Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Before & After

Disclaimer: This blog will be LONG. But it will be worth the read. I think LOL.

Five years ago I had a weird autoimmune reaction causing extreme vertigo. Yes, I was a "dizzy blond" for a good five or six months. Before I had the reaction, I was an uber volunteer at my daughter's school, at church, and in the community. All of these activities required driving in the DC suburbs of Virginia. And they all required me to, well, stand. A "dizzy blond" should not drive in heavy traffic. And this "dizzy blond" was wiped out by about two in the afternoon.

I was officially sidelined. I had to quit all my activities and focus all my energy on accomplishing the few tasks that I could during the morning hours when the vertigo attacks didn't hit me. Oh, those were the days. Lolling around my townhouse in my pajamas, sleeping all afternoon, having an excuse for takeout on a regular basis, maids were hired (I miss them), and I was blissfully recuperating.

Ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I do not accept or like enforced periods of inactivity. I am a "doer." A "fixer." A "busy bee." And if I am not doing, fixing, bee-ing, I get BORED. It's a good thing social media like Facebook was foreign to me back then, otherwise I might not have done the following thing: write a book.

Yes, one day I dusted off the first pages of a novel I started, ahem, eighteen years ago. My goals were simple. Write two hours a day, five days a week, ten pages a week (actually there were twenty pages cause I was single spacing at the time *shoulder shrug*). I finished my first novel LOVE BUILDS A CHANCE (you can stop laughing now) in five months.

I sent my novel to two trusted friends who are avid romance readers. They liked it! And they encouraged me to keep writing. And they've continued to do so. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for not deriding my dream. They encouraged me to try to get it published.

I dutifully went to the Harlequin website, read about the word count requirements for the line I wanted to target, followed their instructions for writing a synopsis (what? I have to condense this!!???) and query letter. I queried the line, Silhouette Desire, and guess what? THEY REQUESTED A FULL. Yes, my very first novel, without the benefit of any support, was requested after I sent only one query.

I didn't know about revising. I thought revising was copy editing. Ha. I was wrong. Heck, I didn't even read through the hard copy after I printed it and sent it to the editorial offices at Harlequin. The editor sent it back to me with a very nice rejection letter which also encouraged me to keep writing and to join the ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA.

I joined RWA in 2005. I read the RWR Magazine every month, I started entering contests and to this day I owe those judges a big hug for their constructive criticism. They were so kind. They didn't write mean and nasty things on my document, nor did they tell me to take up knitting instead. They gave me craft suggestions, and book suggestions. I followed their advice.

I wasn't writing in a vacuum, but I was still very much alone. I bought a craft book about how to write a first draft in a month. I used it to craft my next novel, ROCK ON. I queried ROCK ON, I entered contests with it. I didn't final or win, but I did get a few amazing scores from the judges. I got a few more rejections, but I continued to write. I didn't revise it because I still didn't know that revision meant going into the GUTS of the story and ripping it apart  (fast forward to my current novel in progress--I've had four plot revisions and numerous layering/polishing revisions).

Enter an amazing duo of writers whom I was fortunate to meet through my daughter's school. I was working on my third novel at this point. They began reading my contest results for the second novel. One day they invited me to join their critique group. I was thrilled. And they encouraged me to join my local writing chapter, the Washington Romance Writers of America. I was not writing in a vacuum anymore.

Fast forward: more craft lessons, more meetings, critiques, books about craft, my first retreat, the Moonlight & Magnolias GRWA Conference, two RWA National Conferences, PRO, moving and joining three new writing chapters HEART OF DIXIE, SOUTHERN MAGIC, GEORGIA ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA, workshops, more craft books, meeting other writers, adding critique partners, reading and writing, writing and reading. I enter more contests. I start finaling. I learn to pitch, to hone my query, to keep sending darts out into the world. I get more requests for partial manuscripts, full manuscripts. I get more rejections. I keep writing. Now I have a "future list" of books.

A few months ago, my CP, Sharon, encouraged me to revisit my first novels and revise them for the Golden Heart. I knew LOVE BUILDS A CHANCE would present the most challenge to revise due to copious head-hopping, and tons of bad dialogue tags and comma issues (yes, I know I still have comma issues--but I have a book about them so I hope to improve--and if you think I am bad now, the early books show a marked improvement over time).

So I crept back into ROCK ON! (I know, I know. I have "title issues.") Oh, boy. About the only thing I can say about this story is that I should never write about a virgin who is rescuing her bad boy crush who rejected her feeble seduction attempt 10 years ago. Nor can I write a story about a woman who has nice parents and a perfect life.  I can only stretch the bounds of "fiction" so far. Yes, cliches riddle this piece of work. But the bones of the story are good, the POV is in place, and I have learned a thing or two about writing.

Why? Because I no longer write in a vacuum. I have a community of writers to draw from today. Yes, I had to go back into the book on my own. I imported ROCK ON! into Scrivener, broke the book into scenes, cut the two villain scenes, cut the first three chapters of BACKSTORY, and got to the real beginning. And I got to work on digging through the GUTS of this story, the characters, and discovered that my virgin is no wall flower. In fact, she's not a virgin (I hate to admit it, but my gals have pasts *shoulder shrug* again). She's no pushover. And my bad boy? He's a layered, complex guy. I love him. I know he's the right man for her.

Okay, now we are at the crux of the blog. I decided to do something I have never done before due to extreme shyness (no, I'm not shy about people, but letting people read my stuff publicly? Criticize it anonymously? Rank it? Uh uh). But when I learned about the MILLS AND BOON NEW VOICES CONTEST, I had to enter. I waffled (read again the bit about the extreme shyness--I have my own vulnerabilities though I rarely show them). Then I thought, what the heck? Go for it. So I did.

And now I am going to do something I've never done before either. I'm going to share the opening paragraph of my first chapter for ROCK ON! before I revised it:

 The last sound engineer left the building as Blade Edwards continued to wrap up the track editing for Rising Velocity’s latest album.  His manager Frank sat behind him, keeping him company as his fingers danced with studied expertise across the console’s buttons.

Here is the original story's first paragraph after cutting the first three chapters:

Kayla stood in front of Blade’s door, trying to gather her courage to knock on the dark cherry wood that lay like a barricade between her and quite possibly the most stubborn man she’d ever encountered.  Brushing her fingers through her blond hair, Kayla tartly reminded herself that she had no one to blame for being in this pickle but her.   

I know. I know. Blade? Right. Changed his name to DRAKE SHERIDAN. And much of what was written after Kayla's first paragraph was, um, introspection. I also changed the title to HER PRISONER OF LOVE.

Here are the revised first paragraphs:

Kayla Jackson stood in front of the dark mahogany door and rapped three times. Hard. No answer. And no surprise. Drake Sheridan, the lead singer of Rising Velocity, was officially her problem as of Monday, February seventh. She had only herself to blame for this ridiculous pickle. But if she pulled off a miracle and reformed the Bad Boy of Rock and Roll, she’d earn enough money to keep her program for delinquent teens up and running.
She stared at the wooden barricade standing between her and the most stubborn client she’d ever encountered in all her years of social work. “Open this door now, or I’m rescinding your home arrest and sending your sorry butt back to jail.”
She rubbed her hands on her jeans and drew a deep breath. She’d always admired Drake for his talent. And she’d be the first to admit she’d swooned a time or two when he’d performed live. But his sexual exploits with women, and his wild partying days had never impressed her. Punching out a reporter had done little to raise her estimation.
She didn’t need to respect him. She only had to redeem him and gather her paycheck.
Kayla pounded harder. “I know you’re in there.” He couldn’t leave the grounds without triggering his security anklet. And boy had he kicked up a fight when they’d clipped it on him at the courthouse. One that would’ve sent a less successful and influential man back to jail. A man like her brother.

Introducing the Bad Boy of Rock and Roll
Once she’d regained her wits, she stared at her assigned case. He barred the doorframe and hadn’t bothered to cover his broad chest. Even disheveled, he radiated strength, sex, and soul. Her stomach filled with nervous little flutters as if monarch butterflies had invaded her system. “I’d love to leave you alone just to avoid the stench inside.”
He wiped his eyes, a bit bloodshot but still arresting with their amber color, and shook his dark curls from his forehead. “Then do us both a favor and go.”
“Park your tough rocker routine at the curb.” Grateful for her four-inch heels and the height they gave her, she wiggled around his imposing muscular six-foot plus body. “Good Lord, it looks like a bomb went off in here.” 

Here is the full blurb of my revised story HER PRISONER OF LOVE:

Bad Boy of Rock and Roll Drake Sheridan is in a court ordered time out, but his house arrest heats up when he meets the key to his release, Kayla Jackson. And he decides to turn his beautiful, control-freak warden into his greatest fan. Social worker Kayla Jackson is out of choices. She must help Drake reform his ways if she wants to secure funding for her theater program supporting juvenile delinquents. Too bad Drake is the sexiest man she’s ever met, and he’s determined to prove it. Kayla maintains a professional distance until Drake’s empathy for her young charges draws them closer. And when the mask of Kayla’s no-nonsense, tough girl attitude slips, her vulnerable, compassionate soul takes Drake’s heart captive. Drake is finally ready to give up the fame, but Kayla’s secret arrangement with his manager may drive him back to his wild ways. Then Kayla may not only lose Drake, as well as her theater program, she’ll lose her heart.

I'm sharing this with you because I want other writers out there, the ones who are starting their journey, to know that if they build a community of writers and are willing to apply what they learn to the best of their ability, they will become better writers. They will get closer to achieving their dreams.

I don't know if I will win the Mills & Boon contest. It would be nice, not going to lie. But I don't have to win it to know that I am a better writer today than I was when I first wrote LOVE BUILDS A CHANCE (again, you can stop laughing now). But if you want to read the rest of my chapter (and my CP Gwen's chapter, too, SLOW BURN. Go Gwen!) click the link provided on this page, read the entries, rank them. Please be kind in your comments. And have fun.

I'm still a BEFORE working toward her AFTER. I will never be finished learning about this glorious obsession. ROCK ON!


Lynn Raye Harris said...

Excellent instructional post, Christine! And I would definitely read on based on the snippets you've given here. You've done the hardest part, which is create two characters the reader wants to know more about. Good job!

Christine said...

Hi Lynn: Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad my characters have captured your interest. Your own Mills & Boon contest story is inspirational to me. Two years ago you were a winner, and now you are a Harlequin Presents NY Times Best Seller! You give me hope that the dream is attainable with hard work and effort.

Ellen Brickley said...

Great post, Christine. I can see a big evolution in your style across those versions.

Best of luck with the contest - I'm not much of a romance reader but I'm DYING to read more. Has to be a good sign!

Christine said...

Hi Ellen: Thanks for reading my romance! I love all kinds of fiction, but for me it's all about the love which is why I write it.

Glad I hooked your interest :-)

Kieran Kramer said...

Christine, a wonderfully inspirational post AGAIN! You have a great natural voice, and I, too, can see how your writing had gotten richer! It was really good in the first place because you've always had the voice, but you've obviously been honing your craft!

Thanks for sharing.


Kieran :>)

Christine said...

Hi Kieran: Thanks for your kind words. But you know I have my "angels" to thank for a lot of the improvement. Without a writing community, I would probably still be writing virgin stories about failed seduction attempts and my heroes would all think too much LOL.

I'm so excited about your book WHEN HARRY MET MOLLY. I can't wait to read it.


J D Elliott said...

Great post, Christine! Thank you for sharing such invaluable information and insight; and of course your excerpts of your manuscript. Your post encourages me to continue on with my writing and to not lock myself away from the world of other writers. We do learn from one another and we are an awesome community of support for each other. Thanks again. :)

Christine said...

Hi JD: Thanks for visiting the Veranda :-) We need to get our little virtual village of writers in the area together for a glass of wine and chat about our favorite subject. I know your writing will sparkle with hard work. Just keep at it, JD. You've got the energy, the drive and the talent.

Piedmont Writer said...

That's wonderful of you to break out of your shell like that. My history is sort of the same -- began a book a thousand years ago and didn't come back to writing until I was forced by a neck injury.

It's fabulous when you find like minded people to share your stories with. Best wishes and good luck on your M&B entry. I'm pulling for you.

Christine said...

Hi Piedmont Writer: You post a lot of your writing on your blog which I find very courageous. It's writers like you who inspire me to stretch the boundaries.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

O.K., you've got me hooked...where's the rest? Where do I go to buy it?


Christine said...

Hi Hawk! I'm so glad you popped in to read my "expose" about my writing. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I can tell you this--they'll get their HEA for sure! They deserve it because they're willing to risk their hearts for each other.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Hey, I learned something new about you. Thanks for sharing your journey. I'm enjoying seeing more of your writing on here too. The blurb for this one is great. Is "key to his release" an accidental or on purpose play on words? ;-)

Thanks for the mention! Good luck in the contest, I think you have a really strong entry.

Christine said...

Hi Gwen *waving from the competition pit* -- I'm so glad you entered the Mills and Boon Competition. You're such a wonderful writer. I've seen you grow so much since the first day I introduced myself to you at the Southern Magic Break Into Fiction workshop. You are so motivated and working so hard to achieve your dream. I'm looking forward to the day it becomes a reality for you.

Yes, "key to his release" is totally on purpose. You know how I love to come up with these little sayings LOL.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Aw, now. You're making me blush... Hugs.

Christine said...

You deserve the *blush* girl!