One of the things I hadn’t fully anticipated about becoming a novelist is the frequency with which folks ask me questions—not only about the work itself, but about where I get my ideas, what my writing process is like, and what a typical writing day is like.
This past week, I learned I would be included in the next edition of Contemporary Authors, published by Gale Cengage. The editor asked me to respond to several thought-provoking questions. Here’s what I wrote:
- What first got you interested in writing?
Like so many writers, I started out as a voracious reader. The joy I derived from books and libraries inspired me to want to write, as well as the encouragement of some early teachers. In seventh grade, for example, a wonderful teacher named Mr. Menna assigned our class to do a report on an author. I wrote to John Tunis, whose baseball-themed books I adored. I was thrilled to get a personal reply, and even more excited when Mr. Menna wrote on my report: “The only thing this paper lacks is publication.” I loved to write, and even as a twelve year old, his vote of confidence in my work meant a lot to me.
My early career, however, was in my other passion, dance, which I combined with freelance magazine and newspaper feature writing. I delved into fiction writing when I retired from dance.
- Who or what particularly influences your work?
I’ve read YA fiction all my life and my first major influences were Judy Blume, Norma Klein, and Chris Crutcher. I continue to be drawn to YA writers such as John Green and Gayle Forman who write realistic teen fiction featuring memorable characters dealing with issues much more serious than finding a date for the prom. I also love humor in writing as well as mysteries, having grown up devouring Nancy Drew novels. And no work feels complete to me without a romance!
- Describe your writing process.
I often start with a germinating idea. For example, It Should Have Been You was inspired by an adult dance student who one shared with me that her identical twin had been murdered as a teenager, and the crime had never been solved. Her story inspired my interest in writing about the aftermath of a twin’s murder on her surviving twin.
Next, I spend a lot of time on character development and then I start loosely plotting and outlining. As I’m writing, thing invariably change, and I don’t religiously stick to my original outline. But especially since I write coming of age mysteries, I generally know ahead of time what the ending will be, who will make up the cast of suspicious characters, and how the protagonist will grow and change in the course of her journey.
During the drafting stage, I shoot for a daily minimum of 1000 words. I start each day rereading what I’ve written the day before and tinkering with it before moving on. Once I have a draft, I re-work and revise over a period of months. I solicit feedback from my husband, my writer’s group, my agent, and anyone else willing to take a look before submitting to prospective publishers.
- What is the most surprising thing you have learned as a writer?
I’ve been struck by the variety of ways writers approach their work. Everyone’s process is different. There are “pantsers” who just start writing with little or no pre-planning, careful planners who do exhaustive pre-writing and outlining, and every variation in-between. I’m definitely in the planner category, but my philosophy is to respect everyone’s process and do whatever works best for you.
- Which of your books is your favorite and why?
My favorite book is always the one I’m currently working on. I become thoroughly engrossed and engaged in the imaginary world of my characters.
- What kind of effect do you hope your books will have?
I hope readers will enjoy my stories and characters, want to keep turning the pages, and will feel a bit sad when each book is over.
In addition, I want readers to leave with a sense of hope that difficult families and experiences are survivable. Humor helps, as does having the courage to explore and embrace one’s identity and passions apart from external messages and pressures.
I’d love to hear from you! Did any of my responses surprise you? If you’re a writer, how would you answer these questions?