Talk about writing, in lieu of actually working on my ms. this morning?
Many thanks to the fabulous Rebecca Grace Allen for tagging me in this blog hop. Rebecca’s debut novel, The Duality Principle, will be released by Samhain in January 2015. A logical mathematician who can’t understand why she still craves rough sex with a bad boy, you say? *one clicks* Rebecca and I share the lovely Christa Soule as an editor, so you know I’m going to be leaning hard on our connection to get a sneak peek at that book.
Here’s how this thing works: I answer the four questions below, upon which Rebecca expounded before me, and then I tag more authors to reveal all their secrets next.
Here we go…
What am I working on right now?
I started making this list, and then I started giggling. It is possible that I have overloaded myself. Nothing like figuring out that what makes you tick is the pressure of having too many deadlines! Oh my.
I’m working on edits for my charity anthology story, which is set in Sevilla, Spain and allowing me to indulge in much nostalgia for my one trip there. Audra North has organized two volumes of short stories, all proceeds to benefit RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, a fantastic organization), and the brilliant Sarah Frantz of Riptide Publishing is editing. I’m feeling just the tiniest bit of pressure, what with the volume I am in also including stories by Ruthie Knox, Molly O’Keefe, Cecilia Tan, Charlotte Stein, Mary Ann Rivers, Audra North, Shari Slade, and Alexandra Haughton.
My story about Magda and Javi’s late night adventure on the cobblestone streets of Sevilla is being polished ‘til it shines, thanks to Sarah’s eagle eye.
I’m also writing my first historical this week, a short story set in 1930s London about a doorman and a singer in a drag dance hall on the night of a police anti-sodomy raid. The claustrophobic bouncer and the tougher-than-he-looks songbird end up hiding in the close quarters of an old smuggler’s storeroom to avoid the coppers. Some serious distraction by Laurie is required to keep Frank’s panic under control. The idea for this story was sparked by historian Matt Houlbrook’s blog post about his tattoos and has led me down some fascinating paths. I’ve never written anything but contemporaries until now, so this is an experiment (an all-encompassing experiment! I must learn all the things! Clothes, money, laws, utilities, food/drink, London, housing options, names, music…it never ends!) that I am really enjoying right now. This story, with a working title of DANCE HALL DAYS that kicks off an earworm every morning, is part of anthology of m/m romance stories set in the workplace.
I’m in the midst of a combination of developmental and line edits for my second HarlequinE book, which is the final story in the Tylers series. I can’t get over how much I’ve enjoyed working with Angela Polidoro, my editor for this book and for CALLING HIS BLUFF. She’s terribly insightful about what’s missing from my ms., which is usually a large chunk of the plot. Snappy dialogue, family dynamics, hot sex? No problem. Conflict for the plot? I might have neglected that just a teensy bit. Angela’s been brilliant about teasing out further conflict/hidden motivations that I missed seeing the first time around. I’m really looking forward to this book coming out and seeing what people think about Maxie and Nick and the drama backstage in the theater world…
My current “just for fun” project comes from my participating in a GoodReads writing prompt event, Love’s Landscapes, put on by the M/M Romance group. The lovely Susan A. came up with a story idea that tickled me as soon as I read it on the event page. Inside of ten minutes, I had the story all plotted out in my head and was refreshing my screen like mad while waiting to pick up my kid from basketball practice, desperately trying to claim her prompt. The event as a whole is amazing. 200 prompts were submitted and every last one was claimed by an author who will turn in anything from a short story to a novel by May 1st. Then the stories will be edited, formatted (Kindle, Nook, etc.), and released for free every day, all summer long. I’m having a blast writing about Devin, who loses a bet to his sister when the Broncos give up a last minute TD. The forfeit his sister claims? Devin has to go out on five blind dates she sets up. If only the guy he meets on his first date, Jay, would go out with him again, instead of offering to coach him through the next four dates…
Finally, I have a sekrit pet project, a small town romance with a big cast of characters. Lizzie Devine, my midnight skinny-dipping librarian, is trying to keep her old family home from falling down around her and her grandmothers. She doesn’t have time to date, but the new town sheriff just keeps showing up and fixing things, even though she definitely doesn’t need any help. At all. Ever. There’s a crankysweet best friend, a big city photographer who flirts and fights, and a tattooed new stylist shaking things up at the barbershop. It’s small town gossip and everyone knowing your business and getting busted making out in the back rows of the movie theater by the Mayor. I love it.
Whoops. Almost forgot! I’m also wrapping up the first draft of the ms. that follows CALLIE, UNWRAPPED, an erotic novella that will come out later this year. Another very NSFW book that my family will be under strict instructions not to tell me if they read it…
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It doesn’t. And, of course, it absolutely does.
Sometimes I read questions like this and I get frustrated. I am no beautifully unique sparklepony to think that my stories are different from every other romance ever written. Shoot. I should be so lucky as to turn out work as good as some of the brilliant books that are being produced these days. And within the confines of our genre, the ultimate expectation of a HEA, or at least a HFN, means that our stories are, in the end, all alike. The thing is, this is the challenge I most love about writing romance. How can we write stories where the reader knows what the ending will be and yet still make them excited to turn each page to get there? It’s a restriction that sets the bar high for good work and I never get tired of it.
And of course my work is different from everything else out there, because it is informed by me, a goddamn beautifully unique sparklepony. I’m a single mom with a sister who lived in Nicaragua during a stint in the Peace Corps, a brother who could have died in his skiing accident, a mother who knows every restaurant owner and wine buyer in the city. I worked in commercial real estate development with my terminally ill father and I tended bar in a dive where I talked drunks out of brawls at three o’clock in the morning. I was terminally shy in a suburban high school and later made out with a visiting debater and future Presidential candidate at my East Coast women’s college. I never played on a school sports team in my life, but I started running marathons just before I turned forty. I’ve roadtripped from Chicago to Atlanta on six hours notice to watch my beloved Cubbies play for the Division Championship, and have sat on Omaha beach in Normandy, France, crying for Rudder’s Rangers who died at Pointe du Hoc. Everything I write is different because everyone’s life is built on the stories that we survive or chase after or only recognize once we’ve already typed The End. No one else could ever tell these stories like I do.
Why do I write what I do?
At first, it was an accident. Now it’s because I can’t imagine being happier writing anything else. I’ve written about this here, but I’ve never before blogged about the story of how I sold my first book, which is really the story of how I ended up writing romance at all.
I always knew, in a wishful thinking sort of way, that I wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started to realized that this whole “being a writer” dream was going to require some actual, you know, writing. And submitting. And trying to convince people to read what I had written. Being the egghead that I am, my first stop was the research library, where I learned about the long, long, looooong process that was querying publishers in the days when that still meant SASEs and putting your life in the hands of the postal service. Publishers might take twelve months to reply to your query, I learned. Especially those publishers interested in things like my literary historical novel set in fin de siècle Vienna (which I hadn’t actually written yet…I was planning ahead). Also, it turned out that just getting a non-form letter rejection to your query was going to be quite a challenge.
So, I thought I should practice.
While I was working on my masterpiece, I would practice querying. And I didn’t want to burn out editors/agents with pitches for my masterpiece before it was ready, so I’d make up another manuscript and query it. Yes, I was young. And stupid. But since my imaginary book was clearly going to be rejected a hundred times, I thought there was no real harm involved. And hoped to learn something about what worked in a query by perhaps occasionally getting a non-form letter rejection.
Yes, a personalized rejection was the biggest prize I hoped to receive. Set that bar high, AJ…
Obviously this process was going to take forever, so I needed to start ASAP. Then I stumbled across the shocking fact that romance publishers, and Harlequin in particular, had a turnaround time for queries of 8-12 weeks.
So I invented a romance novel. I wrote the first twenty pages or so, just to feel legit. And then I queried Harlequin under their Silhouette Desire line. Figured I’d start at the top.
I got a letter in the mail two months later that said, “Sounds great. Send us the manuscript.” Maybe just a touch more formally, but that was the gist.
So I sat down and wrote a romance novel. And it sold.
This story made one author I met (and became friends with!) tell me that she wanted to punch me in the face. I know. It’s a ridiculous story. I am the luckiest frigging person ever to walk the face of the earth. I will probably die in a freak piano-crane accident at some point, just to compensate for my outrageous good fortune.
Once I realized that I could actually do this, write and sell stories about beautifully flawed people who may have forgotten how to hope…well, that was all I needed to hear. I’m in. Romance writer for life. Best job ever.
How does my writing process work?
Process? We’re supposed to have a process?
I have no process. Or rather, I think I’m finding my way to one, because I’m slowly learning about the problems I have to fix down the line that come from not having a process. Conflict is my eternal downfall. My books are normally sparked by an idea for a scene that pops into my head after reading a news article, overhearing a line of some stranger’s conversation, seeing a photo, having something almost happen to me. Whatever it is, that tiny seed becomes a whole scene and then I figure out who the person or people are that this scene is happening to…which is not the same as having a plot for a novel, or even a short story.
After writing several books as a pantser, I’ve learned that fairly detailed outlining (or even just pages of notes about plot points and scenes and characters) makes it more likely that I’ll have a story with some kind of structure that makes sense. With OFF CAMPUS, the easiest, and longest, book I’ve written, I actually sat down and did GMC stuff (that I first read about on the amazing Karina Cooper’s blog) for my two main characters. Goal/Motivation/Conflict. Figuring out what made Tom and Reese tick on the surface, and then deep down in the dark, damp caves of their scariest unspoken fears and frustrations. And then making sure all of those things were going to come into conflict… The writing of that ms. just flowed and I’ve been trying to find my way back to that place again.
Lately I’ve also started using Pinterest while writing. I admit, my first thought when I started playing around on that site was, “This is a TERRIFIC way to procrastinate while making it look like I’m working!” Turns out that I really like it. Not only do I enjoy tracking down photos of my characters, their homes, the cities and towns and landscapes they inhabit, their friends/families/pets/clothes/smokin’ hot moments, but this actually saves me time in the long run. When it’s time to fill out an Art Fact Sheet for cover art, it’s a huge time saver to be able to link to the Pinterest board for a project (like this one for CALLING HIS BLUFF) and say, “Here it is! Everything you need!” I’m a religious convert to Pinterest now…
Ok, so that was waaaay more than anyone probably wanted to know about my writing process, or lack thereof. Was it Mark Twain who said “I didn’t have time to write a short blog post, so I wrote a longer one”? Pretty sure that was him. That’s me to a T.
Up next, keep an eye out for blog posts from Alexandra Haughton, Lia Riley, Fiona Zedde and Stacey Nash. They will probably manage to be more concise than me and then I will be jealous.
Got any writing process secrets I can borrow from you? Any tricks to keep my blog posts under 2000 words? Please, share your genius!