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