Thursday, July 14, 2016

Rereading Damsel Under Stress: Chapters 8-10

It's Book Day Plus 2, and the new book seems to be pretty well-received. Whew! I'm always nervous about that. I work in a fairly isolated bubble, and then suddenly hundreds of people are reading something that was pretty personal to me up to that point.

But enough of the new book. Now, back to an old one, with chapters 8-10 of Damsel Under Stress.

We start with Katie and Owen arriving at his foster parents' house in his hometown. Before I wrote this book, I had a very particular image in mind of the kind of town I thought he was from, which was possibly informed by some small Connecticut towns I'd seen when I was on a business trip visiting a client, and the co-worker I was traveling with and I did a bit of sightseeing after the meetings ended (one of those occasions when we were assumed to be on a date when we went to dinner). When I visited New York to do my location research, I decided I needed to get out of the city and visit one of these towns. I got a map and the railway schedule and ended up picking a town called Irvington to visit, mostly because it looked small enough to fit what I had in mind, had a train station, and wouldn't be too long a train trip. Also, I live in Irving, Texas, so I felt like it was kind of a sister city (there's some debate as to whether Irving really is named after Washington Irving, but the Irving library has decided that it was and has run with it. Irvington is definitely named after him, as that's where his house is). For even more of an Irving connection, my mental location for Owen's house is near Irving Place in New York. So there's a definite Irving thing going on with a tribute to my hometown (I didn't grow up here, but I've lived here my entire adult life, which should count for something).

And boy, was I glad I made the site visit because it was nothing like what I imagined. It was possibly better for my story than what I had in mind, but my mental image was all wrong and needed to be corrected. I didn't describe too much, but I need to see what I'm writing about clearly. I'd pictured something more Colonial, but this town was very Victorian, kind of Dickensian. It was December, so they had the Christmas decorations out, and it had snowed the night before, so it was just perfect.

I struggled with how to write Owen's foster parents. That part of his backstory was some of the explanation for his shyness. For reasons that become apparent later in the series, they were worried about his power, so they were concerned with keeping him from getting too full of himself, and they may have overcorrected. The way Owen has talked about them, they sound very cold and intimidating, but once Katie seems them for herself, I wanted to show that there was a lot of love and concern underlying it all, that these were people given a very difficult task in very difficult circumstances and were doing the best they knew how to do. They may not have been totally right, and there may have been some pain caused, but he did turn out okay, so maybe they were right, in the long run.

For the melee at the post-church fellowship, I had some fun with taking a real situation and amping it up to about 13 on a scale of 1-10 by using magic. In just about any small town, if a local boy made good comes home and is still technically single (a new girlfriend doesn't count), the mothers of daughters will get really competitive to try to reel him in. It's just usually more polite than an all-out brawl, though what I've depicted is probably what's happening in people's minds. These things can also get pretty competitive in who baked what and whose is best (speaking as the reigning champion baker at my church, with the blue ribbon to prove it).

I will admit that the brownie cleaning the house at night is a bit of wishful thinking from folklore. I'd dearly love to wake up in the morning with a clean house.

When I was trying to figure out how Owen and Katie were going to get back to the city in an emergency, I used the technique of making a list of at least 20 things, and I tried all kinds of ideas. I thought borrowing the parents' car was probably the least interesting. I'd already used flying carpets. I considered making a pumpkin coach. I ended up coming back around to a car, but with crazy gargoyle drivers. I'm still not sure where that came from, though I guess the tag-team driving method is the ultimate backseat driver. Rocky and Rollo sprang fully formed into my brain, complete with names and their boastful chant. Their voices were utterly vivid to me.  I had so much fun writing their scenes.

Then we get to see why, exactly, people were a little nervous about Owen when we see him able to momentarily freeze time in Times Square. It's a show of raw power, and we get the idea that if this guy had gone bad, everyone would have been in a lot of trouble.

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