Oh, yes it most certainly can!
Every single book I’ve ever written has a nugget of my life or the lives of people around me. Sometimes that comes in a form of a character’s behavior, a hobby, their career, but often in my books, it comes in the form of an incident.
An incident of the accidental and mortifying variety…
So let’s take a look at a couple of my favorites!
Falling in Fiji:
He shifted to cover his growing problem. A glance at Corrine confirmed that she was fully engrossed in an article in her magazine. Everett did a double take when he read the title. “You Did What?—Most Embarrassing Blunders from Loyal Readers.”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she folded the magazine in half.
He shrugged. “It seemed like an interesting article.” He leaned over and whispered, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done, Corrine?” He didn’t miss the goosebumps rising on her skin as he whispered low into her ear.
Her face turned beet red. With jerky movements, she shoved the magazine into her large purse. “I don’t even know you, and you want me to talk about my most embarrassing moment.”
“What better way to get to get acquainted?”
She turned in her seat as much as she could and crossed her arms. “Fine. You first!”
He’d gone and done it this time. He had a few embarrassing stories, but one stuck out in his mind. He’d never told anyone. “It just has to be an embarrassing story, right? Not my most embarrassing?”
Her eyes flashed, and the sly grin from last night spread across her face. “Oh no. You asked me about my most embarrassing moment. You want it? Give me yours.”
“And what if, Corrine Anderson, I give you mine and you choose to hold out once you have what you want?”
“That’s a chance you’ll have to take, Mr. Harden.”
Oh, the way she said his name like that. Formal, but not formal at all. Just to unnerve him, the way he unnerved her every time he used her full name. He liked it. He liked her. “All right, but I expect you to pretend you never heard this.”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“I got suction-cupped to my bathtub and couldn’t get out.” He gave her credit for not making a sound, although her mouth twitched.
“And how did you get out? Since you’re not still in said bathtub today.”
She let loose then, her light laugh dancing between them. Since she was already laughing, might as well go for broke. “And my sister.”
She laughed with her whole body. She slapped her hand down on his thigh and dropped her forehead to his shoulder. Damned if he didn’t have a stupid grin on his face. “Your laughter is detrimental to my ego.”
She wiped the tears coming from her eyes. “How old were you?”
He cringed. “Sixteen.”
“Oh my God! Wait, you still took baths at sixteen?”
“Often. I wrestled. My reoccurring shoulder injury made baths an almost daily practice.”
Her eyes roamed him up and down. “So they saw you?”
“Saw me what, Corrine Anderson?”
“You know what I’m asking.”
“I do. I just want to hear you to say it.” He smiled, unwilling to answer until she asked him the right question. He cocked a brow at her.
“Oh for the love of God. Did they see you…uh…your—?”
“Dick, okay! Did they see your dick?”
It seemed as though every eye on the plane locked on them. Corrine’s eyes widened. She slammed a hand over her mouth. A couple rows over, a girl asked her mother, “Mommy, what’s a dick?”
“Shhh. Don’t say that word, it’s naughty!” her mother replied.
“Thanks, lady!” the guy next to her yelled.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” She buried her face against his chest. When he started to laugh, she slapped his arm. “Don’t laugh!” she whispered furiously. “They all heard me!”
“Yes. They did.”
Her face went scarlet. “How much longer until we get there?”
He looked down at his watch. “Eleven hours.”
“I’m sleeping. For all of it!” She grabbed a sweatshirt out of her bag, balled it up, and tucked it next to her face as she turned to him and closed her eyes.
He pulled the sweatshirt away. “Oh…I don’t think so.”
“Give me that!”
He wedged the sweatshirt behind him against the window. “I didn’t get your most embarrassing moment.”
“Really? This didn’t qualify?”
“Well, that depends. Is this really your most embarrassing moment?”
Her eyes slid away. No. Not her most embarrassing moment.
“Now this I have to hear.”
“This is so unfair. Now you’ll have two stories.”
“It’s not my fault you couldn’t control yourself. Don’t worry. Something tells me I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow over the next week. Then we’ll be even.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“That’s supposed to make you feel less alone.” He tipped her chin up when she ducked her head. “Tell me. Our little secret.”
She bit her lip and glanced around.
Everyone had gone back to their business. They sat silent, eyes roaming over one another. Until the guy next to Corrine started to snore like a buzz saw. They glanced over simultaneously to find drool running out of the corner of his mouth, down his neck, and under his collar.
Corrine shivered and leaned a little closer. “God, that’s vile.”
“Kind of makes you wonder what his most embarrassing moment is, doesn’t it?”
She gave him a small smile. “Okay. Let’s get this over with. I was on a field trip with my school to a water park. I went down their steepest slide. When I got up”—she closed her eyes—”I didn’t know I’d lost my bikini top on the way down. I stood there, not a care in the world, with everything hanging out. Well, what little I have, anyway.”
He glanced briefly at the soft swell of her breasts. “You have just the right amount.”
“Oh…well. I—” Her throat worked. He’d surprised her. Hell, he’d surprised himself. He was a flesh and blood male, though. Her curves had grabbed his attention from the first minute, but he hadn’t been bold enough to call attention to it.
Embarrassing Moment: For my brother who actually did get suction-cupped to the tub!
Sunset at Lake Crane:
The players took their positions. The team split into two. Half wore their current jerseys, while the other half wore their old jerseys to distinguish between the mock teams. They used scrimmages to keep their skills fresh. Everyone fielded balls, and everyone took several opportunities to bat. Grant noted any minor issues that needed tweaking before Saturday. This was the time to correct any bad habits, distractions, or physical weaknesses, and adjust them as necessary.
Wyatt favored his left leg after a rough slide into third over a week before. He could play, but not at a hundred percent. Eric maintained his stellar pitching arm even to this day. Kent goofed off in left field a little more than usual. Grant would have to speak with him. Dallas, their catcher, preserved his natural energy. So much so that he couldn’t keep his horny, wandering eyes off any girl walking past the baseball field. It was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. Grant hoped to get him through the season without an injury from something as lame as his thinking with his little head.
“Dallas. Get your head in the game or your ass will be in the dugout.”
Dallas’s head snapped back to his coach, a wicked grin splitting his face. “Yes, sir.” He saluted with his catcher’s mitt.
When Grant glanced up to the bleachers, there was Erynn, reaching toward her feet to retrieve what, he didn’t know. Her breasts pressed tight against the V-neck opening of her dress, drawing Grant’s gaze like a magnet. No matter how she strained, she couldn’t grasp the object and ended up knocking it to the ground inside the bleachers. She clutched the sides of her flowing skirt, lifting it a bit as she made her way down, one metal bench at a time.
At the bottom, she knelt on the lowest metal seat, reaching for the grassy area behind the first row of the bleachers. Her dress stretched across the most edible, round ass he’d ever seen. Thanks to a little clumsiness on her part, his eyes got the full tour of all her delectable parts.
The breeze lifted the back of her skirt, giving him a creamy expanse of thigh before she slapped her hand down to stop it. His mind flashed to a time when he nipped at those thighs and soothed the sting with his tongue. He adjusted his waistband as his pants grew tight.
Grant was so focused on his perusal of Erynn’s body that the sound of the bat making contact with the ball didn’t register. Only when Marcus yelled, “Grant, watch out!” did Grant realize Dallas, their best hitter, had swung early, sending the ball just outside the third base line where Grant stood as base coach.
He didn’t feel the pain as the baseball caught his left cheekbone. His vision faded to black as he dropped flat on his back. He opened his eyes a few seconds later. At least, it only seemed like a few, but that couldn’t be right. He looked up to the brilliant blue sky ringed by his players’ faces. The muffled sound of Marcus talking sounded far away. Erynn knelt in the red clay dirt, running her hands over him. He could have told her that if she wanted to help him, she could move those hands a bit lower. Yeah, that would be sweet relief.
He blinked a few more times and sat up. Red clay dust clouded the air from the accumulation of feet stirring up the third base line. The clashing voices of his team rang in his ears, as did Marcus’s authoritative voice and Erynn’s anxious questions. He ran a knuckle down Erynn’s damp cheek.
“I’m okay. Don’t cry.”
She smacked his hand away. “I’m not crying, you big jerk. Why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”
“Man, Coach, I could have killed you,” Dallas said.
“Nah, Coach is indestructible,” Josh said.
“Really? The way I see it, he chewed my ass for checkin’ out Carmen and Daniella. Then he went on to do the same thing and got himself knocked out.”
“Yeah, I saw him. He was checking out, uh, I don’t know your name. What’s your name?” Mike asked Erynn.
“Oh, I’m Erynn.” She reached out to shake Mike’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike said.
“Ouch, son of a—”
Marcus held the towel and ice steadily on Grant’s face. “Easy, you’re going to need stitches.”
“I’m fine.” Grant started to get up, but Marcus shoved him back down on his ass.
“Sit still for a minute. You’re not bleeding out in my new car.”
“My car is here,” Grant said.
“No. You’re not driving.”
“I can take you,” Erynn offered.
“Erynn can take me.”
“No can do. I have to fill out paperwork on the incident for the school anyway. Go ahead and take Grant’s car back to his house. I’ll bring him home when we finish.”
“Wait, are you staying with Coach?”
“She’s staying with me for the duration of her interview of our creative writing program. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“My mind? You’re the one watching the wind blow her skirt up.”
“Apparently you didn’t miss it either, Mike.”
“Well, yeah, look at her.”
“Practice is over. I expect everyone back here right after school on Thursday,” Marcus said. The guys finally got the point and filed into the dugout.
Erynn clasped Grant’s arm. “Can you stand up?”
“Yeah.” He levered himself up to his knees and the world spun. Erynn held his elbow and waited. He took a few deep breaths before he tried again. He wobbled at first, but recovered and stood. He reached for his cheek where Erynn’s hand held the towel to his face. She peeked under the terrycloth and frowned.
He hissed at the sting and slid his hand up under hers to take the towel from her. They stood like that, just staring, her soft, warm hand cradling his, on the towel.
“Okay, guy, let’s do this,” Marcus interrupted. The intimate bubble burst, and Erynn looked away toward the stuff she’d left on the bleachers.
“I’ll see you at home later, I guess.”
He didn’t miss the hitch in her voice on the word ‘home’. “Yeah,” he rasped.
“Okay, well—um, good luck.” She marched away, muttering to herself.
“Come on, Romeo. Let’s get that ugly mug of yours put back together,” Marcus said.
Real Life Moment: Getting grazed in the cheek…happened to a guy I know 😉
Fun Fact: The above moment with the hit to the face…well, a hugely famous author read this book and actually told me that this injury couldn’t happen and not be bruised and awful looking a week later when I reference the injury later in the story. She said this happened at her nephew’s game and she knew for a fact that my account is inaccurate. What she didn’t consider is that I also had this experience and I knew for a fact that a week later it can almost look as if nothing happened. That’s the difference between a direct hit and a graze along a cheekbone that can slice the skin open.
This is a prime example of how writers write what they know. We observe. Sometimes at a distance with strangers. Sometimes we pull old memories from our memory banks. Everything we see shapes us and flows into our narrative making our characters come alive.
And often, in talking to readers, family, and friends, we borrow their memories and experiences for inspiration, too!
That’s not me.
I know, shocker right?
I’m not that thin, hell if I can get my hair to grow back that long, and it’s definitely not that sleek.
And seriously, heels while doing a hundred different things at once. Fuck that shit.
Oh…and I don’t iron.
I’m the cook, cleaner, errand runner, babysitter, mom, grandmother, bill payer, knower of where the scissors are, and the keeper of the all things that hold this household together. And to be fair, my husband is a big help on a few of those fronts.
And to escape all of the things my life needs me to be, I hide behind my computer screen in my leggings and sweaters, coffee to my right, scribbled notes to my left, writing happily ever after that is light on all of the above lady-boner killers that come with real life.
My day starts at 7 a.m. when my husband gets up and gets in the shower. My lay there in bed, lazy as fuck, wishing I could just go back to sleep, my phone coming off sleep mode and buzzing next to me. God, how I wish I had never started bringing that thing to bed. Seriously, I only recently started doing it and now I can say goodbye to all peace.
He comes out at about 7:10, my cue to pull my blankets over my head because, without fail, he’s going to bend over to dig through a laundry basket full of clean clothes for underwear with no concern about whether or not his chocolate Cheerio is winking or his balls are waving at me.
That’s romance in the real world folks!
And yes, we’re those people who have clean clothes in at least one basket at any given time because we’re balls-to-the-wall busy and neither of us has the time we need in order to do all the things.
He goes down to grind the coffee beans and get the coffee going while I muddle through brushing my teeth, putting in my contacts, taming my hair, and getting dressed. By the time I make it down, he’s poured a huge cup for me in the biggest mug I’ve got.
Most mornings I head right for my office. I go through emails, burn some brain cells scrolling the book of face, and scan the news…which BTW is never good these days. And it kills my creativity if I linger too long in the shit.
Since my computer is always on, I have multiple projects open already from the night before. Too many projects. Stuff for me, other things because I’m not good at saying no. And I get to work.
My life is a series of open tabs all screaming for my attention!
Around 8:30…I hear my granddaughter running around the kitchen so I go down to grab some food and love on her. Her latest thing is throwing her hands in the air and screaming, “Wooo!” So, yeah, that’s what I do the minute I hit the hardwood floor. Monday through Thursday I babysit her at various times during the day while Bronwyn goes to class. We eat Cheerios and baby goldfish, drink water, and sing and dance with Baby First TV.
Ask me how many versions of Baby Shark I know? LOL
I write in spurts while working other projects in. It used to be that I wrote best first thing in the morning, then I was better at night. I seem to have shifted back and my best words come out in the morning.
I have a backlist to republish and I usually have one of those projects going at all times. It’s pressure, but it’s also nice to have a lot of things going so when I need a break from one, I can switch off. That’s why I also always have my Photoshop open. Working on cover art gets me motivated and gives me a break to be creative in a different way.
On any given day, my time is interrupted with trips to the grocery store and frequent visits to the allergy doctor, because I’m living the glamorous life y’all!
Some afternoons I take a nap. Yup, I’m selfish and take care of me for a few minutes. If I don’t, my eyes don’t hold up for the multiple hours in front of the screen.
I return to my office after, with a fresh cup of coffee, and Dr. Phil. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I need the reassurance that other’s have more fucked up families than I do…and that’s a story for a whole other blog topic. And every time he says, “When we come back, I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences” I want to strangle him.
At 3:45 p.m. I’m walking out on Phil before he can get to home plate so I can watch that squealing bucket of awesome while her mother gets ready for work.
At 4 p.m. I hear the thump of Jim’s feet coming up from his basement office to take over the babysitting so I can squeeze in one more hour of work before I have to start worrying about dinner. Yes, that’s right, he’s worked a full day and now he’s taking over with the baby until her head hits the pillow. So seriously, if the laundry doesn’t get folded (something he does), I don’t care.
The three of us eat together, usually something I’ve pulled off of Pinterest. I do a mean cashew chicken! I do dishes, because let’s face it, I’m faster at cleanup, and then I hightail it to the bathtub where I soak for at least and hour. When deadlines are breathing down my neck, I take a shower instead.
After bath time, I’m back in this office until bedtime…sometimes eleven. Sometimes later. With the worst of my deadlines, I’ve been up as late as 6 a.m. the next morning.
There’s a laundry list of non surprise things that happen on any given day. Phone calls and texts with Jen, calls from my middle child, my wondering if my oldest is ever going to call, lol. People knocking on our door which I have to tell you, usually makes me hide.
And then there’s the serious life shit. Mom getting sick and hopping on a plane to take care of her for eight days. A kid ending up in the hospital. Family evacuating for hurricanes. You name it, we all have it.
Like you, life lobs the unexpected at me at a pace that threatens to bury me at times. And I take the hits. I bitch about it. I vent. And when I’m done, I put one foot in front of the other and get shit done.
And I work seven days a week. I used to be great about getting away on my own. At least once a week I would take an afternoon to walk, get fresh air, explore the area around me. I need to get back to that.
And you know what this all showed me? My day is a long line of interruptions. I don’t get to just worry about my eating and drinking schedule. The house does not stay picked up because others are not nearly as careful about cleaning up after themselves as I am. I, despite having grown children, have to worry about everyone else’s needs. I have to dance around everyone else’s schedule.
So the one thing that is going on my list and is never negotiable…taking better care of me!
Every step of the way, whether novice or seasoned author, whether this is a hobby or career, we all have those roadblocks that drag their concrete asses over and plop themselves right in front of our creative highway.
The ones I had in the beginning are far different than the ones I have now.
You might see a bit of you in what’s to come…
You might be sitting in the center of what I’m about to describe…
You’re a new writer. You’ve been an avid reader for years. Essentially, through the process of devouring books, deep in that voracious brain of yours, you already know everything you need to in order to write your own book. No, it won’t be pretty. It will need heavy editing. But the pieces are essentially there in your mind just waiting for you to use them if you wish.
So, one day you sit down at the computer. You start paying attention to your favorites, what they do, what they talk about, events they travel to. You start to piece together the nuts and bolts of an author’s life beyond the final product that hits your kindle on release day. You see they’re going to RWA Nationals, or other small conferences. You see them talking about filling up their creative well.
So you start joining writer groups. You take some online classes. You one click thirty million books about saving cats, hooks, and writer tool kits.
You are pummeled by information about the “right way” to write.
The writer word starts screaming at you, sometime their advice solicited…often their advice unsolicited…
Other writer 1: “You have to outline.”
Other writer 2: “If you pants it you’ll never finish.”
Other writer 3: “First kiss by the 25% mark, sex by the 50% mark, black moment/climax at 75%.”
Other writer 4: “This trope is overdone.”
Other writer 4 (That chatty shit): “That trope is overdone, too.”
Other writer 6: “Write to market.”
Other writer 2 (Yeah, that asshole is back): “Incorporate high concept.”
You: Wait, what? What the hell is high concept?
Other writer 7: “Write what you know.”
Other writer 7 again after you show him/her your idea: “Wait—not that. Write something else you know.”
Other writer 3 again (The one writing formula romance only): “Oh, that’s not allowed.”
Other writer 8: “Don’t make it too gritty.”
Other writer 8 again driving his/her point home: “That’s not safe.”
Other writer 9 who is in the same writing group as other writer 8 and often wants to smack that uppity ass upside her bland head: “Don’t make it too sterile.”
Other writer 10 (This one is likely traditionally published and will offer to read your first 50 pages for you): “Don’t make your conflict a simple misunderstanding solved by a conversation.”
Blah, blah, blah, freaking blah.
See that utter bullshit up there? That’s what a beginner writer’s problem is.
Right. Freaking. There.
You’ve decided to write a book. Your family is patting you on the head and saying, “Oh, hey, that’s great” and rolling their eyes the minute you’re not looking. Classes are introducing aspects of writing you’ve never thought about. You’ve always loved the sausage, you understand it’s not just pork, but this is the first time you’re seeing the recipe to make the sausage. You are seeking information and getting bombarded with a bunch of unsolicited advice. You’ve convinced yourself that what you write has to be perfect before anyone can see it.
And you’re letting a writing world, one with old school veterans and breakout indies tell you there is a certain way to do it that’s the only right way.
I’m here to tell you, that’s utter bullshit.
When I started, conflict was a big deal. Conflict had to be strong. Now that our real life climate has become so divisive, romance is changing and becoming conflict light. As for that conflict that other writers might dismiss as not strong enough since it can be cleared up by a simple conversation…you have to ask yourself why the characters don’t have that conversation. If your characters are closed off, avoid confrontation, or maybe are young enough that they aren’t that forward yet, it’s understandable that the conversation would not unfold. A young adult is going to be less likely to lay it all on the line than an experience adult who has a serious relationship or two in their history.
Rules change all the time. They evolve. Traditional publishing is careful about what they publish. They take less risks. Indies are all risk. They don’t conform. They are the divergents of the writer world.
As a new writer, you’re worrying about being perfect, about following formula while finding your voice…about being accepted. Not just by readers, but by fellow writers. That’s the pressure that sits on the chest of a new writer.
Once you shed those confines, make connections, build confidence, you start to shed those roadblocks.
Which opens up room for roadblocks of a whole different variety…but more about that another day!
Write fearlessly. Right now that story belongs to you. Make it larger than life. Write something that makes you laugh, get mad, and cry. Even better, write something that makes you do all three at once.
Worry about the rest later.
Brainstorming…the perfect storm!
We’ve all seen the articles for the various kinds of brainstorming: mind mapping, word clouds, lists/bullets, cubing, free writing, and umpteen others, and there’s nothing wrong with those, nothing about all, I mean, they are a huge help if you’re exploring your project or especially if you’re working alone. And we all know writing is almost solely a solitary journey.
But what I want to talk about is good, old-fashioned locking yourself in a room with a writing buddy and tossing ideas back and forth until you’ve forgotten to eat anything beyond cheese and crackers and at least one of you starts to smell like onions.
Okay, so maybe not that bad, but you get my drift.
No cell phone interruption, no social media, no drinking, LOL.
Just tossing out ideas. Ho-hum ideas. Laughable ideas. Often ridiculous ideas. Taking the nugget of a plan and asking a million “what ifs” and discarding them just as fast.
Two people, maybe three or four, the more minds the better unless, of course, you’ve got them all trying to yell over one another to be heard…all pinging off of one another with different life experiences, different tastes in books, shows, movies, different stories that each of them love to read, and all of them bringing a story, characters, and theme to fruition.
Recently, Jen and I were holed up in a hotel room, cheese and crackers at the ready, minus the onion smell, and pinging off of one another for hours. We tossed my novella into the ring for scrutiny, the mediocre story I had pieced together with dry-rotted, dollar store thread and threw every damn what if at it possible until only the characters and their careers stayed the same.
The mission, the character arc, the story arc all shifted based on our perceptions and our experiences. Every time we said, “What if he did this? What if she did that?” The other called into question why. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they just do A or B? Our life situations come into play. Maybe we’ve been in a similar situation and we know for a fact that the natural reaction is not what everyone believes it would be.
No ideas are bad. Ideas that don’t work still shape the character and the story by setting limits for where it won’t go. Those perspectives unlock avenues that you’ve blocked off in your mind. It’s like pulling in the lines of a massive circle, narrowing the space down at every turn until your character, your story, your arc, takes shape and flow in the direction of growth and resolution.
It doesn’t work with just anybody.
I firmly believe this. You need like-minded people. You need creative people who understand how solitary this whole writing process is. You need people who feed your creative soul. When you have that, you unlock something inside you that can’t be unlocked any other way.
How long has it been since you fed your creative soul?
What are you waiting for?
Ahh, the shiver moment. That moment in time where you read something you wrote and goosebumps. The hair stands up. You know the moment I’m talking about. It’s when you look around you, you see your family, or maybe you’re alone in your office, and realize that no one quite knows what just happened and there’s no real way to explain.
I have a feeling the shiver moment is more profound for me at times since I’m a pantser.
A pantser who is currently working really hard at not being so damn pantsy. So far it’s not going so hot. I’m definitely trying to shoot holes in the theory that there is a way to outline a book for everyone.
Anyway, that’s not what you’re here for today. Today we talk about the shiver moment. You know the one…where something you write is so great that your fingers freeze over the keyboard, forcing you to take in the words in all their glory. Or…that moment where you’re pantsing *Casey raises her rebel hand* and words fly from deep in your psyche through your arms, hands, and BOOM…they’re right there on the screen…finally telling your character’s “it” factor.
I’m a firm believer that these moments come to writers easier when they shed the confines of writing rules or what other writers say you should or shouldn’t do, and just let those rogue fingers fly.
Those are the snippets of work I go back to when insecurity tries to grip me by the throat. They drive me to tell the next story, and the next, and the next.
So this week, it’s about showing you our shiver moments.
And it’s important to note…a writer’s shiver moment isn’t necessarily the readers. It can be, but it’s really about those little glimpses that encourage a writer to believe in themselves or that moment when the pieces slide into place and you learn something about your character that makes the whole character arc come together.
So…I’m going to start with Sunset at Lake Crane. Super emotional story that had lots of shiver moments. My hero is gutted. Gutted and angry. Angry almost to the point of not being redeemable. At last, not to traditional publishing.
Grant and Erynn had a rather taboo history. He was a student teacher her senior year of high school and shortly after graduation, they run into one another again, and a hot affair ensues. Now, don’t get that face…she was 19 when she graduated after missing a year of school when her parents died in a car crash. Without saying goodbye, before summer ends, she disappears without a word.
Now, it’s 8 years later. She Grant writes under the pen name, Alex Cole, and is a big time author who has managed to conceal his true identity. Erynn is an in-depth reporter for a literary magazine who manages to snag a rare interview with…you got it…Alex Cole. This is a scene from early on in her interview.
“I don’t do serious.”
His tone invited no argument, but the reporter in her wanted to know. So did the woman. “Why?”
“I just don’t.”
It was her turn to smirk at him. “Now who’s full of it?”
“Don’t,” he bit out.
“Can’t handle it?”
With surprising speed, he spun toward her. He leaned his face within inches of hers, the muscle along his jaw jumping. “Can you, Erynn? Can you handle it?”
“Absolutely.” She stood her ground, leaning toward him with almost as much aggression as he’d leveled at her.
“I don’t do serious because—” He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again she saw more agony in their depths than she’d thought possible. “I’ll never give another woman enough of me that she has the power to gut me when she walks away. Not. Ever. Again.”
Welcome to the moment where I realized I adore angsty, tortured, growly men!
Next is from Shielding Blair. I had been writing Evan as a secondary character for three books and he was the one of the four that I hadn’t really figured out. And in chapter two, writing this scene, I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to pull this story off…until this ah-ha moment. The moment I realized he needed to unfold for me at the same time as the reader and the reason I didn’t know much about him was because of his mysterious nature that was an integral part of who he was meant to be as a character in his own book.
“Well, well, well, now who is that?” Lavinia asked, an appreciative grin forming on her 1980’s red lips.
Blair followed her gaze, and her lungs seized on a gulp. “What’s he doing here?”
Lavinia’s drawn-on eyebrows disappeared under a poof of bleach-blond hair dropping low over her forehead. “You know him?”
He pushed away from the hood of his sleek, black, luxury whatever the heck it was car that might actually be just as mysterious and exotic as the man now walking toward her.
And so far out of her price range, it made her heart pinch.
“I’m not sure anyone really knows Evan,” she murmured as her mouth ran dry at the sight of him.
Black dress pants, probably designer from the sheen and quality cut, hugged his thighs as he strode toward her with one hand in his pocket and the other flexing at his side.
Tension radiated from him, but Lord help her, she didn’t care. She’d known from the first moment they’d met when she’d spilled her cup of spiced tea at her favorite coffee shop that he was something different.
He’d been polite, with those Clark Kent, square-jawed looks and dark-framed glasses designed to make the wearer look scholarly, but in his case, they only made her fingers itch to slip them from his face so she could get lost in the warm, amber depths behind them.
Fire and ice.
Cool and detached on the outside, but those eyes—God, those eyes told a whole different story.
An elusive tale likely no one would get to the bottom of.
This next snippet is the shiver moment that I didn’t even realize was one until Jen read it and told me. More than six months after this was published, she still recalled it as something of mine she read where she said after, “God, I wish I could write like that.” BTW…she’s got her own shiver moments that make me wish the same! This one is the opening paragraph of Marked…a story I just got the rights back to and will be republished soon:
White-hot rage permeated every last cell of Micah Alessi’s body. His fingers curled into his palm, his fists clenching until his neatly manicured nails left crescent digs in his olive skin. In a rare show of temper, he slammed his fist down on his two-hundred-thousand-dollar Parnian desk.
This is from Bewitching Her Warlock, on standby for republishing and my first paranormal…when I was terribly insecure about attempting to write paranormal.
They say knowledge is power.
Only, knowledge in its infancy can be a deep breath of horrifying realization before the exhale of heartbreaking acceptance.
Brigid O’Rourke held the stretched skin of her now-empty belly in the palm of her hand as her life leeched out in a river of red, soaking into the damp moss and the rich earth below.
Her girls would live.
She would not.
Her first glimpse of their pink, screaming faces had been her last.
Searing sorrow pierced her ravaged heart.
And finally, my second paranormal, On the Run, also waiting for republishing, where I realized, I might actually be getting the hang of this whole writing thing…
Conceit is poison.
It’s a sinister elixir that when left unchecked, runs rampant and infects everyone it touches like a futuristic superbug with no cure.
It seeps into their pores and attaches to their cells becoming a living, breathing shield that blinds one to their faults.
It annihilates humbleness and humility and turns people into pillars of judgment.
I worked next to her for years. I gave up time with my friends and family, and devoted myself to her work.
I made it possible for her to perfect the recipes for her concoctions by doing the thankless tasks in the shadows of her success.
I forfeited glory.
I see her now, through the dingy bay window of her atrium, bustling about. Dried herbs hang from twine strung back and forth overhead. The spring in her step tells me that she’s just come up with another recipe.
A new way to tweak lives.
One more step toward perfection.
I should be there, beside her.
She told me she would teach me the ways, make me her apprentice.
She turned me into her slave, and when it came time to fulfill her obligations to me, she said I was too lazy, too emotional, and untrustworthy to learn the secrets of the craft.
Little did she know, I paid close attention.
When she wasn’t looking, I wielded my power.
And she’ll pay the price…
I solidly recommend all writers mark down those moments in their writing and revisit them when insecurity bubbles up. Or when the story isn’t flowing. And definitely when the urge strikes to beat one section to death with editing instead of moving on to the next. Seriously, there are dark days ahead for all of us, whether we’re writing book five, forty, or one hundred, when you might need to pull them out to remind yourself that yes, you really can do this!
Okay folks, so here comes the hard part.
Or knowing when to break up.
Then actually following through.
No one likes having to end a relationship. Whether it’s with a friend, partner, family member, and that’s no different for a business relationship. Actually, the stakes might be higher for a business relationship…because all of your mutual colleagues and acquaintances in your business world could be watching.
So…are you ready to break up?
There are a few signs that it’s time to call it quits with your critique partner.
- They’ve become complacent and their advice is no longer helpful leaving you still feeling stuck – Remember when I talked about making sure you don’t become complacent? If you missed it, you can find it HERE. We talked about those issues that you will see over and over in your partner’s writing that you might glaze over because they’ve become familiar. I suggested you make a list of those things so you can continually check yourself to make sure you’re not missing them in critique. Think of it as upkeep. Keeping your tools of the trade at their optimum level. Would a chef go into a kitchen with a dull knife? Nope. Keep your brain sharp. Keep your critique fresh.
- You’re starting to see too much of your books or ideas in their work – This is a touchy one. And seriously, it happens. It happens often without the writer even realizing it. So don’t rush out there assuming your critique partner is a thief. Life usually isn’t that dramatic, despite the fiction we write. Hell, for Jen and I, I’ve gone and written a story line similar to hers without having ever read her story beforehand. There are no real new ideas in this industry. There’s individual voice and creative spin. Fact of the matter is, if you give a group of authors a handful of elements they must use in a story, they will all come up with wildly different stories despite the common elements. Also, if you’re writing fast like Jen and I do, you may forget you saw a detail in your partner’s story and it can creep into your words. If it’s a super important idea or a unique element to your voice that creeps in…mention it. I can’t reiterate enough, especially if it’s voice. Especially voice. Because you’re their critique partner and if your voice is creeping into their work, muddying up their unique voice, it’s going to cause a problem with their readers. This is part of what you should be doing as a critique partner. And yes, I know approaching this is awkward. You know how easy it is for ideas to bleed into writing? Jen and I had a conversation on the phone where she used the term passive/aggressive…and no, I’m not going to tell you who we were discussing, lol. Next thing you know, passive/aggressive is in her next chapter…two or three times. Nope.
- There’s no more give and take and one side is feeling resentful for always critiquing and never getting anything in return – Okay, I think Jen is trying not to swallow her tongue reading this. Why? Because she turns over a lot more to me than I do to her. Well, right now I’ve had some other life stuff slow me down so that’s to be expected…and no, I’m not resentful. After all, I just sent two chapters to her to work on as she’s flying to Greece. Yup, I’m poaching on the 30th anniversary trip overseas…and I’m not ashamed! Sorry Mike!
- They steal your idea or work – I don’t mean mistakenly drifting into your voice or that little nugget of something I spoke about above. I’m talking you’ve plotted with them or you’ve told them about a golden idea you have for a book or series and next thing you know, they’re writing it. Or you see full blown lines that are almost identical to lines you’ve written. That’s betrayal. There’s no talking this one out and moving past it. Be done. But tread carefully with the breakup in this case. Keep it private. See advice on how to do that below!
- If you’ve let things about your critique partner irritate you without speaking up to the point where you spend more time thinking about those irritations than doing your own work – Jen, stop it. Again…not you, lol. If you’re someone who avoids confrontation, this is likely going to happen to you. And confrontation is too strong of a word in my opinion. Confrontation to me is often stern and hostile. But if you have a hard time speaking up, it’s likely because you view difference of opinion, or any discussion addressing something that’s bothering you to the offender as confrontation. If you’re at this point, you’ve done this to yourself. I would advise you to try to address it first in case you can move past the hurdle. If you can’t, it’s time to end it because anything weighing that heavy on your mind that it’s bleeding into your life is no good.
- If you’re nurturing seeds of resentment and are unwilling to address them or have let them fester too long to save the relationship – This really goes with the above…only this is for those of you who have fiery tempers, you know how you are, *Casey raises her hand* and you planned to address something, didn’t get to it in a timely manner, and now you feel like the time to address it has passed and instead it festers. Just like above, you’ve done this to yourself.
- If your partner has begun lashing out at you in critique or is displaying signs of jealousy and you are unable to talk it out – And let’s be honest here…if they are behaving like this, it’s going to be really tough to talk out. Maybe impossible. You should still give it a shot, but tread carefully. This is a sign that ego has drifted into a relationship where it has no place. I’ve been in a relationship like this with writing partner in the past and I let her have it. I mean, I thought we were both adults and I was blindsided by the venom she unleashed and the way she twisted my words. In that moment, any trust I had for her vanished. Just gone. And there was no way to get it back. In that case, there was no salvaging the relationship. More about how this breakup in just a minute!
If you’re having issues with any of the above, it’s imperative that you address them when they crop up. The first order of business in this relationship is to always discuss anything bothering you or that’s not working for you. If you don’t address those issues and they fester causing you to break up with your critique partner, don’t think you can place the blame solely on their shoulders. You have a responsibility to the relationship/partnership to use your words and address issues before they have a chance to explode and take the relationship/partnership with it.
So, you’ve done all you can, but it’s time to go your separate ways…so what do you do?
Remember what you like about each other – You’re both going to be navigating this writing world. There’s no reason why ending the critique relationship has to end the friendship or cause bad feelings…well, within reason. As long as you’ve addressed issues honestly, in a timely manner, even if they don’t work out, there should be no ill will. The book world may seem huge, but I assure it’s not. You’d be amazed by how many people know who you are and how many people have talked about you. Give your former good partner some good things to say about you.
If you sabotaged your own critique relationship by avoiding confrontation or harboring feelings of resentment, learn from it – Don’t hold it against your partner and end things amicably. Take a hard look at yourself and the part you played in the breakup so you can make sure you don’t make the same mistake with the next partner since good critique partners can be incredibly hard to find. Maybe it’s not like finding something as unique as a unicorn, but it’s definitely up there with finding a bra so comfortable you can sleep in it while it also props up your girls so they look great in everything, including a V-neck.
And finally, a few things to consider if your partner’s behavior is so heinous that it torpedoes any chance of maintaining a friendship – Ahh, yes, we are back to my situation. Yes, I found her behavior heinous, I’m sure she would disagree. Did I handle things badly? Yup, there were things I could have done way better. Unfortunately in my situation, I thought we were close enough that I knew what would be okay with her. Without going into detail, I can tell you I based what I did off of what we had done in the past, not realizing that she would have a problem with it since she hadn’t thus far. Should I have asked? Absolutely. I just didn’t realize because we had never set the parameters and were applying the rules of our friendship which came first, to our writing relationship. Colossally bad idea BTW! Even if you’ve been friends for years, set the parameters of the business relationship. Agree how you are going to approach the relationship so neither of you can accidentally step out of bounds and ruin the underlying friendship.
I can offer you one last tip to think about in the event that you break up in a way that permanently ruins the friendship…remember when I mentioned that the writing world although big, is small? People know who you are even if you don’t realize it? I’m sure you are friends on Facebook with your critique partner. I’m sure you follow each other on Instagram, Twitter, etc. DO NOT RUSH TO UNFRIEND OR UNFOLLOW YOUR FORMER PARTNER/FRIEND.
Yes, it warrants shouting at you. I can’t stress this enough. It’s most important in terms of Facebook where it’s so easy to see mutual friends. My former partner unfriended me on FB unbeknownst to me right away. How did I find out? I got four emails the first day.
Four. Freaking. Emails.
Four people noticed on the very first day I was unfriended that we were no longer connected on FB. Actually, more than four, unless it just so happened that the only four who noticed happened to also have no qualms about nosing in on the situation and sending an email.
What does that tell you?
It should be telling you that people are watching. They either are brave enough to contact you and ask, or they’ll speculate behind our back. Hell, maybe both. So always consider how you handle your breakup and make sure you do it in such a way that both sides can continue on quietly without having others intrude.
This isn’t me. I know, you’re shocked, right? LOL. My stomach has not been this flat since I was 8. And I’m definitely not rolling in enough money to have an office that looks like that. If I did, not gonna lie, I wouldn’t be getting much writing done. I’d be sniffing all the book interiors like a child of the 90’s huffing White Out.
This week we’re going to talk about common misconceptions about critique… for me, this is short and sweet. It comes down to one essential fact.
There are limits to a critique partner’s abilities!
Critique has the unique ability to both tear an author to shreds and build up their ego to mass proportions…often at the same time. It temps an author with a false sense of security.
It’s a misleading seductress…don’t fall for that shit!
Are you expecting miracles with the critique process? You think this means you can short change editing, skip beta reading, eschew a final read through with your own eyes?
Don’t tell yourself that lie.
- Critique is not a copy edit or a replacement for copy editing.
- Critique is not set in stone. It’s not all the right answers to the final exam.
- Critique is not a full reader perspective. Critique is not a replacement for a team of readers with different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and life experiences.
- Critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work.
Critique is not line or copy editing. My focus as Jen’s critique partner is first and foremost story. We’re essentially developmental editors for one another and since we are, our focus is character and plot. We’re focused on wordsmithing the hell out of each chapter. In that process, we can’t also be focused on the technical aspects. After all, there’s a reason why there are different types of editors and why it’s always a good idea to hire different editors to do different types of editing. Fresh eyes for every level of correction. Don’t look for this from your critique partner. They make catch a few things here and there, but there’s no way in hell they’re catching everything. Hell, I have a BA in English Literature and still can’t master commas or proper dialogue punctuation. My verb tenses? A bloody nightmare. At this point, I would need rigorous training in order to even consider editing either punctuation or verb tense.
Critique is not set in stone. Jen’s opinion and commentary on my work, and mine on hers, is not the be all end all. It’s subjective. You take what advice resonates and leave the rest. If a comment resonates to a degree, but you don’t like your critique partner’s suggestion for how to fix it or change it, talk it out. It’s possible that the solution is somewhere in the back of your mind and by picking it apart together you’ll come up with a solution that fixes the issue, but is also a solution you’re comfortable with. It’s all pliable.
Critique is not the reaction all readers will have. Being an author changes how you read. Period. This colors our reaction to one another’s work. In order to get a true reader reaction…before publishing, of course, the story has to land in the hands of beta readers. Beta readers who are straight up readers and fans of the genre…in other words, don’t hand your chick lit or contemporary romance rom-com to an avid thriller reader. You won’t like the way it all turns out.
Critique is not a replacement for your own final read through. This really goes along with the editing. You have to read through your story one final time…after critique, after beta reading, after editing, and even after proofreading. There are no shortcuts in this. You’re the one who has it all riding on reader reaction. You’re the one with a fan base you don’t want to lose or maybe a fan base you’re trying to build. Don’t take shortcuts. Readers will notice. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll post it on social media. Worse, they’ll put down your book and never pick up another one you write. Can you afford to lose a loyal reader or a potential new one? No. None of us can.
Stay tuned for Jen’s take on the misconceptions of critique coming Monday!
I could go on and on about how critiquing makes me a better writer. There are the obvious things like:
- The more I critique, the less mistakes I make.
- Having someone to call me on my bullshit keeps me from being lazy, taking shortcuts, and shortchanging the reader.
- Allowing someone to repeatedly pick apart my work makes it so I can take criticism easier.
Blah, blah, blah…
But there’s one thing that outshines all of the little things. Having a critique partner I can bare all to allows me to spread my wings and fly.
Writing is changing at a rapid pace and faster than ever before, especially with the explosion of indie publishing. Language is evolving. The hard fast rules are breaking down and writing is morphing into something driven by voice first, and all of the other facets coming in at a distant second. There are voices emerging that are so distinct, rules fade into oblivion. The reader is so sucked in, they’ll forgive almost anything.
Not that I suggest you ditch the rules all together…but we all have to admit, there are books out there that are absolutely brilliant that would have been cast aside to a slush pile not twenty years ago because they took liberties with the rules.
Because of that evolution in language, voice, and rules, we can take more chances than ever before…and having a critique partner spot you while you take that chance makes all the difference in the world.
With Jen by my side to review my work, I’m free to take liberties with words, structure, technique, and rules because Jen is my safety net. She’s going to make sure I don’t fail. She’s the first person to see where I’ve stretched my wings and taken a chance. She’s the one who will tell me if I’ve lost what little is left of my mind and need to reel that shit back in. She’s quick to recognize if I’m pushing the boundaries, but missing the mark, and she’s eager to jump in right alongside me to help me tweak those chances I’m taking.
Not going to lie, she’s kind of my idea dealer, too! She’s got the goods no matter when I need a fix. My own little plot genie. When I’m staring at chapter three and have no freaking clue where the story is going, she pulls out ideas, and she keeps throwing them at me until something works. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have her there to say, “You don’t like that idea? I’ve got another one!”
I can grow because she nurtures that growth. Sales numbers, stellar reviews, bestseller’s lists, and die-hard fans are all great, but they are the end result. It’s the person slogging through the shit with me during the process that propels me forward and makes me strive to improve each and every time.
There is a bit of controversy out there in writer critique land if you should be giving your critique partner your best work or your first draft. The answer to that is not whether one is right or wrong, but what one is looking for in a critique, what one wants to give in a critique, and what one believes will best serve them. I also think, the answer come in where you are in your writing career and the development of your craft (which is always getting better). Casey and I will cover that in another topic soon.
When Casey and I first met. We both came at this critique thing with each other wearing protective gloves. This is because we both had bad past experiences. Those experiences helped us shape the critique process we have now. Neither of us wanted a line edit. We didn’t want proofreading, although we’d say, if you see, feel like fixing it, go for it! We also didn’t want smoke blown up our skirts. We wanted honest and real.
Last week Casey talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent as a critique partner.
Every time I get a critique back from Casey I get excited about finding out all the things she found wrong, or that could be better, or that I missed an opportunity, where I can amp up the tension, make a reader care, whatever. If I ever got a crit back from her that had a comment or two, a few fixed typos, and tells me I did a good job.
She’d be fired.
Of course, the few times (okay, maybe once in the last, I don’t know, two years) I’ve gotten a critique that had very few critical comments. I immediately picked up the phone and said, “WTF? There has to be something wrong with this bad boy.” To which she replied, “It was a real shocker to me too, but other than that one area, I thought, damn girl, you rock.”
Trust me, the next one that came back, I saw so much red I cried tears of JOY! See, I like editing and rewriting. It’s my favorite part of writing. I’m that weirdo that HATES drafts, except first chapters, but I digress. I’ve never thought I’ve gotten anything “right” on the first try. I shine in second and third draft. I layer in second and third draft. Though, because I focus on action and dialogue, I often miss little opportunities, which is why I need Casey to constantly show me where I can amp up the tension and emotion. Without her, I think my books would be a bit flat.
Her post last week talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent. Now let’s look at what Casey does…one thing she has a tendency to do is give me way too much information in a short period of time. I’m overwhelmed. The reader might be overwhelmed. She might have a reason for doing it, but if I don’t keep pointing out when I’m bored, or she’s beating me over the head with something, or I’m lost in the detail and not the story, or I’m starting to skim, not carrying much about what she’s writing, then she might not know where she’s mucking up. Thing is, almost every time I tell her this, she’s like, well this person or this thing is important because of XYZ. Okay, but there is NO NUGGET that makes me care. You have not planted that SEED. Give that to me! And she always finds it usually by doing two things. Tightening where she can, giving the reader only what they need in that moment, and finding that one little bomb that says, you need to know this. But poor Casey is stuck with me giving her comments like this.
Or, I often toss a bunch of questions at her about what I’m reading. I don’t have to have the answers because you have to remember, she might want me as a reader to be thinking all this stuff. Or it just might be, okay, I don’t HAVE to give the reader all this right now and it goes back to what does the READER HAVE TO KNOW RIGHT NOW.
Now, some of you might be thinking, God, Jen, you’re mean. Or geez, Jen, why are you airing CASEY’s dirty underwear out there. And I want to make this clear. The reason why I’m giving you examples of my critique of Casey is to show how I’ve come to know her as a partner and how I help her make her writing better. Basically, calling her on her shit. And her calling me on mine. Not only do you have understand your partner’s voice in draft mode, but you have to understand how you critique. It’s essential that you’re working on their writing, not projecting your own into.
Another thing to consider is to be assertive in what you need. There have been times when I’ve said to Casey that I really need you to look for certain specific things. It’s not because she’s not doing it, but it’s good to restate your needs.
Also, when writing something that is a little out of my comfort zone, I will ask her to focus say emotion or character development.
And here is another thing to consider, sometimes we focus on what WE do in our writing and not what THEY do.
If I’m told often enough that I have a specific bad habit, I will start to notice it in everyone else. It’s part of learning who you are as a writer.
I think Critiquing in DRAFT MODE is an important concept because too often we focus on the mechanics. The Oxford comma. The word WAS. We’re not line editing. We’re not really even being developmental editors. We’re doing a stream of conscious commentary on a writer’s draft. Understand, that the draft may go under many edits after that. I’m just seeing Casey with her pants down.