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).

From this, you can deduce that I like to actually visit and spend time in the settings where my books are going to take place. I like to know, before I start writing, how the light looks (crystal clear, like Sedona? or a little smudged with humidity, like Florida?), what the place smells like (ocean? rotting vegetation? cooking spices?), the ambient noises.

Recently I’ve been doing research for the setting for The Demon Wore Stilettos. After brainstorming with Eight Lady Jilly and poking around on Google, I came across a place I think will be perfect: Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.

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Gobleki Tepe, which means “potbelly hill,” is the site of an archaeological dig of what is believed to be the oldest religious site in the world. Diggers have uncovered a series of layers of carved stone pillars, some ten meters high, set in circles. There are three main circles, which in turn form the points of an equilateral triangle. Based on carbon dating, it was originally built around 9600 B.C., making it six thousand years older than Stonehenge.

Let that sink in for a moment–it is twice as old as Stonehenge. It was built before there was written language, before metallurgy, before the invention of agriculture, before there were cities.

One of the reasons archaeologists have identified Gobekli Tepe as a religious site is that no signs of day to day life, like cooking implements, have been discovered there. The hunter gatherers who built it weren’t there just living their everyday lives. They came there for the specific purpose of building a temple.

The area around Gobleki Tepe is also believed by some Biblical scholars to be the site of the Garden of Eden. Where, as you may know, Lilith first came into existence. (If you’re interested in a free short story about Lilith’s origin, you can get it by signing up for my newsletter, The Gehenna Gazette, over on my website.)

The nearest city is Sanliurfa (aka Urfa).

 

 

So how do you immerse yourself in a setting you can’t actually visit?

  • Google
  • YouTube
  • Visit Turkish (in this case) restaurants
  • Talk to a former work colleague who emigrated from Turkey

Other suggestions?

 

Jeanne: The First Scene

shutterstock_785583991In an interview in The Atlantic back in 2013, Stephen King said, “I’ll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph. And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book.”

I feel that way about first scenes.  Until I have a solid first scene to use as a springboard into a book, I can’t seem to get anywhere. I may have a ton of ideas about all the things that could/should happen in the story, but until that first scene gels, I can’t seem to take that anywhere.

I think that’s because first scenes, as well as being the springboard into the book, also  (usually) introduce the main character. And until I really understand that main character (and her antagonist) I just tread water.

“Get the first scene down solid” is an axiom I’ve lived by for the past fifteen years or so that I’ve been writing a lot.

Unfortunately, belief in the power of that first scene as a springboard to a workable novel recently bit me in the butt. I wrote what I think is a really strong opening scene for a book I titled The Demon Wore Stilettos, where the protagonist, who has signed a contract to trade her soul to Satan in exchange for making the NYT bestseller list, watches a friend who signed a similar contract get sucked down to Hell. She comes away determined to save herself from a similar fate.

It’s a really powerful scene, as are the next few that follow, but after that I wandered off into weeds that look a lot more like women’s fiction than romance. Eventually I wound up on the shores of This-Isn’t-Going-Anywhere.  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

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

Jeanne: Is That a Light I See at the End of This Tunnel?

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Megan, my secret-guarding novelist

This morning I went looking for the date I started on my current work-in-progress. The oldest document I found was a Scrivener project dated September of 2015 (?!). It says:

So the idea is that this book would contain three couples:

Lilith and Samael

Gabriel and Angela

Human1 and Human2

Each couple would have history that leaves them reluctant to re-engage with one another.

Lilith and Samael are charged with keeping Human1 and 2 from getting back together.

Gabriel and Angela are charged with getting Human1 and 2 back together.

The three stories play out against each other.

This, clearly, is just the kernel of an idea. I was still working on The Demon Always Wins at this point, and hadn’t even started The Demon’s in the Details, but I wanted to get the idea down on (electronic) paper before it got away. Continue reading

Jeanne: A Tale of Two Stories

Identical Twin Babies in Green BlanketsAbout a year and a half ago, I got an idea for what I planned to be the third book in my Touched by a Demon series. The thought was to write a Faust story–a tale of Megan Swensen, an author who sells her soul to the devil to make the New York Times Bestseller list. The romance would be a second-chance-at-love story. James, a third-year law student and her grad school boyfriend, helped negotiate the terms of the contract under the impression that he was helping her with a literary assignment for school. When he discovered the truth, they broke up. As the book opens, seven years have passed, the contract is coming due and Megan is panicking.

For its demon, the book would feature Lilith, the she-demon who was a player in the first two books, as Megan’s literary agent and Hellish customer service representative. I even had a title–The Demon Wore Stilettos. Continue reading

Michille: Write Your Novel in a Year

TypewriterAs so many people say, or in this case after I googled ‘write your novel in a year’, so many web pages say it. I’ve discussed Writers Write and Anthony Ehlers series called Write Your Novel in a Year. The blog very kindly consolidated all 52 posts here. I have Chuck Wendig’s infographicon my bulletin board (if you don’t like foul language, skip this one). And I’ve tried the NaNo method (although I knew I wouldn’t write an entire novel in a month). I don’t read these because I think any one of them will be the magic bullet, but I do regularly find motivation to keep writing. Here are some of the new ones I found: Continue reading

Nancy: Because Every Story Is a Special Snowflake

Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.

By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.

Until it stops working.

While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.

If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me: Continue reading

Jeanne: A Body in Motion

I just finished reading a first chapter for a friend who’d been wanting me to critique for her. (Note: I’m pretty sure this falls under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For”).

Her writing is solid—clear, grammatical, easy to follow—and the character she introduced was sympathetic and likable. Great start.

The problem I had with the scene was that nothing much happened. And not only did nothing much happen, but the character in question didn’t even move around very much. He got out of his car, climbed the steps to someone’s front porch, dodged a bee, and knocked on the door.

That’s not a lot of activity for eight pages.

After I fired off my response email, suggesting she incorporate more action and present conflict, I hopped on Instagram, where I came across a meme on “8 Reasons Your First Scene Isn’t Working.” They were all good points, but the list didn’t include lack of action.

One of the things we learned at McDaniel was that readers judge characters, not by what they say, or even think, but by what they do.

All of that made me think about the motion/energy/activity level in my own new first scene. My scene has conflict, but there’s still a strong aura of “talking heads” about it—just two characters standing around yapping at each other.

Which, now that I’m aware of it, I can fix.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it okay with you if the first scene in a book is just people talking or thinking? Or do you want to see some bodies in motion?