LizAnn Carson

Releasing the stories into the world


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The Agony of the First Draft

I’m about two-thirds of the way to finishing the final book in the Calder Creek series. What this means, in terms of my process and my sanity, is that I’ve got the figurative bit in my teeth, I’m obsessed, I couldn’t stop writing if I tried, the finish line is so close I can almost touch it …

Unfortunately, it also means that as of now, everything I’ve written and everything I’ll write until the first draft is done is officially garbage. Awful. Boring. The worst tripe I, or anyone else, has ever produced.

Why, oh why, do we do this to ourselves? Writing is bliss, writing is hell.

For me, getting the first draft down on the page/screen is the hardest part. I become convinced that I can’t do it, that it will never be any good. I hate this. And the sad reality is that a lot of that first draft needs attention. I’ll put the whole thing aside for a few weeks, then go back to it. That’s when the fun starts. For some reason I don’t mind the revising, reworking, rewording, reordering, and generally cleaning up the mess that is currently Calder Creek 3: Mel.

This may not be usual. A fellow writer sweats her first drafts so they’ll be as good as they can be, because she dreads revising. Most articles I read imply that the revision process is akin to pulling teeth without novocaine. So maybe I’m lucky. All I have to do is survive that first draft and the rest is play.

I write quickly, and I put in the hours, so I fully expect to get to first-draft-completion nirvana in a couple of weeks. I sure hope so. This not-good-enough feeling is depressing. Those around me suffer. I eat too many carbs. I resent it when friends want me to come out to play. My sleep patterns go skewed. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.

I can already see some of where the book falls short: I don’t have a good enough handle on my hero. I know what he does, I know his motivations, I know what he looks like and how he feels. But there’s something in the essence of him that I haven’t been able to capture yet. I’m relying on that few weeks’ breathing room and the revision process to bring him to life.

Well, never mind. I love my heroine and I’m having a good time with the mess … er … situation she finds herself in. I’m glad she has a happy-ever-after in her future. There’s nothing wrong with a little romance, especially as winter drags on. (Even here in the Pacific Northwest where the plum trees and rhododendrons are in bloom and the spring bulbs are all up, days are chilly and gray.)

I’m going to stop typing now and make some supper; at this stage in the process I’m a master of fast meals. Then, I think I’ll write for a while. That finish line’s getting closer …

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To Cuss or Not to Cuss

You have a hero – or a heroine, but let’s keep it simple – a hero who lives in a serious man’s world. Maybe he has a healthy temper. Maybe he’s had a bad day. Whatever, it’s easy to picture him using, shall we say, colorful language.

So. You’re a writer. Do you write the swear words?

When I was a kid, the offensiveness gradient for the set of “bad” words was very different. We substituted ‘darn’ for ‘damn’; nowadays, ‘damn’ barely makes it onto the list of swear words. My grown children wouldn’t blink an eye at the F-bomb, and in some moods I don’t, either.

In my world of romance, where swearing is concerned, some authors use it, some don’t. I’m amused at the moment by one of the series I’m addicted to, Maya Banks’ KGI series. Her heroes swear. But the wife of one of those heroes is on his case to clean up his language. Hmm. Even heroes can learn, yes? This is a minor but realistic plot twist.

In the second book in my upcoming trilogy, there is a very tense scene, bordering on violence. I wrote it with a lot of profanity. The words worked. They belonged. This is the kind of language both Alan and Pat (my hero and heroine) might well use in the sort of confrontational situation I put them in. I thought the words were necessary to convey the hostility of the moment. It’s how they would speak, at that moment in their relationship. And because they are who they are, I scattered a few of these words  through the rest of the manuscript, mainly in internal dialogue, to convey frustration, dismay, disbelief.

Then my husband read Pat’s story. Thank heaven for husbands; they can be very useful to have around! He pointed out to me that however realistic the dialogue might be, it’s not what my readers would expect.

I was breaking faith with my readers. And that’s not a good idea.

But this left me with a challenge I wasn’t sure I was up to. Could I convey the tension and violent feelings in the scene, without either character swearing? One way or another, I had to try.

In the meantime, I was given hope from an unexpected source. Have you read anything by Harlan Coben? I recently read Missing You (Dutton/Penguin 2014). Now, this is a first-rate thriller. It has a heroine who’s an NYPD cop, an old murder, assorted killers, and a bad guy who will keep you awake at night. But about two-thirds of the way through, I realized what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have profanity.

OMG. (Does that count?)

This phenomenal mystery/suspense writer doesn’t use bad language! And believe me, he gets his point across. In spades. When things are bad in his books, they are very bad. But I’d be willing to bet that you will read this book and not notice that the characters don’t swear.

So it can be done. I went back into Pat’s story and excised the language. Added more action and visceral responses (gut clenching, muscles liquefying, that kind of thing). I like the result. It really is possible to create the tension without the language. It’s a challenge, but it’s possible.

To write is to experiment, and I’m pleased with my most recent experiment in writing. But isn’t that what we writers try to do? We convey the essence of a situation, yes, but in a way that’s congruent with personal style and readers’ expectations. I love Pat’s book; I think it’s my strongest work so far. I hope you’ll agree. Only, darn, it’s not ready for me to show it to you yet …


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Failure as a Woman

Okay, I admit it. I’ve failed the woman-test.

Makeup? I’ve never learned the mysteries. Foundation? Powders and blushes? My mother never taught me, and I never learned. My occasional dabblings have failed to enhance. Plus, I get bored trying.

Hair? At least I do get it professionally cut nowadays. With standard instruction to the stylist: whatever it looks like when I wake up in the morning is what it’s going to look like for the rest of the day. Minimum maintenance, that’s me.

Clothes? Put me in anything flirty and feminine and mentally I go straight to cow-in-a-dress. Way back when, I had my colors done – remember that? Thank the Goddess for that! Now at least I know I should stay away from forest greens and oranges and such. The problem is, I really, really don’t want to be condemned to a life of pink. Personality-wise, pink is so not me.

But my big guilty secret? I’m not interested in shoes.

This at least means that my feet are in good shape. But it affects every aspect of my external presentation. I rarely wear skirts, mainly because I don’t have the right shoes. My sturdy lace-ups would look dumb, even I know that. So I suffer wardrobe challenges on a regular basis, and mainly wear jeans. On reflection, I don’t get invited to up-market restaurants very often …

I have a life-loving, girly-girl heroine coming up in book three of the Calder Creek Trilogy, so I foresee challenges ahead. Writing what I know clearly isn’t going to work, this time out.

This is where an active imagination shows its worth. Because even though she is so different from me, I do know how Mel feels in her clothes. She feels damn good. Ready to play, complete in herself. If her long, carrot-red hair is frizzy today, she doesn’t care – perfect with a peasant blouse, one she can pull just a little bit off the shoulder. If her shorts are, well, really short, it’s a hot day and she’s likely to be chasing a Frisbee. Clubs? Something diaphanous. Work? A shade less flirty, maybe a ruffle at the neck, stronger in the color department; nothing shy and pastel about Mel.

Have I learned something about my heroine by writing this post? Yep. And isn’t that one of the joys of being a romance writer? I’m getting to know someone now who was never me, a special someone heading for the happy ending I already see on her horizon.

I’m an absolute sucker for falling for my heroes – don’t we have to love them a little to write whole books about them? But we fall for our heroines, too, or at least I do. They’re our friends and our daughters and ourselves, we learn about them and learn with them.

Yeah. Writing romance is a good thing.