False Starts … or Oh, How I Hate the Beginning


Every writer has their problem area, some part of the plot that just gives them fits. It’s usually what’s infamously known as the “sagging middle,” but for me, it’s the beginning. Always. Not the entire first act, just the opening scenes – especially that first one. 

I’ve accepted that when I’m beginning a new book, a few false starts is just part of my process. It takes me a minute to find my balance – to get the plot moving while revealing enough about the characters to get emotional buy-in from the reader. And this starts with treating your characters like real people. As a writer, I think it’s important to remember that your characters have lived their entire lives up to the point at which you begin their story. In other words, you can’t introduce them in a way that feels like they just now came into existence; the reader should feel like they’re hopping on a train that’s been going full-speed long before they opened the book. And this applies to stand-alones as well as when you’re writing a series, as I am now.  

A few weeks ago, The Black Wasp went to the editors and I didn’t want to wait to get started on the next one. It picks up immediately where the last one leaves off, so I wanted to keep things moving while I was still in the zone. Simple enough, you’d think, but even so, I’m two false starts into it already and am just now finding my footing. For me, starting the next book always feels like some aggravating dream where I’m trying to find my room in a hotel with no room numbers on the doors. I head down the long, nondescript hallway and start trying my key until I find the lock it fits.

I’m finally at the right door now. I know because the characters are fully alive and the story is moving (not to mention that warm buzz of bone-deep deliciousness I believe every writer feels when they know they’ve just struck gold.) 

So “TMR,” book 4 of The Vampires of Crimson Cove series, is officially in full-swing now. Because The Black Wasp hasn’t even been released yet, I obviously can’t say much about TMR  … except that I’m very excited about it. I’ve been trying to move this series into a certain direction for a while now – one that will open things up and allow new possibilities that will keep things fresh and exciting – and it’s with this book that I’m finally setting my feet onto that fertile ground. This is the place I’ve been trying to get to and I can’t wait to find out where it goes from here. 

That said, book 3, The Black Wasp, is in the final stages of revision, which means an official release date is imminent. I shall keep you apprised …

The Art of Blaming the Industry


In 2010, I completed my first novel and the rush it gave me was of greater magnitude than anything else I’d ever experienced. After years of trying, I had finally done it: I had written my very first book. I was elated, bubbling with pride, and eager to get it out into the world where everyone could appreciate all my hard work. Everything was going swimmingly. That is, until I started submitting it to agents and publishers. Suffice it to say, this part of the process did not go as I’d planned.

After two years and nearly 200 hundred rejections, I gave up. Not on writing or my dream of being published, but I gave up on my theory that my book was a misunderstood masterpiece. I might have blamed any number of sources for my failure – poor judgment on the parts of the agents and publishers, lack of industry funds, the changing marketplace, etc. – but I was never comfortable putting that much of my fate into someone else’s hands. I admitted to myself that the problem might be me. So I pulled my manuscript out of circulation and gave it a long, hard, honest look. Lo and behold, I found some issues. Issues that, deep down inside, in a place I don’t like looking at, I suspected were there all along.

Taken from an interview in 2018

The characters needed to be amped up and more clearly defined. There were some loose threads that never really went anywhere. The scenery wasn’t clear. Yes, there were issues, but also, there was enough potential that I couldn’t just scrap the novel – even though I tried.

Fast forward to 2015. My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I had just gotten our haunted hotel novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting, published – and it was time to start the next project. We were all set, but there was something I had to do first. I had to re-work the manuscript I’d completed in 2010. So, I put many things on hold, dug my heels in, and refused to go forward on anything else until I gave my solo novel one more hard, honest rewrite.

What ended up happening was, again, not what I had planned. Rather than reworking the existing novel, I rewrote it entirely, keeping only the plot’s most skeletal basics – a few characters, and about three scenes I felt were strong enough to make the cut. I switched the point-of-view from first to third person, rearranged some plot points, and added new layers of texture to the characters and their relationships with each other. What I ended up with was an entirely different story – a better one that had no trouble seeing publication.

Its title is The Crimson Corset, and it was released in early August of 2015. Finally. Five years is a long time, especially in writer-speak. But in that time, I kept writing and managed to get a few other works published. More importantly, I developed, becoming a stronger writer with a keener eye, a sharper focus, and a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of good storytelling. The Crimson Corset went on to become a bestseller, earning praise from vampire-lit veteran Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jay Bonansinga, New York Times author of The Walking Dead books …

But it came from humble beginnings and I won’t lie. It burns to realize your novel isn’t good enough. It’s disheartening, it’s aggravating, and because it’s your own hard work, it is personal, regardless of what they tell you. But there is a great mercy in the midst of this misfortune, and that is seeing how much you’ve improved with time. It wasn’t that my story wasn’t good enough – it’s that I simply wasn’t ready to tell it. I needed a little time, a little more experience, and only with those ingredients could I give full justice to the novel I was trying to write.

And I never resented having to rewrite this novel; I loved every minute of it – so much, in fact, that I’ve agreed to make it the first in a series: The Vampires of Crimson Cove (book 2, The Silver Dagger, is out now, and book 3, The Black Wasp, is coming this summer.)

I have never subscribed to the philosophy that creating art is a painful, grueling process. If I believed that, I don’t know that I would continue. If writing was as painful as some claim it is, I would simply do something else, something that didn’t hurt quite so much, something more suitable to my abilities. But the fact is, I love writing. Even rewriting. Sure it’s hard work, but when you write what you love, hard work is fun work. And the industry has nothing to do with it. A writer’s business is to write the kinds of books that readers want to read. Do that, and the rest will take care of itself.

Belinda: The Story Behind The Name


Naming characters is a surprisingly phenomenal thing, because, more often than not, they name themselves – as strange as that sounds. What I mean is that they tend to present themselves to their authors fully-formed; they know their own appearances, personalities, and often, they come pre-named. That being said, this wasn’t the way it worked with Belinda.

The name Belinda and I go way back, but first, I thought its historical meaning was interesting. As I researched it, the name struck me as fitting for this story line because in German, Italian, and American, Belinda means: From the Old German Betlindis, which is derived from the word for snake. Images of snakes draw my mind to the Garden of Eden scene in the bible, and Belinda’s story, at its roots, is one of a similar nature.

Still, as interesting as this was to learn, it wasn’t the reason I wanted to use the name Belinda. My reason, I’m afraid, was far simpler.

When I was a kid, I happened upon a book called The Ghost That Goofed by Edith W. Boutelle. This little book had everything I wanted in a story at the time: a ghost, a talking pet, and a grand Halloween party. The ghost’s name, of course, was Belinda. (I feel I need to note here that Boutelle’s ghost and our Belinda Moorland, of The Erotic Adventures of Belinda, have nothing in common except the name.) But this wonderful little book, I believe, set the course for me in terms of storytelling, and because of that, I’ve long wanted to pay some kind of tribute to it. Unfortunately, that has not turned out to be an easy task.

story

I have tried to use the name Belinda in just about everything I’ve previously written, and for one reason or another, up until The Erotic Adventures of Belinda, it hasn’t worked out. Belinda is a strong name and not – in my mind – well suited for a minor character. As for main characters, like I said, they tend to name themselves, and none of them jumped up and said, I’m Belinda! I’m Belinda! Then, on the few occasions that I did find a suitable place for the name, I was told no.

No, because it stands out too much.

No, because it’s too long and unusual.

No, because it will remind readers of Belinda Carlisle.

While I had my doubts that the front woman of the Go-Go’s really dominated the consciousness of today’s audience – and I certainly didn’t think the name was too lengthy or foreign for readers to manage – I was new to the business and I took advice easily. Too easily. But I think these things happen for a reason.

When Tamara Thorne and I began to discuss writing an erotic serialization, I knew Belinda was our girl. But I also knew that Tamara had to agree to it. After all, if she had wanted to name our heroine Gonzarella, I would not have been pleased – and I owe Tamara the same respect. We both had to love this name. So I didn’t present it to her right away. I would wait till the time was just right, then – like the snake that the name Belinda is derived from – I would strike! But as fate would have it, I didn’t need to do that.

Tamara knew about The Ghost That Goofed. She knew how much I loved that story, and when it came time to name our girl, Tamara herself basically suggested ‘Belinda’ when she asked me, “What was the name of that ghost you loved as a kid?”

“Belinda,” I said.

She thought about it for about three seconds and said, “I think that would be perfect here.”

And with every cell in my body, I knew she was right, and I was suddenly very glad that I hadn’t used the name somewhere else.

TheNewGovernessLargeFINAL

That was many many months ago, and since then, Belinda’s first installment, The New Governesshas been released. Her second installment, Awakening, is in the last stages of publication and will be available in a matter of days.

Belinda’s is a story of handsy spirits, envy and ecstasy, the elusive hit-and-miss nature of love, and magic of the right and wrong kinds, all set in a beautiful Gothic mansion on a breathtaking estate. On the surface, it’s a fun little romp down the haunted hallways of Ravencrest Manor – but at its core, it’s a story about a woman coming into full possession of her sexuality; a woman harnessing her own power, and this new installment, Awakening, is aptly titled. This is where it really begins for her.

awakeningfinal

I’ve never had as much fun writing anything as I have this story. It’s a pleasure to sit down to every day…  and I happen to think her name, Belinda, is just right. I’m grateful to Tamara for agreeing with me on that.

And that’s the story behind the name…

 

 

 

Author Spotlight at Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog


Tamara Thorne and I did an Author Spotlight guest post at Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, which has now gone live. We talked a little bit about our writing processes, our trip to the haunted cabin, Belinda, and the other projects we are currently working on. Go to Morgen Bailey’s and read about it.

Meanwhile, Awakening, the second installment in The Erotic Adventures of Belinda is days away from publication. When she has gone forth into the grand world of books, the buy links will be posted here.

Meanwhile, here is the teaser and cover…

Awakening

In Awakening, we find out more about Grant Phister, the wicked Mrs. Heller, and some of the other inhabitants of the house, both living and dead. There are more secrets than ever waiting within the walls of Ravencrest, but Belinda has one final requirement to meet before she can get down to work: She must pass her physical examination – and it will prove to be far more intimate than anything in her wildest dreams – or her darkest nightmares.  Will she get through her first day at Ravencrest intact?

The Doctors are In!

The young man moved to Belinda’s left side and suddenly masculine hands encompassed each of her breasts. She went crimson. Oh please, let this be over with! Please! She closed her eyes. Dr. Akin’s hand was large, his fingers very long. He was cupping and enfolding her entire breast. The intern’s wasn’t quite as big. Both men’s hands were dry and uncallused, smooth, gentle. Warm.

This new feeling upset her almost as much as being nude. Stop it! This is a doctor’s exam; it’s not supposed to feel good!

Awakening, the second installment of The Erotic Adventures of Belinda is coming soon!

awakeningfinal

On Writing: Extreme Collaborating


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A radio interviewer asked Tamara Thorne and me how we write together and that was one of the most eye-opening questions we’ve ever had.  She was amazed when we told her our method and said she’d never heard of anyone writing like that before.  Evidently, many writers split things up with one brainstorming and the other writing. Neither of us can even imagine having any fun doing our job this way.  To not be allowed to brainstorm would be horrible!  And to not write would be just as bad!  We can each imagine this working in non-fiction, but in fiction, if you don’t love both sides – creating and writing – where does that leave you? How can you imagine ideas for your plot and characters without being able to set them down as well, and vice versa? Can a good writer write without his or her imagination taking off and soaring to the heavens?  It sounds absolutely horrible to us.

Our collaborations are a 50/50 effort. We plot together, we develop characters together, and we even transcribe together by getting on Skype, opening the Cloud, and working side by side. Sometimes Tamara takes the lead, sometimes Alistair does – but nothing is written without both of us present. We each have our own individual strengths and weaknesses, and we each are aware of the other’s. Luckily for us – as we learned early on – our weaknesses and strengths balance out; where one of us has difficulty, the other is at ease.

One very important part of our process that we stress very much when asked about it, is the personal side of our relationship. Writing is a job, a business, and although we are business partners, we are also friends. We may share the same vision, the same sensibilities, and even similar writing styles, but all of this is pointless without three very important elements: respect, honesty, and loyalty.

Respect comes first. We are aware of each other’s time. We meet every day, six days a week, and work anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. But if something comes up or one of us is running late, we are okay with that.

As for honesty… honesty is something you have to be comfortable with if you intend to write with another person. If one of us hates what the other is writing – though it hasn’t really happened – we’d say so… but kindly. If one of us isn’t feeling the same vibe as the other and thinks the story needs to go a different direction, we discuss it openly.

No drama. We are similar in that we both avoid drama – and the people who spew it – so one of us getting drawn into the chaos of the other one’s personal life issues is never a problem for us. This zero tolerance for drama, in fact, is probably the glue that holds this whole thing together. (Sure, we each tell the other what’s going on in our lives – we’re friends and that’s what friends do – but we don’t dwell. We go to work.)

So kindness, honesty, and a no drama policy is what makes up the respect facet of this deal. Then there is loyalty.

Loyalty comes into play because we are given a lot of advice by outside forces, and sometimes, the advice is not good. We’ve made a firm pact that no decisions will be made without the consent of the other one. No one is allowed to call one of us and discuss changes behind the other’s back. We are business partners, and we operate as such, no exceptions.

With loyalty comes trust, which could easily be the fourth part of the sum. We trust each other with the characters, the storyline, and on a personal level as well, but this trust is built on the foundation of the respect, honesty, and loyalty to which we adhere.

And now that the personal elements of our collaboration have been covered, we come to the creative part of the process.

collab

Each day we spend an hour or two in the morning warming up. We chat, we do our PR and marketing work, whether it’s writing a blog, posting to Facebook, or answering interview questions. We spend a little time studying some aspect of our business most mornings as well, whether that’s going through a lot of covers or promotional posters and talking about what we like and dislike, discussing articles we’ve just read on traditional vs indie publishing, or anything else writing-oriented.  We tell some jokes. We laugh a lot.

And then we get down to writing.  If we’re having trouble getting going, we get silly, each sneaking in outrageous dialogue or descriptions for the other to laugh at. That’s actually one of the best tricks we’ve found for getting a scene moving. We’ll add on to the silliness, each of us, and suddenly the scene comes to life and, when we’re done, we remove the goofy stuff.

We each enjoy following certain characters and take the lead on our favorites, but we are also careful to switch off so that we each know every character well.  To us, familiarity with our characters – all of them – is vital to the story.

While, individually, we both do a lot of world-building in order to get to know our characters and their locale, together, we probably spend twice as much time doing this.  When you are collaborating, the littlest details become important and are (usually) best figured out beforehand because both of us must know whether a character has dimples or drives a beat-up old Chevy or hates seafood.  Otherwise, incongruities can get past us, unnoticed.

The characters’ voices, however, evolve during writing and whoever creates the voice sets the tone the other follows for that character. For example, a character in one of our upcoming novels has a unique way of swearing that Alistair made up.  We both love voicing her and work together to get the most insane profanities out of her as we write, always following Alistair’s original style.

While we occasionally write two scenes in tandem – this usually happens when we are writing one scene together and one of us is inspired by something the other writes – we still consider ourselves to be writing together; after all, via Skype, we have instant access to one another.  After that, we go over both scenes together and make sure everything is in synch and do a light edit.  Mostly, though, we quite literally write together. One of us may write most of a scene with the other trailing along fixing things, or simply taking in the tale as it evolves. Sometimes we take turns in the same scene. Tamara often takes over descriptions of locale because she really enjoys it. Alistair enjoys writing certain situations and takes those. We think the main reason one or the other of us takes the lead, though, is character. We each have our favorites.

We write in similar voices and have similar sensibilities, senses of humor, likes and dislikes, and this, of course, is part of our chemistry. But if you have a collaborator you constantly disagree with, our question is why?  If you have nothing in common, how can you enjoy your work – or one another?

We received some great feedback the other day. After reading The New Governess, the first installment of our Gothic Erotica serialized novel, The Erotic Adventures of Belinda, a reader said to us: “Which one of you wrote this? I can’t tell.” To which we happily answered, “We both wrote it.” And we did.  Just like we wrote this blog. Together, in the Cloud.

For more, visit us at: http://alistaircross.com & http://tamarathorne.com