Category Archives: Writing

WORLD BLOG TOUR – Romantic Suspense Author Robin Johns Grant

My writing process generally involves a cat.
My writing process generally involves a cat.

The Author’s Writing Process and the Discovery of New Books

May 26, 2014 Stop

When Lorilyn Roberts asked if I’d be interested in following her on the World Book Blog Tour, I was intrigued. Here’s how it works. Writers all around the world are asked the same questions about their writing process–if they’re invited by one of the authors who have already posted. And then the next author invites authors to follow them, and so on, and so on.

Just think of this tour of writers snaking around the world, through so many different places, and involving so many different kinds of writers! I’m so honored to be a part of that.

Before I start droning on about myself, though, let me tell you a little about this tour, where it’s coming from and where it’s going. I followed Lorilyn Roberts, who came after Emma Right’s blog here.  If you want to follow it even further back, you can go to Diane’s blog which you can follow here.  After me will be Marjorie B. Hill on June 2.

WHO AM I?

I’m Robin Johns Grant.  If I look tired and stressed when you see me (or my pictures!), it’s because I’m a little overwhelmed with a full-time job as a college librarian, marketing my first published novel (Summer’s Winter), trying to get the next one ready to publish and and write the sequel of Summer’s Winter. And trying to do all that and still give time to God, and take care of my elderly mom and my husband, and all the rescue animals…whew. Just thinking of all that, I may need to take a quick break before I can go on.

Summer’s Winter is a love story wrapped in a mystery, about a preacher's daughter named Jeanine and her obsession with movie star Jamie. At the age of ten, Jeanine believed that God Himself whispered to her in a dark movie theater and promised that the young star would someday be a part of her life. So began an eleven-year test of faith as Jeanine waited for her knight to arrive and rescue her from boring middle Georgia. And then, just as she’s graduating college and about to settle into the dreary nine-to-five life that stretches ahead of her, Jamie bursts into her life in an amazing way. He even seems to be falling for her, just as she’d dreamed. Trouble is, loving Jamie is nothing like she expected. Instead of carrying her away on a white charger, he’s hiding out in Georgia following the suspicious death of his former girlfriend. Jeanine longs to prove his innocence and get at the truth. Unless she can, Jamie’s dark secrets may shatter her faith—and her life.
Summer’s Winter is a love story wrapped in a mystery, about a preacher’s daughter named Jeanine and her obsession with movie star Jamie. At the age of ten, Jeanine believed that God Himself whispered to her in a dark movie theater and promised that the young star would someday be a part of her life. So began an eleven-year test of faith as Jeanine waited for her knight to arrive and rescue her from boring middle Georgia. And then, just as she’s graduating college and about to settle into the dreary nine-to-five life that stretches ahead of her, Jamie bursts into her life in an amazing way. He even seems to be falling for her, just as she’d dreamed. Trouble is, loving Jamie is nothing like she expected. Instead of carrying her away on a white charger, he’s hiding out in Georgia following the suspicious death of his former girlfriend. Jeanine longs to prove his innocence and get at the truth. Unless she can, Jamie’s dark secrets may shatter her faith—and her life.

Okay, I’m back. Deep breath…here we go!

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON? 

I recently completed a draft of a creepy YA supernatural suspense called Jordan’s Shadow.  I, of course, think it’s perfect, but it’s in the hands of Beta readers right now and they will probably think a little bit differently. I’m also planning out the sequel to Summer’s Winter.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I hate to admit it, but my “process” is messy and disorganized, and it’s also changing and evolving.

I’ve been writing full-length novels since I was 16, and I started trying to land a publishing contract when I was 18.  For decades, my process was to write for a few minutes here and there on whatever story interested me. If I stayed interested, I would have a novel manuscript–possibly years later! And of course, there are a few unfinished bad ideas in a drawer, or on my hard drive.

When I actually had a manuscript finished, I started trying to find a publisher–or an agent–who would love it. I often discovered that agents and editors liked my writing or my premise but thought the manuscript needed some sort of change to make it fit the market, so then I would start rewriting, trying to force my square peg into a round hole.

The only thing this accomplished was stressing me out, causing me not to enjoy my writing, and causing no one else to enjoy my writing–which had become a confused mess of other folks’ ideas.

So finally, I decided to go indie. For Summer’s Winter, I had a wonderful professional editor who truly helped me make the story what I wanted it to be. However, after discovering how much indie authors like myself make, I probably won’t be able to do this again. That’s why Jordan’s Shadow is with Beta readers.

So now, as an indie writer, I am writing for myself and for readers’ enjoyment, rather than for a specific market, or trying to hit what a publisher or an agent will like.

At the start, I usually have characters in mind, not a story.  I sit down and just start playing pretend. What if this thing happened to this character? How would that affect the other character? What would they do? If the idea gives me a little shiver and sounds interesting to me (which usually means creepy, mysterious, weird, or sometimes romantic), I try to fit it into a linear plot. (If I zone out and sit at the traffic light a bit too long after it’s turned green, I’m probably plotting. In a good way.)

When I get stuck and am just sitting and staring at my notes, I start doing research. Or something even more informal–just reading nonfiction about something related. For example, for the Summer’s Winter sequel, I’m reading a book written by a skip tracer about how people can “disappear.” Yep, hiding in plain sight will be important for someone in the sequel, and as I read this kind of background info, it gives me ideas and fires my imagination so I can go back to my story outline.

When I have a rough outline, I start writing actual scenes. Even though I have to grab time where I can find it (still disorganized and messy), I try to write at least a few scenes a week, and I write quickly. If I can’t figure out what to do at some point, or I need more information, I switch to all caps and make notes about what I need to fill in or research.

Once I have a rough draft, I work on filling in those missing bits, and rewriting the parts that don’t work for me.  Now–first time I’m trying this process–I’m giving that completed draft to several Beta readers for feedback. I’ve asked them to tell me whether they love or hate the characters, if the story drags in certain areas, if there are plot holes or inconsistencies, things like that.

I’ve found readers all kinds of places–librarian colleagues, friends, student assistants at my Library who enjoy weird, creepy stuff like my story, and members of an organization called Fans for Christ. I’m hoping this crowd of readers will actually provide better feedback than one professional editor. After all, once it’s published, professional editors and agents won’t be my target audience. I’ll be aiming for real readers like these.

Once I get the draft back, I’ll consider what the Beta readers said and rewrite accordingly.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS? 

According to all the editors and agents I’ve approached, I have a nasty tendency to mix genres. Of course, I think this makes my writing fresh and surprising, but others may beg to differ. I define my first published novel, Summer’s Winter, as a Christian romantic suspense because that’s the closest I can come to a genre, but the language and approach are different from most romantic suspense novels. The writing has been described as “lush” and “lyrical.”  Other editors said  it had a “literary feel,” although another said it was “more than escapist romance, but not literary fiction.” I also tackle some themes that are different. John Granger, a literature professor and author of several books about the Harry Potter series, said Summer’s Winter “explores the important intersection of literature, spirituality, and imagination.”

And as for Jordan’s Shadow, I have once again been told that it mixes genres. A little science fiction, a little women’s fiction, YA. I once pitched it to an agent, and when I told him about the super secret plot twist, his mouth fell open and he said, “Well that’s just weird.”

Yep, that’s me.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

I started writing as a child–a child who loved stories, had a wild imagination, and was stuck out in the country with a mother who didn’t drive and not enough to do. So I started making up stories. Much of what I’m writing now comes out of those childhood pretend sessions. And as I’ve matured, I also use the stories to explore ideas that interest me. Summer’s Winter is partly a continuation of stories I made up as a kid, when I would become overly-fascinated with certain books or movies and dream about meeting the actors who played my favorite characters. Now, as an adult, I use the story to examine what that fandom fascination means. Why do we get so caught up in stories?  Is there an eternal, spiritual dimension to our yearnings? (By the way, if all that sounds interesting to you, John Granger did a more in-depth interview with me about it.)

*~*~*~*

 WHO IS NEXT ON THE WORLD BOOK BLOG TOUR?

Please visit Marjorie B. Hill on June 2, 2014, for the next stop on the tour.

**

Marjorie B. Hill makes her home in Walterboro, the front porch of the lowcountry. She is blessed with four children and seven grandchildren. “My parents and grandparents were storytellers. The ‘never-ending story’ continued as chapters were added. I thought everyone created stories in their heads.”

She has been published in Moody Monthly, Pee Dee Magaziner, Mustard Seed Ministries and numerous newspapers. Xeno Oaks is her first novel. You can get better acquainted with her on her blog.

 

 

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Self-Publishing Explosion: Good or Bad for Readers?

Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine.
Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine. Used under Creative Commons License from tripu on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripu/8661744360/

I keep reading about the huge shift that’s happening in the publishing world, mainly due to the explosion of indie books. One figure said there are at least 3,500 books being published in the U.S. every day, and that figure isn’t complete because not all of the self-published books will have an ISBN and be counted.

Usually I hear discussions of what this means to authors—whether they can make more money self-publishing than with a traditional contract, whether they should jump on board the self-publishing train, how they should tackle the marketing.

But I started wondering…just what does this self-publishing explosion mean for readers, for the people who need to decide where to spend their precious book money?

Partially it depends on where you buy your books. If you still mainly get your books from a physical bookstore or a library, you may be missing the publishing revolution altogether. It’s still deadly hard for an indie author to get their work into those physical venues, for a variety of reasons. But if this describes you, did you know you’re in a very small minority—that most people buy their books online these days?

And the biggest retailer by far is, of course, Amazon.

So if you buy from Amazon or another online retailer—whether ebooks or print—you are now faced with far more reading choices than ever. Thousands more choices in any genre or style or cross-over than you could imagine. Self-published mingled with small presses mingled with traditional offerings from large houses—sometimes hard to tell apart unless you really do your research.

For you, the reader, is that good or bad? Again…it depends.

The very idea of all those self-published books out there, with no quality controls at all, just flung out there willy-nilly by anyone with a computer and the ability to type, may fill you with a nameless dread. They’re bound to be chock full of mistakes and bad writing, right? If they weren’t, their authors would get a real publishing contract, wouldn’t they?

I won’t lie. That’s probably true for some of the books out there. But let me ask you something. If you’ve mainly been reading the popular current fiction, or genre fiction put out by traditional houses, do you ever start to feel a little…let down? As though you’re reading the same thing over and over? Do those books ever seem a little bland and predictable?

As a reader myself, I had frankly been growing less and less enthusiastic about reading. I even noticed something strange I was starting to do. I would read a book all the way until the last couple of chapters and then quit. I wasn’t hating the book, and I had stuck with it that long. But there didn’t even seem any reason to read the last chapter, because without even reading it, I could tell you exactly what was going to happen to wrap things up.

As I started going to writers’ conferences—where we were warned about the evils of self-publishing and not “learning our craft”—one of the teachers on writing romantic suspense basically gave a laundry list of what a romantic suspense book must contain. (For example, the heroine has to be in a certain age range, and she must have an interesting profession.) In the climax, the heroine must be backed into a corner and her life endangered by the villain, and her hero must come to her aid, but she must not be passive. She should find a way to escape or to at least help overcome the villain. And then she and the hero come together in triumph and love.

Then I realized—that’s why I was putting those books down when I reached the predictable ending.

That’s also why my romantic suspense book, in which I tried to dash people’s expectations of the predictable ending, was getting turned down with suggestions for rewrites.

As blogger Jack Woe wrote, “A publisher’s job is to sell books. It’s safer to choose books that fit into the current trend than to take a chance, even though the chances tend to create trends when they’re successful…I don’t want to read the same story over and over and over again, only written by different authors. I want something new.”

Of course, as Hugh Howey points out, when you look at traditional vs. self-published books, you’re comparing “the tip of one iceberg (the books that made it through the gauntlet and into bookstores) with an entire iceberg (all self-published books).” In other words, readers now become the judges of what’s good and what they should read—but that means they’re faced with that huge slush pile that publishers usually wade through for them.

But there is more good news for readers. First of all, with Amazon ebooks, you can sample the books for free and check out whether the story grabs you, or whether it’s poorly written. Many times, you can get the whole book for free, or for a very low price. It’s a lot less of a commitment to sample and look for that one shining gem.

And instead of picking up a book in a store and seeing nothing but the blurbs and descriptions the publisher wanted to see, we now have reader reviews! If a book is poorly written, some reviewer is going to tell you so. And if a book can rise to the top of an Amazon list and be self-published, you know that book has something special, probably something new and refreshing, that’s grabbing readers’ attention.

So yes, as both a reader and an author, I’m excited about the new world of publishing.

What do you think? Have you read any self-published books? What have your reading experiences been—good or bad?

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