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Playlist for Lab Rats

For me, music is essential to the creation of my story. Once I have an idea of who my characters are and the tentpoles of a new story, I’ll create a playlist for the book. Over the course of the writing, the list gets pared down to songs that are meaningful to me.

Here’s a list of five random songs from the Lab Rats playlist. I’ll try to give a spoiler free reason for them.

1-Lonely by Demi Lovato–There are many points where this song fits either of my leads. Ben grew up in an emotionally stunted borderline abusive family, and he keeps everyone at arm’s length and avoids personal connections. Diana is in the doghouse because her twin is the one who exposed the community, and as a result, she has to den by herself when she’s never lived apart from a pack.

2-It was Always You by Maroon Five–They’re fated mates. That’s pretty much it.

3-S&M by Rihanna–They don’t like each other very much and there’s definitely some semi-hate fucking as they first come together. While there’s not actually any BDSM, the song still spoke to me.

4-The Kiss from the soundtrack to The Last of the Mohicans movies–I was relatively young when I saw this movie, and the scene this music is from hit me hard. Since then, when I have an hungry, urgent kiss in a book, this song usually ends up in that list.

5-I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett–again, they don’t like each other, but are attracted to each other from the very first day.

Is writing for fun, profit, or other?

Welcome to week 1 of 52 prompts from Marketing for Romance Writers.

This week’s question is Writing–Doing it for fun, profit, or other?

I’ve been telling stories as long as I can remember, so I’ve never been motivated by money. The problem with the word “fun” implies frivolity, and writing isn’t a frivolous act for me. I suppose that means I fall into the “other” category. Or at least I used to.

Turning professional has really exposed how much of writing is marketing, and how hard it can be to find an audience and to profit from your writing. Unless you’re Nora Roberts or Beverly Jenkins you can’t expect the money to come pouring in. So, sure, you can say you’re writing for the money, but I don’t know how long you’ll last if that is your motivating factor.

Is writing fun? Yes, although I hate editing. But when I get sucked into the worlds I’m creating and am in the story with my characters, I’m having a ton of fun (well, except when they make me cry, but even that is fun in its own way). I would argue that I wrote primarily for fun when I used to write drafts of stories, not really bother with editing, and then threw them up on websites like literotica. The comments stroked my ego, as did the numbers that told me how many people had read it.

The thing is that while writing is fun, there’s so much more involved with professionally doing it. You hold yourself to a much higher standard, you have beta readers, you go through drafts (don’t even get me started on how many drafts fucking Plunder has been through), and then you either submit to a company (who will expect you to market your own books) or you self-publish (which carries a lot of issues like formatting, making a cover, etc). It is time consuming and often draining. Marketing is where I struggle and, if anything, makes writing less fun for me.

So why bother? If editing is a hassle and marketing can be soul-sucking why do it for anything other than fun? I want to share my stories with the world, and I hope that I will eventually find my audience. I’m still a newborn when it comes to everything that isn’t writing.

I also don’t know how not to write. The stories grow inside me until I have no choice but to write them down. For me, writing is like reading–a compulsion, something as vital as breathing for me. I don’t know how not to do it. While I have taken breaks in writing, I’m still telling stories–to myself, to my kids, to the cats, whatever.

Why do you write?

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.

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?

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?