I don’t always cast my books, though sometimes it does help me to get a handle on a character if I have a very clear view of what they look like. While I absolutely love and am entirely satisfied with the cover of Smoky Mountain Dreams, the guys don’t fit the image I had in my head for Christopher or Jesse, nor do they fit the almost-good-enough attempts I made at casting them with photographs. I thought it might be fun to show readers the closest, but not quite right, approximations I’ve got for a few of the characters in the book.
First, let’s talk about Christopher. The inspiration for Christopher was originally a real human being that I saw performing at Dollywood. He was handsome enough, but not stunning, thin enough but not cut, cute but not amazing, and his singing talent was well beyond my own but he’d never be famous. I have no idea what his name was, but I decided then and there to write a book about him. Well, eventually, I wanted to describe Christopher in more detail and I set about trying to find a photo that captured what I’d found so compelling about this performer at Dollywood. I finally settled on this picture of Jesse Spencer. Though I feel compelled to say that not every picture of Jesse Spencer works for Christopher, in fact, this may be the only one. But I returned to this one time and again to try to capture the feeling the character of Christopher gave to me.
Now, Jesse was a lot harder. I had a couple of pictures I referred to for him, actually. One that mainly just captured the body confidence I thought Jesse had. But this one is probably the closest in terms of the face. Only, uh, without that full, messy beard .Jesse just had scruff, and the hair is shorter by a bit, and his eyes are tired here because of the burdens of his life (and maybe the sex he had with Christopher all night long), but, yes, this was the closest I could find…probably. It’s still not just right, but whatcha gonna do? 😀
More pictures of that model (Maximilio Pantane) that I used as references for Jesse:
Both of these were my references for Young Jesse:
Now, Gareth. Yes, he was pretty easy. I saw this picture one day and was like, “Holy crap, what is Gareth doing on Pinterest??” So, yes, this is what I think Gareth looks like.
Every reader obviously has their own idea of what the characters look like and I hope seeing my thoughts doesn’t taint your own. I also hope it was fun to see these! 😀 If you’ve got ideas of what Christopher and Jesse look like and pics to go along with that, please to be sharing in comments below!
“I love Leta Blake’s writing. It’s so smooth and flowing. The River Leith is told from Leith’s POV, but the reader is able to take an agonising peak in Zach’s mind when he makes these vlog entries. Let me tell you – those are heartbreaking!
The River Leith is a very real book. Don’t expect any magical solutions or convenient plot turns. This is the story of two people who manage to find their way back to each other despite all odds being stacked against them.
I highly recommend this book! Give it a try, and check Leta’s other amazing stand-alone Training Season. You will not be disappointed!”
Currently I’m working on another contemporary m/m romance titled Smoky Mountain Dreams. I started this one about four years ago and when I needed to take (yet another) break from the four book series I’ve been working on for nearly ten years (omg it will never end! probably because I keep taking breaks from it!), I planned to finish up the prequel to Stalking Dreams, but when I opened that file none of the characters felt like talking to me.
Around that same time, a friend said, “Hey, whatever happened to that book you were writing about the theme park performer and the jeweler with the angsty past? I’ve never read another m/m book like that one and I’ve always wanted you to finish it.” Assuming, as I always do, that the unfinished book was crap, I opened it up to see just why my friend thought it was special, and lo and behold…well, IT DID NOT SUCKETH.
(Confession: I have a problem with thinking everything I’ve left unfinished actually sucks. Luckily, my friends tend to remind me that I should look at those books again just to make sure. Then I realized I might be wrong after all. Training Season and The River Leith were both books with this unfinished-so-must-suck history.)
So! I had the epiphany that if I managed to get Smoky Mountain Dreams done by July and hold it to release in November, then I will have almost a full year before I’d need to put out the first book in the four book series. Then, since I’m (hopefully) 2/3 done with Book 3 of that series, I’d have nearly a year and a half to have Book 4 finished, and hooray! The twice yearly timeline works out for me! Though I plan to put the series out one book every two or three months, so it will be more than twice annually in that year.
Holy crap, no one wanted to know that! This must be the most boring blog post I’ve ever written so far!
To sum up: I’m working on a book about a theme park employee and his jeweler love interest and it’s a lot more complicated than that makes it sound.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Hmm. You know, the only way I can answer this is to say, simply, they are written by me and I don’t think anyone else writes just exactly the same way that I do? There’s no value on this reality, just that I’m pretty sure I have a voice that is my own. I will say that I think I’m unapologetic. I write what the characters want and that’s that. If that makes someone unhappy then I can’t really be sorry about that because characters are who they are and I don’t always approve of their behavior either.
3) Why do I write what I do?
This is a big topic. I write romance because I have always loved the joy of them, the happy endings, the trials on the way to them. They’ve always made my heart beat faster. I write m/m romance for a ton of reasons, one of the biggest being that if I ever write a m/f book, then I want to make sure I’ve broken my mind free enough of the traps society has instilled in my mind about women, heroines, and what that looks like. Quite frankly, writing m/m helps with that. What is that saying? You can’t imagine freedom if you don’t know what it looks like? Well, m/m helps me imagine a m/f reality that doesn’t fall back on the rules and regulations that society has drilled into me.
4) How does your writing process work?
It’s a process made up of three prongs:
First, I need to be inspired. Where that inspiration comes from is always a mystery and it can hit at any time. Music, poetry, taking a walk in the park, getting dinner in a restaurant, a random comment from a friend. Boom! Characters show up in my head and start talking to me and I’m all, “Wait, wait, let me get this down. Hold up!” (Or sometimes I say, “Wait, wait, I can’t with you right now. I’m swamped with another book, you see. Come back later.”) I can never tell what’s going to inspire me, but there’s no doubt that inspiration is required and part of the process.
Second, I put in the time. I make the time. I have to make time because there are only so many hours in a day, a week, a year. And writing’s in my blood. It makes me go. I have to do it and I have to work at it. So, I am a writer. What am I not? Let’s make a list:
a) I’m not the perfect mom! Why? Because, oh, sometimes I tell my kid to make her own dinner (PB&J and some applesauce) because Mommy is writing. Or I hire a babysitter so I can write. Or I set her up on her iPad and say, “Play on this and when you’re bored watch tv or read a book, but don’t come talk to me because I’m writing.” Now, am I a good mom? Hell yeah. I’m a damn good mom. I’m at the important things and by writing I teach her that moms have reasons to be on this earth that don’t consist of “being focused on the kid 100% of the time”.
b) I am NOT a good housekeeper. In fact, my house is a disaster. I should take pics. Okay, fine, I actually will! Here is what my sink looks like RIGHT THIS SECOND. This is reality. I work a job, do a ton for my kid, spend time with my husband and write books. Something’s gotta give.
3) Dogged Determination
My process involves ignoring new inspiration in the interest of finishing an older work that is no longer making my blood pump with joy. My process involves ignoring the very loud chorus of voices in my head saying, “You can’t do this. This books can’t be finished. It’s stupid. Everyone will hate it. You’re going to make an ass of yourself. Who do you think you are writing this book???”
Luckily for me, I’m a bit of a contrarian. If you tell me I can’t do something? God, that just makes me want to do it so much more. Even if it’s me telling myself that. Sure, I’ll whine about it–(sorry friends who have had to endure a lot of this!)–and take to my bed for a day or so and feel like I suck and want to give up. BUT I DON’T. I eventually say, “Can’t do it, huh? SHUT UP. WE’RE DOING THIS.” And I do it.
So, the last part of my process is simply NOT STOPPING.
The above hilarious article hit a note for me. See, not too long ago, a fellow author I was thrilled to meet in person for the first time, said to me, “You must just be thrilled beyond belief over how amazingly well Training Season is doing!”
I stuttered in surprise, not sure what to say, and finally just copped to the truth, “Well, actually, I probably should be, but instead I spend most of my time convinced this isn’t real and that it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out that the book is no good and I can’t write at all.”
For the first month, I kept expecting to log in and see that Training Season had not only plummeted down the charts but that those who had bought the book were returning it in droves. Now, the realization has begun to be unavoidable that people do love the book and they aren’t returning it, which is, yes, completely thrilling. But my inner critic who loves to tell me that I’m an imposter has now shifted their nasty whispers to tell me that Training Season was a fluke and no one will ever like or buy another of my books again. I ignore this voice most of the time or just say, “That’s not the point. I write because I have to and I’ll keep on regardless.”
And that’s true and I don’t need every book to be Training Season, but I’m fascinated and frustrated by the fact that over the last two months I’ve experienced some of the greatest success of my adult life (in terms of my career) and I’ve barely allowed myself even ten minutes of true enjoyment of it. I still feel like it’s preliminary to celebrate. The truth is, I should go pour myself a drink, have a toast, and dance, and sing, and give myself a million high fives. Instead, I’ll probably open my manuscript and poke at it while mildly panicking about whether or not it will be well-received and if that matters and just who do I think I am anyway? That sort of thing. Should be fun. Ha!
So, I’ve been working on what I envisioned as a rather simple, summer love novella with a Trans* MC. I wanted her Trans* identity to be secondary to the love story.
However, as I’m researching, and reading compelling things like THIS ARTICLE, I find myself tempted to make the story something I hadn’t intended. I thought, “Oh, I could have the MC volunteer in the city, working with trans*people who aren’t in as good a situation as she is in.”
And I still might, but if I do that, I have to make sure the book doesn’t get preachy, because that was never, ever, ever the point of what I wanted to write.
So, yes, I have to know my story. That is imperative when writing.
By the way, that’s a good article up there. Check it out!
Does anyone else do this? I have found that usually on my first pass through a scene, my brain is working so fast that my fingers can barely keep up. Usually this means the scene is mostly conversation and moves quite quickly from one topic to another without natural pauses or any description of behavior/action/setting.
The next pass–or layer–has me slowing the scene down, having the characters take their time with their conversation, giving them more realistic and natural responses and segues. The third layer of the scene is usually even more of the same. Slow it down even more, expand on the conversational asides, bring it all back around to the topic at hand, and and nail down the right words.
The fourth pass adds the body movements, like standing up to get more coffee, or brushing hair from foreheads. Making sure if someone is hugging someone else, that they aren’t doing it for an unnatural length of time, or if they stand up, that they aren’t standing there looming over the other characters for paragraphs of dialogue.
The fifth pass is usually more of the same. Realizing, “Oh, wait, I sort of over-explained that position. No one cares where his hand is exactly.” That sort of thing.
The sixth pass is when I add in the setting. What does the room look like? Sound like? What are my characters looking at? What are they seeing, tasting, smelling?
This is a bit time consuming, and I really envy writers who seem to do this all on the first go, but I really just can’t. I’ve come to see my scenes like paintings. You have to get the broad strokes down first, and then go back over it with different brushes to get the details right.
My current manuscript is quite long, over 300k words, and, as such, is far too long for the market accustomed to novels that are more like 110k at the outside. However, the good news is, that the manuscript is structured in such a way that I believe it would work well as a serialized novel. Each part would be around 38k words and I’d price them accordingly.
As I get closer to a completed product, I’m looking for some input and advice about serialization. Does anyone have experience with publishing a serial? And if so, could you offer any advice about what to do, what not to do, or pass on ideas for marketing, etc? Any input at all would be lovely and helpful!
In addition, I’m wondering if I’m overlooking an obvious way to sell subscriptions to the serial, so that someone can pay a set amount up front and receive each episode as it is put out, rather than having to count entirely on return traffic as each episode is released. I saw that Amazon has as service called Amazon Serials, but it requires pitching your idea to them, being accepted, etc, and I’m not sure I care to go that route. I’d rather do it on my own or find another service, unless someone knows something about Amazon Serials that I don’t. Surely there must be some obvious way to provide a subscription service for myself. Hopefully.
Again, any information or experience that might be shared would be wonderful. Thank you!
Reading reviews for Training Season has been a bemusing and fascinating experience. There is, of course, no way to please all the people all the time, and what one reader likes another reader hates. It’s wild to watch many people declare a character real, perfect, amazing and say they’ve fallen in love with him, and then to see another person declare that character boring, badly drawn, or unbearable. At this point, the positive outweighs the negative, and I’m hopeful it stays that way, but, as I said, it’s been a wild ride.
Given that Training Season was in, or hovered around the edges of, Amazon’s Top Ten Gay Romances for over two weeks in December, I think that I must have done something right along the way. And one thing that I’ve been mulling over during all of this hoopla is reader expectations and how they seem to play into the reception of the book. Some readers are disappointed that ranching or skating doesn’t take front and center, though most seem fine with how both things are presented. The thing is, I did a ton more research on ranching and skating than reveals itself in the book itself. And there’s a reason for that.
See, the book was never about those things. Sure, I could’ve written a book about the ins and outs of figure skating, with a lot of competitions, and scenes of skating on the ice. I could’ve written a book about ranching, featuring thrilling moments of escaped or wounded cattle, encounters with dangerous wild animals, or life-or-death adventures on the range. Instead, I wrote a book about something else entirely.
I wrote a book about a romance and about a young man’s emotional growth. I suppose some readers who say this book is more of a coming of age novel, might have a point, though the romance being central definitely makes it a romance in my book. But the book was never about the world of figure skating, or the adventures of ranching. It was always about how a person falls in love, makes choices, processes loss and pain, and moves into a stronger, better place in his life.
There were points when I was writing when I felt like I could take the book in another direction, something more sports or more ranch, but when it came down to it, I realized the book I was really writing and stayed true to it. I think that’s part of why this book has been so surprisingly successful in the scheme of things. Not that readers don’t want books about sports or about ranching! But rather, I think readers want a story that it is told true all the way through, and if I’d wavered from the direction the characters originally set out in, I think the book would have been a failure.
Thank you to all the readers out there–every last one!–who have loved or hated it so far. Y’all are the best. Thank you for letting these characters into your life for even just a little while.
Proof that writers are bad people: when I read the above story, aside from being glad these measures exist, I immediately imagined a story about driver in a DHS van and a homeless LGBT young adult, meeting, falling for each other, and all the rest of the happily ever after. I’m pretty sure that was not the point of that article.
But, uh, I might write it. IN TEN YEARS WHEN I HAVE TIME.