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!

Changes… December 5, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:07 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been doing some thinking about my writing, and I am stopping work on the Presents version of Luk and Emma.

I just can’t settle to it, because the single title version keeps whispering plot ideas to me!

It’s the same basic premise but longer and with more secondary characters and subplots, and less tightly focused on the romance. More complicated internal conflict though. Also less sexy too, though the sex will still be there, which I think will suit my voice better. I really can’t seem to catch either the deep emotional intensity needed for Presents, or the lighter flirty tone of the Modern Heat. I need to play around more and work out where my voice belongs. Don’t think it’s Harlequin.

I was going to wait until the end of January, when we will have either had full requests or Rs from the contest, but I can’t keep plugging away at the Presents version till then. My heart isn’t in it, and it shows in my writing.

Part of what triggered this has been the wonderful success of Maisey, one of my writing buddies, who had her Call from Harlequin Presents this week. Maisey loves Presents, loves to read them better than anything else, never thought of writing for any other line. She’s been focused on one writing goal- becoming a Presents author. And she has done it, and I am so, so happy for her well-deserved achievement!

But it got me thinking about what I want. What is my goal, really and truly? Could part of the reason I am missing the mark be that I’m not aiming at the right target?

I’m a lot less focused than Maisey, that’s for sure. I enjoy Presents stories, but I enjoy a whole lot of other stories too. When I decided to put my energies back into fiction writing, around two years ago, I started with a single title romantic comedy/suspense. Then just when I was about to dive into rewriting it in February, I heard about the Harlequin Instant Seduction contest. I hadn’t read a Presents for years, so I bought a few. Liked them, put together an entry for the contest in just two weeks. Which got an R, of course, but a nice encouraging R with a Compliments Slip. But that R stopped the nearly finished Presents story dead.

Then for a year I played with lots of Presents/ Modern Heat story ideas, but nothing grabbed me, nothing went past one or two chapters.

Until Luk and Emma’s story. I made a promise to myself and my crit group that I would finish the first draft. I couldn’t write anything else, until that was done. Well, it got done. But it kept careening off the tracks in wild and crazy directions that weren’t where it was supposed to go. When it came to edit it, I had to decide- was it Presents or single title. It was a messy hybrid, that would need a load of work to take it either way and make it work.

What decided me was, again, the contest. This year’s Harlequin Presents competition. I edited it to fit Presents, so I could enter the contest, along with a couple of the others in my writing group.

It wasn’t a bad entry. It could even be a passably good, reasonably competent attempt at a Presents. But it’s dead. It doesn’t have that spark of life that would take it beyond competent and make it stand out from the rest of the entries. Passion. Commitment. That indefinable something that grabs the reader. That something I can see in several of my buddies’ writing, but not in mine.

I can go two ways with this.

I can decide I just don’t have the talent it takes, that other people have that magic something and I don’t, so I should give up. Or I can look honestly at what I’ve been trying to do and accept that if my voice doesn’t fit with Presents, maybe that’s because I’m trying to write what I think I “should” write rather than what I really want to write. Maybe I chose to target Presents because of the competitions, and because my writing buddies were aiming there, rather than out of a real commitment and desire to write for that line.

It’s an interesting idea- what if someone somehow managed to write well enough to win a contest for a line they really didn’t want to write for, and found themselves tied to writing books they didn’t really want to write?

Thank God, that didn’t happen to me! I’m assuming the editors would have contacted the contest winners by now, so not hearing anything means I’m not a winner or runner up. (Not that I expected to be!)

That means I’m free to take this story whatever direction I want. And I want to try it as a longer story, less focused on the relationship, though it’s still an important element. What if on the island fairy tales and magic are real? How will that affect Emma and Luk? How will that make a difference to their relationship? How will that make their issues different?

Maybe if I let my story run off the rails it will crash and burn in a hot mess. Maybe it will unfold its wings and fly. Let’s see!


11 Responses to “Changes…”

  1. Jo Says:

    I know exactly what you mean, my entry was definitely MH and I adore my story and characters … But all my other ideas, waiting to be written, are Presents. I’ve never tried to write one although I have tried a romance and a historical!!

    Maybe we should just give ourselves permission to write what we want until we find our niche? I cringe at my entry last year, it was a romance with a billionaire thrown in to ‘make’ it MH! Oh dear.

    I’m not sure the winners will have been contacted yet, but I think you should write whatever makes your heart happy and worry about finding it a home when it’s finished 🙂

  2. susan meier Says:

    Wow! Don’t make a big decision too quickly! Especially if you like the Presents line.

    There are lots of reasons to get rejected and/or not final in a contest run by the publisher. Not having the right voice is one of them. But there are billions of others. None of which would keep you from your dream of writing for Presents.

    I have what I call a freezer rule. Before I was published (light years ago…LOL) when a manuscript was rejected I would put it (and the rejection letter) into my freezer for at least two weeks…so I couldn’t touch it. Because before the freezer rule I would sometimes set my rejected manuscript on fire. LOL

    I guess I was fairly passionate about my work.

    Anyway, if you don’t do anything on your manuscript, in two weeks you can look at the situation objectively, and you can make a clear decision.

    If you DO rework the manuscript…and it was a mistake…your head and heart will be in such a different place that you might not be able to come back.

    So don’t let anything (including my workshop which you’re taking! LOL) edge you toward a decision until you’ve really thought it all through and let some time pass…Like a week!

    By the way, I had a similar situation last weekend. I realized I needed to shift the focus of a series I will probably write next year. (I work ahead! LOL)

    I didn’t want to do it because the changes demolish some of what I’ve done.

    I let a week go by…and guess what? I do need to make the changes. But my emotions are in a better place. I can more clearly see what needs to go and what needs to stay. I won’t make mistakes in my “emotional” state.

    So, take a breath…go Christmas shopping…and don’t change anything for at least a week!

    Dr. Phil…I mean susan meier! LOL

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL, sage advice, Susan!

    Your freezer rule is a good one. I never throw away any writing, it all gets filed away. I do get emotional and want to smash and burn things while I’m upset so I keep everything safely backed up just in case I get an itchy Delete finger.

    It’s not a sudden decision, and it wasn’t triggered by the workshop, promise! Though the great message in the way you teach looking at story is that nothing is set in stone.

  4. Barbara Says:


    Stick with Presents for now. (Although I think your story is more MH. I could be wrong). We’ll get through this.


    What great advice! Thanks for sharing. I took your journey steps class last year/earlier this year and it was really helpful.


  5. Eileen Says:

    While I always think that thinking on things is a good idea (I tend to do it so much that I’m afraid to act but that’s another story), I want to make an observation about what I’ve seen in your blog.

    You quite frequently write about how you’re trying to take an existing story and “make it Presents” or “make it MH” … it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve written has been born in that line.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Good point. What I have in first draft is a 60,000 word total mish mash that could become anything, depending how I edit it.

    So I would have just as much work to do to “make it single title” or “make it Sweet” if that was how I wanted to play it.

    I think because I have such an uncertainty about where my voice lies, my first drafts aren’t coming out clearly one way or the other. Unlike my friend Maisey, who simply oozes Presents.

    The real issue is- I’m not writing with my true voice in first draft. I’m looking for outside validation, for someone to tell me where my voice belongs.

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Maybe we should just give ourselves permission to write what we want until we find our niche? I think you should write whatever makes your heart happy and worry about finding it a home when it’s finished 🙂

    That is so true, Jo!

    But I want to write so many things, I get myself in a muddle. That’s why I want to do the Presents version of this story, the magical realism version, and the chick lit version! The plan is write them all, see which one I have most fun with, and see what sort of feedback I get on them.

  8. Eileen Says:

    I whole heartedly agree with the “write waht we want until we find our niche” theory. Which is why I’m gonna give some agent a headache one day when they realize that I have projects not just over different areas of romance, but over different genres of fiction!

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL! Yes, life is easier for writers with narrower interests.
    Lots of pseudonyms if you are prolific enough to establish your niche in all the genres at once, or make sure you establish a solid platform in one genre first before branching out.
    Hey, it worked for Nora ; )

  10. Eileen Says:

    Well if Nora did it then it must be legit!

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL! Thought that would make you smile! If Nora does it, it must be okay seems to be a bit of a mantra.

    I was thinking of the way she started writing very different stories as J D Robb, then let it be known it was her once those books were established. Could be tricky writing very different books under the same name, because there’s such a big risk of alienating readers who come to a new book from a known author with specific expectations.

    I gather she was also so prolific she wrote a number of series romances under pseudonyms anyway.

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