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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Inside the Writer's Studio with Susan Buchanan

Author Susan Buchanan

We’re back in the studio today with writer Susan Buchanan to get the scoop on her latest release.

The Dating Game is her second novel, and published on 2nd Nov 2012. Sign of the Times, her first novel, was published in March 2012. She will shortly start work on her third novel, due for release Spring 2013. She’s a busy woman and clearly someone to tell us more about the business of writing!

 Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Life isn’t always easy. Juggling work, friendships and a social life can be hard. Finding the right person can be difficult. There’s no one right way of doing so. Sometimes even with the best engineered plans, Life has something else in store for you.

 How much of the book is realistic?

All of the book is realistic, although only a few anecdotes are actually taken from any event I have experienced or any trait of anyone I know personally. There are no characters based on people I know. That said, one of the most cringeworthy events in the book actually happened. I wanted to write chick lit without the fluff, so contemporary fiction which reflected people’s everyday lives and the trials and tribulations that befall them, as well as the happy occasions. I like to think of it as chick lit with extra realism.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Editing it. I thought it would be easier than last time, as last time Sign of the Times started out at 300K words and was reduced after ten revisions to 120K. Don’t ask!

Anyway, The Dating Game started as 115K and is now around 110K. I learned a lot from last time. But I also learned a lot about proofing and editing my own work before it went out to the professionals, so that required a lot more revisions. As a writer, you constantly notice parts you would like to change, tiny proofing mistakes etc. It is neverending, but one day you have to decide ‘That’s me done with that,’ and move on. Otherwise you would go mad!

 Tell us your latest news.

The Dating Game launched on 2nd November and I will take a few weeks simply marketing it. The launch lasts a week from 2nd-9th Nov.  There is a whole series of events, raffles and competitons. You can win a copy of 1 of 55 ebooks and Amazon vouchers. It’s a huge event and took a lot of co-ordinating. Once the dust settles mid-November, I am going to start planning my third novel. All I can tell you about that at the moment is that it features a male protagonist, a few love interests along the way, several life lessons, plus several key decisions for my main character to make which will seriously impact on his life.

For more on this, best to follow the blog, as I willl post regular updates

 Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

First of all, thanks to those who have read Sign of the Times and shown an interest in my writing. I chose rather a bumper task for my first novel, in integrating the lives of 12 main characters, plus their entourages. The feedback I  have had from readers boosted me to dust off the three chapters I had written of The Dating Game three years ago. I then wrote the rest, buoyed by my readers’ enthusiasm and their wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful!) reviews.

I also took on board that they loved certain aspects of my writing and I incorporate that into The Dating Game, specifically the section in Barcelona. My third novel will also feature a foreign country, again, because readers told me they particularly enjoyed reading the Italian section of Sign of the Times. They could almost taste the food, see the splendid scenery and ogle the gorgeous men!  I love travelling and have been to many countries. My only difficulty was deciding which one to choose.

I have also enjoyed chatting with readers on Twitter and FB and many now leave me comments on my blog, too, which I love. I hope you enjoy The Dating Game and, all going well, I hope to have a third novel to share with you in the Spring.

Keep with all of Susan’s latest on Twitter or Facebook:
Twitter – @susan_buchanan




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