The Wrong Highlander (Lynsay Sands)

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Response

I reread Lynsay Sands' Highlander Brides series last summer as part of a re-reading project, and it was an interesting experience. There were some highs and lows, but generally, it's an okay series as long as you're familiar with her work.

I was worried when I realized that she was releasing another book about a Buchanan brother -- there are like a thousand of them, and they're all the same. I couldn't have told you their names before she started releasing the books.  I was hoping this book would be about Rory because he's the only brother, aside from Aulay, that I had any interest it. But apparently it's about Conran, who I had no idea existed.

The characters aren't all that interesting, the romance is very uneven, and the plot is all over the place as if Lynsay Sands just hadn't figured out how to do write this. It actually has a sort of a promising beginning that, for me, never delivers. I mean, if you just want to with a cup of tea, be comfy, and read a book that will probably entertain you but won't stay with you, this is a good book for that.

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Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 28

So Nanowrimo was a bust this year. I managed around 24,000 words but, honestly, none of it is all that great, and the story is going in the discard pile for me. I’m going to try to figure out why this didn’t work out and what I learned in this process so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Development Hell

Counting Stars is a story idea that I’ve been playing around with for a long time. If I go back into the archives of my story status posts at Crimson Glass, it first showed up on my radar around March 2014. This means I’ve literally been thinking about this idea as long as I’ve been back writing.

My first note about it was that I had mostly storyboarded (meaning I had laid out the scenes) the plot, and I would probably be writing it in my free time since it wasn’t going to be very long. Then I wrote that it would be going back to outlining because I felt like it would be too superficial.

It remained in what I call “development hell” for four years. That should really tell you something. I have a bunch of projects that have been hanging out there almost as long, but most of them are outlined and I just haven’t gotten to them yet since I spent most of 2016 not writing at all.

Story ideas that I keep outlining, hoping for something to change, usually end up in the discard pile, and that’s where Counting Stars is going to go. Why?

The Story

Let’s look at what the plot was. Here’s the synopsis I posted for the Nanowrimo Poll:

Set in April 2000

When Jason Morgan left Port Charles in January 2000, he left to protect himself from the machinations of ex-lover and current sister-in-law, Carly Quartermaine. He also left to protect Elizabeth Webber, a close friend who saved his life and put her own at risk for their friendship—and because he knew their relationship was changing in ways they weren’t ready for.

Several months after his departure, Elizabeth has tried to keep her secret hoping he would contact her or even come back. But it becomes impossible to hide anymore, and she goes to Sonny Corinthos in hopes of contacting Jason. Sonny, however, and Jason weren’t on great terms when Jason left town, and he’s only heard from his friend a few times. He promises to get in touch as soon as he does hear.

Luke Spencer, worried about Elizabeth, decides to track down Jason on his own and convince him to return. He finds Jason who seems interested in coming back—but then Jason is nowhere to be found when it’s time to return to Port Charles. Has he run away to avoid Elizabeth? Or is something else more sinister preventing his return to Port Charles?

The answer to that question is yes, there is foul play, and it was Nikolas. Nikolas kidnaps Jason, holds him hostage until Luke and Alexis rescue him. Spoiler alert.

The Epic Fail

Okay, let’s talk about why this didn’t work.

I’m not saying the plot itself couldn’t work. I absolutely think that with time and patience, I could have written a story where this plot fits into a larger Cassadine v Spencer war, and I’m not ruling that out. One of my ideas that still sits in the idea pile is rewriting the 2001 Spencer/Cassadine war that didn’t last long because some of the story elements veered too close to the anthrax scare of 2001.

I just don’t want to write it right now. It requires A LOT more time and research than I have right now. That’s from a GH time before Youtube and DVRs so a lot of those episodes I saw once, if that. I don’t know the characters, I don’t know their voices, and it just isn’t something I can do right now.

And that’s honestly why this story doesn’t work. Without a longer buildup, Nikolas’s decision to kidnap Jason feels out of character to me. And I *know* I have readers who do not give a damn about those kinds of things because I’ve read other writers who do completely bonker things with the characters, and people lap it up. That’s not a read, it’s just a fact. For me, I need my characters to be motivated properly, and I would need to do a lot more with Nikolas and the Cassadine side of things.

I also think this kind of story doesn’t work just as a Liason story, which means my audience would be limited. As originally plotted, Jason is basically off screen after the first chapter until the final scenes. I write ensemble stories, but my readership is the Liason fanbase. I know that.

I also didn’t have a great ending for the story. Basically, Jason was going to be set free, work things out, go home to Liz, await the birth of the baby (who I never ended up naming) and Nikolas was going to be left behind in Greece to be let out of the cell by Helena who would show him Lucky (in my version Lucky didn’t come back in the winter of 2000).  That’s just not a satisfying ending to me, but anything else required a lot more outlining.

What I ended up with was a plot bunny that probably should go into a larger story. It’s not just not feasible to stand on its own and be up to standards I hold myself to.

But I learned a lot about what stories I should be putting in the poll. No more crossing my fingers and hoping it will work out. 😛

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 21

Today was the first day I dug into the second draft of Counting Stars and so far it’s working for me. I wrote five scenes and 4,005 words. This brings my total word count to 24,750. If I can write 2500 words for the next nine days, I’ll be eligible to “win” for the month. My hope is to write 5 scenes a day and not worry so much about the word count — if I can manage that, then the story will be finished which is what I really wanted for this month.

I said in the last post that I had changed the story structure from a typical novel to my short story format of First Do No Harm, Shadows, If I Don’t Try With You, etc., and I wanted to expand on what that means.

These are the stories I write with scene numbers. I can’t remember why I started writing that way, only that I did it with First Do No Harm in 2007.

I approach those scenes slightly differently — they’re usually more brief (less than a thousand words) and the story ends up being more like snippets from a life than a full-fledged story. These are good for plots that don’t lend themselves either to a full All We Are story or even a short story like Other People’s Truths. It also takes pressure off me because I don’t do a lot of world building in those stories. I jump into a timeline, don’t change much, etc.

I’m feeling good about this change. I hope you guys feel good about it, too.

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 19

All right, so yesterday, I re-outlined the story and today, I did the storyboard (I laid out the scenes to see how best to structure it.) It looks like I have roughly 47 scenes. Now, that’s about 11 chapters if I were to my traditional 4-5 chapter structure. What I’ve decided to do is to write it in the style like Shadows, First Do No Harm, and If I Don’t Try With You which were all pretty long but didn’t quite fit into natural chapters.

I don’t know if it’ll be 2 parts or 4 parts. It will depend on how long the scenes are once I actually start writing. So what does my writing schedule look like going forward?  With the reoutlining and storyboarding, I brought my word count total to 20,744 words. The NaNo site tells me I have to write about 2500 words to finish on time which is completely within my range of skills.

The only thing that slightly worries me is that I have a 20 page paper due next Thursday and I’m planning to spend most of next weekend tackling that. The hope is that I’ll be able to double up a few writing days on both projects and basically ignore everything else in my life for about a week.

I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m not giving up 😛

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 18 (Mea Culpa)

I think one of the most important traits a writer can have is the ability to stop and admit that it’s okay that what you’re writing is not going well. Every time I write a story, I learn more about my own process and hopefully what mistakes to avoid in the future.

When I planned NaNo for this November, I had a lot of projects in my head and I couldn’t decide exactly which ones to put in the poll, so I put them all in there — including projects I hadn’t really outlined.

If I had outlined Counting Stars from beginning to end rather than just having a simple plot sketch, I would have quickly seen I didn’t have enough for a full-size novel. By the time I realized it, it had already won the poll and so I felt like I had to pursue it and figure out how to make it a bigger story.

And that was obviously insane, because I don’t think my readers would have been annoyed if I said, hey, on second thought — there’s not enough here to even write 50,000 words. Let’s do a quick 24 hour poll with projects that are more suitable.

So instead, I went into the outlining process trying to make my story longer and more ensemble like which has made writing it actually a lot more annoying. I’ve had some real life issues keeping me from really writing as much or as well as I’d wanted, but you can usually tell when you’re forcing it. I added subplots and characters that I’m not really interested in writing.

So eighteen days into NaNo, I don’t think my project is worth completing in its current form. Does that mean I give up entirely?

Actually, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. A few years ago, I was writing Mad World in July. I had started it with my old outline (based on the version I started in 2004) with Sam/Sonny baby, the Ric/Alexis/Kristina situation, etc. My Liason version was Jason and Liz in a secret relationship about Cameron, etc.

I got about ten days in and just–nothing was working. So I stopped, rewrote the outline, and made the decision to move the entire story a year earlier. What I wrote that summer ended up being what I worked on in the fall as well. I ended up rewriting Mad World again, but that was a super important to step to getting the version that you’re currently reading.

So I’m going to stop, think about the story I really want to tell and let the length be as long as it needs to be. Am I going to end up with the 33,000 words I need to win Nano? Maybe. The great thing about NaNo is that everything you write this month counts as work towards the novel, reoutlining is going to let me boost the word count as well.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to regroup, refocus, and report back to you guys tomorrow how this is going.

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 15 (Part 2)

I did it! I came home and had myself a second session so I could finish up Chapter 4. I added another 1663 words, bringing today’s total to 3707 words, and overall is now 16842. That’s about 9000 words under par but if I keep writing 3000 words over the next five days, I’ll be caught up.

That’s actually doable now that I’m on Thanksgiving break. I don’t have to do a ton of studying outside of my research paper, which I an only stand to work on for a few hours at a time, and I don’t have a crazy work schedule. I might even be able to punch it to 4000 words a day which would be awesome.

I wrote a Sonny/Alexis scene, and another Elizabeth scene. I’m finished Act I, the set up, and now we’re getting into Act 2. The next two chapters are kind of a stalling pattern, so I’m going to be doing a lot of character work. One of the things I want to do in revision is really punch up the supporting characters. I’m trying to tap into the Luke of the late 90s who was a VERY different animal than post-Lucky resurrection Luke, so I’ll have to watch some clips.

We’re making progress 😛

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 15

So I’m actually hoping to get a second session of writing in later today because I wasn’t able to write yesterday thanks to my dentist appointment taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I have an assignment due at 3PM that I absolutely have to get done, so I stopped writing for a little to concentrate on that.

I started Chapter 4 today, and fought the urge to revise the Sonny/Elizabeth scene that had already been written written. Instead, I wrote the long group scene with Luke, Laura, Liz, Bobbie, and Nikolas–it ended up being 2784 words, bringing my total to 15,179.

I’m about 4000 words below where I wanted to be at this point in the week, but I’m not mad. If I can finish this chapter later (there are two more scenes), I should be able to get another 2000 words out of it.  I’ll write Chapter 5 tomorrow, and that should take care of it.

Hopefully, I’ll have a second post later tonight with some good news 🙂

Writing

Nanowrimo November 2018: Day 13

I didn’t get a chance to write this post yesterday — I was going to do it when I got home from class but then I got home late, and I didn’t feel like pulling out my laptop.

Today was a good day — I didn’t hit the 3000 goal, I stopped short at 2562. I hadn’t expected to get that much out of the two scenes left in Chapter 3. I thought I’d get about 800 words from each, and then I’d get the other 1500 or so words from a larger scene planned in Chapter 4. Then Luke and Carly started talking to each other,  and we were off.

I didn’t have the time to write the larger scene in Chapter 4 because I had class, so I just stopped for the day. It’s only 450 words away from what I had planned, so that’s not bad at all.

I’m starting to feel like I’ve got a firmer handle on the voices of these characters. I still want to watch some clips during the revision process, but writing these scenes doesn’t feel as stilted and painful as they once did.

I wrote 2562 words, which brought my total to 13,135. I’ll be writing later today — there’s some studying and stuff I have do in the morning, then I have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the time I’m usually writing, so hopefully it won’t be too painful to write later.

Writing

NaNoWriMo November 2018: Day 12

I did it! First day on the new schedule, and I smashed my goal. I wrote 3,225 words and three scenes. Going from 7348 over a six day period to 3225 in just one day–that makes me feel really great. My total is now 10, 573 words.

I worked on Chapter Three today and wrote three scenes: Jason, Sonny/Alexis, Laura/Bobbie, and this was the first time I felt like I came close to nailing the voices and the patterns I wanted to hit. I said I was having trouble finding my groove with this story, so I needed to do something to change the mood.

I went through the scenes planned for this chapter and instead of plotting them simply by story beats (this happens, then this happens), I wrote a short synopsis of what the characters would be feeling. Then I pulled out a book that has always helped me dig into my writing more deeply, The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It basically lists a bunch of emotions, gives you some cues for phsyical, internal, and mental responses, and helps stimulate the writing. I definitely recommend it if you get stuck. They’ve written a couple of a good writing resource books.

So today was a good day 🙂 And to celebrate, here is an excerpt from today’s chapter:

He’d woken up from the accident with brain damage he’d long accepted. He didn’t dream the way other people did—the way Robin and Carly, even Sonny had described with dreams and worlds that felt so real that it was disorientating when someone woke up.

He had a good memory for details, but not for visuals. He had never been great at picturing people in his head, at recognizing photographs, though he’d gotten better at pictures over the years, and now—

Now it looked like Jason could think, even fantasize, in images. Everywhere he looked, he saw colors and thought of her.

In New Orleans, he’d gone to the French Quarter, and he could actually see Elizabeth laughing with him, dragging him to have his portrait painted by one of the artists that populated the area. In Texas, he’d gone to San Antonio and thought about her attempting the spicy cuisine, her face flushed, eyes sparkling.

He didn’t know why he could think of her so clearly with him all the time—why everything about this trip felt so…wrong without Elizabeth. Jason had been good at putting things away. Even when it hurt, he could get through his life.

But walking away from Elizabeth hurt every bit as much as giving up Michael, and there were moments when Jason could feel Elizabeth with him so strongly that looking at the empty space next to him felt like punch in the gut.

Writing

NaNoWriMo November 2018: Status Update

I haven’t done a post in the last six days and that’s an accurate reflection of how much writing I managed to do since Tuesday. I remain at 7300ish words and two chapters.

I had one of those annoying colds where I didn’t get too sick (not a ton of coughing, sneezing, etc) and I treated it pretty quickly with meds, but it just sucked all my energy straight out. It took some time to bounce back, and then once I had done that, I had real life stuff to get caught up with. Getting a cold the first week of NaNoWriMo was pretty much the worst.

I’m not giving up though. By November 15 (Thursday), the idea is to be about 25,000 words in. I’m roughly 18,000 words from that goal.  In order to be completely caught up, I’d have to do about 4500 words a day. I’m not insane however, haha, so I’ve set a goal of writing 3000+ words a day for the next week. That will give me 21000 words, letting me hit 3000 by next Sunday. Basically, I’ll be writing roughly a chapter a day which isn’t a terrible idea anyway.

That would get me back on track and back on par to finish on time. I definitely didn’t feel that great about a lot of the stuff I wrote while I was sick, so it might have been a smart idea to take some time and relax, get myself back into good health.

Today, the plan is to edit chapters of Mad World so I can prepare the next two weeks of posting and get Patreon scheduled and then get myself all situated with school work and make a realistic schedule to stick to for the next two weeks.

I feel a lot better today than I have all week and I’m ready to get back into it!