mjhearle

Month: August, 2012

Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 7

‘This is it, coming up on the left,’ Winter said
as they turned into Waverly Street.

I was living in the suburb of Clovelly while finishing the final re-writes of Winter’s Shadow. Waverly College is just round the corner, hence ‘Waverly’ St. The house belonged to my future mother-in-law (FMIL). My fiancee and I were staying with her while we were looking for a house to buy. Trying to get into the creative mindset isn’t that easy at the best of times, let alone when you’re living in someone else’s home, but my FMIL was incredibly hospitable, allowing me to spread all my notes and papers across her dining room table. Thank you FMIL.

Driving through the rainswept streets, Blake had
only just begun to open up about why he’d decided
to move to Hagan’s Bluff to escape the city.

The previous chapter contains enough awkward dialogue so I chose to leave this part of their conversation ‘off camera’. All we really need to know is that Winter is intrigued by Blake.

She glanced up at her house sitting on top of the
steeply sloping property, and felt a pang of shame.

Oh Lordy, did this paragraph give me a headache. For some reason, I get really hung up on describing buildings in ridiculous detail. Originally, there were even more lines of descriptive imagery than currently exist. Re-reading it I can’t help but think why? It doesn’t matter what sort of house she lives in. I wish I could go back in time and shake myself – Just get on with the story, dummy! This is a symptom of the dreaded ‘pace problems’ my writing suffers from. I must have spent hours on Google examining real estate sites for the type of house I imagined Winter and her sister to be living in. Grudgingly, I suppose the house stuff allows me to sprinkle in some more exposition about the aftermath of her parents death, but still…such a waste of time.

Winter shrugged. ‘I trust whoever gives me the cheapest quote.’

This is terrible advice. Do not trust mechanics who give you the cheapest quote. Get a recommendation from someone.

‘I know a little bit about bikes…’

Of course you do Blake and that will come back in play later on. This is an example of a contrived plot point that doesn’t feel too contrived. It’s neat.

One-fifty! How was she going to afford that?

Being broke is something most teenagers can identify with. I think it’s a crucial aspect of Winter’s character. She’s a battler, not a princess.

Winter watched his arms tense and flex
and couldn’t help wondering what he looked
like without his shirt on.

Winter you’re such a perv! Honestly, this feels a little more honest than some of my other (Stephenie) Meyerisms. A little less gushy and bit more realistically lusty. Men objectify women all the time. I think we forget women do the same. They’re just more subtle about it.

‘I had a feeling Jessie was playing possum.’

I hate this line of dialogue. Playing possum – really? Is Winter a gunslinger from the Old West? Is she going to round up a posse to chase down that varmint? Sheesh. Why didn’t  just I write ‘I had a feeling Jessie was faking it?’

Her father was the one who’d urged her to name the
scooter on the day she’d picked it up from the used car
lot, telling her in that sage-like manner of his that things
didn’t belong to you until you named them.

Sure this is a nice little memory but I feel like I could have moved it to a later chapter. We’ve already had some exposition about how she and Lucy struggled after the funeral to make ends meet, now we’ve got an explanation about why she calls her scooter ‘Jessie’. It negatively affects the momentum of their conversation. In retrospect, there was no reason for Winter to reveal her quirkiness to Blake in this scene. Realistically, she’d probably keep it to herself. I’m trying to hard to make some flirtatious banter happen between them. Maybe it works for the reader but all I see is the author (me) straining. I do like his deadpan comeback though – ‘Toyota.’ I think that’s funny. I wish there more of that wit.

It was a deliriously addictive sensation, as though she’d
spent her entire life in a dark room and had now at last
experienced the warmth of the sun.

I don’t mind lines like these, but their abundance throughout the early parts of the novel hint at my insecurity with the romance plot. I was terrified the emotion between Winter and Blake wouldn’t be felt by the reader so I constant had to overtly refer to it. Now, I’d like to think I have more faith in my writing and readers not to belabor the point.

She sneaked one last glance from
beneath her lashes, 
and was curious to see
that a shadow had fallen over 
his face.

Good. I feel like I’m finally getting back on track. These last two chapters have been a bit gruelling to revisit so it’s nice to come across something that works. This is a horror story, not a Judy Blume novel. I should never have tried to force it in that direction.

‘Anytime.’ There was another rumble of thunder.
‘You better get inside before you drown.’

Again, nice. It’s refreshing to see that I’m capable of crafting smart dialogue. I just wish there were more examples like the previous, then clunkers like this:

‘Stay out of old churches, okay?’ 

 Ouch. Who talks like that?

It was only after he disappeared 
from view that she realised something.
She was still wearing his jacket.

Definitely not my favourite chapter but I think I managed to redeem it towards the end. Winter’s wearing his jacket, there’s the suggestion that something about her disturbs Blake – it’s a slow build, but it is building. Hopefully my ‘cringe to grin ratio’ will shift to favour ‘grin’ from here on out. It’s a little depressing to come across so many lines I wish I could go back and fix. Then again, the fact that I recognise they’re not perfect and could actually improve on them now is hopefully a sign that I’ve grown as writer. Time will tell.

MJ.

Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 6

While Blake was strapping Jessie down on the back of his truck,
Winter nervously began to second-guess her decision.

Another chapter that gave me hell. I really struggled with writing the early stages of Winter and Blake’s relationship. Part of the reason why was because I couldn’t settle on a tone – flirty, semi-flirty, not flirty at all, etc. I over thought it, as newbie writers are want to do. The dialogue between Blake and Winter here feels inelegant. I wish I could re-write it.

Even though the rain had flattened his black
wavy hair to his scalp, he still looked as if he could
have stepped fresh from the pages of a magazine.

This is me channelling Stephenie Meyer. Blake might as well be Edward Cullen in this scene. Not to knock Meyer, but it isn’t the most difficult writing style to emulate. That kind of overheated teenage ‘ohmygod he’s so gorgeous!’ language. Most paranormals trade in this style and it clearly works for the readership. I think it’s a bit cheap. Sometimes, it’s an effective way of capturing that authentic teenage voice (Meyer is very successful at this) but more often than not it feels like pandering to me.

‘So why “Winter”?’ Blake said, breaking the hush.
‘A name like that has gotta have a story behind it.’

And it did. I’ve recounted the story behind changing my lead character’s name from Elodie Winters to Winter Adams many times so I won’t repeat it again. Once I’d settled on her florid moniker I thought I should probably reference it in the story. I’d never met anyone called Winter before so was worried the name would strike others as unusual. Interestingly, since the book has been published I’ve been made aware of two newborns in my immediate social circle being christened Winter. I guess it isn’t as unusual as I thought?

The whole Johnny Winter thing came from my Mum’s research. I like to farm out as much research as possible to my family and friends as I hate doing it. Mum discovered Johnny Winter and thus the backstory of Winter’s name was born. Later in the book I reference Winter’s mum’s love of rock’n’roll so it luckily made narrative sense. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes you have to reverse engineer a story so your additions make sense.

Bonding over rock’n’roll was also a way of giving Winter and Blake’s relationship a little more substance than the usual paranormal ‘he’s hot/she’s special and doesn’t know it’ blather.

‘Not the Velasco place?’ Winter asked, unable to hide the shock in her voice.

Well read folk who have even a passing interest in the supernatural genre probably picked up on this reference. For those who didn’t I suggest you immediately rush out and by Richard Matheson’s Hell House.

It’s one of the quintessential haunted house stories and still has the power to terrify. In the novel, a team of a parapsychologists visit the infamous Belasco Mansion to measure its paranormal activity. Suffice to say things do not turn out well. Belasco – Velasco. Genius homage, no?

The mythology of the Velasco Mansion – the minister turning cannibal – is okay but I wish I’d come up with something spookier. More original. Then again, it’s probably too much of a digression from the main story as is. I’m trying to force my Stephen King sensibilities into a story that doesn’t necessarily call for them. The book constantly wavers between Stephen and Stephenie. It’s an uneasy, though not uninteresting, tension.

Originally my concept for the Velasco place was for it to be genuinely haunted. Blake and Winter would have some interaction with the spirits there. However, with all the Demori, Malfaerie, Skivers and such the book is overstuffed with the supernatural as is. There isn’t any room for ghosts. Or is there?

Blake was quiet for a moment, his expression
somewhere between astounded and amused.
I bought a haunted house?’

I like the idea of a supernatural creature buying a haunted house. It amuses me, just as it amuses Blake. Maybe there’s a whole story in that concept?

MJ