Monday, 22 December 2014

Setting as Character

I recently had to write an article on setting and this made me reflect on some of my writing. Most reviewers of Café au Lait, from professionals in magazines to random readers on Amazon, have commented on the role of setting in the novel. This is not something I set out to do intentionally--at least not that I can recall--but the setting of that story, Trinidad and Tobago, is so much a part of my psyche that there was no way I could write a novel where the place, time and social context were not significantly intertwined with the psyche of the main character. Setting is ever-present, not simply as a picturesque backdrop but influencing the thoughts, feelings and actions of the characters. The impact of the setting was brought home to me when one reviewer on Amazon UK said she followed the characters around on Google Maps while reading the story.

When I compare that novel with my second romance title, there is a striking difference. This one is set in South Florida, and although I spent close to two years there the place is not so much a part of me as my homeland is, and this distance shows. Is the setting a character in Give Me the Night? I like to think it is, but here it plays the role of a minor character and not a main character as in the first novel.

When I look at other stories I have written that are set outside of Trinidad and Tobago, the settings tend to play minor roles (with the exception of one post-apocalyptic story). Then I glance at my recent short stories set in my country and here again, the setting tends to play a major role. In two works in progress, now that I think about it, the setting is the main character. How does this happen? With me it's an intuitive process that apparently depends on my familiarity with and attachment to the setting.

What elevates setting to the status of character in a story? Based on my own experience, I'd say it's a combination of the following:
  • The use of telling details that create images of place, time and context (the basic function of setting).
  • The use of elements of the setting as symbols of important themes or issues within the story.
  • The use of pathetic fallacy which is the perception of nature as sentient--sympathetic or responsive to human issues in the story. (Examples: the angry sky, stealthy shadows, uncaring desert, the rain as tears...)
  • Characters' emotions, thoughts, and/or actions being affected, catalyzed or constrained by elements of the setting.
  • The setting changes over time, just as a well-drawn character must.
  • In other words, making the setting personal, and not simply a static background. 
My favorite stories are almost always those in which the setting lives and breathes and deepens the tales in memorable ways. In my own writing, although much of it is still intuitive--at least in the first draft--by the time I get to the editing phase one of the things I check for is an active setting that works as a reflection of, an ally, an antagonist, mentor or source of inspiration to the other main character(s).

How do you handle the issue of setting in your writing, and how important is it to your enjoyment of a story?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Blog hop

Thank you Sunny Frazier for asking me to take part in this blog hop! I've got two works-in-progress and had a hard time deciding which to choose. I decided to go with my new romantic suspense novel, Driving Karina.

Driving Karina
 by Liane Spicer

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic? 
Karina is the main character in my WIP. She is an attorney who has just come out of a brutal divorce. She buys a sports car and goes on vacation but is injured and scarred in a car crash. She has to hire a driver when she goes back to work in the city, and to her dismay finds herself becoming attracted to the gruff, former soldier who is nothing like the smooth Ivy League types she has always been attracted to.

2) When and where is the story set? 
The story is set in Fort Lauderdale and a Caribbean island.

3) What should we know about him/her? 
Karina is a high achiever from a comfortable background for whom life has been smooth-sailing and success came easily. She is a woman of integrity but is ambitious and more than a little spoiled--until her husband drops his facade and her entire world crashes. She finds out she never really knew the man she thought she loved; that he has been unfaithful throughout their relationship; that he does not wish her well. She can't find reprieve in work because she and her ex co-owned the firm and the staff now has divided loyalties. She feels friendless and betrayed; her secure world has become an alien place where she feels she can't trust anyone.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 
Karina's ex is a nasty piece of work, and he is determined to wrest the company from her. She is forced to rely on her driver more and more as the sand keeps shifting under her feet. There are problems with a client, and she suspects her husband of tampering with her cases. Having to cope with her injury while working through all of the above is extremely challenging for her as she has no patience with weakness, especially her own.

5) What is the personal goal of the character? 
After all the subterfuges, betrayals and illusions of the past, she wants to discover what is real and valuable in herself and in her life.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Driving Karina is the title, and this is about all I'll say about the story at this time!

7) When can we expect the book to be published? 
It should be available in stores Spring 2015.

And now, to continue the blog hop, I nominate Jewel Amethyst and Carol Mitchell.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Interview with Lynelle A. Martin, author of "Zapped, Danger in the Cell"

Wordtryst: We have a very special guest on Wordtryst today: 11 year old Lynelle A. Martin, co-author of Zapped, Danger in the Cell. Welcome, Lynelle, and congrats on your debut release! Can you tell our readers how you got started as a writer?

Lynelle: Telling stories was always a big part of my bedtime ritual. My mom and I would take turns telling each other stories or we would do team storytelling: we would make up a story and take turns adding pieces. When I was five years old I saw my Mom’s book in the book stores for the first time. I thought it was so exciting I asked her if I could write a book with her. She said that I couldn’t because she wrote grown up books. But I kept asking her until she finally gave in and decided to write a children’s book so that we could write together. We started this book when I was 8 years old. 

Wordtryst: How did you come up with the idea for your book? Tell us about the book.

Lynelle: My Mom used to work in a lab and sometimes she would take me to work with her and let me look at cells under the microscope. One time she showed me a movie with some cells dividing and I asked her, “What if someone could go into one of those cells?” I guess that, plus the fact that she was trying to teach me the parts of the cell, gave her the idea for the story.

Zapped! Danger in the cell is about four curious children on a field trip who discovers a strange machine. One of the kids touches a button on the machine and the three others got shrunk and zapped into an animal cell. While trying to escape the cell they go through a lot of exciting and dangerous adventures in different parts of the cell that have them running for their lives.

Wordtryst: When you began writing the story, did you know how it would end?

Lynelle: No. I knew I wanted it to begin with a field trip to the Museum of Natural History, because I had just been to that museum on my third grade field trip. But I had no idea how it would end.

Wordtryst: What kind of research did you do for this book?

Lynelle: We did a lot of research by watching videos on the internet that explained the parts of the cell, but I kind of thought it was boring especially when the models in the videos were labeled with words I could not even read or pronounce right at the time.

Wordtryst: When and where do you write?

Lynelle: I write anytime ideas come to my head and I decide to write them down if I can find paper. For Zapped! I wrote a lot of it during the summer of 2011 because I didn’t want to go to summer camp, so my Mom and I made it my summer project.

Wordtryst: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Lynelle: The worst part of writing is the research and the part where I sign autographs because as it is my first time having a signature it takes time to get it right.

Co-authors Jewel A. Daniel & Lynelle A. Martin
at the Baltimore Book Fair, Sept. 2014
Wordtryst: What’s the best thing about being an author?

Lynelle: The best thing about being an author is the experience of seeing my book with my name and picture on it and knowing that I wrote that.

Wordtryst: What's the worst part of being an author?

Lynelle: Signing autographs, answering lots of questions, and sitting through book conventions.

Wordtryst: Do you plan to co-author other books with your mom?

Lynelle: Yes. Zapped! is actually part of a series where kids get shrunk and go on adventures that you can only see using a microscope. We wrote the second book in the series over the summer of 2012 and we began the third one in the series this summer (2014).

Lynelle demonstrating how to make a model cell out of
jello and candy, Baltimore Book Fair Sep. 2014
Wordtryst: How do you decide which parts you would write and what your mother would write?

Lynelle: My mom is a scientist so she wrote a lot of the “sciencey” parts. We did a lot of brain storming together about what would happen to the children in each scene. I wrote a lot of the children’s dialog to make sure the children sounded like children. And I did a lot of the editing especially when we were getting ready to publish it.

Wordtryst: How did you come up with the characters?

Lynelle: My characters are based on me, and my little brother and sister. My brother and sister are funny but very mischievous, just like their namesakes in the story.

Wordtryst: Did you and your mom disagree on anything?

Lynelle: How about everything? I wanted to start the story with a field trip, she didn’t agree, but in the end we started with the field trip. She wanted the characters to be nine years old, I wanted them to be around 10 or 11, but she came around. We even disagreed on how the kids got zapped.

Wordtryst: LOL! You must have been very convincing because you got to do some things your way. I understand some disagreement is normal with creative collaborations. So, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Lynelle: I guess I would tell them to keep writing and let their imagination guide the way.

Lynelle signing copies of Zapped! Danger in the Cell! at the
Baltimore Book Fair
Wordtryst: What are some of your favorite books?

Lynelle: Dork Diaries. I could hardly wait for each new one to come out. When I first started writing the books I was into the Magic Tree House series, but I’ve grown out of them now.

Wordtryst: Tell us three interesting or crazy things about you.

Lynelle: My sister, my brother and my Mom (They are all crazy :) ). I don’t know, let’s see … I play soccer (interesting not crazy), I do gymnastics (interesting not crazy) and I play the clarinet (interesting and crazy: I’m not kidding, it really can get crazy).

Wordtryst: Where can people buy your books?

Zapped! Danger in the Cell can be purchased at and at Barnes and Noble in both paperback and e-book format. It can also be purchased from the publisher’s website

Wordtryst: Lynelle, thank you so much for visiting our blog today and sharing your publishing journey with us. All the best to you, and to your mom and co-author Jewel A. Daniel. We look forward to hearing all about your future collaborations!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Blog in the Round - 4 Questions and Pass It On

I’m honored that bestselling, multi-genre author, Novel Spaces blog team member, and one of the most gracious and generous people I know, Marissa Monteilh (Marissa's blog link), has asked me to participate in Blog in the Round - 4 Questions and Pass It On. She was asked by award winning author Karla K.L. Brady (Karla's blog link). In the Blog in the Round, one author invites two authors, and so on, with each answering the following four questions about their writing life. It’s a great way for readers, and other authors, to get to know us better, and it demonstrates the amazing author camaraderie and support that we have for each other. I have chosen to invite mystery writer and acquisitions editor Sunny Frazier (Sunny's blog link), and award-winning author Stefanie Worth (Stefanie's blog link). You can check out their interview answers when they post on August 04, 2014.

So here goes:

What am I working on/writing?
I have several partly written short stories and novellas that I'm working on completing and getting out of the way before I begin my August task of editing a memoir and completing the first draft of my mystery novel.

How is my writing/work different from others in its genre?
I write in several genres, and I think that my Caribbean perspective is what makes my work different from other romance, mystery and lit fic stories. Even when the stories (such as Give Me the Night) are set outside of the Caribbean, the Caribbean vibe is there. As far as literary fiction goes, while a number of writers from the Caribbean have made significant contributions to the genre, each brings a different personal ethos to the work. The islands/territories are different in terms of language and culture, even though the history is similar, and each writer's experience is unique. I don't burden myself with an agenda, a "message", unlike other writers in the arena. What I do is tell stories of lives lived, and I leave it to the readers to take from them what they will. For me, story trumps all, regardless of the genre.

Why do I write what I do?
I've been an obsessive reader from childhood, and I write the kind of stories that I like to read. I write to escape the realities of the world and create a place where I have some measure of control over outcomes. I write because I love language. While I will read pretty much any story in any genre, my main interests lie in literary fiction, relationship fiction, mystery, and memoir--and this is what I write. I also enjoy humor and satire and I strive to incorporate these in some of my writing.

How does my writing process work?
First there's the idea, which can come while I'm sleeping, washing dishes, bathing, reading... When a story comes it feels like a flash out of the blue, but I think it really evolves out of the meanderings of my subconscious. Sometimes I have to stop whatever I'm doing and write the story immediately, as happened with "Miss Annie Cooks Fish" which ended up being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I was editing another story for a class I was taking and this one just jumped on me: Zap! Write me! I don't have a strict writing regimen; I write whenever I can. I get the most done when I'm on vacation and can maintain an interior focus, or stare into space indefinitely without freaking people out. I write the first draft then send the manuscript to my beta reader. When I get it back I start editing. This takes several passes until I tell myself to leave the darned thing alone or I'd never be done.

Thanks again, Marissa, for including me. I can't wait to read each author's blog as they travel in the round, a unique and inspiring circle of writer love!

Monday, 23 June 2014

The trouble with my Kindle library

Piles and piles of books
I don't have a Kindle, but I've been downloading e-books to the app at a much faster rate than I can read
them. I still buy the occasional hard copy—ill-advised since I ran out of shelf space years ago and the bookcase I bought last year filled up instantly with the piles that were sitting on bed, chairs and desk—but most of my book purchases over the last five years have been of the digital variety.

Since I plan to put a dent in my TBR backlog this summer, I decided to 'get organized' (always a dangerous undertaking for me) by dividing the Kindle titles into categories. The result was as follows:

1: Books by writers I know. (scores, maybe hundreds)
2: Classics to be read or re-read. (scores)
3: Books on eating, cooking and generally living more healthfully. (a handful)
4: Books on e-publishing (a few)
5: Novels, biographies and memoirs NOT by authors I know. (a few)
6: Miscellaneous titles, like the experimental baby books for my granddaughter. (a few)

The problem with my Kindle library became clear: apparently, I own scores, possibly hundreds, of books that I bought or downloaded free simply to support authors I know. I have little or no interest in reading maybe 95% of these books, so what do I do with them? I have to wade through these to get to those that I actually plan to read. I'd like to delete the unwanted books but feel guilty about this although I know I'll never get around to reading, for example, love stories that pair humans with vampires, dragons, tigers or wolves, those that are gruesome, weird and humorless (I can read gruesome and weird if there's humor involved), and those by authors I've sampled whose writing doesn't grab me for one reason or another.

The other categories are fine: I'm picking my way through the Fanons, Alighieris, and Flauberts that I've been wanting to read, like, forever; I've started on the books by authors I know that I do want to read, such as Jamaica Dreaming by Eugenia O'Neal that I read in its entirety yesterday, and William Doonan's Mediterranean Grave; don't plan on reading any more books on e-publishing for a while; and I'll schedule the 'healthful living' books for maybe every other month. But that first category is headache-inducing.

Do you buy/download lots of books you don't plan to read just to support authors you know? What on earth do you do with them?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Shortlist oasis

I sometimes describe my writing career (I use the term loosely here) as a desert with the occasional oasis that makes it all worthwhile. What is the desert comprised of? Years of toiling in the dark, the laborious search for agents and publishers, the chimerical nature of the publishing industry that follows neither the rules of logic nor of commerce, the clogging up of online bookstores with the slush pile (there, I've said it, and I'm by no means referring to the worthwhile, well-written and edited indie books out there)...

...The shrinkage and near-disappearance of the author advance.
...The social media time-suck requirement that does little unless the writer is already established.
...The fact that some publishers are still robbing writers blind.

Sand, sand, lots of dry sand.

But every now and then something thrilling happens that makes it all worthwhile. Signing with my agent back in 2006 was one; she was the first industry professional to validate my writing, and one of my first fans. The first sale to a publisher, the first release, the first sighting of a book with your name on it in a bookstore, the first (and every single) fan letter, the good and great reviews, the writing network built up over years, the kindness of strangers...

My latest oasis experience has been the shortlisting of one of my stories for the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I'm not ashamed to say it made me delirious with joy, partly because I'm well aware that genre writers, especially those who dabble in romance, are not taken seriously by the literary establishment. But that aside, it just feels good to have one's work recognised in this way. For the rest of the month, drinks are on me!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

New release: Give Me the Night

This novel has had quite a journey to publication, but here it is at last. Give Me the Night will be available in stores March 23.

Run, Naeva, run!
Leaving her island home and fleeing to Miami to escape a man who has a yen to kill her should have simplified life for Naeva, but she stumbles immediately into a torrid romance with the yummy Dr. Avery Dubois and has to fend off the advances of her slightly sinister boss while dodging the claws of the felines at the agency where she works. Wracked by nightmares and shadowed by her pursuer, she struggles to find a new normal, but when the long-lost cousin who takes her in on her arrival starts putting his demented plan into action, her life begins to careen out of control once more...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The name crazies

Multiple Identity Disorder?
I'll admit right up front that I have more name issues than the average human. I started life with four names--three given plus the surname, a surname that became a compound when I got married and added a hyphen and the surname of my spouse. After the wedding, all I had to do was flash a marriage certificate (cost: 25 cents for official stamp) and changes went into effect on all IDs, accounts, permits and passes.

One divorce later, I discovered that reverting to the maiden name was not a simple matter of dropping the hyphen and second surname that no longer fit. No siree. I needed an affidavit. I paid for that piece of paper (cost: $50) and went along my deluded way thinking all was well in Namesville.

Four years ago when I went to renew IDs and passport, I discovered that all was not well; I needed a deed poll (cost: $2000) because the first name I'd carried all my life was actually the third on my birth certificate. I paid up and figured my naming ordeals were over.

Fast forward to 2013 when a certain government agency advised me that my married surname (the hyphenated compound one) was still my legal name even though I have a passport, two IDs and an affidavit that say otherwise. An affidavit is not a legal instrument, they claimed, and as such their hands were tied in certain matters until I got a second deed poll (cost: another $2000) to officially revert to my own goddamned maiden name. I think I lost consciousness at that point. When I came to, I shut up and put up.

So that was the end of that, right? Alas, no. Name issues continue to haunt me. I write in several genres and I've got one name for the romance fiction persona, another for the spec fic, and yet another version that I reserve for lit fic and the long-neglected memoir. Now there's a mystery novel in the making and I'm considering a new handle for that too, but I've had it up to here with my multiple identities, not to mention the feeding and watering of various social media places that keep them all separate and tidy.

What say you? Should I just keep the ones I already have? Abandon all but my 'real' name? Let one of the existing names do double duty for the mystery? Or should I put on my big girl shorts and add yet another identity to the mix? This thing is driving me bananas and I'm tempted to wipe the slate and just go by The Writer Formerly Known As...