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!

Insights… August 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

3197835930_cdc3acd212Elaine asked me- “What do I really want to write?”  That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it. (Showing my age there- a quiz show back when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would have been called Who Wants to be a Sixty-four Thousandaire and our house cost the then so hard for my parents to afford sum of $12,000!)

“What did I think I “should” write?”  is an easier question to answer. Presents/Modern Heat. So many reasons. I enjoy reading them. I got that Comps Slip from the Instant Seduction contest. My writing buddies were targetting HMB. I posted a couple of excerpts from Luk and Emma’s story to the critique group, and they all agreed that the piece I thought was more Presents was far better than the piece that would have to be cut to make it Presents.

They all said- “Write Harlequin/ Mills and Boon”. That was my biggest  influence, I think. I trust their judgement. We’re all pre-published, but a couple of them are veeeeeeery close, and all are good insightful readers. I finished the first draft, and saw I had a mix of elements. I could push it one way in the edits to make it Presents, another way to make it a Sweet romance, and another to make it a single title story aimed at Little Black Dress. I was undecided, though I did know in my heart which way I wanted to go. I looked for outside validation, and posted those excerpts. I didn’t trust my own judgement. Sometimes we do get too close to our own writing to see what’s there

I chose to go Presents/MH, because of the girls’ advice, even though it went against what I really wanted to do.  I only just realised what was wrong with that.  (I mean besides the obvious- “Write what you love, not what other people tell you to write, you idiot!”)


They gave their advice based solely on the pieces I gave them to read.

The Presents piece was perfectly Presents. It could stay in the completed Presents manuscript as it was, with only the slightest of tweaks. The piece I gave them as an example of my Little Black Dress style, was all wrong, not at all representative of what the finished story would contain. Because I first drafted with Presents in mind, it was a LBD  scenario but written in a Presents style. Third person, hero POV, all wrong wrong wrong for what I wanted.  The criticisms of that piece were valid. It didn’t work well, and the section in the hero’s POV slowed down the action. Of course it did! It shouldn’t have been there at all.

I am a slow learner sometimes!

This morning, I started rewriting the story in first person heroine POV, with Little Black Dress in mind. It feels good. It feels like coming home. There will still be problems and pitfalls and places where I tear my hair out. But I’ve already had a massive insight into the heroine’s core emotional need. There was yet another layer underneath what I thought was her core need. As I was rewriting a scene I’d already written four times, some more of her thoughts popped out, because I was deeper in her mind. There it was. Her core need! How I missed it before, I don’t know. Even if I go back to writing it third person, that one insight makes the experiment well worthwhile.

It is a strategy I’ll use again, I think, if I’m feeling stuck. Shift POV, and see what comes out.

What do I really want to write? Contemporary romantic fiction, with an element of the fairy tale. Maybe magical realism, maybe real magic, maybe just the magic of amazing unexpected life changes, including falling in love. Possibly a bit wacky, off the wall in places. I feel like I’m taking my first steps into an enchanted forest, without a map.


8 Responses to “Insights…”

  1. Eileen Says:

    I don’t want to say anything bad about your writing group b/c it’s absolutely wonderful that you have those women working with you — but I have to wonder if they reacted the way they did b/c writing HMB is their comfort zone?

    Here’s an anecdote I read from an article on people writing “genre” or “popular” fiction in MFA programs: The typically accepted type of writing in American MFA programs is literary realism (I could explain the history of how this came about but I’ll be brief), the article profiled a woman who wrote –gasp!– magical realism in her MFA program including the novel which she later published about a ghost. Every time the workshop encountered a problem in her writing they suggested that the answer lay in taking out all the speculative elements from the story (essentially, removing the ghost from the ghost story). They did this because the workshop’s comfort zone was in realism not magical realism.

    I’m really excited that you figured out what “feels like home” and what you were doing because it was the most polished piece you had.

    >>”What do I really want to write? Contemporary romantic fiction, with an element of the fairy tale. Maybe magical realism, maybe real magic, maybe just the magic of amazing unexpected life changes, including falling in love. Possibly a bit wacky, off the wall in places. I feel like I’m taking my first steps into an enchanted forest, without a map.”
    This paragraph made me smile. Really smile. I love that you’re finding yourself! And I love the notion you’re finding! I’ve been loving on the fairy tales for a while now and I always love wacky, off the wall. Sounds like I’d love to read whatever you end up writing when you’re writing what you want! 🙂

  2. Jackie Says:

    Hey, just wanted to say that it’s great you’ve found your writing home! It must be difficult when you have people telling you one thing but you don’t feel comfortable with that. I’m lucky in that the line I was recommended to write for is one I feel very comfortable with writing – I love it in fact. But you have to be true to your voice and if it’s difficult then there’s a problem, right? Finding out the answer to that problem can be really hard but it sounds like you’ve figured it out. Good on you.

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    I think the fault was in me not thinking out the pieces I offered the group well enough, and in giving them something that wasn’t truly representative.. And, obviously, in seeking outside validation when I did already know which way I wanted to go. I’ve learned an incredible amount through being part of a group and sharing in their writing experiences, but I was asking the group to do something I should not have done. Never ask a question when you only want to hear one specific answer!   I’m trying to remember- maybe I genuinely didn’t know which way I wanted to go, and it was only my reaction to the answers that told me the truth. Do you ever do the flip a coin thing? I think I’m undecided between two options, so I flip a coin. If I say “Okay” to the outcome, that was what I really wanted to do, if I say “Best of three” then I know I really want to do the other alternative.   Interestingly, although we met through the Harlequin/ M&B Feel the Heat contest, two of the others have already decided very definitely that they are targeting single title because that’s where their heart truly takes them. It’s a diverse group, all write well though very differently.   Maisey is pure Presents, has a full under consideration after revisions, and I have no doubt she will get her Call soon and be a very prolific and successful Harlequin author. Aideen has a fab voice for Modern Heat, and actually had the editor of the line asking her to submit anything she had, but found other characters calling her strongly and is working on a ST right now. Jilly had an R from HMB, but that’s because she is far more suited to ST. She writes deep powerful sexy contemporaries, her writing is superb, so it will be a matter of finding an agent and the right ST publisher.Robyn had feedback from FtH saying her voice was more suited to the Romance line than Presents, and has just had extensive revision requests on a full there. She writes beautifully, and I’m sure she will also get published there. Barbara I think is more like me, also working full time as a nurse, also trying lots of different things, not sure yet where her voice belongs.   How are you dealing with the pressures to “write literary” for your MBA? I get the feeling you’re creating two Eileens. Is that working for you?

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Your voice will be a perfect fit! Fingers crossed for your Call very soon. This reply is turning into another epic, so I think like yesterday I’ll cut it and start a new post for it!

  5. Eileen Says:

    What a beautiful list of your writing partner’s strengths! I don’t know any of them but there was something so poetic about your presentation just now that made me feel like they were people I might just know. 🙂

    Heh. I think I’m creating like four different Eileens. One that writes literary fiction so she can get her masters and teach, one that thinks romance is fun, and then there’s the one that’s been around since I was a young teenager who’s in love with epic fantasy. I guess that’s only three not four. Four if you consider that there’s a romance distinction; that series romance is fun and that stand alone paranormal romance is intense and hot.

    Basically I just need to get writing! And finishing! And publishing! I have enough ideas that I could be writing for years just to finish the projects I’ve got going now. Many people (editors and others who feel they have authority on the subject) tell writers to stick to one line, one genre, one type of story and build a “brand”, a readership and a career … but then I look at the current market and I think about how diversification may be the way to go 😉 Ah, well I shouldn’t worry overmuch until I finish/publish SOMETHING.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Four Eileens? Oh my! I think we all need to do that to a certain extent, but your situation is complicated by the fact that writing is your day job too. It should make it easier, but my experience is that it can make it harder. Last year while I was writing that massive training manual at work, I wrote very little on my own stuff. It was like doing one sort of writing turned off my creative writing mind. Do you have any rituals or techniques you use to help make the switch between writing personas?

    I see all the advice to focus on one line and evelop a strong base there before diversifying. I think its true for series romance, and probably also true for part-time writers who may not develop any momentum if they dabble in too many things at once. Not necessarily true for someone writing in different genres, especially if they are dedicated and prolific. If we can love reading more than one type of story, I don’t see why we can’t write more than one type of story!

    LOL on the description of the critique group (we do crit each others stuff, but its more a support group really!) I feel closer and more connected with my internet writing friends who I’ve never met (you included) than the people I work with every day. Because this is the “real” me, not the work persona.

  7. Eileen Says:

    I tend to change from one to the next by reading within the genre. Either stories or articles on writing. Each has its own focus and tone and that’s pretty much it. I’m heavily influenced by whatever I’m reading at the moment … though you can’t take that sentence out of the context. I don’t copy what I’ve just read as much as what I’ve just read gets me thinking about something else tangentially related.

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    I know exactly what you mean. That’s why the best advice for someone who wants to write is to read lots in that area.

    It’s not in the least copying, as you say, just that reading a particular genre gets my mind working that way, so the characters and ideas that pop up for me will be best fitted to that type of writing.

    In romance, there’s a huge difference between the tones, types of characters, type of conflict, emotional depth, level of sensuality, focus of POV. Even between Presents/Modern and Modern Heat.�I know they are all lumped under Presents in the US, though MHs are treated as sub-lines in the UK and Australia. Sweets are different again, and single title wildly different.

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