against his sickly younger son, Hugh allows himself certain insolence. Having mastered the art of passive-aggressive retaliation, he derives considerable pleasure out of pushing his father's buttons. Scot deliver his venomous lines with precise deliberation, as if sticking pins under his stage father's fingernails.

As for Hugh's romantic experience, it's not nearly as meager as he leads the world to believe. Even though he claims to have spent his adolescence "despised by the ladies", he is no stranger to the world of carnal pleasures. Having taken a few intimate lessons from his childhood acquaintance Isabel, who nurtures hopes of turning him into a true patriot, he later applies his experience to seduce a woman from a higher social class - an English born piano prodigy named Edith (played by Elizabeth Conway) who helps him gain access into the inner circle of the academic elite. A former laughing stock among his peers, Hugh becomes somewhat of a social climber. "We are the stuff of Anglo-Irish dreams", he tells his English wife. Conway's Edith is a ticking estrogen bomb - voluptuous, moody and shockingly sincere. She has no ulterior motives, no agenda. In contrast, Cahoon's Hugh is reserved and calculating.


 

MJN: Acting is not the only discipline you're trained in. You're also a director. Do you find yourself putting on both hats? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to switch your inner director off when you were acting?

JSC: Well, you know how it is: You're finally in rehearsal, you're practicing your jazz-squares, and you're absolutely overjoyed to be there, but if "everyone would just—" or "maybe if that light was a skosh less—" you know, whatever, "It'd make my life easier for one, and no doubt make everyone LOOK BETTER. Just sayin'." . . . We all wanna say it. But I would never allow such insolence to part my lips! Especially not in rehearsal. Backstage to friends, yeah, of course, incessantly and with needless crass. But I've learned that other people pretty much do what they're gonna do in a creative situation. I'm not allowed to mess with that. As a director, I merely tweak what the talented actors in this city bring to the table. As an actor my efforts are much better spent directing myself, trying to bring my best to a role. My favorite directors are the ones who are open to collaboration and extend an invitation to their team to contribute ideas to the madness.

MJN: In the past few months you have done some exciting projects, including a musical intended for middle-school audiences. If I understood you correctly, you played a character who was half your biological age. How did it feel to get in touch with your inner 13-year old? Did you have any concerns about looking convincing on stage?


JSC: It was definitely an adventure getting reacquainted with the absolutes of being an adolescent. In this show especially, I found the characters absolutely loved or absolutely hated everything. At that age, you're newly acquainted to all the gray-scale feelings we as adults employ to rationalize the extremes of life. So you constantly bounce around feeling awesome one second and freaking out the next. Then society, as in your peers, as in the people you have to spend all-day-everyday with, fuel the freak-out with an endless supply of gossip, judgement, expectations, and general shawn-cockery til you feel like you're gonna explode. And then you get acne...So yeah it was a blast.

MJN: You are currently building your portfolio as a voice-over artist. One of your recent gigs was to animate a cartoon character. How much additional processing and filtering did your recording require?

JSC: Well speaking of playing young characters, the last couple of cartoon characters I voiced were prepubescent little dudes. Sometimes they'll modulate my sound up a hair, but mostly it's my job to get as high as I can in my range and energy and not let my voice crack!

MJN: In the short time that you spent filming the Fenian, you appear to have bonded with other cast members. It certainly seemed like everyone was getting along splendidly (I hope I'm right). Have you ever been in a situation when things did not go so well? What does an actor do when he/she has to spend a lot of time with people whose company causes tension and discomfort?

JSC: I've been very fortunate to work almost exclusively with casts where everyone gets along, or can at least tolerate one-another. In all other cases, I count on the director or stage-manager to read the vibes between people and make corrections when something or someone is out of sync. If the said rabble-rouser is especially obnoxious I sit back, put my sequined-spats up, and take bets on how long the kid will last.

MJN: Getting back to Hugh's character, in your opinion, what do you think is more damaging to a young person's psyche: one horrifying traumatic incident such as watching a loved one die in a violent manner or ongoing low-grade abuse in the form of verbal deprecation and social rejection? I'm asking because I've seen so many successful, attractive individuals who carry around a bundle of insecurities acquired early in life.

JSC: It's difficult to say how an early experience shapes who we become. I've met some spirited and remarkably tenacious people who come from harried backgrounds. And, as you mentioned, some of these people still carry the burden of their past everywhere they go. It seems that most of our favorite heroes emerge from adversity with far more wisdom, perspective, and empathy for the human condition than the rest of us. I love the stories that delve in to the gritty, truthful junctures where suffering begets justice.

MJN: I've already seen you play a date rapist in a short film. I can see you playing a school shooter one day. Is that on your bucket list of prospective roles?


JSC: Maybe not on the first page, but perhaps written on the back in invisible ink between Mr. Hyde and WBBC Member #3. Yes, it's true, I do get my fair share of the unhinged roles. The best I can do with these opportunities is to at least bring some humanity to these characters, no matter where their sense of justice lies; to give the audience the whole picture and allow them to form their opinions from an unbiased approach to the narrative.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pioneers, outlaws and feminists - the daring figures in Barbara Marriott's books



I know this incredible author from my days at Fireship Press. From University Professor, to Management Consultant and Trainer, to Creative Advertising Director, Barbara Marriott’s professional fields have allowed her to observe life.  However, it is her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Florida that gives her the tools to get to the very core of her subject, and to satisfy her unquenchable need to know. Barbara Marriott was elected to Who’s Who in American Woman, and has the distinction of flying with the Navy Acrobatic team, the Blue Angels.



MJN: You were born in New Jersey, yet most of your novels are set in Colorado or New Mexico.  I am not surprised by your fascination with the West. Now those states are developed and suburbanized, for the most part, but there are some pockets of wilderness.  Clearly, you've traveled a lot more than I did.  Would you say that there are still parts of the US that look the same way that they did 100 years ago?


BM: There are few areas that have not been touched by the demands of people.  Developments and modernization are found even in the most remote and rural areas of the west.  There are a few pockets of make-believe like Old Tucson and Tombstone that try to cater to the demands of people for the old west.  There are always the old ghost towns, usually nothing more than a few tumble down buildings and a dirt road.  Ruby is one of the better ones to see, hard to get to but worth it. The best feel for the old west is the roadside.  You can travel for miles along the back roads and nothing has changed in100 years. One of the nicest old towns is Creede CO.  They kept their old time look and instead of dressing it up with cheap souvenir shops aka Bisbee, they took care of their old buildings and are using them to live in…what an original concept. But in all visits the most important companion is imagination.




MJN: You state in your biography that the location and the events are secondary, and that your focus is on the human experience. Would you say that the political and geographic settings are just the frame for the painting or the actual canvas? 


BM: It is a strange association, rather like the nature/nurture debate.  Do the culture aspects such as social, political, economical, religion, etc., define human behaviors, or do human behaviors define the culture?  I first look at who did what and why, and the why usually is driven or explained by the structures of the culture. Culture is a frame, but it is also the canvas upon which play human lives. 


MJN: You mention your fascination with outlaws, pioneers and ... liberated women.  Many of your works are set in late 19th century, which was a time when the feminist movement was gaining momentum.  I imagine, that being a liberated woman in 1890 meant something different than it does nowadays.  Of course, there are all those superficial expressions of girls power, from refusal to wear a corset to refusal to shave legs. What about a deeper sense of female empowerment and how it has evolved over the past century?


BM: OK now you really want a dissertation.  Women have always had it within them to do whatever they wanted to do.  In the old west there were female shop owners, doctors, lawyers, explorers, soldiers, scientist and many more. Historically it meant giving up the traditional roles, being highly determined, and in some cases devious.  It wasn’t until high tech got involved that women were “liberated.”  Vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and washing machines diminished their workload and gave them free time to pursue their interests.  War also helped.  Women entered the ranks of workers during both WWI and WWII, some never left.  Hard labor was made lighter by helpful inventions concerning equipment; the strength factor was eliminated, or at least diminished.  The rest was just a matter of working the mind of men around to the thought of equality.  However, what we lost what was in the mind of most men for generations.  Women were special and could do things (besides child birth) that men could not do.  I think men knew all along in history that women could do what they did…if they wanted to.


MJN: Let's talk about your relationship with Fireship press.  Like me, you are one of the senior members, for lack of better word, who were brought on board under Tom Grundner (God rest his soul!) I'm pleased to see that the press is still in existence and continues to attract outstanding authors.  What do you think sets Fireship's selection apart? 


BM: Tom was one of the few people I know who really cared about his authors.  He was brilliant, far beyond his time creatively, and I sometimes wonder what he would be doing if he was still here.  He saw the publishing business going beyond the printed word with what are now e-books, talking tapes, and books on flash drives.  I think today Fireship is still willing to give the beginning author a chance.  I sent two aspiring authors to Fireship years ago, both got published and their careers were launched.


MJN: Tell me about the awards you've won.  Undoubtedly, they increase your credibility in the world of serious historical writers.  But do they actually increase an author's marketability?  Do you think most readers care about the author's merit credentials? 



BM: Every one of my books, except two, (I have 12 books out) has won some sort of award.  Of the two, one was never entered in a literary contest, and the other was recently published.  I am deeply honored and pleased by the recognition, however it does not translate to the bottom line.  Readers do not care about awards.  What is far, far more important is exposure.  It is very hard to come by.  Amazon.com lists books by the number of reviews, and now had clamped down on reviews from friends and family.  Getting the word out is expensive and hard to do.  Most publishers do not spend the money, nor do they have the time to publize their authors’ works.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finding Gabriel - Rachel L. Demeter's genre-blending Gothic romance



Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and her high school sweetheart of eleven years. She enjoys writing dark, poignant romances that challenge the reader's emotions and explore the redeeming power of love.

Imagining dynamic worlds and characters has been Rachel's passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mother would record them for her. She holds a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether crafting the protagonist or antagonist, she ensures every character is given a soul.

Rachel endeavors to defy conventions by blending elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness.

Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words.

Today she joins us to talk about her latest release, a genre-blending Gothic romance Finding Gabriel set during the Napoleonic Wars. 

Here is the captivating synopsis:

Colonel Gabriel de Laurent departed for the war intending to die.
After a decade of bloodstained battlegrounds while fighting in Napoleon’s army, Gabriel returns to the streets of Paris a shattered and haunted soul. Plagued by inner demons, he swallows the barrel of his flintlock pistol and pulls the trigger.

But fate has a different plan.
Ariah Larochelle is a survivor. Orphaned at twelve and victim to a devastating crime, she has learned to keep her back to walls and to trust no one. But when she finds a gravely injured soldier washed up on the River Seine, she’s moved by compassion. In spite of her reservations, she rescues him from the icy water and brings him into her home.

Now scarred inside and out, Gabriel discovers a kindred spirit in Ariah—and feelings he imagined lost forever reawaken as he observes her strength in the face of adversity. But when Ariah’s own lethal secrets unfold, their new love is threatened by ancient ghosts. Can Gabriel and Ariah find hope in the wreckage of their pasts—or will the cycle of history repeat again?

Perfect for fans of Gaelen Foley’s Lord of Ice and Judith James’s Broken Wing, Finding Gabriel features all the dark romance, searing passion, and historical intrigue of The Phantom of the Opera and Les MisĂ©rables.


MJN: You hold a degree in screenwriting.  Be totally candid.  Is a BA in Screenwriting a destination in and of itself or a stepping stone?  Do you need additional education to enter the world of cinema?  I know that there are many people who don't use their degrees, and many people without degrees who work in the film industry because they have a talent for picking up new skills and techniques. 

RD: On the first day of Screenwriting I, my professor earnestly said to the class, “If you don’t have to be a writer—if you can imagine yourself doing any other career—then I advice you leave this room right now.”

I won’t sugar-coat the reality, either. It’s true what they say: film is an incredibly competitive and difficult field. You need talent, personality, passion, unbelievable drive, and the patience of a saint. A BA in Screenwriting is definitely only one of many stepping stones. It’s a time where you can fail without feeling the full sting, develop your voice, network with peers and professors, and learn every aspect of the craft.

You don’t need additional education (heck, many successful screenwriters don’t have a BA at all)—though a Masters can’t hurt, especially if it’s obtained at a university with solid connections and a tight alumni network (such as USC). But I’d say the most crucial gateway into the field is landing a solid internship. I worked at STARZ Entertainment and loved every moment of it!

I realized in my junior year that my true passion lies in novel writing. My professors almost always loved my screenplays and characters—but they’d often say, “It’s too descriptive. It reads like a novel.” And then it hit me. My writer’s voice was that of a novelist.

However, I still have a deep affection for screenwriting and will often work on pieces from time to time. One of my dreams is to write the film adaptations for my books! (In fact, believe it or not, The Frost of Springtime, my first historical romance, began as a screenplay!)

That said, even though I’m primarily a novelist, film school deepened my love for crafting fiction tenfold; it taught me to concentrate on plotting, dynamic characters, and effective pacing, as well as the importance of visual storytelling. I strongly encourage all writes to intimately familiarize themselves with the three act structure (something that’s in now way exclusive to screenwriting, of course) and beat sheets. Two invaluable books: Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and David Howard’s How to Build a Great Screenplay.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my college education for anything in the world—and I truly feel that cinema holds a uniquely powerful magic. The collaboration that goes into making a film is remarkable and beyond inspiring. It’s truly an amazing field, filled with talented personalities and voices.
  
MJN: You take pride in creating "tortured heroes" and you mention some of my favorite French novels like Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera.  I imagine, a tortured hero means different things to different readers.  There are the likes of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, and then there are the Edward Cullens, lipgloss-wearing vampires.  Can you list some of the mandatory components of a tortured hero? 

RD: Oh, I adore Les Mis and The Phantom of the Opera beyond words! (Twilight—not so much.)

Indeed! Tortured heroes come in a variety of personality types and “flavors,” but I would say a mandatory component is the reader’s ability to identify with their human core. There must be something about the character that allows an intimate look inside their very soul—something that creates empathy and a profound understanding of how the character can to be in his or her current state.

When crafting a tortured character or anti-hero, you don’t have to make them easy to root for or even particularly likable; however, the reader must be able to understand him or her. Deeply. As a result, a rich and well-developed backstory is crucial for these types of characters.

Erik, the protagonist (and also antagonist) of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera is insane, madly jealous, cynical, inwardly and outwardly scarred, and a killer. But his suffering, longing for compassion and loneliness—which all stem from humanity’s cruelty toward his disfigurement—not only allow readers to understand his cruelty and hateful ways, but transforms his character into a tragic figure which is impossible not to love.
 
MJN: Now, while we are still on the subject of conventions, you mention that you like to defy the conventions of the romance genre.  Are there any particular rules that you consistently long to break? (Such as, generic love scenes or happy endings?) I find that describing emotions and experiences in a somewhat counter-intuitive manner can make them more poignant.  For instance, sobbing at a funeral is common.  But if you have a widow giggling hysterically, smoking by her husband's graveside and cracking obscene jokes, it's more disturbing and makes a deeper impact.  What do you think? 

RD: I absolutely agree. In fact, here’s a relevant excerpt from Finding Gabriel; it occurs when Gabriel discovers the severity of his disfigurement for the first time:

Willing himself not to tremble, Gabriel fondled the linen – already aware of the unseen horror that lurked beneath. Two fingertips pried beneath the bandage. Rekindled pain speared through his body as the tender, gaping hole met his fingertip. Defeated, he groaned and dropped his hand back onto the coverlet. His fingers fisted the coarse material, and sweat welled in the curve of his palm.

It only took one touch. The despairing truth confirmed itself, and the epiphany was almost poetic.

Laughter bubbled inside Gabriel’s throat. He laughed until his stomach ached. He laughed until tears poured down his cheeks and dampened the bandages. Nausea overcame him as his sides grew sore from the force of his laughter. Stopping only to retch on the floorboards, he continued to laugh until those tears held no more mirth.

Really – the turn of events was all too fitting.Now his face would match the tattered depths of his soul.”

But how do I endeavor to break conventions, you ask? First off, I’d say my writing style is somewhat of a convention bender. I have a dark, Gothic voice and enjoy genre-blending. Throughout Finding Gabriel, you’ll encounter some suspense and mystery, a dash of horror, and, of course, an abundance of romance and steam.

Secondly, the majority of nineteenth century historical romances are often confined to England’s elaborate ballrooms. Finding Gabriel is not. It takes place in France, straight in the heart of a raw and bleeding Paris. The painful repercussions of a country at war is definitely not sugar-coated (as they might be in a typical romance)—and neither are Gabriel and Ariah’s inward battles.

Thirdly, I always ensure my stories’ premises are fresh, unique, and bold. Finding Gabriel plays on the age-old Beauty and the Beast theme, though in a unique and daring way. Gabriel’s deformity is self-inflicted—and, in essence, a testament to his years of grief and internal suffering. And while Ariah is an ideal foil to his darkness, she also has known much suffering and heartache during her lifetime—something that makes her strong and tenacious, though also very vulnerable. Ariah is certainly no damsel in distress, and she will go to any lengths to protect her loved ones.

At lastly, I always ensure the plotline serves my characters and story first and foremost—conventions be damned. The Frost of Springtime features a married hero. Finding Gabriel has a married heroine (though the ties to her husband are much more ambiguous and less controversial). These are just two examples—and in each one, I felt they strengthened the story’s heart and created more interesting, relatable, and dynamic characterizations. 

At the end of the day, however, I simply write the kind of stories that I enjoy reading—ones that are emotionally charged with flawed characters, an evocative, dark atmosphere, steamy moments, and plenty of surprises.
 
MJN: You have a lovely headshot.  You have a very flirtatious countenance, which suggests playful chicklit, but your long hair would make you a hit at a Renaissance fair. The old adage goes "Don't judge a book by its cover". Now the new adage should read "Don't judge the book by the author's headshot". Would you say that your headshot is reflective of the content of our writing? Has anyone suggested wearing more dark eyeliner? 

RD: *Blushes* What a fun question! And yes, my hair is very long—it actually falls past my waist. I’ve cut it to my shoulders before, and it always grows back within a few months. It’s just something in my genes. Even when I was born, I had long hair! Strange, huh?

Back to your question. I suppose I would say that my headshot is reflective of components of my writing—the romance, flirtation, and the lighter, warmer sides of my characters. But, in a way, my appearance is also deceiving, since my writing often ventures into quite dark and edgy territories…

In the words of a beloved college professor, “Don’t be fooled by Rachel’s shyness and sweet face. She’s fu**ing sick in the head, and I love it.” (He had a huge potty mouth but a heart of gold. In this quotation he was alluding to a rather risquĂ© satire screenplay I’d written.)

More eyeliner to appear darker and more Gothic? Nah! I think it’s fun to outwardly look sweet and harmless—but also to pack a surprising punch! After all, one of the facets of memorable storytelling is unexpected twists. :-)
 
MJN: You mention living with your high-school sweetheart of eleven years.  Congratulations on having found such lasting love!  In our day and age when relationships are fleeting and fragile, you are lucky to have found something that endures.  So your sweetheart must've witnessed your artistic growth as a writer.  Did he see the early drafts of your work?

RD: Aw, thank you much! *Smiles* And yes, I’m beyond grateful to have found my love at such a young age. At the risk of sounding like an overblown romantic, he’s truly my soul mate and greatest inspiration. He did indeed watch me grow and mature as a writer. Honestly, he’s not much of a reader (I know, shocking! Guess opposites do attract, eh?), and hasn’t read early drafts—though he constantly serves as a springboard for new ideas and tweaks. He has a wonderful insight into storytelling and helps me out on a daily basis!