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!

“So You Think You Can Write”- Yes, No, or Maybe? December 18, 2010

I subbed on Wednesday to the latest Harlequin writing contest, “So You Think You Can Write”, along with probably a thousand other aspiring romance writers.

Do I think I can write? Yes, obviously, or I wouldn’t have entered, but probably not well enough for it to count for anything.

I’m starting to wonder if I will ever get my writing to the point where it’s good enough for publication, if I shouldn’t just give up now and save myself the pain of bashing my head repeatedly against a brick wall, hoping I hit the magic brick that opens the secret passageway to publication. (Not my image, BTW, it’s one of my writing buddies Chelsea’s, but it’s so apt I borrowed it!) After all, for my three subs this year, I’ve had three more rejections to add to my list. Isn’t it time to stop trying?

Thinking that didn’t stop me deciding late on Monday night just as I was falling asleep that I would enter something in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write, closing date 11pm Wednesday my time. Especially when I saw that they didn’t expect that the story had to be completed to enter after all, only that if you were asked to sub more you would do it pdq. Problems- I had nothing remotely ready to sub, and I had a Christmas party after work on Wednesday that meant I wouldn’t get home until after 11. So whatever I entered had to be subbed before I slept on Tuesday night. One day to do a subbable chapter and synopsis.

I did it. My first chapter and synopsis went in at 3.30am on Wednesday morning, aimed at Blaze.

I’m proud I met the deadline, but am not convinced it was a wise thing to do.

This is Mason and Steph’s story,  the one I was working on when I got the rejection letter on my last Superromance submission, then stopped when I realised it had the exact same problems commented on in the letter, and then some new ones! Reactive, goal-less characters, drifting into the story and then buffeted around by events. And even worse, something I figured out for myself, a resolution at least partially triggered by something  external happening, not internal change in the characters!

Also, it started life as a Super, but then as I wrote it my reaction to the first chapter was “Whoa, this is waaaaay too steamy for Supers!”  I know Supers can be super sexy, but that’s sex in the context of a relationship, not just sex. Sex is clearly the way into the relationship for this couple, love comes later. The conflict and character arcs are far more Blaze too, if I’m understanding what Blaze needs right (a focus on the heroine’s emotional journey to being able to commit to this relationship). I’m kinda worried it will fall between the two lines. Not sexy enough for Blaze, because even though there’s lots of lusting and sexual tension, they don’t go all the way until half-way through the story; but not right for Supers either.

Oh well, I rewrote the first chapter, and came up with a new synopsis that I hope fixed the worst problems of reactive characters and a weak resolution. Can’t see what can be done about the lust,all those pebbling nipples and bulging crotches, will just have to hope it’s a fit for Blaze and not too cliched! 

But even if I got those obvious problems right, no doubt there’s a hundred other things wrong with the chapter and synopsis. There’s no way something thrown together in less than a day is going to be any good. I hit that send button anyway, just to have something else out there.

The thing is, I’ve known about this subbing opportunity for nearly six weeks. Yet once again I left it to the last minute to start working on my submission? This is becoming a pattern now. I did it for the Medical Fast-Track, I did it for New Voices, and now I’ve done it again for SYTYCW. Why did I do it to myself again, a rush job entry, when I swore not to after the last time? I gotta face it, no matter how well I may or may not write, something thrown together on the last day before entries close is not going to be my best work. Aren’t I self-sabotaging myself here, setting up for failure?

I think I am. There are positives to doing it this way, which is no doubt why I do it. When I get a rejection, being able to console myself with “Well of course I got an R, it wasn’t my best work, it was thrown together in a day,” helps take some of the sting out. It also gets me over the fear and anxiety about subbing at all. I don’t have time to think and worry about it when I give myself twelve hours writing time to pull together a chapter and long synopsis. It got me out of the stuckness and uncertainty of what to do next that I felt after the rejection.

I had good reasons for doing it in such a rush. When I looked at the R and what I could learn from it, I straight away saw what the letter was getting at, and how I could fix it. But then I couldn’t decide whether to start straight into rewriting the rejected story, whether to rework the story I was writing at the time, or whether to start over completely with the new story idea.  The new story seemed the best option, so I started working it up, looking at the characters and their conflicts.  I’d read somewhere that SYTYCW required that the entrants had the full story completed, so no way was that possible. I just played around with the new story, without any deadline pressure. My starting point was an image I had of a man and a woman stuck in a lift together and neither know who the other is, then later they find out they are business rivals. I set up their goals, motivations, and conflicts. It looked like it should work, but somehow I didn’t feel right about it, it just didn’t seem to be coming together. Also, the characters and the plot felt very Modern Heat, and I’m not sure I can manage the right level of sass and banter for that line, especially now it’s changing to Riva in the UK.

I had a startling realisation- I wasn’t writing character driven stories like I thought I was! I started off with a few set piece scenes that I could visualise clearly, built a plot around that, then thought up the characters who could slot into the story. Arrgghh! I recognised I’d done this with most of my stories so far. No wonder it wasn’t working, especially with this story. Basically, I was trying to shove together two separate stories that didn’t fit at all! I had managed to create good strong characters, but they didn’t work with the pretty scenes I wanted. Either the pretty scenes had to go, or the characters did, attached though I was to them. In this case, the scenes could work well in a Blaze, with different characters, but I had no idea who they might be. I started writing the Modern Heat/ Presents Lite type story, but only got a few pages in when I saw on a SYTYCW reminder post that they didn’t require that the story entered be complete after all.

Yippee, I could sub after all, why not have a go?

No way I’d get a first chapter and synopsis for this new story done in time, and it wasn’t what I wanted to sub anyway. This was a good chance to email submit to the North American office instead of messing with posting hard copy, so no point sending something targeted at a London based line where I could do an email sub anytime. The changes needed for the rejected Super were too big to do in the time I had, and I wanted to sub something different, not just keep subbing and resubbing the same story. The only option left was to rework the previous WiP, the Super that wanted to be a Blaze. A lot of the first chapter could stand as it was, with a bit of tweaking. The thing that was starting from scratch was the synopsis. I had a bullet point list of possible events, but that would make a very bad synopsis.

I had some new insights that seemed good about the characters, and made some more changes in the set-up that to me seemed to help the heroine in particular to act and decide in ways that were more consistent and authentic to her personality. I made sure they had goals, and made sure their relationship blocks were clearly stated in the first chapter. (Maybe too clearly? Did I reveal too much too soon, and then bash the reader over the head with it just to make sure she got it?) In the synopsis, I tried to keep the focus on emotional change and growth and not just a series of events, and hopefully got across that the resolution was not solely due to the big external event that happens at the three-quarter mark. Or as well as I could with only twelve hours writing time to do it in!

Without really even reading it back properly, I hit send. So at least I’m subbing, and doing it so fast gives me a built in defence mechanism for the inevitable rejection.

But the inevitable rejection is why it’s self-sabotage. Yes, I have some built in self-protection against the pain, but I’m also setting up in advance that the pain will happen by sending off sub-standard work. I have loads of good excuses for doing it this way (didn’t it just take me over a thousand words to tell you them all!), but it’s still a dumb way to do things.

Maybe it would have been a far wiser choice to wait until I had a good partial, well thought out, polished, and truly ready to go, subbed via the usual route. Wiser, but far more scary. Because then if I get a rejection, like on my Superromance partial, I don’t have my emotional safety net to stop me plummeting to earth with a messy splat. I can’t say “I could have written it better but I did it in a hurry to meet the deadline.” I’d have to drop those “woulda if I coulda” justifications for subbing bad writing, weak characters, insipid and unbelievable conflict, a story that didn’t fit the line. I’d have to stop kidding myself, and deal with the pain of my writing just plain not being good enough. I’m maybe cheating myself out of making it a better quality learning experience, too.

The truth is, there is no magic brick in that wall we’re bashing our heads against. It’s not a secret passageway from unpubbed to pubbed that I need. It’s the insight to see how I can improve my writing with each story I start, and the persistence to keep working at it. But to really keep working at it, not merely pretend I am, with these half-baked contest entries and my crappy excuses.


New hot romance competition May 15, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:41 pm

Just heard about a new contest for unpublished writers with a full length senusal romance, paranormal, contemporary, or historical- Kensington Brava’s Writing with the Stars. The prize is publication by Brava, so could be interesting!

Thanks to the nearly-as-sassy-as-the-Sisters and definitely super talented Minxes of Romance for the heads up.


The contest pitch and Donna’s reply February 2, 2010

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.


Warning- long confusing post on pitching!

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:14 am
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I owe a load of apologies to all the people who commented on my last entry and didn’t get replies! Sorry to be so rude. I just got back from a week away for a work conference, where I had hardly any time for essential emails, let alone blogging.

Actually, I’m lying when I say I just got back, I just woke up from the sleep I needed after travelling for over 24 hours.

Memo to self- booking a late departing flight on the basis you can sightsee all day and then sleep on the plane is NOT a good idea.  Reasons:

1. You never really sleep on planes, no matter how tired you are. And those over the counter sleeping tablets just make you fuzzy headed;

2. Even if you could sleep on planes, you had to change flights at Dubai in the middle of the night. Even though you are just going from one side of the terminal to another you discover that you and the other thousand people transferring flights there at  1am will have to queue and queue and queue some more to have your bags checked again to be allowed to do that;

3. You will become one of those people you always mutter at when you are on your commute,  traveling with a suitcase on the packed full rush hour Underground, as no matter how you think it will work out invariably the Airport Express train will deliver you to an insanely busy station at an insanely busy time. Where you have to struggle though crowds to even get onto the platform. Wait and let several trains go without even trying to get on they are so full. When finally one arrives with just enough space you can almost squeeze yourself and the bag into, you will need to get off at every stop along the way so other passengers can get off, then you will get your suitcase stuck in the closing doors when you try to get back on again.

Actually, Bangkok was excellent. Wonderful hotel that I could never afford to stay in if I was paying and not my company! Interesting conference learning loads and meeting with some of the other nurses who work  all over the world for our massive US employer. I still had sinusitis and a deep cough that made people turn and look at me on the flight and in the conference, despite loads of cough medicine and a second course of antibiotics. I almost lost my voice, and needed to crash into bed as soon as the conference programme finished on a couple of nights. Even so, we got to explore the city enough to feel I had a good experience of it. I’d love to go back.

In amongst of all this came the email that I was lucky enough to be chosen by Donna as one of the finalists in her pitch contest!

Shocked was not the word. “Whaaaaaaaaaat?” was the word. My crap with a capital C pitch? She liked it? She liked it enough to pick it? OMG OMG OMG, she liked it! Happy dancing around the room.  Tell my husband, who’s pleased for me but doesn’t quite get why I’m bouncing off the walls with glee.  Scrape myself together enough to start thinking about the reality of this. She needs the first chapter. In four days. Insert expletive of your choice here: Oh —-.

Major panic!  I knew even before Donna asked for the chapter it needed a rewrite because my ideas for the story had changed. I was hopelessly confused!

I’d already realised things were moving too fast for the events of chapter one to be their first meeting, they needed to have somehow met before.  That was what kept stopping me in my tracks as I was writing originally, the thing that felt “off”.  It wasn’t realistic for my heroine to be jumping into a fling quite that fast with a stranger. I know it happens, and I’ve read many fab stories with that as the starting point. But not my heroine, not with her history. I had thought that him being a stranger, only in her town for a few days, was enough to make it safe for her to let go and have her fling. (It could work that way for a different heroine, and that’s given me a whole different story idea!) But I didn’t feel comfortable as I was writing it, kept stretching it out and stretching it out to keep anything from happening between them. He had to NOT be a stranger, as well as only in town for a short time, for it to work for this heroine. So even if I keep the start where it is, which means most of what I already wrote is usable as a first draft, the backstory of that previous time together needed to be dripped in. I thought I had a plan. Let’s call it Plan A.

The process of writing the pitch clarified a lot more about the story and what the main conflicts are. I felt that the story  actually needed to begin later, start when the action really starts, when she has to go back to him some time later to ask his help to save the home that means more than anything to her. The first part, where they have their fling, is lovely but tension free. They meet again, they have a fling, they part. That’s nice, but it’s not enough. So everything I had already written was not story at all but back story. I’d written myself in, as a way of getting to know the characters and their situation, but needed a whole new chapter one. Well, that’s okay too, as part of my writing process, though I was going to have to write fast to have anything to send Donna (at that stage of course I didn’t know I was going to be a finalist, but the thought that I might be was a powerful motivation!). Getting that done a tight time frame when I was travelling and doing and intense conference and still ill would be difficult but maybe not quite impossible. I had a new plan, Plan B. This was the one to go with!

Then after rethinking it over the weekend, I couldn’t see that working. For story reasons not only time craziness reasons. I decided to start it where I presently do but compress the time frame between the fling and her needing him. I couldn’t see how leaving out the early development of their relationship would work (again, I can see stories where it could work very well, but maybe not for these characters in this situation). She’s spent her life avoiding intimacy, and has so much conflict over even allowing him into her life for three days. That could be another reason the story was stalling initially. Even if she knows him already from a previous meeting, I don’t think they can jump straight into sexual intimacy. That needs to build slower, she has to have more time to overcome her resisitance and feel safe and comfortable with him.  So maybe that part of the story needs to be included. It felt just too big for the heroine to be workable as backstory. A better and more experienced writer than me could probably manage it, but I’m not sure I could pull it off.  Plan B, to start latter, went in the “Ideas not used” file.  I was going back to Plan A Version 2, start with the fling, but deepen the conflict and intensity. Still almost impossible in the time, but maybe more possible. On the flight on Monday I did some planning for whether that would work as a whole story, roughly plotted it out. It looked good, so I started to rewrite Chapter One.  Then when we were changing flights I had time and internet access to go online. I checked my emails. There was one from Donna, asking for chapter one by Friday, and including her feedback on my pitch.

OMG and not in a good way. She strongly advised starting later in the story!

This stalled me. Total confusion. Do I go ahead with what I’m doing, despite it contradicting Donna’s advice, or do I rethink yet again and go with Plan B? By this stage it was the early hours of Tuesday morning. I was on the transfer between flights in Dubai with another seven hours travel ahead of me. I was exhausted, and I’d got sicker on the flight. I had a busy week of conference between arriving and the end of the week, attendance at all sessions compulsory.  I’d taken my husband with me and he knew no-one there, so I would have to spend some time with him in the evenings after leaving him by himself all day.  Me sitting in the corner with my laptop writing while he watched Thai TV was not going to cut it. Then, when we got to the plane I was put in a seat separate from my husband, a seat where I couldn’t plug my laptop in, and my battery was almost flat. No chance to write. And I needed to have a chapter by Friday. Preferably neither the one I had or the one I was working on. The chances of getting a chapter done were poor to start with, now they looked non-existent. I did what any sensible person would. The ostrich approach. Two glasses of wine with the airline meal and try to nap.

By the time we got to the hotel I had a fever and felt far more ill. I went to the nearest pharmacy, where she prescribed me another course of antibiotics. Back to the room to try to sleep. It was early next day before I properly woke up,  and considered my options. They didn’t look good.

What I had as my existing first chapter was passable. It was readable, competently written but dull, full of backstory in internal monologue (a big issue of mine!).  There’s no spark or real emotion. It’s just he said, she said; he did this, she did that. Of course, it’s only first draft. I’ve read several authors  say they need four or five or even more to layer everything in, and the first draft is just what I’m seeing and not liking in mine. But I didn’t want to send Donna first draft, especially first draft that I knew was missing important pieces of backstory and conflict I felt I now knew how to add. No point getting feedback on something I knew was broken, as chances were much of what she wrote to me would tell me what I already knew.

To to rewrite using Plan B, which would also be following Donna’s advice, was the most sensible approach, but it just wasn’t possible in the time frame.

All that was left was was the way I at least had started, Plan A Version 2. Which very probably wouldn’t work, and most likely wasn’t doable in time either. It was really the only choice if I wanted to submit something I could get meaningful feedback on.  But it went against what Donna advised. I felt deeply ambivalent about sending someone I hoped would mentor me a piece of writing that appeared to ignore what she was suggesting. That felt wrong. My feeling that this was the best way to solve the story problems and make it work was shaken too. I still really wanted to try this way anyway, even knowing it may not work and I’d end up having to do it the other way. The best way I learn is to experiment, try out different methods to see what works for me. It’s sometimes a good fast method, sometimes a slow and inefficent method, but once I learn something  this way I can really take that and apply it. Anyway, I’d made a decision. This was the version I wanted feedback for. I wrote when I could, bits here and there, but the time ran out.

The outcome was, it wasn’t even half-way done with the chapter by the Friday night deadline. I emailed Donna to let her know I couldn’t submit anything in the time frame and put myself out of the running. She agreed to still give me a critique when I am able to send it, so that is fabulous in itself, even though I missed the chance of longer term feedback. Soraya, who won, is a Romance writer at a stage where she’s very close to cracking it, just the right place to get best benefit from Donna’s mentorship. I think I’m at an earlier stage where I need to learn more craft and develop my voice more first. I need to feel free to make mistakes without feeling like I am wasting someone else’s time too, if that makes sense.  Part of what made me panic wasn’t just the not having a chapter ready, it was also the feeling of “I’m not ready for this!” Maybe next year, if Donna is generous enough to offer so much of her time to run this contest again, I might have a chance to enter again, and be able to make better use of an opportunity like this if I was chosen…

Anyway this has been a big learning experience. I feel a lot better now  (as I wrote that I woke my husband up with my coughing, but I am a lot better!), so I can get that chapter done and sent off to Donna. I’ve had some lovely positive feedback, which is always a good thing.  I had a go at something, and got surprising results. My big take home lesson from this is- do not enter pitch contests thinking “I’ll just get some feedback on my pitch.” You may just get a lovely complete surprise that will throw you into a total panic. This would have been a totally stress free experience if I’d had the chapter ready to sub if needed before I hit send on the pitch. I was wrong  thinking that she wouldn’t want my chapter anyway, so it was safe. Admittedly, the process of doing the pitch was what made me realise just how much more work my chapter needed. I’m not sorry I entered, I just wish I’d been better prepared. I will certainly think twice about entering the online pitch contest for Superromance on eHarlequin, unless some miracle happens giving me time to get it finished by the end of the month (that’s the whole story, not just chapter one, I think even I can manage one chapter in a month!).

I think my other lesson and the biggest one I’m only just realising through writing this is a deeper one. I wimped out when it came to the crunch. Maybe if I’d really pushed myself I could have got the chapter writen and submitted. Or maybe I am being too tough on myself. All the above reasons I couldn’t get the chapter done are also true. It’s useful as a writer to be honest about internal motivations though- I know what stopped me making that push to do it. It would have been bloody hard, but it wasn’t impossible. The truth is, the prize frightened me. It felt like pressure, expectations. With their positive flip sides- accountability, needing to show up in my writing and not run away from emotion. I’m not sure where to go with that now, but it could be that just being aware is enough to start to change it, enough to help me dig deep and find the real emotions I want to be there in my writing.

A few people on the contest thread at eHarl wanted to see the finallist’s pitches and Donna’s feedback, so I’ll post those separately. This post is plenty long enough already!


Another fab contest- Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch January 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Hopefully everyone who had positive feedback from the 2009 Presents contest are working on finishing their stories and polishing their chapters, ready to send in to the editors!

But I know many who received the “form feedback” aka rejection have been feeling just a tad despondent and wondering what to do next.

Here’s a chance for those of us who have decided that perhaps Presents isn’t the line our voice best fits and are looking around at the other Harlequin Mills and Boon lines.

Pitch contests are happening regularly over at eHarlequin this year for various lines, and they are a fab opportunity!

Honing a pitch is a necessary skill anyway. Pitches help us to really get to the heart of what our story is, the characters and their conflicts. They’re what we put in a query letter to a publisher or agent. Not only that, these pitch contests are a great chance to get immediate feedback from an editor on our story ideas for those chosen to pitch, and to bypass the slush pile if she asks the writer to submit.

There’s also a different pitching contest- with an excellent prize. Donna Alward, who writes Harlequin Romance, is offering to mentor one writer for a year. Clicking the heading will take you to eHarlequin for more details, but I cut and pasted the main announcement.

Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch Contest

Now that the wonderful Winnie Griggs has finished her pitching workshop, here’s your chance to try out your skills!

It can be for any heat level or subgenre of romance – spicy to sweet, Inspy, Paranormal, Suspense, straight up Contemporary, Historical and anywhere in between. The contest closes Friday midnight EST. I’ll pick five winning pitches and announce them on the thread. Each of those winners will send me a first chapter. I’ll then judge the first chapters and one person will get me as a mentor for the year. The thread will be here for you to post any questions and to read the winning entries! What are you waiting for? Get pitching!

What: Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch Contest
Where: Eharlequin!
When: One week only – Jan 18th
Who: Unpublished Aspiring authors
How: E-mail me your pitch at donna@donnaalward.com.

This is a fabulous chance- Donna is a talented and generous writer! Friday deadline- gotta be quick!

I’m working on my pitch and my story. I’m seriously behind on my word count targets but the good news is I am getting a grasp on the conflict in my story.  The internal conflict was there all along, built into the characters, but the external conflict was missing. I realised today that something that was part of the story all along, almost background, a subplot with one of the secondary characters, can be a rich source of external conflict. It links deeply into the theme of the story, which is that true family is about ties of love, not ties of blood.

 Now I just have to write it!


Changes… December 5, 2009

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


Back- and procrastinating again (surprise surprise!) October 10, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 7:14 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m back from a fab but too short trip to Australia. Both wonderful and strangely disconcerting seeing family again (ten years older) and revisiting all the old places. Odd staying in my parents home, being a child again. My very English husband surprised me by decing he seriously wants to emigrate.

My body clock is taking a while to recover. I fell asleep exhausted at 9pm last night, only to wake at 1am, ping, wide awake. I lay in the dark trying to get back to sleep for hours, but no luck. My mind is racing with ideas, both writing and non-writing. Too many to be practical, as always. I have that paralysis of wanting to do five things at once, and as I can’t, I spin my wheels and do nothing while I plan. Great way to procrastinate while feeling like I am actually doing something!


Non- writing ideas-

  • the  lagenlook style travel wardrobe I designed and made myself worked so well I’m wondering if I can make a little business making and selling a small range of clothes for lusciously curvy women like me who can’t find anything suitable in the shops. That kept my brain busy for a few hours
  • to fund this- I’m considering selling all the collectable books in my Amazon shop (and all the ones that I haven’t got around to relisting) off on ebay
  • once my elderly mother-in-law doesn’t need us nearby anymore, dh and I may well move back to Australia. So hours of time-wasting fun there looking at property prices and job options and discovering how hard or easy it would be to get permanent residency for English dh.

Writing ideas (yes, there are some!)-

  • rewrite Luk and Emma’s story, using the new ideas I had just before I went away on overcoming the problems of the passivity of the heroine, and the almost too-stupid-to-live plot requirement I was forcing on them. I wrote some more notes on this on the flight over, and think it will work. Luk’s intrusion into her life introduces her to a new world, where she suddenly discovers her power as an attractive woman and is revelling in it. She’s still an innocent inexperienced girl, but sexy and sassy in a sweet naïve way that sends Luk crazy. Needs to be kept very light in tone- this is to be a Modern Heat not a Presents. Luk is 100% alpha, but a slightly softer alpha. Play up the fairytale craziness of it all. Play up that although he has the money and the worldly power, she has the power to arouse his passion and his emotions like no other woman ever has. I also firmed up the black moment and resolution, which was both fuzzy and a little corny before (though I still kinda like the corny resolution!). I’d love to write the first chapter and synopsis for the HMB comp. Which reminds me, must check the deadline for entries!
  • still playing with my other potential MH idea, also a possible for the comp, Mace and Nell’s story. No real new ideas there, but the old idea still seems a goer. I like these characters a lot.
  • tonight’s addition to the mix jumped into my mind from out of nowhere (well, maybe from the thought I’d like to write an Australian set story, and this story has sat simmering on a very back burner for ages). It’s a potential solution to the problems of a story about a nurse in a small rural town, that I plotted and started but never completed back in 2001. Eventually I gave up after rewriting the first chapter several times because I just couldn’t get it to work. (I didn’t know it then, but the problem was the usual beginner writer one- started waaaaaay too early, no wonder it was dull and lifeless!). Also, I created a ridiculously complex plotline, with far too much external conflict, and zero internal conflict. Well, I know how to fix it, I hope. I have simplified the plot, while keeping in the key external elements. And hurray, we have internal conflict! Another concern with it (besides all I just mentioned!) is that even if I wrote it right, it didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Certainly not for any of Mills and Boon’s lines, anyway. It’s got medical elements, but it’s really NOT a Medical; it could be a Sweet, but then I’d have to take out the skinny dipping and the sex; and it is definitely not a Presents or MH, the country setting and storyline don’t work there at all. I think I just realised- it could be a Little Black Dress. As long as they don’t think “We have our Australian writer in Janet Gover, don’t need another one” (the reason M&B rejected Nora Roberts- not that I’m any Nora). Oh, and that minor matter of actually writing the thing and getting it right this time! The longer word count will allow more of the external events I really want to have to stay in the story, not to mention the cast of secondary characters I’d have to kill off for a shorter romance. Very tempted to start this one. But then I won’t be entering the competition.

Now we come to the moment of truth. I didn’t submit to Feel the Heat last year, using the excuse of too much going on at work (true, but still an excuse). I’ve successfully avoided finishing anything I felt was ready to submit with the compliments slip from the Instant Seduction comp. I didn’t submit to the NWS this year, deciding Luk and Emma’s story was too fatally flawed to be worth sending in. Now this new-old story idea will distract me from this year’s HMB Presents/Modern Heat comp.

How long am I going to keep playing this game of not finishing properly and therefore not submitting anything? I know exactly what I’m doing, it’s a ploy to escape submitting anything anywhere, so I don’t have to deal with the pain of being told my writing isn’t good enough. So I can keep on being a wannabee and a couldabeen. Crap. I know I’m not ready for publication right now. My writing really isn’t good enough yet. I also know I am learning, and if I keep writing, one day, I will be there.

But how will I ever realise I’ve cracked it, if I can’t get over this fear of rejection along the way? How will I get feedback on my writing? How will I ever get published, if I won’t send anything off? Maybe if I just keep writing for my own enjoyment, one day I’ll feel I’m ready to do it, eventually I’ll hit that Send button. Maybe.

Or maybe I can make a commitment right now to growing myself as a person and a writer, and just doing it. Soon. Tidy up Luk and Emma’s first chapter. Redo the synopsis. Hit Send. Then play with the other ideas.