Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guest Blogger: Roxanne St. Claire

Once again my friend Rocki St. Claire has joined us on the Playground, and as always she has something great to say. It's supposed to be 68 degrees today, so let's enjoy the sunshine and have fun with Rocki!

DNA: Do Not Ask…About My Process.

Hello, Playfriends! Thank you for inviting me back to one of my favorite writer hangouts. Today, I am euphoric. I’ve finished a book, turned it in, and have spent the last 48 hours rediscovering the family I’ve ignored for a few weeks as I’ve lived under the weight of a deadline. Of course, I’m thinking about what matters most in my career…the next book. Not the story. Not the hero. Not the title. No, I’m thinking about how to make the whole painful, agonizing, brutal, miserable, yucky process of writing a book…easier.

Why is it that the two most beautiful words in an author’s arsenal of thousands are: The End?

Because writing a book is so dang hard. Maybe you’re like me – holding firm to the belief that there is an easier way and someone out there will be able to explain it. I always ask other writers about their process, I always listen to the answer, and I always pick up a tidbit that I try to use.

And I always fail to change my process. I think how we create a novel from idea to submission is stamped in our DNA. It’s like our looks, our personality, our shoe size. Just like I will never be a 5’10” willowy brunette with delicate bone structure, a ladylike laugh, and the ability to do calculus, I will never write “fastdraft” in two or three weeks. I will never know the nuances of my characters before I start writing, nor will I follow the plot in my synopsis, no matter how detailed. I am not able to open a new chapter until I am relatively happy with the one before; I would prefer a slow and painful death to writing scenes out of chronological order; and the idea of putting a timer on my desk and not getting out of the chair until the bell rings is just laughable. On the contrary, I need a bomb to go off to remind me to stop. Well, maybe not a bomb. A glass of wine in my husband’s outstretched hand usually works around dinner time.

But some aspects of my process are like those character traits that are not pressed into our gene code, but have some room for man-made improvement. Plotting, for example. I never do it the same way twice and I love to learn other techniques. Sometimes I use a plot board with sticky notes for every scene, other times I jot notes on a yellow pad, and other times I just barrel forward, blind and optimistic. Sometimes I know exactly what scene should come next and why, sometimes I just throw stuff on the keyboard until it sticks. (Messy, but so satisfying when you finally get it right.)

The amount I write in a day also varies, depending on the book and my mood. Sometimes I write a scene a day, no more, no less, sometimes I power through a chapter or more, then spend the next four days reworking those pages to death. Sometimes I get up early and write at 5:00 AM every single day, my imagination oddly fertile at that ungodly hour; other days you can’t blast me out of bed and I don’t write a decent word until late in the afternoon.

The easier books always start with characters that have rock solid GMCs. Of course, I try to set the conflict and motivation of each character in stone, but there are always those books that require a month of chiseling at that granite to discover the why these people are doing what they are doing and how that could blow up in their faces. Why is that? Could I improve that process next time? Sometimes I know my villain better than the hero…sometimes I don’t know who the bad guy is until he tries to kill the heroine in the climax of the book. (I don’t recommend that to anyone except my enemies, by the way.)

I’m sure this topic has been front and center on the Playground before, but inquiring guest minds want to know. What’s in your process DNA that can never change, and what do you find you do differently from one manuscript to another? One commenter wins a signed copy of my new release, FIRST YOU RUN, which Marilyn has, of course, pimped so exquisitely*…AND a brand new hot-off-the-Pocket-Books-press Advanced Reader Copy of the next book in the Bullet Catcher trilogy, THEN YOU HIDE.

Thanks for inviting me to play!

*My review of FIRST YOU RUN will be posted on the Writing Playground website in April.


Wendy said...

First comment, woo! ;-)

Hi Roxanne! I've always heard that people can change and I'm not so sure about that. I think it depends on what you want to change, if it's something vital to you, something you were born with or something you got along the way (that sounds like an STD!)

I'm not making sense, aren't I? I need coffee!

Barbara Vey said...

Hi Roxanne, nice to see you hanging out at the playground.

Let me just compare writing to losing weight. I find that when I attend my Weight Watchers meetings, I'm always learning new things and picking up tidbits to help, just like with your writing.

I believe that if we just take the time to listen, sometimes something profound (well, maybe just a duh moment, like "Why didn't I think of that?") comes along that makes life just a little easier.

So, here's to all the "Duh!" moments in our lives.

nascarandbeans said...

HI Rocki! how are you.. first off im just a reader so cant really answer your question but just wanted to pop in and say hi. I have read First You Run..and it is wonderful as i knew it would be.. i will be buying a copy in the store as soon as i see it.. cant wait for more to come.. sure glad we dont have a long wait.. lol.. have a great day.. im off to work.. (nascarandbeans)

Smarty Pants said...

Hmm....something that is always the same... OK - no matter how much I plot and plan, my book will always some to a painfully dead stop about 1/3 of the way in. I wish it didn't, but I always have to stop and reevaluate here and the trouble is motivating myself to go on.

Things that change - I think what changes is the ways I work around the above problem. Sometimes I make myself push through and write junk. Other times I close the file and don't open it for months. I've recently started skipping to the next scene I *can* write and it helps me go back and fill in later. Or I'll go work on another writing project for a while until I get fired up again and can go back to it.

All in the name of forward motion. Must. Reach. The. End.

Instigator said...

Hi Rocki. We loving having you visit the playground!

What's the same? Ummm. Hmmm. That I'm writing? Honestly, what's the same for me is that I write my first draft on my the bathtub. Always. There's something about the heat and steam that helps me concentrate. Oh and the fact that I'm usually not bothered there probably helps as well.

What changes? Everything else is subject to adjustment. At my editor's request I added a chapter outline to my synopsis for my next book. I can see that's going to help me TREMENDOUSLY. Who would have thought? :-)


Playground Monitor said...

My process is like the child's game of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." I'm working blind and I keep stabbing away with the pin. Sometimes I hit air. Sometimes I hit myself. Sometimes it's an electrical outlet or one of the customers at Starbucks (even though I'm alone in the house during the day, sometimes the laundry or dust calls too loudly). And when I'm really lucky I hit the right thing and words end up on paper.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;-)


Roxanne St. Claire said...

Hey gang! Speaking of weight watchers (Hi Barbara!!), I just got back from my exercise class where I sent a caravan of 12 ladies to the bookstore for First You Run! And I love that diet analogy because it's so true. Funny, when you're not dieting, you just don't want to hear tidbits. (You want to EAT them!)

Hi Nascar! Great to see you here!

I hear you on that 1/3 sticking point, SP. That's exactly what happens to me. Probably because it's the end of "Act I" - the conflict is set up, the relationship is ignited, the goals and motivations and backstory are clear, now you have to torture the hell out of those characters, keep the story flying and twisting, and have it all make sense at the end. Not for the faint of heart, this job!


Lynn Raye Harris said...

It's so fitting for me that you are here blogging today, Rocki! Because, aside from being one of my favorite authors, it was a piece of advice from YOU that put on a lightbulb for me. And the results have been nothing short of incredible. (More on that in a sec...)

First, I love process and I love talking process. Mine is, well, a lot like yours in that it's all over the place -- sometimes I write early, sometimes late, sometimes a few words that come like molasses from my brain, other times whole scenes and chapters that flow. It never makes a lick of sense how it happens.

I've done the fast draft -- and then rewritten the book twice. I've done the slow draft, where everything needs to fit before I move on. I've written out of order, though I really hate to do that and don't do it well. I've tried the timer. It's easy to outwit a timer. *grin*

But one thing I always, always must do is just start writing. I do this before knowing much of anything about my characters, other than the one deep emotional thing they feel. Sometimes I don't know what caused it, but I know how they feel because I feel it as I write. I don't research extensively before writing. That would kill it for me. I just write, and then I stop somewhere and start to learn what I need to know to make it make sense.

I wish I could have a big outline with lots of notes, with directions on where to go, but I can't do it.

Anyway, now to reveal what the advice was (and this comment is getting long, sorry). In November, I was reading THRILL ME TO DEATH and loving how you dragged me into the story. Went to your website and read your article on writing a fast paced first chapter. Cut every single piece of backstory from my first chapter. That mss, which had gotten mixed reactions in contests, won the Gotcha and is now a Golden Heart finalist.

Still applying that advice, I wrote my two entries for the Harlequin Presents contest. One of them won. :)

FIRST YOU RUN arrived on my doorstep Monday. I can't WAIT to read it!!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I meant TAKE ME TONIGHT, duh. :) TMTD I read in Hawaii. :)

Roxanne St. Claire said...

Lynn!!! What a great post - you should be a writer. You should win contests! You should get published! :-))) Mega congratulations to you, girlie. I've heard you had a lot of chocolate icing on your Happy Cake this week. Yumm-o. And did you *have* to drop the little "Hawaii" thing in the end just to make us all greener and more envious???

Seriously, good thoughts on process. I so want to improve mine, but I think understanding the "must haves" and "negotiables" really is a step in the right direction.

I have to have two things before I start any book, ever. 1) A title I love - even if I know it could change. 2) A picture of my hero that captures his essence if not his exact features. Then I'm good to jump into the ugliest, murkiest black water: chapter one.

PS. Lynn - enjoy the Run!

raine said...

Yes, I had to come. ;)

Sometimes I know my villain better than the hero…
I am SO glad to hear this, lol.

What’s in your process DNA that can never change, and what do you find you do differently from one manuscript to another?

Never change--I simply cannot go more than three chapters without going back to edit. Turning off internal editor or not--can't do it.
What do I do differently each time?
The amount of time spent composing on the computer vs. writing by hand varies with each ms. I don't know why, it seems to depend on the story.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Rocki, my first post must have ended up in internet lala land.

Thanks for describing your writing process as you begin working on a new book!!!

I never figure out who the characters are in my ms until I begin writing. Then the journey begins. I name my hero and heroine, figure out their personalities, and then let the hounds of hell chase them. :D No pre-planning or outlining. My characters tell me what comes next.

PM, you are sooo funny. :D I especially love the call of the dust bunnies. :D

Hugs, Nancy/Blue

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Thank you, Rocki! Um, if I had to have a title first, I'd still be contemplating the first word of the first book. Because I *suck* at titles. :)

I've been trying, with process, to use a wonderful Mac program called Scrivener. I can color code index cards in this program, color code an outline, and import all kinds of yummy hero photos. :) Being a pantser, I can't plan as I go, but I try to keep up with my plot progression by taking a look at the color coding as I input the chapters into the system. So far, so good. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Roxanne, Sorry for the late post but sometimes my day job gets in the way! I am new at this writing thing and so far I don't have a process - but I am working on it. My family hasn't taken me seriously yet and they still interrupt ALOT. Working on that too. I see lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their future. Just wanted to say Hello and looking forward to your next book.
Sherry W.

Kathy said...

Hi Rocki! I'm so glad you're back on the playground ready to swing with us again.

I love reading your blog post. You're such an inspiration and Lynn has been an inspiration to us all this past week.

The fog has crept in on my writing shores right now but typically I research until I'm blue in the face. The opposite of Lynn. I find historical things that key in to my story or use them to key in to my story and go from there.

What should I do differently? Like SP, I really have a problem with getting from 1/3 of the book and moving forward. I really have to put the blinders on and forget/disregard what people might think of me if I write what I really want to write. (That's me in a nutshell.)

ruth said...

Thanks for this fascinating post. I read and just love your incredible books. Many people don't want to change and in fact resist it. Others are more flexible and willing to open themselves to other options. Healthier I would think.

Smarty Pants said...

Rocki - what would you say has changed the most about your writing process since you started? Did you have any "a-ha" moments that made writing even the slightest bit easier?

catslady said...

I'm a reader too so can't answer but just wanted to say your books sound wonderful!

Roxanne St. Claire said...

All these great comments while I did the running around with children thing. Dance class, post office, bank...stop in the teeny tiny drug store in my teeny tiny town where they have a teeny tiny book section...only to find MY BOOK IN IT!!! I was speechless! I was crazy! I took a picture with my cell phone! They've never had one of my books in Walgreens - right next to Janet Evanovich! Break out the champagne and exclamation points, baby!

Hello Kathy, Sherry, and Catslady -- are you the same catslady I met on a Pocket author's board about 5 or 6 years ago??? Wow!

Good question SP -- what's changed most since my first book? Hmmm. I listen to my Gut. Yes, capital G. She's a lifeforce.

You know that little voice deep inside you that starts with a barely audible whisper around page 80? "You probably don't want to do that..." Gut suggests quietly.
Of course I want to do that, Gut! The line is funny, poignant, meangingful. There's never been such a line in all of romancelandia. I SHALL build an entire scene around it. Go away, little Gut. Be gone.

Next day, she's louder. "Doesn't work. Won't fly. Bad motivation. Heroine is so stupid she must die. Hero would never behave that way. You're squeezing story where there is none."

SHUT UP, GUT. I love this story. I love this motivation. I will force it to work. This is the way it has to be, because I'm 107 pages into the damn thing now and I Shall Not Change.

So Gut is quiet for a while, and you barrel on for many chapters....straight into a brick wall around page 167. Rewrite time. Gut was right. Gut, it turns out, is rarely wrong.

So what's changed is this. When I hear that whisper, I listen.


Anonymous said...

dcongrats on teh books roxi
great reviews for this one.

kim h