Cast of Characters (3)

It’s been awhile since I posted about the Donovan books’ characters, but now let me present:

The Siblings

John Patrick and Molly Donovan had ten offspring, Adam and Brian being the eldest and twins (see Cast of Characters 1).

When her sons were born, Molly had honored the Donovan family tradition of naming the first-born male of the new generation for the first man in the Bible. Then for her pride in her own family, she had named her second son for the greatest High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, from whom her father had claimed descent. A third son followed, and was named Conor, the honor going this time to John Patrick’s mother, Katie O’Conor Donovan.

Katie teased John Patrick and Molly about the names their first three children bore, calling them “my little alphabet”. But when the fourth boy was born, she suggested he be named Daniel. When their first daughter came into the world, John Patrick and Molly christened her Evelyn. The tradition continued: twin boys were born again, and named Frank and Geordie. Then little Henry, who died of influenza when he was two years old. Another daughter, Irene, and finally an eighth son, named John James and called “Jake” to distinguish him from his father.

Conor Donovan was nine months old when the family left Ireland. During the eight-week voyage he learned to stand, and then to walk, with a sailor’s rolling gait. Eventually he went back to the sea, the Captain of his own ship, the M‘Lady. Conor does not often get to visit his home and is sorely missed.

Daniel is essentially “odd man out” in the Donovan family. Neither farmer nor cowboy, he does not work the land he loves, and yet he lives closer to it than any of the others. He wears buckskins of his own making. The local tribe of Navajo have dubbed him The Woodsman for his skill in hunting and tracking.

Daniel is a sensitive, thoughtful man, slow to anger and quick to laugh at himself. His voice is deep and gravelly as the result of a childhood accident, and it is Daniel who is the first to discover Jesse’s tragic secrets.

Evelyn is the image of her mother. Tall, regal, with a generous figure and fiery red hair, Evelyn is Adam’s closest confidante. Willful yet persevering, she is first to volunteer when Adam wants to help Jesse Travers, and her kind-hearted empathy with the younger girl helps pave the way for Jesse’s acceptance of the family’s assistance.

Frank and Geordie, the younger twins, prefer farming to ranching. Like the older twins, they have totally different personalities: Frank with a mind always focused on money and a face and body always in motion; Geordie calm and seemingly detached, seeing much more than his family realizes. But when it comes to looks they are, as Brian puts it, “as like as two ears on a jackrabbit. One’s jus’ a little bit longer and does a sight more twitchin‘, but find ‘em standin’ still and it’ll take some doing’ t’ tell the right ear from the left.”

Irene is sixteen and as tall as Evelyn, worried about becoming taller still. With black hair, ivory skin and deep blue eyes, she is the female version of Adam, as lovely as he is handsome. Still the spoiled baby, not above pouting and sulking to get her way, Irene is also generous, soft-hearted and naïve.

And finally, Jake. At fifteen, his school days are over and he’s struggling with manhood. He apes his brothers, imitating Adam’s hint of brogue or Daniel’s deep southern drawl. He flashes from pillar to post with Frank or relaxes with Geordie, straws sticking from both their mouths as they lounge in the grass. And he follows Brian around like a puppy. Almost as tall as Adam and thin as a rake, with shock of bright red hair and freckled skin, Jake has an innate optimism that’s rarely shaken.

And there you have the Donovan siblings. Good people, hardworking, generous and instilled by their father with the belief that without family, a man has nothing. And without being a good neighbor, a man is nothing. And that’s the philosophy that lays the groundwork for their story.

Bad News, Good News

Sometimes bad news is a very good thing.

A little background: my manuscript, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, was (in what I thought was a cut and polished state, like a rare diamond if you will), 120,000+ words long. But feedback from many quarters said “That’s too long”, “It’s not the optimal size for publication”, “Agents will reject a first novel of more than 100,000 words”.

I needed to optimize my chances at publication, right? So I managed to cut the novel down to 104,000 words. And then the queries went out, the contests were entered, and a request came in for the first 25 pages. Wonderful news, right?

Not exactly. A few weeks later, the agent replied:

Thank you for the opportunity to consider WHISPERS IN THE CANYON. I like the tone you set in these pages and I can see the potential for greatness in the characters. However, I found the writing to be abrupt; I couldn’t become fully immersed in your story because of the brusqueness.

Wow! Characters with potential for greatness! WOW!

But abrupt? Brusque? Never heard that before. But then, all but one of my advisers and beta readers had looked at the long version. I didn’t wait for everyone to re-review it after the cut. Could it be true?

A very quick look told me, yes, it was true. In fact, I’d have to say the agent was very nice about it. The 25 pages I sent her read more like bullet points than a story. I had gotten so caught up in reaching the magical 100,000 word mark, I didn’t stop to let the true composition of the work affect me. I was blind to the fact that the essence of my style got away. I was paying attention to the number of words rather than their quality.

So how is this bad news good? If the agent hadn’t taken the time to give me her personal critique (which she was under no obligation to do), the short version of the manuscript would have gone out to every future requester. It would have continued to be rejected, and rightfully so. But I might never have known why.

I’m going back to the long version of WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, making some minor adjustments (because there were short scenes and some verbiage that actually absolutely needed to be cut). But if the end result is 118,000 words, then that’s what it will be. I’d much rather be rejected for a novel that’s too long than for one that’s poorly written.

So you’ll have to excuse me now — I have a thank-you note to write.

Cast of Characters (2)

THE  PARENTS & “GRAN”

MOLLY DONOVAN. When the Great Famine of Ireland began in 1845, Molly (nee Mary Agnes O’Brien) lived with her two younger brothers and her parents. Within two years, her parents had starved to death and her brothers were close to it.

Excerpt from WHISPERS IN THE CANYON:
“Molly had been lucky enough to inherit a place on the road gang. Fifteen hours’ hard labor a day, breaking rocks to build a road that went nowhere, and her wages were still less than she needed to feed her hungry family. The distribution of Indian corn had been suspended, the soup kitchens inadequate. The English government had left Ireland to its own devices, and over eight hundred thousand would perish.   
          … Molly O’Brien trudged wearily through the streets of a tiny village in County Clare. She was willing to offer her wages, her body, her soul for food for her brothers, and wept because she could not find or beg a scrap. As she stood on the banks of the River Shannon, the miracle she prayed for appeared.”

JOHN PATRICK DONOVAN was the answer to Molly’s prayers. Sent by his family of ships’ chandlers to County Clare, he was to pick up a load of oats that had not been delivered by the Earl. He found, instead, that the Earl had returned to England, and had locked up his oats in a barn while his tenants starved. Trying to reconcile the vast army of starving with the tons of food he saw being exported daily from his home in Wexford, he walked down to the river. And there he saw Molly. With her fiery halo of hair, gaunt body and calloused hands, she tore at his heart. He married her that day and, when one of her brothers died overnight, he brought her and her one surviving brother home to the bosom of his family. John Patrick could not tolerate the callousness of his government, so eventually he emigrated to America, taking with him his wife, his three sons, and his mother,

KATIE DONOVAN. As the story begins, Katie is nearing 90 years old. Katie, or “Gran” to the family, is a little white-haired woman who is almost blind from cataracts, but her hands are never still. She knits, crochets, tats lace, and even occasionally makes a shirt for one of her grandsons. She is a wise woman who quotes Irish proverbs and Homer as well, and is wont to say that even that fine man would have been an Irishman, “had he a choice in the matter.” Katie has inherited the gift of insight from her Druid ancestors, and is considered the heart and soul of her family. Her insight is much needed with the advent of “Little Jesse Travers” into their lives.

Cast of Characters (1)

The cast of characters for these family novels is fairly large, so I’ll begin with the main characters in WHISPERS IN THE CANYON.

ADAM DONOVAN. This 32-year-old bachelor is considered by his family to be a cowboy with a poet’s soul. He’s tall, dark and (yes) handsome (what Irishman isn’t?), and has a quick hand with a gun. He’s always thought of his life as complete — he enjoys the cowboy’s role and doesn’t really look beyond the family for his happiness. He’s not a shallow man, though, understanding almost all there is to know about grief and sorrow. His family depends on him to help them with their troubles. He’s never seen a problem he couldn’t solve, until he meets Jesse Travers.

BRIAN DONOVAN. Adam’s fraternal twin, and a red-haired giant of a man. His patience is the envy of his twin, and his calm acceptance of what life gives him makes him much admired by his family. When he sees that Adam has fallen in love with Jesse, he works to bring them together, though he is deeply in love with her himself. He knows that it is Adam’s strength and understanding that Jesse needs if she is ever to recover from her horrific past.

JESSE TRAVERS. At nineteen years old, Jesse is no bigger than she was at twelve. When her father dies after hearing of his only son’s death, Jesse is left alone in a remote canyon. The ranch she inherits is bankrupt, or so she thinks. Abused by her brother for years, she is reluctant to accept help from the Donovans. It is only Adam’s persistence, and Brian’s kindhearted scheming, that convinces her otherwise. But her brother’s treachery has gone deeper than even Jesse knows, and when all the facts come to light, Jesse is in danger of losing her mind.

I’ll be presenting more of the characters in future posts, including Adam’s parents, John Patrick and Molly Donovan, and Jesse’s friend, a Navajo blacksmith named Tommy Twelve Trees.