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!

Happy 2010! December 31, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:57 pm

Here’s to a New Year, bright and full of opportunity and blessings!

May we see many more books from the published authors, and plenty of Call Stories from us unpubbed.

Wishing love, joy, health, and prosperity to everyone. I hope 2010 will be the year we enjoy our writing and our lives more, give more love and support to others, get more happiness and love back, and do whatever we can to make our part of the world a more peaceful place.

Maybe I will even finally “get it” about internal conflict!


Shiny new story December 28, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:27 pm
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The flipping a coin thing to decide what to write next yesterday didn’t work too well. There was another option I didn’t consider- that I would get intrigued by a different story.

Michelle Styles’ question yesterday, to get me thinking about what it was in the Cinderella story I really wanted to write, worked brilliantly. My answer was- I don’t need princesses or billionaires at all. My sort of Cinderella has a run-down boarding house in a seaside town, inhabited by eccentrics, as her palace by the sea.

During the afternoon, in between thinking about Kate and Adam’s story, I kept thinking about this character, what would she be like, what would she want in a partner, who would her worst nightmare as a partner be? A vibrant and fascinating woman, full of contradictions, was coming alive.

I also realised that I have a lot of history with Kate and Adam. There are so many episodes I’ve visualised for this couple, but the old story for them was very much based on external conflict. I want to write their story, and soon, but wouldn’t it be more fun for my JanNo story to start with a new couple, a new story?

I had a lovely time last night getting to know Meg! Though I’m realising this morning that I’ve already fallen into an old trap- overcomplicating things. I’ve given her several sources of conflict, when one good one is enough. With everything else, does she really need to have an abusive ex? Probably not, especially as once I introduce him, like Chekhov’s gun, I’d feel obliged to use him.

Oh my goodness! Thinking about that- I discovered something amazing by digging deeper into the other big relationship block. She defininitely doesn’t need an abusive ex. So out of character. She wouldn’t have even let the guy near her! I’m gobsmacked by what I just found out. This is such a lesson for me. I take facile superficial conflicts, feel they aren’t enough, so I add another contrived superficial conflict. This does NOT work! Not that an abusive ex is a bad conflict, a different character would have had good reason to escape her bad childhood by jumping into the first relationship that came along. It’s just that Meg wouldn’t. And I only threw him in because I was scratching around for more reasons she wouldn’t be open to a relationship with Nick. Digging deeper into what was already there produced something far better.

In the Superromance editors podcast , they talk about avoiding cliches, not just grabbing onto the first idea that comes along but keeping on looking  for other ideas- the fourth or fifth will be the best! Ellen Hartman mentions this too, I can’t remember where now though it may have been in this Q&A on heroes (will come in useful as this afternoon’s job will be getting to know my hero Nick better!). I need to read this again too- Kate Walker’s “Keep it simple, dig deep“.


How not to do it December 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:19 pm
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Yesterday’s post is a classic example to aspiring romance writers everywhere of how not to do it!

To help further, here is the Janey Jones guaranteed Ten Step Plan for writing a story with a boomerang rejection built-in:

  1. Refuse to let go of a story that isn’t working.
  2. Make the characters as unsympathetic and unbelievable as possible-  for example, a pathetic heroine and a selfish, emotionally immature hero. If you do by chance create some interesting characters, don’t whatever you do let them live and breathe and act for themselves on the page. Ruthlessly edit out every hint of personality.
  3. If you think it’s not working, make it more complicated, add more and more and more external conflict into the mix  (masquerading as internal conflict in your own mind but not in anyone else’s), thinking that’s the answer at last.
  4. Change direction so many times you give yourself whiplash and achieve a state of conplete confusion about what you were trying to write in the first place.
  5. Never, ever, admit that you just don’t have the craft skills yet to pull it off.
  6. Don’t even think about going back to basics like characters, a developing relationship between them, and what internal factors keep them from being together.
  7. Have a strong preconcieved idea of what your target line needs and write rigidly to that. This usually stifles any chance of individuality or voice showing in your writing, and enables you to recognise any that does sneak in, and destroy it.
  8. Overthink and overanalyse everything. Stamp out any random sparks of joy in the process of writing by making it all terribly terribly serious. It has to be done right. No room for playing around or having fun here.
  9. Do not under any circumstances allow any emotion to come through in your writing. This is the place to maintain rigid control.
  10. Spend more time thinking about writing and talking about writing than actually writing.

Follow these easy steps and you too can be a totally crap unpublishable writer, and make yourself miserable about writing while kidding yourself that you are learning and growing!

So what am I going to do about it?

I got myself so muddled there was only one way to decide what to do next- toss a coin!

It’s not quite as random as it sounds, and it works everytime when I tie myself in knots of indecision, because I do nearly always know on some level what I really want to do. I take the two strongest options, and toss a coin to see which one comes up. If my immediate reaction is “Okay!” I know that was the option I wanted anyway. If my immediate reaction is “Let’s try best of three,” I don’t need to go any further, I know I want the other option.

I knew that I already had chosen, but did the coin flip anyway. I’m a belt and braces girl, I like confirmation!

Luk and Emma / Gabi are taking a break. They can whinge and moan about it, but they need to have a long relaxing holiday somewhere warm and a long way away.  That little isalnd off the Melusi coast Luk wants to develop as a resort will be perfect!

 I realised where the wanting to hang on to Luk and Emma thing came from- Christmas reactivated an old grief, and made it harder to let go of my “babies”, even if they were never going to have a chance of survival. All the comments in response to my witterings about them have been copied and pasted and tucked away in their file, as there is some massively helpful stuff there. Thanks for your help everyone who commented!

I’m going back to the story I was originally planning to write for my JanNo, before I tied myself in knots and got myself confused again. Kate and Adam. Straightforward and likeable characters,  with good simple but deep internal conflict, a setting I love. Enough external “stuff”  going on to make it interesting, but not taking the focus off the relationship, rather intensifying the focus on them. I’m just going to write. Basic character sketches, an idea of the premise, and then stop overthinking it all! Let the characters do their thing and see where they take me. When it looks like the conflict isn’t working, instaed of adding something new, I will dig deeper into what they already have.  And I’m giving myself permission to have fun. Permission to enjoy the ride.


Change of plan? December 26, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:06 am
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So I’m awake at 1.30am Boxing Day morning. Don’t want to be. My husband and one of the cats are snoring with varying degrees of quietness by my side, but I’m struggling with a sinus headache that the painkillers don’t seem to touch. Plus a couple of characters who won’t sit to one side quietly and let me get going with another story. 

Luk and Emma are demanding that I have another try at giving then their happy ever after. It feels like they are going to keep nagging at me until I do it.

I don’t want to be one of those never-to-be-published writers who keep rewriting the same sorry story for years, refusing to move on to something new. I do want to keep trying to get this story right though. This is supposed to be my “learning story” , and I really want to crack it. One more try is all it gets.

The clues should have been there. Like that post a few days ago that was supposed to be about Adam, my new hero, but morphed into a discussion about Luk. Like Luk staying put, smiling that killer smile of his, telling me he can change if I want him to, he’ll be whoever I want him to be.

I’m just not ready to let go of these characters yet. The plan was to have a break, first draft a different story during January, then come back to them fresh in February. That would be sensible. But I’m thinking about Luk and Emma far more than Adam and Kate. I want to go straight onto working out what doesn’t work and another rewrite.

My biggest problem is that form rejection. I have no idea what is wrong with the story.

Is it that my voice just isn’t right for Presents and I need to target another line, but the premise isn’t bad? Is it that my hero just isn’t heroic enough, his motivation is all wrong? Is it that my heroine is too weak, too pathetic and sorry for herself? Is my plot too convoluted, and my characters forced to shape themselves to fit it, rather than the other way around? Is there too much sexual arousal (even though the only touching in that first chapter is a brush of hands) and not enough genuine emotion? Do those things I thought were clever, actually work against the story because they are a form of authorial intrusion pretending to be the heroine’s thoughts, that drag the reader out of the flow? (Okay, I already know the answer to that one!)

Or all of the above?

I know for sure that not enough happens in the first chapter, they sit and talk for most of the time, and there’s a lot of introspection, with not enough physical beats. Even though what they are discussing is crucially important to them both, it goes on too long. Something I see in Susanna’s winning Presents chapter that’s not in mine, and would have grabbed the editors- there’s a lot of story being told and shown, and a lot of physical and emotional action.

I know that Luk’s behaviour and motivation needs a lot of work. Even if his initial motivation remains to avoid taking on the additional responsibility, he needs to grow up a helluva lot faster than my original premise called for. I feel that Emma isn’t a truly sympathetic character yet either. She’s telling the reader things in her internal monologue that could come across as “Poor little me”, or too self-conciously aware to be believable. Maybe she needs to be more the character she was in the very first draft, who even had a different name.

So- Luk’s motivation needs to be different- more noble, less self-serving. At the very least, he needs to have better and more obvious reasons for his reluctance to go back to the island. Though maybe as Eileen suggested in a comment on the last discussion of this, it doesn’t matter if his motivation is less heroic, so long as his actions are. Emma needs changes too, needs to be feistier, more of a fighter than a victim. I’m not convinced by the way she was in the first chapter that she could make a good princess.

I’m seeing how the opening chapters and a few key scenes can change to work better. Island politics are going to be more complicated than they looked on first appearances (I need to be careful not to turn this into a poor copy of Marion Lennox’s Royal Marriage of Convenience, which I read when I was looking to see how other writer’s managed similar themes).

The conflict, especially good strong relationship blocks, need a lot more development. Luk not wanting to stay on the island longer than he has to to keep the country safe, and his belief he can’t be a good husband, just doesn’t feel deep enough. And Emma doesn’t have a good relationship block right now. Her low self-esteem makes her see herself as unlovable, but it wouldn’t take much to get over that. Her success in her new role as princess works a lot to build her self-belief. So somehow Luk’s behaviour needs to feed powerfully into that particular self-doubt in some way. It needs to come from within the relationship. I have loads of ideas for external stuff, from scheming PR people to paparazzi photos, but that’s not going to cut it!

The rewritten story will be a Romance, not Presents. Another issue with my competition entry was that the tone wasn’t Presents. but it wasn’t Modern Heat either. I think the Romance voice may be more natural to me. Still a massive challenge, to bring out the sweet magic of falling in love, the emotion and yearning for each other, the heartbreak of feeling it can’t possibly work out, without relying on dramatic sex and sensuality.

Would you do me a favour please? Here’s my competition synopsis. I know it’s weak and corny in places. The story was rejected, so I’m not going to be precious about it! Shred it for me. Tell me what you think doesn’t work, what needs to be stronger, what doesn’t ring true for you.

The last thing billionaire Luk di Aquilegia wants or expects is to find himself in line for the throne of the Principality of Melusia. He left the Mediterranean island years before, and has no intention of returning. But when a series of tragic deaths wipe out the Royal family, he may have to choose between loyalty to his country, and his jet-setting lifestyle. Then he discovers there is another heir, unsophisticated Emma Constantin, living in a quiet English village. All he has to do is persuade Emma to become princess. That should be simple enough.

Except Emma’s not so sure she’s princess material. So what if the only excitement in her life is in the romances she reads to Alice, the elderly lady she cares for? She can’t just drop everything and go off with a stranger, no matter how gorgeous, can she? But Luk is not taking “No” for an answer. Emma is swept off her feet and onto his private jet.

Luk takes her to Melusia and returns to London, his problem solved. The island and its people entrance Emma, she finds projects to work on, and a makeover gives her confidence. When Luk returns to Melusia for the Ball to welcome the new princess, Emma has changed. She’s sweetly sexy in a naïve way that arouses and frustrates him. Getting involved with the virgin princess is definitely a bad idea. One impulsive kiss gets them into even bigger trouble.

The kiss was seen, and Emma is now ineligible to be Princess under the strict laws about female Royals. Luk is back where he started, faced with being Prince. He sees one way out- if he marries Emma, she will be the ruler. He can go on with his business and living his own life. A marriage of convenience, on his terms, is his best option. Now he just has to convince Emma of that… before parliament meet and declare she cannot be crowned.

Emma knows this can’t be a marriage in name only- there must be an heir to secure the succession. Can she deal with sex without love? Reluctantly, she agrees. A wedding and a coronation – one ceremony changes Emma’s life forever as she becomes both princess and wife. That night, things change even more as Luk fully awakens her to sensual pleasure.

Luk is startled by how good sex with her is. Emma arouses his passion and emotions like no woman ever has. That bothers him. Love wasn’t part of his plan. At twenty, he was unable to save the life of Bianca, his first wife. Love to him means pain and guilt. He never wants to feel that way again. He has a built in safety net. After the month together they agreed on, he will go back to London, to return for only a few days each month, until she’s pregnant.

Emma is breaking the rules of their marriage. She’s in love with her husband. Her harsh upbringing has made her believe she is unlovable, and she’s convinced Luk will never love her. As the date of his departure nears, she is hiding a secret. She hasn’t told him she has already become pregnant, fearing he will leave sooner. The night before he is due to go, Emma makes the biggest gamble of her life. She tells Luk she loves him, testing him, hoping he will stay. But he leaves her alone in her room, and departs the next day as planned. Luk finds he misses Emma more than he thought possible. Now he has his freedom, he realises it’s not the most important thing. His life is nothing without her, family and relationship are what he really wants. Then Emma emails and tells him she is pregnant, that he needn’t bother coming back, as he’s kept his part of their marriage deal. Knowing Emma is expecting his child deepens Luk’s feelings for her. But can he allow himself to love again? Can he be a good husband and father, after the way he failed Bianca?

Emma is determined to carry on without Luk. At least she will have his child to love. That won’t make up for the lifetime of lonely nights ahead, but it will help. And she has work to keep her busy. Like her air ambulance scheme. When the helicopter lands in front of the crowds at the opening ceremony, Luk gets out, and reveals he’s the mystery donor who’s made it happen. But why is he there? Is it just a feeling of responsibility towards her now she’s pregnant? Or even worse, a publicity stunt? She can get along without him, if he’s there for the wrong reasons. She wants all or nothing from Luk. If he doesn’t love her, he can go.

At last they are alone together. Luk tells Emma how much he missed her, how he hasn’t been able to stop thinking of her while they’ve been apart, and why he resisted falling in love with her. He kneels before her, the princess of his heart, and asks her again to be his wife. A true wife, in a real marriage for the best possible reason- a love that will last forever.


Merry Christmas December 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:44 am

Beautiful women, that’s all of us, right?

George is like a fine wine- he gets better and better as he ages.

Happy holidays everyone! It’s lunchtime Christmas Eve here. The tree has lights, the parcels are nearly all wrapped. Now I just need to write the cards for our neighbours, avoid slipping on the ice as I pop them through their doors, then it’s time to pour a glass of wine, put on the Christmas carols, and start cooking…


Presents contest winning chapters! December 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 7:04 pm


The winning chapters from the 2009 Harlequin Presents contest have been posted on I Hearts Presents today.

I’m thrilled to see my writing buddy  Jilly’s chapter posted there. I loved it the first time I read it and even more today! It’s so good to see she’s getting the recognition she deserves for her fabulous writing. I can’t wait to read more (we already had a sneak peek at chapter two- it’s even better than chapter one!) I hope everyone enjoys the start of Ross and Fliss’s story as much as I did!  She is the queen of sparky dialogue and I adore her characters. I think she has the Modern Heat voice nailed! This is Jilly’s moment to shine. I’ve had this idiot grin on my face on and off since Maisey had her Call and the contest winners were announced. It was back yesterday with Maisey’s Call story being on I Hearts, it’s back again now for Jilly. It’s a great feeling to see friends doing well!

I was interested to read the other winning chapter, Susanna’s chapter for Presents, especially as this was the line I was targeting. What an Alpha hero she’s created there. And a very Presents premise- I can see why it caught the editors’ attention!

My entry seems dull and pedestrian in comparison.


Revisions- hell or heaven?

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:02 pm

I haven’t experienced the mixed pain and pleasure of a revision letter yet.

Pleasure because the editor sees potential in my story, she wants to see more, ultimately she must think that this could actually be publishable! Pain because she doesn’t like this and she doesn’t like this and she doesn’t like this and she wants me to add more of that and that and that?  I loved my story the way it was. I sent her the best version I could. How the hell can I change all that?

No wonder we don’t know whether to dance or cry when we get one!

But they are a necessary part of a published writer’s life- next to no stories are published without some revisions, whether minor or extensive. The editor’s job is to know what will make a story work better, and read better, no matter how good it already is. Ultimately, her job is make our stories more publishable-  to help us create stories that readers will buy, read, and love so much they put us on their auto-buy list for next time!

The sad thing is, a huge percentage of requested revisions never get done. Two reasons.

The writer reads the letter as a rejection rather than a revision. Thinking of how to decode “rejection” letters, there’s an oldie but goodie forum thread on eHarl. I’ve heard so many writers say they’ve had a rejection when it’s really a revision, including one of my writing buddies.

Or the writer knows it’s a revision but decides not to redo and resend her story, because it feels like too difficult a job. Sometimes that’s the right decision, the story is too close to the writer’s heart to make the requested changes, and she’s better starting something new. More times it’s just a missed opportunity. We gotta know how to revise to get published!

Maisey’s Call story makes it clear what a big part revisions played-  though the first version of her story was excellent, her finished story incorporating her editor’s suggestions is amazingly stronger. She quotes from her revision letters on her blog in this great post.

Anyway, I want to cut and paste some wise advice for dealing with revisions  posted on the Mills and Boon forum by Historicals author Michelle Willingham. Mainly so when that day comes I need it, I can find it again!

Michelle’s advice-

I go through three phases when I do revisions.

1.  OMG, panic!  This book is the Worst Book Ever! She Hates It! (sobbing wreck)

2. Get over it, Michelle.  Read the revision letter point by point.  Start with the little tweaks.  Think about the bigger picture.

3. Read revision points again.  Realize that she didn’t really hate it, but I really do have work to do.

4. Remember that I’ve done this before. I can do it again. Self pep-talk. Read and absorb revisions again.

5. Start at the beginning,  Realize that editor was completely right and What Was I Thinking when I wrote this?  Start tearing it apart.

6. Start to see the light. Revisions are making the book stronger. Oooh, am loving the changes!

7. Turn in the revised book.  Collapse in a heap. 



Three things that you might try when revising your mss and a scene’s not working…

1.  Change the POV to the opposite character

2. Deepen the scene by revealing more of their emotions and motivations

3. Delete the scene entirely.  Sometimes less is more.

Just thought I’d throw those out there, since they’re techniques I use the most often.  Wink


Revision letters are tough and challenging! But having just had the dreaded form rejection, I would loooooooove to have had one of them instead!