Archive | Writing

The Fireworks In Fiction

Today’s post from Erica Bauermeister | Erica on Facebook

Erica’s novel, Joy For Beginners, was our featured book club selection last February. She’s back with a new release this month that we’re eager to share with you. The Lost Art of Mixing is the sequel to her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. And one lucky reader is going to win copies of ALL THREE of Erica’s novels today! Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered!

Erica Bauermeister

Update: the winner of this giveaway is Jill Little. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

In real life, I am a control freak, but when I am writing fiction, something else entirely happens.   I don’t outline.   I don’t plan.   I let go, relax my mind, and wait.   My novels always come from a spark — an image that then opens up over the course of a year or two or ten of writing, with other characters showing up and relationships developing between them all.   Seen in retrospect, it’s like watching a slow-motion film of a firework expanding across the sky.

The Lost Art of Mixing started with two images.

The first was of a quiet man in his early fifties, caught in a marriage he didn’t understand.   In the scene in my head, he was in bed with his wife, her complaints coming at him like small waves rocking against the side of a boat.   I felt such sympathy for him; I wanted more for his life.

And then one day I went into a bookstore in a faraway city and offered to sign their stock of my books.   The clerk got the books and never once checked my identification.   As I left the bookstore I thought — anybody could just walk in and sign someone else’s books.  I thought of Al, my quiet hero, and I knew that this was just the sort of hidden rebellion that would appeal to him.   A transgression of the quirkiest kind.   What would happen to him, I wondered, if he took this small and unusual step towards independence?   Where would his story go?

The other image in my mind was of a character I had loved for a long time — Lillian, the chef from The School of Essential Ingredients.   From the moment that book was published, I had begun receiving letters from readers asking me what had happened to Lillian and Tom after they went for their walk at the end of the book.

I thought I was done with the characters from School, and yet, another image started showing up in my imagination — Lillian, standing in the restaurant kitchen doorway, just the way the first book had started.   But this time, Lillian was overwhelmed by the smells of the kitchen, and through her reaction, she was realizing she was pregnant.

Well, what was I going to do with that?

And that is the fun of writing — following those images to wherever they lead.   Seeing what happened when Al finally got caught.   Understanding the difficult decision that Lillian had to make.   Finding all the other characters, whose personalities and conflicts made the pages come alive.   In the end, there were eight characters — four pairs, each pair in the midst of a misunderstanding.   All of them brought together through serendipity, tipping each other forward like dominoes, sometimes without their even knowing it.   Fireworks, all of them.   Sometimes made from anger, sometimes from joy, always from life.

National bestselling author Erica Bauermeister returns to the enchanting world of  The School of Essential Ingredients  in this luminous sequel.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing  is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Healing – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Latayne Scott of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

Recently the beloved husband of one of my literary colleagues passed away. My friend had cared for her soulmate through many years of illness.

I didn’t know what to do to express my sympathy for such a loss.   Send flowers? Make a donation to a charity?

What does one writer give to a lover of words?

I sent her words, my words, from the heart.

I wrote this poem as I considered the impact of decades of marriage on someone mourning. This poem acknowledges the cost of such a loss.

THE TRUTH

It is not flesh, nor beauty

Nor strength nor flashes of any sort.

And now it is not, can not be

Hope or possibilities or potentials,

For their time has passed.

It is not flesh nor beauty

Nor weaknesses nor thunders.

And, that it is not now,

And, that it has endured:

It never was those things.

And only now can that

Unmistakably be seen.

It is a hook in a heart

And a hook in a heart  

And ligatures between them

Where pain is only relieved

When one rests

Against the other.

(copyright Latayne C. Scott)

In a nearly-physical sense, words are the primary way in which we pay forward and backward the gift of comfort and fellowship we all crave.  Words can wound, words can heal.  We don’t have to know you, in order to minister to you.

Have a writer’s words helped heal and comfort you? Please do share!

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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Literary First Love – James Kimmel, Jr.

Today’s post by debut author James Kimmel, Jr. | James on Facebook

James Kimmel, Jr.

I fell in love with writing before I fell in love with books.

I didn’t enjoy reading as a child or a teenager.   I did, however, enjoy being read to.   Listening to my mother reading Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and A Billion for Boris to my brother and me is among my fondest memories.   But that’s about the extent of my literary exploits as a kid. Rarely did I crack a book on my own.

Raised on a small farm, I loved working with my hands.   I loved the machinery of farming—the tractors, implements, and tools—the earth of farming, the animals of farming, the expanse of farming.   And also the deep camaraderie among those who work the land.   I had no knowledge of or aspiration for a literary life.

But then farming rejected me—my family didn’t actually make a living from our land (my father was an insurance agent)—so the neighboring farm kids didn’t accept me as one of them and made sure I knew it, sometimes violently. Spurned by the community and the vocation I loved, I found myself in a rural high school searching for a place to fit in.

I had no known talents.   I couldn’t throw a football or win a race; I didn’t play an instrument and couldn’t carry a tune; my artwork hadn’t progressed past stick figures; and science and mathematics baffled me.

The brightest and most admired kid in my high school could do most of these things and more. But the thing he did better than anybody else was write. His essays and short stories were small, sometimes astonishing works of art that brought for him a certain level of prestige and acclaim. With no other prospects, I decided to try my hand at writing.

Perhaps in the same mystical way that some people pick up an instrument and instinctively understand how to make music with it, I instinctively understood how to turn sentences and paragraphs into essays and short stories. And like a musician who practices daily for the sheer joy of it, I found myself writing each day for the sheer pleasure and sense of accomplishment it brought me.

By the end of my senior year, I was thought of as perhaps the second best writer in my school.

My love for writing is why I graduated with honors from college. It is also what got me admitted into an Ivy League law school and from there into the upper reaches of the legal profession—places that seem such a long, long way from the farm.

I’ve gone on to read many of the great works of literature—but not nearly all of them, and not nearly as many books as avid readers consume. I read strategically, selecting novels that will challenge me and improve my writing. I am a painfully slow reader. I consider and weigh each word in search of the writer’s motive behind its selection. A great sentence has the power to seize me with reverence—and to wrack me with waves of self-doubt and jealousy. I might put the book down for days to ponder the genius of such a sentence, unwilling to move on until I’ve savored the last hints of its flavor.

My life has been profoundly altered by great books—East of Eden and War and Peace come to mind. But I do not write because of them. I write because I love to write. And because I can’t not.

James Kimmel’s debut novel, THE TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS, was published by Amy Einhorn Books last week and we’ve got two copies up for grabs today. Leave a comment below if you’d like to be entered in our drawing.

WHEN young attorney Brek Cuttler finds herself covered in blood and standing on a deserted train platform, she has no memory of how she got there. For one very good reason.

She’s dead.

But how did she die? And why? Trapped between worlds in a mysterious place populated by people from her distant past, Brek desperately struggles to get back to her husband and her beautiful, now motherless, baby daughter. But her hopes for escape dim, and her fear for what lies ahead grows, when she is informed that she was sent here to join the elite group of lawyers who prosecute and defend souls at the Final Judgment.

With each dramatic trial conducted in a harrowing courtroom of eternity, Brek moves a step closer to comprehending what has happened to her. In a seemingly deliberate coincidence, her first client appears to provide a link to the sequence of events that led to her death. Through a series of stunning revelations, Brek discovers how the choices that she and others made during their lives have led her to this place. If she’s to break the chain, she must first face the terrible truth about her death. But when Brek suddenly finds that she herself has been called to stand trial, she learns the surprising answer to perhaps the most important question of all:  Who is the true final judge of our fate and our lives?

The Trial of Fallen Angels  is a thought-provoking mystery about love and hate, freedom and responsibility, and humanity’s search for redemption.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Mother Load – Guest Post by Sarah Jio

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Sarah Jio | @SarahJio

Sarah Jio

A lot of people ask me how I write books with three young children at home (I have three boys five and under), and I often don’t have a good answer. (Truthfully, I drink a lot of coffee and am chronically sleep-deprived. I’m also often really, really behind on laundry.) Sure, it also helps that I love what I do, so my “work” feels more like a hobby. But, aside from that, I think there are a few key things that contribute most to my ability to write in a focused and efficient way (I’m on a book-every-nine-months schedule with my publisher now, so I have to be efficient!):

*I’ve broken up with my TV: Alright, I have been known to go on Netflix binges (and may or may not have watched the entire first three seasons of “Mad Men” in the period of a few days), but that aside, I tend to watch very little TV. Instead of hitting the couch after the kids are in bed, I head to my desk, where I try to hammer out at least 10 pages a night before my eyelids get heavy. Writing at night works for me because it’s the only time when the house is quiet and I can hear myself think!

*I use my daily jogs as brainstorm sessions: I realized a long time ago that my brain gets really, really creative when I run. I have no idea why, but there’s something about my feet pounding the pavement that sends a signal to my brain to go on creative overdrive. As a result, I always tuck my phone into the jogging belt that’s strapped to my waist (I refuse to call it a fanny pack) and pull it out whenever an idea strikes so I can email myself. I’ve come up with new novel titles and fixed multiple plot problems while out jogging, and when something isn’t feeling quite right in one of my drafts, I’ll go on an extra long run.

*I’m fortunate to have a hands-on husband: Behind every successful author with children is a supportive spouse, and when people ask me how I write books with young children at home, I’m quick to point to the photos covering my refrigerator of Jason, my husband, and my three boys on Saturday trips to the zoo. They mark every visit with a stop in the photo booth, and each of these photos represents a quiet morning for me where I was able to write.

Moms, how are you able to accomplish your career goals with kiddos? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Sarah’s latest novel, BLACKBERRY WINTER, is this month’s book club selection. If you haven’t taken a moment to learn more about the book or enter our fabulous giveaways, you can do so here.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Dear Diary – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Patti Hill at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @PattiHill  @NovelMatters

I’m a sucker for those behind-the-scenes features on DVDs. A peek behind the story curtain is added value in my book. I enjoy seeing the actors being themselves—joking, laughing, perplexed over a scene. Seeing all that only makes me appreciate the art of story more.

That’s why I’ve decided to open my diary to you.

Normally, a writer’s life is dull as dirt, but I managed to find something for you. Below are the entries I wrote after I sent my latest manuscript off to my editor.

 

Dear Diary,

Feeling a bit blue. Aimless. Sent my manuscript off to the editor yesterday. I’m lost! I walk into rooms with a sense of urgency, only to stand slack-jawed and befuddled. “What am I doing in this room? “

I’ve started a list of revisions to add to my editor’s when the manuscript returns to me.

 

Dear Diary,

My daydreams are driving me mad. In one rendition, my editor over-nights a 5# box of dark chocolate and a note saying she’s never seen a more perfect story in her life. I fear my second, more persistent, daydream is true–my editor calls to say the publishing house is cancelling my contract. The manuscript is pig snot, drivel, weak in the knees. A reeking heap of rotting, slimy broccoli.   I knew it all along.

I think I have an idea for my next novel. Phew!

 

Dear Diary,

Nothing. Not one word from my editor. For goodness sake, woman, throw me a bone! Tell me one way or the other. Is it Pulitzer or the dung heap? I can take it.

I’ve gotten most of the dishes out of my office. But still, the scent of mac 'n’ cheese persists, and I’m missing a couple spoons from my mother-in-law’s silver, the set I borrowed last Christmas.   Yikes!

I’m buzzing about the Internet, reading up on telephone museums. Is this a red herring or the birth of the GAN (Great American Novel)?

 

Dear Diary,

Seven days of silence. Maybe my editor is dead.   Stop that! Why think such a terrible thing? She’s not dead, but her car could have veered off the road. Deer are a menace along that stretch of highway, and the woods are creepy thick. I can see it now. She swerved to miss a deer and ripped through the trees. Isn’t there a lake just off the highway? It’s quite possible her Prius is partially submerged; and she can’t call out because she’s unconscious. Snakes could be nesting at her feet, laying eggs; mosquitoes feast on her bare arms. Are there bears in the woods?

Reality check, Miss Patti: It’s only been seven days. Seven.

Found the spoons; dumped the telephone museum angle. Need. Killer. Idea. Now.

 

Dear Diary,

It’s been ten whole days. I can only imagine the pages of revision notes my editor has accumulated. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve filled a composition book with the changes I want to make. Clearly, the story needs more tension and conflict. Nothing really happens. There’s nothing at stake. I’ve written the first novel in the history of the world about absolutely nothing at all. In fact, what made me think I could write a novel? The first five were a fluke. I can see that now.

Mother-in-law says a knife is missing, too. I do not use knives when eating in my office. Is she serious?

Been reading People magazine, listening to NPR, and eavesdropping on conversations everywhere I go. Still no idea for the next novel. Must start writing soon.

I can see the top of my desk, and I finally found a cleaner to vanquish the orange ring in the toilets. Sometimes, life hands you a gold medal. Feeling good about these small accomplishments. Next, the refrigerator.

 

Dear Diary,

It’s been TWO weeks! She never takes two weeks to edit my manuscripts. My husband refuses to talk about it, and no one is picking up my calls. Curse caller I.D.! Maybe I should call her, see if her daughter made it onto the soccer team, or if her husband remembered their anniversary this year. Do I want to know why it’s taking so long? Do I want to be told to rewrite everything but the dedication?  What to do? What to do?

Found my mother-in-law’s knife under the printer. That explains the mysterious rattle.

Trying on this idea for my next novel: An orphaned boy is terribly mistreated by his aunt and uncle.   They sequester him in a cubby under the stairs. Lo and behold, this kid’s mom and dad were wizards, and he has inherited their magical powers, but his magic is untamed and unpredictable. He must be trained! He must go to—what?—Hogwash School! Yes! This is great. Note to self: Come up with a better name for the school.

 

Dear Diary,

St. John’s wort doesn’t work. Fat-laden coffee confections don’t work. Date night definitely didn’t work. (Sorry, honey.) For good or bad, I need to hear from my editor.

Seems the wizard kid thing is an old chestnut. Going back to the telephone museum idea. This will be a tough sell.

 

Dear Diary,

The manuscript was delivered to my inbox this morning. Revision notes aren’t as bad as I feared, not as good as I’d hoped but doable. In fact, I love, love, love my editor’s suggestions. It certainly does take a village to write a novel. What would I do without her? I love that woman. I’m so glad she’s such a careful driver. The synergy between us is pure magic. This is it! This is my break-out novel.

Note to self: Send 5 lbs. of chocolate, the kind with nuts and sour cherries, to the most wonderful editor in the world. And she’s mine!

 

My diary entries are mostly tongue-in-cheek, but no small amount of anxiety and anticipation accompanies the relinquishment of a manuscript into the editor’s hands.

Sending off a manuscript is like watching your youngest child leave the house for kindergarten.   Did I prepare him for all the good and bad in the world? Will he embarrass me with stories about the family? Did I remember to put a napkin in his lunchbox? All the time for preparation is over. He steps onto the bus without looking back. Maybe if I kept him home one more year…

Letting go of something?

 

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Literary First Love – Michael Morris

Today’s post by author, Michael Morris | @MichaelMorrisBK

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. “

Twenty-three years after stumbling across The Prince of Tides at the library in my hometown of Perry, Florida, I can still recite the opening lines by heart. It is a novel that I love to revisit.

My mom and I fled an abusive household and took refuge with my grandparents. While my mom went back to school to learn a trade to support us, my grandparents went to work on me. They gave me unconditional love, a sense of where I come from and a love of storytelling.

I did not grow up in a family of readers. The Prince of Tides is one of the first novels I read that was not mandatory for school. The suffering of the characters and their secrets of abuse spoke to me, as did the coastal landscape which becomes a character itself in the novel. For me, the heart of the novel is the complexity of the human experience and the hope for redemption. Tom Wingo begins a journey to New York, believing that he will help his sister who has attempted suicide. He ends up freeing the demons of his own past.

Like many writers I had a high school English teacher who encouraged me to write. It was the first time I’d been told I could do anything well related to academics. So I decided that I would major in public relations and write press releases and video scripts — believing that writers lived in New York or Paris or if they were from the South they were eccentric alcoholics who lived in run down mansions. That really was my world view. Pat Conroy helped to change all of that.

The Prince of Tides presented real characters in a time and place I knew well. While I’m not from South Carolina, I am from the Panhandle of Florida and the beautiful scenes of marsh, shrimp boats and the rhythm of coastal tides were my world. So too were the hurts and hopes of the people in his novel. Reading it for that very first time, I felt that I had finally found art that was accessible.

It would take me another ten years until I started writing my own stories — stories inspired by ones I heard as a child in my grandparent’s living room.   But The Prince of Tides first introduced me the power of connecting emotions to beautiful writing, mystical settings and unforgettable characters.

Michael’s latest novel is MAN IN THE BLUE MOON and we’re giving away two copies today! Just leave a comment on this post if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.

“He’s a gambler at best, a con artist at worst, ” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons.

While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her that he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins.

But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, has this to say about Man in the Blue Moon: “Michael Morris has been one of my favorite Southern writers. His new novel is reason for great celebration–a beautifully wrought portrayal of small-town Southern life. Buy it. Read it.”

Michael Morris is a Southern Book Circle Award finalist and the author of the acclaimed novels A Place Called Wiregrass (a Christy Award winner) and Slow Way Home, named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A Florida native, he now lives with his wife in Alabama.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Room Of Her Own — The Writing Space of Claire Cook

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Claire Cook | ClaireCookWrite

My husband and I sold our 1890 Victorian in a little beach town on the coast between Boston and Cape Cod and decided to move to suburban Atlanta to be closer to family. So this is my temporary writing space, tucked into a corner of the master bedroom in the house we’re now renovating, the only room not stacked to the ceiling with boxes. When I stare out the window, I can almost imagine the chaos behind me doesn’t exist. I even wrote some of my next novel without doors, with a house full of carpenters and electricians and plumbers coming in and out and telling me about the book they’re going to write one day! I can’t believe I finished it, but I did. My tenth novel is called Time Flies, and will be published by Touchstone in June 2013.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Room of Her Own – The Writing Space of Lynda Rutledge

Despite the fact that I’m still pining away for an office of my own, I’m not so bitter and twisted that I can’t appreciate a great creative space when I see one. And this month’s featured author, Lynda Rutledge, was kind enough to share hers with us. She has this to say about her lovely little office:

“I live outside Austin on the side of a hill in what’s aptly call the Texas hill country.   My office is a little room with French doors two convenient steps from the kitchen. Its big double windows said: “Write Here. “

The view from my keyboard out those windows is the front porch with an honest-to-Gawd porch swing, the 1/2 acre downhill wild area I call a front yard, and the illusion it all creates that I’m all alone in the world with whatever muse that might show up to play with the deer, lizards, tarantulas, and hummingbirds under the sun, sun, sun. Which sounds pretty good until it hits 100 outside, when the two steps to the kitchen and its margarita-making blender comes in mighty handy.  The little dancing figure? It’s a tiny mannequin I contort to mirror how my writing is going. This must have been a good day.

Something you can’t (quite) see: I’m an antsy writer so I have a desktop/laptop set up. I sit;  I stand; I do back-flips; I move with the nervous energy. So I have an oversized Mac screen (bottom left) and a wireless keyboard that I hook up to the laptop perched on a pedestal table you see. I can unhook and go when I need to move-move-move.

Something I wrote here? Well, thank you for asking. See the screen? Just in: That’s the first glimpse of the designed title page of my novel with  Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. It’s about antiques, death, bargains, and God.  Of course, it’s the Great American Novel…yeah, okay, maybe not. But you never know what you might find at a garage sale, right?”  

You can read an except of FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE here.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Impatient Character

My biggest reading surprise of 2011 came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008, I somehow managed to miss this novel until last summer when my family took a 1500 mile road trip. I packed five novels in the hopes that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I’ve ever read. She says something in the novel that felt so familiar to me that I’ve never forgotten it:

My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people anxious for life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, 'Me next! Go on! My turn!’ I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others lie quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of the story, and the clamor starts up again.

I have experienced that demanding character, but never so intensely as while finishing my recent novel, The Rule of Three.

For months a new story had been nagging at me, creeping in during those moments when my mind was quiet. A long shower. That stretch of thought before drifting off to sleep. The dream that comes in the stillness before waking.

I recall writing a scene from my newly finished novel. It was a particularly tense argument between my Hero (her name is Stella) and Opponent that took place in an old, Jazz-era bar. There they were, leaning across the table in a dark, corner booth, both of them reaching for a tattered envelope containing a long-kept secret. I paused for a moment, fingers lightly touching the keyboard as I mulled a piece of dialogue. And then…

In the far corner of the bar was a woman delivering a baby! Of all the strange and bizarre things, the character in my next novel had walked into my current novel and set up shop. I could see it in my mind, like a fuzzy TV station that’s been caught between two channels, superimposing one face, one story, over another.

Vida describes that sensation best:

And every so often, through all these writing years, I have lifted my head from the page—at the end of a chapter, or in the quiet pause for thought after a death scene, or sometimes just searching for the right word—and have seen a face at the back of the crowd.

I knew who this character was, of course. Her name is Martha. She’s a midwife. A mother. A diarist. A strong and capable woman if ever there was one. But in that moment she was an intruder. So I gave Martha her own notebook. I scratched down what she was frantically trying to tell me, and I politely escorted her from the premises. Then I shook off her specter and went back to the bar, and my characters bent in heated conversation.

The scene turned out well in case you’re wondering. As did the rest of the novel. But now it’s done. My mind, so battered after wrestling that story to the page, is finally rested. And Martha has renewed her protests, filling all that recently vacated space. It’s her turn. Tomorrow I will open her notebook.

There are other faces in the shadows behind Martha of course. A carpenter. A hoarder. A tattoo artist. They are waiting patiently. For now.

Question for you: What was your biggest 'reading surprise’ of the last year?

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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