Archive for the 'Settings' Category

Working 9 to 5 (pm to am, that is)
by Jessa Slade on November 2nd, 2009

Currently working on: A dreadful synopsis
Mood: Dreading

I read a post on a writing site awhile ago wondering why so many paranormal heroes don’t have real jobs.  What?  Like saving the world doesn’t count?!  Sheesh.


When I was imagining the world of the Marked Souls, I thought about giving my immortal demon-possessed heroes day jobs.  I’ve read vampire rock stars and werewolf business men, fairy mechanics and superhero reporters; certainly there was something gainful for my heroes to do when they weren’t obliterating evil.  After all, they’d had jobs before their possession.  Ferris Archer, in SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, grew up thinking he’d be a farmer like his father before him; then the Civil War and a demon got him.  Liam Niall, in FORGED OF SHADOWS, was a blacksmith before he half starved during the Irish Potato Famine and started pounding the hell — literally — out of demons.

But the logistics of applying for employment in today’s world got a bit harried. 

For one thing, my heroes are immortal.  Which drives the Human Resources department nuts.  The immortal bit negates the demand for health insurance, but how do you set up a 401K with employer matching when the employee will be around forever?  Unless of course he’s brutally slaughtered one night during his second job which puts an unnecessary burden on his co-workers.

Speaking of second jobs, my league of talyan — warriors possessed by repentant demons — roam the streets of Chicago all night, draining the malevolent, chaotic energies from demons of the nonrepenting kind.  So they’d have to take the day shift.  But when would they sleep?  Presumably, as immortals with the strength and speed of their inner demons, they could get their jobs done and still catch a few hours of sleep, but then when would they find time for love scenes?

Nope, a real job just wasn’t working out.  They’d have to be content with battling evil and saving the world.

Secretly, I suspect the reason many paranormal romance authors don’t give their heroes real jobs is because we don’t want day jobs either.  It’s as much work for us to throw obstacles in our characters’ paths as it is for them to overcome.  It’d be a joy to stay home at my computer and confound them all day.  But until that particular dream comes true, I’ll just have to envy them their vocations.  With the exception of the brutally slaughtered part, of course.

If you were a heroine in your personal storyworld, would your day job get in the way, or would it help you preserve your cover?  Which skills would serve you in both lives?

Road Show
by Annette McCleave on October 13th, 2009

I’ve been lucky to have traveled a few places outside of my native Canada. My dad was in the military, so we spent four years in Germany when I was a kid. That allowed me to visit the top of the Eiffel tower, sun on a beach in Spain, and ski the Swiss Alps. No kidding. Of course, I was under ten years of age at the time, so it wasn’t the experience you might think. Still, it made the notion of exotic locales attainable in my mind.

In later years, under my own steam, I watched the sunset on Waikiki Beach, traipsed the halls of Cawdor Castle, and rode a camel in the Australian Outback. Yes, there are camels in Australia. Imported, of course.

Cawdor Castle, Scotland

Cawdor Castle, Scotland

When it came to choosing the primary setting for my Soul Gatherer series, I ventured south, but not as far south as you might imagine. I chose San Jose, California. Why? Because I knew my heroine worked for a high tech firm and San Jose is in Silicon Valley. I also knew my villain hid in the mountains, so I wanted a town or city tucked in close to the hills—yet not too far away from the big city.

San Jose is perfect. Fairly quiet crime-wise, yet big enough to have regular city problems to disguise the activities of my nasty demons. The terrain of the nearby hills (where my Gatherers eventually set up a base) is rugged and yet charming, not unlike the warriors themselves.

Lake Almaden

Lake Almaden, San Jose, California

My hero Lachlan ventures into San Francisco a time or two, and travels down the coast to San Diego. He also visits Death in her ice cave cathedral in Antarctica. Antarctica is the perfect backdrop for Death—icy cold, ruthlessly bitter, and yet incredibly beautiful.

My daughter and I made the 21-hour journey out to Australia, because we both wanted to go and she had wanted to visit since she was the ripe old age of two. It was the trip of a lifetime. Is there one place you wish you visit but never have? Have you ever read a book that took you there?

Setting the stage
by Jessa Slade on October 12th, 2009

Currently working on: Recovering from last weekend’s Emerald City Writers Conference — Jessa’s unofficial motto: Too much fun, not enough sleep
Mood: Groggy

I chose my hometown of Chicago for the world of the Marked Souls, because the city has so many facets.  Its changeable weather, its rich and poor neighborhoods, its many moods offer endless potential for any scene. 

But before I started writing, while I was still just in thinking mode about the story, I also scouted — at least in my imagination — a few other possibilities.

setting-nawlinsWell, who doesn’t think of Nawlins, Loosyana as a wonderful setting?  And never mind what kind of story it is.  The city reeks of character (character and soured alcohol, that is).  I’ve visited twice.  Once was for a Romance Writers of America conference.  Yup, 2000 romance writers loose on the streets of the French Quarter.  Sadly, a missed opportunity for the Girls Gone Wild video guys.

But the second time was a strange, surrel trip when XY and I showed up late on Christmas Eve.  We’d scored a ridiculously cheap room in the Quarter.  The city was all but empty, the streets eerily quiet.  We walked our dog down to the river.  An old homeless man stood on the bank, swaying a little.  He sang “Old Man River” and never looked at us.

But, New Orleans has been so done but so many that I couldn’t justify using it, even though I’d already half-written a tasty love scene with Cafe Du Monde’s beignets.  Powdered sugar is insufficent building material for a whole story.


I also considered the American West.  I love all those sprawling states and have traveled through swaths of them.  Desolate, wild and elemental with the best star displays in the country IMO, the deserts have graced the backdrop of many a stripped-down lawman on the trail of a heartless killer, which certainly would’ve worked for the demon-possessed warriors in my storyworld. 

But I decided I needed more cannon fodder characters to people my story, and while the scenic West abounds in dramatic colors, vast skies and dangers aplenty, the one thing it’s often missing is people.  Hard to stage a battle for souls when there aren’t souls enough to go around.

setting-portlandOf course, I also contemplated my current city, Portland Oregon.  A less often used setting, no doubt, with a good range of sub-settings: Mt Hood on the skyline, the beach an hour away, a pretty river through the center of the city.

But in the end, I couldn’t stage an epic battle between good and evil in a town where plaid flannel is still considered appropriate evening wear.  Obviously, purgatory has already won.

I’m happy with my final choice, but I do sometimes wonder how a different setting might have changed my story.  And whether, say, a setting in the Caribbean could’ve justified a “research trip.”  Maybe I’ll do another short story. Maybe “Demons Gone Wild” could be set in Cancun, where my moody, broody heroes get a new eyeful of wicked.

Do you think your life story would’ve been different if you’d had another setting?  Where would you stage the movie version of your new life?

The Golden Heart, The Void & My Hussy Muse
by Our Guest on September 3rd, 2009

Golden Heart finalist Sharon Lynn Fisher ( writes sci-fi romance and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne (not always in that order).

I live in Seattle. There used to be this spooky old abandoned school next to I-90 East, and every time I passed it I thought how sad it was that someday, someone was going to tear it down and build condos. Because the place just oozed personality. It looked authoritarian and cranky.

But, lo and behold, the city held onto it and transformed it into the Northwest African American Museum, and it looks pretty much the way it always has, without the boarded up windows.

I took the following photo this past spring, and over the course of this post I’ll explain how the picture - or rather the process of taking it - helped defeat a particularly nasty case of writer’s block.


Just before my birthday this year, I found out my science fiction romance manuscript, Ghost Planet, was a finalist for RWA’s Golden Heart award. Shortly before that, I had signed with an agent. Soon we’ll be submitting to editors. This is a terrific place to be.
But it’s also a hard place to be. A celebratory, hopeful sort of limbo. All your dreams tied up in a much-loved manuscript you are DYING to share with other people, if someone will pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top-and-did-I-mention-I-will-name-a-child-after-you give it a chance.

With each step in the writing and publishing process, there is waiting. And more waiting. And extra helpings of waiting. The best thing you can do to maintain your sanity is - buy whole cases of wine so you get the 10% discount. But that’s not so good in the long-term, so eventually you have to sit down in the freakin’ chair and start again.

Most people, I think, write their first manuscript(s) in a vacuum. You follow your passion and write what you feel because that’s what it takes to produce a great story. From the time you e-query your very first agent, you are no longer a virgin. Really, from the time you start reading publishing industry blogs - which is hopefully long before you e-query your first agent - you are no longer a virgin.

Your head starts getting filled up with stuff about trends and marketability and what editors are and aren’t buying and OMG DROP EVERYTHING AND WRITE STEAMPUNK NOW … And pretty soon every idea that comes to you sounds like something someone else would write. You notice your muse has started collecting moving boxes.

The thing is, you STILL have to *follow your passion and write what you feel because that’s what it takes to produce a great story*. How do you do that when your head is full of all this educational but distracting noise?

I researched writer’s block for days. (HOW did we survive before Google and Wikipedia?) I wrote 30 pages of a new story before I realized the heroine was the same person as my last heroine, with shorter hair. I stared out the window. I shed tears. I got so desperate I made myself try freewriting … and it worked.

I’m not endorsing freewriting per se (mine was peppered with four-letter words and self-abuse) - but when you’re in that cold, dark creative void, you MUST do something to get out of your normal head space. Draw sing walk travel knit dance meditate. Make cupcakes. Eat them until you’re sick. Read other people’s books.

For me, freewriting led to the vaguest spark of an idea, and an intriguing setting - a cranky old ghost of a building I’d passed a hundred times on I-90. Armed with digital camera, I set out to find my characters, and the rest of my story.


I took a zillion pictures, playing with light and angles to explore the moods of my setting. I ate catfish and cornbread in the little cafeteria. I talked to the cook about the bright, collage-style artwork hanging in the dining room. I strolled through the museum exhibit not really seeing any of it, because in my world - in the new world my brain was creating - the building was going to serve a very different purpose.

When I pulled out of the parking lot on that sunny day in April, my whole outlook had changed. Everything I encountered seemed to fuel this new spark, from the deserted chapel in the park across the road, to the random CD playing in my car. I had a vision of a man stretched across a narrow bed, out of place and time. Dying. Yet still lethally dangerous to the stranger hovering over him.

That unreliable hussy of a muse was back. (I love you, sweetheart, but you’re gonna be the death of me.)

The power of daydreams
by Jessa Slade on June 29th, 2009

When I was a teen, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Vail, Colorado, babysitting my cousins on a ski vacation.  It was awesome.  I’d never been downhill skiing before, and I got to take classes and accompany my aunt and uncle and the kids (who were waaaay better than me) on some of the easier runs.

If you’ve ever been skiing in Colorado, I don’t need to describe it, but for the rest of you, I will just say: Heaven. Celestial blue skies. The softest, whitest, downy snow. An intense and all-encompassing feeling of floating and joy. (When I wasn’t yard sale-ing — or we could say sailing — across half the slope.)

vail{This photo of a $2800/night mountain-side chalet is NOT where we stayed; but the beauty is the same, free, and everywhere.}

One night near the end of our stay, my aunt and uncle had gone for a nice dinner and the kids were asleep. I stepped out onto the balcony.  Our room faced a walkway through the pines, with the pale bulk of the mountain beyond.  It was late, but the reflection of hotel lights off the snow made the night glow.  Drifting snowflakes (like the rain in the fairy world of Summerland, I swear it only snowed at night in Vail) glimmered like falling stars in the dark.

I thought, This is where I want to be.

Fast forward, oh, about seven years. 

That last serene image of Vail had stayed with me over time and distances. I would conjure it up in my head when I was stressed about finals in college, when I was studying abroad, and at my first less than inspiring full-time job.

One day, looking through want-ads, I saw an opening at a newspaper in Vail, Colorado.  And I made my daydream a reality.

Later, I read books about manifesting your reality. I read how your brain — trapped in a cage of bone and goo — has no way to experience the “real” world except through your senses. If you can imagine something clearly enough — see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it — as far as your brain is concerned, that’s reality.  Eventually, your imagination can become reality.

Run amok, this process leads to mental illness, true.  But since we’re using our powers for good…

Daydream + Action plan + Perserverance = Your shiny new reality

Daydreams without the other two elements are perfectly lovely, of course.  A few minute’s mental vacation on a snowy mountain night is entirely enough.  Not everybody wants to turn that into living in a ski bum town for two years, paying $700 a month to sleep in a heated shed (no bathroom) between two single-wide trailers for the honor of coming up with another sudden illness every time the fresh powder falls.  Sometimes even shiny new realities aren’t quite the same as the daydream.

But I think the power of a daydream to relax and revive and delight us is the knowledge that it could become so much more, given the right circumstances and impetus.

After all, writing started as a daydream for me.

caribbean-vacationMy new daydreaming escape is also based on an old family vacation.  When I was young, my parents took my sister and me to St. Johns in the Virgin Islands.  (And, yes, what my sheltered suburban upbringing sadly lacked in future source material for lurid angsty tell-alls, it more than made up for in loving, generous family members who believed new experiences were more important than stuff.)  The Caribbean was, to my imagination, as epic as Vail in its own way.  I’d never been snorkeling before, but oddly, the ocean was the same color as the Colorado sky.

One evening, we walked through town on one of the islands. The sky had turned a peachy red fading to blue, the colors echoed in the hanging baskets of flowers.  The air was as perfectly warm as the water, at once decadent and pure. 

I could as easily have been a beach bum as a ski bum.  Just sayin.’

One of these days, I’ll make it back to that island, and then I’ll need a new, new daydream. But for now, I’m savoring every minute in paradise.

When you daydream, is it about old places, or places you’ve never been?

Run away!
by Jessa Slade on February 16th, 2009


Currently working on: Nothing!
Mood: Somewhat guilty, actually

With winter still firmly plunked on the Pacific Northwest in the form of gray skies, gray water and gray moods, this week’s topic about imagining our characters on winter holiday is particularly fun. What makes it even more fun for me, is that I’m not here! I’m in Chicago on break.

Yeah, the Windy City in February. Okay, so it’s not where most people — or characters — dream of spending a few free winter days. But I have a bit of research to do. As I mentioned once before, Liam and Jilly, the leads from Book 2, get into a spot of trouble on the ‘L,’ the elevated train tracks downtown. I also need to make a run through Chinatown, go dancing at a cool nightclub, and hit up this supposedly awesome bra boutique, which are all things my hero and heroine do. Yes, even the underwear shopping. Although the hero did that, so you know it’s fiction. I would PAY my hero to go bra shopping for me.

But I digress. That’s what happens when you’re slacking on vacation.

Actually, my heroes don’t get much time off. Saving the world, blah blah. Their version of downtime is sharpening their weapons. If Sera and Archer from Book 1 were contemplating glossy four-color brochures of potential holidays away, their conversation might go something like this:

Sera: You’d look fantastic in that Speedo, love.

Archer: Where would I keep my bad-ass recurved demon-slaying ax? Would that count as a carry-on or personal item?

And that would be the end of Sera and Archer’s Caribbean adventure. So until they rid the world of evil, they’re stuck in Chicago. And I’m with them for a long weekend.

If you could put aside your saving of the world for a weekend, where would you want to go right now?

Quiet on the set…
by Annette McCleave on January 20th, 2009

I have a love of all things Scottish, and when I thought of my favorite settings, Scotland was the first image to pop into my mind. I’ve set several of my manuscripts there and never fail to sigh over the stark beauty of the Highlands.


But I didn’t stop at my first thought. I dug a little deeper, asking myself if there was a common thread between the varied locations I’ve chosen to set my stories and scenes. And there was, sort of. The common thread turned out to be contrast. Familiar, comforting places that are invaded by danger, ordinary grass and trees that mask cliffs and bogs, a garden or park that changes into a deadly arena for demon battles at nightfall.


I’ve had some fun with this. I once wrote a fight scene that took place in the vegetable aisle at a grocery store. Why? Because grocery shopping is a familiar, almost thoughtless task. People do it on auto-pilot. They aren’t expecting to fend off demons at the Safeway. In one of my scenes in DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, the setting is an ordinary city street just before dawn, and the risk comes from two McDonald’s employees armed with cups of coffee.


Seriously, though, my favorite settings depict dramatic contrast—from a scene that takes place in a calm blue oasis on the coldest, driest continent on Earth to a confrontation with evil that takes place in a schoolyard surrounded by parents in parked minivans. Contrast keeps my characters off-balance, and I think that’s a good thing.

When reading a book, what do you enjoy most—visiting new and exotic locales, or walking along real streets and into places you’ve actually been?

Setting the stage
by Jessa Slade on January 19th, 2009

First, a huge thank you to everyone who commented during our inaugural (yes, I have inauguration on the brain) contest here at Silk And Shadows. We had such fun, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again soon. If you’re eager for more contest good times right now, check out our prize at Romance Junkies.

Currently working on: The hero & heroine encounter
the bad guy face-to-face for the first time — dum da DUM!!!
Mood: Hesitant (i.e. not very heroic)

I just finished a fight on the ‘L’ in Chicago. Well, not me personally, of course. My hero and heroine.

Minor spoiler: They survived. No thanks to me.
When it comes to settings, some places just cry out for a scene. Somehow, I wrote SEDUCED BY SHADOWS without a fight on the ‘L’ even though my visual storyboard has a picture that represents the vaguely cathedral-esque scaffolding that supports the elevated train tracks crisscrossing the city. I vowed to rectify that oversight in book two. The ominous rumble of the train, the sharp scent of cold metal, the dangerous imbalance of trying to run across slick rail ties with a horde of hungry demons on your ass desperately needed telling.

My favorite settings to write about are places with the potential to set the mood, to create action, and to reveal character. Yeah, I want the setting to work hard. It’s not the place, particularly, it’s the potential.
The Second City
I chose Chicago for the setting of The Marked Souls series because I thought a story about good and evil for dominion of the human soul should have a setting that could be — in a way — ‘Anyplace USA’ yet capable of containing many contrasts. To me, Chicago is kind of the Jan Brady of big American cities; it’s stuck in the middle. Neither sophisticated East Coast nor bohemian West, its world-class museums, theaters and business sector were built on the bloody stockyards. The city delights in its crooked politics (”Vote early! Vote often!”) and yet it coughed up the key player in one of the most historically significant elections in the nation. Even its weather is a study of contrasts — sweltering summers alternate with vicious winter winds, but they call it the ‘temperate’ zone. The story might really be about the light and darkness at war in everyone, but I hope the setting reflects that until the city itself becomes a character.
These cool old posters encouraged Chicagoans of the 1920s to discover something new. Even though I grew up in the suburbs outside Chicago, I didn’t know the city well, so this is my chance to explore too.

Since the story is set in Chicago, I suppose I need a car chase down Lower Wacker too. You Blues Brothers fans can insert your favorite quote here. Mine? “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” One of these blogging weeks, we’ll have to discuss soundtracks.

Meanwhile, have you ever been someplace that needed only a hero and a heroine — or a villain — to come alive on the movie screen of your mind?