Hi guys! Today as part of The Juliet Blog Tour, I’m so glad to have a guest post by the author, Laura Ellen Scott on the timelines in her book, The Juliet.
Let’s get to know a little about her:
Laura Ellen Scott is the author of several novels including Death Wishing, a comic fantasy set in post-Katrina New Orleans, The Juliet, a western about the search for a cursed emerald in Death Valley, and the New Royal Mysteries series set in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio. The first New Royal Mystery is The Mean Bone in Her Body, will be released in late 2016. Born and raised in Northern Ohio, Laura now lives in Fairfax, Virginia and teaches creative writing at George Mason University.
Now for the guest post:
Timelines in The Juliet: A Question of Character
First of all, thank you for letting me talk a little bit about how my latest novel, The Juliet (Pandamoon Publishing, 2016) came to be. The original working title was Willie Judy and The Mystery House, which gives you an idea of my initial focus. I wanted to write about a woman who unexpectedly receives the deed to an historic shack in Death Valley during the great wildflower bloom of 2005, which she would use as home base in her search for a legendary cursed emerald. The notion of alternating timelines was only a casual idea in the beginning. I thought I might occasionally dip into the past as a way of leavening the main story, originally conceived as a caper/race-against-time.
Then the characters started taking shape, refusing to adhere to the outline I had in my mind. First of all, Willie was going to be trouble. We’re in a moment where a “strong female” character is expected to be a role model who is brave, intelligent, and skilled, but that seems to exclude other kinds of independence. I wanted Willie to be a realistic loner who lives day-to-day keeping her dreams in check, perking up only when a figure from her childhood reminds her that life is short. That figure is Rigg Dexon, a retired cowboy actor who used to be the spokesman for Nuggetz cereal. Inside each box was a piece of a so-called treasure map that might lead to the whereabouts of the cursed emerald known as The Juliet. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Dexon has been collecting the pieces for twenty-five years, and that he’s gone into seclusion in Death Valley to try to solve the map puzzle.
Originally he was supposed to die before page ten, and the second timeline was going to feature vignettes from his life and career, but two things happened that forced me to rethink my plan. One, Rigg was too fun to write. Two, instead of diving thirty or forty years into the past, I went back nearly 120 years on my first attempt, inadvertently launching a pattern of seedy and violent transactions that would continue up through the 2005 storyline. At the very least I had sequence going for me—both timelines moved forward, making the job of integrating them slightly more manageable. And when I counted it all up, the emerald called The Juliet changed hands thirteen times.
So for me, the most important tool for managing timelines is strong character development. If the characters are working well, they’ll figure out how they connect across time. The most dramatically useful thing any writer can do for herself is make sure every character—no matter how minor they may seem—has a secret. Or to think about it another way: make sure minor characters think of themselves as major ones. That means every interaction has the potential to go off the rails, which is exactly what I want.
I’m very lucky that my minor characters keep popping up as I draft, like little plot assistants. However, sometimes they grow to take on very important roles. That’s what happened Nene and Baron Glatter, the retiree tourists that Rigg Dexon interacts with in his first scene. When they arrive they are typical, clueless, and non-threatening. In later scenes, it’s revealed that Nene is actually a rock singer who faked her own murder in the 70s, and she means to find The Juliet at any cost. I love how Nene starts off weak and addled, only to become truly powerful as the story moves along.
Having characters return and change makes it easier to pull the universe together, especially if they intersect with multiple plotlines. Intersections are fun, and when plausibly built and interestingly revealed, they’re like miniature mysteries unto themselves. Imagine the mail carrier who knows everyone on his route. Now imagine that he has several unmarked graves in his back yard. He doesn’t just have good information about his community; he’s interesting on his own, as well.
As for character groupings, there isn’t an intact, traditional family in the whole novel, so the characters are working with the tattered alliances they were born into, building new alliances, or going their own way. And that’s what the West is for, really. Reinvention of the self. The moral center of the book isn’t always stable, and I can’t think of a single character who makes consistently good decisions, but by far my favorites are the ones who strike off on their own.
Thank you very much, Laura for the beautiful post on how you managed to juggle the multiple timelines and the various interesting characters in The Juliet!
If you want to read the rest of her guest posts and/or reviews of The Juliet on the other blogs, here are the links:
|A Literary Vacation||https://aliteraryvacation.blogspot.com/||7/12/2016|
|Rainbow of Books||https://rainbowofbooks.wordpress.com||7/13/2016|
|Alternating Current’s The Coil||https://medium.com/the-coil||7/13/2016|
|Historical Fiction Excerpts||http://historicalfictionexcerpts.blogspot.com/||7/14/2016|
|The Book Wheel||http://www.thebookwheelblog.com/||7/14/2016|
|Grab the Lapels||https://grabthelapels.com/||7/15/2016|
|History from a Woman’s Perspective||http://www.historywomanperspective.com/||7/15/2016|