Friday, September 25, 2015

Next Stop, Insanity

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First off, I wrote the title to this blog post and had my fingers poised above the keyboard when my husband burst in the door and asked, "Wanna see some bears?" People, there are no words in the English language important enough to keep me at my desk under those circumstances. Especially when said bears are a sow grizzly with three cubs and they're A MILE FROM MY HOUSE.

We've known there were grizzlies around for the past several years. The neighbors see them. We find bear scat on the road and around the grain bins up on the ridge, but this is our first actual sighting. Unfortunately, we didn't get within camera range. Or maybe fortunately because SOW GRIZZLY WITH CUBS. We do have very good binoculars, though, and it was an amazing sight. Also, I now feel totally justified for carrying bear spray to walk across the yard to my mother's house after sunset.

Ahem.

Back to my previously scheduled post, which now seems pretty dull by comparison. This week I started a brand new book. Just me and a blank white page, upon which I am expected to paint an entire world, beginning with a couple hundred words:

(Note: Click on the image to enlarge. If you read my first book, The Long Ride Home
you've already realized from this snippet that the new series isn't quite so squeaky clean.)

At this moment, I always feel as if there should be a chorus of angels, or at the very least that tinkling sound magic spells make in Disney movies, and sparkles floating around in the air. Because really, writing fiction is a sort of magic. The essence of creation, as miraculous as the act of conception (yep, there's more of that in these books, too). I am giving birth to not one, but a whole cast of humans.

And yes, sometimes it's a lot like being in labor, except without the epidural. I have very fond memories of the epidural. Beer isn't nearly as effective, unless you use it to wash down a couple of shots of tequila, and then I just experience a different kind of pain while getting reacquainted with my lunch. Which is a real disappointment, because I thought a high tolerance for alcohol was part of the package when I became a writer, along with the voices in my head and a nearly irresistible urge to edit magnetic signboards in public places.

For the love of God, people, learn to mind your apostrophes before I'm forced to do it for you, which would be embarrassing because I am not good at stealthy and the Chief of Police knows my parents.

ANYWAY...

Writers tend to sort themselves into two categories: Plotters and Pantsers. Before committing a single word to the page, Plotters spends days, weeks, or months developing a detailed outline, in depth character sketches, maybe even a collage of photos that represent the people and places in the book. When not writing, I assume they iron their socks and alphabetize their canned goods.

Pansters are so-named because they prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, making it all up as they go along. You can probably guess by this aimless, rambling post which group I belong to--or so I thought. Turns out, I'm a hybrid. Or possibly an undercover Plotter who's just too lazy to write it all down.

My normal process is to start with a situation that piques my interest--a true story about a high-caliber rope horse that goes missing then shows up years later, ridden by an oblivious teenager (see The Long Ride Home)--then spend months letting it rattle around inside my head, conjuring up the people who would be most damaged by this situation, Then I dream up several key scenes from the beginning, middle and end that act as my guideposts. And then I start to write, figuring out as I go along how to get from one key scene to the next.

(Note to writers, aspiring or otherwise: This is basically three act structure, without the whiteboard chart, index cards or sticky notes. Again, too lazy for all that, unless I've written myself onto the edge of a cliff and it's the only safety line. If you want to know more, ask me in the comments and I'll hook you up with some links.)

Along comes my three book contract with Sourcebooks. Book One (now pretty much officially known as Reckless in Texas and pretty much officially set for an August 2016 release) was complete before we started pitching it to publishing houses, which is the norm for fiction. I'd written the first few chapters of Book Two and had the situation, the characters and my key scenes firmly embedded in my mind, in hopes that someone would want a series. Book Two, working title Tangled Up in Texas, is now complete and will be off to my editor by the weekend.

Which brings us to Book Three. It must share the general setting and star at least one secondary character from the first two books. So here I sit, aimed a hundred and eighty degrees from my usual starting position. I've got these people, now I have to figure out what to do with them.

Like I said, I thought I was a Pantster, but I've always sort of scoffed at the writers who claim they sit down at their computer every day to see what happens because they don't know until it appears on the page. Surely, I reasoned, they must have a sketchy outline in their head. They can't really end every scene with no idea where the story is going next.

Yeah. I was wrong about that, too. I have only one key scene in mind for this book, and it's still up for debate. But I no longer have the luxury to mull things over until it all comes clear. I have this thing called a deadline and it demands I put words on the page now, so I just bailed in and started writing.

It's very much like taking a cross-country road trip with people I've only known for a month. Usually I would have a map with a route drawn out and we'd all have the same destination in mind. From here to Great Falls to Rapid City to Chicago to Cleveland and finally the Big Apple, for example. And I'd know who was most likely to navigate rush hour traffic without accidentally taking an off ramp into drug gang turf or squashing a smug hipster in a Smart Car like a gopher, possibly on purpose.

With this book, we climb in the pickup every morning, look at each other and say, "Keep heading east, we're bound to hit some part of the coast eventually. When you see the big water, stop. And for crying out loud, don't let Hank drive or we'll end up in New Orleans throwing beads at topless women."

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P.S.- Since I failed to get photos of this morning's bears, you can have this one from our Sunday drive up in Glacier National Park instead. He was smaller, cuter, and polite enough to stand alongside the road almost totally ignoring the tourists who climbed out of their cars and offered themselves up as an afternoon snack.

P.P.S. - THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! Can you hear my inner editor screaming?  But it is funny.

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