A lot of you have been asking what I’ve been working on, lately, so it’s probably past time that I checked in. For more than a year, now–actually close to two–I’ve been working on a new series, supernatural thrillers. And I don’t mind telling you, it’s been kicking my butt. Which is both wonderful and frustrating because I’m learning and growing as a writer. But it’s been hard, hard work. Paranormal romances come easily to me–I’ve written 19 of them! Thrillers are an entirely different animal. Not only am I having to understand the intricacies of a new genre, but I’ve discovered that the way I wrote before doesn’t work as well for thrillers. My entire approach to writing has been turned on its head. The wonderful thing is, I am learning, and growing, and I’m seeing that growth in the writing. But it’s taking time.
I just finished the first book in the series for the third time. And I’m not talking about drafts and revisions. Pretty much the only pieces of the original story that remain are the setting (a modern day castle ruin in Argyll, Scotland), and the supernatural elements (which I still absolutely love). I wrote the book the first time and knew I hadn’t nailed it, not at all. The protagonist was all wrong, definitely not the right person for the job. So I fired her and found the perfect heroine. I adore her. The story changed drastically with a new protagonist, but when it was finished, I still wasn’t satisfied. I realized the pacing was off because I hadn’t gotten the thriller elements right.
Fortunately, I’m nothing if not stubborn. I never give up. Ever. But it was clear to me that I needed a completely different approach to the book. I decided, instead, to take a different approach to the writing.
I’ve always been a bit of a plotter. Not too in-depth, mind you. The characters still need plenty of room to take the story and run with it, and mine always have. But I usually spend about three months working out the basic plot structure of a book before I start writing. Kind of like planning a vacation by saying, “I’m going to travel from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, to Denver, to Dallas, and back, and do it in ten days.” And that’s about it. Maybe get some ideas for what you want to do in those places, but no reservations or commitments.
There are certainly writers who do far more plotting ahead of time. And I’d thought a thriller would certainly require that–setting up all the twists and turns. Instead, I decided to try going the other way and writing the second book in the series by the seat of my pants. No pre-planning at all. I typed ‘Chapter 1’, closed my eyes, shut down my thinking mind, and typed what came to me. I was completely startled to find my fingers flying across the keyboard, the words coming, not from my engineering brain, but straight from my muse, my imagination. I figured the book was the second in the series with the same protagonist (it was!), but I didn’t even know where it was going to be set. Turns out, it was Pompeii. I have never had a writing experience anything like that, the story unfolding beneath my fingertips. It was like riding in the backseat with no hands on the wheel. Over and over I was startled and delighted by the things that happened, things I never saw coming.
It turns out that my imagination is a far more creative plotter than my engineering brain. <head desk> And it only took me twenty-one books to figure that out. Another thing I realized was that since I was essentially channeling the story directly from my subconscious, I had to keep that channel open, which meant writing every day. I took a day off, early on, and had trouble getting going again. This took place last December and I still wrote every single day, even if only an hour in the morning before everyone else got up (over the holidays). I first-drafted that book in 20 days.
After that eye-opening experience, I had a much better idea of what I needed to do with the first book, though writing a book ‘fresh’ that you’ve already written twice isn’t easy. Still, I took a deep breath, handed the reins over to my muse, closed my eyes, and let her lead me on another wild ride. And she did. Not only is the story a far better one than before, but the characters came roaring to life in a way they hadn’t before. We (my muse and I) finished the book last Sunday, June 21st, the summer solstice, which I find fitting.
Now I’m heading back to revise the second book. I have complete faith that my muse knew what she was doing when she wrote all those lovely twists and turns, but she didn’t tidy everything up in the end, and it’s time for the engineering brain to get in there, sort everything out, and tie everything together. As I learn to trust my muse more, and as she and my engineering brain learn to work together better on the front end, perhaps my first drafts will be cleaner in the future. Hard to say. But I’ve decided that I’m going to write the third book in the series before sending any of these to my agent, because I may learn something else about this new writing process, or the characters, or the series, that I’ll need to work back into the first two.
I’m absolutely in love with this series. The stories fascinate me, I adore the characters, and despite the occasional head-banging, writing them is turning out to be an incredible experience. I can’t wait to share them with you!
My thrillers aren’t the only books I’ve been working on. Between the second version of book 1 and the first drafting of book 2, I wrote the final book in my Vamp City trilogy. Quinn and Arturo’s story finally comes to it’s climactic end in Of Blood and Passion which will be out July 14th! Once these first three thrillers are off to my agent, I’ll have to decide what I’m going to work on next. I’m open to suggestions!