I’m a week late for a blog hop that my awesome writer friend, Debra Druzy, was kind enough to invite me to partake in. And, I feel terrible. The assignment was simply to blog about your writing process. Well, if you click on the link above, you may figure out at least part of why I’m a week late. Debra has a kick-ass process (that has resulted in the sexy, sweet and totally satisfying Sleeping with Santa stories) and I have none. None to speak of, at least, unless you count eating potato chips and other greasy (and preferably salty) snacks a process. I’ll surely look bad compared to her informative and inspirational post. But, more on my process later. First, I’ll apologize profusely for being so late and then I’ll try to answer the questions as best I can.
What am I working on?
Let’s see – I recently finished the final, final revision of my first novel, Goddess of Suburbia (click here if you want to see what it’s all about – or at least get a sneak peek). It was a long road – six years and many, many revisions – but, I think it’s the best it can be now and it’s off in the world on submission with some pretty amazing people. So, now I’m working on my next project – a novel that spans three decades and is told in present tense, flashbacks and journal entries. It is the story of three best friends, Josie (or Josephine to her mother), Alec and Caleb, who are inseparable from the moment they meet at college orientation. A love triangle that endures through college and beyond, Josie chooses Cal over Alec, marrying him with Alec as the best man. But, there has always been that tiny nugget of doubt, leaving Josie wondering if she chose wisely. Twenty years later, Josie finds her marriage to Cal crumbling just as she needs his support the most. Facing a cancer diagnosis, Josie reaches out to Alec while Cal escapes into a bottle of whisky. It’s only then that she realizes that a miscommunication years earlier changed the entire course of her life. Is it too late to alter her path now or can she reclaim the happiness that should have been hers just as she’s about to take on the biggest battle of her life?
Note: Keep reading and you’ll see how long it took for the above paragraph to take shape. Hint: Josie, Cal and Alec were simply – “two guys and a girl” at first…
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, for one thing – my heroines are real. They have gray hairs and some cellulite. They may be beautiful, but they’re also insecure – but, not in an irritating, weak way (hopefully!). They’re insecure in the way that we all are. Many women, especially moms, feel like they’re not quite good enough and Max, the heroine in Goddess of Suburbia and a mom of four, is no exception. Her house is a mess, dinner often means pizza, mac and cheese or a take-out rotisserie chicken, because they’re always rushing somewhere – just like real life. Most of her day is spent acting as a chauffeur or a referee. Her teenage daughter wants nothing to do with her. Probably the number one comment I get from readers is that they can relate to Max – that reading Goddess of Suburbia feels like going out to lunch with your best friend and gabbing for hours. I couldn’t think of a better compliment, even if I tried.
Why do I write what I do?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old, because I’ve always had an overwhelming desire to make a reader feel something with my words. In sophomore year English class at the University of Massachusetts we had to choose another student’s essay that spoke to us and write a note to the author explaining why this was the case. A big chunk of my classmates chose my essay about how hard it was to break up with my boyfriend of three years just a couple of months earlier. I remember one girl wrote to me that she felt like she was reading about herself. I was hooked. So, this is why I write women’s fiction about moms, “Mom Lit” – if you will. That’s what makes me feel like I can relate – like I’m reading about myself. Sure, sometimes I want to read a book to escape, but more often – I want to feel like I’m understood, like someone gets me. That’s why I write fiction that, hopefully, makes others feel that way too.
How does my writing process work?
Like I said above, I don’t have much of a writing process, so I’ll describe my process in writing this blog post.
1. Sit down with my laptop and really good intentions. Get a couple of paragraphs down in a speedy manner. Feel pretty good about myself and my creativity.
2. Decide the best way to describe Goddess of Suburbia would be a link to the sneak peek. Insert that. Feel clever. Try to think of a snappy way to describe my next book, tentatively titled, The Ties that Bind or maybe I’ll rename it just Triangle or maybe The Road Not Taken or The Bend in the Road. Get distracted by trying to think of a new attention-grabbing title.
3. Read the synopsis I wrote for my next book, whatever the name may be, in “Notes” on my iPhone. Realize that it’s way too complicated and somewhat rambling. Look at time the note was saved and see 2:13 am. Realize this makes perfect sense. I had to meet a deadline for the contest I was participating in, so I wrote it dead tired in the middle of the night on my phone, after falling asleep on my laptop. Feel momentarily proud that I made that deadline and took second in the contest. Then remember that I still need to think of a quick snappy way to summarize it, because the current synopsis is neither quick nor snappy.
Panic that I can’t think of a hook for my next book, whose title I’m really not so sure about anymore. Even worse, the characters don’t have names – they are just X,Y and Z at this point. Coming up with names for characters is the hardest part for me – often I’ll be halfway through and a character will just have this: [ ], instead of a name. It has to fit. It has to be perfect. Make a note to go to baby name website and see what hits me.
4. Decide that I absolutely must vacuum and mop the floor right at that very minute (well, at least vacuum and wet Swiffer it), because my three-legged rescue dog has been shedding all over the place. Sit on the nice, clean floor and rub both of my dogs’ bellies (thereby creating more fur). Notice two buckets of laundry. Start folding one. Bring laundry upstairs to put away and decide there’s no room in my dresser, so I pull out a stack of shirts I haven’t worn in a while to try on. Decide perhaps I should shower before trying them on, being that I’ve been doing all this cleaning.
5. Try to think of a snappy description in the shower – no luck. Feel a little light headed after the shower, so eat some potato chips. Still feeling lightheaded – heat up a slice of pizza. Realize that I haven’t taken my iron pills for anemia in at least two weeks and that’s probably why I’m lightheaded. Spend half an hour searching for the iron pills in my cabinets. Grab stool and take everything out of cabinet. No luck. Put it all back. Resign self to feeling lightheaded. Eat a cookie.
6. Fortified with pizza and sugar (even if not iron), sit down with laptop and decide to just skip ahead and answer the other questions and go back to the description of what I’m working on now when I think of something clever. My mother stops by fifteen minutes later to pick something up. Chat with her for a few minutes. Tell her I’ve been working. She comments that my living room looks so clean and neat. Decide that perhaps procrastinating is good for something. Kids get home from school as she’s leaving. Empty all the barely sipped from water bottles by my front door onto plants in our tiny garden. Wonder how three children can amass at least a dozen water bottles over a few days. Place said bottles in a bag to recycle.
7. Finally sit down again with laptop under a tree in my backyard – five hours after I started. Try to write while kids play hockey in front of me. Insist I can’t tell if a disputed goal was actually a legit goal, because I’m working. Notice a Facebook notification. Click on Facebook. Notice twenty-four Twitter notifications. God help me. Check phone. Answer texts. Try to figure out what to make for dinner. Eat more potato chips. Go back to blog post. And, here I am – seven hours after I started, still with no snappy description. And now I have to drive my son and his friend somewhere. And, none of my kids have eaten…
So, that’s kind of my general writing process. Not too impressive, huh? If I had to say how I come up with ideas, it would be this – an idea comes into my head, usually something I’ve seen or maybe even something that’s happened to me. It knocks around my head for a while. I take it and extrapolate it out into different scenarios – best, worst, craziest. Sometimes, one will stick and then it kind of hounds me until I write it. I know that sounds crazy – but, I’m a “pantser” (a writer who flies by the seat of her pants, rather than plotting everything out before putting the proverbial pen to paper) through and through. I do like to have an idea of the end of a book before I write it, but how the characters get there is often up to them. My characters tell me how to write them – it’s just very organic once I start typing and sometimes they surprise me. I was adding in a scene to Goddess of Suburbia during this last rewrite and it ended up not being at all what I envisioned at first, but it was so much better than I could have planned. I expected the character to act a certain way, but as I was writing it, I realized she just wasn’t ready. It was too soon after her husband betrayed her for her to be so vulnerable. And, that scene ended up packing much more of an emotional punch than I ever anticipated – it was just supposed to add a bit of heat. I can’t say any more, because it would give too much away.
To summarize – my writing process involves eating chips, jumping in full-on with an idea once it’s driven me to the brink of insanity by pinging around my brain for weeks or even months (or sometimes years – see below) and letting my characters tell me what they should do next. Occasionally, I simply imagine an alternate reality to the life I’m living (in Goddess of Suburbia, I imagined what it would have been like if I had started dating my future husband / former bad boy musician in college, instead of at twenty-five years old and he was “the one that got away”). I’m fully aware that everything above may make me sound more than slightly unhinged – does that mean that I’m not actually crazy? You know, because crazy people never actually know they’re crazy, right? Or maybe the crazy people who know they’re crazy are just writers…
Postscript: About that summary above – it’s now exactly 48 hours since I started this post and I just finally finished it. For two days I couldn’t think of names, even with a visit to the top baby names of the 1960’s database. These characters had names when I first wrote about them twenty-four years ago. They were the main characters in the novel I was writing during my senior year Independent Study in Creative Writing. (I can’t use those names anymore, because I know too many people with them.) For my final project, I wrote forty pages – all handwritten on loose leaf paper – and proudly handed them to my professor / faculty advisor in the program. He read them, loved them, awarded me an A for my Independent Study program, but lost the pages before returning them to me. I was heartbroken – and I asked for a computer for graduation, determined that would never happen again. I said, “goodbye” to those characters for decades. I just couldn’t think about what I had lost – and how I could possibly try to replicate it.
But then, a conversation with a friend made me think of them and I thought – wow, they’d be pretty interesting to get to know as adults, to see where they ended up. Because, I loved them – that was really my first novel and they were my first fully formed characters. I still have a plastic bin in my basement with pages and pages of my writing from college. They must appear in some of those pages – the ones that weren’t lost – and I’ll sprinkle those in as flashbacks. That’s the other part of my creative process – if characters stick somewhere in my brain, even just in a remote corner, they deserve to have their stories told. And, I’ll do my best to honor that.