I believe everyone, whatever your age, should have some life goals.
I donâ€™t mean your ordinary New Yearâ€™s resolution. Those are nice to have, of course, but everyone knows the diet you start on January 1st lasts until, um, maybe January 2nd. If you work hard at it.
And I donâ€™t mean your goal of selling a book or making the New York Times best seller list, although thatâ€™s what a lot of us would like to do. But those are goals that we can work toward but are truly not within our control.
I mean the kind of goal youâ€™d think about when youâ€™re lying there on your death bed and saying to yourself, â€œDarn, I wish I had. . .â€
There are just some things in life you want to do. If you donâ€™t think about them and write them down, time will slip by. Youâ€™ll be too busy, too old, too infirm, too caught up with job, family and day-to-day obligations until finally youâ€™ll find your chance to experience that particular dream has passed you by.
I learned this from my daughter, who had thyroid cancer. (Sheâ€™s fine now, thank goodness!) Apparently when the big â€œCâ€ rears itâ€™s frightening head, it starts you to thinking about your life and what you want to do. Mind you, her life goals are way different than mine. Her first, which she celebrated on her 30th birthday, was to do a bungee jump. (She was thoughtful enough not to tell me ahead of time so I wouldnâ€™t worry.)
Her next goal, accomplished in honor of her 35th birthday, was to climb the back side of Half Dome in Yosemite, no small accomplishment. (You can see a pattern here, right? Unlike her mom, sheâ€™s always been a jock.) Her most recent celebration had her jumping (safely, thank God!) out of an airplane!
Needless to say, my goals are somewhat less strenuous, though no less exciting for me.
As I was driving on the freeway to an Orange County RWA chapter meeting about a year ago, my career in the doldrums, when I decided I needed a new life goal. Within about a hundred feet (which can take a long time on the 91 Freeway), I realized Iâ€™d always wanted to be a standup comedienne. (Itâ€™s something about how Iâ€™ve always admired Carol Burnett.)
That afternoon when I returned home, I googled standup comedy classes. To my delight (the fates were clearly on my side), I found one starting the next day no more than five minutes from my house. It turned out learning to write jokes is an amazing art, almost like writing poetry, and itâ€™s harder than it looks. Since that time Iâ€™ve had standup gigs for alumnae meetings, senior citizen homes, womenâ€™s clubs and writing groups. Iâ€™ve even been paid a time or two.
Itâ€™s not that I want to make a career of being a standup comic. Heck, I canâ€™t even stay up late enough to watch the Jay Leno show. But, by golly, Iâ€™ve achieved a life goal and had fun doing it. (If youâ€™re interested in my jokes, check my Web site at NovelTalk.com. Weâ€™ll change the jokes often. Iâ€™ll also be teaching an online joke-writing class in September 2006.)
More recently it occurred to me that Iâ€™d never ridden on a motorcycle. Clearly, I had a deprived youth. So the husband of my critique partner agreed to help me celebrate my recent birthday (those birthdays that end in â€œ0″ or â€œ5″ are really good occasions to let it all out) by taking me riding on his humongous Harley. What fun! And it wasnâ€™t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. (Maybe I should have given that motorcycle crowd in high school a closer look.)
Iâ€™ve been very fortunate in my life, so there is not much I havenâ€™t done that I wanted to do. But I still have a list.
Iâ€™ve seen grizzly bears in the wild, but Iâ€™d like to see polar bears too. And I want to hear wolves howling in the wilderness.
Chances are good my goals wonâ€™t resemble yours. But thatâ€™s okay. You might want to learn to knit, play the piano or be a circus aerialist or clown just for the fun of it.
The point is, you need to sit down with yourself and think about what youâ€™d regret missing out on if that bus barreling down the road suddenly hit you.
Some people advocate you come up with 25 goals. But I say start small. You can always add more later.
Let me know whatâ€™s on your list.
Itâ€™s great to be back in OCC territory!
My name is Chris Green (writing as Crystal Green for Harlequin Silhouette), and Iâ€™m now an out-of-town member who misses coming to the meetings very much. If you havenâ€™t met me, you might not know that I write Silhouette Special Editions and Bombshells, Harlequin Blazes, plus single title vampire books for Berkley. Yes, just a few different genres and romance sub-genresâ€”and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m blogging about today.
Writing for multiple lines.
There are a lot of authors out there who believe that writing in such an unfocused manner is a negative, and I absolutely understand their reasoning. â€œBrandingâ€ (making your name an easily identifiable product) is important to sales, and spreading out your â€œbrandâ€ (or what the audience expects from the author) only serves to hurt you in the long run. I can tell you firsthand that this is a scary situation for me because, oftentimes, a reader doesnâ€™t know what kind of story Iâ€™ll be giving them from one month to another. They canâ€™t depend on a definite â€œcomfort readâ€ from me. It makes Crystal Green, as a product, hard to pin down.
But my creative side loves that.
True, writing different types of stories is a business risk, but in my case, sticking to one thing is a quick road to burn out. First, I have eclectic tastes anywayâ€”for instance, I read three books at a time and theyâ€™re all from different genres. This is obviously reflected in my writing: I love challenge and variety (Key words, here!). Second, I know that if I created stories for just one line, I wouldnâ€™t be able to write as much as I do now. This past year, I had six original releases (that number isnâ€™t including two reissues). Next year, Iâ€™ll have about four, but thatâ€™s because these single-title fantasy Berkley Vampire Underground books take much more time (as do Bombshells). In order to keep up this pace, I need constant challenge and variety. Let me explain further: my â€œhome lineâ€ (where I made my first sale) is Special Edition; these books are known for their â€œhome-and-hearth/communityâ€ qualities and the stories speak to the innocent side of me that loves a good happy ending. Blaze stories, which are â€œhot and steamyâ€ romances, give me the chance to get a little wild. Bombshells feature more complex plots and they allow me to get a lot darker (Iâ€™ve written a vampire bookâ€”THE HUNTRESSâ€”as well as a murder mystery thatâ€™ll be released in fall, 2006.). And then there are the Berkley Vampire Underground booksâ€¦. These combine emotion, steaminess, mystery, adventure, and fantasy, so theyâ€™re a stew of everything else I write. So, you see, Iâ€™m getting plenty of that challenge and variety.
Third, and this is maybe the most important item for me, when I think of a story idea, it doesnâ€™t always fit into a certain line. I go with what excites me, and that can be just about anything. When I thought of the concept for THE HUNTRESS, I was writing for Special Edition and Blaze. Sure, I was wary about taking on another line, but, daggonit, I really wanted to do this book. Branding was the last thing that would soothe the creative monster in me, so I went for it. And you know what? That decision is redefining my careerâ€”it led to my three-book deal with Berkley and is taking me in different directions daily.
Business versus creativityâ€”thatâ€™s my biggest struggle right now. But everyone has to deal with it, and you have to come up with your own solutions. Whatâ€™s the right decision for you? How is each story idea going to affect your career and/or your well-being?
I hope this gives you something to chew on. Happy Holidays and all the best. : )
THE HUNTRESS has been re-released this month as TWICE BITTEN, a vampire story collection that also contains Erica Orloffâ€™s URBAN LEGEND. Youâ€™ll find PAST IMPERFECT, Crystalâ€™s next Special Edition, on shelves this month, too. Additionally, stay tuned for a release date for the first Vampire Underground book from Berkley.
To keep current with Chris/Crystal, visit her Web site at www.crystal-green.com, where thereâ€™s a great contest going on right nowâ€¦.
By Jackie Hyman w/a Jacqueline Diamond
Iâ€™ve been thinking about sagging middles, probably because of eating too much holiday food. Well, never mind my pathetic waistline. Weâ€™re talking about books.
I HATE sagging middles. When I write. And when I read.
Whatâ€™s a sagging middle? Picture this: You create a dynamite situation, building to a killer climax. In your mind and your synopsis, itâ€™s a canâ€™t-miss storyline.
Now comes the hard part: writing. You blast through fifty, seventy-five, maybe even a hundred-some-odd pages. Suddenly, you stop.
Look at all the rest of the pages you gotta fill before the climax. Scary.
It saddens me when authors let the tension drop at this point, regardless of whether theyâ€™re writing suspense or strictly relationship novels. The characters mill around, have way too much sex (unless youâ€™re writing erotica), talk things over repetitively, and worry.
Potentially interesting incidents may occur, but theyâ€™re episodic, springing out of nowhere and leading nowhere. Whereâ€™s the momentum? By the time that exciting and/or heart-tugging climax comes around, the tedium has claimed half your readers.
The good part is that, in the course of writing 80-plus novels and novellas, Iâ€™ve learned steps you can take to strengthen that sagging middle and make it fun.
Hereâ€™s what I do:
#1. Reread what Iâ€™ve written. Pick up the emotional thread.
#2. Reread my notes and bio sketches. Jot down lists of backstory and traits to include, and points to make.
#3. Look at the proposed climax and figure out what needs to happen to get there.
#4. Examine the proposed character arcs, and make sure theyâ€™re strong enough..
#5. Review the main relationship and conflict.
I develop a subplot or subplots that interweave all of these issues with the main plot. Ideally, the subplot (s) create an interaction between the external action and the charactersâ€™ internal development.
In Nine-Month Surprise (February), the second book in my Downhome Doctors miniseries for Harlequin American, the main storyline concerns the heroine getting pregnant by a man she met on an out-of-town trip, a guy who abandoned her while she slept. Then he turns up as her townâ€™s new obstetrician, divorced with 6-year-old twin daughters who enter her first-grade class.
So theyâ€™re thrown together. Sheâ€™s teaching his kids â€“ and sheâ€™s pregnant by him! Naturally, I created reasons for his emotional withdrawal and her emotional neediness. When they start to resolve their issues, thereâ€™s additional conflict because sheâ€™s determined to leave Downhome and take her dream job in Seattle..
BUT I donâ€™t write pages and pages of sex â€“ I need other interesting things to happen! And I preferred for them to involve his position as the townâ€™s obstetrician.
In reviewing my notes, I spotted some interesting secondary characters who were important in their lives. Thatâ€™s when I got a subplot idea.
The heroineâ€™s fortysomething aunt, a widow with a grown son, gets pregnant too, by a guy who thinks heâ€™s in love with someone else. This infuriates her son, a police lieutenant. Before he can start shooting, the obstetrician gets dragged in as mediator, with the heroineâ€™s help.
One more trick: I make sure that each scene sets up the next scene, so the story never stops dead. Little plot reversals, surprises, bits of suspense keep building to the turning points, which is when we get major reversals and kick the plot into a higher gear.
What I did with Nine-Month Surprise is NOT the kind of stuff that keeps my mystery/intrigue novels pumping. No dead bodies, no threats, no bumps in the night. But in a category romance, subplots should spark enough interest to keep the reader absorbed.
So if your bookâ€™s middle is sagging, look for storylines that will deepen and extend the main conflict and expand on the characters. Also, donâ€™t forget to build expectations and then twist the story so the reader gets a pleasant surprise.
The best part is, the writing goes faster when thereâ€™s forward momentum. Because I canâ€™t wait to find out what happens, too!
A few months ago, I got the news that any unpublished writer would be thrilled to getâ€”A revision letter from an editor was on its way to me.
This was for my single title, historical romance, TO REIGN EDEN, which is set in London and California in 1875. Technically, it could be termed an American historical and as many of you historical writers know, news of selling in that sub-genre has been grim the past few years. So, imagine my surprise when I actually received the letter and not a word was mentioned about changing the part of the story set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I thought for certain the editor would tell me to expand the part set in London, but that wasnâ€™t the case. Of course, I re-read the letter, wondering if she missed the fact that itâ€™s set in the West. Nope, she hadnâ€™t missed it. Three-fourths of the book is set in the West. Wow. Terrific! Does this mean that Westerns are on their way back to bookstore shelves? I certainly hope so.
When the editor told me the letter was on its way to me, I rejoiced. Finally! Iâ€™m going to be given some direction for my story.
Then I get the letter. And I freeze. Waitâ€¦what happened to the excitement? The thrill? The changes were not complicated by any means, but for the life of me, I couldnâ€™t immediately see HOW they were to be made. Of course, the changes suggested by the editor would definitely make the story even stronger and that was a good thing, right? Then what the heck had happened to me? Was it just that I needed time to digest the notes and look at my story a different way? The seven months separation–while it was on the desk of the editor–wasnâ€™t enough time? I felt as if a wall as humongous as the Green Monster in Fenway Park blocked my path. Where did it come from? And how do I get around it? Scale it, move it, or go around?
I WANT to make the changes, I truly do. I want this to be the best story it can possibly be. And writingâ€™s a businessâ€¦I know that. Then how do I thaw out my fear of revision? Will this happen every time I get a revision letter? Or did it happen now because this is my first story and the first time I had ever submitted anything to the publishing industry? I really hope itâ€™s the latter.
Now, I havenâ€™t been just sitting around, not writing a word. My intent is for TO REIGN EDEN to be the first in a series about the dynamic Harrison family, so as soon as I sent off TRE, I wrote a first draft of another story and outlined the story of a third. But after working on those for several months and still not hearing back from the editor (and thinking she just simply threw it in the nearest trashcan where it belonged), I decided to cover my bases and start a contemporary romantic suspense that Iâ€™d been wanting to write for a few years. Yes, years. So I did.
Now, Iâ€™m nearly finished with the contemporary and Iâ€™ve received the revision letter for my historical, so now itâ€™s time to focus on that one again. Iâ€™m sure I can do it now. In fact, the thought of hitting the story hard this week has excitement running through my veins now, not fear. Maybe the contemporary story just demanded to be near completion before it would release me to go back to my historical. Doing just that, going around, seemed to be what I needed in order to get past that wall.
Wish me luck as I venture on the other side. And to any of you who have experienced the same fear that builds up that ugly mental block, I hope you find a way to face it down, too. If you have, what did you do to overcome your own Green Monster? Scale it, move it, or go around?
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