Friday, 14 May 2010
Behind the Scenes in Tabor Heights, Ohio
Or should we say, the "back streets" of Tabor Heights, Ohio?
By Michelle Levigne
Is it fun, writing in the fictional town of Tabor Heights, Ohio, revisiting old friends and locations, seeing what else is happening in the lives of people we've met in other books?
Well, I guess that depends on your idea of "fun." Kind of like the ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
Being relatively intelligent, I submitted the most polished Tabor Heights novels to Desert Breeze first. The ones I had revised and edited and tweaked, multiple times. Right now there are five titles: The Second Times Around, Common Grounds, Seasons (A Tabor Heights anthology), The Family Way, and A Quiet Place.
That doesn't necessarily mean they're in chronological order – as those of you who've read them can testify! That's why days and dates are inserted throughout all the books: to help you keep track of who is where and when.
With the 6th Tabor Heights novel, my August 2010 release, Detours, we've come to a turning point in the series. And the awful realization that I've written myself into the proverbial corner!
The next four contracted titles – Detours, Behind the Scenes, Firesong, and Forgiven – are pretty much in first draft stage. Meaning these puppies need a lot of work. When I wrote the first drafts, I didn't pay much attention to what else was going on in town. For instance, when Behind the Scenes starts, Tony Martin is out of town. But in reading through the four books to prepare for the massive task of revisions and coordination … dang, but Tony shows up at a store and working at a daycare when he should be in California! This is contemporary, inspirational romance, folks, not science fiction. And no, he doesn't have a semi-evil twin who shows up to play games with people's minds.
Fortunately, I figured out a long time ago that if I'm writing overlapping stories set in one place, where characters "go visiting" from one book to another … I need a way to keep track of my cast of thousands. I have two important tools. The first is a map of the town, so I keep consistent with the names of streets and where people live, and where the various shops and municipal buildings are.
The second tool is a calendar system. I have a graphics program that I use for various promotional items like designing business cards or stickers or postcards …. And calendars!
When I was still in the embryonic stage with Tabor Heights, I printed out a month at a time and used a color-coding system for each book. That worked out fine until I had events happening in three books on the same day, there was no way I could fit notes for each book's key event into those little 2" x 1.5" blocks.
Now I have a ring binder with a week at a time printed out on the pages, and I have plenty of room to write the events of each book on each day.
Pretty spiffy, huh? Yeah, it works great if I REMEMBER to write down what happens in the book!
Now we come to the problem I mentioned earlier – writing myself into a corner. In The Second Time Around, the Randolphs were in an auto accident, and students at the university pitched in to help produce Taming of the Shrew on schedule. Bekka, our heroine in Detours, and her roommates, Kat and Amy pitch in to help because they're Joel Randolph's theater students.
Problem! Opening night is April 29. But several nights later, Lynette, the heroine of The Second Time Around, is in the girls' apartment, helping them make curtains. The girls can't be working behind stage at the theater if a published book already says they're home that night, fighting with an antique sewing machine. Plus, Shane, the hero of Detours, is also a theater student, and I have him working the lighting booth on opening night. There's no way he can take Bekka out on their first date on Saturday if he's working the play. And I can't just change the sequence of events because Bekka talks about the events leading up to their date in The Second Time Around.
How do I fix this problem? (Cue: Evil laughter) You'll just have to read the book, won't you?
Fortunately, thanks to my calendar system, I KNOW there's a conflict to write my way out of. Otherwise, I might not realize there's a problem that can't be speedily fixed with the evil-twin-visitor-from-a-parallel-dimension-cloning-machine-run-amock ploy that I might have used in another book.
Yeah, the calendar's a pain, but it's on the order of necessary surgery. It keeps me from embarrassing situations where a reader says, "You had Bekka working as the director's assistant in Detours, but in The Second Time Around she was sorting costumes and props in her apartment on the same night. What gives?"
And in the final analysis, the most important thing is not to hack off or confuse the reader. Right?
So if you have a series, especially a series where books overlap, keeping things organized is essential. (And it's handy to have a big supply of dark chocolate on hand to handle stress, and a backup box of hair dye to handle the evidence of that stress!)
Check out Detours in August, and Behind the Scenes in November, to see how I worked out these problems!
A Quiet Place can be found at the Desert Breeze Website, Link Above,
All eRomance Books
and Amazon for Kindle