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Discuss the October 2017 Book of the Month, Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon.

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Charlie Sheldon
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Re: Ask the Author

Post by Charlie Sheldon » 05 Oct 2017, 08:35

MarisaRose - As regards gender, I wanted to do a tale with a quest, a journey, because most stories are journeys, are they not? I had been playing with this idea of people going into the wilderness and there discovering something, and at the same time wanted to play with awareness and coming of age. I am a little vague about this but I think originally the youngster was a boy, maybe 15 years old, as I pondered this thing, but then it struck me that women and young women especially are rarely found in wilderness quests, and in fact young girls (Hunger Games aside, of course, though she is much older) are rarely the main heroes. I wanted to do something with strong women, and a strong young girl. What was my inspiration for the character? One of my kids had a difficult journey, he struggled with rules and authority all the time, and he was a challenge, and on that path I met parents of girls the same age (12-15) who had such struggles, and I realized then how much harder their road was than a boy's, and how strong they had to be simply to survive, yet how disliked they were, how isolated and cast aside. I think, back then, I decided some day to write a tale with such a person as the main person, as a way to show how that energy and orneriness(is that a word?) is also the basis for great power and heroism. Does that make sense?

I see several comments about the minimal backstory in this tale. Some readers don't like that and others do. I try to reveal the necessary back story through the events in the current tale and what the character says and how the character responds rather than paragraphs of exposition explaining how we got to where the story begins. The backstory in Strong Heart is told through the stories the characters tell (Tom's tale of Bob Bob for example) and revealed as the characters proceed and hopefully is enough to allow the reader to continue without feeling there is a huge gap. To me backstory interrupts the flow of the tale and stories are all about flow. Of course, in Strong Heart you could argue that Sarah's story is backstory, maybe the fundamental original backstory for all tales, and you would be right!

Thanks for the nice review by the way.
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MarisaRose
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Post by MarisaRose » 05 Oct 2017, 08:55

Thank you for the detailed response! I really think the inspiration/desire to portray strong female characters shined through Sarah's character. Also, although not a lot of blatant backstory is provided, I think the characters were incredibly real and relevant. I guess I'm one of the readers that the minimal backstory worked for! Thanks again for the response :)
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Post by Miriam Molina » 05 Oct 2017, 09:02

Yes, thanks, Charlie Sheldon. Another question I remember. Are you related to Sidney Sheldon? Of course, this has nothing to do with Strong Heart but Sidney also used heroines a lot. If I recall correctly, only one of his novels featured a male hero.

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 05 Oct 2017, 09:08

Miriam - no relation at all...

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Post by CaitlynLynch » 06 Oct 2017, 16:59

Hi CHarlie, and thanks for taking the time to answer questions! Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you plot out a book in full before writing, how much do you write in any given day or week, how many drafts do you go through, what sort of editorial process do you use, etc? (Feel free not to answer ALL of those, lol!)

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 06 Oct 2017, 17:28

The writing process has evolved. For a long time I had to be in motion on a train or a ferry, write for 30-40 minutes, each way. A book adds up fast that way and it isn't so intimidating to face a half hour instead of a bunch of hours. But lately I have been happy to write anywhere, ten minutes, a whole day, depending. A lot depended too on the manner of writing - at first it was by hand in a notebook later typed into a computer, then after a lot of trials I used a small mac, it lasts for hours just typing, is small enough,has a nice qwerty keyboard. I do not write every day but when doing novel will write every day until it is done. It does not take long to write a first draft - 90 to 120 days. Then the fun begins, and I mean that - hacking stuff out, rearranging, removing, adding. I have never plotted a novel, except the very basic frame or initial structure. Lately, with Strong Heart, which started me writing again after almost 10 years away while running around earning a living, I took the time to do a lot of research and thinking, and filled many notebooks with ideas, possible story layers, various themes or motives, or points I wanted to make, all very general, and then when I started writing I had all this information in me and the story just came out, fast. But it takes me 3 years to finish any story at least - editing, having others review and critique, just letting the thing sit and steep for months, then coming back in and removing what isn't needed. The sequels to Strong Heart, of which there are now two, I wrote on ships, and these I wrote in short pieces, 15 minutes at morning coffee break, a half hour at lunch, an hour before dinner, on weekends when off, just a bit here and there and again the tale was initially done very roughly fast, but again it is taking 3 years to get it right, whatever that means. Editorial process? I have a couple of readers who attack me always, an editor I have used for each book who is ruthless and valuable, and whom I pay of course for the work, and a publisher who is himself a great editor. It's true, what they say, if you don't get a third party to critically edit your work you are doomed. I consider myself a very unsuccessful and failed writer because I have written now 8 or 9 novels and have only been happy with Strong Heart and am a zillion miles from any real critical endorsement or support. But, I am persistent, if nothing else, and the process of creating a story, all those hours of research and then putting down words, then editing those words, is a time when time stops for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks o the result, and as far as I am concerned every hour spent that way is an hour not counting against a lifetime.....

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Post by CaitlynLynch » 06 Oct 2017, 17:54

Thanks for that Charlie! I'm finding that the one thing all successful authors seem to have in common is persistence, and it sounds like you have that in spades. Keep hanging in there. It'll come :D

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Post by meteku4 » 06 Oct 2017, 18:56

Sarah's narration about her mystery journey took several chapters to complete without any manner of interjections. I think it is a bit boring reading such a long account without intermittent reactions from her listeners. Don't you think some interjections will make those scenes more lively?
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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 06 Oct 2017, 21:31

meteku4: I'm sorry Sarah's tale was a bit boring for you and that you found the several chapters difficult without interjections. I wanted to describe her experience just as she saw it, without others jumping in and pulling her from her tale. The way I saw her, she was speaking almost in a trance, describing what she had seen and done, and she was beyond interruptions. I don't think if I had kept other characters speaking or commenting her tale would have been as vivid, or compelling to her or the reader, plus as a form of balance I wanted the story of today in the park to be well balanced by the other story deep in the past. I wanted the reader to be in the tale in the park, but then also in Sarah's tale, such that when reading one, they almost forget the other, and this seems to have happened with some readers. The stories are entirely different, separate tales, linked only with the reveal at the end, and that was intentional. My hope was that a reader would enjoy the tales, even wondering how they might be linked, and then be surprised and perhaps a little pleased when the link takes place. Maybe I missed it, but that was the point. I just didn't see how I could be in a 12 year old girls frame of view telling such a story and keep pulling her back to the present with questions. In a way she had to be speaking uninterrupted because she was drawing on some ancient power she didn't understand but needed full attention to to draw forth. If that makes any sense....and, this is important, all this explanation is I feel true but in the moments of writing all this I was aware of none of it, it just appeared beneath my hand. So I really have no idea at all what I was doing.

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Post by KlareAllison » 06 Oct 2017, 22:05

Your explanation on the wealth of research behind the writing of Strong Heart is quite impressive and speaks of real value to the reader. Also, the fact that you do not see your characters as something you necessarily "create", but rather, as ones that come sometimes fully formed, other times a bit hazy, is interesting and something to really dwell on. Are there no times at all your characters simply refused to emerge, so to speak, and you were left no option but to go ahead to create them?
"Sometimes I find myself sitting in one spot for hours, staring at nothing, feeling nothing, and most disturbingly, caring about nothing".

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 06 Oct 2017, 22:16

Interesting question. I would answer, no. Early on when I did my first writing of novels, 30 years ago (good grief!) I struggled to get "real" characters. I would "write into" them, meaning, I had a vague notion and as I wrote the character would slowly take form, thus - I pictured a deep pool of viscous mud or oil, and the character would rise form that pool, rough, big chunks falling off, and then as the pieces fell away the character would approach the edge o the pool and, once clear of the gunk, stride into reality. And during that time of "forming" writing was a huge act of faith, a fear the character would never become real to me. Later though the characters appeared sooner, and with Strong Heart and after years of research the characters appeared, fully formed, truly. Oh, I would add items, and memories, etc, but within the real frame I already saw or was presented to me. Now if I find myself struggling with a character I stop, ponder, let it steep, and only if it or he or she becomes real continue with that character. I am beginning to realize how crazy this must all sound, by the way.

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Post by KlareAllison » 06 Oct 2017, 22:48

Thanks for the detailed reply. No, nothing sounds crazy about all these, really. But, I am just a little bit in awe of how you stretch your literary imaginations. Even in your answers, they come strongly to the fore.
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Post by gali » 07 Oct 2017, 01:01

Thank you for the enlightening answers.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." (Mortimer J. Adler)

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Post by meteku4 » 07 Oct 2017, 03:11

Charlie Sheldon wrote:meteku4: I'm sorry Sarah's tale was a bit boring for you and that you found the several chapters difficult without interjections. I wanted to describe her experience just as she saw it, without others jumping in and pulling her from her tale. The way I saw her, she was speaking almost in a trance, describing what she had seen and done, and she was beyond interruptions. I don't think if I had kept other characters speaking or commenting her tale would have been as vivid, or compelling to her or the reader, plus as a form of balance I wanted the story of today in the park to be well balanced by the other story deep in the past. I wanted the reader to be in the tale in the park, but then also in Sarah's tale, such that when reading one, they almost forget the other, and this seems to have happened with some readers. The stories are entirely different, separate tales, linked only with the reveal at the end, and that was intentional. My hope was that a reader would enjoy the tales, even wondering how they might be linked, and then be surprised and perhaps a little pleased when the link takes place. Maybe I missed it, but that was the point. I just didn't see how I could be in a 12 year old girls frame of view telling such a story and keep pulling her back to the present with questions. In a way she had to be speaking uninterrupted because she was drawing on some ancient power she didn't understand but needed full attention to to draw forth. If that makes any sense....and, this is important, all this explanation is I feel true but in the moments of writing all this I was aware of none of it, it just appeared beneath my hand. So I really have no idea at all what I was doing.
Well said. Thanks for the response!
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Post by Anjum » 07 Oct 2017, 04:07

I wanna thank you for making Sarah such a strong character. I really found her very intriguing and loving throughout the book.
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