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

 

Writing Exercises That Inspire

 

A Hint of Hank…

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In the intermediate creative writing class I took at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre two years ago, our teacher gave us weekly writing assignments. I found these very helpful at flexing my writing muscle and letting the creativity flow. In an interview with Vulture, Gillian Flynn reported that the “Cool Girl” article in Gone Girl came about when she was doing a writing exercise to help alleviate writer’s block. She indicated that, as a rule, she tends not to use writing exercises in her actual manuscripts, as writers tend to “shoehorn” them in. This resonated with me as I had a few that I tried to do just that with, and ended up deleting. However, there are a couple of scenes that started as writing exercises that really inspired the trajectory of my story (in a good way). I thought I would share one with you today.

 

The assignment was to write something from the starter line, “There is a particular place he is going to tonight but…”, and to just let it flow. I thought about my main male protagonist, ‘Hank’ when writing it. This is NOT the version in my manuscript for Unspeakable, but rather the exercise that inspired a ‘TSN Turning Point’ scene (I also removed names and spoilers). This exercise helped me understand ‘Hank’ a little bit better and set the tone of his voice.

I hope you enjoy it!

On the shores of Wabigoon Lake

 

There is a particular place he is going to tonight but he is not prepared to admit to himself where that is. If he ends up there again, it is not on purpose. This is a small town, there are not many streets, it’s only natural – after all this was his hiding place – not hers.

He pulls up to the dead-end street at the edge of town. He kills the engine and tilts the powerful machine onto its stand. He yanks the helmet off of his head, rests it on the black leather seat and runs his calloused hand through his smooth black hair, allowing the cool evening breeze to evaporate the sweat that has gathered in his short locks. He told himself that he was just going for a walk along the familiar pathway, to gather his thoughts, clear his head, to be alone. That’s not what he wanted. He wanted to see her again, to be allowed to touch her. He pushes the thought of her out his mind, pushes his body away from her, quickly marching forward. They are like magnets, you spin them in one direction and the attraction is undeniable, turn one to face the other way and they repel. He is searching solitude yet simultaneously seeking her.

His black boots compress the gravel below him as walks at an anxious pace along the familiar path ahead of him. When he veers off onto the smaller lightly trodden trail, the moonlight shines on the waxy leaves of the birch trees that feather their branches along the route, giving them an ethereal glimmer. Several minutes pass until he can see the clearing that marks their meeting place, the dark water of Wabigoon Lake shimmering in the dim light.

He pauses, the sparkle of the water momentarily mesmerizing him. An owl lets out a solemn cry. As he feared, longed for, and denied – he is alone. He leans against a tree near the waters edge, letting his breath slide out of him in synchronicity with his body as he lets his legs collapse beneath him, dragging his back along the bark, tearing at him.

He rests his head in his hands, trying to get ahold of his conflicting emotions. She had pushed him away and eventually he had responded in kind. He could not expect their friendship to continue. It wasn’t feasible in this suffocating town; where everyone thinks they know you and if they don’t, they make believe they do. There is no place for your own self. His voice will never be heard here – especially now that she is …(sorry, spoiler removed!)

 

If you have writing exercises that helped inspire you, I would love to hear about it!

The Process of Writing: Part Two

 

WRITING YOUR UNIQUE STORY AND DEFEATING WRITER’S BLOCK

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Last time, I discussed the importance of writing because you love it and understanding your characters. This time, I will be adding two more important strategies that worked for me in getting the first draft of my manuscript completed.

 

  1. Write What You Know.

I know, I know, we’ve all heard this one before, but it’s true, but not always in the way we might think. When I was at When Words Collide, a writer’s convention in Calgary, D. J. McIntosh (author of The Witch of Babylon), posed the question: Why is this story one that only you could tell?

 

When I wrote Unspeakable, I was motivated to tell a story about something I live every day; speech pathology. I challenged myself to make it sexy and interesting. In order for my plot to work, it needed to take place in a small town. Starting out in my profession, I was very much like Hanna (my main character); young, naïve, and in over my head. So I decided to place my story in the same town where I had found my first job as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) – Dryden, Ontario. It was the perfect setting for my story and writing about a place (and experience) I already knew helped add authenticity to my writing.

 

In addition to the things that I understand about Hanna, there are a lot of things that I understand about Hank, because of some of my unique life experiences. One is Hank is French Canadian; a language minority in his part of Canada. This plays an important role in his journey in Unspeakable.

 

Unspeakable is a story only I, the French-Canadian SLP who worked in a small mill town and grew up in Western Canada, could tell, because my life lens colors my story. HOWEVER, there are a lot of things in the story that I don’t know about – so you have to pull from similar experiences, as well you need to do your research (which I will address in a future post).

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  1. Sit Down and Write.

After you’ve got your plot, sub-plot, and characters figured out you need to write your story – your novel. Wow, that can be daunting. 80,000-plus words with a plot, subplot, characters, denouement….and, and, and…. Take a breath. Writing a book can be an overwhelming (and often discouraging) undertaking.

 

Where do you start? That’s just it. Start.

 

I found that writing an outline of my story and chapters really helped. And then, well, you have to sit down and write it.

 

Some writer’s have word count goals, time goals, etc. You could also write out a writing schedule. For me, it was much simpler than that. I tied my writing time into my life routine. When my youngest son was in an activity, instead of going home and running errands, I slotted that as my writing time. Inspired or not.

 

I was taught to use Free Fall Writing at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre. This technique basically means sit down and just write. Without editing or self-criticism – give’r (that’s a Canadianism, eh?). I didn’t set arbitrary word counts as a goal. I felt that this would just add unnecessary pressure and would lead me to feel dejected and defeated if I didn’t attain the word count goal. My goal was simple: Any writing, for me, was an achievement (a lot harder to fail that way). When I wasn’t sure where to go next or what to write, I used the Free Fall method and it really helped alleviate any instances of writer’s block and kept the story moving forward. And hey, I always left the coffee shop I nestled myself into with more content than when I had arrived.

 

 

So, in the end, with the help of things I learned about characters, world building, and Free Fall Writing, I got my story down on paper. But most importantly, I wrote Unspeakable because I had a story that I felt compelled to tell. Once I had the idea, plot points and characters bounced around my skull constantly; cracking at my consciousness and pulling me into a world of my own making. I had to let my characters breathe. This, in the end, is what really drove me.

 

Especially Hank. With his long lean body, black hair, and those cobalt blue eyes. Well, I couldn’t wait to spend time with him. And the only way to do that…was to write him. So I did. And now, I miss spending time with him.

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Hank

 

Sigh.

 

 

The Writing Process: Part One

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BE AUTHENTIC

 

In a previous post, I told you how I got my idea for Unspeakable and went about pursuing my dream to (near) completion.

But how do you write a book?

Funny, I wish I knew.

You may think I’m being a bit of smart-ass, but honestly, I’m not sure that I really know how I got here. I look at the 340-plus pages of my manuscript, harrumph (yes, I harrumph), and shake my head in disbelief. How did I write a freaking book? It seems as mysterious to me today as it did before I took my first course.

But here’s what I do know:

 

  1. Write because you’re passionate about it.

Don’t write a book because you think it will make you famous or the next great Canadian/American novelist. It likely won’t. The stats on this matter are quite frightening. It should be your passion. If it isn’t, it will likely fall flat – no passion from the writer, no passion in the characters. On that note…

 

  1. Care about your characters.

When writing a novel, you should know your characters. Not just their name, hair color, who their friends are, etc. That stuff’s plastic. Go beyond the surface. If someone cuts in front of them in line, how would they react? What’s in their fridge? What was their family life like? What are their pet peeves? What motivates them? What pisses them off? Why? [For a great post from Writer’s Digest on The Top 10 Questions You Should Ask Your Characters, click here]

 

In depth character sketches go a long way in helping a writer learn about their characters. Knowing what makes your characters truly tick, will make your story hum with the vibration.

 

For more on creating characters, I recommend the book, Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon.

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Rachel Ballon’s Breathing Life Into Your Characters

 

If you know of any other great books on creating characters, I’d love to hear about it! Leave your suggestions below.

In my next blog post, I will share two more strategies on how to get that book written…including, how to avoid the dreaded writer’s block…dun dun dun duuun!