What does Forty Times Platinum and Frozen have in common?

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I don’t jump on band-wagons. Not out of principle or anything as noble as that. And as much as I criticize my husband for fearing change, I am actually very similar. I usually like what I have going on and don’t want to do anything new or different.

So of course I was probably the last person to get a Facebook page and I will say I still don’t know how to use it as effectively as I can. And now I have to be on Twitter and Instagram. Help! These have been my summer to-do’s. I did manage to set up a Twitter account- Follow me! But I haven’t gotten on Instagram yet.

Anyway, back to band-wagons. As someone who does not have children, when the whole Frozen craze started, I looked the other way. But, I do like a good song. The lyrics to “Let it Go”, however confused me because I hadn’t seen the movie. There I stood, in my friends’ kitchen one Friday night and the movie was on. When the scene with the song came on, the room burst with excitement. I listened specifically to the words and turned to my friend, begging for an explanation. Ah ha! Now I get it. And then I was hooked.

About a month after that, there was a behind-the-scenes special about Frozen.

I love all the behind the scenes stuff I could get my hands on. That was research for my novel. There are little pieces of so many rock-u-mentaries that I mimicked in Forty Times Platinum. Even though my book is about musicians, I am nothing further from an expert on music. I can carry a tune that is it. No one will have any idea what I went through to try to understand the elements of music so I could write about it successfully, accurately and make it sound pleasant to read. Music is basically another language. And it’s up there with Japanese. Since all the symbols mean something different.

So I watched the Frozen special with interest and again peeled my eyes and ears for stuff I could steal. I mean use. Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez talked about what had inspired them to write the song. It was then that Kristen had used the word “vamp.” She was referring to the opening piano notes to the song. For the longest time I had been looking for that word! If it weren’t for the movie Frozen, there would have been a hole in my novel.

To this day, when I hear the opening to “Let it Go”, I think of my own fictional song, “Time and Place”— the song Jennifer Montgomery writes for newly signed artists Jamie Miller.

“A strong and intricate opening or vamp should get people’s attention, Jennifer thought.”

Thanks Kristen!

Then the screenwriter was being interviewed. Frozen was one of those movies that had many stops and starts. And even when they thought the story was complete, apparently when Kristen and Robert presented “Let it Go,” the screenwriter, said her reaction was “Oh God, I have to re-write this entire movie.”

I started crying. Coincidentally her name was Jennifer. I said, “I know Jennifer, I know how you feel.”

The re-write I was facing however was going to be even harder this time because I was being told to employ techniques I simply didn’t know. I decided to take advantage of the proofreading service and used the same editor to get me through a few chapters at a time. She was teaching me how to write a novel properly.

It took five more months to re-write and re-work Forty Times Platinum.

Again.

To be continued.

The Five Pages That Changed My Life

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So I’m a little drunk and my hands are trembling opening the word document that contained my manuscript critique. I had expected 1 to 2 pages, per the service’ description. I peeked down at the lower tool bar and read “Page 1 of 5”

“Oh my God, this is five pages long!” I shouted to my husband.

This was the first sentence of my critique:

“This is a fun and imaginative romance fiction that will have substantial appeal to a target audience that enjoys the modern romance genre.”

Several words jumped out and soothed my nerves: ‘Fun’ and ‘Imaginative’. But ‘Substantial Appeal’ took my breath away. SUBSTANTIAL. But then I noticed the editor classified “Forty Times Platinum” as a Romance.

I had spent the better part of year, trying to make it sound like anything but a romance!

But the critique went on with more words of encouragement. And then the bomb dropped:

“Overall, therefore, you have the basics of a really good read. However, the novel, as it stands now, suffers badly from the pitfall of “telling” not “showing.”

‘Suffers badly.’ Ouch.

The next few pages had laid out the criticisms in detail:

“often Jen and the others are acting against a “blue screen” in your book.”

She likened the book to reading like a screenplay-made perfect sense. (See earlier posts.)

One of my mother’s comments was that I was too descriptive. So while I was wiping all of the unnecessary descriptions away, I was left with only dialogue. In all the people who read it, they never told me that they didn’t get a sense of what was going on around my characters. And I hadn’t seen it either.

But then I started paying extra attention to movies and television. I got what the editor was talking about. Characters just can’t talk non-stop with nothing else happening around them. That’s boring. And on the screen, actors don’t just stand there and talk.

Next the editor said I was “head-hopping.” In novels, apparently you cannot tell a story from two (or more) character’s perspective in the same part of the book. Any substantial chunk of a novel has to be told through one character’s perspective. And then you can jump. But you have to put in a key somehow to let the reader know the perspective has changed. This is done in movies and television all the time but apparently it’s a big no-no on paper.

It’s at this point that I picked up another book for help. And Seven Years to Sin– my FAVORITE Sylvia Day book- really came to my rescue. After reading my critique I was determined to prove the editor wrong about the ‘head-hopping’. I was sure I’d seen it in books. I was wrong.

Many authors devote individual chapters solely from one character’s perspective. Jodi Picoult does this a lot. And each chapter is titled with that character’s name. Personally, I think that’s been overdone. No offense to anyone- especially a master like Jodi.

The blue-screen fix was easy. The showing-not-telling comment was trickier, but again, a relatively easy fix, once I understood how to do it properly.

Example:

Tell: The glass of wine was half full.

Show: Christina lifted her glass, tilting her head back to catch the last of its contents.

The head-hopping was a big issue. I literally had thoughts popping in and out all over the place. And to me each character’s thoughts and views were important to telling the story the way I wanted to.

This sadly meant one thing.

I had to re-write my novel.

Again.

To be continued.

Bring it On

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So all my characters were re-worked, re-named and re-invented. And when I was done, I came in at a little over 85,000 words. I was then left with the question: What now?

Nearly everything I had read on the internet said that to get a book published today was virtually impossible. I read a staggering statistic that literary agents get 60,000 queries (proposals) per year. Do the math people. With no contacts and nothing significant going for myself—unless I changed my name to Kardashian—I came to the conclusion that my only option was to Self-Publish.

And for anyone thinking, ‘Oh just Self-Publish’, it’s not that simple. Just go to Smashwords.com and look at the upload instructions. I also knew very little about publishing and knew I would need to pay someone a lot of money to do all the things I knew I couldn’t do. After all the research, I calculated my all-in figure to get my book published the way I wanted was going to come in around $7,000.

I looked at it like I was starting a business. People start businesses. People make investments. I was ready to sign up for a consultation with a Self-Publisher who had top ratings and good reviews, when again through random links I came across Scribendi.com. I perused their menu and came across a very interesting service: “Manuscript Critique”. Basically for money, someone would read my ENTIRE manuscript and tell me what they think. This was something I knew I had to do, to justify spending that amount of money.

Friends and family had read the novel. A shout out to Uncle Jack, Mom, my sister in law, her sister, my boss and several other friends who so graciously took the time to read “Forty Times Platinum” and all its iterations.

But I needed a professional unbiased opinion. Editors and agents are biased. At the end of the day, my book is a product. And it’s all about whether it could sell. Everyone is in their own world, their own bubble with details and circumstances that they have to maneuver around. So why is a book a no for someone and a yes for someone else? Because different people have different circumstances.

And yes, if you are PAYING someone for their opinion, maybe they don’t want to trash you. But in the questionnaire for the critique service Scribendi asked: How honest do you want us to be? I think I answered, “Bring it on!” The fee was based on the word count, so it cost me about $600. If I was going to spend $7000 with a Self Publisher, $600 to decide if I should even bother was peanuts.

Plus I was going to get an answer. When you ‘query’ agents or publishers, you send one page and more than likely you will never get an answer. So here was my chance for a ‘professional’ who was unbiased (no skin in the game) to give me their opinion on the WHOLE novel.

And after a nerve racking two week wait, I returned home from my usual Friday night date night with my husband to find my critique waiting for me. I admit to having a few cosmos in me, but I opened the review anyway. The description of service said I could expect a one to two page critique.

My critique was five pages long.

To be continued

Forty Times Platinum gets handed over to my biggest critic- Mom

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Forty Times Platinum was tight and polished and had come in at a cool 85,000 words. I was ready (again) to move forward.

I then gave it to several relatives and friends to read. A few friends had even suffered through the sad 135,000 word version— I paid them off in gift cards. After every reading, I received valuable feedback and made edits accordingly. When I had the shorter, better version my uncle (Uncle Jack) read it. He had had a hernia operation and I was the lucky closest relative who got to take him to the hospital and then care for him while he was recovering.

He stayed the weekend and I forced him to read nearly the entire book. It started with me handing him the first chapter and I asked in general- “What do you think?” The man who reads nothing but World War II novels was surprisingly interested and kept asking me to print more chapters.

Uncle Jack was the first person I had told about the book and he’s been my biggest supporter ever since. He was always emailing me: What’s going on with the book? How’s the book? And this was before I knew what I was going to do with it.

As a woman who has no children, it’s hard for someone to understand how much I feel left out of the general conversation going on around me whenever I am with other adults. For thirteen years (the amount of time, I’ve been with my husband) I have sat through announcement after announcement- We’re having a baby! We’re having another baby! Come to the Christening, the communion, the birthday party, the moving up ceremony. My son is selling popcorn. My daughter is selling cookies. Come to the recital!

All the while, I’ve had no announcements and nothing to celebrate. For thirteen years, I’ve basically had nothing to talk about because there was nothing to say. So all those texts and emails from Uncle Jack have meant more to me than anyone could imagine.

Next I gave Forty Times Platinum to my mother to read.

When I was growing up all my mom had cared about was that I got some kind of college degree, so I could get some kind of job and support myself. The idea of anything creative and risk taking was completely OUT OF THE QUESTION.

Fast forward 30 years, I am married, doing well financially and so with that worry out of her head, she was able to embrace this endeavor and she read my novel. She’s an avid reader with vast interests, so this wasn’t too much of a stretch for her.

Like others, she had made comments, such as “I don’t get this.” or “Why are they doing that?” But then I started getting texts telling me what page she was on and that she was really getting into it. Another comment prompted me to remove a scene and re-write it to be one of my favorite scenes in the whole book. So I thank her for that. She even had a bookmark with Forty Times Platinum engraved on it. That’s when I knew she was seriously on board with this whole thing. It was an overwhelming gift.

I will also say that my mother has never hid how she proud she’s been of everything I’ve accomplished. I know she talks me up to everyone. For someone who didn’t graduate with an advanced or professional degree, I did pretty well for myself. But like most women, my mother is my biggest critic. So it was really no surprise when she said that although she really liked the book and she LOVED Michael (everyone loves Michael) she confessed that she didn’t like Jen very much.

Most writers put a lot of themselves in their characters. Jamie and Michael were both based on real people. Gigi too. Cam was loosely based on someone real but more from when he was an actor and not a ball player. Jen’s success and her talent could mostly be based on someone like Cheryl Crow. If you had to think about the type of musician Jen was as far as talent and success, Cheryl is the best example.

But everything about Jen came out of my head. I wrote her in most scenes and acted her out as I would have reacted. Jen really is me.

So for my mother to say, she didn’t like Jen, left me wondering — maybe my mother doesn’t really like me 🙂

To be continued

Who wants a happy ending?

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To this day, Forty Times Platinum has an identity crisis. Let me explain: Every book falls into a genre and while booksellers freely cross the streams to maximize sales, publishers are very strict that a book must fall into ONE genre.

I didn’t want Forty Times Platinum to be a romance novel. Plenty of them fill my bookshelves and I have nothing against them. But to me, FTP didn’t read that way.  Besides, there are very strict rules for a story to be classified a “romance.” For one, the main characters must get together at the end- the Happy Ending rule.  It’s debatable what really happens at the end of FTP. I’ve purposely left it open. And then on a webinar, I learned things like infidelity are not present in romance novels. True romance novels really thrive on giving the reader a fantasy to chew on and then swallow.

And so in Commercial Women’s Fiction—or as they say in the biz:  ‘Women’s’, the characters are more realistic. “The Sound of her Heart” version definitely had a lot of whimsical elements and so if I wanted to be on the shelves with writers such as Emily Giffin or Lauren Weisberger, the fantasy needed to be toned down.

Before, Jen and Michael were these incredibly famous people living fabulous lives. In order for this story to work in the Women’s market, I needed to anchor them into reality. In the original version, they were loosely associated with the record label Jamie had signed with. To better identity with Jen and Michael, I pushed them both out of their singing careers and stuck them in an office working for my fictional record label- Thompson Street Records.

The ‘exes working together’ factor was such a fun premise to write around.   This was another opportunity to present a strong Jen. She’s a tough business woman, who’s left her singing career behind to make other artists’ dreams come true.

That brings us to Cam Harris. In the original version he was an actor. I struggled with this one. It was an easy and satisfying decision to make Jen and Michael more realistic but it took some thought and internal struggles to reinvent Cam Harris. As one of Jen’s love interests, Cam had to be special enough for her.

But Jen was a different person now and an actor was too unstructured for the new premise and the backdrop of the music industry told from insiders. I had to put my thinking cap on for this one: Where could someone be famous, but also have a real job with a set schedule of days on and off?

I wasn’t totally convinced making Cam a New York Yankee fit the less-than-fabulous tone I was trying to present. In fact I had written a whole alternate section making Cam a lawyer for a rival music label. Yawn. No offense against lawyers.

Cam also had to be more age-appropriate for Jen (Jamie is a younger man).  I tossed the question out to some people and everyone liked the idea of a love story with a professional ball-player. So Cam became a New York Yankee.

Well . . . it took 9 long months after the pitch conference in September 2013, but I was able to completely re-write what is now titled: Forty Times Platinum.

To be continued.

What’s in a name… And would Jamie by any other name work?

13199704015_72aa535bd7Welcome Back!

After three years of living and breathing the story I had written, I had to make some serious changes. And the new novel was going to be vastly different from what I had been writing. The story I wanted to tell, wasn’t going to work. And if I was going to try to do anything realistic with this, I had to bend.

First, I had to remove 50,000 words! My goal was to get 135,000 down to 85- 87,000 tops.

Then I had to address the fact that my main characters didn’t have names.

By this time I had sailed into a third book. And it was here that I had decided (at the end) to name them. Even when I was pitching the first book, and trying to sell the “unnamed” concept, I knew my characters’ names. But I was keeping it a secret. And when I would edit the third book and get to the part where their names were revealed, I got a chill. I wanted the readers to have that same reaction.

But I had to compromise. I was able to give my music executive lady her name pretty easily. I admit I stole Jen’s cool last name from a character in another book.

I had also just watched Zero Dark Thirty. I re-created Jennifer Montgomery with Jessica Chastain’s performance and her brass, ‘I take no BS from anyone attitude’ voice in my head.  I was amazed at how much more I liked Jennifer. And so when I started re-writing, this new strong woman came front and center and stole the show.

Jen’s back story had originally been very different. Only after the pitch conference did I realize how I had tortured this poor woman with a tragic past and had her crying every other chapter.

In thirty days I had my first new chapter and then the rest of the story unfolded from there. Through creative editing, I was able to keep a significant amount from the original story and I had fun writing new chapters, for my new strong leading lady.

Jamie Miller was another story. Writing the equivalent of three books at that time became so difficult that I would go weeks without touching it. In that time, other stories started to come to me. I was working on something else and had given the woman in the story the name Jennifer. Call it coincidence, call it lazy, call it whatever you want, I seem to write better and faster using that name. The male’s name in that other story, however, was Jonathan. So while struggling to put a name to my singer, who had been so personal to me, I tossed the name Jonathan around for him too. But it didn’t feel right. I still liked the idea of the two J’s and so I settled on Jamie.

But I not only had to get used to Jamie having a name (regardless of what it was), his entire identity had to change. In the end, I embraced the new Jamie and fell in love with him all over. When I write for him now (I’m still working on the sequels), physically he still resembles my singer, but he’s his own man.

I also collapsed a few characters into one. Jen had originally been married and divorced from someone else. Michael Bradley, who is also based on a real-life singer, was Jen’s best friend and one time (brief) lover in the original version. But it was too long of a back story and complicated. I still remember when I had the thought… what if Michael was Jen’s ex-husband?

And so Michael was completely transformed. He had to be. Originally, he was always in the shadows and would only come out when Jen needed her hand held. Writing for the new Michael was a lot of fun. Anyone who’s read the more recent version always commented how much they like Michael. He also anchored Jen into becoming a more realistic character.

Underneath the sexy, sarcastic banter, even I wasn’t sure. . . is there still something between them?

To be continued.

So what do you do with 135,000 words?

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Welcome back!

It was June 2013. I had been writing my novel (which had blossomed by then into 3 novels) since August 2010. And I was left with the feeling, what now?

Random clicks and links brought me to the Algonkian Writer’s Pitch Conference in New York, that September.

Sounded perfect. I signed up and worked diligently that summer to get the novel into shape. By that time, I had renamed it: The Sound of her Heart. As much as I liked the previous title (Designed to Last), I felt it didn’t connect to what the story was about. I reserve the right to use it for another story though.

So, I showed up at the conference with confidence, but I soon dissolved into a pool of nerves. By this time I had let several friends read the novel, but the idea of talking to strangers about it, had me sick to my stomach. I also learned very quickly I was terrible at pitching. Even reading from my own pitch, I could feel myself shaking. I had to lean over to the person next to me, and ask, “Could you hear the trembling in my voice?”

The person said no, but honestly I didn’t believe her.

The workshop group I was assigned to was filled with very nice people with extremely interesting stories. As an avid reader, there probably wasn’t a book idea there that I wouldn’t have wanted to read myself.  But I was the only “romance” in the group. All I could think was:  Who would want a romance with all these really interesting, hard-hitting and serious stories? That’s what I was up against.

The second day, I was scheduled to pitch to 2 editors. The first, (Publisher’s name withheld- honestly because I think my agent is pitching to the same woman right now!) looked at me like she smelled something bad as she criticized my premise. Even my workshop leader had doubts that my story would work as written. And my concept of only using pronouns for my lead characters was called an “unnecessary deceit”.

My poor pitch sound flat and boring compared to the others. I had a boring title, no names to grab anyone’s attention and I probably sounded like I was on the verge of a heart attack. AND I was told it was too long. 135,000 words needed to be closer to 85,000. Great.

After lunch, was the “romance” editor. This was my chance. No one else had a romance. She had to ask me for pages. How bad would it be if she didn’t?

But after the St. Martin’s Press woman, I was a wreck. I did what I usually did in the face of fear. I fled. I stepped on the elevator and hit the button to the lobby. A voice came over me, though. This is always what you do.  And so I jumped out of the elevator.

I made a feeble attempt to re-work my pitch during the lunch break. But I couldn’t make it work and I was a hot mess. I did end up leaving before the pitch, but I felt better about it. I would rather have done no pitch than have a romance editor out there with a bad impression of me.

Turned out, the workshop leader had emailed me that night and gave me the editor’s information and said I could send her my pitch and a small writing sample. I sent it but heard nothing for months. I followed up in January and was told she hadn’t read it yet. It was one page. Who doesn’t have time for one page? Several months later, I finally got this rejection. “Sounds fun! But it’s not right for our list.” So fun is bad? Okay.

But I did get something valuable out of that conference. Even though my friends who had read it, liked the story, I recognized my novel had some massive flaws.

A week after the conference, I began re-writing.

To be continued.

The night “Forty Times Platinum” was born

13199704015_72aa535bd7Welcome back!

I want to tell the story of how “Forty Times Platinum” became a novel. Like all the other works I had written that went nowhere, FTP started out as some random thoughts I spilled out on to the computer.  It was August 2010 and I had been driving home to Long Island from Central Pennsylvania, where my mother was living at the time. It was late, it was dark, and my dogs were sleeping in the back seat. I was on that long 440 South stretch through Staten Island when a song came on the radio.

I listened to the voice. I knew who the singer was. (I have no intention of ever revealing who this was- just use your imagination.) Something captivated me that night about him. It seemed at the time he was everywhere, but I wasn’t paying attention. His face was in my head the rest of the night. I couldn’t get him out of my mind.

I’ll stop here and tell you where I was (emotionally) at the time. I had just undergone fertility treatments, all of which were unsuccessful. My husband was still working nights at the time and I was only working part time. Trying to have a baby was my full time job. So, alone at my computer, I Googled my singer and started immersing myself into his life, like a junkie. I sifted through picture after picture and then I came across one of him and a beautiful older woman. I recognized her. She was a song writer and a producer.

And I thought… what if?

I began writing that night.

I started at what is now Chapter Four. That was the first scene I wrote. And at the time, I couldn’t even give my singer a name. It was too personal. And as the story grew, I still couldn’t name him. No name would do him justice. Being a Jose Saramago fan, I decided to keep her name just in pronouns as well. So in the 135,000 words of the original manuscript, then titled “Designed to Last”, I had no first names for my lead characters.

I’ll stop here to say that, what was actually the first book was closer to 300,000 words. I remember being in Virginia Beach at my nephew’s birthday party telling Uncle Jack (he was the only person at the time, I confided that I was writing a book) that I knew I had to split the book up. With all that I didn’t know, I knew that was too long.

The problem was, the place I wanted Book 1 to stop would either make it too short, and Book 2 too long. So I went back to the drawing board.

I spent the next 6 months splitting “Designed to Last” into two books. The sequel was called “Built to Last.” And then another story took shape and so the third book was called “The Love that Lasts”

With “Designed to Last” written and self-edited, and weighing in at a hefty 135,000 words, I then wondered: what the heck do I do now?

To be continued