Aside

The Devil’s in the details, AKA, the difference between a writer an and author

Anyone can be a writer. We all have stories to tell, and as soon as you put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and start to tell it, you’re in the club. You’re putting your thoughts, feelings, ideas down in a permanent way. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, a song, the how is less important than the what. The equation is simple: Written Words = Writer.

Some of the best writers I’ve ever read are not authors. Because the difference between a “writer” and an “author” is that an author gets paid. 

I’ve been an author since 1999 when I got my first paycheck writing a humor column for a tiny daily newspaper in Southern Illinois. In fact, I’m still writing that column. These days, it’s in a few more papers than it used to be. You can check it out online at my website, www.renaleisure.com or at www.carmitimes.com in the opinion section. You know what the going rate for a weekly column was in 1999? Three bucks a week. 

But the fact is, if you’ve ever put words on paper (or screen, whatever), received compensation for those words, and used that compensation to do something like, oh, pay the light bill, you’re an author. Of all the jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some good ones, being an author is the thing I love the very most. And the thing I most enjoy writing is romance. 

Right now, the market for the non-traditional romance genre is aggressive and is much easier to break into than the mainstream romance market. Readers are looking for out-of-the-box stories, ideas, and characters, and that has given rise to an unprecedented demand for alternative romance. The flexibility of eReaders and the instant access they offer means readers don’t have to go to a book store or wait for a paper copy to arrive in the mail. It lets everyone try new things with little risk and no embarrassment. 

I picked up my first alternative romance novel online at www.allromance.com. It was a top-rated free read, and the characters looked interesting. I’m a straight, married woman. But in my mind, love has always been less about gender and more about personality. So writing characters in alternative relationships never felt strange–although I will admit that it’s sometimes taken a little bit of research just because, well, I’m lacking personal experience with some of the equipment in question. 

In “Slow Burn” and “Simmer,” I really like my characters. In fact, I forgot how much I liked them until I started writing them again. And the more I write, the more real they become to me. 

SIMMER EXCERPT

There was a soft tap on the door, then hesitation before it opened. I kept my eyes fixed on the wall, arms wrapped around my knees. I wasn’t going to say a word. I wasn’t going to look. I wasn’t even going to twitch. I was a velvet hammer, and I wasn’t budging.

Apparently Griff missed the context clues I was mentally sending his way, though, because he crossed the room quietly, the mattress shifting when he sat down on it. His calf brushed my shoulder, and I thought about pulling away. I didn’t because that would have been childish. Not moving had nothing to do with the fact that the contact was maybe kind of comforting. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Mentally, I braced myself for the lecture to start. Ear plugs. I should have gotten ear plugs. I knew Dad had some of the squishy orange foam ones in the gun cabinet. Sticking my fingers in my ears was also an option, but since I’d already committed to channeling my inner adult, I kept my hands where they were. 

Seconds ticked by. My stomach roiled apprehensively, and my shoulder blades prickled. Absurdly  I kind of wished Griff would just get on with the yelling. If I were honest with myself, I probably deserved it. Why wasn’t he–the feel of gentle fingers carding through my hair completely derailed my train of thought. 

Frozen, half shocked, half incredulous, I let minutes tick by while Griff petted me, hands firm but sure, breath steady. He didn’t say anything. He was just–there. As the quiet of the room and the rhythm of his hand sunk into my skin, I was horrified to feel tears prickling at the back of my eyes. Oh for the love of–I heard more than felt my breath hitch. This was not happening. Nope. Huh-uh. I started to push myself to my feet. If I was going to have a mental brake down, I was not having it in front of my–whatever the heck Griff was. I’d think about it later. Somewhere else. Somewhere that was not here. 

I fully intended to head for the door. Clearly, something was wrong with my sense of direction, though. Maybe we were getting ready to have an earthquake. Didn’t seismic activity mess with magnetic fields and make birds fly the wrong way? I was pretty sure I’d seen a special about that on the Discovery Channel last month. For whatever reason, instead of turning right and ducking out the door, I hung a completely involuntary left, straight into the bed. Straight into Griff.

Then his arms closed around me, and he was holding me, and I was crying into the side of his neck. And I didn’t care if the entire New Madrid fault line was getting ready to Continentially shift and dump all of the Midwest into a sink hole the size of the Atlantic, because Griff finally opened his mouth, and instead of the recrimination I deserved, he said, “I’ve got you. It’s going to be alright, Nathan.”

And idiot that I was, I thought that just maybe it would be.

END OF EXCERPT

Even if I never got another dime for writing, I’d still do it every day. I write because, well, I can’t not write. It’s not the Great American Novel. The ghost of Mark Twain probably isn’t going to come calling with accolades anytime soon. But every word I put down on screen, I am reminded of the fact that being an author–getting paid to do the thing I love most–is an amazing blessing. 

 

Outline? Out…Line? What’s This Mysterious Word of Which You Speak?

In order to take the 5,000ish loosely connected words I’ve so far managed to cobble together of “Simmer” and turn them into an actual story, I’m going to have to have a plot. 

Not, you know, a GREAT plot–it is a trashy romance novel, after all–but still, some plotting must occur. Probably the best way to make that happen would be to sit down and diligently write up an outline, breaking down 300 pages of words into ten, thirty-page chapters…or thirty, ten-page chapters, or twenty, fifteen-page chapters, or…yeah. You get what I’m saying. 

Chapter one would start with an amusing interlude, then recap what happened in the last story. The stage for the current story would be set in chapter two. By chapter five we’d have had a least one sex scene and the beginnings of a conflict. Chapters six through whatever would ratchet the tension up, and we’d have a happily-for-now (because happily ever after is for authors who DON’T want to keep making money with additional sequels) by chapter ten. 

But outlines make me itchy. Once I have an actual map in place, if I start to get off of it I get mentally discombobulated. I have 60,000+ words of a story about a hockey player that was going great until I attempted to outline the last 20,000 words, and ever since has sat, dormant and lonely, abandoned on my hard drive.

So outlines are for other people. 

Instead, I have invented plot pointing. (Author’s Note: It is possible that I did not, in fact, invent this concept, but until the actual inventor comes forward with a copyright claim–I INVENTED IT!)

So here are a few things I definitely want to see happen in “Simmer”:

1. I want Griff to get “taken home to Mom and Dad.” I love…lovelovelovelove…reading awkward dinner table scenes. I want to write that with these characters.

2. I want there to be age and socioeconomic difference friction. My husband is ten years older than I am. My best friends husbands are 16- and 22- years older than they are, respectively. Clearly, it’s a dynamic that appeals to me. And writing what you know is often a good thing. 

3. I have accidentally set for myself a high bar in the area of the love scenes. Research will be required to out-do myself. Yikes. 

4. I have to figure out a way to make Griff a Big Damn Hero. He’s a rich, British businessman, and my hero-MO tends to be gritty American military-cop-secret-spy type. Not really sure what I’m going to do with that. 

5. My cover for “Slow Burn” was this

Image

I want to find a way to keep with the single hand doing something motif. 

So have a got a real plot? Not exactly. But I have ideas swirling, and for me, that’s the first step.

 

They liked it. They really liked it. And they want more. Oh. Crap.

When I started writing for Dreamspinner Press, an independent alternative romance publishing house, under the pseudonym Dawn Douglas, I had a couple of things I really liked in my pipeline — characters that I thought could turn from stand-alones to series, scenarios that I thought would be popular and sell well — and then I had ‘Slow Burn.’

‘Slow Burn’ was a short novella that came about because of a panicked conversation I overheard in Starbucks one morning waiting to get my coffee. The barista was new. And he was not settling in well. Which lead to this snippet, which sat on my hard drive for something like six months before it evolved into an actual story — with a plot and everything:

SLOW BURN EXCERPT:

The really stupid thing was, when Julia drafted me to deliver her coffee order, I’d been expecting, I don’t know, one or two cups in those little cardboard sleeves and maybe a biscotti. I hadn’t been expecting a stainless steel trolley stacked with a variety of fifty-eight thousand coffee confections.

“Wait. How do I know who gets what and—”

“Jeeze, Nate. I thought you were supposed to be a super genius? Keep it straight, and whatever you do, don’t let anyone at The Griffin Trust see that you don’t know what you’re doing. They’ll eat you alive.” She paused for a minute and shuddered in a way that made my blood go a little cold. What was I getting myself into, here? Before I could ask, she plowed on with her rundown. “The lattes are all at the front. The cappuccinos are labeled CP, but make sure you don’t get the ones made with soymilk confused with the sugar frees. ‘SF’ is sugar free, just lower case ‘s’ is soy. And you know it has a double shot if—crap!”

“Crap? What crap? What about the double shot?” I wondered if I was the only one who could hear the note of panic in my voice.

“Never mind! There’s no time! You’re five minutes late! You have to leave right now!”

“Wait. The double shot. Are those the capital ‘Ds,’ or—”

The elevator doors opened, and Julia shoved me forward. “Capital ‘D’ is decaf! God, I already told you that! Look, just, don’t screw this up, okay. I won’t be able to pay my share of the rent if I lose my job.”

END OF EXCERPT

So even when I finished it, I didn’t really LOVE ‘Slow Burn.’ I was actually surprised when Dreamspinner said they wanted to publish it at all. But I signed the contract in December 2011, and it was released in July 2012. Other than edits along the way during the process, I didn’t think about the story again until I started getting reviews and ratings on Goodreads.com and then found out that my sales for the book were good. Like, really good.

And it turned out, the people who bought it actually liked ‘Slow Burn.’ And my editor said they’d like a follow-up.

Once upon a time, Nora Roberts said in regard to writing, “I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank one.” After literally a month of trying to wrap my head around a sequel to ‘Slow Burn,’ I’ve convinced myself that I have to just buckle down and write. And I have finally, finally, managed to get something besides a blank page in the file for ‘Slow Burn’s’ sequel.

SNIPPET I’M HOPING WILL LEAD TO INSPIRATION AND 75,000 WORDS OF LITERARY ROM-COM IN LESS THAN 30 DAYS:

There was a goat in my living room.

Not a living, breathing, mid-term-and-house-plant-eating goat.

No, this was worse. This was much, much worse.

I stood, blinking, in the doorway, hoping I’d maybe managed to get a contact high off the curry fumes from the takeout Thai and was hallucinating, but nope, it didn’t budge.

“Nathan, I really can’t believe I’m asking this, but is that an inflatable goat in your living room?”

I jumped a little at the dry amusement in the clipped British accent floating over my shoulder and reached up to smack myself in the forehead. Griff caught my hand before I could. The sight of the inflatable goat had actually shocked me enough that I’d forgotten he was behind me. “Um, I can explain that.”

“Really?” He reached around and gently took the bag of takeout from my hand. “Because I think I might enjoy that. But perhaps inside?”

Reflexively, I planted my feet. “You know what, this was probably a stupid idea. You could wait in the car. I’ll just grab some clothes—be like, two seconds.”

Griff crowded me forward, herding me inexorably through the doorway. “My flat is half an hour at least in this traffic. The food will get cold.”

“I actually like my Thai room temperature. Nothing worse than a— than a— too hot noodle, right?”

Did I sound desperate? I don’t think I sounded desperate, but as evidenced by the fact that I hadn’t killed my twin at birth—because I knew, absolutely knew, that Julia and her twisted sense of humor were behind the freaking goat—my judgment was, at best, questionable.

END OF SNIPPET

Great, no, but at least it isn’t a blank page anymore…