Outlining Revisited

Girl-writing-brightSo I mentioned before that I’ve been attempting a whole new process of outlining stories as I write them. Yep. I, Merry Farmer, have been consciously changing myself into a plotter. Or at least giving it a try. I’ve been using Patti Larsen’s method of outlining to see if it can help me to write quickly and more efficiently. Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the first book I’ve completed using her method, and here are my thoughts.

When I started the process, I was skeptical. Way back in the day, I considered myself a pantser. I liked to discover my stories as they went along, writing each chapter like it was the next episode in a tv series that I was eagerly following. The other pantsers out there can appreciate this, I’m sure. Then I started thinking a little bit into the future with my stories. I would know what the endpoint was before I started and a few mile markers along the way. In between writing, I would spend a lot of time writing notes that I used as a sort of compass to figure out where I’d been and where I was going. Once I started writing like that, I called myself a ‘plantser’, because I was both plotting and pantsing.

So there I was, diving into Patti’s outlining methods. I liked the first couple of lessons okay, but I kept a skeptical distance. The worksheet was helpful for me to figure out those major points in the story that I had already incorporated into my plantsing methods. So far so good, but I wasn’t sold. Then came a lot of work. And yes, I balked. That voice in my brain kept insisting that these steps I was taking weren’t a natural part of my writing process, that trying something new was slow going. The thing is, a lot of what I was doing WAS part of my process as it has developed, it was just that Patti’s method organized things.

There were a few points in those difficult middle lessons when my writer brain’s lightbulb went off and I thought “Hey! This is a good idea!” But interspersed with those moments was harsh resistance and good old fashioned stubbornness. I don’t like to try new things. I was incredibly skeptical about the cards…especially how many of them I ended up with.

And then the magic happened. I went from the card state to the writing the outline itself stage, and suddenly an entire book flowed out from all of the tedious, hard work I’d done. That’s when I began to suspect that I might become a believer. I cracked my knuckles, wiggled my fingers over the keyboard, and then dove into the actual writing of the first draft.

488px-Adolf_Eberle_Der_gelunge_BriefMagic, my friends. MAGIC. Previously, it would take me about a month to six weeks to write a first draft. Some of my books involved me changing my mind about the plot halfway through, then needing to rewrite the first half of the book. Using Patti’s method, it took me less than three weeks to finish a 70k word first draft. And I suspect that I will spend less time revising and reworking it because I already smoothed out a lot of plot bumps in the planning process.

Sure, there are some things about my original outline that I ended up changing for one reason or another, but very few compared to the changes I would go through using my old method. I have a couple of inconsistencies to iron out that I hadn’t planned for in the beginning, but I have a lot of time left to do that before publication. In short, by outlining the book in its entirety before I started, I made the actual work of writing much easier.

I think I’m sold on this whole outlining thing. I still need to try the method on a few more books, maybe alter it a little to fit my brain and my working style, but my conclusion is that if your aim is to write faster so that you can get all of the ideas stuck in your head out before you turn 100, this is the way to do it. For me, this has revolutionized the way I write.

I’m not sure that this method or any method of outlining would work for everybody. Different brains work differently and all writers have different processes that work for them. One reason why I think this is such a good fit for me is because I already have a billion story ideas whirling around in my head and I need some way to get them out as quickly as possible. If you’re the type who has a few cherished stories that you want to love and nurture into the world in good time, this might not be the thing for you. I love it.

Have you tried any methods of outlining that work for you? If you’re a pantser, what is it about pantsing that appeals to you?


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Trail of Kisses – A Sneak Peek

It’s coming! A whole new western historical romance series, Hot on the Trail! Come travel west with brave women and intrepid men out to build new lives for themselves.

Up first, the journey begins with Trail of Kisses: Hot on the Trail, Book 1 – “He has sworn to protect her, but who will protect him from her?”

Independence, Missouri – 1862

At the first glimpse Lynne Tremaine had of the line of wagons that would take her west across the prairie to Denver City, her heart sank. As far as she could see, big, bulky ‘prairie schooners’ with covered beds, driven by teams of dull-eyed oxen cluttered the starting-off point at the end of town, lowing as if anxious to get moving. Hawkers shouting about their wares in a last-minute attempt to sell supplies to plainly dressed pioneers added to the din of the oxen. Wagon’s creaked as they inched toward the line their trail boss was trying to make to impose order, horses clopped, and children shrieked as they vented their excitement. It was almost more than Lynne could bear.

“Please, Papa,” she begged the tall, distinguished man escorting her through the chaos. “Please don’t make me go.”

Judge Thomas Tremaine patted his daughter’s hand even as he sent suspicious looks darting through the crowd of travelers. “Now, now, Lynne, we’ve discussed this. It’s safer for you to accept your Uncle George and Aunt Edna’s invitation to move to Denver City.”

“We did not discuss this and it certainly isn’t safer,” Lynne argued. She was too old to pout, but if she had to thrust out her bottom lip in a moue to get her father to see things her way, well then, she had to do it. “We don’t know who any of these people are. How is it safer to send me off to the middle of nowhere with a mob of strangers?”

Judge Tremaine stopped and turned to her, leaning closer. “My dear heart, you know the threats that have been made against us, against you. The Briscoe Boys are not some mischievous ruffians out to pull pranks. They are a vicious, organized gang. They’ve killed men, they’ve burned farms, they’ve….” He left off as if the rest was too horrible to speak aloud. “Sentencing two of them to death this winter was just and right,” he went on, “but if I had known they would see justice as a call to threaten my family, to threaten you, well, I would have still passed the sentence, but I would have taken precautions before the verdict instead of after.”

“But I can take care of myself, Papa,” Lynne argued. “I always could. When we moved to St. Louis, when Mama died, when the war broke out. I’ve always been able to take care of myself.”

Her father smiled, pride beaming from him. “Yes, you have. My brave girl.”

Lynne’s heart swelled, in spite of the fact that he was still calling her at girl when she was twenty-two. She loved him so.

“The Briscoe Boys won’t come anywhere near me if I stay home, you’ll see,” she said.

Her father sighed and took her arm, starting forward through the rows of wagons once more. “If only it were that easy, my dearest. When explicit threats are made to slit the throats of all of my children one by one, starting with the oldest, I can’t pretend that the threat is nothing. George and Edna have established themselves well in Denver City. They own a mining company and have done quite well for themselves, in spite of a few set-backs. You’ll be happy there.”

They dodged around a group of running, laughing children and past a wagon full of rough, wiry men who watched them with curiosity.

“How can you say that, Papa? I’ll be hundreds of miles away from you, from Robert and Graham, from Violet and the boys,” Lynne said.

“Robert and Graham are off fighting for the Union,” her father said and shook his head. “A part of me thinks that Violet and the boys would be safer going with you then staying with me.”

“We would all be better off together, as a family,” Lynne insisted.

“If only we could,” her father said. “Now, here we are.”

They stopped in front of a wagon that looked, for all intents and purposes, like every other wagon in the sea of the train spreading out around them. It was long and sturdy-looking with large, metal-rimmed wheels and a thick cover over tall loops. Through the opening in the back, Lynne could see the trunks she’d been forced to pack in the last week. All of the clothes that could fit were folded into a large black trunk while anything else she had wanted to take, from books to boots to sewing supplies, were crammed into a wooden hope chest. The wagon was stuffed with other boxes as well, crates and barrels of supplies for the journey and a few boxes that her father was sending to George. The sight of it all made Lynne’s shoulders sag in defeat.

Keep watching for more sneak peeks in advance of the October 27th release date!


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The Later Oregon Trail

Image by Captain-tucker, via Wikicommons Can you imagine traveling for a month in this?

Image by Captain-tucker, via Wikicommons
Can you imagine traveling for a month in this?

So for a while now I’ve been meaning to share some of my research for my new series, Hot on the Trail. The books of Hot on the Trail take place on various Oregon Trail journeys (and several of them overlap from book to book!). But I wanted to throw a slightly different twist into the works. The heyday of the Oregon Trail was the 1850s, but my stories, beginning with Trail of Kisses, take place in the 1860s.

So what is it about the 1860s that made me want to set a series of novels there? Especially when that’s not the usual time period for the Oregon Trail.

Well, technically the early part of the 1860s was still the very tail end of the days of the Trail. The First Transcontinental Railroad wouldn’t be finished until 1869, although it was officially started in 1863. Prior to that there were some stretches of railroad that spanned some of the distances over the gigantic midsection of the continent that people wanted to cross, but not enough to make the entire journey.

There was an alternative way to get from east to west besides the Oregon Trail in the 1860s, however. Stagecoaches. Companies like Wells Fargo could get you and your goods across the vastness of the prairie, for the right price. The disadvantages of stagecoach travel, however, were that they didn’t have room for much more than your basic suitcases of supplies. They were also crowded and uncomfortable. If you think cramming more than a dozen people into a tiny old stagecoach for a couple of hours was bad, try shoving them all in for a couple of weeks. Stagecoach travel was much faster than wagon trains, but it was hellish in the best of times.

So if you were planning on starting over and wanted to take anything with you to the wide open west, in the 1860s, wagon trains were still the way to go. But another aspect of the history of the Oregon Trail that led me to choose the 1860s over a decade or two earlier is the fact that by this time, the trail itself was less of a bleak wilderness trek and more of a gritty jaunt from one outpost to the next to the next.

Entire businesses had grown up along the trail by the 1860s, from supply depots to military escort forces to entrepreneurial ferrying companies that would take wagons across rivers. Instead of feeling like you were taking your life in your hands by venturing out into the unknown, the later Oregon Trail was more like a long, slow walk through the past two decades of enterprise to add your own piece to the pie. And when it comes to writing books set in an era, it’s a lot of fun to be able to have your characters come across established, recurring, populated places. Especially if there are several books in a series.

Image by National Park Service, via Wikicommons

Image by National Park Service, via Wikicommons

But the number one cool thing that prompted me to set the Hot on the Trail series in the 1860s was the Civil War. Everybody knows how much impact the Civil War had on the lives of everyday Americans. But what fewer people stop to consider was that there was an entire chunk of the population that wanted nothing to do with the war. And they had an alternative to staying back east and sticking it out. They could leave and head west. Many did, either because they were pacifists or because they were new immigrants who wanted no part of the conflict or because they had served their time and were tired of war. There’s a wealth of character motivation in the stories of these people.

One other aspect of the Civil War comes into play as well. Something that provides high drama. And we know that high drama is awesome for stories. I mentioned a few paragraphs above that by the 1860s, there were entire enterprises established along the trail, including military escort services. The military would accompany wagon trains along the most dangerous parts of the journey, when Indian attacks were more likely. But when war broke out back east, all of those troops were called to join the fighting. Military garrisons were either abandoned or restaffed by unseasoned, undisciplined militias. And that meant that Indian attacks saw a huge uptick.

On the one hand, this makes for great drama. On the other, much sadder hand, because the attacks by Native Americans defending their homelands from incursions of settlers they didn’t know and didn’t understand rose so high, when the war was over and soldiers were free to be sent out west again, it spelled the beginning of the end for the indigenous people of this country. Attacks during the early 1860s when there was no military meant war when the army came back, and none of those wars did anything good for the Indians.

So there you have it. I hope to take deeper looks into some of these things as the weeks go by and the Hot on the Trail books start coming out. I’ll also be posting excerpts and snippets here and there, so stay tuned!


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My Hero is a 12-Year Old Boy

Image courtesy of Christopher Stadler via Flickr

Image courtesy of Christopher Stadler via Flickr

People talk a lot about role models. “Who is your role model?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked in interviews. I love the question because I believe it’s important for everyone to have someone to look up to, to model your behavior after, and to aspire to be like. So who is my role model? He’s a 12 year-old kid from my church. For the purposes of this post, I’m calling him “Max”, which isn’t anywhere close to his real name, but it happens to be one of my favorite boys names and he’s one of my favorite boys, sooo….

Max is my role model. He doesn’t have any special handicap that makes his life a struggle. He hasn’t exactly overcome long odds, no more than the next person trying to get by in the modern world. Outside observers wouldn’t necessarily consider him special at all, although they would notice right away that there’s something different about him. Max is ridiculously intelligent. No, I mean he’s gifted like great minds of science have been gifted. He was recently telling me all about a book he read recently on paradoxes, and then went on to explain Schrodinger’s Cat…and it made sense. This boy is going to cure cancer and stop global warming and bring world peace, yo.

But that’s not why he’s my role model. Sure, I admire intelligence, but Max has something that goes beyond intelligence. I am always tempted to be worried for him because his social skills are completely different from kids his own age. He talks to adults with perfect ease…blended with childlike enthusiasm. A lot of adults have made the mistake of talking to him like a kid at first, but he always surprises them in a hurry with the scope of his comprehension. He clearly doesn’t fit in perfectly with his peers. Sometimes they look at him a little funny. But when I see him interact with the other kids there isn’t the same sort of dynamic of bullying and ostracism that you would expect to see.

I’m friends with Max’s mom, and I recently expressed my worry that such a unique, old soul would be picked on or made miserable by his peers, especially as teenagerdom looms. You know what she said? Kids don’t bother bullying him. You know why? Because they can’t get a rise out of him. She told me a story about how he accidentally went to school with two entirely different socks last year. One kid tried to tease him by pointing out that he was wearing two different socks. Max’s response? A calm shrug and “And your point is?”

Max is my hero because, at age 12, he is comfortable with who he is and doesn’t let the opinions of others get under his skin. He is fascinated with the world and eager to reach beyond what he’s taught in school to discover things for himself. He engages with everyone as if he is their equal and isn’t afraid to meet you on your own turf or to explain his turf to you.


Girl-writing-brightThere are a lot of things I think we can all learn from Max, especially writers. I was a total basket case at that age and I cared from the tips of my toes to the highest hair on my head what people thought about me. I imagined a thousand horrors that would (and frankly did) happen if my peers didn’t like me. I ate my heart out trying to fit in by pushing aside who I knew I was. I think we all do. But Max, for me, is living, breathing, punning, weird sock-wearing proof that even in middle school, if you are who you are and if you wear that person with pride and focus your energies on the things you love, you’re un-bully-able.

Every time we write a book, I can guarantee that somewhere in the backs of our minds is the worry about what people will think of us. We tie ourselves up in knots obsessing over whether we’re writing the right genre, if our characters are engaging, if our prose will appeal to readers. When the reviews come in, we tear our hair if someone didn’t like our writing and get super overexcited when they did. We care what people think. And not in the useful, constructive way.

These days, I’m all about approaching my writing career the way Max approaches life. I know what I write. I’m confident in my abilities, but I’m also always searching for new and better ways to do things. I try to talk as confidently with people who write my genre as I do with those who write other genres. And when those reviews come in, if someone didn’t like the choices my hero or heroine made, well, your point is? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I don’t have to let them get under my skin. All I have to do is write.

So kudos to you, Max! I look forward to watching you grow into a teenager. I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine. And I’ll continue to look to you for the way I should be behaving in my career and my life.


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Introducing Debut Author Felice Stevens

fs_rescuedGuys! I’m so excited! Today I get to introduce you to Felice Stevens and her new book Rescued. It’s such a pleasure to be able to highlight a new author AND a truly special m/m romance all in one. Take it away, Felice!

First, could you tell us a little about yourself and Rescued?

I am a married mother of two, a lawyer and a voracious reader. I’ve always loved reading; mysteries, historical fiction, mostly about English history and of course, romance.

Here’s the blurb for Rescued, which comes out today from LooseId:

Ryder Daniels has spent the last year recovering from rejection: his parents couldn’t accept his sexuality and his lover chose drugs over his love. The only bright lights in his life are his younger brother and his rescued pit bull. But now his mother’s punishment for his lifestyle has cut him off from his brother he loves so deeply. Devastated, he throws himself into the work of the Pit Bull Foundation he and his friends started.

Jason Mallory can no longer hide the dissatisfaction of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend. When her marriage ultimatum pushes him to break things off, he’s determined not to jump into the dating scene. But when a group of injured pit bulls are found on his construction site, he can’t forget the guy who shows up to help.

After Jason adopts one of the dogs, he and Ryder become fast friends—until one night, Ryder lets down his guard and Jason recognizes his desire. Soon, they can’t deny the passion between them but will family differences and ugly prejudices keep them apart, or can they fight to prove that love is precious, no matter the flavor?

What inspired Rescued?

I have no idea! I was walking home from work one day and the whole book popped into my head; names, plot, everything. Pearl, one of the dogs, is based on a real life rescued pit bull one of my oldest friends owns. She was held in a lab where they planned on doing brain experiments on her. Luckily, she was rescued.

What is your favorite part of writing?

When that moment hits, and the words flow with ease. Unfortunately, doesn’t happen that often!

What is your least favorite part of writing?

Edits!! But seriously, when I go back and see the plot holes and have to rework what I’ve already written.

How likely are people you meet to end up in your next book?

Not at all. My characters come out of my head.

Do you prefer to read in the same genres you write in or do you avoid reading that genre? Why?

I love reading in my genre, because there are so many awesome gay romance authors. They are my inspiration. But, I also do take breaks, and still read my mysteries and historical fiction, as well as some of my favorite historical romance authors.

Has your muse always known what genre you would write and be published in?

Ha! NOT AT ALL!! I started out writing Regency romance, and still plan to publish my books. I have three full regencies waiting in the wings. One day I picked up a male/male romance and was swept away for want of a better phrase. I just knew I wanted to write that genre.

What do you have planned for the future? What’s next?

I have a series planned about three foster brothers who have all suffered some form of abuse, and have a hard time accepting love. The series title is To Hell and Back, and the first book, A Walk Through Fire, is on submission. I am now working on the second book, After the Fire.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Felice. Check out Rescued here: