Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Discovering the deep pools

"...we live and work so fast we rarely have time to go deep. Such is the maddening pace of our life that we are often too manic, too busy, and too hyper to really get to know ourselves. Occasionally, we may enjoy some fleeting awareness of our true talent, but these peak experiences are not normal. Mostly, we get by and make do with the little we know about ourselves, and rarely if ever do we dip our toes into the deep pools of vision and creativity and beauty that exist inside us." Robert Holden

So this is what I want to do with my books, I think. Discover the deep pools of my characters. Which, I think, requires that I discover the deep pools in my own life first.

Boy, this is going to be slow going! I'm used to writing 4 books per year for Harlequin Intrigue.

A famous author once said in Oprah magazine that a writer should spend 3 months writing a book, then the rest of the year editing it. I laughed long and hard at that. But now I think I'd like to try it. Spend proper time on planning, even just on selecting a project. Really figure out a direction I want to go to for the next stretch.

It's a little scary to committ that kind of time to a book that might or might not get published. Especially since I like to eat regularly and the bills keep coming right on schedule.

So here is my question: Is it better to leap off the cliff and risk crashing, or never leap and go through life without ever finding out whether you could fly?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost ready

OK, so I'm almost ready to start on my bestseller project. I'm tying up some previous projects, finishing up two thriller proposals to send to Intrigue. Plus my office is being painted. Well... almost. I unpacked and moved out over the weekend per the painter's vague promise that he'll come this week. Today he told me something came up and he won't be able to come until next Wednesday. I hate when they do that!!!

So back to thinking about writing bestsellers... I've been reading a book from Al Zuckerman, Ken Follett's agent, about how to write one. And by coincidence, Rebecca York posted a wonderful blog today at NINC about Ken Follett's workshop at Thrillerfest over the weekend. I like his advice. Will incorporate it into my plot.

Also, Tess Gerritsen is talking about thrillers and Ken Follett here.

My current quest is to find out what kind of books make the bestseller list. You'd think it would be easy, just look at the list. Trouble is, I don't know if a book is on there because readers by the million automatically buy a beloved author. There are authors whose books I'd buy sight unseen. What I need is books who are breaking onto the list. Do you know any author's whose first book made the list?

Monday, July 12, 2010

super secret writing template

While I'm pondering on how to write my first bestseller, I thought I'd post my novel structure table that I put together through the years for my own use and also because I used to give writers workshops and I needed a tool that showed the novel's structure in a logical way.

So here it is. Let me know what you think. Do you have any tools/outlines you use for writing? Any useful writing tips? http://danamarton.com/tmp/Novel_Template_3.html

Friday, July 9, 2010

Strangest thing I heard this week

Today I'm blogging at eharlequin.com so I won't post a separate blog here. My blog is about the strangest thing I heard this week. Come and see!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Project #1

Here is the beginning of one of the projects I'm considering for my bestseller challenge. Would love to hear what everyone thinks. (DRAGON'S BRIDE, historical/paranormal romance)
Chapter One

The clamoring had been going on for awhile outside his ancient cave by the time the dragon finally opened an eye. Just the one. He wasn’t prone to overreacting.

Sounded like half a village was out there. He stirred and drew a deep breath of musty air in anticipation of exercise. But even as Draknart began to stretch to full height, a soft bundle tumbled down the steep slope of the entrance. Another virgin sacrifice. He plopped back onto the hard stone with a disappointed grunt. He would have preferred a good fight.

As she stood, her reddish braid swung to her shapely arse. She wore precious little, and all of it was skin tight.

The other eye opened. The light came from behind her, so he could see little beyond her shape, which was boldly curvaceous and scandalously bare. “Have they run out of virgins at the village?”

She reached over her shoulder and pulled out a sword that looked too large and heavy for her. Regardless, her movements were smooth and fluid-like. “They ran out of knights.”

“There’s been a war then?” He wondered how long he’d been asleep this time.

She nodded as she took a step closer.

“And draught?” he guessed.


He gave a rumbling sigh. T’was only when things went badly in the valley that they remembered the dragon in the hills. Depending on whatever leader they had at the time, they would either try to kill him or appease him, convinced that once they’d done something to him, everything would go back to being just fine.

She stalked closer, an odd thing to do for one of her kind. Most fainted right off at the sight of him. The ones with sturdier constitutions shrieked a little first before folding. The truly extraordinary even got in a yard or two of running. Instead, this one stood tall and appeared to be staring him down. He shifted to get a better look, stretching his aching limbs. She did jump back at that, but only a little. Limber. She ought to be on those long legs. He especially admired her lean, shapely thighs.

“The flood washed away your clothes?” he inquired.

Her cheeks pinked, but she wouldn’t be distracted enough to put the sword down. “My brother’s clothes. A long skirt with petticoats would get snagged in a fight.”

Practical. She seemed to have more common sense than all the previous virgins put together, and more courage than most of the knights.

His stomach grumbled, the sound echoing through the main chamber of the cave. He always woke ravenous after a long sleep. He measured up the maiden. Something to hold him over until he flew out and found a deer herd large enough to suit his appetite.

“How might you be doing it then?” He couldn’t help another question. A long time had passed since he’d been able to converse with anyone. The virgins fainted in short order. The knights charged and died.

Her sword came up. “Straight through the heart.” But she didn’t move forward.

“You know where the heart is on a dragon?”

She blinked at him. She’d sidled into the cave, no longer blocking the light that filtered in from outside, so he could see her face at last. She had dark, fiery eyes.

He pointed at the middle of his chest, halfway between where his great wings began.

“Thank you.” She was nothing if not polite.

“You had training with the sword?”

“Some. I had nine brothers. All killed in the war.” A soft vulnerability crept into her voice. She seemed to shake that off as she took another step toward him. She was now close enough to strike.

He shifted into a defensive position, but only half seriously. He expected her to charge forward, at which point he would capture and disarm her. Instead, the tricky little thing vaulted onto his back, ran along his spine and went for his eye.

He shook her off with a surprised roar, regretting it when she slammed against the rock. He gave an angry grunt. He hadn’t meant to break her so fast. But to his relief, and to her credit, she bounced right back, holding the sword in front of her. She moved forward again. He caught a discouraged look shadowing her fine eyes, a look that hadn’t been there before. He missed their spark.

“T’was a good effort. Didn’t see it coming,” he consoled her. “You’ll do better on the next try.” He flicked his tail in anticipation. He was willing to stifle his need to feed for the sake of a little sport. True entertainment was rare in his life, and he found the maiden refreshingly unpredictable so far.

She charged for the heart this time. Managed to prick him hard enough to draw blood, before he pulled the sword away and held her up for inspection. Her round breasts bounced in interesting ways as she struggled. Another kind of hunger stirred inside him.

The previous virgins had been scented with lavender water. He nudged her with his snout. “You smell like axel grease.”

She used her bare fists to smack him between the eyes.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To get a useful answer, you must ask the right question

So it occured to me today that maybe instead of asking, "How to write a bestseller?" I should be asking, "Should I try to write a bestseller?"

I mean what does a bestseller mean to me? Money? Recognition? Would that make me happy? Who wants that? My innermost soul or just the ego? If the easiest way to write a bestseller is to follow a trend I don't particularly like or include more sex scenes than I'm comfortable with, should I still go down that path?

Going by the rule that you should write the kind of books you like to read, I should be writing books that entertain, uplift and encourage. I've been writing for about 20 years now. I've written over 30 books in this period. (Not all of them got published.) I even went back to university for a graduate degree in Writing Popular Fiction. The truth is, I would like to write really good books, the best books I can possibly write. Someday, I'd like to write a book until I feel that it's finished. (Not until the publisher's deadline runs out.) Is that even realistic in this industry?

So here is what I think today: I would like to write entertaining, uplifting and encouraging books to the best of my ability. And as I'll be putting all my heart and soul into these books, I'd like them to reach as many readers as possible. And one way to measure what readership I reached, is the bestseller lists. So yes, I do want to make it there.

Now, back to the question of HOW. Hmmm, am I going around in circles here?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


While trying to come up with a plan on how to write a bestseller, I realized that I have some decisions to make. First off, what do I want to write? I read just about anything. I also enjoy writing just about anything. So far, I've written: inspirational romance, historical fiction, epic fantasy, single title romance, women's fiction, urban fantasy, romantic fantasy and romantic suspense and series romantic suspense. Out of all of this, series romantic suspense was all I ever published. Thing is, once you publish something, the publisher puts money into promoting your name in that genre and they want to keep you publishing in that genre to get the most bang for their promotional buck. Also, you'll develop a readership in that genre and they'll be expecting your next book, and sometimes they don't like it at all if they get something other than what they expect. Speaking in generalities, the best way to increase sale numbers is to pick a genre and stick with it.

I've been writing romantic suspense so that would seem to be the easiest path. However, writing romantic suspense long-term can be difficult. It might take a reader a few hours to read my book, but I spend months writing it. That means many hours per day spent in the head of a serial killer or terrorist mastermind, visualizing torture and murder in great 3D detail so I can write about it in a way that the reader feels "right there." For that, I have to feel "right there." For one of my books, I spent almost a week reading autopsy reports. Not the funnest week I head. I've written 25 romantic suspense novels in the last 7 years. I love writing them and love the publisher I write for, but I'd be lying if said I never wished for something lighter. Sometimes I catch myself with a huge frown and all my muscles tense as I write. It's hard to be in that frame of mind day after day.

So other than Intrigues, here is what I like the most:

Urban Fantasy: Because anything goes. Magic is possible. No idea is too far out there.
Women's Fiction: Because it touches my heart. I love books written by women for women. It's like having a long talk with a friend.

Of course, Urban Fantasy is the great trend right now. Werewolves and vampires everywhere! I'm just afraid that with my luck, by the time I wrote one, the trend will be over :-)

Decisions, decisions...

Of course, if writing a bestseller was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

coming up with a plan

Now that I'm publicly committed to trying to figure out how to write a bestseller, I've been thinking about how to go about it. When I first got published, I was targeting Harlequin Intrigue as I love romance and suspense and was a fan of a number of authors for the line. Once I had the goal: to be published by Intrigue, I came up with an action plan that looked something like this:

1. Read the best examples of the line. (Did this by purchasing all the Intrigues that received 4 or 4.5 star reviews from Romantic Magazine during the previous 12 months.)
2. Analyze for length, level of violence, level of sensuality, pacing etc.
3. Figure out a niche that current writers are not doing.
4. Write a story that fits that niche and submit. Basically, write something that fits in with the line, but has a new twist.

I pretty much followed this plan and the very first manuscript I submitted (SHADOW SOLDIER) received a contract. This was a huge revelation to me, let me tell you!! Previously, I wrote whatever I pleased and submitted it to every publisher I could find an address for. (Took me only 13 years of rejections to figure out this was no shortcut to success.) So what I took away from this little exercise is that planning really works.

So now, onto my latest quest. Seems like the first step is to figure out an action plan for writing a bestseller. I'm going to think deep thoughts on this and get back to you as soon as I have a draft plan. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.