Justine: Travel Inspiration

I’m currently jaunting about Barcelona on our annual family vacation and whenever I travel, I try to use the places I visit as inspiration for my stories. Today, we visited the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Sacred Family), which has been under construction since 1882 (and still not completed). While it’s breathtakingly beautiful, it’s a bit hard for me to imagine using in any of my books, given they take place in the early 1800s. Continue reading

Michaeline: Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Ships and Bicycles, Too

A history of transportation from reindeer through trains to the motorcar.

People may remain fundamentally the same, but as their technology changes, so does the form of their stories. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s an old writing adage that says every story is either about someone coming to town (the mysterious stranger!) or someone leaving town (a quest! a quest!). But sometimes, the story isn’t about the arrival or the departure, but the journey itself.

Summer is the perfect time to write a travel story! You could set your story on a plane, a train or an automobile. Being trapped in a small space for a period of time promotes a sense of desperation . . . but by virtue of being in a MOVING space, you know the story is going to end with a release (let’s hope, though, that release isn’t a fiery crash! Although, it’s summer! It certainly could be. Disaster stories are popular. Look at the Titanic, or books about people who survived a plane crash in the Andes.)

Let’s take a quick look at five common modes of transportation, and what they could bring to your story.

First, the plane. You’ve got planes of all shapes and sizes to choose from, and more than 100 years of aviation. But they all fly above the common worries and fears of ground-bound folks. They get there fast, and there really is no escape (except by parachute, death or magic) until the plane lands.

The Dream Bible says to dream of airplanes is to dream about Continue reading

Michaeline: Reiwa is Coming (A New Era in Japan)

This Wednesday, on May 1, Japan will see the old emperor abdicate in favor of his son, ushering in a new era called Reiwa.

令和

“It’s a new era” is more than a turn of phrase. The Japanese use the Gregorian calendar (we’re currently in 2019 as I write this), but they also have their own method of counting the years. Right now, we’re in the Heisei Era, and my first visit to Japan coincided with the change from Showa to Heisei.

Emperor and Empress dressed in traditional wedding clothes 1959

The future Emperor Akihito with his bride, the future Empress Michiko, dressed in traditionally for their wedding in 1959. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The old emperor didn’t abdicate on January 7, 1989; he died. The nation was in mourning, and the New Year’s festivities were muted. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but Continue reading

Michaeline: Shibuya Ramblings

Cherry blossoms illuminated in the dark by the digital billboards

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the crossing at Shibuya during sakura season must have enough to power 10,000 novels. (Picture by E.M. Duskova)

It’s easy to see why Shibuya is so popular with the tourists: it triggers a thousand stories, all in a compact space. The station at Shibuya has been known for decades as the place where loyal dog Hachiko waited faithfully for his master to come home from the university everyday . . . even after the master passed away. The exit where the dog waited is memorialized with a statue of the dog, and has become a meeting place for all sorts of people. “Meet me at the Hachiko Exit. I’ll be wearing red.”

Hachiko waits for his master, while a boy waits for . . . well, there’s another story to be told in Shibuya, under the cherry blossoms. (Picture by E.M. Duskova)

People being there attracts more people who want to see what the big deal is about. There are cute shops, and fancy shops. The street food is fun – right now, it trends towards tapioca pearl drinks and Korean cheese dogs (food onna stick! One of my favorites). And the scramble, where the traffic stops and all the pedestrian lights go green at once has to be a powerful metaphor for . . . something. I watched half a dozen people cross with selfie sticks, recording their journey with a flood of humanity, crossing the road to get to the other side.

You’ll see the cherry blossoms are beautiful right now. They’ll be here, and then they’ll be gone with the breath of the first spring wind, but in the meantime, they are gorgeous and live their short lives to the fullest. Against the digital background, they float just as beautifully as they would have in front of a row of wooden shops. Very now-ie, but also with strong roots to the past.

Jeanne: What’s in a Name?

Recently, a friend in my RWA chapter did an advance read of The Demon’s in the Details, Book 2 in my Touched by a Demon series, which came out last Tuesday on Amazon.

demon's in the details ebook coverShe did a terrific job of catching little errors my copy editor and proofreader missed, but in one case, she brought my attention to a problem that I didn’t think was a problem. She pointed out that in the first scene, my protagonist thinks of her father and stepmother as her father and stepmother, but later she becomes less formal, thinking/referring to them as “Dad” and “stepmom.”

There is, she pointed out, a best practice in fiction writing of choosing a single name for each character and always using that name to reference the character.

As a general rule, I completely agree with her. When you have a character that is sometimes called, “Charles,” sometimes “Charlie,” sometimes “Chuck” and occasionally “Binky,” the reader has to stop each time and figure out who this is. While there may be valid reasons for switching names–maybe every other character thinks of him differently, or your POV character thinks of him by different names depending on the current state of their relationship–it’s extra work for the reader. And, in general, we want to make reading our books as easy as possible.

But in this case, I felt differently, for two reasons: Continue reading

Nancy: Copenhagen (and Denmark) Blues

Black Diamond on the Water. This extension of the Royal Danish Library opened in 1999. It plays a key role in Nick’s story.

As you no doubt gleaned from last week’s post, I’ve recently been an intrepid world traveler. Well, OK, I traveled to one other country, but I crossed six time zones and spent three days on each end of the trip battling severe jet lag, so it feels like it’s been quite a trek, and I’m happy to be home safe and sound and finally getting back on east coast time.

Because you can take the writer out of her cave but you can’t take the cave out of the writer, or something like that, I spent some of my three weeks in Denmark being a tall, dark, and handsome, thirty-year-old, half-American/half-Danish, mixed-race man. In my head, of course. (I might be able to pull off a lot of things, but tall and thirty are not on that list). I’m talking, of course, about my fictional character Nicholai* Jens Olesen, Nicky O to his American friends. This was my first trip to the country since I’d conceived of the Copenhagen-set mystery series, so I did my best to view it from Nick’s eyes. In addition to helping me solidify my vision of what Denmark means to this character, it also revealed important things about the character himself.

A Few Things About Nick

A Very Danish House with Thatched Roof. This is the kind of house where Nick probably spent some of his summers.

He’s much more American than Danish. Technically, as his (now deceased) father was a Danish citizen and his mother is American, I think he can still claim Danish citizenship (but it’s complicated, so more research required!). As a child, he spent a couple of months every summer and some additional weeks most Christmas vacations in DK, has visited frequently as an adult, and did some of his graduate work in the country, so he definitely has a foot securely planted in this culture. But the majority of his time has been spent in America, and when he’s placed in that character crucible and pressure is applied, his American mind-set and life approach is going to show, for better or for worse.

After his father’s death, his visits to the country will never be the same. Sadly, because of our age and the extent of my husband’s family that lives in Denmark (that’s everyone related to him except his parents, siblings, our daughter and I), every time we’ve traveled to Denmark, there are relatives we’ve lost since the previous trip. It’s especially noticeable when we cross off towns where we used to go from our must-visit list, because the loved ones we used to see there are gone. As Nick’s story begins with him being in Denmark for his father’s funeral, there are going to be lots of opportunities for him to be haunted and heartbroken by memories triggered from seeing old, familiar places. This is an important part of character development I have to keep in mind when I start the deep-dive into Nick’s soul.

A Few Things About Denmark That Impact Nick’s Story… Continue reading

Jilly: Local Knowledge

How well do your favorite authors use local knowledge to give their stories depth and authenticity? What would you use in a story about your hometown?

We just spent a week on Long Island at a birthday celebration for a friend’s mother. It’s a beautiful place, and we had a fantastic time, but thanks to our friends we also learned a thing or two and avoided some obvious pitfalls.

It got me thinking about how many opportunities there must be for a writer to use setting to distinguish locals from outsiders, and to create location-specific plot points or conflicts.

Based on last week’s discussions, here are some tells that marked us out as Long Island rookies.

Fishing
Our friends chartered a boat and we went fishing in the bay between South Shore and Fire Island. Everyone else aboard was local, and they’d all been fishing since childhood. I had to be shown everything: how to hold the rod, how to let out the line and reel it in again. I didn’t know I should reel in my line when the captain was ready to move on. I didn’t know the difference between a sea robin and a fluke. I had no idea which fish should be thrown back or which were edible. The crew was friendly and helpful, but openly astonished at my ignorance of the most basic fundamentals.

Poison Ivy
My friend’s mum said that Fire Island supposedly got its name for the poison ivy that’s ubiquitous over there. Cue reminiscences from the family about how painful a poison ivy allergic reaction can be. Also poison oak. Eek. We don’t have either plant over here, and I have no clue what either one looks like.

Ticks
We had to be warned that there are deer ticks in the long grass and dunes. They carry Lyme disease, so it’s an important thing to know. I have no idea what a tick looks like. They’re present in the UK, but it’s a relatively new problem for us, and right now seems to be a bigger problem for pets than humans. I have never seen one, nor do I know anyone who has. I have no idea how to check myself for ticks, how to remove one if I should find it, or what a tick bite would look like. Just writing this is making me itch. Continue reading