On Writing Three Books in a Year: An Interview with Kelly Siskind (p.s. we talk about sex scenes too)

 

Kelly Siskind is one of those rare people you meet in life, that with one single conversation you know that they are doing in life what they were meant to do. When Kelly mentored me in Pitch Wars, we had a few telephone conversations. During one, she suggested a change in my main male character’s motivation. But I was concerned that his behavior in another scene would no longer make sense. Without a moment’s hesitation, she was able to explain what drove his every decision. Kelly Siskind is a great writer because she understands human behaviour, what pumps your heart faster at the sound of a car door slam, or what makes a woman want to go from punching a smirk off a guy’s face to sucking it off with a searing kiss faster than you can take a shot of tequila.

It is a gift.

But I wanted to get a glimpse into the steel cables that guide the gondola of her thoughts (a reference to her next book release). Today, in my interview with Kelly Siskind, we talk writing process,  character development, and of course, hot sex.

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  1. You’ve written three books in the last year. That’s very impressive. What is your writing routine or schedule?

 

My husband and I own our own business, so I write whenever I can. If I have half an hour in the morning, I savor those minutes. If I have free time in the afternoon, I dive in. Mondays are my full writing days, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Other than that, it’s about making the most of the time I can eek out.

 

  1. How long does it take you to complete a manuscript to the point where you give it to CPs for feedback?

 

It takes me about two and a half months to draft a manuscript. I work with one critique partner during that time, who reads as I go. This process allows me to catch issues before they get out of control. The continued feedback helps me develop the story. Once it’s done, I work with two or three other CPs to revise and a couple of Beta readers afterward.

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  1. Tell us about your writing process from outlining to drafting.

 

I’m a plotter. To begin, I write a short blurb to define the story, like what you’d find on the back cover of a book. Then I flesh that out into a synopsis, usually two to three pages. Then I write chapter outlines. These outlines consist of the purpose of each chapter as well as the scenes that make them up. As I write, I stray from the structure at times, but having it in place helps keep me on track.

 

  1. How long does the plotting process take you before you’re ready to start writing the MS?

 

About a week.

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  1. Where do you get your inspiration from?

This changes for me. When I wrote CHASING CRAZY, I had just finished drafting a novel with a very snarky main character. I wanted to push myself in the other extreme with Nina, making her more shy and awkward. I’d also backpacked to New Zealand a lifetime ago and wanted to relive that experience through my writing. Similarly, the first book in my Over the Top series—MY PERFECT MISTAKE—begins in Aspen. The idea for the novel sparked while on vacation there.

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  1. Chasing Crazy made me laugh out loud and swoon. Sam and Nina had tremendous depth and were so relatable. I felt I was on the journey with them. How do you develop your characters?

 

I don’t fill out questionnaires about my characters the way some authors do, but I do jot things down on a page. Some basic background information. The rest develops as I write. I try to work snippets of their history into their inner monologues to give readers insight into who they are and why they make the choices they do.

 

  1. In my last post, I asked Brighton Walsh about things to avoid when writing sex scenes. What is your advice to authors about writing an effective and hot sex scene?

 

Writing hot sex, for me, is about injecting emotion into the scene. It’s not a paint-by-numbers exercise where you describe the actions; it’s about moving the plot and emotion forward. My aim is to inject elements of my characters personalities and struggles into the intimacy of the moment.

 

  1. Tell us about your next project.

 

I am so freaking excited about my next project! As it is a secret, I can’t divulge too much, but I will say that the first novel in the series has a cringe-worthy event that starts it off with a bang.

 

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Kelly Siskind

 

Kelly is the author of CHASING CRAZY and the soon to-be-released Over the Top series, all published through Grand Central’s Forever Yours. A small-town girl at heart, she moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—gummy Bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning.

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Chasing Crazy

2015 Golden Heart® Finalist

 

Chasing Crazy is an entertaining and compelling story about owning who you are. With an endearingly awkward female protagonist, a swoon-worthy male love interest, and Siskind’s superb storytelling, this is one of the best New Adult contemporary romances I’ve read to date.” ~ USA Today Bestselling author, K.A. Tucker

 

Dear Mom & Dad, I dropped out of school. I’m going backpacking. Sorry. Love you both.

 

At nineteen, Nina has endured two lifetime’s worth of humiliation. Tired of waiting for it to get better, she decides to get going—across the globe to New Zealand. There she faces what she fears most: a super sexy guy ready to be Nina’s next mistake.

 

Once Sam’s life was all about having fun. That was before the accident. Now his friends have bailed and his world has tipped sideways. But when a gorgeous girl on his flight looks at him with passion instead of pity, Sam feels his old self resurfacing.

 

Now traveling together, Nina and Sam fall fast, hard, and deep. More than anything, Sam wants Nina to forget her fears. But to help her do that he must reveal his own painful secret—and risk Nina never seeing him the same way again.


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On Sex and Writing: An Interview with Brighton Walsh

I’m thrilled to bring you this interview with the incredibly talented, Brighton Walsh. In addition to writing sexy romances, Brighton is a Pitchwars mentor. She mentored Kelly Siskind in 2014, who then mentored me in 2015. So that makes Brighton my grand-mentor. Through her and Kelly, I’ve learned a wealth of things as they relate to writing and all things sexy (if you don’t follow Brighton on Twitter, you’re missing out. She has considerably broadened my scope of “peen” knowledge and makes me laugh every day.)

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  1. During Pitchwars you Tweeted and encouraged Pitchwars Mentees to use beat sheets. Does this mean that you’re a plotter?

Yes, I’m an extensive plotter. I tend to freeze up and not be able to produce if I fly by the seat of my pants (which I’ve tried exactly once). Outlining, doing character questionnaires, and planning all my scenes makes it so I can draft in about 5-6 weeks.

 

  1. Tell us about your writing process from outlining to drafting.

I usually get an idea for two characters and I figure out how I’m going to get those characters together. I brainstorm with my Plot Whisperer, then I start on the character questionnaires (this consists of, I think, about 200 questions for the hero and heroine to give me a better idea of who they are and their history). Once that’s done, I figure out my pinch points—meet cute, inciting incident, turning point, the beginning of the end, the black moment, and the resolution. Then I can fill in the remaining parts between each of those. I do everything in Scrivener, so my outline is right with my character questionnaires and both of those are right by my chapters. Once I have everything outlined, I start drafting. Best case scenario, I draft in 4 weeks. Worst case is about a year, but remember that one book I told you I tried to pants? Yeah. Generally, though, I average about 6 weeks with a draft.

 

  1. How long does it take you to complete a manuscript to the point where you give it to CPs for feedback?

I’m a clean writer, so if I draft in 6 weeks, I’d probably take a week to edit, then hand off to CPs.

 

  1. Paige in Progress is your third stand-alone novel in the Reluctant Heart series. The first two were published by Berkley, but you’re self-publishing this one. Can you tell us what led to that decision?

I was excited to get this story out there. It was my favorite one of the bunch, and one readers were asking for, and I wanted to give it to them! Being a hybrid author has always been in my game plan, because I think it’s important to see all sides of the equation so you can make better, more informed decisions with your career moving forward.

 

  1. You write some of the hottest sex scenes I’ve ever read. What are common pitfalls in writing sex scenes and how do you avoid them? Do you find it challenging to keep each sex scene fresh?

Well, thank you! I find writing sex scenes to be the easiest ones to write. I always joke that if I’m stuck on something, I just need to toss in a sex scene to get over it. As for common pitfalls—I’d say probably awkward movements or cringe-worthy dialogue. For me, avoiding them means being realistic in my writing. And, yes, I find it difficult to keep them fresh, because there are only so many ways to write Peg A Goes Into Slot B, but I think the characters help with that. They sort of take the scene where they need it to go based on their journey.

 

  1. With the introduction of Paige’s brothers in this book, I wonder, are there plans for more books in this series?

Hmmm…I wonder! LOL I will say I would love to write both Tanner and Dillon, and I may or may not have started character questionnaires…

 

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Brighton Walsh

 

 

Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with her first love: writing. When she’s not pounding away at the keyboard, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and, yes, she considers forty degrees to be hoodie weather. Her home is the setting for frequent dance parties, Lego battles, and more laughter than she thought possible. Visit her online at brightonwalsh.com.

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Paige in Progress:

She wanted a one-night stand…and then he moved in next door.

 

Paige Bennett is more than content with her life and what she does—and does not—have in it. She’s got a supportive family, a great apartment, and the best friend a girl could ask for; so what if her relationships expire faster than a carton of milk? After a disastrous detour courtesy of poor judgment in the boyfriend department, her plan is back on track and her dream job is finally within her grasp. Nothing can make her lose focus now. Well, nothing except the one-night stand she had with her best friend’s surrogate brother. The one-night stand she can’t stop thinking about.

 

Adam Reid has always been reliable…the responsible son, the loyal friend, the steady boyfriend. Two years ago, he graduated Magna Cum Laude and is well on his way to making a name for himself at an accounting firm in Denver—a far cry from working as a helper in the Mom and Pop store his parents own in Michigan. But when said store starts failing, he’s the only one who can step in and help. So reliable Adam does what he always does, and he comes to the rescue.

 

Paige thought Adam was a safe bet because he lives halfway across the country. But then suddenly he’s moving back to their town, and then into her apartment building, and soon he’s worming his way right into her life. If she’s not careful, he might sneak his way into her heart, too…

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Links:

Amazon(Canada)

Amazon

B&N

iBooks

Kobo

 

Conflict: Why Your Story Needs It


In my writing class at AWCS a few weeks ago, we covered the topic of conflict*.

Conflict is present in life, and so it must be present in the stories we tell. It engages the reader (as it forces them to take sides), it creates tension, and it moves the story forward.

Conflict is about choices. Any time there is a conflict, it means there is a choice to be made – that is, conflicting options: Hide or confront? Argue or give in? Tell the truth or lie? Paper or plastic? Etc. Conflict brings characters to life, because it forces them to make a choice. Their choices reveal who they are.

Conflict tells us about the characters. What values do they hold? Are they a mediator? Do they avoid? Instigate?

Sarah Johnson, our instructor, told us that every character should have the potential to conflict with your protagonist. This creates tension for the reader, as they wait for things to clash.

Sarah gave us this exercise. Take two characters that don’t have conflict (e.g., people who get along) and put them in a scene with conflicting objectives.

This is what I wrote in class. It relates to the backstory of my protagonist, Demi, in my WIP. I hope you like it.

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There’s sharp crack, a tremulous vibration, and finally a small satisfying splash. Merrick has landed her Forward 3 ½ Somersault dive.

“Okay, sweetheart, this is it. Remember everything we worked on. Focus on your form, be conscious of your position in the air at all times.”

I shake out my hands and feet, and roll my head side to side. I take a deep breath, the familiar scent of chlorine helps cleanse my nerves. I can do this.

The announcer calls my name. I’m up. Adrenaline trembles through me.

I turn to my dad to accept his customary hug of encouragement before each dive. Instead of his usual crooked toothed grin, his eyes are focused on the wall beyond the pool, his complexion pasty and ashen.

I grab his shoulder. “Dad.” He winces, starts to slump, but then suddenly straightens again. He arms himself with a quivering grin, a small sheen of moisture coats his upper lip.

“Go on, Demetria. It’s time to fly,” he says, his voice gruff.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” I keep my eyes focused on his, forcing him to look at me.

“Nothing’s wrong sweetheart, just a bit of gas is all. Now go on,” he nudges me toward the pool. I step back toward him, “Maybe we should call a medic.”

“Don’t be silly,” he gives a dismissive wave. My name booms over the loudspeaker a second time.

“Go.”

“But…”

“Go, Demetria. Don’t use your old man as an excuse not to soar. You’ve worked too hard for this.” He grips my arm, it’s almost painful. “It’s your time. Soar.”

I take a half step closer to him and the look on his face tells me what I need to do. So I retreat – from him and my sense of unease. And I move forward. I jump, and I soar, and I fall.

Does Demetria have conflicting values here? What are they? Does this conflict tell you something about this character?

*It is important to note that throughout the class, our instructor made several references to Noah Lukeman’s “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life”. Please refer to it if you are looking for more in depth information on introducing conflict to your work of fiction.

Showing Character Through Voice

In last week’s post, I shared with you a writing exercise that I completed during my First Three Chapters course at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre. Showing character through action.

This is what I had come up with:

She’s been here for barely a breath and already she spots him. For a moment, she barely shifts. But then her spine goes ramrod straight and she tucks in an imaginary stray lock into her already tightly braided hair. Her eyes narrow and she doesn’t even hesitate. He slim legs launch forward in a crisscross motion, like sharpened scissors, as she heads straight for him. Her razor-like stride is audible across the room, and he definitely knows she’s coming, because he shrinks back. He has nowhere to go. He’s cornered.

This week, our instructor had us do the scene again, this time in first person and using voice to show character.

I’m going to show you what I came up with, but first I’m going to take out the elements of voice, so you can compare and contrast and get a better sense of what voice really means.

Without Voice:

I slide by the bouncer and inhale the stale stench of beer, sweat and theatre smoke. I smooth back an imaginary stray lock of hair into my braid, and just then I spot him.

I grit my teeth and straighten my spine. I could just ignore him, not let him show him that he affects me. That’s probably the best choice. I press my lips together. I’ve had enough.

I slice my legs through the crowd, ignoring the sticky floor that only slightly impedes my progress. But nothing will.

A foot from him and I have him cornered. He flits his gaze, looking for escape. But there is none. I have him cornered, my body blocking his exit from behind the tall table.

“Hello, Ben.” I say. “I thought you were studying tonight” I ask, arching my brow suggestively at the posterior of a tiny blonde.

 

Now here it is again, but this time with Demi’s voice infused in the action.

I slide by the bouncer and inhale the stale stench of beer, sweat and theatre smoke. Lovely. This is going to be another A-class night. I smooth back an imaginary stray lock of hair into my braid, and just then I spot him.

Mother fucker. Had to study, my ass. More like he had to study the asses of co-eds.

I grit my teeth and straighten my spine. I could just ignore him, not show him that he affects me. That’s probably the best choice. The cool girl choice.

I press my lips together. Yeah, but no. Maybe I don’t want to be the cool girl anymore. I’ve had enough of this shit.

I slice my legs through the crowd, ignoring the sticky floor that only slightly impedes my progress. But nothing will. I have him in my sights and I won’t let go until I’m satisfied.

A foot from him and I have him cornered. He flits his gaze, looking for escape. But there is none. I have him cornered, my body blocking his exit from behind the tall table.

“Hellooo, Ben.” I intone. “How’s the studying going?” I ask, arching my brow at the posterior of a tiny blonde.

For more information on voice, from a previous post, click here.

Showing Character Through Action and Unspeakable Query Update

I missed last week’s post, so today’s a two for one!

1. Showing Character

I’ve been working on a new story idea, which will hopefully become my next novel. To help inspire me, and also as part of my quest to continually work on my craft, I’ve enrolled in The First Three Chapters class at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre.

This week’s class was on showing your character through action. Now, when writing, this is of key importance. I could tell you that Sally is grumpy.

Sally is grumpy.

(Gripping stuff, non?)

Or, I could show you that she’s grumpy through action.

Sally yanked her alarm clock off the bedside table and threw it on the floor.

Did you learn more about Sally the second time, other than she’s a grumpy girl? I think so (i.e., she is not a morning person).

So, the lovely Sarah Johnson, our class instructor, had us write down different descriptors of our main protagonist for our work-in-progress (WIP). Then, she had us write a short paragraph where the character walks into the room and we show those descriptors.

First, let me show you what mine would look like if I just told you about my main protagonist.

Demi walks into the crowded bar and spots Todd immediately. Pissed off, she walks over, her braided hair not budging. Demi is not someone you mess with.

Okay. So we’ve learned that Demi is pissed with Todd, that her hair is braided, and that you shouldn’t mess with her – but little else.

Now let me show you who Demi is.

She’s been here for barely a breath and already she spots him. For a moment, she barely shifts. But then her spine goes ramrod straight and she tucks an imaginary stray lock into her already tightly braided hair. Her eyes narrow and she doesn’t even hesitate. Her slim legs launch forward in a crisscross motion, like sharpened scissors, as she heads straight for him. Her razor-like stride is audible across the room. He shrinks back. He has nowhere to go. He’s cornered.

Do you have a better sense of Demi? I hope so. Whatever descriptors come to mind, they’re not wrong, because they’re your own. I’m letting you decide, dear reader, who you think she is. As a writer, we have to trust the reader to have an imagination and to fill in the gaps. I think it’s much more gratifying to share the journey of the story, rather than tell you about it. photo-1421986527537-888d998adb74

2. Update on Unspeakable

I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve finally done it. I’ve started querying. Some of you have asked me what querying means. Well, basically, it’s sending out letters to literary agents requesting representation. Unspeakable is commercial fiction. Large publishing houses will often not even entertain the idea of publishing your work without an agent. Agents understand the industry and help you find the right home for your book and also assist in sale and deal negotiation.

Nestpitch is also on the horizon (ten more days! But who’s counting?). So it’s time. Time to let go, and put my work out there. Wish me luck!

#nestpitch: Making It To The Agent Round

I have finished my rounds of edits with my editor, Tanis Nessler, from ReVision Editing! My goal for April was to (1) polish up my query letters, (2) make a spread sheet of agents I want to query (I’ve been using Query Tracker), and (3) then send out queries. I’ve done the first 2 of these 3.

So, “Why J.R.”, you ask, “are you not sending out your queries?”

Well, it’s very simple, I’ve made it to the agent round of #nestpitch! On May 11th, the Nestpitch blog will post our pitches and a sample of our work. In the meantime,  mentors will help us polish our first chapters in the upcoming weeks. Even though I’ve spent the majority of the last year editing my manuscript, I’m always open to a fresh set of eyes. There’s always room to improve.

So here’s the new plan. Once all of the final feedback is in from my Nestpitch mentor, I will begin querying.

I want to send out my deepest gratitude to Tanis, from ReVision Editing. She helped elevate Unspeakable into a polished, agent ready manuscript. Because of her, I feel confident moving forward.

I also want to thank the Nestpitch Team for seeing something in Unspeakable, and giving me the opportunity to present it to a tremendous panel of agents. Thank you.

And of course, thank you to You. My supporters, friends, and cheerleaders.

#nestpitch: Making It Past The Slush

Happy Easter Monday everyone!

The Little Yates' Eggs
The Little Yates’ Eggs

I debated about what to post this week. I was thinking about posting a deleted scene from Unspeakable, and use it as an example of Showing vs Telling – which if you’ve ever taken a writing class, you’ve no doubt heard about ad nauseam.

But the scene I was thinking about sharing was…well, deleted for good reason. It didn’t add anything to the story and when reading it back, I couldn’t help but notice all the mistakes. Even though there are nice instances of showing, there’s also filtering, telling, adverbs, and the list goes on. Although frightening to see how poor my writing was in the early stages of the first draft, I am buoyed by the fact that I noticed these mistakes immediately upon re-read (which means I’ll be less likely to make them in the future…right? – I can only hope.)

If you’re wondering about filtering etc., don’t worry, I plan on explaining these concepts in future posts.

But today… I want to share some exciting news! I was preparing my query letter and synopsis to send out to agents, when I noticed a contest on Twitter called #nestpitch.

What is #nestpitch?

#nestpitch is a contest where you submit a 35-word pitch and the first 300 words of your manuscript. If you make it to the final round, your entry is posted on a blog where 12 pre-selected, reputable agents will take a look, and hopefully request more.

Here’s how it works:

In Round #1, entries that don’t meet the qualifications are removed.

In Round #2, there are 9 teams that then whittle it down to their top 5-8 submissions. At this point they may request additional pages.

In Round #3, they pick their final 4-5 and work with the authors to improve their manuscripts. Once this is completed, they go to the next round!

The Agent Round: Submissions are posted on a blog, where a number of preselected agents peruse and hopefully make requests for you to query.

Basically, this helps take your query from the slush pile to the “I want to know more” pile. Anybody who knows anything about the publishing industry knows that this can be a huge advantage.

I felt like I was pretty much done with Twitter pitches (I had participated in 2 others), as I felt that my novel was perhaps best represented in a traditional query letter (and p.s. I never win anything!!). But I figured, since my manuscript is now truly ready, the timing was right, so I entered.

And guess what? I have received requests for more material from two three different teams! Cross your fingers for me that Unspeakable makes it to the agent round.