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Backstory Saved My Characters!
by Claire McEwen
Thank you for having me on Susana’s Morning Room today! I’m so happy to celebrate the release of Convincing the Rancher with you.
I didn’t get too far into writing this book before I realized that my hero and heroine were pretty different than any characters I’d written before. Tess is promiscuous, avoids any difficult conversations, throws herself into work and allows herself the occasional one-night stand. She’s so guarded even her best friends don’t know that much about her.
Sound familiar? She’s a lot like many of the heroes I’ve read.
My hero, Slaid, is a family man. His wife left him and their adopted son so he’s juggling his ranch, his role as the mayor and his need to be a devoted, loving father. In an early scene he allows himself the luxury of one beer and a tiny bit of time to contemplate the unfolding events, but quickly realizes his time is up – he needs to cook, do chores and help his son with homework.
Sound familiar? He’s a lot like many of the heroines I’ve read.
I don’t think I did this consciously. Tess was created years ago, and has appeared in my last two books. Slaid came to me as a complete vision, the rancher-mayor at his desk, already a dad, fully formed. But once I realized who they were, and that she was going to be a lot less emotional, more aggressive, and sometimes less sympathetic than he was, my challenge became how to make them likeable. I didn’t want him to be a wimp and I didn’t want her to seem like (as a few friends jokingly described her) a total slut!
I realized that my first step in making them likeable was to really develop their backstory, to find out why they were this way. So I got out a notebook and started writing down whatever came to me about their lives before they met. I was pretty surprised by the results!
Tess, it turned out, was raised in foster care and never adopted by anyone. That feeling of never being chosen, never being deemed worthy of love and a family, created a wound so deep that her only way of managing it was to put it in the past and close the door on it. Whenever someone gets too close she pushes them away, because deep down inside, she considers herself un-loveable. Thus, the one-night stands. It’s a way to have a manageable dose of intimacy and still save herself from the rejection that she feels will be inevitable.
And Slaid? I learned that he’s a pretty dutiful guy. He was raised with a strong connection to his family and their legacy of ranching and community service. He’s a regular church-goer, a former football hero, the kind of guy who steps up and does what needs to be done. Including adopting a cousin’s child when she could no longer care for the boy. But because he hasn’t traveled far from his hometown, he hasn’t been exposed to a lot of other people who might be different from him. He’s crazy about Tess, but she also drives him crazy because she won’t do the most basic things that have been drilled into his moral code. He gets self-righteous sometimes, and controlling, as he tries to make her fit into the only way of life he’s known.
I learned a big lesson from writing this story. If characters feel one-dimensional, or unlikeable, I need to take the time to open my imagination to their backstory. And once I know it, I need to think about what this means for them. How does it affect the way they react to each other? How can secondary characters challenge them or teach them?
The next time you feel stuck with a story, open up your notebook and imagine where your characters came from. You might be amazed by what you find out!
About Convincing the Rancher
About that night…
Benson, CA, represents all that Tess Cole doesn’t want. So she intends to keep her business trip there brief. Too bad her idea to quickly change the mayor’s mind about some planning issues dissolves the moment she recognizes him! That one night with Slaid Jacobs remains a personal favorite for Tess—and for him, too, it seems.
Even though he’s gorgeous and hot, it’s clear to Tess that the single dad wants a commitment—something she avoids. It’s also clear Slaid is bent on convincing her they can build a future out of their passionate past. And that’s a very tempting offer…
TESS WASN’T PREPARED for a Jeep that looked like an ice sculpture. With a pang of longing, she pictured her underground parking space in San Francisco, where even on the rare frosty morning she never had to worry about a frozen car. Reluctantly she opened her wallet and stared at her rainbow assortment of credit cards, wondering which one she could sacrifice as an ice scraper. The Saks Fifth Avenue card was nice and thick and would work the best, but she didn’t want to risk ruining it. Same with Bloomingdale’s. And there was no way she’d sacrifice Nordstrom—their annual shoe sale was coming up.
She finally settled for Talbots and started scraping at the frosted windshield. The ice came off in a spray coating her bare skin. “Ow!” she exclaimed and pulled her hand away abruptly, shaking it to try to get the frost off and the heat back in.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t bring gloves?” The deep voice had her whirling to confront the mayor. He looked warm and comfortable, his thick parka advertising the fact that he was prepared for the weather. The battered leather cowboy hat on his head was one more reminder that she’d left San Francisco far behind.
“It’s probably seventy degrees at home today,” she said by way of an answer.
“It’s seventy degrees in San Francisco most days. Didn’t you check the weather report before you drove out here?”
She hadn’t. She’d been in denial until she’d pulled into town yesterday. Despite all the arguments with Ed and the cramming she’d done to understand wind power, she’d ignored the fact that she’d be living in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere for the next month or so. Tess could safely say that denial was one of her strongest abilities.
About the Author
Claire McEwen lives by the ocean in Northern California with her family and a scruffy, mischievous terrier. When not dreaming up new stories, she can be found digging in her garden with a lot of enthusiasm but, unfortunately, no green thumb. She loves discovering flea-market treasures, walking on the beach, dancing, traveling and reading, of course! Convincing the Rancher is her third book for Harlequin Superromance.