D.B. Jackson: The Writing Life, part I — Say What?


D.B. JacksonPlunder Of Souls blog tour buttonThis week, in my continuing gig as “guest” on this site, I’m supposed to write about “The Writing Life.”  First of all, it’s just weird being a guest here — I mean, this place has been my literary home for six years.  I feel a little like I went off to college and then returned home, only to find that my room was being used as a bed and breakfast.  I guess now I know how my older daughter feels . . .  (That’s a little joke.  I promise.)  But I also wonder if, after all these years, there is anything I could tell you about my writing life that you don’t already know.

And so I’m going to take this in a slightly different direction . . .

Being a writer can be a little weird.  By which I mean, that people sometimes treat writers in odd ways.  This is true no matter where one lives, but in my tiny little town it is especially so.  Examples?  Oh, yeah, I’ve got examples. (And just in case you think I’m the only one with examples, check out this article, brought to my attention by Tamsin Silver, after I wrote the first draft of this post.)

Some of these are pretty much things you’d expect.  Just yesterday, for about the one millionth time, give or take a few hundred thousand, someone I know — an acquaintance — asked if I would be willing to read her book.  I told her what I tell everyone:  I make it a policy not to read manuscripts unless I have asked for them to be sent to me, or unless the request comes from an editor/publisher asking for a blurb.  Why?  Because if I honored every one of these requests I would never have time to write my own work, or read for pleasure.  That said, I have, at this point, considered setting up my own editing/manuscript consultation service here in town.  To this woman’s credit, when I told her that I would have to say no for now, she was incredibly gracious.  And when I mentioned that I had been thinking of setting up a service, she said that she would gladly pay to have me read her book.

So why is this particular request weird?  Well, if you were to talk to a lawyer, for instance, would you ask her to draw up a will for you, gratis?  Probably not.  But people think nothing of asking writers to read their manuscripts for free.  Given the amount of time it takes to read through an unedited manuscript, that strikes me as odd.  Of course few of the folks making such requests understand exactly what it is they’re asking.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had people say to me, “You know, I’ve always thought that I have a book in me.”  Hmmm, that must be uncomfortable; you should probably see a doctor about that.  No, I’ve never actually said it, but I’ve thought it.  Really, though, I’m always amazed at the number of people who think that writing a book is a simple task that they could do themselves if only they had the time.   I would love to reply with, “Yeah, I know just what you mean.  I’ve always thought that I have a thoracic surgery in me.  I mean, I don’t want to be a doctor, or go to med school or anything like that.  But I’ve always thought that a thoracic surgery was something I could do, if only I could spare the time, you know?”

A Plunder of Souls, by D.B. JacksonOr this gem:  “I have a great idea for a book!  Really.  And I was thinking that I could give you the idea and you could write it, and then we could split the royalties.”  Yes, I have had people say this to me.  People; plural.  Okay, first of all, I have plenty of ideas on my own.  Honest.  I’ll probably die before I have time to write them all.  So, no thanks.  And if you think that coming up with an idea constitutes half the work in producing a book, you have no notion of what you’re talking about.  And finally, if your idea is anything like the others people have tried to “share” with me, it’s not nearly as good as you think it is.  Trust me on this.

“So, are you working on a book right now?”  I get that one all the time.  And I understand that it’s a nice way of opening a conversation, of expressing interest in what I do, and I really do appreciate the effort.  I can’t help thinking, though, that it’s an odd way to phrase it.  Why not just, “What are you working on right now?”  But no, it’s usually, “Are you working on a book?”  My standard answer is, “Always.”  Because that’s the truth.  I could just as easily say, “To be honest, I’m working on about four.”  Because that’s often true as well.  This year alone, I will do at least some work — revising, polishing, proofing, promoting, conceptualizing, outlining, actual writing — on no fewer than six different novels and nearly as many short stories.  That’s the only way to be successful in this business.  Writers don’t have the luxury of ever NOT writing.  So, yeah, I’m working on a book.  Right now.

I don’t mean for this to sound quite as snide as it probably sounds.  Most of the folks who ask or say these things are trying to be friendly, and are genuinely interested in learning more about the writing profession.  And for the record, I am ALWAYS happy to talk about writing in general, and to answer questions or offer advice.  It’s just when people start wanting to enlist me as their ghost writer that I begin to get a little snippy . . .

The truth is that writing is an oddity to many people.  It’s something that we are taught to do early in life — unlike, say, thoracic surgery.  As school kids, we write stories, we create characters and plots and settings.  And so the assumption that “anyone can do it” lingers in our minds, because at one point in our lives, when we weren’t really skilled at anything, all of us DID do it.  Indeed, all of the arts are like this.  As children, we all drew and painted and sculpted, we all wrote stories and poems, we all made music of one sort or another.  That’s a good thing; I think such early exposure instills in most of us an elemental appreciation for the arts.  But it also conveys the erroneous notion that these are simple endeavors that require little training and that can be mastered by anyone at all.

Writing, as I will discuss again next week, is hard.  It takes work, dedication, perseverance, patience, imagination, a certain arrogance, a bit of luck, and, yes, some talent as well.  Not everyone can do it. Which is good, because the world also needs lawyers and thoracic surgeons, not to mention teachers, scholars, chefs, janitors, police officers, fire fighters, CPAs, politicians (yes, we really do need them), train engineers, and a few gazillion other professions.  So, to those in my town, I would say, let’s make a deal.  Find a friend who will read your manuscript, write your own ideas, and trust me when I tell you that a writer is always writing, and I will leave the teaching and professional cooking and firefighting to you.  

But if there’s a thoracic surgery that you need done, and no one else is around, give me a call . . .

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.


Gin and Tonic For Everyone!


doghouse(1)Happy book birthday, L. A. Kornetsky (otherwise known as the fabulous Laura Anne Gilman!)  To celebrate, LAG is giving away a copy of DOGHOUSE to a commenter (randomly chosen by the traditional means of Oracular Cat)!  Don’t forget to say hello after you finish reading, for your shot at winning a book!


Tomorrow’s the day! DOGHOUSE is out for walkies, er, on the shelves! On the street! In your eager hands! (I hope).

So let me tell you a little about this series.

*Enters wayback machine*

Three years ago, the editor who had acquired the Vineart War trilogy came to me and said, (summing up) “most of your fantasy books are also mysteries. You ever think about writing a straight mystery?”

And I said… “well, actually, um…yeah.”

(I may have been doing a quiet, hopeful chair dance on my end of the line because oh jinkies yes.)

“And could you maybe write one with a dog? And maybe a cat?”

The chair dance stopped in shock. “You want me to write you a cozy mystery?”

My editor shuffled her feet, and said “um yeah?”

I thought about it for a little bit. I thought about how that could work, while still playing it straight.

And I said “all right then, there’s a challenge. I like challenges…. ”

And that’s how I sat down to write the Gin & Tonic Series.

“Wait, wait,” people said – and still say. “You’re writing a cozy mystery? Isn’t that…sweet little old ladies and teapots and bloodless murders offscreen in small towns? YOU?”

It’s nice to know my reputation for dark and snark is so widespread. :-)

And, yes, sometimes cozy mysteries are about that. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s about young urban professionals using tech and drinking martinis while they solve crime in big cities. In this instance, Seattle. With the extremely opinionated, and useful, assistance of a shar-pei rescue puppy, and a regal bar cat.

(No, the animals don’t talk to humans, although the humans talk an awful lot to the animals. As one does.)

The thing people forget or misunderstand about cozy mysteries is that it needn’t be twee, and it’s not always bloodless. It’s about amateurs solving crimes – and often running afoul of the professionals while they do it.

And sometimes bad things happen to people, and solving the crime doesn’t always make it all better. Just safer.

In the case of GIN & TONIC INVESTIGATIONS, Ginny Mallard is a private concierge, solving peoples’ problems for money. Theodore (Teddy) Tonica is a bartender, used to listening to people pour out their woes, and giving advice. They never intended to get into the sideline of solving crime, but people in trouble keep finding them….

The first book was COLLARED. The second was FIXED. The third, out this week, is DOGHOUSE. And this time it’s one of their own, the cook at the bar Teddy manages, who needs their help. His friend’s being evicted, accused of a crime he swears he didn’t commit. The problem is, the only witness to what did (or didn’t) happen… is a puppy named Parsifal.

What happens? Well, you can buy the book tomorrow, and find out…


Laura Anne GilmanL.A. Kornetsky is the mystery-writing pen name of Laura Anne Gilman. In addition to the Gin & Tonic mystery series (Collared, Fixed and Doghouse), she is also the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, and the Nebula award-nominated Vineart War trilogy, plus many short stories and novellas. Her next fantasy novel, Silver on the Road, will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015.
Learn more at www.lauraanegilman.net or follow her on Twitter: @LAGilman

Joshua Palmatier — Plot: Losing Control


SHATTERING THE LEY:  Plot:  Losing Control

Welcome to my third guest post about my new novel, SHATTERING THE LEY (in stores now)!  Again, thanks to Magical Words for inviting me.

ShatteringtheLeyCoverAs you may have read in my previous post about character, I’m an organic writer, sometimes also called a pantser.  What this means is that I don’t have much of a plan when I sit down to write my novels.  Usually I have a few “guideposts”—basically a couple of plot elements that I think are going to happen (usually something about halfway through and something at the end).  But when I sit down to write, I let the characters take control.  Most of the time, the characters end up in situations close to those initial guideposts.  But sometimes . . . not so much.

That “not so much” happened with SHATTERING THE LEY.  Almost as soon as I sat down to write the book, I lost complete control of the plot.  To the point where I almost literally had NO CLUE what was going to happen next.  I remember stressing out about halfway through, when I really and truly lost control.  I’d sit back at my writing desk and worry that the book had gone wild, that the plot threads (and by this time I had SO MANY PLOT THREADS) wouldn’t coalesce into a meaningful plot or come together in the end into something realistic or manageable.  That total sense of loss of control was frightening.  But at this point, I’ve finished enough novels and written so many stories that I had the confidence to trust my hind brain.  I decided that my subconscious knew what it was doing and I just plowed ahead, letting the characters do what they wanted.

And then the magical happened.  About three quarters of the way through the book, with the plot threads seemingly everywhere, diverging even further by the moment . . . they suddenly began to weave together.  A few chapters later, I realized where each thread was headed, and where the book was going to end, and why all of these things that I’d written—but had no clue why—were important.  I literally SHIVERED when I realized what the ending of the book would be.  Not what I had originally imagined; only tangentially close to that perceived ending when I sat down to write that first word.  I was stunned.  I’m still stunned, and shiver a little bit every time I think about where the book ended up.

But that’s the thrill of writing for me.  I’m an organic writer because I want to enjoy the experience as much as the reader does, discovering the story as it develops.  And when the story can reach out and grab me as much as SHATTERING THE LEY did . . . those are the moments that a writer lives for.  I’ve only lost TOTAL control of a book once before, with THE VACANT THRONE, and that one surprised me as much as this one.  I hope that SHATTERING THE LEY surprises you as much as it surprised me.

BenTateAuthor Bio:  Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  His upcoming novel SHATTERING THE LEY (July 2014, DAW) is the first book in a new series, set in the same world as his “Throne of Amenkor” series.  He is also the founder of the new small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, which will focus on producing quality science-fiction and fantasy themed anthologies.  It’s first anthology release will be CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, currently in the production phase, to be released sometime before July 2014.  Joshua has also published numerous short stories in various anthology.  Find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com.

Social Media Info:
Joshua Palmatier:  www.joshuapalmatier.com
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/joshuabpalmatier
Twitter:  @bentateauthor
Zombies Need Brains:  www.zombiesneedbrains.com
Online Store:  https://squareup.com/market/zombies-need-brains-llc
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/zombiesneedbrainsllc
Twitter:  @ZNBLLC

Jennifer Estep — A New Book Is Born


Hello! So today, I’m excited to talk about Poison Promise, the 11th book in my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series that comes out on Tuesday, July 22.

Poison PromiseI’m always a little nervous on release day. I’ve spent months working on a book, and it is finally out there for folks to read. As a writer, you always want people to enjoy your books, and you are always striving to write the absolute best story that you can with every single book you produce. So I want all my hard work to pay off for a fun, entertaining read for folks.

But writing a series can be a little tricky. You want to give fans of the series what they’ve come to expect. In the case of my Elemental Assassin series, that would be lots of time spent with Gin, Finn, and the other characters, some deliciously evil bad guys, and action-packed fight scenes. But you also want to give readers new things to look forward to as well, like new characters to cheer for and new places to visit in Ashland. It can be a tough balancing act.

But my hope is always this—that folks enjoy the new book even more than they have the previous ones in the series.

Here is the Poison Promise description:

I specialize in making death wishes come true.

Pop quiz. Which do you think is deadlier: Burn, the nastiest drug ever to hit the mean streets of Ashland, or me, Gin Blanco, the assassin known as the Spider? Answer: Me—because I don’t kill you slowly.

Normally, drug dealers aren’t my department. But I’m turning up the heat on some relentless Burn-pushing thugs who won’t leave my friends alone. Pushers who have my cop sister beside herself with rage, so I’m stepping up to keep her from doing something stupid and getting herself killed. Once I’m in, I’m in, and these folks have picked their poison: the Spider’s venom. But even bad guys have their good days, and sometimes even my Ice and Stone magic isn’t enough. For behind the drug is a vicious vampire with a scientific eye for results. And behind him… trouble like I haven’t seen since I took down my legendary nemesis, Mab Monroe.

You can read the first chapter of Poison Promise here. The book is available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats at all the usual online retailers.

I hope that everyone has as much fun reading about Gin’s latest adventure as I did writing it. Happy reading!

Website: http://www.jenniferestep.com/
Blog: http://www.jenniferestep.com/blog/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JenniferEstepAuthor?fref=ts
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Jennifer_Estep  (@Jennifer_Estep)
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/580315.Jennifer_Estep


Jennifer Estep is a New York Times bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea. Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. She is also the author of the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

Poison Promise, the 11th book in the Elemental Assassin series, will be published on July 22. Black Widow, the 12th book, will be released on Nov. 25.


For more on Jennifer and her books, visit her website at www.jenniferestep.com. You can also follow Jennifer on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter – @Jennifer_Estep.

Committing Series: Emotional Commitment

Catie MurphyCatie Murphy

SHAMAN RISES by CE Murphy I wrote the first Walker Papers novel, URBAN SHAMAN, in the year 2000. The final book, SHAMAN RISES, just came out this month, which means it’s been a 14 year journey.

Any 14 year relationship takes a lot commitment, and I’m not sure that’s something we think about very clearly at the start of writing a series. It’s just like any other relationship, then: everything is fresh and new and exciting, the ideas are good, the adventures are many…

…and then you may find yourself four books later with four or five more to go, and you might be wondering what you got yourself into. Why did you think you wanted to spend this much time with these people? How are you supposed to survive yet another revision? What on earth is the plot for the next book? Can you just give it up now and hide from readers until they forget? (That’s a resounding no, btw. Readers never forget. :)) How are you going to keep track of ALL THOSE PLOT POINTS?! What, not to belabor the point, were you thinking?!

I feel I was tremendously lucky with the Walker Papers, actually, in that I didn’t get tired of writing them. It was never a trial to go back to Jo and the gang–but it may be relevant that over the years I was writing the 10 Walker Papers, I also wrote 15 other books for publication and…quite a few more that haven’t been published yet. It left me in the lovely position of always being glad to get back to Joanne.

But burnout is one reason I always intended the Walker Papers to be a finite series. I didn’t want to get to a place where I *didn’t* love writing them, or where reader pressure for the next book made it a burden instead of a delight. I got lucky there.

I wasn’t quite as lucky with my Negotiator Trilogy, which–while I’m very happy with the final product–was just awful to write. The first book underwent six major, end-to-end revisions before publication (four before selling), the second had to have a plot surgically inserted, which required gutting the whole book and starting over; the third took six up-to-300-page attempts before I finally got it right and was able to finish.

I love those books. I love that *world*. But it took me *years* to even *think* about writing another story in that world, and while I’ve now written two books worth of short stories and novellas, I still haven’t entirely convinced myself to write a whole actual novel about the Old Races. I’m forever grateful that the Negotiator Trilogy was only *intended* as a trilogy, because if I’d had to keep writing more of those books at the time–I just can’t even imagine the levels of misery that would have entailed.

But as a series writer, you’re committed. Assuming sales justify it, you’re going to be in it for a long haul. So you have to try to find ways to find passion even when it slips. Sometimes (like with the Negotiator books) most of the passion comes from “it’s under contract and people will have read the first two books and want to know what happens”; sometimes it can be found by re-reading earlier books you’ve written and remembering why you wanted to tell those stories in the first places.

Other times it’s just sheer teeth-gritted determination–and honestly, sometimes it never comes. I know at least one author whose life went so badly awry during the writing of the first in a trilogy that the series will never be finished; sometimes you *can’t* find the joy in it again.

I do think that most of the time, though, it’s there to be found. So if you get yourself eyeballs-deep in a series with no end in sight, and you’re wondering how that happened–g’wan, revel in *that* a little. You’re in a relationship. Enjoy it. :)

D. B. Jackson: On Plotting — Keeping Things Fresh


D.B. JacksonPlunder Of Souls blog tour buttonLast week I began the discussion of keeping books and story lines fresh as we move through a series, by talking about character, and in particular shaking up familiar dynamics between (among) two (or more) characters.  I focused my post on the core relationship found in the Thieftaker books: the rivalry between my hero, thieftaker and conjurer Ethan Kaille, and his nemesis, the brilliant, deadly, and beautiful Sephira Pryce.  The basic dynamics of their relationship had long since been established in the first two books of the Thieftaker Chronicles, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry.  Now, in the third book of the series, A Plunder of Souls, which was released a week ago today, I fundamentally altered those dynamics by introducing a new adversary for Ethan, Captain Nate Ramsey, who antagonized Sephira and forced her into an unlikely alliance with Ethan.

But there are other ways to keep a storyline fresh, even in a series that has a long line of previously written stories or novels.  Let’s look at some of them.

1.  Shift character dynamics:  I’ve covered this one at some length.  Last week’s post can be found here.  I would add to this discussion that there are any number of ways to alter character relationships, some quite obvious, others far more subtle.  We can add new characters, as I did with Ramsey.  We can end or begin romances, or have a character lose his or her job.  Best friends might have a falling out, or former enemies might find unexpected common ground.  In A Plunder of Souls, Ethan’s political transformation from Tory (a supporter of the Crown) to Patriot accelerates and deepens.  This change is of secondary importance compared with some of the other things I’ve done in this book, but it is significant nevertheless, and it adds to his inner turmoil.  Sometimes a change as simple as this can have ramifications that spread throughout an entire novel, or even beyond.

2.  Kill off a character, or have a character become pregnant:  Talk about changing character dynamics.  These are more drastic than break-ups or lost jobs, of course.  But therein lies the power of such decisions.  I did both of these things in the middle of the Winds of Forelands series.  I had a very important character discover that she was pregnant.  Actually, she TOLD me she was pregnant; I had no idea until I typed the words onto the screen.  And I killed off a couple of characters along the way.  The disruptions caused by these events were seismic, and they lent new drama and tension to my plotting.  I should add here that these are not choices to be made lightly.  That pregnancy in particular proved to be a huge complication.  I had previous outlined the subsequent volumes and I was forced to go back and completely rethink the remainder of the series.  But it was the right thing to do, and the series was far, far better for the inconvenience I caused myself.

A Plunder of Souls, by D.B. Jackson3.  Introduce an external element:  The Thieftaker books are handy in this way, because with every new novel I have some new external factor with which to confound my characters.  It’s built into the historical structure of the series.  In book 1, it was the Stamp Act riots and the resulting disruption of normal life in 1760s Boston.  The second book coincided with the beginning of the occupation of Boston by British troops.  This was a turning point in the history of the city and the colonies in general, as it further radicalized the populace of the town that would become the epicenter of America’s political awakening.  Now obviously I can’t telegraph all of that.  In 1768, when the occupation began, no one knew exactly where it would lead.  But Boston’s citizenry did understand that the arrival of British regulars marked a significant and grim milestone in the city’s history.  A Plunder of Souls takes place in the summer of 1769, during an outbreak of smallpox.  As you can imagine, the news that this highly contagious, disfiguring, at times lethal disease has been found in the city is enough to throw many into panic.  That’ll freshen up a story for you.  And for those who are interested, Thieftaker 4, Dead Man’s Reach, takes place at the time of the Boston Massacre.  Stay tuned.  You don’t need to write historical fiction to do this, of course.  There are other ways to shake up the world a bit.  Give it a try.

4.  Bend (BUT DO NOT BREAK) a rule or two:  What do I mean by this?  Well, let’s consider magic systems.  I am a big believer in the idea that a magic system has to remain as consistent as the laws of nature.  If magic can only be done by gerbils, but not by hamsters, then that’s your rule and you have to live with it.  You can’t have a hamster who casts spells, because that would be a violation.  But what if in book three of your series, you introduce a half-breed: a Gerbster?! (A Hambil?)  Well, maybe she’ll have magic.  And maybe that magic will be incredibly potent.  You haven’t broken a rule.  You’ve bent it a bit; you’ve found a way to use your rules to your advantage, and there is nothing wrong with that.  In A Plunder of Souls, Nate Ramsey has found a way to bend the rules of conjuring just enough to make himself ever more potent and to make Ethan’s spell casting erratic and unreliable.  Hijinks ensue.  Naturally, the rules you bend don’t have to pertain to magic.  They can be religious or political, legal or physical.  The point is to change things up a bit.  Maybe you have a rule or two in your world that might be twisted to your narrative advantage.  Think about it.

5:  Make a new stylistic choice:  Okay, I suppose technically this isn’t a plotting choice, though I would argue that plotting is more closely linked to voice, point of view, and style than might be immediately apparent.  But maybe switching to a new point of view character might be just the sort of change you need to bring fresh blood to a storyline that’s growing a bit tired.  Maybe telling a story in first person rather than third will lend immediacy to your narrative.  Sometimes that shift in craft can be enough to make something old look like a new shiny.  And we writers ALWAYS love the new shiny.

So there are five ways to breath new life into your current project that come to mind for me.  I’m sure there are other ways, and I’d love to hear some of your ideas.

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.


Talking to Myself for Fun and Profit



Welcome back Laura Anne Gilman (aka L A Kornetsky)!

We all work differently.
The first time I heard someone say that they sat down and worked out all the aspects of a character, deciding who they would be and how they’d act [and, in at least one case, using an actual CHART], I suspect my jaw fell open, not only in surprise, but utter envy.

“Oh god,” I was thinking. “How? How do you do that? Teach me your dark ways!”

Because I? Am totally not in control of my characters, not even for a minute. Plot, yes. Setting, absolutely. But characters?

First, there is a voice. It may be quiet, or strident. It may not yet have an accent, or a particular point to make. But there is a very definite voice. Hi, it says. I’m here, where should I stand?

Oh hi there, I say in return, often quite surprised because I hadn’t actually been thinking of a new character. Erm, just…over there, in the light, so I can get a look at you?

Once we have the setting, and the plot, I can slide the character into place, and put them on their marks. And for a little while, I think I’m just like all the other kids, moving my pieces around on the game board, telling them where to go and what to do….
And then they go and do something else.

For example, in the very first Gin & Tonic mystery, COLLARED, I’d expected that Ginny and Teddy doghouse(1)would have a very flirtatious, almost Bogie-and-Bacall vibe to them. Instead, they turned out to be very good friends, supportive and affectionately mocking, but barely a tremor of physical attraction, even though they’re neither of them anything to sneeze at.
It just wasn’t in them, to flirt that way with each other. So everything that followed had to change, too.

This is where writers tend to split into three groups, I think. The first have no problem making their characters get back in line. This is what the plot is, and this is how they will react. Raise your hand if you hate writers like that.

*Sees everyone except the front row raise their hands*

Then there’s the second group, who claim that they can’t force characters into doing what they want, that the story always lead them off into uncharted territory. I hear that a lot, especially from the pantsers. I don’t know if that comes OF being a pantser or if it’s PART of being a pantser, but oh you have my sympathy.

But that’s not me. I’m in the third group, the one that has to negotiate with my characters. I have to listen to them when they say “nope, going this way instead.” All right, why are we going that way? What are we going to find there?

Now, before anyone starts rolling their eyes, I know that my characters are me – that they come from my brain, not some outside force. But once that voice comes to me, they are independent in a sense; they’ve established themselves as a separate motivation from the main storytelling brain, with motivations and observations that may differ from the main storytelling brain (hereinafter referred to as MSB).

And the one thing I’ve learned, over many years and many characters, is to listen when that happens. Because while the characters may be more tightly focused…they also see things that the MSB overlooks. Small details. Quiet whispers. Hunches. And when they balk and say “nope, not going there, we need to go here…. It’s generally because they caught something MSB missed.

Especially, oh god especially, in a mystery.

Once we’re back on the same page, of course, it’s up to the MSB to decide if the story is going to go there, or I have to go back and fix whatever it was that caught the character’s attention, so it no longer distracts them. But that’s Plot, and that’s a different topic entirely…

L.A. Kornetsky is the mystery-writing pen name of Laura Anne Gilman. In addition to the Gin & Tonic mystery series (Collared, Fixed and Doghouse), she is also the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, and the Nebula award-nominated Vineart War trilogy, plus many short stories and novellas. Her next fantasy novel, Silver on the Road, will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015.
Learn more at www.lauraanegilman.net or follow her on Twitter: @LAGilman