Notebook of Doom

So, Saturday night, we went to a baseball game, as one does.

(Before that, we went to dinner, as one does.  To Medium Rare, which serves bread, salad, steak frites, and that’s it.  And we had a fantastic dinner — better than I’d expected, with perfect, salty, crisp frites that complemented the steak perfectly!)

Anyway, we went to a baseball game.  And the Nationals knocked around the Brewers pitcher pretty badly in the first inning, so the game had a pretty relaxed, easy-going feel.  And about halfway through the fifth inning, I all of a sudden realized that I didn’t need to write the next scene in CENTER STAGE, because it was boring and talk-y and didn’t tell the reader anything the reader didn’t already know.

But I *did* need to add a scene with a direct confrontation between two major characters, one where one guy says, “Do this and there’ll be Consequence X” and the other guy says, “I’m doing this, so get your consequences ready.”

Being an author, even an author at a baseball game, I had a notebook with me.  So I took out my pen and I scribbled away at a full page of dialog, using the extensive abbreviation scheme that I created in law school, so that I could transcribe hours of notes on Commercial Paper and other classes that left me clueless.

Today, I’ll be writing up that scene.  And I have the cheerful feeling that it’s already half done.  It’s almost like I get to spend the day editing instead of writing!  Yay, yay, yay.

And the Nats won.

And I spent yesterday at the Washington Romance Writers summer barbecue, chatting with friends, eating a killer chocolate cake I had no business enjoying as much as I did, and having a grand time away from the computer.

So, today is pretty much perfect :-)

How about you?  Did you have a good weekend?

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Reclaiming the Trope

Look up the word trope in your dictionary.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

The first definition is probably something along the lines of “a metaphor”.  The second definition is probably something along the lines of “a cliche”.  The second definition likely isn’t tagged “pejorative”, but it should be.  People sneer at tropes, whether they’re talking about movies, books, or any other form of art.

And yet.

And yet romance novels, especially category romance novels, are built on tropes.  The entire idea of the genre is that we take a relatively few elements — a lover, another lover, (maybe more lovers), a trope or two or ten, emotion, conflict, and a satisfying ending — and we tell a story that is different, interesting, engaging, unique.

That’s the challenge of the genre.  That’s the joy — both in writing and in reading.

Tropes fade in and out of popularity.  It’s a pretty hard sell to set a romance in contemporary times and have a credible ward/guardian love story without setting off every possible creepster alarm — but it *can* be done.  It’s easier to use the trope of the secret baby now that lots of women are enjoying lots of sex.  Royalty — especially sheikhs — are a bit sparse on the ground, but there are an awful lot of athletes and military men.   Some tropes have become inflated — millionaires have become billionaires (I guess that’s the value of shrewd investing, early in one’s financial career.)

So?  What’s your favorite trope?  You know you have one.  Or maybe more than one.

I’ve put together a list of romance tropes:  http://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/for-writers/romance-tropes/

Check it out, and let me know if I’ve missed your favorite!

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The Twilight Zone

I do my best thinking (at least as far as my novels are concerned) in the shower — I cannot count the number of times I’ve solved plot problems while shampooing my hair.  I do my second best thinking while walking — the three-block trip to the subway is usually long enough.

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But lately, I’ve been solving story problems in the twilight zone, just before I fall asleep or just as I’m waking up.  Science has a word for this:  hypnagogia.  I’ve actually always done a lot of plot-solving as I fall asleep, but those solutions have almost always been forgotten, washed away by actual sleep and dreaming.  Or, upon waking, I remember the solution but conclude that it’s worthless.

That’s what’s changed.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve figured out fixes that stay in my brain, through sleep, through dreams, through awakening.  Also, I’ve figured out different fixes in the morning, before I’m fully awake.

The Post-It notes by my bed are a workout — I don’t trust myself to remember most of my solutions through the mind-scrubbing routines of brushing teeth, washing my face, etc.  But so far, so good.

And now I’m off to write Chapter 7 of FROM LEFT FIELD.  Because, you know.  I figured out that there’s an actual *villain* in this romance!

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Retreating from Retreat

I’m back!  And I’m sitting at my computer!  At my desk!  With wifi at the ready!

And I’m guessing my productivity is going to plummet…

Here’s where I spent most of last week writing:

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I was at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania, where I started my writing retreat speaking to a great group of writers with interests as varied as memoir, short stories, journalistic articles, and novels.  We had some great talks, great meals, an amazing campfire and, oh, a little writing time.

They left on Sunday, alas, but that only meant that it was time to dig in for the serious work — a writing retreat with Maria V. Snyder.  Maria and I spent five days in a cabin (yes on electricity and water, no on wifi, TV, radio, etc.)  I wrote 35,000 words and edited 3/4 of STOPPING SHORT (Book 6 in the Diamond Brides Series) — and I talked with Maria about writing and family and life, and I ate way more food than I should have, and I talked with Maria, and I took a couple of easy hikes, and I talked with Maria…  Well, you get the idea.

Here’s the writer, in situ.  (And no, you can’t see the dive-bombing carpenter bees that became my constant companions):

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I drove up on Friday, discovered that I’d locked myself out of the house by forgetting to bring my house keys on retreat, wrote at the local library until Mark came home to spring me, and spent one night in my own bed.

Then, on Saturday, I spent the entire day with the Washington Romance Writers, doing two presentations and a reading with Lady Jane’s Salon.  By the time I got home Saturday night, I felt a little drunk (although I hadn’t touched alcohol) and a little hoarse!

Sunday was a day of rest, with time to chat with my mother :-)

And now, I’m back in the saddle, with a ton of writing on today’s to-do list.  And so…  I’m off!

How about you?  Did I miss anything major last week!  I won’t be able to catch up on everything so shout out if there’s something I should know!

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The Best-Laid Plans

Often, I’m asked what it’s like to write full-time.  Generally, I answer by explaining that I write on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I do all my admin work (publicity, promotion, marketing, website updating, etc.) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I restrict my socializing to Tuesdays and Thursdays as well, and I fold in grocery shopping, laundry, and other errands on those days.

But that’s only part of the story.

Every day, I have a to-do list, outlining the specific tasks I need to accomplish.  But some days, new emergencies arise, knocking that to-do list to hell and back.  Take yesterday as an example.

Interruptions

Yesterday was a packed day.  I had my exercise class first thing in the morning, and then a long list of publicity and promotion items for the Diamond Brides Series.  I intended to knock off work early, at 2:15, because I had tickets for my first Nationals game of the year, which had a 4:00 start.  (Spoiler: They won, 7-1!  Yay!)

So, I settled down to work quickly and efficiently after my exercise class.  And in my inbox (newly arrived since my scan of my inbox upon awakening) was a new contract to review.  The contract is for me to grant new rights to a publisher for works previously published; it’s an interesting opportunity, but it requires some reading, parsing of options, and decision-making.  I squared away that document and got back to work.

And a new thing hit my inbox:  a new writer who I’ve been mentoring was getting ready to launch a book on Nook Press (Barnes & Noble’s ebook publishing arm.)  He needed an .epub version of his document — stat.  (And for a variety of reasons, including the amazingly cool volunteer work he’s doing in Sierra Leone, I’m generating his ebooks for him.)  Time out to create an .epub of his book.  I squared away that project and got back to work.

And then the phone rang.  A recruitment company was calling to ask for my reference for a woman who worked for me several years ago. (The woman had recently asked if I would serve as a reference, which I agreed to do, gladly.)  The recruiter wasn’t expecting me to be home, apparently, because she’d only left herself ten minutes before she had to go to a meeting.  She begged my indulgence, rang off, and then called back half an hour later.  I squared away that interview and got back to work.

Ultimately, I completely my to-do list, even with those three fairly substantial additions to the morning.  But a writer’s life is never calm and boring and predictable.

I have strategies for dealing with the interruptions — I close my inbox for chunks of time during the day; I only answer phone calls from known numbers during the day, etc.  But sometimes, the best-laid plans…

How about you?  How do you cope with interruptions in your daily work?  Do you protect your creative work with the same vigor?

So I’m going to hit “publish” on this post, before something can interrupt me :-)

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On Writing: My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Jamie Brenner, er, Logan Belle, for bringing me into this fun blog tour. Jamie writes young adult and historical (1920s) fiction under her own name. As Logan Belle, she writes contemporary romance and erotic romance. Her website is www.loganbelle.com.

1) What am I working on?

I’m writing Diamond Brides, a nine-book series of hot, contemporary romances.  Each short novel tells the story of a different player on the (imaginary) Raleigh Rockets baseball team.  The first book, Perfect Pitch [buy now!], is in stores now.  The second, Catching Hell, will be released on April 13.  The third, Reaching First, will be in stores on May 4, and all other books in the series will be released on the first Sunday of the month, from now till November.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Each Diamond Brides book features a heroine who is a smart, competent woman in a professional field.  Each Diamond Brides hero is a sexy, confident baseball player who comes into conflict with the heroine, usually as a direct result of their professional interests being at odds.  A little bit baseball, a big bit very spicy romance, the Diamond Brides series strikes a unique balance in fun, fast storytelling.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Growing up, I had no interest in any sport, including baseball.  When I met and fell in love with the man who became my husband, I had to accept his lifelong love for baseball.  While I originally learned about the game by rote memorization of facts, I came to appreciate the stories, the players’ individual histories, and I realized that I could build some fun, sexy, romantic stories around an imaginary major league team.

4) How does your writing process work?

I need to limit interruptions when I write — each break in concentration serves as an invitation to check my email, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my inbox again…  Therefore, I structure my work week so that I have “Writing Days” on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take care of everything else — publicity, promotion, paperwork, and a jumble of household obligations (laundry, anyone?)

On each Writing Day, I set a goal — generally a single 5000-word chapter (or, occasionally, editing of four chapters).  I draft straight through, working from my outline (which is relatively sparse — three or four sentences for each chapter, describing the main action and character motivation for each major scene).

I do some “Spot Research”, tracking down specific details, such as the average number of home runs hit by a third baseman in a season.  I also ask occasional questions on my Facebook page, having readers help me name businesses or confirm familiarity with words or phrases or similar input.  (I sometimes give away a free copy of the book I’m drafting to people whose suggestions get incorporated into the work.)  In my ongoing attempt to limit interruptions, though, I often leave blanks for Spot Research, going back to fill those blanks when I edit.

Upon finishing drafting a novel, I edit the manuscript, punching up characters’ motivations, emphasizing specific plot points, correcting clunky sentences, etc.  After my editing passes, I circulate the work to my beta readers, who comment on general things (character, setting, plot, etc.) as well as some specific things (sentence structure, word choice, etc.)  After I receive comments from all my beta readers, I revise the manuscript one more time, before sending it out to a copyeditor.  After that, it’s just a matter of time before my baby is a book :-)

Next week (April 14) visit:

Laura Anne Gilman, “Writer, Editor, Tired Person”, a novelist in many genres (and my first professional editor).

Amy Sterling Casil, a short story writer and novelist who blends various flavors of speculative fiction.

Sara Stamey, “Novelist, Editor, Teacher”, Book View Cafe’s newest member.

 

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