Since we've been ta;lking about plotting a novel, Karina graciously took the time to answer some questions about plotting her novel.
What was your starting point for writing Magic, Mensa & Mayhem? What was the first thing you did when developing your plot?
I had gotten some translation help from Shirley Starke, a Mensan and editor of the North Dakota Mensa newsletter, the Prairie Dawg, for a DragonEye, PI, story. Afterwards, I sent it to her, and she asked if she could run it. I'd written it for somewhere else, so I offered to do a serial mystery for her newsletter instead, just for fun. The Mensa World Gathering was happening in Florida that year, and I thought it'd be funny if the Magicals were invited with Vern and Grace chaperoning.
I went to the Mensa website, pulled up the program and decided on some funny twists on lectures the Magicals could give. Brunhilde's ride to Hel (just the visuals and sound effects), Coyote's panel on thinking outside the box, and of course, a High Elf mistakenly booked as the farewell address. (No one would catch their planes!)
The Pope issued an encyclical about that time, which led me to the words "papal bull," and the rest pretty much fell together from there. I'm very much a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I let the characters lead me.
BTW--"World Gathering: Magic, Mensa and Mayhem" won the Mensa Owl for best fiction contribution of 2007. I'm also offering the story that led to all of this, "Amateurs," free to anyone joining the DragonEye, PI website, www.dragoneyepi.net.
What do you want readers to take away from your novel? Is this the same thing you had in mind when you first started writing it?
I want them to come away more fit, emotionally and physically. Laughter is very healthy--in fact, I'm lobbying the AMA to recommend reading Magic, Mensa & Mayhem as part of a healthy lifestyle. Seriously, I just hope they have a couple of hours of good laughs. This book is a lark, an escape into the land of silly. Nothing more. (Not all the DragonEye, PI books and stories are so silly--wait 'till you read Live and Let Fly--but they all have a healthy dose of comedy. Healthy comedy for a healthy body!)
Your characters were already established when you started writing MMM. Did you have to change any of the things you wanted to do with your plot because of who your characters are?
Not in Magic, Mensa & Mayhem. In fact, this book did a lot to define the characters. I think there about a dozen stories hinted at the novel; some written, some waiting until I have time to write them.
Did any of your characters have to change to accommodate something in your plot?
No. Characters drove the action. Live and Let Fly was a different story. My villain changed at least thrice.
Did you have to come up with any new characters to move your plot along?
They sort of popped up. Some were old friends: Cambridge Ramada, a character from "Greater Treasures," just showed up at the dinner and started flirting with Brunhilde. Coyote cheated on the test to become a Mensan so he could attend World Gathering.
The Brownies as a whole are new characters. I had to do a lot of thinking about how they fit into the Faerie/Mundane universe so that they matched the cliché of helpful housekeepers while still wrecking havoc in the hotel. Kent and Garn showed up because I needed a diversion--and what fun they turned out to be! Kent makes a cameo in Live and Let Fly, BTW. Then there are the bellhops who like Capitol One commercials . "Hyuck hyuck. What's in your wallet?" They get theirs.
How would your book have been different if Vern had been more like one of the dragons of Pern- say like Mnementh- or if Sister Grace had been more like Sister Bertrille (The Flying Nun).
Wow. It's been so long since I've read Anne McCaffery. (Loved her books!) And I have never seen the Flying Nun. Think I have to pass on this one. I have to admit, though, I can't imagine Vern as a Pern-like dragon. He's too snarky and independent. He's also not fond of people riding on his back, though he will do it. (He charges extra.)
Do you outline your plot ahead of time or do you let the story lead you where it may? What techniques do you use to plan your plot?
I usually have a good idea of the beginning and the end, with some scene ideas for the middle. Then I start writing and let the characters lead me. When I get stuck, I may put the basic plot points on post-it notes and stick them on the wall, then move them around until they make sense. Then I go back to writing--where the characters change everything all over again!
Did your plot go exactly as you envisioned it or did something surprise you as you wrote this book?
I had several surprises--characters that showed up and became part of the mystery (and the confusion), a new friend for Vern (Roxanne Lewis, reporter)... Rhoda Dakota and Charlie Wilmot becoming an item came out of the blue--score one for Matchmaker Vern!
I also changed the final conflict on the advice of my best friend and writer, Ann Lewis. She read the draft and loved it, but told me I didn't give her a reason to care about what was happening. "It's all about the Faerie and not about us," she said. We took the conundrum to our crit group, and they helped me brainstorm the idea of the Elves declaring war on Florida. (So Floridians? You can blame that on New York City writers.)
You have a fun book with lots of humor. It flows very naturally throughout the course of the book. Did you develop your storyline around the humor or did you develop the humor to fit the storyline?
Thank you! It was a lot of fun to write!
It's very synergistic. Something in the plot leads to a joke which leads to more plot. A good example is "puck." I had the pixies playing a joke on Vern, but I needed someone to blame. Who's the fairy best known for jokes? Puck in "Midsummer Night's Dream." I didn't want to steal Shakespeare's character, so I turned "puck" into a title. This led to no end of puns, and the plot moved to accommodate them.
What writers do you look to for inspiration when developing your plots?
In Magic, Mensa & Mayhem, I didn't really draw from other writers for the plot, though you'll see influences of Robert Asprin's and Jody Lynn Nye's Myth, Inc. series in the situations and comedy. Plus, I hope, some Terry Pratchett in the worldbuilding and cliché twisting. Piers Anthony influenced my taste for puns early on in life--blame him or credit him as you wish.
However, in other DragonEye, PI stories, I draw heavily from noir films and books, or from whatever genre I'm looking to spoof. Live and Let Fly is a super-spy spoof, so I read a lot of 007 novels and watched the movies. When I'm ready for the next (GapMan!), I need to bone up on my comic book heroes. Such a difficult life...