Trying New Things

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been querying literary agents for my new series. Although I’ve had some interest, I’ve racked up quite a few rejections. The most recent one, a kick in the teeth disguised as a pleasant form rejection, arrived Friday night. Although some writers prefer personalized rejections, I actually prefer the form ones. With them, you can preserve the illusion that they liked the book but it just isn’t right for them, instead of knowing for a fact that they hated it. I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, but I admit my enthusiasm for completing the second and third books in the series is waning the longer the process goes on. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to focus on other things to get the creative juices flowing again.

Ever since I was in England last fall, a new series has been percolating in my brain. It’s not a romance, although it will have romantic elements. It’s a cozy mystery set near Keswick in the northern Lake District, right about here:

When you write historicals, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding the time period. Victorian era is a given, but it did last a very long time. I like the middle of the era–1860s/70s. It still has vestiges of the Regency, when people dressed for dinner and wore elaborate gowns, but it’s also hurtling toward the 20th century. Railways are popping up–trains arrived in Keswick in 1865–and society is changing. 1869 saw the opening of the first residential women’s college in England, in 1870 married women gained the right to own property and elementary education was established, in 1871 trade unions were legalized.

I decided to set my series in 1870. The lakes are a popular tourist destination, and the new railway makes it easier to get there. Endless opportunities for new characters, which is essential for a cozy. I’ve uncovered maps and contemporary guidebooks (you may recall Mr. Black from my recent post about Skye, who also wrote a “Picturesque Guide” to the English Lakes in 1870) to get a feel for the area during the time period.

The next step, at least for me, is characters. I usually start with either a look, a name, or an occupation. My new heroine is Cassandra, and she closely resembles actress Emily Blunt. She’s a longtime widow with a teenage son, and runs a farm and a tea shop at the foot of Walla Crag. (It’s inspired by an actual place that offered salvation–in the form of tea, cake, and a bathroom, not necessarily in that order–after a long day of hiking. Should you ever be in the vicinity, do stop in!)

Anyway, her love interest is the local constable whose name I have yet to determine–feel free to offer suggestions–but he looks a bit like David Boreanz. Cassandra’s childhood friend, he’s back in Keswick after a stint as a policeman in Manchester, nursing the broken heart caused by the recent death of his wife.

Cozies have a reasonably large supporting cast of characters, so I am working on those. I also have the resident pet AND the dead body lined up, but you’ll have to wait for the book to meet them. 🙂

I’m going to get to work–I have quite a few characters to develop, after all, not to mention the plot–so I will leave you with a few questions I’m curious about:

Writers, how do you start a new book (or series of books)? Do you start with setting and move from there, or with characters? Or do you focus on plot first? How do you decide when and where to set your books?

Readers, do you like small town settings or cities? What kinds of characters do you like to see? Do you picture them in your head as you read, as I do when I write them, or is their appearance unimportant to you?

 

A day on which I’m too lazy to write two blog posts

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today I’m over at Heart-Shaped Glasses, where I’m blogging about how I come up with settings for my novels.

Kendal Castle, Cumbria

I’ll be giving away an ecopy of one of my books to a randomly selected commenter, so stop by and say hey!

 

The Middle Muddle

The Beginning

The Beginning

Every writer has his or her way of doing things.  Some writers write only one book at a time, beginning at the beginning and writing in an orderly fashion until the end. Other writers write one book at a time, but in pieces, writing a scene here and scene there and then weaving them all together.

Not me. I write several books at a time. I love, absolutely love, starting a book. The blank page is so full of possibility. Every book might be fabulous, might be a best seller. Every book has the potential to be written in an orderly fashion until I’m done.

Alas, every single book I write fails to meet that potential. Every. Single. One.

When I get to the middle–known by many writers as The Dreaded Middle–I come to a screeching halt. I have no idea where to go next. I am consumed by doubts:  This book is boring. This book is TERRIBLE. I suck at this. I’ll never write another book. 

So I fret. I try to plot a bit more, to think of situations to toss my characters into so they can get out of the mess they’re in. I re-read the outline, the synopsis, or the beat sheet I’ve prepared to get myself back on track. I stare at the last sentence I’ve written and type nothing else. I read writing books.

Then I get another idea for a book, so I plot that. I write a synopsis. I tell myself–and my writer friends, who are probably tired of hearing it–that THIS time, I will avoid the Middle Muddle. I will storm right through and take no prisoners. It will be AWESOME.

But of course it’s not. I get stuck in the middle, and the cycle starts again.

The EndWith every book, though, there comes a moment when the words flow again, where I get past the middle in a flurry of activity that sometimes causes me physical injury. I pound out the last 20 or 30 thousand words in half the time it takes to write the first 30,000.

Yesterday was such a moment. I went to a NEORWA meeting in the morning, learned about a great new writing center in the Cuyahoga County Public Library, then went to lunch with some of my chapter sisters. I bitched about the middle muddle, and when I got home, I pulled out the manuscript that’s been idle for 5 or 6 months, and started typing. I wrote 1400 words before dinner, and another 300 words before bed. I got past the middle. It felt amazing.

I have no idea why this happens. I don’t have any epiphanies, or sudden realizations about the characters or the plot that take me past it. I just start writing again.

Last night I realized that this is okay. It’s simply the way I write. Although I will continue to read writing books and talk to writer friends and plot and try to avoid the Middle Muddle, I have made my peace with it. I’m never going to write fast, never going to be like this prolific writer or that super organized one. I am my own writer, and I do things my way, even if that way is weird and confusing and occasionally demoralizing. Anyone who knows me is probably not at all surprised.

So, writer friends. How do you write? Orderly, piecemeal? One book at a time or several? Middle muddle or not?

The Reform of a Plantser

I’m late to post today, because I’ve been plotting. *Insert wicked cackle here*

For weeks–well, truth be told, just about the entire summer–I’ve been stuck. Every time I open up WriteWay Pro to write, absolutely nothing comes. I have two stories halfway done, but they are both a hot mess.  Weak conflict, boring characters, yadda yadda. Now this has happened with every single book. I get to the middle and wham! No idea what to write next. I know how I want it to end, but I just can’t get it there. With the first two books, I did finally break through, but these two, not so much.

I finally decided to put them aside and work on something else for awhile, inspired by two things: one, the agent I pitched at RWA Nationals, who told me that the story I pitched (one of the hot messes above) would never sell; and two, the story idea I mentioned to her would be of interest, assuming I actually started to write it.

But I knew that this time my hybrid plantser style would never work. If I was going to sit down and write a book straight through, past “the dreaded middles,” I was going to have to learn to plot. *shudder* So I bought and read Blake Snyder‘s Save the Cat. I had halfheartedly browsed it before, even had a partially-finished beat sheet for my third book. But I didn’t really take it to heart until I read it all the way through, and finally understood what his beats actually meant. (Insert “duh” here.) So I roughed out a beat sheet for the new book, and it started to take shape, until I got to–yes, you guessed it–the middle.

Another week went by while I puzzled over this. I started to do some historical research, and as I hoped, it got the juices flowing, but I still had the middles problem. What was going to happen to these two people? For the past two days I have been digging through story tropes and story generators, and randomly Googling words that had to do with plots and story structures. Finally, today I found Jami Gold’s website, where she has tons of incredibly helpful posts for writers. Reading them, and then re-reading a few things in Save the Cat, was the final push I needed to figure out the middle, and voila, I now have a completed beat sheet for the next book. I wish I could thank Blake Snyder, but fortunately I can thank Jami. Thanks, Jami!  🙂

And now, I’m off to get some words on the page, but if you’re a writer, I hope you’ll feel free to share your thoughts on getting past those middles. What resources do you find helpful?

 

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