Thursday, June 30, 2011

RWA Nationals

Hey everyone! Like some of the others, I'm in New York right now at the Romance Writers of America National Conference. I'm probably trying to keep my introvert in check and not freak out too much at being in New York for one, let alone surrounded by 2,000 other writers. Yikes! I'm not a writer because I have mad people skills. *grins*

This will be my third major conference. I went to the Romantic Times Convention in 2009, RWA Conference in 2010, and now here... Note: Both RT and RWA were in Orlando, FL, which I lived in at the time. This is my first time going to a different city and staying in the hotel. Can we say... Eeep! I've been looking forward to it, and yet, it brings an entirely new experience for me. Thoughts of, what if I don't have enough space in my suitcase when I leave come to mind.

Anyways, I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed not only by pitching, socializing, workshops, etc. at any given time, and when they're all right there and there's the need to see everything and do everything because you've paid for the opportunity to be there... Well, I'll totally be doing all I can to experience it, but I'm going to try to not go crazy.

If I've succeeded, I'm probably tweeting from the conference, so catch me on Twitter @sarahmakela! I hope everyone has had and will have a great week!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New York, New York

New York, New York

I’ll be in New York at the RWA National Conference when this blog posts. YIKES!!!

I’ve been a country mouse my whole life. Although I live in a relatively large city, I have always lived WAY out in the sticks. Far from the maddening crowd, so to speak.

For example, as a kid I grew up on a horse ranch. We also had chickens. I sold the eggs to our neighbors and once a week I would ride my pony to the Livestock Auction/General store to use the egg money to buy some candy and then I’d ride my pony back home.

This wasn’t in the 1800’s either! LOL Try the 70’s and 80’s… :)

So anyway, I have a little mental list of scary cities and New York and Chicago are both at the top.

I ended up married to a city mouse. He moved out into the Southern California sticks from Washington DC to be with me. (Is he sweet or what???)

Over the years, he has coaxed me out of the hills and into New York twice. But this will be my first trip to the Big Apple without him. I’ll be traveling with a fun writer from my local RWA so I won’t be alone, but I’m still filled to the brim with trepidation. Yeek!

While at the conference I’ll be pitching my werewolf series to an agent and editor, but the pitches aren’t giving me clammy hands. I’m more worried I’ll leave my hotel to go to the conference hotel, only to step outside the wrong way and become hopelessly lost! LOL

So please think good thoughts for this country mouse in the Big City… I’ll be tweeting and facebooking from New York, so if we’re not connected yet, let’s fix that… and

I hope I’ll have lots of great pictures to share and won’t be wandering the streets of New York asking strangers for directions.

And if you’re at the RWA conference, please look me up! More Friends = Less Scary right?

Good luck to everyone pitching! Here’s to none of us getting lost…


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interview with Author Deborah Cooke

1. What are three things everyone should know about you?

I love writing, I love knitting and I love my garden.

2. What’s your favorite part of being an author?

I like to watch stories come into themselves. There's a moment when a story shifts from being something I've created into something that exists in its own right. After that, it has its own integrity and its own demands. Although those demands can be different than the ones I expected when I started to write, I really like that sense of the story taking flight on its own.

3. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on your publishing journey?

Two things - the importance of persistence, and the need to protect my writing time. It's very easy to get swept into a lot of other jobs (like promotion), but if I don't ensure that I write every day, then there won't be anything to promote. And persistence is key because nothing is linear in this world. I used to think that once an author sold his or her first book, everything happened automatically after that - I call this the Escalator Myth in that the idea is that once you get on, you just ride right to the top! - but now I know better.

4. How did you decide to delve into writing YA?

The Dragon Diaries evolved organically from my paranormal romance series, Dragonfire. In this world, the dragon shape shifters - called the Pyr - are guys. When a dragon shifter has his firestorm, it means that he has met the human woman who can bear his son - who will be another dragon guy. The change for the guys occurs in puberty - before that, they're indistinguishable from human boys. But also in this world, there is one female dragon shifter at any given time. She's called the Wyvern, is elusive and mysterious, and is supposed to have additional powers.

So, in KISS OF FATE, book #3 the Dragonfire series (small spoiler alert here) the Wyvern died and the child that was conceived in the firestorm of that book was a girl. She should be the new Wyvern, and as a baby, Zoë did have some unusual abilities. As soon as she began to talk though, she became indistinguishable from human girls.

I wanted to tell Zoë's story. I wanted to know what it would be like to become a Wyvern. When I realized that logically this would have to happen when she was a teenager, I also realized I had the idea for a paranormal YA trilogy. My editor loved the idea and that's how this series came to be. Iit wasn't so much that I decided to write YA as that Zoë's story needed to be told. I followed the story.

5. Tell us about your newest release, FLYING BLIND, a YA spin-off of the Dragonfire series.

Well, our trilogy opens when Zoë is on the cusp of change - although she doesn't know it. In fact, she's a bit fed up. She's sixteen, everyone on the Pyr side of her life is waiting on her to become the Wyvern, all the girls she knows at school already has their period (except her) and she has no idea how to provoke anything to happen. FLYING BLIND begins with that first change - her best friend gets bullied and Zoë reacts instinctively. It's the first time she's managed to shift at all (only her eye and her one nail change) but everything is set in motion. She's excited; she's scared; she's in big trouble with her mom because she gets expelled for fighting, the bully is calling her a freak...and her dad sets it up for her to go to boot camp with the other teenage guy Pyr. This is both a competition and her wildest dream come true.

6. What inspired FLYING BLIND?

I think I just answered that in #4!

7. How was it writing a YA series connected to your Dragonfire series? Was it hard to transition?

Each Dragonfire novel is focused on the firestorm of one Pyr hero. They're all romances, which dictates the structure of the book. So, the first difference is that the YA Dragon Diaries books are not romances per se - if they were, each one would feature a different pair of protagonists. They're incremental steps on Zoë's journey, albeit with romantic elements. So, structurally, the books are different and are, in fact, more similar to the women's fiction books I've written.

Secondly, the setting had to change. Dragonfire is set during the Dragon's Tail wars, when the good dragons (the Pyr) have their final confrontation with the bad Pyr (the Slayers) for control of the treasure that is the earth. Since Zoë was born after Dragonfire #3, and Dragonfire is hard-linked to actual dates of eclipses and other astrological stuff, Zoë was born in 2008. She'll be 16 in 2024, which is when FLYING BLIND is set. I decided that being in high school probably wouldn't change that much - the big difference is that the kids have gadgets called messengers which are such kickbutt multi-tasking cellphones that I want one too.

Thirdly, the world had to change. The Dragon's Tail wars will be over by 2024, and - no spoiler here! - the good guys have to win. That means there will be no more Slayers in 2024. The kids needed a different enemy to fight. I decided that the Mages would be humans with extra skills, a group that had been dismissed by the older Pyr as being no threat to them at all. But secretly, the Mages have been increasing their power, and they target the younger kids. You'll find out more about why they chose that course in book #2, WINGING IT. The point is that I needed a new external conflict for this series, and that was fun.

8. What do you have in the works next?

As I write this, I'm working on Dragonfire #7, FLASH FIRE, which will be out in January 2012. By the time this post goes live, I should be working on Zoë's third book, which doesn't have a title just yet. It's scheduled for June 2012. After that, it's back to Dragonfire, for #8, which will be released in October 2012. It's a busy year for me - lots of dragons underfoot!

9. What’s one thing you’d tell an aspiring author?

There are about forty five thousand things I'd tell an aspiring author - and I do so all the time. For example, I'm teaching a full day workshop in January 2012 about publishing and writing romance. Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is the need to be persistent. As Zoë's mom says in FLYING BLIND, "nothing worth having ever came easily."  :-)

You can find Deborah on the web at:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lessons I’ve Learned

With six years of writing behind me, I’ve learned a few things that make the process easier. Some I’ve gained from workshops, some from other writers, some from how-to books, and others from hard experience.

One of the most important things I’ve learned—I’m not a pantster. Lack of planning and organization leads to revision after revision and mountains of frustration for me. Some lucky writers can sit down and bang out a story, revise it a few times, and call it done. I am not one of them. I continually look for better ways to plan stories. My latest find? Index cards. Wonderful things. You can lay out your story, scene by scene, and shuffle it around until it rocks. Beats writing it then finding out that your story doesn’t work or that you have left things out and have to go back and puzzle it through. I love index cards. I love outlines and W plots. They have made my job easier and I embrace them.

Critiques. We need them. But we need them from people who know how to give them. And even more important is the understanding that not everything you receive will be correct and even if it is, you need to weigh the benefits of heeding it. Unless the person has the entire novel to work through, they don’t know everything you do about the story. They are giving you their ideas for your story. If you listen to everything you are told, you will be telling another person’s version of your story. The time to pay very close attention is when several people are telling you the same thing.

Revision. Revision can indeed be hell. Especially when you go about it in the wrong manner. It took years for me to learn to revise properly. Revision is not reaching The End then going back to page one and making the first sentence pretty and correct and then moving to the next sentence and repeating. This is a recipe for disaster or at the very least for taking years to find the real story and correct it. Revision begins with the big picture. Do the subplots work? Follow them through. Fix them first. Move on. Does the main story line hold together? Does it work? Fix it. Character growth? Tension? Pacing? Do these things work? Fix them. Fix everything except making your sentences and paragraphs pretty and correct. That comes dead last. If you cut and rework the other things after revising grammar you may end up cutting material that cost valuable time to make them pretty. Revising in the wrong order is costly. The time could be better spent on a new project.

If you can, work on more than one thing at a time. I keep at least four projects, not all novels, going at once. Yes, I’m driven, and this takes up every spare moment I have. I have almost zero social life and with rare exception, the movies I do take time to watch are for educational purposes. For me, writing is a business. This is how I wish to make my living, not stuck in a cube taking marching orders from someone. Therefore, one project at a time will not cut it. For me, being able to multi-task and manage time effectively isn’t an option.

Rules. Rules are made to be broken. Once you know what they are. Learn craft. Take workshops. But at the end of the day, you have to tell a story that works. Then tell another.
How about you? What things have you learned that make your writing journey easier?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finding My Sea Legs

I've been offline for awhile. First, it was the whole moving thing. Then, my desktop computer died. I have a netbook, but it's not really meant to handle the stuff I do on a daily basis. And after months of being used by my kid and my old man, the netbook decided it didn't want to download my email when the desktop died. *sigh* When it rains, it pours.

Playing catch up would have been hard enough after the move. Playing catch up on a brand new computer was murder. I'm still not sure I'm caught up, but I'm finally operating almost at the same level as I was before everything went south. I've got a new screaming computer that my DH built. I think I've got just about everything loaded on it that I needed to load. Might be a few stray softwares I need to get. I managed to not lose any of my files from the dead computer by sticking the hard drive into an external drive case (which cost a whopping $21) and accessing the files on through a USB connection.

That might have been a tad technical for you but I probably could teach any tech challenged person to do this. It took me about 4 minutes to take the hard drive out of my old computer (most of that time was taking the side panels off the tower) and about the same amount of time to install it in the external case. It's all about knowing how to use a screwdriver. *wink*

At any rate, now that the new computer is up and running I've discovered that the internet here in the boonies has periodic slow down times. And I mean S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W down times. Like dial up or worse. The periods don't seem to last long but they always seem to occur when I'm in the middle of something really important like downloading images to create a cover. I tried calling the cable company but my cellphone gets spotty out here too and the calls kept dropping. *sigh*

I'm finding my sea legs again. Getting back into my groove. I finished a short story while I was down. Worked on it at lunch at the office and on the netbook. Blood Play will be out the first week of July at Pink Petal Books. I'm also working on some other stuff...a novella for EC's new Skin Deep series, a Christmas short story for MLR Press that takes readers back to the fictional town of Forza, California from my novella Afterburner, and doing a little work on both Primal Urges, an Edwardian paranormal for MLR and Fire Storm, the sequel to my popular M/M dragon paranormal Fire Season.

I have a full plate of writing ahead of me and I'm looking forward to it! The last six months have been rough and my writing wasn't flowing while I was so stressed and feeling displaced. I spent most of my time creating cover art for other authors while yearning to be the one with the new release.

But my downtime is over I think. (Knock on wood, please, everyone knock on wood for me!) I feel like I'm back even though I've not yet gotten back into the promo groove and I'm not really talking on the loops either much. Finding my sea legs is more of a process than I thought it would be. Still, I'm feeling good about getting back into writing and I'm sure this new release will energize and inspire me.

Before I go, I'm going to leave you with a taste of Blood Play which features a secondary character from Breathe Me In, vampire royalty Aiden Swann who is interested in a woman who seems to not be interested in him. The series is new. They're short stories set in the Five Dark Realms and each story centers around a single sexual encounter. I'll talk more about the series and what it's all about another time. For now, here's a taste of Aiden and Cade.

Have a great Sunday!

Blood Play, a Five Dark Realms Encounter
Pink Petal Books
Pre-Order Link

Vampire Aiden Swann has a tough job, infiltrate Paris’s most notorious BDSM club Perdition. While he’s all Alpha, Aiden’s no Dom, yet he finds his time in Perdition no hardship due to a mysterious female vampire. Cadence O’Connor intrigues him and makes him hard as stone. He knows there’s no reason that a pure blood vampire like him couldn’t play with a mixed blood vampire like her, but Cade disagrees. She’s got a chip on her shoulder about her heritage and refuses to see Aiden as a sexual partner. All Aiden needs to do is convince Cade that she’s no abomination and that everything she is, is everything he wants.


“Don’t presume to know me.” Her eyes flashed and her expression grew more icy.

Cat and mouse. Advance and retreat. A game he knew well. Breathing in her intoxicating scent, his body and entire psyche went into hunter mode.

His grin widened. “I could say the same, you know.”

“But you won’t.”

Her chin tilted up just a fraction, and Aiden almost laughed with delight at the defiant way she took his bait. “It’s true. I won’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try to get to know you.”

Cade’s eyes darkened and her face tightened into a hard mask. “Many have tried. They have all failed.”

He stepped closer, his nostrils filled with her blackberry scent. “They were not your prince,” he murmured wickedly.

A muscle twitched in her jaw. “I am not full-blooded vampire. Perhaps you are not my prince either,” she rasped, her voice low and hoarse.

“Oh, I am your prince, alright. You are a vampire regardless of your mixed heritage. Your genome is Acerbian not demon.” He stared into her eyes waiting to see how she would react to him knowing exactly what she was.

She jerked back, stepping partially into the shadows again. “How can you know that?” Her voice held a note of disbelief.

He shrugged. “Who and what I am comes with power among our kind. I know you, Cadence.”

“You cannot.”

Aiden noted that her eyes had widened, and he sensed the fear that had begun to edge her demeanor. For a moment, he stared into those beautiful deep blue eyes. What he saw within them sent lust rushing over him instantly. Until this night, he’d not given much conscious thought to the only other vampire in Perdition. But obviously his body had because he wanted her fiercely, the knowledge becoming an immoveable object in his mind.

“You’re the most beautiful Acerbian I’ve ever seen,” he whispered, half to himself.

Cade glared at him and ignored his words. “Don’t you have some other royal Acerbians to play with? Why are you here anyway?”

Most men would have taken her icy words and demeanor at face value. Aiden knew fear fueled her. Normally, she studiously ignored him whenever he came to the club. He’d caught her looking at him a couple of times but always it was with her trademark cold derision. It was a testament to the power of his bloodline that he knew instinctively that she wanted him.

“I’m here because you are, Cade.”

For a split second shock rippled through her expression before she shut it down, closing herself off once more.

“Fuck off.”

©2011 Lex Valentine

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Homework EVERY night for the rest of your life

Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. ~ Lawrence Kasdan

Really think about that quote. As writers we are spending more time on writing than probably any single other part of our lives. Those of us unfortunate enough to have to work 40 hours a week (or more) at a day job might find a close tie in time, but otherwise, most likely no other part of your life takes up so much time.

And for what?

The other day I heard an editor, when asked if she ever wanted to write, say, “OMG- no.” This is someone who loves what she does, loves being a part of the writing world, but doesn’t want to be at our end of it.

Part of me understands. We spend tons of time on our “babies” with less than optimistic odds that they will end up on a bookshelf somewhere. We give up parties, bbq’s, dinners, spending time with friends, family events, and vacations- all so we can write. So that we can have homework for the rest of our lives. Homework for which we may never get a passing grade.

And it’s never going to end for most of us. The unpublished will keep working on the next book, the next project of our heart and soul that screams to be put to page. Growing stronger and better with each book. All the while trying to find a way to get our worlds out to the public. The published will keep racking their minds for new ways to keep their fans and readers happy. Hopefully growing better with each book also.

The part of me that reads those above two paragraphs completely understands that editor’s quick and definite reply.

But the other part, the part that takes joy in creating new characters, jots down plot twists on napkins in restaurants, steals cool names from her day job (modified of course ;)). That part can’t understand. How could someone not want to write? How could anyone who understands the power of the written world not want to play god in it? To have your own creations suddenly take on lives of their own- going places you never expected. To re-read something you wrote a few months (or longer) ago and think that it’s really pretty good.

I guess that part of me will never understand why everyone doesn’t want to do this. I guess I’m just a homework junkie. (Or all writers are really stark raving mad- but that’s for another post completely. ;))

Friday, June 24, 2011

Conference Survival Guide

Just a couple more days until RWA National Conference in New York! Like my 2,000+ fellow romance writers who are going to be attending this year, I am now in the whirl of getting ready, that urge to bounce in excitement in full effect.

Last year was my first National conference, and it was an amazing experience. One thing I will say about conferences in general and Nationals specifically - you will never be as psyched to be a writer as you will be the days following the conference. It provides an energy that is like no other in the world.

While my conference experience is limited, let me pass on a couple tips to those who may be even newer than I to the whole conference vibe. Trust me on all of these.

1. Wear comfortable shoes - Lots of walking, lots of standing is involved in conference. I know that for most of us, this is one of the few times we are able to look spiffy (we are writers - mostly we are typing in sweats and t-shirts with baby throw-up on them - or is that just me?)  Still, your feet will not be thanking you if you wear those cute as heck but hurt after 5 minutes shoes.

2. MINGLE! - I'm glad you like your local RWA chaptermates. For the most part, I like mine to. Still, why would you travel to conference just to hang out with the very same people you see every month at home? I know it's not easy to put yourself out there and start introducing yourself to people, but it's a necessity.

3. Take a rest when you need to - You paid a lot of money and don't want to miss one single second. Understandable, but that means you'll only be sleeping 20 minutes over the course of a week. Accept now you will miss things, and outside of your must sees, if you feel you need to get away from it all, find a quiet corner or go to your room and let yourself decompress.

I can't wait to meet new people at Nationals. If you see me in the halls, feel free to smack me in the arm and say Hi!

Anyone else have conference tips?  Please share!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

'No Scroll Zone' of... No Return?

While we all know the importance of web presence, we are doubly aware of the rule of not letting preoccupation with web presence overtake actual writing. Nothing replaces putting words on the page on that computer screen. Now, that disclaimer out of the way, I can safely continue speaking on the topic of the day – important pieces of your website/blog layout.

Three months ago I decided to give my blog a makeover. Yep, my little home on the interwebs was going to get a brand new look! After using Tumblr for two years, I had no wish to move, but unfortunately Tumblr is difficult to customize and I lack amazing coding abilities. The next step in my endeavor was to recruit my friend Sabbi in building this monster. But for her to be able to help me, she needed to know the important pieces of a writer's website and I had to be able to spell them out for her.

In my research and debating the important pieces, this is what I learned.

First, be aware of what I call the 'No Scroll Zone.' This is the part of your blog or website that visitors see upon arrival. The area of the browser they check out before they scroll down to see more of your content. Why is the 'No Scroll Zone' so important? The truth is that people are impatient. Many will not bother with scrolling. They want all relevant information readily available to them. Therefore you want your key list of data in the 'No Scroll Zone.'

Based on my research and personal taste, this is my own list:

  • Menu (You would be surprised how often it is buried in the layout.)

  • Twitter Feed (If you partake of the Twitterverse, which I definitely do.)

  • Contact Info

  • Social Media Buttons

  • RSS Feed

  • Email Subscription

  • About the Author

  • Hints about what you write.

Technically I believe 'RSS Feed' would fall under 'Social Media Buttons,' along with your YouTube channel, Facebook, etc. However I mention RSS Feed by itself because of all the times I have had to hunt for it. I find an awesome blog! I want to follow said awesome blog! Commence the tedious hunt for any RSS Feed button. You do not want to make your potential followers/readers/fans wish you'd drawn them a map for your website.

My website's new look is destined to appear in two weeks. I have seen some sneak peeks and they look fabulous! What is on your list of must-have's in the 'No Scroll Zone'? If you are a published authored, are your book covers included on your list?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are Nerves A Good Thing Or A Bad Thing?

I’m going to be completely honest in this post today about what I’m going through right now. Nerves. A serious case of panic-attack inducing nerves. I’ve always been nervous about people reading my writing. I was afraid what they would think. After joining FF&P’s on-line critique group, I quickly got over that. I started to crave the feedback. But now as I’m traveling further down this publishing journey, the nerves are just getting worse!
I went to RWA Nationals last year, but it was my first time and I had no idea what to expect. Part of me wishes I didn’t know what to expect this year. I wish I didn’t expect so much. Because I fear that’s where the nerves come from. What if I don’t meet life-long friends, form amazing connections or have a conversation with my favorite all-time author? Pretty high expectations . . . But then I am flying all the way to New York.
Then I’m nervous about my book coming out. I’m nervous about reviews. I’m nervous about what my critique partner will say because the new version is so different from the one she saw. J I’m nervous about submitting a new story.
Most of all, I’m nervous to meet everyone at RWA. I’m shy and have a tendency to turn bright red. So am I the only one literally shaking in my boots? It seems every mountain we climb, there’s a higher one in the distance. At least my nervous stomach means I’m five pounds lighter for RWA! Lol. I'll take any positive I can find.
The most ridiculous thing about this whole post is that I've loved every minute of the nerves, every minute of the worry, every minute of the editing. So, maybe nerves are a good thing? Perhaps it's just a sign you've found your passion. Because if a career doesn't make you sick to your stomach, you're obviously lacking passion. Kidding . . . But there's some merit there. If I didn't care so much about writing, reading and the romance community, I guess I wouldn't be very nervous.
When have you felt the most nervous during your writing journey? Was it a good thing or a bad thing?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice & Weddings

Sun breaks through at Stonehenge

The summer solstice will occur today in the northern hemisphere when the earth's axial tilt is most inclined toward the sun. 1:16 PM EDT in the US and 17:16 UTC in the UK. The soltice is a mere moment in time, but we use the term freely to reference the day on which it occurs—the day of the year with the longest period of daylight and the shortest night.

Although often thought of as a pagan rite, the day is celebrated around the world in modern times. Thousands gather anually at Stonehenge in England to welcome the sunrise.

Throughout history, many cultures have recgonized the soltice as a sign of fertility and have observed the day with festivals, rituals, or other celebrations. Some pagans thought it a time of magic, a time when evil spirits appeared. They wore garlands of herbs and flowers to ward off evil intent.

The Druid's celebration of the day as the marriage of Heaven and Earth may have resulted in our present day belief that June weddings are lucky.

Maybe it's the solstice, maybe the recent wedding of my nephew and new niece, or maybe my muse. This month, I'm obsessed with weddings.

I edited the wedding scene in my Sea Panther manuscript. I wrote The Legend of the Vanishing Wedding Feast, a short prequel to my un-contracted Garden Gate series and posted it here at Castles & Guns. And I've been asking questions at blogs and on loops about reading and writing wedding scenes.

How do you feel about wedding scenes in books?

As a reader: Do you like them? Hate them? Skip them?

Do you know of any fantasy books with magical weddings?

As a writer: How do you feel about writing wedding scenes? Do you include them in your books?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts about reading and/or writing wedding scenes. Or, tell us how you are celebrating Summer Solstice 2011.

BTW: The summer solstice is celebrated in December in the southern hemisphere.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Recharging Creative Energy

Hi Everyone!  I'm on vacation this week and, as is typical for me, I didn't plan ahead and have a blog post scheduled. I'm a pantser for the most part and that extends to much of my life beyond writing, as well. Sometimes that's good, sometimes not so much.

Anyway, I'm sitting in a hotel in Grants Pass, Oregon right now, after having driven all day yesterday from Reno through northern California (some of my favorite landscape in the whole country). My folks live here so we'll be visiting today, then we'll be off to the beach tomorrow.

I've been in a real writing funk for the last several months. I've felt completely uninspired and haven't been able to force myself to sit down and just write. I suspect that this may be because I finally finished the first novel in my paranormal romance series and now I'm coming down from that high and facing the need to start over completely on a new novel.  I actually have a draft of book two completed, but it needs tons of revision. and I'm halfway through a first draft of a sci-fi romance. But I find myself just sitting and staring at both projects and feeling overwhelmed by them. Where do I start? Where's my usual enthusiasm and determination?

Maybe it's a bit of burnout. I need to refill the creativity tank.

So I'm finding vacation to be a wonderful source of inspiration. I mean, sure, a driving trip across the country with three teenagers can be a serious challenge...basically we're all exhausted at this point and we're only halfway through.There have been grumblings of, "let's just go home." But after spending months locked away in my home in a tiny North Dakota town, it's nice to finally get out and see some of the world...even if it's only a tiny bit.  My muse is experiencing overload right now with all the new sights and smells and sounds. He's going nuts with watching people and ideas for characters and situations are running rampant.

It's like Christmas for writers (and muses).

So I guess that despite being a homebody by nature, part of the learning and growing process as a writer is finding the places and situations which inspire you, as well as becoming atuned to when you need to take a break or reboot the creative energy.  Because despite the inherent challenges of a road trip, in the end it's all great fodder for writing and I'm feeling refreshed (at least creatively) and ready to tackle those two projects. Where I was stuck before, new ideas are churning in my mind. I'm not feeling so intimidated by all the rewriting and revamping needed for the second paranormal novel.

I think I'm ready to write again!

How do you recharge after finishing a project? What kinds of situations get your muse going?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From Pantster to Plotter—Why You may Want to Outline

I wasn’t a plotter when I first decided to try writing a novel. I had an idea and I ran with it. If I had to describe my method it was a general sense of my characters, the setting and my goal. If you asked me to describe my story in more detail, I could tell you where I’d been and the next few scenes or so, but beyond that it was all very vague.

Then because the opportunity presented itself, I pitched my story to a Harlequin editor. She told me to send the full manuscript in. I only had three chapters written. I struggled and stressed and wrote until that baby was finished and popped it into the mail—four months later. Definitely not the recommended way to make an impression.

When that story received the dreaded “R,” I moved on to the next one. I followed the same method and it took me close to eight months to write that novel.

Really, there had to be a better, more productive way.

Fast forward to the present. In the past seven months I have written two novellas and one novel and have three novellas ready to start. By the year’s end I expect to complete those three novellas and possibly more.

So what changed? How have I been able to increase my output?

Well, experience plays a part. Writing is a combination of craft and talent and each person’s ratio of one to the other varies. As for me, it’s pure talent. Ha ha ha…don’t I wish. When you first start to write, you worry about POV, pacing, dialog, characterization and so on. Take it from me, even after you’ve published you’ll worry about these, but not to the same extent or in the same way. With experience, you have an instinct of how to lay out the story, where to put key scenes, when to reveal information and what needs to happen. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be stories that give you fits and don’t come together, but those will be few and far between as you climb the ladder of experience.

While experience has its place, I can honestly say that the biggest change comes from using outlines. I’m not going to define outline because I think for different people it means different things. In my case, I decide how long I want the book. For a novella, maybe ten chapters of eight to ten pages each. With a novel, perhaps twenty chapters running an average twenty pages each. I then write a chapter by chapter outline of the story. Each chapter is more or less told scene by scene. So in my outline for my upcoming release, Out of the Shadows, I started describing chapter one by writing generally from my hero Tomás’s POV as to what he would be feeling and doing. Then I switched over to Carolina, my heroine, and described what she would be doing, thinking and feeling in the scene. Then on to chapter two and so on.

But that’s so boring, you say. Where’s the surprise in discovering your characters as you go along?

First of all, none of this is written in stone. Think of it like a map you take on a journey. You know your starting point and you know your goal. You have a sense of which routes you’ll take to get there, but you’re open to other possibilities. The map keeps you on the right road, but if your characters have other ideas, by all means try to accommodate them. Even with the chapter descriptions there is a lot I don’t know, such as what the characters will say to each other (dialog) and how exactly they will do the things I want them to do (action) and how the atmosphere and surroundings can be best brought into the story (setting). I have ideas in my outline, which keep me from getting stuck, but it’s up to me to flesh them out and alter them as the story requires.

Second, writing is a business. Yes, we write because we love to and we pen stories from our heart. Even so, we want more than our family buying our books. For some authors, those royalty checks mean much needed cash for the household budget; for others it’s the possibility of quitting the day job and—gasp!—staying home to be a fulltime writer. To quit that job, though, you’re going to have to PRODUCE. One book is unlikely to cut it, unless you’ve got the next Twilight or Harry Potter series in the works. But with the publishing industry in flux and the NY houses retrenching, it’s a whole new landscape that we writers are facing.

I’ll tell you something else that my agent told me. NY publishers are looking at epublished authors to see who has sold well and who has a fan base. (Keep in mind that I’m talking about the commercial romance market.) That means—dare I shout it again—you have to PRODUCE. You have to get books out there, so that readers find you and try you. The more books you write, the more likely that will happen. Readers might give you five stars and say they are going to buy your next book, but if you don’t write it or too much time goes by between one and the next, they’ll forget your name and find another author. You can’t afford to let that happen.

Now, perhaps, you can see the advantage of an outline. With an outline, you have a map to keep you on track to get the story written. You are not going to write fifty pages only to realize you wrote yourself into a dead end. The map won’t let you do that. You might find bumps and a few unexpected obstacles, but you’re not going to get lost for weeks.

Still not convinced? Here’s one last reason, possibly two. Plotting out your story makes it easier to write up the dreaded synopsis. And if you’re lucky enough to be selling several novels to a publisher, you are likely to reach the point where you can sell on synopsis. That means you need to have a general idea of what the story is about in order to write that synopsis before you’ve even written chapter one. It means Plotting, whether you like it or not.

Are you a Pantster or a Plotter? If you’re a Plotter, what method do you use? If you’re a Panster, have you ever tried to plot? Do you think you ever will?

In celebration of the 1st book in the SHADOW WARRIOR series, I am putting together a contest. Become a Shadow Warrior and hunt down tzitzimime, celestial demons and nemesis to Shadow Warriors. Follow me on the blog tour and keep track of where a dreaded tzitzimime has popped up. Contact me ( the location you have spotted a tzitzimime and the secret Aztec word. One entry per day, please. The more tzitzimime you spot the better your chances of winning. One winner will be chosen at random, the prize a $25 Samhain Publishing gift certificate.

All entries must be in by August 24th. The winner will be declared on the blog August 26th. Contest starts June 5th and ends midnight August 24th (EST).One winner will be chosen at random for the prize.

Aztec Word

Huitzilin (hummingbird)