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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!

A writer’s friends wonder–or ask her outright–if she uses real people in her novels. Short answer–yes! You’re in all my novels!
Real answer–real people are way too messy for fiction. In a novel, everybody has to smoothly (and entertainingly) follow an arc from innocence to experience, loneliness to love, ignorance to enlightenment…you know the drill. It’s why we read.
And I always love it when a reader says to me, “That character was so real! You must be drawing on your experience as a Navy wife/survivor of infidelity/recovering alcoholic/practicing alcoholic/kidney donor/fallen woman/mother of twins/lonely librarian…”
Nope, I’m none of those things. If the characters in a novel ring true, it’s because I did my research. In the self-help section of the library or bookstore.
I live in a small town, so people at the library mostly know me. But every once in a while, there’s a new volunteer at the desk, and I can see her concern when I check out a stack of books with titles like Obsessive Love, Healing Your Asthmatic Child, Recovering from Organ Transplantation… And then the next week, I’m back for Forgiving the Unforgivable, My Husband is Gay!, Toxic Teenagers, Is Witness Protection Safe for YOU?….
The volunteers are always too professional to say anything, but I can see the
worry in their eyes.
The beauty of a great self-help book is that it gives you a roadmap to a character, starting with his or her problem, taking the reader through the steps and ending up in a better place. The trick in fiction is to make it look seamless. If the reader wanted a self-help book, she’d read a self-help book.
She’s reading a novel. She wants to be entertained.
So in the book, the goal is to put it in the context of a great story. For me, that’s the fun part. I’m a sucker for the librarian/bad-boy storyline, so I featured it in Lakeshore Christmas. You’ll know exactly what self-help books I read while creating Eddie, but that’s not what I hope you’ll remember about him. There’s that moment when he takes off her horn-rimmed glasses, plucks the hairpins out and her bun melts into a cascade of gorgeous hair, and he says, “Why, Miss Davenport, you’re beautiful!” I know, lame, right? But it gets me every time. Maureen and Eddie are bringing sexy back to the library. That’s what I hope readers will remember.
peeps

I don't eat them, either, but aren't they cute?

Confession: It felt a little odd, having a Christmas book out before Halloween. I just couldn’t drum up that cozy, romantic mood that makes Christmas so special. The good news is, I ate the last of my Halloween candy for breakfast and NOW I’m ready to rock Christmas.

Here is a preview of Lakeshore Christmas. It’s worth opening the link because it gives you a few of the amazing recipes at the end. Remember my motto for this book: Bake some cookies. Save the library. Save the world.

You know, I’m so ready for Christmas now, I’m going to send somebody a signed book. You know the drill–write a Comment on this blog entry and you’re entered. In your comment, let us know the moment when you FINALLY feel the holiday season is here.

Winner will be picked via www.random.org on Sunday after I get home from the Fire in Fiction workshop. Which btw you should be coming to.

Really.

This blog is supposed to be all about relaxation and my favorite pasttime, reading. Dog walking and home decorating. Delicious food. Photography and travel. You know, the fun stuff of life.

Keep kids reading!I’ve tried, really tried, to keep politics out of it, but I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer. There’s a reading-emergency afoot and we need to do something. THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO CUT ALL FUNDING FOR READING IS FUNDAMENTAL. This is the first time in the history of the program that any administration, Republican or Democratic, has eliminated funding.

Destroying this historic literacy program hits me where I live. Taking books away from children is the last straw. So I’m joining with fellow authors to urge you to send an e-mail message to your reps in congress in support of continued funding. The appropriation committee will be meeting in May and June to decide on budgets.

Let me be clear: This is not a controversial program. From its inception in 1966, RIF has been supported on both sides of the aisle because of its demonstrated success. Regardless of politics, thinking people know that we can either educate our children now, or pay later, when we’re dealing with the known consequences of illiteracy: poverty, increased crime, unemployment, dependence on welfare.

According to Publishers Weekly, “while President Bush continually overlooks the organization, both his wife and mother have held positions within the organization. Barbara Bush served on RIF’s board of directors from 1980 to 1988 and then on its national advisory board from 1989 to 1992 (chairing the advisory board for three of the four years.) Laura Bush served on RIF’s national advisory council from 1996 to 2001.”

So what’ll it be? RIF costs $1.63 per child per year. It costs us $22,650 per prisoner per year to incarcerate a criminal, and yes, there’s a connection. 70% of incarcerated criminals are functionally illiterate.

This administration always finds funding for massive tax cuts to corporations, the super-wealthy, and no-bid contractors. Yet when it comes to the education of low-income children, it’s happy to slash the budget to nothing.

RIF’s Web site provides a link for supporters to find their senator and representative and send an e-mail message in support of continued funding. The appropriation committee will be meeting in May and June to decide on budgets. 

Funding for RIF was cut from the 2001 budget, but there was such an uproar that it was reinstated. So roar again! Please! It’s a no-brainer.

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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