Researching Setting for Fiction Writers

I remember when, in the midst of finishing up my thesis (a labor of love), someone said that doing a creative thesis must be easy because it didn’t require any research.

What? I was floored. I’d done a lot of research for that manuscript, and I continue to. Even writing a fantasy novel requires research. I’ve studied everything from mythology to martial arts to swords to types of knots. But since I write urban fantasy that bridges our world and other worlds, much of my research is setting specific.

We can’t always write novels based in places we’ve lived. I love where I grew up (Western PA) and where I live now (Virginia), but I’m not prepared to base every story in those places. Sometimes, the story dictates a different setting.

When you create your own world, it’s coming from your head (or the creative ether, however you look at it), so you don’t have to worry which highway a character would take to get from point A to point B or how long the drive is. As long as your world is clear and consistent within a story or series, you’re good to go.

But place is a strong and emotional thing. It’s not just a matter of fact-checking. We form deep, emotional connections to places we love and live in, and those seemingly tiny details can draw readers out of a story if they’re not correct.

What kinds of details do we need to worry about when researching a setting?

Geography: It’s not the most exciting stuff, but we need to know the highways and byways. If your characters take Route 101 and there isn’t any such road in that region, people familiar with that place will know. The names of districts, famous landmarks, parks, rivers, etc. are important to people from the area (or who simply love that place), so doing research–even if it’s just a thorough use of Google Maps or Earth–is essential. Looking at pictures can also help you capture the essence of a place. The Shenandoah Valley and the Great Smokies feel and look different, for example.

Flora and fauna: I grew up in the country, so this kind of thing is important to me. I want to hear about the cherry blossoms, the daffodils, the white-tailed deer, the birdsongs, the coyote yelps, or the jack-o-pines. I highly recommend books like “The North American Wildlife Guide.” It’s helpful to know the range of a given species, for example. But we also need to know about things like the seasons (my hometown in PA frequently gets snow in late March and April; where a friend lives in New Mexico, it was 100 degrees last week) or the common types of birds, wildlife, and trees (lots of pines in one place, a plethora of birches in another).

Local flavor: I love to travel, and my favorite part is that every place has its own unique flair. I love tiny beach towns with their hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurants, big cities with everything to offer and their famous locales, college towns where even the license plates have school spirit. The setting should never overwhelm the story. (If we’re in San Francisco, you don’t have to shout it. Ubiquitous references to the Golden Gate Bridge aren’t necessary.) Subtle is necessary, but authenticity in tiny details is key. It’s everything from architecture (the houses in a Western PA mining town are not the same style you’d find in New Hampshire, for example) to roadways (PA is in an unending state of road construction) to food. Keep it authentic, but be sure to avoid cliches and stereotypes. If you’re going to go for colloquialisms, keep them subtle and remember that not everyone from a region uses them, or uses them frequently. (Personal disclaimer: My cousins used to knock my accent, so, though I’m proud of my heritage, I’m a bit sensitive about this subject.)

Making it up: It’s okay to make up a shop, a hotel, or a restaurant. A made-up street or address is useful to avoid using a real address. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a new-age shop or a burger joint to insert into your story, as long as it fits into that town.

The law: Every state (and country, if you’re going global) not only has its own unique flavor, but its own set of laws. Some states (or cities) are stricter about enforcing speed limits. Certain types of weapons are illegal in some states. Pennsylvania doesn’t have a law requiring bikers to wear motorcycle helmets, but many states do. Everything from traffic laws to marriage laws to statutes of limitations varies from one state to another. Legal intricacies mostly come into play if you’re writing suspense or a legal thriller, but knowing the law in your chosen location is important.

Tiny details: There are other details that require research. For example, in MADE OF SHADOWS, the heroine, Zoe, played rugby in college. I had to make sure that the school I chose as her alma mater actually had a women’s rugby team. (Not every school does.) If your character works in or has studied a specialized field, making sure that university actually offers the degree is a must. If your character has a specialization in ceramics, biomedical engineering, or Celtic studies, it’s best to make sure that university offers that degree program. If we goof on the minutiae, our readers might start to question other parts of the story.

So besides this wonderful thing called the Internet and our stacks of books, how do we ensure that we’re getting it right? Any suggestions? As for me, I might not be the most adventurous person out there, but I’m always game for a road trip.

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5 ways to eliminate –ly words from our writing

Among advice frequently bestowed upon writers is avoiding the adverb trap. Adverbs are those lovely little words—often ending in –ly—that modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. They don’t always end in –ly, of course. That’s a very pretty sweater; really, it’s just too cute.

Life Preserver

Don't leave your readers drowning in a sea of -ly words.

But –ly adverbs are especially tricky because they’re easy to use. We dress up our writing with them, and before we know it, our readers are drowning in a sea of adverbs. It’s easy to start pouring –ly words onto the page, especially in early drafts. The trick is to pluck enough of these words out as we revise so that the reader isn’t constantly being bombarded by adverbs.

As I was revising one of my WIPs, I stumbled across a couple pages in which –ly words were running amok. I began to notice the repetition, so I went through and circled every –ly word. Yep. Way too many.

After I’d weeded the scene of excess adverbs, I figured I would gather up a few of my tricks for reducing adverb usage.

1.)  Simply delete the –ly word. Perhaps it wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. When we delete it, does the meaning of the sentence change or become vague? If not, the simplest solution might be best: Do away with the word altogether. This is often the case when an adverb modifies an adjective. “He was absolutely irresistible,” could become, “He was irresistible.”

And –ly words aren’t the only adverbs to watch out for. Mark Twain once said of the adverb “very”: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” In other words, if our character is very angry, why can’t he just be angry? Or, here’s another possibility:

2.)  Choose stronger adjectives. Maybe a stronger adjective is called for altogether. Maybe he isn’t very angry, he’s seething, raging, livid, or furious. Maybe we don’t just need to lose the adverb. Maybe we need a different adjective as well.

3.)  Choose stronger verbs. Perhaps no verb gets modified more than “said.” Are we echoing words like said, touched, smiled, walked, looked, etc.? If so, maybe we initially used an adverb for some variety. What if we try using a stronger verb that can convey the connotation without needing to be modified? Consider this dialogue tag: “… she said heatedly.” What if we replaced said with challenged, demanded, or argued? We’ve varied our word choice and eliminated the need for an adverb here.

4.)  Use concrete, creative description. Sometimes the solution is trickier, and what’s really needed is a reworking of the sentence to craft a more powerful sentence construct. Or, if we find too many adverbs peppering a scene, it might be that more concrete details are called for to let the reader into the scene.

For example, consider this passage: He pressed his hand lightly against her arm. She turned swiftly away. He sighed frustratedly. What if we just get creative here and expand the scene?

Instead we try: His touch might have been light, but it sent warmth radiating through her nonetheless. And that sensation confused the hell out of her. She put a little distance between them. He sighed, curling his fingers, no doubt frustrated with her mixed signals.

The revision beats the initial adverb-laden passage. In the first version, the adverbs are telling. In the second version, nouns and verbs do the bulk of the work.

5.)  Let it stand. Not every –ly word needs to be eliminated from our writing.  A well-used adverb here and there can be more powerful than ten poorly used ones. Consider these sentences from Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Secret:

“Finally, they were getting somewhere. And shockingly, there was thick, dewy foliage sprouting from the rocks. Nice, she thought, until…” (End excerpt, page 182. I don’t want to give it away.)

See? Adverbs aren’t evil, but they are easy to overuse.

The bottom line is that a scene should be strong enough to come alive on the page without adverbs to prop it up. Nouns and verbs should always do the heavy lifting. If they’re not, we need to step back and figure out what’s missing. Not enough description? Too much passive voice? Too many weak verbs or sentence constructs? Or are we worried that our characters aren’t coming through clearly enough? Sometimes overuse of adverbs is purely accidental. Other times, it might signify a broader issue with a scene. Maybe it isn’t where it needs to be yet.

What approach do you take to adverbs when editing? Do you have any tricks of your own you’d like to share?

FYI: CPM closing its doors

Just as an FYI to writers, the Crit Partner Match site will be closing its doors on Aug. 15. Site creator Kait Nolan posted on the site:

I do hope some of you found it useful and that you DID locate a crit partner in all of this. For those of you still looking, I would point you to Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com), which is a large and vibrant writer’s community that has a much larger pool and a greater purpose, as well as a specialized sub forum devoted to crit partners and writing buddies. I think you might have better luck there. Best of luck. You have until August 15th to remove any material/posts or whatever from the site before I delete it. CM Clark is starting a new board Crit Partners http://critpartners.proboards.com/ if you’re looking for an alternative. –Kait

Personally, I don’t think we can have too many places to meet up with one another. My thanks go out to Kait for facilitating the site!

Update: About 5 minutes after I published this post, I received a follow-up email in my inbox. Just thought I’d share. 🙂

The fabulous CM Clark is setting up a board for Crit Partners http://critpartners.proboards.com/ as an alternative to CPM. Check it out if you’re still partnerless!
Kait

3 weak sentence constructs to avoid in our writing

As writers, everything we read and write develops our ear and eye. We learn how good writing sounds, how it leaps off the page, how it sends a thrill or a chill through us. A good line has bite. And we develop an eye—an eye for glaring spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors, so that those, too, pop off the page.

Reading a lot is a given for a writer—it develops your ear. And editing and critiquing—whether it’s a friend’s cover letter for an employment opportunity, judging for a writing contest, or the in-depth work we do for our critique partners—develops both our ear and our eye.

I’ve found a few sentence constructs that pop up in writing (my own included) that diminish the strength of the prose. When revising, we can find phrases with more “pop,” replacing weaker sentence constructs with those that have more “bite”.

1.)    There is/are/was/were. What is “there”? It’s not a character, not a meaningful object or place in the story. “There is” is one of the weakest sentence constructs I can think of, especially in fiction, when we have so much poetic license to be creative. “There is” can generally be replaced with a stronger, more vivid construct. “There is a tree deep within the forest…” can easily become “Deep within the forest, a tree stretches out its great, wide arms…” Because “There is…” really doesn’t mean much at all. But “A tree stretches…” takes us right to the heart of the sentence. When I revise my work, I try to avoid this sentence construct as often as possible. It’s too easy, it’s often telling not showing, and it’s just not powerful enough. “There is” is okay every once in a while. It’s just best in very minute doses.

2.)    I felt/he felt/she felt. If you’re in first-person or in third-person close, “felt” can be useful but highly overused—especially in a first draft. When revising, we can note these places in our writing. If we find this structure frequently, it’s time for a change. Why? Because, like “there is,” “I felt” can often be cut, leaving us with a stronger sentence. “I felt my heart thumping in my chest,” becomes the much stronger, “My heart thumped in my chest.”

3.)    Overuse of rhetorical questions. “How was Blake going to get out of this one?” “What was Cassie going to do?” I find these phrases peppering my first drafts—often because I honestly didn’t know how Blake was going to get out of this one, or what Cassie was going to do. They were more for me as a writer (clues to myself that I needed to figure something out) than for my reader. Every once in a blue moon is okay. In subsequent drafts, I try to delete these phrases as much as possible. If we’re not careful, such questions can start annoying the reader. Don’t you think? 😛

What weak phrases do you find in your own or others’ writing? How do we vanquish weak sentence structures so we can make our stories really sing?

Consider donating to help maintain Crit Partner Match:

Earlier today, I received the following email from Kait Nolan, indie writer and founder of the Crit Partner Match site. For those of you who aren’t familiar, CPM is “like Match.com for writers,” connecting writers with potential critique partners based on genre, critique style, skill level, etc.

I don’t know how I’d survive without my critique partners. They tell me what I need to hear, straight-up. They support my work but also call my attention to what does or doesn’t work.They ask the hard questions. In other words, they help my work realize its full potential.

So, apparently, Grou.ps, the site used for CPM, is now charging for use of its services, and the fee is pretty steep–at least for one person to manage on her own. Here’s Kait’s email:

So I started CPM back in…lord, it’s been quite a while, but back then it was on Ning and Ning was free. Then Ning went to paid plans and I moved to Grou.ps because Grou.ps was free. Guess what? Grou.ps has been moving to paid plans. it’s been ongoing for a while and apparently they have started limiting membership for the free groups to 25. We have 314. I think because I’ve been around since the beginning, I kinda got grandfathered in without being charged. HOWEVER, it’s recently been brought to my attention that new members cannot join. The front page apparently says that the group is NOT accepting new members. Well I’m not cool with that because we like new members.

So I go digging to check out the plan options. For our group to continue to grow it will be $8.95 a month. Which comes out to..roughly $ 108 a year. Now I don’t actually get anything out of this group. I found my CP via other means and just started CPM as a means for other writers to connect in a more unified place because I would be lost without my CP and I think others need to be able to FIND ONE. But I really don’t have $108 a year to toss out of pocket.

I may do some research on the possibilities of charging a very small fee for membership (like $2 a year or something). There is also the issue of potentially monitizing the site (which also requires a plan upgrade to be an option). I’m not interested in making a profit, just making enough to cover the costs of running the site. For now, though, I am going to ask for donations. Give as little or as much as you like. I’m not setting any thresholds.

If you like Crit Partner Match and feel it’s been helpful to you and you’d like to see the group continue to grow, please donate a little if you’re able. Send any donations via Paypal to kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. Once we’re upgraded, I’ll absolutely look into monitization options that will allow the site to remain free and self sustaining.

Thanks for your support! Happy writing.

Kait
Your CPM Founder

So, I’m chipping in a small donation, and I’m challenging others to do the same. If you can spare a buck or two to keep a valuable service for fellow writers going, please consider doing it. That’s not even a latte!

I also want to hear success stories about critique partners. How did you find your like-minded peeps, and how much have they helped you?

My story: I met Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross in graduate school. We founded our little group informally, meeting at local coffee shops. Over the years, we’ve grown as writers, each developing our own voice and finding our own path. We met last night, actually, and they totally saved me from months of muddling through a couple of difficult scenes by helping me find the right direction. We give each other support, guidance, a chance to vent, and plenty of cheerleading, as needed.

I hope all writers get the chance to do the same!

Sneaky motifs: What’s your secret little write-obsession?

While mulling over a new novella I’m working on, it dawned on me that there is a motif that flows through nearly every story that I write. It’s not something as abstract, as love (which is a given, considering my genre) or redemption or healing (though those are common ones) or any sort of existential commentary on the human condition.

No, my novels have plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle themes that run through them. But this one was so unexpected it caught me off guard.

Tea. Yes, that’s right, tea. The beverage, preferably served hot, often with honey. In an early MG fantasy novel I was working on in grad school, a professor noted with good humor the importance to which my characters had elevated tea. One of them says, “Something big is going down. End-of-the-world big.” And the other character says, “I’ll put on the tea.”

Now, tea is my comfort food (if you could call it a food), even more than a bar of dark (very dark) chocolate. But despite my love of chocolate or ice cream or artisan cheeses, none of these things has become an unconscious motif if my stories.

Each time tea surfaces in a story, its presence feels completely natural. When someone is sick or worried, what better way to console him or her than to offer up a cup of tea? So when Cassandra (heroine in newly begun novella) arrives shivering and soaking wet on Nick’s doorstep, what is a guy to do but make her a cuppa?

I blame my best friends, those ladies who have been my confidants through the numerous ups and downs of my twenties. When some people would whip up a pitcher of margaritas (we have done that, on occasion), we usually put some hot water on and brew a pot of tea. We’ve stayed up until 5 a.m. contemplating our lives and the mysteries of the universe, anything from relationship woes to work struggles to spiritual awakenings, while imbibing endless amounts of tea. Those are good memories. And after a long day at work, there’s nothing better than coming home and sipping a cup of Lady Grey tea while allowing my body to sink into the sofa cushions.

I don’t know why tea became part of my writing universe. Maybe I associate it with the magic that runs through my life. It’s natural, earthy, relaxing—a sort of meditation and medicine. It’s a balm for the soul. And, maybe, drinking tea is even an art form.

What about you? What subtle motif has popped into your work unintentionally? And where do you think it came from?

Celebrating bookworms everywhere! (a.k.a., why the book-lovers community is awesome)

There was a period in my life, right after grad school (where I’d earned my M.F.A. in children’s lit, fully intending to write novels), when I tried to convince myself that I could lead a fulfilling life without writing fiction.

I’d managed to find a day job that provided an outlet for my creative nature and my writing skills. Working at a magazine, I have plenty of time to write and edit, to brainstorm, to talk with photographers and designers and other editors and share creative ideas. I count myself as extremely fortunate in this respect. So I hadn’t actually stopped writing, per se.

But, in the overwhelming time period when I was trying to find my place in a new career, in a time when my life was changing and occasionally turning upside-down, I rationalized that writing fiction wasn’t actually necessary for my happiness.

Fellow writers, could you live without your craft? I found I couldn’t stay away for long. Books have too much of a draw for me.

For me, the drive to write is twofold.  It’s the thrill of creating stories, from the initial inspiration to the toil of writing to the meticulous revisions that follow.

It’s also the community. True readers are passionate about books, about characters and worlds and plots. Authors are the same, with so many of us dedicated to advancing the craft, sharing our journeys, our work, our stumbling points, our tricks of the trade, with the larger writer community. Newbies eagerly seek guidance. Pros graciously give it. This wonderful relationship with fellow writers and with fellow fans of literature is a huge draw for me.

Book-fever is contagious, and once caught, it’s a chronic condition. We feed off each other’s enthusiasm, and I couldn’t let go of that part of my life. It wasn’t enough to write magazine articles, or just to read novels at night. Every time I read, I knew I had to write. I loved storytelling too much to let go.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop writing fiction. I made sacrifices in other areas of my life—working part-time instead of full-time, deciding not to pursue a Ph.D., putting my work as a poet aside to carve out time for my stories and characters.

The result? Totally. Freaking. Worth. It.

One day, my work will be out in the world in some fashion. (Call that faith in my own persistence.) 😉 I’m psyched for that day, not for any potential accolades or attention, but because the act of sharing stories is amazing to me. Weaving a tale from nothing and sharing it with others is the ultimate dream. It’s toiling over the soil all spring and summer, only to share the harvest with others (Eating alone is no fun.). The enthusiasm of the writer and reader community—the blogs, sites like Goodreads, the book clubs, the gatherings in libraries or bookstores, the energetic conversations about books—is contagious.

I love books; I love talking about them and creating them. Through my fellow bookworms, I’ve discovered so many authors whose work I admire and can’t put down. I eagerly await their next book releases. Today, I’m taking a moment to thank readers and writers everywhere for their shared passion about books—to creating and reading them, and to the conversations fueled by those stories. Thanks for the inspiration, everyone.

What do you love most about our book-lovers community? Have you met anyone recently who’s turned you on to a particular author or book? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

Ye old writing debate: “Literary” vs. “Genre”

Today, I couldn’t help but thinking about the old “us vs. them” mentality that permeates our society. I find it virtually everywhere I look, much to my dismay. It feels like whatever the issue, people are lined up on both sides of the line.

Sometimes, it’s just silly. There are the iPhone people and the Android people. Recently on the radio, the deejays were pondering the question, “Are iPhone users snobs?” Seriously? * sigh *Maybe I should just switch to NPR, but I’m kind of a pop-culture junkie. I like knowing when the latest Lady Gaga or Pink or Taylor Swift song comes out and hearing people’s reactions. I digress…

So what does this have to do with writers? Because I feel like we’re caught in this battle every day. There are the “literary” people and the “genre” people. And the literary people can’t understand how people can debase themselves by writing that formulaic, uninspiring dribble.  And the genre people can’t figure out why the literary people have such sticks up their arses. The literary people say genre has no place in a college classroom. And the genre people can’t figure out why the literary people can’t see that it takes a helluva lot of talent to write a good book in any genre, be it science-fiction, fantasy, romance, young-adult, or other. I once heard a professor say that he simply couldn’t allow his students to write genre fiction because, well, he didn’t know how to grade it. The man was a talented writer and well admired. How could he not know good fiction, regardless of the genre label placed on it?

Now, I guess you do have to know the conventions of the genre. These are really reader expectations. We expect certain things out of certain novels. So if you’re writing a romance novel, your readers have an idea of what to expect. If in the last scene, the characters break up, your reader is going to be puzzled or if pissed (or waiting for the sequel!). If halfway through a romance novel, a bus plows into your hero and leaves him for dead, your readers are going to be scratching their heads going, “What the hell?” And maybe we’re expecting him to rise from the dead.

Continue reading

High art vs. Low art:

A recent blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner got me thinking about finding purpose as writers. Not in a higher-power sense, but in a more pragmatic way. Are we out there to sell, writing with a strong commercial bent? Or are we telling our heart’s truth—even if that means we reach a smaller group of people? Do we want to make a living from our writing, or are we content to reach a smaller group of people but perhaps take a more literary bent? As Gardner points out in a related post, the books that win prizes don’t always become bestsellers. The books that are bestsellers sometimes don’t get the best reviews.

I’m not sure I believe in this dichotomy and, to be fair, neither, it seems, does Gardner. We can find a middle ground, writing for market and still trying to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. I do believe that is possible. The books we love tell us something about ourselves. There are many writers whose works are testaments to the fact that writing popular novels doesn’t mean letting go of the search for deeper meaning.

So how do we find the line? What’s the difference between Milan Kundera and Sherrilyn Kenyon? Aren’t they both telling us something about ourselves? Don’t they both move us? I enjoy the works of both and consider them good—no, make that really good—writers. Who wouldn’t cry while reading about Karenin’s smile in The Unbearable Lightness of Being? (I dare you to try.) Who isn’t moved by the healing power of love that is such a strong motif in Kenyon’s novels?

I often dream of writing those “high-art vs. low-art” categories on a board. Where does J.R.R. Tolkien go? Ursula K. Le Guin? Do they belong next to reality shows like Rock of Love or Jersey Shore? Have they “earned” a place next to Pablo Neruda and Albert Camus? At the end of this imaginary exercise, I envision myself drawing a big ‘X’ over the entire thing. I believe this is best done with chalk in a rough, wide movement to achieve the most dramatic effect. One must always be dramatic when asking such questions. 😉

It’s the work of scholars—and perhaps humanity as a whole—to ask and ponder questions about art and society. All sides have merit and value. You don’t have to love Twilight, but I think it’s still worth scholarly study; it’s still worth talking about. It’s still worth pondering why we love the books we do and what that says about us as individuals and cultures.

So, as writers, do we have to choose? Who out there is torn between writing what’s “literary” and what “sells?” Have you been asked to choose? If so, what would you choose, and why? Is there a line we have to toe, and how do you find it? And I wonder, if I write a thousand novels, will I ever know the answers to these questions? Or are there no answers?

Well, I’m getting verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves!

Boy Talk: Writing the Male POV

I’ve been writing fiction since age 12 (if not earlier), and I’ve almost always written from the female POV. In my early years, I attribute it to a couple things: one, a leaning toward “write what you know” (i.e., as a girl, I found it easier to write from the POV of my female characters); and, two, my desire for fantasy books featuring strong female leads. I had a strong hunger for novels by writers like Tamora Pierce and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I realize that I was writing the kinds of books that I wanted to read, and those books involved strong female leads.

Considering that I grew up with two brothers and am married to a man I’ve known more than a decade, I assumed writing from the male perspective would come more easily. I often find myself pausing to think, “How would this man (character) approach this situation?” Our cultural upbringing has led us to communicate differently; where one places value and sees importance, how one handles a given situation, how one approaches conflict or strong emotion is driven not only by personality but also by gender. It varies from person to person, and gender is a part of that equation.

Getting inside my guys’ heads is always interesting to me; I often worry that I might fall into the trap of writing a male POV in a female voice. Since my novels and short stories are written from both the POV of the male and female protagonist, I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing the man’s perspective in my female lead’s voice. I strive for the depth and complexity that I know is in each character; I want them to be alive—deep and rich and passionate and electric. I want each word and phrase to hum with the energy of that character.

Perhaps because my latest character, an elf-investigator in a short story, is so different from me, I’ve found him a more challenging character. This is perhaps what I love most about him, that he’s somewhat of a mystery to me, that he isn’t just telling me who he is and is leaving me to figure him out. I find myself following him through his life in his world, trying to discern what motivates him, what his pet peeves are, his mannerisms, his thought processes. More than any other character before, he makes me try hard to get into his head and find his voice, his spirit. It’s a great challenge. I find that he’s one of those characters who will challenge me as a writer and that, even if I only get to spend a short story with him, he’ll be in my head for a while.

Writers like Cheyenne McCray and Sherrilyn Kenyon have provided me with examples of strong, well-developed male leads with wonderful voices, so I’m sure in the days to come I’ll be pouring through the pages of some of their works. McCray’s Keir in Wicked Magic has always fascinated me; there’s something about the tough male character whose ability to work as a delicate artist (whittling in careful detail) hints at an inner gentleness. The edginess of Kenyon’s character Dev in “No Mercy,” his temper combined with an off-the-wall sense of humor, makes him a fascinating read (I never know what’s going to pop into that man’s head next!). So here’s to hoping that this character can speak to me with the same strength that I’ve seen in other works, and that I can have the same dialogues with him that I do with some of my female characters. *cough “Zoe” cough*