Help! My Plot is Twisting

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I’m working on the plotline for a new novel. It’s the second in a series of Depression era books. While the time period is different, the story has my brand elements of an ensemble cast of strong Southern women helping each other through life.

I’ve been doing character interviews and the backstory for about two weeks now. But today, something happened that I didn’t see coming. The plot is twisting into a mystery.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Almost every family in the South has a mystery in their past or a relative who’s crazy. It’s an intrinsic part of Southern life. Like ghosts. Yes, we love our ghost stories, too.

But I digress. I have a plot point I needed to figure out. As I wrote down questions that needed answering—something Rachel Hauck taught in one of her posts here on Novel Rocket—I stopped and gaped at what I’d written. Staring at the screen, I was completely gobsmacked.

How so, you ask? Well, a character died in a fishing boat accident prior to the book opening.I didn’t think a lot about that when I first I began to work out the plot. But I can’t have that character simply die and not know how it happened. You see, I need that boat for another character. This is during the Great Depression, and there isn’t money to buy a new boat. After all, we’re not talking about a rowboat, but a mid-sized commercial fishing boat. I had to find out what happened to it.

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Remember those questions Rachel said to ask? I started asking. How badly was it damaged? Was it salvageable? Could a man die in the accident but the boat survive? Were there any tale-tell signs of skull duggery?

As I asked these questions, I remembered I once slid a small mystery thread into Home to Chapel Springs, but it wasn’t planned out, it simply happened, and it didn’t require a lot of strategy. I don’t think strategically enough to figure out all the red herrings and misleads of a real mystery. I can’t play chess, either. They both take strategy and I don’t have a lick.

Possessing strategic bones or not, I now find myself now with a mystery on my hands and three people who have a very good motive for murder. I knew a call to my critique partner Elizabeth Ludwig was in order. We’ve been writing pals for twelve years. I knew she’d give me good advice. And she did.

  1. You must have a compelling reason for a character to do what you want them to do. They can’t just do it. I agree. Motivation is everything.
  2. You need an Obi Wan Kenobi character. She suggested a new character I hadn’t thought of and she works perfectly. This new character can be the “conscience” or wise counsel who provides the motivation for another to do what I need her to do.
  3. Work out the clues you need to get then end you want. Once I decide for sure if it was an accident or murder, then I can figure out the clues. If an accident, I can still cast suspicion on people if they have the motive.
  4. The rest will sort itself out as you write. And she was right. I took our brainstorming ideas and wrote them down, as if telling myself the story. They work. The devices all tie together. The motivations tie together.

Now that Lisa talked me off the cliff, I’m excited again about this story. I’ve got the elements, and have some characters that will stretch me as a writer. What more could I ask for?

Critique partners are the greatest!


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

 

It Only Takes A Spark. . . Or Does It?

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

Ideas come and go. I’ve learned over the years the initial spark is just that, a spark, not a roaring fire that will burn long enough to write an entire book.

Let me give an example. When I  first started writing what turned out to be Lost In NashVegas (now Nashville Dreams), I came up with a story of a country girl who owned a fishing shack in central Florida. There was something about her wanting to buy or maintain an old house she loved. I can’t remember all of the details, but that should give you a clue. No details.

My agent said, “Nope!”

After brainstorming with her for a few minutes, (I’m making this sound way easier than it was. ha!)  we came up with the idea of having the Heroine be a songwriter. Okay, I can do that. I know nothing about songwriting, but I can do this! I’m naive and eternally hopeful that way. Scratching the surface of songwriting research, I put together another synopsis and three chapters.

My agent said, “Nope.”

My heroine wasn’t sympathetic. I wove in several major plot points that were nothing but cliché but never really managed any of them. I had a stolen song, an unwed pregnancy, and something about a rollercoaster that Susie Warren assured me was unoriginal. But the story was a country song itself!

So, I opened with my character waiting to sing at the Bluebird Ca fé ( a setting I had all wrong) and feeling like she was on a roller coaster.

Disappointed, rather CRUSHED,  I wasn’t hitting my agent’s hot button after two tries, I forwarded it to Susie. She called. “The roller coaster is a cliche.”

“Really?”

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“And you need something like . . . the three things she’s thinking of or wants or something.”

“Oh, good idea.” (I dedicated the “three things” in the book to Suz.)

That and more songwriting research got me a proposal my agent loved. And so did Thomas Nelson.

I did more research. Visited Nashville and The Bluebird Café. Research always sparks more ideas and layers.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge intimidate you. Dig in. Research. Make those cold calls to ask a question. I find really good stuff on YouTube. Which didn’t exist when I started that first Nashville book.

Research also helps with your dialog, your plotting, your setting.

Writing about an industry of which I knew nothing —music—I had very surface dialog. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. I kept researching and finally found a book about Tom Petty. It was written in interview style. I found the information I wanted and also a format to use in the next Nashville book. The interview style.

When writing about infertility in the Songbird Novels, I discovered an article by a woman who didn’t want to use surrogacy to achieve her dream of having a baby because she felt it was inviting another woman into her marriage. I’d never heard that before and it gave me a profound, deeper angle for my character.

In writing The Royal Wedding books, I read blogs, history books, watched videos, studied European royal families. Apparently, calls to Clarence House went unanswered. Ha! No personal prince interviews were forthcoming.

Once you get a spark, take it deeper and find those unique layers. Use those to create dynamic characters and layered plots.

Go write something brilliant!


THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.

Why Writing Fiction Is So Hard

by James L. Rubart, @jameslrubart

Why is writing fiction so hard? The short answer: it just is.

The longer answer: Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”He probably could have said, “In this world, when you try to write a novel, you will have trouble.”

From my experience, this has proven to be true. I sent in my latest manuscript to my publisher a few days ago and felt like I’d just finished a marathon. Circumstances outside of my control made writing this story a bear.

This wasn’t the first time. I can say the same thing about all of my novels so far. So why I am surprised when it happens again and again? When we write our novels, there will be troubles. I’ve come to accept that this is a fact. We don’t have a choice in the matter. So at this point I can react in one of two ways.

  1. I can moan and complain and ask, “Why do these things always happen to me!”
  2. I can embrace how Jesus finished his thought. “… but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I can choose whether I let the circumstances dominate my thoughts, or chose to focus on how Jesus overcame the world. He was fully man, remember? We can do what he did.

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He overcame the trouble by focusing on the joy set before him. What is the joy set before you with regard to your stories? One life changed? One hundred? Crossing the line of a finished novel that you didn’t think you could complete?

Choose Now What You Focus On

You probably know by now that multi-tasking is a myth. The way our brains are wired, we can only focus on one thing at a time. And here’s the amazing part. We have free will. We get to choose! What is good and pure and lovely and full of hope, or the dark, fearful, and worrisome.

Yes, in this world, circumstances will buffet your plans, your dreams, your writing schedule, your word count … you will have trouble. But take heart. If you choose to, you can overcome the world.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
– G.K. Chesterton


The Long Journey to Jake Palmer

What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?

Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.

When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.

Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.

But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.

James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He’s the best-selling, Christy BOOK of the YEAR, INSPY, CAROL and RT Book Reviews award winning author of eight novels as well as a professional speaker, co-host of the Novel Marketing podcast, and co-founder of the Rubart Writing Academy. During the day he runs his branding and marketing company which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington. More at www.jameslrubart.com

Don’t Head to a Writers Conference Without Packing These

by Pamela S. Meyers, @pamelameyers

Recently, my social media blew up with chatter about a new television movie. Set at a writers conference, the movie was great fun to watch, especially as the heroine, who was attending her first writers conference, had to overcome her fear of showing her first novel manuscript to anyone, especially complete strangers.

I was reminded how scary and unsettling a writers conference can be for a first-time conferee.

If you are about to attend your first writers conference in 2018, I say congratulations. You’ve made a very important step toward reaching your writing goals. Before you go,here are four things I suggest you pack besides clothing.

  1. Teachability. I’m not sure that’s even a word, but going into workshops and meetings with a teachable attitude is the best thing you can do for yourself. Learning the craft of writing takes hard work and practice. Even if something taught seems counter to what you’ve heard from others, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Make a note of it and come back to it later. You may find out it was good advice after all.
  2. Rhino Skin. If you are pitching your baby to an editor or agent, or maybe paid for a critique from a published writer or editor, you’d better not leave that thick skin at home. No matter how prepared you might think you are to hear negative comments, they still hurt. The rule of thumb for most writers who receive feedback from various people on the same writing is if you hear the negative comment only once, you don’t need to do anything. If you hear a similar comment twice about the same thing, give it some thought, but if you hear a similar comment three times, you need to take action.

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  1. A grateful attitude. There are not many places you can go to be in the presence of so many professionals from the publishing industry. They are there because they are looking for fresh new writers and want to help you grow in the craft. Every beginning writer should attend as many conferences as they can, but not all are able to. Soak it all in, take a lot of notes, and if possible, sign up for recordings of the classes you weren’t able to attend and listen to them.
  2. A positive outlook. Expect to receive negative feedback and plan ahead how you will handle it. Don’t take it personally. Remember an editor or agent appointment is usually about fifteen minutes long. The professional is trying to give you honest feedback in a limited time. Don’t become defensive and be sure to thank the person for their time and advice in a gracious manner. Then, if you need to, go back to your room and have a good cry.

The heroine in the movie at first became very defensive at what she perceived as a slam against her story and her writing, and she was ready to quit and go home. But by the end of the movie, she had a change of heart and began to see how the comments she once took offense to were actually helpful.

I’ll end this by saying my first writing conference turned out to be just what I needed to grow me as a writer. I went into the experience with a story I’d been working on that I was sure would wow editors and agents. In the end, it did none of that, but I learned volumes about starting my story in the right place, what kinds of details are important at the beginning of a story and what is not, and to never give up.

If you are a veteran writer, what was your first writers conference like? If you are planning to attend a writers conference for the first time, and have questions, please ask right here in the comments.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope all of you have a great writing year in 2018.


Second Chance Love

Chicago lawyer Sydney Knight and Texas bull rider Jace McGowan have nothing in common but everything to lose when they are thrust together during a weekend rodeo in rural Illinois. Sydney is determined she’ll get Jace out of his contract and return to Chicago with her heart intact, but Jace is just as determined to help her see they are meant to be together. Can a city girl with roots deep in Chicago and a bull-riding rancher with roots deep in Texas give themselves a second-chance love?

Pamela S. Meyers lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Second Chance Love, and Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (a reissue of Love Finds You in Lake Geneva). Her novellas include: What Lies Ahead, in The Bucket List Dare collection, and If These Walls Could Talk, in Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Midwestern spots for new story ideas.