Writing in the Rain

img_3321What do you do when your plans of hiking and enjoying the natural beauty of Hocking Hills are rained out? Easy. You visit the local winery, grab a pizza at a nearby restaurant, then find a cozy spot in front of the fire and catch up on all the things you’ve been wanting to do since school started last fall. You nap, you read a good book (The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand) and you finally get back to writing, or at least editing the messy draft you abandoned back in August.

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Of course, that last part, while a productive use of time, was not exactly what I’d call relaxing. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Part of the reason I’ve let the draft go for so long is that I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s not to say that I don’t know how to write. I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last few years. I just don’t know how to write the third part of the Lily Trilogy because the story is going to take an unexpected turn and may end up in a different genre all together. This book is going to force me to grow as a writer, but it is also going to be a challenge. There will still be love, friendship, and romance, but where it ends up may be a bit of a mystery or even create a few legal problems.

But wait… there’s more. Not only am I not sure how to write the story I want to write, it seems the part of the story I have already written may not be the one readers want to read. I’ve only shared the first draft with one person so far. She is one of my dearest, yet most brutally honest friends. She’s been my confidant, biggest cheerleader, and most cherished advisor with both of the first two books. I trust her completely. But right now, she and I are at odds as to how Lily should react to the events in the story. Adopting her point of view could mean cutting tens of thousands of words and reworking much of the current plot. Sticking to my guns might mean that readers are turned off by a main character who is more selfish and abrasive rather than flawed and confused as I intended. It’s my story, but because of that, I may be too close to it to see the issues. Then again, it’s my story. Because of that, I may know the characters better than she. What’s the right answer? Can I find a happy medium? Will I have to cut those scenes I once felt were pure genius in order to make it fit for public consumption? Only time will tell.

There is still one more problem I haven’t discussed yet. I have often heard that when you finish a draft of a manuscript, you should put it in a drawer and leave it alone for a while. The idea is that you will then be able to detach yourself from it and edit it with a more objective mind. You will be better able to “murder your darlings”, as they say, and cut those scenes or pieces that you are so emotionally attached to. The trouble is, when you leave it for as long as I did, you have to read the whole thing over with in order to remember all of the details even though you’re the one who wrote it in the first place. In other words, the editing process has begun again, but it may take a while before version 2.0 is ready to roll out.

So, what was the point of this post other than to inform you that my vacation was rained out? Maybe I just needed to vent. Very possible. But that’s not all. I also wanted to share my journey. I’m not Nora Roberts or Mary Kay Andrews. I don’t knock out several books a year. But I am proof that with hard-work and perseverance anything is possible. If you are an aspiring writer, don’t expect to publish your first draft. Write, re-write, edit. Lather, rinse, and repeat. And with any luck, the final product will be worth the work and wait.

I’m looking forward to sharing the third and final part to Lily’s and Tony’s story. Eventually. I’m not sure how I will feel when it’s all over. I suspect I will miss Lily and Tony. I may even grieve their loss. As silly as it may sound, they have been a part of my life for so long now, that they feel more like old friends than just characters in a book. Maybe subconsciously that’s another reason I’ve been putting off finishing the story. But it’s time. Time to roll up my proverbial sleeves and get to work. I left readers wondering about the mysterious phone call on the last page of book two. We all need closure and another chance at happily ever after. As Tony said, “Once in Love with LilyAlways in Love with Lily.” Time to decide what happens with Forever, Lily.

 

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Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Confessions of an Indie Author

The response to my first book was overwhelmingly good. It seems most of you who read it—other than the science fiction fans who were conned into trying a romance—enjoyed it and said you would recommend it to others. You were Once in Love with Lily, but will you be Always in Love with Lily? That remains to be seen. I hope you will be. I think you will be. I know I am. But that’s the thing about putting out the second book. While I’m incredibly excited to share the next part of the story with the world, I also feel a tremendous amount of pressure. Pressure to perform. Pressure to please. Pressure to live up to the hype of the first book.

As many of my readers know, I’m a middle school Spanish teacher by day. I have no degree in journalism. I didn’t dream of being a writer as a child. I let my vivid imagination play out with play-acting and elaborate Barbie doll dramas. I only start writing several years ago on a dare. Because of my lack of formal training, some doubt my writing ability. One of my best friends recently admitted that she only read my first book because she felt obligated and was completely surprised to find out that the story was actually good. So, I had a lot to prove from day one, to everyone, including myself. The thing is, I’m just as concerned at proving myself with the second book as I was with the first. I love the story. My editors loved the story. But what about the public? I still find myself thinking, “I’m no Nora Roberts. What if the first book was a fluke?”

To add to my anxiety, I’m a people-pleaser by nature. I worry about disappointing my readers. So many people out there have said they loved Lily’s and Tony’s story. They’ve been waiting three long years for the sequel. What happens if the story falls flat? I mean, I laughed. I cried. I lived and loved right along with those characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next. But what if the readers don’t feel the same? Whether it’s my books or my fan fiction, they have come to expect a certain caliber of writing. They want the emotional, romantic, exciting story with loveable, compelling characters. What if I didn’t deliver?

Once in Love with Lily has sold hundreds of copies, four to five times that of the typical independently published novel. It has over fifty reviews on Amazon with 4.9 stars. The reviewers at The BookLife Prize in Fiction had this to say:


Lily cover“A big-hearted romantic melodrama with cinematic movements and charming storytelling makes a familiar trope soar.  In this well-paced storyline, Lillian (Lily) George, knowing her disquieting past, recognizes the value of her current affluent lifestyle until she unexpectedly reconnects with her first love. Zany secondary characters leap off the pages, while the tension created as Lily decides her future keeps readers holding their breath until the very end and hoping for a sequel.”

Alwaysinlovewithlily_Kindle-300ppiWill the sequel Always in Love with Lily live up to the hype? Well, there’s no point in worrying now. There’s only one way to find out. Put it out there and let the public decide. So far reviews are good. But the ball is in your court, romance readers. Go for it! Read it and let me know what you think. You can comment, you can tweet me @catkthompson, or find me on Facebook. Or, even better, leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes & Noble. No need to be prolific. Just click the stars and write a sentence or two. Reviews are what help authors and books get noticed and promoted by the big site algorithms. Every one helps, as does clicking on reviews by others that you find helpful.

In closing, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to my family, my beta readers, and my editors for their support you are the ones who have helped make my writing dreams possible. To my readers, your engagement and enthusiasm help  keep the dream alive. Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

 

 

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made. Go ahead, fellow Toastmasters. Consult your manuals. Check the Toastmasters International site. No, you are not crazy. The real slogan still reads Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made. But I think most Toastmasters would agree that the organization helps us to grow in a great number of ways. We become better speakers, true leaders, and in many cases, real writers. If you google the topic, you will find an assortment of articles and podcasts about it and testimonials from individual members who have become published authors. It stands to reason that Toastmasters would be beneficial to those of us looking to publicize and promote our books. But I’d like to share with you a few of the ways Toastmasters helped me with the writing process itself and allowed me to take Once in Love with Lily from a fun, little National Novel Writing Month project to a published novel.

First, crafting speeches gave me an edge when it came to structuring my story. In the beginning, I struggled with the story arc. While the action was intriguing, it lacked the proper flow. Then one day, my editor, fellow Toastmaster Eileen James, said to me, “Think about how you put together a good speech. You begin by thinking about the end. Where do you want to go with this speech or story? What is the intended ending? Now, how do you get there? Remember to tie the ending back to the beginning to satisfy the audience’s need for cohesiveness.” A novel is a bigger project than a speech, but it still has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Once I started thinking of it that way, I was able to put together a story that was grounded, but showed growth, as the characters learned real lessons.

Second, through my experiences as an evaluator, grammarian, or ah-counter, I learned to become a good listener. This can be very helpful when coming up with ideas for stories. (Consider that fair warning that anything you say can and may be used against you in a future novel!) In addition, it helps to create realistic, natural-sounding dialog. I’ve become accustomed identifying patterns of speech, accents, verbal ticks, colorful quotes or phrases. I’m not that creative after all. I could never have come up with something like “He’s all hat and no cattle.” But bits like that are the things that make characters real and, I hope, make the dialog come alive on the page.

Third, as early as project four in the Competent Communicator Manual “How to say it” we are taught to look at word choice, to choose words that paint a vivid picture and convey the most accurate visual or explanation possible. If I hadn’t known “how to say it”, I might have kept descriptions simple with something like: “As she walked down the streets of New York, she couldn’t help but notice how crowded and noisy it was.” But thanks to my Toastmasters training, I came up with this:

She headed down 8th Avenue through the throngs of people already crowding the streets. “Ah, New York,” she thought. “The honking taxis, the charming street vendors with their poached sunglasses and purses, and the faint smell of homeless that lurks just off the main drag really give it a certain je ne sais quoi.” She crossed the street against the light along with the natives, leaving a gaggle of tourists in the dust. (Excerpt from Once in Love with Lily by Cathryn K. Thompson)

Which example did the better job of transporting you to the streets of NYC? Of course, the second example would be pretty wordy for a typical 5-7 minute manual speech, but in a novel there is room to elaborate.

I can’t say that Toastmasters has taught me much about romance. There is a code of ethics to contend with, after all. But it certainly has helped me to hone my writing skills, to tell a story with a goal or lesson, to depict true-to-life characters and conversations, and to choose the best way to say it when it comes to setting the scene or conveying emotions. I never knew I had an author in me. Maybe you do too. You never know when or where inspiration will strike. When it does, Fellow Toastmasters,  take advantage of your already vast experience. Write it down. Develop it. Tell your own story. Even if you have to publish it under an assumed name! Show the world what Toastmasters has done for you.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, visit a club near you and experience it for yourself. Toastmasters: Where Leaders… and Authors… Are Made.