The End. Oh. My. God.

I have had a brilliant month for writing. I didn’t get organized enough to join RWA’s 50k in 30 days challenge; but I’ve been there in spirit, and last night, I reached the magical END of His Brand Of Beautiful.

I don’t know about other people, but I’m one of those writers who goes chapter by chapter, scene by scene, and revises and ditches and cuts and starts again until I’m happy enough to keep going to the next scene or chapter. So because of that, to finally get to Chapter 25 yesterday afternoon and tidy it up late into last night. It just feels amazing. I slept better last night than I have in ages having got it all down. This book has been writing itself in my head every night for about a year; and last night it was quiet. For me, that’s saying something.

In my ‘real’ life, I edit a magazine part-time so I can contribute some cash to the household budget. There’s only four issues a year, but one of these is July and that too is all tracking on schedule.

So gold star to me.

HBOB is currently sitting in four files called First. Second. Last. (and then it grew on me as I ‘pantzed’ my way through so I needed a new file called [fittingly] Final). Today, kids willing, I get to combine the files for the first time, which feels like a milestone, and when that’s done I think I’ll have about 85,000 words.

July will be another read-thru and polish month. In early August, hubby and the kids and I are road-tripping from South Australia to Noosa to see friends. We’ll be away just under two weeks. My plan is to print the whole thing out at the end of July and take a hard copy on holiday.

Jenny Cruise on her website a few weeks back shared her revision process of the first chapter of her current book. She printed, edited, then scanned her pages and published them on her blog so that you can see her hand-made edits and queries. http://www.arghink.com/2012/06/07/the-12-days-of-liz-day-eight-a-little-belated-proof-of-edit/

It’s really interesting. I think the generosity of authors and what they share on their blogs with readers and budding writers like me is amazing really. I’m not sure quite what other industries are so kind-spirited in that regard. Perhaps chefs and cooking. They’re always happy to share.

Writing & mother’s guilt

I don’t know how J.K Rowling did it. How did she possibly dedicate the time to writing Harry Potter as a single mother of young kids? I’m sure I can google the answer somewhere. Maybe she had a great advance that got her a great nanny or she had a great mum or neighbor living next door. Maybe she could survive on two hours of sleep a night.

I think it’s one downfall of having children older in life. I’ve become very selfish, and I’ve had years and years to get used to just pleasing myself! Now I have to please two little people first.

I love Jennifer Crusie. She has a fantastic website for fans but also for fellow authors and people learning to write, but I saw one thing in one of her essays on the site that I didn’t agree with. It went something along the lines of, if your children were younger than 12, then you had them, you were responsible for raising them and writing had to wait.

Why does it have to wait? Can’t I have both?

I try to balance it all as best I can, the kids, my husband, the house and garden, part-time work and my writing. I didn’t think about the order as I wrote those 5 (and friends haven’t figured, or extended family). I put the writing last. If I’m being honest, I rank it with kids as my priority; but I have this little voice inside that says: I can’t sit down to write until… and the list is things like: the kids are dressed and have had breakfast and have brushed their teeth. I’ve vacuumed up the morning’s spilt cereal. The dishwasher is unpacked and repacked. I’ve had breakfast and brushed my teeth too. I’ve checked and responded to any ‘real’ work email.

But if all that’s done – why the hell can’t I write if the kids aren’t killing each other and are playing happily with… whatever (as long as it’s not the powerpoint)? Why do I feel so furtive as I open my laptop and type in the password and think that I should be pulling out the kids’ paints or books or craft glue or football?

This week has been bucketing down here and very cold and we’ve hardly been outside. In other words, it’s been perfect writing weather but not much fun for the kids outside of jigsaws and blocks and drawing and TV. So on Wednesday afternoon when there was a patch of sun (and because I was feeling guilty about the entire revision of Chapter 22 I’d managed to complete that day) I put my eldest on his bike and the youngest in the pram and we all went for a walk.

Coming back on my street, my bike-riding son stopped suddenly in front of the pram – the front pram wheels hit the bike and before I knew it, son number 2 (not strapped in – more guilt) came flying out of the pram and landed on the sidewalk. I think my heart stopped.

I’m so very lucky he wasn’t hurt. And I carried him home, pushing the pram and trying to make sure my big boy didn’t fall off his bike and add to the whole catastrophe.

What made it all worse for me — not for the boys who are too young to care — was that this happened smack-bang outside the school in the middle of the mother-pick-up-kids-from-school time. So there was a line of mums in the cars stretching right up the street, kids waiting for their car, monitoring teacher. The works. Probably all the mums were so focused on picking up their kid, keeping their place in the queue, and thinking about what they would make for dinner, they didn’t even see me peel my not-strapped-in-child off the pavement. I don’t know. I couldn’t look.

What I do know is that I bawled the second I got home, trying to explain to hubby what was wrong and why the youngest was crying and what a terrible mother I was.

I come out of things like that and think – why did I bother? Why not just stay inside, doing what we were doing (i.e. my writing) … why push things like I did? I know that taking my little boy on his bike and the pram all out on the roads while they both need so much concentration, at the same time is pushing my luck. It’s like trying to control two puppies when only one is on the leash.

I did it because I was feeling guilty about the time I’d spent writing that day. And I ended up feeling more guilty than ever because my child got hurt.

The moral of the story? Something like: you can’t wrap your kids in cottonwool Lily, but you can strap them in a pram. And you can write.

 

 

6TMD7KMN8JUG

 

 

 

 

She said what?

So a couple of people said to me: “Why would you write a post about being afraid to let people read your work, and then the very next post is an excerpt?”

Easy! Three people who read and/or write romance all the time already judged the excerpt in a competition so I have confidence that the scene works. It may not be perfect but it works.

I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that it takes half a million words before you come anywhere near discovering that magic thing the mysterious ‘they’ call ‘voice’.

I think (I just crossed everything) that I’m starting to find mine. Certainly when I rewrite, I can hear myself saying “Christina wouldn’t say that… or she wouldn’t do that.”

I’m taking that as a promising step!

First Kiss Competition – an excerpt

His Brand of Beautiful finalled in the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss competition 2012 held in April. My entry was judged 125/125 by one judge; 124/125 by another and 123/125 by the third, to finish on top of the locally-judged part of the competition.

The final judge was Jessica Alvarez of Bookends.

I haven’t entered writing competitions before, but the feedback from the process has been extremely valuable to me. This scene has been tweaked since the judging and I think it is longer now (First Kiss entries had to be 1000 words), but for anyone interested, I’ve put the scene below. 

Some set-up

My hero Tate, and heroine, Christina end up in the Australian outback on horseback on a camping trip (the why, is in  the book). Christina, a winery executive; wants Tate, a branding strategist, to design a new brand for her family company, Clay Wines. There are (of course) a gazillion reasons why Tate doesn’t want to work for Christina.

In Chapter 10, they wake up in a tent (err… she wakes up in the tent – he’s in a swag by the fire) somewhere in the South Australian outback by a river (this is set in the days of Lake Eyre floods) and Tate has bet Christina to a shooting match with his .22 (she having boasted the previous night she could shoot them a rabbit for dinner).

The bet? If Tate wins, Christina owes him $100 and has to read him a sex scene from an erotic book she keeps under her bed. (How he knows she has this dog-eared book under the bed, is – you guessed it – in the book). If Christina wins the bet, Tate has to design her new brand.

I hope you enjoy.

—- 

Christina accepted the gun in one hand and a heavy-duty cardboard box of .22 bullets in the other. The rifle felt as well-loved as it looked; trigger metal-smooth beneath her index finger. Lethal. She chose four bullets, flipped them in her palm like marbles, handed back the ammo box and tucked the remaining three in her jacket pocket. Bullet number one clicked as she slid it into place; worked the bolt. The rifle nestled into her armpit like it belonged.

Tate checked his watch. “I did happen to open your book at this very dog-eared page that was about the time Barbara goes into a swingers’ bar. You could read me that part—”

“Shut up Newell, or I’ll shoot you.” 

Her mind focused, needlepoint sharp. Oxygen filled her lungs. A tickle of breeze brushed her creek, fanned the scent of rich silt and damp earth across the river, and something else—cleaning oil from the barrel of the gun. A twig floated into a nest of dead branches snagged on a log midstream. 

“Ready?” He raised his hand, started counting down. At zero, his hand dropped. “Go!”

She exhaled. Raised the gun to her shoulder. Sighted on the rock at far left. 

Don’t squint

A half-second before her lungs emptied she squeezed the trigger. 

Cockatoos lurched for the sky. Horses shied. Recoil kicked her shoulder. Shards of rock skipped toward the river, raising ripples where they hit. The largest portion scratched bark off the neighboring trunk; crashed against a serpentine root. A smaller piece fizzed across the sand like a skimming stone.

For a second she stood stunned—which showed how out of practice she was—good shooters didn’t notice noise or recoil or ripples racing for the riverbank. 

Move Christina!

She worked the bolt. The spent cartridge spat into the sand, buried itself fat-end-up like a lead finger giving the bird. Bullet number two slotted home.

Aim. Exhale. Squeeze. Thwack. Eject. Reload. 

Bullet number three. Heart pumping like a train. 

Thwack. Eject. Reload. 

Fourth shot she hesitated, wanting to make it certain; wiped the palm of her trigger hand against her pants. Cockatoos screeched above her head, the sound drifting as the birds wheeled in huge sweeping circles. Acrid-smelling blue smoke hovered over the riverbank; seared the back of her throat. 

Aim. Exhale. Squeeze. Don’t pull. The shot cracked across the sand. 

Christina lowered the gun. She wanted to throw her head back and scream triumph at the sky.

“Forty-three seconds, four hits,” Tate muttered.

Flicking the safety on, she concentrated on making sure the hand that held the gun to Tate held no trace of a shake.

“Where’s the poker face Newell? You seem shocked.” 

“Hold the celebrations, Annie. Now it’s my turn.” He scouted by the bank for more rocks. 

“Don’t pick yourself watermelon targets either.” 

He placed four new rocks on the platform and stepped back behind his improvised line. 

“Ready?” 

He clicked the safety off, slotted his first bullet and took up his shooter’s stance; legs shoulder-width apart, slightly bent at the knees, boots half-buried in sand; blue jeans clinging to that tight, tight ass. 

“I’m ready,” he said. 

She cleared her throat. “In my book, Barbara has a lesbian romp with a chick called Lillian. She has the most fantastic tongue, apparently. Maybe I could read you that one.” 

His grip on the gun tightened. “And I thought I fought dirty.” 

He backed the pressure off. She couldn’t see any white in his knuckles and she knew then he was good. She raised her arm. The second it dropped she clapped both hands to her ears. 

Bullet number one cracked across the sand like a stockman’s whip; obliterating the target rock. So did two and three in a blur of pump and reload. Man he was fast.

He sighted the final target and took the shot. 

Damn. That’s wide.” The muscle in his jaw twitched. 

Alone on the platform, the final rock mocked him unscathed, while all around them, whipcracks echoed off the sand and cockatoos shrieked.

Christina pumped her fist and let out a primal whoop. She pounded upstream, away from the excited horses at a sprint, high-fiving a row of appreciative, if droopy-leaved, shrubs. Her boots plowed the heavy sand, knees like pistons and somewhere near the end of the second victory lap when her stomach started to cramp and her lungs to burn; it occurred to her she should offer Tate commiserations. Besides, she had to catch her breath. She hunted for him, hands on her knees, squinting against the rising sun, trying to pierce the deep shade by the river.

He was by the bank, .22 propped against a tree trunk the size of his waist. His mouth was set in a grim half-smile, arms loose at his sides.  

“You are such a crappy winner,” he called across the sand, voice thick; the slightest twitch in fingers hanging loose. 

Head down, she gasped between pants: “You’re a … lousy … loser.” 

She looked up in time to see his hat frisbee to the ground. He took a single, menacing pace forward.

“You wouldn’t dare…” her protest choked on a bubble of giggles.

Lion-quick, Tate sprinted across the sand. She had no time for a half-step in any direction before his tackle steamrolled her to the ground.  Any air she’d managed to get into her body whooshed from her lungs. 

A whirlpool of blue-checked shirt, orange sand, and sky—shot through by a whip of chestnut as her hair escaped its tie—spun outside arms that encircled her like an iron cage. His momentum slowed and they plowed to a halt, her riding boot tangled between his legs; her arms wedged in the too-small space between her breasts and his chest. She pushed against his solid mass, tried to shimmy an arm free, tried to take a breath. Just one. She wasn’t greedy. 

Tawny-orange grains of sand scattered through his hair, the two colors in the sunlight almost a perfect match and she thought what was sand and what was hair? Peered closer; noticed flecks almost the same color on the very outer rim of his iris, like moons around Saturn. Or was it rings? Did Pluto have the moons? 

Amazing.

“Breathe Christina. Don’t you dare faint.” 

The breath she sucked in went exactly nowhere because her snort of laughter expelled it straight back the way it had come and her shoulders shook. Hard. A tear squeezed down her cheek. Tate caught another where it pooled against her nose. 

She smelled gun-smoke on his collar; wood-smoke at his wrist. The contrast made her wonder.

Her right arm popped free. She laid her elbow over the side of his neck; let her fingers dangle into the coarse tickle of sand, warming now under the morning sun. Couldn’t resist a stroke into his hair; waves a little stiff where sunscreen and dust slicked the tips. His breath deepened. 

“Christ,” he mumbled against her hair. Or did he say her name? His voice softened. “What do I do with you?” 

“You don’t want to work for me. You can’t shoot me.” It started sassy. It ended on a sigh. There was heat in his cobalt eyes that could have melted polar ice-caps; was melting her.

His hand slid beneath her shirt. Callused fingers, rough from the previous day’s ride, dug under her bra and when his palm caught her breast; she wasn’t sure who sighed first.  There was nothing gentle in the lips that parted hers; it felt like their contest continued. Christina closed her eyes and pressed closer, tasted mint toothpaste, coconut sunscreen and gunsmoke—loitering on his tongue like the memory of yesterday’s thunder. A moan vibrated in the back of her throat. 

He teased her lower lip, sucked it into his mouth. His hand tangled in her hair; his thumb a warm weight at the point where her cheek joined her ear. Their hips bumped, slid away, bumped again; like boats at the dock. Rock. Roll. Rock. Roll.

Sunlight flickered across her eyelids and she missed him instantly. Her eyes flew open, found him breathing hard, propped on his elbow above her; eyes bright. 

“What’s wrong?” She hardly recognized her voice. The word rasped from lips that were shaped for kissing, not talking.

“I’m lying on a rock,” he said. 

She giggled. “So am I.” 

That’s not a rock.” 

He retrieved his hand from inside her shirt, nudged her hips away then sat, bringing her with him; gentle now. The borrowed shirt rode up her hip, revealing a muffin-top swell over the jodhpurs’ tight band and his eyes slipped lower.

“Don’t move,” he warned. 

Oh my God. He’s seen a snake. She froze.

His palm came up; levered back. Slapped.

“Hey!” 

“Sorry.” Tate flipped his hand. A crushed black body and an explosion of blood painted his palm. He wiped the mess on his jeans.  

Christina rubbed her hip, trying to take away the sting. 

When he ducked his head, her heart cartwheeled. He laid his lips over the red mark his palm had raised and then the scrape of his whiskers created a whole new kind of sting. She tangled her fingers in his mane of tawny hair, watching the river slip-sliding away through a gap in the trees.

He breathed in her scent and she felt him exhale; a rush of breath warm on her stomach.

A wry smile curved her lips. “Let me guess. I stink of Eau de horse and coconut?”

“It’s like perfume on you.” 

A lone pair of cockatoos—the first brave enough to re-enter the warzone—screeched defiance overhead. In the shade the horses waited, tails swishing to an unheard tune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do you let someone read your writing?

My husband has trouble sometimes with the amount of time I spend on my writing (my hobby); and it doesn’t matter how many times I tell him that the goal is to get published here; hubby will see it as a hobby until the day a cheque rolls in… (pray we see the day!)

Part of the problem, he says, is that I’ve never let him see a thing that I write. I am in fact, obsessive about privacy to the point of password-protecting my laptop; closing it if he comes near; not leaving it open on a table to dash to the loo…

I have several issues with people reading my work:

a) I must be 90% happy with it first (rightly or wrongly – that’s just how I am)

b) I’d like to know that the person reading my work reads in the romance genre. (And that ain’t my hubby! He’s more Stephen King & John Sandford.)

Most friends who know that I’m writing have offered or asked to read some pages. My neighbor has offered; so has a mentor from my journalism days, and I’ve very politely turned them all down.

Romance Writers of Australia has a critique service that it offers where you can join a critique group. I’m seriously thinking about this because I figure this is about like minds, and like skills.

I have never been one to attend a course or to undertake any training in anything I’ve done (I do believe this was a reason my colour-field painting experiment didn’t get off the ground), I’ve always been more a learn on the job type and the internet really does have so much great information for free, I don’t see what else I could learn at any higher quality than what is offered online.

I said in my original post that my second book, His Brand Of Beautiful, went wrong from the start. Quite honestly, whenever I look back on any of my original stuff from that book I shiver; and I wish to hell I’d never sent it anywhere. It really was crap. I don’t need anyone now to tell me it was crap. Perhaps if I had been in a critique group back then, or let someone read it, they could have told me it was crap. (They would have had to be terribly honest though).

But I think I learned more by getting rejected and coming to realize how much I needed to work on, and so fix the problems myself.

There was a great discussion on Jennifer Crusie’s blog the other day about critique groups and what to say and how to say it (and what not to do – i.e. never rewrite someone’s work as a way of critiquing or say – I would have done it like this). http://www.arghink.com/2012/06/07/the-12-days-of-liz-day-nine-the-words-and-me/

If I do join a critique group, I will try to remember that the words are the author’s; the voice is the author’s and it’s not for me to change anything about the way someone writes.

The Story So Far – Lily Malone – contemporary romance writer

Later this year, about the end of August, if the stars align; I shall type ‘The End’ on my second novel, His Brand of Beautiful, which should be finished about 18 months after I first typed Chapter 1.

The book spent the first six months going dreadfully wrong. Then another six going nowhere fast.

I finished it (the first time) within four or five months and began submitting it to agents, according to everything I’d read about the query process online (yes I only needed to learn about getting published because I already knew how to write. Right?)

Obviously, I write a better query than book.

Two out of three agents I approached responded to the query letter and asked to see the first three chapters and I thought, how easy is this?

Then two rejections.

Luckily, one of those bothered in all of three lines, to tell me very diplomatically the story lacked depth and characterisation.

The other told me I’d head-hopped…

Dear old Google then helped me realise how little I knew about the craft of writing and that there was a whole heap of other stuff to consider, like plot and pacing and emotion and tension and structure and symbolism and premise and… you get the drift.

So I began rewriting. Like chuck the whole lot out and start again rewriting. And revising the rewriting. And living and breathing stuff I figure everyone else must know like ‘show don’t tell.’ And rereading all the books I like all over again to see how they do what they do, and living on the Internet and discovering Alan Rinzler, Nathan Bransford, Bookends, Carolyn Jewel, Jennifer Crusie, Nora Roberts, Alexandra Sokoloff.

And having a heap of fun doing it, getting more and more hooked.

I joined Romance Writers Australia.

And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. After the kids were in bed.

At lunchtime when the youngest still has an hour’s sleep.

While dinner burned and the pasta passed from al dente to mush.

In summer as the kids ran under the sprinkler (we’re on rainwater here mate).

In every last available second until I had to run to pick up No. 1 son from kindy, with his little brother in the pram shouting “faster, mum, run faster” as we haired down the road.

Then a breakthrough moment early in 2012 when I entered a scene from His Brand of Beautiful in the RWA First Kiss competition. (Exactly what it sounds – you enter 1000 words from your novel’s first kiss).

Lo and behold – the judges liked it – and I was one of six finalists. (I’ll post the scene later).

I can’t describe what it meant to have someone who knew what they were talking about say they liked my writing. That call was one of those moments like when a radio station rings to say you’ve won fifty-thousand bucks and you tell them “you’re kidding”. (Which hasn’t happened to me, but if it does – now I’ll know how to react).

I was hugely encouraged! (Understatement).

The last few months have been revising the story thus-far. I’m at Chapter 21. I’ll be revising until about Chapter 23; then re-writing the final two chapters. I think it will come in around the 80,000 words when all is said and done. And then I shall be trying the query process again, hopefully with more success this time around!