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If you’ve ever taken a trip on a train or ferryboat, you know what I mean. You’re forced off the grid, leaving you 2 choices: read or write. It’s singularly relaxing. This is known as reader (or writer) heaven. From Paris, we took the TGV (tres grande vitesse) train to Aix-en-Provence. 3 zippy hours in a comfy seat with France out the fenetre.

Paris gare de lyon

What did I write on the train?

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

And what did I read? An international bestseller called THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND… by Swedish author Katarina Bivald. It will be published in the US in January, and you’re going to love it.

I am on a working vacation. When you’re a writer, it’s not a contradiction in terms, because your job comes with you in your head wherever you go. So if you go someplace awesome, you’re still working. But trust me, it doesn’t suck.

First stop–Paris. I finished FAMILY TREE (coming in 2016) and started research on my next book. Here’s the Jardin de Luxembourg and it doesn’t look much like Paris but when I see beehives, I have to take a photo because, well, beehives.

paris-beehives

I love discovering strange shops that sell things like mushroom hunting knives. Here’s one on Boul’ St. Germain called Le Prince Jardiniere:

paris - le prince jardiniere

My amazing husband Jerry takes the best people-watching shots. Check out this French kid taking a selfie in Place des Vosges, aka the prettiest square in Paris:

paris-place des voges

strengthen your premise; check this out.
Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about.
Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author).
In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:
“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”
I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend.
For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for. “I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good.
The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.
Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dog for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a child with Aspergers.” And I’ll think about a writer friend of mine and his sweet son, who has this condition, and its curiously gentling effect on the father. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast.
Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?
For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.
How serious am I about nailing the premise of my next book? So serious, we’re having a meeting about it. I’m not kidding. I have a brain trust coming to my house today and we’re going to brainstorm our book premises all day long.
What’s a brain trust? Well, it’s my writers’ group plus the world’s best story consultant, Michael Hauge. Some of you might remember he has a lifelong connection to the place where I live–and I have a rockin’ private guest house. He’s ours for the day. We’re rolling up our sleeves…I’ll report in on our progress. Stay tuned….
nice view, but whats the real story?

nice view, but what’s the real story?

Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about. Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author). In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:

“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”

I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend. For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for.

“I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good. The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.

Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dogs for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a lonely woman who runs a beachside restaurant.” And I’ll think about why she’s lonely, and what it feels like to own a place where marriage proposals happen on a regular basis. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast. Aha, I’ll think. How about a struggling young widow and a bazillionaire?

Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?

For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.

Do you have a favorite story premise to read or write about? Share below! My inquiring mind want to know.

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.

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!

Yummy book

Thanks for the love, Shelf Awareness. Fictional Stories, Real Food
There has been a growing trend over the past few years to write novels and memoirs that include recipes, although now it’s no longer a trend, it’s a genre. Obviously, some books are more successful than other with this; really, how many recipes for chocolate chip cookies can the market bear? But when it works, it’s very good. I still make the banana bread recipe (to great acclaim) from Molly Wizenberg’s wonderful memoir, A Homemade Life. Check it out.

Recent months have seen many entries in the book-with-recipes category. Susan Wiggs’s latest novel, The Apple Orchard, about a California apple orchard, an unwilling half-heiress to same, and the pleasures of food and family, is a captivating and charming story. So are the recipes, like lavender scones, and apple chutney. She says, “It’s always lovely to come across a recipe that’s good enough to share. My criteria for including a recipe in a book is that it needs to work thematically with the novel, it has to be delicious and it has to be reasonably easy to prepare. I like to picture my readers having their book club over and preparing something from one of my novels.”

I had such fun with these interview questions. The original post is here

6 things readers should know about you:
1. I’m just like them–always looking for a wonderful juicy novel to savor.
2. I have a horror of being trapped somewhere boring without a book to read.
3. I believe that creating a nation of readers will transform our country.
4. When it comes to my personal life and family, I give it my all, every day.
5. When it comes to my career, I hustle. Every. Single. Day.
6. I look just like my author photo.

What would you say are the defining characteristic of your Novels?
Um, the awesome author photo?

5 best things about being a writer?
1. The author photo is my greatest work of fiction.
2. My commute is from the couch to the computer.
3. My work uniform is a bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, headphones and mug of coffee.
4. My readers touch my heart with the notes they send and post on Facebook and other sites.
5. If somebody treats me mean, they could end up dead in one of my books.

What romance book character you most identify with & Why?
Isadora in THE CHARM SCHOOL. She is smart, dorky, awkward and endearing…and modeled after yrs truly.

About the Book: The Apple Orchard
If you had to summarize the book for the readers here ….
Sisters, secrets, and surprises. One of my favorite reviews, spotted here: http://readfulthingsblog.com/2013/03/18/the-apple-orchard-by-susan-wiggs/ gives this summary. It’s the kind of review all authors dream about: “OH IT WAS HEAVEN! I wanted to stay wrapped up in this book forever. This is the kind of novel that fills your heart and soul with warmth and makes you just feel good! The recipes are to die for as well.
“This novel has one of the most beautiful opening chapters that I have ever seen. The descriptions of the landscape are so vivid and alive that you can almost smell the apples and hear the buzz of the honeybees. Immediately I was drawn in to this story and never lost interest throughout the entire book.
“The cast of characters in this novel are the kind of people that you don’t want to forget. They are such an inviting family with so much rich history and compassion for one another that I almost felt, in some ways while I was reading this I had returned home to visit my own family.”

What scene did you have most fun writing? why?
Chapter 11. Hands down. Right after the epigraph page and recipe for Julekake right before Part Seven. It’s the first scene I wrote of the novel and it stuck with me through every draft. Nothing says “page turner” better than a peaceful family Christmas in Denmark, disrupted by Nazi stormtroopers. Okay, maybe it wasn’t “fun.” It’s very dark. But riveting. I hope I did it justice.

Who would who cast in the role of hero and heroine if your book was optioned for a movie?
Tess Delaney needs to be played by that intense, driven redhead in ZERO DARK THIRTY. Ummm, what’s her name? Jessica Chastain! Thank you Wikipedia!
Dominic Rossi is tall, dark and Italian. Your readers are going to have to help me out. Tell them to post their suggestions on my FaceBook page. I don’t get out enough, clearly. 

What are you currently working on?
Working title is THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL. It’s #2 in the Bella Vista Chronicles, because I just had to write about Isabel, the sister from THE APPLE ORCHARD.

What other releases so you have planned for 2013?
CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS, which will be in stores October 1. It’s Lakeshore Chronicles #10, and it’s crazy fun. A single dad does Christmas. Among other things.

Where can readers get in touch with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs and on Twitter I’m @SusanWiggs.

what’s on my mind right now:

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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.

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