Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Author Jo A. Hiestand

Today, I welcome Jo A. Hiestand to
Immortyl Revolution!  Jo is a fellow L&L Dreamspell author, who writes mysteries.
Jo has found a cool way of promoting books with character trading cards.  I'll let Jo tell you all about the interesting dilemma this presents to the author.

Face Value

I wonder if other writers have as much trouble with defining character as I’m currently having. Not the character’s personality, but his looks.

To give you a bit of background in case you don’t know my work, I write two English mystery series: Taylor & Graham features detectives from the Derbyshire Constabulary CID. The new series, the McLaren Case Mysteries, deals with ex-police detective Michael McLaren, who now investigates cold cases on his own.
When I began both series I had vague ideas of what my characters look like. And now that’s the problem: vague.

Normally this minute character definition wouldn’t be a concern, but I'm venturing into untried waters. I know how hot Trading Cards are in the romance readers market, so I'm trying them for mystery readers. Just designed my first batch for "A Well Dressed Corpse," Taylor & Graham’s eighth novel.

The design part wasn't that hard -- book cover on the card's front, then character photo and info on the back of each of the character's cards. And that was the problem. I have no idea what each character looks like. Well, that's not exactly true. I know Graham is 6'3" tall, has auburn hair that is starting to gray, and has green eyes. I know Brenna has coppery colored hair and is a bit overweight. I know Mark has dark hair and eyes, that Margo is a brunette beauty, and that Scott has green eyes, is 6' tall and has dark hair. But that's it. That's all I thought I needed in my mind's eye when I created them. Now I find myself looking at literally thousands of photos of faces, trying to choose a realistic representation of Graham, Brenna, Mark, Margo and Scott.

I had to take breaks from the task. After about 30 minutes of gazing, the faces all kind of blurred together. Sure, I wrote down things like "businessman portrait in dark suit and striped blue tie, page 84," but getting back to each page for a refresher look was difficult, as the photo site had no "go to ___" button, so I had to hit the page buttons and back up that way. Took a while.

After a bit, probably at my third photo website, I got smart and did a screen capture of the thumbnail sketch. These sit on my computer screen and I can remember who the contestants are. Don't worry, I'm not stealing them without paying. The photos have lovely white X's through the center of each, ensuring folks can't pilfer them. But they're a good visual aid in my quest for the Perfect Face.

Graham was kind of easy to find: male model/lead actor handsome. I found several guys who could be Graham, so I just chose one. After all, everyone has his/her own idea of how a character looks, so my choice might not necessarily be Susie Sudsworth's choice or Tom Brown's choice. But the essence of the personality has to show through in the face, I think.

Brenna, too, I found rather quickly. But I'm stuck on Jamie.
Jamie isn't with Graham's Team. Jamie belongs to the McLaren Case series. Obviously, those who are visitors to my author website know I have already found a real life Michael McLaren and Dena Ellison, who pose for photos that I can use. But I don't have a real life Jamie, so I had to go online to the photo sites to find him.

Man, I am stymied. I have no idea what he looks like other than he has light brown hair and has a slight build. That's it. So perhaps you see my dilemma -- I have looked at thousands of photos, seen guys ranging from muscular to beer bellied, full head of hair to bald. I don't know who Jamie is. Is he the serious guy with close-cropped hair, leather jacket and sunglasses, or is it the casually dressed man with a full head of hair? A typical no-nonsense guy reminiscent of 1970s TV cops, or a cheerful businessman? Gaunt, long face or rounder?

I thought staring at their photos on my computer monitor would help. But I have seven contestants staring back at me, and they're all different looking. I know my dilemma comes from not having Jamie's likeness in my mind. But I don't have McLaren or Graham or Mark in my mind, either, and they weren't nearly as difficult to cull from the sea of faces. Maybe it's because I've written about Jamie only three times, whereas I've written about Graham and Mark nine times. And they appear more often than Jamie does.

It's not easy choosing him from the candidates. I have an idea what a casting director must go through: photo after photo after photo of guys vying for the same role. But it isn't a personal insult if you're not chosen. I know that now. It's just that maybe Candidate 4,309 looks slightly better for the role than you do.

There's no rush in finding Jamie. I will do the first McLaren set of trading cards in a few months. But I'm the kind of person who likes to have everything thought out and prepared. (Yes, I have food, medical supplies and a small tent in readiness for the earthquake that's going to hit the St Louis region, which is where I live.)
I hope my readers like these trading cards, to collect and to trade with other readers. I had a grand time creating the set for each book. If these are popular, I think the next set will have a riddle or contest clue on the back of each character's card. I want to offer something different with each set...provided they progress that far. But I guess it’ll depend, in part, on my character.

So, what have I learned from all this? I need to know more than my character’s personality; I need to know what he really looks like. Maybe finally putting a face with the other things I know about him will nudge me into writing a better character. We’ll see.

 You can follow Jo at these links:
Jo's Website
Facebook Fan Page
Jo's Amazon Page

Jo, thanks for being my guest today! My bad boy Cedric is clamoring for his own trading card now. See what you started, Jo?


Denise Verrico said...

Jo, I really loved your post. I come from a theatrical background, and I'm always looking at actors and other folks, mentally casting my characters. I haven't seen trading cards for books before, but I borrowed an idea from Japanese manga and put character profiles on my website.

Pauline B Jones said...

What an interesting problem to have! And I think I might have the same problem. I know what my characters look like to me, but finding a real person to fit that image??? Ouch!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Jo, this is such a clever and original way of dealing with character description. I confess it's not my strong suit. So this is
very helpful.

Jacqueline Seewald

T.W. Fendley said...

I love this, too ... I think it will be really hard to find a photo of a multidimensional rainbow-colored Feathered Serpent, but I'm gonna try! On a logistical note, where do you get the cards printed? How are they offered to readers? Sounds like so much more fun than business cards or bookmarks.

Cindy Sample said...

That's a very clever idea, Jo. I'd heard that the romance community was into the trading cards so this is really fun. Maybe you can make a board game out of your series - the new CLUE!

Linda Lovely said...

I'd also heard about trading cards in the romance community. However, I'm a bit reluctant to put my toe in this pond. As a reader I like to imagine what the characters look like. When books become movies, I'm often disappointed at who's cast as hero or heroine. I'm afraid trading cards could have the same "are you kidding me?" result. However, having readers actually debate whether the image fits the character might be a darn good way to engage them. Good luck.

Jo Hiestand said...

JUST found these posts! I didn't scroll down far enough on Denise's site. SORRY!!! I really wasn't ignoring all of you, honest! Anyway....Thanks for all the comments. Even tho I hunted down these character photos I STILL don't imagine them that way. I know, that's weird, but perhaps I haven't lived with them long enough. Anyway, I thought I'd give it a whirl and see if anyone likes the cards. And T.W. -- I designed them and printed them at I just love them, and their products are so nicely done. Good luck if you make cards -- let me know if/how they go! Jo

Anita Page said...

Jo, I've used newspaper photos to help me get a sense of a characters' looks--especially minor characters who I don't feel I've pinned down. I like the trading card idea--very cool.