Friday, March 29, 2013

Every Other Friday -- Dani Collins

Please welcome romance writer Dani Collins. In 2012, Dani signed contracts for six books and put out her own indie title while holding down a day job and running kids to school, sports, and jobs. She’s pretty good at writing fast and is currently teaching herself to blog fast—including tagging a witty bio onto the end of her posts.

Readers are invited to check out her website. She also can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Tell me about THE HEALER.

Hi Peter.  Thanks for having me on your blog.

Vaun is a Kerf General patrolling lands that belong to his people by treaty. Things are already going wrong when he intervenes with enemy traders to free a slave he thinks is Kerf, like him. She’s not. Athadia belongs to the mythical Alvian race of healers that his people fear. The first time they touch, she knows he’s one, too.

The Healer was supposed to be a historical romance—someone recently called it a cross between Highlanders and Vikings, which is how it turned out once I realized it needed its own world. This was a bigger challenge to me than researching real places and events. I’m a busy working mom who writes in that hilarious concept called ‘free time.’

What drove you to write THE HEALER? Who did you write it for?

Being time-challenged, I gravitate to quick reads and therefore mostly write shorter novels like my Harlequin Presents. But I knew this story needed a lot more space for developing all the layers that I wanted to put into it.

Sometimes, as a reader (and a writer), you want a story you can dig into and stay with for days (months/years). I wrote The Healer for that story lover.

What were your biggest obstacles?

Time is always an issue for me and when I began this story, my kids were still little. I wrote the first couple of chapters in a notebook before bed. A few years later, I decided to finish it for Nanowrimo, one of the best exercises in writer productivity there is. 

(If you haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month, it’s an informal challenge you set for yourself in the month of November to complete about fifty thousand pages.)

[Editor's note - This blog has a series on NaNoWriMo.]

What are your productivity tips?

Nowadays I love working off a synopsis, but didn’t have one for The Healer. Instead I
warmed up for Nano by doing the 30 Days of World Building exercises by Stephanie Bryant. Even if you don’t like preplanning, you might enjoy this. It’s more about finding the possibilities in your story than locking yourself in. I really enjoyed it.

Other tips for the time-crunched:

  • Write before work if you have a day job. Yes, that means getting up at 5 am. It’s gross, I won’t kid you. (Ignore if you are a night person. I so am not.)
  •  Quit TV (mostly). I pick one or two shows as must haves. I currently excuse myself from writing for The Big Bang Theory and will drop everything when Mad Men starts up again, including laundry and cooking.
  • Actually, never bother with laundry and cooking. (Says the woman with teenagers and an understanding husband.)
  • Get a job writing to deadline. Mine was the local paper. I did it for 8-9 months and I learned to write fast and clean, ‘cause I got paid a flat rate of $25. The longer I took, the lower my wage.
  • Self-doubt can really slow you down. Do some exercises in developing your voice so you feel confident about the words you’ve chosen. Getting the Words Right: How to Rewrite, Edit and Revise  is a great resource for developing your personal writing style.

Question for Peter:
How do you balance the desire to write fast with the revision process, so you’re not creating a lengthy clean up once the first draft is done?

I work hard to keep the drafting and revising processes separate. One is right brain, the other left. I have found that, by generally bumping up my output, I have developed a lot of instincts that keep me from missteps during the composing process. In addition, I have developed some approaches that help pantsers add just enough structure to avoid pitfalls.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writing Bigger 14: Breaking the Chains

We all love dramatic, emotional stories with outsized characters and unexpected turns. These Bigger Stories capture our imagination and grow in the retelling. Picking these out of real life often comes naturally, but creating them requires boldness, courage, determination, and skill.

In fact, writers seem to dodge the biggest stories, avoiding worst cases for protagonists, limiting the stakes, and avoiding conflict. I saw this over and over again as I scored fiction contest entries recently. Stories with real potential were tentative and did not fulfill their promise. Many writers are held back by chains they've forged themselves. Let's explore four:

1. Believability  -- The most common sin I've seen in unpublished manuscripts is starting in the wrong place. Writers are obsessed with telling us "what we need to know" before they get into the story. Characters explain the past to each other. Big blocks of narration build worlds or explain rules. Some of this is throat clearing (the writer figuring things out) or conflict avoidance (see below), but a lot is there to build a case for what follows. But readers are willfully suspending disbelief. They will accept a lot -- if you tell a good story. Slow beginnings drag down a story. They reveal a lack of confidence in the writer.

I think part of the problem comes from teachers, critics, and writing group members who confuse debate style arguments with story logic. Storytellers need verisimilitude, not proofs. (Think of the  core concepts and the twists and turns of your favorite stories. Do you accept them because of facts or feelings?) If you, as a writer, believe it, others will, too. Facts and back story don't build a case, they create a clear context.

2. Conflict avoidance -- Norman Mailer was a pugnacious writer, but he's more the exception than the rule. Because they are practiced at seeing other points of view and skilled in articulating perspectives (including those they disagree with), writers are often peacemakers. They smooth over misstatements and faux pas and help people explore compromises. This is admirable in real life, but it can really wreck a story. Every scene should have a conflict. And it is best if it ends in the worst possible way. But I read story after story where a good conflict arises and the characters smooth it out. They part friends. Hmm.
3. Kindness -- You've gotta be cruel to be kind. Lessons come hard. The best characters only learn them when they get knocked around. They pay a price. Readers won't hate you if you're mean to your characters, they'll love you. Stop worrying about your characters (or what your readers will think of you) and get out your torture kit. You can’t remain removed and dignified and ace it." The bigger your ambition, the bigger the situation, and (mostly) the bigger the emotion, the more likely it is that you risk looking ridiculous. If you protect your dignity (and your heart), you are unlikely to move me.
4. Dignity -- In Susan Shapiro's article, "Make Me Worry You're Not Okay," she talks about how she has made the humiliation essay her signature assignment. "It encourages students to shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile, or naked.

We want to be trusted, kind, dignified peacemakers. What wrong with that? Nothing in real life. But in fiction, it's dull. It makes things too easy for your characters (and for you, as a writer). It chains stories to the mundane when they were meant to soar.

Want more? I've added upcoming talks and courses to my Web site.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Every Other Friday - Tawny Weber

Tawny Weber has been writing sassy, sexy romances since her first Harlequin Blaze hit the shelves in 2007. A fan of Johnny Depp, cupcakes and color coordination, she spends a lot of her time shopping for cute shoes, scrapbooking and hanging out on Facebook.

Readers can check out Tawny’s books at her website.

Tell me about A SEAL’S SURRENDER.
A SEAL’s Surrender is a light, sexy contemporary romance about a guy who is used to life going the way he wants it, and suddenly finds himself out of his element when he’s seduced by the sweet girl next door.  This is a follow up to my best-selling release, A SEAL’s SEDUCTION.  Both stories feature Navy SEALs who are at a career crossroads, questioning their once unshakeable devotion to their service after the death of a friend. 

What were your biggest obstacles?
My biggest obstacles in writing tend to be the same, regardless of which book I’m working on. I have a habit of overcommitting my time, then trying to frantically juggle everything at once. Contracted deadlines, working on a planned indie release, promotion and marketing, judging contests, and keeping up with my critique commitments can get overwhelming sometimes. On top of that, we’re a homeschool family, which means that’s the first priority on every weekday’s schedule, and I have to fit everything else in around it.

What are your productivity tips?
The best productivity and writing tip I can offer is to know your process. What time of day do you write best? (I write best at night). What do you need in order to start your story? (I need to know my characters, their inner conflict, the external conflict and the dark moment). How fast do you realistically write? A goal to hit 10 pages a day is admirable, but, if you average 5, that’s only going to be a source of frustration. Do you write slower in the beginning of the story, then pick up steam as you hit the middle? Or is the middle the most difficult? Are you a first draft writer or a layering writer? A plotter or a pantser? All of these combine to create a unique, individual writing process. And while I think our processes might shift a little from book to book, they generally follow the same path. 

So once you know your process, you can work it. You can be realistic about your expectations and honest with yourself about whether you’re reaching your full writing productivity potential or slacking off.


Subject: Lieutenant Commander Cade Sullivan
Status: On leave
Mission: He’s home to take care of some family business.
Obstacle: Eden Gillespie. The girl who always lands in trouble...has landed in his bed!

Lieutenant Commander Cade Sullivan is the job. His commitment to the Navy SEALs is absolute—almost. Worse still, he’s been summoned home, where his family is the town royalty and women vie to be one of Cade’s conquests. One of them in particular....

Ever since they were kids, Cade has been rescuing Eden Gillespie. Now she’s decided she owes him one heck of a thank-you—one that involves a bed, naked bodies and sweet satisfaction. But when their sexy trysts are discovered, Eden becomes a bit of a town sensation—and not in a good way. Can she convince her SEAL to risk one last rescue operation?
Uniformly Hot! The Few. The Proud. The Sexy as Hell.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Draft 9 - Let's Get Physical

Good writing habits can become boring. What? Should I sit down at my Mac, open up Word, and set the timer for the hundredth time in a row and feel good about it? There is a (crushed) rebel within me. Longing for novelty. Longing for change. And this rebel needs a little bit of freedom from time to time.

So I give myself permission to take a different approach, and that usually means adding a physical dimension.

Stand up. Sometimes it's as simple as getting out of my chair, placing my laptop on a high shelf, and slipping into my routine. Not sitting. This is a good thing.

Pace. Especially for dialogue, I find it can help if I stand up, pace until I mumble a few lines to myself, capture them and repeat. Pages come out in a way that is anything but routine.

Use a pencil. I started my career as a writer by first writing in longhand, and that tactile experience still feels good to me. And it is different. Words fill pages and strike outs, insertions, and edits are all available, present, and obvious. The tone and the voice alter slightly. The experience is renewed.

Dictate. The best gift I gave myself when I first became a full-time, independent write was a dictation program. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the process, but now I do half my drafting through dictation. It is more productive and has extended the time between "this is too familiar" days.

Find a new place to write. Laptops and wireless have unchained me. I'm apt to write in several places in my house (and on my porch when the weather is good). And, because I am not easily distracted, I've also found it refreshing to write at the library, in hotels, in cafes, and in airports. It is especially valuable for me to "take it on the road" when I am working on screenplays. The locations remind me to open up the scenes and make them visually interesting.

Note: Adding a physical dimension to your writing is not the same as gardening or going for a walk to let ideas stew in the back of your mind. I am a big believer in that  sort of stepping away from writing as part of the overall process. But here I'm talking about is shaking up how you work as you put words on paper. So, the result of your experiment should be words on paper in real time, not later.

Skipping your writing time and missing your goals happens from time to time, but that is not a good thing. And your shake up shouldn't be faux writing, like cutting and pasting text or pictures into Scrivener or doing research or interviewing your characters. All this is useful, but it is not writing.

So, when you feel hemmed in, add a physical dimension. Use an idea on this list or find your own ways to change things up (and tell me about it). I'm sure there are dozens of ways people get out of the routine without dodging writing commitments. For me, such changes are always good. They improve my attitude and freshen the work itself. So give the rebel inside a little freedom.

See also Six Posts on Fast Drafting.
Want more? I've added upcoming talks and course to my Web site.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

More Writing BIGGER Posts

Productive writing means producing more finished works that achieve your goals. Since selling is one of the top ambition, I put together a series of articles on how to take writing further, making it more vital and engaging. I collected the first five last August. Here are the eight posts I've written since then.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Every Other Friday - Sara Humphreys

Sara is a graduate of Marist College, with a B.A. Degree in English Literature & Theater. Her initial career path after college was as a professional actress. Some of her television credits include, A&E Biography, Guiding Light, Another World, As the World Turns, and Rescue Me.

Sara has been a lover of both the paranormal and romance novels for years. Her sci-fi/fantasy/romance obsession began years ago with the TV Series STAR TREK and an enormous crush on Captain Kirk. That sci-fi obsession soon evolved into the love of all types of fantasy/paranormal; vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and, of course, shape shifters. Sara is married to her college sweetheart, Will. They live in Bronxville, New York with their 4 boys and 2 insanely loud dogs. Life is busy but never dull.

Tell me about UNTAMED.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog! UNTAMED is the third book in the Amoveo Legend series. The Amoveo are shapeshifting animal clans who live secretly among humans and must find their pre-destined soul mates while avoiding the enemy that seeks to destroy them all. This installment focuses on the courtship of William Fleury, a pureblood from the Falcon Clan and Layla Nickelsen, a human/Amoveo hybrid from the Cheetah clan. 

You mention that this is the third book (The others being UNLEASHED and UNTOUCHED). What drove you to write this series?
I've always loved to read paranormal romance, so one day I decided to sit down and write my own. Essentially, I wrote a series that I would love to read and so far readers seem to be enjoying it.

What were your biggest obstacles?
Juggling life and work. I'm married with four boys and when I started my publishing journey four years ago I had a full time job too. It was challenging to be able to fit everything but I wasn't going to let go of my dream. Persistence pays off and now I'm  a full-time writer.