Getting Unstuck – With Tarot

I blogged earlier that I was stuck on Billionaire #3 and started brainstorming the premise to figure out where I went wrong.  The final step for me to come up with a solution was flipping to my favorite tarot deck, The Steampunk Tarot.

That deck works fantastically for Lady Wyre’s universe, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get anything helpful on a contemporary idea or not. But it was worth a try.

Some background on this story idea:  When I first started working on this idea, for some reason I decided the heroine needed to change.  I built an entirely different backstory for her and gave her a different profession.  I loved what I built… but the story just died.  I couldn’t take it anywhere.

So the journaling and brainstorming I did first was to compare the original premise that I’d found lacking, and the newer premise that was a storykiller, and see if I could come up with a new (better) solution that solved all the issues my subconscious seemed to be having with both ideas.

My questions were about the heroine.  Who was she?  Why was she willing to step into this story in the first place?  What kind of woman is she?

Personally, I like to shuffle the deck 7 times and then spread them out in a line in front of me.  I don’t pick from the top.  I randomly drew 3 cards, flipped them over, and started taking notes one by one.

Note:  It’s important to LOOK at the card first, without reading anything the deck’s guide might have about it.  You’ll probably notice things that aren’t even mentioned in the guide that can add a cool layer to the story.

The cards I drew:

  • Queen of Wands
  • Seven of Pentacles
  • Five of Swords

This is one of the few times that the cards spoke perfectly to what I needed.  It’s not unusual for me to draw a card featuring a man when I’m trying to figure out a heroine.  That can still be helpful, but it’s not as “obvious.”  These cards were very obvious for this particular story.

Obviously the Queen of Wands is my heroine.  The first things I noted about her card without peeking at the book:  a riding crop (snickers, you know me so well), a sunflower, and a fox emblem that looks like a mask as part of the horse’s tack.  The book’s information about her was spot on.  This was my heroine to a T.  There are still several things I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping they come through slow revelation.

The Seven of Pentacles isn’t a character, but a message to me for this book. Yes, I should pause and take a full accounting.  Something’s not adding up.  There are good things in this idea, but not enough for success.  Evaluate.  (Which I was doing.)

The last card represents my hero, but also the book’s premise as well.  There are 3 main characters, two men and a woman, the same as my book.  One is obviously the “lord” or wealthy man.  Ditto.  It’s also a shifty deal-in-the-night-gone-bad sort of card — which my hero fully expects and experiences, even if that’s not his heroine’s intent.  The tarot guide says “He may have all the swords now, but I warrant someone will find something else to stab in his back.”

Oh yes indeed they will.

Now I feel like I can finish plotting this book!  I’m excited about it, where before I kept avoiding even opening my file.  Onward and upward.  I’ve got to hurry and get this one done, so I can change gears to Vincent’s story (Charlie’s brother).

Getting Unstuck

brainstormI’ve been stuck on Billionaire #3.  There.  It’s in black and white now.

I thought it was the holidays, birthdays (two of the monsters have birthdays immediately in January), basketball schedule, getting sick, Evil Day Job stress, other edits…

But in the end, I knew the truth.  I was struggling with an aspect of the premise.  I just couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it.  And if my subconscious isn’t buying it, then the readers surely won’t buy it!

Of course we ARE so busy right now that finding paper and pencil time has been difficult.  Either I’m in the car, or working late, or scrambling to pick up someone, or something.  I’ve had to do my “unstuck” process in pieces but I finally had a breakthrough over my lunch today.  I believe I’ve blogged about this process before, but I’ll talk about it again in case you missed it.

1. Set the stage for creativity with music.  I prefer to listen to an iPhone app, Naturespace, specifically the Peyote soundtrack that’s like a shaman beating on a drum.  It might also be a specific song that fits the story to a T (Take Me To Church was Charlie’s theme song).

2. Go back to the basics with pen and paper.  For me, that means a good quality notebook (but not so nice that I don’t want to write in and spoil!) and colored pens.  I *have* to have at least one purple pen.  Then green.  Those are my two “magic” pens.  But other colors and even a pencil is good too.  I like the colors.  It makes me see things differently.

3. Journal.  The first thing I do is write about why I’m stuck or the project in general.  What do I not like about it?  Why am I feeling reluctance or uneasiness for the project?  I have to drill down into what’s bothering me and that’s not always easy.  e.g. maybe I find myself cleaning the toilet rather than writing.  But why?

4. Using the colored pens and paper, start brainstorming.  This time, I divided the page into two and did a quick and dirty compare/contrast of two possible ways the original premise could go.  Pretty quickly, I had an idea of where I’d gone wrong, but I still didn’t know how to fix it.

5. Tarot.  Once I knew the problem, I wrote down a few questions I had to figure out.  Then I shuffled my favorite tarot deck (The Steampunk Tarot) and drew three cards only.

WHAMMO.  There was my solution in three cards.  Not joking.  That’ll be another blog post!

P.S. The journal you see is some digital papers I bought from etsy (store Tsunami Rose) so I could create my own artsy journal.  I ran through a buttload of ink over the holidays!

Do you have any tried and true methods to breaking through a writing obstacle?

Edit Hacks

Since I just completed a round of developmental edits on two different stories, I thought I’d talk about a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Some edits are pretty easy.  Tweak this, make this scene a little deeper or more emotional.  Not too bad, right?

Other edits are HARD.  Change (or clarify because you didn’t get it clear enough) a character’s emotional ARC through the whole story. Add a completely different component to a sex scene.  What makes these kind of edits hard (for me) is that the story vision is already complete in my head. I told exactly the story I wanted to tell. However, I probably didn’t get everything that was in my head onto the page, and sometimes my editor sees something I missed.  Or even better, she has ideas to make it deeper, more emotional, and worse for the character.  Then I’m slapping myself and saying why didn’t I think of that??

But changing the VISION is hard, even if you agree 100% with the editor’s suggestions. (I’ve been super lucky so far that I’ve never completely balked at something an editor has asked me to do.)

Remember the chaos effect: A butterfly flaps its wings in chapter one, and by the end, you have an entirely different story.  You have to stay true to YOUR vision while making it better, which really can be hard.

So here’s my edit process in case it will help anyone.

  1. Read the editor’s revision letter.  DO NOT MAKE ANY CHANGES YET.
  2. Think about the main points and come up with alternatives in your mind. Nothing has to be concrete yet.  For this stage, I find doing something rather mindless, like crochet or playing a BigFish Game, can free up my subconscious to work on it in the background. This usually takes me a couple of days to mull over in my mind.
  3. Jot notes about what you think you can do to address each point.  If possible, refer to page or chapter or scene.
  4. Start breaking those tasks down onto a calendar or loose timeline so you have a rough idea how long it’ll take.  Keep in mind that many edits at this point have a trickle down effect – one change might affect several chapters. That helps you prioritize the tasks and lay out all the various places you have to work.
  5. Build in at least one full day to do a final read through before the work is due.

As I begin breaking the edit points down into specific tasks, I realize that most of the work is early in the story.  For whatever reason, my first chapter or two is always heavier work, even in copy/line edits. Your major work may be elsewhere and it might take a few times for you to figure out where your weaknesses or strengths are.

For me, inertia is a problem because I initially feel overwhelmed. For Charlie, I had 5 pages front and back of MY notes I made while talking with Alissa, and then I printed out her revision letter too which was several pages long.  Where to start? OMG this is going to be soooo hard. There’s no way…

HACK #1:  SKIP YOUR WEAKNESS FIRST.  I know the beginning chapter edits are going to be hard (usually this is how a character is introduced and reacts for the first few scenes, so lots of work is involved).  So I skip the beginning edits entirely.  You don’t have to work on edits in a linear fashion. Pick one that’s easy, that you already clearly know how to address.  That way you start out solid.  Sometimes it’s just STARTING that makes all the difference, then you can chisel on each item bit by bit.

HACK #2: WORK IN LAYERS.  You don’t have to get the edit point fixed entirely in the first go-round. This is especially true if you’re working on character arc changes.  It’s going to take time to layer in all those changes across several chapters, so take it in pieces. Make one change in one scene, save the work, and I literally take a break. Either I read what I’ve done so far, or I jot notes on something else.  Then I come back and take a look at what I did and move forward from there. It keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

HACK #3: BUILD IN TIME FOR A READ-THRU.  At least one!  Just because you make topical changes to meet the editor’s suggestions, that doesn’t mean your job is done.  It’s your vision. You have to make sure that all of the little subtleties are there, that you’ve carried every little new thread through in a logical way. I save a copy and call it “approved” with all comments deleted, all changes approved, and track changes turned off.  Then I read thru form start to finish, and fine tune the real copy as needed.

Refer back to #2 at this point.  For Charlie’s story, I had to read thru several times, especially the opening chapter because so many things changed.  Little things, but I had to make sure they flowed, made sense, and didn’t mess up what I’d started.  Just make sure you SAVE the real doc before saving an approved copy with all the changes accepted, and then you make the corrections in the main copy.  I got messed up once and  saved my changes in the wrong version.  I don’t send that approved copy to my editor, so if I hadn’t caught it, that change would have been lost.

Do you have any tips or hacks for surviving an edit pass?

Never Let You Down Giveaway

NeverLetYouDown120To celebrate Virginia’s book, I’m offering winner’s choice:

  • Signed print copies of all four Connagher books to date, mailed anywhere on the planet.
  • OR digital copies of all four books, any format, and a $35 gift certificate to any online book retailer.

You have two opportunities to win!  Enter via Rafflecopter below, or join my newsletter for a second prize package (same details) to be drawn from the list of subscribers on Jan 16th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Balance for 2015

Balancing multiple projects at once has always been a problem for me.  I tend to become OCD with a project, especially once it’s over the hump and flowing in the Zone.  I don’t want to leave the Zone – I just want to finish.  Even if that means 5K, or even 8K, 10K days.  That means no sleep, stressed out, aching fingers and wrists, sore muscles in my back.  It’s stupid, really.

Though I have to admit I love careening down those deadly curves at breakneck speed.

I have multiple series and publishers to balance in 2015.  At least I do have contracts in hand to help me figure out which ones need to be worked on first, but overlap is inevitable.  Ideally, I’d like to have one in brainstorm mode while another’s in drafting mode, but that doesn’t always happen.

e.g. this month, I’m brainstorming and plotting two completely different books.  One has a higher priority and will be my drafting book by January, but if I get good ideas on the other book, I want to capture them at the same time.  I need the second book to be ready to go in the wings as soon as I finish the first.

Then add in promo, edits on other projects in various stages….

Yeah, it’s going to be fun!

I intend to use my timer more to help me focus.  Small bursts of time back and forth on projects as needed.  I’m also working on getting my bullet journal going again.  I slacked off right around the time we moved.

I’m also re-evaluating my three and five year goals.  I have a pie in the sky crazy dream I’d really like to make happen, but honestly, I don’t see how I can possibly make it.  Still, I’m going to put it on my dream big list and see what happens.

Do you have any tricks for switching back and forth between projects?

Sold!

I’m thrilled to announce that Charlie (the novel I finished for NaNoWriMo) and his brother, Vincent, are both going to have a home at Carina Press!

It’s ironic, because I started Charlie’s story for one of their Christmas anthologies last year or maybe even the year before (time flies).  But he had other ideas.  (The story of my life.)  His book clocked in at 91,500, one of the longest books I’ve written since the very beginning.

The reason I’m not saying titles is because we’re looking at new ones, both for the book and the series.  The original inspiration for the book was an interview I did for RT in Chicago:

Burkhart responded that an interesting mix would be romance and horor. Perhaps, even, some kind of serial killer romance. If she wrote one, the author revealed the title would probably be “Killer Of My Heart.”

So “Killer of My Heart” will be changing, but I don’t know what it’ll be yet.  The Gregar is strong with this one.  Very strong.  Yes, he’s an assassin/serial killer.  So is his brother. Very dark, bloody, and violent.  And erotic.  Mustn’t forget that.  *winks*

I’ll update the Coming Soon page once I have dates!

Guest Post: Sherri Goodman

prince-charmingPlease welcome Sherri Goodman to my blog today!

As a lover of the erotic literature and the romance genre, you’ve probably spent many moments fantasizing about the characters and steamy scenarios you encounter in your reading. In these fantasies, you may have deviated from the script a bit and implored the help of your own imagination. Why not take all that creativity and enthusiasm for romance to the next level and create your own erotic piece? While it may seem daunting, the process of writing an erotic or romance novel is no different from the methods used to produce a work of fiction or a biography and the benefits can be just as rewarding.

Although the basic writing procedures provided by PBS are the same for most types of literature, there are a few slight differences when it comes to romance—the original narratives and themes, for example—that make the process of creating erotic literature unique. Even with the number of writers and novels in the genre, there is still some uncharted romantic territory that has yet to be explored. So whether you want to write something with a supernatural theme or prefer to develop your own sensual motif, you can easily concoct an authentic erotic work.

Much like any other type of writing, the practices used to produce romantic literature takes time, research, and the development of ideas. Because this genre has such a tight-knit, discriminating group of readers and fans, there are certain expectations that you must meet in order for your book to be a success with enthusiasts of erotica. Essentials like creating a sympathetic protagonist and a strong, charming, and attractive love interest; building emotional and romantic tension; and crafting an intriguing, yet realistic plot and suitable conclusion.

When it comes to your characters, ideally you want all your readers to believe that they could fall in love with one of them. Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone. As Adam and Eve explained in a blog post, everyone has different characteristics that make up their “Prince Charming Fantasy.” The Prince Charming Fantasy includes being swept off your feet by the person who’s perfect for you in each and every way imaginable. Granted, it’s impossible to create someone everyone loves, but there are some classic characteristics they mention for males that will certainly give your characters a boost. Among them, of course, is the classic look of tall, dark, and handsome. In addition, they mention other highly desirable male characteristics including strength and financial stability.

While these are great ways to appeal to a mass audience, what’s even more important is that you make the characters a perfect match for one another (if that’s the direction you choose to take). One man certainly isn’t going to be considered flawless by every woman in the world, but you can definitely make him seem so for the character that you create.

Once you properly nail down your characters and plot lines, you can move on to other significant writing techniques, including effective pacing, adequately seizing the right emotions and actions of the characters, and applying conflict and a proper resolution—all of which are crucial to crafting a romance novel, according to Writer’s Digest’s tips on writing about conflict. By paying careful attention to how your story unfolds and how your characters develop, your work is more likely to get noticed by editors, publishers, agents, publicists, and, most importantly, readers.

If your end goal is to be published, it’s wise (and worth the investment) to hire professionals to edit, proofread, and fact check your work. If you can’t afford to hire people, brush up on your own editing skills or acquire the necessary editing capabilities and edit your novel yourself. In addition, be mindful of certain stylistic elements such as margins, fonts, and spacing. Not much can be done in terms of the book’s layout and formatting, which is usually dealt with during the production stage; however, you must make sure your work is stylistically symbiotic prior to disseminating your book to potential publishers, per this advice from Harlequin.

Official NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner

I made it official today by adding some backstory notes I’ve been working on for Charlie’s brother.  My Word file says 50,030 but NaNo counted only 50,009.  Either way, that’s above the word count goal for the month!

Plus, I’ve completed all the edits that were due this month on TWO other books.  Yes, it’s been a busy month.

So my plans for December are:

  • Brainstorm and take notes on Vincent’s story
  • Billionaire #3 proposal
  • Second round edits, FLEs on Billionaire #2
  • Promo plan for Mama C.

Update

I’ve already completed the second (my read thru) and third (Beloved Sister’s feedback) drafts of Charlie’s story.  He’ll be ready to submit soon, though he’s not due until 1/31.

Then I worked on first-round edits for Billionaire #2 and finished them up yesterday.

Last night I worked on Mama C’s Never Let You Down and sent back final line edits.

As you can see, my 2015 schedule is going to be INSANE!!

I’m planning to write 3-4 more books next year.  I already have releases scheduled in Jan and April.  Planning on another in Nov (but I have to write the book yet) and another release that’s not scheduled yet.  It’s going to be a fast and furious year!

If you’re a reviewer and don’t want me to forget to contact you when I have ARCs available, I created an ARC contact list (privacy statement).

Today, my plan will be the initial brain storming on Charlie’s brother’s book (Vincent) while I begin Thanksgiving prep.  I plan to hash out some details with Molly on Thanksgiving Day.  But the next book I’ll actually be writing is going to be Billionaire #3.  If it’s going to make my targeted Nov 2015 release, then I need to have it submitted by March at the latest.  It’ll be a holiday-themed book, so it’s the perfect time to write it!

NaNoWriMo 2014 – The End Edition

I knew I was close.  But the closer I got, the further away the end was.

The last scene went on.  And on.  And on.  Someone decided it’d be a great idea to add a small sex scene too.  I mean, it is a reunion scene, right?  They ought to be pretty happy.  But this tired, plus writing in the car for most of the evening with That Man’s crazy driving… Yeah, it was hard.

But I finally made it.

New personal record:  8,454 words today.

NaNoWriMo total:  48,573 words

Total book:  91,318 words, not including the last 30K of chapter breaks.

I have some [notes] to fix.  A read-thru is in order.  Then I’ll be shooting it off to my Beloved Sis.  If any other sweet souls would like to beta read this new book, drop me a note.

I was going to say I’m too tired for a snippet, but there’s one bit in particular that I wrote tonight that made me laugh.

If anyone but Charlie had brought me to this deserted location, I’d swear they were going to leave me out here to die.

P.S. There are howler monkeys in Belize.  I had to look it up for that scene.

P.S.S. I’ll be busting my ass the rest of the week to turn around edits on Bilionaire #2, FLEs on Never Let you Down, and an important first step for this book I just finished.  I have news coming soon!