Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest Post: Amber Cook

Today (or rather tonight), I have the pleasure of hosting Amber Michelle Cook, an author and fellow NIWA member.

Hey, Voss.  Thanks for having me on your blog for some Demon Hunting and Three Dimensional Physics.  NIWA rules!

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Mine Your Own Life for Story Setting Gold

Camelot.  Oz.  Narnia.  Middle Earth.  Gormenghast.  Hogwarts.  Downton Abbey. 

Some of these places are as big as the stories they come from.  Some of them are as alive in the reader's imagination as Lancelot, Dorothy, The White Queen, Frodo, Dumbledore or Lady Mary. 

If settings can be a major character in a story, how do we go about creating those particular kinds of characters? 

Not every setting has to be memorable or so alive you can picture other stories taking place in them, but we all want the major settings in our tales to be as engaging as they can be.  There are many ways to make settings come alive, but every setting usually begins with an inspiration. 

The Familiar, and the Favorites:

Dickens used his home city of Rochester, England to set his last novel in, giving it a different name:  Cloisterham.  Why rename it?  Although the setting is very much based on his detailed familiarity with Rochester, it's his take on the place, the feelings it evoked for him personally—in conjunction with the gothic tone of The Mystery of Edwin Drood—that conspired to produce a setting so alive and atmospheric, it breathes all the more with every description of it being an ancient place of the buried dead. 

Every year in fall I attend an event at the McMenamin's Edgefield in Troutdale, OR.  I love the Edgefield.  I couldn't believe it when one day near twilight I passed by this cluster of trees with bright yellow fall foliage to find the canopies of leaves sparkling with twinkle lights.  There were no building, no power lines.  With no sign of cords or outlets, it was like having a magical moment of encountering faerie.  That year when I did NaNoWriMo, I couldn't help it:  the story being a modern day adaptation of Through the Looking Glass, adult Alice's urbanized Wonderland was inspired by the Edgefield.  People who’ve read the novel for critique are struck by the setting, and I know it's because the enthusiasm and delight I have for the Edgefield translates to the reader.  (The novel is Sleepwaking, and it will be my third book, coming out this fall.) 

A few years ago I went to St. Louis and found this crazy, cool looking place called the City Museum on the web.  I spent a day there, a day I'll never forget.  I consider it one of my other favorite places in the world, along with the Edgefield, the Georgia Aquarium, any Cirque du Soleil tent, Florence, and the end of the street I used to live on in Höheinöd, Germany.  The City Museum is an eclectic mix of found industrial objects housed in a giant old shoe warehouse in which you can find the unexpected at every turn.  Caves, climbable giant slinkies, an airplane fuselage suspended several stories in the air via wire mesh tunnels like hamster runs you have to crawl through to get up there, an aquarium, multi-story slides, a wall made out of glass bottles, and so much more.  A couple years later I wrote a story using it as the inspiration for the setting, calling my place ‘the Imaginarium.’  Beta readers have loved the Imaginarium, much the same way I love the City Museum.  You can find the Imaginarium in my second book, Defense Mechanisms, which has just been released.

What are some of your favorite places?  Places you love going to.  That you love being in.  Place where you've had memorable experiences.  Places you know so well you almost don't think of them anymore. 

These could be the next great settings for your stories.  Figure out why they’ve impacted you and what emotions they generate, and then write to give your readers that kind of experience.  Whether you use them as is, or let them inspire you to create something all your own—if they touch you or animate you, they can do the same for your readers. 



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Amber Michelle Cook writes stories of deep, meaningful fun.

Partly raised in Germany, she went to an international school for high-school, majored in linguistics, loves literature and period pieces.  She's also a photography/graphic arts artist of color and wonder living in the great Northwest.

In addition to leading improv writing tables, she's one of the team behind National Novel Editing Month and Member Relations Chair of Communications/Marketing for the Northwest Independent Writers Association.

Aside from words and stories, she adores dogs and is fascinated by any and everything aquatic.  Especially cephalopods.
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Book blurb:

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What if your déjà vu was really flashes of a life running parallel to your own?

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An imaginative child, Janey left childhood far behind as soon as older children and adults began to tease her for it, much to the disappointment of her younger brother.  On her thirtieth birthday, the first Pulse hits and drives them to seek shelter at his favorite hangout – a one-of-a-kind indoor playland for grown-ups called the Imaginarium.  When the place is attacked by urban looters, she becomes an unwilling 'defender of imagination.'

Raised within the confines of Tanglewood, a workshop-residence formed from the awakening of a grove of silver birch, Ozanne fled her family's unrelenting expectations for a life of frivolity and vanity at Court.  Upon the passing of a Wave that obstructs all but personal Glamour, she races back with her brother to protect it from the Foe, though certain she has little to offer.  Why then does he persist in looking to her to protect them?

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Defense Mechanisms is a contemporary fairy tale of finding realistic, modern-day happy endings when the ways we learn to protect ourselves from other people's emotional sore spots, like ignorance and hate, keep us from being who we really are and finding our place in life.

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On Amazon/Kindle: (also Smashwords)
Twitter:  @cook_amber

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