Blog Tour: Crowning Heaven // feat. the evolution of a character in the words of her author

When my lovely + talented friend Emily Hayse asked for volunteers to help out in a blog tour for her debut YA portal fantasy novel, I jumped at the chance. Ever since I had the privilege to beta-read Crowning Heaven a year or so ago, the heroine Heaven (let’s just appreciate the unique beauty of that name for a moment) has been one of my favorite characters; shining out like a steady, sweet light amongst all the other book-people that have laid claim to my affections over the years.

Today we get to find out how Heaven came into existence and enjoy a glimpse of her journey into the world of Grown Up + Published Books.

Introducing Heaven (as written by Emily Hayse)

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I distinctly remember: I met Heaven on a cold, gray afternoon in December. I stepped into a small, empty establishment called Madelyn’s for a hair cut with my younger sister. She went first, and I sat down to wait.  “You can look at the magazines,” encouraged the stylist. “See if any styles in there strike your fancy.”  I knew what I wanted, but I picked them up anyway.  After a few minutes I realized that Carrie Mulligan, sporting a lovely blonde pixie was in almost every one of them.  I had seen her in a couple things before. A friend had mentally casted her as a character in her book. I thought it was cute and set down the magazines to get my hair cut.  But the vision of a smiling girl with dimples and a blonde pixie followed me around for the rest of the day.

fun fact: Heaven has no middle name, and her mother was originally a morally gray character who deliberately abandoned Heaven on Earth.

I was restless. I had just finished NaNoWriMo, I was working on a historical fiction tome set on a British Ship in the seventeenth century. But there was something, something big, lurking in the back of my mind.

That night it clicked into place in my mind. I never remember the clicks really–the moment where it turns from random floating pieces to a solid project that I can build on is usually a black hole of vagueness. But that night, the small blonde girl in the pixie with the dimples got a story.  And I wrote, swiftly, in a beautiful blue notebook that had been gifted me for Christmas, before I forgot the words as they flew into my head: I write in feverish haste. The world is slipping away. I am greeted by the light of a million unknown stars…farewell, Earth! Farewell! 

I wrote notes frantically on note-cards before church the next morning, after church I started a Pinterest board. When a book takes me, it really takes me. I kept the project secret for a while as I usually do, and slowly Heaven and her world took form.

fun facts: Heaven had a temporary foster brother named Chan, who was adopted from China. She loves books, especially fiction, and she does not like fake cheese.

Heaven is a cellist. She is an ex-foster child. She is a lover of vanilla lattes. From a very young age she’s had to fend for herself, even in the context of foster care, and so she’s quite independent by the time we meet her and she has come to terms with grief and regret. Her music is her refuge and a good deal of her income. I do not consider myself a cellist, but it is agreed on by many musicians I’ve met that if they could start over again, they would become cellists.  Maybe in that way I made her the coolest thing I knew how to make. But it was not a conscious decision. She literally walked into the book with her cello over her shoulder and ordered a vanilla latte and I’ve been trying to keep up ever since.  If you want something fun, most of the songs Heaven plays on her cello are on my Official Crowning Heaven Spotify playlist, so you can look them up as you read the book.

fun fact: Heaven came to love vanilla lattes because her foster father, Mr. DeKlyen would buy her one on the way home from cello lessons if she practiced every day that week.

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It was February when the very first person besides myself met Heaven. I was going to a friend’s concert with my older sister, just the two of us, and she, being a clever sort of girl, could tell that I had been keeping a new project under wraps and had not been sharing it. She always figures it out. We were in a clunky van on a cold day, listening to Homecoming, because though I had heard it and fallen in love in the context of Crowning Heaven, everyone else liked it because it was pretty.  We were listening to it on repeat when she asked. I had the notebook with me, I carried it everywhere. So I read the beginning, and she met Heaven. And she fell in love.  “Emily, this is the book you should publish first, I’m serious.”

It was that simple. The real journey began.

Heaven’s birthday is on June 24th. After writing along (rather slowly at times) for a while, I decided in May that I was going to finish the book on her birthday, which I did. It was a beautiful, long day where I wrote 7K by hand and finished at one in the morning, crying over my manuscript.  To me, Heaven personifies quiet and gentle courage. Not the sort that draws attention to itself, but that tries in its small way to do the right thing when given a choice, and I really wanted to show that and its ramifications on a large scale.  She and many of the other characters are examples to me of what I would hope to do if I was in their situation. And I hope it is a similar inspiration to many others.

The Book:

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Heaven Cassidy has only ever wanted one thing: a family. But when she opens a letter from her long-lost mother, she finds herself running for her life. Swept into a world of proud queens and ancient feuds, Heaven must decide whether her dream is worth taking on the responsibility of two kingdoms, one of which wants to crown her and the other to kill her.

Available on Amazon – Add it on Goodreads

Meet the Author:

As long as she can remember, Emily Hayse has been avidly in love with story, a love that has only grown with time. A fascination with human nature and an ongoing quest for courage, hope, and beauty drive her writing passion.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found working with dogs or horses, studying historical tall ships, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. Her hobbies include learning Maori and Gaelic, playing the bodhran, and trying to restore a classic car.

And don’t forget to check out an exciting giveaway soon to be announced on her website, www.emilyhayse.com!

How To Write Lovable Protagonists — Guest Post by Schuyler McConkey

I have a special treat for you today, Wrenlings! My dear friend Schuyler has ever so sweetly agreed to guest post here on Curious Wren, and I am doing cartwheels of joy about it (but not actually because I would probably crack my skull and then I could no LONGER READ OH HORRIBLE THOUGHT).

Schuyler has some of the best main characters I’ve encountered amongst my various splendiferous Human Writer Friends/Acquaintances, which I am slightly (fiercely?) envious of in a Oh-Genius-Why-Do-I-Have-It-Not sort of way. Honestly, Roo is such a sweetheart I want her for a real-life buddy, and JAERYN. *momentary mad fangirling*

BUT. As you shall see she has a method to her madness. So, find a comfy toadstool to sit on and make sure to take notes! Cheerio, darlings.

Schuyler? You’re up.


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Protagonists are pretty important. Where would we be in the world of literature without colorful main characters like Frodo Baggins, Lizzy Bennet, and Ebenezer Scrooge?

Writing a loveable protagonist is fairly easy with your first book. You know them inside out, and generally for a longer time, then any other character you’ll write. You put all your hopes, dreams, and favorite things about literature into them. But writing subsequent characters can get tricky. If you’re published, you have to write them a little faster (ten years isn’t an ideal timeline after book one), and you have less time on the front end to get to know them. Some people have the knack of creating vivid, lovable characters (personally the characters are my favorite part of the process) while others struggle to connect with their characters, and feel like they come across stiff and unreal on the page. Whichever camp you fall in, I hope this exercise will help you learn how to create loveable protagonists, by drawing from protagonists in literature you already love.

Step #1: Make a List of Protagonists From Other Authors.

Take out a piece of paper or open up a Word document and think for a moment about your favorite protagonists in literature. Who are they? Write them down. Now think of the favorite protagonists you’ve written. Write a couple down. You won’t need a long list, but a fair handful from a variety of genres will really help in the following exercise.

From literature, I chose a handful of my favorite protagonists. I passionately love these people, and have read the books they’re in multiple times. I would write fanfiction about them. I would have them over for a party in two seconds flat. It would be incredibly, deeply special to actually get to meet them. (I know, they’re fictional. But STILL.) I chose Cadfael (The Pilgrim of Hate), Linda Strong (Her Father’s Daughter), Jane Stuart (Jane of Lantern Hill), Erroll Stone (A Cast of Stones), and Wilberforce (Amazing Grace). This group comes from a variety of ages, life conditions, countries, and genres.

Step #2 Evaluate What You Love About Them.

Now take your list and jot down what you especially love about these characters. It could be what they do, a profession they hold, a physical quirk they have, a relationship they have, or a personality streak. Here’s my list:

Cadfael: What I Love

Justice, independence, humanity, the way he mentors young people, sarcasm, friendship with Hugh, matter-of-fact perspective that’s open to the miraculous.

Linda Strong: What I Love

Sensible, loves to write, pursuing her dreams in spite of difficult relationships, loves her dad, great with guy friends.

Jane Stuart: What I Love

Loves her dad, loves keeping house, strong sense of imagination, stays true to who she is in harsh atmosphere, strong protective/caring instinct, loves life’s little pleasures.

Erroll Stone: What I Love

Acknowledges personal weaknesses without self-pity, sense of irony, fights hard to overcome flaws, struggles with people using him as a pawn.

Wilberforce: What I Love

Cares for poor and oppressed, does meaningful society work within his Christian worldview, works for years being defeated without giving up, great spiritual strength in spite of physical weakness, relies on friendships for ideas and strength.

Step #3 Pick Out Recurring Things You Love

See how some similar ideas travel through all those characters I like? Look at your list and see if you’re finding some recurring themes. Here are some of mine:

-big hardships to overcome (mostly relational)

-have to work hard to rise above, often sacrificing the deepest part of who they are

-colorful and close friendships with others in the book

-sense of sarcasm/humor

-sense of care and compassion for the oppressed

-dreamers who love the beautiful, everyday gifts and cling to the hope of better things

Your list might look a little different. That’s as it should be—we need a wide variety of protagonists and personalities in literature! But what you love best will become your brand of protagonist. The themes that resonate with you as you read should be the themes that carry through into your own protagonists.

If I talk about a Dickens protagonist, or a G.A. Henty hero, or a Gene Stratton Porter heroine, there are many to choose from, but all of them have the stamp of the original author. They often love the causes and act in the way their author could resonate with most deeply. Your protagonists will be the same. They’ll have different careers, time periods, ages, and relational status in each book—but at their core, they will be who you love most. Making a likeable protagonist doesn’t merely mean throwing together different personality traits and life circumstances from your last story. It means carefully weaving in what you love and along with those things.

Step #4 Evaluate The Protagonists You’ve Written

Now that we’ve looked at protagonists in literature, take a look at your stories, and choose a couple of protagonists you’ve written or want to write that you especially love. For the sake of this article, I’m going to choose Jaeryn Graham, a colorful Irish agent in my WW1 spy novel, and Roo, a sweet ballet teacher who lives in modern day New York. Very different people, right? Let’s see how they compare to my favorite protagonists in literature:

Jaeryn Graham has a fierce desire to be treated justly, and will risk anything to achieve the object he wants without worrying about the consequences. The justice theme in Jaeryn’s arc also appears in all the characters in the above list in different ways, and is one near and dear to my heart. He’s also kind to the oppressed, though sometimes he chooses to oppress them himself to achieve a necessary object. Realizing the importance of close friendships is a huge part of his story as well.

Roo couldn’t be more opposite. She cares deeply, is sweet, loves nothing more than taking deep joy in daily life with friends, and doesn’t need grand things to feel fulfilled. But like Jaeryn, she cares for the hurting, even though she’s unlike him every other way. Roo’s spiritual strength comes from stories I love like Wilberforce, she’s great with guy friends like Linda Strong, and she loves life’s little pleasures like Jane Stuart. Friendships are a very key theme for Roo. I didn’t consciously copy any of those things from the above characters. But because they resonate in what I read, they also resonate in what I write.

I’m about to write my favorite protagonist ever, and already some clear and classic Schuyler themes are emerging. A sense of passion for relieving oppression. An irreverent sense of humor. Some really cool friendships. Those are my core values. They make the writing process fun for me, and what I love can in turn be what someone else loves too.

Do you like your protagonists? Do they carry some of the themes you already like in books you’ve read? If you don’t like your protagonists, or feel they’re lacking something, is it because you haven’t given them the relationships and personality traits you love most?

One Extra Step to Bring Them to the Next Level

Once you have core themes for your protagonists worked out, there’s one more thing you can do that takes your character from good to great. That is simply to know them like a real person. I refer to characters as my fictional friends very intentionally. I have shared sorrow with them, shared work and laughter, shared the deepest parts of their soul. To maintain that same level in each story, as soon as I start a new story, that new protagonist is automatically moved into personal friend. I take them shopping with me and notice the foods and flavors they would like. I pick out their favorite restaurants as we’re driving, make them playlists on Spotify, take them to the concert or watch a movie and register their likes and dislikes. I imagine them in a very vivid way—allowing them to be deeply passionate about big and small life things that might get in the story and might not. The point is not to go story scouting all the time; the point is simply to get to know them on such a deep level that no matter what time period or profession they are actually in, I know exactly what they like. My sister often whispers to me at social functions, “What would so-and-so be doing right now?” And she and I can both tell what they’d be doing, because they have been our friends for so long.

In summary, the important parts of a lovable protagonist are real personality, real life, and real relationships. Those are most easy to write and most colorful on the page when you determine the relationships and personalities of already published protagonists that bring you alive. Put those resonating aspects into your own work, wherever each story takes you—and you’ll be giving the protagonists a piece of your own real, living heart to turn them from flat to 3D.

Schuyler McConkey is a novelist and Bright Lights ministry leader living with her parents and two siblings. She authors a blog, My Lady Bibliophile, where she writes book reviews and articles evaluating classic literature. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to Irish love songs, learning Gaelic, and reading too many Dickens novels.

5 Tips for Writing on the Go — Guest Post by Emily Putzke

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(Today I am thrilled to be hosting Emily Putzke in a special guest post in honor of her newest book release. I’ll be reviewing Resist, a novel about two courageous siblings who were a part of the German underground resistance in WWII, later this week. In the meantime check out the post and enter the giveaway!)

Hi everyone! I’m Emily Ann Putzke, author of It Took a War, Ain’t We Got Fun, and my newest novel, Resist which released this week! I do a lot of traveling to help out with family so I’ve become accustomed to writing stories in different atmospheres—be it at my older sister’s house flanked by cats and children, at my desk at home, or on the couch in my grandpa’s apartment. I think a change of scene can be very beneficial to our creative minds. But, as writers, it can also be hard. So here are five tips for writing on the go:

  1. Make sure you can access your work from any computer with online programs like GoogleDocs or Microsoft Word Online. I also backup my files on AmazonCloud. Take advantage of these great online storage/writing programs for on the go use.
  2. Create a private blog for links/pictures/anything you’ll need to access. I sometimes bookmark pages which doesn’t work well when I’m using various computers and needing a website for research. Save those links in a program you can access anywhere!

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3. Even though I’m helping out with family, I always try to grab some writing time when I can, even if I have twenty-five children on my lap. 😉

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4. Don’t forget your earbuds! Sometimes it can be hard to immerse yourself in your novel when you’re not in your usual writing environment. Put on some movie soundtracks and get lost in your story.

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5. If you’re a historical fiction author like me, you need your research books with you at all times. I’d recommend buying them used on Amazon or B&N so you can highlight and dog ear to your heart’s content. Also, then the library won’t be bugging you about returning a book when you’re traveling.

The life of a writer is an adventure! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the giveaway!

Emily Ann Putzke is a young novelist, historical reenactor, and history lover. You can learn more about Emily and her books at authoremilyannputzke.com, facebook.com/authoremilyannputzke, and instagram.com/historicalhappenings

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