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Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

My friend V.L. Dreyer invited me to contribute to the Writing Process Blog Tour. This is my first blog tour. I hope I am doing it right! I am using it as a means of procrastinating on working on my next projects. I'm sure that is not at all how this is meant to be used, but what can I say...?  

The purpose of this blog tour is to tell readers about our writing process by answering four questions.
Click here to read V.L.'s post about her writing process. My answers follow.

Question One: What Am I Working On?
I have two projects in the works right now. One is a sequel to Blinding Justice called Last Second Chance, in which an ex-con struggles for a fresh start in a small Kansas town. Here is the blurb: 

Tim Reardon made a real mess of his life, and he spent the last seven years paying for it in a Federal Penitentiary. Now he is out and trying to put his life together. Thanks to his sister Mitzi, he has a chance at working in small town Syracuse, Kansas, where no one knows his past and he can start fresh. Except that his past is hell bent on finding him.

All Janie Thomas ever wanted was to live a simple life as a veterinarian, taking care of her daughter and the pets and livestock in Syracuse. She had enough drama bringing Kylie into the world after getting pregnant at 17. Kylie's father, the town's rich heartthrob, Cody Buford, couldn't be bothered to raise a child and ran off to the big city.

Seventeen years later, Cody is back, trying to insinuate himself back into Janie's life, and she can't for the life of her reason why. On top of that, the new ranch hand out at the Lazy J is bringing up emotions she thought she had put to bed long ago.

This is different from Blinding Justice in that it takes place over a couple months, instead of the mere 36 hours of Blinding Justice. Tim is a man with a history, and that history is trying to catch up with him, even while he thinks he is making a clean break. Janie has her own history as the fallen woman who bore a child out of wedlock in a small conservative town. When Tim’s past shows up in the form of the woman he went to prison for, he finds there are very few places for him to hide and he must make a stand out in the sand hills of Kansas. Will he be able to survive denying his past?

The other project is a murder mystery set in the future, against the backdrop of the trucking industry in the year 2025. It is more a suspense than a mystery, but has elements of the cozy mystery with two truck drivers as the amateur sleuths trying to find out who killed their friend and fellow trucker, and why. I’m challenged to get this done before the future gets here. Some of the elements I have touted as futuristic in the trucking industry are already starting to come to pass. My husband and I are working on this together. While my suspenseful romances have elements of a mystery to them, this is my first attempt at a more traditional mystery, and I am working hard to get it right.

Question Two: How Does My Work Differ From Others Of My Genre?
My stories tend to be very character driven, and the conflict stems from outside sources. A lot of romance stories have conflicts based in misunderstandings and a failure to communicate. Not so much in my stories. If Mitzi and Blue are attracted to each other (Blinding Justice), it is gunfire keeping them from exploring that attraction. Conversely, while the danger is keeping them apart, it is also teaching them more about each other, stripping away the everyday trappings that get in the way of a ‘normal’ courtship, so they can see the meat of what the other is made of. Or, if Cassie doesn’t know if she can trust Nick (Knight Before Dawn), it isn’t until he gets knifed while trying to chase down one of her abductors that she realizes he really is on her side.

Last Second Chance is a bit more introspective. Tim doesn’t want to pursue his interest in Janie because he doesn’t believe she could want his kind of trouble in her life. If he tells her he is an ex-con, how can he expect her to love him in return? If he tells her, how can he protect her from the stigma that comes with the label of ‘ex-con?’ Janie doesn’t want to see Tim judge her for having a child out of wedlock, like nearly everyone in Syracuse has done, so she avoids saying it point blank.

The common thread in all my stories is that the conflict grows each character, pushes them to discover just how far they will go to protect the ones they love. But there is always a line my characters will not cross. I believe a hero is a hero as much for the things they won’t do as for the lengths they will go to.

Another difference is that my characters are a bit older than a lot of the romances I have read. In their late twenties and early thirties, they have already lived quite a bit of real life. They have already loved and lost, made mistakes, learned from them, and have confidence in the things they know they can do. They are more apt to speak the truth in their hearts in good part because they know life is finite, and they don’t have time to fuck around. They are (in general) blue collar workers, who earn every dime they spend; they live ordinary lives—except for the danger, of course—and hopefully my readers can easily relate to the way my characters live.

Question Three: Why do I Write What I Write? 
I’m something of a hopeless romantic with a lightning rod. I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is, with the possible exception that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. But I like to explore what makes people do the things they do, how far someone will go when pushed. If someone snatched me and set me down in the middle of an intense situation, what would I do? How would I handle it? Lord knows I don’t really want to get in a firefight with drug dealers or corrupt cops, but I can imagine it, and I can write myself into a situation I would be terrified to experience in real life. It is similar to reading a good book that transports me to the world I’m reading, except I get to direct the outcome. I get to throw the curve balls, jam the monkey wrench in the works, and let my characters work their way out of it.

It drives me crazy when characters I read repeatedly fail to communicate with each other, and the conflict comes solely from their inability to share their feelings with each other. So, as I mentioned above, I deliberately create characters who are brave enough to speak their minds and their hearts. Maybe not right off the bat, especially if the level of trust hasn’t had time to build. Knee-jerk reactions aren’t unheard of in my stories: Cassie runs off into the Alaskan wilderness because she discovers a frightening truth; Nick flies off to a confrontation before he thinks everything through. But they do have the courage to admit when they are wrong, and move ever forward without rehashing the same argument or fear again and again and again.

Question Four: How Does My Writing Process Work? 
Ideas come to me from all kinds of places. Often a vignette of some scene I witness in life. Sometimes even a dream will inspire a story idea. I see something that results in me asking: "What would happen if...."

Sometimes—like with the mystery—I have to do some plotting to make sure I get the pacing right, but for the most part, I let the characters tell me their story. That may sound a little crazy, but often I will sit down with the keyboard in my lap without a clue what I am going to write, and the words just start flowing. Like I’m channeling the characters and they are dictating the story to me.

If I have a scene I’m not sure is working, or one that is complex, I will share it with one or two people to get feedback. Last Second Chance is set on a ranch, and Janie is a veterinarian. I have a scene where she is treating a horse with laminitis. I consulted with a man who is a horse handler, and two friends who own horses have read the scene to make sure I have it right—and who make sure I haven’t just written an info-dump scene (also known as an ‘As you know, Bob’ scene.)

As I write, I continually go back through and tweak what I have written. Adding clarity if something is murky, cleaning up grammar and spelling, inserting or deleting scenes.... Once I have a complete draft, I go through it multiple times, cutting, adding, cleaning, analyzing, making sure I have the best, most complete story I can write. Then I have one or two people read it, to get a baseline reaction. Of course at this point, I’m pretty confident I have a story worth telling, but these people help confirm that. For Blinding Justice, I had a friend who worked in law enforcement read it to make sure I had the police mindset accurate. For Last Second Chance, I will likely have one of my horse friends read through it.

After that, I send it off to my editor and wait breathlessly until she sends it back. This step is so important. Even though I proofread for others, and I am very good at spotting problems in someone else’s work, I am too close to my own work to see the problems. And there are always problems. My editor helps spot holes in the story, catches my grammar errors, cleans up punctuation, etc. She puts a polish on the story that I simply can’t produce myself.

After that, I have beta readers go through it. By this time, I am getting twitchy to publish, but beta readers are also an important step. Fresh eyes to catch mistakes that have managed to slip through until that point. Or errors I created when I fixed the problems my editor pointed out. I had five beta readers for Blinding Justice, and each one found different problems. Just a few by each, but enough that I would have been embarrassed to find after publication.

And I can’t help but read through one more time (okay, two or three more times) before I start uploading for publication. As you can see, for me, writing the story is the easy part. The polishing, editing, polishing, and proofing process is exacting. I don’t hate it—I actually enjoy it, which is good since I do it professionally, too. The worst part about the post-production work is that is does take time, time that I would rather spend selling the book, or more importantly writing the next book. But because I want to put out the best work I can, I pull the reins in on my impatience, and go through every step even when I want to start sharing my story with the world. I learn more and more about crafting a great story with everything I do, and patience is the greatest lesson of them all.

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