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!

Long time no blog July 31, 2010

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:41 pm
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It must be a month since I last did a blog post- not good!

I have plenty of excuses, a wedding away, planning the trip to Australia, work insanity, and a dead laptop.

Truth is, I got depressed at the big number birthday coming up soon and all I hadn’t done that was on my “Do before I’m 50 list.” I’m over that now and ready to make a new and exciting “Do before I’m 60” list, that I hope won’t be cause for depression in ten years time!

There has been movement, even if a snail would seem supersonic in comparision. The partial for Lock and Cady’s story is finally close to ready to send.

I need to get Lock and Cady out there so I can start a new Medical story I want to sub in August. I was so determined not to try a Medical, but there’s a medically themed story that’s been niggling at me for years. Every time the idea comes up again I add more to it, and it’s just about ready to write now! My concern was that it might not fit the line as my hero isn’t a doctor, so I was going to reduce the medical contect, play up the community aspect, and target it at Superromance instead. But the Medical editors are actively looking for new writers and are fast-tracking all submissions  made this month before August 24, anything from one chapter and a synopsis to a full. It’s worth a try, though I’m not sure even if I Medical-ise itas much as possible this story will fly as a Medical. Will have to see what the editors think! If I get moving, I cam do one chapter and a synopsis by August 24.

I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past couple of months that I hope I can put to good use in the rewrite and use in the final pass through my partial. I’ve been reading  “Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore a fab craft book  recommended by Michelle Styles. She is so right about it- possibly the best craft book I’ve read.

I treated myself to a read this week, which was an unexpected learning experience, too. Not something on my TBR list at all. I bought a dinky little mini-notebook to use when travelling instead of my PDA which was driving me mad with the tiny screen and keyboard. It’s perfect apart from one thing- it uses a weird Windows operating system that no ebook reader supports, not even Mobipocket which I used on the PDA. All I can read on it are ebooks in either pdf or html formats.

I did have some pdf ebooks, so I transferred them all over and opened one at random to see how it worked. Oh boy, I lucked out! The book was a Blaze, Leslie Kelly’s “Slow Hands”, one of the Harlequin free full-length romance downloads. I possibly wouldn’t have chosen to read the Blaze, though one of my crit group is writing one and hers is fabulously good. I can be just the teensiest bit of a prude, plus I started reading one years ago and the writing was so cringeworthy I didn’t get further than 3 pages. This was different.

Good writing that dragged me straight into the story. A lust-worthy and love-worthy hero. Hot hot sexxoring and plenty of it, but all safely vanilla, and so deeply anchored in emotion and real feeling. Beautiful handling of how the emotional attachment between hero and heroine grew, and the heroine’s emotional journey. A lesson in managing sub-plots so subtly the reader didn’t even realise they were sub-plots, they hooked into the main storyline so neatly. I was reading this book on two levels at once, devouring it like a reader, carried along by the story, but also looking at it as a workshop in how to write a darned good romance.

I strongly recommend this story, and as it’s free, how can you resist!

 

Productive procrastination May 31, 2010

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:19 pm
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Well, that’s what I hope I’ve been doing!

Still no actual work on the rewrite, but I’ve gone through all of the first draft looking at what needs changing and what works. The bad news is- nearly everything needs changing, there’s a lot of work involved. The good news is- the love scenes worked, the black moment made me cry, and the happy ending made me smile. Please God the final version will do that for it’s readers too!

I’ve spent the last two days going right through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed, workshopping the story. Twenty pages of notes later I have a deeper knowledge of the characters and their conflicts, and a load of ideas to power the rewrite.  (And a fifty work pitch too!) I know how I want the completely new first three chapters to go, and I know the ending I have will work, with some tweaking. There’s a swampy middle bit I have not much idea about yet, so I’m hoping that will work out once I get the rewrite started…

I’ve also been reading as many stories as I can from different lines with similarities in the situation and the conflict, whether that’s the secret child, old lovers reuniting, or heroines who’ve been raped in the past. Not to copy other writers, but to see if how they handled it can spark any ideas, show me what I need to make sure I do to make it work.

Liz Fielding’s “Five Year Baby Secret” reminded me that the hero is not just going to be a little annoyed, he’s going to be angry as hell, majorly pissed off when he finds she’s kept his child from him. Donna Alward’s “One Dance With the Cowboy” showed me how reunited lovers will have that same sweet yearning for each other, despite what has come between them. Both those stories showed that the same issues that drove the couple apart in the past will remain unresolved now- and they can only reach their HEA by both dealing with the past issues, as well as their feelings about their separation.

No similarity to my current characters in any way, but a deeply emotional (three tissues needed!) and very hot Superromance- Sarah Mayberry’s “Home for the Holidays”. What was interesting there is that she has the same double BM/HEA I gave my characters- where it looks like things are resolving and they can be happy, then bang, something even bigger comes between them to push them apart. For her heroine it was something totally unexpected, while I hope mine still works even though the reader will know it’s coming.

I’ve just finished an old Presents- Jane Porter’s excellent “The Sheikh’s Virgin”, recommended by my crit group when I asked for stories with a heroine who had been raped. From this I’m getting the shame and yet paradoxical fierce courage of the survivor. My heroine has the shame and guilt, but she needs to show more of the tenacity, fight, and will for life that helped her get through something  so devastating and soul destroying.

Now I have to say- enough of the procrastination. I still have more books to read, but it’s enough.

Tomorrow I start the rewrite. For real. No excuses.

 

Weekend at last! November 21, 2009

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:42 pm
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So it’s back into the editing! I finally got chapter two closer to where I wanted it by Monday night, so this weekend Cinderella gets to go to the ball- it’s on to chapter three.

I did some big structural cuts during the week- cut out great slabs that I liked but didn’t do enough to move the story forward. The word count is right where it should be, but the chapter sure isn’t!

I need to write probably another thousand words to deepen the sensuality and the emotional tension between Luk and Emma, and drip in a little of what happened in the two weeks between chapter two and chapter three, while they were apart. Which means I have to find places I can cut a thousand words elsewhere in the chapter. So that will be hours combing through it, eliminating redundancies and repetitions, tightening up sentence structure, and finding places I can use fewer but stronger words.

Editing is far harder work than letting fly in first draft. But it’s sooooooo satisfying. This is where the story takes it’s real shape, the writing pulls together, it starts to become its deepest truest self.

Trite metaphor, but I just realised how much this editing process is a makeover. My first draft is Cinders, the beauty can’t be seen for the dirt and the rags. Hopefully, by my final version, I will have Ella, transformed into the fullness of all she can be, ready to go to the ball (or be sent off to the editors in Richmond or wherever!)

 

In one of those odd mind jumps, I also had a flash this morning for a way I can improve on my unedited draft for last year’s instant seduction entry. I saw a whole sequence that is so much stronger and better than what’s currently there. I think once I have Luk and Emma’s story done, I might just go back and play with Bruno and Rebecca some more. Though as a rejected story I’m not sure I can resubmit it to Richmond, even extensively rewritten. Carina Press?

 

Thinking of HMB and rejections, I was sad during the week over Harlequin’s decision to start a “self-publishing” section, Harlequin Horizons, and target it at writers with rejected submissions. Maybe a good money-making move but bad bad bad from the point of view of developing writers. Rejections hurt worse than a broken leg, but they make us better writers, send us back to our stories to learn how to make them better. Selling people a shortcut to the dream is selling everyone short for a fast buck. All the working-on-it writers I know in the romance community approach writing in a professional way and wouldn’t consider paying to be published (true self-publishing is a different thing, and is the best choice for many writers who are highly professional, but that’s not what was being offered here). Vanity press have their place, if they are marketed transparently and honestly. But something about the way Hh was being done felt icky and wrong.  It had the sense of something that maybe Harlequin was being foreced into by their parent company, and it seriously underestimated the romance community. Thank goodness, they’ve responded to the huge reaction against this in a positive way. Taken down the ad “Become an author- Harlequin Horizons” that went up on every page of the online writing guidelines at eHarl. Hopefully also rethought the idea to market it on rejection letters (what insensitive b thought that was a good idea?). Thank you Harlequin for being so responsive!

 

Completely unrelated- I discovered a new blog this morning- Kristin Cashore, via her NaNo Pep Talk.  She writes YA fantasy, not romance. I’ve linked to a post about her experience of submitting and getting published. She writes so beautifully and so honestly in her blog, I want to find her books.

Isn’t this so true-

One thing I want to add, though: I’m not saying you have to let your manuscript go NOW, or even SOON. I waited until I felt like I was ready; until I was ready to take the risk. I can’t say what “ready” feels like — I expect it feels different for different people — and it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel like success is assured. “Ready” always contains a little bit of “OMG I AM SO NOT READY.” But it also contains enough “I am ready” for you to be ready.

Oh, good lord. That paragraph was meant to be helpful, I swear. Here, read this poem by Anaïs Nin:

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

For anyone who has work they know they should send out but haven’t yet- isn’t it time? You know who you are.

 

Reading, reading, reading…but not writing September 12, 2009

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:47 pm
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Okay, I confess. I’ve been a total slacker and have done no writing at all this week.

I feel strangely relaxed, like a kid let out of school. I know I’ll start writing again soon, the characters will start nagging me to write their story! But in the meantime, I’m realising just how much pressure I was putting on myself to write.

Somehow, I need to find a balance. Find a way to write regularly and consistently, but without turning it into a miserable, creativity-destroying chore. Somehow, find the joy in writing again. I don’t know how to do that yet. I do know that lately I’ve seen writing as a  miserable task to be completed, rather than a pleasure, apart from the odd moments when I’m in the flow and the words just come like magic.

In the meantime, I’m happy planning a trip back to Australia in a couple of weeks, sewing a suitcase full of clothes to wear (loving expressing that very practical side of my creativity again!), and reading plenty to refill the well.

I just found this link to ten free Mills and Boon ebooks, to celebrate a year of them doing ebooks. Yay! More fab books to read!  And there’s a Modern Heat from Heidi Rice in there! I’m even happier to see they support Mobipocket, the ebook format I use on my PDA so I can read on my commute or wherever, without filling my already ridiculously overloaded bag with paperback books  (I really do carry the biggest tote in the world to work with me everyday!).

So thank you M&B.

 

Modern Heat? Pass me a fan! July 18, 2009

Filed under: What I'm reading — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:49 pm
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9781408909386_Outside_Front_Cover_00000000-145-231-24-jpegOh my, I have just read a brilliant Modern Heat!

I know, I know,  I’m supposed to be working on editing Luk and Emma. But I can claim it as research for my story.

I was looking for a file I wanted and saw my e-books, figured just one chapter of this one wouldn’t hurt, would it? Then, drat her for writing so well, I read straight through until I finished it. A fab example of the perfect use of very strong yet simple internal conflict.

It was a June release here in the UK, Heidi Rice’s Hot-Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal

A delicious Irish hero, the deepest most emotional (gave me a pain in my chest as I read it!) yet 100% believable internal conflict I think I’ve ever come across, a funny feisty heroine swept off her feet into a new world of wealth and glamour, and red-hot sensuality. Hoo boy. What a mix!

Could just be my new measure for the ideal MH story.

 

Now for the real work (and some fun reading!) June 28, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:07 pm
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editingdemotivatorfeb07_med

 I’ve luxuriated all week in a delicious sense of achievement at finishing the first draft of Luk and Emma.

I’ve also read. Bliss! (Well, when I could read. I’ve had sinusitis this week and by Thursday evening I couldn’t even focus my eyes on the page or the screen. Slept for 16 hours straight after taking some knockout strong painkillers. After that I didn’t know or care if it was the sinusitis or the drugs that were making me see double!)

I do need to be careful what I read when I’m in the middle of  writing. I seem to have this sponge-like tendency to unconsciously suck up whatever I am reading and  then it appears in my writing. I know that excuse has been used in some high level plagiarism cases, and I don’t buy it when it’s a word for word lift of a scene! But I have noticed it’s something I do to a certain extent, a character type, a turn of phrase, sneaking into my writing that I know I read somewhere else. I don’t want to just be a washed out copy of the writers I admire, so I decided not to read anything in the same line as I was writing while  was first drafting.

I’ve missed my reading so much! First thing I did when I finished that first draft last Saturday was reach for my To Be Read stacks! Two Kate Hardy Modern Heats, and a LBD (The Farmer Needs a Wife) have been devoured so far. I have Julie Cohen’s Girl from Mars  waiting to liven up my commute this week. Also I’ve bought e-books of the latest Kate Hardy, Natalie Anderson, and Heidi Rice Modern Heats. Though I can’t read those on the train ’til I get another smart phone. I loved my old phone, which did everything, including working surprisingly well as an e-book reader, and I was stupid enough not to notice it being stolen sometime on the Underground section of my commute last week. That must have been one helluva skillful pickpocket! Moral of the story is- keep your bag zipped up when in London.

Actually, this has been a busy week. I visited a hotel on Tuesday, met a woman on Wednesday morning, and was talking to a man at work on Wednesday afternoon. Some connections clicked in my brain, I put them all together, and I now have a full synopsis written for my next story, even GMC charts for the characters, all ready to start writing. Woot! I can’t wait! That will probably be my entry for the new I Heart Presents contest that’s being announced July 6.

Anyway, It’s not time to start a new story yet. Now it’s time to read something else. Luk and Emma in first draft.

I’ve spent some time this week thinking about plot and character and motivation and all that stuff. I’ve done most of the homework for Kara Lennox’s Plot Doctor workshop, and it’s helped me dig a lot deeper and find some of the weak spots that really need fixing. I have a five page single spaced synopsis, that seems to vaguely make sense and hasn’t sent my crit group screaming. Now I need to find out if I have something that can be made into a readable story. I’m anticipating 95% dreck, 5% something I can work with.

Sure hope I am not disappointed!

 

In praise of Morning Pages April 27, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:22 pm
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“Morning Pages” are a practice suggested by artist and writer Julia Cameron in her wonderful book The Artist’s Way . Basically, the idea is to write three pages, longhand, first thing on waking up.  She describes them as a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self. They are a trail that we follow into our own interior, where we meet both our own creativity and our creator.

The idea is that by connecting with our first thoughts, the thoughts closest to our unconcious mind as we have just woken from sleep, we can make a connection with the things that are most important to us, and with our creativity. Those secret (even from ourselves) hopes, dreams or ideas that can be hidden by our preoccupations, our busyness, our beliefs ablout what we “should” be doing, or by our self-censorship. The idea isn’t to write anything usable on the story, they aren’t meant to be seen by anyone else. The idea is simply to write whatever in in our minds, pure stream-of-consciousness, with no blocking, no censoring, just writing, bypassing the Inner Editor. Some days this may be just a stream of whinges about family, work, or money worries, no brilliant insights. That’s okay, as getting those moans and complaints out the way can clear space for other thoughts. Other days I really connect with something, getting past blocks on a story, or bringing up new ideas.

I have to admit, I haven’t been doing my morning pages consistently, or even “properly”. I have been writing them on my PDA on the train on the way to work in the morning. Some mornings I skip, and purists would say I was putting blocks in the way by typing then not handwriting them, and by only doing them when I had already been up and doing for over an hour. My excuses- it just seemed too hard, given how tired I always am, to get up even earlier and write; and I am naturally a evening person, anyway, so surely evening writing is just as good for me.

But this week, I have been blocked on my story. Part of me was telling myself to just jump in and write with the information I already had from my pre-writing last weekend: another part kept saying No, you need to work out a way around that massive plot hole first, or you’ll only get stuck further in. Even my usual “aha-moment” generator, a long soak in the bath, wasn’t working this week. Maybe because it’s been a particularly busy week at work and I’m working on a challenging project that has been using a lot of my brain (how I wish I could find another job that was a no-brainer but paid the same!) Last night, before I went to sleep, I asked my unconcious mind to show me the best way to deal with this, either make it clear that I should just start writing the story, or show me how to work around the problem, or tell me what else I should be doing instead. Reading lots of yummy published romances, or working through a couple of the writing books on my shelf were other options.

I woke up this morning with one idea in my head, to find my big notebook that is always by my bed but hasn’t been touched for months, and do proper handwritten morning pages, before I spoke to my husband, before I even got out of bed to go to the bathroom. Being Sunday with nothing urgent I had to jump up and do, that was possible. On a weekday I set the alarm for the last possible minute I can leave it until and know I can still make it to my train on time. It means if one little thing goes wrong, from the cat throwing up to my husband being in the bathroom at the wrong time, I’m stressed before the day has barely started.

Well, the morning pages worked- thank you subconscious mind! Half an hour and six almost illegible scrawled pages later, I had what is hopefully the answer to my plot hole problem, which works even better than my original idea as it also strengthens another aspect of the story, makes the villian even more Machievellian, and makes the hero and heroine less antagonistic and brings them closer together as they work to solve the problem.

As I said in my last post, I am trying to source and read first published stories by now established writers.  This week I only had time for one, but it was a good one- Annie West’s first published romance A Mistress for the Taking (Modern Romance) .  Something that struck me about this story (as well as the strong Australian voice, and the sizzling attraction between hero and heroine from the moment they met!) was that the hero and heroine were not enemies, as is so often the case in Modern Romance / Presents stories, but were working together to defeat a common enemy. All that overcoming initial antagonism stuff can get a bit wearing after too many stories using it, and this was refreshingly different, an element I wanted to see if I could include in some of my stories too. Maybe that was in my mind, because what came out in the morning pages today was both a possible soloution to the plot problem with the current story, plus another twist to a similar situation which can make a completely new story in its own right.

A lot of benefit from just thirty minutes I could have chosen to spend sleeping in instead. I don’t expect I will get such great results every day, or even any other day, but I have set my alarm half an hour earlier for tomorrow. I hope I can make myself sit up and do morning pages and not keep hitting the snooze button. Maybe if I do this my wriitng time on the train can be used actually writing story, rather than complaints about being tired and about my job or my husband!