Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Introducing...Mary Sullivan!!

Incredibly exciting times here in Drunk Writer Land. One of our critique group members FINALLY GOT THE CALL!!

Many of you out there know Mary as Mary Bray. I'm going to let her tell her incredible story from start to finish and I hope you all find her perseverance as inspiring as I do. Take it away Mary:



I was originally going to post this on my own web page, but, well, I don’t have one yet, and I can’t hold in my excitement.

My wonderful critique partner, Molly, graciously invited me here to tell my story about receiving The Call last week, so here I am. Woooooooooohooooooooooooo!!!

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, I’m ready to answer Molly’s questions.

MOLLY: Tell us the story about getting the call.

ME: I was home when my agent, Pamela Hopkins, called. She told me that Wanda Ottewell, at Harlequin Superromance, wanted to buy my novel, WHITE STETSONS. It was my 2005 Golden Heart finaling entry called, at that time, SHELTERING ARMS. I can honestly say that I wasn’t very articulate for the first few minutes of the phone call. My thoughts sounded something like, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” Serious chills and goose bumps. To a certain extent, I’m still in shock.

I had this really weird thought after I hung up. I thought, “Well, I guess that was inevitable.” After some analysis, I realized that, in other words, as long as I had continued to grow as a writer and didn’t give up, I was going to obtain my goal to get published.

Never, at any point, up until The Call, did I believe it was inevitable, though. I had all of the doubts of any writer. I had those moments when I wondered why I was stilling banging my head against that publishing wall.

The Call became more real when Wanda phoned to talk about the book and expectations Harlequin would have of me. Wanda was warm, gracious, and so intelligent. I guess I was most relieved when she mentioned that any revisions that needed to be done on WHITE STETSONS would be minor. She stressed ‘minor’. Thank heavens.

My revision story along the journey to publication has been a novel in itself with this particular manuscript.

It started just before I found out the novel had finaled in the Golden Heart. I had sent the manuscript to an editor at Superromance (not Wanda) who had asked for revisions. I did those revisions, but the editor still didn’t want it.

At that point, Pam agreed to be my agent. We decided that we could target American Romance, because the setting was already so strong. I just had to change it from Alberta to just across the border in Montana. I had created a fictitious town, and northern Montana doesn’t differ too much from southern Alberta in topography in the one area I used.

American Romance is a slightly shorter line. I cut out scenes, researched Montana and then increased the sense of place even more, made sure it was seamless and then sent it to Pam.

She, in turn, sent it to Wanda, who edits some of Pam’s authors who write for American Romance. Pam has a good relationship with Wanda. So, even though Wanda edited for Superromance, she did agree to take a look at the manuscript in its American Romance incarnation.

She sent back a four-page revision letter and agreed to take another look at it. I agreed to do those revisions because they made sense to me, but also because I think Wanda has a really solid understanding of story.

Then, Wanda became the Senior Editor of Superromance, which was wonderful for her, but not so great for me, because she would no longer have the time to look at an author who was writing American Romance. I really didn’t want to start over with another editor, though, and had really wanted to be published in Superromance. As well, I wanted to work with Wanda.

Pam went back to Wanda asking whether she would take another look at the manuscript if I now rewrote it as a Superromance. Wanda agreed. So...yet another set of revisions to do, which were a lot more work than just sending out the old copy of the manuscript. In the four years since I had started to write this novel, I had learned a lot about writing. It is my belief that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, you never stop learning as a writer.

I rewrote older scenes that were no longer as good as newer scenes. I used all of Wanda’s wonderful suggestions. In a book I already considered to be emotional, I had to write with even more emotion. Superromance was about to take a slightly different direction and Wanda told Pam that it is all about romance. Romance, romance, romance.

So, I beefed up the romance. I think it was because of this that I didn’t lose the spark in the book after so many revisions. I had to find new ways to showcase the romance between my hero and heroine and, in doing so, came to fall in love with my characters again.

Wanda loved the revisions, Pam got The Call, and then passed it along to me.

I know there were people who thought I should have thrown in the towel and moved on to another book, but there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t give up on WHITE STETSONS. First, my agent liked the story and believed it could sell. Second, I loved the story. No matter how many times I rewrote it, even when I feared I was so immersed I could no longer ‘see’ the story, I still loved my characters and the basic premise.

My hero, Hank, is even more ‘Hank’ than when I started the book four years ago.

Besides, I did continue to work on other novels.

I have strong opinions about those revisions I made .

I have learned that there is a time to stick to my guns, and a time to listen to others.

If only a handful of people were ‘getting’ what I was trying to say, maybe it was time to change what I was saying, or the way I was saying it.

Agreeing to revisions that made sense was taking responsibility for selling my own work. So, if the reader/editor/agent couldn’t see what I wanted them to see, how could I change the writing to make them see the story I saw?

Changing the manuscript to target American Romance was a strategic career move on my part. Changing it back to Superromance, with the editor’s permission, was also a career ploy. Using the editor’s requested revisions was just plain smart writing and resulted in a better book in the end. However, there was never a guarantee that she would like it or buy it. I will admit that, if she hadn’t, there was nowhere else for WHITE STETSONS to go. It is most definitely a category novel.

I should stress here that, since Superromance had already rejected it as a Super, it really shouldn’t have gone to another editor to be considered for Super. This only happened because Wanda first saw it as an American Romance and then, circumstances changed. I got lucky...and I have a good agent.

I was a basket case while waiting for Wanda’s response. I’m so glad she bought it in the end.

MOLLY: How long have you been writing?

ME: Twelve years. I lost of couple of those to health and family issues. Life does seem to get in the way of the writing.

What was I doing all of those years? Either writing manuscripts, or doing research for those stories, or attending seminars, workshops or conferences, or writing short stories, or refining pitches and query letters, or entering contests, or reading excellent authors--always trying to improve my craft--and, once a week, working with a great critique group that includes Molly, Maureen and Sinead who you know here on their great blog. Also, Teresa, Michele and Jude, great writers and amazing critiquers.

Thank you, you lovely, smart, savvy ladies for all of your support!


MOLLY: Looking back on your journey to this point - what do you think are the most important things you’ve done to get here? What do you wish you’d done differently? If anything?

ME: Most important things I’ve done? Learned to write well and then continued to study writing and story, joined TRW, found a supportive critique group.

What do I wish I’d done differently? Joined TRW and met other writers a lot sooner than I did. Writing is such a solitary pursuit and the romance novel writing community is wonderfully supportive.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Red, horned heroes and freeing my imagination

Seriously, how do you follow up Maureen’s post on dark heroes as throrougly explained by examples using Mad Men?

You don’t.

So instead of discussing writing, I’m going to talk about why I loved Hellboy 2. It works on a lot of levels, and fails on some as well. But like a lot of Del Toro’s movies, it has this tremendous dark visual style that seems be uniquely him.
And it had some lovely little touches that were really imaginative. For example, a canary can terrify a scary troll. The hellboy character is wonderful, has some lovely quirks, is far from perfect, and as prophesied in both hellboy movies may someday destroy the world.

What I really took away from this movie was the sheer imagination involved. It got me thinking, how much of what I use in my books is influenced by what I’ve read before and what I expect to find in the genre. And I keep trying to think of ways to break my imagination free and really think of original ideas, original details, original characters.

And I think we start by forgetting everything we’ve ever read in the romance genre.

But when I try this, I just think of one eyed weird looking witches, straight out of the last Del Toro movie, so I figure I need to forget Hellboy 2 as well.

And back to our weekly obsession with SYTYCD.. Will? I’m so sad, but I’m not sure there is a guy left it wouldn’t have hurt me to see leave. And I have to admit, I love Twitch, as much for his personality as his dancing. The girls.. meh! Take ‘em or leave ‘em.
Let’s have a four guy finale…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dark Heroes and Mad Men

I've been thinking a lot about Sinead's post on Friday, and a dilemma I know she's having with one of her WIP's, and also thinking about some workshops I've attended, where the topic was making the protagonist sympathetic or emotionally identifiable in the opening scenes. While I usually think of that in terms of romance heroines, I'm starting to think this is the key to making readers accept dark heroes, too. That the "make your hero sympathetic or relatable rule" isn't just for the nice guys. It's for the bad guys, too. Let's face it, every well-rounded character's got two sides, but maybe the darker the hero the more important it is to show the positive traits early.

The thing is, it's hard to do this with a dark character, because you're trying to characterize him/her as dark at the same time. And I agree that it can be cowardly or a cop out for writers to soften the dark stuff too much. Also hard not to fall into a clich├ęs like having them pet a puppy (or literally save a cat as in the title of Blake Snyder's screen writing book). But while challenging, it's not impossible and it doesn't mean you need to have the hero regret his/her bad choices right from the start, or otherwise soften whatever it is that makes them dark. Rather you can show something positive as well, or show him/her experiencing something the reader can relate to/empathize with. I'm going to have to pull out Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Ain't She Sweet again. Actually, I think I borrowed Sinead's copy. Need to get one of my own. But I'm quite sure SEP did this masterfully with her anti-heroine in Ain't She Sweet.

And another writer who's done it masterfully is Matthew Weiner, the writer/creator of Mad Men. AMC showed the first season of Mad Men back-to-back on Sunday, in anticipation of the second season starting next week. (Can't wait!) And I watched the opening scenes from the pilot episode about 5 times.


Okay, Don Draper might not be what many of us think of when we think "dark hero", but let's face it, he's a pretty dark guy, with some very dark secrets, who has done and does a lot of bad things. Yet, he is the protagonist of the series. (Peggy being the secondary protagonist and I'm going to have to go back and think about her introduction, too...)

So, how does the writer introduce Don Draper, dark hero...

First scene: Noisy, crowded bar. Everyone's drinking and smoking and chatting in groups. Having fun. But not Don. He's alone. Concentrating. Working. Writing ideas on a napkin.

In less than 5 seconds of the pilot episode we know Don is hard worker. Has a strong work ethic. Positive traits.

Then he asks a busboy (older black man) for a light and tries to engage him in conversation. The waiter (white) misinterprets the situation, tries to intercede and insults the busboy. Don brushes the waiter off, making it clear he wants to talk to the busboy. So, now we're maybe 15 seconds into this series and we know: Don is nice to people with low-paying jobs. Don is nice to a black person in 1960, when most white people weren't. Don respects the "little guy", cares about underdogs. More positive traits.

Then the conversation continues and he's asking the busboy about his brand of cigarettes and why he smokes them and what Don could say to convince him to switch brands. In a 20 or 30 second conversation we see more of Don respecting this man, valuing his opinion and Don being insightful and smart about his job. Look at that: Good at his job. Another positive trait. He respects others' opinions. Another one.

Oh, and the actor playing Don is very good looking, dresses well, has a great smile. Not trivial details. Good looking. Another positive trait.

Scene is over. Less than a minute. And we already like and respect Don, think he's a good guy. He's dedicated. A hard worker. Nice to underdogs. Good at his job. Good looking. At least five positive traits in maybe 40 seconds.

Second scene: Don goes to visit a woman in her apartment. It's late at night. He's not expected, but she's clearly glad to see him, but no push-over either, and she's attractive. And witty. Hmmmm. An attractive, witty woman likes Don. Wants to have sex with him. And she does the seducing/makes the first move. Another clue to him having positive traits. Others like him so he must be likable. And his lover is a bohemian, an independent woman. An artist. Plus, she has more than one lover. Interesting. His lover is a woman who is very rebellious given the time period. Earns her own living. She's interesting. That he's her lover makes him more interesting. And he talks with her about a problem he's having at work. Makes us think he respects women, respects her opinion. Because of this and the way he treats his new secretary in a later scene, we believe Don respects women more than most men of his time. We're proved wrong later in the episode. But the point is, we believe it now, as we're getting to know Don and it helps us become emotionally attached.

But back to the second scene. In addition to this scene cementing our impression that this guy is fairly liberal for his time--asking for opinions from a black man and now a woman!--it does something even more important. In discussing his work issues, we learn that he's vulnerable. Scared in fact. Scared that he won't come up with an idea for his cigarette manufacturer client, scared to go to work tomorrow, scared that one of the young execs will steal his job, scared that everyone at work will discover he's a fraud. Now, if you watch the series, you'll know that this last fear is a loaded one for Don. But we don't know that it's foreshadowing at this point. All we know is he has insecurities about his job and his biggest fear is that some day everyone will discover he's a fraud. These are fears and emotions almost everyone can relate to. The writer has made him emotionally identifiable, by putting him in this vulnerable situation we can relate to.

So, at this point, we're maybe 90 seconds into a series with an anti-hero and already the writer has given us five or six reasons to like and respect Don. To identify with him emotionally. Connect with him.

Next scene. Wakes up in bed with his lover. Says, "We should get married. ... You have your own business ... What size Cadillac do you take?" She replies: "You know the rules. I don't make plans and I don't make breakfast." Hands him his watch as a signal he should get up and get out.

Now we're wondering if Don might be a romantic. If she'd agree to it, he'd marry this woman. On top of that, he's fine with women in business. in 1960. Cool. All these assumptions turn out to be false, but Don wasn't lying in this scene, he was being ironic. Seeing it again, knowing all we know about Don after the first season, I think when he says "we should get married," to Midge, he isn't being romantic at all, but a making a wish for a different life because of the unhappiness and emptiness caused by living a lie. Midge is an escape. He doesn't have to feel badly that she knows nothing about him, because she doesn't want to know much about him. But -- big but -- at this point, we don't know any of this, so the writer is giving us more reasons to empathize with Don. Poor guy is in love with a woman who won't commit and has other lovers. And he's generous. He offered her a Cadillac, even if it was jokingly.

We're thinking Don's a pretty good guy. And we're maybe only 3 minutes into the series.

Then we start to meet the other characters and learn what pigs most of the men are and how badly they treat the women and Don starts to look even better by comparison. (Even the clearly closeted gay man does his best to sexually harass and insult the women. But Don mostly abstains and actually defends Peggy.)

After all this, by the time the negative stuff starts to come out about Don's character, we're already pretty invested in him and willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. When he makes anti-semitic remarks we think, "Yes, but it's a sign of the times, plus he was nice to the black man and respects women." Two out of three ain't bad. ;-)
Then he insults a woman when she dares to question him, and says: "I'm not going to let a woman talk to me like this," before storming out on a female client. We're shocked, sure, but since we'd already decided he was a good guy in the first 2-3 minutes of the episode, we see these negative traits as complexities, not reasons to think he's a villain rather than a hero. When we learn he's a total cynic about love, we wonder, "Why does he feel that way? How was he hurt?" instead of hating him for it and thinking he's a jerk. When he's clearly sad when describing how advertising is all about happiness, we care and are curious about what's causing him pain.

And then, at the end of the episode... he goes home to his wife. Big reveal. He's married. A big-time cheater. But then even this blow is softened, because he loves his kids. And he loves his wife. And his wife loves him. And he's a good provider. We see all that in a tender 30 second scene when he gets home. (In future episodes, when we get to know his wife better, we realize everything wasn't as rosy as it seemed in that scene... but the writer is smart about that. Paints a pretty picture of his home life to start with.)

Do we hate him at the end of this first episode? Hard to say. Some people will. I didn't.
But I also think that, love him or hate him, most people by the end of this first episode are captivated by Don Draper. Fascinated. Drawn in to a complex character who just gets more and more complex as the series continues.

Stellar writing. Stellar acting. I see more in this opening episode each time I watch it. And I'm starting to think it's a master class in introducing dark heroes.

Is Don a dark hero, as in a murderer or rapist? Well no. (At least based on what we know in the first season.) But he is -- without giving any spoilers, for those of you who need to catch up and watch season one -- a bit of a scum bucket. Okay, maybe not a scum bucket. Just deeply wounded. See? I'm so invested I can't even call him a bad name.

I was totally drawn into his story. I think a good part of this is because of those masterful first scenes, those two minutes of screen time that made him emotionally identifiable to me and showed me his positive traits before revealing all the bad stuff.

(Now I want to go back and rewrite the first scene of my new book for the 60th time...)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How bad can you make your hero?

Most readers, and we at Drunk Writers, all love a dark hero. And when you consider the success of JR Ward, the darker, the better.

But how dark?

Can your hero be a thief, a murderer?

I remember a novel, (the author, well known and with amazing sales,) made the villain from one of her previous novels the hero, even though in the previous novel he’d raped a woman.

I write dark heroes, and really the question on my mind a lot, is how dark before the book becomes unmarketable.

I think in the end, it comes down to motivations. You have the hero do a lot, (pedophiles, and rape aside) and if you give them sufficient motivation, the reader will buy them as a hero.

Genre also plays a part. I think we accept a murderer for a hero in paranormal if he’s a vampire and trying to protect his race, rather than say in contemporary romance where the hero kills people because he’s delusional. (Stupid example, I know, but I haven’t had coffee yet, and my brain isn’t working, and I should have done this blog yesterday.)

Motivation is a tricky thing, because a majority of readers have to buy into it. It’s a thin line, because if the motivation is too safe, like for example, your hero is kicking dogs to save a bunch of orphans, then well, he’s not really too dark.
His motivations still have to veer towards dark. If the hero is a true hero at the beginning of the book and well, you don’t have a character arc.

Laura Kinsale is my heroine in terms of the dark hero. Her books are a master class in creating a hero as far as I’m concerned. And her heroes, for the most part, are selfish creatures, not acting out of heroic motivations at the beginning of her books, and have a really satisfying arc at the end.

And the darker the hero, the more complex his motivations become. And something I always have a problem with. They are something I don’t get right during the first draft, or the second..

On a different note.. let’s move on to SYTYCD… loving this season and it’s all because of the guys.. seriously, those solos… wow!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Follow Through and Third Acts

In the ten days since I finished (finally) a polished enough draft of my latest opus to send it off to my agent, I've seen about 6 movies. Perhaps more. An embarrassment of movies really.

So, I figured there had to be some fodder for discussion in those films. Problem is, my brain is broken, or at least badly sprained, such that critical analysis of anything really hurts.

But one of the movies got me thinking about a workshop I attended recently on high concept. The author who gave the workshop made a comment at some point that it doesn't matter if your actual book/story is that high concept, just that the pitch is, implying that it's more important to sell the concept to editors and/or Hollywood than it is to please the eventual readers. Now, to be fair to said author, I'm sure this isn't really what she meant. Or I hope it wasn't. But I wasn't the only one who heard her say this...

But I think the people involved in the film Hancock might have gone to her workshop, too.

Hancock has an amazing concept. Stellar. The first time I saw a trailer I immediately wanted to see the film, nearly rubbing my hands together with glee.

What a high concept. Alcoholic super-hero creates as many problems as he solves. Okay, I'm not good at pitch lines. And that was my first crack at it. But it's an amazing idea. You could even bring in the very funny Jason Bateman character to make it his story... PR man tries to improve the image of an alcoholic super-hero who creates as many problems as he solves. Or add the Theron character to that: PR man tries to improve the image of an alcoholic super-hero who crates as many problems as he solves, only to discover his wife and the super-hero have a secret past.

Okay, that includes a spoiler, but it's foreshadowed in the film out the wazoo, so I'm not really ruining it. BUT. I am ruining the point of this post. As usual, I've gotten off track.

What I meant to say was that the movie never really fully delivers on this fabulous high concept premise. They set us up with all this amazing potential for heart-wrenching conflict between the three main characters, but then resort to blowing things up instead of ensuring the audience fully understands and appreciates that conflict that never really gets resolved properly. And the result is a mediocre film that could have been AMAZING.

The third act didn't even make that much sense to me... If they can't be around each other, how come that only starts being a problem after the audience is told they can't be around each other? Why wasn't it a problem before that? And why did Theron all of a sudden start to wear black eye-liner once it's revealed she's a god????

Sad thing for me was this film was directed by Peter Berg, of Friday Night Lights fame (not to mention being Dr. Kronk of Chicago Hope) . But Berg didn't write it... and it's hard to know whether or not to blame the writers, since so much happens by committee in Hollywood movies. Although I did notice that the two writers have mostly TV-writing credits. And as much as there is amazing writing happening on TV these days... TV is different. You have an entire series to develop characters and tell a story, with each episode being like a big chapter or something. In a movie, especially a genre movie, you need a great, tight, story structure with a strong third act, and Hancock was all high concept pitch, and lack of follow through.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting Myself Out of The Way...

Much harder to do these days what with the fetus.... but, not quite what I was just thinking about.

I love love love So You Think You Can Dance. There is nothing for me not to love about that show -- even Mary Murphy who is so annoying it's unbelievable she has a job, but she does and I even love that about the show -- they employ really annoying people. This year is better than last year, which was better than the year before that which was so addictive I probably watched it twice. This year I'm loving the Tabitha and Napoleon numbers -- not that I have any valid opinion about hip hop - but it seems to me that they do really good hip hop. I also loved Mia Micheal's bed routine. Mostly because Twitch's chest is a stupid stupid stupid thing of beauty. Good God, in my next life I'm coming back as a breakdancer.

But I am really enjoying the saga of Will and his partner (who is so overshadowed by Will I've forgotten her name). Now, every time Will dances the judges can't stop fawning - and maybe he is the greatest thing since sliced cheese - I like him. I like him a lot. But it's Jessica (that's her name, right?) that's teaching me lots of lessons. All the judges remind her that when she gets over herself, she's incredible and I believe that. The shirt number was amazing and so was last weeks incredible Tyce number/art installation. But, man, it must be so hard to get over herself when every week it seems like all the judges can't stop waxing poetic about Will - and she's constantly being compared to the guy, because they are dancing together!!! She needs him, she hates him. She wants to be as good as him, she resents him. She's learning from him, she's not as good as him. It's awesome. It's a little sad to watch, but I can't stop watching.

I also think that the last week and maybe the last month and a bit - the Drunk Writers - have been unable to get over ourselves. We're not writing, we're analyzing and comparing and hating and resenting all the stuff we need to learn. I am. Oh, I am. It's like I'm dancing with Susan Elizabeth Phillips every damn week - and it's great - but come on!!! Give me Gev or someone more realistic!

Anyway - I am going to force myself to snap out of this. I've turned in all my projects, I've eaten all the Frosted Mini Wheats a woman should eat, I'm off on vacation next weekend with three great books and I've got a new proposal to work on. Life is good.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Theme for the week -

So apparently this week is all about procrastination and working through not wanting to work.
Something all three drunk writers seem to be fighting this week.
And the more books I write, the worse it gets. I’m occasionally paralyzed by the idea of writing the book the way it should be written, not the way I would write it. I agonize over whether my scenes are doing what they should be doing.
Gone are the days of carefree first drafts, because in my process right now, crazy as my process is, it’s really, really hard for me to re-imagine a book once I’ve written it.
So I know to take more time with set-up and plotting in the beginning.
Basically, writing has just gotten harder, even though I know I’ve gotten better and even though I know I’m far more capable of recognizing and fixing my mistakes.
And too often lately I’ve sat and thought about writing more than I have actually sat and written. My current WIP is going at a snail’s pace. And I wish I could rekindle the excitement and enthusiasm of my earlier days while keeping the knowledge I’ve gained.

But then I read a great book and my imagination gets fired up, and I start to think about my own book and all of a sudden my enthusiasm returns. Or I watch a great movie, or a TV show and I figure out a way to fix a plot complication.

Because in the end I really do still love it.

But I’m in the same boat as Maureen. What would really give me inspiration right now is to sell a bloody book.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Losing and finding the spark....

I read Molly's post on Monday with a lot of empathy and nodding.

And what people might not know about Molly is that she has those days where she'd rather procrastinate than write... but somehow she still finishes all her books months before her deadlines, which is why she keeps getting bumped up in schedules and her editor trusts her to deliver. Total pro. Me? Not so much.

Now... I'm not a big fan of oh-woe-is-me blog posts. Nor do I believe in whining in public, but I still feel like whining tonight. I think I'm just burned out. I hope that's all it is. I've got 3 shoppable, totally publishable (if I do say so myself) projects completed right now. And I'm about 90% sure at least 2 of the 3 will go out on submission after the summer publishing slowdown... But right now I'm feeling like if one of these 3 doesn't hit it, that's it for me. I'm done.

Now, I'm sure I'll take that back at some point. I hope so. (No, I don't... I hope one of them will sell so I won't be in a position to have to take it back...)

Have you ever lost your spark? What did you do to reignite it?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough...

I read JR Ward and watch a lot of tv and eat cereal by the box full.

It's true. You know that little "rule" about creating characters: that your character is what they do - not what you say they are. And when characters are put into conflict - how they behave tells the reader everything they need to know about that character.

And if the same is true for people, which I think it is, the last two weeks have shown that I, 1. Know how to procrastinate. 2. Know how to rationalize. 3. Shouldn't buy boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats in times of stress. 4. Married a good guy.

I had a conversation a few days ago with my editor - the fantastic Wanda Ottewell. We've worked together for a long time and have developed a nice little short hand when it comes to talking edits. So, we're discussing a book that I really had a terrible time with and she has moved up in the schedule so that the rewrites are due oh...now. And her edits are things like..."I just don't love the heroine." Which I know means - she's boring and bland and needs to be fixed in the first 5 chapters. And "I'm not crazy about the black moment...it seems familiar." Which means, it's exactly the same as the last book you wrote -- who are you trying to kid? So, fix heroine. Fix black moment. Got it.

I'm also trying to finish a novella that's due on the same day my baby is due and Wanda asks me about what I am working on next. I tell her my idea for a four book proposal and her response is "oh no... we're doing a 60th Anniversary Continuity with basically the EXACT SAME PLOT. Can you think of something new?"

Of course. Of course. Because I have all the time in the world and ideas are growing on the weed trees in my backyard. So, I hang up the phone and freak out. And by freak out I mean eat everything that has sugar content in my freezer. And then, because it's not like I'm on three deadlines I lie down and read the latest JR Ward. Which depresses me. Not because it's a bad book, or I'm disappointed as so many people have been. Sure, the romance is weak and Phury's angst wears thin - but because Ward proves in this book how brave she is, and how freaking talented.

Tell me, who on their fifth book (6th?) has the courage to totally destroy their world, possibly piss off their legions of romance fans with a weak romance all so they can set up the next five books to be even better than the first five? It's so freaking risky. And she goes so far out there sometimes - albino scorpions? Really? But because I am so sucked in - I go, too.

In the end, taking that day to read and to process all that I have to do - was a wise move. And I say that not just because I am the Queen of Rationalization...well, maybe. But I feel all shaken up, inspired and anxious to get my hands on something new and different of my own.

On a similar note - Rolling Stone Magazine is the WORST for spoilers. In reading about the new season of Madmen, I found out about every cliffhanger from season one. Every. Cliffhanger. Infuriating. They did the same thing to me with Battlestar. Rolling Stone is on my list. But the show is still amazing AND so is the HBO series John Adams. Anyone else watching this? Holy Holy Frack. The inoculation scene? The tar and feathering scene? Paul Giamatti? Laura Linney? Amazing.

Friday, July 04, 2008

How dark do you like your romance?

My immediate answer to that questions is very dark. I write dark romance, where bad things happen, sometimes good people die, but in the end I guarantee mostly a happy ending.
And not just because of romance conventions, but because that’s my own preference.

And I love other dark romances, the JR Ward books are certainly that way, the Marjorie M. Liu books are packed with action and dead bodies.

But there is a limit for me. And I sort of realized that limit when I read the Meredith Duran book, the Duke of Shadows.
It’s a good book, the first half is straight out terrific, with an amazing location and lots of external and internal conflict. But, and I’m not giving much away, its set during the uprising against British rule in India in the 1850’s.

And there are some unsettling scenes, not many, and the author does a really nice job of not being too descriptive, while really getting across some realities of what happened during the fighting, but I found it injected a sense of realism that took me out of the story.

I like my romances a shade more fantasy.

And I’m not even sure where fantasy ends and realism begins. I love romantic suspense, have no problems with a body count.
I do know if the violence involves children, I’m probably out of the story. Can’t help it.

And I know everyone has their own uncomfortable point, which is why some people avoid suspense altogether.

It was interesting for me to learn, but it is something I’m going to have to be careful of in my own writing, as the body count piles up.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hello, My Name is Maureen and I am a plot driven writer

The reason I wrote that like an AA introduction, isn't because I think I should change... Or that it's something to be ashamed of... It's more because it's a very recent realization about myself as a writer and my process. Especially since I'd totally deluded myself into thinking I was more character driven. I actually slapped my head the night I realized this. (Sinead may have witnessed this head slap.) Here I was, thinking the opposite for at least five years.

Not that I think it's a black or white question. Nothing ever is. And clearly great stories need both character and plot, but even when I think about my women's fiction projects, as Sinead would say, "A lot of sh*t happens" in those books. So I think at heart, maybe I'm a plot driven writer. My storytelling instincts tell me to keep making sh*t happen, adding more plot elements to make things more difficult for my characters and keep the pace of the book fast.

Some readers of this blog know I'm trying something very different for me right now... A book in a completely different genre than I've written in before, that I hope will be the first in a series. And it's a very plot driven book... Very complicated and suspense driven.

And I found I had to get the major sequence of events down on paper, before I had all of the character motivations figured out. Particularly in regard to the romance plot. In fact, I had to go back and layer in a lot of that after writing the first draft. It wasn't like I had zero idea about my characters going in, and I do think I stayed true to them in the end and didn't make the characters do anything just to serve my plot, without giving them motivation, but all the main turning points in the character arcs come out of plot more than "reflection" if you know what I mean... And I must admit, in places, it was more like I knew what had to happen and I had to figure out what the frack was going on with my character to make him/her do that... Rather than the other way around. Which felt backwards to me in a way, but in the end, I'm wondering if it isn't just part of my process...

Again... not black and white... It just really surprised me that my approach for this book was so different -- or maybe more that I realized something about my process that had been there all along, but I'd been denying...

The three of us have been talking a lot over the past while about knowing our strengths and weaknesses and also knowing what we want from our careers. And I'm still so confused about this at times. But maybe this revelation will help me to figure it out. (Selling one of my fracking books, would help, too...)
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