The Pursuit Of A Juicy New Truth Can Be Tantalizing.
Prior to writing any new book I take time to consider potential characters, plots, conflicts, relationships and settings. Additionally, I do what many writers do; I seek out unique bits and pieces of information to tuck into my story. I’m always looking for a different way to add color, depth and dimension. It requires a lot of time and effort to find the most unusual, weird or provocative nuggets of truth. I’m constantly looking for the “what else” factor. What else is out there that I can add to make my story more readable and my characters more unique? In the end, this effort not only supports a personal learning curve and makes the writing experience more fulfilling; I hope it makes for a better book. And besides that, it’s fun!
Sometimes I pursue a tangent based on a remark I overheard, a comment on television, a magazine article or just some bizarre curiosity I’ve developed. I’ve had a blast investigating things like Wiccan marriages, time travel, spiritualism, bridal fashion design, mural painting, the migration patterns of the local whale population and professional kitchen appliances. Quirky, right?
In my next book I delve deeper into the power of gemstones and crystals and the various forms of Reiki healing These are both topics I have always been curious about but knew very little. In making up my many spells, I reviewed over five hundred different magical spells that I found in books, diaries and articles. I was compelled to discover exact language that working witches use in their spells before I felt comfortable writing my own. I love to take field trips to bookstores, museums, paranormal shops and libraries as I snoop out funky facts. And along the way, I meet the most interesting people; reflections of whom you just might see in one or more of my books.
Currently I am on a quest to learn more about Herkimer diamonds and Reiki healing. I had never even heard of Herkimer diamonds before starting this book nor was I aware of their potential powers. So cool! And Reiki healing was a totally new pool of information for me to dive into, because again – I was curious. I’m learning important concepts, new vocabulary, different ways of thinking and where to find even more information. Sometimes I tweak the data, changing names or enhancing certain traits or characteristics to better support the plot. Other times I just share facts and figures as I found them. It’s become like a treasure hunt for me. Unfortunately, I sometimes get way too carried away in my search, gobbling up precious writing time to pursue more data than I can ever fold into one story.
Although I feel truly free when writing in the paranormal genre, I always want to make sure that my stories include facts that are both interesting and whenever possible, true. If I can understand a topic better my characters might just sound smarter, more in tune and a tad more realistic to the reader. In short, I hope to make my storyline more believable.
Sometimes, sitting for hours with just me and my computer can get pretty tedious. However, forcing myself to learn something new and then challenging myself to integrate that information into my next story really does keep me on my toes. It forces my mind to stay open and hopefully keeps my writing fresh. Sometimes, just one juicy new puzzle piece will totally change the direction of the story.
There’s one other benefit; I am a cornucopia of sometimes useless, but always fun, facts and stories to add a little zing to any family gathering or cocktail party….if I ever went to a cocktail party that is.
The one thing I know, after all my years as an elementary school principal, is that there is magic everywhere and in everyone. While I miss those enchanting moments with kids, I have always wanted to let my imagination run wild as I seek out my own magic and write about it. When I retired, I started to write my first books, a series called The Witches of New Moon Beach and inspiration wasn’t hard to find.
I have lived in Redondo Beach all my life, and New Moon might have more than a passing resemblance to my hometown. Every day I walk on the path that runs along the beach, sometimes with my sisters, but most often with my thoughts as I plot my next book.
I am long married and mom to three great grown kids. When I’m not writing or walking on the beach, you’ll find me sewing, reading or traveling and taking pictures.
A good story is made up from a host of elements that when jumbled together and skillfully molded become a glorious whole – just like Dixie Jewett’s fabulous horse. Plot, setting, theme, writing style and characters all must blend to make the whole pleasing. Being an omnivorous reader (yes, even when I’m not editing) I am happy with a plot driven or an action driven story, but I am smitten by a character driven tale. Reading a character driven novel is like crashing a party and making the acquaintance of new and fascinating people.
The main characters always have some attraction otherwise they wouldn’t support the story and make the reader care. Who couldn’t be enthralled by bossy Elizabeth Bennet and the steely D’Arcy, or Scarlett and Rhett? And then there’s Hannibal Lector, the very pinnacle of evil yet more compelling than a ten-ton magnet. Depending on how the story is structured we can learn their history upfront, or it is revealed through out the narrative, but there is always enough time and story space to make that all-important emotional connection through, not just history, but mannerisms, speech patterns, and motivations.
It is the secondary characters – the extras, if you will – that are often the most colorful component of great novels. Dickens’ genteelly mad Miss Haversham, du Mauier’s chilling Mrs. Danvers. Creating a supporting cast that adds a glint of darkness, a spark of humor or a touch of humanity to a story. Beyond helping to create a personality in a novel, this supporting cast is also critical to fleshing out the setting – you know you’re in NYC when your hero is depressed and seeks the ever freely given advice of street smart Dominick De Luca at his World Famous Hotdog cart. You feel you’re in San Francisco when the hero hears the Powell Street cable car and hops on to her morning repartee with Phillip the droll veteran conductor.
Secondary characters can be tools to move the action forward. If your protagonist needs to be placed in a situation that is out of character for her, use a secondary character to get her there. For instance, the contrary but kind old Mr. Kronke is Mia’s downstairs neighbor to whom she can never say no. Too ill to act on his passion for the horses Mia agrees to deliver his bet to the shady off license where she stumbles into a handsome man and so meets the hero.
Finally, supporting characters make great sounding boards to help the main characters work out internal conflict. Think about the key role lively dialog with the saucy office receptionist might play, or a hip bartender. Dithering Aunt Renada, for instance, is far more compelling than your main character’s long internal dialogue.
Just remember that you, the author, are creating a whole world and you must populate it. Your cast of characters can be useful, colorful, thoughtful, wicked, wise or witty but they should never be boring. Look at the world around you, note all the people you come in contact with, and you will have all the inspiration you need to create fantastic and memorable characters.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
Mmmrrh … Book Boyfriends. For most of my life, I have been dreaming about boys and men who’ve reached right out from the pages and stolen my heart. It all started with Jim Frayne from the Trixie Belden Mysteries. Then came the unforgettable Nat Eaton from Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And Rapheal Sabatini’s Dr. Peter Blood (Some call him Captain). Agatha Christie’s Anthony Cade from The Secret of Chimneys. Mary Stewart’s Rob Granger from Touch Not the Cat. Mmmrrh … the list goes on.
I’m still falling in love with book boyfriends. And even better, I’m creating heroes that readers tell me they adore. This May, Arlen Black, the hero of my romantic comedy Queen of the Universe, is one of 30 candidates up for Chick Lit Book Boyfriend 2017. Meet Arlen …
attraction, too. Seriously? After that “audition” kiss on the very first day … and then everything that happened on her patio? Man, it’s a good thing I walked out – well, stormed out – when I did.
But I came back. Just to do the show. Nothing else. Because now I know that Lola is a liar and a manipulator and … God, why can’t I stop thinking about her? And why does it keep happening? Every time I’m near her, she makes me feel … God! Even knowing what I know about her – even after everything I lost … Damn it!
She makes me feel alive again.
I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Peters in all her incarnations, from her Barbara Mertz non-fiction, to her gothic mysteries as Barbara Michaels. I like her short stories, the stand alone books, and the series. I’ve read and reread all her books.
I found out last week, quite by accident, that The Painted Queen, a brand new Amelia Peabody, is scheduled to be published. I clicked the link because Elizabeth Peters has been dead these past four years, and I was very curious as to how a new book could be possible. Much to my surprise the book has been co-written by Joan Hess from Ms. Peter’s unfinished manuscript.
Evidently, I’ve been living is a fog for a while because the book was first announced several years ago, and it will, finally, be published in July of this year.
From reading all of Ms. Peters’ author notes over the years, I know that she was friends with Joan Hess (and wouldn’t I have liked to be a fly on THAT front porch), so I think it’s very fitting that Ms. Hess finished the book. I’ve read just about all of Joan Hess’s books as well, so I know that she is more than qualified to handle this task. And it’s fitting that a friend finish her book as she finished Charlotte MacLeod’s The Balloon Man. (You can read about it on the Remembering Barbara Mertz website.)
While I was on the Remembering Barbara Mertz website I found a Rafflecopter giveaway for 20 pre-publication versions of The Painted Queen. (Which, of course I entered.) Part of the giveaway asks fans to tell how they were introduced to Sitt Hakim.
I remember that well!
Both Mémère (my grandma) and Grandma Trudy (my husband’s grandma) love to read murder mysteries, and they both belonged to The Detective Book Club. Some of you may be old enough to remember these books. They arrived monthly, and there were usually three mystery novels in each volume. Both grandmas were very generous about donating their books to me when they had finished reading them.
Just look at the authors featured in these books: Erle Stanley Gardner, P. D. James, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman, Charlotte Macleod/Alisa Craig, John D. MacDonald, Donald E. Westlake, Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen among many many others. In The Detective Book Club, I found Georges Simeon’s Inspector Mairget, Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax (senior citizen and CIA spy), Hamilton Crane’s Miss Seeton, and Rae Foley’s Mr. Potter (which is who I always thought of when reading about the wizard and kept waiting for someone to say, It’s Murder, Mr. Potter).
Like my grandmas I passed the books to others–usually to my mother and sisters (all reader!), but I kept the copy of Crocodile on The Sandbank. That book was funny; Emerson was very cool, and it was about Egypt. (My family was stranded in Cairo in the early 60s. Our plane had mechanical trouble and an hour layover turned into a week stay, complete with a trip to the pyramids, my seven-year-old sister escaping the hotel, and a jewelry merchant who tried to buy my mother. So, I’m partial to books set in Egypt.)
I read other Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters novels in The Detective Book Club over the years but didn’t really connect any of the novels with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Then I got one of the books from 1981 with the second Amelia Peabody, The Curse of the Pharaohs, as lead novel.
Within the first sentence, I knew that this was the sequel to Crocodile on the Sandbank. I read it in one night and then went to the bookstore the next day. I showed the book to the clerk, and she showed me a whole bookcase of Elizabeth Peters novels and then mentioned that she was also Barbara Michaels.
I may have heard angels singing.
I did hear my hubby tell the kids we were eating out that night because Mommy would be busy. And that he was going to have to get another job, because that bookstore bookcase full of Elizabeth Peters’/Barbara Michaels’ books was going to bankrupt him. (He wasn’t much of a reader then, but I’ve corrupted him.)
And that was how I was introduced to Sitt Hakim.
Amazon has pages of The Detective Book Club available. You can probably find volumes at every garage sale in the US. There are books on Etsy and ebay and for some weird reason they are listed as decorator books for ‘man caves’ I’m not sure why.
Did you ever read novels in the The Detective Book Club?
Where and when were you introduced to Sitt Hakim?
Will you be reading The Painted Queen?
And that Rafflecopter give away—I won a copy!
Marianne H. Donley makes her home in Tennessee with her husband and son. She is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, Romance Writers of America, OCC/RWA, and Music City Romance Writers. When Marianne isn’t working on A Slice of Orange, she might be writing short stories, funny romances or quirky murder mysteries, but this could be a rumor.
You can find her short mystery, Tomato Blight, in ONCE AROUND THE SUN.