Done and Dusted!

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Yup! Done and dusted on Friends with Benefits, the official title for Campbell and Caitlin’s story that’ll be coming out… well, I don’t know yet because I have to consult my crystal ball first.

First things first is the cover reveal because this one’s one of my favorites. I bought it back in December 2015 and I was among 5 people who wanted it but thank goodness, i got to him first and he’s been with me ever since, just waiting for the story that was just for him.

I have 30 more covers to go, just waiting for their stories…

In the meantime, if you’re looking for free books to add to your e-reader this weekend, check out this giveaway where there’s something for everyone – all romance, of course!

One of them just might be mine…

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Click on the link to download sweet and spicy romance!

Perfection

Today, while going through one of my old books looking for a quote that I had the word “perfect” in it, I realized that I used the word in this particular book so much. In fact, I lost count how often I did. Whether it had to do with the occasion, the setting, the love interest, even what he wore, it was all “perfect.”

The discovery made me think of our goal as writers especially in light of a negative review I received on another book about the continuity, lack of editing, grammatical errors, blah blah blah. That particular review stung a bit and made me think that yes, that book did use an editor and maybe that editor, who was new, didn’t do a good job as I would have liked, just as I may not have done a good job in getting the timelines straight even in light of my Series Bible and timeline charts that I wrote down. Or maybe my English grammar skills just sucks balls… who knows?

But I digress…

As authors, we want to write that perfect book, the one that will have readers gushing over our characters and our stories, the one that will change lives, even if it’s only for that one brief moment of, wow, that author really took me away from my problems…

And sometimes we hit it right on the nose… and sometimes we miss by a mile.

But it doesn’t change the fact that most authors, myself included, start writing a story with a goal that it will be perfect on publishing day. But at the same time, if I sought perfection with my books, I would have none published…ever. Perfection is good just as it can be used as a crutch for not doing something unless it’s absolutely perfect.

I’ve been writing since I was 13. I’ve been plagued by that perfection curse for decades and for decades, I had nothing published because I was never going to be as good as this author or that author. Even when editors returned my manuscripts and told me it was ready to go, in my head, I told myself that I was never going to be good enough. Perfection made that thought possible every single day even as I saw friends take advantage of the ebook revolution that hit in 2011 onwards. You can do better than this, that voice would say, and I believed it.

Until one day, I thought, screw that, and hit the publish button.

Of course, that first book was terrible but I’d like to think I got better with each book. Sometimes I would lose my way and my focus, especially when I started realizing that it wasn’t enough to just write the words but to market and plan and promote at the same time. It got worse when I developed comparison-itis syndrome and told myself I’d never be as good as the current author I happened to be reading. There were times, like last year, I absolutely hated myself and felt cursed for my supposed gift of writing terrible stories.

But there are other days, too, like the ones when I wake up raring to write down the words, following my muse wherever he or she takes me. These are the days when I’m my happiest, when I put on the blinders and it’s just me and the words and the characters who live their crazy lives on the page and make my heart and soul sing… although I have to admit that it’s a nice bonus when those same words, perfect or not, pay the bills, too.

On Writing and Outlines #amwriting

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I’ve written 31k words into that holiday novella and… I’ve hit a wall. It’s one of my own making, of course, one called the this-crap-could-be-better wall.

Technically, the book is “done,” as in, I got to the ending which, unfortunately, falls short of that moment in the cinema when you await (with bated breath) the hero’s answer to the question that will make him a slumdog millionaire or the group of eccentric friends driving their friend all across town to the press conference that will reunite him (in front of the world to see) with the celebrity he’d pushed away after she told him in his tiny travel bookshop, “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love me.”

Nope, I don’t got that moment at all.

I’ve kinda run out of steam and hopefully, it’s temporary, giving me enough time to collect my thoughts on the novella because no way is it going into that box set now. And since it’s not, now I can go for as high a word count as I need to tell a fully rounded story. It will also be a lighthearted addition to my Different Kind of Love series.

But first, I need to figure out what scenes to add, what the external plot is going to be (if it needs to be tweaked) and build up the internal plot that I had to discard along the way to fit the original word count requirement of 25k. Man, that’s a tight one, isn’t it?

Anyway, it all sounds so technical, doesn’t it? You’re probably wondering, where’s the spontaneity in the writing? Does everything have to be so planned? Where’s the surprise?

One of the things about writing a romance is that there is no surprise when it comes to the ending. We all know what happens. The couple or people involved if you’re writing about more than two people getting together (hello harems or reverse harems!) ultimately get a happily-ever-after (HEA) or a happy-for-now (HFN) ending. That’s why it’s called a romance. Not a love story which can have a sad ending (she died or he died or they went their separate ways) or an uncertain ending (what the hell just happened? Did they get together or not?). And not a drama which does not have to have a happy ending at all either.

They get a happy ending.

I guess the fun is in the journey to get to that ending.

There are many books out there on how to plot your story and for the last twenty years, I’ve gone by Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey – Mythical Structure for Writers which is based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. My copy is frayed at the edges and filled with highlights.

I also have his Audible course with Michael Hauge and listen to it often.

A summary of the journey, the archetypes, and Vogler’s memo can be found here.

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As much as I insist that I’m a “pantser” (someone who writes by the seat of her pants, with no outline), I’m not. That’s because even if I don’t write down my outline, in my head, I have the hero’s journey (above) memorized. I know what happens next. I can watch a Hollywood-produced movie and know they’re going to hit on all those beats. And even if they mix the pieces up like Memento, when the movie is put together in order, you’ll come out with the same journey. So much for calling myself as a pantser when I really wasn’t. I knew the rules well enough to know what to break if I wanted to. I plotted inside my head.

But Vogler and Hauge’s methods aren’t the only ones that I use. There is also Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! which is mainly geared for screenwriters but is so helpful for writers as well. Imagine you and your friends are having dinner at a restaurant and someone goes, “Hey! X movie came out tonight! Why don’t we check it out?”

Everyone pulls out their phones and pulls up the movie poster and someone asks, “What’s it about?”

One of the main questions that Save the Cat answers is What is the movie/book about? Can you answer it in one sentence (logline)? There’s more to it, of course, and it gives the reader s basic outline or beats that happen in a movie.

 

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The Transformatioanal Machine One-Sheet

 

Another outline book is Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (or How To Write Kissing Books) by Gwen Hayes, and this is geared specifically for romance writers. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. It helps you get your romance beats where they should be and have your readers rooting for your lovebirds to live happily ever after in the end.

Knowing basic story structure, no matter whose method whether it’s Vogler, Hauge, Snyder or Hayes’, is the reason I’m stuck at that ending of my book because I know I have to make that moment count and it’s not happening. It’s why I know that I need to beef up Phase 2 of the story (also called Fun and Games in Save the Cat!) to build up the attraction between my characters. Because there’s nothing like insta-love to turn off a reader…

What about you? Are there any books that help you write your stories? What would you recommend?

Weekly Update #amwriting

I took this photo during my first trip to the Frick Collection in New York’s Upper West Side three years ago this week. It was from a free paper I picked up along the way and I still have it three years later. Sometimes I see the photo posted on other people’s social media feeds and it makes me happy knowing that the saying (and the photo) still makes its rounds years later.

It’s also a quaint reminder of why I write.

Now to the writing update…

So this week, I completed about 28k words but edited thousands out so my final word count is 23k. This is also the point of the story where I start to question myself and have to go back to the outline I had written. This is because I am faced with the option of extending the word count since, most likely, I will not be including the story in that holiday box set that requires closed-doors sex scenes. That’s not to say that the box set is a “clean romance” set. It’s just a holiday Romance box set featuring closed-door sex scenes. Unfortunately, I keep mistakenly referring to it as “clean romance” which baffles some readers and fellow authors as to why I signed up to be in a clean romance set when I write steamy romance stories.

Thing is, I didn’t sign up to be in a clean romance box set. I signed up to be part of a holiday romance box set with closed door sex scenes and no C, D, and F words. That I can’t remove the sex scenes without having my hero look like douchebag and the heroine a slut is simply one of the disadvantages of my style of deep POV writing.

This term “clean romance” also had me wondering. If a clean romance set meant no sex, what is a romance book WITH sex? The antonym to “clean” is dirty. So does that mean novels with steamy scenes in it are classified as dirty romance?

Oh, well… here’s an excerpt in the meantime.

I turn my attention back to the tree, not wanting to ruin a beautiful moment between longtime friends because in the end, that’s what we are—friends. Who cares if we’re sitting on a faux sheepskin rug buck naked? Besides, it had been my decision to have sex—and boy, other than the guilt I’m feeling right now, it was the best decision ever. I’ve always known Campbell to be this quiet, intense and driven kid and I’d never once considered him as anything but a friend mainly because I grew up with him. He’s the boy next door and whenever we get together, my partner in crime.

Who knew that between the sheets, he’s amazing? His hands, his mouth, his… I bite my lip. No, better not go there.

Still, I may not have the experience to make such a declaration that he’s an amazing lover—after all, I’ve only been with two men before tonight—but I’ve also never felt so comfortable, so sexy and so gorgeous with any man before. The way he makes love is just beyond words. And even if I could find the words, I won’t because most of it can’t be described using the alphabet, at least, not in a coherent arrangement.

I turn my head to look at him. I never realized how thick his lashes are. “I wanted it to happen, Cam.”

Campbell kisses my shoulder. “I did, too.”

Tuesday Word Count

I wanted to write this last night but my mind was done after writing 3,133 words. Yup, 3,133 words for a total word count last night of 16k and change.

Today, I added more words for a total of 18,276. That leaves me with the dilemma of not using this story for the box set because we’re only at the middle of the story…. which also brings the chance of me losing that $100 come September 7 when the story is due.

Because even with my diligent outlining/plotting, it turns out I’m still pantser after all… or at least, I’m the type of writer who allows my characters to take the reins and run with the story relegating me to the job of the writer who chases after them, pen and paper in hand.

And that’s the way I like to write them, like writing a steamy sex scene running close to 2,500 words, feels and all.

And since it’s still Tuesday in my neck of the woods (with seven minutes to spare before the strike of midnight), I’m going to throw in a sneak peek for #TeaserTuesday. This is Campbell and Caitlin right after they see Hamilton the Musical at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan.

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“Thank you, Cam. This was just amazing. Now I can’t get the lyrics out of my head.”

“You’re welcome, although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lyrics being stuck in your head. Just don’t suddenly break out in song. Or if you do, give me a warning.” I move my arm from her shoulder. “You ready to head home?”

Caitlin’s brow furrows. “You’re taking me home already?”

“Actually, I was thinking maybe we could go to my apartment and hang out a bit. Come to think of it, you never got to see the tree all lit up.”

Caitlin bites her lower lip as she smiles. It’s a playful smile that makes the knot in my belly tighten. “That’s right. I haven’t.”

Suddenly all I see are the signs that I’ve fought so hard to ignore plain as day. How much longer can I go flirting with her when the last thing I want is to jeopardize my friendship with her older brother? Jordan is my best friend, or as he loves to say, my brother from another mother. He helped get me through the toughest times in my life, brought me into his family and he trusts me with his sister. If I truly value my friendship with Jordan and his family, I need to put an end to this madness now. I need to stop stringing Caitlin along and make her believe something’s going to happen.

But is that what I really want?

“Let’s go,” I say, my voice barely a whisper as I get up, knowing the moment I take her hand that there’s no way I can let her go now.

We make it to my apartment in twenty minutes and by the time we walk through the door, we’ve had it with the self-control. I know I have. It took all of my willpower not to kiss her in the cab or the theater or the bar. It took the last thread of self-control not to kiss her in the elevator. But as soon as the door shuts behind us, it feels like a dam breaking and one touch of her hand on my face, stroking my stubble in the semi-darkness is all it takes for me to let go—that and thanking my lucky stars I hadn’t set the timer for the Christmas tree or all this tension that’s built up between us all night would have gone to hell.

“Cait…”

That’s all I can say before I lower my head and kiss her. While I’d done my best to act cool around Caitlin the entire evening, it left a part of me almost distant, closed off only because I didn’t know how she’d react. I kept second-guessing every touch, every smile, every time she sneaked a glance at my direction during the musical. When I held her hand, squeezing it as an emotional scene played onstage, I suddenly felt alive, as if a real live connection had been established between us. No more guessing.

But there’s nothing like a kiss to seal the deal as I lose myself in the taste of her lips and the exquisite feel of her tongue. It’s heaven in a kiss I’d never experienced before and like a man in search of the sublime, I want more. My hands move along her sides, slipping inside her coat to feel her soft curves and the warmth of her skin from underneath her dress.

“Our coats… they’re in the way,” she mumbles as she lets go of my neck and shrugs off her purse and her coat, her hands tugging at my shirt from under my coat.

“Cait, are you sure?”

She looks up at me with her big green eyes and my breath catches in my throat. God, she’s so beautiful. So what the hell am I doing? Why the hell am I stopping her when this is exactly what I want, too?

Sunday Word Count #excerpt

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I got to 680 before everyone woke up and it’s time to get off the computer and step outside for a while.

That’s 11109 words into my holiday novella and so far, I think I may have found my groove. Caitlin and Campbell seem to be cruising right along and I couldn’t be happier. I’m hoping to get at least 2k more words in by tomorrow so crossing my fingers!

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at a section that I just finished.

***

By the time we make it to the theatre, the mere brush of his hand on my elbow or my hand leaves me feeling giddy, and somehow I can’t help but assume it’s no longer accidental. Even the theatre disappears whenever Campbell turns to look at me, all my senses heightened and focused on what he’s doing, on the words he’s saying. When he holds my hand as we make our way to the lobby during the intermission, I don’t see anyone else.

How long has it been since I’ve been with a man? Somehow I draw a blank. All I remember are the first dates that barely made it to first base, much less the second, my mind constantly on my research projects, meetings with my advisor, and that unwavering goal of making it to graduation and then finding a job.

But for tonight, I’m willing to toss all that out the window. I’m having way too much fun being with a man I’ve always felt safe with, my brother’s best friend and the boy next door. Only this time, something’s different. Somewhere between then and now, Campbell Murphy grew up and I never saw it until now.

#AmWriting, Yes I Am

Somewhere on this blog is a private page that has 32 covers I’ve purchased hoarded since I began publishing—and that number doesn’t include the covers I’ve made.

Yes, you read it right. Thirty-two covers.

And I can’t show any of them off because I have to write their stories first.

But I will show you one because I’ve decided to kinda do an ongoing journal of my writing process, word count, and all that on my blog.

So I’m supposed to be part of this holiday box set that comes out, well, during the holidays. And one thing about me is that I don’t write holiday stories. Not the happy ones, at least. If you’ve read The Accidental Christmas, that wasn’t exactly a happy romantic story. More like a bittersweet one because it’s just what I know. I mean, my favorite Christmas story is The Gift of the Magi. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of a couple who give each other gifts that aren’t of any use because they sold that to which the gifts would have been of use for. Wait, that was confusing. Basically, she cut her hair so she could buy him a chain for his gold watch but he sold his gold watch so he could buy her a pair of beautiful combs for her (now non-existent) long hair.

Yep, that’s my idea of a holiday story.

So you can imagine me sitting in front of my laptop going, so what bittersweet story am I writing this year? No, I don’t think it will go over too well…

Enter two side characters from Falling for Jordan. Caitlin O’Halloran, Jordan’s sister, and his best friend and the boy next door, Campbell Murphy. Since Falling for Jordan is my happiest book so far, I have a feeling that there won’t be hardly any angst with these two side-characters.

Fingers crossed.

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Campbell is supposed to look more alpha male but for now, this works. It’s the girl’s expression I’m after.

I definitely need this mock cover to guide inspire me to make the story sweet instead of bittersweet.

But boy, has it been a struggle. It took me more than a week to outline it. Yes, outlining again, my nemesis! And this time, I managed to outline it from beginning to end! That way, it won’t go off the rails and become bittersweet.

So far, I’ve written 8819 words with 2,111 today. Chapter 4 done and tomorrow on to Chapter 5. I have a feeling I’ll overshoot my 25k word maximum requirement but I’m not about to sweat that one. I’ll deal with it when it happens. Actually, the box set is clean romance – No D, C, and F-words. So I’m sure I can scrape off the 10k extra words of all that steamy stuff easily (fingers crossed).

Anyway, I was just looking at my publishing calendar for the past year and I wondered why I had these gaps where Liz didn’t publish anything. And then it hit me! That’s when my Naughty Pen was publishing her stories! Duh!

And today, she published another one! Come to think of it, she published one last week, too, so it seems like she’s on a roll. But I can only do one thing at a time, devote time to one pen name at a time hence the outlines so I remember what I had planned to write to begin with. Lika a map. A Thomas Guide. Anyone remember that?

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Without an outline, it’s like relying on GPS to tell you what’s coming up only when you’re close. Having an outline to follow is like having a Thomas Guide handy. You get to see the big picture first and actually know what streets come before your actual turn instead of waiting for Siri to finally tell you to turn at 500 feet.

And so that’s how I’m viewing outlining now—especially when I’m juggling three pen names. It’s like having that trusty Thomas Guide that was indispensable for Los Angelenos before it was replaced by smartphone apps telling you when to turn left or right.

Or drive into a lake.

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