writing advice

I love reading. I know that’s like having an space physicist tell you he likes staring at the stars. Sort of … DUR. How could a writer write without being a voracious reader? But I’m seriously digressing.

I have loved reading series. I think VC AndrewsFlowers in the attic was the first series I read from start to finish. I fell in love with the children. Ached for a forbidden love between siblings that was so real and wrong and debilitating. I couldn’t get enough of these dark series to discover what life would throw at them.

About a decade ago I found Anne McCaffrey. I LOVE science fiction stories and new worlds. So it was no surprise when I stumbled into her Freedom series and read all four books in a weekend. Her world building skills are amazing and I just had to find out how these human and aliens thrust on to a new world not only survived, but thrived and fell in love. *sigh* Great series if you enjoy a little romance with your science fiction. That sit front and center on my keeper shelf.

Now I’m on the other side of the fence. I’m looking at my own stories. It’s really hard for me to spend so much time with my characters and to walk away. I find I leave the stories open ended enough to allow for another adventure. Sometimes with the same characters and sometimes with secondary characters that want their own story told. I enjoy writing series. It just seems natural to me. Which works out well in this market as it appears that’s what publishers are looking for. It’s hard to send in a submission to an agent or editor without knowing what the next book will be or where you’re going to take the story line.

It is rare to pick up a book these days without finding out it’s part of a series. I didn’t think I minded it until I realized that the last four books I purchased were part of a series. This isn’t bad. I really love the authors. But here’s the quandry, I’m finding that I’m not enjoying the second books in the series as much as the first. Boo. I’m not happy about it. Pleeeeease let me reassure you … it’s neither the author nor the story … it’s ME! I know it. I feel like I’m not allowing myself to fall into these stories. What’s wrong with me? I loved the series enough to take a chance on the next book.

Where is the disconnect? Maybe I’m reading too many books in the same genre. I don’t know. Of course I had to throw it out there and ask how you feel with this new trend of everything going to series? Are you happy to jump into the next book and find out what the characters have been up to since you’ve been away? I’m beginning to wonder if I’m in the minority here.

What’s in a name? Everything I say. I can’t start on a book until I have figured out the perfect name for my characters. Never mind that I know very little about the story or about where I’m going save for a very vague map of where I’ll end up.

I have to have names.

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback about my science fiction story “A Touch of Lilly”. People love the story. What they’re not enjoying are the odd descriptions of aliens and names of planets and such. Interesting. It never occurred to me that I could drive people crazy by reading weird names.

Kind of silly that I didn’t think of that since I’m one of those readers that actually “says” every word I read in my head. I have a hard time enjoying a story if I can’t decipher the pronounciation of every character. But here’s the thing I think that makes wrirting different. I created the characters/places/aliens. They’re logical in my head. Silly I know. But there it is.

Here are some of the aliens and names in “A Touch of Lilly” …

Xerick
Ka’al
Braugtot
Drikspa
Thaegan
ba’alkin dagger
Znedu
Beta Mrenn
Ickbata
Krystallos Three

That’s most of them. I’m sure there are more. What do you think? Difficult to pronounce? Would they drive you crazy as you stumble through them in a romance?

What’s really interesting is that I pride myself on finding new and inventive words when I’m creating a new world. My intention is not to create a stumbling block–just the opposite in fact. I just want to create a something new and different that the readers can fall in love with. But now I’m wondering if I’ve gone a bit far. What do you think? Have you put down a book because you couldn’t get past the names the author chose?

Here’s an excerpt from one of Lilly’s encounters with an alien:
“Happy you make with human leader?”

Lilly wanted to laugh at the ridiculous interpretation the translator had made of the Ickbata’s come-on line clicking and popping in her ear. In her relaxed state, her energy had filled the air. Just as well, she could use a little distraction and the televid certainly wasn’t providing it.

She smiled over at the Ickbata’s hopeful expression as he slithered onto the stool beside her. They weren’t bad little aliens if one didn’t mind the smell of leather. “Kal auct ral tsk, pa?” Buy me a drink, stranger? It was a question she could ask in the twelve most common languages.

“Several. If that’s your wish,” the Ickbata clicked, moving closer. One of his scaly appendages snaked along her thigh-high boot. “If your body was sexy, press me against it?” It was the contact males craved when they were near her. The energy was power and power meant control.

Lazily, Lilly trailed a finger down his arm. The flesh rippled and she watched with satisfaction as the Ickbata’s jade eyes glazed in a sexual fog.

I didn’t know. How could I? I was just an innocent reader floating along on the river of the story the author chose to weave. I was happily ignorant.

But not now.

Now I’m a writer. I’m learning all those “don’ts” that come with writing a story. Don’t blather. Don’t name characters with no purpose. Don’t include scenes that don’t reveal new information to the reader. And … for goodness sake’s DON”T move from one character’s head to another. This is called “head hopping” and it’s not allowed.

Or is it?

This is a question authors ask themselves all the time. The fact is, readers don’t know this whole head hopping/point of view discussion exists. Really, they aren’t aware the hero can’t be thinking how beautiful the heroine is when the author is writing a scene from the heroine’s point of view. Authors know this. Editors know this. But the reader? Not so much.

Point of View (POV) purists will staunchly stand in front of the line drawn in the sand and say “No. No. No. One scene. One character’s head.” They believe there is no other way to write. Any other way is wrong. And with this comes the line break. If an author wants to offer the reader a view of another character’s thoughts within the same scene then they MUST have a blank line to alert the reader there’s been a change before continuing the scene.

And to this I say pffffft…

As a reader I find the blank line without a change in time or place really annoying. It interrupts the flow of my reading. I want it to just flow. Which means … I expect the author to seamlessly roll me from one character’s head to another. There are many techniques to do this which I’m not going to go into now, but I really admire an author who can do this without breaking the flow of the scene or pulling me from the story.

(Of course when I realize they did it, I stop and re-read to see how they managed it. 🙂 )

Some editors and/or publishers won’t let you get away with it. Why? I assume my readers are smart and can totally figure out who’s thinking what. I don’t think I need a big arrow pointing to the moment to say “Wait … pay attention … I don’t want to lose you here … Someone else is going to jump in here with internal dialogue.” Seriously. Cut me some slack.

I wish more publishers would allow their authors the creativity of changing POVs. And I’m not talking four times (because that totally drives me insane as well). But one seamless switch within the body of the scene without a line break just makes for good reading in my opinion.

I gladly welcome yours.

After I’ve spent months writing a story and even more time pouring over it and editing so each sentence, each paragraph paints a vivid emotional picture for the reader, I send my story off to a beta reader.

I usually have one person reading for typos and misspellings (shhhh … don’t tell anyone, but this writer is the world’s WORST speller) and grammatical errors and a second reader checking for pacing and general story problems.

After all that is done I send it off to my editor.

I have to admit. When I first started writing, once the story was finished I was done with it. I didn’t want to look at it again. I felt I’d already done the best I could developing a scene and moving the story along. I know, silly, but it’s how I used to feel.

Now it’s different. Sooooo different. I LOVE editing. I thoroughly enjoy taking another look at that scene and discovering a better word, a unique turn of phrase that will resonate with the readers.

I’m currently working on edits for “Bonded Souls”. This short novel has already been published and been out in the world. I’m very proud of it. But now it’s with a new publisher. It’s back in my hands and I’m getting an opportunity to make it even stronger by adding more layers to my characters, Jayda and Cole who also are in the story “Bonded by Need”. I’ve discovered more about them and I can add that to this story.

It’s fun. I love it.

I know sometimes writers find this part of the publication process difficult, but not me. I’ve had “easy” edits with nothing more difficult than changing a word here or there. And I’ve had major edits where I totally forgot to tell the reader about a character flaw in my hero. Still … I enjoyed the process.

But really, I get a total kick out of saying … I’m working on edits. Because it means another story is on its way to publication!

It’s not like you have to bonk me over the head with it … okay, you totally do. But eventually, it will sink in. What is “it” this time? Well, it’s the writing method that has finally gotten me to go “ohhhhh…”

You see there are two schools of thought about writing.(prolly more, but I’m only dealing with two today)  1) The write the story of your heart school and 2) Write for the market school. When I first started writing I knew nothing about the market and I spent a year writing stories I would love to read. They didn’t sell. (Of course it never occurred to me that the writing sucked eggs … but that’s a blog for another time.) In my mind, I wasn’t fitting what the market was clamoring for.

I’m all about research, so I set on my merry way to figure out what readers were buying and what publishers were contracting. I stumbled upon erotic romance. Now I love reading erotica. How hard would it be for me to write a story I loved and open the bedroom door? It wasn’t. *poof* The Healer’s Garden was born! Then came the Tilling Passions series … wonderfully fun and challenging to write. Ya know, with the whole “stand alone, but tie a suspense thread” through the whole series. A challenge and a joy to write.

And through all this I watched and learned what readers were buying, what they were looking for … so to speak. (Though as any publisher or writer will tell you, there really is no crystal ball and things could change with the next phase of the moon.) Anyway, I jumped feet first into an anthology of wolf shifters. I knew nothing about them. But I knew erotic stories of furry shifters were big sellers. *poof* Blue Moon Rising was born. (Okay, it’s not like *poof* because there was a TON of research involved, but you get the idea.)

I fell in love with them. I’m now in the middle of a three book shifter menage series. But I’m going to say something that’s probably not a good thing to admit … I’m stalled. I mean I love this series, well, the premise of this series. But the finer details ellude me. And I think I figured out why.

Instead of starting with the whole “what if…” I’m thinking “I need to write a story about a shifter who has two partners.” THEN I’m trying to figure out the story. And this just isn’t working for me. With every other book I thought “What if a virus killed off the male population?” or “What if drugs were running up the Maine coast?” or  “What would happen if someone got involved in the Internet porn industry?”

See the difference?

I do.

And apparently so does my muse. She seems to have taken a vacation until I stop writing what I think will sell and writing the stories in my head and heart. At the moment, those two things aren’t meshing. It is a balance. And I will eventually find it. In the meantime, I’m off to haul my margarita-drinking, cabana-boy-flirting, toes-in-the-sand muse back to her corner of my very messy desk. She needs to get her butt in gear and fall in love with these shifters as much as me!

But before I go, I am curious … how do you choose your stories? or do they choose you?  

So this week I got another big “R”. The bane of writers. Yep, a rejection. Ba da – da da. (That was supposed to be that ominous music.)

This particular manuscript has been bumping around for over 2 years. It has been written, rewritten and edited by several beta readers. It has been through several agents. One of them calling me on the phone to request the full manuscript. (That was an exciting day.) And it has been rejected by countless editors.

*sigh*

There was a time when rejections really bothered me. They caused a setback that could keep me from writing for days. But that’s not the case anymore. I’m sure it has more to do with the fact that I am published. I don’t feel that desperation I once felt to get my writing out there. It’s out there. I’m writing stories I know will find a home.

But this story? It’s a goooood story. It’s different from what I usually write. It’s not erotic romance. It’s a romantic suspense that includes a mysterious FBI agent and a stalker and a couple of murders and … really, I just love this story. I want it to find a good home with someone who will love it as much as I do.

But this rejection has made me sit back and re-evaluate the story. There’s something missing. Something that isn’t quite right about it. I’ve learned a lot about writing. More than I knew when I first sat down to pen this manuscript and even more since it had its first rewrite.

So I’m not bummed. (Okay, that’s a totally lie … I was completely disappointed when I got this rejection, but I’m over it.) I see this as a challenge to pull the manuscript apart. Look at it scene by scene and really see if my writing is up to snuff. After the rejection an editor/author offered to take a look at it and gave me some very valuable feedback about the beginning … too slow. Yeah, I was married to a prologue that needs to go.

Which then begs the question … what else needs to go? What else needs to be tightened? Wow, now instead of being bummed out that my baby was rejected I’m now being challenged. Challenged to mine the beauty of a diamond from the rough story sitting before me. Challenged to throw out the sagging scenes that slow the pace. Challenged to step up and make this story the best writing I’ve ever done.

Wow. That’s a totally different mind set than thinking I’m not good enough or that this story will never find a home. I’m finishing up another story and when that’s sent out I’m sitting down with this manuscript and tearing out all the dull scenes and rewriting until it shines.

Then it’s right back into the world with it. Because if I don’t keep sending it out, this book I love so much will never find its way to readers.  

So now, I’m curious … how do you handle rejections? Do they depress or motivate or perhaps a little of both?  

So, I’ve been stalled. I wasn’t really sure why. Besides the paltry words I’m doing for my word goal loop (which is great that I’m writing every day, still …)I’m not getting much done. I’ve fussed and futtered and tried to figure it out. (And perhaps shouldn’t say it out loud) But I’ve come to a conclusion…

I’m tired of sex.

No, not the way you’re thinking. I am happily married after all. And let’s just say all is good there! (Our kids are mostly out of the house! Yay empty nest!) Anyhoodles …

I’m stuck on how to describe my characters doing the horizontal mamba in new and exciting ways. Ya know, so it comes across fresh, hot, and well … a turn on. And this is baaaad! An erotic author shouldn’t hit this wall. Not when the story and character development happens as much in the bedroom as the crime scene.

I didn’t expect to be here. I’ve had to type “hawt sex here” in a couple of places in my manuscript just to move my writing forward. I’m laughing. I never expected to feel this way. I love my characters. I usually love it when they find themselves fumbling for buttons and throwing clothes to the floor. But … I’m just not feeling it.

So I’m throwing it out there. I can’t be the only one who can’t find a new way to describe the lovin’ in my stories. I’m calling all erotica authors out there to share your secrets. Cause right now … I’m plain stuck.

Anyone?

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