Inspiration from Place #UpbeatAuthors

Note: This was a previously-committed to post for the #upbeatauthors group. If you want to read about my response to Hurricane Harvey, it is the post above this one. I am not ignoring the suffering.

Trish Milburn‘s topic for the day is “Places that Inspire”. That covers a lot of ground. I can find ANY place I visit inspiring. I keep detailed travel journals when I go anywhere, and write up the details, especially sensory details. I collect maps and historical information. I collect contact information for chambers of commerce and tourism boards, so when I write about a place, I can go back and get the emotional geography correct.

Because setting is a character in my work (and I teach courses on it), it’s important to me to get the physical and emotional geography of a place correct. I’m pretty good at discerning when an author hasn’t visited a place and hasn’t done enough research to understand its unique feel/personality. Yes, it’s fiction, and it’s important to use imagination. But, if you are going to use a real place, or do what I call “stretching geography”, where you add the fictional places that support your story into a real environment, you need to get the physical and the sensory details right.

That’s a lecture for another day. 😉

For today, I am going to share with you some of the places that have inspired specific pieces of work. I’m having trouble posting photographs, but clicking through the links will get you all kinds of great images and information.

New York City
I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and spent plenty of time there. After a year of college elsewhere, I transferred back to NYU for film and television production, and then, after two years in San Francisco and a miserable year in Seattle, I moved back and worked my way up in theatre until I worked on Broadway. I loved the city, especially Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the various New York Public Libraries, NYU itself, and all the neighborhoods. I lived through 9/11, in which 42 people I knew (firefighters, mostly, and cops, and people I’d gone to school with who worked in the towers). New York is an important part of my work.

It’s the primary setting for the Nina Bell Mysteries, which are in the 1990s, following a college graduate trying to build her life in the arts. She lives on E. 6th Street, and is an NYU alum, and works at theatres similar to the Public. I use my diaries from those years to make sure I have the geography right, and the events and how they affected those of us trying to ignore said events.

It’s where TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery starts and ends. The book starts in the Gramercy Park area, and has major events at the main New York Public Library and a chase scene inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(The book re-releases in January 2018. Visit http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com for more information).

PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle mystery, releasing on October 2, takes places in various NYC locations, most of it in the Broadway neighborhood, since much of the action takes place backstage on a Broadway show. So that’s midtown. I used to live in the area, on the corner of 42nd St. and 8th Avenue, over a strip club which is now a comedy club, across from the Port Authority bus terminal, and a short walk to the Broadway theatres at which I worked. I’d regularly walk back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could spend time in Central Park. ANGLES also has scenes in Greenwich Village and Morag’s Upper West Side apartment. The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY is mostly set in Greenwich village, around the publisher for whom Bonnie works, and the bookshop that Rupert owns, with forays to the Upper West Side and down to the Bowery. Most of the books in the series will have NYC locations, although I plan to get them out of the city at times! (http://www.coventinacircle.devonellingtonwork.com)

SAVASANA AT SEA, the first Nautical Namaste Mystery that releases in November, starts in New York City, at Union Square, where yoga studios have bloomed in the last few years. It also has locations at the cruise ship piers, and Sophie shares a brownstone in Brooklyn, inspired by one owned by a friend of mine.

I love the city deeply; I just don’t want to live there any more!

SCOTLAND
I have a deep love of Scotland. Two of my shows have been produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I lived in Edinburgh for a month at a time with each. I’ve visited the city frequently, and travelled a good deal throughout the country: St. Andrews, Skye, the borders, but especially Ayrshire, where I’ve rented an apartment in Culzean Castle through the Scottish National Trust a couple of times.

The area is amazing — friendly people, beautiful scenery, great food. A basic conversation in passing can be the seed of a story.

A big chunk of TRACKING MEDUSA is set in a fictional town in Ayrshire, not far from Culzean, where Gwen and Justin confront Gwen’s past and discover the secrets of the Medusa statue.

Eastern and Western Scotland are very different from each other, in atmosphere, in geography, in sensory detail. The jet stream allows Culzean to grow tropical plants. The coast around St. Andrews can’t mistaken for the isle of Arran in the west. And the Highlands are a world unto themselves (not to mention that the signs are in Scots Gaelic first and sometimes English underneath). Someone from Glasgow speaks differently than someone from Edinburgh than someone from Skye. The cadence is difference, the timbre is different. Yes, there’s a “Scottish” accent different from English or Welsh or Irish, but there are also regional differences within it. Each one is delightful in its own way, but easy to pick up a false ring in a piece.

It’s very obvious when a writer sets something in Scotland and has never visited — it comes across more like a Rennfaire in upstate New York than genuinely in Scotland.

Northumbria
This is Hotspur Percy country, which is why I originally visited when I first graduated high school, and I keep coming back. The border shifted — it’s England, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s Scot– you get the idea.

Northumbrians have a thick north England accent, thicker than Yorkshire, but different from Scotland. They are very proud of their area.

My favorite places are Alnwick (now famous because the castle is used for Hogwarts) and Alnmouth. But my ultimate favorite is Lindisfarne, Holy Island, still cut off by the tide twice a day.

Lindisfarne has the ruins of a Priory, where illuminated manuscripts were created, and a castle. Two hotels, several pubs and shops, holiday cottages, a few people, a lot of sheep. When the tourists leave and the tide comes in, and it’s cut off, it’s magic.

I first learned about Lindisfarne when I was a kid, reading HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, when they had a story about monks saving the illuminated manuscripts. I vowed to visit, and did, right after high school. I can’t stay away. I have photographs that show the erosion of the ruins over the years.

A section of TRACKING MEDUSA is set there, at some of my favorite places, including the Abbey, the beach, and the kilns.

I’ve also visited the battle site of Otterburn. It was autumn when I was there; no one else around. I walked through the darkening woods, it got quieter and the birds stopped chirping. You could feel the weight of the dead. I had similar sensations when visiting Glencoe and Culloden in Scotland, but because Otterburn is smaller, more isolated, and more overgrown, it stayed with me more strongly.

Prague
Prague is an amazing city, centuries of history handled like they happened last week.

Locals sigh and talk about how nothing has been the same since The Battle of the White Mountain. I thought that was in WWII, and understood how it could still have an impact. Then I looked it up at it was in 1620! That gives you a good sense of the emotional geography of the place.

One also always has the sense of being watched. It’s not “Big Brother” or left over from Soviet occupation. It’s all the statues on the roofline that stare down at you.

I plan to use Prague as a setting for several pieces, but it’s in an upcoming serial novel about filming a television show, and part of the pilot is shot in Prague. There’s a lovely sequence on the Charles Bridge between Old Town and Mala Strana, because it’s so different on either side of the bridge.

Cape Cod
One of the reasons I moved here is because the place inspired me so much. My family’s visited since 1968. The National Seashore at Eastham and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are two big favorites, as is the Aschumet Sanctuary with all its holly trees, closer to where I actually live.

I’ve set a lot of pieces on Cape Cod. Morag’s family has a house here in PLAYING THE ANGLES. I’ve used it in quite a few short stories, and in an upcoming novel called THE TIE-CUTTER (Ayrshire, Scotland, is also heavily involved, as is Iceland).

Living here and visiting are very different, so I encourage any author who writes about the place to do more than a flying visit, if you expect me to believe your characters are more than summer people! No matter how many years I live here, I will always be a washashore, which is fine with me. It’s also a term I’d never heard in all the years I visited, but everyone made it clear to me once I moved in!

Any place can provide inspiration, if you look for it. Take time and get to know your home region. When you travel, don’t just post on social media and take video with your phone — experience the place directly, and then it will resonate in your writing.

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Wed. July 5, 2017: “Ramsey Chase” Cover Reveal & Gwen Finnegan Mysteries News!

Ransey Chase Cover 2 Small

“The Ramsey Chase” — The First Remarkable Adventure of Cornelia True and Roman Gray. Miss Cornelia True lives in Bodwin’s Ferry, a small seacoast town, with her sisters Arabella and Viola. Her life changes forever when Roman Gray, a “fixer” from the future and across the seas from the metropolis of Newest Yorkke, lands, naked, amongst Cornelia’s petunias due to a glitch in his Device. Together, they embark on a series of remarkable adventures. In “The Ramsey Chase”, Roman arrives hunting a time-travelling serial killer who preys on young women for their blood.

Yes, that’s the cover, and the story will release next Monday, July 10.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

I took time off, not that it helped much when yesterday was stressful. I didn’t do most of what I’d planned.

I read a lot — the Helen Bevington books. Worked my way through a bunch of research books. I have about twenty books to return to the library today.

I also re-read the many, many pages on INITIATE, which will eventually become the series encompassing SCHOLAR, WRAIG NAIF, WRAIG MATURE, INITATE, and KNIGHTWITCH. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. I even found my notes and wrote more pages. Not a lot, but a few thousand words here and there.

I also re-read what I have of THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, the second Gwen Finnegan mystery. My friend Arlene Kay loved TRACKING MEDUSA, and has encouraged me to get Gwen back on the schedule. I’d stopped working on BALTHAZAAR when Amber Quill went under; there didn’t seem any point since TRACKING MEDUSA went out of print. I was also frustrated, because the first section of the book is important to the growth of Gwen and Justin’s relationship, but doesn’t really drive BALTHAZAAR.

I realized I could cut the part before they actually go on the treasure hunt and expand it, turning it into a novella that will run about 200 pages or so. It will cover the time between MEDUSA and BALTHAZAAR, introduce a character who is vital to the next two Gwen mysteries, and show that important growth arc in their relationship, without derailing BALTHAZAAR the way it did. Then, BALTHAZAAR can open IN THE STORY and not lose momentum. Better structural choice.

The title of the novella is MYTH & INTERPRETATION, and will be focused in and around New York City.

If I can work out the details for MEDUSA along the same lines as I’m doing for PLAYING THE ANGLES — digital release first, then a small traditional print run (not POD), it makes sense to get MEDUSA back on track for an early 2018 release, with the novella mid-year, and BALTHAZAAR a few months after that. At the same time, I don’t want to drop the ball on PLAYING THE ANGLES or the books that come after it. I have to see if it’s physically and mentally possible for me to juggle both those series while I’m also writing books that are more suited to traditional publishers and working on that angle of my career as well. I want and need to be working along several fronts.

I am sick and tired of publishers (and now, many agents), only committing to one book at a time, instead of making a worthwhile, longterm investment in a writer’s career. That model doesn’t work for me. So I need to reshape my career in the way that does. That is why having a good entertainment lawyer is so vital.

The proofing of “The Ramsey Chase” is done (although I’ll probably do one more proofread before I send it in. The cover’s at the top of the post — ta da! Cover reveal! I kind of love it. Blurbs, excerpts, et al, will release this week, and it drops next Monday, via Smashwords. It’s a short, and will be only 99 cents.

I do love the stories and characters; I’m just sick of the piece right now, with all the re-reading I had to do to prep it for release!

The file also contains the opening of the second Remarkable Adventure, “Miss Winston Apologizes”, which will release in November.

The media kit is almost done. Press goes out today (release was finished this morning).

Hopefully, plenty of you enjoyed “Personal Revolution” over the weekend.

The fireworks were ridiculous. Fireworks are an art form, and they are beautiful. Go watch the professionals. Do NOT put your entire neighborhood in danger because you are a dumbass. And yes, I trained in pyrotechnics when I worked rock and roll, so I know what I’m talking about. The majority of people who buy illegal fireworks and set them off are too stupid to properly work them, which is why THEY ARE ILLEGAL. And don’t for a second think I’ll contribute to your Go Fund Me Campaign when you lose a limb or an eye. Not to mention the fact that it terrifies pets and triggers PTSD in many veterans.

Every night, when it quieted down, I gathered up the frightened animals who took refuge under the deck or in our bushes, soothed them, fed them. They overnighted with us, and I got them back to their humans the next day.

I didn’t celebrate yesterday. It was impossible to celebrate “independence” when we have a sociopathic moron and his evil henchmen in charge, turning this place into an authoritarian, white supremacist, misogynistic theocracy.

I don’t have the To Do List up yet for July. I’m still trying to figure out my schedule. There’s a lot of pressure on me the next few weeks, especially with my mother’s surgery coming up. Once the late payments catch up, I can hit an even keel, but until everything’s caught up and I have enough work booked for the month, I’m going to be stressed.

I ate red meat last night — something I rarely do any more, and was miserable. It was good while I ate it, and I paid for hours after.

However, there was some good news: an actor for whom I’d written a monologue, and with whom I worked via Skype, landed a role in a series of the type that we’d always dreamed about him doing “someday”. He’s going to be fabulous. It’s wonderful to see that the talented kid has grown into such a terrific man. I feel like a proud momma! He pointed out that I’d been a friend during some tough times, when many people forgot about him. I’m thrilled for him. (And yes, completely content to stay in the background — I’m not going to run around trying to ride on his coattails).

Woke up feeling much more cheerful this morning, after a bad night thanks to the red meat. I have so much to do today that I will be overwhelmed if I don’t just deal with each piece at a time, and then move on to the next piece.

And I HAVE to get back to FIX-IT GIRL this week. I can’t keep the research books any longer. I also feel, since I started “Miss Winston”, I should keep going on it, although it’s not releasing until November. “Labor Intensive” has a closer deadline, and therefore should get attention first.

But first, mowing. The front yard looks raggedy. I wish I could learn to like it. The mowing, I mean, not the raggedy lawn!

Published in: on July 5, 2017 at 9:33 am  Comments Off on Wed. July 5, 2017: “Ramsey Chase” Cover Reveal & Gwen Finnegan Mysteries News!  
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Fri. Jan. 8, 2016: Revising the Writing Schedule and Goals

Friday, January 8, 2016
Dark Moon
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and cold

Meeting in Hyannis yesterday morning. It was fine; at least I didn’t want to jab my eye with a fork, like I do at some of these meetings.

Back to work, tried to catch up. Computer isn’t working properly, so that makes it more difficult.

I got some sad news: Amber Quill, with whom I have half a dozen titles, is shutting its doors on March 30. LAKE JUSTICE, SEVERANCE, ELUSIVE PRAYERS, and TRACKING MEDUSA will cease to be available from them at that time. I wish I’d found out directly from THEM instead of through a second party, but, other than that, I’ve always been treated well by them. I loved my editor; they paid on time; they gave me good covers. They believed in their authors. I will miss being a part of the company.

So what does that mean for my writing?

Several different things.

I’m meeting with my advisors to decide what to do. There are still two months until the doors close, two months until rights revert back. Once rights revert back, unless I’m going the indie route, it doesn’t make sense to just shoot the titles straight out again. While it makes me nervous to have anything go out of print, at the same time, I need time to launch a re-release properly, wherever and however I decide to do it. I expect they will be out of print until at least September. If I go independent, I’m going to have to marshal massive marketing resources to make it worthwhile. Right now, that much marketing emphasis isn’t going to fit my schedule. I’m not convinced the independent route is the right choice for me. I prefer to work in a more traditional model right now.

I do realize that, when I’m ready to launch the series that started life as THE POWER OF WORDS (which now has multiple titles as it breaks down into multiple books), it is most likely I have to use the independent model, because it would be exceedingly difficult for a traditional publisher to put it out in the usual channels. It’s a strange monster – one I love, but one that would require the type of Gentleman (or Bluestocking) Publisher to take it on, a type of publisher who no longer exists.

I was in the throes of planning a big marketing campaign for everything over the next few months, which now will not include the titles that won’t be available, for obvious reasons.

I also had three books scheduled to go to Amber Quill this year, all Gwen Finnegan books: BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, SANDOVAL SECRET, and SHAKESPEARE’S BACON. It was a pressurized schedule, but I wanted to make sure I finished the Gwen Finnegan cycle quickly for them, with an eye to moving in some new directions, as inspired by last August’s conference, where Claire Cook gave me the push I needed to give what’s now TIE-CUTTER a shot, and Carole Bugge encouraged me to continue work on SONGBOUND SISTERS.

With those three books off the schedule, at least for the moment (which means I’ll work on them in and around other projects, without the pressure) it moves up SONGBIRD SISTERS and the aviation mystery set in the late 1940s that I’ve been playing with for a few years.

I do love Gwen and Justin, and I want to see their stories to completion, but a break may not be a bad thing. As I kept saying last year, struggling with BALTHAZAAR, I can do it fast or I can do it well. Both aren’t happening in tandem right now.

HEX BREAKER and OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, the Jain Lazarus books, are still with Solstice, and I’m not sure what’s next with them; we’re in a bit of a holding pattern.

I have several play scripts and radio scripts on the slate for the year, and some film and television scripts on which I worked last year, which go out on submission this year.

The focus will be more on writing, polishing, and submitting this year, building on the previous writing, but taking me in new directions that I’ve been interested in for the past few months. That’s a positive. It moves up the timeline for me, but it’s a positive. It takes a lot of the “write as fast as possible” pressure off me – something that’s bogged me down over the past couple of years and actually interfered with my productivity, instead of increasing it.

As saddened as I am by the news, I think it’s the push I need right now. My gut tells me this is a positive in the long run.

I’ll have a long day at work today, but, since I’m feeling run down, I pulled out of my commitments for this weekend. I have some work to do for Monday’s NMLC Board meeting, and I’m going to write. I want to finish the first draft of the short radio play that goes out at the end of the month, and I’ve been approached to adapt the historical play into a radio play. I’ll take a look at that to see if it makes sense. I use a good deal of sound in the play anyway, and I think if I make some changes to make it more aural than visual, it will work. I also need to get LIGHT BEHIND THE EYES into US radio format from BBC format, because I have a US market interested.

Plus, I want to stay on schedule with TIE-CUTTER and DEATH OF A CHOLERIC.

So I’ll have a solid writing weekend ahead of me.

This certainly didn’t happen the way I wanted it to, but I have a feeling that, in the long run, these changes will be positive.

I remain hugely grateful to Amber Quill for their support, belief in me, and everything they’ve done for me and for my writing over the years I spent with them. I wish all the partners well in their new ventures, and I hope we can all stay in touch and support each other’s work. Thank you, Amber Quill!

Have a great weekend, people.

Devon