Category Archives: writing

Life or Something Like It

Just a little update on things. I’ll be headed to my parents’ in a few days, when my mom is scheduled to be able to go home from rehab. Her recovery from her broken ankle has been going well, and she’s passed the biggest hurdle: she can move from the bed to the wheelchair (or potty chair) and back, mostly on her own.

My other main projects are finishing my stack of RITA books (and logging the scores), and working on the Hands On novellas. I’m shooting to have all three done by the end of April. Unless something drastic happens, I plan to self-publish these. (More on that later, but just to head off any possible speculation, that has nothing to do with any problem with any publisher!)

Oh yeah… and I have a day job to do, too. 🙂

Currently writing: Rhythm & Blues, M/M novella (~78%)

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Keep Track of Me in 2016 (and Beyond)

First up: In case you hadn’t noticed, I have a shiny new header and a shiny new tagline: Romance for Every Heart. The tagline reflects my belief that love is for everyone, and my intent to show that with the stories I write. Even though some of those stories might fall outside your usual reading boundaries, I hope you’ll give them a try. Don’t worry—I have no plans to leave M/M romance behind. 🙂

I’ll also be working on a redesign of the website, and along with the new look, I’ll be launching a newsletter probably later this month. Sign-ups are available right here. I don’t expect to publish more than once a month, and likely less often than that. Expect to find updates on upcoming titles, sneak peeks at cover art, snippets of works in progress, and a giveaway now and then.

So, what kinds of things will I be telling you about? I’m glad you asked!

I have only one firm submission deadline this year. In the fall, I’ll be submitting my (first?) title for the Dreamspun Desires line, Dating the Dad Next Door, with tentative publication slated for late 2017 or early 2018. In the meantime, though, I’ll be working on three primary projects: Help Wanted, an M/F category romance; Out of Bounds, the first in a college-set, sports-centered, crossover series (with M/M, M/F, and F/F titles); and Rhythm & Blues, a set of three thematically related M/M novellas. I might also try to squeeze in a Christmas story. I’ve been jonesing to write one for a while now.

I don’t currently have any firm publication dates during 2016, but after successfully getting In From the Cold published to Amazon in December, I’m working on self-publishing some more second editions. I have a novella and a short story that will revert to me this year and another short story that I already have back. Expect the novella in March, one short story in June, and the other short story in August (dates subject to change). And I plan to have those be available more widely than just Amazon this time!

(I’ll be doing cover art for those too, which is a whole different kind of fun. The novella cover is already done and will debut in the newsletter. :D)

On another note, I’ve decided not to publish guest posts regularly like I have been the past couple of years. I hate to do it, but it’s time I can’t really spare right now. I will still post occasional guest blogs as part of special events (like charity blog hops), so if you have one of those coming up and would like me to host, feel free to shoot me an email. 🙂

 

Planning Ahead: My 2015 Writing Schedule

2015_StuartMilesPutting together a writing schedule is a brand-new thing for me. I had a sort of de facto schedule for the second half of 2014, just because I had several deadlines that forced me to write stories in a specific order. I’m going to try to carry that on into 2015 and see if a schedule will help keep me on track.

Here’s my tentative writing schedule for 2015. Keep in mind this doesn’t include publisher edits, release dates, or event attendance—it’s just getting stories written, beta read, and ready for submission.

January–March: Nobody’s Son (Sons, Book 3)

March–June: Help Wanted (M/F contemporary)

June: Cabin Fever (anthology novella)

July: Snow Come Down (Christmas novella)

August–December: Under the Lights trilogy (NA, M/M, football)

I have firm deadlines for Nobody’s Son and the Cabin Fever novella. Everything else is super flexible at this point, except that I do want to have a novel ready to pitch at RWA next July. Right now, that’s slated to be the M/F title, but that could change. I’ll likely have at least one more short to fit in there too!

All this PLANNING stuff brings up an excellent question. We hear the plotter vs. pantser discussion about the writing process all the time, but what about when it comes to your writing schedule? Do you plan things out, or do you just write whatever comes to you next?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

NaNo? Nope

redpenimageFor the past four years, I’ve been an eager participant in National Novel Writing Month. My first time out, in 2009, I was a “winner” with 53,000 words on a fanfic writing project. In 2010, I wrote 63,000 words that ended up as my first novel, Sand & Water.

The past two years, I haven’t gotten very far at all. I’ve tried two different projects and made little progress on either one (though one of them ended up as Unfortunate Son, which releases in January 2015). I don’t think my failure to finish the last two years means I’m done with NaNo by any means, but this year, I decided to step off the treadmill, for several reasons.

Reason one is simple: I have a short story due at the end of November, so even if I did sign up, I’d have to go in as a “rebel” and work on something else along with that to get to the 50k marker. I also have releases coming up in December and January, so I’ll be working on getting things together for blog posts and such. Finding time to write 50,000 words just isn’t going to be on the table this time.

That’s not to say that I won’t be working on other writing projects. Book three of the Sons series is due at the end of March, so I’ll be getting started on that soon. I’ve also had a back-burner (excuse the pun) story centered around barbecue cooking competitions, so I’m going to go to a competition in November to do research (and eat some yummy, yummy barbecue, of course). Plus, I have an M/F novel idea I’d like to take a shot at, possibly to have ready to pitch at RWA in July.

(And then there’s the whole YA thing to consider. Nessa won’t stop poking me!)

So yeah, I have plenty to work on in November, and beyond. It’s just not going on the wall on the NaNo site. Maybe in 2015, my schedule will line up right again, and I can jump back in. But either way, I hope everyone who is doing NaNo next month has a great time with it. It’s hard work, but even when I haven’t been a winner, I’ve always had fun with it. 🙂

Free Advice Can Cost You

redpencil_thaikrit“NEVER DO THIS advice about writing style is rarely helpful. Writing is not an exact science. Authorial voice matters.”

I tweeted the above as part of a conversation on Twitter last week, and it got retweeted around a bit. I thought it deserved a little bit of expansion, so I wrote this post as a follow-up. 🙂

One thing that the internet has made easy is the dissemination of advice. Not just in the publishing world, of course, but the internet makes it simple for any random person (like, say, me) to set up a blog and start handing out suggestions, rules, guidelines, or manifestos about anything they want.

The proliferation of free advice is great for lots of things, including, in many cases, the publishing world. It’s easy to get help when you need it on anything from grammar to word use to location research. The problem comes when personal preferences or opinions are presented as facts. The end result is that there’s a lot of writing advice floating around that’s just not all that good.

When it comes to grammar and usage, most things are pretty clear-cut. There are widely agreed-upon rules regarding how to use the language, and even if not every source agrees, you’ll generally find consensus among different guides on things like word meanings, punctuation, and spelling. Where there isn’t a clear “winner,” a preference may emerge—or your publisher will have a house style that will take care of it.

Other issues aren’t so clear-cut. Idiomatic expressions, metaphors and similes, meter and flow… these are questions related to the author’s writing style, and they don’t have easy answers. They are likely to come down to clarity and authorial voice. To go back to that tweet, generally speaking, advice related to writing style that says to “NEVER DO THIS” is not helpful, no matter what “THIS” is.

Considering the collaborative nature of so much in publishing, it can be easy to forget that editing and writing are far different skills. Writing is a creative art, whereas editing is far more of a science. It’s all too easy for editors to get caught up in the science and lose sight of the art.

I think one of the most difficult things for a fiction editor to learn is how to fix problems without damaging the inherent voice of the author. Even when editors have good reasons for their suggested changes, that doesn’t mean they’re right, or what’s best for the story. I’m not advocating starting editorial fights by any means, but authors who feel strongly about the way they’ve written something shouldn’t hesitate to argue in favor of keeping it.

With every set of edits I receive, I go through basically the same process. I make one pass through to accept or fix everything that I immediately agree with: typos, missing words, incorrect words, and so on. Anything that needs more consideration or that I disagree with gets skipped. Most of the time, that first review clears most of the editor’s comments.

On the second trip through, I look at things more closely. If I agree with the editor’s comment, then I figure out a way to fix it. If I don’t, I mark the passage and explain my reasoning in a comment. Most of the second category contains instances where I think the editor has misread something or has corrected something that wasn’t actually wrong. Often, the choice comes down to “I think it reads better this way.” And pretty much every time, my version is what makes it through to the final copy. Not because I’m “right” and the editor is “wrong,” but because there is no right or wrong, only a preference. And my name is the one that’s on the story.

So the lesson? As with anything on the internet, don’t take every piece of writing advice you read at face value. Figure out what works for your story. And most of all, never say “NEVER.”

Image courtesy of thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s Talk Process

quillparchment_SimonHowdenOMG NOOOOOOOOOO, NOT ANOTHER POST ABOUT PROCESS! HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO MAMA!

Ahem.

So this is the thing. When you get a group of authors together for any length of time, the topic of conversation will invariably turn to sex. I MEAN. Writing process.

(… also sex. But that’s another post.)

“Everyone should do THIS,” one author will gush. “I always [outline to the nth degree/pants it all/fast draft/go through 34839743 revisions/draft in quill and parchment] and it works every time!”

Well, bully for you. No, really. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you. That’s great!

But I’m not you. And what works for you could be the kiss of death for me.

I’m a short story writer. I can pants a short story in a few days, and a novella in not much longer. If I have a decent story idea and a couple of well-formed characters, I can cough up 10k in no time.

Set a 60,000-word minimum in front of me, and it’s an entirely different story. So to speak.

I cannot pants a novel. I’ve tried. I have several (for high values of “several”) projects that sit forlorn, shunted off to the side, because I don’t have the foggiest freakin’ idea where they’re supposed to go next. I can start a story just fine. I might even be able to write an ending for it. But those fiddly little bits in the middle will trip me up every time.

Unless I write a synopsis first.

No, wait! Don’t run away! Hear me out!

I know how much authors hate writing synopses. The only thing that gets close to as many complaints from the authors I know is writing blurbs. And actually, the very first thing I write for a story is a blurb, but I don’t worry about making it non-sucky. I’ll probably spend a little time figuring out the main characters, too. But it’s writing a synopsis that takes a story from a passing thought to Srs. Bznss.

Writing the synopsis before writing the story kills two birds for me. It serves as an outline for the story, and it saves me from having to write a synopsis from scratch after I finish the story. Does the synopsis hold up intact? Nope. Never. Stories take on a life of their own. Characters do crazy things. But the synopsis isn’t carved in stone. It can be revised at any point—before, during, or after the story is written and revised.

For my first novel, Sand & Water, I wrote a synopsis of about 2,500 words, and nearly all of that ended up in the book. But as it turned out, that was only about two thirds of the story. I had a few ideas in mind for a possible sequel, but I realized as I wrote that those parts needed to go into that book. So they did, and I added all that to the synopsis.

For the novel I just finished drafting, Unfortunate Son, I had more experience under my belt and a better idea of what it would take to tell the story. I wrote the first few chapters before I wrote the synopsis, and it took a few tries and some time to get the story to flow the way it needed to. Once I had that locked in pretty well, I was able to actually finish the book. (Though I still have some things to add to both book and synopsis before they’re finalized.)

I started writing original fiction four years ago. It’s taken me this long to figure out a novel-writing process that actually seems to work for me. It’s never an exact science, of course. Every story is different. But now I have a place to start from, and it’s getting the synopsis out of my head and onto the page.

So, here are SHAE’S TEN STEPS TO WRITING A STORY:

  1. Get story idea
  2. Write blurb
  3. Develop main characters
  4. Write full synopsis
  5. Write story draft
  6. Revise story
  7. Revise synopsis
  8. Revise blurb
  9. Submit
  10. PROFIT

Will this work for anyone else? I have no idea. I just know that it works for me. And so I’ll keep doing it, until and unless it falls apart completely, or something that works better comes along.

So go ahead and talk process with other authors! Maybe you’ll give someone an idea, or get one from someone else. Just don’t expect anyone else’s process to work exactly like yours. As long as you get the same results in the end—a finished story—nothing else really matters. 🙂

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On Goals and “Failing” to Reach Them

I’m at the Dreamspinner author workshop in Portland today. The previous two workshops have been packed with great information and a lot of fun, and I’m sure this one will be the same. One of the best discussions last year, led by Andrew Grey, was about setting goals for our writing.

Now, it’s worth saying here that Andrew is probably not the best example for most of us. Last year, he reported that in the previous year, he had written 1.1 million words. He was still working a full-time office job then, and he’d write a thousand words on his lunch hour every day. The man is a thousand times more dedicated than I will ever be!

One of Andrew’s biggest points is that goals should be things over which authors have complete control. Writing a novel is a good goal; signing a contract with a publisher for that novel isn’t. (But self-publishing that novel would be.) It’s fine to have wish lists (signing with an agent, getting a contract for that series, hitting a bestseller list), but those should be separate from goal setting.

As part of Andrew’s presentation, each of us set down a goal or two for our writing for the coming year. When my turn came, I went for something I considered midrange: 250,000 words, and two novels. I’ve written more words than that in a single year before, and I had two novels fairly well laid out and partially written, so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch.

Shows what I know.

I don’t want to make it sound like I flopped entirely. I did finish one novel, which is huge because that’s only my second one. I also completed a novella and three short stories. So it wasn’t like I sat around doing nothing. Technically, though, I fell far short of my goals. Counting all the stories I finished between last year’s DSP workshop and this year’s, I wrote approximately 114,000 words.

But the exercise was a good one because it taught me a big lesson: I needed to stop tracking word counts on a daily basis. When I do that, I pay more attention to counts than to story. I abandoned that practice early this year, and since then, I’ve written one complete short story (in less than a week) and wrote something over 40,000 words to finish a novel that’s been languishing for nearly two years. I’d call that a success.

What I’m doing now is counting words only in a general sense of accomplishment (“I’m over 55k on my novel!” “Got in 3,500 words today, wow!”) until I have a complete draft of the story. That 114,000 word count includes the three stories I’ve published in the past year, the one that’s on submission now, and the novel I just finished. I worked on several other projects, so my total word count is higher, but I don’t know how much higher, because I’m not tracking it.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what my goals for the coming year should be. Finishing another novel, definitely. But I might skip listing a word count goal and focus on story count instead. I wrote five stories this year; for next year, I might go for five again, but try to make at least two of them novels.

At any rate, the last thing I’m going to do is kick myself for not hitting my goals. Setting those goals taught me lessons that will help me as a writer, and that’s the most important goal of all.

I Think I’m Breaking Up With NaNo

In a recent blog tour post for the re-release of her book Double Blind, Heidi Cullinan talked about how she’d originally written the book, the sequel to Special Delivery, during National Novel Writing Month. (And oh, by the way, if you haven’t read them? GO. Get caught up on the series now, because Tough Love is out next month.) Anyway, Heidi talked about how writing Double Blind was low pressure because Special Delivery had been sold but not released yet, so there was no one champing at the bit for her to finish.

My first novel, Sand & Water, was written during NaNo, too. (A year after Heidi’s, in fact.) I had a pretty solid story summary and the first 200 words written when I woke up on November 1 and dove in. I wrote 63,000 words in November and the other 23,000 or so in December. (I also realized about 30,000 words in that the original summary wasn’t going to be enough story, so I added on the remaining story that I’d thought might fit into a sequel. First lesson: you’re probably going to need more story than you think. LOL) And then I revised for a couple of months, submitted, and got published later that year.

I haven’t finished another novel since.

Oh, I’ve tried NaNo again. Sand & Water was my second NaNo project, actually. I wrote a fanfic project the first time around. But in the three years since my last success, I haven’t come close to finishing anything. I’ve tried several different methods, including some of the ones that helped with Sand & Water, but nothing has worked.

It’s a bit too early in the year for me to decide if I’ll give NaNo another shot in 2014. But even if I do decide against it, the experience has taught me that one size doesn’t fit all applies to everything, not just to differences between authors. Every story stands alone. Even when you’re writing a series, each book needs its own space and its own special handling.

Sand & Water is a fairly light, sweet romance, low on angst and conflict. I still like it. It’s the kind of book I like to read, and I’m proud to have my name on it. But writing it was akin to someone with a lot of debt paying off an account with a low balance. I got a great sense of accomplishment and pride, but that was just the first step.

Almost two years ago, I started on a new novel centered around a main character who’s loosely based on a friend of mine. I’ve written on it sporadically throughout that time. I’ve set it aside to work on shorter projects and then come back to it. It’s been my NaNo project. I’ve summarized it, used various plotting methods, brainstormed, and put into practice every other idea I can think of to get the damn thing written.

It’s still not done.

So. My goal for the rest of March is to finally finish this book. I’m pulling out all the stops. Call it National Novel FINISHING Month, maybe. But by April 1, I am determined to have a draft, no matter how rough it might be.

No foolin’. And no excuses.

Maybe Heidi will send Randy Jansen over to ride herd until I’m done.

What’s in a Name?

namegameHere’s a question I keep seeing crop up with some regularity: when should authors look into switching to a different penname?

Some things seem clear. If you’re writing adult fiction with graphic sex scenes, then you’re probably going to want to use a different name if you write something that’s for YA (or younger) audience. Or, say, if you’re hit by a plotbunny for an inspirational. If you write romance and cross over into an entirely different area—maybe crime fiction, or even nonfiction—a name change might be in order.

But what if you’re just switching subgenres within romance? If you write gay romance as A.B. Cee, do you need to switch to C.B. Ayy for “mainstream” (M/F) romance? Do you need an erotica penname separate from your romance handle? How about if you usually write light, fluffy romance but your new book is dark and disturbing? Is it worth the additional time, effort, and expense to promote two (or more) identities? What’s more dangerous: dividing your potential audience and possibly confusing readers, or taking a risk that readers will buy something they don’t want to read (and complain loudly about it)?

I’m not about to say that there’s a single answer here. Some authors have done well with two (or more) pennames, even within the romance genre. Adult versus YA seems to be a fairly clear-cut decision, as does romance/erotica versus non-romance genres. But some authors have dividing lines between M/F and M/M, between erotica and romance, between contemporary and paranormal/suspense/historical, and so on.

Two fellow authors who’ve posted about this very question recently are Marie Sexton and Sarah Madison. Marie has a new story in the works that’s a huge shift in tone from the usual for her, so she’s chosen to use a slightly different penname. She talked about her reasons here. And Sarah has been struggling with the penname decision, mainly for M/F vs. M/M stories, and she’s decided to take a survey to see what readers think. The survey is here if you’d like to share your thoughts. It’ll be open through Saturday. 🙂

Personally, I already have enough trouble juggling two identities, real-life and penname—and mine are fairly similar, so even that’s not a huge issue. I would definitely use a penname if I were to write for the under-18 crowd, simply because of the content of my published adult work, and I most likely would if I branched out beyond romance. But for romance, without some concrete numbers proving that it makes a substantial difference, I’m likely to stick with this name no matter what type I write. And even with that proof, I might stick with it anyway.

Why? Well, for multiple reasons, but in part it’s because I feel pretty strongly that one of the best ways to help move LGBT+ romance into the mainstream is to treat it as if it’s already there.

I completely understand why others have made, or will make, a different choice. In particular, for those who’ve been writing in both M/F and LGBT+ for a while, setting up different names was probably necessary when they started publishing, and it makes no sense to change that. For others, publishers or agents may have suggested (or insisted on) a different name, or authors might have needed to separate things for personal reasons. Some feel that readers won’t pick up an M/F book written by someone who also writes M/M, and that could have a big effect on sales. There are many valid reasons to use more than one penname for different types of romantic pairings.

Thing is, none of those reasons really apply to me. I use a penname because I have extended family who might cause drama over what I write, but my main purpose there was to shield my grandmother, and she’s been gone for almost year. I’m not reliant on my writing to pay the bills, and I don’t expect to move in that direction, so sales aren’t as much of a concern for me. And because I write part-time, I don’t have the time (or energy) to maintain an additional persona if it’s not truly necessary.

At the moment, the next few projects on my writing slate are gay romance, but coming up after that is at least one M/F pairing. More may well follow, but I have no plans to leave gay romance behind. I’ll write whatever kind of romance tickles my fancy. And as of right now, I plan to stick with Shae Connor for all of those stories. I hope people who like my writing will come straddle the fence with me. 🙂

Image courtesy of naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worst Valentine’s Day…

Harlequin and CBC Books had a Twitter contest yesterday to come up with the worst Valentine’s Day stories ever (real or imagined). They were giving out books written by Canadian HQ authors, and I couldn’t resist chiming in. I won a copy of Vicki Essex’s In Her Corner, about mixed-martial arts fighters, with this one:

He’d made plans already, so she decided to wait until after the 14th to break up with him. Then at dinner, he proposed.

Er… whoops!

Here are the rest of the ones I posted, just for the fun of it. I hope you had a better Valentine’s Day than any of these folks. 🙂

She packed her things and got on her flight back home. He didn’t come after her.

He was sure he’d cooked the chicken thoroughly. Their romantic evening ending with food poisoning told a different story.

He’d finally found the man of his dreams! He planned the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner to celebrate. Then he got stood up.

She spent the night with her two favorite men: Jack and Jim.

She bit happily into one of the chocolates he’d sent, not thinking to check for nuts first. Good thing her EpiPen was nearby.

She went to his office to surprise him with a sexy lunch. He was surprised all right: he had his mistress bent over his desk.