A Post! Wow!

I’m almost ashamed at how little I’ve posted recently, except I’ve been WRITING, and since y’all are here because of my writing, I hope that’s okay. 😉

It’s been a busy few weeks. I’m working hard on revising a romantic suspense story I wrote back in 2007. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned just from writing steadily for a couple of years. There really is no substitute for steady practice leavened with studying craft. I thought the story was good when I wrote it. It was…okay. The premise has promise, but the execution…rough, baby. Rough. I can make it better now, and I will. Maybe it will find a home somewhere, and maybe it won’t, but either way, I’m learning, writing, working it out in my head, working it out on paper (completely different, in my experience, from working it out in my head), finding someone to give it a fresh read, writing, polishing, revising, working, working, working.

In other news, we just returned from vacation. It was fun, although as a completely bookish introvert I find spending a week with my family in a small car and/or small hotel room really exhausting. I love them, but work and school are good things for everyone. Now I’m off to transfer the laundry to drawers and closets via the foyer (sorting area in poorly-designed house) and the laundry room. Then it’s the grocery store. I need a vacation from my vacation!

Happy Mother's Day!

To all you mothers, or aunts, grandmothers, sisters, anyone who takes care of anyone else. Mothering isn’t limited to those with kids, if you think about it.

I had a nice day. Breakfast in bed, which was a success because I didn’t have to wash all the bedding afterward, a dozen roses, and best of all, my husband cleaned the bathrooms. 2 1/2 shiny bathrooms – toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, mirrors, floors – and I didn’t have to lift a finger…an excellent Mother’s Day gift. Then he took our son to visit Grandma, so I have the house to myself. It’s so interesting how the best gifts often don’t cost a penny…

Happy Mother’s Day!

Wickedcrazybusy

It’s spring. I barely remember winter except it seemed like it would last forever and I would never be warm again. And I’m wickedcrazybusy which isn’t a word, but should be. Things are settling down, slowly, but between prepping for RT and writing because THAT’S WHAT I DO, several times in the last month I have forgotten to brush my teeth. So far I have not forgotten to deliver the Small Boy to and from school. Relief. All appears normal to the outsider, appears being the key word in that sentence.

So, yeah, I’ll be in Columbus, Ohio next week at the Romantic Times conference. If you’re going, look me up. I’ll have chocolate, I promise! I’m speaking on the Harlequin Series panel on Wednesday 4/28 at 2:30 with Julie Miller et al, and giving a workshop at 11 a.m. on 4/30 called Revision Quest with the fabulous Robin L. Rotham. Robin and I both believe strongly in an effective revision process being key to writing books readers love, and we’ve worked hard to gather our ideas and techniques into the workshop. I’ll also be at the print book fair on 5/1, and just around, hanging out, the rest of the time.

In the meantime, I hope spring has arrived in your part of the world. The trees and grass are so green here that my eyes hurt when I look out the window. It’s wonderful.

Fast Draft

Historical romance author Jo Beverly wrote a very interesting article for RWA’s national magazine, the Romance Writer’s Report, about a topic guaranteed to provoke discussion: plotting vs. pantsing. She calls pantsing “flying into the mist”, and she’s a confirmed, open believer in that technique. All of the books or stories I’ve written, up until this one, have been mist stories. I had a vague idea of the plot/HEA, a much stronger idea of the characters and their struggles, and a desire to write. So I sat down and wrote the books without thinking much about goals, motivations, conflicts, structure, hooks, etc. This was more…fun…in some ways than preplotting a book, the method with which I’m experimenting for the current novel. This time I created charts to track the plot and build tension, wrote character back story, identified turning points, etc. I’m now writing a fast draft, which is to say I’m writing forward to the tune of about 1500 words a day until I’ve reached The End.

In the past I’ve discovered if I don’t Just Do It, I get hung up on things like research. My current hero works on the oil rigs. I have never worked on an oil rig. No one I know has worked on an oil rig. I know nothing about oil rigs, or the oil industry, so when I get to points in dialogue when he’s supposed to say something about working on an oil rig, I simply type in DO MORE RESEARCH HERE and keep on moving forward.

This amuses my editor no end. I had several rounds of edits sent back with a note saying, “Want to finish that research?” The funny thing is, by the time I’ve sent the book to my editor, I often don’t need whatever detail I felt I was missing when I was writing or revising the book.

The planning writers can do before writing a work definitely smooths out the process. I now have a list of about 40 scenes, including turning points, plot points, and emotional reactions that drive the story forward. I know what motivates the heroine and the hero. I know their end goals, I know what they give each other they can’t get from anyone else. That’s my stick in the sand: I’m writing what I’ve got…until someone does something surprising that takes the story in a different direction. When I was revising and expanding LIBERATING LACEY I got so confident in the writing I forgot to look at my scene outline until after the book was PUBLISHED. Needless to say, I’d deviated from that document…but the end result was better than what I planned.

So far knowing all this stuff hasn’t prevented me from writing the fast draft. For some authors, it does. My friend Julie Miller says if she knows what’s happening she can’t write the story. The characters’ surprises keep her coming back to the keyboard. Most writers I know well don’t do a really detailed outline – they get an idea, do some planning, then go for it.

Finding that balance between knowing enough to make sure the story’s workable and not knowing so much you get bored with the writing isn’t easy to do. If you’re hung up in the planning, try writing a scene or two, a key scene. If you’re stuck in the middle of a draft, try taking a step back and doing a synopsis or an outline and see if that helps. Most of all, keep writing!

How Did You Get Here?

One of the fun things about having a website is the ability to see the search engine phrases people typed in to get to this page. For example, I posted about Katherine Heigl and Janet Evanovich, and presto, got a couple of hits from people searching the Internet for those phrases. Yesterday I got a hit from someone who typed “sexy romantic fucking movie” into a search engine. Um. Yup. Not a movie. A book. But yup…that’s the basic idea + characters, a plot, and a HEA. Carry on.

My favorite, my absolute favorite, is the person who typed “large breasts in a lacy hunter green bra” in a search engine and found…well…Lacey and Hunter. I do not want to know WHY said individual was searching the internet for “large breasts in a lacy hunter green bra” but all the same, welcome, and thanks for the laugh!

Wow!

LIBERATING LACEY won first place in the EPIC Awards Contemporary Erotic Romance category at EPICon last night! I’m truly honored and delighted. Congratulations again to all the finalists in the very competitive category, and to the winners!

Good Earth Quote

I like a brand of tea called Good Earth. The strings attached to the bags have little paper tags on them, and pithy sayings on the tags. Today’s tea bag held the following Danish proverb:

He who would leap high must take a long run.

Nice. Good for writers, who have to be in it for the long haul. I have a little collection of fortune cookie sayings and caps from Honest-T bottles (which also have short quotes printed on the underside). Usually these inspire me in some way, like the Winston Churchill quote, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” But I’ll never forget the fortune I got shortly before I took a pregnancy test six years ago. It read, “You will soon need a new wardrobe.”

Two days later the pregnancy test had two lines, not one, and two months later I was buying maternity clothes. Freaky!

Process #6 – Learning

The sad reality of blogging is that the deeper I get into a book, the less I focus on blogging. My brain’s constantly absorbed with the new characters, leaving fewer neurons for interesting topics of discussion. My bad.

For a week or so now, I’ve been thinking about learning. And actually learning, which is a good thing. I used to work in Human Resources and for a while I wrote job descriptions. It was an incredibly tedious, repetitive job, but I learned something valuable from the work. The system we used to evaluate jobs used several factors to come up with a number (utter insanity) that ranked the job against other jobs in the organization, supposedly to guarantee salary parity. (I’m Canadian. I like parity. And hockey. Yeah Canada!) Anyway, one of the factors was called “Know-How”. It was comprised of education and skills necessary for the job, and a subset of Know-How was Problem Solving. This was, like, 15 years ago, so I can’t remember what went into problem solving, if that section detailed the kinds of problems to be solved, or the techniques necessary to solve problems. I do remember eating enormous smiley face-frosted sugar cookies every day to cope with this completely insane job, and having to wear pantyhose. The way my manager summed this up was that Problem Solving was a subset of Know How because you can’t solve problems in a job if you don’t have the basic knowledge necessary to do the job.

In other words, you can’t think with what you don’t know. Think about it. It’s true.

One of the problems I faced in the new book is that if I wanted to keep growing as a writer, I needed to tackle something different. I decided I wanted to maintain the character development and emotional depth in my books but increase the complexity of the plots. I like to learn (aka procrastinate) so I’m usually taking a class or reading a book on some element of the craft of writing – storyboarding, character arc, plot structures, turning points, plot points. Some people decide to learn something, read up on it, and bang, they’re smarter. Not me. I’m not an organized learner. My methodology, refined over twenty-five years of education, is to cram stuff into my brain and let it all compost in there. Eventually something usable comes out. I’m unable to predict when or where this will happen, but it does make for interesting conversations at dinner parties and the like.

Usually something acts as a catalyst to turn all the food rinds and newspapers and coffee grounds into compost. In this case it was a conversation with Kristin Gabriel, a Harlequin and Guideposts author, about how she comes up with turning points and plot points. With one simple sentence Kris tossed off so casually (she’s an expert plotter), she turned all the inputted garbage turned into compost gold. She said she gets her turning and plot points from the characters’ goals and motivations. Add that sentence to several months of pondering new characters, themes, possible situations, story boards, etc etc etc and BOOM. Head explosion.

This is not news to anyone who’s been in this business for more than one book. It’s stunningly, painfully obvious, and at some level, I knew this. As I’ve said before, my first technique for developing a new book is to find a character who appeals to me, then figure out the worst thing I can do to him. This means, for example, giving a newly divorced woman a younger man who doesn’t fit anywhere in her life, or giving a writer the man her muse wants her to have…then taking him away – the plot for my most recently sold Spice Brief, CHOOSING LUKE. I start with a character and mess up his or her (but usually her) life.  It’s impossible to tell decent stories without knowing that you have to take a reader on a journey through ups and down, and the ups and downs have to make sense to give a good emotional ride. But I didn’t know it at a conscious level, which is the level where a craftsperson can consciously choose to manipulate a technique to her advantage. I do now.

The last component to the dreaded job descriptions was Accountability. This basically covered the daily tasks and expectations in the job, from delivering mail to delivering the business unit results expected by the shareholders. Having the knowledge, the education and experience, doesn’t guarantee a good book, much less one a publisher might buy. A million things could still go wrong. But I do love to learn…which made last week a killer fantastic week.