Thursday, March 14, 2019

Restructuring a Novel

And why I would be stupid enough to do it.

Simple Answer: Because I want to get the story right.

A Story is Born
Two years ago, I started writing another novel for the Ladies of Dunbury series I have created under the pen name Anne Gallagher. It is the fourth in the series. (Eight years ago, before even writing the first word in the first novel, I had already made a complete story-arc with synopsis (synopsi?) for each of the planned seven novels.)

So here I was, three novels under my belt, and I have this character I can't stand. I just don't like her and have no idea how to write about her. Problem is, she's already in all the other books. I can't just "erase" her. I have to suck it up and do it. How hard could it be? I know what's supposed to happen in the story.

Writing is Hard Work
For the last several years, I have also been my mother's caregiver. As I began the novel, I confess my mother was the majority of the excuses I used so I didn't have to write.  I despised the main character. I wrote and wrote, but was only comfortable writing her hero's part. And then one day I had an epiphany...or rather, an epiphany struck me, when after bitching about this particular character, a friend of mine said, "Well, just change her. You are the writer."
I could...
Change the plot by making it less complicated.
Change the secret the main character holds about herself.
Change the story arc to one of intrigue or espionage.
(I like writing espionage.)
Change the way the story ends. And how short or long it eventually becomes.

As soon as I realized all this, my brain has been humming with excitement. I have all new ideas for the ending now. Funny how one little thing can change your whole perspective.

Stop Thinking It Has To Be A Novel
I also think the biggest thing I got over was that this story HAD to be a NOVEL. I didn't even want to try to create the minimalist 65thousand k. It would take up too much time I just didn't have. And then, BLAM! It hit me. I could turn it into a NOVELLA! OMG just smack me upside the head for not having this idea sooner.

It's funny how just one simple little thing can change your whole perspective. And don't ask me why I didn't think of it before. It's a brilliant idea, especially when I have the next four in front of me. It will fit into the new scheme for the rest of the series.

Out of the Mouths of Babes
I've taught a short story writing class to the middle-school kids at my daughter's school for the last two years. I tell them, "If you ever get stuck in your story and can't get out, either blow something up, or start a fire. The characters have to respond."

And it's not as if I'm blowing something up, or starting a fire in the story that has changed my way of thinking about it (although someone does get a very nasty cold), but rather, something blew up inside of me.

I have been following the same guidelines on this series for that last (almost) decade. I had every intention of writing seven full-length novels (85-95k). I was not going to veer from that course. I thought about acquiring Dragon, the speech-to-text writer just because I thought it might make it easier for me to write. And then, one day, I woke up and said, "Nope. I just can't write a novel."

And that's when the stars in the heaven rained down their sparkle dust on my little brain. My writing grew stronger. Plots twisted, characters turned. The end was in sight, rather than light years away. Writing this story is easier now. Don't get me wrong, I'm still not crazy about the heroine, but she's less annoying than she was. And the ending is going to be kick-ass.

In Conclusion
The biggest take-away from this is that I want to get the story right. If I had continued on my path, I would have written a shitty novel. Now that I've changed course to a novella, the writing has improved, the story flows better, quicker. And smaller is not always bad.

Robynne Rand (c) 2019

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Reviews and Why We All Need Them

As a young, published writer, I constantly checked my reviews. Twice, three times a day. Crazy. I know, right. The more reviews, the better exposure, sky-rocket to #1. Break-out authors happened back in the good old days. Kindle, Nook, ipad, didn't matter. Digital was the new black. Then algorythms happened, and trolls happened, and mergers happened, and you could buy reviews, for awhile, but somehow the earth righted itself and publishing settled down into e-reading as the new way of how to read. My mortgage set the tone for how many books/stories I should publish in a year. Back in the good old newbie days, when I was hungry for reviews (they could make or break a career), I would put in marathon days slaving over social media trying to find anyone who would read any of my books. Once I realized my reviews would come from trusted blog allies, not other people, I gave up trying to get them. If I wanted to write and publish to at least stay on the charts, then I couldn't be social with the media.

When I began writing contemporary romantic women's fiction under Robynne Rand, my usual friends gave me the stars I needed to be able to get on the charts. But then, I had a couple of reviews from people I did not know. Boosted ego aside, it was nice that they liked my stories. I made two of them cry. I write from the heart and I usually cry at some point during the writing. That's when I know it's a good book. I digress.

I finally published all the new short stories (see the side bar >>>) and had a love-fest on FB Valentine's night with my friends. There was much discussion about where they could buy them in paperback. (E-version only until I find time to reformat and make the covers.) I tried to explain to them how time-consuming it is and I didn't have the time, but it was like, once I didn't give them a link, they didn't care any more. I thought about the review for my first official FB launch. 5 out of 10. I started strong, but man, I kick myself when I think about the ppb sales I lost that night.

My daughter received her acceptance letter from the private high school we applied to. It is a relief off my shoulders and people have congratulated me. And then they go on to tell me what a fabulous daughter I have--she's smart, she's beautiful, she's kind and polite--with a surprise in their voice, as if, knowing me as they do, seem to doubt that I could possibly do such a thing. What did they think? I wouldn't know how to raise a decent, well-mannered young lady. I was one once. I remember the rules. Sometimes I think that being raised in a poor urban jungle showed me exactly how not to raise my daughter. I guess the reviews are in on my parenting skills.

I finished the short story writing class for the middle school. It was fun, but exhausting. The timing of our venture coincided, not only with the PTO Reader-thon, it was also the end of basketball season and all Varsity teams were headed into two tournaments over the last two weekends of the exercise. I cannot tell you how many parents came up to me at those events and thanked me for what I was doing. How much their kids had learned. I immersed the kids in the process of writing, and writing well, and what it means to be edited, and proofed. Judged for their writing skills, graded on all aspects of what it means to submit a short piece of fiction, formatting included. The reviews are in. I guess I have 10*. Two-thirds of the seventh grade parents asked me if I would do the writing exercise again next year even though my daughter won't be there. Tyler, the teacher, and I have chatted about it, but nothing is set in stone. (I suggested September. PTO wants January.)

My daughter is attending (today) the Model UN conference at the high school she will be attending next year. Model UN is a big thing at our school. All the kids get dressed up. On the way to school yesterday, my daughter was in a panic about what she could possibly wear to the event. She's a sweat-pants, t-shirt kind of kid. Even her "go out with friends pants" are actually jeggings. I told her I would go to our favorite store and see if I could find something. Just so happened, I was putting her clothes away and said to myself, "Let me just see what's in her closet." Lo and behold, was a gorgeous black dress, long-sleeved, just above the knee, would look great with her black boots and my white scarf, with a red-tag clearance sticker hanging from the armpit. Oh yes! I had done it once again. Saved the day with my red-tag clearance sticker priced items.

        I picked my daughter up from school yesterday afternoon (Tues. 26), and she asked,  "Did you go to our favorite store? Did you find me a dress?" I told her the dress was waiting at home. We got home, she ran upstairs, I ran downstairs. I finally saw her again around six. I asked, "So, what about the dress?"
        Open-mouthed, she said, "It's so perfect."
        I nodded. I had scored another 10* review on the Mommy-Meter.

As an old published author, I have very little time even to write, never mind socialize. However, the fastest way to sell books is by word of mouth. Oft times it comes in the shape of a review. I think I'm a pretty good writer. Selfishly, I wish more people would know that. No, this is not a plea for reviews, it's just an observation of having judged and been judged in several different situations over the last several weeks. A review to a writer is validation that people think well of your work.

It's nice to know people think well of me and my daughter.
It's nice to know people know I'm a good teacher.
It's nice to think that if I had published paperbacks instead of e-versions, I would have made a small fortune on Valentine's night.

Still learning from my mistakes.



Robynne Rand (c) 2019

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What My Daughter Said About My Writing


So, I finished my short stories, and subsequently published (yay) so that I would not be hindered when I started teaching a short story writing class for the middle school where my daughter attends. This is my second year doing this. However, last year I only had the 6th grade. This year, I am doing 6, 7, & 8th grades. Lots of work, but Tyler (the teacher) believes I am enriching their appreciation for the written word. I show them the basic rules, show them how to come up with a workable plot, and let them have at it.

Some of them hate this class. Some of them love this class. But they all agree that writing is hard work.
They also respect me because at the beginning of each seminar I tell them about the struggles I have had writing as a profession--that I've published over 26 books/novellas, that rewriting and revision can kill you, and that in order to be a "good writer" you have to have written at least a million words that you just throw away. And I can back this up by showing them my published paperbacks and typed manuscripts.

Anyway, during this same time, the PTO decided they were going to combine a fundraising event with the local bookstore. They asked a middle-grade author to do an event at our school. She came in yesterday and spoke about her struggles to sell and eventually publish a book. I did not attend.

During the Pep Rally that was held yesterday afternoon for our basketball team, Tyler handed me the last of the short stories from the 8th grade. We chatted about their struggles trying to "impress" me. (I asked the kids to use fantastic vocabulary and let me say some of their word choices were completely fantastical.) Tyler also chatted about the local author who had spoken to the kids. He said he thought it was good because she reiterated everything that I had already told them--that writing was hard work. She explained her struggles (similar yet different than mine) and told the kids that it was the best job she could ever have. (Exactly what I told them.)

When my daughter got into the car at the end of the day, I asked her what she thought of the local author's event. She looked at me and said, "Lame."

I was disappointed in her answer. I had spoken to Tyler and he had been very impressed. "Why?" I asked.

And my daughter said, "Because she thought she was so cool. She started writing the same year that you did and she only managed to write seven books, six of which were never published. She said it was because she had little kids at home. Well, you had me and did all the volunteer stuff at school that you did. She also said her books were around fifty-five thousand words, and your books are like ninety thousand. And she whined about having to make revisions. She said they were really hard." She rolled her eyes. "She's got nothing on you, Mom."

Out of the mouths of babes. Can I tell you how much I love my daughter. 


Robynne Rand (c) 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

Working Again

So, jut to let you all know, I published WHAT THE HUMMINGBIRD KNEW. I finished THE UGLY WIFE (coming in at 19k) and is ready to be published. I also have 17k on THE TRUTH ABOUT KEVIN, however, I still can't decide whether to kill Kevin or not. No HEA there. No matter what I do.

However, that ending has to wait because I'm teaching a writing class to middle school students at my daughter's school for the next two weeks. I'm super stoked, it's a lot of fun, for me, not them, I'm a stern taskmaster.

So. I am finally working again. And let me tell you how good that feels.

See you soon.

Robynne Rand (c) 2019

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

New Year, New Stories

Throughout all the bullshit I've been going through lately, I actually have been writing.

Well, sort of.

I finished WHAT THE HUMMINGBIRD KNEW. Still haven't published it.


Then I started working on another short story. THE UGLY WIFE. Almost finished, maybe another two chapters, but can't seem to find the time.


Then, the other night I was having these ridiculous dreams and lo, and behold, I found another story. Short and sweet, but again, alas, no time to spit it out. However, I find if I make a cover for it, it makes me WANT to write it. Although, I guess if I'm toodling around with covers, that is still kind of working. 


And I suppose now, if I have the time to write a blog post, I should have enough time to finish THE UGLY WIFE. My daughter is as basketball practice until 8 tonight. The caregiver is with my mother. Laundry and dishes are done. All the paperwork I have been putting off for weeks is finished. There really is no other excuse is there?

See ya. I'm hitting the keyboard.

Robynne Rand (c) 2019

Monday, December 10, 2018

Threads

It's been over a year since I've been to this blog. I can't remember if I told you or not, but my mother is in the latter stages of Alzheimers/dementia. I have been her primary caregiver for the last eight years. I hope you can see why I haven't been to this blog.

I've also resumed several of the functions at my daughter's school that, being an 8th grade mother this year, I should not have had to take on. The principal laughed in my face. I am doing the same if not more work much to my chagrin. The staff are also under the presumption that I will resume my duties next year, even though my daughter will have graduated. (They can't keep her back, she's making the honor roll.) I laugh at them every time they bring up the subject.

Romantic "Boomer" Short Story
Over the last year, I have begun two manuscripts. They both sit in the mid 20k range. However, I have written and completed one novella and one short story. Both are edited and have been waiting for publication. I know it only takes 5 minutes these days, but I just haven't been able to find the time.

I forgot how much I like writing shorter fiction. However, readers want a longer ending. They are disappointed they can't follow the HEA to a spot in the future. I find that interesting.

It's that time of year when I tend to take a final sweep of the last twelve months and see if I've accomplished anything.  I keep telling my friends that I want to "go back to work." I guess I have, but it doesn't feel like it. I remember the days when I could write 75 thousand publishable words in six weeks. I guess I'm not who I used to be.

It's also that time of year when I tend to look forward. My daughter is heading into (hopefully a private high school) and the volleyball schedule is a nightmare. The school is also an hour from the house (one way). We still can't seem to find a full-time day-time caregiver for my mother that will stick around longer than a couple of months. I need to finish the manuscripts I started before I begin another story. I have had it in the back of my head to build a website for more than five years. I'd like to tackle that this year.

I also think I'd like to blog more. My therapist appreciates the books I write as a cathartic excercise, however, she thinks, and I think I do to, that I need to discuss writing as my "real job" because the job I do at school is not about writing and I never discuss it. How can I stay relevant if I'm not around?

It's that time of year when I clean my house. I begin the week before Thanksgiving and don't finish until we return to school on January 3. Furniture is moved. Clothes are sorted. Cabinets are cleaned. I have two bedrooms, the other half of the dining room, and a hallway I have to finish painting (including all the trim) a bathroom I need to finish floor to ceiling (I tore out the wall tile and the floor) and another bath I have to start. I must also finish the floor in my office and move all the furniture back in. (Is it any wonder I can't write?)

I miss my old life. When I was famous. In my own little microcosmic world. When everybody knew who I was. Now I don't know who I am and I'm certainly not famous--infamous is a much better word. I hate to say that people will definitely remember me after I leave my daughter's school. I am, as it were, a character.

The old urge to write the Great American Novel is coming back. Sure, we all say that, but once the glamour and the hype of being a full-time novelist wears off, most of us write to recieve enough royalties to quit whatever shitty job we have so we can pay the bills. The GAN has long been stuffed to the bottom of my writing list. Until recently. I've been toying with an idea for fifteen years (since I was pregnant). The threads of it change constantly, flowing in an out of existence, sticking somewhere in the gray matter then floating free again. However, it's there and for whatever reason, won't go away.

I also want to start the romatic women's fiction project I've wanted to do since I began volunteering at my daughter's school. If you think your workplace suffers from gossip, political wrangling, and snobbery, you haven't worked for your private school PTO. The sad thing is I'd like to write a screenplay instead of a novel. And that would take forever. However, it would totally work as a movie.

Today, we are dealing with 13" of snow in North Carolina. I have to put on my gear and head down to my parents' house (137 steps away down the hill). I did it twice yesterday. During the storm. It was like walking through rough shoreline chop. My ass tingles today. How many muscles haven't I used?

The only thing I like about snow in North Carolina is that school will be out for at least two days. Maybe I can get some writing in. After I finish the pots and pans from my cook-pocolypse episode yesterday. After I deal with my mother. After I flip the laundry. After I unload the dishwasher. After I shovel the driveway.

I'll see you soon.

Robynne Rand (c) 2018

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Discussing The Five Act Structure

Cover # 17 I think I'm
keeping this one
When I started writing THE MECHANIC NEXT DOOR, I thought it would be a slam dunk. I was writing from experience, both on the personal and technological side. I'd done this before, I knew what I was doing, and what I can piece together from what I saved on Twitter and in Versions, I am a fairly proficient writer (when I have time and am in the zone.) All told, it took me 37 eight-hour days to "produce" the finished manuscript. Of course, in reality those 37 days actually took six months. (And let's not forget how many man hours it took for editing and final look-sees and beta readers. And then another round of whatever.)

That being said, during the latter half of the summer, when I was writing the heart of the project, I noticed that the story would not end. Every time I came up with an ending, I found another piece of the puzzle that needed to be shored up. I know as a reader, I would not like to ask at the end of the book, "what happened to...?"

So, I let the story go where it wanted to. A friend of mine used to have as her tagline, "My characters write the stories. I just take dictation." (She's not online anymore, but her name is February Grace. I believe she's on Twitter. Phenomenal storyteller.)

For the last third of my story, I let the characters decide what they wanted to happen because quite frankly, they weren't doing what I wanted them to anyway.

Sometimes, it's the craziest moments when everything comes together.

We had just gotten back to school. I was nearly finished with the book. I was flat-out with gift card responsibilities, volleyball season had started, and the principal asked me to be on semi-permanent car-line duties. I needed to finish the book, but it just wouldn't end.

And then it hit me--because I was thinking it was supposed to be over. Everyone had gotten what they wanted. But not really. It wasn't as if there were loose ends, the story just felt like it had been cut short. There should be more.

Who am I to argue?

I slaved over the last three chapters wanting to make sure I got every little nuance that I had written at the beginning. There were quite a few I have to say. However, I love writing intricacies in a story. It allows a farther reach for the character to develop.

I rewrote the ending four times. Completely. At least 1500-2500 words each time. I wanted to have the "perfect" ending. When I finished, I felt satisfied I had a good product.

Blam! 

And then it hit me. I had just written another five-act structured novel. I was following a pattern. My contemporary women's fiction were both five-acts. My Regencies were not. Neither are the murder mysteries.

One of the very first rejection letters I received in my young career mentioned my "purple prose." I tend to write very long flowery sentences-- a throwback to what I used to read during my formative years. I guess I still do it, only in a different genre.

Women's fiction is supposed to mimic real life. Well, life has a way of moving up and down. Yes, sometimes, when we think the worst is over, another wave comes crashing in to unsettle us again for however, how long. For those of you who are lucky enough, the second wave brings good news.

Over

Well, now the book is finished and out in the world. Yes, I still have to go through it and have my trusted writing friends go through it, but I needed to get it out of my computer for me to be able to move on.

It's called a "soft opening." I just sort of learned that/remembered that phrase a couple of days ago. More on this in another post.

Robynne Rand (c) 2017