Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A look back at the year I swore I'd use to put writing first.

This past January, I declared to myself (and quite possibly to my Facebook network) that this was the year - 2014 - that I would put my writing first! I would join every writing group/club/association I could find. I would draft during normal-people hours and not just at 3am. I would commit to the craft: learn, read, study. I would act like a REAL writer.

So in January, I joined several writing groups. I left my full-time job as a social media specialist. I used the time my daughter was at pre-school to crank out word counts. I took a research trip to Cumberland Island with a few friends to experience the setting of book #3, and we camped back country (i.e. gather and boil water). I was serious about this writer thing. SERIOUS.

Before too long, my drafting sessions became more of a stare-down with my blank computer screen and the taunting, blinking cursor. I started avoiding my office. Then the second floor of my house all together. I tried writing by hand in the woods in the dead of winter, sitting on fallen trees to resurrect the magic and compulsion of that feeling of i-have-to-write-right-now-or-i-will-throw-a-fit. Instead my butt went numb. And my hands.

I started skimming over emails from those groups I dutifully joined. Then I started screening them by their titles and the few words visible on gmail's preview. And once Gmail started separating emails by categories, i stopped checking them all together.

In February, I revamped my swag and headed to IndieGirl Con in Charleston, SC. I met some amazing people - inspiring, kick-you-in-the-pants people, which made the drive and the predictably unpredictable southern coastal weather worth the trip. I had my first video interview, and I also suffered a royal case of food poisoning. Or at least I *thought* it was food poisoning.

In March I found out I was pregnant... two months pregnant. Turns out baby #2 had gone back country camping with me, and had definitely been on board during the now suspect food poisoning. Suddenly, finishing book #3 in the Moonlit trilogy had an expedited deadline. And all those groups and trips and conferences... needless to say, that part of writerdom took a back seat to just sitting down and writing, which became harder week to week as my energy tanked and i found myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen. Plus, pregnancy brain is no joke. I once went to Target and then called my husband to ask him what I'd gone to get. I still have no clue what I intended to buy.

In May, I bought a horse. (I what...? I WHAT???) I know, I know. Even though I work in the horse world, I haven't owned a horse in ten years. This January, when I finished tuning up a client's horse, my three year old daughter asked me: "Mommy, will we ever have a horse we don't have to give back?" See, now you want to go buy a horse too, right? I found an ex-race horse that needed lots of food and time off, so we were the perfect pair. And he made me feel like me again. Suddenly I wasn't avoiding my laptop anymore. I'd mentally chew on a major plot point as I curried the daily clumps of mud from his coppery coat. Then it hit me: my brain works the same way whether I'm trying to find a certain object in my house or write a story; if I'm trying too hard, i don't stand a chance.

By mid-summer, I was asleep around 8pm most nights, which was eating up my best writing times. So I had to learn to draft smarter. I learned to write in 15-30 min snatches of free time while tuning out Dora the Explorer instead of needing to make a mug of tea and settle in for a several hour stretch. I used my beta-readers earlier on, cringing as I sent them the third draft instead of the thirtieth. And I finally, finally learned to outline (which with five POVs, two worlds, a hundred threads to tie in, and pregnancy brain was a MUST.) I also attended UTopYA Con in Nashville, TN, where I reconnected with several of those fantastic people I'd met in Charleston, shook my pregnant booty all over the dance floor, and heard this amazing piece of advice from the keynote speaker: Feeling selfish is better than feeling unfulfilled. It's rock solid advice.

In October, I turned book #3, which my publisher has coined "Wildwood," Eight days later, baby #2, Annabelle Rose, was born. I'm up to my eyeballs in diapers and still waiting to see if this draft will be green-lighted to head into the official editing process. While I wait, I'm sketching out a few new ideas to see which one demands to be written next, and I'm toying with the idea of a kids' book series.

And now here, looking back on the last twelve months, I might just feel like a writer after all. We write because we live, and we write TO live. But there's a balance - a tiny, new human that depends on me, a big, beautiful sun to enjoy, a horse that has a love for having his ears scratched, a Britney Spears dance party with a three year old in a tutu - and there are days or nights when the words come and need to be given attention.

The words, the worlds in my head, they're what make me a writer. I set out this year to commit to my craft, put my writing first, and learn how to be a "real" writer. It didn't happen quite like I thought it would or should, but I think maybe it happened anyway.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blog Hop: My writing process - take 2

I first took part of this hop about six months ago, but with full blown, third trimester preggo-brain, I completely forgot. When I realized I'd already answered these questions, I nearly declined the opportunity. I read over the answers I gave back in April, and realized that drafting Wildwood - the final book in the Moonlit Trilogy - has changed a lot about my process. So I answered them again, if only to chart my growth, and I enjoyed reflecting on how much I learned while writing book 3.

Thank you, Brittney Joy, author of the Red Rock Ranch series and fellow equestrian, for inviting me to follow her on the hop. I adored the first book in Brittney's series, Lucy's Chance, and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, which is coming out this fall. With a tagline like this: "Sixteen year old Lucy Rose is spending her first summer away from home and she has two things on her mind: an abandoned, violent horse and a blue eyed cowboy... only neither is hers." How could I resist? We also both have an obvious love for writing a lead female character with grit and a feisty streak. Learn more about Brittney Joy and the Red Rock Ranch series on her blog:

Now for the blog hop writing process questions:

1. What am I currently working on?

I am currently working on "Wildwood," the third and final book in the Moonlit trilogy. At this point, two dimensions are at play, so I'm using a multi-POV approach to braid the sides together. Characters on both sides are gaining different pieces of information - and not all of them are true. The reader will see their mistakes/wrong turns long before they do. Using the multi-POV approach has been the most challenging thing I've done with my writing so far/ It's so important to have a reason for why the next POV is chosen, and to layer the plot lines in a way that is seamless and natural. I'm really excited for readers to experience how this tale concludes. The paths and endings of several aspects/subplots took me completely by surprise

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

The Moonlit trilogy is a very different read in general. The first book (Moonlit) is not a straight-shot plot, but more like a puzzle. Once you reach the final chapters, I think you experience Tanzy's moment of shock with her when she realizes how far she was lead from where she believed she was going. The second book is more like a bullet- it's direct, fast-paced, and action-oriented. The third book goes back to the elements of mystery I used in the first book, but the characters are kept more in the dark than the reader.

Also, two major thematic differences are the use of love/romance as a sub-plot and not the main point of the story. Horses are used as a setting; the main character, Tanzy Hightower, was raised on a farm, and has working knowledge of the equine industry. In books 2 (Windswept) and 3 (Wildwood), the wild/feral aspect of horses is explored, as Tanzy's blood has been replaced with that of an ancient wild stallion. Her environment and the use of horses in it reflects what's happening inside of her.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Sometimes this world seems too sharp at its edges, too mean or cruel, and in the depths on my being I know beyond all reasons there has to be something more. I explore the thoughts of what that more could be through my stories. My mind is quick to leave this reality and scurry down a path of what-ifs. I use horses as a vehicle to take these journeys because they've always possessed a kind of magic for me. They are excellent teachers, and they ground me and make me feel like I'm flying at the same time.

4. How does my writing process work?

My writing process evolved a lot for book 3. I used to tear apart each sentence as I was drafting, and that slowed me way down. I'd get so involved in how to say it I'd forget to just say it and move on. Also, since I used five POVs in book three, I had to use what I call a "short-projection," where I outlined the main purpose of the next 3-4 chapters before writing them. This was my first attempt at any kind of an outline, as I've been a total panster before this manuscript. I wrote the entire first draft before incorporating any edits, and kept a separate word document where I made notes to myself regarding any edits to what I'd already written, large or small. Once I began the second draft, I tackled that list first, and then reviewed the story as a whole, editing as I went. I just sent the second draft to beta readers to make sure the story is solid before I spend a lot of time/energy polishing the actual writing.

Another key part of my writing process is not writing. If I'm not feeling inspired, I don't force it for the most part. Every now and then I can tell it's just me not focusing or seeing a scene clearly, and then I make myself slog through it. But getting outside, especially to the barn, is a critical part of my creative process for bigger-scale plotting. My imagination works much better in the open air.

Time to Tag!

I'm tagging the lovely, one-of-a-kind, force of nature Sarah Ashley Jones, who I had the pleasure of meeting at Indie Girl Con this past February, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing again at UTopYA. She just revealed the cover of her newest book: Rebel Souls. She's crazy busy, so I'm not sure when her post will go up, but her blog is worth checking out regularly, so check back if it's not up yet!

Click here to go directly to Sarah's blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Hop - giving you a tiny sneak peek into Wildwood, book 3 in the Moonlit Trilogy

First, thank you to Colleen Story for inviting me to join the Work in Progress blog hop, which gives me the chance to offer Moonlit fans a tiny peek into the third book of the series. I can't wait for my tribe to experience the conclusion of Tanzy's journey. I'm honored Colleen chose me, as I'm a huge fan of hers, and I'm appreciative of her commitment to exploring how to maintain mental, emotional, and physical wellness while working in the creative field. Check out a glimpse of Colleen's WIP on her blog HERE. She also provides a fantastic analysis of the mental/emotional process of drafting, which I found myself nodding along with as I read it.

Here are the rules of the hop: Provide a link back to the person who nominated you (done!) Write a little bit about your WIP and give the first few sentences of the first three chapters. Then nominate a few more writers to do the same.

Here we go!

WIP Title: My wonderful publisher has already christened book 3 in the Moonlit trilogy "Wildwood." We added a sneak peek of book 3 into the back of Windswept (book 2) so we came up with the official title early on this one. But before my publisher named book 3, the working title was "Ascent."

A little bit about the story: My current WIP is the third and final book in the Moonlit trilogy. I can't tell you too much about it without giving away spoilers for book 2, but I'll tell you what I can!

In the final book of the trilogy, both sides of the veil are at play, and several characters step into the spotlight for a turn front and center, continuously blurring the line between good and evil. Asher and Vanessa's motives and histories are explored in depth. They truly took me by surprise, and I'm curious to see how readers react to their part of the story. This book goes back to the mystery feel of Moonlit, except I keep the characters more in the dark than the reader, who will realize when a character is acting on a false lead long before the character does. The pieces of the puzzle and prophecy are woven together primarily by four characters: Tanzy, Vanessa, Jayce, and Hope, with one of the last chapters coming from a very special voice. And I promise nearly every thread I've pulled along the way will be tied in and resolved by the last page.

Here are the opening lines of the first three chapters. These are from the second draft, and are totally devoid of an editor's polishing, so bear with me :)

Chapter 1 (Tanzy's POV): If I lose ground to Asher, I will not regain it. This basic fact screams through every muscle like a commander to an army. Prepare to hurt. Fight through the pain. Asher will kill me the moment he detects a chance.

Chapter 2 (Jayce's POV): Clouds pass overhead, murky grays laced with slivers of pink. They remind me of a charcoal sketch. My left hand tingles and a memory of smudging pencil lead from line to shadow flitters across my mind.

Chapter 3 (Vanessa's POV): "You must have missed something!" I slap the closest canvas from its easel. The sound of it clattering to the floor does nothing to release the pressure brewing in my chest, nor does the reaction of my Mouse, a blind Unseen creature, who jumps back as if I struck her instead of the painting.

My turn to tag! I nominate:
Charity Bradford
Paul Anthony Shortt
Kerri Cuevas
Elisabeth Wheatley
Lori Ann Robinson

I opted not to give my nominations a deadline for their posts, as we are all furiously working on new pieces, so make sure to check back if they don't currently have up their WIP posts.

What are the most memorable opening lines you've ever read?  I don't know if a book has ever hooked me as fast as Gillian Flynn's "Dark Places: A Novel." Check out the opening lines, told from main character Libby Day:

I have a meanness inside of me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slip out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It's the Day blood. Something's wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders.

How could you read those sentences and then STOP? I couldn't. I think I read the whole book in two days.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The "My Writing Process" Blog Hop

I am thrilled to take part in the Writing Process blog hop. Thank you so much Devika Fernando for inviting me. You can check out her answers to these questions on her blog here. I've tagged three new authors at the end of this post to keep the hop hopping.

1. What am I working on?
     I am currently drafting the last book in the Moonlit trilogy, and am coming very close to the end! Since book #2 hasn't released yet, I can’t give away details about book #3 without spoiling earlier twists and turns. I can tell you every question and mystery posed in the first two books will be answered.
     I am so excited to dive into this moment, which I've anticipated writing since 2009. The setting, motives, and survivors have changed in my mind many times in the last five years, but now that it’s within my line of sight, the big moment where all sides descend on the door of the veil is crystal clear. I’m also doing a couple of “rough sketches” for new projects once Moonlit wraps up.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
     Book #1 in the Moonlit trilogy was described in one review as a “magnificent explosion shot backwards,” which is a beautiful way to describe the elements of mystery that lace up the story’s corset. These books are written in first person present, so you discover questions and answers with main character Tanzy Hightower.
     Horses are used in a bass-drum way throughout the series. They mark an important part of the heart of the story, but you don’t often hear them over the sounds coming from the other “instruments.” The equine industry serves as a setting in book #1. In the sequel, Tanzy travels to the Outer Banks, and seeks refuge in a safe house located in the four-wheel drive district, where the residents coexist with wild horses. In book #3, the main characters are split in two very different locations, one of which is Cumberland Island, where development is extremely limited, and the resident wild horses tolerate the presence of people.

3. Why do I write what I do?
     Growing up, I never felt fully attached to the world around me. I knew there had to be something more – be it somewhere more beautiful during times when life seemed gray, or somewhere that I would be understood, and I would matter, when I felt like a weirdo or out of place. Horses were a piece of tangible magic for me, a door way between this world and somewhere Unseen. I will always see fairy dust when dawn sets dew soaked leaves aglow, and feel the most capable when I’m on a farm.

4. How does my writing process work?
     In fits and starts! I have a three year old daughter, two large indoor dogs, another job, and baby #2 on the way, so my time is limited. I used to write well into the night, once my daughter went to sleep. But presently I’m either too tired or nauseas to concentrate. I’m hoping that’ll ease up in the next couple weeks.
     I don’t outline very well, so I use one of my best friends as a “sounding board.” Her mind works in a straight line, where mine is more like a squirrel in a crystal shop. I talk my way through my ideas about the plot, and she’ll stop me mid-sentence if I’ve contradicted myself or if I’m making a big tangle. I’m also learning how to let go of a new sentence in a first draft and just let it be weak until I come back through to edit, or else I’ll spend 45 minutes tweaking every word in a new paragraph.
     As for new projects, typically they arise from either an image in my head, an interaction I witness in real life that I spin further out, or a “what if” question that keeps popping up. Then I break out note cards and jot thoughts down as they come. 

Now for the next round of authors on the Writing Process Blog Hop:

1. Charity Bradford, author of "The Magic Wakes" and "Stellar Cloud."
2. Kerri Cuevas, author of the "Deadly Kisses" series.
3. Bailey Ardisone, author of "Sweet Oblivion," "Sweet Escape," and "Sweet Requiem."

Their posts will be up on/around April 15th.

Tell me about your writing process! Especially die-hard outliners or fellow pansters who figured out how to successfully incorporate outlining... I'd love to learn!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's been a *head-desk* kind of winter

I am about 40K words into the first draft of Moonlit book #3. I'm not quite as far as I hoped I'd be. After steeping myself in the editing side of the process for months, is very hard to see the forest for the trees again. I over-analyze and tear apart every sentence instead of letting really terrible sentences/paragraphs/dialogue stand where they are as a plot place holder, to be polished during the second look.

I began drafting book #3 in November, and as of two weeks ago (when i was still busy inspecting every inch of bark on said proverbial trees) I was sitting, stalling at about 23K words, and I've probably cut at least as many words already. Now, as a disclaimer, I'm not a die-hard word-count girl. I don't set daily goals. Between my other job, two large indoor dogs, and my nearly 3 year old daughter, the only goal I have is to have a mostly-clean kitchen before I go to bed. Still, I knew I had a problem.

I recently read Stephen King's "On Writing," where he notes he typically does two drafts and a "polish" before submitting his work. And he's a Panster, to boot. I was both mesmerized and mildly devastated by this. I *know* authors all have different processes. But I barely know where I'm going until the third draft. Then it hit me: I am trying to figure out everything all at once in every sentence.

Yesterday, I was perusing one of my notebooks to find where I'd jotted those pesky notes for last year's expenses. I came across pages of ideas for Moonlit book #2, and from the date at the top, I knew I'd made these notes well after I'd finished the first draft. Some of the ideas were good, some were mediocre, some made me cringe. None of them made it into the draft I submitted to my acquisitions editor at WiDo. Not one.

I realized two things: first, that it's a-okay to come up with some really terrible ideas right now. And second, I've become more proficient at spotting and beheading a bad sub-plot before it grows legs and runs away with my main arch. As I imagine happens with killing anything, i have to grieve a little when I realize I've spent my precious window laying down 2000 words to nowhere. Select. Delete. Eat a cookie. Start again.

My hope is by the time Moonlit #3 is ready for beta readers, it will be in a tighter, tolerable place so they can dig into the sentences and conversations and help me chase those down instead of being bogged down by a loose, wandering plot.

Confession: this actually wasn't what I meant to write about at all, but it's apparently what was on my mind. I'll follow up with more on Moonlit #3 soon. :) So what are you working on? How's it going? What do you find trips up your process?