Let’s get two things out of the way:
WRITING IS CRAZY.
NEVER SAY NEVER.
We writers are a special breed. It’s not really all that normal to spend all our time with people who don’t exist. So, deciding to be a writer is its own brand of crazy. Writing an over arcing series is just plain insanity.
I once swore I would NEVER write a werewolf. EVER. While I enjoy paranormal, thinking about that kind of world-building gave me a headache. I remember watching Trueblood and was like, LOVE it, but yeah, I don’t want to go there. When we found out Sookie was a Fairy, I was like, WHAT? Yeah, ever writing about them either.
Then I was asked to write in Milly Tadien’s worlds. Both in Paranormal Dating Agency and Sassy Ever After. Not only am I writing about werewolves and fairies, but I created an entirely new created called a Wolfairy!
When I first started in the Paranormal Dating Agency, I had no idea that my planned 4 book series would turn into an over arcing storyline that spans all 4 books. You see, I’m a huge fan of series. I love taking a secondary character and giving them their own story. The majority of my books are set up that way. A series of books about cops. A series of books about sisters. About brothers. About firefighters. But they don’t have to be read in order. Each book is a separate storyline and isn’t dependent on anything from the book before it, or after it. So, when I sat down to plot out the first book in my planned series, imagine my surprise when I realized while each book has a problem to solve, and a new budding romance, the Wolfaires won’t be safe until the end of the very last book.
I realized this was going to happen the second I had my hero claim his mate. Why? Because he did so a little begrudgingly. He’d heard about this the Legend of the Wolf and the Princess, but he never expected that he’d be THE wolf. And our heroine didn’t even know she was a paranormal creature until after she’d been claimed.
The hard part is remembering all the rules in this new world I created. It’s also challenging to remember all the important details. I keep a hand written legal pad for the series where I write down all the key players, elements, and what was resolved and what’s still unanswered. But sometimes it feels like it’s a moving puzzle and I’m missing half the pieces! I’m also slowly revealing details about the Royal Fairies and King Lear during each book. With each new pairing, something new is discovered.
I’m finishing up the last book right now and while it took me a while to reconnect myself with not just the characters, but all the details about the world and how it’s changed, all making sure that EVERY SINGLE thread is closed before the end of this book.
It’s been an overwhelming process, and this isn’t the only series I’ve done this with, but I question if I want to do it again. However, when I look back on this series, I’m in awe of what I created. I never thought my mind would work that way…
Proving, I’m totally bonkers!
Or totally brilliant. You choose!
I’ve always loved reading books where the hero or heroine has a pet. Robert Dugani’s Tracy Crosswhite series where a secondary character (and love interest) is a pair of dogs and I just loved them. They really added to the story as well helped developed the hero’s personality. I loved it so much that I decided I needed a book with pet.
Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows they have their own distinct personality. I’ve owned three dogs and they were each very different. One was just crazy. Every time you let her out of the house, she ran around the house ten times like wild animal. She’d stop to pee and poop, then do it again. It was like she was chasing her tail…around the house. Tucker was just a spaz. Shasta was kind of like Tucker because Shasta was pretty high strung. Hyper. Even as a grown ass dog, she was like a big puppy. But she listened. Tucker never listened. And there was our nervous nilly Casey. Smart dog, but afraid of her own shadow. But her fear didn’t come out in cowering away, no, she barked and growled and made for a great watch dog. She was pretty mellow and often got annoyed by Shasta’s need to play all the time.
The first time I used a pet as a character was in TO PROTECT HIS OWN. My hero has a horse named Boots. Only my hero, Jake, left the farm ten years ago, and left his beloved horse behind.
Boots didn’t take that too well and became a moody horse. The heroine was left to tend to the Boots, who often acted like a child, pouting, or acting out, or being stubborn. Surprisingly, I received a lot of emails from fans who LOVED Boots. I got more feedback on that horse than I did anything else regarding the book.
But Boots never had a point-of-view. I showed his personality through his actions when around people, which was fun to write. So when one of my best friends, Laura Benedict, recommended me to join the wonderful world of the great cat detective, Trouble.
Besides the Trouble series being a cozy mystery (something I’ve never written before), Trouble has to participate in solving the mystery. He has his own Point-of-View. I thought that would make it easier to write him. I thought the only challenge would be make sure his voice matched all the other books in the series. Ha! Wrong!
It took a few tries of writing Trouble to get his voice right. He’s a black cat who watches a lot of Sherlock Holmes. Trouble is a tad pretentious, a bit full of himself, and he sort thinks he’s British…AND he truly believes he’s pretty much the best detective around. That part was easy. I too watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem dropping myself into that character. I got his voice down quickly. What became a struggle was his actions. I mean, I had to show him in the bushes, basking in the sun, or slinking around looking for clues. It was the cat action I had trouble with. I think it was because I don’t have a cat. My only real experience with cats was when I was a teenager and my dad had three cats. I’ve had a few friends with cats, but they weren’t my pet of choice.
Now, you ask how is this different from writing a horse (I’ve never owned a horse) and writing a cat? The difference was mixing the voice with the actions. Boots didn’t have a voice. He wasn’t talking to the audience. While he occasionally reacted to situations to help clue in my heroine or hero on approaching danger, he wasn’t doing things to solve the mystery. He was just reacting to snakes on the side of the barn! Any horse would freak out.
As a writer, I believe it’s important to stretch our skills. Stepping out of our comfort zone can only make us better writers. I often do writing prompts that are so far from my writing style or genre. Doing this has made me a better writer. It makes us focusing on learning new things. It helps us keep things fresh, new, and exciting. It’s easy to get into ruts.
I strongly suggest every writer try writing a different genre. Not necessarily for publication. Not even writing anything more than a couple of pages. But take some time and write different. Take a writing prompt and instead of going in the direction you normally would, take it to the complete opposite. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. I dare you!
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!
A writer’s way of saying, “Does this make me look fat?”
Only, instead of hoping you’ll tell us we’re slammin’ in our bandage dress despite the fact we can’t take a full breath and our shoulders are hunched up to our ears, we want you to lay bare our ugly.
That’s right, if there’s toilet paper stuck to my shoe, my skirt is tucked into my pantyhose, and/or I’ve got a boogie hanging out my nose, otherwise known as having a bat in the cave, I want to know about it.
My crit partner is not there to spare my feelings and blow sunshine up my ass. She’s there to make me better. She’s the brutal personal trainer of the writer world. Think Biggest Loser brutality here! She’s making me live on boiled, lifeless lean protein, arugula, and water. I may never see sugar again. She’s making me workout three, sometimes four hours a day. I’ve got shin splints, blisters, and head-to-toe muscle fatigue.
She’s making me stronger, fiercer, and capable of a long, successful future.
She’s going to pick apart every line, every plot point, every word and drive me to be better. I’m trusting her to make me the best writer me I can be. I’m trusting her to put aside any feelings of competition and focus on my work separate from hers.
Most importantly, I’m trusting her to care about my success as much as I do. If she doesn’t…this doesn’t work.
I’m an odd one. For the most part, I keep my ego completely out of the process. Sure, there’s an occasional ding. Sometimes I sit back, flip off the monitor, and give it some major side eye as I focus on something a little less scathing. But ultimately, I relish the opportunity to get feedback from someone who gets the struggle to find the best words and the best flow to write their best story.
Another writer trying to give at least one more reader all the feels.
When looking for a critique partner, I look for the same. I can’t spend my time worrying she’ll get her panties in a wad because I’m honest.
Egos have no place in this.
I need a partner who is just as driven to elevate their talent and uplift mine as well.
I have six hard and fast rules for critiquing:
- Use Humor – Always. We’re picking out mistakes. Mistakes we’ve all made thousands of times over. We can laugh about it. My job as a crit partner is to take out the sting in the evaluation by making it funny. Humor works to keep your partner from sliding into defensive mode.
- Explain – Don’t just say something is not working. Explain how. Most importantly…give concrete suggestions/examples of how to fix it. Often if Jen’s wording isn’t working for me, I’ll give her at least two examples of how she could change it or strengthen it. If I’m going to find fault with something, I’m going to explain why. Even if those examples don’t work for her, they could very well jog her creativity and give her and idea on how to make it better.
- Give those examples to her entirely – If I take a sentence that’s not working and give her two or three alternative sentences that flow better, I give her the freedom of using those sentences word for word. I know, sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, not in the writing world. People get a little sideways about that at times.
- Make it a “we” thing – Like I said before, we’ve all made the same mistakes. And no matter how we improve over time, we will inevitably slip into those mistakes again. The story will race through our head faster than we can dance our fingers over the keys. We’ll reread it and find out we did a whole lot of telling and not much showing. We’ll duplicate words. We’ll have a favorite verb crop up in every other sentence. It’s the nature of writing. So, often I will point out something and after I do, I’ll say, “I do the same thing when the story is flowing. I imagine your hands couldn’t keep up with you and you just had to purge. I have to go back and clean those bursts of creativity up sometimes, too. No worries.” Remind your crit partner that you’re in it with them every step of the way and that you go through it, too.
- Don’t forget the love (See example above) – Make sure you tell your crit partner what’s working. Always reinforce the good habits and let them know when the words are all coming together, or even better, when they’ve managed to drop a line so good that you just sit back, bob your head, and say, “Yeah, that’s it.” Not just for the ego boost, but so they can refer back to that and let it inspire them in scenes they’re struggling with in the future.
- You’re crit partner is not always right – Yup, I said it. Your crit partner is a whole other human being with emotions, perceptions, habits, and desires completely different from yours. They’re shaped by their unique history and with that comes a perspective that might not always jive with yours. Sometimes that comes out in the critique. Maybe they don’t see your character using a certain word or having a certain attitude. Maybe they don’t see the connection between characters as you’ve intended and tell you that you need to change A, B, and C.
But you love A, B, and C. A, B, and C were moments of brilliance and poignant.
But you done went and screwed up how you delivered them. You didn’t offer them up on a pretty porcelain platter; you served them up on a garbage can lid. A, B, and C may not have to change…the fault may actually be with the way you set up your story to present them. Your crit partner does not know your characters the way you do. They don’t talk in her head. She can only know them in the way you deliver them and if something you really love isn’t working, it might just be that you didn’t drop all the info you needed to about them in previous chapters. In my case, I have a habit of my heroines saying something saucy and Jen comes back and says, “I don’t see her using that word or phrase.”
So I go back. I look at her interactions in dialogue in the previous chapters and make sure I’ve brought out the personality I see for her. Sometimes all it takes is a line or two. Maybe I need to add an interaction. Either way, once I do, I’ve fixed the problem. Jen was right, but I didn’t have to remove A, B, and C.
Now go forth and find your absolute best critique partner. Forge bonds. Build each other up by tearing the words down.
And when all is said done, realize and accept that the minute you engage in a critique partnership, it will change the way you read everything in your future. Even if for pleasure. There’s no avoiding it. You will no longer read as a reader does, and you never will again. While that’s a scary reality to face, you’ll be a much better writer for it!
Signing off for now,