Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Blending Research with Real Life in Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith  Donna Galanti.

In writing my paranormal suspense novel A Human Element there were numerous spots I had to pull back and do research to blend the writing with my own experiences.

Ben Fieldstone in A Human Element, finds himself in dire circumstances stationed as a U.S. Navy photographer in Pearl Harbor. I too was stationed in Hawaii as a Navy photographer. I know of the dangers sailors can find themselves in on the island of Oahu if they’re not careful.

I was told not to go to the Pali Lookout alone, a spot far above Honolulu in the Ko’olau Mountains. It is set on cliffs with treacherous falls awaiting those who aren’t careful. Or those who are tossed off…or jump off. It’s known for its moaning, howling winds. People have disappeared up there, they’d say. It’s a haunted place where the ghosts of Hawaiian ancestors are said to roam.

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And rightfully so. It is a historic area that was the site of the bloody, historic Battle of Nu'uanu,
where Kamehameha I conquered the island of Oahu in 1795. This Hawaiian warrior king and his army arrived in hundreds of war canoes at Waikiki Beach. The Oahu warriors were led by Kalanikupule, the ruler of Maui and Oahu. Kamehameha's warriors headed to Nu'uanu Valley to face Kalanikupule's men. The battle was fierce and thousands of Kalanikupule's men were driven over the steep cliffs to their deaths. This fierce tale from history inspired me to set a particular dark scene at this spot for Ben. His battle for his own life.

Check out the amazing views from this spot, including the Old Pali Highway Trail where Ben finds himself taken – and tortured.

These photos, my own memories, and the violent history of this place re-forced this spot as a key
scene in A Human Element.

When I lived on Oahu I quickly discovered we white folks were called haoles by the natives. I had since forgotten how to pronounce it and found a site that pronounces all the words in the world for you. Here is the correct version of haole: I figured this would also come in handy during book readings, and I was right.

If you've ever visited Hawaii, you might have heard what sounds like another language but it's still English. Since the 1800's, workers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Portugal have come to work the sugar plantations originally run by American missionaries. That mixture of nationalities developed into a common language called Pidgin English.

More than half of Hawaii's one million residents are estimated to speak Pidgin. That's according to two Linguists, Kent Sakoda and Jeff Seigal, who created the Pidgin Grammar Book. Hawaii has a population of a little over one million people. About 600,000 are estimated to speak a form of Creole language specific to Hawaii called Pigdin which is a mixture of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English.

I drew on my memories of Hawaii and experiences with locals speaking in native Pidgin English and found this reference site of words, definitions, and usage. In A Human Element, Ben frequents Chinatown and has an unfortunate run in with a homosexual prostitute who speaks Pidgin and is called as a “mahu.”

I also found a site that lists a quick cheat sheet on Hawaiian Pidgin English that helped me in my dialogue.

Here are three excerpts from A Human Element where the local Pidgin dialect comes into play:

Ben, drunk and beat up, hails a prostitute in Chinatown:

Beat up and with no prospects, he needed to find a 'relaxation parlor' and some company. It didn't take long in Chinatown for him to be approached. 
"Howzit, sailor? You hurt? Need some wahine to take care of you?"
"Maybe . . . you got a back room nearby?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure thing, sailor buggah. Da cute! Pretty gray eyes, too." She mixed in the local Pidgin dialect with English. "I'll wash your handsome face for free." She laughed as he touched his face, remembering the blood. He must be a scary sight. 

Ben is confronted by the prostitute’s pimp:
A massive local stood over him. He looked Samoan.
"You cheat me, stupid sailor boy? Is dat what you want to do?"
"Yeah, that's him, Koko." The transvestite stood next to his moke. His wig now back on,
but askew. He smiled at Ben and put his hands on his hips. He had blood on his face from where
Ben hit him. How could he have ever thought this was a pretty woman?
Ben stood up in a torpid daze and shook his head.
Before he could speak the giant grabbed his shirt and glared at him. "You see my girl
here? You ruin her pretty face so she can't make tricks and I'll kill you. She's my money-making

Ben is kidnapped and held at the Pali Lookout by two Samoans:

"I'll pay whatever you want," Ben said. "Just let me go now." His body ached everywhere
but he could think again.
"Don't give me your stink eye, boy." Koko slapped his head again. Ben turned his face
away. One of them pulled his head up by his hair and slapped duct tape on his mouth. Ben
"Got chicken skin there, eh?" Koko caressed his arms. "No one will hear you scream up
here. This is a haunted place. Your screams carry away on the wind, right, Kami?"
"Right, brah. People too scared to come up here at night with the ghosts of our ancestors
roaming about."

In learning the local dialect I also had to reacquaint myself with the logistics of the island of Oahu. This involved looking at online maps and researching the history of the locales used. I poured through articles and statistics to choose the best pieces to incorporate in A Human Element.

How do you blend research with your own experiences?


One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next.

Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test.

With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–
redeem him or kill him.

Readers who devour paranormal books with a smidge of horror and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.

Reviewers are saying…“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of ASSASSIN’S CODE and DEAD OF NIGHT

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is a haunting look at what it means to be human. It’s a suspenseful ride through life and love…and death, with a killer so evil you can’t help but be afraid. An excellent read.” –Janice Gable Bashman, author of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

Donna Galanti is the author of the dark novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She won first place for Words on the Wall Fiction at the 2011 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs. Visit her at:

LIKE Donna’s Author Facebook page for news and updates! Her tour runs through April 11thh with book giveaways, more guest posts, and interview fun, and a chance to win the big prize giveaway! So pop over to her blog to see the full tour schedule.

Connect with Donna here:

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Assembling Endings

Every narrative, every story has a beginning, middle and end. Through the author's artistic vision for the piece the reader experiences scripted emotions, perceptions and thoughts as the writer intends but there limitations.

A recent story that has brought into question series endings as well as artistic vision has been the whole Bioware/Mass Effect 3 ending that has managed to go from an industry specific topic to national news and even spurred Forbes to begin analyzing the industry. This is really interesting because it is an argument of artistic expression versus respect for the property for fans.

More on artistic vision next time but for right now we'll focus on the concept of the ending.

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The entertainment industry is no stranger to 'bad endings' in movies, tv and writing. Every person can recall a multitude of narratives that failed due to the writer's choice in crafting the ending.

Examining the concept as a whole there are many stories that can succumb to 'bad endings' but are these part of artistic vision or are these elements subject to change? Regardless of whether it's artistic license or something that is open for debate, there are certain elements that need to be considered.

When an author chooses to convey their vision to others they need to consider the threads of each piece and how they flow.

Each element that is introduced in a narrative be it a character, a detail or an event these become elements, threads, of the story that continue forward throughout the piece. The viewer has a unique perception of the story and while the writer can attempt to foresee what those perceptions will be, it is important to note that the audience may focus on elements that may be insignificant to the writer.

Ex. If the writer introduces an engraved handgun that was given to the main character by a brother in the first couple of chapters, the readers will expect it to come into the story as some point before the close. This may be a detail to the author to create a sense of heritage but to the audience it is unconsciously an element that will play a role. This may come as another detail, it may come as the use of the weapon but there will be an aspect of this 'thread' that will return with implications.

Most 'bad endings' are not a result of leaving too many threads loose but frequently the result of Deus Ex Machina or breaking off the threads rather than tying them off.

Deus Ex Machina literally means - "God Out of the Machine." In short this means where the writer creates a perfect solution to the problems that arise in the story. This perfect solution is generally an unexpected abrupt event, character, ability or object that appears out of nowhere.

In some instances Deus Ex does have it's place for writers but for the audience these instances still feel contrived and cheap.

Breaking off threads usually incorporates Deus Ex for the threads or simply creating ways of eliminating the threads without a sense of closure. A number of series rely on this method when the writer wishes to make radical changes to a series. The writer desires to change the car the main character drives? The writer creates a radical scenario where the old car is eliminated and a new one needs to replaces it.

While this may be an applicable means to make changes in a story or series the primary key to using it effectively is in the pacing. If the threads are broken too quickly it will will appear out of place and once more it will cheapen the experience from the audience's perspective.

The final option for a writer to assemble the ending of a piece is for the writer to actually leave some of the threads untied. This is a common practice for writers to leave openings for sequels or other story opportunities.

This approach is used the most frequently to great effect providing the appropriate threads are tied in the conclusion.

Crafting a narrative is a delicate balancing act. The beginning is constructed in such a fashion to hook an audience and introduce all of the threads but the conclusion is the final moments of the piece. The last thoughts the audience will have of the work and the parting impression that will stay with them. If the conclusion doesn't strike the right chords, tie off the right loose ends in an appropriate fashion, the audience will perceive the entire work with that connotation just like the Mass Effect series.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Intriguing Adaptations

In any creative composition that desires to convey a narrative, the piece strives to emulate life. Through the emulation it is possible for others to connect with the work.

Individuals that perceive the composition can empathize with others in familiar situations, they can recognize individuals and even understand how narrative thoughts could come together because it is familiar. Establishing relatable elements expands the scope of the piece, changes it into something personal, something that can convey a concept into the very thought process of others.

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Selecting and manipulating elements to make a composition relatable is only one part of a larger challenge, making the piece interesting to an external perspective. Individuals have their own perceptions, preconceived notions that filter any composition.

While establishing the connection with the piece creates a given level of interest, it does not guarantee that the piece will have enough innate interest to keep the viewer engaged.

The most fundamental element of any narrative that grabs an individual's attention and keeps it is adaptation.

Every narrative, every piece is driven by the fundamental concept of human adaptation, individual adaptability. People are naturally drawn to stories because of the innate fascination with observing how other people adapt to situations. Regardless of whether it's how someone would adapt to the death of a loved one, the stress of saving lives, catching a murderer, caring for a child or even switching careers the interest is piqued.

Since most people are unable to experience all the possibilities of human adaptability they are innately drawn to experience these adaptations through others. It doesn't matter if it's called coping, overcoming something or character growth, it is human adaptation and we are always interested. Mixing relatable elements into the piece only assists in emphasizing our interest in that adaptation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Your Book’s Palette – Using Color in Your Fiction

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Samantha Hunter.

Learning to sew and decorating a home has taught me a lot about using color. It was inevitable that this would find its way into my writing. When I learned to quilt, I had to learn a lot about color combinations, tones and patterns. In painting (and repainting) the rooms in our house I’ve learned a lot about using color as well. For instance, how to use color with certain kinds of light, how colors will make a room seem larger or smaller, welcoming or not, and how to create a flow of color from one room to the next. In sewing, you can make a subtle color pop in a quilt by placing it next to something that contrasts, and the difference between striking and gaudy is usually the placement of colors next to each other.

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As we all know, color affects mood – green and blue are soothing, orange can stimulate appetite, and yellow can inspire happiness. Brown is earthy, white is cold. Color also has historic can cultural meaning – the main rooms in my home are painted to reflect earthy, Craftsman color palettes popular in the early 1900s. Or, if you like red, you know in the US red usually suggests “danger” while in China it’s the color of wedding dresses for good luck! (White, in China, symbolizes death).

Some colors work together and  some do not. It’s best whenever you are using color to use tones and shades that complement and work together somehow. Here are some good links to read up on using color:

You can do a lot with color and get as deeply into it as you would like in your book, but a consistent or interesting color scheme for your book can enhance your story, as well as tell us something about the characters, scenes and moods, which in turn affect the reader’s emotions and responses.

Does your heroine wear a red coat or a blue one? Why? What does this all say about her? If you describe them as living in an old farmhouse, or a log cabin, or an adobe ranch, you want to have a color palette that’s amenable to those living spaces as well as addressing your character’s choices. If you are decorating your character’s apartment, and she is a historian, what period of history does she favor and how would that be reflected in her dress or room colors? Or, if she really has a hidden desire or hates her job as a historian, maybe it shows up in the colors she chooses for her personal space in contrast to her office.

One of my favorite things to do with color is to use it to show how the characters and the story are also changing. For instance, in one of my earlier books, Fascination, my heroine wears only black and white at the start of the story – this reflects the issues at that point in the book, being trapped in extremes. But by the end, she is wearing multi-colored, flowered dresses – her world has opened up; she’s free. Even this simple use of color can have a subtle effect on the reader and how readers perceive the story.

Another example might be in the weather, the colors in the environment that you show through the protagonist’s POV and how that changes depending on their situation or mood. Or, how it can change in  the moment when someone caged by beige walls suddenly sees them as the frame for a beautiful view of the blue sky out the window – this could represent a life-changing moment for a character, a change in their perception of their world.

You can go back through scenes and consider how color makes a difference – or how it could make a difference. How does the gold wall look in different lighting, and how does that convey a certain mood? Consider everything from the color of the walls and clothing for your characters to the color of their car, etc. You can send messages to the reader through this use of conscious color choice, and make your story deeper in a very easy, fun way.

Sam Hunter lives in Syracuse New York with her husband and several pets. Since January 2004 when she sold her first book to Harlequin Blaze, Virtually Perfect, she has gone on to publish several more with new releases on the way. Sam holds two Master's degrees and was a university instructor for many years before quitting to live the writing life, is a confirmed TV addict and enjoys gardening, sewing, and travel.

Twitter: Follow @SamanthaHunter

Current books: Harlequin Blaze, Straight to the Heart; Indie Mystery: Once Burned, Book Two in the Sophie Turner Mystery series.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Establishing Style

Each and every composition is born of a unique idea that the creator desires to convey through their work. The idea, concept and overall composition may be unique; however conveying the distinctiveness of the piece can be one of the more difficult prospects.

Out of the more than 300,000 books published in the US each year, the difference between one composition and another can be as little as character names despite the unique idea that the creator originally had.

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The audience is often drawn to similar works and when one composition is difficult to distinguish from another on premise alone, the unique idea needs a strong means of conveying that distinctiveness. Adjusting tone, setting and specific details can take a composition from similar average work to something iconic.

Examining some of the most iconic media compositions, Burn Notice, MacGyver, Supernatural, X Files, Twin Peaks, The Matrix, TrueBlood, GhostBusters, The Shining, even James Bond it is apparent that each of these compositions established their distinctiveness through tone, setting and the manipulation of character details.

Adjusting the tone of the entire piece not only changes how characters perceive others and elements in the composition but it affects how the piece is perceived through the narrator and ultimately the audience's own perceptions. Changing the setting to something unique or even changing how the setting is perceived can establish a unique aspect that shifts the composition to something iconic. One of the most powerful means of establishing a composition's uniqueness can be through the details of the piece. Does the main characters wear expensive suits? Drive a classic car? Have an obsession with coffee?

When there are millions of different narrative compositions and the audience has a preference for things that are uniquely distinct but remarkably similar to what they are comfortable with, the struggle to be distinct becomes synonymous with Style. Even when the theme or concept is familiar establishing the uniqueness becomes a drive for the distinct style of the work.

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