Monday, February 24, 2014

Research and the Writing Process

As we continue our look at various authors and their writing process, today we welcome Andrea Downing, author of the new book, Loveland. Andrea, you write historical fiction.  How do you combine your research with your writing process?  Did you fully research the time period first?
     First let me say thanks so much for asking me to join in this discussion, Rebecca.  Like most writers, I’m always anxious to get underway on my next project so I tend to view research with some trepidation, though that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it.  When writing Loveland, I first had to get the voices of the people and their language correct, so I read a load of memoirs of the period first.  However, once I had started the book, I was still doing research.  I’m a member of the Center for Fiction here in NYC so I went down there and made use of their many resources, getting the historical background for the time period as to what was happening in the country at large.  I didn’t fit in many historical events because they weren’t pertinent to the story, but it certainly gave me a feel for the time.  Finally, I took a trip out to the Loveland area in Colorado so my descriptive passages and place names could be correct.  So, to answer your question, no, I didn’t fully research the time period first.
How do you come up with your characters?  Do you develop them first or do you come up with a plot first?
     In Loveland, Lady Alex and Jesse were fully formed before a single word was written.  With my present 3 other books, the MO was different for each one.  I was on a ranch in NV and a young cowboy said to me that he thought his name was perfect for a western character in a book: Dylan Kane.  I was looking for something to write for The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series and Dylan just became the lawman and Lawless Love evolved from there.  For my forthcoming story Dearest Darling for the ‘Love Letters’ series, I had the plot idea first.  And for the forthcoming novel, Dances of the Heart, I have absolutely no idea where that all came from—those people just walked in off the street and wrote it themselves.  

Do you fully outline your story before you start writing?
     No, though I’ll probably have to outline my WIP as it’s fairly complicated.  I did once do an outline for a book which I wrote but that ms is still ‘under the bed.’

How do you keep your stories true to your time period?
   To me, language is the absolute must.  I work with the etymological dictionary and check as much as I can.  Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than a glaring anachronism, especially a linguistic anachronism.  To be describing a character from the 1800s and talking about the hero’s “abs” or the heroine ”accessorizing” an outfit just drives me up the wall.  Of course, it is a matter of knowing what words to look up in the etymological dictionary and no one is perfect.  That’s where having a great editor comes in!

What made you want to write historical fiction?
    I grew up on a diet of television westerns and I think that era has always fascinated me.  People had a whole different set of standards, some of them better than today’s and, of course, some of them a lot worse—especially if you consider their treatment of minorities and their total disregard for preserving the world around them.  But I like to think of feisty women having to fight for what they want and men with a code of honor they struggle to live by.   

What advice would you give beginning writers who are interested in writing historical fiction?
     Do your research so you know what you’re doing.  Writing historical fiction is not just a matter of putting two characters in a different time setting; their actions and reactions, their language, their movement, their vision of the world at large---all of it would be different than today’s.

Thank you, Andrea, for giving us insight on how a historical author approaches the writing process when there is research necessary to make a story more realistic.  What about you?  How do you research for your time period books or for stories that require research?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ideas to Story - The Writing Process

When I began asking other writers about their writing processes for classes I was teaching, I kept finding so many different answers.  I am always telling students not to worry if they feel their process might not work. The secret is to figure out what works for you.  Here are a couple more authors who have come up with their own writing process.

First we hear from Madeleine McDonald, author of The Rescued Heart, a newspaper columnist who made the change from non-fiction to fiction writing and made some discoveries about the writing process along the way.

Twenty years ago, in the days of print magazines, I was a freelance journalist. When I tried my hand at fiction, I had to learn a totally different craft. Instead of summarizing factual information for my readers, little by little, through a myriad of false starts and rejections, I learned to add mood and texture to the bare bones of a story idea. It took dedication, discipline and any number of rewrites. Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s trash. Fiction involves a partnership with the reader, and it’s a lot more fun to write.
My first romance novel, Enchantment in Morocco, was published in 2010, followed by The Rescued Heart in 2013.

Madeleine raises a good point. Writing fiction is much different from non-fiction, though I discovered during all my years of writing TV news, that it was possible to find plenty of ideas from those real life stories. So where do ideas come from?

Let’s  hear from A. Y. Stratton who writes romantic suspense for The Wild Rose Press about her writing process. Her latest work is Buried Secrets.

The truth is I don’t have a writing process, unless you call this a process:
I am on a walk and see a workman loading a truck in a neighbor’s driveway. The man is young and fit, his shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal his muscles. Nice muscles. The box he’s carrying must be heavy because he’s sweating and it’s cool out. And he has a tarp over the box. The tarp covers up the writing that might reveal what’s in the box. I begin to suspect he’s stealing something from the neighbor, a lawn mower that was sitting on the grass or something from the back yard. Maybe a TV on the screened porch? All he has to do was use a razor to slit the screen and bang!  The loot is in his truck and off he goes. I should always have paper and pencil in my pocket, so I can write down a license plate number.
I’m at a clothing store, waiting to try on some slacks. The woman in front of me steps into the first available dressing room with at least a half dozen outfits draped over her arms. She’s in the dressing room for a long time. I suspect she’s putting all the items on beneath her other clothes.
When I can’t go to sleep at night, I make up stories, adventures with thieves like the workman and the woman, lovers like the ones I see whispering to each other in bars. And pretty soon I have a story. The workman is really a detective spying on the drug king who lives across the street from the construction site.  The woman in the department store is hiding from the man who has been following her. Why is he following her? To track down her parents who never returned from their vacation in Cuba.
As I began my latest published novel, Buried Secrets, I imagined two people hiding in a closet while a murder takes place in the bedroom. I loved writing that chapter. I had to figure out what they were doing there. The man was going to be my hero, so he had to be there for a good reason. And the woman had to be on a quest too, so that took some tricky plotting. Then I had to figure out how they would escape.
I go to a lot of Milwaukee Brewers games. While I’m there I wonder if the handsome rookie playing first base has a girlfriend back home in Arkansas. Maybe he has one in Milwaukee too. The women fans swamp him at the autograph sessions. He falls for a wealthy city girl who waits for him after the games. Who invites him out to her father’s boat on Lake Michigan and introduces him to her friends. I imagine her ex-boyfriend is jealous and plots to get the ball player drunk so he can plant drugs on him. And maybe… I really like this idea. I wonder what will happen next.
Conclusion? I am a confirmed *pantser.
*A person who writes stories by the seat of her pants, without an outline or a character list.  
So whether it’s a pact with your readers or writing by the seat of your pants, the secret to the right writing process is there is no “secret.” Find out what works for you and go for it.
If you have a writing process you’d like to share, please email me at I’d love to hear from you or feature your process on Write That Novel.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Writing Process

This month our focus is on the writing process. I started thinking about it because I am currently teaching a class at Savvy Authors to new writers where we start from scratch. Every time I teach one of these classes where we start from scratch I am amazed at how many different methods writers use to get their novel started. I decided to ask some of my published friends how they got started and this month I am posting some of the answers. We start off today with Rolynn Anderson, the author of the new book, Lie Catchers.

How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific method?
My process is haphazard at best, in the beginning, but as I proceed with the plot, I pick characters with purpose: people who act as foils to my hero/heroine, and individuals who trip them up…people who push the action and challenge the h/h.  For LIE CATCHERS, I was charmed by the fact that in Petersburg, Alaska, Norwegian men, displaced from their homeland, traveled to Alaska to become fishermen.  Some of them married Tlingit (native) women.  In a gift store in Petersburg, Alaska, I met the owner, who happened to be a “Tlingwegian.”  She was blonde and blue-eyed but with a warm complexion.  My heroine was born with that encounter.
Do your characters come before the plot?
Not a linear process, for sure.  As I develop the plot that challenges my h/h, I grab new characters off the ‘shelf,’ adding to the complexity of the plot.  I like to surprise the reader and challenge myself as a writer with “out of the box” tactics.  In LIE CATCHERS, for instance, I found out that Petersburg, Alaska, was burdened with a 1932 unsolved homicide.  What’s more, the man murdered was an important Chinese man…in a Norwegian town.  That caught my interest.  I wondered if I could solve an old crime and a new one, comparing the way crimes were handled in 1932 to how we work them today…and somehow tie in both crimes.  The challenge was too delicious to pass up! 
Do you know how the story will end before you begin? 
Absolutely not.  I may not know how it’s going to end before I’m 85% into the book.  I like surprise endings, so I tend to work to the denouement and surprise myself with a turnabout climax.  One thing I do know about the ending of a stand-alone novel…the h/h are stretched, learn and grow, finding that together, their skills, love and verve are unbeatable.

Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of plots sitting around?
Settings drive me to write a book even more than character or plot ideas.  I cruised to Petersburg, Alaska, in my trawler two years ago.  Had never been there before.  Did not know the town was full of Norwegians (my heritage).  Was not aware Norwegians settled in Alaska to fish (as did the Russians, etc.).  LIE CATCHERS was born out of my surprise and delight in discovering this charming fishing town, full of people who looked like me, ate food I liked, said ‘uff da’ the way I say it.  Okay, there’s a bit of narcissism here, but finding this town, set below the LeConte Glacier, really got my writing juices flowing! 
Where do you do your research?
Books and online.  I bought books about Petersburg in the town’s bookstore and connected with people in Petersburg to help me answer some questions about the town, but most of my research (especially about the 1932 murder) was done on line.  I e-mail individuals regularly, as well.  I have a cadre of experts I consult about forensics, for instance.  Don’t know what I’d do without all that free advice!

Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along and why? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?
I’m a pantser through and through, which takes more time, but is more satisfying to me.  I like to be surprised every morning when I get up to write.  I never know where my writing will take me each day…and I love that feeling!

Thank you, Rolynn for telling us about your writing process.  Can you provide a blurb and information about the Lie Catchers?

Blurb: Two unsolved murders will tear apart an Alaska fishing town unless a writer and a government agent reveal their secret obsessions.
Treasury agent Parker Browne is working undercover in Petersburg, Alaska to investigate a money scam and a murder. His prime suspect, Liv Hanson, is a freelance writer struggling to save her family’s business. Free spirited, full of life, and with a talent for catching liars, she fascinates Parker.
Trying to prove she’s a legitimate writer who cares about Petersburg’s issues, Liv pens a series of newspaper articles about an old, unsolved murder. When her cold case ties in with Parker’s investigation, bullets start to fly.

Parker understands money trails, and Liv knows the town residents. But he gave up on love two years ago, and she trusts no one, especially with her carefully guarded secret. If they mesh their skills to find the killers, will they survive the fallout?

A Rich, Intriguing Story December 27, 2013-Amazon Kindle
By Roben
I received an ARC of this book, and was thrilled to read it. I adored the setting, and the quirkiness of the characters in the small Alaska town. It made me want to go to Alaska. That kind of authenticity comes from an author who knows her setting, who understands its people, and can then convey that knowledge richly. Anderson does just that. Her mystery/suspense, is carefully woven with the right amount of history to engage the reader, and enough mystery to keep the reader guessing. This was my first novel by Rolynn Anderson, and I would definitely read this author again.
       Parker touched her shoulder.
       “May I have this dance?”
       Liv twirled to find him so close she could smell beer on his breath. A hint of cologne. Had he shaved recently? Smiling at the thought he might have done that for her, she gave him her right hand and rested her left hand on his shirt collar, intent on finding a way to  touch his chin to answer the shaving question. But the shave-or-not dilemma was a minor one.  She’d already screwed up with one man tonight; would she make a wrong move with Parker, too?  
      She drew her thumb along his chin and sighed at the silky smoothness. Forget the man’s mouthful of queries and his intense gaze. Just dance. While the singer lamented over loosing her mind, Liv’s body disappeared into Parker’s. Soothed, she was and aroused at the same time, aware Parker knew not to use words. A close shave and a close dance spoke volumes. She was the silent one, afraid to say what might start an avalanche of sentences, lowering her guard, exposing too much to the wrong person at the worst time. This man who held her was a cop and she was on his list of murder suspects. Even if Parker was unorthodox as an investigator, he still held the power of his profession. The reason for his offer to dance wasn’t clear, was it?
       The strumming ended, emptying the room of the singer’s piercing ballad.
       “Good night, Liv. And thank you for the dance.”
       Parker kissed her on the forehead, walked out the door and closed it quietly, taking with him all the unasked questions she would never answer.

Thanks again, Rolynn for sharing your new book with us as well as your writing process.

What about you? Please feel free to share how you initially start planning a new book.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Just Do it

by Becky Martinez

Just do it.
That’s a great sounding saying, but how easy is it to do that? From losing weight to starting an exercise program to writing a book, what does it take to “just do it?”
It sounds so promising when you say it, when you’re thinking about it. Then you’re all charged up and excited to get going. Maybe you are at a conference or out with a group of writing friends talking about your book and brainstorming ideas and you know exactly what you want to do.
Then the regular day kicks in.  You go back to the real life. How can you continue to “just do it” when you’re back to your normal routine.
The truth is you might want to do it, but you can’t just start and automatically make it happen.   Even if you start out filled with anticipation and excitement immediately, how likely are you to do the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next until you actually can say you are just doing it and you will continue?
How can you make it happen? There are a number of ways to start building that daily chore into a daily routine or habit.
Try baby steps. One thing that I have done successfully in the past is to begin small.  Take that story idea and start developing more than just the vague thought about a man faced with proving his innocence in the murder of his wife, or a woman who wakes up 500 years in the future and isn’t sure how she got there.  Those might be great premises, but what do you do to come up with a story behind them?
Well, you might start developing your character more or pushing that plot a little bit forward. Who is she? What does she want?  What does he need to do to solve the crime? Who is he and who was his dead wife? These are baby steps that can when answered can move your story up another level. 
Keep going. Try doing those baby steps again tomorrow. Continue to develop that character or your plot. What is the first obstacle he or she is going to face now that she is in the future. Is she mistaken for the commander of a space ship? Start bringing in challenges or small new problems for each of your characters. Is your hero’s blood on his wife’s shirt she was wearing when she died? 
Start to own it.  Make it as steady practice to keep considering where you want that story to go or what you want that character to do. Begin to look for ways to get your characters out of their scrapes or to put them into new ones. Develop your setting more. Where does that murder story take place? What about the world where your heroine finds herself? Give it more depth until you can begin to truly see it.
Fight against setbacks.  Nothing is going to come easily or immediately and you will eventually be hit with something unexpected. That might happen to you or your characters. You’re run into a dead end with your new world. You have no idea how to propel someone into the future? What would make such a thing happen? How can you explain that to the reader? Does that obstacle make you want to give up? How can you fight that?
Plan for chaos or be ready for it.  That’s one way to fight back. Have an idea of how before you set out and just begin blindly writing the story. It goes back to item number two  and three.  If you keep developing and owning your story, you will begin to see some of the things that might happen and plan for them. 
Don’t let the doldrums get you down either. Sometimes even the ordinary can bring you to a standstill. You find yourself in the sagging middle of the book where the same old stuff is occurring. How many aliens can this woman battle? How many times can this man face another challenge that puts him at the murder scene.  
Shake things up. This might be a good time to look at some of those early challenges you came up with earlier, but didn’t use. Clear your brain and then come up with some sort of twist. Perhaps someone else from the past comes into the heroine’s new world or perhaps the husband finds out his wife was having an affair and that man might be the killer. Look for a twist to bring new life into the humdrum story. 
Recall past successes.  If you’re still having trouble making that story come alive, think about how you dealt with this in the past? What did you do other times that got you through the tough points?  Think about what worked before and see if you can apply it again. Sometimes it works and sometimes it gets tougher.
Consider your overall plan. What is working for you and what is a problem area. Write that down or keep it in mind. Are you coming up short in the character department or in your plotting? What needs more work?
Know where you want to finish. Whether it is the ending of the story, where she conquers the final alien leader or your hero proves his innocence and uncovers the real killer, think about where you want that story to end. That can go a long way toward helping you through some of those earlier steps when you get bogged down or you aren't sure what you want to happen next. Knowing how you want to end helps you know which direction to go.
Have you thought about what your writing process is? Now may be a good time to examine what you are doing that is working and what needs changing.  Come up with a process that you can use again and again.  And when that gets old, then change it up again. Be strong enough to follow the program, but always be ready to be flexible.
In the next month I am going to be going through my own writing process and bringing in some of the other processes used by other writers that have been successful for them. Think about ways to develop your own writing process.

Maybe then you’ll be ready next time you just want to “do it.”


Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...