Jeanne: Sitting with Your Setting

Animal figures carved on steleSettings play a huge role in my demon novels. All of the books spend some time in my take on Hell, which is a cross between the fire-and-brimstone Hell described by the terrifying Baptist preachers of my childhood and the equally terrifying large corporations I worked for during my career as a software engineer, but each of them also has a more mundane setting here Aboveworld.

The first book, The Demon Always Wins, is set in northern Florida, near the ocean along the Georgia border. My eldest sister lives there, so I’ve spent several vacations in that area over the years. Much of the book takes place in a free clinic staffed by paid staff and volunteer doctors, similar to one I worked in as the office manager for eighteen months.

The second book, The Demon’s in the Details is set in Sedona, AZ. I’ve never had the joy of living in that beautiful place, but I did spend a wonderful week there in January, 2016, getting the lay of the land and soaking up atmosphere, before setting pen to paper (or fingertips to keys). Continue reading

Jeanne: From the Cutting Room Floor

Deleted Scenes Movie Film Clapper Board Bloopers 3d IllustrationLast week I talked about designing your books to focus on the things that your readers value and to minimize the amount of effort you put into adding things that they don’t.

One of the things that my readers seem to particularly enjoy are my descriptions of Hell as a giant dysfunctional corporation.

I wound up cutting the scene below from my first book because my editor felt that it put too much emphasis on Lilith, who was a minor character in that story.

I recently pulled it out to look at because she is the central character in my work-in-progress, but it doesn’t work for this book, either, because I’m trying to redeem her and this scene doesn’t help with that effort.

Even so, the scene was a lot of fun and deserves to see the light of day, or at least the light of blog.

“If you could just sign right here, sir.” Hovering behind the red granite counter by means of his substantial wings, Focalor pushed a quill and a three-part form toward Belial. The griffin had run the Travel department since time immemorial.

Behind him, row upon row of men and women sat at cramped desks, arranging various demonic missions. Their chairs were bolted to the floor six inches too far back from their desks, forcing them to hunch forward to reach their keyboards. After just a few minutes, their backs burned with the strain and they worked twenty-hour days. Continue reading

Jeanne: Another Delivery from the Girls in the Attic

In the atticWhen the Eight Ladies were in class at McDaniel College years ago, our instructor, Jenny Crusie, used to talk about the Girls in the Attic. The Girls, she said, were the source of inspiration. What they handed down might be weird and totally not where your conscious mind wanted to go with your manuscript, but you should never disregard them.

(The Girls, by the way, were Jenny’s answer to Stephen King’s Boys in the Basement, who serve a similar purpose.)

Last week I started noodling around with another demon book. I have no idea why. I have one manuscript with 60,000 words written that’s waiting for me to come back and mold it into a readable story. And the next logical book in the demon series isn’t the one I started playing around with.

Clearly, following a straight line is not something I excel at. Continue reading

Jeanne: Hidden Factories

industrial buildingsRecently, we had a conversation on one of my author loops on applying Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing techniques to writing. Apparently some guru will soon be teaching a class on using Kanban boards to increase author efficiency.

One of the Six Sigma terms I remember from my training back when I worked in the manufacturing sector was “hidden factories”—process steps that take time and resources but don’t add value as defined by the customer. For example, let’s say you have a coffee shop that puts a little paper doily on each saucer before placing the baked good on the plate. If the customer (not the waiter, not the baker, not the store owner) doesn’t perceive that doily as adding value to his bearclaw, that step is a hidden factory.

So how would the concept of hidden factories apply to writing? I’m just riffing but here are some things that authors put a lot of time into that don’t necessarily improve the quality of the book from the readers’ perspective:

  1. In depth research into careers/jobs held by characters.

This is definitely one of the reasons why it takes me so long to write a book. In The Demon’s in the Details, the protagonist was a painter. Since I’m not even a tiny bit artistic, or even crafty, I had no clue how artists view the world. She was, specifically, a muralist, and I didn’t know how artists go about painting murals. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Year of Cooking Dangerously

Yesterday I started drafting The Demon Goes Hungry, which will be the third book in my Touched by a Demon series. (The Demon Wore Stilettos has been pushed out to the final book in the series. It made sense as Book 3 when I was planning a trilogy, but now that I’m planning an ennealogy it needs to be Book 9.)

The premise of the story is that heroine Katie Rose Landry owns a food truck called “Devilish Delights,” from which she sells Cajun-spiced food, including deviled eggs that Satan adores.

In fact, Satan loves them so much he orders Belphegor, the Demon of Gluttony and Master of Hell’s Kitchen, to recruit Katie to become his private chef.

Much silliness and danger ensues. I hope. Continue reading

Michille: The Courage to Write

The Courage to WriteOne of the things that several of us 8L have said over the last months is that we won’t buy anymore craft books/take anymore craft classes until we have finished what we already have. In that vein, I did eeny-meeny on my craft bookshelf and chose The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes, almost at random (because I have too many to choose from). The very first chapter is called Elements of Courage. It made me feel strong just reading that. There are some funny sections throughout the book like Page Fright, That Naked Feeling, Counterphobia, and Draft Dodgers. Continue reading

Jilly: Rocks In My Head

I know it’s a holiday weekend and the sun’s shining, but is anyone up for a quick game of world-building “what if”?

As regular readers of this blog know, I write fantasy. Stories of chivalry, rivalry, power, and love, set in a fantastic pre-industrial landscape. I love my weird, crazy world, but I’m currently working through developmental edits, and after some good discussions with my editor and beta readers (thanks, Jeanne and Kay!) I’m looking for ways to make my stories stronger. In particular, I’d like to find a few well-chosen details to amplify the fantastic feel of my world.

I write a very practical kind of fantasy. My stories have powerful jewels, miraculous golden beans, sinister talking rocks and uncanny, mystical monks, but all my otherworldly elements are solidly rooted in the everyday. I don’t have dragons or spells or magical woo-woo. What I need is to identify ordinary things that would be natural and useful in my world, but which would not be found in a regular historical story. Small details that don’t drive the plot but that would support and enrich the world of jewels, beans, rocks, monks etc.

This week, I think I found something useful hiding in plain sight. Do you know what apotropaic marks are? Me neither. Apparently they’re symbols or patterns scratched into the fabric of a building to keep witches out. They’re most commonly found in places that witches were thought likely to be able to enter a building, such as doors, windows, or chimneys. Continue reading

Jeanne: Enneagrams

On Sunday, Jilly talked about the class we’re taking, Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Emotional Conflict, with award-winning author Linnea Sinclair.*

LinneaSinclair13

Linnea Sinclair

One of the things that makes me such a slow writer is because it generally takes me 100 or more painfully typed pages to know my characters well enough to understand what they’ll do in any given situation. Up to that point (and sometimes, as with my current WIP, even longer) I head off in wrong directions and follow blind alleys and generally wander in the wilderness while I get to know them.

It’s not an efficient process.

Now Ms. Sinclair has given me a tool to (I really hope) shortcut that painful process–the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram). According to the Integrative 9 website, the Enneagram is an archetypal framework that offers in-depth insight to individuals, groups and collectives.  Put more simply, it’s a psychological test that categorizes people into 9 different groups based on personality/character factors. Continue reading

Jeanne: How Much Research Is Enough?

The Screwtape LettersLast Saturday, I was hiking with a friend who was around for the full pre-publication lifespan of The Demon Always Wins. (I started working on it in May, 2012 and didn’t publish until September, 2018.)

She mentioned that she’s reading Dante’s Inferno.

In preparation for writing The Demon Always Wins, I read:

 

 

  • Dante’s Inferno
  • Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • The Book of Job (multiple times)
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • Books about the Book of Job.
  • Critiques of The Inferno.
  • Critiques of Paradise Lost.

Continue reading

Nancy: Goals and Conflict, aka Everything Old Is New Again

This might or might not be an accurate depiction of me upon realizing I’ve done it again.

 

I like to say that I can be taught. That I can learn from my mistakes. That writing, like life, is a process, and part of that process is continuous improvement. Yes, I like to say I’m getting better, but then I do things that make a liar out of me.

Case in point: I’ve been working on the next book in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Three Husbands and a Lover, for those of you keeping track at home. This is Percy’s story (Captain Lord Granville), who is the group cut-up, thrill-seeker, and all around flirtatious cad. But I knew, from the inception of the series, that all his light frivolity was hiding a dark inner life. This is crunchy stuff, the kind a writer likes to sink her teeth into. But it took a few bites for me to get there.

In the pre-discovery phase of the book, which is when characters with some vague motivations, snippets of conversations, and partial scenes float around in brain, untethered from each other and any kind of story logic, this was a very different story from what it is today. And that’s fine. That’s why I do discovery work – to excavate and sift and reveal a few tiny gold nuggets per metric ton of crap.

Turns out our heroine, Finola, had a goal in the initial story iteration. It was a good, strong, “close-your-eyes-and-you-can-see-it” goal. But it didn’t have anything to do with Percy, who didn’t yet have a raison d’être of his own beyond “get Finola in bed.” Continue reading