Monday, April 6, 2009

The Yin and Yang of my Writing Life

I currently write for 2 different lines at Harlequin--Intrigue and Blaze. In the past I've written for other special projects, and for another publisher.

On many days--say the currently chaotic first two weeks of April when I'm on a mid-April deadline, I'm prepping for going to the Romantic Times conference April 21st, I'm trying to work a second job to help catch up on bills (putting a hubby and son through college at the same time is expensive!), gearing up for my hubby's graduation from grad school in early May (a big woo-hoo to him for completing several years of hard work!) and all those regular day to day things that we have to do to keep our homes and family running--I wonder WHY? Isn't there enough stress in my life? Why do I feel the need to keep 2 different editors happy? Why do I force my brain to transition from one plotting/storytelling frame of mind to another? Why don't I just give up this crazy writer's life where my dual storyline work requires me to multitask out the wazoo, and just go back to teaching full time? (well, okay, parent-teacher conferences, state assessments and biannual curriculum rewriting have a lot to do with why I don't teach full-time anymore)

The truth is, I like writing more than one kind of book. And I know I'm not alone. There are many authors out there who switch from contemporary to historical, or suspense to fantasy, or series to single title work, etc. Their reasons may be different than mine, but here are two reasons why the whole creative split-personality works for me.

1. There some good business savvy in the idea. An adage learned long ago in childhood. Don't put your eggs all in one basket. IOW, if the market changes, an editor leaves, a line closes, or something else beyond my control that makes me unable to earn a living writing a certain type of book, then I have options. I won't be completely out of a job. I can refocus my energy on one line/publisher/genre or another, depending on what's currently working. And in today's economy, especially, keeping job opportunities open just seems smart.

2. Good economy or no, changing the way my brain thinks is actually very good for me creatively. While almost everything I write has some element of romantic suspense (What can I say? I write what I love!), I find that writing for Intrigue and Blaze satisfies two very different creative needs in me. Intrigue is a much more intellectual process for me. I'm a puzzle-lover. I've read mysteries since I was in the second grade. I love the plotting and planning and where can I insert this clue and what's a good red herring and just how wicked can I make my villain or what kind of heroics can my larger-than-life hero accomplish, how twisted can I make the backstory, how complex can I make the emotions, etc. Writing an Intrigue exercises the intellectual side of my brain. Writing an Intrigue is an intense experience, but a very satisfying one.
On the other hand, writing a Blaze is a much more by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of writing for me. Sure, there's some plotting. I focus especially on characterization. I keep the mystery elements at a minimum, though I've been know to throw in lots of danger and action in and out of the bedroom. But I feel my steamier romances really do use a different part of my brain. It's a lot more instinct and a lot less planning ahead of time. It relaxes one part of my brain and engages another. I know I want my characters to face danger; I know I want their relationship to become more intimate at a faster pace than in my Intrigue--but beyond that? Well, it's a lot of... I know I want them to be in this place or this situation by Chapter 6. This morning, I'm going to sit down and see what happens between now and then. How I get to Chapter 6 will be a process of discovery rather than planning.
In other words, by writing for more than one line, utilizing and resting different parts of my brain, I find I avoid the burnout of tackling one type of writing over and over. And trust me, I know about burnout.

In my current release, OUT OF CONTROL, from Blaze, I did have to do quite a bit of research and interviewing to get some background on the world of drag racing, which is the setting for the book. It's part of the "From 0-60 miniseries" of books set in the drag racing world of Dahlia, TN. They're unconnected stories, save for the location and racing backdrop. But beyond that research, it was very much a process of , "Let's see what Detective Jack Riley is up to today." Or "Just how much trouble can I get Alexandra Morgan into this morning?" In fact, Jack's and Alex's backgrounds changed as the story progressed and I got better/deeper ideas for their characters. It was very much a journey of discovery.

In my June Intrigue, PULLING THE TRIGGER (I'm still lusting after that cover, btw!), though, I found myself plotting more chapter by chapter. Partly because I needed to make sure I coordinated my story with the bible for the series and clues other authors wanted me to plant, but mostly because I was back to deep, complex romantic suspense. I had a particular challenge because my H/h spend most of the short 72 hours in which the story takes place stranded up in the mountains. Alone. Beyond the beginning and ending, once they're cut off from civilization, there's no one else to interact with. Yet, I still have to move the story and series along. I had to make sure I had enough story to sustain a 2 character book. I was given a general picture for a puzzle, and I had to come up with the pieces and make them fit. Crazy challenge. But I loved it!

I enjoyed both writing processes. As I'm speeding toward my April deadline, my brain is glad I gave it a break and switched it up a bit.

Does anyone else out there have a similar Jekyll and Hyde personality? One that's necessary for sanity and survival? Maybe you have two diverse hobbies? Read more than one genre? Please tell me I'm not alone in my craziness. ;)

Happy Reading!
Julie Miller


  1. Oh goodness no!! Your not alone!! I constantly have my brain going in different directions.....I'm a Librarian but I was also born and raised in Southern West Virginia, so I have this educated country hick thing going on in my personality. One of my uncles called me (in a joking manner), an educated redneck and that that was a dagerous breed! LOL

    So, while I'm looking up reference books for patrons, I end our conversations with "Ya'll come back now, ya hear!" :D

    I think a person that has the ability to diversify in their social, conversational and writing skills has the unique ability to make the most out of any given moment.

    Of course you could just say that we're all just a little bit crazy too! *g*

  2. I read a lot of different genres of books and always have. And although I do have my favorites I'll try any genre once and there are some I have read and not gone back to. And after years of teaching I learned how to relate to many different types of people so that I could talk to anyone about their children in a way they could understand. And I am told by others that even my accent changes depending on who I am talking to. Hope this makes sense.

  3. Oh I forgot to add, Kudo's on your "Pulling the Trigger" cover and applaud the fact that you didn't feature a waxed chest's so hard to picture a rough, tough hero when he looks like he just stepped out of wax salon.

  4. I figured I wasn't alone, but it's nice to hear.

    wstridgerunner and Ellen--I understand where you're coming from. I'm an Ozark hillbilly by birth. Even with a college degree, post-graduate work and 37 books under my belt, I find I still slip easily into y'alls and all y'alls when I'm around that side of the family. T'ain't nothin' wrong with bein' an educated hick. ;)

    I have a very good friend from Alabama, too. I slide so easily into her deep Southern accent when I'm having a conversation with her. She knows I'm not making fun of her--in fact, she has said it makes her feel like home.

    Makes me feel like home, too, when I can cast aside my years as an English teacher and relax with a "Hey" or "Y'all"


  5. I like the hairy chest, too. Makes him look more rugged, more real. I don't like a fur ball, but this guy just works for me on all sorts of levels. And they got his hair cut right, too. He's a Native American, but he's a former Army Ranger, too, who still has a lot of military in him. Long and flowing hair wouldn't fit the character.

    I'm most fortunate with this cover!


  6. I used to just stick to one genre when reading, but in the past few years I've broadened out and am now reading (an enjoying) many different types of genre. I don't really know why I changed or why before I only stuck to one, but I'm glad that change has come about. Makes book reading more interesting I think.

    I love covers of the books. Most of the time, that is why I pick the book. Your Pulling the Trigger cover would be a definite pick if I was covering browsing, but since it was a Julie Miller book, I would have bought it anyway. :-)


  7. I meant cover browsing, not covering browsing. Happy fingers today!!


  8. You are definitely not alone. I read all genres except horror.

  9. Love the cover, too!! I read all types of books. Right now at home I am reading OUT OF CONTROL and loving it. In my car I have a Karen Kingsbury book, and at school I am reading TARZEN OF THE APES mostly because while reading a quiz to a student I discovered that I had never read it and find that I am enjoying it. I am not usually into fantasy but have even found a few of those that I enjoy. Horror, on the other hand, I have never enjoyed.