Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: Chapters Fourteen through Sixteen

It's time for more Once Upon Stilettos commentary, today with chapters 14, 15, and 16.

This is where Katie's lack of magical immunity starts to get more intense, and it plays into her impostor syndrome. She'd always felt a little out of place in a magical company, and now she's lost the one thing that gave her a reason to be there. In this section of the book, I tried to parallel incidents from the first book where she used her immunity to show how not having it was affecting her. First, we get the meeting where she's supposed to let them know if the other person is using magical tricks. She manages to get through it by relying on her people skills and common sense, which have actually been her best assets all along. I'd imagine that having magical powers might stunt someone's personal development. If you can get what you want with a wave of your hand, you don't need to build a lot of other skills, and that's why Katie's common sense sets her apart from other people at her company.

But she does want to get back to "normal," so she starts taking action by trying to look up her condition in one of Owen's books. The bit about her frustration at not finding the information she needed or finding way too much being like looking up the common cold in a medical journal is based on something I experienced once. My first job out of college was at a medical school, and the library was just downstairs from my office. I was working on a book, and it involved one of the characters getting knocked out. I knew that the way concussions and head injuries are treated in fiction isn't generally realistic, so I decided to go to the medical library after work one day to look it up in actual medical books. I never did find anything as straightforward as "here are the symptoms to look for and here's what to do about it." I couldn't even find anything on whether the advice to keep a person awake was on target or not. There was a lot of stuff on physiological changes and what to look for on scans, but nothing that was useful for someone who wasn't at a hospital. I've actually thought about teaming up with a doctor to write a "medicine for writers" book because even the one I've got isn't very useful and is about the treatment someone with that injury would get at a hospital. What I'm more likely to need is how someone's condition would progress until they got some kind of treatment, since it's no fun to injure a character and then call an ambulance right away. They're more likely to be trapped somewhere or in a time period before ambulances existed.

But I digress … The next part of the book, the big girls' night out (another parallel to the first book) required subtly showing the effects of the red shoes plus the loss of immunity in a way that I hoped wouldn't be screamingly obvious. Reading it now, more than a decade after I wrote it, I'm actually rather impressed at the way the tension built throughout the evening until Katie found herself face to face with Idris, and realized that he knew about her immunity.

Then for a contrast to the night out that was so not Katie's thing, there's the shopping trip with Owen. I did a fair amount of research on jewelry to come up with what she'd recommend for his foster mother, and then I had to rely on help from a friend in New York when I realized that the rare books portion of the Strand is in a different location, where I'd never been. An online friend went there to tell me how you get in and how it looks. She did a great job describing it because I went there myself while I was doing revisions on the book and didn't have to change anything based on what I saw.

When we find the camera in Owen's office, it's obvious that the book was written in 2004-2005 and set in 2005 because it's wired. WiFi and Bluetooth existed then, but weren't quite as common as they are now. I doubt anyone would plant a hard-wired spycam these days.

I recall not being quite sure I should have had Katie figure out who the spy was so early in the book, but I decided that the rest of the book could be about her finding evidence and trying to stop the spy, and if she hadn't figured it out by this point, she'd look pretty foolish. I like that she figured it out while her immunity was out, before that got fixed. It was important that she be able to do this as herself, with nothing to do with magic playing into it.

Up next is one of my favorite scenes I've ever written as we get closer to the end of the book.

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