Tag Archives: Robin D. Owens

Writing Through The Dark Times

By Robin D. Owens.

I reached the end of a book in a long series I love and found a note that the series, which the author had anticipated writing for years, had abruptly ended. She’d had a major upheaval in her life and couldn’t overcome her new circumstances to reach back into the core happiness and central theme of that series and continue.

This is an epublished author and series and she designs her career. Of course, I empathized, and I’m deeply sorry that she’s going through this, and I will darn well miss that series.

I know she’s crafting a new life, but I think she is making a career mistake.

I’ve seen the promo for the new series she’s writing under another name and I don’t think the majority of her readers will follow her to it. Or if they do, the first book will have to be so EXTRAORDINARY, the characters so completely engaging that she’ll pull her readers along, and that’s a tough job. And I think her new genre is too niche to attract more than a few new readers.

Now I know something about the above. I know about writing a niche series. I know about readers following you (or not) to other series. I know about being the sole support of yourself and your family with your writing. I know about a train wreck happening in your life that changes it into a shape you’d barely imagined.

For me, in 2010, I hung onto my series (and I do write lighter, more humorous stories and that was a concern) and added a collection of stories to what I’d already contracted for.

And there is the big difference. I was contracted for more books in the two series I was writing at the time. I didn’t have the luxury of walking away from them without paying back money that was mostly spent and thrashing around in legal complications.

I had to reach into myself and still pull up what I needed to continue those books, and hope that what I found inside would be sufficiently close to what my readers expected.

I’m sure if someone really analyzed my writing before and after April 2010, you’d see it’s changed, perhaps gotten an edge here or there it didn’t have. But one of my series, the Celta “Heart” books (all the stories have “Heart” in the title) is still continuing. The other series, Mystic Circle for Luna did not, but due more to the publisher and the changing face of publishing than my personal angst.

If I presumed to give advice to this writer (who I believe is much more successful than me), I’d tell her: fake it until you make it. Or perhaps that’s not quite an exact a phrase: wring out what you can minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and string it into a story.

Yes, writing is an emotional experience, based on inner feelings. But writing is also technique, and writers CAN be professional and carry on, especially if you have no choice.

Like I said before, you find that spot, that core of you that you reveal in bits through every story and you hang on tight to that and go there and mine it.

You also do exactly what you do during the darkISH times – the tough times we all have learned to write through. You use those processes you already have in place that work for you such as journaling (Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), venting to friends, afternoons away (Artist Dates), rearranging your office or going to somewhere else to write. You use everything to keep on track.

You also depend on your beta readers and critique group to see if the technique and the emotion you can put in will carry you through as you limp, then return to your stride.

With this particular writer, I think that she will find she has to go back to her previous series, first because it is a money maker, then because she loves/loved it too, and she can. And I think she will try shorter pieces first with enough of the emotional resonance of her first series until she can return. Her writing may be different, but perhaps not as much as she anticipates. Time helps.

Now, that’s emotional darkness. What about LITERAL darkness? In these short days of winter light, writing can be a problem. I know it is for me. As I learned through research for my Summoning series, Denver has an average of three hundred days of sunshine a year. I have trouble writing when it’s gray. Gray days are for snuggling and reading.

Personally (and I don’t know the facts), this November and December have seemed grayer for me, and I’ve struggled, but, again, I have procedures in place and have instituted new ones. These work for me: a full spectrum light on my desk; taking a walk in the sunshine if/when it appears and if it doesn’t taking a walk in the gray; writing with friends: online in a war room, sprints on twitter, and in person.

Or grab yourself some strong coffee (or tea), some music that will put you in the mood, and just march forward word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

May all your writing dreams come true and may next year be even better than this year!

Robin

Words and Pictures

By Robin D. Owens

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?

The following is a true story.

One year I had a calendar from Harper that features heroes from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn’t quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can’t solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my critique group. (Note the cover is the ORIGINAL book cover for The Greatest Lover In All England by Christina Dodd).

I knew Sharon Mignerey, who hosted our critique group, had the same calendar, and that we tended to congregate in her office before critiquing officially started. And so it was on the first Saturday of February that year.

We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man — and his subtle challenge.

“Challenge” was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous — as many adjectives as there were people.

“He’s sensitive,” someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought.

“Hey, he’s arrogant,” I said. “He’s got his hand on his sword hilt.”

“Where else would he put it? He doesn’t have any pockets,” Liz retorted. This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we had all sat down and done a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would have ended up with seven very different heroes. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points.

Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story. A picture is not worth a thousand words — not when it can’t convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, Sharon wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February. (Note: the cover is for the paperback anthology Tall, Dark, and Dangerous by Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, and Susan Sizemore).

“Ugh!” someone said. “Too tough,” someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man — unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.

Animals as Secondary Characters

Hi, I’m Robin D. Owens and I write fantasy romance for Berkley-Penguin-Random House (the “Heart” Series – 13 going on 14). I also write the Ghost Seer paranormal romance series for Berkley (Ghost Seer out last April, Ghost Layer recently released in September and Ghost Killer out next February). I wrote a five book series of fantasy for women (the “Summoning” series) for Luna Books.

I’m known for my animal or Familiar companions, and I’m quite sure that Zanth, the telepathic cat with attitude (redundant), sold my first book, HeartMate. Since then, in the Heart books, I’ve had kittens, cats, dogs, foxes, a raccoon and a hawk as my Fams – along with a wandering mole, etc.

In my Summoning series I have some magical beings who shapeshift into various animals. Miniature greyhounds and warhawks are the most common, though occasionally they have their catlike moments. I also have flying horses.

These characters are in the books for several reasons: mentors, friends, comic relief and occasionally under threat (they can get into trouble and some go to war). In the Summoning books, they also play a mysterious part in shaping the worlds’ events.

You might call them archetypical characters. Mentors who advise (and may have their own agendas which also make them tricksters). Friends who are there to listen or nudge or nag (so, that’s still a horse word but at least it wasn’t badger…). Comic relief: this I use quite a bit, I like my tension built, released and built again.

The Ghost Seer series has a ghost Labrador as a spirit guide and all around cheerleader.

Things to watch for when you’re writing animals. First, my cats are pretty much cats, except they are slightly more intelligent and can speak telepathically. They are self-centered, they live in the moment, they have contradictions in whatever philosophy they have but it has meaning to them at the time. They’re vain. They call all cats “Cats,” capitalized, and all dogs “dogs,” NEVER capitalized. They look down on dogs. And they negotiate payment for favors.

I try to keep my animals close to what they are here on earth, and with those limitations. My puppy in Heart Thief adores her FamWoman…and piddles on the rug. My crippled and starving Noble Hound in Heart Fate resents having to eat leftovers that a hunting cat “generously” gives him. He looks down on cats because they aren’t as loyal as dogs. The Ghost Seer dog, Enzo, is determinedly cheerful.

For research…I have cats and my ex-roomie had a puppy. I observed. There is a strategically vital place in my house and each and every one of my cats has found it and held it.

I read a lot of books on foxes and there are some in the neighborhood. Another thing, THE expert on foxes call a noise they make “chortling.” Maybe the sound is closer to chortling than the standard, well-known “barking.” If I used “chortling,” it would pull my reader from the story to think about the word which is not something associated with foxes….

The mole came in handy in a couple of the stories and a fan who liked moles and stuck the idea in my head provided critique and tips.

I have friends who have horses and I studied “natural” horsemanship, went to a horse camp (I live in the city) given by another writer who has Lipizzaners.

So, from my point of view, don’t make them too cute, or too smart, and keep them lifelike. People will love them anyway.

May all your writing dreams come true.

Snip, Snip, Snip. Oh, the pain! Cutting your manuscript.

By Robin D. Owens

But that was the best line. The funniest. The most heartfelt and tender. And the whole scene must be cut.

I write long – that is, for a 100K word novel contract, I usually hit 103K, and have been known to go up to, ah, I think 120K. That means, for a hardcopy book, more paper, more expense for my publisher, and/or smaller print (wince). I once signed on for a short story, 16K words max, and mine came in at 17.5. I got it down to 15,900, but other people had come in long and I was cut from the anthology. (I later put the words back in and the story was published in my only collection, Hearts and Swords, which also ran hideously long and should have been 3 stories instead of 4, but I said 4 for the back cover copy, and…).

Or, and I’ve heard this (lately), “the pacing is too slow, cut words from the front of the book.” Snip, snip, snip and 3,000 are gone, scenes I loved.

Or, “This is a novella, not one of your regular books, the hero and heroine need to meet sooner…”

I’ve gotten really good at cutting. The easiest way is to tighten the book until it squeaks. No, “the ghost dog jumped into the bed of the truck.” Nope. “Enzo jumped into the truck bed.”

First, check chapters. If I really have to cut, any chapter that has less than thirteen lines on the last page gets tightened.

Look at every paragraph in your manuscript and check for those that have one word at the end, and see if you can reword and tighten. And, yes, this takes time. And, yes, sometimes the answer is “No, I can’t tighten this.” For me, the answer is “no” about five percent of the time.

That’s the technical part. What about the emotional part?

When I was writing my second fantasy romance, since I hadn’t sold the first fantasy romance, I cut all the romance and changed the story to a straight fantasy. I was about half way through the story when my first fantasy romance sold. So all the additional world building and strictly fantasy scenes I put in Had To Go. Talk about painful.

What I finally decided to do was put “cut scenes” up on my (old) website, particularly for that book. That eased my emotional pain considerably. The scenes weren’t totally lost forever, never to see the light of day.

This has continued to serve me well. My fans know that I write long, and I have “cut scenes” for almost every story. On Facebook and my blog I’ve instituted “Celta Thursday” for the readers who like that particular series the most (a Celtic pagan society set on another planet colonized by Earth people with psi powers). Sometimes I put up maps, of the world, or of an interior room. Sometimes I put up images of the characters. But most often I compare the rough draft of a manuscript with the final copy edits and pull out cut scenes.

DON’T DELETE THOSE SCENES YOU CUT, ALWAYS SAVE THEM. (All right, if they are worth saving. I do have a “learning how to write book” that will never be seen.)

You will have people who like your stories. You will want to give extras to them because they say wonderful things about your writing. Save your cuts, and tell yourself you’ll put them somewhere else to be admired, that funny line, that whole lovely thread or subplot… This will help you get through the snip, snip, snip.

And, trust me, baby, eventually it does get easier . . . mostly.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

A few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors have submitted their best advice for an enjoyable and educational conference experience. These suggestions work for any conference, of course, but will be especially meaningful for those who plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section.

Kerry Schafer

1. Talking to writers at a conference is easier than talking to “normal” people, because you can drop the small talk. If you don’t know what to say, just ask, “So what are you writing?” Even shy writers are generally happy to start telling you about their latest project, and this helps to break the ice.

2. Have a business card or bookmark you can pass out with your name, email address, and social media contacts. This allows people you connect with at the con to find you again later. You can get inexpensive business cards at Moo.com or Vistaprint, or even make some yourself and print them on cardstock. Definitely worth the time.

3. Agents and editors are people. They don’t like to be spammed any more than you do, but they are looking for the next wonderful book and it might just be yours. Treat them with respect and let your enthusiasm shine through.

Kevin Paul Tracy

1. Don’t necessarily attend all the same workshops/classes as all your friends. Split up, then come together later and share notes.

2. The hospitality suite is great, but explore, there are all sorts of impromptu gatherings all over the place all weekend.

3. Listen more than you speak. You’ll overhear so much more that way and learn all sorts of interesting things.

4. Don’t go to bed early – stay up past your bed time. Some of the best conversations come after 1am and everyone is well lubricated.

5. When you make a new friend, get their “deets” right away, so you can stay in touch. You will forget later.

Robin D. Owens

1. There is no “one true way” to do things. What the seminar speaker is telling you works for him/her. Take what works for YOU from the workshop and use that.

2. Sometimes you have to hear a concept several times or phrased in different ways before it sinks in and is useful for you.

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

1. Set specific, and reachable, personal goals. When I go to a conference, I try to meet (and remember) three new people every day. I used to feel shy about approaching strangers and introducing myself, but that became much easier when I replaced “Meet lots of people” with “Meet three new authors every day of the conference.” I usually end up meeting many more, but focusing on initiating three conversations made the goal more personal and reachable.

Jeffe Kennedy

Don’t over-schedule in advance, particularly regarding panels and workshops. Leave room to talk to people and go to panels and workshops as the opportunities arise. Connecting with other people is the one part of the conference you won’t be able to replicate some other way.

Please come back on Friday for Part II of Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers, featuring Liesa Malik, Pam Nowak, and Katriena Knights, and Jeanne Stein.

Ooooh, shiny! The Next Project Syndrome

By Robin D. Owens

There you are, drudging through your current project, convinced it is cat crap and an idea wiggles in. A beautiful, sparkling, WONDERFUL idea. Something so alluring, that will be so much more fun to write than the current story (especially if the current story has been bought and you’ve taken money for it and it is now late).

Oooh. Yes. There’s the hero, you get HIM. Different characteristics than the guy giving you fits right now.

There’s the hint of the plot, SO much more exciting than the murder you’ve gotten bogged down in, or the details you need to research of the cathedral you’re building, or the heroine who needs to be trained in knife fighting…

SO much easier to write on a story that shines with promise rather than dig into the guts of the work you have now, the one that was once shiny but currently is hard to write, a job, work.

Because all ideas become hard to write. Nothing stays shiny. But that initial POP of an idea, the brainstorming of some bits of the people or the plot, wow, that’s FUN.

Before I was published, I could be lured away. I must have six or seven manuscripts started that never made it more than 100 pages or so before something else caught my attention.

Now, with the selling of my stories, my work, I have to be more disciplined. Yes, the ideas come…it’s particularly bad if they come in a series I think I can sell….whispering their sweetness. But, for me, I must resist.

So this is what I do. I live only with cats which means I can wake up in the middle of the night and dictate wonderful (or stupid) ideas, so I keep my itouch handy. The voice memo button is on the toolbar so it stays available whether I was playing spider solitaire or looking at Word of the Day when I turned off my device. I can find the memo app with my thumb in the dark, if necessary. I can burble about the new and shiny idea. Then I can save it for a more appropriate time (i.e. when the present manuscript is finished).

If the story continues to hang around while I’m studying knife fighting or building a cathedral, or figuring out when my hero is going to say “I love you,” I might hit the computer and write down additional notes or prompts for it. The heroine is an adventuress. The hero is a gentle giant. He is an introvert [long notes about the story formerly here CUT].

When the previous manuscript is finished and I have a little time, I can rub my hands and delve into the New! Fun! Improved-Technique-Trust-Me-Baby! Shiny idea. And it stays fun for a while, depending on the publishing schedule, real life, and before I take the first chapter to critique group. :) Maybe even after that. Until I hit a snag, or need to deepen the character or realize that the plot does not work.

Then the mind wanders and . . . You understand? Sure, you know this cycle as well as I do.

Well, that’s what I do when the next sparkling concept hits my brain. I’m not sure what you might do, but this works for me so it might help you.

What is lovely is that it’s good to realize that you aren’t alone in this fascinating endeavor. That there are other people on this journey whose eyes WON’T glaze over when you talk to them about writing.

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Reading Your Own Work, Process, And Being Kind To Yourself

By Robin Owens

My very first audio book just came out, Ghost Seer, narrated by Coleen Marlo. I listened to the sample. I used a download code (worth $19.95) to buy it and I listened to the beginning. I like the narrator. But I’m having problems with hearing my words.

This isn’t really anything new. I have problems reading my own work, too.

I’ll point out that we all have a story to tell and our own unique way of telling it. That we should love writing it. This story will, most probably, reflect ourselves and our world views. This story should be something we would love to read.

This doesn’t happen to me, nor to many of my friends, published or unpublished. We don’t read our books, and for several reasons.

One reason can be that the work is old. Yes my first published book, HeartMate, won a major award (it was my fourth manuscript). People are still discovering it, and enjoying it. But I can’t read it. I could write it so much better now, I think (I definitely made the world building in the first pages too steep…).

Another reason is I look at a book and just cringe at all the work I put into it, and it’s still Not Perfect. I don’t want to read/listen to my flaws.

Most often, though, is the simple fact of my process of writing (this is my process, and I don’t expect anyone else to write as I do, yours is probably different and works best for you):

1) Write scenes/chapters
2) Take to critique group
3) Rewrite
4) Write more scenes and chapters, revising as I go (I write out of sequence)
5) Put out of sequence scenes in chapters
6) Read and revise
7) Finish draft
8) Revise draft
9) Send draft to beta readers
10) Revise
11) Send draft to editor! (usually late)

I PRAY I don’t get a Hideous Revision Letter that starts “I have concerns. I think you’ll have to revise quite a bit of this.” Cringe.

Like anyone, I would prefer, “I loved it! You did a fantastic job!” (I have heard this twice. Of twenty-four books).

Copy edits come. Page proofs (galleys) come. Somewhere along this timeline I am so sick of the story that I can’t stand it anymore. Am I changing a sentence and it’s better? Or just different?

So by the time the published book is out there, I deeply know the plot, the characters, the sentence structure in the third paragraph of chapter twenty-two. And when I read the story I don’t see the story, I see the technicalities. (Let me insert here that I LOVE rereading my favorite authors. I usually am rereading a book as well as reading something new).

I wasted $19.95 on that download of Ghost Seer, and I should have known better.

This is where I, and you-who-can’t-read-your-work-one-more-time, must depend on others, on the reader half of the writer-reader equation, to tell you whether you did your job, and how well you did your job. Believe them when they say you did great.

Oh, by the way, don’t read bad reviews.

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