Looking to the recycle bin

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Editing is tough. Editing means looking at your work in heartless ways. Does this character work? Does that action make sense? Does this part of the plot fit the overall story?

What’s tough for me is that each word is written with heart and soul. I agonize over the selection. I picture the scene in my head, walk the walk with my characters, talk the talk. Their pain is my pain. So when I have to cut words because they don’t work with the book, it’s a little like cutting out part of my soul.

But nothing is ever really deleted. I have a folder where I keep these odds and ends bits of text or scenes. I thought I’d share a few paragraphs and talk about why I deleted them. And in some instances, where I resurrected these carefully selected words.

When I was writing Sex and Insensibility my intent was to keep it light and humorous. Before that I’d written primarily romantic suspense and the more dead bodies the better. I tried to do both in this scene. To recap, my heroine Lara Haley discovers her soon-to-be-ex (Brian) after he died during the night. She also learns that he’d been having an affair with five women on the side.

“Brian’s disappeared.” Sheriff Brody announced, reluctance lifting the end of his statement to make it more of a question.

Lara’s jaw dropped, and the cool antiseptic taste of the hospital coated her throat. She licked her lips, tried to swallow the anger. “What do you mean Brian’s disappeared? It’s not like he has other plans for the weekend.”

Brody had the sense to look sheepish. “The coroner went to start the autopsy this morning and couldn’t find the body. We thought maybe he’d been sent to the funeral home by mistake, but they didn’t have him. We’re checking to see if maybe someone took him by mistake.”

“By mistake?” Lara tested the words on her tongue and didn’t like the sarcasm. “A mistake as in, oops, I meant to get Aunt Janie but picked up Brian Haley by mistake. Or the kind of mistake that goes I have something to hide and don’t want anyone to find out what it is.”

Brody squared his shoulders, the leather utility belt creaking as he adjusted his posture. “That’s why we’re talking.”

The innuendo dawned on Lara. She crossed her arms and leaned against the nurse’s station. “Then why don’t you start with your deputy. She had access and motive. In fact, I know four other women in town that Brian was fooling around with. He was a busy guy. Maybe they didn’t like to share.” 

“I’ll need that information. You also realizes that gives you plenty of motive.”

“Motive to want to steal Brian from the coroner? Brody, I didn’t want to be with him when he was alive. Why would I steal him now that he’s dead?”

Ultimately I didn’t like the disrespect in the scene. I tried to make it sarcastic but that wasn’t working. Finding Brian’s dead body behind the wheels of her car was one thing, but I also didn’t want the reader to suspect Lara for an instant. Who wouldn’t want to kill their cheating ex? And the scene also pushed the book too much into the “mystery” category for me. This was not meant to be a mystery, cozy or otherwise. I haven’t used it elsewhere, yet. But I’m sure it will find it’s way in a book sooner or later.

So the scene went in the “saved for later” folder. Here’s another. It’s from The Saint and the Sinner, a finalist in the RS category of the Golden Heart. Here Jonas is running toward the heroine, not in anger at her specifically but the heroine doesn’t know that at the time.

Jonas skidded to a stop as Heather shrank away from him, her arms raised to protect her from the expected blows. Her body curled in on itself, the shoulders dropping forward. But it wasn’t the physical reaction that stopped him in his tracks. It was the lack of emotion that stilled him and drained the tension from his knotted fists and shoulders. 

Her sapphire eyes glassed over like chips of blue ice. She did not clench her hands in a defensive manner – Heather wasn’t ready to fight. Instead, they were held wide to provide the widest measure of protection. Jonas knew Heather had learned she couldn’t ward off the physical blows, but she could wrap herself in a cocoon of her own making and keep her heart from being any more wounded than necessary.

Jonas had learned to defend himself but he’d never been a man to strike out in anger. The anger had been much more useful turned in on himself. 

What kind of life had instilled such instinct in this woman?

“I would never hit you, Heather.”

She flinched at the sound of his voice and the trembling motion of her body was enough to break his heart. At this moment Jonas wanted nothing more than to wrap Heather in his arms and promise her anything. Anything to fill the emptiness he saw.

I deleted this much for the same reason as I did the earlier example. I didn’t want my readers to think of violence when they saw Jonas. I don’t know that even the mistaken impression could be erased and I also know for some women a scene like this could be a trigger. So the scene didn’t fit the characterization I wanted for Jonas.

As you can tell I still have these scenes and I’m sure I can rewrite them when the time comes and use them in another book.

Writing is creating and not everything works the first time. That doesn’t mean it’s not good stuff. Sometimes it’s just not good for the current work in progress.

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Happy New Year!

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I read a hilarious meme a few weeks back.

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How true it is! I refuse to do that math on this because I remember 1980 all too well!

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But you know what this means? New year, new year’s resolutions. I prefer goals – things I’m going to accomplish rather than things I’m going to change. It means I can create a checklist, post it over my work computer and check off the items as I get them done.

My 2019 goals included finishing book 2 and getting it published. I managed to do half of that. Two rejections later and I’m still working on the second half. I also managed to grow my freelance work by 25% which is both surprising and exciting.

So what are my goals this year? They are rather lofty and that scares me. Posting them here scares me even more because it creates accountability. But hey…I trust you my valued readers. If I succeed I know you’ll celebrate with me. And if I fail I know you’ll commiserate with me. (And hopefully offer chocolate or share an adult beverage)

Goal 1: Keep shopping around books 1 and 2 in my Lovers of Belle Terre series. Did I tell you I got the rights back to book 1? I didn’t! Oh yeah, when the publisher rejected book 2 I requested and early termination to the rights on book 1 and it was granted. I’m very grateful to own this book again. I hope to learn lots about rebranding it with book 2.

Goal 2: Finish book 3. With this goal comes the decision of what to do with the 3 books. Do I self-publish or continue to shop? I know in theory how the marketing works but I’ve not had any success with it.

Goal 3: I want to have at least 25,000 words on the psychological thriller I told you about in a previous post. This one is coming together in my head more and more. One of my characters is going to be written in 2nd person POV and that has been a challenge to master.

There are other goals to consider but they are really dependent on things outside my influence right now. As soon as that gets written in stone I’ll share some big news with you in Q1.

Go forth, intrepid writers! Into the new year. New projects, new goals, new words!

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New year, new perspective

I have learned recently I am a NWL. A “nice white lady.” I cannot put in strong enough terms how much I hated that term when I first read it. You could practically hear the snarl in the universe’s voice.

If you’ve paid any attention to RWA lately you know what’s going on. The implosion of an organization I have supported, loved, respected, enjoyed, helped has been a knife in the gut for many reasons. That I have been so blind to the underlying problems of this organization is shameful and aggravating and frustrating. How did I not know this was going on?

And I guess the answer is because I’m a NWL. I didn’t mean to be. It wasn’t a conscious choice and therein lies the problem.

My assumptions are pretty basic. I assume people are like me – not because I’m special but because I’m quite average. I’ve had success and failure, love and heartache, good decisions and bad decisions. I am a product of my surroundings and I think other people are the same. I also think that these things ring true regardless of what the face in the mirror looks like. If my background was exactly the same and I was Asian-American or African-American or Mexican-American, I think I would be the same person.

I never questioned this belief before. I don’t know if that is a bias or ignorance or truth or fiction. I do know that I’m now questioning this. I hope that’s a good thing. I hope that it leads me to be a better writer – I want my books to be diverse and my characters to be three-dimensional and honest and fair.

Mostly I hope it leads me to be a better person.  I love the diversity of different perspectives. I love arguing and debating and learning and teaching. I hope this is me learning.

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The Book Under the Bed

Most of us have a book hidden somewhere – complete, incomplete, an alien time travel set during the Russian Revolution someone said would never sell.

So what do you do with such a book?  I could remind you of books like The Help (rejected 60 times), or Chicken Soup for the Soul (144 rejections) and you may have heard of Harry Potter (12 rejections). These were books that did not fit the mainstream at the time, and now the literary world could not imagine being without them.

What does that mean for you, writer of the alien time travel? It means you don’t give up the book of your heart. Publishing is as much about the right book as it is about the right time. Shortly after the tragic death of Princess Diana, I heard that an author had her book pulled from the publisher. It’s planned title? The Princess and the Paparazzi. The book was later rewritten and published under a new title.

Every book has someone standing behind it, someone who believes in it. That may only be you, the writer, but you are the most important advocate for your work. Finding an agent or editor that believes in the work may take effort but that doesn’t mean the right editor or agent doesn’t exist.

And of course, there’s the self-publishing route. Social media today makes it possible to build the hype, spread the word, and get sales that make writing and publishing doable, even without a publisher or agent.

The main point is never give up on your work, even if it’s hidden under your bed.

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If I could do it over again…

Along with a lot of craziness over the best present for great-aunt Winnifred or a suitable White Elephant gift to take the office holiday party, I think this time of year sparks a ton of reflection over past choices. In just two days we’ll start a “new” year and with that comes thoughts over the years flying past.

For me, this unevitably brings back the day I decided not to go to NY and pursue a career on Broadway. Not as an actress – I can’t stand being center-stage – but behind the curtains as a writer or director or stage manager. I love the theater. I have since junior high when I worked on a production of The Apple Tree in a small town theater group and the director, also my science and math teacher, put me – an awkward, shy, insecure almost-13yo – as the lighting assistant. I was given a headset and a walkie-talkie and you’d have thought I’d been handed the keys to the kingdom.

From then on I secretly wanted to join a theater group, travel town to town in the small theater groups that brought South Pacific and The Wizard of Oz to stages everywhere. I didn’t yet know of Broadway but the first time I realized it was there, my dream zeroed in.

Of course, that wasn’t the path I took. Practicality took over. I went the safe route but even today I get a giddy feeling when the curtain starts to rise and the first actors fill the stage, the spotlight finds its mark and I’m whisked away. Even if I know the story by heart, my pulse quickens and the slightest feeling of envy and awe washes over me.

As my own daughter starts to make her path in the world, I’m returned over and over to the decision not to pursue writing and the theater as a career. It’s not regret exactly – I have a good life. One that was created and funded by the decisions I made. I’m also secretly hoping that theories of a multiverse – you know, where every decision sparks two versions of you, one that chooses A and one that chooses B – are somehow true. And out there, in the ‘verse, I’m living the life I dreamed of that first time I shined a spotlight on a stage and helped bring it to life for the audience.

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“Where do you get your ideas?”

If you’ve ever told anyone you’re a writer, you’ve likely heard this question. It’s a stumper for me because I have no idea where these things come from. I’ll hear a phrase, or meet a person, or read a news headline. My first book, Sex and Insensibility, was born because I saw a news story about a woman who ran over her husband in the parking lot of a motel after catching him cheating. In fact, I think she ran over him twice.

I went with a slightly less blood-thirsty version. It was a romance, after all.

But I can’t really tell you where the idea first develops. It’s a voice in my head. Many of my books start with a name and, strangely enough, the birthday. The thing about the birthday is it gives me a profile using Linda Goodman’s Love Signs, both about the character as an individual and the two main characters as a couple. Along with the name, I generally know their occupation or the conflict that drives them.

I knew Lara in Sex and Insensibility had a secret (she was the ultimate goody-two-shoes and people pleaser) that would tarnish her image in the eyes of her family and town. She struggled with this secret and her desire not to disappoint anyone. The secret developed into a twofer that surprised me but it made sense with her character once it was revealed to me.

That’s probably the hardest part to explain to a non-writer. I don’t always know what’s going to happen. My characters take over, write their own story, let me know when I’m on the wrong path. Stubborn as they are (I don’t know where they get that from) they will not let me write a situation that doesn’t make sense for their characters. Because it’s not my story; it’s theirs.

That little voice in my head has been speaking to me about a new story but it’s not a romance. It’s not a young adult either, which is the other genre I write. This is a straight-up psychological suspense and it blossomed in my head almost fully formed. In what felt like a single breath, this book came to me with characters, birthdays, conflicts, twists, and an odd voice that would set one character apart.

It’s this last character that is speaking the loudest. So I guess I better list and get her story down.

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Tradition vs Revolution: Is Self-publishing for Me?

I remember when self-publishing first became “a thing.” After so many years of rejection letters and “not right for us,” I admit I was intrigued. It didn’t take long for that interest to turn cold. The immediate response from all sides seemed to be that to be self-published was to be unpublished, a cheaper version of a vanity press. Worse, it was labeled as the ultimate failure: no one else would publish the book so you were going to publish it yourself. There was no barrier between you and the reader – no editor, no agent, nothing and no one to say “this is good enough.” The writer was the beginning, middle, and end.

Egads! A writer in control. Surely a sign of the apocalypse.

But like with traditional publishing, self-publishing is neither easy nor for the faint-hearted. It’s work that doesn’t end. You don’t just write the book but now you have to edit, proof, design a cover, write a blurb, market, promote, manage sales, distribute, provide customer service…then start all over.

There are marketing companies that can help with promotion but like an agent, they usually take a percentage. Finding a good editor is both smart and can be costly. Then it comes down to getting your book into a reader’s hands. How do you get them to pick your book from the thousands – the tens of thousands – out there?

It’s dizzying.

As I start to learn more I’ll share my wonderful insights (joke!). Luckily there are others far wiser than me who’ve taken the journey and shared their experiences. I plan to absorb as much as they’re willing to tell me.

 

 

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Disappointment

Even when you expect to be disappointed, the disappointment hurts all the same. I got the standard rejection email from a recent submission. “Just not right for us.” How I hate those words.

They’re really useless. They tell me nothing. I can do nothing with them to improve or change or focus my writing, my story, my characters. Nothing is not something I’m good with under most circumstances. I have control issues. I admit it. I’ve heard them so many times over the course of my writing career you’d think they wouldn’t hold the power they do, but not so.

To be fair, I’ve heard the opposite just as often. I’ve won a Golden Heart, the TARA, the Molly, Duel on the Delta, and Daphne Du Maurier. Not bad. I’m proud of those. So people like my writing. Just not publishing people.

And here’s what I figured out tonight. It’s something I’ve always known but tonight…something about it tonight finally clicked in my head. I don’t write what they want to publish.

So I’m not going to pretend I do and I’m not going to try and fit my square peg in their round hole.

I don’t know what that means just yet. Maybe I’ll self publish. Maybe I’ll look for an agent who can help figure out where I do fit. But I’m not giving up. I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop trying.

Because I’m a writer.

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Who Am I?

I’ve read lots of stuff about branding myself as an author to make myself instantly recognizeable to my readers. An author I met recently had branded herself through the font-type and uniqueness a certain letter in her name on the cover.  She used the same “signature” on all her books. Other authos have used cover design. Still others have used the name of their books by doing a riff on the title.

It’s an important concept, both in the road to publication and in marketing after publication. Of course, we need to write a good book but it’s more than that. It’s a challenge to stand out on the book shelves today, especially since they are so few actual book shelves. So how do we catch the attention of a reader? And possibly catch the attention of an editor or agent if that’s the route we’re taking?

Forbes gave some good advice in an April 2018 article and the number one piece of advice was to know who you are and who you aren’t. This is one area I struggle with personally as an author. I write a little of everything. I’m published in contemporary and historical romance and YA. I also write erotica, romantic suspense, and have started a psychological thriller. At the moment I use two pen names. Am I supposed to create a different name for each genre? That’s a lot of people to manage. At the same time, I don’t want a reader looking for my contemporary romance to buy my psychological thriller if that’s not what they want to buy.

This last part rolls into several points the article makes about understanding your audience and how they perceive you. You never want to mislead a reader and while the reader should pay attention to the blurb, if your book titles are too generic, or if your titles and covers all look the same the reader is likely not to look too hard. We want our readers to buy “us” – we want them to recognize our names and trust that we right a good book. Once they’ve discovered me I want them rushing out to buy my entire backlist. But if they only want my romantic suspense, will they like my contemporary humor? It’s hard to say but I don’t want them disappointed regardless.

Like most things, publication and marketing are journeys. They aren’t meant to be straight lines necessarily so we have to adjust along the way as the map changes.

 

 

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On the tip of my tongue…

Writing is about getting words on paper. There’s little scarier to a writer than a blank page. You’d think, then, that jotting down words – even if they aren’t the best choice – would be easy. If you’ve ever stared at a blank page you know the truth behind that statement.

Years ago I discovered the Synonym Finder, a variation on the thesaurus that I found much more user friendly than the traditional tome of synonyms and antonyms. Recently I found my new best resource for adding texture to my scenes with the Thesaurus of the Senses.

Words are divided by – you guessed it – the five senses. From there, there are additional breakdowns based on categories. In SEE you find facial expressions or colors. TOUCH is divvied up into textures and pressure along with visceral responses. My favorite is probably the onomatopoeia category in HEAR.

Even if I don’t immediately know the right word I have a direction that I want to go with the choice. This helps me target more specific words rather than having to pull a random.

Using The Emotion Thesaurus is very similar and another good resource if you’re stuck. I’m a fan of the entire series that came from that book – positive trait, negative trait, urban setting, rural setting and emotional wound. While these don’t give you a specific word exclusively, they will help you build on an idea.

It’s easy to get caught up in buying tons of resource books. I have an entire library of odds and ends bought because I intended to write a book on some odd topic. But I find myself using all of these with each new book I start. They pull the words out of me when I can’t find them on my own.

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