M Is For… Maps! – by Rachel Wilder!

My partner in crime, Rachel Wilder, has some thoughts about maps for you. Rachel, take it away!

This turned out to tie in with the previous post. I guess great minds think alike!

Maps are great in preventing you from getting lost and are also useful in that respect, when an author is writing. Engaging characters and a well thought out plot are huge factors for a successful good story. Setting is right up there in importance and maps can help in that regard.

I love road maps for many different things when I write. From telling me how long that car trip is going to take, to where a side street is for our hero to rush out and rescue our main character. Another useful tool is a simple, pencil drawn home-made map for a setting.

This is from Burning Bright, a male/male romance penned by A. Catherine Noon and yours truly.

Sasha approached the street corner. This side of the brick building housing the Factory lay quiet and unoccupied, its exterior lights out. On the other side of the narrower street, empty windows stared at him. Too rattled to read the name of the business on the placard, he turned right and glanced back after discovering no parking lot with his Chevy waiting.


The voice startled him and he stopped short of running into the muscular chest of a man, who stepped out from a doorway. He wore a leather trench coat over jeans, Russian gang tattoos visible on the naked skin of his upper torso.

“Fuck,” Sasha blurted.

The sketch above was invaluable in keeping us- and the action – right where we needed it to be. Don’t worry about the level of your ability, just have fun and grab a pencil.

So, have you ever gotten lost?

L Is For… Location! – with Guest, Grace Kahlo!

Please help me welcome Grace Kahlo, one of the newest members of the Writer’s Retreat.  Grace, take it away! 

No matter which genre you write, location is a fundamental base to your story. The setting complies of more than time and place. It goes along with culture, architecture, vegetation, dialect, and everything that makes your story world complete and unique.
The fun thing about location is that how you go about it depends on you. Some writers choose to write about a location they know, some travel especially for research purposes, some writers enjoy couch traveling, and some invent everything from scratch.
Personally, I prefer to spend less time researching, and more time writing. I’m currently writing and editing a romantic high fantasy, and planning a contemporary romantic suspense. 
For the fantasy, I pretty much invented every aspect of the setting, and even drew a map of the world. I decided I wanted a mountain ridge, with each mountain belonging to a different type of magical being. On the lower grounds, I have a city for wizards, city for witches, and basically there are different beings on every piece of land. 
Because, in my story, the land chooses its caretaker.
Now what would happen when different beings want to live on other lands? It’s gonna get messy, and that’s part of the fun. 🙂
That’s just scratching the surface. Because every caste of magical beings have their culture, their dialect, their approach to the land. And the weather is different on a mountain’s peak—colder, fresh and biting—than the warm, moist weather of the lower grounds.
So, setting is an integral part of every story.
For the contemporary, I need to research. My starting point is that I need a woodsy area with wild animals to heighten the stakes and make the scenes heart-thumping with worry and danger. I decided to go with Florida. Now I need to set a trail, because there’re going to be lots of running away and chases in the book. 

How about you? How do you go about deciding the location and all of the details of your setting?

Monday with Aunt Noony – and a Fireside Chat with Kimberley Troutte!

My friend, Kimberley Troutte, is up for several awards and I wanted to chat with her about the awards process and how it fits in with the rest of her writing. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me. Grab a cuppa and join me as I get to talk with Kimberley Troutte!

ACN: Kimberley, you said you received word that your manuscript, Epicenter (also called Her Guardian, His Angel), is a finalist in the RWA contests Launch A Star AND the Melody of Love. You also have a second manuscript, God Whisperer, in the finals of the Hot Prospect contest. First, congratulations! That’s awesome news!

Can you tell me a little more about Epicenter?

KT: I would love to. Epicenter, is the dramatic story of an American philanthropist and a Haitian doctor who are fighting to save lives when the greatest earthquake Haiti has ever known rips their world apart.

ACN: How did they get considered for Launch a Star and Melody of Love? Is that something you had to submit, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: These are writing contests in two different RWA Chapters (Romance Writers of the World). I entered online, paid my fee and kept my fingers crossed. Preliminary judges read all the entries, score them based on predetermined scoresheets, and determine which entries are good enough to move to the final rounds. I was honored and thrilled to hear that I was moving to the finals where agents and editors determine the final standings of the winners.

And the nail biting begins…

ACN: Is there a contest fee?

KT: Yep. Usually around $15-35 USD.

ACN: How about God Whisperer? What is that about?

KT: It’s the story of a mother and her eight-year-old son who are hiding for their lives in a Danish community in the hills of California when the boy becomes famous due to an ear surgery that allows him to hear God.

God Whisperer is near and dear to my heart. I wrote it because my little boy was born without an ear canal or eardrum in his right ear. The outside of the ear looked normal (albeit a little smaller than the left) but he had no hole! Very rare. The amazing surgeons at UCLA recreated his ear, drilling the hole, making an eardrum from his own tissue, and lifting the bones so that they could pick up sounds. It was a miracle when my boy could hear out of both ears for the first time in his life and I wanted to pour that love and miracle into a book.

ACN: How did it get selected for Hot Prospect? Is that something you did on your own, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: I entered it in the online RWA writing contest. I was so pleased that it was a finalist in the single-title category that I cried.

ACN: What made you want to be considered for these?

KT: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to win :-), but mostly I entered these contests looking for answers. I had made huge revisions to the beginnings of both manuscripts and wanted to know if the changes worked.

First chapters are hard for me. I tend to revise them several times before the book is ready. I always worry that I might be starting in the wrong place, or in the wrong point of view, or including too much backstory, or…

The questions I hoped that the judges would help me answer were:

  • Would readers be hooked enough to want to invest their precious time to read on?
  • Am I clear—not too much backstory but enough information so that the reader is not confused?
  • Are the character likeable?
  • Is the plot interesting?

I was thrilled to pieces to see that the preliminary judges liked my first chapters, OMG they really did.

ACN: How do you find contests fit into your writing process? Is it something you do out of enjoyment, or is it part of your overall marketing strategy?

KT: Contests give me a chance to see where I am succeeding and falling short so that I can improve my story before other readers and publishing professionals see it. I always keep in mind that judging is subjective but if two judges touch on the same weak point, it probably needs to be changed.

ACN: What advice would you give to a writer wanting to start out competing? Where would a person start and what strategies could you recommend?

KT: I would recommend going to the RWA [Romance Writers of America] website. There are all sorts of contests for the unpublished and published alike and you don’t have to be a member of RWA to enter. Make sure you read the rules carefully and email the contest coordinator if you have any questions. I would choose a contest that offers judges feedback so that you can learn and grow from their advice. And remember that it is a subjective process. All judges, just like readers, are not the same. I have had one judge love the chapter while the other disliked it rather intensely. That’s the way it goes sometimes. If you are willing to put yourself out there and enter with an open mind, determined to use the contest as a tool, you should be able to learn something from it.

ACN: I wish you every success and, regardless of whether you win, you should be proud for having entered. That takes guts and I’m sure proud of you.

KT: Thank you so much. I am in a place of happy shock. I’m so grateful that judges gave up their time to help me become a better writer. It’s such a gift.

Write on!

Kimberley Troutte

Writer Wednesday: My Two Cents on World Building

I’m thrilled that my dear fellow bloggers A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder have gifted us with Emerald Fire.  As you can read in the previous post, a big part of the story involved creating a new plane of existence.  They really did a wonderful job, inspiring me to comment further on the concept of world building.

In my humble opinion, names and terminology are fun and relatively easy ways to help develop the tone of a location.  Weather and climate hold great sway over how a society functions, so that’s another good place to start.  From there, clothing and architecture and food add depth.

Other routes can entail religion and politics.  These systems most often play a key role from what comes to mind – Frank Herbert’s Dune series is a fine example – but that doesn’t mean a writer can’t imagine aspects that don’t make their way into the tale.  Such details can drive a character’s actions as well as build substance without necessarily needing detailed inclusion in the final text.

There are many ways author’s draw the reader into a story, and shaping a believable culture within which the characters interact is one of my favorites, as both a writer and reader.  A. Catherine Noon explains beautifully the resources she and Rachel Wilder tapped from the real world.  I highly suggest you scroll down and enjoy learning much more about this process.

If you haven’t already, please go out and purchase Emerald Fire.  Happy reading!

A New Book Is Born!

It’s hard to believe it. We wrote it, and edited it, and loved it into existence. Countless hours spent on the phone and in emails and chat, working and playing with it. We’ve created a whole world in Persis, one that is so real to me it seems as though I should be able to open a door and step into it like walking through the armoir into Narnia.

Emerald Fire, the first in what we hope to be many novels about Persis, is available now from Torquere Press! We are very excited and pleased to bring it to you and hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

While a brief blurb and excerpt are available on the website, I thought I’d talk a little about the process of worldbuilding that we developed as we worked and played on this novel. I grew up reading mysteries by Phyllis A. Whitney and fantasy novels by such authors as Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Ursula K. Leguin. Patricia McKillip and Steven Brust are two more of my favorites. Rachel grew up reading fantasy as well, like the Sword of Shannara and other quest novels, as well as a lot of romance like the Harlequin white-covers. We got to talking one day and wondered what it would be like to write a world of Sheikhs and Harem Girls, only where the Girls were Boys – since we write M/M romance.

Persis is based from that concept. We looked at ancient Persia and developed our culture from there. Our two main cities are Cyrus and Darius, after two of the greatest rulers of ancient Persia – and the world. Darius I, known as Darius the Great, ruled over much of what is now Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. We wanted the settlers of Persis to know that and want to honor their ancestors. The third city, newer than Cyrus or Darius, is Reghdad and is a name we made up based on Baghdad.

One of the first challenges we came across is one of distance: first, how far apart are these cities? Second, how long does it take to travel between them? After all, if there aren’t paved highways and modern cars, how to folks get around? (“What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”) We drew a map and estimated distances, then estimated how long each of our styles of vehicle would take to travel between the cities.
Another challenge is how to keep everything organized as you’re developing it. We decided to write a “Concordance” for our world, in which we track everything from geopolitical relationships and macroeconomics to the Keeps and their customs of dress. It’s great fun, especially if you enjoyed learning stuff like this in school but never really figured out how to apply it in the real world. The made-up world. Persis. Whatever. You get the picture.
We hope you enjoy the story as much as we do, and that our efforts to make it come to life are successful. Enjoy!


Wikipedia article on Darius I, accessed 06/11/2012

Monty Python – Airspeed Velocity of a Swallow, accessed 06/11/2012