real live characters

A lot of people have been asking me where my ideas for certain books come from. Some of these people are members of my family, some are friends, and some are readers. The first two groups seem to think I have some covert life wherein I go out and meet Navy SEALs and DEA members and get classified information.

I’m afraid I can’t comment on that. :smoke:

Or they say things like, you must have a great imagination.

Well, yeah. I definitely do , always have. But really, there’s no one easy answer to that question. So the short answer is, I have no clue.

The long answer? Everywhere. A book’s storyline, for me at least, doesn’t spring from one particular thing. It’s usually a million different things I’ve seen or heard or dreamed about that all come together at the same time and whack my brain until I go, huh, this might work out to be something. Like, for Risking It All, I knew I wanted to keep with the surfer theme, and I’d already decided, while writing Coming Undone, that Cash would be the next hero. But Cash was conceived a month or so before that, while I was watching the movie, Walk The Line, and thought, Cash would be a good name for a hero.

It happens with every book that way, in a similarly, scattered manner. Which is what makes it fun, like putting puzzle pieces together.

But what I can tell you is that every story for me starts with the character. I can’t create a story and find a character to fit, I need to know the character and then they kind of clue me in on their deal and that’s where their story comes from. If they’re not real to me, then they’re not real on the page, then they’re not going to seem real to anyone else. Which is why I get annoyed at books that have great stories but so-so characters.

There are two schools of thought about authors who think their characters tell them their own stories. Meg Cabot does not really appreciate this sentiment:

The truth is, authors, characters cannot act and think independently of you because they are FIGMENTS OF YOUR IMAGINATION. When your character says or does something, it is because YOU MADE THEM DO IT. Your characters DO NOT ACTUALLY EXIST except on paper and in your head.

On the other hand, Linda Howard says:

This is going to sound totally schizoid, but I don’t create these stories so much as I stumble across a story and then tell them the way the characters tell me. I don’t have that much control over it. I just tell the story that is fascinating me at the time.

In another AAR interview, she talks about channeling her characters, which I also kind of think that I do, so I totally get what she’s talking about…so obviously, I’m one of those, my characters are real to me, types.

So I’m not saying that I go shopping for my characters or sit at the dinner table with Zoo and say, do you know what Jake did today…

Okay, well, I might say that, but trust me, I know he’s not re-

Okay, bad example.

But seriously, for me, I just know that there are things certain characters will and won’t do. I will find myself saying to Larissa or to one of my editors, but Remy/Ender/Justin/Nick wouldn’t do that. And somehow, they wouldn’t. Maybe Creed or Cash or Carly would do that (oh, seems I like C names, huh?) but that’s why I’m a character-driven writer. They lead, I follow.

So, where did the idea for this story or that story come about?

My new answer: Jake made me do it. And he seems pretty happy with that answer.

Not that I talk to him about it or anything.


Steph T.

one set of copy edits down…

*blows dust off blog*

I just sent off my Risking It All copy edits. This time, I did not overuse caffeine consumption, the way I did in my previous Blaze. I do, however, have a penchant for the word really. Really. Like, really a lot. I’m also very into, was going to. Oh, and let’s not forget just. Bad, bad Steph…

Which brings me to one thing I know Cece will appreciate. At one point, Kathryn (my editor) had to point out that stew doesn’t go into the oven, but rather on the stove. I guess my heroine doesn’t know how to cook either. 😆

Steph T.

two idiots discuss Idiot’s

As you may know, Alison Kent has written The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance, which will hit the shelves tomorrow, September 5th!!!

She’s broken the book down into entertaining, easy to understand chapters full of advice, warnings, and bits of dialogue from some of the hottest erotic romance authors out there.

Larissa Ione and I volunteered to discuss Chapter 2, Ready, Set, Go.

Larissa: This is my favorite of the CIG chapters. Okay, maybe it’s because Alison mentions me in it (I’m the EMT/Air Force person she talks about.)

Steph: How do you know it’s not me that she’s talking about? Oh, right, I’m not former Air Force or an EMT. I liked the chapter anyway…

One of the four bulleted topics of discussion in the chapter is “Tips For Deciding What You’re Best Suited to Write.”

Larissa: Well, she talks about that old favorite bit of advice, “Write what you know,” and I’m a firm believer in that. But like she says, that doesn’t mean you can’t write about astronauts if you aren’t one. It means that if you write about what interests you, the story will turn out that much more interesting for the reader—not to mention that much more authentic.

Steph, what say you?

Steph: I am obviously not a, write what you know, kind of girl. I fall more in the, Write What You Love To Read and Write What You Want To Read, categories, which Alison covers in this chapter as well. I love reading military heroes and I couldn’t get my hands on enough of them, so I started writing them! Alison also talks about writing what stirs your emotions and interests, and I love this quote in particular: “Your readers are reading for the romance. They don’t want to be lectured or preached to. They will, however, be sucked into any story with a true emotional resonance.”

Larissa: Ah, but you DO write what you know. Just because you didn’t serve in the Navy doesn’t mean you don’t know about your subject. I think what Alison is trying to say is that writing what you know (whether through direct experience or research or interest,) will lend an authenticity you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Steph: Hate you.

Larissa: Awww…you always know how to make me smile.

The next bulleted topic is “The Indisputable Value of Research.”

Larissa: I’m a HUGE researcher, because errors in books will turn me off of an author forever. But she’s not just talking about the book’s subject matter. She talks about choosing the length of the book. Discusses Trade vs. Mass Market paperbacks. And very importantly, choosing your heat level.

Steph: Obviously, since I’m not writing what I know, having never served in the military, I rely on research. And Larissa. And her husband. I read as many firsthand accounts as I can and use many different sources. I would say that most of the research never makes it into the actual books, but it’s important for the author to know much more than the reader ever sees. Or as Alison puts it, …”you’re writing a romance novel, not a textbook or instruction manual. Believe it or not, what you leave out is as vital as what you put in.” Alison also gives a wonderful breakdown on the rise of erotica and the ebook market.

Larissa: What you say is one of the reasons I love a well-researched books. Even if you don’t use every drop of research, or even 3/4ths of it, you will still have gotten into the world enough to know the lingo, the attitudes of the characters…and that alone will lend a well-researched, realistic feel to the book. For example, a Navy SEAL will look at the same stone and think about it in a completely different way than a geologist.

Geologist: This is a beautiful example of a bird’s eye limestone of intertidal origin.

SEAL: I could take out that idiot geologist with that ugly rock.

Larissa: You are both morons. One of you get me a beer.

Steph: *wonders if Larissa has head injury*

Larissa: *thinks Steph could use an entire six pack*

Next, we have “Got Your Idea Ducks In A Row? Then Start Writing!”

Larissa: Something she is firm about is that there comes a time when you have to stop doing to the background work and finally START WRITING.

I know people who will spend so much time researching and prepping that they never get around to writing the book. Eventually, they’ve researched themselves into burnout. I also know people who start writing without researching at all…and only when the book is done do they go back and do the ground work.

I’m a combination of the two. I usually start a book after minimal research, but at about chapter three, I find that in order to proceed, I need to research.

Steph: I’m a combination of the two, but it always begins for me with the writing first. I usually get the story idea, write the first few chapters and then begin my research. It’s usually around this time that I begin to make things up. Some of the things I make up will turn out to have a basis in reality and I get to keep them. Others, I wait for Larissa to find and fix. Because, you know, that counts as research. Totally.

Larissa: You’re on your migraine meds, aren’t you?

And finally, we have “Fitting Into The Market.”

Steph: As Alison says, “you’ve already determined your story’s level of heat, which is important.” But she reminds us that the time period and even your story’s length can help you determine the subgenre your book will fall into. She helps you narrow down your choices in order to bring the strongest possible conflict to your work.

Larissa: What Steph and Alison said.

Steph: So, are you buying this book or what? You should. Larissa and I have gotten to see more than just this one chapter, because, you know, we’re special. And the book is full of great information on writing in general, as well as writing hot.

Oh, and we’re giving away a copy (OMG, just wrote cop – wouldn’t that be funny – we’re giving away a cop as a prize) as well!!! The post is the same on both blogs, but the questions at the end are different…and answering BOTH questions will double your chance of winning.

What I want to know is, what book release(s) are you most looking forward to this fall? Besides Alison’s Complete Idiot’s Guide, that is.

The winner will be chosen at random from the comments here and at Larissa’s site, so comment on both to double your chances of winning! The contest will remain open until Friday, and then winner will be annouced on Saturday! Good luck!!!

Steph T.

no really, I’m working over here…

I didn’t get nearly as much done this past week as I would’ve liked. Between the husband being away, the kid not sleeping well and my migraine, writing was sporadic. I did spend a lot of time thinking – which I know looks a lot like I’m just staring into space or at the TV, but honestly, the brain was going a million miles an hour.

The problem is that I have several things that are in the revision and /or copy edit stage, which is cool because revising under an editor’s direction is something I’m really enjoying. But I also feel that whole, I need to start something new, jones rear its head. And I’ve got so many different things I’d like to start to work on that I can’t decide which direction to move in.

I know that when this happens (because trust me, it happens several times a year until I’m happily working on 4 things at once), it’s my mind’s way of telling me that it’s just not ready yet. Still, it’s my natural instinct to fight to get something down on paper because I really like to write and I get frustrated with myself when things aren’t happening. Impatient much? But this process has gotten me through the writing of many books and proposals, and I need to stop fighting it.

What I do make myself do during times like this though, is get ahead on other things – like putting together website updates that I need Bekke’s help with, finishing my bio for the HQ site, ordering business cards and generally trying to get the business side of this writing gig organized.

Anyway, take the quiz – it certainly fits in with the whole brain theme of this post:

You Are 35% Left Brained, 65% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Steph T.

Oh, don’t forget to check WriteMinded over the weekend – this week’s winners will be posted sometime on Saturday!


Is anyone else watching Rock Star Supernova and finding the contestants a tad…defensive? And then, when they’re confronted by their own words, they backpedal? I’m just finding it really interesting to watch, because, like writing, singing is a creative endeavor that can also be subjective – well, unless you’ve got a voice like mine – and I wince when I hear them say things in that tone – because I know I’ve done the same thing. Only I’ve been lucky enough not to have it blasted back to me in front of the viewing audience. It’s so so easy to jump to, you don’t know what you’re talking about – my words are perfection on the page, but every time I found myself doing that about something in my writing, I would remember my teacher from 5th grade, Sister Helen-Joseph.

No one wanted Sister Helen-Joseph. She was the strictest teacher in my entire elementary school, and she’d do things like repeat what your parents said about you during parent-teacher conferences in front of the entire class. And those were the days when parents didn’t believe that children were always right. Anyway, one day the wind blew the door closed without warning and it slammed shut. Naturally, we all jumped, and Sister HJ turned to us and said, a guilty conscience always jumps.

That line was always in the forefront of my mind when I started giving my work to people to be critiqued. These days, the defensiveness is pretty low-key – writing with Larissa has helped that tremendously – it’s kind of impossible to have that kind of defensiveness in a collaboration, and honestly, I don’t really think I could write with anyone else the way I do with her. And the edits from Kathryn for the Blaze were really eye-opening and I actually enjoyed doing them. There was no, she doesn’t get me. Because she does, and because of that, it’s really been easy to improve each and every draft. So either I’m just lucky in that regard or I’ve let go of a lot of the emotional ego stuff I used to have and replaced it with the spirit of collaboration, whether it be with a crit partner or an editor.

I guess my point is (I did have one when I started this entry), find people you trust with your words and stick with them. It’s a fine balance, knowing when to change something because another writer pointed it out or knowing when to keep it because your gut tells you it’s going to work. It’s like you need a strange blend of confidence plus humility that lets you easily accept that you can (and should) always improve. So if you find yourself arguing about a comment, check it out again. Because when something catches like that, it’s usually because you feel the same way and just haven’t wanted to admit it to yourself yet. At least that’s the way it’s always worked for me.

Steph T.

fulfilling the story’s promise

Swiped from PBW, Elizabeth Lyon’s Can Your Novel Pass This Test, is great. Actually, I think it’s something I’m going to keep next to me during the writing process to, because it really just made me stop and think. And, for a few minutes, panic completely, based on my own recent revision and her first question:

Does your story promise to fulfill a single, fundamental yearning of your protagonist, one that reflects an issue of human need, such as forgiveness, belonging, redemption, family unity, or self-respect?
Resource: A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson

My initial thought was, holy crap – NO! And then I panicked and thought and thought and panicked and finally realized, um, duh, it does. In fact, it does so much that the theme is pretty much the title of the book.

Steph T.