About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

A Farewell Message: Winnie the Pooh said it best

Jordan Dane 

@JordanDane

Photographer Credit: Shaun C Williams



“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Winnie the Pooh


This will be my final TKZ post, my fine friends. It’s been nearly ten years that I’ve had the good fortune to be invited as a contributor. You might think all those years would make it an easy decision to step down, but the years made it harder to decide to move on.

I started writing in 2003, sold in auction in 2006 with my first 3 books released in 2008 and beyond. Even with the experience I have (on paper) from then until now, I still feel like the mesmerized kid who sneaked under the big tent at the circus, afraid someone will find me & toss me out. I’m a sponge for the information presented here every day–posted by each author contributor as well as the helpful comments made by our followers. That’s YOU. I’ve learned a great deal from our TKZ family of subscribers & followers. Thank you.

It’s clear how dedicated TKZers are about the passion we share when reading the comments to our posts. As a writing community, we take great care in nurturing the burgeoning talents of the many anonymous submitters who request feedback on their first pages, for example. Or we read a post & feel free to contribute our comments to develop the topic with our personal thoughts because we feel comfortable in doing it here. Our outspoken family is what I love the most and will never forget.

If there is anything I can wish for our followers, I wanted to share some parting words of encouragement.

1.) Be fearless. Write as if no one knows IT’S YOU. There’s an old saying that made a difference for me when I first started to write.

“Write like your parents are dead.”

Truer words were never spoken. I remember my first books when I pushed the line and wondered if readers will connect ME to what I wrote, especially my friends–or WORSE, my parents. My mother told the book store manager (at my first book signing) that she loved my book, except for the pages she had to duct tape together. True story.

Or the time I had my parents join me at a speech I gave to a large writers’ group in Austin, Texas. After reading a passage aloud, I gulped when I realized they were behind me, listening to a graphic excerpt. My mother told attendees afterwards that she would have to give me a time out.

I also heard from a fellow male author that his most mortifying experience came when his mother corrected his sex scene. OUCH!

2.) Push your skills with each new book. No one needs to know your limitations. If you keep pushing, you won’t have any.

3.) Write on the edge of your comfort zone. Try anything that intimidates you. Otherwise how will you ever overcome & achieve? With every new book, I picked a new plot method that stretched me. If another author claimed to know all the “rules” and told me what I shouldn’t do, that became my new goal.

The one genre I thought I would never write, I took a stab at with THE CURSE SHE WORE when I wrote historical fiction. It took a lot of research and the help of friends like the lovely and talented TKZ’s Clare Langley-Hawthorne to give me the courage to try it. One less thing to intimidate me. (TKZ’s Joe Hartlaub helped me with the setting of New Orleans and I will forever be grateful.)

4.) Pay your good fortune forward. Our writing community is very generous in helping other writers. We see that here at TKZ or we have probably all benefited by a helping hand from other authors in our circles. Do the same for others. You will receive far more from giving than receiving.

5.) Never forget who got you to the dance. Most times it is family who endure the challenges of living with an author. I definitely had the support of family, but I sold because one bestselling author stuck her neck out for me. The story is on my website at this LINK & I have never forgotten her kindness. She changed my life forever and helped me realize a lifelong dream. There are no words to thank someone for that. In fact, after I sent her flowers and gushed, she told me to simply ‘pay it forward.’ So there are no words – JUST DO.

My years of involvement with TKZ was one way I chose to spread her generosity and DO in the spirit of paying kindnesses forward. But I received far more than you’ll ever know. Thank you, TKZers! I won’t forget you.

***

Good friends never say goodbye. They simply say ‘See you soon.’ 

17+

The Pandemic Invades Fiction – Is it a Game Changer?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

The longer I am cooped up behind my four walls, the more my mind wanders on how every day life will be changed by a life threatening virulent pathogen. When I thought the lock down would be for a month, I imagined it to be a vacation or an indulgence. But now that I see the virus invading all aspects of our lives – now and in the future – Covid19 will have an impact that we are only beginning to grasp. Similar to how 9/11 changed our sense of security in the world, how we traveled and how we fear “the other,” we will be defining this experience in new ways that will affect our writing too.

Writers at fanfiction.net are adapting very quickly to story lines that involve current events. They take their favorite TV shows or classic literature and add a COVID angle. Below are some spins I thought would give you an idea what I am writing about – my take.

1.) Imagine romance during the time of a pandemic. How would people “meet”? How would they practice social distancing & not jeopardize the important people in their lives? Is there an APP for that? Would they revive AVATARS to experience the physical aspects of a relationship from a safe distance? Let your imagination run wild. Stories could be romantic comedies or deadly angsty serious.

Picture a modernized version of ROMEO & JULIET where one family has antibodies but the other is pure blood and want to remain that way. Put two young lovers at the apex of a pandemic where governments must decide which family or race should be allowed to survive. A sick romance with a Hunger Games twist?

TAMING OF THE SHREW adaptation where genetics brings two unlikely & resentful lovers together for the sake of the human race’s survival.

2.) DOCTOR DOLITTLE UNDER QUARANTINE – A children’s book where the doctor only has animals to talk to.

3.) STEPHEN KING’S ‘IT’ ADAPTATION IN THE HORROR GENRE – where an isolated anti-hero has a lifelong neuroses about hygiene and disease and crosses the path of a vindictive serial-carrier (aka Pennywise, the clown). A series by the name of KILLING TIME.

4.) LES MISERABLES in a SciFi futuristic genre – Imagine a post-pandemic world where the politics of our time creates a rift between the classes. Rebellion born from pandemic and isolation.

5.) MAGAZINE SERIAL – For writers looking for a writer’s outlet. New York Magazine is looking for fresh takes on pandemic stories. Add the right amount of cynicism and angst with a vivid imagination, and you might sell your pitch.

What would happen if you wrote a series from the perspective of THE VIRUS? Think FANTASTIC VOYAGE (the movie) meets THE HOST (Author Stephenie Meyer-YA), a pathogen could be a sentient being (either from another planet or an awakened yet ancient species living deep in the rain forest until it’s disturbed). The only way they can survive is to inhabit a host and they live their lives by adapting to the human body and “living vicariously” through a larger host. 

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) Have you been thinking of writing a story influenced by Covid19 or a pandemic? Tell us about it.

2.) How would you reinvent a classic literature or more modern bestseller to inject it with a deadly virus? Get creative.

PANDEMIC PASTTIMES:
If you’re going stir crazy during the Covid19 pandemic, Audible is generously offering FREE READS at this LINK. I love audio books and listen to them most nights. I can’t wait to dive into these Audible gems. The star series of the lot is Harry Potter by J. K. Rowland but there are books for young readers as well as literary classics for all ages.

5+

Describe Your #StayHome #Quarantine Life in a Book Title (& More)

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

 

When I believed the stay home order might only be for a month, I was determined to make the most of the isolation. After all, the end was in sight, right? But the Corona Virus has such dire outcomes for some that I get the sense this won’t be over soon.

I’m primary caregiver for my parents. We’re fortunate they have their health (and humor) but that doesn’t keep me from worrying about them. Their independent living apartment complex has implemented tighter rules to restrict access for their facility to outside visitors (except in certain circumstances). I’m grateful. They have a restaurant that delivers to their door and they are encouraged to stay home and order.

My parents celebrating Willie Nelson’s birthday. Don’t ask.

But I miss seeing my mom and dad. I miss hugging them. I miss my siblings. We talk on the phone and text all the time as a family, but it’s not the same. I’m sure you guys know what I mean. I miss what I can’t have and it’s getting old.

Basically the walls of my home have closed in on me. I fixated on stocking my shelves with grocery items I don’t normally eat. I haven’t resorted to SPAM yet, but I’m sure that day will come. You know what they say–it can’t go bad if it was never good in the first place. Did you know that you can slice SPAM thin and use it to oil your furniture? It’s quite versatile–if you can put up with the flies–but I digress.

What if this quarantine order lasts for months? I would need a different mindset for the long haul. I might have to exercise or get rid of my weight scale, but in the mean time, I could use my TKZ family for a little fun. We can all use a good laugh these days.

DISCUSSION (Something for everyone):

1.) Describe YOUR QUARANTINE LIFE in a book title.

2.) What movie title best describes your SEXY SIDE?

3.) What book or movie title best describes PARENTING?

5+

A Writer’s Guide to Surviving Social Distancing & Quarantine

JordanDane

@JordanDane

No one has to tell me twice to stay home. I work from there as a writer. My commute is from the bedroom to my office. (No. I don’t work in my PJs. Puleeze.)

Don’t mingle? I love people, but I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m perfectly happy entertaining myself in my head. No worries. But in order to flatten the curve of the #CoronaVirus and allow health professionals to get this pandemic under control for the hospital beds and respirators they have, I am determined to do my part, happily. I’m also the primary caregiver to my parents who are in their 90s. They’re in good health, but their age puts them at a disadvantage.

I’m limiting my errands, appointments and socializing for the next few months and am hoping we, as a country, can get this pandemic under control. I’ve cancelled my European trip in July and will target my travel for 2021-2022 when things might be better.

I thought I would share what I am doing during my self-imposed lock down and get a conversation going. Let’s share what we’re up to and make this quarantine/social distancing survivable.

ALWAYS allow time for your daily quota but think outside the box for how to spend your time. This shouldn’t be same-old-same-old time. Treat yourself & bolster your spirit. The last time I had to spend time sequestered at home, I wrote my debut book after I had surgery. Perhaps this inconvenience could be a renaissance of sorts, a rebirth like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Stay positive & fuel your creativity.

Ideas for Writers to survive the #CoronaVirus #Pandemic:

1.) Develop your cooking skills. Treat yourself well by making an effort, even if it’s for a party of one. I have fun posting recipes with pics on social media, like Twitter and Instagram. If you’re feeling generous, try supporting your local restaurants who are suffering during this shut down. They may only be making money on deliveries. Order online with delivery & make sure to wipe down the cartons/containers & throw away the bags. Plastic & cardboard surfaces can carry the virus for 24 to 72 hours–and tip your driver.

2.) Research cooking homemade dog food & treats. My sister and I have challenged each other, from our respective homes, of course. We are cooking our own nutritious dog food with healthy ingredients (meats, vegetables and fruit) with vitamin & probiotic supplements. I recently did the math and I’m saving $20/bag off my old kibble brand. I cook once or twice a month and freeze some to have inventory. It’s fun to be creative for them. My oldest dog is ten and she’s gobbling up her food like she has never done before. I love seeing the joy of my three rescue dogs at meal times and their appreciation shows.

3.) Organize your life. What needs doing? What have you put off? For me, it’s tackling a storage room & my office. I also cleaned out my freezer & made use of what I could to make dog food. These jobs were long overdue. Writing deadlines are pushed to the top of the list normally, but this time of self-reflection has helped me get after projects that will make me feel better in the long run.

4.) Spend time outdoors. It’s spring. Get fresh air by working in a garden, cleaning up, applying lawn treatments. I maintain my home & yard on my own. It’s rewarding, invigorating & a reminder of nature’s renewal. This time of year, it is cleaning up leaves and sprucing up the garden to make way for the new growth. My tangerine tree is blooming and my tulips and bulbs are flowering.

5.) Do an inventory of the favorite things in your home & post pics of them on social media. I saw this on social media and participated. I thought it was a great idea for the home bound. Share a story of why something means the world to you. Tell a story and invite your followers to share their prized possessions. Very touching and interesting.

6.) Post a video of your quarantine activities online if you’re tech savvy. Or read excerpts of your books on video to share with readers. Do you feel comfortable with recording writing craft tutorials? With all the late night shows getting creative on Youtube, I thought–why not share our work with other quarantiners or read an age appropriate book to children? What the hell. I can’t sing

7.) Catch up on research for your next book & dig into a new plot. Daily writing time is important. That should come first, but working on a new project can be invigorating.

8.) Reach out to friends & family on FaceTime or texting or calling. Reassure your loved ones & stay more connected with the people you value most. Not including family, ask yourself–who makes the list of my top 10 contacts? I call this – taking an inventory of the heart.

9.) Focus on your pets. Things have changed in their world too. They see you home more and want your time. Take them on longer walks. It’s good exercise for you. Buy new toys for them, something you can enjoy with them.

10.) Catch up on your reading. Authors should be avid readers. You’ll learn as you enjoy.

11.) Write a letter to someone special. We’re writers, after all. Or keep a daily journal to get in touch with the emotions you might be feeling.

12.) Go on an online shopping spree. Or send a special gift to someone you love.

13.) Plan a vacation for late 2021 or 2022. Save for it. Take your time researching it & make the trip special.

14.) With sports being cancelled across our country, check out what others are doing on TikTok to invent a sport. Here is a LINK. Roomba Curling, window tennis, turtle tic tac toe, Sock Pacman, & ping pong trick shots set up in your home with obstacles.

15.) Take a vitual tour of these great sites at this LINK. Over 30 sites. Animal cameras, national parks, touring famous places across the world, try a virtual trip on Mars.

I count my lucky stars for everything good in my life, despite what’s going on across the globe. I hear & read about horror all over the world and things happening close to home. People are hurting and they don’t have many options if our economy shuts down to a crawl. Be kind to one another and help where you can. You will not regret it.

FOR DISCUSSION:
What are you doing to keep your sanity during this challenging time?

 

8+

Tips & Pitfalls to Writing in First Person – First Page Critique: Organization K

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Today we have the first 400 words of a novel entitled ORGANIZATION K. With it written in first person, I wanted to talk about using first person – benefits and dangers – as well as give our brave author feedback. My comments will be on the flip side. Enjoy!

***

Insane or not, I refused to let Victor assassinate me without a fight.

Exaggerating my daze, I meandered toward the locked exit of Bienveillance Hospital’s Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. If someone opened the door carelessly, I’d flee. My pale, youthful skin crawled, and I scratched my stubbly cheeks. I was nearsighted and had discarded my glasses, so my surroundings appeared blurry. As I passed a couple staff members in white uniforms and neared possible freedom, blood pounded behind my ears.

An olive-skinned female orderly intercepted me. “Breakfast time, Max,” she said in German with a Turkish accent. She pointed over my shoulder and tapped her foot.

I tugged on my bleached-blond hair’s jagged ends. “Oh joy.”

My former best friend, Victor, might reenter the recuperation prison to murder me. He’d once failed to kill me there. Given my lingering madness, the personnel would disbelieve my claim. Besides, in my disgrace, maybe I deserved to die.

Clenching my teeth, I plodded into a corner of the main common room. The space’s pastel green paint, which matched my ward outfit, reminded me of vomit. Outside the lofty windows, October 2001 fog obscured the Berlin Television Tower. On clearer days, the landmark from ex-East Berlin resembled a giant lance impaling a cratered moon. As an earlier East German, an Ossi, Germany’s tallest structure inspired me to surpass my rivals.

A boyish patient with a fair complexion draped a blanket over his shoulders. Wordlessly, he wandered around the roomy area in sandals and hugged people. He approached me.

My body stiffened, and I crossed my arms. “Go easy on me, man.”

The stranger embraced me. His obliviousness to his bleak position repulsed me. Like pins and needles accompanied a hand waking from sleep, regaining sanity hurt, but the pain came with healing. He released me and strolled away.

At long tables, many fellow sufferers clanked their tableware, grating my ears. The reek of greasy food and disinfectant seeped through the air. My stomach churned.

I rushed into my spartan room and sprawled on the bed or paced on the floor. Zoned out, I stood facing the murky outdoors. The door opened behind me. Someone thumped their boots toward me and stopped. As I turned around, my spine tingled.

Victor waved at me, grinning. “Hey, Mega Max, how the hell are you?” he shouted in German with a slight Californian accent.

I swallowed hard.

***

FEEDBACK & TIPS

This anonymous entry has an intriguing premise of a man confined in a mental hospital with an assassin out to get him, but the way it’s written, it made me wonder if I could suggest ways to make it more effective to draw the reader in. The author is counting on the reader to be curious, but are there other nuances the author could add that would intrigue the reader more?

Tips to Writing in First Person

1.) Start with action – Instead of being in the head of a character as they passively begin a story, have them DO SOMETHING. Is this character really in action? He’s stumbling through a ward and on alert, but it’s more like he’s taking inventory of the setting for the reader to “see it.” The action is TELLING. We’re being told about Victor wanting to kill him. If he’s purely delusional, the first line feels like a cheat to the reader. By the second line, any tension or intrigue the reader might’ve felt is gone when the action goes nowhere.

It might be more effective if Max is agitated and feeling the effects of an unexplained drug, attempting an actual escape from an unknown location. Leave the reader wondering – escape from where? The reader can wonder if he’s a captive, a good guy or bad. Give the reader something to care about with his situation.

2.) Make the reader care – Since this is the start of the story, I know nothing about Max. Yes, he is in a precarious position and vulnerable with an assassin after him, but why should a reader care about him at this early stage? Has the author given enough to get the reader engaged? Rather than focusing on describing the setting of the hospital through Max’s head, why not target his mental state and show the reader how he is vulnerable. Make the reader feel like THEY are held captive with him. I don’t know where this story is going, but I don’t feel enough empathy for Max because of the author’s choice to keep the story superficial.

3.) Show don’t tell – As I mentioned, Max is telling us what he fears. He’s not showing us enough of his emotional state or his vulnerability. He’s too in control and the threat doesn’t seem real – especially since he is locked up in a mental hospital. I’m not buying his fear. The author hasn’t done enough to make me feel it. Since I don’t know the rest of the story, it’s hard to suggest how to rewrite this intro, but the author should make the reader feel the threat and not just tell it.

There are many ways the author TELLS through Max, but below are specific examples:

  • Insane or not, I refused to let Victor assassinate me without a fight.
  • If someone opened the door carelessly, I’d flee.
  • My former best friend, Victor, might reenter the recuperation prison to murder me. He’d once failed to kill me there.
  • Given my lingering madness, the personnel would disbelieve my claim.

4.) Make your character’s voice stand out – It’s a challenge to cram a great deal into 400 words, but why squander the opportunity with generic? I’m assuming Max is the main character. When he enters the scene, make him show why he has earned the storytelling role. Give him an attitude about what he sees and let the reader in on it. Give him color and make him memorable. Think about how movies portray main characters when they first walk into the scene. In the first minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Sparrow makes a splash for moviegoers. That intro defines him for the rest of the film. Shouldn’t that be how books are written? It takes thought and planning on how to do this effectively.

Make each word count on what he says? Does he have an accent or a unique way of speaking? How does he express himself? The author controls ALL of this. Is Max a chameleon in appearance? Does he have skills that would make it hard to confine him in a hospital or anywhere? Is he charming or funny and can he talk himself out of any situation? If he’s a cynic, why not infuse his surly, sarcastic nature into his dialogue? Less internal thoughts, more dialogue with another character to set up a mystery?

5.) Use your character’s self-deception as an unreliable narrator to manipulate the reader into your mystery. How much are they delusional or unreliable? Is their self-deception in small ways or is the character completely unaware of the situation. With first person, the author has a unique perspective for plot twists and misdirection. Be patient and savor the moment to add mystery and intrigue.

DANGERS OF USING FIRST PERSON

First person is fun to write. It is very intimate if the author stays in the head of the character. The insights into the nature of the protagonist are alluring for an author. Even if you use third person for your book, it can be a great exercise in getting to know your character by writing a scene in first person to get a feel for their personality. But first person also has dangers. Here are a few:

1.) The reader is trapped inside the head of one character. Even if you mix the POV between first and third in your book, the first person character generally dominates the story. It could be a major turnoff for the reader if the character weren’t sympathetic or compelling.

2.) Don’t make the first person voice about YOU. Some authors have trouble distinguishing between their character and themselves. It can be limiting. It’s much more interesting if you don’t limit your imagination.

3.) Overuse of “I” & filtered words – In first person, it is important not to overuse the tedious sentence beginning with “I.” This leads to filtered words and sentences that diffuse the action through the character. It distances the reader from the action. For example:

Don’t:

I watched an angry crowd of protesters marching down the street.

Do:

The angry crowd of protesters marched down the street.

4.) Too much introspection can lead to telling and backstory dumps. Rambling internal thoughts can be boring, page after page. Give glimpses inside your character for insight or plot twists but get your character into the action with their attitude and color.

5.) First Person can be limiting plot-wise, especially if you only use first POV for the whole book. The plot is only seen through one set of eyes. It takes planning to make a plot work.

SPECIFIC FEEDBACK ON SUBMISSION

1.) In general, I found the action uneven and a bit jumbled. Max goes quickly from wandering the ward, into a large day room until we make a leap to a dining room situation until there’s another quick shift into his room. It’s as if the author wrote a quick draft and forgot to fill in details. The author is more interested in describing the hospital than in setting up Max’s story. There’s no real action. The story is taking place in Max’s head by telling.

Here are some sentences where the scene transition was most confusing and had me re-reading. There’s no transition between spaces and the leap from dining hall to private room is too noticeable.

At long tables, many fellow sufferers clanked their tableware, grating my ears. The reek of greasy food and disinfectant seeped through the air. My stomach churned.

I rushed into my spartan room and sprawled on the bed or paced on the floor. Zoned out, I stood facing the murky outdoors.

2.) The author chose first person POV but certain passages & word choices didn’t feel like an internal thought. In an internal thought, Max would feel his skin crawl. He wouldn’t picture his skin as pale and youthful. He might tug at his hair, but not describe the bleached color and jagged ends, as if he were seeing from outside his body.

I’ve highlighted these examples below:

  • My pale, youthful skin crawled, and I scratched my stubbly cheeks.
  • I tugged on my bleached-blond hair’s jagged ends. “Oh joy.”

3.) In the sixth paragraph, the author diffuses the action with a diversion from Max as he looks out a window and sees a historical site. It’s brief, but coupled with all the other distractions, this is a passage that could’ve waited for later in the story.

On clearer days, the landmark from ex-East Berlin resembled a giant lance impaling a cratered moon. As an earlier East German, an Ossi, Germany’s tallest structure inspired me to surpass my rivals.

4.) Californian Accent? At the end, Victor comes into Max’s room and speaks in German with an accent. I may have to defer to others on what a California accent is. I come from Texas and know about a distinctive accent, but I wasn’t aware that California had a unique one. Are we talking surfer dude lingo? This reads as more author intrusion. The author is cutting corners to introduce Victor and let readers know he’s not a local.

SUMMARY

I didn’t make line by line corrections. I wanted the author to reevaluate their introduction by considering my questions for Max and rethinking how this story begins. Give Max more action and give him a distinctive attitude for his voice. Eliminate the TELLING and add depth to this introduction with elements of mystery. I’m pretty sure the author has something more in mind for a plot to fill a book, but this excerpt doesn’t leave me wanting more. Reading into the piece, I would imagine Victor is someone Max knows well. Hence, the nickname Mega Max. That would completely deflate any intended tension written into this intro. I would rather the author give us something real to wonder about. Thoughts?

FOR DISCUSSION

I would appreciate your feedback. I’m sure the author would love more voices weighing in, but besides line edits, let’s try something a little different. Let’s keep the basic premise the same, that Max is in a mental hospital and he fears Victor will kill him.

1.) How would you rewrite Max’s actions? What would you have him do? Think out of the box. Let’s brainstorm as a writing exercise.

2.) How would you make Max unique and give him more character and a more memorable voice?

4+

Key Ways to Adding Depth to Any Setting: Resources & Tips

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Wizarding World of Harry Potter : Hogwarts

 

What makes a book setting memorable? We have all read books where the setting gripped us and drew us in as readers, but any setting takes research to develop the world we will portray in our books. Even settings we are familiar with, like a hometown, take vision to add to the plot we will develop. It takes even more to create a fictional world no one has ever known or a futuristic setting we want to make vivid in the reader’s mind. Some vivid setting books that come to mind for me are: the Hunger Games series, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. If you have a series in mind, your canvas for storytelling must be large and hold its mysteries for future plot lines. A good setting can become a character in your books.

Many new or aspiring authors don’t include much of a setting. They tend to focus on their plot, the actions of the characters and the dialogue, but any setting can enhance a scene or a book.

Here is an excerpt from THE CURSE SHE WORE with a sprinkle of setting to enhance the mood of the scene – in the voice of Trinity LeDoux.

French Quarter

Rain sluiced from rooftops and pinged through metal rain gutters as if God had given up and flushed the world. I knew the feeling, the ache and emptiness of loss, especially tonight.

Mixed with the din of the rain, Dixieland jazz and Zydeco grated on my nerves. I had no tolerance for good cheer. Not tonight. I only had a taste for straight up bourbon and the severed artery of soul sucking blues, but where I headed I’d get neither.

I clutched the vintage necklace I’d worn to remind me why I had to come.

When I look back at the stories I have written, especially after I wrote my debut book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM in my old hometown of San Antonio, I did NOT pick safe bets. I often wrote in the best setting for the plot I had in mind, even if that meant writing about locations I had never been. Since I had traveled, I knew what it felt like to navigate in a world where I didn’t know the language or where to go. I could use any of my experiences to color the world of my characters or I could invent things to throw in their paths to make challenges. My empathy and imagination would help make the plight of my characters “relatable.”

When I wrote my latest novel – THE CURSE SHE WORE – I picked New Orleans as the setting. I had been to NOLA a few times, but that didn’t make me an expert. I used advisers that knew New Orleans well. I picked their brains & listened for the subtle nuances of local lingo & iconic venues. These experts helped provide me with the color & the history that I would want added to my series. It can be a rabbit hole to chase down the things that interest you about a location, but if you don’t use the material in your current project, you may save the notes for future plots. A writer’s brain is like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge.

Here are key examples of things you should know about your setting to add depth:

1.) What is the culture and ethnicity of your setting? Are their inherent conflicts with differences?

2.) What key events in history helped shape & influence your setting? History can define people and social morays. It pays to know the history of the world you are either creating from scratch or researching for accuracy.

3.) Add subtext for your setting that is reflected in your character’s attitude or mood. Try having your setting mirror the mood or attitude of your character to add context. You do this by making deliberate choices on what your character notices about the setting that reflects or mirrors their mood. For example, if a young woman walks into a bar filled with men who stare at her as if she were a porterhouse steak, what would she notice? What would crawl under her skin about the setting? The dirt, the smells, the sounds that grate on her nerves.

I love playing off the setting to enhance a scene. For example, here is my character Trinity LeDoux as she is introduced to the opulent plantation estate of Hayden Quinn, the psychic she must convince to join her on a perilous mission. She has never known wealth or power but she sees it everywhere in Quinn’s world.

Excerpt: The Curse She Wore

Ivory Magnolia Plantation

I’d never sat under a thousand sparkling rainbows before.

The crystal chandelier in Hayden’s dining room cast pastels onto the lace tablecloth. Expensive wood-carved furniture surrounded me and made me feel small. In Quinn’s world, normal meant something else entirely, something I’m not sure I would ever figure out.

I had a grasp that my life wasn’t normal, but I couldn’t say whether Hayden Quinn’s world was any closer to that mark. The man was cocooned as much in history as in his comfortable wealth—but with a gift that stamped him as an abiding freak by most people.

Normal? Not even close.

Paintings on the wall turned the room into a museum—as close as I’d ever get to such comely abundance—but when Quinn lit candles for the occasion, the soft glow from the majestic candelabras made me drowsy with contentment. He could’ve confused me with fancy utensils and proper china plates, but he’d kept things simple.

I had no doubt he’d done that for me. He’d welcomed me into his world with more grace than I had a right.

4.) Use your fives senses to place the reader there, but don’t go overboard. Don’t pull the reader from your writing by deliberately citing each sense as if you are doing an inventory. Pick the most critical and visual and go for it.

5.) Use visual aids to tease into your settings. If you have an iconic location, pick one or two images that readers may know and insert them into your story. Integrate them naturally. When I researched the streets of White Chapel in THE CURSE SHE WORE, I loved finding old maps to help me visualize where my character would’ve walked and what she might’ve seen as she went. History books are great for this and there are online resources that can help.

6.) Use action to incorporate setting details into your scenes to be more subtle about the use of your research. Action can be a great way of merging plot with research in a natural way.

Excerpt from THE CURSE SHE WORE (in Victorian London, late 1800s):

“This is where you live?”

I feared for the girl and her Alfred. No wonder she’d brought the dog with her.

Dorset Street was still a hive of activity, even at this hour. Disheveled beggars hustled for any handout and street merchants hawked their wares and services. Their voices reverberated off brick to magnify the sound. I would’ve paid for silence.

Women huddled on corners, eyeing every man who walked by and making offers. Some were mothers in stained frocks who clutched at their crying babies. A mother’s duty to provide knew no limits.

I had a bad feeling on where the girl would head next as she ducked down a flagged passageway, next to McCarthy’s store. A lone gas lamp cast shadows into a narrow and dismal courtyard that would never see sunlight even at noon.

It had a public water spigot dripping rust onto cobblestone and a common toilet that smelled as if it had backed up. As I peered into the court, I took in the steady noise and imagined the life of a girl in this forsaken corner of hell. The brick walls didn’t cover up the sounds of squeaking beds and fake orgasms, or the constant noise from a small pub on her doorstep.

7.) What food best portrays your location? Many times you have only a few spots where you can showcase food to color your world. What would you pick as quintessential? I often use a real restaurant and research their menu to include in my book. Can my character afford the prices? Make it real. That way, if a reader knows the location or looks into the details, they can find the real venues and connect deeper to my books.

Word of caution – I like to use real restaurants when I can, but if I write something bad in my plot that happens in that establishment, I will only go with a fictional name for the location. I may tease the reader with a setting that’s similar to a local restaurant, but I would call it something different. For example, in my debut book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM, I burned down a historic theatre. I pictured the Majestic Theatre, but I called it by another fictional name. I would be drawn and quartered if I had burned down a real theatre as popular as the Majestic. I also described the iconic Fig Tree Restaurant on the Riverwalk, but called it another name because my crime boss had dinner there. I didn’t want to give the restaurant a bad name.

8.) What are the street sights and sounds as your character walks through your setting? You can imagine a typical street but when you go the extra mile to describe certain characteristics, the reader may know your setting well enough to appreciate it.

9.) What is the geography/terrain or weather in the region? How does it affect your story? Look for seasonal weather forecast averages for the time of year you are choosing for your story. Google Maps can help define the regional geography. Even if you don’t use much of this kind of information, it can help to add layers to your story if you give the reader glimpses, as if you have been there. (I have never been to South America, but when I had Brazilian advisers who read through some of my books for authenticity, they came back with great feedback – that they were homesick for their country. That really made my day.)

10.) What is the local language or slang for places, events and common sights? This can be a tough challenge. Local slang is hard to pin down, but look on social media pages/sites to get a start & read the comments to blog posts to find the local lingo. (For example, in Dallas Hwy 75 is called Central Expressway. Despite politicians renaming a northern section of it, most locals will always call it “Central.” Or the locals in New Orleans don’t use the full name for the French Quarter. They may simply call it “the Quarter.”)

11.) What is the flora and fauna of the region? When I wrote about a remote area in Alaska for THE LAST VICTIM, I contacted the Chamber of Commerce on the island and talked at length with Grace, a newfound friend. She not only sent me many brochures on the island, she also sent me personal photos of the exact areas I needed. She had hiked there many times. She was a wealth of knowledge for how the natives lived on the island and even how they brewed an herbal tea they called Swamp Tea, common to many households. This type of information is pure gold when you’re a writer.

12.) What do the locals do for entertainment? These activities can vary by how much it costs to do these things. Not everyone can afford the same entertainment.

13.) Imagine where your character may go in your setting location and research those places. Bistros, libraries, entertainment, homes in the area, & public buildings they might frequent.

14.) What are the local newspapers? I used this in several of my books, but it’s always fun to imagine what my characters would do to get information and make it feel real to readers.

RESOURCES:

Contact Visitors Bureaus and Chambers of Commerce – These organizations can be invaluable to get you started. Don’t be shy about speaking to someone. You never know who you will meet over the phone.

Research Locations on Social Media – Many places, like New Orleans, have Facebook pages and other social media. Don’t stop at the official sites. Look for realtors selling properties in the area or food/entertainment resources and other key sites to get your juices flowing over your plot.

Youtube/Vimeo – I did a huge amount of research on mountain climbing (something I would never have experience for) in my YA book – ON A DARK WING. I had friends who had made the climb up Denali, the challenge one of my characters faced, but there was also many videos of climbers who had traversed Everest. Videos from inside their freezing tents with winds howling. These are things an expert might not share with you.

Internet Image Searches – Look for images for the setting you are researching. Many times, a picture can jump start ideas on characters, plot or events. Create a vision board for ideas that give you the flavor you are searching for and immerse yourself in that world as you write.

Music – What sounds do you hear when you think of the location? Do you ever listen to certain music before you write or AS you write, to get in the mood? Take the time to get to know your locale or invent a new one.

Libraries – Libraries are a great way to research ANYTHING. They often carry newspapers and periodicals from your locale or they can be a resource for non-fiction books on the subject. When I wrote THE CURSE SHE WORE, I used Liza Picard books to color my Victorian London historical world.

Google Street View Maps – I call this “walking with yellow man” – the little yellow icon you can click and drag to what street view you want to see. I have picked scary/crime ridden areas of my setting to find specific locations for creepy stuff to happen and I describe it. Whether a reader knows I have done this, it doesn’t matter. The visual preparation stimulates my writing and I love going the extra mile to make things real FOR ME. Here is the app for Google Streetview from Google Store. I have this on my phone. I can search a street view to see it like my character would. Very cool.

In summary, I have always loved having a layer of setting in each scene and it’s especially gratifying for me to select the right location for my book’s setting where I can reflect my character’s emotional journey. Over the years, I have found different resources to build on my process.  I hope this post will get you to think about and appreciate your own process. Please share your tips.

DISCUSSION:

1.) Have I missed anything? Please share what you do to research setting for your books. Bonus points if you provide resource links.

2.) Are there tried and true methods you implement to research your settings? Describe your process.

2.) What are settings you have written (or read about) that you are most proud of as a writer or have stuck in your mind as a reader? What made it so authentic?

 

The Curse She Wore

They had Death in common…

Homeless on the streets of New Orleans, Trinity LeDoux has nothing to lose when she hands a cursed vintage necklace to a wealthy, yet reclusive clairvoyant.

During a rare public appearance, Hayden Quinn is unexpectedly recruited into Trinity’s perilous mission–a journey back through time to the exact moment of death for two very different victims.

Hayden and Trinity, two broken people with nothing but death in common, pursue the dangerous quest to stop a murderer from emulating the grisly works of a notorious serial killer. But trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price–one they never see coming.

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