On Writing: World Building Through Research, History, and Just Good Ol’ Imagination

Vikings and Chatting and Travis Fimmel, Oh My!

Guest Post by Sandi Layne

Finding Inspiration for writingFirst, I want to thank J and M for letting me hang out on their blog. I’ve been here since Day One (on the blog. . .) and I love to watch them “chat” and so on. So much fun!

The only place I’ve really posted in a “chat” format was on my blog in conjunction with author Lissa Bryan. She and I discussed the History Channel’s original series VIKINGS every Monday for nine weeks.

It was fantastic. You see, I write about Vikings myself. Just not the same breed of Vikings as were on the show, so I enjoyed very much seeing the variations in the culture of those in Scandinavia and those in Nordweg—today’s Norway. The latter are what I’ve spent years growing a bit close to, in one way or another.

Compare and Contrast

In my book Éire’s Captive Moon (book one of my Éire’s Viking Trilogy), I researched and wrote of the Northmen from Nordweg, who had a different social system from the people who lived in what are now Sweden and Denmark. Though I use the word “viking” in the title, the men themselves did not use that word so it isn’t actually used in the stories. They called themselves Ostmen,while others in Europe used the term “vikingr.” This could refer to a man who lives near a vik – or one who sails or roams on the sea. It is an Old Norse word, and I use Old Norse dictionaries as I write these stories.

I did not use the old sagas as a basis for my writing, in general. Instead, I used what history I could glean from accounts from Éire—Ireland—and what has been found in archeological digs in Norway and Ireland. When Lissa indicated that the series has used some of the legends that came from the warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (there are alternate spellings, of course), I knew I’d have little knowledge of the plot that the series would take, though I did recognize much of the clothing and housing and crafts used in the series.

And, of course, the fighting styles. The Northmen fought with battle axes and spears, mostly. Very few had swords as they were costly and hard to make.

I did compare many things that I saw in the series to what I had found in my research, and many of the cultural references are the same. The leadership was different, involving a different political structure. Norway was not yet bound together as a cohesive body under one ruler at the time of my writing.

Timing

I am really kind of relieved that I had the first book in the trilogy written many years ago, initially. Self-published as Captive Irish Moon, the book was finished in the summer of 2004. My research didn’t end there, though! I’ve kept at it and new finds have been discovered, which made my original timeline off and it was very frustrating.

Getting the opportunity to adjust some of the details was great when ECM was accepted by my publisher. The original book is still the original story, but I’ve allowed myself to expand it through my notion of getting to the leadership of the only Viking who ever claimed the High Kingship of Ireland: Tuirgeis (also known by other names). Each of the three books in my series deal with the Norse culture of the early ninth century, including their clothing, beliefs, social structure and marriage customs.

I also explore how the Ostmen invade Éire and settle there.

I am relieved, as I said, because my story is told, in my head, for the most part. Book two was in editing by the time VIKINGS was broadcast on television, so I knew that there would be no subconscious borrowing of legends or materials or anything. For my personal mental health, this is a good thing. The second book of my trilogy is called Éire’s Viking and it should be out early in 2014.

The third book is being written now and I’m calling it Éire’s Devil King as a working title. I know that History Channel is planning a second season of their show in 2014, but by the time it airs, my trilogy will be complete on my end, so I will enjoy the show as it is presented.

Reverb Effect?

I think that I was fortunate to have a book out on Vikings from the same era (more or less) as those in the History Channel show. I confess to shamelessly tweeting to my followers that if they just couldn’t wait for Sunday night and the next episode of VIKINGS, then they could buy my book for their Kindle and get more Vikings immediately.

Did it work? I have no idea. Maybe?

By the time the next season rolls around, Éire’s Viking will likely be out and I would like to hope that the contrast between what is likely to happen in the life of Ragnar Lothbrok and the what is happening in the life of Agnarr Halvardson, who chooses to settle in Éire, will be appealing.

[For any of my readers who were Team Agnarr after reading Éire’s Captive Moon, I think book two will make them happy. And the Team Cowan people? You’ll be happy, too.]

About the Author

Wife of one and mom of two, Sandi currently resides in Maryland. Besides historical fiction, she writes contemporary inspirational romances – one of which will be released this summer.  Her interests involve researching anything, autism, and learning how to spin by hand. Coffee and the written word are her addictions, and she loves the world before the sun lights the sky.

Find Sandi Anywhere…

Website

Éire’s Captive Moon on Amazon

Sandi Layne on Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook page

On Writing: Inspired by the Litha Festival

Inspiration in Old Traditions

Guest post by Brenda Sparks

writing inspiration

UnicornRetreat/veezzle.com

When I wrote A Midsummer Night’s Demon, I knew I wanted the story to center around the Pagan festival of Litha.  Litha generally falls in the third week of June, during the summer solstice, as the midsummer heat creates a fiery passion that leaves people breathless. The more I learned about the festival, the more the holiday intrigued me.

Litha celebrates abundance, fertility, virility, and nature. During the celebration it is customary to wear garland and crowns of flowers made from the yellow blossoms of St. John’s Wort. Litha rites include dancing, singing, storytelling and feasting centered around a bonfire. Often courting couples will join hands and jump over the Litha fire three times to ensure a happy marriage, many children, and financial prosperity.

Those who celebrate Litha believe it is a time when the Sun God reaches the peak of His power, bringing the heat of summer. Just as the power of the sun at Midsummer is at its most potent so too is the Sun God. He takes His Goddess as His wife and, like the earth in June, she becomes fertile with the bounty of growing life. His marriage with the Goddess makes Him not only Her lover, but her protector as well.

In some traditions, Litha is a time light battles with dark. The Sun God’s potency ensures the continuity of life during the oncoming darkness of winter. For contemporary Wiccans and Pagans, it is a time to meditate on both the light and darkness in not only the world, but in their personal lives as well.

This concept intrigued me, for I knew the characters in my story had a similar dichotomy. Ky is a vampire—the night his domain. He is a dark warrior, a protector of his kind. And Daelyn is a demon. The day belongs to her. She is sweet and slightly naïve about things that go bump in the night. She is the goodness to his devilish impulses. The light to his darkness.

Faeries are said to abound in great numbers on Midsummer’s Eve. As part of the Litha celebration people will commune with the faeries and leave them sweet offerings outdoors. Upon discovering part of the Litha rituals involved sprinkling an offering to faeries, I had to find out what might be given. It is widely believed that faeries enjoy milk, cheese, bread, and sweets, and therefore those items are generally scattered in offering.  While doing research for my story, I came across a yummy recipe I’d like to share.

Faery Fruit Compote

Blend together

 ½ cup water

2 tablespoons of Marigold petals

½ cup of sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Let cool.

In a bowl combine

1 ½ cups each of orange, lime, and tangerine slices

2 cups blueberries.

Pour water mixture over fruit and chill overnight. Serve over lemon angel food cake.

So make yourself some Faery Fruit Compote and if you get a chance please check out my book, A Midsummer Night’s Demon. Thank you for reading!

About the Author

Brenda Sparks has always loved all things spooky and enjoys incorporating paranormal elements in her writing. She refuses to allow pesky human constraints to get in the way of telling the story. Luckily the only thing limiting her stories is her imagination. Her characters are strong, courageous, and she adores spending time with them in their imaginary world.

In real life, she is married to a loving, supportive husband and together they have one grown son who has brought much joy to their lives. Her idea of a perfect day is one spent in front of a computer with a hot cup of coffee, her fingers flying over the keys to send her characters off on their latest adventure.

You can find Brenda on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.

Author Interview: Ben Monopoli

Words and Wisdom from Ben Monopoli

We haven’t made any secret of our respect and regard for Ben Monopoli. Plainly put, we have a serious crush on the way he thinks. After reading everything he’s written (that we know about, anyway), we really hoped for a chance to pick his brain. Smart, funny, and generous, Ben granted our wish in the form of a short interview. We share those words with you here. Enjoy.

*Spoilers right ahead. If you don’t want to be spoiled, read the books. In fact, read them anyway. Carry on.*

The Cranberry Hush

The Painting of Porcupine City

Homo Action Love Story! A tall tale

Ben Monopoli author interviewWe think we can safely say that your stories don’t follow “the formula” or genre expectation, rules and guidelines. Do you think this affords you as a writer greater character and story development? Allow you to explore the not-so-pretty part of people that most fiction and romance/love stories gloss over or ignore. We can be good people but still have those occasional selfish or uncharitable thoughts, and you do such a good job of showing this. How do you tap into that, and how do you think that differs from mainstream or traditional fiction and romance/love stories?

My books, at least the first two, probably do follow a genre expectation, but the genre is literary fiction (“lit fic” sounds less pretentious), which is what I read most often. I like the navel-gazey books that get into the nitty-gritty of people’s lives. I want a lot of detail, a lot of insight. John Steinbeck is my favorite writer—the amount this man understood about human nature, it’s crazy. You read something like East of Eden and it’s easy to see that it’s everything he knew about everything. He put it all in that book. I think that’s what literary fiction tries to do and that’s what I’m most interested in. My first two books represent everything I knew about life, love, loss up to that point. Part of that is that people don’t always do the right things, they make mistakes that are really obvious and stupid; they do the wrong thing even when they know what the right thing is. But they’re also susceptible to moments of real beauty and, for lack of a better word, magic.

While all three of your novels are unique, the tone, subject, and story from Porcupine and Cranberry to Homo Action is quite different. The first two have a similar feel, but Homo Action is pretty unique. Can you give us any insight from where you wrote the first two stories and where Homo Action came from? Dying to know how you plotted (or pantsed) Homo Action.

The Cranberry Hush and The Painting of Porcupine City were finished before I knew m/m romance was even a thing. Maybe that makes them seem fresh to the m/m crowd, because they weren’t influenced by it. They both ended up in the m/m category for marketing reasons, because, I don’t know, writing gay characters narrows your audience so you want to go right to the readers who are looking for that. Originally I was targeting my books at 20something gay male readers; I had no idea straight women would be so receptive to stories about gay dudes, but it’s been a nice surprise. And since that audience embraced my first two books so much, I kind of wanted to play in their sandbox. That’s where Homo Action Love Story came from. It was sort of on a dare. My friend Maggie supplied the name “Boots McHenry” and told me to write a bodice-ripper about him. I think of it as something very “other” from Cranberry Hush and Porcupine City. I couldn’t bring myself to call it a novel, so I call it a tall tale. But I think it’s fun and a nice change of pace.

Ben Monopoli author interviewLoved the detail in Cranberry about bisexual people not being limited to who they can fall in love with – such an intriguing idea, especially for a writer. You’ve mentioned you weren’t sure about that aspect of Cranberry, but it was such a great arc and detail. Thoughts, insights, comments?

In my head Vince was bi from the get-go, and in all my early drafts he was longing for something he knew wasn’t possible: for Griff to fall for him. It was a type of denial. But that just never rang true to me. It took me like five years of working on the book before I realized what Vince’s bi-ness would actually mean for him and the way he relates to other people. What he feels isn’t willful denial of Griff’s straightness, he just doesn’t understand straightness at all—or gayness, for that matter. A person who’s attracted to both genders would find it hard to understand how someone could be attracted to only one. So that’s where Vince is coming from: He loves Griff and he can tell Griff loves him too, so what’s the problem? What’s Griff’s hurdle? Can the hurdle be jumped? Vince doesn’t know. I think that’s a sweeter, sadder thing to deal with.

Cranberry Hush (and Homo Action, to an extent) is about something a bit different, not the “usual” story – the girl wishing her gbf could be straight, or even the gbf wishing he could be straight for his best girl friend, or gbf wishing sbf could be gay, like Cranberry appears to start, but this dealt with the straight male friend wanting to be gay for his best friend. And why does just knowing the fact Griff wished he could be gay for Vince give the happy sighs and make it easier to accept for Vince and (most of) the readers?

I think part of the pain of unrequited love is that it makes us feel a little silly, maybe a little invisible. We go around feeling like, “I love him and he has no idea and wouldn’t care even if he knew.” Unrequited love makes us feel small. So when Griff takes Vince to the lighthouse, it puts them on equal footing for the first time in their friendship. Griff recognizes everything Vince feels and welcomes it, and values it, and is envious of it. That helps Vince realize that what he feels isn’t even quite unrequited, it’s requited in its own way, it’s just something that’s not going to work out. And that’s sad, yeah, but it’s a lot easier to deal with. It’s a lot more affirming. One of the most important realizations of Vince’s life is that he hasn’t been being silly.

And, if you will, settle a personal debate between J and M. How much of Griff wishing he could fall in love with Vince was altruistic – he just truly wanted to be able to love Vince – versus being somewhat selfish and wanting to belong to someone, to go back to the salad days of college. He just broke up with what he thought was his One (and tried to get back with her – tried to sleep with her when they stayed), which he considers to be the end all, be all of life. Who is really the one fooling himself, so to speak – Griff or Vince? How much was all that Griff honestly trying to figure out if he was straight or gay, or how much was trying to get back to what he considers his comfort/goals? Maybe M read way too much into it (and maybe J let her own personal history blind her).

Griff is a guy who’s maybe too eager to be in love. This is part of what draws him to Vince, because he’s entranced by the idea that Vince as a bi guy can love anyone. Griff sees that as having endless possibilities.

Griff is very earnest, and as a result he gets his heart broken a lot. Every person he invests all his emotion into ends up breaking his heart. His breakup with Beth comes at a pretty fragile time in his young adulthood and he feels totally adrift afterward. So he reaches for the person he knows would never break his heart. And maybe that would be a little selfish if Vince didn’t need so badly to be reached-for by Griff, but he does. And it’s not altruism on Griff’s part—he’s not trying to do Vince a favor. He needs Vince and Vince needs him. That’s just love.

I never meant to suggest that Griff is questioning his straightness, though. What he’s trying to find out is whether his love for his male friend can override his straightness, if it can become everything he needs in his life if he’ll let it. He wants to test it.

Ben Monopoli author interviewThe details of Mateo’s graffiti painting in Porcupine City were so vivid and detailed. What did your research for that aspect of the story and his character entail? You did such a great job of making the reader feel his compulsion, his need, how itchy and unsettled he was when we wasn’t painting, when he tried to stifle his need and attempt to prioritize his “hobby” versus his real life, his day job, his relationship with Fletcher. Another example here how you take something most people would disdain—graffiti and defacing public property—and make it sympathetic. Make readers root for Mateo (and Fletcher) to get away with an illegal activity, cheer for him, while still maintaining the balance of “he really is breaking the law,” not going too far in either direction. That’s an amazingly difficult balance to achieve. Did you set out to show that or did it just grow from the story?

Mateo and Fletcher basically have the same compulsion, which is to put words on things. For Fletcher it’s paper, and for Mateo it’s… anything. I did some research into graffiti but it was for the technical stuff. I felt pretty confident that I understood what would make someone do it. Who hasn’t wanted to do it?

As for making Mateo’s graffiti sympathetic, I think street art lends itself to that because it’s romantic. It’s one of those things that, OK, it’s technically a crime, but it’s morally ambiguous. Like, it’s more OK in certain places than in others. It’s more OK if it’s pretty and not just scribbles. It’s like jewel theft or some other glamorous crime. I tried to make a distinction between types of graffiti—sometimes angry people just want to make a mess, but other people are artists. One person’s “defacing public property” is another person’s “enhancing public property.” I don’t know. I can argue both ways, which I think comes across in the book. I’m not saying I’d want it on my car or my house, but I also can’t say I’d rather look at a blank concrete wall in a subway station.

I think we all know by now Jen is a huge Holden Caulfield fan, so we have to ask. Vince in Cranberry seems very Holden-esque. On purpose?

No, not on purpose. But I think Holden is like a god, the god of angst. He’s everywhere you look.

Ben Monopoli author interviewA reviewer of Homo Action mentioned what she referred to as the “non-monogamous” aspect, or more the issue of being faithful, that Boots didn’t wait very long to have sex with someone else after Ryan left. Do you think the different views on casual versus committed sex (for lack of a better term) is a difference between the sexes? Same sex versus opposite sex relationships? No relation at all, just personal reactions?

Boots definitely doesn’t wait very long to hook up with other guys after Ryan’s exile. Part of that was just practical from a storytelling standpoint. I wanted to write a sexy bodice-ripper, so the characters needed to be having sex. Monogamy would’ve been a narrative straitjacket, so for a book called Homo Action Love Story, I had no trouble throwing it overboard. This is not a serious book.

I’ve seen reviews like the one you mentioned. For some people non-monogamy will always be cheating. That’s fair, but I think life is more complicated than that. Boots sleeps with guys he thinks Ryan would approve of. So it’s safe to infer that they’re more monogamish than monogamous. On the other hand, he makes an effort to avoid guys Ryan wouldn’t approve of. There is a moral code he operates by. For some people it might be too loose, but I don’t feel there’s any cheating here.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to generalize about people’s sex lives, either, like by saying opposite-sex couples do this or same-sex couples do that. Sex is the most complicated subject in the world, and also the most secret. I don’t think most people, me included, have any idea what other people’s sex lives are really like. Some couples are monogamous, some are in open relationships, and there’s probably a lot of gray area in between. I think the gray area is where the best stories are.

Any unique, fun, exciting, or frustrating challenges as a gay fiction, self-pubbed, etc. writer you’d like to share?

Being a self-pubbed writer is awesome. People are reading my stuff, they send me nice letters, I get to do interviews like this. Being a self-pubbed bookseller, which is the flip-side of the coin—well, I don’t like that part. Back when I released The Cranberry Hush there wasn’t a whole lot of ebook competition. Word of mouth was enough to take it to #1. These days the ebook presses are rolling 24/7, which makes marketing way more important if you want to get attention. It’s not where my interests or strengths lie, though. I’d rather be writing than selling—which probably means I’m selling myself short. But hopefully if my books are good enough they’ll find an audience.

Ben Monopoli author interviewFUTURE BOOKS! Give us some scoop on what you might be thinking about next.

I’m working on a sequel to The Painting of Porcupine City, but it’s going to take a few years so it may not be the next thing I publish. Totally random—the other day I learned that the soldiers in the Spanish Legion have the sexiest uniforms in the world. Google them. I could imagine a sequel to Homo Action Love Story revolving around those uniforms. But who knows.

Feel free to add anything you’d like to mention, talk about, discuss, etc., and thanks so much for sharing with us!

Thank you! It’s been fun.

Follow Ben Monopoli

Want to check out these amazing books? You can find Ben Monopoli on Goodreads and Amazon.

On Writing: Write What You Know? Maybe Not.

Reality Lacks A Satisfying Narrative Arc

Guest post by Jeanette Grey

write what you know

© Tomloel | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The message is everywhere: write what you know. We hear it from college professors, from abrasive-but-ultimately-kind-mentor-characters in movies, from random relatives who think they have sage advice to offer about writing in spite of never having really pursued it themselves.

It’s reinforced when friends suggest you should write a book about your life. Or about their life. Or about the life of one of their friends who recently had something interesting happen to them.

It’s reinforced when everyone scoffs at the disclaimer in the front of every novel about all people, places and things being fictional.

And it’s so, so tempting. I don’t know about you, but my most wildly productive writing years occurred when I was in my teens and bleeding words onto a page. I just had so many emotions to deal with and no other way to process them except through writing. I wrote what I knew, all right. I wrote my pain, and my joy, and the petty, petty details of my relationships, my family life, my school life. My word count was astronomical, and the sheer carnage in terms of wasted novelty notebooks and drained sparkle pens was enough to fund my local stationary store for years.

Here’s the thing, though: writing about reality is, in general, a terrible idea.

Now, I’m not saying that non-fiction doesn’t have its place. Of course it does. But novelizing real life events has an inherent flaw, because reality lacks a satisfying narrative arc.

What’s a satisfying narrative arc? It’s the lovely, circular aspect of a story that writers painstakingly weave into their books. It’s the details planted in the beginning of a novel that come to fruition in the climax. The twist of fate that unites a hero and a heroine that have complementary strengths and flaws. The conflict that represents whatever the main character fears most and present her with a chance to grow.

They’re the aspects of a story that make you jump up and down, your heart glowing, and that leave you beaming after you turn the last page.

Sure, these things happen in real life, but rarely in the kinds of combinations they do in books. Rarely in the kinds of combinations they need to in order to keep a reader devouring your books.

A random anecdote from life is like a burlap sack, and a well-crafted novel is like a finely tailored suit. Everything fits. And sure, you can cinch a belt around a shapeless swath of fabric, but it’s just not the same.

Personally, when I was still writing about my own life, my stories never seemed to go anywhere. I would get bogged down in the true events behind the story, and I never knew how to push past them to make the story into something more.

It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I got the hang of it. After a wordless decade, I started immersing myself in the world of fiction again, and new ideas started to emerge. They were untethered to my life except in the details. I set completely fabricated stories in locations where I had really lived. I gave heroes and heroines jobs I’d really had. I incorporated elements of personalities of friends and loved ones into invented characters, but I invented the characters. I made up the scenarios. The real, embedded details allowed the imagined stories to come to life, but the realities of my mundane and unsatisfying life stopped restraining the narrative, hamstringing it to true events that didn’t really matter to anyone but me.

For me, the key to writing fiction that jumped off the page was just that: writing fiction. I had to write what I didn’t know.

And using my imagination was what finally allowed me to write books that felt true.

About the Author

Jeanette Grey started out with degrees in physics and painting, which she dutifully applied to stunted careers in teaching, technical support, and advertising. When none of that panned out, she started writing. Her stories include futuristic romances and erotic contemporaries, and almost all of them include hints of either science or art.

When she isn’t writing, Jeanette enjoys making pottery, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and her pet frog. Her most recent release, Take What You Want, is available from Samhain Press as well as on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She blogs regularly at Bad Girlz Write and irregularly at JeanetteGrey.com. Follow her on Twitter or Like her on FaceBook.

J to tha M: What We’re Writing

J Writes Erotica?!

tips for writing erotica

© Lisja | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

J:  I had this big epiphany for a new book, but I’m not entirely sure how to make it work.

A reluctant hit woman.

M: It’s hard to make those sympathetic. Or would it be satire?

J: I’m not smart enough for satire

it would just be silly chick lit

and of course, she falls in love with the mark

which means he has to be sympathetic

but the real question is…

should I adopt a pen name and make this series erotica?

M:  Well…here’s the thing. You have to write sex pretty well to do that – to write a sexy, intriguing, hot erotic novel or novella. A *good* sexy, intriguing, hot erotic

J:  I could probably do that

maybe

and with you around to whip me into shape…

M:  I’d consider maybe amping up your sex scenes first

I mean, I’m not 100% sure about writing straight out erotica myself

I would need to be sure I at least thought I could give it a fair shot

J:  you mean I should write at least one before I dub myself an erotica author?

M:  I’m still working my skills, thought process, and writing to that point

by all means, give it a shot if it’s in your head and that’s where your characters want to take you

but…

good, not eye-rolly, squicky, or throw-the-book-across-the-room erotica takes a certain mindset and experience writing sex scenes, I think

J:  you’ve got a point. I’m still working on writing good, not eye-rolly, squicky, or throw the book across the room regular scenes

M:  yeah. You have to be comfortable writing those first, I’d say

but who knows – maybe you’ve got a hidden erotica alter ego. Jen Bare-y. Haha.

on the other hand…

J:  which other hand?

there are lots of them.

M:  erotic sex scenes are hard to write. good ones, that is

I seem to remember a story you wrote a chapter of under an alter ego for fun

wasn’t that a foray into more erotic territory?

J:  Oh, I didn’t shy away from writing sex in the past

that was before I realized I sucked at it

M:  Um. You can’t suck at writing sex in erotica

J:  Oh, for a moment, I thought you meant that I can’t suck. As in, I’m incapable of sucking

then I realized what you meant

you weren’t exactly saying I don’t suck, which is fair enough

i’m giggling

and getting funny looks

M:  well, you don’t suck

J:  why, thank you

you keep me in line

M: Howevah, sex scenes are not your strong point. And I think it only makes sense a writer needs to be able to write really strong sex scenes for good erotica, yes?

so I would just put that out there to consider before diving into a full erotic novel

M:  but write the story and characters and see where they take you. That’s the most important thing

J:  fair enough

you do know I’m not actually going to write erotica, right?

I leave all the sex-writing to you

and if you’re not there to do it, I write YA

*nods*

But it is sexy when you lecture me.

M:  yeah. I’m like “Jen? Erotica? Um…How do I put this? I need a drink. A big drink.”

hahaha

Oooh, and I have chocolate vodka

brb

J: …wait. What are you trying to say?

J: Hello?

On Writing: Music as Inspiration

Music and Prose

Guest post by Jack Croxall

writing inspiration with music

© Creatista | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

What I’d like to reflect upon here is how useful I’ve found assigning particular songs to certain sequences, settings or even whole chapters of my novel.

I first tried this because I wanted to create a kind of reference point for the feel of some of my scenes; a way of standardising say, a certain location’s mood or the mindset of a particular character. It seemed like a decent enough idea and, once I’d decided on a suitable selection of tracks for a sequence, I always made sure to have a quick listen through any time I wanted to add anything more to said sequence, hopefully preventing myself from accidentally bolting on any tonally dissimilar sentences.

However, I soon realised music could do more for my work than just help with continuity.

I think everybody’s experienced that moment when a familiar song comes on and you’re instantly reminded of how you felt when you first heard it; I know when I hear tracks from Echo Park by Feeder, I suddenly feel as sad as I did at the end of the book I was reading when I bought the album (Watership Down). I mention this because, as I began carefully allocating scene X with track list Y, I started to realise a lot of the older songs in my music library put me in the precise mental state I’d been in when I’d first listened to them during my teenage years.

Now, a lot of teenagers have an incredible amount to deal with and dredging some of that back up could perhaps be considered a bad idea, but upon taking the plunge myself, I recognised I’d discovered a priceless writing tool.

Let me explain a little bit more. The two main characters in my YA novel are, unsurprisingly, teenagers and having not been one for a while, I was sometimes finding it difficult to work out how certain events in the plot might affect them. In rediscovering some of my older music, I realised I’d stumbled upon a valuable window into how I’d felt during the more testing times (but comparatively meagre in the grand scheme) I had gone through as a teenager; insecurity, break ups, cancelation of my favourite TV show etc.

So, the point is, I was suddenly able to construct more realistic reactions and responses to some of the more emotive events that occur throughout my plot, simply because my old music could reminded me of how I’d felt and thought during similar, albeit far less extreme, situations. It really was somewhat of a revelation.

About the Author

Jack Croxall - Author PhotoBorn in High Wycombe, Jack Croxall now lives in rural Nottinghamshire with his chocolate Labrador, Archie. He has a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Nottingham and currently toils away as a science writer in between working on his books. A YA Victorian fantasy, Jack’s debut novel, Tethers follows Karl Scheffer and Esther Emerson as they become embroiled in a treacherous conspiracy. The book is available through Amazon and you can find out more by visiting Jack’s blog or the book’s GoodReads page. You can also follow Jack on Twitter or Facebook.

On Writing: The Where and the How and the What?

Writing Is Hard and Other Wise Tidbits

Guest post by Margaret Taylor

on writing: finding inspiration

© Bazil8 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

As an Author, many times I’m asked, “Where did you get that idea?” or “How do you write a book?”

My fellow Authors can attest to the fact that these two questions are probably the most consistent ones we get asked.  Am I right ladies and gents?

So, I was thinking that today I’d try and answer them.

The first, “Where did you get that idea?” is probably the more common of the two, so we’ll start there.

Most of my ideas come, literally, from everyday life and I’ll give you an example of the one I had not too long ago so you can understand.

Now, as we all know, the Superbowl was not too far back.  And no, I’m not going to start talking about what an awesome game it was!  Because it was.  If you didn’t watch the game, you’ve probably heard about it by now, so I won’t recount any of it.

What I will focus on is the other big story of the game…the lights going out.

Like most, I watched the game, beginning to end and it was only afterwards that an idea came to me for a new book.  As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep in the aftermath of the nail biting previous five hours or so, I thought…what if?

And here’s the “What If?” I came up with.

What if the lights going out wasn’t some sort of feed power failure as they are saying it was?  What if it was a very powerful witch or warlock or sorcerer who had an obscene amount of money bet on the 49’s?  Said witch or warlock or sorcerer, seeing the game getting away from his/her team decides to intervene and with his/her power or spell or whatever, shuts off the lights in the hopes that’ll be enough of a break for his/her team to recharge and come back.

Ah ha!  I now have my bad guy or girl, yeah?

So that thought led to…ok, so who would be my hero/heroine in that scenario and which of the many series I have going could I fit said bad guy?  Well, the second part of that question was easy to answer.  I have a stand-alone paranormal, “Prophecy of Love” into which the above scenario would fit perfectly as a possible “Book 2”.  That left me with, ok, who’s going to be my protagonist, or good guy to the bad?

Hmmm…

Alright, I admit that was about the point my mind drifted to other things and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.  However, when I woke the next day, I wrote down the thought and will eventually flesh it out for possible development/writing.

Now, this leads to the second question I get asked, A LOT!  “How do you write a book?”

This question is not so easy to answer.  What works for me may not necessarily work for you.  There are numerous schools of thought on how to write.  Many have published books, there are a ton of websites, and the most obvious, creative writing courses out there.

And I’m not talking about the technical stuff.  The grammar, the punctuations, the sentence structure and so on.  That comes with time, practice and a damn good editor behind you!  (Ladies and gents, ALWAYS pay due homage to the editor.  They are the ones that bless the final product and make sure – if they are worth said due homage – that your work looks really good on the backside of the creative process.)  So, no, we’re not talking about that part.

What I am talking about is putting your ideas onto paper.  Getting that scenario, or “What If” out of your head and out there for all to see.

This is not as easy as it might seem.  Everyone wishes they could write the “Great American Novel”.  I think it’s something that crosses everyone’s “Bucket List” at some point or another in their lives.  It’s human nature.  Despite the tunnel vision we’ve developed in the last 50 years, we are, by our very nature, “Sharers”.  We want to tell our stories to the perfect stranger sitting next to us.  We want people to know our trials and tribulations.  Before the internet, we did this via hand-written and eventually typed letters.  Now, we do it via email, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and so on.

Regardless of the method, we share.  It’s just who we are.

Sadly, despite this, not everyone can write.  Not everyone can see something in their heads and effectively put that on paper for others to enjoy just as much as they do.  The good ones, the great ones, have the ability to draw you in, bring the scenario, the idea to life for those of us not so fortunate enough to have that talent.

I, at least I hope I am and have been told I am, one of the fortunate ones.  I have talent.  Where it comes from, I haven’t a clue.  But, it’s there and even I am amazed sometimes by it.  I’ll be sitting here reading something I’ve written and go, “Hey, you know what?  I’m not so bad at this writing thing…

Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit and apologize.

Moving on.  Writing is like anything else.  It takes practice, lots and lots of practice.  Steven King, in his book, On Writing, said it best I think.

“A true writer…writes.”

And it truly is that simple.  If you’re a writer, and my fellow Authors can back me on this I think, you write.  All the time.  And sometimes you do it without even realizing you are.  (I wrote the next scene in one book in the shower this morning and another while I was out running errands a bit later, just to give you an example.)

Despite the fact I have a “day job” I write whenever I have free time.  I’m not Steven or any of a half a dozen others, yet so the bills have to be paid.  However, I’ve decided that I’m going to devote serious time to my writing in 2013 and see where it goes.  If I’ve honed my craft sufficiently, then maybe I’ll start to catch on and take off.  We’ll see.

That being said, I’m going to give you what I use to write.  It’s a tool, a concept and if it works for you, then please feel free to use it.  It was given to me, years ago, so I don’t “own it” but I’ve lived by it since. And if it doesn’t work for you, then I hope it gives you an idea, helps you create your own tool, that you can use to craft your own works.

As I’ve said, writing is a talent and not one everyone has it.  But the tools are there.  The following is but one of them.

It was once said to me:  “Writing a book is like building your favorite sandwich.  You need everything to work together to enjoy it.  For example, you wouldn’t eat a pastrami on rye without the rye yes?  Or a roast beef without the beef?  No, you wouldn’t.  So, if you look at every book as a sandwich and you have all the elements, all the pieces, then it should work and taste o’ so good!”

I was told that you need a beginning and an ending, which are your two pieces of bread.  They hold the sandwich together, give you something start and end with.

The meat of your sandwich are your characters, all your characters.  The good, bad and yes sometimes ugly.  The meat is what makes the sandwich, well, a sandwich.  If you didn’t have meat, or characters, then all you have are two pieces of very boring bread.

The lettuce, tomatoes, onions or whatever it is you like on your sandwich, is the plot.  These things compliment your sandwich, or the story, but they don’t overwhelm it, or they shouldn’t anyway.  They add flavor – or as he said, “Penash!” – and make you want to keep eating, or reading, to the end.

The mayo, mustard, ketchup and what not, are your sub-plots.  The little twists and turns to the story, or the bit of flavor you get now and again when you bite in and begin chewing.  Again, they don’t overwhelm, but compliment – send your taste buds, or your readers, off in a new, and sometimes completely unexpected direction.

He also added to make sure you love the sandwich you’re eating!  In other words, if you hate pastrami on rye, or mystery novels, then don’t try and write one.  You’ll take one bite – or write one page – hate it and throw it away.  But, if you love Turkey, or science fiction, then get going, start eating and before you know it, the sandwich will be gone and the book is written.

As I’ve said, I’ve used this model to write since I was 16 and as crazy as it sounds, it does work.  Granted I’m not one of those that has to plot everything down to the last chapter.  I never have been.  Most of the time, once I “see” the opening line to a book in my head, I’m gone.  I open up a word doc and just start typing.  It’s not until afterwards, when it’s done, that I go back and apply the above tool to begin the long, arduous process of editing the words to fit it.

Sometimes though, it’s not a line, but a character that I see.  As in the above scenario I spoke about earlier.  In that case, I put the character down first and build the sandwich around it.  In other words, I’m really craving turkey but have no idea what I want to go with it!  I know eventually that I’ll get the rest of it down, I already have the “background world” which I developed in “Prophecy of Love”, so it’ll come.  But, for now, he/she is just a plain old “What if?” waiting in the wings for his story to be told.

And that’s fine.  When he/she starts to “yell the loudest” is when I’ll pull it back out and have my turkey sandwich!

And that’s all there really is too it.

Now, it’s time to build your sandwich, or your story.  One final bit of advice, have fun with it!  Enjoy that Turkey, or Pastrami, or Roast Beef to its fullest!  Savor every bite of it because if you do, then so will your readers.  If you don’t love it, throw it away and start over with something you do love.

I hope this helped to give you a brief glimpse into the creative process that goes on…at least for me.  And if you’re an aspiring Author, please, feel free to use it or not.  It’s whatever works for you.

Thanks, J & M for having me here today.  It was wonderful to share myself with your audience.

Until next time.

Margaret Taylor.

About the Author

Margaret Taylor’s debut release Wolf’s Paradox is coming in June 2013.  She also has Prophecy of Love with Lyrical Press (Coming in Feb, 2014). She’s a Member of SARA, San Antonio Romance Writer’s Association, http://sararwa.net/ as well as RWA.  She has many current projects in the works and if you ask nicely, she might be persuaded to post some tasty excerpts on her blog! *Bring Cookies as payment please!* You can follow Margaret on her, Blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.