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

Michaeline: Finding inspiration inside your own writing

A samurai smashing up a Japanese interior -- he's stomped on the sliding door, and there's an upturned table with a broken vase a little shogi game pieces all over the floor.

“No, no, a cracked cup and a torn sliding door actually shows the beauty of impermanence!” #Why we can’t have nice things at our tea ceremony. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I was chatting with a friend yesterday, and she was explaining why she wasn’t writing anymore; it was a long tale of interesting diversions (and socially responsible ones!), and she said that one thing that is taking up her creative mojo is introducing Japanese culture to foreigners. She provides a tea ceremony experience that is more than just people sitting on a mat, drinking the traditional bitter tea and having a taste of the beautiful tea sweets. She asks them to think about why the tea ceremony came about.

How much do you know about the Japanese tea ceremony? In many schools of tea philosophy, it’s very ritualized, and kids can join tea ceremony clubs in high school, while adults can study further and become teachers. Everything is prescribed: you fold your napkin this way. You rinse the teapot that way. You admire the tea bowl, take a drink in a certain manner, wipe the rim, then pass it to the next guest for them to admire, drink and wipe.

This ceremony often takes place in a very small, humble hut with a little door that looks like it was made for Little People. Big people must bend over and enter – the official line is that it shows humility and a lack of pride.

But my friend asks people to look beyond that. She gave two examples of why Continue reading

Michaeline: Toyokoro’s Ice Jewel Setting

slabs of ice washed up on a cold beach in Japan

Jewelry Ice on a beach in Toyokoro. Photo by E.M. Duskova

Geoff’s new wife was an Instagrammer, and he had known it before the wedding, so he should have known what he was getting into. In theory, spending their honeymoon in a winter wonderland had sounded like a very good idea – long cold walks, followed by nice warm sheets. In practice, here he was on frozen beach at dawn while Dahlia capered across the black sands in her red parka and her ridiculously large camera. His nose was cold, his fingers were cold, and his ears were about to fall off. Continue reading

Michaeline: Exploring Your Setting

Swans standing on a snowy river bank.

Hungry swans on Tokachi River. (Photo by Michaeline Duskova)

So, this is going to be a “hive mind” sort of a post where I pick your brains. The question is, “What’s the most interesting thing to do in your region during this season?”

For me, it’s the swans on Tokachi River. Every year, they migrate here to enjoy the clement weather (only -24C/-11F last night – I don’t even want to think about the cold they are escaping!). For a few months, they congregate on the river next to the hot springs, splash around, eat the goodies tourists throw to them, and just generally look as picturesque as they possibly can. Being swans, that’s pretty damn picturesque. Continue reading

Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story

How was your week? Did you learn anything new?

It’s been good news/bad news here. The good news is that after a frustrating few days when I couldn’t get a grip on my new story, on Tuesday things fell into place. A propos of nothing I had a flash of insight that gave me a premise for the book and the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) for all the main characters. As a bonus, I even figured out who owns the story.

The bad news is, it seems farming and gardening are important to the new WIP, and I have a brown thumb. My mother and grandmother were excellent gardeners, but I don’t even have houseplants, because they take one look at me and give up the ghost.

It would have been great if the Girls had sent up a plot I knew something about, but I’m not complaining–I’m grateful to get a workable idea. The garden stuff is important, but it’s a vehicle for the characters and conflict, and as long as I get those right, everything else is fixable. My current plan is Continue reading

Elizabeth: NaNo Countdown – 3 Weeks To Go

I began the countdown to NaNoWriMo 2017 with last week’s post on outlining, which generated some good discussions amongst our commenters from both ends of the outlining continuum.

Kristi said,

“More and more over the last few days I’m starting to think of outlining (at least the way I usually do it) as a first draft. It’s just lacking details.”

That makes sense to me.  Whether your first pass through a new story is via an outline or via a purely “pantser” style process you’re just trying to tell yourself the story.  However you start out you will (hopefully) wind up with a draft that you can then flesh out into a full-blown story.

The outline for my upcoming story currently looks a bit like a movie script.  For each potential scene there are notes about location and timing, the characters who are involved, who “owns” the scene, and what the outcome of the scene will be.  In some cases where I felt especially inspired, I even managed to capture a few lines of dialog or action that I thought of while sketching things out.

One thing that slowed me down a bit during the outlining process was not having the setting(s) for the story nailed down.  I know where it starts and ends and have some ideas about the middle, but I definitely need to do some more work in that area.

Conveniently, this week my focus is on:  Setting Continue reading