by M.A. Grant, author of The Iron Crown
I have spent my entire life (I decided at the age of five that I would be a published author) listening to better authors talk about their works, their processes, and their suggestions for improving your craft. One thing I’ve learned is that I have no set writing process. I have hopes and prayers and regrets and triumphs, and somehow, I manage to get books out of this. Some wondered what my “process” is, so I’ve tried to explain below.
Usually in the shower or after a dream, a tiny kernel will form. It may be a scene playing out in my head like a movie, or a snippet of dialogue. I write it down. I leave it alone, if it lets me. When I come back to it, it’s usually ten times its original size and says, “Feed me, Seymour.” So I do.
All my books have playlists. I like to use iTunes because I’m a relic. There is no rhyme or reason to my playlists. They have mixtures of instrumental songs for my internal movie screenings of specific scenes. They have lyrical theme songs for characters or key moments. They are often long playlists, hours and hours worth of music, ready at the drop of a mouse-click to play on shuffle and repeat for as long as my brain, fingers, and tannin levels will allow when I get into a major writing sprint. My husband forgives me for playing them ad nauseam. Yet, weeks after a book is finished, he will often be caught humming songs from the playlist without knowing why.
I capture characters, clothing, settings, quotes related to the story’s themes, and any other visuals meeting the aesthetic of my book. It helps me soothe the brain tangle I’m usually caught in as I create my story. It also helps later with the Art Fact Sheets, where you describe your characters and book to help the cover artists.
My brainstorms often involve large papers and many, many sticky notes. My husband usually sits in on this with me, since I brainstorm best between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The first things I write down are either power scenes (big moments in the plot I love) or dialogue (since that’s what I’m most comfortable writing). I rough out the main plot after this, then fill the plot holes as best I can. Once I feel I’ve got a rough idea of the story and character arcs, I transfer it all to an official brainstorming document in Scrivener. I usually run my brainstorm by my critique partner, revise some more, then crack my knuckles and dig in.
Power scenes first. Always. These are the emotional touchstones I hold to as I write the rest of the book. I’m getting better about writing books in order, but if a really good scene pops to mind, I write it down before I lose it. After power scenes, I rough out dialogue in a pseudo-screenplay format that I can return to later to use. Then I try to draft the rest of the book in order.
Honestly, this step happens frequently. Anxiety and depression have a nasty way of leaving you trapped in a cycle of exhaustion, guilt, and the fear that you’ll never be good enough. The longer I write “professionally” the more tricks I’ve learned to try to break the cycle. Talking with my husband. Exercise. Gardening. Cooking. Revising my playlists too many times. But sometimes the cycle can’t be broken, and there’s no reason to beat yourself up over fucked-up brain chemistry. You just have to wait until it relents enough to let you park your butt in that chair and start typing again, even if you feel like what you’re writing is utter horse-puckey. Most of the time, only you think it’s horse-puckey—no one else does. Because that’s how depression and anxiety work. They lie to you. So ignore your stupid brain and keep writing.
So there it is, my “process.” I wish it were cleaner, more professional and easier to share, but it’s not. My stories grow best in the chaos and uncertainty, and I’m fine with that. I hope you too will find ways to work with your writing process and create the stories you’ve dreamed of.
About The Iron Crown:
After the last Faerie Civil War, the leaders of the magickal pantheons stripped the shining Seelie Court of its power and tasked the dark Unseelie Court with maintaining the natural balance of the world.
Ages later, a twisted intrigue throws the balance of all Faerie into ruin and ignites a new civil war.
Discounted by his family and haunted in the Unseelie sidhe, Queen Mab’s youngest son, Lugh, leads the Wild Hunt on quests across the dangerous Wylds. At his side is his best friend Keiran, a Viking rescued from death centuries earlier. Between Lugh’s uncanny gift for being in the right place at the right time and Keiran’s power of persuasion, they’re revered across the Wylds—as long as Lugh keeps his true identity hidden from the people of the Sluagh.
Keiran and Lugh have loved each other for centuries—as friends and brothers in arms. Lugh has long since put aside his romantic love for Keiran to protect their friendship. But with the looming war in Faerie and the ghosts of the dead dogging Lugh’s every move, Keiran realizes there may be room for romance between them after all, if only they can survive.
Rallying the Sluagh to fight in the looming war between the Seelie and Unseelie seems an impossible task. To achieve it, these childhood best friends will have to free Lugh from the restless souls haunting him and turn the tides threatening not only their growing love, but the balance of life and death itself.
by Julie Moffett, author of No Questions Asked
When I was asked to write this blog, it was suggested that since I’ve written such a long series (the Lexi Carmichael Mystery Series) over a period of more than 10 years, maybe people would be interested in knowing how or if I’d changed and developed as a writer. Did my process change with each book? Did I think about the books and characters any differently by Book #12 than I had at Book #1?
I thought it’d be easy to address these questions, but after contemplating them for a while, I realized it wasn’t that simple. While I have definitely developed, improved and changed as a writer over the course of the series, the writing process itself still remained largely the same for me, at least for the first four books. I would jot down plot items and characters in a notebook, create a working outline (from the end to the beginning) and write according to the outline. I was definitely a plotter verses a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (pantster) writer. Carina gave me an excellent editor from the get-go, Alissa Davis, and together we grew as a solid author-editor team, learning from each other (well, mostly me learning from her!), and making each book better as a result. However, by Book #5 in the series, I was writing a book every six months while finishing up an M.Ed, working full-time, and juggling two kids (one under five) as a single mom. There was no wiggle room for me to operate. By the end of the day, my writing time, I was exhausted. But somehow, I needed to write faster and cleaner. That led to an inevitable change in the way I wrote my books.
I’d played around with different methods for writing faster, but none seemed appealing to me until I decided to try storyboarding. I bought a science tri-fold board and a bunch of colored sticky notes, and began to plot. I use different-colored sticky notes to indicate what needs to be done in each chapter. For example, specific character growth is blue, action is yellow, green notes are series arc elements, while romance and mystery are noted on pink notes. Orange is used for secondary character growth and development. Using that process, I mapped out the book from end to beginning. Now I could see the whole story visually, and easily rearrange notes and chapters as needed by simply moving the sticky notes around on the board. Then, at the end of a long day, I could sit down to write and not have to wonder where I was in the story or what came next. I simply pulled down the sticky notes from the board for that chapter and began to write based on what was there. If I was stuck at a chapter for whatever reason, I skipped it and wrote ahead, realizing I could come back later to address it. Yes, gasp, I wrote out of order. It increased my writing speed exponentially and I was able to make my deadlines—thank goodness!
So, did I think about the characters any differently than I did at the beginning? Of course, because as I grew as a writer, my characters grew, too. They changed as I changed, and we all evolved during each book. Some specific character growth was planned from the beginning and intended to stretch out over the series, and some development evolved organically from the experiences that happened to them in each book. It wasn’t simple. Growing and stretching as a person (whether fictional or real) is a messy process filled with uncertainty, self-doubt and fears. But there are also the triumphs, the courage, and the miracle of finding the extraordinary within yourself to rise above difficult circumstances and learn from your mistakes. Our fictional characters are human, and if an author want them to be relatable, then they have to be genuine in their actions and behaviors.
It’s certainly no surprise to my readers that I love spending time with Lexi and her friends, because they are like family to me. It always warms my heart to hear that Lexi, as well as other characters in the books, have become like friends to those who read about them. Because in the end, that’s really the end goal of an author—to make the reader care enough about the characters that they feel invested in their well-being and future.
About No Questions Asked:
One last fling (with danger) before the ring?
Nothing’s that simple when you’re a geek girl. Julie Moffett’s beloved Lexi Carmichael mystery series returns with No Questions Asked.
Lexi Carmichael: saving scientists one snake at a time.
Weddings aren’t my thing—never have been. But eloping would break my mother’s heart, especially since the president of the United States put in a good word for me with his daughter’s wedding planner. I’m going to have the wedding of the year…whether I like it or not.
Before we can say I do, Slash and I are flying off to the Brazilian rain forest. Our mission: stop hackers from stealing a vaccine that could save millions of lives. I thought it’d be easy, but from the moment we step off the plane, I’m up to my neck in trouble.
After an attack by drug-runners, being kidnapped and discovering that the bad guy is even worse than we’d imagined, I’m pretty sure someone in our group is working for the enemy. And they’re succeeding. I’ll have to use all my geek skills to stop the bad guys if I’m going to make it home in time to tie that knot.
by Rhenna Morgan, author of Hers to Tame
I never know how someone is going to respond when they find out I write romance. Some people roll their eyes and immediately discredit any of my work based on subject content alone. Others are quite curious. They really lean into the topic and dig deep, asking all kinds of questions.
The one thing that never fails to shock them is finding out that writing romance ain’t all unicorns and roses.
Take, for instance, the suspense aspect of my books. Some authors really push this part of their story lines. They’re more focused on the suspense aspect of the story than the romance. And that’s fine. It’s what their readers have come to expect from them.
But I’m more of a low-angst girl. My real life is plenty angsty enough, thank you very much. So, I like my books to focus more on the romance than the underlying suspense that’s disrupting my couples’ worlds.
On the surface, you’d think keeping suspense on the light side would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?
Well, it’s harder than you’d think. First, because I’m a long-winded (AKA wordy) writer. Second, because keeping things “light” means you can’t have too many twists and turns—otherwise your suspense will end up drowning out your romance. Then again, if you go too light, your readers will see the story’s big gotcha coming a mile away. So, when I’m figuring out the suspense portion of my stories, I’ve got to come up with a thread that’s crafty enough to keep the reader’s attention, but not so convoluted that the romance gets swallowed up.
My newest series—NOLA Knights—came with its own special high-wire act: Russian alpha males.
They’re mafiya. Old-school Russians. They’re not known for saying please and thank you. They’re known for making things happen and getting what they want.
So, how do you take men like that and not make them Alphaholes?
Well…it turns out you do it very, very carefully. (And often with your editor talking you off a ledge.)
For starters, the only person I let them get soft for is their heroines. (Okay, maybe they’re soft for family, too. They are heroes, after all.)
Second, I found that the men being über-aggressive was an excellent chance to let the heroines shine. To make them good role models for my readers by setting good boundaries.
Still, finding the balance was definitely a tricky widget. Especially when the men got their women in the bedroom. I mean, as writers we want to do the responsible thing and send a good message to our readers:
But when things are heated and one of my Russian heroes has decided This woman is mine, I couldn’t really see them reaching (willingly) for the condoms in the nightstand drawer. I saw them being the alphas they are. Wanting to possess the amazing woman next to them in the most primal way possible.
In the end, I think I mostly pulled it off. (Though, I’ll admit—Sergei pushed the envelope. He’s a bossy fella and fought me hard.)
So, what about you? Do you like your romance with a heavier balance of suspense, or something lighter? What about your alphas? Do you like them over the top? Or do you need a lighter hand with their alpha-ness?
If you’re a fan of sexy contemporary stories that are low on angst and high on alphas, with a soft spot for their spunky heroines, I hope you’ll pick up my newest release in the NOLA Knights series—HERS TO TAME. And if you do, hit me up on social media and let me know what you think!
About Hers to Tame:
Book two of NOLA Knights, the heart-stoppingly sexy spin-off series by Men of Haven author Rhenna Morgan
As an avtoritet for the most powerful crime syndicate in New Orleans, Kir Vasilek doesn’t act without purpose, doesn’t speak without thought and never, ever loses his cool. The lives of his brothers, his family, depend on it. But then Cassie McClintock strolls back into his life, and staying cool is next to impossible. Cassie was the one who got away—and Kir is willing to break all his own rules to keep it from happening ever again.
It’s one thing to report on the Russian mafia; it’s quite another to sleep with one of them, especially one as dangerous, and as sinfully sexy, as Kir Vasilek. Even though the information he once provided helped make her career—and the memory of his touch still keeps her up at night—Cassie knows too much about his world to go down that path.
But when Kir reaches out for help after a rival family comes for one of his own, Cassie doesn’t want to say no, either to investigating a gruesome murder or to the heat that pulls her right back into his arms…and his heart. Taming Kir—and helping to save the family she’s come to call her own—is not the story she thought she’d write, but it’s the one she’s determined will get a happy ending.
Hers to Tame is the highly anticipated follow-up to His to Defend. And don’t miss Roman’s story in Mine to Keep, coming soon from Rhenna Morgan and Carina Press.
by Charish Reid, author of Hearts on Hold
I was twenty-four years old, sitting in a creative writing class, surrounded by young men and our professor. As the only woman in the class, I stuck out in more ways than one. I was black, older than most of them, and I wore my insecurities on my sleeve. All of the boys pray at the altar of white male writers like Bukowski, Pynchon, DeLillo and of course David Foster Wallace (who was a professor at our university before his tragic end).
I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I just knew it had to be funny, profound and about a woman who was smarter than I felt at that moment. That moment being Workshop Day. It was my turn to read a short story, I’d written, to the class. We sat in a circle, mimicking a feminist pedagogy technique that felt anything but, while I read a story about two young women playing tennis. The women discussed a one-night stand over a volleys and slams, exchanging trash-talk, and coming to the conclusion that men ain’t shit.
When I finished the boys laid into me.
“It’s kind of derivative.” A very popular thing to say back then.
“What’s their motivation?” To talk about their sex lives?
“Does anything happen?” I don’t know…
“I don’t think women really talk like this.” Well, fuck you, Derek, we definitely do.
As mad as I was in that moment, I tried like hell to keep my face immobile. The one thing that stopped me from crying in front of my peers was my professor’s encouraging tone. He told me the plot could use a little work, but my dialogue was full of playful banter that conveyed a natural humor. And while he shut the others up, the damage was partly done. I took two things away from that workshop:
Armed with that knowledge, I made a mess of my last semester of college. Every creative writing class I took, be it poetry or short fiction, I did what my peers did and mimicked Bukowski, Pynchon, DeLillo, Wallace…and Hunter S. Thompson (for my creative non-fiction class). My poems were Ginsberg-wild, my short fiction included drawn-out footnotes, and my creative non-fiction was peppered with cuss words. I was writing like the boys.
But we all know that the things you try to suppress eventually pop up somewhere else. For me, the romance I tried to bury at school ended up in fan-fiction forums on the internet. In my own time, I wrote about smoldering stares, fogged-up windows and urgent kisses. And my dialogue was FIRE. I reimagined Anne Rice’s characters with lots more sex. I rewrote The Mummy with lots more sex. I shared my writing with my girlfriends and it was their love for my words that kept me going…in secret, of course. I tried to keep these two worlds separate: literary and seminal on this side, passionate and vaginal on the other side.
Midway through graduate school, these worlds began bleeding into one another. I think it was all the academic writing that did me in. When trying to fit myself into a small formal box, my passion and creativity always leaped out in unexpected ways. The papers I wrote were beautiful messes that earned me Bs, which were basically Fs in grad school. At this point, I slowly realized how long I had traded my passion for what was expected of me. I wanted to write and I wanted people to read my work, but I couldn’t keep writing like the boys and I couldn’t write for the narrow audience of academia. If I wanted to be happy, I’d had to write what I knew: Sex and Banter.
I went back to reading romance full-time. I read paranormal, historical, contemporary and anything else people on Twitter could recommend. Then I started imagining my own characters. They were funny, witty and tangled in each other’s sweaty limbs beneath the covers. And I finally claimed them. They were mine and I spoke on their behalf. My first timid confession of secret romance writing happened on Facebook a couple years back. I posted steamy samples of my first book, The Write Escape. My audience was friends and family, but more importantly, former classmates and professors. I think I said something self-deprecating about finding joy in writing stuff that wasn’t considered “high-brow.” Looking back on it, I regret being so sheepish and insecure. Love stories, if told right, can be magical and transcendent. There’s nothing “low-brow” about falling in love.
My back is straighter when I talk about romance. When I finished writing Hearts on Hold, a story about a professor who struggles to fit passion into her super-structured life, I felt like I had made a stronger, louder declaration. I had finally answered all of the dumb questions from those boys at Workshop Day.
About Hearts on Hold:
What happens in the stacks stays in the stacks…
Professor Victoria Reese knows an uphill battle when she sees one. Convincing her narrow-minded colleagues at the elite Pembroke University to back a partnership with the local library is a fight she saw coming and already has a plan for. What she didn’t see coming? The wildly hot librarian who makes it clear books aren’t the only thing he’d like to handle.
When a tightly wound, sexy-as-hell professor proposes a partnership between his library and her university, children’s department head John Donovan is all for it. He knows his tattoos and easygoing attitude aren’t quite what she expected, but the unmistakable heat between them is difficult to resist.
And then there’s the intriguing late fee on her record. For the Duke’s Convenience… A late fee and a sexy romance novel? There’s more to Dr. Reese than she’s letting on.
John might like to tease her about her late fee, but when he teases her in other ways, Victoria is helpless to resist. Mixing business with pleasure—and oh, it is pleasure—always comes with risks, but maybe a little casual fun between the sheets is just what Victoria needs.
by Charlie Adhara, author of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
As an avid reader of romance, there’s not much I love more than a slow-burn story of enemies to lovers. You know, the ones where the mc fights that mysterious warm and fuzzy sensation they get when the irritating, forced-proximity companion does something out of line like smile at them? The ones where they insist over and over that it’s not feelings they’re developing, nope, definitely not, until finally, wonderfully, the inevitable: Oops, I’m in love with you, how’d that happen? Truth is, I’m always in the mood for a story like that. Which is why settling in to write a now pretty well-established couple for the first time ever was…nerve-wracking.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is the fourth book in my Big Bad Wolf series. My main characters—grumpy, human Agent Cooper and his doting, protective werewolf partner, Park—are past the “will they, won’t they” stage (they will, and boy, do they ever). They’re not biting back half-formed L-words or deciphering strange glints in each other’s eyes (been there, done that). These guys are in love and they know it. To move backward, to take away their well-earned HEA for the sake of conflict, wouldn’t just be unfair—it wouldn’t make sense. But that begs the question: Now what? When plotting a romance book where the couple has developed that trust and love already, where does the, well, plot come in?
Ironically, before fully working out the synopsis I had already started doing research into relationship therapies, because I knew the guys’ investigation would be taking them undercover to a couples’ counseling retreat. I spent a lot of time on virtual tours of beautiful getaways and reading self-help chapters on healthy communication and how to navigate various fraught relationship dynamics. I pored over raw and incredibly personal online testimonies from couples on the issues they’d overcome and spoke to real-life friends about their own experiences with counseling.
Did less than 10 percent of that research actually end up in the book?
Was there ever a moment I looked up from diligently filling out my fifth “relationship worksheet” in the voices of my two characters and think, The writing process is weird?
But sometime during that deep-dive I realized I’d been shortchanging the excitement, appeal and sheer complexity of life after I love you. Relationships are hard (please look suitably surprised by this brand-new information). According to the worksheets now full of my characters’ innermost hopes, fears and dreams, relationships can be even harder when you expect your partner to be the one to “fix” you.
It’s always been important to me that the message of my books is not “love cures all ills.” Not by itself, anyway, and not overnight. But by thinking the story of an established couple wouldn’t by definition have conflict, I had fallen into that exact trap I’d wanted to avoid.
After three books and a whole lot of learning experiences, Cooper and Park still have some of the same deep insecurities, anxieties and scars they always have. But with love and trust, they’re also able to be more open with each other than ever before. They’re able to explore their own personal histories and truths and traumas in ways they maybe didn’t have the space or security to do in the beginning of the series, when they were too busy catching feelings. I no longer think there’s anything boring about that. Quite the opposite.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love a tension-packed, enemies-to-lovers romance. But I’ve come to appreciate one special thing about series that follow a single couple is how much room both the relationship and the individuals within that relationship have to grow and change and build. The Cooper and Park we see in Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing are the same people we met in the first book, of course, but they’re different, too. They know and understand each other now, and perhaps more importantly, they’re working to know and understand themselves. My personal experience writing an established couple meant my characters finally had the safety and support to be vulnerable and look inward. It meant moving from I love you to I love me, too, and eventually, I love us. As it turns out, I’m always in the mood for that kind of story, as well.
About Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:
Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counseling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…
Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.
With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.
The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.
With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead.
Follow Agents Dayton and Park’s romance from the beginning. Read the first book in the Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door, available now from Carina Press!