Thursday, April 2, 2015

Evolution Of A Novel

By Kristy McCaffrey

I’m in the process of readying my fifth novel for release. While I would love to say that I know the ins-and-outs of this writing thing, I can’t. Each book I’ve penned presents its own challenges, and with each I was at a different stage of my composition skills.

This is the first book that I’ve written fast. I’ve always called myself a slow writer because I was. Toiling away with a small press meant no real deadlines, so I never gave myself any either. I wrote to my creative whims. If I came to a crossroads in a story and was unsure of the direction, I easily took a three month break to await inspiration. As you can imagine, it took me years to write my first four books.

An important aspect of this slowness concerned my writing confidence. While I can’t say I’m super-assured at this point, I did make a deliberate effort to improve my skills, to network with other writers who could help me, to read more, and to look up grammar issues to make sure I was getting it right. I also had the opportunity to clean up my first three books to re-release them. That was an eye-opener. The sloppiness in prose jumped off the pages. I think the simple fact that I could recognize this helped me feel more convinced that my skills have improved (all cringing aside).

I wrote the first draft of THE BLACKBIRD (Book Four in my Wings of the West historical western romance series) in one push during the month of November. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide endeavor to finish a novel in 30 days. I’d never done anything like it before, and I’d certainly never written so quickly. I was curious to try.

To ‘win’ the challenge, writers had to type out 50,000 words. This isn’t quite the length of a novel since most are around 70-80,000 words, but the goal was to get a decent outline completed. I quickly realized that to hit my daily word count of 2000 (I knew I’d have to take off Thanksgiving at the end of the month so I wrote more than the recommended 1667 words each day), I couldn’t move slowly or dawdle too much on my characters, or descriptions, or the plot. Some writers are pantsers, living in a world where ‘what will come will come’, but I wasn’t one of those. I had to discard all my carefully laid plans of meticulous research. This was especially grueling as I built three chapters around a fort in the Arizona Territory I wasn’t even certain existed.

It was a wild November (we writers do love the crazy), but I did it. And, I pushed to get to the end of the book. I did this by glossing over certain scenes, then moving on. I skipped descriptions—the hero carried a gun and rode a horse but I didn’t know what kind. I wrote hero’s backstory (with the Apache Indians) by using markers like ‘B Indian talks to C Indian from the D tribe’. But don’t get me wrong, I did do preliminary research in October to make sure I was heading generally in the right direction. There were, however, many details I simply didn’t have time to fact-check if I wanted to make my word count each day.

This type of intuitive writing is both exhilarating and scary. It can lead to serious misdirection, and hence much rewriting, but it also lets the plot breathe through the writer unfettered. I found hidden gems in the story I had no idea were present, such as what really happened to the heroine when she was assaulted two years prior. The twist really surprised me. But in the rough edges of this first draft I also found I needed additional time to find the best way to tie it all up, to cut away the fluff. This is where my best-laid plans suffered. I was unable to meet my March 2015 release date. I pushed it to April, and began worrying about whether I’d get it done by then, too.

By mid-March, I made it through a fairly thorough edit of the first draft, cleaning up and tying bows and ribbons wherever I could, but as I got near the end I found a major glitch. I needed a better motivation between the bad guy and the heroine’s father, a rather ambiguous character who I hadn’t decided was good OR bad. My husband offered to help. Over dinner, I explained the story—and many subplots. It was impressive that he didn’t doze off. Finally, his advice was to offer a simple explanation for why something had happened in the backstory. And he was right. When in doubt, take the most obvious, easiest solution because that will make the most sense. The key, of course, is not to reveal all this to the reader, doling it out throughout the story.

So, back to another editing pass. I’m just about complete with it, then it’ll go to the editor. Despite a deadline looming, this is really the most fun part of penning a novel, at least for me. It’s when the very finest of details are added, and it always feels like packing moist, sweet earth into the cracks of the world I’ve created.

Hang tight, readers. I’ll get this published by the end of April. Cheers!

Arizona Territory 1877

Bounty hunter Cale Walker arrives in Tucson to search for J. Howard “Hank” Carlisle at the request of his daughter, Tess. Hank mentored Cale before a falling out divided them, and a mountain lion attack left Cale nearly dead. Rescued by a band of Nednai Apache, his wounds were considered a powerful omen and he was taught the ways of a di-yin, or a medicine man. To locate Hank, Cale must enter the Dragoon Mountains, straddling two worlds that no longer fit. But he has an even bigger problem—finding a way into the heart of a young woman determined to live life as a bystander.

For two years, Tess Carlisle has tried to heal the mental and physical wounds of a deadly assault by one of her papá’s men. Continuing the traditions of her Mexican heritage, she has honed her skills as a cuentista, a storyteller and a Keeper of the Old Ways. But with no contact from her father since the attack, she fears the worst. Tess knows that to reenter Hank Carlisle’s world is a dangerous endeavor, and her only hope is Cale Walker, a man unlike any she has ever known. Determined to make a journey that could lead straight into the path of her attacker, she hardens her resolve along with her heart. But Cale makes her yearn for something she vowed she never would—love.