Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Character Study - Sayuri McAllister by Blair McDowell

Yesterday as he was drilling away at me left eye tooth, my dentist asked “When you’re writing, which comes first, characters or plot?” There was no way I could answer him with a rubber dam in my mouth, but the answer would have been, “Characters, always characters.”

I may have the germ of a story idea in my mind, but it doesn’t take form until I know my characters.  Before I write the first line of any book, I write detailed character studies. I do this even for the less important characters. Only in that way will they behave in a consistent way as I get them into and out if trouble in my story. 

Below is the study I wrote for my heroine in Sonata. As I wrote the story I made some minor changes, but for the most part, here she is. Please meet Sayuri McAllister.

Sayuri McAllister—heroine.  Sayuri is twenty-nine when the story begins. She comes from a wealthy family. Her father, Sean, is a Canadian tech tycoon. Her mother, a Japanese woman he met through a business colleague when on a trip to Japan. It was a love match, not well accepted by either family. 

Sayuri shows signs of musical talent early. She attends the local public school and, after school each day, the Vancouver Academy of Music for classes in music theory and history. She studies with the first chair cellist of the Vancouver Symphony. While still in high school, she plays with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. After graduating from high school, she majors in cello performance at McGill. Her life to this point has been made up of nothing but classes and lessons and long hours of practice. She has had little time for anything else.

As the story opens Sayuri is returning from Paris where she has spent two years studying with the famous cellist, Cecile Dubois and then another three years on the concert circuit through-out Europe. She has played both solo recitals and as a soloist with orchestras. She is now an accomplished performer, planning to audition for the first chair cellist’s position in the Vancouver Symphony and preparing for a solo recital at the Chan Centre. She is fluently bilingual, English- French and speaks Japanese as well.

Sayuri is a strong young woman, self-reliant and secure emotionally. She is very much her own woman. She’s had some sexual experience but not much, not a virgin but she does not give of herself casually. **note: I changed this and made her a virgin.

Physically, she’s tall and long legged. She has straight silky dark hair worn back and caught at the nape of her neck. Soft, doe-like, almond shaped brown eyes. Oval face. Creamy complexion. Wears no make-up except lip gloss. Graceful as a dancer. Likes to wear casual clothes, low heeled shoes, slacks and sweaters, vortex jackets— not really into jeans. Never wears hats or carries an umbrella. Doesn’t mind getting wet. Has a wardrobe of formal professional clothes for performances. Most prized possession—her Guarneri cello. 

Sayuri is a one hundred percent modern Canadian woman, independent and self-sufficient. She’s focused on building her own life and career. She has kept in touch with her Japanese grandparents, and when she visits them, to please them she observes the customs of that country. She knew her Canadian grandparents only briefly. They objected strongly to their son’s marriage and she was in her teens before she ever met them. They died soon after, leaving her independent financially.

She has had a series of casual boyfriends over the years at McGill (Montreal) and in Paris, but none she was serious about. She hasn’t time in her life for serious relationships. She was in love with Michael Donovan when she was in high school—but cut him out of her life when he strayed once.

On meeting Michael as an adult, she is once again attracted to him and she is prepared to be a bit more tolerant of his past indiscretions, if she can just get him to make a move in the present. Trouble is, he’s now a detective with the Vancouver Police, and is investigating a major robbery at her father’s house—and he suspects that her father may have been involved. 

Blair McDowell, Author

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's a Regency Romance Anyway?

The word "regency" is not uncommon—a new hospital in my area is called "Regency" and when I google the word, I get a beauty institute, a concert hall, a real estate company, a furniture company, a shopping center, and of course, the famous hotel chain. There are, in fact, 111,000,000 results, only a few of which refer to the Regency period in England that so many devotees of historical romances fancy as a setting for their favorite stories.

Yet I've found few people outside of die-hard Regency fans who know what the word means…and even some of them don't know that much about it, just that during that period, the heir to the British throne, Prince George (or Prinny) was called "Regent."

It appears to me that many business owners looking for a name that sounds rather upper-class settle on "regency" for no real reason. Which is fine. I 'd rather people do that than come up with some "cutesy" name like "Kozy Korner Kreations." [Shudder]

What does "Regency" refer to?

But frankly, only one or two guests at yesterday's Release Party for my Regency short story Treasuring Theresa actually knew what the word "regency" means.

My online dictionary defines a "regent" as:
  1. a person who exercises the ruling power in a kingdom during the minority, absence, or disability of the sovereign.
  2. a ruler or governor

Of course, there are such things as "regents" of universities and colleges and so on, but essentially we will deal with #1 and #2 here.

If a ruler dies when his heir is too young to take his place, generally someone will be appointed his guardian and rule in his place until he comes of legal age. That person is called a Regent. It could be his mother or some other prominent person at court. But in the early nineteenth century, it was the heir to the throne, Prince George, who eventually became George IV.

George III, the "Mad King"

Yes, it was that King George who fought the rebelling colonists in the Revolutionary War. But he wasn't really a bad guy…just sort of wrong-headed, according to those of us who consider ourselves patriotic Americans. He just thought it was something he should do, and he would have succeeded if it weren't for his enemies, the French, who helped the colonists more because they hated the British than for any other reason. We owe them, folks. Seriously. Although it might be cool to speak with a British accent, I still like our flag better.

Anyway, a decade or so later, King George began to behave erratically, showing symptoms that many attribute to the hereditary disease of porphyria, which can result in a sort of "madness." Parliament debated the establishment of a Regency at that time, but while the issue was being discussed, the ailing monarch recovered. However, in 1810, when Treasuring Theresa takes place, he had a relapse, and since he was unable to fulfill his duties, Parliament—under the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval—was obligated to consider the matter again. On February 5, 1811, the Regency was created, with the heir to the throne, Prince George, being made Prince Regent, or the "Reigning Prince" of the Kingdom, a position he held until he became King George IV in 1820 at the death of his father.

Why is the Regency period such a popular setting for historical romances?

Ah, the question of the hour! One reason is undoubtedly because during Prince George's reign as Regent, society became less reserved and pious and more frivolous and ostentatious, in accordance with the tastes and character of the Prince Regent himself. A great lover of the arts and architecture, he spent large sums of money on his homes—Carlton House and the Brighton Pavilion, to name two—as well as public works. This, in addition to lavish personal spending on entertainments and luxuries, obliged him to regularly dip into the Treasury to pay his bills, which was a major source of concern to the government, which had to scramble to find ways to pay its own bills, including an ongoing war with Napoleon.

But other than brief mentions of battles and heroes, and a mention or two of a wounded soldier (i.e., tortured hero) returning to his family, in most Regency novels, you wouldn't know there was a war going on at all. Aristocratic gentlemen gambled and drank to excess, while their wives shopped until they dropped and gossiped at balls and teas and worried more about keeping up appearances than the bloody toll of the war, and the increasing misery of the lower classes. Sound familiar?

But the Regency was also a time of elegant manners, fabulous balls, and glittering aristocratic lifestyles. The traditional Regency romance, à la Georgette Heyer, involves dashing heroes, spunky heroines, witty dialogue, and an unexpected, "sweet" romance. A traditional Regency romance involves no physical contact other than kissing, although the more "modern" Regencies range from spicy to steamy hot, more "erotic" stories.

Treasuring Theresa: A Traditional "Sweet" Regency Story

Lady Theresa is an earl's daughter who has grown up on her father's country estate. She despises the superficial values of London society, and especially that fribble Damian Ashby, who will one day inherit her father's estate.

When Damian meets "Cousin Theresa," he dismisses her as a mannerless country chit. (Well, it's true that at the time her behavior was decidedly out of character.)

But Damian is more than a London swell, and Theresa far from a brainless twit, which they both discover when they are obliged to spend time together. But he's still a city boy and she a country lady, so a match between them would be a disaster. Wouldn't it?

Treasuring Theresa is set in 1810 just months prior to the official Regency period, but the epilogue—which can be found as a free read on my web site—takes place in February 1811, at the same time as the establishment of the Regency Act. If you enjoy Treasuring Theresa, you'll surely want to find out what happens afterward!

Note: You can also find brief character sketches of both Damian and Theresa, and a sort of "prequel" to the story, "Lady Theresa's Trials." Enjoy!

Win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

To celebrate the release of Treasuring Theresa,I am hosting a series of contests on my web site for the month of January. Winners will be chosen on January 9, 16, 23, and 31.

I love to chat with readers!

Please friend me on Facebook (susana.ellis.5) and follow me on Twitter (@susanaauthor) and send me your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Reviews and likes are also welcome!
Happy 2013!

Susana Ellis

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