N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Location, location, location!

Much like real estate, location in a novel can be as important as character or plot. Location not only gives us a framework in which to ground ourselves, it allows us to think outside the words written and fills in the gaps the author does not have pagespace to dedicate to.

Telling you my latest novel is set in the bayous of southern Louisiana is going to give you a very concrete vision of where we are. You can almost see the Cypress trees, with their knees poking up through the muddy water…the Herons looking impassively on as you pole by in a flat bottomed boat…the thick skinned Gators splashing past with a powerful thrust of their tail…and the rich southern Creole accent. Ok, perhaps not in that detail but we all know what the swamp is supposed to look like, we know it has water and greenery and animals. We know that getting in the water might not be the best idea and we know that it’s going to be hot and muggy.

We’ve got a starting point to work from and a place we can build on. Having told you this I can now tell you some other things, this is set in the future after a devastating disease has killed off a large portion of the population. I can tell you this swamp is mostly deserted and those that are left have moved from the stilted houses in current use to tree houses connected via long swinging bridges. I can tell you that the swamp, while mostly unchanged the fear of it and the people that live in it has grown over the years, leaving it and everything in it mostly untouched.

Now what do you think we are going to find in there? Something terrible or wonderful? You don’t know, but you’d like to now wouldn’t you?

All of this and all I’ve done is describe the location and how it has changed (or stayed the same) in response to my plot.

Location can also be a dangerous place to tread. Before going to Louisiana I’d written a scene where my heroine visits the Gray City, which just happens to be the ruins of New Orleans. I’d never been to that city before, but thought it would be much like any other city but with the addition of the French Quarter.


There is a unique flavor to that city…history runs through its heart like the great muddy Mississippi, pride hangs as thick as the moss from the bayou trees and the love of fun is as mixed and overwhelming as the taste of gumbo. Without seeing it, without experiencing it I would never have captured the regal ruin that it could become. Without my experiences I would have been left watching the city from the outside, doomed to recreate the one-dimensional façade captured on every Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras documentary.

My favorite story about location comes not from a book, but from the popular TV show “Bones”. In the very first episode Bones gets off an international flight at Dulles Airport (it even says it is Dulles at the bottom of the screen). They show her talking with someone in front of a huge window and famed in that window is the Washington Monument.

Now if you’ve ever flown into Dulles (on purpose or accident) you know that if you saw the Washington Monument from there you’re either a) looking at an advertisement, b) hallucinating or, c) are Superman using crazy long distance see through anything eyes. Dulles is nowhere near the Mall or that monument; as a matter of fact it’s 40 minutes away (without traffic). I know that many people here in the area groaned at this, it would not have been hard to use one line of dialogue to explain that she was catching a connecting flight from somewhere to D.C. to put her in at Reagan (right downtown), but they didn’t. Instead they screwed with the landscape of an area that many people know…it wasn’t a great idea although I’m sure many people didn’t catch it, but for those who did it stretched the suspension of disbelief. Suddenly we are snapped back into a world where we know that there is no “Jeffersonian” or super cute Forensic Anthropologist that is allowed to carry a gun and accompany an FBI agent on interrogations (although I know a few super cute Forensic Anthropologists -bones are cool- none of them have their own personal FBI agent!).

Moral of this story, take us there and drown us in the details but let us paint the background for you, we’ll be a lot happier that way. Also don’t move the major landmarks too much or you might lose us. Ok, now that we’re cool…

Find your peace and live it, even if it’s in a land far, far away…once upon a time…or just next door.


What day is it? Hell?

Two days to half way and I’m feeling the strain. I’m about 100 words off my game which is nothing to cry about, but it would be nice if I had some sort of a buffer to catch me when I’m feeling dragged out. Did I mention I’ve been feeling dragged out all week?

Monday started like this: woke up to the dog panting to be let out, rubbed eyes, took a step toward the bathroom (bursting bladder comes before desperate dog some days)…stepped in dog poop, screamed, hopped to living room with dog trying to knock me over, hopped into dog pee, screamed again, let dog out. THEN after getting my feet cleaned off, taking a shower, feeding the cats, getting breakfast, changing clothing, and transferring what I had worked on the night before to my flash drive I realized…wait, I let the old dog back in, where is she?

Oh yes, that’s right she’s in the cat room eating two cups of cat food so she can be sick all day and poop everywhere. Somedays…no, some weeks are not worth waking up for.

Since that very telling morning I’ve been fighting a bad mood, a headache that could kill small children and the elderly (likely brought on by…), neck/eye strain, and this overpowering desire to just sleep! But no, I’ve got 2000 words a day looming over me like the tsunami that ate my brain, and if I let it get too far ahead of me I’ll never catch up.

Enough griping, let me tell you a sad story…I was in the pool, I’d pushed myself to do 18 laps (I started with just 12 so this is really a good thing) after working on my legs with the weight machines. I was breathing hard and felt wrung out, and while finishing the last half of my last lap a guy (thin, surprisingly not in a speedo, goggles, very little hair) stands at the end of my lap. When I arrive he very sweetly asks me if he can share my lane (I heart this guy already, he’s not making me look at his package and he’s being polite!!!). I tell him he can have it, and as I strip off all my swimming equipment, and lately I’ve got a lot, we have the following conversation…

“I can share, I don’t mind.”
“Nah, I’ve done my 22 for the night. I’m finished.” (twinge of guilt for lying, but the man is so damn thin!!!! Be sure to pull a face of exhaustion, because 22 yeah that’ll exhaust anyone! You’re a badass Renee!)
“I hear it takes 88 to make a mile.”
“Really, I heard it was in the 60’s…oh well, I just don’t have it in me to do anymore tonight.”
“I know how you feel, some days I get in the pool and I’m feeling good I’ve eaten right I’ve gotten enough sleep and I hit about 45 and think…I just can’t do another lap.”
(starts to think perhaps I should have said 35…40…perhaps 100 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch…yeah, I do 100 laps a day, what of it? You think a fat girl can’t find time for 100 laps? Sizeist. *spits*) “Some days it just doesn’t work out. I’m feeling good that I’ve gotten up to 18, I started at 12.” (desperate vie for validation)
“Good for you! You know daily improvement is the goal.”
“Yeah. Daily improvement.” (smile brightly, too brightly, begin to look manic…time to giggle like a freak) *giggle* “Well, have a great workout. Goodnight.”

The end.

Find your peace and live it, even if it is only 18 laps long!  You’re a badass!


Eating a reader because reader’s digest and writers cramp.

We all knew it was bound to happen…you can’t keep up a 2,000 word a day life (up from nothing since I was editing before this) without a few stumbling blocks.

Today is my first one.

I would rather do anything but write today.  Anything!  ANYTHING!  I’ve been listening to British Next Top Model for God’s sake!  How desperate must I be?  I’ve punched out 500+ words but only because the terror of having 4000 words to put to paper tomorrow makes my heart beat in a sort of painful off-kilter way.  It’s not even that I have writers cramp, far from it actually, I’ve got an entire chapter outlined and ready to go…I just DON’T WANT TO DO IT!

I cannot figure out what is wrong with me.  I’ve had to reward myself over and over again today for doing the barest of work!  Five minutes writing…get to listen to a 40 minute podcast.  Ten minutes writing…and an installment of ANTM (well, BNTM) an installment being 10 minutes or so.

What is wrong with me?  OYE!  I just wish I could find the drive today…the need to keep going to beat out imaginary (ok, so they are real but not in my life) foes and make them cringe at my wordcount…unfortunately I’m thinking of going back through all my stuff to see if I can wring out a few more words (via missed files and random bits and background info) so I don’t have to write the rest of my 1,500 words for the day.

It won’t happen, we all know that if I had more than 200 words hiding somewhere I’ve already pulled that puppy out and used it.  Amen.  And don’t get all holier than thou, you know you do the same thing…

Anyway, find you peace and…hey I wonder if this would count?  It IS writing.  No?  You guys are so mean. 🙁


Day 2 and Off to an Undead Start

I had a great weekend in a little town called Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Cute, but with a patina of sadness.  Back in 1889 a flood wiped out the town…a flood caused by a burst dam which was the responsibility of a rich “Hunting and Fishing Club” 14 miles up the mountain (For more info: http://www.jaha.org/FloodMuseum) .  They have rebuilt, but it’s just sort of sad.  A lot of the really cool things there are direct results of the flood…like the Inclined Plane (www.inclinedplane.com).  Instead of this being bad though, it really gave me the bug to write my Zombie novel.  I could just see the hardship in the eyes of all the pictures and even in the people that still live there today.

By the end of my stay, I wanted to capture it forever in my novel…Not just the people, but the whole feel of the town is perfect for my novel.  The proud rebuilt city, coming into its own among the ruins…forever fearful, forever minful, but not very watchful at all.  Thus I wrote over 2,000 words today.  All good words that smell like Pennsylvania Pine and have a cover of icy morning frost. 

This puts me on schedule…although you wouldn’t know that thanks to the NANO site.

UGH!  Here’s some hate for the NANO site. (hate, hate, hate)  I can’t get in, I can’t update anything, I can’t even get it to move.  It’s like a snail…no, worse than a snail, and that is so frustrating because in less than an hour I will be 2000 words behind!  NANO, why must you MOCK me!?

Find your peace and live it, even if you are thwarted!


A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama!

So, in an effort to organize for NANOWRIMO (after my disaster last week with the missing file…STATUS: still missing!) I’ve made a plan!

The Zombie Plan!

Part 1:

Create 20 files, the names of the files will be Zombie Chapter #. One for each of the 20 chapters I’m planning.

Create a file for random floaty ideas. These are things that sound cool, but where to put them?

Create a name index. I’m terrible with names. My secretary in “In Harm’s Way” (as I think I have mentioned before) has at one time been “mango”, Suzie, Betsy, Sally, and strangely enough Ben on one of my oldest files where she makes an appearance.

Part 2:

Here is the hard part, I want to make an outline this year. A general outline of what is going to happen in the book. I’m still organic, free-range…put the chickens in the little wheel pens and get them to eat the horn worms that are killing my tomatoes…in my writing style. BUT now new and improved with a plan of action!

Out of this outline should spring…

Part 3:

Each chapter should get a one line description of the action held within it.

This is subject to change, but I should at the very least have an idea of what will be happening in each file when I open it and begin writing. THIS way I can indulge in my “I can’t write this scene!” angst without leaving out scenes and forgetting them until editing comes around.

Part 4:

This weekend, when we get back from our trip…we are going to go shopping for NANO food. Veggies and fruit and a small amount of junk (very small) to keep us going during the time I tend not to look at what I’m eating. I also have a plan for making a few pots of taco soup/chili/ski soup so we can have something warm that we just need to thaw and throw into the microwave.

I think it’s a good plan…I really do. Let’s hope I can pull it off.

Wish me luck!

Find your peace and live it…even if it is planned to within an inch of its life!


P.S. The title of this blog post is a famous palindrome…just in case you didn’t know. 🙂

Wagon Where Have You Gone?

I have fallen off the wagon.

Not the writing wagon, as you all would rightfully expect…no the blogging wagon.  It happens to the best of us, and it happens to me more often than that.  Still, I’m not upset.  No, I’m happily here to report that I have turned into a writing fiend!!!!

I’m nearly done with the zombie short story that had given me such trouble (what with turning into a novel and all).  I have started outlining the novel it spawned as my NANOWRIMO project.  I’ve finished and submitted Chapter 2 of “In Harm’s Way” to my writing group.  I’ve got Chapter 3 cooking like apples in the fall and am mentally organizing chapter 4.  I’ve also figured out that I want about 20 chapters at approximately 5,000 words each to complete “In Harm’s Way” (although it’s likely to be longer when I get done with it).  Let’s hope I can crank out chapters 5-20 by the time October 1st rolls around.

Why October 1st?  Well, Day and I have a bet.  If I get the novel edited by October 1st she buys me tickets to go see a local film festival…if I don’t make it by October 1st I don’t get to go.  Now keep in mind I’m going away from the 17-24th to Hawaii (woot!) with family and I doubt little if any editing is going to get done there.  So this means 3 weeks of editing like it is November. 🙂  I think I can do it!

As for Photo Sunday, it has become victim of illness and brain freeze.  I uploaded the pictures, but haven’t edited them and put my watermark on them…thus they sit trapped in the half state that is my compter’s hard drive.  I do have them and I’m hoping to slap them up tomorrow.  Tonight, though, is devoted to my recovery…

Did I mention I was sick?  Yeah, on my birthday no less!  (It was this past Sunday…HB to me!)  I thought my face was going to explode from the pressure and the only time I could breathe was when I was asleep…oh wait, no, now I remember, I just didn’t sleep.  Anyway, with me sick and the dog having issues with stairs I not only had to take care of myself but over the weekend I found myself lugging my 73lb dog up and down flights of stairs.  Oye, so now…tonight…my plan is to lay on the couch, apologize to Day for giving her the illness, and eat soup with her.  If we get really adventurous I may do some laundry or possibly pick up some of the mess that was left over from my 5 days of zombie-like catatonia.

Stay tuned, it’s a laugh a minute here!!!!

Give back the short story and no one gets hurt.

I laughed at Day the other night when, in response to a friend talking about ‘novelists who are incapable of thinking small enough to write a short story’, she looked at me and nodded.
I laughed because until about 3 years ago I was incapable of thinking large enough to squeeze a novel out of any of my ideas. I could write some long short stories, but none of them were anywhere near the length it would take to get me into the world of novels. Seriously. When people talked about writing books instead of stories, I just gaped and wondered how on earth they could find enough to write about. It wasn’t until I wrote my “truth” short story…and began to wonder about her past and her future and her world that I decided to really give Nanowrimo the chance it deserved and actually banged out 50,000 words on it (and continued on to give it an 80,000 word final -well almost final- count). Then the next year I did it again, this time ramping up my wordcount to 100,000 words when all was said and done 4months later. Then I began working on a novel with Day, and began my planning for this year’s NANO.
Yeah, I laughed…because I knew that deep down I was a short story artist trying to pull off the novel act.
And then I started working on a new short project…
I am trying to write a zombie story, one that involves the evolution of the voodoo church into a Christianity sized epic religion after the rise of zombies. I’m just trying to write one little story, a short for a contest, about the struggle between two very different girls that both want to become the priestess for a mega-voodoo church and what happens when one decides winning is more important than the faith she professes to have and the other is struggling to hold onto what little faith she has left.
Now I’ve got a lesbian deacon and resident bad ass.
I’ve got a dead priestess that is haunting the church.
I’ve got a council of elders that are aligning behind one girl or the other for their own nefarious purposes.
I’ve got the entire city watching this power struggle.
And out in the swamp…hiding…is an infection that is beginning to spread and conventional treatments are not standing in its way.
Could this be the second coming of the zombies?
Could this finally be the end for humanity as we know it?

Shoot me, just shoot me.

Ideas, like government cheese, are cheap!

“Ideas are cheap!”

Listening to Murr Lafferty say this at Balticon, was like a bomb being dropped in my lap. My initial response was a mix of curiosity and fear, as if wrapping my head around the idea might cause my creative juices to explode. It would have been very easy to dismiss this most dangerous statement out of hand. It would have been simple to just get up and walk away muttering about podcasters trying to write novels…but I’m not a “naysayer” by nature, so instead of scoffing I listened and she rewarded me by expounding.

“Ideas”, she said, “are the easiest part of writing.”

The EASIEST part!?!?!?! Thinking back on my plot struggles I was inclined to disagree. My hours of struggling to put the right characters in the right places to make everything work out as I had planned haunted me. The delete key nearly worn slick on my new computer from the struggles with the prose I was creating beat down from my memory. Then again she didn’t say PLOT or CHARACTER or PROSE now did she? She said ideas…the nugget upon which the plot is steadied.

Thinking about this further, I began to examine my thoughts and feelings about story ideas. I knew I had a whole file folder full of ideas, little 100 word descriptions that could (if every given the chance) develop into an event upon which a plot could be built. I knew that every month when my writing group announced it’s latest challenge I could USUALLY walk out of the meeting with an idea of what I was planning to write. I knew that ideas were everywhere. Ideas could spring from anything from that penny on the ground in front of me (Where did it come from? Is it unlucky? Who would be looking for it? What would happen if I picked it up?) to the trip to Hawaii I am planning (What happens if I decide to stay? What would a hurricane be like? What if I am kidnapped? What if I get lost at sea?). Ideas are not the gold that fill the coffers of kings…ideas are the lead that we as alchemists must turn to gold.

The real expense of writing is not the idea, no those are a dime a dozen in any open-air market, it is what we do with those ideas. It is the hard work of putting pen to paper and spinning a tale that is worth reading. It is the sweat of reviewing your own work to make it perfect. It is the investment of time and energy editing, reading and critiquing others work to get a better handle on your own.

So, remember ideas are cheap…it’s the making a dream a reality that is priceless.

Find your peace and live it…even if it is full of lead!


The Ebb and Flow of Writing

There are days that you can’t stop me writing unless you pay me, and even then it might not happen. There are days that the story is hot and I want to pin it down before I lose it in the avalanche of celebrity gossip and computer hotkeys. I know you know them, the days you lock yourself away from your family, forget to eat, and generally enjoy the heck out of yourself.

Who knew one could be so easily entertained?

Those are the days I live for, those are the times…for me its sunk in a comfy couch with Korn on the headphones and my hearing suffering for it. Some food lying out in another room to be grabbed when I MUST get up to stretch. And most importantly, dogs curled up at my feet. Salad days. Golden days. The sweet spot of creation.

Still, for every wonderful high-quality writing day…there are a million (or more) low-quality days. Times when writing a paragraph is torture or WORSE. That low point when you can’t even bear to look at your computer, much less open it. Why? Because it doesn’t feel right? Because you don’t have the ideas? Because the words are stuck your soul like cement?

Nah, I think it’s because we all need a little down time.

Without those low-points what would our Golden Days be but another day? Without the pains of wordcraft how can we enjoy the fruit of it? Without the doldrums how can we recharge our brain (and give it a little time to dump all that celebrity gossip)?

Now the problem comes with trying to battle through the bad days to get to the good ones. For me, it’s taking time to blog and taking time to write e-mail and taking time to write things at work. All of these are “easy” writing for me. Something I can do without taking too much time to think about it or edit it. If I have misplaced a comma (and yes I suffer from comma saturation, but I’m trying to wean myself off them) who cares? If I don’t have the perfect phrase does it matter? My friends may suffer, but hopefully they will forgive me.

So, what do you do to combat the writing blahs?

Find your peace and live it…even if it has too many commas!

Word and Tune, Hand in Hand?

It must be something in the air or water or weather, but lately everyone in my reader (and remind me later to do a neat little update on my latest net gadgets) has been talking about writing and music and I just wanted to take a moment to chime in.

Here are a few interesting tidbits about me/friends/writing/music…

I had a very talented friend who was majoring in music education, she was able to play the piano, sax, clarinet, flute, and drums (and I’m sure many more I just never had the opportunity to witness). She took part in an experiment dealing with memorization.

She was put in a soundproof room and given a list of items she had 30 seconds to memorize it. When she was done they gave her 30 seconds of silence then asked her to recite all the items she could remember.

Next they did the same thing with numbers.

She did very well on both of these, surprising even herself.

Then they turned on talk radio softly in the background, gave her a different set of items and then numbers.

Again she did very well.

THEN they piped in a piece of classical music, again softly in the background and again gave her a different set of items and then numbers.

She bombed.

She was trying to concentrate on the lists at hand but her mind kept deconstructing the music. She told me later she found herself straining to hear the notes being played INSTEAD of concentrating on the lists. She was shocked that a piece, one that she had played often and knew well, could do that to her especially when she KNEW she had to recite these lists again.

We tried it on our own, we set up a little area (granted not as silent as the place she had been in) and gave me a list of items and numbers.

I did great on the silence.

I did great on the music.

On the talk radio, I could not stop myself from listening to what was going on! I thought I was paying attention to the lists, I thought I knew what to watch out for and was able to drown it out…not so friends, not so!

Actually, she quizzed me on what the radio had been saying right after she asked me about the second list and I could tell her EVERYTHING they had been talking about.

Another interesting tidbit with me and music.

I used music heavily to help write a short story that sold to a small (at that time) webzine. I played the same song over and over to keep me in the mood and in the mind space for the story. I did it from start to finish, the walkman on LOUD and my fingers doing the talking.

It wasn’t a half bad story, and at the end I put a credit to the song that had given me such inspiration.

Unlike now, when people like Rachel Caine and Carrie Vaughn put not just songs but playlists at the beginnings of their books, no one I was reading was crediting music in their creation process.

I went out on a limb.

I took a chance and stuck it in there.

And I got laughed at.

Respectfully, the editor asked me what that credit was and if I had intended it to be there. He assured me that sending him a working copy of the piece with my “personal notes” in it was fine, but did I really want him to publish some strange credit to a rock band at the back of the story?

Unfortunately, being new to the publishing arena and not really having a voice or the experience with which to stand up for myself, I took the credit out.

Well, here today, let me put it back in.

Thank you for the inspiration…The Cranberries – Electric Blue

Find your peace and live it…music or not!