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!

Whose black moment is it, anyway? June 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:51 am
Tags: , , , ,


“… at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” Joseph Cambell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces





I am not just procrastinating. I am going into a fully fledged depression.

If I don’t finish this story, I don’t have to submit it. If I don’t submit it, it can’t be rejected. If it isn’t rejected, I can keep on being a “couldabeen”. I won’t have to face the fact that I could fail at my dream of writing like I failed at my dream of being a mother. Because who am I if one by one I have to give up on all my dreams?  What am I left with?

I’ve been escaping into safe things, things I know I can do, or things where if doesn’t mean that much to me if I have a few projects that don’t quite work out. Sewing, knitting, cooking, jewellery making. If something doesn’t work, I might be a little frustrated, but I don’t take it personally. I don’t need to. It never meant that much to me anyway.

But writing does. It’s personal. It’s who I am. If my writing sucks, I suck. And boy, does my writing suck right now! This first draft feels so bad I don’t see any point in keeping on going, there’s nothing here that can possibly be turned into good story. And no point starting a new story, because it will just be the same.

I need to stop this right now, before I spiral down into a crash and burn I might never get out of.

Somehow, I need to find a way to step back, get some detachment. Allow it to be okay if I play around with writing, experiment with things knowing it might not work out, might not be anything I ever want to show another human being let alone submit to an editor. Just like I’ve made garments that have never been worn, but have gone straight into the rag bag; or a few jewellery pieces that sit in the bottom of my work box and no one has ever seen; or those recipe experiments that are too bad to even feed to the dog, and we just get takeaway for dinner that night instead.

Sometimes things don’t come out how we want, that’s part of life. Being okay with that is what lets us try, try again, take chances, do things differently, and enjoy the journey regardless of whether ultimately we succeed or not.

That’s the attitude I need.

How to get there from here, I don’t know!

But just saying that, I feel different. I want to go write, make things happen for Luk and Emma. Sometimes it seems just saying “I know I need to change but I don’t know how,” brings its own light to the darkness. Being willing to admit there is a problem, and being open to the solution, begins the change process. Unless our story people go through their black moment, they can’t win through to their lasting happiness. And unless we admit we are in the dark, we can’t see the light when it comes.

Step one is to look at my expectations.

The reason I can play and have fun with other creative stuff is that I am not expecting to produce a professional result. I don’t compare my wobbly-seamed homemade dress with haute couture, or my lumpy-but-yum carrot cake with the work of a top patissiere. Yet for some crazy reason I think my first draft dreck should be as good as published writing, that has been maybe been rewritten, edited and polished twenty times by the writer from her first draft, with the help of an editor too?

The reason I take it so personally is that writing has become inextricably linked in my mind with my other major life goals. From when I was a young girl,  there were three things I wanted to achieve in my life. Have children and be a good mother, be a published writer, and build my own little house. Though not necessarily in that order.

For a long time, writing was the thing I worked on the most. I also renovated two houses. Then, in my thirties, emphasis shifted. All my focus was on having a baby. I didn’t write, apart from some journalling, didn’t think about much else. It probably wasn’t too healthy a way to be, especially when no matter how “good” I was, how much I followed the rules, I couldn’t make it happen. I think I have been in danger of making writing a replacement obsession. Also not healthy.

It’s a good thing that I’m letting myself have some time off, play with other creative stuff, have other loves and other interests. Monomania is never attractive! No need to feel guilty or as if I am somehow betraying myself by taking a break from the intensity of focus.

What is not good is making myself depressed, feeling a failure, thinking that wanting a weekend off from writing means I should give up.

I needed a break, so I could stand back and see what was happening. Taking a break is NOT giving up, it’s having a breather and finding a different, maybe better way to head towards where I want to get.

I gave having a baby my best shot seven times before I gave up trying any more. Here’s my deal with myself- I will give becoming  a published romance writer seven of my best shots too before I give up on that. Hey, if I can handle seven lost pregnancies, I can handle seven story rejections, right?  One submission down, six to go!


Luk and Emma stuck in transition June 7, 2009


I finally got them into bed together, and boy, these two are loving it! The problem is, I seem to have got stuck in the bedroom. I need to somehow get through the three week honeymoon, and on to where things start to unravel for them.

I’m at that turning point in the Hero’s Journey where The Reward becomes The Journey Back. Something needs to change to impel them back into movement and action, which will inevitably lead to the Black Moment. I have a good idea what will trigger the change, but just don’t seem able to write the darn thing!

Several reasons-

  1. I am lousy at transitions. always have been. I can understand why newbie writers create 150,000 word epics. It’s easier to write in everything that happens than write a smooth transition!  Solution for that is going to be to just write any crap that gets them into the next scene in as few words as possible, and hope I can straighten it out in edits.
  2. I’m not convinced the motivation for the characters’ actions are going to strong enough to be believable and sympathetic, especially Luk. He has to do something that could appear highly unheroic, so he has to have good reason to behave that way. The motivation I had for him that seemed good enough when I was planning the story just wasn’t feeling right anymore. The answer there was to dig a bit deeper into his character and background to find out why he would choose to act like that. What I came up with was unexpected and changes his backstory quite a bit, but makes a lot more sense. Hopefully it will also make his choices when Emma triggers a crisis believable and acceptable.
  3. The toughest one of all. I like these characters. I’m so happy writing their love scenes. I don’t want to send us all out into the painful wilderness of the Journey Home and the Black Moment, even though the only way to our Happy Ever After is to get them through it. Writing this stuff is going to hurt. I will have to deal with pain and betrayal and people confronting their deepest held limiting beliefs. It is most emphatically NOT going to be fun. Don’t have a solution to this one. So far, I’ve procrastinated. I’ve read a couple of stories. I’ve done some work on this blog. I’ve signed up for an online workshop (Plot Doctoring- think I may need it when it comes time to edit! But I was also kinda hoping that wanting the first draft finished before I start the workshop would give me an extra push). I’ve visited lots of discussion groups and writers’ websites, kidding myself that reading about writing is almost the same as writing, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing. Because the other stories I’ve completed or nearly completed weren’t structured right for series romance, I’ve never had to do this before. My stories just meandered on to a HEA. I know the answer is just to take a deep breath, dive into the deep water, and hope I can swim. But sheesh, I really don’t want to!

More thoughts on The Hero’s Journey- the Ordeal and the Black Moment April 6, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:28 pm
Tags: , ,

Um, I’m just thinking as I write here so it may not make sense or be just plain stupid, but it seems to me that the Ordeal is a descent into the dark places of the character’s own psyche, where they become fully aware of their deepest fears and their greatest challenges. To successfully negotiate the Ordeal, the character must be willing to confront their fears, to recognise the shadow within themselves. That cliched but so true phrase- “feel the fear and do it anyway”. If they feel the fear and back out, it’s game over. Fail. There is no reward.

But if they feel the fear and take the risk, things can and will still go wrong. The virgin may decide to go ahead and be intimate with the hero, despite her fears he is only using her, and have an mind-shatteringly wonderful experience. The Reward is only ever temporary. The next morning, she may wake up and find that yes, he is a scheming manipulative bastard who was only using her.

The true Black Moment is when everything the character most fears seems to have become reality, and whatever choice the character makes, it’s going to be terrible for them. The Black Moment is in fact the ultimate temptation, the moment when the character chooses whether to be true to themselves, or to become their shadow self. This must relate to the Ordeal, the deepest fear the character realised there, now come to pass. In the fight on the Death Star, Luke loses a hand, but that doesn’t sear his soul in the same way as the discovery that his vision in the cave was true- he and Vader are of the same essence, Vader is his father. He chooses to risk death rather than become his Shadow. 

So in the Ordeal, the character is asked to be willing to confront their worse fear, in the Resurrection, they do actually confront it and are reborn into the world. The old personality dies in a sense in the Ordeal, but the character isn’t actually reborn into their new purified and strengthened self until the Resurrection. Because they are still in the Special World, and not yet back in the Ordinary World. Got it! I think…

Now how that applies to Romance I’m not quite sure yet. In category romance, diferent lines will put differing emphasis on the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey, some lines more focused on the hero, others on the heroine. There are two separate journeys, that may well be progessing at different rates, but they have to end up at the same place for the HEA. And running away from the Black Moment isn’t the answer. The heroine  or hero has to grow and mature, face and integrate their shadow self, and at the same time win the respect of the other (or in the case of the heroine dealing with the more Alpha hero, force him to respect her!). I think I am seeing why my Instant Seduction entry was rejected- the heroine ran away from her Black Moment.  The  character has to react to their ultimate trial in a way that proves them worthy of a real love, showing them to be a person of true integrity and courage. Luke had only two choices- join Vader or risk death. Hopefully our heroines have  a few more options!

A romance is not just a love story, it is a story of two human being’s emotional and personal growth. Jennifer Crusie’s definition of a Romance ties in well here.  “The medieval definition of a romance always involved a quest, and I think the modern romance does, too: the heroine’s quest for self-actualization. Until a woman finds out who she is and what she needs from life, she can’t really connect to another person as an equal. So the best romance novels always show a woman coming to her strength and fullness as a human being, and part of the reward for the fulfillment of that quest is a strong, equal life partner. “

And the way we come to that strength and fullness of self is through trial, through ordeal, through the darkness. Jung said “When we must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness.”

I’m just realising there was another issue that weakened my IS story, one that I think is common for newer romance writers. I didn’t link the stages of Ordeal and Black Moment together, I threw in a new problem to create the Black Moment. The problems didn’t really come organically enough from who the characters were, either, they did partially, but they were also a bit manufactured. I think that’s what’s known as a plot device, isn’t it?

Of course, I had heard of the Hero’s Journey, but hadn’t really thought about it back then, especially applied to Romance. I didn’t know what a black moment was either. I just knew there had to be a couple of places where it looks like the relationship has no chance! It’s exciting to see how far I’ve come in a year. Now, to just apply this to some writing…