Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Guest: Denise Eagan and writing historical Series

Writing Series Romance

When I started writing many years ago, I never intended upon writing romantic series. My first real completed manuscript, The Wild Half, was always meant to be a stand-alone book.  Granted, it has two romances in it and had I written it with a typical series mentality, I would have been broken into two books. Over the years many people suggested I do that. I tried, but it never would work; the romances are too entwined, the characters too connected.  

My writing process is as much a collaboration with the characters as actual creation, and these characters refused to be separated, no matter which way I turned it.  Having failed at separating those romances, I expected that I’d never write a series.  I sort of felt bad for Nick in The Wild Half because he was left out in the cold, but other characters called to me. I went on to those stories instead.

Then came The Wild One.  It came out of the blue while I was trying to revise another story: two characters, Jess and Lee, whom I’d never even created, suddenly started having conversations in my mind, playing and replaying a couple of scenes like a movie stuck on automatic rewind.  Finally I realized I had to write those scenes if I ever wanted to get the revisions on that manuscript done. Unfortunately once they were on paper, other scenes followed, all out of order and just as insistent. The revisions were forgotten. I was typing as fast as the words came, hoping to God it could all be strung together into something resembling a book. 

And then, suddenly, I was in the middle of Colorado. Jess and Lee were riding into the Bar M the ranch from The Wild Half, meeting up with those characters 9 years after that book had ended.

I was shocked.  Confused.  I don’t write series, and this wasn’t really even that—it wasn’t like they were bringing along a love interest for Nick.  This was just new characters hanging out with those old characters. Apparently, Lee had once tried his hand at being a cowboy at the Bar M, and failed when he discovered he hated cows. The McGraws were his friends, he and Jess needed help, and I, the writer, had no choice in the matter.  It was their story, and my job was just to put it on paper.

And it was fun.  It was a lot of fun.  I’d wondered from time to time about what happened to the characters after I wrote “ the end” to The Wild Half.  Here was the answer and what was more, it felt right.  Lee was visiting his old friends—and so was I!

I remember a reader friend of mine once told me that she loved romantic series because she felt like the characters were all old friends.  I never really got that until I was writing it myself, but that is exactly how it feels to a writer.  We love our characters.  We spend a lot of time with them.  We know them well, sometimes better than ourselves, and so it seems only natural to bring them together, just as we would throw a party to bring together our real-life friends.  The difference is we can’t fix our real-life friends lives, and we can’t really send them off on adventures.  In fiction we can, and it’s a joy.

And so my friends Lee and Jess went and played with my friends Rick and Lilah.  And  Jim and Melinda (I got to meet their children—cool!) and Nick.  Before I finished The Wild One, I also met Lee’s father in a scene where they joked about his rocky romance with Lee’s mother, and I had a prequel, Wicked Woman.  

By the time I’d finished that and gone on to another book, I had the bug, like it or not.  My new characters wanted to meet my old characters and soon “people” were coming out of the woodwork, yelling “hey, I’m in this one, too!”  Rick Winchester, from The Wild Half, is the loudest of all—a big, confident alpha hero, who has a lot to say and seriously enjoys meddling in other people’s lives.  It only makes sense that his and Lilah’s story comes out next.  God knows they’ve waited long enough.

So here’s the first meeting scene from The Wild Half, due out at the end of January.  They’re both sitting on the front steps of the ranch house. Lilah’s just started working at the Bar M.  She’s a hunted woman, with dark, dangerous secrets that she’s desperate to keep hidden. Rick is a curious, and secretly grieving cowboy, in need of a mission.  Their needs are about to collide:

            Up close the man radiated a kind of restless energy, which belied his casual smile and the dimples that framed a carved, masculine mouth. Faded blue denim pants gripped long, muscular legs and a tired, blue cotton shirt spread over those wide shoulders.  His hair was light brown shot with sun-bleached gold and his rugged, square-shaped face was slightly lined. She judged him to be in his late twenties, older than most cowboys.
            His eyes caught hers. The lamp light glittered in the crystalline blue depths and nervous excitement snaked through her belly until, sucking in her breath, Lilah jerked free of his gaze. What the hell?
            He chuckled. "Not much for talkin' are you?" he asked, sitting next to her. The step creaked under his weight as he held out his hand. "Name's Rick Winchester."       
            He had a deep voice marbled by a soft southern drawl, which somehow felt like home.  Fear melted away as it slid over her nerves, numbing her senses and promising unknown pleasures.
            Home? Damn it, she thought, jerking herself back to reality.  She had no home! Swallowing, she set her jaw and focused on the valley again.     
            He dropped his hand. "Okay, then you aren't very friendly, either.  But ya might as well lend me your name 'cuz I'll get it from the McGraws anyhow. Lessn' you're one of them rustlers Jim left me to fend off?  Or a thief?  Mebbe I oughtta send Mack for the sheriff?"
            Her heart jumped as the threat shot home.  "I'm called Lilah Martin.” 
            "Int'resting. . .  called Lilah Martin.  But that ain't your name, is it?"
                Her head snapped around.  She’d used the phrase for years. No one had ever challenged it before.  He was staring down at her, laughter lighting his eyes which for some ungodly reason made her heart flutter.  Damn him.
                She redirected her attention to the yard.
                “Not that it matters,” he continued.  “I just wonder why you don’t use your real name.”
            "My private life,” she said, bathing her voice in ice water, “is no concern of yours."
            "Is that so?  Since when is a person’s name part of his private life?"
            She wouldn’t answer.  Her chest felt tight, her nerves on edge as she noted that he’d started the conversation with the diction of a barely literate cowboy but in the blink of an eye it had changed to that of an educated man.  Moreover, in town he’d been dressed like a typical non-threatening cowboy, with vest and boots and spurs. Tonight he wore  moccasins.  No thump or jingling to warn of his approach, no vest to hold tobacco.  In fact, he smelled of pleasantly of leather and soap.
             Damn, but who was he? Rick. . .Winchester. Oh good Lord, he was Barbara's silent-stepping cowboy.  And not just a cowboy but the McGraw’s foreman.
            His clothes made a scratching sound along the wall as leaned against it, his body turned towards her.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw his shirt stretch tight across that hard, powerful chest as his eyes appraised her.  Her skin tingled in anticipation, but of what she couldn’t name.
            "You're Monty’s Frost Queen,” he observed. “And the McGraw’s new housekeeper.  Lady, you sure don't look like a housekeeper."
            She refused to answer that as well, and for a time the silence between them stretched, tight, tight, until it seemed ready to snap.  "You don't like me much, do you?” he asked finally.   “Now I wonder why, seeing as how I'm such a nice friendly fella and all.”
            Sure, as friendly as a rattlesnake.  "When are you leaving?" she asked, turning to freeze him with her coldest stare.    
            His eyebrows rose, his lips twitched with amusement.  “And you’re just as uncivil as Monty said. Now in general that wouldn’t make me think twice, but you’ve got traces of a southern accent.  New Orleans, if I’m not mistaken, and from a good family, too.  Now I know Southern women are never rude, except maybe to Yankees.  But I'm no Yank, so you’ve no call to be rude to me."
            Damn, he was too observant by far.  But how to put him off track?  Not with a lie—honesty was the only virtue she could still afford.  "And how do I know that you aren't a rustler or a thief?"
                "Easy.  I'm not wearing a gun."


Susan Macatee said...

Loved the excerpt, Denise! I've discovered I like writing series, too, although I didn't plan it that way. Characters from former books just seem to call out for their own chance at a story.

Best of luck with your upcoming release!

Denise Eagan said...

It's wonderful and terribly confusing how that happens, isn't Susan? You think you're going one way, and then you're going another and the part that wants to plot and organize is yelling, "wait, wait, that wasn't the plan! I'm writing this other book next!" I always hear the lyrics from Gnarls Barkely song Crazy "ha ha ha, bless your soul, you really think you're in control?"

Liberty said...

I can't wait to get my copy!

Isabel Roman said...

Hah, Dee those lyrics are absolutely correct. I do love that song.

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