I’d like to take some time today to talk about my personal journey in writing The Whispers of Rings. I had a lot of triumphs and setbacks with this tale and it took four years for me to see it to a completion that I was happy with.
Spoiler Warning: Please be advised, if you have not read the book, I’m going to be talking about about the plot a LOT in this entry.
With that in mind, feel free to share my bag of popcorn and let’s begin.
In 2014, my roommate and I were discussing ways to make some extra money on the side. As she’d recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and I was studying for mine, we researched writing gigs. After a little bit of reading on Reddit and a few other forums, we discovered that with the advent of “50 Shades,” erotica was at an all time high. Independant publishers on Amazon were apparently making six figures a year off of short, erotic stories. “Easy,” we said. “If that can make money why can’t we?”
And so, the first version of Whisper was born. I tried my hand at writing something sexy, but it became so much more. I created a world, interesting characters, and a compelling first scene. My friend actually wrote what was far more along the lines of the erotica genre. I realized then that writing erotica was not actually my forte.
What I did have in front of me was the beginning of an incredible story with a strong narrative and solid world. I also discovered that I really enjoyed writing intimate scenes, but I had to give a damn about my characters before I could advance that far. I began to study and look at what drew me to characters in other books. I soon realized it was the three elements I explained in Writing Complex Characters. They had to feel real, genuine–like I could take them out for a beer tomorrow. With that in mind, I gave Whisper another quick review before I tackled my next problem: the cover.
Many independent authors that dive into self publishing head first go the stockphoto approach. That is, finding a website either inexpensively selling stockphotos, having a sale, or they offers the best bang for your buck (no pun intended) if you purchase a membership. With enough photoshop know-how and a little tweaking, you have something like my first “Little Treasures” covers.
With The Whispers of Rings, I wanted to take my covers further. I wanted them to stand out against the stockphoto sea I’d witnessed on Amazon. I submitted a post on DeviantArt with my budget and what I was looking for, and received a surprising amount of hits. My final choice of artist was Robert Treherne and he created the art for these three covers:
The title/author/series placement I did myself. Just looking at these again make me cringe. Come on, Cat, lay off the outer glow tool in Photoshop.
Near the end of 2014, I had Whisper ready to publish. All of 5500 words that I thought were great. I went through Amazon and found Boruma Publishing on a Reddit suggestion. Using the Smashwords Style Guide, I learned how to format the ebook myself and prepare it for publishing across all online retailers. I set myself to publish a new novella every two weeks. With a full-time job, it seemed plausible.
I felt I’d played it fairly “safe” intimacy-wise in Whisper. With Promise, I wanted to raise that bar. And that bar was raised way higher. Adrien’s true personality beings to shine through his heroic armor at the beginning. We see Isabelle’s status as his lover fall to nothing more than a servant. Then with the addition of Cyprus, all gloves were off. This is the point where I really started to learn what makes a good sex scene. Of course, I can’t give all my trade secrets away, but Cyprus’ character brought a raw heat to the story that wasn’t there otherwise. I launched it and set to work on the third installment, Echo.
Echo was when things started to derail. Due to a few difficult outside commissions and spreading myself over too many series, it didn’t get the amount of attention from me that it deserved. Isabelle gives in to Josselyn at the beginning of the story and Adrien resorts to physical violence rather than his manipulative tactics. Shortly after I published it, I stopped writing.
Two years passed.
In 2016, I couldn’t stand not writing anymore. I took down everything from my Amazon page and created a new one. I relaunched my Twitter and returned to my stories with reckless abandon. Step one, beyond heavy edits, was find a new cover artist for consistency. I took the same approach as before and was extremely lucky to meet Marlena Mozgawa, who was returning to art herself. I also learned more about graphic design and text placement, resulting in a stunning combination.
Step the second was to purchase a writing program that was friendlier toward writing serials. Scrivener was suggested to me by a fellow writer, and I fell absolutely in love with it. Here are just a few examples of awesome things Scrivener lets you do:
And finally, I began revising my work. I attended a few sessions of a local writing group that read Whisper and gave me feedback. One big complaint amongst the girls was “I don’t know if I like your hero character very much.” Meaning Adrien. Which was actually a problem, because in order to create more mystery around him, I needed for him to come off as the knight in shining armor. So I adjusted his character, made him kinder, more accommodating, and added the scene of him taking Josselyn out on the town. In my final revision, I added an evening between when they first meet and Adrien takes her to bed. The other piece of criticism was that he wasn’t “hot enough,” the setting wasn’t “elaborate enough.”
This suggestion was difficult for me to handle. Most romances explain their main male character in overwhelming detail, often times using numerous synonyms to describe the same thing. That’s not my jam. Characters come alive for me through their actions, not how efficiently I can wash my laundry on their abs. Regarding the elaborate setting, it wasn’t enough ostentatious displays of wealth. I had to make the choice of whether I was writing a billionaire romance for the 50 Shades crowd, or if I was tackling my own story.
I chose the latter.
The editing continued until I reached Echo. I took one read through and started completely from scratch. There was nothing I could salvage. Adrien couldn’t act as violently as he did that soon, otherwise, what will keep my readers interested? Isabelle couldn’t shift from hating Josselyn to kissing her in a few paragraphs. And none of them could spew backstory as I had written it. One of my favorite anime put it best:
This was one of the few times I made the decision to destroy something I’d spent so long writing, but it was a good one. Outlining the remaining story proved much easier and omitting the ridiculous amount of backstory gave me a chance to pepper it in more sporadically, adding to my narrative as opposed to overwhelming it.
Working on the final reveal scene was so difficult. I stayed up late with a small group of my friends who act as my editors, and with their help we created an Adrien that kept his monologue short, sweet, and on a “you need to know” basis. What I didn’t want was the raging Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain that reveals his entire plan while the characters look on and say nothing. I wanted it to be interactive, suspenseful, and terrifying. Something that makes you curl your toes because you have no idea how they’re going to get out of this.
The line that proved to stand in way the most was Cyprus’ last line as he kills Adrien. This damn line had to sum up EVERYTHING in the story: emotions, plot, character, everything. We all stared at it for at least an hour and a half and came up with some really classy lines. None of them at all in Cyprus’ character. It was pointed out to me that Cyprus never truly acts in anger. He may be frustrated, but never is he a violent person. So any dialogue that had him drastically change his character was thrown out. My other personal favorite was “Witness Me!” It was late, there was wine. “Your name dies with you, Lord Markov.” was perfect. I have to credit it to Natsuki, It encompassed what Adrien was worried about retaining his legacy, it covered Cyprus’ hate for the man, and it hammered home that while Adrien may have taken the Terryn name, he lost his own in the process.
Finally, I was ready to put the book to publishing and review swaps. Thanks to the kind members of Twitter, I received a few line edits as well as genuine reviews. Four months after calling it “done,” I went back and line edited the whole book, took out a lot and added more. I hit it again for grammar and punctuation mistakes, and made a few slight adjustments to characters where they acted outside of themselves. But there was one final addition I had to make.
A map. No fantasy book is complete without that map.
I will reserve my first draft drawing for my Patrons. It’s awful. You can pay to see my shame. But, Marlena stepped in and saved the day, providing a gorgeous outlay of my world.
Now, we wait for my paperback copy to get here so I can proof it and make it available on Amazon! So far, the reviews are wonderful, and I can’t thank my readers enough for their consistent feedback and compliments. Writing brings me so much joy, but my readers and how they perceive the story, what they take from it, that’s what makes this a reality for me. That’s what breathes life into my characters and world.
What started for me as an introduction into writing erotica ended in one of the most fantastic personal journeys I have ever taken. I suffered through my character’s hardships as I suffered through my own. I gave them my raw feelings and emotions and they gave me so much back. I learned how to find my voice and narrative style, I learned how to write more effectively, and how to create characters that resonate with people. Writing this story truly changed me as an author and I’m so much better for it. My readers and reviewers helped me immensely.
If you take one thing from this as an author, you are never alone. There’s a huge, amazing network of people out there willing to give feedback and help. Take advantage of it! Thank you for joining me.