Friday, May 21, 2010

Focus on the NOW!

My guest is Para Romance author, Jessica Andersen. For those of you who haven't read her books, she's written a series around the Mayan Doomsday calender which ends 2012. Jessica's series is called The Novels of the Final Prophecy.

I always enjoy reading books that are rich in atmosphere and details of the world setting. In other words, I like more than just the story and dialog. I want to be immersed in the author's world. When I open the book I want to see and feel the world and how the characters interact within that world. Books have changed in the last twenty years. In the 80's most genres had more narrative, more fascinating facts weaved into the story. You were entertained and learned something in the process.

Now, much of that has gone by the wayside in favor of fast paced dialog and everything happening in a very short period of time and minimum time for giving the reader more than the barest sketch of the author's world. Certainly not enough time to weave in fascinating details that make the setting different from a hundred other books. Granted, there were authors that went just a little bit overboard with narrative.

So, where's the balance? Jessica's topic touches on just those things. How she builds a world with enough details to set it apart from our world but without drowning us in facts or backstory.

If you’re actively writing and submitting fiction, especially romantic fiction, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “editors are looking for something that’s the same but different.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered how the heck you were supposed to manage that.

Well, one of the ways I do recognizable-but-different is by coloring the world of my paranormal thrillers with details from an unusual mythology: that of the ancient Maya. But although this adds a definite cool factor to the books, there’s a catch … it’s really easy to go overboard on the details and distract your reader from the “now” of the story.

Much like Lucius, the hero of my newest release, Demonkeepers, I’m a nerd at heart. I glom onto details, and I get jazzed when I come away from a book or movie having learned a thing or two while being thoroughly entertained. For example, Jurassic Park brought velociraptors into the mainstream, and DaVinci Code—questions of accuracy aside—introduced me to a can of worms I hadn’t known about before … But at the same time, neither of them made me feel like there was going to be a quiz once the credits rolled.

I’m a scientist by training: Back in my lab-rat days and during my PhD studies, I worked on cloning genes for inherited eye diseases. Although these days my only remaining foothold in science is editing journal articles, my research skills have helped me track down the information I’ve needed to bring the novels of the Nightkeepers to life.

I love the history of the ancient Maya, and I’m fascinated by the science surrounding the 2012 end date. For example, the Maya set their calendar to end on the day—far in their future—that their astronomers precisely calculated that the earth, sun and moon would align as they passed through the dark hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy (which the Maya believed was the entrance to the underworld). It’s just a coincidence that this day corresponds to the symmetrical date of 12/21/12 in the Gregorian calendar … or is it?

In each book, I try to bring in a different piece of the Mayan culture: Skykeepers touched on the use of chocolate in Mayan rituals, and this month’s release, Demonkeepers, includes the Mesoamerican ball game, which was the first to use a bouncing rubber game ball.

However, as I’m writing, I have to work on containing my inner geek. I’m constantly tempted to include all the other stuff that has gotten a ‘ding ding’ on my internal wow-that’s-cool-ometer … but the thing is, it’s not all relevant. What’s more, too much external detail, even when it relates to the plot, can yank your reader out of the story’s “now.”

Luckily, I have an awesome critique partner who routinely hits me with comments like: “Let’s get to the running, screaming, shooting, and/or sex!” Recently, she and I talked about why some details work for her while others make her eyes glaze over. Where was the line? We eventually figured out that the info she found very cool and “Indiana Jones-like” in my stories tended to be details that were concretely linked to the characters’ immediate experiences.

When Lucius and Jade stand in front of a panel of hieroglyphs and a painted scene of Mayan ball players, it interested her to know what the scene looked like and a little bit about the ballgame. In contrast, she skimmed over a block of narrative about the Nightkeepers’ connection to ancient Egypt, because that was backstory, not what was happening in the “now” of the story.

To paraphrase one of her critiques: Tell me what’s happening NOW!! What are they feeling NOW??? And if there’s a detail you’re just dying to get in there, turn it into something cool and relevant within the NOW of the story. Because that’s the thing that will add texture and let your reader come away from your story totally jazzed because she (or he) just learned something new while being entertained.

  • Do you like learning bits of facts in the stories you read? Do those bits of fact make a para world more believable?

Demonkeepers Blurb:

Lucius is an Indiana Jones wannabe who never quite measures up, until a twist of magic brings him powers beyond belief... and reunites him with Jade, the one-night stand he never forgot.

Despite the sizzling chemistry between them—and the added power that comes with a love match—Jade is determined to prove that she’s more than a researcher … she can be a Nightkeeper warrior in her own right.

But as the two race to rescue the sun god himself from the underworld, they learn that kicking ass isn’t enough. They’ll need all their brains and skill—and the long-denied love that burns between them—to foil the dark lords’ plot.

Buy: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders

If you get the chance, do go look at Jessica's Website. It's gorgeous and I love the theme. Jessica lists her books and the storyline as well as some excerpts.

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Jessica Andersen is the bestselling RITA and RT nominated author of more than twenty Harlequin Intrigues and the Nightkeeper Novels, a hot paranormal series that sexes up the 2012 doomsday. FMI about the books or Jessica, please visit



Becky said...

Jessica is a new author to me. I will have to check out her website and her books. I love learning about the Mayan culture, so I will find her books very interesting to read. I love learning bits of facts in the stories that I read. To me, those facts bring the story to life and make it more believable.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I agree, Becky. I love a story that makes the world alive and real. Thanks for stopping by!

Jessa Slade said...

I love the new-to-me world of the Maya in these books. There's just enough detail to feel immersed without drowning. Kind of like those sensory deprivation chambers where you're floating in blood-warm water without light or sound, and go on these wild mental trips. That's what I get with a Final Prophecy book. A 10 on the cool-o-meter!

tonya kappes said...

I do learn so much from reading in different genres. I have to read while I write so I can escape my own mind. Sometimes I will pick up new words and I jot those words down or dog ear the page.

Judi Fennell said...

*waves Hi to fellow RT panelist.

Love love love the Mayan mythology. I'm working on Persian right now, and, yep, it's definitely tough to keep the inner geek out of the narrative. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi all! (waves) Thanks so much to Sia for having me on today, and to the rest of you for joining me to talk details and Nightkeepers over coffee :)

@ Becky-- It's nice to 'meet' you, and I hope you'll check out the Keepers!

@ Jessa-- Hey! (Have you guys checked out Jessa's latest?? Hawt cover, hawt book!) Thanks for the shout out-- I do my best to bring the deets in without overshadowing the story, but it can be a challenge!

@ Tonya-- 'Escape' is a perfect word for how I read, too. I love being immersed in the story world.

@ Judi-- (waves back) Hey! Oh, love the idea of spicing up a paranormal with Persian worldbuilding. And yeah, inner geek is exactly right- lol.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doc Jess. Just wanted to pop in and say hi. Still working on DK and loving it. Taking my time to soak in all the detail.For those that have not read the Keepers they are a great set of books with a wonderful story line and a great view into the world of Mayan culture very interesting read. Barbara

~Sia McKye~ said...

Barbara, I have the first one on order.

Jessica, I love your website. Perfect fit for your books. Smart lady!

Anonymous said...

@ Barbara-- Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your soaking (I recommend chocolate as a reading accessory for these books- mmmmm).

@ Sia-- Thanks for ordering NightK! If you're a 'teach me something' reader (as I am), I think you'll like it.

I appreciate the props on the website, too-- I sent my web designers to the official Indiana Jones website, and said "Okay, I know I can't afford a John Williams theme, but do your best with the rest!"

Nina Pierce said...

Jess, I love the facts you throw into your stories. For me, there is never too much. I'm one of those die-hard geeks at heart. When I sit down to watch tv I can't watch The Discovery Channel because I'd be trying to file away all the cool info and not relaxing. But I digress. Long and the short ... love love love the series. You have just the right balance of cool-o-meter ding ding ding and hawt monkey sex (well, okay, never enough hawt monkey sex, but a great balance. *g*)

Other Lisa said...

Great post! I think the key is to have the geek stuff really tied to the story as well as the now.

Lisa K. said...

Though I don't usually read romance, I think I may just have to go check out Jessica Andersen's series. I do love books from which I can take away some bit of information or some interesting tidbit of knowledge. That, and I'm a big fan of being immersed in the world of a book, whether it be a different culture or a whole different world (as in my favorite genre, sci-fi). Thanks for a great post today.

VA said...

In agreement here, the details must be woven into the fabric of the tale and not regurgitated. Great to see a Mesoamerican themed novel.

Best of luck with it Jessica.

Paula R said...

Hi Sia, thanks for having Doc Jess over for coffee time. You don't have to count me in for the drawing. Got all my keepers here...just waiting for Patience and Brandt's story, which should be absolutely wonderful.

Hey Doc Jess...thanks for the link on FB. I LOVE learning new and interesting things when I read. Like you, I love to learn as I read. Give me backstory and interesting info anytime. I think you do a wonderful job of filling your stories with interesting details. You reignited my inner geeks desire to learn more about the Maya and Inca cultures. I really should have been and anthropologist or an archeologist. Thank you very much.

You guys who haven't checked out Demon or the other Keepers yet, you are missing out. I hope you win, so that you can immerse yourself into this wonderful world of running, screaming, sex and learning.

See you around the blogosphere Doc Jess!!!

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Olivia Cunning said...

The books sound awesome and so does your critique partner. I've tried writing historical romance, but MY eyes glaze over while doing the research. Not much of a history buff, to be honest, but I love reading historical romance. And I think the reason is exactly what your critque partner hit upon. I want to live in the now with the characters. Even if it's all taking place in the past.

Great post.

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Jessica. Wow, do your books sound wonderful! I'm a major geek, and love doing research. I consider researching cool stuff to be one of the perks of writing historical romance! But your CP offered such a great ideal: keep it pertinent to NOW. I'm filing that away in my keeper file. And looking for your work in my local bookstore!

Anonymous said...

@ Nina- *waves* and LOLOL on the hawt monkey sex. I hear you on the down side of documentaries- there have been nights when I see something on about the Aztec or Maya, and decide it looks really cool ... but I just can't handle anything more challenging than the Smoking Gun :)

@ Other Lisa- Good point! I edit scientific articles on the side (I was a geneticist in my prior life), and spend lots of time writing 'this is very interesting, but how does it relate to the research question at hand? If it is tangential, please consider omitting.' Sometimes I have to remind myself to do the same in my fiction :)

@ Lisa K- Hi, and thanks for considering the books! I'm a huge sci fi fan (I'm named after the Lady Jessica from DUNE, so I think that was sort of a requirement- lol), and I think I bring some of that to the books ... with the addition of some romance conventions and the Happily Ever After, of which I'm a big fan!

@ VA- It's funnny you mention being happy to see a Mesoamerican-related novel. When I was first pitching the idea, I got some eyerolls and 'but Central America doesn't sell' comments, and I was sitting there thinking, 'but why? this stuff is *cool*!'

@ Paula-- Hey Keeper! *knuckle tap* I'm almost done (okay, not really, but I'm going to pretend that I am) with the next book. Then we'll celebrate!

@ Olivia-- LOL- I used to say I never wanted to write a historical romance because I didn't want to do the research. Which is kind of ironic, considering what I ended up doing! But I love the research (on this particular subject!) so it doesn't feel so much like work as it would otherwise :)

@ Kat-- Thanks for the props, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Yeah, my CP kind of rules. And we compliment each other *really* well.

She's extremely strong in characterization, where I'm not a big fan of strong emotional swings in real life, so can have a tough time putting them on the page. In contrast, I'm very good at plotting and logic.

So she'll hit me with YOU'RE DISTANCING-- GET IN HER HEAD!! WHAT IS SHE FEELING *RIGHT NOW*??? whereas I'll nail her on pacing and continuity issues. I also write suspense, so am big on 'why was that his first choice, when this other thing is so much easier?'

We make each other stronger storytellers, which I think is the sign of a good CP relationship :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Jessica, what a great critique team you two have.

Lkie Kat, I filed a couple things away. One of the sentences is on my wip. I have a former critque partner that would tell me, I'm not feeling it, WHY? Cause YOU're not, you're telling me how they feel.

I now have a sign up on my wall, WRITE WHAT YOU FEEL.

readwriteandedit said...

I knew chocolate was very, very important. If it was important for the Maya, I can claim it's important for me.

Sounds like a great series, Jessica. I'll be looking for you in the bookstore.

Paula R said...

Hey Doc Jess *knuckle tap* backatcha babe. YAY, it is almost celebration time...LOL!!! I am so antsy waiting for Patience and Brandt. Yeah, I think you and your CP really really compliment each other. You do emotion so well and her books also kick some major tail!!! You BOTH rule!!!

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Anonymous said...

@ Sia- Ooh, that's a good one! I love things like that, where you think you know it, but then step back and realize that it's not enough to know it, you've got to *live* it.

@ RWAE- Thanks so much for checking out the post, and happy book hunting! And *yes* on chocolate, which really ought to be a food group! LOL.

@ Paula- Awww, thanks :)

To all: I'm signing off for the night (east coaster, yanno), but will check in tomorrow a.m. to catch any late shout-outs. Thanks so much for having some coffee with me today!!

Paula R said...

You are welcome. Rest easy Doc Jess!

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Amber Romero said...

What up Doc Jess?
You are all over the place.
Just dropping a shout out.
Girls you've got a good one here.

Did you decide on "Tuesday Twaddles"?
That was great.
Is Dez being nice to ya? Or being a bad boy?

Anonymous said...

@ Amber-- Hey Keeper!

I'm going to try to stick with 'Monday Musings' (my weekly post on the Keepers' fan-run message board) except when I forget what day it is like I did this week-- LOL.

Let's just say that Dez and Reese are both being pretty naughty at the moment. I love these two together!

Thanks for stopping by Amber, Paula, and everyone! Sia, thanks so much for having me over for coffee. I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you'll think about giving the Keepers a try if you haven't already!

Be well and happy reading/writing :)


Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I'm constantly fighting the same battle, though science fiction allows a bit more world-building.