How I Became a Scrivener & Plotting Convert

(NOTE: There’s a list of resources on plotting and Scrivener at the end of my lengthy tale :))

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far away (Oregon, circa 2005) there was this girl who boldly proclaimed that she would NEVER be a plotter. She had just finished her first book (it took her two years to write it, but she was all brimming with false confidence after typing those magic words “The End”). After all, she told stories to herself all the time–what use did she have for something like structure? All she needed was TIME for her characters to tell her their stories to completion.

[Insert evil laughing here]

And I know it works like that for some people. They sit down at the computer and the story unspools, and they are productive, bestselling authors with a process that works for THEM. They write a first draft, and maybe it’s golden. Or they have a process where the first draft comes relatively quickly and then they spend a long time on edits, and edits are where they do most of their structure, and it works well for them. Whatever works for the individual author is all that really matters.

But the thing is, pantsing was NOT working for me. I wrote five books in nine years and I had quite a collection of unfinished three chapter starts. All five of those books never sold, and all had serious structural flaws that require the sort of gut level rehab that has landed them permanently under my bed.

just a little emotional

Then in 2012, I decided that a book a year (or longer) was not going to get me sold and that I was tired of crying my eyes out over huge plotting issues discovered in the critique process. So I took several online classes on plotting, trying to find a structure that would work for me. The “W Plot” with Karen Docter changed my writing life forever, and I wrote 4 books in 2012, 3 of which sold.

happy dance new girl

In 2013, I worked on the book-which-would-not end and somewhere around draft number five, I read “Save The Cat” and used a “Beat Sheet Calculator” to attack the structural issues that were plaguing my earlier drafts. That final massive overhaul landed me my editor and agent and gave me  a new plotting tool.

From late 2013 to present, I’ve written five books using screen writing tools, most notably beat sheets and Alexandra Sokoloff’s Writing Love book. My process evolved from post-it notes on a large “W” diagram to using digital notecards with Trello and detailed outlines with Workflowy. I usually spend 3-4 solid work days plotting before I start drafting.

Enter Scrivener for my latest WIP. I was skeptical. I tried an early version of it years ago and it just didn’t make sense for how my brain worked. But my process had changed, so I went in with an open mind. I watched the tutorials, which are awesome and I really recommend them, but  I thought it might help some newbies if I talked specifically about how I got started & did my plotting prior to drafting.

First, I started with a blank scrivener “novel” project, but I immediately did away with the sample “chapter” and “scene.” I only think in terms of scenes when I plot-Chapters happen during drafting, chapter breaks often moving around a lot over the course of a draft. So I went in to “Corkboard mode” with a single scene in mind–my opening image. I gave it a title. Then I added cards for my midpoint scene & black moment & final image because I had ideas for those turning points. Again, at this stage, I just gave the cards titles. Then I went between my existing cards and added scenes as I plotted–Act I break/First Turning point/Descent to Black Moment/Grovel/resolution etc.

As I plotted, I started adding more to the synopsis portion of cards as I learned more about where my story would be heading. As I plotted and did research, I stuck that information in the research section. I usually stop a certain point of plotting and do some serious character work. Scrivener has character interview templates which are handy, but I have my own checklist I prefer using the questions in “Writing Love” so I looked at past plotting notes and made my own character note sheets.

Once I had the character notes, I used “split screen” to have the corkboard and character notes open at the same time, and fleshed out my synopses and scenes more, adding more scenes based on what I had discovered about my characters and their GMC and their arc.

I ended up with around 21 scene cards. I know that I’ll actually end up with far more scenes in the final draft, but this was a great point for me to start drafting, and I simply add more notecards as the draft evolves. And as the draft evolves, I’m adding “folder” cards for chapters, but only started doing that once  I had around 6k and could see where the first two breaks might occur. Don’t worry about chapters at all if you don’t want!

I am mainly drafting in “scrivenings mode” which lets me see the whole document at once, jumping onto the next section as I finish a scene. (I finish a scene, click the next notecard to refresh myself about where I wanted to head, then go back into scrivenings mode). As I draft, I’m using the “outliner mode” from time to time to see the overall direction I  want to head, and to do things like add labels for POV and labels for status (to-do versus first draft) and to see how many words are in a given scene, but I really didn’t worry about those features until I really needed them, if that makes sense. I.e. I changed label colors to reflect POV characters once I decided that would be helpful to me as  I went forward, but I didn’t need it to plot–I don’t always know which POV will get a given scene until later in the plotting stages.

So there you have it.  That’s how I became more of a plotter and how I transitioned to Scrivener for this current draft. Here are some resources for you:

Happy National Coffee Day!

It’s National Coffee Day, and I’m celebrating with an exclusive excerpt of my coffee romance, SERVED HOT, coming March 2015 from Kensington. Can my barista hero, Robby, get his favorite customer, David, to see him as more than just “the coffee guy?”  Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter One:


My nooner was late. Well, technically, David was my 11:50. Without fail, ten minutes before twelve every work day, David P. Gregory bought a vanilla latte from my coffee cart in the Old Emerson building in Portland. I only knew his name because he used his debit card to pay, and I knew the time because of the old-fashioned, massive brass clock directly across the atrium from my cart.

I knew David banked at a local credit union, knew that he worked somewhere that required a tie, knew that he had a smile that made his mouth crinkle up at the edges when I handed him his coffee, and knew that he was an excellent tipper.

What I didn’t know was whether or not he was straight. We’d had this weird dance for months now—he’d arrive for his coffee, stilted and uncomfortable, relax into a bit of small talk while I made his drink, and then he’d take his coffee to one of the metal tables out in the atrium to have with the lunch he packed in a blue bag. I liked watching him eat because he gave it his entire focus—no smart phone or gadget, no newspaper or book, no folder of work. A few times I’d caught him looking back in my direction. But his gaze never lingered and either my flirting while I served him was more subtle than I’d thought or he was simply immune.

Today David was late. Unexpected disappointment uncurled in my stomach, souring my caffeine buzz. It was a good day—a steady stream of customers at my cart and bustling business for the pizza place and the vegan sandwich bar on the other side of the atrium. The hundred-year-old office building had been renovated to include a few small eateries in the newly added skylit atrium. Plenty for me to look at, but my eyes kept returning to the double brass doors that opened onto Ninth.

David pushed through the heavy doors at 12:45 just as I was finishing up a caramel soy latte for one of the Goth girls who worked at the jewelry place across the street. I hid my smile behind my espresso machine. Eager for it to be his turn, I tapped my toes against the linoleum.

“The usual?” I figured it would freak him out if I mentioned I’d noticed his lateness.

“Hmmm.” He studied my specials sign. I’d glued a chalkboard panel inside a silver frame from a secondhand place on Hawthorne and put the whole thing on a silver-painted easel. Classy on the cheap.

Today I had a half-price tuxedo mocha—white chocolate with dark chocolate swirls. David had never paid any attention to the sign before, but today he gave it a long stare, consideration tugging his mouth back and forth. God, I loved his mouth—full pink lips, a hint of stubble on his upper lip like he’d missed a spot shaving.

After a few seconds, he shrugged, broad shoulders rippling the fine cotton of his dress shirt. “Yeah. The usual.”

“Sure thing.” I grabbed the cup for his small vanilla latte.

“Wait.” He held up a hand as I started to ring him up. “Iced. It’s sweltering out.” He’d rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white shirt, revealing muscular forearms and a heavy silver, antique-looking watch.

“Meaning it’s eighty-five degrees in Portland and everyone is freaking out. You know . . . it’s good to try something different once in a while.”


Can David change his regular order to include a side of sexy? You’ll find out in March!

Release day review! Sweetwater by Lisa Henry

SweetwaterSweetwater by Lisa Henry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book. I’ve read other titles by Henry, and her prose here is simply amazing. She doesn’t just tell the story, she *inhabits* it. The mood, the tone, the pacing–all of it is spot on. But this is not an easy book to read–Elijah both makes some terrible decisions and has some pretty terrible stuff done to him. It’s a five star read for me because the beautiful prose made this like watching a Deadwood episode–uncomfortable but in a really, really splendid way. However, some readers may not like the Grady/Harlan triangle competing for Elijah and easily triggered readers may have difficulty with some of things Elijah suffers. They might prefer trying one of Henry’s great, lighter titles. For the rest of us, the Deadwood and Breaking Bad and Shameless fans and lovers of dark, unpredictable heroes, this book is simply a gem.

View all my reviews

Review: Harlequin Boxed Set

Harlequin E Contemporary Romance Box Set Volume 3: Falling from the Sky\Maid to Love\When the Lights Go Down\Start Me UpHarlequin E Contemporary Romance Box Set Volume 3: Falling from the Sky\Maid to Love\When the Lights Go Down\Start Me Up by Sarina Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great boxed set–four very strong romances with alpha heroes and spunky heroines, but what sets it apart are some really unique pairings. Rebecca Avery totally turns the baby-of-convenience plotline on its head in a very adorable romp. Amy Jo Cousins has a natural gift for banter and that’s very apparent here–I loved her piece and would LOVE to see it as a movie as I kept laughing out loud and wishing I had a girlfriend to elbow and say “did you see what he just did!” Not to mention how much fun it would be to cast Maxie and Nick . . .

Sarina Bowen’s Falling From the Sky absolutely blew me away. OH. My. Word. I wish I did GIF reviews because here is where I would stick one of a dude peeling his jaw off the ground. This is the sort of book I’ve been wishing someone would write for YEARS. I kept gripping my eReader too tightly, afraid the story wouldn’t live up, but it totally did. It’s a gritty, realistic look at a hero with a spinal cord injury wrapped up in a sweet and sexy package that doesn’t come too easily. There are no miracle cures here. Realistic representation of disability in romance is passion of mine and Bowen absolutely hits it out the park here. This novella is easily in my top five books of 2014. All four books in this set are easily worth the price on their own–together they are a terrific value and bargain.

View all my reviews

Campus Cravings Is Out Now!!!

Yay!!! The boxed set I’m in with some fabulous other authors is live!!!

limited time 2.99 cc bundle


Here’s the book’s page on my website, but I’ll stick the buy links here as well:
Add to Goodreads Buy on AmazonBuy on ARe    smashwords-button

This Call Story Brought to You By Social Media

Portland Heat Coming Soon

One of my favorite things is writers’ call stories. I also love birth stories and wedding stories–basically give me a narrative about a big, life-changing moment and I’m all over it.  But as a writer, I particularly love call stories because they gave me hope that my day would come. So for all those taking the long slow road, I salute you. Way back in 2005, I finished my first book and attended RWA Reno. I went to the Kensington publishing signing and got stars in my eyes–and a rejection letter a few months later. Fast forward to 2014. I was still plugging away and searching for a home for book #9.

When I landed my amazing agent back in January, we set to work getting #kinkyvirginhero ready for submission. But during my agent query wait, I’d written #coffeeshopguys and after seeing me post about the WIP, my agent said to go ahead and send it on even though we hadn’t heard back from the first round of submissions yet.

So I sent her SERVED HOT and a synopsis and she tweeted how excited she was to get a barista hero.  AND I DON’T HAVE A SCREENCAP. Which makes me SAD. Because what happened next?


Peter Senftleben of Kensington SAW the tweet and replied that she should send him the MS right away.


And I don’t have those tweets either. Probably because I was too busy trying not to FREAK. What happened next was a flurry of Sary reading the manuscript, me making Sary’s awesome suggestions, and us working up series proposals while we waited to hear back from Peter and some of  the editors who had #kinkyvirginhero

Then Peter asked to see THAT book too and my freak factor reached Def Con 9000 as we waited to hear . . . .


Sary called me to tell me that Peter wanted Served Hot . . . and being me, I started babbling and thanking her before she got the rest of the news out. He wanted the whole series!

AND . . .

#Kinkyvirginhero (who should have a new, real name very soon) and HIS series.

Seriously. This is where I put a muppet flail gif because I just can’t not.


I seriously wanted to shout the news from the Burnside Bridge in Portland I was so excited.

But I couldn’t. Because contracts and boring stuff like PATIENCE.

So I waited.

And waited.

And Sary did the AWESOME agent thing and worked on all the details. ALL THE DETAILS. She is superwoman.

And finally, all the details lined up and I got to squeal all over twitter and facebook. And without social media, this deal would never have happened.



Happy Birthday to My Writing

20140727_104412We just had my son’s fourth birthday. When he was born, I hadn’t made forward progress with my writing in a LONG time. I had a hard drive full of first three chapters of a half-dozen or more books, but I hadn’t finished a book since the birth of my daughter three years before he was born.

Summer in my life has always been linked to my writing–the summer of 2005 is when I finished my first book. The summer of 2007 is when I finished my third book. My daughter was born late that summer, and when my son came n 2010, I realized that it was time to let RWA & my dreams lapse. I hadn’t finished a book in three years. I had two kids. I needed to just move on. I decided I would dedicate myself to book review writing when I could to stay active in the writing world, but that I’d hang up my pencil.

A funny thing happened in early summer 2011 though–I missed writing. Desperately. Passionately. I *wanted* to try again, but I didn’t want to suffer through another three years of false starts. So I made a commitment to myself that I would start writing again, but that I would never go a day without opening my document–even if all I wrote was 5 words, I would keep making progress.

Shortly after my son turned one, I finished that “trial” book using my one-day-at-a-time method. Three months! That book joined the three other unsold books, and then later that year book five joined the under-the-bed crowd.

But then in the summer of 2012 my son turned two and, I finally sold a book–books 6 and 7 sold that summer, with book 8 following suit that fall.

Through it all, I kept on my one-word-at-a-time plan. My kids were getting bigger and my writing hours kept shifting, but I kept just opening that document up each day. I racked up a lot of 50 word days.

In 2012, my son turned three and I finished book 9. Soon I’ll get to tell you all about Book 9,10, 11, and 12 and their new home, but this summer, the ninth summer of writing, the fourth summer of my no-excuses plan, has been full of good things. Book 13 is my Campus Cravings story, while last week, as my little guy finished up year three, I finished up lucky #14.

Four years ago, I had one child, three unsold books, and a lot of deferred dreams. Today, my heart holds more than I ever thought possible.

Happy Birthday to my little man–thank you for the renewed focus you brought to my life.


COVER REVEAL! Campus Cravings!

I’m so thrilled to announce that I’m going to be in the Campus Cravings bundle coming on August 25th! Want to see our gorgeous cover? I’ll be posting more about my contribution soon!


Welcome to Cathia University, where school is in session! Nine of today’s hottest gay romance authors have crafted brand-new interrelated novellas celebrating everything wonderful about college, with over 200,000 words featuring sophisticated professors, sexy teaching assistants, ambitious grad students, and spirited undergraduates, all looking for the same thing: an A+ in true love.

Annabeth Albert: Winning Bracket

Cassandra Carr: The Eloquent Jock

Dalton Diaz: Lesson Learned

Mia Downing: Switching Leads

Whitley Gray: Artistic Endeavor

Bianca Sommerland: Solid Education

KyAnn Waters: Private Lessons

LA Witt: Did Somebody Order a Pizza?

Sara York: The Dust Of Everyday Life

The Campus Cravings male/male bundle will release on August 25th with a special “back to school” price of $2.99 for a limited time!

Add Campus Cravings to your Goodreads to-be-read-list here:

Equal Rights Blog Hop–My Two Uncles




blog_hop_buttonThis post is part of Queer Town Abbey’s Equal Rights Blog Hop. Be sure and click here or the image to see the other awesome posts.  There’s TONS of prizes too! The question all the posts are answering is “What was your first experience with the LGBT community?”

My answer is in my baby pictures. There’s a picture of me meeting my two uncles for the first time at around six months old. Growing up, it was simply a fact of life that these particular two uncles lived together and shared a home with just one bedroom. That picture of me with them is one of dozens–memories made where they took me to events and cultural opportunities and memories when they hosted family gatherings. Through them, I was exposed to other same-sex couples who attended social events. My uncles were the epicenter of family life for that side of the family for most of my childhood. 

I always associate Fourth of July with their house–and to me as a small child, they were just like any other couple, firing up burgers on the grill, tossing a baseball around with us kids, watching fireworks. They’d been together longer than my parents and were the happiest couple I knew. 

It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood that not all families were as welcoming as ours and that there were some people who stood in judgment against their union. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood what it meant that despite the gold bands on their hands, they weren’t legally wed–all the rights that they didn’t have and all the fears that they had to face. It was as  an adult that I let my love for them lead me to activism for all LGBT people.

My uncles have been together over 40 years now, but have only been legally wed for a few years because the country is only now catching up to what that part of my family has known all along–love is love.

Your turn! I want to know what family member, other than your parents, had the most influence on your childhood?

To be entered in the prizes for the hop, be sure to visit:

Why I Will Watch the Olympics

I’ve watched every Olympics since 1984–when I was 6. Summer. Winter. I’m a fan of the whole thing. I wrote an Olympic short story. I heart the Olympics. This is the first year that my decision to watch feels like a political thing and is something I’ve wrestled with for months now. Russia is doing a terrible job as host, has deplorable human (and animal!) rights issues, and the IOC and USOC have both failed to push them hard enough on the LGBT issues. But can a viewer boycott help?

That’s the question I’ve struggled with. I’ve come down on the side of our athletes who have worked for 4 years to prepare, most of whom wish it were anywhere but Russia. I won’t watch the opening or closing ceremonies–I don’t need to see Russia celebrate itself or pretend that it is a bastion of peace and love. But I will watch the individual events. I will cheer on our athletes because I feel they deserve the support and you’ll see me posting tweets about the events. But know that I do so with a heavy, conflicted heart.

But the more I think about it the more I feel that supporting our athletes is the right thing to do. Disagreeing with Russia’s policies and their handling of the games and their human rights record and, indeed, their being picked in the first place, doesn’t mean taking it out on our athletes. I worry about our athletes, about their safety, about the heavy burden on those in the closet and out. It is a brave group that has traveled to Sochi and I think they deserve our cheers, even if the IOC as a whole does not. How the international community puts pressure on Russia after the Olympics–that is the real place where change will occur.