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.

 

Back to the Bookshelf

Yesterday afternoon I fell into a decluttering spiral that quickly spun out of control and kept its grip on me until after midnight.

It started innocently enough when I looked at the long row of neatly labeled brown cardboard magazine boxes on the bottom shelf of the wall-to-wall bookcase in my bedroom.  The magazines were the RWA’s Romance Writers Report, and the labels ended with 2010.  The RWR is an excellent resource, and I didn’t want to throw them away, but I wasn’t using them, either, and they were taking up several feet of potential book space.  And the TBR stacks were sprouting all over the house.

So I found a good-sized carton, broke down the magazine holders, and stacked the copies in the box.  There was a bit of room left, so I went looking for 2011 and 2012 in the living room, where I found them mixed with the last two years’ worth of several other magazines (Smithsonian, Writer’s Digest, Texas Highways, and so on), and phone books.  An amazing number of phone books–I kept five, for Houston and the local suburbs, but there are now seventeen in the garage, waiting for their turn in the recycling bin.  Good thing the bin has wheels, or I’d never get it out to the curb this week.

Now that I had the coffee table mostly visible and the small bookcase in the living room cleared out, I started moving those TBR stacks.  There were still obstructions in the book case (see my last post for a before picture), stray gifts still in their boxes, an extra scale, assorted pillows, an empty box too nice to throw away, so I found myself cleaning out the hall linen closet.  I left the vacuum cleaner on the floor–I haven’t used it in years, but I’m pretty sure it still works–and concentrated on the upper shelves, full of sheets and blankets for beds I no longer own, old curtains, and some rather grungy pillows.  Out those went (straight into the trash, no mulching in the garage), and in went the obstructions from the bookcase.

When I piled all the unread books from various places into the shelves, they fit, more or less, but I shook my head in dismay.  There were a truly embarrassing number of them, and they were shoved in randomly, so I had no idea what I had  or where any individual book might be found.  And my back was beginning to ache.

had been taking breaks. I was doing the laundry.  I watched the news and did the newspaper puzzles.  I watched two episodes of As Time Goes By (a favorite old BritCom) on PBS, and of course Hell on Wheels (lacrosse as a blood sport?  and I knew Eva shouldn’t leave the baby alone!).

Then I turned the TV to a marathon of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and why am I watching that on BBCAmerica?  In honor of Patrick Stewart?) and attacked the books.  After three hours (with breaks for the sake of my back–crawling around on the floor just isn’t as easy as it once was) I had the unread books sorted (romance, science fiction, mystery, general fiction, non-fiction, and in a place of honor above my bed, books by my Golden Heart sisters, the Starcatchers, Firebirds, and Lucky 13s), alphabetized (what, you didn’t think my books would be alphabetized?), and thinned out (I had to admit that any book I’d been passing over for more than a couple of years was probably never going to grab me again, so I now have a carton for my next trip to Half Price Books).

Here’s the result:  a little neater, a little more manageable, and I discovered a few forgotten gems while I was at it.  With a few exceptions, the bottom half contains my To Be Read collection. (I need the stool to reach the top shelf.)

How long do you hang on to an unread book before you admit you’ve lost interest?

Reorganization

 

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.

At RWA 2013 – Thursday

On Thursday morning of the Romance Writers of America conference, I attended the PRO Retreat.  PRO originally meant an unpublished writer who has completed a manuscript, but these days it includes small press or independently published writers who have not yet met the income requirement to join the Published Author Network.  This year’s retreat workshops focused on business rather than craft.

The first session, featuring Dorien Kelly and Courtney Milan, emphasized the idea that the author, who can always say “no,” holds all the power.  That still seems like a stretch for those of us who haven’t sold (or published) a book, but it does seem more believable today than a few short years ago.  Dorien and Courtney packed their session with information on contracts with both publishers and agents.

The second session (and trust me, I wouldn’t be able to write this up if I hadn’t carried my faithful spiral bound notebook through the conference, making notes during breaks) gave us Esi Sogah, editor with Kensington, and MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, agent with Trident, talking about the value of traditional publishing methods and the changes going on in the distribution of books.  In an interesting show of hands, most of the people in the room acknowledged owning an e-reader and downloading books.  Far fewer had actually read most of those downloaded books, and only a handful had gone on to buy another book by an author they had downloaded.  (Me, too.  Of course I also have more unread paper books than I care to admit, and I fully intend to read them all.  Someday.)

In the third workshop of the morning, Nancy Berland and Pamela Spengler-Jaffe discussed publicity and social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, etc.  (Throughout the conference, author-as-publicist was much talked about.)  There was disagreement over the value of free books, with some authors feeling that free downloads stimulated their sales, while others believe that they only train readers to expect books to be free or very inexpensive.

The keynote luncheon featured good food and an inspiring talk by historical romance author Cathy Maxwell.  I walked into the huge. crowded room a bit late and found an open space at a table full of “strangers,” but not for long.  I soon discovered I was sitting with a friend of a friend.  RWA is a small, and very friendly, world.

After lunch I went to a very crowded workshop on Character Development, given by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (who should have been given a much bigger room).  I’ve read several of Susan’s novels, but I’d missed Ain’t She Sweet, which served as an example of how to make your readers care about an unsympathetic (at least as you begin) character.  I’ve since acquired a copy.  Susan talked about backstory (and how not to dump it all in the first chapter), motivation, and the ever-popular principal of Show, Don’t Tell.

By now my brain was buzzing with undigested information (a common condition during conference, and for weeks after), so I wandered around a bit.  I visited the Independent Booksigning, a new addition this year, and picked up a few free books from friends, restraining myself with the thought of carrying them all home (by this time I already had a dozen free books to pack, although there was, as usual, a FedEx desk set up in the lobby for those who piled up so many books they needed to ship them home).

I belong to the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal on-line chapter of RWA, and on Thursday evening I attended the annual FF&P Gathering with all of the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists, a delightful evening complete with dinner and a costume contest (the theme was Southern Gothic, but several of the costumes were definitely Victorian Steampunk).  By the end of the evening, dancing women (and two or three men), costumed or not, were entertaining the DJ as much as he was entertaining them.

Here are the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists (at the Friday afternoon reception on the loft in the middle of the atrium). From left to right: Ella Sheridan, India Powers, Mariah Ankenman, Amy Jones, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Lark Howard, Kay Hudson, and Tara Sheets.

Paranormal Finalists

 

I’m Back

It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I’ve posted here, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks, with six days in Atlanta for the RWA Conference in the middle.  I’m still recovering.  The Scorekeeper is a three-person office, so it takes some planning beforehand and catching up afterwards for any one of us to be gone for most of a week.

I left on Tuesday the 16th with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson.  We got to Atlanta mid-afternoon, and walked for what seemed like miles before we figured out that the speedy  little train running along one side of the passage would take us directly to the baggage area, apparently located in the next county.  (And I’m not kidding about speedy–anyone foolish enough to ignore the warnings about holding on to the conveniently-positioned poles was likely to be tossed the length of the car when it started or stopped.)

We arrived at the Marriott Marquis before check-in time, left our bags in the designated area, and began exploring.  The hotel is gorgeous, with a vertigo-inducing fifty-story atrium and those speedy glass elevator cars that make some people nervous (I love them).  (And the Best Ladies’ Rooms Ever–over six days I never once had to wait for a stall.  The perfect amenities for a conference attended by two thousand women.)

Tuesday evening I felt like a real social butterfly, having dinner at a nearby Turkish restaurant with the Firebirds (the Golden Heart finalists of 2012) and dessert at a Latin-Pacific fusion place with the Lucky 13s (this year’s GH finalists).  The annual RWA conference is as much about renewing long distance friendships as it is about workshops and industry networking.

On Wednesday I attended the Golden Network retreat, the annual meeting of the on-line chapter for Golden Heart finalists.  This year the planners went straight for the top.  Our opening speaker was Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a fabulously warm and funny lady, followed by Courtney Milan, an extremely successful and knowledgeable pioneer in the field of self-publishing.

Our keynote speaker was the incomparable Nora Roberts.  Yes, that Nora.  Her advice to us, a mixed crowd of published and unpublished writers, was “Just Keep Writing,” a motto she clearly follows: her typical yearly output, she told us, is one hardback suspense novel, two J.D. Robb books, and a paperback trilogy.  Exhilarating and terrifying at once.

After lunch we had a panel of agents and editors, followed by a group of multi-published authors, all answering our questions and letting us pick their brains.  Between speakers our talented emcees, Susan Boyer and Lorenda Christensen, kept us entertained with their rap intros and commentary, sometimes even in sync with their prerecorded accompaniment.  We’re writers–technology is not always our strong point.

Wednesday evening was the annual “Readers for Life” Literacy Booksigning, as crowded and noisy as always, with hundreds of authors singing their books.  The event is open to the public, and this year raised more than $50,000 for RWA’s continuing support of literacy programs.  I managed to restrain myself–after all, I had to get back to Houston with one suitcase and a carry on–but I visited with friends around the room.

WordPress is not being its usual cooperative self tonight, won’t even let me upload a photo, so I think I’ll save the rest of the conference for a day or two.  I had a wonderful time in Atlanta, but I’m still trying to catch up with my ordinary world.

 

 

Next Week, RWA13

Back in late March when I learned that Jinn & Tonic is a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart contest, the conference in mid-July was a long way off.  Suddenly it’s next week, and I’m not ready.

Oh, I’m not totally unprepared.  I’ve tried on my conference clothes, and they still fit.  I’ve bought a few new things, some of which will actually make the packing cut.  I should be making a packing list.  (Last year I forgot the evening bag I intended to carry to the awards ceremony; this year I bought a new one and left it sitting out where I can’t miss it.)

I’ve decided how much cash to take, based on what I spent in New York City and Anaheim (thank you, Quicken), but I haven’t been to the bank yet.  I’ve registered (and paid) for the conference and for two events sponsored by on-line chapters that I belong to, the Golden Network Retreat and the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter Gathering.  I’ve sent RSVPs for a couple of party invitations.   I have my airline and hotel reservations.

Lucky 13 pinsA couple of weeks ago I opened my mailbox and found the Lucky 13 Golden Heart pins designed and made by one of our number, who writes historical romance as Eliss Baker and designs jewelry as Lisa Confetti.  The smaller one will go on my conference badge holder, along with my Golden Heart pins and my Starcatcher (2011) and Firebird (2012) pins.  Badge bling is a fun part of the conference.

Plans for the conference–workshops, receptions, appointments, dinners–are filling up a spreadsheet on my computer.  I’ll print that out, and probable scribble on it, because I’m not taking a laptop with me (I don’t even own one).  I know some of my friends are building schedules on their smart phones.  My phone is only moderately intelligent, and I’m still trying to learn how to access my email on it.  I’ll be using paper schedules and a spiral bound notebook.

My email inbox is overflowing with chatter from friends making plans to meet for dinner or drinks, information on the local restaurants, attractions, and transportation in Atlanta, and I’m afraid to clean it out for fear of losing some essential bit of information not yet transferred to my spreadsheet.  Meanwhile, I’m compiling a mental list of all the things I’m putting off until I get back (get the car serviced, have the roof inspected, make an appointment with the eye doctor . . . ).  I probably should put that list on paper, or at least in a computer file.

I’m frazzled, and semi-organized at best, but I’m also looking forward to Atlanta.  This will be my third RWA conference in three years.  I can’t wait to see old friends and new.  Atlanta, here we come.

[For those of you interested in Scrivener, I’ve added an Introduction to Scrivener for Novelists to the article section of the site.]

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