Visiting us today is genre-bending author Jill Archer who combines urban fantasy with mystery and romance. Read more about her and her debut novel at her website and blog.
How Adding Mystery Elements to an Existing Manuscript Is Like building a Layered Cake
My first book, Dark Light of Day, came out at the end of September. It's been fun guest blogging at various sites and chatting about the book. So I was thrilled when a Friday guest blog spot opened up here at Anastasia's place.
In a nutshell, Dark Light of Day is about Noon Onyx, a first year law student who is being trained to represent demons. But the story is as much about Noon's magical and romantic struggles as it is about her academic ones. And there's even a mystery subplot. (Did I mention how much I love genre-bending books?)
One of the things my editor asked me during revisions was to "bulk up" the mystery subplot. Apparently, it hadn't been eating enough Wheaties or spinach or whatever it is people eat these days to build muscle mass. And so I slowly (okay, quickly, since I was under deadline pressure) starting layering in more mystery elements. In a way it was kind of like building a layered cake with the existing scenes and other subplots acting as the already baked cake and the clues, red herrings, and unanswered questions acting as the icing. I don't know what Cloris would think of my cake analogy, but the layering process worked for me. The revisions took longer than icing a cake would have but I was just as satisfied with the results.
I thought I'd share one of my "icing layers" with you today. The excerpt below is from Chapter 2. Most of Chapter 2 didn't exist in the original manuscript, but I think it nicely sets up the mystery subplot. You can tell me whether you agree or not in the comments.
Because I chose to excerpt from Chapter 2 and not Chapter 1, I'll give you a bit of background. This scene occurs the morning that Noon is supposed to leave for St. Lucifer's Law School. Noon and her mother have an uncomfortable relationship because Noon was born with waning magic, the dark, destructive, fiery magic usually inherited by sons, while her twin brother was born with waxing magic, the soft, nurturing, creative magic usually inherited by daughters.
There was a light on in the kitchen. I hoped it was Estelle, our housekeeper. But when I rounded the corner and entered, I saw my mother at the end of the long wooden table, scraping the tops of several white iced petits fours into a trash can.
“I’ve told Estelle,” she said, almost to herself, although she had to know I was there, “no flowers. I’ve told her bells, stars, arrows, hearts . . . whatever she fancies, but no flowers.” With each word, my mother’s scraping became more violent. The last petit four crumbled into the trash can, icing, cake, and all. She stood for a moment looking down at it, unable to meet my silent gaze.
Why was she upset? She was getting what she wanted. Me out of her house. I sighed. It was probably a good thing. For both of us.
I grabbed one of the last unviolated petits fours. In the red light of the kitchen’s brick oven fire and the overhead iron chandelier candles, the white icing looked orange. The little flower flickered on top, almost like a tiny flame.
“She doesn’t make them for you,” I said, popping the little cake into my mouth. “She makes them for me.”
My mother looked up at me frowning. Had she been crying? In this light, it was hard to tell. And why didn’t she have the electric lights on anyway? My mother had always been far too fond of fire.
Two score and five years or so ago, my mother, Aurelia Onyx nee Ferrum of the Hawthorn Tribe, had been the most beautiful and powerful Mederi the south bank had seen in at least three generations. She’d cured countless diseases, scoured scores of unnamed pestilence, helped crippled children walk again, and the blind to see. She’d birthed hundreds of babies, healed new mothers, and brought blue babies back to life. No one miscarried with the young Aurelia Onyx attending. She’d been a superb midwife. Not only beyond reproach, but a shining example of what all young, dutiful Mederies aspire to be.
Her garden had been legendary. Bluebells, bog lilies, and cattails had bloomed next to sand verbena and prickly pear. Wisteria blossomed next to bougainvillea, passion flowers sprouted amongst sea holly, four o’clocks opened at dawn, and the night-blooming cereus flowered not just on midsummer’s night, but every night of the year. People never spoke directly to me about it, but I’d gathered that, in its heyday, my mother’s garden had been something of a fertility shrine. Hyrkes—humans with no magic—came from as far as the New Babylon suburbs just to spend the day in it. Losing a day’s work and traveling for hours was nothing in trade for the chance to soak up all that life and to possibly see her. Or even to have her touch you. Because Aurelia Onyx had had the gift of life.
But as her marital years wore on and she created no new life of her own, folks began to wonder. Fewer and fewer people traveled from New Babylon to the garden. Fewer Hyrkes hired her as a midwife. It was impossible for a Mederi of her strength to be barren. Wasn’t it?
I have no idea what happened then or how it did. I only know that my brother and I were born twenty-one years ago and the day after our birth my mother burned her garden to the ground. With a can of gasoline and a match, because Mederies didn’t have destructive power. But every day of my life that I’d woken to my view of the charred garden that never grew back, I knew different. You didn’t need magic to destroy.
My mother had certainly proven that again with Estelle’s poor petits fours.
“I think your brother has joined the Demeter Tribe,” she said, setting her knife on the tabletop.
“Demeter sounds like a good choice,” I said, scrambling to remember what I knew about that tribe. My mother pressed her lips together, showing me what Hawthorne likely thought of Demeter. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers. As a male Mederi, Night wouldn’t exactly have his pick of tribes to choose from.
I walked over to the table and surveyed the decapitated petits fours. I selected two more and walked over to the icebox to find some juice. I didn’t think I had the patience to boil water for tea this morning.
“How do you know he joined Demeter?” I asked, peering into the dark, ice-cold box. Several glass bottles in varying shades of red, pink, orange, and yellow were neatly lined up on the top shelf. I grabbed the pink one—pomegranate juice—and went to fetch a glass. Even though there was only enough left for one person, I knew better than to drink straight from the bottle in front of Aurelia.
“They had an opening. One of their Mederies disappeared recently.”
“Disappeared?” Disappearances in Halja usually didn’t have happy endings.
“Linnaea Saphir, Demeter’s Monarch, sent her best midwife up to New Babylon last week. She’d received an unsigned note from a messenger requesting immediate assistance with a difficult birth in a neighborhood to the east of the city. Amaryllis Apatite, the Mederi midwife she sent, climbed on board the North-South Express at 2:00 p.m. last Tuesday and hasn’t been seen since.”
No need to ask how she knew all this. My mother might not practice medicine anymore, but she still kept in touch with Hawthorne’s Monarch. And news of a missing Mederi would be something for every tribe to be concerned about.
“They’re not afraid it’s another Ionys situation are they?”
Ionys was the Patron Demon of Wine, Winemaking, and Vineyards. Last year, the demon’s favored drink had turned one of the local vintners mad. Over the course of five weeks last spring, he’d abducted and murdered six Mederies. He’d sprinkled their blood across his vineyard in the hopes that Ionys (despite the demon’s prohibition against such practices) would reward him with an excellent vintage. Needless to say, the follower was caught, tried, condemned to death, and his vineyards confiscated and burned.
I shoved the uneaten petits fours back onto the table, feeling suddenly ill. My mother’s silence was answer enough.
“Are you worried?” I said. “About Night? Because we haven’t heard from him?”
Aurelia stared at me with her dark, red-rimmed eyes.
“Yes,” she said simply, picking up the knife again. “Of course I’m worried about him. Him. The Apatite girl. You.” And with that last word she took her knife and swept every bit of Estelle’s ruined petits fours into the trash.
I wanted to tell her we’d be all right. Night. Me. The missing Mederi. But this was Halja. The land of demons. A place where our footing, and our future, was always slippery, shifting, treacherous, and unsure.
So what do you think? Are you wondering what happened to the missing Mederi? I hope so! Thank you to Lois and Anastasia for having me here today!
Dark Light of Day
Armageddon is over. The demons won. And yet somehow…the world has continued. Survivors worship patron demons under a draconian system of tributes and rules. These laws keep the demons from warring among themselves, the world from slipping back into chaos.
Noon Onyx grew up on the banks of the river Lethe, daughter of a prominent politician, and a descendant of Lucifer’s warlords. Noon has a secret—she was born with waning magic, the dark, destructive, fiery power that is used to control demons and maintain the delicate peace among them. But a woman with waning magic is unheard of and some will consider her an abomination.
Noon is summoned to attend St. Lucifer’s, a school of demon law. She must decide whether to declare her powers there…or attempt to continue hiding them, knowing the price for doing so may be death. And once she meets the forbiddingly powerful Ari Carmine—who suspects Noon is harboring magic as deadly as his own—Noon realizes there may be more at stake than just her life.
Thanks for joining us today, Jill. Readers, I've had the good fortune of reading Dark Light of Day, and I can tell you, this is one book you're not going to be able to put down. -- AP