Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Which line? May 26, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:51 pm
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This is a question my critique partner and I have been chewing over this week. Possibly other unpubbed writers aiming at Mills and Boon feel the same- there are three lines edited from the Richmond office, all quite different, how do we know which line to aim for?

I really don’t have a clue where my writing would best fit. I do like writing intimate scenes, but on the other hand I also have wondered how on earth it would be possible to keep writing them in fresh and different ways book after book after book! Maybe closing the bedroom door is okay with me. Still deal with the emotional effects of the lovemaking the morning after, without being there in the room with them the night before. There does still seem to be a surprising amount of heat in some Romance stories too, the difference seems to be – just don’t mention his erection. More of a generalised heat than a localised heat, I guess! I know there’s more to it than the sensuality level, it’s about emotional intensity too.

The best answer seems to be to write the story as it wants to go, rather than trying to force the characters and their story into a pre-conceived mould. Write the story, at least to finished first draft, and then see which line it feels like it fits best in. In a way, I’m missing the point by worrying about which line to target now. The point is, just write the best story I can. Really get to know my characters as real people with real hopes and dreams, real motivations, real character flaws that get in the way of then being happily in love, at least to begin with, and let them be themselves, not some tick-the-box cardboard cut out misconception of what an Alpha is.

No matter what line  it is, the editors and ultimately the readers are going to want  to see believable conflicts, believable emotional responses, and lots of delicious sexual tension between the hero and heroine. I need to make sure I don’t confuse things happening  with plot- plot is really the characters growing and changing as they respond to the situations they are in, and solve the emotional blocks stopping them being together. Plus have to keep on developing the great intangible of  individual “voice”, which I guess does just come from writing writing writing and not forcing my style into a mould any more than my characters.  That’s what I’m trying to do anyway- maybe I’d better print that out and stick it to my laptop to remind me!

Then, once I’ve done all that, is the time to worry about where the story fits!

I found this short article by Ally Blake, who writes for both Romance and Modern Heat, on the differences between the lines. It’s so helpful, with comments from writers, blurbs, and extracts, comapring and contrasting Romance (aka Tender or Sweet), Modern (aka Sexy or Presents) and Modern Heat (aka Presents Extra or Sexy Sensation).

She seems to be reassuringly echoing what other writers have said- write it first then decide where your voice fits. And I’ve been told that the Richmond editors do buy across all the lines edited there and that voice is the most essential element they look for, so specifically targetting to start off is not necessarily such a big deal, we just have to wow them with our voice. Now why does that seem like the hard part?!


Stone the crows! May 22, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:41 pm
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Those wretched crows of doubt have been back again today, circling!

I seem to have ground almost to a halt on James and Cassie’s story. The romance writing workshop last Saturday was fab and stimulated lots of ideas for strengthening my plot, but I can’t seem to actually write anything. I’m finding it’s getting progressively harder to write. When I started writing again just for fun, I wrote more and better than I am now, after so much writing and workshopping and planning. I think I am falling into the trap of needing to “get it right”, and it’s paralysing me. I keep telling myself to just let it rip in first draft and fix all the faults later, but it’s simply not happening for some reason. I know I can write a whole first draft in a month, and yeah sure, it was total rubbish that needs serious work in editing, but I’ve been struggling for 2 weeks with a first chapter on the WIP that is still total rubbish and will be almost all thrown out in my second draft!

I’m not sure what the best way to deal with this is, whether to keep wriitng and hope I push through it like a rmarathon runner when they hit the wall, or to give myself some time off to read, relax, hang out on wriitng boards, and just recharge.

Part of what’s stopping me write is changes in my life too, which are affecting my wriitng time and have been an additional stress this week -like I didn’t already have enough! The question of balance is a tough one, we are all juggling so many competing demands. I wrote pretty obsessively for the first few months of the year, but now I’m thinking I really need to spend more time with my husband, more time doing other things I love. I don’t think it helps us be good writers if we are neglecting the other things in our lives. Does it matter that much if the book is finished three months later than it could have been?

This is a weird one, but it also occured to me that maybe doing the morning pages is blocking me too- my subconcious is thinking, ‘Okay, that’s it, I’ve done my writing for the day, don’t need to do anymore.’ Hmm. Might experiment with that one. I also read a long time ago that talking about the story or writing about the story could sometimes again make the subcounscious think that the story had been told and that it didn’t ned to write anymore. I don’t know about that, because otherwise plotters would never get anything written!

I’m hoping that my story is somehow simmering away beneath the surface when it looks cold and lifeless, and that the words will come in a burst. My hero is the real block in the WIP. James is supposed to be alpha, but every time he opens his mouth he’s nice. He’s powerful, determined, rich, and stubborn about getting his own way; but he doesn’t use people, he asks rather than demands, he has good reason to be cynical and he guards his heart closely, but he doesn’t act like a bastard because of it. I’m trying to make him be who he’s not, to fit my idea of what a Presents/ Modern hero should be. I just have to write him as he is, and see what comes out, I think.

I’m not sure yet where the “home” will be for my stories. I do like writing more sensual stories (not anywhere within shouting distance of erotica, but the bedroom door is definitely open!), but I just can’t get a grip on writng the Alpha hero. I think because in real life I’d run a mile from that sort of guy, and if I can’t write a hero who I can fall in love with, he’s not going to affect my readers either. I read a psot on Tote Bags and Blogs today about the attraction of the nerd. I have to say I adore the more nerdy type guy- and I married one! He’s still the sexiest man alive for me, so let’s hear it for the nerd! I had crushes on few Alpha-ish types when I was younger, but now I say give me a man who is smart, funny, great in bed and who adores me, even if his hairline is receding, his waistline is expanding, and he needs reading glasses! Okay, I doubt anyone else would want to read a story with my husband as the hero, but maybe the reason I’m struggling so much is that I’m trying to write Alpha heroes, and I need to write the oh-so-sexy, guy-next-door-only-better Gamma male instead.

Scared off the crows by flinging a handful of stones at them, going to the shops to buy a half-dozen Mills and Boon “Romance” stories (the pink cover ones that have been through so many incarnations- Tender, Sweet, whatever else they were called), as I haven’t read that line for years, and wonder if that’s where my stories belong. Also read an excellent article on Scene and Sequel here, thanls to Claire Baxter recommending it on e-Harlequin. It’s worth a read, beacuse it looks at pace, at deepening tension and emotional intensity, at POV- just about everything, in one brief article!


James and Cassie speak May 18, 2008

Well, the workshop yesterday is obviously having an effect already.

I was doing my morning pages (I’ve got in the habit now- at least 3 handwritten pages, first thing I wake up, every day), and thinking how there are a couple of elements in James and Cassie’s story that are also in the Trish Wylie book I’m reading Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy. Trish super generously gave me a copy yesterday.  It’s a fab book- I haven’t managed to finish it yet as I just got too tired last night, so that’s my bedtime treat for tonight.
Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy
Anyway, I was musing about coicindental similarities and how if James and Cas’ story ever got published I wanted to have said in advance that I didn’t copy, honest Trish, those things were in my story long before I read yours! But my feeling is that saying anything was totally irrelevant anyway, as I know in my heart that this story isn’t going to be the one that cracks it either. Even though I’m only a few thousand words in, I can feel it isn’t working, there’s something lacking, this one isn’t going to be publishable either unless something changes, big time. I hadn’t been worrying about it too much, thinking well, I’ll keep going and hope I figure out what the problem is so I can fix it in the edit. But I knew something was off, and couldn’t quite put in finger on what it was.

Thinking about it this morning, I realised a big problem is the hero, James. He just isn’t strongly enough drawn. I don’t know him deeply enough, haven’t peeled back enough layers of that onion of internal conflict Kate Walker talked about. I know he is cynical about women, he doesn’t really trust them, and I knew the reasons why, which are pretty good ones. But it wasn’t coming out in my writing. This guy is a billionaire, he managed to make millions as a self-made man when his father disowned him for refusing to marry the “suitable” girl he’d chosen, and now he has inherited the family business and property worth billions, and is battling to gain full control of it. He’s going to be used to giving orders, the whole reason he split with his family was that he wanted to be his own boss and not kow-tow to his father.

Except that’s not coming through. He’s being nice. He’s asking, not demanding. He smiles and laughs a little at Cassie, he’s realaxed as he asks her to act the part of his girlfriend about to become fiancee, when he should be grinding things out through gritted teeth, he’s so angry and frustrated to be forced to be dependent on a woman to get what he wants. And not just any woman, this woman. Cas, who he picks for the role because she seems stable and reliable, presentable, just the right side of frumpy, but not the sort of woman who is going to run around and cause him grief. But it turns out he’s read her totally wrong, she’s an artist, for crying out loud, she normally dresses like a gypsy and lives in her studio. He got the wrong impression the day he met her. And it turns out she’s beautiful, once she stops hiding it, with a body a man could lose himself in, and a cloud of dark hair that makes him want to bury his hands in it and drag her close. Plus there’s something going on, something she’s not telling him about, some mystery about her. She’s not at all the woman he thought he was getting when he decided on this arrangement, and now he’s stuck with her. He has to follow-through, if he’s to get what he wants. Unwanted complications, in what was supposed to be a sensible business arrangement. Oh, and he’d really prefer to be called Jack.

 Meanwhile Cas is reacting to the situation how I would, not how she would. She’s not really going to be happy when she sees how she transforms into a beautiful woman, almost accidentally, in order to play the role she’s agreed with James. That’s me talking in what I’ve written so far, I’d be delighted. She’s not. She doesn’t want to be beautiful. Beauty equals danger. She’s hidden it away, hidden herself away, since her foster father died trying to save her from an attempted rape when she was seventeen. She stares transfixed at her reflection in the mirror,  not in wonder at what she sees, but in horror. Her reaction is a tormented “Oh my God, no, put me back the way I was, please,” not “Hmm, nice.”

This went on for a few more pages in my Morning Pages. I realised what was wrong. The characters weren’t talking in what I’d written so far, I was talking. Putting on accents maybe so it didn’t sound quite like me, but it was still me. Not them. Not James. Not Cassie. Maybe from here on it can be more of them and less of me. Maybe now the internal conflict will come to life. I realised there was plenty pulling them together, and plenty of external forces keeping them apart, but if I kept going as I was, they were going they were going to get togther and resolve their internal conflicts early on, then defeat their enemies. Which isn’t what makes a good romance story.

Nope, sorry guys, its not going to be that easy for you. I hope I have the skills to write the story you are telling me. Even if I don’t, thank you for helping me learn.


I hope I can write better…

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:01 am
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… than I can take photos, ‘cos these are lousy photos of a wonderful bunch of women. They all look much better than this in real life, promise!

Suzanne Clarke, fab Harlequin Mills & Boon editor; Natasha Oakley and Kate Hardy (standing), and Trish Wylie and Kate Walker (seated), all fab writers. At the Mills and Boon Centenary event at the Lincoln Book Festival. A great evening with lots of laughs!

I will write more about the day soon, and the workshop with Kate Walker, but right now Gabe is calling, 6’3″ of sexy muscular Irishman. I need to finish reading Trish’s “Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy” – it is hot, hot, hot! I can see why the tagline for the Modern Heat series is “sizzling, stylish, sensual- the ultimate temptation”, as this story certainly lives up to that promise.


Not quite as romantic as we’d like

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:22 am

Not quite as romantic as we’d like, but gets points for honesty and realism, and possibly far too close to some of our experiences than we’d prefer- this video, which I saw on Trish Wylie’s blog and couldn’t resist sharing too.
Public Health Warning- may not be safe for those of a sensitive disposition, and just don’t try to eat or drink anything before or during watching this- the consequences could be messy!


Am I a grown-up yet? May 15, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:03 am
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I’m both excited and nervous about a writing workshop followed by a Mills and Boon centenary event I’m going to on Saturday. A Presents editor will be there, not to mention four writers whose work I adore! Do I say if anyone asks that I am a writer working towards being published, or do I silently lurk like I did last time I went to a romance writer’s conference (back in Australia in 1995)?

I would love to be bold enough to pitch the editor if I get the chance, yet in my heart I know I’m not “there” yet, my writing is probably at least one year off being at publishable standard. I have nothing to send off anyway even if by some miracle I she did say, “Sure, send me something.” I have a completed first draft that needs major editing, almost amounting to a rewrite; I have my nearly finished first draft of my Instant Seduction entry, which I still want to complete and submit, because I do love the characters and it’s now so much better than what I sent to the competition; and I have two stories with reasonably well worked out plots and characters, but only around 5,000 and 10,000 words written on them as yet. So that’s a loooooong way off having anything worth pitching. If asked, I’ll tell the truth, that’s what grown-ups do. I’ll say “Yes, I am wriitng, I’m working on a couple of stories, but I don’t have anything ready to submit yet.”

I do want to have at least a one-line synopsis handy. I think that’s something that will keep me focused as I’m wriitng too. The theme for James and Cassie’s story seems to be “Love is stronger than your strongest fear, and deeper than your deepest desire,” but the snappy one line description still evades me. I’ll work on it. Something like “Bad boy renegade inherits the family property, but must convince the board of directors that he’s ready to settle down in order to take control of his business. Passion and danger ignite when he contracts a marriage of convenience with an unconventional artist.”

 I don’t know, is that crap?


Aha again! May 11, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:38 pm
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Just realised another reason why James and Cassie’s story is in my mind today- the manor house we visited yesterday would be perfect for James’ home- old money, large and comfortable but not too flashy, close to London. That guy I saw drive through the gates in an Audi TT could have been James!

Now I wish I’d thought to take photos… spent ages searching the net and can’t find any. It wasn’t at all like this, this is Dudmaston, a manor house a long way away owned by the National Trust, but the photo captures the general feeling- mellow old brick hung with climbing plants, small multi-paned windows, gravelled drive, lawned grounds sweeping down from the house-


The catering firm Cassie works for does an important business dinner here for James, that’s how they meet. But its a crisis time for him- he has unexpectedly inherited the family wealth after the sudden death of both his father and his older brother. He rises to the challenge and gives up his playboy motor-racing life to take control of the family business interests, but unknown to him, there is an enemy within the company who will stop at nothing to prevent this. James has to convince the investors and the board of directors that he has settled down, let go of his wild hard-living past. He needs a wife. The fates drop Cassie right in front of him.  She is far from perfect for the role of Lady of the Manor- a struggling artist, working nights as a waitress so she can follow her creative dreams; with a past that contains a secret that could destroy her.  Yet Cassie finds herself agreeing to his demand that she become his wife for a year. She knows it is a totally unsuitable arrangement, but it will give each of them what they think they most want. Just two problems- how can she bear to walk away from James when the year is up, and what will she do when the worst nightmares of her past step out to ruin her present? Can she face her secret demons and find the courage to choose love?
Meanwhile, James’ attraction to the beautiful, unconventional Cassie deepens. Can passion be part of a relationship that is meant to be purely a business contract? And if that passion becomes love, will the choices he is forced to make put all he is fighting for in his business at risk?