Interruptions and Research..For supernaturals?

I’m over halfway through the free supernatural mystery I’ve been writing for my webpage.  I was flying through pages until this week.  And then everything slowed to a snail’s pace.  Part of it was because of interruptions.  Now, mind you, I usually welcome these.  If left to my own devises, I’m all too happy to plop my fanny in my writing chair and only come up for air to eat lunch (my husband usually puts that together from leftovers or he makes sandwiches–he’s amazingly good at those) or when I glance at the clock and I have to hustle to make supper.  (He expects something solid for that, and he’s a bit picky).  That’s why I make out menus for meals.  BUT, this week, I got stopped a lot more often that.  I don’t know if it was because of the bitter cold weather or because we were going to change months, but I had one phone call after another.  I AM NOT COMPLAINING, because I remind myself All The Time that I love it when my kids or grandkids still think of us and give us a call.

Add to that, I added a chapter to my story where the demon enforcer and his deputized witch drive to a nearby Druid community to search for the plant, wood betony.  Now, when I started this book, I never realized that I’d need to come up with some plausible plants to make magical pouches and protection potions.  Silly me.  But when I thought of that as a fun plot twist, the question became–what in the heck would you dry to grind for a spell like that?  My old, falling apart book, COUNTRY SCRAPBOOK–All About Country Lore and Life, by Jerry Mack Johnson–came to the rescue.  I had no desire to find out if there actually WAS such a spell.  My witches are fantacized, but I wanted the ingredients to sound FEASIBLE, so I spent more than a little time reading that the ancients believed that wood betony protected journeymen by night from all harm, including witchcraft.  People gathered its leaves and flowers to brew tea to help heal ulcers and wounds, too, among other things.  Yellow gentian rendered poisons ineffectual.  A few seeds of fennel placed in keyholes kept ghosts at bay.  You get the idea…

By the time I came up with a recipe to put in a fabric pouch to wear around your neck, I was pretty happy with myself.  And then I wrote that witches wouldn’t grow wood betony in a witch garden, because it might bring them harm, but SOMEONE had used it…on purpose…and Hester and Raven decided that person might have gotten it from the Druids who live close by.   Another fun idea.  Except…I had no idea how I wanted to distinguish a Druid’s magic from a witch’s, and I wanted their settlement to be different, too.  Which meant…more research.

And boy, I’m glad I took the time.  Because Druids weren’t even close to the brown robed priests TV often show them as.  Did you know it took twenty years for someone to train to be a Druid?  That most knew three languages–Latin, Greek, and Etruscan.  And that they were so respected for their wisdom and honesty, other countries hired them to be judges and lawyers in important cases?  Or that women could be judges and lawyers, too?  I sure didn’t.  I’m still no expert on Druids, but I found the right flavor for my Druid community and hopefully, it gives the right impression.

Anyway, between fun phone calls and looking for answers for ideas to make my story more believable–even though it’s fantasy–I spent a lot of time at my writing desk NOT writing.  But it’s all part of getting words on paper, isn’t it?  I’m back to pounding away on keys now, and I’m making progress again.

For your week, I wish you Happy Writing!  Or whatever makes your story better.

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Book Signings

My husband and I went to hear Anna Lee Huber at Barnes & Noble on Thursday night, and as much as I enjoyed it–and I enjoyed it a lot–I think he enjoyed it even more.  He has a thing for World War I and II history, and Anna’s new Verity Kent mystery series takes place right after World War I.   She had information neither of us had ever heard of.  Did you know that Britain recruited aristocratic women to be spies and go behind enemy lines when Germany cut off Belgium and occupied it?  The conditions of that poor country and German-occupied France was deplorable.  Never mind the conditions in the trenches.

Before Anna even started her presentation, she let us chatter with her about writing and publication.  John loves that, too.  He actually likes talking writing and the business end of it as much as I do.  Probably has to out of self-defense.  Anna writes TWO historical mystery series.  Both of them intrigue me.  Her Lady Darby series is set in 1830s England.  Now, as everyone must know by now, I’m a huge fan of Julia Donner’s Regency romances, which take place from about 1810 to 1820 (unless Julia reads this and corrects me).  Anna loves research as much as Julia Donner, but she purposely picked the 1830s because no one had written very much about that time period.  A good writers’ tip.  Find a niche of your own.  The 1830s were between the Regency period and the Victorian years.  A nice pocket to explore.  Too soon for Jack the Ripper–which always intrigues me:)  That series is her Lady Darby series, and I’ve already bought the first book (on sale as I write this) to try.

Her second series is the one John’s excited to start.  It’s the years right after World War I with plenty of flashbacks about the war.  It’s her Verity Kent (she’s a spy for England) series.  The second book in the series recently came out:

The good news is that Anna Lee Huber was interviewed on NPR the morning of her signing.  The sad news is that John and I and ONE other person showed up to hear her, besides her mother.  Fun for us, since we got to ask more questions and interact with her more.  And she’s DELIGHTFUL.  Just saying.  But not so good for her, because she didn’t sell many books.  She took it in her stride.  Book signings are like that.  Sometimes, people show up.  Sometimes, they don’t.  And only the heavens know why.

Talking about people showing up, I’m plugging the reading event (with Kyra Jacobs, Julia Donner, TG Wolff, L.A. Reminicky, and me in Decature on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. again.  It’s hosted by The Next Page Bookstore and Monster Pizza.  Hope you can make it.

AND, it snowed today.  Just enough to let you know it’s cold outside.  So I hope you’re holed up inside and hitting the keys.  Happy writing!

 

P.S.  If you look up Anna Lee Huber on Goodreads and look at her reading lists, etc., she has a shelf of books she uses for research…in case you’re a history buff like someone I know who writes Regencies.

 

 

Writing & Research

I write urban fantasy–make-believe.  So why am I doing more research than I did when I wrote mysteries?  It came as a shock to me when I ended up with stacks of print-outs on voodoo and Norse gods, Wiccan Sabbats and Gorgons.  How could supernaturals be more work than killing someone?  But it’s simple, really.  Whatever a writer puts in a story has to FEEL real, and if some fact is off-key enough to jostle a reader out of the flow, it’s a misstep.  So if I put the Norse goddess Freya in a novel–Empty Altars, I’d better have my basics in decent shape.

My friend, M. L. Rigdon, writes fantasy, but she also writes Regency romances as Julia Donner.  She has to research more little details (Were gloves buttoned? What fabric of gown did a woman wear at home instead of for a fete?), than I ever stopped to consider.  Until I wrote Empty Altars.   Then little things tripped me up.  I couldn’t say “They went to bed,” because what was their house like?  What did they sleep on?  What did they do to keep warm?   Mary Lou read my  novella Uncommon Allies, set in Medieval times, and e-mailed me, “Send these to me before you put them online.”  Because even after I’d done a decent amount of research, I apparently hadn’t done enough.  The mistakes are mine, but at the time, I thought I was in good shape.

In the beginning, I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan of stopping every other chapter to look up what gargoyles were carved from, the history of griffins, or the origin of Pegasus.  But I learned that research not only adds a richness to a story that was lacking before, but it also inspires ideas.   Now, granted, I’ve known people who spend more time on research than on writing.  Somewhere, a writer has to strike a balance.  But authenticity rings true in a novel.  It makes the characters and setting come to life.  It places the reader in the protagonist’s world–and nothing’s better than that, to live and breathe along with the main character.

The other thing to consider is that readers are SMART.  Most of them are smarter than I am.  Someone who buys one of my stories is going to know more about Norse myths or witchcraft or Druids than I do.  I can’t compete with them, but I sure don’t want to disappoint them, so I try to get all of the facts I use right.  Because if I’m wrong, they’ll notice.  And it will jostle them out of the story.  And that’s the last thing that I want to happen.

As writers, we want to grab the readers’ attention and keep it.  We want them to keep turning the pages.  If we screw up, they notice.  They might even forgive us.  But it puts a bump in a story that might make suspending disbelief impossible.  And then we’ve lost that reader.  Maybe forever.