Monday, February 24, 2014

One of those (good) days...

Writers always have good days and bad. Today, I haven't written much yet on my current Work In Progress (WIP). We had dental appointments mid-morning, and so instead of writing, I finished reading Jill Shalvis' latest book, Once in a Lifetime. Then, I got involved with responding to an email from my critique partner/mentor/editor, Laurie. The thing is, when I'm involved in these activities, they seem completely irrelevant to the process, and yet, today, they were anything but.

On route to the dentist, I was thinking about another of the stories in the Ward Sisters Series and had an epiphany. Not just about my current WIP, This Year's Love, but about my writing in general. Over the course of the past year, I've grown and changed, improved my skills, yes, but also found my voice strengthening. Last month, while completing Right Here Waiting, I had a breakthrough in my editing/storytelling when I realized the 10k I'd recently written wasn't going to make it to the final manuscript. Instead of feeling frustrated, I was elated! I'd come to the same conclusion I would have after Laurie read the manuscript, but I did it on my own, before she'd ever seen the material. It was emotionally akin to my son reading his little numbers book to me earlier and saying, "I'm learning!"

The process taught me to see that not everything I write has to make it into the final manuscript, but that doesn't mean some of those details aren't important. Like I just said to Laurie, if I don't write it, I can't decide which bits make it in, which bits will be glossed over and which bits will be ignored. I'd decided I didn't think I needed to write the history of the main characters into This Year's Love the way I have in the past. But for one, that might not be the best way to approach the story. And for another, even if the reader doesn't need to know the details, I do.

When I meet a character for the first time or as a secondary character in another story, I don't know everything about them. It's no different for me than it is when I meet new friends or acquaintances. The longer I know someone, the more I learn about them, the clearer the picture in my head. My characters are no different. So, whether or not I structure This Year's Love in any way similar to the last two stories I wrote or I take a completely different approach, I still need to write their histories, separately and together. Then, when I edit, I can decide if things are necessary for the reader to know and in how much detail. Why is this so exciting to me? Because now, when I write a story, any story, I'll automatically want to learn the history of a character, even if it's only for my information, and for someone like me, that means I've streamlined my process.

It's so funny that I've come to this conclusion, because I wrote a post early in my blogging about my sophomore year English teacher, who I resented at the time, but whose assignment to do a dossier on the characters of Oliver Twist informed my writing. Now, I'm realizing that process of putting together a 'file' - in my head and, more importantly, in writing - about a character is what helps me shape the story I'm telling. And none of it is pointless, even if I don't use it. The exercise serves many purposes, some of which help me be a better writer/editor, and some of which help create the story.

So, trip to the dentist, helpful and made my teeth sparkle. Reading another author's work? Seems completely relevant, right? Well, sure. Every writer is a reader. And in this case, I love Jill Shalvis' work. But more importantly, the last book in the Lucky Harbor series, Always On My Mind, was a friends-to-lovers story. This Year's Love is also one of those stories. And in Once in a Lifetime, we catch up a little with the previous characters, post HEA (Happily Ever After). They're doing great, but it cemented my conviction that I wanted This Year's Love to be different from your typical friends-to-lovers with a HEA ending. What happens after the HEA? What if the road to becoming more than friends was easy, but the 'after' was the hard part? That's what this story will be, and I'm very glad that I took this route. I'm really excited to get back to it with a new perspective in my head. As a writer, I enjoy generating ideas. But as a reader, I want those ideas to be interesting to other readers. That's the only reason to pick up a book, right? If it will engage you in some way? And what better way to engage the readers than to tell a story that's been told, but in a new way?

Which leads me to the third activity of the day, emailing my writing guru. We talk, back and forth, about our work, writing in general, life, how our stories are progressing, how sales are going, you name it. Any one of our emails could run the gamut. And sometimes, while I'm writing to her, I end up actually writing what is a plot/character development email to myself. I did that today on This Year's Love. Score one for character development! Other times, I'm writing to her and, though I do want to share what I'm typing with her, I'm also talking to myself. I had another one of those moments today. While sharing my excitement about the epiphany I detailed above, I came to the conclusion that my 4-month window between books in the series might be more than I need, now that my writing has evolved. And that sparked an exciting idea in my head.

So, I don't want to get too excited about this prospect, because I have a long way to go to finish This Year's Love for its late-June publication, and I have no idea what might happen with that. But, as of now, I'm thrilled to reveal that I'm planning a pre-quel story for my second series, Warwick, Maine. It'll be set in my college years of the 90's. The story will be a New Adult-genre narrative and will tie into the Warwick series by introducing some of the characters who'll appear later, in their older versions. The manuscript first draft is complete - it's a story I wrote previously that will be worked into the Warwick series - so provided I don't have a hard time with This Year's Love, it's reasonable to anticipate finishing this story for publication long before the November launch of Warwick. Current plans have me hoping for a mid-May release (between books 3 and 4 of Ward Sisters), but I might push it out to July (between 4 and 4.5 of Ward Sisters) if that seems more reasonable. Stay tuned. The current story title is Closer to Fine. Unlike most of my work, it's written in first-person, so it'll be an interesting adventure to bring it to life for my readers!

Back to work! Thanks for listening to me ramble today, and I can't wait to share more stories with all of you!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sneak Peek of Right Here Waiting!

Ever since I started this story, I've been exited to share it. I love both these characters. Right Here Waiting is the tale of 29 year-old therapist, Meg Miles and 27 year-old soldier, Lieutenant Neil Murphy. If you read Back to December, you might remember Meg - she's Emily's best friend. You know, the crazy, sexy, adventurous one. Except, is Meg who everyone thinks? Maybe not. Maybe even her very best, lifelong friend doesn't know her as well as she believes. For Neil's part, he has been best friends with Danny Williams since the age of three. You haven't met Neil before now. Dan, you might recall, is the one who marries Emily's sister, Charlie. Neil hasn't been around much in recent years because he has been stationed far away from Maine.

Now, some of you might know (and I've probably said it here), that I'm a sucker for a soldier character. Do you think that would be any less true if I wrote one? No, of course not. And I fell, hard, for Neil while I wrote him. He's a closet alpha male, so used to being the geek that he doesn't even realize he's just as much an alpha as his Army buddies. But he's also a gentle soul, a kind man as loyal as they come. He's just the type of guy a girl like Meg needs - someone who can be everything she desires and can make her heart whole at the same time.

Here's the first little sneak peek at Neil. It'll give you an idea of the man he is inside his brawny, formidable soldier physique - the shy, nerdy boy he was before his hormones caught up to his mind and the Army made him into a force of nature. Here, Neil is helping his best friend, Danny, get ready for his wedding, along with the groomsmen from the wedding party (which includes Emily's ex, Josh). An hour or so before this, Neil ran into Meg in the hallway. See, Neil has had a crush on Meghan since he was 14, which Dan well knows...

I saw her. She helped me bring my stuff into my room,” Neil admitted.
Ohhh!” five male voices chorused.
Neil blushed. “It wasn't like that. She just took my bag for me and brought it inside.”
There was another round of male stupidity. You'd think he would be used to this by now, living on an Army base, but Neil was still the shy kid when these things were lobbed at him. When he wasn't the victim, he usually just kept as quiet as possible.
Yeah, okay. Make jokes. She didn't look to me like she was tramping it up or anything. She was just wearing summer clothes and no makeup.”
Wait until you see her at the wedding. And it's not tramping it up; Meg doesn't do tramp. She does vixen. Watch out, my friend. She has you in her sights if she helped you already.”
Oh, stop. She does not. She was just being nice.”
She's on the prowl. There's no such thing as being nice when she's looking for someone to take her mind off her man trouble.”
Neil just shook his head. They all thought they knew her so well, but he didn't believe any of that for a second. Oh, sure, it might be true, but that didn't mean they were being accurate.

Synopsis of Right Here Waiting

I'd written a synopsis of Right Here Waiting a while ago. But over the course of the last few months, the tone of the story has changed a little, and I wanted the description - which is the first thing people see - to reflect the true nature of the story and also to recognize that we hear from both main characters. So, without further ado, here's the synopsis for Right Here Waiting. I can't wait to share this story with you all!

Right Here Waiting

Every high school has that girl. She's the one the boys talked about in the locker room, the piece of ass they all wanted or said they'd had. The one all the other girls hated because their boyfriends had her first or because they wished they could be so free with their sexuality. Meghan Miles wore that mantle. Too bad the reputation hadn't been earned. Despite being best friends since birth with Emily Ward, the class goody two-shoes, everyone had believed Meg slept with every boy she'd dated and even some she hadn't. Well, almost everyone.

And every high school has one of those boys. When Neil Murphy saw Meghan Miles for the first time at the age of 14, his breath caught and he finally understood why real girls were such a big deal. Never mind that he would be a big, strong soldier someday, scrawny, shrimpy, nerdy Neil, a whole two years younger and three grades behind, knew he had no chance with the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. But, when the rumors flew about Megan's kinky, slutty behavior, Neil refused to believe them, instead using the manners he'd been taught in a military home, and his keen skills of observation, to conclude the high school gossip mill had gotten it wrong.

A chance encounter her senior year with the sweet, geeky boy who had admired her from afar would change Meg's life for the better and would ensure that Neil could never fully expel her from his mind. Twelve years later, when fate finally brings the two of them together again at the wedding of mutual friends, it seems destined for them to make a connection.

But as a Lieutenant in the Army, Neil has to spend the next nine months in Afghanistan. Can their fledgling relationship survive a wartime courtship? Though aided by technology to keep the feelings alive, the reality of the situation means that Neil's life is as in danger as it would have been before the age of computers. If the worst happens, and Neil doesn't make it home in one piece, will Meg find the strength to trust in destiny and do the right thing? Or will she lose everything she loves – including her best friend – along the way?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New covers for Ward Sisters Series

One of the things I didn't have time to contemplate when I first published Back to December last summer was learning a new software. Between regular life stuff and the fact that I'd been editing it for 5 months, I was ready to be done and get the story out there. So, I found an image that worked for me, created a quick and dirty cover that I liked well enough, and then called it good. When it came time to create the cover for Only One, I was in a similar predicament. I wanted to make a specific sales deadline (and was insanely busy at the time) and rather than trying to reinvent the wheel for both books, I stuck with the look I'd created for Back to December (with a new image, naturally).

So, earlier, I posted the cover I made for Right Here Waiting. Unlike the last two times, I haven't been editing this book for months and I'm not within a few days of my deadline. I changed my tactic and have learned a lot from the last two books, so this manuscript is in a much better place than the last two were at this stage. Which left me more time to play with the cover, and I took advantage. I had previously played with an earlier version of GIMP, so I downloaded some more fonts and started playing this morning.

Now, lots of people say you should use professional cover designers, and if I had an unlimited budget, I'd consider that. But for one, I don't have that kind of budget. And for another, I actually enjoy doing this stuff. I mean, really, truly enjoy it. I learn software quickly and have played with photo manipulating for years. Frankly, I'm excited about what I can do with GIMP to improve my digitally-created photo books - I've made one every year for the past three years - to give them more of a scrapbooking look. And I'm not a total novice - I've done this stuff in the past here and there for a variety of reasons (jobs, volunteer work) and I took a course in document design and presentation a few years ago. It also doesn't hurt that I have a creative person for a critique partner - she's not only a writer, but a painter and a photographer - and she can give me great feedback on my covers, too.

Anyway, long story short, I here are the new covers for the Ward Sisters Series. Yes, I posted the Right Here Waiting cover earlier, but I tweaked it a little to add the series information. Now, we have a cohesive series. :) I hope you love it as much as I do!

Right Here Waiting - official cover reveal

We have a winner! After literally months of searching for the perfect cover image for Right Here Waiting, I finally found one yesterday. Spent some time creating the official cover this morning, and here it is! Meet Lieutenant Neil Murphy.

Later today, I'll be sharing the new cover images for Back to December and Only One. Now that I've found a look that I like for this book, I'm re-branding a bit for the other two books to create a consistent image. Actually, the final, printed version will probably include the series name, too. Otherwise, it'll be exactly the same. I'm very excited about this story, so I hope you're now excited, too!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The debate over the alternate POV story

The other day, I read an alternate POV story - that's Point of View for those of you who don't know. I had read the main tale and loved it, couldn't wait to read more about this character, etc. When I'd finished the novella, I felt strangely less than satisfied. The writing was great, as always. The character was fleshed out more, explanations were given for his motivations. Unlike some alternate POV stories I've read, this one didn't fail, per se, to engage me or make me think it wasn't worth buying OR reading. But it left me with this sense that the information could have been included in the main story. Would it have changed the reader's perception? Maybe. Probably. There are ways to weave it into the plot so that the effect is the same, even if you don't hear that character's voice. Otherwise, I guess it feels like a marketing/sales gimmick concocted by the publisher (even if it's self-published, a story still has to be marketed and sold.)

Now, here's the thing: admittedly, I have a biased opinion on this issue. I tend to write stories with more than one POV, I write in third-person most of the time and I'm self-publishing, so no one is looking over my shoulder to tell me that I can't do whatever I want. Heck, even Laurie, who is very frank about what she thinks works and doesn't, has never said, "Don't include that POV."

In fact, with Only One, she read the first draft, which was solely from Liam's POV, and said, "I wish I'd been inside Jenna's head." I often think that when I read a story in a single POV, too. And you know what? Once I got inside Jenna's head and wrote in her voice, it completely changed the story. If you read the first draft and then the published version, you'd see about 50% of the story was already there and that the plot hadn't changed much. The basic arc, from start to finish, was the same. But the pieces in between and how it all unfolded? That changed dramatically with each successive draft. And it turned out, we really needed to hear Jenna's POV. Until Laurie mentioned Jenna's voice, it hadn't seemed crucial in that story, but it was.

I can see the valueof holding back another POV in a story. Sometimes, stories told in first-person feel more potent if the reader is only in the main character (mc)'s head. Or, in the case with Back to December, which is only told from Emily's POV, there was a valid reason for that. Rob is a famous movie actor. At that point in their relationship, parts of him are unknowable, even to the woman he loves. You see more of him later, in Only One, because you're seeing him through the eyes of Jenna and Liam, his two best friends. But even then, you can't see all of him.

Could I write a story from Rob's POV? Sure. Will I ever do that? Probably not. If I'd wanted the readers to be inside Rob's head, I'd have written that into his story with Emily. And if I'm honest, a part of me actually likes that I'm the only person who really knows Rob Deacon. More importantly, I don't see any value in hearing Rob's voice inside his head at this point. I guess if readers begged me to show them what Rob did, said, felt during the other stories, I'd consider it. But outside that? No.

It's hard for me to imagine writing an alternate POV unless the story reveals things that just can't be told otherwise. With many of those stories out there, I've felt the other POV could have been folded into the main manuscript (this most recent one included).

I have a story, later in the Ward Sisters Series, which currently has 3 main-character's POV, and I keep debating whether I should cut one of them and tell it in another story. That character's story intertwines intimately with the main one, but he also has a parallel story that, for now, takes place predominantly off-stage. It's a few books down the line in this series, so I have time to think about what I'm going to do. But I wonder, what do other people think? Are there times when another POV in a separate story makes more sense to you? Or do you hate those stories and refuse to read them?

In this case, I'm not talking about a strictly alternate POV. Currently, the third character's voice is actually part of the story. But I could easily pull it into a separate manuscript, focus on the other two characters, and tell his part of the story in another segment of the series (with its own storyline). Enough happens with him in the timeline of the story that it would make sense. That would allow me to devote word count to the other two characters and then give him his say separately. It's a tough balance. By NOT including his voice, I'm afraid I'll paint an inaccurate picture of him. If I DO include him, then that changes the focus of the story to some degree. And then the other issue is timing; by including him in the same story, I don't spoil another one in any way.

Like I said, it's a lot to consider and I've got time. There are a lot of factors to weigh, including what the point of the other story might be (aside from giving his side) and there is still story left to write. But in that case, I'm considering a third, MAIN character, not a minor one. We're not talking about a couple segments or a secondary character. And I guess I prefer to write and read both main character's POV in the SAME book, rather than in two separate stories. Every time I read a 'told from so-and-so's POV' story, I think...why didn't you just put it in the book originally? To me, when I'm reading a story about another character in a series, that's not the same as 'Book One, told from Hero's POV'. If that character was important enough to have a voice, I guess I'm saying that it should have been included in the main manuscript. Otherwise, the story should have been written so that we got to know them via the main character. I'm certainly struggling with that balance myself. I'm curious how others make the decision to include or not.

What do you think? Do you have an opinion? Would you rather hear that third (or even second) POV in the main story? Or do you like having a secondary, companion novel/novella?