The Right Plot Bunny At The Right Time…

I’ve already written at some length about my weirdest plot bunny. So for this month’s theme, I’m going to focus instead on what has, thus far, been my most important plot bunny.

The beginning of 2014 found me at a pretty low point in my life. I was struggling with fertility issues, with the loneliness that follows an interstate move, and ultimately, with my career. I’d released a number of short books, but I wasn’t getting a lot of sales traction, and try as I might, I couldn’t seem to finish anything. This was compounded by my fixation on completing a full-length novel and my refusal to do anything that resembled plotting.

Finally, in what at the time felt like a Hail Mary pass, I scrapped everything and started one more manuscript—one I was determined to finish. I threw everything I loved at this project. Paris. Art. Museums. Sex. Sex toys. A dude who looked like Sebastian Stan. An art student grappling with her own self-worth, and perhaps more importantly, the worthiness of her ambitions to make it in a creative field. (No, there’s no deeper meaning there. Why do you ask??)

While actual plotting remained a hard limit, I took the time to at least map out the basics. I decided I didn’t care if it sold. It was all stuff I loved, and it was stuff I wanted to write about. Sure, I threw in a billionaire plot line, but that was incidental, at least in my mind.

Then I sat down. And I wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My usual stalling-out point of 25,000 words flew by, and then 50, and even 75. Finally, at 90,000 words, I typed The End, and for the first time in so long, I sat back in my chair and I felt good about what I had written.

Good enough that when, by a lucky confluence of events, the opportunity to get my work in front of an agent’s eyes came my way a few weeks later, I was ready. I sent it off. I signed with that agent. And before I knew it, I had a three book deal with a New York house. Seven Nights To Surrender hit shelves about a year later, making one of the greatest dreams of my life come true, and the third book in the series, Nine Kinds Of Naughty, comes out next month.

Many people will tell you to write the book of your heart, and that your passion will show in your work, propelling you to success beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. But for me, pursuing my own passions in my writing was a key to achieving my goal of finishing a novel, and eventually, to reinvigorating my career. I hold on to that every time I hit a rough patch.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right plot bunny at the right time.

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My Plot Bunny is a Poodle!

For this cycle’s theme of weirdest plot bunnies, I’m sort of at a loss: all of my bunnies are weird! I write about what I love, and that includes a few things that are fairly niche. Semi-obscure middle aged musicians as romantic leads, 1950’s tourist traps, muscle cars, the nobility of rescuing a rundown motel, and a marine invertebrate or two have all inspired my stories. Not usually all in the same one, but hey, the rich tapestry and all that…

But one element has always found it’s way into my story: the dog–usually a poodle. It might not be a main character (or it might be), but he or she is always there. Why? Because every word I’ve written this past 20 years for school, work, or this insane journey called writing fiction for publication, has been supported and accompanied by a fluffy friend curled up at my feet or right by my side, including these words I’m typing today. Sometimes life may be hard, stressful and sucky, and every word may feel like a hard-earned failure. But all along, no matter what, I’ve had the uncomplicated love of a fluffy little friend. So, to Rosebud and Busco in Doggie Heaven, and Leonidas (pictured below), I dedicate this post to you.

Do you have a special pet you’ve written into a story, or one who’s just a writing buddy? I’d love to hear about them!

S Carroll Lee Selfie

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It’s Not Just Romance…

Happy 2017 everyone!! I’m starting the year with a personal post ( a day late–sorry!!!). Because I want to start the year off the way I want the rest of the year to go. With kindness, love and positive energy!

Many of us read to connect, right? We want to feel all the emotions. We want to be one of the characters. Or we want to be kissing one of the characters. 🙂

When I started writing, I didn’t just think about character arcs, the love story, the plot and the big black moment. I wanted my book to TOUCH someone–maybe even CHANGE someone–or HELP someone. Is that weird? I don’t know. I just know that I wanted readers to walk away with all the warm fuzzies and a moral–if you will.

One of the biggest compliments I received on DELAYED PENALTY, the first book in my Pilots Hockey series, came from an editor during the query stages. The editor told me that he loved the book– and he didn’t like sports romances at all. (I’m paraphrasing).

DELAYED PENALTY is a story about an interpreter who falls for her client – who just happens to be a Hot Russian Hockey God. But the story isn’t all about hockey. In fact, hockey is not even the majority of the story.

The story is about Auden, a teenager on the verge of adulthood, still dealing with the constant cycle of grief and loss stemming from her father’s early exit from her life and her mother’s death. And trying to accept love when all she’s ever known is abandonment.

As many of you know, the grief from the loss of a parent (or anyone) doesn’t just stop. Not after a month. Or a year. Or 30 years. You don’t “get over it.” You learn to live with it. Auden’s backstory was  somewhat based off my own background. I, too, lost my mom very young. Every time something big happens in my life, I go through the stages again. The Denial, the Anger, the Bargaining, the Depression and the Acceptance. (5 Stages from: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book “On Death and Dying“). After thirty years, the grief cycle is on a lesser scale, but I still go through it.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to share my books with my mom? Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear her say she’s proud of me? No matter how many years pass, those thoughts are always going to pop into my head. I’m always going to pine for that approval, that unconditional love that only a mom can give.

I dedicated DELAYED PENALTY to all the Motherless Daughters out there. (SPOILER, sorry).
Though I’ve highlighted DELAYED PENALTY in this post, but I tried to do this with all of my books  If a fictional, Contemporary Sports Romance can help someone through the stages of grief, help them understand their feelings and realize they aren’t alone in those feelings, I’ve done my job as an author–and as a human being.
Picture

Have you read a book that you thought would be a “fluffy” fun read, but ended up being affected by it?
Let me know in the comments. 🙂
Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Hitting the Ground Strolling

Am I the only one struggling to dive into 2017?

I know it’s the third day of January already, but my mind is still on vacation. I’ve never been a “Hit the ground running” sort of person. Instead, I prefer to hit the ground, take a few minutes to appreciate the change of scenery, chat with a friend, maybe even find a gift shop on whatever ground I’ve hit, grab a snack for the road, then wander forward. And that’s how I’m hitting the ground in 2017.

I had an amazing vacation! One of the best ever! Did it involve an exotic beach or a ski lodge? Um, no. To be honest, I did nothing and it was perfect! I finally saw the new Star Wars movie. I binge watched a season and a half of Pretty Little Liars. Every night I played board games with my family. When I wanted to get out of my house, I wandered through shops and looked at all the pretty things. Then I decorated some blank spots on the walls with the pretty things I found when I was out. For me, this was the ideal break from life.

It seems like a lot of my conversations lately with my fellow Bad Girlz have centered on the theme of how stretched thin and exhausted we’ve collectively been. There haven’t been enough hours in the day. Our to-do lists have gotten longer and longer. And the pace of life has had us running even when we’d rather stroll. Then the holiday season arrived…

My hope for this year is that we can take time every now and then to do what brings us peace.

In an effort to make this happen in my life, I’m going to keep making time after vacation to occasionally wander through a shop or two. I’m going to continue to decorate my house. And I’m going to cherish every second I get to spend with my family, because these are the things that bring me peace and happiness.

The new decor in the Monkey's bathroom/ my laundry room. ;)

The new decor in the Monkey’s bathroom/ my laundry room. I had a blast working on this over vacation.  And I *might* have ordered DC female superhero fabric to use to make a window valence.  😉

game-room-so-far

The early stages of the new game room. I’m waiting to get the vintage board games I found back from the framing shop to add to this wall. I can’t wait! 🙂

As I wander slowly into this New Year, I’m looking forward to a few dates on the calendar like the When the Heart Dreams Reader Event on February 11th where I’ll be the emcee! And I’m anticipating the release of The Wicked Heir on July 1st. And somewhere in between those dates, I’m excited to spend the day shopping, reading a book, or doing absolutely nothing just for me.

fullsizerender

Sometimes it’s nice to do nothing.

What will you make time for in 2017?

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Dear Santa

Should I start small with how I want a few books for Christmas? Or move right to the big stuff, like how the world needs more compassion and integrity, less disease, and fewer people being hateful assholes?

Oh, dear. I’m never going to get on the Nice list if I keep using words like asshole, am I?

What exactly is the cut off for being Naughty? Any chance that my letting the guy with fewer items ahead of me in the grocery line cancels out the language I used while stuck in freeway traffic? Or that my hugging the teens and telling them daily how proud I am balances the times I’ve lost my patience with their ever-growing need to challenge authority? (Because these smart alecks are OUT OF CONTROL, Santa. They argue with everything, they’re stubborn as hell, and then they have the nerve to make me laugh just when I’m getting ready to ground them. Why couldn’t they have been more like their even-tempered dad???)

Does it count as Nice that I write books that lifts people’s spirits and make them smile, or is the writing self-serving since it’s what I always wanted to do with my life? (Although, if I’m going to be selfish…can I ask for one of my books to be made into a Hallmark Christmas movie? That would be great, Santa. Have an elf get the contracts department on the phone. Thanks.) And then there’s my January book, which I suppose could tip the scales toward the Naughty side.

jan-17

Half naked people on the front, a smart-ass heroine who speaks her mind from page one, an explicit relationship that includes a chapter of phone sex? Okay, fine, I have a Naughty streak. (What were you expecting, Santa? I’m blogging to you from a site called Bad Girlz Write.) But even imperfect people can have big hearts and good ideas. May 2017 be the year that people share their goodness with others and bless each other’s lives in unexpected ways, from small kindnesses to tangible solutions.

In the meantime, happy holidays and happy reading to all of you. (And if you’d like to kick your year off with some naughty fun, you should go order Tempting the Best Man. Oh, and watch for Jeanette Grey’s Nine Kinds of Naughty out in February!)

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How I’m Surviving This Book That Still Isn’t Done (Not Very Well)

Since I’m in the midst of deadline myself, I thought I’d share a few of things that have kept me writing:

Conception calendar

Someone is always getting pregnant or dying in one of my books.  I found this great web site that not only allows me to put the first day of my character’s last menstrual cycle into a box and—voila!—a due date, but also goes BACKWARDS. Yes, that’s right—I can check what my character’s due date WOULD HAVE BEEN if it had been 2011 as it was in my mind while I was writing this book. You can see my favorite site so far here.

Heck, a regular calendar

In addition to pregnancy and thus the menstrual cycles of women who don’t exist, I also needed to Google when Lent and Easter occurred in 2011 because a chunk of my novel revolves around that specific time period. Once I knew when Ash Wednesday and Easter occurred, then I constructed a mini-calendar that then became even more important when I had to add the number of days required to get a divorce in the state of Tennessee. See below for another hack with Scrivener.

Friends who (drink and) know things 

So not all of these people may drink, but I adore Tyrion and therefore had to title this section thus. I had many people reach out to me about how filing for divorce works. Bless you, ladies. Tina Whittle was kind enough to reverse engineer a Tarot reading for me and to then read the scene to make sure I had it right. In the past I’ve had veterinarians, lawyers, ministers, funeral directors, and actresses all weigh in on what my characters should be doing. What can I say? I get by with a little help from my friends.

Scrivener

I adore this program, and I don’t even know all of its functionality yet. Here are a few of the reasons I love Scrivener:

  • It doesn’t crash like Word did. (knocks fervently on wood)
  • There’s a Notes view where I can put my thoughts in a box to the right and see them no matter which chapter I’m in. I use it to collect dropped threads, changes that will need to be implemented throughout the whole manuscript, and the beat sheet of events.
  • The find function is awesome because you can use it for a chapter OR for the entire manuscript. I sometimes also use the this function to find things in old manuscripts that I need to verify for new stories.
  • There’s a list of chapters on the left where you can add notes that won’t appear on the finished product. I put dates here to make sure I keep all of my characters on track and not forgetting dentist appointments on Wednesday as the author herself has been known to do.
  • You can also keep all sorts of files under research from links to dates and family trees or an acknowledgments file so I don’t forget all of the helpful people above.

Headphones

I would not have made it through this year without a good pair of headphones thanks to the construction going on behind my house. I’m thinking noise canceling would’ve been the best bet, but, hey, I’m not that wealthy. Here are the ones I bought.

Me, before my new chair

Me, before my new chair

The Marshmallow Chair

Deanna Raybourn let me know about this chair. It really is a marshmallow for my butt. Also, it’s new and I haven’t broken the mechanism that allows me to adjust the height yet so it’s helped with the ergonomic situation. I’m not saying you might need an office chair update, but I’m not saying you don’t. This is the infamous marshmallow chair–I bought it on sale.

Pomodoro Method

I heard about this method and got the app. A kitchen timer would also work if you don’t want another app cluttering your phone. The idea is that you work steadily for 30 minutes then take a break AWAY FROM YOUR DESK and then come back and do it again. An advantage of the app is that it keeps up with your breaks, too. Learn more here. I can’t find my specific app–probably because I need to do updates–but here’s more on how the method works and some apps you could use.

 Auctioning off a Character Name

Back when Bless Your Heart was nothing more than a gleam in my eye, I donated the right to name a minor character in a charity auction. Then I promptly lost the contact information of the person who’d won the auction because that, apparently, is how I roll in adulthood. At any rate, I knew the character would be named Liza. Hearing the name immediately told me that Liza would be my protagonist’s best friend. Even so, her character was a little flat until the church tracked down the winner for me and we spoke a bit about the real Liza. I didn’t actually incorporate anything from the real Liza, but I found out that her celebrity crush is Chris Pratt so I made fictional Liza’s husband Owen Pratt. Last name is obvious; Owen is the first name of the character Pratt plays in Jurassic World. Incorporating little things like that tickled the lady who’d bought the character and helped me find the fun again when the fun had faltered. (I wanted to talk to her to make sure that I didn’t make something about fictional Liza painful to actual Liza because that would take all of the fun out of it.)

 Having a critique partner who gets all CAPSY

I’ve written and rewritten. There are multiple versions of this story. Sometimes, in the midst of all of

CPs who snark together, stay together.

CPs who snark together, stay together.

those changes or simply the quest for new words, I end up moving my characters from place to place without proper motivation or emotional resonance. Then there’s that conflict avoidance thing that I have to fight every time. Tanya’s comments were a breath of fresh air because she helped me see the things I couldn’t because I was so busy trying to make the story go. Our critique partners make us better but only if they’re willing to call you on the shortcuts you accidentally take.

2016 hasn’t been kind to my creative process. I have clawed and scratched to stay some semblance of on track. If any one of these helps another writer to keep his or her head above water, then my work here is done.

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The Big Ravenous Drooling Bear (aka Deadlines)

Deadlines. Those little bastards. Most writers probably keep a planner of some sort and have deadlines circled in ominous red or big lettering like BOOK DUE or a three-fire alarm will issue from your electronic calendar. Deadlines are something we as writers must live with lurking in our lives. Hopefully, you picked deadlines for yourself that were doable and maybe even comfortable. However, one thing we never build into our plans are things out of our control like…

Acts of God!! *cue ominous music*

In my case, it was Mother Nature roaring through my neighborhood in the form of a tornado. Which, by the way, are extremely rare where I live in the upstate of South Carolina much less in December! Curse you, Global Warming!

We’re fine, the house will be fine. We’re getting a new roof, new fence, new shed. All fixable. The point of this post is not to host a pity-party, but to emphasize that sometimes things happen that are totally and completely out of our control. It might be weather related or health related (ours, our parents, our kids) or election related or maybe a friend needs us to drop everything and help.

As writers we have the flexibility to handle these crises as they happen, right? Maybe, maybe not…

One thing I learned after I accepted an offer of publication was that some publishers set their schedules months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. This is especially true if you are with a Big 5 publisher and got a print deal. Print requires a massive lead time, 4-6 months ideally. This means your book has to be fully edited (developmental, line, copy, page proofs, and a final proofread) before it heads to print.

For example, I have a book releasing in print August 1st, 2017. That book was due to my editor on November 1st, 2016. If I slip *my* due date, the entire process gets shifted and hardship falls to the publisher. Moving publishing dates that have been set for months is not good. (<–understatement) In other words, do not be late with your manuscript!

Not only do lead times figure into the equation, but if you are lucky enough to sign a three-book deal, you generally commit to due dates for all three books. This can commit your time for at least a year out! If you fall behind with the first book, what happens to your next two?

Back to my tornado…my plan was to hammer out the rough draft of my next book before the kids got out of school for Christmas break and before I receive edits on that book I turned in November 1st. My husband was actually scheduled to be out of the country for a week and I was going to work my butt off.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. My husband caught a flight home to help me deal with everything. We lost power for two days. People have been in and out of our house for the past week, driving me and the dog insane. Needless to say, that rough draft is not going to get finished before break.

However, that’s okay, because I have time built into my writing schedule. First off, let me get this out there…I am *not* a procrastinator when it comes to writing. In fact, I don’t understand people who do procrastinate. My anxiety would be off the charts.

Because I don’t procrastinate, I don’t bother to count days until my deadline and space out word count. Instead, I always write like my deadline is a ravenous bear chasing me even if that deadline is months away. I would rather build up a sizable lead on my bear instead of feeling him breathing down my neck. I ignore my deadline and try to get the book written as quickly as possible. This way if something happens that’s out of my control, like a tornado, or even something in my control, like I wrote myself into a corner, I’m not scrambling and panicking at the last minute. And guess what? I’ve always turned my books in early. That’s right, hate me if you want:)

This post is a cautionary tale about life and writing and things out of our control. If you are a procrastinator then…STOP IT! Don’t put off writing until that bear is huddled over your chair, drooling down your neck. You never know what might happen. And, no one wants to get eaten by a bear, right?

(**Sometimes though, really bad stuff happens. Stuff that’s more important than deadlines. That’s when you need to go to your agent and editor and have a ‘Come to Jesus’ talk about the future. That’s totally understandable**)

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Putting Writing First

Hey there everybody! This is my first post coming to you from the other side of becoming a parent for the first time. I’m the happy mom to a healthy two and a half month old girl.

And you know what else? I’m still a writer.

2016-11-13-dc1Before my tiny one came along, I have to admit that I had my doubts and fears. Kids take time and energy, and I always felt like I was barely meeting my word count as it was. How would I ever manage to keep up once I had parental responsibilities?

The answer, some days, is that I don’t. Kiddo has a bad day—or worse, a terrible night? Yeah. The words might not flow. Hell, I might not even get a chance to open my laptop.

And even on the good days, it sure isn’t easy. There are too many things to do in a day, and my tiny human needs so much. Even when she isn’t desperately, angrily in need of something, the guilt I feel that I should be doing more—playing with her, reading to her, teaching her calculus (okay, fine, maybe not that one…yet) is intense. The house needs cleaning, food needs cooking, laundry needs doing. It’s so easy to let the time just slip through my fingers. As I see it, in our current phase of life, I basically get to pick one thing to get done in a day outside of basic baby, life and household maintenance.

So here’s my secret—my incredibly easy, nearly impossible secret: I choose writing. Any day it possibly can be, I make that my one thing I get done.

This means my husband may come home to a disaster of a house. It means we might be having takeout (again). It means I may have to put on my headphones and pretend I don’t hear my daughter crying while my husband does his best with her.

It means I may only get about half of my pre-baby daily word count in. And it means I may have to be okay with that.

But it also means I continue to make progress. I don’t lose sight of the one thing I was determined to keep up with even after becoming a mom.

Make fun of me all you will. Tell me I’m hopelessly naïve or that I’ll see just how impossible it is once the tiny human becomes a little less tiny. You might be right. But here’s what I’m telling myself right now:

I take care of my kid, myself and my family. But after that? No excuses.

I put writing first.

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Notebook Nirvana!

In keeping with Sophia’s excellent gift recommendations, I propose to add one of my dearest obsessions to the list: notebooks! You can never have too many, there is no place or situation that could not be edified by a notebook’s inspiring, yet practical presence. The more notebooks you have, the more opportunity to jot down dialogue, plot ideas, grocery lists, or random attempts at spelling if you have a pre-K human in your family! And if all that fails to grab you, what about all the pretty colors?? Of the infinite variety to choose from, here are a few of my picks:

For the purist, what could be better than the classic moleskine notebook? I’m partial to willow green:

moleskine-notebook-willow-green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, you could choose something more whimsical based on the writer’s genre or favorite things:

mermaid-notebook

octopus-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about inspiration from a favorite book? I’m totally getting this for my Harry Potter-loving niece:

harry-potter-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Historical Fiction folks:

victorian-notebook-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any Southern girl needs a monogrammed one:

monogram-journal-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last, but not least, for the author(s) in your life who are under insane deadline dilemmas, publisher problems, or egregious edits, you need this:

okay-journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, from me to you, Happy Holidays and Happy Writing (in an awesome new notebook)!

Love,

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