Writing Wednesday: 10 Things You Might Not Have Known About my Blurb to Book Entry

Getting a late start this morning. Please excuse my post tardiness!

I’ve been reflecting on my Blurb to Book journey as I’ve been busy selling my self-published book at a conference and getting back into revisions for my manuscript. It’s been a wild ride thus far. I thought it would be interesting to share a few things about my Blurb to Book manuscript and journey thus far.

1. Always the Last to Know is part of a series. This is the…4th story in the series that I’ve started. I entered the second story I attempted in the series into So You Think You Can Write last year as Love Thy Enemy. Set in a fictional small town in northern Georgia, the Always books (as I’ve been calling them) are deeply emotional stories about God’s forgiveness and love and how He truly is a God of second chances. I’m hoping that Love Thy Enemy, and the many other stories I have set here, will eventually be published along with Always the Last to Know.

2. I started Always the Last to Know a couple days before I entered Blurb to Book…along with the 5th story in the Always series. I was torn between entering my 3rd story, or starting fresh with one of my other Always ideas. I whipped up blurbs and first pages for Always the Last to Know and book 5 and a blurb for story 3 and sent them to my critique buddies. My critique buddies both picked Always the Last to Know.

3. My main characters are Cordelia Adams and Winston St. James. My inspiration for Cordelia is January Jones from Mad Men and Winston’s is a hot tan guy I found in a Google search for men with hazel eyes. I used pictures for each on previous Writing Wednesday posts.

5. This story deals with some heavy issues–infidelity, fertility issues, custody disputes, etc. The original idea for the story called for a widow trying to adopt a child to be faced with a soft hearted cop who has to tell her she may not be able to adopt the baby she’s come to love. The infertility angle evolved from a combination of influences. One was a study I was doing on barrenness in the bible for a non-fiction project. The other were the comments on a blog I like. The blog’s author asked people to write down things they wanted her to pray for them about. I was so shocked at how many of these women were struggling with infertilityAs I began to research the topic, I found that miscarriage and infertility were a lot more common than I knew. The next thing I knew, Cordelia’s character started opening up to me about how fertility issues played a part in her decision to adopt.

6. I had to change a *major* plot element to the book which meant adding a *villain.* In my original synopsis and ending of chapter three, I had my hero doing something that has repercussions for later in the story (in other words, it bites him hard in the butt). The editors thought that it made him look bad to have him do it. But it had to be incorporated somehow because what he uncovered had to come out in order for the black moment to be as black as can be. So I pulled out my cast of characters for the series and found a minor character who wouldn’t mind getting his hands dirty in order to win. It turns out having another character do the dirty work gave me another angle I could exploit. It’s different than what I planned, and exactly right for this story (and maybe a future one).

7. Speaking of the editors’ advice, another suggestion of the editors really strengthened the story. They thought the characters were too antagonistic in the beginning. I knew I needed to keep the tension high and show that they were on different sides, but being able to add in some attraction and connection. Figuring out how to soften them helped me to dig a little deeper into Winston’s character. I originally wanted him to be more laid back, the type to crack jokes, but that didn’t fit with the book or who Winston turned out to be. By really examining his motivation as well as the goal, I found that Winston wouldn’t be so antagonistic toward her or as threatened by her claim to the baby. This allowed his character to be more calm and levelheaded in the situation (and a little of his humor peaked through to try and diffuse a tense situation).

8. I cut a scene–then used it anyway. This time around, I’ve decided to do a Cutting Room Floor document that houses all the parts I cut out of the original manuscript. I had a scene in chapter two where Winston is working that I cut because I knew it was important to keep th two main characters on the page at the same time as much as possible in the beginning. I wasn’t going to use it, but then I realized that it revealed a lot about Winston’s past and why raising his niece is so important to him. He sees a lot of himself in a character he encounters in that scene. Moreover, I found a way to use that encounter to help Winston resolve some of his emotional conflict later. So I put it back in a couple chapters later.

9. I keep having characters that run to think about things and sort out their issues. This is the second book it’s come up in. This is especially funny because I’m not a runner. I used to run all the time in high school. Give me my Nikes and my headphones and I was golden. But now you can’t pay me to run. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

10. I saved a confession for last. I stopped writing after every deadline. EVERY. DEADLINE. It was fear. I entered my first page and I wrote for a few days but then stopped. I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d make the next round. I hadn’t made it past round one of a contest since high school (which were apparently my glory days–a sad commentary). There were over 300 entries and only 75 spots. The last few days before the Round 2 announcement, I started writing again. I was thrilled to see my name in with others moving to the next round. After that, I wrote and rewrote until I had three chapters and an acceptable synopsis to turn in at the 11th hour. Then I stopped writing. Again. There was no way I would make the top 30 and be invited to submit the full manuscript. My target goal was to get to the round with feedback and I had done that. Again, a few days before the announcement, I started writing again. I really liked the story and I wanted to know what happened next. Then I found out I made the final round. After celebrating, it suddenly sank in that I had to finish a book in two months–two busy months. Between ladies days, a singles’ conference, finding out I need to move at the end of this month, finding a new place, busy season at my job, and other turmoil and upheaval, time has moved swiftly. I’m still scribbling away, making sure I’m putting my best work on the page. I’m ecstatic to have made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I do know that by August 30th, I should know the fate of Always the Last to Know. Either way, it’s been a fun ride and I’ve learned so much about myself and my writing process.

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Writing From Experience…

I had an idea on my way to the Central Florida Romance Writers meeting on Saturday, February 2nd for a story in the Always series, and I wanted to try and share a bit of the process of how I come up with ideas. The only problem with this is that I came up with this idea a bit differently than usual. Luckily the past week also yielded a  completely new idea, so I can give you two different ways I come up with them. On my way to the CFRW meeting, I realized that over a year has passed since my car accident. That accident was one of the most terrifying incidents of my life and effects the way I drive to this day. Traffic was semi-heavy and there was some rain on the road, not at all the conditions when I had my accident. As I began to reflect on my accident and the surrounding events and remember other bad accidents involving family members and drunk drivers that didn’t end as well (yes, the other driver was drunk at the time), I began shifting my experience around and around in my brain, playing a game of “What if?” with  the accidents. What if I hadn’t survived that accident? What if it was a family member of mine that received those frustrating notices of continuance, dragging out the trial of the drunk driver that had killed their loved one? Drunk driving convictions are far too lenient, even in cases of vehicular manslaughter; what if the person responsible for the accident was released and my family member saw them somewhere? What if they asked for forgiveness? As Christians, my family would have to forgive them; but how?

I had the framework for the concept of the story before this trip: a young woman who holds a man responsible for her sister’s death and runs into him. He sees it as divine intervention, as an opportunity to make amends and to ask her forgiveness. But as I was on my way to the meeting, it finally entered my head to use my personal experience, split among a few characters, to convey it this way. I know that car accidents have been used in movies and books frequently, but by using details of my own accident, I can make it both more realistic and more unique.

The brand new idea started out when I was reading about one of my favorite romantic tropes: the marriage of convenience. I love this trope, but it’s been done to death by far better writers than me. I thought about writing one of my own, but I knew if I did, I would have to come up with a fresh take on the idea somehow. So as I sat doing sums at work, I let my mind wonder across all the reasons that a person could be looking to get into a marriage of convenience that I’d ever read about, and my main male character began listing them to my heroine as reasons he thought she was proposing a marriage of convenience to him. My heroine refuted every reason he came up with, exclaiming that he read too many romance novels. “Actually, I watch too many soap operas and Lifetime movies with my mother,” he retorted, nonplussed, and continued to name reasons until she spilled why she wanted a marriage of convenience, illiciting an argument from him that she wasn’t going to be happy with the results if she went forward with her plans. I wrote out the scene and put it away to mull over where I could go with the story. Once I knew what my heroine was after, a slightly different take on the trope began to come together for me. Even though I have never extended anyone a marriage of convenience, my heroine’s motivation for offering one to the hero, and the  reason he tries to refute her notions, are both my own sentiments, sentiments I have been wrestling with for some time.

Those are two examples of how I come up with stories. How do you come up with your ideas?

In other writing related news: I joined RWA and the local affiliate chapter, Central Florida Romance Writers, this weekend! I’ve sent in two reviews over at Harlequin Junkie, and I’ll post links when the are up. I’ve also extended one of the three scenes that I identified as needing extensions for Delivering Justice. I am still plugging away and trying to make the manuscript sing. I should know this week if I was selected as an entry into the Blind Speed Dating agents round, and if not, I’ll be submitting DJ around on my birthday. There’s a lot to do either way.

Off to a busy day at the office, but I’m looking forward to sharing more reviews here, as well as more about my writing and writing related news.

XOXO,

Erica

It.Is.Finished!

Yes, this.

Yes, this.

I’ve finally completed NaNoWriMo! For the first time in many failed attempts (some NaNo rebel style, some textbook), I completed 50k words, writing each day, on the same story. Mallory and Jake managed to take me on a great ride, one that I’m still taking. But I wanted to take a moment and breathe through this accomplishment, this milestone.

I never thought I could get 50K words on the page in 26 days, and it’s been surreal for me. There were a lot of things that contributed to my success, most of which I’ve mentioned here already, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate.

1. I outlined. This is not only my first year outlining for NaNoWriMo, but my first real attempt at outlining ever. I’m addicted to get the premise and major plot points on paper now. It guides the writing and keeps me focused so that every morning, I have some inkling of what needs to happen in a scene today.

2. I had a reader. My reader/accountability buddy kept me on track in a big way. Knowing that I had to turn over those pages kept me writing, and trying to write well. I felt so accomplished when she laughed at the right lines and threatened to murder me if I didn’t hurry up and write the next scene when I left her hanging on the cliff. I could actually gauge if my hooks worked with a reader, which helped me decide how to proceed.

3. I followed a routine. I got up each morning and put my butt in my writing area (there isn’t actually a chair down here). It didn’t matter what time I went to sleep, how unsure I was of where I was going next–I sat my butt down and wrote. Sometimes, after I got the rusty water words down and ideas were flowing better, I backspaced over the drivel and saved my reader from having to slog through it. I didn’t let a crap storm of awfulness stop me from continuing, but having that reader made sure I got rid of the really crappy stuff.

4. I allowed myself to edit. I’m not the type of writer who can write all the way through without looking back, put the manuscript away, then gasp in horror at what I’ve written a few weeks later. I read my output each day just like my reader. If it’s just a matter of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors, I fix them immediately. If a key transition is missing, I will either add it or note it for my revisions, depending on the size of it. I took advantage of Saturdays when I had more time to go back and add things in. I did what I knew I needed to do, just enough to keep the inner editor off my back. There are still too many weak verbs and tense things to fix, but making the surface changes helped me not to get bogged down in deep editing. My only rule? Don’t take away from the word count if possible.

5. I chose to write a story that I loved. I loved the idea for Delivering Justice from the moment I began working it over in my head. I loved the characters and the setup. I was excited at the opportunity to write something that was funny and suspenseful and a little cheesy. I wanted to write about cars exploding and criminals and undercover agents. I was looking forward to the challenge of remembering who was injured where. I was also open to the surprises–Luka and his showdown with Jake on the train to Orlando instead of tracking them down in Florida being my favorite–and throwing in more suspense of more kissing when I got stuck (which ALWAYS worked in this story–when in doubt, kiss it out…or blow it up 😀 ).

Bonus: I had fun. I’m usually so concerned about getting a draft right that I never get it finished. My characters are always so serious and brooding, so insecure and a hot mess train wreck. But Mallory and Jake, and their friends, aren’t. Mallory is a little neurotic and afflicted with verbal diarrhea, but she’s also an established businesswoman who will do anything to protect those she loves (including crawling into an air duct with nine millimeter handgun!), and Jake, while serious and by the book, is a former fat kid with a sweet tooth whose loyalty is unshakeable. I let the characters who wanted to be funny be funny. If a character had a thought totally incongruous to what was happening around them, I let them have it. If one went off having epiphanies about their relationship too soon, I kept it (I can move it later). If Mallory and Jake wanted to play kissy face with a hit man on their trail…you get the idea.

I started out the month with the notion that I wanted to laugh and gasp and nearly cry when I read this story, even if it was so awful it never saw the light of day again, and I ended up with a story I think is really special.

The next time I write, I’ll post an excerpt for you guys to read!

XOXO,

Erica

On (Not) Wimping Out

The past three days have been hard writing days for yours truly. I didn’t like what I wrote for Friday’s words, I wrote less than a thousand words at 10pm last night (meaning I wasted all of my morning writing hours–all four of them!), and this morning, I’m struggling again to get words on the page. With a manuscript that stands at a little more than 44,500 words, I am losing my momentum on it. The doubts are beginning to creep in: is the suspense element strong enough? Is the romance element strong enough? I haven’t gotten these characters on the same page in too many pages. When is she going to tell him she loves him? Is he going to tell her he loves her first? How are the conflicts going to be realistically resolved so they can be together (I resolved one conflict last night. Whew! Only one or two more to go)? How is this all going to end?

Other than these doubts, I’ve been dealing with minor characters trying to take over the story, awkward attempts at sensual scenes, and the ever looming realization that if I target Harlequin romantic suspense, I still have 20,000 words beyond NaNoWriMo to account for. Gah! No wonder I’m plastered to the ceiling! So. Much. Pressure!

Then I received a wonderful piece of advice from Sarah M. Anderson’s online workshop on revision (among a million other great pieces of advice in the forum). She reminded all of us that the holidays is not the time to send in a manuscript, as many editors are in and out of town, and requested manuscripts and establish author manuscripts tend to get priority. She told unpublished and unrequested authors to hold off until the new year, to use the next month to polish and revise. I had planned to do this initially, but I was fighting the impulsive side I had that wanted to hit send on this manuscript on December 5th and get the waiting started already. Hearing her words, in effect, gave me back a few weeks to get the story like I wanted.

I’m going to finish NaNoWriMo, and have all the major scenes, plot points, and resolutions/endings in the manuscript. I will continue on until the close of business November 30th, even if I have hit 50,000. But after that, I’m setting it aside until Monday December 10th. I am just going to get the things I still need to get on paper on the page, then I’ll go back and extend scenes that need to be elaborated on, fix word choices, find grammatical areas, deep clean each chapter…whatever editing tricks and tools float my boat. Then I’ll add in my chapter headings and make sure it’s properly formatted. Finally, I’ll develop my query letter and synopsis. Beginning December 10th, not now. Right now, all I need to do is get the words on the page in a fun way that keeps me motivated for at least 5,000 more words.

I’ve always had a problem ending things, of letting them be done so I can move on to the next step. I’m not a finisher. The problem is usually that fear chokes me. I am determined not to let fear choke me so close to my goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect; I have an entire month to sit with it and perfect it. Right now, it just has to get done.

Send me prayers and encouragement for better writing days and to finish NaNoWriMo strong and still proud of what I’ve accomplished.

How are you holding up this month?

XOXO

Erica

So You Think You Can Write?…I Did!

You guys, sorry for the LONG hiatus, but I’ve been busying doing a few writer things I think you should know about. First, I’ve been writing reviews over at HarlequinJunkie.com. I have loved Harlequin romance novels since I was a teenager, and I jumped at the chance to review their books on a site. I get at least nine books a month to review, which means my plate is always full of exciting new books to read and review. You can find my reviews by looking for reviews with a tag of “Erica.” My latest review is of A Beauty Uncovered by Andrea Laurence. I will be establishing a page where I will provide links to my reviews, etc.

Secondly, I did something slightly spur of the moment and submitted my 2011 Camp NaNoWriMo romance to Harlequin Mills Boon’s So You Think You Can Write Competition. There are over six hundred entries, and only 50 full manuscripts will be requested, so I don’t know how far I will get, especially since I didn’t let myself think too much before I wrote the pitch and hit submit on the last possible day, but I really believe in this story. If it doesn’t win and I don’t hear anything back from editors by the time they have followed up after the contest, I will publish it here. If you want to read the pitch and first 5000 words (and leave me some comments!), you can read it here. Stay and check out some other first chapters; I’ve read a few really good ones myself.

Lastly, I have been trying to finish my final edit for the book before I pass it to an editor for the final FINAL edit. It’s hard letting go, but I can see that the parts I’ve finished have been polished as much as they can be before I cross the line into over editing. I am hoping to have it turned over in another week or two.

Between all of this and increased work responsibilities, I’ve been neglecting my blogs, but I wanted to let you all know what’s going on with me and pledge to be a much better blogger. I will return at least once a week for Writer Wednesdays, to share progress, ponder writer issues, and just hear all about what’s going on with all of you. Promise.

XOXO

Erica

“Finished” Products

My dad is turning out to be a terrible client for my new editing venture (sorry, Dad, but it’s true). Since this is my first time on the otherside of the writer/editor divide, I’m learning a lot about why editors get so frustrated with writers sometimes. We aren’t the mean baddies that I people make us out to be.

The issue with my dad, and perhaps with a lot of writers, is that he doesn’t know how to let his work be finished. Before he sent me his manuscript, he told me he was giving it a last thorough looking over and he was done with it. I would be able to work my editing magic on it and send it back with the changes. I began reading shortly after I received the book, on my birthday. He texted the next day that he was changing the opening of one chapter to add in some things. DAD! NO! When you submit it to the editor, you are supposed to be finished–ish.

From what I have gathered about this process, through reading blogs and other helpful resources, along with reading his manuscript, is making sure the chapters are correctly organized, word choice is superior, content flows/ is structured correctly from one point to another, transitions are smooth, and there are no gaping holes in the content. The only rewriting that should need to be done is to clarify or expand where necessary. I can offer suggestions, but I’m not writing the book, merely editing. I consider myself to be a literary nurse; he’s the doctor. Apparently, he’s one of those doctors who is always interrupting the nurse as she checks vitals to do another surgery (I don’t think such doctor’s exist, but it’s possible).

I have a hard time letting a piece be finished myself. I’ve talked about that here. However, there has to come a point in time when you decide you’ve taken the piece as far as you can without another set of eyes on it to read for clarity, continuity,  fluidity, and word choice. I submit to you that the time to be finished is before you send it to an editor.

But then, maybe I’m wrong on what an editor does. Maybe I’m making this too simple or too complex. Tell me about your experiences with editors, and when you consider a piece you are working on finished. I’d love to hear your thoughts!