How much thought do you put into your book’s setting? When used correctly, setting can set mood and tone, give insight into your characters, and more. One author who does a fantastic job of using setting is Tiffany Reisz, bestselling author of the Original Sinners series.
She shared her tips and insights about setting at our recent First Draft Friday video chat. Click below to watch our 30-minute discussion where Tiffany gave actionable tips and answered questions from the live audience. Keep scrolling if you’d like to read the transcript.
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Alessandra: Welcome to First Draft Friday. I am your host, Alessandra Torre. I’m with Authors AI, and today we are going to be chatting with Tiffany Reisz all about using settings in your novel. I am so excited to have this conversation and I’m so excited to have Tiffany here. I’m a huge fan girl of Tiffany. I’ll try to my gushing to a minimum, but welcome. Do you want to introduce yourself and just let them know a little bit about you and your writing?
Tiffany: Hi everybody. Tiffany Reisz. Nice to meet you all. Yeah, y’all from Kentucky. We’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about y’all and setting and how you can use dialogue to flesh out your setting because people like me from Louisville, Kentucky. Hi, y’all, good to be here. I’m the author of the Original Sinner series, The Night Mark, The Bourbon Thief, The Lucky Ones – whole bunch of other stuff, lots of books that I wrote and put in fun settings for the sole purpose of going there on vacation. But we’ll talk about out that too. So thanks for having me Alessandra. Good to be here.
Alessandra: Absolutely. Well so when we about setting a novel, and I know that you write romance, but a lot of times like some of your books can go almost into literary fiction or women’s fiction and can have some mystery aspects. So, when do you start thinking about setting, do you think about it early on or does it kind of grow organically as you write?
Tiffany: That is a great question, and I have to pause and think about various books that I’ve written. And at one point the setting became important. I know when I was writing the Harlequin Blaze trilogy, my Men At Work trilogy, all said on Mount Hood in Oregon, we were living out there and it was so beautiful. And I just didn’t see a lot of books set on Mount Hood. It was just this really poetic, gorgeous setting and a lot of interesting people out there. So, we just bought a house on Mount Hood and we were getting work done on it, so we had a lot of really friendly, handsome contract actors in flannel in our house. And I was like, “I can write a book about these guys. They’re great. They’re fun.” So yeah, but I think the men at work series kind of started with the setting.
I wanted to write book set on Mount Hood and Harlequin Blaze wanted me to write some books for them, so we put that together. You know when it’s a kind of a rugged environment when we lived out there, we lived out there for about nine months. We’d hear guns shots go off every day. You know, people would hunt, people would just shoot off their guns for fun. So, it was not like living in a city like New York where you’re not even, I think in New York you’re not even supposed to have a gun in the city, or there’s some places like that. You’re not going to stand on the street in New York and shoot your gun off, but you can do that out in the country, on the mountain. So just a very different place, and that sort of informed the characters and the stories — all of them are kind of tough guys without being tough guys. They’re tough marshmallows.
But yeah, so I know The Night Mark started out with the setting, Andrew and I went on vacation to Savannah, Georgia and Tybee Island. And we heard the story about the lighthouse keep sister and inspired The Night Mark, so the setting definitely came first there. It was a lighthouse book from the beginning, it was always a lighthouse book. The plot changed completely. The character changed completely, but from the first minute of the idea, it was a lighthouse book. So then, you have books like The Original Sinner series and it’s sort of, oh, well, it has to be set in New York, you don’t have large kinky communities in small towns. So it was going to be New York, or it was going to be LA, and I knew New York a little bit better and Nora is clearly much more of a New Yorker than she is a Los Angeles girl.
Alessandra: And the whole publishing world.
Tiffany: Yeah, and the publishing world too.
Alessandra: That was a good setting.
Tiffany: Yeah, you know, if you’re going to hang out with your editor, you need to live in New York or near New York. You’re not going to hang out with your editor in Louisville. My editor, I have never met, my agent, I have never met; they’re in New York and it’s been a pandemic, so it’s going to be a couple months more before I can go and meet them. So if you want to hang out with your editor and agent in publishing, you got to live near New York. So yeah, some books, the setting was either necessary to the story, like The Original Sinner series or the setting came first and inspired the story like The Night Mark and the Men At Work books.
Alessandra: I love that. And I can’t imagine the Original Sinners being in California because…
Tiffany: They kind of make jokes. I think Nora makes a joke at one point about how goths and LA do not go well together and vinyl catsuits and leather clothes do not go well with LA weather. So yeah, she definitely has to stay on the East Coast, until they did move to New Orleans, and New Orleans is the only city that you could transplant the Original Sinners to and it makes sense because it’s very French. It’s very Catholic.
Alessandra: Yeah. And it’s love the energy of New Orleans.
Tiffany: It’s the big easy, which Nora probably has joked is her nickname, you know, more than once. So yeah, those two cities were the only two cities in the United States that could handle that trio.
Alessandra: So if I’m an author and I say, “Oh, OK, I want to set a book in New Orleans.” First question is, do you think that they need to actually go there and visit a city that they’re going to be writing a book and especially if it’s a city that is as much personality?
Tiffany: Yeah. I recommend it. I do recommend it if you can. And it is a tax write off. So if you are a working author — this is one of my tips for writers. If you are a working author in the United States, I don’t know about other countries, but researching your book, your travel expenses for researching your book are tax write off, so feel free to go. I mean, it’s, it’s still going to be expensive, but it’s worth it. But no, you don’t have to, you absolutely don’t have to. And there’s some people who can’t for, you know, they have small children or they’re disabled or something. I don’t want them to think that, “Oh, I can’t write a book set in a city I’ve never been to; that’s against the law of publishing.” No, you absolutely can. And there’s lots of ways to get around it.
The best information, you know, I have often visited settings for places I’ve written about, but a lot of the juicy stuff that I get in books comes from memoirs that are set there. Memoirs are, are my favorite resource for learning about a city. You said a book in New Orleans and you find a memoir from somebody who is a New Orleans transplant or a famous author who wrote a memoir about living in New Orleans. I read a great biography of New Orleans most famous Madam back when New Orleans had the huge red light district and prostitution was sort of mostly legal or at least decriminalized ignored. Yeah, ignored. So yeah, memoir is a great way to get insider information. It’ll turn you into an insider. Even if you’ve never been there, you’ll learn stuff that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. And travel blogs and that sort of thing — you’ll find people who post, “Hey, I’m moving from Louisville, Kentucky to Portland, Oregon, what do I need to know?” And people love to talk about their town. And they will tell you all kinds of gossip. Oh last week there was a bear on 36th Street and they had to tranquilize it and drag it out into the woods and rerelease it. I mean, that happened when we lived in Portland. There was a bear, a black bear got into a tree in a residential neighborhood. So that sort of stuff is not uncommon in Portland. There’s no bears as far as I know in New Orleans; there are lots of very, very large lizards, however. So yeah, just get on travel blogs and stuff. And if nobody’s asking, then you ask and people love to talk about their hometowns.
Alessandra: I love the memoir idea because you can pick up on dialect and words that they use and the way that they speak in a very natural way.
Tiffany: And you will always be surprised. There’ll be things that will remind you of your hometown that you never expected. You’ll be reading about a small town in France or something, and you’ll be like, oh my gosh, that could have been … that school could have been my school in Kentucky. And you’ll feel these sort of universal connections with people. Then other things will surprise you completely, you know, you’ll read about a town where everybody’s bilingual or something like that, that you didn’t realize. There’s parts of Pennsylvania, where Pennsylvania Dutch is still spoken. I mean, we don’t think about that there’s pockets in the United States of people who still speak languages like German and whatnot. I forget which town I was looking at, but there was a town in Wisconsin or Indiana I think, that the first five generations of settlers were all German speakers. So it was like until the 20th century, the town spoke German in the United States. So if you’re going to write a historical and you’re looking for really interesting towns, if you’re reading memoirs, you’ll find really cool stuff like that.
Alessandra: Let’s talk about when maybe a setting can detract from a book or a movie or something like that. If you don’t pick the right setting, are there things that you could risk – ways you could risk hurting your novel? Does that sense?
Tiffany: Yes. There’s, you know, from the small to the big on the spectrum. So, poor Nora Roberts, she is fully admitted… I know, not poor at all, that’s a big sarcasm. But poor, Nora Roberts, she’s fully admitted that she doesn’t go in research settings for her book. She writes 200 of them a year. She wouldn’t have time to go to all these places. But she said a book in Oregon, and at one point in the book, the heroin gets out of her car and pumps her own gas. And anyone who’s lived in Oregon knows it’s one of those states where all gas stations are full service, they’re starting to change, but when her book came out, set in New Orleans… why do I keep saying New Orleans? I guess I want to go there. Set in Oregon, her heroin pumps her own gas and she still gets letters and emails about it. Oh, didn’t you know that you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon?
Alessandra: I wouldn’t have known, and that’s hard to find or research unless you’ve lived there. That’s tough.
Tiffany: Yeah, exactly. So at that point, all you do is you find somebody who lives in that state to be your beta reader. So if I write a book set in Idaho, and I’ve only driven through Idaho, I would find somebody who has live their life in Idaho to be my beta reader, just to make sure I get stuff right, or at least that I don’t get things drastically wrong that I’m going to hear about for the next 10 years. But that’s small scale stuff. Larger scale stuff, one of the biggest problems with setting is white room syndrome in a book. That’s what it’s called white room syndrome when your setting is so vague that everything that’s happening could take place in a white room, a featureless white room.
Andrew and I just saw the Batman yesterday, and I would call that black room syndrome. Everything was so dark in and gloomy, and it had very few settings and they were all in these very claustrophobic rooms that all sort of looked alike, that the setting didn’t make any kind of impression on me the way other Batman movies had much more visually powerful settings. Things I can remember, Wayne Manor and the big open of Wayne Manor and then the research and development room at Wayne enterprises that Morgan Freeman’s character was in charge of and the great big banks of TV screens and computer screens, that was all very vivid and a great setting. Whereas the new Batman movie, whether you like the movie you’re dislike the movie, the setting is very glooming claustrophobic, and it’s just blackness and grayness and not very effective I thought.
It can be a bummer. Like if you go in expecting Wayne Manor, and you go in expecting really cool settings and you don’t get any, you’re like, oh, that’s kind of forgettable, it’s just a character standing in shadows for three hours. I think the white room syndrome is the biggest problem is, authors and creators being afraid to have vivid settings to really go for it and create something really visually interesting. I think writers are afraid of it because it’s just black marks on a white page. How is that going to be visually interesting? It was like, well, that’s where we use language to create our settings. Read the first chapter of Holes by Louis Sachar where he talks creates camp Green Lake in just…
Alessandra: Holes like a hole?
Tiffany: Yes, it’s a children’s book, it’s a middle grade book. It was turned into a Disney movie, one of my favorite movies all time, but the book is phenomenal. And even if you don’t read the book, just get on Amazon and pull up the sample of it, look inside and read the first chapter, and the first two pages is 100% setting and it is so vivid, so visual, so be beautiful done, you’ll feel like you know it. It’s masterclass in setting in the first two pages of Hole. Don’t be afraid to be vivid.
Alessandra: I work with a lot of newer authors and setting is something they’re kind of afraid of in terms of description, describing setting. And I think a lot of them don’t know where to start, and they don’t know what, and that’s where I think a lot of people start with weather because they just don’t know where to go. So, if you’re opening a book and you’re opening a scene and your characters are there, where do you see introducing? And I know it depends on the scene, right. But if you are trying to paint a picture and the scene is important or the setting of the scene is important, do you have any tips on how to describe that scene and does it vary from genre to genre in terms of how deep into that scene description you go?
Tiffany: It would vary. Some books where the characters on the road or on the move or on the run; you want them to be brief and vivid. I’m immediately reminded of the scene in… Oh, I have just forgotten the name of it. Andrew’s going to yell the name of it from the other room. It was based on Cormack McCarthy book and…
Alessandra: The Road.
Tiffany: No, it’s the one with the evil serial killer with the page boy haircut old country, No Country for Old Men.
Alessandra: Oh yeah, yeah.
Tiffany: So the gas station scene – so it’s a very brief scene set at a gas station where our evil serial killer plays a little coin game with the nice gentle gas station attendant. And he’s moving on, he’s just getting gas and moving on. But they make that setting so innocent, like just this innocent gas station, innocent gas station attendant, but death is standing right there. So even though it’s brief and it doesn’t truly matter, like it could have been somewhere else, he could have stopped for a sandwich, it didn’t have to be a gas station. The dialogue and the scene that happens at that setting makes it very, very memorable. So yeah, that’s sort of a road movie, they’re chasing somebody. They’re trying to find somebody, so everybody’s on the run, so it goes from setting to setting to setting. So brief, but memorable is how I would describe when you have a lot of setting. When you have one main setting, everything is going to take place at this one place, then you want to make your setting the other main character.
I teach a class on setting where it says setting your other main character, and that’s going to be a book like Holes or a TV show like Law and Order or a book series like The Original Sinners series where the city is so important, the setting is so important it becomes another character. Only New York had a high enough homicide rate in the ’90s to sustain a TV show like Law and Order. And in fact, Law and Order went off the air for years because the homicide rate dropped and the premise was to do rip from the headline murders. And when there stopped being murders in the headlines, the show went off the air. And again, with the Original Sinners series, you need a large active BDSM community, some organized crime and publishing, so that would be New York. And then again, Holes is all set at this notorious camp that’s like a juvenile detention camp.
And let me just read the first page of Holes. You will benefit, everyone benefits from reading the first page of Holes, so I’m going to read it real quick. It’s very, very short. Holes part one, “You are entering Camp Green Lake.” And let me stop right there just to say, it’s wonderful confidence from the writer to start with setting. That’s something a really confident writer would do; not characters, not dialogue, nothing happening, just pure setting, and it’s incredibly powerfully written. So part one, “You are entering Camp Green Lake. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” Already an amazing first line. Where did the lake go? Immediate mystery is created just with the first line. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. Well, where did the lake go? Here we go. “There was once a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago, now it is just a dry flat wasteland. There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake and the people who live there. During the summer, the daytime temperature hovers around 95 degrees in the shade. If you can find any shade. There is not much shade in a big dry lake. The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edge of the lake. A hammock is stretched between the two trees and a log cabin stands behind that. The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the warden. The warden owns the shade. Out on the lake rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers. Here’s a good rule to remember about rattlesnakes and scorpions. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you, usually. Being bitten by a scorpion or even a rattlesnake is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You won’t die, usually. Sometimes a camper will try to be bitten by a scorpion or even a small rattlesnake, then he will get to spend a day or two recovering in his tent instead of having to dig a hole out on the lake. But you don’t want to be bitten by yellow spotted lizard, that’s the worst thing that can happen to you. You will die a slow and painful death, always. If you get bitten by yellow spotted lizard, you might as well go the shade of the oak trees and lie in the hammock, there is nothing anyone can do to you anymore.” How incredible is that?
Alessandra: And I’m like, why are they digging holes? Like, why would having to dig a hole?
Tiffany: They’re being punished and that’s their punishment. So immediately, everything you need to know about Camp Green Lake in the first page. No characters, other than the warden who owns the shade, we know that about him or her. And yeah, that’s just the sign of incredibly confident, powerful writer that they start off with a setting that’s so powerful it becomes a character in the book. You will learn everything you need to learn about setting from reading that book if you don’t want to listen to me ramble.
Alessandra: I don’t know if Camp Green Lake is imaginary, but if it is or isn’t, that kind of ties into a question we have from a Facebook user. “If an author has minimal experience with the location and can’t visit, do you recommend they create an imaginary city or location in place of a real one?
Tiffany: Yeah, so Camp Green Lake isn’t real, so that’s completely created, but there are dry lake beds and there are desert areas of Texas. You can stay outta them and create your fictional settings based on real ones. There’s a really big, fancy word “verisimilitude.” You want to create verisimilitude. Whether it’s real or not, you want it to be believable in other words. So if you have snow in Texas, you better explain why, you know, this better be something that is a weather phenomenon that gets discussed in the book, otherwise, readers will be like, why is there snow in July in Texas? There might be snow in July in Antarctica, but you know, we’re not going to expect it in San Antonio. So, just make sure you get enough details — believable details, so that your even your fantasy fictional setting will feel real to the reader. I mean, the Eight Circle, the club, the BDSM club in New York is not a real club. I did have somebody email me once asking me how they got in and I had to break her heart.
Alessandra: I can’t find it on Yelp.
Tiffany: It’s fictional, sorry to break your heart, but I based it on the old Playboy club. So I looked up information on the old Playboy clubs before they shut down. And how, if you were a member, you got your own key and stuff like that. You know, and I found an old condemned hotel and it had like really cool architecture in it, but it was really dirty and gritty too, so that inspired it. Zillow is your friend. That’s another tip for people. If you’re setting in a real city or a fake city based on a real city you know, Gotham instead of New York, and you want to give your hero a fabulous apartment or a small bungalow in a Southern city or something, get on Zillow and look inside people’s houses. Look and see, are they mostly brick or are they aluminum siding or vinyl siding? Are they paint in funny colors? Like, the closer you get to the coast, the more colorful houses get.
I’m was born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky, so now I have a strong allergic reaction to brick ranch houses. If I could go my entire life and never see another brick ranch house, I will be a happy woman. And you go to the coast and you see houses in South Carolina on the coast that are pink and lime green and purple and white with a mint green shutters and stuff like that, so colorful and beautiful. So yeah, so get on Zillow and make Zillow your friend. And house porn is always just fun to look at anyway.
Alessandra: It is always fun to look at. Janelle from Facebook said, “Speaking of real cities… in a historical where towns come and go over the years is it advisable to mix in made-up towns and locate them in perspective to real towns?
Tiffany: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. That just helps again with our verisimilitude. We know we can look up London on a map and your fake village of St. John’s if we know it’s an hour’s walk from London, we get an hour’s walk north, then we can tell what part of England it would’ve been in, in the 16 hundreds or something like that. So yeah, that’s never a bad idea to anchor it to reality, even if you’re creating a made up place.
Alessandra: And to those of you watching us live, we have five minutes left in the chat. So if you have any questions, don’t be shy, now’s the time to shout them out. We do have one from Jade. And she asked if you have any tips on how to make your writing style not dry.
Tiffany: Oh, you want wet writing. Nice wet, moist, moist writing. Everybody hates the word moist. Everybody’s least favorite word in a romance novel. It comes to this, and this will seem like an oversimplification, but unfortunately, it is the truth and you’re just going to have to embrace it. If you’re not having fun, the reader’s not having fun. I have asked myself so many times when I’m writing a book, how can I make this fun for me? These two characters, I need them to fall in love with each other, how can I make it fun? I don’t love writing total strangers meeting. I love writing characters with history already. You know, by the time they’re together in chapter two, I want them to have known each other for, you know, five years ago and broken up or 20 years ago and broken up or so something, or they killed somebody together in high school.
You know, I want them to have history. I want them to have deep roots, even if they haven’t seen each other for years. So that’s much more fun to me to write than two total strangers meeting, but that’s just me. So, you need to find what’s fun for you to write and just lose your mind. You can always dial it back in edits, but balls to the wall first draft. Just go crazy, have fun, make your character seven feet tall and speak 20 languages and have all these crazy skills and stuff, you know, because something is going to work. Many things will not work, but if you do not edit yourself and just let yourself have fun, something is going to start to jump off the page and feel real and feel alive and you’re going to be writing and your fingers won’t go fast enough to keep up with your ideas, and suddenly your book will be alive and your characters will be alive. So yeah, don’t edit yourself as you’re writing your first and second draft, do that much, much later, have fun, and that’s when your book will start to come to life for you.
Alessandra: Yeah. And a lot of times setting, like you said, can almost be another character. You can also have their jobs, I mean, there’s a lot of ways that you can add it’s kind of energy.
Tiffany: Yeah. And don’t think you have to write your book any sort of way, just because whatever the trend is right now, or everybody’s writing billionaires or everybody’s writing Cowboys or whatever, you know, write a cowgirl billionaire – gender swap, you know, go nuts, have fun, do something completely different, and that’s when you’ll find the juices start flowing when you’re writing. Just go with it and have fun and do your edits much, much later. I see we have another question.
Alessandra: Yep. Should the setting reflect the theme/style of the book, example, dark/scary versus bright and colorful, etc?
Tiffany: It can, or you can have contrast — that will work really powerfully. We have, like I was talking about the Batman is a dark movie in a dark setting, and it’s just so relentless, you know, I kept waiting for some color and some vibrancy, something fun to jump out and it was just relentlessly dark. So, I think you can have a lot of fun. I think, you know, when you go from a setting like The Eight Circle, which is this dark, loud thumping music, BDSM club, everybody’s half naked and getting beaten up. And then we go to Nora’s house, and Nora at her house it’s really cozy and kind of a cottage and it’s a contrast. So in her one life, she’s a dominatrix and it’s all black leather and whips and chains.
And when she gets home, she’s wearing ducky pajamas and sitting on a big couch with a fuzzy blanket and her cute roommate, her cute teenage boy roommate who cooks her dinner, you know, so that sort of contrast can actually work really powerfully, much more so than just a dark book with a relentlessly dark setting or a happy book that’s just all twee and cheerful. Even people who are sweet and happy and cheerful have had dark experiences. And so, you add layers to your character into your setting and it becomes more real. Even the cutest small towns in America have a house that’s been burned down or condemned or a bad neighbor or something like that, a bad neighborhood or a building that’s known to house crime or drug dealers or something like that. So, you know that’s all cozy mysteries, tend to be set in small towns with dark sides. So even your sweet cozy mystery is going to have – that small town is going to have a dark side to it. Good question.
Alessandra: And we are right at time, but I think we have time for one more question. Janelle said, “Any specific places to find historical details on everyday life? For example, like if I’m writing a book in the 1800 hundreds, where would I find those kind of small details about everyday life?”
Tiffany: You’re going to have to dig, but people did keep diaries then, especially women would keep diaries and journals from that time, and they are often published. I would go to the local… your local library and talk to reference librarian or any of the librarians and say, can you help me find a diary from the 1850s in the north or the 1850s in the south or something like that. You’re going to be in like the pre-civil war era, and a lot of people are going to be keeping diaries. And account books and stuff like that. How much did stuff cost, and which day was laundry day and that sort of thing. When I was writing – it’s not the 1800s. When I was writing The Night Mark, which is a time travel romance set in 1921, I found an old reprint of a Sears catalog from the 1920s. And it showed me the technology they used and how much stuff cost and what was available. They sold vibrators in the Sears catalog in the 1920s. It was for headaches. But it was clearly like female problems, but vibrators were for sale in the 1920s in the Sears catalog. But yeah, that really was helpful with money and prices and technology and stuff, so there’s lots of resources out there.
Alessandra: And if you’re able to answer this quickly, I don’t know if you have time, but Carolyn said, “How much do you plan ahead with settings? Do you know all of the settings when you’re planning?” Did you know that Nora was going to have such a contrast in her two lives? Or at what point did you…?
Tiffany: You just make it up as you go along. When your character needs to get out of the house and go somewhere. And you’re like, well, okay, well, where can they go now? Are they going to go to a park? Are they going to go to a church? Are they going to go to a club? Are they going to go to their boss’s house? Are they going to go to the grandmother’s house? You know, it’s all rough draft stuff, and you write it and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and then you delete it, but yeah, you just make it up as you go. We’re all making it up as we go along. It only looks like it’s all pre-planned and thought out so well, because we do a bunch of drafts and a bunch of edits to make everything fit together in the end. But yeah, we’re all just making it up.
Alessandra: You know, research can be so distracting for so many of us, so if I am like, oh, OK, I’m going to send it to the grandmother’s house. Do you, in your first draft put the details of the grandmother’s house in there? Or do you just write the scene and then kind of maybe go online and look at Zillow or something like that?
Tiffany: I’ll write a detail… if image pops into my head, like, okay, so this is going to be the rich grandmother who lives in the Victorian painted lady. You know, I know what a Victorian painted lady looks like and I kind of know the layout of them, so I might throw some details in, in the first draft. But then I’ll go back in the second draft or third draft and flesh it out or change it. It was like, oh, no, the grandmother character is not working well. It would work a lot better if it was grandma who lived in New York City in a high rise apartment and was a famous attorney, and now she’s retired and she’s rich or something like that. And so, then I’ll switch the setting if the character doesn’t work.
So yeah, just constant revising, constant changing. Don’t do so much research that you think you’re working when you’re not. The only thing that is writing is writing. Researching is not writing. Researching is the opposite of writing. It’s, you’ve got to do it, it’s a necessary evil, but if you are spending three hours researching your setting and you end up not having any time to write that day, that day is wasted. Just make it up and fix it later, keep writing. Don’t let research get in the way of your momentum.
Alessandra: I love that. And before we let you go, you told me a story five or six years ago about the Siren, and I think it’s so powerful. Can you just let them know how many draft you went through? And the Siren, for those of you watching the replay, is one of Tiffany’s most popular books. I’m assuming, I don’t know your sales figures, but…
Tiffany: It’s book one in the series, everybody’s got to start there.
Alessandra: Yeah. Do you know what I’m talking about in terms of how many times you rewrote that?
Tiffany: Oh, yeah. So I spent about six years writing the first draft, because I had jobs and no money and huge student loan debt. I would sneak in where… like I have flyer, I worked at a bookstore and I have flyers from the counter, the register counter at the bookstore that I would write lines from the book on the back of when I was alone at the front register and tape them into my notebook. I was writing it in little piecemeal while I was working. And so, after about six years, I finally had a finished draft and I started sending it out to agents. And one of the first seven agents that I queried, asked for the full manuscript. She read it, and she said she loved my writing style, but the book had no plot and it needed to be rewritten. She said if I could rewrite it and give it a plot, either romance plot, or an erotica plot or something like that, instead of just, you know, a random assortment of sexy kinky people spending time together; something had to be at stake. She said, you know, rewrite it and then I will read it again.
I was scared that she would immediately forget that she made this promise, so I rewrote the book really fast, like within six weeks. And if anybody’s read The Siren, they’ll know Nora has to kind of do the same thing too. So, I rewrote the book. It was like, I gutted 70,000 words. It was the entire middle, and then rewrote the whole thing. And the end was changed a bit and the beginning was changed a bit, but the big change was the whole middle. And so, I had to rewrite it and I sent it back to that agent and she got about 50 or 60 pages in and realized I had completely rewritten the book and she emailed me immediately and offered representation, because she was like, when I tell people to rewrite, what they do is they change the color of the guy’s sweater on page 45. They don’t do this. They don’t throw the whole book out and start from scratch, which one I had basically done.
So she was like, I can work with you; you’ll take edit notes and you’ll work hard and you’ll actually do rewrites like real substantial rewrites. So she offered me representation and then I had to rewrite it a couple more times after that with her notes and with my editor’s notes. And so, it was probably six or seven drafts. And my favorite scene in the book is the all fly scene, which people have read it know what I’m talking about. But yeah, that was the very final draft, like the day before I turned it in I added that scene. So the really, really good stuff came out in the sixth, seventh or eighth draft. But really, The Siren wasn’t the book that I rewrote the most, it was probably The Bourbon Thief or even The Lucky Ones. I probably wrote 300,000 or 400,000 words just to get the 90,000 at the end that those books turned into.
So yeah, it’s, it’s a lot of work, but it’s the job. I use the example, you know, people’s think of professional chefs. It’s like asking a professional chef, how do you work as a professional chef and never get burned? And a professional chef will say, oh, you get burned all the time. That’s just how it is. You get second, third degree burns all the time while working in the kitchen. If you’re going to be a writer, you’re going to have to throw out thousands of words and rewrite. You’re going to get burned, that’s just the job. So, happy writing.
Alessandra: Yeah, happy writing. And thank you to everyone for joining us. We are out of time, but if you’re interested in reading Tiffany’s books, you can check her out at tiffanyreisz.com. And if you’ll note the spelling, R E I S Z.com. And if you are interested in joining future First Draft Fridays or checking out our artificial intelligence editor for authors, visit us at authors.ai. We’d love to see you there. You can try out Marlowe, that’s our editor for free. So thank you so much, Tiffany. It’s been fantastic to have you. Thank you, guys. We’ll see you again in two weeks.