Writing: How did March get here already?

Last year, I set big goals for myself for my writing. I was going to write the third novel in my Fallen Angel series. Cross that off. I was going to write a new Babet and Prosper novella. Done. I was going to start putting short-short stories on my webpage. Check. And I was going to finish a third novel for Wolf’s Bane and maybe Empty Altars. I’ve just finished the first draft of the Wolf’s Bane novel–admittedly late, but hey!–somewhere in there, my agent asked me to try to write a romance. First, I don’t read romance. I don’t know the rhythms and intricacies of the genre. So that’s what I did first. I really believe you can’t write something you don’t read. And I discovered that I love Catherine Bybee. I read her, and ideas started to perk. I wrote the book, sent it off, my agent–Lauren Abramo at Dystel & Goderich–loved it, and we’re still doing the rewrite dance.

This year, I didn’t set goals for myself, because I don’t know what to expect. My agent might ask for another romance. I hate being rushed, so I’m going to start a second one soon. Once my trusted critique partners go through Magicks Unleashed (the 3rd Wolf’s Bane), I’ll polish that and put it online. And then? I’m not sure. But for a writer with no agenda, I still feel behind. How can that happen? I’ve decided it just goes with the territory. I’m very aware that I haven’t written a third Empty Altars novel and don’t know when I will. I used to think that if I got to three books in a series, I could pat myself on the back for being a good girl. But then trilogies stretched to longer series, and some writers hit their stride on their fourth or fifth book. Yikes! That means that three books is just cutting your teeth. Anyway, I have lots of writing to go. This year, I just don’t have a plan. And for right now, that’s okay.

BTW, since I’m going to start rewrites soon, Sue Bahr did a great blog post on it. I found it really helpful. https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/five-ways-to-fall-in-love-with-editing/

Also, since I’m starting to miss Tyr and Diana in Empty Altars, I decided to treat myself by writing a short story about them for my webpage. I’m going to post one part every week for the month of March.

And if you’re ever interested in catching my author’s facebook page, it’s: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

If you have goals this year, hope you meet them. If you don’t, happy writing anyway!

Writing: Does it EVER cooperate?

Okay, if you’ve written long enough, you know that the entire process can mock you. Or maybe the Muse is nicer to you. She can be a real bitch to me. It’s like if you have one easy streak, she has to remind you that you should stay humble. And she’s good at that.

I enjoyed writing my last book a little too much. It felt like it came easy. Too easy. Whenever I like a book too much, it usually means it has problems and I wasn’t tough enough on it. Blood Lust will be online this week, and I might have to hide my head under my pillow. I hope readers like it as much as I did. It has as much of a mystery plot as an urban fantasy/action feel, so who knows? But that’s what felt right to me. The romance my agent wanted came easy, too. I was starting to do a happy dance, thinking that I’d finally found the Nirvana of what worked for me. Silly me.

I like to write shorter stuff between novels to decompress. It’s my treat before I start plotting a new book and drawing up character wheels. Babet and Prosper always make me happy, so I thought I’d sit down and pound out a quick, fun novella. But I couldn’t get the damned thing to start right. I couldn’t capture the right feel. I tried to pummel it into submission with plot points, and it just stuck out its tongue at me. I hate it when stories do that. Finally, I threw up my hands in disgust and gave it to my critique partners and said “help!”

They told me it didn’t work, either. But no one knew what to do with it. Disgusted, I tossed it in the pile of “I’ll get to it someday” crap I have on my desk. (Don’t ask). And guess what? Just when I was ready to cast Babet and Prosper into the no-man’s land of pain-in-the-ass stories, they spoke to me. They told me I started in the wrong place. I started with the story’s set-up and big problem, and I should have focused on them–because that’s what I like about Babet and Prosper–the characters and their relationships. So I listened to them, rewrote it, and now, I’m happy with it.

The Muse can be evil, but she’s still my best writing friend. Hope she’s nice to you in December!

Blood Lust should be online this week.

Writing: grateful sigh:)

I finally finished the rewrites that my agent asked for. One of my critique friends asked to see them before I send them to Lauren, so they’re not on their way yet, but they’re done. And that feels GOOD!

Things I learned about writing a romance:

Everything has to affect the budding relationship between “guy who met girl.” I tried to cheat. Yes, I admit it, and I thought I could get away with it. I didn’t feel comfortable hinging everything on the push-pull of the romance, so I added a mystery subplot that played into the hero’s business and let the heroine bail him out here and there. It didn’t work. As my agent and my writer friends who KNOW romance explained, the story has to be driven by the “I’m attracted to you, but….” struggles of romance. The relationship has to drive every part of the story. Adding the mystery was a misstep. A fixable misstep, but one I’d do better to avoid next time. Each genre has rules. You can bend them, but you’d better know what you’re doing if you intend to break them.

Characters can’t be stereotypes if they matter at all in the story. They have to have depth, or why care about them? And if you push the envelope and break the stereotype too much, the consequences need to ripple through the story. For instance, I tossed in a surprise about Ian’s fiancee’. I thought it added a nice out-of-the-ordinary punch. The surprise went over great, but I got nailed for not dealing with the consequences all the way through to their eventual outcome. So think cause and effect from beginning to end. Why did it happen? What brought it on? And how did affect everyone involved?

I wrote my story from single POV. The first romance novel I studied to get a feel for the genre did that, so I did, too. Then I read Catherine Bybee, and she alternated scenes between the heroine’s POV and the hero’s. That might have made things simpler for me. With the guy’s POV, readers can get closer to him and know his reasoning when he’s a jerk (even though in his mind, he’s not). It’s a tough call, but since I wrote this first novel in single POV, I’ll write the next one that way, too. If I ever start a new romance series, though, I might play around with his and her POVs. It punches up the tension and makes both characters more sympathetic. We don’t have to rely on the heroine guessing what her romantic interest is up to. He can tell us. POV is something to consider when you start a novel. Is single better than multiple? Which would work better?

Small details can make a big difference in a romance. When I write urban fantasy, the conflict is on a grand scale. Life and death weigh in the balance. In romance, emotions drive the story. A misunderstanding can derail an entire relationship. Working on the dance of “he said,” “she said” was good for me. It reminded me that it’s fun to let your characters tell lies. Usually, in urban fantasy, the good guys and the bad guys face off against each other. But in real life, people sidle out of responsibilities, they distort the truth, and they tilt events to their own advantage. And sometimes, they out and out lie. It was refreshing to work with motivations driven by emotions and needs instead of good versus bad. (I like that, too, though:) Anyway, the romance, for now, is done. Tomorrow, I start doing plot points for my third Wolf’s Bane novel. It’s back to gargoyles, witches, and werewolves again. I’m liking the balance–dealing with mortals and their emotions for one book (romances) and then switching to battles and monsters for the next. Pretty fun!

Happy writing!

@judypost on twitter

Writing: cleansing my palate

I’ve enjoyed reading a variety of twitter and blog posts about writers gearing up for NaNoWriMo this month. There’s been advice for plotting ahead (which I always do), doing character sketches (ditto), and different methods for pacing yourself. A lot of writers have done their homework, and they’re ready to go. Since this is the second day of November, I’m guessing some of them already have one or two thousand words on the pages. If you’ve signed up to write a novel and intend to stamp The End on it by the last day of November, I wish you good luck. May the Muses smile on you. I, on the other hand, am gearing up to do rewrites of the romance my agent approved.

No small feat. Sometimes, I get lucky and I only need to change a few scenes or add a scene at the end of the book–a common occurrence for me. I tend to rush endings. A mistake. Readers, experts say, buy books because the opening paragraphs or pages hook them, but they buy a writer’s second book because the end of the book they read satisfies them, and they’re willing to give the writer another try. As usual, I need to add another scene at the end of the romance. More than that, though, I need to tweak or eliminate an entire subplot. If I eliminate it, I need something new to take its place. AND I need to beef up a minor character who plays a major part in the plot. I’m not discouraged. For my first romance, I think I got off pretty easy. I expected the whole thing to be a bust. But I’m going to have to spend some serious time to make the book work, because I want the thing to be as good as I can possibly make it. I ended up really enjoying everything about the book–my characters, the plot, and the actual writing itself. I even have ideas for two more spin-off romances.

The thing is, though, I just finished doing rewrites for one of the urban fantasy novels I was working on. And I’ve learned that my brain needs time to doodle–to play with short, obscure thoughts–between books. I used to ignore those inner rhythms when I was in a rush to get books done, but somewhere along the daily grind of pumping out words and scenes, my writing went flat. No matter how many active verbs I smacked into sentences, my characters yawned and said, “Give us a break, will you?” And now, I do. When I finish a book, I play with a few short stories before I start the next book. I’ve read that Stephen King used to do the same thing. I’m not comparing myself to him, but I understand the need. Short stories are a time for me to find something close to writer’s instant gratification because I can finish short-shorts in a day or two and “lunch hour reads” in a week or two. Short, by novel standards. Oops, forgot. Not if you’re racing through NaNoWriMo. Then I’d have a book finished in a month:) But short stories between novels works for me, regardless. They cleanse my palate before I settle in for another long haul.

Whatever you’re working on this month, happy writing!


Writing: things change

I’ve invited a few of my longtime writing friends over for lunch and an informal “novelcon” this week. We each bring pages to share, and we read and discuss them. We talk about what we’re working on and how the writing’s going. It’s low-key and casual. It’s a time to settle in and talk shop with old friends. A few times a year, we open it up to new people, but the temperatures are dipping, we’re gearing up for the holidays, and this feels like the right time to steal a moment to touch base, just the five of us.

When I was planning what I was going to make, my husband teased me. Each of us has some kind of a diet restriction these days. One of my friends keeps a Kosher kitchen now. She’s easy-going about it, but I don’t mix meat and milk and I never serve pork or shrimp. Another friend is gluten intolerant, so no wheat. I can’t eat milk or milk products. Ann can’t have acid, so no tomatoes. The only fruits she can eat are pears and blueberries. It makes menu planning interesting.

That’s not the only thing that’s changed for us over the years. We all thought that once our kids grew up, life would slow down. We’d have more time to write. It sounds good on paper, doesn’t it? But it hasn’t worked that way. Lately, I’ve had more time to write, but I’ve also gotten a lot more serious about it. And it feels like I can never get everything done in one day. I don’t work. I don’t have to leave the house, but my husband retired. We talk before I head back to my computer. We stop whatever we’re doing to eat lunch together. Some days, a kid stops in or calls. I’ve tried to add marketing to my daily agenda. I’m determined to read more. And I know how lucky I am to have all of these things to enjoy. So…I enjoy them:) And I work writing around them. My friends do the same. Two of them babysit for grandkids part of each week. One babysits full time and can’t get together with us anymore. Another’s husband loves to go on antique car, road trips. Another still works and can’t decide if she’ll retire.

I don’t know exactly what I expected when the last kid left and my friends and I all moved to the “next step” in life, but I didn’t get it right. I have a rocking chair, and it looks pretty, but I haven’t used it. Life’s filled up in new and different ways. How lucky is that! And that’s the great thing about Life. It just keeps surprising me. But I find time to squeeze writing in the mix. Hope you do too.

P.S. My agent liked the romance I sent her! She sent lots of notes, so I have plenty of rewrites, but they’re all do-able. That’s a relief.

Writing: Getting it on the page

I finished my rewrites for Blood Lust, the third Fallen Angels novel. It’s an urban fantasy, but I tried for fewer big battles in the book and for more tension between Enoch (the protagonist) and Feral (the antagonist). As a former mystery writer, I sprinkled clues here and there throughout the book to let the reader know that Feral’s devious, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Enoch. I was proud of myself when I finished my polished draft and gave it to my critique partners. I didn’t feel quite as brilliant once I got their feedback. The thing is, I knew the hidden meanings behind some of the scenes I wrote. The readers didn’t. What was in my head didn’t come out on the page. And that’s why writers need critique partners.

Writers live in their heads. Their characters talk to them. Scenes scroll behind their eyelids. We see them, hear them. And we THINK we’re writing them. But not always. There’s a fine line between being subtle and trusting the reader to “get” what you’re not telling him and…just not telling him. I’ve written books where I’ve given away too much too early (that takes away tension), so in this book, I tried to make the reader WORK for the clues. Except I was the only one who realized they WERE clues, and my readers just got frustrated. I know that feeling, too. I’ve read stories where the author withholds exactly what’s happening to try to titillate my interest, to keep me guessing and turning the pages. That simply annoys me. If the conflict isn’t enough to keep me turning the pages at the start of the book, trying to guess what the conflict IS irritates me even more. Keeping the reader in the dark is NOT tension.

Most books have a simple concept. Usually, in the opening scene, something happens to the protagonist that he doesn’t like. He wants to fix it. How he decides to fix it makes a book, because the fix is never easy. Nothing ever goes according to plan, and things keep getting more and more complicated or harder and harder to cope with. (Same goes for writing the book:)

I got the concept part right in Blood Lust. But once a writer introduces the problem the protagonist has to solve, the rest of the book is about cranking up the tension. It’s about teasing the reader with the idea that behind curtain number one, there’s a fix that’s going to make everything in our protagonist’s world better. We dangle that in front of the reader, and then we don’t let him reach it, or we take it away. We keep taking it away until the last one or two scenes of the book. I didn’t crank up my tension enough, because the readers didn’t SEE the problem. Only I did. That doesn’t work, and that’s why critique partners say, “What the heck was this scene supposed to do anyway?” (That’s when you know you have great partners, because they tell it like it is). And that’s when you know the story you had in your head didn’t translate to the page.

The other mistake I made was trying to find a balance between the book’s big conflict and developing my characters more. One of the writers I really admire at Scribes (my writing group) always tells us she needs a place to “sit” in our stories for a minute, to catch her breath and reconnect with our characters. Too much action can wear out a reader. Getting that balance right, though, takes a rewrite or two. Hopefully, I’ve worked through all of my critique partners’ notes and I’ve found my balance for tension, story line, and character development. I sent the finished manuscript to my agent. She’s swamped right now, so I won’t hear from her for a while. But when I do, I might have another rewrite in my future. Such is the world of writing. If we screw up, we can usually can make it right:)


Writing: looking for covers can hurt your eyes

I’ve finished a lot of rewrites lately. My critique partners and I got off schedule and out of rhythm. Life happens. People get busy or sick or take vacations, but I now have two, new novellas ready to go. They’re going to complete a bundle with some of my older Christian/Brina stories. That means I need three, new covers–one for each new novella, one for the entire collection. No sweat. I usually find the images I want to use before I ever write the first word. I fly through the stock picture sites that don’t charge royalties and scroll through page after page until I find the image that sticks with me. Between that and the story’s title, I get the mood and tone that I want to paint with my words. Piece of cake. And it was…for my novellas.

I’ve changed my mind over and over again for Enoch’s new novel. I’m starting rewrites for that on Monday, and I finally found the image I want to use late, last week. I can’t tell you how many images I’ve looked at to find the one that felt right to me. I got desperate enough, I thought I’d just use an image that made me think of Enoch. Not so easy. I can picture Enoch in my mind. He’s tall, dark, intense, and gorgeous–but in a worldly, I’ve-seen-it-all type way. I went to my usual sites. I typed in tall, dark-haired man wearing a long coat, like he does on the cover of Fallen Angels. Only one image came up. Close, but not right on. Enoch’s face is all angles and rugged. I tried all kinds of other key words and was starting to get frustrated. I finally typed in tall, sexy man with dark hair. Oh, lordy! Rippling abs scrolled down my screen, page after page. I would have dehydrated if my husband hadn’t brought me a glass of wine to fortify myself. I found LOTS of hot, sexy men in various forms of undress, but none of them struck me as Enoch. Most were too young. Some looked too friendly or nice. Or they were blond with blue eyes or cute and cocky instead of dark and brooding. Michael (who does my covers) can work many miracles, but he has his limits. It’s not easy carrying a mental image of your protagonist in your head. It’s hard to find a match.

I found a model I thought made a perfect Christian, but he never wore a shirt in any of the pictures I could use. Of course, most models these days don’t wear medieval garb, silly them. I had to force myself to look at page after page of hunks until I finally settled on something that’s not perfect, but has the right feel, at least, for me. Who knows how readers envision my characters? Anyway, some research is harder than others. If you see me and I have bloodshot eyes, you’ll know it’s because I’ve been working so hard:) Hope you’ve been hard at work, too! Finding the right man is still a tough job!