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Novel Experiment Day 6 – What Was I Thinking?

My hands and wrists hurt. I don’t give a shit what happens to the couple in Wallbanger. I pretty much hate this book I’m writing, too. Having no real foundation in the romance tropes and traditions I don’t have a real voice. I’m trying to write like this or like that instead of sticking to my own style.

Right now I feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

Die hard air shaft

I thought this would be fun. An interesting way to spend two weeks so that I didn’t mess around with Summer Wind before I can read it with a fresh pair of eyes and figure out how to get it in shape for the hand-off to my editor.

But this is like a punishment! I’m reading books I’m not interested in while books I genuinely want to read sit on my Kindle taunting me. Why am I punishing myself? Do I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough? That I haven’t earned a break? So far in 2014 I did final rounds of rewrites and published Griefed, wrote and published B.Y.O.P., and wrote a first draft of Summer Wind. If you don’t count Griefed as ‘writing’ since I finished the first draft December 30, 2013, I’ve still written over 120,000 words this year.

Day Six may just be an off-day. (And I did get a little over 1,200 words written which would be completely satisfying daily total if I was writing one of my “real books.”) One in which I feel sorry for myself and just really need some time away from the keyboard. But on the other hand I keep going back to the reason why I have never before attempted the romance genre: I just don’t like it. And writing something you wouldn’t want to read seems like a pretty lame thing to do.

giving-upSo. Do I forge ahead and push myself to finish a first draft in the next 8 business days? Do I take a more leisurely route and admit that two weeks is not enough time? Do I say “fuck it,” shelve the project, and dive into writing Lexy #4, or even just throw up my hands and take a break from writing for another week. Read books I want to read, watch movies, take my kid swimming and otherwise refill the creativity bank?

I’m going to sleep on it. And see how I feel tomorrow.

Novel Experiment Day 5 – Wallbanger and the Iliac Furrows

WallbangerDay Five research went pretty well. I found something fun to read: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton. The temperature is on the cool side i.e. I’m 40% in and the heroine hasn’t gotten laid even once. But, it’s a fun read and it’s making me laugh. In a “that’s funny” way, not a “I can’t believe how hard this sucks” way. It’s the first book in the “Cocktail” series, which includes Rusty Nailed and the upcoming Mai Tai’d Up. The comedy is on the slapstick side, but when you’re laughing out loud you can’t argue that it’s not funny.

The other thing I researched was anatomy. Specifically that V-shaped muscle below the abs. If you don’t already know, it is the iliac furrow, also known as the Belt of Adonis or just the V. Here it is in its natural habitat:

joe manganiello in magic mike 1

Finally, I did some writing. A lot of writing. 4,528 words or the equivalent of about 18 pages. And one of the things I’m finding as I read romance and attempt to write it, is that because there is no plot other than bringing the characters together and pulling them apart, you’ve got to sort of rathole on stuff that, for example, in my mystery/crime novels I would either skip or handle very briefly. Emotional stuff, for instance. Lexy Cooper may be full of emotion about a dead colleague or an errant boyfriend, but her distress only takes up a couple sentences. Maybe a paragraph at a time. In romance, the main characters ponder and worry, daydream and swoon for pages at a time. Depending on the book, the feelings junk can take up a lot more real estate than the sex stuff.

Day Five BnG

On Day Five I also attempted to write from the Stripper’s point of view for the first time. I hadn’t done it before because I guess it hadn’t sunk in that I was supposed to. It felt weird to jump into Cade’s head somewhere around Chapter Four and I’m not sure it helps the book. However, if I find myself light on words, that would be a good way to plump up the book; to go back and add a glimpse into his thoughts.

smart girls stupid

Finally, writing and typing this much has made my wrists begin to rebel. I’m not sure they will allow me to keep up this pace.

 

Novel Experiment Day 4 – Own and Bone

So this post is actually combining two days. A research (non-writing) day and a work day. I’m lumping them both into “Day Four.”

For my research I started reading Little Black Book by Tabatha Vargo and Melissa Andrea. I got to about 35% when I figured I’d read enough. For three reasons: 1) there are quite a few typos. Sloppy editing. 2) The female main character, Jessica, doesn’t seem to have a solid personality. Maybe it gels later on, but I won’t ever know because 3) I’ve read this before.

Not this book, but one just like it: Rush, by Maya Banks. It is an example of what I’ll call the “Own and Bone” subgenre of romance/erotica. What the hell is Own and Bone? Here’s the premise: Dude wants this chick. So he pays her to be at his command. Makes her sign a contract. She has to do what he says without question, most of which includes submitting to being tied up and ravished. Having been through this story already, I suspect that Jessica has a buttplug in her future. So I opted out.

erotic v romance coversI posted something about Little Black Book this morning on Facebook and one of my friends asked “Are you writing romance or erotica?” I asked “Where is the line?” and a lively debate ensued. Briefly, this friend said that you can tell the difference by the cover. She provided a picture to illustrate the difference, and I think she’s got a point. If you see a dark book cover with a close-up of body parts (or a pair of handcuffs) it’s probably erotica. If the cover has a light background and a couple gazing into one another’s eyes, it’s probably romance.

But. The book I read the other day, Where I Belong, was definitely romance but had very hot sex…albeit sans buttplugs (though there was a brief handcuffs episode).

So maybe the line between Romance and Erotica isn’t a line at all. Maybe it’s a buttplug.

That's not a binky, folks.

That’s not a binky, folks.

Here’s what I got done on Day 4:

  • Wasted time researching cooking schools in Italy.
  • Wasted more time deliberating whether an engagement ring should be cushion-cut or asscher-cut.
  • Wrote 4,408 words!

Day Four BnG

 

Romance/Erotica Fun:

50 Shades of Grey: Who Knew Women Liked Erotica? – USA Today

Novel Experiment Day 3 – A miscalculation and a pleasant surprise

Day three was great for research. Not great for productivity. BECAUSE I guess I forgot that I can’t write on weekends. Not because I’m lazy (which I am) but because I can’t write with people around me. As in I am an unfathomable bitch if you interrupt me while I’m writing. So in order to survive, I must adjust the Novel Experiment from Can I Write a Romance Novel in Two Weeks, to Can I Write a Romance Novel in Fourteen Days. Business days, that is.

Color RunOn Day 3 I got a lot of reading done. Part of it while my husband and younger daughter participated in a Color Run at a local park. People are running, dancing, wearing tutus, and pelting one another with packets of cornstarch colored blue, orange and pink. And there I am brushing pink dust from my kindle screen and muttering. #BookwormProblems.

 

I began to read but could not finish a book called Fierce by Clarissa Wild. The premise was nerd girl meets bad boy. Unfortunately, it was terrible. Everything about it sucked. Here’s my Goodreads review of Fierce:

“An absolute abomination. This had to be written by a pre-teen or it’s a poor translation of a tween book originally written in a language not English. In what language/culture does one “follow a class” instead of take or attend? I think most 12 year olds are too sophisticated for this.”

Mean? I guess. Maybe Karma set me straight because yesterday I got a scathing 1-star review of my short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa, calling it a “poor Janet Evanovich copy.”

Where I Belong

But the good news is that I found a romance novel that I actually liked! Where I Belong by J Daniels. The premise is a girl returns to her hometown for the summer and discovers that the hot stranger she’d picked up the night before is the guy who teased and tortured her when they were kids. So she hates him, but you know, wants to bone him 24/7. It follows all the romance rules including the HEA, but I cared about the characters and the sex scenes were exactly the right temperature of hot for me (ie no buttplugs or riding crops), and I even laughed out loud more than once. It was a good book. For real. At one point I was reading on the couch and I murmured “Oh my godddddd,” and my husband wanted to know what was going on. So I told him, “Oh, well, the guy with the nine inch dick was just revealed to be a cop.” File that under things not to say to your husband.

hot copSo what I learned from Where I Belong (which, I liked SO much I immediately downloaded her other book and, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you, fanned her Facebook page) is that the romance genre does not have to have corny dialog or stereotypical characters. They can be as contemporary as last week and the dialog can be how real people talk.

One thing I have noticed in my quest is that part of the book is often from the dude’s point of view. I don’t remember that from the bodice-rippers of eighth grade, so I don’t know if it’s a faulty memory or if it’s a new thing. I wasn’t planning to have any of my book be from the Stripper’s POV, but…should I?

Romance Fun:

Euphemisms for Body Parts in Romance Novels. - From BookRiot.

Novel Experiment Day 2 – The trouble with S and hella words

I decided “Hiatus Experiment” doesn’t really make sense, ergo “Novel Experiment.”

Rush Maya BanksDay Two research involved the book Rush by Maya Banks. In contrast to the Rafe MacKade book, the sex was not lukewarm. Nope, not at all. It was hot. Here’s my Goodreads Review for Rush. “Pretty well-written. The author believes that manly men say “damn well” a lot. The sex is definitely hot. I don’t find butt plugs even remotely romantic. Ending (HEA) was massive cheese. Rush is the first book in a trilogy, but I’m going to move on and try to get a broad spectrum of romance titles.

Still haven’t watched any romantic movies. Unless Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood counts? Didn’t think so.

As for the day’s actual work, I looked at that 4,285 number (of words I’d need to write in order to hit 60k at the end of the two weeks) and despaired. There’s no way. I think I wrote 4k words in a day once when I was on a roll with my first Lexy Cooper book. And recently I wrote 11,000 words in a week. But 4200+ in a day? Never.

Except, I did it! I felt completely wiped out at the end of it, but I managed to do it and I lived to tell the tale. Day Two BnG

Problems I encountered on Day Two:

  • I gave a character the name Lucas. Cool until I gave Lucas a job and a house and private jet. Then I had to deal with the mess of Lucas’s jet, or is it Lucas’ jet? Annoying.
  • In describing the first meeting of my hero and heroine, I was at a loss as to how to describe a stripper’s…moves. “And then he shook his ass” just isn’t cutting it. Prescription: Watch Magic Mike again.
  • My heroine works for a company that I’ve named Parker and Stowe. She’s recently been promoted to Vice President. She wears conservative work clothes and makes a lot of money, but what does this company do? What goods does it produce or service does it provide? I have no idea and I’m not sure my reader will care.

Stripper Fun:

RIP Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley

SNL strippers

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/chippendales/n41045

Hiatus Experiment Day 1 – Research, names, and outlining

Can I write a cheesy romance novel in two weeks? Here’s what happened on Day One:

In order to write a romance novel, some research is in order.

Rafe MacKadeSo I read a Nora Roberts book: The Return of Rafe MacKade. Nora Roberts, if you don’t know, is a zillion-selling romance author. She’s written over 200 romance books, and also writes a futuristic detective romance series under the name J.D. Robb. She’s got FIVE books coming out in 2014. So this book was great for being brief and driving home the romance formula: Boy meets Girl. Boy is great-looking, successful and used to getting whatever he wants. Girl is also great-looking (but not conceited), intelligent and headstrong. There are conflicts that keep them apart, the main one being the Girl’s internal war between wanting to be an Independent Woman and wanting to be Swept Off Her Feet caveman-style. Each gives in a little, hormones win. They live Happily Ever After. (I discovered that this is known as an HEA among fans). This particular book? Here’s my Goodreads review. “Lukewarm sex. Too many feelings.” As someone pointed out, “Isn’t it a romance book?” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I thought I should probably watch “The Notebook,” which I’ve never seen, but apparently makes romance fans swoon. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tonight.

Of course with just two weeks to bust out a first draft, I can’t just “do research” (a classic writer stall tactic), I actually have to Get Shit Done. So here’s what I got on paper (so to speak) on Day 1:

  • Named my five main characters. Now the Girl, the Stripper, the Good Boy, the Best Friend and the Gay Friend all have appropriate romance-novel monikers.
  • Named other stuff: the strip club, the company the Girl and her friends work for, etc.
  • Took my outline (that I’d had on the back-burner) and broke it into a ten-chapter grid.
  • Wrote 700 words of Chapter One. (A bit of a fib. 500 words or so were kinda-sorta scrawled in a notebook already, but romance is about illusions, right?)
  • Crafted a schedule. Genre fiction can run around 60,000 words. If I’m going to write this in fourteen days, I need to bust out 4,282 words per day. Yikes. I’ve written that many in a day a couple times and this is meant to be an experiment, not a punishment.
  • Rethink the word count restriction. What if I don’t focus on number of words, but on getting the main story down so I can fluff it up/fill it out later? Let’s get ten chapters down and not think too hard about words.

Not bad for the first day, but I’m going to have to step up my game in a big way. I also need to ingest more romance. I’d appreciate suggestions for movies and (short) books that typify the romance genre. I’m not interested in sub-genres (paranormal, time-travel, historical, etc), just boy meets girl meets trouble and then HEA. Thanks!

 

The Hiatus Experiment or Can I Write A Romance in 2 Weeks?

BES_064Yesterday I finished the first draft of Summer Wind. This is the book that was giving me fits just a month ago when at the half-way point I hated the book so much I wanted to burn it. I figured out the problem, fixed it, and the words just started to flow. The muse was sitting on my lap, cracking a whip, urging “faster, faster!” That bossy bitch brought in the book a month ahead of schedule. So I actually have time to follow my own advice and put it away for two weeks before starting the revision process.

*Deep Breath*

So, I’ve decided to take those two weeks to work on a semi-silly project I’ve had on a back burner for quite some time: A romance novel. Yes, yes, I know you’re sneering. And yeah, I’ve said some catty shit about the genre as well, but in a world of declining readership, romance readers are HUNGRAAAY. How hungry? Let me hit you with some stats:

  • Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012.
  • Romance was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYT, USA Today, and PW best-seller lists).
  • Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.350 billion for 2013.
  • 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008.

What’s my book about? Well, the premise is that a corporate VP good-girl with a perfect-on-paper life meets a hot young stripper. She can’t be with a stripper, right? Because she went to college and she has a 401(k), but DAMN THOSE ABS.

magic_mike_12

You see where I’m going with this. Romance is nothing if not formulaic. So, formula and premise in hand, I will attempt to write a first draft of this book in just two weeks.

Now, if I can just find that muse…. oh, there it is

alex-pettyfer-in-magic-mike-2012-movie-image-e1343252347347-1

Backstory: Don’t Blow Your Load

003-easy-connect-dotsI’ve seen some writing advice that suggests would-be writers know their characters as well as they know themselves. To come up with a complete dossier on their background including their family tree, the name of their first pet, favorite color, college minor, and blood type.

Bullshit.

That may be a fun exercise, but it’s a stall tactic. It’s shit you do to avoid the real work of writing. The other reason not to do it is that if you know every freckle on your hero’s ass, you’ll be tempted to catalog them for your reader because you don’t want to waste it. So you’ll end up breaking up the flow of your story with some lengthy aside about how Bobby summered every year at Lake Beelzebub where he and his six brothers would build forts and found a stray dog and named him Fleabite and all his brothers were brunette and tanned easily but poor Bobby had ginger hair and freckled all over and the last summer before Mom and Dad divorced (and Mom ran off with the redheaded UPS delivery guy), two of his brothers held him down in the grass while another one played connect the dots on his ass with a permanent marker. Poor Bobby. At this point your reader is wondering what this has to do with the International Space Station and Near Earth Object number 55436-X. So unless you’re going to bring back Fleabite as a ghost dog (or zombie!) or have UPS Delivery Dad swoop in for a last-minute space rescue…just don’t.

Dossier

Leaving your protagonist’s backstory unwritten gives you the freedom to fill in the blanks when you have need of them. For instance, if you write a series and you want to set one of the books in another country, well, look at that, it turns out Brenda did her junior year abroad in that very country! She’s got old friends who live there. Maybe an ex-boyfriend she’s never gotten over. And yay! She speaks the language! If you’d blown your college wad in book one going over Brenda’s entire collegiate experience, you’ve removed your flexibility. Because if you try to give Brenda a junior year in Italy when you’ve already said that was the year she had a showdown with her evil resident advisor and nearly burned down her dorm…your readers are going to come after you with pitchforks.

TL;DR: Leave some holes. Even if you don’t fill them in subsequent books, leave wiggle-room for your reader’s imagination

The Care and Feeding of a Muse

nga-calliope-allI absolutely believe in the muse. Not literally a daughter of Zeus, but the creative inspiration that comes from “out there.” Muse is as good a way to describe it as any. Sometimes she comes as an idea appearing in your mind like a bolt of lightning. Sometimes she draws your attention to something: a news article, a scent, a flavor, an overheard conversation, or the way that guy is edging away from the woman with a shopping cart at the bus stop. And once in a while the muse will sit down beside you and whisper words in your ear and you’ll have to scribble or type like your fingers are on fire to keep up with the flow of language.

Each visit from the muse is a gift. And like most gifts you must remember two things: don’t expect them, and be grateful for whatever you get.

The other thing to know about the muse is that she’s willful and unpredictable and nothing pisses her off more than being taken for granted.

If your plan is only to write when the muse inspires you? You ain’t gonna write. To wait for the muse is to disrespect the muse. You need to meet her halfway. You do this by sitting down at your weapon of choice—keyboard, legal pad, voice recorder—and getting down to business.

the_muses

Think of it like this. You know when you’re a kid and you go to the playground and no one’s around or everyone is already involved in their own games? If you stand there on the peripheries with a glum expression, no one will invite you to play. People want to join in when you’re doing something fun. Remember the long summer evenings when a couple of kids would start playing Kick the Can and before you knew it the whole neighborhood was out? The muse is drawn to creativity like kids are drawn to fun. So sit down, start creating, and see what happens when she comes around to investigate.

Of course, she won’t always gift you while you’re in prime writing position. Oftentimes you’ll suddenly have the answer to that dicey third act problem while you’re in the shower. Or wake up in the middle of the night with a character name you’ve been struggling with on the tip of your tongue. With me, it’s almost always in the car.  Here’s the solution: always always keep a pen and notebook close by. Trust me, do whatever it takes to capture what the muse gives you; you will not remember it later. There is the equivalent of the lost library of Alexandria of great ideas, jokes, and plot twists that authors have squandered for the lack of a damn pencil.

If you want a visit from the muse be respectful, be prepared, be grateful, and be ready to work.

Course Correction – When a work-in-progress isn’t working

titanic-shipLast week I wrote a long post lamenting the shitty state of my new novel Summer Wind. If you want to read the whole boohoo thing it’s here. The short version is: It sucked. My main character Detective Mike Malick was stiff and uninteresting. One of the solutions I pondered was “Try switching to the first-person POV” but I quickly nixed that as a “cop-out.”

My hesitation went deeper than a knee-jerk reaction. I wasn’t sure I could write a whole book from a man’s viewpoint. I’ve written brief scenes from male points of view in my Lexy Cooper series, but never in the first-person. I don’t know what it’s like to be a dude. Will Malick, channeled through me, come across like a chick in a false mustache? I was afraid.

Helena-Bonham-Carter-Mustache-Big-Vogue-Portable1

But then I tried it.

And it flowed pretty well. Better than I expected. I rewrote a chapter of Summer Wind changing the third-person past tense to first-person present tense, and compared the versions side-by-side.

And yeah, I liked it. And my alpha readers liked it too. One of them said, “I already love it.  his dry noir wit comes comes through even when he’s taking the high road on the outside,” and another said, “seeing it through Malick’s eyes is much more telling about who he is.” So it was decided. Now I just had to do a complete rewrite on a by then 37,000 word novel-in-progress. I estimated it would take nine days to fix and then I’d be able to go forward and write the rest of the book.

SW Old v New side by side

What I hadn’t really considered is how much I would end up cutting. About 5,000 words actually. The entire prologue (which I wasn’t sure was going to be in the final version anyway), scenes in Officer Yi and Officer Rogers POV, and while I was at it a clue that was too obvious too soon and a scene with a character that I’d sent out of the town in the previous chapter (logic fail.)

Here are a couple examples of how I did the rewrites. In scenes that were orginally in Malick’s POV (most of the book) it was an opportunity to add a little more stream of conscious personality. I changed this scene, when Malick wakes up and houseguest Lexy Cooper is burning breakfast:

She had twenty-nine years on her, but looked five years younger and acted ten years younger. He blamed part of it on her job. She worked in video games as something called a “community manager” which as far as he could tell involved writing stuff for the company website, traveling around making videos that streamed on the company’s online gaming service, and being subject to startling levels of harassment and abuse. That’s sort of why she was here. Had been here for weeks sleeping on his sofa and burning his bacon.

To this:

She has twenty-nine years on her, but looks five years younger and acts ten years younger. I blame part of it on her job. She works in video games as something called a “community manager” which as far as I can tell involves writing stuff for the company website, traveling around making videos that stream on the company’s online gaming service, and being subject to startling levels of harassment and abuse. That’s sort of why she’s here. Has been here for weeks sleeping on my sofa and burning my bacon. I keep buying it, she keeps burning it. Hope springs eternal, right? At least when it comes to salted meat.

The part of the rewrite that stung the most was eliminating the Cricket Yi and Mark Rogers scenes. I was especially fond of the scene in which my young redheaded cop interviews the murder victim’s daughter, who is sunbathing on the deck.

“Soooo if you want to ask me questions or whatever, I should probably put some clothes on. If you’re just here for the view…”
Rogers looked down, ashamed. “No, I…”
“I meant the view. You know, the valley and shit?” She swept an arm across the horizon and Rogers felt like a bumbling teenager. He pulled out his notebook and mechanical pencil so she wouldn’t see him blush.
“Go change and I’ll meet you back inside. You know gingers can’t take too much sunshine.”

How do I keep the gist and the flavor of the scene but make it Malick’s? This is what I did:

“Soooo if you want to ask me questions or whatever, I should probably put some clothes on. If you’re just here for the view…” She rolls her shoulders, suggestively.
“What? No, I…” I’m surprised at how offended I am.
“I meant the view. You know, the valley and shit?” She sweeps an arm across the horizon and I feel like a dirty old man. This is not going well. I pull out my pen and notebook and attempt to get control back.
“Go change and I’ll meet you back inside.” When she disappears behind her bedroom door, I call Rogers and tell him to get his ginger ass up here, pronto.

Once all that was done and all the “Malick”s and “he”s had become “I”s and “me”s, I got back to writing. In the first-person present tense. And man, do I feel better about the book. I’m so glad I decided to stop and check the map instead of just blundering along in the wrong direction. Sure, I’d probably be 10,000 words closer to finished, but it would be a shitty book. I’m behind schedule now, but only by a week, and the difference in the story, the character and my confidence in the book is more than worth the short delay.

If your book isn’t working, stop. Not forever, but long enough to assess the problem, mess around under the hood a bit and find a solution.

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