Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Warm Welcome to Michelle Levigne

Is there a story behind your book Detours?

Like a number of my books, Detours started out as a script. I had an idea for a stage play and/or screenplay about three girls sharing an apartment, getting through college, following their dreams. It went through several incarnations. Somewhere along the way, I set it in the Cleveland area, and used neighborhoods I was familiar with. From there, it was easy to transition Detours into a Tabor Heights story, because Tabor Heights is geographically set in the same spot as Berea, with some elements of Orange City, Iowa and Northwestern College (my alma mater) thrown in, and bits of Troy, Ohio as well.

As a bit of historical trivia: The names Berea and Tabor both come from the Bible, and at Berea’s founding, those were the two choices for the town’s name, which was decided with a coin toss. I was working at a community newspaper based in Berea at the time I was formulating my small town series, and the copy editor suggested Tabor for that very reason. I went so far as to take street names and change them enough so that those who know the layout of Berea will recognize the names -- for instance, Bridge Street was changed to Span Street, Prospect was changed to Aspect, etc.

As I played with the backgrounds of the three roommates, I of course discovered tie-ins to other books I was planning to write, or had already rough drafted, and tweaking everybody’s histories and relationships helped create a concrete place for the girls in the community. I knew where their apartment building was, their neighbors, how far they had to walk to get to class, where they bought their groceries, all the little details that made them certainly feel more real to me. The big breakthrough was in Kat’s story -- in the original screenplay, the girls’ theater professor shows up for Thanksgiving dinner, then Kat’s mother and stepfather show up and things are revealed to the audience that the girls don’t witness -- such as the fact he is Kat’s father and didn’t expect her mother to be there, and Kat doesn’t know he is her father. By the time it got to the book, I decided Dr. Morgan doesn’t know Kat is his daughter until that moment, when he looks at Lynette, realized she is Kat’s mother, and makes the connection. Of course, I got a spin-off book that is totally Morgan and Lynette’s story, The Second Time Around.

The hardest part of the book was changing it from a story about three roommates and their intersecting lives, to focus on Bekka and Shane’s romance. In the original stage play and screenplay, he doesn’t even show up until he comes to take Kat on a date. I had to do a lot of new writing to show Bekka and Shane constantly running into each other, looking with longing, but being discouraged because their lives were so complicated they kept getting sent on detours. Hence the name … though originally the detours referred to were the detours the girls had to take to finally reach their dreams and goals.

Which character in your new release most interested you while you wrote? Why?

I don’t think it’s a question of “most interested” but “most identified with.” And that would be Bekka, because she’s trying so hard, doing so many things, and all she wants is time to just sit and write, no interruptions, no obligations. And yeah, she would love it if “that one guy” noticed her, but of course, there are lots of distractions to catch his attention before he ever comes near her. And while I did get lots of support from my mom, there were people around me who told me to my face that Christians shouldn’t write fiction, Christians shouldn’t write romance, fiction was a lie, I was wasting my time, I should find a more reliable, sensible career. Etc.

And yes, I got scammed by a would-be agent. I didn’t lose the rights to my story, but I did waste money on someone who made false promises and never did anything. Then I had another agent who let my books sit for weeks before asking me where they should be sent and to whose attention. Umm, shouldn’t she know the market? Then when the so-called business relationship was over, she said if I ever sold any of the books she tried to sell, she had a claim on my profits. I responded with requiring a list from her of exactly what publishing house she sent the books to, and the names of the editors who actually saw my books, and she only had a claim if those specific editors bought. She actually had the nerve to respond with, “What makes you think I want money I didn’t earn?” Uh, because you said right here, if I sold any book you represented, you got a share of the profits. No mitigating factors listed. You can’t just let something like that slide, because what if one of those books sold for a huge advance, and then someone bought the film rights?  Yes, I dream BIG for my books.

So yeah, I identified most closely to Bekka, with her struggles. Still haven’t found my Shane, though …

Do you travel? Has a place where you have traveled ever sparked a story idea?

Not as much as I’d like. However, I did take a “behind the scenes” tour of Playhouse Square once where we heard about an old theater in Michigan that sparked an idea for a book. Our tour guide told us how this old, old theater, with wide staircases and all the gilding and velvet drapes and fancy woodwork was gutted to build a parking garage. When they built the particular buildings on that street, they were all connected together, and they couldn’t tear down the theater completely because it would compromise the structure of the buildings on either side. So there’s a parking garage where, on different floors, there are doors leading nowhere, bits of staircases, fragments of plaster and scrollwork.

I got an idea for a ghost story, essentially, where on certain nights you can see the portions of the old theater that were destroyed, filled in, and the echoes of the actors who used to perform at that theater can be seen and heard. Well, of course, I don’t really “do” ghost stories … so it turned into a time travel kind of story, where the fabric of reality has grown thin and someone with the right equipment can look backwards and see what happened in the theater where a parking garage now sits. But of course, this creates a doorway from past to present. Right now, it is a screenplay called “Echoes, Whispers and Lies,” and as the hero interacts with the past, the past changes, affecting the people he has met in the present who were there at the time of the supposed murder and/or disappearance of starlet. By the end of the movie, everybody knows where the starlet is -- she traveled into the future to be with the hero. This will be a book someday. Just don’t know when …

What character that you’ve created most resembles you?

I actually have two characters, both belonging to my Tabor Heights series. First is Max Randolph, whose parents run the local community theater, Homespun Theater. She is trying to make her break into screenwriting, and she’s somewhat reluctantly writing romances with her longtime friend and writing partner, Tony Martin.

Then there’s Bekka Sanderson, professional student. She works three part-time jobs, has several projects on the market at any one time, studies drama at the local university, and shares an apartment with two college friends who are also into drama and writing. Despite her common sense, she is almost taken in by a con-man who preys on hopeful writers. What sounds like her big break, with a publisher who wants her book, suddenly turns into a nasty trick, trying to bully her into signing away all her rights, plus make her pay for everything in the publishing process. I fell for someone pretending to be an agent when I was in college, paying (NEVER pay someone for work they haven’t done yet) for representation. I realized I had been taken when I kept asking who the so-called agent sent my book to, and the only answer was that “the market is very slow right now.” When the money ran out, the crook at least had the sense not to ask me to pay for another year of no answers. I have yet to find an agent with the guts to take on my … hmm, shall we say “odd” type of books? Well, Bekka got an agent by fighting the crook. I hope that fiction will eventually become reality!


Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Yes, several book ideas have started out based on fragments of dreams. I rarely remember more than a few images or a general feeling. I try to write down everything I remember, but there isn’t much.

On the other hand, I often solve problems with current works-in-progress in my dreams. I can’t remember what I dreams, but I know what to change, what to add, what to cut out of the story right where I’m blocked.

Some stories that started out based on dreams are “Heir of Faxinor,” and the Sunsinger (YA science fiction series) books and “Taksearhe,” from my Wildvine fantasy series. The funny thing is that often, the images that started the actual story often don’t make the final cut in the finished draft of the book.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write your first draft?

It’s not a conscious thing anymore, but yes, I’m very conscious. I notice I make more mistakes with spelling when I write with the Neo, mostly because I don’t really look at the 6-line screen as I write. I often close my eyes when I’m writing with the Neo. When I write on my computer, however, I am looking at the screen, and even if I’m not really paying attention, I can “feel” when I make a grammar or spelling mistake and I stop and go back and fix it. I really hate it when the auto-correct anticipates what I’m writing and turns it into a word I don’t want! That usually happens in my fantasy or science fiction, when it’s a made-up word or name. There have been times I have changed a character’s name because the wretched computer keeps changing it and I give up fighting. Weird, how technology interferes.

Since editing is my “day job,” yes, I’m always conscious of grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, of sentence structure, of continuity. I am constantly griping about the idiocy of people who use the wrong forms of words, who can’t tell the difference between principal and principle, between it’s and its, between they’re, there and their, between assure, ensure and insure, between affect and effect. On and on. So … seeing the stupid mistakes, I am more conscious, and since I spend so much time catching other people’s errors (and snarling about them) I have to take even more care with my writing.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
My next book due is CHARLI, a Quarry Hall novel. It’s due in May.
Charli is one of my “recycled” books -- it started life as a screenplay about an injured heroine, her wolf cub, and solving a mystery from her past. Charli’s father was killed and she was injured when she was a child and a late-night visit to her father’s lab interrupted someone trying to steal his research. Charli can’t remember much from that night, but now she walks with a limp and wears a brace on her leg. She and her mother have retreated to a research lab and greenhouse in the middle of a wildlife preserve. She rescues a wolf cub from poachers and raises him, trying to get him to go wild again.


It was very easy to turn it into a Quarry Hall book because one of the story threads through the whole series is the search for a cure for a genetically engineered illness that is killing Harrison Carter, the founder of the Arc Foundation, and the father of the main character, Joan. Carter has a shady past and has devoted his ill-gotten gain to God’s service since getting his soul back. Charli and her mother are doing research to re-engineer medicinal plants lost in the destruction of the rainforests. That brings Joan to them, looking for a cure for her father. When trouble comes looking for Charli and her mother, Joan brings the resources of Quarry Hall and the Arc Foundation to help them.

MICHELLE LEVIGNE
DETOURS
A Tabor Heights novel
Year One

Back Cover Blurb:
A year in the life … Roommates Bekka, Kat and Amy had a lot in common: Theater students, pursuing writing careers, supporting each other in crises and heartaches. Amy kept breaking up with her boyfriend. Kat never dated a boy more than twice. Bekka was too busy with part-time jobs and writing to even want a relationship. Especially seeing how miserable her roommates were.

So she thought, until Shane showed up, but Kat saw him first, and once she dumped a boyfriend, he never came back. Bekka could help hoping, though.

Shane kept trying to catch up with Bekka and get to know her, but people and crises, school and work continuously got in the way.

Through it all, Bekka and Shane kept hoping, dreaming, and working their way around all the detours life kept throwing at them. 

To buy Michelle's book:

About Michelle:
On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college (she is a recovering Trekker, and adores “Warehouse 13” and “Stargate SG-1”), and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and a MA focused on film and writing from Regent University. She has published 50+ books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, and sub-genres of romance. She has been a finalist in the EPIC Awards competition often since 2004, winning with Lorien in 2006 and The Meruk Episodes, I-V, in 2010. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She freelance edits for a living, but only enough to give her time to write.

To connect with Michelle:


Michelle Levigne is giving away a copy of Detours.  The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)


Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart

2 comments:

sm said...

Interesting post and like reading about how you write from your experiences. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

Deanna Stevens said...

Nice to meet you! Your book sounds like something I'd enjoy reading :)
dkstevensne AToutlookD oTCoM

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