Inside the Writer's Studio with Rachelle Ayala

We are back in the writer’s studio this week with novelist Rachelle Ayala, author of Michal’s Window, as well as a new release, Hidden Under Her Heart. All of her projects tackle sensitive issues related to women’s lives. She was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code.  Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She has three children, taught violin, made mountain dulcimers, and lives in California with her husband.  Follow  her latest on Twitter @AyalaRachelle.rachelle-ayala-books

She’s even taken time to outline three important terms every serious fiction writer needs to have a handle on – with examples! – so be sure to check those out at the end of the interview.


How would you describe your writing persona in 5 words or less?

Expect the unexpected, extreme drama.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

Compassionate and kind-hearted, I strive to increase positive energy in the world by doing good.

Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?

Exactly where I am. The San Francisco Bay Area is unparalleled in cultural diversity, cutting edge technology, and natural beauty.

Did you have support at the beginning and/or during your decision to be a writer?

Ha, ha, unfortunately not. However I am very strong willed and will succeed whether others believe it or not.

Do you read reviews written about your work?

Yes. It has really helped to toughen me to criticism. Here’s a thought on reviews: No time for those who hate me because I’m way too busy loving those who love me.

What’s your creative process?

Daydreaming and chocolate chips, although my husband says I have to break my habit on both. I have a general idea of my characters and the problems I want to put them through, however I don’t have a plot until I start writing. I’m not an outliner, but I do think of the main crisis and climax first. For example, in Broken Build, I knew exactly what I wanted the villain to do to Jen, the main character. I then have to figure out a way to get the plot to that point, but that doesn’t happen until I start writing. The beginnings of my stories change the most because I try different ways of starting. Everything builds toward the ending and once I’m past the halfway point the momentum picks up and I work very fast.

Do you write on a desktop/laptop or a studio?

I write wherever my laptop happens to be. Usually I’m sitting at my dining table or in a comfy chair in the family room. I don’t have a private area, but I’ve learned to tune out all distractions from my years as a cubicle dweller in a high tech firm.

Do you have a day job?

Yes and no, if you count full time mothering and tending a husband as a job.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

Be true to yourself. You are the only person who can write the story you are writing. No one else can do a better job. Your voice is unique and  your creativeness is your mark on the story. Study the craft of writing. Don’t let others tell you what or how to write. Put the story above everything else and the rest will take care of itself.

Here are a few of Rachelle’s definitions of important terms for fiction writers. She’s also given us paragraphs which illustrate their usage.

Deep POV – digging into the head of your character and allowing the reader to experience the scene directly. Feelings, emotions, visceral reaction, internal thoughts are played out in real-time without filter words “he saw,” “I felt”, “she realized.”clare-rico

Dave staggered into the kitchen, his fingers numb and his heart jittery. He’d frightened her. What the hell was wrong with him?

His hands shaking, he poured himself a whiskey on the rocks. Work, Dave, work. Think of nothing else. Shut down if you can’t control your emotions. He woke his laptop and checked his email. Thirteen minutes before midnight. He lowered his head to the table. Memories overloaded his brain circuits. Drink. Oblivion.

Purple prose – exaggerated emotions, feelings and metaphors. A bane of romance when describing love scenes. Pulls readers out of the story, resulting in giggles instead of passion.

She eased into the kiss. She could be controlled, maybe. His scent, a mingling of fine cigars, resinous wood, and pure male sexiness kindled fires deep within. She opened her mouth and teased the curve of his upper lip, alternately tangling and dodging his tongue. He growled like a subterranean earthquake and clasped her head to deepen the kiss. A fiery current passed between them and flared from her chest to her lower regions. Her heart rate soared, and she could barely breathe, as if her spirit had been sucked out and exchanged with his.

Abstract metaphor – compares an abstract principle to something concrete. Metaphors are used to create memorable imagery.

The press of his luscious lips whisked her out of the world. She lost all sense of time and place, flung out like a star into a galaxy painted across the night sky. The music faded, the lights dimmed, and the crowd thinned. She was alone, in an unforgettable realm, surrounded by Lucas, carried away in his strong arms, safely tucked beneath his heart. Silence reigned for a heavenly moment and time stopped to the ebb and flow of a single kiss.



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In the New Year, Old Projects Linger


edit on the go
edit on the go (Photo credit: fensterbme)

Editing and revising are two words habitually used as synonyms. Though they are related, they are not the same.

In the last year, as I’ve published fiction, non-fiction, even academic pieces, I’ve been guilty of blending these distinct stages. I assumed I could revise and edit as I went along. The system worked, more or less, until the last two projects sat languishing on my laptop. If like me, you want to take your writing to the next level, then you’ll want to understand the critical differences between these important stages of the writing process.

Writer Wordart
Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at how to tell editing and revising apart as well as when you’ll know which your project needs. No matter how many books you’ve written (and I’ve written over ten), every writer serious about his/her craft has a plan to tackle these two stages. The more experience you have does not necessarily mean the process moves more quickly or easily as I discovered when the final two novels of my 9 book foray into epublishing stalled.


Editing is the final stage of polishing a manuscript. Most writers cannot and should not edit their own work. Would you want to pour the foundation of a building and install the windows as well? Usually a specialist is called in to do the wiring and other fine points of a building. The same applies to writing.


Revising, however, is something writers can do on our own, aided and improved  with the help of a team of helpers: early readers of the manuscript, other writers, and indeed, editors.  When revising you may notice the grammar error here or there as you re-read a part of the manuscript. But your real focus is the content. Are the characters believable? Do we need more details in the setting? What can make the plot more dramatic? How can you strengthen the narrative arc?


Revising allows you to go section by section – not always chronologically – and take the nitty gritty view of your story. You find out where you’re on firm footing and where your foundation is on shaky ground. Names, nationalities, motivations of characters can all change at this stage as the primary question you ask yourself is: does this serve my story?


Here’s an example of how I revised the opening of my current novel in progress THE OPPOSITE OF HATE, a historical novel set in the Southeast Asian country of Laos in 1969. This project has taken over a year to create the first draft and will need many months to revise before we head into the editing stage.


Notice the changes from the original and the revision which were written about a month apart. Point of view, character, setting, and even the novel’s title, all transformed the more I thought about the story.


Questions for you as you consider revising:


  1. Beginnings are important. Consider the beginning of your story. Does it start at a moment of drama? Is there another character who would be more compelling?
  2. Consider your setting: Does the reader receive the important details that will carry him/her further into the world you are setting?
  3. Consider your conflict: is it big enough to hook and maintain interest into the first chapter?

Based on your answers to any/all of the above, revise. Yes, go on, rewrite this small section. And share with us your results!


An enlargeable relief map of Laos
An enlargeable relief map of Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Original: October 2011


Chapter One


Nelee slid from the backseat of the car as the driver continued toward the garage she pulled off the sweater, the worst and most unflattering part of her school uniform. She then shook free her elbow length hair from the regulation braid, massaging the back of her neck. She marched up the concrete steps of the house, the most of any on their street, expecting to see her mother reading the latest ladies magazine in the formal living room, waiting for Nelee’s stories of another day spent at the Sisters of Mercy School for Girls.


Revised: November 2011


Chapter One


Vientiene 1969


Than climbed the steps to the two bedroom house his job afforded him; the small government cottage a mansion to his wife, a country girl from the Philippines. He was tired after hours of pouring over diagrams for a new aqueduct system planned for a Northern territory. As the only academically trained engineer in the office, he bore the brunt of the technical work as the others drank, sometimes coffee, as the day wore on something stronger, Than ran from one meeting with the westerners to another, trying to take advantage of their interest while it was hot. He came onto the porch. Next door, at his neighbor’s, most of the street was crowded around Uncle Ong, the best Lao folk story teller in the district. Some said all of the capital. Than scanned the crowd, hoping to find Rutchil amongst the women. Failing to see her rounded bulk, he nodded to John, the CIA agent most people thought was a grass smoking hippie, whose green eyes glimmered in the waning light.




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Not to NaNo… Featuring Wenona Hulsey

As you know, I’m a bit behind on my NaNoWriMo project this year but with the husband away for the week, hoping to kick it into high gear. I’ll be sure to update you on how that goes; my meager 8,000 words may not stand a chance at recovery during this third week when everyone else who stayed on track is churning out tens of thousands.

I’m hosting on the blog today writer and NaNo veteran, Wenona Hulsey to share her perspective on why she decided to pass on participating this year.

Wenona spends her time scaling rooftops, kicking bad guy tail and rescuing small kittens from tree tops.  But during the time when she isn’t asleep, she’s a mother of two beautiful children and works a full time day job.  She lives vicariously through great books and creates magical worlds in her spare time.  She is also an avid social networker who loves to meet new people.


To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo? That is the question many writers are asking right about now but I have decided not to NaNo this year.

Okay some of you may be saying what is this strange language she is speaking?? So for those of you who are unfamiliar with this NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. It’s held every November and the goal is to write a 50 thousand word novel in 30 days.

Yes, 50K in 30 days is doable, believe it or not.  I did successfully completed the even in 2011 and I felt very proud that I could wear my “winner” t-shirt out in public just so people can ask “What is a NaNoWriMo?” every time they read my shirt lol.

But even though all the writing is done strictly in the 30 days there is a lot of prep time that you need to do beforehand even if you are normally a “pantser” who doesn’t use an outline.  It’s hard to write that much in that time frame without at least a shell of an outline and the biggest chunk of your research finished.  You will end up with a story that goes way out in left field leaving you staring at your computer screen for hours and that’s why I’m not doing NaNo this year.  I’ve had way too much on my plate to even jot down a few notes.

So this year I will be cheering those brave souls on from the side-lines as I secretly wish I would have found the time to join in.  I will be writing though at my own pace.  I plan on finishing the third draft of my upcoming novel and going back to work on a novelette that I’m adding to the “Blood Burden” series.  Next year I will hopefully be able to join in on the long nights, keyboard banging, and screen staring fun that is Nation Novel Writing Month.  Best of luck to everyone this year!!/wenonahulsey




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