Dare To Dream · Dream On

Two more paragraphs…

The pinto pony butted Marley with his nose, and she gave him a chunk of carrot to crunch on before wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning her cheek against his thick coat, closing her eyes and breathing in his warm scent. The events that had brought them together, torn them apart and then seen them – miraculously, Marley still felt – reunited all lay behind her in a haze. She had her pony back, and every morning that she could get out of bed and find him in her paddock, waiting for her, was one to be savoured. She would never, ever let him leave her side again.

And Cruise was equally dedicated to Marley, always pleased to see her, always calling out to say hello whenever he spotted her anywhere on the farm. He never missed an opportunity to remind her of his presence, a habit which had caused her considerable agony only a few months ago when he’d been at shows with his new owner. Every time Cruise had seen Marley, he had whinnied out a welcome, and had seemed disappointed when she’d been unable to bring herself to stop and speak with him. Seeing him belong to someone else had just been too hard for her, but those days were behind them now, because Cruise was back to stay. And this time, when the talented pony went out competing, Marley would be the one loading him onto her truck. She would get to ride him, feed him and muck him out every day; she would be the one grooming him and saddling him and screwing in his studs, warming him up and cooling him down, hosing him off, wrapping his legs and rugging him up; lying on her stomach on the warm, dry grass and watching him graze peacefully nearby at the end of a long, exhilarating show day. She couldn’t wait – but she would have to. The show season was behind her, and months of cold, wet weather lay ahead as winter settled in across the country.

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Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On · writing

Finding a way to the finish

As originally posted on Horse Crossings.Clearwater Bay covers 1&2

Today has been a big day. I have finally finished, and published, my fourth full-length novel. It wasn’t supposed to be my fourth novel – it was intended to be my second. But my best laid plans didn’t quite turn out the way that I’d expected…

After I wrote and self-published my first novel Flying Changes in 2011, I started work on the sequel right away. Partly because I wanted to, and partly because I was told to. Don’t stop! everyone said. Keep the momentum going. Don’t be a one hit wonder.

Small chance of that. Everything I write is part of a series. I can’t seem to do it any other way, even when I want to.

My first book was optimistically labelled Clearwater Bay #1. It was always going to be part of a four-book series. I had titles for four books, and I had commissioned four cover photos. I knew what happened in book 3. I knew what happened in book 4. (I’ve had the final chapter and epilogue of the last book written for at least two years now.)

There was just one problem. I didn’t know what happened in book 2. Other than the fact that it was called Against the Clock, it was a blank slate, a page without any words.

Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.

Just skip it, suggested my mother. Move on to the story of book 3. Make it a trilogy instead.

Not terrible advice, except that there was no way I could do that. For the events of book 3 to have emotional resonance, there needed to be time and character development from book 1. I needed Jay, my protagonist, to grow up a little bit more before I could throw her into the dramatic events of book 3. But I was struggling. I looked over the first draft and knew that it wasn’t great. The story leapt all over the place, characters turned up for a few chapters then vanished without any resolution to their part of the story, and the whole plot just meandered along vaguely.

Eventually, I was so disparaged that I couldn’t even look at it, so I decided to write something that would just flow. Something that I had no stakes in or expectations of, just pick a scene in my head and start writing, and see where the storyline would go. I clearly recall sitting in my bedroom in Ireland, visualising that house’s cluttered front hallway, and starting to write.

She ran down the hall, bare feet slapping against the dusty floorboards.

I kept writing, intrigued, as my new heroine ran into the kitchen to find her big sister sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by overdue accounts.

“Nimble’s caught in the fence! Van cut him out but he’s gushing blood all down his leg, and you have to call the vet.”

It was supposed to be one scene, a writing exercise full of action that would break me free of the net that I was trapped in. It wasn’t supposed to turn into a book, but those characters moved into my head and took over. A year and a half later, I had completed a novel called Dare to Dream.

I released it into the world, and went back to working on Against the Clock. Armed with more skills and experience and the newfound realisation that even pony books can’t be all about ponies all of the time, I started hacking storylines and characters out of the first draft. But then the story just lay there, apathetic and dull and uninspiring. I fumbled around for ideas, and found a few. I added them to the story, watched them settle in and become part of the fabric of that world. They worked, but they were small character moments, not big plot moments. And the plot itself was still feeble. It still didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Dare to Dream was gaining traction. It sold well, and consistently. It got five-star reviews. Readers loved these characters, loved this storyline, and wanted more. And the characters themselves wouldn’t go away either. They wanted their story to be continued. I knew what happened after the events of Dare to Dream, but nobody else did. I wrote the epilogue to the sequel, and it made me cry. So I decided that everyone else should get to read it too. I put Against the Clock aside once more, and started writing Dream On.

Just under a year later, Dream On was released to rave reviews, and I went back once more to Against the Clock. This time I was going to make it work. Armed with yet more knowledge and writing ability, I stripped the story right back to its bare bones, then slowly pasted the character moments back in around the plot. Slowly, slowly, it started to form into a proper novel. It fell into place, just needing me to write some additional scenes and trim back or rewrite a few existing ones. It was almost ready.

There was only one problem – I was really struggling to let go of Dream On. I don’t usually like reading my own work, but I kept going back and re-reading that book, just so that I could live in that world a little longer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go back to Clearwater Bay and deal with Jay’s smaller, more trivial problems. I didn’t want to go back into first person and not be able to explore different viewpoints, or jump to another character to keep the pace going. And I love the girls in Dare to Dream and its sequel. They’re the kind of people I’d be friends with (are in fact loosely-based on actual friends of mine) and I was still missing them. They’re sisters, with a strong sisterly bond, and I felt as though they were part of my family. It was really hard to walk away, but I made myself do it.

I made myself step back into Jay’s life and take her hand and guide her along the path towards book 3. And eventually she stopped snatching her hand away from me and telling me that her story was stupid and boring and I shouldn’t really bother, and we started working together. And when it got hard and stagnant and I wondered why I was bothering, the voice of one of Jay’s good friends in the book came into my head, as it does hers when things get tough in the narrative.

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

We both took his advice.

Against the Clock is done now. It got auto-delivered to the lovely people who have pre-ordered it on April 19th, and I can sit back and cross my fingers and hope that people enjoy it as much as my beta-readers (fortunately) did. So far, so good.

And so, on to book 3 in the series. I’m looking forward to this one, although it’s going to require a lot of research and a hefty dose of imagination. There are some dark moments in this book, and while I can’t wait to explore them, it’s going to take some work to get myself into the heads of these characters. Because the thing with writing a series in first person is that there are only so many things that can happen to and directly affect one character. For Jay, her journey is as much about learning from other people as it is about herself. It’s about learning to recognise other people’s problems, and understand their opinions, and expand her own view of the world through the framework of how others also perceive it, and how she perceives other people. I’m excited to explore that, and I can’t wait to get to the end. I’m on a roll now, and Jay has decided that yes, she does want her story told. It also helps that the next two books will involve more outside characters, and less internal monologuing. And in those moments that still creep in, when I’m feeling particularly dispirited and wondering if I can be bothered writing these books, I re-read the last chapter of book 4, and I know that it will all be worth it when I get there.

In the meantime, to stop myself from stalling when Jay has a tantrum and refuses to be written (it happens), I’ve started a new series. (Yes, I’m crazy.) I didn’t mean to do it, but I wanted to know how fast I could write a novel. Dream On took the shortest length of time, and it was still almost a year. So I set myself a challenge over Easter to write a novel in four days. Astonishingly enough (even to me!) I achieved it in three days. It’s short – only 30,000 words – but I’m intrigued to see if I can keep it up. To write short, complete novels in very short periods of time is a good exercise for me, and I already have characters and storylines for the next three novels. And these girls all desperately want their viewpoints shared. (Characters can be so bossy!)

You can read First Fence, the first book in the Pony Jumpers series, for free on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/35897826-first-fence-pony-jumpers-1) and it will soon be available on Kindle as well, with a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel at the back. I hope to have the sequel out by the end of this month (the first two chapters are up on Wattpad, but the whole book will only be available on Kindle), and the third book in the series out by late May.

As for book 3 in Jay’s story, I’ve already got some scenes written. In fact, I wrote one last night, and it’s included at the end of Against the Clock to whet readers’ appetites for what’s to come. I’m excited to get going on it, because I’ve been wanting to write about these characters and tell this story for years. And now I feel as though I’m ready. It’s their time.

Trouble is, there are a few others out there who want their books written too, and they still won’t shut up…

Clearwater Bay series · Dream On

Twenty-fifteen

camp5

2015.

A new year.

I’m hoping for a good one. Fifteen has been my lucky number since I was a kid, when it was the number of my winning raffle ticket at a school gala. I took home a big basket of junk food, the kinds of things my mother wouldn’t usually buy, and although I don’t remember what was in it, I remember the shock and absolute thrill of having won.

I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions, other than to resolve that I will finish and release Against the Clock sometime before my birthday in mid-April, and that I will get another book finished and released before Christmas. (It may be High Jump, the third in the Clearwater Bay series. It may not.)

camp1

I saw in the new year at Pony Club Camp, sitting at a trestle table underneath the main grandstand at the Otaki-Maori Racing Club, playing hand after hand of P&A as we waited for the clocks to tick over to midnight. I won a few rounds and I lost a few too. Mostly I finished in the middle, content to be mediocre. The children hung around, summoned by the bell at ten minutes to twelve, and we counted the new year down together. Poured sparkling wine and fizzy drinks into plastic mugs, and clacked them together. Thought about what 2014 had brought us, and what our hopes would be for 2015. And then we all drifted off to bed, knowing that we had several hours of riding ahead of us the next day.

camp3

There was a scene (well, a handful of scenes) in the original draft of Dream On that I removed before I published it, because they slowed the story down too much. But I have put them online for any interested parties to read, so if you want to know how Kris, Van and Marley celebrate New Year’s Eve, you can read those deleted scenes here.

I hope 2015 has found you well and will do right by you as the year progresses. Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou – Happy New Year!

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On · writing

You only know you love them when you let them go

After I finished writing Dream On, I knew that was the end of that series of novels. What I had to say about Marley and her sisters was done, and there is no third book in the series. (If there ever is anything, Van might get herself a spinoff, but it’s so vague in my head that it’s not something I’m planning on writing at this stage.) So when I finished the book and loaded it on Amazon and sent it to print, I knew that I was saying goodbye to the girls for a while.

The plan is to go back to Jay and finish Against the Clock, book 2 in the Clearwater Bay series. I have that book mostly written, and the next two planned out and pieces of them written, including the conclusion to the series. I know where it’s going and what I’m working towards.

But I can’t let go.

I don’t usually like reading my own books. It took me months to be able to sit down with Flying Changes and read it without cringing. I loved Dare to Dream when I wrote it but I couldn’t read it easily. When I released Dream On, I was reading it on my Kindle the next day. And the day after that.

And the day after that.

It’s not that I think it’s the best book ever, or that I don’t find errors in it when I read it back (I do…I’ll fix them soon). But I’m not ready to stop living in their world just yet. And I know what happens next. I know what Marley does next, and Kris, and Van. I know where they go and what they do and the good and bad things that happen to them in the next year or few years. There’s not enough there to write more books about, and I’m not planning on doing so. I need to walk away and leave them be, but I’m struggling.

I need to move on.

And there’s a lot coming up for Jay. There are conflicts and issues and problems and resolutions to discuss. There are relationships to delve into and out of, there are storylines to cover, new characters to introduce and familiar characters to reconnect with. There are even familiar characters to discover…people who have already turned up in Dare to Dream & Dream On who will also be part of Jay’s story. I’m looking forward to that – I want to tell those stories.

And yet…

I still can’t let my girls go.

Dare To Dream · Dream On

X-ray enabled

There’s a feature on Amazon’s Kindle books called X-Ray. It isn’t available on every book, and it’s not something that you have the option of adding to your book when you load it onto Amazon, but for some reason, it has turned up on my novel Dare to Dream. I don’t know whether it requires a certain number of downloads, or a certain number of highlighted passages, but whatever the reason, Dare to Dream now has it. And it’s fun.

X-Ray is a feature that allows you to “see the bones of the book”. When you click on the X-Ray tab, it pulls up a list of People and Terms (51 and 10 respectively for Dare to Dream, although some of those “people” are ponies and dogs) and shows you in a wee bar chart where they appear in the book with a black line.

Marley Carmichael is the first name on the list, and her bar is a solid line of black, meaning she appears on pretty much every single page of this book.

Van Carmichael is next, with only a couple of small white spaces where she apparently is less prominent in the story for a while.

Kristen follows, somehow losing her surname, and having a handful of places where she is missing from the story (although I suspect that if Dream On ever manages to get X-Ray enabled, those roles will be reversed – there is more of Kris than Van in the sequel).

Cruise Control is next, and the list goes on.

When you touch on each of these characters’ names, it gives a full list of quotes, showing every time the name is mentioned in the book. Obviously for characters like Marley and Cruise, this happens hundreds of times. For others, who are only mentioned once or twice, the list of quoted passages is much shorter. One of the cool things about it is that it helps if you forget who a character is. For example, when I highlight Laura Buckeridge in the epilogue, it pops up with an X-Ray box reminding me of the last time Laura had shown up in the story:


Laura Buckeridge
“I’m glad you caught him,” Laura said. “He was so scared, he might have busted through the ring ropes.”


When you’re in the main X-Ray box, for each character that you click on, it gives you a quote from the text at the top of the page, providing a quick insight into who this person is. For the characters who turn up regularly, like Marley and her sisters, it’s simply the first time they are mentioned in the text. But for others, who aren’t quite so prominent, it doesn’t seem to pick up just the first one, and it’s quite neat flicking through and getting the X-Ray descriptions of each character.

Here are a few of my favourites:


Cruise stood patiently, alert but relaxed, as she unclipped the lunge line and coiled it up.”


Pete had been a fierce rival of Van’s back in her pony riding days, but unlike his snotty little sister, he’d always been nice to Marley.”


“Their belief that their daughter was the best thing since sliced bread had built up Susannah‘s dangerously high self-esteem.”


“But some of them have been exceptional, she thought, and none more so than Nimble. She’d known from the start that he was special, and he’d definitely proven himself to her last year when he’d beaten all comers at Nationals to take out the Speed Pony Championship.”


Ajax’s muscles were bunching under his shining coat, his mane and tail were like silk and his eyes were bright and alert.”


Breeze flattened her ears at this unflattering analogy and sulked off to stuff herself with more grass.”


Buck fought for his head, trying to see the jump. Susannah gave him just enough rein at the last possible moment, and the honest pony found his stride and cleared the jump.”


“But Dad was always with her, and his touch was everywhere around the farm. He had built this place for his family, and the barn and yards and arena were all testament to his devotion to his three horse-crazy daughters.”


Dottie, an aged spaniel lying on a rug in the corner of the room, lifted her head and whimpered softly.”


Katy O’Reilly was lying on her stomach tearing blades of grass out of the ground and listening to a story being told her by a girl with curly red hair, about staying with her cousin in England.”


If you’ve read Dream On, that last one was for you.

Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Dream On

Finding your story and setting it free

I’m sitting in the middle of Chapter One of Dream On, methodically making my way through as I check for typos, sense, flow, and other little bits and pieces that will make the story read more smoothly.

In the back of my mind as I read are the bigger questions – does this scene need to be here? What is this particular scene contributing to the larger story? (Hint: If the answer is nothing, delete the scene. If it’s not driving the story forward, it doesn’t belong in the book.)

In an even further back place in my mind, there is another question hovering. Why am I telling this story? Or, why am I telling this story? What do I have to say to the world at large, that I am using this story, this book, as a medium for? (Hint: If you can’t answer that question, you lack theme. Then you’re writing a story, but you’re not saying anything…and although the story might work on its own, with a beginning, a middle and an end, it won’t leave the reader with anything to take away. It won’t have resonance. It won’t matter.)

The stories we love, the ones we remember, are the ones that matter to us. The ones that challenge us, that confuse us, that make us reconsider the world and our place in it. One of my favourite reviews for Dare to Dream made this very clear:


This book is really the best book I have EVER read in my whole life! It is a mix between romance and action. I loved it. I cried at the end and it made my think of how lucky we are to have things like food and a roof over our heads.
–  Avery Kasper, via Amazon.com


I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I read that review. Quite aside from everything else, it was those four words that made my day: It made me think.

But it doesn’t always come easy. The problem with my original draft of Against the Clock is that it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have that elusive something that makes it powerful, that makes it important, that will hopefully make the reader stop and think. How would I feel if I was in that situation? What would I do, when faced with that dilemma? When given that choice? As a reader, your answers to those questions might be completely different to the choices that the characters make, but that doesn’t really matter. The point is that it makes you stop, makes you think, makes you reconsider.

That it has something to say.

I read a blog post today by Hugh Howey that resonated with me. He wrote that:


When writing is going well, it feels more like reading or discovery than it does writing or creation. It feels as though the story could go no other way than the way we’re writing it. Like it existed before us.


I think – I hope – that all writers have had that feeling. Sometimes it’s one that develops slowly as you work through the book, as you get to know the characters. Sometimes characters leap off the page and you feel as though you’ve known them forever – others are more shy, and it takes time to get familiar with them. (Of my characters, Marley falls into the first category. Her sister Kris falls into the second – but we’ve become very close since I wrote Dream On.)

But that’s when writing is going well. What about when it’s not? Howey reckons that when your writing just won’t flow, it means that there’s something wrong. Somewhere along the line, you’ve taken a step onto the wrong path, and you need to go back and try again. Sci-fi and fantasy author extraordinaire Robin Hobb said something very similar at a book signing that I went to recently. When I get writer’s block, she explained, I know it means I’ve gone wrong somewhere. So I just go back a few pages and pick up the story again from there, and this time, take the characters down a different path.

I get the feeling that American poet Robert Frost knew that too.


Two paths diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.


What I particularly liked about Howey’s blog post was that he also talked about that moment when you recognise the story you need to tell. When you have that lightbulb moment, and you know that you’ve just stumbled upon something great. And how it feels when you do. Non-writers might be surprised to hear that it doesn’t feel as though you’ve made it up…as he says, it feels like you’ve remembered it.


Ever had the feeling you were forgetting something as you left the house? You walk around, wracking your brain, trying to figure out what it is. Exhausting every option, you decide your intuition is wrong. It isn’t until you’re half an hour away from the house that the missing thing percolates up to the conscious level.

This is writing. You know what happens next. The challenge is remembering.


I can still remember exactly where I was when I discovered the key turning point in Dare to Dream. I suppose it could be described as the whodunnit? moment. (If you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean – and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) I was writing the story, putting it together slowly, like a complicated jigsaw puzzle that I just knew had a horse in the middle of it, but was missing some crucial pieces around the outside. A bit like one of those Wasgij? puzzles, where you sort of know what you’re making, but you won’t be able to truly see it until you get to the very end. Then one morning I was driving to work, along State Highway One just south of Waikanae, under the rail bridge and approachin the 80km/h speed zone, and all of a sudden I realised that I knew who’d done it. What’s more, I knew why. The story fell into place that day, and I couldn’t wait to get to a computer so I could write it all down.

It might sound crazy to be writing a story and still putting the pieces together – especially such crucial pieces as that – as you go. But sometimes that’s how it works. And looking back, it wasn’t until I had read that first draft, which I thought was complete and perfect, from go to whoa on a plane to New York, that I realised the story had a problem. I wasn’t making a puzzle that had a horse in the middle of it after all. So I went back to the drawing board. I deleted and rewrote and added scenes and refined the book, until I had the picture – the story – that I needed.

Because ultimately, Dare to Dream isn’t a story about a pony. It’s a story about three sisters.

The reviewer from NZBooklovers saw it too:


It is the relationships in this book that make Dare to Dream special. Lattey has done a wonderful job at crafting a unique relationship between the three sisters – they each have defined personalities, and often clash with one another, but the love they have for each another shines through. It is the excellent relationships that Lattey has cultivated that made the book so emotionally poignant.


And once I realised that, I could write Dream On easily.

Well, not easily.

But well.

Dare To Dream · Dream On

Work in progress

If you’re waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Dream On, this is good news for you. (If you’re waiting – patiently or otherwise – for Against the Clock, this might not be such good news for you.)  But I thought I should update you all with Dream On‘s progress. I’ve managed to spend a good few hours the last couple of weeks working on it – my new Thursday night ritual of going to the library after work to make myself write without any distractions seems to be working!

So now that I seem to have the plot nailed down (finally) and balanced properly between the A-plot (the “pony” part of the story) and the B plots (the “people” parts of the story), I’m going through what I’ve already written, and filling in the missing scenes. (This is because my writing technique is to write the most exciting and interesting parts of the story first, then come back and fill in the more day-to-day stuff later. For example, Marley’s final show jumping rounds with Cruise in Dare to Dream were written long before the scene between Kris and the social worker – that only came into the story in the second draft, when I read the first one and realised that there was way too much pony and not enough people in the book!)

I’m trying not to do too much editing at the moment, because that’s a really easy way to lose momentum, and to start second-guessing your writing. Some nights I sit down feeling super inspired and ready to go, and other nights I sit down with a scene outline and write a badly directed scene full of uninteresting dialogue. But I write it, and that’s the main thing. Right now, in the first draft stage, it’s not important that the dialogue is witty or that the prose is perfect – just that the scene is written down so that I know what happens and can build on that in the following scenes. I’ll come back to it at a later date and either tidy it up, rewrite it completely or delete the whole thing, if I decide that I don’t need it or can’t make it work. But I just need it written, for now. It’s like filling in the boring parts of a jigsaw puzzle – the plain blue piece that is part of the sky doesn’t look very exciting, but it’s got to get in there to complete the picture. (And just like a puzzle, often it’s those little scenes that are the hardest to do.)

So it’s back to the grindstone, but before I go, here’s a little excerpt from where I’m up to in the reviewing stage. Please note that this little extract is still in its first draft, and may or may not make the final cut, but it made me smile when I read it so hopefully you’ll enjoy it too.

And now…to work.

 

Short extract from first draft of “Dream On”:

“I’m starving!” Marley announced, throwing her schoolbag onto the floor and flinging open the fridge door. “Ooh, you’ve made casserole!”

Kris looked up from her seat at the table. “Don’t eat that! I’m saving it for dinner.”

“I’ll just have less at dinner time,” Marley told her, pulling the dish out and setting it on the table.

“No you won’t. Have some toast or something if you’re hungry.”

Marley pulled a face. “Toast isn’t a proper meal.”

“It’s four o’clock, it’s not time for a proper meal.”

“It is according to my stomach.”

“Nobody asked your stomach,” Kris replied as Van walked into the room.

“There’s a can of baked beans in the bottom of the pantry,” Van told Marley. “Heat them up. I’ll have some too.”

“No there isn’t, they’re in the casserole,” Marley pointed out. “I can see them.”

“So just eat the casserole.”

“Kris won’t let me.”

Van raised her eyebrows at Kris, who grabbed the casserole dish and put it back in the fridge. “Nobody is eating any of this until dinner time. We have company coming and there has to be something left to feed him.”

Marley’s head shot up. “Wait, who’s coming to dinner?” she asked.