The Writing Process Blog Hop

Last week my Starcatcher & Lucky 13s sister Nan Dixon tagged me to carry on the Writing Process Blog Hop. Nan is a five-time Golden Heart finalist and has recently made her first sale to Harlequin SuperRomance. Southern Comforts will be published in December 2014.

So on with the blog hop questions:

What Am I Working On?

Jinn on the Rocks is the third book in my Jinn series, following Jinn & Tonic and Bathtub Jinn. Zee, the heroine of this installment, is a changeling, a jinn left in the mortal world as a baby a century or so ago. Curran, the hero, is a jinn cast into the mortal world by the breaking of his bottle—and not, it would seem, by accident. Together with a smart-mouthed goblin and a dog who probably isn’t really a dog, they are trying to figure out how Curran can return to the world of the jinn, who Zee really is, and, of course, the route to a Happy Ending.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

I write Funny. Well, I hope I do. I mean to. But of course humor is a terribly subjective thing, and not everyone will agree on what exactly is funny. If I tried to write vampires, they’d probably be allergic to hemoglobin, and my werewolves would likely have fleas. I can’t help it. I used to slip jokes into environmental impact reports for the Corps of Engineers. But just look around you—love is funny. Every romance needs a generous helping of humor if it’s going to last beyond infatuation.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I write humor because, well, that’s who I am. I love to make my critique group chuckle. I love to read humor in almost any genre. I have written historical Wizard of Ozand time travel romances because I have some academic and practical background knowledge of nineteenth-century Texas. But mostly I write paranormal, and when I look back I realize that my favorite childhood books included the Oz series, Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle books, and Edward Eager’s Half Magic series. I started reading science fiction when I was about ten years old, and still love the genre. Am I escaping from “reality?” Maybe, but it’s always been a fun trip.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Mechanically: all over the place. I’ve written longhand in spiral notebooks, on typewriters, gone through at least half a dozen word processing programs before settling on Word, and tried too many writing accessory programs to count. About a year and a half ago I fell in love with Scrivener, and now I useScrivener it for nearly everything (including blog posts).

Creatively: I’m more on the pantser end of the scale than the plotter, but that’s not really intentional. I usually have at least two or three chapters ahead plotted, maybe more. I plotted the second half of Bathtub Jinn in order to enter a contest that required a synopsis, and that synopsis allowed me to finish the book (just barely) in time to enter the Golden Heart—and final. But I’m not usually that disciplined. I tend to be a very linear writer (I keep hoping Scrivener will help me loosen up on that a bit), and I find it hard to predict what will happen a hundred pages or more ahead until I get there.

I don’t do character interviews or biographies, and I often have to write several chapters before I have any real idea who my characters are. Sometime I have to write, and throw away, several chapters before I know what my story is, or more to the point, where it starts.

A note on titles: My 2011 historical Golden Heart finalist, Paper Hearts, was simply “the newspaper story” for a long time, until the title popped into my head one day. But the Jinn books have all started with their titles—if you think of any good gin puns, I’d love to hear them. My next Jinn book may be hiding behind one of them.

The Dress ThiefNow I’ll pass the Writing Process baton on to my Firebird sister Natalie Meg Evans, who has promised to post her version next Monday. Natalie’s first novel, The Dress Thief, has just been published in the UK by Quercus Books, and is available from the Book Depository.

 

Sticking to My Story

Recently when the editor of the West Houston RWA newsletter asked me if I had an article to contribute to the January newsletter, I found this piece on my computer.  The file date told me that I wrote it in June 2012, but I couldn’t remember why I’d written it.  It wasn’t anywhere here on the blog, it hadn’t been printed in either of my chapter newsletters, and it wasn’t on the Firebirds blog.  Took me about a week to remember that it was written for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (the 2009 Golden Heart finalists) when I was a guest on their blog.  Reading it over I see that nothing much has changed, so I’m sharing it again here.

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When Bathtub Jinn, my 2012 Golden Heart finalist, got hosed in yet another chapter contest, I found myself whining about it.  “This manuscript has missed the finals in so many contests,” I said, “that if it weren’t for the Golden Pen and the Golden Heart I might have kicked it under the bed.”

I didn’t say, “I might have quit writing.”  I know that more than a few writers have closed their laptops after too many punishing contests or nasty reviews, but not me.  I always come back.  Glutton for punishment?  Adrenalin junkie?   No.  Well, maybe yes, but that’s not the reason.  I just can’t stop writing, not for long.  It’s what I do.

I wasn’t really born with a book in my hand.  My mother would have mentioned that, although it probably wouldn’t have surprised her.  I’m sure she spent her pregnancy with a book in hers.  She swore that I taught myself to read as a very small child, and complained loudly if she changed a word when she read aloud to me.

I switched from directing my playmates in acting out stories at recess to writing the stories down when I was ten or eleven.  There I was, writing fan fiction for long-forgotten TV shows, decades before the Internet turned that into a sort of massive multi-player online game.  Reading everything I could get my hands on and carrying a book with me everywhere (these days I carry a Kindle in my purse).  Taking high school courses in creative writing—but having much more fun writing satire for (decidedly unofficial) school publications.

That may be where I went astray, venturing into humor.  It wasn’t easy to inject a bit of laughter into years of high school, college, and grad school research papers, but I did my best.  Over years of writing Environmental Impact Statements (the historical and archeological backgrounds, not the bugs and bunnies stuff) I even made a few people in the Corps of Engineers laugh.  Well, crack a smile, anyway.  And wow, did those chuckles make me happy!

So when I went back to writing fiction, longer ago than I care to contemplate, it was only natural that my characters refused to wallow in angst.  Bad things happen, but my people react with snappy retorts, humor and occasional sarcasm.  My characters get trapped in their own costumes, find baby alligators in their kitchens, or make momentous discoveries when they’re too drunk to remember them.  Over and over again they demonstrate that love is perhaps the funniest of human predicaments.

How did I wander from contest angst to humor?  Well, we all know how subjective humor is.  All too often my contest scores tell me that one judge loved my snarky voice and another either hated it or completely misunderstood it.  Publishing pros tell me that they love my work, but humor isn’t selling.

I started writing this with two adages in mind.  The first, classic advice from the jaded professional to the wide-eyed newbie, says this is a tough, tough business.  If you can stop writing, you should.  Take up some other pursuit, something safer, like sky diving, or rabble rousing.  Scratch that advice, doesn’t work for me.

The other famous line is “Write what you know.”  What fun is that?  I’d rather time travel to the nineteenth century, or cross into the dimension of the jinn, or visit an alternate time line.  But I think what that hoary bit of advice really means is “Write what you are.”  Write what you feel, what you care about, what matters to you.  Write what comes bubbling up inside you, no matter what others say.

Love is funny.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

Rails & Romance: Passion’s Prize

One day last July at the RWA Conference in Atlanta, I wandered into the very crowded room where two thousand (mostly) women had gathered for lunch and a keynote address.  I found a table with a couple of empty chairs and found myself sitting next to a writer called E.E. Burke.  I’d never met Elisabeth Burke before, but we soon discovered a shared love of Hell on Wheels and American historical romance.  Elisabeth told me that she and two other writers (all three of them Golden Heart finalists), Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, would soon release an ebook, Passion’s Prize, Passion's Prizecontaining three related short novels set during the post-Civil War construction of the Katy Railroad.  I downloaded it as soon as it was available (the three parts are also available separately, but if you are interested, you’ll enjoy them all).

Adella’s Enemy, by Jacqui Nelson, opens the collection with the story of Adella Willows, photographer and one-time Rebel spy, who has come West seeking vengeance for the death of her brother in a Yankee POW camp.  She blames the man behind the Katy, and if she can derail the Katy, figuratively or literally, she’ll have her revenge.  But she didn’t figure on falling for the Irish railroad foreman, Cormac McGrady.

In Eden’s Sin, by Jennifer Jakes, we meet Eden Gabrielli, a brothel owner in the railroad town, and U.S. Army Major Sinclair Bradford.  The investigation of a rape committed by a railroad worker brings them together, but the secrets of their pasts, blackmail in the present, and the future of the railroad may drive them apart.

E.E. Burke wraps up the book with Kate’s Outlaw.  Kate Parsons is the daughter, and only heir, of the Katy’s owner, but she has yet to prove her worth to her father as more than someone to be married off to a male successor.  When she is accidentally kidnapped by Jake Colson, a Cherokee bent on stopping the railroad’s path through the Indian Territory, she finds unexpected passion for both her captor and his cause.  But can she save both the railroad and Jake?

A brief epilog reconnects our three heroines, who each appear in the others’ stories, and sets the stage for the next volume, E.E. Burke’s Her Bodyguard.  That one’s waiting on my Kindle, and I’ll be looking forward to more books in the Steam: Romance and Rails series.

Passion's Prize 3

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

At RWA 2013 – Saturday

RWA 2013 wrapped up on Saturday, July 20, with attendees looking increasingly bleary-eyed as we stumbled from workshop to workshop.  In the morning I had a chance to visit with a number of friends, and even met someone from New Zealand who had read my Golden Heart entry–that was a thrill!

I went to a workshop on Key Writing Skills, giving by agent Jill Marsal and Starcatcher (and now multi-published author) Robin Perini.  This was an excellent hour; I have a whole page of notes.  Four main areas: Develop Great Characters (characterization means observable traits, while character is true nature revealed under pressure; goal and motivation always important); Create a Compelling Story (braiding plot and character, internal versus external conflicts); Focus on Story and Pacing (show character changes in every scene, while turning points change the story’s direction); and Revise and Polish (watch out for backstory, telling rather than showing, overwriting, etc.).

The rehearsal for the awards ceremony, a precaution against someone falling off the stage, accompanied by a plea not to drink beforehand, only took about half an hour.  Then I caught a sandwich with fellow Firebird and Lucky 13 Oberon Wonch and her roomie.

I went to two more workshops on Saturday afternoon, “Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts,” by Margie Lawson (I’ve been to Margie’s workshops in the past, but she’s always interesting), and a really terrific presentation of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! methodology by Jessica Brody.  I’m reading Snyder’s book now, and I’m going to see if that helps me plot the new novel I haven’t been making much progress on.

The last event of the conference, on Saturday evening, was the Awards ceremony for the Golden Heart and RITA winners.  Cheryl Bolen, my long-time friend and conference roomie, and I went downstairs about 7 PM and had a glass of champagne (in spite of that warning) while we waited for the VIP door to open.  We made out way to our table near the front and found it full of West Houston RWA folks:  Lark Howard and I as Golden Heart finalists (both in the paranormal category), Sophie Jordan as a RITA finalist (novella), and Sarah Andre standing in for a finalist friend, Krista Hall (romantic suspense) who was unable to attend the conference.  Cheryl, Susan Breeden, Tera Childs, and Sophie’s husband were our guests.  As it happened, the only one of us to accept an award was Sarah, reading a thank you from the absent Krista.  Rounding out the West Houston participation were Colleen Thompson presenting a RITA and Christie Craig, the evening’s emcee (entertaining the audience with her usual humor and standing on a box to reach the microphone).  Winners, finalists and audience all had a wonderful time.

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Sunday, and time to go home, came all too soon.  Somehow I managed to stuff all the free books I’d picked up (yeah, I need more books.  But, she added virtuously, some were for my neighbor who looks after Nutmeg when I’m away) into my suitcase.  Cheryl, Colleen Thompson, and I caught the shuttle to the airport, where a Skycap who had clearly been dealing with ladies from RWA all morning, cheerfully told Colleen that if she could pull “one hardback and one paperback” out of her suitcase, it would slip through under the fifty-pound weight limit.  He was right.

Even with a stop at the grocery store, I was home in time for dinner.  Nutmeg the cat was glad to see me (and the roast chicken I’d picked up on the way home) and I was glad to sleep in my own bed.  But I’m still processing all I learned at the conference, getting in touch with new friends, and catching up in general.

And definitely looking forward to RWA 2014 next summer in San Antonio!

 

 

At RWA 2013 – Friday

On Friday morning at the RWA Conference, I went to a workshop given by Deb Dixon, the author of a book that belongs on every novelist’s shelf, Goal, Motivation &Conflict. (First published in 1996, GMC is still available from its original publisher, Gryphon Books for Writers.  Go order it.)  This workshop, however, was on “Finding Your Voice.”  Deb compared an author’s voice to an ice cream cone, with the base made up of what one tells (your themes, plots, story arcs, world view, etc.) and the flavor how one tells it (tone, sound, word choices and so on).

With my head swimming with writing advice, I decided to seek a bit of publishing advice, and went to the Spotlight on Kensington session.  Kensington is an independent American-owned publisher, prominent in romance and a range of other genres.  The Kensington editors were enthusiastic and eager to describe the advantages of traditional publishing, both paper and electronic.

After lunching with another group of ladies I’d never met (this time including an agent who represents several of my friends), I went to another Spotlight session, this one on Sourcebooks, a publisher which started in 1987 with financial and business books and which has successfully spread into fiction over the last few years.  Their team at the conference, including the founder of Sourcebooks, Dominique Raccah, was enthusiastic and encouraging.

And then it was time for the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists reception, held on the Pulse Loft overlooking the Atrium level of the hotel.  Nearly all the Lucky 13s and a good many of the RITA finalists were there, as well as the RWA Board members, who presented us with our certificates.  We were served champagne and petit fours and had our pictures taken.  I’m not sure what happened to the individual photos, but here’s a group pic of the Lucky 13s.

Lucky13s

I managed to hit one more workshop after the reception, “Don’t Just Put Gears on It: Writing and Selling Steampunk.”  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to write in the Steampunk subgenre, but I find the combination of science fiction and alternate history fascinating.

Friday evening was my chance to visit with some of the Starcatchers, the GH finalists from 2011.  A group of us walked down the street to Benihana (the first time I’d been out of the hotel since Tuesday evening–I’m afraid I can’t say I saw much of Atlanta!) for a most entertaining dinner.  I don’t think we were the first group of romance writers our chef Bernard had served, and he took our teasing in good spirits (and the spirits consumed probably accounted for the teasing).  Back at the hotel, we found a few more Starcatchers, and a few more spirits, in the bar.

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