Playing Famous Author

Despite a few minor downturns, for the most part, my life lately has been truly a gift. I am having an incredible time housesitting — I have the opportunity to try on other people’s lives for a few days, which is an awesome adventure. And last night I got to play “famous author.” Well, maybe not “famous.” Maybe just “author,” but it was a fantastic experience for all that.

A local book club chose my novel Daughter Am I for this past month’s read, and they invited me to the discussion. I was afraid the discussion would be stilted because if they didn’t like the book, who would have the courage to admit it with the author sitting right there? But they all liked it for their own reasons.

One fellow seemed a bit tepid at first. He thought it a fun read that didn’t put him to sleep, which in itself is balm to a writer’s ears, but he got enthusiastic about the book when it dawned on him the story was a take-off on The Wizard of Oz. When he said as much, I couldn’t help emitting a triumphant, “Yes!” Although the book wasn’t specifically a take-off on The Wizard of Oz, it was a retelling of “The Hero’s Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell. (Actually, it was more a retelling of the retelling since I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey rather than Joseph Campbell’s tome.) And the mythic structure of “The Hero’s Journey” underlies many familiar tales. Not just The Wizard of Oz, but also such stories as Star Wars and King Arthur.

The other fellow in the group didn’t seem all that impressed with the structure or the fun of the story — he was caught up in the conspiracy aspect and his own search for my “truth.” He wanted to know what truth I was trying to illuminate. He thought it was both “Truth” with a capital “T,” and the specific truth that nothing is as it seems — although good is good and bad is bad, good can also be bad and bad can also be good. Again, I was impressed. Because yes, that is basically the truth of this particular book. Or one of them. If characters are true to themselves, then ideally readers can find whatever truth they need from the story, and all those truths are equally relevant.

The women in the group invariably were reminded of relatives or places they grew up, making the book personal to them.

It was a thrill and a true honor to sit around the table, eating delicious snacks and discussing my book. I never imagined such a gathering, never imagined what a privilege it would be to hear what the book meant to readers, never knew how gratifying it would be when people saw what my intentions were in writing the story. I wanted to write books that were simple to read, but had a subtle complexity that those of a more thoughtful bent could find. And apparently I did.

I’m so used to not seeing myself as an author, or as anything special when I do see myself as such because my online community consists primarily of authors. And when everyone is an author, well . . . no one is special. But last night I did feel special. As if I had done something incredible by writing the book.

I had an interesting insight when the topic strayed to other books they had read with despicable characters — I will never be a world famous author or a household name because none of my POV characters are ever despicable. They are kind folk who are nice to each other. The stories are never about their interpersonal conflicts, but their joint conflict with an outside antagonist.

And that is okay. Those are the types of characters (and people!) I want to spent time with.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Daughter Am I and The Hero’s Journey

DAIthumbI fell in love with the concept of the mythic quest when I read Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey, so much so that I knew I had to write my own quest story. I’m not one for fantasy, either in real life or genre fiction, so I decided to use the hero’s journey structure for Daughter Am I, my contemporary novel of a young woman — Mary Stuart — who goes on a journey to learn about her recently murdered grandparents. Accompanying her are six old rogues — gangsters and con men in their eighties —  and one used-to-be nightclub dancer.

Developing so many characters at one time is difficult under normal circumstances, but the mythic journey archetypes helped me create the characters and keep them focused on their roles. Whether gangster or wizard, hit man or Darth Vader, the archetypes — and the power of the archetypes — are the same.

The hero is the one who grows the most in the story, who gains knowledge and wisdom. Heroism, in the mythic journey sense, is connected to self-sacrifice, risk, and responsibility. The hero must perform the decisive act of the story, though at the beginning, before their transformation, heroes often need to be goaded into action. Mary starts out only wanting to learn about her grandparents, and ends up becoming intensely loyal to the elders in her charge, which changes all of their lives.

A herald gets the hero started on the journey. Kid Rags, a dapper forger forced into retirement by computer technology, eggs Mary on, challenges her to find out more about her grandparents. Kid Rags is also a mentor, giving guidance and gifts, a role he shares with Teach. Teach is a con man who believes everything is a con, and he is not hesitant about sharing his vision.

Every mythic journey needs a trickster, a character who embodies the energies of mischief and a desire for change, and who provides comic relief. The trickster in Daughter Am I is played by Happy, an ex-wheelman for the mob. Happy wants to be on the move, is always urging action, and he peppers his talk with morose and unanswerable pronouncements about death. Did I mention that he carries a gun, but that his hands shake too much to be able to aim it properly? Poor sad Happy.

The shapeshifter is Tim Olson, Mary’s romantic interest. He doesn’t actually change shape, but he appears to change constantly from Mary’s point of view. He tempts, dazzles, confuses her, and makes her question his loyalty.

The shadow represents the energy of the dark side, the villain, and in the case of Daughter Am I, the villain truly is a shadow — Mary and her band of feisty octogenarians never even get a glimpse of him until the very end. Iron Sam, a dying hitman, is also a shadow. Although he is not a villain who has to be vanquished, he represents the dark side of Mary, a sinister balance to her guilelessness.

The story of Daughter Am I lightly follows the stages of the mythic journey, from a glimpse into Mary’s ordinary world, to the call for adventure (her own curiosity as to who her grandparents were and why they were murdered), her reluctance to commit to the journey, meeting her mentors, deciding to take a chance and just head out to talk to others who might have known her grandparents, undergoing tests and ordeals, and ultimately returning home, knowing who she is and what she wants to do.

Although Daughter Am I takes the same “hero’s path” that worked for such disparate stories as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Tin Cup, the journey is Mary’s own, not a rehash of any of any other quest story.  That is the beauty of the hero’s journey — the structure is infinitely malleable, giving any story a mythic undertone without overshadowing the story itself or confining it into a strict formula.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Mythic Journey Behind Daughter Am I

Today is the last day of my Daughter Am I virtual book tour, and what better place to end it than here, at my own blog. Thank you everyone for your support during the past five weeks. It was a wonderful journey!

Daughter Am I was the combination of two different stories I wanted to write. I’d read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and the mythic journey so captured my imagination that I knew I had to write my own quest story. I also liked the idea of telling little-known truths about the mob, and I settled on the story of a young woman — Mary Stuart — going on a journey to learn about her recently murdered grandparents. Accompanying her are six old rogues — gangsters and conmen in their eighties — and one used-to-be nightclub dancer. As Mary listens to stories the old-timers tell, she gradually discovers the truth of her heritage and of herself. 

Developing so many characters at one time is difficult under normal circumstances, but the mythic journey archetypes helped me create the characters and keep them focused on their roles. Whether gangster or wizard, hit man or Darth Vader, the archetypes — and the power of the archetypes — are the same. 

A hero is the one who grows the most in the story, who gains knowledge and wisdom. Heroism, in the mythic journey sense, is connected to self-sacrifice, risk, and responsibility. The hero must perform the decisive act of the story, though at the beginning, before their transformation, heroes often need to be goaded into action. Mary starts out only wanting to learn about her grandparents, and ends up becoming intensely loyal to the elders in her charge. (If you saw Bed of Roses, you might have met Mary. Mary Stuart Masterson’s character — naïve and intelligent, strong and vulnerable — inspired me to write my Mary.) 

A herald gets the hero started on the journey. Kid Rags, a dapper forger forced into retirement by computer technology, eggs Mary on, challenges her to find out more about her grandparents. Kid Rags is also a mentor, giving guidance and gifts, a role he shares with Teach. Teach is a con man who believes everything is a con, and he is not hesitant about sharing his vision. (You’ve met Teach a hundred times. Remember Charles Lane? I’m sure you do. He started acting in 1926 and didn’t stop until 2005. Well, Charles Lane was my inspiration for Teach.) 

Every mythic journey needs a trickster, a character who embodies the energies of mischief and a desire for change, and who provides comic relief. The trickster in Daughter Am I is embodied by Happy, an ex-wheelman for the mob. Happy always wants to be on the move, is always urging action, and he peppers his talk with morose and unanswerable pronouncements about death. Did I mention that he carries a gun, but that his hands shake too much to be able to aim it properly? Poor sad Happy. 

Tim Olson, Mary’s romantic interest, is the shapeshifter. He doesn’t actually change shape, but he appears to change constantly from Mary’s point of view. He temps, dazzles, confuses her, and makes her question his loyalty. (Tim Daly from The Year of the Comet was my inspiration for Tim Olson. He had some great lines like:  “I never said I didn’t go to MIT.”) 

I could go through the whole list of characters, talking about which archetype each represented, but I don’t want to bore you by with a long discussion about the underpinnings of the story. The main point is that I wanted to use the same “hero’s path” that worked for such disparate stories as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Tin Cup, but head out on my own journey.

Click here to find the Daughter Am I Blog Tour Schedule Even though the tour is over, it exists forever in the eternal presence of cyberspace, so stop by any time.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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