I've always been a storyteller. Not that that's always served me well...just ask my parents. Ironically I suck at out-and-out lying. I have no poker face at all, which explains why I don't play. But embellishing facts for the sake of a good tale, I can do that.
I learned storytelling, or maybe inherited my ability for it, from my Italian Grandma Jennie, who was generally acknowledged by friends and family to be the best oral storyteller around. She mainly told old Italian fairy tales with moral endings, and family history, particularly about my great grandparents immigrating to the United States and the wild Pacific Northwest.
I always thought my family had a wonderful, colorful past full of villains and gunfights, evil revenuers, mining explosions, handsome strangers, mail-order brides, romance and passion, and little Italian gremlins that caused no end of trouble for everyone. But now I wonder...
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland to two kids from Idaho. They eventually moved back home and I grew up in Washington and Idaho where I became an avid reader and booklover. I’ve always loved romance, mysteries, and suspense novels.
As a kid I told stories to myself, which worried my parents some. It never occurred to me to write my stories down. In school I excelled in reading and English. So what major did I pursue in college? Electrical Engineering, of course.
I married my college sweetheart and went to work for several large defense contractors where I wrote...software. And read books during my lunch hour. I gave up the glamorous engineering life when I had kids for the equally glamorous life of a stay-at-home mom. At least then I got to tell stories on the job!
One day I took the kids to story time at the library and happened upon a brochure for an extension course in creative writing. I was so excited by the idea that I just knew I had to be a novelist. I never took the class but I did spend the next several years reading and researching.
Then, finally, I put fingers to keyboard and wrote a novel about villains and gunfights, mining explosions, handsome strangers and mail-order brides, romance and passion...
The book won several awards for unpublished manuscripts but, so far, remains unpublished.
Eventually I found my voice writing humorous contemporary stories with plenty of romance and suspense.
Readers often wonder what my writing process is like. How do I come up with my ideas? How do I shape them into a book? Here’s an article I wrote for a blog that explains my process pretty well. Enjoy!
Grappling with a Big Idea
As a writer, I often feel like a tiny feather-weight wrestler trying to take down and tame an awesome, intimidating sumo of an idea. At other times, I feel like I’m trying to grasp and wrestle something so light and ethereal that I’ll never get a hold on it. How can you shape a wisp of smoke into a solid brick foundation?
I don’t know about other writers, but my process for crafting a story usually starts with the Big Idea. I read or hear or see something that seems to shout at me, “Now there’s a story!” For example, I read about a fantasy spy camp in a travel magazine. That sparked the idea for my book, Spy Candy, which, oddly enough, is about a woman who goes to a fantasy spy camp and runs into some real intrigue.
But often, the idea’s not even that solid. Sometimes, it’s downright silly. I wrote an entire 100, 000 word manuscript because I read about an Old West detective escaping an angry mob by crawling beneath a wooden boardwalk. I just had to work that into a book. The annals of literature absolutely needed it. So, of course, my hero escaped a hanging mob in the same fashion. It provided a great excuse for our hero to look up the heroine’s skirt as she walked all over him. And for her to retaliate by raining dirt into his eyes through cracks in the boardwalk.
Maybe the silly idea that sparked the story explains why the manuscript remains unpublished. And it may very well also explain the phrase, “Here’s mud in your eye!”
My Big Ideas always start out as fuzzy, beautiful things. I almost literally feel them and the emotional responses they’re supposed to elicit. The idea sits floaty and heavenly in my mind, a vague notion. A couple of scenes seen through a fog. At this point, I’m convinced this story will be the best story I’ve ever written. Its story germ is so fabulous, how could it be otherwise?
But even a notion needs some substance to become a real story. So I start researching, note-taking, doing a bit of rudimentary plotting and the all-important thinking. After awhile, the researching gets old, and the thinking starts to feel like mere procrastination. It’s time to put the story on the page. But where to start? In whose point of view? Should the opening scene take place in the heroine’s apartment, the lab, or at the coffee shop? Do I need a prologue?
Suddenly I hate that mean, nasty sumo wrestler with its arrogant, big idea ways. At that point, I feel like screaming in frustration, “What’s the big idea! Why won’t the story glide onto the page like it’s supposed to?”
It’s too much for me. I don’t have the skills to write and get the idea onto the page the way it feels in my head. Why did I ever believe that I could?
But if I hang with it, after a few chapters, I’ll gain some strength and pick up writing speed. By mid book, I’ll begin liking my idea again. By the end, I’ll even love it once more as I pin it to the mat.
Then I’ll be sorry to see the match end, worthy opponent that the Big Idea was.
ELEMENTS OF WRITING FICTION SERIES FROM WRITERS DIGEST BOOKS
BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES & ENDS
Nancy Kress ISBN: 0-89879-550-8
CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINT
Orson Scott Card
CONFLICT, ACTION, & SUSPENSE
William Noble ISBN0-89879-643-2
Lewis Turco ISBN: 0-89879-349-1
Ansen Dibell ISBN: 0-898-79-303-3
SCENE & STRUCTURE
Jack M. Bickham ISBN: 0-89879-551-6
Jack M. Bickham ISBN: 0-89879-635-0
THE COMIC TOOLBOX
John Vorhaus ISBN:1-879505-21-5
THE CAREER NOVELIST
Donald Maas ISBN: 0-435-08693-6
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL
Donald Maas ISBN: 978-1582971827
THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS
Stephen King ISBN: 0-684-85352-3
HOW I WRITE
Janet Evanovich ISBN:0-312-35428-2
THE WEEKEND NOVELIST
Robert J. Ray ISBN:0-440-50594-1
WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL
SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS
Renni Browne and Dave King
Do stories dance through your head? Do you dream of seeing a novel you wrote on the shelves? Here’s my best advice for seeing your dream come true:
- Read, read, read! Every published writer I know has a passion for reading. Read widely and voraciously—the classics, literary, and every genre in which you have the slightest interest.
- Write, write, write! Being good at anything takes practice and lots of it. Don’t just talk about writing, do it! If you write just one page a day, you’ll have a finished manuscript in about a year.
- Hone your craft. Take classes, enter contests that provide feedback, attend conferences, or join a critique group.
- Finish the book. Don’t get caught in an endless loop of revising a few chapters or pages. Move on and finish a first draft. An unpublished fiction writer should have a finished manuscript before they begin to submit.
- Get impartial feedback. In all probability, your mother, sister, friends, and significant other are not writers or editors. They’re not going to tell you the truth about your work, either out of bias, love, or lack of expertise. Find someone who will.
- Polish, polish, polish! Editors and agents get thousands of submissions a year. Make yours the one that will have them reaching for the phone to give you The Call.
- Be savvy and know the industry. Get online! I follow many publishing professionals on Twitter and read the following industry blogs regularly: bookendslitagency.blogspot.com; nathanbransford.blogspot.com; pubrants.blogspot.com; editorialass.blogspot.com; mediabistro.com/galleycat; jetreidliterary.blogspot.com; arcaedia.livejournal.com
- Submit, submit, submit! It takes courage to send your baby out there, but you can’t win if you don’t enter. In all but specific cases, I recommend sending out submissions to more than one editor or agent at a time.
- Expect rejection. Publishing is a three-legged stool. To succeed, you need talent, skill, and luck. They don’t always align. Every published writer I know has been rejected many, many times.
- Move on! The acquisition process can take months or years. While you’re waiting on one book, start another.
- Don’t give up! Published writers share one trait above all—persistence.