So you can read my books

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Several readers have emailed me asking how to make the locale a character in their novels. I am hardly an authority, having published no novels. I did teach a class in creative writing when I was a high school teacher.

Still, if I were wise, why am I still not published, right? But what I do know I am more than willing to share. And what I know might just be so.

Just take what seems reasonable to you and leave the rest to the winds.

As for FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, I worked on the streets of New Orleans for a time so the images, smells, and despair were fresh in my mind. Which was a help and a hindrance. What one written detail brought into focus for me would not be in the memories of most of my readers.

I had to enter the blank slate of the reader's mind. Evoke in him/her an archetypal detail of touch, taste, and sight that would paint a landscape of the mind. Every reading experience is a collaboration between reader and author in that way. No two readers will take away the same mental images from the same author's words because each reader has his own distinct treasure-trove of memories and beliefs.

Still every author must bring his readers into the "now" of the novel's locale. Not just by sight but by smell and by touch -- and even more important by the emotions evoked by each of those details. Go from the universal to the specific with words. Meld detail with the characters' emotions.

As I wrote yesterday, in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE I used actual quotes of politicians at the time of Katrina to ground the reader in the reality of the hurricane's aftermath, slowly melding the fantasy aspects so that the fantastic became more acceptable. And at the same time, I used specific sensory details, blending them in with the main character's emotions to give the locale a personality of its own. I showed you a bit of chapter four yesterday. Today, I will highlight how I tried to make New Orleans come alive by showing you a bit of chapter five :



“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans.
We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
- Rep. Richard Baker to lobbyists.
{as quoted in The Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2005.}

An odd feeling came over me as I looked at the crowd in front of the Convention Center. For a fleeting moment, I saw the overgrown square of trees and brush it once had been. I remembered when I had been young, when every moment had been crisp and fresh, where happiness and heartache had quickly changed positions, and life was full of hope and promise. Now, things were crowded, ugly, and the only hope was for a good death.

What had Elu once told me? "When you were born, you cried and those around you rejoiced. Live your life, Dyami, so that when you die, those around you will cry, and you will rejoice."

I put my Ranger face on. The one that told onlookers that their deaths would make my life easier. And judging from some of the sullen, angry faces in front of me, sadly, that was probably true. It was a harsh look, but if it saved me from killing then it was a pretense I was willing to fake.

Most of those sitting, standing, and laying in front of the center were just scared and filled with uncertainty and dread. But those things quickly turned crowds into mobs. The water was only ankle-deep by the time I got to the front walk. But the shit I was about to walk into was much deeper.

I looked into their hollow eyes. Like most folks in this day and age, they had gone about their lives, quietly trying to swallow the fear that their lives had somehow gotten out of control and things were falling apart. Now, their worst nightmare had come to life before their eyes. Their predictable world had crumbled before their eyes. Their next meal was no longer certain, much less their safety. What did Al Einstein tell me during that last chess game?

"The true tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he still lives."

Then, I heard the squalling.

I made a face. As I have stated before, I am not a nice man. For one thing, I hate screaming babies. The more of them I hear, the more I want to lash out and hit something. Maybe it was because I never had one of my own. Maybe it was my sensitive hearing. Or maybe it came from me being a man. Men just naturally want to fix whatever they see that is broken. And I couldn’t do that with a squalling baby. Most folks get downright cranky when you snatch their howling baby to see what is broken with the damn thing.

And there were a lot of babies crying as I stepped onto the water-covered sidewalk. I frowned, and those closest to me cringed. I have that effect on a lot of folks. Go figure.

My better self urged compassion. I found it odd that there was a me that I couldn't see, that walked beside me and commented on my thoughts, urging kindness when I would be cruel. I snorted. I was too old to go crazy. Hell, at my age I should already be there.


Hope I helped a bit. Writing is an adventure. How do you make a mystery new when people have read so many whodunit's? How do you make the heart of the reader quicken at your romance when she has read so many of them? The same for fantasy. How do you conjure up that childlike sense of wonder and awe the reader had when he/she read their first fantasy?

As with locale, you make the tale your own. No one else has your take on life and wonder and death and darkness. Only you. Don't play it safe. Dare to be different, to be non-marketable. Vampire tales were old hat before Stephanie Myers tilted the vampire story on its ear with TWILIGHT. Believe in your story. Believe in your heart that murmured that this was a tale to haunt the night.

And talking about haunting the night, here is the music video I promised Donna from NIGHTWISH with scenes from LORD OF THE RINGS. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard and saw it, Roland


  1. Thanks Roland for calling me over here. I enjoyed reading this post, and the music was wonderful, very haunting. I saw Lord of the Rings on DVD. I wish I had seen them all at the movies.
    You have a great blog! I love the main picture. Her eyes are beautiful.

  2. I love Nightwish! And thanks for dropping by my blog. I'm now following yours as well.
    And you are right, everyone has their own store of memories. I can only hope I am writing something that will maybe not turn the fantasy world on its ear, but give it a good kick in the rear. ;)

  3. Thanks for your comments on my blog and for following. Love your words here. Keep up the writing :)

  4. I like making the location part of the story. I want the smells, tastes, look, and atmosphere to shine through in my manuscripts. New Orleans is a unique place, and probably fun to write about if you know it well.

  5. I think a story should feel like if it were moved--the same characters--to a different location, then the plot would change. If it doesn't feel like that, then the setting is too generic and the atmosphere and mood of the story too washed out.

    Great info on making the locale a character--that's exactly what it should feel like: like a character integral to the story.

    Nice excerpt, by the way. Very passionate and moving.

  6. Great post. I like to incoporate the feel and smell of a place if I can.

    Enjoyed the clip and the haunting music.

  7. You reminded me of when I was in high school and we finished reading Huck Finn. We had to choose a main character as the subject of an essay, and the river was one of our choices. Even then I loved the idea of the river as a main character.

    "Not just by sight but by smell and by touch -- and even more important by the emotions evoked by each of those details." This is golden advice. I'm going to carry it away with me and hide it in my treasure box. :-)

    Thanks, Roland

  8. You put it quite perfectly. It does become a collaboration between reader and writer. :)
    I like to give my drafts to people who have been to locations I'm talking about because each person takes something different away from it.
    A relative was recently a bit ruffled with me because I wrote about New York in terms of how badly it smelled. ;) She thought this was sterotypical...but I had to explain to her that when I visited the city the scent was what struck me hardest. Instead of changing that part of the story, just asked her what her impression of the city was so I could add onto my description. :)

  9. I work hard to make sure my settings fit with the story. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. But I always give it my best. I've never thought of location as a character... that's an interesting concept. It's almost like how some TV shows use music as a disembodied character.

  10. "The true tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he still lives." Perfectly put. Simply perfect.

    It is an enigma to me, why you are not published.

    The Lord of the Rings clip was wonderful :)

  11. Great post, I loved the movement, I could feel the strength in your work, very inspiring!!!

  12. I like to have a strong feel for the setting while I read, whether it's a nondescript town or a busy city. And as for my writing, I hope I'm rendering an authentic flavor to the cities I write about.

  13. You have a lovely blog. I really took a lot from this post -- and know that I need to incorporate more detail about the locale in my own writing. It's one thing to be able to write beautifully about a place. It's quite another skill to make it feel important that the story be told right there for a specific and well-designed reason.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  14. Hi Roland - I left something for you at my blog. :)

  15. Hi Roland, thanks for connecting with me. I see some familiar names and faces in your comments. I like the addition of music if we want to click it on. I also want to add that cool moon phases gadget to my blog. I'm in love with the moon. My little guys also talk about when's the next full moon.

    Interesting stories about NO. Write on! Great quotes on friendship, too!

  16. "Most folks get downright cranky when you snatch their howling baby to see what is broken with the damn thing."

    I lol'd at that. It sounds like something I'd say.

  17. You guys never let me down. Thanks for leaving your always welcome comments :

    Niki : I loved THE LORD OF THE RINGS, too. And yes, aren't her eyes striking?

    Mel : I am so glad you like NIGHTWISH. Not many around here know about them. Thanks for visiting.

    Tabitha : I'm glad you enjoyed reading my work.

    Theresa : The New Orleans I struggled to survive in wasn't exactly fun but it was colorful. Don't be a stranger around here.

    Carol : You're always a welcome presence here as are your comments. Thank you for your insightful praise.

    Ann : I'm glad you liked my writing, video, and haunting music.

    Shannon : Your words about my stab at teaching locale writing are deeply appreciated. Please come visit again.

    Emily : We must write what we feel is true of our hearts and experiences. Your words meant a great deal to me.

    E. Elle : Your words made me think of how the music of MIAMI VICE became a virtual character in the popular show.

    Wendy : Thanks for the great praise. If you would like me to help with your query letter just let me know, all right?

    Jen : Your words were like a balm to my flagging spirits. Thanks.

    Medeia : I have no doubt from reading your blog that you are lending a strong, authentic voice to your locales.

    Amber : I'm glad you got something positive to take away from my blog. Come back, now.

    Susan : Thanks for the award. Even more thanks for visiting and caring enough to comment.

    Mary : Isn't it nice to see friends' faces when you go to other blogs? Yes, I didn't want to intrude my music into your ears unless you wanted to hear it. I was so happy to find that moon gadget in the blogverse. Come back please.

    Christi : You and Sam would hit off and become great friends -- I know it.

  18. Roland you are a very emotive writer. Have no fear that you haven’t imparted all that you experienced in these writings. The depth of your passion is clear, and you imagery vivid enough to place me right there, in the scene, feeling wet and cold and desolate.

    And your quotes fulfill their purpose exactly for me. In my head I know this was real event in our era; but I get so drawn into Sam and his emotions I am utterly transported to another reality. I like the “grounding” of the quotes.

    “Live your life, Dyami, so that when you die, those around you will cry, and you will rejoice." Powerful; shows in no uncertain terms the responsibility placed on McCord. And is revealing of his character that he tries to live up to this.

    “But the shit I was about to walk into was much deeper.” Excellent line.

    "The true tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he still lives." This was an insightful line; one I think speaks to the essence of your story; the true message you are hoping to impart.

    An excellent choice for showing character building, and displaying the technique of putting your character firmly in a locale. McCord blends in so well it is believable that he was actually there, at the event that inspired the novel. Well done, sir Roland.

    I also liked that this scene is showing a different aspect of your MC. His darker side. We’ve seen a lot of compassion and angst, but this scene shows he is not just a very old human who has seen a lot of life. It is a first glimpse (at least for your blog readership) at what makes his “otherness” stand out in very real terms.

    As for the music: Epic. And that phrase: “All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you” has always stayed with me, inspired me to do better in my day job. It’s all I can do. But it also works for my writing as well.

    As you say, the genres are not unique; but the voice the story told in and the author’s vision is. Your vision and voice are inspiring.