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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making your characters and plot intertwine

Please welcome guest bloggers Sue Viders and Becky Martinez

Characters and plot are at the heart of any good commercial book. They are the workhorses of a story. Without them you are going no place and you have no one to take you along for the ride. A good setting is important, a wonderful climax and resolution are critical, but a reader won’t get into that setting and won’t make it to the climax if the characters and plot don’t carry the reader along. A great story teller gets the job (or story told) through the use of interesting, unique characters and a compelling plot.

While it’s true that a good character can carry a story by him or herself, it’s also true that a fast moving plot can get a reader into reading the book. But to create a truth page turner, though, it takes both. The two must work together. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel,” agent Donald Maas says, “Great characters are the key to great fiction. A high octane plot is nothing without credible, larger than life, highly developed enactors to make it meaningful.”

He goes on to explain that we need to create characters who are “larger than life,” and this is possible, even if we work with characters we have based on real people. We want to see our characters react in a way we would like to, but can’t. How many times have you walked away from a conversation wishing there were things that you had said that you didn’t. In your fiction you can replay that scene and say all those things you didn’t say.

In the same way you can develop your plots by basing them on real events. Utilize real incidents and make them turn out the way you wanted. That is the great advantage of being a writer. You get to make all the decisions.

But there are still some things that you must do to make your story work.

The most important is to make the character and the plot work together.

Otherwise the story won’t work. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where the plot is all action, but you don’t feel that you really got to know or care about the character? Or have you read a book where you feel the character just wasn’t challenged enough? That demonstrates the lack of a good plot for the character or the lack of just the right character for that plot.

That is exactly why it’s important to marry the two. Here’s a quick look at the difference between a plot driven by character and a plot that drives the book as we define in our class “Character Driven Plotting.”

A character driven plot progresses because of the actions of the characters, wherein a plot driven story is where the character simply reacts to events beyond their control.

For example:

  • In a plot driven story, the character reacts to a hurricane and rushes to save his/her loved ones after the storm has passed.

  • In a character driven story, the character learns that a hurricane is coming andrushes to put his/her loved ones in a safe place before the storm arrives.

Plot driven disaster stories are rather simple. The reader/audience knows that the character, after going through a series of problems caused by either a hurricane, mountain mud slide, dust storm, murder in the family, sea monster, unknown virus, or meteor, will, in the end, prevail.

Examples of such stories are:

        • Jurassic Park
        • The DaVinci Code
        • The Hunt for Red October

Many murder mysteries and for certain most series mysteries are driven by the main characters, such as Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books or Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s Alpha Bet series.

Most romances are driven by the hero and heroine, which is what makes them so important to the book. Examples of other plots that might be driven by the main character:

        • she decides to get a divorce
        • he steals the money in order to
            • get medical treatment for his sick son
            • to expand his company/empire
            • change his identity

Examples of character driven stories:

        • GI Jane
        • Memoirs of a Geisha
        • Portrait of a Lady
        • Gone With the Wind
        • Lots of children’s fairy tales

So how do you make character and plot work together?

You begin by getting to know your character as though they were your own sister or brother. Or even yourself.

Start by building a fully rounded character. Think of yourself, your emotions, your sister or mother’s emotions. Consider how the people around you react differently to different situations and then think of how you might react. Then think of how your character is going to behave.

Perhaps you might not be able to tell off your boss because you fear losing your job. Part of the fun of being a writer is to show fearlessness in someone else. Let your character tell the boss off. So he/she loses the job. So what? You get to find him another one and that might bring him/her into a new adventure that sets your story in motion. And since you’ve demonstrated that trait in your character, it might get her/him into all sorts of interesting dilemmas.

Maybe your character is curious along with being unafraid. That curiosity might make him/her look into a murder mystery or go off in search of a treasure.

But maybe your character is afraid of the dark. How about putting him/her in a situation where he/she has to find a way out of a darkened chamber. Using fears, strengths and quirks of a character can help to move your plot along.

The point is to get to know your character and then use that character’s personality, fears and strengths in the plot. That will not only make your characters more real, but it will make the plot more interesting.

In our up-coming Character Driven Plotting class we’ll show you how to take your character through the story in several lectures and several easy to do exercises. We hope you will join us for the trip.

Sue and Becky

Teachers of on-line writing classes for over 25 years and

authors of several writing books and sites on writing

Sue Viders is the author of more than 20 books, numerous articles and columns for both artists and writers. Her writing book Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, is used in many college and university writing courses. Her latest book, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters is gaining use as a practical workbook for writers who want to develop their characters.

She is a practicing artist, seminar leader, and educator with on-line classes both for writers and artists. Her latest product for writers is Deal a Story; an interactive card game consisting of 101 cards and six sections and is based on her Heroes and Heroines book.

Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist and published author. Her latest book, Deadly Messages was published by The Wild Rose Press in February 2010. Her first romance novel, Love on Deck, was an Aspen Gold finalist. She has had several short stories published and contributed a short story to The Trouble with Romance, an anthology that was a 2007 New Mexico Book Award finalist.

She was also one of the co-authors of Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, a workbook for writers

Character Driven Plotting runs July 26th through August 22nd

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing Short Fiction

Please welcome guest blogger Barbara Hancock

Writing short fiction is more like bungee jumping than knitting. Remember that, tap into that exhilaration, and you’ll sell time and time again!

Want to write compelling short fiction that sells? There are four secrets I’d like to share that always work for me: concentration, intensity, characters and hook.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines concentration in several ways, but the one that perfectly applies to good short fiction is this:

Concentration n. Strength or density, as of a solution.

If you find yourself failing to write short stories and novellas that sell, take a hard look at the strength and density of your book. From beginning to the end, there can be no detours, no tangents and no extraneous details. If it’s there, it should count. Ideally every scene should count more than once. If you have strength and density in your writing, then a single scene should accomplish numerous goals. To put it graphically, if you aren’t sucking the marrow from the bones as you write, then you have far more meat than a short story should. Suck the marrow from your scenes. Make them work for you and your story and your readers.

And that’s where we discover intensity.

Intensity n. Extreme degree of anything

Your browser may not support display of this image.If you have anything in your story that isn’t extreme, lose it or make it better. This is not to say that you can’t have a gentle, romantic moment in your short story. In fact, good pacing demands highs and lows, ebbs and flows. But in a short story or novella, your gentle moment must have impact because you won’t have time for a hundred pages of gentle moments. That’s why I love this definition of intensity Even your gentle moments should be extreme. Writing short fiction is more like bungee jumping than knitting. Remember that, tap into that exhilaration, and you’ll sell time and time again!

I stopped myself from listing characters first because you should begin with concentration and intensity before you start to craft your hero and heroine. Again, these people are not meandering through a five hundred page family saga where we have multiple generations to get to know them. Life or death, here and now, what’s at stake and why do we care? Those must hit the reader hard and fast in a novella. And not with long-winded backstory! Begin with a scene that puts it all on the line in a big way for the characters you’re introducing and your reader will immediately care. The best short stories are more character driven than plot driven simply because too much plot will overwhelm and dilute. Remember, concentration not saturation. A short story is no place to decide to throw everything but the kitchen sink at your readers.

And that brings us to my final secret: hook

Hook can be defined as the reason to read your story that you give editors, publishers or readers. It’s often called high concept, but you can also think of it as concentrated and intense. Most of the time you try to express your hook in a sentence or two that can be shared in a query letter or in an elevator at Nationals.

I believe that a good short story is a 10k or 20k or 40k hook from start to finish. If you write so that every moment is important, full of impact and vital to the reader, they can’t turn away and you’ll have discovered the secret to writing short fiction that sells.

Barbara J. Hancock has a passion for short stories and novellas. Since her first sale to Silhouette Nocturne Bites in 2008, she has gone on to sell six other novellas including her current Jacqueline Barbary release, Savage Sanctuary, a paranormal m/m erotic romance with Carina Press and her upcoming Jacqueline Barbary release, Perfect Storm, a paranormal m/m/f with Loose Id. She also has two full length novels with Samhain Publishing and Loose Id as well as an upcoming full length release with Samhain.

To learn more about Barbara’s books, please visit www.barbarajhancock.com or www.jacquelinebarbary.com


Dillon has walked the night, unforgiven, for one hundred and fifty years. Jade has hunted others like him her entire life. He’s been through hell more than once since he became a vampire, but real damnation is being a monster who craves a special woman’s trust.  

Jade deals in death and darkness, but only her kiss can redeem the vampire…and only he can set her spirit free.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It takes a village to raise a book

Please welcome guest blogger Shona Husk

As writers we are told writing is a solitary pursuit. That is true…partially.

While no one else can write your story, the same way no one else can give birth for you (though wouldn’t that be nice), once it is written your baby becomes exposed to the world.

Much like a child it will be influenced by those around it. At first this will be family and close friends, for a manuscript this will be critique partners. I have the WINKgirls. They see everything, even the stuff that isn’t working, because I know that between us we will find a solution. They help the manuscript grow up so it’s ready to go out into the world with nothing but a query letter, a synopsis and a prayer to help it on its way.

Not everyone is going like your story, the same way not every child will be popular, or be great at every subject. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful, but you have to play to their strengths, so that means doing your homework and finding out who publishes what you write.

Once you have an editor interested the fun begins. My editors at Samhain Publishing and The Wild Rose Press have been great. The suggestions they made strengthened the manuscripts so they were ready for a contract and publication.

So now your baby has grown up and finished school, but that’s not the end. Before it gets released for sale several more people will have input. They will help dress and market your book so people will want it, crave it and buy it. As writers we haven’t spent months, sometimes years on a project just to see it languish at the back of a bookstore, unnoticed and unloved. But in the end we have to step back. We can’t control sales, reviews or Amazon ratings. Like any child we have to let it lead its own life.

In the meantime we work on the next manuscript and the cycle begins again.

Shona raised several novels and a couple of novellas before she could say one of her manuscripts graduated. Now she has several novellas and short stories available from all good ebook retailers. Her latest, Boyfriend in a Bottle, is a red hot romance with a dash of wish fulfilment, a little magic and a lot of fun. She can be found at Goodreads, Face Book and www.shonahusk.com.

Boyfriend in a Bottle

Be careful what you wish for. It might come with an expiration date…

Josie’s well-meaning friends just don’t get it. It’s not that she’s overjoyed to be thirty-two and celibate since her boyfriend dumped her. She’d love to settle down, but she refuses to settle for just any man. After all, better single than a sucker.

Nevertheless, she humors her friends and follows the instructions attached to the gift they’ve given her—a beautiful bottle from a new-age shop. Lick, and the perfect man will appear.

It works. The naked man she finds tied to her bed is everything she’s ever wished for. Except Mr. Perfect comes with a time limit.

Kede is tired of living life by the hourglass. Once, fulfilling the desires of the women who freed him was enough, but now it’s just another job. Josie is different, though. She sees him as a real man—a man she wants for all time.

Kede wants more than a moment. He wants a chance at life outside the bottle, and he wants a life with Josie. But he belongs to the goddess Inanna, and his time is running out…

Warning: This title contains a little magic and a lot of wish-fulfillment sex. It also contains a perfect man created by a goddess solely for a woman’s pleasure, and it may cause you to feel compelled to lick strange, random bottles in search of your own Inanu.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Layering Your Novel

Please welcome guest blogger Caroline Clemmons

I should have asked Sharon Donovan to loan me her butler, Oliver, to serve virtual margaritas and tortilla chips. They would go especially well with today's seven-layered Southwestern dip craft article. You know the dip I mean: (1) Thick refried beans provide stability. (2) A layer of guacamole slides sensually along your tongue. (3) Chopped onions might bring a few anguished tears. (4) Tangy chopped olives provide a few bumps along the way. (5) Salsa adds heat and spice to pique your interest. (6) Shredded cheese is neither hard nor soft and adds tasty bits of mystery. (7) Sour cream cements it all together. Taken alone, each of the ingredients has the potential to satisfy hunger and provide basic nourishment. Combine any two or three for a nice treat. However, scoop the full combination on a tortilla chip and you have a masterpiece to delight the palate. Oh, my, now I'm hungry.

Like that Southwestern dip, your novel must contain multiple layers blended together in one masterful tale. Isn't this what we all want for our writing? Whatever the genre or sub genre, we crave a delectable end result. But suppose the avocado had been a bit too green, or the onions too strong? The result would still be an edible concoction, but the pleasure would not be as great. We want our recipes to turn out perfect, with each layer complimenting and enhancing the others. So, let's talk about how we accomplish this.

Our stories must include all those features of that Seven-layered dip--stability, sensuality, anguish, piquancy, spice, body, and a dash of humor for zest. Just as a cook creates a new recipe, you're going to build a novel. Whether you use a computer, a typewriter, or pen and paper, the tools you have are your words. How you use them determines your result. Do you want a towering epic skyscraper like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander or do plan a short cozy bungalow for a novella e-read? Each of you has the gift to create the world you choose. You alone can unleash the phenomenal power lurking in your subconscious. And, yes, THE POWER IS THERE whether you unleash it or not.

Conceiving a story is a chicken or the egg thing that varies with each writer. Do you visualize the plot line, the characters, or the inciting incident first? Do you plot meticulously or write by the seat of your pants? Do you brainstorm or use a graph? You must find your own way and choose what works best for you. I can only tell you what works for me. A scene comes to me and I visualize it as the first of the book when I begin plotting. That initial scene often winds up later in the actual novel. Perhaps you share this or a similar experience. When I see this event inside my mind, I see the main characters interacting and it's as clear as if it were a movie. This might scare me if I didn't know I am only one of many people who undergo this epiphany of story concept.

Listen to the voices in your head. Well, let me qualify that. Don't listen if they're telling you to grab a gun and shoot someone at the post office or something equally bizarre. J However, if they are telling you a story or any part of it, write it down before the voices fall silent from neglect.

Choose the makeup of your plot. If you are not a detailed plotter, but you aren't a seat-of-the-pants writer, or pantzer as they're called, another way to start is to list the six components known in journalism as the "Five W's and the H" plus a bit more. Those are who, what, when, where, why, and how. We can translate them into the seven-layer dip because we add a seventh one--Why not?

Who are your characters? This includes occupation, physical description, outlook on life, age. At this point, it doesn't have to be detailed--just sketch in age, physical description, occupation, maybe a line or two of backstory to launch your idea.

What is the external conflict or inciting incident that launches these characters? What brings the hero and heroine together and into conflict?

When is this happening?--decide the time period of setting and the length of time characters have to the resolve conflict. Remember urgency is good and a time constraint heightens tension and pace.

Where is your world set? Please let me caution you here. Unless you are as gifted a researcher as Diana Gabaldon or you are creating a world of fantasy, make it easy on yourself. Choose someplace you have at least seen! Write what you know. Otherwise you had better do some darn good research. Someone who reads your book will have been there and catch the slightest mistake in setting. If it's a historical, some of your readers will be experts on that time period, dress, speech and occupations. We have all read books where we catch the author with flowers blooming at the wrong time, flat landscape where there should be hills, etc. and it is annoying. At least it annoys the heck out of me. I know it doesn't matter to all readers but, for me, those mistakes destroy the author's credibility and take away from the pleasure of the book.

Why does the internal conflict jeopardize your hero and heroine and their chance for happily-ever-after? Are they aware of this about themselves?

How will your hero and heroine work--will they work together or in opposition?

Why not? Who or what provides stumbling blocks and keeps the hero/heroine from accomplishing the goal and living happily ever after? What obstacles and stumbling blocks can you throw in our couple's way in addition to the main conflict or as a result of that problem?

Each of you has heard this, I'm sure. No matter how many times we hear speakers or read articles on craft, I believe we can always take something away from the event--a reminder, a different way of looking at things. I hope you can take something away from this blog article. You can let me know at caroline@carolineclemmons.com

Caroline Clemmons' current release is OUT OF THE BLUE, a time travel romance with suspense elements, available from The Wild Rose Press and Amazon. Visit her blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com for giveaways, book reviews, guest authors, and miscellaneous rambling. Her web site is at www.carolineclemmons.com. She's on Facebook and her Twitter name is CarolinClemmons (no E in Caroline)

Out of the Blue

A desperate flight from a dangerous man plunges Deirdre Dougherty off a cliff—and into the future…Swept through a time portal 165 years beyond the life she knew in rural Ireland, Deirdre plunges into a lake in central Texas. The brooding man from her precognizant visions rescues her but demands answers she cannot give. Deirdre knows only that he is in danger, and the source has a familiar vibe.

Police Detective Brendan Hunter wants answers. Who shot him and killed his partner? Why? And why does Deirdre know details only he and his late partner knew? The beautiful psycho’s story has to be a colossal fabrication. He wants her gone before he becomes even more fascinated with her.

Together they must solve the riddle of Deirdre’s displacement, battle a drug scandal and stay one step ahead of the enemy—without knowing friend from foe.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are Your Characters Missing Out On Peak Emotional Experiences?

Please welcome guest blogger Laurie Saunders

Are your characters missing out on peak emotional experiences? You know the symptoms. They are having adventures, attending events, suffering incidents and episodes that should be highly emotional, and yet their accounts of these exploits read flat, uneventful, without any real rise and fall in their emotional tenor.

Characters that don’t really experience the peak emotional experiences in their fictional lives are death to stories because these characters cannot deliver the vicarious experience the reader sought when they picked up the book, story, or manuscript in the first place.

The truth is that the reader can only have consuming emotional experiences within a story if the characters are able to have the same kind of emotional experiences. Characters are the conduit through which the reader partakes of the character’s adventures as well as their thoughts and feelings. If the character does not have an intense emotional experience the reader will not have one either.

Readers choose books in order to experience vicariously through the fictional lives of the characters they choose to read about.

Given this, it is extremely important to diagnose and treat the various maladies that contribute to characters failing to have deep, intense, feelings as they experience the incidents and events in their lives that should lead to the highest highs and the lowest lows on the emotional spectrum.

Sometimes the characters aren’t having emotional experiences. However, most of the time, it isn’t the characters themselves that are to blame for lackluster emotional experiences. The characters are having intense emotional experiences. The problem lies in the way the character conveys these emotional experiences to the writer who writes them down for the reader.

Often the problem stems from where the character is standing when he or she tries to convey the emotional experience. Too often characters suffer a dissociative disorder, in that when they try to convey the emotional experience they move away from their center…sometimes to the point that they become disengaged from their bodies altogether and describe the experience from an omniscient or almost omniscient viewpoint.

Other times the characters have heard too much poor advice over the years and have become self-conscious about which words to use when they are conveying their emotional experiences. They’ve been told that naming an emotion is telling and they should always show instead of tell, so they fail to anchor the emotional experiences with the words that help readers to differentiate between emotional experiences. For example, they may neglect to use the words that help readers to understand whether the character is feeling frustration, simmering resentment, anger, rage, or “I’m going to tear his lungs out through his chest fury.”

Sometimes characters have been taught to be seen and not heard and this early training comes through in characters who do not describe their feelings at all. Instead they take the tact of nearly pantomiming their feelings. Their hearts pound fast when they are scared. Their eyes glaze over when they are bored. They stomp their feet and kick things when they are angry, but you will almost never hear a sentence that has to do with a feeling enter their narrative. While it is good to show emotion through action, and while sometimes the action is enough to convey an emotional reaction it shouldn’t be the only tool the character has for conveying his or her emotional experiences. Emotions are too nuanced to convey clearly through charades.

Some characters describe their emotional experiences through the labels that name emotions. She felt sad. She felt happy. She was joyous. These words name an emotion but they don’t show the character’s experience of the emotion. Emotion is experienced physically as well as emotionally. When we feel an emotion there are certain physical sensations in our bodies that are part of the experience of the emotion. Characters who don’t describe the physical sensations that go with the emotions they experience are missing much of the nuance of the emotional experience.

There are many other maladies that contribute to characters not having (or more accurately not conveying) peak emotional experiences. I’ve barely scraped the surface. However, understanding these common difficulties your characters may be having in conveying the intensity of their emotional experiences will aid you in knowing when to prod them a bit more, and when to fill in the blanks on their behalf.

To learn more about the other maladies your characters may be suffering and how they might contribute to them not having or not conveying peak emotional experiences take my workshop. We will cover the maladies listed above as well as many others. We will also work to give our characters new ways to express their emotions so that they will have all the tools they need to convey the highs and lows of their emotional experiences.

Laurie Sanders is the Founder, CEO, and Editor at Black Velvet Seductions. She writes and lectures frequently on topics related to writing romance and erotica. In her “spare” time she writes as Alyssa Aaron. Her book His Perfect Submissive is available at Black Velvet Seductions, Amazon, Fictionwise, and AllRomanceEbooks.com

How to Write Emotion runs from July 5, 2010 through August 1, 2010.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You Don’t Have to be a Rocket Scientist to Write (or Read) Science Fiction Romance

Please welcome guest blogger Katherine Allred

When I was asked to do a blog for FF&P my first thought was to talk about world building. My second thought was, nope, been done to death. And let’s face it, when it comes to world building, as long as you’re consistent and use common sense, pretty much anything goes in science fiction romance.

Instead I decided to blog about the rules of writing science fiction.

Rules, you say? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!

Well, yes, you do.

The first one is in my opening paragraph. Be consistent and use common sense in your world building. (If you have a red sun, shadows are going to be brown and temps are going to be cooler than earth normal.)

Rule 2. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write science fiction romance. Honestly, all the technology is just smoke and mirrors. I make use of faster than light ships in my books but I have no clue how they work. Knowing how they work doesn’t enhance the plot and it’s not important to me or the reader. We only need to know those ships can get us from one galaxy to another in X amount of time, and where the galley is so we don’t starve to death getting there. (Can you tell I skipped breakfast?)

While coming up with weird new technology is half the fun for me, you can write science fiction romance without any technology at all. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series is a prime example of no technology science fiction romance. It’s set on a rural world where horses are the only means of transportation and the main occupation is farming. It’s simply a story of how two people from cultures that don’t normally mingle, meet, fall in love, change their society’s mores, and live happily ever after. That last is important, and it brings us to the next rule.

Rule 3. Science fiction romance is mainly a romance, so all the craft secrets you learned about writing romances still apply. You need great characters with goals, motivations, and conflict, and you need that happily ever after ending. The real bonus is that you get to put them in exotic locations and scare the beejeebers out of them with futuristic weapons, the total vacuum of space, and aliens bent on their destruction.

Rule 4. Don’t make your heroes furry. Oh, wait. That was me. Never mind. Rule 4. Science fiction, at its core, is and has always been, a rebellion against authority. It can be a small rebellion against a guardian, or a big rebellion against a government, but someone is going to be rebelling against something. It can be against a community, a society, taxes, a family that expects too much, or even nature. It’s designed to make us think, to ask why, or question why not.

The idea for my alien affairs novels sprang from a newscast I watched one evening. The reporter was doing a segment on “designer babies.” He seemed vaguely horrified that someday parents might be able to choose their child’s hair and eye color, or their IQ, or their athletic ability. The entire time I was thinking, what’s wrong with that? And why stop there? If I could design my own child, you better believe they’d be perfect. No asking “are we there yet?” every five seconds when we’re in the car. No leaving dirty dishes on the table. And they’d actually clean their room, feed and walk the dog, do their homework without hours of coercion, and stop spending all my money at the mall!

Okay, so it’s not going to happen. But hey! I’m a writer. If I can’t have it in real life, I can make my fictional “children” any way I want. And so my GEPs (genetically engineered persons) were born.

So, what are my GEPs rebelling against? It varies according to the character. In Close Encounters, Kiera Smith is rebelling against what she is. In Close Contact, Echo Adams is rebelling against what she’s being forced to do. In the third book, the GEPs will be rebelling against the people who made them.

The long and short of it is, you really don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write or read science fiction romance. You just have to have a story to tell, and an exotic location to set it in, rounded off with lots of action and adventure. What’s not to love about that?


Katherine Allred is the author of The Alien Affairs series from Eos. Her second science fiction romance, Close Contact, was named a June top pick by Romantic Times Magazine. Katherine lives in Arkansas with her husband, two Australian Shepherds, a rat terrier, four chickens and a cat named Fuzz. She has three children and four grandchildren, none of whom were genetically engineered.