1) What am I working on?
At this precise moment, I am working on the last chapter of “By My Side”, a fanfic for the tiny fandom for Strike Back, because I adore John Porter and I will ship him and Katie until my face turns blue. I’m also in the initial planning stages for a longish John/Sherlock fic.
I’m also working on my second romance novel, working title “Past the Mission”. Zoe is a Dominican-American doctor doing nonprofit work in eastern Colombia, trying to cope with past trauma and get on with her life. When she runs into Lee, an American CIA operative, her first instinct is to keep running. He’s the only other person who knows what really happened to her, and he’s a bad reminder of a bad time. But in the rain forests and llanos there’s a four-way war simmering between the government and paramilitary factions, and if she runs too far, she’ll run right into the center of it.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Right now I work in two primary genres, fanfic and romantic suspense. For fanfic, it’s hard to say. I’ve been accused before of using a lot of tropes in my fanfic, and I don’t deny that, because I don’t necessarily see it is a bad thing. I do try to be aware when I’m using tropes and play with them a little, but I know I don’t always succeed. One thing that’s changed about my fanfic over the past few years is that it’s getting harder for me to focus just on the sex. Reading and writing PWP just doesn’t hold the appeal for me it used to. I don’t know why. So instead I spend a little more time working on the story itself, which has unfortunately meant not producing as much fanfic.
For my original works (which so far lean toward romantic suspense), based on what I’ve read in the genre it seems like my heroines tend to be a little tougher. The alpha male is all the rage in the romance genre right now (“right now”, she says, as if that’s ever not been the case), and while I do love that, I also like writing heroines who can also hold their own in a fight, or at the very least are no strangers to scary situations. My hero is often positive that he’s in love with the heroine way before the heroine is comfortable reaching that same conclusion about him. My heroines tend to be a little skittish on the subject of love, which, since they all tend to be slightly older than average, some cynicism makes sense.
3) Why do I write what I do?
It’s funny that this question comes up, because I’ve been noting some trends in what I’m writing, at least with the original stuff. I’m sure it’s a little telling that both my current heroines have some form of PTSD, one from actual combat experience, and one from a kidnapping and hostage ordeal. I’m not shy about talking about my own experiences with PTSD, although mine doesn’t come from a single easily dramatized incident. The general public perception of PTSD seems to imply a broken, barely-functioning individual, and that’s not true for most of us. I wanted to show characters that have been damaged by their past, and still struggle with what happened, but are healing. It wasn’t something I consciously set out to do, but it seems to be what I’m doing nevertheless.
As far as “why romance”, I think I have fanfic to thank for that. When I initially wrote for publication, my focus was urban fantasy. Coming up with original ideas for fantasy worlds was hugely difficult for me. And the ones I did come up with weren’t that great. I read a lot of romance in middle school and high school, but eventually stopped once it I learned that romance wasn’t something that “intellectual” people read. I was completely wrong about that, of course, but I was fooled by the stigma.
When I first started writing fanfic, I wasn’t writing slash, and I didn’t ship anybody. That lasted about a month before I started writing pretty much solely John/Sherlock. Because I was new to the genre (slash), I had to work out in my head and in my stories how these two men got together. Essentially, I was writing romance.
Writing and reading fanfic rekindled my interest in romance as a genre. Imagine how pleased I was to learn that romance had also changed with the times, and more accurately reflected people’s real life experiences. When my soon-to-be agent asked if I was writing anything original, I mentioned I was considering reworking “Pull the Stars from the Sky” into mainstream romance. She was excited about the idea, so I decided to give writing for publication a try again.
It seems I’m definitely better at writing romance than I ever was at writing fantasy. 🙂
4) How does your writing process work?
Lately? Sporadically. 😉 In terms of how I work on ideas from the initial inspiration to the actual writing, that seems to change from project to project.
Usually I’ll get a flash of an idea which often comes in the form of a “what if?” (“What if Sherlock was a professional musician–no, wait, what if he was a rock star?”). Usually the “what if” comes in form of a character question for me. Sometimes I’ll magpie ideas based on things that I’ve seen or read: “what if a woman is rescued from a hostage situation by a devastatingly gorgeous, deadly, and yet tender man, and meets him years later?” (Thanks to “Strike Back” for the first part, the meeting years later part is mine. 😉
Once I have the idea, I start fleshing it out by figuring out who my protagonists are. Figuring that out usually gives me the seed of a plot, from knowing where they are and what they’re doing and then deciding what can go horribly wrong. (Something always has to go horribly wrong.)
Once I have that seed is usually when I’ll start writing. I may try to start at the beginning (which never ends up being the actual beginning–ask me sometime how many times I’ve rewritten the first chapter of my current book) or I may start with whatever scene first grabbed me about the idea. The latter was the case with PtS. I had a strong image of the scene where Sherlock is trying to seduce his new bodyguard, John, in the green room after a show, so I started there.
With my current novel, I started with the scene where Zoe is being held hostage and Lee comes to her rescue in an unorthodox manner. This entire sequence, which came to several thousand words in the end, is not the beginning of the book. It may not even be in the book, but it was definitely something I needed to know in order to know Zoe and Lee better. This is the beauty and heartbreak of the first draft.
In the past I have almost never started with an outline. It’s like I need to get into the world and start poking around in it before I can start making plans. My “outlines” usually consist of either a list of questions or a narrative summary of what I expect to happen in the story. Now that I’ve been doing study and work on story structure, my outlines are becoming a little more formalized and I’m looking for specific points to create in the story, like an “inciting incident” and climaxes for three acts.
I was already sort of naturally gravitating towards three act structure in my work (not difficult, since so much of what we read and see comes in a three act structure; we tend to sort of absorb it unconsciously), now I’m learning to make that unconscious process a conscious one. Which by the way, sucks, because I’m thinking about things I didn’t used to have to think about.
As far as when and how I write, I really want to get back to being one of those people that wakes up an hour or two early, writes, and then goes to work. I mean, considering how little I have to do to get ready for work, there’s really no excuse for it. As it is, I end up trying to write at the end of the day after work, and that’s really not my best time. Weekends are pretty good, and I usually try to get in as much as I can then.
Joining Get Your Words Out was one of the best things I ever did. In an ideal world, I’d be writing about 1000 words every day, and sometimes I can manage that, but Get Your Words Out lets me look at the bigger picture of writing a certain number of words per year. Because producing a certain quantity of words every day is less important than producing a certain quantity of words per month or per year.
That’s it from me! Next week I’m passing this on to jomk, who is a pro writer and who has been an invaluable source of information and encouragement for me!
jomk’s bio: As Jo Leigh, I’ve written 50+ novels for Harlequin & Silhouette. I ghost wrote a biography of Anna Nicole Smith, wrote several screenplays (two were optioned, none were produced) and lots of craft articles. I also taught story structure for 8 years. My fannish side is here, and my books can be found here.