Kay: Got Gender Bias?

Where’s that comb when you need it? From rebloggy.com

No comb needed here! From Ablemens Facebook page

A lot of professional writing organizations (well, all of them, I think) are struggling with diversity issues, and writers are scrutinizing their characters, looking for hints of bias. But gender stereotypes—we’re past that, right?

Um, no.

The latest Sisters in Crime newsletter pointed to an article in The Pudding, in which author Erin Davis recounts reading a novel for her book club that had a 35-page description of the heroine that made everyone’s eyes roll. She started to examine what she was reading and found that female characters often had red lips and soft thighs, and men had strong muscles and rough hands. She wondered how prevalent those kinds of descriptions were. Continue reading

Jeanne: More on Using YouTube for Research

The Demon Wore Stilettos, my work-in-progress, begins with a courtroom scene–Lilith, the protagonist, is on trial for murdering her ex-husband and the love of her life, Samael. I knew where I wanted the scene to go, but I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough about courtroom behavior to really nail the scene.

So I went scouting for information about courtroom procedures and found this:

(You may not want to spend a half an hour watching this very nice lady deconstruct all the ways TV and movies misrepresent what happens in courtrooms, but by the time I finished it, I knew exactly what to do with my scene.)

The inner part of the story, the story of how Lilith came to push Samael into the Lake of Fire in the first place, revolves around a trade summit that takes place between Heaven and Hell. After thinking about neutral ground where Heaven and Hell might meet to hammer out an agreement, the United Nations seemed like an obvious choice. Unfortunately, despite numerous trips to the Big Apple, I’ve never visited the United Nations.

YouTube to the rescue: There a several tours of the buildings available. This is the one I found most useful:

Again, you may not want to spend a lot of time on this, but it was helpful in allowing me to get a sense of what my characters will see.

And yes, I know this if the fourth location I’ve chosen for this story. Writing is a process, people! Which reminds me: I’m going to reward myself for finishing my blog post by going back to YouTube and watching our professor, Jenny Crusie’s inteview at the Australian RRA.

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: 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

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

Elizabeth: Shamelsssly Eavesdropping

Since the stories I write include characters who are not 100% me (surprising, I know), I occasionally need to do some reasearch to figure out how they might think or act.  One of my favorite ways to do this involves shamlessly eavesdropping while standing in line, sitting in a restaurant, or just walking down the street.

That’s not weird, right?

I have a little notebook that’s always in my purse, just in case I encounter someone who says or does something that I think might be perfect for some as-yet-to-be-thought of story.  The quickly jotted down notes have been helpful on occasion, but more frequently have been a source of amusement as I attempted to decipher what I could have possibly thinking of when I wrote them.

Here are three examples of random bits of information I’ve picked up while out and about:

While having brunch at my favorite French bistro, I was seated next to (far too close to) a young man and a woman (his girlfriend, perhaps) and a set of parents.  The young man was talking about his recent job-searching efforts and my coffee cooled while I shamelessly eavesdropped.  HIs thought processes – expressed at length and in a completely oblivious manner – were so contrary to what my own were at that age that I was fascinated.  It certainly helped me understand why the folks in our HR department find dealing with a millennial workforce so challenging.  Hopefully I’ll find a story for this individual while I can still read my notes, though he’s unlikely to wind up a hero. Continue reading

Nancy: Traveling for Story

Some interesting things happen when you take up writing as a profession. One of them–at least for me–has been that traveling is now rarely something I do for vacation or relaxation or merely bonding with loved ones and friends. These days, when I’m catching a plane or hopping on a train, I’m probably traveling for work.

October 2019 (my third trip in five weeks): Snoopy, unamused that I am packing to leave him AGAIN.

Since writing can be done anywhere and since I actually produce the most words when I have my butt in a comfortable chair in my own house, the three trips I took in the past five weeks might seem excessive. And just two months before that, I spent a week in NYC for RWA Nationals. But each of these trips fulfilled specific requirements of the writing life, so I bought my tickets, rearranged my word-production schedule, stepped over pouting kitties, and left my well-worn writing digs for some on-the-road adventures.

The True Retreat Trip

October 2019: Perfect conditions for a fall writing retreat: cool, wet weather outside, hot coffee and tea inside.

This one is my favorite of all the writing trips I take, because I have a bi-annual retreat date with four writing buddies whom I’ve known IRL for more than ten years (I met the first of these ladies 22 years ago!). This is more than a chance to sit and write all day in the company of others who are doing the same thing. This is also a chance to catch up with real-life friends’ lives, discuss industry news, trade titles of books and movies and must-watch TV, and eat WAY too many calories.

In other words, this is the kind of writing excursion that feeds more than page-count goals and a sweet tooth. It feeds this writers’ soul as only time with like-minded friends can. Continue reading

Jeanne: It’s All About the Plot, ’bout the Plot, No Subplots!

sign-3228713_640Last week I started work on a short story, a prequel to my Touched by a Demon series. It features Dara’s grandparents and explains how Esther and Lonnie met and how they came to start the demon-fighting ministry that plays such a major role in Dara’s life.

I’ve had it in mind to write this story for a while, so that I’d have a free taste of my Touched by a Demon world to offer potential readers. I’ve written short stories before, even won awards with them, but they were women’s fiction rather than romance. (If you’re interested, you can find a couple of them at www.jeanneestridge.com under the Extras tab.)

As discussed previously in this post, romances are inherently more complex than other forms of genre fiction. Because you have a main plot arc, a romance arc, and character arcs for both the hero and the heroine, even the bare minimum is a lot to juggle. Because I write paranormal, there’s an additional layer of complexity with the necessary world-building.

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I’d do all that in 10,000 words or less, so I signed up for a short story writing class through OIRWA, the online international chapter of RWA. In the first lesson the instructor handed me the solution, which is so obvious I’m embarrassed to share it: No subplots. 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

Nancy: Revisiting Story Brain

This week, I’m sorry to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit under the weather. While I don’t have the energy or mental focus to write a new blog post, I thought I’d share this one that I wrote two years ago, in which I discuss how stories mold our minds and attitudes, and can ultimately change the world.

How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there. Continue reading