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How Luci, Sam, Barry, and the Gang of Nerds Helped Me Cope in 2020

As many know, I began writing a novel in late winter of 2018. Writing fiction was always a dream—to use my creativity in imagining and writing about regular people and how they faced and overcame challenges. However, it wasn't until meeting and overcoming a significant medical challenge myself that I put a computer keyboard to a digital screen and started writing my first story, Blackhorse Road. Writing this novel has been a journey of fulfillment, personal introspection, insight, and, yes, a stress reducer.

 

During this chaotic and uncertain time, polishing off my novel during its last round of copyediting has given me a quiet place to hang out with the book's characters. And my characters, in turn, have provided me with a therapeutic escape and the energy to come back and face the real world.

 

I think all people have a gift of storytelling—after all, we share stories every day with our family and friends! Give yourself a gift of time to put the computer keyboard to a digital screen and write a story, creating characters that will give you a therapeutic escape and a quiet place to hang out for a while. 

 

Originally published LinkedIn March 20, 2020

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The Worthy Villain: Five Criteria

Who is the loathsome villain in Blackhorse Road that makes our protagonist, Luci, shine in the end? 

 

To avoid a spoiler, I will not share who plays the villain. But I will share the five thresholds that any villain of mine must cross before being worthy of the role!

 

The first bar is that my villain must be relatable. I ask myself, What is the villain's hook?  What draws the readers to the villain's web?  Who in the reader's life might the villain represent. It could be a crazy uncle, an overcontrolling parent, a bully, an unfaithful spouse, a deceitful friend, a competitive sibling. On the other hand, the villain can easily be an inanimate object that dredges up readers' visceral feelings—a storm, a sickness, a haunted house, an imaginary monster.  Haven't most of us been there?

 

The next threshold is all about relationships.  My villain has to have a close personal connection with the hero.  Whether the villain is a person or an inanimate object, the relationship between the hero the villain must make the reader feel the connection, too.  The villain must get into the hero's space, in her head, and obstruct her way, and readers must feel the villain getting into their space, in their heads, and obstructing them too.

 

The villain has to be a strong adversary.  In other words, the villain must be a worthy opponent—no sissies or milk toasts for my heroes!

 

The villain must push the reader's buttons, making the reader want to reach into the book's pages and shake sense into or evil out of the villain. 

 

The final threshold is that the villain must evoke readers' empathy—there's something more to villains than painting them in evil. This doesn't mean that readers excuse the villain's behaviors or fail to demand justice for the hero.  Instead, it means that readers must grow with the hero. Readers must walk the same path as the hero in transformation and come to understand the villain's perspective and what makes the villain tick. Blackhorse Road will make readers hate the villain. But it also leaves many breadcrumbs along the hero's path so that readers come to understand the villain and hopefully have a wee bit of empathy for the villain even as they celebrate the hero.

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The Surprising Secondary Characters in Blackhorse Road—Time

Old Letters and Diaries

Tony Hoagland, author and poet, writes that "The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters."

 

In Blackhorse Road, time is not an add on or a placeholder. Instead, it is a secondary character that adds depth and perspective to the protagonist, antagonist, and other secondary characters. 

 

Stories are about relationships with people, but people also have a relationship with the eras.  I wanted to make those relationships come alive in Blackhorse Road, whether it was a treacherous immigration period, a turbulent social justice era, or a time when many people lost all hope.

 

Readers tell me that they connect with the different time periods represented in the story in Blackhorse Road. Just as they form relationships with secondary characters that are people, they also form connections with different eras in the story.  For some, the association is most acute surrounding the Irish immigration to Canada between the 1830s and mid-nineteenth century. For others, it is the mid-1960s or even a sliver of time, such as the street dance scene.

 

Readers might ask, "How do you turn an era into a secondary character?"  I connect people to eras by reading old letters, diaries, or other firsthand accounts of the period. These documents reveal a relationship between a person and an inanimate object, and through this relationship, it becomes easy to turn an era into a secondary character.

  

It's my hope that that as readers connect with Luci, the protagonist, and Sam, Barry, Shelia, Chris, and the other secondary "people" characters in Blackhorse Road that they also feel a bond with the time eras in which the people in the story lived as well.

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First Book Club Virtual Discussion

Praise for Blackhorse Road
Praise for Blackhorse Road

The first virtual book club discussion for Blackhorse Road is happening tonight!  So excited to hear the insights and answer the questions from the twelve members who hail from Maryland.  

 

 

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The Vision for Blackhorse Road

As soon as I saw this article, I had to share with the readers of Blackhorse Road. "A novel changed the life of Francesca Lo Basso—and there's scientific evidence that she's not alone."

 

This is exactly what I hoped for Blackhorse Road.  Read the article from The Greater Good Magazine--Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life

 

How Reading Fiction Can Shape Our Real Lives

 

 

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More Praise for Blackhorse Road

Thrilled with the new review of Blackhorse Road from Our Town Book Reviews: 

 

"A really nice read. What a picture of life in the 60's. This book deals with so many items, emotions really. From the moment I began to read about the true hardships, the real picture drawn by the people trying to immigrate I wanted to keep reading to see what happened. I wanted to see where this was going to lead. At first I thought the letters would create a back and forth kind of reading confusion. That didn't happen here. Everything centered around Luci in one way or another and the author seemed to be able to weave this story without any confusion, Even no hiccups to my reading which I thought surely would happen. This is an interesting book, suitable for all ages. "

 

https://www.ourtownbookreviews.com/2020/08/black-horse-road.html

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10 Quotes to Live By

10 Quotes To Live By are highlighted today on the book tour for my novel Blackhorse Road! Thank you to Joanne for giving me the opportunity to share these from the characters in the book to use as fuel to power up your week https://joanneguidoccio.com/2020/08/17/10-quotes-to-live-by/#comment-95839

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Over the Moon

Blackhorse Road just got its first Amazon review--5 stars!  Check it out on Amazon.

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What are Readers Saying About Blackhorse?

Blackhorse Road A Novel about Choice

Since its release two weeks ago, I've been receiving emails and texts about readers' reactions to Blackhorse Road.  A theme that seems to be running through the messages is that this is a compelling story that has something in it for everyone.  The characters, events, location, and plot affect readers differently—but there is no doubt that each has come away being transported to an unexpected place within themselves.

 

Here is a place for readers to post their comments and reactions and to share their Blackhorse Road journey with other Blackhorse Road travelers. 

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The Development of Luci in Blackhorse Road

At the virtual launch party for Blackhorse Road held on July 21, one of the beta readers elaborated on the maturity and perceptiveness of eighteen-year-old Luci, the story's protagonist.  We didn't have the time during the launch to discuss what informed me about Luci's character, so I'd like to share the insights that led me to develop a character who had this type of awareness at such a young age.

 

A few years ago, my husband and I were visiting with friends who had two teenaged children—a daughter, eighteen-years-old, and a son, sixteen-years-old.  The six of us chatted before, during, and after dinner, engaging in conversation about politics, world events, and everyday issues.  The teenagers were not ancillary to the conversation but were part of it.  I put on my "coaching" hat and listened carefully to what these young people had to say and engaged them, from time to time, with powerful questions—What are you concerned about? What's most important to you? If you had the choice, what would you do? What is your assessment of this situation? How would you handle that problem?

 

When we left for the evening, I turned to my husband and said, "I'm so relieved because those two young people are our future—I'm so impressed with their level of insight, judgment, and perspective."

 

In our busy, distracted world, I don't know that older adults or parents have given themselves the gift of space to listen to, be curious about, or seek out the wisdom of their young adult children or their children's friends. Remembering the remarkable experience I had with the teenagers of our friends, I wanted Blackhorse Road to reveal to my readers the possibilities of this dimension.

 

The following quote is taken from Chapter Five in Blackhorse Road and gives an insight into how Luci's maturity was developed through the relationship with her father, Sam.

 

"Sam knew the best way to get Luci to reveal her thoughts was to pose a question requiring an opinion. He recognized Luci's growing emotional maturity and was proud of his daughter's self-confidence and her commitment to a more tolerant world. He also welcomed her ideas and encouraged her to debate with him, believing it honed her judgment and decision-making. Often, Sam would ask Luci her thoughts about a political matter or seek her advice in sizing up a business problem. Allowing her to express herself in a secure environment, Sam believed, helped his daughter build self-esteem."

 

Added to Sam's practice of listening, observing, and asking questions, his insight about how people react when given a choice contributed to Luci's maturity.  Here's a quote from the book where Sam shares his thoughts about autonomy with Luci.

 

"Given the relevant facts and the chance to think things through, most people are smart, creative, and resourceful enough to make the right decisions."

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