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Monthly Archives: November 2006

I believe in less enlightened times we writers probably would all have been in trouble. You know what happened to women who heard voices in their heads and went around muttering to themselves.

So, how I write. First, I have a day job, and I find it concentrates the mind wonderfully. By the time I get home, refreshed from napping and/or reading on the metro, I am of course ready to sink into a slothful heap in front of the tv. But no. I must cook dinner and write. Dinner is optional. On a good night I’ll write ten pages. On a normal night I’ll do five. Or thereabouts. On the weekends I’ll do a lot more unless I actually have to do anything.

My secret? Many nice cups of tea. Solitude. I write at one end of the living room and I made a folding screen specifically to block out my nearest and dearest. I play music. It doesn’t stop anyone from reading aloud from the newspaper, asking me if I’ve bought groceries yet, or complaining about the state of the house, but it helps.

So how do I actually do it. Hmm. I don’t know. I’m afraid that if I analyze too much I’ll lose it. I don’t always enjoy writing, except for those euphoric moments when everything just flows and you realize hours have passed. Those moments of creativity are rather rare, I find, if you’re thinking of page counts and deadlines.

I usually start with an opening scene and go from there. Quite often it’s a journey or an arrival (oops. I didn’t realize I’d get extra points for originality). This opening scene is something I can see quite clearly in my mind. I’m usually fairly clear on where my characters will go initially and where they will end up and I work out the details as I go. I keep in my mind, or jot down somewhere, pivotal moments, and I’m usually aware of those well in advance. Those moments can be scenes, sentences, or an odd snippet of conversation, but they’re the bones of the plot.

I know we’re always talking about tortured heroes etc and they bore me to death, but I do think it’s important to write characters who have some pain in their past and show how they’re coping with it now. I’m not always sure of what that pain will be until I’m well into the book and start getting distracted by their backstory (and I love backstory and flashbacks. Bring them on). I also occasionally use a character questionnaire–one Diane Chamberlain hands out at her character-creation workshop is excellent–it’s short and it works for historical characters. I base my plots very loosely on the steps of the Hero’s Journey–that is, at some point I attempt to analyze what I’ve done as a reality check. I find Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict very hard to handle although I know some people swear by it.

And that’s about it.

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There are writers out there who claim that if everyone followed their processes (often involving detailed pre-plotting and single drafts), we would all write better books more quickly. Personally, I think it’s arrogant to assume that a process that works for one writer is obviously going to work for another.

Conventional wisdom holds that a new writer should try different things and then once she discovers what works for her, to stick with that process. I agree with that in spirit, but I’d like to go a step further. One should also be open to changing one’s process as one grows as a writer and especially if one hits blockages.

Some very fine authors (Jo Beverley and Julia Ross come to mind) do not do detailed pre-plotting. I think their results justify their methods! I don’t do detailed pre-plotting either. I’ve tried in the past, but I don’t get a good sense of my characters and where they’re going until I’ve put them through situations that force them to reveal themselves.

I also know of some writers who produce beautiful first drafts, polishing as they go. (Julia Ross is one). But for me, to come up with characters, plot, setting and the right words to describe it all in one go would be like riding a bicycle and juggling simultaneously. My own stories develop in layers, improving with each successive draft.

The writing process I have followed for most of my books:

  • I start with a kernel of the story: the reason I want to write it. Usually it’s a character and/or a situation that intrigues me. I spend some time brainstorming other elements of the story to fit that kernel. I make a stab at filling out Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict worksheet. I do some preliminary research into anything that relates to the kernel of the story. I try not to worry about holes, trusting that if I love the kernel the rest will eventually come together.
  • I plunge into the first draft, a painful, ugly process of stumbling around in the dark until my characters hand me a light. The result is primordial sludge from which I hope a real story will emerge.
  • The story starts to come together in the 2nd and 3rd drafts. This is the point where I ask a few trusted critique partners for feedback. This is also when I usually start to actually enjoy the process!
  • I do one or more additional drafts to add more depth and fix problems. I may have my critique partners look at revised scenes, especially if I’ve made big changes or I’m worried about whether something is working.
  • A couple more rounds of line editing and hopefully the manuscript is good to go!

This process has morphed a bit. As I started to make the transition from writing traditional Regencies to longer historicals, I found that I was having more and more trouble with the early drafts. I’d convinced myself this was a huge leap rather than a natural extension of what I’d already been doing. My muse fled and writing became a painful chore.

Several changes that have helped:

  • I have started to alternate between stories a bit (still with an eye toward closure, of course). What I’m finding that having several stories at different stages of development takes some pressure off the work-in-progress. Also it’s easier to reenter a story that has done some simmering on the back burner.
  • The NaNoWriMo challenge is helping me outrun the internal editor. The focus on wordcount has helped me enjoying the process of writing again and worry less about the ultimate product. Of course, the ultimate product does matter, but I already know I’m a good rewriter. As Nora Roberts says, “You can fix a poorly written page, but you can’t fix a blank one.”

As to writing schedule, I strive for discipline. With two young children, I don’t have much evening or weekend time to write, which means I can’t afford to leave things to a big deadline push. I need to chip away steadily. So I write at least a couple of hours every morning (my mind works best then) and then try for a couple more in the afternoon, barring errands, sick children or household disasters.

I realize now that people asked about books on the art and craft of writing, but that could fill a whole new post, so if it’s OK, I’ll save that for next week.

I hope this was interesting and/or useful!

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice, Best Regency Romance of 2005

P.S. The cartoon is by Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

First, the idea: if I’m going to write a novel (or even a short story), something about the idea has to really grab me. It can grab me in an odd way — or an obvious way — it can be a character or setting or twist or something I can’t even name, but something about the idea has to make me excited.

Then I work it over for a while. I pound at it, and try to work out a basic plot. What if this? What if that? But wouldn’t that then…? I may end up with most of the plot, or I may not — some of my novels are more intuitive than others. Sometimes I don’t have much plot beyond the opening, and I go from there. (Though sometimes I think that, for me, that’s always an error. But I’ve done it. Who knows… Jury’s still out.)

Then I write. To write, I need Earl Grey Tea, hot, with milk. And it helps to have gingerlily perfume. Then I sit at my computer and write. (And it helps just a bit to have the book written by someone else.)

Excuse me? Oh, is that you, Bertie? Where’d you come from? (And why don’t you go back there?)

Of course it is I. No one else could blog with such exquisite grace. As to where I am from, you know that perfectly well — London, two centuries ago. As to why I repeatedly fail to return — it is merely because whatever time-travel mechanism brought me here seems to have vanished.

As to why I am here now — I had the overwhelming feeling that the Risky Regency Readers were sadly missing my presence. That, coupled with the blatant falsehoods you were telling, drew me here.

Falsehoods? What falsehoods?

You forgot to mention all that moaning and groaning and complaining about how little you write, and how much you should write.

They don’t need to know that!

Too late!

Ahem. One thing I have found that is useful, is my Alphasmart. I sit on the balcony in nice weather and write. No email to distract me, no YouTube, no solitaire. No temptation to revise when I should be drafting.

On a good day (no comments needed, Bertie!) I can write about ten pages. I try to draft fast, and then do all the editing and revision later.

No comments needed? I am always needful. Or if I’m not needful, I’m at least decorative, which is much more important.

If I need to do research, I generally do that before I even begin drafting — at least, the major things. If I come across things I need in the progress of drafting, I know I really should make a note and do the research later, but I usually just do it then. (I’m always afraid it will seriously change the plot!)

Oh, come now! How much was the colour of the upholstery in the Theatre Royal Covent Garden going to change the plot of My Lady Gamester? Not one whit, and you know it. And yet you stopped everything to find out.

Have you been spying on me, Bertie?

Now that you’ve limited my TeleVision time, there’s nothing better for me to do.

I do beg your pardon, readers of the blog! My post today seems to have been hijacked by an exquisitely elegant egomaniac, and I can tell I’m not going to get any more serious work done today.

Oh, yes, and that will be such a change for you.

Hey! That’s it — no pie for you. And no James Bond!

Pardon me, ladies and gentlemen. I need to go reason with my landlady. She’s gone off in a huff, and I really do want to find out just how elegant this new Bond is. And I need my pie.

Good day!

Exquisitely yours,

Bertram St. James, Exquisite

Signing my post? The cheek!

Cara King —
My Lady Gamester — the name is James, Atalanta James

I remember meeting Eloisa for the first time. It was in Chicago, I think, and I was just planning to start writing a Regency set historical. I was at the RWA National Conference and I was introduced to Eloisa whose first book, Potent Pleasures, was coming out in hardback. Needless to say, I was very impressed!

Eloisa, in addition to being a wonderful author of great books, is also very generous to other authors, sharing her expertise in all parts of the publishing process. I never met anyone who was so smart at the business side of writing. She is also a terrific speaker and very generous to New Jersey Romance Writers, of which I am a long distance member.

I’m thrilled that we Riskies have had the opportunity to sing the praises of Eloisa’s Pleasure for Pleasure and to have her visit with us!

And I am sure Eloisa’s work habits are a lot better than mine!

I generally allot myself four to five months to write a book. I come up with an idea, usually based on a character. My characters generally appear in a previous book, but when I write that book, I never know what their story will be. The next step in the process is to write a synopsis, because my editors want to approve the story before I write it. This means I have to at least figure out the main plot of the story and I have to dip into the research books enough to make sure I can fit the history in correctly. I also write them the first chapter, which is usually an easy chapter for me. I like to start out my books with something very exciting and that sort of scene is fun to write.

When I sit down to write the book, I never really know how I’m going to bring the book to the end. I usually know the hero and heroine fairly well, though – I could probably sit for hours and tell you incidents from their lives before the book starts, but I really have not figured out “what’s next.” I also have to think up secondary characters and subplots, otherwise it is going to be a short story, not a book!

I always write on a laptop, usually in my den on my couch, although I also might sit on the top of my bed, spreading research books around me. I try to start writing by 9 am and I pretty much continue until about 4. If I am very good, I will go to Curves at noon for a break. If I’m not worried about my deadline, I try to take weekends off.

I’m making myself sound very virtuous. I also check my email, play scrabbleblast, see what’s for sale on ebay…..there are a bunch of ways I can waste time when I should be writing. Blogging, the reading of it or the writing of it, is not a waste of time, however!

I research as I go along. I mostly research online (one favorite site, but I have a brazillion research books up in my “book room” a bedroom turned into a …book room, lined with bookshelves. My bookshelves have only cursory organization. Someday I’ll figure out how to arrange them so I can find things in an instant. Name a research book you like and I either own it or my fingers are tapping out and I’m going to buy it (right, Kalen???)

I have two lovely critique groups who read my stuff as I write and my favorite way of doing things is to take their suggestions and fix the chapters we’ve discussed before moving on to write a new chapter. This last book (I’m almost finished!!) I had to write in only 2 1/2 months so I tried something new. Just write and fix later. That works pretty well, actually. I may do things this way from now on. So I wrote the whole thing and then went back and revised that draft.

I am definitely not someone who plots out everything ahead of time, but I stopped worrying about that when Nora Roberts said she also does not plot ahead of time.

So with this book, I am finishing the revision of my first draft and should turn it in by Thursday. Make that will turn it in…

Ask me questions about what else you might want to know! And, those of you who are writers, tell us how you do it, too, this week.


New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her latest book, Pleasure For Pleasure, completes the Four Sisters series. It comes out next Tuesday, November 28! You can order it here. And get a chance to win a copy of Pleasure For Pleasure by leaving a pertinent comment or question on today’s post! The winner will be announced Tuesday.

After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department at Fordham University in New York City. Her “double life” is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she’s written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women’s magazines such as More to writers’ journals such as the Romance Writers’ Report. She, along with five other bestselling authors, posts to the hugely successful SquawkRadio blog

Welcome to the Riskies, Eloisa. Thanks for joining us.

1. You started out writing as a diversion from your academic interests and writing; can you talk a little bit about your background, and what made you decide to write in the Regency period rather than your area of expertise?

It was a tough decision – I teach Renaissance drama, so that’s the field I know best. But I was reading (and loving) Regency romance, and I decided to place a story there. Plus, there was the fact that Regency romances are readers’ favorites, and while there are a few Renaissance romances, they’re far and few between. I wanted to write – but I also wanted to get published and read.

2.Which of your books is your favorite?

At any given time, my latest book is always my favorite because it’s still clear to me. I wake up wondering whether I did the right thing here or there. Plus, I love them most before they’re published because at that point they are all potential. I have a clear memory of thinking before Potent Pleasures (my very first book) was published that no one could possibly dislike it (ha). I loved my characters so much that I thought they were insulated from criticism (and yes, there’s a lot of parallels to motherhood here). In the years since, I’ve come to know that every book will be loved by some people and hated by others. Before a book is published, though, it’s like a baby whom everyone calls beautiful and whose mother can’t see a fault in it.

3. You’re completing the Four Sisters series with your book, Pleasure For Pleasure, that comes out November 28. What was the spark that inspired the Four Sisters series? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

It was a combination of things. I like writing about women’s friendship, but I wanted to write about a relationship between women that wasn’t quite as easy as friendship: sisterhood, in other words. My sister and I are very close – and in fact, live about a mile apart – but our relationship is complex and far more nuanced than that I share with my girlfriends. Another aspect was my abiding love for the work of Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to walk in her steps, at least a little bit.

4. Was
Pleasure For Pleasure an easy or difficult book to write?

They’re all difficult. It’s one of the cruel facts of life – the first book is difficult, and you think: “the next will be easier!” and then the next is more difficult. And the book after that, more difficult still. They just get harder as I learn more about writing.

5. How do you do your research?

Well, a great deal of it comes to me through my scholarship in the early modern period. For example, Desperate Duchesses features a series of chess games – the idea for that came through scholarship that’s being done on the chess game in Shakespeare’s Tempest. Once I have a vague idea of the areas I’d like to know more about (say, chess in the Georgian period), I ask my research assistant to start scaring up some material for me. One of the consequences of being a full-time professor and director of the graduate program in English is that I don’t have time for much research myself; instead I hire brilliant people to find out interesting facts for me.

6. What are you working on now? Tell us a little bit about the Desperate Duchesses series.

Desperate Duchesses is set in the Georgian period, so that’s a change for me. I wanted a wilder, more sensual period than the Regency for the story I had in mind. It’s a series of four books, focusing around a group of duchesses whose marriages are in trouble, for various reasons. Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, is the best female chess player in England or Paris – and now she’s embarked on two matches. One is with the Duke of Villiers, a chess master. And the second is with her own husband, a master of strategy in Pitt’s government. The games are conducted one move a day….and if either survives to the third game, that game will be conducted blind-folded, and in bed.

This is a really sexy, fun series…I’m hugely enjoying writing it!

7. In your writing, do you feel as if you are taking risks? How?

I do it all the time – in fact, I don’t think there’s any point in writing unless you take risks. To write a story without risks would be to write a story about a perfect hero and perfect heroine, sweetly matched and perfect in bed. Where’s the story? The story only comes in the risks you take in deviating from that “perfect” formula – in creating a hero who is crap in bed, or a heroine who lies, or a marriage that’s a disaster. Pleasure for Pleasure is the story of a very curvy woman – and she doesn’t lose weight either. I take risks, but for me, that’s where all the pleasure of the story lies.

8. You are very good at writing female characters, and women’s relationships with each other. What or who inspires your fabulous heroines?

OK, don’t laugh – usually myself. What I mean is that while I’m not wildly witty and incredibly beautiful, like some of my heroines, I have to give each of them a bit of myself or they are lifeless. So when I think about my heroines, that’s what I see in them. Gabby fibs because I fibbed relentlessly when I was a child. Sophie gives birth to a child at 24 weeks and so did I. Josie (the heroine of Pleasure for Pleasure) goes through some harrowing experiences due to being plump on the marriage market – I was plump in high school and I channeled my experience straight onto the page.

9. Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

I found out some fascinating information about the early publishing world…I read a bunch of 19th century memoirs (each chapter opens with a parody of a memoir)…I learned a great deal about corsets. More than I needed to know!

10. Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

Nope! My editor has pretty much given up trying to cut bits of my books: I’m horribly pig-headed.

11. SquawkRadio is a hugely successful authors’ blog; what is your favorite part of participating there?

Blogging asks for a different kind of creativity than writing books, and I find I like it immensely! To sit down and just make something up and then slap it up on the web, and then get cheerful responses from all over the world – what a high! And what a tonic to the usual writer’s day, sitting in your pajamas at home.

Is there anything else you’d like the Risky Regencies readers to know about you?

I love Regencies and I’m so happy that you’re holding up the torch for all of us!

Thank you!

Thank you, Eloisa!

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