Some of you know from previous posts that my brainstorming group usually meets here in Western NY for most of a week in June going over our projects for the upcoming year. We aren’t a critique group, but we help each other answer questions about our works-in-progress, sometimes as basic as “Here’s my idea, what could I do with it?” all the way to “Here’s my nearly completed story, will you help me decide on an ending.”
Here’s last night’s dinner photo–before our server wreaked havoc at the table with spilled wine and broken glass. Our brainstorming group consists of Connie Laux (aka Casey Daniels and Kylie Logan who is standing in this photo.) Serena Miller on the right and Shelley Costa Bloomfield on the left. I’m on the far left, but you knew that.
We write everything from inspirational fiction and women’s fiction to cozy and traditional mysteries. We’re a happy band when we’re together. No drama. No arguments. We’ve learned that no matter how good our ideas are, the book under discussion is not our own. And the author of that book gets to move the conversation in any direction she prefers. We are her willing slaves.
For the past several years I’ve reported on our sessions, and if you’re interested you can find posts here to learn more. This year my Krewe of Review gang decided it would be fun to ask questions for the brainstormers to answer in our off time. Luckily the brainstormers thought this would be fun, too. Since you hear from me all the time, let’s allow them the spotlight now.
Let the questions begin, with thanks to my own Krewe.
#1: So many novels seem to feature characters with the same professions. Examples would be bookstore owners and B&B owners. Stories seem to revolve around someone coming to their childhood home and opening or running one of these. Aren’t there some other professions to explore?
Casey/Kylie: “Sometimes characters’ occupations are tied to genre. For instance in cozy mystery, publishers demand jobs like librarian, b&b owner, baker. In other genes there’s more leeway.”
Shelley: “Not so easy, when you’re up against what publishers are viewing as good commercial possibilities. And then there’s the bandwagon effect: If a series set in a yarn shop does well, other publishers want to jump on board, and you’ll see books about haunted yarn shops, yarn shops owned by cats, Amish yarn shops, magical yarn shops, yarn shops where book clubs meet, and so on. Me, I have a hard time in crowds. So I write what interests me – a monk, a coffee plantation owner, a tap dancer, a pearl trader – and hope for the best.”
Serena: “After reading your question, I took the time to evaluate all my main characters’ occupations so far: A logging camp operator, a logging camp cook, a dirt farmer, an immigrant housecleaner, a crime writer, a military nurse, a helicopter pilot, a stone mason, a carpenter, a cop, a professional baseball player, a sports bar owner, a Bible translator…and three B&B owners. My characters’ jobs are all over the place. I think the predominance of occupations are often formed by which genre you read. If you read cozy mysteries—there will be a whole lot of B&B and bookshops. If you read Amish fiction, there will be a lot of farmers and bakeries. If you read suspense—there’s going to be a lot of cops and detectives.”
#2: How do writers get around writing blocks? Do you worry that you’ll never have another idea? Does that stress make it worse?
Casey/Kylie: “I don’t believe in writers block. This is my job and I do it every day. Some days the writing is better than others, but it still needs to get done.”
Shelley: “Writer’s block and No Ideas can be two different things. I believe, in a way, writer’s block is my friend. It originates in that writerly part of myself that’s trying to tell me I’ve got something terribly wrong in the story I’m writing – that I need a “time out” to understand that. No Ideas is, for me, scarier, because then, of course, I catastrophize and think No Ideas means my brain is going, my creativity is going, my career is going, my life is going. Ack! But now I’m trying to see No Ideas as a time of rest – a good thing – before the next tumbling onslaught of what I hope will be wonderful ideas.
Serena: “I’ve dealt with writer’s block. I think it is usually caused by stress. My way of dealing with it is to write in a different genre for a while, preferably through a different medium. For instance, to break writer’s block I once wrote a series of cozy mystery short stories in longhand to help make writing feel like fun again. Then I went back to my computer and usual genre.”
#3: How do you come up with story lines and characters?
Casey/Kylie: “Every story idea starts in a different place. Sometimes it comes from something you read or something you see on the news or a bit of overheard conversation. Then you find the characters to inhabit that story. Or it could work completely the other way, start with character then find the right story for those people.”
Shelley: “I think I always begin with character, someone I “feel,” whose voice I hear strongly, and from there I know what kind of story –even the bare bones—I can generate. If, as in my latest book, A KILLER’S GUIDE, the hero is a monk, what feels like a problem to this man? How do those life choices affect how he responds to entirely different sorts of circumstances? For me, story begins with character.
Serena: “It’s very random. Photos often fuel my ideas. For instance, one photo of a lumber camp cook in the 1800’s was the seed for one of my books. Visiting an Amish school has inspired me to write about an Amish teacher.”
#4: I would want to know how they discipline themselves to write. Do they force themselves to do some everyday, or do they sit and write for long periods when the inspiration strikes?
Casey/Kylie: “Deadlines are a great motivator! Writing is my full-time job and I treat it as such so I can meet my deadlines. Don’t have a contract? Give yourself your own deadlines, a chapter by the end of the week, three pages a day, etc. Then do it. If you wait for motivation to strike, you could be waiting a long, long time.”
Shelley: “I write at Starbucks, Panera’s, other coffee houses, anywhere but home. When the story is moving along, I write maybe 6 days a week for four or five hours each day. During those times, sometimes inspiration shows up, if only on a sentence level. Or even on the level of finding that absolutely perfect single word. Inspiration is not a grand and lavish parade of brilliance. It exists in the little things. We just need to see them.”
Serena: ” For me, I find it best to write in the early mornings when my mind is clear and before life starts crowding in on me. Yes, I try to write at least a few pages every day. Discipline no longer feels like discipline if you do it long enough. It just feels like part of one’s routine.”
Thanks so much to my good buddies and brainstorming cohorts. And now, back to work here.