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Romance Writer’s Blog Challenge–If I weren’t writing

Today’s question is what would I do if I couldn’t write. The answer is simple–I’d be a teacher. In fact, I used to be a teacher until Athena was born almost ten years ago.

I used to teach middle school Math and History, and I was damned good at it. I had only intended to take a year long break from teaching when I had her, but she had serious health issues and needed me. So I stayed home. Then we moved to Singapore. So I stayed home. Then we had my younger daughter who is nicknamed Bunny (because she was born in the year of the rabbit and her class was always the bunnies). Then I started writing professionally. I did some freelancing.

I’ve thought about going back. I’m getting my paperwork together to transfer my teaching license to California, but it’s more of a “break glass in case of emergency,” sort of thing. Besides writing and doing the mom thing, I also have fibromyalgia, which is an illness with chronic pain. It’s questionable if I *could* go back as several medications I take make it hard for me to wake up from. I have trouble getting out of bed before 11 most days. I’ve started doing my girls’ hair at night in tight braids that will survive the night and the next day of school because it’s questionable if I can be waken up enough in the morning to do their hair.

So I guess the real answer is that if I couldn’t write, I’d watch a lot of tv and read, I likely wouldn’t be able to go back to teaching.

Sorry, I didn’t realize how depressing this entry would be.

Romance Writer’s Blog Challenge–How much of you is in your writing?

***First a little business. After this post I’m on vacation until 10/17, after which I’ll tell you all about my adventures in New Orleans, and maybe share a tidbit of a story I started that is set in New Orleans, but have mostly abandoned at this point***

Today’s question is how much of myself is in my writing.

This is a tough one. I think something personal has inspired all of my stories and that there’s a little of me in every heroine.

When I wrote Renewal, I was reconnecting with my own spouse after giving birth to my second child. It was an intensely personal story. While my marriage’s response to kid #2 was different from that of my characters, at heart there was a deep connection.

Capturing the Moment lifts huge chunks of my trip to Cambodia. Every picture Meg takes is a picture I took. Every place she goes, I went. The encounter with the baby monkey? I stole it from myself.

In my new book, my heroine is a giant nerd, just like me. So is Blitzen, for all that he’s male, he is a giant nerd, too.

If I don’t relate to the characters, I can’t write them well. So every character has a little piece of me–a snarky sense of humor, they like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they’re independent, they think banter is foreplay. But obviously each character has their own personalities. I didn’t know that there would be a surprise wedding in a story. In another Persephone is far more timid and in her head than I originally conceived.

Ultimately I try to let the character have their own voice. If they don’t then every character will be just like every other one I’ve written.

Romance Writers Blog Challenge: Favorite Thing I’ve Written

I’m very late to the game on the weekly Romance Writers Blog Challenge, but here we go.

What is your favorite thing you’ve written and why

The obvious answer would be Capturing the Moment. After all it’s the book I finished. It’s the book that was accepted for publication by Totally Bound. It’s the book that’s currently on sale at The Ripped Bodice. Or maybe it’s Renewal, since that was my first sale. Or my pet project–The North Pole Chronicles (all of the three installments thus far can be found under the Deliciously Free tab at the top of the page).

But no, the answer is Plunder. As I lack a publisher and a cover at the moment, please accept this picture of Hook from Once Upon a Time.

Plunder is the longest thing I’ve written by easily 50% more book. It is the most complex. Capturing the Moment was a slice of life–one day in Siem Reap as tourists. The main characters were the majority of the book with very little in the way of secondary characters (her driver, her sister, the owner of the Indian restaurant). Because I grounded the book in real places, doing things that I did (mostly–no naked photo shoots in the falling down temple at Preah Khan, for one), it didn’t feel like I had to do a ton of world building in the same way that I did for a historical book with an actual bad guy, and two ships’ crews among other characters. You may never have been to Angkor Wat, but I have and I can describe it for you. I’m just as much a stranger to 1700 as you are, which made it both harder to write and something to be proud of.

I did tons of research to bring Plunder to fruition. With Capturing the Moment it was unintentional research–it was a trip I went on as a vacation from my life as a wife/mom (off topic–solo travel is awesome). All of that research was exhausting. Figuring out things like what clothes they’d actually wear, and that desks hadn’t been invented yet and a ton of other anachronisms that I’m sure my editor will find and help me fix even with that research. I’m really proud of the effort I put forward.

Beyond that, I think Bree and William are hands down my favorite characters thus far. She’s sarcastic and independent and isn’t here for anyone’s shit. He’s charming and arrogant and sexy as hell. Together they’re explosive. Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it will set your expectations too high. But I’m saying it. My betas say it, even when they are picking apart other aspects. The chemistry is off the charts.

Maybe it will get picked up by an agent. Maybe a publisher will want it. Maybe I’ll self-publish. But whether it sells five copies or five million, I’ll still be incredibly proud. And my goal with the next book is to take my game up another notch.

 

Masterclass with Margaret Atwood

***This is not a sponsored post. I am writing this blog post because I want to***

 

One day as I was scrolling through my personal  (as opposed to my DN page) Facebook feed I saw an ad for something called “Masterclass.” I saw things like Shonda Rhimes teaches writing for television, which sounded cool, but didn’t speak to me. Then one day there was an ad for Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing. Maybe it came up with this because I like the Red All Over fangroup of The Handmaid’s Tale. Or it showed up because I talk about writing a lot. Regardless, I saw it and I was intrigued.

I went to the Masterclass site, and saw that the online course of twenty lessons cost $90. This is obviously a limiting factor for a number of people, and it sucks if it is a limiting factor for you. I grew up poor and even though I was a teacher, I have massive student loans–the only reason I can afford this sort of thing is that via my partner, our family has economic privilege. But full access to the site for a year was 180, or the cost of two classes. Was there at least one more class I wanted to take? There’s also a Judy Blume Teaches Creative Writing class, and that appealed to me. I also want to study cooking with Gordon Ramsay. Other cooking classes. Maybe watch the videos for the Shonda Rhimes or R.L. Stine because whether I want to write for tv or young audiences or not (it’s not) I can probably get some useful writing information. So I paid my 180 and started my Margaret Atwood class.

I am on lesson five and I find it really helpful that I can take the class at my own speed. One day I got through two lessons, but I haven’t done any for almost a week because life stuff came up. I love learning, but being a mom can be limiting sometimes–a college class sounds both wonderful and like too much commitment all at once, for example.

Each class has a 10-15 minute lecture by Margaret Atwood, and then there’s a pdf reviewing what she talked about including an assignment. The videos don’t cut perspective as much as the trailer does–the trailer is a bit irritating that way, tbh. What I find most helpful, though, is listening to Margaret talk about writing. Is it news that you should do revisions? No, but hearing her talk about it as re-vision-ing instead of revision reframed the concept from onerous chore to an opportunity (that is still kind of onerous, but less emotionally taxing that before).

If it is something that has interested you, feel free to ask questions in comments and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

Missing the Mark

There have been several occasions where I’ve missed the mark, professionally. Times when I mangled the call, or pushed myself to write something I think the person might like that isn’t true to who I am, or just plain fucked up.

I have rushed to submit. Sometimes, even though you’d love to be part of an anthology, you miss the mark because you rushed, and the quality of your work suffered. Sometimes all you get is the rejection. But sometimes the editor lets you know that they like your work, but what you sent them is half baked. Sometimes you just have to say that you’d love to have been a part of something but your work just wasn’t ready.

I have pushed myself to be edgy. I wrote a story called “Lab Rats” last year to submit to a call. I thought the author wanted edgy, so I ended without the happily ever after/for now, and ended on an ominous note. I haven’t given up on the story, but I’ve put it to the side for now. It would fold into the larger paranormal I want to write at some point, and will be much more romance and less edge. I’d say write true to who you are. If you love happy endings, don’t feel guilty for writing happy endings–with everything going in the world today, we need happy endings. And if you’re dark and ominous, be dark and ominous.

I have triggered beta readers on several occasions. We all have our buttons and it’s hard to know when you’re going to hit someone’s buttons. I can’t read any story where someone gets kidney damage–it’s an oddly specific one, but because Athena almost died as a baby and lost a kidney to that infection, it’s very triggering to me to read that sort of thing. But somethings just don’t work, and don’t come across the way you mean them to, and it upsets your readers. Sometimes it’s a not every book is for every reader. Other times, it’s that I fucked up and hurt someone unintentionally. But intentions don’t matter when you cause someone grief. You just hope they can forgive you.

But when you fall down, own up and accept the consequences. No one is perfect, but we can all strive to do better. As authors, and as people.

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.

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?