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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!

thumbs up from Booklist

thumbs up from Booklist

Just Breathe.

Wiggs, Susan (author).

 

Sept. 2008. 480p. MIRA, hardcover, $24.95 (9780778325772).


REVIEW. First published August, 2008 (Booklist).

 

 

Sarah Moon’s life abruptly changes when she surprises her husband with a pizza and is surprised, in turn, to find him with another woman. Sarah has subsumed her true self to become the wife her husband wanted. She moved to Chicago, dressed stylishly, and bent her needs to his. She nursed him through a bout with cancer and underwent fertility treatments. She even put up with his denigration of her career as a cartoonist, the only thing uniquely hers. But at that shocking juncture, she channels her spunky cartoon alter-ego, Shirl, and splits. She arrives back in her northern California hometown, feeling adrift and humiliated, only to discover that she is finally pregnant. With twins. Sarah’s efforts to become part of the community once again shouldn’t include falling for former classmate turned fireman Will Bonner, but she can’t resist him, his generosity of spirit, or his stepdaughter, who reminds Sarah so much of herself at that age. Wiggs’ exceptionally touching and evocative novel will capture readers’ hearts as they fall for her beautifully rendered characters. — Maria Hatton

 

 

 

 

This just in: a review in PW for JUST BREATHE. Publishers Weekly has always been good to me. Even when the review is less than a rave, the critique is fair as opposed to gratuitously snarky. This one…ahhh. I can quit holding my breath: 

 

Just Breathe
Wiggs, Susan (Author)

ISBN: 0778325776
Mira Books
Published 2008-09
Hardcover, $24.95 (400p)
Fiction | General

Reviewed 2008-07-21
PW

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bestselling author Wiggs (Snowfall at Willow Lake) keeps her romance reputation going with this feel-good story of a wronged woman who gets out on her own and gets going. Sarah Moon, a comic-strip writer, is happily married to Jack Daly-until she comes home to find him entwined and naked with a business associate he had badmouthed to her just hours earlier. After five years of marriage, including months of infertility treatments because of Jack’s cancer, infidelity is the last straw, and Sarah pack ups and leaves Chicago for her hometown of Glenmuir, Calif. Sarah uses her comic strip, Just Breathe, to vent her frustration and relieve her stress. The character, Shirl, is undergoing fertility treatments, getting a divorce and moving back in with her mom. (Comic strips open each section of the novel). And in Glenmuir, lo and behold, Sarah’s dreams come true. She finds out she’s pregnant, and begins a friendship with her high school nemesis, Will Bonner, who’s now the town fire captain and a single dad whose lonely daughter reminds Sarah of herself as a young girl. Wiggs takes serious situations and weaves them into an emotionally wrought story that will have readers reaching for the Kleenex one moment and snickering out loud the next. (Sept.)

 

 

 

 

 

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