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.

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.]

Book Review: Maid of Secrets

I met Jenn Stark, on line and then in person, as one of the Starcatchers, the 2011 group of Golden Heart finalists.  Her manuscript, then called Maids of Honor, was a finalist in the Young Adult category.  It didn’t win the Golden Heart, but it did even better–it sold to Simon & Schuster!  Although I’m not a reader of contemporary young adult fiction (it’s been a long time since high school angst played an important role in my life), the Elizabethan setting of Jenn’s story, and the tagline God Save the Queen–or We Will, had me waiting eagerly for publication.

Jenn chose to publish as Jennifer McGowan, Simon & Schuster changed the title to Maid of Secrets and put a beautiful cover on the book, and as soon as it was released last month, I was at my local Barnes & Noble for a copy.  And I was not disappointed.

Maid of SecretsMaid of Secrets may be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, but it stands up quite well as historical fiction for readers of any age.  Although the heroine, orphan and pickpocket Meg Fellows, is a young woman of seventeen, her problems are hardly those of a contemporary teen.  When she is arrested and removed from her company of traveling players to be drafted into the Maids of Honor, a small group of girls trained to protect Queen Elizabeth I and to spy on her court, Meg’s skills as a thief take second place to her phenomenal ability to memorize overheard conversations, even in Spanish, a language she barely knows.

Each of Meg’s fellow Maids of Honor also has a unique skill: Anna the scholar and translator, Sophia, whose “sight” is just developing, Jane with her knives and raw courage, and Beatrice the beauty and charmer of men.  Each Maid has her own secrets as well.

The Elizabethan setting is fascinating, as Meg and Jane prowl through the semi-forgotten passageways from the time of Henry VIII, meet the members of the court, spy on Elizabeth’s enemies and suitors, and discover some things they’d rather not have known.

Among the Spaniards at court, the handsome and charming young Count de Medina keeps Meg guessing—is he her protector, as he claims, or Elizabeth’s enemy, as the spy masters suspect?

Maid of Secrets comes to a satisfying conclusion without answering all the questions raised.  I hope this means we will be hearing more from Meg and the Maids of Honor.

Getting Ready for RWA13

This morning one of my clients asked, “Have you been to that big seminar yet?”

After a puzzled moment, I said, “Oh, no, that’s not until the middle of July.”

“Oh,” Janet said, “I knew it was right around now.

Right around now?  Good heavens, she’s right.  It’ll be June in a day or two.  Hardly more than six weeks until the Romance Writers of America 2013 Conference in Atlanta.  Really?  Already?

Yes, already.  But I’m actually in pretty good shape, all things considered.  My Golden Heart finalist pinGolden Heart pin and my invitation to the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists reception arrived a few days ago.  Both are sitting on my work table in the box they arrived in, waiting to go to the conference with me.

I’m registered for the conference, the Golden Network Retreat, and a hotel room, and Cheryl, Colleen and I have our airline reservations.  I’m getting to know my fellow finalists, and keeping in touch with my Starcatcher (2011) and Firebird (2012) sisters.  I have pitch appointments at the Conference, and I’ve started to look at the workshop schedule.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I decided to find something new to wear to the Awards Ceremony.  I’m not a Fashionista, and I can’t imagine myself in an evening gown, although I know many of my friends (most of them younger than I) will look gorgeous in theirs.  I think the last time I wore a floor length dress was to a formal party in New Iberia, Louisiana, sometime in the early 1970s, and I have no idea what eventually happened to that dress.  At the last two Awards parties, I’ve worn a gold-trimmed black tunic and black pants, and I was prepared to wear the outfit again.  There will be two thousand people there, and none of them will remember what I wore last year.

But, I thought, I’ll give it a shot.  So on Saturday I hauled myself over to the Mall and checked out the two higher-end department stores, where I saw a couple of pieces I liked, but nothing that stopped me in my tracks.  That was enough shopping for one day, and I had the black-and-gold to fall back on.  But on Monday I decided to give it one more try.  I looked at two more stores–nothing even close.  But the second store brought me back to the Mall (twice in one weekend!), so I went back to Dillard’s to look again.

When I’d been there on Saturday, all the sales women were twenty three years old and size 2.  On Monday I found a woman of comfortably middle years and figure on duty, which somehow made me feel much more comfortable about buying something.  I came away with a multicolored, scoop-necked tunic with black trim to match my pants, and colors that go with my gold and turquoise earrings.  Just what I wanted.  One more item off the check list.

Lucky 13sThe 2013 Golden Heart finalists have named ourselves the Lucky 13s.  There aren’t as many of us as in past years, due to changes in the contest structure which eliminated two of the categories, and one category that didn’t receive enough entries.  It’s been a lot of fun getting to know these forty or so lovely and talented women, exchanging information and cheering one another on in our search for agents and editors.  One of our number, who creates gorgeous jewelry under the name Lisa Confetti, has designed a logo for us, which she’s making into a pin.  (This is just a sketch–click to see some of Lisa’s beautiful art-inspired pieces.)

I need to get back to writing, now, and make some progress on the third book in the series.  I need to think about my wardrobe for the conference.  I need to . . .  Oh, what the heck.  It’ll all come together, and we’ll have a blast.  RWA13, here we come.

 

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