This is the first of a series of blogs that will follow along as I work on writing my next book. I’ll try to make the process more interesting than it is in reality for those of you interested in what goes on behind the scenes in creating a book the way I do it.
Most of you trying to write know how hard it is. Perhaps the shared experience will give both of us some motivation or insight into getting the job done. After all, we can’t all be like Nora Roberts who writes one book before lunch and two in the afternoon or James Patterson who just lets other people write books, sticks his name on the cover, and earns eight million dollars a year. (Please, neither of these statements is true. Or completely true, anyway. Don’t take me to task for either.)
Before I actually start writing about the writing of the projects I’m working on, I’ll share some background on why, how, and where I write.
Books. It all comes down to books. I don’t recall my parents encouraging me to read. Perhaps they did. I remember always enjoying reading. By first grade, I must have already been anxious to find good stories because I remember thinking that reading about Jack and Janet and Tip and Mitten was too simplistic and boring. They did, however, teach me to read. I learned more about reading from Spiderman, Superman, and Archie.I advanced to Mad Magazine and eventually to National Lampoon.
I felt the magic early on and wrote my first two novels at the age of nine. I have them around here somewhere. When I run across them I’ll post them here. Both books featured the same character, whose name escapes me. In one of them, he is in outer space. In the second he was out west in the 1800’s. Creative license.
Each of my first two novels consisted of three chapters and each was six pages long, with illustrations. I did show some flair by killing off my hero in the one that took place in the old west. He had a statue erected in his honor in chapter three. Perhaps I needed to kill him so he could be reincarnated in time to fly on a starship in outer space in the future.
We had books around the house and I always got to spend money when the Weekly Reader had one of its book sales. I can’t remember the title of any book I ordered back then, but I can remember the magical feel of their shiny bindings and pages. The first “thick” book I read, the book I credit with turning me into a reader, was The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. In the book, the parents of Kirby and Bitsy inherit a pink motel in Florida. The family travels there thinking they’ll get it in shape to sell. There are quirky visitors, a mystery, gangsters, and an alligator. Come to think of it, that sounds like the latest book I just published, The Blues and Ballet.
The Pink Motel was copyrighted by Ms Brink in 1959 and first published by The Macmillan Company in 1960 for the Weekly Reader Book Club. It was 183 pages long. I know this because my favorite youngest daughter bought me a pristine first edition of the book and I just took it down from my shelf of special collectibles. Before she found that first edition, she bought me a paperback reprint. That means I have one to take care of and one to read. I probably first read The Pink Motel when I was nine or ten. I last read it last year. I read it several times in between.
The Pink Motel transported me to the coast of Florida. I made friends with Kirby and Bitsy and their friend, Big. I joined them on their adventures and met the quirky guests who stayed at the Pink Motel. Best of all, the book introduced a hunger to actually go other places and seek adventures out in the world.
The sense of adventure instilled by books did not limit me to adventures in my head.
Books made me want to go places, from dive bars to foreign countries, to the Eiffel Tower and to edges of the Grand Canyon. Books put me backstage at theaters of all kinds and created an interest in dance and theater and concerts of all kinds. I enjoy going to horse races and thanks to the author Dick Francis, I have a deeper appreciation of the people involved. I’ve met and partied with people who could be characters in his books. In Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley interpreted the spirit of horses that race. Her personal insight into the mind of a Jack Russell Terrier is spot on near as I can tell, based on being at the beck and call of Pip, my Jack Russell.
All of that broader appreciation of the world and its inhabitants started with The Pink Motel.
I want to create similar experiences in those who read my books. One of my favorite comments from a reader was about how he could see the places I described in The Crimson Grace and how he really felt like he was there. Another told me she recognized some of the places in my books and how she looked at maps to locate just where my characters were going through their trials and triumphs.
Hundreds of people visit Bahia Mar Marina in Florida looking for Slip 18 where John D MacDonald’s character Travis McGee kept his houseboat The Busted Flush. There is a plaque at the Marina dedicated to the fictional Slip 18 as a Literary Landmark. You can check it out here. I don’t expect a roadside marker, but I hope someday, somebody traveling down Galveston Island to cross the toll bridge over to Follet’s Island will look to the right and think right there is where Samuel Locke’s house should be.
I could go on and on. I’ve been reading for over half a century. But the common wisdom is to keep blogs reasonable short because the modern day attention span is one interested in MTV style quick cuts. So, I’ll just mention a couple of highlights on my journey to reading without near so much exposition.
–The day I left the aisle of youth books at the Big Spring Public Library and discovered a wealth of mainstream books and their introduction to more places than I could ever visit in a lifetime. (I had to remove the cover of one book about a man and two women shipwrecked on a Pacific island, in order to keep my choice of reading material private from my mom. The drawing of an island on the cover was actually a profile of a reclining, naked woman.)
– Reading for the first time a more literary, heavy novel, The Summer of the Red Wolf, by Morris West. I read it the year it came out. That means I was sixteen. Up until then, I’d been enamored of genre novels, primarily science fiction with a growing interest in mystery novels. The Summer of the Red Wolf is a character study of complex characters and the relationships between them. It is more of a mood and emotional book than what I’d read to that point. It expanded my awareness of what writing could be. Beyond the encapsulated worlds of genre fiction, a good writer can fascinate by exploring characters dealing with things of everyday emotional weight, things like loneliness and dissatisfaction with existing circumstances. At that age, the book was a revelation of literary possibilities.
So, this is kind of a hazy clue as to why I want to write. I have been transported, educated, and entertained by the worlds created by writers. I want to create such worlds.
In this continuing “Writing Journal” blog, I invite you along as I share my process and my struggles. The next blog of this Journal will be a description of how and where I get the job done. After that, I will describe where I get ideas. Then, I will get into the day by day process of writing my next manuscript. As I write about the process, I’ll explore many opinions and ideas about writing and publishing. At least as experienced by me.