The Role of Accents

The Role of AccentsIn my book, The Heir to the Unexpected, I needed to keep the story easy to follow while staying true to the southern accent. As my wife still needs translation of Southern to Northern American English when we visit my real family down there, this isn’t always such an easy balance! One of the challenges to complicate this is how to capture a Southern accent at different educational levels- this goes well beyond the use of “ya’ll” and “ain’t”. Check out the IDEA (International Dialects of English Archive) : it’s was started by Professor Paul Meier as a resource for actors to hear real-life examples of specific English accents and dialects.

For example, I have a supporting character who didn’t finish high school and I therefore wanted her to speak in broken Southern American-English. As I began exploring character interactions, it became apparent that not only did I need to think about her accent, but I also had to rethink how I crafted those conversations based on her educational level. For example, if I wanted a character to make a statement like:
“Your mother’s turnip greens don’t taste as good as my mother’s because she doesn’t use enough ham bone fat to cook them.”

I need to adjust both the sentence structure as well as the specific language and pronunciation to read appropriately. This translates into something like:
“Ya mama’s greens ain’t as good as minz ‘cause they don’t glow enough.”

Imagine an entire chapter written with this type of accent/grammar style. I would be pushing the patience of you, the reader, to a point that you would likely quickly quit. So, to better align the accent, education level and conversation to one that the reader could more easily follow and enjoy, I decided to tackle it from this angle:
“You mama’s turnip greens don’t taste as good mine. They too healthy and fatless…”

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Character Interview: Charlie

Character Interview: CharlieThis week I’ll be conducting my last character interview for my book The Heir to the Unexpected, with Jon’s uncle, Charlie DeBlanc.


Charlie– So, where are you from and what do you do?

Sure enough. I’m from Pleasant Grove, Mississippi. After the honor of serving my country in the Vietnam war, I travelled the world for a while, saw a lot of great things, but came to appreciate home all the more. So, about 30 years ago when my sister started having kids, I decided to settle down again back in Pleasant Grove. I took up a job as a long haul truck driver, which allows me to have a home base near my family, but get away when I need to.

What do you love most about Mississippi?

For me, it’s the family bond to the land. My family fled France in 1680 and came to Charleston, South Carolina due to religious persecution happening with the Calvinists (or Protestants, for those who aren’t versed in the history of that era). After a few years, they relocated to our current family homestead in Mississippi. From what my Great Grandmother told me, they wanted to be close to the French culture of New Orleans, but safely away from any religious persecution. I love that land and the rich history that it has given me the responsibility to carry on.

Would you have done anything differently?

I’m proud that I was able to serve my country and protect my land, but I sometimes wonder what could have been if I had pursued a career as a minister with a family. For all the fighting and killing I’ve seen and done, I think I would have done more good if I helped guide and grow people instead. Today, I’m trying to help a few folks get back on track who live on one my properties in a trailer park.

What do you do in your free time?

If I’m not on the road or fixing things at the trailer park, I do like hunting. I don’t go out to kill things for the sake killing. But I like watching, feeling and smelling nature at it’s most innocent moments. Don’t get me wrong, if a big ole buck comes walking into my tranquility, I’m obliged to fill my freezer for the next month or two.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years?

Well, I never married or had kids, but I do have a nephew, Jonathan, who I’ve always been partial to. I’m hoping I can convince him to move home from New York City and work down here instead. I have lots of stories and things I still want to share with him. I don’t think he’s wanting to return, but he doesn’t know what’s right for him. What’s going to be required of him some day…

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Character Interview: Liz

Character Interview: LizAs a continuation of my character interviews for my book The Heir to the Unexpected, this week I’ll be interviewing Elizabeth Ann Todd, known by her friends and Family as Liz. Liz is my protagonist’s, Jon’s, longterm girlfriend.


Hi Liz– So, can you share with us how you landed where you are today?

I grew up in Boulder, CO with three brothers and the Flatirons in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains as my playground. After graduating college in Denver, I moved to New York City to pursue a  job as a Drug Sales Rep for Hayera Pharmaceuticals. Huge change for me in environment, but a fun new adventure.

It took me a few months to settle in to the bustle of the city, but when I did, I  found a great group of friends. In fact, that’s how I met Jon. One of my girlfriends met him at party, and she set us up. He was quite the pleasant surprise. He’s just as passionate as I am about his work, but he values the same bigger things in life as I do and he wasn’t about playing games. We also have some fairly unique connections. For example, I had a head injury in high school that resulted in me loosing most of my ability to smell and taste. The head injury is a story for another day. But, try imagining how chocolate looses it’s allure when you only have the texture to remind you of it’s flavor. So much of our sense of taste comes from smell. Thankfully, Jon has a really uncanny sense of smell and an amazing ability to articulate the details of flavor- it makes me able to love food again!

What do you love most about New York?

The shopping! Definitely a step up from crunchy Boulder. I love the colors and the styles that the City inspires. My parents are very proud Hippies and they taught me how to shop at thrift and vintage clothing stores. I love the challenge of finding the best outfit for the best price. It’s a game that my girlfriends and I play together.

What do you miss back in Colorado?

As much as I love New York City, when it’s hot, you’re hot. In Colorado, if it’s hot, you can go drive a few thousand feet up in altitude and there’s a cool breeze waiting to greet you. Mountains are dramatic and relaxing… and the city is fast and exciting. Colorado snow is fluffy and accessible, while New York snow is icy and annoying. There are trade-offs… but I love both.

Where do you see your self in next 5 to 10 years?

I’m on track for being promoted in the next month or so, but you know how things happen in this economy. You really have to look out for your career and be proactive in owning your own advancement. So, as much as I like my job, I might have to consider other options if things don’t work out on the time-line that I want. Relationship-wise, I’m just really lucky to have found Jon. He’s an amazing guy who makes me feel special and I know I can trust him. If we keep going in the direction I think we are, I might have to put up his antics for life!

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Character Interview: Jonathan

Character Interview: JonathanI thought a fun break from blogging about the topical process of writing my book could be to give you a more direct introduction to the actual world of my characters over the next few weeks. To do this, this week I’m going to interview my protagonist, Jonathan Lee Thomas, known by his friends and family as Jon. Look for similar interviews with his girlfriend Liz, and his Uncle Charlie moving forward!

Hello, Jon– It’s good to have you with us today. I’d like to start the interview off having you tell us a little bit about yourself. For example, where do you live, and what do you do for a living?

Sure… Glad to be here and share my background to the audience.  I’m 27 years old. I live in Brooklyn, New York and work off of Madison Avenue at an advertising agency, ArtWord.  I’ve been an Art Director there for the last 2 years working on the Rein Sportswear and Junk Footwear accounts. I’m responsible for shaping the campaigns that appear on TV, all of those ads that appear in Sports Point magazine, and all of their web campaigns. You name it:  football, baseball, soccer, etc. If you see a Junk shoe or a Rein Jersey ad, I was one of the people who was behind it.

What do you love most about living in New York?

The food. I love the fact that I can step out of any building or subway stop in the city, and always be within walking distance of some new and exciting thing to eat. You can navigate the boroughs by the delicious and diverse aromas wafting through the different communities. My personal guilty pleasure is the greasy food at the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. Between their juicy burgers, thick custard shakes and the wait in the park, it’s a dangerous addiction that results in a lot of gym visits for me…

What do you miss back in Mississippi?

I miss my family and the quiet mornings that greet your day– privacy is cheaply available there, unlike the chaos of New York. I miss watching the SEC with a beer and the barbecue with the family. Oh, and I miss the speed of driving; the freedom of driving as far and as fast as the backroads of Mississippi will allow you.

What do you do in your free time?

What free time? <laughs> Well, in the city, you always have something to do. My girlfriend, Liz, and I enjoy the city stuff- like going to gallery openings, seeing the latest up-and-coming band, or just grabbing drinks with our friends. But we also really like to try and take in what quiet time New York allows you… like sitting on a park bench in the evening and taking in the different smells and noises. Liz mostly keeps me out of trouble, but life still has its way of keeping things interesting.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years?

Professionally, I’d like to be a Creative Director at a well known agency, which should be realistic if things keep going in the direction they’re going. I’m passionate about what I do, so I work hard. From a personal perspective, Liz and I have been dating since about two years out of college and I think she’s the one. But while I’m starting to feel more confidant about that, I’m nervous about how she and my larger family will get along. They’ve met, but a quick fun-packed weekend is different from day-to-day-life…

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Music to write to:
soundtracks that chill out

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
-Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

09_28_2013As a part of my creative process, I find an organized iTunes playlist as valuable as a comfortable chair. To give you a peek, I’ve listed my “music to write to”– Enjoy!

# Song Artist Album
1) Time Hans Zimmer Inception (Music from the Motion Picture)
2) Astor’s Birthday Party Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
3) My Number is 47 Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
4) That New Car Smell Michael Giacchino Star Trek (Music from the Motion Picture)
5) Earth Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
6) Su-Chou Prison – Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7) Prologue Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
8) Capa’s Last Transmission Home Underworld Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture)
9) Vide Cor Meum –
Patrick Cassidy
Hans Zimmer Hannibal
10) The Prestige David Julyan The Prestige (Original Score)
11) Chevaliers de Sangreal Hans Zimmer The Da Vinci Code (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
12) Adaptation (Fat Boy Slim Remix) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
13) Birth Watlz Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
14) May It Be and Themes from Lord of the Rings Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
15) Music for a Found Harmonium Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
16) The Son of Flynn Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
17) 503 Joshua Bell Angels & Demons (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
18) Vespertilio Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
19) The Madam Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
20) Music from the Right Stuff Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
21) The Kiss Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman Last of the Mohicans
22) Recognizer Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
23) On the Similarity of Human and Orchid Forms (Instrumental) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
24) Epilogue / Bloodroom Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
25) The Chase Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from film)
26) Main Titles (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture)
27) Long, Long Time Ago Javier Navarrete Pan’s Labyrinth (Original Soundtrack)
28) Perpetuum Mobile Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
29) Veridis Quo Daft Punk Discovery
30) A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics James Horner Beautiful Mind Soundtrack, A
31) Scrooged – Main Titles / Show Time At Ibc / Elliot Gives Blood / Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
32) Main Title from Shakespeare In Love Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
33) The Illusionist Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from the Film)
34) Lasiurus Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
35) Love Theme (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
36) Discombobulate Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
37) The Orgy Basil Poledouris Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
38) A Small Measure of Peace Hans Zimmer The Last Samurai
39) Batman Theme from Batman Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
40) End Titles- Tron London Philharmonic Orchestra & Wendy Carlos Tron (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
41) Classical Gas Mason Williams Rhino Hi-Five: Mason Williams – EP
42) Adaptation Versus Immutability Carter Burwell Adaptation (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
43) Adagio for Strings Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic Barber’s Adagio and Romantic Favorites for Strings
44) Modigliani Guy Farley Modigliani: Music from the Original Picture
45) Spotkanie Z Matka Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
46) Operation Dinner Out-  Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
47) Rosasolis Penguin Cafe Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
48) The Last Man Clint Mansell The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture)
49) No Expectation Boulevard Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
50) Elysium Klaus Badelt & Lisa Gerrard Gladiator
51) The Floating Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
52) Ave Maria Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
53) Main Title from the Last of the Mohicans Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
54) Blade Runner Blues Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
55) Rescue Mission Tyler Bates Watchmen (Original Motion Picture Score)
56) Burning Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
57) LV-426 James Horner Aliens (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [The Deluxe Edition]
58) Beetlejuice: Main Titles / End Titles Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
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Using Pinterest for Personas

Using Pinterest for PersonasFrom an author’s perspective, I need to get to know my characters before I start writing about them. To do this, I start by identifying the small things that make up their personalities and backgrounds. Having spent time in the creative industry, I like to do this visually. By using personas, I can shape their image and individualism more realistically with Pinterest boards.

Personas on Pinterest– Jon

For my main character, Jon, I needed to know things like what kind of sound do his shoes make? How would he react to specific types of smells? How does he take his coffee? You get the idea. Here is a Pinterest board for Jon that helped me think about these things:

Jon on Pinterest

Personas on Pinterest– Liz

For Liz, what kind of music does she play when she runs? What does the scarf around her neck feel like? What would she wear on the weekends?Liz on Pinterest

In persona development, I’ve found Pinterest valuable in the creation of moodboards. Simple objects become reference points in the story and make the characters more real to me. I like calling these little details the ‘subtleties of life’; I think they make my characters more grounded and relatable to the reader.



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Starting a Plot Outline

Starting a Plot OutlineTo write about the plot outline process,  I had to carefully balance not giving away every plot-line element in my current book while explaining how I landed on it’s structure. So, in order to shape a dialogue around this topic, I decided to dissect an existing story and re-tell it from a different character’s perspective. This technique has been used on many well known books and movies– it’s called the Rashomon Effect.

For my example, I’m going to take the story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and create an outline of the existing story with the Freytag pyramid. After which, I’ll use the Rashomon Effect to create an alternate storyline in a parallel Freytag Pyramid.

The Elephant’s Child–Original Plot

The Elephant’s Child, a child with ” ‘satiable” curiosity who lives in Africa is constantly getting in trouble with his family for asking too many questions.

Rising Action:
The Elephant’s Child keeps getting spanked by his relatives for his curiosity over what crocodiles eat. Out of desperation to know the answer, he leaves the safety of his family to pursue the truth.

Naively, the Elephant’s Child asks the Crocodile what crocodiles eat, not realizing he is talking to a crocodile. The Crocodile answers by chomping down on and tugging the Elephant’s Child’s nose.

Falling Action:
The Elephant’s Child’s nose begins to stretch and stretch as the Crocodile pulls. With the help of a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake though, the Elephant’s Child is able resist the crocodile until he gives up and lets go.

After waiting 3 days for his nose to shrink back, the Elephant’s Child unconsciously swats at a fly on his back that would have been previously out of reach. Then, he reaches down with his new elongated nose, pulls a large bundle of grass from the earth, and stuffs it in his mouth. Not even thinking, he then scoops up some mud and slaps it on his head to cool himself off. With these new found nose-abilities, the Elephant’s Child goes home to spank his family with his new trunk.

The Elephant’s Child–Alternate Plot

The Wise Crocodile who lives in Africa is frustrated over the younger generation of animals scaring food away.

Rising Action:
At the river bank one day, the Wise Crocodile gets inpatient when a group of young crocodiles refuse to hunt in the traditional ways. Out of frustration, he decides to go hunting upstream away from them all.

After a few hours of seeing nothing, the Wise Crocodile decides to take a nap on the river bank. To his surprise, he is awakened by a young elephant asking him what crocodiles eat. Rather grumpy and hungry, the Wise Crocodile decides to take this opportunity by the nose, and tugs…

Falling Action:
The Wise Crocodile has never seen a nose stretch so long before. Just when he thinks he has the young elephant in his grasp, a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake decides to help his naive prey. Afterwards, sitting high above the stream and out of the crocodile’s grasp, the young elephant proceeds to scare all other animals away by his very loud complaints about his new nose.

Annoyed by the commotion, the Wise Crocodile decides to go back to his original feeding ground. He swims back down to the main river bank and discovers that all the young crocodiles have finally moved on. With the water’s edge calm and quiet, and a little bit of patience, he is able to wait and eat a hearty fish dinner.

You can see that different perspectives of the same story create an opportunity to explore character development and plot possibilities. The Freytag Pyramid is one construct to guide your basic plot structure and fully explore what your story can be.


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Collecting everyday life

I once had a college art professor tell me that my ability to conceptually build stories through imagery and words would become easier through more life experience. Now, reflecting Collecting everyday lifeon that moment, I understand why Professor Fred Burton was right. Big ideas are enriched by the small, day-to-day, simple details of life.

Choosing the tools for writingFor The Heir to the Unexpected, I invested time collecting a repository of momentary ‘subtleties of life’ and then infused them into my larger cohesive story. By using a cloud-based sync tool on my iPhone (I use Evernote), I have the ability to capture ideas quickly and assign multiple topical tag categories (i.e. characters, conflict, dialogue, eating, environment, travel, location, year/date/time,) to organize my thoughts. Then, when I get back to my desk, iPad, and MacBook, I have my thoughts of the day documented and waiting at my fingertips.

One such moment was a walk in New York City… and it happened to become the first sentence in my first chapter:

When it was early morning, you were confronted with a thousand smells and the common glare of solitude.

Now, this sentence is not only about sidewalk aromas and that introspective pre-caffeinated time of the morning, but it’s the start of the mood and the moment that my character is experiencing. More specifically, it’s hinting at the day-to-day routine work commute behavior we all fall into. In that brief moment, I collected a feeling that could connect the reader to a relateable instance.

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