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Changing Up Writing Styles

For years I’ve said I’m a pantser, and that I begin with very little preplanned. I usually know the inciting incident, and an idea of the end of the story, and then I let my characters fill in the blanks. I don’t do outlines. I write the story in a linear fashion–I might throw out some chunk of the first bit of book, or reweave it into the story in the editing process, but for the most part, I write start to finish.

Book three, which has the very trite working title of The Game of Love (because it takes place at a video game company ,GET IT?), is confounding me at every turn.

I first conceptualized the story many years ago. So many I can’t tell you if it was in my literotica days, or if I started a story later and then moved onto something that answered a specific call in the years since I turned professional. It’s stayed on the periphery of my radar, but it’s never been quite the right moment to write it. I’d thought I would do a big multi-pov paranormal for book three, and I have a ten bullet points or so list on tentpoles through the story, but ultimately it was too political for me at the moment. There is a subplot of wanting to take shifter children from their parents, and with everything that’s happening to migrant families, it felt like the wrong time to sit down and try to write it. So when I put away the paranormal, I started going through my “ideas not in production” folder. Some of what’s in there is a single sentence. Other files have the start of a story. The Game of Love had two false starts, and that was it.

When I decided that I was going to play around with The Game of Love, I sat down with my little Ravenclaw notebook and made some preliminary notes. Having done a full length novella and a full length novel meant that I had an idea of what pitfalls were ahead of me. Corporate espionage is one of the biggest tentpoles of the whole book, so I need to know who did what, who got set up to take the fall, and how. But character sketches led to thinking about the books in general, and I started to note down more ideas. Noted down ideas started to come together to make up a plot, until I had essentially plotted out the whole book. I typed up my notes, and ended with a six page, single spaced document of characters and the plotted events of the story.

Thus far, I’ve been writing in a linear way, sort of, in that I’ve written things that took place prior to the start of the book that will end up needing to be in the book, like where my MC’s met, their first kiss, etc in some sort of linear order, but I’ve written very little of the actual book’s chapter one, so to speak.

I’ve joked with friends that they’re rubbing off on me, but really I think that the process of writing is an evolving one, and I don’t know if I’ll ever write two books exactly the same way. I don’t know if any authors truly do, especially at the start of their careers, where every new book brings a slew of new discoveries like I CAN WRITE BUT ONLY IN MY BLUE SWEATSHIRT or I CAN WRITE, BUT ONLY AFTER MY DVDS ARE PROPERLY ALPHABETIZED. All kidding aside, as long as I have flow, I’m down with experimenting with process.

Broken Laptop

Please send your thoughts and prayers to the laptop gods. I have been reduced to borrowing my daughter’s Chromebook–which does not have word– while mine is in the shop. Was this model ever sold in the US, and how hard is it going to be to get parts for it when Samsung doesn’t make laptops anymore? Do I need a new laptop? Any sacrifices you can make on my behalf would be welcome.

I’ll be back in a few days, hopefully with good news.

ARC review–The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker

4/5*

Publication date–October 11, 2018

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I am cross posting this review from my review blog as it’s a romance title.

Do you like sweet romance? Sexy lawmen? A Cajun accent? I have a book you’ll love.

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols is a lovely sweet romance. Sasha is tired of being that poor widow after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she moves to Rose Creek, Texas. Remy is the town’s sheriff, and a single father. Evie is his daughter and Sasha’s student–who knows what she wants. Evie orchestrates a meeting between Sasha and Remy, without knowing that Remy was the stranger Sasha had been dared into kissing on a girl’s trip to New Orleans. When Remy sees the mysterious woman who disappeared after a blazing kiss in his daughter’s classroom, he’s thrown. Sasha is torn between shock and embarassment–things like torrid kisses were supposed to stay on vacation where they belong. Sasha and Remy can’t really stay away from each other. Sasha determinedly holds the line of “I’m your daughter’s teacher, I can’t date a parent,” although it’s a losing battle. But step by step, the sexy sheriff breaks down her walls. Which leaves the question of whether Sasha can bear to give her heart to another lawman, and if Remy wants more than just a mother for his daughter.

The sexual chemistry between Sasha and Remy is electric. There is a steady build, and in any other book they would’ve fallen into bed within the first quarter of the book given that chemistry. I kept rooting for sex, and (spoiler) there is one sex scene, but it’s all off page, which is a bit of a disappointment. The way the sex scene is handled is a bit disappointing because it’s quite rushed, and not just because they’re lusting for each other and the sex happens off stage. There could’ve been a longer scene there to rebuild the tension that had deflated in the time since their last encounter.

We get to see the events through both Sasha and Remy’s points of view. Unfortunately there were time when I got a bit confused who’s point of view we were in.

The judicious use of Evie, Remy’s daughter/Sasha’s student is well done. Too often kids speak in inauthentic ways, but I think Evie is just about right (I have a daughter who is older than Evie and one who’s a bit younger). She’s obsessed with Sasha’s cat, loves Eloise, and is very interested in Sasha becoming her new mom. (Remy and her mom divorced when she was young.)

My only real complaint is that Sasha keeps saying she won’t let a dominant personality dictate her actions, but that isn’t quite what happens. Remy is very much an alpha/in charge kind of character and for the most part Sasha gives in. I would have liked a little more spine.

One, Two, or Many Narrators

When I sit down to write, one of the questions I ask is “How many narrators does this piece need?”

For me, short stories are exclusively single narrator. There’s so little time to get the story told that it’s nearly impossible to establish two characters voices. I’m also not sure what a secondary viewpoint would add to the story. Would Dumped have been made any better from getting Storm the asshole unicorn’s voice? No, because it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose. I can show that he’s a jerk without jumping into his head. There’s nothing he knows that my MC needs to know that she doesn’t find out organically within the story.

 

Novellas and novels are trickier. There are great single voice novels, like the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. There are also great multi-narrator/omniscient narrators who jump into multiple characters point of view. But for me, the higher word count gives me the opportunity to full establish two points of view. For example, both Capturing the Moment and Plunder I write from the female and male lead characters’ voices. Books like the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop, in which we get easily more than five points of view are harder to pull off, but when done well are amazing.

I will confess to trying to write a multi-pov with more than two narrators and it was something of a mess, much like my attempts to write sex scenes with more than two people in it. Not my strength, but something I may do better at in the future.

What about you? Do you deliberately write single/multi narrator books? What motivates your choices?

Audiobooks

Recently I learned that Irresistible has an audiobook. I have not purchased it, but I’m curious.

While at WorldCon, I attended a panel on audiobooks. I’ve never created one, although I’ve certainly considered recording myself reading the first chapter of Capturing the Moment. I learned how expensive they are to create, how complicated they are to make, and why you shouldn’t just give away your audiobook rights when negotiating your contract.

I’ve grown to love audiobooks and I currently have two going in the car. The first is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas with my older daughter, Athena. I want to take her to the movie in October and I think she can handle the book, even though it is intense. The narrator does a great job at reading the story, and I nearly started crying when she narrrates the scene where Khalil is shot. (Not a spoiler–it’s in the flap copy and is the incident that puts the book in motion). The second is Discount Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire, which I am enjoying a bit less because I don’t love the narrators choices (including mispronouncing Aeslin mice, based on the cannon pronunciation guide per Seanan). David Sedaris is a great narrator, and that’s how I super recently fell in love with him–not through his written essays, but by listening to him narrate them on the drive from San Francisco to LA. Ditto David Rakoff (RIP), who I have loved for years. I’ve listened to What Happened by Hillary Clinton on and off, but thinking about the 2016 election (and how she was right) is still tough for me.

But then there are terrible narrators. I love Madeline L’Engle, but she shouldn’t have narrated A Wrinkle in Time. There has also been several dreadful audiobooks of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. If the narrator is crap, the experience of listening to it is crap.

To revisit the question of the Irresistible audiobook–should I get it?

Rereading your own work

I first started writing for Literotica in 2001/2002. I got lots of good reviews, feedback, and all the affirmations a new writer could ever hope for.

I’ve worked at the university stacks for 5 years now…and can I tell you, nothing beats sex among the stacks. I’ve had horny professors, pervy grad students, and uptight law students fuck me up against the books more times that I can count. Who knew bookworms were such sex addicts?

None of what I wrote was….good. Or even okay. I can actually reread that story, even if I roll my eyes multiple times each paragraph. It’s so bad that I wouldn’t even bother using the idea as an inspiration without ripping out the guts of the story and starting over from scratch with a title and a setting. The rest of it? Right in the trash. Why do I still have it? I have no idea–I have a subfolder in my cloud called “Literotica” and all of my terrible, wretched writing is there. I guess it occasionally gives me bare bones inspiration?

Then came my “first novel” if we’re going to call it that. I call it the NaNo novel that must never see the light of day. I started with a decent premise–what if my husband’s family rejected me? But if I hadn’t been in NaNo, which favors word count over quality or process, I would’ve realized that the main character’s sister’s lesbian romance was the far more interesting direction and chucked it to start over. But in NaNo, there is no starting over. There is no going backwards, only forwards. So forged on and I hit 50k words in November 2006.

That book is so unreadable I can’t force myself to read past the first page, if that. I don’t even think about it when I talk about first novels–for me Plunder is my first full length novel. But the truth is that I wrote it, and it taught me important lessons like “write a good book, not a bad book in an arbitrary amount of time.”

My first professional sale was “Renewal.” It was…okay. I rewrote parts of it to resubmit it to If Mom’s Happy, which makes it unique.

But I don’t frequently re-read my own work, mostly because I want to rewrite it. Which I think is common–we are constantly evolving as authors and part of evolution is that things you’ve written in the past feel “bad” even if they represented the best you could do at that time.

That desire to rewrite old work is why time is a gift an author can sometimes give themselves. Sometimes you’re up against a deadline. Other times you just want to get something done with. But if you can, try and create wiggle room in your work schedule. Because sometimes the best thing you can do is let a story sit in a drawer for a while. The irony was that while I didn’t work on Plunder for a little over a year, it was probably a good thing because then I hit it with fresh eyes. While I don’t recommend taking year long hiatuses from your work if it’s avoidable, it can be good to put something in a drawer for two weeks. A friend caught typo errors/missing words in a story I was rushing to finish and was just blind to, even when I read it out loud to myself.

Now this isn’t a universal rule. I recently re-read Capturing the Moment to get a quote for an interview, and I was surprised how much I still like three years after I wrote it, but I may feel differently in another three years, or in thirty years.

What about you? Do you reread your old work? What do you think of it?

 

ARC review–If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

4/5* for fans of Emma by Jane Austen

3/5* for those who are not familiar with Emma

If I Loved You Less is a modern retelling of Emma, by Jane Austen. I have never read the Austen novel, but of course I’m familiar with the most famous modern take on it–Clueless. This review contains SPOILERS because I couldn’t figure how to *not* make it contain spoilers. I won’t reveal anything that the flap copy doesn’t. Plus the original Austen has been around for more than a hundred years, and Clueless has been out for more than twenty.

I looked Emma up on Wikipedia to see how the plots compare. Parker has written a faithful adaptation set in a small town in Hawaii.

Theodosia, Theo to everyone, believes she deserves credit for the wedding between her former nanny, Charlotte, and her new husband at the start of the book. She decides this makes her a successful matchmaker. So when newcomer Laurel moves to Hanalei, Theo decides that she’s just the right person to connect Laurel to her inevitable Mr. Right. Laurel’s choice is a cashier at the local bakery, and Theo thinks she should set her expectations higher, which of course is an unmitigated disaster. Theo is charming, but human to the point of making you actively dislike her a few times.

I like that the setting has been changed to Hawaii and that Theo is a surf instructor. I like that with only a few exceptions, it is a majority minority cast of characters. Touches of authentic Hawaii are found throughout the book from food (and wow does most of what Kini cooks sounds delicious) to the culture. I also like that Theo identifies as queer–she’s never been with or wanted to be with a man, but she’s not a fan of closing doors.

However, the biggest weakness is Kini, Theo’s eventual love interest. Kini is 39 to Theo’s 25, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Kini was Theo’s more or less maternal figure. Or at least like a beloved aunt. So when Theo realizes she’s in love with Kini, it’s rushed and I didn’t buy it. Moreover I didn’t buy that Kini would be attracted in return. Not because I think a May/December romance is unrealistic–I’ve written several. Rather, my problem is that Parker develops the maternal/aunt vibe to the point where them falling in love actually squicked me a bit. However, it’s true to Emma, sort of, except in Emma it’s her sister’s brother in law, which implies an age gap but not that deep familiarity. (Fan of Emma, set me straight on this.) I do think that anyone not familiar with Emma’s story may also stumble over this.

Perhaps if we’d also seen inside of Kini’s head, the story would work more? I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel like there was a romantic build…just boom out of nowhere.

Personally, I’d give it the 3/5 stars from me, but when I post reviews, I’ll go with the 4/5 stars because I think that fans of Emma will genuinely like this.

Currently If I Loved You Less is scheduled for release on September 20th, but there are currently no pre-order links.