Writing What You Don’t Know

I’m a little less than three thousand words into a new project, and already I’m angsting about its direction. Now, I’m always a trifle neurotic about whatever I’m writing, but usually the actual worrying about whether I’m “doing it right” waits a little longer than one chapter to settle in. The “OMG, what if this sucks?” anxiety normally sets in at around 10-15k.

I know why this is happening, though. It’s because this book ventures into territory I haven’t explored before–not just in writing, but in reading as well. I think I can say that the story revolves around vampires without revealing too much about the premise, so with that much in mind, I will admit my deep, dark secret: I don’t read vampires.

Oh, I’ve read some of the vampire classics, including the book I really think of as the definitive modern take on vampire life, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and, of course, all of Emma Petersen‘s vampire romances (because she’s my best bud, critique partner, and awesome too boot), but in general, I’ve never been that interested in the vampire genre. I’ve never read either Stephanie Meyers or Charlaine Harris nor have I seen the movies/TV series based on their books. What’s more, I don’t intend on starting now.

I just heard your gasp of horror. But Jackie, if you’re going to write a vampire book, shouldn’t you read a lot of vampire books so you know the genre?

Well, yes, there’s something to be said for that approach. In general, I write the genres I like to read. I cut my romance-reading teeth on historicals and, therefore, when I started writing them, it was natural for me to write historicals. It’s what I’m familiar with and what I love as a reader, so of course, it’s where I went.

So, why not apply the same strategy to my foray into the vampire world? Mainly because, as much as I fear that my interpretation of the vampire genre will be either too dark or not dark enough, I worry even more about having my vision influenced by other writers and therefore “diluted” in some way. I don’t want the what I hope is my vampires’ uniqueness leached out by getting commingled with too many other people’s take on them.

Which is why I’m taking the scary step of writing what I don’t know. Yes, it’s risky and a little panic-inducing, but on the whole, I think it’s the right way to approach this project.

What do you think?

Worldbuilding: How Do You Do It?

The backstory to this post is that I have what I (and everyone I’ve shared it with) think is a really cool idea for a YA novel. At this point, it’s a concept without any real plot and, even trickier, requires me to build a non-existent, paranormal world, something I haven’t really ever done before. Some of my friends have encouraged me to just start writing and let the worldbuilding and plot come as I go, but I have a hard time doing that because for me, internal logic and consistency in worldbuilding is epically important. I simply can’t write the story until I have most of the details of how the world behaves and what it looks like.

The biggest problem I’m having with this whole worldbuilding gig, though, is that I really don’t know how other writers do it, so I have no idea how to go about it myself. I’m not the sort of writer who tends to outline stories, although I do consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser when it comes to writing. It’s just that instead of outlining the story on paper (which to me feels a little too much like writing the actual story, and then I find the process of actually writing it boring and redundant), I tend to work it out in my head and hold it there. This doesn’t mean I have every scene in mind when I start out or anything as regimented as that, but it does mean I have the major turning points sorted out and know what I’m working toward at each step along the way.

Sometimes, I think my inability to outline (which I’ve had since I was a kid in school; I always wrote the term paper first, THEN wrote the outline, even if the teacher demanded the outline be handed in before the term paper) is a shortcoming because it means I sometimes get stuck. The past couple of weeks have been “stuck” weeks. Every story I’m working on reached a point where I just wasn’t sure what should happen next. I knew what plot points I had to cover, but coming up with a scene that actually covered those point without being nothing but plodding exposition was driving me crazy.

I feel a bit the same way about my worldbuilding issue. I have some broad outlines and a few details, but I have no idea how to organize them into a clear, comprehensive “picture” of the world I want to write about. So, I’m asking authors out there (especially those who’ve got experience in writing paranormal stories) how they go about it. Do you jot things down as they come to you? Write a “bible?” Or just make it up as you go along?

I know there isn’t any one “right” way to do this. But having not done it before, I’d like to know what ways have been the right ones for other people.

All the WIPs I’ve Loved Before (and Still Do)

I get asked pretty often what project I’m currently writing. It’s a hard question to answer, because I’m seldom writing just one thing. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, I’ve always got more than project cooking at any given time. When it comes to writing, I’ve realized that I’m polyamorous, and while that means I find it difficult to “commit” to any particular manuscript, it also means that when I hit a roadblock in one story, I can always switch to another one for a while. 

Here, then, in no particular order, are some bite-sized samples of all of my “active” projects:

Prohibition Era Romantic Suspense

It just figured that Mitch would be the one to get stuck arguing with a clerk over payment, freezing his fucking ass off to avoid offending a former client, and getting pushed around by a couple of thugs. All while Carter was back here, getting a taste of some damn fine pussy.

A pussy, Mitch pointed out to himself with no small amount of censure, that his partner had no business coming anywhere near, seeing as how she was a client. How was he supposed to maintain a professional distance from the woman after this?

Especially when she panted breathily, “That was amazing.”

“It most certainly was.” Mitch released the door knob and slammed it shut behind him.

Carter’s eyes met his over the redhead’s shoulder, and his lips moved silently. Mitch knew what he said, anyway.

Shit.

Damn straight.

Regency-set erotic novella (m/f/m menage)

As Grace floated back to earth, her limbs weak and tingling with bliss, the only thing she could think was that someone owed her an apology for making her believe ravishment would be a bad thing. If this was being ravished, then she was all in favor of it.

Atticus brushed her curls, which were dampened with perspiration, away from her forehead and smiled down at her, a triumphant sort of joy writ upon his features.

Meanwhile, Colin extracted a kerchief from a pocket and patted her nether curls, which were far more than merely damp, gently to dry them. When he was done, he drew the same kerchief over his mouth and chin.

“Was that sufficient information, my dear?” he asked as he hoisted himself up to sit beside her once again.

Regency-set mainstream novel

A bespectacled woman sat in an armchair in front of the fire blazing in the large stone heart, reading—of all things—a newspaper. Not the scandal sheets, but the London Times. Clad in a plain pale blue frock, her hair covered in a lacy white fichu, she hadn’t seemed to hear him approach. Instead, she ran a finger down the center of the paper, nodding or shaking her head at turns.

Peculiar.

Who was she? Surely not a close relative or friend of Lord and Lady Parminter, based on the simplicity of her dress. Since she was staring down at the paper, he couldn’t make out her features, but given the spectacles, he imagined she must be roughly his soon-to-be mother-in-law’s age. Likely a spinster cousin who had passed through her youth with neither dowry nor good looks to recommend her. Although, he had to admit as his gaze swept her figure, she possessed a rather fine pair of breasts for a woman who was getting on in years.

His stomach interrupted his thoughts with an unpleasant, empty roll, and it occurred to him that perhaps she had become so engaged in her study that she had forgotten about breakfast. And if he offered to accompany her to the dining room, he wouldn’t have to make a fool of himself by asking directions.

He cleared his throat, loud enough to ensure she heard him but not so loud as to be vulgar.

She looked up, removing the spectacles as she did so.

For ten full seconds, every one of Robert’s major bodily functions ceased operation. His lungs seized. His heart stopped. His mind went blank. Even his stomach ceased its incessant grumbling.

She definitely wasn’t old. And, God knew, she had more than enough good looks to recommend her, though it was her eyes that arrested him more than any other feature. Dark blue gray, they were the color of clouds before a storm. Fringed with thick, smoky lashes, their depths sparkled with pure intelligence and utter guilelessness. Whether or not it was empirically true, he was looking into the face of the most beautiful woman on earth.

A woman he had to have.

…and for something completely different:

Middle grade paranormal mystery

Brooke Forrester’s thirteenth birthday began like pretty much any other day. Which was to say, crappy.

She overslept, which meant skipping either breakfast or a shower to catch the bus.

Her younger brother, Garrett, who didn’t have to be at school until a full hour after she did, raced into the bathroom ahead of her and slammed the door in her face, then hogged it for a full fifteen minutes.

And when she finally got in to brush her teeth and hair, she found a ginormous zit growing in the middle of her forehead. By lunchtime, it would be the size of a Hummer and just about as environmentally friendly.

No one said “Happy Birthday” to her, not even her mother, who’d only pecked Brooke on the cheek before dashing out the door, muttering about a meeting she couldn’t be late for.

Brooke made it down to the kitchen just in time to grab a bagel and say goodbye to her dog before running to the bus stop.

As usual, the shaggy, brown-and-white mutt was waiting outside the front door for her, wagging his tail. When she walked out onto the front porch, he jumped up, resting his two front paws on her thighs.

Brooke scratched him behind his pointy ears. “At least you still love me, Mr. Pettybones.”

The dog looked up to her with soulful brown eyes and said, “I do love you, but from now on, I want you to call me ‘Jim’.”


So, any favorites from among those options? Which one do you hanker most to read?

Also, I’m going to be up in Yosemite from this afternoon until Tuesday night. I’ve turned off comment moderation while I’m gone, so play nice!

Finally, my interview with author Leigh Court, who is giving away a copy of the Secrets Volune 27 anthology in which her latest novella, THE BET, appears, will be up early Tuesday. I won’t be here to tweet or facebook it, so please be sure to remember to drop by!