Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


That’s what I had to determine when I wrote her into my manuscript. Here's Michael’s first glimpse of her:

Seated a couple of chairs to his right was an attractive woman in her late twenties or early thirties, clear blue eyes and golden brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed casually in jeans and a tight-fitting sweater. Perched across her finely shaped nose was an attractive pair of reading glasses through which she scrutinized him with a look of concerned amusement. Her smile was warm and appealing.

I wanted Jennie to be a positive influence on Michael, part of his transition from shallow egotistical bachelor with his “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude to a man with heart, yet afraid to commit to marriage because of deep unresolved emotional problems he still has to work out. After their initial meeting inside The Words of Wisdom metaphysical bookstore, he watches her walk away.

…Michael found himself admiring Jennie's feminine shape in her tightly fitted jeans and wondered what she would look like without her clothes on.

Typical. He’s just had an interesting conversation with her about dreams and symbols and how they translate inside the unconscious mind, but all he can think of is her nude body. Before watching her leave, Michael asked Jennie to join him later for coffee after she’s finished teaching dance class. They meet at the Second Cup and Jennie finds herself drawn to him. She shares private information she’s kept secret.

“While I was still in school, an artist friend gave me a beautiful gift. She made an oil painting depicting a ballerina after she danced her final performance.” Her hands moved expressively as she spoke. “She's seated backstage with her torso bent over and her head resting on folded arms across her knees. Flowing down her back, her long black hair makes a graceful veil.”
Jennie fell silent, picked up her spoon and stirred her coffee again with unnatural concentration.
Sensing she was about to share something of a personal nature, Michael wondered what he ought to say to put her at ease. Without knowing her very well, he decided to be cautious. “It sounds beautiful. How did the painting impact your decision to teach?”
Jennie stopped stirring her coffee and met his gaze with complete honesty.
“When I hung it on the wall, I only saw the dancer's sadness. My friend viewed it strictly from an artist's perspective. Her eye appreciated the shape and form of the dancer's body draped in the chair and she painted what she saw, but I felt as if I were seeing into a mirror reflecting what could be my future. Not everyone is good enough to become a professional ballerina, and even those who are eventually become too old. The painting showed me the depth of the dancer's sadness after her final performance, and every time I looked at her I felt her pain, too. I knew I didn't want to end up like her.
“Then one day, I found myself looking at the painting in a different way. I realized I was also an artist, and I had the power to paint my future. My life was a canvas and the future my work of art. Once I came to that realization, I was able to take the steps to protect myself from such a heartbreaking fate. That changed everything. Now, whenever I look at the sad ballerina, all I see is a beautiful painting.”
As he listened to her, Michael was reminded of Susan's words: “Anyone can receive significant life-changing messages from unexpected sources, but they can only influence us if we are open to them.”
“I can't believe what I just told you,” Jennie said with embarrassment. “I've never shared that story with anyone, but for some reason I trusted you with it. Can I trust you?”
He met her eyes. “Of course you can.”

Michael responds to her candor.

“Hearing you talk about yourself makes me realize how wrong I was to cut myself off from my friends by not returning phone calls. I thought no one else could possibly understand what I was going through. I was an ass.”
Jennie regarded him with sympathy. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Life is difficult enough without making it harder. We all react to situations differently. Your friends will understand.”
He sipped his coffee and settled back against the booth. “You’re right, they’ve forgiven me. It’s not that I’m against change, but for years my life was routine, a little boring perhaps, but safe. Now, I feel things are out of control and—well—I feel lost.”
“I get it.”
“There's more to it than that. My whole perspective of what's real and what isn't has come into question.”
“Did you stop to consider that could be a good thing?” When he didn’t answer, she continued. “I'll bet when you were working so hard you used to wish you had more free time to relax and do things you like.”

After they leave he sits in his car, turns on the engine and muses:

Will we remain only friends, or will our friendship evolve into something more intimate? I like her. She seems special, genuine, and different from the other women I’ve known who were power-driven to climb the corporate ladder and break through the glass ceiling.
He considered her attributes. She obviously isn’t after my money, and she’s very attractive—sweet yet sexy—creative, a good talker and listener, honest, intelligent, and blessed with a good sense of humor. What more could I ask for?
The following morning…Michael phoned Eric at his office and told him about…meeting Jennie.
“You met her at a bookstore? Dude, I don’t know how you do it.” Eric tossed his drafting pencil and the lead broke.
“I know you and Susan are going to like her. In fact, she reminds me a little of Susan.”
“What else? Gimme the juicy details.”
“She's pretty and sexy, creative and intelligent, which makes me wonder how I ever managed to meet someone like her who wasn't already involved.”
“What's her body like?”
“A perfect ten.”

This is a brief introduction to Jennie Greene. She emerges as a strong willed, self confident stubborn woman who stands up to Michael, refusing to become just another of his meaningless conquests. She knows what she wants out of life and is willing to walk away from their relationship to get it. What happens?

Read GOOD FORTUNE to find out.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


I was recently given advice in relation to blogging about Good Fortune. “Select a character and explain why readers should get to know him or her. Tie the character into a historical context, current events, a trend or a niche interest.” Maybe that’s sound advice but it’s not my personality. So while musing about what to focus on in my next blog and how to approach it, I recalled something unexpected that happened while I was writing chapter 22. Then, I took it a step further but I'll get to that later. Let me preface this by admitting I’m no expert on how or why this happened—it just did. I’m not a professor of writing fiction or else I’d offer you a rational explanation.

I had just started writing a new chapter when two characters, Tom Clark and Lyle Gardner, appeared unexpectedly. Tom and Lyle differ from my other characters because they don’t fit into one of two molds—either college educated professional Caucasians or 4 generations of Asian-American immigrants striving for the American Dream. In contrast, Tom and Lyle are rough around the edges working class guys, high school graduates who have gone through some tough economic times, are currently without girlfriends and are living rent free in a Big Sur cabin Lyle inherited from his dad. They’re long-haired bearded outdoors types who have done construction work and whatever blue collar jobs they could find in Salinas. Since moving to Big Sur they’ve managed to support themselves as artists. Tom creates wind chimes from driftwood pieces, beach glass and shells he gathers for free, and sells his creations to wealthy private clients and tourist shops. Lyle is an expert wood carver who sells his work at coastal galleries. These two guys are best friends since high school, and spar with each other through playful insults and constant shoving.

I admit their arrival came as a complete surprise since I thought I had the whole book neatly planned out, characters and events all listed in chronological order so as I wrote, I methodically checked off each item: done. After I completed the draft of chapter 22, I leaned back in my chair and gazed at the computer screen somewhat perplexed and asked aloud, “What just happened? Where did those two guys come from?” The interesting thing about Tom and Lyle is not only did they spontaneously appear without fanfare, but they added a level of depth to my story and tied things together in a way that otherwise might not have worked so well. The manuscript is better because of them.

Before writing about my surprising experience I indulged in a bit of fantastical musing about Tom and Lyle’s spontaneous generation and my imagination came up with a possible scenario. What if there’s a place “somewhere” close to earth where fictional characters exist while waiting to be called? I imagine this as being like a lavish resort. It has a swimming pool and tennis courts and is near a white pristine beach lined with swaying palm trees and blooming tropical plants that permeate the air with fragrance. The ocean is always warm and calm and the weather placid and sunny. The tanned and rested unemployed characters enjoy themselves every day doing what people do when vacationing. There is no pressure on them and no demands on their time. They hang out, get massages and facials and manicures, eat delicious healthy gourmet meals they don’t have to prepare for themselves, don’t have to do laundry or pay bills or do anything unpleasant or be distracted by mundane tasks. No one talks politics and argues philosophical differences, no one dies, marriages don’t fall apart, children are perfectly well-adjusted and behaved; there isn’t a care in their utopian world.

Then suddenly a bell rings, or a sleeve is tugged, or perhaps a cell phone buzzes and an agent calls and says something like: “Hey guys, Leslie Bratspis is writing a novel and you’re both needed or her book is going to be lacking in depth. No time to pack. Her fingers are typing as we speak and I’m sending you to help her hone her craft NOW.” Do you think this is possible? And if so, what happens to characters who suddenly find themselves written into a situation they don’t like? Perhaps they’re given radical political views they don’t share or they’re being pursued by a psycho killer and there’s nowhere to hide. Or they’re tossed into a manuscript where demands are made on them to solve mysteries, survive tragedies, work jobs they don’t like or their personalities are altered to the point they can’t stand how they’re portrayed. So much for resort living. Is this too far-fetched? I told you I was musing!

I hope Tom and Lyle are happy with the way I depicted them and I don’t think I have to apologize for tearing them away from an idyllic life out there “somewhere” in the ether before they came alive on the pages of Good Fortune. I’d like to hear your point of view of where characters suddenly emerge from, and have you ever experienced such a thing yourself when writing? Please email me your thoughts and experiences to lesliebratspis@yahoo.com.

Yours in good fortune,
Leslie Bratspis
© 2012

For all you folks with e-Readers I'm participating in "Read an e-Book Week" beginning March 4th - 10th. Be sure to enter coupon REW75 at checkout to receive your discount. Go to http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65462. Wishing you good fortune!