Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Day In The Life: Process, Phone Calls and Sensibility

Kind of a broad title, isn't it? But I like anything that gives me a chance to post a picture of Willoughby. Sigh, one of the most yummy cads around. I know, I know, shoot me, but I was hoping Marianne would end up with him. :)

But I digress . . . as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when I blogged about the plan for the series, I thought you guys might enjoy a little peek into my writing day--aka "the process."

If there's one thing that writers can agree on is that what works for one person might not work for another. My writing process has changed over the years--mostly because of deadlines and publisher requirements (i.e. the synopsis)--but the past couple of years, I've developed a pretty steady rhythm.

It takes me about 6 months to write a book. That's not actually all writing time. I give myself a good month of "macerating" to think about and develop the story, research the characters/historical background, and then write a synopsis. It might sound like a lot of time, but it really isn't. Fleshing out characters, trying to find their romantic arc, figuring out the all important BM, and trying to sync it all with what's going on historically can be a challenge. But other than writing "the end" this is probably my favorite part of the process. It's the time when I'm most in love with my story--correction: POTENTIAL story. When you actually start writing, all those great things you planned don't always work out. :)

I'm not a "seat of the pants" writer or a plotter but more of a "tweener." (Allison Brennan, Candice Hern, and I did a fun workshop on his once). Basically, I like to have a flight plan in place for where I'm going, but I don't necessarily want to know all the details. I want to give myself "targets" but have plenty in freedom in how I'm going to get there.

So before I sit down to write I like to have a couple of documents in place: (1) a synopsis (usually about 10-15 pages, which I give my editor for approval before I start), (2) a rough "outline" for lack of a better term. But what it really is is ideas for scenes mixed with turning points that I've used to write the synopsis, and (3) a "timeline" for plotting out the bigger turning point and ARC points of the plot and character. It sounds much more complicated than it is. :) Recently, I've started using index cards to mark the big "beats" of the plot (screenwriting term). I really like it, so I'll probably continue to do that.

The actual writing time is about 4 1/2 to 5 months, depending on vacations, school holidays, etc. With whatever time I have left, I send it to my critique partner Jami Alden (romantic suspense), beg her to read it quickly, and sit on pins and needles until she gets back to me. Most of my revisions come from Jami. By time it goes to my editor it's typically in pretty good shape.

Here's where the day to day stuff comes in.

After I get the kids off to school, I usually sit down at the computer by about 8 am and start tackling email for about an hour. Then, pretty much every day unless one of us is on vacation, I wait for the phone to ring. It's time for the daily phone call. For a good half hour to an hour Jami and I talk about what we're working on. Sometimes it segues from a discussion about a current book we're reading, sometimes it's a panic call, but most of the time it's just the daily slog of here's what I'm thinking, what do you think? I can't tell you how much good stuff comes out of these calls.

I swear we could talk for hours about this stuff (and sometimes do). This is where sensibility comes in. I think one of the reasons we've been so successful as critique partners is that we have the same sensibility when it comes to romance. With few exceptions we like the same thing: Alpha heroes, emotional intensity, and big black moments. Sometimes we sound like teenagers discussing a book. You should have heard the recent discussion we had after I read Karen Robard's "Forbidden Love." God, I loved that book! :) But the important thing is that we really know what the other person is going for, and I trust her to let me know if I have or haven't gotten there.

You wouldn't believe how many times we're discussing things and realize we've overlapped in some characterization or motivation. It's crazy. Even to the point of coming up (independently) with very similar plot points that are definitely NOT typical in romance. When Viper's story comes out, I'll fill you in. :)

After the phone call, it's time to write. Typically, I strive to write about a scene a day (roughly 1,500 words). With an occasional break for working out, I revise until about noon, eat lunch, and then write on my alpha smart until about 5 (with a break for picking up the kids). Sometimes those 1500 words go quicker, but more often they take longer. The alpha smart is supposed to cut down on my revising as I go, but I still manage to do it. Can't help it. :) When I'm closer to deadline, I'm working until 6 or 7, and also, sadly, on weekends.

Any promotion I do--answering email, blogs, website updates--is typically done on the weekend. Because this seriously cuts into already limited family time, promo is pretty limited. When people ask why I'm not on facebook, twitter, etc. this is why.

After I finish a book, it's right on to the next one. Literally. Only when I'm between contracts do I get a month or so break.

So that's it. Boring, isn't it?

You guys will have to read Jami's new Romantic Suspense series when it comes out from Grand Central starting in July, I swear sometimes we share the same brain. :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Little News Posted on my Website

Those of you wondering who is going to star in the next book, the wait is over. It's not often that you get to make 99.9% of your readers happy, but if the reader email and the comments on this blog are any indication, I think I just got to do that. :)

I'll be collecting on those bribes now, LOL.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

UPDATE: The Viper: A Highland Guard Novel is already up for pre-order on Amazon!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mini Update for Giveaway!

My planned post didn't materialize this week, but I wanted to pass on information about a big romance giveaway that Ing is participating in with a couple hundred other blogs here. Love that historical giveaway Ing. :)

I'm sure many of you guys back east don't want to hear about it, but we've been having amazing weather here. I think it's rained once in the past month and a half. Wish I could be enjoying it more, but somebody is chained to her computer right now trying to finish book #4.

Hope you have some fun plans for the weekend (is it here yet?) and Valentine's Day. I know this is probably heresy for a romance writer, but I'm not a big Valentine's Day fan. Never have been. It always felt so forced to me. But I guess it's a good excuse for a present. Dave, are you listening?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Plan

Recently, I put a new section up on my website called "All About the Highland Guard." If you missed a book, are new to the series, or just want a refresher before the next book comes out, it's the one-stop destination to find out what's been going on. I'll be updating it soon, but in the FAQs section, I answer (kind of :)) the most common question I get from readers: basically a variation of who's next or when is [blank's] story. You can read my answer here, but I thought I'd give a little more explanation of why I'm REALLY not trying to torture you. (Ing, this means you, LOL!) There is a plan . . .

I conceived the series to be between 10-12 books. If I get to write them all (I hope!), most but not all of the guys will have a story, however, there are some twists and turns along the way.

The series spans the period from 1305-1314, basically from the time Braveheart dies to the Battle of Bannockburn (the battle where Bruce definitively beats the English).

To do a big series like this, I needed to plan out the order of the books beforehand. I usually don't discuss the writer's process because I'm not sure readers are really all that interested in the nuts and bolts. But here it's relevant. I broke the period up into key events to give each story its own backdrop and to make sure it ended on a high note (i.e. The Chief ends with Bruce getting the crown, The Hawk ends with Bruce retaking his crown and Edward dying, and The Ranger ends with the big victory agains the MacDougalls). Then I tried to match up what was happening in that period with the hero whose skills would be the most useful. It was a little bit like working out a big puzzle, but most of them were pretty obvious (i.e. when Bruce is forced to take refuge in the Western Isles, it had to be my seafarer/navy seal--Hawk; when I read about a scout who warns Bruce about the ambush at Brander, I knew it had to be my scout, etc). From there, I came up with a very basic possible story line for each book, knowing I would possibly need to set things up in early books.

The point is that the order of the books and the hero have been set from the beginning and are determined by what is going on historically. So even if I know readers really want x's story, I can't write it out of order or the series would be jumping all over the place. This isn't to say that a certain book isn't on it's way--cough cough--but more to give a little insight into the order of things. :) In other words, there is method to the madness!

Planning and keeping track of all the characters and plot lines in a big series is a big undertaking and very different process from writing a trilogy. The initial document I had was over 50 pages single spaced. Now, it's hundreds of pages. But not long after I decided to write the series, I discovered an amazing writing software program that I was able to adapt to use as a series organizer. For those of you who are writers out there, SCRIVENER has been an amazing tool (right now only for macs, but soon for pcs). I wrote the developers about how I was using it, and they loved the idea so much they did a big interview with me, complete with pictures. If you are interested it's here.

My writing friend and I, Tracy Grant are going to be giving a talk to the Silicon Valley Romance Writer's Group in May on writing series. If any of you are local, you can find out more info here.

Having said all that, I hope to have some news soon as to what's next! My publisher is finalizing the schedule as we speak. Stay tuned . . .

Series are wildly popular right now. Every time I open up the latest issue of Romantic Times, it seems like the "series wrap-up" section is getting longer and longer. Of course, that makes me worry about reader burnout. I enjoy series in romance, as long as there is a happy ending for the main couple. In other words, I don't enjoy single character series as much (in romance at least). My favorites? Loved Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, Suzanne Brockmann's SEALs, Cindy Gerard's Black Ops, Tara Janzen's Steele Street. Right now, it seems like the biggest series right now are Paranormal and "small town" stories like Robyn Carr's.

What about you . . . do you like series? Are you getting series burnout? What are your favorite series right now (other than a certain Highland series, LOL)?