Ramblings of a Fictional Magpie

First off, in case you missed it, my Frank Randall Deserved a Happy Ending post went live on Heroes and Heartbreakers yesterday. Don’t tell Skye I blabbed it before she could share the link. When I first read Outlander, I actually didn’t. I read Cross Stitch, the British version (and original title) because A) it supposedly had more historical content, and B) Claire was “nicer” to Frank. I didn’t know anything about Frank when I went into this, apart from the fact that he was Claire’s original husband, and, really, had no good options when Claire came back from the past, in love with, married to, and pregnant by another man. I’m still not sure how the legalities of a pre-existing marriage would hold when a woman finds herself two centuries in the past, as Husband #1 wouldn’t have been born yet, thus could not have married her, because he didn’t exist, but he did exist, because Claire remembers him, and is wearing his ring at the time.

All of that is largely to get me over the hump of the blank page, because I’ve been staring at it for a while now, and this entry needs to be written, so going with the “throw something at the page and see where we go from there” stage. I think the first love triangle that I was aware of was King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot. Guinevere and Lancelot have some chemistry, and, if it weren’t for one of them being married, I could probably get behind them, but she was married, and to Arthur, and even at, hm, I want to say six, or so, I knew that something about this equation could not turn out well. Camelot came crashing down, both in folklore and the musical, which I watched on TV at the home of family friends. I didn’t entirely understand what was going on (again, six) but I was enthralled. This is probably more proof that I came out of the box, hardwired for historical romance.

I was the kid who, when given Jane and Johnny West figures for Christmas (maybe that same year? That feels about right.) did not fall in love with the mystique and adventure of the American West. Instead, I made them act out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. My dad was big on the classics, if nobody guessed that by now. Still, I think that wasn’t entirely what he had in mind. To this day, I’m not sure if Jane and Johnny were meant to be siblings or lovers. No, scratch that. I checked. They’re married. They also apparently had four kids. My parents probably kept that information from me, to forestall requests for the kiddo figures. I also did not know about the homestead, dogs, or friend and enemy figures, to say nothing of articulated horses and a bison. A bison. Seeing as how we have a stuffed bison (cuddly toy variety, not taxidermy variety) on top of our dresser, six year old me cannot complain of a bison-less existence.

This is the part where I stare at the screen, notice I have about two hundred more words to go before I can sign off on this entry, and have no earthly idea how to tie this into anything that will make sense to anybody but me. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe every entry doesn’t have to mean something,  and I can put what’s in my head out there, for readers to take what they will. After this, I have a critique partner’s chapter to look over, and then get something together for my weekly meeting with N. What I would most like to do is snuggle into my comfy chair, with a blanket, some hot beverage (tea or cocoa, not sure which one I would want in this hypothetical circumstance) and finish reading Holding Up the Universeby Jennifer Niven, because I am still emotionally raw from blazing through her first YA novel, All The Bright Places.     What is left of my heart still wants to hang out there, hang onto that voice, and, as I did with my Best of the West figures, pick what I want from the source, and figure out how those elements would work in the world of historical romance.

I think I was hard-wired for that sort of thing, too. Meat Loaf (the singer, not the food) once said that people need to keep one thing in mind when listening to any song composed by his songwriter, Jim Steinman: that everything Steinman writes is from the same story world, and it all fits together. I think Meat called it Wonderland (not the Alice sort, IIRC) but I may be wrong on that one. Still, it stuck with me.

Maybe that’s why I go through periods when I know, without a doubt, I am in full magpie mode. I’m hungry for a certain kind of story, or setting, or character type. When magpie season hits, I have to inhale everything I can about the current fixation, process it, and trust that it’s going to come out again in my own work, in some fashion. At six, I probably did not register Romeo and Juliet’s ultimate fate, and, at more-than-six, I am not going to tell the Bard how to write, but, in a romance novel, the lovers would be alive, together, and happy about it. That’s hardwired, too, and I am fine with that.

TheWriterIsOut

 

 

 

 

 

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Typing With Wet Claws: I Did Not Eat My Brother Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. I am sorry to say that I have to open this week’s post with some sad news. Last Friday afternoon, my fish brother, Tuna Roll, was all done being a fish.  I had nothing to do with it. Uncle came home before Anty, and did not see Tuna Roll at first. I followed Uncle into his office, because he is my favorite, and I love him the most. He looked at the bowl, and then looked at me. “Tell me you didn’t,” he said. I told him I did not. I do not jump or climb, because I am a floor girl. Then Uncle saw what really happened. Tuna roll was a good and pretty fish. He was very blue. He was a good swimmer, and he loved his plant. We will miss him. Anty and Uncle say that I may get another fish brother in a couple of weeks. I will not eat him, either.

Aside from that, this was a decent week for Anty’s writing. As usual, she was at Buried Under Romance on Saturday, kicking off a month of spooky romance talk with a look at the books that arguably started it all, the classic gothic romances. That post is here, and it looks like this:

BURgoinggothic

Because last week’s episode of Outlander was an odd-numbered episode, Anty got to recap it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. This was a very special episode for Anty, because it was all about Christmas, which is Anty’s favorite holiday, and it had two love stories in it. That post is here, and it looks like this:

Outlanders3e5recap.jpg

Now is the part of the post where I bring you up to date on Anty’s Goodreads reading challenge. Right now, she is one book behind, having read sixty-nine out of ninety books, but the weekend is here, so I fully expect her to get back on track by the next time she checks in on this front. If you would like to follow Anty’s challenge, it is here, and, right now, it looks like this:

GR131017

almost on track…

Anty finished reading one book this week, Southwark, by Jessica Cale. This book is relevant to Anty’s interests, because it is set in one of her favorite periods, the English Restoration, and it is very gritty. Anty loves when historical romance is very gritty. Her review is here, and it looks like this:

GRtyburncale

Anty looks forward to reading more books by Miss Jessica, and is always on the lookout for new books set in the Restoration. If you know of any good ones, please put them in the comments, and I will pass them along.

I can also pass along that, this week, Anty wrote her first scene for Drama King, and sent it in to Anty Melva. Now Anty waits to hear back from Anty Melva. Anty’s scene is really the second scene, since Anty Melva wrote the actual first scene that is in the book, but this is the first scene where the hero and heroine actually talk. I am pleased to note that the hero does consider his poor cat, waiting at home for dinner, when choosing his course of action. That alone means that this book is off to a very good start.

Drama King is not the only book Anty is writing, however, and, this week, at her critique meeting with Miss N, Anty heard those words that make her remember saying bad words in Panera is not polite. Those words are, “when do you think you’ll get back to writing (new chapters on Her Last First Kiss)?” and they come from Miss N. Anty did not actually say the bad words, but she knows that, when Miss N asks that question, it is because Anty has probably done about all the planning (or re-planning) she needs to do for this section of the book.

Overhauling half of an entire book is not something a writer goes into lightly, but, sometimes, it has to be done. This sometimes includes things like writing out calendars by hand for all the time in which the story could take place, and using those calendars to figure out how long things would take, from travel times, to how long it takes to make a new  human, and when the existing humans would be aware that the new human was underway. Because Her Last First Kiss is historical, that means Anty also has to figure out things like what foods are available when, how much moonlight there would be on a particular night, how long a party can last, and what things a human might accidentally leave behind when they have to leave a place in a big hurry.

Thankfully, Anty has most of that in place, so now it is a matter of making sure she really does have all of her metaphorical ducks in a row, and then getting back to business. Once she has everything straight, she can tell the story, without having to stop and check. That is one of the occupational hazards of being a puzzler, like Anty. Some writers are plotters, who decide how the whole story is going to go, and then follow that plan. Others are pantsers, who create as they go, with no plan. Anty is somewhere in the middle. She love to plan, but sometimes, her story people have other ideas, and she will see scenes that are not always in order. That is okay, because Anty loves to organize, so this means she gets to write everything down on index cards and make sure she has no holes in the storyline. Then she can go right through to the end. She likes that part of the process, too.

This is where Tuna Roll’s Thought of the Day would have gone, but, because Tuna Roll was all done being a fish, we will make it Tuna Roll’s Parting Thought:

0825TunaRoll

RIP, Tuna Roll; you will be missed

 

That is about it for this week, so, until next time, I remain very truly yours,

skyebyenew

see you next week

 

 

Typing With Wet Claws: Warm and (Chicken) Tender Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another Feline Friday. We have one week of October under our belts. Except for me. I do not wear belts. I do not wear anything. I do have a full length fur coat, but it is built in, which means is it part of me, so I am not wearing it.  This week was not as full as last one, but it was still a good one, and one I have to review in full before I am allowed to talk about anything else.

First, as always, Anty was at Buried Under Romance this past Saturday, wrapping her Back to Romance School series of posts, asking what we have learned about romance. I, personally, have learned quite a bit. Mainly that there need to be more cats in these books, but Anty is working on that. Her post is here, and it looks like this:

BURwhathavewelearned

Since it is the first week of the month, that means it is time to look not only at Anty’s reading progress, but at how many of those books were historical romance. Right now, her Goodreads challenge looks like this:

GRreadingchallenge061017

Her goal is to read ninety books before the end of the year, and, so far, she has read sixty-eight, which puts her on track for the second week in a row. Good job, Anty. Keep up the good work. I will sit very very close to you, to provide inspiration. Also body heat. I am very, very fuzzy.

hr-challenge-2016-badge

The next question is, how many of those books were  historical romance? Once again, Anty is on track. Her goal was for at least half of the books she reads this year to be historical romance. So far, out of sixty-eight, thirty-four are historical romance. If we count the historical fiction with romantic elements, that puts her over half, but the jury (comprised entirely of Anty) is still out on that one, so we will say half, to be on the safe side. That is still pretty good. The rest are divided among YA, historical fiction with romantic elements, and some contemporary romance/women’s fiction.

Here are the books Anty reviewed this week, both YA:

GRwindfallsmith

Windfall, by Jennifer E. Smith

GRgenuinefraudlockhart

Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart

On the writing front, there is some good news. Earlier this week, Anty Melva sent Anty an email at her writer address, not her personal address. Anty was not sure why Anty Melva was sending her email there, but then she opened it and found out that one of the publishers Anty Melva queried about Chasing Prince Charming liked the query and now would like to read the whole book. That made Anty and Anty Melva very happy, and they hope this publisher will like what they see. In the meantime, their next book, Drama King, will have a cat in it. They should probably mention that in future queries. Editors generally like cats.

Anty now has three writer friends who are looking at Her Last First Kiss, to help her make it the best book she can write, right now. The people looking at it are Miss N, Miss Vicki, and Miss T, who is starting from the beginning. Miss T sent Anty an email with her comments on the second chapter, asking if she was being too critical. Uh oh. That made Anty a little nervous, but she would rather know what needs fixing than not give the book her very best. She opened the file, and guess what? It was not that bad. Miss T also writes historical romance, and they have some of the same tastes, so Anty is very happy to have these sorts of comments. They help her want to make the book even better.

This week was also Anty’s first time making chicken tenders in the oven. I did not get to eat any, because I am a kitty, and chicken tenders are people food, but I do get chicken flavored cat food sometimes, and the kitchen smelled really, really good. I came in to check on how she was doing, because the room was warm and smelled like eggs and birdies, and those are most excellent smells when one is a kitty. This is what the chicken looked like when Anty took it out of the oven:

Tenders

I did not attack that middle tender. Anty cut it in half, to make sure it was cooked all the way through. It was. Anty was not sure at first that she wanted to try making chicken like this, because she had never done it before, but humans tend to get cranky when they have not been fed on time, so she read through the instructions and went on ahead. She had been leery of touching raw chicken, but, as it turns out, she did not have to do that. There are things called tongs that come in handy for things like this. Pick up the chicken with the tongs, put it into some flour, then some eggs, then some breadcrumbs and then the oven. I do not like it when the timer beeps (it is too loud) but the kitchen smelled so good that I did not mind all that much.

It is like that with writing sometimes. A new idea may seem scary at first, and the writer may even be a little squicked out, but, if done right, the new thing could also become a new favorite. Also, chicken is delicious.

Now it is time for Tuna Roll’s Thought of the Day. Take it away, Tuna Roll.

0825TunaRoll

No matter how smooth things look on the surface, there is always something fishy going on. -Tuna Roll

Thank you, Tuna Roll. That is very true.

That is about it for this week, so, until next time, I remain very truly yours,

skyebyenew

see you next week

Carrots, Sticks, and Nibbles

One thing I have learned about the way I write now, is that I am extremely self-bribeable. Today, the carrot on my stick is a chapter of Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart. In the alternate universe where I am in charge of everything, my plan for the day would be to snuggle on the bed with a fuzzy blanket, this book, and an endless supply of hot Lapsang Souchong tea. Throw in some shortbread, and my fully charged Kindle, so that I can gobble Tyburn, by Jessica Cale, after I finish Genuine Fraud. I am not, however, in charge of everything, but I am in charge of getting done what I need to get done today.

Some days, productivity comes on its own, I zip through the to-dos, and, especially now that it’s fall, and days are growing shorter (thankfully; these earlier dusks make me feel alive. I’ve always been that way. Early sunset feels like the world being tucked in for the night, with flannel sheets and handmade quilts.) but other days, not so much. Other days, and this is one of them, I need a carrot on that stick to move forward. One carrot, so I can focus on getting to that treat after I complete one task, instead of looking at the elebenty bajillion that swarm over my head, in chaos and motion. I highly suspect they are breeding, because there always seem to be more, every time I check.

That’s one of the reasons I am notebook-mad. Corral those suckers between their own covers, assign them colors and images, and assure them I’ll give them my full attention when it’s their turn. That seems to be working, so I am going to stick with that. I grabbed Genuine Fraud from the shelf, knowing nothing but that it was the new book by the author of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, We Were Liars. I didn’t want to know anything else, and actually preferred to go into this book completely, 100% blind, because the author’s voice is worth it. I trust the author, know ahead of time I cannot trust the narrator, and I am fine with that. For Tyburn, well, it’s called Tyburn. Sold. I am crazy in love with seventeenth century England, which was a huge motivator in writing my own Orphans in the Storm, though there is very little of that book set in England. Tyburn? Gallows? Yep, I’m there. Darker historical romance with a heroine who is a prostitute at the start of the story, and a tutor hero who has a side hustle as a highwayman? Shut up and take my money.

So. Carrots. One of the downfalls of being in charge of one’s own work is that, sometimes, one does need the additional enh (universal sound made when one cannot…quite…reach a desired object) factor. Some days, that’s write a blog entry, read a chapter. Research an article, read a chapter, do a thing, read a chapter, etc. At the end of the day, the stuff is done, and more chapters have been read, so everybody’s a winner. So far, that is the plan for the day.

What I did not plan for, was an email from my co-writer, Melva Michaelian, letting me know that one of our queries has obtained a nibble. There is a publisher who would like to see the entire manuscript. Cue simultaneous celebration and nerves. What if they don’t like our baby? What if they do? Whoa, whoa, cool your jets, babe. This is a good thing. This is what we want to have happen. The Fraud Police have not (to my knowledge) been dispatched to my current location (if the doorbells rings in the next sixty seconds, I will jump through the roof, fair warning. Eh, if it rings any time, I will jump through the ceiling. It’s a prewar doorbell that buzzes through the walls.)

Not going to lie, it is exciting getting a nibble, that “okay, let’s see what you’ve got. I like what I read so far and want to know more.” Consider it the book version of a test drive. Somebody whose job is to find books people want to read thinks that maybe ours has a chance of being one of those. For someone in the process of getting back on the horse, that’s a nibble on ye olde carrot, and it does serve to add a bit of strength to the pull.

Another email brought comments on one of my chapters, from my newest critique partner, which reminds me I need to get my comments on their chapter back to them, which means better get cranking on the rest of the tasks for the day. Onward.

Past, Present and Future

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, lately. With anxiety, that’s usually par for the course, and, all too often, too much thinking, given to many bunny trails, several transfers on the old logic train, and sometimes veering off the tracks entirely, to go directly from A to Z. I honestly don’t remember what it was that got me swiveling the office chair around, to look at my Bertrice-Small-only bookcase, or what made me pluck Duchess from the shelf. Maybe it’s part of the “when you feel like quitting, remember why you started” idea, but A) I do not feel like quitting (and am not) and B) remembering why one started is always a good refresher. For me, it was that purloined copy of The Kadin, by Small, that got me started in this whole historical romance game, and I did want to touch that feeling again. Maybe I picked up Duchess because it was the closest book to my hand when I swiveled the chair, or because it’s a standalone, or maybe it was luck of the draw.

Duchess Desktop

book, and stuff inside book…

When I opened the cover, (Elaine Duillo remains my all-time favorite illustrator) I found not one, but two surprises. First surprise was a sticky note I’d written to myself while writing Orphans in the Storm, a snatch of dialogue between Jonnet and Simon. Second surprise was a long, thin, white envelope, so, of course, I had to investigate that, and its contents. Said contents proved to be a bookmark from a once-upon-a-time friend, whom I’d met through a once-upon-a-time fandom (not Once Upon a Time fandom, in case there’s any ambiguity) with a note declaring herself a fan of my work. At that time of the writing of the note on the back of that bookmark, said work consisted of fan works, one long manuscript that lives in a storage unit, where it cannot hurt anybody, and, if I am doing the math right, maybe My Outcast Heart. There’s not date, so I can’t say for sure.

I can’t remember if this friend ever read My Outcast Heart, as life took us in different directions, but I still love her dearly and hope she’s well, with lots of great books to read. I have no idea why that bookmark was in that book, and no, I did not make note of which page or scene it marked. What I do remember is that my first inclination was to arrange them all on my desk and take a picture, then ask myself what these three things had in common. Why did I have them all in the same place?

For the second question, I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure if I do for the first one, either. What I do know (and here I give away my secret for keeping writing when I have no idea what comes next: write “what I do know is:….” and then something will usually come, even if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. There’s probably a way to connect it later. First job is to get things written; they can be prettified later.) is that this collection of objects felt perfectly right for where my brain is at the moment: kind of jumbled, still madly in love with reading and writing, especially historical romance, and more determined ever to bring the best of my reading and writing roots into the work I am creating now.

There have been a lot of eras within the historical romance world, between the day I stole that book from my mother’s nightstand and my opening of Google Docs today. Whole careers have come and gone, and, for some, come back again. Other favorite authors have sailed off into the proverbial sunset, either to a hopefully happy retirement, or the great beyond. There have been a lot of eras in my own life, as well, both personal and reading/writing. I am no longer involved in the fandom in which I had met my once-upon-a-time friend, but I still cherish this bookmark, and have put it into my bookmark jar, to go back into rotation. I like using bookmarks that give me a sense of connection, and this certainly fits the bill.

Out of the three items, the one I find myself going back to the most is the sticky note.

OitSnote

No idea if this actually made it into the book.

Right now, I have no idea whether this exchange actually made it into the book, but if it didn’t, now we know why. If it did, well, good for me, because I like it.  (And no, Simon, you were never a coward. You have been many things, but a coward has never been one of them. Trust your author.) I also like sticky notes, and no notebook is truly mine unless it has a bunch of them sticking out from between the pages, covering pages, hopefully color-coordinated, but sometimes, obviously whatever was at hand at the moment I needed it. That’s kind of how this writing thing works.

Still getting my ideas on historical romance in general together, in semi-coherent form, but, on a personal level, finding these things all together had that feeling that always sends the right kind of tingle along my spine. Yes. This. Here’s why I do what I do. One book by the author who made me love historical romance, and recognize it as my genre. One bookmark from a reader who loved something I wrote. One note from myself, to myself, in the process of writing a book that has gone out into the world. Since all of my backlist is currently e-book exclusives, I have not yet reached the point of someone pulling one of my books from the shelves and finding anything inside it, but there’s only one way to get to that point.

The route to that point is made of a thousand more sticky notes, a thousand more hours of reading, the lovely surprise of a kind word from a reader, at unexpected moments, and a thousand other things. Write, revise, submit, repeat. Yes. This. Thanks for the reminder, writer, reader, and me.

What Happens To Everybody

I’m not getting philosophical here. That’s literally what I wrote at the top of the page in my notebook this morning, while the laundry spun. We are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave, though it’s almost October, I am wearing a white sundress because we are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave near the end of October, it is laundry day, and, for someone who has used the hashtag #gothlaundry on more than one occasion, one wears what one has on hand. None of this has anything to do with writing, but it does have a lot to do with why I wrote those words on the top of the page.

Original intent was to read, but, if I can’t muster more than a “meh” for the newest book by on of my all time favorite authors, it is obviously time to do something else. I did not bring any lettering stencils with me, so that left writing. Yesterday, N and I spent our critique time talking about direction and the outlining and/or re-outlining we both need to do for our respective WIPs. Outlining for her, mostly re-outlining for me. Change one thing in one chapter, and then whoosh, it affects the rest of the book. Even when has already written that book, or thinks one has written that book. It’s humbling.

Author and historical consultant, M.P. Barker, also a friend and, for many years, invaluable critique partner, calls this the mushroom effect. Pull up one floorboard to fix what one thinks is a minor issue, and whoops, there’s a whole farm of mushrooms underneath. Or something like that; I should probably get her to explain this better, but that’s basically the gist of it. The goal is not to burn down the house (note: M.P. Barker’s husband is a firefighter, so this may verge on an unintended pun) but to fix the floor. So, deal with the mushroom infestation, then get back to fixing the floor.

In this case, a generic character becomes a specific character, and logistics of who can be where and do what, when, call into play not only calendars, but phases of the moon, what Hero might have on his person at a given moment, travel times, what servants do what jobs, and, on the large scale, what happens to everybody.

This means everybody. Everybody. If they got a name, they get a fate. Though Critique Partner Vicki wants me to kill off two characters, there’s no reason for either one of them to die in this story, and, really, letting them live with themselves is the worse fate, anyway. Question is, where do they do that living? What about the servants? Supporting cast? Various relations, whether our hero and heroine are close to them, or not? When hero and heroine go on a sea voyage, who goes with them? As writer buddy H terms them, these are fancy rich people, so when they go somewhere, they are going to bring people with them. Hero’s valet, heroine’s maid, other people to deal with the stuff that has to come along with them, and does the one family member who goes with them get their own servant, or do they share with their relative of the appropriate sex?

This is the part of second drafting where the keen eye of a critique partner catches dropped threads, when questions like “what happened to the teacup?” (Spoiler: nothing of note happens to any teacups in any of my books so far, other than that people drink tea out of them. Presumably, people also wash them, because that would be disgusting if they did not. This is only meant as an example.) This is also the part where the author looks at the page and says something like, “Huh,” because they kind of wandered off after their character set down the teacup. There was a duel or something happening next, (there are no duels in any of my books, either, at least not so far) and the fate of a teacup is not the most pressing issue at that moment, except that it is, or, more accurately, it can be.

Bertrice Small once said that, if you have one thousand readers, nine hundred, ninety-nine of them are not going to catch those dropped threads. She also said to write for the one reader who will, because they will let you know about it. Seeing as she had over sixty titles to her name, and a Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement award, I think she may be onto something. Hence the notebook page, which will get transcribed, printed on green paper (you bet I color code all this stuff) and put in the notebook that I now need to completely overhaul, because I always set these things up wrong the first time.

I don’t mind the tearing-down-to-the-studs part of a book. Actually, it’s one of my favorites. The grunt work is done, and now I get to fine tune things. Sometimes, a lot of things. Sometimes, that does require tearing down a load-bearing wall, to keep with the renovation theme, but I’m okay with that. By this point, I know the characters better, and, when asked which servants are going along with our hero and heroine, it’s not all that hard to think about who would want to go and who would want to stay, who would have run off, and who says forget the whole thing, I’m marrying this other servant and opening a shop of our own.

There are still moments, though, where it all feels like a LOT, and the idea of a blanket fort (in this weather, one with central air conditioning would be a must) holds great appeal. Greater, though, is the appeal of getting it all on paper -has to be paper for me- and getting it all out where I can see it, because that makes the excitement greater than the fear.

TheWriterIsOut

But I Don’t Feel Like Writing

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most of us have been at this point at one time or another. If you’re a writer who has never been there, wait. It’s coming. Consider it an occupational hazard. My desktop is an autumn theme, because I need the reminder of what season we’re really in, even though the weather report says we’ll be hovering around ninety degrees for most of the week. This is not my favorite weather, or my family’s favorite weather. Possible exception for Tuna Roll, since he is a tropical fish, but that’s one for, three against. We are not, however, in charge of the weather.

There’s the matter of current events, there’s anxiety, there’s the matter of not wanting to blabber my way through one more topic-less blog post and shake the generic you-can-do=it pompoms, at myself or anyone else, so I’m going with where I am right now, which is wishing Monday came with a snooze button. There’s the doubt over the Outlander recap I sent off last night. Did I forget something important? Did I get someone’s name wrong? Did I miss some essential Easter egg those who have read this far in the books will be buzzing about today, because I am farther in the TV series than the books, and, if I am farther in the TV series than the books, what am I doing writing about it, anyway? Ironically, the next thing on my list is to write another piece about Outlander. Funny how these things work.

I like lists. They give structure. I like to know where I’m going, and lists can serve as a roadmap for the day, especially on days like this one. I will now date myself and reference the Vicki Lawrence sitcom, Mama’s Family.  In one episode, Thelma, the Mama of the title, applies for a part-time job. The interviewer asks her if she knows how to answer the phone. Thelma, in a deadpan voice, says no.  When it rings at home, she runs around in circles, screaming “What’ll I do? What’ll I do?” Of course she knows how to answer the phone, which translates, in this case, to of course I know how to write, because I do. See? I’m doing it right now.

As I am going for that two hour block of the most important tasks first, that’s what has to get done, even when I don’t feel like it. That’s true for any job. Work starts at a certain time, and the worker is there, or the worker does not have a job for much longer. Since my goal is production right now, this means butt in chair, do the thing at the top of the list, cross it off, do the nest thing, cross that off, drink water, take breaks, and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to be written.

That’s the hard thing. I want it to be perfect. I want to somehow get everything in my brain onto the page, preferably by willing it there, and have it have happened double-digit years ago. Not the most realistic desires there, especially that last one, but those are where I am today. I’m also here, at the desk, with an idea, and moving forward. A million single steps add up to arriving at one’s destination. The worst thing for me, the very, very worst, is not knowing what I’m doing. Tried pantsing, doesn’t work for me. Nor does strict plotting, though I’ve tried that, too. That leaves puzzling, which can be downright irritating for someone who likes to have a clear roadmap, but my imaginary friends are prone to taking the scenic route when I didn’t tell them they could. Ingrates.

Eventually, we’ll work it out. We always do. We kick and we fuss, sometimes them, sometimes me, sometimes all of us, and then, usually when I get up to do something else, bam, there it is.  This often works with writing my nonfiction posts as well. Not all who wander are lost and all that good stuff. It’s too hot today to make tea, so I am doing this without caffeine. The coffee house down the block has, sadly, closed, so I am now in the market for a new other place to write. This makes me grumpy, because I liked that place, but we will dub it “plot twist” and move along. Check this blog entry off the list, and move on to aforementioned Outlander piece, then transcribing handwritten pages for Her Last First Kiss. 

After that, it may be time for more handwritten pages, time to step away from the screen and the temptation of Facebook, the distraction of current events and checking the weather and checking the word counts and checking this and checking that and checking the checking and slip into the story world for a while. Time to write the story as though I were the one reading it (does that sound weird? It sounds like it should sound weird.) and watch the ink swirl onto the paper as my imaginary friends and I head off on the next adventure.

 

Some Things, We Know

One of theses days, I should probably change my desktop wallpaper. Taking bi-weekly (as in two per week, not one every two weeks; they really are new pictures every time) deskscapes allows me to notice things like that. I like this wallpaper, but it’s been up for a while, and if the whole point of taking deskscapes in the first place is to get a shot of where I am working today, but today looks nearly identical to two days ago, that could arguably be defeating the purpose. I like this wallpaper. I like it a lot; wise words in that image, and it fits my aesthetic. I have my open planner on the desk, so the actual date is clear…if one zooms in…okay, and reads Dutch. Housemate did once ask me, in a worried voice, if the big “woe” at the top of my planner page was my mental state. It was not. I write the days of the week in Dutch. Months, too, but they’re pretty close. We’re almost at October, so maybe Abbie and Ichabod can come back for the season. I may need to start scheduling desktop changes. If it’s in the schedule, I’m more likely to do it.

Which is where my initial blabbering turns into actual blogging. Since I’ve been moving my target date for handing A Heart Most Errant over to beta readers, I’ve been looking at exactly what needs to get done, when it can be done, and how much time this is realistically going to take, along with continuing the restructure of the end-of-the-middle part of Her Last First Kiss‘s second draft and the ball for Drama King having landed firmly in my court. Which begs the question, what the heck am I doing?

Well, writing, duh. Obviously. That much is pretty clear. Working on three books at different stages means juggling a lot of balls, and the odd chainsaw thrown into the mix at any given time. So why was this the good decision? I have no answer for that. It happened. That moment when “hey, spiff that old novella and give it another chance at life” idea was not something I’d expected, and I will admit that part of the delay is that  the idea is kind of scary.

The last time I pitched this story was to one of the bigger name agents, who  read snippets of my own work back to me, and told me she would totally read this book for pleasure, but that she couldn’t sell a medieval in this (at the time) current market. My choices were, as she saw them:

  1. Trunk the book and forget it, period. (Not an option.)
  2. Publish independently. (She seemed keenest on this one.)
  3. Hold onto it until the market changes, and medieval are more marketable. (Not even going to try to predict when this would be, but medieval fans are loyal.)

I hadn’t thought too hard about writing medieval romance until the ideas of medieval and post-apocalpytic romance getting together and making book babies came around, even though I’d been reading medieval for years. The idea came when it came.  I did not go looking for it.

Same with my current historical home in the eighteenth century. If I had to pinpoint a moment when that turned into a thing, I would be hard-pressed. I lived the first ten years of my life in a town the British burned to the ground during the American Revolution, so the eighteenth century was literally all around me as a wee little princess, and the big one-oh for me was also the big two-oh=oh for the entire country. As for the British part, our closest neighbors for the first years of my life were Scots immigrants, and my mom’s best friend was a British ex-pat. I sometimes spell certain words with extra u’s, because I was used to that from an early age.

One moment, though? If I had to pick, as in if the life of a loved one were in danger, I would have to say that would be the walk from my dorm to the Marcus Garvey lounge on the Wesleyan campus, during my summer at Center For Creative Youth. Do not ask me what the subject of the day’s class was, because I have no idea, but that’s where those of us on the writing track reported after breakfast. I want to say we’d had something to do with eighteenth century literature, maybe poetry, the day before, and the rhythm of the language was in my head, and characters started talking that way.

First thought: that’s weird that they’re talking that way. Second thought: it’s weirder that this is totally comfortable. I did not immediately begin writing Georgian romance after that. We are not going to discuss the time I tried to write a Regency. Key word is tried. Something clicked, then, or maybe planted itself is a more accurate term, but I remember that feeling, and I recognized it again, this morning. Today was laundry day, which meant laundromat reading time. Which usually means Kindle, but mine was at home, charging, and I had the Kindle app on my phone.  I’d loaded Be Not Afraid, by Alyssa Cole, and, within seconds of reading the first page, bam. There it was.

Yes. This. That instant feeling of not reading a historical romance novel, but actively being in the story, firmly grounded in time and place, inside the skin of a character as real and alive as the people I can reach out and touch. Thankfully, none of the reach out and touch kinds of people were in the laundromat  at that time, but it reminded me why I’m doing this. Writing, that is, not laundry. I know why I do laundry.

It’s that feeling, that instant transportation to another time and another place. That feeling is, and always has been, my happy place, or one of them, and if I can bring that to somebody else, then I will consider it a job well done. I like a lot of historical eras, so I’m not ruling any of them out. I will probably wander like the temporal nomad I am, but setting down and making camp for a while, well, I like that fine. That, I can do.

 

 

Plans and Deviations

If I can get this blog entry written and up in exactly twenty-nine minutes, that means I can still stay on schedule. For someone highly motivated by planning, this is the carrot on the stick. Hitting the page with no particular topic this morning, but am tired of writing about not having a topic, so off I go, into uncharted territory, and, somehow, we will fill the magic seven hundred words needed to call this post done, and then I can have lunch. Sounds like a good plan to me.

It’s Monday, the start of another week, which means that my ideal plan was to spend the majority of Sunday making my weekly and daily planner pages. No, I am not going to talk about making planner pages. That is highly fascinating to people who are into that sort of thing, dead boring for those who are not, and oddly confusing for everybody who isn’t sure if they fall into either category, and isn’t this technically a writer’s blog, anyway?  Specifically romance writing; I mean, really, it’s right there in the title.

Okay, technically right under the title. If we’re going only by the title, this could be construed as a blog about typing (or nail care) which would probably have delighted my father to no end. What we get instead, is one romance writer-slash-blogger making her way back onto the bookshelves after a life detour. Anything under that umbrella (and it is a pretty big one) is fair game. Which is useful on blabbery mornings like this one. I am going to leave out the stuff that would actually be interesting if this were a blog about planning (and I have not ruled one of those out, but books come first,) like how my default lettering style seems to owe a lot to American traditional tattoo art. That can probably be explained by my affinity for Ink Master, but is not actually applicable until whenever it is that I have a hero or heroine who actually has or creates tattoos. So far, we are at zero for that one, which means we are stopping this bunny trail now.

One thing I have learned when creating my own planner (I am not turning this into a post on planning, I promise. Stick with me here.) is that deviations are going to happen. Write a first draft, start on the second, and this will become eminently clear. I have, thankfully, banked enough pages to bring to critique session with N that I can put this particular puzzle on the back burner, but there’s that moment when I’m tapping my pencil against the well-worn surface of the now bonus-office-buddy-free desk (please please please be a bonus-office-buddy-free desk) and staring at chapter sixteen of Her Last First Kiss and kind of one-eye-squinting at the screen (also a reminder to visit optomestrist, because eyeballs are kind of important) trying to figure out why this second draft scene is not gelling (note: whenever a writer puts a note that reads some variation of “figure this out later” that writer should remember that later always arrives.) and a particular bit of useful but annoying advice comes back into play.

That bit would be to go back to the last place things absolutely worked. There was a decision made somewhere in there that sent something off on a wonky  track. This is also known as the place where that missing piece is probably waiting, tapping its foot and wondering what took the writer so danged long to get back to it. Sure enough, if Character X had y’d before they z’d, then Character A could be aware of the y-ing and boom, there’s where chapter sixteen wraps.

If this were a planner or bujo or art journal page, I would slap a piece of washi tape over the mistake and move on along. Washi tape does not work well with computer screens, so this requires going back to the previous chapter and making a different decision. It’s an easy fix, so why is it scary? Why the overthinking and avoidance? Why not do the writing equivalent of slapping down some washi tape – backspacing, maybe, or strikethrough, if this is a discovery draft- and keep on going? If I had the answer to that, I would not be pushing the goal date for getting A Heart Most Errant to beta readers back another week, but what I can do is start from where I am, and keep on moving in the right direction.

Boom. Back on schedule. See you Wednesday.

 

I Can Do Anything For Fifteen Minutes

Yesterday, I got home from my weekly critique session with N, and noticed that I was ahead of schedule. We’d started early, because we had to finish early, because N needed to be home when the window guy came to see what he could do about one of the windows in casa N. The actual numbers on the clock didn’t register with me, because N and I focused on the pages in front of us, and, as usual, had a productive meeting. Then Mr. N showed to retrieve N, and drop me home. That’s when I noticed what had felt different all morning. I was ahead of schedule. For someone who loves planning, this is both cause for celebration and mild alarm.

What am I going to do with all this extra time? Granted, the extra time amounted to a whopping thirty minutes, and I would be lying if I said that my use of that time did not include Sims Free Play, and posting a picture of Skye to Instagram. No regrets. I am not going to pretend, either, that I remember exactly where it was that I read an article on the habits of productive people, but what stuck with me was the efficient use of time, so I’m going with that for today’s topic.

I’ve always liked to have things in order. Older family members can attest that I had a love of putting things in boxes from the day I discovered fine motor skills, as well as my leaving folded and scribbled-upon pieces of paper all over the house. When asked about said papers, I always identified them as “books,” and that I was the author. This may have been a sign of things to come.  A once-upon-a-time friend introduced me to Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and her concept of one-inch picture frames. Pretty much the same thing as the old joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time. In other words, tree, not forest. Focus on one small thing at a time, and the rest can wait their turns.

When, sometime in the recent, unspecified past, I read that article on productive people, I noticed I’m already doing some of the things right, which is encouraging. Regular morning routine? Check. Keeping a paper notebook? Check plus plus plus plus plus, infinity (well, not quite, but I do love my notebooks, and use a lot of them.) Keeping a daily schedule? Check, but there’s more. This article talked not only about keeping an hourly schedule, but breaking those hours into fifteen minute chunks. Hmm.

This is the point where the writer who loves to plan squints at the pages of the dot grid planner spread in front of her. I already have my day broken down into one hour units, and there happen to be four rows of dots in each hour, which corresponds to four fifteen minute units. This is also the point where there is a whispered voiceover from K.A. Mitchell (okay, maybe not whisper in this case) and one of her previous workshops, on writer’s block.  “I can do anything for fifteen minutes,” that voiceover says, and it’s true.

Fifteen minutes fit very nicely into one-inch picture frames, from where I’m sitting, so what if I tried breaking those hours into quarter hours? Hmm. This may be worth a shot. Not that I’m going to micromanage my day into precise fifteen minute blocks, but, on days when getting into the groove needs a little help, or things haven’t quite gelled in the ol’ writerbrain, fifteen minutes is a manageable chunk. Pen on paper or fingers on keys for fifteen minutes, then we can do something else. Sure, I don’t always want to stop at the end of the fifteen minutes, and I don’t have to stop; there’s no law on that.

The other thing that stood out to me about this article was the practice of touching a task once. I stink at this task.  This one is going to take some work, but, again, fifteen minutes for email, and then I am done? That, I can do. This also encompasses the practice of assigning certain tasks to certain times and leaving them the heck alone when it isn’t their turn. This one may also take some practice, but that’s okay. I like structure.

There’s one more habit, as well, that stuck in my mind, which tells me I may remember more about this article than I think I did, and that’s assigning the most important task to an uninterrupted two hour chunk in the morning. For me, this would be the WIPs. Add pages to the second draft of Her Last First Kiss, and move A Heart Most Errant toward being ready for beta readers. I’m waiting on Melva’s pages for the start of Drama King, so my work on that book can go grab a cup of tea and wait until it hears its name called.

Put stuff on the pages. That’s all I need to focus on at a particular time. Not Must Get Career Back In Motion, not eve Write The Whole Book, but right here, right now, do this one thing. As my writer friend, H, says, it’s just riffing. For fifteen minutes? I can do that, easy.