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!

Love and books November 30, 2009

Filed under: General strangeness of life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:43 pm

Just read this about a small bookshop in NY who started a matchmaking board for singles in the store. What a cool idea!

One of the things that attracted me to A was his love of books (at last a man I could have an intelligent conversation with!), though he still doesn’t totally understand the purpose of fiction, being more of a just-the-facts kind of guy.

Our favourite date place was the Borders bookshop on Charing Cross Road (now sadly in receivership), and we always bought each other a book.

Makes me smile remembering…


New revision weapons to avoid November 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:51 pm
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The Intern has suggested some new weapons of manuscript mass destruction- the Triumph Bomb and the Character Transformation Bazooka. Either of these weapons are baaaaaaaad writing, with the power to kill a story instantly and turn a potentially good romance into a throw-the-book against the wall one.

The Triumph Bomb is the happy resolution, out of the blue and occuring with no effort from the characters. The great moment of revelation where it all suddenly falls into place, the hero apologises for being a badass bastard, the misunderstandings are easily explained away. “That person you thought I was kissing was my cousin, silly, of course I love you,”  or “I thought you were a whore, I never realised you were a sweet innocent virgin, only willing to sell your body to me to save the life of your beloved brother,” so they can have a passionate clinch and all live happily ever after.

Usually preceded by the Character Transformation Bazooka, where without any indication of struggle or signs of emotional growth, the hero suddenly changes completely toward the heroine. This is explained as the healing power of love causing a Road to Damascus type conversion. “The only reason I was a badass bastard was that I was struggling against my overwhelming love for you, my dearest. I just gave up the struggle, and promise I will never ever be a cold hypercritical witholding controlling misogynist ever again. Your sweet love will be all I need.”  Or in the plot driven by external conflict (baaaaaaaad romance writing anyway!), the evil Other Woman says to the heroine, “I lied about him having sex with me on your engagement night. I wanted him for myself. But I see your true pure love for him and I feel ashamed. I know he loves only you. Please, let me be your best friend and a bridesmaid at your wedding.” And they all hold hands and skip off together into the sunset singing la-la la-la-la.

The reason the T-Bomb and CTB destroy the credibility of a story is they can feel so random, so unexpected. The pat resolution that easily solves all the problems that kept them apart the whole book, the unearned happy ending? They just don’t work unless we’ve shown the characters struggling, in the process of changing and growing, trying and failing. Characters need to work for their happy endings. They need to put in the emotional work to make a real loving relationship and commitment believable and achievable. One character may only see the end result of the process, making it seem like a sudden change to them; but the reader needs to be in on it, needs to know there a process of change going on somwhere, or at least the potential for change. Otherwise they just aren’t going to buy it. We have to see proof of the emotional change, not just be told there’s a change.

So, when I’m revising Luk and Emma’s story,  I better watch out for the weapons of manuscript mass destruction. Am I showing them both struggling with their emotional conflicts and relationship blocks, so the ultimate surrender to love  and idea these two can have a future together is believeable? Do they both grow and change enough to earn their happy ever after? And do they show proof of how they’ve changed, not just say they have?

I realise I’m half guilty of using one of these. The resolution just isn’t strong enough. We see Luk’s struggle and understand what motivates him to go back to Melusia, back to Emma, so the reader can believe it. But the bit I’ve left out is- why should she believe it? That’s what I need to work on.


What makes an Alpha hero?

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:14 am
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My brilliant friend Aideen emailed this yesterday-

It was a documentary on men. Not just any old men, men that were bullied as children and had turned their lives around by becoming….Body Builders! One man, a very attractive man, offered up some advice. I wrote it down. Now I’m putting it up here.

Mark Something or other had the following to say;

“The true Alpha male is not a bully or a brute. He is the guy who is first to lead the charge for a worthy cause. He is supremely equipped, physically and mentally, to fight for success in the ultra-competitive world we inhabit.
The true Alpha male embodies the best characteristics of the male of our species, namely rugged outer qualities such as muscularity, strength and power, but also inner qualities such as confidence (without conceit), courage (without recklessness), committment and a conscience.
The true Alpha male has the combination of physical and mental toughness but also a concern for other humans as a whole.
A true Alpha male meets the ideal of contemporary masculine excellence. In other words, the true Alpha male has all the core qualities of a hero.”

There, what do you think about that? I realise it’s nothing we don’t already know but I think this guy summed it up pretty neat.

I love Mark’s description. That is soooooooo what I want my heroes to be.

Not the obnoxious Alphole stereotype I seem to create when I try to Alpha them up.

(I can’t reference this quote properly, as I don’t know for sure where it comes from and neither does Aideen. If anyone knows the name of the speaker and the documentary it’s from, please let me know so I can give them credit!)

For a funnier look at the Alpha hero, try Sally Clement’s list of Don’ts for Romance Heroes.


What is this story, really? November 28, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:44 pm
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I can’t settle to editing today.

I’m feeling 99.9% sure I will get a rejection letter for my Harlequin Presents. That’s got me wondering if I should stop my current edits aimed at shaping it to fit the Presents guidelines, and go with the story that’s been niggling at the edges of my awareness for weeks.

Basically, the same story, same premise. But a lot longer, and with magic.

What if on the island of Melusia, magic was real? Maybe only those of Royal blood have it, but it exists and works. So Emma’s cat can talk to her, and she not only has to get used to being a celebrity and wearing high heels, but learning to control these new powers she has. What if another big reason Luk doesn’t want to be in Melusia is that he doesn’t like magic, doesn’t trust magic, doesn’t like how the magic affects him?

The idea appeals to me so much!

I guess I better keep working on the Presents version, as I’ll kick myself if I’m lucky enough to get a full request and have nothing ready. Now I’ve written down the idea, I can go back to the task I set myself of editing it as a Presents.

But once it’s done, next story might just be the fantasy version.


The 10,000 hour rule November 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:06 pm
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Okay, I should be editing, but I’m doing my lazy Sunday morning blog surf instead. First thing after lunch, eight hours editing starts!

Found this post , which set me off on more reading. Kate Harrison’s publisher wanted to reprint her first published women’s fiction story. Kate wanted the chance to revise it first, as she knew her writing had developed over the six years since that novel was published.

She says-

There’s a theory that to master any art or craft – music, painting, writing – one needs to spend 10,000 hours on it.  This works out at eight hours per weekday for five years. I haven’t kept a timesheet, but I would say I’m approaching that now. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered fiction by any means, but I find out something new about craft or story-telling with every book. I definitely edit far more now than I did at the beginning.

So apart from being more of a devil with the delete button, what exactly have I learned over the last six years? I think the single thing I’m clearer about now is the need to create an emotionally satisfying journey for the reader. When I first wrote about Tracey, I believed that for the most part, people didn’t change significantly – which, I realise now, fundamentally misses the point about fiction, which is that it is all about change. ‘Emotionally satisfying’ in women’s fiction doesn’t necessarily mean a trip up the aisle (or even up and down the aisles of Selfridge’s), but it does need to have some form of redemption or resolution – a sense that the story tells us something about human nature, and perhaps about ourselves, even if it’s just that we want to laugh in the face of adversity.

That issue about characters changing through the story, I think is crucial. It’s why plots based on external conflict aren’t usually as as emotionally satisfying as stories based on internal conflict. If it’s circumstances keeping the hero and heroine apart, all that needed is that the situation changes, and the characters can get together. End of story. But there hasn’t need any real character change or development. These can be stories where there’s a lot going on, but we don’t feel like we’ve gone as deep with the story people. The resolution doesn’t always have that “Yesssss!” sigh at the end. It can feel like they haven’t really earned their HEA.

When the story is driven by internal conflict, it’s what is inside the characters that is getting in the way of the relationship developing (just had this image of a horrible little Alien-like creature known as the Relationship Block, living in the character- ewwweeeee!). To get to their HEA, the characters have to challenge their own beliefs and fears to grow and change, face that monster and defeat it. The journey is primarily an emotional one, and the reader is along for the ride. These are the stories that move us to tears at the Black Moment, have us cheering at the Resolution.

The other thing that intrigued me was the 10,000 hour concept. So I followed that up. It’s from the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which has been on my Amazon wish list since it first came out, but I haven’t read yet. Kate’s post links to this article which specifically looks at this idea and writing. Doesn’t say we have to clock up the 10,000 hours to get published. This is to mastery. 

This made me smile-

Just as there are no sneaky geniuses who cheat the rule, there are no cursed losers who grind away until they die. Gladwell described a study published in Psychological Review (“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,”) and wrote that the researchers simply couldn’t find any “people who worked harder than everyone else, but just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.”

Nice. Even when I’m writing crap, I’m making progress.

That’s reassuring. Because too many of us have this belief that talent is something we either have or we don’t. If we feel like we’ve tried and don’t succeed, we question ourselves, wonder if the problem is us, that no matter how hard we work we just don’t have what it takes. His theory seems to junk that idea. The book’s premise is that what is seen as exceptional talent is a combination of being in the right place, having the right opportunities and support, but mainly working working working working. And if we really and truly put in the work, we will become skilled, we will finally reach mastery.

Okay, how many more hours do I need to put in?  10,000 is a helluva lot of time, a helluva lot of work. Better get on to that editing!


Contest update at I Heart November 21, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:53 pm
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No, they haven’t announced the winners!

Joanne Grant and Tessa Shapcott have put up some general writing advice at I Heart Presents for contest entrants- Secret Seven Sins

Best advice for me-

sit down to write, don’t try to be anyone but yourself: write with passion, originality and honesty

Not that I didn’t probably commit half a dozen of their listed sins, but my main sin is trying to write what I think will fit the line, and not writing what fits me.

Edited to add- see my post of December 1 for the link to the latest update- winners will now be announced December 11!


Weekend at last!

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:42 pm
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So it’s back into the editing! I finally got chapter two closer to where I wanted it by Monday night, so this weekend Cinderella gets to go to the ball- it’s on to chapter three.

I did some big structural cuts during the week- cut out great slabs that I liked but didn’t do enough to move the story forward. The word count is right where it should be, but the chapter sure isn’t!

I need to write probably another thousand words to deepen the sensuality and the emotional tension between Luk and Emma, and drip in a little of what happened in the two weeks between chapter two and chapter three, while they were apart. Which means I have to find places I can cut a thousand words elsewhere in the chapter. So that will be hours combing through it, eliminating redundancies and repetitions, tightening up sentence structure, and finding places I can use fewer but stronger words.

Editing is far harder work than letting fly in first draft. But it’s sooooooo satisfying. This is where the story takes it’s real shape, the writing pulls together, it starts to become its deepest truest self.

Trite metaphor, but I just realised how much this editing process is a makeover. My first draft is Cinders, the beauty can’t be seen for the dirt and the rags. Hopefully, by my final version, I will have Ella, transformed into the fullness of all she can be, ready to go to the ball (or be sent off to the editors in Richmond or wherever!)


In one of those odd mind jumps, I also had a flash this morning for a way I can improve on my unedited draft for last year’s instant seduction entry. I saw a whole sequence that is so much stronger and better than what’s currently there. I think once I have Luk and Emma’s story done, I might just go back and play with Bruno and Rebecca some more. Though as a rejected story I’m not sure I can resubmit it to Richmond, even extensively rewritten. Carina Press?


Thinking of HMB and rejections, I was sad during the week over Harlequin’s decision to start a “self-publishing” section, Harlequin Horizons, and target it at writers with rejected submissions. Maybe a good money-making move but bad bad bad from the point of view of developing writers. Rejections hurt worse than a broken leg, but they make us better writers, send us back to our stories to learn how to make them better. Selling people a shortcut to the dream is selling everyone short for a fast buck. All the working-on-it writers I know in the romance community approach writing in a professional way and wouldn’t consider paying to be published (true self-publishing is a different thing, and is the best choice for many writers who are highly professional, but that’s not what was being offered here). Vanity press have their place, if they are marketed transparently and honestly. But something about the way Hh was being done felt icky and wrong.  It had the sense of something that maybe Harlequin was being foreced into by their parent company, and it seriously underestimated the romance community. Thank goodness, they’ve responded to the huge reaction against this in a positive way. Taken down the ad “Become an author- Harlequin Horizons” that went up on every page of the online writing guidelines at eHarl. Hopefully also rethought the idea to market it on rejection letters (what insensitive b thought that was a good idea?). Thank you Harlequin for being so responsive!


Completely unrelated- I discovered a new blog this morning- Kristin Cashore, via her NaNo Pep Talk.  She writes YA fantasy, not romance. I’ve linked to a post about her experience of submitting and getting published. She writes so beautifully and so honestly in her blog, I want to find her books.

Isn’t this so true-

One thing I want to add, though: I’m not saying you have to let your manuscript go NOW, or even SOON. I waited until I felt like I was ready; until I was ready to take the risk. I can’t say what “ready” feels like — I expect it feels different for different people — and it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel like success is assured. “Ready” always contains a little bit of “OMG I AM SO NOT READY.” But it also contains enough “I am ready” for you to be ready.

Oh, good lord. That paragraph was meant to be helpful, I swear. Here, read this poem by Anaïs Nin:

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

For anyone who has work they know they should send out but haven’t yet- isn’t it time? You know who you are.