Today I interviewed Jewel E. Leonard about her book, Rays of Sunshine. We’re talking about Settings for #smutchat this week, and I was interested in how she came to choose her setting for Tales by Rails, her first novella in the book. Listen in to how she wrote her steamy story!
What have you been working on lately?
I am up to my neck in edits for the second book of The Witches’ Rede series. Mostly now I’m writing scenes I failed to get to when I originally wrote this book several years ago during NaNoWriMo. I consider it punishment for a job not-well-done. (Just kidding. Sorta.)
This book was a dumpster fire the way I left it, and I’m pleased to say it’s turning out superbly well with my edits.
#SmutChat’s theme this week is settings. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on Tales by Rails. Your novella is set on a train. How did you choose that location?
To be honest, I gave it little thought; it seemed the natural choice.
When I started writing Tales by Rails, I really didn’t have anything planned for it as it started with what became the opening lines of narration that popped into my head just as I was falling asleep one night. Then as more of the story started coming to me, placing the–ahem–action on a train was a little bit fantasy fulfillment for yours truly.
Have you traveled by train before? (If you have, how was your experience?)
Oh absolutely, many times–California to Pennsylvania and back (twice), California to New Hampshire and back, California to Nebraska and back, Arizona to Texas and back. Like Surfer Boy, I don’t fly.
My experiences with Amtrak have been wildly variable … I wouldn’t recommend taking the train unless you can afford a private “roomette,” as they call the downstairs cabins (Superliners, like the one in Tales by Rails, have two stories–some coach seats downstairs with the roomettes, and coach seats all on the second level).
I had a few trips where nothing went horribly wrong, and some trips where Murphy’s Law was the rule of the rails.
Lost luggage, the dining car splitting from the train and leaving passengers with nothing but the snack car for sustenance, no air conditioning in the heat, heater turned full-blast at night and nothing to be done about it, smokers sneaking cigarettes on board (Amtrak is strictly non-smoking now and was at that time), smoking section sharing a car with a non-smoking section because clearly the smoke will be so kind as to stop at some invisible barrier (this was back in the days before Amtrak went non-smoking), old seats eager to snap at a finger if you tried to recline them, and don’t get me started on the state of the bathrooms at the end of several thousand miles … and there was one trip where we were pretty sure the train was breaking speed limits to get through nasty weather through the Midwest, which spurred a conversation about what happens should a tornado meet a train that scared passengers around us (oopsie) …
Having said all that–a good trip on Amtrak is well worth the fare and yes, I miss going, and double-yes, I sometimes wish I could just drop everything and run away the way Rhea does at the beginning of Tales by Rails.
Did you find yourself restricted in any way by the setting while you were writing?
With the train layover in Albuquerque enabling Surfer Boy to run to a nearby convenience store for some necessities not sold aboard the train, no, I really didn’t feel especially restricted.
Picking compact quarters was also a tip I picked up from a theater class I took as an elective at a community college a few years ago. The plays we studied all took place in one room, generally with more characters than can comfortably fit in them.
Combining tight spaces and two strangers with undeniable chemistry is a quick and dirty way to create tension. In my case, sexual tension.
And yeah, you’d better believe all that entendre was deliberate. 😉
What did you like most about the setting?
I found the setting especially conducive to speeding along the “natural course of events” between Surfer Boy and Rhea, when it almost certainly would have progressed far more slowly under other circumstances. When you’ve got a first-time rail-rider who didn’t especially prepare for her trip, there’s really very little to do if you’re not interested in talking to random people in an Amtrak observation car.
Basically, to be blunt, “trapped” in a tiny Amtrak roomette, if Rhea and Surfer Boy weren’t entertaining each other, they were bored out of their minds.
The sequel to Tales by Rails, Smiles by Trials, is not set on a train. How different was your experience writing the two books?
Smiles by Trials was more difficult … but not only did I expand Rhea’s world into a slightly fictionalized version of Illinois, I introduced several new characters with an assortment of complications, each, and the short novel spanned many months. It was more complicated all around, but more rewarding and–to my shock–seems to be more well-received than the novella that came before it.
Do you think you will write about trains in the future?
Seeing as I’m writing in the old west for The Witches’ Rede, including (steam) trains seems necessary. The railyards of Tucson are featured in book one (with a scene on a west-bound train omitted from the beginning), and there’s quite a bit of train that pops up in book two, with a rather —–never mind that. That’s spoilery. 😉
But yes, trains seem to be a staple in my writing these days, though I imagine that will change once The Witches’ Rede is complete.
Thank you, Jewel, for taking the time to answer some questions and for giving away a paperback copy of Rays of Sunshine during #smutchat this week! Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and bookmark her website. Take a moment to subscribe to her newsletter to stay up to date on everything she has going on this year!
Her books are available on Amazon! Don’t forget to check them out!