Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sunday Musings: March 9 2014

Last week we learned more about our backgrounds and how we came about. And I've always been amazed at the magic behind a writer's fictional world and the characters they bring to life.

As a reader, I have to feel the reality of the fiction.

How did you create the reality of your fictional world?

As a reader, I 'see' the books I'm reading unroll on a mental movie screen. As a writer, I build up the image in my head by creating my characters, the background world they inhabit, and then setting them off on my mental movie screen.

When I started 'Relocated,' the first Novel of Aleyne, it was mostly to prove to myself I could write science fiction. I was intimidated by the world-building, so I spent the six weeks from the time I decided to take the project on until Nov 1 world building. I had about  a page, if that, of plot notes. I constructed a 'lot' of background - culture, history, number of planets in the Federation, where the humans had first met the aliens, aliens' art, politics of the Federation, politics of my aliens, their appearance, how they differed from humans. Alien language. Alien music. Climate. Geography. Scenery. I wanted a very complete picture of the alien society and their interaction with my Terran Federation before I could bring myself to start writing.

Matthew Peters author of the coming soon THE BROTHERS’ KEEPERS

I brought my fictional world to life by doing extensive biographies of my characters. I also did a great deal of research into the Jesuits and the Vatican to get a feel for my protagonist (a Jesuit) and the antagonist (an evil cardinal). For the historical puzzle part of the book I researched the history of early Christianity. Finally, I drew on my background as a political scientist to create a realistic political climate.

Pauline (P.M.) Griffin author of THE STAR COMMANDOS series

I know the challenge my characters must face and work from there to create the necessary world and society.  That means research.  Them more research.  Then even more research.  No problem -- I love researching topics of interest to me.  For example, FIRE PLANET involved a detonating volcano, so I read and viewed everything I could get my eyeballs on about volcanoes.  Actually, I had most of the material already in my library and made haste to order the rest.  The same was true of MISSION UNDERGROUND (caves) and JUNGLE ASSAULT (jungle and jungle river ecosystems).

As for the characters, The idea for Varn, the series male protagonist, came to me suddenly.  It was powerful enough to drive the writing of STAR COMMANDOS.  Islaen, the series female lead, and Jake came in that book.  Bandit was born in my mind one night in Ireland during a lashing rainstorm. She first appeared in COLONY AT PERIL.  Bethe was to be a standalone character in MISSION UNDERGROUND but so developed that she joined the unit.  Other characters are either citizens of the various planets or grew over the length of the series.  Jack Dundee is one of the latter group and will appear in his own book, STAND AT CORNITH.

For ‘Life With a Fire-Breathing Girlfriend, I started with a crazy idea and asked, “why’ and ‘what happens next?’  The idea started with a dream about a friend I met 30 some-odd years ago.  We were at a meeting of science fiction fan club, and she was wearing a shirt that said ‘Kiss me twice, I’m Schizophrenic’.  So I did.  Thankfully, she laughed about it, and we became good friends.

The dream replayed that event, but the young lady in the t-shirt was a dragon.  She kept herself fed by killing and eating people whose absence made the world a better place.  I woke up from it and crawled to my computer at 4:00am to get all the details I could down.  In the morning, I started asking “why”, and noting the answers.  I recalled a piece of advice I’d read once that said, what happens in a story must be what must happen.  There must be a reason for the dragons to be on Earth, and they must come here instead of anywhere else.  They must need something from us.  I kept going like that until I had all the story points accounted for.  Then I asked, ‘what happens next?’ and started writing

The first two parts of the book started as short stories that took about eight hours total to write – they flowed like nothing else I’ve done.  I submitted them to an anthology about non-traditional dragons, and they both got rejected for foul language and immoral content.  I rewrote them, took out the one F-bomb and added more immoral content.  The third section of the book outlined itself while I was making a list of unresolved story threads.  From short stories to first submission took about four months.

The reality of my fictional world in The Ginseng Conspiracy came out of the fact that ninety-five percent of all American, cultivated ginseng is grown in Wisconsin.

Take one professor who is murdered because of his research on the ginseng crop and whose death is reported as accidental. Add one woman, Kay Driscoll who is inclined to take risks to solve a case along with her two best friends, the free spirited, Deirdre and the untamed modern woman, Elizabeth. Their crime-fighting headquarters aka home-away-from-home is Sweet Marissa's Patisserie. Add one oblivious, preoccupied husband and murders that increase at alarming rates. Mix this all together along with a corrupt set of prominent citizens in a small town setting with lots of red herrings, plot twists, and humor and you have The Ginseng Conspiracy - A story of murder and risk and pastry.

Viola Ryan author of THE MARK OF ABEL

Much of the reality of The Mark of Abel comes from a simple question: If the Devil punishes people for their sins, isn't he more interested in justice? From there questions started snowballing. Why did he get Eve to eat the fruit in the Garden of Eden? Why did he try to overthrow God? Simple answers that painted in him simple shades of black were no longer good enough. As a writer, I needed to understand his motivation and as I did, I realized there was a lot more to his story.

To tell that story, I needed to keep one foot in the established Biblical world, with characters like Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Lilith and Eve, and one foot with new characters, such as giving him   twins and creating contemporary characters to ground the story in today.

The series ultimately revolves around various Biblical and extra-canonical prophecies that I didn't create. In this way, the reality is created though the millennia these words have stood.

The José Picada, PI series - co-written by my brother, David Fraser - is the tale of new detective Josie Cates. To make Josie's world real, we drew on our own experiences. Josie was a Worker's Comp insurance adjuster before striking it out as a private investigator. I spent (way too many) years in the Workers' Comp field. Josie attended Syracuse University (just like Dave and me) where she majored in Video Art (as did Dave). Her friends are either left over from her artistic days (we know a lot of artists) or in the restaurant industry (we also know some professional chefs). Her stepsister is skilled at first aid and is training to be a vet (Dave's wife is a doctor and LOVES animals). Josie's mother is a meddling nutcase. Uh, we have no idea where that last one came from. Nope, none at all.

Marsha R. West author of VERMONT ESCAPE and upcoming TRUTH BE TOLD

I based the reality of my fictional world on my personal experiences. As a former school board member of a large urban district, I had served on the Texas Association of School Boards and on their legislative committee for three years. In that capacity, I met with legislators, visited the State capitol, and made presentations to House and Senate sub-committees. While, there are no scenes like that in VERMONT ESCAPE, I’d internalized the process of getting legislation passed. I’m a political person and read the newspaper still, and keep up with election cycles.

I researched gun laws in both states and gambling laws, too. In Texas, in every session, legislators have tried to pass a casino gambling bill. I was terrified they’d actually accomplish that before my book came out! So far, it hasn’t happened.

Because of the timing of Texas Legislature (meeting every other year from January to the end of May), I had to structure the story that way. I wanted to show both deaths as they happened, but it would’ve dragged out the story. Ultimately, those deaths show up in dream sequences.

I needed at least 2 years to pass before I felt okay letting Jill, the heroine, become attracted to someone else. I went on line to learn about how the Vermont legislature works. It’s called the Assembly and not the Legislature. They meet every year. It’s a small rural state. I’d visited Woodstock twice and had collected information while on those visits that hopefully, made the setting in the book almost as beautiful as I believe it to be.

My Next book, TRUTH BE TOLD, to be released sometime this spring, is set in Fort Worth, a city I’ve lived in for many years. While I didn’t base the characters on anyone in real life, they’re very much like people I’ve known. Well, except for the bad guy. I’ve never personally known anyone like him. The house where much of the action takes place is one I’ve driven by many times and always wondered, who lives there? And What if? I admire those who completely make up their worlds, but my stories are solidly based in the reality of my own experiences.

Dawn Knox author of the upcoming: DAFFODIL AND THE THIN PLACE

I didn't have to try too hard to conjure up the fictional world in DAFFODIL AND THE THIN PLACE, because the 13th Century St. Nicholas Church, where the story unfolds, is a real church in Essex, England. 

The annexe on the western end of the church was originally the priest's house and then became a charity school and home for the schoolmaster, his family and up to six boarders, who slept there during the week. 

The building consists of three floors, the downstairs school room, where a maximum of fifty children were taught, the first floor room, where the school master and family slept and the tiny attic at the top, where the boarders stayed - all linked by a quirky, winding staircase of differing sized steps.

I love to go up the stairs and imagine the many people who have climbed them before me, bending and stooping to avoid banging their heads – even at 5ft 2”, I have to crouch! The first floor room leading directly off the stairs still contains solid carved, wooden furniture and books from the Victorian times and if I focus on them, I can almost see the school master and his wife there. Carrying on up the winding stairs, into the attic, there are now Victorian artifacts, such as washing bowl and jug, as well as Victorian costumes such as the pupils may have worn – all waiting for the annexe to be used as a heritage centre for the community to learn about the history of the school and to celebrate its existence.

For me, the church and Priest House have always been a place that fired my imagination but it wasn’t until I first encountered the concept of a ‘thin place’, that my story really began to come together. Perched on a hill above the hustle and bustle of the town, the church is an atmospheric and peaceful place where it’s easy to imagine the distance between this world and others is thinner than elsewhere. And if that were so, what might happen if people found their way through the ‘Veil’, the thinnest part separating worlds and times?

Although the eponymous Daffodil is an imaginary character, I’ve included various people who were really associated with the church and school, such as the school master, James Hornsby. The Grey Monk may or may not have existed but a local legend persists that if you walk round the church three times at midnight, he will appear. One foggy Hallowe’en night at the church, several of us were up at the church and there was a rumpus outside, as a group of teenage girls began screaming they'd seen the monk and then stampeded down the hill. Seconds later, a man entered the church, looking rather bewildered and flustered. He was wearing a grey duffel coat with the hood up and must have given the girls quite a shock as he materialised out of the mist! So, it seems that despite lack of evidence, his legend endures. 

Money raised from sales of my ebook DAFFODIL AND THE THIN PLACE will be donated to the fund to repair and maintain the church and its annexe to inspire the imagination of future generations.

For Earrings Of Ixtumea I drew my world from my research into my own past.  I was taking Chicano Studies classes at the time and my professor at CSU Fullerton opened up a whole new take on US history told from the Latino viewpoint.  Professor Ortega told us that it’s the victors who write the history books.  I also have been fascinated with Mesoamerica history.  I thought it would be fun to create a fantasy world that for once wasn’t based in  Celtic/English mythology but rather one of my own Latino roots. 

In Crossed Out I used a personal experience my family had after the tragic murder of my younger sister Colette.  Plus husband suggested a ‘what if’ scenario on the crosses.  I blended them together.  I’m also a huge Buffy the Vampire fan and loved the snark.  I tried to add that to my story.  And of course I love anything on the paranormal.

In No More Goddesses I thought it would be fun to have Egyptian mythology mess with a teen.  I looked for a goddess of love-Hathor and had her do a whole twist on bringing couples together.  In my second book in this series Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love has her turn.  My younger sister is studying Egyptology and her husband is an Egyptian national.  I also found out later that there is actually a group that still worships Hathor.  A prophetess gave me permission to use one of her chants in my book.

And my current project is using experiences from my early Mormon pioneer’s background when they settled in Desert(Utah). Only my community is mostly Latinos.  For some reason people are fascinated in cults and I’m using that with my protagonist and adding the conflict of her being banished to ‘our world’ where she falls in love with the enemy. 

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. See you next Sunday…hopefully this cold will be gone by then, but there’s nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at


Barbara Ehrentreu said...

I'm fascinated by all they ways people have built their own worlds for their characters. I couldn't contribute this week, so I'm putting my two cents here if that's okay with everyone.:)

My character, Carolyn,in If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor came to me from my daughter's experiences. She is really a combination of a lot of girls, but primarily she was based on my daughter, though loosely. Since I lived in Westchester at the time and I knew how high schools there worked, I set the story there. Her father is a lawyer and I'm familiar with that since my husband is one. The mean girl Jennifer is all the mean girls I have ever known and some fictional ones too. When it came to her problem I did a lot of research to find out how it felt to have an eating disorder. I drew from the real experiences of anonymous people who sent me their own stories. I also did some research myself into how they are treated.

For my second novel, When My Life Changed, I used my own experiences with my husband's illness and set the story again in a suburban setting. Both my main characters, however, were not from people I knew and developed as the story began to unfold. For one of the situations, which I can't disclose now, I did lots of TV research on girls of that age. I'll say no more, but hoping you will be able to learn more when the book comes out in the summer or fall.

anne stenhouse said...

A fascinating list of how we do it. My own, post Regency, fictional world is largely still visible in London, Edinburgh, Bath, Dublin and a whole series of County towns throughout the UK. I also steep myself in books written in the period and its history. I take a lot of care not to give my characters 21st century mindsets. Like Dawn, I enjoy treading the stairs and flags people did. Anne Stenhouse

Marsha said...

Fascinating how different we are. I've FBed and Tweeted.