Today I’m delighted to have Jillian Neal and her characters from her newly released novel Gypsy Hope to the couch. We authors typically try to use our powers for good, but Jillian is taking it a step further. For every copy of Gypsy Hope sold, Jillian is donating $1 to the ProLiteracy organization to help combat adult illiteracy. ProLiteracy works globally to educate, provide resource materials, and to help people that are illiterate. So pull up a beach chair, and let’s meet these characters!
First, let me thank Cecilia for having my characters, Brock Camden and Hope Hendrix, on the couch today. Strong characters, passionate love scenes, and deep emotion are the hallmarks of my work. Brock and Hope’s story is no different but does offer another element that I think makes it all the more compelling. Brock is illiterate. Overcoming that, learning to accept both of their pasts, and ultimately a future neither of them imagined makes Gypsy Hope an engaging and heartbreaking novel, to be sure. But I write romance so there will always be a happily ever after. I wouldn’t even know how to write anything else.
1. If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.
Ha! Honestly, a court order wouldn’t be necessary though Brock Camden would probably not go willingly. He would go for Hope. He would do most anything for her. They’ve been best friends since high school. They would both tell you that counseling would be helpful due to their traumatic childhoods. (Brock’s father was an abusive alcoholic. That situation led to his dyslexia and illiteracy never being diagnosed. Hope’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was a little girl.) Brock is a cowboy through and through, however. He would be more inclined to work and try to bury his pain and his past out in the pastures. That is how he’d been dealing with all of his issues right up until the moment Hope proposes they become a couple long enough for him to “show her the sexual ropes” she feels she’s missed out on.
2. Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?
Largely the conflicts are internal. Hope has fear/anxiety issues due to her parents’ deaths. Brock is terrified that someone will figure out that he’s illiterate. When Hope discovers his painful secret, he pushes her away, too. She has to convince him that she loves him whether he can read or not and show him that illiterate does not mean unintelligent, unlovable, or even unattractive.
3. It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?
Brock would follow Hope’s lead. She would cautiously seat herself on the couch. He would sit beside her, wrap his arm around her, and immediately be ready to tell you to “back off” if he thought you were being too intrusive. If he sensed or suspected that Hope was afraid or that the session was too painful, he’d suggest/demand that they leave. He’s extremely protective and would like to think that their problems could be solved without external help.
4. Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?
Brock would only talk if Hope asked him to share. I envision short clipped sentences. He can be quite gruff. His cowboy drawl softens the blow. His opinion would be – what happened in his past happened. There’s no changing it. Why drudge it up now?
Hope would talk more openly in an effort to seek healing for the issues she knows she has. If she loosened up, Brock might follow suit.
5. Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?
If Brock were alone and not driving, he’d have whiskey straight up, probably something from the Jack Daniel’s distillery. He’s wary of alcohol after seeing what happened to his father when he drank too much, so he would not over do it. If he were with Hope and driving her home, he’d just have a cheap beer. Hope wouldn’t be likely to venture into a bar alone but does like a glass of wine. She’s a light-weight, so she would be cautious.
6. When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)? And for this book, how did you research illiteracy?
The research on illiteracy actually came many years before Gypsy Hope was born. When my eldest son was eight, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. We were inundated with the horrifying statistics about illiteracy. 757 million people around the world cannot read or write a simple sentence. Nineteen percent of graduating high school seniors cannot read above a third grade level. I wanted to give illiteracy a voice, and in that desire, Brock Camden came on the scene.
As for my characters, they tend to come to me fully-formed. As I write, I get to know them. This is why I will re-write a manuscript at least three times before it goes to my critique partners or my editors. I want to really dig deep and get to know my characters. I’m constantly asking myself, “What if? and How would they react?” when I write. I always want to dig deeper. I never want to “phone in” a scene.
Speaking of Myers-Briggs I am an INFJ empath. Given that I derive other people’s emotions with ease, my novels tend to have a great deal of emotional depth. INFJ’s think using images. So, I often use Pinterest for character and plot development. I can pull the emotion out of an image and transfer it into words. I knew Brock had been Gypsy Beach’s football star in high school but I was missing a part of his past. I opened Pinterest one day and three pictures of sexy cowboys were at the top of my screen. I had it. It hit me like lightening. He was ultimately a misplaced cowboy never meant to be on a beach in North Carolina. So, how had he gotten there? How did that make him feel? and Would he ever go back to the ranch that raised him?
Jillian Neal is a Romance author that manages to blend her imagination, Southern sass, and loving heart in every novel she pens. She showed her talent for weaving intricate plot lines and showcasing dynamic characters in her seven-book, urban fantasy, series, The Gifted Realm. Her skillset continues to shine in her contemporary series, Gypsy Beach, which will leave you with a longing to pack your bags and move to a tiny beach town full of bohemian charm.
She lives outside of Atlanta with her husband and their children.
Cecilia says: I’m an INFJ, too! And yes, I also think in images, although I’m still not good at Pinterest. Thanks so much for coming by and bringing your characters! I do want my readers to know that Jillian’s books have the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. They’re perfect beach reads whether you have a beach to read on or not.
If you have a character you’d like help with or would like to feature on this blog, please fill out & submit the comment form on the top right. Thanks, and happy reading!