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.
I have had a bad week. Details are not important, but this week sucked. By the end of the week, I was a bit of a madwoman, looking for more things to piss me off just so I could rant and rave about what a bad week I was having. In the midst of it all, though, I kept writing. I kept writing mainly because I am an overly-disciplined, neurotic rule-follower and I have a set-in-cement rule that I have to write something….anything….every day, no matter what. So, I wrote and I was reminded of why I write. Just like reading, writing is a form of escapism. Writing whisks you away into another world and insulates you from the harsh realities of life. One night this week, as I was positioned carefully in bed with an ice pack and ibuprofen, I began writing and before I knew it, hours had gone by and I had written one kick-ass chapter. I hadn’t thought once about work problems, my back being out, family issues…I had been totally lost in my writing. I’m a pretty “straight as an arrow” kind of girl—-I’ve never been tempted by drink, drugs, gambling, or other vices. I’ve never craved them like I crave writing. Writing is necessary to my sanity. Just like Alice couldn’t resist the little bottle marked “Drink Me” I can not resist the blank pages that demand “Write Me.” Writing is my drug of choice.
“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”–Samuel Johnson
I was talking to one of my patients today and we were discussing how much we both enjoyed reading. She told me that she loved to read because she could make the people and the places in the story whatever she wanted them to be. I asked her what she meant and she said, “The characters can look like whatever I want them to look like. The setting is what I want it to be.” Now, as a fanatic reader, I know she’s right. When I read, all heroines magically look like me. If the author describes a character or a setting in such a way that it doesn’t feel right in my head, I just change it. That’s what readers do, right? As a writer, though, it took me aback to think that someone might do that to one of my books! These stories were gifted to me by my imaginary friends. I gave birth to these tales and, frankly, it wasn’t always an easy labor. As I mulled over her words, I realized that I was looking at this in the wrong way. I write to share my imagination, my fantasies, and all things scary, lovely, and weird. If someone is enjoying my work enough to meld their own dreams with mine, that’s pretty cool. It’s all very kumbaya, but I like the thought that we’re all connected in our literary world. I’ll start the book, you finish it.