Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sometimes It's The Little Things

I've been having car trouble lately. When a 'check engine' light comes on, I pay attention.
My local mechanic had the car for a week. He replaced a big-ticket part, replaced some hoses that were cracked, he ran it through his checklist. But in the end, he couldn't fix it enough to have it pass the emissions check. Fortunately, he's an honest man and didn't charge me since he couldn't fix it, despite the time he'd put into it. His suggestion was to take it to the dealer, the pros.

Turns out, in addition to the big-ticket part, the experts found one niggly wire that had a leak. The fuel tank had to be dropped in order to get to it, but in the end, that one little leak made the difference between success and failure.

Which made me think of producing a manuscript... of course. Possibly because the wire reminds me of a hook.

I recently participated in judging some books for the RITA contest. The finalists were announced this past week, and, like most romance authors, I spent some time trying to decipher why these particular books made it into the final round. I looked at their Amazon ranks, number of reviews, read the blurbs and came to a conclusion. It only takes one little thing to make a book rise from being good to being, as Tony The Tiger says, "G-R-R-EAT!"

What is that one little thing? If I had the answer, I'd be on the bestseller list. But my thinking after doing this research is that one little thing is a great hook. Take a traditional trope and turn it on its ear. Hook the reader with your opening scene, your opening line. If you write historicals, try to insert something modern, like Tessa Dare accomplished in her book When A Scot Ties The Knot and her Captain MacDreamy. Fans of Gray's Anatomy get it and laugh at the cleverness, and Miss Dare does it while never dropping the historic bent of the book.

I could cite a couple of examples from the current crop of RITA books, but I can't go into detail on which books I've read. But the overriding thread, the hook, in each of them is they are extremely clever. You can have a really well-written book, but if it's not got something to draw a reader in, it's only going to be that, a good, well-written book like the thousands of others released each year. You can go through your checklist, remove and rewrite huge chunks of the book. You can tweak little parts of your story. You can have a pro look at it, help you polish it to a shine. But unless you can find the elusive niggly wire that will make people talk about it, want to read it, you'll remain in the mid list.

I'm working on finding that niggly wire.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Going Backwards

Sometimes I feel like I'm taking two steps backwards for every forward step. This week I took a major, Grand Canyon step backwards.
As often happens when I try to do computerly things fast, my fingers got ahead of my thought process and deleted the manuscript I'd been working on for months. Rather, I overrode a complete manuscript with only the first three chapters. My stomach hit the dirt as I realized the impact of what I'd done.

Frantic phone calls to Apple, and then to the local store, both came up empty.
So, I took a deep breath and tried to assess the extent of the damage. Fortunately, I still had the copy I'd sent to Lori Wilde a month ago, with all her comments. And I had the first three chapters. I had gone through the entire manuscript, addressing all of Lori's notes, and then started over again, embellishing the story and adding scenes–nearly 10,000 words had been added so far. I'd gotten halfway through my third draft when I hit the button too fast and lost it.

It could have been worse. But it also could have been so much better. I've learned, thanks to all those who commented on my Facebook page, that I can have the Word program create a backup file each time I add to it. And, who knew I had a Time Machine on my laptop? Always wanted one of those.

It's a horrible way to learn a hard lesson, but I'm glad I had an older version of the story, so I didn't lose it all. I'm back to where I was three weeks ago, going through Lori's notes again. As I read through it, though, I'm remembering things I'd added in over the past few weeks, so maybe it'll come out better than it originally was.

This story probably won't be ready when I originally estimated it would be. But having a setback of a month or so is not so bad, considering the learning experience this has been. I will use the backup file, figure out the Time Machine, and email copies to myself. Overkill is better than losing the file. I'm sure there are others out there who forget about backing up your work, so this is a cautionary tale. As I told a friend, it's like closing the barn door after the horse escapes. I hope this never happens to any of you.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


I recently participated in a two-week workshop with the infamous Lori Wilde, where she went through my entire first draft. At the end of about every scene, her comment was "What's the GMCD of this scene?"

Most every author who's been at this writing thing for awhile knows about Goal-Motivation-Conflict. But D? I had no idea what that even stood for. Even some so-called experts in the writing business don't address it.

Turns out, the "D" stands for DISASTER. Every scene has to end with one. Big or little, the players in the scene have to be worse off at the end than at the beginning. Or they think they've reached their goal, but at what cost? 

Obviously, this is an area where I'm weak, as an author. It's a hard concept to wrap one's head around. So, I decided to apply the approach to everything in my life, come up with a GMCD in real life events. Maybe if I can get used to the approach in a practical way, it will become second nature when I write. 

As most of you know, I'm trying to sell my house. That's a definite goal that's been set, so it seemed the most logical GMCD to pursue right now. Here's the way it went: 

GOAL--Sell the house
MOTIVATION--I need to reduce my monthly bills
CONFLICT--(Usually divided into both internal and external) Internally, I'm comfortable living in Oberlin. I know my way around, have made some friends here, have nice neighbors, hate the thought of packing up again. Externally, the house is cumbersome to live in, many sets of stairs, and is way too big for me. 
DISASTER--The first inspector through the house uncovered a problem I wasn't aware of. And it's a biggie. Cue scary music.

It only makes sense that the disaster is in the basement. Isn't that where every horror show ends up? Yes, friends, one of my basement walls is in danger of collapse, and for some reason, every potential buyer is frightened away by the prospect. I can't fix it myself (see Motivation), yet I must disclose the hazard to all potential buyers. 

Scenes must end at which point you ask yourself Was the goal met? If the answer is no, things must be worse off than at the start of the scene. Got that covered, in spades. If the answer is yes, it must be followed by a "but." The "but" here is the buyer now has a huge bargaining chip to bring the price down. So far, I haven't found anyone who will play out the scene with a yes, but...

I'll keep looking. Somewhere out there is a person who wants to take on the challenge of owning this home. And I can't wait to complete this scene and move on to the next. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Reassessing--It's Not Just For Editing

You know how it is. You are rolling merrily along on your story. Words are coming to you faster than you can write them down, your story arc is so compelling, and you are completely in love with your hero. Then you step away for a day, come back to your work and wonder what planet your brain was on when you wrote such drivel.

The same thing is happening to me right now, in real life. I had a contract on the house. The potential buyers showed up on my doorstep right around Christmas asking if I'd like to sell. What a great idea! We began working together, things were clicking, and then the inspector came. And stayed.
Five hours later, the potential buyers backed out of the deal, since the inspector uncovered some things I didn't even know about. My house flunked, was bleeding red ink.

So now it's time to reassess. Decide what to do. As I do with every book I write, when it comes time to edit, I make up a checklist of things to watch out for during my first edit. I need to do the same with the house. My first question when I finish a first draft is--Is this a good idea?

Applying that to the house, I asked myself--Is a move the best idea? Yes, I still believe it is. This house is too big for one person, even with a dog. I no longer can handle the upkeeping chores that need done. I don't have the resources to fix the problems the inspector found.

What should be my next step? With my manuscript, the next step would be to go through it, a scene at a time, and remove the fluff, the repetition, the extra commas. Does the scene accomplish what it needs to? Does it move the plot along? So my next step with the house is to meet with my agent, review the listing, add a disclosure sheet and lower the price. Lowering the price is the right way to move the plot along and get me to new living quarters. Much like  an editor, my agent will tell me what needs modification, and how to make the house appealing. I may not like what I hear from an editor or my agent, but they both have the same agenda--to pound my work, or my house, into the best possible shape so it can be sold. So, I'll swallow my ego and follow their advice. We'll see where it leads.

Stay tuned.

On a professional note, I'm becoming the Bundle Queen. In addition to my bundle of all the Cotillion books, in April one of my books. The Forgotten Debutante, will become part of a new bundle called Love In Wartime. And then, in May, another of my books, Expressly Yours, Samantha, will be included in a bundle called Wild, Wild West. These latest bundles are so new, I don't have links for them yet, but here's a sneak peek at the cover of the Love In Wartime.