Today’s stop at my VBT is Woody’s Favorite Books, where she asked me to discuss two authors and two books that influenced me. I also was able to include an excerpt from MUSIC FOR MY SOUL for her blog. Here it is:
Stolen Moments with Two Famous Authors … and Two Books That Made a Difference
I am a writer. A romance writer. But long before I began penning my stories, I was a reader. I don’t remember a time I couldn’t – or didn’t – read. I enjoyed so many genres and a variety of authors. When I decided to take the plunge and share the voices in my head and their stories, I knew it was important to learn my craft, so I joined a local RWA chapter and began attending workshops.
Two authors I met at different conferences inspired me from short, simple conversations we shared together.
The first was Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I loved her characters because they were so relate-able. The heroines showed spunk. Plus, she always threw in a dash of humor that brought a smile to my face and made a great book even better. I entered the room where her workshop would be held. As always, I was early. The teacher in me, I suppose. I always want to be situated, in a great seat, and ready to rock and roll when a speaker begins.
And I found Ms. Phillips the only person in the room, twenty minutes before “Show Time.” Preparing. Setting up. Mentally walking through things. Then her job complete, she turned and smiled at me. This incredibly well-known author proved to be the easiest person to talk with – funny, unpretentious, and charming. We discovered not only did we both like to be early and prepared, but we both were teachers. Rather, she had been a teacher before becoming wildly successful and quitting her day job to write full-time. In the minutes we spent together, we shared a few laughs over school stories and talked about the process of writing. I walked out that day understanding that yes, writers are still people, too. Although a best-selling novelist, this woman was a normal person who took a few minutes and graciously spoke with a beginner. Her kind words and encouragement helped me push myself to one day publish a book of my own.
At another workshop, I met a favorite historical romance author. Maggie Osborne was sitting with a gentleman at a table before the conference began. No one was within ten tables of them, quaking in the presence of greatness. I recognized her from her book jackets and though I didn’t want to gush like a teenager with a crush, I did go over to tell her how much I admired her work and aspired to write and publish my own historical romances someday. She asked me to join her and her husband.
So we chatted for about twenty minutes as the tables filled in around us and the chapter president finally stood and introduced Maggie. Yes, by then we were on a first-name basis, and she seemed a little miffed that our conversation had been interrupted. But I left that day with wonderful advice from her. She told me they lived in a small town in Colorado, and it took over half an hour just to drive into a larger one to stock up on groceries and run errands. She would discuss with her husband events happening in her latest work in progress as they traveled to and from their home.
She told me that after setting up a scene, she would ask him, “So what do you suppose will happen next?” He’d tell her, and she’d press him a few more times, wanting to see what he came up with as the next logical thing that might occur. She said her rule of thumb was never, ever to use the first three things that came to his mind. If he thought of them, then countless readers out there would also think of the same things. She wanted to surprise her readers and treat them to something that they wouldn’t expect. I try to follow her advice as I write every time. What should happen next? Then after I arrive at a few conclusions, I go in a totally opposite direction!
When I joined a critique group, one of the members lent me her copy of Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. This down-to-earth book for writers gave encouragement, often with wit and humor. Ms. Lamont gave a writer permission to be discouraged. To not be too hard on yourself. But to always, always, always practice self-discipline. She gave practical advice on all aspects of writing and a writer’s life. Two quotes I love from it?
“I know some great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great
deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and
confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do
not like her very much.”
“Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in
your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so
you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your
Reading these words helped me understand that writing is as much about thinking and listening before ever getting anything down on paper, plus it gave me permission to understand that what first gets down won’t necessarily even be good – but it’s down to play with, to revise and edit, to dance with until it is shaped and formed into something that is good.
A second influential book that my husband gave me is Stephen King’s On Writing. It is an absolute MUST for any writer. I’d loved Uncle Stevie’s novels from the beginning. He put ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances and suspended belief from what was to what could be. This book is partly an autobiography, with the other half teaching fundamentals of the craft of writing. His advice is friendly, inspiring, and entertaining as he shares the basic tools of the writing trade and explains how to sharpen and then multiply them through use. His practical words covered everything from how to develop good work habits to how to shape plot and character. When he wrote, “Story is a fossil you find on the ground, and you gradually dig it out slowly,” my light bulb moment occurred.
He also used quotes from other familiar books to illustrate his points, so it was easy to connect with his advice. I also understood when he said, “Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.” That advice kept me alert and fresh, and I constantly look for new ideas in the oddest places. He’s right, though … they DO turn up at the most unusual moments.
I still read voraciously, everything from Harlan Coben to Amanda Quick. I enjoy being a reader, but as I venture deeper into this writing career, I feel I’ve found a home.
Thanks so much Lauren for the WONDERFUL insight!
Garrett peered into the angry face of the woman who haunted his dreams by night and left him absent-minded by day. Their encounter had been brief, but he doubted he had ever met a more remarkable woman than the bewitching creature before him.
Her honeyed hair, loosened from its intricate braid, curled around her shoulders. Tiny beads of sweat had formed just above her upper lip. Without thinking, Garrett reached his thumb toward her and wiped it away. She flinched slightly, her dark, amethyst eyes glowering up at him.
Garrett smiled and offered a hand to pull her to her feet. He had forgotten how very tall she was as she stared at him, her cheeks flushed with anger.
“Perhaps we could arrange a trade?” he suggested.
She eyed him suspiciously. “I’m not sure if I trust you, my lord,” she countered.
“Trust me?” he sputtered. “This, from the woman who traipsed about the countryside claiming to be my wife?”
“I chose a bloody awful name to scare away anyone who accosted me on the road! How was I to know I’d run into you?” She snorted in an unladylike fashion. “I had heard tales of the wicked Lord Montayne, how he frightened old and young alike and gobbled up babes for his dinner. Why, the very mention of his name would cause grown men to plead for their lives and their loved ones. Oh, no, my lord, I was an honest liar. You were the one who resorted to trickery and hid your true identity from me.”