Wednesday, April 14, 2010
My author guest: Shannon Baker
As promised yesterday, Colorado thriller author Shannon Baker is visiting my blog today. Her book, Ashes of the Red Heifer, was released in January. The tale includes an ancient prophecy, a terrible secret, and a deadly conspiracy. From the prairies of Nebraska to holy ground in Israel, a deadly battle is underway to force God’s hand. Is a young veterinarian God’s chosen to fulfill the ancient prophecy of the red heifer? Only she can choose. Her own life. Or an apocalyptic war. The future of the world. Or the ashes of the red heifer.
Boy, this thriller sounds pretty darn thrilling to me! Here's Shannon's guest post:
What Comes First, the Characters or Plot?
While I’m a firm believer that characters make the story, it seems I usually start with a situation or premise--some circumstance that captures my imagination--and I create people to work in that setting. It’s a messy process because the story never comes to life until the characters become real people. And as soon as they take on their own histories, desires and needs, they necessarily move the story in directions I hadn’t imagined. If this sounds like crazy talk, well, welcome to my world.
Ashes of the Red Heifer started with an article I read in the New Yorker in 1997. A rancher in Mississippi made some enormous leaps of faith or craziness (I haven’t made up my mind on this one) and decided he was called by God to create a rare and sacred red heifer to allow Jews to perform a ceremony they haven’t been able to accomplish for over 2000 years.
Stick with me here, because all these links form an ancient chain that keeps building. The really tricky part is that when the heifer is raised and sacrificed, and Jews can rebuild their Temple, they will have to destroy The Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest site which sits on the hill top where the Holy Temple belongs in Jerusalem.
Since the 7th century, when Islam was founded by Mohammed, the Jews and Muslims haven’t been very good friends. For Muslims, to die defending the Dome of the Rock sends a believer directly to Paradise without passing Go. But Jews are directed by God to worship in this very spot. When a person believes God has singled him out for sainthood or martyrdom, it can be pretty compelling. Pair all this conflict with ancient Biblical lore and this is a real life, breathless story unfolding today. I mean today, April 14th, 2010.
But to make readers dive into the story and forget they are supposed to make their family dinner or fold the laundry, we need to care deeply about the characters. So Lott went away and Annie Grant invaded my life. She’s a driven veterinarian from the Nebraska Sandhills with a love of place and cattle and an ethical barometer that never breaks. She’s been hurt and is trying to find her place and love in the world. Ultimately, Ashes of the Red Heifer is Annie’s story. I just found this fascinating circumstance to hang it on and put her in so much danger she needs to be more brave and clever than she ever thought she could be.
I’m working on a new thriller now. This one involves man-made snow on Flagstaff’s sacred peaks, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, murder, kachinas, and one woman trying to make sense of it all. Nora Abbott is busy rearranging all my initial ideas of plot, but I’m finding her a really fun person to hang out with.
Crazy and messy. But never easy. What about you—do you start with character, plot, setting or strange voices in your head that wake you up at 4 A.M.?