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!

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!


Rejection proofing our writing February 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:58 pm
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I planned to treat myself today to a Sunday morning idly surfing writers’ blogs.

I can justify it, it’s still writing related, I might just learn something more I can apply to my writing, and best of all I can be deliciously lazy with a built in excuse.

Not so lazy this morning! I’ve ended up reading and thinking hard about writing and what does and doesn’t work. A link from the fabulous Julie Cohen’s blog sent me to a blog I’d never visited before, that’s going to be a rich source of resources for my writing toolbox- Anne Mini’s Author Author.

She started the New Year with a 22 part series on the reasons stories get rejected on the first page. These came from agents, but I can’t see it’s going to be much different for a publisher accepting direct submissions like HMB. This series is a gem, an entire book’s worth of information on what writers can do to rejection proof their submissions.  We all want our story to be “The One”. The one that will stand out, the one that will get passed up the chain, the one that has the chance of the editor falling in love with it and wanting to read more. This series details the things that going to make it impossible for anyone to fall in love with our story, the submission equivalent of bad breath and body odour on a first date. All the things  to look out for in our manuscripts that could mean that overworked editorial assistant isn’t going to want to read any further. After all, she can afford to be choosy, she has another fifty-something submissions that arrived into the slush pile just this morning!

As I read I kept flipping back to my edit notes for the WiP, seeing so many issues I needed to be aware of when it comes editing time for this story. I’m resisting the temptation to go back and try to fix them now.  On with the first draft is the number one rule right now. But oh boy, those notes I made are going to be so handy later.

As well as as the no-nos, she listed some of the things that can make agents (and editors) more likely to fall in love with a story-

1. A non-average character in a situation you wouldn’t expect.

2. An action scene that felt like it was happening in real time.

3. The author made the point, then moved on.

4. The scene was emotionally engaging.

5. The narrative voice is strong and easy to relate to.

6. The suspense seemed inherent to the story, not just how it was told.

7. “Good opening line.”

8. ”There was something going on beyond just the surface action.”

Fingers crossed I can somehow create some of those wonderful factors! Somehow, I think screening out the negatives is going to be a whole lot easier!


Synopses, pitches- and the dreaded red pen moment yet again February 6, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:58 pm
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bic-cristal-orange-ball-pen-0-2mm-line-width-red The issue of synopsis writing has come up again, on a couple of writing groups and forums. It seems that everyone hates writing a synopsis! But we gotta have them, if we want to sell.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how important they are, and a lot of multi-published writers readily admit that they still suck at synopsis writing. For writers targeting editors like the Mills and Boon Richmond office, where the submission guidelines call for three chapters and a synopsis, probably it’s not that critical. Our writing in the chapters will speak for itself, and the synopsis is just telling the editor whether we have enough plot and conflict to carry off the rest of the story. 

But if we’re trying a publisher or an agent who only want to see a query letter and a synopsis, suddenly it becomes crucial, the only tool we have to show not just the characters and the plot but also our all important “voice”.  Tricky to do in as little as two pages!

Luckily there are some fabulous resources out there on synopsis writing. Kathy Carmichael’s is frequently recommended, and was the one I found most helpful when I was writing my first ever synopsis for the Instant Seduction competition (my God, was that a whole year ago? What happened to all the writing I was supposed to do in the rest of the year?) . Diana Peterfreund gives some laugh- out- loud funny practical advice on synopses  here. I can’t believe I only just discovered her blog, I can see it is going to become another of my excuses for not writing! (“But I’m reading about wriitng, doesn’t that count?” Well, maybe, but not in word count.)  The thing here that particularly grabbed my attention was that she writes the synopsis first, uses it as a road map while writing the book.  A completely different way of thinking about synopses.  It’s what I’ve tried to do on my current story, the most fully plotted one I’ve written. Too soon to say if it’s working or not. I’ve still had masses of off the track writing that will never see light of day in the final version.  But maybe that’s because that mass of unusable writing was what triggered me to want to plan the story more!

I also saw Laurie Campbell’s synopsis workshop highly recommended by Sally on Trish Wylie’s forum. Ack! This was either fatal or lifesaving, depending on how things work out. She isn’t doing a synopsis workshop for a while, but she did have an interesting article on putting together a Pitch , that I read today. I had a go at writing a pitch for the work in progress last weekend, a last-minute thing to enter a contest I’d known about all month (how unusual, I procrastinated again). I didn’t win, of course, ‘cos my pitch was rubbish, but it was useful trying to get the essence of the story in a few paragraphs. I wish I’d read this article first. Beacuse though it’s about writing a pitch, it’s really about writing a damn good romance novel. It focuses on the key elements- characters, goals, motivations, conflict, and resolution.

This is where the red pen moment comes in. I’ve had this niggling doubt about the conflict in my story. I knew it was off. What I have could work, but it just doesn’t feel strong enough. The reason is that the same thing will give both the hero and the heroine their original goal. That throws them together, which is great. But then there’s no convincing reason for them not to be together, without bringing in complicated plot devices and external sources of conflict. If the relationship isn’t at risk, there’s no emotional tension, and no black moment. Reading Laurie’s article has got me wondering if I need to completely rethink the conflict, put their goals more in opposition initially.  Get rid of the villian, who was responsible for a lot of the conflict, and almost make the hero the villian instead. Hmm. It will be tricky. But if I can pull it off, the story will be that much stronger and emotionally satisfying.


A letter! Now what? April 19, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:38 pm
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Well, I did get a letter from Harlequin Mills & Boon about my competition entry this morning, and now I’m not quite sure what to do next! I’d made my writing plans based on not getting anything more than a form email back from them, and I decided to finish and edit (rewrite really) my competition entry, which I know I can make far better than what I originally sent off, and submit it via the slush pile. Now this letter has left me unsure of what my best course of action might be (besides the obvious one of keep on writing and working to make my writing as good as I can get it!).

It looked to me pretty much like a form rejection letter, tweaked a little for the competition entries. But it did say that they felt my writing showed promise, and there were a couple of positive comments handwriiten on the hardcopy of my entry cover letter. I am thrilled to get a little encouragement with my first submission! But it also implies that they don’t want to see more of that story, as the letter enclosed a “With Compliments” slip with an editor’s name on it, to attach to the first three chapters and synopsis of my next manuscript. So now I don’t know what to do.

I do want to finish and re-submit my rewritten contest entry, but I don’t want to “waste” the slip on a story that has already been rejected. I have a finished first draft of another story that needs some serious rewriting, but I think it’s more Modern Heat that Presents, so that would be a different editor, anyway. I have two other sets of characters and situations in mind that could be good Presents stories – one an idea that has been hanging around for a couple of months and was going to be the next story I wrote, the other a minor character I only wrote last week in my contest entry, who is very strong and is demanding his own story. What I don’t want to do is spend ages fiddling around with the competition entry now, only to find that when I finally write the next story and send it in that the editor whose name I have has moved on to a different line. But I don’t want to drop the original story either- I feel I am learning so much from keeping on working on it, plus I feel that I know those characters so well now. So I have a dilemma!

What I am currently thinking is that I can probably finish the first draft of the competition entry in the next few days, then I will set it aside and start working on the next story. But it will take many months before I have the next story finished and good enough to submit. I don’t want to do what I did with the competition and send in something that really needed a lot more work. Or the other option is to go straight onto the rewrite of the competition entry as soon as I have finished the first draft, and send that in when it is properly edited. My concern there is that everything I’ve read about editing suggests setting the story aside for a while once the first draft is done, before going back to edit, I’ve even seen suggestions of as long as a couple of months.

I do wonder how long other writers leave first drafts for before going back and editing. I guess that is a question where the answer will be different for every writer, and also something that more experienced writers who have developed their writing and editing skills may handle differently to someone like me who is still early in my journey (sheesh, I’ve wanted to write since I was fifteen, why did I waste so much time?). Maybe asking these questions about editing is just a distraction from the decision I need to make right now, before I write any more. This letter has thrown my old plans out the window, and thrown me into confusion. I just don’t know what to do.


I decided several hours later, with the help of a few “What the hell are you asking for- get writing the new story!” type comments on the e-Harlequin forum, to just jump into writing another story. Once that is done I can come back and edit my contest story, and see how good I can get it.

I’m not sure which one to go with though. The cousin of my current hero, Antonio the celebrity chef, is an appealing character and he would be a delight to write, but he seems so straightforward  that I can’t see without digging very deep what his inner conflicts would be. He doesn’t really have a story forming around him yet, while the other idea is a little more developed, and scenes from it have been playing in my head for a couple of months now. I think Antonio can wait!

The difficult part is that I have become so immersed in the characters and situation for my contest entry that it’s a massive shock to suddenly pull out from that deep involvement with them and start again with new characters. Dumping Bruno and Rebecca so quickly in to move on to writing the next story feels like breaking off a relationship I’m not quite ready to let go of yet. But scenes with James and Sarah do keep popping into my head….

I’ll have to remind myself, I’m not being unfaithful to Bruno and Rebecca, we’re just “on a break”!

Woo hoo! The title and a possible first line for James and Sarah’s story just popped into my head. Time to start writing, who cares if I’m being unfaithful when a shiny new story is calling my name! But I must finish this one. I definitely don’t want to turn into a serial story dumper. It will be fun to try to apply all that I have learned in the process of writing the competition entry right from the start on a new story.