DRAWN Haunt – Just Because You Can

Edinburgh - Writer's museumThe DRAWN Haunt party continues today with a post about how to tame all those big ideas into one tightly written book.

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October you’ll find here book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, explore the blog, and check back often or subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

DRAWN was a complicated novel for me to write, but it definitely taught me a lot. So here’s the most important thing I learned…

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly! — Joy Nash, USA Today bestselling author

When writing my ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long time frame in the present, but also an eight-month long time frame in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire story lines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer story line and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Catching a Spirit

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A Night Owl Reviews Top Pick: This is a thoroughly enchanting novel. The characters are beautifully written, and the story is witty, charming, and an utter delight to read. I could not put it down. This is a fantastic romantic and tender story that will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”

October means dark chilly nights and ghostly goings on. So I say lets have some spooky fun here! I’m declaring this DRAWN Haunt Month in celebration of my award winning novel DRAWN‘s 5-year anniversary. It now has a brand new cover, and every day it’s being found by more and more new readers, including OUTLANDER fans looking for the next smart time-travel romance. I’m so happy that my book is still making readers swoon!

Throughout October I’ll be featuring special DRAWN-related posts about magic, fantasy, spirits, romance, writing, and time-travel (plus some special deals). So cozy up and enjoy the DRAWN haunting! And if you want your own copy of DRAWN to read as you sip hot cider by a crackling fireplace, order your copy by clicking here.

Now let’s kick off the fun with…

CATCHING A SPIRIT

There’s something about touching a letter that was handwritten hundreds of years ago. Or walking through an old graveyard at dusk. Or exploring the abandoned corridors of a musty medieval castle. At these moments, the barrier between the present and the past feels as thin as a sheer veil. The people of those long ago times seem almost palpable. Have you ever felt this?

In a castle I notice the worn steps, the ancient graffiti cut into a wall, and to me the air is suddenly thick with long lost memories, heartaches, whispers.  With people not so different from us. If only I could turn a corner fast enough, maybe I’d catch them unaware. That breathless maiden racing up the staircase to meet her lover. That young knight trying to swallow down the fear of his first battle. With his dagger he etches his initials in the coarse stone wall.  He wishes to be remembered…

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As an artist myself, I made sketches of my hero Christopher as I was working on DRAWN. Here’s one I imagined Michelle might have made in her sketchbook. (Drawing by Marie Lamba – note: copyrighted material)

I guess you could say Drawn is my way of finally catching a spirit by his sleeve, and really getting to know him. In my novel, Michelle De Freccio first draws a mysterious young man in her sketch pad. And later, when she runs into him, she does far more than catch his sleeve – she captures his heart.  At first she definitely doesn’t realize just who and what this guy is. But by the end of the novel she’ll learn just how close the past really can be.

Here’s a glimpse of their first meeting for you. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Drawn:

The smell of cinnamon fills the air. Past the tapestry, a very narrow flight of stone stairs leads toward a dim light. I immediately decide I won’t go up. It’s too confining.

But the cinnamon smells even stronger here. It makes me think of warm cookies and my home from a long, long time ago. I change my mind and climb the steps. A small alcove is at the top and someone sits at a wooden table with his back to me. He studies a paper by candlelight. His auburn hair reaches his shoulders and he looks familiar.

With a jolt I remember the drawing of that guy in my sketchbook. To get his attention, I clear my throat.

In an instant, he stands, grabs my arm and shoves me against the wall. His face is close. His eyes filled with fury.

Sharp stones bite into my back. Tears spring into my eyes. “Let go!” I shout. I try to pull from his grip.

His glare softens, his grip loosens. “Forgive me. I thought…”

“You thought what?” I pull my arm from him.

He takes a step back. “I beg your pardon. I was taken by surprise. There have been dangers…”

I’m rubbing my arm. Blinking away tears.

“I have hurt you.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. He’s around my age and wears a brown woolen cape over an emerald-green tunic that fits him better than most of the rental costumes I’d seen tonight. His square jaw and strong chin add ruggedness to his face, and his eyes…

His eyes are studying me. I feel my cheeks burn. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Let us begin anew. I am Christopher.” He bows his head.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Please, join me.” He pulls out the only other chair.

“Oh.” The space around us feels tight. “I don’t think—”

“Please,” he says.

So I sit. He shakes back his hair and sits beside me. I notice the fine gold embroidery around the wrists of his tunic, the bear-shaped golden clasp that holds the cape around his shoulders. “You really look authentic.”

“Do I?” He seems confused. His eyes are a strange pale green. Like the color of a glow stick just before it fades. Then again, maybe this is just from the reflection of the candlelight.

“Yeah, this is great.” I wave my hand toward his outfit. The candle flickers. “Much more authentic even than the prince or the king.”

His jaw tightens. “Be careful of what you speak, Milady.”

“Careful? Why?”

He rests his chin on his fist. “You are obviously a newcomer, and a delightful one at that.”

“Really?” I rest my chin on my fist too.

“And your words have a most unusual quality.” He leans closer.

“It’s just a plain old Jersey accent.”

“Jersey? I think it is lovely.”

“You do? Huh.”

“I do,” he says, very, very softly.

He leans in even closer.

It’s crazy but I find myself leaning toward him, as if I’m drawn. My heart pounds. The smell of cinnamon saturates the air. I wonder if his lips will be soft like his voice, warm like fresh cookies. Sweet. He closes his eyes. My heart races. Our lips nearly touch when an icy blast blows through the room, ruffles the papers, snuffs out the candle and leaves us both in the dark. The smallness of the room seems to close in around me. I give a nervous laugh. “At least I’m not alone, right?” When he doesn’t answer, I reach out my hand.

He’s gone.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Poor Mom

MP900446418Hi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  With Mother’s Day approaching this upcoming weekend (a big happy Mom’s Day to each of you!), I thought I’d pose this question to writers submitting to me: What do you have against moms?  Or dads?  You seem to have an obsession with killing them off.  Poor mom and dad.

It’s one of those weird things I see in numerous queries every day – the protagonist is an orphan. The parents died in an accident (sometimes the protagonist feels at fault), or from an illness, or one died and the other had already left the family years before.  So many orphans.  We’re talking about middle grade and YA novel submissions here.

If it’s a contemporary novel, then this orphan has been shuffled off to live with a weird relative – an eccentric, usually.  Perhaps they return to their mom’s home town to live with an estranged grandparent and begin to learn more and more about their mom’s past – full of surprises and secrets.

If the novel has any sort of fantastical element to it, the child – who lives with an eccentric relative now – discovers that mom didn’t just die from a disease, it was actually all a coverup for something bigger – an epic war is at hand and mom died fighting the good fight with whatever powers she had (magic, was a mythical being, could shoot lightning bolts out of her eyes – you get the idea).  Said orphan learns that he or she has those powers too, was left some talisman that will help with the fight, must figure out what’s happened/will happen or the entire world will come to an end, or something along those lines. Cough cough, Harry Potter, cough, cough.

And sometimes, in the fantasy scenario, mom isn’t dead for good and the child’s actions can bring them back.

Now hold up.  I can almost feel you folks ready to comment with a whole “It’s a fairy tale motif,” “It’s a classic fantasy trope,” “It’s a way for a child to embark on their own autonomous story,” “It’s how classic stories for kids have been shaped forever!”

I know, gang.  I’ve read those stories. Studied ’em.  Even took several courses on the fairy tale when I was at Penn.

But here’s the thing: how many orphans did you know growing up?  How many do your kids know right now at this moment? Maybe it does tap into some dark fantasy in a resentful child’s mind or some “I’m on my own” desire ala My Side of the Mountain… But (and this is a big but, I can not lie!) it is done and done and done again and again.

Sometimes finding this all too familiar scenario makes me sigh aloud and I just can’t read yet another word.  Do you think editors might feel that way too?  Can you recast your novel to play out differently and thereby make it stand out in a fresh way?

And, couldn’t a parent, sometimes, be a part of the story?  Part of the humor? Part of the heart? Part of the conflict (without it going straight to abuse, which I see a lot of as well)?

I’m just putting this out into the stratosphere, because it just might result in more realistic reads, even in the fantasy genre. And it just might make your story stand out.

So go honor your mother!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Writer Wednesday: On Writing Magic

*This post originally appeared on my DRAWN Blog Ghost Tour earlier this year at the wonderful blog site The Cozy Reader

MP900414028We writers have the best job in the world.  We get to perform magic, to make things mysteriously appear out of nowhere.  All writers do this when they write fiction, but when we are writing actual fantasy scenes, well, that’s more magical than ever.

The trick, as with all magic, is making the audience believe. In my paranormal novel Drawn, the main character Michelle De Freccio is an artist that draws and then meets Christopher, a hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.  Okay, so you have to suspend some disbelief when you read books like this, but my job is to make everything as credible as possible.  I didn’t want to create something goofy, but a novel that is gripping and that feels very real. A story that truly draws you in. To do this, I grounded as much as I could in a gritty reality, and only put in a few spare touches of magic.

On the reality front, it helps to have a character like Michelle who is a born skeptic, and a cynical Jersey-girl to boot. She’s hoping to start over in England and have a more normal life (back in New Jersey everyone called the De Freccio’s the De Freakos…her family has an odd background and she was labeled a freak).

Even Christopher, who is technically a ghost to Michelle, is a realist living in his own world in the 1400s. Convincing both of them that they are linked in a time traveling relationship isn’t easy. People who are skeptics need some undeniable proof…and a touch of magic, like in this scene from the book, narrated by Michelle, when she realizes she’s truly in another time and invisible, among other things:

But Thomas Haston’s vision remains barely focused on Christopher. “Yes, master.” He bows his head. “I shall grab the reins.”

He hurries toward us. Straight toward me. He must be completely blind, because he’s going to walk right into me.

“Watch it,” I say.

He doesn’t walk into me. He walks through me. Like I’m a stream to be waded through. My skin feels itchy and a nasty saltiness fills my mouth. Christopher releases me and looks at me with horror. I look at my hands, expecting them to be see-through, but they’re solid. “What the hell?” I say.

“What in hell,” he says, his voice barely a whisper.

 

So who is the ghost here, and what, exactly is going on?  Here’s the end to that scene:

Christopher takes both my hands, gingerly, as if he’s afraid they’ll burst into flames. “What are you? A sprite? A spirit? A phantom?”

“I’m a freak,” I say. And burst into tears.

 

MP900444287While much of Drawn is based in realistic scenes, whether in the present or in the distant past, there are a few times when I really get to flex my magic muscles. One of my favorite moments happens when Michelle brings a book with her into the past, a book that reveals all the battle outcomes in the 1400s.  While Christopher would be able to use this information to his advantage, this will clearly mess with destiny.  Some things are just not meant to happen, so:

I run my finger over the text to where I left off. “The Duke, misreading his opponent, brought his forces for the Christmastime to the castle of…” Suddenly the page looks different. More white space. Less words.

“The castle of?” Christopher prompts.

I try to focus on the words. “…for the Christmastime to the castle of Sandall, but…” Something seems to move across the paper. My skin crawls, as I slide my eyes downward. I watch with horror as the letters at the bottom of the page disappear one by one.

I flip the page. Letters disappear from the bottom here, too. The white of the paper grows, eating away at the words. Frantic, I flip back to the page I was just reading. Completely blank. “Oh God.”

“What is wrong?” Christopher tries to sit up.

I flip ahead a few pages. Two paragraphs are left. I quickly read, “Henry’s forces had been gathering throughout the area for some time and the land was heavily for—” The rest of that word is gone, as is the rest of the writing on that page.

“Why did you stop?” Christopher says and peers at the book. He draws in his breath as the words I’d just read vanish like a fabric unwound by a pulled thread.

 

Every novel with a fantasy element must have its own set of rules.  In Drawn, messing with destiny can be killer, literally. The history book with its unraveling writing sends up a warning to Michelle, but she disturbs destiny anyway, and winds up putting Christopher’s fate in horrific danger…  Okay, I can’t say anything more about that without spilling too much about the story.

But I can say one other thing about writing magic: If you put a very real moment right up against a magical one, the contrasts can create a seriously strong scene. In this scene from Drawn, Michelle is in her own time being attacked by a bunch of thugs from “the wrong side of Castle Road”:

Drawn-ebook cover final borderAs rough hands drag me off the sidewalk, I shriek “Christopher!”

They laugh. “Calling your posh boyfriend?” Bobby says. “Guess he can have you when we’re through.”

I close my eyes and hear a scream. It’s not me.

My eyes fly open. Bobby cradles his arm. Blood seeps through his fingers. “Who did that?” He looks around wildly.

I back away and another guy tries to grab at me. He shrieks as his thumb is sliced off, seemingly by nothing. It lands bloody beside me. I catch a glimpse of a rusty truck in the street before I close my eyes and curl up in a ball. Tears streak my face.

There’s more terrified screaming, then I hear them run away.

“Michelle. Michelle?” someone says and touches me. I whimper. “It is okay. I came. They will not hurt you now.” I feel the hand rub my arm and he says, “Shh now. Shh.”

I dare to open my eyes and there is Christopher kneeling beside me, a blood-smeared sword in his right hand. He drops the sword and gathers me into his arms.

 

For some reason, this scene always gives me the shivers.  I guess I’ve always been a sucker for a brave hero in tall boots.  Now that’s magic!

This Week’s Highlights!: DRAWN Blog Ghost Tour Continues

First, some quick updates:

*Drawn ebook is still on sale for just $0.99…but for a limited time…links are here.

**Also, through Valentines Day, you can enter to win all of my books signed, plus chocolates, plus have a chance at a grand prize…entering is as easy as leaving a comment: click The Valentine Blog Hop for the details.

AND NOW: News from the road…

The Drawn Blog Ghost Tour road, that is.

This week I’m criss-crossing the globe…I’ve packed my wrinkle free clothes, my passport and my writing journal… Well, okay, since this is a BLOG tour after all, maybe I haven’t packed anything. Maybe I haven’t left the country. MAYBE I’m sitting in my studio in my jammies all week long.

So? I’m STILL crossing the globe on this week’s tour, making not one but TWO stops in Australia, then racing back to the U.S. for the balance of this week.

But can’t we imagine that this author is wandering through cyberspace, a fashionable carry-on over one shoulder, and a well-read copy of Drawn under the other?  We envision this author as unstoppable. Her business-like heels click clack through the world’s airports.

Her passionate mission? To spread the word about Drawn, her new paranormal novel about a timeless love between teen artist Michelle, and Christopher, the medieval ghost with a sketchy past… Our world-traveling author won’t rest until everyone knows it’s gotten amazing reviews, like last week’s rave from The Author Chronicles, who said “If you’re looking for a book with an engaging protagonist, captivating plot, and paranormal twist, this is for you. Just make sure to clear your calendar first, because once you start, you won’t want to put it down!”

Our jet-setting author wants people to realize that if they like Twilight, Hush Hush and books by Beth Fantaskey, that they will fall in love with Drawn

Our trail blazing writer wants…well, she wants to get out of her jammies and into real clothes at some time this week, but never mind that.  On to this weeks highlights (the fourth week of the tour!), brought to you by the fabulous book bloggers on the Drawn Blog Ghost Tour!:

February 6th:  That’s today! Say a hearty g’day to our down-under blogger Novels on the Run as they host my guest post “Any Time but the Present.” I share why I think time travel is so seductive, plus some tasty excerpts from Drawn.

February 7th: Still in awesome Australia is blogger Agrippina Legit, who will feature a review of Drawn and an interview with me with that “Land Down Under” spin.

February 8th: We zoom back to the U.S. where The Cozy Reader posts her review of Drawn plus my  guest blog “Writing Magic,” where I share some of my own techniques for writing believable fantasy scenes…with examples from Drawn.

February 9th: Take a walk on the dark side at Lucas Mangum’s Dark Dimensions blog, where he’ll post his review of Drawn plus run an interview with me exploring the fascination with darkness and the paranormal…and the darkness that winds through Drawn.

February 10th: Twimom101 features a quirky Top 10 Q&A with me. I reveal some stuff… Er, hope I didn’t embarrass myself? If I do, please tell me!

As with any of these posts, leave comments and I’ll be sure to comment back.  See how dedicated I am? Even with ALL of this travelling.  Even with spending all day in my fuzzy slippers…er, I mean, my business-like heels…

Ah the glamour of being an author on tour!  Truly, there’s nothing like it…

To catch up on any of the fun you missed in the past few weeks on the tour (from authentic ghost photos, to reviews and interviews and posts that are illuminating and/or bizarre) just click here or on the Drawn Blog Ghost Tour tab at the top of my website at any time, and follow the links.

Bon voyage!