13 Oct

I confess, I don’t know what to write about. I have no particular inspiration to thank or a dog analogy. I am still revising, and am not able to see the forest for the trees. I’m only in the 40s, pagewise, and although I realize the beginning needs the most work, it’s still discouraging that I’m not farther along. Plus, when I revise like this, in sections as one must do, I wonder if I’ll be able to sense the flow of the piece. Will I be able to tell if it’s too slow, if I’ve put in too many details to make it feel more real, or if I’ve cut too much?

Here’s what my readers tell me I must do, and I’ve been trying to take their advice.
1. Put more backstory in the beginning. That means the reader wants to know more about Amanda (our intrepid heroine) and her life before the story begins. Why did she come to Aspen? What was her life like before she came? Things like that.
2. Make Amanda and Grady (our intrepid hero) more likeable/fight less at the beginning. I have to say, I didn’t totally see this at first—romance novels are notorious for their arguments early on, where the heroine has to appear feisty and conflicts between the hero and heroine need to be established. But THREE of my readers found the fights off-putting and the characters unlikeable. An unlikeable hero is bad, and an unlikeable heroine is the kiss of death. I also took into account something Susan Elizabeth Phillips (romance author extraordinaire) said at the Romance Writers of America conference, and that was, one thing that bugs her in the extreme is when heroines get in arguments for no apparent reason. Lord knows I don’t want to disappoint Susan Elizabeth Phillips with shoddy writing by not staying true to the heroine’s character.
3. Cut down on Grady’s thoughts about how beautiful Amanda is at the beginning. One reader felt their attraction to each other felt rushed and I need to draw it out more.
4. Cut down or eliminate jumping between Grady and Amanda’s inner thoughts during scenes. This is a topic of hot debate in writing circles, I’m learning. It’s called “POV”, or “point of view” and there’s one school of thought that says you have to stick with one character’s point of view in a scene, and there’s another that says you can switch back and forth as long as it’s not distracting. I didn’t find it distracting, but two of my readers did. So I’m splitting the difference and cutting out a few instances, sometimes for entire scenes, sometimes not.
5. Put in more specific details. This was from my most demanding reader, who gave me the most detailed analysis of my book. He felt I skimped on the details  and should add more to certain scenes to make them come alive. This is to save me from a cardinal sin of writing, telling rather than showing. Giving more details, carefully chosen, will save me from telling and writing poorly, and possibly (gasp) boring my readers.

Those are the biggies. That’s what I’ve been working on these past weeks, and I hope I can pull it off so that the book is tighter and better. Happily, all my readers felt that the latter half of the book was better than the first half, so there’s much less work to do there. MUCH less. PHEW.

I hope you thought this was interesting. And there you have it, the Colette Auclair Slogging Report. Thanks for reading!

  • So. It has been brought to my attention by one of my “beta” readers (the folks who read my manuscript in its second draft and gave me comments. I assume they’re “betas” because I would be the first one to read it, by default, so I’m the alpha reader. This in no way means that I am the pack leader or exhibit displays of dominance—ruff shaking, hand on the back, lip curling—over my beta readers. Indeed, I try to keep my beta readers happy, so they won’t be surly and take their bad mood out on my story) doesn’t like the title “Thrown.” He is a very quiet beta reader. He would never, ever, ever talk about this incessantly, or send email after email telling me how “Thrown” is too quiet.

    Well. He started out by saying it was too quiet, but then couldn’t help himself and called it “boring.” This was after he surveyed romance novels in his friendly neighborhood grocery store. Mind you, many of these are Harlequin romances, the smaller, 50,000-word books that have titles like (and I’m not making these up, they’re in stores now): “Cattle Baron Needs a Bride,” “The Librarian’s Secret Scandal,” “Innocent Secretary…Accidentally Pregnant,” “Emily and the Notorious Prince,” “His Virgin Acquisition” and “Powerful Greek, Housekeeper Wife.”

    Granted, these are a particular line of Harlequin books, and I’m sure Harlequin has done tons of research and focus groups to figure out what sells to this particular audience. And if Harlequin wants to buy my book and change the title, am I going to stamp my foot in defiance and refuse? No. I do fear they’ll change it to something awful (“The Riding Instructor and the Movie Star,” or “Riding Amanda”—eek!), but if I sell my book, that will be the least of my worries. Besides, assuming I keep at this writing stuff, won’t it be colorful to have a terribly named first novel that I can laugh about later in my bestselling career?

    So here’s the deal. I humored Hal (he’s the reader who hates the title “Thrown”) and came up with more titles. He felt the setting—Aspen—is a big hook for romance readers, that it holds such cache, romance and allure that I should mention it in the title. He loved one of them. Now I want to know what you think.

    Should I stick with “Thrown,” or change it to “Tall, Dark and Aspen”?

    Thank you for your support! To comment, click on the “comment” button that is below this post and to the right—it looks like it’s for the previous post, but it’s not. (Poor design on your part, tumblr!)

  • This a large stick or small tree—depending on your perspective—entering one of the two lakes at Twin Lakes, Colorado, a mountain town near Leadville and Aspen. Last Sunday Tom, our good friend Mary Jo, our dog Galley and her dog Ben and I went to Twin Lakes to take one of our favorite hikes. The weather and scenery, filled with plenty of gold aspen leaves, were spectacular, but I found Ben to be my unusual source of inspiration.

    Here’s Ben, delighted to haul the massive piece of wood onto the shore. Ben is the Will Rogers of retrieving, as he has never met a stick he didn’t like. For Ben, size doesn’t matter one iota. As I watched him, I thought about the daunting task I’m facing—revising my novel, now that I have all comments in from my readers. Sometimes I feel that, since the overall structure of my story is sound—for example, nobody felt that the reason the hero and heroine split up was implausible, which would have been a major tragedy for me—the revisions will be simple and easy. Kind of like a retrieving a normal-sized stick from a lake.

    But sometimes, when I read all the comments all at once, I feel impossibly overwhelmed, that I am completely talentless and was an idiot to think someone would ever want to read a story I’ve written, let alone PAY to read a story I’ve written. That’s when I have to think of Ben and his beloved log.

    Just as that log wasn’t going to retrieve itself, my story isn’t going to revise itself. The edits ahead of me are relatively minor, things like including more of the heroine’s past earlier on in the book. I’ve found that as I roll up my sleeves and dig in, I still love to write (thank God!). I still love my characters and the story. And I’m making progress, bit by bit, word by word, as I  figuratively drag my story onto the shore. I suppose you could say my writer’s tail is wagging. So thanks, Benny, for putting it all in perspective and reminding me that there’s no such thing as a stick that’s too big.

  • This is me conducting research for “Thrown” in front of the Silver Queen gondola in Aspen, playground of the rich and famous and snow-addicted. Tom and I went this past Sunday, but since then I have been stumped by my blog because it was misbehaving. I figured it out, and I thank you for your patience. We went up for the day, which is foolish, as it’s a four-hour drive from Denver. I always kid myself into thinking it’s only three, but believe me, it’s four. We would have preferred to have stayed overnight, but our schedules wouldn’t permit it.

    We had lunch at the Ajax Tavern (at the base of the mountain, near where I’m standing), which is part of the Little Nell hotel. Some of my characters are staying at the Little Nell.

    After lunch we took a gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain (a.k.a. Ajax Mountain). This is me on the Sundeck, where you can enjoy a meal and the spectacular scenery all year ‘round. Note my “Lost” hair (see previous post for details). Full disclosure time: The gondola ride was scary, at least at first. I’m not so good with heights, and um, sometimes the gondola would stop and sway in the wind (aaaaaahhhhh!! Try not to hyperventilate!). But it was fun, ultimately, and we didn’t even come close to dying. Which was good. I’m putting a gondola ride in the book, but my heroine will be quite brave about it all. That’s the beauty of writing fiction—your characters can be perfectly brave during activities that cause you to practically have a coronary.

    We wandered around after the gondola ride and ended up at the Hotel Jerome. This is me in the Garden Terrace restaurant, making notes from our day. Tom took great pictures and put up with me saying things like, “Quick! Take a picture of that bench! They have to sit on a bench!” As though the bench was going to move.

    Yes we were only there for a few hours, but it was great fun. Aspen is an interesting collection of contradictions—its local paper is in a tiny, old-fashioned storefront that looks as authentic as all get-out, and yet, Chanel and Dior are there too. There’s a McDonald’s, but you’d never know it. No big golden arches, no sirree. And several of the people were frighteningly fit—those folks who run twenty miles before breakfast as a warm up. Makes you think twice before going into that McDonald’s! Not that they stopped me from getting the famous double cheeseburger and house-made fries at the Ajax Tavern. It was, after all, in the name of research.

  • This is what I’m doing with my free weekend. This is me and my dog Galley (the black Portuguese water dog on the left with the standing-up ears) and his BFF, Ben (the chocolate lab). We were hiking at Golden Gate Canyon State Park yesterday, which we haven’t done in quite a while due to the fact that I was busy revising my manuscript this summer, especially on weekends. (Please do not report me to park rangers, as the dogs should have been leashed. Galley already has a record in Jefferson County.) I’m about to throw an orange “bumper” into a pond for Ben to fetch. Galley will steal this right out of his mouth as Ben approaches shore. Ben is arthritic, so clearly, Galley has questionable morals. Oh, and I’m not wearing a mike, that’s my hair.

    “Thrown” is now with its readers: Hal and Elizabeth in California and James (a writer/editor/friend from work) here in Denver. This is the first weekend in about a year that I haven’t done any writing, and the first since the beginning of July that I haven’t worked on “Thrown.” I have to admit though, I have glanced at Tom’s notes—I couldn’t resist. I am successfully resisting the urge to call each reader every hour on the hour to see how far they’ve gotten and how they like it. The waiting is driving me mad, which is why I have to distract myself by doing things like hiking for four hours on trails labeled “difficult.”

    Here’s another picture of Galley and me. Tom took the photo. It was another glorious day in Colorado with all that sparkly water.

    And here’s most of me and the top of Galley. I did my “Lost” hair, where I cleverly pull my hair to one side, which I learned to do from watching the actresses on “Lost,” and also on “The Tudors.” It really works. Do I look like I’m stressed, waiting for comments from my readers? Do I look like I’m THIS FAR from grabbing my cell to try to get a signal and call one of them? See what a good actress I am? See how my “Lost” hair disguises my real feelings?

    My thanks to Tom and my good friend Mary Jo, who were the other humans on the hike, and thanks to Ben and Galley. And thank you for reading my blog!

  • Hijacked!

    4 Sep

    This is Tom Auclair here, guest-writing Colette’s blog. I had started this last night, but SOMEONE didn’t plug in their computer, so when the power cord accidentally came undone, the computer shut down.

    Twice. So you’ll just have to bear with me. My first two lost blogs were hilarious — honest — but I’ll try and re-create them for you here.

    As you all know, Colette asked me to proof/copy edit her novel, which is a daunting task for any significant other: I mean, what if it was terrible? I love Colette, and I don’t like lying to her, but I saw myself through gritted teeth saying, “Oh, yes, honey, the part where the dancing bear comes in playing the accordion was very believable.”

    Thankfully, there’s no dancing bear. Not even one accordion note. I’m impressed. Despite the horror of finding out that my sweet little petunia mistook “phase” for “faze” — she was horrified when I pointed it out — the writing was clean. I’m not much of a thematic editor — I look for technical errors, and I was relieved when I found out that Colette really DOES know the difference between their/they’re/there and its/it’s, and realizes that “a lot” is actually, really, honestly, two words.

    OK, that’s it for the mad ramblings of a copy editor.

    What surprised me? How engrossing it was. I told my sweetums that I’d try to get the book done in a week, but honestly, after starting to read it, I couldn’t stop reading. I ended up completing it in a little less than 2 days, finishing the job up at a McDonald’s in Longmont, Colorado, while a Mother of the Year candidate suggested, at full volume, that her two shrieking children come out of the play area RIGHT NOW or they were in for trouble. Yay.

    I loved how the relationship between Amanda and Grady seemed so real, how their conversations rang true. I loved how the hurdles they encountered seemed like problems any couple can go through, and weren’t contrived.

    And before I knew it, I was done.

    I’m so proud of her — so many people talk about writing a book, but she’s done it. Twice. Amazing. And it’s not a steaming pile of poo.

    And damn her, she made me cry not once, not twice, but three times with scenes in her book.

    Now I’m just wondering, should I bring the black turtleneck when she goes on the book tour, or the gray?

    OK, Colette appears to be waking up, so I should probably start making hair jokes. Gotta go.


  • Tom Auclair is reading “Thrown.”

    I am a wreck.

    Note the grim set of his mouth, the flashing, laser-sharp eyes gleefully scanning for errors, the red pen poised to attack like a sabre. He even wears the shirt of a Red Sox pitcher, as though he is ready to decimate the opposition—my manuscript.

    I sit next to him and hear the pen’s scratches, like fingernails of the condemned on dungeon walls.


    So maybe it’s not all that bad, and to tell the truth, it was exhilarating to pick up the box of my printed book from FedEx/Kinkos. In fact, I actually squealed as I left (well out of earshot of the FedEx/Kinkos staff), and had to pull out random pages to read when I got in my car. I felt so…authorly. I HAD A WHOLE BOX OF PAPERS, ALL OF THEM COVERED WITH WORDS THAT I PUT THERE! How cool is that?

    (Okay, Tom is writing something long. I daren’t look. But what could he be writing? I don’t think he’s made it past the first page! I’ve never taken a sedative in my life, but perhaps now is the time?)

    So Tom has the first printed copy of the official second draft, and I emailed one to Hal (see “Icebreaker” post) and will get a hard copy to my friend in California, Elizabeth, who is both a writer and a fast reader. My manuscript has left the nest to be scrutinized by friendly eyes that want me to succeed. But boy oh boy, am I on pins and needles now!

  • Is it proper to put the title of my novel (“my novel”—how I love writing that!) in quotes if it’s not yet published? I would prefer to put it in less-bulky, more-graceful italics, but this particular blog program won’t allow it, no way no how. Whatevs, as the kids say. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but maybe if I treat the title as though it’s already in print, it will happen.

    At any rate, I am almost finished with the second revision! Yesterday I reached a major milestone, because I finally fixed the ending, and it FELT like I had finished. Remember how I had to lop off 33,000 words at the end during the first major rewrite? Well that left my characters in mid-air, and I’m happy to say that my muse powered me through a new ending yesterday and heroine Amanda and hero Grady are once again on solid ground. Now I have to tweak the epilogue, go over my notes from my VVFR (Very Very First Reader) Belinda, and glance through the whole thing once more.

    Then I figure out how to do the header, something I’ve been putting off, but it needs to be there if anyone in the publishing world is to take me seriously.

    THEN I’ll e-whoosh it off to my friendly neighborhood FedEx/Kinkos (never sure what to call them since they merged; is it just FedEx now?), get it printed and hand it over to my darling, handsome, copy-editing husband who is already licking his chops at the prospect of circling all my errors with his pen with ink the color of blood.

    Onward I go! And thank you for your continued support!!

  • Last weekend I went to San Francisco to visit one of my best friends and writing inspirations, Hal Katkov. (That’s his lovely cousin Elizabeth next to him, who has very toned arms.) It has taken me an entire week to recover from my trip, which is why this blog has been so lonely. Hal and his partner Ted were wonderful hosts!

    Hal and I have led similar lives since meeting 100 years ago in grad school at Northwestern, when we were forced to sit next to each other all day, every day during an entire stifling Evanston summer. You really get to know the person seated to your left when the person seated to your right doesn’t speak to you and has terrible body odor (see “stifling Evanston summer,” above).

    We both moved to New York and became advertising copywriters. Our friendship flourished, and Hal was there to set me up on blind dates, counsel me through relationships (“Don’t call him!”) and nurse me through breakups (usually assisted by chocolate and/or vodka). I didn’t know it at the time, but this was all fodder for my romantic comedies, because believe me, many of those dates were comic. Hal moved to California, I moved to Colorado, but our friendship remained vibrant.

    When he wasn’t writing award-winning ads, Hal wrote screenplays and I tried my hand at it too—as a writer and movie lover, I couldn’t talk to Hal about his scripts and not want to write one myself. The difference is, I wrote one; he wrote many. He always had a new idea, and churned out script after script. I had no clue how someone made that happen (see previous post, glass half empty and half full).

    Hal tired of the perpetually locked door in Hollywood and decided to turn his favorite scripts into novels, which I believe subconsciously compelled me to write a novel. Hal was like an icebreaker ship in the Arctic, clearing a path for my fiction career. “Thrown” started life as a 15-page treatment (outline) for a screenplay, only instead of writing a script, I wrote a book. So besides Hal being a great friend over the decades, an inspiration for writing just because he never made excuses—he just flat-out wrote—in a very concrete way he is responsible for me finding this new passion of mine.

    I can’t thank him enough! I hope you have someone or something in your life that inspires you to discover and pursue a passion. It’s a thrill a minute.

  • It had to be the rewrites. Here I am, on a gorgeous summer Sunday in  Colorado, revising my first draft. But that’s not the worst of it, the not being outside part. It’s the cutting. I have to butcher my little darlings, my sweet turns of phrase that I know in my heart of hearts don’t belong. They are clever but don’t pull their weight in the overall scene, so THWACK! I eliminate them with my word machete. I feel like a huge, hairy, ill-tempered bouncer strong-arming pixies and wood nymphs. But it must be done.

    And I have a LOT more words than Hemingway ever did. Maybe that was his secret—he was always a little buzzed, so it was less painful to delete words, phrases, and whole entire sections.

    I’ll continue on, sober (well, for a while at least), and let you know how I feel when I have a lean, superbly paced, not-a-word-out-of-place story. If that ever happens…

    Thank you for your support!