As a life-long, avid reader of everything from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss to Stephen King, I always wondered how my favorite writers came up with ideas for their books. In my imagination, the writer always started with a blank page; the first exciting words would be written (through frantic scribbling or vigorous typing) as the ideas began to pour forth.
While I’m sure each writer has their own process, I realize now that few writers sit down, stare at a blank page, and begin to write a novel. In fact, all the books I’ve written took shape months before I put the first word to paper. My books started when an idea or a question lingered in my mind, returned again and again, and made me ask myself: What if so-and-so happened? What kind of person would do that? Has that ever happened before? What would they do next?
The seed of a story can come from almost anywhere: the evening news, an overheard conversation, or just a random observation of life. And when I find myself thinking through possible plot twists while waiting for the light to turn green or for the water to boil, I know the story had intrigued me enough to start outlining the idea to see if has legs, a body, and, most importantly, a heart to work with.
Then, when the idea has taken on a life of its own in my mind, I can sit down and begin to write.
As a writer of thrillers, I often flinch when I have to create a scene that depicts the type of character, and the level of violence, that we all fear meeting up with in real life. But without that twisted, damaged character that sends chills up my back and makes me look behind doors at night, I wouldn’t be able to write about the bravery and heroics of the character who, despite adversity (and usually some very bad luck) overcomes her own flaws to save the day.
How boring Stephen King’s book, It, would be without Pennywise the Clown. And would we have cared about Clarice Starling quite so much in Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs if she wasn’t going up against monsters like Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter? Both books were written decades ago, but the authors created such terrifying characters that they left an indelible impression on me and the millions of people who read, and probably had nightmares about, these books.
I’ve always been fascinated by the parallels and contrasts between people who are evil and do horrific things and those who struggle courageously to overcome evil and do amazing things. In my books, I try to weave that contrast of dark and light throughout the plot and the complex characters who, I hope, will stay with you once you’ve put the book down.
I'm happy to announce that the audiobook version of Catch the Girl is now available on Audible and Amazon!
Narrator Melanie Carey has done another great job bringing Book Three in the Mercy Harbor Thriller series to life.
View on Amazon.
It’s the soul-searching question that every aspiring writer ponders, and every seasoned writer attempts to answer over and over again: what motivates and inspires you to write (and finish) a novel? Of course, the answer differs from writer to writer, and evolves throughout a writer’s career.
I turned to writing novels after decades of telling myself I was too busy raising a family and working sixty hours a week to ever have the time. Eventually I had to admit I was letting my dream slip away. Anne Lamott’s words resonated within me when she said, “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written…it’s gonna break your heart.”
I knew I needed to make time and space to write, but when I did manage to finagle some alone time, words and ideas didn’t flow onto the page as easily as I’d foolishly hoped. I soon began to understand that I needed time to think and plan and dream before I could write. As Joyce Carol Oates so elegantly pointed out, “novels begin not on the page, but in meditation and daydreaming—in thinking, not writing.”
After much contemplation and musing I felt I had a solid idea for a novel – one that I would actually want to read myself – and I sat down to write the story that was starting to come to life in my head. I was determined to follow Ray Bradbury’s suggestion to “enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, by reading your story, will catch fire, too.”
But writer’s doubt, which I’ve found to be more debilitating than writer’s block, crept in as I read over my first 95,000-word draft. I was sure that no one would want to read it. It’s a lonely feeling to have labored long and hard to produce something you are unable to share.
Franz Kafka’s insight that “writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself” seemed disturbingly true to me at that stage, but I forced myself to revise the draft and sent it to an editor for feedback. It was hard to hear that my labor of love was deeply flawed (as are most first drafts), but I learned that a novel isn’t born pretty. It comes out raw and red and needs attention. You have to edit and revise (and revise and revise) to make it ready to take out in public.
In the midst of many rewrites it was reassuring to read the wonderful John Irving admit that “half my life is an act of revision.” I suddenly felt like I was in very good company. All the fabulous writers that had inspired and thrilled me in the past had also slogged through endless edits and rewrites. The knowledge made me feel slightly (undeservedly) smug and decidedly less sorry for myself.
Once I held an author’s copy of my finished book in my hands, I relished the gratifying feeling of achievement. I had finished and nothing could take that away from me. It was the blissful moment just before I asked myself, “Okay, what should I write next?”
As for the inspiration used to write my other novels (and any novels I have the privilege to finish in the future) I rely on Isabel Allende’s admonition to “show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”
YAY! Happy to say that Book 3 in my Mercy Harbor Thriller Series available today!
Find Catch the Girl on Amazon. Read free with Kindle Unlimited.
Congratulations to Linda T. the lucky winner of this month's drawing for a free audio book version of the first two books in The Mercy Harbor Thriller Series, The River Girls and Girl Eight. Happy listening, Linda!