With a Little Help From My Friends

My pre-Inauguration trip to Florida was not all sand sculpture and walks on the beach.  A lot of it involved eating. . .  no, that’s not what I meant to say.  There certainly was plenty of that, too, but grouper tacos were not the real reason I flew back into the scenes of my childhood.  After a brief vacation in Sanibel, and an even briefer visit with my family in St. Pete, I moved on to Sarasota for a week of brainstorming with four of my favorite writer friends.  Left to right below, Diane Mott Davidson, moi with curly Florida hair, Casey Daniels and Karen YoungJasmine Cresswell was the photographer and shows up in the next photo. 

We began brainstorming together several years ago and grew to five members, which is as many writers in one room as we can manage and maintain at least a smidgen of ego.  Each of us brings a different sensibility, different skills, and different places in our careers.  What we have in common is imagination, the desire to listen to other points of view, the ability to embrace ideas that appeal to us, the ability to forget those that don’t, the desire to share our own ideas, and gratitude for this valuable time together.
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A week in Florida sounds like a vacation, doesn’t it?  Especially with five women who are anxious to share gossip of the past year.  But as lovely as it is to bask in the sun in January, we are always amazed at how tired we are at the end of the day and how ready to fall into bed early.

Exactly what do we do that requires so much energy? (And food, but that may be a separate question.)  Here’s our format. 

Each participant comes prepared to brainstorm for two 1 1/2 hour sessions on her own upcoming projects.  The two sessions might involve the same book, or they might involve two different books, as mine did this time.  We each have one morning and one afternoon session on different days and we only do two sessions total a day.  We print up the basics for our fellow “BSers” (Brainstormers, please!), so we have a starting point.  Then the person whose book is being discussed presents whatever she has and tells us what she wants from us. 

We tape each session, with two tape recorders running, to be safe.  Once we’re home and transcribing we’re always surprised to find that some throwaway line early in a session might take us in yet a new and exciting direction.  We don’t want to miss a thing. 

What do we cover?  That depends on what the individual author needs.  Sometimes we concentrate on whatever element the group feels is missing from the project.  Sometimes we talk about characters; sometimes we outline chapters or do timelines; sometimes we argue the viability of plot points.

These sessions are not for the faint-hearted, nor for those whose egos can’t take it.  Nor will they work for writers who feel that each budding idea is precious and must be slowly nurtured and preserved. This is a positive group, helpful and supportive, but ideas that seemed wonderful in the shower are often discarded around the discussion table.  By the same token, by arguing to keep an idea we love, we change the parts of it that don’t work and 
find new ways to keep it alive.

As an aside, we do something else that’s great fun, too.  Casey brings her Tarot cards, and we each do a reading for one of our characters.  For more about THAT, read my blog at redroom.com where once a month I’ll be discussing writing how-tos for those budding authors among you.

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This year I was lucky enough to discuss my next mystery A Truth for a Truthwhich will be out sometime in 2010.  I had lots of thoughts on that one, but the gang helped me with some of the places where I was stuck.  Ideas for the sequel to Happiness Key which we titled Treasure of Happiness Key (we’ll see if my publisher keeps it) were tentative and new, but by the time my session ended, I had many more possibilities to explore–and a mysterious new man, but you’ll only find out about that at Red Room.

When all is said and done, every book is an individual project.  Ideas are everywhere, and no author knows what will actually work until he or she is in the midst of the novel.  But the energy and excitement that brainstorming provides, and the feedback from writers we trust can be invaluable.  It certainly is for me.

Especially in Florida.  In January.   


  1. Diane Chamberlain on January 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Emilie, I loved reading about your brainstorming process, and it’s so good to see some familiar faces in your photos. Love the tape recorder idea! I think I’ll suggest that to my BS group.

  2. Emilie Richards on January 26, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Welcome, Diane. The tape recording makes all the difference. We work so hard and so fast we breeze by a lot of good ideas. By the time we’re done, too, it’s all a blur. Besides, listening to the sessions at my computer is a nice reminder of how fun they were. I enjoy seeing your brainstorming buddies on your blog. (Diane has a great blog.)

  3. tarot game on March 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Cards are a visual tool. They are not devilish or otherwise sinful. They originated from a card game. A person who uses Tarot cards should have a gift of sorts for visual interpretation. I let ‘seekers’ pick their own cards face up. Subconsciously, they choose the cards that represent their problems or questions. Nothing arcane is involved

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