The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write

This morning I am contributing a stop to The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write, this on-going blogging and writing thingy where each blogger answers four questions about their writing, tags three victims and runs away screaming, ‘You’re it!’

Normally I avoid such things because they have a tendency to get out of hand quickly (‘I just nominated for you for this award – now all you need to do is make a list of 53 bloggers you love and get each of them to nominate 87 other bloggers…’ etc. etc.) but Jason Arnopp (a) asked me before he tagged me and (b) keeps me mightily entertained with his tweets, so I felt that on this one – ONE – occasion, I’d take part.

jasonWho is Jason Arnopp, you say? Well follow him on Twitter and you’ll quickly find out. Or read this: Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter.  He wrote the 2011 Lionsgate US feature film Stormhouse, and BBC audiobooks Doctor Who: The Gemini Contagion and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Deadly Download.  More recently, he has written the terrifying Kindle books Beast In The Basement and A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.  He lives in Brighton with far too many movies on VHS. You can find him at INT. JASON ARNOPP’S MIND – DAY/NIGHT.

Now, onto the four questions…

1. What am I working on?

Argh, stumped at the first question! (Argh: angry, not pirate. Always feel a need to point that out.) I really don’t like putting stuff on the magical interweb about what I’m currently working on, just because I don’t like talking about what I’m working on in general. I don’t like it because you may have what you think is a great idea that you’re all excited about and you can see how it’s going to pan out and you’re excited to write it and then you tell someone about it and they make THE FACE, and THE FACE implies that this is a ridiculous idea and you’d be better off watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians since writing this idea down is obviously such a waste of human time.

Let’s just say that my main project is a novel I hope someone else will publish, and that novel is a thriller, and I’m about a third of the way through a polished draft of it. I also have a very organized plot outline that I spent a joyful afternoon creating with mini Post-It notes and Sharpie pens:

plan

I also have another, much smaller project and I want to say even less about that’s destined for self-publication.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Hollywood, so the story goes, is always looking for ‘the same, but different’ and that’s how I feel about genres.

First of all, let me say that I am absolutely writing in a genre. I don’t like it when writers claim that their work doesn’t fit into any genre, or that they don’t recognize genres, or that they have written in a genre but because they don’t read it their book must be unique and special as they are unfamiliar with the perceived formulae that make titles in that genre tick. All that to me sounds very let-me-tilt-back-my-head-so-I-can-look-down-my-nose-at-you. Genre isn’t a dirty word and as I have been reading my genre – crime/thrillers – since I was far too young to be doing so and got stern looks as I tried to check adult books out on my children’s library card, I know what works and what doesn’t. I know the rules, I  know how to get away with breaking them. I know that these days it takes a very twisty road to keep the truth from the reader.

But I also know what’s been done to death (ha!), so I’m avoiding that. I have what I think is a new or at least different idea. I’m also writing first person in my own voice, which I think is quite different to the standard crime/thriller narrator. It also annoys me when I read thrillers that start with something big happening in a prologue, and then we skip ahead months or years to see how everyone’s doing after the fact – I want, for once, to be taking through the Something Big Happening, day by day, in the first part of the book. So I’m trying to do that.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Once upon a time I wrote a novel called Results Not Typical, that as some of you know was chick-lit meets corporate satire, Weight Watchers meets The Devil Wears Prada and self-publishing meets un-self-publishing when I decided that I wanted to keep my self-publishing brand to non-fiction only. This novel also got me a meeting with an editor at a major publishing house, where we discussed how I might take what was working about RNT and use it to write something broader that wasn’t quite so kooky, something that may have more commercial appeal. I thought that since all my books were light-hearted and fun – and maybe, once in a while, even funny – that that something should be women’s commercial fiction. I went away and wrote 10,000 words of a New Idea and we had another meeting. It wasn’t really working, so we brainstormed another idea and then I went home and wrote 10,000 words of that. Then we had another meeting, brainstormed another version of this idea and I went home and wrote a 30,000-word chapter by chapter outline of that.

But then two things happened. First of all, The Editor said something to me that changed everything. She said that while what I was writing was competent and funny and all that, it had no emotional heart – and as soon as she said it, I knew why. I didn’t want to write women’s commercial fiction! I don’t know why I even tried because it’s not my favorite thing to read. (Well, I do know. Because I thought it might get me published.) Of course my heart wasn’t in it.

The second thing was that an idea I’d had for a thriller that had been simmering away in my brain for a while came to the boil, and I thought to myself: once I finish with this chapter outline, I’m going to start writing that – for fun.

Um, what now?

Exsqueeze me?

Why was I writing anything that wasn’t fun?

So I ditched all notions of writing anything other than what I loved to read, and got working on my current project: my crime/thriller novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

I don’t think I’ve written enough books to have an actual process, so let me just briefly tell you about how I wrote a few specific ones.

Aug 06 0241

Mousetrapped. As it was based on real-life events I had an advantage right from the start: I knew what was going to happen. Hooray! While it was actually happening, I used to keep a diary of sorts in a MS Word document on my computer so I had that to refer to. I wrote a proposal and a couple of sample chapters, based on the best advice I’ve ever come across for writing a non-fiction proposal, which is in a (now out of print?) book called How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page. (Ignore the name; it has brilliant non-fiction proposal advice.) An agent was interested so then I had to write the book itself, starting by sitting on the floor of my apartment in Orlando, cross-legged before a plastic crate that had my laptop perched on top of it with a no foam venti latte within reach. I wrote the first proper draft at home over the summer of 2008 when I’d returned from backpacking, on a laptop borrowed from my best friend because I’d broken my Dad’s and had abandoned my own antique in Florida to save on luggage. Then I wrote another with the copyeditor I hired when I decided to self-publish it. All in all it was quite straightforward: I just started at the beginning and wrote on through.

brew 37_2

Backpacked. This was hilarious because I left it until the very, very VERY last minute to even start on this book – which again, being non-fiction, was about stuff that had already happened so plot wasn’t an issue – and then wrote it in two caffeine-fuelled weeks.

securedownload-8

The Secret Crime/Thriller. The plot of this is a quite twisty and I just don’t understand when I read writers in interviews say that they write thrillers and they don’t know how it’s going to end until they get there. (I’m looking at you, Harlan Coben.) How would that even be possible? Instead I started with the truth: I started with what I knew had really happened, and then I asked myself how could I frame that, how could I introduce these events to the reader in a way that would throw them right off the scent right from the start? Then, as ever, I turned the white cover of my copy of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder yellow, constantly referring to it for plot architecture, eventually ending up with a plot that had three acts and a mid-point. I started writing, but it took a few 20,000 word treks through the beginning to get that right, and then I started writing a ‘discovery draft’ which would be unreadable to any other human but helped me figure out all the stuff that had to happen in between the bits I’d figured out already. Once that was done I locked down my plot in another outline (Sharpie time!) and started writing A Proper Draft, layering in complication as I went.

As for the logistics, since the beginning of this year I have (mostly) got into the habit of writing every day, aiming for 2,000 new words in a session. I write in the mornings so I can enjoy the rest of my day guilt-free and I’ve bought a coffee machine with a timer that I can pre-set before I go to bed and that, my friends, has made all the difference.

So, that’s that. The three victims—ah, writers, I’ve invited to take part in The Blog Tour next Monday (24th March) are:

5c2ff6ec2b280a22d17a2d.L._V352340503_SX200_Keris Stainton

Keris Stainton is the author of three UKYA novels – Della Says OMG!, Jessie Hearts NYC, Emma Hearts LA – and two NA novellas (under the pen name Esme Taylor). The first book in her Reel Friends series, Starring Kitty, is due out in June. She’s addicted to American TV, Twitter, and tea. She blogs here.

Pat_Photo_OriginalPat Fitzpatrick

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is now busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. He blogs at How To Kidnap a Pop Star.

photo-1Jean Grainger

Jean Grainger is author of ‘The Tour’ and ‘So Much Owed’. She is a teacher and a former university lecturer. She lives in Cork, Ireland with her husband and four children. She loves writing historical fiction and correcting homework. (She’s joking about the homework). She blogs at JeanGrainger.com.

Stop by their blogs next week to read their answers. In the meantime:

12 thoughts on “The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write

  1. bookbakeblog says:

    I love crime/mystery/thriller novels and my dream is to one day write one myself as well. I’m admiring you for doing it, and I’ll definitely read it when/if it gets published! I always love to read about people’s writing processes, so this was a very interesting post to me.

  2. James F. Brown says:

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Catherine. I’m sure it has far more meaning in Ireland than it does in the US. (Here, it’s basically an excuse to get blotto on green-colored beer and pretend you’re Irish, even if your genes have no such heritage.)

  3. Lorna says:

    That bit about no emotional heart and writing to get published struck a chord. I have a novel stashed somewhere that was writing like a chick lit novel and I don’t particularly enjoy reading them. Only last week on reading another book, a little light bulb went off as to how I can write that story in a different genre. Daft in one way but suddenly it all made sense. Enjoyed reading this 🙂

  4. sophiabennett says:

    That’s a fantastic picture of your plot and post-its, Catherine! I’ve just done a similar thing myself, but yours looks better and more organised. I feel inspired to work at mine more, and that’s never a bad thing. Good luck with the thriller!

  5. Reaghan Reilly says:

    I feel out-of-the-loop since it’s already April and I’ve only just read your blog! I learned new things; thanks so much! Off to track down your ‘chain letter’ victims 🙂

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