Sunday, July 17, 2011
Susan Lyons: Heat Waves
I’m a pantser or, to put it more artistically, an organic writer. The characters and story grow organically as I apply fingers to keyboard (and have inspirations in the middle of the night or in my morning shower). My muse prefers freedom and resists structure.
But when it came to my destination wedding books – Sex on the Beach (Belize), Sex on the Slopes (Whistler), and my July release Heat Waves (a Greek island cruise) – I realized that a purely organic approach would get me into trouble. Why? Because each book features novellas that are interconnected. Each novella can be read as a stand-alone sexy romance, but they’re more than your typical stand-alones. They take place in the same timeframe – the week before the wedding – and the same characters appear in each.
Take Heat Waves, for example. It contains two novellas.
In “Rock the Boat,” widowed wedding planner Gwen Austin is in charge of her first destination wedding, and sex is the last thing on her mind – until Santos Michaelides helps her rediscover herself as a single, sensual woman. But then Gwen finds out that there’s more to the charismatic cruise director than meets the eye…
In “Making Waves,” lawyer Kendra Kirk meets up again with Flynn Kavanagh, the sexy IT consultant she had unsuccessfully prosecuted, and sparks of all kinds fly. But her newfound ability to put her life ahead of her career will be pushed to the breaking point when she learns the truth about Flynn…
Those two novellas sound as if they’re independent stories, don’t they? Well, in fact Santos is an undercover investigator – and he’s investigating Flynn! So, in “Rock the Boat,” Santos has to keep an eye on Flynn, and he notices that there’s tension between the other man and Kendra, a cousin of the groom’s. Might they be co-conspirators?
Santos can’t bring himself to totally lie to Gwen, so he reveals his true job, but he can’t tell her who he’s after. That means Gwen is constantly wondering which of the wedding guests may be a criminal, and whether something’s going to mess up the perfect wedding she’s planning.
Gwen is very duty-oriented, and doesn’t want the guests to know she’s having a holiday fling, so she tells Santos they must keep their affair a secret. Likewise, Kendra and Flynn. Although Kendra has come to believe in Flynn’s innocence, her job would be in jeopardy if her boss (who’s a relative) found out she’d been sleeping with the enemy.
Add to the mix the fact that Flynn is suspicious of Santos, and he’s also keeping a big secret from Kendra and … well, let’s just say, there are lots of secrets and lies aboard the Aphrodite cruise ship!
All those secrets, plus the fact that both novellas take place in the same week, and that both heroes and heroines appear in both novellas, meant that I had a lot to keep track of while writing this book. I couldn’t just leave it to the muse in hopes everything would somehow sort itself out in the end.
I had to bring my project management skills to bear, so I created a chart. I prefer Microsoft Word to Excel when I’m not dealing with figures, so I set up a simple table with 5 columns: day (e.g., day 1 in the book); day of the week (e.g., Friday); itinerary (what the wedding party did that day); Gwen and Santos (what each of them did); and Kendra and Flynn (what they did). Then, for each activity in the itinerary, I created a separate row.
So, for example, on the evening of the first day aboard the Aphrodite (a Friday), the itinerary reads, “Drinks and Greek appies on board as ship sails to Sounion.” In the Kendra/Flynn column I have, “They meet; tension; he says he’s innocent; she says need to talk in private.” In the Gwen/Santos column, I have, “Santos sees the meeting and asks both about it – they say they don’t know each other; he decides to ask intern to check out a possible connection (it would be late a.m. in TO).” Santos’s office and the intern are in Toronto, which is why the time note. Gwen, Kendra, and Flynn are all from Vancouver, BC, so I also had to keep track of time differences between Greece and Vancouver, where those were relevant to their stories.
See why I needed a chart?
No, I still didn’t plot out the whole book ahead of time, but as I wrote Gwen and Santos’s story, I had to think about what might be happening with Kendra and Flynn, and incorporate it, then make a note on my chart. When it came to writing the second novella, the chart formed a rough guideline, but as always happens when I write, the characters have minds of their own and take over the action, so of course their story didn’t conform exactly to what I’d written on the chart. But, because I had that chart, I knew what I’d have to revise in the first novella – and eventually it all worked out, with the stories neatly intertwined. And, of course, with each couple, as well as the bride and groom, getting their happy ending!
We writers like to set challenges for ourselves, and sometimes we don’t even do it consciously. When I sent my editor the proposal for Sex on the Beach, I didn’t realize how complicated it would be to keep track of all my heroines’ and heroes’ actions, not to mention their secrets and lies. By the time I got to Heat Waves, you’d have thought I’d have been an old hand at it – but there was a new wrinkle with this book. Not only did the same characters appear in both stories, but the actual story lines intertwined, with Santos investigating Flynn. Yes, a new challenge!
But, armed with my chart, surrounded by calendars with lovely photos of the Greek islands for inspiration, and fueled by Greek wine, I had lots of fun writing Heat Waves. I hope readers have loads of fun too – without the hard work! – when they read it. RT Book Reviews said, “Lyons fans get a healthy serving of sex, mystery, tourism and wit, as well as charming supporting characters who add depth to an engaging read.”
I’m giving away an autographed copy of the book to someone who comments on this post.
***Pat Cochran is our winner!! Congratulations! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address so Susan can get the prize in the mail to you!***
Posted by Lee Hyat at 1:26 AM