Teaser

Teaser

The saga of the enormous Wrigley's sign

I can vividly picture Times Square in 2018. It's a cesspool of lights and people, truly hideous advertising, and architectural crimes.

But I'm not writing Times Square in 2018. I'm writing it in 1923, and I know it's still a cesspool but damn me if I don't need a little more detail than that, and that is why I spent a solid hour spiraling over the location of the enormous Wrigley's sign.

Here's the story:

One of my characters is visiting a friend. The friend is staying in the Hotel Astor, which existed on the west side of Broadway between 44th and 45th.

 Say a prayer for the Hotel Astor because now it's a 54-story high-rise and I want to die! (Photo:  Shorpy )

Say a prayer for the Hotel Astor because now it's a 54-story high-rise and I want to die! (Photo: Shorpy)

Okay! Let's take a look at my first stab at this, which I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year.

Max had nearly choked on his drink. "Ev, what are you doing here?"

"Came to see you, darling. Can we go, please?" The bartender was starting to notice him with narrowed eyes. The Astor crowd was more restrained, and next to the black-suited men that crowded around the bar Ev stood out like a cheap necklace. What he needed was to speak to Max in private.

Five floors up, Max's room overlooked Times Square and was bright with the light of streetlamps and flashing neon signs. Ev circled in front of the windows while Max poured them a drink.

So this lacks flavor, doesn't it? The interaction with the bartender was driven by the HISTORY FACT ALERT that the Astor bar was a famous meeting place for gay men as long ago as the 1910s, but gay men were expected to congregate at one end of the bar, and straight men at the other, so that nobody got freaky.

My character, Ev, is very visibly queer, and wouldn't be terribly welcome at the Astor bar.

After NaNo I did an edit pass on this part of the book that was largely focused on simplifying the language, and streamlining events.

He walked slowly back towards Times Square and the Astor Hotel. Ev stood out here like a cheap necklace, but he found Max's room all right. It overlooked Times Square from five floors up, and it was bright with the light of street lamps and flashing neon signs. Max was surprised to see him, but let him in and poured him a drink anyways.

I dropped the bartender interaction because it derailed the scene. Instead, we've got a little more focus on the area. But neon and street lamps and blah. It's all so generic. What we need. What we really need.

Is some flavor.

Enter the Wrigley's sign.

This horrible sign came to my attention when I was desperately googling "TIMES SQUARE 1920s" over and over as if I could take the temperature of a place via Google search. Well, you can take the temperature of a place via the New York Public Library, which offered this article. The Changing Face of Times Square is a compressed history full of delicious photos:

 (Photo:  NYPL )

(Photo: NYPL)

 

The Wrigley’s sign seen above was in place from 1917-1924 and was a full block long. Crowds would come just to stare at this sign, and during World War I, it helped to promote war bond sales.


Now that is flavor. My story needed this ENORMOUS WRIGLEY'S SIGN.

 Historical re-enactment of me putting two and two together here.

Historical re-enactment of me putting two and two together here.

A cursory Google search revealed a postcard for a TEN-STORY TALL WRIGLEY'S SPEARMINT GUM ELECTRIC SPECTACULAR SIGN. And where was it?

Why, it extended a full block from 44th to 45th streets on the east side of Broadway.

Okay, but this Wrigley's sign was supposed to be from 1936 and my Wrigley's sign was in 1923. I needed photographic proof of the Wrigley's sign co-existing with the Astor, and I wanted it to be on the east side of Broadway, so help me God.

At this point a reasonable person, seeing that they were mere pages from finishing an edit pass, may have decided to leave the precise historical placement of the Enormous Wrigley's Sign for a time that wasn't 10 p.m the night before a work trip. Not so! I needed the GUM SIGN, BABY.

Of course there's a crucial piece of information missing here, and it's that I already knew where the freaking Wrigley's sign was. 

dummy.jpeg

It's at this point that I'd like to emphasize that I don't get all my historical info from late-night Google searches, but when I do, I fixate on ephemera for no reason.

So the sign wasn't, as far as I know, perfectly across Broadway from the Astor. But like, good enough, so let's count this as a victory.

Give me the flavor

Here's how the scene turned out after my emotional spiral was over, and I had internalized hundreds of photos of the hotel:

 THE HOTEL ASTOR, BETWEEN 44TH AND 45TH, ON THE WEST SIDE OF BROADWAY.

THE HOTEL ASTOR, BETWEEN 44TH AND 45TH, ON THE WEST SIDE OF BROADWAY.

The Astor was right on Broadway; a French-looking building in bright red brick with stripes of white, and a green roof. It used to be the finest thing in the Square. Now it squatted over the cars and trolleys packed nose-to-tail, and the flashing signs for department stores starched collar shirts, cigarettes, gum, and the latest revue.

Inside, it was still the Astor. Ev stood out here like a cheap necklace.

Max was surprised to see him, but let him in and poured him a drink anyways. It wasn't so noisy up here, but the huge Wrigley's sign across the street washed the room in waves of green light.

"You're closer to your editors here," Ev commented. "But then I suppose you've gotten to enjoy them battering on your door, isn't that right?"

AND SCENE!

As you can see, almost everything changed from my NaNo draft to my current one, except I'm super attached to the description of Ev as a cheap necklace.

What I like about where it ended up is that — hopefully — it says all we need to know about interior of the hotel in two sentences, while also describing my character. This was a rich-ass hotel, with multiple themed ballrooms and fancy restaurants. It had a rooftop garden, because New York is New York and we fucking love rooftops. Presidents partied there.

(And now it's a high-rise! Never forget!!)

Anyway, thanks for joining me on my hell-journey into Google. Don't look up "WRIGLEY'S SIGN TIMES SQUARE 1920s," it's deeply unhelpful and wrong.

 Another shot of the hotel, and the sign to the left.

Another shot of the hotel, and the sign to the left.

Writing, Teaser

Writing Sparkwood was the worst

I know the universal truth is that first drafts suck. But oh my God.

The process of writing Sparkwood was a garbage fire on a sinking ship, and it was absolutely within my power to stop it. This post isn't a "what not to do" post so much as it's me going back through a year of revisions in my planning document, and screaming at myself.

Sparkwood was written for LT3's "My Dearest Enemy" submission call. Enemies-to-lovers romance! Something I had not written before, and wasn't terribly confident about.

Here's my first word-vomit summary:

 I am nothing if not eloquent.

I am nothing if not eloquent.

I kept adding to this document sporadically. Ideas were hashed out that never made it into the final draft; I was really attached to the idea of fairies taking magic from storytelling, and that Luke (the dead twin) had died because he was telling the fairies his life story, without realizing that it was quite literally sucking the life out of him. That's pretty esoteric. Not my style.

 Fairy eyes look like this judgmental seal's eyes.

Fairy eyes look like this judgmental seal's eyes.

I also wrote down "someone wakes up with horse eyes," which is based on a nightmare I vaguely remember. And now that I look back on it, that might be the entire basis for the fairies having completely black eyes. Writing is dumb.

At this stage of plotting, I was extrapolating a lot of things from my second rewatch of Twin Peaks. I was interested in the idea of fairies being attracted to heightened emotional states—that they themselves weren't capable of deep emotion, but they fed off human emotions. Kind of like the spirit BOB. Anyway, that's another idea that got cut, although the fairies remain very dramatic.

The idea of telling stories might not have remained so central to Sparkwood, but the bones are still there: if you read Sparkwood, you know that the library played a big role in Luke's life.

 RIP, that plot.

RIP, that plot.

So now I have a very loose plot: LIVING TWIN finds out that DEAD TWIN, who was taken by fairies years ago, has died. LIVING TWIN goes to the fairy court, where he also starts to slowly die of the same causes. That was the gist of it.

It was time for characters.

 None of these names appear in  Sparkwood .

None of these names appear in Sparkwood.

As I discussed in my process post, I made a planning document for Sparkwood. I was having trouble finding a voice when I started writing; the prose felt bland, and the dialogue wasn't clicking for me either.

To jar myself out of that, I started writing Sparkwood as a detailed outline, including dialogue when it came to me.

You can read the final version of this scene on my excerpts page! It became chapter 3 of Sparkwood. Some of the details are the same: The main character wakes up to find a fairy in his bedroom. They fight.

And... drumroll... here's where I first considered naming the dead twin Finn! This deserves its own paragraph, because this asshole went through Jacob, Finn, Lee, Dylan, Rylan, Ryan, and finally Luke. As you might notice... my main character actually nabbed the name Finn. It's not confusing at all!

But onward! More scenes that have shades in the final draft show up in this document. Robin and Finn (the real, living one, not the dead twin) lose their tempers with each other over the hotel room—except in this version, it's a frankly overblown drama about how the room is full of the dead twin's favorite shit, which was meant to set up a whole subplot... where Finn really, really thinks Robin used to date his brother. This got cut in edits because it was pointless, and never really made sense. I mean, he could just ask, right?

At this point, a full month after starting this brainstorm/plot outline/collection of garbage prose, I start knuckling down on why Finn's twin died in the first place.

 I'm only including this because LITERALLY NO PART OF IT made it into my final draft.

I'm only including this because LITERALLY NO PART OF IT made it into my final draft.

Obviously, this was a big problem. I had next to no plot. Granted, I hadn't written a lot of prose yet either, and part of writing is plotting for me. But still, it's a messy way to start writing a murder mystery. Or any book for that matter. Luke's death is the entire central problem. It was literally the most important detail, and I totally neglected it!

If someone dies, figure out why they died, and make that priority number one. Fortunately, I figured out Jacob/Finn/Lee/Dylan/Rylan/Ryan/Luke's death relatively soon after this. But it took more world-building to get there, and it was world-building that would have saved me substantive edits had I done it out sooner.

It's not all bad here though! There are some cute ideas hidden in this old doc. One of them is a scene that never made it into the final story. It takes place at a bar, and Finn is flirting with another guy to get information. Robin gets jealous, and uses magic to make the guy's beer room temperature. The guy complains, gets another beer, and Robin does it again, playing coy even though Finn knows exactly what's going on. I think this scene is super cute, and I love the idea of fairies being incredibly powerful, but using their magic for petty means because they're ultimately ruled by their emotions. This was where I started figuring out the tone of fairy culture, and the chemistry between Finn and Robin.

Two months into plotting (April 10, 2016), I named the town Sparkwood. And I de-named the DEAD TWIN, and gave my main character his final name... Finn!

I made another revision to that document at 11:56 PM:

So there it is, a very, very skeletal description of the plot of Sparkwood. It needs some work. Apparently Robin still went by a filler name! And Jacob/Finn/Dylan/Rylan/Ryan/Luke's name was Lee? For five whole seconds? But a late night prick of inspiration changed the whole direction of this story for the better.

What would I do differently?
 

Every step of writing Sparkwood was an editor's nightmare. And yet, it's hard for me to think of doing it differently. Maybe it's because I felt so stuck when I started the book, but brute-forcing a fantasy world to life did work out. And I learned a lot while I was desperately cobbling everything together.

That being said, of course I will never put myself through this again. One of the better things I did was make a list of clues and relevant information that Finn (the living one) could discover along the way as he investigated his brother's death. Knowing what is important to your story, and what isn't, is crucial. 

Brainstorm people that might be useful, or who the characters would realistically run into. After coming up with that skeleton plot, I sat down and made a list of nameless characters, including THE MAYOR, THE GENTLEMAN, and A HUMAN. These would go on to become the mayor (uh, duh), Alan Merrow, and Finn's friend Pearl. They didn't need names, because all that mattered were their roles in the story. 

When writing a romance, it's easy to focus on the main characters and lose sight of the people around them. The best romances don't do that, of course. And murder mysteries can't do that. The other players are crucial to the plot. When I started Sparkwood, I was concerned about writing my first enemies-to-lovers story. I devoted more attention to that, when I should have treated it as a murder mystery and let the animosity between Finn and Robin flow from that.

Along the way, as I was struggling to master my plot, I got worried that I didn't have a B plot. I had read something about balancing an A plot (the main story) with a B plot, which complemented it or served as a metaphor.

After this freakout, I had a laughing conversation with my friends because I remembered I was writing a murder mystery/romance. There's your A and B plots, right? Robin and Finn solve a mystery (A plot) and fall in love (B plot).

Well, it turns out that what really made Sparkwood click, in my second or third pass of edits, was adding another B plot. Or C plot, I guess. Either way, there was a supporting element missing from the story. All this goes to say, if you feel like your story is missing something, it probably is!

It just might take you two drafts and a lot of misery to figure out what.

Sparkwood is out now and it's a lot better than this post makes it sound!

Teaser, Writing

8 Twin Peaks references in Sparkwood

 He's beauty and he's grace |  Twin Peaks , ABC

He's beauty and he's grace | Twin Peaks, ABC

It's no secret that I was super inspired by Twin Peaks when I wrote Sparkwood. The show strikes the perfect balance of mundane and bizarre.

The Great Northern Hotel is actually the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, which is about 40 minutes from where I lived when I started brainstorming Sparkwood. When I moved to New York City, I watched Twin Peaks straight through three times. It shows its age, sure. It actually started airing the year I was born. But it's still weird and wonderful and DALE COOPER IS MY HUSBAND okay I'm fine.

If you read Sparkwood, you might have caught a few references to Twin Peaks. Off the top of my head, here are a few.

1) The birch trees that form the first gate Finn takes to the fairy realm are a reference to Glastonbury Grove, where Cooper enters The Black Lodge.

2) Sparkwood is heavily based on North Bend, the town where the RR Diner (actually called Twede's Cafe) is located. Oh, and speaking of diners:

 Cinematic, right? 

Cinematic, right? 

3) The Nite Owl's layout is inspired by the RR Diner, because why design a diner when you can borrow? Any Twin Peaks fan knows the importance of diners, and coffee.

4) Wait a minute, The Nite... Owl? In the Twin Peaks mythos, the owls are not what they seem.

5) I was going to name Finn's high school the Steeplejacks, as another Twin Peaks reference. Then I realized I had already made his high school mascot an owl. Which is, yes, a freaking Twin Peaks reference. I defeat myself.

6) Finn's hotel room in The Golden Pine is the same number as Cooper's in The Great Northern. Room 315!

7) Despite all the set dressing inspired by Twin Peaks, the only character remotely related to the show was the fairy mayor; I based her appearance on Lana Milford, the fiancée of the mayor of Twin Peaks. But the fairy mayor is not thin.

8) Sparkwood! The title of the book and the name of the town come from the intersection where Ronette Pulaski is found: Sparkwood and 21. I wanted to take the reference a step further and have 21 chapters in the book, but I couldn't quite swing it.

Sparkwood is out now!

Teaser

In defense of boning your enemies

At the beginning of Sparkwood, Robin and Finn have never met, but boy do they resent each other.

Finn has found out that his brother Luke, who ran away to live with fairies a year ago, was murdered. And Robin is a fairy—who knew Luke, and who finds Finn's bias against fairies less than endearing. Actually, really offensive.

I wrote the book for LT3's enemies to lovers call, My Dearest Enemy. Robin and Finn didn't just need to be snarky at each other—they needed to actively dislike each other. They needed tension.

One of my favorite posts on writing tension comes from CS Pacat, the author of the Captive Prince series. I actually read this post when I was doing my second big editing pass. You know, the one after we had fixed the really shitty first-pass mistakes, so that suddenly every narrative problem was blindingly clear, and I was rearranging and deleting and rewriting and weeping.

This post was like a bolt of clarity. Here's some of Pacat's advice:

In my own writing, I often ask myself: Can I play this moment later? If the answer is yes, then I reserve the moment for later. If the answer is no, then I know that I've found the right moment to play the note.

 

There's a moment—as there must be in enemies to lovers romance—where Finn needs help desperately, and there is only one person he can turn to. The poor guy has been put through the wringer, physically and emotionally.

But in earlier drafts, I had played some notes too early. The physical part of being put through the wringer—that was over and done with by the time Finn got the emotional punch in the face. It meant that some of the tension had defused—Finn was less desperate, and since he's the POV character, the stakes didn't feel as high.

What a blessing rewrites are.

Drawing out Finn's misery so that everything came to a head at once didn't just make the story better. It helped the character too: to ask for help from a fairy, Finn needs to be brought to his knees.

Conversely, you know what's great for romantic tension? Forcing someone who hates someone else to take care of them when they're physically helpless.

Sorry, Robin.

Sparkwood comes out next week! It can be pre-ordered right now from LT3.

Writing, Teaser, Updates and Announcements

Fairies, and other borrowed things

The fairy culture in Sparkwood is based on one great, undeniable truth: I didn't want to write high fantasy.

I knew that Finn, my main character, would have to cross over to the fairy world to find out what happened to his brother. So, if this wasn't high fantasy, what would he find there?

 Looks cool, but no. | Noel Paton

Looks cool, but no. | Noel Paton

When I think about fairy kingdoms, I picture beautiful golden tree houses, or the Seelie and Unseelie court, and all kinds of glittery things. If I wrote traditional fairies, I would either have to be meticulous about mythology, or I would have to invent a fantasy world from scratch. I love reading about traditional fairies, but I knew with my writing style and my deadline, that wasn't for me.

I wanted to pare down my fairies to a few core rules or concepts.

Let's go back to that question: What does Finn find when he crosses over?

My solution was that he found a town almost identical to his hometown of Sparkwood.

My fairy culture is based on that concept: a lot like humans, but a little bit off. A little strange, a little wrong.

Sparkwood is set in the modern-day. Sometime in the last 40 years, fairies were confirmed to be real, and now there's some movement between their world and our own.

The things that humans are concerned about in Sparkwood are very mundane. How do you have a commercial interaction with a fairy? What's insulting to them? Can they fuck?

Excerpt:

"All the stories in these books are ancient." Finn's voice caught. "Luke said we forgot how to live with them. Modern people forgot, I mean. So now that we know they're real, things will have to change. It's just too soon for us to have figured it out."

Of course, Luke hadn't been thinking about laws and crime. He had talked Finn's ear off about cultural exchange, and what people could learn from the gentry, as he called them. That was one of the courtesies he had picked up from his books. Finn couldn't help but notice that politeness hadn't kept him alive.

"Didn't CSI have a fairy murder episode?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, but do you think that was accurate? CSI doesn't even understand the internet."

***

Still, I didn't want my fairies to be completely unrecognizeable for what they were. I needed to do research, and I answered my questions about fairies like any person living in the 21st century: I Googled.

 You don't, it's against the law.

You don't, it's against the law.

I visited a lot of very hippy sites about fairies and I read bits and pieces of the mythos about them, by people who believe in them—just like characters in my book do.

Not all of this was useful research ("Fairy gold can float in fairyland"??), but occasionally something would spark. Most of all, I loved the idea of people casually asking Yahoo! Answers how to deal with fairies, because that's such a delightfully human thing to do. When I googled "how to protect yourself from fairies," I was like, yeah, Finn has probably done this too.

I also did some more hard research. Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by Yeats has some amazing details on fairy traditions and myths.

But since my other biggest influence was Twin Peaks, I wanted to do something distinctly American. Again, I wasn't writing high fantasy. These are fairies with diners and dive bars, and a back door onto small-town America. Twin Peaks mixes magic and mundane, and I wanted Sparkwood to strike a similar cord.

 The Black Lodge in  Twin Peaks  is surreal magic at its finest. |  Twin Peaks , ABC

The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is surreal magic at its finest. | Twin Peaks, ABC

That doesn't mean there's the fairy equivalent of New York City bustling out there somewhere. Fairies are strictly rural creatures. The fairy Sparkwood is connected to the human one, and shifts alongside it—but it's always a few decades behind. They don't have modern technology like cell phones and computers—their magic doesn't play nice with complex programming. They do have rotary telephones. They have electricity.

And they steal.

I knew the world I had set up wouldn't support a giant fairy La-Z-Boy factory producing fairy furniture, for example. So I followed the example of the fairy town: fairies take second-hand or discarded thing, and give them new life. So everything in the fairy world isn't shiny and magical after all; it's kind of shabby and comfortable.

 Thanks, Yeats. 

Thanks, Yeats. 

In myth, fairies are often cobblers, or tailors, or artisans of some kind. That made sense for my fairies too; they can craft things on a sustainable scale. But still, there's some cachet to having new human-made furniture.

Finally, and maybe most obviously, fairies have magic. And fairy magic is bullshit.

Much of the literature about fairies implies that they're short-tempered, impulsive tricksters. I decided that magic should work the same way—basically, if you can justify it, it works. And fairies are very good at leaps of logic that mean one insult could turn into a curse. Fairies experience whirlwind emotions, that change at the drop of a hat. They're not a monolith, of course. One of the hard rules I made was that they have just as much racial and body diversity as humans do. The same thing goes for how they process emotions.

But as a general rule... just don't fuck with a fairy.

Updates and Announcements, Interviews, Teaser

Let's chat about BOOKS

I have an interview out today at Ellie Reads Fiction!

It's about my influences and favorite books (tune in to read me yelling ad nauseum about KJ Charles) and it has an exclusive excerpt from Sparkwood.

Ellie also interviewed my bestie Austin Chant as part of the New Authors series. And she reviews books that I've talked about on this very site, like Wanted, A Gentleman.

Read away!

Teaser, Updates and Announcements

Pre-order Sparkwood while you still can!

There is exactly ONE WEEK until Sparkwood comes out!

That means you can still pre-order it on LT3's website for LESS MONEY THAN FULL PRICE. Wow! That's a smaller amount of money than usual!

Sparkwood is about Finn, a prickly and extremely closeted bisexual guy, who has grown up hating the fairies that live in the woods outside his hometown of Sparkwood, WA. His twin brother Luke idolizes them. Or, he did. He's dead now.

Finn tries to track down Luke's killer and ends up in an uneasy partnership with Robin—an equally prickly openly queer guy, who just happens to be a fairy.

What's that? A PREVIEW, YOU SAY?

***

"Jesus! Do you fucking knock?" Finn jerked the shirt over his stomach and dug through the bag for his deodorant.

Robin inhaled. "I apologize. You deserve courtesy." When Robin said courtesy, it was like the word was being dragged from between his teeth.

"Courtesy? Is that what the pins and needles in the bed were about? That was fun. What are you, twelve?" He drew closer to Robin as he spoke, Finn's height casting a shadow over him. "I know you put a spell on me. I'm not here to play stupid fairy games, and I'm not here to fuck your boyfriend either, before you get any ideas." He couldn't stop himself from adding, "But I think he would've gone for it." 

For a long moment, Robin didn't move. Then he raised his hand and very deliberately snapped his fingers. 

Nothing happened.

Until goosebumps slowly rose on Finn's chest, his skin prickling as hundreds of delicate legs moved across it. Before he could flinch, Robin pursed his lips and let out a soft breath.

A host of butterflies took flight, their wings barely disturbing the air. They flowed out the window like a sigh, leaving Finn shirtless and lightly dusted in pollen.

"I'm trying to be nicer." Robin examined him dispassionately. "You're lucky it wasn't spiders," he said, and turned to go.

"Give me back my fucking shirt."

"Find another shirt." The door slammed shut behind him.

***

That's all for now! Sparkwood comes out on Feb. 15. LT3's giveaway on Goodreads runs until the Feb. 20, so check that out too! If you get a copy of the book, either through the giveaway or buying it with your hard-earned money, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads or Amazon! It's a great help for me, and for potential readers. :)