You’ve Got Mail: Initial Feedback

Technically, I wasn’t supposed to start writing until November 1st – I tried to wait but honestly, if there’s a story (especially for a first time writer) that needs to be written, I don’t think putting a lid on it is a smart thing to do.

So, I started writing The Hijacked Holiday.  To be fair, I won’t count the words written before November 1st, as part of my 50,000 words.

Besides being ready to get my first novel started, I also wanted to give working with AG a “test drive”, not at all knowing how this would work and what to expect.  We had exchanged a few other emails, mostly me telling him additional background on the characters, so he could be more familiar with them. I’m not writing this story sequentially, so he needed to know as much about Josh and Ava as possible.

Once written, I sent him my first scene.  The scene where Josh shows up to hijack Ava’ bike trip, and she sees him for the first time in six months.

The Feedback

First line of his feedback had me cracking up!  “SEALs are not Special Forces. (haha I’m going to be a stickler about this because if you’re going to insist on writing about SEALs I’m going to make sure your character doesn’t get confused for a real man)”

Much like there is competition and healthy banter between members of the different Services, there is even more “contention” between Special Forces Units and Navy SEALs.

I get it, and it definitely made me laugh, and so did this comment: “SOF dudes don’t put milk in their coffee. I mean, SEALs might, because they’re SEALs, but real men don’t need to fluff it up.”

Solid input, Josh will be drinking his coffee black.

Jokes aside, his feedback was excellent and spot on. He clearly grasped what was happening in the scene, between the characters and what they were experiencing.  He even broke down some of the thoughts and emotions Josh was probably experiencing that I didn’t write in the scene.

He also made me realize the areas I need to amplify, clarify and add.

His feedback was more than I expected.  I asked for his help for a different scene, and once more, the effort he put into his reply was impressive.

AG is not one though for small talk or actually giving me any additional personal details about himself…and that’s okay.  He is going through what I can only guess is a pretty tough course right now, and the fact he’s taking the time to help me out is already more than I can ask for.  Just because I always get off point and put in my personal two cents on most things – doesn’t mean he has to.

You’ve Got Mail

On Friday night, I was standing around the kitchen talking with my stepmom, sister, and her boyfriend when my phone made the dinging noise, letting me know I’d just received an email.  I ignored it, I wasn’t expecting any emails.  I had finally found the face/inspiration for my character, Josh Bailey.  I had given up on hearing from Airport Guy (to be referred to as AG going forward), it had been after all more than three weeks since meeting him.

In a lull in conversation, I finally looked at my phone.  There it was.  An email from AG. I just stared at it on my phone. A little stunned he had finally replied. I started to feel a tinge of excitement and finally had to step away to read it.

It apparently took a little help from his S6 to get into his email (he had given me a card with his official email on it).  This was his first time accessing his email since leaving Germany.  He’s currently in the States going through a course.  The bottom line of his email was that he was standing by his offer to assist me.

I was pretty happy to read that, but felt a little overwhelmed by how to let him know about the blog post I’d written about our encounter and how to get started with leveraging his help. I emailed him back and explained this website to him, and a few other things – letting him know I understand if he doesn’t want to be part of the story, behind the story. I presented him with a way out of his gracious offer to help.

He emailed back and said he has no issues with the blog post or anything else I choose to write, as long as I keep his identity to myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way, he’s still on active duty and especially because of what he does – no one needs to know who he is.

I haven’t however told him about finding Kyle Clarke.  I would replace Kyle in a heartbeat for AG, but that would require him to send me some pictures I can use, the same way I plan on using Kyle’s.  If AG has input into the making of Josh, his actions, behavior, and thoughts – it would make sense for Josh to also be a physical reflection of him.  If you remember from my Surreal Airport Encounter post, he’s a good looking guy – he can hold up his own amongst the endless stream of guys I searched through to find someone to be the inspiration for Josh, more specifically, to be an inspiration in his absence.

I wanted this, after the serendipitous run-in with AG; I wanted him to be part of the story, so why does it feel so awkward for me?  It shouldn’t be a big deal to explain what I’m doing and what I’d like to get from him. Is it because I’ve never done anything like this before? Is it because the whole situation is too close to the original storyline…or may be a storyline in itself?

It’s way too early to tell how involved AG will be in this project, but for a girl who always does everything alone, enlisting and having his help is foreign to me. I’m entrusting something very dear, meaningful, and personal to me to someone who is…well, a stranger right now. I rarely ever trust anything to anyone – definitely stepping out of a comfort zone with this one. Opening myself up to feedback, input, and potentially rejection in a way I never have before.

I’ve been praying to become more trusting and open…so if God’s Hand is in this – it will definitely get very interesting and ultimately, incredibly beneficial.

Finding my Inspiration for Josh

I’ve been pretty obsessed with finding a man to be my inspiration for Josh Bailey, the main character of The Hijacked Holiday. Airport guy could have been it, but I haven’t heard back from him. Pretty bummed about that, a story within a story makes for a great story but alas, I had to seek and find someone else.

I’m due to start writing in 10 days and maybe it’s weird, but I want to be able to look at him as I write the story.  Ava, the main female character is based so much on me; I don’t need anything to feel a connection with her. However, I need to be able to look at him – especially to help me relate to how Ava will interact with him.  I didn’t realize until I started my search how easy it would be to find an abundance of good looking men online, and how much time I would waste checking them out.

In case you want to start your own obsession or need to do research, it’s easy to start by finding male physique competitors or WBFF male models.  Just about all of them have a Facebook page and/or Instagram account with plenty of pictures to admire.  My Facebook newsfeed already had a fair share of handsome guys from the years I competed (in Women’s Physique). A click here and there led me to some great finds.  Instagram gives you other recommendations based on those you follow, so once again, a click here, a click there and your screen is soon filled with gorgeous men. Unfortunately, none of them were him. I got to a point where I had checked-out close to 50 different men, and still hadn’t found him.

I wasn’t looking for someone who looked like the actual guy I ran into. I was looking for the man for Ava. The man who will challenge and humble her – the man who will make her fall in love.

Facebook eventually recommended I check-out Michael Stokes Photography –I’m not sure where the time went after that! I’d hit the jackpot.  Michael Stokes photographs a lot of veterans, and since my character is a Navy Seal, his models were more of what I was looking for.

I began to notice after checking-out the plethora of good looking men, that military men and veterans have a lot more going on in their eyes, smiles, and faces. May be it’s just me, may be they have something I relate to, a familiarity I know, but there’s something about them that makes them more attractive to me.  It took some looking around Michael’s portfolio, which admittedly I enjoyed – he’s a gifted photographer, but eventually I found him.

His name is Kyle Clarke (actually great name for a character). He’s a veteran, served 5 years on active duty. He was a Captain in the Army, combat engineer.  Not sure what my deal is lately with Army guys, but at least this Army guy was raised by a Marine. From his bio on his Facebook page, he’s been quite successful serving as inspiration and more much: “…he booked covers of over a dozen national and international magazines, including Muscle & Fitness and Iron Man. Kyle was featured in the feature film, Transformers 3, landed a co-star role in Mansion of Blood, and starred in a short film titled Victor’s Way. He is the face of the video game RAGE, released in 2011, and was featured on billboards across every major city in the U.S.”

But that’s not why I chose him. As soon as I look into his eyes, in these selfies, I knew he was the one.

I was looking for a handsome, regular guy, that has something unspoken, deep, unresolved in his eyes, and expression. Josh is a complex character who is struggling with his identity, his potential, his future, and his feelings for Ava. I can see my character Josh when I look into Kyle’s eyes. I have absolutely no idea if he’s wrestling with some of the same questions and dilemmas, but there’s something deep in his stare.

I feel relief to have found him and I can’t wait to start writing! November 1st, can’t get here quick enough.

A Surreal Airport Encounter

The research trip is over, but my thoughts continue to search out more details about my characters…especially my male character.  I remember what my brief run-in with the guy at medical made me feel, how quickly he got under my skin, but his specific looks and features have become fuzzy.  I’m not trying to find a replicate of him. I want to find the inspiration for the character I’ve created, which is why I’ve been busily searching for inspiration to make him more real.

So even in the madness of my transition back to the States, these last couple of weeks, I’ve been on the lookout for inspiration everywhere: at the gym, on television, magazines, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Nothing was clicking until a totally unanticipated and incredibly surreal encounter at the airport, the day I flew back to the States.

He sat at the end of a wide open row so I took a sit a few seats down from him.  He was busy writing on a notepad.  He certainly caught my attention. He was tall, at least 6ft, broad shoulders, thick legs that showed even through his stylish jeans, short brown hair, but not the Marine Corps style I’ve grown accustomed to, green eyes and a beautiful smile, which he displayed when we made eye contact.  He was probably in his late 20s, early 30s. I couldn’t tell if he was American or European. He was handsome in a wholesome and approachable kind of way.

He continued to write on his notepad and I decided to break out my Writer’s Digest magazine. I needed to do something to keep from continuing to check him out, but more importantly, to keep my mind from thinking about my departure from Germany.  I didn’t want to start crying again.  I spent the morning crying saying good-byes to everyone.

To my complete surprise, the magazine turned into an opening piece for him to start a conversation.  He asked if I was a writer, and eventually proceeded to share how he was considering writing a book as well.  It got really surreal once I found out he was a SOF guy. There I was, having a conversation about writing with a guy who could literally jump off the very pages, I have yet to write.

Our conversation was paused when we boarded the plane and picked back up once we landed in Frankfurt.  As we sat by his gate, I took a risk and told him about my story, to include how the story came about, hoping I might be able to enlist his help with my character development. He listened, admitted the genre wasn’t exactly his thing (as in not at all), and wondered why I selected a Navy Seal and not an Army SOF guy, but he agreed to help the best he could. I wish we’d had more time to talk, but he needed to clear TSA before getting on his flight. He was flying to D.C. which apparently requires a whole lot more security checks. We exchanged emails and I also shared the NaNoWrimo website with him. I left and headed to my gate.

He was on my mind during my flight. The guy I ran into at medical made eye contact, smiled, and gave me the infamous wave that got my head spinning into romantic storytelling. Now, after the encounter with airport guy, it makes me believe he probably would have more in common with him, then other SOF guys I’ve met, or conjured up in my imagination.

I emailed him the next day since I’m not one to waste any time, but I also figured, if I waited too long – I would never contact him.  I’m not sure I’ll hear back from him. I don’t know if the whole happenstance encounter, once he thinks it over, won’t be a little too weird. No matter what, even in the brief time together, he gave me some things to think about and options to consider for my male character.

Hopefully I’ll hear from him and somehow work through explaining how I’d like him to be the inspiration for my character. I can’t tell if these types of requests are flattering or just creepy.  If someone asked me and he was serious about it – I’d be up for it, but I don’t creep out easily, plus I guess I would understand what he’s trying to achieve.

Guess we’ll see what happens. I have to first hear back from him.

The Research Trip

I decided about 6-8 months ago that my characters would get to know each other on a bike trip through some part of France. My previous experience on a bike trip around Lake Konstanz made me realize a bike trip makes for an excellent setting for a story, and great way for two people to travel together, while getting to know one another. I picked France because frankly in the two years I spent in Europe, I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time as I’d expected in France (where, go figure, I can actually speak the language), so this trip was a way to make up for it.

My trip really came down to the wire because of the insanely hectic summer it turned out to be, but I knew if I wanted to write this story, I had to take the trip.   A search for “touring bike ride France” lead to a few websites with options to explore; in the end, I decided on a tour being offered by Discover France called “Midi-Pyrenees Most Beautiful Villages.” The images of the villages looked incredible, idealistic even, for a story setting, and the weather in the Midi-Pyrenees in late September, seemed perfect for a bike tour.

I’ve never written a novel before…nor have I ever been on a research trip, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do. I figured the best way to ensure success on this research trip was to, as much as possible, place myself in my characters’ shoes, to be them – to imagine their experiences, conversations, thoughts, and feelings to the places and experiences I was living. Everywhere I went, there were three of us, me, Ava Shaw (main female character) and Josh Bailey (main male character) – although they didn’t have names at the time of the trip.

I took a bunch of pictures and made videos along the way. I’ll be posting a lot of the material I collected in blog posts as I write the book; I want to get you all interested, fascinated, and in love with the Midi-Pyrenees region and the characters before the book comes out! Given the opportunity, I would definitely return to the Midi-Pyrenees region and further explore what it has to offer.

I’ll know soon enough how effective and beneficial the research trip turned out to be for the story setting and telling; hopefully it will make it much easier to write once the clock starts ticking on 1 November.