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!

Mini course on character driven plotting February 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:24 pm

Just discovered this week long Q&A on Character Plotting with Silhouette Desire author Emily McKay over on eHarlequin.

Looks interesting!


Perfectionism paralysis February 21, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:38 am

I decided to keep going with Meg and Nick rather than start the new story that was singing its siren song. I wrote some notes for it, and saw the perfect heroine on the Underground the other day- she looked so like I visualised Nellie I was gobsmacked. Poor girl, I think she wondered if I was a loony, I could not stop staring at her! So her description went into the notes too.

Anyway, back to Meg and Nick. I’ve thought about them, written more notes for their story this week. I know I have to avoid my tendency to on add more, more, more, and focus on simplifying. Here’s what I wrote-

Keep it simple, dig deep. What does that mean for my story?

It means that all the threads that are going to affect the plot and conflict need to be there from the beginning, even if in dormant form.

The financial shakiness, the threat from developers, Beth dating. All the choices they make need to somehow make things worse. That could be the problem with the “fling” at the moment- it’s a resolution of some conflict, but maybe it doesn’t cause enough new conflict. What if somehow sleeping with a guest gets her in trouble and makes things worse. So not just the emotional issue when he makes it clear he wants something serious, but it makes her external circumstances worse too. Ways it could threaten her security and home- pregnancy, some archaic bylaw that says to run a boarding house she needs to be of good character, ditto but more so for housing vulnerable adults. Then the developers, circling like vultures, close in. How does it make things worse for him? Trying to save her gets him in trouble. Fake engagement, upset parents problems at work. Whatever it is needs to impact his core inner conflict.

Her core conflicts- trust. Believing that she I attractive and desirable. Believing that lasting love is possible Taking risks. Losing/ givng up her safe controlled environment. Becoming willing to change- accepting that change is inevitable and the only control we have is choosing what we can of the changes we make.

His core conflict- believing he can have what he wants, finding a way to live authentically and balance competing demands and expectations. Breaking loose of family role. Being willing to let her go for her own good- choosing the path of honour and getting her what she most wants even though that may mean losing her.

It’s all good stuff. The problem is, I’ve not written one word of actual story since I decided I needed to start from the beginning again and rewrite. 

I have excuses, of course,  mainly yet another week from hell in the Day Job, arriving home late and brain drained. My excuse yesterday was that I didn’t get home from work until nearly 11pm on Friday, so I slept in late, then I had all the usual practical weekend stuff to get out the way before I could write.

There’s always an excuse. This job is not going to change. I need to either find a new job or find ways of writing despite the job. Right now, it’s not good enough to keep using it as an excuse, no matter how much of a time eater it is.

And it’s more than lack of time. I do have time, if I am honest. I’m just not using it to write. I simply cannot seem to start rewriting the story. I have pages of notes, three chapters that no longer fit my vision for the story despite me having a go at revising them, and a big resistance to starting again.

I wanted to at least be doing something writing related yesterday, so I started reading “Manuscript Makeover” as recommended by Michelle Styles. Even though it’s about fixing a completed story, the section on Riff Writing gave me the answer.

I don’t want to start the rewrite, because I’m scared of getting it wrong again.

This is insane of course, as if I don’t start I’m left with the chapters that I already know aren’t what I want, but who said my sub-conscious mind is sane!

My new mantra- It can be fixed. So just write it.

I need to start writing. Any old dreck, so long as it’s words related to the story. Take off this pressure to get it perfect. And write. Even if it’s only ten minutes using Write or Die, start this minute.

I’m off to do it now.


Stuck, again! February 15, 2010

I’m wanting to write Meg and Nick’s story, the one I pitched to Donna Alward for her pitch contest. I need to get the first chapter done and polished to send off as she’s generously offered to still give me a critique (though I know she’s on a tight deadline this month, so maybe she won’t mind not getting it till next month!). But I’m stuck. Again.

What is it with this story? I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the whole set up. I know how to fix the first chapter. I know I need to rewrite rather than keep tweaking the existing chapter. And I’m just not doing it.

Maybe all my willpower is being used up doing Menopause Makeover  (I lost 2 pounds and even better an inch and a half from my waist in the first week, so that’s going okay). Maybe I’m just being lazy. Maybe I’m having another crisis of confidence. Maybe I know, like my Presents contest entry, I’m yet again making the story too complex and convoluted, creating something I just don’t have the skill to carry off yet.

As Donna said reunion stories are hard to write- so much backstory! Also, I feel maybe I’ve overthought it, planned all the life out of it. I’ve completely lost enthusiasm for it. On some level, it feels like the story has already been told. I feel that I need to let all the thinking I’ve done on this story sit and simmer for a while, before I write it, let all those ideas and plans sink down to a deeper level and hopefully my subconscious can play with it and turn it back into something alive again. When my colleague who’s been off sick all last month is finally back working normal hours, I’m going to take a week  of vacation, and do a personal Book in a Week. Just write this story with no time to stop and think.

 What I would love to do right now is dive in with something different, and just write like crazy. First draft without stopping to think too much and work things out. Let the characters surprise me.

I have two options, the bush nurse story, Fool’s Gold, with Kate and Adam, which would be a Super; or Nellie and Mace’s story, which was originally going to be an Modern Heat. I can see how it could be even better as a Super, because both the hero and heroine’s emotional issues are family based, and the hero just wasn’t working out for MH, which is why I shelved the idea before. I can even see how it can link in to Meg and Nick’s story, as the start is Nellie trying to get out of the city to go to a wedding out in the country, but everything goes wrong. It was going to start in London with the wedding out in the wilds of the Cambridgeshire fens, but no reason it can’t start in Sydney with the wedding in Haven Bay. Though ideas for Kate and Adam are popping up all the time too!

I hope I’m not doing a “Bright Shiny New Story” to run away from just buckling down and writing Meg and Nick! I do genuinely feel I’ll write that story better with a bit of space from all the thinking I’ve done on it.  I just hope that now I will stick with whatever story I decide to write and at least see it through first draft and not let myself be seduced again by either a new story, or one of the ones I left on the shelf for now. My characters do hate being sidelined, waiting their turn, they all want to be the star!

I can’t help feeling I am lacking in Michelle Style’s Four Ds.


Yumchaa! February 13, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:03 pm
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Jenny Hutton (far left side) and Flo Nicholls (second from left) at Yumchaa

I finally made it to the Mills and Boon Bookclub at the Yumchaa Camden Parkway Tearoom in London this week.

Actually, I went twice! I managed to get the date wrong and arranged to meet a writing friend Sally there on Tuesday, we arrived to find the meeting was actually on Wednesday (sorry Sally!). We had a fab evening talking books and writing anyway, and went back the next night for more.

Lovely Mills and Boon editor Jenny Hutton was there as planned, and a surprise bonus was another editor Flo Nicholls. Discussion was lively with plenty of questions from the group. We seemed a mixed bag- some aspiring writers, a few dedicated readers, and a few who had never read a romance but were willing to be openminded and give it a go. No new eye-opening insights for me, but a fun relaxed evening. And the Yumchaa teas and cakes are superb- though I managed to give the cakes a miss despite the temptation- good girl points for me!

The Book club isn’t an “official” Mills and Boon thing, one of the women who started Yumchaa loves the books passionately and wanted to start a group to read and talk about them. From next month it will run as a proper book club, with discussion of a specific book. If you want to know more, email via the Contact Us link on the Yumchaa website. I definitely plan to go along!

Just to prove I was there, that’s me on the right looking like I’m trying to get out of the picture!


Nothing too serious… February 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:03 am
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I have had a strange week. Ended up in hospital with chest pain and other weird symptoms being investigated for a heart attack on Thursday and Friday (it wasn’t).

Probably just a mixture of lingering chest infection and sinusitis, the Day Job from Hell, and jet lag. It’s definitely been a wake-up call to take better care of myself (that’s a bit of a laugh- as I’ve gone to work all this week despite being signed off sick by my GP) and get healthier. Talk about brand loyalty- I bought a Harlequin diet and health book- Menopause Makeover. It’s helped kick start me, and there’s some good stuff here and on the author’s website, though her ra ra style can get a little wearing, along with her constant references to herself as being fat and flabby and disgusting, when I’m willing to bet at her fattest she wasn’t more than 140 pounds. That’s less than my goal weight!

I spent my writing time this week tweaking Chapter One of Meg and Nick’s story to reflect the plot changes writing the pitch for Donna Alward’s contest showed me, but it’s not quite working. I need to make bigger changes, not just tweaks. I love these characters, and they and their situation will stay the same, but I need to rewrite, not edit, if I’m to write the best story I can. That’s tough – throwing away writing that is good, but just not good enough. Sometimes it’s just got to be done. I’m going to come out with a stronger start that dives straight into the action and has the hero and heroine behaving totally consistently with their characters and motivations.

Anyway, what I really wanted to post was something that cracked me up, emailed by my friend Abbi.  Warning, do not have food or drink in your mouth while reading, unless you want a messy spray incident!

First this blog post from the fabulous Lucy March, AKA Lani Diane Rich. Which took me to the Glittery Hoo Ha, thanks to Jennifer Crusie. Oh my, I would love to be a fraction as funny as those two!


The ABCs for Romance Writers February 2, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:31 am

AKA The Presents ALPHAbet.

Just to show it’s not all angst at The Sisterhood, Maisey, Jackie and I had some fun tonight. Maisey has posted the resulting hilarity on her blog.

Though what she did not reveal was that what got us started was my response to her telling us her 3 year old son was looking at an alphabet book, which had V for Vulture. He said “Look Mommy, virgin.”


The contest pitch and Donna’s reply

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:05 am
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I’ll post the pitch I entered for Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch contest and her reply here, as there were some requests on the contest thread at eHarlequin that the finalists do this.

Remember, as Donna says-

I probably shouldn’t call this contest the Perfect pitch.  No pitch is perfect.  Mine certainly aren’t.  The same way no book is perfect.  I always read through my finished product and see things I should have done to make it stronger.

There is plenty I would change about the pitch, in hindsight. At the time it was the best I could do, and it served it’s purpose, which is to give a sense of the story and make someone (in real life an editor or agent, in this comp Donna) want to read more!

The pitch email-

Dear Donna

Thank you for offering this wonderful opportunity to a lucky writer again! I hope you enjoy my pitch for “Third Time Forever” a story targeted at Harlequin Superromance.
Third Time Forever
The first time Meg and Nick met they had one magical day together. The second time they met they shared three blissful days…and nights! The third time they meet, can he convince her to make it forever?
Meg Reynolds knows that lasting love and happy ever afters are for other women, not her. A painful childhood cut deep. Emotional and physical scars taught her never to let herself need anyone again. She’s made a new “family” – the motley collection of residents she looks after in her rundown boarding house in a small seaside town. She won’t give that up for anyone or anything. So when her haven is threatened by legal action, she reluctantly turns to the last person she wants to accept help from. Nick di Angelo, the man she thought she was safe to have an uncharacteristic fling with, because she’d never see him again.
A successful lawyer, voted one of Sydney’s most eligible bachelors, Nick looks to have everything going for him. Life is good, but he wants more. He’s spent his life meeting his family’s expectations, giving up his own dreams in the process. Now to get what he wants, he’s going to have to risk disappointing them. He’s sure Meg is the one woman for him. But the gap between their worlds is so great. Neither could be truly happy in the other’s. How can he persuade her to take a chance on him, to create their own world and family, where both their dreams can become reality? Especially when helping her save what means the most to her may be the very thing that keeps them apart.
Thank you again!
Jane Mulberry Jones

Donna’s feedback (just to clarify- I’d already emailed to let her know I might have problems making the deadline and offering to withdraw)-

Jane – I know you’re on a tight timeline this week so I wanted to get back to you about your pitch as I know you’re working on chapter one this week.

You had the intro bit I appreciate with a greeting and title and target line.   I also like your first short paragraph – not a traditional logline, but it piqued my interest, which is the main objective.

My very first comment after reading the pitch was a notation saying “This could be a Romance”.  Part of that has to do with setting, and without seeing your “voice” I can’t say for sure, but this pitch screamed Romance line to me!

I was a little confused where it was set.  The hero is voted one of Sydney ’s most eligible bachelors, but in Meg’s paragraph you just say a small seaside town.  That could have used some clarification.

I thought you had a good set up with the goals in opposition to the romance and having to make a choice – this is standard conflict fare and as long as you go deep enough with your characters can work like a dream.

Now I’m going to make an observation and this might be exactly what you meant when you said you realized you started it in the wrong place….this story should DEFINITELY start with the THIRD time forever and not the temporary relationship they had earlier.  Open right with the action and the crisis point – where she is turning to Nick for help.  The rest is backstory that will feed into your conflict.

The other thing I want to say is you have a shared past story here.  Having been there, done that, fallen into the trap I will offer a caution that the shared past, while adding tension and conflict in the beginning, needs to move aside for a conflict in the PRESENT.  I dealt with this actually in the book I have out right now.

I’m looking forward to seeing your chapter Jane!
Try to have a sane week this week.


Hmm, and reading that again I’m thinking maybe the best place to start my story is where Donna suggests. So many possibilities! All these different branches, all different, but all leading to the same place, the Happy Ever After. To keep going with the tree analogy, any branch can get you to the HEA, but most may not be strong enough to support the weight of a story.