** Be sure to read to the end for a chance to win an autographed novel.
Yesterday, Monday, was celebration day. On Sunday I sent Sunset Bridge to my editor. These days that’s as “easy” as attaching the manuscript to an email and clicking “send.” Of course everything that went before? Not so easy. Months and months of hard work, and at the end, seven days a week of it. Recently when I eked out time to attend our early morning church service, I could see the greeter silently struggling over whether to send me to the visitor’s table, since I looked unfamiliar. My husband is his minister.
Submitting a novel, particularly one that’s the culmination of a series, is a bittersweet experience. Last night as I lay awake at two AM, I found myself imagining what life will be like for my characters in a future that will never be recorded. Clearly I haven’t let go of them. In a series that depended so heavily on characterization, letting go will be doubly difficult.
On the plus side? I’m FREE!!! At least for a little while. Free to refill the well, to clean my study–does it look like it needs it?–to weed bushels and bushels of bad guys from my gardens. To make the baby quilt that will shortly be used by a new granddaughter. Free to help out after the birth, to visit friends and family, do a library appearance and another at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, OH. What fun!
Last night, to note this historic occasion, my husband and I took the Metro into DC to a Latino restaurant we wanted to try. Normally we drive, an event so fraught with anxiety we usually stay in Northern Virginia. This time we breezed in on DC’s subway system, and in ten minutes we were walking down G Street, just two blocks from our destination. The food was fine, but the trip? The trip was so filled with color, that despite my break from writing, I found myself storing scenes for the future.
Apparently my imagination has yet to note we are on a well deserved break.
Readers often ask where we get our ideas. Here’s the truth. There’s a magic door inside each of us, and when we fling it open, ideas are jostling to be the first over the threshold. How can I NOT use that real life scene last night at the Metro station when three talented African-American men in Redskins shirts assembled and began an impromptu a capella performance of Motown and gospel music? How can I NOT record that my husband and I, so delighted with the entertainment, danced while we waited for our train? Or that a dozen different people dropped money into their bucket, and everybody applauded.
How can I NOT point out that when we take the DC Metro at rush hour, the conversations around us will be about the Iraq war (by people instrumental in policy) or the inner workings of some esoteric bureau we never knew existed? Or that riders, desperate for personal space, will block an empty seat with a briefcase or purse. Or that some others prefer to stand, so they have a clear shot at the door. Or that the live announcer can’t be heard but computer generated messages are clear as a bell–which means it’s easy to miss our stop, but if we happen to notice it and leap to the platform, we’ll remember to avoid closing doors.
How can I NOT someday note the number of homeless people in this affluent corridor, the exquisite carved stone detail on the landmark Colorado building, the way downtown DC, unlike Manhattan, clears out as darkness descends.
You want to write a novel? You don’t have to dig. Open your eyes, take out a pen, or your iPad or any note taking device, and simply record whatever you notice. Let it percolate. At worst, you have details for a scene you might someday write. At best? An entire plot could unfold.
See, there’s a young woman who works in the Colorado building as a paralegal. One night on her way home, she notices a man collecting money for a trio of a capella performers, and he seems vaguely familiar. Once she’s on the Metro–standing so she can leap off and get home quickly for a date with a guy from some shadowy government bureau–she remembers WHY he looked familiar. . .
Now it’s YOUR turn. Try taking what I’ve told you and building your own plot. On Thursday October 28th I’ll do a random drawing of everyone who comments here and gives us a line or two of story, using at least one of my observations. The winner will receive an autographed copy of one of my novels, your choice of any paperback if I have extras on hand. Don’t be shy. Don’t try to be Hemingway. Have fun.