Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wednesday Spotlight ~ Elysa Hendricks ~ To Plot or Not to Plot...


I've been writing for more years than I care to admit - okay, over twenty and yes, I was only about six when I started writing. If you believe that I've got some prime ocean front property in Nevada I can sell you. In those years I've written dozens of books and short stories, and even published a bunch of them, but the one thing I've never been much good at is PLOTTING.

But wait, you say, I've read some of your books (well, I can dream can't I) and your stories have gobs and gobs of plot. Yeah, well, I didn't say my books aren't plotted, I just said I'm not one of those anal retentive people who PLOTS my stories from start to finish before I begin writing the darn things. If I plot out the whole story before I start I get bored because I already know everything that's going to happen and how it's all going to end. That's no fun, and as hard as writing is, it needs to be fun as well or why do it?

So how do I come up with my intricate plots?

Well, I don't have storyboards on my walls that I throw darts at, notecards with scene outlines that I shuffle and re-shuffle, notebooks filled with outlines or usually even a clear idea of where my story is going or how it's going to end. Nope, I just get an idea, sometimes just a snatch of an idea. I close my eyes, hold my nose, jump in feet first and hope I can swim. Or at least float until I find myself a plot raft to cling to.

I'm more of a 'what if' kind of writer. What if Star Trek met Planet of the Apes with a touch of Twilight Zone's People Are Alike All Over thrown in? You'd get the plot of my sci-fi adventure romance STAR CRASH where the hero and heroine are trapped in an alien zoo. Or what might happen if a man needed a baby but didn't want a wife? Race Reed doesn’t want a wife, but to save his ranch he needs a baby. To gain custody of her stepsister, Claire Jensen needs a husband, but she wants love. Wants and needs are bound to clash when they run THE BABY RACE.

Panster - that's what some writers call those of us who write by the seat of our pants. Personally, I'm not fond of the title. Reminds me of those mean boys in grade school who gave wedgies.  I much prefer to tell people I write into the mist. So what does that make me, a Mister? Doesn't sound quite right. I'll have to work on that.

I do know the basics of plot - scenes: goal, motivation, conflict, and sequels: reaction, thought, decision - all that good boring technical stuff, and I use it, otherwise my characters would wander around aimlessly and never get their happily ever after.  

Of course, not plotting my books ahead of time, while fun, usually gets me into trouble. I'll get to the last third of the book and realize I have NO idea how to get my characters out of the situations I've put them in. Then I lie awake at night playing with different scenarios to do so, eventually discarding each and every one as too contrived or stupid. So how do I come up with the ending?

Magic. At least it feels that way. After lying awake stewing about it, begging my AWOL muse to come back and help, brainstorming with other writers, as well as writing and tossing various crappy endings, one day something clicks in my mind and voila I have it - the perfect way to end the story. But while it might seem like magic, my rational mind knows that's not so. While I suffered the torment of ending Hell, buried deep in my subconscious the PLOT fairies I've imprisoned there were hard at work using everything I've fed them about story structure, characterization and plot to create an exciting, satisfying ending for my book. Hmmm, sounds like a good PLOT for a story.

So how do you PLOT a book?

So while pre-plotting a book might be optional, every story needs a plot. The question is when and how the author creates it.

That was fabulous, Elysa!  Thank you so much for sharing.  It's so great to hear about another author's process. 

Now we get to hear all about you and about your fabulous Sci-fi romance STAR CRASH. 

Which can I just say ...*huge grin* was fantastic and super hot!  

Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi Krystal. 'Fraid there's not much to tell about me. I'm a boring, bland, vanilla person. All the excitement is in my books. I'm 5'6" tall. I have brown eyes and curly hair. I'm an author, a wife, a mother and a daughter. Everything else is subject to change without notice.

Did you always want to be an author?
I've always been a story teller. In grade school I convinced the kids on the playground that I was an alien from Venus and entertained them with sci-fi stories. In high school I took a creative writing class and loved it, but back then no one told me that I could be a writer. That I could write books. The only option they gave me was to go to college, be an English major (that's a good way to kill any creativity a person might have) or study journalism. So like the good little girl I "was" I tried that route. Ugh. I quickly discovered that writing the facts bored me silly. I wanted to create my own realities.

What is your favorite part of being a writer/author?
Playing god in my own little worlds. Of course all my characters are atheists so it doesn't always work out so well. Second best part of being a writer is going to work in my PJs on cold, snowy days.

Tell us a little about your book.
STAR CRASH is a futuristic sci-fi romance. It's what might happen if Star Trek met Planet of the Apes with a little bit of the Twilight Zone episode People Are Alike All Over thrown in.

When did you start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I started my first book on Christmas Eve 1989 and wrote The End about three months later. Then I spent the next three years learning how to write. That book, a sci-fi story that borrowed way too heavily from Star Trek: Next Generation, remains hidden under my bed guarded by killer dust bunnies.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Oh, I dig it up in the backyard or pick it off my inspiration bush. Actually, inspiration is everywhere - TV, movies, newspapers, snatches of conversation in restaurants and grocery stores. As a writer I'm always either writing or thinking about writing. I often wonder what people who don't write think about. There are always story ideas and characters playing around in my head. Sometimes they get so noisy and insistent I wish I could shut them off, but like I said they're all atheists and refused to obey their god.

Do you plot and outline or do you just write?  Plotter or Pantser?
Pantser, or as a prefer to say - I write into the Mist. If I plot out the book I never actually write it since I already know what's going to happen.

Can you tell us a little about the process of getting your first book published?
My first book a gritty western historical romance, RAWHIDE SURRENDER (recently re-released as THIS HEART FOR HIRE) was published in 1999 by Hard Shell Word Factory. Hard Shell was one of the first digital/print publishers. I submitted via email, which back then was still pretty much unheard of. 

What book have you most recently released?
STAR CRASH (previously published by Dorchester) is now available on Kindle.

What was your favorite part of the book?
I think when the heroine meets the hero and realizes he's the man she loved and lost years ago.

Rate your story in terms steaminess?
Each of my stories is different. STAR CRASH is fairly steamy. Heck the hero and heroine are trapped naked in an alien zoo, so they spend a lot of time getting reacquainted with each other.

Do you have another book in the works?
I have several works in progress - a contemporary fantasy romance about a match making cat, a jungle adventure romance, another sci-fi futuristic romance set in the same universe as STAR CRASH. I tend to work on multiple projects at a time.

A friend and I have also co-written a humorous mainstream novel that we're shopping around to agents and editors. GRANNIES AND TRANNIES: VEGAS OR BUST combines the best of The Golden Girls and The Bird Cage on a wild and wacky road trip Las Vegas to rescue a friend from the Mob.

What advice would you give new authors?  What have you learned about the business?
Write. Write. Write. Then write some more. And while you're doing so learn the art and craft of writing. Join writer's groups. Take classes.  Be bold. Take chances. Try new things. Experiment. Don't be afraid to fail or get rejected. What one agent/editor/reader hates another will love.

Though the writing/publishing world today seems to be changing, shifting under our feet, it's the very best time to be a writer. There are more options available to a writer than ever before. Don't be afraid to try them.

Boxers or Briefs?

Pizza or hamburger?
Filet Mignon or lobster.

Beer, Wine, or mixed drink?
Frozen Margarita

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Would you write or read there, or do something else?
Hawaii with my hubby. Lounge on the beach. Read. Write. Research my love scenes.
(Character Questions)
What were your first impressions of each other?
Cora: Shock. I was sure Alexander died years ago. How did he end up as a fighter/breeder for these aliens?
Zan/Alexander: I wanted her and was determined to keep her no matter what my handlers decided.

What’s your favorite characteristic of each other?
Cora: Alexander's strong sense of right and wrong. How he kept his honor and integrity despite what the aliens forced him to do.
Zan/Alexander: Her strength of mind and will. Once she sets her mind to something, nothing stands in her way. If not for her I'd have remained little more than a beast.

What are your plans for the near future?
Cora:  Stick around on this planet and help the human colony develop and grow. Make a life with Alexander.
Alexander: Find a way to make amends for my sins against my fellow men and make Cora happy.

Excerpt from STAR CRASH

At the gate, a guard stepped in Cora's path and whistled an incomprehensible command.

"What?" she asked.

Cora was no alien expert. A pilot and a mechanic, she knew engines and machines not people--and on this planet the Flock were the reigning "people." Her translator chip still couldn't decipher the Flock language. The chirps, cackles, whirs, whistles and trills they used as speech sounded like birdsong, but unlike birdsong she didn't find anything pleasing about it. Her one required course on alien contact at the Academy wouldn't do her any good if she couldn't understand or speak their language.

The Flock whistled again. She tried to move around him. He smacked her arm with his rod then shoved her ahead of him.

"Go where?" she called out to the women.

One woman ran along the inside of the compound fence. "Make young." The answer left a lot to be desired.

"What happen?" Cora asked.

The woman smiled. "Go. Much fun. Good. You like."

"Yeah, sure," Cora muttered. Whatever the Flock had in mind for her, she wasn't interested.

She took the opportunity to look around as the guard herded her deeper into the compound, past the pen she'd occupied since her arrival. They moved down a wide path between a series of pens to where she hadn't yet been. Farther ahead lay some buildings.

It appeared the compound covered several acres, consisting of many pens separated by wooden barriers. The inhabitants of each pen were segregated by age and gender. Her pen held ten women, all in their twenties like her. One pen held girls ranging in age from about five to fifteen. A larger pen held about fifteen women, all with babies and toddlers. In still another pen, fresh wood chips covered the ground, there were tent-covered low benches with soft cushions, and a fountain provided fresh water and cooled the hot, dry air. Six women in varying stages of pregnancy occupied this pen. Cora couldn't help but gape at the women's bulging bellies and swollen breasts. Sweet stars, she was trapped on a breeding farm for humans.
The women paid little attention to her or her guard as they moved through this human chicken coop. She noticed there weren't any pens with grown men. If the women were hens, where was the rooster?

The next pen answered her question. Naked except for protective cups over their genitals, ten boys ranging in age from four to ten practiced fighting with wooden swords. Her attention shifted from the boys to the adult male who directed their training. Though his back was to her, he appeared as naked as the boys. Forgetting the guard, she paused to watch.

Bronze skin shiny with sweat rippled over powerful muscles as the man instructed the boys in swordplay. With his dark hair and straddle-legged stance, the youngest boy looked like a miniature version of the man. Cora smiled at his clumsy attempts to imitate his elder's fluid movements.

The boy watched the man intently, but his small body, round with baby fat, refused to cooperate. He tripped and sprawled in the dust. His wooden sword slipped from his grip. The other boys' laughter stopped abruptly at the man's sharp command. The man knelt next to the boy, said a few quiet words then handed him back the wooden sword. The boy rubbed the tears from his cheeks with grubby fists, leaving streaks of dirt. The man's compassion for the boy touched Cora, made these people seem less like animals. More human.

At one time she'd dreamed of someday having a child like this--Alex's child. That dream had died with him. Losing Alex had killed that need inside her. Now she lived to explore. Relationships, love and caring for others were no longer part of her life.

Still, her gaze moved back to the man and traveled from the top of his head, covered with sleek shoulder-length ebony hair, down his broad shoulders to his narrow waist and taut bare buttocks. Her breath caught at the beauty of his form. His unashamed masculinity woke her buried femininity. Her nipples tightened in response. At some primal level her body recognized this man. No one since Alex had stirred her like this. "Turn around," she whispered. "I want to see your face."

Instead, he stepped back from the boys then lunged forward. Sunlight flashed off the blade of his sword as he whirled. Briefly, before the beauty of his motion recaptured her attention, she wondered why he didn't use his own real sword to strike down his captors and seize his freedom. Dark hair obscured his features as his face whipped past. Why did he seem so familiar? She had to see his face. She started forward.

Pain radiated down her arm. Instinctively she turned to confront her attacker--the guard--and ducked the next blow. Acting on rage and adrenaline, she snatched the rod from his hand and cracked it across his neck. Without a sound, he went down and lay motionless.

Fabulous!  Thank you so much for sharing.  Please be sure to leave your email to enter to win a free copy of one of Elysa's books.

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  1. Hi Krystal,

    Thanks so much for having me hear today.

  2. LOL! That's HERE, not HEAR.

  3. I want to learn how to be a plotter, because like you, I just wing it. I'm glad that I have a naturally bizarre and creative imagination, but learning how to plot would make it easier on 'me' I think. Fantastic topic!

  4. Sydney,

    When you figure it out please let me in on the secret. I've been trying for over 20 years. :-)

  5. I'm a plo-panster. I was a complete panster but my cp partner is a plotter and helping her plot things out is affecting how I approach my writing. So now I go into a book with more of an idea of where it is going, but my characters still take the lead.

    1. I like that... plo-pantser. I think I'm turning into that. My cp is way more of a plotter than I am too, so it's rubbing off, LOL.

  6. I am a plotster. I jump in write the the first turning point and throw it out in the water and try to write to it. It's fun because I know where I'm going but don't know how I'm getting there - It's all about the journey, you know. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm right there with you. I love the journey!

  7. What do you get when you mix a Plotser with a Panster?

    A Planster?
    Or a Plonster?
    How 'bout a Plantster?

    In my case just one confused author. :-)

  8. I'm a total plotsner. I have the basics in my head, but that's it. I don't have notes, character charts, a HUGE blackboard with my story told in point form from start to finish on my wall, yadda, yadda. I have it all stashed in my brain, Baby, lol!

    1. It's so cool to hear everyone's opinion!

  9. Brenda,

    Your brain must hold more than mine. :-) Most of the time I can't remember the plots to the books I've already written. Forget trying to remember ones yet to be written. :-)

  10. I love this interview! Elysa, you have a great imagination and your plots are awesome. I plot like you do, so I like the "into the mist" theory.

  11. Awesome post, ladies. Grannies and Trannies! Ha, made me laugh. I'm definitely not a plotter. I just write what comes to mind at the time. Don't get me wrong, I have an idea of what I would like to happen. Everyone has their ways though. Wishing you lots of luck with your future releases, Elysa.

    1. Hi Melissa! So glad you came by and shared with us today!

  12. Sounds like an interesting story.

    Good luck with your release. I wish you many sales.


  13. Thanks everyone for stopping by and drowning out the sound of the crickets. Looks like the world is split into three groups - those who plot, those who don't, and those who do a bit of both. :-)

  14. Wonderful interview! Plotting is important, but sometimes your characters demand their freedom. So you have to trust them and let them carry the ball.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    DEATH LEGACY--romantic suspense