They say you never, ever forget your first time. It’s one of those “aha” moments when the world shifts, and afterwards, nothing is quite the same. You keep this moment in your heart forever, and it’s still vivid even decades later, it’s still as vivid as the rose that just opened in your garden.

And for me, one of those defining moments happened in the Target store on Katy Freeway in Houston, Texas, circa early 1980s. That was where I discovered romance novels.

I always knew I would write; this much was clear from the time I learned to talk. Even before I could read or write, I would dictate stories to my mother and, bless her, she would dutifully write them down. But as an emerging novelist, I hadn’t found my “voice” as a writer. Fresh out of graduate school, I had been trying to figure out what sort of book I longed to write–a literary masterpiece, a dark thriller, a shoot-em-up western?

To be honest, the reader in me was ready for a fabulous, sweep-you-away novel to give my brain a vacation. A book called “Shanna” by Kathleen Woodiwiss, with a hot pink and orange cover and a lush, sexy illustration jumped off the shelf and into my cart.

Shanna-1.jpg

I dove right in, and didn’t come up for air until I’d savored every thrilling word.

And by the end of the first chapter, I had an epiphany. This was the sort of book I was yearning to write. I wanted to take the reader on a fabulous journey filled with love, adventure, danger, heartfelt emotion and pulse-pounding passion. I wanted to sweep the reader away.

Not long afterward, my first novel was published, and it was filled with–you guessed it. All of the above.

Summer by the Sea has everything I was looking for that day so long ago. There’s a lonely young woman who still dreams of the boy who stole her heart. There’s a nostalgic beach restaurant offering delicious shore dinners (recipes included). And most importantly of all, there is an emotional ride filled with laughter and tears. I’m thrilled that it’s available again, because it’s one of those books that has been sprinkled with fairy dust from the very start, thanks to readers. It’s been national bestseller lists. It won the RITA(sm) award for Best Contemporary Romance. It’s been translated around the globe, and now it’s heading right back where it belongs–into the hands of my favorite people in the world–readers like you. This special edition has a reading group guide and a yummy new recipe.

Summer by the Sea

Tell us about your own "first time." What book got you hooked? Where did it take you? How did it change you?

They say you never forget your first time. My tiny inquiring mind wants to know. Was it a recommendation from a friend? Book club? Advertisement? Online? At the library? Chime in!

Pleased to meet you!

Pleased to meet you!

So my awesome publisher has produced a nice glossy advance-reading-copy edition of STARLIGHT ON WILLOW LAKE.

Trust me on this.

Lakeshore Chronicles #11, but you don’t have to be familiar with the series to fall in love with this one.

I know all writers will tell you “this book has a special place in my heart,” but this one REALLY does. After you read the dedication page in the front and the acknowledgment page in the back you’ll know why.

It’s a good book club topic. The storyline deals with with tragedy, a person’s role in caring for a parent, and how exploring the past can lead to a whole new perspective on life. Just as bonus, there are dogs, comedy, Balinese cooking, a few cuss words. and love scenes that will curl your toes but not offend your mother. Swear.

You know what’s missing? A reading group guide. I’d love your help with this. What’s the most thought-provoking topic your group has every discussed?

I have 15 copies of the ARC (pub-speak for “advance reading copy”) to give away. Here’s how to enter. Send the name of your book group, along with a contact person and mailing address, to susanmwiggs (at) gmail dot com, and fifteen winners will be chosen at random on May 1. You’ll receive the ARC along with some other goodies for readers to enjoy long before the book gets published.

Sound good?

I hear it from emerging writers all the time. I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’m going to sit down and write it as soon as I…

  • …get my day job under control
  • …get my final kid into kindergarten
  • …into college …out of jail
  • …get my finances in order
  • …fix my marriage
  • …finish painting the house
  • …pay off the car
  • …clean the can opener
  • …clean the rain gutters
  • …get the puppy housebroken
  • …retire from my job
  • …finish watching the third season of “Weeds”
  • …get my Bachelor’s…Master’s…PhD…LLB…MD
  • …pay off my student loans
  • …read all the Outlander books
  • …check in with my nineteen thousand Facebook friends
  • …upgrade my computer
  • …make tenure
  • …landscape the yard
  • …take a vacation
  • …host my book group
  • …teach my teenager to drive
  • …finish knitting this sweater
  • …forgive my parents …forgive myself
  • …get over my fear of failure …get over my fear of success
  • …get permission from my parents/spouse/children/therapist
  • …hire an agent
  • …learn to use the subjunctive case
  • …quit worrying about what my family will think of my story, especially the dirty parts
  • …stop smoking/drinking/playing online games
  • …figure out the business of publishing
  • …lose 20 pounds so I look good in my author photo…

You name it, and a procrastinating writer has said it. Here’s a dirty little secret. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the cruel reality is this. There will never be a good time to write. Life will always intrude. That’s what life is. Be glad for that. If you have no life, you have nothing to write about.

The good news is, there’s a simple solution. Make time for the things that are important to you. If writing your story is important, make time for it. Simple as that. Turn off the TV, leave the dishes undone, close your e-mail, grab a notebook and pen, and tell your family, “Don’t interrupt me unless your eyes are bleeding.” You’ll be surprised by the respect they give you.

The way you spend your day is the way you spend your life. So quit being your own worst enemy and start being your own best friend. Make time to write, even if you don’t have time.

I have procrastinated my way through the writing of many books. Somehow, the story emerges. The Beekeeper’s Ball hits the shelves next week. There’s a lot of love and food in that book. Let me know what you think.

Step one – open shitty first draft.
2 print out in word draft mode, light colored ink. 3 put on extra
strong glasses and lamp. rewrite every single page until it looks
like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical
space for laying out the pages. clothespins are key. 5. type in
handwritten edits. 6. go back to step 2 and do it all again. lather
rinse repeat.

Step one – open shitty first draft.

Step two –  print out in word draft mode, light colored ink.

Step three – put on extra strong glasses and bright lamp. Rewrite every single page until it looks like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical space for laying out the pages. Clothespins are key. So are Post-It notes.

ugly stuff

ugly stuff

Step five – type in handwritten edits.

smells fishy to Barkis

smells fishy to Barkis

Step six – go back to step 2 and do it all again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

everyone's a critic

everyone’s a critic

Barkis is not too subtle when he wants to go for a walk….

The secret? See below:

So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

If you have trouble viewing the images in this newsletter you can read it online by clicking here

Susan Wiggs newsright.jpg
The Apple Orchard

Available at these
online retailers:

amazon.com
barnesandnoble.com
Indiebound.org
booksamillion.com

Starlight on Willow Lake:

Preorder

Just Breathe audiobook

Now in audio:

audible.com
brillianceaudio.com

In This Edition…

  • In the deep midwinter…in the Big Apple
  • Hot reads for a cold day
  • Connect with me in 2015
  • Recipe: Perfect Winter Soup

Hi Friends,

It’s the middle of winter but I’ve been looking for signs of spring. Seed catalogs, planning the garden, wishing the days would get longer….

And then this week, something happened to remind me that winter, too, has its special charms. I was lucky enough to experience the season in one of my favorite cities—New York. The predicted “great blizzard” turned out to be a lovely snowfall that simply slowed everything down. I took a brisk hike through Central Park with no traffic, just kids having a snow day and dogs romping in their booties. My fondness for shopping was curtailed, and I found myself walking down a nearly-deserted Fifth Avenue. Other than the occasional chunk of snow and ice falling from the sky scrapers, and pools of slush in the intersections, there were few hazards of traffic and congestion. Here are a few snapshots I took on my walk.

newyork.jpg

And of course, the best part of a chilly hike is a warm hotel and a good book! Currently, I’m juggling several wonderful reads, including Lost and Found by Brooke Davis, Desert God by Wilbur Smith, John Doe (a short read) by Tess Gerritsen, Dollface by Renee Rosen, The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly, and Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas. My own current releases are Just Breathe in audio, a reissue of Texas Wildflower, and the upcoming paperback edition of The Apple Orchard. The rest of the year is filled with special editions of reader favorites, and a new hardcover, Starlight on Willow Lake, available for preorder now.

Let’s make 2015 all about connecting. I love our growing community of good-hearted women…and a few well-behaved men! Here are my favorite ways to socialize online:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs
Twitter: @susanwiggs http://www.twitter.com/susanwiggs
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21155.Susan_Wiggs
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/beachwriter1/
Instagram: http://instagram.com/beachwriter1/
Google+:
Wordpress: https://susanwiggs.wordpress.com/

And finally, we get to the good part: FOOD. My dad had a saying I remember from my childhood: “What makes Joe Louis win all his fights? He eats Pasta Fazool, morning, noon and night.” I suppose it was Dad’s way of convincing us to eat healthy. So in honor of Dad, here is my favorite recipe for Pasta Fazool—the soup version. Enjoy!

pastafazool.jpg
(photo credit: wbgh.org)

Pasta Fazool Soup (based on traditional recipes, trial, and error) aka Pasta e Fagioli

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup pancetta or snipped bacon, or for the veggie version, use chopped fresh mushrooms; porcini would be a good choice
1 minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped tomatoes, or one 15oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs—I like thyme, sage or basil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 can cannellini beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed

Optional additions: chopped carrot, celery, kale or spinach
1 cup dried pasta—try elbow mac or small penne
Parmesan cheese fresh Italian parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Directions:

Warm the oil in a soup pot. Add the pancetta or mushrooms, onion and garlic and saute. Add the tomatoes, herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper.

Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the beans and stock and optional ingredients, and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and shake with a sprinkling of butter or oil to keep it from clumping.

Spoon a portion of pasta into individual bowls, and ladle the soup over it. Garnish with grated cheese and a few cut fresh parsley. Serve immediately. A glass of Barolo and a cut of warm salted rosemary bread is an excellent accompaniment. Yields 4 generous servings.

Mangia!

Susan Wiggs

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www.SusanWiggs.com

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…

Money

…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!

Writers always get questions about the writing process. I don’t blame you for asking. I ask other writers about the process, because I’m convinced they have a better way. One of my better known quirks is that I write my first draft of a book in longhand, using a fountain pen, peacock blue ink and Clairefontaine notebooks. It’s not an affectation. I’m a lefty, which means my hand (and sleeve) drag across the page behind the handwriting. But the Skrip ink dries instantly, thus saving my sleeve. The header above illustrates this.

Other Qs about process: The Examiner recently asked me some tough questions. Okay, they weren’t tough. I love answering questions. If I don’t know the answer, I just make stuff up. Don’t judge. I’m a fiction writer:

Q. You hand write your original drafts! Holy Cow…. Why? Do you just like communing with ink? The feel of the paper? You feel more connected to the book? Tell us about your process.

SW: Its a habit I started since before I even knew how to read or write. At age 2-1/2, I used to scribble on paper and tell my mother, “Now, write this down.” And bless her, she did. All my stories were about a girl who was chased up a tree with Bad Things after her. To this day, that’s pretty much what all my books are about. 

As a teenager, I lived in Brussels and then Paris…I used to carry around notebooks (cahiers) filled with terrible angsty poetry. Later, when I started writing novels (grad school), I was so broke that I had to use half empty cahiers left over from high school. Since I hated (still hate) to type, I only wanted to type up each page once, so I would get the story down by hand and then transcribe. These days, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking and read the text into the computer. Ann Tyler once said writing by hand is like knitting a book. Its crafty! And you don’t save the wrong version or lose text (unless there’s a house fire). So the habit has stuck with me. 

Q. How I Planned Your Wedding is such a sweet, charming and romantic idea. Tell us about the book you wrote planning your daughter‘s wedding.

SW: This book was my alternative to being murdered by my daughter. We drove each other crazy during the wedding planning, but discovered that a sense of humor can rescue even the biggest disaster. Elizabeth started a blog which was howlingly funny and went viral, so she brought that snarky voice to the book. As the mom, I got to chime in. Some of the brutal honesty in the book still makes me squirm, but we both found a way to tell the story that every bride (and her mom) can relate to. Even those not planning a wedding will relate to the conflict and craziness of the mother-daughter bond.

Q. It seems you started the way many authors start: by thinking, “Hey, I can do that.” Since you had such great success for so long, besides the obvious advent of e-books, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the publishing industry?

SW: Honestly, the essence of publishing hasn’t changed. Since the days of the cave man carving stuff on the cave walls, people have wanted stories, and storytellers have wanted an audience. That is still the case. The changes are really a matter of format. Publishers consolidate, methods of publishing change, but readers and storytellers are forever. Thank God.

Q. Since you so enjoy keeping your toes wet in the teaching pool, if you had to pick the most important piece of craft information you’d like all new writers to take away from a conversation with you, what would that be?

SW: Tell the story that’s in your heart, and don’t hold back. Write a book the reader will want to melt into. And for Gods sake, learn your craft. Do NOT try to publish anything until you have nailed the basics (grammar, spelling, usage, syntax) and the refinements of writing. Readers deserve your very best, always….There are practical techniques a writer can use to keep the pacing of the novel strong, by introducing

unexpected emotions, twists and turns, actions and reactions. You want to leave out the stuff the reader is going to skip, anyway.

Happy New Year to All!

One of the questions I get most frequently is “How many books are in the Lakeshore Chronicles series? In what order should I read them?”

Brrr!

Today’s plan: Stay inside where it’s warm and curl up with a good book.

You can read the books in any order because each book is a complete novel unto itself, but if you want to go chronologically (and if you’re a fan of the Daisy Bellamy storyline, I recommend this), it’s

1. Summer at Willow Lake
       (a) “Homecoming Season” (a novella in the anthology MORE THAN WORDS: STORIES OF COURAGE)
2. The Winter Lodge
3. Dockside
4. Snowfall at Willow Lake
5. Fireside 
6. Lakeshore Christmas
7. The Summer Hideaway 
8. Marrying Daisy Bellamy 
9. Return to Willow Lake
10. Candlelight Christmas
11. Starlight on Willow Lake

How many Lakeshore books will there be? Well, here’s a hint:

Wheelchairs on Willow Lake cartoon

(This glimpse into the future comes to you courtesy of the multitalented Suzanne Selfors.)

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

take a look at a book

Buy or borrow my books at WorldCat.org.

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