Saturday I spoke on “Secrets of Successful Self-Publishing” at the Allen County Public Library’s annual author fair, and I spoke on the importance of editing and of having an editor. A number of people asked where to find an editor and how to find one appropriate to one’s work, so here’s a follow-up. Continue reading
Okay, lemme be honest: I have never liked phone charms. I don’t like dangling things which catch and snag and serve no useful purpose (I rarely wear bracelets) and frankly most charms just aren’t that, well, charming.
So you know that these charms have to be adorable, because I kind of want one. Or two. Or a set.
There are five of these available now, and I’m thrilled to see some variation on the usual youkai offerings. Not that I don’t love kitsune and kappa, because I do (especially the older, scarier versions), but because there are more youkai than just the kitsune and kappa, okay?
Please welcome with me to the blog today Garrett Hutson, whom I have the advantage of having as a very useful critique partner in my writing group. Garrett writes mysteries and spy novels set in various historical contexts, and I always learn something new when I’m reading his pages! He’s come here today to talk about choosing a time and place for his new mystery series, which starts with The Jade Dragon.
Choosing a Place and Time
I was surfing the internet a few years ago, when I stumbled upon a news story about a sort of rebirth of the old Shanghai jazz scene from the 1920s and ‘30s, and it really intrigued me. I followed links, learned more—and in the way internet surfing often does, it led me down all sorts of rabbit holes of information about the golden age of Shanghai, the “Paris of the Orient,” with its glitz, glamor, and intrigue.
Perfect back-drop for a story, right? That’s exactly what I thought. With all of the corruption—I mean, the head of the largest opium syndicate in Asia was the commissioner for the Anti-Opium board in Shanghai, so come on!—I knew it was ideal for a murder mystery. There was so much potential in this setting—radical extremes of wealth and poverty, even more than usual for the 1930s; an International Settlement governed by representatives of fifteen nations, but under nominal Chinese sovereignty; Korean exiles maintaining a provisional government right under the noses of the Japanese—I was in love with the idea.
I began to imagine a basic plot—a pair of Americans out on the town, enjoying the famous Shanghai nightlife, when one of them gets murdered. I would need lots of potential murderers, of course, and the world of 1930s Shanghai offered all kinds of possibilities. There could be some connection with the drug gang, of course, and maybe corrupt police. There were Chinese communists hiding out in Shanghai at the time, waging a clandestine war with the government, so that could be fun to bring in. Oh, and a Japanese spy—I’d weave that in somehow.
I’ve always loved imagining what it was like to live in a different place and time, so naturally History was my favorite class in school, and as both a reader and a writer I have been drawn to historical fiction. History is so much more than dates and events—it is about people and their stories. As a writer, I have been drawn to the lesser-known stories, which is why I had a ball researching the world of Shanghai during the inter-war period.
I found all kinds of fun things, including a 1934 Guidebook chock full of authentic details on anything and everything, and the published memoir of a British police officer who served on the Shanghai Municipal Police from 1929 until 1936. Both were invaluable, and made the setting real.
There is a wealth of stock photographs of Shanghai from this time period that really helped to bring the setting to life for me. I learned that many of the Art Deco buildings from the time are still standing, and modern tourists have posted beautiful color photos of these places on their travel blogs. These made it so easy—and fun—to immerse myself in the setting, and really imagine what it was like. Real people passed through these places, with real dreams and concerns, and I wanted to make it feel that real to my characters—and ultimately, to my readers.
That is my favorite part of writing a novel, and I am so excited when it comes together as it did. If readers love it as much as I did, then my joy is complete.
Garrett Hutson is the author of The Jade Dragon a literary historical mystery set in 1935 Shanghai, available from Amazon. For more information about the author and his books, visit his website at www.garretthutson.com.
Like Garrett, I sometimes come across a setting which begs for a story, instead of inventing a premise first, and it’s great when that happens — because then I know the story will be organic to that setting, rather than shoehorned in and ill-fitting. And sometimes we’d never have the audacity to dream up stuff as wild as real life, such as the opium syndicate head serving as anti-opium commissioner! Truth is truly stranger than fiction.
The Jade Dragon released June 4, 2017, and is available in ebook and paperback.
Spoiler alert: Baldr dies.
Okay, seriously, there be spoilers ahead. Mythology nerds likely already know some of what goes down in The Songweaver’s Vow, but if you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you grab a copy and then come back for the background material. (Though to be perfectly fair, even knowing the base myth won’t give you a complete picture, so as long as you’re fully apprised of the spoiler-ific nature of this post….) Continue reading
Something different today: a small business post! I run two small businesses, so I’m all about finding useful tools and tricks for keeping my schedule and my sanity. Over the years, I’ve settled on a shortlist of things I’m not going to do without. And because these will probably be useful to other authors, trainers, and whatever, I am going to share them now with you.
Note: all of these are tools I actually use on a daily or weekly basis. A few have affiliate links, but they’re here only because I find real value in them. Your use of these affiliate links is very much appreciated!
I drive to clients’ homes for appointments, or I drive to museums to research a book, or I drive to a conference, or — I drive a lot. And much of that mileage is deductible, but I am frankly bad at remembering to copy down odometer numbers or to calculate driving distance, blah blah blah.
Enter MileIQ, a phone app which not only tracks all my drives for me automatically, but allows me to sort them into personal and business categories in literal seconds. No, seriously, I mean 5 seconds or so. Continue reading
Dún Aonghasa is an ancient circle fort built on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. It was probably a complete enclosure at one point, but the cliffs have eroded and collapsed with part of the fort into the sea.
The cliffs are about 280-300 feet high above the sea and look upon the Irish coast on a clear day, which may have contributed to the choice of location. The site was first enclosed with a more primitive stone wall about 1100 BC, and ultimately it had four concentric stone walls of startling engineering, encompassing about 14 acres of protected area. It also featured a cheval de frise between the third and fourth walls, a field of deliberately placed upright stones meant to seriously impede any charge by an enemy force. Continue reading
I listen to a fair number of audiobooks, mostly because I spend a ridiculous amount of time in the car and reading a paperback while driving is both illegal and stupid. Audiobooks keep me alert and entertained. I listen mostly to fiction, but I also enjoy audio non-fiction and some recorded lectures, especially if I’m researching for a story.
I have some favorite narrators, of course, but I don’t choose books just for the narrator. I have, however, quit books because I did not like the narrator. A reader can really set the tone and influence the flow of a story.
One pet peeve is when male readers indicate a female character primarily by going all breathy. It can make a political thriller or sci fi adventure sound more like a 1-900 sex line. Continue reading
Today’s #WIPjoy, Day 9, is a fun one: “Share a line that shows off your antagonist.”
In the spirit of sharing, I’m going to give you not a line, but a whole paragraph.
Here’s the thing: any time you find yourself in Norse mythology, even if you’re just visiting, you’re going to have Loki as an antagonist. That’s the nature of Loki. Even if he’s not the primary antagonist, he’s going to be an antagonist, because Loki. In modern interpretations Loki is often something of an anti-hero, but that’s not consistent with the source material, in which Loki is pretty much just a turd to everyone. (A useful turd, sometimes, but still a turd. And if he does get threatened or beaten fairly often, well, he usually had it coming.) Continue reading
I think it’s time we were all honest with ourselves and just admitted that Daylight Saving Time is a failed idea.
It’s not a bad idea, in its original form. When early proponents (such as Benjamin Franklin) realized that we could take advantage of longer daylight hours by getting up earlier, that was a legitimate and factual observation. Ben satirically suggested cannons to rouse the populace earlier rather than changing the clocks, because changing the clocks was kind of a dumb idea, but the cannons didn’t exactly take off either.
Since then, Daylight Saving Time (it’s singular, despite popular mispronunciation) discussion has been full of good intentions with poor follow-through. Continue reading
So I’m off on the Great American Road Trip.
The purpose is to return Mindy to Guide Dogs for the Blind, and as I couldn’t get anyone at any airline to confirm that she’d be able to fly in the cabin with me, I had to drive her across the country. Trying to make the best of it, I planned an iconic journey for the return, tracing old Route 66 for as much of the old pavement that remains. Continue reading