Fried catfish and grits

By Joe Moore

Grail_Conspiracy_coverFirst, some shameless promotion. This Friday, August 24, Amazon will feature two of my thrillers (co-written with Lynn Sholes) on their Kindle Daily Deal. For one day only, you can download THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY or THE PHOENIX APOSTLES for web-version-250only $1.99 each. Both ebooks were featured on the Daily Deal in 2011 and made it to #1 on the bestselling Kindle book list. If you didn’t take advantage of the reduced price before, be sure to do so on Friday. Enjoy!

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I recently read THE LOST ONES by Ace Atkins, a terrific story about a local county sheriff dealing with gun runners in North Mississippi. In addition to being an excellent storyteller, Atkins has an enviable talent for creating a strong sense of place—a vivid setting. By the time I finished the novel, I felt like I was so familiar with the back roads of Tibbehah County that I probably should be paying property taxes. And it gave me a big hankering for fried catfish, buttermilk cornbread and grits at the local diner.

So today I want to build on Joe Hartlaub’s Saturday post on Location and offer a few tips on creating a strong setting in your book.

Setting is integral to any story. As a writer, you’ve developed a unique plot and a strong set of characters. Now you must consider the setting. You can’t split the plot and characters from the setting and expect to produce a believable piece of prose in which your readers can relate. Why? Because like real life, your characters don’t live in a vacuum. Just like all of us, your characters are constantly affected by and reacting to their surroundings. For instance, how would your night scene be different if it took place in broad daylight? Rather than the scene being hot and dry, what if it was pouring rain? Would the weather and other natural elements change the dramatic impact of a scene? How would the setting make a scene spooky or funny or dangerous or calming?

Think of some classic scenes in your favorite books or movies and imagine them in different settings. Would they be as strong? Would Indiana Jones being chased down the streets of New York City by a big truck be as powerful as being chased by a giant rolling boulder through a cobwebbed ancient tunnel deep in the jungle? Would Clarice Starling’s interviews with Dr. Lecter have worked as well if it had taken place in a bright, modern chrome and shinny white prison rather than in the bowels of a dark, dungeon-like mental hospital for the criminally insane?

Beyond what your characters say and do, you must consider how their actions and reactions contrast or blend with their surroundings. And the best way to do that is to consider your setting as another character playing a part in the story. Setting is not just walls and doors and sky and grass, it’s how their surroundings interact with your characters, and their inner and outer actions and reactions to it.

Another element of setting is how characters live within it. By that I mean how they manage the common functions of life such as eating, sleeping, and other natural human processes. Most of us are familiar with the highly successful TV series 24. Even within the twenty-four-hour premise of each season’s show, people still had to take a deep breath once in a while. While 24 was a rare exception, most novels span more than one day. So during the course of the story unfolding, writers must manage their human characters with time to eat or sleep or at least rest for a moment. If the pace is so intense that the characters never get a break, the reader will become fatigued. Thrillers and mysteries are often described as rollercoaster rides. But even the longest coaster ride has peaks and valleys. Give your reader and your characters a break now and then by using the elements of the story’s setting.

And don’t forget about the passage of time as being an element of the setting. How does time passing speed up or slow down the plot or pacing? Is your story’s passage of time realistic? Or is it too compressed or expanded to be believable. Remember, unless you’re H.G. Wells and your book is called THE TIME MACHINE, be sure to manage your story’s clock so that it doesn’t get in the way of the story and give the reader a reason to pause and question it.

Setting is more than the location in which your story takes place. It’s all the external elements that affect your characters and their goals and objectives. If you treat your setting as an additional character, chances are your story will be fully developed.

Now let’s all go out for some fried chicken and collard greens.

How about you? Do you plan your settings ahead of time? Or let them develop as the story progresses. And readers, what was the most memorable and realistic setting in your favorite book?

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The Amazon Daily Deal

By Joe Moore

Today, Amazon has graciously chosen THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Midnight Ink, 2005) as their “Daily Deal”. This means that for one day only, they have reduced the price of the Kindle version to $0.99. I don’t know the tgcprocess by which they choose books for their Daily Deal, but I really appreciate it. Back on October 18, they picked my latest thriller THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, and by the end of the day, it became the #1 bestselling Kindle book on Amazon. So having 2 of my novels picked is a really big deal, and really cool. As you can imagine, I’m hoping for a repeat performance today.

THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY is very special to me because it began my writing career being the first book I ever had published. And the story of how it came about is also very special.

In 1994 a friend phoned my co-writer Lynn Sholes and told her to read the article Crusade’s End? in the April issue of Discover magazine. The caller thought it had great promise as a premise for a book. The article was about Leon Decoeur, an archaeologist, working late on Christmas Eve at a dig site in Jerusalem where he uncovered an ancient cup he believed could be the Holy Grail. Preserved inside the cup was a brown residue, later determined to be human blood. Discover quoted Decoeur, "You remember that cosmologist a couple of years back who claimed he’d seen the face of God? Well, I think we’re going to see His DNA."

As all writers do, Lynn started asking What If questions. In this instance it was: what if someone used the DNA to clone Christ?

At about the same time, I was a freelance writer reviewing books for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and other Florida newspapers. A mutual friend introduced me to Lynn. I reviewed her second novel (she was writing historical fiction at the time and eventually had 6 novels published) and we began talking about the business of writing. I joined Lynn’s local critique group where we often discussed current projects and those we envisioned in the future. The Discover article story came up repeatedly, but Lynn just didn’t feel comfortable taking on the task of making a book from it since it was outside her genre. So, even though the story intrigued everyone who heard the cloning-Christ premise, it sat dormant until I couldn’t stand the waste of a good idea any longer. One day, several years after the magazine article, I called Lynn and “threatened” her. I told her if she didn’t write that story, I would outright steal the idea and write it myself. I think that shocked her into the reality of “getting on with the rat killing!” as she likes to say. Lynn and I decided on collaboration. We spent countless hours writing a detailed, 52-page, chapter-by-chapter outline. Finally finished, we agreed we didn’t like major segments and started all over again, adding more dimension and texture.

The more research we did, the bigger the story grew. Finally, we thought the skeleton was ready for the flesh, and we began the first draft. That’s when we became acutely aware of the differences in our writing styles: her voice was lyrical, mine bold. Those two voices fought each other on the page. But we also realized our strengths: Lynn’s was character development while mine was plotting. It took a great deal of work to put our egos aside and build trust in each other before our different styles started to blend. (This is why you rarely see collaboration in writing fiction. It’s generally an impossible task.) After three years of working on our book, we felt, as did our beta readers, that our voices were blending and our strengths were paying off to the story’s advantage. When our manuscript was finally complete, we sent it off to Lynn’s agent who loved it.

Then came the bad news. Enter Dan Brown.

Now, TGC was conceived, outlined, and drafted a decade before Brown’s book, still he took all the air out of our story. Even though TGC was not the same story as THE DA VINCI CODE, it was still a “Grail” story. And there were small coincidences and idiosyncrasies in the plots, like killing someone off and making it look like an allergic reaction. So we went back to the drawing board. BTW, our working title from the beginning was CORPUS CHRISTI (Latin for the Body of Christ). When we finished, we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY.

We worked our way through the book again, doing more research so we could replace those close calls with THE DA VINCI CODE. And we even added a few additional twists. Then we sent it off again.

It found a home with Llewellyn Worldwide, and the book was published in 2005 as part of Llewellyn’s launch of their new mystery imprint, Midnight Ink. They wisely changed the title from THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, which no one knew the meaning of much less could pronounce, to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY.

That year, it was named Book Of The Year by ForeWord Magazine, landed on a number of international bestseller lists, and was eventually translated into 24 languages.

TGC was the beginning of my writing partnership with Lynn Sholes resulting in 5 novels published: THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, THE 731 LEGACY, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES and the short story BAM! JUST LIKE THAT. We’re closing in on finishing the first draft of #6, the standalone thriller THE BLADE.

So what is THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY about? Here’s the website promo copy.

From a newly unearthed crusader’s tomb in Iraq to the guarded treasure vaults of the Vatican to a secret genetics lab on the banks of the Mississippi, THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY uncovers a sinister plot of ultimate revenge.

A small wooden box hidden for centuries is passed on to network correspondent Cotten Stone by a dying archaeologist. With his final breath, spoken in a language Cotten has not heard since childhood, he declares that she is "the only one who can stop the sun . . . the dawn." Unable to open the box, Cotten seeks the help of John Tyler, a noted biblical historian and Catholic priest on leave of absence from his duties but not his vows. Inside the box, they discover a cup wrapped in a cloth bearing the insignia of a powerful medieval order that professed to be the Guardians of the Grail.

Cotten is propelled into the headlines as she and John deliver the Cup to the Vatican for authentication, and she reports the story of its journey from Calvary to cable TV. But her life quickly becomes caught up in a global plot driven by an ancient sect devoted to bringing about the Second Coming. As those around her fall victim to the Grail Conspiracy, Cotten soon learns her true legacy and must question if she is stopping an abomination or is she working on the side of Evil. In the final conflict she learns why she is the only one who can stop the ultimate revenge against God by the Prince of Darkness.

If you haven’t read TGC, please take advantage of Amazon’s $0.99 Daily Deal and download a copy to your Kindle. If you’ve already read it, I hope you’ll download and enjoy it again. I’ll be forever in your debt.

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This is my last post until next year since TKZ will be taking it’s annual 2-week Winter break starting December 19. Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts throughout the year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

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