Jumping In!


I did it! I’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool this month! And I’m not sure I can swim. But here I am, paddling furiously.

I’ve been a closet writer since I was 6 years old, and my sister and I used to write scripts for the original Star Trek series back in 1966 (yes, that means I’m that old … no, I’m not doing the math for you.) And of course we’d act them out. By the time I was twelve I was so involved in my stories (which were no longer sci fi, but covered a myriad of genres) I was drawing maps and blue prints to the houses I saw my characters in. Little did I know that was called world-building.

I let my writing drift when I got married, and even more when I had children. But about ten years ago I started up again. Usually at 2 in the morning when I couldn’t sleep and needed to work out a really bad family situation. It turned into a book that will never see the light of day, but it was a great act of catharsis. And when I do open that password protected document I think “you know? For a first effort, it’s not bad!”

Now as to my sudden plunge. A few years back, I joined an MSN group and we decided to write a ’round robin story’ where we each developed characters within a medieval village and had to move about it in relationship and coordination with the other characters in order to solve a mystery. I created a male character as most of the other writers chose females and I’d just finished writing a huge story about a female and wanted to try writing from a male point-of-view. Again, little did I realize at the time that the moderator had done me a HUGE favour in teaching me how to create characters with depth. By the time the story ended, I had an extensive family tree pinned up on my bulletin board, had a complete background of my character, as well as his likes/dislikes/foibles/bad habits and good, and had incorporated several of his brothers in the action — one of whom is still one of my favourite ladies’ men. And this will make psychiatrists rub their hands in glee: that character had become so real to me it was as if he’d walked into the room and we’d had a wonderful discussion when he told me the story.

During the six months it took to ‘write’ that story, that by the way only really covered ten days of the characters’ lives, I learned about active vs passive verbs, pacing, research of medieval times, dialogue within the confines of how the characters of that age would have spoken, creating plot and conflict. The whole shebang. By the end of it, I was HOOKED on the thrill of seeing my character develop.

I started writing more stories with him in it — one of 50,000 words a beginning romance of ‘how they met.’ Another following the same character and his gorgeous hunk of a brother as they fought in a war — 30,000 words. And the whopper, the ‘he comes home and demands they marry and then realize they barely know each other and they’re from two totally different cultures’ 150,000 words. I put them up on an online writing group I was a member of, even won a few ‘reader’s choice’ awards as Best Romance.

And while I was writing those stories, one of the other ladies who was participating in the Round Robin story was also a member of a writers’ guild in Texas and said ‘Get Your Butt into a Writers’ Guild. Now!’ So I did. The Writers’ Circle of Durham Region (WCDR)

I took a course on Grammar from Cathy Witlox, a former editor for Harlequin (other romance writers may know her as Grammar Girl over at their e-Harlequin website.) That was a blast. Although my grammar has usually been reasonably strong, she made the grammar course fun, not dry. And since Cathy checks in with me occasionally to offer pep talks and advice. Recently, she recommended another course to me which I took earlier this month … more on that later.

I joined a Writers’ Circle critique group where I had to read my work aloud. One of the members who ran it, and is a professional editor herself, kept telling me I really needed to start sending things out. I took a course on dialogue, and another on Freefall Writing. I volunteered for two years to be a first line reader in my writers’ guild yearly contest. And everyone kept telling me ‘you’re a good writer, a stronger writer — enter contests, send your stuff out!’ So what did I do?

I froze. I stopped writing. Completely. Not a single word. Nada. For eighteen months.

I instead hid from the world and buried myself in reading. As a youngster I’d read Victoria Holt, though I never understood the romance part of them (I think I was between 7 and 10 when I read most of them.) Kathleen Woodiwiss was a favourite when I was about 18 — Flame and the Flower, Shanna, A Rose in Winter. But my mother had banned romances from the house, so now, *coughing and speaking VERY quietly* thirty years later, I indulge myself and read romances. In the last year and a half I’ve read over 420 books. (My library and the used book stores in Oshawa and Peterborough love to see me and my husband coming — yes, my hubby will pick up books by my favourite authors for me — he’s even been known to phone me from the store and read out the titles to find the ones I want.) I think so far I’ve read about 80 of Nora Robert’s books. I particularly liked the Quinn Brothers series (Ethan could be my hubby), and the McKade brothers series. (I seem to like books that focus more on the guys rather than the female POV) but I liked her Northern Lights book, and Midnight Bayou, her Garden series, as well as Angel Falls.

I read an anthology Nora had contributed to, and in the next few months discovered Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens (a personal fave), Nicole Jordan, Sabrina Jeffries, Cathy Maxwell, Lynsey Sands (A Reluctant Reformer is one of my ‘keeper’ books), Linda McNaught, Julia Quinn, Julia London, Lisa Kleypas, Catherine Coulter and Johanne Lindsay amongst others. Now the thread that runs common about all the writers since Nora is they all write Historical Romance. Which I have adored since I read the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy back when I was 13. (And now I have that poem, ‘they seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere…’ running through my head.)

Anyway, I am inundated with plot bunnies of historical romances running through my dreams – several Regency, a medieval, and one story that would take place in 1812-14 Kingston that would have a romance sub-plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I also read non-romances such as Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series, and Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, some James Patterson, Tom Clancy, Steven Coontz, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Paolini (can anyone say ‘Fanfiction?’) Oh, and I mustn’t forget Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. And Nevada Barr — who I think is even better than Sue Grafton when it comes to mysteries. But the romances have captured my imagination.

So here I am, paddling in the pool. Because after eighteen months of trying desperately to avoid my muse, I started writing again. I took a course on dialogue, and another called FastDraft offered by Candy Havens – a chick lit author. There you have to pledge to write 5,000 words a day, the premise being that you’ll know within 14 days (and 70,000) words whether your story will fly or not. She says ‘why waste three years of your life writing a story to realize it has major problems with it. I did it, in fact exceeded the 5,000 words most days. It was a medieval romance with minor fantastical elements. And then when I realized how much I really missed writing, I made a New Year’s resolution and decided to write one of the romances that has been rattling around in my brain for a while. Actually one of several that have been keeping me awake at night.

On Cathy Witlox’s recommendation, I took a course on January 15th through the Toronto Romance Writers group taught by Margaret Moore, a prolific historical romance writer. And I came away from that course so pumped. She gave terrific advice, and I’ve kept her notes close by to make sure I keep my eye on my internal/external conflicts for my protagonists.

After that course, I made a pledge that I would finish the story I’d started three days before and send it out.

Yikes! Now I’ve said it out loud.

So what have I done about that pledge?

I’ve set a goal of writing three thousand words a day on weekdays. I’ve met it every day except today because I’ve been out meeting with another writer doing research at the library although I still managed to get in 1300 words, plus this huge epistle. Since January tenth, I’ve written over 35,000 words. 165 pages (in manuscript format — double spaced, etc.)

This week I joined the Romance Writers of America — and ended up with a humorous article about how to check the cable by the fax machine is attached to the cable by the phone plug when you try to send a fax.

I’ve filled in my application to join the Toronto Romance Writers.

I’m not under any illusions that a first time effort will be picked up by a publisher. I am realistic in my expectations. But I’ve got to give it a try. And luckily for me I’ve got a family who is behind me. My eldest son who has studied screenwriting in college told me — no, let’s reword that — ORDERED me that if I didn’t follow up on my dreams I’d regret it for the rest of my life. And when I mentioned to my husband that I needed to find a job to help supplement his suddenly lower income (he was laid off last year and had to accept almost half of what he’d been making before), he shook his head and said ‘write your book.’ Financially bad advice, but what a great supportive hubby I have!

So my blog will cover all my insecurities — yes, probably most days. For instance, today I feel like my story line has probably been done to death, but I read Margaret Moore’s blog from right after the course she taught and it’s inspired me again. I’m just going to keep plugging forward.

And write.