Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thursday's Interview - Meg Mims - On Writing

Meg is back to share a bit of the writing process with you.

1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

I usually have an "OH!" moment after I figure out the premise of a book. Sometimes the character KICKS me first, with a "HEY! write my story. NOW!" Or the heroine appears first, goes through a few changes when I explore a "background" for her including name changes, until it feels "right." But the official sleuth came first in my Lighthouse Mystery, Captain Cooper Dean, before I stumbled over amateur sleuth and artist Sydney Sinclair. As for Double Crossing, I started with the heroine -- she was Julia, then Rose, then Julia again, and then Lily. That name "fit" somehow. Ace appeared the moment he shows up in the story. And he refused to tell me his real name until the end. LOL. That happens sometimes. I do a complete work-up, filling out charts with birthdate (using Zodiac and Chinese astrology for traits sometimes helps), education, family, friends, work experience, marriages if any, hobbies and interests, values and most importantly, FEARS. I also ask "What would this character NOT do, ever?" and then try to incorporate that somehow, if possible.

2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

I try to write at least three chapters, to get a feel for where things are going and why -- the main character's goal, motive and the initial conflict. By that time, I try to stretch out the rest of the plot. I'm an outline writer... too much of a control freak to let them run wild. But at times they veer off the path, for very good reasons. I can tell when I start "spinning wheels" that something is wrong or someone is holding out, or I'm in the wrong character's Point of View. For Double Crossing, that didn't happen - the entire book is in Lily's POV. I loved writing it that way because it seems more intimate between the heroine and the reader.

3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?

Uhhhh. It depends. LOL. I've written a few manuscripts where I've gotten to the black moment and then ... what? And have to really think about how a character would get out of the situation. Which is why I'm such a plotter now. For Double Crossing, I knew the general ending but wanted to punch it up a bit. That took more work. I also needed to punch up the middle... you have to keep the reader turning pages or they'll put it down. I love creating a chapter ending that makes the reader keep reading.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

Both. I once visited Evanston years ago, and knew I wanted to set a historical there - the houses were so pretty near the lake. I could imagine what it would be like in the 1800s. And I do keep several types of research books on my shelves, from architecture to floor plans to historical photograph collections. I also love checking on-line for old photos. I love love love research. Probably too much, LOL. But settings are also "characters" in my opinion - and very important. They need to as vivid and real as the characters.

5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

Again, both. I love the internet. But you can't always trust what you read on the web, so consider the source. I learned that long ago in college. But I've also found some awesome books available only through searching eBay, or Amazon, Alibris and other small presses. One was published in 1872, Westward by Rail, written by an Englishman who traveled across from London to San Francisco by boat and the transcontinental train. But in August of 1869, they had not finished the bridge across the Missouri River between Council Bluffs and Omaha - that took research. Since the Central Pacific railroad ended in Sacramento, I had to research to figure out a unique place for the book's ending. Did I say I love research?

6. Give a short excerpt from the book you want to promote - 400 to 500 words.


“Lily Granville, I shall never forgive or forget this trick!”

All the noisy conversation died at that trumpeting voice.

Heart in my throat, I turned to the doorway and stared along with everyone else at Aunt Sylvia. Like a steamship plowing the ocean waves, she surged through the crowded room with Sir Vaughn following. Kate stared at me, blue eyes wide. Charles looked dumbfounded. Aunt Sylvia loomed over us in dull black, her thick veil pulled away, her expression livid. Sir Vaughn sniffed the air in disdain.

“I say, this reminds me of an Irish pub.”

“Uh—won’t you join us?” Charles had scrambled out of his chair and pulled two empty seats from an adjoining table. I stood as well, my fists clenched.

“Miss Kimball, this is my aunt, Lady Stanhope and her husband.”

“Sir Vaughn,” he said and inserted his monocle. The Englishman peered at Kate’s bosom with appreciation before he addressed me. “My dear Miss Granville, you have no idea how worried we’ve been. Lucky for us that Miss Mason knew your plans.”

I bit down on my lip. “Adele told you?”

Charles mouthed an apology to me, but Aunt Sylvia shoved him aside and plopped down on the chair. “First, you left Evanston without a proper chaperone,” she said, and began ticking off numbers on her gloved fingers. “Second, it seems you forgot you’re in mourning for your poor father. Third, you left without my permission—”

“I’m going to California to find Uncle Harrison, my legal guardian,” I interrupted.

“Fourth, you didn’t consider the possibility of scandal at all. Mr. Mason hasn’t even proposed to you, according to his sister.”

“Uncle Harrison is expecting me.”

I ignored a twinge of guilt while the fib hovered between us. Her mouth pinched tight, she drummed her fingers on the tablecloth. Charles stood quiet, his face beet red, one hand smoothing back his fair hair, the other adjusting his collar and tie. Angry yells and shouts drifted through the window panes from the street, drowning out the resumed conversation around us, the clatter of plates and flatware. Outside, I caught sight of several men who fought with bare fists. They kicked, bit, scratched and pummeled. Sir Vaughn glanced out the window and then sat across from my aunt. He waved a hand.

“Common ruffians. These rustic surroundings breed a lack of manners.”

“Lily, you have no idea of the dangers. My husband traveled to Nevada earlier this year,” Aunt Sylvia said. “Neither you or Mr. Mason have considered the impropriety of this.”

“He’s a gentleman for escorting me.”

“I can see for myself what you both are—”

A blood-curdling yell, similar to what I’d read about an Indian war cry, stopped her cold. The moment I glanced up, the window exploded. Shards of glass rained on us and a man rolled over the table. Scattering plates, flatware, cups and teapot, before he crashed onto the floor—unconscious, and half-draped in the tablecloth among the broken china and glass.

Mere inches from my feet.



Meg Mims

~Intriguing Mystery, Vivid History~
Astraea Press, Amazon and B&N


heidi ruby miller said...

Meg, I can totally appreciate the amount of research that must go into your work, especially anything dealing with history. Thanks for sharing your process.

And, thanks for bringing Meg to us, J. L.!

:) Heidi

Meg said...

Aww, you're sweet, Heidi. What you don't know is... I'd rather DO THE RESEARCH than the writing, LOL!! I have to STOP MYSELF from overdoing. I often find myself losing valuable time because I get off on some tangent, reading about this or that, and then... OOPS! all my writing time is over. :-( Discipline. Pearls, gotta think PEARLS along the path. NOT a garbage dump. LOL

JL Walters said...

Meg, Been meaning to write about this. Research can be the bane of a writer. I've learned not to do it until I need a fact or two. In the past I became so fascinatede with a subject that I spent hours searching for things I would never use. For me it came down the the writing.

Meg said...

I hear ya, J.L.!! I'm in the same boat, and I do love putting in those little touches to make the reader experience life as it was lived through the character's eyes. To me, that's the key. Sounds like we're on the "same page" about research. ;-D