Trusting the Process

One of the most common questions I’m asked at author-reader events is about whether I’m a Plotter or a Pantser. For those uninitiated in these terms, a Plotter is a writer who carefully lays out the story lines Journalist
in her books, giving each chapter a goal, and sometimes even sub-goals and the steps to get there. Many Plotters have tools they use to keep these elements straight; some use complicated systems of poster boards, sticky notes and colored markers.

A Pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of her proverbial pants. I find this kind of a derogatory term, since it insinuates that Pantsers are just writing willy-nilly, with no real aim or focus. Pantsers can’t always tell you how many chapters their books will have or what will happen with every character. As a matter of fact, some Pantsers will end up with unexpected characters in the story.

I might be a tad biased, as I am totally a Pantser.

I wasn’t always this way. I was never a strict Plotter, but I used to lay out my stories. When I began a new book, I had an idea of how it would progress. This worked well with my YA books–mostly. I found that no matter how well I planned, though . . . things popped up. Twists and characters and unexpected dialogue . . . it all happened. At first I was disturbed, but then I realized that my unplanned stuff? It was actually some of my best work. The dialogue was more organic when I wasn’t trying to manipulate my characters, and when new characters insinuated their way into a scene, often they changed the entire direction of the book–for the better.

I leaned to embrace this way of life. Now, I should caution the new writer: being a Pantser is not for the

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faint-of-heart. Not knowing exactly where your story is going can provoke anxiety, particularly when people ask you about your work. You learn to hedge. You learn to laugh and act mysterious: “Oh, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen!” Readers assume you’re just protecting your work, when in reality you really don’t know.

If there is one valuable lesson I’ve absorbed during the past three years, it’s that I can trust my characters. I don’t have to know precisely what’s going to happen. I’ll usually have a rough idea, but what happens is infinitely cooler than anything I could have consciously planned.

My favorite example of this happened with my Perfect Dish series. I intended Best Served Cold to be a stand-alone book, the story of what happened when Julia’s planned revenge on Liam Bailey went awry, thanks to her falling in love with Jesse. Liam was a character whom I planned to be totally without redeeming value, and Julia’s roommate Ava was meant to be a small occasional character. Someone to help Julia plan her revenge, someone with whom she could chat and expound.

And then . . . the unexpected happened. I was happily and blissfully ignorant, writing a pivotal chapter, when Ava, in the middle of a conversation with Julia, revealed something that not only changed the direction of that book but kicked off (at least) two more books, making Best Served Cold not a stand-alone but rather book 1 in a new series. What was even better, the next two books were two of my very favorite of my own books.

So now? I trust the process. When I began to feel anxious (“WHAT are they going to do? HOW in the &%@$ are they going to get from Point A to Point B?”), I remember that I can trust my characters. They know their own stories. They know what’s going to happen.

That’s why I have a new motto now: Embrace the Pantsing. Trust the process.

 

Why I’ll Be in Daytona in Early February

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Way back in 2013, when I was still pretty much a baby author, someone told me about a book convention happening in St. Augustine. I don’t remember how I got signed up, but there I was, with a table assigned to me and a place on several panels.

Oy. I had no idea what I didn’t know!

The event was called Olde City, New Blood, focusing on paranormal literature, and since I had three YA paranormal books, off I went. I was excited; not only was I going to this event, but I was meeting up with a bunch of author friends I’d only known on-line, and my daughters were coming with me, as a mommy-daughter getaway.

That first year was . . . memorable. I still recall a few authors I met there (Carol and Adam Kunz, Damon Suade, Lea Nolan). There weren’t a ton of us indies, and in those days, there was still a lot of distrust and misunderstanding between indies and trads.

Plus, unfortunately the hotel was kind of a dud. There were huge, loud birds in the lobby, the rooms were sub-standard and there may have been bugs. But when I look back on that first year, I don’t think of the not-so-great parts; instead, I remember how cool it was to be with my fellow authors for the first time ever. To learn. To meet people who are still part of my author life today.

That’s why every year, I go back to what is now Coastal Magic. It’s a unique animal in the world of book events; it draws readers and a wonderful eclectic mix of authors. I always come away with new friends and new authors to read–and having learned more, too.  I drive home fresh, invigorated and ready to be an author for another year!

Coastal Magic feels like home to me. It’s the first con I do every year, easing me back into the ‘fun’ of author travel. I love the hotel. I love the people who come back every year. I love the readers, the bloggers, the staff and the organizer.

If you’re not signed up to attend Coastal Magic, you really should be. When people ask me about Florida events, it’s the first one I mention.

Come join me on the beach February 4-7!!

The Christmas One

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The Christmas One

Merry Christmas to my wonderful readers!

Here’s a little Christmas vignette, featuring Sam and Meghan.

 I hope you enjoy it!

Light spilled into the bedroom, bathing Meghan’s face in its soft glow. I lay next to her in our bed, watching the beams play across the smooth white skin of her cheek. Pale red lashes teased the faint freckles, and one lock of her hair had fallen near her full red lips. I brushed it away with the tip of my finger, but she didn’t stir.

I loved the luxury of gazing at her when she was asleep, when she didn’t know I was staring. If she caught me doing it during the day, I’d never hear the end of it. She’d tease me, her face going that soft pink that made me want to pull her close and nibble down her neck. And most mornings, I was up and out of bed long before the sun rose. Working a farm was a twenty-four/seven job, and it was only this time of year, in the dead of winter, that I got a little break. I wasn’t about to waste it by jumping out of bed before I had to.

“What time is it?” She spoke without opening her eyes.

“Early. For you, anyway. It’s not seven yet.”

“Mmmmmm.” She hummed, her lips pressing together. “Then why are you awake?”

“How did you know I was?” I leaned closer, catching her ear lobe between my teeth.

“I could feel you staring at me. It’s creepy.” She shivered as my tongue tickled a spot on her neck.

“It might be creepy if I were some random guy, but I’m your husband, which means I’m exempt from creepy-guy status. I can stare at you all I want. I’ve got a signed document giving me permission.”

“Hmph.” She sounded skeptical, but I spied the subtle twitch of her lips.

“Hey, baby?” I nuzzled the curve of her shoulder.

“Yeah?” She opened one eye, regarding me with curiosity.

“Merry Christmas. I love you.”

Meghan turned toward me, sliding her arms around my neck. “Merry Christmas, Sam. I love you, too.” She kissed my jaw, then my cheek, working her way to my mouth, where she took her time, teasing my bottom lip with her teeth, tracing the outline with the tip of her tongue.

“Don’t you want to see what Santa left you under the tree?” I snuck one hand under her nightshirt, over the warm satin skin of her stomach and up to cup her breast. My thumb circled her stiff nipple, and I was rewarded with her sharp intake of breath.

“I think I’d rather unwrap the gift that’s right here.” She snuggled closer, pressing her hot core against the stiffness between my legs.

Thrusting my hips forward, I growled into her ear. “Have you been a naughty girl? Do I need to—”

“Merry Christmas, Uncle Sam! Are you awake, Auntie Megs?” My niece’s voice cut throw the haze of desire. It was followed by the slam of the kitchen door and the pounding of her footsteps heading toward the stairs.

“Fuck.” I dropped my forehead against Meghan’s shoulder, groaning.

She giggled. “Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s off the table right now.” She nudged up my chin with her finger, sealed my lips with one intense, soul-stabbing kiss, and then sat up, patting my ass. “Come on, Uncle Sam. You need to get your, uh, self, under control before Bridget opens that door. In three, two, one . . .”

“Come on, you guys! Mommy and Daddy said I can’t open anything until you come downstairs. We walked all the way over here, and guess what? Daddy says it smells like snow. And I saw a deer right on the edge of the woods. Are you coming?”

~~~***~~~

“It never fails to amaze me that I can spend hours shopping and wrapping, and the opening is over in a matter of minutes.” My sister yawned and snuggled back against her husband, tucking her feet beneath her on the sofa. My eyes strayed down to where her grey cotton shirt stretched over the small bump at her middle. I glanced at Meghan, wondering if her thoughts were following my own, but she was occupied on the floor, examining a new set of charcoal pencils Santa had brought Bridget.

“Which is actually a good thing in this case, since we need to get over to Mom’s. Reenie just texted that she and Smith are already there, and Iona’s crew is on the way.” Flynn swiped his thumb over his phone and grinned at me. “We’ll leave the newlyweds alone.” He kissed the top of Ali’s head, his hand skimming over her bump in a way that was both possessive and casual. “Enjoy it. Once the rugrats come along, the relaxing Christmas mornings are a distant memory.”

I snorted. “Yeah, the last relaxing Christmas morning I had was before Bridget was born.” I’d spent more holidays with Bridge than Flynn had, and I wasn’t going to let him forget it.

“Touche’.” Flynn was a good guy, and I knew he appreciated the years I’d taken care of Ali and Bridget, when he wasn’t around. He nudged Ali up. “C’mon, woman. Get moving, or Mom’ll be calling to see where we are.”

Meghan and I stood by the Christmas tree as they bundled up for the short walk back across the fields and down the path, to the small house they’d built on the farm. Ali stood on tiptoe to kiss my cheek.

“Merry Christmas, big brother. See you later on for dinner at Mason and Rilla’s?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but we’re not staying late. We’re hitting the road early tomorrow morning, so we can get to the Cove by lunch time. Meghan’s mom is anxious for us to be there.”

“Understood.” She hugged my wife before they were all out the door, Bridget’s excited chatter the last thing I heard as they disappeared around the bend.

And then the house was quiet. Meghan sighed and turned toward the fridge.

“You want some eggs, or shall I make pancakes?”

“Hey.” I came behind her and circled my arms around her waist. “You okay?”

“Of course.” Her voice was too bright, too perky. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

The effect of the words was ruined by the catch in her breath. I closed my eyes, dropped my face to bury in her neck and pressed one hand over her flat stomach.

“It’s stupid.” She spoke so softly, I had to concentrate to hear her. “I mean . . . it wasn’t even . . . we barely knew I was pregnant.” She sniffled. “And it wasn’t like we wanted a baby so soon. It was just an accident.”

“Meghan.” I gripped her upper arms and turned her to face me. “No child of ours could ever be an accident. And no child of ours will ever be unwanted.” I lifted her face so that I could see her eyes, bright with unshed tears. “I won’t pretend to know what you went through, or what you’re feeling now. But I hate that you’re hurting. And I’d do anything to stop it.”

She rubbed her forehead against my shoulder. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do except get through it. I’m trying to be happy for Rilla and for Ali—I am happy for them. But it still hurts a little that they’re getting what I was too dumb to know I wanted.”

“Darlin’, you weren’t dumb. We were both surprised, and we were still adjusting when—well, when there wasn’t anything to adjust to anymore. Stop beating yourself up.” I brushed at her cheeks with my thumbs, swiping at the salty tracks. “And when the time’s right, it’ll be our turn. There’s a baby in our future. I know that for sure.”

Meghan sniffed again. “How can you know that? Maybe this was our baby. Maybe our only chance.”

“I know, because we’ll never give up. When we’re ready, it’ll happen.” I kissed her on the mouth, hard and quick. “And until then, I’m going to enjoy the time I have with my gorgeous, sexy wife.”

She gave a half-laugh, half-sob and caught her hands together behind my neck. “How on earth did I ever get lucky enough to find you?”

I laughed. “You got drunk at a bar in my town, had a bad serpentine belt, and I just happened to be the guy who came to your rescue.” I touched my lips to the turned-up tip of her nose. “And then you came back and rescued me from my dull and boring life. See, baby? It all works out.”

Meghan threaded her fingers through my hair and tugged me down toward her face. “Merry Christmas, Sam. I love you.”

“Merry Christmas, Meghan. I love you right back.” I gave in to her coaxing and kissed her again, this time slow and full of promise.

When she came up for air, some of the pain had seeped out of her eyes. “How about those pancakes?”

I bent, scooping her up in my arms and holding her tight to me. “Pancakes later. First . . .” I pivoted and made my way to the stairs. “You. Me. Upstairs. Naked. Lots of naked.”

She giggled, and the sound warmed my heart.

“You always have the best ideas.”

~~~***~~~

The End . . . for now

Review

The familiarity of home, the warmth of family ties, the sweet sensation of being wrapped in the arms of THE ONE love thatTLOEbookSW meant everything. . .each story is a remarkable package of all this and more.

–Olivia Hardin
USA Today Best-Selling Romance Author

From the Author

The One Trilogy begins with Sam and Meghan’s story in The Last One . . .

Nobody ever said love was simple.
It continues with Flynn and Ali’s re-discovered love in The First One . . .
Can first love last forever?
And it concludes with Mason and Rilla’s surprising romance in The Only One.
Sometimes love isn’t the easy choice. Sometimes it’s the only one.
Writing these books has been an amazing experience. For nearly a year, part of me has lived in the small Georgia town of Burton. I’ve loved watching this community: embracing their sorrows, celebrating their joys and exulting in their love stories.
I hope you’ll spend some time in Burton, too. One warning: you may not want to leave.
And if you enjoy The One Trilogy, come back to Burton for the Always Love TrilogyAlways For You is available now, and Always My Own is coming January 26th!

The Last One

FREE on all venues for a limited time

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Family: Love, loss and letting it go

IMG_1301This year, 2015, marks ten years since my family last had what for us will always be a ‘normal’ Christmas. It was the last time my parents were both alive and well. It was the last time we did what we’d done every year, in one form or another, as long as I could remember: we opened gifts at home, then trooped off to my parents’ home for more gifts and breakfast, then to my aunt’s home for more . . . back to our home for a rest and then off to my sister’s house for Christmas dinner.

Lots of running around, lots of hither and yon, lots of food and lots of family.

This is the time of year plenty of people grouse about their family. I hear groaning about parents, about having to see all those family members with whom they don’t agree politically or religiously, about the travel and the fuss and the mess.

And I think . . . you don’t know how lucky you are.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I’m blessed. I know that for nearly 40 years, I had an amazing extended family who supported me, who spoiled my kids, and with whom I had an extraordinary shared history. I know that I’m still blessed because I have an unbelievable husband, five fabulous children, and a sister, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, a niece and six nephews. We’re not geographically close, but I’m lucky to have them.

I was never one of those people who complained. When we lived in Hawaii and then in Wisconsin, my husband and I were anxious to move closer to our family. I appreciated them. I loved every gathering, every function I was invited to attend, every wedding, christening and other celebration we had. I loved impromptu lunches or breakfasts with family, running into them at stores and even the big birthday parties.

Now we live in Florida. We have wonderful friends, and I’m happy for that. But this time of year, I feel even more keenly what we lost in between June 2006 and June 2007.

When the song “Home for The Holidays” comes on, I cry. When I hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” I cry. It’s been ten years, and I’m not sure that sense of loss ever goes away.

Thinking about this today as I was running Christmas errands, it struck me that maybe that’s why it’s so important to me to write about families. All of my books include strong families, even they’re non-traditional: Crystal Cove is all about Jude and the family she’s both inherited and created. Burton includes the Reynolds, the Evans, the Wallaces and the Nelsons, who all come together to form a large and loving family. Ava’s family in the Perfect Dish Romance series is near and dear to my heart. And the folks in the paranormal world–Jackie, Lucas, Cathryn, Rafe, Nell–they’re a sort of family, too. Perhaps a tad dysfunctional. . .

It doesn’t surprise me that through my books, I’ve subconsciously re-created the family I miss and crave. Actually, it offers me comfort. And in effect, you, my readers, have given me a whole new sense of family. This year, my piano is decorated with cards from my readers. That makes me enormously happy.

So thanks to all of you for reading about my families, for indulging my need to write about them and for being so wonderful to me. Big hugs and hearts.

And merry Christmas!

Do The Right Thing

This week, I spent some time with a friend of mine who needed help packing up her house before it sold. This dear woman is going through what I’d call a Bad Time, and I was happy to be able to do anything I could.

Now, we all go through Bad Times now and again. It’s part of the human experience. Some of those come to us because of our own actions, and others are merely circumstantial. But for my friend, she’s going through this Bad Time simply because of another person’s selfishness.

There were a group of us there, and someone asked about taking nails down from the walls, where pictures had been hung. My friend asked what we should do: leave them for the new owners or take them down? Our other friend said, “We should take them down and spackle the holes and then touch up with paint. It’s the right thing to do.”

And my friend going through the Bad Time nodded and agreed, “It’s the right thing to do.”

I was struck by the fact that this person, who’d had serious Wrong done to her, in the midst of her pain, still did The Right Thing.

We see people doing The Right Thing all around us, if you keep your eyes open. When the Pope stops to bless a child on the side of the road, he’s doing The Right Thing. When a woman sitting on the airplane senses the anxiety of the young mom next to her whose baby is screaming and reaches out to help, she’s doing The Right Thing. When you’re standing in line in the grocery story, with a large order, and the man behind you has two items, you do The Right Thing and let him go first.

It’s easy to see the wrong things. It’s easy to do the wrong things. In the last weeks, I’ve seen some of this, when authors treat other publishing professionals and/or fellow authors poorly. I don’t like it. It makes me cranky.

Let’s make a point of seeing The Right Things. And please, DO The Right Thing. Not because you’ll get rewards or applause or recognition, but simply because it IS The Right Thing.

And there’s my Thursday sermon. Go forth and be awesome.

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