The Write Way: The Secret Writing Life of Author Diane Chamberlain

A warm welcome to Diane Chamberlain and many thanks for her willingness to share writing tips today.

I’ve interviewed Diane at Southern Exposure before, but today Diane has agreed to talk more specifically about the way she writes.  Her newest book
The Good Father just arrived at bookstores, so I thought it would be fun to ask her how that story grew and changed, and what she did to nudge it along.

I’ve been a writer nearly . . . well, never mind, but I’m still fascinated by the way that my colleagues work. As I’ve said here before, we’re all different. Translated that means: There is no right way to write a book, only the way that works best for each individual author. So let’s see what works for Diane.

Diane, I know you’ve been asked a million times where you find your ideas. Can you share where the specific idea for The Good Father originated?  

Nearly every morning, I take my work to a local coffee shop. One morning, a young guy came in with a little girl. They looked so out of place there and my imagination kicked into high gear. Was he her father? Could he have kidnapped her? And what if he asked me to watch her for a minute while he ran out to his car and never back? I had my story. At least I had the jumping off point. Unfortunately, that’s the easy part!

What’s the strangest way an idea occurred to you?

Well, before I got into working in coffee shops, I took my work to Taco Bell. One day, the two women sitting behind me were talking about a friend of theirs whose ex-husband was fighting for custody of their infant son. One of the women said “If that happened to me, I’d change my name and take my baby and move to another state.” I had my story. . . or half of my story. When I got home, I turned on my new laptop computer to jot down my thoughts.

The laptop was “pre-owned”, which was why the store sold it to me at such a good price. The first owner had left some intriguing documents on the computer, including a letter to a friend in which he discussed a cover-up of an very serious error that had been made in his workplace. So, I wondered, what if my character who is on the run with her baby buys a computer and discovers information that should go to the authorities, but she can’t take it to them because she’s on the run? I loved stumbling across two ideas in one day that combined so perfectly. I wish that would happen more often. (By the way, that book is The Escape Artist).

Everyone who reads this blog knows I’m an outliner.  Do you plan up front or do you sit down and let the story surprise you? 

I’m an obsessive outliner. You’re the only other author I know who outlines to the degree I do, and I think you and I have both learned how beneficial a thorough outline can be. For me, though, the first outline usually needs to be completely overhauled after I start writing, as my characters come to life and I get deeper into the research. I feel much more confident after I create that second outline, and yet I know the story is still going to surprise me. The characters are sure to do something I never expected. I love when that happens because I think if I’m surprised, my readers will be as well.

Did you see lots of changes in The Good Father as you wrote?

Oh, yes. I don’t think you can have a four-year-old girl in a book and not have lots of unexpected twists and turns.

Characters have a habit of transforming from our original vision of them to something quite different once they begin to walk and talk on the page.  Was that true for this novel?  Can you give us a before and after?

Travis, the 22-year-old dad in The Good Father, does indeed leave his little girl with a woman in a coffee shop. I originally imagined that woman, Erin, to be middle aged (I guess I was still thinking of myself in her situation) and unfamiliar with children. But when I first “met” her in the book, she morphed into a woman in her mid-thirties, and she was sitting in the coffee shop chatting with an online grief group on her iPad because she’d recently lost her young daughter.

Yes, it all came to me that quickly. When I create a situation in a book–a man leaves his child with a stranger–I try to create characters who will have the hardest time dealing with that situation because that makes the most engaging story. And who would have a more difficult time than a woman who’d recently lost her own child? Sometimes I just want to hug my characters for showing me the path!

Your novels are complex studies of human nature, and we aren’t always meant to love your characters, but we always understand them.  How do you make certain that even if a reader disagrees with something a character has done, she or he will still empathize with that person’s choices?  Can you give us an example from The Good Father?

Maybe you know someone you think is a terrible person. Perhaps she’s your boss, for example. She is hard to please, mean-spirited, a task-master and she never smiles. You can’t stand her. Then you learn that when she leaves work each day, she drives to the residential school where her special needs daughter has lived for all of her ten years. Your boss spends every evening with her daughter, reading to her, talking to her, cuddling her. When she goes home, she goes through her finances, worried she won’t be able to afford the care for her daughter much longer. How do you feel about your boss now?Few people are all good or all evil, and I try to make my characters believable and relatable by giving the good guys some flaws and the bad guys some virtues. In The Good Father, Travis does something terrible. I bet you’ll still care about him–probably a lot–because his love for his little daughter will counterbalance your disappointment in him. I can almost guarantee it.Finally, theme is important in your stories.  Did you begin this novel with an idea of what thought/idea/quandary you wanted the reader to take away at the end?  Or did this change as you wrote and only become clear to you when you had finished?

The theme did change, and that surprised me. I went into it thinking the theme would be “What makes a good parent?” and indeed, that’s part of the take-away of the story. But a much stronger theme that emerged is the importance of connections between people. That theme is repeated over and over again in different ways in The Good Father. It was unconscious on my part, and when I realized how strongly that theme comes through, I loved it. I’m a big believer in the power of community, which is why I love the Internet so much.Many thanks to Diane for sharing her writing journey with us. Reading The Good Father will be even more fun now with this introduction.Thanks so much for letting me chat with your blog readers, Emilie.As a plus, Diane is offering a copy of Keeper of the Light, the first novel in the Kiss River trilogy, to one reader who comments here by May 15th. will make the selection from all commenters.

You can find The Good Father at: Indiebound, Amazon, B&N, and best yet, at your favorite local bookstore.


  1. Pat Matejcek on May 1, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I just received my copy of The Good Father, I can’t wait to get started on it. I would love to be entered for the contest. I love Diane Chamberlain. Thanks~~~

  2. Connie Williamson on May 1, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I loved learning how Diane came across ideas. I’m going to start listening more when I go out!

  3. Dana Britt on May 1, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Thank you both for an engaging post that was so much fun to read!


  4. Diane Chamberlain on May 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Thanks again for having me on your blog, Emilie. Hi, Pat and Connie!

  5. Janet Bowlin on May 1, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I have to say I have never read Diane’s work. I will correct that immediately! Interesting to read how she takes ideas from everywhere and expands them.

  6. Diane Whitworth on May 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I just finished reading The Good Father and loved it! As a Facebook follower of Diane, I know she “hangs out at the ‘opium den'” most days to write, so it was interesting to read about the inspiration she received from there. I am waiting to read about the stranger in the black cloak!

  7. Diane Chamberlain on May 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks, Dana. Janet, I hope you enjoy my books. Emilie and I tend to share an audience of readers, so if you like her books I have a feeling you’ll like mine as well, though if I mention a quilt pattern in one of mine, you can be sure I have no idea what I’m talking about.
    Diane, I’m glad you enjoyed The Good Father. You’ve given me an idea about the stranger in the black cloak. . . maybe I’ll write about him one of these days.

  8. Ida Faye Cutler on May 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Very interesting blog. Now that we know how Diane’s stories evolve, it will make The Good Father even more interesting! Can’t wait to get my copy!

  9. Beverly Silvestre on May 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I loved learning how ideas are developed for Diane’s books.
    This makes it easier to understand the writing process and how characters develop. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Cindy Hamilton on May 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I find it really interesting how you come up with your stories. My parents live in an over 55 villa and my gosh, you could find lots of stories there. Real dozies! lol And they all wonder about anything unusual which could be as unusual as a different car parked by someone elses villa. Oh, an overnight visitor, now who could that be?! Seriously, I guess it keeps them entertained. By the way, both of you have books that have entertained me for hours! Thank you!

  11. JoAnne McCrone-Ephraim on May 3, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Love the insight I gain when reading about the many facets of Diane’s witing from her perspective. I am also anticipating learning more about the stranger in the black cloak from the opium den; intriguing! Perhaps only a book or two away from her current endeavor; unfortunately two or three years in publishing timeline. Tick-tock!

  12. Diane Chamberlain on May 3, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for your comments, everyone, and special thanks again to Emilie for letting me share her blog for a few days.

  13. Shanna on May 4, 2012 at 1:10 am

    I get really wonderful ideas like those sometimes, but the follow through is what I cant get the hang of. I guess I just get to overwhelmed with the big picture, and need to focus on the steps to get there. Thank you for your post it was enlightening.

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