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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!

Day 9 is here! All you have to do is check in on this blog for a trivia question from Lakeshore Christmas, andsend your answer to ll.wiggs @ gmail.com (remove the spaces). Correct answers will be entered to win.

Today’s question: Who funded the library almost 100 years ago?

Today’s prize: A $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble.

I’m talking and I can’t shut up! (You have to scroll down on the right hand side and click “of interest.”)

I have the best little writers’ group on the island and we’re celebrating the debut novel of one of our members. Suzanne Selfors is having a gala launch for her novel, To Catch A Mermaid, an exuberant adventure for young readers. If you’re in the area, stop by the Eagle Harbor Book Company on Sunday, September 9 at 3:00pm. Wear your Viking helmet!

Suz

Never has the term “homegrown” been more fitting. Everything about debut author Suzanne Selfors is homegrown, from her Bainbridge Island childhood to her spectacular organic garden, which surrounds the historic house built by her pioneer ancestors. On a storybook farm, filled with blooming flowers and orchards, heirloom tomatoes, free-ranging chickens, ducks and bunnies, Suzanne might seem as though she inhabits a Disney movie.

However, like many writers, she has her dark-and-twisty side, too. This is evident in her first novel, To Catch a Mermaid, a rollicking fantasy adventure with an irresistible balance of humor, the sort that’s broad enough to appeal to kids and sly enough to please their parents. Suzanne’s books also feature the sort of pathos and danger that brings to mind Roald Dahl at his very best. Maybe it’s that Nordic sensibility–Suzanne’s ancestors came from Norway and settled on Bainbridge in the 19th century.

Although she has homegrown roots, Suzanne also has a first class education. She studied at Bennington College in Vermont and graduated from Occidental College in Pasadena, California. She earned a Master’s in communications from UW, married a pilot and moved into a house on the island that has been in her family for generations.

Suzanne’s favorite library memory is of the day she found a stray dog hanging around outside the library door–an adorable cockapoo. “We ended up adopting her and she was the family dog through most of my childhood. We always joked that she was the very best thing we ever checked out from the library.”

Today, one of her favorite features of the library is the books on tape, which she listens to on long walks. “Right now I’m listening to StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli,” she reports. And of course, the library is the ideal place for this busy mother of two to get some writing done. “I use the back tables all the time. Plug in my laptop and escape from the distractions of my house. I get tons of work done.”

Note that she calls writing work. Over the years, I’ve encountered many emerging and aspiring writers. Hundreds, really. But of those hundreds, very few understand the work involved in the process and then make the journey to being published. Like Dorothy’s journey through Oz, there are all kinds of pitfalls along the way. The first time I met Suzanne, she was an emerging writer just finishing her first full-length novel. Almost immediately, I knew she would one day join the ranks of the published. She had the smarts, creativity, drive and stick-to-it-iveness that it takes to launch and sustain a writing career. And the talent.

Behind every “overnight success” is a plan that might be years in the making. Suzanne joined the first-ever novel-writing class offered by Field’s End through the library. Instructor Michael Collins, an acclaimed writer based in Bellingham, was her teacher and mentor in the class.

Suzanne’s writing quickly gained the attention of one of the top literary agents in New York City. Michael Bourret of the Jane Dystel Agency responded to the unpublished manuscript with the kind of enthusiasm a writer dreams of: “When I first read To Catch a Mermaid, I was blown away,” he says. “It’s rare to find a novel that feels like a classic the first time you read it, but that’s exactly [the way this story] reads. It reminded me so much of books and authors I’d loved from my childhood, like Mary Rodgers’s Freaky Friday or the novels of Roald Dahl, and I could imagine children for decades falling in love with this timeless story.”

Michael was not alone in his enthusiasm. The book was sold at auction–something that is exceedingly rare for a first novel–and landed with Little, Brown. Michael has high hopes for To Catch a Mermaid, certain of its broad appeal, “which feels both nostalgic and modern.”

In addition to writing an incredibly strong novel, Suzanne followed it up with not one but two encores–a second middle-grade fantasy novel for Little, Brown and a young adult literary comedy for Bloomsbury. The author’s professionalism and creativity were a huge plus for this agent. “Suzanne, as an author, is a dream,” Michael comments. “She writes from the heart, and has a burning desire to tell stories (and not just for children). She will have a long, successful career writing many kinds of books, and I’m really honored to be a part of her world.”

He has no idea. I wonder how Michael, a native Brooklynite, would fit in with the duck pond and henhouses?

Way to go, Suz! You’re living the dream! cake

How to Read Like a Grown-upSuzanne Selfors’s All-Time Favorite Books

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Book people. You know the type. They read. They remember, they have their favorites, they have a gift for matching up books and readers. They can tell you where they were when they first read [fill in groundbreaking title here]. They know exactly where a certain book is shelved, even if it was put there months and years ago.

You’ll be happy to know that the people in charge at Barnes & Noble are extreme book people. I had a very happy meeting with Tommy Dreiling, Antoinette Ercolano and Bob Wietrak in New York this week and I have to tell you, it’s a treat to sit down and visit with people whose careers are dedicated to selling books. Dating myself: I was able to share with them the fact that I’ve been a B&N customer since before there were B&N stores. As a student, I used to order from the B&N catalog every month. Bob & Tommy have worked for bookstore chains nearly all their adult lives and know them inside and out. Antoinette, too, and she has visited some 500 of the 800 B&N stores. You can mention “Bellevue, Washington” and yes, she’s been there. We are in very good hands.

And P.S.–I got to dine at two unforgettable restaurants: The Modern and Beppe. Not to be missed if you’re in Manhattan.

what’s on my mind right now:

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