Latest news from Australian romance author Ally Blake, writer of fun, fresh flirty romance novels.
Tuesday, 21 March 2006
word count wars
So you have this idea jumping around in your head and you really want to write a book about it, but you also taped "House" last night and you really ought to put on another load of washing, or of course there are those reports your boss wants on his desk tomorrow morning. And then how many spare hours does one usually get to lie on the couch and eat chocolate. Not enough right?
So with all these other things, like life and chocolate, getting in the way, how does one keep the word count ticking over?
1. gifts to self
Every five thousand words, give yourself a pressie.
For you a pressie might be a shopping spree to buy the latest Jodi Piccoult novel, or a diamond ring or a trip to the Bahamas. A bar of chocolate or a new pair of red shoes might be your bent. Or, like me, you might allow yourself the luxury of solid time away from the computer to watch a three hour Buffy marathon. Whatever you choose, it will give you someting concrete to look forward to after all your hard work.
For a 55,000 words book like mine, that means eleven seperate pressies! For those of you writing longer books, thinking of all the nice pleasures you've indulged in on your way to writing those two magic words: The End.
In fact, I never write those two words until I have finished my first draft. Not even if I have written the final scene and I know exactly how the book ends. Until all of the threads have been woven together into a sensible whole, I do not give myself the right to write those two words. And to this day I think that's the best gift to myself I've received - the knowledge that I can write, and finish, a book. What a thrill!
Okay, so gifts don't do it for you. How about punishing yourself for being a bad little writer if you don't do your daily word count.
That chocolate hearts waiting in your fridge? Unless you get to the end of Chapter Three, you can't have them. Not a one. Don't even think about it. Or how about if you don't do 2000 words today, you have to go to the gym an extra night this week. Well these seem extreme punishments to me, but you get the drift.
If holding out the carrot doesn't work for you, hold out the whip instead.
Self-imposed or otherwise. Set a date.
In one week I will be on 5000 words. Or by the time the school holidays start, I must be finshed Chapter Eight. Or even better, sell a book and sign a contract and stick the editor imposed deadline in your calender with a big red circle around it. That big red circle strikes fear into the hearts of the strongest writers. Fear equals adrenalin and then off you go!
No gifts, no or else, just a promise to yourself that you can do it.
Well, now this whole thing has come about because I have recently discovered the best inducement for writing lots and lots of words that I have ever found. The zokutou word meter.
It's that funny little wormy thing you can see on the right hand side of my blog, telling the world how many words I have written so far on my work in progress. I've never been terribly dedicated at keeping a writing log or diary as some other writers, but when I am on a kick I've often kept a scribbled daily word count next to my computer, a physical reminder that I am actually further along than I was a week ago even though it might not feel like I am. But the Zokutou word meter is like a flash, colourful, out there version of that. And I love it!!!
Especially considering my little word meter worm is currenly in competition with another worm. Go check out Trish Wylie's blog and see how her worm is going. If she is further ahead than I am, picture me tearing out my hair. Or likely I am only thinking about tearing it out because my fingers are otherwise engaged in doing my darndest to keep up with her.
And somehow in the same couple of weeks it has taken for me to get to this point, I have done the washing, redesigned a new website ready for the big whammo new Harlequin Romance relaunch in a few months, I have watched every TV show I've taped, and I've managed to read some really great books. (Including: Jenny Crusie's "Welcome to Temptation" and Olivia Gates's first Bombshell "Strong Medicine". Fabulous books both!)
And for a book that is not due until the end of June, I am close to half way done. According to the zokutou worm I am 43.6% of the way to be precise. Boy does that give me a thrill! Doesn't 43.6% sound further along than 22668 words? To me it does, and that's the point.
Find a way that moves you, pushes you, gets you excited, not just about the book you are working on, but about writing it in a timely manner. The sooner your book is complete, the more time you have for chocolate and Buffy. And how can that be a bad thing?
Pouring myself a coffee today, it occured to me that when the day ahead is a designated writing day, I always use the same mug. Without fail. On regular days, when I am getting ready to go out and about and shop and wander and visit and do all sorts of other important things, it doesn't worry me in the least which of my multitude of mugs into which I pour a hot beverage. But on writing days, the vehicle for my coffee imbibement is entirely particular.
This is my favourite writing mug.
It came in a goodie bag at a Romance Writers of Australia conference a few years back, and if it ever breaks - knock on wood - I'm fairly certain that I will never be able to finish a damn book again. For pouring my regular white coffee, with no sugar, into this mug, and this mug alone, gives me inspiration. With those inflammatory words glaring back at me from the haven of my messy desk how can I not write faster? How can I not impose deadlines and word count minimums when I am being yelled at by such an insistent mug?
I tried the other day to have a coffee in a beautiful decorative mug, but nothing happened. No words. No inpiration. The coffee even tasted different. So who am I to argue?
Along the same lines, doesn't it feel much nicer to fall into bed at night when the bed is made? I mean presumably one's bed surely has the same sheets, the same thread count, the same temperature whether the bed is made or not. But when it looks so neat and trim and perfectly groomed, somehow I am able to sleep easier, with a self-satisfied smile on my face.
And don't get me started on actual books. Okay, so I started this myself, so I'm damn well going to finish it!
I bought "The Gunseller", a novel by Hugh Laurie nigh on ten years ago. I have been a little bit in love with the guy long before House came onto the scene. (And seriously, don't those guys deserve every award on the planet for being able to make a mean, sarcastic, handicapped, drug addict sexy? Seriously? I want to be them.)
I had watched him for many years, through "Black Adder", "A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie", "Peter's Friends" and the like. His appearance in "The Young Ones" epsiode "Bambi" set him up in my mind for legend status all on its own.
So needless to say I flipped out when I found this book on a $2.95 discount rack at the local bookstore. I bought it. I began to read it. And I never got past page two. Why? Because the cover is horrendous. Somehow I couldn't get past the look on the guy's face, the haircut, the colours - all of it bugged me simply too much to go on.
The book was on a $2.95 discount rack, for goodness' sake, so stop looking at my like I'm shallow! But am I shallow? Are all those people who didn't buy the book at full price shallow? Shouldn't an enlightened person be able to see past the high gloss cover and the title and the back blurb to the words within? Of course one should, but that doesn't mean than one can. Or will. Or wants to. Time is too precious. There are only so many books out there one can read in a lifetime, only so many mugs to drink from, and linen sets to sleep in...
Anyway, a week ago I found this book again in the bottom of a great pile of books to one day read. I scratched my chin and thought, "Do I give it another go?" Well, with "House" being just about the best show on TV - "West Wing" beating everything else in my humble opinion, and now that's a TV show with a good cover! - I thought I'd give it another go. So being older and wiser and having a current mental image of deliciously unhurried Hugh Laurie in mind - the version of Hugh Laurie with the "House" cover, not the "Blackadder" cover, mind you - I dove in and I didn't come up for air until it was over.
"The Gunseller" is an absolutely divine novel. The hero measured, flawed, and heavenly. The story timely and intriguing even ten years on. And the language to die for (check out an excerpt to see what I mean). I grinned, gasped and laughed so hard my husband kept asking what the heck I was reading. The final line alone had me in stictches for five minutes!
So the moral of this tale is... If you want my attention, if you want me to see your product in amongst the trillion other like products out there on the shelves, make it pretty. Or this buyer ain't buying.
"The Gunseller" has been re-released in the UK. Check out the much nicer cover here. So track it down, buy it, clear a space in your next two afternoons to lie back and think of Hugh.
I love this title. I think this is the greatest title ever invented. Truly. Especially considering the premise - our fearless heroine has a great job writing a column for a magazine called, you guessed it - "Love Schmove", which is all about being happily single in the city. The one problem is, she is actually married. But long since seperated and therefore believes that love is a whole lot of hooey.
Now did I mention I loved this title? Well, I did. But noone at HQ agreed. It was too tricky and too many readers would not understand what it meant. Apart from the fact that it was hardly aspirational. I was even asked to change the columm title, which I did, becaus eI do in fact want people to read my books and uderstand them. The new column became "Single, and Loving It".
That book eventually became Marriage Make-over which I think suits it really well as the hero of the tale is the heroine's husband. Though after three books I felt like the queen of alliteration. 2. CAST – Keanu Reeves & Jennifer Lopez
I went back and forth between Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck on this one, primarily because I had a great picture of Ben wearing chinos, a button down shirt, and reading glasses that was just lovely. But my Simon was a sexy son-of-a-gun and I just had too many pictures of Keanu looking scruptious to pass them by. I mean just look at this picture.
Did I end up soaking my boy through and through to get this exact look into the book? Did I ever!
Long dark hair, sexy clothes, and a riotous temper defined our Kelly, so she was Jennifer Lopez from day dot. Many of her outfits in my book came from pictures I found of J Lo. Sexy suits, midrif baring tops, and low cut jeans. All of these details really helped round out Kelly as a single girl happy in her singlehood. So when she finally takes a step back and realises its all for show, she ends up in comfort clothes of jumper, jeans, and favourite old scruffy beanie.
A picture tells a thousand tales...
I love this cover. Love it to bits. And after the tough six months it took to write my second book, I really loved writing this book, it flowed, and made me laugh out loud. And I hoped so hard that the cover would do it justice. And boy did it ever. The heroine is a perfect match, the setting on the beach at St Kilda where important scenes in this tale took place is lovely, and the hero is totally gorgeous (I would be happy to have him on my covers every time!) Yum!
3. MUSIC - "Escapology" by Robbie Williams I listened to this CD non stop when writing this book. Over and over again. For days. Weeks ata atime. And still to this day I can listn to the whole thing without being sick of it. It's such a vibrant CD, with great emotioanl lyrics and sing-a-long tunes. I especially love a song called Hot Fudge makes me get out of my seat and dance. Every time. In fact its become a sort of rule. When I have all of my CD's on random, and when Hot Fudge plays, no matter how engrossed in a story I am I have to get up and dance about the house. It gets me out of my chair and gets my blood flowing again. 4. FAIRY DUST - heroine only POV
I started the book in Kelly's POV and never left. Once I was about three chapters in and realised what was happening, it felt so right that I just keep on going that way. Each chapter began with a Kellyism, a line from one of her columns, and the chapter's just grew from there, mirroring or more likely negating her earlier words the further she falls back under Simon's spell. Kelly was the one with the conflicts all over the place. She was the one who didn't want back into her relationship with Simon for any number of reasons. Whereas Simon was ready to reconcile from page one. He had nothing holding him back. Therefore the important story to tell was hers. Some readers loved this and understood that Kelly's journey was the interesting one. Others were a bit set back by it and couldn't see past this bending of the "rules". But I love this story and its one of my all time favourites. MARRIAGE MAKE-OVER Available still from Amazon.com
Watch out later this month for news of Book Four: How to Marry a Billionaire
Watching the Oscars last night I wanted to reach into the TV and shake Charlize Theron for reciting the line - no doubt written by someone else, hence my ability to stop myself from crashing into TV land:
"The nominees for best original screenplay sat down at their desks with clear visions of the stories before them." If that was in fact the case I would be very much surprised!
When I sit down at my desk - okay so that part is probably close to real - I usually have no vision of the road before me, much less a clear one! I start with a title - perhaps, a hero and a heroine - sort of, and a blank page - most definitely.
And from there the possibilities are endless. And that's the fun part of this gig, the knowledge that I have not a clue as to what the first line will be, no idea what is keeping these two people from loving, and no clue as to what deep, connective reasons make them bound to fall in love with one another.
Even when I am 9000 words in, as I am now with a book, I have so little clue as to where the story is going it is thrilling. Okay, so sometimes that fact can be terrifying in equal measure, but the surprises and lightbulb moments that await me over the next couple of months will make up for that. If they didn't I wouldn't keep coming back and back for more!
So as I sit down to my current book, "Sorrento Sunsets" set in the beachside town of Sorrento, on the cliffs of the Mornington Peninsula which could just as well be the end of the world, with Tom Campbell and Maggie Bryce glowering at one another I am delighted that my vision is anything but clear, the sand before me unmarked by footprints, if you like, for if I knew what was coming next what would be the point of writing the darned thing?
1.WORKING TITLE - "Grounds for Marriage" I started this book wanting to have a divorce lawyer heroine and a hero amidst a divorce. Not your easiest set up to create sympathtic characters, I hear you say. Second book syndrome is hard enough without putting such shackles on oneself but I can’t seem to help myself! I'm a girl who likes a challenge.
My working title, "Grounds for Marriage", came from the situation. Rather than Romy and Sebastian's relationship being grounds for divorce, it became grounds for marriage. Clever, I thought… But my editors thought that the sub-theme of divorce was not one that needed to be heralded in the title of a romance, which isn't so very silly. Cleverer, right?
Marriage material was a term that one of Romy's friends used to describe our handsome hero, so Marriage Material it became.
2. CAST – Alec Baldwin & Nicole Kidman
Sebastian Fox was a high flyer, an ex-golf pro with time and money and a big hole in his heart that he thought only a family could fill. So I needed someone confident and deep to cast in the role.
I love this picture of Alec Baldwin. I’m a big fan of his and wish he worked more. Love “Hunt For Red October” and only wish he had stayed on as Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy franchise he was just so perfect for that role. His interviews on Letterman are always so funny and intelligent. And that voice, low, gravelly and with a lush accent to die for.
There is a feeling of winter in this piture, of cashmere and expensive slacks, of log fires and Armani coats. I love the choppy haitcut and the blonde streaks, I love the dark faraway eyes. To me this guy spelled confidence and composure enough to frazzle even the most together heroine.
Now at the time of writing this book, I was not a fan of Nicole Kidman. I've come to appreciate her a little more in recent times, but I find Tom Cruise not a little creepy and her association with him left me a little cold. But my choice of Nicole Kidman as my inspiration only goes to show that in "casting" a book, for me it is never about the celebrity, but about the picture itself.
Romy Brideport is a lawyer so she needed to be neat and smart. But she is a lawyer from a firm with a difference. It's a law firm of ergonomic chairs and avant garde architecture, a firm with a creche for its employees and clients both, and couselling classes to help those who've lost a spouse to find a new one! And our divorce lawyer heroine is a woman who believes in true love and that marriage can last a lifetime. So not only did she have to look like a lawyer, but I needed her to be soft around the edges.
This picture of Nicole Kidman is cheeky and elegant all at once. With her sexy make-up, and her long hair down, she is feminine but also a little intimidating. Romy was like that - blustery but with a soft heart. In trawling the web for other pictures I found images of Nicole looking bedraggled (which led me to a sweaty post-Pilates scene with the hero), looking sweet (which gave me an outfit and an outlook for a golf contest they compete in against one another), and looking the height of elegance in her chartreuese Oscar dress which I think the most beautiful outfit ever put together for the red carpet. Check out my Oscar blog for a look see.
To the left is the North America cover. When I first saw it I didn't like it at all. She is meant to be tall and lean and she doesn't look it. He has bad teeth and seems to be leering down her top. Am I the only one who sees this? Anyway, after my gorgeous first cover that looked so like my hero and heroine it was scary, this one was a disappointment.
But looking at it now, all the markers are there. She has long red hair, and is wearing an appropriate suit. He's smart casual with dark hair. It is set in a bar in which they do meet at one point. So it does sum up the book. But I guess the relative cuteness and sassiness of the characters just comes down to taste! 3. MUSIC - "Moulin Rouge” soundtrack
Obvious right? With a Nicole Kidmanesque woman in the lead role. But it's also a soundtrack I can listen to over and over for the rest of time. "Come What May" is gorgeous. And Ewan McGregor's voice is so emotional and raw. Love it! Go to Amazon and scroll down the page for a listen...
4. FAIRY DUST - Blue lace agate For this book I had one other little bit of physical inspiration. When I first gave my new editor my partial he suggested that the setting was a bit "dry". Being as it was in a law firm for the most part, I knew what she meant. And this is when I came up with the idea of it being a law firlm with a difference - beyond modern, interactive, consumer friendly and not a little avant garde.
To help my heroine find her way in such a place she became superstitious. She kept statues of elephants with trunks raised all over her office, knocked on wood whenever anything untoward was said, and always, always carried a smooth blue lace agate stone with her everywhere. Blue lace agate is meant to help you cope, lighten problems, and make it easier to let go. It was her calming stone. I had one of my own which I kept by my laptop as I wrote and I even gave it a little good luck rub before writing every day. MARRIAGE MATERIAL Available still from Amazon.com
Watch out later this month for news of Book Three: Marriage Make-over
Where do ideas come from? Inspiration is all around.
Though every one of my book writing experiences have been very, very different (my second book took me six long, hard months, my fourth came spilling out of me in 12 days) I have some staples for each and every book. Since I always write at least two books at once and am constantly head-hopping between several different couples, I like to have certain things to ground me:
I come up with a working title which, though I know it will never be called that in the cold light of day, it helps me focus what the story is about
I cast my books - as in I find pictures which I think sum up a look and attitude my hero and heroine each have
I have music, a CD or a song, playing in the background to help get me in the mood
Fairy dust - some magical something else that often comes into play for each book, whether its a big idea, a magic tiara, or a touchstone
It all began with book number one...
BOOK ONE: THE WEDDING WISH
1. WORKING TITLE - "Wishin' & Hopin'"
I was sitting at my hubby's Aunt's place, laptop on dining room table, and six long weeks of holidays ahead of me. And I planned to start writing a new book. "My Best Friend's Wedding" was playing on the TV in the background. It opens with a cutesy rendition of "Wishin' & Hopin" by Ani Difranco. This song gave me the inspiration for the book. I wrote the words: "I'm getting married." and on that day the first 10,000 words spilled onto the page in one long hit. As is usual for me when those rare and wonderful days happen and everything seemks to flow from somewhere otherworldly, the first three chapters barely changed from that first day to the day the book appeared on the shelves.
Eventually the book became "The Wedding Wish".
2. CAST - Chris Noth & Kristin Davis
This handsome guy to the left was complete and utter inspiration for my first book. I looooved Chris Noth long before he became Mr Big in "Sex and the City" (and yes I was always a Mr Big girl, and never thought Aiden was right for Carrie!). I used to watch "Law & Order" religiously, and no, not only to watch this guy on a weekly basis! I am a big fan of American cop shows and let's face it, "Law & Order" is one of the best. With that dark hair, those puppy dog eyes, and that face, and the sexy suit and tie... This guy as a hero was a no brainer. To the right is my Holly - Kristin Davis from Sex and The City. Seems to be a bit of a pattern here, doesn't it? But that was coincidental. Kristin was not quite as close a match in my head as Chris Noth was for Jacob but she has the right mix of style, sophistication, sweetness and sadness in her gaze. Most times it's not about the features but the expression in a picture that draws me there. But once a picture has been anchored as my character, often times something in that picture as simple as a side part, a dimple, a chandelier earring, a shirt colour, the background location can easily become intrinsic to that character.
Now this was the cover for the North American edition of "The Wedding Wish". Without ever having seen pictures that reminded me of my characters, they got it pretty right, don't you think?
3. MUSIC - the song "Wishin' & Hopin" by Ani Difranco At Amazon.com you can have a little listen to the song that started it all. Scroll down the page for the song list and choose your media player. It's worth it! So deliciously cute..
4. FAIRY DUST - a floral garland I couldn't even guess where or why I bought this garland, a ring of white flowers to sit atop my head. It's the type of thing a four year old would wear to a birthday party if she wanted to be a fairy princess. But there it was, hanging off my inspiration corkboard (in the top right hand corner - and yes the wall is blue, cheerful, no? We've painted every other room in the house coffee bar my office which is too much of a mess to get to!).
One day when joking with a friend that we needed something to link us to our muses on a more regular basis, I wore my garland as a kind of direct dialup and it worked! So for the majority of the writing and editing process for this book, the garland was there, on my head, making me look very silly to any visitors who happened by.
But whatever works, right? THE WEDDING WISH Available still from Amazon.com
Watch out later this month for news of Book Two: Marriage Material