Starting a Novel with a Partner: The Plotting
by E.J. Williams
(Janet Elizabeth Lynn & Will Zeilinger)
My husband, Will Zeilinger, and I co-write thrillers, the INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY SERIES, as E. J. Williams. Our tales transport the reader from 1962 Southern California to various international locales. In the first new book of the series, STONE PUB, we find ourselves in County Cork, Ireland.
As we began this series, we experienced the same thing as with the previous, Skylar Drake Mystery Series. That is, we had all sorts of ideas stuck in our heads. Each of us had different scenarios we’d developed. We found it challenging to develop and agree on a central plotline for each story that would take the series across many books.
Meeting regularly with specific agendas and follow-up reports for reminders helped us narrow down the many ideas into the main idea, one that could be sustained through many future books. Daily, weekly, and monthly update meetings keep things flowing. Much like each chapter of a book drives the plot forward, the meetings should have a purpose. They should help drive the writing forward. Once we agreed on the plotline for the whole series, we could focus on the individual novels with similar foundations.
Regular meetings are the most efficient way of making a co-writing situation successful. Remember . . . the crucial thing is to write a good story. So, stay tuned . . . there is more to come.
STONE PUB is the first in the series, and yes…we are still married!
Website: Janet Elizabeth Lynn
Website: Will Zeilinger
Read Skylar Drake Mysteries while waiting for STONE PUB.
Madeline Ash is an Australian contemporary romance author and two-time RITA Award finalist. She has also won Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year award (RUBY). She writes sexy-sweet novels with sensitivity and humor.
I’m so excited to have Australian Author, Madeline Ash, with us today. Let’s see what’s been going on in her life lately.
Jann: What inspired you to write the Cowboy Princes series?
Madeline: I fell in love with the idea of men of the land having to unexpectedly ascend into a position of extreme power. I came up with the series concept back in 2017 when I was disenchanted and despondent with the values of so many world leaders. One of the many delights of being a fiction writer is the freedom to write a better world, so I decided to pair cowboy values (hard work, respect, integrity, fairness, generosity, and truth) with leadership to see what kind of society they would create. It was very much a case of “write what you’d love to read” because the kingdom of Kiraly is pretty darn close to utopia!
Jann: When starting this new series, did you think of character, plot or theme first?
Madeline: Characters tend to come to me first during planning. For this series, I knew I wanted triplet cowboy brothers as the main characters who were also secret princes of a kingdom across the world from small-town Montana. I developed the brothers first, both how they were similar to each other and how they were different, including their personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Then I mapped out a vague series arc so that I knew I’d be plotting the individual books in the right direction! After that, my focus drilled down to plotlines, themes, and which romance tropes would be the juiciest for each brother.
Jann: Your main characters in Book One Her Cowboy King, Mark Jaroka and Princes Ava Versi, debuted on July 9, 2019. Which character did you develop first?
Madeline: Mark came first, along with his two brothers, Kris and Tommy. Once I had developed Mark’s personality—the grounded, kind-hearted, dependable brother—I then considered what type of heroine would add the most conflict to his already tumultuous journey of inheriting a throne he never believed he’d be required to possess. What kind of woman would make his arrival in Kiraly even more challenging? I know! A princess who’s under pressure from her parents to enter a strategic marriage with this new cowboy king—but secretly has plans to escape royal life, and so acts appallingly superior toward Mark in order to make him refuse the union. She was vulnerable and scared on the inside, but supercilious and sarcastic on the outside. Mark had no idea how to approach such a heroine and it made for unpredictable, tension-rich interactions.
Jann: Kris Jaroka and Frankie Cowan are the main characters in Book Two Her Cowboy Prince. Tell us about their story and how they get their HEA.
Madeline: I love this couple! They have always had intense chemistry, but haven’t wanted to risk their friendship to pursue it. Kris is the confident, cocky, roguish brother—who only discovers once he arrives in Kiraly that his kickass best friend actually works for palace security. Frankie moved to his small town of four years ago to monitor the safety of his family, and befriended him in order to get close enough to do so successfully. This betrayal fuels the opening chapters of the book, and once Kris’s reckless behavior forces her to become his personal bodyguard, their forced proximity blows their attraction sky high while their fiery attitudes add extra heat. This book is full of quick banter and serious sexual chemistry, all within the increasing tension of the overall series plot.
Jann: Congratulations on this book being a finalist in the RUBY Award (The Romantic Book of the Year) presented by Romance Writers of Australia. What was it like to receive the news?
Madeline: Thank you! It’s a huge thrill to final in these awards. This is my fifth book to place as a finalist in the Ruby Award, but the excitement doesn’t get any less over time! These awards are exclusively judged by readers (rather than entrant authors also participating in judging), so it’s extra special to be deemed worthy of this award by judges who read a lot of the genre!
Jann: Book Three, The King’s Cowboy, is a M/M romance. What motivated you to write a M/M romance?
Madeline: I read quite a lot of LGBTQIA+ romance as well as straight romance, and have noticed that series are often exclusively one or the other, rather than including main characters from a range of sexualities across the series. To me, this doesn’t seem fully reflective of the world we live in, so I wanted to write a series that reflects the diversity of identities often found within a single family (since I’m writing three brothers).
Tommy is our final hero in this core series—reserved, intelligent, and suffering from severe social anxiety. He’s also the brother with the greatest sense of inherent power and authority. This internal struggle—to be the royal he is drawn to be, while battling the anxiety of filling one of the most public positions—is compelling and (in my wildly biased opinion) a very strong finish to the series. His love interest is Jonah, his best friend from Montana and the biggest sweetheart of a cowboy you’ll ever meet. I strove to make their romance is intense, gripping, and utterly unputdownable!
Jann: What do you hope readers will take away from this series?
Madeline: Comfort. It’s a pure escapist read, following the unlikely lives of three fiercely-bonded brothers, who make decisions based on what’s right and just and decent, set in a vibrant, open-armed mountain kingdom that is like a character of its own. I hope that the series feels like a reassuring, warmhearted (and sexy) hug that readers want to come back to again and again.
Jann: What kind of writer are you? A page a day or a burst writer?
Madeline: I guess I could call myself a scheduled writer? When starting a new book, I work backward from my deadline. Since I’m only able to write on Thursdays and Fridays, I check how many writing days between now and the deadline. Then I decide on an intended word count for the book, divide that by the number of days in which I have to write it, and calculate how many words per day I have to write to meet the deadline. I use that daily word count to drive my writing and generally manage to stick to it! If I fall behind for whatever reason, I’ll generally write on the weekend to catch up before the following week.
Jann: Where can we get your books?
Madeline: My books are available digitally across most ebook platforms—Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, and some are also on Google Play. Paperback copies are available via Amazon.
Jann: What is your favorite word?
Madeline: Seldom. I’m not sure what it is about it. Perhaps the fact that I read and hear it so seldom!
Jann: Madeline, this has been so much fun. Thank you for your time. It was great to have a peak into your writing world. Wishing you luck in the contest for the RUBY Award!!
Hover over the cover for buy links. Click on the cover for more information.
Tari Lynn Jewett lives in Southern California with her husband of nearly thirty years (also known as Hunky Hubby). They have three amazing sons, a board game designer, a sound engineer and a musician, all who live nearby. For more than fifteen years she wrote freelance for magazines and newspapers, wrote television commercials, radio spots, numerous press releases, and many, MANY PTA newsletters. As much as she loved writing those things, she always wanted to write fiction…and now she is.
She also believes in happily ever afters…because she’s living hers.
Ramsey had exactly four dollars and thirty-three cents in his pocket. He knew because he’d just counted it out, to make sure he hadn’t dreamt a fifty tucked away in the far corners of his Levi’s. But no fifty; just the four crumpled singles, plus the loose change. And a seashell, small, striped, and whorled. Ramsey tried to recall why he had the shell—and where the rest of his money had gone.
His fingernails were grimy, and he needed a shave. Or maybe a shower and a shave. And if someone offered him a paper cup of coffee at that moment, he wouldn’t have turned them down.
Those were his thoughts at twelve-thirty that morning. The time he knew for a fact because the bank across the street from where he stood said so, in a blinking green display. The bank’s ATM beckoned him, an oasis to replenish his meager pocket of money, if only he had something to withdraw.
Ramsey crossed the street anyway, drawn to the lighted cash machine. This was not a good place to hang out at that hour, on that street in Philadelphia, a dim array of storefronts shuttered for the night. The alleys sometimes echoed with the moans and cries of unknown deals gone bad. He always passed them quickly, keeping to the shadows when he could.
Next to the bank’s ATM, on the building just to the left, a smaller, illuminated sign advertised: Books. Ramsey didn’t see any books in the windows of that narrow slice of real estate. A grid was pulled down over them, protection against random thievery. He turned away, but stopped when an interior light blinked on. A chain rattled behind the door, and the entrance opened.
A man a few inches taller and a few years older than Ramsey had one hand on the door handle. His dark eyes observed Ramsey beneath bushy eyebrows. Stepping back, he gestured for Ramsey to enter. A ring on his hand glittered a ruby red. “I’ve been watching and waiting for you,” he said. His words rolled over Ramsey like waves crashing at the Jersey Shore.
“Me?” Ramsey’s voice squeaked into falsetto range. His hands trembled.
“Please come in, Mr. Ramsey.” He waited for Ramsey to pass through the door, then shut and locked it. Again with a gesture, the man indicated that Ramsey should follow him. The room smelled of dust and crumbling paper, the walls lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling, the lights high above them shining faintly onto stack after stack of books.
At the rear of the shop, the shopkeeper, or Ramsey assumed it was the shopkeeper, slipped behind a massive chrome and glass counter. Ramsey faced him across the expanse and wondered why he was there.
“Reade,” the man said, and pushed a paper cup of coffee toward Ramsey. “Conlan Reade. Do you take cream or sugar?”
“Just black,” Ramsey managed to say. He stared into the cup, the tint of the dark brown liquid mirroring the sepia quality of the shop. “Thank you.”
“A special Colombian blend,” Conlan Reade said. “I hope you enjoy it.” He smiled as Ramsey took a sip.
It tasted of dense jungle growth and the wild brilliance of tropical flowers.
“You’re open kind of late,” Ramsey said, savoring the coffee. It had been how many days since his last cup? Looking down at his jeans, he noted that they were as grimy as his hands felt. Was he sleeping on the street these days? Why couldn’t he remember?
Conlan Reade set down his own cup and spread his hands. “At this hour, I’m only open for you, Mr. Ramsey. As I told you at the door, I’ve been waiting. Your book came in.”
But Conlan Reade had stepped away from the counter, leaving Ramsey alone with his thoughts. And try as he might, he could not recall ordering any book anywhere. He had no home anymore, he knew then, no comfortable, quiet place to read.
“Here it is,” Conlan Reade said. He placed a thin, hardback volume on the glass of the counter.
Ramsey put down his cup and reached for the book, then pulled his hands back before touching it. His face flushed. “I’m kind of down on my luck,” he said, wiping his hands on his jeans.
“Don’t worry about it,” Conlan Reade said. He handed him a towelette from a container that Ramsey hadn’t noticed. “I think you’ll like the book.”
After cleaning his hands, Ramsey once again reached for the book. Another Life to Live. He leafed through the pages, curious as to why he would have ordered that title. He remembered how little money he had with him, sighed, and put the book back down.
“Thanks for ordering this,” he said. “I don’t think I can afford it right now, though. I’m so sorry.” Again his face flushed.
“It’s surprisingly inexpensive,” Conlan Reade said. He punched a few keys on a small calculator. “Only four dollars and thirty-three cents. I’ll wrap it up for you.”
Ramsey laid out the money, folded the receipt and slipped it into his now penniless pocket. He felt the seashell and pulled it out.
“I might as well give this to you, too, Mr. Reade. I have no use for it.”
Conlan Reade examined the shell, using a magnifier he placed over his right eye. He handed it back. “You’ll be needing this,” he said. “Hold it to an ear when you are in need of direction.”
Not wanting to argue, Ramsey pocketed the shell. It was small, after all; no trouble, really.
“Good luck, Mr. Ramsey.” Conlan Reade walked him to the door of the shop and shook his hand.
Two blocks later, Ramsey turned a corner and halted under a streetlamp. He removed the wrapping from the book, and tossed the paper into a nearby receptacle. Tipping the cover to the light, he read the author’s name: A.L. Ramsey.
Once upon a time, he’d answered to Arthur Lewis Ramsey.
Ramsey opened the book and began to read.
Date Published: 08-10-2021
Though he doesn’t know it, Marcus Talent is special. Unfortunately for Marcus, he discovers this unexpectedly when he wakes up in an unfamiliar forest, has his prosthetic arm eaten by a horrifying monster, and then wakes up in his own bed, terrified and bleeding.
Marcus’s dad, Deacon, has answers. He heals Marcus’s new injuries, promising to answer all of Marcus’s questions about what happened the next day after school. But when Marcus gets home, he finds his dad missing and a ransom note appears out of a screaming hole in the sky. The only demand: travel again to get him back.
Helped by his human friends, Marcus sets out to find his dad in a world filled with creatures he couldn’t have imagined. Some of them are friendly. Some of them want to murder him. Or each other. They’re not picky. And everyone seems to know of his famous father, who has been hiding a lot more than an entire other world.
Cynthia McDonald is the author of Life is a Terminal Illness and Drōmfrangil (Autumn 2021 from Cinnabar Moth Publishing) as well as a childhood memoir, two American history books, and the “I See Your Hearts” blog.
Cynthia was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1972. She spent her early adulthood raising two sons with her husband and then, after returning to college, enjoyed a fulfilling career as a Respiratory Therapist and a Respiratory Supervisor. This included several years of volunteer work on the Wisconsin state respiratory board, which concluded with a term as the President of the board.
She started writing in her forties, after the diagnosis of a low-grade cancerous brain tumor forced her to stop working outside of her home. Cynthia has also lived with disability throughout her adult life, as advancing degenerative disk disease and multiple surgeries have caused her to live with chronic pain and made it difficult for her to remain involved in activities outside of her home.
She and her husband recently moved to Oregon to be closer to her oldest son and his family, including her beloved grandson, whose toddler years are adding a lot of delight to her life! Her two German Shorthairs are also a big part of her family, as dogs always have been.
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