Monday, June 27, 2011

My Writing Process: Ever Evolving? Or Back to Basics?

For those interested in writing for Intrigue, I did a blog post for Harlequin a bit ago that talks about writing spooky. Check it out if you're interested.

It's another fabulous Monday morning and today I have a special treat for readers - a guest post by extraordinary Harlequin Intrigue author, Julie Miller. If you read the Intrigue line or have even scanned the books in a grocery store, I'm sure you recognize Julie's name. She's been so kind to provide us with an inside look at a piece of her writing process.

The more I write, the more I learn about writing. I've always believed that as a teacher, and I'm seeing it firsthand as my writing career progresses. Whether published or not, there's always something to learn from completing a writing project.

I recently finished revisions and updates for the first novel I ever had published--IMMORTAL HEART, a paranormal romantic suspense--that has been reissued as an ebook this month. That was 40+ novels ago. And wow, what an interesting trip down memory lane to read through that ms again. There were some obvious updates content-wise after 15 years that I needed to address--giving my techno-wiz heroine a cell phone, changing her videotape collection to DVD's, using flash drives instead of (groan) floppy disks.

But I discovered that my writing style has changed over the years, too. I discovered a few cliches in the ms--maybe they were fresh back then, but they've been overused now. I discovered that I must have had a favorite word back then because I used it a LOT in that ms (I've changed several of them, played with different phrasing in the new version so it doesn't jump out at the reader the way it kept jumping out at me). Plus, I think I'm a tighter writer now (ooh, that rhymes). For example, I can see that I took fewer chances with breaking the rules of grammar and sentence structure. Some sentences--dialogue, especially--I wanted to snap in half so that the pacing moved faster and it sounded more realistic to those characters. Of course, I was still teaching English full-time when I first wrote that story, so maybe all those rules I insisted my students use were stuck in my head, influencing my style. I hope I've given the story the contemporary, fast-paced tone I use now to go along with (what I'm pleased to discover) the same deep characterization that I still have today.

As I begin my next writing project (the first of a new Precinct miniseries for Harlequin Intrigue, tentatively titled THE MARINE NEXT DOOR), I'm keeping in mind the evolution of my writing style. No more 'darlin's' unless that hero is from Texas, and even then, probably not. And really, 'galvanized' is a cool word, but I think using it once in a ms is plenty since it's so unique. I'm giving myself permission to play with those grammar rules. My ms will still be clean and easy to read, but I will break some rules intentionally for certain effects in my story.
And there's something else in that first novel that I want to get back to in my writing. That truly was a book of my heart (in fact, the whole trilogy I wrote featuring that group of IMMORTAL HEART characters was a books of the heart project). While I know there are certain requirements in writing now--right tone for the line, required length, certain level of heat, hooks that readers like, etc.--I don't want to limit myself creatively. I want to dream more, let my imagination go, allow myself to feel the joy of writing that I felt back then. I want to revisit favorite characters who are near and dear to my heart, and create new ones who sweep my imagination off its feet. For example, in the first book of this Precinct miniseries, I'm already thinking of some tweaks I want to give my hero, John Murdock. Deepen the angst and conflict. Incorporate some things that have touched me in real life recently. And so on. As I write this 45th book, I want to try to recapture that book of the heart feeling. The ptb at Harlequin say that readers are looking for something a little unpredictable and fresh in their books, while still being able to bank on the promise of a particular line. I'm hoping to pull that unpredictability into my story by trusting my instincts and playing a little more.

So that's where I am in my process--reflecting back on how far I've come while giving myself permission to break a few more of those rules I didn't know about back then that I know now. I'm looking forward to writing my next slate of projects with this new attitude. That'll keep it fresh and exciting for me as a writer, as well as for the readers. I hope!

I've got a backlist title or copy of my upcoming August Intrigue, PROTECTING THE PREGNANT WITNESS, to give away to one lucky poster. Ask a question about writing or upcoming projects. Share what you would consider fresh or unpredictable in the Intrigues/Harlequins you read. Or just share what you've been reminiscing about lately.

Happy Reading!
Julie Miller

Please include an email address in your post so Julie has a way to contact you. Thanks so much for guest blogging, Julie! I loved your post.

Have a great week, everyone!

Deadly DeLeon


Misha Gerrick said...

I used to be addicted to romances, but lately I've stopped reading them, because almost everyone seems to be following the same formula. While there are good stories as well, it's just too much trouble for me to dig through the nonsense.

So, I like the idea that you'll be going for something new. Sounds like the kind of romance I'd read.

Good luck!

Refhater said...

Welcome to K.F. Julie! I've read alot of your stories and loved them. Can't wait to read the new miniseries! I'm curious to know what your "favorite word" was way back then.


Unknown said...

I love the Intrigue line. I read them quite often. I do switch my books around alot so I don't get bored, so I have never gotten tired of them. Do you ever base any of your books on things that happen in real life.


Julie Miller said...

Thanks, Misha! I hope you do give Harlequin Intrigue a try. They truly get romantic suspense right, I think.

Julie Miller said...

Sorry I missed commenting on Monday, folks. I'm in NYC at the RWA conference and haven't had regular access to my computer.

I'm having a great time, tho. Learning lots. Fabulous networking with other authors and industry professionals, including my editors and agent. (the best part of a conference, imo) Saw a Broadway show. Attending some workshops and booksignings.

I'll sleep when I get home. And then I'll get back to writing and regular blogging. ;)

But thanks for stopping by! And thanks to your own Deadly DeLeon for inviting me to guest blog here on Killer Fiction!

Julie Miller said...

Hey, Joelle--thanks for stopping by.

The favorite word I'd overused was... galvanized.

As in, the threat to the heroine galvanized him, and he took action.

Used once, it's kind of cool and dramatic. Used more than once and I start to think of gutters and siding. ;)

Julie Miller said...

Hey, Virginia--

While most of my books spring almost entirely from my overactive imagination--yes, some of my stories are inspired by true events.

Most notably, my Precinct story, BABY JANE DOE, was based on the Precious Doe murder case that happened in Kansas City a few years back. While I didn't really follow the details of the case (which has thankfully since been solved), when I interviewed some investigators at KCPD, to a man, they asked if I was there to write about the case. I could tell it was a matter of personal honor and caring to every man and woman there that the murder of an unidentified little girl be solved. It was inspiring.

And, to a lesser degree, there have been some law enforcement people (or other professions) I've met over the years who've inspired characters. I remember meeting one shaved-headed detective who was tall and lanky and utterly charming and funny. Yet I could tell you shouldn't mess with him. His look inspired my hero Cooper Bellamy in NINE MONTH PROTECTOR. The real detective didn't have cancer like my hero did, but the essence of his look and personality inspired me.

Interesting question. Thanks for asking!

Julie Miller said...

And the winner is... Misha!

Congratulations! Through a terribly scientific process (not!;) I asked my roommate to pick a number between 1 and 3, and she chose 1.

If you email me (contact info is on my website) with your mailing address, I'll send you a book as soon as I get home from my conference next week.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by! All you lurkers out there, too!