Organizing Book Three of my series

Writing Book Two of the Lakeside Porches romances dropped me into the dilemmas all series writers face: how to recover from a “bad” character portrayal in a previous book, how to keep details straight (what color were his eyes? how old was she when?), and how to leave the door open for a change of heart? I didn’t have access then to the wonderful post today from writing duo C.D. Hersch (see Five Important Things You Should Know About Writing a Series) and other advice like it.

I was fortunate that Book One (Stepping Up To Love) was still in the editing process; I could, for example, still revise the brief appearance of Joel’s uncle Justin at the beginning and end of Book One. Thank heaven! I made Justin less nasty, more insightful, and a lot richer. That smoothed the way for a still-deeply-troubled Justin to be a redeemable, desirable, even likable hero in Book Two. It also insured that the Book One hero and heroine– Joel and Manda– had firmly established, meaningful relationships with Justin at the start of Book Two.

Even better, I learned from the mistake. I developed a scene-by-scene matrix for the second book, using advice from Bob Mayer and Jen Talty. I also kept notes about each character, including some backstory.

To keep my sanity and to insure a coherent, credible series, I’ve drafted three documents to help me with Book Three. The new book (working title “Gwen Gets a Clue”) has a main love story (psychologist Gwen Forrester from Books One and Two and a new character Peter Shaughnessy) and a significant subplot (Gwen’s pregnant niece Meg and her brainy college boyfriend Rick). Because Meg’s pregnancy coincides with Gianessa’s from Book Two (find out if the twins will really be named Jack and Jill) we’ll have return appearances from Dr. Bowes (see, I had to search for her name!), Justin, Sydney Shorey and her husband Danny Brennan (had to search for his name too, but I remembered he’s a Notre Dame grad), Sara and the Thrift Shop Adventure chicks, Tony (whose younger brother Sam is Peter’s partner) and of course Joel and Manda.

The three documents together make sense of all the characters and story elements:

– A Goals-Motivation-Conflict chart for Gwen, Peter, Meg, and Rick (thanks forever to Debra Dixon).
– A chronology of events that weaves together all four main characters (Gwen, Peter, Meg, and Rick) and that shows each one’s growth (character arc) and the arc of Gwen and Peter’s love story.
– Notes about the contribution of the Meg-Rick subplot showing how their needs, decisions, dilemmas, etc. are instrumental to the character growth of Gwen and Peter and showing the contrast between their young love relationship and the main love story between Gwen and Peter. I added explanations for the contribution and importance of Sam and Tony, Sydney and Danny, and Gianessa and Justin.

I did not number these documents 1-2-3 because their development was iterative. A change to one had ripple effects on the other two. It was only when I declared “Yes!” for the GMC chart that I felt confident I could “finalize” the other two. I now have the blueprints I need to proceed with the writing at an absolutely insane period with both my day jobs. I feel relaxed knowing that every stolen half hour of writing time will be time well spent. I can start a scene from any point on the chronology, with confidence. Or continue the scene. Or revise it. I know the scene’s significance and I know which details already exist and which can be created or embellished.

Will the new blueprints work? I think so. Will I backtrack into another scene-by-scene matrix, perhaps more complex than before? If I need to.

Please share your techniques, favorite links, resources, and examples for writing a coherent, credible series!

Staying true to your book

What would you do?

You’ve finished the book, asked a variety of test readers to give you feedback, and made changes based on their feedback. You love this book, its characters, and its message. You submit the manuscript, as requested, knowing that it will be assigned an editor. You wait and wait and finally the edits arrive in your inbox.

By page two you realize the editor has misread your book, viewing it through the lens of a belief system that is apparently at odds with your message. Of all the things you anticipated, this wasn’t one of them. Not only does the editor object to the way you’ve handled sensitive situations, he wants you to rewrite the book to bring it in line with his passionate viewpoint. It’s almost as if you’re bringing a Jewish perspective to situations, and now you’re expected to rewrite your book from a Catholic perspective. Yikes!

Okay, let’s make it even harder: You’re a brand new author and this is your first book. And you have no option to request another editor.

So, what would you do?

I won’t share all the curses, prayers, foot stomps, phone calls to friends, double-checks with test readers, and obsessive cleaning sprees, but you can imagine how my kitchen shone for the ten days of this editing ordeal!

Here’s what I did in response to the editor’s input:

To begin on a positive note, I separated the edits that were craft-related from those that were ideology-related. I looked at the merits of the craft-related edits and saw that most of them definitely improved the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the book for my target audience. It felt good to see that in some ways the editor was on my side; I made those changes and took time to reflect on how the tips and techniques would benefit me as I moved forward in my writing career.

Buoyed by that little success, I moved on to the comments that arose from the tricky professional lens the editor wore when he picked up my book. Were any of the comments valid relative to my story? Very few, I thought. I decided to incorporate those few changes by working them into the character arcs of the hero and heroine the best I could. That done, I gave myself a pat on the back for staying true to my book and moved ahead.

Next, I looked at the really troublesome comments that did not fit with the nature or intent of my book. Ultimately I had to ask myself if my characters’ motivations were clear to my reader? How about the hero’s thinking and the heroine’s responses and the villain’s villainy? Did the editor misread them and judge them anathema because of his particular lens or because of my sloppy writing? Probably some of each, I decided.

I did a complete review of the book looking specifically at how I represented motivation through action and dialog. Also, where had I muddied the water or gotten preachy or danced around an issue or failed to connect the dots in a character’s arc? That analysis taught me a lot. I set about clarifying why my characters thought and behaved as they did, particularly in those sensitive situations that the editor dissed. And I made changes accordingly– not to embrace the editor’s view– but to clarify and improve my story.

That done, I adjusted things like the final word count of the manuscript (which had crept past the 80,000 word mark), scrolled through to be sure all the changes and comments had been addressed, spell-checked one more time, saved it, backed it up–twice– and sent it. And I sent a separate letter to the person who had originally bought my book and signed the contract with me; I won’t share that here.

And I love this book. Will my edits be accepted? Will my book be published? I don’t know.

I’m curious what other authors have done or would do in a similar situation. I hope you’ll share your comments.

What inspires romance?

I took an interesting detour the last few weeks to explore a subgenre that I hoped would be a good fit for my romances. My books and stories involve 12-step spirituality as an integral part of the relationship, what I’m calling “higher powered romance”. I don’t see my stories as Christian romances, so they don’t fit well with what is typically called “Inspirational” romance or “inspired romance.” While some contests give a broader definition for “Inspirational,” the titles and blurbs that catch my eye all seem to be Christian in focus.

One subgenre I recently encountered is called “Inspirational with Edge.” Blogger Joy Tamsin David gives a detailed and interesting definition of Edgy Inspirational that is frankly Christian. Several sites explore these ideas, each in their own way. These include: Love Inspired Authors; Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers; Julie Lessman – Passion with a Purpose – Inspirational Romance for the Heart and Soul; Kaye Dachus – Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters; Shawna K. Williams – Author of Grace-Inspired Fiction; Michelle Sutton – Healing Hearts – Fiction making an impact on real lives; and others.

Two “edgy inspirational” authors in particular caught my eye, and I enjoyed their books very much. Author Pamela S. Thibodeaux‘s book The Visionary is an example of a Christian romance that deals sensitively with the impact of abhorrent sexual, physical, and mental abuse on siblings, all in the context of compelling, parallel love stories. Author Carrie Daws writes a series in Crossing, OR, (Crossing Values, Ryan Crossing, and so on) that feature family values, Christian transformation, and romance. Both these authors have firm footing in Christian values and in the transformative power of love between a man and a woman.

After exploring and reading with great interest, however, it’s become clear to me this is not a subgenre that fits my higher-powered romances.

Then I opened the cover (well, okay, clicked to page one!) of the e-book A Year to Remember by Shelly Bell (Soulmate Publishing, Inc.). This funny, fast-moving romance addresses food addiction in the context of 12-step programs. Sex? yes. Christian? no. The heroine is Jewish, looking for a Reformed or Conservative Jew. Resolving the addiction is part of her journey to true love with her soulmate. I think I’m coming home!