Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Na No Wri Mo and my process

November is National Novel Writing Month or  NaNoWriMo. Loads of people do it, and some have had huge success with it.  It basically asks the participents to write a 50k novel in a month, taking a leaf out of the great Isaac Asminov's book as it were. You are allowed to do background stuff before 1 Nov but the writing can only be done in November.
I used to try and fail. For some reason, I can't do it, even though I can write more than 60k in a month. I have finally figured out that it is to do with my process. I do Discovery Drafts and some of my preliminary work is writing that first draft, particularly the first three chapters. I like that feeling of being able to write and go back and edit. I also like to think  that I can do it on my own starting when I like etc. and making mistakes. It normally takes me about  6 - 12 weeks to write a novel from scratch.
So  I am not doing it this year or even pretending that I should be doing it. I write four plus novels per year (and get them published through my publisher) and that is enough. Or should be.
I will be cheering people on who are doing it as finishing a novel is a great way to learn about your process and how you write.  Remember writing the first draft is only the start but you can't build a house without bricks.
And on process: Scrivener is developing software for writers who use windows. When it goes on sale next year, any one who has completed the NaNoWriMo gets a 50% discount. Some authors swear by it for organising their novels. Apparently you can link loads of different files, create story boards and outlines etc. I throw this out in case anyone's process leads that way.
Currently I am happy with my chaotic process. It took me a long time to get here as it were. And once upon a time, I'd have been running for that software...and I am sure it is excellent or will be once the beta testing is done.
It is all in how you work and many times you won't know until you try. At the end of the day, it is the  results that count.

In other news:
I did watch Downton Abbey last night and it does keeping getting better and better. There is a reason why the UK is becoming a nation transfixed and Bates does have a lot to do with it. I think it is also called old fashioned decency towards others and courtesy. Comforting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Secret crushes and updates

I am blogging today at the Pink Heart Society about the reason I watch Downton Abbey -- namely Brendan Coyle.  I haven't watched the latest episode yet as I tape it and watch on a Tuesday. It saves fighting with my husband for the remote as Sunday night is always NFL football. He developed a liking for the NFL when we first started going out...Luckily he saw sense to support my team! As a lifelong 49ers fan, this season has been a trial...but in baseball, the Giants have made the World Series.  But the downside of all this is that I go around for two days trying not to find out what happen in Downton but in many ways being desperate to! Monday nights are Spooks.

I finished the Author Alterations for To Marry A Matchmaker and I do love this story. It is really a feel good story and I am very proud of it.

I have finished the Discovery Draft for my current one. The semi-polished version is due on 1 November and I am still a few thousand words short (thankfully). I do know some of my bad habits now. These include: repetition, not layering in sensual tension, not layering emotion, confused motivation etc. But in theory knowing that these things exist, I can work on improving them. I do love this story and am totally excited about writing the sister's story as well. But right now I have to keep my eyes on  what needs to be done -- namely the polishing of this draft before my eagle-eyed editor looks at it...

Finally as regular readers know, I suffer from lymph oedema in my left arm. A year ago when we were in Istanbul, it was brought to my attention that my left arm was much larger than my right one. I had to have all sorts of tests and after all sorts of nasties were eliminated, it was decided that I had lymph oedema.  I now wear a bandage sleeve and glove on my left arm most of the time. And last week, joy of joys, my fingers had gone down enough that I could get my wedding ring off!!! At one point, there were muttering about cutting it off, so I am pleased. My left arm now looks like my right arm in proportion but I think it remains a bit bigger.  The main complication from lymph oedema is infection, particularly celluitis. Thus far, knock on wood, I have avoided that.

My weight is also going down and I was able to throw away another pair of too big trousers. I still have some way to go before I reach the weight I want to be and fit into clothes that I wore a few years ago.  Slowly but surely and each small victory is surely worth celebrating!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Success at last!

As you can see, I have FINALLY been able to upload my cover on to blogger!!!
I do love the cover and its colours. I also like the romantic feel of the cover.

With my current wip, I can see the end and will get there, either today or tomorrow. Then it will be going back and layering. I have a number of words to play with and there are places where I can layer. One of my big problems is that I have things in my head but not on paper. This can include sensual tension, emotion and sometimes whole scenes that should really be there. In theory, I know my faults and therefore should be looking for them.  But I am feeling more confident which is good. And I started crying when I was typing yesterday which is a good sign.

Doughnuts and not holes.

My AAs for To Marry A Matchmaker have to be done this weekend and I keep finding reasons why I love this book. Fingers crossed other people love it when it comes out in July.

There is some exciting news with regards to The Lady Soldier which I co-wrote with Kate Allan all those years ago. It will be going into e-book and I gather mass market paperback with the fledgling publisher Embrace Books. When I know more, I will let people know...but contracts have been signed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The US cover for A Question of Impropriety

The December releases for Harlequin Historical went up on the ebook section of eharlequin today and I discovered the cover for A Question of Impropriety.  I like the cover very much. It captures the mood of the book which is all I ask. I knew it would be different from the UK cover as the UK cover was recently reused for a Mary Nichols release so I have been waiting with bated breath.
Annoyingly blogger is not letting me add images and I don't time to play with the stupid thing. You can see the cover on my website -- http://www.michellestyles.co.uk/ There is also a first chapter excerpt.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Being busy

Time becomes ever  more precious.

My deadline of 1 November looms ever so closer and I know the current mess in progress has real potential. It needs to be written and layers need to be added. As a writer, I am very consistent in the kind of mistakes I make. They are different mistakes each time but they are of a similar sort. I have about a 100 pages to write but it will be good.

My AAs or Author Alterations for To Marry A Matchmaker have arrived. This one was edited by my new editor and so it is interesting to see what she has done. I had forgotten why I liked this ms so much and so am busy falling in love with Henri and Robert again. These are due 27 October.

I have also been gearing up for my December releases and thinking about my newsletter. It does need to go out. I normally do the mentoring contest in the November issue as it were but I have to think on how I want  to do it this year. The time factor. It is ONLY open to those who subscribe to my newsletter.

Then there is general admin etc.

Plus my family like to see me every now and then.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blogging Away at Rom Con Inc

I am blogging at Rom Con Inc  today and giving away an advanced copy of my duo -- A Question of Impropriety and Impoverish Miss Convenient Wife to someone who posts comment.

It never rains but it pours as my AAs for To Marry A Matchmaker have arrived. I do love the first sentence -- Perfect planning produces perfection and am really looking forward to rediscovering these characters.
I also have 140 pages or thereabouts to go on my current manuscript which is due 1 November.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Deadline dementia and Haltwhistle Library Girls Night In

My deadline of 1 November is fast approaching and I find that I keep forgetting things or absently answer my husband's question with a remark about my muddle.
Actually at the moment, I do have the story mapped out. I have figured things out which are starting to make sense. So huge relief here. But once my editor sees it, there will be REVISIONS. Editors are like that. And they do like to see that you have taken on board their concerns. Sometimes, you will make different mistakes. Sometimes their solutions are not your vision but their concerns are valid. If you can't use their solutions, find a better way! And sometimes you might not think the suggestion will work but it does make sense later on and you go -- oh, it will work!

On Friday 15 October along with other women's fiction authors, I shall be at the Haltwhistle library doing a reprise of our popular Girl's Night In panel. Last Thursday was Alnwick and several women asked when we were doing the next one. Personally they are very fun to do. We get to talk about writing and how each goes about drafting a novel. Seven different authors and guess what seven different approaches!
Apparently I am the one who does the most words. Unfortunately I had my daughter convinced that I was a slacker and all the other authors worked far harder...

The second chapters of the New Voices competition go up today and hopefully they will really develop the promise of the first chapters. It is all well and good to write a clever first chapter but it has to have a sustainable heart. And I am also hoping that a few people will get the submitting bug and will really work to hone their talent.  But the second phase of the contest is about to begin...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Craft post: Does your motivation have to stay the same

Some people fondly think that once you decide what a character's motivation is, it becomes encased in concrete and can't change.
 Umm no.
Sometimes there is a better or stronger way to have a take on the same subject.
A case in point is my upcoming Online Serial -- His Stand In Bride. I had written it and thought I knew the motivation. The editor read it and my short synopsis and asked for revisions. The heroine's motivation wain the synopsis was at odds with the story and wasn't strong enough. In fact, she thought my heroine was intelligent enough to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Would I mind threading through a different motivation -- namely a belief in the right to choose one's destiny as that was what she was getting from the story. For those curious amongst you, I had thought the heroine's motivation was a belief in true love. And of course, being an editor she was absolutely right. I think the story is much stronger.

This probably shows that I over simplify my character's motivations when I write a synopsis or a detailed background note. Also complex characters will have complex motivations.  Some of the motivations will not be revealed to the author until she is in revisions or has the first draft done.  And sometimes she may think that she has threaded the correct motivation through only to discover that there is another deeper reason for the behaviour.  Characters can be tricky and hide things even from their creator.

Nothing is ever written in concrete and there are different ways to see the same thing. And Debra Dixon's book on GMC made me freeze solid. I prefer other books on the craft of writing and ways of looking at things.  And that is fine. The only process i have to worry about is my own.
What matters is that you get there in the end and create a page turning romance.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Character Lists -- a confession

I hate character lists. I particularly hate the identikit character lists that I find in writing books. I know it is sacrilege to say it but I do. And I don't actually think they help me write the story. In some ways they hem me in. They force me to make decisions BEFORE I am ready to and decisions about things I am not interested in or my characters might not be interested in. Things that I might feel compelled to work in.  Equally if I don't know the characters well enough I might make hasty decisions which make me freeze later. The needs of the story and the characters interacting with each other come before the needs of The List.
I do know for other people that they work well for. That is their process and I salute them.
They just don't work for me. Neither do I do collages. My mind works differently and the pictures are in my head. And this possibly makes me a Bad Writer.
Or maybe it just makes me different. Different is good. I can live with different.

I don't need to know the same info about every character every time. Each character is different. And some of my characters hate, loathe and distest admin. Some of them would happily set fire to all bureaucracy.

 I worry that filling in these sheets can make it seem like I have told the story or that my words harden like concrete or rather my decisions harden like concrete and I have to twist the story to a point of implausibility when the simplest thing would be to change the back story. This is borne out in my own research of trial and error.

This however does not mean that I don't know things about my characters. I can and have written reams of paper about their back story. And sometimes that back story has to change. Sometimes I add Too Much baggage and sometimes too little.  Sometimes what I thought was important becomes less so.
But I do know. And I do like the freedom to feel I can change things.

If my characters are never going to eat ice cream, is it important that I fill that out or that I think about the sort of shampoo they might use before thinking about their quality of laughter?  Does the exact place where they were born matter? Or is it more their upbringing? Parental neglect comes in all shapes and sizes and is not necessarily evident at the cradle stage. In other words, my mind works differently. And that is fine.

At the end of the day, it is MY story and I need to be able to write and give it the depth of characterisation that it needs. One size doesn't fit all and one list or series of lists or a series of interview questions doesn't fit all either. I freeze. It fills too much like I have been here before rather than concentrating on the why I am writing the story. So I rely on scribbled notes and a lot of thinking. I like to feel that I know the characters and they are friends. The first and most important thing for me is to love my characters, including all their faults, flaws and foibles.
Protagonists for me are often not 3-d on the first draft. It takes time to fill in the broad outline and certain symbols and important details only emerge at the end. What is important is that by the time the READER reads it, that fine shading of detail that makes the character come alive is on the page and not in my head.

Earlier this week, my editor who is indeed lovely asked for character lists for my hero and heroine. We had a discussion as I refuse to fill them out before I finish the story. What she was really asking for was a detailed background note on the characters and to include the emotional turning points in the synopsis. I can do a detailed background note. I did have scraps written down and a lot in my head. As long as it was in no particular order, I was fine and I did learn things about my characters.  But it was putting things done in an order and an form to suit me rather than to suit someone else's process.  Starting with a few scribbled notes, I produced a 2500 word background note that is really helping me write this thing and that showed my editor I do know where I am going.  The note took me several hours to write as it was mainly pulling bits of the background together and my husband decided to light a bonfire and needed some assistance in the middle of the thing. I stomped around and went back and wrote. Then sent it.
It could have been expanded further if needs be. She said it was fine as it was as it gave her the info to know that the conflict was sustainable. It is up to me to write the thing.

I can do detailed background notes, just don't ask me to do character lists.  I prefer to write stories about my characters and stories about their backgrounds. It works for me.

Know your process and don't sweat the small stuff.
Just because other authors do it one way, it doesn't mean it is the right way for you.
Try things, see if they work as you will know straight away.
Allow your process to evolve.
There is nothing wrong with writing a discovery draft (or two).

Friday, October 01, 2010

Viking's Captive Princess in Italian -- Il Segno del Peccato



Scandinavia, 796

Thyre e Dagmar non possono fare altro che riservare un'accoglienza calorosa all'equipaggio dell'imponente imbarcazione nemica arenata sulla spiaggia. La tradizione prevede anche un tributo un po' particolare, una notte d'amore tra l'erede legittima dell'isola di Ranrike e il comandante della nave. Dagmar però è innamorata e chiede alla sorellastra un favore enorme: sostituirla nel letto di Ivar il guerriero. Thyre, determinata e indipendente, accetta, forte del fatto che l'atto si svolgerà al buio. Ma il mattino seguente Ivar la smaschera davanti a tutti e la costringe a fare una scelta tanto coraggiosa quanto pericolosa, che segnerà un nuovo capitolo nella sanguinosa lotta tra fazioni vichinghe rivali.

Note; the Italians chose the right picture! I am very pleased.