I have the worst work habits. Sometimes I look at the pile of books I’ve written and I wonder how they got there. Well, the best way to describe it is “word-by-word.” You put down a word. Then you cross it out. Then write a few more. Stare out the window. Wonder if the can opener needs cleaning. Wonder if someone’s having a hissy fit on a social network. Wonder why you thought this was a good idea for a novel in the first place. 

Sometimes you have to go to Bali to clear your head and get some serious thinking done:

My brain works better in Bali.

My brain works better in Bali.

And, oh, here’s something. I write my first draft in longhand. In a Clairefontaine notebook with a fountain pen loaded with peacock blue ink. Not because I’m quirky but because I think in longhand. And I’m left-handed so ordinary pens smear my hand as it drags across the page, but Skrip peacock blue on Clairefontaine paper does not. 

I have to carry extra ink around for those oh-so-prolific days.

tools of the trade

handwritten draft

that first awful draft

So now what, you ask? After I bleed blue all over the page, I realize there is no backup copy. If I happen to step out for a while, the house might burn down and the only existing manuscript will go up in flames, like Jo’s novel in Little Women. (I didn’t cry when Beth died. I cried when Amy burned the manuscript.) Sometimes I keep the notebook in the freezer, like Tess does with her notes in The Apple Orchard. I figure that’s the last thing that will burn if the house is reduced to rubble. 

Eventually, I fill the notebook with about 100,000 words that loosely resemble a novel. Then I have to type the thing up. I can’t use a typist because I tend to revise as I transcribe. Dragon Naturally Speaking voice dictation software works really well for me, provided the dogs don’t go off on me when someone comes to the door. When that happens, here’s what appears on my screen: hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep. 

the digitized draft

the digitized draft

Oh, and here’s something. I don’t use Word. I know, I’m awful, but my very first writing software was WordPerfect and my brain is stuck with it. I have to have Reveal Codes and anyone who knows WordPerfect knows why. Please, Word, figure out Reveal Codes! F3! Save my sanity!

Then I print the thing out and my writers’ group has a meeting about it. I’ve been in some writing group or other since 1986 and I don’t intend stopping. Magic happens in a writers’ group–critiquing and brainstorming and commiserating and celebrating. My current group consists of the fabulous Sheila Roberts, Lois Faye Dyer, Anjali Banerjee, Elsa Watson and Kate Breslin. We read and talk about each other’s work and I adore these women and I would pledge them my first born child but she is already married with a kid of her own

My group meets at a quaint waterfront bakery in a small town. Baked goods make the brain work better. 

Moving right along…I rewrite the book a couple of times. At various stages, it looks something like this:

Revisions are not pretty.

Revisions are not pretty.

…but you get to buy lots of colorful office supplies, so that’s something.

…and then I send it to my literary agent and editor. We have long deep talks about every aspect of the novel. Sometimes we get together in person and they are smart and kind and supportive and motivating and I thank God they are in my life, and this is why they get stuff like cashmere bathrobes and couture watches at Christmas.

They came to my wedding. We did no work at all that weekend.

They came to my wedding. We did no work at all that weekend.

Editor and style maven.

Editor and style maven.

And then I put on the Sweater of Immovable Deadlines and rewrite that sucker again. 

tick tock...

tick tock…

Note the snow on the ground...

Note the snow on the ground…

And at some point my editor says we’re good to go, and my agent says yippee, let’s send that girl her advance check…


…and I get to go shopping and tell people what a breeze it is to write a book. 

Stay tuned. The next installment will take us through the cover design and publication process. Sound good? 

Thanks for reading! 


Read an excerpt:

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Check out this shot of me and my sister in Candidasa, Bali. A place for everyone’s bucket list.

I wrote an exclusive extra scene for this special signed edition, and there a glimpse into the writer’s life, too.

Signed Hardcover Copies – While Supply Lasts

The Beekeeper’s Ball (B&N Exclusive Signed Edition) (Bella Vista Series #2)
Eager to forget her past, chef Isabel Johansen is transforming her childhood home in Sonoma County into a cooking school. Her carefully ordered plans begin to go awry, though, when swaggering journalist Cormac O’Neill arrives to dig up unpleasant history. This Barnes & Noble exclusive hardcover edition — signed by Susan Wiggs — includes additional material from the author that delves further into the backgrounds of the main characters. Pre-order a copy now.

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I believe traditions remind us of who we are when we’re in danger of forgetting.
Both The Goodbye Quilt and How I Planned Your Wedding (a funny memoir I wrote with my daughter, Elizabeth) are about letting go and moving on in the most loving way possible. As the school year comes to an end, the fact that your nest is empty stares you in the face.
If your daughter or son has gone away to college, like Molly in The Goodbye Quilt, she is now coming home as a “guest” in the house where she grew up. When this happened in my life, I finally understood the whole point of family traditions that revolve around food. A strong tradition, no matter how unconventional, is a bit like a short cut. It’s a cue to remind us to slip back into celebration mode without having to reinvent the wheel.
I wasn’t prepared for those odd moments of awkwardness when Elizabeth walked into the house on her first trip home from college. After a gleeful reunion with the dogs, her old favorite things and the freakishly neat room that used to be such a mess, she didn’t quite seem to know what to do with herself. Should she unpack that suitcase full of dirty clothes? Call her friends, play the piano, go for a walk? It was like being in an alternate reality. For a moment, we were unhappy, uncertain.
Then I said, “Let’s put on music and bake cookies.”
Within minutes, we’d fallen back into our roles–mom and daughter, goddesses in the kitchen, legends in our own minds, singing at the tops of our lungs. It was the start of a wonderful homecoming, and a reminder of who we are…at our brightest and most kind.

Speaking of cookies, here is my most-requested holiday recipe from a previous novel, Lakeshore Christmas:

Jane Bellamy’s Mint Meltaways
“My old family recipe was a secret, until we realized everybody else knew about this perfect pairing of chocolate and mint.”
(48 cookies)
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons crème de menthe liqueur or water
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 ¾ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
24 Andes Mints
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and crème de menthe liqueur (or water), stirring occasionally.
Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Let stand 10 minutes to cool. Add the remaining ingredients and combine with a spatula to form a soft dough.
4. Wrap the dough and chill at least 1 hour.
5. Roll the dough into 1½ inch balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between the dough balls. Bake 8 to 9 minutes.
6. Remove the cookies from the oven, and on top of each cookie, place half of an Andes Mint. Allow the mint to melt and then swirl with the back of a spoon.

This is the world’s largest bottle. And it’s full of 120 litres of champagne. 2014-05-07%2011.42.29.jpg?_subject_uid=35408154&w=AACIcrK-3Y2Aay5oHbw30BCliY7hYOxJ_KlwrrZxyg8dnQ

Help our schools and treat yourself! You’re invited.

Seattle7Writers and Elliott Bay Books Present:

Book Club Brunch

Saturday, June 21, 2014 10 a.m.
Mount Baker Community Club
2811 Mt. Rainier Drive S.
Seattle, WA 98144

Register Now
and make sure you get a seat!

Featuring acclaimed writer
Daniel James Brown. author of NYT bestseller
The Boys in the Boat


An author at every table: Dan Brown, Garth Stein, Erica Bauermeister, Carol Cassella, Megan Chance, Laurie Frankel,Kristin Hannah, Jennie Shortridge, Rebecca Wells and Susan Wiggs

$55 per person — includes delectable brunch, coffee and mimosas, treats, book sales by Elliott Bay Books and signing, and the opportunity to chat with authors—maybe even set up a book club visit. Grab your book club or come solo and connect with other readers, writers, and book lovers.

Proceeds benefit Powerful Schools

Bring your gently used books to donate
to S7W’s Pocket Libraries
and receive a free book bag
and our gratitude for your support.

Please register by June 13.

We built this garden yesterday out of things we found on our beach, and planted it with blueberries.

We made it in honor of Fisher, our beautiful yellow lab, who died on Friday. He was 13+ and lived a long and happy life. He was that dog you look back on with love and pride, knowing he was one of a kind–smart, loyal, perfectly behaved. He was a class act to the end, never sick a day in his life. He spent a beautiful day in the sunny garden, following me around and lazing in the grass. Around dinnertime, he went into respiratory distress and we rushed him to the vet. It was over in about a half hour.

We will never laugh the same again.

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