Supernatural Chat with Crusie and Rich

This is the second in a series of Three Goddess Chats, brought to you by Krissie (aka Anne Stuart and Kristina Douglas), Lucy (Lucy March aka Lani Diane Rich), and Jenny (Jenny Crusie), who meet in a chat-room called ThreeGoddesses to talk about everything. Krissie has been writing supernatural romances for a long time, and now as Kristina Douglas she’s started a new series about fallen angels, The Fallen (Raziel, Demon, and Warrior, out in April 2012). Jenny came to the supernatural late with The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes (written with Krissie and Eileen Dreyer) and Dogs and Goddesses (written with Krissie and Lucy) and Wild Ride (written with Bob Mayer). Lucy’s newest book is also a supernatural romance: A Little Night Magic, in stores on January 31. This time, we got together in our Three Goddesses chat room to talk about what we’ve learned writing the things that go bump in the night. The chat has been heavily edited to cut out excursions into TV criticism, moaning about the business, and a short argument we had about French Kiss, but otherwise, this is what we said:

[Lucy and Jenny got to the chat first, so we started without Krissie]

Jenny:. So, Lucy March, what made you decide to write supernatural in A Little Night Magic?

Lucy: I wanted to stretch out, work in that fantasy space. I felt like I was treading the same water writing what I was writing. I wanted to write a first person series, with Liv as the protagonist, do some long form storytelling, but that's not what the publisher wanted. So, I caved, because they said, “We’ll pay you,” and at heart, I’m a whore. Eventually, I want to do a long form first person series, though.

Jenny: I like what's happening with your series, though. I LOVE Stacy Easter. [Note to readers: Stacy is a supporting character in A Little Night Magic which is Liv’s book, but she gets her own story in the book Lucy’s writing now.]

Lucy: Stacy's great. I don't have the hero down so well, but Stacy's very fun. It all comes down to character, no matter what you're writing, though. Magic, werewolves, vampires, ghosts. In the end, it's the same dance. Character, character, character.

Jenny: I agree. But still, the supernatural is vastly different from the ordinary world, which I really like. I felt like I should put a post-it on the computer that said, "Swing Wide" because I was getting trapped in my own inch of Ohio ivory. The supernatural conflict seems so much juicier to me right now.

Lucy: Well, the conflict is in that elevated space. You get to work with metaphor and heightened circumstances, and it's really fun.

Jenny: It's hard to get good juicy conflict in modern romance story-telling. You can do it, but you have to work at it. Ghosts, that's good conflict. Demons were good, too. I miss the demons.

Lucy: There's lots of great stuff to be found in the paranormal. You get into metaphor and mythology, and it's rich psychologically.

Jenny: Great metaphors, but they have to work as character, too, as you said. So what's the hardest thing about writing the supernatural for you?

Lucy: I think figuring out the rules. I'm not sure I did a great job of explaining that in A Little Night Magic because I hate explaining things. So, for a writer who hates explaining, I think it can be a challenge.

Jenny: I don't think you should explain. I think you show the reader the world and let her figure it out. Otherwise it's there's-gonna-be-a-quiz exposition. I think it's like talking to kids about sex. They really don't want to know everything, they just want to know enough to get them through whatever made the question arise. Explaining the whole mythology is just tedious for a reader.

Lucy: Yes, which I hate. But it's a tough line to ride. You want to give the reader a solid base to stand on, but I HATE those scenes where they sit and 'splain.

[Krissie enters the chat room]

Jenny: KRISSIE!

Lucy: KRISSIE! Yay!

Kristina: Jesus!

Jenny: No, just Jenny and Lucy.

Lucy: But we're close.

Kristina: lemme catch up. Keep tlaking

Jenny: No problem, I'm good at tlaking. Sometimes I tlak for hours.

Lucy: It's good for the soul.

Jenny: Which reminds me, I got you both vibrators for Christmas.

Lucy: LOL! What a segue!

Jenny: For your necks. Neck strain from typing. Really. I don't think they'd work other places.

Lucy:. Heh heh heh...

Jenny: Seriously. Where were we? Right, the supernatural.

Lucy: Yes, the explaining of the supernatural.

Jenny: So I'm against explaining. It's one of the reasons I like a protagonist who doesn't know what's going on. Because she's going to ask the questions the readers have.

Lucy: Yeah, but then you still have those hell scenes where she sits down and someone tells her what's going on. I did my best to make it a part of the story, but I found it challenging.

Jenny: Yes, but nobody wanted to tell Andie in Maybe This Time anything, she had to dig for it. Conflict scenes.

Lucy: What do you think is the hardest part of writing supernatural?

Jenny: Oh, I'm with you: working out the rules. I had a reviewer on Amazon bitch at me for making up my own ghost rules. Evidently there's a set of ghost rules already in place. Which is odd because I researched that and that's where I got my rules.

Kristina: I think that is the hardest part of writing paranormal. 'Splaining the rules without info dump.

Jenny: May told Andie things, but she only gave her part of the rules. Alice gave her some, but Alice was 8. I think. Andie had to dig and discover for herself. Oh, wait, I did do some explanation: there was that scene where Dennis told Andie the six kinds of ghosts. But I think that was an interaction not infodump because Andie was arguing with him. I figure if there's a different inexperienced protagonist in each book, the reader can learn along with her.

Lucy: I didn't feel like there were hell scenes in MTT. You did a good job with that. You can make the explanation part of the story, but you have to work at that. I tried in A Little Night Magic, but I didn't want to bog things down, and I may have erred on the side of "let 'em figure it out for themselves."

Kristina: It's even worse in a series. Because you have to do it every fucking time for people who haven't read earlier books, and you have to keep in mind what you said in the earlier books -- the rules you make. For instance, in WARRIOR, which comes out in April, my hero lies to the heroine. He’s the Archangel Michael, but I get to make up my own rules, and he lies to her. Unfortunately I set up in an earlier book that the Fallen Angels who make up the world can’t easily lie. Can you imagine writing an entire book with an honest hero? Fortunately I skimmed back and I didn’t come right out and say they can’t lie. One of the earlier heroes says he can’t, but of course he was lying.

Jenny: Krissie, was that the hardest part about writing the supernatural for you? I know you've done supernatural before.

Lucy:You've written everything, baby.

Kristina: Remembering world building. (I had ghosts in Night of the Phantom and time travel and selkies in series romances). It's the rules.

Jenny: Rules?

Kristina: Not tough designing the world, tough remembering. Making things consistent. You know, can you go out in sunlight, whose blood can you drink, where do the wings go, etc.

Jenny: That's one of my fears with the Liz series (not supernatural): what if I get to the fourth book and something I said in the first book boxes me in?

Kristina: You can't make one rule and then break it later on because the plot calls for it. You get trapped. I tried to write a bible but lost it in my office.

Lucy: People do wikis; little cross-referencing wikipedias that keep everything straight. I haven't figured out how to do that, but with a series, it seems like a good idea. A story bible.

Kristina: Yup, that's what I need.

Jenny: Ooooh, good, something else I can do instead of writing. I'm there.

Kristina: How do they organize it?

Lucy: You know how in Wikipedia, if one article mentions something else that's in Wikipedia, it links? It's like that. I don't know; I've tried a couple of times but never been able to wrap my mind around it.

Jenny: So we need a wiki for the fairy tale book we’re going to do together. Cool.

Lucy: Yes, that would be great. I think Alastair understands them; maybe he can explain to us.

Jenny: I'm only going to do three ghost books, so I don't need a wiki. I think. Maybe This Time, You Again, and Haunting Alice. But I could use a wiki for the Liz books.

Kristina: What I love about writing supernatural is that you can write anything you damned please. The sky's the limit. You're always tapping into fairytales, even if it's not as obvious as Grimm, etc.

Jenny: That scares me. I like limits. That's why I liked using Henry James's ghosts. I like riffing off of what's gone before.

Lucy: I love the richness of it; the layers that the paranormal gives you.

Kristina: And it sort of brings you back to literal campfires from the beginning of man all the way to Girl Scouts and telling stories.

Jenny: Which is what all storytelling is, really.

Kristina: I love limits, because you can go wild within those limits. It's why I write genre. Cracks me up that someone on Amazon said "no, that's not what real ghosts do."

Jenny: Everybody's a critic. And I researched it I read half a dozen books and had dinner with Katherine Ramsland. I'd have had dinner with Katherine anyway, I like her, but we talked ghosts the whole time. She's the Court TV ghost expert. She's on television. Jeez.

Lucy: Well, yeah, but it's GHOSTS. No one knows how ghosts work. They're ghosts. Not microwaves.

Jenny: I don't know how microwaves work.

Kristina: I don't want to know how microwaves work.

Lucy:. Yes, but SOMEONE does. And if you wrote how microwaves worked and were wrong, someone could call you on it.

Jenny: I'm good with microwaves being part of the supernatural. Explains that damn demon potato that almost burned the house down.

Lucy: There's no scientific consensus on ghosts, and it's fiction, so no one can tell you you're wrong, unless they're crazy, in which case... whatever.

Kristina: Here's a question. Why do you think people are so into paranormal/supernatural right now? There's a real hunger for it.

Lucy:I think it's because paranormal accesses a part of human psychology that you can't get into as easily in a realistic setting. Plus, super-powerful sex gods who want YOU. That, too.

Kristina: But why do readers want it now?

Jenny: I called this twenty years ago. It's the same reaction to an age of science and reason that happened at the end of the nineteenth. Romanticism as a reaction to the Enlightenment. Paranormal as a reaction to the computer age.

Lucy: I can see that, definitely.

Jenny: I was an academic then. I thought like that. But it's true: literature goes in cycles.

Lucy: The more scientific we get in our approach to the world, the more we crave something that speaks to the ethereal.

Jenny: Yep. When all the mysteries are solved we look for new mysteries.

Kristina: I think you've got a point. But I think it's something more visceral as well. I think it's a reaction to how overwhelming life is. How big. A lot of which comes from the internet, etc.

Jenny: The thing that goes bump in the night? Yeah. I think the thing that goes bump is always there. Horror fiction is always there. It's the popularity that shifts.

Lucy: But that balance makes sense. When the worldview gets too focused in one area, our ideals in fiction reach for the opposite.

Jenny: That and we want epic heroes.

Kristina: And life is hard. And not fair. If life is hard and not fair then changing the rules i.e. supernatural stuff gives us hope.

Lucy: Something to believe in.

Jenny: What we really need is intelligent congress-people, but what we want in our fiction is Indiana Jones facing down the Nazis and capturing the Ark. Plus there really are some things out there that we can’t explain.

Lucy: Well, fiction in all its forms, paranormal or not, has that element of restoring justice to the world.

Kristina: Intelligent congress-people is speculative fiction.

Jenny: Depends on the fiction, but the kind of fiction I like does that. I just meant that what we really need does not make for great storytelling, it’s what we want that has the juice.

Lucy: Real life is frustrating. The bad guys win and the good guys lose; fiction fixes that for us. Paranormal fiction fixes that in a big way.

Jenny: Although I lie: The West Wing was excellent. My point was that larger-than-life villains—Spike, the Mayor, Voldemort--make for larger-than-life heroes. One of the reasons I loved doing The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes was Xan. She chewed the scenery, but she could do that because she was larger than the scenery.

Kristina: Yup.

Lucy: I think the appeal of paranormal is cyclical, like the appeal of every genre, but I also think there's something bigger underneath. I think we feel the pull that the readers feel; the need to tell those big stories as well as read them. In the end, we're readers, too, and we tell the stories we want to read, but can't find.

Jenny: Right, we didn't decide to write the supernatural because it was popular, we did it because we were drawn to it. Or somebody else drew us to it. We all came to it in different ways for different reasons.

Kristina: Yup.

Jenny: I started when Krissie and Eileen and I did The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes. It wasn’t a natural for me. I actually had to go back and put in the supernatural stuff. I had to keep telling myself, "She's a witch. She's going to do things differently." Same with the goddesses when we did Dogs and Goddesses. I could never remember what Shar's power was. Actually, I don't remember now. Oh, finishing things because she was the Mesopotamian Atropos. That was a fun power. Wish I had it.

Kristina: I think I started waaay back just throwing in stuff because the book called for it. Not centering the book around the supernatural, but bringing some in.

Jenny: What was your first supernatural book?

Kristina: I think Night of the Phantom. The hero's father was a ghost. At least, I think it was his father.

Lucy: I started by working magical realism into the books; the kinds of things that, in the end, the reader could choose to believe was psychic or magical or fate, but another reader seeing things a different way could see it as coincidence, and still the story would work in both worlds. Then I just decided to cross into real paranormal.

Jenny: Oh, I love magical realism. I tried to put it into Bet Me, but Jen had me take most of it out. She was right; I went too far and it unbalanced the book. But it was fun.

Lucy: Well, you had that lovely sense of Fate in Bet Me. I thought it was magical. Magical realism is really fun, but it's hard to ride that line.

Jenny: Fate was the antagonist in Bet Me. That was fun.

Kristina: I love magical realism as well. I actually read 100 Years of Solitude when it came out, loong ago. Probably had an influence.

Jenny:Like Water for Chocolate had a big influence on Bet Me. Especially the middle drafts. So writing the supernatural felt natural for both of you?

Kristina: I only write what feels natural. I'm a very instinctive writer.

Lucy: It was a natural move for me. I've always been fascinated with the spiritual/magical side of life. I think there are lots of things out there we can't quite explain, and I find that really interesting.

Jenny: The first three times I wrote the supernatural, it didn't feel natural but I was either collaborating or copying Henry James so I didn't have any choice. Which was good.

Lucy: I love the role of belief in magic.

Jenny: I love the role of belief, period.

Kristina: yup

Jenny: That whole if-you-build-it-they-will-come thing. Jump and the net will be there.

Lucy: Absolutely.

Jenny: That's so important in romance. You can't be safe, you just have to fling yourself into it.

Kristina: Absolutely. Which is why writers who play it safe make me crazy.

Jenny: None of my heroines ever want to fling themselves anywhere.

Kristina: No, of course, they don't. If they did there wouldn't be tension.

Jenny: Well, they're all such control freaks. Playing it safe in fiction is the worst thing you can do.

Kristina: It's a mortal sin.

Jenny: So here's a question about writing the supernatural: You have to let people know up front that the book is supernatural even if the protagonist doesn't know it. That's tough. I ended up having North tell Andie that the last nanny said the house was haunted. That was at least a hint, even if the reader thinks the last nanny was an idiot.

Kristina:Sunshine was interesting that way. You get the first chapter before you realize this is an alternative universe.

Jenny:You Again is the same way. Rose invites a medium to stay and she arrives in the first scene, but the ghost doesn’t show up for awhile. I'm hoping that's going to be enough of a clue. Of course, when anybody's who's read MTT sees Isolde and Alice, that's going to be a tip-off, but I can't assume that's all readers. So how did you guys do it?

Kristina: In general I think I tend to have an ordinary woman suddenly noticing extraordinary circumstances. Sort of a play on the Hitchcock thing, of an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. My heroines are just living their own lives when they realize that person was a ghost. Or that she's dead.

Jenny: I love that. "Oh, my god, I'm dead." That's a hook. It has to be in the first scene, right?

Kristina: Depends on how central the magic is. If it's just a touch of magic then it doesn't have to show up right away. I like hints and then suddenly, oh, my god, vampires are real kind of thing.

Lucy: I think you need to set up the promise of the book in the first scene; it's tough to suddenly pull someone into an alternate universe without even a clue. In A Little Night Magic, Davina tells Liv in the first scene: "You're magic." Liv doesn't believe it, but it's right there, and you know something's up.

Jenny: I agree. The reader has to know right off that bat that there's something hinky going on.

Kristina: Plus, the title. That's kind of a hint

Jenny: You could read "A Little Night Magic" as sexual. And I'm amazed that you didn't, Krissie.

Lucy: LOL, I hadn't really thought of it as sexual. I was just playing off A Little Night Music. ;)

Jenny: So I'm the slut in the trio now?

Kristina: Yeah, I was thinking of A Little Night Music, too. You slut.

Lucy: Well, I didn't want to say anything, but you're the one buying everyone vibrators for Christmas...

Kristina: I wrote a book where the heroine is terrified that the hero is a vampire. He's not, but she spends most of the book trying to catch him. Then he bites her. Great book.

Jenny: Instead of "And then he kissed me," it's "And then he bit me."

Kristina: Yup. It's a hoot. Or course then she gets royally porked.

Jenny: Porked?

Lucy: LOL, royally porked. Which book, Krissie?

Kristina:The Demon Count. I think that and its sequel will be out as an book in late February.

Lucy: I'm assuming you mean fucked?

Kristina: Yeah, don't you know the word porked?

Lucy: I don't think I've heard it used in that context before, but I figured it out.

Jenny: I got that part, it was the usage that threw me. Royally porked. I saw the King Pig from Angry Birds. I need some brain bleach.

Lucy: Some things can't be unseen.

Kristina: You know, I never could envision the beast with two backs.

Jenny: I'm sure I can find a picture somewhere. It's actually two people . . .

Kristina: Yeah, but one back is usually on the mattress. Unless they're sitting astride. But that's not common

Lucy: Or against the wall.

Jenny: Or up against the wall.

Kristina: Ah, yes. Or on the kitchen counter.

Jenny: We're supposed to be talking about the supernatural.

Kristina: I went through a big phase of kitchen counters.

Lucy: Unless they're in a pool...

Jenny:The Supernatural. Jesus.

Kristina: Pools. Yum

Jenny:THE SUPERNATURAL. It's like herding ducks.

Lucy: LOL, okay. THE SUPERNATURAL.

Jenny: Let’s regroup. We've talked about why we write supernatural, and the importance of tipping the reader off, and world building, right? Anything else about THE SUPERNATURAL?

Kristina: I'm loving my angels.. My brain is full of tangles of stories.

Jenny: My brain is full of people making smartass remarks to each other.

Kristina: With masses of sexual tension while they make smart ass remarks.

Jenny: Not so much since menopause. Now all they want to do is crafts.

Kristina: Plays are nothing but people talking to each other, basically. and plays that are comedies are people making smart ass comments. Nothing wrong with that.

Jenny: No, there has to be more. There has to be Stuff under it all.

Kristina: Shakespeare is people making smart ass comments (in some of them).

Lucy:. Dialogue is action. As long as they want something and they're using dialogue to try to get it, you're good.

Kristina: Of course. And you have stuff under it. Don't you think Shakespeare does?

Jenny: Shakespeare always has Stuff. Which brings me back to THE SUPERNATURAL. It's not enough just to have things that go bump in the night, there has to be Stuff underneath. Right?

Kristina: Yes. It has to speak to a basic human need/fear/something.

Lucy: Shakespeare wrote supernatural. How's that for keeping it on topic, Crusie? I'm here for you.

Jenny: You're fabulous, Lani. Good girl.

Kristina: Teacher's pet

Jenny: I love you, too, Krissie.

Kristina: sniff.

Lucy: Of course. Everyone loves Krissie.

Jenny: I think the way the characters react to the supernatural has to reveal something about who they are, too. And what they believe. Once you start messing around with reality, you'd better have a belief system in place.

Kristina: Beneath the supernatural it has to answer questions like life after death or why things are scary and how love is bigger than death.

Jenny: Right. You can't just say, "You know what's cool? Vampires," and run with that. I thought the Buffy and Angel series did that part well. These myths and legends have powers because they've been around so long. Attention must be paid to that.

Kristina: You betcha. Part of the great conscious/unconscious Joseph Campbell shit. They play out over and over again.

Lucy: Well, the myths and legends speak to something much deeper in human nature, and human psychology. You're tapping into something real and very powerful when you use those myths in the writing.

Jenny: I mean, vampires drink blood. That's not a socially acceptable thing to do. So they can go against their natures and hit the local Red Cross and drink from bottles, but it's not who they are. You can't slap a band aid on the vampire myth and say, "And now they're nice people.” It emasculates the myth. Neuters the myth? Although the vampire myth is pretty male.

Lucy: That's the whole point of writing vampires, to access that deeper mythology, and draw on that power for your story. So if you neuter the vampire--unless you're doing a Spike-style story about how it doesn't make him less dangerous in the end anyway--you take away the value of telling that story to begin with.

Kristina: Vampires take the life essence of the one they love. They suck it down, draining them, and the mythology is what do they give back? How does it make a bond and not a predator? Of course, I like predators.

Jenny: And mimes.

Kristina: Bitch. He was the villain, you know.

Jenny: Oh, I thought he was the hero. Never mind, carry on.

Lucy: Even Krissie can't make a hero out of a mime. The myth exists to talk about vampires metaphorically, not realistically. If you take away the danger, you take away the resonance.

Kristina: I explained a few years ago that I wrote emotional vampires. That my killer heroes were a kind of vampire.

Jenny:Absolutely on the emotional vampires. Metaphorical vampires. But if you're going to write the real thing, there's gonna be blood.

Kristina: It's like the glittery hoo-ha. Having the perfect blood. Did either of you see or read Twilight?

Jenny: I think I'm too old for Twilight.

Kristina: The whole point was it was "her" blood. He smelled it and couldn't resist. It was the perfect blood for him.

Jenny: Pheromones. Or however you spell that.

Kristina: I like stalker vampires.

Jenny: The stalker isn't romantic. Although John Cusack with that boombox was technically stalking. I like my vampires smart-mouthed and laid back. Which is why I don't write vampires. Whatever else you're gonna say about vampires, they're intense.

Kristina: When you say stalker, it throws everything into a nasty mode. I like predatory. Coming after you. Hot and gorgeous. Yum.

Jenny: Predatory isn't nasty?

Kristina: It is, but not if you tap into the myth part of it. Like the rape fantasy. You play around with it. Maybe because there's a real fear and if you turn it into a fantasy it takes the fear away? I don't know. I just know I like a lot of politically incorrect fantasies. It's part of a basic myth that works for me.

Jenny: Oh, right, the rape metaphor, being overwhelmed, ravished, so it's not your fault or responsibility. By George Clooney.

Kristina: Or Brad Pitt. Or Spike. Spike is predatory. Deliciously so. That kind of predatory.

Jenny: Yeah, he is. But he's also stalking the Slayer, not Willow.

Lucy: Well, stalking is in the eye of the beholder. In Twilight, she loved him, so it wasn't stalking to her - it was him being protective. Actually, stalking is in the eye of the stalked, I mean.

Kristina: Yup. Stalking definitely is in the eye of the stalked. If there's an icky feeling it won't work. And yes, stalking the Slayer, not Willow.

Jenny: I did that in Crazy For You. The hero and the bad guy did essentially the same thing; the difference was that she wanted the hero. That's another problem with the supernatural: it upsets the balance of power. You have to make a heroine who's really strong and smart because she's up against things who have powers she doesn't.

Kristina: She has to find her own powers. Create her own powers. To fight these larger than life powers.

Jenny: I mean, it makes for great antagonists, but your heroine can't just go all limp and be swept away. She has to fight as an equal, even if it takes her awhile to get there. She has to be Buffy-esque.

Kristina: Yes.

Lucy: She has to have power, it may not be the same power, but she has to be able to stand up to what she's around.

Jenny: I agree. I also may be babbling at this point. Is there anything else about the supernatural you guys wanted to talk about?

Kristina: Nope. I think I'll go back to sleep.

Jenny: LOL. Lani?

Lucy: I'm good. And Krissie needs sleep.

Kristina: Love you guys. Nighty-night!

Lucy:. Love you, too! Night!

Jenny: Thank you all for playing and good night!

Coming up in January in Three Goddess Chats: Brainstorming with Collage and Soundtracks, Heroes and Heroines, Writing First Chapters, and analyzing Book Covers.
Lucy March’s A Little Night Magic will be out from St. Martin’s Press on January 31, 2012.
Kristina Douglas's Raziel and Demon are out now;Warrior will be out in April 2012.
Jenny Crusie’s You Again and Lavender’s Blue will be out from St. Martin’s Press a year after she finishes them; when is anybody’s guess.