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The Characters of Escaping Yesterday

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September 18, 2015 by Pamela Nowak

This week, I’m veering off my research and history posts. Since Escaping Yesterday officially released on Wednesday, I’m going to highlight some of my characters.

My heroine, Lottie, appears to be a carefree adventurer. But Lottie is really trying to escape her past. Orphaned as a child, she was taken in by her aunt and uncle and soon attracted unwanted attention from her uncle. Now, years later, Uncle Edward has his eye on Lottie’s daughter. Lottie will do anything to save Elsa from the fate she suffered and they flee to Denver. At Elitch’s Gardens (as it was known in 1905), the emotional layers are slowly peeled away as she learns to face the past and put it behind her.

Lottie was a complicated character to create. I wanted to reveal her deeply entrenched guilt and avoidance of the emotions that cause her so much pain but I also needed to keep her upbeat enough that the story didn’t become maudlin or dwell too much on the negative. I think she turned out strong and capable and I hope she’ll grab my readers’ hearts.

Caleb, my hero, is also a complicated character. Highly protective of Mary Elitch Long, he distrusts anyone who seems to threaten her. A veteran of the Spanish American War, he also finds solace from his PTSD in the peaceful Elitch’s Gardens. When Lottie arrives with her flashy personality and suggests the park be expanded with loud and expensive amusement rides, Caleb must dig deep to uncover the true reasons for his distrust.

I wanted to make Caleb strong without sacrificing his tender side so it meant I needed to create a significant tie to Mary to motivate his defense. PTSD was also relatively unknown in 1905, so I had to convey his symptoms without being able to define the condition in modern terms. I hope I struck the right balance.

The character of Mary Elitch Long was a joy to create and I wanted to share just a bit about her. Above all, I wanted to be true to Mary’s legacy and represent her as the strong, intelligent, caring woman she was. I chose to put Mary in a support role, rather than as my heroine, so I could craft a fictional story around her without substantially altering her personality or life facts. Mary was an ideal secondary character, lending herself well to being mentor for both Lottie and Caleb. Though I set her into a fictional plotline, I was able to keep her true-to-life and use her gardens as my setting. I hope I portrayed her well.

The character of Elsa, Lottie’s daughter, was also fun to develop and write.

I chose to make her ten years old, an age which leant itself well to the plot. Old enough to be just entering puberty, it makes sense that she would have just been catching the attention of a child predator. Yet, at ten, she would also be old enough to possess wisdom and display personality. I chose to highlight that aspect of her character in order to draw out Caleb. That made Elsa so enjoyable to create. She’s a kid, but is wise beyond her years. Though Elsa doesn’t realize it, her statements often force others to look at their actions in different ways. It makes for a great character and a wonderful plot devise. I loved writing Elsa.

An extra bonus, from a research perspective, was that making her ten also allowed me to put the Elitch Gardens Theatre and actress Antoinette Perry into the story. Though just eleven at the time of her debut, Tony Perry went on to become a renowned Broadway actress and inspired the Tony Award.

One of my villains is Rupert. As a character, he’s not exactly bad to the core but he has a lot of issues. Given years of therapy, he might not be a bad guy but his feelings of inferiority and his grandiose and unrealistic plans to “make it big” lead him to choices that don’t work out well for anyone. While his goals are initially shared by Lottie, his determination to do anything it takes to reach them create unexpected conflict for her. Layering on his susceptibility to alcohol brings in a dangerous edge that ups the stakes considerably.

Rupert’s character also allowed me to bring in cultural elements of the turn of the century…its slang, automobiles, and the expansion of amusement park rides. He was the perfect tool for revealing the wild side of life.

Aunt Aggie and Uncle Edward caused me the most distress while writing. They are vital characters in terms of Lottie’s backstory and her motivations and weigh heavily in the direction the story takes. Yet, because they are off-scene most of the book, I was unable to get into their points of view. That made it more complicated to portray their motivations and their limitations. Somehow, I needed to give readers a glimpse into how they each viewed Lottie and the events of her childhood and adolescence—something I couldn’t do in Lottie’s point of view. Yet, without showing that, readers wouldn’t know vital details.

The addition of a prologue helped set up nuances the reader would need but keeping it short meant there are aspects of their personalities that the reader is left to assume. I hope I reached the right balance.

Next week, I’ll take a look at Denver’s Brown Palace hotel. Each Friday, I will blog about some aspect of Elitch Gardens, early Denver, or other topics related to my next novel, Escaping Yesterday. In between, I will post small factoids on my Facebook page. You can join me there and I love new friends (https://www.facebook.com/pamela.nowak.142).

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Released September 16, 2015, Escaping Yesterday is set in Elitch’s Gardens, in 1905, and follows the story of Lottie Chase. Lottie is willing to take any risk to save her daughter from their abusive uncle. Stranded in Denver, Lottie meets Caleb Hudson, manager at Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, who sees her as a manipulative huckster. Caleb, a veteran suffering from PTSD, craves the tranquility of the park’s gardens. Lottie brings anything but peace as she seeks to convince the owners to add thrill rides so she can collect the sales commission and support her daughter. Neither anticipates their growing passion, common demons, or the dangers they will face as they confront their pasts and free their love.

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