The end is the beginning

I have a confession to make: whenever I have a book in hand that I’m not sure about, I’ll flip to the end to see if it goes happily ever after.

It’s a habit that for years earned me, at best, bewilderment, and at time outright derision. “You’re ruining the story” people would say, “why read it if you already know how it’s going to end?” But that, to me, was a price I was willing to pay.

When I was in middle school, I went through a horror-novel kick. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul – I devoured these books like crazy. But in doing so, it gave rise to a terror all its own, something I’d never realized about myself: I hated sad endings. I wanted the hero and heroine to win, save the day, destroy the bad guy.

That didn’t always happen, and as that phase (quickly) passed, I learned that other grown-up books also had similarly not-so-great endings. It was then that I started reading from the end first, making sure good triumphed and evil was vanquished. There have only been a handful of books I’ve read where I suppressed this urge, wanting to enjoy the process without “ruining” the final climax and resolution. The last Harry Potter book was one I remember, which was a series that really captured my heart. The final book was more of an “event” in my mind, the ending of an era, and I wanted to drag that out as long as I could.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’m one of those people who needs to know the end of my story before I start. Years ago, I could start writing and just GO, get out thousands of words without knowing anything except interesting characters. But as my craft evolved, I started wanting something to strive for, a place that I knew would be The End. I’d do sprawling epics that meandered all over the place, and eventually lose interested in these stories because I had no idea how or where they ended.

There is a series of videos on YouTube by Dan Wells that I often go back to for inspiration. He explains structure for story, both for plotters and pantsers, and I think it’s a useful discussion for writers to see.

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Slow and steady

This last week hasn’t been too stellar on the writing front. For one, my days have been taken up by this jury selection process, which is ruining my schedule (and, if I’m chosen, will REALLY ruin it). On another note, however, we’ve been looking for a new home, and yesterday made our first (ever!) offer on a local property. Keeping our fingers crossed!!!

It’s no secret that I am a pantser not a plotter when it comes to my stories, but I do understand how a novel should be divided up. I’m reaching that dreaded middle section with AHW2 where subplots, new characters and drama steer the story, and I’m suddenly finding myself having to plan ahead. This is a Very Good Thing – it helps to keep me on track as I write – but the middle of a book is where an author can so easily go off track. Internal pressure to get it “right”, guilt that I’ve added only a handful of words over the weekend, and the external pressures of potential jury duty and home buying are making me a bit anxious.

Or maybe that’s just because I haven’t had breakfast this morning. 😉

The lawn guys are right outside my window as I lay in bed, reminding me why I’m looking forward to moving. I’m not in a “bad” area by any means but I’m looking forward to a mortgage instead of rent, for the money I put into a house to be an investment and not paying for someone else’s Caribbean vacation. To each their own indeed, but we’re pretty excited for what the future holds.

Last night, I mapped out the next section of story, introducing key (new) characters and subplots, so at least that pressure has receded a bit. Lots to do, and I’d hate to miss out on a Snippet Saturday because life didn’t let me write anything. 😀 Hope all is well on your end!!

Snippet Saturday #2

This week has been busy with us looking at homes in (and not in) our area. The Dude and I made the joint decision it’s time to buy, but we’re stuck now on WHERE, so the last few days has had a lot of driving around, finding and speaking to realtors, etc, trying to find the “perfect” home within our budgets.

That said, I haven’t forgotten about you. 😉 Today is Snippet Saturday Part the Second, and I dug around for some meaty bits to the story so far. I’ll probably kick myself for giving away so much beforehand (you’ll know how it all turns out at this rate! 😀 ) but hopefully these make your weekend a teensy bit brighter.

*~*~*

Always before, Jeremiah had been in control, but somehow this was different. He didn’t try to restrain me in any way; his kiss wasn’t an assault or struggle. His lips caressed mine like a lover, making no demands other than for permission to continue. When I opened to him, still he held back, tongue dancing and teasing. I tightened my grip around his neck, pulling him close and wanting more, but he took his time, lips and tongue a gentle torment that was nothing like I’d experienced in his hands.

He broke off the kiss, leaning his forehead against mine. Firelight danced in his eyes and, my breath catching, I traced his beloved face with my fingertips. His eyes searched mine, holding back none of what he was feeling. I read him like an open book, and the knowledge was intoxicating.

“Lucy,” he murmured, my name a benediction on his lips. Desperate longing shone through his eyes as he kissed me again before asking softly, “Stay with me tonight.”

I shut my eyes, licking my lips, then looked back up at him. Desire ached in me, alongside a bleak loneliness, and ever fiber of my being screamed for his touch. He shifted, running a hand down the side of my neck and arm. A cool island breeze brushed against my hot skin, and I shivered as he whispered my name again, lips moving across my forehead.

**

Both of Jeremiah’s hands clenched into fists atop the table. “I spent years fighting against people like you in the Army…”

“Then you quit that life to take over mine.” Lucas’ lips kept their upward tilt but lost what humor was left. “I was pushed out of the only existence I knew by my own brother. He took over the gilded throne and let me fall to the wolves.”

“You didn’t fall,” Jeremiah said, voice as cold as ice, “you jumped. You kept jumping, and now you’re trying to drag me down with you. Our father…”

Your father gave you everything and left me nothing,” Lucas hissed.

“I didn’t want this!”

“But you took it anyway, didn’t you?”

“Hey,” I snapped, aware that the two men looked poised at any point to leap over the tables at the other’s throat. Peering around the room, we didn’t seem to be attracting any attention in the empty outside area, but if the conversation continued that would change. “Can we stay on subject here?” I asked in a low voice.

**

“You say I’m yours, but I’m not allowed to love you. So what am I? A responsibility? A liability?”

His chin came up. “I swore to protect you.”

I gaped at him. Surely he understood what I was asking. “I don’t care about my safety,” I snapped, “that’s not important right now…”

“It is to me.”

“Why?” My last word was a shout, and Jeremiah straightened up. I waved my hands around my head, unable to contain my energy. Giving an exasperated grown, I turned away, rubbing a hand over my face. When I looked back, that stoic mask was back over his face, and I suddenly wanted to cry. “Why do you think you can claim me, yet reject my love?” I murmured brokenly. “What gives you that right?”

He didn’t answer for a long moment, and I almost turned to leave when he finally spoke. “Love isn’t a happy ideal in my family.” The mask threatened to crumble for a moment before clamping back in place. “I don’t wish for the…complications love might bring.”

My shock at his short speech faded quickly. “That may be so,” I conceded, trying to make him understand, “but my parents were happily married for twenty-four years before they died. My grandparents, fifty-two. The words mean something to me.” I sighed. “I never asked for you to reciprocate, I only wanted to tell you how I feel.”

But Jeremiah just shook his head. “That word is a mere platitude. If the affection is there, why does it need to be named?”

Platitude. That word again. Oh, how I hated that word. My hands balled into fists, insides quaking at the sudden rage it induced. “You won’t even try to see my side, will you?” If it didn’t fit in with the way he believed, it was wrong. Was this the real Jeremiah? Had I been so blind this entire time?

**

I skittered across the floor away from the body, then beat at the hands that tried to help me up. “What the hell,” I screeched, pushing away from Lucas. Adrenaline coursed through my body and all I could do was pace, heart racing and body jittery. “Why does this always happen to me,” I demanded, unable to stand still. I dug my hands into my hair, pulling at it in frustration.

Then Lucas was in front of me, blocking any escape. “Hold still.”

I fought him for a minute, so he grabbed my shoulders and gave me a shake. “You’re bleeding, let me take a look.” His eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Stop fighting. I doubt you’d take kindly to being slapped right now.”

Damned right. The threat did however calm me down enough for him to press a dishrag that I hoped was clean against the wound. “I have a first aid kit in my bathroom. Kolya, take care of the body and figure out how he got onto this ship.”

I slapped away his hands, determined to walk by myself, then screeched again as he lifted me up in his arms. All I wanted to do was be left alone, but he carried me kicking and screaming back to the room, dumping me on the bed before shutting the door. He rummaged through the bathroom, then came out holding a big red box. “Hold still, I want to look at that.”

Grumpy, I complied reluctantly, flinching away with a hiss when the alcohol stung. “My life was so boring before I met you and your brother,” I muttered. “Is this some sort of cosmic payback for being the dullest girl on the planet for so long?”

“Perhaps,” Lucas quipped, and at my dark look he laughed.

**

“Then I’m to believe your visit here was totally by chance?”

Lucas sounded like he was talking about the weather, but like his brother I sensed something dangerous behind the words. Niall on the other hand didn’t seem quite as tuned in to the Hamilton universe. “I saw a chance, I took it?” he said, shrugging.

Rage suffused Lucas’ face, taking me by surprise. Gone was the happy-go-lucky persona; like flipping a switch, Lucas looked ready to kill. He advanced on Niall, the gun pointing at the Australian’s head.

“Son.” At Matthews’ gruff call, Lucas hesitated. The grizzled sea captain was watching the younger man closely. “Don’t do it.”

For a handful of seconds it looked as though Lucas wasn’t going to listen, then the switch was pressed and a smiling mask came over him again. “You’re lucky that I’m a nice person,” he said, raising the gun so it pointed at the ceiling. He signaled behind him. “Let his man take him downstairs, then lock them both in the hold with a first aid kit.”

“You’re going to pay for this,” Niall muttered as his man helped him to his feet. It looked as though Jeremiah had only shot him in one leg both times. “I know people on the outside, and they won’t take kindly when I tell them…”

Lucas lowered his gun again, casually firing at the good leg, and Niall collapsed into his bodyguard. “Okay, so I’m not that nice.”

*~*~*

Everything and the kitchen sink

Writing can be such a balancing act.

I make no excuses: I’m a pantser not a plotter, the kind of writer who learns about the story as she goes. I may have some structure, such as knowing scenes or events that will come later in the story, but for the most part I don’t plan things out beyond the next scene. Not having an end game in mind right off the bat, of course, leaves me open to the possibility of meandering storytelling, or of putting too much in that would need to be taken out later.

One of the toughest parts (IMO) about writing is knowing what path you want your story to go down. For example, is it a revenge tale? A beach romance? A shoot-em-up action thriller? There are certainly stories out there that incorporate elements of all three of these things, but at some point something has to give. You can’t, for example, have werewolves and vampires attacking your heroine in a contemporary tale (unless it’s urban fantasy). Having space aliens show up in your sheikh desert romance might be…confusing to some readers unless you’ve set it up earlier that the story has scifi elements. Some surprise is good, keeps the conflict up, but there’s a tightrope to walk if you want to keep it believable.

For AHW, I kept my story tightly plotted, but because sequels up the ante I wanted to think outside the box. My resulting idea had the story including everything and the kitchen sink, so many ideas rolled into one book. That wouldn’t do – fun to plan, but when I looked at the logistics, it was a nightmare. So I backtracked, removing all the aliens and werewolves and vampires from my story plan (just kidding, but it may as well have been!) and tried to figure out a theme. What I want my heroine to learn. What I wanted my heroes (!!) to go through. Redemption? Revenge? I needed to figure out my motivations, or how their pasts affected their near-future (aka, the book’s plot line).

What did I come up with? Well, like I said, I’m not much of a plotter, but I do like having the bare bones sketched out so I don’t write myself into a corner. For years I couldn’t finish anything because I’d get to a certain point, then hit The Wall (other writers know what I’m talking about), and couldn’t bear to backtrack/delete words I’d written to go around it. By then anyway, another idea would beg to be written, so I’d leave the story promising to come back. Heh, yeah, that didn’t happen. *sigh*

The thing I’ve found, the more words I put down on paper, is that there’s never an end to learning. If it’s not learning your craft, then it’s learning how YOU craft. Every writer is different; I know folks who cringe when I tell them I don’t have a detailed outline for my entire series, down to hair/eye color and what shaving gel they used. Then again, the idea of writing from a detailed synopsis has my eyes crossing from boredom – I mean, the story is already written, why am I writing it again? Learn how you do things, and unabashedly DO THEM. Don’t let others dictate what works for you; listen, maybe try adopting new ideas into your pattern, but don’t be afraid to discard them if they’re not for you. Write your story as you see fit. FINISH your story. Then you can start thinking about how to incorporate all those fabulous ideas you came up with into your next book.

Oh, and leave the sink at home. 😉

Lauren Jameson talks serials!

AllSix

Amidst the wonderful rush of writing AHW2, trying to unpack from a month-long jaunt into the desert, and psyching myself up to edit a certain BDSM anthology story, I asked my buddy Lauren Jameson/Hawkeye to write me a guest blog post. The story of how I met Miss Lauren is funny and sheerly happenstance, but she’s become one of my best buds (despite her being thousands of miles away in Canada!) and we chat via email or iMessage daily. She also has a new serial out and this is her journey into that particularly awesome format:

Sometimes fate is delightful. Here’s the story behind that opinion.

Early last year, I was contacted by my Avon/ Harper Collins editor and asked if I would be interested in taking part in another anthology, this one with a spring break theme. She said that they had one other author lined up, and her name was Sara Fawkes. I had been under deadline, and was still working my day job. My response was “Sara who? Well, doesn’t matter; I’m sure she’s great. Sure, I’m in.”

Fast forward to July, the RWA conference in Anaheim, California. My two roomies came back from their dinner and said “Guess what just happened? We were eating at the Cheesecake Factory, talking about writing, when this sweet lady came up and shyly asked if we were with the conference. Then she told us about her mind blowing journey of self publishing her serial.”

Serial, I thought? What’s that? I thought that *might* make me sound dumb, though, so I kept that question to myself and instead asked “What’s her name?”

“Sara Fawkes.”
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The Loneliest Profession

I used to think that writing was the loneliest profession.

Often, when a person tucks themselves away with their computer, laptop, notebook etc to start slinging words, the silence allows us to hear words in our heads. Some writers enjoy music, like making playlists to inspire them for a particular story, but usually the room we’re in is a quiet respite from the rest of the world (unless you have kids, but that’s another story). Over the last few weeks however, I’ve been blessed to be able to do some writing sprints (or word wars, or competitive writing, or whatever you wish to call them) with some friends. I can be a pretty competitive person, but these folks kick my butt in words per hour!! I’ll tell you what though, my productivity went way up doing these short spurts. In between these writing jags, we just shoot the breeze and chat. In a chat room.

I feel like it’s 1999 again!! 😀

Over the weekend I had several things happen which make me giddy. I finished the rough draft BDSM novella for the FLING anthology due out this summer by Avon. It’ll need a bit of editing but I’m pretty proud of this short story. Now I’m able to focus on AHW2 and I’m so excited!! A lot of you have been asking when I am going to start on it and I can finally answer: NOW. It’s technically begun already but I decided to give myself a project in the middle, sort of a palate cleanser, so I don’t write the same story accidentally. I have big plans for the sequel and…well, you’ll see.

I also found out yesterday that (squee) I may be on a panel at RWA Nationals this year!! The panel would be about serials (a format which I adore, if you didn’t notice already) and will also include Lauren Hawkeye/Jameson, Beth Kery, and possibly a couple of our editors. I ALSO made the decision to attend Romantic Times this spring in Kansas City; I’ll be rooming with some friends who I can’t wait to see. Yes, I will attend the book signings – look for the introverted redhead in the corner. 😉

2012 was an insane year for me, and I hope to make 2013 just as marvelous. There are things being planned in the background while I write: books are being translated into foreign languages (hello to all French-speaking readers, it’s so awesome to hear from you!), conventions, tours, and…wow. Just, stuff.

I’m on a rollercoaster barely to its first high point! 😀

Beat 'em til their bloody

I love to read. That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to most folks as they assume all writers like reading, but books have always been an important part of my life. Christmas and birthday gifts were almost always books I wanted or gift cards to bookstores, which were always used immediately to restock my TBR pile. My favorite place (and my parents’ – free books for a voracious reader!) was the library, both public and at school. I read any and everything I could get my hands on; my nose was constantly in a book. Adulthood has lessened that to a large extent, sadly enough, but I do have brief bouts of manic reading.

What does this have to do with my subject line? Well, I learned early on that I most enjoyed reading about suffering characters. The more dire the situation, the more I relished the read. Cliffhangers were awesome, provided the next book was immediately available, but I’d eagerly await the next part to see how it all turned out. I didn’t like stories with unhappy endings (still refuse to read or warch “The Road”) but I enjoyed watching characters grow even as they suffered.

Where am I going with this? Well, for the last week I’ve been on a reading frenzy (and yes, my writing has suffered to my dismay) of a scifi YA “Molly Fyde” series by Hugh Howey. It has everything a girl could want: action, adventure, kick-ass heroine, angst, love, betrayal, genocide, politicking…

*looks back at that list* Okay, so this girl doesn’t want everything on that list, but it makes a compelling read. I love smart series like this, the kind that give characters impossible situations and, when they choose, they have to live with the ramifications of their actions. When they make a mistake and it comes back to haunt them. Reading books like this make me realize how much I as a writer still have to learn – its HARD to beat up your characters, even if it’s for their own good or the good of the story.

But boy, does it make for one heck of a ride.