Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Romantic Road - Character Development
My latest novel, Romantic Road, is being released on Jan. 28th, so I thought this might be a good time to introduce you to my characters, and how they came to be.

Do you create a story and characters simultaneously as you write? If so you are a “seat-of-the-pants” author. I cannot write that way. I must know my characters intimately before I start writing a single word of my story. To me both characters and setting precede story. I seldom refer to my character studies as I work my way through my novel, when I finish the last pages of a book and go back to reread them, I find that my characters have almost always conformed to my original vision of them. I think this is because they become very real to me, as real as my next-door neighbors or even as my own family. I know what their political leanings are, what their religion is, where they grew up, where they went to school. Even if these things have no part in the plot of my book, they speak to the kind of person my character is. I know whether they love dogs, what kind of scent (if any) they wear, what clothing they prefer. When I speak of my characters to my long-suffering partner, it never occurs to me to think of them as creations of my mind.
Over breakfast I’ll say, “Lacy’s just stolen a car. Where can she get rid of it, near Vienna?
I’ve been told, “You have way too many people in your bed!  Perhaps. But this works for me.
The following series of blogs are studies I wrote on each of the main characters in Romantic Road. If along the way, the character changed on me, I’ll say so and tell how, but most are remarkably close to the way they are portrayed in my story.

Igor Telchev
Igor Telchev is a Russian who came to the US some thirty years ago.  Igor is dead when the story begins but he is still larger than life. His spirit hovers over every page. Igor was a brilliant author, who made the New York Times non-fiction best-seller non-fiction list five times.
He was a man who loved life. Highly intelligent, he loved good food, wine, vodka. He loved good music and fast cars. But most of all, he loved woman. All women, everywhere. And they loved him back. Such was his charm that, once a love affair was over, the woman involved remained friends with him for life.
Robert Donadoni as Igor
 He didn’t look like Don Juan. He was a bit overweight. He had a great shock of prematurely white hair that defied order. Piercing blue eyes that seemed to look into every woman’s soul.  And every woman who met him wanted him.
Igor made love to many women, but was never really in love with them. He fell in love for the first time at fifty, with Lacy, who was just twenty-two.  He married her within six weeks.
His heart attack, just three years later, left him impotent and afraid. Sex had always been a defining characteristic in his self-image. In the last two years of his life he was afraid his sexual prowess was gone forever. He was desperate that he’d lose Lacy, his last chance at happiness.  In his depression he buried himself in work. He decided to write an expose about his years working as an agent. He became absorbed in this task to the exclusion of everything else. He realized there were people who wouldn’t want this manuscript see the light of day. So he took precautions.  In the end it killed him. Someone didn’t want it written.

 Lacy Telchev, Igor’s widow
Lacy works as an interpreter at the UN. She’s fluent in English, French, German, Russian, and
Hungarian. She grew up in America in a bilingual household, mother Austrian, father Hungarian, and her ability to move quickly and fluently between those languages and English, the language of her schooling, was evident at an early age. French and Russian she added in school.
She met her husband, Igor Telchev, at a lecture at NYU on The Economic Meltdown in Europe.
Lacy is at home in Europe. As a child she spent summers in Hungary with her grandparents. Later she did language studies abroad. She knows Austria and Germany well.
She is 5’7’’ and naturally blonde with straight shoulder length hair. Slender. She likes casual but expensive clothing. Prefers cashmere to fur, tailored slacks to evening gowns and flats to stiletto heels. She has a certain style and elegance of bearing that one finds in cosmopolitan professional women.
She’s highly intelligent, with a sense of humor that sometimes gets her into trouble.
  • Religion - She was raised Catholic but isn’t practicing.
  • Politics - Of the left. But not far left. She’s a registered Democrat.
  • Favourite food - Pasta. With only cheese and butter. Luckily she never seems to gain weight. Also strawberries—particularly the little wild ones.
  • Music - She loves Mozart and the music of the Hungarian gypsies.
  • Her external journey - To trace the path her deceased husband has left for her. To discover what he wanted. To do what he asked her to as his last request.
  • Her internal journey - To move from her widowhood, from the dark last two years of her marriage, into the light again. To find herself again through love.
Max Peterson
Rufus Sewell as Max
Think the British actor in the Masterpiece Theater Series, Zen, Rufus Sewell.  Citizenship - Austrian/Canadian.
Tall, dark. Broad shouldered. Gorgeous physique. Deep brown eyes to drown in. A funny quirky smile. Hair, dark brown, a bit longer than fashionable. A bit that falls into his eyes. Not curly, but with a hint of wave. He’s totally unconscious of how good looking he is.
He wears blue jeans. That is when he’s not wearing khaki pants and hiking boots, or Motorcycle leathers. Or the traditional Tyrolean loden of his home in the Salzkammergut.
  • Religion—none discernible. He is however strongly conscience driven.
  • Politics - pragmatic with a lean to the left. He is an idealist. He sometimes has a bit of trouble coming to grips with things as they are.
He is quirky, with a wild and outrageous sense of humor. He delights in teasing Lacy.
  •  Music –Mozart, after all he’s originally from the Salzburg region.
  • Art – He loves the vivid imagery and wild imagination of Tiepolo.
Max is an Interpol Agent, although Lacy doesn’t know this until late in the story. His job is to get his hands on the book left by retired agent, Igor Telchev, and destroy it. He must keep Lacy Telchev safe until she has all the pieces. Stick to her like glue. Then he has to make sure the book never sees the light of day. In the wrong hands it could be lethal.
  • His external journey—officially, obtain the book. Unofficially, keep Lacy safe.
  • His internal journey—from a career dedicated, “ask no questions” agent, to a man in love, who can see more than one side to an issue. Who falls in love in the course of performing his job.

Richard Delancy
Pierce Brosnan as Richard
Richard is Igor’s lawyer. A New Yorker, born and bred, he has a national and international reputation and clientele. Looks - indisputably handsome (think Pierce Brosnan a few years ago). At forty just a touch of grey in his hair, enough to make him look distinguished. His expression is one of constant amusement, as if at some inner joke. He is tall, well built. He keeps in shape.
Well dressed. Brooks Brothers suits. Leather brief case. The whole professional image. Money and image both matter to him.

  • Religion - None discernible.
  • Politics - Right leaning. It goes with the professional territory.
  • Hobbies - He plays golf, but probably just for business purposes. He visits the gym regularly.
  • He professes to be in love with Lacy.  
  • Outer journey—he, too, is seeking the chapters of Igor’s book, right behind Lacy. He has his own reasons for wanting them.
  • Inner journey—Richard is in this for himself. He doesn’t really care how many people he tramples underfoot in the process. Richard’s inner journey is one on the road to hell.
 (At least those who appear in this book. I’m sure there were many others.)
While the story of Romantic Road, at its heart, is the story of a blossoming love between Lacy Telchev and Max Petersen, the story behind the story, is of Lacy’s deceased husband, Igor Telchev, and the women he loved. The “Romantic Road” of the title, refers both to the actual road of that name in Germany and to Igor’s numerous past love affairs. In the story, Lacy, Igor’s young widow, must follow the path of Igor’s romantic past to fulfil his last request of her.
In creating Igor’s character, I found myself often tangled up with dates. Finally I had to create a time-line so that the path of Igor’s life would make sense in the context of the events of history and of the times and places in which he lived.
Igor was born in Russia in 1960, died in the U.S. in 2015, at the age of fifty-five. The romantic road of his life took him across Europe, into the bedrooms of numerous women, on his way to his marriage to my heroine, Lacy, in New York in 2010.
Igor was a young man in Budapest in 1985. Gorbachev was in power and things were loosening up. Cracks were beginning to show in the iron grip of the USSR on its satellite countries like Hungary. Travel was more accessible. (In 1989 the pull-out from Hungary began followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union)

Doctor Zsuzsa Szilard

Naomi Judd as Zsuzsa
Zsuzsa grew up in Hungary, a country under military occupation. She was born only three years after the 1956 uprising in which the Hungarians tried to oust the Russians from their country. Zsuzsa was the daughter of illiterate peasants who eked out a meagre living in the Pouszta. But under the Communists, children like Zsuzsa were not only required to go to school, if they excelled, they were pushed all the way, all expenses paid, including housing and a food allowance. She went to university in Budapest, and from there to medical school.
The Hungarians resented the Russian presence in their midst, but not the “socialist” government they imposed that brought universal education, universal medical care, and full employment. The Hungary of the pre-World War II years had only two classes. There was the powerful, well-to-do upper class who lived primarily in the cities and who spoke German as fluently as Hungarian.  For them things had not changed much since the days of the “Austro-Hungarian Empire.” They were educated, moneyed and privileged.
Then there were the peasants. Large numbers of them lived in the countryside as their ancestors had for generations. It was “socialism” under the Soviet Union that pulled this mass of people out if the fifteenth century into the twentieth. And it was from this former peasant class that Zsuzsa came. She is outspoken and contemptuous of the present “democracy” under which unemployment is at an all-time high, the Mafia rules, and street drugs have become a major problem.
She meets Igor in University in 1985, when she is 25 and in medical school. He is attached to the Russian Embassy and is doing graduate studies in Political Science.  Russians are not popular in the Budapest of these years. He courts her. Takes her to Matyas Pince Sings along with the gypsies. Walks along the Duna with her. Takes her to bed. His charm and good looks and his ability to make her laugh win her over.
His inability to remain faithful ends their relationship. “I’m afraid he never loved me as much as I loved him. I grew up. I was afraid he never would.”  (She refers to him as a “serial lover”.)
She has not seen Igor for 25 years. Then he comes to her. He talks about danger. About the possibility of dying. He tells her about Lacy. And he leaves something with her.
She is still a practicing doctor when Lacy meets her. A strong, forceful woman.
Physical—her hair is still black, worn in a twist at the back, although it now has streaks of grey. She is dark eyed, with the remains of great beauty. No longer slender. Too much good Hungarian food. 
Zsuzsa is settled and satisfied with her life. Her memories of Igor are perhaps the most realistic among his former lovers.

Opera Singer, Riana Rolf
Renee Fleming as Riana
Born in 1970, Riana meets Igor in in Vienna in 1997, when she is 27. She is singing Strauss waltzes for tourists. Igor waits for her at the stage door and persuades her to have a coffee with him. Two weeks later they are lovers. He helps her to achieve the career she has today as a foremost diva at the Vienna opera. Igor is 38 at the time.  They drift apart, but remained friends.
The opera singer is now 45, happily married and singing major roles in the Vienna Opera. Some of her many recordings are in Igor’s collection in the N.Y. apartment he shares with Lacy. A month ago Igor showed up unexpectedly in Riana’s dressing room to ask a favor of her.

Artist, Inga Graff
Inga Graff was born in 1977 in Rothenburg, Germany. She is 25 years old when Igor meets her in 2002. He is 42. She is a struggling artist. He attends a gallery opening featuring her paintings in Rothenberg and buys one. A vase of irises. Then he asks her to have dinner with him. Their affair lasts only a few months and they parted friends, although Inga never stops loving him.
He reappeared in her life just a few months ago with a strange request, to which she agrees. (The painting now hangs over the fireplace in Lacy’s living room in NY)


Jane Kline
Jane is Lacy’s closest friend. They shared a flat in Brooklyn before Lacy’s marriage. Single, she lives alone. She’s a few years older than Lacy but not enough to show. She also works at the UN as a translator. They met through work. Physically, she’s almost a look-alike for Lacy, tall, blond, slender. This similarity of appearance gets her into trouble. It is to Jane Lacy turns for help when she is battered by events beyond her control.

Jean-Paul and Claudette

Jean-Paul and Claudette own and operate a small inn on the northern end of a lake in Quebec. They are long-time friends and colleagues of Igor’s. Lacy first meets Max when visiting them.

 Excerpts from Reviews of 'Romantic Road':

"This book is a terrific suspense/romance book. I loved that it covered so much of the world in telling the story. I felt as if I were viewing the sites myself, not second hand.  I could relate to the female main character. I've had friends who went from "nobody" to "Mrs. Park Avenue".  I loved the uniqueness of it as well.  It touched me deeply.  You'll enjoy this easy read." ....More

Celia Lewis, Pres., Romance Writers of America, Greater Vancouver Chapter
"A challenging love story, a deadly dangerous secret, a mysterious quest from New York through Europe, the latest story from Blair McDowell has it all!... I love romantic suspense, and this story was very fascinating to me, not least because of the unusual locales, adding an exotic flavour. I'm already wanting to read the next story by Blair McDowell!" 

To read more about Romantic Road, as well as my other novels, please go to my website:

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Blair McDowell