Welcome to the March 17th stop on the blog tour for Emergence by Ellie Beals, organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for excerpt spotlights, author guest & interview spots, reviews, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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Author Guest Post
Which characters in Emergence were easier to write, the humans or the dogs? – Or, what’s love got to do with it?
Long before you can hope to write well, you have to be able to SEE well – to observe your subjects, or characters like your subjects, well and truly, in order to be able to describe them convincingly to your readers. I am a dog-trainer, and in the dog-training world the paramount phrase that constantly recurs is: “Read your dog”. You have no hope of being successful in this field if you are not able to understand what your dog is telling you.
Of course, dogs have no words. Which is not to say that their communicative abilities are limited. They speak with their bodies, and for those who have learned it, canine body language is as richly nuanced as any message you receive from a human. And it is vastly easier to read, because given the dog’s absence of ego, you don’t have to triumph over and through attempts at repression, concealment, obfuscation and even deceit, which ego so often superimposes over the messages that humans transmit. For those attuned to canine communication, the amount you can read, simply from watching the action of a dog’s butt, as it quivers with joy, tenses in fear or anticipation, moves nervously as the tail fast-twitches from side-to-side, or goes up in the air telegraphing fun as the dog produces a play-bow, is exquisite. How often I’ve approached humans, wishing our bottoms were similarly communicative, so I’d know if the person I’m approaching is indeed, feeling approachable.
All of that to say, that writing the canine characters in Emergence was easy, fun, and rewarding. I love dogs, and I felt that as I wrote, and I wrote with full confidence that my subliminal love-song would be good for readers, who like me, might be weary of the contentiousness and contempt that seems to permeate our culture these days. So in writing Emergence, the dogs came easily indeed, informed as they were by how I feel about the dogs in my life, who I delight in observing every moment of every day.
And now that I think about it – I wonder (though I kind of cringe at how schmaltzy this sounds) if perhaps the magic ingredient in creating characters that are realistic and likeable, is loving your subject. This doesn’t mean every character you write must be likeable. If you read Emergence, you will encounter some deeply-flawed, repellent humans. But as a writer, to stay committed to the work in progress, I needed at least a few likable characters. Same thing as a reader – no matter how skillful the author I’m reading, I eventually discard a novel in which I dislike everyone.
Of the humans in Emergence, Xavier was the one who was easiest and most fun to write. He is not based on anyone I know, or know of. He simply “appeared” to me, fully-fleshed, with the first words I wrote. It has always felt more like I channeled, rather than created him. I love this boy, and have since he first came to me. I know he’s achieved a fair degree of traction with readers, who comment on him first and frequently. The comment I’ve heard most often is some variant of : ” I don’t know how you got me to love this boy, given some of the things he does. But I do.” I think I know the answer to the implied question. I got readers to love Xavier, because I do.
Which brings us to the character I found most difficult to write: Cass. Cass is modeled very closely on me. If you are introspective, as I am, I believe it is difficult to love yourself as well as you love others. Certainly, that has been the case for me, with a life-long awareness that some of my qualities (say, exuberance and lack of inhibition) are tremendously appealing to some people and quite off-putting to others. Because I embrace subjectivity, I can understand how others might not perceive me as I perceive myself. This doesn’t mean I dislike myself. I don’t – I think I’m a fine human. But I could never embrace myself as whole-heartedly as I do Xavier.
I believe this is subtly evident in Emergence. A number of reviewers have commented on Cass’ chapters and character being more distant than the treatment of Xavier. Further compounding the challenge of writing Cass and Lori, was the fact that many of the characters and events in Emergence are at least loosely based on real-life people and incidents and I thus practiced an on-going analysis of the degree to which my book might be perceived by people I care about, as an invasion of privacy. As a writer, I am encumbered by this concern only when dealing with humans. As far as I can see, dogs have little sense of privacy. Another manifestation of the absence of ego.
My real-life cousin, upon whom Lori in Emergence is loosely-based, is reading the book right now. She knows me well and thus texts me every few chapters, to assure me that she is not only enjoying the book, but even more important from my perspective – that she is also comfortable with how Lori is portrayed. As a newly-published novelist, I am highly attuned to every review of Emergence. But the response of my cousin, and knowing that I’ve done her no harm, is at least as important to me. Where I see love as only an asset when writing dogs, it can complicate the challenge of writing human characters.
About the Book
by Ellie Beals
Published 14 January 2021
Page Count: 232
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
It starts with Just Watching. But danger emerges when Just Watching ends.
When the “wild child” Xavier first encounters Cass Hardwood and her dogs in the woods of West Quebec, he is enthralled. Unknown to them, he Just Watches them in a lengthy ongoing surveillance, before finally staging a meeting. His motives are uncertain—even to him.
The intersection of the lives of Cass, a competitive dog handler; her dogs; her cousin Lori; and the complex and enigmatic Xavier leads them all into a spiral of danger. It starts when Just Watching ends—when Cass and her crew encounter tragedy in the bush. Xavier’s involvement in the tragedy, unknown to Cass, sets off a chain of potentially lethal events that begin in the dark woods of Lac Rouge, when hiking, skiing, hunting, trapping, marijuana grow-ops, and pedophilia collide. It matures in the suburbs of both Ottawa and Baltimore, and culminates back in Lac Rouge, when Lori’s spurned and abusive lover arrives uninvited at Cass’ isolated cabin in the woods. In the night. In the cold. In the heavily falling snow. His arrival is observed by Xavier, whose motives are again uncertain, but whose propensity for action is not.
Join Xavier, Lori, Cass, and the realistic and compelling dogs that are essential players in this dark drama as their fates converge in a deadly loop of revenge, fear, guilt, and hope.
The dreams started as soon as they made that decision. Cass had been subject to sleep disturbances—nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking—throughout her childhood and early adult years. The older she got, the more infrequent they became. And when she met Noah, they just stopped. Secretly, Cass was embarrassed that it seemed that all she’d needed to get her psyche together was a good man. If that were true, it offended her feminist sensibilities. She never told anyone about these musings; this was another of those things too private to share.
[…] In the dream, she was kayaking at Lac Rouge through the twisting stream where herons had flown above her and Lori during the preceding summer. She heard the lovely sound of the paddles churning through the water. As she approached the only deep spot in the black water, the water briefly churned, and then out of the water rose a man’s bare hand and forearm—it was held aloft in a fist. No more water sounds. There was perfect stillness except for the steady drumbeat of a heart, at first slow and steady and then mounting in speed and volume until she was desperate to awaken herself, which she accomplished with a strangled scream.
Even as Noah shook her fully awake and soothed her, Cass was simultaneously shaken by the emotional impact of the dream, and acutely embarrassed by its lack of originality. Every fan of director John Boorman’s movie version of the James Dickie classic Deliverance would recognize that arm rising out of the water as a cinematic icon of guilt. And then, just to whip it up, her subconscious had fed in an imagined soundtrack from The Tell-Tale Heart.
About the Author
Ellie Beals grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Canada when she was 20. She spent the majority of her professional career as a management consultant in Ottawa, Ontario. Plain language writing was one of her specialties.
Dogs have been a constant in Ellie’s life from the time she was a child. In the mid-1990s, she started to train and compete in Obedience with Golden Retrievers, with considerable success. In 2014, she had the highest-rated Canadian obedience dog (Fracas—upon whom Chuff is modelled), and her husband David Skinner had the second-rated dog. During a ten-year period, both Ellie and David were regularly ranked among Canada’s top ten Obedience competitors. They have an active obedience coaching practice in Ottawa, having retired from their previous professional careers in order to spend more time playing with their dogs and their students.
Like Cass and Noah Harwood, Ellie and David have a log cabin in the wilds of West Quebec, where Ellie is an avid wilderness recreationist, constantly accompanied by her dogs. As COVID-19 spread in March of 2020, she and David temporarily shut down their coaching practice and retreated to their cabin, where Emergence was written. Lac Rouge is not the real name of the lake on which they live. Everything else about the locale for Emergence is faithful to the character of the gentle Laurentian mountains of West Quebec.
Ellie Beals will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway
|March 3||Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews|
|March 10||Andi’s Book Reviews|
|March 24||Becoming Extraordinary|
|March 31||Fabulous and Brunette|
|April 7||All the Ups and Downs|
|April 14||Pine Enshrined Reviews|
|April 21||The Avid Reader|
|April 28||Our Town Book Reviews|
|May 5||Long and Short Reviews|
|May 12||Straight From the Library|
|May 19||The Eclectic Review|
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