If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve been asked that question. If you’re not a writer, but have friends who are, you’ve probably asked it and have been given a different answer each time. Here’s what my friend, Karen McCullough, has to say:
It’s the question authors get asked most often by non-writers: Where do you get your ideas? Most authors have some sort of flip answer: an idea store in Schenectady or the idea tree behind my house. Why don’t we just say something like, I read this story in the newspaper and it inspired me to write this book? Mostly because that’s not what happens.
The basic problem is that it’s the wrong question. Ideas are easy. They’re all over the place. I have more ideas in my head now than I’ll ever be able to write. But it takes multiple ideas to create a novel and they have to fit together in ways that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. Ideas don’t make a novel. Conflict does. Plot does. Characters do. It takes work to meld a group of ideas about conflict and character and events into a cohesive plot.
The Detective’s Dilemma started for me with the first scene of the book, when intruders in her home brutally force Sarah Martin to shoot her much older lover. I can’t remember exactly when that scene popped into my head, but it came to me as a vivid vision. From there I had to build a story, and I knew that I wanted it to be about more than just the police investigating the murder and figuring out who was really behind it. Of course, that is the spine of the story. But there’s a lot more going on.
I thought a lot about Sarah Anne Martin. Why was she living with a much older lover? Who is she? What kind of life does this young woman have and what does she want? I had to make her a person with a personality, with desires and aspirations, and with problems that would get far worse before they got better. She proved to be someone trying to rebuild a life that had been shattered more than once and struggling to create a place for herself in the world.
When the police detectives showed up, Jay Christianson walked on the scene. He has issues as well. He started with a prejudice against Sarah because he’d already been burned once when he got involved with a woman in distress. He doesn’t want to believe in Sarah’s innocence initially and he most definitely doesn’t want to fall for a young woman who is the prime witness and possibly the prime suspect in a murder case.
To add another complication, it becomes clear fairly quickly that Sarah has something the killers want. Unfortunately, she has no idea what it is or where it is, but they get increasingly desperate to get it from her or make sure she’ll never get a chance to find it.
It took a great deal of mental work to bring all those threads of character, events, conflicts and plot into a 65,000-word novel.
The Detective’s Dilemma is a short romantic suspense novel published in paperback and ebook by Kensington’s Lyrical Press imprint. If you would like to learn more about Karen McCullough and The Detective’s Dilemma, there’s a short bio of Karen and a brief excerpt from the book on the Guest Excerpt page of my website: http://www.sandracareycody.com/guestexcerpt.htmlAmazon: http://www.amazon.com/Detectives-Dilemma-Karen-McCullough-ebook/dp/B00OA9WFQY/ BN: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-detectives-dilemma-karen-mccullough/1120500707?ean=9781616506520 Kensington: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/31106
Being by nature a daydreamer, I savor quotes like that. They give me permission to do what I’m prone to do anyway: let time just slip by. That usually makes me feel guilty so I was glad when I came across the quote by Barrie. The man who created Peter Pan and granted him the pleasure of perpetual childhood surely knew the value of time. I’m sure there were some who thought dreaming up fantasy adventures was a silly way for a grown man to spend his time – until he succeeded. Success has a way of validating silliness.
People who are good at math are fond of telling us how many seconds/minutes/hours we are given every day. It’s a formidable number. Granted a large portion of that time is spoken for. We all have things we have to do: a paying job, children or elders to care for, meals to prepare, a house to maintain, commitments to worthy organizations … the list goes on … and let’s not forget sleep. Still, if we’re honest, most of us can do all these things and have at least some time to call our own.
If we choose to spend every second engaged in a productive endeavor, imagine what we can accomplish. On the other hand, what if we put the “to do” list aside, slowed down, sipped lemonade, read a frivolous book, or lay on a quilt in the back yard and watched fireflies while the time slipped by? What would happen? I’m pretty sure the world wouldn’t end. In fact, maybe the idea for an ingenious invention would germinate and grow from those idle moments. Maybe we’d be inspired to create a soulful poem or a great painting. Maybe we’d write a blockbuster novel and make literary history. Or maybe not. Maybe we wouldn’t accomplish anything tangible. Maybe we’d just be … nicer (not an insignificant accomplishment).
So, do yourself a favor. Slow down. Daydream. Let the time slip by and don’t feel guilty about it. Remember … you have the opportunity to create a golden hour.
“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James
I came across this quote recently and am ready to change my opinion about Henry James. Not that I don’t already admire him for the characters he created, but I never thought of him as a summer afternoon kind of guy. Fairly or not, I think of him as a character in one of his novels – living a life bound by rules and tradition (though his writing certainly shows that he understood and sympathized with rule-breakers).
Look at him. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to imagine anyone setting out to enjoy a summer afternoon looking like that. Though I guess that’s due mostly due to the changes that have occurred in dress codes since Mr. James’s day. I suppose if he were alive today, he’d don flipflops, shorts and a tee shirt. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Why these thoughts now? It’s Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer, a summer that seems to have flown by. We’ve had more than our share of perfect days – warm, but not hot; low humidity – the kind of days you wish would last forever. At least that’s the case here in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. I know many parts of the country have had devastating weather events during the past few months. I hope the end of summer brings an end to the chaos for them – that it gives them perfect conditions to start rebuilding.
I view this weekend with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m sad to see the season of lazy days end; on the other, I’m excited by the prospect of change that a new season brings. To me, September has always seemed like the beginning of a new year, much more so than January. I think that’s because it marks the beginning of a new school year and, as such, a chance to start anew. Back in my school days, I began each new year with resolutions for a perfect year – perfect attendance, perfect grades, a perfect me. I was eager to see who my teacher would be, to meet any new kids who’d moved to the area since the old school year. That’s changed, of course, but not too much. In September, I resume activities that I’ve taken a hiatus from for the summer, and I look forward to that in much the same way I once looked forward to the new school year. In other words, I’m eager to discover what the new season will bring.
So, to all of the readers of Birth of a Novel, I wish a happy Labor Day Weekend, one filled with … whatever you want it to be. And, once this weekend is over, I wish to you, a new season filled with many discoveries – happy ones, of course.
I’m pleased to welcome Norma Huss as a guest blogger this week. Norma calls herself The Grandma Moses of Mystery. The original Grandma Moses was a primitive artist who only received recognition when she turned eighty. She continued painting until she was one hundred one. Since Norma’s first book was published a month before her eightieth birthday, she qualifies on one end. Since her mother lived one hundred three years, she has every hope of qualifying on the tail end. Norma and her husband sailed on Chesapeake Bay and beyond for many years, which is why she set her first two mysteries in that location. Her non-fiction, A Knucklehead in Alaska, was written with her father many years ago, in his words, telling the story of a hot-headed nineteen-year-old who went to Alaska hoping to earn college money.
Today, Norma’s going to tell us a little something about her most recent work, Cherish.
Back in the day before e-books and accepted self publishing, I thought of many ideas for novels, and wrote several that failed to find a publisher. Most were for children or young adults, since my own children were only beginning to outgrow that stage. Then I switched to writing mysteries for my own age group and finally found a publisher. But my grandchildren were great readers, and an audience I wanted to reach before they got too old.
I pulled out those dusty pages so long forgotten. So outdated. But I found a germ, a spark, that kindled a new idea. An updated idea. Yeah, that teen doesn’t dig up a skeleton—there isn’t really a skeleton after all. There’s a ghost. Yes. A ghost from the past. Cherish, a tormented ghost, in fact, a ghost who doesn’t know where her body is. A teenage ghost from…where?
Hey, I know about teens from World War II and shortly thereafter. I was there. But how did that teen die in 1946? And what was her life like? She was a high school sophomore, just like the current teen who sees the ghost. But her life was so different. No cell phone. No TV. An ex. G.I. in her Lit class, finishing high school on the G.I. Bill.
So I did it, wrote a story for today’s teens (with technical help from the younger generation). I placed a teen from today into her grandmother’s world. Of course, I had to reverse that as well, placing the teen from 1946 into a world of grungy jeans, cars with seat belts, and no trick-or-treating by anyone over twelve. (Or is it ten now?) And, would I find a way to bring today’s teen home? That could be a problem.
I needed plenty of help with today’s technology. I needed help with my memories of 1946 as well—readily available on the Internet. Some things I relearned played into my plot. Mention of the Nuremberg trials of war prisoners worked for one character’s paranoia. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services-later the CIA) was cited by another character’s rumors. But the teen, with memories of the war years, the rationing, the shock of men she knew dying in battle, the lack of coupons for new shoes, wanted to ignore those background noises, just as today’s teen would. She lived in the moment without thoughts that her words might lead to danger.
Cherish (A Ghost Mystery) was a lot of fun to write. I’ve just revealed the cover on Goodreads (and here). Publication date is September 1, 2014, right in time for a pre-Halloween read. Early readers have enjoyed it. In fact, they think this book is the perfect grandmother, granddaughter read. The two generations will each discover much about the other generation. (Might I be a bit egotistical and agree? Why not? One must believe in her own work!)
One certainly must! You have every right to believe in your work – and to be proud of it. Cherish sounds like a great story. I love the idea of different generations reading it together and learning about each other through its pages. Thanks for sharing your news and a bit about yourself with the readers of Birth of a Novel.
Readers, here are some links if you’d like to learn more about Norma and her books:Website: http://www.normahuss.com Blog: http://www.blog.normahuss.com Amazon author page: http://tinyurl.com/nuy7ugv Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/od28jfp
Judy Alter was the name I pulled from my imaginary hat filled with the names of those of you who were kind enough to leave a comment this past week. A million thanks to all of you. I know that time is a precious gift and I do appreciate your using some of yours to read this blog and leave a comment.
Judy, I’ll get in touch with you privately so you can let me know where to send a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.
There are few things more exciting – or unsettling – to a writer than admitting you’re not in control of your story. Most of us like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, deep down, we know that’s only partly true. In reality, our lives are subject to a million and one curves the universe can throw at us. As writers, though, we’re dealing with a universe of our own creation, so we should be in control. Right? You’d think so. But, as in other aspects of our lives, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a character or even the story itself throws us a curve.
I wrote LOVE AND NOT DESTROY as a stand-alone – or so I thought. It’s the story of Peace Morrow, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a strong, loving woman who gave her a nearly perfect childhood, but still, Peace can’t help wondering about her biological parents.
Thinking back over it, I remember that my original intent was that she would never discover who her biological parents were. The idea was that she would come to realize that it doesn’t matter whose blood flowed in her veins. She is what she makes herself. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was unfair to the reader and to my protagonist to leave that part of the puzzle unresolved and, truth be told, I wanted to know myself. So, by the end of the book, Peace has learned that her father is dead and her mother is someone she doesn’t really even like. That’s a complete turnaround from my original intention. The story took over and told me what needed to happen. I thought I’d tied up enough loose ends that the story was finished.
But Peace’s situation haunted me. I had to know what happened next and, unless I wrote the story, I’d never know. So, there you have it – I’m writing another Peace Morrow book. I planned to write about Peace’s relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, and, almost as important, the relationship between the two mothers. It seemed like an interesting premise for a book. I had what I thought was the perfect title: ALL THAT I AM. I felt confident that I could make an interesting book out of this situation. I wrote a couple of chapters, introducing new characters as necessary to flesh out the story and, since I write mysteries, I inserted a mystery element into the book … and, wham, the story took over. I realized the new characters’ lives were impacted in ways that could not be ignored. Peace and her two mothers are still there, but the focus has changed.
That’s where I am now. I’m being led down an unexpected path by characters who I thought I’d created, but who have assumed lives of their own. That’s what characters do; they demand that their story be told and even reveal to those of us who consider ourselves their creators what that story is. All we have to do is find the right words to do justice to the lives of these people.
Writing is an unpredictable endeavor – sometimes unsettling, always exciting.
Links to LOVE AND NOT DESTROY:Amazon: http://amzn.to/NfDQqk Amazon Kindle: http://amzn.to/wxIV81 Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1ujTh5K
Leave a comment by August 1 and you could win a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.