How The Heck Did You Come Up With That?
|This is a new feature on my website. I always want to know where writers get their ideas, and I hear that a lot from my readers, too. So from time to time I'll be writing background articles on my booksresearch tidbits, structure ideas, adopting real-life settings, etc.
The Origin of One Deadly Sin
ONE DEADLY SIN had an interesting beginning, which I thought I'd share with you.
It began when I was working on another book, a book that never saw printer's ink. That story was about a young single woman who wanted to adopt a baby, and when a child was abandoned at a daycare, she gets involved in taking care of the infant and finding out what happened to her mother. If you've seen Eastern Promises, you'll get the idea. Of course, I came up with the idea for the book way before the movie came out, so the plot similarities were a huge coincidence, But that didn't stop me from freaking out when I saw the movie, even though by that time I had abandoned that idea.
Meanwhile, on the real life front, my brother and his family, who live next door, were moving from Tennessee to Iowa. Our families are very close, so this was a big loss. I was at their house, trying to pretend I wasn't surrounded by moving boxes, and picked up a book lying on top of one. Some kind soul had given them a couple of "off the beaten trail" tour books of the Midwest. I started thumbing through, and came across the legend of the Black Angel from the Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City, Iowa.
The tale is about a stone angel over a grave that supposedly turned black overnight. Some say it was because the person buried in the grave had cheated on his wife.
The idea caught my imagination, and I began to wonder what it would be like to create a story around it. What if the man in the grave was innocent of all charges, and the black angel over his grave would turn white only when someone proved it?
That's the germ of the idea that sprouted into One Deadly Sin.
The original title of the book, by the way, was Black Angel, but the editorial staff at my publisher thought I could do better, and they came up with One Deadly Sin.
I don't think of Iowa as a place where legends are born, but those Midwesterners must have hidden depths because there are other cemetery legends from Iowa. If you want to know more, check out prairieghosts.com.
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These two articles are about my novella, "Necessary Betrayals," which is collected in the anthology HOT PURSUIT (NAL, Dec 2005).
Long Island Memories
One of the things I enjoyed about writing Necessary Betrayals, was the setting. Itís the first piece I set in my home stomping grounds of Long Island, New York. I grew up and went to high school on the North Shore, and it was so much fun revisiting some of those familiar locations.
In the novella, Francesca and Quinn look for Gina, Francescaís missing sister, at Rudyís Diner. As far as I know there is no real Rudayís Diner on Long Island, but there could be. I've been to dozens of diners just like it. The huge black and white cookies, the linzer cookies...how many times have I eaten one of those?
A few years ago, I took a trip to Bayville with my folks, who still live in the same house I grew up in. We took the back roads, if you can imagine any back roads in a place like Long Island thatís so heavily developed. But you'd be surprised. Despite the subdivisions and shopping malls, there are still many tree-lined streets and charming old towns on Long Island. We had a wonderful day, ending up in a small restaurant right on the Sound. The sky was warm and blue and there were sail boats on the water. I used that setting for Oyster Cove.
Another place on Long Island thatís beautiful is the village of Sea Cliff. Set on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, its narrow, winding streets are dotted with Victorian, Queen Anne, and Gothic style homes, many of them built before 1940. I thought about this picturesque setting and wonderfully wild landscape when imagining Francescaís old home.
Writing A Novella
A few minor spoilers, beware!
Necessary Betrayals is my first romantic suspense novella. I was nervous about writing a shorter formusually my books are four times longer! But I started thinking about how an episode of Law & Order not only covers solving a crime, but the trial (and often conviction) of the perpetratorall in an hour (forty minutes when you subtract the commercials). I wondered if I could write a shorter book using a similar structure.
Episodic TV shows are broken into "acts" the same way a play is. Each act is sandwiched between commercial breaks. I thought about the typical act breaks of a TV show and then translated them into chapters.
An episode of a TV show often begins with a cold opena short hook that is intended to get you interested in watching the whole episode. I spent the first page or two of chapter one creating my "cold open"a panicked phone call from Gina to her older sister, Francesca.
The first act, which begins just after the first commercial break, introduces the main characters, Francesca and Quinn, their relationship, and the mysterymy chapter one. I set up two story questions: what happened to Gina and what happened between Quinn and Francesca? Well, three, if you add: and what are they going to do about it?
In the next act, the characters on TV find clues to follow. In my second chapter, Francesca and Quinn find clues they think will lead them to Gina, but they also begin to reevaluate what happened in the past.
In the third act, the characters on TV might uncover the villain and begin to try to defeat him. Often, their initial attempts fail. In my third chapter, the villain is not only uncovered, Francesca and Quinn are forced to confront their past together and take a hard look at what betrayal really means.
But before that can happen, the villain must be defeated. In the TV show, this happens in the fourth act, which is often the climax. This is where the heroes are in the most jeopardy. In chapter four of my novella, Francesca and Quinn are captured by the villain and their desperate situation also helps reveal their true feelings for each other.
TV shows often have ending "tags" or small scenes that tie up loose ends or are small but insightful character moments. I added an entire last chapter to do that, adding a twist that I hope was unexpected.
Using a structure similar to an episode of television helped me structure my story and give it shape. Hope you enjoy the result!
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