Sunday, July 17, 2011

Susan Lyons: Heat Waves

In my day jobs, I’ve usually been a project manager – and I’m a pretty good one, if I say so myself. Those skills come in handy when it comes to the business side of writing. But when it comes to the creative side, I’m much less organized.

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 with your mailing address so Susan can get the prize in the mail to you!***


Na said...

HEAT WAVES caught my eye earlier this week and I was plesantly surprised to find the author is a Vancouver/Victoria resident. I am from BC myself and love this fact. I find when authors write their stories they are often influenced in part by their own environment, whether it is conscious or not, it is natural. I am curious to see how this will play out in the book. Even better the exotic settings: Greek Island on a cruise. Two place I have never been and would love to experience one day. It'd would be a treat to be "taken" there while also meeting the characters.


Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Hello again, Na! Yes, I do think we're influenced by our environment. I know I've always been very aware of it - and partly that was because my dad was a naturalist and we were always outside when I was a kid. Both my parents were sun-lovers too, and so am I. When the sun comes out, my spirits rise. The two times I've been in Greece, I've felt a real connection to the natural landscape and also to the white buildings with blue trim, the vivid flowers, the cats sunning themselves all over the place. I hope my love of Greece comes through in Heat Waves. And Na, I hope you make it there one day, in real life!

Mimi Barbour said...

I enjoy the fact that you're so proud of your roots and like to write about what you know and places you've been. It comes through in your stories which are a delight to read.

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Thanks so much, Mimi, and thanks for dropping by.

Audrey Calvori said...

Susn: I've always wanted to visit Greece so I'll have to read your book in order to discover it.
It is a challenge for sure to write (Heat Wave)two stories which are intertwined and be able to keep the characters doing what you want them to do.
If a person isn't a writer he/she wouldn't know the amount of research, writing and rewriting that goes into a novel. It sounds like you did a treamendous amount of research and travel as well to comoplete your works.
Best of Luck.

Laney4 said...

Heat Waves? Wow. I'm living one right now (in southern Ontario), but I'd rather sizzle with your book! (Big time, LOL!)
I hope you're having a great weekend!

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Audrey, I'm glad I can give you a trip to Greece, even if it's only between the covers of a book. Yes, you're so right that most readers don't know what goes into the writing of a book. Readers appreciate the story - hopefully, they get caught up in it as they're reading, and remember the characters afterwards. For writers, when we read, there's a whole other level of appreciation as well.

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Laney, could you send some of that Ontario heat out west? We're having the coolest, dampest summer I can remember. Okay, so my prescription for you is, crank up the A/C, mix yourself a Heat Wave (the recipe's in the book and on my website), and settle in for a good read!

Estella said...

It is actually raining in my piece of Oregon today. Yesterday, also.
Am looking forward to reading Heat Wave!

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Hi Estella. My guy and I were actually looking at the satellite map this morning on his computer - with him explaining what we were looking at - and I commented that it looked like Washington and Oregon were getting the same weather as up here. Bummer, isn't it? I hope the book provides a little pleasant distraction.

Pat Cochran said...

You mentioned sun and rising spirits,
there is actually a condition caused
by lack of sunshine. It's known by it's
initials (SAD) and is mostly seen in winter. I keep all the blinds open then because I tend towards having this condition. My theme then is "Let there
be light!"

I look forward to reading Heat Waves!

runner10 said...

Sounds like a great story. Love the covr.

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Hi Pat. Yes, I know about seasonal affective disorder, in fact I had a friend who suffered from it. I'm not quite that bad, but I definitely want the blinds up, I like light, bright rooms, and I love getting outside in the sun. I hope you enjoy Heat Waves.

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Hi Pat. Yes, I know about seasonal affective disorder, in fact I had a friend who suffered from it. I'm not quite that bad, but I definitely want the blinds up, I like light, bright rooms, and I love getting outside in the sun. I hope you enjoy Heat Waves.

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Sorry about the duplicate comment. I think blogger hiccupped.

And thanks, runner. Though I take no credit for the cover. That was my publisher's choice. I'm glad it works for you. I have to say, the spine of the book and the back are totally gorgeous too. They're a lovely rich, slightly orange-red. (There's something to be said for print books, when you can actually stroke those covers!)

marybelle said...

LOVE the idea of being "fueled by Greek wine". HEAT WAVES looks amazing.


Susan Lyons/Fox said...

LOL, marybelle. Some authors listen to music that relates to the book they're writing. I drink wine that relates!

Rachel said...

The books sound fantastic – and I love your chart for keeping everything organized.

I've done something similar, although less detailed, with my current novel. I've got two columns, one with cause-and-effect for the heroine and another for the hero. It's pretty cool when I can see that what she does in cell A causes what happens in her cell B and also affects what he does, which causes the next event in his life, and so on.

It's also encouraging to me to read that you've got such a split brain, Susan – both the organizational side and the creative side functioning in high gear. Gives me something to aim for :)

Kelle Z. Riley said...

Susan, I really enjoyed reading your post. I just finished the second of two novels where I had the same issues you did--although not quite on the same scale. Several of my scenes are identical but told through alternate points of view.

The challenge (and fun) of them was to keep the dialogue and action exactly the same but change the whole character of the scene by switching POV. (In this case two heroines, each who thinks the other has what she wants.) At this piont neither has sold yet so I could revise the earlier manuscript when needed.

Like you I have a spreadsheet for critical information and plot points.

It's good to know that I'm not the only one crazy enough to try this or crazy enough to come up with the spreadsheet idea.

Oh, and to top it off, my characters are decendants of Greeks. There must have been a "Greek themed interconnected stories" idea that the muse was planting in people's brains at the time we were writing.

Can't wait to read your interconnected stories. Best wishes for the future.

Kelle Z Riley

Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Kelle, I'm glad to have a companion in my craziness!

You're so right about scenes where the dialogue and action are the same, but you're writing from a different POV so it changes everything. It's definitely fun, and definitely a challenge. And each time you revise even a word of dialogue in one scene, you have to revise it in the parallel scene.

Good luck selling your books!