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The same thing happened with my second novel, Rescuing Olivia. The plot began from a short passage I'd written in response to a prompt at my writing workshop.
It's interesting, though, because even if I did know my story ahead of time, I don't think I'd outline it. I find that in the early days of a work-in-process, if I talk about it with others, I lose my energy and motivation to write it. I suspect outlining would have the same effect.
"A lot" is an understatement. I'm sure you've heard authors say "I could paper my walls with the rejections I received." Well, that's me. At first, I handled the numerous rejections the way many beginning writers handle them: I blamed anything and everything except my own writing. Eventually I started looking more critically at my work. It was a long process, but throughout I kept in mind something my Philadelphia writing workshop leader, Alison Hicks, told our group: "It's not always the best writers who get published, it's the most persistent writers." I knew that if I could be anything, it's persistent! My persistence – both with respect to editing my work over and over and in pursuing opportunities – eventually paid off.
Like most writers, I've been writing as long as I can remember, but I didn't do it seriously until after my second daughter was born (she's fourteen now) and I left the practice of law to become a stay-at-home mom. I signed up for a writing workshop at my local YMCA (when I still lived in St. Louis) and just kept plugging away from then on. I did go back to practicing law for a time during those years, but I continued to attend a workshop at night and never stopped writing.
I used to write short stories and a bit of poetry. But I'd never call myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination. I still love writing short stories, but I find they are much harder to write than novels.
Oh, I laughed out loud when I read this question! See, the first draft of my novel was 730 manuscript pages. Yes, 730 pages. And I really didn't know much about the business. I didn't understand that NO ONE was going to publish a 730-page debut novel from an unknown writer, especially when 300 of those pages were totally unnecessary and served only to slow the pace. But at the time I was writing it, I really wasn't thinking about publishing. I was simply having a good time developing the story and living in the characters' world every day. Now when I write, I'm very cognizant of structure and length. I still tend to write too much and have to go back and cut a lot.
I also would have learned more about promotion and started developing a promotion plan many months before my novel's release. I didn't understand that those first few weeks after a release are so crucial.
If you write because it brings you joy, then don't give up. (On the other hand, if you write for fame or money, good luck.) Don't let the difficulties of the business get in the way of your dreams. At the same time, be willing to view your own work critically. I meet so many writers who blame everyone except themselves or their writing for their inability to get published. We all do it at some point, I think. But the ones who move beyond this stage will succeed. The ones who don't, won't.
Dialogue between two characters in which each character refers to the other by name every time one of them speaks. People just don't talk like this! I think many writers are guilty of it (I know I am, though I've gotten better), but it's important to go back and cut. The surest way to cure yourself of this habit is to read your work out loud to yourself.
Also, when writers don't understand the difference between editing and copy-editing. Too many believe their work has been edited when they or someone else has gone through the manuscript and corrected grammar and punctuation. They completely ignore or don't see larger problems with structure, plot, pacing, etc.
I'm sure there are many moments I'll remember after I hit the "send" key, but one in particular stands out (I suppose because there are visual reminders). The book launch for Tell No Lies took place in St. Louis (my hometown and the setting for the novel) at a fabulous independent bookstore, Left Bank Books. The place was packed, thanks in large part to my wonderful mother-in-law and her many friends. I gave a small talk and did a reading, and afterward the audience asked me questions. After I had answered a number of questions from various people in the audience, I saw a hand go up in the back of the room. Of all people, the hand belonged to my husband. Now, anyone who knows my husband knows that he wouldn't ask a serious question in a setting like that. He's a bit of a prankster. Sure enough, he asked, "Where did you get the inspiration for the sex scenes in the book?" or something along those lines. For the first time in my life, I had a quick response. I simply said, "I don't know. Why don't you tell me?" We generated a lot of laughs with that exchange. I think people thought we'd planned it. But not wanting to be outdone, my husband wasn't finished with me. I spent the rest of the night at a table signing books and chatting with friends and family, but unbeknownst to me, the pictures taken at that table had an "interesting" backdrop (check out the magazine rack behind me), thanks to my hubby:
9.) If you had to have a different career, what would it be?
Other than returning to the practice of law? That's a tough question. I have a lot of interests, and I've pursued most of them to some extent. (I've been told I’m an overachiever – not sure if that's a compliment or an insult!) I have a pilot's license (which unfortunately hasn't been used in quite some time), and I often think I should have made flying my career. I also love animals and thought about being a vet. But I think there's a reason I never gave up writing, whereas I let other things fall by the wayside. I truly love the thought of getting in front of my keyboard each morning. Writing is the only thing that's been able to turn me into a morning person. (Well, that and the God-awful hour my girls have to leave the house for school.)
Rescuing Olivia comes out in the U.S. on February 2, so I've been putting together my promotion plan. I'm also well into the first draft of a sequel to Tell No Lies. I never intended to do a sequel – after finishing the original, I was ready to move on to new characters, and I simply had no idea what the plot for a sequel would be – but so many readers have asked me whether there would be one that I finally started considering the possibility. And by the time I finished Rescuing Olivia, I had been away from Jack, Jenny, and Claire long enough that I thought it would be fun to jump back into their world. The first line popped into my head one day when I was driving home from my daughter's school. As usual, I didn't know where it would take me, but I loved the line, so as soon as I got home I started writing. I'm now about two-thirds of the way into it.