Friday, March 4, 2011

Donna's Journal

So as always my co-bloggers are a couple of tough acts to follow, but the great thing about associating with talent is that you always have to bring your “A” game! In the spirit of the Mission: Success theme, in my journal I’ll be giving you all a glimpse of how I view the writing life, my plan for success and a few things I’m picking up along the way.

Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?I currently have three books in my Interstellar Rescue series in various stages of production. The first of these, Unchained Memory, is in the most “advanced” stage, having been much reviewed and revised, queried and rejected and revised again. Last year UM went through the contest mill, collecting a few big wins, lots of useful comments and one very important request for a full from an editor at a major publisher. A much trimmer and snappier version of UM is competing for a second time in the Golden Heart contest this year and has also had a full request from one agent.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on preparing the second book in the series, Trouble in Mind, for the contest circuit this spring. The first entry goes out to the 2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense (Paranormal category) by the cutoff date of March 15. The du Maurier Award, sponsored by the RWA Mystery/Suspense chapter Kiss of Death (http:\\ is a highly competitive, national competition. Unchained Memory didn’t place last year, but I have high hopes for TIM, with its FBI agent heroine and half-alien, psy-talented tracker hero.

That’s provided I can grind out the 675-word required synopsis, a task that is sheer torture compared to the relatively easy 5000-word entry. I’m really struggling with what to include, what to leave out, how to express the most with the greatest economy of words. Not only do you have to condense a 300-page book with a romantic plot, a science fiction/suspense plot and at least three main subplots down to roughly two-and-a-half pages, you also have to make it sound exciting. I have worked all the magic I know about synopses (the tone should reflect the tone of the book, don’t try to be chronological, don’t use too many names, make sure to hit all the major turning points of the plot, including the ending, etc.), and I’ve got a great synopsis that weighs in at around 900 words. ARRRGGH!!

Ahem. Well. This is a journal, right? Plenty of room for venting.

The third book in the series, with the working title Fools Rush In, is a classic space opera starring two characters from the earlier books, starship captain Sam Murphy and Rescue agent Rayna Carver. I got as far as an outline and several chapters before serious revision and contest work on TIM got in the way, but I expect to get back to that first draft work in a few weeks.

The Squeeze
Writers are sponges when it comes to soaking up writing tips and tricks. Here's where we squeeze out our sponges for the week.

I came across an interesting post while surfing through the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal loop. It was a reference to a February 24 blog by Julia Rachel Barrett (Julia Barrett’s World, titled “How Do You Weight Your Characters?”. In her post, Julia raises an essential question: whose story is it, the hero’s or the heroine’s? Can it legitimately be both? And how do we find that balance as we take it scene by scene through the story (or even line by line through the dialogue)?

Unchained Memory is unquestionably Asia’s story, so much so that I wrote her scenes in first person and Ethan’s in third person. Ethan’s POV is necessary—some things we just have to know from his perspective—but Asia’s voice has to be paramount. Thus the change from first person to third. It’s a tough act to pull off, granted, and I really hope I accomplished it (no one has rejected the manuscript on that basis, at least), but I had a distinct reason for it. That’s the balance I was going for.

Gabriel and Lana, the protagonists of Trouble in Mind, are much more evenly weighted. This is truly their story. I’ve used the standard third-person POV for both of them, switching back and forth between them. The balance issues come when they interact. They are both strong personalities, fiercely independent and emotionally guarded. As a writer, I can’t allow either one of them to give in to the other except in carefully constructed increments. I can’t allow an emotional collapse or an unwarranted surrender on either side. Maintaining this dynamic tension has been quite a stretch for me as a writer, since I tend to be a pretty mellow person. Fortunately I have my friend and critique partner Linda, a born warrior, to keep Gabriel and Lana poised on the edge of conflict, where they should be.

The funny thing about character balance in writing romance is that we may start out with a story that primarily belongs to the heroine, but we inevitably fall in love with the hero. The story then becomes his, too. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as no one gets lost in the telling.

Books we're reading and mini-reviews . . .

At least one of my daughters gives me hope that the next generation will provide enough readers to keep another generation of writers going. She actually reads. Mommy is so proud. (Did I mention that my daughter is 23?) Anyway, she sent me a highly entertaining book for my birthday: Night of the Living Trekkies, by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall. Hilarious and surprisingly well written, this play on the zombies-in-a-mall theme (this time the attack comes at a Star Trek convention) is a must for all Trek fans. Of course, the protagonist, Jim Pike, is a hero. Of course, the red-shirted Willie Makit takes one for the team. Of course, there are Trek references enough to fill a shuttle bay. I can’t wait for the film version.

Want more referential fun? Try Eloisa James’s latest When Beauty Tamed the Beast. Her hero is an 18th-Century version of Doctor Greg House, badgering interns and patients alike in an English manor house until James’s intelligent and, well, yes, spunky heroine puts him in his place.

I’m in the middle of Zoe Archer’s Scoundrel right now, one of her Blade of the Rose series of companion books of romantic adventures set in the Victorian era. It’s not exactly steampunk, but I think it owes a lot to the popularity of that subgenre, and I wonder if it’s the historical timeframe or the Romancing the Stone vibe that drew the interest of the publisher?

Ping Pong
Love the rhubarb trick, Laurie. I can't tell you how many times I've searched through a draft looking for various things wishing I had marked them somehow. Can't search for a big ole hole in the paragraph, now can ya?

Cheers, Donna


  1. There are so many things I can relate to in this post that I don't know where to start. I'm also working on a series, but I'm just barely starting to look for contest to enter the first one.

    The part I really related to was when you talked about who's story is it? My first novel is definitely about the heroine (I did the 1st/3rd shift you mentioned), but I fell in love with the hero, so book two is about him. But half way through book two I fell back in love with the heroine! LOL. I guess it's nice that I love both of them.

    Good luck with your writing and contests.

  2. Good luck in the competition with book two, Donna. I just read that Eloisa James and enjoyed it!!!!

  3. Yeah, it's a good thing we do love our characters, since we spend so much time with them,right,Charity? As for the contests, I started with the ones closest to home, (like the Virginia Romance Writers Fool For Love) and went from there.
    You may want to do the same thing.

    Thanks, Charity and Barbara, for the encouragement!


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