I’ve written time and time again about how writing takes dedication. It takes commitment. It takes your full concentration. Well, so do your parents. My dad became ill during my parents’ first week in their new home. He ended up in the hospital while my mom remained in the middle of stacks of boxes, unsure of even where her silverware was hiding. My husband and I headed for not-so-sunny Florida and helped set up their household in between visits to the hospital and sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed. It was a pretty bad week. Like a true writer, though, I kept filing away my experiences for later examination and use. For example, what type of person thinks it is okay to let his dog sprawl out on the couch in a hotel lobby? I want to know more about the two older women who came to the grocery store in a golf cart and bought flowers and wine. Why is the security guard at the front of my parents’ neighborhood taking his job way too seriously? Then there’s Dee, my parents’ friendly neighbor, who was raised in the Bahamas and told us the history of her home country as well as making us a pie from the oranges off my parents’ tree. My dad’s brother, Uncle Bo, was in town, too. I grew up with my dad’s family but have not had a lot of chances to see them in my adult life. Every time I spend time with them, though, I remember how quirky, funny, and downright odd my dad’s family can be. Scotch-Irish, they are born story-tellers. They are not much into watching television or reading; but they can keep you occupied for hours with their tall tales. Spending time with my dad’s family reminds me of who I am and where I come from. It reaffirms what I do. So, I didn’t write a single word while I was away, but I guess I was on a sort of a research trip. It’s nice to be home again, though, and feel the keys beneath my fingers.
I love my husband. I just wanted to put that out there before I go any further. He’s a timeless jock with a heart of gold and shows his love through his actions. When I was a young, very poor, woman, in my first apartment and facing a Christmas without any means to celebrate, he surprised me with a Christmas tree and box of lights and ornaments. I knew that night that I would marry him. How could any woman pass up somebody that kind? He’s quite a guy. He is not, however, the smoothest talker in the world. He often says things that make my eyebrows jerk together. Tonight, as I tried my protect myself against the Midwestern winter winds by turning on our fireplace, he asked me one of those very unsmooth questions. “Are you semi-comfortable yet?” He was warm and wanted to turn the fireplace off. Was I semi-comfortable? Is that the best it’s going to get for me? Not “comfortable” just “semi-comfortable.” I could have been irritated at his question, but I just filed it away in the dialogue folder in my brain. You see, I am surrounded by an odd assortment of people who say odd things often. If you’re a fan of my books, you know that my male characters are often not sophisticated or smooth and sometimes trip over their own words. In Lost and Found in Laurel Ridge, when Trey calls Erin “boo” and she says “What have I told you about that?”—–that comes right out of my own life. In Wait for Me, when Kevin’s dad says “I-talian” with a long “i”—yep, that’s my dad talking. I don’t have to go searching for inspiration; these people I love are feeding me the words constantly. Semi-comfortable yet? I will find a place for that question in one of my future books. Now, excuse me while I put on a second layer of socks.
Last week, when I published my newest book “The Curse of Elspeth Armstrong,” I did so with a sigh of happiness. Writing is my second job and sometimes I just need a vacation. As I’ve blogged before, though, my vacations don’t last very long. I don’t go searching for new ideas, they come and find me. As I relaxed on my sofa last night, yelling out answers to Jeopardy and feeling pretty darn smart, my next set of characters came a-knockin’ and I spent the evening getting to know them. They were still on my mind this morning while I was driving to work and then the strangest thing happened. Characters from “started but not finished” stories began nudging their way into my head. Just like any aspiring writer, I have a half-dozen unfinished books saved on my computer. They started off as great ideas but just couldn’t be developed past the first few chapters. So, sitting on my hard drive are a bunch of characters who were never given a chance. Suddenly, the shady brother from a book I started years ago seemed a perfect fit for my new book. Another character, a woman who had just not been strong enough to carry her own story, stepped up to play the teen daughter. As I continue to daydream about my next novel, I’m open to any of my old characters that would like a second chance. I would really love for them to find a new home in the strange and weirdly wonderful writer’s corner in my mind.
My newest book, The Curse of Elspeth Armstrong, is now available on Amazon.com. Like my first book, Wait for Me, I explore the theme of trying to set right wrongs of the past. What an amazing ability that would be! We all have regrets and guilt; wishing we could take back certain words or actions or sorry that we didn’t take a chance because fear held us back. One of the main characters, Angus Armstrong, lives a life of remorse after placing a curse on the Brookes family. The story spans several generations, Angus’ actions affecting family after family, until descendants of both the Armstrong and Brookes families seek to end the endless cycle of pain. There is a dark side to this book, but if you’re familiar with my style of writing, I always end on a hopeful note. I remember Oprah saying once that she didn’t like books with happy endings because they weren’t realistic. I respectfully disagree, Ms. Winfrey. I love stories of redemption all wrapped up in romance, history, and (of course!) the paranormal. More than that, though, I believe in happy endings, both literary and real. Enjoy.
I made a confession at Thanksgiving dinner last night. I’ve been doing online research on how to poison somebody, on how long it takes somebody to die if they are being choked, and on life insurance policies. For example, can the spouse still get a life insurance payout if the policyholder commits suicide? My husband, who has been aware of this research, warned our sons if anything happened to him, to turn my computer over to the police. I could already see myself being interviewed by Keith Morrison on Dateline, trying to convince the world that I really had not been researching how to off my husband. I was just researching my new book. Simply stated, I don’t know how to poison somebody but one of my characters was pretty intent on poisoning the members of the Brookes family. It was my duty as a writer to find out how to do it. So, if God forbid, something happens to my husband and my computer is seized, I will have to present my newest book as evidence. Hopefully, that results in a bump in my sales. I’m not a killer, I’m just a writer.
My son, who’s trying his hand at writing, asked me if I thought it was okay to write two stories at one time. He said that he had lost his way in his first novel and had developed a new story idea. I’m actually a great person to answer this question. At one point in time, I had no less than twenty unfinished novels on my computer. I was the queen of half-written books. To be honest, several of them still sit, ladies in waiting, on my hard drive. “Pick me next! Pick me next!” they clamor each time I’m ready to start a new project. The problem with abandoning one novel to start another is you risk falling out of love with the first one. Since becoming a more disciplined writer, I realize that you have to stick with your characters or you might lose that connection that made you want to write them in the first place. Just like in real life, sometimes your lovers, family, and friends can bore you. Sometimes you just don’t even know where they’re coming from or where your relationship is headed. Then, that new exciting story winks at you from across the room and tries to lure you away. He makes promises of new and exciting experiences. In my early days of writing, I was easily seduced. It wasn’t until I committed myself to actually finishing a novel (Wait for Me) that I learned the rewards of seeing my characters’ story to a conclusion. Writing is not always shiny and new; sometimes it’s pure drudgery. It’s like slogging through mud. Trust me, though. Finish that story. The literary high of finishing a book can not be beat.
As a licensed therapist, I spend my day being a cheerleader. For eight hours a day, I tell people that they can do it, they can get better, they can rise above this difficult time in their lives. As an aspiring writer, there are times that I could use some cheerleading. I love writing and I love what I write, but there are days that I wished for more affirmation. Today is such a day. So, before I totally let myself fall into a pit of self-pity and self-doubt, I have decided to establish my 10 Commandments of Writing.
1. Remind yourself why you write. You write because you love to tell stories. You don’t write to make money (good thing) or for accolades. You write for the pure pleasure of creating a story.
2. Read more. Never stop learning the craft. Study what you like and what you don’t like.
3. Stop perusing your book sales spreadsheets. When you tie your art into your finances, one or the other is bound to suffer.
4. Don’t take rejection so personally. Allow yourself a ten minute pity-party, then move on. You can’t get into the minds of publishers or agents or advertising sites, so stop trying.
5. Take pleasure in other’s successes or at the very least, don’t resent them. Sure, the pinch can hurt when a book that you wouldn’t touch again with a 10-foot pole becomes a best seller, but good for them! It might be your turn next.
6. Remind yourself how satisfying it is to finish writing a book. There’s no feeling like it. Waiting for your first sale, your first review–knowing that someone in this world is out there enjoying your hard work is a priceless feeling.
7. Remember that every day is a new day; one with endless possibilities. My brother is a photographer and aspiring filmmaker and we have talked about how every day we are both just one phone call, one e-mail, one text away from greatness.
8. Don’t allow self-doubt to eat away at you. Like anger, resentment, and jealousy, self-doubt is a selfish, destructive emotion.
9. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will ever give up writing.
10. Just shut up and write.